It wouldn’t be Philly if cheesesteaks weren’t on the menu, and — although cheese will be a focus on Philly’s summer menus — that’s just a slice of what’s brewing in the City of Brotherly Love (think food and beer-garden popups, and farm-to-table).
This summer, Philly restaurants will be serving up dishes that feature:
Traditional, artisan, farmstead cheese. Artisanal cheese is produced, for the most part, by hand in small batches, using as little mechanical means as possible. The American Cheese Society classifies “farmstead” as cheese made with milk from the farmer’s own herd on the same farm on which the animals were raised; the milk used may not be obtained from an outside source.
As part of the farm-to-table movement, restaurant owners and operators are becoming increasingly involved with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA, as defined by the USDA, consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Members are actually shareholders in the farms, and co-ops subsequently distribute the farms’ bounty (whether cheese, eggs, vegetables, etc.) to shareholders.
An increase in cheese co-ops and CSAs in recent years demonstrates the comeback of artisan cheese making. Restaurant owners and operators can work with CSAs in the Philadelphia area to get seasonal, local farmstead cheese. For example, Urban Farmer, a “modern steakhouse,” and Restaurant Alba (think bruschette with sheep’s milk ricotta) work with Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative to bring this type of cheese to the table.
At Cherry Grove Farm, where fresh and raw-milk cheeses are made from the milk of their grass-fed dairy cows, cheese is made in small batches and aged on-site in “caves,” which are humidity and temperature controlled.
Local honey. Philadelphia is ripe for honey bees due to its large number of trees and urban gardens. Restaurants get their honey from local beekeepers like the Philadelphia Bee Company, We Bee Brothers, or local farm shares like Red Earth Farm and Philly Foodworks.
Local honey can be found on the menus of many Philly restaurants, featured in more creative ways than your average cheese plate.
At the honey-themed restaurant aptly named Honey, in Doylestown, honey is used subtly in some dishes to tone down, sweeten up, or temper recipes. There are also times when the ingredient jumps off the ever-changing fusion menu — like in their honeyed goat-cheese ice cream.
Urban mushrooms. Urban mushroom farming is becoming a model for urban sustainability. From Shiitake and Maitake to Pioppino and Lion’s Mane, mushrooms are popping up on the menu.
Mycopolitan, featuring a changing supply of mushrooms and foraged foods, grows mushrooms nine months out of the year, right in the heart of Philadelphia. The subterranean farm uses the earth's thermal mass to buffer temperatures to extend the growing season and conserve energy.
Aldine Restaurant, named No. 1 on Foodable’s list of Top 25 Philly Restaurants in Feburary, uses Mycopolitan mushrooms in its handmade lumache. Kensington Quarters’ lasagna features Mycopolitan mushrooms with porcini bechamel.
Seasonal fruits. Heritage fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries will feature prominently on the menu — in pies, cobblers, and much more — if the weather cooperates.
North Star Orchard — which works through Kneehigh Farm’s CSA fruit share — organically grows more than 300 varieties of apples; seven varieties of Asian pears and more than 20 varieties of European pears; more than 30 types of peaches and 50 kinds of plums; and endless varieties of nectarines.
Unique fruits like these can be found in Restaurant Alba’s wood-grilled Pennsylvania trout with hazelnut brown butter, escarole and pear, and their chocolate and hazelnut torte, which features Amarena cherries.
Plates like the Mycopolitan mushroom salad at Farm and Fisherman features pistachios, fresh ricotta, D’Anjou pear, mache, and beets. Locally sourced, the menu changes frequently to capture only the freshest ingredients available.
Fork features an apple salad with mustard greens and black walnuts, as well as key lime pie with cherry shrub meringue. a.kitchen+bar — named one of Foodable’s Top 25 Philly Restaurants in February — features a grilled broccoli salad dressed in smoked pear vinaigrette with aged cheddar, as well as pork loin with Brussels sprouts, smoked pear, and blue cheese. And, Bibou, also in the Top 25, features foie gras with Asian pear and griottine chutney.
Fermented, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Microbes can lead to spoiled food, but thanks to farmers who are manipulating environmental conditions, these same microorganisms are making food more stable and storable, and bringing an increasingly unique array of fermented foods to restaurant tables.
Urban Farmer stocks its pantry with house-made, preserved, and pickled local produce from farms like Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.
The kitchen at Restaurant Alba is cooking up some unique uses for fermented foods like wood-grilled octopus with tonnato sauce, potato, and pickled onion; whole grilled branzino with pickled grape relish and creamy shishito farro; and crostini of overnight pork with pickled onion and parsley caper salsa.
Pickled rhubarb with cherry-scented chestnut jus complement the duck pâté en croûte/duck confit salad at Talula’s Garden, where the food is “inspired by the farm and the garden.”
At Vernik, another Top 25 restaurant, the menu features fromage blanc with pickled ramps.
Other unique dishes like sunchoke soup with pickled apple, hazelnut, and pumpernickel, and grilled cheese with pickled chilies, can be found at Kensington Quarters.
Beer Gardens on Tap
Popups — from the use of new public spaces and parks to food-and-beverage gardens — are driving Philadelphians outdoors.
The City of Philadelphia recently issued a request for proposals for its Mobile Food and Beverage Garden Program, which will see some new beer gardens popping up in potential locations like Powers Park, Aviator Park/Logan Square, Lemon Hill Mansion, Clark Park, Horticulture Center, Smith Memorial Arch/Whispering Wall, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Park, Jefferson Square Park, Hawthorne Park, and Penn Treaty Park.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society also has plans to open two pop-up beer gardens.
Although a staple, this year, the Haas Biergarten at La Peg is reinventing itself, featuring something new: a seafood shack with New England faves. The shack is a team effort between chef Peter Woolsey and graphic designer Ben Woolsey (yes, they are brothers), who hand-painted the shack themselves.