Philly’s Hottest Food Trends

French cuisine returns, wood-fired cooking is blazing and veggies are in the spotlight
November 18, 2014
by Danya Henninger

The Philadelphia dining landscape has never been more vibrant. Our list of the Top 50 restaurants in Philly serve cuisines in a huge number of styles, in dining rooms with vibes as diverse as the food. Still, among all that variety, there are several unifying threads.

Philly’s hottest food trends range from the haute to the casual, from fads that are sweeping across white tablecloths to crazes taking snack food by storm.

French Cuisine Is Back in Vogue

In the aughts, haute cuisine fell somewhat out of favor, passed over for fusion, farm-to-table or gastropub fare. Today, however, the classic techniques are back in vogue, and Philly is experiencing a boom in Gallic food not seen since the heyday of Le Bec-Fin and Brasserie Perrier. 

Three of our Top 10 restaurants are French or French-inspired. Bring your finest wine to either Pierre Calmels’ Bibou or Nicholas Elmi’s Laurel to partake in luxurious cream sauces and foie gras done right, or take advantage of the (relatively new) full bar to accompany Lee Styer’s plates at former BYO Fond

This year also brought us Townsend Wentz’s unabashedly classic French Townsend, Peter Woolsey’s small-plates French brasserie La Peg and Dennis Hewlett’s Nouvelle Vague-themed Bardot. These newcomers joined 2013’s crop of francophilic dining rooms, including Le Chéri, The Good King Tavern and Paris Bistro

Wood-Fired Cooking Is Blazing Hot

Cooking over an open wood flame isn’t new; in fact, it’s the oldest technique there is. Bursting through decades spent using carefully controlled stoves, induction burners and electric ovens, chef are embracing wood-fired grilling, roasting and baking with more fervor than ever.

Marc Vetri’s newest Navy Yard restaurant is built around rotisserie cooking — the name Lo Spiedo translates to “the spit.” In Spanish it’s called a trompo, and that’s what Marcie Turney installed in the kitchen at the newly revamped Lolita. More Mexican rotisserie is found at newcomer Cafe Ynez, and other spit-spinning kitchens will come online in the next couple of months at Kevin Sbraga’s Juniper Commons and Olivier Desaintmartin’s Petit Roti.

You don’t necessary have to twirl your meat and veggies above the flame to impart great flavor. Many of the best dishes at No. 2-rated Vernick Food & Drink come off the small wood grill tucked into Greg Vernick’s tiny kitchen, while Justin and Jonathan Petruce have a more open area to work their log-burning grill and oven. An exact sister to the grill at Petruce et al is now burning brightly at Joe Cicala’s Brigantessa, where it sometimes plays second fiddle to his other wood-chomping kiln: the Italian-built pizza oven.

Neapolitan-Style Pizza Is Sizzling

Before he started turning out wood-fired pies on East Passyunk, Cicala went to Italy to gain his AVPN certification, but lack of an official certificate isn’t stopping other cooks from getting into the Neapolitan-style pizza game.

Capogiro’s Stephanie Reitano picked up the trade via immersion, nesting herself deep in Naples kitchens to bring back the technique for the pies at newcomer Capofitto. Pizzeria Vetri is doing so well on Callowhill that Marc Vetri & co. are expanding to Rittenhouse (and possibly to DC).

Meanwhile, Wayne saw the launch of two Neapolitan-style pizzerias right across the street from one another — Vecchia and Ardé — and all of these are just piling on the many that have opened within the past five to 10 years, including Pizzeria Stella, Nomad Pizza, Bufad, Zavino and Revolution House.

Vegetables Star in Food and Drink

As evidenced by Vedge’s No. 1 rating, vegetables have arrived at their moment to shine. In addition to veggies becoming stars at establishments both vegan and omnivore (read more about that here), produce is also trending in liquid form.

A trademark of Hop Sing Laundromat since it opened in 2012, fresh-juice cocktails are being muddled at more and more bars around the city. Vegan lounge Charlie was a sinner does great things with seasonal fruit, and Lolita has a margarita named after a garden. Red Owl Tavern does juices two ways — with booze, for evening guests, and without, for morning pick-me-ups. Philadelphians can also pick up vitamin-rich sips without the added alcohol at Robeks, SipNGlo, Yellow Juice Bar and other new quick-service storefronts.

We could delve into specifics — chickpea fritters are everywhere! — but those are the overarching themes we see when we gaze into the vista of Philly food of today. What trends are you loving right now? 

neapolitan pizza