It’s crunch time for the Food team, and we’ll take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Herr’s plant in Chester County. Also this week, we share: Craig LaBan’s favorite Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown, a chat and recipes with TV’s Tabitha Brown, and details about a nonprofit that saves literally tons of produce in Philly. Read down for restaurant news, including your first word of a plant-based market-restaurant opening in the burbs by the couple who own Vedge.

❓ But first, a quiz:

David Lee of Pizza Jawn in Manayunk competed on Best in Dough, a Hulu game show, bringing Philly flavor to the L.A.-based production. What was one of his pizza toppings?

A.) roast pork with sharp Provolone

B.) cheesesteak

C.) Gritty

D.) soft pretzel and mustard

See the answer and read the story here.

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Mike Klein

No small potatoes: See how chips are made

Herr’s makes 300 kinds of snacks at its Chester County plant, but it’s the potato chip that’s the star — as many as a dozen truckloads of potatoes pull up at the loading docks on a given day and head out in bags. You can join a group on a factory tour, or just let my colleagues Jenn Ladd and video journalist Lauren Schneiderman take you even further behind the scenes.

Tabitha Brown gets into the thick of it

When Tabitha Brown of the Food Network’s It’s CompliPlated went vegan five years ago, she lost 12 pounds. Then she learned the art of making plant-free versions of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, seafood salad, cheesesteak hoagies, and peach cobbler. That got her “right back thick,” as she told my colleague Elizabeth Wellington in advance of her book tour, coming to the Kimmel Center on Oct. 5. The plot thickened. She said her husband loves her that way.

Craig LaBan’s favorite Szechuan restaurant is in Chinatown

Critic Craig LaBan says Chinatown’s EMei is the city’s best Szechuan restaurant, a place where robot-driven carts weave around to big tables full of international students. In his review, he weaves in word of the current situation in the neighborhood: the proposed Sixers stadium nearby. “There can be a crisis for Chinatown, but there can also be an opportunity — we really don’t know yet,” says EMei co-owner Dan Tsao. Meanwhile, here comes the robot with a platter of shredded beef with long hot peppers. 🔑

South Philly has a cool new distillery

Otto Distilling opened over the summer in South Philadelphia, serving samples and mixed drinks for $6 a pop. Examples: Dr Pepper and plum-infused rum and cream soda with hot pepper-cinnamon-spiced rum. Just don’t head to Otto expecting a craft-cocktail experience, writes Jenn Ladd. It’s a minimalistic tasting roomdown to the Solo cups.

In other cocktail news, bubble tea has finally trickled down to Lê, the single-named owner of the temporarily idled Hop Sing Laundromat. He’s created $10 cocktails containing Haku vodka and boba made from fresh fruit — strawberry and mango (shown below) — for friend Han Chiang, owner of Han Dynasty. The mango is mixed with lime mango mint syrup and jasmine tea, and the strawberry gets half-and-half and strawberry syrup. Extremely drinkable (and potent), as I learned at a tasting last week at HSL. They’re going on Han Dynasty’s cocktail menus in Old City and University City, and will be available sans alcohol at Han Dynasty’s locations that lack bars.

‘Big Rube’ is first chef in residence this year at Jose Garces’ Volvér

Jose Garces has launched his second season of chefs-in-residence at Volvér, his restaurant at the Kimmel Center. First up is Reuben “Big Reuben” Harley, the Philly photog, media personality, and cook known for what he calls “Black folk-style cooking.” The slate of chefs who follow include Chance Anies of Tabachoy, Juan Lopez of On Point Bistro, private chef Tonii Hicks, Ryan Elmore and Kaitlin Wines of Mom-Mom’s Kitchen, Sally Song of Dim Sum Garden, and a to-be-announced chef to wrap things up.

In other Garces news: His Buena Onda location opened Tuesday at 226 N. Radnor-Chester Road in Radnor,

Finding a home for excess food

The nonprofit group Sharing Excess is built around the strategy of meeting donors where they are. In four years, it has redistributed 11 million pounds of food, as Jenn writes. More than half of that came from one year’s work with Philadelphia’s Wholesale Produce Market.

Restaurant report

Scoop: Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby of the Center City vegan destination Vedge are venturing out to Chester County for a plant-based market-restaurant called Ground Provisions: Market & Dining. (Don’t worry, Vedge will remain open.) It’s the former Innkeeper’s Kitchen at Dilworthtown (1388 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester). The basics: One side will be a country store and wine shop, open daily, with plant-based cheeses, prepared foods, natural vino, and vegan “charcuterie,” while the 24-seat restaurant will serve what Landau calls a modern tasting menu and cocktails for dinner and brunch — “special but approachable,” Jacoby told me. Intimate airs. There will be additional seating on the front porch. They’re looking to open in early November and are seeking staff.

Khachapuri, khinkali, pkhali, lobio... The menu of Georgian specialties at Saami Somi, which just opened in Reading Terminal Market (where Tootsie’s salad bar was), might be unfamiliar. That’s where the stand’s owners come in: Siblings Michael and Donna Kolodesh, the Northeast Philly-raised kids of émigrés from the former Soviet republic, are designers by training and they’ve laid out a concise menu board and store layout to explain.

Traditional khachapuri (above) is a “cheeseboat” with cheese and egg in the middle, khinkali are oversize dumplings, khali is a spinach and walnut spread, and lobio is a bean stew. All this and adjapsandali, too. (That’s a Georgian ratatouille of roasted eggplant, bell peppers, tomato, alliums, and the spice mix known as khmeli suneli.) They developed the recipes — including rustic sourdough breads — with their parents and chef Lor Kats. Helpful counter folks know the dishes backward and forward.

Shelves include condiments and household items. It’s open market hours, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Briefly noted

Kathy Mirano of Tambayan, the Filipino stand at Reading Terminal Market, happens to be a marathon runner, and she’ll be doing the New York Marathon for the first time in November. She’s raising money for Back on My Feet, the Philly-based national nonprofit that helps build lives through running: 10% of her sales on Wednesdays will go to the cause.

Saquan Howard, chef-owner of Cray Taste Old City (118 Market St.), will earmark a portion of sales from his new burger menu for the month of October to Crescent Foundation, which helps those affected by sickle cell anemia. He plans to donate $2 per burger.

Kalaya, the much-lauded South Philadelphia Thai restaurant, will mark its last night on Ninth Street this Saturday. A larger, liquor-licensed location is due to open later this fall in Fishtown. Saturday’s finale will be a special menu.

Musi and Gabi have announced that they will close. Both cite the pandemic, suggesting that, despite a slew of recent openings, the industry is far from being out of the woods.

Puerto Rican pastries are baked by a Mexican chef at a Brazilian-owned bakery at Fifth and Cambria in North Philly. It’s Delicias Bakery, and it’s a favorite spot in El Centro de Oro, the center of Philadelphia’s Latino community. Colleague Michelle Myers created a complete guide to the neighborhood.

Montco native Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money, will sign pre-purchased bottles of Fósforo Mezcal Tobala (founded by his wife, Lisa) at four Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. He’ll be at Ardmore Shopping Center (62 Greenfield Ave., Ardmore) from noon-2 p.m. Saturday; at 180 W. Girard Ave. from 4-6 p.m. Saturday; at 119 W. City Ave. in Bala Cynwyd from noon-2 p.m. Oct. 16; and The Granary (411 N. 20th St.) from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 16.

Ember & Ash (1520 E. Passyunk Ave.) has been shifting to a more casual feel to draw the neighborhood — tweaking its rustic, locally sourced menu and adding a bar menu and TV for Sunday-Monday games. Chefs Scott Calhoun and David Feola turn out a burger and dry-rubbed wings from the wood grill, plus a crunchy fried chicken sandwich. They’re using a Martin’s seeded bun now, though they’re switching to Merzbacher’s sweet potato buns. Burger combines chuck and short rib blend; tip: splurge on the grilled mushrooms and house-made bacon. Chicken sandwich uses thighs from local birds that are marinated in ginger, garlic, and mirin, breaded and double-fried Korean-style.

What you’ve been eating this week

How pretty are these dishes? The chicken and waffle Benedict at Washington Square West’s quaint Mabu Kitchen (1120 Pine St.) got @sweetassassin out of bed. N.B. Mabu, whose menu is French Canadian-meets-the-U.S.-South, just added Monday dinner. Below is the ceviche de coco — tuna, coconut, habanero, carrot, cucumber, red onion, chile piquin, and avocado tatemado at Cantina La Martina in Kensington, which impressed @3_marckrav_15.

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