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Philly's Best Pho Isn't on Washington Avenue — Or in Fishtown

Adam Erace finds a surprising favorite at La Peg, LaBan goes on a rating spree, and Brian Freedman considers a Top Chef alum's burgers.

La Peg at FringeArts
La Peg at FringeArts
Groundswell Design Group

The boldest statement from this week's City Paper review of Peter Woolsey's La Peg isn't actually in the review. Critic Adam Erace gave the brasserie a shot this week, seemed pretty happy with it despite a few misses, and said the beef pho consomme — "like a reduction of pho" — was his "favorite thing on the whole damn menu." OK, so he liked it. But lo, what's this?

That's no joke.

All in all, Erace was stunned by the space, and found plenty of hits among both the traditional French and non-traditional dishes on offer, though perhaps the use of sriracha throughout the menu approaches gimmick-y levels. And then there was this:

Tea-cured trout was perfectly cooked, but beached on inelegant crushed potatoes surrounded by an oily pond of brewed tea, Chartreuse and olive oil.

Luckily, the apple tart was perfection, and one oily pond of anything was apparently not enough to wreck Erace's mood.

Such non-pho successes make me wonder if the subtle art of soup was, in fact, the best use of Akin's obvious talents and limited space.

Meanwhile, according to Inky critic Craig LaBan, beef pho is not the star at Stock, Fishtown's stylish new pho shop from Zahav alums Tyler Akin and Nicole Reigle. He made it one of two (formal) review stops this week — he also managed to sneak in an informal, but still "official," rating adjustment of Osteria Jersey — and while he was happy with his experiences there, he was surprised to find some meatless dishes (mushroom pho, tofu banh mi) to be the best of the pack. Top scores also went to the raw cobia and the green papaya salad.

Two bells and plenty of praise is a good showing for the casual, miniscule shop — and truth be told, LaBan even seems fairly happy with the beef pho. High-quality ingredients go into a soup that's "meticulously built," with "more depth and beefy integrity" than other pho shops around town. So what's the problem?

There's also something missing - a native edge to the seasoning - that prevents it from redefining beef pho in the way it could.

An interesting point, though likely the kind of critic quibble that will feel less important to many patrons, especially to those who live and work in the neighborhood. His overall assessment yields a sort of optimistic criticism — namely, that Akin likely has large reserves of potential not yet tapped by the new venture.

(One note: LaBan cites "daily banh mi," but in the time following his review visits, the restaurant has announced it will revert to serving banh mi only on weekends with the changing season.)

The signature dish at his second stop of the week, Zahav owners' Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook's Dizengoff, has already been perfected. "Perfect hummus," after all, "is the soul of their four-bell Israeli explorations at Zahav."

This isn't hummus as most people know it. This is, as Ralph Kramden might say, "hummina hummina hummina" hummus.

And transplanted to a new, totally casual setting, with a singular focus and constant topping innovation from chef Emily Seaman, that hummus shines brightly enough to warrant an impressive three-bell rating. While the long lines and small dining room can present an inconvenience, LaBan declares his review meals "were among the most obsession-worthy $10 meals" he's had.

Another casual, lunch-friendly option was up for consideration this week from Philadelphia Weekly's Brian Freedman. He hit Good Stuff Eatery, the new fast-casual burger spot from Top Chef star Spike Mendelsohn, and found it pleasing enough. While much of Freedman's most obvious enthusiasm was for the 1980s throwback soundtrack, he found that the restaurant's "pedigreed ingredients are used to accomplish laudable, if not life-changing, ends."

Chef Spike may not have perfected the art of fries just yet, but elevates the selfie to the sublime. [Photo: GSE/Facebook]

Freedman nods to three order-worthy sandwiches, with a few minor seasoning issues here and there, but finds problems with the fluidity of both the milkshakes (too thick) and the counter service (confusing). And, like so many other quick-service burger chains, Good Stuff stumbled in one crucial aspect:

Handcut fries, however, could use some work: Mine were too limp, and the application of rosemary, thyme and salt on the Village preparation is too aggressive. The first few bites are excellent, but after that, it all grows a bit overwhelming.
[Ed. note: When we tried this place early on, eat-in orders were somewhat counterintuitively placed in folded-shut bags on trays, steaming the fries pretty unforgivably even on the short trip upstairs.]

Is this a "healthier option," as Freedman claims in his conclusion? Depends on what it's being compared to, we suppose. Is it exciting? Freedman does not seem to think so. Is it another burger place that you could conceivably eat at? Definitively so.