Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The 10 best cocktail bars | Let’s Eat

Also: The latest on indoor dining, 40-plus new restaurants, and an investigative report on food trucks.

The smoked eggplant spritz at Friday Saturday Sunday.
The smoked eggplant spritz at Friday Saturday Sunday.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Creative cocktails, great hot dogs at the Shore, and dozens of new restaurants — along with investigative journalism and sobering news about new indoor-dining restrictions in Philly. Kindly read on for the latest.

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.

Michael Klein

Top-shelf cocktail bars in Philly

Drinking in Philadelphia is a funny thing. We love to drink in this city, but the state seems to try to foil us at every turn, making it harder, more expensive, and less convenient to buy great drinks of all kinds. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in Philadelphia’s cocktail scene, which is still on the small side. Contributor Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme dug a little and found unlikely watering holes that can serve you more than a citywide.

In the spirit of digging around: We found a cocktail list with a twist. Staff writer Jenn Ladd checks in with Danny Childs, the soft-spoken bar manager at Farm & Fisherman in Cherry Hill, who draws inspiration from his and others’ personal histories as well as the local and seasonal agenda that informs the restaurant’s food. Many of the ingredients and garnishes for the bar are supplied by the burgeoning garden in the parking lot, and Childs forages for others in the wilds of South Jersey. Find out how he finds and uses those spruce tips, staghorn sumac, and black walnuts.

Update: The pandemic

We’re headed back to the masks, as the coronavirus’ delta variant continues to spread.

Wednesday, Aug. 11 brought word of a new indoor mandate that goes into effect in Philadelphia at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12. Masks are required in all indoor businesses or institutions unless all staff and patrons verify that they are fully vaccinated — a move that several Philadelphia-area restaurants have already adopted. This week, Zahav and Vetri joined the chorus of restaurateurs requiring vaccinations for those dining inside.

We have compiled a running list of restaurants requiring proof of vaccination.

Tale of woe for many food truck operators

Gary Koppelman has operated a string of businesses key to the growth of Philly’s food-truck scene over the last seven years, including the city’s largest spaces for vendors to park and prep their food, and a service to build trucks, too. Critic Craig LaBan’s review of lawsuits, criminal and bankruptcy court records, and interviews with nearly 30 former customers who either bought or leased food trucks from Koppelman since 2014 reveal a consistent pattern: a convincing sales pitch to secure big deposits followed by long delays, a longer list of excuses, and the belated delivery of trucks that were often defective, unfinished or unsafe — if they ever arrived at all.

Getting the full Ethiopian dining experience at Buna Cafe

Few culinary traditions rely on a close communal dining experience more than Ethiopian cuisine, where platter-size rounds of injera topped with a feast of colorful stews are an intimate, hands-on eating affair. And Buna Cafe, which opened last summer in West Philadelphia, couldn’t do what it does best during the height of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s simply not takeout cuisine. Craig stopped in recently to dive joyfully into chef Belaynesh Wondimagegnehu’s shareable food.

He sells hot dogs by the seashore

Craig headed to the corner of 59th and Pleasure Streets in Sea Isle City for an assignment he clearly relished: chatting up Tim “Bubba” McNamara, the convivial wiener master behind Bubba Dogs, the hot dog cart he has captained for 20 straight summers. “Time flies when you follow your passion and do what you love while breathing in salt air,” McNamara told him. Better ketchup with this story right away.

All the new restaurants

It’s not easy opening a restaurant, but when you figure in the staffing shortages, shifting rules and regulations, and the other variables, it’s a truly hair-whitening, sleepless-night-inducing challenge. Nonetheless, restaurateurs soldier on. I share the plans of 40-plus projects on the way in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs. Among them: Chef Brett Naylor (formerly of Oyster House and Mission Taqueria) and artist Nicole Barrick are converting the former Philadelphia Academy of Social Dance at 2009-2011 Sansom St. into a restaurant, bar, and private-event space called Wilder.

Restaurant report

Brooklyn-bred Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, known for its vegan varieties (10 at a time) as well as its 18% butterfat ice cream dips (14 varieties), is eyeing an Aug. 18 opening at 13th and Sansom Streets with scoops, shakes, sundaes, and coffee/espresso. (This location is a former Capogiro, the gelato brand that was similarly uncompromising with ingredients.) But first, check out Van Leeuwen’s truck, which will be handing out samples at various locations (such as Rittenhouse Square, East Market, Dilworth Park, and 23rd & South Streets) on Aug. 12, Aug. 16, and Aug. 17 between noon and 6 p.m. Reminder: Van Leeuwen partnered with Federal Donuts on a strawberry lavender donut flavor.

Briefly noted

Center City District Restaurant Week is coming back: Saturday, Sept. 18 through Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. the CCD has called for a price increase in the name of supporting restaurants. The price is now $40 for dinner and $25 for lunch (offered at many locations), plus tax and tip. And it is still a bargain.

Cherry Hill’s restaurant week, which managed to draw only five participating restaurants, ends Aug. 14.

Be advised that Whole Hog Cafe, the barbecue specialist, opened in the new Feed Mill at Medford Village complex (67 N. Main St., Medford), joining King’s Road Brewing Co. and Harvest Coffee Roastery,

Freebyrd Chicken, which you might know from the Bourse in Philly, has opened a branch at 2 S. White Horse Pike in Stratford, Camden County.