So the General Lafayette Inn is back as The General, but just look through the front window: The brewing equipment is gone, and that certainly looks like a sushi bar in the dining room. Also this week, I find two home cooks in their pro debuts (U’Panzerott in Horsham and D’Jakarta in South Philadelphia) as well as yet another new brewpub — the cleverly named Fishtown Brewpub. I’ll also tell you about a summery vodka drink at The Lucky Well in Ambler. (Girlie drinks can go with barbecue.) Read on: I’m giving away dinner for two at the sold-out Diner en Blanc. In his Q&A, critic Craig LaBan dishes on his favorite old-school Chinese spots in Chinatown. If you require food news as part of your diet, 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 all-important confirmation email.
Generally speaking, a historic makeover in Montco
It’s been awhile since the glory days of the landmark General Lafayette Inn on Germantown Avenue in Lafayette Hill. A longtime brewpub and microbrewery, it was shut down in 2010. Three years later, it was revived as Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, only to close in early 2016 amid the owner’s divorce. With a new owner, operators Bob Devine and Nick Ciaffone of the nearby Italian institution From the Boot have removed the brewery and added a fully stocked, two-sided bar. And, in a move that history buffs may consider a tad Revolutionary, they’ve installed a sushi bar. (Tory meets nori, I guess.) It all blends surprisingly well with the atmosphere, a contemporary treatment of a 300-year-old building whose various a la carte and private seating configurations allow it to park about 190 people at once. It also has a new name: simply The General (646 Germantown Ave., Lafayette Hill, 610-234-6189), opening Thursday, Aug. 3, with chef Michael DeLone (ex-Le Castagne) in the kitchen and a dude nicknamed Eric Sushi making the rolls. Most entrees (fried chicken, meatloaf, roast chicken, rib, pork chop, crab-and-lobster cake) are $22-$28, with a gust into the $30 (dry-aged beef). It’s serving dinner only in the earliest days.
What we’re drinking
Summer Breeze from The Lucky Well
Downtown Ambler has a small cocktail scene. The upmarket Dettera turns out a mean gimlet and negroni, and the 50-plus wines by the glass are worth a look. The Lucky Well, the barbecue place, has an solid selection of bourbons and beers. But it’s August and we need light and fruity — such as the Summer Breeze. It’s vodka infused with cucumber, watermelon, mint and rosemary, a bit of honey, and a watermelon and berry garnish.
Where we’re eating: U’Panzerott, D’Jakarta, Fishtown Brewpub
My Montco minions were of two minds regarding U’Panzerott (537 Easton Rd., Horsham), a roomy, wood-clad Italian BYOB in the same strip center as Fountain Side. On the one hand, it’s a find that simply needs to be shared with the world — thin-but-sturdy-crusted brick-oven pizza, airy panzerotti, and the soulful cooking of Marina Dattoli, a native of Puglia and home cook. On the other hand — Shhhhh! Let’s keep it for ourselves. The Dattolis, in their restaurant debut, deliver sweet service that nonetheless can run slow at times. By all means, go at off-hours, such as midafternoon Saturdays, check out the oversize blackboard for specials, and chat up Piero, the hard-charging 21-year-old son of Marina and husband Cosimo. Topic: Wine. The Dattolis have a 20-acre vineyard in San Giorno Jonico.
Also in the home-cook category is Carerina Ho, turning out tasty Indonesian dishes at D’Jakarta, the wallet-friendly Indonesian BYOB her daughter, Alfitri Ho, opened this week with her son-in-law Beddy Sonie and his brother, Berry. It’s at the corner of 16th and Ritner (1540 W. Ritner St., 215-463-8888), where Sky Cafe was. In these soft-opening days, the menu is limited to a few apps, noodle dishes, and soups. Raves for the nasi ayam goreng, the fried chicken. It’s open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday.
Fishtown Brewpub, in a former elevator factory near the Fillmore (1101 Frankford Ave., 215-990-1396), is not quite brewing its own beer yet. But chef Justin Koenig is cooking with gas — your pub staples plus more out-there fare such as a foie gras “uncrustable,” chicken skin nachos, and beef cheek pierogies. It’s open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
This week’s openings and closings
The Juice Merchant
Lenny Bazemore’s healthful juice bar/cafe marks its Main Line grand opening at 920 Montgomery Ave. in Narberth through Thursday. Aug. 3, with samples.
The original coffee shop took its name from its location at Sixth and Lombard. The new one is at 700 Sansom St., at Jeweler’s Row. So Lombard on Sansom.
Monsoon Fine Indian Cuisine
When it rains, it pours. Location No. 1 is Mount Laurel’s Village of Cambridge Crossing. The new second location is in Cherry Hill’s Barclay Farms shopping center.
Jason Kim of Jason’s Toridasu in Ardmore soft-opens his Manayunk ramen shop this weekend (and next weekend) at 4357 Main St. Say it “at ramen.”
Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s vegan takeaway has taken part of V Street at 124 S. 19th St., near Rittenhouse Square.
The long-ago Janey’s at 325 N. 12th St., across Wood Street from the now-shuttered Brick & Mortar, turns into a legit pizzeria/sandwich shop on Thursday, Aug. 3.
Brick & Mortar
What was billed as a neighborhood bar in the Goldtex building on 12th Street just north of Chinatown never hit its mark. It closed after two years.
The Irish Mile
The pub on Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township has been sold to the group that owns P.J. Whelihan’s, The Pour House, and Treno (all within mere blocks). A new concept is on the way.
The location in Roosevelt Mall in Northeast Philadelphia has closed after 21 years. It was related to the original in West Philadelphia and the newer shop in Springfield, Delaware County, but not to the one on South Street.
First thing’s first: How about a free pass to the sold-out Diner en Blanc? I have admission and dinner for two at the pop-up picnic, on Aug. 17. Enter the sweepstakes here, and make it snappy. Winner will be announced EOD Aug. 3.
Chef Michael O’Halloran is taking Bistro 7 (7 N. Third St.) in Old City on vacation. All this month, he’s shelving the new-American concept in favor of a counter-service, all-day taqueria known as Dos Rosas, open Tuesday through Sunday. Nighttime also brings a sit-down, Mexican-inspired dinner menu.
Smokin’ John’s Barbeque (4258 Main St. in Manayunk) has returned, under general partner Winnie Clowry of Winnie’s Next Door. Pitmaster Sean Green steps in for John himself — John O’Brien, who bought Conshohocken Cafe and will be perking it up.
If you’re still hankering for a taste of New York City via that heavily hulabalooed P.J. Clarke’s location at the Curtis Center, across from Independence National Historical Park, just be patient. I’m hearing that the restaurant is being redesigned, which suggests to me a smaller-scale project.
Your dining questions, answered
Reader: I visited the Museum of Food and Drink in Brooklyn, where the current exhibit is on the history of Chinese restaurants in America. A wall of old menus included some Philly meals from over a century ago: Any idea where I can get some 25-cent chop suey today?
Craig LaBan: I’m not surprised, since Philly has one of the oldest Chinatowns in America (dating back to the 1870s). It’s also still one of the best value dining neighborhoods in the city, where you can eat a meal for under $5 (try Chinese Restaurant on 10th Street, or Tasty Place in the underground market at 11th and Race). But that anachronism of Chinese-American cooking called “chop suey” will be hard to spot. This is now one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving neighborhoods in the city, with dramatic changes in the style of regional Chinese food you can find now, from Sichuan to Xi’an to Shanghai, with an emphasis on authentic. Some of the old-school Cantonese standbys that have long been staples of Chinatown, however, are still great destinations for some of these specialties we’d consider retro. Try David’s Mai Lai Wah (always best after midnight) for those dumplings with ginger sauce, Lee How Fook for a Buddha Roll and classic stir-fries; Shiao Lan Kung for hot pots, hot-and-sour soup and orange beef. And, of course, there is the Imperial Inn, which introduced dim-sum to Philadelphia many decades ago, which still has good days (sometimes). The Nom Wah Tea Parlor on 13th Street is a relative newcomer to Philly’s Chinatown, but it was a dim-sum pioneer in New York dating to the 1920s. They make what I consider to be the best Cantonese-style dim-sum in Chinatown, including the “original eggroll” that’s actually wrapped inside a crispy shell made from egg, not wheat dough. In these days of spring rolls and soup dumplings, that’s about as old-school as it gets.