A Night Out: A Restaurant Week for the Riverwards
Philadelphians know their food, and I’m not just talking cheesesteaks, pork Italians and pretzels. While these Philly staples are what help define our city’s flavor culturally, there is actually a food mecca growing under our feet. Restaurant moguls like Stephen Starr and Georges Perrier have built their dining-dynasties here, and events like Center City Restaurant Week and SIPS have helped make high-class cuisine and cocktails more accessible to the entire metropolitan area. But weeks dedicated to food and booze buzz aren’t limited to the restaurants cast under City Hall’s shadow anymore—from August 1 through August 10, SugarHouse Casino is organizing a restaurant week of its own, highlighting the neighborhoods of Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Penn’s Landing. Dubbed, “Night Out Restaurant Week,” the event features 14 nearby restaurants that will open their doors and offer three course lunch and/or dinner options at fixed prices.
“What’s best for the community is what’s best for SugarHouse,” Wendy Hamilton, general Manger of SugarHouse, said. “We decided to help the city realize what’s going on with our restaurants in these immediate zip codes. There are so many great places to eat, rest and drink in Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Penn’s Landing, some of which are lesser known.”
Lunches will cost either $10 or $20, while dinners will cost either $25 or $35. All restaurants will offer a dinner option, while select restaurants will offer lunch. The restaurants who are taking part in the event are: Lloyd ($25 dinner), Darling’s Diner ($20 lunch; $35 dinner), Bar Ferdinand ($35 dinner), Chart House ($35 dinner), Circles Contemporary Thai Cuisine ($25 dinner), El Camino Real ($10 lunch; $25 dinner), Il Cantuccio ($35 dinner), Jerry’s Bar ($35 dinner), Keating’s River Grill ($20 lunch; $35 dinner), Moshulu ($20 lunch; $35 dinner), Pickled Heron ($35 dinner), The Refinery ($20 lunch; $35 dinner), Ristorante La Veranda ($20 lunch; $35 dinner), and Taste ($35 dinner).
“We were contacted by the SugarHouse and it seemed like a no brainer,” Scott Coudriet, manger of Lloyd, said. “They want to do a restaurant week that we all kind of miss out on by not being in Center City. So we have these neighborhoods of Penn’s Landing, Northern Liberties and us in Fishtown given the opportunity to come together and show the rest of the city what we’re made of ‘cause we are booming now. It’s an awesome opportunity.”
Lloyd (529 E. Girard Ave.) is a whiskey bar and one of East Girard’s newer additions. Film aficionados may note the subtle reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 thriller, The Shining— the bartender (and all-time creep) of the film’s hotel setting is named Lloyd, and some of the bar’s signature cocktails carry movie references like The Overlook and the Jack and Wendy. Lloyd is also named after the bar’s owner, Lloyd, who is Coudriet’s father and a former teacher at Penn Treaty School.
Now when I think of a whiskey bar, I tend to think of a dark place to get a stiff drink that’ll be my nightcap following a long day. Lloyd is out to prove that they are more than just that. But in a neighborhood that’s quickly becoming a home to creative-forward artists, young professionals and some of the finest beer-forward gastropubs the city has to offer, Lloyd had to do something creative to make a name for itself.
“We weren’t sure if the neighborhood would be receptive to a whiskey bar,” Coudriet said. “There’s been a gastropub and beer focus thus far in the neighborhood so we were testing the waters here with a whiskey focus and we’ve been really happy so far. People are drinking the cocktails, we are pouring a lot of whiskey, and we’ve recently started pumping out some food that the neighborhood hasn’t seen quite yet.”
For the Night Out Restaurant Week, Lloyd is offering a $25 dinner that includes a choice of heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho with cherry tomatoes and pickled watermelon rind OR barbecue chicken, corn and ramp fingerling potato skins. Second course options are a grilled marinated flank steak with grilled asparagus and aperol butter OR mushroom and goat cheese ravioli with fava beans and fennel nage. Finally, dessert options are bread pudding strawberry shortcake with vanilla whipped cream OR chocolate panna cotta with caramel corn and rhubarb puree. You can also expect the find special cocktail pairings for each course to complete each meal in the way that a gastropub pairs beers with food.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a bar with a quality kitchen rather then a kitchen with a quality bar,” Coudriet said. “Our focus is definitely on the booze but we’ve now hired a chef who is incredibly good at presenting booze-friendly food. It’s almost like how gastropubs serve food that is beer friendly, but we have an entire kitchen of food that’s cocktail and whiskey friendly.”
Much like how Lloyd has shown that it is more than just a whiskey bar, Darling’s Diner (1033 N. 2nd St.) has demonstrated that they are more than a place for cheesecake, omelets and that brick of scrapple you crave at 3AM after a night of partying down 2nd Street.
“We are more than a diner,” Joe Gatas, Director of Operation at Darling’s, said. “We have a huge, full-service menu. We are nostalgic in a way and try to take you back to the fifties with our look.”
Darlings started out with a recipe—John and Harry Arnold had figured out a formula for cheesecake that produced something far less heavy and thick than the New York Style most of us are accustomed to. Using Philadelphia Cream Cheese in it, the Arnolds made a pastry that was so light you could eat it with a meal instead of as a meal. This “darling of a cheesecake” launched the original Darlings Café on 2100 Spring Street and then the larger Darling’s Diner in Northern Liberties. Today Darling’s feeds the people of Philadelphia 24/7, making everything from burgers and sirloin steaks, to grits and wraps. Along with the comfort food favorites, Darling’s also has a full-service bar featuring craft beers and wine.
“I think we are right there with the culinary experts,” Gatas said. “We have a chef here and all of our food is 100 percent homemade, everything is fresh.”
“It’s all about how it looks,” Jake Brehm, Darling’s chef, said. “Presentation is everything; people eat with their eyes first then eat secondly with their mouths. If it looks like crap it’ll mostly taste like crap. But if it looks good then everybody has it in their head that it’s going to taste good. Nine times out of ten it does.”
For Night Out Restaurant Week, Darling’s is offering both lunch and dinner options: The $20 lunch features a first course option of: 5 wings in your choice of sauce; Caesar or house salad; fried green beans; OR a cup of soup. Second course options include: shrimp and grits; barbecue beef; buffalo chicken wrap; a quarter pound burger; OR Darling’s veggie mozzarella sandwich. Third course option is your choice of cheesecake. The $35 dinner option features a first course choice of: jumbo crab cake; hummus; Buffalo chicken sliders; OR super green kale salad. Second course options feature: the Fishwich sandwich; the Polksa (Kielbasa and pierogies); barbecue steak and chicken; OR braised short ribs. Third course options are: your choice or cheesecake; the Brownie Explosion; OR a banana split.
Gatas is excited to be part of this new restaurant week and is optimistic that it can compete toe-to-toe with its more established brother downtown.
“This is the first year [of Night Out Restaurant Week] so people need to get used to it,” Gatas said. “But knowing this area, people love their food here— I think that we can compete with [Center City Restaurant Week], give us a year and I think we will be outperforming that— I really believe that.”
In addition to Lloyd, Darling’s and the other local eateries participating in Night Out Restaurant Week, SugarHouse’s in-house restaurant, The Refinery, is offering a $20 lunch and $35 dinner special, along with live music and $10 of free play on the casino floor to participating restaurant-goers throughout the event. Just bring your receipt in to the casino to redeem your play. SugarHouse is also looking forward to unveiling details on new restaurants opening up as part of the casino’s new $164 million expansion project.
“We know who we are going to partner with, the lawyers are busy at work putting the details together so as soon as the last deal is signed, we’ll come out with an announcement of the names and venues that are going to be added—it’s all good stuff that will be welcomed by our clientele. For a long time, food was something that casinos relied on—gaming is a leisure activity so what makes more sense as a gaming amenity than being able to sit with your friends and have a nice meal.”
Ultimately, Night Out Restaurant Week doesn’t have to be better than its Center City counterpart. Like the neighborhoods the event encompasses, this new restaurant should strive to be unique—not necessarily standing above the rest but apart from it.
“There is a massive variety of bars and restaurants out there and something for everyone,” Hamilton said. “It’s different than Center City—these restaurants all lend to a different and unique flavor special to this neighborhood. I think the more people that come in and try these venues, the more they will keep coming here because it’s a cool place.”