Iconic dishes ascend to revered status because they contain combinations of flavors that are especially agreeable to the palate. What happens if you take those tastes and rearrange them? Good things. Chefs can deconstruct the components of old favorites and match them back up in new ways, creating items that are unique and exciting - yet at the same time agreeably familiar. Here are seven ways to think differently about long-established classics.
Roast Pork Sandwich at Ristorante Panorama
Natives know the true signature sandwich of Philadelphia is not made of steak but of roast pork, most often accompanied by broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. At this Front Street Italian wine bar, chef Rosario Romano takes the perfect flavor combo upscale, dressing a garlic-brined pork tenderloin with sautéed rabe and a rich provolone cheese sauce. No bread, but the shoestring fries more than make up for it ($25; 215-922-7800).
Fish ‘n’ Chips at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
Instead of battering his black cod and drowning it in oil, chef Jared Canon sears it flaky white and then tops it with flavorful quinoa puffs, which add plenty of crunch but almost no grease. Instead of fries, the “chips” on the side are actual potato chips, made in-house and excellent when dipped into the malt vinegar sabayon spread across the plate. Look for this dish to reappear on the specials list at the Chestnut Hill brewpub sometime very soon (215-948-5600).
Smoked Trout Caviar at Fork
Before chef Eli Kulp relocated here to run the kitchen at this Old City favorite, he was in New York City, so his bagel-and-lox cred is strong. Instead of crude salmon slices, it’s smoked trout caviar that adds an orange oceanic pop to the bagels, here made in-house and baked into crisp chips. Dilled cucumbers play the role of the capers, adding vinegary tang to each bite ($14; 215-625-9425).
Deconstructed Guacamole Salad at Fuel
At Rocco Cima’s trio of healthy-conscious quick-serves, guacamole is broken down to its components in this surprisingly hearty salad. Wild arugula serves as the base to a heaping portion of avocado, enhanced by chopped red onion and diced tomatoes. A citrus-jalapeño dressing brings in the rest of the essential components of a good guac, tortilla chips included ($9).
Chicken Pot Pie at R2L
Chef Daniel Stern is a deconstructed dish master - his decidedly non-stew-like “veal stew” at Gayle was famous - and this plate served on the 37th floor of Liberty II is another tasty example. There’s no pot to be found, but there's plenty of chicken: a roasted leg and breast are dressed with root vegetables and gravy poured tableside. A round of pie crust - wouldn’t want to leave out the best part, plus it's baked with chicken and stuffing inside - stands tall at the center ($26; 215-564-5337).
Contemporary Carrot Cake at Peppercorn
Carrot cake could be in the running for the most mundane dessert, but not the way chef David Murray makes it at this just-opened Wayne newcomer. Shreds of aerated carrot sponge cake sit atop a squiggle of vanilla-scented cream cheese mousse and delicate carrot espuma, while touches of candied carrot zest and toasted coconut soil bring the flavor punch home ($10; 610-964-2588).
Clam Chowder at Sidecar Bar & Grille
At this Graduate Hospital tavern, chef Brian Lofink’s take on the New England fave has the traditional potatoes, but instead of in the soup as chunks, spuds show up as potato and chive gnocchi. Little neck clams are tossed with the pasta nuggets, and crispy shallots and pickled celery bits complete the dish, which is so good that Guy Fieri declared it “literally one of the best gnocchi dishes [he’d] ever had.” ($12; 215-732-3429).