The 2009 Phoodies


Round 2 of The Phoodies: It’s been a long and wonderful year, and there have been some worthy additions to the Philly dining scene. But some of the stalwarts kicked shit up a notch, and made sure to remind everyone that old doesn’t always mean tired. Sometimes it means fucking great. 2009 was stuff of legend, people. LEGEND. 

Phoodie Person Of The Year: Jose Garces

SHOCK OF ALL SHOCKS. The Iron Chef himself, Jose Garces wins our Phoodie Person Of The Year. That’s 2 for 2. There was a huge influx of people storming his throne this year, but it’s good to be the King.

What he does next year to top this is beyond us, unless he finds a way for tapas to cure cancer. If it does, and he does, we retire the category and maybe someone else can win the Jose Garces Award For Excellence And General Asskickery.

Visit Garces’ restaurants here.

Honorable Mentions: Jennie Hatton (Profile PR), Cook & Solomonov (Percy Street, Zahav), Casey Hughes (Flying Fish), Brendan Hartranft (Local 44, Resurrection Ale House)


Restaurant Of The Year: Zahav

zahav.jpgWe promise it gets different after this. But really, we couldn’t go anywhere else with this award. Even though Mike Solo was a finalist for the uber-prestigious Rising Star from the James Beard Foundation early this year, they never sat on their laurels. 2009 gave us their biggest menu update since opening, and the dishes were all pure gold. The addition of a $34 4-course meal that includes the best pickled salad plate in the land, and a dish of Duck Livers in Dirty Rice sewed this right up. A nice wine list gorged with authentic Israeli offerings didn’t hurt, either.

So, what’s next for the restraurant that did?

“Mike and I decided to update the menu to reach beyond just the Israeli classics. We need to keep moving if we want to keep everyone happy, and that’s our philosophy. Once you get a good handle on a dish, it’s time to add a new one”, Steve Cook, the other half of the dynamic duo, said in a short interview after learning the good news. And please the people you have, gentlemen. Good work.

Zahav, 237 Saint James Place. (215) 625-8800

Honorable Mentions: Bibou, Meme, Distrito, Fond


Best New Restaurant: Bibou

Bibou_logobackgroundBy far the toughest decision we had to make was in the newbie category. And that couldn’t make us happier, since so many were quite deserving. But someone did have to win, and go on with your bad self, Bibou.

A year late to the game, as 2008 was the year of the French bistro in Philly. But if you’re looking for the Frenchiest experience in the city, this is it. Most delicious, too. They do bread and butter/service the way it should be done. Wife Charlotte is the real deal, and runs the front of the house to perfection. Also, it’s B.Y.O.B. Ohhhhhhhhhh, yeah. Did you hear Bibou was on GQ‘s 10 Hottest Restaurants in the U.S.? Good luck with a rezzie.

Bibou, 1009 S. 8th Street  (215) 965-8290

Honorable Mentions: Chifa, Fond, Varga Bar, Pizzeria Stella, Saute


Chef Of The Year: Pierre Calmels of Bibou

pierrecalmelsExploding onto the scene faster than you can say “offal,” Chef Pierre Calmels made winning dishes for the masses out of stuff no one usually eats. His Tripe marinara special is truly special, and his Pig Trotter stuffed with Foie Gras appears in another category this year. Ahem. Stay for the oxtail terrine. 

Everything he makes is knocked out, and the critics love him, too. Fear not, dear readers who aren’t into the weird, he also makes a mean cut of boeuf. Crispy on the outside, tender and juicy in the center, delicious all the way through.

Bibou, 1009 S. 8th Street  (215) 965-8290

Honorable Mentions: Mike Solomonov (Zahav), Peter McAndrews (Modo Mio, Paesano’s), Jose Garces (Chifa, Distrito), Jim Burke (James)


Breakthrough Chef: John Taus of Snackbar

chainsawNot a big surprise here, either. “Chainsaw” Taus came out of nowhere to get people talking about his reinvented comfort food at Snackbar. The boy went from zero-to-three Bells in 3.2 seconds. His fall/winter menu is one of the best in the city, and makes the Rittenhouse eatery something it hasn’t been in some time: A destination.

Phoodie followed Taus around for a day and learned a lot about what makes the man tick. Eat there now and say you were in on the ground floor. He’s gonna join the ranks of the best in the city before you know it. Hot on his heels, though, are quite a few very talented chefs on the cusp of greatness. The future looks mighty bright for us.

Snackbar, 253 S 20th St. (215) 545-5655

Honorable Mentions: Lee Styer (Fond), Jeremy Nolen (Brauhaus Schmitz), Marc Coates (Bebe’s BBQ), Dionicio Jimenez (Xochitl)


Dish Of The Year: Chicken Liver Rigatoni (Osteria)

osteriaYou knew Marc Vetri had to show up somewhere on the list, and this dish did it for me. He is the pasta master of the 215, and the use of ground chicken liver and perfectly cooked rigatoni went straight to my heart.

He left the organ meat do its sweet and rustic thing, and tossed a little sage and cippoline onion in for aromatic bite. Sounds pretty ordinary, but when you take a bite, it’s anything but. There were many tasty things to eat this year, and any one of the honorables could have taken this one home, but Vetri gets back on the board with this bad boy.

Osteria, 640 N. Broad St. (215) 763-0920

Honorable Mentions: Pig Trotter With Foie Gras (Bibou), Crab Dumplings (Sakura Mandarin), Scallop Crudo (Snackbar), Tartufo Pizza (Stella Pizzeria), Charcuterie Plate (Fork)


Best Bar Snack: Jumbo Lump Crab Cheese Fries (Varga Bar)

vargabar3_02Varga Bar made some waves this year by showing up on Foobooz’s Top 50 Bars list in its first year of existence. We have to admit, we had them high on our own list for a kickass beer program and top flight bar snacks.

Getting accolades from critics and bloggers alike, Evan Turney‘s pub grub is tasty and creative. A few of his offerings could have won this award, but we went with his take on “Crab Fries” as the best-of-the-best. Toss a couple dabs of Turney’s homemade ketchup on top for an ethereal, deep-fried experience.

Varga Bar, 941 Spruce St. (215) 627-5200

Honorable Mention: Firecracker Lentil Fritters (Rangoon), Tater Tots (Village Whiskey), Deviled Eggs (Supper), Soft Pretzel (Brauhaus Schmitz), White Anchovies With Hot Pepper (Pub and Kitchen)

Best Sandwich: East Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich (Bebe’s BBQ)

bebes_barbecue_logo-343x200What a year for Marc Coates. He opens up a smokehouse in the Italian Market during our BBQ storm of 2009 and wipes the floor with everyone else. The humblest of southerners with a knack for friendly hospitality, Coates doesn’t serve a bad dish.

We do love us Bebe’s chicken, but his Pulled Pork wins our Best Sandwich this year. With a shit-ton of competition in this category from 800 lb gorilla Paesano’s, Coates does it without the fanfare. Traditional East Carolina BBQ is very tart and vinegary, and Coates’ flavors are right on. In a sea of sweet and thick sauces, it’s a refreshing change. Oh, and for those who have yet to eat the Grilled Chicken at Royal, take it for a spin.

Bebe’s BBQ, 1017 S. 9th St. (267) 519-8791

Honorable Mention: The Paesano (Paesano’s), Pork Belly Reuben (Supper), Banh Mi (QT), Chicken With Brie And Pear (Royal Tavern), The Royale (PYT)


Best Desserts: Whipped Bakeshop

whippedWhipped Bakeshop is like Ace Of Cakes on steroids. Zoe Lukas is uber-talented and we’re damn lucky to have her. If you need a Jack Daniels bottle cake, she’s your lady. If you need a straightforward tasty cupcake, she’s your lady.

The storefront that opened in October was the finishing touch needed to complete the awesomeness of Whipped. There has been a slew of new bakeries and sweets by delivery, and Whipped is on top. We love it on top.

Whipped Bakeshop, 636 Belgrade St. (215) 598-5449

Honorable Mention: Baker E’s, Cupcake Truck, Cafe Con Chocolate


Best Delivery: Asia @ Cafe

chickensoupDelivery makes the world go ’round, and there are always a few go-to places that hit the spot. But there are also gems that truly change the game. This year, we found Asia @ Cafe. Best delivery we’ve ever eaten without question. The soup you see pictured was a revelation of biblical proportions and the best bowl in Philly. Even the Chinese options are better than normal — the white boy special (General Tso’s) has a serious sauce you can pour on anything and make it crazy delicious.

Some of the best Fried Rice, Roti Canai, and Wonton Soup around. Oh yeah, they deliver crazy far.

Asia @ Cafe, 8th and Washington Sts. (215) 627-7316

Honorable Mention: Ekta, Francoluigi’s, Tiffin, Tacqueria La Veracruzana


Best New Bar: Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.

franklinPhilly is a beer town for sure, but Franklin Mortgage wins Best New Bar for a few reasons. They don’t serve Red Bull and vodka, they take liquor as seriously as Philly takes beer, and they’re classy as fuck. Love the vest and ties, gentlemen. Our close buddy Colin Shearn is a mixologist here, and introduced us to our favorite new drink, which you’ll read about later.

The space must have good mojo because when it was Bar Noir, it was one of the only tolerable places in Rittenhouse. Oh, and rumor around the campfire is that bag magnate Arthur Kade isn’t allowed inside the walls. Franklin 1, The Brand 0.

Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. , 112 S. 18th St. (215) 231-9911

Honorable Mentions: Swift Half Pub, Varga Bar, Resurrection Ale House, Local 44, PYT


Local Beer Of The Year: Flying Fish Exit 4

flying_fish_series4Phoodie Person Of The Year nominee Casey Hughes brought the thunder this year. Flying Fish launched their ‘Exit Series’ with number 4, and it went on to do great things. Winning a gold medal at the prestigous Great American Beer Festival, this “backwards” Trippel surprised everyone with its hoppy undercurrent.

Now, all the kegs are gone, and you can barely find a bottle to purchase, but the hype rolls on. Exits 11 and 1 also kick the ass.

For more: Flying Fish Brewery

Honorable Mentions: Nodding Head Fruit Phunk, Sly Fox Oatmeal Stout, PBC Harvest From The Hood, Yards Cape Of Good Hope


Best Bar To Call Home: Good Dog

good_dogA good place to be for can night, drink whiskey, and catch up with lots of industry folks. Dave Garry and Co. had their hands full opening up The Swift Half in the Piazza this year, but things kept right on truckin’ at the original spot.

Beer snobs and career alcoholics share the same bar, and if you haven’t heard yet, the burger ain’t half bad. In fact, the whole menu is pretty amazing. The bartenders and servers are efficient and curt, and have a nice touch of attitude that keeps the patrons honest. Don’t be a dick or you’ll get it right back.

Good Dog Bar, 224 S. 15th St. (215) 985-9600

Honorable Mentions: P.O.P.E., Standard Tap, 700 Club, Johnny Brenda’s


Cocktail Of The Year: El Pinche Tigre (Franklin Mortgage)

Jalapeno infused blanco tequila. That’s right. Add that to fresh apple, lemon juice, and gigner syrup and you have our Cocktail Of The Year. It’s a bite and a half, and light enough to drink all night. Why people don’t partner jalapeno with tequila more often is a question we’ve asked ourselves many times, moreso after we’ve had about 8 of these.

Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. , 112 S. 18th St. (215) 231-9911

Honrable Mentions: Espresso Adult Shake (PYT), Pisco Sour (Chifa), APA (Village Whiskey), Everything Anders Makes, No, REALLY (700)


Best New Business: Green Aisle Grocery

20090826_greenaisle_146x97The Erace boys opened up Green Aisle Grocery just a little later than anticipated, but it’s been well worth the wait. We basically use it as our pantry at all times.

Locally sourced goodies and produce are just the tip of the iceberg here, as they have many of your restaurant favorites, such as: Zahav’s Hummus, James’ Fennel Mostarda, Fond’s Meringues, and Bibou’s Pumpkin Bread. Add in our favorite new sandwich slices, Ric’s Black Russian Rye, and a host of Wildflour breads, and the best beanage in the city. That’s cookin’ beans AND coffee. Stumptown, anyone? If not, he’s got your local roasters covered, too. Don’t forget about Baker E’s sinfully addictive Molasses Whoopie Pies. Good sirs, what don’t you have? Nasturtiums. Oh wait, you got those, too.

Green Aisle Grocery, 1618 E. Passyunk Ave. (215) 465-1411

Honorable Mention: Cupcake Truck, HubBub Coffee, Whipped Bakeshop, Baker E’s, Hawthorne’s


Biggest Disappointment: Vetri

We expect to get some flak for this one, but it had to be said. We go once a year like most of the patrons, and this visit was a complete trainwreck. Was it the worst meal all year? No. But for the absurdly steep price tag ($185 per person without wine) on the Grand Tasting (the only real option if you’re doing the yearly), we expect a meal as close to perfection as possible. Everyone should.

This year, one dish was excellent, 3 were good, and 3 were poor. One was downright terrible. A rare piece of veal should not require one to saw through the sinew. We know Vetri has been spending most of his time at Osteria, but we hope that next years meal is on par with the ones from past visit. Chit-chat off the record with other foodie-types revealed we weren’t the only people left scratching their heads. Not the worst restaurant, of course, but this year was definitely a serious disappointment.

Vetri, 1312 Spruce St. (215) 732-3478

Honorable Mentions: Noble: American Cookery, Fuel, The Whiskey King


Tapas Is The New Black: What’s Coming In 2010

So this is the award for what we think will be the hotness of 2010. 2007 was tapas, 2008 was French bistros, and 2009 was BBQ. And the hot trend for 2010 will be….

Putting Fried Eggs On Shit.

Yup. We’ve seen it a ton at the end of the year on pizza (Stella) and sandwiches (Paesano’s), and we love the smooth fatty quality it adds to everything it touches. The incredible, edible egg.

Thanks to all of our readers, since without you, we would just be writing these stupid posts for each other. And thanks to the Philly food scene for making our job easier than we could have imagined.

Previously: The Phoodies: Best Of 2008

  • Andy

    bravo….great recap!

  • ab

    Funny, I had a degustazione at Vetri two years ago and it was pretty disappointing. Bad service, a couple spotty dishes, etc. Then I did the regular a la carte thing, and it was worse. Dishes were mostly fine (burnt crepe), service was horrible (dishes just dropped at the table with no explanation, took 20 minutes to get my jacket until I just grabbed it myself out of the closet).
    But this year I did the degustazione again, and it was a pitch-perfect, flawless meal, from the service to the pairings to the food. Weirdly inconsistent place, but the highs (and the food) are worth it.

  • danya

    Definitely great list. Will have to try the Chicken Livers at Osteria. I almost chose Vetri for a special dinner last month, but went with Zahav instead; so glad your choices here vindicate that decision.

    Also, didn’t the fried egg trend start in Philly on the Lombardo Pizza at Osteria when they opened (in 2007)?

  • Philly Chit Chat

    WOW nice write up. No mention of any of the new steakhouses? Fish, the Sea Bass at 10 Arts or the Rabbit, I swear it’s not just because I have a crush on not Top Chef Jen Carroll.

  • CEF

    @danya – Actually putting eggs on shit has been going on forever. but i just saw more of it this year than I ever have. Hopefully it’s a trend. If not, I’ll just keep it real at home. :-)

    @Philly Chit Chat – 10 Arts opened last year, and sadly the only thing I liked there was the fish burger. Steakhouses were crossover this year and last, Union Trust didn’t really wow me except for that divine raw bar platter. There’s been too much turnover too since the opening. Butcher and Singer did right by its burger, but I still choose Barclay as my steakhouse (if I must, and it isn’t too often).

  • jay

    I like the reviews, but the profanity really takes away from the point your tring to make in my opinion.

  • marge

    eggs on things really? didnt that happen 2 years ago.
    i think you meant sundried tomatoes are going to be big hit.

  • Katie

    Thanks for your wrap up. Many of these places and dishes I love. Also, thanks for the info on Whipped. I live a few blocks from there, but haven’t stopped in yet. Sounds like it’s definitely time to try a cupcake.

    Another place to check out is Microbaked in Fishtown. Tracy did the cupcakes for my wedding and they were spectacular.

  • Karim

    Topping food with a fried egg is pretty common in the developing world. It’s cheap protein, after all. Try fried eggs on lomo saltado or Peruvian fried rice. And as far as putting it on Pizza, the Turks do a version of that on something they call pide.

  • EmmKay

    Great list, but hasn’t fried egg been on stuff for a while? The lombardo pizza at Osteria, madre e hijo (chicken with fried egg) at Amada. Not that I’m complaining. If I see something with an egg on a menu, it’s my first choice!

  • itsalwayssunnysideupinphilly

    Ha. Another johnnie come lately food blogger. big surprise. Fried/sunny side up eggs have been a common accent in most asian cuisines since before Colin’s mom served him his first brekkie scramble. eggs and rice has been a staple for a long time in many places. bibimbap anyone?

  • daytime drinker

    Garces is not chef at Chifa or Distrito. Chad Williams is the chef at Chifa, not sure who is at Distrito
    garces creates the concept, menu and oversees the openings but he is no more the chef at these places than Marc Vetri is at Vetri
    I believe Brad Spence is still in charge at Vetri.
    Im not knocking either guy. They are at the top of their game and i love their food.
    I work at Fork and Terence Feury works there 5 days a week. To me that determines who the chef is.

    The charcuterie plate is great at Fork, but the single most unique dish there is lamb belly confit appetizer. I’ve seen all types of confit, and pork belly is all the rage, but this takes the cake.
    Its cured for 2 weeks in rosemary. The top layer is crispy lamb skin, then a thin layer of fat is just below, then the meat. 3 distinct textures and flavors on a roughly 1 inch square piece of meat
    It took Feury 8 years to perfect his signature dish. Craig Laban raved about it in his review as “one of the city’s must taste plates” QUOTE -”Its myriad layers of roasty-edged, gamey meat and buttery molten fat dissolve on the tongue as the absolute essence of lamb”

    To me a dish of the year has to be so unique that you can’t get it elsewhere. Many in the city are doing charcuterie but who is doing lamb belly?

    great wrap up of the year thanks!

  • daytime drinker

    Colin I forgot to ask in my post. Does a chef/dish have to be from a restaurant or a chef in a restaurant?
    Shola cooked some of the most memorable dishes i tried this year
    I mean who is thinking up of salmon tartare with 25% lardo?
    I mean seriously this guy is super talented!!!
    kinome , poha etc. I don’t even know what some of his ingredients ARE for crying out loud!
    Plant, spice, animal?
    I ate a pasta dish that blew away any pasta dish I have eaten this year. Only in Italy have i eaten comparable pasta
    Wild boar belly? Who else is pushing the envelope like this since Ansill closed?
    I assume you did not eat any of Shola’s cooking this year? You just hung out and ate with him?
    Im confused

  • Allan Smihtee

    re: Biggest Disappointment Category

    Shouldn’t “Honorable Mentions” be “Dishonorable Mentions”?

  • Ma foi est grasse


  • CEF

    @daytime drinker – Shola definitely has made some of the best food I ate this year (his yakibuta ramen was unbelievable), but it wasn’t readily available to the general populace, so I really couldn’t put it up there.

    Also, I agree with the concern regarding Exec Chefs vs. the line/sous/cuisine peeps keeping the kitcen honest. And yes, Terence has his shit together, for sure, and makes great stuff. But I really loved the charcuterie this year, and for a guy that eats really ‘interesting’ cuts of meat, I felt Fork’s was the most challenging, and I loved it. Fork is still the shit, no doubt.

    @itsalwayssunnysideup – Yeah my off-the-boat kraut mom wasnt serving a brekkie scramble. It was brotchen with marmalade, tea, and on the weekend we would do a soft boiled. But other than that, I have never eaten eggs, except when I was in India it was Green Egg Curry, and Belize it was Pupusa stuffed with egg and pork. Fatir in Egypt. Hamburgers in Italy are served with eggs 95% of the time. And in Brazil it was Bife a Cavalo. Check out our piece on La Fonda, the Colombian place in North Philly. Great use of fried egg.

    I guess I should have been more specific. We’re seeing more non-traditionally egg covered dishes slathered in yellow and white.

  • Tired of bad writing

    Why do the writers at Metro, City Paper, PW, and Philebrity continually use profanity in place of wit?

  • vegfoodie

    eggs on sandwiches: pittsburgh’s been doing this for like, a thousand years. fries too.

    i thought someone would have mentioned this by now.

  • PadmaSundara

    As already said, topping dishes with eggs has been around quite a while – the example of bibimbap was given… (and it’s super easy to make at home).

    Then there is the fantastic dish at Morimoto called Ishi Yaki Bop – with yellowtail or kobe beef. The egg makes a sauce in the hot stone bowl the rice and fish/beef come in – simply delicious and amazing.

    Sad to hear about the poor experience at Vetri; we’ve never had a bad meal there (and yes, it’s only the once-a-year or once-every-other-year dinner). Even the best restaurants can have bad nights.

  • tina breslow

    Hey guys,

    Love reading this site. Keep up the good work. Chow.

  • e

    It’s a honor to be honorable mentioned on these lists, thank you!

  • S

    I really do like Bebe’s, especially for BBQ north of the Mason-Dixon, but Sweet Lucy’s pulled pork ANNIHILATES them. Just sayin’.

  • BS

    Have you ever BEEN to franklin mortgage? That place sucks! Village Whiskey is way better.

  • BrookeinFishtown

    It’s refreshing to read a positive recap of the year…in food! We definitely share the same taste in bars and food so this is going to serve partially as a “to do” list when I push South of 19123 since I still haven’t been to Franklin M&I and Zahav and never have even heard of Bibou. Glad to see Modo Mio and Paesano’s getting some props.

  • Brian

    @BS – I’ve only been to Franklin Mortgage twice and Village Whiskey once, but it’s obvious that they are completely different. While VW has a decent cocktail menu all of the press about that place has focused on the food. FM&I doesn’t serve food at all. Your statement could just have easily have been, “Have you ever HAD bacon and eggs? Pancakes are way better.”

  • rk

    wow…didn’t expect such intense commenting (and all about the eggs. I thought the idea was clear).

    can’t really disagree much. one idea for next year: let us readers nominate some stuff too (or vote). I’m excited for the continued expansion of “street food” from around the world into the Philly food scene(more banh mi! more quality taquerias! bring us papusa! etc.), both traditional and re-imagined (note to self: *try Sampan banh mi*)

    or, in other words:

  • juliecat

    you drove me to go to asia @ cafe and it brooke my heart. what is this guy thinking? the food was a grease fest. never again.

  • Ryan

    Best Bars To Call Home: Good Dog, Johnny Brenda’s, POPE… LOL Jesus, could you guys be any more hipster fabulous? I’ll take Fergie’s and Ten Stone, where the staffs are polite to everyone and don’t give off that Too Cool For School, Frustrated Poet, I Hate The World attitude.

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