Philly’s 51st Best Restaurant: Stargazy
This year, the restaurants that didn’t quite make the cut say almost as much about our city as those that did.
Things in Philly are changing. Things in Philly are always changing, but these past couple years have been more tumultuous than usual.
Fine dining has taken a big hit. On our entire list of the best restaurants in the city, there are only a handful that could be considered fine dining. Fast-casual has become a viable local model. Some of our best eating is now done at the bar, late at night. The gastropub revolution that took hold so firmly here has become a base onto which we’ve built something new and not yet really named—a Philly cuisine that has as much to do with how you eat as with what’s on the plate, the table or the wine list.
Our chefs are doing amazing things. They’re just not always doing those things in the places we expect them to.
I loved Stargazy. There’s a part of me that wants to eat there every day—to make a regular habit of banoffee tarts, sausage rolls and meat pies until I grow completely round. But it’s also not really a restaurant, is it? A couple tables. A haze of flour. Some tea to drink. No service to speak of. The jumble and clutter of a working bakery kitchen spilling out onto the counters.
There were plenty of other notable names that came close to cracking the list this year—places like Alla Spina and Noord and South Philly Tap Room. But none of them really spoke to the moment we’re in as a food city the way Stargazy did. This is a place where NOTHING but the food matters. Where not a single thing—not reservations, service, tablecloths, design, a door or even, you know, chairs most of the time—stands between you and what the kitchen is doing.
You could look at chef Sam Jacobson’s CV and say that he’s been building toward Stargazy his entire life—a little pie-and-mash shop done in the British model, with cups of tea and sausage rolls, in a tiny location that exists to serve the neighbors and the pie addicts more than anyone else. But he’s also worked his way through some of the best kitchens in the region, and while he could have maintained that trajectory (or broken off and opened his own sit-down restaurant, with foie gras and fat steaks on the board), he instead opened the place he wanted to open—the hole-in-the-wall bakery and totally-not-a-restaurant he believed Philly truly needed.
And he could not have been more right.
Originally published in the January 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.