Restaurant Review: The Best Food at Pizzeria Vetri Isn’t the Pizza

Photo by Courtney Apple.

Photo by Courtney Apple.

I was wrapping up lunch at Pizzeria Vetri when a gentleman approached my table. He was skinny and stooped-over and appeared to be in dire straits. Very politely, he asked for help getting a little food. I handed him the last slice of my rosemary-and-mozzarella pie.

A black blister had erupted from the only part of the wedge that wasn’t overburdened with cheese. The slice flopped over in his grasp, as the rest had in mine.

“Is this what they gave you at this restaurant?” he asked.

“Yes,” I nodded, attempting a reassuring smile.

His brow creased. “Were they angry with you?”

That was a little less polite. Save for one flighty server overcome by the dinner onslaught, Pizzeria Vetri’s staff was exceptionally pleasant on all four of my visits. And doubly so when my lunch date required a kiddie cup. Yet my unexpected visitor wasn’t totally off the mark. Pizzeria Vetri has many things to recommend it, but consistently good pizza isn’t one of them.

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BEST OF THE GAYBORHOOD AND BEYOND: Cafes

A cappuccino and pastry at Shot Tower in Queen Village. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.

A cappuccino and pastry at Shot Tower in Queen Village. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.

GREENSTREET
It can sometimes seem like Counter Culture (North Carolina) and Stumptown (Oregon) have a bean-roasting lock on Philly’s new-wave coffee scene. But Tom and Chris Molieri roast their own at GreenStreet, which now boasts a post in the Gayborhood. The tiny space and fickle wireless signal limit its appeal as a workspace, but there’s ample sidewalk seating on both sides of the corner — and more-than-ample coffee options. Think three espresso varieties and a pour-over menu that hooked this Ethiopia lover with a choice between washed- and dry-processed crops from that country. 1101 Spruce St., 610-504-3934, greenstreetcoffee.com

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The Revisit: A Second Chance For The Twisted Tail

twisted-tail-logoThe Grit Invasion of Philadelphia may be long in the tooth by this point, but that hasn’t kept new armadas from lashing the city with ever-growing waves of cream-soaked, butter-fatted, cheesed-up swells of coarsely milled corn.

And with each new entry into the city’s unofficial shrimp-and-grits competition, you could be forgiven for wondering if grits should be classified now as a dairy product rather than a grain. That’s all fine and good, as its goes.  Not exactly shocking that restaurant kitchens still like butter and cream in 2013.

But consider the recipe provided by Anson Mills–the South Carolina grain specialist whose grits have become the gold standard in high-end restaurants. It’s a simple ingredient list: grits, a bit of salt and pepper, and water. Plus a pat or two of butter to mix in at the very end.  Pretty austere, right?

The thinking at Anson Mills is straightforward: too much dairy fat eclipses the flavor of the corn they take so much pride in growing and milling.

This philosophy sprung quickly to mind not long ago at, of all places, The Twisted Tail, a blues venue that got an awful lot wrong about Southern cooking back when it opened two years ago. But those memories of mediocrity faded away in the light of many of new chef Leo Forneas’s dishes, not least his Louisiana-style shrimp and grits.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Xi’an Sizzling Woks

Photo by Jason Varney.

Photo by Jason Varney.

It’s not every day that you come across a condiment that makes you do a double take. Heck, it’s not every year. But think about how it felt the first time you smeared wasabi on a sushi roll, or dolloped pepper jelly on a country ham biscuit—and then head to the corner of 9th and Arch immediately to get a jolt of that same rare giddiness at Xi’an Sizzling Woks, which opened as softly as a whisper in May.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Talula’s Daily

Photo by Courtney Apple.

Photo by Courtney Apple.

The spell was lovely while it lasted. The gourmet market at Talula’s Daily had closed for the day at 7 p.m., and the “Secret Supper Club” had begun.

A glass bell jar capped a pint-sized cupcake platform. A ceramic owl was also a cookie jar. Bone china plates painted with chameleons or honeybees alternated with stoneware bearing zigzags or abstract circles. Delicately etched wine goblets sparkled above the dull gleam of mismatched silver-plated utensils.

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The Revisit: Citron & Rose

Photo: liz spikol

Photo: liz spikol

Best Milkshake, Best Bar Snack, Best Wine List at a Beer Bar, Best Homage To an Iconic Philly Food… It would be hard to argue that there weren’t enough awards in Philly Mag’s 2013 “Best of Philly” issue. We gave out 286 in all. But for me, the most interesting was the one I came to think of as number 287:

Best Evidence That God Looks After His Own.

Because isn’t that really what made Citron & Rose the most compelling restaurant opening of the past year? Sure, we could have slapped a Best Kosher Restaurant label on the place. But talk about a backhanded compliment. You might as well tell people, “Yep, if you’ve truly got no other option, that’s the place to go.”

No, what distinguished C&R was that it was good, period. Here was kosher food that anybody would want to eat.

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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Carmine’s Creole Café Act II Turns It Up to 11

Shrimp and crawfish etouffee at Carmine's Creole Cafe Act II

There are many food menus at Carmine’s Creole Café Act II, and none of them list the most important thing John Mims cooks there.

This is not an oversight. Mims, a New Orleans native who has worked more or less his whole life in restaurants, has sense enough to keep some things between himself and his refrigerator. But if you were to sneak into the walk-in at his Narberth BYOB—located in the exact same digs he left in 2006—you’d see the containers that conceal the soul of this restaurant. They’re the ones labeled SWAMP WATER.

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The Revisit: Matyson

43_matyson_Karrisa Olsen

The door of Matyson’s lone bathroom was locked, and I was the only person waiting when a man walked up and joined me.

“I think I’m older than you,” he said, amiably.

I accepted the compliment.

He smiled. “So I think you should let me go first.”

“I’ll be quick,” I said.

“So will I,” he replied.

“Well it would seem that we’re at an impasse.”

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