The restaurants shaking up Philadelphia’s food scene
Insiders will tell you that one of Philadelphia’s greater pleasures, besides re-enacting Rocky Balboa’s dash up the steps of City Hall, is its culinary scene. While the city centre has its fair share of admirable eateries, more adventurous chefs are to be found in the city’s suburbs, especially in East Passyunk and Fishtown, where historic warehouses and factories, especially, are being repurposed for a new generation hungry for both imaginative food and artfully designed spaces.
Located on the ground floor of Pelli Clarke Pelli’s FMC Tower, Walnut Street Café is the first foray by BDP Hospitality (Pearl & Ash, and Rebelle) outside Manhattan. Local architects BLT and New York-based Parts and Labor Design were tapped to dress the high-ceilinged space with penny tiles and green terrazzo, anchoring the whole with a walnut and brass staircase, and a towering travertine bar. The all-day diner segues smoothly from a breakfast repertoire of black sesame kouignoù-amann and cheddar chive scones, to lunchtime offerings of zucchini soup and fried blossoms, and pulled pork sandwiches, ending, triumphantly, with a dinner spread of bucatini with raisins and pine nuts, and black bass with beans and mint.
2929 Walnut Street, PA 19104; tel: 1.215 867 8067; www.walnutstreetcafe.com
The surprises at this three-storey, 19th-century whisky factory in Fishtown begin with the fact that it’s been converted into a ground-floor restaurant and two-story boutique hotel. At the restaurant, Stokes Architecture along with Method Co. have complemented the building’s original wood-panelled walls and terracotta windows with customised millwork and metalwork alongside ceramic sconces and a hand-painted mural by visual artist Stacey Rozich. In the kitchen, chef Chris Painter presides over a trio of bar and two dining rooms, one of which features an open wood-fired oven and grill on which hanger steaks and colatura pork ribs kick-start an evening fuelled with craft bear and small-batch wines.
1355 North Front Street, PA 19122; tel: 1.215 291 1355; www.wmmulherinssons.com x6
Barcelona Wine Bar
Local gourmands and gourmets have long haunted East Passyunk Avenue’s collection of restaurants, making the south Philadelphia neighbourhood a no-brainer when it came time for the East Coast restaurant chain to open an outpost here. The 4,400 sq ft space sports a raw industrial aesthetic, with walls huge exposed mortar blocks and distressed timber furniture setting the scene for executive chef William Shaw works up tasty tapas treats like string beans with almond picada, chorizo with sweet and sour figs, and squid ink fideos with garlic aioli.
1709 East Passyunk Avenue, PA 19148; tel: 1.215 515 7900; www.barcelonawinebar.com
Cheu Noodle Bar and Bing Bing Dim Sum
There’s an almost psychedelic pop-art quality about Rohe Creative’s interiors work on this Fishtown restaurant, the quotidian strawmat-like benches and foldaway chairs suddenly giving way to giant murals of four-eyed octopus, and bathrooms that look like Keith Haring had stopped by. But for its owners Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh, it’s the perfect backdrop for their growing empire of funky Far East cuisine. The DNA of the menu is perfectly authentic, but it sometimes feels as if the Mad Hatter is manning the kitchen – to wit, coconut curry ramen, green curry chicken wontons, and mapo tofu rice cakes.
1416 Frankford Avenue, PA 19148; tel: 1.267 758 2269; www.cheufishtown.com
Fishtown’s haul of eateries is already a veritable UN of cuisines, but Root attempts to steal a march on its competitors by offering a menu based on Italian, Spanish and American flavours. The dining room is smartly furnished with bright yellow and black geometric floor tiles, tufted leather topped bar-stools, dramatic yellow drapes and strategically placed oblong mirrors along the walls for people watching. Give into the urge to order everything on the menu, beginning with rosemary-scented Marcona almonds and roasted fennel with garlic salsa verde, and graduating to mushroom and ricotta toast with black garlic and cured egg yolk, ending with an olive oil cake nuzzling honey draped nectarines.