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Icepack | Jan. 21-28

Reinventing restaurants: Local eateries change to meet today’s needs

Image: S O C I A L . C U T

What is that stupid quote, the one that goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life?”

Well, to all of Jan. 20’s newly-electeds, with Biden and Harris at the top of the list, I say welcome, and enjoy the intention of all that such a dumb quote entails. There’s a long road ahead for all of you elected officials, with a set of unenviable positions to hold you in their grip. And just to put all of this in perspective, Jan. 19 was “National Popcorn Day.” One day off, and we could have also paid tribute to Orville Redenbacher and Paul Newman’s Own, while singing “Hail to the Chief.” 

And in terms of leadership roles gone awry, I’d like to send a similarly themed, future-forward message to recently axed Eagles coach Doug Pedersen. Right or wrong, if you were let go by Jeff Lurie to save petulant QB Carson Wentz’s snake … I mean …. pigskin, this is not the team for you, Doug.

Ask the parents and fiancé of murdered dog-walking Brewerytown native Milan Loncar if Larry Krasner’s reduced bail program really works: One of the arrested alleged assassins had been released from jail on drastically reduced bail for charges of motor vehicle theft, kidnapping and aggravated assault on a prison guard. PLEASE GET THIS MOTHERFUCKER OUT OF OFFICE.

Restaurant innovation

“To stay alive in the restaurant industry, you need to be constantly innovating and evolving – always on the pulse of changing trends in diner behavior.” That’s Stephen Starr writing about the presto-change-o of having to turn his avant-garde South Street eatery with Peter Serpico – Serpico – into Pete’s Place take-out Korean, during the COVID summer, and now also into Chicken Scratch, a virtual, chef-driven, rotisserie chicken delivery/take out hot spot. I say “hot” as Serpico is serving his birds with “stoplight” red, yellow and green sauces.

A roomy restaurant

At a time with indoor dining re-commenced, but spaced out seating at a premium, sprawl and size is important, and bigger, wider and longer may very well be better. Avram Hornik (FCM Hospitality) understands sprawl and has Philadelphia’s largest indoor restaurant – Craft Hall, along the waterfront, in NoLibs – with 35,000 square feet of space ready to reopen to speak to size. That’s big enough for a 700-pound smoker and yards of Executive Chef Adam Iazarick’s BBQ brisket burnt ends, pork spare ribs and more. That’s big enough to host the team of Food & Wine Magazine’s newest anointed top 10 bakery, Lost Bread Co., who repay the favor with dough for Craft Hall’s pizza menu. That’s room enough for Mainstay Independent Brewing to produce their craft ales from and serve to.

Comcast’s reach

If you’re a fan of entertainment/information content kings as I am, you know how far and wide Philly’s homegrown Comcast’s tentacles reach. Far beyond Universal, and beyond the sea, there is the Comcast-owned European pay television giant Sky, itself an all-consuming and expanding entity. In December, Sky signed with Amazon which brought Prime Video to its Eurohouse; this after Sky made deals with Disney+, Netflix and other network/streaming/cable giants. As of this week, the Comcast-Sky giant has enveloped the prestigious StudioCanal film studios like a spider does flies. Known for the Oscar-winning likes of “The Hurt Locker,” StudioCanal’s upcoming releases include this year’s Academy Awards contender, “Supernova” (starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci) and “The Electrical Life” (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Plus, Comcast/Sky gets all of StudioCanal’s movie library, which means Paddington bear will soon appear on your next Comcast bill statement. 

Sheer Mag music 

We haven’t heard from South Philly’s post-punks Sheer Mag since 2019’s A Distant Call (well, save for Bernie Sanders using Tina Halladay & Co.’s “Expect the Bayonet,” at campaign stops for his last presidential run). That’s why it’s a friggin-in-the-rigging pleasure that the S-Mag has a new song, “Crushed Velvet,” on the soundtrack for the Hulu-produced film, “The Ultimate Playlist of Noise.”

Strange week for Philly music

Such a strange weekend for those connected to the music of Philly’s ‘50s and ‘60s past. Jerry Brandt, the legendary entrepreneur who brought the Rolling Stones to America and discovered South Philly’s Chubby Checker – so to make him a towering icon of “The Twist” – has died. Jerry Blavat, the Geator with the Heater, was talking to me about the real roots of the now-dead Phil Spector’s past – of how Philly’s Frank Lipsius bankrolled the wall of sound music maker-turned-murderer’s first label, Philles – when his attention turned to another, younger legend of melodic roots music, the street corner sound of doo wop and angelic, Brooklyn-born vocalist (and local favorite) Tommy Mara, who passed away the same day as Spector. A large, regular part of Blavat’s annual Kimmel Center live showcases as the frontman for the late Johnny Maestro’s Crests, the Geator had booked Mara into the Golden Nugget and his Maltshop Memories cruise before the pandemic hit, and had nothing but admiration for the late vocalist and his craft. “Tommy was a master,” said Blavat of Mara and his heavenly trill.

Image: Courtesy of NLBID

Masked Philly: Kris Kennedy

In Icepack’s continuing saga of asking mask-donning local celebrities what they’ve been up to, beyond the pale, during COVID-19’s pandemic, I reached out this week to the executive director of Northern Liberties Business Improvement District, Kris Kennedy.

They say you never really know your business improvement district executives until things get weird, and quarantines go into place. With that, Kennedy, who has played guitar for over 30 years, been a six-string slinger in a number of bands throughout that time (e.g. Lefty’s Deceiver, Mazarin and Audible, the latter of whom has its first new track out in a decade this week), and, in her words, “toured the country a bunch,” and missed one essential part of the git-box experience. 

“I never took a lesson,” said Kennedy, about using the masked-up lockdown as a hard excuse to get started in guitar school. 

“I’ve known Chris DiPinto for ages and live around the corner from his shop on Girard, so he was an obvious choice for a teacher. I felt like I owed it to Chris to be prepared the next week, which made me practice regularly. COVID turned every day into an emergency, and as the director of a business district, I was in the daily maelstrom with all the business owners. With that, practicing scales is very meditative.”

Kennedy likes shopping in her district, and the COVID-19 mask she’s wearing in her selfie here is NoLib proud. 

“This was made by Erin Waxman of Art Star, a fantastic, handmade boutique in Northern Liberties,” said Kennedy. 

“At first, I had her make me some masks in a solid color, but my husband kept nabbing them and they started to smell like beard. So, I had Erin make me some he wouldn’t want to wear.”

Until masks are less of a must than they are now, Kennedy will continue to order them fresh from Waxman. After that, however, “When it is finally OK to be around other people without a mask, I’m going to buy new lipsticks,” she said. “I’m not a makeup person really, but you really can’t do lipstick under a mask. It will be like the first warm day of spring when I’m inclined to wear a dress – also not really a dress person.” 

Like me, Kennedy is a skeptic as to whether or not COVID-19 masks will truly not be a necessity. 

“I’m not certain masks will go completely if and when COVID is under control. I think they will continue to be part of our winter attire. So I’ll keep ordering them from Erin.”

The next thing Kennedy has planned, mask up or down, and beyond the release of the new Audible single with her husband, is waiting for warmer weather and longer days – (“It’s been a mild winter, actually, but I’ve been over winter for about a decade”) and a packed solid Northern Liberties Business Improvement District list of must-dos. 

“The NLBID has a solid calendar of ‘reasons to walk around’ events starting in April,” said Kennedy. 

“And I’m looking forward to watching people enjoy being outdoors.”

@ADAMOROSI

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  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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