On City Avenue, looking for a better meal

Here is an excerpt from the online chat of Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan:

Reader: I'm a St. Joseph's student. Quick question - City Avenue seems to be an upcoming area. What places could you suggest to eat other than the KFC's, Wendys, 7-11's, and McDonalds that surround the campus?

Craig LaBan: Either this is wishful thinking on your end, or I've missed something new and exciting, but City Avenue isn't ringing many bells on my dining radar lately. Of all the places, I would be very curious to pay a visit to the new Franco's Osteria, which moved from East Falls into the Presidential City building. The old place was a nice neighborhood spot with reasonably authentic, well-cooked trattoria fare - think true Bolognese.

Aside from that, DeBreaux's soul food at the train station is probably the best reason to hang out for dinner on City Avenue. I remember loving their fried fish. Only caveat - it's extremely slow - so either order ahead, or be patient.

Reader: Can you tell me what type of beer best pairs with kobe beef?

CLB: A nice brown ale, for sure.

Reader: I was wondering what your thoughts were on Garces' Trading Company deep dish pizza. It was pretty decent - for the East Coast - but all the tomato sauce, sausage and cheese slid off the pizza immediately after the server cut it. Did you have this pizza?

CLB: Yes, and it wasn't my favorite thing - by a long shot - at GTCo. That said - and having grown up in the Midwest I know - these casserole-style deep-dishers really need to sit for a moment to settle before you cut into them or else it's ooze-city.

I think this pie made up for its structural flaws by the force of its ingredients, from the house-made sausage and Gruyere-mozz mix to the cornmeal crunch of its crust. It's a curiosity, in my opinion, and not totally unworthy. Not sure it would rank very high in the context of true Chicago competitors. I much preferred the lighter, thin-crusted appetizer pies.

Reader: Your favorite place(s) to get your growler filled in the city? the burbs?

CLB: The go-to growler list is growing in Philly rapidly, and it's one of my favorite trends - being able to get a great beer on draft to go. Right now, I think your best bets are the new Hawthorne's on 11th Street in South Philly (the old Bella Vista Beer Distributor), and perhaps Varga Bar, which has a huge selection of crafts on tap.

Reader: It's been really hot outside lately, and I'm looking for a restaurant with a great outdoor aesthetic. Any ideas for something casual, where I can sit outside in my fitted baseball cap and enjoy a beer with good food?

CLB: Just drove by the beer garden behind Silk City the other day, and I wish I could have stopped the car and kicked back for a while. What a funky spot, with good food and good brews. Other possibilities: La Minette's back patio (where they show old French films) Beau Monde creperie across the street, and also in Queen Village, the cozy patio behind Hoof + Fin, a great spot for chimichurri-drenched grilled sweetbreads beneath the stars.

Reader: Standard Tap's 2nd floor deck is an awesome place to enjoy sunshine with a great beer and great food.

Reader: A few years back you did a cheesesteak segment; have you ever done pizzerias? Need good recommendation in S.J.

CLB: This genre is constantly in flux - especially with our more recent artisan pizza revolution - but my South Jersey pizza list looks like this: Tacconelli's in Maple Shade (which I prefer to the original), Treno (the new spot in Westmont), then, for something old-school, the stuffed pies and tomato pies at People's Pizza on Rte. 38.

Reader: Hey, just moved back to Philly from Boston. What's a good place to take a date that has great chowder?

Reader: In the spirit of the ocean theme, I'm an ex-Bostonian and love a good lobster roll and oysters. Oyster House appears to be the best option in Philly for this combination. Any suggestions for lobster roll and oysters?

CLB: Hey New Englanders - I'm a fan of the Oyster House, especially for oysters, chowders and updated, less-thick snapper soup. Their lobster roll was just OK, though - especially for the price. In fact, I really don't think anyone in this town makes a respectable lobster roll, including Village Whiskey. It's one of my favorite summer foods - I look forward to one done right every summer at Arnold's in Eastham on Cape Cod. But for some reason, people round here just try too hard to overdo a delicacy that rises on simplicity.

The best lobster roll I've had in this area, in fact, was cooked at a fantastic restaurat in Bethlehem that happens to be co-owned by a lady from Cape Cod - Bolete, a lovely New American farm-to-table haven that is worth the detour if you're up that way.

Reader: Best soul food in Philly - what's your take?

CLB: In no particular order, Deborah's Kitchen (26th and Girard), Ms. Tootsie's (1300 block of South) and Corinne's (downtown Camden). . ..