Summertime, and the living is uneasy. Restaurants in the COVID era are pivoting, shifting, and rebranding. And how about Christmas in July? Also this week, more Jersey Shore picks from critic Craig LaBan, some bits of food news, and a chat with the Cheesecake Lady.
In this, the Summer of COVID, everything has changed. Favorite restaurants are closed, or they’re offering takeout and delivery only, dispensing drinks to-go. In some cases, they’ve set up outdoor seating on sidewalks or adjacent lots, praying that thunderstorms don’t mar the party.
Some have changed concepts — perhaps to simpler fare to spare their kitchen staff or to higher-profit seasonal items, like ice cream. Some are experimenting with “ghost kitchens,” running multiple brands out of one storefront.
And then there is the pop-up, where chefs can test an idea or simply make a living in what had been an idled restaurant. Or simply make us feel good again.
Here are a few examples:
Tinsel in July: Teddy Sourias and his crew have brought back Tinsel, his usual November-December Christmas-theme pop-up, for the summer at 116 S. 12th St. starting Friday, July 17 at 3 p.m. It’ll be all outdoors, complete with holiday lights, decorations, music, cocktails, and treats stretching from the front of Finn McCool’s Ale House at 12th and Sansom up the block to the former Midtown at 114 S. 12th. Speaking of that Midtown space: Sourias is planning a sweet shop, Luku Ma, selling traditional Greek loukoumades later this month; the fried honey balls will be offered with eight toppings.
Sate Kampar at the Goat: Since chef Ange Branca gave up the East Passyunk home of Sate Kampar in May, she has been working out of various kitchens, including Bok Bar. On July 15, she starts a residency at The Goat at 1907 Sansom St., which had been open less than two months before it was shuttered by COVID-19. For the next two months or so, Branca is offering a simple menu of Malaysian street food, including a burger, as Goat owners Fergus Carey and Jim McNamara rev up their bar for drinks to go.
Salty’s Seafood & Ice Cream Shack: Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have converted their Spanish spot Jamonera at 105 S. 13th St. into Salty’s, a summer shore themer selling lobster rolls, steamers, hoagies, and ice cream along with wine, beer, and cocktails. Reservations are being taken for its 70-seat outdoor dining area. Plan is to keep it open through September.
Anchor Light at Stock Rittenhouse: Tyler Akin, a partner in the now-idle Res Ipsa and chef-partner at the forthcoming Le Cavalier at the Hotel Du Pont, has added a ghost kitchen selling seafood rolls and such to his Stock Rittenhouse, 1935 Chestnut St. Stock’s regular menu of Southeast Asian-inspired is still available. Anchor Light food is available for pickup or Caviar delivery.
Pop-up series at Bok Bar: The scenic roof bar at the repurposed South Philly school building at Eighth and Mifflin Streets is open by reservation only. Meanwhile, various programming has been planned, including Seaweed On Your Face with Kiki Aranita & Adeline Koh, at which you can learn to make poke with Kiki Aranita of Poi Dog Philly while practicing a five-step Korean beauty routine (the seaweed mask will be made with the seaweed in your poke).
Pop-up chef residencies at South Philly Barbacoa: The Italian Market institution is lending its kitchens to guest chefs, in different genres, who are committed to social justice. Cooking through July 16 is Harold Villarosa, a New Yorker, whose Unkle Harold pop-up specializes in Filipino soul food. Other pop-ups are in the works.
L’Apero at Bibou: The South Philadelphia French BYOB at 1009 S. Eighth St. has set up sidewalk tables at which chef Pierre Calmels serves finger foods Thursday and Friday evenings. This is in addition to the to-go menu. (Note: On vacation, back July 27).
Scoop shop at Thirsty Dice: The board-game cafe at 1642 Fairmount Ave. has shifted to ice cream, serving Bassetts as well as coffee from Herman’s. Its liquor license means boozy shakes are on the menu.
Even if you don’t like cheesecake, you very well might like Vanessa Jackson’s. She’s the Cheesecake Lady of Elkins Park, and reporter Jenn Ladd — who grew up nearby and whose mom is a regular — tells her story.
“Hope you’re ready to eat zucchini till it’s swimming out of your ears,” reporter Grace Dickinson’s father, a gardener, used to quip. Grace shares recipes from Philly chefs that use up summer veggies, and let their flavors shine. And they’re vegetarian-friendly, too.
Little things mean a lot with regard to outdoor dining. Critic Craig LaBan revels in the details in his round-up of restaurant picks from Long Beach Island to Cape May, including a pop-up that takes the farm-to-table ethos quite seriously. This is a companion to last week’s collection of Shore takeout hits.