The Philadelphian’s Guide to Hosting a (Small!) Dinner Party

We can’t go out like we used to, but we can shine our own silver and set our own tables. Here, four steps to make the most of it.

philadelphia dinner party

Your guide to hosting a great Philadelphia dinner party. Photograph by Jillian Guyette

(Note: While gatherings of 25 people or less are currently acceptable, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley has cautioned that there’s still a risk with gatherings of two or more. So, for the time being, we’d recommend keeping your dinner party guest list to your family and pandemic pod — or take the gathering outdoors to be safely socially distanced.)

1. Shop the Right Spots

We ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the bruised apples, pale pink tuna and mushy avocados from Acme.

For Meat and Poultry: Primal Supply Meats
Until another butcher shop dethrones it from its place at the top of Philly’s regional butcher shops, we’ll keep recommending Primal Supply Meats for its local, pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken. 1538 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk; 1521 North 31st Street, Brewerytown.

For Seafood: Giuseppe’s Market at Samuels Seafoods
Think of it as Philly’s version of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. It’s a place to buy chef-quality snappers and bass, yes, but Giuseppe’s is also the only fishmonger in the city where you have access to items you’d normally only see on restaurant menus, like uni and bottarga. 3400 South Lawrence Street, South Philly.

For Produce: Riverwards Produce
When someone inevitably asks where you got those heirloom tomatoes or Barney purple local potatoes, you’ll say, “I know a guy.” That guy is Vincent Finazzo, owner of Philly’s greatest year-round indoor farmers’ market/spice shop/organic food store/cheese and charcuterie shop. 2200 East Norris Street, Fishtown.

For Baked Goods: The Kettle Black
The focaccia is bubbly and spotted like a Neapolitan pizza crust. The baguettes are all toasty and dark. What sets Kettle Black’s breads apart from every other artisan bakery in town, what makes it the only bakery worth going out of your way for, is that every single one of its products tastes like the Platonic ideal. 631 North 2nd Street, Northern Liberties.

philadelphia dinner party

Photograph by Jillian Guyette

Or: Leave the Prep Work To the Pros
Don’t wanna cook? Here’s what you do: Order some takeout, pull it out of the containers, and replate it. Mrs. Doubtfire did it, remember? Fooled her entire family. Plus, in these coronavirus times, when takeout is king, there are plenty of family-style restaurant meals in Philly to choose from. Dig, the fast-casual chainlet new to Rittenhouse — which, as a fast-casual chain, has no right to be as good as it is — does Min’s Famous Chicken family meal (serves four): roasted sweet potatoes, marinated cucumbers, a salad and, of course, a whole lemony roast chicken as the centerpiece. Hardena’s #NotPizza, a treasure trove of Indonesian goodies stuffed into a pizza box, will, without a doubt, impress everyone at the table. The menu changes weekly, but expect treats like grilled satay, fried whole butterfish, head-on prawns and stewed vegetables. Though the fact that it’s all arranged so beautifully inside a cardboard box might give away the ruse. And there’s always South Philly Barbacoa’s barbecued lamb, pancita and consomé, sold by the half-kilo with house-made tortillas. Though, to be honest, even an untrained palate won’t believe you cooked this up yourself. You’re good, but you’re not that good.

philadelphia dinner party

PSA: If guests are gonna hang by the bar (they will), set out some hand sani. Photograph by Jillian Guyette

2. Get Your Bar Straight

Because everyone knows a good time begins with the booze. Here, six new local offerings to add to yours this fall. 

1. Art in the Age’s Eau de Musc
Please Google why this whiskey is so special (but only Google after you buy it).

2. Boardroom Spirits Purple Haze
A pre-batched berry and citrus cocktail, so you’re not working while everyone else is partying.

3. Manatawny Sixth Anniversary Four Grain American Whiskey — Cask Strength
A 131.6-proof limited-edition bottle as old as the distillery itself.

4. Wayvine Carmine
A big, inky, chase-it-with-a-hunk-of-meat red by one of our favorite area wineries.

5. Philadelphia Distilling Vigo Amaro
Philly’s first amaro should be sipped after dinner or mixed into cocktails that need a boost of depth.

6. Bloomsday Dumpster Juice
A sweet vermouth made with local, seasonal aromatics by the folks at Bloomsday in Society Hill.

Just Add Punch!

A freshly mixed batch cocktail upgrades your beverage options — and you don’t have to play bartender for each individual guest. Try the No Punch Backs, a colder-weather crowd-pleaser from Harlan Joseph of Center City’s Good Dog Bar.

No Punch Backs | Serves 6
1 ¾ c. Maker’s Mark
½ c. each Domain de Canton and Carpano sweet vermouth
1 c. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Angostura bitters
Serve in highball glasses over ice with orange-peel garnishes.

How to … Keep On Keepin’ On

The key to a good night is simple: Know what to drink, when.

Remember that whole “beer before liquor, never been sicker” rule you learned in college? Unlearn it. It’s a myth. The only thing you and your guests should be mindful of to keep the night alive — to keep yourselves, you know, present — is pace. Here’s how to keep it, drink by drink.

Bubbly upon arrival
There’s no strategic reason to start the night with sparkling wine. But bubbles are festive. Bubbles bring joy. Bubbles set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Stiff cocktails before dinner
This might be obvious, but the earlier you start drinking the hard stuff — the martinis, the Negronis — the quicker you’ll feel the effects of drinking, which will help you gauge your preferred level of tipsy.

Sessionable stuff during dinner
Keep the cocktails batched and the ice buckets full. Find a rhythm. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Stick with low-ABV cocktails, easy-drinkin’ wines, crispy beers. Nothing that will bog you down, nothing that will fill you up.

Digestives after dinner (duh)
Something bitter; something licorice-y. Most after-dinner drinks (amari, specifically) have medicinal properties; they supposedly settle the stomach after big meals. At least, that’s what we’re told by their makers. It could be true; it could be a placebo effect. Either way, it works.

philadelphia dinner party

Mom’s chicken with turmeric tahini, chickpeas and onions; stuffed eggplant with tahini drizzle; Roasted beet hummus with pistachio oil; pumpkin hummus; and creamy tahini vinaigrette (to serve with a fall Niçoise salad). Photograph by Jillian Guyette

3. Serve a Damn Feast

If you’re gonna make the meal, we know just the place to get your recipes.

It’s a shame that America’s interest in tahini pales in comparison to its obsession with hummus. They should be flipped, because while hummus is a star in its own right, there might not be a condiment more versatile than tahini in your pantry right now. Soom, the local company that supplies Philly (and Michael Solomonov’s empire!) with its sesame paste, is set to release its very own cookbook, The Tahini Table, in November. Its sole purpose? To show off exactly the kind of versatility we’re talking about — and lead you to a delicious dinner menu in the process. Earmark the dishes in the photo above when you get your copy.

4. Dress Up Your Dinner Table

Go fancy-ish with help from a new local rental company.

You put effort into dinner — shouldn’t you do the same with the dinner table? Eve Singer’s new Bala Cynwd-based tabletop rental company, Broyt, specializes in small gatherings. Pictured at each place setting, Broyt’s earthy, organic-leaning dishware, flatware, table linens and stemware are an ingenious one-night-is-all-I-need way to impress guests, no china-cabinet overhaul required.

How to … Be the Guest Who Gets Asked Back

What to know when you’re doing the attending instead of the inviting.

Abide by your hosts’ social distancing rules.
Every house plays by different house rules these days. Maybe your hosts are keeping upstairs off-limits; maybe they’d prefer you use the basement bathroom only. Ask for their preferences if they don’t volunteer ’em, then follow those guidelines without protest. (And in case dinner’s gonna be on the back patio, bring a jacket.)

Don’t bring flowers (seriously).
The last thing someone prepping a group dinner needs is to stop prepping and snip the stems of a TJ’s bouquet, then rummage through cabinets for a vase. Instead, show up with a treat for the morning after, like Philly Bread’s English muffins or Lost Bread Co.’s pretzel shortbread cookies (delish dipped in coffee). That way, your host won’t feel pressure to set your gift out with the meal.

Keep yourself occupied.
The best guests don’t require a ton of hand-holding. Mix your own drink, find your own place to sit, and if you’re the first to arrive (never come early, by the way), play with the dog while your hosts finish up in the kitchen. If they’re genuinely overwhelmed, ask how you can help, but otherwise: They’ve invited you to be a guest. It’s okay to act like one.

Know when to leave.
When your hosts start loading the dishwasher, recorking the wine, or talking about the evening in past tense, that’s your cue. Thank them for the evening and be on your way.

Published as “Having People Over” in the October 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.