Category Archives: Restaurants We Love

To the City of Brotherly Love (and back)

Nothing’s better than a good, old-fashioned road trip — especially the kind that’s centered around food. So when our executive sous chef, Ben, and JV hit the road last month to partake in the EPIC Cochon event in Philadelphia (remember that huge, saddle-cut of pork?), they made sure to leave enough time to check out some of the city’s best places to dine. From the classic Philly Cheese Steak to modern Israeli cuisine, Ben and JV didn’t seem to miss a beat … and now, you’ll know exactly where to make reservations the next time you’re headed to the East Coast.


“Philly is awesome. I mean, the whole city is just great,” said JV. “And because they’re so close to New York, they have really high standards and know they gotta put out good food, but it’s also pretty cheap, so it’s accessible to anyone.”

First stop: Zahav. Modern Israeli cuisine that left JV wanting more: “Of all the places we ate, Zahav was just incredible.” Some dishes include: Turkish Hummus with butter and grilled garlic, served warm; Crispy Lamb’s Tongue with snap peas, smoked grapes, pistachio tehina and peaches; Moroccan Chicken with charmoula, freekah and pickled cabbage, and Spiced Peanut Basboosa – a dessert of semolina cake, Turkish coffee ice cream and peanut praline.


Next up: Pat’s King of Steaks. If you’re looking for that classic Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, this is the place to go. It’s been family-owned and operated since 1930, they’re the “originators and inventors” of the Philly Cheese Steak, and there’s just one location (that’s open 24/7 to boot) — so, you know it’s gotta be good.


A new take on chicken and waffles, perhaps? Go to Federal Donuts. Gourmet fried chicken. Donuts. Coffee. Two locations. Enough said. Well, wait … you also get to pick your own seasoning and glaze for the chicken (like chili-garlic), every order is served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut, and if you don’t want chicken, they have lots of “fancy” flavored donuts like strawberry-ginger and banana cream pie. Okay, now — enough said.


Also, don’t miss while in Philly:

Osteria – Homemade Italian pastas, thin crust pizzas, wood grilled meats and fish. Standout dish: Swordfish speck with grilled figs, pine nuts and basil. “The swordfish was sliced so thin, it almost looked like Lardo … and the way they overlapped the fish created this stunning contrast in color, almost like stripes.”

Brauhaus Schmitz – Philadelphia’s only authentic German Bierhall & Restaurant.

Serpico – Ingredient-driven, seasonal menu that features global cuisine with a playful touch. “There’s definitely an Asian twist to the menu … super well-refined, light and beautiful.”


Fante’s Kitchen Shop – Every kitchen gizmo and gadget imaginable can be found here. “This is the store where we get our Chitarra from … we were only there about an hour, but we could’ve stayed all day. It was like being a kid in a candy store. The only reason we left is because I had to go to the bathroom.” – JV


Visiting Pittsburgh, too?

Spoon – Local, farm-to-table, modern American cuisine.

Meat & Potatoes – Gastropub. Open 7 days a week.


On their way back to Chicago, they paid a visit to JV’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for a baseball game and some more good eats.


While there, they were blown away by the Duck Mortadella at The Greenhouse Tavern, a dish soon to be featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. They also stopped by Slyman’s Restaurant, home of the biggest and “best” corned beef, and according to JV, it was. “Seriously, the best corned beef on Earth. Hands down.”


We know how overwhelming it can be when traveling to new cities, trying to find the “best” spots to dine; so hopefully, our list here will help you make some good choices the next time you’re headed to Philly … or Cleveland.

JV does STL

On July 15, JV was invited to take part in the Share Our Strength – No Kid Hungry charity dinner in St. Louis, MO. The event was hosted by Chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe, and JV was among six guest chefs (including Stephanie Izard, Gerard Craft, Kevin Willmann, Michael Paley and Bob Zugmaier) who contributed to the meal, all with the common goal to help end childhood hunger.


(L-R) Gerard Craft, JV, Stephanie Izard, Kevin Willmann, Kevin Nashan and Michael Paley. *Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg / Feast Magazine*

JV prepared the first course — a dish of Dungeness crab, cucumber, preserved habanero, green coriander and lime, which was paired with Sterling Organic Sauvignon Blanc, Medocino 2009.


*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

The event was a total success — raising $60K — which was two times the goal amount.


*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

Aside from the evening’s fantastic turnout, JV couldn’t get over how impressed he was with the overall vibe and culinary scene in St. Louis. “It’s a charming city with serious food,” he said. “Plus, Nashan was an ideal host; they put us up in the Four Seasons, took our keys so we wouldn’t have to drive anywhere, and showed us the best food the city had to offer, including our welcome meal catered by Pappy’s Smokehouse … awesome St. Louis style ribs, kinda sweet and tangy.”

In JV’s words, St. Louis is the type of place that could be home. “It’s kind of like Northern mentality meets Southern hospitality; everyone’s an extremely hard worker but they’re also super gracious, always smiling, look you in the eye and say ‘nice to meet you’ … they have this totally kill-you-with-kindness kind of attitude. Not to mention, there is some insane cooking talent there, including the kids on the line. ”


*Photography by: Jennifer Silverberg*

All in all, while it’s easy to get caught up eating at the same restaurants over and over again (especially when living in a huge food city like Chicago), consider making the drive to St. Louis the next time you need a weekend getaway. If JV’s first-hand experience can tell us anything, both the food and dining experience will be unforgettable.


Want to see more from the Share Our Strength dinner? Check out additional photos here!