From Left: John Debella; Simeone Automotive Foundation Museum// Photography by Laura Hibbs McKenzie
Just last week, we hit the 102.9 MGK’s 8th Annual John DeBella Comfort Food Fest at Simeone Automotive Foundation Museum—an insanely gorgeous venue housing a fine collection of antique cars. The Comfort Food Fest has been hosted and attended by beloved classic rock Philly radio host John DeBella for the past eight years.
“This event started with my wife,” DeBella told us during a quick chat. “We were having an anniversary dinner at Lacroix in the Rittenhouse Hotel. Matt Levin was the executive chef then. We were eating at the Chef’s Table, just having appetizers and stuff. Matt was sending all this stuff over, it was just out of this world. Incredible food. My wife said to him, ‘Wow! If you cook this well at work, what do you cook for yourself at home?’ He said, ‘My favorite thing … tuna mac and cheese!’”
DeBella loved the idea of bringing together the best chefs in the city to cook dishes they don’t always get to serve at work—their favorite comfort foods. “We sent some feelers out and everybody was up for it,” he revealed. “When Matt showed up, he made homemade macaroni with melted Asiago cheese and raw ahi tuna. That’s his idea of tuna mac and cheese. Everybody’s been working on it for eight years and we’ve had some incredible stuff.”
So, at his eighth annual Comfort Food Fest, we were sure to visit every table at the event to test the wares (obviously). Here’s a breakdown of our culinary trek:
Bud & Marilyn’s (13th & Locust St., Philadelphia): We kicked off the tour with a stop at Bud & Marilyn’s table. The not-quite-open classic American eatery is the latest from 13th Street dream team Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran. The pair whipped up a hearty, BBQ-smothered mini meatloaf served on a brioche bun and topped with Wisconsin cheddar and pickles. Off to a scrumptious start.
El Vez (121 S. 13th St., Philadelphia): Continuing our tour of 13th Street eateries, we stopped by perennial Philly fave El Vez’s table next. We are die-hard queso fundido fans when it comes to El Vez, but Chef Kevin Taylor’s comfort food offering may convince us to go rogue next time. The homemade chorizo and meatball torta with roasted peppers, onions, pickled chilis and queso anejo was warm, filling and delicious—everything comfort food should be.
C & R Kitchen (370 Montgomery Ave., Merion Station): Chef Valentin Bay delighted with a mini “LamBLT.” Crispy lamb bacon on a mini challah roll with Bibb lettuce, tomato jam and caraway mayo brought new meaning (and life) to the typical BLT. We’re not sure how we ever lived without lamb bacon prior to this event, but we’re certainly not going back.
Pod (3636 Sansom St., Philadelphia): Ever consider combining kimchi with mac and cheese? Thank God Chef Todd Lean of University City’s Pod did! The insanely delicious side dish was the perfect accompaniment for his flavorful Korean pork slider.
Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar (549 Wilmington West Chester Pike, Glen Mills; 200 S. 40th St., Philadelphia): Chef David Walti whipped up the ultimate comfort food: quesadillas! His included a sundried tomato tortilla with smoked cheddar, guacamole, chipotle sour cream, refried beans, roasted green chilis and baby heirloom tomato salsa.
Valley Tavern (Valley Forge Casino, 1160 First Ave., King of Prussia): An applewood smoked bacon-wrapped meatball smothered in a Blue Moon BBQ sauce? Chef Chris Garrison had us at meatball. Actually, let’s be honest. Chef had us at bacon.
Fat Ham (3131 Walnut St., Philadelphia): Grits are a risky endeavor, with so many times the dish coming across as watered-down corn that doesn’t bring much to the meal. This Fat Ham dish proved us so wrong. Chef Aaron Gottesman’s tender baby back ribs topped with red-eye gravy over cheesy grits tied as our number one dish of the night. John DeBella also revealed that it was the dish he enjoyed the most at this year’s competition.
Alma de Cuba (1623 Walnut St., Philadelphia): Chef Scott McLeod’s Togarashi “chicken fried” wagyu steak with a green-eye gravy was out of this world. The tender meat was coated in a corn flake crust and served with the perfect amount of greens. We could have eaten 14 servings. (Okay, we may have eaten 14 servings.) The dish was accompanied by the best iced tea we’ve ever had—which the crew made in-house. Next time we hit up Alma de Cuba for dinner, we will certainly be calling ahead to ensure they have it in stock.
Comfort Food Fest was a hit, with good food, good people and good laughs. It doesn’t get much better. Check out more photos from the event on Twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #JDBComfortFood.