One of the best things about Philly is the fact that there are elements that unify the entire city, from the murals painted on its walls to the home teams it cheers for (Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, Sixers), from the image of Ben Franklin to a deep appreciation of good food and good company. Not only does the City of Brotherly Love remain steadfastly committed to its moniker, but it does so in the most deliciously satisfying ways.
Within the past several years, the neighborhoods of Philly have collectively embraced the gastropub — a restaurant concept that blends gourmet fare with a casual and relaxed bar atmosphere. Considering the city’s passion for beers, local breweries, and microbrews — as well as its ever-expanding food scene — the gastropub is the perfect way to showcase what chefs and restaurateurs can do with a strong menu and a strong drinks list.
Of the many gastropubs that have popped up and garnered recognition in the few short years that I’ve been in Philly, here a few of my top picks below. (For the purpose of full disclosure, I’m actually allergic to alcohol (!!), so my commentary will naturally tend to be more food-focused. However, my dining companions are generally not allergic teetotalers, and they’ve assured me that their drinks at these establishments have been top-notch.)
Pub & Kitchen – Rittenhouse
Several steps from Rittenhouse Square, you’ll find Pub & Kitchen on the corner of 19th and Lombard, with its funky sign joining the silhouettes of a rabbit and a pig. Needless to say, the place doesn’t take itself too seriously. With a long bar of dark wood, a brightly lit back room, and a half-block of outdoor seating, parties of all sizes can be easily accommodated. Given the high-end options in the area, Pub & Kitchen is a great choice if you’re looking for delicious bites at reasonable prices. That said, its no-frills nature is also reflected in its no-reservations policy, so be sure to keep that in mind if you’re trying to get in on a Friday or Saturday night. It could be a bit of a wait, but then again, the kitchen is open until 1AM every night, so what’s the rush?
Along with the laid-back atmosphere is the laid-back menu, which actually isn’t posted on-line because much of it changes with the seasons. Of the staples, however, the most famous is probably the Churchill Burger, which has been identified by several local and national magazines as one of the top burgers in Philly. This is high praise, especially with the city’s carnivorous tendencies. Preferring to eat a bit lighter, my favorite menu item is actually the cheese plate. When I last visited, my friends ended up “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing over my cheeses and their assorted condiments more than their own plates! If you’re coming with a group, “The Fat Mermaid” seafood platter and the charcuterie plate may be great ways to kick off the meal.
Lemon Hill – Fairmount
Following a visit to the recently opened Barnes Foundation or the recently renovated Rodin Museum, check out Lemon Hill on the corner of 25th and Aspen in Fairmount. With a bit of hustle and bustle, the main dining room offers a congenial vibe that is reminiscent of Cheers. And while I’m not sure everyone would know your name upon entry, it seems like the kind of place where you could expect that after a few visits. For those preferring a little less noise, seating in the back room is available for more intimate dining. If you’re heading up by car, beware of limited parking, which may require several loops around the neighborhood before finding a spot within walking distance.
One of the most popular dishes is the pastrami fried chicken wings, which are essentially chicken wings soaked in a pastrami-spiced brine and fried to a golden crisp. The outside is nice and crunchy, the inside is tender and moist, and the 1000 island dressing is the perfect accompaniment. The creativity is certainly evident in this and other dishes, including the roasted cauliflower flatbread and the California roll crab dip. My friends tried a fair number of cocktails on our last visit, and they were intrigued by the breadth of flavor profiles and combinations available. All in all, the experience is solid, though the small plates are a bit stronger than the large plates, and the price point is a touch high for the area (and the trek).
Stateside – South Philly
In lieu of cheesesteaks made en masse, in a rush, and with no seasoning, might I recommend Stateside instead? Located on the corner of Cross and East Passyunk in South Philly, this is one of many restaurants drawing in foodies from all over the city (and beyond!). With more and more restaurants popping up along East Passyunk, this neighborhood is becoming a veritable restaurant row. At the same time, establishments like Stateside – with windows opening out onto the street, an affordable menu of small plates, and an unassuming vibe – also draw out members of the community to wine and dine, rest and relax, and indulge in good food. Although the place is a bit noisy, I love the eclectic nature of both the clientele and the menu, especially since I’m never rushed to leave.
Working towards a more plant-based diet, I’m constantly on the lookout for vegetarian options. And in a city known for its cheesesteaks and hoagies, it’s surprisingly easy nowadays to find vegetables – not only in salads, but also in a variety of interesting hot and cold dish preparations. At Stateside, recent stand-outs (on a constantly changing menu) include the pickle plate (with various pickled vegetables), the crispy cauliflower, and the roasted corn and bean salad. On a recent visit, my favorite dish was the cold beet soup (with a bit of smoked trout), while my friend loved the artichokes with Parmesan. Others have raved about the sausage and the scallops, so there are plenty of protein-based dishes to choose from as well. Regardless of your main selections, definitely save room for dessert. Consider the vanilla spiced doughnut, though the frozen butterscotch mousse is also quite divine.