April 22, 2024


World's finest Food

Raise a glass to the best wine bars

This week, we’ll tell you about our favorite wine bars, from the chill to the lively. We’re also turning the spotlight on a time of reckoning in the craft-beer world, the delights of West African fast-casual food, the sad but uplifting story about a woman’s dying wish to visit Egypt, and not one but two references to lox. Read on for the whole schmear.

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Michael Klein

Today, wine bars are friendly, inviting spaces where bartenders and servers are excited to share their knowledge and love of all kinds of wine. And there’s something for everyone, whether your taste is for funky, natural, and biodynamic bottles, more classic French and California wines, or you’re not really sure where to start. We share 14 great wine bars.

Speaking of bars: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced on Tuesday, June 15 that cocktails to-go — which had been legalized in May 2020 — are now banned, effective immediately, because the COVID-19 pandemic emergency had ended. The idea is not dead. The legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf are squabbling over a bill to make it permanent.

Craft beer’s recent social reckoning was years in the making. The industry faced a wake-up call when allegations of sexism, discrimination, abuse, and worse poured out of a Massachusetts brewer’s Instagram inbox. Read on for reporter Jenn Ladd’s comprehensive story on how the craft beer culture reached a tipping point, and how workers and owners alike hope this time leads to a better industry.

Jollof rice is having a moment. Suya Suya, a Nigerian-owned BYOB in Northern Liberties, is aiming to share West African cuisine with the masses via mix-and-match meals as platters, much as the similarly fast-casual Chipotle does with Mexican food. Co-owner Dera Nd-Ezuma was a CPA (and former Rider College basketball player) who wants to share his culture through street food. (Tip: Do not miss his homemade cornbread muffins.)

Retired photographer Gene Mopsik, 72, walked into Biederman’s Specialty Foods in South Philadelphia in December 2020, a month before it opened. “‘You know,’” he told owner Lauren Biederman, 25, “‘if you need an old Jewish guy to be around the shop who’s good with knives and good with people and has a very big interest in food. ….’” And now he is known as @phillyloxsmith. Go chat him up while he slices.

We knew that Gloria Walker’s story would not have a happy ending. The Northeast Philadelphia woman learned in August 2020 that she had Stage IV bladder cancer. When her son Dustin Vitale asked her what she wanted to do, she requested a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids — with 13 members of her family. Vitale didn’t just scramble to raise the money, he sizzled. He started making cheesesteaks, a campaign that snowballed. Last week, just a few weeks after they returned, she died at her son’s home, surrounded by her family. Her obituary shows the power of community and compassion.

Country-cute Stockton, N.J., just across the Delaware from Solebury Township, Bucks County, is the unlikely location for a Jewish deli. But that’s where Nick Liberato, the Yardley-born chef from Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge, and business partners Michael Dalewitz and Steve Lau, are about to open The Borscht Belt inside Lau’s Stockton Market. Grand opening weekend is Saturday, June 19 (7 a.m.-7 p.m.) and Sunday, June 20 (7 a.m.-6 p.m.).

The name and theme are an ode to the Catskills, where Dalewitz’s family owned and managed resorts back in its Dirty Dancing/Marvelous Mrs. Maisel-inspired heyday. The deli food hits squarely on area code 212, with house-made corned beef and pastrami; matzo ball soup; smoked fish from Samaki (though gravlax is cured in-house); a case full of shmears, and salads; chopped liver; caviars; bagels trucked in daily from Ess-a-Bagel; products from Streit’s Matzo; babkas from Oneg Bakery; halvah from Seed + Mill; Junior’s cheesecakes; deli-style candies like those sugar-coated fruit slices from Passover; and coffee from Paper Plane, a fifth-generation Colombian family-owned coffee company.

They veered outside the Jewish deli canon for a NYC bodega-inspired chopped cheese sandwich, sort of like a Philly cheesesteak hoagie made with ground beef instead of steak. And keep in mind Borscht Belt is not a kosher deli; be advised that the shrimp salad has a kick from Kewpie mayo, masago, togarashi, and sesame oil.

It’s counter service, both for deli and restaurant purchases, and there’s indoor-outdoor seating. Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

It’s been 18 years since Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello opened a sweet little brunch spot called Cafe Lift in what was then dubbed the Loft District on 13th Street just below Spring Garden. They followed up just up the street with Prohibition Taproom and the now-closed Bufad Pizza, went to Fishtown with Kensington Quarters (and to Penn with KQ Burger), and took Cafe Lift briefly to the Main Line.

And, as I told you last week, they’re heading to Haddonfield with a Cafe Lift.

But more immediately, they’re back in what is now called SpringArts with La Chinesca, which opens Friday, June 18 in the old Jiffy Lube at 11th and Spring Garden Streets. (They’ve kept the Sean Gallagher mural treatment of the Biggie Smalls’ “It Was All a Dream” lyric on the 11th Street side.)

It’s inspired by La Chinesca, the Chinatown neighborhood of Mexicali, Mexico. The menu from culinary director Nicholas Bazik and executive chef David Goody, who visited in February 2020, draws inspiration from both cuisines, such as the scallop and shrimp egg roll with aguachile. Tacos are built on house-made, Baja-style flour tortillas made with grapeseed oil as opposed to lard (corn by request). Derek Gregory set up the beverages with local craft beers (as Love City, Triple Bottom, Roy Pitz, and Yards are neighbors) and a cocktail list in which mezcal and tequila predominate.

Rohe Creative worked up a snazzy neon-ringed garage front, an outdoor patio beneath retractable cloth shades out back, and a sexy intimate basement, low-lit in red if you want to disappear for a while.

Opening weekend hours: 4-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Then: 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday, and noon-10 p.m. Sunday.

La Chinesca not only joins such neighbors as the Lucky Well, Kaiseki, Angry Deekin, and Union Transfer. It rounds out two solid, Mexican restaurants nearby, including El Purepecha (315 N. 12th St.), a bar-restaurant that started at 10th and Buttonwood Streets and moved into the Goldtex building in 2020. Its previous location is now the home of El Rincon, a tiny taqueria.

Chef Joe Monnich and Justin Weathers are opening Revival Pizza Pub, their sixth eatery in the burbs (after Al Pastor in Exton and Stove & Tap in Lansdale, Malvern, and West Chester). Debut is Friday, June 18 in Chester Springs’ new Weatherstone Town Center, in a light-filled space with a 40-foot, L-shaped bar built of reclaimed aluminum and poured concrete.

Like the others, Revival is family friendly, and its menu mixes pizza with a lineup of sandwiches, salads, mussels, and salads. It will start with dinner and bar service, and expand to lunch and brunch, with happy hour and live music.

Initial hours (starting June 18): 4-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Fabrika, the yearling restaurant/cabaret in a former ice cream factory at 1108 Frankford Ave. in Fishtown, has opened a roofed outdoor space called Terrassa at Fabrika, with a more casual, family-friendly menu based on flatbread skewers from chef Shain Wancio.

Fillings include chicken makrut with lime yogurt and Aleppo; merguez kofta with baba ghanoush and feta; hanger steak with piquillo romesco; shrimp al pastor; and king oyster mushroom with crispy chickpea and green tehina. Cocktails are made with local spirits.

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

Worth noting

Burlington County Restaurant Week is June 21-27, with deals available at about three dozen restaurants.

Just in: The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s cafe is starting a chef-in-residence program after it reopens to the public on Friday, June 18. Since Constellation Culinary Group is also bringing in locally grown produce, bread products, and beers as part of the daily menu, it’s extending the “local” theme to people. Series starts on the first weekend of July with Tova du Plessis of Essen Bakery. August’s chef is Nana Wilmot of Georgina’s Foods, September’s is Melissa Fernando of Sri’s Company, October’s is Nok Suntaranon of Kalaya, and November’s is Mike Jenkins and Melody Lauletta of Keep.


We are in the process of a restaurant boom, now that the pandemic is easing.

Mark down Friday, June 18 for Philly’s first Yi Fan Taiwan Fruit Tea outlet. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. in Progress Plaza (1501 N. Broad St.). A Chinatown location is on its way, too.

Ramen 1: Long lines are reported at Kyuramen, a new ramen house in Heritage Square in Cherry Hill (1871 Marlton Pike East). Closest locations are in New York City. Tbaar, a bubble-tea franchise, is attached. Lunch/dinner daily.

Ramen 2: Sam’s Asian Cuisine at 202 E. Lancaster Ave. in Ardmore, across from the Toyota dealership, has yielded to Sake Mian, with a menu of ramen and sushi capped by bubble tea. Lunch Sunday-Friday/dinner daily.

Erlton Social Craft Bar & Kitchen, with 24 beers on tap and a full menu, has opened inside The Big Event Entertainment Experience in Cherry Hill (1536 Kings Highway North). The blog 42Freeway has the rundown.

I’m hearing a June 25 opening for Ikki Sushi, a salon-sized sushi bar at 310 Market St. in Old City. … General Tsao’s House, the long-stalled Chinese concept at 1720 Sansom St. from Dan Tsao of Chinatown’s Emei and founder of the popular RiceVan delivery service, is getting close. … Need ice cream? Van Leeuwen’s first Philly location, at 13th and Sansom Streets, is targeting Aug. 7.


Wurst news of the week is the shutdown of Destination Dogs, the hot dog-centric bar that opened in 2016 with alligator sausage and other offbeat forcemeats, at 1111 Walnut St. If you miss its globally inspired menu, head to the original in New Brunswick, N.J.