Outside the store on Chestnut. | Lauren McGrath.
The wave of off-price, outlet and factory stores coming to Philly seems to have, at least for now, subsided. In its wake is a string of stores that have either shined since opening day (see: Century 21, Bloomingdale’s Outlet, Primark) or faltered (Bloomingdale’s Outlet, Nordstrom Rack).
One of the best parts of my job is running around town and popping into stores to see how things are going, so I was more than happy to step out into the sunshine and head over to the Banana Republic Factory Store, which opened on Chestnut Street back in 2014. I set out to see if the store had gotten, well, any more organized since the last time we stopped in, and to check out the selection. Read more »
The view from the Market Street entrance to Century 21. | Lauren McGrath.
When we got a sneak peek inside Century 21 before it opened in the fall of 2014, we couldn’t get enough of the Gallery’s brand-new, face-lifted megastore. But as so many stores have experienced time after time (ahem, Nordstrom Rack), it ain’t easy out there for an off-price retailer in the middle of the city. Call us cynics, but we worried about the state in which we’d find all that Chloé and Saint Laurent after all this time. High-brow doesn’t generally mix well with clutter.
I made my way down Market Street fueled by La Colombe and a burning desire to see the real state of affairs at Century 21, its grand-opening luster long gone. I had visions of gorgeous beaded Valentino platforms smushed on a shoe shelf next to patent leather Jessica Simpson heels and clothing racks in disarray. Braced for the worst, I dove in. Here’s what I found:
Nordstrom Rack on opening day. | Tim Haas.
The first time I went to Nordstrom Rack, it was over-stuffed, over-crowded and a complete mess. The second time was a tad better, but war stories from other shoppers (including a woman I shared an elevator with who, out of the blue, proclaimed her disappointment in the store: “It’s just crap”) kept me away. But third time’s a charm, right? So I gamely wove myself back into the off-price fray to see whether things have started looking up for the store.
In a word: Nope.
There were a few bright spots, though. Let’s dig in. Read more »
Amada | Courtesy of Garces Group
When he opened Amada nine years ago, Jose Garces had two visions for his debut restaurant. Only one survived—succeeding so lucratively that it suffocated the other.
You can still visit the latter’s burial place, though: just ask for one of the best six seats in the house.
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The easiest way to tell a bar from a restaurant is by the smell of the men’s room.
I couldn’t keep that thought away from my olfactory nerve during a recent night at Southwark. It had been years since my first time there. And my first time had also been my last. I remember having a fine dinner, but one that failed to cast the spell that so many other folks had fallen under at the then-new, classically styled Queen Village haunt.
In retrospect, that was probably because I’d eaten in the back dining room instead of at the bar, where bartender George Costa was mixing Gibsons and Aviations when the rest of the city was still one big slosh of pink-lemonade Cosmotinis.
Almost ten years later everyone else has caught up—and Costa has moved on—but Southwark is still humming along. It recently installed a new chef, Sam Jacobson, whose previous tenure at Sycamore helped put Lansdowne on the dining map.
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You know it’s a bad sign when a restaurant’s worst item offers its best food for thought.
Such was the case for the “cheesesteak soup dumplings” at Sophia’s when I reviewed it last month: a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dish that articulated a vision of Philadelphia cuisine so beholden to kitsch that it made me feel embarrassed for the city itself. It wasn’t just that the dumplings were soggy on the bottom and heat-hardened on the top, or that their parmesan crust made them more like sad nachos than a sandwich, or that the whole sorry show was staged on an escargot plate. It was more the idea that the cheesesteak itself remains the lodestone of Philadelphia’s food culture, and that we, as Philadelphians, can still be counted on to lap up any homage to it, no matter how forced or half-witted, as though the entire last decade of culinary development never happened. As though everything from Paesano’s to Vedge, Taquitos de Pueblo’s Headhouse Market truck to Little Baby Ice Cream, Stateside to Bluecoat gin just never saw the light of day in this city.
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So, three guys walk into a bar…
Wait, let me start over.
A homicidal maniac, an Al-Qaeda torture specialist, and a Foobooz commenter walk into Hop Sing Laundromat. After surrendering their photo IDs for inspection at the door, they are seated in an anteroom—on a church pew opposite an unmanned shoeshine stand.
The insane murderer gazes around at an antiquarian’s fantasia of leather-bound books—shelf upon shelf going right up to what must be a 15-foot ceiling—and feels a novel sensation. By the dumb luck of having tucked his collared shirt into the Dolce and Gabbana pants of his latest victim, he has passed the bar’s not-exactly-restrictive dress code. For the first time in his life he feels validated. The light is low. A faint scent of citrus oil wafts through the air. The proprietor was only play-acting when checking IDs, so the smears of dried blood on his had gone unremarked. And by the time he’s given an Old Fashioned chilled by a doorknob-sized hunk of ice (without even being asked for a credit card to start a tab), he has made an iron pact with God never to kill again.
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It might have taken awhile for the critic to get to Brauhaus Schmitz. Now the only question is how we’re going to get him to leave. Trey Popp revisits Brauhaus Schmitz.
The first time I went to Brauhaus Schmitz was for lunch with my wife. We had curry fries and nothing else memorable while sitting in church pews at a table that seemed broad enough for a ping-pong match.
The second time, seeking 30 centiliters of smoked beer and rollmops on rye, I found an unexpected opportunity to chat with a freelance theologian (now there’s a business card I wish I’d requested) about the Gospel of Thomas. It is a fascinating document. “If a blind person leads a blind person,” Jesus says in it, “both of them will fall into a hole.” The Gnostic scripture contains 113 other “secret” sayings, introduced with the promise that “Whoever discovers the meanings of these sayings will not taste death.”
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In Philly Mag’s online-only review series, The Revisit, Trey Popp checks out Rittenhouse stalwart Friday Saturday Sunday and finds a lot to like:
Friday Saturday Sunday does show its age in its service and menu, and in the worn carpeting and chalkboard specials written in Day-Glo hues. That’s not a bad thing. The easygoing waiters are eager to please — Would we like to move away from a group of high-energy ladies at the next table? No, but it’s nice to be offered the chance! — but not so eager as to interrupt table talk, least of all to wax poetic about the kitchen’s environmental credo or how the chef’s commitment to “nose-to-tail” cooking might just save Christendom.
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