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Wm. Mulherin's Sons an all-around winner

Wm. Mulherin's Sons is among Craig LaBan's best of Philadelphia.

The kitchen at Wm. Mulherin's Sons.
The kitchen at Wm. Mulherin's Sons.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

A lot has changed in Fishtown since 1887, when William J. Mulherin began blending rye at North Front and Master Streets. OK, that's an understatement. Fishtown has undergone a seismic shift over the last decade alone, as this working-class neighborhood transformed on the gentrifying push of millennials, gastropubs, and creative food artisans.

Wm. Mulherin's Sons, the gorgeous Italian restaurant now serving suckling pig agnolotti, wood-grilled chops, and Neapolitan-style pizzas like the "Spicy Jawn" inside the beautifully renovated bones of that former whiskey rectifier, is the grown-up dining destination that resurgent Fishtown has been waiting for.

From the fine cocktails, deep list of Italian wines, amari flights, and diligent service to the handsome setting and excellent food, it's an all-around winner. There's even parking!

Noise is the biggest flaw at this 107-seat restaurant, a three-room postindustrial montage of reclaimed timber and exposed brick and a fireplace in the main dining room. But it's the modern Italian cooking from chef and co-owner Chris Painter, last at Il Pittore, as well as executive sous-chef, John "Chainsaw" Taus, that elevates Mulherin's to next-level status while still remaining accessible. It works for an affordable midweek meal with small plates — try the tender octopus over cannellini and pistachio pesto, or the veal tartare in Caesar dressing between charred romaine leaves and bruschetta. Or splurge on the carnivore lust object of its 24-ounce dry-aged porterhouse with a bottle from the fairly marked-up list, which hovers at $50 to $80.

For less of a commitment, with entrées topping out at $28, the Moroccan-spiced lamb steak was memorable, and the brick-roasted chicken was juicy. But the pastas were also special: delicate tajarin tossed with favas and morels topped with a shaving of truffles, cappelletti stuffed with smoky charcoal-roasted potatoes in a pureed onion sauce, tiny tortelloni filled with slow-stewed pig's head with rosemary and orange.

Brunch is a smart way to experience Mulherin's, already one of the city's most difficult reservations, at a moment when demand is slightly less of a challenge. But the options are just as inspiring, including truffled frittatas made to order, "Eggs on Volcano" (an Italian version of spicy shakshuka, with a poached egg in spicy tomato sauce over polenta), as well as a frothy dark chocolate-hazelnut cocktail called La Bomba, with a shot of espresso that will wake you up.

The pizzas, also available at brunch, are among the city's best, with complex, heat-blistered crusts that puffed beneath both classic pies and cheffy modern riffs like the white Primavera with peas, morels and house pancetta, or the "Leslie Chow," whose bitter radicchio contrasted with sweet saba and a forest of earthy mushrooms.

Two knockout reds, however — the meaty "Spicy Jawn" and the lamb-sausage pie with artichokes, candied lemon zest, and fresh mint — are good enough to lure an occasional Mulherin descendant back for a meal at his ancestral corner. Much has changed, for sure, but it's thriving with life and spirits once again.