As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. We already covered this year's restaurant standbys and top newcomers, tried to sum up the whole year in dining in one word, and named the year's hottest dining neighborhood. Now we're remembering 2013's most surprising moments in food. Responses are related in no particular order. Readers, please add your own survey answers in the comments.
George Sabatino's career trajectory, including a season at Morgan's Pier, took most of us by surprise.[Photo: Morgan's Pier]
Q. What was the biggest dining surprise of 2013?
Adam Erace, critic at Philadelphia City Paper and freelance food writer:
Morgan's Pier and Boot & Saddle really surprised me this year. The intricacy of the plates, high quality of the ingredients and labor-intensiveness of the preps are just not what I expected at such high-volume operations. George Sabatino really crushed it this year.
My other big surprises came from Dan Clark and Ed Hackett: Fitler Dining Room, a charmer with a strong culinary voice, polished service and a great soundtrack, and Pub & Kitchen under the direction of Jon Adams' replacement, Eli Collins. Both are restaurants people should be talking about more.
Joy Manning, editor of Edible Philly:
I was surprised when George Sabatino left Stateside in the middle of an extremely hot streak and then I was even more when he turned up next at Morgan's Pier.
Jamie Shanker, editor of Midtown Lunch Philly:
Recently, finding out that the frozen yogurt place in Chinatown (I-Green) makes some of the best soup dumplings I've ever had.
Neal Santos, photographer/occasional blogger/unlikely farmer:
My biggest dining surprise was the eating tour of the Northeast I did with Caroline Russock for City Paper. I really enjoy eating around parts of Olney, the Northeast, and deep Southwest in search of humble and authentic ethnic eats.
Brian Freedman, critic at Philadelphia Weekly and wine writer/educator:
Improved beverage selections.
Danya Henninger, editor of Zagat Philly:
Both Nick and Jason popping up on Top Chef.
Holly Moore, industry all-rounder behind HollyEats.com:
Shake Shack surrenders and switches to fresh-cut fries.
Fork etc.'s transformation into High Street on Market brought plenty of surprises along with it. [Photo: Meal Ticket]
Michael Klein, editor/producer/columnist/blogger for Philly.com:
Jose Garces taking over Old Original Bookbinder's.
Arthur Etchells, founder of Foobooz:
Cheu Noodle Bar.
Marcos Espinoza, a.k.a. Fidel Gastro and Top Chef recapper extraordinaire:
I knew Alla Spina would be good, but I had no idea it would be that good.
Caroline Russock, food editor at Philadelphia City Paper:
Honestly, I thought that Serpico was going to cause more of a stir. Aside from a kind of hilariously snarky interview and some positive reviews, all's been mysteriously quiet on the Serpico front.
Kevin McKenzie of Amusing My Bouche:
Diner en blanc, and not just for its secretive nature, but because I am amazed people are willing to pay for tickets on top of paying for pre-arranged picnic baskets (or bringing their own), and packing up their own furniture to trek across the city to a location guarded as well as the nuclear codes, and dine with rules/guidelines. It's an experience, I guess.
Drew Lazor, freelance journalist and columnist for the Philly Daily News:
High Street on Market. I frequented Fork Etc. for years when I worked in Old City so it was just neat to see it rejiggered into something unrecognizable but instantly comfortable. I think the dinner menu there is aces. Such interesting food and really sweet staff.
Kristina Jenkins, editor of Uwishunu:
The bread program coming out of High Street on Market is absolutely amazing, though we should have expected nothing less from chef Eli Kulp and owner Ellen Yin.