Table Talk: Manayunk restaurant scene is revving up again

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Co-owner Joe Keough says the Manayunk Tavern, at Main and Rector Streets, aims to be a neighborhood-style place with decent food - but not too downscale. A number of new dining spots are scheduled to open in Manayunk in the coming months.

While working at Bourbon Blue the last few years, Joe Keough says, he sensed the need for something a touch earthier in Manayunk: a neighborhood-type tavern with decent food. But not too downscale, either.

"If you're not into Red Bull and vodka and walking on broken glass, where do you go?" he asked.

He and Bourbon Blue alum Jeff Bender took over the corner spot up the block - at Main and Rector - that most remember as Main-ly Desserts (followed by the short-lived Fish Tank on Main and Sole).

Manayunk Tavern (4247 Main St., 267-335-2121), with Dennis Selfinger in the kitchen, aims at mid-20s to mid-30s with two dozen microbrews (six on tap), a decent wine list, and comfort food (all but the twin filet under $20). It's open from 4:30 till 2 a.m. weekdays, and noon to 2 a.m. weekends; lunch will start in the spring. Kitchen is open late.

Manayunk seems to be on an upswing again. In 1997, the rehabbed commercial strip off the Schuylkill seemingly was on fire after a decade of installing hot, new restaurants. Overwhelmed residents (supported by restaurateurs who felt that more competition was a bad thing) implored their district councilman, a guy named Michael Nutter, to press for a five-year moratorium on newcomers. Meanwhile, many restaurateurs moved elsewhere - to Old City, Northern Liberties, Queen Village and Collingswood.

Among projects now on the books:

Cactus Bar & Grill (4243 Main St.) is planned as a Southwestern restaurant/bar two doors from the Manayunk Tavern this spring. Owners have the Bayou next door.

Chabaa Thai will open Mango Moon (4161 Main St.), an Asian fusion/small plater, this summer.

Couch Tomato on Rector just off Main Street plans to expand this summer with Tomato Bistro. It'll have 80 seats in a new upstairs cafe, plus a liquor license.

Bruce Cooper, who owns Jake's, is going next door (to 4367 Main) with a wine bistro this spring.

Also, Winnie's Le Bus (4266 Main St.) has developed a line of homemade products (salad dressings, jams, corn bread, apple cake, soups, salsa and "winn-ola" (granola) in a new to-go section.

What's coming

Neil Stein says his return to the restaurant life - now that it's a year since he left federal prison after serving his sentence for tax evasion - will be this summer with Cabaret, a bistro on the order of his Rittenhouse Square landmark Rouge, at the Morris House on Eighth Street near Spruce. The space, with a dandy garden, last was Restaurant M. He is partnering with owners Gene Lefevre and Michael DiPaolo, and Lindsay Ratkovich, a real estate developer. Meg Rodgers will do the decor, incorporating 16 kinds of red. Red, as in rouge.

Finn McCool's Ale House, the onetime hole in the wall at 12th and Sansom a few doors from the new Mims project, has been revived as an Irish pub with 16 taps on the first floor and a nightspot (DJ booth, bottle service) called Prime Lounge on the hitherto unused second floor. Fling-out doors should add a nice touch in warmer weather.

Briefly noted

The building at 114 Market St. that for a time housed DiPalma and more recently Club One 14 is on the market for $2.4 million.

Michael Schulson, who was chef at University City's Pod before he went to New York to open the Buddakan in Manhattan, has landed a sweet gig with the Borgata in Atlantic City. He'll open what the Borgata calls an "innovative Japanese restaurant and nightlife experience" in the space on the hotel-casino's restaurant row that formerly housed Susanna Foo's Suilan. There's no name yet, or opening date.


Contact columnist Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http:// go.philly.com/michaelklein and http://go.philly.com/foodanddrinq.