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Vax proof at restaurants sparks debate | Let’s Eat

Also: Get a taste of Philly's best oysters and banana splits (maybe not together) and check out a new cocktail bar.

Carly and Tiger Bax dine outside with their daughter, Piper, at Martha. The Baxes are vaccinated, but chose to dine outside.
Carly and Tiger Bax dine outside with their daughter, Piper, at Martha. The Baxes are vaccinated, but chose to dine outside.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

If this coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the guidelines keep changing. Now, restaurants are beginning to ask for proof of vaccinations, and it’s given rise to controversy.

Also this week: Get a taste of Philly’s best oysters and Philly’s finest banana splits (maybe not together) and check out a new cocktail bar. 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

Some restaurants call for proof of vaccination, and controversy follows

As the delta variant surges, the Philadelphia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that even vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in some areas. Restaurants and bars around the country have begun to ask patrons to provide proof of vaccination for indoor seating in a bid to protect their staffs and other patrons. New York City has taken this decision out of restaurateurs’ hands, requiring it citywide starting soon.

Philadelphia is staying out of proof-of-vax regulations, for now.

The reaction to vax cards has been polarizing and impassioned, as I found from talking to the owners of three restaurants who made their policies public.

Following front-line squabbles over mask-wearing and social-distancing, this is only the latest conflict between restaurants and customers since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Locally, few restaurants and bars have begun asking for proof. (Kalaya, above, is just the latest, announcing their new policy on Instagram this afternoon.) Although public sentiment appears to favor the practice — my Instagram poll on Monday found 1,015 votes for and 193 against — a chorus of naysayers has bombarded these restaurants’ inboxes and social-media feeds with invectives, urging boycotts and shutdowns.

Many restaurateurs seem to be waiting for others to step forward before going public with such a move. I know of one who told me that they are not posting their policy, choosing to tell patrons when they make an indoor reservation. Others are caught in a bind; they want to implement the policy but cannot because not all of their staff members have agreed to be vaccinated. They also don’t want to turn away indoor parties that include children under 12, who cannot yet receive the vaccine.

“We knew we would get pushback but not to the point of where we are right now,” said Christine Kondra, who owns Cornerstone in Wayne and told me that she skipped a planned CNN appearance on Wednesday because she and her husband, Nick, want to avoid the national spotlight.

Kondra said she has been in contact with Radnor Township police after receiving threats. “We have been called Nazis,” she told me. “They have said we should change our name to ‘Kim Jong Charcuterie.’ We have been told that we are breaking the HIPAA code.” (This is incorrect. The federal privacy rule prohibits the unauthorized divulging of medical information but does not bar anyone from asking for information.)

Kondra said she would hang tough, despite the protests. The restaurant is due to close Sunday, Aug. 8 for its usual summer vacation. By the reopening in late August, she said, she hopes that either the recent COVID-19 surge will have passed or that some other measure would be in place to make Cornerstone’s workers feel more at ease.

Meanwhile, some restaurants are again calling for mask-wearing indoors, a return to previous requirements.

Craig LaBan reviews Clementine’s Stable Cafe

There’s a breezy neighborhood vibe in bloom at Clementine’s Stable Cafe, writes critic Craig LaBan, with people embracing the novelty of Broad Street’s sidewalk as a front patio for happy hour, dinner, and brunch. See what else he has to say. And tune in this weekend for his review of Buna Cafe in West Philadelphia.

Where are Philly’s best oyster bars?

Philly has long had a soft spot for oysters, given its proximity to the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. Back in the day, says Sam Mink of Center City’s Oyster House, “oyster bars used to be ubiquitous, like the way pizza parlors are in every neighborhood.” And aw, shucks — they are no longer ubiquitous, but see how service editor Jillian Wilson unshellfishly runs down Philly’s favorites. Lots of pearls on the list.

Of course, you’re craving a banana split

Western Pennsylvania might be the birthplace of the banana split, writes contributor Kae Lani Palmisano, but it took fans in Philadelphia and Atlantic City to unleash a circa-1904 social-media campaign to win hearts and minds of the public. Here are the local split-makers that have won our hearts.

I have some ice cream scoop for you: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream out of New York City, counting down to a mid-August opening of its first Philly scoop shop at 13th and Sansom Streets, is partnering with Federal Donuts on a flavor. It will be a creamy buttermilk ice cream featuring pieces of strawberry lavender doughnut from Federal Donuts, with swirls of house-made strawberry lavender jam.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is releasing a ‘Lawn Jawn’ beer

Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Northeast Philly, which hosted a widely memed Rudy Giuliani news conference in 2020, is teaming up with Funk Brewing and Philly Drinkers to release a beer, Lawn Jawn IPA. The topic was fertile ground for my colleague Stephanie Farr.

End of the line for two Italian restaurants

You missed your chance for a farewell meal at Ristorante La Buca, one of Center City’s oldest Italian restaurants, but you can still try to snag a table at another classic Philadelphia Italian restaurant, Moonstruck, which is in its final weeks in Fox Chase. Each is closing for different reasons.

Tiffin opens a vegan brand, Indian Chaat Factory

Tiffin Indian Cuisine has launched a virtual vegan menu called Indian Chaat Factory at two of its locations. Though Tiffin’s regular menu has some vegan and many vegetarian options, Indian Chaat Factory’s menu, specializing in the traditional savory snacks, includes 14 new items, such as Rajasthani dahi wada (lentil dumplings soaked in sweet and hot yogurt sauce) and Bombay bhel (puffed rice tossed with tomatoes, onions, cucumber and hot chutneys). Mount Airy and South Philadelphia offer free delivery within three miles; it is expected to spread to the seven other locations.

Restaurant report

Mixing bougie and downscale, Chris Fetfatzes and Heather Annechiarico have converted The Cambridge, one of their South Street restaurants, into Sonnys Cocktail Joint (1508 South St., next to their Wine Dive).

Opens 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6.

The couple are going for a laid-back, neighborhood vibe with plenty of curios in the barroom and lounge and a roomy patio out back that looks like a granny’s living room, in a good way.

The bougie/downscale extends to the drinks and food. They have a high-tech Japanese highball tower that mixes Jim Beam White with ultra-carbonated water, plus carafes of Negronis served at the table, as well as more plebeian beverages. They also have chef D DeMarco in the kitchen. DeMarco cheffed at such spots as Second District and South Philadelphia Tap Room, and their menu is a fun mix of the up and downscale: the French onion dip (served with chicharron) is topped with caviar, the popcorn is topped with truffle butter, the crispy shiitake bites come with good ol’ Frank’s hot sauce, and the hot dog — DeMarco’s specialty — is Snake River wagyu on a tallow split-top roll topped with sweet heat mustard, pickled celery, and shallots.

Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday, kitchen open till midnight.

Briefly noted

Jennifer Carroll, Top Chef alumna and partner at Spice Finch, will appear at Saturday afternoon’s HoagieNation, the combo food festival and concert at the Mann Center. She’ll be hanging with those who’ve bought sold-out gold-level VIP packages and will cook at a grill station pop-up, whose headliner Hall & Oates will be joined by Squeeze, Kool & the Gang, and — her favorite act on the bill — the Wailers.

The water-main break that flooded the area around Sixth and Bainbridge Streets on July 25 is still idling restaurants. Emmy Squared returns Wednesday, Aug. 4, and Bistrot La Minette is due back Friday, Aug. 6. Little Fish is hoping for next week (its return compounded by more flooding from an open fire hydrant). Meanwhile, Isot said on Instagram that repairs may take months. And crepe fave Beau Monde doesn’t seem to be coming back; it shut during the pandemic and the building is for sale.

A bright spot in this otherwise blah week: Radicchio Cafe at Fourth and Wood Streets (beside the Ben Franklin Bridge in Old City) has reopened after two months under owner Luigi Basile, who has new investors. Massimo Cascia, Basile’s longtime partner, will be there in the short term and then will hand over duties to manager Paul Aitaider before moving permanently to northern Italy.

The BYOB is open for lunch every day except Sunday and Tuesday, and for dinner every day except Tuesday. There’s no Instagram or much of a Facebook presence (215-627-6850).

Latin food in a New Hope food hall? That would be Lima Fusion, the takeout stand in the far corner of Ferry Market on Main Street, which Adela Pereira and family took over in 2020. Recommendations include the Mexican street corner, the corn empanadas, Venezuelan-style arepas, and both ceviches — there’s shrimp or corvina. Drink of choice is a chicha morada mace with purple Peruvian corn with pineapple and apple zest.

Get the flan for dessert, or hit the counter at Sciascia Confections after lunch.

Lima Fusion, inside Ferry Market, 32 S. Main St., New Hope, is open from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 11-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Tuesday.