When I moved to the Philly area fifteen odd years ago, Dmitri’s was one of the first spots that made me instantly fall in love with the town’s food scene. While that dining scene has grown, diversified and improved since then, Dmitri’s hasn’t budged an inch. The location and décor are still the same. Prices have escalated only in step with inflation. The menu hasn’t changed. Yet it somehow has avoided being passed by, comfortably maintaining a sense of timelessness. Hell, some of the same servers and kitchen staff I first encountered way back when are still to be found working the floor several nights a week. It’s a Philadelphia institution I’d hate to have to do without. I’d happily swear off cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and scrapple before I’d give up a seat at Dmitri’s.
I usually like to filet my own fish but that's a rather tough job when four people are seated at a table built for two. Besides, the lovely Angela performs the task more elegantly than I would. At right, a moment of repose for the amazingly efficient kitchen staff.
Dishes here are best shared. The small space and tiny tables almost demand it, as does the family style of service. Plates are delivered as they’re ready and often don’t make it to the table before diners dive in for a forkful. This is Philadelphia’s original home of the small plate/large plate menu. The only challenge that can present is just how much to order. It’s a great spot to go with a huge appetite and a group of friends. But it can just as easily be treated as a solid source for a quick solo meal at the small open kitchen bar. Just don’t go expecting creative nuances or of the moment ingredients.
Dmitri’s is all about simple food, simply prepared and simply presented. Grilling, broiling, sautéing and deep-frying are the cooking methods of choice, applied with an equally deft hand to a variety of seafood. Salty fried smelts, zesty sautéed mussels and snappy grilled octopus are all favorites of mine, along with consistently moist and fresh whole grilled fish. When in season, softshell crabs are a house specialty. The seriously good split babaganouj and hummus plate, served with warm pita triangles and a dish of dipping oil, makes a great communal starter.
I generally find “no reservations” policies irksome; however, it makes total sense in this tiny space. Service is quick, turnover is rapid and, although Dmitri’s pulls diners from all over the region along with its share of more adventurous tourists, it’s essentially a neighborhood joint. On weekends, be prepared to arrive before the doors open early in the evening or else for a wait that can range up to two hours at peak. The bar at the New Wave Café, handily located across the street, doubles as Dmitri’s unofficial waiting room.
Along with my long-standing love affair with the original Dmitri’s, the main reason I never give a second thought to the “new” Dmitri’s location near Fitler Square is simple. Dmitri’s Queen Village branch is a BYOB. It’s not a place for big, rich or complicated wine of any sort. Don’t bother toting along your favorite California Cab or Meursault. Save one dish – the grilled lamb – the menu is geared completely toward crispy, dry, aromatic whites and rosés. Dry Sherry – Fino or Manzanilla, ideally – makes for a perfect starter to accompany many of the small seafood plates. Reds can work, obviously with the lamb but also with the grilled fish or salmon. Just keep them lively and fresh. The red I hauled along on my most recent visit, Vin de Table Français “La Guerrerie,” a Malbec/Gamay blend from Clos du Tue-Boeuf in the Loire, was wild, funky and, as it turned out, a pretty interesting match with both the grilled medallions of lamb and the grilled red snapper.
If you live in the Philly area and haven’t been to Dmitri’s or if you’re visiting from out of town for more than one evening you owe a meal there to yourself.
795 S. 3rd Street (at Catherine)
Philadelphia, PA 19147