The Endless Road Trip — Philadelphia’s Top 10 Eats 1. There Will Be Blood…and Beets
Endless Simmer is expanding our food travel coverage to bring you reports from cities around the country. First stop: Philly. Enjoy Part 1 in our series of 10 incredible edibles the ES team found while stuffing our faces through the city of brotherly love.
I’ll admit…it’s hard for me to get excited about beets. They are nice in a simple salad and I certainly get why vegetarians hold them in high esteem, since they add heft and substance to a meatless dish. Still, they’ve never been something I would go out of my way to order.
But how could I resist when the menu promised Bloody Beet Steak?
This appetizer, available at The Farm and Fisherman, has been generating buzz on the local Philly restaurant scene, and for good reason. It’s not your everyday beet salad. The Bloody Beet Steak, shown above, is about the diameter of a CD and comes accompanied by homemade yogurt and a pan jus, under a layer of (probably unnecessary) amaranth. But it’s the preparation of the beet itself that really makes the dish really unique.
The skin-on beet is roasted, which isn’t uncommon, but then it’s pan-fried “under a brick” to smash it down. This increases the surface area within the pan, resulting in a deliciously caramelized flavor paired with the skin’s nutty earthiness and flesh’s firm texture. It’s just so much more…substantive — meatier and complex — than the beet dishes you normally find. While you may not confuse it for an actual slice of beef, the depth and intensity of this savory approach is enough to convince any meat-eater to go veggie for a course or two. Plus, smashing it brings an element of violence sure to please anyone who thinks that ordering a beet appetizer is evidence that they’re “going soft.”
And the beet isn’t The Farm and Fisherman’s only claim to fame. It’s also a quintessentially Philly BYOB. Pennsylvania’s draconian liquor laws result in an insufficient number of available licenses in the larger cities, forcing many restaurateurs to buy them on the open market, often at very high prices. So, for a chef-owned establishment like The Farm, allowing guests to bring their own drinks means they get to offer a virtually unlimited wine list and diners can save more than a few bucks in the process by avoiding the customary restaurant markup on liquor. Most of the big restaurants in town sell liquor, but the small neighborhood spots that allow you to bring your own are a cherished Philadelphia treasure. Neighborhood-y setting + inventive food + cheap booze? Hard to beat.
The rest of the menu features locally-sourced dishes that change nightly. The lineup on our evening included appetizers like blue fish confit (a delicate, high-end take on a local bottom feeder most upscale restaurants would shun) and fried green tomatoes with homemade ricotta and pea tops, plus entrees such as Hudson Canyon yellowfin tuna and Lancaster duck leg and breast.
Chef Joshua Lawler says that he likes to turn the menu over as quickly as ingredient availability allows. But don’t expect the star appetizer to go anywhere soon. When asked about the beet steak, he confessed that he could probably use a break from having to make it every day in the kitchen, but its new popularity means it’s the one thing he feel compelled to always offer.
And why not? A beet dish that can satisfy the beefiest of carnivores is something you don’t find every day.