It could have been a colossal failure: a workplace comedy (as if we haven’t had enough of those) set in an under-funded Philly public school (not an apparent great source of laughs) and broadcast on network TV (something people have been watching less and less of). “Oh my God, I really hope people like it,” Abbott Elementary creator and star Brunson told us just after the show’s debut on ABC in December. Well, they liked it. They liked it a lot. Thanks to the comic genius and marketing savvy of Brunson, who was raised right here by a mom who taught in those under-funded schools, the show proved a runaway success, earning well-deserved comparisons to The Office and killing it in the ratings — and making her an icon in the process. The show’s now been renewed for a second season; look for it on September 21st.
What began as a temporary deal in a shuttered pizza joint is now a full-blown, deeply personal restaurant. Amanda Shulman has transitioned Her Place Supper Club from a short-term project to a permanent operation while retaining its sublime French and Italian-ish food and a human touch so integral to the original concept. Coming here feels like having dinner at your cool new friend’s house — if your friend made the best steak tartare and fries in the city, always seemed to keep a truffle hidden somewhere in her kitchen, and had a wine and cocktail program crafted by Julianna Bursack. Her Place may have started as a pop-up, but lucky for us, it’s not going anywhere. 1740 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, herplacephilly.com.
Yes, it’s obvious. And yes, you have to dodge hordes of hyperactive children and hawkers slinging overpriced Gatorade. But the best place for an alfresco sweat session in this city will always be the Art Museum steps, 72 tiny limestone mountains that will kill your calves and tone your butt. At the bottom, you roll your eyes at the selfie-taking out-of-towners. On the way up, you curse the goddamn class trips blocking your ascent. But once you’ve made it, you turn around – legs aching, lungs burning – and look back over the city and feel like you’ve conquered it. And that will never not be a rush. So go practice yoga on some fancy rooftop, or do your Pilates in the park. As for me, I’ll be running the Art Museum steps with the tourists. See you at the top. – Gina Tomaine
At some Chinese restaurants, there are two separate menus the one given to American diners, and the secret one reserved for Chinese-speaking patrons. Not here: All diners get the same menu, which has both Americanized kung pao and lo mein and bona fide dishes you'd actually find in China. While you may find comfort in ordering your tried-and-true dishes (and they're great here), good things happen when you leap over that Great Wall to the other side of the menu. Cases in point: perfectly snappy shrimp in a hot pepper sauce, sizzling beef with charred scallion, and tea-smoked duck that'll have your taste buds on the road to Shanghai. 260 North Pottstown Pike, Exton, PA 19341, handynasty.net.
Well, really the only good thing to happen in a Tesla. With their three-year-old son Rafa in the back seat, Wayne residents Keating and Yiran Sherry were driving to Paoli Hospital one morning last September when they hit rush-hour traffic just as very-pregnant Yiran’s labor contractions sped up. Luckily, they drive a Tesla, so Keating switched on the autopilot and comforted his wife while she gave birth to daughter Maeve (her job as a yoga instructor helped with the breathing) and Rafa demanded, “Is Mommy okay?” “Our hope for this was that it was going to be a natural birth,” Keating said afterward. “Never in our wildest dreams would we expect it to happen in the front seat of our car.”
There are times when we resent how obsessed this city can get with pizza. How in 2020 — an era in dining when we ought to be fawning over Sri Lankan curries and Nigerian jollof rice — pizza still consistently gets top billing.
And there are other times — like … now, when the world feels so unsteady — that we’re very happy seeking solace in the basics. Finding comfort in pizza. Letting Philly’s pizzaiolos, you know, take care of us in our time of need. Because if nothing else, pizza is as comforting as comfort foods get.
When we were still in the red phase, some shops, like Pizzeria Stella(420 South 2nd Street) in Society Hill, Barbuzzo (110 South 13th Street) in Midtown Village, and Wood Street Pizza (325 North 12th Street) in Callowhill (which, not for nothing, is one of the city’s best classic pizza shops), provided us with DIY pizza kits that kept us occupied and well-fed during the quarantine. Wood Street’s Dean Kitagawa even commissioned his wife, Sarah D’Ambrosio, to create artwork on some of the pizza boxes. “It was a small thing we did to establish a connection with our guests — a connection we lost when we pivoted to just doing takeout,” he says.
Philly found comfort in pizza even when the style of pizza was completely new to us. Much as it did in almost every other major food city in the U.S., Detroit-style pizza took over Philly. Of course, it got the aged-dough/high-quality-ingredients treatment we’ve become so used to seeing; witness Dan Gutter’s focaccia-like frico-crusted pies from Circles + Squares (2513 Tulip Street) in Kensington, or even his less Detroit-y pan pizzas — à la Pizza Hut — at Pizza Plus (1846 South 12th Street) in East Passyunk, or the fat, deeply caramelized squares at Sidecar Bar & Grille (2201 Christian Street) in Grad Hospital. The ranch-drizzled, banana-peppered monstrosity at Emmy Squared (632 South 5th Street) was a delicious addition to Queen Village.
Neapolitan pizza, a food trend that came as quickly as it left this city, found new life at Gigi Pizza (504 Bainbridge Street), across the street from Emmy Squared. They do a sort of hybrid NYC-meets-Napoli pie baked in a wood-burning oven, with a crust that’s somehow both airy and stiff — essentially, a big middle finger to the chewy, soupy pies favored by the Neapolitan pizza gods.
We saw our fair share of illegal pizza activity, too, which has become something of the norm in this city after @pizza_gutt paved the way back in 2017. Instagram “pizza shops” like @pizza_jawn and @freelancepizza_ began delivering pies (baked who knows where) to their thousands of eager followers.
And in maybe the longest slog of quarantine, Joe and Angela Cicala, the chef-owners of Cicala at the Divine Lorraine and former owners of Brigantessa in East Passyunk, launched an illicit pizza “speakeasy” out of their backyard in South Philly, with proceeds to help pay their laid-off staff. On its first day, the Cicalas sold 200 pizzas in 40 minutes. They sold out again on the second day. And on the third day, seven cops and two city health inspectors shut the operation down. Pizza-obsessed, indeed.
Sometime in my mid-20s, three faint but distinct lines decided to plant themselves on my brow, stretching from temple to temple across my forehead like a fence without posts. I sometimes stand under the harshest light in my bathroom, dapping on a variety of products to see if with the right combination they might plump back out, like little troughs just waiting to be filled. They never do. Well, they never did, I should say Five years ago, on the advice of a friend, I went to Rescue Rittenhouse Spa's Danuta Mieloch, a Polish-born aesthetician who worked in Paris and Manhattan before opening Rescue here nearly a decade ago. Her facials are the only thing that has ever made the lines fade to near-nothingness. I realize this sounds absurd, especially because we're not talking about injectables or lasers or anything you've seen on Real Housewives. The magic comes courtesy of a non-invasive, utterly relaxing 60 minutes filled with exfoliating, a little microdermabrasion, and lots of moisturizing. The result is Beyonce-level luminosity and smoothed-out skin. One glows no exaggeration for weeks. Chances are good that I'm not writing anything you haven't read about or experienced yourself: Danuta (or Dana, as she's known to clients) long ago became an instant Philly classic. Friends told friends, and suddenly you had to wait six months to get an appointment But Rescue the closest thing I've ever found to redemption for all those sunburns in my youth is always worth it. 225 South 17th Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19103, rescuerittenhousespa.com.
While COVID-19 decimated the city’s restaurant scene, it also helped push Philly’s antiquated liquor laws just a bit into the 21st century. Here’s how.
The Lawsuit | The PLCB always acted as the middleman between wine dealers who sold specialty bottles (you know, the natural, biodynamic wine made by small producers) and places where you’d normally buy those bottles (restaurants and bottle shops). So when COVID-19 shut down all Pennsylvania state stores back in March, dealers in Philly were no longer able to sell their product, and independent wine retailers couldn’t restock their shelves. Two dealers, MFW Wine Co. LLC and A6 Wine Co., said “Enough!” and sued the motherfriggin’ PLCB.
While the suit is still moving slowly through the system — the PLCB appealed the ruling of the Commonwealth Court — the implications of PLCB-free wine commerce in the Philly restaurant industry are huge. Because even right now, in 2020, wine delivery is still nonexistent for retailers and restaurants. Right now, there’s still essentially no wholesale discount. Right now, retailers are paying gratuitous fees (and passing the cost on to us). And a lawsuit like this — which, mind you, has a good chance of succeeding — might very well change all of that.
To-Go Cocktails | The problems inherent in working within the PLCB’s convoluted systems were only exacerbated when coronavirus came along and shut down our nightlife scene entirely. Something had to give.
On May 21st, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a piece of legislation that allowed restaurants and bars that had lost at least 25 percent of their average monthly sales due to the pandemic to sell cocktails to-go. Which means that for the first time since Prohibition, you can walk up to a bar in Philadelphia and order some martinis for the road, and nobody — not even a PLCB officer — can stop you from living your life. The to-go-martini kind of life.
Wine Shops! Finally! | When the PLCB temporarily closed all its stores, these shops stayed open and kept us drinking and drunk during the apocalypse. And they deserve all the attention in the world.
• Vernick Wine, 2029 Walnut Street, Rittenhouse
• Tinys Bottle Shop, 3124 Richmond Street, Port Richmond
• Di Bruno Bros., 9th Street Bottle Shop, 920 South 9th Street, Bella Vista
• Fancy Wine Club at Bloomsday, 414 South 2nd Street, Society Hill
• Le Caveau, 614 South 7th Street, Bella Vista
• Fishtown Social, 1525 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown
• Wine Dive, 1506 South Street, Grad Hospital
• Jet Wine Bar, 1525 South Street, Grad Hospital