Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Dining hits and misses of 2012

Food trends, hot neighborhoods, and big closings.

Dining hits and misses of 2012

BBQ and pizza, ramen and pubs, high-end and low-end. Chains and out-of-towners.

The year that Georges Perrier made good on his threat to close Le Bec-Fin and the year that DiNic's roast pork sandwich was named the best sandwich in America. It also was the year that the feds nailed the top guns at Nifty Fifty's for skimming taxes.

Just another year in the Philly-area dining scene.

The hot neighborhood of 2012 was East Passyunk, which added the BYOB Will from chef Christopher Kearse (1911 E. Passyunk Ave.), the bar Fountain Porter (10th and Tasker Streets), and saw the move and expansion of Fond (11th and Tasker Streets). In 2013, expect the opening of Noord, a Northern Euro BYO at 11th and Tasker from locally bred-but-Chicago famous chef Joncarl Lachman, plus Sophia, an American from chef Christopher Lee, at 1623 E. Passyunk. 

Attention was also focused on South Street West, which saw the openings of The Cambridge, a bar from the operators of Hawthornes in South Philly at 1508 South St.; Rex 1516, a refined pub at 1516 South St. from the owners of Jet Wine Bar across the street, and Magpie, a pie-centric bakery at 1622 South St.

Barbecue and Neapolitan pizza seemed to be the hot cuisines of 2012 (more here on Stephen Starr's new Fette Sau, plus Vecchia, District 611, Pizzeria DiMeo and other pizza hits).

The year saw the rise of ramen, including Nom Nom Ramen (20 S. 18th St.) and Terakawa, which briefly, poorly was Ramen Boy (204 N. Ninth St.).

The new Revel in Atlantic City got outposts of Jose Garces' Amada, Distrito, Guapos Tacos, and Village Whiskey.

In alphabetical order, here are some of the more buzzed-about newcomers:

Alla Spina. The Vetri family's bustling gastropub on Mount Vernon near Broad Street features 20 beers on tap and an ambitious menu of Italian snacks.

BlueCat. A fun Latin BYOB in Fairmount.

Catelli Duo. The long-gone South Jersey Italian destination has gone more casual in its bold, new incarnation in Voorhees Town Center, which also houses the new Rodizio Grill.

Citron & Rose. Zahav/Percy Street/Federal Donuts' Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook help open an upmarket kosher joint in Merion Station.

Eat-A-Pita. Go ahead. Laugh that this is a pita shop on 12th Street near Walnut. I defy you to find a tastier, more healthful bargain sandwich in town. Thank you, Ralph Kane and Jamie Kelly.

Han Dynasty. Szechuan entrepreneur Han Chiang opened locations in University City (3711 Market St.), Manayunk (4356 Main St.), and Cherry Hill (404 Route 70).

HipCityVeg. Vegan sandwiches, wraps, salads, and a green smoothie known as a Groothie draw long lines at this fast-fooder at 127 S. 18th St. near Rittenhouse Square.

The Industry. The crew from Good Dog Bar opened this bar, aimed at folks in the restaurant profession, at Moyamensing and Reed Streets in Pennsport.

Jamonera. Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran converted their Indian BYOB Bindi at 105 S. 13th St. into a Spanish wine bar. The 13th Street corridor, which had its own growth spurt in recent years, otherwise slowed down, although Spice 1228, a pan-Asian, opened at 1228 Chestnut St.

La Calaca Feliz. Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal of Cantina Feliz continued making a living off Day of the Dead with this fun cantina at 2321 Fairmount Ave. The guys have a Manayunk outpost, Taqueria Feliz, coming in 2013.

Le Bec Fin. Now sans hyphen, the landmark - classic French in appearance, much more modern in terms of cookery - is under the ownership of former GM Nicolas Fanucci and new chef Walter Abrams. Founder Georges Perrier still has a piece of the real estate at 1523 Walnut but is otherwise uninvolved.

The Mildred. Serious scratch cooking in South Philly from two guys named Michael.

Rittenhouse Tavern. Nicholas Elmi, the chef at Le Bec-Fin at its finale, resurfaced a few blocks away at this refined, stylish pub in the Art Alliance at 18th and Rittenhouse, just off the square.

Russet. This quiet BYOB by husband-wife Andrew and Kristin Wood, specializing in nose-to-tail, took over for Ernesto's at 1521 Spruce St.

The Saint James. Chef Michael Schulson and restaurateur Rob Wasserman opened this American brasserie in Suburban Square in Ardmore.

Square Peg. Chef Matt Levin, having extricated himself from the mess that was Adsum at Fifth and Bainbridge, surfaced at 10th and Walnut Streets in this stylish American grill that was a Marathon Grill before its investor kicked out that crew.

Tavro 13. Chef Terence Feury (ex-Fork) does his thing in a renovated hotel in Swedesboro. 

Vernick Food & Drink. Chef's chef Gregory Vernick and his wife, Julie, opened this food-forward bar-restaurant at 2031 Walnut St.

Yanako. Cool Japanese BYOB in Manayunk from Chabaa Thai's Moon Krapugthong.

New Yorkers continued their love affair with Philly. Danny Meyer opened his Philly branch of Shake Shack - his signature burger-based eatery, at 20th and Sansom Streets. Crumbs Bake Shop, a publicly traded cupcake specialist, opened at 133 S. 18th St. In 2013, expect a Walnut Street address (1845, to be exact) for the Big Apple coffee company Joe and a South Street salon (604) for erstwhile Momofuku chef Peter Serpico (by way of Stephen Starr). Alas, a rumor of P.J. Clarke's, the Manhattan-based bar, opening at Broad and Spruce Streets seems not to have panned out.

 

Closures

Even in this go-go atmosphere, restaurants went out.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall" applies to Union Trust, which operated in bankruptcy for more than half of its four-year existence at 717 Chestnut St.  The Reserve, the cavernous former Rococo at 123 Chestnut St., lasted mere months, done in by overall cluelessness.

Cluelessness doomed both Odd Fellows Cafe at 12th and Spruce Streets, and its successor, YOLO. Here and gone in less than 10 months.

Carman Luntzel said her landlord wanted her spot at 11th and Wharton to do a pizzeria, so she closed her signature bruncherie Carman's Country Kitchen

Gilmore’s in West Chester closed after 11 years, as chef-owner Peter Gilmore decided to shut down and sell his building.

Cafe Estelle let it go after four years at 444 N. Fourth St. It was critically acclaimed but ...

Here and gone: The Butcher & the Brewer and The Boilermaker, two short-lived concepts on 11th Street near Walnut from the team behind Farmer's Cabinet, who'd just as well install a revolving door to handle its persistent staff turnover.

The train wreck known as Adsum at Fifth and Bainbridge Streets gave way to Tapestry, which simply gave way.

Sticks & Stones, which opened at 1909 E. Passyunk Ave. in November 2010, was evicted; the spot is now the better-funded and -managed Noir.

Q BBQ, the former Philadelphia Fish & Co., called it a career at 207 Chestnut St.; a new concept from the owners of National Mechanics is on the way.

Joe Palombo's Mirabella Café left Cherry Hill; that padlock on the door was a troubling sign. The spot in Barclay Farms Shopping Center is now La Terrazza.

Max & David’s, a kosher spot, closed in Elkins Park; it's now Burger.org.

Timber Wood-Fired Grill couldn't make it across from Abington Memorial Hospital; it's still empty.


 

Stay tuned for my 2013 dining forecast.

Michael Klein Philly.com
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of philly.com/Food, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here. Reach Michael at mklein@philly.com.

Michael Klein Philly.com
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