Corned beef, tongue, pastrami — and chopped liver PB&J? A Bucks County deli is doing dinner differently. Also this week, I visit a suburban Italian favorite and a solid Japanese BYOB newcomer in South Philadelphia. Critic Craig LaBan also offers dining tips for those attending a show at the new Met in North Philly. 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.
Plain ol' deli? Bite your tongue
You can get a corned beef special or a Reuben or any of the Jewish deli staples at Manny's Deli (102 Buck Road, Southampton). But Manny's is owned by three ambitious millennials, and they've added a contemporary twist at dinnertime with a budget-priced, supplemental menu that riffs on Jewish faves. (It's somewhat reminiscent, in concept anyway, of Abe Fisher in Rittenhouse.)
Start with chopped liver "PB&J" ($7), a cool experiment that puts chopped liver mousse on toasted raisin-nut bread topped with pickled grapes, shaved celery, and fried spiced peanuts. Lots of crunch and an intriguing mix of sweet and salty.
Jewish Fried Chicken ($16 as an entrée, or $40 to feed three), whose thin crust crackles pleasantly around moist dark meat, gets a kick from the pastrami spices in the brine. Chicken schnitzel ($15) comes with charoset, caper relish, brown butter, and preserved lemon.
Other dishes are more straight-up, such as the short rib agnolotti with roasted carrots and a pistachio topping that at $17 may be the best dinner value I've seen all year.
It's all a work in progress, say Rob Woloshin and brothers Jeremy and Chase Thomas, who noticed a dearth of semifine dining in the area. The Thomases have deli in their blood; father Stu owned the deli as Famous before it was sold to Steve Stein.
This dinner menu — offered in addition to the regular menu — is on Wednesday through Sunday after 4 p.m. this month, and will roll out nightly in January.
This Week’s Openings
The BrickHaus | Ridley Park
Delco gets a beautiful breakfast/brunch cafe/coffee shop in a former crafts store at 13 E. Hinckley Ave.
El Bocado | South Philadelphia
Homespun Honduran, Salvadoran, and Mexican cooking in a plain corner shop at 1005 E. Passyunk Ave., where the Avenue crosses Seventh Street (just north of Washington Avenue).
Giuseppe & Son's 'Luncheonette Di Notte' | Center City
The new Giuseppe's offers casual dinners nightly on the ground floor at 1523 Sansom St., complementing the posher scene downstairs.
Tinsel | Center City
The Christmas-theme pop-up bar is back at 116 S. 12th St., and they’ve double-decked the halls this year. Check out the Santa throne for photos.
This Week’s Closings
Capofitto | Old City
The Neapolitan pizzeria/gelateria shut down with the rest of the Capogiro stores.
Capogiro | Center City
The Institute | North Philadelphia
The old-school bar at 549 N. 12th St. in the Poplar section closed, pending a move to swankier quarters a block away, at 525 N. 11th St. in March.
Ralph's To-Go | South Philadelphia
The takeout shop, an offshoot of the Italian landmark, has folded after five months. Owners did not reply to a message seeking comment.
Where we’re drinking
In the Valley, 1615 E. Passyunk Ave.
For the second year, chef Nick Elmi’s cozy bar next to Laurel has been transformed into a kitschy winter wonderland — kind of Tinsel for grown-ups. (It’s part of a national series of “Miracle”-branded pop-up bars.) The festive drink list, on through Dec. 22, jingles all the way with holiday spirit: The Christamapolitan, with vodka, elderflower, dry vermouth, rosemary, lime, absinthe, and spiced cranberry sauce; the Christmas Carol Barrel starts with rum and adds aquavit, amaro, demerara syrup, lime, vanilla, Angostura bitters, and a shake of pumpkin-pie spice. Go savory with a snack (maybe the Rudolph pies, with venison, pork belly, and currants), or sweet (cookies, panettone). There’s also a spirit of giving at work, as 10 percent of sales of holiday-theme mugs are donated to Action Against Hunger.
Where we’re eating
From the Boot, 110 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, plus other locations
Sometimes you just want Italian red-gravy basics in comfy, not-fancy environs — a quick lunch, a sit-down with coworkers, dinner with the kids — and that’s where From the Boot comes in. It started in 1999 in a Lafayette Hill strip mall with lines out the door, and branched out nearby to Ambler and Blue Bell before adding a more pizza-fied spot on North Wayne Avenue’s restaurant row. Lunches are a particularly great deal. For 10 bucks, you get a bowl of pasta fagioli or a house or Caesar salad, plus an 8-inch pizza or half-sandwich (meatball, sausage, chicken or eggplant Parm, or an Italian hoagie. Also $10: The ravioli in marinara in the photo, plus salad.
Ginza, 1100 S. Front St.
Xu Lin and the crew from Bubblefish in Chinatown have added this stylish Japanese BYOB on a corner next to I-95 in Pennsport, totally gutting the old La Vigna and turning it into a bright yet chill bi-level restaurant clad in wood, with basket light fixtures and an open kitchen. Snug seating overlooks Federal Street, while larger parties can stretch out in front of a dramatic mural of rowers. Along with a full complement of rolls and maki are generously portioned don and poke bowls as well as assorted ramen (a specialty), noodle bowls, and teriyaki. Noodles? Udon know what you’re missing if you skip the udon, served as a stir-fry or (as I prefer) in a warming bowl of piquant broth flavored with mushrooms. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner.
Got a holiday party on the calendar? Step up your hostess-gift game with these local, seasonal treats.
Step up your baked-goods game this December with these tips from Philly chefs to improve your cookies and impress your guests.
Robert Bennett made his mark as the longtime pastry chef at Le Bec-Fin. He probably baked the cheesecake you just ate.
Craig LaBan answers your dining questions
Reader: We’re going to go see a concert at the new Met Philadelphia on North Broad Street. Where should we eat beforehand?
Craig LaBan: I’m excited about the Met’s rebirth, and not just because I can’t wait to see a concert inside its gorgeously revived historic bones. I’m excited because of what this important new venue might mean for the long-aspired reboot of North Broad Street. It’s finally happening! I hope …
We have been talking about this now with a sense of inevitability since Osteria opened as a big hit in 2007 as the first major piece of the puzzle to the street’s revival between City Hall and Girard Avenue. But it has sputtered at times, judging by the various projects that have come and gone around Osteria’s relatively steady presence. It seems restaurants alone cannot make North Broad Street a destination. A glittering new entertainment venue that regularly draws 3,000-plus potential diners to the corridor? Now you’re talking. Someone’s got to feed them!
For now, North Broad Street on its own is still relatively limited. Osteria (640 N. Broad St.) changed owners last year, technically for a third time, as founding chef Jeff Michaud bought it back from URBN and gave it a recent renovation with new partner Michael Schulson. I’m still in the midst of assessing that transition. I can say, however, that Osteria will get some serious competition early in 2019 when Joe and Angela Cicala (ex-Le Virtù) finally open their long-awaited new Italian restaurant nearby in the renovated Divine Lorraine (699 N. Broad St.)
There are other options, too. The Bynum Brothers have maintained South (600 N. Broad St.) as a worthy destination for updated Southern cuisine and live jazz, despite a false start in the fall with an attempt to drastically modernize the menu. I’m even more intrigued, however, by the Bynum’s revamp of the former Alla Spina into Green Soul (1410 Mount Vernon St.), a more casual restaurant-bar and performance space with a healthy approach to both soul food and flavors of the African diaspora (try the harissa-spiced chicken tacos).
If pizza is your thing, the square pies and simple pastas at Santucci’s (655 N. Broad St.) are worthwhile. Even closer to the Met are the Caribbean flavors of Flambo (820 N. Broad St.), one of the few restaurants in Philly specializing in Trinidadian food like phoulouri, rotis, oxtails and curried goat.
A more creative way to think of dinner before a show, perhaps, is to consider dipping into nearby neighborhoods that flank Broad Street north of the Vine Expressway. Prohibition Taproom (501 N. 13th St.) is one hidden gem and one of the more satisfying gastropubs around, with creative twists on comfort food (vegan French onion soup; Cajun shrimp banh mi; a burger blended with miso) and an appealing drink program, with one of the area’s best selections of cider.
Also in that pocket hugging Spring Garden are the order-ahead-via-Instagram Detroit-style pizzas from Pizza Gutt at W/N W/N Coffee Bar (931 Spring Garden St.). Grab a house-brewed beer and a nibble from a food truck residence at Love City Brewing (1023 Hamilton St.), or Dominican chicken and mofongo at Parada Maimon (345 N. 12th St.)
Just to the west, meanwhile, is Fairmount, which also has plenty of restaurants. Sticking as close as possible to Broad Street, though, I’d head to Bar Hygge (1720 Fairmount Ave.) for some creative mix-and-match nibble boards as well as Tom Baker’s excellent house-brewed Techne beers. It’s Perkuno’s Hammer Baltic porter weather, after all. Then again, after too many of those, you may not make that show at the Met.
Email Craig here.