I got to know COOK alum Chris Kearse over the past year through writing this profile of him for Philadelphia City Paper. The Levittown native and former chef of Pumpkin, who’s cooked in some of America’s best kitchens, will be the first to tell you he’s not fond of attention, but his latest accomplishment demands it. This weekend, he opens Will (1911 E. Passyunk Ave.), the 28-year-old’s long-awaited chance to be both chef and owner.
All posts in Openings
When normal people redesign parking lots, they plant nondescript trees, designate “Employee of the Month” spots and tweak the angle of space lines by imperceptible degrees. When food-industry people redesign parking lots, they roll in repurposed power cable spool tables, fill beach bins full of iced-down craft cans and agonize over the placement of cornhole boards and ping-pong tables. So went the ramp-up to Drury Beer Garden, which Opa owners George and Vasiliki Tsiouris unveiled late last week in the formerly vacant space behind their mod-Greek bar and restaurant (1311 Sansom St.).
The brother-sister team, who recently visited COOK with chef Andrew Brown and their momma Chrisoula, have dramatically tweaked out the new outdoor hang, accessible via both the Drury Street alley and through Opa’s front door, as a colorful addition to a ‘hood that features no shortage of pretty open-air spaces. This one sits on the casual end of the spectrum, a pavement slab hand-painted to resemble cobblestone (fret not, high heel rockers) hosting a scattering of mixed-up chairs, umbrella-shaded tables and an antique bar. The booze? Mostly bottles and cans, ranging from three-buck PBR to snazzy imports like Saison Dupont and Hitachino at sub-$9 prices. The food? Brown’s in-demand gyros are the stars, joined by housebaked Euro-style pretzel rings, honey-chili chicken fingers and mini crab boils. The tunes? George has acquired a sweet throwback boom box (from where? “The Internet”) that docks iPods and iPhones. Slight upgrade from a parking lot on all fronts.
Drury Beer Garden is open Monday to Thursday from 5 to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 5 to last call, and George says they’re planning on launching Sunday hours in the near future. More photos of the space after the jump.
Robert Amar, who’s got quite the food-industry-friendly hit on his hands with the four-month-old Underdogs (132 S. 17th St.), is expanding his wiener reach into South Philly. By late August or early September, he’ll introduce a second location of his hot-dog/sausage restaurant at 1205 S. Ninth St., the long-vacant former home of O Sandwiches. “I’m really keen on being right next to Pat’s and Geno’s,” says Amar, who lives in South Philly. “As much as people like to frown on [them], I don’t know why — I think it’s great. They bring so many people to the city. They are landmark places.”
Underdogs Numero Dos will be around the same size as the original, with roughly 30 to 35 seats, but there will be some operational differences here — Amar wants to open early for breakfast, offering egg-topped sandwiches to augment his already-sizable selection. He’s still playing around with the idea of late-night hours for the new restaurant. He serves until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in Center City, and could very well join the cheesesteak kings as a wee-hour option south of Washington.
Photo: Drew Lazor
Jay Willard, a veteran of the Stephen Starr collective who most recently worked as GM of The Dandelion, is targeting September 1 for a new project: Growler’s, a neighborhood bar he’s opening in the former Vesuvio/Little Bar at Eighth and Fitzwater with Jason Evenchik, owner of Vintage, Time, Bar and the forthcoming Garage.
“It’s always been the plan,” says Willard, who remembers watching the Phillies win the 2008 World Series at Vesuvio, of branching out on his own. “I remember saying to myself, ‘It doesn’t get any better than Starr. The only way I would leave is if I open my own place.’”
That’s precisely what he’s doing. Adding a complementary element to the east-of-Broad area that already boasts gastropubbish stalwarts like Wishing Well, Royal Tavern, Hawthornes and Tapestry, Growler’s, if you’ve surmised by the name, will be for beer drinkers — Willard, who made his bones at Starr as a beverage manager, plans on expanding the six-tap draft system in addition to piecing together a “handsome” bottle and can selection. (There will also be a simple craft cocktail list.) In lieu of pitchers, the bar will pour its titular 64-ouncers for table service, plus to go.
The physical changes Willard and Evenchik have planned for the space are mostly cosmetic (the TVs and two working fireplaces will remain), leaving them to focus on the drink and the food, a neighborhood-friendly spread being developed by a chef who can’t yet be named. There will be no live music, a 180 from previous tenant Little Bar’s approach.
“Everyone has their own ideas of how they’d do it if it was theirs,” says Lehigh Valley native Willard of his impending transition to self-employment. “I’m of the mindset that I’ll take the structure and organization that was instilled in me [by Starr] and try to duplicate their best practices.”
The greatest trick Danny Meyer ever pulled? Convincing the world that it wants to wait in The Line.
Since 2004, when the effervescent restaurateur opened his first Shake Shack in New York City, Meyer’s dealt with heavy queues — snaking through Madison Square Park regardless what’s falling from the sky, trickling out of a glitzy Theater District doorway, packing a greenified courtyard on the Upper East Side. Now, with Philadelphia’s one-week-old Shake Shack spreading crinkle-cut love all over Center City, The Line has a permanent 215 area code. It clings to the eastern wall of Shack’s former-dry-cleaner digs, stretching, at its longest, to the corner of 20th and Moravian, where late lunch-rush arrivals stare at their shoes, closer to Tower Style Pizza‘s graffiti’d Dumpster than to chilly salvation via Termini cannoli-studded “Liberty Shell” concrete.
At first exasperated glance, The Line seems impenetrable, interminable and not even remotely worth waiting in, lest ye be clowned by your Philly friends for liking something tourists also like. But for some reason, This Line is different, standing out from Sabrina’s sidewalk clusters or Village Whiskey‘s pert we’ll-call-you promises. “There is nothing particularly innovative about any single component of Shake Shack,” writes Meyer in his 2006 service-industry sacred text Setting the Table. “The key, as always, [is] how we might blend all the components to make it feel original.”
That statement, perhaps intentionally, glosses over the quiet power of The Line. “For a restaurant that takes no table reservations, the existence of a line means that patrons are willingly making the choice to wait for their food while standing,” Meyer tells me. “[We] make sure there’s something so good at the end of the rainbow. Smiles and good food are a good start.”
Kicking rocks while waiting to grub at a popular joint staffed by shinyhappypeople is nothing new (hi, In-N-Out), but the Shack’s ravenous queue possesses this very particular and very sincere twinkle, free frozen custard samples and friendly curbside employee banter notwithstanding. Why do we wait in The Line? And why is everyone in The Line so calm and cool, especially here in Philly, where we are traditionally not calm and not cool about anything? I visited Shake Shack on a beautiful afternoon last week in search of answers.