20 Culinary Questions with Editor Amy Strauss of Philadelphia’s The Town Dish

Amy Strauss Brooklyn FleaAmy Strauss is the Editor in Chief of TheTownDish.com, a network of sites focusing on the food and dining scene in the greater Philadelphia area including its sumptuous suburbs — and beyond! An OpenTable member since 2008, she lives in Downington, Pennsylvania, where she can enjoy the best of Philadelphia proper as well the amazing hyper-local fare being served in surrounding towns. You can share in her eating experiences by following her on Twitter at @amy_strauss.

1. What are some of the best qualities of the Philadelphia dining scene? Living in the Philly suburbs, I’m fork-deep between quick-tripping into my local (and booming!) food city to experience the newest restaurant or escaping into my immediate backyard to discover the next well-deserving-of-the-spotlight chef. There’s potential everywhere, and where the Philly food scene stands, it’s eclectic and bold; it’s welcoming and honest. I’ve been around the nation and, although I may be biased, Philly is the best food city.

2. Any restaurants at which you’re something of a regular? For a casual weeknight, I’m hitting the bar. In the suburbs at Station Taproom for first-rate pulled pork sandwiches and craft beer or Tired Hands Brewing Co. for a cheese plate and one-off sour beer, and in Philadelphia, Starr’s Fette Sau for smoky, tender brisket and sharp bourbon drinks. For a “special” occasion (can’t that count as every day?), BARSAVONA or Zahav.

3. If I come to the PHL, where must I dine? In the Philly suburbs, any of these will rock your palate and provide an unforgettable dining experience: Junto (elevated PA Dutch BYOB), Nectar (Asian fusion with locally sourced sensibilities), Avalon (rustic Italian), Majolica (inventive, modernized American BYOB), Restaurant Alba (refined Northern Italian), Amani’s BYOB (local-focused), Taqueria Feliz (hip Mexican), and Bolete Restaurant (farmhouse-inspired). In Philly city proper, Serpico, Sbraga (eat the fried game hen!), High Street on Market, Vernick Food & Drink, Petruce et al., Avance, and Stock.

4. Last best restaurant you dined at? Just last night, I visited Fitler Dining Room, the newest concept from the talented gang at Pub & Kitchen. The happy hour was exceptional, with small bites like a vertical heirloom tomato salad constructed on buttery brioche and dressed with Rogue Creamery Blue. Being a bar that’s strictly beer and wine, they get impressively creative with their limited cocktails. For example, the Campobello Retreat features white wine that’s infused to taste like gin (it does!) and is finished with a fragrant splash of elderflower liqueur. It’s sharp and fun; I immediately wanted another.

5. Restaurants you’d most like to try but have yet to — anywhere? Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt, Quealy Watson’s Hot Joy, and Noma.

6. Favorite city for dining outside your own? Since part of what we do is travel for food, here are my favorite Town Dish trip destinationsAustin, Texas for Qui, Olivia, and Franklin Barbecue;  San Francisco, California for Mission Street Chinese and Saison;  Chicago, Illinois for Blackbird, Girl & the Goat, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, and Pequod’s PizzaPortland, Maine (especially in summer!) for Central Provisions, Eventide Oyster Co., Pai Men Miyake, and David’s Opus 10Atlanta, Georgia for Abattoir, West Egg Cafe, and Cakes & Ale; and New York City (of course) for The Breslin, Momofuku, and Alder.

7. Destination dining cities you’d love to visit? Nashville! Seattle! Aspen! Charleston! San Diego!

8. What’s your overall favorite type of cuisine? There’s nothing more wholesome than rustic Italian, and few and far between are doing it by the book and significantly well. I’m also always surprised with what newcomer chefs are doing with mod-American cuisine, particularly those who are scouting local gardens and throwing together fresh ideas and compositions unlike those seen before (example: Ella’s American Bistro, Majolica).

9. Small shared plates, tasting menu or app/entrée dessert? Tasting menus — always a home run! It’s the best avenue to fully experience a chef’s skill sets and where they execute their most creative dishes.

10. Dish you can’t resist ordering when you see it on a menu? I’m 100% Pennsylvania Dutch, so its in my blood to never resist regionalized, classic foods of my heritage. If I spy elevated soft pretzels, house-made pickles, hand-cut egg noodles — I got to stick to my stick-to-your-ribs gun and consider them mine! Fork and Junto put forth killer interpretations of the classics. Snack-wise, you know if a chef’s throwing deviled eggs on their menu, they’re going to be good. Same goes for hand-cut pappardelle — I usually need that.

11. Have you ever done a bang bang (a la Louis C.K.)? If not, what’s the greatest # of courses you’ve eaten in one restaurant siting? Working as a food writer and reviewer, bang bangs are a regular part of your week! My current course max (at one restaurant) is 14 — but that’s not to say I threw in the napkin. I’d adventure into the 20s. Dare me!

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September Restaurant Weeks: Where to Save on Dining During the Last Days of Summer

omaha rwWe’re sad that summer is waning, but don’t despair — there are still many ways to save on dining out in cities across the U.S.

* Arizona Restaurant Week aims to please with $30-$44 three-course dinners, September 19-28. Book now.

* Brandywine Valley Restaurant Week is serving two-course $15 lunches and three-course $35 dinners, September 8-12. Book now.

 * Center City District Restaurant Week in Philadelphia showcases $20 lunches and $35 dinners, September 7-19. Book now.

* Charleston Restaurant Week offers specially priced three-course dinners, September 3-14. Book now.

* Cobb County Restaurant Week in Atlanta features three-course $15, $25, and $35 lunches and dinners, September 13-20. Book now.

Flavor Palm Beach has arrived in Florida with $20 lunches and $30 and $35 dinners through September 30. Book now.

Main Line Restaurant Week in Philadelphia has multi-course $10-$20 lunches and $30-$50 dinners, September 22-28. Book now.

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Spring Restaurant Weeks Are Springing Up!

mlrw2014After a brutal winter, I think it is safe to say, well into April, that spring has sprung. And with this season of renewal comes a season of savings in cities around the nation. Book a table to dine for less at restaurants in your area.

* Long Beach Restaurant Week in California is happening now. Reserve for special set menus for $26 or $38 thru April 5.

* Jersey Shore Restaurant Week starts tomorrow. Begin booking $20.14 and $30.14 dinners, April 4-13.

* Rhode Island heats up with Newport and Bristol Restaurant Week. Book a table for $16 lunches and $35 dinners, April 4-13.

*  Seattle Restaurant Week begins this weekend.Reserve early and often for three-course meals for $28, April 6-10 and 13-17.

* Detroit Restaurant Week kicks into gear next week. Enjoy special three-course, prix-fixe dinners, April 11-20.

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Celebrate Spring with #SolarVortex Dining Specials in Boston, Chicago, New York + Philadelphia!

Solar-Vortex-Logo-finalThe winter of 2013-14 was one of the most brutal in recent memories. Frigid temperatures and brutal snowstorms kept even the most devoted diners at home, curled up in comfy pants and, assumably, bingeing on House of Cards. Between the Polar Vortex, the back-to-back storms in early February, and more, restaurants in several major cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, have experienced declines in business of anywhere from 11% to a whopping 28%.

Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, confirms,”I’ve spoken with restaurateurs whose business went down 10-15%, if not more, due to the extreme winter conditions. It was also difficult for employees to get to and from work during the snowstorms and a challenge for restaurants to accept product deliveries.”

Chef Harold Dieterle, who operates acclaimed restaurants Kin Shop, Perilla, and The Marrow, and his staff braved these storms, having to shovel snow from their sidewalks regularly and even skip a few services, despite being located in the public transit oasis that is New York City. “We closed for some lunches at Kin Shop due to the storms. And, if guests aren’t coming in, while it definitely affects the restaurant’s bottom line, it also hurts the front-of-house staff who rely on tips. It’s been a challenging season for the restaurants and the staff, for sure.” Both Kin Shop and Perilla are offering #SolarVortex specials, and all three restaurants, including The Marrow have just launched exciting new spring menus. “It’s been a rough winter for sure. I’m definitely looking forward to some warm weather, even though it’s not happening today.”

Despite the chill, to help celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring, restaurants in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are offering #SolarVortex dining specials today through March 28. Cooped-up diners are invited to take advantage of unique offers, from specialty cocktails, such as the ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in Manhattan and deep discounts, including $20 off dinner visit with a $50 minimum spend at Roy’s in Chicago, to almost-free lunch, like the $7 local-focused lunch special at Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington, and even free meals, such as Brandywine Prime’s in which diners receive a free brunch for two for every two guests. Continue Reading