I am no stranger to trying new restaurants in Philadelphia but I often fall into a pattern of rotating through the same five favorites. I definitely have my loyalties…until now. If Vernick is my faithful, loving husband, then Serpico is the younger, flashier guy I might leave him for. With chalkboard-painted walls and a medley of dark glass, metal and brick, Serpico is one of those rare spaces that makes everyone in the room seem sexier, more fashionable and way cooler than they probably are in real life. And the location itself is a testament to this: Stephen Starr and the James Beard Award-winning Peter Serpico (see: Momofuku) decided to put what is one of (if not the) best restaurants in Philadelphia on a block usually reserved for pawn shops and adult entertainment stores.
As someone who will order a cocktail based solely on its name (which has led to horrible mishaps with blue curaçao), I started with “the Fall Guy.” Consisting of Rittenhouse Rye (local love), Laird’s Apple Jack, lemon, honey powder, ginger beer and a “spritz of Laphroaig*,” it proved not only to be an excellent winter cocktail choice but also had the added benefit that I was almost falling out of my chef’s table seat before we even ordered mains. My friend Justin took the safer (but way less fun) road by choosing off their carefully-crafted list of American IPAs.
Shockingly not that hungry, I skipped a first course (sadly, because the raw diver scallops looked amazing) and settled on caper-brined trout with smoked potato salad, crab and trout roe. I am not lying when I consider this to be one of the best meals I. Have. Ever. Had. I actually don’t think I said one word while eating it because time stood still and it was just me and the trout roe. Justin went with my second choice – beef short rib – which covered in a whole grain mustard glaze and accompanied by what the menu described as “fried potatoes” (but had the texture of a deluxe-version of arancini), was the most heartwarming and elevated version of comfort food. Never one for sugar, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of dessert plates being ordered by other patrons so we decided to split what is probably another one of the greatest dishes I’ve had – toasted apple cake with burnt apple sauce, caramel, dried apples and vanilla ice cream – which we fought over as the restaurant slightly turned up its Friday night soundtrack of James Brown and old-school hip-hop.
Side note: I got all hot and bothered over the “bar” which is essentially a long farmhouse table with seats on one side and bartenders working on the other side. It’s just a table, guys, but it blew my mind.
* You can “spritz” Laphroaig on anything and I will drink it because there is a large part of me that enjoys smelling like a sophisticated 80-year old man.
Location: 604 South St., Phila. (even they’re in on the irony as their website notes “yes… on South Street”)
TLDR: Go for the caper-brined trout, beef short rib and for the love of god, the toasted apple cake