Jason Wilson's list of Philadelphia food and drink trends

Birrificio Italiano is served at The Farmers' Cabinet.
Birrificio Italiano is served at The Farmers' Cabinet.
Posted: September 22, 2011

EVERYBODY LOVES the food-trend story about the Next Big Thing. We love those list-y, breathlessly cheerful pronouncements of what's "best of" the city, of what the cool kids are eating and drinking, of what is - as they say - "hot."

And yet . . . how do I put this? Food trend stories about the Next Big Thing almost always suck.

Maybe I'm just self-reflecting. Writers absolutely hate doing this sort of piece. If I list 10 trends, I'll be lucky if you agree with, like, two of them. If I were a baseball player, Michael Martinez would have a better batting average. What everyone seems to love best about these sorts of Hot Lists is tearing them apart in the online comments section. So please enjoy, if that's your thing.

More than that, Philadelphia is a difficult town for spotting food and drink trends. This isn't to say we're not a great food and drink town (we are, so take the chip off your shoulder). But trends?

How do I put this gently? Despite what a few food bloggers who've been wined and dined will tell you, we're not so much trendsetters here. This doesn't mean we're necessarily trend followers. Maybe we're kind of like trend ignorers. Which mostly works just fine.

Anyway, since it's Hot Week, I've been drafted into giving you a list of piping hot stuff. Don't think of this as a list of the Next Big Thing. Think of this more as some tasty and interesting things going on in Philadelphia that I hope we see more of in the near future. In fact, I'm so against top 10 lists, this one only has nine.

Montreal-style bagels

For whatever reason, Philadelphia has never been a very good bagel town.

That's why Larry Rosenblum should be given the keys to the city for opening Spread Bagelry near Rittenhouse. The bagels here are made as they are in Montreal: Hand-rolled, bathed in honey water and wood-oven baked in small batches. Yes, of course, they are a bit pricey ($2 each), but I have developed such an addiction to Spread's Everything Bagel that I may eventually need an intervention.

Spread Bagelry, 262 S. 20th St., 215-545-0626, spreadbagelry.com.

Non-fussy, non-snobby food and drink pairings

Sick of pretentious advice on what to drink with what to eat?

When you're told a certain red wine pairs well "with rack of lamb" do you want to hurl? Then go buy Keith Wallace's new book "Corked & Forked," out this fall from Running Press. It's full of practical and down-to-earth advice on how drinks create memorable experiences at the table. Wallace, who runs the Wine School of Philadelphia, is no drinks nerd, and I trust him implicitly on what to cook and drink. If he tells me to pair a French cider with grilled kebabs or a Sazerac with a burger, I don't ask questions. I just do it.

Punch

Until recently, punch was one of two things: a) What got mixed in a trash can with Kool-Aid and Everclear and God-knows-what-else at a basement frat party; or b) that weak old mixture your aunt made, with the lumps of sherbet slowly melting into a soup of canned fruit juice and flattening ginger ale.

True punch is neither of these. Real punch predates cocktails and was probably the first mixed drink ever invented. Two prime punch spots in the city are Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. and The Farmer's Cabinet, where you can order it in an actual punch bowl and ladle away to your heart's content.

Try the recipe here for the Contrarian, from Phoebe Esmon at The Farmers' Cabinet.

The Farmers' Cabinet, 1113 Walnut St., 215-923-1113, thefarmerscabinet.com.

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., 112 S. 18th St., Lower Level, 267-467-3277, thefranklinbar.com.

Italian beer

Yep, besides making all that wine, they actually brew good beer in Italy. And no, it's not all thin, watery, old-school Moretti or Peroni (the Coors and Bud of Italy). Over the past decade, hip young Italians have embraced craft beer just as we have here, and brands such as Birreria Le Baladin, Birrificio del Ducato, Birrificio Italiano and Collesi Bionda have become beer-geek favorites in the States.

You can find them and others on the menu at places such as Amis, Farmer's Cabinet and, starting today, Pizzeria Stella. And two new beer bars, Birra on East Passyunk and Marc Vetri's coming-in-2012 Alla Spina (translation: "From the Tap") on North Broad Street, will put Italian beer front and center.

Amis, 412 S. 13th St., 215-732-AMIS (2647), amisphilly.com.

Pizzaria Stella, 2nd and Lombard, 215-320-8000, www.pizzeriastella.net.

Night Market

Think of a street fair focused on stuffing your face with food rather than listening to music or buying crafts. The roving evening festival that launched in 2010 on East Passyunk Avenue is slowly popping up elsewhere in the city - a cavalcade of the city's finest food trucks and local neighborhood restaurants.

The last one happened in Mount Airy, and I cannot wait for the next one, on Oct. 6 in Chinatown.

Night Market, 6th and Race streets, 7-11 p.m. Oct. 6, nightmarketphilly.org.

Gourmet hot dogs

Suddenly, Philly's become an honest-to-goodness hot dog town. You'll find great franks everywhere, from Garces Trading Co. downtown to MidAtlantic in University City to the Memphis Taproom beer garden in Kensington. Nowhere, however, are the franks better than at Hot Diggity Dog. Two not to miss: the Saigon Fusion ("hot dog meets bahn mi" with pickled cucumber, cilantro and sriracha) and the Big Kahuna (with pineapple salsa and habanero aioli).

Hot Diggity Dog, 630 South St., 267-886-9253, thehotdiggity.com.

Rotisserie chicken

I had a friend, a local French chef, who for years talked about opening a true rotisserie chicken place. But he never did, and, year after year, we remained a rotisserie-impoverished city. Not anymore. Now the talk is about how many places one can find great rotisserie chicken. One of the most exciting spots is Rotisseur, which opened near Rittenhouse this summer. If you happen to care about such things, the chickens are locally sourced, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free and halal. More importantly, the birds are juicy and delicious - and served with a rotating choice of tasty sides such as corn muffins, succotash, pickled vegetables, or mac and cheese.

Rotisseur, 21st Street between Sansom and Chestnut, 215-496-9494, rotisseur.net.

Not-so-secret quote-unquote 'secret' bars

Food bloggers all over Philly seem to have their undies in a twist over the forthcoming Hop Sing Laundromat, the mysterious, secretive Chinatown bar rumored to be opening for about nine months now. Who knows if it will ever open? There's still paper on the windows at 1029 Race St.

But there are other, not-so-secret secret bars. I'm not just talking about speakeasies like Ranstead Room. For instance, there's the strange Graffiti Bar, in the alley/courtyard space behind Sampan. Or I could tell you about my favorite not-so-secret secret bar, but then I'd have to kill you. Hint: It's above an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly. If I see you there, I'm pretending I don't know you.

Pudding

We've lived through the hipster cupcake fetish, and we're currently in the middle of the hipster pie fetish. So what's next? Let's hope it's pudding. And by pudding, I'm not talking about anything Bill Cosby would be shilling. Let's hope we get more pudding like Barbuzzo's celebrated salted caramel budino (Italian for "pudding"), featured in this month's Bon Appetit magazine.

Barbuzzo, 110 S. 13th St., 215-546-9300, barbuzzo.com.


Jason Wilson has twice won an award for Best Newspaper Food Column from the Association of Food Journalists. He is the author of "Boozehound" and editor of "The Smart Set," an online arts and culture journal at Drexel University. Follow him at twitter.com/boozecolumnist or go to jasonwilson.com.

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