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Outdoor restaurants well worth a try | Let’s Eat

Also: Black Restaurant Week and a rundown of new restaurants.

The kitchen, along with the seating, is now outside on the patio at Southwark in Philadelphia's Queen Village section.
The kitchen, along with the seating, is now outside on the patio at Southwark in Philadelphia's Queen Village section.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

It’s Black Restaurant Week, with two dozen dining options. We’ll also bring you the fascinating story of a globetrotting chef who has settled in Lancaster. Meanwhile, critic Craig LaBan has been scouring the area for special new dining settings. I’ll also run down a few new restaurants, including one that serves the largest lobster roll I’ve ever seen.

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Michael Klein

These restaurants are doing it right outside

The move to outdoor dining as a means of survival has pushed so many chefs and restaurateurs beyond their comfort zones that they’ve created some truly special new settings to present their art, writes critic Craig LaBan. He recommends seven restaurants — six in the city and one in Atlantic City — with reimagined outdoor spaces and unforgettable meals.

Be advised that the city of Philadelphia has offered new guidelines to restaurants for winterizing their outdoor spaces.

Things are looking up for Sate Kampar’s Ange Branca

Chef Ange Branca closed Saté Kampar, her Malaysian grill house, in June. Now, she’s been doing pop-ups, and she’s in residence at Irwin’s at the Bok Building in South Philadelphia. Craig reports that her repertoire is deep — far beyond the saté (which happens to be on the tasting menu). She is up on the roof through Oct. 31. After that, who knows?

Getting your kids in the kitchen

The pandemic can be a teachable moment to toddlers, as in meal prep. Writer Jessica van Dop DeJesus has a young helper in the kitchen, her 3½-year-old daughter, Lu. Their mac-and-cheese recipe takes only 20 minutes and usually goes over well. When it doesn’t, Jessica just whips out Greek yogurt, granola, blueberries, and honey, and calls it a day.

It’s Black Restaurant Week

Black Restaurant Week Philly this year, on through Oct. 25, includes two dozen restaurants, food trucks, and chefs. Staff writer Brandon T. Harden headed to Lancaster to catch up with Abou Kouyaté, executive chef of the historic Imperial Restaurant. Born in Guinea, he moved around a lot because his mother was a French drama teacher and worked in Spain and France and his father was a missionary doctor who worked in West Africa.

Chef Kurt Evans has started a fund-raising drive as he works out the final plans for Down North, his North Philly pizzeria, which will employ formerly incarcerated people.

How a Philly soda maker kept sales from going flat

Hank’s Gourmet Beverages of Bucks County made a strategic decision to expand supermarket sales of its pricey sodas, a move that proved prescient this year. Grocers, who now account for about 70% of sales, kept the fizz in Hank’s business during the COVID-19 lockdown, as staff writer Andrew Maykuth explains.

The restaurant scene this week

The bad news first: CheU Noodle Bar near Thomas Jefferson University Hospital has closed after seven years. The situation seems dire across town at the long-running Doobies Bar in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, where owner Patti Brett reports that business has slowed to a trickle.

Dan and Alex Greenberg of Tela’s Market in the Francisville neighborhood have redeveloped a building at 631 N. Broad St., across from South Kitchen, into apartments above and a restaurant called Clementine’s Stable Cafe on the first floor. (Clementine is the Greenbergs’ dog and the building once housed a stable.) Eventually, Clementine’s will be an all-day affair with a bottle shop and coffee service. For now, it’s a nifty indoor-outdoor bar-restaurant, with one of the best fixed-price dinner options around: $39 per person for three courses, served family style. It’s staffed by industry veterans, including chefs Leo Forneas and Leonardo Barrios Gabriel and general manager Frank Kemp. Menu hits include lamb chops in piri piri, grilled pork chop, and yellowfin tuna on uni vinaigrette. After dinner, Kemp likes to make tequila-spiked hot chocolate, flaming the marshmallows with a torch. Open for Wednesday-Sunday dinner, plus weekend brunch.

After Cafe Lift’s Narberth outpost closed in January, chef Josiah Richmond returned to the city. But then, the owners of the space at 724 Montgomery Ave. reached out. The Colorado-bred Richmond is a partner at what is now Royal Cafe Narberth. He’s brought in a big-bellied oven for 10-inch Neapolitan pizzas, which augment a menu of easy favorites, such as salads, sandwiches, luscious smash-style burgers, and a massive lobster roll served over lettuce on a soft buttered bun the size of a hoagie roll. Top-priced dinner entree is shrimp and crab cakes for $23. Seasonal cocktails, too. It’s all outdoors, where they have plenty of heaters and room to work with. Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch, Tuesday-Sunday for dinner and weekends for brunch.

Ethiopian chef Belaynesh “Bella” Wondimagegnehu and husband Demalash Demessie, formerly of the Blue Nile, converted what was a shell of a building next to Greensgrow in West Philadelphia into a sunny bright cafe, with loft seating on the mezzanine and a few tables outside. Buna Cafe is billed as Ethio-American, though the home-cooked food of their homeland predominates: tibs, ful, firfir, and wot, plus aromatic beverages, Italian-inspired desserts such as tiramisu, and a serious coffee program. Plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. No bar. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m.

Chad Rosenthal is running a pop-up fried-chicken outlet called Motel Chicken out of his Lucky Well location at 990 Spring Garden St. on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 4:30 p.m. for pickup and local delivery: chicken sandwiches, “pillows” (nuggets), waffle fries, and sides. Lucky Well’s menu and outdoor dining remain.

Winner Winner

This happy woman is Inquirer reader Christal Watson, who won our recent random drawing for a Mike Solomonov-designed, Middle Eastern steak sandwich sold out of Pat’s King of Steaks last weekend as a special that sold out almost immediately. She shared the sandwich and the za’tar-seasoned fries with her parents, and they all raved about it. By the way, Solomonov and Pat’s owner Frank Olivieri are planning to reprise the special as a benefit for Spread the Whiz Foundation. Stay tuned.