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Year In Review: 12 Food Highlights From 2012

What a whirlwind year it's been for Philadelphia's dining scene, with a series of sensational openings, revitalizations, accolades and chef imports. Pictured, clockwise from top left: Fette Sau in Fishtown, Chinatown's Hop Sing Laundromat, the newly expanded Brauhaus Schmitz and the renovated Le Bec-Fin. (Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Danya Henninger courtesy Drink Philly, Robert Neroni courtesy Hop Sing Laundromat, courtesy Brauhaus Schmitz, courtesy Le Bec-Fin)

When it comes to food, Philly’s got it covered. In 2012 we welcomed lots of great new bars and restaurants that have proved to be well worth the anticipation.

Philly restaurants have cleaned up in the awards and accolades department and our favorite chefs have been featured left and right.

But all of that’s not to say that 2013 won’t be just as exciting for the local restaurant scene. Next week, we’ll profile 13 things we’re looking forward to, so stay tuned.

Below, a look back at 12 Philadelphia dining highlights from 2012:

1. Fette Sau: Thanks to a partnership between Stephen Starr and Brooklyn Restaurateur Joe Carroll, Philadelphia gets a taste of NYC’s prized BBQ spot, Fette Sau. Using all local meats and smoking them in house, this place puts up some serious competition for best BBQ in the city. The down-home vibe and extensive bourbon menu add some leverage, too.

2. Charcoal BYOB: The food coming out of the kitchen in this creative BYOB in Yardley, PA is some of the best we had the pleasure to eat this year. From their inventive use of locally sourced ingredients (think parsnip panna cotta) to their refined use of technology (sous vide, liquid nitrogen) – only serves to enhance the food, not make it gimmicky or inaccessible. And, even though the restaurant has been around a few years, in 2012 we think they really hit their stride.

3. Brauhaus Schmitz expands and adds Wursthaus Schmitz in Reading Terminal Market: Nothing wrong with plattering up Parma ham and Spanish lomo, but the latest trend in Philly kitchens is do-it-yourself (DIY) sausages, terrines and pâtés. Meat eaters have already pounced on the German-style Wursthaus Schmitz in the Reading Terminal Market, a spinoff of South Street’s Brauhaus Schmitz, offering the restaurant’s acclaimed homemade sausages, salads, pretzels and sandwiches such as the Bavarian, complete with bauernwurst, horseradish mayo, Bavarian coleslaw and crispy fried onions. The restaurant’s South Street home base also expanded into to accommodate 2,000 additional square feet of space, and 10 more taps.

4. Red Owl Tavern and Stratus Lounge: The opening of Philadelphia’s first new hotel in Old City’s Historic District in years also brought two new bar/restaurants to Independence Mall: Red Owl Tavern, helmed by Chef Guillermo Tellez of Square 1682 fame, and the super chic Stratus Rooftop Lounge.

5. Pizza Brain and Little Baby’s Ice Cream: Fishtown artist Brian Dywer, aka Pizza Brain, joined by a few of his pizza obsessed friends, has amassed a Guinness World Record holding 1,000-piece collection of pizza memorabilia. And you can check it out for yourself at the world’s very first pizza museum, right here in Philadelphia, complete with artisanal pizza restaurant. Right next door is Little Baby’s headquarters, letting Philadelphians enjoy the gourmet, milky goodness of their delicious ice-cream year-round. With crazy good flavors like Earl Grey Sriracha, Chai Coconut, Thai Peanut and even Pizza (paying homage to their pizza museum neighbors at Pizza Brain), this place is a hit for good reason.

6. Federal Donuts opens a second location: Next time you think about “Running on Dunkin,” think again. Philadelphia’s new Federal Donuts now has a downtown location in addition to the Pennsport spot. With cool creations like maple bacon, strawberry fennel, turkish mocha, spicy PB&J and the Korean-style chicken and donuts, these guys are definitely upping the deep-fried ante.

7. Rittenhouse Tavern: Rittenhouse Square’s east stretch along 18th Street is one of the best dining corridors in the city, featuring Parc, Rouge and Devon plus a. kitchen and Serafina right across the street. Joining the cadre this year was the Rittenhouse Tavern, a brand new venture replacing Gardenia inside the Philadelphia Art Alliance featuring a quaint courtyard out back for outside dining sheltered by trees, the perfect compromise for dining on the Square without all the hustle and bustle.

8. Vernick: When a Jean-Georges Vongerichten protégé returns home to his native city after a blistering career in top restaurants around the world, Vernick Food & Drink is born. The new casual bistro from Chef Greg Vernick features urbane-yet-homey offerings like potato ravioli with braised lamb and long beans. It’s received across-the-board flattering reviews. For good reason.

9. Hop Sing Laundromat: The unmarked storefront of Chinatown’s mysterious speakeasy Hop Sing Laundromat belies the liquid delights within, which pay spirited tribute to the storming of Normandy, the first African-American woman doctor and the late author David Foster Wallace, among others.

10. Morgan’s Pier: A beer garden at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge, Morgan’s Pier offers 20 draft beer and easygoing eats like corn-and-blue-crab fritters, blackened tuna burgers and fried-chicken tacos, along with Little Baby’s Ice Cream, Federal Donuts and a packed schedule of live music.

11. Le Bec-Fin: The reinvention of what some have called the country’s best French restaurant was one of the year’s most exciting (and relieving) success stories. The service is still impeccable, the food excellent, the atmosphere elegant — but it’s all just a little bit more accessible.

12. Alla Spina opens: Marc Vetri’s newest restaurant, Alla Spina, opened on North Broad Street and like the rest of his restaurants in the city, it did not disappoint.

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