Get set this week for the tastes of Peru as the first of two Peruvian bar-restaurants arrives. I also want to tell you about a restaurant pioneer's return in East Falls, a very unsteakhouse steakhouse in Center City, and my favorite sandwich shop — a tiny spot in Spring Garden. Craig LaBan, meanwhile, offers advice about butchers who are a cut above. 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.
Ceviches … lomo saltado … aji de gallina, all washed down with cocktails made from the potent brandy known as pisco. Peruvian cuisine is finally popping up downtown. First up, premiering this weekend, is Vista Peru in Old City. The crew from Northeast Philly's El Balconcito has taken the former Serrano and Tin Angel at 20 S. Second St. with a stylish operation designed by University City's Tantillo Architecture featuring bars on two floors (two dozen or so piscos are the stars upstairs). It will serve lunch and dinner, with late-night options on weekends. Due next month is Chalaco's Ceviche & Pisco Bar, just up the street at 1030 N. Second St., the former Bar Ferdinand space at Liberties Walk.
Figgin' Fiz at Art in the Age
Art in the Age, the crafts spirits company from Quaker City Mercantile, has set up a tasting room in the back of its Old City store (116 N. Third St.). Ever-changing cocktail menu, low-key vibe (mainly because it's open only from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday). A recent visit brought offerings based on AITA's Sierra Fig cordial, including this Figgin' Fiz, a bright-tasting drink amped with Powderhorn vodka (from AITA partner New Liberty Distillery), and housemate sparkling rosemary lemonade.
David Braverman, who fed the Penn community starting in the 1970s from an old bus and built the business into the Le Bus cafés before selling to focus on its huge commercial bakery, is back in the restaurant biz. Branded as Lebus East Falls, it's just taken the corner of Ridge and Midvale Avenues, where Johnny Manana's was for way too long. Braverman offers sweet vibes, a mellow bar, and homey menus with something for everyone at lunch, brunch, and dinner daily.
I'm not a critic. Ask for my top sandwich shop, though, and I'll steer you to Stockyard Sandwich Co. in Spring Garden. Will Lindsay and Mike Metzger may be chefs, but they don't go all cheffy with kooky flourishes, just well-done ingredients. Hits include whole-pig banh mi, the beef burger, and the salmon burger. Close your eyes while eating this braised beef sandwich on a Carangi roll, and you could be savoring beef Bourguignonne in Dijon. But watch your shirt, mon amie.
Craig LaBan offers butcher recommendations further downpage. How about a meat-centric restaurant with a lively bar and a tiled, old-time butcher-shop look, including a ticket machine by the host's stand? Butcher Bar in Rittenhouse offers a comfort-food menu including cheese and meat boards, house-smoked bacon, grilled steaks and lamb, and various meatballs, and a bar stocked with whiskey-based drinks, 16 beers on tap, and six draft wines. (Note to my editor: I tried for a meat pun here, but I ended up butchering it.)
Thursday, Feb. 22, is National Margarita Day. Celebrate responsibly.
East Passyunk Restaurant Week is Feb. 26 to March 9.
Ambler Dining Days is Feb. 26 to March 4.
River Towns Restaurant Week (encompassing New Hope, Lambertville, and that part of the world) is March 18 to 22.
Bucks County Restaurant Week is April 29 to May 5.
Aneu Kitchen & Juicery | Rosemont
The Paoli cafe has added a Lower Merion branch at the former Smith & Hawking Building, 1225 Montrose Ave., near the Rosemont train station.
De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies | Yardley
The Trenton mainstay opens in Bucks at 1707 Yardley Langhorne Rd. in Yardley.
Engimono | Fairmount and Francisville
Engimono Sushi is now open at 1811 Fairmount Ave. Owner Albert Zheng also plans to open Engimono Poke & Deli — selling the Hawaiian fish dish as well as American-style deli items — on Feb. 22 at 2319 Fairmount Ave. Engimono is Japanese for "good-luck charm."
Panda Express | Center City
The fast-casual American-Chinese chain has set up on the corner of 10th and Market Streets — a mere block from Chinatown. Talk about taking eggrolls to Newcastle.
The design-your-own pizzeria chain has opened in Baederwood Shopping Center (1621 The Fairway). A Bala Cynwyd location is next.
Indeblue | Collingswood
The South Jersey Indian BYOB is vacating its home of nine years, effective Feb. 23. Its bar-restaurant at 205 S. 13th St. in Center City remains.
Question: What are the best butchers around here?
Craig LaBan: We're experiencing a period of flux in the meat department. On the downside, we've lost several fine independent butchers in recent years, including the old-school artistry of D'Angelo's in the Italian Market and the closure of new-school pasture-fed meat destinations like Kensington Quarters (now just a restaurant, not retail) and the sad closure of Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook both as a retail destination and restaurant.
The good news is that I'm sensing a comeback. I recently purchased some outstanding short ribs at a farm market from Primal Supply Meats, the company run by butcher Heather Thomason (who helped launch KQ's sustainable-meat program) that has largely been a market pop-up until now. But Primal now has plans to open a storefront on East Passyunk this spring, and is already halfway to its goal on Kickstarter to fund its meat locker. I'm excited for that neighborhood to get the great butcher it deserves.
But there are others. Wyebrook Farm's sustainably raised meats have found a Philly retail home at La Divisa in Reading Terminal Market, where owner Nick Macri also makes some of the best charcuterie around (try his terrines and sausages). The Reading Terminal, of course, is still home to several other great traditional butchers, like Martin's Meats (where they deboned a pork butt for my Super Bowl roast in two minutes flat), Giunta's Prime and L. Halteman Family, for Pennsylvania Dutch-style butchery.
The Italian Market has lost many of its butchers, but there are still several classics I continue to patronize, including Cappuccio's (those coils of chevalatta sausage stuffed with provolone!) and Fiorella's, which makes perhaps my favorite Italian sausage (I like mine hot, with fennel). Farther afield, I was impressed with some of the butchers in the Lancaster Farm Market in Wayne, where there's a branch of S. Clyde Weaver and you can buy Flintstone-sized prime beef chops from Sammy's Superior Meats.
Speaking of Lancaster County, the new Rooster St. Butcher in Lititz, which I featured in an Inquirer story last week, may be one of the best new-school artisan butchers in the state, with a full array of locally sourced, pasture-fed meats, outstanding charcuterie, and an eat-in cafe worth a trip. Freeland Market in Pottstown has also impressed me with its specialty sausages. In terms of supermarkets, both Whole Foods and Wegmans do an excellent job on a large scale with quality ingredients, and in many ways, their competition has been a double-edged cleaver. They've made it harder for independents to thrive, but those challenges have also pushed our new generation of ambitious young butchers to be smarter about their business and, ultimately, be better.