Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: Wm. Mulherin's Sons - Philadelphia, PA

Just 10 years ago, the Fishtown section of Philadelphia was a hardscrabble working class neighborhood. Today, it's a bustling hipster scene, akin to Brooklyn's Williamsburg or Red Hook, teeming with new bars, gastropubs, and residences. 

Fishtown is home to my favorite Philly pie slinger, Pizza Brain, and the highly-regarded Pizzeria Beddia. Last spring, Fishtown got its first "grown-up" restaurant with Wm. Mulherin's Sons, according to Philly's top food critic Craig Laban.
Wm. Mulherin's Sons
With its odd hours, no phone, and no reservations policy, I don't know if or when I might get to try Pizzeria Beddia. But the wildly popular Mulherin's - only blocks away from Beddia - takes online reservations and even has its own parking lot in a neighborhood where parking is in short supply. Both the Mulherin's name and the building harken back to the liquor business housed in this same building over a century ago, but the building is renovated and renewed in a way that seamlessly blends modern comfort with the vintage architectural flourishes.
Rear of the building, adjacent to parking lot
To my amazement, the small parking lot was not full when we arrived at 5:30pm, nor when we left around 7:30pm. Perhaps most patrons are close enough to walk or are city dwellers unburdened by car ownership. We were greeted and seated promptly in what was to be a pattern for the entire evening. The hostess, the waitress, and other servers were unfailingly polite, earnest, informed, and genuinely enthused about the food. Hats off to the people who are hiring and training this first-class staff.
The pizza kitchen area
We came, of course, for the pizza - but the menu was divided tapas-style by different-sized plates tagged as snacks/small plates, pizza, pasta, or grill. There is a short but well-chosen list of draft beers, including my selection of Dogfish "Beer for Breakfast," brewed with scrapple. Wines by the glass start around $12, and there are some smartly crafted cocktails too.
Roasted cauliflower
We began with two small plate appetizers. The $9 "seafood mixto" with mussels, octopus, rock shrimp, calamari, and lemon was as fresh as ceviche at a beach resort. Perhaps the best item of the night was the astonishing $7 roasted cauliflower with raisins and olive/almond puree. 
Porcini Cavatelli with Truffles
From the pasta menu, we chose a modest $17 cavatelli with porcini mushrooms and a fontina/taleggio cream sauce, then splurged another $25 to get an ounce of Euro truffle shaved over it. It was a fun indulgence - but I'm not yet certain that I fully appreciate all the truffle umami. Oddly, the volume of pasta was about half the volume of that superb cauliflower.
The Vincenzo
We finished with the Vincenzo pizza topped with mortadella. The dough, raised for 40 hours, includes some farro wheat which makes it crisper than the typical soft (and sometimes soggy) Neapolitan. And indeed, this perfectly crafted pie had an ideal balance of flavors and textures and no wet spots. 

Just as importantly, the flavors were on target. The puffy crust had its own rich and slightly nutty taste. The cheese blend included Caciocavallo, which we first discovered on the stellar Neapolitans at Scuola Vecchia. When I see Caciocavallo on the pizza menu, it helps me decide quickly. 
Caciovallo cheese
According to, "Caciocavallo Podolico can be matured for up to one year, at which point flavors are complex and intense, with savory vegetal notes of smoke, herbs, toast and barnyard that are balanced by an intense fruitiness and lactic tang."

The red sauce was nuanced and played perfectly with the cheeses and the generous slices of the salty mortadella. All of the toppings were proportioned ideally. Kudos! This pie stands shoulder to shoulder with Capofitto and Vetri as the top rank Neapolitans in Philly. I'll be back to try some of the more creative pies, like the pumpkin, lamb & artichoke, or speck & egg.
Perfect leopard spotting underneath
The only other spot in Philly that offers great pizza and so many other good dishes would be Marc Vetri's upscale Osteria, on North Broad. I enjoyed my visit there (where we also spent over $100 for pizza, drinks, and some appetizers), but Wm. Mulherin's Sons gets the overall nod for its best-in-class ambiance and service. We went looking for destination pizza, and found a destination restaurant.
Wm. Mulherin's Sons Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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