We Come to Eat Fire: DanDan Reviewed

Photo courtesy of DanDan

Photo courtesy of DanDan

DanDan on a Friday night is a mess in the best possible way—a riot of people and bags and plates, with servers squeezing through the spaces between while the bartenders do their best to keep up with the crush that keeps backing up to the door.

The place is small, but not small-small. Downstairs, the bar takes up an inordinate amount of room, and everything else is just squeezed in. Two-tops press up against the big windows looking out onto the hustle of 16th Street, and more are tucked under the overhang of the lofted second-floor seating area. The hostess stand half-clogs the only passage between the main floor and the stairs leading up. It would be a terrible place to eat if it weren’t also such a fun place to throw yourself into. There’s a mosh-pit sensibility to it: You can get where you’re going, but not without bouncing off a few bodies first.

I sit in the corner at the bar with a sweating Tsing Tao, slurping cold sesame noodles that have a nutty, sweet kick and working through a plate of cumin pork that leaves my tongue slick with a mix of dusty-hot cumin and peppers. Even the fizz of the beer won’t wash it off.

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Veganism for Dummies: Bar Bombon Reviewed

bar-bombon-940You’ve got to be pretty confident to think about opening a vegan restaurant in a town that already has Vedge in it. That’s kind of like going to Williamsburg to open a trendy cocktail bar with a lot of pickles on the menu. Like heading for Yountville with the intention of showing those poor saps what real modernist cuisine looks like.

Locally, it’s like opening a high-end Italian restaurant right across the street from Vetri. That doesn’t happen by mistake. You don’t go through all the effort of opening and then just look up one morning and say, “Huh. I wonder when that Vetri character opened there.”

No, vagaries of real estate aside, when you do something like that, it’s a very deliberate move. You’ve got to believe you have something Marc Vetri doesn’t. And doing vegan—a vegan bar, really, offering lunch and dinner, Latin flavors, margaritas and caipirinhas—right down the street from the vegan bar opened by the people behind Vedge is the same kind of crazy.

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The First, Best Time: Stargazy Reviewed

Who knew we needed a British pie shop? | Photo by Emily Teel

Who knew we needed a British pie shop? | Photo by Emily Teel

The best time I had at Stargazy was on a rainy afternoon when I was going somewhere else. I hadn’t even been thinking about pies (which is odd for me), but then there I was—like a block away, walking through the drizzle—and I thought, You know what would go nicely with this weather? A sausage roll.

I pushed in through the door and watched the cooks in the tiny backroom kitchen squaring pies on sheet pans. The sausage roll cost something like four bucks and was hot and greasy enough to stain the bottom of the brown paper bag it came in. Perfect, in other words. I stepped back out into the gray and ate it walking, in its c-fold wrapping, picking apart the crisp, flaking crust with my fingers. That was a good day.

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Tuesday Burgers, Korean Tacos and Candy-Fried Wings: SouthGate Reviewed

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SouthGate | Photo by Aaron Hernandez

I have lied thousands of times.

Across countless dinners in half a dozen cities in four different states, I have been asked more times than I can recall: How is everything tonight?

How are you enjoying your tofu and pomegranate potpie? How is that ridiculously undercooked quail? Why are you just pushing those mushy snails around on your plate and not really eating them?

And, oh, I say, everything is fine. It’s wonderful. Excellent. I’m just not as hungry as I thought I was, but can I maybe get a box for the rest of this grilled guinea pig? I can’t wait to have it for lunch tomorrow. …

At Southgate, the bartender stopped by to see me at the end of the bar. He asked, “So how’s that cheeseburger?”

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Twice in a Lifetime: Whetstone Tavern Reviewed

Passyunk Pork - pork chop, sharp provolone polenta

Passyunk Pork – pork chop, sharp provolone polenta | Photo by Caroline Russock

Jeremy Nolen—chef at Whetstone, the man behind Brauhaus and Wursthaus Schmitz, lonely local champion of modern German cuisine and a fella who knows an awful lot about tube-shaped meats—stopped by our table somewhere between the drinks arriving and the menus being taken away. He looked distracted, tired— sucking breath like a boxer in the third round suddenly realizing that the guy across the ring from him is more of a fighter than he’d expected. Read more »

Chop Suey and Cheese Curds: Bud & Marilyn’s Reviewed

Photo by Neal Santos

Nashville Hot Buns and the interior of Bud & Marilyn’s | Photo by Courtney Apple

My problem with Bud & Marilyn’s is that I always want to be drunk before I go.

There are reasons. This isn’t me confessing to some latent alcohol problem, or anything so pedestrian. No, it’s because they have this chop suey on the menu, and this chop suey in particular (this chop suey more than all other chop sueys I’ve known) is maybe the most perfect drunk food ever created.

I know. No one eats chop suey anymore because chop suey was, is, always will be the avatar of Americanized Chinese food. There are a million stories of its creation. All of them are probably true. And it’s a dish that has lingered in the American consciousness for a century, staling and growing hoary with legend until it’s become the kind of thing you’d expect to find in some tiki’d and Buddha’d gold-flake dining room in suburban Milwaukee in 1977.

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The Revisit: Vernick Food + Drink

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Greg Vernick in the kitchen of his restaurant | Photo via Facebook

Every restaurant has an inaugural “regular,” and for Vernick, it was me.

At least that’s what chef Greg Vernick divulged, with a chuckle, when I called to ask a few questions about a late-spring meal. It was news to me. It seems that after I paid my third visit — a bit too quickly on the heels of my first two upon its 2012 opening — general manager Ryan Mulholland giddily proclaimed that the restaurant’s first serial patron was officially in the bag.

Whereupon I returned once more — and then completely disappeared for almost three years. Read more »

Hipsters and Grandpas: Triangle Tavern Reviewed

Spaghetti and Meatballs at Triangle Tavern | Photo by Jeffrey Towne

Spaghetti and Meatballs at Triangle Tavern | Photo by Jeffrey Towne

There’s only so much you can tell about a restaurant from its staff’s sartorial choices. But Triangle Tavern’s bar — whose bulbous edge gleams darkly with decades’ worth of varnish — offered a fascinating study in contrasts as I settled in amid drifting speckles of disco-ball light. A bullet casing swung from my bartender’s pale white neck as she stirred Dubonnet into gin. Nearby, a slender crucifix tagged its owner as a South Philadelphian of a more iconic stripe. And passing between them was a young black man rocking a Portland Trail Blazers jersey. Read more »

Act Two: Parlor Reviewed

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Trio of pizzas at the Parlor | Photo by Danya Henninger

Confession of a city critic: Whenever I have to schlep out to the suburbs, I can’t help but grit my teeth. Expectations drop beyond the county line. For every Junto, there are three Saint Jameses, and there goes an hour’s worth of unleaded into the ledger of our atmospheric doom.

But I exaggerate. The Saint James’s awfulness lay far beyond the reach of replication, much less in triplicate. Yet trepidation nevertheless filled the family wagon as we made our way to its replacement in Ardmore’s Suburban Square. Owner Rob Wasserman rebooted the ill-starred concept in March as a pizzeria called Parlor, where pies bearing somewhat distressing names such as Buffy and Beastmode awaited us. Read more »

Restaurant Review: Vesper

Vesper Bar | Photo by Neal Santos

Vesper Bar | Photo by Neal Santos

Two men walk into a bar.

“May we go downstairs?” one asks, gesturing toward a bookcase that conceals a secret stairwell.

“Do you have the password?” the hostess replies, flashing a flinty sidelong stare. Read more »

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