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2009 restaurant forecast

Yes, the economy seems miserable. But lots of restaurants are on the way.

Lots of restaurants are on the way, despite the miserable economy. 

Keep in mind that many were conceived in flusher times. Whether the brisk pace of openings continues is anyone's guess. Every economy supports "little projects," such as the Wings to Go opening imminently at 15th and Vine Streets and the Chili's under construction to replace the Houlihan's at Noble Square in Jenkintown. As for larger-scale works, I'm hearing about three in the pipeline. None has been fully signed and sealed. Two are in Center City (from two of the city's most-respected chefs) and a third will be an ambitious tavern operator's foray into University City with a novel pizza/beer concept.

Here's a sampler of what's on the immediate radar, according to their respective owners.

First, what the bigshots are up to

  1. Jose Garces. The chef-owner of Amada, Tinto and Distrito has Chifa, his Peruvian-Chinese mix, due sometime in February at 707 Chestnut St., and Village Whiskey, a whiskey bar/burger joint next to Tinto at 20th and Sansom Streets ("sometime in '09").

  2. Stephen Starr. Feeling a rush of Gallic pride thanks to Parc's success, Starr plans to revive the Blue Angel in March in the same storefront (706 Chestnut St.) that Blue Angel occupied from 1999 to 2003. Starr also is planning a "fun" Greek concept for the former Washington Square, to open in April. Starr's Broad Street Diner deal, mired in environmental issues, seems to be dead.

  3. Susan Schlisman. The Energizer Bunny of the lively-dining sector, who owns the Sam's Grills (Wynnewood and Jenkintown) and Devil's Alley near Rittenhouse Square, is about a month from opening Smokin' Betty's, a barbecue-centric bar, at 116 S. 11th St. near Jeff. She's also planning a fifth casual operation in Bella Vista; as lease negotiations are supposedly touch and go, I won't spill the location.

  4. Marty Grims. The head man at Moshulu and Du Jour is planning a Du Jour (spring) and an unnamed pan-Asian (early fall) both at Commerce Square on Market Street; he'll also operate University City's White Dog Cafe in a deal with Judy Wicks and, I hear, open a new White Dog out in Wayne.

  1. Mims. John Mims, formerly of Carmine's in Bryn Mawr and Les Bons Temps in Wash West, takes over The Freehouse in Wayne (110 N. Wayne Ave.) with a New Orleans-inspired theme on Friday. (This is down the road from another Main Line newcomer, the French bistro A La Maison, that I'm writing about next week in "Table Talk.")

  2. S&H. The former Overtures at Passyunk Avenue and South Street is being done up as a Turkish kebab house (BYOB) at end of the month. Owner Sal Kucuk also has Ridge Diner in Roxborough and Black Horse Diner in Mount Ephraim. Chef-partner is the very well-traveled Huseyin Yuksel.

  3. Pico de Gallo. The Tex-Mex on the northwest corner of 15th and South Streets is a few weeks from adding a second location on the southwest corner. The newer spot will be a bar with more refined food while the original location will become a market/takeout.

  4. Saute. This chef-driven BYOB from Alma de Cuba vet Nicholas J. Cassidy is shooting for late January at 775 S. Front St., in the Queen Village storefront that was Le Creole. Moderate-priced menu will be French-influenced fusion.

  5. Slate. Laurentiu Muras now says "two weeks" till the opening of his gastropub in the former Cafe Habana space at 102 S. 21st St. Eric Paraskevas, a former sous chef at Lolita, is chef. This place has been 10 months in the works and its construction is complete; Muras is trying to assemble staff.

  6. Brew. John Longacre of South Philadelphia Tap Room (1509 Mifflin St.) is building an upscale coffeeshop-cum-microbrew takeout, across the street on the southwest corner of 15th and Mifflin. Longacre said Brew will have java, plus 40 linear feet of refrigeration, meaning a 500- to 600-bottle list under the eye of beer man Joe Bedia. Opening awaits the liquor license.

  7. Strongbox. Promoter Brett Perloff (Pearl) is a few weeks from opening Strongbox, a club, in the former Monkeybar storefront at 2009 Walnut St.

  8. VargaBar. That's the working name of George Anni and R. Evan Turney's pub that will replace Azul at 10th and Spruce. Inspired by Alberto Vargas' Varga Girls from the old Playboy, Anni says he's going for a '40s-'50s feel. The partners, who also have Valanni and Mercato, are aiming at February/March for the changeover.

  9. Thai Basil. This BYO will soon replace the shuttered Water Lily in Collingswood.

  10. Union Trust. Ed Doherty and Terry White say Feb. 2 for their gigundo steakhouse at 717 Chestnut St., further revving up that block (Jones, Morimoto, Aqua, Chifa, Blue Angel, and the downscale El Azteca, Kibitz in the City, and Las Vegas Lounge).

  11. Girasole. Franco, Gino and Michele Iovino have resolved construction issues and will revive their destination Italian (once at 1305 Locust St.) at the Symphony House at Broad and Pine. February opening.

  12. Firecreek. Tom Deignan and Kevin Silverang, behind Radnor's 333 Belrose, are again teamed with chef Carlo DeMarco and Robert Donaldson on this midrange steak house in a former paper mill, at 20 E. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown. February opening.

  13. Bibou. Former Le Bec-Fin chef de cuisine Pierre Calmels and wife Charlotte have penciled in late February for this French BYOB at 1009 S. Eighth St. in the Italian Market space that housed Pif.

  14. Ladder 15. The Mad River crew is aiming at early March for its bar-pub in a former firehouse at 1528 Sansom St.

  15. Oyster House. Son-father Sam and David Mink will revive their Sansom Street Oyster House (1516 Sansom St.) as simply Oyster House in the spring. David Mink ran SSOH for about 30 years until he turned it over for several years to Cary Neff (Coquette), who closed in June.

  16. Vietnam Cafe. The West Philly branch of Chinatown's Vietnam is due to expand in the spring into the Abbraccio space (820 S 47th St.). Abbraccio's operators are moving next month to a smaller spot nearby, reclaiming their long-ago Gold Standard name.

  17. Seasons 52. Dining behemoth Darden is planning this wholesome-American spot for the outskirts of Cherry Hill Mall for the spring.

  18. 943. Pascual Cancelliere is developing this Italian-Argentine BYO at 943 S. Ninth St. in the Italian Market for spring.

  19. Jolly's Rockin Piano Bar. Jolly Weldon, formerly of Jolly's in the Latham and Jolly's Sporting Saloon on 19th Street, is looking at late spring for his moderate-priced nightspot, featuring dueling pianos (!), at 2006 Chestnut St.

  20. Brauhaus Schmitz. The Teutonic bierhall, boasting waitresses in dirndls (for real, says owner Kelly Schmitz), is aiming for a mid-April opening at 718 South St.

  21. Max Brenner. The chocolate chain says late spring or early summer, next to Butcher & Singer at 212 S. 15th St.

  22. Noble. The American comfort-fooder is under construction for a March opening in the former Gioia Mia at 2025 Sansom St. Todd Rodgers, Bruno Pouget, and chef Steven Cameron promise a rustic yet modern vibe with hickory floors, a bar made from a 400-year-old bubinga tree, three skylights, and floor-to-ceiling front windows.

  23. Broad Axe Tavern. New operators at this renovated Montco landmark at Butler and Skippack Pikes say February or March.

  24. Rae. Daniel Stern's ambitious American is to relocate into Two Liberty Place in the fall. Rae's former location in the Cira Centre will become a casual spot "this winter." Stern and partner Sue Mahoney also will use the space to house his Dining Different Catering Group.

  25. Talula's Table. Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikora's restaurant, a half-block from their successful gourmet shop/chef's table in Kennett Square, is in the architecture stage. They're hoping for fall.

  26. Pickled Heron. Construction is about to start on this American from Ritz-Carlton alums Todd Braley and Daniela D'Ambrosio, at 2218 Frankford Ave. in Fishtown. It will be BYO from the outset. No delivery date.

  27. (Unnamed.) Lifestyle marketers Justin Fine and Michael Steinberg of Premiere Marketing Group, with real estate developer Anthony Sembello, are creating an "English social club"-ish "social hideaway" off Broad Street in Washington Square West, to open in the fall.


  1. Matt Levin. The former exec chef at Lacroix says he is close to a deal in Northern Liberties.

  2. Michael O'Halloran. The chef-owner of Old City's Bistro 7 is hoping to strike a deal for the former Sovalo space at 702 N. Second St. in Northern Liberties.