Anyone familiar with South Philadelphia's Italian Market area of outdoor produce stalls, butchers, bakers, old taprooms and sandwich shops knows that change doesn’t come easily there. The common sights of 20 years ago in the immigrant-driven area – men burning trash in tall metal cans, cheese mongers mongering, chefs and home cooks competing over their tomatoes – are still there. They’re essential, engrained in the neighborhood’s culture and charm. Yet despite an influx of Mexican and Asian business owners throughout the last 15 years, the look and flavors of the Market have only shown minimal changes. Until now, that is – just in time for the Market's Cent'Anni, its 100th anniversary in 2015.
Chef Joncarl Lachman, co-owner of the Nordic-centric BYOB Noord on East Passyunk Avenue, the Italian Market's neighboring dining district, is set to be at the forefront of the Market's new look. On Ninth Street, Lachman and his partner Bob Moysan have opened Restaurant Neuf, a candlelit North African-French bistro that serves everything from spicy goat and a braised lamb shoulder tajine, to swordfish with flageolet beans as well as sumptuous bouillabaisse, along with craft beer and a concentration of Moroccan wines to wash it all down. Given the radiant success that Noord has experienced, the buzz about Neuf promises another hit for Lachman and Moysan.
Another new space around the corner on S. Eighth St. is Coeur, which won't be quite as esoteric, instead focusing on gastropub cuisine inspired by Montreal, Canada, with its meat, fish and vegetarian fare all prepared in a large rotisserie oven. That means rich smoked brisket, chicken with schmaltz and a beer list than any hop snob would love.
Over on S. Sixth St., another new spot, Square Pie, offers handmade, thick crust Brooklyn-style pizzas with an artisanal aesthetic all crafted in a comfortable dining space. This isn't standing-room-only-for-a-slice-style pizza – these are heavy-duty roasted eggplant, capers and olives or cured pork belly, roasted potato, leeks and mozzarella pies.
Along with these brand new restaurants in the Italian Market, several long-term spaces have undergone massive changes. S. Tenth Street's Triangle Tavern – an old school, red-sauce-soaked taproom and neighborhood dining location, now offers vegetarian versions of its beloved meat-based meals such as vegan lasagna and vegan meatballs. Nina's Trattoria on S. Ninth – a longtime BYOB Sicilian restaurant – will open a bar on its premises as well as maintain its late night menu (open ‘til 3 am on weekends!).
Finally, there's the five-year-old Bibou on S. Eighth Street, one of Philly's finest French bistros that not only spruced up the joint with a new design and coats of paint, it brought back its co-owner and world renowned Paris-born chef Pierre Calmels from his other French hot spot in Rittenhouse Square, Le Chéri. "The Italian Market was, and is, crucial to my wife and I," says Calmels of his life and business partner Charlotte who does front-of-house for the couple's restaurants. "It is a comfortable neighborhood and Bibou is my baby." Rather than offer the à la carte dining option that it did in the past, Bibou and Calmels will now present chef’s tasting-only menus at a $100 per person for an opulent seven-course meal whose selection changes every week and at the chef's whim. "But, you can trust me," says Calmels with a laugh.