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DNC 2016: The meal that sealed the convention for Philly (Hint: It wasn’t a cheesesteak)

In 1948, the last time the Democratic National Convention was held here, Harry S. Truman was the nominee, and chopped steak and cheese probably really was the best bite in town.

Things are different now.

The video announcing the location for the 2016 DNC might have shown chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz pulling a cheesesteak out of a fridge, but it wasn’t a sandwich that sealed the deal. It was a plate of angry crab spaghetti.

Wasserman Schultz and her organizing committee were in town last month for a final visit before making their decision, and after taking the crew on the requisite tour of Independence Mall, Mayor Michael Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell took them to dinner at High Street on Market. The group was impressed with both the food and atmosphere at Ellen Yin and chef Eli Kulp’s hip restaurant, which the New York Times describes as “pulsing with the sort of millennials who have revitalized the Old City district.”

What did they eat at the Market Street spot, which transforms from a casual cafe during the day into one of Philly’s most innovative dining rooms at night? Nutter left it up to Kulp. (The mayor is a documented fan, having once declared July 16, 2014 “Eli Kulp Day” in honor of the chef’s designation as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in America.)

“They just put it in our hands, so we were really able to have a lot of fun,” Kulp says. Of the 10 courses he served, the angry crab spaghetti — Old Bay-flavored pasta with peekytoe crab and habanero oil — was a favorite, so much so that the table ordered a second round of the dish. Also on the menu: duck.

“The mayor has never met a duck he didn’t like, so I made him a one-off version with some aged beets and smoked goat yogurt,” Kulp relates, adding that the group as a whole showed great appetite and were not at all wary of his boundary-pushing food. “They were definitely not conservative eaters.”

Of note, when officials from the Vatican toured Philly to vet its worthiness of a Papal visit, where did they eat lunch? At Fork, Kulp and Yin’s slightly more elegant restaurant right next door. So we can also thank this pair of restaurateurs for helping bring about the Pope’s forthcoming visit, which is expected to draw millions of people and give the city’s economy a big boost.

“We’re glad we could fulfill our civic duties,” Kulp says with a smile.

Welcome to post-cheesesteak Philadelphia.

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