Like so many others who wax poetic about Phil Rosenthal with the premiere of each new season of Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix, I found myself grasping for adjectives that are both original and fitting to describe the joy he provides to viewers of his show. As someone who shares Phil’s love of television theme songs, my inclination to cite a classic one as a means of describing him seems only apropos.
With a very respectful nod to lyricist Sonny Curtis and taking just a smidge of creative liberty with the original, I can’t help but channel the Mary Tyler Moore theme song when making my latest effort to best capture what Phil Rosenthal brings to our tv screen.
Who can turn the world on with his smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, it’s you Phil and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement, you show it. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it. You’re gonna make it after all.
If you’ve watched even just one episode of Somebody Feed Phil, you’ve seen Phil Rosenthal bring these lyrics to life, in vivid living color. I defy you to find someone who describes the show without mentioning Phil’s smile. He exudes love wherever his culinary travels take him, whether it’s for the locale he’s visiting, the people he’s meeting, or the food he’s experiencing. And in each of those same places, he quickly takes it as his own before sharing it with adoring viewers, not to mention unsuspecting passersby on-location.
With the recent release of Season 5 on Netflix, Phil Rosenthal and Somebody Feed Phil bring us along as he explores the food, people, and history of five new destinations. In each, not only does Phil make new friends, but we feel the same kinship. When he emotes and excitedly gesticulates about a dish, it’s almost as if we’re tasting it with him. As Phil learns about the culture and history of a site, we’re soaking up the same knowledge as if we were along for the journey.
Speaking of journeys, here’s an overview of Phil’s travels for Season 5 of Somebody Feed Phil:
A JOKE FOR MAX
For those of you lucky enough to have seen the first four seasons of Somebody Feed Phil, you’re familiar with Max & Helen Rosenthal, Phil’s parents. Both were lovingly woven into the fabric of each episode before ill health and father time took them. You undoubtedly recall the cherry that was placed on top of each episode in the form of a joke from Max, whose passing last summer left us devoid of that special treat. Or so we thought.
While Max’s contribution to the show can’t be matched, Phil has been generous enough to share a loving comedic tribute in the form of a joke for Max being told in each episode by a close friend of Phil’s. Comics Judy Gold, Paul Reiser, Brad Garrett, Larry Willmore, along with Phil’s son Ben, join in with a joke, honoring the tradition left by Max. As missed as Max & Helen are on the show, this is the perfect way for Phil and his funny friends & family to carry the humorous torch.
I’m starting with this episode for several reasons. Selfishly, any episode that features lobster in all its glory warrants being given top billing. Lobster and butter. Need I say more? I suggest you wear a bib while enjoying this installment of the show.
The highlight of Phil’s visit to Maine, for both viewers and seemingly Phil himself, is Anna MacDougal. Not only do we learn that Phil is Anna’s favorite cousin, but she welcomes him and us to Spindleworks, an art center in Brunswick, Maine that calls itself home to talented adults with disabilities. Anna is the perfect ambassador for this amazing facility and beams with pride when sharing the fruits of her creative labor with Phil and introduces him to her fellow artists.
Keeping things in the family, we’re also introduced to other members of the MacDougal family, who welcome Phil to Buckwheat Blossom Farm, the horse-powered farm run by cousins Jeff & Amy. Better yet, Anna joins the fun again, sharing her great humor and contagious enthusiasm.
By sharing that this episode features a topless Phil Rosenthal and our jovial host enjoying coffee with Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, is there really anything else that needs to be said? It should be added though that Phil is absolutely NOT topless while with the prime minister! Of course, Phil wouldn’t risk causing an international incident while visiting the capital of Finland.
Why was Phil Rosenthal topless in Helsinki, you ask? Let’s just say that this segment involved a boat, shvitzing (to sweat in Yiddish), and sausage. While not exactly a cliffhanger, I dare you to not check out this segment for all the details.
Prior to watching Phil visit Helsinki, I’d heard of being gobsmacked before, but the dish Vorschmack had eluded me. Thanks to our intrepid food guide Phil Rosenthal, we’re introduced to the traditional Finnish dish, whose name means “appetizer.” While enjoyed in a variety of cuisines, Finland’s customary version is rooted in chopped herring.
If I were to read between the lines, Madrid appeared to be Phil’s favorite destination during Season 5. As passionate as he seems wherever he visits, I personally sensed that Madrid resonated with Phil more than usual. I could be wrong of course, but I suspect you’ll come away with the same impression.
Tapas play a large role in Phil’s travels through Madrid. Restaurante Ponzano and Barero are two of the restaurants he dines at, experiencing everything from baby goat to octopus along the way. As is the case in every episode of Somebody Feed Phil, observing his curiosity yielding to pure gastronomic joy in one quick bite is always fun.
For the uninitiated, a core element of the show is Phil’s exploration of markets in a given city. If ever there was a fitting image to accompany the idiom “like a kid in a candy store,” it would be of Phil Rosenthal meandering wide-eyed through a market. With Madrid being home to over 40 markets, Phil and crew visited El Mercado de La Paz, where he sampled such treats as lemon-smoked oysters and Jamon, a dry-cured Spanish ham. It won’t surprise you to learn that he loved both.
Having established that not everything seen on Somebody Feed Phil is ingestible, one of the many highlights of this episode is Phil’s visit to Vida Nueva, a weaving cooperative founded by six single women over 20 years ago. Learning how these women hand-weave their amazing rugs and make all of their dyes was a revelation, shared as only Phil can with humor and grace.
Phil Rosenthal enjoys tequila, so of course, he takes us to Montelobos Mezcal distillery, where we watch him try his hand at roasting the agave plants that will eventually become mezcal. The operative word here is try, which would suggest that Phil never took mezcal classes at Hofstra.
This installment of Somebody Feed Phil isn’t lacking in culinary innovation, as in one episode Phil consumes worms, Oaxacan-inspired Japanese sushi, and tongue, to just scratch the surface of dishes he enjoyed while in Mexico. And yes, from all appearances, he did in fact enjoy them.
With its growing reputation as a food city, Portland seemed like a natural stopping point for Phil during his travels for Season 5. Shockingly, despite the Oregon city only being a couple of hours away from his Southern California home by air, Phil’s visit to The City of Roses was his first.
If I were to use a word that I feel best describes the Portland episode, it would be eclectic. Thanks to Phil and his merry band of uber-talented creative types, we’re treated to everything from a visit to Jacobsen Salt Company to learn about yes, salt, to a stop at Kachka, a restaurant that celebrates the cuisine of Russia and other former Soviet Republics.
We also join Phil as he visits chef Peter Cho’s garage, which frankly is nicer than most restaurant dining rooms. Chef Cho, along with his adorable son, introduces Phil to a cheeseburger bao that was obviously a huge hit.
While in Portland, Phil was also indoctrinated into vegan donut making at Doe Donuts, another segment that was not only educational but entertaining and delicious-looking as well. Come to think of it, that’s a recurring theme on Somebody Feed Phil, which is why the show is a television unicorn.
Once you’re through soaking up the excellence that is Somebody Feed Phil’s Season 5 episodes, you’ll undoubtedly understand exactly how Sonny Curtis’ lyrics cited above apply just as well to Phil Rosenthal as they once did to Mary Richards. Now if we can only compel Phil to do a Mary-like pirouette with an accompanying hat toss at the end of each episode, we’ll have wrapped this analogy into a neat little package of joy.