Best of Philly 2005: Restaurants & Food

Our cheat sheet on where to eat

Place to chat with a chef: Pif Two tall bar stools at a counter near the kitchen are the best vantage point for absorbing the full-tilt good cheer of this humble one-room BYOB bistro — and for asking chef-owner David Ansill foodie questions about the menu, a refreshing departure from the usual escargots and steak frites (1009 South 8th Street; 215-625-2923).

Pizza if you’re still on Atkins or South Beach: Jules Thin Crust Lower-carb, all-natural pizzas, sold by the inch for perfect portion control. Call ahead and they’ll bring it out to your car—though the walk into the restaurant would be good exercise (78 South Main Street, Doylestown; 215-345-8537).

Alternative to french fries if you’re still on Atkins or South Beach:
The blackened green beans at Grace Tavern
Green beans as finger food? Absolutely, when they’re dusted with zippy Cajun spices, sautéed in butter, and served with a kicky rémoulade (2229 Grays Ferry Avenue; 215-893-9580).

Way to indulge your carb cravings when you finally go off Atkins or South Beach: The fries at Five Guys
Washington, D.C.’s vaunted no-frills burger chain has come to Pennsylvania, and the highlight is the hand-cut, peanut-oil-fried fries, served in a brown paper bag, in super-sized, meant-for-sharing portions, with ketchup and vinegar. The Glen Mills location fries up more than 4,700 pounds of potatoes each week (Keystone Plaza, 1810 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills; 610-358-5489).

Vegetarian meal: Next BYOB Every Wednesday night, this South Street BYOB offers a four-course, $28 seasonal tasting menu featuring creative fare like asparagus and boursin pithivier with poached cherries. You can satisfy dietary restrictions, taste buds and bank accounts all at once (223 South Street; 215-629-8688).

Italian restaurant: Vetri Marc Vetri’s muse continues to burn brightly. On our most recent visit, we settled in for one of the tasting menus ($90 for six courses, $115 for eight courses) and were treated to foie gras pastrami on brioche toast with pineapple mostarda; gorgonzola ravioli with zucchini crema and baby arugula; almond-filled ravioli with truffle butter; and faultless roasted squab. At dessert, we greeted the light and lovely chocolate polenta cake, and the lavender ice cream lightly drizzled with warm olive oil, like old friends (1312 Spruce Street; 215-732-3478).

New Italian restaurant: Sovalo
Sophistication, simplicity, and attention to what’s in season set this Northern Liberties spot apart from a dozen new parmesan-dusted competitors. Chef Joseph Scarpone blazes his own creative trail, serving baked polenta with taleggio fondue, dandelion leaves and huckleberry vinaigrette, and handmade chicken-filled tortellini with English peas and vivid green pea juice (702 North 2nd Street; 215-413-7770).

Table: The chef’s table at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse See firsthand what a gourmet kitchen looks like at this elegantly set table with a view, not of Rittenhouse Square, but of the kitchen’s prep counters. An inventive French 12-course tasting menu prepared by chef Jean-Marie Lacroix is sure to impress your in-laws — even if they’re from New York (210 West Rittenhouse Square; 215-546-9000).