A flavorful, Mediterranean-inspired menu combined with warm hospitality equals a great communal gathering.
Paralleling the diversity of its neighborhoods, Philly’s restaurant scene continues to churn up an eclectic berth of dining options. In addition to notable Center City restaurants, the inclination of younger generations to settle into rejuvenated urban areas has spurred a new genre of hip neighborhood joints.
“We’ve experienced a thriving restaurant scene here in Philly, and not just the big Center City restaurants, but all the great neighborhood venues that have popped up in response to the demand,” says Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “The news recently reported Millennials eat out five days a week, and this is helping fuel foodservice growth.”
A perfect illustration of this is found in ROOT Restaurant + Wine Bar in the budding Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown. Far from the classic neighborhood bar and burger joint, ROOT serves a fresh take on Italian, Spanish and American cuisine, and offers wines from all of the great regions of the world, Spanish inspired gin-tonics, inventive cocktails and a vast selection of craft beers.
“ROOT is meant to be a neighborhood (and beyond) restaurant focusing on the details of premier food, beverage and hospitality,” says Greg Root, partner. “Service is inviting, yet relaxed with a strong focus on hospitality. The room is meant to be a lively place where guests feel welcome. Our goal is to provide guests with an outstanding experience.”
The 60-seat restaurant is jointly owned by Root and Nick Kennedy, at the helm as executive chef. Kennedy has previous experience in some celebrated Manhattan kitchens, including a stint as sous chef at Jean-Georges and one as executive sous chef at Del Posto. The restaurant was birthed principally from love of the neighborhood and a vision of what the neighborhood would become. “There is great energy here and more restaurants and retail will keep coming,” says Kennedy.
Though ROOT’s guests hail from all over Philadelphia and the surrounding area, the restaurant counts on considerable neighborhood support. “This represents a diverse customer demographic as far as age, profession and marital/family status,” says Root. “Our customers find commonality in love for the neighborhood and in looking for a comfortable place to share good food and beverages.”
Given the restaurant’s Italian and Spanish cuisine influence, the menu relies heavily on produce as an ingredient. “The menu is driven by the produce,” says Kennedy. “What is seasonal and local is the driving factor behind menu development. Probably about 80 percent of the menu has some produce component.”
The menu changes at least seasonally, and sometimes more frequently. “We always look at what we can update to give our guests a better experience,” says Mike Joyce, chef de cuisine. “Our goal is to showcase the true flavor of each ingredient and how they work together in a balanced way.”
The restaurant spends $2,500 to $3,500 per week on produce, some of that sourced from neighbor wholesaler and retailer Riverwards Produce Market in Philadelphia. Additional suppliers include John Vena Inc. and Baldor, as well as local sources Primordia Farms in Lenhartsville, PA; Plowshare Farms, a CSA in Bucks County, PA; and Taproot Farms in Shoemakersville, PA.
The operation’s sourcing criteria include seasonality, freshness, locality and price. “Sourcing from PWPM and local companies provides us with the right options in quality, freshness and seasonality,” says Joyce. “We strive to be as seasonal and local as possible while providing our guests the best product available.”
The produce-laden Mediterranean influence is notable right out of the starting gate as the Snacks section of the menu offers up addictive Fried Chickpeas with herbs and Moroccan spice, a Bagna Cauda of raw seasonal vegetables with a warm anchovy dip, and perfectly cooked and seasoned Crispy Potatoes with a smoked paprika and a rich aioli. Even the gin-tonics are served with delightful sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, and slices of fresh lemon and lime.
True to the “Tapas-style” eating, the menu gives three Toast options, including Pan Con Tomate smothered in tomato, garlic, olive oil and sea salt; Chicken Liver paired with sage, pickled shallot and guanciale and a slightly spicy Zucchini incorporating ricotta, almonds, mint and chili.
After a wealth of impeccable cheese and salumi options accompanied by homemade fruit preserves and pickled vegetables, diners are invited to order from the Plates section of the menu. Steak Tartare features crispy shallots. A Kale & Escarole Salad melds egg, bacon and breadcrumbs into Caesar dressing. The Duxelle Burger is an all-mushroom burger served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special house sauce. Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi adds mushrooms, brown butter and sage for a savory dish and the Black Cavatelli plays with Carolina shrimp, tomatoe, jalepeno and scallion. Pennsylvania Trout is served aside an artful bed of watercress and radishes with a brown butter caper sauce. Spice Rubbed Lamb Chops integrate fingerlings, lemon yogurt and mint.
While the dessert menu is limited to three options, including a selection of artisan Mendiants (five discs of éclat chocolate), produce remains a visible ingredient. The Olive Oil Cake is complemented by peaches, honey, crème fraîche and mint, and the decadent Chocolate & Hazelnut Crème Brûlée flashes a candied orange.
ROOT Restaurant + Wine Bar
1206 Frankford Ave.
Tel: (215) 515-3452
Hours: Sun & Mon 5 – 10pm
Tues – Sat 5 – 11pm
Brunch Sat & Sun 10am – 2pm