What’s the worst thing that’s happened to Philadelphia’s restaurant scene? Our insatiable obsession with Philadelphia’s restaurant scene
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I went from zealot to naysayer. I was out to dinner in the city with a group of friends, and the talk at the table—as it inevitably does these days—turned to restaurants. You know … have you been here, who just left there to open that, and so on. The conversation lasted for 30 minutes, right through our just-muddled cocktails, past the warm house-baked bread, beyond the first round of seasonal small plates. No one paused, not even for a second, to comment on the food we were eating or the restaurant we were in. And that’s when I became a culinary curmudgeon. I realized that all of the excitement surrounding our food scene suddenly seems to have very little to do with the actual food. Talking about restaurants—whether you’ve actually been there or not—is now our city’s favorite topic du jour.
Backlash is an integral part of the trend curve. Things become cool, then popular, then saturated, then overwrought, and then over (cupcakes being the quintessential—and still inexplicable—exception). I’ve been writing about food in Philadelphia since interning at this magazine in 2004—I eventually became food editor—and was fortunate enough to be on the upslope of that curve. When I began covering food, Marc Vetri had one restaurant, and Jose Garces had none. But the hits kept coming, and fast. My food friends and I would rehash the progressions of courses and get giddy over perfected techniques, smart interpretations of classics, novel presentations, increasingly creative concepts. We were participating in a food scene that was getting richer, denser and more exciting by the minute.
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