Valarie and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in Philadelphia last weekend. We live less than two hours away and visit regularly for business and pleasure. Philadelphia has a really great food scene. Although we love the big cities like New York and London and have eaten our way through those cities, Philly remains one of our favorite foodie cities next Portland, Maine which is a smaller version. You can find food from almost every country, but even more exciting is the fusion scene. The combining of cultures and flavors always satisfies our culinary curiosity. We experienced this great blend of flavors from the Maghreb region of North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and those of the Mediterranean & Middle East at the Spice Finch.
Valarie made reservations for us at the Warwick Hotel just off Rittenhouse Square. Little did we know that one of the most exciting up and coming restaurants in Philly was in our hotel. The restaurant was recently voted the Top 10 best new restaurants in the United States as voted by USA Today.
Spice Finch was recently opened by Top Chef Alumni Jennifer Carroll and her fiancé Chef Billy Riddle. She combines her expertise in French technique from nine years at Le Bernardin and 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge under Chef Eric Ripert with the skills learned working with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Red Rooster, where she focuses on elevated comfort food. Her experiences in these iconic kitchens have shaped the menu and culinary vision for Spice Finch. the restaurant was recently voted the Top 10 best new restaurants in the United States as voted by USA Today.
The menu combines Carroll’s experience of North African cuisines (she worked at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem) and Riddle’s expertise from working with Greek food at Kapnos in Arlington, Va. Riddle stated in a previous interview with Eater, “It’s non-traditional — there are influences from Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Morocco, Tunisia, other parts of Northern African, all over.”
The menu features the fusion of so many great flavors. Take the all-American hamburger with harissa aioli and red onion. Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste made with roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers or serrano peppers, spices and herbs such as caraway and coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil. Next, they serve classic roasted chicken with a smothered dry rub of muhammara. Muhammara is typically made with a blend of red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, red chili paste, salt, olive oil and cumin. You can also find merguez sausage flatbread with garlic yogurt, harissa, and tomato chutney. Their creative menu has something for everyone.
Valarie and I ate breakfast before the brunch crowds arrived at Spice Finch. My only regret is I did not get to try their Shakshouka with Nigella seeds. I was able to sample their full use of spice flavors in the merguez sausage (spicy lamb sausage) and their beautiful potato hash featuring berbere spice. The use of berbere spice blend in their potatoes was memorable and unmistakable flavor, unlike any home fries I have ever eaten with eggs. Berbere spice is a blend of paprika, onion, fenugreek seed, fenugreek leaf, salt, chilies, shallots, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, allspice, and cloves.
The merguez sausage is beautiful and unlike any other sausage I have ever eaten with the lamb flavored with cumin, coriander, fennel, cilantro, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper and harissa. Our tagline of “Exploring the World, One Dish at a Time” seeks out moments and menus like this. Spice Finch did a beautiful job of taking traditional eggs, sausage and home fries and elevating it to level of sophistication in flavor and taste we have never experienced. A beautiful dish to end our anniversary weekend embracing a culinary celebration. Looking forward to our next visit to Spice Finch.