Archive for December, 2011

Our 10 (+1) Favorite Restaurants in Philadelphia in 2011

Friday, December 30th, 2011

One of the many great things about living in Philadelphia is the embarrassment of riches that is the city’s dining scene. Longtime residents can recite the history that led to this delightful state, beginning with the 1970s “Restaurant Renaissance” and building from there to the present. Philadelphians today enjoy a dazzling variety of eateries, from greasy spoons to elegant establishments, that offer cuisine from around the world and close to home in settings from relaxed to super-formal and at prices that suit every budget.

That scene is constantly changing, too, as new chefs try out new ideas and established names branch out in new directions. One notable local trend this year was the opening of a raft of restaurants that feature local ingredients, like The Farm and the Fisherman and The Farmer’s Cabinet in Washington Square West and Kennett off South Street. Dining impresario Stephen Starr gave Center City its first authentic English pub with The Dandelion, which opened this past summer, and another new Starr-backed establishment, Talula’s Garden, proved an immediate sensation with critics and diners when it opened on Washington Square later in the year.

Your blogger wasn’t quite able to sample all the delicious developments in Philly’s dining scene this year. But with some help from friends, we’ve been able to put together a list of 10 places – some old, some new – that consistently deliver excellent food with good service in a great atmosphere. Here, then, are Philly Living’s 10 favorite Philadelphia restaurants of 2011, in no particular order:

Han Dynasty, 108 Chestnut Street, Old City. The in-town outpost of the highly regarded Sichuan restaurant in Exton never disappoints. From mild to wild, the dishes are consistently well executed. Go with a group and be sure to share – it will be an education for your palate.

Opa Restaurant interior

The stylish interior of Opa, the new casual Greek restaurant that’s on our 10 Favorites list

Opa, 1311 Sansom Street, Midtown Village/Washington Square West. This moderately priced newcomer offers contemporary interpretations of classic Greek fare in a casually stylish setting. Not out for a full meal? Try one of their excellent appetizers at the bar, which has a creative cocktail menu and several great local brews on tap.

City Tap House, 3925 Walnut Street, University City. Sure, you will be sharing the space with Penn students on a bender, but there’s plenty of room for everyone in its large, modern-rustic dining room. There’s also an outdoor terrace in good weather. Craft beers and fresh seasonal ingredients go together like hand in glove at this eatery, which capitalizes on Philadelphia’s reputation as one of the best beer cities in America.

Friday Saturday Sunday, 261 South 21st Street, Rittenhouse Square. This sole survivor of the Restaurant Renaissance still “loves you every night.” It’s also still the best place in town for a romantic dinner date, with its intimate size and still-funky decor. Its kitchen is still producing simple yet elegant dishes with flair, 37 years on, and it still has the lowest markup on wine in the city – every bottle only $10 over cost.

PYT, 1050 North Hancock Street, Northern Liberties. What’s a burger joint doing on this list? Constantly experimenting, that’s what. Legendary party promoter Tommy Up’s uber-casual burger joint/lounge/club in the Piazza at Schmidt’s continually turns out new, creative, and sometimes flat-out weird variations on the classic burger, with a different featured burger each week. Past creations include the Krispy Kreme Burger, the Chicken & Waffle Burger, and the Korean Short Rib Burger, which proved such a hit it was added to the permanent menu. Needless to say, this is not a place for the health- or weight-conscious.

Le Virtu, 1927 East Passsyunk Avenue, South Philadelphia. All Abruzze, all the time, made the old-fashioned way with all the local ingredients the owners can get their hands on. House-cured meats and fresh pasta are among the stars at this anchor of the East Passyunk Avenue restaurant row.

Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge, 1227 Sansom Street, Midtown Village/Washington Square West; 1050 North Hancock Street, Northern Liberties; Cafe Boyd’s, inside the men’s wear store at 1818 Chestnut Street, Rittenhouse Square. This stylish contemporary Japanese restaurant, which recently opened a second outpost at the Piazza, loves to play with its signature dish. If you like it raw, you will love what the sushi masters here do with rice, fish and vegetables. The cooked entrees aren’t bad either.

Osteria, 640 North Broad Street, Fairmount. Marc Vetri’s more casual Italian dining spot is every bit as outstanding as his justly famous small restaurant on Spruce Street, but easier to get into and somewhat easier on the wallet. It’s a must-visit for pizza lovers as well, as the pies on the menu are the best in the city. Of special note is the Lombarda,with Cotechino sausage, two cheeses and a fried egg atop a delicate crispy crust.

Los Taquitos de Puebla, 1149 South Ninth Street, Italian Market/Bella Vista. The influx of immigrants from the southern Mexican state of Puebla is perhaps the best thing that’s happened to the Italian Market in years, and this unassuming taqueria is a happy product of that phenomenon. Cheap and delicious, their tacos de pastor are the best in town. More adventurous eaters will find on the menu dishes made from parts of the cow you probably never thought edible: anyone for ojos or cabeza de res?

Picanha Grill, 6501 Castor Avenue, Castor Gardens. Like Fogo de Chao, this Brazilian churrascuria in the Northeast is run by actual Brazilians. And like Fogo, it features a salad bar and a dine-till-you-drop parade of succulent meats. But unlike Fogo, you can enjoy all this without taking out a loan for your meal: the all-you-can-eat experience here costs a mere $25.

Bonus: Oyster House, 1516 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square. Sam Mink, the third generation of the Philadelphia family behind the legendary Kelly’s of Mole Street, took his family’s old-school seafood restaurant and lightened it up. The bright, open dining room still sports the knickknacks that have graced its walls since 1976, but just about everything else is new and improved, including the best lobster roll outside New England. Don’t miss the buck-a-shuck oyster special at the bar at happy hour.

–Sandy Smith

Philly’s New Zoning Code

Thursday, December 29th, 2011
Satellite photo of Philadelphia, 2002

Philadelphia, as viewed from the USGS LANDSAT satellite in 2002

When building anything in Philadelphia requires a variance, whether it’s a major commercial development or plain old residential real estate, then something’s wrong with the zoning code.

Developers and planners alike came to that realization a few years back, and managed to get both City Council and the voters to agree that it was time to overhaul the master guide to development in Philadelphia. This week, four years after the voters approved a commission to rewrite the zoning code, Mayor Michael Nutter signed off on its handiwork.

The new Philadelphia zoning ordinance, which goes into effect six months from now, recognizes a number of changes that have profoundly altered the way we use real estate in Philadelphia. Since the code was last revised in 1962, the city’s industrial base has all but vanished, with education, medical research, and tourism taking its place as the engines of the local economy. Decades of depopulation that began in the 1950s and ended only in this decade have left many sections of the city underdeveloped, while a residential boom has transformed its heart and adjacent areas to its north and south. Development in parts of the city has put stress on its watersheds and other natural environments. Some uses that used to play poorly with residents have become more benign while others now require closer scrutiny.

And there are new concerns for the code to handle, such as encouraging sustainable building practices and development that takes advantage of mass transit’s efficiencies.

All of these matters have been incorporated into the new code, but its most important new feature is this: It makes getting projects approved faster and easier. Separate sections explain clearly what is allowed, and what isn’t, in the city’s zoning districts, special overlay districts, and general rules covering specific use categories. The number of general zoning districts has been slashed by 40 percent, from 52 to 30, and new special-purpose districts have been created to handle sports and entertainment, the city’s parks and natural resources, and development issues around the airport.

The new Philadelphia zoning ordinance will allow the city and those who build in it to better handle the social, physical, economic and environmental changes that have taken place over the last half century. It will also position the city for smarter growth in the years to come.

–Sandy Smith

For more information about the new ordinance, and to read the commission’s final report – the basis of the new zoning code – visit the Zoning Code Commission’s website, zoningmatters.org.

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

School Report Card: Laura Wheeler Waring School

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Location: 1801 Green Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130

Enrollment: 263 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 11.5 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 79.1%; White, 1.9%; Asian, 0.8%; Latino, 13.3%; all others, 4.9%. 11% of Waring students have learning disabilities. 90.9% are economically disadvantaged, and 1.9% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The roughly triangular attendance area for Waring takes in southeast Francisville, Franklin Town and the rapidly gentrifying eastern two-thirds of Fairmount. It is bounded on the east by Broad Street, on the northwest by Wylie Street, 19th Street, Fairmount Avenue, 21st Street, Green Street and 23rd Street, and on the southwest by the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 93.6%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 55.3% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 40.5% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 25.0% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 22.5% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for the Connecticut-born early 20th-century African-American artist who made Philadelphia her home for her entire career, Laura Wheeler Waring School has a teaching staff that has been dedicated to improving the performance of its students; in the mid-2000s, it received a Keystone Award, which recognizes significant improvement in a school’s performance, and was recognized as one of the 10 most improved schools in the state by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The school has a modern computer lab and two science labs, and major renovations in the latter half of the decade upgraded its library and common spaces. A partnership with the Walnut Street Theatre gave the school a new mini-theater in 2007 and funds an active drama club. Other extra-curricular activities include Homework Helpline, Sports Club, Chess Club, Student Council and a student newsletter.

School Report Card: Edwin M. Stanton School

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Location: 1700 Christian Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146

Enrollment: 233 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 12.3 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 87.6%; White, 0.9%; Asian, 0.9%; Latino, 5.2%; all others, 5.6%. 3.9% of Stanton students are classified as gifted, and 12.9% have learning disabilities. 89.2% are economically disadvantaged, and 1.3% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The Stanton attendance area includes the southeast quarter of the Graduate Hospital area. It is bounded on the north by South Street, on the east by Broad Street, on the south by Federal Street and on the west by 18th Street below Washington Avenue and 19th Street above it.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 92.3%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 73.9% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 75.4% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 42.1% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 87.3% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for the man who served as Secretary of War in the Lincoln and Andrew Johnson administrations, Edwin M. Stanton School features a curriculum that focuses on the cultural arts, and its effectiveness is reflected in the school’s performance on the PSSA reading and writing tests, where Stanton students outperform state averages. Music, art, drama and dance are the keys used at Stanton to unlock knowledge of the world’s various cultures. The school’s Home and School Association is community-focused, sponsoring activities like Thanksgiving basket donations, a winter coat drive and a holiday spirit drive for needy families in the community.

Note: The School District of Philadelphia has proposed that Stanton School be closed as of fall 2012. Students in its attendance area would attend either Chester A. Arthur or George W. Childs schools.

School Report Card: Spring Garden School

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Location: 1146 Melon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123

Enrollment: 287 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 14.1 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 92.7%; White, 0.7%; Asian, 0%; Latino, 5.6%; all others, 1%. 2.1% of Spring Garden students are classified as gifted and 11.5% have learning disabilities. 90.6% are economically disadvantaged, and 2.1% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: Spring Garden School serves the neighborhood whose name it bears as well as the Loft District. It is located just north of its attendance area, which is bounded on the east by 10th Street below Fairmount Avenue and 11th Street above it, on the north by Parrish Street, on the west by Broad Street and on the south by the Vine Street Expressway.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 93.3%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 61.1% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 60.6% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 62.9% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 57.1% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Spring Garden School boasts a number of up-to-date facilities to enhance student learning, such as a wirelessly networked computer lab and a K-3 science lab. It also has extensive partnerships with nearby institutions and organizations, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Rodeph Shalom Synagogue and Philadelphia READS, that provide the school with resources and support for academic enrichment. The school’s extensive list of extra-curricular activities includes Yearbook/Photography Club, Math 24 Club, Reading Olympics, Writing Club, Drama Club, Computer Club and boys’ and girls’ sports clubs.

School Report Card: George W. Nebinger School

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Location: 601 Carpenter Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Enrollment: 248 students in grades preK-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 11.3 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 59.9%; White, 8.1%; Asian, 6.5%; Latino, 20.6%; all others, 4.9%. 0.8% of Nebinger students are classified as gifted, and 19.4% have learning disabilities. 85.3% are economically disadvantaged, and 11.7% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The Nebinger attendance area includes the southern parts of Queen Village and Bella Vista. It is bounded on the north by Christian Street east of 5th and Catharine Street west of it, on the east by the Delaware River, on the south by Washington Avenue and on the west by 10th Street.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 94%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 82.1% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 71.9% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 67.6% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 58.4% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named (we believe) for a Philadelphia physician who ran a hospital for troops during the Civil War, George W. Nebinger School stands as an example of what a dedicated teaching staff and community support can produce in a diverse community with large immigrant and disadvantaged student populations. Math, science and technology are key strengths of the school’s curriculum, and an active Friends of Nebinger School organization, affiliated with the Queen Village Neighbors Asssociation, provides the school with materials, technology and support. Curriculum enhancements include Mandarin Chinese language instruction to all students and instructional music programs for strings and brass.

School Report Card: William M. Meredith School

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Location: 725 South 5th Street (at Fitzwater), Philadelphia, PA 19147

Enrollment: 509 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 16.3 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 22.2%; White, 61.7%; Asian, 6.1%; Latino, 5.1%; all others, 4.9%. 15.3% of Meredith students are classified as gifted, and 6.7% have learning disabilities. 49.1% are economically disadvantaged, and 0.2% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The Meredith attendance area includes northern Queen Village and Bella Vista’s northeast quarter. It is bounded on the north by South Street, on the east by the Delaware River, on the west by 9th Street and on the south by Christian Street east of 5th and Catharine Street west of it.

Metrics: Attendance rate (2010-11) 96%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 90.6% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 86.1% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 72.1% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 84.7% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for President Zachary Taylor’s Treasury secretary and a Civil War-era Pennsylvania attorney general, William M. Meredith School aims for high achievement for all its students. Its PSSA stats suggest it is succeeding – it is one of only a few public elementary schools in Philadelphia to surpass statewide scores across the board. Students are well-grounded in the core concepts of literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, computer science, health and physical education. The school’s expanded curriculum includes appreciation of and instruction in vocal and instrumental music, art, drama and dance. Leadership skills, development of a positive self image and problem solving skills are integrated across the curriculum.

School Report Card: Gen. George A. McCall School

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Location: 325 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Enrollment: 615 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 12.7 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 18.9%; White, 17.9%; Asian, 56.3%; Latino, 1.6%; all others, 5.3%. 7.2% of Greenfield students are classified as gifted, and 6% have learning disabilities. 49.6% are economically disadvantaged, and 24.4% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The McCall attendance area takes in all of Center City east of Broad Street, including Chinatown, Old City, Society Hill and Washington Square West. It is bounded on the north by the Vine Street Expressway, on the south by South Street, on the east by the Delaware River and on the west by Broad Street.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 96.7%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 90.8% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 72.0% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 76.6% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 73.6% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for the Army general who organized the Pennsylvania Reserves during the Civil War, Gen. George A. McCall School boasts up-to-date learning technology, a committed teaching staff and an active and involved Home and School Association that provides additional resources for the school. Instruction at McCall takes place in small learning communities in which teachers serve as coaches and mentors rather than lecturers. The school celebrates its ethnic diversity as well; as might befit a school where more than half the students are of Asian descent, its Chinese New Year celebration is a high point of the school year. Faculty and administrators work closely with parents, both individually and through the Home and School Association, to ensure that every child’s educational and developmental needs are met. The school ranks among the city’s top grade schools in academic performance. Extracurricular activities at McCall include Chess Club, Yoga Club, Yearbook, Drama Club, Choir, Homework Club, Computer Club, Math 24 Club, Competitive Cup Stacking Club and a basketball team.

School Report Card: Gen. Philip Kearny School

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Location: 601 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123

Enrollment: 421 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 14.2 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 83.8%; White, 6.4%; Asian, 0.2%; Latino, 6.2%; all others, 3.3%. 2.6% of Kearny students are classified as gifted and 15.9% have learning disabilities. 88.8% are economically disadvantaged, and 1% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: Kearny School’s attendance area takes in most of Northern Liberties along with northern Chinatown. It is bounded on the east by Columbus Boulevard, on the north by Poplar Street (Brown Street from Front to 2nd), on the west by 10th Street (11th Street from Parrish Street to Fairmount Avenue) and on the south by the Vine Street Expressway and Callowhill Street.

Metrics: Attendance rate (2010-11) 94.7%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 76.8% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 72.9% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 49.4% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 57.9% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for a Mexican War hero who was killed in the Civil War Battle of Chantilly, Gen. Philip Kearny School is housed in a historic Northern Liberties structure that sports a new addition to handle grades 7 and 8 and all the latest facilities, including a well-equipped cybrary, a new science library, outdoor basketball courts and a campus park that is also a community gathering place. Frequently cited as a “Best Practices” school, Kearny has a strong Mentally Gifted Program and an active Home and School Association that raises funds and hosts special events to benefit the school. Music and art activities are among the school’s more distinctive extra-curricular activities; the school offers instrumental music starting in 1st grade and also boasts a choir and bell choir. The school also offers several sports, including a track team that competes each year in the Penn Relays.

School Report Card: Andrew Jackson School

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Location: 1213 South 12th Street (at Federal), Philadelphia, PA 19147

Enrollment: 398 students in grades K-8 in 2011-12

Student-teacher ratio: 12.4 in 2010

Demographics: African-American, 34.6%; White, 9.7%; Asian, 17.4%; Latino, 32.6%; all others, 5.6%. 0.3% of Jackson students are classified as gifted, and 11.8% have learning disabilities. 83.9% are economically disadvantaged, and 15.6% are learning English as a second language.

Attendance area: The Jackson attendance area encompasses the western edge of Bella Vista along with Hawthorne (Avenue of the Arts, east side of Broad) and Passyunk Square. It is bounded on the north by South Street, on the east by 9th Street, Catharine Street, 10th Street, Washington Avenue and 9th Street, on the south by East Passyunk Avenue and on the west by Broad Street.

Metrics:

Attendance rate (2010-11) 94.6%.

PSSA performance (2011, percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced):

Subject School District State
Math 84.4% 58.6% 77.1%
Reading 68.7% 52.0% 73.5%
Science 52.0% 34.8% 60.9%
Writing 50.0% 51.2% 75.0%

Profile: Named for the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson School is one of the most ethnically diverse schools serving greater Center City. It boasts an up-to-date technology lab and a strong math curriculum. Jackson teachers provide Saturday School classes for students who need additional support to improve their skills, and the school has an active and involved Home and School Association. Extracurricular activities include Chess Club, Homework Club, Reading Olympics, Science Fairs, and Math 24 Club.

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