City Tap House has been on a bit of a tear lately. For the past year or so — ever since chef Chad Vetter took over the kitchen — the beer bar has been showing new culinary aspirations. Sure, there are still nachos on the menu, and chicken wings and other snacks friendly to the 60-plus beers on tap. But those wings are rubbed with a house blend of 10 spices, and the nachos are crowned with pulled pork and topped with a Walt Wit white cheddar sauce. What’s more, Vetter does shrimp-topped fried green tomatoes, and chicken and waffles with honey-thyme butter. And as if all that isn’t enough to convince people this is a perfectly respectable place to settle in for dinner and drinks, he recently added a spread of new gourmet pizzas topped with everything from Cantimpalo chorizo to Benton’s ham, peaches and arugula.
Oh, and you know. There’s still beer, too.
City Tap House [Foobooz]
Suburban restaurants are often doomed by the difficulties they have to overcome: lack of foot traffic, low customer counts, competition with the big-box chains that spring up on every major corner. But the one thing they have going for them? Their neighbors. Because when a great restaurant comes to a place previously served only by the mediocre and the lame, it can become the center of a community the way no urban restaurant ever can. Forno Antico is one of those places — a sprawling BYO that opened in a terrible location behind a jewelry store a few months back, but that’s been working hard to win over every single customer who comes through the doors. The pizzas come out of a traditional Neapolitan oven brought over from Italy (the name means “antique oven”), the alfredo tastes nothing like what you’ll get at the Olive Garden (meaning it’s wonderful and rich and buttery and creamy in the way that only a scratch-made sauce is), and the meatballs are huge, perfectly textured and delicious, even when, like me, you just ask for two orders to go so you can eat one in the parking lot before driving home.
Forno Antico [Foobooz]
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine
Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney at a still under construction Lolita | Photo by Jack Cotter
There’s always a lot of going on along the Thirteenth Street empire of Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, although recently, it has been extra newsworthy.
Craig LaBan visited the post BYOT Lolita and rewarded the Safran and Turney’s original restaurant two-bells, though he predictably does gripe about the noise.
What’s happening at 13th and Locust »
If you’re going to open a Thai spot within walking distance of Circles — still the best Thai within city limits — you’d better bring your A-game. Unfortunately, the folks behind AmeriThai, a new spot next to Nick’s Charcoal Pit don’t have a clue what they’re doing. From gummy satays and the grease-oozing, undercooked slop pile they’re trying to pass off as a Thai corn cake, to the kind of service that will make your blood boil, to the flies swarming my plates, I couldn’t wait to pay my check and walk out the door. And when a cockroach scurried by my feet in the dining room, that walk became more of a run.
1244 Snyder Avenue
Consider the radish…
When I reviewed Vedge two-and-a-half years ago, that was my opening line. Sometimes I wonder how many people stopped reading after the third word. But I don’t regret it. Plenty of things on Rich Landau’s menu sounded more appetizing, but the black slate bearing his “fancy radishes” was a dish that changed my whole way of thinking—not only about that lowly stepchild of the brassicas, but about vegan cooking altogether.
Five varieties came five ways, from roasted to half-roasted to raw, with an artful precision and a cup of smoked tamari soy sauce that boldly begged comparison with top-shelf sashimi. It was a definitive dish: the last word on an ingredient nobody else was really even offering a first word about. So if anything was bound to stay on Vedge’s menu, it was the radishes. As an emblem of Landau and Kate Jacoby’s galvanizing approach to vegetables, it was too perfect to replace.
Yet not too perfect to improve upon, as I discovered on a recent, belated return to a restaurant that I’ve spent the last two years sending people to.
Read more »
Photo by Mike Arrison
There are two ways a restaurant can be and remain successful: It can stay relevant, or it can become a classic. Sometimes, when the planets align and the gods approve, the two happen simultaneously. Pumpkin has lived at 17th and South for what’ll soon be 10 years, the anniversary of the day when owners Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor grabbed hold of a space nobody believed in and created (and kept) the BYO atmosphere we all know and love.
Alas, with the surrounding restaurant neighborhood explosion — the fancy toasts, the small plates — tiny places like this can get lost in the scrum. But Pumpkin stayed true and stayed exciting. Fregola sarda (toasted beads of Sardinian pasta) risotto with an English pea salad on top was not only comforting, but a texturally fun play on popping peas and smooth risotto. And it was the succotash that brought the sweet, tang and heat (from Styer Orchard chili peppers) that tiny gobbets of snails reveled in.
It’s easy eating at Pumpkin — not dated, not too precious, not clinging to trends, but not losing sight of what Philadelphia wants, either. It’s a restaurant that’s both current and classic, and that still harks back to a day when Philadelphia began to do what we do best: bring our own.
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Photo by Alex Tewfik
This weekend, Craig LaBan reviewed Chip Roman’s The Treemont and wonders where all the diners are. Scared off by an unusual deadspot in Center City or dissuaded from the Cheesecake Factory construction site down the block? But for those who have made it in the doors, there are rewards.
If Roman has the financial fortitude to endure the leaner months, the Treemont has the ingredients to become, with refining (and maybe some noise-proofing), a reliable, fine-dining hideaway with quality entrees, fairly priced in the mid-$20s.
Two Bells – Very Good (93 decibels)
Treemont mystery: Good food, few eaters [Philadelphia Inquirer]
The Treemont [Foobooz]
Society Hill Society | Photo by Courtney Apple
In the annals of faint praise, neighborhood restaurant is a peculiar epithet. People usually apply it to the places that make them feel most welcome. Yet it’s a dismissive classification—not just because it implies that a place merits only limited attention, but because it suggests that one neighborhood restaurant is more or less interchangeable with any other. Warm hospitality, a menu that’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, consistent cooking, and bang—your Brewerytown pals are all, “Why can’t somebody open a place like this by us?”
Nobody would ask that about Society Hill Society, because Reed Barrow has remade the old Artful Dodger into a public house that looks like pints have been sliding across its hammered copper bar since the first bricks were laid on Headhouse Square (and only lately, eclectic cocktails). Locally crafted spindle chairs and coarse-grained chestnut soak up the warm light of yellow globe fixtures on patched plaster ceilings. The upper bar shelves hold objects so random, it seems they must have taken decades to accrue. Is that a femur wedged in next to the ship captain’s hat?
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Crow & the Pitcher | Jason Varney
For food-obsessed Philadelphians, the first half of August unfolded like a rigged game of Two Truths and a Lie. In case you were down the Shore, let’s play. Pick the fib: The Ritz-Carlton turned over 10 Arts to a barbecue pit-master for a night; chef-cum-doughnut mogul Michael Solomonov came out in the New York Times as a self-described “crackhead” during Zahav’s early days; and Georges Perrier did a three-night gig at a restaurant that serves deep-fried pickles and a “Cool Ranch Dorito Omelette.”
Now, you already know the game’s fixed. All three are the God’s honest. But still, Georges Perrier—Georges “I declare war on Steve Starr” Perrier—moonlighting in a kitchen that crumbles junk food into the eggs? Well, that casts Le Bec-Fin’s legacy in an unexpected light.
The highbrow/no-brow tug-of-war has been playing out in Philly since at least the 2004 debut of Barclay Prime’s $100 cheesesteak, but Crow & the Pitcher (which marks chef Alex Capasso’s return to Philadelphia after seven years operating Blackbird in Collingswood) is our first restaurant to carry the yupster embrace of cognitive dissonance to what you might call a post-ironic stage.
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Craig LaBan ventures to Ambler for the promise of barbecue and whiskey at the Lucky Well. What he finds is uneven at best. Chef/owner Chad Rosenthal has trouble with consistency.
I don’t doubt Rosenthal’s passion for BBQ. I could taste those good intentions on the St. Louis pork ribs, the bones dusted Memphis-style with spice, the pink-haloed meat clinging just right. The Lucky Well’s chicken wings also wore their smoke well enough. But I should have stopped there.
Food Network notoriety is no guarantee of culinary genius, a fact made abundantly clear by two meals in which virtually everything else fell flat.
One Bell – Hit-or-Miss
Dining Review: The Lucky Well [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lucky Well [Official]