Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Reader: I just moved up to Fairmount/Brewerytown. Wondering about your exploration of Girard Ave. I know you love Crime & Punishment. What else is good on that strip? Novaks or 2637?
Craig LaBan: Brewerytown has been billed as the one of Philly's "next neighborhoods" and it's probably still coming, slower than expected. There are highlights already: SpOt Burger, one of the city's best burgers, but also one of my favorite cheesesteaks. A couple classic soul food spots, Butter's and Deborah's Kitchen for the fried chicken and smothered turkey chops. Monkey & the Elephant coffee shop for sweet pastries. And Rybrew, a pioneer of the neighborhood's new wave. I haven't been to the new Flying Fish Craft House or Chez Novak's or Pizza Dads, the new branch of Fishtown's Pizza Brain. Reader: News of Loco Lucho at RTM got me thinking about the lack of quality Latin American fare, besides our many great Mexican spots. Do you agree?
C.L.: I'm very excited for some ropa vieja and good arroz con pollo at RTM! And yes, Philly's Latin food scene has been dominated by the great Mexican immigration of the last decade and a half - for which I'm very grateful! But Philly has a long tradition of Caribbean Latinos in North Philly - mostly Puerto Ricans, but also some Colombians and Ecuadorans. Tierra Colombiana on North 5th Street remains one of the best all-purpose pan-Latino restaurants around. But last week I ate at another Philly Rican pioneer, Freddy & Tony's at 2nd and Allegheny. Their mofongo was off the charts, and the roast pork was pretty awesome, too, eaten with rice and pigeon peas. Other good Latin American cooking in North Philly: El Bohio and Porky's Point. Closer to Center City, Puyero, the new Venezuelan arepa shop on S. 4th St. where the patacones use fried plantains as the buns. Parada Maimon is cooking fairly authentic Dominican plates (try the roast chicken) on N. 12th St. just north of the Vine Street Expressway. Looking forward to the new Old City location for El Balconcito, the Peruvian standby from NE Philly. A Peruvian ceviche and pisco bar, Chalaco, is to replace Bar Ferdinand in early 2018. Our non-Mexican Latin food scene is also heating up!
Reader: As the leading critic in the city, do you feel it's right to award 3-4 bells to businesses that are conducting less than fair business practices? Garcés and his unpaid bills from vendors and Olexy/Starr with the wages...
C.L.: Those are certainly serious issues. And the Inquirer is paying close attention to these issues and reporting on them vigorously. We've been among the first to report on them when they happen.
But I'm reviewing a dining experience with impressions of the quality of the food and service, not so much the character of the people that produce them.
I'm reviewing from a diner's perspective, not a behind-the-scenes insider passing judgment on what happens on the line or in the executive offices. Just as I'm not a health inspector peeping under stoves with a flashlight.
Garces wouldn't be the first talented chef to run into financial trouble. I hope his company works out its problems, as many of his restaurants are essential dining in the city.