No summer slowdown for Philly's vibrant food scene

Fishtown's upcoming pho spot, Stock, will focus on traditional Vietnamese ingredients and flavors. Owner Tyler Akin says, "I'm not interested in fusion."
Fishtown's upcoming pho spot, Stock, will focus on traditional Vietnamese ingredients and flavors. Owner Tyler Akin says, "I'm not interested in fusion."
Posted: May 23, 2014

SUMMERTIME has long been considered a "dead" time in the food world, with travel plans superseding a desire to stay home and spend lots of money in restaurants. But this beach season is shaping up to be an extremely busy and hungry one in Philly at least, with a crop of new places vying for our attention.

Here's a look at just a few of the new projects we should see open between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day.

Stock

Tyler Akin and Nicole Reigle are about a week away from opening Stock, their long-in-the-works Vietnamese pho shop a few Fishtown blocks up from Frankford and Girard, an area with very little Asian cuisine representation.

The main thing the couple - who met at Komi in D.C. and worked together at Zahav here in Philly before getting married late last year - want Philadelphia soup slurpers to realize is that they're not aiming for a heavily modernized take on Viet cooking, which has always had such a strong presence in this city. Rather, they're offering a complementary approach - traditional technique using higher-end ingredients that Wilmington native Akin has become intimately familiar with via his fine-dining experience.

An elaborate water filtration system will produce the H2O base for their broth, which Akin will make with Creekstone Farms beef bones and Terra Spice aromatics. (There will be a mushroom-based vegetarian option, too.) They'll feature Argentine grass-feed beef from Debragga, a well-regarded meatmonger out of New York, in the soup itself, and they plan on growing their own Thai basil and mint in a small outdoor area attached to the restaurant.

A lineup of straightforward plates - raw flank steak accompanied by annatto, sawtooth and lime, a whole branzino prepared with young ginger, pickled greens and mustard oil - will fill out the rest of the menu.

"For us, pho is the backbone of our business," said Akin, who's up-front about the fact that Stock's per-bowl price point will be higher than his regular South Philly haunt, Pho Ha, but not prohibitively so.

"I'm not saying every dish we put out could be found somewhere in Vietnam, but the ingredients involved and the seasoning are going to be entirely traditional. I'm not interested in fusion."

308 E. Girard Ave.

Brigantessa

Chef Joe Cicala is stepping away from Italy's Abruzzo region to spearhead Brigantessa, a pizzeria and wine bar farther up East Passyunk from Francis Cratil-Cretarola and Cathy Lee's Le Virtu, where he remains the chef.

Cicala, who recently traveled to Italy for hands-on research, has secured a serious wood-fired oven from the famed craftsman Gianni Acunto for the space, which should open in July. The rest of the menu is still being worked out, but the chef does tease that he uncovered a roster of "unusually shaped and stuffed pizzas" in Napoli his last time there.

Find out more on June 1, when Cicala invites the guys from the Pitruco Pizza truck to Le Virtu for a Brigantessa-themed pop-up tied to Philly Beer Week.

1520 E. Passyunk Ave.

Bing Bing Steam House

Joining Brigantessa on East Passyunk, ideally by Labor Day, Bing Bing is a dim sum parlor from Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh, the guys behind Center City's perma-packed Cheu Noodle Bar.

A recent eating trip through Hong Kong inspired the approach for the new place, which, like Cheu, will skew nontraditional on purpose - soup dumplings made with foie gras, a selection of fluffy filled bao buns, straight-up meat plates of pastrami or beef, steamed seafood prepared on a kitchen rig they're having custom-outfitted. Everything under $15.

To drink, a small draft beer selection, with elaborate hot and cold tea selections and punch bowls designed to serve two, four or six.

Darragh is amused by how hard Puchowitz has been striking out in his attempts to apprentice in dim sum restaurants, both in Philly and New York, to cultivate some muscle memory in preparation for Bing Bing. Restaurateurs, let this guy work for free in your kitchens already!

1648 E. Passyunk Ave.

Whetstone

With both old- and new-school German cooking nailed in at South Street's bierhall and restaurant Brauhaus Schmitz, owners Doug and Kelly Hager and chef Jeremy Nolen look to put down another flag nearby with Whetstone, a wide-open American bar/restaurant in Queen Village. Targeting August, the team plans on bringing accessible, pub-inspired food, executed with price in mind, to Fifth and Bainbridge. (Funnily enough, this same address used to be Coquette, the French bistro where Nolen was chef; it's where he met his wife, Brauhaus pastry chef Jessica Nolen.)

"This is a way for us to branch out," said Jeremy Nolen, who will host a Whetstone preview dinner at Rittenhouse demo kitchen COOK on May 28.

While Whetstone's menu won't be defined by Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, it'll certainly feature takes on some of the specialties Nolen grew up with in Reading. One definite locked in for the dining room? A deli case, complete with a big Berkel Slicer, featuring cheeses and housemade, imported and domestic charcuterie.

700 S. 5th St.

Beast & Ale

In this era of super-refined beer-geek bars and the daring craft breweries that supply them, it's not often you hear about a new place that prides itself on a dedicated Milwaukee's Best tap line. But it's a point of pride at Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal's upcoming Manayunk pub, Beast & Ale. What better way to celebrate an everyman concept than by offering us unlimited chances to unleash the beast?

Spinner and Sirhal have enjoyed massive success with Cantina Feliz, La Calaca Feliz and Taqueria Feliz, their trio of polished Mexican restaurants in and around town - including Manayunk, home to Taqueria.

When presented with the opportunity to take over the Manayunk space that formerly housed French bistro Bisou, they decided it was time to do something new. Matt Savastano, current sous of La Calaca, will be B&A's executive chef, producing a well-priced menu that'll feature hearty sandwiches (hot mortadella, a Kentucky hot brown), plenty of vegetarian options and a "stoner food section" with wacky experimental dishes.

That Milwaukee's Best tap will be joined by seven other drafts, plus small wine and cocktail lists. They hope to open next month.

4161 Main St., Manayunk

Elsewhere . . .

The newest Federal Donuts, the local chain's biggest location yet, is set to open at 701 N. 7th St. in West Poplar on June 7.

Anthony Fauci, partner in the popular Calexico restaurants and food carts in New York, hopes to have his first Philly spot open at 1600 South St. within 90 days. (A zoning hearing's scheduled for the first week of June.) Following that will be a second Calexico, in Fishtown at Frankford and Girard, sometime in the fall.

Good Stuff Eatery, the burger-fry-shake place with roots in D.C., is looking at June to debut its first Philly outpost, just off 18th and Chestnut. It's backed by former "Top Chef" contestant Spike Mendelsohn.

A block away from Good Stuff, at 1901 Chestnut, chef George Sabatino can only commit to "late summer" for the opening of Aldine, his restaurant with wife Jennifer.


Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene since 2005. His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at andrewlazor@gmail.com or on Twitter @drewlazor.

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