With a diversity of cuisine and a plethora of lauded dining establishments – and rock-star chefs – Philadelphia ranks as a real food town.
With a diversity of cuisine and a plethora of lauded dining establishments – and rock-star chefs – Philly ranks as a real food town. And the Philly region’s food scene is anything but static, with new trends and fresh talent constantly expanding the options and taking everything from food trucks to haute cuisine up a notch.
The Vetri Family of Restaurants
Philadelphia icon and James Beard Award-winning chef Marc Vetri owns six restaurants in the region, each offering a unique dining experience.
“They range from kind of a higher end to gastro pub to neighborhood trattoria to osteria-style. It’s about the ambiance, the way that you eat,” Vetri says.
The finest in fine dining, his renowned flagship Vetri Ristorante at 1312 Spruce Street has an intimate, rustic elegance. The prix fixe tasting menu showcases Chef Vetri’s culinary prowess with dishes such as his signature spinach gnocchi with brown butter or the whole-wheat rigatoni with axis venison ragu. Sommelier and business partner Jeff Benjamin curates an extensive complementary, predominantly Italian wine list; craft beer pairings are also available.
A local gem, Vetri’s accolades go beyond all the love it gets on Philadelphia best-of lists (and that’s plenty), including being named one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants by Gourmet Magazine. Additionally, GQ’s food critic Alan Richman proclaimed Vetri “probably the best Italian restaurant in America.”
Marc Vetri also has mentored chefs who have gone on to establish their own award-winning area restaurants, among them Chip Roman, owner of Blackfish, Mica and Ela; Joey Baldino, owner of Zeppoli; and Jeff Michaud, part of the Vetri family with Osteria at 640 North Broad Street (listed among Philadelphia magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013). A second Osteria opened at Moorestown Mall in November 2013.
To ensure quality among the restaurants connected to his eponymous brand, Vetri cultivates creativity and a sense of family among his staff.
“You have to be more of a conductor and less of a musician,” he says.
Asked whether he still has time to cook, Vetri says, “Yeah, totally, I cook all the time. Mostly at Vetri, but I’ll hop on line at any of them.”
Mike and Beth Ross are relative newcomers to the restaurant industry, but their Wilmington fine-dining venture Domaine Hudson, which specializes in food and wine pairings, has garnered numerous national accolades since the Rosses took ownership in 2011.
“Both of us really enjoy wine, and we’ve always marveled at what food and wine do for each other,” says Beth Ross. Domaine Hudson’s trained staff assists patrons in pairing wines from an award-winning list with specific dishes on the menu, helping fulfill Domaine Hudson owners’ goal of making food and wine pairing more approachable.
Domaine Hudson’s Executive Chef Dwain Kalup – a 2004 graduate of the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Philadelphia – makes local and regional ingredients shine in dishes such as the red wine braised pork shank with asparagus risotto and locally foraged mushrooms.
Region’s Restaurant Industry Thriving
The region’s diversity and opportunity are proving a magnet for chefs.
“The chefs that are coming from New York and moving to Philadelphia find that there’s a lot of room for growth,” says Dan D’Angelo, instructor at the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Philadelphia and president of the Delaware Valley Chefs Association. “The restaurant industry here is thriving. It’s very, very strong. I’ve seen people that are coming from New York because of easier deliveries, it’s easier to get employees, the cost of living is not as high as New York, yet Philadelphia wants that good food.”
D’Angelo also notes the popularity of American regional cuisine like barbecue and burgers, as well as a growing Spanish influence (think tapas menus). Sporting exotic toppings, high-end pizza is another trending food.
According to D’Angelo, Philadelphia’s ethnic cuisine tends to be neighborhood-specific, although “South Street is very diverse,” he says, with an array of restaurants that appeals to a wide range customers.