We’re a bit of a broken record this morning. Just a week ago we wrote all about the continuing government shutdown and the tension that filled the Philly air as the Eagles faced a tough, must-win game Sunday afternoon. Today the government shutdown continues and, improbably enough, so does the Eagles' season with today’s Wild Card playoff game. But, of course, it’s a new week (not to mention a new year) so there are plenty of fresh stories coming your way — plus a conversation with food writer Michael Klein that might make foodies jealous.
— Aubrey Nagle and Ray Boyd (firstname.lastname@example.org)
You recently traveled to Las Vegas to visit Philly chef Marc Vetri’s new restaurant. What was the most interesting thing you learned from that trip?
It actually was a sobering realization about restaurant economics. Even as Vetri and partner Jeff Benjamin were building an empire of popular restaurants – and they were up to seven – they were mortgaging their homes to finance it all. The Osteria they opened in Moorestown was a dud and nearly sank them altogether before Urban Outfitters bought them out of everything except for the flagship Vetri Cucina on Spruce Street. People think chefs are wealthy. Most are not. It’s the restaurateurs – many of whom have other business interests such as real estate – who have the bucks. The Vegas restaurant is a management deal — Vetri and Benjamin didn’t have to pony up an investment but will work for a share of the income.
How many new dishes or restaurants do you check out each month? And how do you organize it all?
I visit at least a restaurant a day, and that is mainly to feed the Let’s Eat newsletter with photos and descriptions. My iCloud helps keep a log of where I go, and I try to branch out geographically. A while back, I realized that while our readership is heaviest in the suburbs, the restaurant coverage from all local media was laser-focused on Center City and inner-ring neighborhoods. That’s understandable. That’s where the action is. But I want to also serve our readers who – for whatever reason – will never set foot in the city and seek a good experience and information they can use.
It seems Philly’s food scene is always evolving, especially over the past few years. What trends do you think are in store for 2019?
Philadelphia is not really a center of trendy, which is a good thing. I think Korean food is gaining wider acceptance here. I also think that a slowdown in openings is coming, especially, sadly, with independent restaurants. The chains love our demographics and have money to spend on construction and rent. Some of the independent restaurants that took three- and five-year leases a few years ago are now facing sizable rent increases. This led to the recent closings of the Bufad and Slice pizzerias.
You’ve been writing about restaurants for the Philadelphia Inquirer for over 25 years, and for 10 years you wrote the INQlings column too. Did you take any tips or tricks from that work into your current role?
I have been writing Table Talk, the restaurant column, since 1993. Seven years later, during the Republican National Convention, I launched INQlings, which was a mix of celeb news in a city with no celebs, vetted “gossip” (no blind items, etc.), and other newsy bits that might not otherwise be worthy of a full-blown article. That ran for 12 years before I went full time with food and restaurants. I learned early on to save every contact because food is really at the center of everything.
You also write the Let’s Eat newsletter each week, full of food and drink news. What’s the most challenging part of writing Let’s Eat?
Eating a bite or two, and not the whole thing.
This might be a doozy, but do you have a favorite place to eat or drink in the Philly area?
Gee, guys! Why don’t you ask me which is my favorite child? It depends on mood, and it depends on how much money it will cost me.
That’s a good question, @stormy_potato_dog.
Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!
Have you submitted a question to Curious Philly yet? We introduced the question-and-response service last year so you can submit your questions about the Philadelphia region.
We’re excited to keep digging in 2019, so ask away. We’re listening and doing our best to find answers to the things you’re curious about.
“Battle tested team, peaking at just the right time, with Foles at the controls. Should be a win. Book it!” — acepilot, on the Eagles' chances to take down the Bears in their playoff showdown.