Our new dining guide, “Let’s Eat, Philly!,” tells the stories behind the local food scene in these unprecedented times. We’ll also invite you to a virtual food festival that starts Wednesday. Also this week: A noted doughnut shop has set up in South Philly, a terrific pizzeria has reopened, and a vegan chef starts a delivery business — while on the flip side, indoor seating will be suspended in the city, effective Friday.
In a normal year, The Inquirer’s dining guide would be critic Craig LaBan’s compendium of the Philadelphia-areas finest restaurant experiences.
This is not a normal year. Food editor Jamila Robinson got the whole team involved and the brand-new 2020 guide, “Let’s Eat, Philly!,” is a broader take, reflecting how we’re eating now. “We’re eating from takeout containers and with DIY pasta kits, for starters,” Jamila writes. “We’re trying pop-ups opened by displaced chefs, and we’re sitting at our neighborhood BYOBs under sidewalk tents warmed by space heaters. We’re cooking at home using restaurant-quality produce and proteins, and we’re shopping for pantry items from pizzerias-turned-markets. We’re picking up margaritas and whiskey sours to go, and we’re ordering local craft beer delivered to our door. And we’re eating with a deeper sense of community."
And this week, catch us live at our virtual food festival. On Wednesday at 4:15 p.m., Craig talks with Heather Thomason of Primal Supply about how she transformed her whole-animal butchery into a home-delivery business suited to survive the pandemic. On Thursday at 4:15 p.m., Jenn Ladd will talk about holiday beverage pairings with Carley Razzi Mack of Penns Woods Winery, Ben Wenk of Ploughman Cider, and Rob Cassell of New Liberty Distillery. On Friday at 11 a.m., I’ll take you on a one-hour tour of Reading Terminal Market. Also Friday, at 2 p.m. Jamila will talk with chefs Omar Tate and Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon about their influential work and the future of the industry. Sign up for these free experiences right away.
Oh, and what timing! We did not plan this going in, but Tate and Suntaranon got a national boost this week as Esquire mag honored Tate as chef of the year and his pop-up experience Honeysuckle as pop-up of the year, while Suntaranon’s South Philly Thai BYOB, Kalaya, came out on top of Esqy’s list of best new restaurants. (That’s “new” in magazine-speak, that is. Craig reviewed Kalaya back in the summer of 2019. More recently, Suntaranon opened a Thai grocery store near the restaurant.)
Craig usually shops at Reading Terminal Market for the Thanksgiving meal he prepares for his family. On a recent visit, he found the market “eerily, ominously calm. ... The whole experience emphasized the unease I feel at the crisis we’re still in," he writes. “Could the COVID-diminished state of our essential public market — normally a joyful touchstone of Philly food celebrated and shared by so many now hobbled by the pandemic — be a more apt metaphor for the holiday itself?” He will soldier on, and he shares his time-tested barbecued turkey recipe.
Still looking for Thanksgiving dinner options? We offer some suggestions for takeout and even a few ideas for outdoor dining. The weather app is calling for a high of 54 degrees with a 30% chance of rain on Turkey Day. For more ideas, I’d simply search for your favorite restaurants and caterers on Instagram, which is far less cluttered and simpler to navigate than Facebook.
Indoor dining is on the way out (for the time being) in Philadelphia, as the city announced new restrictions designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Among the bullet points of the “Safer at Home” campaign is a rollback of modest concessions granted to restaurants over the last several months, effective Friday, Nov. 20. As indoor dining is eliminated altogether, outdoor tables will be capped at parties of four people who live in the same household. As you’d expect, restaurant owners are portending a further battering of the industry.
Waiters and other front-of-the-house workers, who balance their own safety against the need to earn a living, are not happy, either, as Jenn writes. “I feel like this is really going to crush the Philly service industry, and I don’t know if it can bounce back,” said Nicole Jones, a bartender who lost her job at R2L earlier in the pandemic and is working at a restaurant in the Callowhill section.
Restaurateurs have banded together with a Change petition seeking emergency unemployment benefits for laid off employees; rent abatement and a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions and collection actions for at least 60 days; government intervention to require insurers to provide business interruption coverage; low- or no-interest loans; and a state sales tax “holiday” for restaurant pick-up and delivery orders.
On the sweet side this week: Curiosity Doughnuts — run by a couple with uncompromising standards and a quirky menu and approach to customer service — is making its first inroads into Philadelphia. It’s now open mornings as a pop-up at Laurel, Nicholas Elmi’s idled East Passyunk Avenue BYOB. The doughnuts are laid out along the bar at In the Valley, the adjacent bar.
Two major beer projects are still on track. Iron Hill Brewery is looking for a December opening of its 19th location, which also will be its first full-scale production facility, in Exton. This also will bring the local brewpub giant into the retail business. And next summer, Victory Brewing Co. expects to open its 14,000-square-foot taproom and brewery at 1776 Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Logan Square, previously a TGI Fridays.
Chef Mark McKinney, executive chef of Royal Tavern, Cantina Los Caballitos, Cantina Dos Segundos, Khyber Pass Pub, and Triangle Tavern, happens to be vegan. On Nov. 20, he’s launching a new brand, Primary Plant Based, as a pop-up out of Khyber’s kitchen in Old City (56 S. Second St.). First-timers on his ever-changing menu include sweet potato toast (think shrimp toast), spicy peanut mole noodles, maitake mushrooms and grits, and a rougamo (rou jia mo), the Chinese “meat sandwiched in bread.” PPB will be offered for takeout as well as delivery through DoorDash. Hours: 3-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Just a heads-up that Nov. 28 will be the Philly debut of a Tiger Sugar shop. The specialty is brown sugar bubble tea with cream and a unique tiger stripe. It’s going into 122 N. 10th St. in Chinatown.
Alas, my list of restaurants that have closed permanently and temporarily is growing. Latest: Jerry’s Bar in Northern Liberties, a temporary shutdown due to COVID-19 exposure. John’s Roast Pork in South Philadelphia will return Tuesday, Nov. 24 after a scare, which led to owner John Bucci having the place sanitized. (He’ll do phone orders only.) Fergie’s Pub in Center City and The Fairview in Spring Garden will take a breather for a few months after service Sunday.
Rione, the city’s first pizzeria specializing in Roman-style pizza al taglio, has reopened after a long shutdown. It’s moved next door into 100½ S. 21st St., where Poi Dog Philly was. Francesco and Alison Crovetti have added sandwiches, including meatball, wrapped in pizza dough. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Best to order online.