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Oct 29, 1999 10:12 AM

Quick Report on one of Philly's Best

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As a chowhound who recently moved from Brooklyn (after 12 years) to the Philadelphia area I figured I would let others know what I am stumbling upon, for better or worse. I work at Penn so my job is located in West Philly. I will try and report on that area and others as I get acclimated.

Last night a friend from out of town came in and we decided to go to Fork (on her expense account) located at 306 Market Street, supposedly voted as one of the Best of Philly in Philadelphia magazine this summer.

Well, we had a reservation for 8:30 and got there on time. We waited about 25 minutes and sat on some chairs at the front. While the decor tries to be steamlined and austere in browns and neytrals, it ends up being cramped around the bar while in the back there is more breathing room if you sit back there near the open kitchen. While the wait staff and hostess were apologetic for our having to wait, it wasn't like they offered to buy us a glass of $7.25 pinot noir (Pennsylania's liquor prices are ridiculous). Once we sat down, my friend had roasted beets with greens and pecans. It looked good, but the portion was pretty small and I think it was $6.00. I had a baby spinach salad with fennel, sundried toms, and white beans in a lemon dill vinaigrette $6.95. The beans were too crunchy to my taste and I tasted no dill to speak of. For mains she had halibut with pea shoots and spinach ($12) and I had acorn squash stuffed with wild rice and cranberries and warm applesauce with swiss chard on the side($12). My friend's halibut was supposed to be in some kind of mustard cream but she couldn't find it. My squash was not very good and had little exciting flavor. Desserts were a little better, the chocolate rum cake was excellent and the lemon thyme cookies were good. However, they had this thing called a snickerdoodle, which is a cinnamon cookie, oh my god, this thing was so sweet you got a headache just looking at it. I thought if this is the best in Philly, I may be in trouble. The thing is Fork is probably not what a chowhound would want in a place, but being new to the city, I figured I would check it out, and having an expense account made it easier to deal with when the bill came to a hair over $100 with tip.

All I can say is I have my work cut out for me here because what most people around here think is stylish, new American food is just overpriced to me with wine prices that make you want to die. I will say that Philly does have a lot of BYOB places because of the liquor laws. I will report back when I have more to say, but overall it looks grim. Anyone have any good tips for a chowhound in the city of brotherly love?

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  1. FWIW, Philly has an okay little Chinatown. Veggie-friend and I are pretty big fans of Singapore, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. Every trip to Philly includes a visit there. It's several notches above the typical wheat-gluten/fake meat Chinese vegetarian places, including the ones in NYC like VP, Vegetarian Dim Sum, or Zen East. Along with several pages of standards, they have a fascinating seasonal menu, including lots of herbal 'nutraceutical' preparations that sound yummy, but I haven't tried (ginseng-red date veggie chicken, anyone?) Veggie-friend is especially fond of the 'BBQ pork,' which is crispy strands of TVP in a sweet-spicy sauce with shredded veggies, and lion's head (mixed-veggie croquettes in a sesame-brown sauce w/other veggies on the side). I'm impressed by the tasty MSG-free soup, which comes in about 10 varieties, including shanghai-style noodle, killer hot/sour, other usual suspects. Be sure to check out the great selection of free Buddhist literature and pretty posters in the foyer.

    1. Although I live in Northwestern New Jersey, I come to Philadelphia quite often, usually for the selection of micro=brews at the local pubs.
      I have found that the Monks Cafe is excellent for mussels and fine Belgian beer on tap. Their fries are delicious, too.
      Wander over to the Chinatown area, there are few disappointments there.

      Take the Elfriths (sp?) alley tour. Buy some of the Bartons Garden honey in the gift shop afterwards, this wildflower honey is unlike anything you have ever had, (i think...)
      Enjoy your new home!

      6 Replies
      1. re: Mr. W.

        Can you e-mail me with an address where the Monks Cafe is....sounds irrisistable! I love Belgian Fries!


        1. re: Debi

          Monks Cafe is great. Belgian mussels, fries and awesome burgers washed down by a great selection of Belgian beers. The back bar area down the hall past the rest rooms is better than the front which tends to get a little too crowded. It's at 264 S. 16th Street near Spruce. They have a pretty good website with menu, special events, etc.


          1. re: Mike

            How's Brigid's (sp?), the other Philly Belgian place?

            1. re: Jim Leff

              We are a group of 12 that travel to Philly yearly for the Army-Navy game. We try at least two different restaurants each weekend. A favorite is Overtures on Passeyunk St. We've gone back three years. This year we tried Jack's Firehouse and it was great. After reading the Zagat I wasn't too sure how it would be. Service was excellent as was every dinner. Part of the group went another night to Astral (Astro?) Plane (?). They all agreed it was dreadful. Last year we had a very interesting dinner at Le Colonial. Good, but pricy.

              1. re: N. Patrick

                I lived in Phila. for 6 years and there are many good restaurants-
                A FEw good & cheap ones
                1. VIETNAM Restaurant in Chinatown - best Vietnamese
                2. Dmitri's - 3rd and Catherine in South Philly - Mediterranean
                If you're looking for a specific cuisine -ask me where to go - I've eaten out a lot there and I worked in the restaurant biz for a couple years

              2. re: Jim Leff

                Moved to NYC from Philly 2 years ago but the Belgian trend seemed to have caught on there first. NYC's belgian places are a rip off in comparison (except Petite Abeille)

                1. Cuvee Notredame 15th & Spring Garden
                "$5 lunches" at the bar---if they still offer it one of the best deals in Philly! it is served all day, the mussels or the tough steak are excellent
                Also mussels and frites are thumbs up

                Monk's has the best beer selection (anywhere) but i've also heard good things about Bridgid's

        2. I have been told that there's an extraordinary roast pork sandwich to be had in the Italian Market at a place called Cannuli's. Haven't checked it out myself, but will the next time I get down there. I also recommend the hot pretzels in the Reading Terminal, especially if they're painted with melted butter.

          1. I just wanted to let you know that even though high prices don't necessarily result in good eatin', it sometimes feels that way to me. I don't know what New York is like cuz' I've never really had the chance to scope the restaurant scene there. I've worked in many restaurants in Philly and I'd like to list a couple of places you might want to try just because I think I need to defend some restaurants here.
            I like to go to Oasis on Walnut(17th) for sushi. There are plenty of other good dishes besides sushi, though. Another is Genji on Sansom(16th). There is actually a Genji on 40th and Spruce, but it can get to be quite hectic in there with all the students. These all are moderately priced. Le Colonial on 16th and Walnut serves Vietnamese food that can sometimes compare to the quality you get at Susanna Foo but at reasonable prices($15-$25 for entree). As you may know already, the price does not always reflect superb food. On the contrary, prices can be a result of walking into a dining hall seemingly spotless and endlessly polished, having the opportunity to try one of the dishes of the many world-renowned chefs around town(Susanna Foo, Le Bec Fin or Phillipe on Locust), or simply a "hot spot" that is tremendously popular at first, milking everyone for what they have, then dying off.(Sorry for such a run-on.)
            I think you get the crux of my message. Keep looking around! Philly is probably more of an abundant supply of good eats than you think. By the way, you should be very comfortable shopping around, coming from New York's price ranges!(No offense intended AT ALL.) Good Luck!

            1. had to reply to this thread, although it's a late post! Le Colonial is a pretty place, but the person who cited Vietnam, in Chinatown, is exactly right - phenomenal, and they've just redone so it's not all pink formica and lino anymore. Best roast pork sandwich is Tony Luke's, one on S. 18th St. and one on - Oregon? Cheap neighborhood Italian in S. Phile - red checked tablecloths and Sinatra on velvet and all - is Priori's - and the food is pretty good! Try the ravioli with anchovies and garlic. A newer place is MezzaLuna, at 8th and Catherine - fabulous. If you have the budget, Pasion is wonderful and Cuvee NotreDame is always a bargain. Great food, also, at London, up on Fairmount, both at the bar and in the dining room - and the menus are different. For a quick lunch on Italian Market shopping days, go over to Bitar's, on 10th and - ellsworth? - can't remember - but great grilled falafel sandwiches, kebobs, and the small grocery sells incredible pita and pistachio-stuffed baklava, besides terrific olives and feta - and all sorts of groceries for the middle eastern pantry. I just moved to Phoenix, and am just crossing my fingers that this will be - eventually - as pehnomenal a place for chowhounds as Philadelphia is.

              2 Replies
              1. re: patricia

                Phoenix might not have as deep a chowhoundable scene as Philly, but at least it's all different kinds of stuff. A great change of pace, anyway.

                Thanks for the helpful Philly notes...I hope we can get some Phoenix action going on the SW board...


                1. re: patricia

                  Just wanted to agree about Tony Luke's.

                  I used to take visitors down to Oregon Avenue for this genuine taste of Philly.

                  They make an Italian chicken sandwich with sauteed broccoli rabe draped over a cutlet. It's the goods.

                  The fire at 9th and Elizabeth that burned down Columbo's Nostalgia Room ripped a huge hole in South Philly. That was my favorite Philly restaurant. It succeeded on so many levels. The bigwigs liked it; the locals liked it; the food was first rate.