Late-night food is hard to come by in Philly, what with droves of recent closings and the threat of shuttering for those that remain. But Shoo Fry, Center City’s new fast-casual spot where Underdogs used to live, is giving the other wee morning hour jawns a run for their money. Not only is the spot open until 3am on the weekends, the concept brings something entirely new to Philly: poutine.
The space at 132 S 17th St was once home to the local late-night institution Underdogs. The name was apt for the space’s slightly below-ground entrance, the steps easily confusing to the visitors who headed over after the bars closed. Underdogs was a somewhat rare eatery for Center City, staying open until 3am on weekends to serve hot dogs and frites with different toppings and sauces. The storefront is also a stone’s throw from the long-running 24-hour bar Little Pete’s, which has faced zoning closures off and on for the last two years. While the ultimate fate of Little Pete’s is still unclear, the loss of Underdogs was one more gap in a city where after-hours food is already hard to come by.
This void made the promise of Underdogs' replacement all the more urgent. After months of ongoing construction with a hopeful “coming soon” sign hanging on the door, Shoo Fry opened in its place as Philly’s very first “poutinerie.”
Co-owners Matt and Rachel Baiada opened the shop after a visit to Canada that apparently involved lots of poutine eating and the desire to bring the staple food back home. You may have already been able to find variations of poutine around different bars in Philly, like the Bru’s namesake fries and the pork belly version at The Little Lion. This smattering of dishes and the opening of Shoo Fry are only the beginning of the Canadian invasion in Philly -- a location of the Canadian franchise Smoke’s Poutinerie is slated to open on our very own South Street, next to Milkboy. In 2017, Reading Terminal will get Fox & Son, a corn dog stand also offering poutine. But always remember: Shoo Fry officially landed first.
The menu at Shoo Fry obeys the classic laws of original poutine from Quebec, which typically consists of french fries and cheese curds drowning in gravy. Being in Philly and part of the larger US poutine trend in itself, the menu comes with some creative flourishes to reinvent the classic Canadian dish into something distinctly of the city. Most notably is the Cheesesteak poutine, with steak, fried onions, and wit or witout whiz. As a nod to its predecessor, the menu also has the Underdog poutine, with sliced hot dog, sauerkraut, and spicy brown mustard.
In addition to a dozen poutine options, Shoo Fry reverses the usual burger-and-fries meal by offering slides as a side to your main dish of fries. The original (American cheese, pickles) is offered along with three other options, including the Pepper G.O.A.T, served with pepper jelly, bacon, and goat cheese. The fries-and-a-side-of-burger combo is perfect for everyone who has ever ordered a burger just to be more enthralled by the sides that came with it.
Shoo Fry’s counter service shop retains much of the skin-and-bones that Underdog’s regulars would be familiar with, but with a refreshing makeover: clean white walls accented with green and wood furniture replace the hotdog fists of yore, easing the space of some of the grit we may remember from the old days. An Andy Warhol-esque print portrait of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also greets you by the door on your way in. Fries come in sturdy brown paper containers, easy enough to take with you and strong enough not to let all the toppings soak through. This comes in handy if you’re looking to keep eating on your walk home.
Expect a rush during lunch hours, sometimes even out the door, though the place calms down quite a bit by dinner time, staying open until 9pm on weekdays. Poutines range from $7-8, making it a cheaper fast-casual lunch option in Rittenhouse; sliders are just $3. If you’re craving fries but not in the mood to deal with all of the toppings, naked fries go for $3, too.
If you still feel like there’s something missing, it’s because we haven’t discussed the shakes yet. Though they don’t take center stage here, the frozen drinks are a lovely accent to the rest of the menu. Little Baby’s is the ice cream supplier, so you know you’re in good hands. The dairy-free shake options have a rotating base of questionable (or adventurous?) flavors -- think balsamic banana.
Though the various poutine options dress up the crisp fries, you’d be amiss to consider them among the best in the city. The originality of the concept to the area, however (as well as the late hours and reasonable prices), make Shoo Fry a foreseeable option for the long haul. The popularity of the first location has helped the owners already launch into a second storefront in Fishtown, begging us to wonder if this could blossom into a Federal Donuts-sized local chain.
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1. Shoo Fry, Philadelphia
2. Underdogs132 S 17th St, Philadelphia
3. Little Pete's219 S 17th St, Philadelphia
4. BRÜ Craft & Wurst1318 Chestnut St, Philadelphia
5. The Little Lion243 Chestnut St, Philadelphia
6. MilkBoy401 South St, Philadelphia
7. Little Baby's Ice Cream2311 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia
8. Federal Donuts1219 S 2nd St, Philadelphia
Poutine -- the Montreal-born, gravy-soaked, and cheese-covered improvement on French fires -- gets a home-away-from-home in Shoo Fry, serving the venerable and caloric dish late-night from the space formerly occupied by hot dog mecca Underdog. You can customize the type of fry you use as the base -- be it curly, classic or wedges -- select a sauce flavor, topping, and lay on the cheese. Because Philadelphia knows no other way, a cheesesteak poutine is on offer, as well as a fried scrapple-cheddar-egg version. Supplement your loaded fries with a side of sliders or a frothy milkshake made with local purveyor Little Baby's Ice Cream.
Underdogs in name only, this hot dog and sausage spot was popular when still in operation for its unwillingness to be satisfied with serving just average dogs. Their menu not only covered the traditional, but went wild with takes like a spicy merguez lamb dog with harissa mayo.
For over 30 years, this 24-hour establishment has been keeping the gritty diner dream alive on the corner of 17th and Chancellor. The institution has carved a place out in Center City hearts, mostly for offering a late-night, post-bar sanctuary for comfort food like gyros, beef brisket, meatloaf, and ribs. Constantly challenged by zoning conflicts in recent years due to the planned coming of a boutique hotel, Little Pete's remains one of the last of its kind in its part of the city. Long live the gritty diner. Long live Little Pete's.
BRU Craft & Wurst brings the German a biergarten-like experience to Washington Square West in a block-deep craft beer retreat, from the team behind Finn McCools and Prime Lounge. An impressive beer list draws sud hounds, with Austrian, German and Belgian imports accompanied by American craft ales on a lengthy list. iPads mounted on a copper backboard control taps that you can pour yourself, allowing you to self-serve by the ounce. And all that beer needs to be soaked up somehow: here, Bavarian pretzels are dipped in smokey gouda fondue, veal cutlet is slathered in mushroom gravy, and doner kebab gets doused in spicy yogurt.
There's an irony in the fact that this American tavern in historic Old City is titled after a cutesy name for Alexander Hamilton: the man did champion a whiskey tax in his day, after all. Nonetheless, the atmosphere at the 19th-century multi-story stop across from the Museum of the American Revolution is spot on, with lots of wood work, large arched windows, and bright red colonial chairs next to banisters painted black. The food is filling and true to American tastes: barbecue chicken is heaped on slaw and mac & cheese gets served in a hot skillet. Cheers to the fact that the Revolutionary War was won with a historically inspired cocktail menu, which you can sip in the mezzanine bar.
Milkboy’s second Center City location sits on funky South Street, where an eclectic coffee shop/bar/music venue fits right in. Expect the same mixology chops and elevated bar food takes, from deviled eggs and tacos to fried shrimp and “hangover burgers” with thai-chili mayo, egg, and bacon. The first floor opens up with big glass garage doors that lead to a small bar with 12 stools and six taps that pour Pennsylvania beers exclusively. Upstairs is twice as big with space for live music acts.
The World Headquarters of Little Baby's Ice Cream is the epicenter of its weird and wild takes on America's favorite cold and creamy treat. We're not joking about the wild part: delectables coming out of this creamery include gluten-free macaroon ice cream sandwiches filled with dairy-free Thai Iced Tea ice cream. Flavors are out-of-this world, from unconventional takes like mulled wine, chocolate-chipotle, or Earl Grey Sriracha to tried-and-true versions like crushed candy cane, plain, and pizza... okay, so they're not so conventional.
With several locations around the city, Federal Donuts has grown into a sugar-coated Philly favorite. FD's secret weapon is a "Donut Robot," a mechanical monster-mastermind that handles all the dough dispensing, frying, and flipping. The deep-fried dough rings are sweet, sinful, and eminently scarf-able -- coming in flavors like maple-bacon, lemon bar, spicy PB&J, Turkish mocha and, of course, classic glazed. Because specializing in just one caloric indulgence doesn't cut it, this spot slings famous fried chicken in a changing lineup of rubs and sauces (coconut curry, anyone?).