Psst. Eyes up here. I don't want to lose you if you spot the photo below. Today's subject is pizza al taglio, the Roman specialty now found at two Center City shops. This week, I also offer you a terrific $7 lunch option in Center City as well as two stellar burgers at two very different prices. In his Q&A, Craig LaBan has advice to new restaurateurs. 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 newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week. It's free. OK, now kindly read on.
The rise of a Roman empire
Just like that, Center City Philadelphia has two restaurants specializing in the light-and-crispy, lavishly topped rectangular Roman snack known as pizza al taglio. This is not to be confused with the denser Sicilian pizza. Last spring, Francesco Crovetti, son of an Italian diplomat who studied at Rome's Scuola Nazionale di Pizza, opened the simple Rione in a storefront at 102 S. 21st St. His dough takes a 72-hour rise before it hits the Morelli Forni; choose from a dozen or so varieties, including potato-rosemary-sausage as well as the carbonara shown here. Cuts are $3 to $5, and you can indulge in rice croquettes, potato croquettes, salads, and tiramisu. Philly's hot newcomer is Alice, which replaced Cosi at 15th and Locust. Alice — say it "ah-lee-che" — is a franchise of Domenico Giovannini's Roman operation, and the Philly partner is the Longo family, which owns the nearby Gran Caffe L'Aquila and contributes the coffee and gelato. Take a deli number and order slices by the ounce, as they do when in Rome. (Where you order by the kilo.) Alice opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast pizzas and pastries from Isgro. At 3 p.m., a menu of pasta and simple fare is added and the bar comes to life. Be advised that a third player is scouting Center City: Alice's rivale, Bonci, which opened its first U.S. shop in Chicago four months ago.
What’s we’re drinking
At Royal Izakaya in Queen Village, chef Jesse Ito reached into the lore of Kabuki theater for the name of this riff on a Tom Collins. "Tozai" is the traditional greeting at the start of a play. The drink subs plum-infused sake for gin, and lemon and soda round it out. Royal Izzy's alcohol list is wide and deep, including Japanese whiskies, sakes, and beers. See Craig LaBan's Royal Izakaya drink recommendations.
Where we’re eating: Double Knot, Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, Fountain Porter
Seven bucks for a lunch entree in Center City? That would be the extraordinary deal at Double Knot, Michael Schulson's coffee shop/izakaya on 13th Street near Sansom in Washington Square West. You choose pork, shrimp, tofu, chicken, meatball, or steak. Then pick rice, noodles, salad greens, or banh mi. It comes with cabbage, pickled carrots, daikon, mint, and cilantro, with chopped peanuts on top. It's offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A tale of two burgers
Burgers run the price-range spectrum. Take the cheeseburger ($5) at Fountain Porter, the bar at 10th and Tasker in South Philly, and the Black Angus burger ($24) on the lunch menu at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse (which isn't even the city's most expensive — that distinction goes to the foie gras-topped $26 Whiskey King at Village Whiskey).
Lacroix's, perched plumply on a brioche bun from Metropolitan Bakery and served with truffled fries, has 8 ounces of Black Angus beef topped with Cabot cheddar, shredded lettuce, red onion, and cherry peppers for zing. Fountain Porter's is a 5-ounce patty of 80/20, sizzled to a thin crust and topped simply with American cheese and a slice of tomato, and comes on a potato roll with two pickle chips on the side. Fries are $3 more, no truffles.
The Pineville, on track to open in the spring at 2448 E. Huntingdon St. (off Aramingo Avenue, where Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington meet), will host a block party from 3 to 7 p.m. Dec. 21 beside the future restaurant. Free "Million $ Bacon Burger" sliders, fried chicken, and pours of Yards beer.
This week’s openings
Andalé Latino Grill | Marlton
The Latin fast-casual, a hit in Feasterville, opens Dec. 26 at The View at Marlton, at Route 73 and Greentree Road. On Dec. 28, the restaurant will offer a free menu item to the first 100 customers through the door, beginning at noon.
Ping Pong | Andorra
This Sichuan restaurant's managers are now going back and forth between Gateway Shopping Center in Wayne and their new location at 8500 Henry Ave., in Andorra Shopping Center.
Porta | Washington Square West
A Neapolitan pizzeria — one side is a rustic beer garden, the other more refined and ornate — soft-opens Dec. 22 at 1214-16 Chestnut St.
Smoke Daddy's Home Grown Barbecue | Lansdale
Reformed financial analyst Michael Wister is back home after a BBQ education in Georgia, and he's set up his smoker at 321 W. Main St.
This week’s closings
Matt & Marie's | Washington Square West and Rittenhouse
The Italian sandwich specialist is contracting, settling back into its original Logan Square location (100 N. 18th St.) after shutting its stores at 1107 Walnut St. and 118 S. 18th St.
Note that Dec. 31 will be the finale for this corner tap at Moyamensing and Reed.
Your dining questions, answered
Reader: What advice do you have for new restaurants?
Craig LaBan: Ha, you pose that like it's a simple question, as if there was an easy, one-sentence answer! Books have been written on the subject by people with far more practical hands-on experience behind the scenes than I have. But as a professional diner, some observations lately have definitely been on my mind. Lesson One: Do your homework and ask the hard questions beforehand! What is the best concept for your location? Who is your audience? And what do they want? Are you aiming to be an upscale destination? Or trying to please a neighborhood crowd? This question was actually at the crux of my recent review of Trattoria Carina. The owners concede that they miscalculated with the previous concept there (Fitler Dining Room) and that it somehow "got away" from them and became the fine-dining destination they hadn't intended to create. Despite constant attempts to adjust the menu and prices over the years, it was too late. First impressions had branded them. First impressions matter! (That's Lesson Two.) Only a total reboot with a new theme and a deliberate downscaling of prices could give them a chance to start over. I like what they've got with Carina, by the way, which now feels like a local place. Hindsight sometimes can be an expensive lesson. And they're just the most recent of many examples. Aside from knowing your identity and sticking with it, train, train, and train some more before you open to the paying public. (See Lesson Two.) But Lesson Three is just as crucial: It's about the customers, not you. Remember, this is the hospitality business — and working to make patrons happy (and return customers) will go a lot further toward your longevity and satisfaction than catering first to egos in the kitchen or back office. Good luck!
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