Vernick Food & Drink

This is not something that I say lightly, but our meal at Vernick Food & Drink was the best all-around meal we have ever had.  It started before we even got there.  We were running a little late for our reservation, so I called to let the restaurant know.  When we arrived, the hostess was genuinely thrilled that we let them know.

We were dining with Marnay’s good friend Tracy as well as Marnay’s Mom, who has joined us for a number of the dining adventures featured on this blog.  The hostess led us back through the bar to the narrow dining room in front of the open kitchen.  Our table was in the section of the dining room that was right in front of Chef Vernick.  It was actually a better location than the chef’s counter, at the opposite end.  The smell from the kitchen was intoxicating as soon as we sat down.

The menu is separated into toast, raw, vegetables, small plates, large plates and simply roasted from the wood oven.  Vernick is famous for its toast, so we knew for sure that would be an essential part of our meal.   Before we made any decision, though, we ordered some drinks.  Marnay’s Mom and Tracy got glasses of cava and Marnay had a glass of Sonoma Chardonnay.  I had a cocktail named El Chucho Roto, a mezcal and amaro based drink.  The amaro really cut out the smokiness of the mezcal.

After consulting with our server, we ordered the Maryland crab toast, the pumpkin and brown butter toast, the spaghetti squash salad with a crispy egg and mushroom leek vinaigrette, the pasta special with homemade spaghetti, olive oil poached Icelandic cod in a spicy saffron tomato sauce, brussels sprouts in an ancho caramel sauce and finally, half of a roasted organic Amish chicken in a lemon herb jus.  Our incredible server asked if she could take the liberty of pacing out the dishes for us, which the restaurant did beautifully.

First came an amuse bouche of celery root soup w/ spicy arugula oil in an espresso cup, for drinking.  Our first official course was the crab toast with a lemon aioli and the spaghetti squash.   The spaghetti squash had a breaded, fried poached egg sitting in the middle which our server suggested that we break open first.  That way, the runny yolk would become the sauce for the squash.    The toast, cut in threes, is intended to be shared.  When we started biting into in, the entire table fell silent.  The toast was thick but not so thick so that you couldn’t bite into it, with just the right amount of crunch.  The crab was extremely fresh and tasted like the sea.

Once we were done, the server brought our next course about three minutes later.  We thought that the pumpkin and brown butter toast might be sweet, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rich pumpkin only had a touch of sweetness.

After we finished the toast, our server brought us a chili vinegar for the roasted chicken.  As an example of how great our server was, Marnay asked her what was in the vinegar.  Our server knew every ingredient, down to the toasted fennel.  It was as if she made it herself.

Before our next course, we ordered a second round of drinks.  Marnay got another chardonnay and her Mom and Tracy got more cava.  I, however, wanted to test our server.  I told her that I wanted a local beer—the style didn’t matter, but since we don’t live in the area, I want something local.  She stared at me for a few seconds and then asked, “Do you like sour beers?”  I love sour beers!  It was almost as if she stared into my soul.  She recommended a saison from Tired Hands that’s brewed with salt and citrus.

When the rest of our order came out, we received potatoes and shishito peppers “complements of Chef Greg.”  We had been praising him and pointing at the kitchen all night, mesmerized by what was going on, and he must have heard us!   He was so focused all night, though.  It was a wonder to watch.

The chicken was possibly the most perfectly seasoned roasted chicken any of us had ever had.  It went very fast.

The cod in the homemade spaghetti was broken into small pieces, which reminded me of shrimp.  The brussels sprouts were at once smoky and hot from the ancho and sweet from the caramel.  The flavors were intense, but they balanced out nicely.

When we first ordered, I mentioned that we could always take home leftovers if we were ordering too much.  That certainly was not necessary!  All that was left was a few brussels sprouts.

After a meal this great, of course we had to get dessert.  We got the toasted walnut maple pie with bourbon ice cream as well as the chocolate crisp ice cream.  The pie tasted like a much, much better version of a pecan pie and the bourbon ice cream was rich, dense and flavorful.

As we were leaving, we noticed that the Chef took a break from what he was doing.  He waited until we put our coats and then personally thanked us for coming.  We did not see him do that for anyone else.

A little touch like that just set us over the edge from a great meal to an exceptional meal.  All four of us agreed that this was probably the best all-around meal ever.  We felt like we were treated like VIPs.

Best Bite
Marnay: Crab Toast
Paul: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Crispy Egg

Best sip
Marnay and Paul: El Chucho Roto

Address
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Jackie’s

As many people know, Jackie’s is closing at the end of March so that Jackie Greenbaum can open an Italian restaurant in Petworth.  We went there one last time with Marnay’s Mom on a bitterly cold Wednesday night.  The middle of the week is usually a good time to eat out, since chefs know that only the most dedicated and adventurous eaters will be there.  We weren’t sure how many dishes we wanted, so we ordered drinks and thought about it for a little bit.  I got an old fashioned.  The drink tasted good but it came with traditional fast-melting ice so I had to drink it faster than I wanted to. Marnay got a crisp vinho verde and her Mom got prosecco, which is her favorite drink in the world.

We ordered two small plates and two entrees among the three of us.  Marnay and her Mom shared cacio e pepe and enjoyed it, especially the heat from the black pepper.  We also got burrata with pumpkin butter, prosciutto, arugula and pickled beets.  I’ve had a lot of burrata in my life, but this was probably the best I’ve ever tasted.  The cheese was extremely creamy and it matched perfectly with the sweet fall spices in the pumpkin butter.  The prosciutto had a cracker-like crispiness, meaning it was most likely dehydrated.  All together a well-assembled dish and the best of the night.

We waited a while between courses, but it allowed us to talk and enjoy our drinks.  I got a corpse reviver #2 which was a gin and absinthe based drink.  Without any ice, it was so much better than the old fashioned.  Marnay and I ended up sharing the drink because we both liked it.

When the entrees came, Marnay and her Mom had the arctic char with grilled romaine, cauliflower, mussels and a squash and saffron broth.  They really liked the crispy skin but noted that the fish could use some more salt.  The mussels also seemed a little extraneous.

I had porchetta with white bean ragu, broccoli rabe and citrus gremolata.  My first bite of broccoli rabe tasted like the best part of the dish.  But then my next bite of broccoli rabe was bland and disappointing.  I liked the porchetta, particularly the fatty parts.  The dish ended up being better the next day when I made a sandwich out of it at work.

Our server was very attentive but not overbearing.  I would easily say that she was the best server we’ve had at Jackie’s.  Unfortunately, we have had problems with the servers at Jackie’s in the past, which kept us away.

If this was our last time at Jackie’s, it was very fitting.  It’s been years since we were blown away by the food there and tonight was no exception.  If only every dish were as good as the burrata!

Best Bite
Paul: Burrata
Marnay: Cacio e Pepe

Best Sip
Paul and Marnay: Corpse Reviver #2

Address (Update: Jackie’s is now closed)
Jackie’s: 8081 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Closest Metro: Silver Spring