Every year since 1974 Philadelphia Magazine has been publishing its Best of Philly issue, which includes a section on Food & Drink.
Ever want to know how they pick the winners?
Last night, thanks to Anthony Green, National Constitution Center Vice President for Programs and National Outreach and former editor of Philadelphia Magazine, we got a chance to peek behind the curtain.
As part of the National Constitution Center’s “Philadelphia Talks” series, Green invited Philadelphia Magazine Editor Larry Platt, Executive Editor Tom McGrath, Food Editor April White and Lifestyle Editor Jessica Blatt to talk about the selection process.
According to Platt, the process is “still very subjective, by choice.” “There is no scientific method,” he says, “and we don’t want there to be.” But that’s not to say that there’s no method to the madness. White explained that selecting the winners for the Food & Wine section is a year-long process that includes trying restaurants multiple times and her debating with her colleagues. The voting is democratic, but when it comes to making the final selections for the Food & Drink section, Platt said that White’s expert opinion is what counts the most.
Most lobbying efforts fall flat. The panel talked about a pretzel purveyor who spelled out the words “Philadelphia Magazine” in pretzels and sent them to the office. Turns out his delivery was two weeks late; they had already made their picks for the Best of Philly issue. White said they “like to hear about things organically.” And forget about reader’s polls. McGrath noted that when readers pick what’s “best,” you end up with Olive Garden as the best restaurant.
Philadelphia Magazine “is in the business of unearthing Philadelphia gems,” said Platt. The staff dedicates themselves to finding the next cool thing and the fruit of their labor is “a roadmap for navigating the city.” “It’s a celebration of Philadelphia,” Platt said.
The bonus of this event was that you got a free advance copy of the 2006 Best of Philly issue. According to Platt, “Part of the fun of the Best of Philly issue is disagreeing with it.” So, here are a few thoughts:
- Best Wine Bar: Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery in Wilmington, Delaware. Wait. Delaware?! The Best Philly Wine Bar is actually in the state of Delaware?! How is dining in Delaware a “celebration of Philadelphia”? I’ve got nothing against Delaware (love your beaches and those ominous black license plates). And I do appreciate that Philly extends beyond Center City. But can we at least pick the Best of Philly winners from our own state?
- Best Burger: Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries. This may be the second unopened Center City restaurant in the past two weeks to win an award. Unlike Wine Spectator, though, Philadelphia Magazine does acknowledge that the Center City location of this restaurant has not yet opened (it’s scheduled to open in August), and it does say that there are “Four area locations.” Plus, one of the ideas behind the Best of Philly issue is to be a bit ahead of the curve, and Five Guys does have a tasty burger. So, until the Center City location opens you may have to travel to Clifton Heights, Glenn Mills or Wayne to enjoy this award winner. If geography is still not much of a limitation next year, I'd like to nominate Matchbox in D.C. (mini-burgers) and Tessaro's in Pittsburgh for the Best Philly Burger.
- Best Local Wine: French Creek Ridge “Blanc de Blancs.” But which vintage? That’s kind of an important detail. According to the French Creek Ridge website, they currently sell two Blanc de Blancs wines: a 1999 Blanc de Blancs ($30) and a 2001 Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($35). Not sure which one won the award. Philadelphia Magazine says its pick is available from the winery, so pay French Creek Ridge a visit (or order online) and try both the '99 and the '01.
Some other highlights of the Food & Drink section of the 2006 Best of Philly issue:
- Best New Restaurant: Amada. And now your chances of getting a dinner reservation here anytime soon (especially during Restaurant Week) will vanish in 3...2...1....
- Best Ice Cream: Franklin Fountain. As a friend of mine at work says, this place has that “old timey” feel. The Fountain spins out a formidable chocolate shake that tastes like pure, melted chocolate ice cream. Yet, somehow the treats don’t seem as decadent when a chap who looks like he just stepped out of a time machine serves them to you.
- Eating Good in the ‘Hood. This column gives you a bird’s-eye-view of emerging restaurant communities in various counties. Northern Liberties gets the nod in Philadelphia County.
Wanna know more? Like who won for Best Cheesesteak, Best Takeout Pizza and Best Wooder Ice? Hang in there; the Best of Philly issue should hit newsstands within a week.