Brothers Kyle and Jacob Billig, who developed the Sweet Charlie’s rolled ice cream shops four years ago, have gone into the savory side of the restaurant business with Bao Nine, a fast-casual shop in Rittenhouse whose menu is based on steamed gua buns.
Bao Nine opens at noon Thursday, June 25 at 38 S. 19th St. with an all-day bun giveaway; the first 100 patrons will receive a scratch-off card with a chance to win buns and other prizes.
The location, previously Smart Street after a few years as a branch of Famous Fourth Street Deli, has outdoor seating along its Ranstead Street sidewalk.
The Billigs (Kyle, 23 and Jacob, 25) make no specific claim of Chinese authenticity with their bao — not by filling the pillowy-soft rolls with pastrami and mustard (”the yenta”), or with crispy chicken with hot sauce (”the hot motha clucka”), or with braised short rib and truffled cheese (”the bao bao”), or with falafel and tahini labneh (”the garbaonzo”).
They said they simply like bao, which are made up front at the counter. “It’s like a great canvas, like a taco shell meets a hamburger bun,” Kyle Billig said.
But for the most part, he said, “there’s no middle ground. You either have to go to Chinatown [to order them] or to an upscale restaurant.” (The nearby Baology, whose Taiwanese street-food menu includes traditional bao as well as potstickers, comes to mind.)
Enter Hugh Moran, a former executive chef at the Stephen Starr-owned Buddakan and Pod and the Michael Schulson-owned Sampan and Double Knot, whom the Billigs hired to develop the menu, including sauces.
There are nine buns ($4.50 each); build-your-own $10.95 bowls (pickled vegetables and herbs over noodles, rice, or salad, topped with grilled shrimp, short rib, crispy chicken, grilled chicken, or Beyond meatballs); side orders of shishito peppers and charred Brussels sprouts; and a crispy cinnamon-sugar bao for dessert.
Chef Jhon Giraldo, a Sampan alum, is running the day-to-day, including the front of the house.
Opening hours are noon to 9 p.m.