I'm a lamb lover all year long, but in springtime, my craving for chops, shanks, and kebabs hits prime season. It's a good thing local chefs are eager to indulge with an endless variety of interpretations, ethnic spins and techniques, from brines to braises to wood-smoking braziers. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a classically roasted rack. But for these more unusual examples of flavorful lamb cookery, I'd suggest leaving the mint jelly at home.
(Not yet formally rated)
Ritz Plaza, 910 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd., Voorhees, 856-566-4546.
So many of my favorite lamb dishes come from local Indian restaurants, topped by the coconutty lamb chettinad at Tiffin and the pastry-sealed lamb dampakht curry pot pie at King of Tandoor. But you can add this colorful and contemporary South Jersey bistro to the lamb go-to list. Much of the menu is mildly spiced for a mainstream crowd, but lamb specialties are among its most vivid dishes: an addictive coriander-spiced lamb soup and an unusual leg of lamb roasted in the tandoori that make a genuinely exotic pre-movie meal.
DIVAN TURKISH KITCHEN
918 S. 22d St. (at Carpenter), 215-545-5790; www.divanturkishkitchen.com.
This surprising Turkish BYO has been one of the steady anchors of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood between South Street and Washington Avenue and much of its success has been built on a golden touch with lamb, from manti dumplings to chops and well-seasoned ground-meat kebabs. My favorite, the iskender, layers gyro-spitted "doner" lamb breast with roasted tomato sauce and yogurt over butter-fried bread.
1001 Spruce St., 215-922-1773; www.kanellarestaurant.com
A far cry from the typical taverna, this corner BYOB near Washington Square is a heartfelt homage to the authentic Cypriot-Greek flavors of Konstantinos Pitsillides' island home, with grape-leaf-wrapped fish, ancient grains, soulful game stews, and lamb in many guises. At the bustling lunch service, lamb appears in crisply grilled kofta kebabs over flavorful white beans, and also comes tucked into one of the most flavorful sandwiches in town, brimming with juicy tender meat balanced by the perfect Mediterranean savor of feta and spinach.
(Not yet formally rated)
121 S. 17th St., 215-563-5008.
This bilevel restaurant in Kimpton's snazzy new Center City Hotel Palomar is bursting with colors and mod high design. A trio of meaty grilled lamb chops, served over white beans and chorizo with tangy tomato jam, is just one memorable example of the sophisticated, globe-trotting (and pricey) fare coming out of the ambitious kitchen run by chef Guillermo Tellez, an alum of both Charlie Trotter's and Striped Bass.
901 N. Second St., 215-238-0630.
This landmark Northern Liberties shrine to local brews, celebrating its 10th anniversary
as a pioneer of the gastropub movement, continues to transcend mere bar food with an ambitious blackboard menu that ranges from pastry-wrapped chicken pies to seasonal wild game. A classically roasted leg of lamb,
served in a terra-cotta crock with roasted root vegetables and rich red-wine gravy, epitomizes the unpretentious but gutsy fare that distinguishes chef Carolyn Angle's kitchen.
237 St. James Place
(overlooking Dock Street near Second and Walnut), 215-625-8800; www.zahavrestaurant.com
This modern Israeli perch over Society Hill has continued to evolve into one of our most exciting destinations as chef-owner Michael Solomonov refines contemporary Mediterranean small plates from wood-oven flat bread to phenomenal fried cauliflower and house lamb merguez. The family- style "mesibah" feast is the most satisfying way to experience Zahav, though, if only because it brings the city's ultimate ode to lamb: a sublime hunk of shoulder that's been brined, slow-grilled over oak, then braised with pomegranate juice and chickpeas into a feast of meat so deeply flavored, it's haunting. I
Contact restaurant critic Craig LaBan at 215-854-2682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.