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Toronto Hound in Philly

Hi all
Im visiting from Toronto in July, and have done a fair bit of research. I have my lunches finalized but need some help with dinners. Price is no object, we like all food (though, I would prefer to stay away from Asian or Indian), we just want the best, most interesting meals for the 3 dinners we are there. Here are the options I narrowed it down to but if there are others I'm missing let me know:

Stateside
Marigold Kitchen
Fork
Will
Amis
Barbuzzo

And in terms of understanding bigger picture, here's what I have planned for lunch:

Thursday: Johns Roast Pork
Friday: reading Market for breakfast/snacks, find a food truck in afternoon
Saturday: Pasanos Philly Style
Sunday: Brunch at Supper

Thank you in advance!

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  1. Stateside is no big deal anymore since the original chef left. I would definitely consider Fork (preorder the duck feast).

    If money is no object, I would do Sunday brunch at Lacroix in The Rittenhouse Hotel.

    1. Avoid Stateside as Philly Ray says. Really the only place I'd keep from your list is Fork, Will is very good too but not one the best meals in the city. The three best, most interesting meals I'd suggest right now are dinner at Zahav, Vedge, and Fork. There are quite a few other options that are on the same level but those are the three I'd choose. Other options include Vernick, Serpico, and Kanella. Actually, I'd go to Kanella for lunch on Friday, they're one of the few great restaurants in the city that is open for lunch (only Fri-Sun though) and our food truck scene, while good, is not something I'd say is a must-do for an out of towner.

      1. Vedge, Fork, Serpico.

        Personally, I think Zahav is good, but over-rated.

        1. As this board knows cannot understand the raves for Vedge, nice space nice owners, but food so dated from the 60's IMVHO.
          Last time at Fork for duck feast a few weeks ago, it was changed dramatically. Breast meat was tepid, and instead of the fab leg/thigh confit now a tablespoon of smooshed leg meat was served with vegetable or two mixed in. The duck meatballs were great as always.

          My choices would be as always

          Farm & Fisherman
          Zeppoli ( 5 minutes across the Ben Franklin Bridge )
          Laurel

          1. Thank you Philly Ray, BucketHead, PhillyBest and Deluca - I've reviewed your suggestions and here's where i'm at (others, please do chime in as well!)

            Laurel is a for sure, the rest I'm debating:

            Serpico - reviews look very good. Italian is usually not always that interesting but this does look promising so I'm leaning towards it as one of my three.
            Zahav- I have read a lot about it, but the menu looks semi simple and right now, Toronto is seeing a boom in Middle Eastern restaurants so I'm on the fence. Is it special?
            Fork- Have others had mediocre experiences? what is great about the place?
            Vedge- I'm not a vegetarian and I'm definitely not a vegan so I am hestitant but somewhat curious... do my carnivore brothers and sisters love it?

            As for lunch.. On friday, if I go to the market, is it worth me eating a lot there or just I just go and have a few little nibbles and then do a full lunch somewhere? Thoughts?

            Also, is friday a good day to go to the market? I wasn't sure if some vendors are only open on weekends.. so I figure I would ask.

            Is supper a good brunch option? I liked the menu a lot, looks playful and that's how I like my lunch vs. very stuffy and refined.

            Hows the wait time at Johns and Pasanos? Does one sit down? Is there a preference on which location of pasanos I go to?

            Thanks all!

            9 Replies
            1. re: hungryabbey

              Serpico isn't Italian, are you thinking of Zeppoli? Both are excellent, I left Zeppoli off my list because it's in New Jersey.

              I'd skip Laurel if I were you, it's very good but not if you're only going to be here for 3 dinners.

              Friday is fine at the RTM, some of the vendors are closed on Sundays.

              John's Roast Pork has a few picnic tables outside, Paesano's has more seating. I'd go to the Paesano's in the Italian Market, there's more interesting stuff to see after you're done.

              1. re: Buckethead

                Sorry I dont know why I wrote bout it being Italian, I'm missing places up.

                Oh boy, this is confusing. Here's where I'm at NOW:

                Zahav
                Vetri (just read about this, seems to be the "best of the best", no?)
                Serpico
                Laurel
                Fork
                Vedge

                If I could get everyones input on which three would be their picks (and maybe a one liner on why), that would be super helpful.

                Re: the Market- do you recommend that I spend my appetite at the market that day, or should I just have a nibble for breakfast and then do a lunch somewhere that day (Friday)?

                Also, anywhere semi-close by (walking distance) the Four Seasons where for an easy light breakfast and good coffee?

                Thanks in advance.

                1. re: hungryabbey

                  Wow, that's challenging, but those are a great top five. Here are the first things that jump to mind for me, maybe that'd be helpful as you narrow down things:

                  Zahav -- this is my go-to, very easy, less expensive price point, fun if you pre-order the lamb, oh so delicious, very fun environment. Olde City so you'll soak up some of that cobblestone vibe but you can walk to south street in one block if you want to see the weirdness there

                  Serprico -- right on South Street. Creative meny, open kitchen concept. A little fresher than Zahav now, but IMO, not as intrinsically tasty. I liked but didn't necessarily LOVE the dishes

                  Laurel -- haven't been here yet, but apparently if you're rating only by food this is Philly's closest 29 Zagat rating restaurant, heheh

                  Fork -- super swank, cool environment. Personally, I loved it. If you like bread and meat, this is great, but this takes it up to a super sophisticated level

                  Vedge -- most interesting, since of course it's vegan. This is some of the best vegan food I've ever had, and I travel a lot. Tell them to go lite on the oils, and you get to soak up the flavors of the food a little more. I love this place while I'm there, but not to fall into some sort of brutish trap, but I do get hungry an hour later!

                  My favorite coffee is Elixir, which is very famous for Philadelphia. Another option is heading over to Parc in Rittenhouse and sitting outside for a coffee and a basket of pastries. The latter might be more fun but you will not be able to resist eating something delicious ;)

                  1. re: dndicicco

                    VERY helpful. Any thoughts on ventri?

                    as for reservations, opentable says theyre booked but if i decide on laurel, I have some connections that will likely be able to get me a table.

                    1. re: hungryabbey

                      Vetri is to be avoided. At one time it was probably the best restaurant in the city but those days are long gone. The rest of your list is fine, personally I'd leave Laurel off but it's still a very good restaurant, just not in the city's top tier in my opinion. But you'll have a good meal there if you go.

                  2. re: hungryabbey

                    Better make your reservation for July for Laurel ASAP. We've heard they are sold out through June, and that was a couple of weeks ago.

                    It's very good, although personally not in my top 10 in Philly.

                    1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                      PhillyBestBYOB, we need your top ten!

                2. re: hungryabbey

                  I'm one of the zahav fans... I was just there the other night. The dishes maybe sound simple but they are all interesting and the flavors and textures are great. The desserts are fantastic too. I know you said price isn't an object but the level of service you get at zahav is well above restaurants at this price point. That's one of the draws for me but the food plus service makes it one of the best restaurants in the city regardless of price.

                3. If you have time on Sunday, you should check out one of the Tria locations. The offer a special "Sunday School" menu that features a special wine, cheese and beer at discounted prices. We've been numerous times and never been disappointed. They also have other nice nibbles, like different types of bruschetta, a charcuterie board, many different cheeses, etc.

                  http://www.triacafe.com/

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: punkin712

                    Zahav is great. Especiallt the Mesibah tasting.

                  2. I don't know if they have Scandanavian food in Toronto but if they don't and you're looking for something both good and different, check out Noord.

                    1. Ok almost there, I have decided to focus on having "different" dining experiences- meals that feel unique for whatever reason. For that reason, I have decided on Vedge and Zahav for sure. I'm flipping between Serpico and Fork, but leaning towards Serpico. But I ask one more time with this new criteria- which of those two is a more interesting, unique meal? For the record, I am a fan of modernist cuisine.
                      The only other question I have is re: Friday day. Should I eat my face off in the market or just have a morning nibble and save my appetite for lunch somewhere and if so, where is the best- again most unique - lunch on Friday? Something fun and casual.
                      Thanks!

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        I would plan to eat lunch in the Terminal Market on Friday. I like Dinic's and Beck's, but there are lots of good choices. I'd also grab something sweet from Flying Monkey.

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          Another fun place to have lunch is Cheu Noodle bar. Jewish/Asian fusion of soups/dumplings/ ... I enjoy it very much.

                          If you like some good fresh seafood and shellfish that echoes the bygone era of Philadelphia, Oyster House on Sansom is good. Snapper soup, great raw bar, and other seafood might be fun as well. A peculiar old Philadelphia combination is fried oysters and chicken salad (on the side).

                          Pizzaria Vetri, Barbuzzo, Nomad Roman, Zavino are all great representations of the new pizzas that have opened up in the last few years.

                            1. re: hungryabbey

                              Most of our al fresco dining is sidewalk tables, or restaurants that open up large french style windows.

                              Parc, Rouge and Devon all face onto Rittenhouse Square, and are pleasant to eat in.

                              True patios .. Jacks Firehouse in Fairmount, a southern themed bbq/home cooking restaurant has a patio.

                              Continental Midtown has an elevated patio on the second floor not sure if it is open yet.

                              1. re: cwdonald

                                Also at Reading Terminal Market for breakfast, the Dutch Eating Place has great pancakes. You can also get good apple dumplings there. Beiler's has good donuts and cinnamon buns but I would avoid the Down Home Diner there.

                              2. re: hungryabbey

                                One of our favorites is Le Virtu, on E. Passyunk Ave in South Philadelphia. Philly has some terrific Italian restaurants. Le Virtu's chef is very creative; his pastas are terrific. I follow him - Joe Cicala - on Twitter, and it's fun to see what he is cooking.
                                LeVirtu has a lovely garden patio for outdoor dining.

                                As for the others - I would choose Serpico over Fork. Fork is excellent, but I can't remember what I ordered there, while I am still dreaming about the dishes I had at Serpico.

                                Amis has excellent food, but the noise level is so horrible that none of our friends will go there. It can also be crowded and rushed.

                                LaCroix is quite special for brunch - and fun. It's buffet - hard to stay away from the oysters and caviar!

                                If there is a way to fit in Vernick, I would put that ahead of Barbuzzo and some of your other options.

                                Laurel gets raves - we haven't been there yet - but then again, it is French, and you get more of that in Canada than we do here.

                                We do rank Fond very high, also. A very satisfying dining experience.

                                1. re: hungryabbey

                                  Just got an email that Little Nonna's opened up their "secret garden." I've never been so I can't comment on the menu, but I'm a big fan of Barbuzzo. Same owners, so I assume same quality.

                                    1. re: SP1

                                      Are they open for lunch.. I thought the OP was looking for al fresco dining for a Friday lunch.. unless I misread.

                                2. re: hungryabbey

                                  With that in mind, I'd lean toward Serpico. I could see Fork in Chicago, etc. and while Serpico may have some NYC inspiration, it's still smack dab on South Street and contains some of that grittiness from the chalkboard menu to the open-menu (small to large) concept.

                                  That said, you could have a very unique experience at Fork if you opt for the Bread Tasting Menu (carb it up!) or the Muscovy Duck, which are both unusual.

                                  Finally, one other wrench, if you want a "different" dining experience but one that still captures philly, have you considered Vetri? It's tasting-menu only, high-end Italian cuisine.

                                  1. re: dndicicco

                                    Hi all, yes I brought up Ventri but it seemed like the sentiment above was that it wasn't very good anymore.
                                    I'm going to go through all of your lunch suggestions and get back to you all. Thank u!

                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                      l think the reason Vetri has lost its support from the board is the changes that occurred over the years.
                                      Was just fabulous early, see Zeppoli where an old sous chef owns/works, but in the current version has a very expensive prix fixe menu with very expensive wines as well.
                                      Also you get waaaay too much food and as the apps and pastas used to be their strong suit, you wind up paying for things you do not want.
                                      Also seems far fussier than in early days when it was just plain wonderful.

                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                        Thanks. My feelings exactly about Vetri. Loved it in the early days. Zeppoli is wonderful. Going back next week and can't wait.

                                        1. re: JanR

                                          I have not been to Zeppoli. My wife was not a fan of Vetri. I liked but can't sat I loved it. The crudités and foie gras were highlights - not the best sign!

                                        2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                          It doesn't look like any of these suggestions are open for lunch. A few posts above, someone said there are lots of great restos that are open weekday lunch- what are those places?

                                  2. Very knowledgable comments there from respected Philly Hounds showing individual differences. I am surprised, or did I miss it, that no one mentioned Le Cheri in the Arts building off Rittenhouse Square. A great courtyard which is open in good weather. IMO Barbuzzo is too crowded and way too loud. Never been a fan of Kanella, love Zahav, Vedge is interesting but to me but overrated, love the Oyster House, Amis is unbelievably loud, and while it gets little love on this board I enjoy Little Nonna's with a recently opened courtyard.

                                    1 Reply
                                      1. re: KAYLO

                                        Sorry for the late reply all. I'm going to check out your options. Yes I am looking for an al fresco Friday lunch. Barbuzzo is apparently closed for the 4th of July.

                                        1. re: hungryabbey

                                          If you don't already have Kanella on your itinerary, they have sidewalk seating, it's in a nice neighborhood, and they serve lunch on Fridays. I have no idea whether they plan to be closed on the 4th.

                                          1. re: Buckethead

                                            GOodmorning HA. As it happens, I spend a fair bit of time in both Toronto AND Philadelphia and have lived in both for extended periods, so you can cross-check my postings in Toronto to see whether our tastes agree or not, and then consider my choices in Philadelphia.

                                            I agree completely that you want experiences you cannot have in Toronto, and Zahav is a good choice. I have never been to Vedge as my Chowmate simply WILL NOT set foot in a meatless restaurant, although to be fair, I was a vegetarian for 25 years and he was very supportive. But we found places we could both enjoy without too much fuss.

                                            I ate at Serpico within the week, and also Vernick and farm and the fisherman within the month. Serpico is perhaps not getting much attention here because it is newish, expensive, and in a weird place for high-end dining. Also the brainchild of the despised/adored (in that order) Stephen Starr, Philadelphia's most prolific (incontinent, and that's a pun on his first place, the diner, for allyou natives)restaurateur. SERPICO: Fun and funky neighborhood, but grotty rather than trendy. Be sure to book a counter seat to watch the VERY open kitchen, and although CM and I ordered 8 dishes off the 25 on the board for our first visit, next time I would get the tasting menu. The board has the safer choices, and ranged from solid to sublime, but the couple next to us did the (10? plate) fixed menu chef's choice, and got a more aggressive progression of dishes. Example: Potato soup was a clear broth, and imean like water-clear served in a glass tumbler, but the aroma reached my seat. Lovely and i need to figure out how they did it. It was priced one notch under Shoto in TO(similar concept, pan-Asian version, but with one tenth the seating ) in TO, so US$300 minimum whether a la carte with enough for two, or the tasting, with one bottle of modest wine....and unlike SHoto a bit...of a commercial factory even with its attitude of artisanal improvisation. Look ma, no tablecloths.

                                            and just a smidge disappointing, because our other two dinners were even better/more personal/ more what we enjoy.

                                            Farm and Fisherman is a modest byob in a tiny townhouse. Chef-owner, who will probably be lured away to an easier, larger and more lucrative kitchen. No frills, no scene, maybe 5 apps, 6 mains, 4 desserts. Simpler presentations, but every dish superbly balanced and conceived, zero flash. Just great food. (see representative menu on line). The byob is a great bargain of course, and we spent more on the 3 wines for table of four than for the food. Totally satisfying and we talked about how you could not get the same meal in Toronto at any price. No one in TOronto is cooking that well AND simply. It is harder than it looks. We will return many times.

                                            Vernick was the overall most likely to please the largest audience, so perhaps the least different. It is walking distance from the Four Seasons, a LARGE townhouse, with multiple dining areas, all on the noisy side, but a LARGE kitchen with excellent modern American cuisine.
                                            Our Philadelphia-based friends who joined us for all three meals liked Vernick the best.

                                            I liked them all. And would return to them in F&F, Serpico, and Vernick order. But if I wanted to have just one meal, and wanted to be sure it was a great one, Vernick, the most consistent and comprehensive kitchen of the three is my pick. Serpico is the strangest and most different, which might be what you seek more than any other attribute.

                                            1. re: KAYLO

                                              This is very helpful! Thank you! So now that I just realized its Friday July 4, I am wondering if any of my plans will work out. Does anyone know if reading terminal market is closed July 4? Are most restaurants open or closed?
                                              Also- any food festivities that are worth partaking in that weekend of July 4-6?

                                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                                Most will be open. The city is a zoo then with outdoor concerts fireworks shows and an overload of tourists. The RTM calendar does not list the 4th of July as a holiday, (while it will be closed for Memorial Day.. ). Personally its a day I avoid the city...

                                                1. re: cwdonald

                                                  Reading Terminal is usually closed on July 4th. They usually ask the merchants what they want to do and were closed last year I think.

                                                  1. re: bluehensfan

                                                    Gotcha. Well I'm having a hard time finding Friday the 4th lunch options. Any others? Kanella is closed. I need something fun, casual, unique menu, preferably outdoors but not essential. Thoughts?

                                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                                      Parc's decent enough and has a great outdoor seating section overlooking Rittenhouse. I bet they would be open.

                                                      1. re: hungryabbey

                                                        A quick check of open table doesnt show much open - Brauhaus Schmitz is open, looks like the best idea to me!

                                                    2. re: cwdonald

                                                      Weirdly, parts of Center City are near deserted on the 4th.

                                                      1. re: lowereastrittenhouse

                                                        Hm what about a big breakfast and then grabbing street food if hungry during day. Any iconic breakfast spots? Was looking at Honey sit n eat?

                                                        1. re: hungryabbey

                                                          Honey's and Green Eggs are both excellent breakfast/brunch spots (assuming they are open). Philly has a very active food truck culture, with a lot of interesting food. I am sure they will be out and about the city that day.

                                                          http://roaminghunger.com/phl

                                          2. On May 5th they will be announcing the line up for Welcome America - Phila's week long Independence Day celebration. There are usually some that involve collections of food trucks/venders.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Bigley9

                                              Excellent! Thanks for the heads up!