Oldestone, a converted church restaurant, takes on a new lease of life
Plus a great fancy chef event in Wilmington and a magician in residence at Vesper downtown.
Happy Monday everyone and welcome to our roundup.
Strange week this week. Two of my biggest stories don’t even take place in Philly. We’ve got a grand opening to cover in New Hope (one that’s already booking weeks in advance with people coming from all over the Northeast just to take a look), and a whole host of event dinners at Wilmington who are bringing together some of the biggest names in food (from Philadelphia and beyond) to raise money for the Coalition of independent restaurants – a cause as worthy as there is now.
Beyond that, I have the usual collection of news, rumors, and boozy goodies from all over town. So relax, pour yourself a big one and let us catch up to you, okay? I’ll start things off this week with …
Church bells, jazz and a doorman at $ 186 (for two)
I don’t spend a lot of time covering the New Hope restaurant scene. But when I do, it’s usually because there’s something going on out there that seems worth the trip. New Ancient stone restaurant that just opened in Marsha Brown’s former home? Looks like it may be worth it.
For starters, he looks gorgeous. The 9,000 square foot restaurant lives inside the nationally recognized 1872 Old Stone Church, which housed Marsha Brown’s for nearly 20 years. But it closed early in the pandemic, and Marsha Brown herself passed the restaurant to Wilfer Naranjo (who had worked for her as a food runner in 2003) and her partners Michael Sklar and Gaspar and Vincent Ferrara. They gave it a polish, a bit of remodeling and turned it into a modern beauty, tinged with Art Deco, with tile mosaics, stained glass windows, a bar on the second floor and an intimate setting, chandeliers of the whole John wick 3, pews and pulpit, and a 30-foot mural (preserved from the original by Marsha Brown) called Redemption. So you can see the vibe they are looking for. Church-y but cool, which, no lie, is a tough needle to thread.
In the kitchen, they have 20-year-old veterinarian Seth Wheeler from New York, who has concocted a menu that is both an ode to Marsha Brown’s original Creole accent and a new platter of American steak and seafood. modern. So there is a raw sea bass, seafood platter, vodka gravlax with gribiche sauce, lobster and shrimp bisque, jambalaya, German rye bread dumplings, a casserole of prawns and crab meat garnished with baked eggplant. and Creole butter sauce, and a 45- a dry-aged porter for two that’ll set you back $ 186 all naked. There’s a solid bar program built on the classics to back it all up, plus a few custom cocktails like Bee Kind, Rewind (gin, lemon, and honey syrup), which seems like a nice way to complement all of the Manhattans, Rickeys. and sazeracs.
It’s a huge project, bringing 250 seats to New Hope and a lot of new attention. Reservations are always available as they roll out, and the plan at the moment is to be open seven nights a week for dinner service (5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.), with bars remaining open until 2 a.m. . So if you like live jazz (at the upstairs bar), thick steaks, classic cocktails or John wick, make your plans for Ancient stone now. You can do New Hope from Philly in about an hour if the traffic is good.
Welcome to Wilmington
In Delaware, they are betting big for the Coalition of independent restaurants over the next few months with IRC x Wilmington – a series of fundraising dinners bringing together famous local and national chefs to raise funds for the Independent Restaurant Fund.
The six-dinner series takes place between December and March, and it’s all hosted by restaurateur Philly and IRC board member Tyler Akin (Stock, Res Ipsa). The kick-off is given by James Beard Award-winning Chef Ashley Christensen of AC Restaurants in Raleigh in collaboration with Jim Burke, Culinary Director of Wm. Mulherin’s & Sons. It will take place at the Cavalier on December 9 at 6:30 p.m., and dinner tickets (priced at $ 175 per person) are on sell now.
Burke has his own interests in the business in Wilmington as Method Co. (which owns Wm. Mulherin’s) is opening a boutique hotel in the Security Trust & Safe Deposit building on Market Street in that city – a hotel that ‘ will have three different food and drink components (including a rooftop bar) that Burke will oversee. And Akin (a native of Wilmington, who shut down operations in Philly at the start of the pandemic) is currently chef at Le Cavalier restaurant at the DuPont hotel.
After Burke and Christensen’s dinner there will be four more events bringing together big names from the scene. Andrew Zimmern, Niki Russ Federman and Gregory Gourdet join forces with Bryan Sikora, Dan Sheridan and Antimo DiMeo for big dinners and flashy events, all of the proceeds of which will go directly to the IRC. Next up will be Jennifer Carrol (of Philly’s Spice Finch and Excellent chef glory) cooking alongside his TC nemesis Tom Colicchio on January 20. So if you can’t lend a little hometown support to the first dinner there will be a second chance.
Full details (and tickets for all events) can be found here. Give if you can, boost if you can’t. You all know the exercise.
Meanwhile, back to Philly …
Winter party has an opening date. The annual Delaware River waterfront vacation extravaganza returns starting November 26. This year, in addition to the twinkling lights, fireplaces, heated pavilion and NHL-sized ice rink, they have pulled pork and breast sandwiches from Black Iron BBQ, hot tomato soup with pretzel croutons, s’mores kits, hot chocolate and funnel cake from Skelly’s Amusements, cheese steaks, crab wings and fries from Chickie’s and Pete’s, plus a 40 foot Christmas tree and 60 foot Ferris wheel.
Check out the link above for details, advance tickets, and information on all upcoming holiday events.
Or, if you’re looking for something a little… different, how about a little magic?
No seriously. Vespers booked Mervant the Deceptionist for a recurring concert every Thursday and Saturday starting November 18th. I’ll let the GLU Hospitality team explain what’s going on:
“The public should be prepared to be dazzled by a combination of illusion, deception and mentalism. Seating is intimate and limited to just 40 people at a time, so don’t miss your chance to experience this one-of-a-kind spectacle unique to downtown Philly. ”
What is true. Can’t think of another bar in town that has its own in-house magician. Or at least not the one on the payroll.
They call it “Deceptions: A Magical Night of Mystery and Deception Featuring Mervant the Deceptionist’s Many Talents,” which, let’s face it, just isn’t a great writing. But hey, Mervant is a local guy. Born and raised in Philly, he began practicing magic as a teenager and spent 15 years working on his act. He’s done big gigs (for the Eagles, Apple, Google, and Nike), and during the pandemic he’s partnered with Airbnb to do over 700 virtual performances – not a small amount of fuss. The dude has it all set up with the music, the comedy, the audience participation (that’s precisely where I lose interest) and the reputation for putting on a killer show.
So if you like that sort of thing, the doors open at 6 p.m. every Thursday and Saturday. Snacks and cocktails will be available, and tickets will set you back $ 40 for general admission or $ 50 if you want to be right away. And because the events will take place in Vesper’s Underground Bar, only 40 tickets are available for each show. You can get yours here.
I’ve heard that Uptown Beer Garden has a new activity for the holidays – a Dr. Seuss-style pop-up event that looks as strange as you can imagine. It’s called “Welcome to U-City,” and I should have more details for you next week.
The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that Rittenhouse is going to have a real conveyor belt sushi operation with the opening of Kura Sushi at 1721 Chestnut Street. Nothing will ever replace my beloved Yoshi sushi robot in the suburban train station, but it comes close. Expect spring.
And up there in North Philly (Hunting Park, to be exact) the legendary Lou & Choo Lounge gets a new chef and a new menu. Owners Tracy and Jennifer Hardy enlisted the help of Bruce Palmer (who has been cooking in Philly since the Black Pearl restaurant was in existence) to take the restaurant up a notch, which has been around since the 1980s and has owned them since 2014.
Palmer developed his new menu largely at home during the pandemic. It goes heavy on seafood with crab-stuffed salmon, a fish sandwich, catfish nuggets, and salmon, shrimp and crab grits, all drizzled with butter sauce. He also cooks wings, burgers, gyros, hoagies and cheesesteaks, as well as a plethora of bar snacks. The kick? Most of these things – steaks, sandwiches, even fries – are made with fish. It has a salmon cheesesteak on the platter with peppers, onions and its own dragon sauce, a burger stuffed with chunked crab and fish fries topped with whiting and cheese sauce. Sounds… weird? But also a little awesome. I am curious to see how this more or less Pescatarian experience unfolds.