10 Best BYOB Restaurants
By Tara Nurin
While the idea of toting one’s own wine, beer or liquor to a restaurant might strike some as unusual, in Philadelphia it’s not just commonplace, it’s exciting. To get around prohibitively expensive liquor licenses, many restaurateurs choose to simply open as BYOB’s, and locals know those are often the spots to get the best food and most delicious ambiance. Many BYOB’s require reservations, cash, and in some cases, a vintage bottle whose price tag raises envious eyebrows at surrounding tables.
In the emerging Loft District, a pizza joint joins older sisters Cafe Lift and Prohibition Taproom to bring wood-fired whole pizzas and slices, salads, soups, desserts and espressos to a tattooed crowd of neighborhood dwellers and curious outsiders. They listen to classic rock and drink craft beer out of growlers purchased at the bar on the street as they munch obscure Neapolitan 'za topped with shaved brussels sprouts, taleggio, speck, and scallions and finished with a balsamic reduction. Reservations not accepted; the "b" at this BYOB should be a growler filled with craft beer chosen from Prohibition Taproom's rotating taps (215-875-8116)
Chef/owner Andrew Wood couldn't be more committed to his farm-to-table ethos, sourcing almost everything for his Rittenhouse rowhome restaurant from Lancaster County, including the whole pigs he butchers in his basement kitchen next to the meats he cures, the herbs he grows and the mushrooms he hires a professional urban forager to procure. He changes his menu every day, and wife, Kristin, incorporates craft beer into some of her silky desserts. Reservations accepted; for wine, Wood recommends "crisp, citrusy Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or light, delicate Pinot Noir from either Burgundy or Oregon." (215-564-2925)
The Greek and Middle Eastern breakfast items served at brunch tend to earn the Cypriot BYO the most accolades but dinner, with its extensive starter menu (house-smoked eel for adventurous diners, Greek salad platter for those who aren't) and a fanciful list of entrees that put organic pork cheeks and a goat chop front-and-center, shouldn't be overlooked. Exposed brick walls and charming Med-blue accents make for a lovely respite from the American city bustling outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. (215-922-1773)
Before opening what may be the best BYO in South Jersey, chef/owner Joey Baldino held top positions with Marc Vetri and Jose Garces and studied in Sicily under the legendary Anna Tasca Lanza. Baldino's skill becomes more evident with every soulful dish at his 35-seat Italian (mostly Sicilian) storefront trattoria, adorned with framed B&W photos of the homeland. Reservations recommended, along with a rich Sicilian red. 618 Collings Ave., Collingswood, NJ, 856-854-2670, zeppolirestaurant.com (215-629-2337)
6 The Farm and Fisherman
A pioneer of the locavore movement, chef/co-owner Josh Lawler changes his inventive, sustainably-sourced meat, poultry seafood dishes according to the season. Critics hail the 30-seat, white-linen Antique Row BYOB as among the most authentic and masterful examples of the farm-to-table experience and laud his ability to turn vegetables into purposeful entrees worthy of the most picky steak-eater. Reservations recommended, as is a white or red that's not too heavy and not too light. (2676871555)
5 Blackfish - Conshohocken
With his refined preparations of seafood dishes, Chef Chip Roman continues to almost single-handedly make Conshohocken a dining destination for city dwellers and suburbanites. The spare storefront décor serves to make dishes -- like oysters with carbonated lemon, bronze fennel, and pink peppercorn -- pop. Menus change daily, and five-to-seven course tasting menus invite diners to sample whatever's on Roman's mind at the time. Reservations recommended; as is the best bottle of white from the cellar. 119 Fayette St., 610-397-0888, blackfishrestaurant.com (6103970888)
4 Marigold Kitchen
Recently re-invented as a prix-fixe only restaurant, the sunny and homey former boardinghouse in West Philly is re-capturing the spotlight for doing away with its a la carte menu in favor of an $85, 15-course tasting dinner, with the chef choosing all but the entrée. Still on the menu: modernist preparations (beet-salad-flavored dipping dots, anyone?) and molecular gastronomy techniques that employ "ingredients" like liquid nitrogen. Reservations required; pairing recommendation: sparkling wines to start and a red or white Bordeaux for the meal. 501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699, marigoldkitchenbyob.com (2152223699)
3 Will BYOB
Ingredients foraged from nearby farmers markets dictate the ever-changing menu at this crowded 30-seat East Passyunk BYOB, where chef/owner Chris Kearse uses modern gadgets and techniques to prepare new takes on sumptuously plated French-inspired dishes. Reservations recommended; white or red wines will work, though a light Viognier, Riesling, or Pinot Noir may work best. ((215) 271-7683)
2 Noord Eetcafe
The buzz built for months before this teensy Northern European BYOB opened on East Passyunk, and Chicago chef/owner Joncarl Lachman's house-smoked fish and anise-based sauces don't disappoint. Lachman adds warmth to his rustic cold-weather seaside dishes by personally greeting guests. Reservations recommended, along with a rich Alsatian or Burgundian white wine. 1046 Tasker St., 267-909-9704, noordphilly.com ((267) 909-9704)
Philadelphia's top dining critic bestows rare top honors on the 30-seat BYOB "bistro" that elevates French peasant food into fine-dining art. Chef/owner Pierre Calmels boasts an impeccable French culinary pedigree, and his wife, Charlotte, is revered for her graciousness at the front-of-the-house of this East Passyunk staple. Reservations recommended, as is a cult bottle of French red worth showing off. Cash only. 1009 S. 8th St., 215-965-8290, biboubyobcom (215-965-8290)
About Tara Nurin
Tara Nurin is a veteran freelance journalist based just outside Philadelphia. The former TV reporter specializes in craft beer, dining and destination coverage and writes regularly about her three passions -- Philly, food, drink -- for local and national pubs. Tara, who grew up speaking Spanish and French, spent childhood holidays on a Puerto Rican beach and bummed around Paris for her junior year of college. She’s lived in more than a dozen American cities and still travels globally in search of a plate of local food, an artisanal beer and a hearty laugh with the countrymen.
Read more about Tara Nurin here.