The Washington Post Sets Food Critic Tom Sietsema Loose In Philly And He Comes Back With Something Beautiful

The WaPo came to see if Philly really was one of the best restaurant cities in America.

Tom Sietsema came to Philly and he did it right. He got it–which is so rare these days–and put it all down on paper (and tape, and in pixels and video). The cheesesteak? 2am drunk food. Go for the roast pork sandwich, from John’s or DiNic’s. Center City? Sure, for a little while. But then Fishtown and East Passyunk and, you know, elsewhere…

The WaPo crew (Sietsema, with photographer Melina Mara and videographer Jayne Orenstein) spent some time here. They talked to people–lots of people–and investigated what was great about Philly. What was special about it. What makes it (potentially) one of the best food cities in America because that’s Sietsema’s game right now. He’s bopping all across America, touching down in Chicago and Charleston and Portland and elsewhere, in order to decide which cities deserve to be on his list of the best. It’ll be another five months before we know whether or not we’ve made the cut, but in the meantime, we have the photos. The words. The video. And so much of it is beautiful.

Sietsema touches down at too many places to list, but he starts at Reading Terminal Market. He talks to (or of or about) so many of the big names in town, but starts with Rick Nichols. The two of them meet at the market. They eat ice cream and sandwiches. They lay out the basics of Philly with an economy of words.

There’s ice cream, too, from Bassetts, the nation’s oldest ice cream company, where the many flavors (Guatemalan Ripple, Raspberry Truffle) are matched by flavored sugar or cake cones that will be rolled in crushed peanuts or sprinkles by request. Nichols tells me the blueberry pancakes at a homey lunch counter, Dutch Eating Place, are tops, and I’ll believe him later, once I try them, along with the doughnuts we watch being filled at Beiler’s Bakery.

“If you want a taste of Philadelphia,” says my genial escort as we walk into a sweltering July afternoon and on to more lunches, “Reading Market is something of a smorgasbord.”

There’s history in here. A crack about the terrible placement of Serpico on South Street. A nod at Marc Vetri’s former career as a rock star. A shifting focus on Vedge and Michael Solomonov and craft beer and the toasts at Vernick. The video that heads the piece is all about roast pork sandwiches and features Adam Erace, Marcie Turney, John Noddler, Rich Landau and John Bucci Jr., owner of John’s Roast Pork, talking about why he uses spinach instead of broccoli rabe (we applauded). The photos are of sandwiches, cocktails, nightlife and dim sum.

At this point, you should just go and check the piece out for yourself because I can’t do it justice here. Win or lose, Sietsema made Philly look good. Or maybe we made ourselves look good to him (or, maybe, we just are good and he noticed). But whatever the explanation, Sietsema sums it up himself. “It will be five months before I determine where Philadelphia will land on the list, but this much is certain: The City of Brotherly Love knows how to cook, eat and drink.”

Hell yes, we do.

The Search For America’s Best Food Cities: Philadelphia [Washington Post]