Pera Brings Turkish Cuisine to Northern Liberties With New BYO
Plus: We talk about Bruno, Vetri takes on the ’burbs, Dîner en Blanc down the Shore, a new pizza spot, and Brazilian Easter treats.
Happy Monday, buckaroos! And welcome back to the weekly Foobooz news round-up. After last week’s enormous (and only slightly delayed) avalanche of food and booze news, this week feels a little more tame. Still, we’ve got some collaboration news, some party news, a(nother) new pizza joint for Philly, details on the new (and expanded) Dîner en Blanc, and a couple big openings to talk about.
As a matter of fact, let’s start with those openings and kick things off this week in Northern Liberties — a neighborhood that has been on an absolute tear lately, welcoming restaurants at an incredible clip. The way I hear it, NoLibs has something like a half-dozen grand openings scheduled for the next six weeks, and the first of them is happening in just a couple days …
Doner and Baklava on Second Street
Pera Turkish Cuisine is the newest player to come to Restaurant Row in NoLibs. It’s having its grand opening this week, from April 1st to 3rd, and will be taking over the former Dimitri’s space at 944 North Second Street.
There’s some backstory here, so check this out: Partners Eric Tunc and Chef Mehmet Ergin are both from Turkey. They both came to the United States — and to Philly, specifically — about 10 years ago. They didn’t know each other when they arrived, but they ended up becoming roommates when both of them rented an apartment from a Turkish landlord in Point Breeze. So they were roomies, became buds, ended up being classmates when they both went to school at Rowan University (Tunc for business and international relations, Ergin for culinary arts), and now they’re business partners, bringing a taste of home to Philly and hoping to fill a relative void in Turkish cuisine in the area.
The space they picked should serve them well. It’s right on the corner of Second and Laurel, and runs about 1,000 square feet, which gives them seating for 36. They’ve renovated the old space, brightening it up, keeping some of the original exposed brick but adding decor from home — including handmade plates from Turkey, tiles and fixtures. They’ve got custom black walnut tables in the dining room, a bakery case to show off the kitchen’s Turkish pastries, and the Pera crew did all the design and renovation work themselves, which is impressive.
In the kitchen, Ergin has lunch and dinner menus ready to go, featuring meze platters, doner kebab, Turkish flatbreads, manti dumplings, slow-cooked lamb-shank confit with smoked eggplant, and kunefe — shredded phyllo and mozzarella, grilled and served hot with sugar on top. The kitchen is doing traditional cuisine with modern presentations, aiming to make the place accessible to the neighbors and the local Turkish community. An everyday restaurant more than a destination — and opening as a BYO helps, as does that bakery case filled with Turkish pastries, baklava, milk pudding and kunefe.
Speaking of dessert, Pera is technically in soft-open mode right now, but for the grand opening, they’ll be offering complimentary baklava samples to every guest on Friday, April 1st and Saturday, April 2nd. And with their big opening weekend, they’ll also be rolling straight into offering a special three-course lunch and dinner menu priced at $25 for NoLibs Restaurant Week.
So at this point, if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a serious jones for some manti and doner kebab, right? And maybe a little bakalava, too? Or some fresh stuffed grape leaves and Turkish coffee? So while I may not make it in for the grand opening, I’ll be heading up to Pera as soon as I get the chance. Because it’s been too long since I had some serious Turkish food, and now there’s no reason to wait any longer.
See y’all there.
Now what’s next? Oh, right …
Pig’s Blood Gelato and Thai Push-Pops
So here’s something cool. Self-taught chef Janine Bruno has had kind of a wild ride these past few years. After a 2016 breast cancer diagnosis, the end of a long-term relationship and getting laid off from her job, Bruno (who had no formal culinary training) decided to re-make her life around food. She turned to cooking and leaned into it hard, creating a brand called Homemade By Bruno that focused on handcrafted gelato and small-group pasta-making classes. Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentis named her one of the top six gelato makers in America. She won the “Popular Jury” prize at the Gelato Festival America, and went on to place in the top five in North America at the Gelato Festival World Masters competition, which is held every four years to determine who makes the best gelato on earth. And Bruno is one of them.
Now, Bruno is opening her first brick-and-mortar location at 1245 South 15th Street in Point Breeze. Really, it’s a gelato production facility for her retail clients, but Homemade by Bruno (the shop) has larger ambitions. The space will be opened up to the public “occasionally,” according to Bruno. Kinda like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. She’ll do some group pasta-making classes and other private culinary events, but will also do the occasional gelato pop-up.
Like, for example, last Friday when she opened up for a couple hours to offer her new neighbors samples of her Italian rainbow-cookie gelato and lemon-basil sorbetto. She gave away tastes until she was sold out, then closed the doors. And no one knows when she’ll open them again …
Okay, that’s not true. She actually announces times when folks can come in to buy pints of her gelato and sorbet on Instagram, and she’s hoping to eventually be able to sell her gelato in cups, pints and push-pops right out of the facility. For right now, she’s focusing on production, pasta classes (which are a big part of her brand), private events and collaborations with a bunch of big-name local restaurants. She’s already done the aforementioned pig’s blood gelato for Ember & Ash and Thai-inspired push-pops for Kalaya, and is looking to do more.
And now that she’s got the space to work, I expect to be seeing Janine Bruno’s name on a lot of menus in the future.
Moving on …
Vetri Takes to the Suburbs
In news that is surprising to absolutely no one, Marc Vetri (who has spent most of the past two years absolutely livid about the city’s response to COVID and the burden put on restaurants during the worst stages of the pandemic) is opening his next restaurant out in the ’burbs.
In Bryn Mawr, to be precise. And he’s been teasing it a LOT this past week over on Instagram. The way things are looking right now, his new Italian steakhouse, Fiore Rosso, is in build-out and aiming for an opening sometime this summer.
View this post on Instagram
He’s got one of his own loyalists, Jesse Grossman (who has been with Vetri restaurants for years), tapped as chef de cuisine, and will be opening Fiore Rosso in the former Enoteca Tredici space at 915 West Lancaster Avenue.
And here’s something to consider: Who knows how the landscape is going to look this summer? If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that making predictions about COVID is pointless. But Vetri’s retreat to the ’burbs (where pandemic precautions have always been more lax than in the city, and flat-out ignored in many cases) is a tactical one. And politics aside, it’s a Vetri steakhouse. It’s probably gonna be pretty good. So I’ll keep my eye on its progress over the next couple months and keep y’all posted, okay?
Now it’s time for leftovers.
Hey, guess what’s back on for 2022? Le Dîner en Blanc.
Yup, the Frenchiest picnic on earth is returning to Philly, and this year — in celebration of its 10th anniversary in Philadelphia — organizers are expanding the party to the Shore. This year, there’ll be two Dîners en Blanc, one here and one in Atlantic City.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, Dîner en Blanc is a kind of secret picnic held once a year in locations all over the world. You register for tickets, maybe get a spot, maybe don’t, are told where to meet, and only find out the ultimate location of the party on the day of. It’s held rain or shine. You bring your own tables, chairs, eating implements and, in many cases, your own food. Everyone dresses in white. No one can drink anything but champagne or white wine. And the whole thing is a little goofy and a lot of fun. It was started in Paris back in the ’80s and has since become an annual event all across the planet.
For one night only, chef Chris Kearse (Forsythia) will be headed back to his old stomping grounds on East Passyunk. He’s doing a special dinner with Randy Rucker at River Twice for Rucker’s Hidden in Plain Sight series, which brings local and national chefs into River Twice’s kitchen for one-night collaborations.
Like Dîner en Blanc, some details (like the menu, in this case) are kept secret until guests arrive, but these two guys together? It’s gonna be awesome. That’s for sure.
Tickets will run you $150 for a seat at the chef’s counter or $130 for a table on the floor, inside or outside. Both versions score you a multi-course dinner with a la carte beverage pairings. And yes, you’re going to need reservations for this one, which you can make right here.
Speaking of collaborations, Lee Wallach and Home Appetit have been doing a whole bunch of ’em lately, all benefiting local charities.
Home Appetit is a Philly-based home-meal-delivery and private-chef service — one of those places that brings a week’s worth of dinners right to your house. And they’ve been partnering with some of the best chefs in the city to recreate some of their iconic dishes for the Home Appetit menu. As a matter of fact, with chefs like Nick Elmi, Nok Suntaranon, Tyler Akin and Dionicio Jimenez, Home Appetit’s collaborations have already raised $27,000 for various charities, and they’ve also kicked in $10,000 to World Central Kitchen to help out feeding the Ukrainian refugees.
Anyway, it’s a good program. And next up on the local chef rotation is Frankie Ramirez from Stephen Starr’s LMNO, who’ll be working for local Latinx charity Puentes de Salud and offering two dishes for the week of April 4th. If you want to check it out, the menu will go live on March 29th. All orders must be placed by April 1st for delivery starting April 4th. Ramirez will be doing grilled esquites (grilled sweet corn, epazote, mayo, queso fresco, tajin, chile de arbol and lime) and pescado Zarandeado (grilled fish with fresh vegetable pico and avocado sauce, served with flour tortillas), and if you’re looking to get a taste, you can check it out right here.
What’s that? You’re in more of a pizza mood this week? That’s cool, because Cozette Pizza is opening up a second location on Friday.
Started as a ghost kitchen at Spread Bagelry on South Street during the pandemic, Cozette was an operation made to feed frontline health-care workers. Now, they’re opening a new location at 2401 Walnut Street, in partnership with Workhorse Brewing. The two operations will work side-by-side every Thursday through Sunday, starting April 1st at 4 p.m., offering pizza and beer to all comers. What’s even better? To kick off their grand opening, Cozette will be donating 50 percent of their sales to Friends of the Schuylkill River Park to help them replace basketball hoops and backboards along the Schuylkill River Trail.
So pizza, beer and a good cause. Sounds like a winner to me. Check ’em out here.
Finally this week, some Brazilian Easter news.
No, really. You guys remember when I told you about Kouklet Brazilian Bakehouse opening a brick-and-mortar location on East Passyunk, right? Well, being Brazilian, owner Mardhory Santos-Cepeda and crew take Easter VERY seriously. And they are pulling out all the stops for their first Easter in business, offering a whole spread of Brazilian Easter treats at the shop. Dig it:
“Kouklet will be offering Ovo de Páscoa de Colher – half of a chocolate eggshell filled with layers of chocolate cake and rich chocolate mousse ($59); Ovo de Páscoa Trufado – chocolate eggshell filled with brigadeiro truffle ($28); Bombom de Brigadeiro – Traditional Brigadeiro Bonbon — bite-size, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate (2 for $5); Sonho de Cenoura e Chocolate – Sourdough Carrot Donuts filled with condensed milk chocolate custard ($5).”
Yeah, man. Easter doughnuts! That’s exciting. And the rest of the stuff sounds pretty excellent, too. And every single thing they’re selling is handmade.
Something tells me these things are going to sell out FAST this year. If you’re smart (and the kind of person who plans ahead), pre-orders will be available starting April 1st at the Kouklet website. But if you’re feeling lucky (or, like me, just procrastinate terribly), Kouklet will have a limited number of eggs and doughnuts available in-store for purchase.
So anyway, you’ll know where to find me come April 1st. I’ll see you all there.