Openings: Hickory Lane, East Girard Gastropub, Honest Tom’s Tacos

Hickory Lane’s burger

A seemingly continuous cascade of restaurants are popping open their doors before the calendar ticks over to 2012. Last night was the first night of service for Hickory Lane, a BYO bistro located in the shuttered L’Oca spot on Fairmount Ave, just across from Eastern State Penitentiary. Former Rouge chef Matt Zagorski has the reins, and is planning a menu of hearty, seasonal fare. He and partner Jack Henderson did a quick revamp on the interior, concealing the open kitchen somewhat and adding dark wood touches. Lunch will follow in the coming weeks, and a liquor license has been hinted at in the near future.

Another redo has also just launched, this one on the eastern edge of town. Rob Holloway is serving elevated neighborhood fare at the East Girard Gastropub (call it E.G.G.), in the space he purchased whenMike Stollenwerk closed Fathom to concentrate on Fish. More tables now surround the bar, and while seafood is still on the menu, there’s one big new addition: meat! Snacks start around $4 and top out at $18, in line with what the Fishtown crowd expects.

In West Philly, food-truck pioneer Tom McCusker of Honest Tom’s Taco Shop has finally opened his brick-and-mortar location (we first mentioned it last March). Open 8 AM–9 PM daily, the shop serves his famous breakfast tacos with locally roasted GreenStreet coffee, and then switches over to a bill of fare similar to the mobile operation, with the addition of big, burly burritos. A communal table and counter with stools fill the interior, and outside picnic seating will be introduced as soon as the weather is willing.

New Year's Eve Celebrations in Philly


Much as we might want to slow it down, the calendar inexorably continues its march forward, leading us into a new year. Reflect on the one just passed and ring in the new with a celebration to remember. Here are our picks for the best parties on New Year’s Eve, and a few ways to recover with brunch on January 1. Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve

Bistro St. TropezSavor one of the best views in the city over a decadent holiday tasting dinner by chef Patrice Rames at this French bistro in the Marketplace Design Center beside the Schuykill. Choose from multiple seatings and enjoy foie gras terrine with black truffle and cognac mousse, house-cured salmon, butter-poached lobster and more ($60 for four courses, $75 for six courses; 215-569-9269).

ChifaGo exotic and choose from two special menus from chef de cuisine Natalie Maronski, featuring the fusion that’s made this Wash West Peruvian-Chinese one of Jose Garces’ most popular. Think pork belly bao buns, kimchi duck tacos, roasted quail lo mein and other East-meets-West creations ($60 or $75; 215-925-5555).

Ela: The just-opened Queen Village New American from Jason Cichonski is close enough to Penn’s Landing that you can easily stroll over just before or after catching the fireworks to sample the young chef’s inventive holiday fare ($60 for three courses or $75 for four courses, add beverage pairings for $25 for wine or $20 for beer; 267-687-8512).

R2LWatch the twinkling lights of the city from above during dinner on the 37th floor of Liberty Two. Select from a four-, six- or nine-course tasting menu, featuring dishes like the cleverly deconstructed veal stew Daniel Stern was known for at Gayle. For an even higher perch, hit up the “Penthouse Party” on the 57th floor to partake in a premium open bar and stationed hors d’oeuvres ($75–$150, depending on time, $150 “Penthouse Party”; 215-564-5337). 

Village Belle: Right on Front Street, Joey and Lou Campanaro’s Queen Village Italian has a prime view of the fireworks. Catch the sights at a 6 or 9 PM seating, featuring a classic four-course meal of lobster bisque, shrimp cocktail, strip steak and dessert, as DJs spin tunes throughout the night ($75 or $125, add $50 for open bar; 215-551-2200).

Zahav: Named for the Hebrew word for “gold,” Michael Solomonov’s modern Israeli is a perfect place to go all out for a holiday meal you won’t soon forget. Four courses run the gamut from old-world to newish combinations like fluke crudo with labaneh and caviar or hummus with spicy beef and pickled artichokes. Be sure to save room for the chocolate-hazelnut babka with orange-vanilla ice cream ($65, add $35 for beverage pairing; 215-625-8800).

New Year’s Day

Federal DonutsThis Pennsport hot spot may have just invented the new best way to combat a night of partying: twice-fried chicken wings. Choose from za’atar-dusted, garlic-chili-glazed or other flavors, and top them off with some coffee and fresh-fried donuts. Your recovery will be swift (267-687-8258).

ParamourThe build-your-own Bloody Mary bar is reason enough to make it out to the suburbs when you awake from the previous evening’s escapades. Over 20 sauces, olives, house-pickled veggies, beef jerky, shrimp and more are available to garnish your vodka-tomato beverage, and if you have room, there’s also quail-egg sliders or blue corn pancakes for brunch (610-977-0600).

SupperAfter spending New Year’s Eve with friends and family, make it up to those who keep you happy all year long: your pets! Bring your furry one to Mitch Prensky’s South Street New American, where he’ll be serving his now-traditional “Hair of the Dog” brunch to humans and their best friends (215-592-8180).

Heirloom: A New BYO Debuts in Chestnut Hill

At Heirloom, a new BYO situated on Chestnut Hill’s Germantown Avenue, proprietor Robert Bynum (Warmdaddy’sRelish) has partnered with well-traveled Philly chef Al Paris for a take on “fine American cookery.”

Paris researched old cookbooks from all over the country, including the South, the Midwest, New England and more, to find traditional recipes that have been lost in recent times. His reconfigured classics will appear on a frequently changing menu, split into salads, appetizers and mains. These are hearty, belly-filling plates: a huge dollop of burrata comes surrounded by a profusion of lightly warmed whole tomatoes ($12), and a large diver scallop is plated with a generous slab of Berkshire pork belly ($14). Entrees top out at $29, which brings an entire lobster’s worth of meat, expertly plucked from its shell and accompanied by a scoop of fluffy gnocchi, garnet yams, morels and more. The ample serving of braised short ribs is highlighted by a chunk of fresh-baked spoonbread, adapted from a 1930s recipe ($24).

Desserts are all housemade, including Paris’ answer to the current donut craze: a glazed, yeast-based rendition that comes topped with warm, cinnamon-baked apples, ice cream and a crisp of oatmeal and accompanied by a petite caramel-coated apple on a stick. There’s also sarsaparilla soda and unique mixers to complement diners’ bourbons or other spirits (it’s directly next door to a Wine & Spirits shop), plus small-batch root beers and refreshingly spicy Blenheim ginger ale. 

The warmly lit room seats 50, including two-tops, four-tops and banquettes that surround a dramatic wood-slab communal table. The hand-stacked slate walls, bamboo flooring and vintage reproduction fabrics lend the space the feeling of a classic cottage. Much of the construction was done by Paris himself, a talented artisan whose friends call him a true Renaissance man. 

Heirloom will serve dinner 5–10 PM, Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday, and 5–11 PM Friday–Saturday, with weekend brunch from 10:30 AM–2:30 PM.

8705 Germantown Ave.; 215-242-2700

DeLorenzo’s Closing in Trenton; Shane Candies Reopens

Prepping a pie at DeLorenzo’s

It’s a rarity, but a select few restaurants survive long enough to become an institution. Often these are eateries of the simplest variety, not catering to trends or fads, but sticking to a trusted, time-worn formula. Today, the Times of Trenton brings us news that we will soon lose what is thought of by many as the best pizza in the region. After 65 years, DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Trenton will shut its doors on January 15. Its crispy thin-crust pies, sprinkled with cheese and crushed tomatoes (never sauce), garnered a cultlike following over the years, drawing pilgrimages from Philadelphia and beyond. “It’s time…to take a breather,” says owner Gary Amico. A second location that opened in 2008 will remain open, and – happily for Philly folks – the Amicos are considering a new outpost in Pennsylvania.

In the positive vein, historic Philadelphia confectionary Shane Candies has just relaunched, after a nearly year-long renovation by Eric and Ryan Berley (of nearby Franklin Fountain). The candy shop  first opened in 1863, and was run by the Shane family for over a century before they sold it to  suspender-and-bow-tie-wearing Berley brothers in May 2010. The pair has preserved the Victorian touches inside the Old City storefront, including the antique candy-making machinery, which has been revamped and is ready to start pumping out sweets, just in time for the holidays (110 Market St.; 215-922-1048).

Ella's American Bistro, Oddfellows Cafe and Calaca Feliz Coming Soon

Courtesy of Ella’s American Bistro

The end of the year is a somewhat risky time to launch a new restaurant, what diners busy being merry at home. But that hasn’t stopped several ventures from preparing to open their doors in the coming weeks.

This Monday will be the first day of service for Ella’s American Bistro, a casual farm-to-table coming to Wayne. Devon Hill BMW owner Cortright Wetherill Jr. has brought in chef Matt Schuler, a former instructor at the Pennsylvania School for Culinary Arts to head the kitchen. He’s taken advantage of organic produce, local meats and artisanal cheeses to craft affordable lunch and dinner menus for the 100-seat white-tablecloth dining room, which is decorated with distressed wood. The bar is made from an organically milled Sycamore tree, and will serve craft brews, classic cocktails and a handpicked wine list, 50 in bottles and 12 by the glass (214 Sugartown Rd., Devon Square, Wayne; 610-964-3552).

What was formerly slated to be just a second location for Spruce Street Espresso has morphed into a full-blown eatery, MealTicket reports, and will open to the public on December 28. Named after the building it occupies at the corner of 12th and Spruce (in the early 1900s, the national headquarters for the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows), Oddfellows Cafe will launch first as just a coffee shop, but come January 5, chef Jorge Reyes (previously at El Vez) will dish out contemporary Latin-influenced food for lunch and dinner.

Also in early January (the exact date has yet to be pinned down), the second undertaking from Cantina Feliz’sTim Spinner and Brian Sirhal. Helmed by former Xochitl chef Lucio Palazzo, Calaca Feliz will offer contemporary Mexican cuisine in the former Illuminaire space at 2321 Fairmount. Per the name (translated as “happy skeleton”), expect vibrant, Day of the Dead themed decor, similar to the Fort Washington original.

Year in Review: Philadelphia's 2011 Trends

Courtesy of The Dandelion

At this juncture, there’s no doubt Philly throws down with the best as a serious food city. Continuing the upward trajectory of the past decade, 2011 has seen an unprecedented number of openings. Our hometown celebrity chefs are gaining national followings and spurring on that popularity with new concepts both local and national. Gourmet has gone mobile, with fanciful food trucks dotting streets from Center City to University City and beyond. A focus on local ingredients is now a given for any establishment, with many taking to brick ovens and presenting dishes as plates to share. All self-respecting bars now sport impressive craft beer lists, and craft cocktails are not far behind. All in all, the year was a banner one for the dining scene here, with some of the biggest highlights and trends listed below. 

Big Name Restaurateurs Expand

Stephen Starr is widely credited with sparking the restaurant renaissance in Philadelphia with his ’90s launches of martini bar Continental and Asian-fusion Buddakan. Starr Restaurants now operates over 25 establishments in New York, Florida, Atlantic City and Philly, where he added four new themed destinations in 2011. Multiroom English pub Dandelion launched in Rittenhouse just after the holidays a year ago, and chef Robert Aikens’ elevated but comforting British fare has been well-received. In the spring, German biergarten Frankford Hall brought valet parking to rapidly gentrifying Fishtown, with huge tap pours and outdoor picnic and Ping-Pong tables. This autumn, longtime organization vet Chris Painter finally got his own kitchen, when white-tablecloth Italian Il Pittore took over the former Noble space on Sansom Street. Just on its heels came Route 6, an expansive seafooder on North Broad that marks what Starr claims will be his last launch in our city, at least for some time.

Jose Garces and Marc Vetri are undoubtedly the other best-known names in town, and though neither of them opened in the city during 2011, both are working on new projects. In 2012, Vetri will launch Alla Spina, an Italian beer bar located just across the way from Starr’s Route 6 on North Broad. He’s also planning his first suburban outpost, coming soon to NJ’s Moorestown Mall. There are also rumors that a Vetri restaurant is coming to Atlantic City, which the spirited toque currently denies. Garces, on the other hand, is definitely duplicating three of his popular Philadelphia concepts to Revel casino at the seaside resort, including AmadaVillage Whiskey and Distrito. The Iron Chef also recently launched dining operations at a high-end hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Brick-Oven Cooking

In addition to using locally sourced meats and produce, a slew of eateries are taking retro further and going back to cooking with fire. Brick or coal-fired ovens create crispy pizzas at Gordon Dinerman’s new East Passyunk beer stop Birra, in the back of the roving Pitruco Pizza truck, at Old City’s Revolution House (here made of white marble!) and at the Rittenhouse outpost of NYC’s Serafina. A wood oven has already been set up at the former Horizons, just off South Street, where a branch of Hopewell, NJ’s Nomad Pizza is set to launch any day. Spread Bagelry has finally brought great bagels to Philadelphia – long lacking – by baking them fresh over roaring logs each morning, and the lines out the door every day make the three-month delay in opening (thanks to an electrical fire) seem worthwhile. Fancier coals heat up the Tandoor ovens at Broad Street’s Tashan, the first upscale offering from Tiffin mogul Munish Narula, where chef Sylva Senat is stoking the fires to produce unique Euro-Indian cuisine.

Craft Beer Is Everywhere, Craft Cocktails Are on the Rise

When Brooklyn-based beer-and-video-game spot Barcade opened in Philadelphia this summer, partner Paul Kermizian confirmed what we already knew. “You’re more likely to find a great variety of craft beer in any given bar here than you are in New York City,” he told us, and that may have been an understatement. Over two dozen beers on tap accompany many recent launches, from Queen Village’s Tapestry to Barcade to Old City’s revamped Khyber Pass Pub. Broad Street pre-theater spot Upstares at Varalli has been transformed into full-on craft beer haven Perch Pub. Even Reading Terminal Market now holds a gastropub, Molly Malloy’s, offering tourists and conventioneers a chance to sample from our vibrant brew scene. 

Two dozen rare European pours are only half the focus at Walnut Street’s Farmers’ Cabinet, where bar manager Phoebe Esmon has created an ever-changing menu of handcrafted cocktails. Housemade syrups, shrubs and bitters factor into the unique recipes here, as they do at Easy Passyunk’s Stateside and Locust Street’s Vedge. Subterranean speakeasy Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., which precipitated Philly’s current mixology focus, is still going strong and also has plans to expand their creative beverage program with a Fairmount tavern (in partnership with Supper’s Mitch Prensky).

Medium Plates and Tasting Menus

While tapas and miniature bar bites were all the rage a few years back, the new trend leans toward slightly larger dishes meant for sharing. At on 18 Street, patrons are advised to order two-three items per person off of Bryan Sikora’s menu, and to share each one. Rich Landau’s vegetable-rich meatless dishes at Vedge follow the same canon, as does much of the Italian fare at Il Pittore. George Sabatino’s bill of fare at Stateside offers but a trio of entree-sized mains, and the same goes for Jason Cichonski’s Ela, new to the corner of Third and Bainbridge in Queen Village.  

At Cichonski’s previous stop, however, the multiple courses are not optional: Chip Roman’s Mica in Chestnut Hill presents several variations on prix fixe meals for diners to choose from. Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga took the same route with his eponymous restaurant on the Avenue of the Arts. Marc Vetri ceased all à la carte service at his flagship Italian on Spruce Street, where guests can partake in tasting menus from $135 and up.

Food Truck Explosion

Folks who want to pick and choose their eats should instead take to the streets. A seemingly never-ending stream of high-end food trucks have launched in Philadelphia this year, following the lead of cities like Los Angeles and New York. No longer the province of gruff immigrants serving greasy cheesesteaks or bacon-egg-and-cheese, Philly street food now includes several innovative options. Barbecue maestro Mark Coates serves addictive meats from The Smoke Truck, and Matt Feldman took his jazz joint on the road, providing patrons both local, handmade burgers and a dose of good music when they stop by his window at the Lucky Old Souls van. Say Cheese is grilling up artisan cheese and Chez Yasmine is serving a variety of vegetarian-centric exotic eats from their rolling perch. Even Iron Chef Jose Garces got into the roving scene with the Guapos Tacos truck, covered with thousands of glinting bottle caps.

The Food Trust’s Night Market series has only served to enhance the mobile food scene, bringing together dozens of vendors in one spot every couple of months or so, and this year saw the first Philly Vendy Awards, in what will hopefully become an annual tradition following in the steps of the NYC original. Dessert trucks are still multiplying too, adding macarons, frozen yogurt and other treats to the cupcake staple, and Pub & Kitchen’s Jonathan Adams recently launched Rival Bros., a coffee-roasting truck tricked out with fancy La Marzocco espresso machines.

Starr Begins Composting; Center for Culinary Enterprises Underway

Talula’s Garden

The culinary scene in Philadelphia is growing by leaps and bounds, which means its impact on our culture and environment is growing. Two new projects aim to make sure the way it affects our lives and surroundings is positive. Starr Restaurants is launching a composting program, which will be piloted at North Broad’s Route 6 and Talula’s Garden in Wash West.

All food and paper waste generated by these spots will henceforth be used to enrich soil at local gardens and farms, thanks to trice-weekly pickups by New Jersey-based composting firm Organic Diversion. The trial will take advantage of Talula’s co-owner Aimee Olexy and Route 6 chef Anthony DiRienzo’s previous experience with commercial composting, and the program is set to expand to the majority of Stephen Starr’s Philly operations in due time.

In West Philly, construction has begun on the new Center for Culinary Enterprises. Developed by a local community development organization with funding from the city, the federal government and others, the CCE aims to provide resources to emerging food entrepreneurs. Three shared-use commercial kitchens will be available for lease, for home-based caterers or food truck operators. A demonstration kitchen will be tricked out with multimedia for classes on nutrition, urban farming, restaurant marketing and more.

There will also be retail on site, enlivening a neighborhood in need of storefronts. Full service ‘cue joint Little Louie’s BBQ will include a youth training program, and two additional shops are to be announced. The advisory board for the project includes recognizable names like Michael Solomonov (ZahavPercy Street BarbecueFederal Donuts), Daniel Stern (R2LMidAtlantic), Michael Chow (Sang Kee), Benny Lai (Vietnam Cafe) and more. A summer 2012 opening is anticipated.

Courtesy of Revel

The Atlantic City dining scene will get an infusion of culinary cred this spring, when the brand-new Revel casino and resort opens with threeJose Garces restaurants. The Philadelphia-based Iron Chef’s concepts will anchor the food offerings at the 6.3-million-sq.-ft. Boardwalk property, which will also feature nearly a dozen other eateries, three clubs, retail, two theaters and a huge gaming floor.

An outpost of Garces’ first restaurant, Andalusian tapas bar Amada will be nearly double the size of the Old City original, and serve signature small plates, sangrias, cocktails and Spanish wines. Mirroring his always-packed Rittenhouse locationVillage Whiskey will sport a brown-liquor library more extensive than any other at the Jersey Shore, and also offer the renowned custom-blend La Frieda burger, housemade pickles and raw bar selections. Distrito Cantina will combine the margaritas, flatbreads and ceviches found at the University City original with tacos from the popular Guapos Tacos food truck.

Garces recently set up several dining options for the Saguaror Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ, operates swankyMercat a la Planxa in Chicago, and runs seven Philadelphia properties, in addition the mobile taco operation. The 39-year-old chef is excited about the oceanfront expansion, according to a representative, and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

Lemon Hill in Fairmount, Good Dog to Pennsport, Matt Levin in Wash West

Matt Levin and friend, via Twitter

It’s about to get chilly, and if you’re like us, there’s no better distraction from the dullness of winter than a look ahead to forthcoming food and drink. In Fairmount, the collaboration between Supper’s Mitch Prensky and the spirit experts at Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. coming to the former Lucky 7 now has a name and a projected soft-opening date. Lemon Hill will launch just after Christmas, possibly as early as December 26, with neighborhood-friendly cocktails and brick-oven eats.

On the opposite side of town, the folks at Center City standby Good Dog Bar are planning a new tavern in Pennsport, at the corner of Reed and Moyamensing, according to No details on what to expect just yet, but we’re hopeful the blue-cheese–stuffed burger and well-priced craft drafts will follow the team south.

Chef Matt Levin appears to have found a new showcase for his whimsical (and highly regarded) creations in Wash West. After a legal tussle (check for the gossipy details), the Spain family is parting ways from longtime Marathon Grill partners the Borishes, and as part of that deal, the 10th and Chestnut location will become something new. Cuba Libre owners Barry Gutin and Larry Cohen have been brought on board, along with Levin (most recently at Adsum). Look for the renovation to be a quick one.

If those future spots aren’t enough to excite you, know that starting today, Larry Rosenblum and MarcCosgrove’s Spread Bagelry begins serving pastrami from none other than NYC’s famous Katz’s Delicatessen. Cured and smoked meat is being delivered by courier, and will be finished off every morning in the 20th Street wood-fired oven. Hot pastrami will be sliced to order and served on rye bagels for $10 a pop, until the day’s supply is exhausted. As Meg Ryan once said in When Harry Met Sally, “Yesssss!”

What to Eat at the New Stateside on East Passyunk

The hip restaurant scene of East Passyunk just keeps growing. Across the Singing Fountain from Izumi and Da Vinci, in a corner location that sat vacant and boarded up for the past 15 years, now resides the small-but-ambitious Stateside, whose smartly burnished wraparound windows and dark slate siding give off the vibe of a prime spot.

The wine and whiskey bar is the first dinner-serving venture for Green Eggs Café proprietors Stephen J. Slaughter and William Bonforte, and they’ve given themselves a head start by bringing in George Sabatino as executive chef. Sabatino was opening chef de cuisine at Midtown Village’s Barbuzzo (after spending several years in Marcie Turney’s other kitchens at Lolita and Bindi), and helped land that petite Mediterranean national acclaim. He’s bringing the same sensibility to Stateside, which has been doing brisk business in its first two weeks.

All ingredients for the menu are sourced from within the U.S., everything from meats, cheeses and produce to olive oil, salt and spices. A handful of $4 bar bites includes housemade pickles (made with unique ingredients like fennel and butternut squash) and cheeses with house chutneys or bacon-flavored caramel. There are over a dozen small plates to choose from, all gorgeously plated: think umami-rich foie gras butternut squash mousse spread on a crunchy baguette and then topped with cubes of gelled blood orange and fresh microgreens ($11); crisp pork belly laced with maple flavors and served atop squares of coarse-milled grits beside firm pickled apple slices ($12); and goat’s milk that’s cured in-house into a cube of fresh cheese, panko-crusted and fried, and then rested on a layer of escarole and roasted pine nuts ($9). A trio of larger plates tops out at $21, with choices like grilled cap steak with smoked bone marrow butter. 

Sitting at the 10-seat concrete bar is more amusing than usual: it faces the large windowed outer wall, instead of being shoved into a corner, so people-watching and fresh air abound. All liquors are also produced domestically, which means that – although there’s no tequila – the spirit selection is relatively high-end. Specialty cocktails from bar manager Jenn Conley (Sabatino’s girlfriend) run $8–$9, and include choices like the Prohibition-era Clover Club. Ten taps offer a rotating selection of domestic craft beer, along with another 10 in bottles or cans. The wine list is a work in progress, general manager Anthony Gualtieri tells us, and you can expect to see reds and whites expand past a half-dozen choices each very soon.

Exposed brick lines the small dining room, which is not tightly packed and gets plenty of natural light. Seating capacity will double during warmer weather, when outdoor tables will fill the sidewalk on Passyunk and around to Greenwich Street. Dinner is served daily starting at 5 PM; there are no plans for lunch or brunch (Green Eggs is just down the block for that).

1536 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-551-2500

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