Eat like an Insider: Chef Tom Huff of Harper’s Garden

Tom Huff is the sous chef at the newly opened Harper's Garden. | Harper's Garden
Harper's Garden

Tom Huff is the sous chef at the newly opened Harper’s Garden, an outdoor restaurant in Rittenhouse serving up Modern American cuisine.

The 25-year-old got his start in the food industry early on as a dishwasher in high school.

“I remember the chef telling me I was going to be a chef one day and I responded, ‘I can’t even make ramen,’” Huff remembers. “Nevertheless, I persisted, and by the end of high school, I knew culinary school was where I was headed.”

Huff attended school for a time, but left to pursue an opportunity at Amada in Atlantic City’s Revel Casino.

“I dropped out of culinary school and had the priceless opportunity to work with Chef Garces and his team,” he says. “I idolized my chefs there. They were extremely talented, demanding and taught me so much.”

On that note, what Huff loves most about the food industry is the people. 

“Every kitchen is a pirate ship full of a dedicated, motley crew. Everyone has an interesting story to tell and the work ethic is unmatched,” he says. “You have to be a little bit crazy to do this job and that’s what I love about it.”

A Philly resident since 2012, Huff knows his way around Philly’s eclectic food scene, and tells us where to eat sea urchin as well as where to have drinks with the best views in the city.

Best meal under $10?

Fountain Porter (1601 S. 10th St.). I’ve always been a fan of a good burger and they have the best one for only $5. It brings back memories of backyard barbecues as a kid — simple and delicious. Combined with a great beer selection, it’s really the best value for a great bite to eat.

Best hidden food gem?

Cafe Lift (428 N. 13th St.). It’s by far my favorite brunch spot in the city. When I first moved to Philly, I would wake up early to have breakfast there almost every day. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and their lemon ricotta pancakes are incredible. Topped with honey and fresh strawberries, they are light, refreshing and fluffy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about them.

Best place to dine alone?

Watkins Drinkery (1712 S. 10th St.) became my go-to hangout very quickly. The environment there is a neighborhood ‘Cheers’ bar where everyone knows your name. The first time I went in, I was by myself and the guy next to me started a conversation about what was on the TV, and then the girl next to him chimed in, and then the guy next to her. Suddenly the entire bar was in a great group conversation. This is the norm there and I’ve made some really great friends because of it. They do a great job with the seasonal menu, too. Their creative use of exotic proteins (ostrich, camel, frogs legs, etc…) is what differentiates them from a typical South Philly corner bar, and makes them a great place to eat outside the box.

Place you always take or recommend for out-of-towners?

Bok Bar (800 Mifflin St.). The view of the skyline from this rooftop bar, above the refurbished and historic Bok Technical High School, is breathtaking. Anyone who wants to see the beauty of our city should go and I always recommend it to my friends and family from out of town. With small bar bites that change every summer and the beautiful view, it is unmatched.

Go-to date spot?

Double Knot (120 S. 13th St.). The dimly lit, elegant and romantic downstairs of Double Knot is the perfect place to treat your special someone to a night out. In a very intimate setting, they serve small Asian-inspired plates and sushi. The robatayaki hanger steak is my favorite small bite, but it’s best to mix and match a bunch of small plates.

Best place to catch up with friends?

Taproom on 19th (2400 S. 19th St.) is a cozy neighborhood bar with an amazing burger (half off on Mondays) and a welcoming staff. A lot my industry friends hang out here after their shift and it’s my favorite place to take non-industry friends who just want simple, well-executed bar fare and a citywide special.

Most Instagrammable restaurant?

Vernick (2031 Walnut St.). I can’t praise this restaurant enough. Their food is both delicious and beautiful. The attention to detail in every plate, and the gentle way they prepare all of their fish and veggies make every dish an experience. Last time I was there, I had a sea urchin dish that was perfection. I can’t help but take out my phone and snap a picture when I dine there. 

Harper’s Garden is located at 31 S. 18th St.

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