The dish on 2010: What the Philly food-and-drink scene served up this year

Posted: December 30, 2010

WHEN IT COMES to delicious drinking and dining, 2010 was a very good year.

A slew of notable restaurants opened, including Marc Vetri's Amis, Val Safran and Marcie Turney's stellar Barbuzzo, and Jose Garces' namesake Trading Co. and J.G. Domestic. Former Four Seasons chef Marty Hamann earned raves at the Union League's 1862 by Martin Hamann, the best restaurant in town that most of us can't get into.

Stephen Starr opened El Rey in the former Midtown as well as the dark and sexy Ranstead Room, and transformed the Museum Restaurant into stylish Granite Hill in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philly finally got a grown-up cocktail lounge/restaurant with a view with the opening of Daniel Stern's swank R2L. Mike Stollenwerk's Fish remains the best place in town to eat seafood, especially if you're not on a diet. And when it comes to desserts, Turney's salted caramel budino is a Hall of Famer.

We still miss Bryan Sikora at Talula's Table in Kennett Square. Alison Barshak bowed out (again) from the scene, shuttering two restaurants, one in Blue Bell, the other in Fort Washington. We predict she'll be back.

Susanna Foo left Center City and is sorely missed. We wish she'd come back.

Here's hoping the burger trend is on its way out, especially after a recent charred specimen at Bishop's Collar in Fairmount. And those 1,000-calorie lunches at Five Guys are tough to justify.

Here's a look at a few of the notable milestones we've seen on the local food-and-drink scene in the past year. We may be a city best known for its love of history, but Philly knows a trend when it tastes one.

PRE-PROHIBITION COCKTAILS: While the fresh farm-to-bar movement isn't going away and artisanal cocktails are still shaking up the scene, more than a few barkeeps around town are pouring coupe glasses to the brim with pre-Prohibition-era drinks.

Mike Walsh at the Franklin leads this charge (vodka lovers, keep moving), which is also in view at the Ranstead Room, Prohibition Taproom on 13th Street and Village Whiskey. Then there's Southwark, which was serving old-school toddies before they were all the rage.

BEER JUST GETS BETTER: Philly really is Beer Town USA, with the annual Beer Week a frothy valentine that has grown into the largest beer celebration of its kind in the country. Exciting microbrews, local craft beers and venues like the Headhouse, Monk's, City Tap, Local 44, Johnny Brenda's and Tria give beer geeks endless discourse.

Losing Beer Week co-founder Bruce Nichols early this month is the one thing that makes us want to cry in our beer.

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD: It isn't enough for chef Terence Feury to make his own charcuterie and serve farm-direct cuisine at Fork, a hallmark of relaxed fine dining in Old City since 1997. Feury, who earned his stripes at New York's Le Bernardin, is also adamant that Fork feature only local and sustainable seafood.

The way he sees it, "If I want to continue to cook and serve seafood for the rest of my career, I have to make this switch." So go ahead, eat that crispy-skin arctic char with locally foraged mushroom ragout with a clear conscience.

Philly even has a sustainable seafood version of a CSA, a community sponsored seafood source, Otolith Sustainable Seafood (otolithonline.com) that gets its products from responsible harvesters contributing to environmentally sound fishery management.

CELEBRITY FARMERS: Move over, top chefs, it's the farmers who get us hot and bothered these days. Tom Culton at the Headhouse Square farmers' market is a case in point: This straw-hatted guy has a following like a rock star.

At Barbuzzo, chef/co-owner Turney keeps a chalkboard updated daily on where her veg, fruit and dairy come from in Chester and Lancaster counties, verdant spots including Green Meadow and Blue Moon Acres.

And Stern recently hosted a meet-and-greet Farmer's Dinner at MidAtlantic where diners chatted up Sue and Ken Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm and Tom Murtha and Tricia Borneman of Blooming Glen. Expect more of the same in 2011.

BOUTIQUE DISTILLING: Philadelphia Distilling, Pennsylvania's first new craft distillery since 1919, wows with three small-batch liquors: Bluecoat American Dry Gin, distilled five times in a copper-pot still; Penn 1681 Rye Vodka, a traditional beverage that predates Temperance; and Vieux Carre absinthe, illegal in the U.S. until 2007.

At Old City's Art in the Age, Philadelphia advertising executive Steven Grasse created two interesting spirits: Root, an 80-proof organic liqueur made from birch bark; and Snap, a potent nod to real Pennsylvania German gingersnaps.

KOREAN RAGES: No, we're not talking politics here. We're talking the fiery flavors of bulgogi, bibimbap and kimchi showing up around town, including at Meritage, where chef Anne Coll rules with the spicy Korean taco and a mean fried chicken.

Tacos are also on the menu at Cork in Westmont. Then there's Myung Ga's "Koagie" in Cherry Hill. 2010 was also the year that Drexel University debuted its Korean culinary program, once again proving that Philly can wow ahead of the national curve.

EATS ON WHEELS: This was also the year of the food truck, which included big names like Garces (Guapos Tacos) as well as stellar family-owned ventures like Greek Lady Olga (gyros extraordinaire), Denise's Soul Food (fried chicken) and the Dapper Dog (mac-and-cheese-topped dogs on a Sarcone roll).

Then there's the cupcake war, with Call Me Cupcake and Buttercream in hot contention.

BURGERS IN 2010, MEATBALLS IN 2011? Burgers every which way were all the rage this year. Butcher and Singer delivered one of the best, with Village Whiskey and Rouge tying for second place.

But while burgers are ever-popular, expect to hear more about meatballs in the New Year. Marcie at Barbuzzo has a killer meatball recipe. The old-school balls at Villa di Roma are without peer. And Gabe Marabella's new Marabella Meatball Co. at 1211 Walnut uses pork, veal, beef and veg meatballs as a canvas for some delicious riffing on tradition. Try the veggie balls with fontina and broccoli rabe.

HOUSEMADE CHARCUTERIE: Everybody's doing it, including chef Evan Turney at Varga Bar, Stern and his crew at MidAtlantic, Jason Chichonski, formerly at Lacroix and soon to be at Blackfish, and Adam DeLosso at Garces Trading Co.

DeLosso gets entire pigs from Country Time Farm in Berks County for butchering in house (along with whole lambs, goats and ducks), carving up everything but the oink for charcuterie, terrine, carpaccio and, of course, bacon, which is cured for 10 days, then smoked with applewood chips and finished with a maple and rosemary glaze.

DeLosso goes through about 800 pounds of pork every week creating sausage, salami, bacon and other porky creations.

PASS THE PIZZA: Gourmet pizza restaurants popped up all over town, using refined ingredients like truffled eggs and hand-pulled mozzarella atop a wood-fired crust. Pizzeria Stella, Zavino, Dettera and City Tap House were a few of the big players to emerge from this cheesy trend.

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