The Phoodies: Best Of 2008

So we’re a little behind with this one, but it’s time to call our highlights and lowlights of the past 365. It’s been a huge year for Philadelphia, and our dining scene was a major cog in the hype machine. Let’s get at it.

Phoodie Person Of The Year: Jose Garces

There wasn’t much suspense here, and the choice is a no-brainer. Sr. Garces is Phoodie Person Of The Year. In one year, Garces opened two new restaurants, backhanded Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, won Best New Restaurant in Esquire, and Distrito charmed LaBan, who named it Restaurant Of The Year. A consummate winner, Jose Garces is also the most approachable man in the food scene today. We’re lucky and proud to have him here.
Visit Garces’ restaurants here.

Honorable Mentions: Steve Cook (Zahav, Xochitl, Marigold), Mike Stollenwerk (Little Fish), and Spanky Hartranft (Memphis Taproom, Local 44)

Restaurant Of The Year: Zahav

zahav.jpgMike Solomonov and Steve Cook brought Israeli street food into the new millenium with Zahav. Pricey for sure, but worth every penny, the Thursday night tastings in The Quarter might be the best dining experience in the city. Sure, the Cauliflower Dish won a prize in Food and Wine, but we will note the many beautiful hummus plates and the homemade Laffa by breadboy Wes Johnson for reasons to spend big buckage at this spot.
Zahav, 237 Saint James Place. (215) 625-8800

Honorable Mentions: Meme, Distrito, Talula’s Table, Osteria

Chef Of The Year: Bryan Sikora of Talula’s Table

bryansikora.jpgWhat else needs to be said about Talula’s Table? Conde Nast’s Toughest Table Reservation in the country lives up to the hype. His extraordinary tasting menus are nothing short of perfection, and if you can handle it, he will cook right in front of you at his butcher’s block. Seasonal, locavore-friendly, and euphoric are the only words to describe his ever changing offerings. Django tanked without him for good reason. Sometimes it’s more than location, location, location, and Talula’s defines that exception of the rule.
Talula’s Table, 102 W. State Street, Kennett Square. (610) 444-8255

Honorable Mentions: David Katz (Meme), Mike Solomonov (Zahav), Johnny Mac (Pub and Kitchen), Mike Stollenwerk (Little Fish)

Breakthrough Chef: Raju Bhattarai of Ekta

ektaThe former exec chef of Tiffin opened his own spot and has kicked ass since day one. Homemade garam masala to die for, and specialty dishes not found on other Indian menus give him the nod. Never afraid to bring the heat, his Papri Chat and Butter Chicken dishes stand out as favorites in our household. Indian food has become an unstoppable force in Philly, and Chef Bhattarai is leading the charge.
Ekta Indian Cuisine, 250 E Girard Ave. (215) 426-2277

Honorable Mentions: Peter Woolsey (Bistrot La Minette), Erin O’Shea (Marigold Kitchen), Jen Zavala (El Camino Real)

Comeback Of The Year: Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides of Kanella

After closing his brilliant restaurant Meze in the Italian Market, Chef Pitsillides returned to his homeland of Cyprus. Deciding it was time to give Philadelphia another shot, he opened Kanella, the BYO Cypriat darling on the suddenly hot corner of 10th and Spruce.  A dashing man in appearance and culinary talents, his dishes are affordable and tasty in each and every bite.
Kanella, 1001 Spruce St. (215) 922-1773

Honorable Mention: David Katz of Meme, The Re-Opening of Minar Palace

Dish Of The Year: Foie Gras Tart at Mémé

memefront.jpgIn a year of hot new chefs exploding onto the scene, the comeback of David Katz and his simple food stole so much thunder from the new kids. His menu is honest and straightforward, but perfectly executed, none moreso than the Foie Gras Tart. A dream come true in bite-sized portion. Decadent. Balanced. Playful. Foie Gras. Definitely the Dish Of The Year.
Mémé, 2201 Spruce St. (215) 735-4900

Honorable Mentions: Windsor Burger (Pub and Kitchen), Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Dim Sum Garden), Diver Scallops (Little Fish), Bone Marrow Tacos (Distrito)

Best Snack Dish: Malted Vinegar Crisps at Pub and Kitchen

The homemade vinegar chips at Pub and Kitchen are the epitome of snack food, and done better than you cold ever imagine. At a price point of $3, we usually order at least 2 to get us through the hard 6 minutes before the app drops. One crunch and a melt into your tongue makes us very happy. Also, the duck liver toast is a seriously good time.
Pub and Kitchen, 1946 Lombard St. (215) 545-0350

Honorable Mention: Beer Battered Green Beans (Prohibition Taproom), Spinach Croquettes (Local 44), Sweet Salmon Guacamole (R.I.P. Azul Cantina), Jalapeno Popper (El Camino Real)

Best New Bar: Memphis Taproom

memphSure it’s in our backyard, and has been written about ad nauseum, but it’s for good reason. Boasting events for brew snobs and a solid food lineup, as well as making Port Fishington a destination for center city beer denizens is no small feat. Memphis has accomplished all of this as well as turning the heads of the critics in less than a year. Owner Spanky Hartranft was a nominee for Phoodie Person Of The Year for this effort, as well as the debut of Local 44 in West Philly.
Memphis Taproom, 2331 E Cumberland St. (215) 425-4460

Honorable Mentions: Pub and Kitchen, Prohibition Taproom, Gayborhood Tria

Best Bar To Call Home: P.O.P.E. (Pub on Passyunk East)

pope.jpgProprietor Dennis Hewlett is the nicest bar owner in town, and he has a knocked out craft beer lineup that is almost untouchable. A large bar area, as well as plentiful seating means you’ll find a place to plop, and the bar staff is genuinley sweet. All of the bartenders are very knowledgeable, and will take you on a tasting if you ask. Events that include Chili and Soup Cook Offs, as well as a Wednesday Night Rock Tits DJ residency only add to the bonuses inside the walls of the POPE. Look for a Rock Band ‘Battle Of The Bands’ in 2009 as well as being THE spot for this coming March’s Beer Week.  
Pub on Passyunk East, 1501 E Passyunk Ave. (215) 755-5125

Honorable Mentions: Good Dog, Oscar’s, Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda’s

Best Classic Drinks: Southwark

Like it needed mentioning, the Southwark on Bainbridge makes the best classic drinks in town. Perfectly dirty martinis, aromatic Manhattans, and a crazy ass Old Fashioned. Get your classy up in here.
Southwark Restaurant, 701 S 4th St. (215) 238-1888

Honorable Mentions: XIX, Pub and Kitchen, Lacroix

Local Beer Of The Year: Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

slyfox.jpgAn underdog with all the local hype around PBC and Yards’ offerings this year, Brian O’Reilly‘s Pikeland Pils wins our Local Beer Of The Year. Often at a pricepoint that competes with macro beasts like PBR, the mix of quality drink and affordability in the recession says it’s time for more Pikeland. We know this selection will stir up the dirt, but a line needed to be drawn in the sand for the Little Brewery That Could. Drink more Sly Fox this year. Start with the Pils.
For more: Sly Fox Brewery.

Honorable Mentions: PBC Kenzinger, Yards’ ESA, Dock Street Mole Stout, Victory Storm King, Iron Hill Cannibal

Surprise Beer Of The Year: PBC Philly’z Navidad

PBC’s first lager was a resounding success. Their best beer to date, its short run kept it from being considered Beer Of The Year. The body of a lager in the soul of a stout, big flavor and a tight package had us at the first sip. Sadly, it was kicked quite quickly. Fear not, we’re in for a slew of short-run beers from the PBC’ers.
For more: Philadelphia Brewing Co..

Cocktail Of The Year: Israeli Martini at Zahav

Like a Coen Brother’s movie, Zahav continues it’s stomp toward domination during the ’08 review. A gin martini (the only way) dirtied up with tomato and cucumber water was the tastiest liquor potable we had in 2008. Fresh, biting, and everything a gin profile requires, we slammed about 200 of these.
Zahav, 237 Saint James Place. (215) 625-8800

Honrable Mentions: Hot eClat (Fork), Texas Sweet Tea (El Camino Real), Rey Mysterio (Distrito)

Wine Of The Year: Cristalino Brut

The PLCB doesn’t give you much to work with, but their 9 dollar Cava is a big winner. With so many celebrations this year, we found ourselves always reaching to replenish the Cristalino. Buy it up now, but it’s not going anywhere. The state keeps this stocked up very well. Well made, sparkly, happy, and downright delicious.

Biggest Disappointment: Butcher and Singer

Our obsession with Mad Men made this place our biggest crush before they ever opened their doors, and the hype fell flat with multiple disappointing trips to the ubersteakhouse. After Parc‘s launch, we knew Shawn Hausman could build it. Too bad the food didn’t follow suit. After a few monster tabs that reached into the $150s per, some 50 dollar porterhouses were overdone often, and the waitstaff was not versed in the classics of food or drink. Add on the attack on the PLCB regarding the opening of Union Trust from Starr Wine Guru Marnie Old, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Butcher and Singer, 1500 Walnut St. (215) 732-4444

Honorable Mentions: Cantina Dos, 10 Arts, Chain Steakhouse Glut

Best Restaurant With The Least Amount Of Press: L’Angolo Ristorante

Deep in South Philly lies an Italian BYOB you need to visit in 2009. Sure that’s a loaded sentence, but this Porter St. spot is doing it better than anyone else. L’Angolo. Get there. But keep it to yourself, we don’t want this secret getting out.
L’Angolo Ristorante, 1415 W Porter St. (215) 389-4252

Best Philly Sidestory: Bread Boys/Girls

This year marked a huge step forward in breadmaking for the restaurant scene. Wes Johnson of Zahav and Frank Urso and Carlos Apricio of Parc are making this afterthought a highlight of meals at either spot. Metropolitan Bakery celebrated its 15th year, too. Bread was damn good in 2008. Always, always…fill up on bread. Low-carb is for the weak.

Thanks goes out to our readers, as Phoodie also celebrated its first year of existence in 2008, and we look forward to 2009. There’s a lot that’s ready to pop, and we’ll be there to clean up the mess.

  • Shazz

    Nice to see all the friends/bartenders I grew up with now opening successful Bars and restaurants.. Uh o – this must mean were getting old.

  • Alex

    Pikeland Pils tastes like the ass-sweat of a fat dude in skinny jeans. This misstep is all the more egregious given that their Phoenix Pale tastes like sunbeams and glory, at the same recession-friendly price point.

    Otherwise, very nice picks.

  • CEF


    I have not yet tasted fat man ass sweat, but if you are saying Pikeland tastes as such, maybe I am missing out. I agree with the Phoenix suggestion, in fact most of Sly Fox’s work is top notch. Pilsners are definitely take or leave, and usually have the most polar viewpoints. I felt that with the glut of Pale Ale in Philly, I would give the Pike some pop. I am a huge fan.

    Try the large format 113 from Sly Fox. Also, their Xmas beer was very tasty.

  • Bill

    What I don’t understand are the 3 mentions of Local 44, especially the one for the snack.
    Unless your calendar is different than mine, the place didn’t even open until ’09. I was there. They didn’t even have food the opening day. I saw servers walking around with samples off the menu, but nothing to buy. Great place. Great location, but I’m sure there are plenty of other places you could have given mention to.

  • CEF


    The mentions of 44 were for the effort Mr. Hartranft put into making beer destinations out of two places the city hasn’t really congregated for special drinks and food. 44 was in the works for a long time, and the Memphis went strong all year.

    I still have to stand by my choice of the spinach croquettes, the dill sauce is quite something, and they were the perfect size for a lazy 3 hour afternoon. But yes, it officially didnt happen until Jan 2, 2009. This list was finished later than originally planned, and I had visited 44 a few times before it went live. I’d hate to not start the year off right and give props where they are due. Stop by and have the croquettes and a De Ranke XX Bitter.

  • jen-o

    the fried pickles with horseradish sauce at memphis taproom deserve a snackaward.

  • Beth Lewis

    Zahav: the emperor still has no clothes.

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