The Most Exciting Philly Restaurants, Pop-Ups, & Collaborations Of 2020 – Philadelphia
Somehow we made it through this year with canceled plans. Googling: “Did this really happen to Princess Diana?” After watching The Crown, glorious air fryer shopping, and the reality of fan cardboard cutouts at Linc. There were many things that sustained us and put smiles on our faces in 2020 – one of the most exciting things is the resilience, creativity and heart we have seen from the entire food and beverage industry in town. People put together amazing pop-ups, greenhouses on the sidewalk, much-needed communal refrigerators, live cooking classes, Fuel The Polls amazing gatherings and restaurants to raise awareness of social injustice. There have been so many incredible events, collaborations, and restaurant openings this year that it’s hard to pick our favorites, but we tried. Here are 13 places that brought something adventurous, refreshing and unique to Philly in 2020.
Zig Zag is far from a traditional barbecue area – the collards are made with coconut milk, the Sichuan-style cucumber salad and the sandwiches look like jenga games, piled high with brisket, pastrami, turkey and tofu. The neon sign and low industrial bunker of a room only reinforce the feeling that you are in a futuristic version of a barbecue area. And whether you just get a few smoked meats and queso mac and cheese or the “TurkEY TEaseR” sandwich with juicy, smoky turkey breast, spicy coleslaw, cucumber and just enough chili oil to give it a kick, everything here makes for an excellent one Food that is quickly becoming our new favorite take away option of the year.
-Carlo Mantuano, Personnel Editor
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Down North Pizza doesn’t just introduce Lehigh Ave to amazing Detroit style pizza. Chef Kurt Evans also brings with him his mission to give the “unemployed” a new chance in life. Yes, you can find what it takes to be a standard slice shop – they sell buffalo-chicken pizza, hot wings, and fries – but it’s also a bridge exclusively for ex-prisoners to get into the food industry. Down North Pizza pays fair wages ($ 14.50 an hour regardless of position) and also offers temporary living units for employees, training, and mentoring programs. Evans has also launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Down North Pizza’s mission and initiatives. They haven’t officially opened yet, but they have made pop-ups selling Jerk Chicken Sausage Pie that you can order online while they are valid. What we don’t believe will take a long time.
If life gives you lemons, make frozen Italian desserts. We know that’s not the saying, but we all know that a spoonful of ice cream is way better than every sip of lemonade. After opening in early 2019, Fiore made a name for itself and served creamy tonnarelli, pistachio cornetto and pizza from the wood-fired oven. When the pandemic closed its 80-seat dining room, the all-day Italian venue began shooting at a few gallons of gelati en masse. Earlier this year I tried cookies and milk, which were creamy, smooth, and full of oreo chunks. With a weekly rotation of flavors ranging from coquito to chocolate brownie meringue, you can search online for the latest flavors of these sweet cups of magic.
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Many places in the city had to get inventive in how they sold, packaged, and delivered food this year. And The Commons, a virtual food hall, really shows how some places have achieved this. This collection of ghost kitchens, operated from the Walnut Street Café and The Post, offers a variety of spots. On their website, you can order everything from hearty Mediterranean Agea lamb meatballs, mango habanero wings from the Philadelphia Wing Shop, nachos with BBQ chicken from The Post and a scoop of PB&J ice cream from Maude & Mabel.
It is rare for a person to open a pizza box with no pizza and smile. When the Indonesian restaurant Hardena in South Philly was standing in front of an enclosed dining room, the cook Diana Widjojo turned the cardboard container into a treasure. Widjojo’s rotating #NotPizza box was posted on Instagram every Monday morning and contained preparations made by Widjojo’s sisters and mother. Each box contained tempeh goreng, banana leaves, rendang, their flavorful shrimp udang, and other dishes. The boxes are $ 85 each and are a creative way to package bold flavors and spices (aka fiery sambal sauces) in really cool packaging.
When Pennsylvania finally relaxed some of its strict alcohol laws in May, the move helped many places recover from some tough months. Soon the spots began selling mugs and bottles with funny labeling, saving us from looking up how much olive juice goes into a standard martini. One of the places that keep getting me out of that Google search is Friday, Saturday, Sunday. When they reopened after the pandemic ended, they sold complex blends like “Velveteen Sour” (a blend of scotch and mezcal with lemon, fig, and chocolate) and a scotch-sherry mashup like “$ 413 million baby”. The take-away cocktails are offered in party-for-one bags, cups and quarts in six serving sizes.
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There are now four places in town that you can get pizza from Dan Gutter, the man behind Circles + Squares, also known as the best pizza in Philly. In addition to his shop in Olde Richmond, you can now find these excellent pizzas at Pizza Plus, Bourbon & Branch and most recently at The Commodore in Mt. Luftig. The menus at these places offer more than just ridiculously delicious cakes, like tendies and burgers at Pizza Plus, chopped chicken and parmesan sandwiches at Bourbon & Branch, and braised Guinness beef stew at The Commodore. In a year like 2020, having more access to such good pizzas is a damn good thing.