In a nutshell: This Rittenhouse-but-not-quite neighborhood spot knows how to make you feel right at home, making it the perfect place to while away an evening with good food (think toasts, wood-fired oven options, and an exquisite blueberry pie) and company.
In an interview with Condé Nast Traveler, Greg Vernick (the person) analogizes an oyster to Vernick’s (the restaurant) dining philosophy. “It doesn’t need anything if you can source the greatest oyster and properly shuck it. That’s how we think—just get the best possible product and not do a whole lot to it.”
This guiding principle has held true since the debut of Greg and Julie Vernick’s eponymous restaurant in May 2012. Now an integral part of the Rittenhouse dining culture, the American cuisine neighborhood bistro caters to both weekly regulars and those seeking a special occasion, giving off vibes of both comfort and class. With tables tougher to get than ever, I applaud how welcoming the Vernick team is to walk-ins seeking a spontaneous trip for dinner.
Eating here, you know you’re in the hands of someone quite capable: with Boston University and the Culinary Institute of America training under his belt, Greg also boasts experiences at Boston’s Clio, Per Se in its early days, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten concepts.
Meals begin with a shot glass-sized sip of soup to whet your palate. The kitchen’s ability to pack immense flavor in such a pint-sized cup bodes well for what’s to come.
Italian panini culture inspired the inclusion of toasts on the menu. A thickly-cut slice of Metropolitan Bakery sourdough serves as the foundation for each option; from there, the kitchen gets creative.
The verdant green cream of pureed peas and mint, complemented by strips of pink house-cured bacon, is an eye-catching piece of art that tastes as good as it looks. The motivation to include peas and bacon as a combo was something Greg wanted from the beginning:
Salty pork with green vegetables is done in every part of the world: Chinese long beans and sausage, carbonara with peas in Italy. It’s such a natural combination, but we made several attempts at it and finally ended up with this one, which has been on the menu since the beginning. We played with it and ramen ended up being the inspiration. A lot of ramen shops blow torch the pork belly before they put it in the soup; so we blow torch the pork while it’s on the bread, on top of pea butter. But there’s multiple kinds of pork: one is classic cured pancetta that gets diced and rendered into crunchy bits, and then we drape the whole toast with thinly sliced smoked bacon… that’s what we torch. That torched pork belly flavor is just so awesome.
A smooth purée of pumpkin accented with nutty brown butter captures autumn in one bite. Toasted sunflower seeds and crisp scallions further enhance the toast’s interplay of textures.
The bold colors of the golden and ruby-hued beets lets you eat with your eyes before literally digging in.
A refreshing ode to summer, juicy cubes of red- and yellow-fleshed melon burst in your mouth with the sweetness tempered by the vegetation bonneted on top.
Brussels sprouts at Vernick are cooked so smokily, there’s almost a burnt flavor that rises in the back of your throat, an intensity only amplified by the ancho caramel lacquered over each mini cabbage.
The lightly-dressed dish’s simplicity lets each component sing, from the sweetness of the peas to the saltiness of the pancetta, the tenderness of the rabbit to the flappiness (yes, I just made that a word) of the pasta.
Sea bass takes to the grill well, the char on the fish matching the fire-roasted tomatoes beneath.
Crackly brittle serves as a fun makeshift spoon to scoop up the thick custard in this fall-themed dessert.
But what better way to end the evening than with an individual pie (although it can certainly feed two)? This is my favorite dessert on the menu when it’s in season, and one of my favorite desserts in Philly. There’s something comforting and smile-inducing about a warm pie à la mode–particularly when it’s whole (not just a slice) and packed with fresh blueberries–that no other dessert can give you.
And that’s what Vernick aims to do: bring some joy into your life with exceptional bites and warm service, all in one neat little package.