Did Steven Starr start a new Philly Restaurant Renaissance?
There is a really interesting discussion going on in the comments of David Snyder's review of Pizzeria Stella in the City Paper:
Meal Ticket is trying (unsuccessfully, so far) to move the conversation here:
But I think that this is a better forum for it. I realize that there is overlap with the posters here and on the blogs, but Chowhound tends to have more insightful discussions (not to mention better threading).
As a "young whippersnapper" myself who came of age around the same time as the Continental, I don't know much about the restaurant scene in the city before that. My childhood memories of eating out downtown are mostly of the old standbys like The Fountain and Le Bec Fin. But it's not like my parents were especially hip to the dining scene or would want to drive downtown for a casual meal.
What are your thoughts? Did Philly need Starr to push things forward?
RIP original Cafe NOLA (does anyone go to the new incarnation?) and Magnolia Cafe - certainly two of my favs as a young adult hound.
I think Starr makes sure we are following national trends (eventually), but has given up on being truly innovative - Blue Angel is a case in point - no one was doing french bistro, so Starr "tired of the concept". French bistro is in, Parc opens.
I think the young BYO-ers, Garces and Vetri have a lot more to do with Phila's restaurant renaissance, and yes, nod to Neil Stein. As an avid food magazine reader, I can't recall as much national press for anywhere as we received for Striped Bass, (Phila= LeBec Fin) and that national press has begat more national press for others as the years have gone by because people started to look. I don't think anyone put Phila on a "great restaurant" map for Continental or Starr's other early efforts
"Did Steven Starr start a new Philly Restaurant Renaissance? " - Yes
"Did Philly need Starr to push things forward?" - No
Significant credit, albeit indirect, has to go to Rendell for making the city an attractive option for young professionals (and subsequently, empty nesters).
Starr was in the right place at the right time, with a product that was attractive to those demographics. It's also very clear that his restaurants sparked significant growth almost everywhere he went, especially Old City. Thus, it's fair to say that he started it.
(Memories have also faded regarding Neil Stein's contributions - Striped Bass, Rouge and Bleu were better restaurants (if, in some cases, briefly) and had a huge impact. Rouge stared down L&I, the result being that outdoor dining is now ubiquitous)
That said, this renaissance is associated even more with BYOBs and Gastropubs than it is with Starr, neither of which Starr can claim any credit for, other than formerly employing some of the proprietors.
Finally, don't underestimate beer - both local craft brews, as well as imports (Philly serves more Belgian beer that any city outside Belgium) - as a driving force - the pub part of gastropub
So, it's kind of like the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reagan accelerated it, but it was going to happen anyway.
We moved to Philadelphia 35 years ago and there were only 2 good restaurants (not counting Bookbinders) -- the Frog and the Garden. Le Bec Fin was just starting and I believe Deux Cheminees may have existed as well. Steve Poses, owner of The Frog, soon after started the gourmet cafeteria The Commissary and a branch over in University City. Also remember the late lamented The Book and the Cook Festival, which stimulated interest in restaurants and dining for many many years. All of the above stimulated the Philly restaurant scene long before Steven Starr came on the scene.
hmmm... I think we have different interpretations of the question posed in the title of the post
I read it as asking about a new "restaurant renaissance" (a second one), whereas you may have read it as a "new restaurant" renaissance, as if nothing new had preceded it
You are correct in pointing out the first renaissance (from the early 70s to the mid-80s), but it's fair to say that it lost steam and stagnated from the late 80s to mid 90s.
(Manayunk, of course, experienced a revival in the early 90s, but I've always considered Manayunk to be a theme park for suburbanites that were afraid of the city)
And I'll add the original Cafe Nola and Magnolia Cafe to the list of favorites