Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Beddia

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Photo by Courtney Apple

Joe Beddia would’ve flunked out of Wharton for sure.

Consider the pizzaiolo’s business plan. He offers three pies, whole only, in a Fishtown storefront that’s legally prohibited from seating customers. There are no logos on his takeout boxes and no takeaway menus on the counter, and the restaurant has no phone.

And a year after he opened, Beddia is a veritable pizza superstar.

At first it was just the neighbors coming — which was all he really envisioned. But then people started schlepping in from Center City to line up outside his door. And then from Delaware and D.C. And soon, Bon Appétit “Foodist” Andrew Knowlton was horning in on the action.

So how does this happen to a place that is open four evenings a week, routinely reaches hour-plus waits less than three minutes after unlocking the door, and requires takeout orders to be placed in person?

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The Revisit: A.Kitchen

a.kitchen-signYou know those people who go to new restaurants purely to order the same dish they order everywhere else? Because the “litmus test” of a good place is how well it makes a roasted chicken—or guacamole, or steak frites, or chocolate mousse, or whatever that person has arbitrarily determined to be the whole point of eating out?

It’s a dwindling species these days. Fewer and fewer chefs want to cook what the other guy’s cooking; straight-up comparisons are harder to find. And I’ve never counted myself part of that tribe anyway. Meals out are too ripe with potential adventure to waste them looking for litmus tests.

But there’s no need to be dogmatic about it, so today I’m going to nominate one anyway: stuffed squid.

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What We’re Drinking: Victory Swing Session Saison

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Last night was a great one for a trip to Citizens Bank Park—especially if you like watching fielding errors and left after the sixth inning, as I did, before the Brewers broke a 4-4 tie by tacking on five unanswered runs to send the Phils to the basement of the NL East.  (Consolation: the Mets were waiting for them there.)

But in the crisp-spring-evening department, there could hardly have been a better one for my son’s first outing to an MLB game.  And speaking of a well-timed exit, he even scored a foul ball on the way out, from a guy who sure knew how to cheer the heart of a kid proudly wearing the Phils jersey he just got for his birthday.  Thanks, guy!  My son took that baseball to bed with him.  “You can smell the grass stain on it,” he told me.

I sniffed it, agreed, and sort of wished I’d asked him to smell the beer I’d had at the game.  Because man, had Victory’s Swing Session Saison confused me.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Rosa Blanca

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Masitas de puerco. Photography by Michael Persico

Jose Garces can take you places. And the most compelling ones are those you’d have the hardest time reaching on your own. That’s why Amada, with its broad embrace of Spain, has always been second in my book to Tinto’s deep dive into Basque country. And it’s one reason JG Domestic’s all-American pantry, for all its ambition, has always felt more expendable than Distrito’s gaudy fantasia of luchador masks and tequila-cured ceviche.

So if there was any silver lining to the closure of Chifa, whose Peruvian-Chinese cuisine was Garces’s most inspired adventure, it was the news that its replacement would be a destination that gets stamped on even fewer American passports: a Cuban diner.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Avance

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Foie gras mousse. Photography by Courtney Apple.

Karl Marx once wrote that history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. And Avance is what happens the third time around.

Ninety minutes, 120 bucks and one bite into dinner for four at 1523 Walnut Street, the successor to Le Bec-Fin and all its reboots was careening. We’d already been told our table wasn’t ready (as the minute hand smacked solidly against our reservation hour) and been sent to pay tribute at the downstairs bar. Two sips into cocktails there, and a hostess appeared to reclaim our glasses and ferry us past a bevy of empty tables in the soaring slate-gray dining room, bringing us to one of several more vacancies on the mezzanine. A self-congratulatory announcement prefaced the replacement of white napkins with black ones (for the benefit of the ladies’ pants, of course), yet when the silver tongs appeared later to replenish the linens a second time, it was back to white again.

And then, 20 minutes after we’d ordered an audaciously marked-up white to accompany appetizers, our server airily chirped, “The sommelier’s upstairs. I assume she’s having trouble finding it.”

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The Revisit: Bibou

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On a rude March evening, with snow clinging stubbornly to the curb edges on South Eighth Street, the smallest dining room in town glowed like a sodium-vapor streetlamp in some nostalgic novel. Inside it was warm and yellow, and heavy coats hung on almost every chair. Forks clinked, voices rose and fell. A waiter shimmied past the two-seat bar, wended his roundabout way across the crowded room, and presented a table in the corner with two lowball glasses holding plain ice cubes—and a thought sprung involuntarily to my mind: Just like all Americans in Paris.

The Paris of South Philadelphia, I guess you’d have to say. But Bibou, Pierre and Charlotte Calmels’ BYOB has always felt like a bona fide French colony to the loyalists who bring their best Burgundies to drink with dinner here.

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A Second Look At High Street On Market’s Brunch

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In my recent review of High Street on Market, I wrote that brunch there set my spouse on a “tirade” charging the restaurant with “Brooklynizing Philadelphia comfort food” via its “inhospitality to non-foodies” at that tender hour.

Later, Eater posted a summary of my review, remarking: “Oh, what we wouldn’t give to read a full companion review by Popp’s wife.”

Which made me laugh out loud, because I’d actually tried—fruitlessly—to get her to write one.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Le Chéri

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Boudin Noir. Photography by Jason Varney

YOU HAVE TO FIGURE that any ingredient is fair game in a menu section labeled “Bizarre.” But Pierre Calmels sure pulled a fast one on me at Le Chéri (which replaced the Rittenhouse Tavern after Nick Elmi left to open Laurel on East Passyunk). The only dish I didn’t like at the Bibou chef’s classically French makeover of the Philadelphia Art Alliance space was his lamb offal pot-au-feu, whose gutty broth occupied that uncanny valley that separates the authentic from the macabre. But oh, the “pistachio fries” floating in it! What culinary jewels, those mild and tender ovals bearing mosaics of crunchy nuts!

Only later did I discover the source of my captivation. “Ah, pistachio fries!” Calmels chuckled over the phone. “This is a way of saying ‘testicles.’”

Culinary jewels indeed.
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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: High Street On Market

High Street on Market Review

Mushrooms Sandwich. Photography by Jason Varney.

IT’S SELDOM A GOOD IDEA to boil down a restaurant recommendation to a tweet-size paragraph, but for prospective visitors to High Street on Market, a short questionnaire might be in order.

Do you go for broccoli rabe? What if it’s fermented? How about juiced and given a leading role in a mezcal cocktail?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, congratulations: You’ve clearly gotten your money’s worth out of your Vitamix! And now Eli Kulp, who made Fork required dining for serious eaters in 2013, has given it a next-door neighbor where you can quench your appetite for left-field gastronomy from breakfast straight through dinner.
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The Revisit: Ela

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How do you keep the spark alive?

Restaurants face the same question that haunts many a marriage—only, with restaurants, it comes ‘round a whole lot sooner. If spouses can hope for seven years before the proverbial itch begs scratching, restaurateurs are lucky if they can make it past the first anniversary.

That thought chorused through my head during a recent meal at Ela—repeating like the 90-minute loop of down-tempo indie-rock throbbing softly in the background of Jason Cichonski’s Queen Village resto-bar.

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