The battle over dining domination in Philadelphia has headed north, as local restaurateur Stephen Starr opens an establishment in Marc Vetri’s fortified Fairmount neighbourhood, and Vetri counters by opening a new bar next door. Starr has strength in numbers, owning nearly 20 restaurants in Philadelphia alone. Vetri’s success comes from high-quality dining.
These two, along
with a few other restaurateurs, are bringing new weapons to the battle over
Philadelphia’s dining scene.
most recognized name in the Philadelphia restaurant scene, opened his latest
culinary destination, Route 6,
in mid-November. The theme is Cape Cod, whose highway is the Route 6’s
namesake. Tributes to the area can be found throughout the menu, with items
such as “today’s market fish”, steamed lobster and New England clam chowder.
into a shore-town atmosphere, where sailboat sails double as curtains, sailors’
knots decorate the walls and a skylight opens up the ceiling. A double-sided
fireplace warms the dining room, and a wood-burning oven smokes the food. Starr
pays homage to the newest neighbourhood in his kingdom with a platter called The
Fairmount (complete with oysters, littlenecks, crab, shrimp and lobster). The
Wilkie (double the size of The Fairmount) honours the Wilkie auto showroom,
which previously stood at Route 6’s location.
next door in February will be Vetri’s Italian bar, Alla Spina. Vetri, another local culinary
superstar, does not have the long list of eateries that Starr has, but he has found
success with his unique twist on Italian dining at Vetri,
Osteria and Amis. Osteria, located next door to Alla
Spina and Route 6, was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for best new restaurant
Spina, Vetri wants to put a table for six on top of the walk-in fridge. Diners will scale a ladder to
their table, from which they will be able to look out over the restaurant. Like
Route 6, Alla Spina will honour the Wilkie auto showroom by keeping the
existing skylights and creating an industrial feel.
other restaurateur powerhouse, Jose Garces, owns seven restaurants in the city.
The Ecuadorian Iron Chef has staked claim over local Spanish and Latin cuisine
with Old City’s Amada, Rittenhouse Square’s Tinto and University City’s Disitro.
And though he has not held a ribbon-cutting ceremony recently, he plans to open
three copies of successful Philadelphia restaurants in Atlantic City in May
2012. Amada, Village Whiskey and Distrito will all be housed in
the Revel Beach Casino on the Boardwalk.
fastest rising chef/restaurateur is Chip Roman, whose popularity soared after Blackfish in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken was
named best restaurant by Philadelphia Magazine in 2010. Last month he opened Ela
in Queens Village with up-and-coming chef Jason Cichonski.
studied under Vetri and Le
Georges Perrier, shows off creativity and flair with his new venture. The menu
includes diver scallop noodles with root vegetables and blood orange, and duck
magret with pretzel spaetzle, Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. The
co-owners have fun with the drinks menu, offering cocktails with names like “Jude
Law and a Semester Abroad”, “Jaws Theme Swimming” and “Okay I Believe You but my
Tommy Gun Don’t”.
In the war
over high-end dining, Starr, Garces, Vetri and Roman continue to claim
different neighbourhoods and culinary themes. But as Philadelphians’ palates
continue to improve, the demand for new and more creative restaurants will
grow, making room for young and energetic chefs to jump into the spotlight. In
this war, the real victors are the diners.