Now Open: Top Chef Kevin Sbraga Debuts The Fat Ham, A Southern-Inspired Eatery In University City

Top Chef Kevin Sbraga has now opened the door to his new University City restaurant, The Fat Ham. (Photos by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)

The second Philadelphia restaurant for Top Chef talent Kevin Sbraga, The Fat Ham is now open and ready to serve up a healthy dose of Southern charm in University City.

The chef’s eponymous and sophisticated dining room on the Avenue of the Arts — which was named one of the best new restaurants of 2012 by Esquire magazine — now has a more relaxed little sister that channels Sbraga’s love of and success with Southern-inspired comfort cuisine.

With a pork-laden menu full of Southern-style fare and a bourbon-fueled bar program, the intimate 48-seat restaurant might just be the ideal spot to tuck in for a long winter’s eve.

Read on for an overview of what to expect when you visit The Fat Ham for dinner.

The Layout

 
At once warm and welcoming, The Fat Ham takes its design inspiration from Southern fill stations and offers seating in the open dining room, at the bar and (in warm weather) outdoors.

After a brief renovation and decor update with help from Philadelphia-based Eimer Design, the space now features rustic redwood-looking panels, whitewashed walls and rich leather-hide banquets. Floor-to-ceiling front windows let natural light into the space, and — come springtime — will open to allow for indoor-outdoor dining.

Those who remember the old Tria Wine Room, which previously occupied the space, will recognized the layout, but with industrial-style lighting, an open floor plan and eclectic furnishings and fittings (think charming mismatched chairs and china), The Fat Ham feels fresh, laid back and befitting of its University City address.

The Food & Drink

 
Drawing inspiration from a single country-fried lobster dish he served at Sbraga, the chef toured the South from New Orleans to Charlston in search of flavors, and came home to craft a 20-item menu full of all of the fixings you’d come to expect from a Southern restaurant.

The curated pork-heavy menu of sharable plates — none of them more than $15 — stars that country-fried lobster tail, as well as a range of updated Southern eats.

Look for standouts like hot chicken with house-made pickles, macaroni with a potato chip crust, pulled pork with honey mustard, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and country ham from S. Wallace Edwards & Sons in Surry, Virginia.

Those with a sweet tooth should definitely save room for the chocolate chip cookie skillet or the decadent-sounding banana pudding-stuffed doughnut.

As for the bar, Southern inspiration flows from a bourbon-focused list of pre-Prohibition era cocktails, which includes the rye-based 3131 and the potent Boulvardier.

Pennsylvania’s Dad’s Hat Rye features prominently, too, and casks above the bar promise barrel-aged cocktails to join the two wines on tap. Also, look for a seasonal julep, sweet tea, Philadelphia-area brews on tap and eight wines by the glass, all reasonably priced.

Reservations are now available here, so make plans to take a trip to the west for a taste of Sbraga’s Southern flavors.

The Fat Ham Opens
When: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Where: 3131 Walnut Street
Cost: $5-$15
More info: www.fat-ham.com

The facade of The Fat Ham on Walnut Street in University City, with floor-to-ceiling windows that will open in mild weather. (Photo by M. Edlow for GPTMC)

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