Those popular “Quickfire” challenges on Bravo’s Top Chef have been turned into a restaurant right here in Philly. I’ll share details, and tell you about a new pub in Spring Garden, a sweet bruncherie in Collingswood, and a swellegant happy hour in Rittenhouse. Also, critic Craig LaBan has chicken wings on his mind.
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Food done fast. The 'Top Chef’ Quickfire comes to the food court.
We love those TV cooking-show challenges in which chefs create a dish on the fly. In 2018, the commercial prospects of kitchen drama inspired Philly-based food-service company Spectra to join Bravo in creating a Top Chef-themed concession stand at the Major League Soccer team Chicago Fire.
Spectra and Bravo, having refined the concept, open Top Chef Quickfire on Jan. 23 at the Comcast Center’s concourse, downstairs at 1701 JFK Blvd., replacing Sook Hee’s Produce. (Why here? Corporate synergy. Comcast has ownership stakes in Bravo, Spectra, and Brûlée Catering, the operator.)
You won’t see actual “cheftestants" at the stove at Top Chef Quickfire — rather, line cooks execute refined versions of dishes seen on the show. Top Chef clips play on TV screens, and there is a counter where you can watch the cooking. Philly’s Eddie Conrad, the former chef at East Passyunk’s Laurel who had a solid run on Season 16, consulted in menu development, and chef Matt Stone is running the day-to-day.
Offerings include a fried shrimp po’ boy inspired by Conrad’s old boss, Season 11 winner Nick Elmi (Laurel, Royal Boucherie). The sandwich is topped with sriracha remoulade, shaved fennel, and crispy pancetta and comes on an Amoroso roll. There’s also matzo ball soup (Sara Bradley, Season 16); queso fundido burger (Rick Bayless, Season 1); fried Brussels sprouts with fig, bleu cheese, lemon, and Madras-spiced crème fraîche (Paul Qui, Season 9); and Spanish-style rice salad with grilled flank steak (Antonia Lofaso, Season 4).
They’re aiming at five-minute ticket times. Snag one of 14 seats, or eat in the concourse seating area. And of course, there is Top Chef merch.
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
This Week’s Openings
The Aloha Room at Grain | Kennett Square
Tiki bar opens upstairs at Grain Craft Bar & Kitchen, 108 W. State St., on Jan. 23.
Attic Brewing Co. | Germantown
Craft brewery and taproom at 137 W. Berkley St., next to a soon-to-open branch of Deke’s BBQ.
Blue Elephant | Pottstown
“Italian-Thai with Japanese influences” is the menu story at this stunning newcomer in a former bank at 152 E. High St. from WIN Signature Restaurants (Azie, Teikoku, Mikado Thai Pepper).
Bodega Bar & Kitchen | Washington Square West
Sultry Latin bar-restaurant at 1223 Walnut St. opens officially Jan. 24. (It’s open for dinner now.)
El Techo Taqueria | Rittenhouse
The rooftop bar at the Pod Philly Hotel, attached to Mexican hits Condesa and El Cafe, has started serving its taqueria fare, along with drinks, at 1830 Ludlow St. (Rooftop bar in January in Philly? It’s beneath a retractable roof.) Hours: 5 p.m. till late Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to late Friday and Saturday.
The Goat | Rittenhouse
Fergus Carey and Jim McNamara of Fergie’s have ventured crosstown to open at the former Oh! Shea’s (1907 Sansom St.). Carey also has a stake in the new Fairview (see below) at 21st and Green Streets, where Belgian Cafe was.
Pho Tau Bay | South Philadelphia
La Fusion at 2650 S. 15th St. (near Broad and Oregon) has given way to a Viet pho specialist.
Rose Tattoo Cafe | Franklintown
Longtime bar-restaurant at 19th and Callowhill Streets has reopened for lunch and dinner after a long-stalled ownership change with similarly romantic airs, quaint bar, and American fare. Those seeking to re-create the old days should be aware of the prices, which are high for the neighborhood and in some cases differ markedly from those published on the website. Jambalaya at dinner that’s $30 online was offered for $39 on a printed menu late last week. The “$33” diver sea scallops also hit print at $39. Most entrees are in the $30s (“oven-roasted Frenched half of chicken” over champagne risotto is the lowest-priced, at $25, and the four-cheese tortellini with smoked chicken is listed at $27). Signature cocktails are $15 to $18. The same bottle of Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA that’s $6 at the nearby Bishop’s Collar is $9.
Taps & Bourbon on Terrace | Manayunk
Bar featuring self-service beer taps and burgers you can dunk in cheese, at 177 Markle St.
This Week’s Closings
Cosi | Elkins Park
The bakery chain pulled out of Yorktown Plaza.
Ruby’s Diner | Ardmore
One of the last Philly-area locations of the ’40s-themed diner chain called it a day.
Where we’re enjoying happy hour
Barclay Prime, 237 S. 18th St., 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
You’ll drop several hundred on dinner at the Starr-owned steakhouse on the southeast corner of Rittenhouse Square, but for a fraction, you can sit in the lounge to enjoy one of Philly’s more luxurious happy hours: low lights, plush seating, attentive staff, very decent drink prices — $7 cocktails, including a cosmo made with Citroen and a bourbon drink made with apricot tea-infused vermouth and sorghum syrup, and $6 wines, including a Spanish rosé.
Start with six oysters for $14 (as opposed to $21 on the dinner menu), or snack on plates of rich Parmesan gnocchi ($10) or the addictive tater tot “bravas" ($10), which get a kick from smoked paprika aioli. The aged-beef sliders ($10 for two), topped with bacon and Gruyère, are a good bet, too.
Where we’re eating
Constellation Collective, 685 Haddon Ave., Collingswood
“Ladies runnin’ the place,” as business partners Valentina Fortuna and Maura Rosado (alumnae of Farm & Fisherman Tavern) tout their cozy bakery/bruncherie in downtown Collingswood.
Nothing fancy here — just a window counter, communal table, and a few small tables set up in front of a counter bearing some of the yummiest-looking pastries you’ll ever lay eyes on, including salted honey pie. Vegan options, too.
Breakfast/brunch game includes house-baked bagels, chicken biscuit sandwiches, tacos, frittatas, a Tex-Mex grain bowl, a soup of the day (lentil during my visit last week), and arugula “breakfast salads” with the option of a sunny-side-up egg and bacon. Weekends bring chicken and waffles as well as sausage, biscuits, and gravy.
Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
The Fairview, 601 N. 21st St.
Fergie’s owner Fergus Carey, arguably Philly’s best-known publican, has two new bars. There’s the Goat, which gets underway Thursday, Jan. 23 at 1907 Sansom St. in the former Oh! Shea’s, and the Fairview, which launched last week in the former Belgian Cafe at 21st and Green Streets.
The Fairview, which partners Carey with bartenders Shane Dodd and Dave Dollinger, boasts a mahogany bar and a lighter look, with colored lights (usually set to blue) bathing the dining room. They demolished the office that separated the bar and dining room and put in matching beams in the dining room to join both rooms.
Best of all, it features the work of chef Beth Fox (ex-St. Benjamin’s), whose vegetarian and vegan dishes should put this spot on the meatless map (if there is such a thing). Pay special attention to those green chili “cheeseburger” empanadas.
Also well worth a tumble are the pho French dip and the tikka masala flatbread.
Bar list includes 13 wines by glass and bottle and an assortment of beers (12 on tap, including Guinness and Old Speckled Hen on nitro).
Kitchen hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. Brunch 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekends. Bar open till 2 a.m.
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