Outdoor dining is just about the only way to go these days, since Pennsylvania dining rooms are capped while Philadelphia’s and New Jersey’s are closed entirely. So we will take a look at the roof decks. Lots to see here this week, including: Two stories of prognostication from Jenn Ladd (the future of diners and the pandemic’s impact on the social experience), a visit to a tomato farm, a peek at a purple dessert, and your guide to restaurant openings. Yes, openings.
Rooftop dining has always been one of my favorite dining experiences. And now, in our pandemic days, it’s even more appealing. When you factor in the required six-foot chairback-to-chairback spacing and the natural openness of a roof, these setups really put the distancing into social distancing. I found 11 restaurants with roof decks, in both the city and burbs. Not saying that things are looking up, but...
Will diner customers come out to eat pancakes in a parking lot? How long can takeout club sandwiches and dinner specials sustain restaurants used to seating 100 customers at a time? And if they can’t make ends meet in a pandemic, will diners — a waning American institution — fade even faster? What’ll it be? Jenn Ladd asks some veteran diner operators, who are toughing it out. It won’t be over easy, they say. (Not all will survive. I see that Chestnut Diner, which opened in early February across from Liberty Place in Center City to great promise, is cleared out.)
Jenn Ladd also takes an insightful look at the world ahead of us. Before the pandemic, perhaps you went out with friends and dug into a bowl of free snacks over beers, or sampled one another’s cocktails to see if you liked someone else’s better before ordering a second round. Maybe you shared dessert, using the generally established formula of one wedge of cheesecake to four forks. What might dining behavior look like after COVID-19?
Why does Dan Waber call himself “that crazy guy with all the tomatoes”? Maybe, as Bryan Deemer explains, because his farm in East Greenville has 320 kinds of tomatoes. You’ll want to try them all.
We do love our old-fashioned Stock’s pound cake. But Jenn Ladd explains that there’s another one to consider: It’s the marbled ube version at Kensington’s Flow State CoffeeBar, which Melanie Diamond-Manlusoc makes with Greek yogurt, vanilla bean paste, and ube — the purple yam that’s an everyday ingredient in Filipino cuisine and in recent years has become an Instagram darling due to its stunning hue.
Micah Harrigan, 10, whose lemonade stand outside his South Philadelphia home turned him into an Instagram hero, got two big breaks this week: He has a new location in the neighborhood, and got a sweet deposit to his college fund from a sponsor.
The restaurant scene keeps churning. Though the number of closings since mid-March is pretty much in line with a normal five-month stretch, I believe that restaurateurs — being the gritty optimists they are — still hope to salvage their livelihoods as the pandemic wears on. They’re hoping that the typically busy end of year helps stanch the bleeding. That said, the operators of South Street landmark Manny Brown’s are said to have packed it in last week, as has the crew behind Bainbridge Street Barrel House.
The number of openings has fallen, but they are still coming. The last week brought a few debuts:
There’s The Wayward, an American brasserie at the new Canopy by Hilton Philadelphia Center City hotel in the old Stephen Girard Building, across from the Loews at 12th and Ludlow Streets. It has 30 seats of outdoor dining on a landscaped terrace festooned with strings of lights. Initially, chef Yun Fuentes cooks dinner only as well as happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.
Char Kol, a pop-up from Michael Schulson and Nina Tinari, specializes in grill-it-yourself BBQ on 70 seats outside their idled Giuseppe & Sons and Harp & Crown (1523-1525 Sansom St.).
Pizza Jawn, the brick-and-mortar reality of a home baker’s dream, opens Aug. 8 at 4330 Main St. in Manayunk with takeout only.
Bourbon & Branch at 705 N. Second St. in Northern Liberties has taken on the pizza stylings of partner Daniel Gutt.
Speaking of which: Northern Liberties has boomed lately into a thriving outdoor scene at the Piazza and Liberties Walk, with landscaped streeteries taking over the now-shuttered traffic lane on Second Street.