Flavors of the Northeast took place on Oct. 2 and marked the launch of Restaurant Week for the second consecutive year.
There wasn’t a single free parking space outside the Philadelphia Ballroom around 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.
If you were fashionably late to Flavors of the Northeast, which had just started approximately 30 minutes prior, you probably had to park a good way down the street.
The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s food-centric event drew a crowd that tipped well above 300 people, and it was only an indicator of what was to come for the rest of the week in Northeast Philadelphia. Flavors marked the launch of Restaurant Week for the second consecutive year, this time doubling the number of participating restaurants.
“I walked into a crowded restaurant every time,” said GNPCC President Pam Henshall. She made it her mission to dine at as many restaurants as she could during the week.
At Flavors, 24 local restaurants and caterers packed inside the ballroom at 2014 Hornig Road to offer all-you-can-eat culinary samples. Offerings ranged from firecracker steak rolls courtesy of The Union Tap, fried yuca and chicken empanadas from Broncos Brazilian Steakhouse, to tiny cookie dough cheesecake bites in a cup from Puddin’s Cake Corner.
SawTown Tavern was awarded best in show after attendees voted on booth decorations. Chefs Tara and Bryan Gontek were offering plant-based Jack’d Italian roast p’ork (jackfruit prepared to imitate the meat) and three bite-sized caprese salads with cashew mozzarella. The booth was adorned with fall-themed decorations and artwork done by Cyril VanLandingham, this month’s resident artist.
“Our booth really reflected the art created at SawTown, and the positive response to our plant-based menu was overwhelming,” said Troy Everwine, SawTown Tavern owner. “I cried like we won an Oscar.”
Chef Charles Platel took home the trophy in the cooking competition, judged by Pat Gallen of CBS 3. The Johnny Apples chef split the vote with competitors Kristopher Serviss of Northeast Sandwich Co. and Bradey White of Three Monkeys Café before the judging panel decided on a winner.
“The excitement of the culinary arts of Northeast Philadelphia is quite strong and the attendance has been fantastic,” said City Councilman Al Taubenberger.
But Flavors just whet the appetite. Northeast Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week kicked off the next day, with 14 restaurants offering special value menus with fixed prices. The number of participating restaurants had doubled from last year. Henshall said restaurants reported an 18- to 20-percent rise in revenue during Restaurant Week last year. Figures have not yet been finalized this year as the Times went to print before Restaurant Week concluded, but Henshall said all restaurants she talked to reported an increase in customers.
Nancy Morozin of the Dining Car knows all about it. The Northeast staple fused its value menu with OctoberFeast offerings. All entrees came with an appetizer, salad, two vegetables and dessert. That means customers had to stuff down their German chocolate cupcake or apple cake after polishing off some wiener schnitzel Holstein — if they could pack that all in one sitting.
“We saw a handful of people who said it was their first time,” Morozin said. “We also get a lot of regulars who enjoyed getting a free appetizer.”
Mike “Scoats” Scotese of Grey Lodge Pub said he always tries to participate in community events such as this.
“[Last year] brought new people into the restaurant who had never been in before,” he said. “Getting them in the door is the hard part.”
The pub’s $30 three-course menu allowed customers to munch their way through selections that included bang bang duck rolls and scallop and fennel salad for an appetizer, surf and turf and pulled smoked jackfruit enchiladas for a second course and polish it off with vegan brownies or deep fried cheesecake tossed in a churro spice.
“Now that people are aware October is Restaurant Week in Northeast Philadelphia, it’s something that is just going to keep growing,” Henshall said. She said restaurants have already contacted GNPCC about participating next year.
Speaking of that — anyone have room for thirds? Restaurant Week will return to the area next year, Oct. 2 through 8. ••