A bruncherie has landed in Fishtown with a novel signature dish. Also this week: Deli goodness in Rittenhouse, a new ramen-sushi combo in Midtown Village, and a healthful option with outposts in the burbs. Craig LaBan runs down some of his favorites in outdoor dining. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Fishtown, bursting with restaurant action, has a sweet, new breakfast/brunch option, Over Easy Breakfast Club (2302 E. Norris St., at Tulip), replacing the long-gone Ida Mae's Bruncherie with cheery environs and hours hewing to the peak dining period (8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday only).
Menu includes eggs, biscuits and gravy, crab melt, and burger. Signature dish is the dinosaur egg — a Pinterest-worthy whole, skinned avocado wrapped in bacon, with a perfectly poached egg in the center. Slice it open and the egg runs into the egg and avocado to create a gloriously delicious mess you'll want to scoop up with your choice toast – unless you're paleo. (Get it? Paleo … paleontology … dinosaur egg… Oh, never mind.)
I would ask owners Erik and Angelica Ostman about Over Easy, but they have been keeping a low profile. Even the dinosaur egg's price is somewhat of a mystery. It was listed on the menu at $16, but the restaurant's computer charged me $17. Tasty, yes, but the cheapest breakfast option in town? Not eggsactly.
Keg & Kitchen
90 Haddon Ave., Westmont
3-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and all day Sunday
The specials never seem to stop at this bustling, rustic neighborhood tap in downtown Westmont, such as $4 drafts on Monday and half-price wine bottles on Thursday. HH, though, is a steal, starting with $3 beers including Stella Artois. Hoegaarden, and Guinness, plus the Westmont Special (PBR and a shot of Mellow Corn whiskey). On the food side, the tacos ($3 – Korean beef, veggie, fish), $6 carne asada, and $5 flatbreads are fine bets.
Pastrami, blintzes, tin ceiling, hardwood floors, pickle bar, brisk service … Yes, Schlesinger's (1521 Locust St.) looks, tastes, and feels the part of an old-time Jewish deli. Hearty breakfasts (eggs, lox, pancakes, etc.) segue into lunch and dinner with brisket, stuffed cabbage, and sandwiches that are substantial, not gargantuan. Don't miss the "sinkers" (opposed to "floaters") in the matzo-ball soup. Management, by the way, is pure Philly: Owner is City Councilman Allan Domb and manager is deli maven Louis Barson.
A few months ago, Alan Su of Nom Nom Ramen joined Tom Lau at his sushi destination Aki (1207 Walnut St.) to create a new restaurant. The comfortable, contemporary Aki Nom Nom retains Aki's popular all-you-can-eat sushi option ($28.95), while adding pan-Asian appetizers (gyoza, shumai, takoyaki) and hauntingly delicious ramen – the familiar tonkotsu and chicken chashu, as well as ton-toro, a pork-base soup that includes slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork jowl to add to the ramen.
Bryn & Dane's takes a healthful approach to its menu of tasty breakfast burritos, wraps, salads, quesadillas, smoothies, acai bowls, and grilled chicken strips. Add the bright, fast-casual atmosphere and cheery counter people, and it's a solid choice for an on-the-go alternative to fast food. Locations ring the burbs now (notably Plymouth Meeting, Bryn Mawr, Malvern, and Horsham), but the expected fall opening at the Franklin (832 Chestnut St.) will juice up the Center City crowd.
Vesper Dayclub is, above all, a space designed for and populated by Instagrammers, as signaled by the membership application, which demands a "clear and recent picture of your face," and links to your Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn for you to even be considered.
When specialty ingredients have a short expiration date, they can quickly curdle into a sad symbol of unrealized culinary dreams.
A new production facility has given the Franklin Fountain a sibling storefront next door that is making some unique frozen delights of its own, including the ultimate ice cream bar.
Bower Cafe | Washington Square West
Coffee and pastries are on the menu at 263 S. 10th St., but owner Thane Wright is planning an ambitious push: cured meats from Ends Meat in Brooklyn.
Fractured Prune Doughnuts | Audubon, Montgomery County
The Shore-based doughnut specialist throws open the doors to its newest franchisee, at 2630 Egypt Rd., on July 31.
Over Easy Breakfast Club | Fishtown
Bacio | Mount Airy
After 12 years, this well-received Italian BYOB has shuttered in advance of a move to 700 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim, about 10 minutes away. It's the former Fingers, a piano bar. Chef Jay Saponaro will pick up a bar at the new location, due to open soon.
Question: I saw your recent review of Harper's Garden. Where else should I go for al fresco dining in Philly?
Craig LaBan: First off, thanks for reading! I found Harper's Garden (31 S. 18th St.) to be intriguing — an ambitious step up from the usual beer garden with sophisticated small plates, craft cocktails, and a beautiful trellis veranda lush with herbs, vines, and lights.
It's set back enough from 18th Street to feel like a true oasis, and has brought welcome new life to a long-dead plaza in front of an office building. In many ways, the design and placement remind me of Talula's Garden (210 W. Washington Square) off Washington Square, which Harper's co-owner Avram Hornik acknowledges was an inspiration. Talula's has more of a fine-dining vibe than Harper's, but is always reliable for some inspired seasonal cooking and, of course, the city's best cheese platters.
It's fascinating to see how ubiquitous outdoor dining has become here since Rouge broke the barrier in 1998 and became Philly's first to offer sidewalk seating. That legacy is, of course, seen both at Rouge and Parc. But I'd head just a half-block north to quieter a.kitchen (135 S. 18th St.), where one of the city's best wine programs is paired with French-inspired seasonal cooking from Eli Collins.
The closure of Le Cheri and its secret garden behind the Art Alliance is a big loss. But the recently reopened Branzino (261 S. 17th St.), which had a major revamp following a fire, has one of the city's most impressive back garden areas.
Good outdoor dining, though, is hardly limited to Rittenhouse Square. Head directly south on 18th Street to Point Breeze, where American Sardine Bar (1800 Federal St.) has one of my favorite backyard gardens for craft beers and a fun gastropub menu focused on creative sandwiches, my favorite onion rings, and, sometimes, crispy Sichuan-flavored chicken wings that are addictive.
On East Passyunk Avenue, Le Virtù (1927 E. Passyunk Ave.) has a gracious front patio with muraled walls that are as evocative of Abruzzo as the rustic menu.
The pointy sidewalk terrace trimmed with topiaries at Barcelona Wine Bar (1709 E. Passyunk Ave.) is a lively destination for traditional tapas, platters of hand-sliced Mangalica ham and Spanish wine.
Midtown Village is full of charmingly hidden outdoor eating spaces, like the courtyard behind Little Nonna's (1234 Locust St.) for stuffed meatballs and Japanese eggplant Parmesan, Graffiti Bar (124 S. 13th St.) for pan-Asian street food, the sushi courtyard at 1225 Raw (1225 Sansom St.), and Maison 208 (208 S. 13th St.) for grilled Haitian pork skewers, black truffle pizzas, and natural wines in its open-air upstairs lounge.
In Old City, Royal Boucherie (52 S. Second St.) has one of Philly's best kept al fresco secrets in the outdoor alcove tucked onto its second floor.
Spruce Street Harbor Park is an obvious choice for casual food-truck fare in a hammock. But La Peg (140 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd.) is the best option for a sit-down meal near the Race Street Pier, with a shady beer garden with a river view and updated American classics (the "fast food burger"; a lobster roll).
Farther north in Fishtown, there's also plenty of breezy dining. A new courtyard has popped up between Cheu Fishtown (1416 Frankford Ave.) and its coming project, Nunu, a Japanese izakaya. The chef situation was in transition the last time I ate at Kensington Quarters (1310 Frankford Ave.) this spring. But I still had a fantastic meal, and one of the best rib-eye steaks in the city – and its sprawling backyard dining space is grand. The grandest outdoor dining space of all, meanwhile, is still in the works behind Fishtown's Lebanese palace, Suraya, where the intricate tile work, floating fire and fountains are on pace to be finished before a scheduled mid-August wedding. "It's going to be close!" co-owner Roland Kassis told me. At least that means we'll have something new to look forward to for al fresco dining this fall.