Chef Marcie Turney and partner Valerie Safran have reconstructed 13th Street in Midtown Village into a veritable restaurant row with a focus on design, seasonal ingredients and passionate hard work. (Photo by Jason Varney for Little Nonna's)
[Philadelphia’s charms as an eating town are increasingly well known, but it’s also a city that harbors a fair number of hidden delights. Visit Philly asked five local food luminaries to share where they like to go on their off-hours, what they snack on late at night, their favorite low-cost meals and why they love to cook and dine in Philly. Here, we share the results.]
Chef Marcie Turney and her partner Valerie Safran have been the pioneering forces behind the transformation of the 13th Street corridor into the vibrant dining and shopping destination we now know as Midtown Village.
With seven businesses and counting, the 13th Street restaurants and shops — Barbuzzo, Lolita, Jamonera, Little Nonna’s, Grocery, Open House, Verde and Marcie Blaine Chocolates — each showcase a stellar eye for design, a passion for seasonal elements and, most importantly for the restaurants, exacting technique in the kitchen.
Whether it’s Mexican, Spanish or old-school Italian-American cuisine, Chef Turney has brought a signature style to bear, and her convivial establishments and sheer dedication to the city have made her one of its most beloved chefs.
What makes Philly a great place to live and work?
In addition to all of the professional opportunities for young chefs in this city, there’s always a new up-and-coming area to explore. This inspires chefs or artisans to think creatively and bring a neighborhood a fresh and exciting concept. Not only that, but our city’s eaters support these small businesses.
Where would you take a visiting chef friend to eat and why?
I would plan a two-part excursion. In the day, we would hit my favorite ethnic street food spots: soup dumplings at Dim Sum Garden, falafel at Bitar’s, pho at Pho 75. At night, we would do a tour of my favorite restaurants and show off Philly’s dining scene: crudo at Vernick, laffa and hummus at Zahav, pasta at Osteria and, if I may, a budino at Barbuzzo.
What are some of your favorite locally made ingredients?
With my latest restaurant, Little Nonna’s, I’ve been finding myself forming new relationships in the Italian Market. My first visit to Fiorella’s Sausage on Christian Street was like stepping back in time. The shop, from the décor right down to the butchering and grinding equipment, is museum-worthy. Dan makes the sausage and his wife, Trish, runs the counter. I even met a loyal customer who has had Fiorella’s Sausage at every holiday dinner for all of her 72 years.
Where do you like to shop for food?
The Reading Terminal Market is my one-stop shopping place in Philadelphia for its mix of local artisans, independent shop owners and some iconic Philly flavors. On a typical visit, I might stop at the Fair Food Farmstand and grab some local veggies, get flowers for the restaurants at Market Blooms, pick up a new cookbook and chat with Jill from The Cook Book Stall, grab a rotisserie chicken from Dienner’s Bar-B-Q and my rainy day soup from Sang Kee (roast pork wonton with noodles).
What’s your best-kept local food secret?
Right now it’s fingerling sweet potatoes — so much so that I had to add them to all of my restaurant menus. We get a mix from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative of Sweet Beauregard, Garnet, White Hamon and Jewel fingerlings. We salt-roast them, smash them and fry them until crispy with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. They’re addictive!