Plenty new to chew

A tour of some neighborhood eateries inaugurates our first “Out and About,” which is dedicated to reporting on the sights, sounds and tastes around campus and the neighborhood.

Forever drinking bubbles

Tired of the perpetual coffee buzz, we thought we’d take tea and see at The Bubble House, a soothing, Asian-inspired tea house at 3404 Sansom that opened in late November.

Their specialty is something called bubble tea, which came from Asia by way of Canada and California, and then New York, said one of The Bubble House’s owners, Kun Hsu (pronounced Quinn Sue, W’01), who dreamed up the place as part of a class project at Wharton. The hip drinks, costing $2.95 for a regular and $3.95 for a jumbo, are based on teas and fruit juices—more than 30 flavors to choose from—poured over giant tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. A giant pink straw is big enough to allow the tapioca to draw up along with the liquid.

We passed on plain black tea and strawberry to risk a taro bubble tea, and vowed to go back for more.

Breakfasts, lunches, parties: The Bubble House, which also serves about 30 flavors of non-bubble teas, has just expanded to serve lunch. Look for fare like spring rolls, dumplings and noodle salads as well as the pastries, which Hsu said come from Chinatown, some of them stuffed with savory meats and sweet fillings.

When we dropped in, we found Hsu and his business partner John Wicks in the basement, putting final touches on a new room to accommodate small parties and meetings in an intimate space with nice windows letting in some southern light. They also were building a smoking area. Both should be ready by the time you read this.

The Bubble House is open daily.

Meaty and veggie, and a little seating

Come spring, the grocery section at Picnic will overflow with fresh produce from local, small farms, said Anne-Marie Lasher, the chef/owner. She imagined people walking across the Walnut Street bridge stopping in to pick up the produce on their way home to dinner.

The day we stopped at Picnic, 3131 Walnut St., we too were dreaming about warmer weather. It was a rainy day with bits of tired snow still marking the edges of sidewalks. The walk—less than 10 minutes from the center of campus—was shorter than we’d imagined, and at its end we found world-class food at affordable prices.

And Lasher has something for everyone. For $7.50 we got a green pepper stuffed with brown rice and black-eyed peas along with a cup of tea. But heavier fare like meatloaf and mashed potatoes were options as well.

Lasher, formerly of Fork, in Old City, said she relies on fresh local ingredients whenever she can. “I deal mostly with farmers,” she said. “I don’t know how to buy any other way.” She learned that way of buying during eight years of training right here in University City at the White Dog Café, which takes seriously its obligation to use organic products and things that are healthy for the environment.

The day we went, the three small tables had customers, so we took a seat at the counter and observed the passing scene outside the window.

Catering, too: Most of Picnic’s business is take-out during lunch and dinner, Lasher said of the restaurant, which is open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She also offers catering and is a University-approved vendor. Check out the Web site,

Pajama game

The blackboard at Philly Diner, 3925 Walnut St., states that Monday nights are pajama nights at the diner, from 5 until midnight.

Wear your pajamas and get 20 percent off the price of your meal. Hmmm. Great fun for your little kids. Hmmm. Great fun for the big kids.

When we showed up at 7:30, the m.o. was pajama bottoms — plaid flannel ones, striped ones, geometric ones, athletic heather knits. What a deal, and comfortable, too.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the diner serves around the clock. The real action doesn’t start until after 8 p.m., when the students look up from their studies, or whatever, and roar, “Feed me.”

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Originally published on February 7, 2002