Who's Who at Beard Finalist Vetri

Marc Vetri has long been named one of the best Italian chefs in the world, and his tiny, rustic, eponymous eatery has held down the fort at 13th and Spruce Street for 13 years. It's no surprise to us that Vetri is nominated for a 2011 James Beard in the Outstanding Restaurant category.

While others try to wow people with super-slick presentation and over-wrought concepts, Vetri has stayed the course taking inspiration from classic and modern Italian cuisine, while offering an umatched fine-dining experience in Philly. What makes the restaurant tick, though, is the people, not the gnocchi.

"We're a family here," says GM Bill McKinley, who secretly loves the wines of Burgundy more than the power of Barolo. "We like spending time together, and providing each and every guest with what they want when they walk through the door."

"The camaraderie and community goes all the way down the ranks to our longest tenured employee, Erasto Perez," adds part-owner Jeff Benjamin. "He's the busboy, and has been here for 13 years, since we opened the doors. He works six days a week, and when he's out, we all feel it. Everyone here is important to the team."

Part of Vetri's allure is the top-notch service: "While we offer a tasting menu, that doesn't mean someone has to eat what we choose," says Chef de Cuisine Adam Leonti. "If a guest is disappointed in the middle of a course, I am more than happy to walk out to the dining room and ask them what they want."

So, how does Vetri feel about the possibility of winning one of the most prestigious awards The James Beard Foundation offers?

"I don't like the idea of rating a restaurant the best. I am honored to be nominated, for sure," said Vetri. "But that's like saying one piece of art is better than another. It's way too subjective to have that concrete an opinion about one artist over all others." [The Feast]

For an insider’s look at more James Beard-nominees, go to Behind The Beards. The Feast will be adding fresh content daily until the winners are announced on Monday, May 9.

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