Restaurants close all the time — even good ones — and for a lot of reasons. But the loss of the original Dmitri’s, which shut down for good at Third and Catharine in Queen Village earlier this month, was, indeed, a hard one to take.
That’s in large part because it feels like the end of an era for a place that pioneered the BYOB movement nearly three decades ago, with a perpetually jammed 25-seat dining room and a no-frills Greek seafood menu that defined for many the ultimate sweet spot between quality and value.
The good news: Dmitri’s Northern Liberties location, closed since October, is slated to reopen in December. The bad news: This is actually the second time a closing-Dmitri’s has left a hole in neighborhood dining. The Fitler Square location, which closed five years ago, still has former neighbors yearning for a long-lost taste of its grilled Greek octo, shrimp pil-pil, spinach pie, and grilled whole fish. (The space’s current occupant, Cotoletta, is doing just fine.)
Dmitri’s, however, is hardly alone on my list of sorely missed Philly restaurants.
Here are some others.
Remember Nan in West Philadelphia? The restaurant closed in 2012, but I was moved to remember its elegant French-Thai cuisine after learning that chef Kamol Phutlek died this summer. Phutlek — who got his start at La Panetière and then went on to cook at restaurant renaissance icons such as Frog and La Terrasse before opening his own Alouette and Nan — had a memorable touch with red curried salmon and tamarind duck.
Speaking of fusion fads gone by, the Nuevo Latino trend was never hotter than when Pasión! earned four bells in 2002. Chef Guillermo Pernot has gone on to oversee the kitchens at the Cuba Libre chain. But I’ll never forget the flavor boom of those early days on 15th Street (beneath what is now the Cheesecake Factory) when I got my first arepa tasting and a whirlwind splash of a creative ceviche magic. Habanero with sturgeon? Lobster with passionfruit mojo? Sí!
We’ve got outstanding Cantonese dim sum now at the massive China Gourmet in Northeast Philly. But I still miss the cozy confines of quirky Lakeside Chinese Deli in Chinatown, which closed in 2008 when Brenda and Woon Leung retired — and they took the dumpling gems with them. To date, I’ve not had pork-and-peanut dumplings or crispy chiu chow squares of shrimp with water chestnut that could match theirs.
I miss the soulful caldo verde and terra-cotta crock Portuguese “duck rice” of Koo Zee Doo in Northern Liberties, though the good news is that former chef-owners Carla Gonçalves and David Gilberg recently did a KZD pop-up meal at Cry Baby Pasta, where they’re currently chefs.
Stephen Starr hasn’t closed many of his ventures over the years, but I still miss the nouveau Moroccan fare and candle wall at Tangerine in Old City (now a Kick Axe Throwing bar). It lost its North African mojo when Starr, fearing backlash after 9/11, decided to reconceptualize it as “Mediterranean.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the humble patty melt and Reuben lunches at dear old Little Pete’s, which was demolished on 17th Street in 2017 to make way for a new hotel. Or the Polish steam-table delights at Syrenka in Port Richmond, where the bigos platters laden with pierogi, mashed beets, and smoky kielbasa finally succumbed to changing demographics and seemingly endless construction on Richmond Street.
And yes, I know we’re in the midst of a pizza renaissance right now. But I still miss the coal-fired crusts of Lombardi’s on 18th Street, a branch of the New York pizza legend that was demolished to make room for the 10 Rittenhouse condo. I might even have driven to Bensalem to eat in a revival of Lombardi’s long-planned to open in the Parx Casino. But alas, law enforcement officials told the gaming commission to nix it after an investigation into suspicious “associations.”
Monte Carlo Living Room. Striped Bass. Pif. Django. Paradiso. Susanna Foo. The dessert trolley at Le Bec-Fin. The days when our diners were still good. I could go on. Philly’s long-gone restaurant history is a treasure worth savoring, even as our dining scene, no doubt, continues to improve.
The bar-restaurant that arguably brought buffalo wings to Philadelphia, Silveri’s, on 13th near Pine.
Being serenaded on birthday dinners at Strolli’s, a mom-and-pop Italian spot at Mole and Dickinson Streets that boasted “Depression prices” in 1987 (spaghetti with shrimp cost $3.50).
Gilmore’s, Peter Gilmore’s posh French BYOB in downtown West Chester.
The Rittenhouse BYOB Matyson, precursor to the Cheu Noodle empire and maker of the greatest coconut cream pie on the planet.
The ambience at Jimmy’s Milan, the 19th Street supper club whose legacy lives on in its namesake salad.
Warsaw Cafe, which served Center City residents Eastern European fare for decades starting in 1979, before giving way to Jasmine Rice in 2011.
The Commissary, Steve Poses’ cafeteria-style restaurant with a “health restaurant” upstairs at 1710 Sansom St.