REVIEWS

October 15, 2007
Top Cheeses

 Harvest Festival at Reading Terminal Top 5:

Whatta Pair
by Amy Strauss
1 Artisanal Cheese Plate, Mercato
| 2 Strawberry Vinaigrette
 and Gorgonzola Signature Salad Meridith's
| 3 La Panoplie
La CrÒªperie CafÒ©
|4 Pork Tenderloin with Granny
 Smith Apple Stuffing The Hilton Inn at Penn
5 Insalata Spinaci with Gorgonzola Ernesto's 1521 CafÒ©
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July 13, 2007
Style in Philly

 

Bachelorette Bootcamp

by Erin Squitieri

Men are notorious for not being able to take a hint. You've done everything except get down on one knee and still, nothing! Although asking a guy out is about as easy as perfecting second day hair on the first day, let's be honest: what girl has the time to wait around for Mr. Right to get a clue? Besides, you are fabulous. Any man would be lucky to have you make the first move, but if you're not quite sure how to get there, then pay attention because we're going back to school!

For starters, make sure the man you've been batting your eyelashes at is available. If he's married, engaged or dating exclusively, consider him off limits. This will not only save you countless hours of melodrama, but it will also score you major points in the karma department.

The 'accidental' meeting is something most girls should be familiar with. It's all about being in the right place at the right time. Try hitting a bar you know is your crush's favorite. When all is said and done, asking someone out in person is ideal.

Don’t conjure up unattainable scenarios in your head. Woman have a stubborn way of doing this (guilty) and ultimately becoming disappointed when things don't go exactly as planned. Be realistic, you're not going to tell him how you feel and then ride off into the sunset, but if you’re confident and cool you at least might be able to score dinner at Mercato.

Remember, you have nothing to be nervous about. Guys typically love being asked out, because newsflash: they're usually the ones doing all the work. So man up Missy and give the guys a break. It's only fair!
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June 13, 2007
Passport Concierge

by: Jim Gladstone

 
Mercato (1216 Spruce St. Tel: 215-985-BYOB. www.mercatobyob.com) is great in the warm weather.  They have huge windows that swing open and make the whole dining room feel like it's part of the lively Pine Street scene.  There are sidewalk tables as well, and a fun, fresh menu with terrific cheese plates, olive oil samplings, and more substantial fare, too.  Plus, it's right on the edge of the gayborhood.
 
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June 13, 2007
Philadelphia Magazine

Do You Have Reservations?

Why getting a table in this town is harder than ever

By April White

IT USED TO BE THAT RESTAURANTS either took reservations, or they didn’t. There was either a table available, or there wasn’t — unless you were Someone, of course...
...This increase in diner absenteeism is partly responsible for the sudden attention to reservation policies, but restaurants in our ever-more-crowded dining scene also view these sometimes-quirky reservation policies as a way to define themselves. At BYOB Mercato, which accepts reservations only for the early-bird pre-theater crowd, the vibe is “neighborhood.” “Our reservation policy promotes a more social atmosphere. Waiting for the tables to turn promotes conversation between diners,” says Danielle Powell, the restaurant’s promotions director. (Plus — business again — the restaurant can turn the tables more often, seating a second party as soon as the first has finished.)
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June 13, 2007
All Over The Map

    US Airways Magazine
    Self- Service
 
    Chef R. Evan Turney infuses the slow cooking
of old-world Italy with a bold new Italian American
cuisine at this airy, cash only BYOB, where large
floor to wall ceiling windows open to a lively street scene.
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June 13, 2007
Southphillyreview.com

Restaurant Review

by: Phyllis Stein-Novack
 
There appears to be a "recipe" for new BYOBs, which have been multiplying like rabbits in the past few years. Keep the dining space small - no more than about 40 seats - and the decor to an Ikea-like minimum. Add a fresh coat of paint, soft inexpensive lighting, a small menu, preferably Italian, and a friendly, competent staff and you may have a successful establishment.

Mercato, which bears a strong resemblance to the popular Melagrano just 10 blocks away, opened three weeks ago. The space, located at 1216 Spruce St., once housed a grocery store, hence the name Mercato, which means "market" in Italian.

Edward and I arrived on a weeknight and were fortunate to get the next-to-last table. It appears Mercato is serving the neighborhood around 12th and Spruce very well. It shares the block with Vetri and Valanni, which is owned by George and Valerie Anni, who also own Mercato. The couple asked executive chef R. Evan Turney to walk across the street and open their new place. I always enjoyed Turney's cuisine at Valanni and looked forward to an enjoyable evening.

Turney has put together a modern, Italian-inspired bill of fare with a few evening specials. The wait staff is courteous and professional, watching the tables, changing the silverware for each course and filling the water glasses. We munched on top-quality pitted olives, and extra-virgin olive oil was tasty with warm crusty rolls.

We were seated near the gleaming, stainless-steel open kitchen and enjoyed the view as Turney and his two sous chefs prepared dinner. A sushi bar-like table, which seats four, is in front of the open kitchen.

We began dinner with Tuscan bean salad ($7) and market salad ($7). Most chefs use small white Northern beans in these salads, but Turney used the larger butter beans. The Tuscan bean salad included pine nuts, slices of crisp radishes, bits of roasted baby red and yellow beets and mixed greens dressed in a light vinaigrette prepared with Chianti vinegar.

The market salad imparted a deeper flavor than the bean salad due to the wonderfully rich contrasts of tastes and textures. Turney used sliced, ripe Bosc pears, pan-crisped bits of proscuitto di Parma, spicy hazelnuts, sweet slices of small figs and a scattering of imported Gorgonzola. The salad was topped with a hazelnut vinaigrette, which I especially liked. Hazelnut oil imparts a heady aroma and flavor.

Edward and I selected orecchiette ($16) and grilled pork chop ($18) for our entrées. Orecchiette, which means "little ears" in Italian, has become a popular pasta within the past 10 years. Turney turned his attention to a classic preparation, but added an inspiring ingredient - tiny, heavenly meatballs. He prepared a fresh, tasty red gravy, which brought out the deep flavors of Italian sweet sausage and broccoli rabe. The pasta was not oversauced and the gravy was properly reduced, not a bit watery.

Pork is one item that must not be overcooked. Turney grilled an 8-ounce loin pork chop to pink perfection. It was tender, it was juicy and was one of the best restaurant pork dishes I've had in recent memory. The chop was topped with natural pan juices and some white wine. It was seasoned just right. My dinner included a toothsome risotto laced with fresh lemon juice and topped with snipped chives.

Desserts ($7) were not a disappointment. Pistachio gelato is one of my favorites. (More and more restaurants are serving this marvelous Italian ice cream instead of its American cousin.) I tucked into three good-sized scoops at Mercato.

Mascarpone cheesecake was another winner. Edward received an individual round cake, at least 3 inches in diameter, prepared with one of our favorite Italian dessert cheeses. We both liked the crispy graham-cracker cookie crust.

Although the restaurant was filled to capacity, service was first rate. There was never a long wait between courses. The acoustics were fine; I could easily eavesdrop on the conversation going on between two young men seated next to us.

Mercato was filled with what my mother would call "nicely dressed" young professionals. Other patrons brought wine and appeared to be enjoying their dinner, just as we did.

There is one drawback, however. It is almost impossible to find a parking spot in the neighborhood. Edward drove around for almost a half-hour before he found a spot at Fourth and Bainbridge. We should have walked or taken the bus. Still, we enjoyed strolling to the car on a perfect spring evening.

Three tips of the toque to Mercato.

Mercato
1216 Spruce St.
215-985-BYOB
Cash only
Not wheelchair-accessible
Open for dinner seven days

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May 15, 2007
City Paper Mercato Review

 

Mercato

New Italian cuisine with an inventive flair.

Published: May 30, 2007

 

 

1216 Spruce St., 215-985-2962

Few places capture the essence of Philly's BYOB culture quite like Mercato, with its cozy atmosphere and casual vibe. Executive Chef Evan Turney and chef de cuisine Mackenzie Hilton focus on market-fresh ingredients to present New Italian cuisine with inventive flair.


Chianti is one of the most versatile food pairing partners, but its soul mate is tomato- and meat-based pasta like Mercato's rich ricotta gnocchi in a short rib ragu. Chianti's racy acidity complements the tomato-based ragu, and it has just the right amount of tannins to stand up to the delicately tender short rib.

The Da Vinci Chianti D.O.C.G. 2005 (PLCB No. 9380, $11.99) works well here, but the smoother, more nuanced Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio D.O.C.G. 2                                                                                   (PLCB No. 6319, $17.99) is a superior choice, since its fuller body                                                                      better matches the weight of the dish.

The intensely flavorful braised Jamison Farm lamb shank (pictured) that Mercato recently added  to the menu, however, demands a wine with more muscle.  The Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon  Wetzel Family Estate 2004 (PLCB Code No. 11763, $21.99)   fits the bill: This wine's tannins are firm enough to counterbalance  both the succulent, organic lamb and the tangy bed of watercress on which it sits. The wine's bell pepper and floral notes also spotlight the fresh herbaceous jus and the zesty gremolata accenting this addictive entrée.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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April 14, 2007
Seasons Change

Going Out- Metro

 
If dinner with the fam has left you less than satisfied hit up this "Gayborhood" BYOB that wins accolades from critics and lay-foodies alike.  Chef Evan Turney deftly delivers a blend of old-world Italian favorites with contemporary takes on classics such as Diver Scallops over mushroom and English pea risotto.  Grab a bottle of Chianti or Pinot Noir at the state star at 13th & Chestnut and dig street-side at this welcoming winner.
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March 08, 2007
For Wine Buffs, Philadelphia is the Place to BYOBe

Chestnut Hill Local 

 
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
 
Stephanie Smedley serves up goodies at
Mercato, a BYOB at 1216 Spruce St.,
prepared by chef Evan Turney.
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February 26, 2007
Mercato- O'Yelp. Real People. Real Reviews.

I find this to be one of the best places to eat a good Italian Center City dinner in the summer. Mercato opens up all their window-doors, and the noise of conversations, cooking, and the smell of good food hits the street.

The menu changes often, and they have original food for hearty and light pallettes, and some great bread to munch on with your salad. The chefs prepare things that are unique, you'll wish they'd have again when you return, but you'll be glad they're forcing you to try something else (if that makes sense).

It's a nice BYOB, and despite the fact that you're a few blocks removed from the bustle, you feel like you're in another city, or having one of those contemporary Italian dinners they have in the movies (not the stereotypical Soprano's crap).

I love the exterior too, with the former grocery logo/ads on the side too. Well done.

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February 25, 2007
Mercato- Phillymag.com

The Overview
 
Noisy, cramped and cash-only, this imperfect yet irresistible Italian/New American BYOB owned by George Anni and chef R. Evan Turney feels like a natural extension of its diverse east-of-Broad neighborhood. Mercato is stylish rather than fancy and its oversized portions assure that no one goes home hungry. In the tiny open kitchen, Turney and chef de cuisine Mackenzie Hilton turn out perfect seared scallops with truffle-oil-scented English pea risotto, as well as orecchiette pasta with old-fashioned meatballs, mild Italian sausage and red gravy that simmers for half a day with a heap of roasted pork bones.
 
Insider Tip
Come early. There’s a no-reservation policy at this popular spot.
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February 17, 2007
Highly Impressive

Last week I was in town on business. (I live in Manhattan and often travel to  Philadelphia for work.) I decided to meet up with some friends for dinner here before  heading back, and they suggested Mercato. I had not yet heard about the restaurant, but  they assured me a great dining experience.They were right! It's not fancy, or pretentious. It is a little tight, but as we settled into our seats  I slowly became used to the space. I have to say that whether it be in New York  or Philadelphia, the attention to detail in this restaurant is what really blew me away. They have a lovely olive oil list, which  one can taste and even purchase different bottles of oil that I have yet to see available elsewhere. The cheese plate, which featured "cheeses of North America," was beautifully, yet simply presented, paired rather well with apples, honeys, pears and cherries. The antipasto was overflowing with vegetables, meats, olives and crostini. I chose for my entree an addition to the menu for the evening of sablefish with parsnip puree and sautéed escarole with a crab salad and light vanilla bean sauce. My companions had the risotto, which sparkled with cranberries and was drizzled with truffle oil, and the boar ragu...which as far as boar ragu and pappardelle go,  was as fine as I've tasted.

The overindulgence left me exhausted and without room for dessert,  but I definitely have something to look forward to the next time I come to Philadelphia. Absolutely one of my new favorites in any city.
  • Pros: food, olive oil list, cheese menu, service
  • Cons: tight space
  • Overall user rating: Highly Recommended
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February 14, 2007
More Cheese, Please

From the Inside Out

UWISHUNU- Philly
 
If cheese is heaven (and I think it is), then I have found my heaven right here in Philadelphia.  The artisanal cheese plate at Mercato BYOB is out of this world, with pitch-perfect pairings.  Buttery Camembert with chestnut honey (including pieces of crunchy honeycomb)?  Delish.  The bold flavor of grape leaf-wrapped Rogue Rive Blue set off by tangy granny smith apple?  Perfection.  And the Hoja Santa goat cheese paired with truffle honey made me run right over to DiBruno Bros to pick out my own truffle-laced queso.  The cheese menu even suggests ideal beverages to enhance the cheese.  Darling Chef Evan Turney is a cheese genius... not to mention a fantastic chef.
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January 16, 2007
Mercato- City's Best

If you take over a former corner market, get your menu ideas from what's currently freshest at market and you wrap your napkins in those adorable hand-stamped brown grocery bags from the market, what else could you name your new boite but Mercato (Italian for "market")? This BYOB, brought to you by the owners of neighborhood favorite Valanni, serves seasonal fare with a decidedly Italian twist from its tiny open kitchen.

The menu changes frequently, but expect to see dazzlingly fresh salads, daily pasta specials heaped with seafood and entrees like a black bass served with morels and marinated artichokes, or whole grilled red snapper. Carnivores fear not, meat makes an appearance as well, in the form of tender braised short ribs and herb-roasted chicken. The tiny room, with creamy butter yellow walls, tin ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows is simple and inviting, though charming enough to impress a date. -- Kirsten Henri 

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December 28, 2006
The Italian Renaissance - Philly Style

Having dinner at Mercato is a little like traveling abroad: it takes planning and a few minor frustartions may occur, but in the end you come away with memories worht bragging about.  The dining room is small-47 tightly packed seats-and reservations are only taken between 5 and 6:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday.  There's no waiting room or even a little vestibule where wannabe diners can wait for a table to clear.  So you are confronted with a decision: hover over already seated tables or stand outside and risk having the hostess skip you.

It helps that Mercato is pretty buddy-buddy with its sister restaurant, Valanni-mercifully equipped with a bar-where patrons can wait to be phoned during weekend nights when the delay can reach two hours.  Once you've gotten your elusive table, you may find yourself unable to hear your dining companion.  The room has a din that softly mutes the tones of normal conversation.  So it isn't romantic.  It isn't for a special occasion, and it isn't a good place to bring your mom and dad (unless you want to snag that 5:30 reservation).  But as soon as you survey the menu, you'll be glad you waited your turn.
Chef R. Evan Turney takes inspiration from the flavors and techniques of Italian cuisine but brings dishes up to date with a modern twist.  A runaway favorite appetizer-roasted portabella and arugula salad- is enveloped in puff pastry and topped with pecorino cheese.  One of Turney's more whimsical creations dishes up pyramid-shaped pasta with shrimp, lobster, and Parmesean brown butter.  The menu changes weekly, even daily at times, depending on the season and what's appealing at the market on any given day.
What you can always expect is a selection of fine olive oils from Italy, Greece, and Chile served in mini martini glasses.  The available elixirs are described on the menu with a sommelier's vocabulary: peppery, fruity, like leather.
Familiar dishes-like a melange of clams, mussles, and sausage, and tomato sauce-also make appearances here, though they taste somewhat clearer than the old standbys.  Their flavors are turned into a new frequency.  And it's not like what grandmom used to make.  It's much better.
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November 09, 2006
Mercato- aroundphilly.com


By: Brian Freedman
 
Description: There's actually an olive oil list, and each one is described in terms that will seem awfully familiar to anyone who has ever read a wine review. That's the kind of attention Mercato pays to detail, and it's what sets this place apart from its competition. It seems as if everything this city's dining culture has been doing for the past 10 years has reached its apex here. It's low-key yet sophisticated. Service is friendly and knowledgeable but unobtrusive. And the food is impeccably prepared every time. Braised short ribs with red wine and porcini mushrooms are rich and deeply flavored but not overwhelming. This often homely cut of meat is prepared with more elegance here than most other restaurant kitchens dream of. And the salad of crabmeat, cucumber, mint, dill and grapefruit arrives at the table resembling some sort of deconstructed crab cake, but a hundred times lighter and more flavorful than you might expect. Whether you dine inside or at one of the tables on the sidewalk, you're in for a treat. We're lucky to have this restaurant.
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October 14, 2006
Zagat Survey 2007

Find yourself "elbow-to-elbow" with your neighbor at this "hip", cash-only BYO, a "great addition" to Center City dining that's earning accolades with R. Evan Turney's "fresh, creative" spins on Italian-American cuisine; overall, this "new kid on the block" is a keeper; N.B. they take reservations Sundays - Fridays from 5 -6:30pm.

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September 07, 2006
Philadelphia Daily News

LIttle Kitchen, Big Ideas

By Richard Pawlak
 
Executive Chef Todd Lean carefully turns veal bones on a tray and returns them to the oven for further roasting. Soon they will become the base for a rich veal stock, to be used in various dishes at his Old City BYOB, Mandoline.
Lean and sous chef Jessica Dicken are int he middle of more than six hous of daily prep work before the 35-seater opens at 5 p.m. Both chefs are calmly focused on their tasks, chopping, stirring, tasting. A lot of work is still to be done.
And at Mandoline, there's no room for error or distraction.
Its open kitchen is small. Very small.
At just slightly more than 70 square feet, it is a picture of precision and organization. No space is wasted. It has no glitz, no fancy equipment, and no exotic appliances. It is smaller than most home kitchens.
And Lean prefers it that way.
"I wanted Mandoline to have an intimate feel, a cozy comfort," said Lean, "and the kitchen is part of that. I wanted our guests to feel at home, as if they were dining in my home. I can talk with them while I cook and it's much more personal."
Lean is one of several young, rising-star chefs whose tiny restaurant kitchens would surprise even the most casual of observers. With just one other chef to assist him, he fashions 80 dinners a night, on average, creating everything from goat-cheese pistachio cake to hanger steak with heirloom tomato/cippolini onion/asparagus salad, to his signature lobster-truffle macaroni and cheese.
R. Evan Turney takes a more Zenlike approach with the compact, open kitchen he helped design for the intimate Center CIty BYOB Mercato, where he serves as Executive Chef.
"First, it help[s me focus on every detail of every dish," he said, " and I can see every dish go out. But it also creates this chemistry int he kitchen, where everyone knows when to move and where to move. I can't explain it, but when you're really busy, it's great to be in the groove. And when there's a lull, the three of us that work int he kitchen every night can talk about the dishes and brainstorm ideas. It builds closeness between us and we all learn a lot quicker.
"On top of that, I can interact with the customers," he added. "They often come right up and give me their opinion about this dish or that, and I can just as easily start talking with a customer while I'm cooking, and I really like that."
Turney and a staff of threer bob and weave effortlessly on barely 30 square feet of floor space in an 80-square foot kitchen, turning out up to 120 dinners on the busiest nights, from a frequently changing menu of rustic Mediterranean antipasti, pasta, and risottos, and up to 10 entrees every night.
"Everything's right there," said Turnet. "All the ingredients are very organized; they have to be organized or there's no way the kitchen can run." Turney, like Lean, estimates that he and his staff spend five to eight hours a day prepping to ensure that their tiny, open kitchen stays organized.
Chef Larry Melissen of McMenamin's Tavern in Mount Airy follows a similar routine.
"Five to eight hours every day, I'm making all the soups, all the stews and chili, first thing every morning," said Melissan, "and I've got just six burners [ont he stove], so that's the first thing I have to do before anything else.
"But I also know my product," he said, " so I know how long my stews, my red gravy and such, will last before I have to make another batch. And I have great purveryors! I can order fish every day from a great fishmonger -- Groban's -- and that way I don't have to stock that much to save what little storage space I have. But prepping is the most importatnt thing I do every morning."
It has to be. At a little less than 70 square feet, his work space is smaller than either Mandoline's or Mercato's. And Melissen squeezes himself and three cooks into that space every day.
"First rule in my kitchen is that everybody has to lose weight!" Melissen said. (Melissen himself has dropped 50 pounds in the last year, for practical and medical reasons.)
Melissen's cooking situation also differs greatly from the dinner-only hours of Mandoline and Mercato. Helming the kitchen at McMenamin's for the past eight years, he and owner P.J. McMenamin have taken the nationally known, cult-favorite beer bar from a menu of roast beef and ham sandwiches and Irish stew to a full-service restaurant that serves lunch and dinner, serving everything from handmade burgers, hot wings, and salads to escargots in puff pastry, shrimp and crab manacotti, filet mignon served on a nest of fried leeks to apple tarte tatin.
McMenamin's culinary split personality would seem to be enough of a challenge until Melissen rattles off some numbers. "We do from 220 to 240 dinners on a busy Friday or Saturday night," he said proudly. "So the four of us have to learn how to dance, how to do our ballet."
Unlike his counterparts Lean and Turney, Melissen has worked in large, industrial kitchens, both as a pastry chef and line cook, and prefers the cozy confines of the McMenamin's kitchen.
"It takes 4 1/2 to six hours to clean a big commercial kitchen at the ned of the night," said Melissen. "We can clean up here in less than two hours."
But his preference, like his surprisingly delicate cooking, is more personal.
"I'm from a family of 16," said Melissen. "And growing up, I watched my mom make meals every day for 16 people. I learned everything from her."
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August 02, 2006
Philadelphia Magazine~Best of Philly 2006

Best New BYOB

Finally, a neighborhood restaurant that takes both those words seriously. Mercato, with its open kitchen and open windows, is a jovial gathering spot. (Look for people-watchers who lounge on their stoop across the street, waving at dining friends.) But even better, the Italian-ish BYOB under the direction of chef R. Evan Turney is an accomplished restaurant, with substantial portions of chianti-glazed striped bass and red wine/rosemary braised short ribs and undeniably delicious house-made pastas.
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June 09, 2006
Mercato - Southphillyreview

 by: Phyllis Stein-Novack

 
There appears to be a "recipe" for new BYOBs, which have been multiplying like rabbits in the past few years. Keep the dining space small - no more than about 40 seats - and the decor to an Ikea-like minimum. Add a fresh coat of paint, soft inexpensive lighting, a small menu, preferably Italian, and a friendly, competent staff and you may have a successful establishment.

Mercato, which bears a strong resemblance to the popular Melagrano just 10 blocks away, opened three weeks ago. The space, located at 1216 Spruce St., once housed a grocery store, hence the name Mercato, which means "market" in Italian.

Edward and I arrived on a weeknight and were fortunate to get the next-to-last table. It appears Mercato is serving the neighborhood around 12th and Spruce very well. It shares the block with Vetri and Valanni, which is owned by George and Valerie Anni, who also own Mercato. The couple asked executive chef R. Evan Turney to walk across the street and open their new place. I always enjoyed Turney's cuisine at Valanni and looked forward to an enjoyable evening.

Turney has put together a modern, Italian-inspired bill of fare with a few evening specials. The wait staff is courteous and professional, watching the tables, changing the silverware for each course and filling the water glasses. We munched on top-quality pitted olives, and extra-virgin olive oil was tasty with warm crusty rolls.

We were seated near the gleaming, stainless-steel open kitchen and enjoyed the view as Turney and his two sous chefs prepared dinner. A sushi bar-like table, which seats four, is in front of the open kitchen.

We began dinner with Tuscan bean salad ($7) and market salad ($7). Most chefs use small white Northern beans in these salads, but Turney used the larger butter beans. The Tuscan bean salad included pine nuts, slices of crisp radishes, bits of roasted baby red and yellow beets and mixed greens dressed in a light vinaigrette prepared with Chianti vinegar.

The market salad imparted a deeper flavor than the bean salad due to the wonderfully rich contrasts of tastes and textures. Turney used sliced, ripe Bosc pears, pan-crisped bits of proscuitto di Parma, spicy hazelnuts, sweet slices of small figs and a scattering of imported Gorgonzola. The salad was topped with a hazelnut vinaigrette, which I especially liked. Hazelnut oil imparts a heady aroma and flavor.

Edward and I selected orecchiette ($16) and grilled pork chop ($18) for our entrées. Orecchiette, which means "little ears" in Italian, has become a popular pasta within the past 10 years. Turney turned his attention to a classic preparation, but added an inspiring ingredient - tiny, heavenly meatballs. He prepared a fresh, tasty red gravy, which brought out the deep flavors of Italian sweet sausage and broccoli rabe. The pasta was not oversauced and the gravy was properly reduced, not a bit watery.

Pork is one item that must not be overcooked. Turney grilled an 8-ounce loin pork chop to pink perfection. It was tender, it was juicy and was one of the best restaurant pork dishes I've had in recent memory. The chop was topped with natural pan juices and some white wine. It was seasoned just right. My dinner included a toothsome risotto laced with fresh lemon juice and topped with snipped chives.

Desserts ($7) were not a disappointment. Pistachio gelato is one of my favorites. (More and more restaurants are serving this marvelous Italian ice cream instead of its American cousin.) I tucked into three good-sized scoops at Mercato.

Mascarpone cheesecake was another winner. Edward received an individual round cake, at least 3 inches in diameter, prepared with one of our favorite Italian dessert cheeses. We both liked the crispy graham-cracker cookie crust.

Although the restaurant was filled to capacity, service was first rate. There was never a long wait between courses. The acoustics were fine; I could easily eavesdrop on the conversation going on between two young men seated next to us.

Mercato was filled with what my mother would call "nicely dressed" young professionals. Other patrons brought wine and appeared to be enjoying their dinner, just as we did.

There is one drawback, however. It is almost impossible to find a parking spot in the neighborhood. Edward drove around for almost a half-hour before he found a spot at Fourth and Bainbridge. We should have walked or taken the bus. Still, we enjoyed strolling to the car on a perfect spring evening.

Three tips of the toque to Mercato.

 

Mercato
1216 Spruce St.
215-985-BYOB
Cash only
Not wheelchair-accessible
Open for dinner seven days

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April 15, 2006
GOING OUT

SEASONS CHANGE

Whether Christian, Jew or Wiccan -
it's time to get outside
metro WEEKEND, APRIL 14-16, 2006
 
ROUND-UP  
In the midst of Passover and with Easter
just moments away, we're right there with you:
We're sick of our family too.  When you finally
break away this weekend, why not take advantage
of climate shifts and enjoy dining or drinking outdoors? 
Now wipe that melted milk-chocolate bunny
off your face and get out there.
MERCATO RESTAURANT
1216 Spruce St., 215-985-2962;
If dinner with the fam has left you less than
satisfied, hit up this "Gayborhood" BYOB that wins
accolades from critics and lay-foodies alike. 
Chef Evan Turney deftly delivers a blend of
old-world Italian favorites with contemporary
takes on classics such as Diver Scallops over
mushroom and English pea risotto.  Grab a bottle
of Chianti or Pinot Noir at the state store at
13th & Chestnut and dig street-side at this welcoming winner. 
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March 29, 2006
Eating Good in The Gayborhood

Irresistible BYOB Mercato is the anti-Applebee’s On the way to dinner at Mercato, I pass the spot on 15th Street where the red neon lobster of Bookbinder’s Seafood House glows no more, replaced by the red neon apple of Applebee’s. I cringe every time a faceless, place-less chain  restaurant scores another storefront in Center City,    and I’d rather be sobbing into my Ortlieb’s  right now if not for a recent bumper crop of snuff little homegrown joints like Mercato.  Noisy,cramped and cash-only, this imperfect yet irresistible  Italian/New American BYOB owned by George Anni and chef Evan Turney feels like a natural extension of its diverse east-of-Broad neighborhood.  Peek through the wide front window any night, and you might see eight gay men celebrating a birthday, or two medicalstudents on a date, or an infant snoozing through the din as his parents nurse their last wine.  Though two small chandeliers dangle from the stamped-tin ceiling, Mercato is stylish rather than fancy, and its oversize portions assure that no one goes hungry.Working in a tiny open kitchen, Turney and  sous-chef Mackenzie Hilton turn out perfect  seared sea scallops with truffle-oil-scented English  pea risotto, as well as orecchiette pasta with  old-fashioned meatballs, mild Italian sausage, and red gravy that simmers for half a day with   a head of roasted pork bones.  I could make a meal out of the bountiful antipasto that adds baby   artichokes, roasted portabellao mushrooms,  chickpea-carrot salad and pan-crisped polenta to the expected assortment of cured meats and cheeses.  But watch out: A few dishes are too rich, such as the   lobster and shrimp pasta pyramids finished with brown butter.  And on very busy nights, items that require a  watchful eye, such as the easy-to-burn puff pastry,   can suffer.  Mascarpone cheesecake, a delightful cookie plate for two, and gelati from similarly homegrown Capogiro are the starts of the dessert menu. 

-Maria Gallagher
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December 29, 2005
STATE OF THE PLATE

What and where we ate in 2005.

by Elisa Ludwig

The greatest moment in local eating last year was technically not a restaurant opening, but the debut of DiBruno Bros.' enormous gourmet food emporium on Chestnut Street. The shiny new store signaled all that was changing in our city: It was getting more global, more posh and possibly more pungent by the day. Double-digit bottles of olive oil did nothing to deter the masses. The appeal of a panini was universal. And even if we could only afford to browse, we embraced the DiBruno Bros.' expansion because it represented our own expansion. The sheer variety is awesome to behold.

This was the year that the quality of local eating became an assumption rather than a surprise. Chefs no longer had to turn cartwheels or form towering structures out of innards to make us feel sophisticated, and it was a relief. Mostly this was because our dining scene has consistently improved every year, growing bigger and better in tandem with a reportedly growing downtown population. Unlike our sports teams, it has become something we know we can depend on. A little national media recognition didn't hurt, either, as we sensed the outward perceptions of Philly were changing.

The character of 2005's restaurants was changing, too. While the city got a fair share of new BYOs, most notably in the liquor-licensed hub of Old City (Mandoline, Bistro 7), the little boutique eatery that has distinguished Philadelphia dining for the last decade was no longer the big story. If anything, the year seemed to mark a transition for the old-guard BYOs. Early innovator Django changed hands. Gayle replaced Azafran. Even the more recently opened BYO Marigold installed a new chef and Out of the Blue took over where Salt left off. Fresh Italian newcomer Mercato, meanwhile, took the formula and made it even better.

 

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December 29, 2005
A PERFECT TEN

Recalling borschts, burgers and rabbit stew,

our foodie picks her favorite places to eat in '05.
 



And now: the year in review. To those of you paying attention last year, this is more of the same. To the uninitiated in  this lazy rite of one year's passage: This is a list of the best-or at least favorite-restaurants that have graced the food section sometime in the past 51 weeks.

They're not necessarily the fanciest restaurants we've reviewed. They're not all new, or even conveniently located. But we liked them best in 2005, and we'd like to eat at their tables,counters and bars again in 2006.

In no particular order:

Mercato

1216 Spruce St. 215.685.2962. www.mercatobyob.com

Reddish corner BYOB. Shiny open kitchen. Adorable American chef. Modern Italian fare. Tuscan bean salad. Crispy striped bass. Walnut mascarpone cheesecake. Mojo short rib. The three little words about Mercato that are best? Olive oil tastings.

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December 11, 2005
Top 10 New Restaurants of 2005

By Lauren McCutcheon, Citysearch Contributor
Make plans to eat at the hottest restaurants that opened in Philadelphia in 2005.

The Top 10  
   
1. Mercato
1216 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA
Contemporary and cozy, this hot little Italian B.Y.O.B. is a perfect fit for a blind date or an impromtu supper.

 
2. Southwark
701 S Fourth St, Philadelphia, PA
Homemade parmesan bread and crisp Napa vintages: An American bistro with the soul of a wine bar.

 
3. Amada
217-219 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA
Gather your friends for a fun, tapas-sharing experience at this hip restaurant that has a lounge and two bars.

 
4. Bistro 7
7 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA
A fresh, jewel-box B.Y.O.B. with new American food--and, more often than not, a full house.

 
5. Estia
1407 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA
Ample and airy, this modern Greek showplace specializes in exotic whole fish, upscale tzatziki and fire-brewed coffee.

Go to Website
 
6. Paradiso
1627 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA
Polished bistro attracts discerning diners with note-perfect Italian and Mediterranean fare and small-maker wines.

 
7. Derek's
4411 Main St, Philadelphia, PA
Business casual lounge and bistro balances a down-to-earth bar scene with sophisticated American fare.

Go to Website
 
8. Sovalo
702 N Second St, Philadelphia, PA
This sexy and serene space serves outstanding, inventive cuisine inspired by Northern California and Italy.

 
9. Famous 4th Street Delicatessen
700 S Fourth St, Philadelphia, PA
Bustling deli serves oversized classics: corned beef, brisket, matzoh ball soup, scrambled eggs and lox--and doggie bags.

 
10. Devil's Alley
1907 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA
Burgers, salads and sides galore are the draw at this park-like city eatery.

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October 02, 2005
Mercato

Craig LaBan
Philadelphia Inquirer

The painted sign of the Camac Food Market is fading, but not yet disappeared from the brick. It still spans the wall outside Mercato like a misty piece of found-art treasure.

 

It hovers over the scene as night settles on Spruce Street, and the cafe windows swing open to a plume of diners swirling stemware filled with boutique olive oils and bring-their-own wines.

Little markets like the long-defunct Camac have been disappearing by the dozens from the city, as burb-sized supermarkets inhale the business and busy residents eat at home less and less. But anyone who doubts the survival of the unique intimacy of Center City life need only pop by Mercato.

Just a block and a half off Broad Street, this 38-seat charmer is a logical "theater district" stop. But like so many of the best BYOs to open in the last few years, Mercato feels like a cool neighborhood spot more than a dining destination. Only locals, I think, would put up with a no-reservations policy that can lead to long waits. And wait they do.

The decor is stylish yet simple, with a corner-store layout that pays direct homage to Audrey Claire, that seminal BYO, from a bucket of artfully arranged flowers framed by the wall-sized open window to the stainless-steel open kitchen in back. A stamped-tin ceiling, butcher block tables, and shabby-chic lighting draped with baubles (think Anthropologie) lend Mercato a slightly warmer look.

But it's essentially the same idea, albeit with more ambitious and Italianized food. Chef R. Evan Turney, 28, coincidentally cooked at Audrey Claire for several years before heading to Valanni, the Spruce Street restaurant-bar that Mercato's owner, George Anni, opened five years ago.

Turney's menu has more focus here than at any of his previous stops. And while it lacks the finesse to be extraordinary, it consistently delivers a level of elemental satisfaction, putting good, seasonal ingredients into appealing combinations.

Clams and mussels come piled high over a broth infused with hot pork sausage. Slow-braised goat, purchased whole in the Italian Market and marinated for days, is cooked to tender shreds, then ladled soulfully over lemon fettuccine. House-made sheets of pasta are pinched into four-corner pyramids stuffed with poached lobster and shrimp, then glossed with warm brown butter.

Mercato has one pretentious gimmick that seems forced for such a low-key place - an a la carte list of international olive oils served in miniature stemware for swirling, sniffing and color inspection. Some are worth a try for curiosity's sake, such as the organic Chilean Olave and Australian Njoi. But the $1.50-$2 supplemental fees seem petty. (What's next, paying extra for grand cru butter? Even better, how about BYOO?) Just give the guests their well-oiled perks. Or charge for something truly great. Either way, the bullet-hard little rolls are all wrong for easy dipping.

Mercato's other starters, such as the abundant antipasti, are satisfying. The platter is heaped with marinated artichokes and olives, curls of Italian soppressatta, silky prosciutto and smoky speck, thick wedges of buffalo mozzarella layered with heirloom tomatoes, and crisp bruschetta topped with anything from asparagus and pecorino to chickpeas with lemon and garlic.

The individual salads are a delight in seasonal produce. Peppery arugula pairs with the buttery puff of pastry triangles stuffed with portobellos and pecorino. Tuscan broad beans mingle with sweet beets and crunchy radishes in a snappy Chianti vinaigrette. Mercato's crab and cucumber salad brought a timbale of summer freshness - with a garnish of mint, dill and juicy grapefruit morsels that magnified the delicate sweetness of good, fresh crab.

Such elegant balance was not evident in every dish. In fact, there were a number of nagging details that seemed to keep Turney's entrees from rising above nice to notable.

I might have loved the big short rib, which balanced like a mallet of sublimely tender meat on its "mojo" bone. But its reduced veal stock gravy was so undiluted that it was too intensely salty to eat. The linguine with clams and crab offered simple pasta satisfaction, but the promised intrigue of "diavola" spice was way too tame.

The veal chop was tender and tasty, especially alongside a sweet grilled peach. But it was also a little thin for a porterhouse, its cheesy crust a little coarse - good enough, but not great, which is what I'd expect for $23.

Some of the other entrees, though, hit all the right notes. Crisp fillets of striped bass were stacked like cards over sweet-and-sour rounds of caramelized cipollini onions and a salty sheet of pancetta. Sea-fresh scallops came perfectly seared alongside a nice risotto filled with sweet peas and a whiff of truffle oil.

Turney also gave his herb-roasted chicken breast - a bellwether for any bistro with a strong regular clientele - some extra consideration, lining the crispy skin with prosciutto, then adding roasted figs and creamy polenta to the plate for surefire comfort.

For dessert, Mercato plays it cool with some brought-in (albeit excellent) gelati from Capogiro, and some nice Italian cheeses. But Turney also makes the effort to create distinctive desserts of his own, including a superbly rich mascarpone cheesecake over shortbread topped with a maple walnut sauce, a nice homemade strawberry ice cream, and a fudgy slice of milk chocolate tarte studded with toasted hazelnuts.

It's the end of a meal that wasn't perfect, but was pleasant. With a breeze slipping in from Spruce Street, and the carefree clink of glasses tracing the night, the simple joys of city life have this corner hub humming again.

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August 08, 2005
Mercato Worth the Wait

Sono Motoyama
Philadelphia Daily News

Mercato
1216 Spruce St.
215-985-2962

Liquor license:BYOB

Credit cards. Cash Only

Reservations:None taken

Hours Hours: 5-10:30 m. Monday- Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday- Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday.

Entrees prices: $16-$24.


One sign of a well-functioning restaurant kitchen is when diners can't tell if the exec chef is in the house or not. I've been to restaurants where I've known before asking that the marquee name was definitely not behind the stove - not a good thing.So it was a positive sign that though Mercato's chef, Evan Turney, was on a much-needed break in Italy last week, my husband and I had a thoroughly enjoyable meal at the BYOB.

Long in the works (conceived about three years ago), Mercato - owned by George Anni, who also owns Valanni, across the street - is in the old Camac Food Market, hence the name ("mercato" is "market" in Italian). The name also refers to an emphasis on fresh market ingredients, with daily specials, including fish. The inviting one-room space opened in mid-May and has become a neighborhood favorite very quickly.

Turney - who has worked with his sister, Marcie (now at her own restaurant, Lolita), at Audrey Claire, Twenty Manning and Valanni - has fashioned an Italian-influenced menu that I might more readily call New American.


On a pleasant summer evening, the cafe windows were thrown open and tables were set up outside. Every seat in the house was taken when we arrived at about 8:30 p.m. (no reservations are taken), but we waited only about 10 minutes for a spot to open up.

To start out, we checked out the olive oil list - yes, you've got to pay for your olive oil. Honestly, we found this a bit pretentious, but sous chef Mackenzie Hilton explained in a phone conversation that the restaurant initially offered a complementary olive oil tasting, but many diners were uninterested and asked for butter.

We tried Frantoia oil from Sicily ($1.50), which had the distinctive taste of freshly cut grass. Sort of intriguing, but I would have preferred a sampling of different oils, something Hilton said the restaurant plans to reinstitute.

Of the dishes we sampled, appetizers were more refined, while the entrees were simpler, heartier fare. A light, peppery crab and cucumber salad ($10), with tender chunks of jumbo lump meat was beautifully presented with sections of grapefruit, shaved fennel and microgreens.

Considerably richer were three pasta "pyramids" ($12) stuffed with lobster and shrimp and mixed with ricotta and grated Grana Padano, with a brown butter sauce. They were topped with chopped fresh herbs and diced tomatoes, and served with asparagus spears.

As a main course, Stephane chose braised goat ($19) for the novelty of it. Marinated in red wine and braised for seven hours, the goat - milder than we imagined - was served over fettuccine in a white wine-chicken broth stock with flavorful oven-roasted tomatoes.

A short rib ($19) with a decent portion of meat was also braised until tender and served in a rich stock with shiitake, butter beans and arugula. Though this might be more of a cool- weather dish, I was just fine tucking into it on a late-summer day.

Tiramisu ($7) was a bit of a letdown - dry and lacking much coffee or liqueur flavor. But the soft and creamy maple marscapone cheesecake ($7) - drizzled with maple syrup and dotted with chopped walnuts - contrasted satisfyingly with the crisp walnut shortbread crust.

In all, we were charmed by Mercato. Though it took a while to open its doors, this market was worth the wait.

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July 27, 2005
Refined and Dandy

A new BYOB integrates seamlessly into its neighborhood.

by Lauren McCutcheon, Philadelphia Weekly


Mercato
1216 Spruce St. 215.985.BYOB.
www.mercatobyob.com
Cuisine: Updated American-Italian
Prices: $16-$23
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 5-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., 5-10pm.
Smoking: No
Atmosphere: Accessibly cool, with banquettes and free tables, even some on the sidewalk. No pets!
Service: Definitely cool.
Food: Django, Italian-style.

 

To see Mercato's scallops culminare is to want them. When the entree-a summery vision of creamy white and grass green, featuring four browned sea puffs and an upraised Parmesan crisp-travels from open kitchen through the packed dining room, heads turn and nostrils expand.

The attention the dish gets is akin to that of a celebrity. Imagine Mark Wahlberg-or substitute your own celebrity crush here-has entered the room. The urge to stare is irresistible. The desire to have is palpable.

Shellfish lust is in the air on a recent evening at the two-month-old BYOB. The windows are open wide, fusing sidewalk and bistro. The interior's exposed bricks, crystal chandeliers, walls painted dark red, muted silver tin tile ceiling and jovial noiselevel create a vibe of a restaurant that's much more established, much savvier than its time in business might suggest.

Everyone is ogling-and ordering-the scallops. Who can blame them? The dish tastes as good as it looks.
English peas brighten and sweeten a bed of thick, creamy Parmesan-cheesy vegetarian shiitake risotto. Clarified butter and truffle oil darken and deepen the moist pillow-like shellfish. These flavors deliciously repeat in garnishes of lemon-touched pea puree, crisped shiitakes and a delicate disk of a Parmesan crisp.

Chef Evan Turney hasn't been to Italy to learn how to cook like this. (He takes his first trip there next month.) He just read cookbooks and pulled from years of cooking at Audrey Claire and Valanni, where he once worked alongside sister and Lolita chef/co-owner Marcie.

He's also had plenty of time to prepare. He and owner George Anni (who also owns the across-the-street Valanni) had to deal with a two-year delay when a pair of balky Camac Street residents launched an extended legal battle to try to prevent Mercato from opening.

Aside from those two meanies, the neighborhood has very much taken to the place, transforming it into a sort of east-of-Broad Melograno, with the similar Italian theme and an identical first-come, first-served seating policy. Customers have already identified a slew of favorite menu items.

One is Tuscan bean salad, a chunky straightforward combo of sweet golden beets, tender haricots verts, crisp radishes, feathery mizuna, rich pine nuts and hearty butter beans touched with Chianti vinaigrette and topped with shaved pecorino.

Another is puff pastry layered with roasted portobellos, sauteed arugula, pecorino and pine nuts. When Turney removed that one from the menu, diners lobbied to reinstate it.

Regulars know by now that the "mojo" in the short rib refers not to a Latin spice but to the butchering style, which is long cut with the flesh filleted off. Turney seasons the beef with caramelized mirepoix, glazes it with Chianti, adds veal and chicken stock, lets it cook until a juicy gloss appears, serves it with butter beans and white bean ragu, and balances the whole deal with a sprightly citrus-zest-based gremolata.

The chef's own fave is crispy-skinned striped bass. He gives the striper a clever red-meat-ish treatment, searing one side to tissue-thin crispiness, and pairing the fish with an aromatic stewlike red wine reduction of caramelized cipollini onions and braised artichokes, also served with a pancetta crisp. A tuft of chives, chervil and tarragon in lemon thyme vinaigrette comes on top.

Mercato's crab and cucumber salad may be the summer's best dish. A neat petite column of jumbo lump comes mixed with lemon aioli and microscopic bits of red onion, toasted crushed red pepper, fresh dill and fresh mint. Surrounding the column are thin slices of pink grapefruit and cucumber. Topping it is a fennel microgreen salad. The combo is excellently edible and thoroughly refreshing on a Center City summer night.

Turney freshens up Italian-American mainstays too. Mussels and clams come in a roasted garlic white wine broth, flavored with grilled fennel and olive oil, served with a thick garlic crostini.

Eleven hours of prep time go into Mercato's homey and hearty-sweet pasta and meatballs. The pork is slow-cooked with beefsteak tomatoes to sauce round al dente orecchiette. Garlicky meatballs, tender sausage and broccoli rabe are added at the last minute. An oversized linguini tangle is classic and spicy, with garlic, olive oil, lemon, thyme and crushed hot pepper. Opened littlenecks add ocean flavor. A tasty crostini provides sopping-up services. But unfortunately the menu-promised crabmeat doesn't show up in our dish.

Desserts include airy mascarpone cheesecake, a refined version of the diner classic served on walnut shortbread, and covered in maple syrup and toasted walnuts. There's a mild tiramisu made with ladyfingers, Kahlúa and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Torrone is a frozen brick of coffee nougat with Grand Marnier-soaked, vanilla-flavored cherries and hazelnut brittle of bittersweet chocolate.

Truth be told, they're all pretty good-and good looking too.

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Mercato Building
          
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