The Triumphant Return of Philly’s Star-Chef Dinner Series

Plus: why the Eeva closing stings, the goods on Schulson’s newest spot, a second Rosy’s Taco Bar, Evil Genius’s beer-naming contest and out-of-this-world doughnuts.

Ange Branca Sate Kampar

Ange Branca of Sate Kampar is bringing back her Muhibbah dinner series/ Photograph by Neal Santos

Howdy, Buckaroos! And welcome back to the weekly Foobooz food news roundup. Under normal circumstances, industry news going into the holiday starts to thin out about now. But, weirdly, this week is just FULL of stuff happening — everything from winter beers and French restaurants to space-inspired donuts. So let’s get into it. And we’ll kick off the news this week with …

Ange Branca Is Kicking Off a New Muhibbah Dinner Series

I love this news for so many different reasons. First, because Branca once ran one of my favorite restaurants that has ever existed in this city — Saté Kampar. It closed back in 2020 over getting hit with a massive rent increase at the height of the pandemic and, ever since, she has basically been a chef without a kitchen to call home.

Second, because the Muhibbah dinners were always a cool, multi-faceted, cross-cultural way to bring people together over a single, family-style meal. Branca would gather a bunch of chefs from diverse backgrounds, let them each prepare a dish from their repertoire, and serve them all together as a communal meal which always served as a fund-raising vehicle for various immigrant and refugee organizations in the region. They were always kind of freewheeling, never dull, and were doing some good in the community. What’s not to love?

So now, she’s re-launching the dinner series (after a four-year hiatus) at El Chingon. On Monday, November 13th, she’ll be bringing together a whole gang of chefs for a single 6 p.m. service. She’s got Carlos Aparicio (of El Chingon) repping Mexico, Clara Park doing Korean, Cote Tapia-Marmugi (Mole Street Baker) handling Chile, Richard Cusack from June BYOB and, of course, Branca herself stepping in to handle one Malaysian-inspired course.

Since launching in 2017, Branca’s Muhibbah dinners have raised $50,000 for local organizations. And for this one, they’re raising money for Esperanza Immigration Legal Services — a nonprofit working in the Hispanic community, offering education, advocacy and legal services.

So are you guys in? Sure you are. Just remember: Monday, November 13th, 6 p.m. at El Chingon. You can get all the most up-to-date details (including reservations, prices and possible additional chefs) on Instagram.

And now, some bad news …

Eeva Closes Up Shop in Kensington

eeva review

Pizza at Eeva in Kensington / Photograph by Gregory Dunn

Over the weekend, Eeva — the daytime bakery and nighttime wood-fired pizzeria in Kensington which was one of the first restaurants in the city to unionize with Local 80 — shut the doors for good. Sister operation ReAnimator Coffee (which shared the Master Street location) will be taking over the space, ending the three-year run for the pandemic-born bakery/pizzeria/restaurant/wine bar which, to me, always served as a kind of touchstone for those weird months during the second wave where no one in the city could say for certain whether the restaurant industry as a whole was going to survive the pandemic at all.

It did, though. And Eeva survived, too. At least until this past weekend. And for this place — born, as it was, in want, disruption and disorder — to put out the lights for good just feels … weird.

I dunno. There’s been a LOT of finger-pointing and accusations thrown around regarding what, exactly, led to the closure, and how it has been handled by the ownership at ReAnimator. Over at Billy Penn they took a long look at all the various battles being waged (by the union negotiators, by the owners and their lawyers, by the employees caught in the middle), so if you’re interested in the details, check it out. All I know is that this means another good local operation added to the Book of the Dead, another bunch of food service workers out looking for new gigs, another closure that, sure, is just part of the industry life-cycle, but also just seems to hurt more these days.

Anyway, Eeva was good. It meant something to people. And I’m sad to see it go.

Moving on …

Two Big Seasonal Releases and a Name-That-Beer Contest

Tröegs Mad Elf Grand Cru / Photograph courtesy of Tröegs

Okay, so here’s something a bit more light-hearted.

Because we’re FINALLY passing out of pumpkin-spice-everything season, this seems like the perfect time to talk about two of the big local, seasonal releases that tend to mark the official beginning of the holiday season for the industry.

Jolly Java

First, Rival Bros. has dropped their highly anticipated 2023 holiday coffee blend called “Ugly Sweater.” The blend changes a little bit every year, but this time around they’re using Brazilian, Mexican and Ethiopian beans and offering a coffee with notes of orange, cherry and baker’s chocolate.

The official release was last Wednesday, so Ugly Sweater is currently available to buy through the Rival Bros. website, and as a drip coffee at all Rival Bros. locations.

Elf Power

Next, Tröegs announced the release of their beloved holiday ale, Mad Elf, last month. But just last week, they made a second announcement: They’re doing a special “Mad Elf Grand Cru” limited release in cork and cage bottles and calling it the “Director’s Cut” version of this year’s regular Mad Elf.

So what’s different? Well, according to the good people at Tröegs, it’s brewed with the same malts and yeast, but with an extra addition of Pennsylvania wildflower honey. Also, where traditional Mad Elf has a mix of five different kinds of cherries, the Grand Cru features just one: Balaton cherries, which give it notes of tart pie cherries and gives it a deep burgundy color when you pour it.

Just like Ugly Sweater, the special edition Mad Elf Grand Cru went on sale Wednesday of last week and is currently available wherever fine drinkables are sold.

Diabolical Contest

Finally, there’s this: “Ugly Sweater” and “Mad Elf” are both good names, sure. They’re memorable. Iconic, at least among beer and coffee nerds. But have you ever thought that you could come up with a BETTER name?

Well, here’s your chance. Evil Genius — known to give “very silly names to very serious beers” — is having a contest where you, the drinking public, will get the chance to name their newest beer. Last month, they were accepting public suggestions for brand-new silly names. But now that the best names have been collected, they’re asking for people to vote on which name will go on cans that’ll be distributed across 10 states — and earn the creator of the winning name eternal bragging rights and a $500 Evil Genius gift card.

Anyway, the best options (according to Evil Genius) will go up on all their socials so you can vote. So get over there, cast your ballot, and prove that democracy isn’t dead in Philadelphia.

Federal Donuts and the Franklin Institute’s Out-of-This-World Collab

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Lavender FedNuts x TFI “Wondrous Space” doughnuts / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Over the weekend, the Franklin Institute unveiled its new Wondrous Space core exhibit, as well as a new lavender-hued logo. How is this food news? Well, to celebrate, all locations of Federal Donuts are offering a special collab doughnut, aptly named the “Wondrous Space,” now through November 19th. The sparkly purple confection has a spiced-cake base with “cosmic” lavender cream glaze and a sprinkle of “celestial” sanding sugar.

A Century-Spanning Dinner

Le Cavalier / Photograph by Jason Varney

These days, former Philly chef Tyler Akin is running the kitchen at Wilmington’s Le Cavalier (which spent a century or so as the Green Room at the Hotel DuPont), and he’s putting together what looks to be an absolutely killer anniversary dinner.

To celebrate 110 years of the Hotel Dupont, Akin spent time researching a century’s worth of menus in order to assemble a single, multi-course dinner that would pay homage to the many eras of fine dining at the Green Room. And he’s going to be serving that dinner on December 3rd at Le Cav. There’ll be sole Meuniere with brown butter, Waldorf salads, steaks drowning in Bearnaise and Peach Melba for dessert.

Seriously, it looks kinda cool. If you’re interested, you can make reservations here.

Fun fact: Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco apparently ate at the Green Room after getting engaged.

1,000 Pies!

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Coconut custard pie and Sweet potato pie at Red Owl Tavern / Photograph by Christopher Devern

At Red Owl Tavern, they’re bringing back the “Month of 1,000 Pies” benefit for Philabundance. For the entire month of November, 50 percent of the price of every pie sold will go toward hunger relief in the Delaware Valley. They’re kicking things off with fresh-baked sweet potato pies and coconut custard pies at $15 each, or two for $26. And since we’ve got a holiday coming right up that pretty much demands pies, it’s a good thing that you can pre-order yours right here.

Trust me: You’ll be happy you planned ahead.

Okay. Time for some leftovers.

The Leftovers

Looks like Michael Schulson has set a (tentative) date for the opening of his new French restaurant, Bar Lesieur. Located on Sansom Street, above Giuseppe & Sons, in the space that used to house Samuel’s (Schulson’s take on a Jewish deli). We’re hearing that he’s looking at kicking things off on November 15th, if all goes well.

More details as we get ’em.

Rosy’s Taco Bar, the casual Mexican spot by Avram Hornik, is opening a second location this Thursday, November 9th. “Rosy’s Taco Bar East” will be located at 624 South 6th Street, the space formerly occupied by Creperie Beau Monde and its upstairs cabaret L’Etage.

Speaking of opening dates, last week we were talking about the opening of SIN in NoLibs and were projecting an early November opening. Yeah, well, it looks like that got pushed back a bit. The media dinner originally scheduled for November 8th got moved to November 14th. Public opening? Sometime after that. We’ll be keeping an eye on the place to see what happens next.