There's a odd dearth of non-chain, quick-but-excellent lunch stops around the popular Old City and Independence Mall sights, which makes this quick-stop gourmet café down the block from Franklin Court a godsend. When, in September 2013, Ellen Yin refurbished and rebranded the upscale cafe Fork, Etc. into this modern breakfast-to-dinner boîte—tables for two, open kitchen at the back, a wall décor of old Philadelphia street plans underscoring that Market Street was, indeed, called "High Street" in colonial times—she dropped many of old standbys (divine French toast, we will miss ye) to unleash chef Eli Kulp's more creative side.
He has grounded his innovative menu in whole grains, farm-fresh ingredients, and sublime baked goods and pastries, then uses that sure footing to surprise you at every bite with unusual combinations, strong flavors, and cross-cultural culinary pollinations. Some echoes of the old Fork, Etc. remain, such as serving crusty sandwiches on wooden paddles. But your seeded semolina roll might now be stuffed with roast pork, fermented broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone, or perhaps duck meatballs, spicy marinara sauce, liver and onions, and Swiss cheese. There are still workhorses like pastrami on rye or sweet potato soup, but more of the menu is given over to delectables such as ancient grains salads, slivered beets piled with goat cheese and hazelnuts, squash hummus, crispy kale, and an autumnal take on panzanella.
Dinner might consist of lamb tartare with smoked artichokes; buckwheat orecchiette pasta with crawfish and okra; or braised rabbit with roasted cauliflower, fried Brussels sprouts, and maple-glazed chestnuts.
If you're in the market for a longer lunch or a romantic dinner, just pop next door to dine in the softly lit, more formal brasserie atmosphere of High Street's sister restaurant, Fork (tel. 215/625-9425).