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Craig LaBan raises the stakes on steaks | Let’s Eat

Also: The finest in scrapple, a vegan restaurant that's the toast of Atlantic City, and restaurant news.

The 45-ounce, dry-aged beef tomahawk steak at Alpen Rose.
The 45-ounce, dry-aged beef tomahawk steak at Alpen Rose.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

A full plate this week: Critic Craig LaBan brings up a beef, and we run down the finest destinations for scrapple, bring you the story of the Dip Daddy, tell you about an entrepreneur who is the toast of Atlantic City, and drop some restaurant news.

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Michael Klein

16 great steak splurges

You don’t have to go to a steakhouse for a tasty splurge, as critic Craig LaBan notes. He’ll steer you to more than a dozen steak restaurants where you can score, in his words, “perfect steak frites glossed in Bordelaise to a chili-rubbed bavette with smoked pistachios, massive dry-aged rib eyes, porterhouses and strip steaks for sharing, and a truffled and marrow-glossed morsel of Wagyu that melts off the fork like a dream.”

In other meatery news: Marc Vetri is headed to the Main Line in 2022 with an Italian steakhouse that will replace the shuttered Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr.

Where to find Philly’s finest scrapple

Just like Philadelphia is the underdog of American cities, scrapple is the underdog of the breakfast menu. And when you dis scrapple, it only seems to make those who love it all the more passionate, as contributor Kae Lani Palmisano writes. It is the pâté of the people, and she found a dozen scrapple destinations, from humble lunch counters to an upmarket BYOB, doing it right.

Celebrating Gullah Geechee community and cuisine

Chef Matthew Raiford’s cookbook Bress ‘n’ Nyam is a personal story, as it explores African American cuisine rooted in his Gullah Geechee heritage. In 1874, his great-great-great-grandfather Jupiter Gilliard, born enslaved in 1812, purchased the land near Brunswick, Ga., that Gilliard Farms is still located on. Raiford’s inspiration while writing, as he told contributor Tiffani Rozier, was sitting under the oak trees and listening to the breeze — “to look up and see what my ancestors saw.”

You may remember that Philadelphians got a taste of this Lowcountry cuisine in the 2000s through Geechee Girl Rice Cafe and its chef-owner, Valerie Erwin. Her restaurant, on Germantown Avenue near Carpenter Lane in Mount Airy, closed in 2015. Noting the recent explosion in interest about rice, Erwin said recently that perhaps she’d been ahead of her time. The truth is, writes Kat Kinsman in Food & Wine, that time might not have arrived without her.

The Dip Daddy will bowl you over

Danny Giorgio is the Dip Daddy. The South Philadelphian turned his childhood hobby of making dips, along with dippables such as pita chips, grissini, bagel chips, and mustache-shaped pretzel chips, into a new business. It’s more than food for Giorgio. As he told colleague Jenn Ladd: “The thing that makes me really enjoy the dips is the conviviality of it.” Mustache-shaped pretzel chips? One time on a friend’s last day of work, Giorgio dressed up as Freddie Mercury, and the lip foliage became part of his brand.

Down the Shore, a vegan restaurant with soul

Sharonda Harris-Bunton got a red-carpet welcome to Atlantic City this summer with the opening of the second location of her popular restaurant Vegans Are Us, which she founded two years ago in her hometown of Vineland, N.J. Colleague Amy Rosenberg explains how the debut at the Tanger Outlets has “turned the world upside down in the best way,” in the words of one of her managers. “It’s all good energy.”

There’s plenty of good energy in Craig LaBan’s recent video chat with Ruben Nuñez, chef-owner of El Pueblo and El Pueblo 2 in Cape May, and chef Melissa McGrath and oyster farmer Lisa Calvo, of Sweet Amalia Market & Kitchen in Newfield. It’s a companion to Craig’s article about the rise in Mexican cooking at the Jersey Shore in recent years and the revival of Jersey’s proud oyster industry.

We’re headed into what’s arguably the best time to visit the Shore, as the weather is warm while crowds wane. Check in to see Craig’s two articles of favorite restaurants from Long Beach Island to Wildwood, with a few other stops in between.

Restaurant report

Quick preview: Sept. 7 will mark the debut of Dolce, an Italian restaurant at the days-old W Philadelphia hotel at 1439 Chestnut St. (it’s at street level, across from the Prince Music Theater). Crisp interior evokes Fellini’s Rome of the 1960s. Under operator LDV Hospitality (the team behind Scarpetta at the Rittenhouse Hotel), it will eventually run breakfast through late-night. For now, pop into the W’s dazzling lobby, whose own bar is now open.

This week saw the debut of The Copper Crow, a smart-looking modern-American cocktail bar-restaurant from Blue Bell Inn owners Bruce Goodman and Scott Dougherty at 116 Welsh Rd. in Horsham, across from the newish Sprouts market. All-day menu is a something-for-everyone mix of pizzas, burgers, small plates (lava rock Wagyu seared at the table, duck confit grilled cheese, potato gnocchi in a cauliflower fondue), steaks, and such entrees as wood-fired paella, roast chicken, and whole branzino. Stunning patio, complete with bar, for outdoor dining. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

Briefly noted

Chefs Jonathan Raffa and Mike Gingras, who met at the former Will BYOB, are opening a restaurant in that very kitchen this fall. They’re calling it 1911, after the address on East Passyunk Avenue.

Crunchik’n, the Korean fried chicken shop, will open its third location (after Ocean City and Center City) on Monday, Aug. 30 at 1428 Cecil B. Moore Ave., next to Temple University.

Banh Street, the banh mi shop that enjoyed a local following in the Ambler area for five years, closed Sunday. Owner Michael Golden said it wasn’t for lack of business. It was a tricky confluence of the labor shortage and wildly fluctuating food prices.

Zakes Cafe at 444 S. Bethlehem Pike in Fort Washington, which shut down early in the pandemic, reopened last week. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Wednesday-Monday.

Restaurant weeks for your radar: Main Line Today Restaurant Week (with 35 restaurants, now through Sept. 5); Center City District Restaurant Week (Sept. 18-30, with about 60 restaurants); and Philly Vegan Restaurant Week (still coming together, from Sept. 24-Oct. 1).

Two firsts for the region: Cookie phenom Crumbl Cookies will premiere locally in Jenkintown on Friday, Aug. 27 at the Baederwood Shoppes on the Fairway in Jenkintown (1595 The Fairway). Hours are 8 a.m. to midnight. Center City will get a location of Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, the syndicated conveyor-belt sushi specialist. It’s to open at 1721 Chestnut St. in early 2022.

Tatiana Wingate is in the soft-opening phase of Sprinkled Sweetness, the dessert business she started 13 years ago out of her home in West Philadelphia. It’s a dessert bar and takeout counter with 12 seats inside and four outside in the former Homemade Goodies by Roz near Fifth and South Streets in Society Hill. She owes it all to her son and her early mission to create a Spongebob cake for his birthday.

Sprinkled Sweetness, 510 S. Fifth St., 267-252-2901. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

This summer, Savvas Navrosidis complemented his Fairmount restaurant holdings with Pier Bar, across from his Fare in the corner spot that was Hickory Lane. Right now, things are popping in a landscaped streetery taking advantage of the wide sidewalk on Corinthian Street at Fairmount. Service bar dispenses beer and cocktails in plastic cups. Menu includes raw bar/clambake items such as oysters, mussels, U-peel shrimp, and corn on the cob, plus crab legs, lobster mac, a few salads, wings, and the occasional special such as a luscious soft-shell crab sandwich. The dining room is expected to open in the fall.

Pier Bar, 2025 Fairmount Ave. Hours: 5-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

If you sell a superior fried chicken sandwich, can you also put out an outstanding burger? The answer is yes for chef Art Cavaliere (In Riva, Black Squirrel Pub & Haunt), who added a twin-patty chuck/hanger/brisket-on-potato-roll situation to Foghorn, his East Falls chicken shop. It’s such a big deal that he changed the name to Foghorn & Fletcher. (“Fletcher” is the first name of a purported inventor of the hamburger.)

The secret sauce here is the sauce selection, in flavors such as black pepper honey, herb ranch, and chipotle BBQ. Tip: The sour cream & onion (shown in the burger photo) makes a terrific dip for fries. Comp toppings include house-made pickles. Shakes are made with Jack & Jill ice cream and organic milk. Indoor/takeout/delivery via Grubhub.

Foghorn & Fletcher, 4213 Ridge Ave. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.