Editor’s Note: Let’s Eat is a weekly dining newsletter written by Michael Klein with contributions from Craig LaBan and the rest of our food team. It tells you what to eat, where to go and what to drink in and around Philadelphia. Sign up for the Let’s Eat newsletter to get these tips in your inbox every Wednesday.
Dig this new underground pub
A developer saw a need for a pub in his neighborhood, so he looked down. As in, the basement of a building he owns on Jewelers Row. This week marks the debut of Six Feet Under, and the theme is only mildly morbid (shovels hang on the wall). Also this week, I tip you to a steal of a BYOB in Northern Liberties, a new, independent sports bar in KoP, and a West Chester spot that pairs ramen and Hawaiian barbecue. Want to build your own gin and tonic? A Main Line bar is offering just that option. Craig LaBan is here, discussing the hype behind "natural" wines. If it's food news you crave, click here and follow me here and also here. Email me tips, suggestions, etc. here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here and you'll get it every week. Be sure to check your spam filter if you don't receive that confirmation email.
A curious undertaking in Wash West
Developer Gene LeFevre's hospitality endeavors include the posh Morris House Hotel near Pennsylvania Hospital in Washington Square West, where its M Restaurant offers gracious garden dining. His new spot, opening Thursday, Aug. 24, flips the script 180 degrees. It's a casual gastropub called Six Feet Under (727 Walnut St., 215-391-1100), so named because it's entirely subterranean. It's a brick-walled, low-light warren of rooms - including two bars, a dance floor, a dining room, and smaller nooks that are tailor-made for small groups of coworkers or friends. In fact, LeFevre says, he intends Six Feet Under to be a "living room" for his neighbors, down to the viewing parties for popular TV shows. Thursday nights will feature live jazz, and DJs spin Friday and Saturday nights. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and breakfast is served all day.
What we’re drinking
Gin and tonics at Teresa's Cafe
Main Line mainstay Teresa's Cafe (124 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne, 610-293-9909) just unveiled a flat-priced DIY gin and tonic bar (as it were). Sixteen gins (perhaps Corsair Genever or Xoriguer Mahon), eight tonics (e.g. Boylan's or Fentiman's). You call it. Any combo is $10.Center City Sips, that warm-season Wednesday happy-hour promo, resumes June 7 with 80-plus bars offering deals. Aldine, on the second floor at 1901 Chestnut St., is a stylish midpoint between the clubby Smiths and Devil’s Alley. Chef George Sabatino’s refined snack menu is worth the 21 steps upstairs. He offers pork chicharrones with garlic aioli, chicken-liver mousse, and crispy buffalo potatoes, to be washed down with Pennsylvania Apple (Effen Green Apple, whiskey, house grenadine), Blood Orange 75 (Effen Blood Orange, Lillet), and the utterly summery Cucumber Sour you see here (gin, cucumber, lemon and lime).
Where we’re eating
ApricotStone, Vinny's, Rai Rai
Among the best deals in town are the Mediterranean-style platters at the cozy ApricotStone (1040 N. American St. 267-606-6596), at Liberties Walk in Northern Liberties, where Fimy Ishkhanian — Syrian-raised and of Armenian descent — offers sampler plates of three kebabs (e.g. lamb, chicken shawarma, or luleh), a dip (e.g. hummus, babaghanouj, or muhamara), a salad (e.g. Greek, eggplant, tabouleh), rice pilaf, and a pita. All for $15. Start with light, flaky spanakopita. Bring friends and a bottle or two of something sturdy.
After a series of chain-type bars (Pizzeria Uno, Kildare's, Tilted Kilt), the historic stone building on Route 202 in King of Prussia has an independent pub. Vinny's Bar & Grill (826 W Dekalb Pike, 484-231-8506) still rocks the multi-TV, multi-tap vibe, but has boosted its food. "Vinny" is owner Vince Piazza, father of former major-leaguer Mike Piazza. The Louisville Slugger-size chicken parm sandwich is just one hit.
Ramen is everywhere, but Hawaiian barbecue? And in West Chester? Rai Rai Ramen (124 E. Market St., 610-738-8808), a branch of the North Brunswick BYOB favorite (there was a short-lived location in Chinatown), offers a modern, spacious dining room and a huge menu. Tip: order a combo. One special (a steal at $13.95) paired a hearty bowl of shoyu ramen with a generous plate of BBQ chicken, served with white rice.
This week’s openings and closings
Factory Donuts | Mayfair
The Northeast gets a custom doughnut shop, at 7114 Frankford Ave.
Gina's 45 | Old City
The owners of Buffalo Billiards in Old City and Fishtown Tavern just unveiled what they call a neighborhood bar at 45 S. Third St., next to The Little Lion.
Lombard Cafe | Washington Square West
The Society Hill coffeehouse expands to 7th and Sansom Streets with a tiny caffeinery at 700 Sansom St., at the end of Jewelers Row.
The Vesper | Rittenhouse
The onetime Mad Men-era private club, revived two years ago as a retro-chic supper club, has been closed for a week as owners tweak the concept: It will become more of a sports bar with an extended main bar and plenty of TVs. The speakeasy-like bar in the cellar will remain. Reopening will be Saturday, Aug. 26, keyed to the Mayweather-McGregor fight.
WXYZ | Center City
Center City's newest hotel — Aloft Philadelphia Downtown — soft-opens Thursday, Aug. 31 in the bank-turned-office building at Broad and Arch Streets, adjacent to the Convention Center. The hotel bar is set up in the grand lobby, serving wine, beer, cocktails, and bites. Check out the patio and its fire pit, overlooking Broad Street.
Green Aisle Grocery | Fishtown
The last day for the Girard Avenue branch of the upmarket market will be Friday, Sept. 1. Owners will then offer free delivery to the Fishtown/Northern Liberties/Kensington neighborhoods out of their flagship East Passyunk shop.
Rock Bottom | King of Prussia
Use up those gift cards now. The longtime brewpub at King of Prussia Mall will close Sept. 9.
Tria Cafe Fitler Square | Center City
Monday, Aug. 28, is last call for the Tria location at 23rd and Pine Streets. The closing party will be a benefit for the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League.
Fishtown Brewpub, which opened a month ago at 1101 Frankford Ave. near the Fillmore, finally starts pouring house beers. Two come online Thursday, Aug. 24, (a session IPA and a saison) and two more on Friday, Aug. 25 (an ESB and an IPA)
Your dining questions, answered
Reader: Do you think a lot of the perceived quality of natural wine is from young winemakers (the “tastemakers”) pushing their mediocre wine? I've had so many that get passed off as good, but they're obviously sick - too much brett, sulphur, etc.
Craig LaBan: There is a lot of hype and controversy right now over the “natural wine movement,” which, though there are no official definitions, generally refers to wines made from grapes grown with no chemicals, and crafted with minimal technological intervention and additives. A lot of people like yourself are understandably skeptical. Many of these wines taste seriously funky to the point where they’re just not enjoyable to drink. I had one the other night – a chardonnay from New York that was weirdly effervescent and off. But also I’ve had many, many great natural wines, from “pét-nat” sparklers to orange wines and biodynamic pinots. I believe that corner of the industry has matured to the point where the successes outnumber the duds. The key is to find a restaurant and sommelier that you can trust to be a discerning gatekeeper and well-informed guide — eager to introduce you to new wine experiences, but always with the no-risk proviso that if you don’t like it, they will find you something else. We are lucky in Philly to now have a number of forward-thinking wine destinations to explore. The Tria Cafes have long been leaders in presenting the esoteric wines and indie producers who are pioneering this genre. But also, check out a.Kitchen, Vedge, JET Wine Bar, Kensington Quarters, Townsend, and now two worthy new entries, Maison 208 and the Walnut Street Café, which has one of the most progressive and impressive new wine lists to come along this year.
Email Craig here. His Tuesday chats will resume Sept. 5.