Rittenhouse Gets “Wilder” With Three-Story Restaurant, Bar and Private-Event Space
Plus: All the news on Bluebird’s coffee, Schulson’s Prunella, restaurant reopenings, local James Beard Award finalists, Kalaya’s Ukraine fundraiser, Federal Donuts’s chicken fingers, and Foobooz La Fête.
This is a BIG week for restaurant news. Seems like everyone out there who had a restaurant getting ready to open decided to wait out those last couple damp, gray weeks of winter and save their news for a moment that felt a little more like spring.
Seriously, I’ve got something like a half-dozen opening (or re-opening) announcements this week, any one of which might’ve led the news in a slower week. No matter where you are — from North Philly to South Philly to Manayunk and beyond — something new is either coming to your neighborhood or opened over the weekend without telling anyone.
So this week, I’m going to get to as many of these announcements as I can, as quick as I can. As more details come in, I’ll keep you updated. But for now, let’s just run ’em down, okay?
I’ll start with one I teased for you last week — an opening that I’ve had my eye on for a couple months now. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Wilder to the dance floor.
Rittenhouse Square Gets Wilder
We’ve all known this was coming for months, but now it’s official: Wilder, Brett Naylor and Nicole Barrick’s three-story, 150-seat restaurant, bar and private-event space, opened Monday at 2009 Sansom Street in the old Philadelphia Academy of Social Dance building.
For months, we’ve been watching on Instagram and checking for updates, but Naylor and his team played things pretty close to the vest. I knew Wilder was going to be big. I knew they were focusing on exhibition cooking with pizza ovens and a crudo station operating in full view of the dining room. I knew there was going to be, like, tables and chairs, a front door, probably lights. But really, not much more than that.
Now I can tell you that Naylor has brought in Bob Truitt as his exec chef, and that Truitt comes with a serious résumé (Paul Liebrandt’s Corton in NYC, Buddakan, Morimoto, a stage at El Bulli) that’s both wide-ranging and pastry-heavy.
Truitt and his team will be doing seasonal menus, handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, oysters (Naylor is ex of Oyster House and Mission Taqueria), lobster risotto, peak-season vegetables, steak frites and cheeseburgers. The menu is approachable, full of nice little details (like house-cured butter and local seafood), and complemented by a full bar program with beer, wine, custom cocktails and some zero-ABV drinks for those who are into that sort of thing.
Wilder is basically a townhouse and carriage house that got combined into a single restaurant, with Persian rugs on the walls, deliberately mismatched chandeliers, two floors of dining space and then a third for private events. Wilder is setting itself up to be a major player in Philly’s presumed post-everything dining resurgence, and here’s hoping the team gets their wish. This place was a LONG time coming. I really want it to be worth the wait.
Right now, Wilder is open nightly for dinner. Later this spring, they’ll be adding lunch and brunch services. As always, you’ll know more when I know more.
Now what’s next …
Bluebird Does Coffee Now
Well, kinda. Jared Adkins, the founder and master distiller at Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville, is expanding his portfolio by bringing his expertise to the world of coffee. He’s launching a sister operation called Char & Stave Coffee at 21 Rittenhouse Place in Ardmore, and the doors opened Monday.
Char & Stave is a flagship roastery, cocktail bar and all-day cafe, and you know what’s cool? Since Adkins and Scott Gilbert (also a distiller at Bluebird) have all this experience at barrel-aging brown spirits, they’re now trying to do the same for coffee. No, seriously. They’re doing “Barrel-Aged Roasts” using the barrels that Bluebird puts their whiskeys and bourbons to sleep in. And that’s kinda cool.
On the cafe side, there’ll be classic and modern coffee drinks, pastries and baked goods from local bakeries. And after the sun goes down, the whole place transforms from a bright-and-airy coffee shop and neighborhood cafe to a chic whiskey bar with lounge seating.
Char & Stave is open right now for their first day in the game. Going forward, the hours will be 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to midnight on the weekends.
Schulson Debuts Prunella (and Hints at Something More)
Like FCM Hospitality on the waterfront or Safran-Turney in Midtown Village, the Schulson Collective is bidding to completely own the 13th Street corridor. And this week, they’re taking another step in that direction with the opening of Michael Schulson’s newest operation, Prunella, on the 23rd.
This will be another Italian joint for Schulson, with culinary director Ed Pinello and chef Kevin Sweeney doing pizza, pasta, seasonal vegetables and crudos for the crowds — a lineup that, at this point, we should just start calling the “Philly Special.” Prunella will seat 75 indoors and outdoors, with 14 seats at the white marble bar. It’ll be open nightly for dinner service with the bar staying open late.
And when you look at it, this all makes sense. The Schulson Collective already has Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Double Knot and Alpen Rose in this area. His more Italian-leaning operations (Giuseppe & Sons and Via Locusta) are a few blocks away. And the whole idea here is that if you find yourself on 13th Street and craving a little caponata, some lamb ragu or a pizza, you shouldn’t have to walk all the way to Chestnut Street to get it.
Because odds are, you’ll find another (read: non-Schulson) restaurant offering it before you get there. Schulson has enough locations now that he’s really divvying up Center City and Rittenhouse into zones of control. And that’ll only be accelerated in the future because I hear he’s also picked up an address on the corner opposite Prunella for another as-yet-unannounced concept.
It won’t be Italian. Probably not Asian. Not steaks or sushi. Because he’s already got all that covered. Anyone want to lay bets on what he’s going to do there?
More news when I know it. I promise.
Now what else have we got this week?
More Openings, More Reopenings
Just in time for the longer days and warm spring nights, Jet Wine Bar has opened its seasonal outdoor space, Jet Wine Garden. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, you can lounge outside amid the murals and lush greenery, sipping a little something from Jet’s international wine list or inventive cocktail menu and snacking on something from the menu of small bites. I mean, sitting outside on a warm night, drinking housemade limoncello and eating pretzel bites with Brie cheese sauce? That sounds pretty nice right about now, doesn’t it? The perfect antidote to a long, grinding winter.
Well, you can make that dream come true. The Wine Garden is open Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 10 p.m.
Ex-CookNSolo loyalist Henry Morgan (Merkaz, Dizengoff) has gone off on his own and opened a brand-new breakfast and lunch spot in Gladwyne dubbed Homeroom. He’s calling it a modern neighborhood cafe and offering flavors from his own Jewish background and culinary experience. We’re talking za’atar chicken salad sandwiches, smoked salmon toast with dill labneh, pistachio cake with labneh frosting, bagels from Kismet, breads from Merzbacher’s and Baker Street, and coffee from local roasters Ox Coffee.
Cool thing about this place? It’s at 358 Righters Mill Road, which is where Green Bean Coffee used to be. A decade ago, Morgan worked at Green Bean Coffee. It was where he first got his taste for the industry and decided he was going to make it his career. And now, he’s back and making something of his own in the spot where it all began for him. I like a full-circle kind of story, and this is definitely one of those.
Homeroom is open now. Check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.
In Northeast Philly, FUEL Healthy Kitchen is having its grand opening today for its newest location at 10090 Roosevelt Boulevard. Salads, rice bowls, sandwiches, smoothies, fresh juices — that’s the play here, all with various add-ons and dietary substitutions.
To celebrate, FUEL is offering free lunch to the first 100 people to line up for the debut. And all day, they’ll be entering people to win free smoothies for a year.
In Manayunk, the 111-year-old Cresson Inn reopened last week under new management. This place has been everything from an inn to a shoe store with a speakeasy in the basement, a beauty parlor, a billiard hall and a bar. Since 1972, it has been owned and operated by the Sanders family, but they recently sold it to family friend Tracy Hardy and his wife Jennifer Gomez-Hardy (who also own Lou & Choo’s Lounge in North Philly). The Hardys will be running the place with some help from Nate Sanders, whom Tracy has known since childhood and who has been working at the Cresson Inn on and off for 26 years.
They’re running the place as a solid neighborhood bar, offering shots and beers, sandwiches, fried chicken with hot honey, grilled cheese, weekend brunches, craft beers on tap and a specialty cocktail menu featuring plenty of Manayunk favorites.
The new Cresson Inn is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays.
Oh, and guess who else just announced that they’re reopening after a long time away? Lacroix. Yeah, THAT Lacroix. After being closed for dinner service for two years (it still served breakfast, though), the storied, award-winning restaurant at the Rittenhouse Hotel will be getting back in the game with full dinner service starting on April 7th.
Chef Eric Leveillee has reimagined the entire Lacroix dining experience. What he’s coming back with is an “avant-garde, exciting and comforting take on the classic French experience,” featuring a three-tier menu of legumes, viandes and fromages plus a whole new take on fine dining that’s all about multiple small plates — everything from bone marrow with root vegetable sauce and courgettes with elderflower and green almond to poached sturgeon and caviar, confit hearts of fennel and risotto of new potatoes with caviar and chive.
It sounds kinda awesome, actually. Sometimes a reset can be just what a place needs to disrupt entropy and inertia. I’m excited to see what Leveillee and the new Lacroix can do.
Okay, let’s wrap things up. It’s time for leftovers.
The finalists for the James Beard Awards were announced last week, and we’ve got four contenders going to the big show. Ellen Yin from High Street Hospitality is up for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Jesse Ito (Royal Sushi), Cristina Martinez (South Philly Barbacoa) and Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon (Kalaya) are all competing for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.
Winners will be announced on June 13th. Stay tuned.
Speaking of Nok and Kalaya, the restaurant will be holding a brunch fundraiser on Sunday, March 27th to help Ukrainian refugees and World Central Kitchen.
Kalaya has never done brunch before, so this one-day-only event is kinda special. Reservations are open right now, and $75 gets you five courses, plus dessert, with 80 percent of the proceeds going straight to WCK. Here’s what the menu looks like:
• Kanom Jeeb (crabmeat, pork and shrimp shumai dumplings)
• Kanom Pung Na Moo (fried toasts with ground pork served with ajard condiments)
• Mee Nam Sai Ghai (rice vermicelli noodles in clear broth with chicken, bean sprouts, scallion, cilantro)
• Kamon Jeen Nam Ya Pu (crabmeat curry served with rice noodles)
• Khao Mok Nua (beef biryani with turmeric rice served with nam jim)
• Coconut Milk Panna Cotta
And this, from Nok: “It’s just completely devastating to see everything happening in Ukraine right now. So many people in the Philadelphia community have been doing amazing things to help those affected, and it all just really inspired me to do something at Kalaya. We have the ability to help those in need, and we decided that we had to do this to give back any way we can. We hope to see the restaurant full so we can raise as much money as possible.”
I’m with her on that. So if you have the means, get your reservations now, and let’s help her fill the place.
Now how ’bout some fried chicken news?
After years of operating with a fairly static menu of doughnuts, fried chicken and coffee, Federal Donuts would like everyone to know that they are now doing chicken fingers. And that this is a very big deal.
Apparently, they’ve been wanting to do chicken fingers for years but were never able to figure out a way to make them good enough to put on the menu. But now they have. The fingers are done the same way that the fried chicken is — hand-battered, super-crispy and twice fried. And they’re offered with eight kinds of dipping sauce: Everything Rooster, coffee barbecue, buffalo, honey mustard, ranch, chili garlic, sweet soy garlic and Rooster sauce.
A basket of three tenders (plus two sauces) will run you $9.50, and they’re available now. Make your lunch plans accordingly.
And finally this week, who’s ready for a party? Because we’re throwing one, and it’s going to be awesome.
Over two nights in May, Foobooz will be bringing together the city’s best chefs for a picnic under the stars at the Mann Music Center. We’re calling it Foobooz La Fête. Friends and fans will gather at the top of the hill for a fancy-pants party featuring two unique, artfully curated, family-style experiences that will highlight the remarkable talents of each group of chefs we’ve gathered.
There’s a lot of things I like about this new event. It’s going to be loud, fun, gorgeous and delicious. It’ll be outside, overlooking the city, at one of the most stunning locations in the region. We’ll have cocktail pairings and twinkle lights, tents in case it rains and tables full of food. The chefs we have lined up are cooking some of the best and most interesting food in the city right now, and we’ll have them together, cooking a collaborative, multicourse meal for just a couple hundred people each night.
Most of all, I like La Fête because it’s not Philly Cooks — which, let’s be honest, was starting to get a little long in the tooth before the pandemic mercifully put an end to it.
Anyway, the party is happening on May 9th or 10th, depending on which night you choose. I wrote all about it last week, so if you’re looking for details, start there. And Early Bird tickets are on sale right now, so if you want to get yours before they sell out (and it’s looking like they will definitely sell out), you can do that today. All you have to do is pick your night and click a button. It’s really that simple.
I’ll have more details about Foobooz La Fête as we get closer to the event, but for now, just remember this: We’ve all had a really rough year. We deserve something fancy. And La Fête is the party that Philly needs right now.
Hope to see you all there.