January 31, 2016

9 Restaurants That Should Replace L2

In February 2014 we wrote a post about eight restaurants that should replace Dmitri's on Fitler Square after it closed much nearby residents' dismay. Even though new tenant Tria Fitler Square has turned out to be a pleasant addition to the neighborhood, it was not on our original list.

With the former L2 space at 23rd and South available again after a pizza/growler concept fell through, we're revisiting our original list. It's a great location that, with some renovations, could help continue the growth in commercial vibrancy in the neighborhood and be a great corner spot to eat.

Without further adieu, here are many the original ideas we'd still like see move in, with some tweaks:

1. Koo Zee Doo. We have not been shy about claiming Koo Zee Doo to be one of our all-time favorite restaurants in Philadelphia. But it fell victim to rent hikes in Northern Liberties and slow weeknights, closing in 2013 to widespread outcry from fans all over the area. Chef David Gilberg is at William Street Common now, but maybe he and co-owner/wife Carla Goncalves will consider a resurgence. The neighborhood could use something unconventional like Portuguese food. Only question will be... is the rent still too high?

2. Manakeesh. Along the same lines, Lebanese fusion could be a nice "something different" for Fitler Square. Manakeesh Cafe at 45th & Walnut is a huge hit for its flatbread sandwiches, platters and baked goods (we are obsessed with the baklava). We'd love to see them create a casual sit-down dinner menu, while also opening for breakfast and lunch, reminiscent of the original cafe style.

3. Chimu. On a recent trip to Brooklyn, we were tipped off to try Peruvian restaurant Chimu. Holy cow was it good. Skirt steak, chimichurri, ceviche... Is there any Peruvian food in Philly? If so, please advise on where we can get this. And then bring it closer!

4. Girl and The Fig. Another transplant idea. If you've ever been to Sonoma, CA, and didn't try the fresh, locally-sourced French cooking at Girl and The Fig, you missed out. Best meal we had in wine country. Not to mention that its owner/chef was raised and launched her career in Philadelphia. Come back, Sondra Bernstein! Your East Coast outpost awaits!

5. Gayle: The Revival. Daniel Stern's byob off South Street was the first restaurant we tried after moving to Philadelphia that really made an impact. (blog post from 2009, yikes!) The creative twists he put on dishes like pork & beans, shepherd's pie and "breakfast" blew our minds at the time, and the fact that a chef came out to talk to us made a real impact on the way we looked at food.

One vote for dim sum! (photo at Bing Bing)
6. Bring back Pat! Friends had mixed experiences at 943 during its run on 9th Street in the Italian Market. Maybe it was the wrong spot? Struggled like other BYOBs to bring in enough revenue? We really liked the Argentinian/Italian blend at 943 and would love to see Chef Pascual Cancelliere (such a nice dude) give it another shot with a liquor license and new audience.

7. El Bulli. I mean, why not. Best restaurant in the world is now closed, so let's see it re-open in Philadelphia! A foodie can dream.

8. Dim Sum Anything. We cherish dumplings and would love to see an outpost outside of Chinatown. While we'd take a Dim Sum Garden or another Bing Bing, we'd be happy with anything serving up piping hot soup dumplings.

9. Anything Good AND Kid Friendly. As new parents our needs and wants have changed. No longer can we just show up and sit at the bar or count on sticking with reservations. We enjoy taking our son out but it's a lot of work at the same time, and expensive to hire babysitters. (And when we do get out, it's even harder to find time to blog about it!) So, how about a place that provides the best of both worlds. L2 is a big enough spot for families and highchairs, while still catering to the masses. Give us the chance to enjoy a great meal along with a kid friendly dining experience. We would thank you for it.

What we don't need: Brunch joint like Honey's, more Neapolitan pizza like Vetri or $27 entree bistro a la Fitler Dining Room. We're not criticizing any of those spots, just don't need another one so close.

What are your suggestions??

December 28, 2015

Warm Up Your Cold Winter Nights at Whetstone Tavern

Photo Credits: Whetstone's Instagram
Whetstone Tavern opened in July at 5th & Bainbridge in an inviting corner spot that has seen its share of restaurants cycle through. We were fans of the last tenant, Tapestry, so we're happy to see another solid restaurant take its place. The layout is similar to Tapestry but with lighter, trendy blue/gray/white scheme that sets a chic yet comfortable mood.

Executive Chef Jeremy Nolan's famed German cooking should be familiar to any Brauhaus Schmitz regulars. To Whetstone he now brings fresh, classy versions of American tavern fair and a bourbon/whiskey-focused drink menu.

Our party of four was satisfied with our choices and really impressed with some. Two appetizers really stood out: the highlight of my meal was an outstanding pumpkin bisque added to the menu for fall. A topping of pumpkin seed pesto, pumpkin seed oil, sherry wine and crispy garlic perfected the simple, light creamy soup.

Kung Pao chicken wings. Warning: Seriously hot!
The waitress warned that the kung pao chicken wings appetizer was quite hot and she was not kidding. Bradd loved their flavor and crisp, but wouldn't let my pansy tastebuds anywhere near the spice.

Each entree was $24 and seemed to me an appropriate portion size and quality for the price. Braised rabbit and fresh pappardelle tetrazzini was an excellent choice for a cold night. It is served with sherry cream, beech mushrooms, smoked almonds and shaved piave cheese.

Another item that will catch your eye and not disappoint is the Creekstone Farms braised short ribs, served with roasted baby carrots and cremini mushrooms, parsnip puree, red wine gravy, fresh horseradish and parsley. The pan seared scallops with braised cauliflower, chile infused fennel confit and crispy fingerling potatoes were perfectly fine but probably the least memorable dish of the night.

Short ribs always stand out during cold winter nights
I was drawn to the pan sauteed lump and claw meat crabcakes, which turned out to be cooked just right and very tasty. I wasn't in love with the old bay roasted potatoes on the side but the leeks and pickled vegetable remoulade sauce made a deliciously seasonal topping.

I just barely had room left for a bit of maple custard pie with walnut streusel on top. Thank goodness because it was awesome.

Whetstone touts its bourbon focus so for cocktails we tried the Burly Burch, which basically tastes like a (very) spiked root beer so get it if you're a big root beer fan, and the Apple Barrel, another strong, good drink with a bit of a bite. I'd go back to Whetstone Tavern for dinner any time, but would also enjoy just sitting at the bar for a few more cocktails and enjoying the atmosphere. And maybe another slice of maple custard pie.

*Kid-friendly? Like many restaurants, I could see Whetstone Tavern as an ok place to bring a baby or young child during the early dinner hours or brunch. As it fills up, the noise level rises but was never disruptive. Tables are close together but not so close you couldn't replace one seat with a highchair.

L: Apple Barrel with bourbon, Appelkorn, served on the rocks. R: Burly Burch with bourbon, birch beer, fresh lime, served long over ice

 All Photos Credit to Whetstone Tavern's Instagram.

December 7, 2015

Five Dollars Will Buy You One of the Best Burgers in Philadelphia

America's burger craze has shifted from the $15+ luxury burger to the reasonably priced, roadside snack that could rival any fancier competitor on quality. While the best of the best still require visits to restaurants like REX 1516, Village Whiskey or Pub & Kitchen, it's now just as easy to grab a quick, affordable burger to meet our needs. Call it the Shake Shack effect.

The famous $5 Fountain Porter burger
For our cheap dollar, the best of the bunch is at Fountain Porter in South Philly. The no-thrills corner bar just off East Passyunk Ave. serves up a $5 patty with cheese, lettuce and tomato on a potato bun. That's it.

The minimalist Fountain Porter burger, perhaps the best of its class in Philadelphia, is cooked to absolute perfection - crispy on the outside, pink on the inside with juice oozing out to coat the bun. You can knock 'em back like White Castle (without the undesired after shock).

Before arriving at Fountain Porter, we thought the burger was the only thing on the menu. You can actually get a variety of pickled items, cured meats and cheeses as well, but the burger is the star of the show. I wish the fries were a bit crispier, but they were still quite good for the price. The spicy pickles were a nice snack, too.

Fountain Porter also has one of the best beer selections around. It's really the perfect spot for a quality brew with an affordable burger, even if you buy two!

*Kid friendly? Not ideal, but with an adventurous spirit you can sit in the back and make do. You'll need to get there early before the crowds roll in. At 5 p.m. on a Saturday, we were glad to see another tiny table with two toddlers. It was loud enough inside that any noise they or our little guy made was drowned out, but if your child doesn't do well with noise, then Fountain Porter isn't the best option for you.

Inside shot! Pretty simple but delicious.

November 19, 2015

The Nana Test: La Fontana Della Citta

On one of the recent beautiful November nights, we took the opportunity to grab an outside seat at La Fontana Della Citta, an Italian BYOB near Rittenhouse Square. We've walked past a million times and seen it both empty and packed, leaving us to wonder - is that place any good?

La Fontana can be classified as an average BYOB that suits the purpose of an Italian meal. It’s not the place for special night out or a particularly dynamite experience. But, if you just want a decent bowl of penne, like I did, you’ll walk away pleased.

Let’s take La Fontana Della Citta through The Nana Test.

Atmosphere: Nothing especially unique. The outside seating was a bit too dark, even for November. The meal could have benefited from some more warmth from the waiters, too. Friends have told us that it gets quite boisterous later in the evening when a youthful crowd drowns their pasta with wine. The menu hints at this with some odd warnings such as a two credit card maximum per table, a $16.95 minimum per person after being seated and a request to leave promptly after paying your bill. 3 out of 5

Simplicity: La Fontana has an expansive menu covering just about every Italian dish. The presentation is basically, "here is your dish to eat." Kristy’s gnocchi lacked the ideal fluffiness, but the vodka sauce hit the simplicity notes. Olive oil for the table (which only came after we asked for it) was terrible and could have been a store brand for all I know. Too simple. 3 out of 5

Gnocchi in a blush sauce with random chunks of mozzarella cheese. That last part was awkward.

The sauce: Arrabiata is one of my favorite sauces and I've found many lacking spiciness, or worse just come with a hot pepper on top. La Fontana’s had a deep red sauce flavor with just the right amount of spice. The sauce sums up La Fontana in a nutshell - I could make their dishes better at home, but then I would have to spend the time to make it. In other words, La Fontana gets the basic job done in a pinch. Side note: Di Bruno's homemade jar of arrabiata is a great option for an Italian night at home. 3 out of 5

Penne Arrabiata

Serving size and bread: As the cornerstone of a great Italian meal, it's surprising that La Fontana completely neglected this area. The bread tasted like stale Wonder Bread. Terrible. The serving size hit the Goldilocks note, though - not too much, not too little. 1 out of 5

Antipasti: For only $10, La Fontana provides an above average portion and solid variety of meats and cheeses. The actual antipasti though was a microcosm for the meal - neither great nor bad. 2 out of 5


The secret sambuca test: Our little guy was ready to get going so we did not have a chance to grab an espresso or digestif. I did overhear the waitress tell another couple that they have house red and white wine for guests that don't bring their own. I’ll give the benefit of doubt and assume they had some sambuca. +1

Overall score - 13 out of 25

*Kid friendly? While we did not eat inside, we think La Fontana would be fine with a kid, especially if you're on the early side. It's not a high-end BYOB.

On a related note, we've quickly realized that outside dining is a godsend for newbie parents. It's been a great way to check out restaurants, keep the baby occupied and store the stroller. We're hoping it's a short winter and/or more restaurants will continue to embrace the needs of parents.

October 19, 2015

The 2nd Best Thing at Pizzeria Vetri is Still Not Pizza

Last year we wrote about Pizzeria Vetri and told everyone that the best thing to eat there isn't even pizza. It's the rotolo. Turns out the second best thing is still not pizza, but the calzone. 

The calzone didn't cross our eating radars until we dined at the kitchen counter at the new Center City location on Chancellor Street. The secret must be out, as the pizza creators were busy making calzones one after another. After spending an hour drooling, we knew the calzone was on our hit list. 

The prosciutto cotto and ricotta stuffed, folded pizza is a mouthwatering delight of tastiness. Vetri's light and slightly sweet pizza dough somehow tastes even better as a calzone than pizza. 

While the pizza is certainly some of the best in the city, trust us and go try the calzone. Of course, get a rotolo on the side and the daily thick crust (the third best thing!). 

*Kid-Friendly? Absolutely, especially the new location. It's down the street from our day care and has become the perfect spot for a bite and beer. There is plenty of room inside for your stroller. 

Two warnings though, First, the bathroom did not have a changing table. Second, be careful when you sit outside - the pizza oven vent is up above and at times can be unbearable. Kids or no kids, I'd suggest sitting just inside near the window to avoid the fumes. Awful.