New Jersey’s Heirloom Kitchen Tries Philly On for Size

Plus, apres-ski vibes at Assembly, a seafood restaurant replaces Mad Rex, and some Wawa news to know.

Heirloom Kitchen | Photo provided

Here we go, buckaroos. Another Monday means another Monday round-up. The holidays are always a strange time in the restaurant industry. Traditionally, this is when everyone made bank — hosting office parties and private gatherings, packing the bars and dining rooms with revelers of all description. Starting in early November and running through New Year’s Eve, it was a time of expense accounts, gold cards and open wallets. Regrets (and bills) were January problems.

And with everyone in the industry so focused on dealing with the holiday crowds, the news would typically slow down. No one with any better options would choose to open during the holiday rush. And anyone who’d made it this far into the year was going to hang on like grim death, keep the lights on through December 31st, and milk the season for every last dime.

This year, though? Who knows. Things are weird. None of the old rules or assumptions really apply now. So we’ve got some opening news this week, some pop-ups and collaborations. There’s good news from the industry out of Harrisburg (finally), plus an update from the former home of Philly’s first (and, to-date, only) post-apocalyptic theme restaurant, Mad Rex.

So let’s get into it, shall we? Here’s everything you need to know this week. And I’m gonna kick things off with …

Restaurant Speed Run

Here’s a cool story.

Neilly Robinson and David Viana had been preparing to open a restaurant in Philly for years. A Drexel alum, Robinson had big plans for her and Viana to bring their chef’s table and cooking school concept, Heirloom Kitchen, to Spring Garden Street. For a year and a half, they’d been raising money, scouting locations and working on menus. They were about a week away from signing the papers and making their dream of a Philly restaurant a reality.

Then came the pandemic. Everything shut down. When it looked like it was going to last a couple weeks, they figured they could hold on. When weeks stretched into months, they knew they were going to have to put their plans on hold and focus on keeping their existing restaurant alive.

Which is precisely what Robinson and Viana did. Like everyone else in the industry, they hunkered down, conserved resources, did the best they could for their neighbors and their community. But a few weeks ago, the landlord of that Philly spot they had to let go came to them and asked what they thought about doing a pop-up — something to give the city a taste of what could’ve been. And Robinson and Viana said sure, why not? The only complication was that they basically had to plan, build, outfit and staff an entire fine dining restaurant in just three weeks — knowing full well that it was only going to exist for a month and a half.

But that’s exactly what they did. And tonight, Heirloom Kitchen Philly will begin its six-week run at 931 Spring Garden Street (the former home of W/N/W/N Coffee Bar), bringing a “polished not pretentious” vibe and an ever-changing prix fixe menu to the neighborhood.

At the original Heirloom in New Jersey, the menu changes seasonally. Here, it will work on an accelerated scale, with one dish coming off every week and being replaced with something new. Cocktails will be provided by Viana’s friend, Ricardo Rodriguez from Miami’s Broken Shaker. The wines come from a list of mostly female winemakers. And the food? We’re talking duck in apple cider jus served with a foie gras donut, tuna tartare alongside pickled ginger sorbet, paella agnoloti with a paprika and saffron-spiked sofrito. It’s the kind of menu that has made the O.G. Heirloom a national destination. The kind that makes entire services sell-out in a day.

Speaking of which, prices for the Heirloom Philly three-course prix fixe will run $55, with the option of adding on additional courses. Seatings are available Wednesday through Saturday, 5 – 10 p.m. and while some reservations are available in advance on Tock, Heirloom Philly is also holding some to be released at 5 p.m. on the Sunday before each week of service. There are also some counter seats available for walk-ins, but with those, you’re just depending on luck.

Heirloom Philly opens tonight and will run through December 18th, at which point the entire place will just vanish. So make your plans now and get a taste of what could’ve been.

Governor Wolf Wants Us All to Get Boozy

And it is about damn time.

On Friday, His Governor-ness signed into law House Bill 425 which will extend a little bit of help to those restaurants still struggling to stay afloat during our never-ending pandemic season — and maybe put some money in the pockets of those owners who just couldn’t make it to the far shore.

HB 425 allows licensed restaurants the flexibility to serve red-eyes and Jell-O shots in a seating area “within 1,000 feet of their main location.” Meaning, essentially, that all that outdoor seating and patio seating and whatever-kind-of-seating that popped up during the worst of the COVID times will now likely remain in place because licensees are now legally allowed to serve booze there forever. Which is undoubtedly good news.

The bill also makes accommodations for the PLCB to issue unlimited off-premises catering permits and gives licensees whose businesses closed permanently the ability to sell off their wine and liquor stocks to other license holders — something which could be a very big deal to certain bars and restaurants looking to get out of the game but holding onto thick wine bibles or impressive stockpiles of booze.

Granted, there’s a LOT more that the state could be doing to help struggling bar and restaurant owners right now, but at least this is something. Though considering I’ve been spilling (digital) ink on this topic since June, you’d think Harrisburg could’ve come through with something better than giving the green light to outdoor drinking right at the beginning of frostbite season…

Moving on.


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High and Swanky

Nope, not the name of a new Midtown Village cocktail bar acting as a front for a black-market edibles business (though, seriously, how good of a name would that be?). I’m talking about the new Alpine Heights pop-up at Assembly Rooftop Lounge at the Logan Hotel (1840 Ben Franklin Parkway).

They’re going for an apres-ski fantasyland kind of vibe here with fuzzy blankets and firepits, hot cocktails, winter beers and comfort food. We’re talking spiked hot cocoa, roasted bone marrow, tartiflette and both chocolate and cheese fondues. The bar will be pouring hot toddies and warm mulled cider spiked with Stateside Black Label bourbon while the kitchen serves warm apple strudel and, on top of all that, there’s also the view — not bad from nine stories up overlooking Logan Square.

Alpine Heights will be open Tuesday through Saturday, from 4 – 11 p.m., starting on November 17th.

New Life After the Apocalypse

You guys remember Mad Rex, right? It was this totally freaked-up Mad Max-meets-Tank Girl post-apocalyptic theme restaurant and VR “Xperience” that actually fucking existed for a brief and shining moment in Philly restaurant history. The place had AK-47s hung on the walls, meat cooked on lava rocks, IV cocktails and a whole-ass helicopter hanging from the ceiling (well, most of a helicopter). It was BIZARRE. And in a better world, it would still be around today so I’d have something to make fun of when I’m in my cups or have nothing else to write about.

But reality is cruel and the restaurant business doubly so. Mad Rex didn’t make it, but I just got word over the weekend that someone has taken on the task of removing all the skulls, mannequins and machine guns from the premises and turning the (absolutely haunted) space at 1000 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown into a proper restaurant.

I don’t have a lot of details yet, but here’s what I know: The new restaurant is going to be called The Fin. It’ll be a new concept from the people behind the locally-owned Crab du Jour restaurants, with a casual vibe, an expansive seafood menu and some known Philly talent in the kitchen. Also, it looks like they’re gearing up to open sometime in the next couple weeks.

There’s no VR headsets, no cocktails served in IV bags and (as far as I know) no random skulls in the dining room. But I am curious whether or not that giant flame-throwing battle truck-slash-DJ booth that used to sit outside Mad Rex came with the property.

And if it did, how might a certain local food writer get their hands on it? Provided the new owners at The Fin aren’t planning on using it themselves, I could really use something like that to piss off my neighbors.

Anyway, you’ll know more when I know more. Keep watching this space.

The Leftovers

I know that true crime podcasts are a big thing right now, so here’s for all you murder fans. Devil’s Den is hosting “Murderous Maryland” — a night of terror-filled true crime tales from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore, hosted by former detective and cold case consultant Sarah Cailean. Here’s the pitch:

“More than just Old Bay and Orioles, Maryland is known for legendary stories of the creepiest kind, including some of the wildest rides in crime the country has ever seen. Join us for an evening of true crime tales from all over the state, presented by Sarah Cailean. There will be talk of killers, both infamous and obscure cases, and attendees will even get to play trivia and try to win prizes. If you’re into true crime podcasts and TV specials, this is a must-see!”

So if that sounds like a fun night for you (or if you’re just looking to score some crab cakes and drink specials), you can check out the details for the November 16th event right here. Tickets will run you $20, food and booze not included.

Remember when we talked about Kevin Yanaga’s new restaurant Izakaya by Yanaga and how, shortly after opening, he was going to expand operations with a fancier, more refined component called Omakase by Yanaga?

Originally, he’d hoped to have that part of the business up and running by October or November. Unfortunately, supply chain issues have forced him to push back plans. It looks like Omakase is being pushed back to December or January.

Speaking of supply chain problems, they’ve also delayed some (read: a lot of) other roll-outs. I hear Dim Sum House by Jane G’s had a couple new locations/concepts in the works and they’ve both been pushed back to 2022 because of an inability to get necessary supplies. Ditto a new brand from Marlo and Jason Dilks (of P’unk Burger and SliCE) who are also putting things on hold until after the new year. And I’ve got a half-dozen other names I could drop, too.

Point is, things are rough out there, and they’re not getting any easier. So, as always, take any opening news you read here with a grain of salt. Things can (and do) change pretty quickly now in Hotcakesland, but I’m doing the best I can for you.

Finally this week, there’s this: On Friday, Wawa opened its newest store in Northeast Philly — on Frankford Avenue in Torresdale. And while normally, the opening of a new Wawa wouldn’t really rate a mention here in the funny pages, this Wawa is different.

Because this Wawa sells beer.

Yup. It’s only the second Philly location with a beer cooler (the other is in South Philly), and that makes it special because now the neighbors on Frankford Ave. know what it’s like to live in the civilized world where pretty much anyone can just roll up to the local corner store for a sixer and a fistful of Slim Jims on a Tuesday night.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Wawa innovations, how’s this? The Drexel Wawa at 36th and Market and another location on Baltimore Pike in Media are both experimenting with serving pizza. Not the little ones that some other locations sell, but real, 16-inch pies with cheese and pepperoni. Those crazy cats over at Philly Voice are ALL OVER the Wawa pizza beat, so if you’re curious about the how’s and why’s (or what the Wawa diehards have to say about all this recent menu experimentation from the Wawa R&D department), check it out right here.

Or you could just go and try one for yourself, which is what I’m thinking about doing. I’ll let you know how it goes next week.