Greg Vernick, who set our town ablaze with his wood-fired cooking at Vernick Food & Drink, is headed to the new Four Seasons at the Comcast Technology Center with … a seafood restaurant. This week, I tip you to a lovely new outdoor bar/restaurant in Rittenhouse, a Hong Kong breakfast joint in Chinatown, a date-night destination in Doylestown, a family-friendly bar mini-chain, and a third-shift happy hour in University City. Craig LaBan is a quick scroll down with a look at ethnic food neighborhoods. Need food news? Click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, ideas, and questions here.
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Inside Vernick Fish, coming this fall
What can chef Greg Vernick, whose acclaimed Vernick Food & Drink is one of the toughest reservations in town, do for an encore? Well, he’s not doing a wood-fired grill again. Listening to his customers, as they clamor for lighter eating, he will open a seafood restaurant.
Vernick Fish, which will have 140 seats inside/60 outside and an oyster bar, is being readied for a fall opening on the ground floor of the new Four Seasons Hotel that will be part of the Comcast Technology Center. (That’s the 1800 block of Arch Street, if you want to get all Google-y.)
Vernick and the Four Seasons retained the design eye of Adam Tihany, whose New York jobs include Per Se and Daniel. The hotel is taking the tower’s top floors, using two for a restaurant and lounge by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Oh, and while Vernick is getting Vernick Fish ready and is planning an expansion to Vernick Food & Drink (private dining rooms at 2029 Walnut), he and wife Julie are expecting their second daughter in September.
Where we’re doing happy hour
3600 Chestnut St., 7:30-10 a.m. weekdays
No scrubs? The bar at the University City branch of the Montreal-style bagel shop is wall-to-wall third-shift workers from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania every morning. Spread staff administers TLC in the form of draft-latte martinis and bagel sandwiches; aim your left eye at the combo shown here, priced at just $12. (Across town, Jefferson Hospital third-shifters groove on drink discounts at Milkboy, 11th and Chestnut, which opens at 7 a.m.)
Where we’re eating: Harper’s Garden, Hidden Gem, Genevieve’s Kitchen, Ardiente
Philly’s al fresco scene gets a major step up beneath the pergolas at Harper’s Garden (31 S. 18th St.), where chef Benjamin Moore’s wallet-friendly menu of snacks and breads (from wunderkind Alex Bois’ Lost Bread Co.) pairs beautifully with smart wine and cocktail lists. This is the grown-up setting that Rittenhouse needed – balancing the bro factor nearby. It’s also home of one of my new favorite burgers (secrets include Cooper Sharp, minced onions, the use of Dijon and ketchup, and a milk-bread bun). Harper’s has an indoor bar and comfy seating for rainy days and the whole offseason.
Chinatown’s humble little Hidden Gem Cafe (122 N. 10th St.) is partly correctly named: It’s on a busy corner, so it’s not hidden. But it’s a gem for fans of almost ridiculously inexpensive Hong Kong street food, starting at breakfast (congee and noodles, soup with egg and Spam, and HK French toast, whose peanut butter center sends you back to childhood). By illustration here, I offer the innards of the garlic chive dumplings, which are fried pockets bursting with green goodness. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Among Doylestown’s embarrassment of restaurant riches is Genevieve’s Kitchen (19 E. State St.), a BYOB set in an old house across from the County Theater. Low-lit charm means your Instagram game will suffer at the expense of (oh, that) conversation. Menu is American, though you’ll note an Italian touch – e.g. venison meatballs with serrano sriracha soy glaze, scallops with sweet potato gnocchi, and grouper with pickled ramps, farro, lemongrass, and as a sweet counterpoint, watermelon cubes. Leave room for cannoli.
Ardiente means “burning,” and this new spot at 33 S. Second St. in Old City simmered for two years, waiting for someone to finish it and open it. What we have is a clublike restaurant-lounge – now in a soft-opening phase for dinner – with a colorful, more-is-more lewk and a menu from Starr alum Nihad Hajdarhodzic that fuses Latin and Asian. Ceviche? Sure. Skirt steak bibimbap, too. Lots of apps. “Big shares” are in the $20s with gusts into the $30s. Do not miss the sangria. Or the vintage peep shows (!) in the downstairs restrooms.
Hoagie Nation, a hoagie-sampling event with a side of music, starts Friday, May 25, at the Fillmore before segueing to Festival Pier on Saturday. Info is here.
Get set for Burger Brawl, the burger festival, returning to Xfinity Live on the afternoon of June 3. Sample five dozen burgers, sip many drinks, and hear a set by country star Chase Rice. Tickets start at $45; see details here.
Penang, the Malaysian destination at 117 N. 10th St. in Chinatown, marks its 20th anniversary at 8 p.m. Friday, May 25, with traditional lion dance and freebies.
The Great Chefs Event returns June 9 in a new, family-friendly, Saturday afternoon format at Urban Outfitters HQ in South Philly. It’s a food-filled festival raising money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Info is here.
This week’s openings
Ardiente | Old City
Colorful and bold in an almost-1990s way, this new Latin-Asian restaurant-bar is set up on two floors next to JJ Bootlegger’s at 33 S. Second St.
Bok Bar | South Philadelphia
Philly’s coolest rooftop scene returns for the season on Wednesday, May 23, running Wednesday-Sunday. On a clear day, you can see forever from the ninth floor of the repurposed high school at Eighth and Mifflin. This year’s menu is by chef Paul Gaberson, who plans to open a restaurant/cocktail lounge called Irwin’s on the south terrace of the eighth floor: doner kebab, french fries with za’atar, watermelon with labneh and sumac, and falafel sandwiches, all priced under $12.
Hive Cafe | South Philadelphia
Coffee, juices, and sandwiches fill the menu at this casual spot at Broad and Dickinson Streets, the successor to Benna’s West. Open daily from early morning till 6 p.m.
Peacock Inn | Princeton
The borough landmark returns Friday, May 25, with new owners and new menus from chef Mark Valenza, who describes it as “American mosaic cooking.” Breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch start Sunday, May 26.
The popular Mediterranean fast-casual opens 11 a.m. Thursday, May 24 at 50 National Ave., near Wegmans. The first 50 people in line can spin the Goodness Wheel, which allows people to win prizes like a $50 gift card or $100 off a $250 catering order.
This week’s closing
EatNic | Paoli
The American BYOB fell victim to a glut of restaurant seats and the owner’s health issues. See story here.
Craig LaBan answers your dining questions
Question: Thank you for your big list of recommendations from Mexican South Philly! Where are there other ethnic food neighborhoods in Philadelphia?
Craig LaBan: So glad you enjoyed my deep dive into the Mexican wonders of Puebla-delphia that are now revitalizing much of South Philly. With nearly 40 places recommended in that package, almost all of them run by families cooking traditional flavors, it was one of the most inspiring assignments I’ve had in a while.
But Philadelphia, as it’s often been said, is a city of immigrants. It was built on the cuisines of people arriving from the Old World – Germans, Italians, Irish and Jews, among others – whose later generations have prospered and largely dispersed from the homogenous neighborhoods of their ancestors.
Our Chinatown was started by Cantonese immigrants in 1871, but that neighborhood, which I talk about frequently in this space, remains a vibrant destination for newcomers from different regions now of China.
There are many other pockets of the city and region that have drawn clusters of international communities still rich with their cultural touchstones. Northeast Philadelphia, which I ate through extensively last year in this 60-restaurant piece, is the city’s true United Nations, with a patchwork of neighborhoods featuring Brazilian churrasco grills, South Indian restaurants serving food from the region of Kerala, Vietnamese pho halls, a mini-Chinatown on Bustleton Avenue, and a vast neighborhood showcase foods of the former Soviet Union, with markets and restaurants from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Transylvania and Russia.
A large Korean community remains centered near Olney, where Inquirer legend Rick Nichols profiled the evolution of Koreatown a decade ago and where I’ve reviewed still-great favorites Every Day Good House, Jong Ka Jib, and Dubu, which sits just across the Cheltenham Avenue border in Elkins Park.
Want to discover the cuisine of South India? Head west to the Dosa Belt of restaurants that have sprouted around the tech companies in Chester County (where there’s also great Mexican food).
Follow my search for the city’s best Vietnamese pho along Washington Avenue and in Kensington (and check my Northeast package, too, for good spots along Adams Avenue).
Head to West Philly for Pakistani kebabs and Lebanese pastries, a budding Chinatown West near Drexel and Penn, and explore near Baltimore Avenue for some of our venerable Ethiopian restaurants.
Southwest Philly’s Woodland Avenue is the corridor to explore for the fufu and grilled dibi delights of West Africa.
Deep in South Philly, meanwhile, wrapped inside that growing presence of Mexican restaurants, don’t forget Cambodia Town that’s grown up around Seventh Street. Just a couple weeks ago, I featured the Boba & Co. food truck and I Heart Cambodia, which feature a distinctive cuisine. So yes, Philly is rich with international food neighborhoods! The appetite for adventure is up to you.
Email Craig here.