I call this time of year the holidaze — there’s so much going on in the food world. This week, we share the best in nonalcoholic drinks as well as top-shelf whiskeys, a review of Stephen Starr’s newest restaurant and a look at Philly’s most over-the-top, plus some serious talk: the impact of COVID-19 on the dining scene.

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Mike Klein

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Cheers to these inventive zero-proof drinks

Whether it’s due to sobriety, pregnancy, health concerns, or any number of personal reasons, more and more people are saying “no thanks” to booze. And many restaurants and bars have added nonalcoholic cocktails — also referred to as mocktails, N.A. (nonalcoholic) beverages, zero-proof drinks, and other cutesy monikers like “uncocktails” — to their menus. Contributor Sarah Maiellano has come up with 12 places that do these drinks right, while contributor Regan Stephens presents some local history behind the nationwide trend.

Whiskeys worthy of your gift list

One of critic Craig LaBan’s favorite holiday-season assignments is creating a list of the best whiskey gifts. This year’s supply-chain woes didn’t stop him. After sampling 35 whiskeys from around the world (all available in Pennsylvania right now), he and his helpful panel of neighbors, friends, and spirit heads came up with 14 favorite whiskeys worth giving, at a variety of price points.

COVID’s impact on the restaurant scene

It’s our second holiday season under COVID-19, and the current spike in infections is throwing a huge wrench into the dining scene. Some Philadelphia restaurant and cafe owners are again wrestling with the decision to close temporarily — a move that would idle workers counting on holiday paychecks and disappoint customers, as well as affect the businesses’ bottom line. On the flip side, the public is beginning to worry. The reservations service Resy told me on Monday that there’s been an uptick in cancellations.

Here’s a partial list of recent temporary shutdowns: Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Sally, Hiroki, Middle Child Clubhouse, Doobies Bar, 12 Steps Down, Blind Barber (bars), and Rival Bros. This is a fluid situation. Check Instagram before heading out.

Notice that few restaurants are open Mondays these days. New Instagram account openmondaysphl is building a list. Great resource.

New rules take effect Jan. 3 in Philadelphia, where all people inside must show proof of vaccination. (Many places have been demanding vax cards already.)

Side note for those in the biz: Through a grant provided by the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association has partnered with Jefferson Health and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia to provide access to COVID-19 testing for Philadelphia restaurants and hotels and their employees. Through this program, PRLA will reimburse employees up to $60 for a COVID-19 test.

💡 Here are three great ideas making the rounds:

  • If you’re in a loud place and need to communicate with a bartender or waiter, use the notes app of your phone to tap out a message rather than take off your mask.

  • Need to cancel your holiday party at a restaurant because of COVID-19 concerns? Spend that same money on gift certificates. But be sure to use them right away, perhaps on takeout.

  • Tip lavishly.

What to do and where to go over Christmas and New Year’s

Vibe is just as important as the food, and columnist Elizabeth Wellington lays out 13 scenic spots suitable for a seasonal stop.

Need a place to celebrate Christmas Eve and Day? Jolly Old St. Nick Vadala offers 20 ideas for solid options in Philly, the suburbs, and South Jersey.

We don’t know what 2022 will bring, but we have a good idea of how it should start (and how 2021 should end): with delicious food. Nick has rounded up restaurants in Philly, the suburbs, and New Jersey that are offering special NYE and NYD specials.

Dance parties, fireworks: Here’s where to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

👆🏽 More guides:

Craig LaBan reviews Stephen Starr’s LMNO

LMNO, Stephen Starr’s first Philly restaurant in a few years, includes a bookstore, a gallery, a listening room, and Baja-inspired Mexican dishes. Is it just a random collection of multiple trendy ideas under one roof? Or an organic new multi-use expression for what restaurants can be as community spaces? Craig lays it all out in his review. Next up for Starr is a reboot of University City’s Pod with Peter Serpico at the stove: KPod will open in January. Stay tuned next week for my 2022 restaurant forecast.

Fond closes, The Dutch is moving in. And Rangoon has set a closing date.

Fond, the French-influenced bistro that helped put East Passyunk Avenue on the destination-dining map a dozen years ago, closed over the weekend as the pandemic has forced chef-owners Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki-Styer to rethink the future. In March, their bruncherie, The Dutch, will move seven blocks into Fond’s building at 11th and Tasker Streets. The move will leave a hole in Pennsport, and the Styers are entertaining talks with parties interested in subleasing.

Rangoon, Chinatown’s lone Burmese restaurant, has set a Dec. 29 closing date after a 28-year run on Ninth Street. The owners tell me that they’re not getting any younger. Sigh.

In the face of these closings, which Philly restaurants do you miss? Dmitri’s, Le Bec-Fin, ¡Pasion!, and Matyson are among the front-runners from my quickie Instagram poll. Send me yours.

Restaurant report

Oh, America. The syndicated Sugar Factory, which serves outlandish food, desserts, and smoking cocktails in over-the-top environs, just opened at 1216 Chestnut St. in Center City. I’ll give you a look inside.

Sugar Factory, 1216 Chestnut St., is open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday. (Hours may vary this week.)

Nadire and Rudi Karaj, who popped the homey bruncherie Two Eagles Cafe into the corner of 20th and Reed in Point Breeze three years ago, have added BYOB dinner. Chef Sokol Alliu (don’t try Googling him; he’s newly here from Albania) is doing mostly rich Italian faves: witness the zucchini souffle with cream cheese; stuffed mushrooms with bacon, cream cheese, and truffle dressing; baked feta served in a crock; shrimp ravioli in mushroom and black truffle sauce; and chicken Milanese. He’ll toss in an Albanian special, too. Darling service. Best to call for a table: 267-748-2257.

Two Eagles Cafe, 1401 S. 20th St., is open for breakfast/lunch from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, and from 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday. (Hours may vary this week.)

Briefly noted

Thomas Murphy’s Pub (157 S. Burlington St. in Gloucester City) will feed families in their community for free on Friday, Dec. 24 from noon to 2 p.m. Partner Bob Nicodemo said he hopes to feed Christmas dinners to 1,000 people for no charge.

Doug Henri of Henri’s Hotts Barbeque in Folsom, Atlantic City, passed unexpectedly on Dec. 19, according to his family. They plan to reopen in February.

Sushi and ramen have come to the Italian Market with Kyushu Ramen & Sushi, now open at 907-909 S. 9th St., on the spot that housed the famed butcher shop D’Angelo’s Specialty Meats for more than a century, but closed five years ago. (D’Angelo’s, whose walls were lined with Sonny D’Angelo’s taxidermy, was everyone’s go-to for hard-to-come-by stuff such as elk and wild boar.)

Cuby Lin, a designer and one of several partners, said this location is the first of several and is unrelated to a similarly named restaurant in Connecticut. It’s in a soft-opening stage with abbreviated menu (all the rolls you can imagine), several ramens (including spot-on shio and miso), and a few kitchen items. It’s cash only, but there’s an on-site ATM with no service charge for patrons. Dine-in/pickup only for now.

Kyushu, 907-909 S. Ninth St., is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Phone: 215-606-0047.

What you’ve been eating this week

Dishes enjoyed by readers include lamb tongue fries from South Philly’s edgy Ember & Ash (spotted by @leftburner) and butternut squash maple sage ravioli from the Center City sleeper Ambrosia (@rhiannonallover). Send your photos to me by Instagram at @phillyinsider. Oh, and speaking of Ember & Ash: Chefs/owners David Feola and Scott Calhoun were on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay on Dec. 21. No spoiler here.

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And to all, a good bite. See you next week.