If you go: Philadelphia restaurants
Wooed by affordable real estate, the city’s neighborhoody vibe and strong ties among fellow chefs, these new boldface names include Josh Lawler, formerly of New York’s acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns, who has gone the BYO route at the Farm and Fisherman in Washington Square West. Greg Vernick, an alumnus of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten empire, has opened the splashier Vernick Food & Drink in Rittenhouse Square.
“I feel like I’m just riding a wave,” says South Jersey native Vernick. “This is a really cool time to be in Philadelphia.” The Culinary Institute of America graduate worked for more than five years as a sous chef for Vongerichten at his New York restaurants Jean-Georges, Nougatine and Spice Market, and elsewhere as a chef trainer, before returning to Philly to open his namesake restaurant last year.
In Old City, Eli Kulp, a Washington-state native who made his name at New York’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, is revamping Fork, the well-regarded contemporary American bistro. Along Passyunk Avenue’s burgeoning restaurant row, Le Virtu’s Joe Cicala, formerly of New York’s Del Posto and Cafe Milano in Washington, is marrying authentic recipes from the Abruzzo region of Italy with local ingredients.
“I left New York because the business is so cut-throat, people will throw you under a bus just to advance,” says Cicala, a native of Laurel, Md. “I made a name for myself here on my own terms. What I found in Philly is that the community of chefs is very close — everyone wants everyone to succeed.”
Although Cicala — who got his job through a Craigslist posting — had never set foot in Philadelphia, others are more familiar with the city. Christopher Lee, a former chef at the now-defunct Striped Bass, is running Sophia’s on Passyunk after a turn at New York’s high-end Aureole. Michael Santoro, whose credits include the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, was the opening chef at Talula’s Table and is now a partner in the Mildred, an upscale comfort-fooder near the Italian Market.
Many of these places serve contemporary American menus with a strong farm-to-table accent, but the roster is notable for its variety, too. Besides Le Virtu, there’s casual barbecue (the second location of Joe Carroll’s Brooklyn-based Fette Sau), upscale Indian (Tashan, helmed by Sylva Senat, another Jean-Georges vet) and more coming soon: Northern European (Noord from Joncarl Lachman of Chicago’s Home Bistro) and pan-Asian (Serpico, a spot on South Street from Momofuku veteran Peter Serpico and Starr).