The City of Brotherly Love has all the variety and talented bigwigs that Manhattan boasts, but with all the heart you’d expect from charming small towns. “Planning meetings and events in Philly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor,” says Julie Coker Graham, executive vice president at Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
An incubator for local culinary talent, Philly is home to many chefs and restaurateurs who’ve turned their skills into restaurant empires. Case in point: CookNSolo Restaurants, the joint venture of Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov that includes Zahav (which has two private dining rooms), Percy Street Barbecue (you can rent private dining space with delicious group menus here), Dizengoff, Abe Fisher and the legendary Federal Donuts, a fried chicken and doughnut shop. Or Jose Garces, whose Spanish tapas favorite Amada was only the start of his cache of award-winning restaurants, including Distrito, Tinto, Garces Trading Company, Village Whiskey, Rosa Blanca, JG Domestic and Volver, “just one of the places planners have recently raved about,” says Coker Graham. Meanwhile, power couple Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney worked for nearly a decade to transform the once-desolate neighborhood of 13th Street into what is now thriving, trendy Midtown Village with seven of their restaurants and shops, including a Spanish tapas bar (Barbuzzo), chocolatier (Marcie Blaine) and cozy Italian eatery (Little Nonna’s).
The food culture doesn’t stop with restaurants. Planners can help guests expand their own cooking repertoire by booking a private cooking class at Cook, a 16-seat demo kitchen-and-classroom concept, which also has a bookstore, pantry and cookware boutique. Caffeine addicts can flock to La Colombe’s massive Fishtown location for coffee tastings, while supporters of sustainable farming can take butchery classes at Kensington Quarters.
One of the most unique and appealing aspects of Philly’s culinary scene is the BYOB phenomenon, whereby more than 200 restaurants in town allow guests to bring their own wine or beer, a truly cost-effective way for groups to dine out.
> Gruyere popover foie gras soup at Sbraga
> Pannocchia (truffled corn and scallion) pizza at Osteria
> Salted caramel budino with dark chocolate crust, vanilla bean caramel and sea salt at Barbuzzo