Table Talk: To lure diners, chefs try a little innovation

Keith Taylor in the dining room of Holy Smoke , his Southern barbecue restaurant in Roxborough. "If you're looking for fancy, this is not the place," says the former Disney chef.
Keith Taylor in the dining room of Holy Smoke , his Southern barbecue restaurant in Roxborough. "If you're looking for fancy, this is not the place," says the former Disney chef.
Posted: April 16, 2009

Today's menu term is petite.

As restaurateurs hunger for business, they're not only offering $35 fixed-price meals. Some are downsizing portions, translating to downsized prices.

Kiong Banh, chef at Twenty Manning near Rittenhouse Square, now offers half- and full-portion entrees. Example: the grilled Angus short rib with rosemary roasted Yukon potato and sauteed Shanghai baby bok choy sells for $12 and $23.

Same thing on half of the new dinner menu at Bistro M in Berwyn. Friday Saturday Sunday near Rittenhouse Square has added five small plates to its dinner menu.

Rylei, the BYOB that moved in December from Mayfair to Richboro's Mallard Creek Shopping Center, has added a $22 petite version of its $35 special from Tuesdays through Thursdays. (Starting Sunday, it's also open for brunch, and it has started lunch Thursdays and Fridays.)

Barbecue in Roxborough

Chef Keith Taylor's resumé has many stops - including Disney in Florida, Le Bernardin in Manhattan (while he studied at Cornell), catering (Sami Rose Culinary Productions), and the creation of Houston Marketplace at the University of Pennsylvania - but he's gone for the masses at Holy Smoke (473 Leverington Ave., 215-482-7500), a BBQ-music joint in Roxborough. It's the former Chuck U. Farley's off Ridge Avenue, owned by his business partner, Frank Mitchell. Three bars, no waiting.

"If you're looking for fancy, this is not the place," says Taylor, whose menu is Southern barbecue with a sense of humor. (The description "Philadelphia cheesesteak" refers patrons to Barry's, the shop next door.)

Barbecue was a sideline business, says Taylor, who started selling out of a bar in Ridley Park a few years ago. He called it Zachary's and built a Web site. The business went by the wayside but the site remained, and Taylor got a call for a big catering job at an Army-Navy Game.

It's open from 5 p.m. through late night Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to midnight Sundays.

Savona reconfiguring

After 12 years, Savona owner Evan Lambert is looking to evolve at the Gulph Mills destination restaurant. It's closed for renovations and is expected to reopen in mid-May. Savona will break out a 30-seat fine-dining room, where traditionalists can order from Andrew Masciangelo's refined Riviera-inspired menu.

The rest of the restaurant - including a new, expanded bar and outdoor patio - will serve a more casual Italian menu focused on locally available ingredients.

Prices are (and will be) $100 a person for fine dining. Lambert expects a tab for two in the casual section to run about $80.

The economy? "We can't avoid talking about it," says Lambert, stressing that Savona's a la carte business is strong. "We're successful in a quiet way," he says. "Our biggest hit has been in private dining. Not as many companies are doing events anymore."

Savona's cellar remains at 1,100 bottles. The wine-by-the-glass list, under sommelier Melissa Monosoff, will expand to 50 selections.

Briefly noted

Mission Grill, the Tex-Mex at 19th and Arch, has added Sunday brunch and has received an interior redo. A row of booths came out, in favor of two large custom communal tables. The menu now has a Mexican "taqueria" section featuring soft tacos, and a small-plate section.

Stephen Starr says "fall" for his resurrection of Blue Angel at 706 Chestnut St.

Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man is talking "June" for 212 S. 15th St.


Contact columnist Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com. See real-time restaurant news at http://go.philly.com/insider.

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