In this second installment of Chefs Eat Too, Spoon sat down with Joe Cicala, the chef at famed Philly restaurant Le Virtu and newly opened Brigantessa, to find out what he likes to eat and cook outside his restaurants. Despite being named a “Rising Star Chef of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation in 2013, Cicala is extremely down-to-earth and his restaurants embody a similar unpretentious character. The food at Le Virtu is based on the cuisine of shepherds, farmers and fisherman from the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy, making it an authentic and rustic Italian eatery in the middle of Philadelphia. Brigantessa is a Southern Italian style pizzeria cooking up gourmet pizzas on an oven shipped over from Italy. When Cicala isn’t busy creating and cooking his inventive yet traditional dishes, Spoon learned that he enjoys eating at little-known Philadelphia eateries and feeding his family heaping bowls of spaghetti and meatballs.

Spoon: Where do you like to eat on your days off?

Cicala: I like to hit up a Vietnamese pho place on Washington Ave called Pho 75. I also eat a lot of Mexican take out from Los Gallos. I like the Tacos al Pastore (with spicy pork and pineapple) and the Milanesa de Pollo o Res, which is a twist on a chicken Milanese sandwich that comes with a chipotle, avocado and basil pesto.

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Spoon: What are your favorite Philadelphia restaurants?

Cicala: I love Townsend and how it’s doing reinvented French cuisine. They also have outstanding cocktails and wines. I like a dining experience where I get to eat something other than Italian, which is my specialty. Townsend is approachable and fun.

Spoon: What is your favorite dish to cook at home?

Cicala: I cook more comfort-style foods at home. I always make spaghetti and clams and roast chicken for my wife and son. But my son is a vegetarian by choice at 7 years old – he says meat freaks him out so he eats the spaghetti without the clams.

Photo by Amanda Shulman

Spoon: What was your favorite childhood meal?

Cicala: My mother would make this Sicilian braised chicken thigh dish that is too hard to spell, but it had chicken broth with celery, onions, bay leaves and parsley and really small tubular pasta.