Letter from the Editor: Philly Transformed Vol: 95

December 2012

StarChefs.com’s return to the Philadelphia dining scene was long overdue. The last time we ate seriously in this town, Stephen Starr was the only major restaurateur and Jose Garces lead the kitchen at Alma de Cuba. It’s a changed market to say the least. But as much as we’ve missed out on in the last seven years—watching the stratospheric rise of Garces and fellow restaurateurs Marc Vetri, Mike Solomonov, and chef-owner duo Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran—we’ve picked a great time to return.

In the last year and a half alone, the restaurant landscape has dramatically evolved. Today you’ll find protégés of national figures like Dan Barber, Traci Des Jardins, Mario Batali, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Thomas Keller, Marcus Samuelsson, and Paul Liebrandt decamping from the West Coast and New York to set up shop in Philadelphia. For Chefs like Eli Kulp at Fork (who most recently cooked at NYC’s Torrisi Italian Specialties) and the new Le Bec-Fin pair Walter Abrams and Jennifer Smith, who left gigs in San Francisco, coming the City of Brotherly love is about taking ownership of flagship restaurants and transforming them with their own styles.

For others, like Russet’s Andrew and Kristin Wood, Farm & Fisherman’s Josh Lawler, and Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink, moving to Philly was a chance to return home and a market ripe for restaurants. There’s an abundance of commercial real estate here. Neighborhoods off City Center are rapidly gentrifying, Pennsylvania farmers offer an abundance of exciting, local product, and Philadelphians are starting to expect a good meal within a few blocks of home. Add to that the 3,000 to 4,000 New Yorkers who move here each year (much to natives’ chagrin), and you have a city hungry for chef-driven cuisine.

But it’s not because of all outsiders. A new generation of home-grown talent—the culinary offspring of the city’s power restaurant groups and old guard standard-bearers like Lacroix and Le Bec-Fin—drives most of the change in the market. Pierre Calmels at Bibou and Chris Kearse at Will are redefining the city’s BYOB scene, where reservations can take months to score. Jason Cichonski and Nick Elmi serve fearless, elegant ingredient combinations at Ela and Rittenhouse Tavern. And Stateside’s George Sabatino and Tim Spinner of La Calaca Feliz are converting years of work in the Garces and Turney-Safran empires into personal plates from cuisines they love most. On the drinking side of things, sommeliers in Philly are helping put ciders back in vogue, and bartenders are fusing Colonial and contemporary.

Philadelphia, we’re sorry we abandoned you for so long. But we couldn’t be more excited to tell the world what you already know: Philly is an eating town—one that offers endless, glutinous pleasure. From pho and roast pork sandwiches, to foie gras (lots and lots of it) and the perfect bowl of hummus, your chefs are filling and satisfying diners (and us!) like never before.

We’re already waist-deep in Philly, but keep your nominations for chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers coming. We'll be tasting and traveling to San Francisco, coastal New England, the Carolinas, and our own backyard of New York City. And for real-time updates on our whereabouts and meals, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Cheers!

Caroline   Hatchett
Features Editor