Craig LaBan's best of 2017

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

Updated: Monday, December 25, 2017, 9:53 PM

Hearthside in Collingswood is Craig LaBan’s Best New Restaurant of 2017.

In a year of reviews, these stood out.

The spaghetti and crabs at Palizzi Social Club. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
TABLE05.Jesse Ito behind the sushi bar at Royal Sushi & Izakaya, 780 S. Second St MICHAEL KLEIN / STAFF
AECRAIG12 The owners of the new Friday Saturday Sunday - Chad and Hanna Williams - getting married in their kitchen before the restaurant reopened. PHOTO: Jessica Henneman Jessica Henneman
Betty Woods, a waitress for 46 years at the Mayfair Diner, is Server of the Year for 2017. Craig LaBan / Staff
Photo Gallery: Craig LaBan's best of 2017

Best new restaurant

In a year that celebrated the growing sophistication of suburban dining, it’s little surprise that 2017’s best new restaurant was not in Philly. True, Hearthsides co-chefs Dominic Piperno and Aaron Gottesman drew on their time at Vernick (and Zeppoli and Fat Ham) to harness the wood-fired magic of their memorable New American menu. But this ambitious BYOB owned by Piperno and his wife, Lindsay, is a complete package, from the gorgeous room to the polished service and inspired food, and a compelling reason for everyone to visit Collingswood.

Dish of the year JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer Spaghetti and crabs at the Palizzi Social Club.

Too many of our old food traditions are fading, but Joey Baldino cooked with the angels of Italian South Philly on his shoulders this year at the Palizzi Social Club as he breathed fresh life into the homey favorites of his youth. No dish haunted my dreams like his spaghetti with crabs, a tangle of snappy strands in gravy so deeply steeped it was a zesty tomato tidal wave of sweet and briny crustacean. Not a member of the club? You can cook like a son of the Italian Market, too — because we’ve got the recipe.

Rising star chef MICHAEL KLEIN / STAFF Jesse Ito behind the sushi bar at Royal Izakaya.

“Rising son chef” is more like it, because Jesse Ito learned the art of Japanese cooking from a master, his father, Matt (formerly of Fuji in Haddonfield fame), who’s behind the scenes at Royal Izakaya. Jesse has stepped into his own spotlight there with a one-man omakase show at a cloistered back counter where eight lucky diners get to watch him create some of the most exquisite sushi tasting menus this side of Tokyo.

Best updated classic Jessica Henneman Hanna and Chad Williams were married in Friday Saturday Sunday’s kitchen.

How to remake a revered institution all your own? Chad and Hanna Williams got married in the kitchen of Friday Saturday Sunday the moment they completed a total renovation of the restaurant renaissance fixture. But it’s what they did afterward — reimagining the bi-level space with a beautiful downstairs bar and airy upstairs dining room for Chad’s cutting-edge cuisine — that has allowed them to write a compelling new chapter for a generation that believes Philly’s real restaurant revolution is happening now.

Server of the year Craig LaBan / Staff Betty Woods, a waitress for 46 years at the Mayfair Diner, is server of the year for 2017.

Betty Woods and I haven’t always been close. “I don’t like Craig LaBan, because he’d never come to a place like this,” she said, before realizing (much later) that I’d been sitting across the counter from her at the Mayfair Diner. We’ve since patched it up. And now it’s impossible not to admire a consummate professional who’s worked 46 years serving “the real people” despite the fact her husband, Ed Mulholland, sold the Northeast landmark more than a decade ago: “It’s so easy when I do a job I am passionate about. You can do your job for the money, but if that’s all you care about you’ll never make it.”

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

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