Center City will get another outdoor dining/drinking option this weekend. Also in this week's newsletter, we check out a casual Central American newcomer in Center City, a longtime favorite at Reading Terminal Market, and a new date-nighter in King of Prussia.  If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here.

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Meet Harper’s Garden

Harper’s Garden, under construction on May 9, 2018.
Harper’s Garden, under construction on May 9, 2018.

The crew behind Morgan's Pier, Parks on Tap, and Concourse Dance Bar is looking at Friday, May 11, for the preview of Harper's Garden (31 S. 18th St.), which combines the dining-on-an-outdoor-office-building-plaza with a chic indoor bar/dining room. It's on Duane Morris Plaza, just up the block from Continental Mid-town and around the corner from Uptown Beer Garden.

FCM Hospitality has the chef's services of Lacroix/Wister BYOB alum Ben Moore, and the bar direction of Jesse Cornell (ex-Sbraga, SkyGarten), whose 30-tap draft system offers 14 wines, 14 beers, coffee, and kombucha. (Cornell is married to Arts & Lifestyle editor Molly Eichel. She did not assign nor edit this piece, nor can she mix a proper cocktail.)

Seating will limited from May 11 to 13. Starting May 16, it goes full speed. Hours are 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. with food available from 5 to 10 p.m. Lunch will start on the weekends toward the end of May.

Need other seasonal outdoor options? Try my preview.

Where we’re doing happy hour

Deviled eggs at Autograph, in Wayne.
Deviled eggs at Autograph, in Wayne.

Autograph Brasserie
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday

The lounge of this Main Line landmark, festooned with musical instruments, has a stylish,  budget-friendly entry point at happy hour. Wine/beer/cocktails are priced at $5, while $5 snacks, $7 small plates and $10 medium plates, including a half-pound burger, have the makings of a meal. Wednesdays from 6:30-9 p.m., the lounge carries a girls' night out theme.

Where we’re eating: El Merkury, Little Thai Market, J. Alexander’s

Papusas and taquitos at El Merkury, 2104 Chestnut St.
Papusas and taquitos at El Merkury, 2104 Chestnut St.

Center City has plenty of Latin food options, Sofia Deleon was thinking, but few with a Central American theme. After testing the waters for two years with Grubhub, Garage and catering, she found a home at 2104 Chestnut with El Merkury, dispensing loads of corn-based treats such as the fried tortilla pouches called taquitos, the dumplings known as papusas, and the loaded tortillas called tostadas from a counter. Don't miss the sweet side: Deleon's churro selection, including one with vanilla-bean cream, rum-soaked raisins, and toasted nuts. Initial hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Salmon curry at Little Thai Market at Reading Terminal Market.
Salmon curry at Little Thai Market at Reading Terminal Market.

There's a sale pending at Little Thai Market at Reading Terminal Market, whose lines are regularly among the longest. I have limited intell, but I'm assured that the stall will remain Thai. There's no guarantee that one of Center City's best lunch deals will remain. That's the grilled salmon with curry sauce, broccoli, and rice for 8 bucks. Act now.

Avocado bomb at J. Alexander’s, King of Prussia.
Avocado bomb at J. Alexander’s, King of Prussia.

Nashville-based J. Alexander's, an upmarket American grill with a date-night vibe and lively bar, has touched down on Mall Boulevard outside King of Prussia Mall (near Capital Grille and Shake Shack). The 220-seater boasts a scratch kitchen that turns out steaks, prime rib, crab cakes and  sushi for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner entrees start at $19 and head into the $30s. Did I just write "sushi"? It's a bid to attract younger patrons. One fun app is the avocado bomb – a mound of sliced avocados encasing ahi tuna, crab salad, unagi sauce, and sriracha mayo. Dinner menu is here.

Dining Notes

Friday, May 11 is National Eat What You Want Day, and SOMO Manayunk (4311 Main St.) will give away burgers to the first 50 customers, beginning at 5 p.m., who can pronounce the last name of chef Waldemar "Val" Stryjewski. The Big Stryjewski is an 8-ounce, grass-fed beef burger topped with whiskey-glazed wild mushrooms, bacon, cheddar, black garlic mayo and, if so desired, foie gras. (The phrase that pays, btw, is pronounced Stray-EF-ski.)

Hawthornes Beer Cafe's ninth annual IPA, Champagne, and Rose Block Party runs noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12 at 11th and Fitzwater Streets in South Philly with 60-plus selections of IPAs poured for $5 a draft, plus small-batch champagnes, sparkling wines, and roses. Also: Ten food trucks, a family fun zone, and live music.

Note that the next installment of University City Dining Days will be Thursday, July 12 through Sunday, July 22. Among the newcomers in this promotion: Bernie's Pub, Danlu, and Walnut Street Cafe.

This week’s openings | Rittenhouse Square

Because there are not quite enough coffee options near Rittenhouse Square, the corner bar attached to at 18th and Walnut Streets now opens at 7 a.m. weekdays for coffee, pastries, and quick-serve breakfast. Meanwhile, continues to offer sit-down breakfast.

HipCityVeg | Penn's Landing

The vegan fast-casual shop is now open on the Boardwalk at Spruce Street Harbor Park, the summer destination.

PHS Pop-Up at uCity Square | University City

PennHort revives its popular beer-garden destination at 36th and Filbert Streets with a 5 p.m. grand-opening on May 10. Jose Pistola's runs the food and drink featuring Mexican cuisine, margaritas, and lots of craft beers. Meanwhile, the PHS pop-up at 1438 South St. is up and running. See the slate of events here.

Piattino Oven Fired Pizza | Philadelphia International Airport

Read the sign in Concourse A East, and I thought the name was a typo: Oven Fired Pizza. Where else do you fire a pizza? But hey. The oven at the center of it all happens to be a Morello Forni, which turns out pies in less than 2 minutes.

Suraya | Fishtown

The Lebanese yearling (1528 Frankford Ave.) has added dinner; it's open Tuesday-Sunday.

Twenty Manning Grill | Rittenhouse

The brasserie (261 S. 20th St.) has opened for weekend brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Menu is here.

This week’s closings

Le Cheri | Rittenhouse Square

The French bistro in the Art Alliance just off the square has set its closing for May 27. More details are here.  Rest assured that Bibou – Pierre and Charlotte Calmels' flagship – will remain.

Wursthaus Schmitz | Reading Terminal Market

Brauhaus Schmitz's light-bite destination at the Terminal simply became too much for owner Doug Hager to handle, what with manager Beate Schartner's move back to Germany. In other RTM news: Expect official word this week that LUHV Food, the vegan eatery/manufacturer from Hatboro that has been running a day stall, will get a permanent stand.


Craig LaBan is on assignment. Have a dining question? Email Craig here, and join his chat at 2 p.m. on the first Tuesday at ​