Eating in Philly: and

A bar interior-2

Another trip to Philly and several more visits to the outstanding and, which has a very limited food menu (but includes oysters and pickles) and extensive booze menu, is located on Rittenhouse Square, two doors down from, which is a full-service restaurant. Both are extremely well-run, with excellent staff both in the kitchen and the dining room.

The cocktails at each restaurant are as good as you'll need. The food at both restaurants is always excellent. Indeed this visit, the oysters at were so good that all other oysters consumed over the next few days paled in comparison. The burger at, well, it was perhaps in the top 5 burgers that I've ever eaten.

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Eating in Philadelphia: for wonderful cocktails and lunch


There was nothing about that I didn't like.

I can typically find a few nitpicks in any restaurant. Crappy cocktail lists. Boring food options. Poorly executed food. Shit service. Uncomfortable bar. My list of complaints goes on. And on. Of this you are assured.

But nothing from my vast list of bitches applied to The place is bright and comfortable. Plenty of room under the bar for my legs. The menu was short and concise and everything sounded good. The cocktails were appealing and well-crafted. Hell, two of them showcased amaro with a base, including one with tequila and Montenegro, and another with Mezcal and Meletti. Well done.


The bartender was good-natured and more than happy to indulge me when I asked him to just surprise me with a cocktail. He also suffered through my game of "let me guess what's in this one."

The food, also, is no slouch.

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Best dishes: of 2015


Putting together a year-end wrap-up list like this is sort of a pain-in-the-ass, I've come to realize. I have to figure out what dishes I want to include, find a photo, remember something halfway interesting or at least accurate to say about the dish, type it all in, spellcheck, look up web sites, etc. It takes a lot time, and at the end of the day very few people care what I put into my face. And I'm sure as shit not getting paid for it. But, it's a nice walk down memory lane for me, so once I get going, sifting through the photos and thinking about the experiences, it turns out to be quite a lot of fun, as I ignore the reality that you may not give a toss about any of it.

But then I have to type words and stuff, and I put it off for 3 weeks. It turns into a task. A task that I just recently tackled.

So why isn't this list New Jersey-focused you didn't ask and probably didn't even wonder? Well I'll tell ya. I used to include only New Jersey/NYC restaurants in these lists (I think), but I've been told that there is some value to some people to include stuff from other places. The fact that many of the dishes on this list are from outside of New Jersey shouldn't be a surprise. When I travel, I'm obviously carefully picking restaurants that I think will be outstanding. And let us not ignore the fact that when you're traveling, things just taste better. New experiences put more lead in my pencil than anything. When I'm stuck in New Jersey, conversely, I don't spend enough time eating out, and too often go back to the same places where I know I can get a good meal. But, there are several restaurants on this list within a stone's throw of New Jersey, so even if you don't ever plan on leaving the Garden State, perhaps something on this list will appeal to you.

Enough explaining. On with it.

Here's a list of exceptional dishes that I enjoyed in 2015. In no particular order other than perhaps chronological.


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The Franklin Bar: cocktailing in Philly

Franklin bar cocktail flamed orange peel

Are they transitioning the name from "Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co." to "The Franklin Bar?" Let's bloody well hope so. I am into the brevity thing. "The Franklin Bar" suits me just fine.

And The Franklin Bar suits me just fine. A speakeasy-style cocktail bar set in a candle-lit basement, you sure wouldn't know anything of note is behind that nondescript black door unless someone told you (or you read about it). Luckily for me, during a dinner at Village Whiskey, the bartender suggested I give the place a try. For some reason he must have gotten the impression that I like cocktails. And since it was on the way back to the hotel, stumbling distance even, well you just know I had to check it out. A good piece of advice from this bartender to be sure.

Franklin Bar (the downstairs bar, not the new, upstairs bar) lets only a certain number of people in the place at a time. This isn't due to an occupancy limit set by the city, but rather because they don't allow people to stand. You will sit, you will enjoy your cocktails, and you will behave. I think you have to ring the doorbell when you get there, although on a recent visit two gentlemen were minding the door. "Have you been here before?" "Yes" is always the correct response.

Franklin bar cocktail4
Franklin bar cocktail4

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the rigidness of the experience at Franklin Bar.  Compared to some newcomers like Hop Sing Laundromat, which by all reports is known for being a bit over-the-top with its rulebook--No sneakers? No shorts? A "screening process" to get in?--getting into and enjoying Franklin Bar is a relatively relaxed affair.

Don't go in expecting to sit at a proper bar. The bar (downstairs) seats about 4 people IIRC. You'll be at tables or perhaps the bar rail. It turned out I was alone during my first visit, so they were able to seat me at that tiny bar. I bellied up and dug right into the cocktail list.

Franklin bar cocktail1
Franklin bar cocktail1

I was hoping to get into some light discussion on cocktails with the bartenders, given my ideal position at the end of the bar. But, alas, they were way too busy. At least two bartenders that night, making their craft cocktails non-stop. These are not simple cocktails. They're messing with the right ice, flaming peels, splashing bitters and tinctures, garnishing with foods, frothing with egg whites, shaking aggressively, tattoos rendering to nothing more than a fleshy blur.

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Eating in Philadelphia: Parc and oysters and white wine


There was no doubt about it. I knew Parc (shit music autoplay alert!) was a completely uninspired choice for a meal, especially given Philadelphia's phenomenal food scene. But, it was our first afternoon in Philadelphia, we had just rolled into town, it was a beautiful day, we wanted to sit outside, the idea of a seafood tower was appealing, and we were staying in the Rittenhouse Square area. Given this set of circumstances, Parc seemed as good a choice as any.

Thinking about it, I can't recall a time that we've been in Philly and not stopped into Parc. Typically for a drink and to take a load off.  A lively and large Parisian-style bistro, outdoor seating for as far as the eye can see, with a great view of Rittenhouse Square, there's much to draw your attention to this Stephen Starr restaurant. As much as I try to avoid Starr restaurants, as to my mind they are cookie-cutter contrived affairs--and some are--, they tend to be well-run and can be quite decent. Parc seems to be no exception in this regard.

With no seats available outside, the hostess took my cell number and said she'd text when one opened up. Perfect. We went next door to Devon Seafood Grill, which I have come to learn is a small chain, to have a drink. I've had some food and drinks here in the past, and thought it was just fine for what it is. Anyway, before we could order a drink the text came in from Parc, so back we went to claim our spot facing Rittenhouse Square.

This is riveting stuff here, I know. I'll get on with it.

But first, a cocktail....

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New York Italian Style Bakery: Tomato Pie in Philadelphia, PA


On our way out of Philadelphia, we stopped at New York Italian Style Bakery to get a few slices of tomato pie. I knew I was going to try a slice when I got in the car. I didn't think I'd be eating two in quick succession. Maybe the excitement stemmed from this being my first experience with tomato pie (a style of pizza that seems to be unique to Philadelphia and its suburbs), but this pie really made an impression on me.


We would have never considered this stop or knew about New York Italian Style Bakery if not for a conversation with a lovely bartender at the pretty-damed-good Lolita during lunch one afternoon. We got to talking about food, as I do, and she recommended this small bakery that makes bread, and also this tomato pie. "Just get a few slices and bring them back to the hotel for later tonight," we were advised. That sounded like a fine idea, but once I saw they open at 6 am on Sunday, stopping on the way home seemed like an even better idea. Now I can't imagine visiting Philly without incorporating this stop into the itinerary.


They are giving this stuff away. A slice (about 6 inches in length) is about $1.50. We got four, and the pleasant girl dutifully laid two slices together, sauce side to sauce side. The other two packed into the paper the same way, perfect for taking this stuff to go. Indeed, there is nowhere to sit at New York Italian Bakery. It's a strictly to-go operation. And don't expect a hot slice from the oven. It seems that this pizza is served room temp.


I tried a slice as soon as we got into the car (well, soon after I laid the slices on the backseat and snapped a few shots). Frankly I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed that first slice. As we were making our way to the Turnpike, I couldn't get it out of my head. I finally caved and had to grab a second slice. It was, just as good as the first.

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Eating in Philadelphia: Abe Fisher: Jewish cuisine

Abe fisher exterior
It's a rare occurrence that every single aspect of a restaurant and every element of our experience resonates deeply with me. I'm here to tell you that Abe Fisher, in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philly, presented one of those occurrences.

Somehow this restaurant, which serves food "inspired by the cuisine of the Jewish diaspora," didn't come up during our pre-Philly-trip planning. Had it not been for a morning walk to Dunkin' Donuts (the missus likes the iced tea there, what can I tell you), we would have totally missed out on Abe Fisher. She noticed the restaurant during that walk, and from the street saw kitchen staff hard at work, early in the morning. After some quick research, we knew we had to give this place a shot.

The extent of my experience with Jewish food pretty much starts and ends at pastrami on rye. I haven't enjoyed much else. Lox on bagels? Not my thing. Smoky fish? Nope. Why? I have no idea. But I've never warmed up to the cuisine. And, I'm not a big fan of dill.

Everything I wrote in the above paragraph, I'm happy to report, can now be retired, and shoved into the ignorant pit of despair that is my past. I feel reborn, thanks to Abe Fisher.

We arrived about 45 minutes early for our reservation, hoping there would be some room at the bar (at which there are about 10 stools). No luck. After mentioning to the hostess that we were hoping for a bar spot, but would come back at our scheduled reservation time, she cheerfully suggested that she could text me when the bartender drops the next check. Right through OpenTable, apparently. Off we went for a quick drink down the block. After a quick 15 minutes we got the text that the bar had opened up a bit, at which point we broke into somewhat of a jog back to the restaurant. I was intent on not losing this bar spot.

With two bar stools secured (and secured, to the floor, which I like), we got to it. The bartender was super friendly, offered the menu (which contains everything), said she'd answer any questions, asked if we wanted still or sparkling water (house-made) and presented a carafe of our choice, and asked what we wanted to drink. We were immediately feeling comfortable and well-taken care of. This is how all transactions should start.

Abe fisher2 cocktail2

Let's talk about cocktails. First, they're all 12 bucks. Nice and easy. Second, the list had only a single vodka-based cocktail. So, right away, I was pleased. The rest of the concoctions relied on interesting spirits. You know, like rum and tequila and rye and bourbon and Scotch. Scotch. You don't see many Scotch cocktails, and I like Scotch about as much as I thought I liked Jewish food.  Well, at least that's what I thought.

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