When South Philly’s Nam Son Bakery closed earlier this year, chef Tri Tan put Plan B into action. You can taste it in Northern Liberties. Also this week, I find a charming Italian American spot just 10 minutes from the King of Prussia tumult, a winning sandwich from a storefront on South Street, and bottomless mimosas in Center City.
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 newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here to get it free every week.
Homespun Vietnamese cooking at Hello Vietnam
Oh, Hello Vietnam.
Tri Tan lost her kitchen this summer with the closing of Nam Son Bakery in Ho Bin Plaza at 16th Street and Washington Avenue. One door closed, and another opened over the weekend in Northern Liberties with the debut of Hello Vietnam, a spare but comfy BYOB across from Green Eggs (722 N. Second St., 215-922-2800).
This time, chef Tan — who spent seven years there after decades at Nam Phuong — is an owner with daughter Julie Dinh and two business partners. Tony Ta, a former chef at Morimoto, Sky Asian Bistro, and Smith & Wollensky, is running the day-to-day.
First off, you’ll notice that the menu is not a phone book — just a half-dozen or so appetizers including rolls, glazed short rib, and fried tofu; a lotus root salad; pho; banh mi; broken rice platters; and vermicelli bowls, including Obama bun cha, which includes Hanoi-style meatballs. (This is what Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared on a trip to Vietnam.)
Pay close attention to the tofu banh mi. Tan’s sauce makes the sandwich — and there are plans to bottle it.
Overall, you’ll notice clean flavors (nongreasy spring rolls, crispy vegetables, etc.), and the partners insist there’s something in the water. Specifically, they’re using a Kangen water-ionizing system that supposedly removes impurities not only from the ingredients and meats but also the drinking water.
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
This Week’s Openings
Adobe Cafe | Bella Vista
The popular Southwestern cantina has moved from East Passyunk to the corner of Eighth and Fitzwater Streets.
Árdana Food & Drink | Warrington
Cypriot-influenced Mediterranean fare (from pizzas to full-on entrees) in chic digs at the Shops at Valley Square.
A Taste of Spain | Chinatown
Spanish grocery opens Dec. 12 at Reading Terminal Market, replacing Wursthaus Schmitz near Flying Monkey Bakery.
Fellini Cafe | Bryn Mawr
The former Ardmore BYOB has resurfaced at 870 W. Lancaster Ave. (610-527-5200), where Mediterranean Grill was for many years. It’s unrelated to the other Fellinis.
Hello Vietnam | Northern Liberties
Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes | Blue Bell
Chain’s first Pennsylvania shop will open Dec. 16 at Centre Square Commons, Skippack and DeKalb Pikes.
More Sugar | Chinatown
All-day Asian-influenced brunches at 11th and Cherry Streets.
Wine Dive | South Street West
I’m hearing “next week” for the wine shop/bar at 1506 South St. from the operators of the Cambridge next door.
This Week’s Closing
Cinemug | South Philadelphia
Finale for the coffee shop/video store on Broad Street near Tasker, just shy of five years old.
Where we’re enjoying brunch
Harper’s Garden, 31 S. 18th St.
It’s tough to think “outdoor garden” in December, but the sturdy enclosed patio at Harper’s Garden on 18th Street near Market will make it easier.
Even on a miserable day, it’s a great venue for chef Ben Moore’s tasty cooking — sandwiches on bread made by Lost Bread Co., salads, soups, and entrees, as well as a solid cocktail list.
Weekend brunch, served 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., brings out the cinnamon French toast sticks, the Benedicts, and the smoked salmon and waffles. You can also get the 'Merica burger, a double-stacked brisket blend with Cooper cheese, onions, ketchup, and mustard on a milk bread roll, that’s also offered at lunch and dinner.
To seal the deal, there are bottomless mimosas ($20 with an entree).
Where we’re eating
Dino’s Pizza & Pasta, 101 E. Fourth St., Bridgeport
After you fight the King of Prussia Mall crowds for holiday sales, perhaps the last thing on your mind is finding a modestly priced dinner. Easy out. Head south on Route 202 to Bridgeport. There’s the stylish Taphouse 23 for American pub fare and craft beers, Bridgeport Ribhouse for barbecue, and a branch of Conshohocken Brewing Co. for local beers.
For Italian American food, you’re covered at Dino’s. Its look inside and out suggests mom-and-pop pizzeria, but Luigi Mazzitelli and crew are doing so much more: Italian wedding soup filled with escarole and tiny meatballs, vampire-resistant garlic rolls, snacky bread sticks filled with pepperoni bits, the usual lineup of thin-crust and Sicilian pizzas and cheesesteaks, plus a full board of entrees made with care. Chicken Francese, in a sauce of white wine, lemon, and butter with a side of penne, was a steal (and a second meal) for $13.95. In fact, four of us got out the door for exactly $70 including a tip to a saintly waitress.
Notes: Patient, chipper service. No Coke, Pepsi. $4.95 kid’s menu. Cannoli and homemade cheesecake for dessert.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday.
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop, 630 South St.
Where do you go in Philly for a great sandwich? We all have our favorites. Craig LaBan weighed in with his. Ask for my top five, and I’ll have to give you six. In no order: Stockyard Sandwich Co. in Spring Garden, Mike’s BBQ in South Philly, Middle Child in Washington Square West, Hershel’s East Side Deli in Reading Terminal Market, Paesano’s in Northern Liberties, and Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop on South Street. I’m looking for outstanding bread and a creative approach.
The Egg Hash Sammy that just went on the menu at Woodrow’s expanded my top five to six. Owner Kevin Kramer slaps diced potato and chopped breakfast meat on the flat-top grill, drops a couple of eggs on top, adds Jack cheese, smears house-made chipotle jelly on a brioche roll, puts it all together, and creates a riot of flavors — salty, sweet, bitter, smoky, crunchy — for 7 bucks. See the process in video on my Instagram.
Need more of a “lunch-y” choice? There are lots of cheesesteaks on South Street, but Kramer’s includes shaved ribeye, truffle “Whiz,” cherry pepper mayo, and caramelized onions.
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends.
Your favorite sandwich spots? Please advise.
Never been to a Feast of the Seven Fishes? Here are seven chances to celebrate the Italian Christmas Eve tradition.
Boilo, Pennsylvania coal country’s potent holiday punch, keeps New Jersey’s Four Queens whiskey brand in business.
From Lansdale’s Boardroom spirits, this walnut liqueur tastes like liquid Christmas.
Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week, but you can guess where he ate while on jury duty.