Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
C.L.: Anyone visit the Vendy awards in the Piazza Sunday? We've got video of the event, shot by one of our intrepid interns, Greg Thomas (Philly.com/vendys). I was tickled to see that one of our veteran food trucks, Gigi's, was the Vendy Cup winner, not one of the nouveau fusion additions. It would have been so easy for Guapos Tacos to take that prize, but ... I just had a FAN-TASTIC Caribbean lunch from Gigi's. The jerk chicken was sooooo tender, and totally infused with that dark island spice. Maybe even better was the platter, huge for $7, of freshly fried whiting, drizzled with hot sauce, of course.
Reader: My wife loves the White House meatballs. Happy to see the new casino outpost was as good as the original. How "crusty" was the waitstaff?
C.L.: Not crusty enough if you're an old-timer. These were mostly fresh-faced young Shoremen, surprisingly happy to answer my questions. At least the Formica bread was as crusty as always. A.C. bread is special.
Reader: A group of us are heading to Bar Ferdinand next weekend. Have you been there recently, and do you recommend BF in general and any specialties in particular?
C.L.: Funny you should mention it. I haven't eaten at Bar Ferdinand for ages, but I happened to be passing by this weekend right when the chef was in the midst of making their paella on the sidewalk. Dios mio! It smelled good, as the rice and clams simmered away in broth tinted the color of rendered chorizo. No tables were available at the hour we happened by, but my family is now demanding we return to eat paella, for sure. ...
Reader: I recently ate at Bar Ferdinand and after eating both there and Amada I think for the value Bar Ferdinand is the better choice. ... The food is very on par, with Amada having the slight edge, but the price is certainly better at Ferdinand.
Reader: I recently made my first trip to Divan Turkish Kitchen - not the most convenient location for me, but I thought the spinach dumplings, grape leaves, and pretty much everything else I tried were really good. Have you ever been? (I wanted to go to my old-favorite Kanella but it was closed Monday. ...)
C.L.: Divan is one of my favorites when I'm getting a hankering for a good adana kebab and some yogurt-sauced manti dumplings. A very solid 2-bell spot. (Kanella hits the Mediterranean notes at a higher level of sophistication ... been hearing raves about Kanella's brunch; I just need to rouse my sleepy crew in time to eat a weekend meal before noon.)
Reader: I went to Hot Diggity, the new hot dog place, recently, and liked it pretty well (I got the Saigon Fusion, like a banh mi with a hot dog), but I'm a little concerned about the cost. One dog, a small fry, and a small soda was $11. Not too far off the prices at Bark in Brooklyn, but they offer a custom-made hot dog (from Hartmann's in upstate N.Y.) and are tending toward high-quality artisanal products. Are Philadelphians going to go for a $5+ hot dog? The toppings are interesting, but still ...
C.L.: I agree that it ain't cheap as dogs go. But I found these to be superior. And for $10 a meal to sample something that's helping Philly catch up on one of America's essential street foods, I'm all for it. The next step is definitely the artisanal house-made dog, which some places are already attempting. I'll be surprised if any of those are under $5 a sandwich, either.
Reader: Any word on the status of the reopening of Montreal bagel place Spread?
C.L.: Hallelujah! I hear they're supposed to reopen sometime next week.
Reader: Can we chat Vietnamese for a second? I'm gluten free, and although I don't expect a dedicated kitchen, are there any Vietnamese restaurants that may have something I can eat? (Rice noodles, no wheat.)
C.L.: "Gluten free" is a topic unto its own. But pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant around uses lots of rice noodles, especially in pho, where you typically get to choose from wheat or rice noodles. You should be in the clear as long as you stick with soup and summer rolls (wrapped in rice-paper noodle sheets). ...
Reader: Pho Ha, Sixth and Washington - awesome.
Reader: A friend who is GF never has a hard time eating at Nam Phuong. ...
C.L.: A correction: the charming Japanese lunch counter/market in Narberth I referenced last week as a great place to get okonomiyaki pancakes is not Midori Mart (long extinct), but Maido (www.maidookini.com) Definitely worth a visit to stock up on good soba, real Japanese rice, bonito flakes.