On Thursday, Feb. 28, the historic Strawbridge Building on Eighth and Market was transformed from a giant empty space into an elegant event venue, full of food, music, and movement. Forty of the city’s top restaurants, hand-picked by Philadelphia Magazine food editor Jason Sheehan, dished out delicious bites and refreshing drinks. The surroundings were gently lit by giant chandeliers as guests perused the raffle table (proceeds went to benefit the Ronald McDonald House), happily crammed into photo booths, and nibbled on savory and sweet treats alike, ranging from simple snacks (broccoli rabe-topped focaccia bites from Zeppoli) to unexpected creations (Brauhaus Schmitz’s foie gras liverwurst). In addition to craft cocktails, shaken and poured by top bartenders from Emmanuelle, Vernick, and Lemon Hill, Stella Artois and San Pellegrino were available from a generous number of stand-alone bars.
Pork seemed the be the protein of the night, with not one but two whole Ibérico hams (at Jamonera and Bar Ferdinand), decadently fatty St. Louis ribs from Fette Sau, pork rillette toastadas from Stateside, and crunchy pig’s feet lettuce wraps from Alla Spina. Le Viet stuck to what they do best, and offered succulent glazed pork stuffed into buns with sharply vinegary shredded vegetables. A sweet and spicy papaya salad on a rice cracker added a necessary dose of light crunchiness on the side.
Another of our favorite ham-centric items was a playful little sandwich from Supper, which layered country ham, spicy pimento cheese, and pickles on miniature biscuits. This was a fun, unpretentious bite with a kitschy 1960s dinner party vibe.
Marigold Kitchen, recently named number two in Philadelphia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants, served up one of the most inventive dishes of the night — a deeply flavored and silky smooth butternut squash soup, topped with airy cinnamon foam. The combination of wintry flavors and subtle textures made for a truly wonderful soup.
Another notable plate came from Fork, the Old City favorite recently reinvented by chef Eli Kulp. Among all of the aggressively seasoned and rich foods at the event, a delicate raw scallop was elevated with the funky additions of fermented parsley and beautiful crimson rounds of pickled turnip.
For some sweeter bites, Artisan Alley, a cozily lit hallway, hosted a dozen tables showcasing some of Philadelphia’s finest handmade goodies. It was a dessert lover’s paradise, with Gilda’s Biscotti, Magpie, Better Together Brownies, Rival Bros. Coffee, John & Kira’s Chocolates, Love Bar, and more doling out tiny portions of their confections.
After the dizzyingly array of options at The Big Event, there was still somehow room for arguably one of the city’s most beloved desserts: the salted caramel budino from Barbuzzo. These last few bites sealed an amazing night of some of Philadelphia’s most celebrated culinary talent gathered under the same roof for a great cause.