What is the difference between an asteroid and a meatball? One is meteor.
OK. I’m about to get serious about meatballs. Read on for saucy news out of West Chester, as well as word of a West Philly newcomer and a new coffee roaster in Montgomery County backed by a seasoned chef. And scroll on as Craig LaBan drops in with recommendations for Center City District Restaurant Week, which started Sunday.
Levittown-raised Dan Shea has bounced from here to there over his 50-plus years — Jersey Shore DJ, rock bassist, sometime actor and voiceover artist. His latest bounce: meatballs.
Shea and longtime friend Morgan Harris opened Meatball U in downtown West Chester around Thanksgiving.
Based on his stepfather Richard Quintano’s recipe, Shea’s business is actually 35 years in the making. In the summer of 1985, in a mad dash of ambition, he paid $150 to Avalon for a vendor’s license. He planned to make and sell meatball sandwiches and sodas out of his Ford Bronco. But he never pulled the trigger. More interested in partying, “life happened,” Shea said. Rolling meatballs took a back seat to rock and roll.
Until much more recently, when Harris, who was the bouncer at the Princeton in Avalon when Shea was the DJ, stepped forward and reminded his friend of his dream. Harris expanded Shea’s initial idea of opening a small stand when they found the former pizzeria at 30 S. High St., near West Chester University. The proximity factored into the shop’s college motif (pennants, lots of lights, wood paneling, late hours three nights a week), and the menu grew to include pasta and salads.
It all comes round to the meatball, though. Chef Cirilo Rodrigues makes the standard beef, as well as chicken, sausage (a 50-50 mix of sweet and hot), an Impossible vegetarian version, and two specials — currently chicken marsala and Mom’s meatloaf, which taste exactly as you’d expect.
These are baller balls. The basic sandwich ($8.99) includes three balls on an 8-inch Liscio’s roll that’s been split, slathered in butter and garlic, and toasted in the oven. Red sauce (cooked the day before to cut the acidity) and mozzarella go on top. There’s a 12-inch version with five balls for $13.99. The two-meatball-topped ziti ($15.99) comes out in a cast-iron crock. In a nod to wings, they make small chicken balls and serve them with blue cheese dressing, dipping sauce, carrots, and celery.
Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, and 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. (Late-night takeout is conducted in the vestibule, not in the dining room.)
Bomba Taco + Bar | Malvern
A scaled-down version of King of Prussia’s Paladar Latin Kitchen dispenses tacos and rums in lively quarters off Route 29, effective Jan. 17.
HNT Chicken | West Oak Lane and Nicetown
Brazilian-style boneless fried chicken spot, now at Franklin Mills, has set Jan. 15 for its opening at 1401 66th Ave., with a third location, at 2749 W. Hunting Park Ave., due to follow in the next week.
Meatball U | West Chester
Oyster House | Rittenhouse (reopening)
The venerable seafooder at 1516 Sansom St. is back after a freshening up.
Sly Fox | Malvern
The popular brewery soft-opens its location at the Grove (30 Liberty Blvd.) on Jan. 17, with a full opening on Jan. 20.
Bryn & Dane’s | Malvern and Washington Square West
Health-focused fast-casual eatery has apparently shuttered two locations: The Chester County outpost (after two years) and the Center City yearling (five months). Is this temporary? I’m awaiting word from the company.
Cafe Lift | Narberth
Partnership differences led to this closing. The original location, on 13th Street north of Callowhill in Philadelphia, is unaffected.
Koukouzeli | South Philadelphia
Greek street food lasted about 14 months in the Italian Market.
Sandler’s on 9th | Washington Square West
Breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant (plus takeout) at Ninth and Chestnut Street ran a year and a half.
South Philly Bar & Grill | South Philadelphia
Popular sports bar across from Pat’s and Geno’s is now on the market.
Tasty Place | Chinatown
Longtime underground Chinatown favorite at 11th and Race Streets for salt-and-pepper wings and chow fun is closing Sunday, Jan. 19, as is the grocery next door.
St. Stephen’s Green, 1701 Green St., 4-7 p.m. Monday to Friday
Several years after selling the cozy Spring Garden corner pub he cofounded in 2007, James Stephens is back. The Belfast-born publican, who also has a piece of Black Sheep in Rittenhouse, has refurbished and is again aiming at the neighborhood clientele.
That means excellent $6 happy hour specials, including a crock of baked mac and cheese that’s just big enough to share (though you may not want to), plus wings (buffalo or BBQ), cheesesteak spring rolls, and hummus and pita with Kalamata olives. The changing drink specials include “a well-known bottle beer” ($3.50), “a popular draught beer” ($4), glasses of cabernet or pinot grigio ($6), a dark and stormy ($6), Moscow or mezcal mules ($6), and “well drinks made well” ($5).
Vegan-ish, 1214 N. 52nd St.
West Philly’s Lamarr Ingram has followed a vegan diet since he had a bad burger experience back in the mid-’90s, and now he wants to bring plant-based food to his neighborhood. He’s going (almost) all in with this smart-looking storefront on 52nd Street near Girard Avenue.
Chef Todd Butler’s fast-casual menu of sandwiches and salads is vegan — though they’re hedging with a few seafood items such as a Creole shrimp burger and salmon burrito. (Perhaps the seafood adherents will try a side of the fried Brussels sprouts or cauliflower fries.)
There’s an Impossible burger ($7), which for $2 more gets topped with smoked vegan bacon and “cheese.” The burger called When Smokey Sings ($10) is a smoky barbecue burger amped by caramelized onions, barbecue sauce, long hots, and a crunchy slaw. Pay special attention to the chickpea burger samosa ($8), a chickpea patty topped with spicy curry, apricot chutney, lettuce and tomato, and a few fries (on the sandwich).
Initial hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Wake Coffee, 133 S. Main St., Ambler
Alec Satterly and Christina Rizzetta, with friend Josh Jones, bought Parry Coffee Roasters in Ambler a little over a year ago. Next steps: Rebranding as Wake and going retail, and that meant buying a building nearby. The long-ago auto-repair garage has kept its wide-open, light-filled industrial look — white-painted brick and concrete floors. The Probat P12 roaster can be seen behind glass. An outdoor beer garden awaits springtime.
Wake’s menu includes not only a full line of coffee drinks, but also alcoholic beverages as it operates under the brewing license of Track 3 Microbrewery, which just closed its brewpub in Dresher. Food is worth sticking around for. In addition to baked goods, the partners have the chef services of Steve Waxman, who operated Trax nearby for two decades before he closed last year. I’m hearing whispers of dinner. For now, Waxman is turning out a brunch bill of fare, including avocado toast, vegan chili, grilled cheese, a pulled-pork sandwich (smoked on-site), and a pork roll-and-egg breakfast sandwich.
Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.
Delco native Jim Pappas, 56, was looking for what to do with the second half of his life. He found it in cheesesteaks. In 20 months’ time, he’s eaten 500 of them.
Dry January has come a long way: The rise of the “sober curious” movement and an explosion of high-quality nonalcoholic options have put pressure on Philly’s bars and restaurants to create (and stock) excellent zero-proof offerings. Now, there are great things to drink while staying dry.
Green Aisle Grocery on East Passyunk and Grays Ferry Avenues may be on its way out, but the Erace brothers are discounting most of the inventory by 20%. Here’s how to cash in on Green Aisle’s closing sale.