Even the most horrible predicaments have silver linings.
It’s true that the biggest restaurant trend of 2020 was Existential Dread. But even the most horrible predicaments — like what COVID did to the Philly dining scene — have silver linings. Necessity breeds innovation, right? Right. Here, the COVID-era-inspired innovations we hope never, ever go away.
Boutique Food Markets!
For some restaurant owners, it was a way to add revenue. For others, it was survival. Boutique food markets opened all over Philly in the wake of COVID, from Nok Suntaranon’s Kalaya Thai Market (922 South 9th Street) doling out house-made chili pastes and fresh galangal, to Herman’s Coffee (1313 South 3rd Street) devoting half its space to tinned fish, dried pasta and fancy chocolate, to the full-scale pivot by the Bibou crew, who transformed their French fine-dining BYOB (1009 South 8th Street) into an 11th Arrondissement–style marketplace filled with order-ahead pâté en croûte and imported mustards.
Cheffy Frozen Foods!
Because xiao long bao don’t exactly travel well, Dim Sum Garden (1020 Race Street) started selling them frozen by the bagful. All we had to do was steam ’em at home. Baology (1829 JFK Boulevard), Philly’s preeminent Taiwanese restaurant, did the same with its handmade pot stickers. Jezabel’s Argentine Bakery & BYO (206-208 South 45th Street) is selling fill-and-bake empanada dough (which, let’s be honest, is the most involved part when you’re making homemade empanadas). And all of these options are rendering that old Tombstone pizza in your freezer useless.
When restaurants went into takeout-only mode, tips dropped off, and tons of hospitality workers saw their incomes drop, too. Places like Goldie (1526 Sansom Street), Merkaz (1218 Sansom Street) and Martha (2113 East York Street) stepped up, adding mandatory service fees to each check, helping to even the playing field between front- and back-of-house workers now and forever. Especially if more restaurants follow their lead.
Ridiculously High-End Takeout!
Yes, you can order a 50-day dry-aged fire-grilled rib eye from Michael Solomonov’s Laser Wolf (1301 North Howard Street), with six sides and a dessert. You can also order a 44-piece nigiri platter accented with winter black truffle, gold leaf and caviar from Jesse Ito’s sushi bar at Royal Izakaya (780 South 2nd Street). Hell, order them on the same day and have the weirdest TV dinner of your life. It’s 2021, baby! No rules!
What were we using streets for before they were filled with tables and chairs? We certainly can’t remember. Here’s hoping the city allows expanded street dining permits to continue next summer, and the next summer, and the next summer, so we can keep on sipping vegan cocktails from Charlie Was a Sinner (131 South 13th Street) and watching drag shows in the middle of South Street at Bob and Barbara’s Lounge (1509 South Street). Sorry about your parking spot.
Published as “Please Don’t Go” in the “Where to Eat Now!” feature in the January/February 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.