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


What's up with Keen at 17th and Lombard? Waiting for something to open since Fish left.

Craig LaBan: Good question! Just when I think that project is dead - it has dragged on for years - I spot construction going on. Looks like progress has been made, but no sign yet that the operators are ready to start doing business in the old Fish/Astral Plane space. I believe the landlord has a stake in the project, so that might explain the less-than-urgent pace to get it open. It would be nice, though, to see that classic Philly restaurant space come alive again.

Reader: I have to visit Cheu Fishtown - I walked by the other evening, and it was full to capacity. Any info on the Japanese restaurant they are assembling next door to Cheu?

C.L.: Yes, you definitely need to visit Cheu, though maybe wait for the crowds to die down, or go for lunch, which is a wee bit quieter. As for Nunu, Ben and Shawn, who own Cheu right next door are probably in Japan right now doing research. They're going to focus on yakitori skewers, small plates, and katsu, three of my favorite food groups, especially with all the Japanese whiskey, sake, and beers they're planning. Should be a nice big patio shared between the two restaurants, and what is likely to be a Fishtown juggernaut for years to come.

Reader: Pre-hockey tournament brunch Saturday. Six adults, one well behaved 5-year-old, and a birthday. What's your pick?

C.L.: I love Noord, especially its brunch; there's also Dutch in Pennsport. Kanella South makes a nice brunch. Other good spots - Parc (a classic!), the original Green Eggs in South Philly, Standard Tap (the gastropub classic in Northern Liberties), Day by Day, also Hungry Pigeon, my fave of the all-day cafes, or Res Ipsa, another in the genre.

Reader: What's the deal with the Whole Foods restaurant kiosks? Everything's changing.

C.L.: It seems the food hall at Whole Foods is experiencing major turnover lately, as Michael Klein reported, with Goldie's and Federal Donuts replacing the Cheu Noodles and Wiz Kid stands. Here's my take: working with independent restaurateurs to give a local flavor to a supermarket's food offerings is a pretty new thing. As with all innovative things, there are some early glitches. There wasn't enough storage and prep space for the restaurants at their individual kiosks, requiring work at a shared space in the back. I heard these places were making money, but it was just not a good fit. I haven't talked with Cook and Solo about their projects yet, but they've obviously figured the logistics out. Also, pairing two of their concepts with the pre-existing Dizengoff might make the economies of scale more efficient from a prep and ordering point of view. Either way, Goldie and Fednuts are both great concepts for the Whole Foods crowd - and, based on the news that Goldie is going to be a part of the new Penn Food hall, it's clear they're ready to start scaling up their quick-serve concepts.

Reader: What's your favorite spot for shakshuka in Philly?

C.L.: I love the shakshuka that they do at Dizengoff on weekends, so zesty and spicy! But there are many other good ones in town: Cafe La Maude, La Va, my Israeli friend Ofer's house . . .