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Eat your heart out, river wards

If you’re the type who habitually collects ephemera scattered about the windowsills of local bars and cafes, you might have noticed that next week, Oct. 2–8, marks the third annual River Wards Restaurant Week.

If not, you are easily forgiven. Amid the mind-reeling velocity of restaurant openings in these parts of late, the annual promotion of gut-busting deals seems, fairly enough, a side dish.

This coming weeks alone, Fishtown welcomes Barcade, a finger-food beer joint on Frankford with scads of vintage arcade games; Bubba’s, a Pine Barrens-bred BBQ pit with a full booze menu; and, just last Thursday, “Loco Pez,” a corner bar that translated the old Crazy Fish Saloon into a tequila and taco spot.

Apologies to any upstart missed in that brief list of gastronomic highlights.

All that razzle-dazzle has left the New Kensington Community Development Corp. — the nonprofit organizing River Wards Restaurant Week — looking to the fringes for this year’s assortment of featured eateries.

Henry Pyatt, a commercial corridor manager with the NKCDC, said the restaurant week promotion, modeled off the successful Center City Restaurant Week, has some big names but also looks to invite diners to places off the beaten path.

“Once we started really having restaurants open up in these neighborhoods, we decided we had to support them,” Pyatt said. “At first, the idea was to try and bring people out and show them the kind of stuff that was happening on the main avenues like Girard and Frankford. Now, we’re trying to show people that if they check out places that are just maybe five more blocks away from where they’re used to going, they can find some really good things there, too.”

Among the nine participating establishments is a clear heavy hitter in Frankford Hall — the Steven Starr beer garden (1210 Frankford Ave.) whose May opening either marked the arrival of the river wards dinning scene or capped off Fishtown’s grand shark jump in high fashion, depending on who you talk to.

They’ve gotten accolades for their sophisticated German beer hall grub, served alongside giant mugs of frothy Bavarian beers. Look for a deal next week that pairs their Jagerschnitzel entrée — a pork cutlet in mushroom gravy with a side of German potato salad — with a half-liter of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, a dark and malty wheat beer. The deal? Just $14.

Considering the entrée alone is usually $15, it’s a great opportunity to check out the spacious open courtyard (complete with pingpong tables) before the weather chills and the heaters roar into action.

At the other end of the food-chain spectrum is the Thang Long Noodle Restaurant, located on Kensington Avenue (2534 Kensington Ave.) just south of the Huntingdon EL station.

Specializing in the fresh Vietnamese noodle soup known as pho, the four-year-old eatery has gained a solid reputation as a place to get authentic ethnic cuisine outside the confines of Chinatown.

Operated by a couple that previously ran a Kensington karaoke bar, Pyatt said Thang Long will be serving a variety of soups and dishes in the $5 range during next week’s promotion.

At Frankford and Girard, Johnny Brenda’s is widely credited with bringing sophisticated fare to Fishtown when they opened back in 2003. Indeed, it’s fair to say that places like Frankford Hall and Barcade wouldn’t have put down roots right around the corner if it hadn’t been for pioneers William Reed and Paul Kimport taking a chance on the old-school Fishtown tavern.

For their part, Johnny Brenda’s is staying true to their theme of fresh and local, but taking it up a notch by offering a three-course pre fixe ($25) meal with a tasty fall focus.

Kimport said patrons will a have a choice of “surf or turf” that starts off with an autumn vegetable salad with green wine vinaigrette.

On the surf side, look for trout roasted with fingerling potatoes along with sautéed fall greens and a poblano pepper and corn relish; turf is a grilled pork chop with a peach and red chili chutney on roasted sweet potatoes and turnips along with sautéed dandelion greens.

And, with what sounds like a great pairing with the rotating assortment of local fall craft brews, dessert is apple or pumpkin pie ala mode.

A bit more casual is the Brindle Cafe, located a few blocks east at 221 E. Girard Ave.

They’re offering a few $10 options that include drinks.

The Wasabi Chicken Salad Wrap is baked chicken tossed with fresh chives, scallions, onion, celery, toasted sesame seeds, ginger, Thai basil and a house-made hot wasabi mayo that pairs a Thai red tea blended with sweetened, condensed milk.

The Chicken “El Burrito” is grilled chicken tossed with a house-made “very special HOT chili spice blend” a dash of extra virgin olive oil, cool sour cream, fresh made pico de gallo, rice and black beans. A vegetarian burrito is also available, and both come with fresh limeade.

Another sandwich shop-style eatery on the menu is the Soup Kitchen Café, located along Susquehanna Avenue (2146 E. Susquehanna Ave.) just west of Frankford Avenue.

Masters of gourmet food on the go, this laid-back, cozy café is a fairly new addition to the neighborhood but is already well known for over-the-top sandwiches that use quality ingredients.

Heading up to Lehigh Avenue, Green Rock Tavern (2546 E. Lehigh Ave.) is sticking with the winning combo of their mind-blowing burger and a beer from Philadelphia Brewing Co., all for $10.

Made with local ingredients — the Angus beef is from Kissin Fresh Meats, the roll from Metropolitan Bakery, both in Fishtown — the Green Rock burger straddles that rare balance of hearty deliciousness without falling apart in your lap.

Paired with beer brewed barely a mile away on Martha Street, the special is a true testament to the fine flavors rendered right in our backyards.

Jamie Mahon, who runs the casual good-beer bar with his sister Nicole, said they’d have their usual burger and a seasonal burger that will vary depending on the day, and there should be at least four PBC beers on tap to choose from.

Continuing north up into Port Richmond proper, Hinge Café, a comfortable BYOB at 2652 E. Somerset St. with one of the best piano bar personalities in town, also joins the fray, as do Polish specialists New Wave Café (2620 E Allegheny Ave.).

At the New Wave, diners can find not only classic Polish comfort dishes done in a style of home-cooked goodness, but also an impressive list of Eastern European brews at good price.

Just down the street, River Wards Restaurant Week invites food explorers to dabble in a ritual enjoyed by generations of Port Richmond residents — the good cheer, beer, and appetizers served up at Byrne’s Tavern (3301 Richmond St).

They’ll be offering their “Byrne’s Sampler” for half off all week, including their famous pressure cooked, super tender hot wings, mozzarella sticks, broccoli bites, and chicken fingers with sauces.

For more information on River Wards Restaurant Week, visit http://riverwardrestaurants.wordpress.com.••

Reporter Brian Rademaekers can be reached at 215 354 3039 or brademaekers@bsmphilly.com.

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