Who’d guess that two Peruvian restaurants would open a mile apart a month apart? This week, I also offer you tastes of a French-Viet BYOB in Montgomery County, a pizzeria in Northern Liberties, and a quaint cafe in Chestnut Hill. Also, with the recent closing of Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market, critic Craig LaBan suggests other outlets for local specialty foods. Need food news? Click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email 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.
Peruvian flavors come north
Philly, not exactly a hotbed of Peruvian cuisine over the years, now has two bar-restaurants specializing in the innovative South American mix including European and Asian influences.
First out of the gate is Vista Peru, an upscale bar-lounge from the crew behind El Balconcito in Northeast Philadelphia, which recently took the two-level space at 20 S. Second St. in Old City that housed Serrano and Tin Angel. Bars (including a second-floor lounge that is open Friday and Saturday nights) feature cocktails made from the potent brandy known as pisco.
Atmosphere is clean and spare, with some seating in front of the bar and a similarly appointed dining room. Menu runs the gamut of Peruvian plates, including generous-portioned cebiches, risotto, shrimp on the plancha, paella, steak, and chaufa (as in, chifa) rice dishes. Entrées range from the mid-teens to $55 for stuffed lobster tail; the whole polla à la brazza (the signature roast chicken, served with potatoes) is $38. It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Just up the street in Northern Liberties, where Bar Ferdinand was at 1030 N. Second St., is the brand-new Chalaco’s, a more casual-seeming effort. Colombian-born chef Jordi Harper, not yet 30 and in his first Philadelphia venture, is running it for a silent partner based in the Washington area.
Bold graphics, including the words “Good conversation starts with a Pisco” over the 17-seat bar, establish a lively mood. Harper says he is tapping local sources for his vegetables, rather than importing ingredients.
Dishes on Chalaco’s menu, including classics such as lomo saltado (beef tips) and ceviche (here spelled with a “v”), are priced at $18 and under. Roast chicken here is priced at $24 for a whole, $16 for a half, including potatoes and salad. A three-course lunch is available for $10.
Chalaco’s, which has a decent-sized outdoor seating area, is open for lunch, dinner, and late night daily.
Where we’re doing happy hour
Harp & Crown, 1525 Sansom St.,
4-7 p.m. weekdays
A wine, beer, or cocktail for four bucks? One of the city’s best cheeseburgers for six? Shortrib empanada for five? It’s hard to beat the deals at Michael Schulson’s luxe Center City destination. Happy hour is great enjoyed at the bar or downstairs at Elbow Lane, where the clatter of bowling ball meeting pins mixes with the chatter of the crowd.
Where we’re eating: Colonial Quy-Bau, Spuntino, Cake
Colonial Quy-Bau, Corey Nguyen’s stylish, sleeper French-Vietnamese BYOB near Willow Grove Park Mall, does it all: casual lunches (wraps and pho, pho example) as well as date-night dinners worthy of your best bottle. This 16-ounce veal chop (topped with mushroom and green peppercorns in a brandy demi and served with broccoli and scalloped potatoes) is a bargain at $30 — and you’d probably pay $10 more in Center City.
Salvatore Carollo’s family is Sicilian, but he’s turning out some of the city’s finest Neapolitan pizzas at Spuntino in Northern Liberties. (Brother Robert works the wood-fired oven at their Doylestown shop.) This carbonara ($14), with pancetta, caramelized onion, mozz, Pecorino Romano, pepper, and a cracked egg on top, is a best seller. (Note: Closed Sunday-Monday.)
Grey Heck’s sunny Cake in Chestnut Hill, set in the plant-filled conservatory attached to Robertson’s Flowers, screams “ladies who lunch.” It’s popular, yes, for quiches, sandwiches (such as a proper croque monsieur, chicken salad, grilled cheese boosted by pistachio-basil pesto), and salads (such as this quinoa salad with orzo, spinach, carrots, cashews, and currants, $12). Also good bets are Sunday brunch and Friday dinner. (Note: Closed Monday.)
This week’s openings
Chalaco’s | Northern Liberties
Philadelphia’s latest Peruvian bar/restaurant comes to Liberties Walk, 1030 N. Second St., on April 18.
Lost Bread Co. | Kensington
James Beard Award finalist Alex Bois just opened a retail shop attached to his bakery at 1313 N. Howard St., just north of Girard Avenue. It’s open 4-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Love City Brewing Co. | Spring Arts
Kevin Walter, a former Yards brewmaster, has set up this roomy tasting room with his wife, Melissa, at 1023 Hamilton St., behind Union Transfer. Light food is augmented by food trucks. Opens April 19.
Main Street Pho | Manayunk
Pho and other Vietnamese fare (including teas and smoothies), at 4307 Main St.
Saxbys | Germantown/Logan
The coffee chain has La Salle students operating this cafe, at 5698 N. Wister St., inside La Salle University’s Founders’ Hall.
Tasties | West Philadelphia
Barbara Devan, whose Tasties food truck put her on the map, opens a plush soul-fooder with a bar at 1214 N. 52nd St.
This week’s closings
Bertucci’s | Multiple locations
Chapter 11 filings have led to the shutdown of the chain’s outlets in Bryn Mawr, Norristown, North Wales, and Warrington.
Craig LaBan answers your dining questions
Reader: So sad about the closing of the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market. Seven Stars cream, Fiddlecreek yogurt, Daisy Flour — now where do I get them?!?!
Craig LaBan: I agree that it’s a big loss for the Reading Terminal, which found its strongest advocate and showplace for small farm organic produce, humanely raised meats, dairy, and local artisanal food producers of all sorts at the Fair Food stand, from an extensive selection of regional cheeses to Castle Valley Mill grits, local pickles, Jersey Fresh tomatoes and Oma teas — not to mention the tiniest Brussels sprouts, organic cranberries and my annual Thanksgiving turkey.
It was the year-round one-stop shop with deep local roots that was sorely needed — and it was unique in 2003 when Ann Karlen first opened it with a couple folding tables and a chest freezer in the market’s Center Court. As the nonprofit grew into larger permanent spaces, it filled the winter void when the outdoor farmers markets went quiet.
But as Fair Food’s management put it in their closure announcement, the local food movement has grown to the point now where competition everywhere has made their profitability a challenge.
The continued rise of Whole Foods and now a MOM’s Organic Market nearby have obviously cut into that customer pie, and even more so as those corporate powerhouses finally begin to source more local (not just organic) products. But there was always a sense of careful curation and long-standing relationships with both local producers and customers at Fair Food that can’t quite be replicated in a large store setting.
So now where to turn?
For me, the new Riverwards Produce Market in Fishtown (2200 E. Norris St.) is the best replacement in terms of its well-rounded collection of great local ingredients, from fresh Little Noodle Co. pastas to Lost Bread Co. loaves and Primal Supply meats, and a devoted neighborhood crowd that I think has a chance to support it. It has a professional polish that feels like Fair Food 2.0. The Green Aisle Grocery stores have done this, too, albeit in a much smaller boutique scale.
Meanwhile, the region’s strong collection of long-standing food co-ops remain a vital resource. The many locations for Weavers Way. The Swarthmore Co-op. Mariposa in West Philly. Creekside in Elkins Park. Essene in South Philly (which, like many of the others, also carries Seven Stars). The network of Kimberton Whole Foods.
And there’s promise of more. Here are two bright new sources I’m really looking forward to: Ann Karlen plans to carry forward the local cheese collective she assembled at Fair Food with her own (still unnamed company), which will sell both wholesale and retail. Karlen also has a solid tip on where I may be getting my Thanksgiving turkey next year: “the new Primal Supply butcher shop [opening by May at 1538 East Passyunk Ave.] will have you covered.”