Fried green tomatoes are on the menu at The Fat Ham. Credit: Vanessa Beahn
Last Friday, University City welcomed its latest addition to the growing restaurant scene when the doors of The Fat Ham officially opened for business. The Southern-inspired, pork-centric restaurant is "Top Chef" winner Kevin Sbraga’s second in Philly. His first is, of course, the eponymous and popular Sbraga, in Center City on the Avenue of the Arts. By opening shop across the river with The Fat Ham, Sbraga is continuing the trend of restaurant growth in an area that – up until recently – offered mostly slim pickings.
The Fat Ham moved into the Tria Wine Room space at 3131 Walnut St., while the Tria folks, not receiving enough love on the west side, focused their efforts on the new Tria Taproom in Center City instead. Sbraga is hoping a place like The Fat Ham, which promises a more casual approach, will be able to thrive in the same spot.
“Sbraga is a little more of a fine-dining format,” says the chef about his first restaurant. The Fat Ham is "more family style and casual. It’s like Sunday supper at someone’s grandma’s house. It’s smaller here and more intimate. The lights are lower, the music is louder, and the staff is different.”
Around the corner from The Fat Ham is Shake Shack, which opened at 3200 Chestnut St. in October. And at 4034 Walnut St., in what used to be a Lee’s Hoagie House, two Drexel alums opened Wishbone, a fried chicken joint that was so popular when it opened that the chicken sold out in a matter of hours.
“It’s a great time to be a part of this area. There’s so much going on over here, and I think it will continue to grow. I don’t know why it wouldn’t keep growing, with Zavino and Federal Donuts opening over here,” says Sbraga, referring to two popular Center City spots opening University City locations.
Famed chef Rick Bayless of Chicago's Tortas Frontera is also planning to open a restaurant in the area soon.
As for Sbraga, he's happy with his two locations for now, and isn't starting a restaurant empire anytime soon. “It’s way too early for me to start thinking about that," he says with a laugh. "It’s not necessarily my goal to open a million restaurants.”