Restaurant notes: Changing of the guard at Distrito; Down Home Diner returning

Last-minute flurry around Down Home Diner, Sept. 30, 2010.

  • Saturday (10/2) is the final night in the kitchen at Distrito for chef Tim Spinner, who is leaving the Jose Garces orbit after seven years for his own Mexican restaurant, Cantina Feliz, with Distrito F&B director Brian Sirhal. The lads, making the move into the Fort Washington space that previously housed Alison two, hope to open in December. New chef at Distrito will be Maria Schmidt, who was on the opening Distrito kitchen team and has been a sous chef for the last couple of years. Schmidt is the third female exec chef in Garces' company, after exec pastry chef Jessica Mogardo and Chifa chef Natalie Maronski. (Post corrected.)
  • Friday (10/1) will mark the relaunch of Down Home Diner, Jack McDavid's joint in Reading Terminal Market. The place has been gutted, front and back. Besides the new kitchen equipment, re-visitors will notice that the smaller seating area on the kitchen side is gone -- replaced by a takeout counter featuring a grab-and-go case with $5 sandwiches, including cheesesteaks.The main seating area has been spruced up, as has been the eatin' counter. McDavid plans to start with the previous menu and ramp up the fare starting next Wednesday (10/6), adding dinners. Chef is Val Sandoval, whose background includes Jack's Firehouse and Audrey Claire (and he's a cousin of El Rey chef Dionico Jimenez). Hours will be 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; he'll open at 7 a.m. Sundays but has not figured on his closing time. At some point, he'll add a Sunday brunch buffet and a liquor license.
  • The choco-centric Max Brenner was a last-minute addition to last night's Rittenhouse Row Fall Gathering, and barkeep James Cleland whipped up his "Drunken Punken Nog" in minutes. It was good enough to win first place. The drink includes Cruzan 9 spiced rum, house-made organic pumpkin syrup with cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, and white chocolate ganache. Second place went to Liberte, coming soon to the Sofitel, for "A Ruby in the Fall (Cruzan 9, ruby port, aperol, pear nectar, lemon luice, light agave nectar, ground cinnamon) and the Ranstead Room placed with an "Orange Petal" (Cruzan 9, orange juice, Liquor 43, Agnostura bitters, orange blossom water, egg white). Max Brenner will have  its winning drink on the menu from Oct. 15-Nov. 1 for $10.
  • Old will meet new: One of Philly's neatest businesses-you've-never-heard-of is Provenance Architecturals. These guys buy architectural salvage, clean it up, and install it in "new" projects. If you've been to the Oyster House (formerly Sansom Street Oyster House), Barbuzzo, Belgian Cafe, Mugshots, South Philly Tap Room, and Percy Street, you've seen Provenance's work. If you're curious about restaurant design, note that Provenance is opening its new showroom on Friday, Oct. 1 at 912 Canal St. in Northern Liberties from 4 to 9 p.m.