Here’s taste of what’s happening on the South Philly food and drink scene
By Bill Gelman
The South Philly food scene is buzzing. New restaurants and bars are popping up on the east and west sides of South Broad Street. We are talking about adding to a dining scene that has earned a spot in the national spotlight. Instead of focusing on the oldies and neighborhood institutions, here is a look at some of the hot foodie news from around the neighborhood.
Point Breeze is one of South Philly’s fast-developing neighborhoods, making 1260 Point Breeze Ave. the ideal spot to open Mattei Family Pizza.
“We believe Point Breeze will soon be similar to what East Passyunk is now — full of quality restaurants and shops,” Mariano Mattei, executive chef/general manager, said.
The 33-seater opened its doors in February. Instead of simply focusing on the basics — cheese, pepperoni, mushroom and sausage — the Mattei team is using a little added creativity to create a “one-of-a-kind” pizza each month. This month’s special is a pumpkin, pancetta and gorgonzola pie. The potato rosemary, tuna and onion and margherita have been popular with customers.
There is no doubt that from South Street to the stadiums, there are plenty of great places to grab a slice or pie, making it a challenge for any newcomer. The Mattei family is taking an old-school approach to the pizza-making business.
“We brought pizza back down to the basics. We are not reinventing pizza … Exactly how we did it in Italy and now here in the U.S.,” Mattei said. “One of the keys is the custom hand-built wood-fired brick oven built by master mason and owner Angelo Mattei.”
Food Network fans might remember the name Mariano Mattei from his 2016 appearance on “Cooks vs. Cons.” The show was hosted by Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian while Graham Elliot (“MasterChef”) and Daphne Oz (“The Chew”) were the judges.
“Cooking with Candy was really very difficult. I won the first round with my ravioli cooking with corn,” Mariano Mattei, who was eliminated in the second round.
That’s why Mariano and Angelo Mattei are sticking with their specialty — pizza.
Some may have noticed that Fond, 1537 S. 11th St., was closed for a brief two-week period. No reason to sound the “what happened” alarm as the restaurant reopened last week following a refresh from the husband-and-wife team of chef Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki, who have been at the location for six years. Besides giving the place a fresh coat of paint, they added a few decorative accents and modern touches, including a stone slate wall leading back to the semi-private chef’s table. They also updated the menu to reflect the change of season. The popular Tuesday bar special — half dozen oysters and glass of rose for $10 — is still available until it gets cold. Scottish Salmon, lamb stroganoff and scallops are a few of the main courses currently available.
Sticking in the East Passyunk Crossing neighborhood, Rival Bros. Coffee is in the process of setting up shop at the former Chiarella’s space, 1100 Tasker St. This will be the third Philly location for owners Jonathan Adams and Damien Pileggi, with the other two spots being in the Fitler Square neighborhood and Center City. They’re targeting a late fall/early winter opening.
The owners grew up together in Bucks County, and debuted the Rival Bros. Coffee from their mobile cafe, a retrofitted delivery truck before retiring it in favor of the brick-and-mortar operation. In terms of setting up shop on the avenue, Adams and Pileggi are excited about joining the booming scene.
“We chose East Passyunk because of the booming culinary scene and the great diversity within the neighborhood itself,” they said.
In terms of house specialties, it would be coffee, of course. All of the coffee is roasted at their roastery located in the Frankford section of the city. The Derringer, a take on the classic Cortado or Gibraltar is popular choice.
Mike’s BBQ has been popping up at festivals all over Philly, Including the recent Newbold SausageFest. Owner/chef Michael Strauss, one of the owners of TapRoom on 19th, is busy putting the finishing touches on the storefront location at 11th and Morris streets. The space was previously home to South Philly Barbacoa.
“I didn’t always think about a storefront,” he said. “I enjoy the mobile aspect. An opportunity came up, and I decided to make the leap.”
Strauss added that he always loved the space that he hopes to have open the first week of November. The interior will have 28 seats, with rotating art procured by local artist Thom Duffy. The long-term plan is to add an outdoor area.
In terms of food, the smoked brisket and the Philly phattie — smoked stuffed sausage with mac and cheese — have been popular at the pop-up events, so the plan is to bring them in-house.
Strauss is accustomed to multi-tasking, so cooking and managing a restaurant is nothing new. It started out with doing pop-ups his friend and fellow chef Craig Mac via Gitjo Cookery. These days, smoking meats is his passion, hence the name.
Steve Waxman owner/chef of Trax Restaurant in Ambler, and his sous-chef Tom Groff, are a couple other people who helped out along the way by allowing Strauss to smoke in their parking lot and use their kitchen. Now it’s time to make Mike’s BBQ a part of the daily South Philly dining scene.
“I think it’s the right time because I’m ready,” Strauss said. “It’s what I’ve been working for, and I enjoy feeding people. It gives me joy!”
Others are getting excited about The Thirsty Soul, where spirits and comfort food will be front and center. The new addition to the Newbold neighborhood is under construction at 1551 W. Passyunk Ave. Tim Lidiak, president of the Newbold Community Development Corp., is partnering with Billy Hines, a 30-year veteran of bar/restaurant industry and landlord Adrienne Salvatore-Markey on the project. Hines’ background in the restaurant industry includes helping to open the House of Blues in Orlando and Las Vegas. Lidiak describes Hines as a “big vision” guy. Think all-day brunch, New Orleans style — chicken and waffles, shrimp po’boy, catfish po’ boy and beignets. Like Mike’s BBQ, The Thirsty Soul team offered a sampling at the recent SausageFest where Hines went through gallons of his specialty punch.
The space was previously home to a daycare and pharmacy. The cocktail bar with a full kitchen is being designed with a church theme, with a stained glass countertop and pews for seating included.
Call it the newest addition to a transforming section of town as Brewery ARS, 1927–29 W. Passyunk Ave., and Second District Brewing, 1939 S. Bancroft St.. also set up shop in the neighborhood.
“The pricing will be compatible with the neighborhood. We are very much going to be part of the community,” Lidiak said. “It’s probably going to be home to the second Newbold Blues Festival.”
The plan is for a late January opening, with outdoor seating being added at a later date.
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