The Gastronaut: The Next Exit

george-sabatino-stateside-kagan-mcleod

High-profile chefs often leave the places they made famous. But few have caused the kind of  earthquake George Sabatino did when he announced he was leaving Philly’s best restaurant.

“When I opened this place, I was literally just trying to not run out of food.”

That’s George Sabatino, the now-former chef at Stateside on East Passyunk Avenue. He’s musing about his early days there as a young first-time exec—terrified and excited, exhausted, so busy he didn’t have time to blink. When owners Stephen Slaughter and William Bonforte brought him aboard, he’d never been in charge before. He wanted to make a restaurant that his chef friends would like. He wanted to focus on small plates, charcuterie and American whiskies. Most of all, he didn’t want to embarrass himself.

“Stateside was like this huge lucky break,” he says now. “I never knew it could get so big. I’m really surprised by it all, dude. I’m just a cook, you know?”

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The 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia: 2013

The 50 Best Restaurants in PhiladelphiaThese are the restaurants we want to eat in right now. Not yesterday. Certainly not last year. Maybe not even tomorrow. But right now. Philadelphia, at this moment, is in a state of flux that mirrors (and in some cases heralds) the changes happening in the restaurant industry at large—a movement toward a new casualness, where the best meal you’ll ever have is one you eat in blue jeans while sitting at a rough wood table in a neighborhood you wouldn’t even have driven through a decade ago. In this brave new world of cuisine, the restaurants our parents and grandparents knew—those temples of white-tablecloth haute cuisine—are struggling to find or recapture relevance. And in many cases, the cooks who trained at them are now the chefs who are taking their trade away. In order to put together this year’s list of Philly’s 50 best, we started with a total of 170 restaurants, then spent three months eating and arguing and researching and arguing and revisiting and arguing over who belonged where. The question was not only who seared the best foie gras, but which restaurants in town had the most weight. The heaviest gravity. We wanted to suss out which mattered most at this contentious moment in time, and then to figure out why. This list is our answer to those questions, compiled with a total disregard for history or nostalgia or debts owed. It’s a snapshot—a frozen instant that, we hope, serves as a window into a changing world of cuisine.



Join the conversation about the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia with the hashtag #50BestPHL.

In Case You Missed It: The 50 Best Restaurants In Philadelphia

Last week was a big week ’round Foobooz World HQ. All the holiday kerfuffle aside, it was also the week that we posted the Philadelphia magazine list of the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia for 2012, and the response to said list was…overwhelming.

But the 50 Best Restaurants package wasn’t the only thing that got posted over the holiday week. There was a whole bunch of other 50-Best-related stuff that also hit the internets while you might’ve been looking in another direction. So here, for the convenience of our less-than-fanatical readers, is the full accounting of last week’s 50 Best Restaurants action, all in one convenient place.

Cheers, and have a happy New Year.

50 Best Restaurants In Philadelphia for 2012 This is the big list, and a good place to get started. For those looking for a little more information, the issue (with write-ups and explanations for every restaurant on the list) is on the stands right now–though we’ve been hearing that it has been selling out everywhere, so be quick.

Please Ignore This List–Our Insatiable Obsession With The Philadelphia Restaurant Scene A counter-punch to our big list, coming from one of the people who helped put it together.

Philly’s 51st Best Restaurant In a city with so many great restaurants, here’s what it means to be the 51st-best in town.

Methodology: How The 50 Best Restaurants List Came To Be It took us months to come up with the 50 best restaurants in Philly. Here’s how we spent our time.

Methodology: How The 50 Best Restaurants List Came To Be

See that little dancing picture up there? That’s how the list of Philadelphia’s 50 Best Restaurants came to be. That’s one wall of Foobooz World HQ, covered completely with 170-odd Post-It Notes, representing every single restaurant that was in contention for a spot in the 2012 rankings. That’s what we lived with for roughly three months–a constantly shifting and evolving representation of Philadelphia’s restaurant scene to be stared at, debated, argued over, torn down, rebuilt and obsessed over until me and Art and the rest of this year’s 50 Best Restaurants crew had gone all A Beautiful Mind and saw the thing in our sleep.

How did Stateside end up at #1? Why didn’t Fette Sau or Rittenhouse Tavern make the list at all? And what were we thinking with Marigold Kitchen? There are answers to all of those questions, and it all began back in August with a deceptively complicated question:

What are your favorite restaurants in Philadelphia?

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Philly’s 51st-Best Restaurant

Picking the 50 best restaurants in a city shouldn’t be this tough. So what does it say about Philly that it was?

Rex 1516—the modern Southern restaurant on South Street whose kitchen entices diners with crawfish potpies and creamy low-country grits—is Philadelphia’s 51st-best restaurant.

This place, which is loved so dearly for lingering brunches of sweet-potato biscuits with chorizo gravy, for collard greens and cabbage salads with pork fat vinaigrette, never really made it onto the Big List. Oh, it had a brief rise into the high 40s during one pissed-off afternoon in which we scrapped almost everything from number 26 on and rebuilt the entire low end of the list from scratch. But almost since the start of our research, Rex has held tenaciously to its spot at number 51, fending off better-known challengers (Ela, Distrito, Rittenhouse Tavern) and scrappy upstarts (Hot Diggity, Russet, Bar Ferdinand under the command of David Ansill) alike.

More on number 51 »

Please Ignore This List – Our Insatiable Obsession with Philadelphia’s Restaurant Scene

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to Philadelphia’s restaurant scene? Our insatiable obsession with Philadelphia’s restaurant scene 

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I went from zealot to naysayer. I was out to dinner in the city with a group of friends, and the talk at the table—as it inevitably does these days—turned to restaurants. You know … have you been here, who just left there to open that, and so on. The conversation lasted for 30 minutes, right through our just-muddled cocktails, past the warm house-baked bread, beyond the first round of seasonal small plates. No one paused, not even for a second, to comment on the food we were eating or the restaurant we were in. And that’s when I became a culinary curmudgeon. I realized that all of the excitement surrounding our food scene suddenly seems to have very little to do with the actual food. Talking about restaurants—whether you’ve actually been there or not—is now our city’s favorite topic du jour.

Backlash is an integral part of the trend curve. Things become cool, then popular, then saturated, then overwrought, and then over (cupcakes being the quintessential—and still  inexplicable—exception). I’ve been writing about food in Philadelphia since interning at this magazine in 2004—I eventually became food editor—and was fortunate enough to be on the upslope of that curve. When I began covering food, Marc Vetri had one restaurant, and Jose Garces had none. But the hits kept coming, and fast. My food friends and I would rehash the progressions of courses and get giddy over perfected techniques, smart interpretations of classics, novel presentations, increasingly creative concepts. We were participating in a food scene that was getting richer, denser and more exciting by the minute.

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The Philadelphia Magazine 50 Best Restaurants for 2013

These are the restaurants we want to eat in right now. Not yesterday. Certainly not last year. Maybe not even tomorrow. But right now.

Philadelphia, at this moment, is in a state of flux that mirrors (and in some cases heralds) the changes happening in the restaurant industry at large—a movement toward a new casualness, where the best meal you’ll ever have is one you eat in blue jeans while sitting at a rough wood table in a neighborhood you wouldn’t even have driven through a decade ago. In this brave new world of cuisine, the restaurants our parents and grandparents knew—those temples of white-tablecloth haute cuisine—are struggling to find or recapture relevance. And in many cases, the cooks who trained at them are now the chefs who are taking their trade away.

Check out the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia on Phillymag.com

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50 Best Restaurants Being Announced

We will be announcing the Philadelphia magazine 50 Best Restaurants list on Wednesday, December 26th. The Top 20 restaurants will be tweeted in reverse chronological order starting at 11:45 a.m. The full list will be revealed on Foobooz at 3 p.m.

Follow along with the hashtag, #50BestPHL or head out to your local newsstand or bookstore Wednesday afternoon to get a copy of the magazine.

The tweeted list so far »

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