La Colombe's plans; favorite spots for pho
Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat from Oct. 22, 2013:
Reader: I read that there will be a bakery associated with the planned La Colombe complex in Fishtown. Any info on the bakery, to be run by JP Iberti?
C.L.: I've heard about the roastery/distillery La Colombe has in the works for Fishtown, but not the bakery part. I'm excited to see what Jean-Philippe Iberti can do with rum . . . he spends a lot of time in the tropics and knows his stuff. A trend across the country are distilleries that are hybrids of distillery/breweries. Consider the yeast element, and it's no wonder so many breweries are also baking (like Tired Hands.) We shall see. But for now, the breads from High Street on Market, the remake of Fork Etc., are phenomenal. Not quite Fishtown but worth the short drive.
Reader: What is your favorite place to get pho in the city?
C.L.: For pure pho, I still like Pho 75 on Washington Ave. the best. But for a restaurant with a few more options (like spring rolls, or lemongrass grilled pork chops), I also like Xe Lua (choo-choo train resto) in Chinatown and Mekong River in S. Philly, as well as old faves Nam Phuong and Le Viet, which also do respectable phos, though their other menu items are preferable. For something down-home and off the grid, try Cafe Diem on 8th St., just north of Washington. I like the spicy Bun Bo Hue noodle soup... Also, Michael Klein just noted a coming pho-themed cafe in Fishtown called Stock from a former Zahav cook. I'm quite intrigued to see what Tyler Akin, also a vet of DC's Little Serow and Nomi, has in store. For alt-phos, I LOVE the mushroom pho Rich Landau cooks over at Vedge. Totally different, but the same soul-satisfying umami broth power.
Reader: Went to Little Nonna's recently. Food was very good, especially the Sunday Gravy. Fun atmosphere. However, I was shocked that no bread was provided unless you paid for grilled or garlic bread. Hope that isn't a trend, especially at Italian places. I need the bread to soak up the extra sauce!
C.L.: That's strange. I've only been for lunch, but we got more grilled bread than I needed with the order of hand-pulled mozzarella. A lot of restaurants throw out bread at the end of the night, so I understand the desire to make the loaves count. But a basket of warm bread is one of the best 'welcomes' I know. Doing away with it - especially at an Italian place meant to evoke Nonna's homey hearth - risks giving the wrong message.
Reader: E. Passyunk had its revival, and some are (rightly) touting it as one of the best streets in the city. Is there a neighborhood poised for the next big breakout? W. South Street? N. Third?
C.L.: E. Passyunk is definitely having its moment. South Street West has been bubbling up for the last year. But there's a big disparity in the quality of places opening on the two streets. So far, South Street is good for a neighborhood scene, while E'Punk's new restos are becoming regional destinations, with more 3-bell restos than any other zone in the city. There are good things on SSW - Pumpkin (the pioneer), Jet (weird wine-seeker's haven), Magpie (Philly's best pie shop, hands down), but I'm waiting for the knockout restaurant to give that stretch a gastro-anchor. Other zones about to happen? Brewerytown with Shifty's and a new brewpub?
Reader: Next big neighborhood: Girard and Frankford area.