The dinner party is a timeless way to bring people together and connect with those in our lives who “just get us”. We break bread, laugh, talk, share dishes, and refill glasses (mostly) effortlessly.

However, as effortless as the relationships may feel, the desire might still exist to make the evening extra special.  When that desire strikes, try these locally driven, tasty, and entertaining themes on for size:

Apple Everything

With PA ranking 4th in United States apple production, bringing friends together with an apple feast seems like the perfect way to honor local fruit pride. Not to mention apples are delicious, nutritious and versatile. This dinner party is sophisticated and fun. It lends itself to sweet and savory courses from start to finish, and an array of cider drinks for pairing. Start with slices of a sweet-tart variety, like Cameo or Braeburn, laid alongside your favorite local goat cheese, such as Yellow Springs Farm’s award-winning Black Diamond. Segue into a light first course using Ginger Gold in a soup or salad. This Turmeric Carrot Apple Soup is packed with nutrients and flavor, the best of both worlds. Then consider Honey Glazed Roast Pork with Apples for the main course, or toss your preferred sweet apple variety in a veggie roast for a dietary-friendly option. For dessert, it’s hard to go wrong here. Options range from simple slices with your favorite from-scratch caramel sauce or a classic apple pie with an intricate lattice top. Try these Vegan (and gluten-free) Apple Pie Bars from Minimalist Baker for a guilt-free but delectable dessert.

Foraged & Local

The local dinner party has been done before. In fact, it’s quite often the “theme” of any dinner we sit down for – with company or not. The foraged factor is a fun wrench to throw in the mix though, staying mindful of your limitations of course. Don’t go romping through the woods and picking up a mossy patch because it “looks edible enough.” You should always seek an expert opinion before consumption. Throw this party as a potluck. Suggest some friends go the local route and some go the foraged route. If you have guests willing to try both, even better! Present the local option with strict rules – EVERY part of the dish must be local and if your friends have home gardens, that can certainly count as foraged ingredients. However, even within city limits, there are some natural gems, like mushrooms, nettles, purslane and ginkgo, that can be safely gathered, prepared and enjoyed in creative ways. The Wild Foodies of Philly’s website is a great local resource and a large MEETUP group offering the opportunity to connect with foraging locals in person. Edible Wild Food is another site with well organized photos and recipes.

Market Madness

It’s not uncommon for us, and certainly many PF3 blog readers, to frequent neighborhood markets for a weekly haul of fruit, vegetables, cheese and more. But we often take these relished goods back home, incorporating them into a dish that features non-market ingredients. Even if those non-market ingredients are few and far between – perhaps just spices – we still love the idea of going “full market”. Starting this routine as a potluck dinner party is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable and enjoy the camaraderie of a unified effort to prioritize local. But, who knows, maybe #FullMarketMonday will be the new #MeatlessMonday?

Death Row

“What’s your favorite meal?” is a common question with the power to make some individuals cringe, particularly people on a first date or chefs in their umpteenth interview. It’s a bit loaded and usually results in a long list of answers, starting off singular, then quickly snowballing into ten as you recall just how much you adore food. So the Death Row dinner party is our way of saying, let’s have fun with this. Let’s force our close friends and/or family (with no judgement, mind you) to prepare and bring their Death Row dish to a dinner party. There’s a good chance the dishes will range from a giant plate of tater tots to bacon-wrapped rabbit loin. Regardless of what’s presented, all dishes will serve as amazing conversation starters, and dinner in the end. Remember, no judgement.

Cookbook Swap

We obsess over cookbooks. We adore the attention to detail. We envy the photographs. We are grateful for the inspiration. We are…terrible at following recipes to a tee. Now, since nobody likes a dinner party with strict rules, think of it as an appreciation dinner party; a way of honoring the individuals who put hours upon hours into the creation of that cookbook. Plus, we’re certain you’ll find, when you mimic every suggested step, the dish will taste better than it has ever tasted before. As a fun twist, have every guest bring their cookbook to the dinner party and swap for a new one. After all, sharing is one of the most beautiful pillars of the food community.

BONUS: Digestif Post-Dinner Party

As the title suggests, this is not so much a dinner party as it is an after dinner party. Yes, the after dinner party is the new dinner party. You heard it here first. Instead of inviting your friends over around 6 or 7 for dinner, start this gathering at 8 or 9, after every guest has already enjoyed whatever it is they chose to enjoy for dinner. You can even go out for dinner at your favorite local eatery or hit up another friend’s dinner party, as long as you’re back home by the set time to greet your guests with much-needed digestifs (or digestivo, as they’re known in Italy). The Old-Fashioned and Sazerac are recognized as classic digestif cocktails but feel free to keep it simple with sweet shots of limoncello or the Philly-made Bear Trap, an herbaceous and earthy liqueur by Rowhouse Spirits. Freeze fermented fruit to use as ice cubes for an extra digestive kick.

Whether you choose a suggestion from above, dream up your own, or long for another type of gathering, remember how food brings us together, to discover, to be inspired, and get excited. It is food that is at the heart of what allows us to feel more connected to each other and food that allows us to live out our values. With those guiding principles, your gathering can do no wrong.