Act Two: Parlor Reviewed


Trio of pizzas at the Parlor | Photo by Danya Henninger

Confession of a city critic: Whenever I have to schlep out to the suburbs, I can’t help but grit my teeth. Expectations drop beyond the county line. For every Junto, there are three Saint Jameses, and there goes an hour’s worth of unleaded into the ledger of our atmospheric doom.

But I exaggerate. The Saint James’s awfulness lay far beyond the reach of replication, much less in triplicate. Yet trepidation nevertheless filled the family wagon as we made our way to its replacement in Ardmore’s Suburban Square. Owner Rob Wasserman rebooted the ill-starred concept in March as a pizzeria called Parlor, where pies bearing somewhat distressing names such as Buffy and Beastmode awaited us. Read more »

Restaurant Review: Vesper

Vesper Bar | Photo by Neal Santos

Vesper Bar | Photo by Neal Santos

Two men walk into a bar.

“May we go downstairs?” one asks, gesturing toward a bookcase that conceals a secret stairwell.

“Do you have the password?” the hostess replies, flashing a flinty sidelong stare. Read more »

Of Vinyl, Ramps and Stinging Nettle: Helm Reviewed


Tortellini with brussels sprouts | Photo by Jason Varney

You knew this was coming. In Philadelphia, where chefs are constantly popping up in one another’s kitchens or dueling each other at Cook, it was only a matter of time before two of them would notice a FOR RENT sign as they carpooled home one night and decide to take the next logical step and move in together. Read more »

Fast Fish: Buena Onda Reviewed

Fish Tacos | Photo by Jason Varney

Fish Tacos at Buena Onda | Photo by Jason Varney

Strange things are afoot in Fast Food Nation. McDonald’s, whose 2013 Mighty Wings promotion left the chain sitting on 10 million pounds of unsold chicken, is so deep in a corporate identity crisis that it just gave the Hamburglar a makeover as a suburbanite hipster. Meanwhile, Shake Shack’s stock hit a P/E ratio nearly 10 times higher than Facebook’s. And now Jose Garces is leaping into the quick-serve sweepstakes with a value proposition of his own: $3.50 fish tacos, and free beer while you wait. Read more »

Retro Week: Revisiting Ralph’s

Photo by Stephanie Viggiano

At Ralph’s Italian Restaurant, where a century’s worth of footsteps have buffed the dining room’s floor mosaic as smooth as the inside of an oyster shell, the idea of a regular customer takes on a genealogical hue. Five generations of the same family have owned and operated the place, which was founded by Francesco Dispigno in 1900 and has occupied its current location for 100 years. But one of their biggest points of pride is a clientele whose claim on the tables is almost as ancestral.

“We have three and four generations of families as customers,” marvels Jim Rubino, the 53-year-old great-grandson of Francesco, and grandson of Rafael Dispigno, whose Anglicized name the restaurant bears. “It’s a remarkable thing.”

Read more »

Bright Lights, Big City: Palladino’s Reviewed

Pork osso buco and Stecchini Genoves | Courtney Apple

Pork Osso Buco and Stecchini Genoves | Courtney Apple

With all due consideration for sore thumbs and Kim Kardashian’s badonka-donk, nothing sticks out from its surroundings quite like Palladino’s on Passyunk.

The Italian chophouse rears up over the Avenue’s Broad Street gateway like a wedge of layer cake iced by an architectural prankster. Its banded black and white facade serves up an allusion to the medieval tower of Siena’s Duomo atop the Streamline Moderne curve of a sidewalk-sheltering hip roof, and the whole thing is capped off with a sky-scraping signboard that broadcasts the restaurateur’s name in lipstick red.

And you can hear Luke Palladino’s Philadelphia debut from nearly as far away as you can see it. Saxophone-rock solos and Super-tramp reverberate on the covered curb with a brashness compounded inside by crowds that can be as boisterous on a Wednesday evening as on a Saturday night. You can take a chef out of Atlantic City, but apparently you can’t take Atlantic City out of this chef. Read more »

The Revisit: Fond


Every cook loves getting a bigger kitchen, and Lee Styer is no exception. Two-and-a-half years after moving Fond half a block from its original niche on Passyunk Avenue, he still remembers the liberation he felt.

The new liquor license was just the beginning. All of a sudden he had a walk-in fridge. Enough dry-storage capacity so that he could buy a whole case of onions at a time (rather than just five pounds). The days of sharing a single oven with his pastry chef (and wife) Jessie Prawlucki were definitively behind him. Read more »

Molto Molto: Gran Caffè L’Aquila Reviewed

Spaghetti carbonara | Photo by Ryan Scott

Spaghetti carbonara | Photo by Ryan Scott

Pretend you’ve been led into a new restaurant wearing a blindfold. We’re playing a game: When I uncover your eyes, you try to piece together enough clues to guess what sort of place we’re in. Go! The 24-flavor gelato counter would give it away too easily, so I yank the blindfold a few steps beyond it. Your eyes fall on a white wall lined with bottles of Campari and Martini dry vermouth. Fresh espresso hits your nose just as a Serie A soccer rerun steals your gaze. You look around. The place is choked with waiters rocking natty short-brim fedoras of a sort most often found atop comic-strip gangsters (but apparently resurgent in Milan). A montage of touristic photos and factoids loops on a second TV — tidbits about Venice and Rome alternating with Maserati commercials. Read more »

The Electric Dim Sum Acid Test: Bing Bing Dim Sum Reviewed


Bing Bing Dim Sum | Photo by Courtney Apple

If restaurateurs were rock stars (and in Philly, they’re as close as we come), Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh would be vintage R.E.M. Whether they’re slinging ramen with brisket and matzo balls, as at Cheu Noodle Bar, or papering the walls of their new Bing Bing Dim Sum with acid-trip dumpling emojis, they have a knack for twisting a budding trend just far enough to make it unmistakably their own.   Read more »

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