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A new crop of Philly-area restaurants for 2017

Fewer openings than last year. But what a year 2016 was.

Last year at this time, with more than 50 significant restaurant projects in various stages of development in the greater Philadelphia area, 2016 was shaping up as the busiest year for openings.

This year, the crop of major newcomers seems to be smaller, by about 25 percent, signaling a cooling of the restaurant scene.

Cooling, mind you, is relative. Since the industry recovered from the 2008 recession, growth has been utterly staggering in the city and suburbs.

This year should see a modest gain, fueled mainly by the continued growth of residential population in Center City and nearby neighborhoods but offset by the keen nature of competition.

In Manayunk, the landmark Jake's/Cooper's Wine Bar is coming back later this month after a long shutdown from flood damage. Arpeggio in Spring House, Montgomery County, is preparing for a nearby move within its shopping center in the spring.

Also: In the spirits world, Philadelphia Distilling is getting close to opening at 25 E. Allen St., near the Fillmore.

Jose Garces is coming to Tropicana in Atlantic City in March with three restaurantsOlon (seafood), Okatshe (noodles), and La Cerveceria (a bar). Michael Symon goes to Borgata with Angeline, an Italian restaurant.

As the local scene shows signs of cooling, some observers believe that the business situation nationally is downright dire because of fast-rising rents, taxes, labor, and food costs. In the Philadelphia area, the price of liquor licenses has skyrocketed as supermarket chains pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the same piece of paper as a corner bar for the privilege of selling alcohol.

To some, the marketplace seems saturated. Chef/restaurateur Kevin Sbraga, who opened a branch of The Fat Ham last year in King of Prussia but has no 2017 expansion plans, said: "I can go out 45 nights in a row to 45 different great restaurants."

Small-time operators - the independents that largely define a city's restaurant scene - have been all but priced out of many parts of Center City, particularly the so-called Rittenhouse district west of Broad Street.

"There's no small business in the city anymore," said Peggy Stephens, whose tea company Premium Steap enjoyed a 10-year run on 18th Street near Chestnut until her landlord proposed doubling her rent a year ago.

Stephens moved Premium Steap into a lower-rent office building at 211 N. 13th St. in Chinatown; an eyeglass boutique took her spot.

Stephens traded her Rittenhouse street visibility for a newly expanded online business. While her revenue is not what it was, she now works better hours. "I've maintained my core customers, but for somebody who didn't have a home base and clientele [and had to move], I feel bad for them," she said.

Much new Center City development is poised east of Broad Street; among the newcomers will be stir-fry/salad specialist Honeygrow, opening this summer at 15 S. 11th St., and a branch of Wrap Shack at 112 S. 11th St.

Tenants have not yet been announced for East Market (the mixed-use development along Market Street between 11th and 12th Streets) and the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia (the former Gallery, just east of that). Most, if not all, of these new restaurants are expected to be chains or at least well-funded regional players.

A sampling of other restaurants on the way for 2017, and estimated openings, includes:

Bernie's (58 N. York Rd., Hatboro, mid-February): The popular Jenkintown bar/restaurant takes over for the short-lived 58 York in Hatboro.

Blue Duck (212 S. 11th St., March): The Northeast Philadelphia bruncherie comes downtown, adding a Washington Square West offshoot with a small bar.

Bryn & Dane's (909 Lancaster Ave. in Bryn Mawr, in the spring, followed by Atwater Village in Malvern and the Franklin, on the 800 block of Chestnut Street): Specialist in healthy, fast-casual food.

Buena Onda (1735 Chestnut St., late spring/early summer): Jose Garces spins off his Logan Square beach-theme taqueria to Rittenhouse.

Far East Descendant (240 N. 13th St., April): Asian small-plates, stylish bar, roof deck in Chinatown.

Fox & Son Fancy Corndogs (Reading Terminal Market, winter): Corn dogs are the specialty of this stand.

Gina's 45 (45 S. Third St., spring): Neighborhood tavern in Old City from Curt Large and Josh Shemesh of Fishtown Tavern and Buffalo Billiards.

Grace & Proper (941 S. Eighth St., summer/fall): Italian-theme bar-restaurant at Eighth and Carpenter Streets from the Hawthornes/Cambridge/Tio Flores crew.

Love & Honey (1100 N. Front St., March): Fried chicken and pies in Northern Liberties.

Otis & Pickles Speakeasy (2500 S. Third St., February): A Pennsport bar from The Institute's Charlie Collazo.

Pineville Tavern (2448 E. Huntingdon St., spring): The Bucks County bar-restaurant sets up shop on a corner in the Port Richmond area.

Poi Dog (102 S. 21st St., February): The Hawaiian-theme truck comes in from the cold with a Rittenhouse storefront.

Shoo Fry (200 E. Girard Ave., late winter): The fry specialist adds a Fishtown location.

6 Feet Under (727 Walnut St., March): Subterranean bar off Jewelers Row. A great place to grab a cold one.

Somo (4311 Main St., spring): A bar-restaurant replacing Rubb, in Manayunk.

Suburban Restaurant & Beer Garden (Eagleview Town Center in Exton): Chef Eric Yost goes farm-to-table with a restaurant and beer garden.

Trolley Car Station (40th Street and Baltimore Avenue, September): An offshoot of Trolley Car Diner comes to the 40th Street trolley portal in Spruce Hill.

As always, watch this space.