You know that Philly's newest burger shop borrows technology from your neighborhood Wawa? This week, we also head to South Philly for Italian, to Northeast Philly for sandwiches, and to the Northern Liberties area for edgy American fare. Craig LaBan catches us up on Philly Wine Week highlights. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Wawa does it with sandwiches, Honeygrow with stir-fries, Snap Custom Pizza with 'za, Zushi with sushi.
They may seem cold, but you can't deny the boosted efficiency and accuracy. Plus, they're fun to use, in the right, um, hands. Which gets me to a slick, new player, M2O Burgers & Salads, which opened last week in Queen Village at 701 S. Fifth St., on the corner of Fifth and Monroe, across from Plenty Cafe.
Menu is simple: Burgers and salads, as the name says, plus fries, smoothies, and shakes. Prices are great, and customization is easy: Choose Angus beef or a veggie burger; a potato or pretzel bun (or lettuce); American, Cheddar, or goat cheese or Whiz; and a dozen toppings for $7.29 (it's $5.29 for a basic burger, $6.79 for the classic burgers). Salads top out at $7.99. Everything is made to order, hence the name.
As you may guess, M2O is being poised for expansion by brothers Leo, Pep, and Jim Osmanollaj, immigrants from Kosovo who opened the more conventional HaveABurger inside the Skatium in Havertown three years ago.
Though it's just south of South Street, M2O does not keep late, post-bar hours; it's buttoned up by 10 p.m. every day but Sunday, when it closes at 8.
P.S. If a burger or salad is not your thing, head a few doors north to Humpty's Dumplings, where the honey chipotle dumplings and other snacks are ethereal.
Blood Orange Margarita at Cantina Feliz
Order the tequila cocktails at Cantina Feliz in Fort Washington, as the experts will advise you. Served up or on the rocks, unfailingly cold and tart, they pack a punch. (Speaking of punch: The other bar winner at Cantina is sangria.) Cantina, flagship of Brian Sirhal and chef Tim Spinner's empire that includes La Calaca Feliz, also delivers reliable Mexi-favorites (such as tacos and enchiladas) as well as a few surprises. Bacon and eggs in guac? That would be on the weekend brunch menu.
We all have our South Philly Italian go-to. Craig LaBan loves Villa Di Roma and Mr. Joe's Cafe, while I send everyone to the charming Ristorante Pesto. John and Connie Varallo have pushed pasta on Broad Street for 15 years, after 16 years with the now-gone Io E Tu. You'll never leave Pesto hungry. Menu has the staples. Since daughter Maria joined the kitchen, you get mod flourishes like the app of avocado topped with crabmeat and bruschetta. Full bar, yet BYOB is OK and there's no charge. Your South Philly restaurant fave? Email me.
Since a falling out with his former business partner at Blue Duck and its associated restaurants, chef Kris Serviss has surfaced at Northeast Sandwich Co., which opened recently in a corner deli at Bleigh and Whitaker in Fox Chase. NeSCo, as everyone is shorthanding it, dishes respectable cheesesteaks and burgers, plus creative breakfast sammies for the AM-ers. The Nashville hot chicken, which has a sweet heat and is not heavily breaded (and a bargain at $8.95), is not to be missed. I offer other hot-chicken options in Philly here.
You BYO-ers will want to snag space at Cadence, which opened two weeks ago at 161 W. Girard Ave., where Modo Mio was. Spouses Jon Nodler and Samantha Kincaid plus Michael Fry, all from the Fork/High Street orbit, turn out gorgeous plates with hyper-seasonal ingredients. Dinner only, from Tuesday to Saturday. Bottle Bar East in Fishtown devises wine pairings, though there's a state liquor store across the street.
All sales at the Philly-area Jersey Mike's shops on Wednesday, March 28 will be donated to Alex's Lemonade Stand.
BurgerFI marks Opening Day for baseball by offering dollar dogs on Thursday, March 29. Limit two per customer.
Luan Toto's Italian BYOB at 261 S. 17th St. has returned after a July 2016 fire. Reopening is penciled in for Friday, March 30
Same old song for Jolly Weldon, who plans a Friday, March 30 opening of his oft-relocated piano bar. He's taken 110 Chestnut St., where Prime Stache was.
The 19th Street outpost of the grilled cheese and ice cream specialist is closed.
Much to the gluten-free community's dismay, this family friendly Italian has pulled the plug.
Nothing official, but the long-running barbecue shop at 2214 South St. seems to be out of here.
Joe Beddia's last evening at 115 E. Girard Ave. is Saturday, March 30. Fret not. He is moving.
The cute cafe on Third Street below Race has called it a day.
Question: Philly Wine Week is still going on. What events should I not miss?
Craig: These weekly festivals are always fun, but also so fleeting.
We only have Wednesday and Thursday this week left to attend a special PWW event. But, on Wednesday, I'd definitely consider channeling your inner-Portlandia for Tria Taproom's "Put a Bird on It!" pairing of Oregon wine with wings; or going to sip some amphora-aged wines normally available only by the bottle at Barcelona; or tasting the orange wines and Ribollas of Slovenia at Southwark; or learning about how Plenty Café is now making its own vermouth.
For Thursday's finale, head to Jet Wine Bar (always one of the city's best bets for a wine adventure) to sample some of my favorite Italian wines from Campania. Surprise yourself with some impressive local wines at several places (High Street on Market, Panorama, Martha); or explore Bordeaux with an importer at Vintage Wine Bar.
While PWW may be over way too soon, this festival has really highlighted the reemergence of wine as a subject of excitement, passion, and creative energy in local restaurants.
Philly has long been a beer town.
But the new generation of sommeliers has done a fine job over the last few years overcoming the limitations of pricing, selection, and other factors dictated by PLCB rules to foster a vibrant wine scene that's been increasingly focused on educating diners about independent producers, emerging regions and natural wines.
As I've noted before, some existing players like Tria, Panorama, a.kitchen, Vedge, Jet, Laurel, Lacroix, and Townsend have laid the forward-drinking groundwork. But this past year has also been a bright one for new wine-driven projects, beginning with the arrival of the Walnut Street Café (from the crew behind New York's now-closed Rebelle), whose somms are incredibly knowledgeable and willing to sell half bottles of anything on their fascinating list.
There are new hubs for natural wine, like Maison 208 and Teresa's Next Door, which recently revamped its list. And we've also seen chefs with a great track records in vino expand their existing commitment to good wine with new projects like the Spanish-themed Oloroso, whose sherry-driven list program is overseen by chef Tod Wentz's partner, sommelier, and wife, Gordana Kostovski; and Nicholas Elmi's new Royal Boucherie, whose French brasserie just happens to be featuring the Beaujolais Cru trend on Thursday night.
General manager Nancy Benussi's eclectic wine list, which ranges from Majorca to British bubblies, is always worthwhile. But it's been great to stop for a moment to sip and celebrate the impressive momentum of Philly's lasting wine progress.