Outside dining has been the answer to reboot much of the region’s dining scene. But some restaurants don’t have access to space for outside seating. And many still have no desire to welcome customers inside their dining rooms just yet. For these places, takeout remains the primary means of keeping the restaurant going.
“We always talk about reopening,” says chef Jesse Ito of Royal Izakaya, which has remained closed for indoor dining. “But then we talk about the way things are going (with rising COVID numbers), and as of right now, I can’t see that happening anytime soon.”
Chef Treley Parshingtsang and her husband Tsering Parshingtsang agree, saying that reopening White Yak, their cozy Tibetan BYOB in Roxborough, for inside dining at the allowed reduced capacity doesn’t make sense financially or for health concerns: “Once you have people coming in, it’s hard to control,” says Tsering. “Let’s survive this year with our business — and our lives. That’s our goal.”
The strategy has worked so far, and has not been as limiting as it might seem. With the global fish market flowing again, Ito is now sourcing the same extraordinary seafood that helped make his in-person omakases a four-bell experience before the pandemic, albeit translated to a takeout box that, even at a relative discount, counts as a luxury splurge.
Treley Parshingtsang has been inspired to create a flurry of new dumplings for her momo menu (Yak nose-shaped steamed buns? Yes, please!) And a host of other operators have used revving takeout demand to launch entirely new restaurant concepts, including Yehuda Sichel’s cheffy new sandwich spot, Huda, and Peter Serpico’s “kinda Korean” Pete’s Place, which includes QR codes with instructional videos starring the chef’s 5-year-old daughter, Charlie, on how to crack a soft-boiled egg and sprinkle crispy rice over the bibimbap.
Detail-minded cooks used to preparing fine-dining plates have tackled the technical challenges of creating foods that travel well. And I’ve found some inspiring results, from the fancy new taco kits showcasing the fresh masa program at Cadence, to Friday Saturday Sunday, where chef Chad Williams' Wednesday burger sensation, the WAPPER, completed its takeout journey home remarkably moist and medium rare.
“Time is always an ingredient when you cook, whether it’s from McDonald’s or Per Se,” says Williams. “How food gets from cook to diner is a prime consideration.”
As cold weather begins to eat into outdoor dining profits, any extra consideration given to the art of takeout should continue to pay dividends.
Izakaya fans can order through Instagram by 8:45 p.m. the previous night before to pick up handmade dumplings, miso-glazed eggplant, soulful sukiyaki, Ito-san’s chicken wings and sake to go. This is some of the best traditional Japanese cooking in town, and translates well to takeout, dispensed from a discreet alley door beside the restaurant.
There’s no true replacement for the fleeting pleasures you’ll experience at in-person omakase, where Jesse Ito delivers his sushi piece by piece direct to diners. But his sushi to go is still a prize worthy of its hefty price tag. With expert craftsmanship and rare Japanese fish, from sublimely fatty bluefin and imported madai to Hokkaido uni kits, lusciously cut chirashi and peerlessly beautiful nigiri sets (from $65 for 11 pieces to $700 for 100), each complex bite reminds why Jesse still sets Philly’s four-bell sushi standard. Even in a takeout box, these hand-molded nigiri tastings stand out. Just ask the Eagles, who have a standing order for 2,000 pieces each week. Royal Izakaya, 780 S. Second St., 267-909-9002; royalsushiandizakaya.com/sushi
Unlike many restaurateurs, Chad and Hanna Williams own their building near Rittenhouse Square, allowing them to remain closed for four months. The arrival of their first child, Ruby, was the signal to reopen: “Need some money in the bank!” says Chad.
They’ve taken it slow, beginning with cocktails to go from mix master Paul McDonald, whose wit is reflected in current events cocktails like the Becherovka-based Bad Things. Tables were added outside, but left unattended by service to keep things simple, as the kitchen initially focused on pop-up events and a casual menu with lobster rolls and the Cardi B-inspired WAPPER, a juicy double-pattied beauty on an anise coco bread bun that’s become a coveted Wednesday special.
Friday Saturday Sunday reopened recently for limited indoor dining, but the takeout options have expanded. And this kitchen presents prime ingredients with precision to go. We devoured a superbly flavorful coriander-smoked pork chop, a gorgeous corn salad that remained picture perfect during travel, and the clever comfort of a peanut butter and jelly ice cream sandwich.
Now we can also seriously ramp up our nose-to-tail takeout with “Tennessee hot” sweetbreads, and FSS signatures like octopus with menudo and beans and the crispy pig face, a bi-weekly special that brings an anatomically correct sheet of crispy skin over a feast of confit pork for four. It may be unsettling for some, Chad concedes, “but it’s delicious!”
Friday Saturday Sunday, 261 S. 21st St., 215-546-4232; fridaysaturdaysunday.com
I’d climb a Himalayan mountain to eat some hearty momo dumplings. Thankfully, we just need to get up to Roxborough for takeout from this charming Tibetan BYOB, where I also covet the eggplant gha, Tibetan beef curry, chilli chicken and thenthuk beef soup with hand-ripped noodles.
White Yak is so committed to minimal contact takeout, customers ring the takeout window doorbell with disposable nails. Why nails? Co-owner Tsering Parshingtsang also happens to own a construction company called Shangri-La, named for the valley in Yunnan Province where he grew up.
Chef Treley Parshingtsang, meanwhile, has used the pandemic as an opportunity to expand her repertoire with several new menu items, including a cauliflower stir fry with spicy pickled mango sauce and more momos soon to debut, from tea-flavored steam buns to a zona momo shaped like a yak’s nose, and a baked poethek momo stuffed with beef and celery that is essenially a Tibetan pot pie. White Yak, 6118 Ridge Ave., 215-483-0764; whiteyakrestaurant.com
This ever-inventive modern American BYOB has done takeout since the beginning of the crisis. With limited outdoor seating now, the to-go options are wider, from striped bass crudo with saffron yogurt to co-owner Samantha Kincaid’s dumplings in beef and veal ragù.
But I’m especially excited about the masa program Cadence has been worked on during the pandemic with house-nixtamalized local corn, used each week for the Proyecto Tamal fundraiser. That same masa is used for Cadence’s fancy take-out taco kits, with 10 exceptional made-to-order tortillas served alongside flavorful black beans, two kinds of salsas and a choice of proteins. Three local duck legs rendered into an irresistible confit crisp? A hefty portion of pork belly edged by cracker crisp skin? Chorizo-scented crumbles of inventive vegan sweet potato sausage? These aren’t inexpensive, ranging from $45 to $60, but for the quality, they’re nonetheless a fair value. Cadence, 161 W. Girard Ave., 215-419-7537; cadencerestaurant.com
Peter Serpico and Stephen Starr have transformed the chef’s signature restaurant (Serpico) into a ghost kitchen dedicated to delivering the Korean flavors of Serpico’s birth country. The menu is noodle-centric, with Tsukemen-style kimchi noodles and pork gravy being a standout. But since many of these dish reflect personal twists on traditional dishes (“kinda Korean,” Serpico calls it), don’t ignore the QR codes on packing labels that lead to instruction videos that demonstrate how separately packaged ingredients should be combined.
The noodles are great, but don’t miss what might also now be the best Korean fried chicken wings in town (still brittle crisp with a special rice flour-tapioca crust), a bibimbap brimming with a pinwheel of distinct flavors, and a restoratively homey beef and radish soup that show this project, long in the works, has only just begun to show its potential. Pete’s Place 604 South St., 215-593-2232; petes.place
Yehuda Sichel was determined to strike a casual note when he left his longtime post as chef at upscale Abe Fisher to realize a dream of opening his own restaurant. He wanted a daytime concept to allow for more family time at night, and also insisted on going beyond his known expertise in Jewish cuisines to explore other flavors that inspire him. Sichel succeeded on all counts at Huda, the fast-casual takeout corner on South 18th Street (in the former Hai Street space).
His menu is centered around house-baked breads used for sandwiches and toasts with cheffy twists for under $15, from sourdough topped with hazelnut butter and Gala apples striped with Thomcord jam (an ultimate grown-up PB&J) to the soft Japanese milk rolls for hot sandwiches featuring thoughtful, complex toppings that are essentially meals on a bun. No one makes better brisket then Sichel, and his sandwich here, with raw onions, garlic pickles and Dijonnaise, is fabulous. But the chef also makes a spicy fried chicken sandwich that can compete with the best, a swordfish sandwich with kimchi tartar, and a crisply fried maitake that takes its fixings inspiration from a Mexican torta (avocado, Oaxaca-like fresh mozz and chipotle adobo) to the head of Philly’s veggie sandwich class. Carnivores get treats, too. Lamb chops are offered as a side, just because. Huda, 32 S 18th St, 445-544-8025; hudaphl.com
Jewish deli is one America’s most enduring takeout hits, and this Queen Village classic has been steaming corned beef and hand-slicing lox since 1923.
So for my birthday dinner in this year laden with tsouris, I ordered to my ultimate comfort food feast: a giant bowl of matzo ball soup and a towering, corned beef Rachel on grilled rye (a Reuben with slaw instead of kraut), latkes and a can of Cel-Ray soda. I inhaled the aroma, ate it slow and savored every bite. Famous 4th Street Deli, 700 S. 4th St, 215-922-3274; famous4thstreetdelicatessen.com