Feast­ing in Philadel­phia

Chefs, bak­ers and creative cock­tail mak­ers are shak­ing up the City of Broth­erly Love, where a play­ful, un­pre­ten­tious spirit—and af­ford­able rents—have given rise to the East Coast's most vi­brant culi­nary land­scapes.

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - CONTENTS - BY SIERRA TISHGART. PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY JA­SON VARNEY

Chefs, bak­ers and creative cock­tail mak­ers are shak­ing up the Penn­syl­va­nian city and its culi­nary land­scape.

IT’S EASY TO DIS­MISS Philadel­phia as a place for­ever lan­guish­ing in New York City’s shadow. But when it comes to food, Philly is ac­tu­ally one of the more ex­cit­ing des­ti­na­tions in the coun­try right now. The city’s lower prices and young, scrappy en­ergy have given chefs and restau­ra­teurs free rein to ex­per­i­ment, al­low­ing them to rein­vent its clas­sic cui­sine and add in­flu­ences from around the globe.

De­spite the Ea­gles de­feat­ing the Pa­tri­ots in Fe­bru­ary’s Su­per Bowl, Philadel­phia will al­ways be proud of its un­der­dog spirit. It’s a place where servers be­friend you, and strangers in bars talk you into tak­ing shots. It’s not un­com­mon to see some­one break into a dance while mak­ing your sand­wich. The vibe is more per­sonal and up­beat than that of many U.S. cities—there’s sim­ply more space to play.

Philly na­tive Stephen Starr, who owns 20 restau­rants in his home­town and seven in New York City, re­cently opened The Love, a chic, in­for­mal restau­rant in Rit­ten­house Square that serves up­dated ver­sions of clas­sic Amer­i­can dishes. “I’ve al­ways thought that Philadel­phia and New York shared a lot of the same en­ergy, viril­ity and heart,” he said. “But in Philadel­phia, we have big­ger foot­prints in which to cre­ate.”

Bran­den McRill, who opened Re­belle in New York City and more re­cently Wal­nut Street Café in Philadel­phia, sees an even broader shift un­der way. “What’s go­ing on in Philly is fas­ci­nat­ing—peo­ple are com­ing on week­ends and find­ing there are rea­sons to re­lo­cate here. The qual­ity of life is high.”

Whether you’re af­ter a ca­sual bite or date-night fare, these are the best places to wit­ness Philadel­phia’s food evo­lu­tion—one meal at a time.

SAND­WICHES

Mid­dle Child

Matt Cahn’s mod­ern lun­cheonette draws in­spi­ra­tion from cool-kid spots like New York’s Court Street Gro­cers, where Cahn trained. The sand­wich to or­der is the Phoagie, a Viet­namese-ve­gan riff on a clas­sic Philly sand­wich. But you come for the staff—who treat ev­ery­one like old friends—as much as the food. Ea­gles para­pher­na­lia and a pantry filled with snacks hand­picked by Cahn, all for sale, make the diner feel even more invit­ing. mid­dlechild philly.com; mains from US$5.

DATE NIGHT

The Love

Af­ter ex­pand­ing his em­pire in New York City (which in­cludes the award-win­ning Le Coucou), Stephen Starr re­turned home to launch this col­lab­o­ra­tion with beloved lo­cal chef Aimee Olexy. Lo­cated in the posh Rit­ten­house Square neigh­bor­hood, the in­te­ri­ors look like a de­signer farm­house with per­fect mood light­ing. Yes, you’ve had fried chicken a mil­lion times, but it’s per­fectly done here, and the spicy Mis­sis­sippi come­back sauce re­ally should be bot­tled and sold. th­elover­estau­rant.com; mains US$17–$38.

BRUNCH

Wal­nut Street Café

Melissa Weller, for­merly of Sadelle’s in N.Y.C., is one of the most ta­lented bak­ers work­ing in Amer­ica to­day, and this new all-day restau­rant is pur­pose-built for brunch. Set­tle in at one of the mar­ble ta­bles set with pas­tel dishes and flow­ers, and get ready to try Weller’s fa­mous baked goods like the cin­na­mon roll and the cher­ryand-pis­ta­chio crois­sant. Round out the meal with a fried egg and “black scrap­ple,” her take on a lo­cal spe­cialty made from pork scraps. Pro tip: the restau­rant is within walk­ing dis­tance of 30th Street Sta­tion, and you can sleep over at the sleek AKA ho­tel up­stairs. wal­nut­street cafe.com; mains US$15–$37.

BIG GROUP DIN­NER

Su­raya

In the heart of gritty, up-and­com­ing Fish­town, you’ll find some­thing sur­pris­ing: a 1,100-square-me­ter space ded­i­cated to Lebanese food. This is the ideal place to go with a posse, as it in­cludes the Mar­ket, where you or­der at the counter and then stake out your ter­ri­tory (the restau­rant also has a sit-down din­ner ser­vice Tues­day through Sun­day). Or­der ground beef kafta ke­babs, labne cheese, and man’oushe flat­breads made with with za’atar and sweet hal­vah. Don’t miss the Lebanese chai latte made with salep, or or­chid pow­der, and topped with pis­ta­chios and rose petals. It’s ex­actly the right amount of sweet and, dev­as­tat­ingly, im­pos­si­ble to repli­cate at home. su­raya philly.com; mains US$23–$40.

RA­MEN AND DUMPLINGS

Cheu Fish­town

Housed in an old horse sta­ble, this is a restau­rant built for de­sign lovers. The beer list is dis­played on a re­pur­posed mar­quee sign, and there’s a mu­ral painted by street artists on the wall. The menu is suit­ably fun: brisket ra­men comes with kim­chi and a matzo ball (some­how, it works), and chicken won­tons are stuffed with green curry and peanuts. It’s fes­tive, creative and low-key—the ideal neigh­bor­hood restau­rant. cheufish­town. com; mains US$13–$26.

COCK­TAILS

Up­stairs Tiki at the Franklin Bar

Af­ter din­ner at The Love, walk to nearby Franklin Bar—a two-for-one punch that is part sub­ter­ranean speakeasy, part de­light­ful tiki lounge. The dé­cor is straight-up kitsch—cock­tail um­brel­las, leis, string lights—but the drinks and the ser­vice re­flect se­ri­ous ex­per­tise. The Oxy-co­lada some­how im­proves upon the clas­sic piña co­lada, with over­proof Plan­ta­tion rum, crème de ca­cao, co­conut and fresh pineap­ple juice. the­franklin­bar.com.

Din­ing at the bar in Cheu Fish­town.

Chicken won­tons with green curry at Cheu Fish­town.

But­ter­milk fried chicken with grits and col­lard greens at The Love.

Lebanese com­forts at Su­raya.

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