As the calendar swings into 2018, be aware that we in the Philly area are about to see dozens of new restaurants. I run 'em down. Also, I make the rounds of a few established establishments – on the Main Line, in Lansdale, and in the city's great Northwest. Craig LaBan drops in to suggest a few trends that should go away. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Is anyone out there not opening a restaurant? It seems everyone is, as I gaze into the crystal ball of projects teed up for 2018 – a voluminous mixture of high-concept (the Center City dance club you can enter via sliding board) and high-ticket (the posh atelier at the top of the new Four Seasons Hotel from celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten ), with some low-brow tossed in. I call your attention first to Mike's BBQ, which opens Wednesday, Jan. 3, at 11th and Morris Streets, just off the East Passyunk strip. Mike is Michael Strauss of Taproom on 19th, and he's been tinkering in the mobile/pop-up scene for years. His storefront, last home to South Philly Barbacoa, doles out sandwiches and meats by the pound in a suitably simple setting. Only trick for you: hitting the hours, noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. (Strauss notes BBQ's short window of deliciousness.) Feast your eyes on the dozens of other newcomers here.
Philly Sour at Keen
There's always something quirky going on at 1708 Lombard St. For decades, it was the home of the theatrical Astral Plane. Nowadays, the rambling, two-story building houses Keen, a cozy newcomer that's filled with artsy flourishes, including an electric-blue bar set up beneath a white chandelier that suggests falling rain. The cocktail list is studded with seasonal offerings, including the Philly Sour, in which rye and bitters pair with the sweet-and-tart combo of simple syrup and lemon.
Where we're eating: Enoteca Tredici, Yanni's Gyro, Andorra Ping Pong
One of 2017's most gorgeous newcomers was the Bryn Mawr branch of Enoteca Tredici, what with its high ceilings, skylights, and live trees. Main Liners groove on the bar and the food; one standout is the truffle flatbread ($19), an indulgent riff on the Jean-Georges creation with truffle cream, robiolina, Brussels sprouts, and egg.
You could be wealthy supplying the lemons to Yanni's Gyro, a spare but homey Greek BYO in downtown Lansdale. Yanni Lambros does not skimp on the citrus, and it shows in the sunny roasted potatoes and grilled meats. Pay special attention to the overstuffed gyros and the pastitsio (served with potatoes and salad), that cold-weather-friendly Greek lasagna.
Who'd imagine that Andorra Shopping Center would grow into a food destination? There's PD Pizza (formerly Pizzeria DiMeo's), and now there's Andorra Ping Pong, a contemporary Sichuan specialist whose menu includes well-done Yank-friendly favorites such as the chicken in spicy garlic sauce shown here, but also the more authentic cooking of Chongqing, formerly part of the province.
Marwar Mirchi | Malvern
Vegetarian Indian cuisine rooted in the Marwar region of northwestern India, in a no-frills dining room.
Baril | Rittenhouse
The French bistro just south of the square pulled up stakes just before New Year's.
Meltkraft | Rittenhouse
Valley Shepherd Creamery's grilled-cheese shop is no more. The original at Reading Terminal Market is still open.
Reader: So what trend is overdue to die?
Craig LaBan: Well, that's a little harsh; isn't it? Though now that you mention it, there are a few things I believe I'm done with.
Menus broken up into five different a la carte categories. These free-spirited run-on menus can offer up everything from "snacks" to "smalls" to "in betweens" to "hefty plates" to "from our garden" to "whole animals for the table." I get it. The appetizer-entrée format of yore is dead. People like to customize their dining experience. But as a reporter compelled to try everything, and I'm both eating more and spending more. (Which, of course, is the point!)
Disposable table wipes. With the demise of linens, an onerous new generation of bare table-cleaning technology has appeared. Nothing is worse than a server spritzing the next table with Windex. But a dreaded new disposable product I've been seeing a lot of lately – looking far too much like a baby wipe – is close.
Thai rolled ice cream. Never got this trend, which replaced fro-yo as the chilly dessert du jour. I've never had one that wasn't either gummy or so cold it made my teeth numb just to take a bite. Mmmm. Fun!
Over-hopped IPAs. The bitter-bomb IPA is still one of the leading categories in the so-called craft beer movement, but I've never appreciated the tooth enamel-stripping bitterness of an artlessly made West Coast IPA. More is not always more. Thankfully, I'm glad to say the softer, hazy, more aromatic New England-style is coming to the rescue. Those dank and juicy brews have me back in love with hops.
Wood-fired Neapolitan pizzerias. The first few great ones were a revelation. But these days, it seems like every new neighborhood restaurant opens up with a flame-throwing, dome-shaped hearth imported from Italy. As a result, a great trend has been watered down with too many bad, soggy, overdone pretenders defeating the minimalist pleasure of a properly done, puffy-crusted Margherita. I am intrigued by the variety of the newer wave of square Roman-style taglio pizzas (Rione, Alice) and deeper-dish "Detroit-style" pies like the ones being made by Pizza Gutt at its regular pop-up in W/N W/N Coffee Bar. But it's a polarizing style around here, even in my house, where anything square or thicker than a quarter-inch makes the native Philadelphians at my table smugly unhappy. As a Midwesterner raised on that style, it's a comforting taste of home for me. So we agreed to disagree. You can take the boy out of Detroit, but you can't take a love of Detroit pizza out of the boy.
Email questions to Craig here.
After 4,000 miles and countless calories, Craig LaBan has come up with 150-plus excellent food destinations in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs.