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Food: What’s cooking? The wood fire

It's a good time to be in the log business, because we're going to need a forest to feed all the wood fires stoking the growth of a Philadelphia restaurant scene this fall that, in 2014, has already set a new standard for "hot."

Crespelle baked pasta and oven-roasted calamari with cherry tomatoes at Brigantessa, 1520 E. Passyunk Ave., from the Le Virt team. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Crespelle baked pasta and oven-roasted calamari with cherry tomatoes at Brigantessa, 1520 E. Passyunk Ave., from the Le Virt team. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)Read more

It's a good time to be in the log business, because we're going to need a forest to feed all the wood fires stoking the growth of a Philadelphia restaurant scene this fall that, in 2014, has already set a new standard for "hot."

Many of those will be burning behind our ongoing obsession with pizza - at least four new Neapolitan-style pizzerias are firing up their ovens for September debuts. Capogiro is going beyond gelato for its new Capofitto pizzeria in Old City. And two new cross-street rivals, Ardé (from the DiMeo's crew in Andorra) and Vecchia Pizzeria Napoletana (Phoenixville's Vecchia), may well turn Wayne into the "New Haven of the Main Line."

Of course, pizza passion has been smoldering a few years now. What's new over the blazing flames this year are a number of spits and wood-fired grills. La Colombe has what looks like a wood-fired pizza oven at its soon-to-open bakery-rum distillery in Fishtown, but it will instead be used for bread and to warm sandwiches and duck confit skillets for the cafe.

Among other exciting projects is the latest offering from Marc Vetri and Co. - Lo Spiedo (Italian for "the spit") - which should become a major draw for the emerging Navy Yard when it opens in mid-October. Set into an old guardhouse, wood-roasted, rosemaried pork ribs, big Fiorentina steaks, octopus, and whole fish will anchor an Italian menu of spiedini skewers, pastas, and panini.

But there are two other ambitious projects soon to give South Philly its first serious dose of post-red gravy Italian energy in a while. And they bookend East Passyunk Avenue, Philly's hottest strip.

Up for September is homey bilevel Brigantessa from the team behind Le Virtù, where chef-partner Joe Cicala's imported new wood oven will be cranking out Neapolitan pies just a few feet from the singing fountain. There will also be authentic baked pastas, braised artichokes, and house-made salumi inspired by southern Italy (vs. the Abruzzi menu of Le Virtù).

The typically more northern-influenced Luke Palladino, meanwhile, is planning a Thanksgiving-ish opening for Palladino's at the southern end of East Passyunk. The Jersey Shore star chef says to count on seasonally inspired flavors and some of his signatures (truffled grissini; Taleggio-mushroom crespelle crepes; elegant pastas), plus high-grade chops for his wood-burning grill (of course.)

"E'Punk" may also become Destination Dumpling if Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh get their way at Bing Bing Dim Sum. Puchowitz has been practicing his har gao and panfried dumplings after a trip to Hong Kong, but says to expect the same "funky inauthenticity" that has defined their success at Cheu Noodle Bar.

It's not all about South Philly. A strong year for French restaurants has yet two more: La Peg brasserie from Bistrot La Minette's Peter Woolsey just opened in the soaring industrial space of the new FringeArts building on Columbus Boulevard; also new is Bardot, a sultry French restau-bar tucked onto Poplar Street in Northern Liberties with ex-Resurrection Ale House chef Rhett Vellner behind the cassoulet.

Rittenhouse Square will have two big openings on 19th Street that should have diners thrilled to eat their veggies this fall. V Street, from Vedge's Rich Landau, will be a tasting counter for "bold, spicy ... adventurous" takes on global street foods like carrot choripan, kimchi stew, and jerk trumpet mushrooms. They'll just happen to be vegan. And though there will be plenty of truffled sausage and pork belly at Aldine, the second-floor tasting-menu perch nearby where ex-Stateside chef George Sabatino is making a long-awaited owner debut, one of the $55 six-course tasting menus will be devoted to "herbivores." It's no surprise for a cook who has always paid creative attention to produce.

The other prime ingredient on display in this season's openings is nostalgia. With a fedora for its logo, the inventive menu at Abe Fisher (from the team behind Zahav) is dedicated to evoking, then completely redefining, flavors of the Jewish diaspora from beyond Israel, from sweet-and-sour meatballs to a three-course Hungarian duck for two and lamb "minute steak." (The minute-steak trend also appears on a prototype menu for Whetstone, an ode to Pennsylvania Dutch flavors set for Bella Vista in late 2014 by the Brauhaus Schmitz team.)

Marcie Turney plans to pay homage her grandparents' old-school 1950s Wisconsin bar at Bud & Marilyn's, the "classic American" that she and partner Valerie Safran will open by year's end at 13th and Locust. Just a few blocks away, Kevin Sbraga will conjure up his own vision of Americana, circa 1980s, at Juniper Commons, a 140-seat corner anchor for the new building at Broad and South with fresh takes on baked stuffed flounder, prime rib, roast chicken marsala, and a raw bar. There will also be (you guessed it) a wood-fired rotisserie and grill.

"When was the last time you had a great baked potato?" says Sbraga, promising to load 'em up with house-made sour cream, house-smoked bacon, and snipped-to-order chives.

I say "All spuds ahead!" and throw another log on the way-back machine. I'm hungry already!

NEW FOOD

Recently opened

La Peg, FringeArts building, 1400 N. Colombus Blvd. (at Race St.), 215-375-7744; lapegbrasserie.com.

Abe Fisher, 1623 Sansom St., 215-867-0088; abefisherphilly.com.

Bardot, 447 Poplar St., 267-639-4761; on Facebook.

Capofitto, 233 Chestnut St.

 Later this month

Brigantessa, 1520 E. Passyunk Ave.

Ardé Osteria & Pizzeria, 133 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne

Vecchia Pizzeria Napoletana, 134 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne 484-580-6135.

La Colombe Torrefaction, 1335-37 Frankford Ave.

October

Lo Spiedo, 6301 S. Broad St.

V Street, 126 S. 19th St.

Aldine, 1901 Chestnut St.

November 

Bing Bing Dim Sum, 1648 E. Passyunk Ave.

Juniper Commons, 521 S. Broad St. (at South St.)

Palladino's, 1934 E. Passyunk Ave.

End of the year

Bud & Marilyn's, 1234 Locust St. (at 13th St.)

Whetstone, 700 S. 5th St. (at Bainbridge)

 EndText

215-854-2682 @CraigLaBan

www.inquirer.com/craiglaban.

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