There are two kinds of Dutch food in the Philly area. One cuisine (Pennsylvania Dutch) dates back pretty much as far as the city’s founding; the other (actual Dutch) is fairly new to the scene, but they share a name that can make things a little confusing. Here are a couple of great spots in and around the city and how to tell their Dutch-ness apart.
“The Pennsylvania Dutch were farmers from Germany, not Holland, and they were not Amish,” explained MacGregor Mann, who grew up in rural York County and owns the seasonally driven BYOB Junto just outside the Philly limits in Chadds Ford. “They assimilated with the Amish and helped make York, Lancaster and Berks counties the breadbaskets of early colonial success and growth in Philadelphia.”
At Junto, Mann channels the farm-to-table history of his forefathers in an airy bungalow with a front porch that overlooks an open field.
“The farmers ate by the season, preserved vegetables for winter, made pickles and ferments and dried meats—sustainable, probiotic-rich, real food,” Mann said.
His menu reflects that philosophy, in addition to the Pennsylvania Dutch concept of Seven Sweets and Seven Sours in which “each meal should have a balance of seven sweet and seven sour components for balance and health. Vinegar braised meats with grains and dried fruits, for example, or alder-planked shad with pepper relish and apple sumac slaw.”
Sometimes, Mann recreates the classic dishes of his childhood faithfully—“making our own sauerkraut after the first frost when the cabbages sweeten up by converting starches to sugars to stay warm”—but more often looks to the recipes for inspiration.
“A lot of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking is based on ancient techniques so a lot translates to other peasant cuisines. Our cornmeal mush is another person’s polenta. Fermented pit cabbages and slaws are similar to kimchi,” Mann said.
Mann works uni into spaetzle; infuses chicken jus with birch bark; bulks up cassoulet with barley; and studs his parsnip cake with candied black walnuts. 100 Ridge Rd., Chadds Ford, Pa., 484.574.8041
Also try: Dutch Eating Place is an icon at Reading Terminal Market, the oldest continuously run indoor market in the country. It’s a breakfast-and-lunch counter run by Mennonites and beloved for its hubcap-sized pancakes, crispy scrapple and comforting chicken pot pies. 51 N. 12th St., Philadelphia, 215.922.0425
When Joncarl Lachman, a native of Southwest Philly who grew up in Center City, moved back to the city from Chicago where he’d spent the bulk of his culinary career, he brought with him a deep understanding of Dutch cooking. That’s from the Netherlands Dutch, not the Pennsylvania variety.
“My background is Dutch, and my mother cooked a lot Dutch food when I was growing up,” he said. “As a kid, I was actually a little embarrassed by all of the potatoes and cabbage when my Italian friends’ moms were making spaghetti and lasagna.”
The culinary struggle has served him as an acclaimed adult chef. In Chicago he ran two restaurants and now in Philly he operates the updated Dutch BYOB Noord in East Passyunk and Neuf, a licensed restaurant focusing on the intersections of French and North African cuisines, with his partner Bob Moysan. When he relocated back to Philly, people were excited about the city’s first real Dutch restaurant, but very few knew what that culinary canon even looked like.
“My initial intention was to do a traditional Philadelphia BYOB,” Lachman remembered. “To me, that meant a New American/French-style experience. Some good friends of mine talked me into taking the chance of cooking from my heart. I love the cuisine of the Netherlands, but I was a bit nervous about it.”
Not being as familiar as Italian, Mexican or even Vietnamese in Philly, Dutch cuisine required some explaining. Lachman proved a great ambassador, "and I'm happy to say it was welcomed with open arms.”
A quick overview for the uninitiated: “The pillars of Dutch cuisine are root vegetables and dairy, with the dairy often balanced out with vinegars and beer as acids,” Lachman said. “The food of the Netherlands is about comfort and sustenance. There is a word in Dutch, gezelligheid, that doesn't quite translate into English, but it generally means coziness and warmth. A good Dutch dinner should leave you with that feeling.”
Friendly service and the matchbox setting set the gezelligheid tone at Noord, where the walls are lined with Moysan’s art and windows look out on Passyunk’s Singing Fountain. The plates that arrive from the open kitchen include staples like bitterballen, fried pork meatballs scented with nutmeg, smorrebrod crowned with lush house-smoked fish, mustard soup with scallops and konijn in het zuur, tangy vinegar-braised rabbit with smoked sausage and turnips. For dessert, the move is boterkoek, a Dutch almond butter cake filled with almond custard. 1046 Tasker St., Philadelphia, 267.909.9704
Also try: Dutch Dessert, speaking of sweets, is a new food truck typically parked by the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s museums. A “mobile European bakery,” the truck has Dutch treats like sukerbole (sugar bread), zeeuwse bolen (sticky buns) and the amazingly fun-to-say appleflappen (apple fritters). 484.436.4000
The charming Pennsport café, The Dutch, is both Pennsylvania Dutch and actual Dutch. The name is a fitting tribute to its owners, one of whom is Noord’s Lachman. The other is chef Lee Styer of the fine French restaurant, Fond, Noord’s neighbor on Passyunk, who is of Pennsylvania Dutch descent. Almost too poetic.
The breakfast-and-lunch menu here is “a combination of our two cultural backgrounds,” Lachman said.
There’s cream chipped beef and Lebanon bologna omelets, but also poufy Dutch baby pancakes and uitsmijer, a traditional open-faced ham-and-egg sandwich updated here with locally made guanciale and house-based rye. 1527 S. 4th St., Philadelphia, 215.755.5600