Let's own, not challenge, Philadelphia's great food rep
IT'S NICE to be recognized. And it's even nicer to recognize what you've already got. If this first month of 2015 is any indication, this will shape up to be the year of the flattering mention, with national publications blaring their editorial trumpets in favor of fair Philadelphia.
IT'S NICE to be recognized. And it's even nicer to recognize what you've already got.
If this first month of 2015 is any indication, this will shape up to be the year of the flattering mention, with national publications blaring their editorial trumpets in favor of fair Philadelphia.
The New York Times stuck us at No. 3 on its list of "52 Places to Go in 2015." We beat out a bunch of stateside and worldwide destinations, edged only by Milan, Italy, and Cuba - not that it's a competition. (Eat it, Steamboat Springs!)
Granted, the Times nod was a little more civic than culinary, but there was plenty of love for Philly's food this month, too.
Bon Appétit, the same publication that called Old City's High Street on Market one of the best new restaurants in America last year, recently ran a detailed look at Reading Terminal Market, one of our proudest cultural/edible attractions. And Travel + Leisure, in its own "Best New Restaurants" package, has ranked us among "the world's most compelling food capitals," even teasing out the nickname "Portland East." (Don't know about that one, dudes . . . )
All this recognition is very lovely and very well-deserved, if you ask me. In classic Philly form, however, it's also inspired a predictable phenomenon in food-centric conversation, whether formal or casual. I can't even count the number of times I've heard people punctuate chatter of these accolades by dropping a big, fat B-word - but - into the mix.
It's wonderful that our region is being recognized - but we're still lacking the options of New York or Los Angeles, the edginess of Chicago or Portland.
It's cool that the cooking here is finally getting earning love - but we need more tasting menus and a soba noodle shop and more Thai and a 24-hour In-N-Out Burger if we want to be taken seriously.
It's great we have so many recognized chefs - but they need to do this and that and that other thing twice to continue to impress us.
Part of this whole phenomenon can be chalked up to sincere geographic zeal. We want the best for Philly, and only we are allowed to map out how we can get there. I get that. That's slippery slope stuff, though. In trying to propose ways to continue improving the food scene, its biggest fans run the risk of forgetting to actually appreciate it in the first place.
For starters, our physical location alone - I'm talking agriculture, infrastructure, resources - has produced a distinct epicurean personality that can't be replicated anywhere else in the world. I think we all know this, but it's one of those things that's easy to forget when you're in it. Let's make it a point to say it out loud more often. (This is the part where you start griping about the PLCB.)
In terms of options, we have one of the most diverse eating scenes I've personally had the pleasure of exploring, whether you're talking sheer ethnic diversity or parity in ambition and approach. Could we stand to add a couple more choices to the restaurant hit lists we all have saved in our phones? Sure. Just remember that there are big cities in America whose culinary identities are as bland as vending-machine yellow-cheese white-bread sandwiches. That ain't us and I'm damn grateful for that.
Lastly, a big one: The stable of chef talent we have here is absolutely ridiculous. Far too many to name-drop here. They know who they are, and so do you.
You know what? We also have really, really good coffee. I need one right now so I'll sign off with this: Instead of complaining about what we don't have, maybe we can make 2015 a year when we celebrate what we do have.
His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @drewlazor.