Better Than Best: Food

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Best Way to Spend $33

In a city that has more prix fixes than Kay Jewelers has cringe-inducing commercials, chef Peter McAndrews’ Turista Menu at Modo Mio is the unchallenged champ. Every night at his narrow BYOB, $33 buys antipasto, pasta, secondo e dolce, a four-courser flavored with saba, smoked angiulo, cotechino, garum, fennel pollen, bottarga and other uncommon Italian ingredients. No wonder all hours are elbow-to-elbow in this convivial room staffed by a fresh-faced group afflicted by effortless Italian accents whenever a ‘Burrata’ or ‘agnello’ crosses their lips. (Just like Giada!) Even on a snow-frosted Tuesday, dinners linger past midnight—perhaps the only aspect more authentically Italian than the food—and always end with complimentary shots of the boozy housemade ’buca.

Modo Mio, 161 W. Girard Ave. 215.203.8707. modomiorestaurant.com

Best Manayunk Cock Block

Scenic Manayunk has been called many names, though none has been as clever (and accurate) as 17th Grade, coined by PW ’s Tim McGinnis. Why then did Matt Levin , former Lacroix wunderkind, decide to open his punk-rock barbecue Rubb in this Lenape river town-turned-Miller Lite-fueled brahville? “I think the reason I gave Manayunk any thought was the building itself,” explains Levin, referring to Richard Rivera and Rob Nydick’s dark brick-and-terracotta complex. Fortunately for city-proper dwellers, “a ton of empty promises” and issues over recipe ownership soured the deal, and Levin will be making his long-awaited chef/owner debut in Queen Village, in the old Coquette space. “You can tell the people here love this neighborhood, and want others to love it as well.” To that point, the concept is a “meticulously refined and executed neighborhood bistro” with plates under $20. How does he plan to exorcise the address’s rep as a restaurant black hole? When the yet-unnamed spot opens (tentatively scheduled for June), “It won’t look like Coquette anymore.” Levin’s tight on other details, but we’re just happy to have him back. “I knew I belonged in the city. Even my mom said it.”

700 S. Fifth St. Opens in June.

Best Play for Our Affection

There aren’t many things the Piazza at Schmidts has done to earn our lukewarm acceptance, let alone love. But installing a year-round farmer’s market is one step toward reparations—especially when manager Kyle Perry has been able to lure the likes of Shellbark Hollow, Griggstown, Birchrun Hill and Tom Culton, who’s worth visiting both for his basketball-sized purple cauliflowers and awesomely out-there outfits.

Piazza at Schmidts, 1050 N. Hancock St. 267.455.0471. atthepiazza.com

 Best Place to Carbo Load

It seems every chef and their mother is serving up an ironic twist on our local twists, but props go to Top Chef contestant Jen Carroll for making the best, first. The Ritz-Carlton lobby, as white and marbled as a mausoleum, is a deliciously incongruous setting for her perfectly puffy pretzel nuggets. At a glance, they don’t look so different from what you’d get at the movies, but a closer inspection reveals the shine of nutty brown butter, a freckling of esplette pepper and flat snowflakes of Maldon salt—and a bite reveals crisp edges and pillowy centers. Dijon mustard, jalapeno jam and three-cheese fondue are the dips. If we’d had these babies in our lap, maybe we wouldn’t have dipped out during Avatar .

10 Arts By Eric Ripert, 10 Avenue of the Arts, 215.523.8273. 10arts.com

Best Place To Eat Pork Scraps

Before reading on, ask yourself this: Do you really want to know how scrapple’s made? Marshall Green, chef/owner of cheery Café Estelle (and snout-to-tail advocate), is happy to expound on all the details. “I’ve got to credit my sous chef Dough Huntley; he wanted to try it one day, so I got him wild boar and some pig ears and snouts from Spring Garden Market. We wound up selling, like, 35 orders.” Green and Huntley have since refined the process: “We get in whole pigs from D’Artagnan, salt the heads over night and cure the butts in pepper, salt, sugar, thyme, garlic, allspice, star anise, clove and mustard seed. We braise the meat in pork stock, pick the meat, then fold it into masa harina cooked in the braising liquid. We lay the porridge into a loaf pan lined with plastic, let it set overnight, slice it, flour it and sear it up in a cast-iron pan.” Hmm, that wasn’t so scary—nor is the result, the best scrapple in a town, with a crunchy shell and creamy, properly porky, pâté-like center.

Cafe Estelle, 444 N. Fourth St. 215.925.5080. cafeestelle.com

Best Magically Delicious Ice Cream

Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Froot Loops … R. Evan Turney, chef at Varga Bar takes our childhood faves, steeps them in milk and spins them into some playful (not to mention exceptionally well-made) ice creams. The selection of scoops switches up frequently. Our inner kid hopes for Cocoa Puffs.

Varga Bar, 941 Spruce St. 215.627.5200. vargabar.com

Best Local Beer

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride is one way to describe where Flying Fish’s Jersey Fresh brews stand among our rich local beerscape. That is until last year, when brewmaster Casey Hughes grabbed us by the balls with his big-bottle Exit Series. The best of the Turnpike-inspired line—and the best local beer, period—is #11, a blend of Belgian wheat and IPA DNAs. “I came up with the recipe for Exit 11 because I’ve always wanted to brew a wheat beer, but I’m not too fond of the banana esters you normally find in that variety,” says Hughes. “We decided to throw a massive amount of Amarillo hops into the brew to add a big apricoty/citrusy aroma to the beer that would complement the spiciness of the wheat.” Up front, the hazy gold brew is faithful as a Trappiste monk, spice and body for days. Then the Amarillo hops (Columbus and Palisade too) crash in, rinsing away the extravagant fluff for a finish that’s bright, austere and leaves you thirsty for more. Since the Exit Series beer are limited-editions, you may have lost your chance to taste this bewitching beer—or maybe not. Hughes teases: “[Exit 11] turned out to be one of my favorites and might actually make a surprise reappearance at some point.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Ryan MYK said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:56AM

“I wasn't aware that the neighborhood was about to make a key acquisition to the struggling restaurant scene. Pretty disappointed things fell apart. But what's with bashing the neighborhood?! I grew up in Manayunk and yet I don't disagree with your perception that it has changed into a "brahville" their are still some very decent spots up our way and some certainly worthy of a little love!! The" best cockblock of Manayunk award" just kills the chance of people that never visited MYK to even consider it.”

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2. Jay C said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 05:01PM

“I take offense to the reference of Collingswood, NJ as a cultural wasteland. For most Center City folk who are afraid to cross the bridge, you should check us out. We even have parking.”

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3. Nick said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:33PM

“Parc does by far have the best looking staff! I go every weekend to see this hot bartender serve Sunday brunch”

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4. great divide said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 12:01AM

“no wheat beer can ever be the best. what a joke.”

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5. The SS said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 10:33AM

“@ Great divide... have you tried the Exit 11? I wouldn't throw out that opinion till you've had it... this ain't no blue moon”

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6. Laurie M said... on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:39AM

“Wow I can't say I'm surprised by the lack of professionalism by the writers, it seems to be routine. Grow up. You are offending your readers and probably ruining your chances for ever having a real journalism career. Shame on you and shame on your editors.”

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7. michs said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 10:38AM

“I also take offense to the Collingswood reference. I was born and raised in Philly and will always call it home but moved to Collingswood recently and love the small town feel and closeness to center city. It may not be Rittenhouse Square, but it's a great place to live.

P.S. - we even got ourselves a library here.”

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8. Jake P said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 02:49PM

“Due to the crippling* blizzard, the office is slow today. So, we attempted to grab lunch at Savoy. The store was "bare-bones" alright. The front door was locked and no one was home. Seemingly, for good.

Great rec.

* I don't think so Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz”

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9. Lissa said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 04:21PM

“thats why this is called the opinion section...get it, an opinion...i found this article to be informative and ill be visiting some of the places with my husband. thank u vry much. and i completely overlooked they nj comment despite the fact that ive heard my whole life thats where they dumped all the garbage....in jersey. so new to philly 2 yrs. i love food. and was raised on some of the best. im a louisianian. :)”

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10. Lissa said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 04:21PM

“thats why this is called the opinion section...get it, an opinion...i found this article to be informative and ill be visiting some of the places with my husband. thank u vry much. and i completely overlooked they nj comment despite the fact that ive heard my whole life thats where they dumped all the garbage....in jersey. so new to philly 2 yrs. i love food. and was raised on some of the best. im a louisianian. :)”

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