As Fishtown's development progressed, moving west into Kensington, Lee Larkin and Nicole Barclay were watching.
He owned a grand, 19th-century building on the southeast corner of Front and Thompson Streets, a block north of the Girard Street El stop. And as the influx of new residents reached a critical mass, they began developing what they imagined to be "what the neighborhood needed":
A cafe serving organics and sustainably raised foods, catering both to omnivores as well as to vegetarians and the lactose-intolerant and gluten-free crowds. And while the mission of Front Street Cafe is clear and respectable, it appears they have avoided much of the preachiness that has a way of turning off mainstream audiences.
Front Street Cafe (1253 N. Front St., 215-515-3073) opened in stages this fall, and now that dinner service has been added, it's gotten around to marking its grand opening.
This roomy spot has it all: a coffee/pastry counter opening at 6 a.m. weekdays (7 a.m. weekends) for locals who need a cup and even a quiet table, breakfast starting at 8 a.m., lunch and dinner that is served on two floors, a moderately hopping bar that is open past midnight six days a week, a patio/garden set out back in the nicer weather - and for no additional charge, the rhythmic chug-chug of the El as it rumbles past at the building's roof line.
Larkin says they're experimenting with live music upstairs one or two nights a week.
About 90 percent of the building materials were reclaimed, recycled, or repurposed: the Schuylkill pine floors and third-story cornice remain, old wooden doors cover the bottom of the bar, benches from the bar come from a shuttered restaurant, steps were built from joists taken from a home being demolished at Temple University, tin was cut and pieced together to create a ceiling, reclaimed brick was used on exterior walls. The irrigation system was set up to funnel rainwater to the plantings.
Chef Andrew Petruzelli, who helped write the menu, is general manager.
Two lunch recommendations: the vegan burger (a mildly seasoned quinoa base, studded with mushrooms) and the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich (with mustard maple aioli, pickles, applewood bacon, butter lettuce, and tomato jam on a toasted brioche bun), served with a Hasselback-style, spiral-cut oven-fried potato that's a conversation-starter in itself.