Not sure what 2021 will have for us, but I have a lot of tasty stuff for you this week, including a look at hot cocktails, vegetarian/vegan meal ideas from local chefs, a round-up of seafood boils (which seem to be the hot thing nowadays), and word of a new Center City bottle shop and a Korean American pop-up eatery. Also: Indoor dining has returned in the Pennsylvania counties outside of Philly; when will the city allow it? Could be Jan. 15, but read on.

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These hot drinks heat up outdoor dining

Rock Salt, the outdoor seating area of MilkBoy, serves a variety of hot cocktails spiked with spirits.
MilkBoy
Rock Salt, the outdoor seating area of MilkBoy, serves a variety of hot cocktails spiked with spirits.

With outdoor-only dining here to stay for at least the immediate future, sipping a hot drink — and using it as a hand warmer — is also a tasty solution. Contributor Sarah Maiellano has found warm sippers for both tipplers and teetotalers.

Back to the great indoors

Gypsy Blu in Ambler reopened for indoor dining on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. The restaurant also has a tent for outside dining.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Gypsy Blu in Ambler reopened for indoor dining on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. The restaurant also has a tent for outside dining.

On Jan. 4, indoor dining returned to Pennsylvania in the counties outside of Philadelphia after a shutdown intended to slow the coronavirus. Self-certified restaurants may seat at 50% capacity, while restaurants that have not self-certified may seat at 25%. Customers can only drink alcoholic beverages at a bar or a restaurant if it is part of a meal, and restaurants have to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m.

Philly’s ban on indoor dining, in effect Nov. 20, will remain in place until “at least Jan. 15,” a city spokesperson told me Tuesday. “Given the recent holidays and an anticipated rise in case numbers as a result, the Department of Public Health needs to continue to monitor trends over the next several days. We aren’t able to give an exact date for when an announcement will be made, but the goal would be to do so by early next week. However, it is important for businesses and the public to understand that at this time there is no guarantee any additional restrictions will be lifted on Jan. 15.”

This point is crucial, as restaurants are already cracking open their reservation books for inside tables. A rep for the new Steak 48 steakhouse at Broad and Spruce Streets, which does not offer outdoor dining or takeout, says it is booked solid on OpenTable for Jan. 16, the day it hopes to return, and the private Palizzi Social Club is accepting reservations for Jan. 15-16. The city did not specify the occupancy limits for restaurants, which had been 50%.

The city’s indoor-dining shutdown has led to a rash of closings, most temporary. It’s not clear how many will come back immediately. As we wait for widespread vaccinations, restaurateurs are wrestling with such issues as the health of their staff and a general public reluctance to dine in. Some are choosing to stick with the outdoor/takeout/delivery model, while others are sitting it out entirely.

Updating our list of closings: Umai Umai in Spring Garden announced that it’s closed “for the time being,” in a bid to protect the health and well-being of staff and guests. The new Clementine’s Stable Cafe on North Broad Street recently closed through spring. There’s a new permanent closing on the horizon: Avery Goldman of The Baker’s Jar, at 16th and Bainbridge Streets, took to social media to announce that after seven years, the last day will be Feb. 14. Get those Mason jars filled with cake right now.

Vegetarian and vegan winter recipes from Philly chefs

A bibimbap recipe from Southgate’s Peter Hwang is designed to use leftover banchan.
Courtesy SouthGate
A bibimbap recipe from Southgate’s Peter Hwang is designed to use leftover banchan.

If you’re setting resolutions and aspiring to eat better this winter, turning to plants is a good place to start. Inquirer staff writer Grace Dickinson asked chefs from four restaurants to share their favorite veggie-filled recipes that are both healthy and hearty. From a rich, spicy chili to a savory Korean rice bowl to a “cheesy” stuffed pasta, each is designed to keep you warm all season long.

Seafood boils get cracking

A seafood boil, including snow crabs, black mussels, potatoes, corn, and sausage, at Shaking Seafood, 243 S. 10th St.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
A seafood boil, including snow crabs, black mussels, potatoes, corn, and sausage, at Shaking Seafood, 243 S. 10th St.

Back in the good old days (September 2019), I wrote of a boom in eateries specializing in Cajun-style seafood boils with Southeast Asian flair: steamer bags filled with snow crab, mussels, shrimp, steamed clams, corn, potatoes, and the like. The pandemic has seen a further rise in the concept — dozens of them. This food lends itself to takeout because it travels well, and the shareable portions make it family friendly. The experience is messy. (Your Inquirer print subscription now makes even more sense. After you’ve read the news, use the paper as a table covering.)

In addition to the seven boiled-seafood spots I found back then, here is a sampling of the newcomers:

  • The Shake Seafood in Rhawnhurst has opened a second location in Northeast Philadelphia, which seems to be the most popular area for these restaurants. This one is in Lawncrest.
  • Crazy Crab House is new in the Mayfair section of the Northeast. Not to be confused with Crazy Crab Seafood Boil in Pennsauken.
  • Hook & Reel, a chain out of Revere, Mass., has opened two locations in the Northeast and one in Wyncote, and it’s fixing to take over the old Famous Dave’s on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly.
  • Crab Joyous is set up in the old Perkins at 115 W. City Ave. in Bala Cynwyd, near St. Joseph’s University.
  • Amazing Crab House and Cajun Heroes are dueling it out around the corner from each other around Second and South Streets in Queen Village.
  • Raleigh, N.C.-based Crab du Jour has popped seven locations into the area and is teeing up four more, from Cherry Hill to Norristown, including a huge spot in Fishtown at 1000 Frankford Ave., the former Mad Rex. (It’s next to the forthcoming Brooklyn Bowl, which will replace Revolutions.)
  • And there’s a rivalry bubbling across Old York Road in Abington between OHot Cajun Seafood (which filled a former beauty-supply house in Abington Shopping Center) and Thirsty Crab (which replaced the long-running Kitchen Bar — another pandemic casualty).

Be advised that one more is on the way to Center City: Tom Lau of Aki is looking to spring for Mighty Catch Cajun Seafood & Bar at 1310 Walnut St.

Get on this: A Korean pop-up in South Philly

Miggy's K-fried chicken sandwich from Soul & Busan.
COURTESY SOUL & BUSAN
Miggy's K-fried chicken sandwich from Soul & Busan.

Peter Serpico is not the only Philly-based Korean American exploring his roots with a pop-up eatery. Philly architect Jenn Kim is mixing the food from her mom’s native Seoul, her dad’s native Busan, and her own from Denver (plus a dash of Mexican from her partner) in a side-gig pop-up called Soul & Busan.

She’ll be at Comfort & Floyd (11th and Wharton Streets, across from the Third District police station in South Philly) on Jan. 9-10. Saturday’s menu (pickup from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) requires a preorder via soulbusan.com, including Miggy’s K-fried chicken sandwich, korroke (potato croquettes), kkwabaegi (twisted sesame donuts), and hotteok (filled pancakes), plus kimchi fried rice and bulgogi fried rice. Kim’s “Easy Sunday” menu, which is focused on treats such as korroke, kkwabaegi, hotteok, and teas like yuja cha, will be available for walk-in, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Miss this? Future dates are forthcoming; follow her on Instagram.

New bottle shop in Rittenhouse

Wine is the focus of a.bar+bottles at the AKA Rittenhouse Square at 18th and Walnut Streets.
COURTESY HIGH STREET HOSPITALITY GROUP
Wine is the focus of a.bar+bottles at the AKA Rittenhouse Square at 18th and Walnut Streets.

Another side-effect of the pandemic is Center City restaurants’ adding bottle shops, whereupon wine directors raid the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s special-order catalog to build lists of bottles that you can’t get from any ol’ Fine Wine & Good Spirits store.

Now open is Rittenhouse Square cocktail bar a.bar (18th and Walnut Streets), which has transitioned into a bottle shop called a.bar+bottles, selling 150 labels of vino, cocktail kits, to-go cocktails, ciders, beer, and bar accessories, plus a charcuterie menu from chef Eli Collins, sweets from Chris Curtin of Éclat Chocolate, coffee from Rival Bros., and breads from High Street Philly (which by the way just started opening at 9 a.m. daily for coffee in its new home at Ninth and Chestnut Streets). Labels include Hirotake Ooka Domaine de la Grande Colline, Frank Cornelissen, Paolo Bea, and Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey; inventory is here. It’s open from noon-8 p.m. daily.

a.bar — it pains me to start a sentence with a lowercase letter, but that’s show biz — joins Vernick Wine (next to Vernick) in Rittenhouse, Le Caveau and Fitz & Starts in Queen Village, Jet Wine Bar and Wine Dive in Graduate Hospital, the two Tria locations in Center City, Bistro Romano in Society Hill, the new Sally across from Fitler Square, and Tinto in Rittenhouse (it’s in the softest of soft openings right now; I’ll share more next week).

Restaurant report

A new ad campaign from the Center City District encourages people to order takeout from restaurants.
CENTER CITY DISTRICT
A new ad campaign from the Center City District encourages people to order takeout from restaurants.

Center City District has launched an ad campaign to push takeout food — as it is the only business option for many restaurants. Postcards are being distributed to residential buildings throughout the downtown with the message “Get Takeout! Skip the Dishes. Order Directly From Restaurants. Tip Generously.” Visuals designed by LevLane are inspired by the iconic figures Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter. The campaign also features several chances to win dinner for a year. During each month of the campaign, two winners will be chosen from participants who turn in receipts from Center City restaurant purchases. Details at supportphillyrestaurants.com.

Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphiawhose restaurant contingent will include the Prime Rib, two joints from Guy Fieri, and a Philly-centric food hall — has set an opening date of Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. with a series of reservation-only preview days for its rewards club members. Grand opening to the public will be 8 p.m. Feb. 11, all pending approval from the state.

The NBA has created a list of five Center City Philly restaurants that are permitted to host out-of-town basketball teams. The eateries, chosen by players, were vetted and agreed to follow sanitation protocols. This applies to outdoor seating and will be extended to indoor seating when the city allows it.