A chef’s new beginnings
Why are Main Liners trekking out to Kennett Square for dinner? I share a theory. Also this week, I tip you to a pub in University City, a novel pizzeria in Center City, and a noodle-focused bar in Fishtown. Oh, and is it hot enough for you? Craig LaBan offers his favorite icy desserts. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email your dining tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here to get it every week.
The chef from Sola goes solo in Chesco
Several years back, chef Scott Morozin left the city (where he’d been a chef at Tangerine, Rae, Gayle, and R2L) for Sola in Bryn Mawr. Shortly before Sola’s closing this spring, Morozin decamped to Kennett Square to make his solo debut with Verbena BYOB (102 E. State St.). It’s a homey, rustic date-night charmer with brick and stone walls and wooden tables and floors. Morozin keeps his dinner menu tight and (tbh) priced a couple bucks on the low side, given the artful presentation, as you can see from my video of the sauce action applied to the fish dish shown above. Kennett continues to hop with dining action. Verbena soon will be joined on that block by Portabello’s, which will gain a liquor license when it moves into a larger space at 108 E. State.
Where we’re enjoying happy hour
1807 Washington Ave., 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday
Versatility sums up this sprawling, industrial-look sports bar on Washington Avenue: Well-stocked bar, killer brunch menu, plenty for the bar crowd. The happy-hour deals, meanwhile, are tough to beat. An “old-school” 16-inch pizza for $6. Fried ravioli or hummus and pita for 5. The bar is just as budget-friendly: $3 Bud Light and Yuengling drafts, a $6 cocktail, and $5 wines.
Where we’re eating: Tipsy Bistro, Rione, Cheu Fishtown
Catering chefs are generally unsung. But what if a great one got her own restaurant? And so we have Anh Vongbandith of Das Good Inc. partnered with former Fond co-owner Tory Keomanivong at Tipsy Bistro (3131 Walnut St.) in the Left Bank space formerly occupied by The Fat Ham. At their cozy, wallet-friendly pub, the hits keep coming from the Vietnamese-born, Hawaiian-raised Vongbandith (banh mi, cheesesteak eggrolls, the soft-shell crabs on special) while Keomanivong mixes a mean cocktail. Brunch (orange Creamsicle hotcakes!) is a specialty. Dinner is a deal, especially since on-street parking is free after 8 p.m.
Francesco Crovetti, the son of an Italian diplomat, fills a pressing knead in Center City with Rione (102 S. 21st St.), which specializes in Roman pizza al taglio – the light, airy, generously topped pizza. Crovelli sells his rectangular creations at about $4 a slice, supplementing his menu with a panino, salads, and fried snacks such as suppli al telefono, plus tiramisu. It’s all quick and casual, served from the counter. BYO beer and wine. Also in the pizza al taglio game is Alice (15th and Locust Streets), an offshoot of the Roman shop, whose menu includes pasta; there’s also a bar.
If your search terms include “Fishtown,” “hip,” and “tasty,” the top hit likely would be Cheu Fishtown (1416 Frankford Ave.). Set in an old carriage house, the boisterous, graffitoed bar (a sibling of Cheu in Washington Square West and Bing Bing Dim Sum on East Passyunk) delivers a flavor-forward punch of Asian-Jewish fusion dishes (pastrami bing, ramen, black garlic wings) along with tropical drinks, a decent beer list, and sake. if you’re noise-averse, lunch, naturally, is more restrained. Heads-up: A Japanese sibling, Nunu, is due to open soon next door.
University City Dining Days runs July 12 to 22 with 36 restaurants joining in the discounts.
Chinatown cocktail bar Hop Sing Laundromat has relaxed its no-shorts-for-men rule for the summer. Owner Lê, a sartorial stickler, says the shorts must be dressy – no gym or athletic apparel. He’s adhering to his rule of no sandals or flip-flops. Lê said he capitulated after men began complaining that women had been allowed to wear shorts.
The end is near for Jose Garces’ 24 Wood-Fired Fare, his Italian concept at 2401 Walnut St. that opened in late 2016. His rep could not share a timeline. The shutdown is related to the Garces Group bankruptcy sale, which should be made final on Monday, July 9. The building also is home of Garces’ test kitchen and corporate office, which will be relocated by new owner Ballard Brands. Garces, expected to become a Ballard employee under the deal, recently shed his Moorestown location of Distrito. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at the other Garces restaurants.
This week’s openings
Hatch & Coop | Washington Square West
The carved meats from Jake’s Sandwich Board at 122 S. 12th St. have given way to chicken and egg sandwiches.
Moo Moo Cereal Milk Bar | Newtown Square
Cereal and ice cream combine at this cafe opening Thursday, July 5 at 4751 West Chester Pike in the Edgmont Shopping Center in Newtown Square, next to the new P.J. Whelihan’s. Menu includes homemade cereal-flavored ice creams, custom cereal bowl creations, cereal shakes, soft serve, Konery Cones from Brooklyn, and La Colombe draft lattes.
The Nauti Mermaid | Old City
Crab house opens on July 6 beneath Jolly’s Piano Bar at 110 Chestnut St. The grand opening on July 10 will feature a comp raw bar, $1 drafts, and $1 cocktails from 5 to 7 p.m., as well as $5 steamed crabs from 5 p.m. until close
Sedition | Washington Square West
Six Feet Under, the pub at 727 Walnut St., has been resurrected. It’s still dark and mysterious, but the theme is more of a restaurant.
This week’s closing
Jake’s Sandwich Board | Washington Square West
Your dining questions answered
Reader: It’s hotter than Hades outside right now. Where can I get a dessert to cool off?
Craig LaBan: I hear you, my steamy friend. It’s so blistering hot outside now, I don’t think I can even do the richness of ice cream. I need a nondairy frozen dessert that’s as close to ice as possible – but tastier – and Philly has several exceptional solutions, both classic and novel. Water ice is obviously the ultimate Philly tradition, and I will always go for a neighborhood favorite over a chain like Rita’s.
I was in South Philly recently at John’s Water Ice (701 Christian St.), where they do all the classics well but I’m especially partial to subtler specials like the recent cantaloupe water ice. (Want it boozy? The Saloon nearby, owned by the same family, makes a martini called the Iceberg filled with a scoop of John’s lemon water ice).
The insider favorite for East Passyunkers is the ultimate old-school lemon ice (filled with bits of rind) at Lucio Mancuso & Son (1902 E. Passyunk Ave.), where Phil Mancuso also makes an excellent chocolate-flavored ice. The lucky members of exclusive Palizzi Social Club can now get a taste of chef Joey Baldino’s hand-shaved ice infused with pureed fruits of the moment served in retro style (this week: pineapple and coconut).
Far more accessible than Palizzi and perfect for a post-Phillies treat near the stadiums, meanwhile, my other preferred stop is Pop’s Homemade Italian Ice (1337 W. Oregon Ave.), where the Italiano family has been serving natural juice-flavored ices since the original “Pop,” Filippo Italiano, set up a pushcart in Marconi Plaza during the Great Depression. Try the mango, peach, black cherry, or patriotic “gelati” (blueberry and cherry ices with vanilla custard) that the current “Pop,” Philip Italiano, created in honor of the Democratic National Convention.
Philly’s frozen treats go well beyond water ice these days. The Lil’ Pop Shop in both West Philly (265 S. 44th St.) and Rittenhouse (229. S. 20th St.) has mastered the new-age Popsicle with fresh-fruit infusions of whole raspberries and lime, or coconut milk with hibiscus. Funky Little Baby’s Ice Cream, which now has four locations across town, has a nondairy blueberry lemonade that is the definition of quenching. Cutting-edge contemporary restaurants like Cadence (161 W. Girard Ave.) are riffing fancy off the Asian “shave ice” tradition by creating snow from frozen oat milk and layering it with all manner of seasonal syrups (rhubarb), fresh fruit, dehydrated berries, crystallized sesame and house-made granola for crunch. It’s fascinating, if not always sweet enough for some.
There are plenty of spots to sample some more traditional Asian ice desserts, like the Malaysian “ABC” at Penang (117 N 10th St.) in Chinatown, a veritable mountain of shaved ice streaked with red rose syrup and condensed milk, hiding chewy red beans, corn, plum seeds and jellies near the bottom. Penang was one of Chinatown’s first sweet-ice purveyors, but a new wave of Chinese dessert makers have brought a sweet chill to town in recent years. My current favorite is the Taiwanese shave ice specialist Winterfell (32 S. 40th St.) in University City where blocks of flavored ice (strawberry; green tea; black sesame) are spun into colorful snowdrifts of frozen fluff, then topped with myriad chewy delights (glass jelly, mochi), fruits, crunchies and sweet sauces.
The Boba & Co. truck in South Philly’s Cambodia Town (600 W. Moyamensing Ave.) has an array of tropical Southeast Asian refreshers, like durian shakes (Return of the King is for advanced durian aficionados only), Thai tea frappes, or cold fruit drinks blended with fresh-squeezed sugar cane. The Mexican paleta shops of South Philly, meanwhile, are also not to be denied. At La Guerrerense (1143 S. Ninth St.), you can taste sample tropical flavors including tamarind, gansito “Mexican twinkies,” chile-marbled mango pops and, yes, even a scoop of ice cream that tastes like margarita.
Extreme weather, though, calls for extreme measures. And there may be no frozen dessert in the city with more intensity than the “chamoyada” at Paletas Y Helados Bambino just across the street (1142 S. Ninth St.), where the tart mango slushies are drizzled with a vivid red chamoy sauce that is simultaneously salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. Take it to the next level with a chewy and tart tamarind candy straw, which will add some salsa swagger to your brain freeze, and, perhaps, make you forget for just a moment how hot it is outside.
Email Craig here.