Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Craig LaBan:

This year's Brewvitational, the Inquirer's competition for local beers, is starting to take shape. I have an incredible panel of expert judges coming together, and I expect an exceptional turnout from brewers, both veterans and several new names. Reminder to pro brewmasters: the deadline for entry forms is today! What's most exciting is that the public gets to join the fun this year in a major new tasting event that's been added to the evening of the competition, May 11. It's at the Reading Terminal Market, where more than two dozen food vendors are going to remain open and serve beer-friendly fare to pair with brewers across the market. The $45 early-bird ticket prices are available until April 20. To purchase tickets, go to We're going to be naming Philly's best flagship beer, and obviously this is important work.

Another update: I absolutely loved Standard Amaro, the bittersweet new herbal liqueur collaboration between Rowhouse Spirits and Standard Tap that was last week's "Drink" column. Took it to a dinner party where a group with deep Italian roots gave it the thumbs-up. The first run was extremely limited and sold out quickly - it's still available by the pour at Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda's, Second District Brewing, and Bardot. Rowhouse's Dean Browne says he plans to make this a regular offering in his portfolio; the next batch should be out in about a month.

Reader: Loved seeing Datillo's on your best hoagies list. One of my favorites. Nicest people, too. Still has that family-run vibe going.

C.L.: Datillo's really surprised me. It was one of those places I walked into and wondered why it took me so long to get there. Felt just like a Di Bruno's or Claudio's transported to the Northeast. The main event was an alpha hoagie, especially with the marinated peppers and artichokes. But what most impressed, aside from its impressive collection of breads from the area's best Italian bakeries, were the house-cured dried salumi. Still nibbling away at the hot soppressata. Also love their aged scamorza, a little better even than the house mozzarella. Lot of old world craftsmanship there.

Reader: What are your top Center City places for a big group dinner? Best combination of food, ambience, service, and fun.

C.L.: So many choices, the answer to this question really depends on the size of the group, style of food you're looking for, and also the budget. If you can swing the reservation, Zahav, Double Knot, or Kanella South would be high on my list ... the more casual Kanella Grill would also be on my list if you're trending toward a value option - love the meze tasting menu option. Abe Fisher is also good for a big group. Vetri has a gorgeous private dining space, but not many people can pay that kind of luxe (usually $200-plus a person). Tequila's is one old favorite that's often overlooked, and such a wonderfully celebratory place, and you know the agave spirits will be flowing. Barbuzzo has a great upstairs event space. Always thought it would be fun to throw a big beer and sausage party in the brauer bund room in back of Brauhaus Schmitz.