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Eating Your Way Through Philadelphia

Jordan Wright
Special to Washingtonian Magazine – April issue
April 2012 

If you think the Philly food scene is all cheesesteaks, snapper soup and Italian water ice – you’ve missed the gastronomic explosion in Love City, although if cheesesteak is your thing Barclay Prime will satisfy for $100 a pop under crystal chandeliers.  (  Here are some ways to celebrate the city’s gastronomic delights.

Where to stay 

Executive Chef Rafael Gonzalez at the Four Seasons Hotel rooftop garden - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Executive Chef Rafael Gonzalez at the Four Seasons Hotel rooftop garden - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Check in at the Four Seasons Hotel, whose executive chef plucks herbs and veggies from their rooftop garden.  (  The luxurious Old World style property is centrally located at Logan Square.

The Hotel Palomar near Rittenhouse Square is modernist chic.  Leopard bathrobes and complimentary nightly wine receptions are replete with truffled popcorn.  (

Dining and Drinks 

The restaurant scene once dominated by Iron Chef Jose Garces known for Amado and Distrito, and the prodigious over-achiever Stephen Starr (of his 20 restos, five opened this year), has upstarts nipping at their heels.

Current scene-stealers are Fish, Fork, La Croix, Bibou, the revamped Oyster House, Meme, White Dog Café and Vetri, though George Perrier’s Le Bec Fin still reigns as the bastion of French haute cuisine. 

JG Domestic in the Cira Centre - Photo credit Jordan Wright

JG Domestic in the Cira Centre - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Garces channels The French Laundry at JG Domestic in the Cira Centre for American farm-sourced dining.  The menu changes seasonally, but look for Wagyu carpaccio and lobster cappuccino, the Griggstown Farms roast chicken is a standout, plus the yummy bourbon caramel beignets.  (

Zahav is a modern Israeli-inspired gem.  Try the persimmon salad, oxtail soup with fenugreek, Brussel sprouts with whipped feta or a perfect lamb kebab dotted with pistachios.  Save room for the hazelnut and date rugelach.  (

Chef, author and television personality, Walter Staib, whose three-time Emmy-winning PBS program “A Taste of History” has been nominated for a James Beard Award this year, is the owner of the elegant City Tavern.  Opened in 1773, the original tavern was host to George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but you can dine there on Staib’s 18th century style gourmet cuisine today.  (

On Washington Square the new Talula’s Garden is an enchantingly rustic spot known for their spectacular cheese menu.  Try salmon with roasted sunchokes and pancetta or lobster pie with lobster anisette sauce. (

In the heart of the theatre district the Walnut Street Supper Club appeals to the Mad Men crowd with a super-glam retro nightclub featuring live entertainment from “I-passed-the-audition!” singing servers.  Dishes lean toward Italian specialties and steaks and goes from rack of lamb to lobster ravioli. (

Around the corner the hot bar scene is El Vez with its dazzling Vegas vibe bar mounted with an illuminated motorcycle.  Slip into a plush banquette for a cold Pacifico or blood orange margarita.  A ‘50’s draw-draped photo booth for guests documents the visit. (

Across the street and named number one by National Geographic on their list of the “Top Ten Places in the World to Get Ice Cream”, is Capogiro Gelato Artisans.  Try their Cioccolato Scuro, Bananas Foster or Philly Cheesecake flavors.  (

The Mint Julep at Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company - Photo credit Jordan Wright

The Mint Julep at Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Cocktails are the main attraction at Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. a one-time Prohibition era speakeasy with upscale ingredients and herbal infusions. Indulge in a ‘Blonde Redhead’ or ‘Drums in the Deep’.  (

For the best taps in town sample the suds at Hawthorne’s Beer Boutique or tour the tasting rooms at the Yards or the Philadelphia Brewing Company where the beers are crafted on site.

Farmers Markets 

Beck's Cajun Cafe in the Redding Terminal Market - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Beck's Cajun Cafe in the Redding Terminal Market - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Right in the heart of Philadelphia is the Redding Terminal Market the oldest farmers market in the US.  Built in 1893 it’s a bustling bazaar chock-a-block with farm-sourced delicacies from Pennsylvania Dutch cakes and pies to pickles and spices.  Chill out with a dozen briny bivalves at Pearl’s Oyster Bar or chow down on Cajun jambalaya, Southern BBQ, French crepes or Italian hoagies at over 15 dining counters. 

Greensgrow Farm - Photo Credit Jordan Wright

Greensgrow Farm - Photo Credit Jordan Wright

While Headhouse Farmers’ Market and Greensgrow Farm grow and sell on site, The Food Trust, with its network of 35 farmers markets around the city, promotes local farmers and budding entrepreneurs.

Over on Baltimore Avenue in what’s know as the University District grab a coffee or Maplehofe Dairy hot chocolate and bagels at the Milk and Honey Market and hit the nearby Clark Park Farmers’ Market on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings to satisfy your inner locavore.  If the weather permits, you can picnic in the adjoining park.

Current Art Scene

Don’t miss the newly relocated The Barnes Foundation, scheduled to open on Logan Square May 19th.

Or tour the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibit –an exclusive in the US that runs till May 6th. (

Food Truckers Heat Up the Night

Night Market Philly - photo credit

Night Market Philly - photo credit

As the weather warms up Night Market Philly kicks off the season with monthly food truck parties. Twitter followers get regular updates.  Standout food truckers are Garces’ Guapo’s Tacos, Pitruco for wood-fired pizzas, Mini Trini featuring Trinidadian flavors, Viva Las Vegans for custom veggie burgers, Tyson Bees for Asian fusion, and Bui’s for Vietnamese.

Dessert lovers like Little Baby’s Ice Cream flavors like Cardamom Caramel or Earl Grey’s Sriracha; Sugar Philly for Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cake; or go for French Macarons; and Nutella cupcakes from the Buttercream truck.  Former Roots drummer and Philly native, QuestLove, is rumored to be launching a soul food truck featuring Origami Wrapped Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Sunday Brunch and Italian Market 

Linger for Sunday brunch at Daniel Stern’s R2L with sweeping bird’s eye views of the city from the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place on Rittenhouse Square.  (

The Dandelion Pub is Stephen Starr’s ode to a traditional Irish pub.  Sundays feature roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

On the way home stop at Philadelphia’s 100-year old Ninth Street Italian Market.  Grab cheeses from Di Bruno’s and Claudios, hand rolled pasta and sauces from Talluto’s and sausages from Fiorella Bros., and specialty game meats and pates from D’Angelo Bros.  Open from 8 till 2 on Sundays.  (

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