I have a certain gift for being overly dramatic, a bit of an exaggerator (real life can be incredibly boring without taking a few creative liberties) and often end conversations with my foot in my mouth. But it is not a lie and not even slightly exaggerating when I say that Vernick Food & Drink might be the BEST restaurant in Philadelphia.
When entertaining people from out of town, Vernick is usually my go-to choice for dinner reservations. Greg Vernick and Ryan Mulholland have combined a great cocktail menu and an impressive wine list with an award-winning menu in an absolutely beautiful space at 20th & Walnut. Vernick’s crisp, clean interior is completely elegant while managing to feel relaxed and rustic at the same time. Split between two floors, with a second floor “balcony” that’s open in the summer, Vernick is light and airy with just enough candlelight and sophistication that a friend visiting from San Francisco this weekend exclaimed “this is going to be [enter appropriate expletive] good” immediately upon walking through the restaurant’s front door.
I started my night at Vernick’s first floor bar with the “Seymour,” a cocktail described as “bitter and medicinal with great balance.” The concoction of Rittenhouse Rye, Campari, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and a touch of apricot was the perfect aperitif and was reminiscent of a smooth negroni, only amplified. My friend stayed relatively within the same line with her order of the “New-groni,” a combination of Beefeater gin with ruby red grapefruit, Aperol and a perfectly frothed egg-white.
Vernick’s menu is a carefully curated selection of small and large plates meant for sharing with an entire section of the menu dedicated to “toasts” (!!!). You can put literally anything on a slice of heated bread and I will eat it, but their toast topped with peas and bacon is out of this world. My friend and I finished it within seconds (I hope no one was watching our frenzied, National Geographic-esque eating). Also recommended is the toast with fromage blanc and kumquats.
(Side note: I almost threw a wine glass against the wall when the table next to us ordered Vernick’s Maryland Crab on Toast and then proceeded to scrape all of the crab off of the bread, leaving behind lonely, dejected, perfectly charred, thick-cut sourdough to “save calories.” Please do not go to a restaurant as great as Vernick with the intent on saving calories or avoiding carbohydrates. Not that I’m speaking from experience – I have never avoided a carb in my life).
My favorite small plate (and possibly favorite dish in all of Philadelphia) is Vernick’s chili-glazed octopus with granny smith apple and endive. Perfectly chargrilled with just the desired saltiness, I could easily eat this for the rest of my life. We rounded out dinner by splitting a side of baby brussels sprouts, coated in an ancho caramel, and split one large plate: the roasted pork chop with sweet potato and spiced cabbage, which my friend declared “the best pork dish she’s ever had” and was still talking about it 20 hours later.
I sadly had no room left to order dessert (it probably had something to do with the “Philadelphia food tour” I dragged my guest on earlier that day which was not limited to donuts, pancakes, bacon, french fries and beer) but from previous experiences at Vernick, the meyer lemon pudding with pistachio meringue is an absolute highlight.
And if you still don’t trust my opinion that Vernick is the best restaurant in Philadelphia, you can always rely on Food & Wine. Chef Greg Vernick is nominated for Best New Chef of 2014.
Location: 2031 Walnut Street, Phila.
Take Note: Reservations available at OpenTable
TLDR: Chili-glazed octopus, roasted pork, any and every toast