At Gilda in Fishtown, the Portuguese-Inspired Pastries Sell Out Early
Come for Gilda’s fleeting pastries. Stay for the sandwiches.
There is never a quiet moment at Gilda.
I mean, Tuesdays, sure. But Tuesdays, the place is closed. And I guess it gets pretty quiet after four p.m., because that’s when the house shuts down and everyone goes home. But in the daylight, six mornings and afternoons a week, Gilda is a machine — purpose-built for the delivery of Portuguese-inspired breakfast and lunch food to the Fishtown masses.
Owners Brian Oliveira and Brian Mattera brought this thing to life — two restaurant veterans who wanted a place to show off their bacalao and breakfast sandwiches. Oliveira comes from a Portuguese family (by way of Newark), and the restaurant is named after Mattera’s grandmother, Gilda — pronounced with a soft G, like Jilldah, the way they’d say it in Lisbon.
The Brians and their crew do a tight menu, heavy on the sandwiches, everything served on dull silver platters lined with blue-and-white checked paper. There are sardines on toast with olive gremolata, salt cod fritters like breakfast for hungover fishermen, piri piri chicken thighs marinated in garlic and chilies, grilled hard and served over saffron rice with a handful of crisp fries scattered on top.
The Serrano and cheese sandwich feels basic but is deceptively international — thin-sliced Serrano ham, fatty and dry and pink, rich French butter, Spanish manchego cheese and peppery greens, all laid out on toasted mealhada rolls. There’s a breakfast sandwich here, the Antonio, that’s my new go-to favorite in a city that could host an all-day tour of truly remarkable breakfast sandwiches. Here, it’s fried egg and Cooper sharp and house-made linguiça sausage on a squishy round roll smeared with “breakfast sauce” made (I assume, from the way I crave it every day) of unicorn tears and magic.
The pastry case has been a draw here since the day Gilda opened — cookies, trays of fresh bolas de Berlim, like thick, puffy doughnuts cut in half and spread with custard or a thick tres leches that’s like eating caramel by the spoonful. The pastéis de nata are shaped like flowers, come filled with a brulée-topped, cinnamon-infused egg custard, and sell out so fast, the menu comes with a warning.
I wish Gilda was open late. I wish it served all night long. I mean, I’m fine with it being a daytime indulgence, because this city doesn’t have nearly enough restaurants that specialize in daylight food. But after dark, Gilda would kill it — hanging globe lights like stars twinkling above tables filled with fat doughnuts and bacalao.
Until that happens, though, I’m happy to wake up early, before the natas are all gone, take my place in line, and wait. Gilda is worth the effort.
3 Stars — Come from anywhere in Philly
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in Philly
★★★★: come from anywhere in America
Published as “How to Sell Out” in the September 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.