As one of Philadelphia‘s top chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs, Michael Solomonov has recently emerged as a major force within the city’s food scene. The co-owner and executive chef at Zahav, a modern Israeli restaurant located in the Old City neighbourhood, and a partner in several other area eateries, this James Beard award winner’s career is (literally) sizzling.
As a Philly insider, Solomonov is enthusiastic about the town’s robust dining options – which number more than 1,000 restaurants with over 400 in Center City alone – “I love the Philly restaurant scene!” says Solomonov. “We have chefs here who are making delicious food in an authentic way, and there’s not a lot of hype. Just really good cooking.”
We caught up with Chef Michael Solomonov to find out where to eat in Philly. From classic Philly favourites to up-and-coming new pretenders, here are some of his top picks.
New and classic
In addition to his own restaurants, Solomonov enjoys dining at other establishments around the city, and has several personal favourites, including chef Sam Jacobson’s Stargazy, which brings a taste of Britain to Philly with his beef and onion pie with mash, as well as traditional sticky toffee pudding. Solomonov says, “It’s a tiny shop in South Philly, and he turns out great pies, both savoury and sweet. His pie crust is insanely good, and the fillings are simple and perfect.”
The City of Brotherly Love has a great deal of “classic” restaurants as well, and Solomonov considers Fork to be especially worthy of repeat visits. Located on Market Street, it has helped launch award-winning chef Eli Kulp into national stardom, with his inventive menu and hip atmosphere. A few favourite menu items are: poached lobster, gourmet lamb burger and the hanger steak.
Solomonov says, “Fork has been around for over 15 years, and they keep getting better. They constantly reinvent themselves, and continue to be on everyone’s “˜go-to’ list for restaurants all these years later.”
Neighbourhoods for foodies
For food lovers seeking great districts with a high concentration dining options, Solomonov says that bustling neighbourhoods have been transformed in recent years, and can be easily explored on foot. One example is the East Passyunk area, which is situated southeast of the city’s centre and has been almost entirely reinvented over the past 12 years, with an array of restaurants for all palates, ranging from sushi to Mexican to Italian to fine dining.
“The East Passyunk area is killing it – and Old City is holding strong, with new restaurants opening all the time. Fishtown is also a neighbourhood that people should keep an eye out for”, says Solomonov.
Coffee and brunch spots
For coffee, Solomonov often goes to Menagerie on Third Street. It features fairtrade, artisanal, hand-poured coffee and housemade pastries. For a delightful brunch, he suggests Talula’s Daily for their fresh salads, breakfast sandwiches and famous chocolate chip cookies.
For a stellar bakery recommendation, High Street on Market is at the top of Solomonov’s list for their innovative and extensive bread offerings, which include sesame-tahini bread, pumpkin harvest bread and brown rice baguette.
Among his own restaurants, Solomonov explains, “Zahav is the most personal to me, and it is unique in showcasing the variety of flavours found in Israel. Our hummus is what everyone comes to Zahav for. I spend a long time perfecting it, and it’s smooth, creamy and addictive.”
Nearby, his southern-inspired restaurant and bar on South Street, Percy Street Barbecue, is known for its smoked meats. He says, “The chef, Erin O’Shea is one of the country’s only female pit masters, and her brisket is unrivalled.”
In addition, Federal Donuts (with three Philly locations) features fresh doughnuts and fried chicken with a focus on take-out offerings. Last year, he and partner Steven Cook opened the chic Abe Fisher, serving Jewish-inspired cuisine, and Dizengoff, a casual eatery that only serves hummus with a variety of toppings, alongside Israeli salad, pickles and fresh pita. He points out, “There is no other place like it in Philly.”
In addition to working at his restaurants, Solomonov recently published a cookbook entitled, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, that features a number of family anecdotes surrounding restaurant’s cuisine. “It’s part-memoir and part-cookbook”, says Solomonov. “I hope readers will enjoy the stories and the photos. Home cooks will love it because the recipes are easy to follow and they allow for substitution and experimentation, and they make dishes that are fun to share with family and friends.”
And he’s not stopping any time soon. Solomonov has plans in the pipeline for a new philanthropic venture, “we are working on opening Rooster Soup Co., a luncheonette-style restaurant, in Center City in the next couple of months. This restaurant is unique because all profits will be donated to Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, which is an organization that works with Philadelphia’s most vulnerable to make their lives better.”
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Have you eaten at any of Chef Michael Solomonov’s favourite Philly restaurants? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Marla Cimini