Raising the roof in Center City

When the weather is nice, you want to be outside. Miserable, you stay indoors. Developer Herb Reid hedges with a retractable roof over one of the three bars inside his new Maison 208 in Washington Square West, now fully open with chef Sylva Senat at the stoves. This week, I wonder just how much plaid and how many hoser jokes South Street can handle. We shall see, as the kitschy Smoke's Poutinerie — specializing in poutine, that calorific Canadian concoction of gravy and fried-cheese-curd-topped fries — debuts across from Jim's Steaks. Also, I'll point out an Asian-inspired noodle shop in Fishtown whose evolving menu is un-pho-gettable, and I will attest that real-deal, easy-on-the-wallet tacos and burritos can be found at a Kennett Square taqueria. Meanwhile, Bluebird Distilling is getting ready to open its retail shop-slash-tasting room at the Shops at Liberty Place. Critic Craig LaBan is by to address the topic of waiterly recitations of the nightly specials. If you require more food news, click here and follow me here and also here. Email me here with suggestions/questions/etc. If someone forwarded this free newsletter to you and you like what you're reading, sign up here and you'll get it every week.

The roof is retracted at Maison 208, the stylish bar/restaurant at 208 S. 13th St.  MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
The roof is retracted at Maison 208, the stylish bar/restaurant at 208 S. 13th St.  MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Maison 208 joins the 13th Street restaurant row

The 13th Street strip — home of such destinations as Lolita, Barbuzzo, Double Knot, Sampan, and El Vez — gets a stylish newcomer on June 21 as Maison 208 opens at 208 S. 13th St. It's in a new, two-story building on the corner of 13th and Chancellor, which was Letto Deli and a Dewey's. Chef Sylva Senat, a Haitian-to-New York transplant whose varied kitchen CV here includes Tashan, Buddakan, and Dos Tacos, has French-ish snacks upstairs under the city's only retractable restaurant roof (two bars) and more substantive plates downstairs. Cool examples are the tuna tacos (served two to an order with a spritz bottle of champagne to amp the flavor), the Dewey burger (caramelized onion and blue cheese), and pizza noir (a tribute to black truffles, fontina cheese, and frisée).

Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

What we’re drinking

Bluebird Distilling of Phoenixville is coming downtown to open a tasting room and retail store at the Shops at Liberty Place (17th Street side, near Chestnut) at noon June 23. The opening will be accompanied by whiskey and craft spirit tastings that day from noon to 7 p.m. Bluebird's line includes Four Grain bourbon, rye whiskey, Juniperus gin, and Sugarcane rum. Three-spirit tastings will be priced at $5 and six-spirit tastings at $8. Tastings will be reimbursed upon any bottle purchased.

Where we’re eating: Smoke’s Poutinerie, Stock, La Peña

Poutine — the combo of cheese curds, brown gravy, and fries — seems tailor-made for South Street, and Smoke's Poutinerie, the fun-loving, Toronto-based chain, opens June 21 in the former Subway at 411-413 South. Smoke's does poutine and that's it — but it offers upward of 20 varieties, including such heart-stopping numbers as pulled pork, bacon cheeseburger, and chicken/bacon/ranch. It's open from lunchtime through late-night.

In its three years, Tyler Akin's snug Stock (308 E. Girard Ave.) has broadened deliciously from a Viet-style pho joint into a destination for various Southeast Asian soups. The khao poon is a fiery Lao-style curry tamed by peanuts, while the noodle fave kuai tiao is homey Thai all the way: noodles, crispy garlic, oyster sauce, and chili jam.

The region's taco boom sent me back to a time-honored taqueria in Kennett Square. La Peña — former food-trucker Julian Peña's shack-like building, topped with the tricolor of the Mexican flag (609 W. Cypress St.)  now benefits from Victory Brewing's brewpub across the way. A six-to-go of V Twelve or Hoppy Quad pairs well with tacos ($2.50 each) or foil-wrapped burritos ($7).


The popular Spring House Italian BYOB will reopen shortly in a new, larger building across the parking lot at Bethlehem and Sumneytown Pikes.

Fishtown Hops

June 22 marks the debut of this beer garden on the river walk behind SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown.

Hearth Kitchen

Bryan Sikora and wife Andrea have June 29 targeted for their Italian restaurant specializing in wood-fired pizzas in the Shoppes at Longwood Village (847 E Baltimore Pike, Kennett Square).

Saffron Indian Kitchen

The Indian BYOB grand-opens its third location, replacing a failed MOD Pizza at 522 W. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne, on June 22.


The salad specialist has opened its 1601 Market St. location.

Walnut Street Cafe

The American cafe on the ground floor of the FMC Tower at Cira Centre South (30th and Walnut Streets) is soft-open for breakfast and lunch. Sweet, almost Midcentury/retro vibe.

Eat A Pita

Construction, sidewalk closings, and congestion were factors in the decision to close this pita-sandwich specialist in Washington Square West, says owner Jamie Kelly Steenson.

The Fat Ham

The King of Prussia location of this Southern-style bar, the last vestige of chef Kevin Sbraga's dining empire, has closed.


Owner Gail Seygal has moved up the closing of this Fairmount institution. July 9 will be the last day after 32 years. A group of Fairmounters, including restaurateur Jack McDavid, has agreed to buy it. After renovations, Peter McAndrews will move in his Italian concept, Modo Mio. He'll close the current Modo Mio, now on the edge of Northern Liberties, on June 29.

Tilted Kilt

The mournful skirl of bagpipes you heard in King of Prussia recently surrounded the closing of this sports bar franchise, known for kilt-wearing waitresses.

Your dining questions, answered

Reader: What do you think the best way to communicate specials are? Print? Boards? While I've had two amazing meals at Wm. Mulherin's Sons the past few weeks, they've been guilty of explaining for what seems like 5+ minutes about the specials. I mean, if I'm a vegan and there is a pork chop special, I'd glance over that instantly but instead I have to wait for the server to explain every ingredient in the dish.

Craig LaBan: That's a good question, but I think the answer depends on the style of the place. I'm perfectly fine with a little printed insert in the menu, if there isn't a blackboard. I'm a good reader. But some places want to give their staff an opportunity to interact directly with diners and present something verbally at the table. It's a way for servers to connect personally with guests. I'm all in favor of a little dialogue, and providing more background when needed, etc. But the practice definitely risks turning into the dreaded "spiel." I'm not there to make a new friend, or hear a dramatic menu recitation of their personally recommended highlights. So if that spiel goes on for several minutes, no thanks.

Email Craig here. His Tuesday chats at will resume July 11.