Beyond cheesesteaks, a thriving Philly food scene

Philly food scene
Philly food scene 05:32

When you think Philly and food, the first thing that comes to mind might be the cheesesteak. But with all due respect to the iconic sandwich, Philadelphia's culinary scene is so much more, reports CBS News' Mo Rocca.

"Historically what kind of a food city is Philadelphia?" Rocca asked Philadelphia chef Greg Vernick.

"Historically, I think it is a blend of sort of comfort foods like sandwiches, meat and potatoes. ... This is the best sandwich city in the country. I don't know if you agree, but it is," Vernick said

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Chef Greg Vernick CBS News

But Vernick isn't making sandwiches. His namesake restaurant was named one of the top 50 restaurants in America the year after it opened.

"The growing season dictates a lot. So when things come into season and they're delicious and we can get them locally, we put an emphasis on that on the menu," Vernick said. "The watermelon cocktail, it's probably a local watermelon, a lot of the menu right now, a lot of the specials we do."

"Are you particularly proud of your success because you were raised here?" Rocca asked.

"Well, I don't consider myself a success. ... I don't feel like we're a success," Vernick said. "I still feel like we're kind of junior varsity playing in a bit of a varsity game in Philly."

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Chef Michael Solomonov CBS News

In case you haven't heard, Philadelphia's restaurant scene is major league. Zahav, with its modern Israeli cuisine, earned a James Beard Award for star chef Michael Solomonov.

"I moved here from Florida, sort of like on the way to New York, you know? And I stopped in Philly and never left," Solomonov said.

"When you say 'on the way to New York,' you mean that literally," Rocca said.

"Literally and figuratively," Solomonov said. "Philly is obviously an easier place to live than New York. Things cost less, housing is more affordable, the restaurants are more affordable."

In a city is serious about its street food, Solomonov offers an alternative. His Dizengoff is an American take on the hummus booths that are commonplace throughout the Middle East.

Perfect Philly cheesesteak 02:37

Across the street, his Federal Donuts offers coffee along with an array of hand-made donuts and some pretty irresistible fried chicken.

"I know so many people hate this word, but so moist," Rocca said.

"I know, it is a pretty strange word to say out loud, but we are happy that you're saying it," Solomonov said.

Just don't call any of Solomonov's restaurants trendy or buzzy.

"In Philly, nobody really cares about hype that much. If you're not great, if you're not providing a good experience and good food or good service, whatever that is, per restaurant, nobody cares," he said.

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Chef Marcie Turney CBS News

While a number of chefs have elevated the Philly food scene, chef Marcie Turney and her partner Valerie Safran have helped transform an entire neighborhood.

"I wanted my own little restaurant and Val wanted her own little retail shop and then all of a sudden the neighborhood supported us and Philadelphia supported us and so it was like, 'What else can we bring?'" Turney said.

The couple now own nine restaurants and boutiques along Philadelphia's 13th Street, a former red light district.

The latest is Bud and Marilyn's, named after Turney's grandparents and an homage to the flavors of her native Wisconsin.

"Is there anything distinctive about the clientele, about the diners in Philadelphia?" Rocca asked.

"The diners in Philadelphia, first of all, they're loyal," Turney said. "And Philly is very proud of our chefs and our restaurants."

"Why stop now? You should open another restaurant. What would it be?" Rocca said.

"I actually don't even know what it would be. I think we've kind of covered everything and now we're trying to relax a little bit. Yeah, and I'm getting old," Turney said, laughing.