In the basement of Double Knot | Photo via Double Knot
Summer is a tough time in the restaurant industry. Things get quiet and weird when the mercury climbs. People eat later. They leave town. They abandon their regular haunts for beer gardens, beach bars and rooftop decks. Autumn is solid. Winter is dependable–there’s the run-up to the holidays, and then the post-New-Year slump. Even spring has its own kind of rhythm, with reservations and walk-ins increasing in direct relation to the calendar ticking forward through March and April and May.
But summer? Summer is fickle. Summer is flighty. Summer is something that most restaurants just survive.
The good news? The season is almost over. We’re rolling inexorably toward September now, toward Labor Day and back-to-school. But before we slide into fall and all of fall’s new openings, this seems like a good time to look back over the past six (or seven) month’s worth of reviews and see where we stand. To measure what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost and where you should still get to (or get back to) before all the new kids on the block get up and running for the season.
And the most obvious place to start is…
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Dumplings and Scallion Pancakes at SuGa | Photo by Emily Teel
I love the smell of SuGa. The dim warmth of it. The banquette tables that run along the wall opposite the bar, in the front of the narrow, shotgun space in the middle of Center City. I love the weird, blobby lights that hang down, casting spotlights onto those tables. There’s a drama there that I can appreciate. A sense of controlling the environment.
There’s a sheen to everything at SuGa of newness and polish and efficiency. It’s a new restaurant (not even quite three months old yet) that operates like there are 20-year grooves cut into the floor. Everything is on rails, running with a precision that would make German train engineers jealous. This place represents the culmination of decades of experience—of Susanna Foo’s return to Center City (where she got famous, where she made her name) after closing her namesake Walnut Street restaurant in 2009 and its Radnor offshoot last summer. A veteran returning to the trenches, Foo is backed up by her son Gabriel on the floor (he grew up in the restaurant industry, went to medical school, but then found his way back to restaurants again) and sous chefs Clara Park (who opened SuGa with Foo, then left) and Chris Dougherty (who stepped up when Park left) in the kitchen. There are no amateur mistakes at SuGa. Nothing happens without a reason.
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For those of you out there too lazy to read our list of the best spring restaurant openings in the current issue of Philadelphia magazine (or who have forgotten that we have an up-to-date list of just about EVERY opening, closing and rumored restaurant project in the city right over here), we have a perfect solution.
Me and the crew from FYI Philly recently sat down to talk about all the new and upcoming stuff, and some of it (the non-sweary, non-digressive parts) made it onto last week’s show. We’ve got the video now, which includes a walkthrough of Double Knot, and conversations with both Susanna Foo (SuGa) and David Jansen (Jansen).
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