The East Passyunk neighborhood has always been a great place to eat, even before hipsters and “neighborhood improvement districts” were part of our cultural lexicon. Hungry diners have long sought out Francoluigi’s pizza. Cosmi’s and Chickie’s have dueled for tops in hoagies for years. And then there are the (literal) millions who’ve made the pilgrimage to 9th and Passyunk for a cheesesteak.
But today, locals and out-of-towners are flooding into the neighborhood for everything from craft beers and meatball sandwiches to meta-pizzas from controversy-magnet Shola Olunloyo.
Sure, the Pub on Passyunk East has been a hipster beacon since the day it opened, and Stogie Joe’s has opened on the Avenue, marrying the old and new schools with craft beer and a menu that salutes old Italian classics. And Watkins Drinkery offers another option in this already soused neighborhood, but brackets the cocktails with whole-roasted Cornish hen and a barbecued pulled-pheasant sandwich.
So why the sudden boom here? Simple: Money follows money. To smart investors, the blocks surrounding 9th and Passyunk must look like there’s gold lying on the ground. The neighborhood attracts both locals and tourists, and has long since proved itself a winner. Where Le Virtu once turned the city on to the Abruzze region of Italy, and a young team of Lacroix and Le Bec alums created a true destination restaurant with Fond, the bandwagon-jumpers are keeping things hot with new opening after new opening.
The future of East Passyunk restaurants: Three big hitters hit the Avenue recently. Birra is staking its rep on Italian craft beer paired with traditional and unusual brick-oven pizzas (such as mac-and-cheese), courtesy of executive chef Andrew Fox. George Sabatino (who was the opening chef de cuisine at Barbuzzo) steps behind the burners at Stateside, banking on opening wallets with house-made charcuterie and intense dishes like foie gras butternut mousse.
And on the sweet side, Jessie Prawlucki (pastry chef at Fond) has brought her skills out from under the umbrella with Belle Cakery, her own pastry shop just down the street from Fond.