Daryl needed to choose a restaurant for his birthday dinner. He decided to go ‘back to the future’ and chose Fork.
Long before two kindred spirits united in their quest for great food and travel, 2foodtrippers were essentially 2 separate food trippers. While Mindi lived in the varied locales of New York, San Francisco, and Denver, Daryl resided in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. Daryl moved into Old City in 1996 when the neighborhood was still a bohemian, somewhat sketchy district; a relatively untapped jewel in Philadelphia’s burgeoning cultural scene. Youth abounded, rent was cheap and high-end dining was virtually nonexistent.
Old City began its metamorphoses in 1995 with the opening of Continental, the first restaurant in Stephen Starr’s dining empire. But Continental is more of a bar/restaurant hybrid than a dining destination where food is the premier attraction.
That all changed when Fork opened in 1997. The restaurant, one of the first in the city to offer high-end dining in a casual yet gorgeous setting, featured ingredients locally sourced from area farms long before ‘farm to table’ became an overused buzzword. Menu items like ‘free range’ chicken appeared on Fork’s menu years before they became supermarket staples.
Fork’s proximity to Daryl’s apartment also played an important role in his food-obsessed life. It was a frequent dating spot, a key brunch destination and, at times, just a place to sit at the bar and grab great food on a lonely night.
Fast forward and Fork has survived. With the arrival of their fifth chef, Eli Kulp, Fork may be serving its best food ever. Chef Kulp is relatively new to Philadelphia, having worked most recently at the highly acclaimed restaurant Torissi Italian Specialties in New York City.
We were struck by the innovative menu as we perused the collage of food choices that draws from American and International food traditions. The affordable yet resourceful wine list also impressed us with its myriad of interesting choices.
Food at Fork Restaurant
Our meal began with a creative plate of bialys with a literal smear of cream cheese, mustard-filled pretzels and large pickled radishes. (Fork bakes all their bread in their in-house bakery.) We especially liked the pretzels which exploded with mustardy, buttery goodness.
We then had a small plate of smoked trout caviar with dilled cucumbers and bagel chips.
Next came a fresh take on vitello tonnato with chunks of raw tuna, compressed cucumbers and tuna sauce served over veal carpaccio – a modern yet innovative construction of a classic dish that shined with its symphony of fresh tuna and bright, acid-y cucumber.
Next came an appetizer of agnolotti with Sicilian pistachios and Jersey rabbit – a melding of both traditional and local ingredients. The dish delivered a rare combination of chef-like refinement and homestyle comfort.
We slowed our eating when the wine arrived. We had selected a 2010 Grenache-Carignan Blend from Fitou in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France. The wine’s subtle flavors opened up nicely and provided an excellent complement to our food and was a fine choice at $44.
As we sipped our wine, our main courses arrived.
Daryl had the dry-aged breast of Guinea hen with cabbage and compressed fruit served with ‘thighs on the side’ and a squeeze bottle of spicy Habanero sauce. The breast of the bird was perfectly crisp and juicy while the side plate of thighs provided a fun counterpoint to the dish’s French precision.
Mindi had pastrami lamb, prepared medium rare, with lamb roulade, rye bread salad (featuring almost pumpernickel-like rye croutons), sauerkraut and caraway.
We enjoyed the savory, delectable plates as we gazed through our glasses.
Dessert at Fork Restaurant
Although we were totally satisfied, we shared a dessert in honor of Daryl’s birthday. Daryl, the birthday boy, picked the chocolate eggplant cake.
They say you can’t go home again and in many ways that may be true in Old City. In the 15 years since Fork first opened rents have risen, artists have moved and many of the neighborhood’s original charms have been lost. However, Fork’s food has remained constant in a rapidly changing city. Now it’s better than ever – a Philadelphia classic. This dinner was like going home for Daryl and was a great meal for 2foodtrippers. We hope to be back to stick a fork in it again soon.
Fork Restaurant is located at 306 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.