Twenty years ago, Girasole on Locust Street just off 13th Street was the stylish go-to Italian spot for theatergoers. After it packed its tent in 2004 — it reopened in 2009 at Broad and Pine Streets — the space housed a series of sketchy nightspots.
Now, with the neighborhood on the upswing — you have Fish on the opposite corner, Green Eggs Cafe next door, and a strip of hot restaurants around the corner (Sampan, Barbuzzo, Jamonera, Zavino, etc.) — the building is going the stylish Italian route again.
Spiga (1305 Locust St., 267-273-1690), opening officially this weekend as the casual cousin of the polished Le Castagne across town near Rittenhouse Square, bears no similarity to Girasole. The goofy walk-up entrance through the facade's front corner has been eliminated. The interior is rough-hewn (reclaimed wood), not modern. Co-owner/chef Brian Wilson is, however, using Girasole's long-forgotten wood-burning oven to turn out pizzas in 90 seconds.
Wilson, previously chef at Le Castagne, oversees a moderate-priced concept that partner Skip Di Massa calls "simple but good." The bar is stocked with reasonably priced wines and beers (mostly Italian). Also involved are Giuseppe Sena and Anthony Masapollo.
It's dinner only at the outset.
Weekend brunch starts Saturday at SoWe (918 S. 22d St., 215-545-5790), the stylish American restaurant-bar occupying the former Divan Turkish Kitchen space. Say it "so we," and the name is a play on "Southwest Center City" — the other name for the neighborhood that some have been calling Graduate Hospital or G-Ho. Owners Nancy Law and Troy Barton have installed earth-tone walls, a reclaimed wood floor, and a bar crafted from weathered oak. Unfussy menu from executive chef Maureen Stoebenau, most recently chef de cuisine at Royal Tavern.
Mauro Daigle and Annie Baum-Stein of West Philly's Milk & Honey Market will cut the ribbon next Thursday on Milk & Honey Cafe in the new Sister Cities Park in front of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on 17th Street near the Parkway.
PJ Whelihan's West Chester location (replacing Bull Durham's at 1347 Wilmington Pike) is days old, as is Landmark Americana's Wayne location (replacing the Paddock at Devon at 629 W. Lancaster Ave.). This summer, one of the old Paddock at Devon banquet halls will be transformed into a wine-sushi-tapas spot called O-Toro.
Jules Thin-Crust Pizza has ventured to the Main Line with a location at 114 E. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne.
El Vez will close 13th Street between Sansom and Walnut Streets Saturday afternoon for a Cinco de Mayo party.
Andy's Diner, a 24-hour operation with locations in Conshohocken, Springfield (Delco), and Trevose, is planning a location this summer at 900 Bethlehem Pike in Spring House; the site was the Drafting Room.
More details, menus, and photos can be found on "The Insider," my dining blog at philly.com/Food. See the openings on my interactive map at philly.com/mikesmap.