Sheep’s milk ricotta at Pizzeria Stella
420 S. 2nd St. 215.320.8000. starr-restaurant.com/stella
Why it’s great : It arrives looking simple enough: A snowy mound of cheese and a plate of innocent flatbreads. But then you dip the chewy, rosemary-perfumed bread into that ricotta, itself as light and delicate as cheese gets. The creaminess wraps around your tongue. The rosemary lingers. You’re addicted: Don’t bother fighting it. ($10)
What to have with it : A glass of Verdicchio ($8) and an hour of time to enjoy this at a sidewalk table.
Hummus at Zahav
237 St. James Place. 215.625.8800. zahavrestaurant.com
Why it’s great : Because the selection of hummus here ($8 or $12) will forever make you rethink the supposedly humble chickpea. Try them all: With warm favas, with tehina, with garlic and butter. You’ll never be able to go back to the store-bought stuff again.
What to have with it : The hummus here is a great start to any meal, no matter what it consists of. Personally, I love to follow it up with something on the meaty end of the spectrum, like merguez with shallots, figs and cilantro ($12).
Veggie burger at National Mechanics
22 S. Third St. 215.701.4883. nationalmechanics.com
Why it’s great : National Mechanics doesn’t slip you weak-ass faux meat—they serve up a burger that’s proud to be made of julienned veggies. It’s solid, it’s robust, it’s freaking tasty, and it comes alongside a heap of steak fries. ($9)
What to have with it : The hummus plate ($8) and a Guinness, or whatever rotating craft beer on tap comes recommended.
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe at Amis
412 S. 13th St. 215.732.2647. amisphilly.com
Why it’s great : Classic Italian cooking is predicated on simplicity and great ingredients. This pasta dish ($14) embodies that impeccably. And while it really is as straightforward as the name implies—pasta with pecorino and pepper—the interaction of each with the others lifts this seemingly humble plate of noodles to levels of flavor that even most steaks rarely achieve.
What to have with it : Ask your waiter or sommelier to pair a wine that you’ve never heard of before, from a grape variety that means nothing to you and from a region that may as well be on the moon. The combination and sense of discovery will be phenomenal.
Radicchio pie at Pitruco Pizza
33rd & Arch or 10th & Fitzwater (check Twitter @pitrucopizza for locations). 484.602.5454. pitrucopizza.com
Why it’s great : It takes guts to rig up a pizza oven to the back of a truck. Even more to try to turn out great pies (which Pitruco does). But to serve up one with braised radicchio, reduced balsamic, wild mushrooms and a perfect hit of parmesan and mozzarella, and have it be one of the top pies in town? That’s little short of alchemy. ($9)
What to have with it : Your beverage choices are fairly limited here, but Pitruco sells one of my favorite carbonated ones around: San Pellegrino Chinotto, a bitter, citrusy drink that more Philadelphians should be enjoying.
Cheesecake at Vedge
1221 Locust St. 215.320.7500. vedgerestaurant.com
Why it’s great : So many reasons. It’s dense and light and not too sweet. Its crust informs the flavor of each bite without overwhelming it. And it’s vegan, which both boggles the mind and reaffirms our collective faith, like so much else at this remarkable restaurant, that vegan food can be truly game-changing. ($9)
What to have with it : A cup of coffee, followed by an after-dinner drink from the excellent selection that’s been assembled here. Because believe it or not, you’ll be full and satisfied at the end of your meal here, and a sip to settle it all down is a good idea.
Jean’s Road Trip Cupcake at Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
Various locations. brownbettydesserts.com
Why it’s great : The cupcake craze doesn’t seem to be slowing down. And yet so many red velvets we’ve tried in this town—we won’t name names—have just been too dry. Obviously, Brown Betty has a secret recipe with all the right ingredients. First, crack. No, no, the Road Trip is simpler than that: a moist red velvet base with a cream cheese buttercream frosting. Key word: moist. ($3)
What to have with it : Grab the menu on your way out. You won’t leave without thinking, “I simply must get my husband’s/kid’s/mother’s birthday cake from here.” ($30 and up.)
Halva Mousse at Zahav
237 St. James Place. 215.625.8800. zahavrestaurant.com
Why it’s great : Halva, like most Middle Eastern and Indian desserts, isn’t necessarily a widely appreciated sweet-tooth satiation. Chickpeas, too, probably wouldn’t come to mind for an after-dinner treat. Yet these are the two ingredients that make this dessert sing. Normally dense and pasty, halva is transformed here into a light and airy mousse, complemented by delicate chickpea pralines. Served in a glass like a parfait, the result is an incredible layering of flavors and textures that will leave you wondering what America’s fascination with chocolate is all about. ($8)
What to have with it : A New Year’s Jerusalem Cocktail, with apple cider, walnut and sparkling wine. ($10.)
S’mores Deluxe Cookie at Insomnia Cookies
Various locations. 877.632.6654. insomniacookies.com
Why it’s great : Here’s the thing about cookies: The traditional chocolate chip is as dull as the newfangled flavors are ridiculous. (Bacon cookies? Really? Is it still 2006?) Insomia Cookies finds the sweet spot: The S’mores Deluxe is a warm, gooey chocolate disc with hunks of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallow—crispy on the outside but perfectly underdone in the center. Bonus: Insomnia delivers all across town till 3 a.m. ($2.50)
What to have with it : A huge scoop of Basset’s vanilla ice cream and a container of milk ($2.25).
Sweet potato pie at Lawrence Bakery
423 W. Girard Ave. 215.232.0638
Why it’s great : It’s sweet potato pie, for crissakes. But better than that, it’s the kind of buttery, vanilla- and cinnamon-laden treat that, if you’re lucky, Big Mama makes by the half-dozen during the holidays. Lawrence not only sells ’em by the pie—and boy, do they go quickly—but also by the quarter, the perfect slice to chase off the munchies.
What to have with it : Coffee you picked up on the way. It isn’t a sit-and-eat kind of spot.
Chocolate malted pot de crème at Bistro 7
7 N. Third St. 215.931.1560. bistro7restaurant.com
Why it’s great : It’s the crème de la crème of pot de crèmes in this town and a menu staple ever since the doors first opened. The key is in the combination of bittersweet chocolate and slightly nutty malt sweetener, coaxed into silky smoothness over three hours in a stovetop water bath. Confection perfection. ($8)
What to have with it : Stopped in just for a romantic dessert? Have your s.o. share the Pierre Robert: French triple cream with ginger-plum jam, pine nut brittle and local honeycomb ($15).
Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pancakes at Marathon Grill
16th & Sansom sts. / 19th & Market sts. /19th & Spruce sts. / eatmarathon.com
Why it’s great : Three fluffy, buttery pancakes the size of your face are stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough and topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream. Each dense bite creates a chocolate explosion in your mouth. ($8.50)
What to have with it : Two slices of crispy Applewood bacon ($2.75) create the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
Stock Market Crunch sundae at Franklin Fountain
116 Market St. 215.627.1899. franklinfountain.com
Why it’s great : I’ve yet to have a non-great sundae at this Old City stalwart, but this is my go-to: Rocky road ice cream, pretzel bits, PB sauce, and as much love as you can enjoy with a spoon.
What to have with it : Absolutely nothing: Everything is already there.
Adult milkshakes at Trolley Car Diner
7619 Germantown Ave. 215.753.1500. trolleycardiner.com
Why it’s great : It’s one thing to order a milkshake that’s full of chocolate, banana and Kahlua. It’s another to actually receive said milkshake and realize it’s the size of two large milkshakes and it’s got a damn lot of booze in it. ($7.50)
What to have with it : An appropriately themed match is the Trolley Car’s “grown-up mac ‘n’ cheese” ($13.95): penne tossed with sweet shrimp in a seafood cheddar sauce.
By Brian Freedman, Nina Hoffmann, Sheena Lester, Anastasia Barbalios, Randy LoBasso, Tara Murtha & Stephen H. Segal
* * *
The time is upon us for PW’s sixth annual Taste of Philly event! Come out and enjoy primo dishes and drink samples from some of the city’s most delicious restaurants on Wed., Nov. 14, at the Crystal Tea Room. Tickets are only $25 through Tues., Nov. 13—purchase online at philadelphiaweekly.com/taste2012—or $35 at the door.
PW has compiled a list of the 50 best things to eat and drink in Philly rightthisverymoment. We’ve included—in no particular order—some entrenched favorites (Osteria pizza, Cape May Salts) but mostly illuminated the new and newly discovered: everything from offbeat beers (Alehoof Grut) to cheeses with stories to tell (Mancuso ricotta). They might just become your next favorites. They’re already ours.
PW's Year of Beer: Victory Helios