Someone Tell Drago and Zaxby’s There’s No Such Thing as a “Philly” in Philly
Plus: Burgertime NJ calls it quits. Lots of Santucci's news. And a new brunch for you to check out.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Foobooz Monday News Round-Up. We’ve got everything you need to get you briefed and keep you up-to-date on Philly’s restaurant scene, all here in one convenient place. So let’s get started, shall we?
Someone Tell Drago and Zaxby’s There’s No Such Thing As a “Philly” in Philly
Drago killed Apollo Creed. That right there is plenty of reason for you to harbor ill feelings for him, some 38 years after Rocky IV came out. Here it is 2023. We’re back to not being very fond of Russia again. And now Drago has come along to piss off Philadelphia yet again.
Drago — okay, so technically, Dolph Lundgren — recently showed up in Philly near the Art Museum steps, as he teased in an Instagram video.
We were wondering what the heck he was doing in Philly. Now we know.
Zaxby’s — no, not Saxby’s! — a Georgia-based fried-chicken franchise you’ve never heard of until now unless you’ve spent much time below the Mason-Dixon, just launched a new commercial filmed in Philly and starring Drago. The ad is for a “Fried Chicken Philly,” which Zaxby’s somehow thinks is their twist on a cheesesteak. And in the ad, Zaxby’s refers to a cheesesteak as a “Philly.” No, not a “Philly cheesesteak,” which would be bad enough. Just a “Philly.” Yeah, we’re scratching our heads, too.
You can see the ad in all its glory here:
If you want to try a “Philly” from Zaxby’s, you’ll have to drive all the way to Chantilly, Virginia. (Think: Dulles Airport). That’s the closest Zaxby’s to Philadelphia. Which is more than okay with us.
Game Over For Burgertime NJ
Way back in the good ol’ days of 2022, we found ourselves wandering around South Jersey for … reasons. And while we were there, we stumbled across chef Dane DeMarco’s ode to American excess — Burgertime NJ.
This joint was awesome, strange, horrifying and bonkers all at the same time. It was the kind of place where you could get a hot dog topped with peanut butter and Fritos, a burger smashed between two grilled cheese sandwiches, or a heaping basket of tots smothered in BBQ sauce, bacon and cheese. It was a place where diets went to die, where restraint and clean living weren’t allowed through the door, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) we liked it a whole lot.
So that’s why it sucks to have to tell you that over the weekend, Burgertime slung its last burger. DeMarco took to Instagram last week to break the news to the faithful, saying, in part, “This journey began as a creative response to the pandemic, become brick and mortar, and the first place I’ve ever owned, and over time, it’s grown into something truly special.”
According to DeMarco, a big motivation for this is the success of his other operation, Gass & Main in Haddonfield. And honestly, while G&M is significantly more upscale than Burgertime (with its neon hot dog and counter stools), there is still a wild streak of DeMarco’s love for American gluttony running through the menu. Instead of a dozen burgers, G&M just has one really good one — topped with balsamic bacon jam and pickled shallots. There are deviled eggs and corn fritters and fried ribs and, way down at the end of the menu, the “World’s Best Hot Dog,” with house-made sweet-hot mustard, pickled celery and shallots.
DeMarco and company turned out the lights on Burgertime for good after service on Saturday. But that double-grilled-cheese burger will live on in my memory forever.
Moving on …
More Raw Fish To Put In Your Face (Maybe)
Remember last week, when we told you about the NYC-based sushi operation moving into the space behind Izakaya in Fishtown recently vacated by Kevin Yanaga? We mentioned that the company, SimpleVenue (in partnership with local restaurant group GLU Hospitality), was eyeing two more locations for its Sushi Suite brand of high-end omakase experiences. And guess what? Now we know where they’re going to be.
Right now, SimpleVenue (which specializes in getting restaurants into tiny spaces — so-called “micro food and beverage concepts”) is eyeing spots in Atlantic City and Princeton, New Jersey, looking to put itty-bitty little sushi operations into larger locations — like casinos. Reports also said that the SimpleVenue team is looking at two more Philadelphia locations: one in Rittenhouse Square, and another in Midtown Village. And by the end of the week, projected Sushi Suite locations in the region went to 10.
But right now, there’s just the one: 17 courses, 90 minutes, for just eight seats at a time in the small space behind Izakaya Fishtown. For the moment, everything else is just skylarking and puffery. We are curious, though — if for no other reason than that such over-the-top enthusiasm always smells like hubris to me — so I’ll keep an eye on developments here and let y’all know when there’s some more actual news to report.
As always, you’ll know more when we know more.
Jennifer Zavala Has Some Things To Say
If you haven’t seen it yet, you should really go check out Victor Fiorillo’s interview with Jen Zavala from Juana Tamale. You want to know what it’s really like to run a restaurant in this town — especially a small, indie restaurant in South Philly? This will give you a fairly unflinching primer on everything from neighborhood groups to city government to bad employees. There’s a lot about bad employees.
Best line in the whole thing? When she describes South Philly as “what you’d get if the Wing Bowl and church had a baby.” That’s just fantastic.
Most news-y revelation? That Juana Tamale might not be around that much longer. A year on the outside, she thinks. But maybe much less. Things are hard out there for independent restaurateurs right now. Juana Tamale (and places like Juana Tamale) are suffering. So if you’ve got a small restaurant in your neighborhood that you really like, show them some love. Go there, eat big, tip well; and then, if you’re able, go again.
In the meantime, you can check out Zavala’s entire interview right here.
Enswell to Roll Out Brunch This Weekend
Back in August, the gorgeous European-inspired cafe Enswell opened at 16th and Spruce, in the old Rival Bros. spot in the Touraine. Rival Bros. retained the space, transforming it into a coffee shop by day and a cocktail bar/dinner spot at night — plus a little bottle shop by New Liberty Distillery. And this weekend, they’ll be expanding their offerings even further: They’re adding Sunday brunch.
The brunch menu was created by Enswell’s executive chef, Andrew Farley (ex of High Street on Market and Pub & Kitchen), and features some European-inspired dishes like quiche and a “Madame Enswell,” which is a hybrid croque madame/French kind of creation topped with mortadella and egg. The menu also has some toasts — a ricotta toast topped with spiced apple, as well as a potted whitefish salad served with sourdough toasts and accoutrements — as a sort of nod to the cafe’s former iteration.
And of course, they’ll also be serving up brunch cocktails, including three different Bloodys — the herbal Marlene, tequila-featuring Maria, and classic Mary — as well as mimosas, bellinis and more. As with all their cocktails, the focus is on local spirits. They’ve also got classic coffee beverages, including the very refreshing non-alcoholic “E&T” (espresso and tonic) by Rival Bros. Here are the menus:
For now, brunch will be served Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They tell us they’re planning to expand service to Saturdays as well and are also working a weekday lunch menu.
Good News from Santucci’s
It looks like the inimitable square-pie-slinging Santucci family is expanding again, with a new location set to open soon-ish down the Shore in Brigantine. Those cats from Philly Voice have all the details, but the important takeaway here is more Santucci’s square pies for everyone.
Bad News from Santucci’s
Okay, except that we just found out that they’re closing their Mayfair location on Cottman Avenue. The place has been open for 30 years, but one generation of the family is coming up on retirement age, so according to the official goodbye on Instagram, this is just something they need to do.
Good News from Santucci’s
… It also looks like the family is eyeing an additional suburban expansion at some point in the future. No dates, no time frames, none of that, but toward the end of their very heartfelt goodbye to the Cottman Ave shop, there’s this: “We also plan to open more locations in Bucks and Montgomery counties when we have the opportunity to do so.”
And that’s where I’m going to leave this. On a potentially happy note. Because you know what they say: God never closes an iconic Philly pizza and tomato-pie shop without opening another one in the ‘burbs.
And also maybe another one down the Shore.
Loch Bar opened last week on the corner of Broad and Spruce streets. It’s a showy location for the Baltimore-based seafood operation, offering 5,000 square feet of space and seating for 170. Michael O’Halloran (ex of White Dog and Stella in New Hope) is in the kitchen as exec, and the house is promising (threatening?) live music seven days a week.
Over at Irwin’s, chef Michael Vincent Ferreri is launching a chef’s counter program, named after his late father. “Salvatore’s Counter” will run every Sunday and feature an original 10-course menu from the kitchen for $180 per person (and even more if you want the beverage pairing).
Ferreri says he’s been working on this thing for two years and that he and his crew will never repeat a menu. The counter is small (just four seats) and only offered for a single 6 p.m. seating each night. So guess what? Reservations are probably going to go fast.
Right now, spots for the rest of 2023 will be available through Resy starting October 18th. After that, a new month’s worth of seats will be put up starting on the first day of the month before (meaning February reservations beginning January 1st, etc.).
Finally, if you don’t have any pre-Halloween plans yet, here’s a killer dinner to consider: Randy Rucker’s River Twice is bringing back its “Seven Deadly Sins” dinner for a two-night run on Sunday, October 29th, and Monday, October 30th. The kitchen will be doing a seven-course menu, with one dish for each of the aforementioned sins. It’ll run you $125, and costumes are encouraged, with the best costume winning “a rare Mother Rucker Burger punch card which guarantees the winner a burger on reserve for up to five visits.”
More details are available here. I’d start planning your costume now.