Craig LaBan ventures to Ambler for the promise of barbecue and whiskey at the Lucky Well. What he finds is uneven at best. Chef/owner Chad Rosenthal has trouble with consistency.
I don’t doubt Rosenthal’s passion for BBQ. I could taste those good intentions on the St. Louis pork ribs, the bones dusted Memphis-style with spice, the pink-haloed meat clinging just right. The Lucky Well’s chicken wings also wore their smoke well enough. But I should have stopped there.
Food Network notoriety is no guarantee of culinary genius, a fact made abundantly clear by two meals in which virtually everything else fell flat.
One Bell – Hit-or-Miss
Dining Review: The Lucky Well [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lucky Well [Official]
Adam Erace reviews the pop-up Independence Beer Garden and offers tips for where and when to hang out but skewers the food, save what comes with cheese curds.
But don’t miss the cheese curds, light little poufs of tempura-fried Vermont goodness served with sweet, smoky tomato jam, the marinara to these new-school mozzarella sticks.
At Independence Beer Garden, a democratic menu of bar fare [City Paper]
Independence Beer Garden [Foobooz]
Brian Freedman sings the praises of Stock, the Vietnamese cafe on Girard Avenue in Fishtown.
Beef pho tastes as deep as some sort of soupy Mariana Trench, the liquid exquisitely, exuberantly rich in character. Mushroom pho is built on a stunning umami-rich broth. Both of them, with a generous scattering of herbs and their perfectly cooked rice noodles, are large enough to share but good enough that you won’t want to.
There’s way more to Stock than simple broth [Philadelphia Weekly]
Craig LaBan enjoys the ampersand cuisine of Alex Capasso’s Crow & the Pitcher where Le Bec Fin’s gilded cheese cart meets up with small plates and burgers.
Capasso’s mussels are easily some of the best in town – clean, perfectly cooked, bathed in a creamy natural broth fortified with vermouth. The house-made charcuterie platter is also satisfying, its chicken terrine creamy with confit fat and leg meat, a heady lamb terrine piqued with olives & silky foie gras cured in Sauternes. Crisp nuggets of tender sweetbreads play against the bitter, roasty crunch of brussels sprouts in bordelaise.
Two Bells – Very Good
Crow & the Pitcher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Crow & the Pitcher [Foobooz]
Photo by Emily Teel
Adam Erace checks out the vegan P.S. & CO. on Rittenhouse Square and doesn’t come away impressed.
The initials stand for Pure Sweets, Kyan’s original online business, but they could also mean Punishingly Saltless in the case of the summer roll’s tuft of clover sprouts, oranges, mint, and roasted chile tofu and weak ginger-pickled carrots wrapped in a double layer of brown rice paper that was like chewing through rubber cement. While local vegan restaurants have been striving for crossover appeal, P.S. takes a more hardcore stance — the tea party Republican of vegan eateries.
The sweets fare better but ouch.
P.S. & CO., a business built on treats, opens a vegan eatery in Rittenhouse [City Paper]
P.S. & CO. [Foobooz]
Junto | Photos by Courtney Apple
“Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up,” members of Ben Franklin’s mutual aid society would ask one another, “whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?”
They’d ask the same thing about “deserving stranger[s] arrived in town since last meeting.” And while neither description exactly matches MacGregor Mann, who’s cooked in Philadelphia for more than a decade, they’re close enough. Before naming his solo debut after Franklin’s eclectic club, the Garces vet went on a culinary walkabout ranging from an Idaho fly-fishing lodge to a stage at Denmark’s Noma—often named as the best restaurant in the world. And when he returned, he was bent on digging deeper into his home turf.
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Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney
Just how much sinning do you like to do over dinner?
That’s a good question to chew on at Nicole Marquis’s mysterious new bar on 13th Street, where you can drink bourbon and absinthe beneath a looming hardback edition of In Cold Blood, watch sultry projections of Marilyn Monroe flicker upon the ruffles of a diaphanous wall curtain, and soak up your alcohol with food completely untainted by animal products.
In an era abounding with culinary hobgoblins—gluten for him, fructose for her, GMOs for the guy down the street—veganism still reigns unrivaled as the diet of the ethically upright. But the plant-only jawn feels a little racier at Charlie Was a Sinner, and not just because it’s next door to the last surviving porn shop on this once-seedy strip. Marquis, the woman behind HipCityVeg, named her lounge the way Elmore Leonard started crime novels. Who’s Charlie? Has he—or she—repented? Exactly what sort of sin are we talking about here?
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Jimmy G’s Steaks next to the Divine Lorraine.
Jimmy G’s is a relative newcomer to Philadelphia’s cheesesteak scene, opening in 2013. The location sits below the Divine Lorraine where Broad Street intersects Ridge Avenue. Though the building that houses Jimmy G’s is a large corner property, the cheesesteaks are ordered at a window similar to Pat’s or Geno’s in South Philadelphia. And this Broad Street cheesesteak place also only offers outdoor seating in the lot next to the cheesesteak stand. Jimmy G’s offers roast pork, roast beef, chicken steaks and French fries in addition to cheesesteaks, but on a splendid summer afternoon, we were hankering for a cheesesteak.
Jimmy G’s offers the option of chopped versus slab steaks. We tried one of each.
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Craig LaBan weighs in on Jose Garces’ culinary return to Philadelphia. The Inquirer critic calls the cooking at Volvér “egocentric” though he does call many of the dishes three-bell worthy, if he could order them a la carte.
The plates, without doubt, were still camera-ready gorgeous: ember-seared cubes of Wagyu beef posed beside crimson swipes of beet puree; nasturtium leaves floated atop lubina sea bass in a composition of rice and shrimp evocative its own ecosystem; epic salads tweezered into perfect still lifes by talented chef de cuisine, Natalie Maronski. Those dishes were examples of Volvér at its best, in which the inspirations were prime ingredients, not biography. The intricate salad was a naturalistic playground of delicate greens, creamy cauliflower panna cotta, and sublimely sweet carrots drawn from the garden at Garces’ Luna Farms, lifted by tangy Meyer lemon puree and the faux “dirt” of goat-cheese crumbles tinted black with squid ink.
Two Bells – Very Good
Garces’ Volvér overdoes the culinary performance art [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Trey Popp’s four-star review of Volvér [Philadelphia Magazine]
Photo by Kyle Born
Craig LaBan reviews Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka’s CoZara in University City. LaBan finds some misses in the izakaya’s very large menu but he finds a bunch of hits as well.
CoZara excels in those simple Japanese comforts done right – a griddled rice ball lacquered in teriyaki, a hearty braised beef and potato Niku Jaga stew (which I’d return for – in winter), the thick chunks of velvety white salt-braised pork belly posed over dark ponzu. And there was something so soul-satisfying about the purity of the ochazuke, a chunk of broiled salmon over rice that almost turned to congee when the server poured dashi broth from a teapot overtop, that I could understand that taste of home Tanaka is going for here.
Two Bells – Very Good
At CoZara, chef puts sushi aside and turns up the heat [Philadelphia Inquirer]