by Lou Mancinelli

Solaris Grille

CH7. It’s the old “247” Chestnut Hill phone exchange from the days before push button phones. It was the standard way to remember your phone number as recently as the 1970s.

That old exchange inspired the name of Chestnut7, the new, upscale, casual American bistro from rising restaurant entrepreneur Brian Harrington and his partner Kevin Clibanoff of Bridget’s Steak House and KC’s Alley in Ambler. It  will open the first week of May at the old Solaris location, 8201 Germantown Ave. Solaris closed its doors for good in January after a 15-year run.

For Public House Investments — the company Harrington runs with Gary Cardi, Frank Falseto and Chris Coco — Chestnut7 will be its 15th restaurant, and its fifth in the Philadelphia area. They’ve also got four locations in New York City and others in Stamford, Conn., Wilmington, Del., Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C.

In January of 2008, the quartet opened Field House, a sports bar in Reading Terminal’s old Independence Bar & Grill location that seats 315. It’s the largest restaurant in Center City.

Philadelphia is already home to a number of restaurants operated by prominent chefs and operators like Stephen Starr and Jose Garces. Food Network celebrity Bobby Flay owns a burger joint in University City. But now the Public House four are gaining ground.

In February of 2007 they opened Mission Grill, a 140-seat Southwestern cuisine operation on the ground floor of the old Bell Telephone building at 1835 Arch Street. Last May, the four opened City Tap House at 3925 Walnut Street in University City. Its 120-seat dining room features American pub fare and 60 different drafts, one of the most extensive collections in the region.

Chestnut7, the upscale brick oven pizza, oyster and seafood bistro will feature 10 craft beers, both local brews, like Troegs and Dogfish, and national brews like Belles, on a rotating basis. Its 30-label wine list will range from $18 to $60 a bottle, or $5 to $8 a glass. One of the main attractions will be thin, gourmet pizzas with unique toppings, including local meats.

The Local asked Harrington what is it about Philly that is breeding the community of culinary culture and the droves of foodies. Is it the popularity of shows like Top Chef and Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares? Is there something in the air here?

“Philly’s an awesome restaurant town,” Harrington said. “Part of it is the small size of the city. We’re lucky to have a lot of great operators and chefs.”

And why Chestnut Hill?

“We believe Chestnut Hill is turning a corner with people like Chip Roman [Blackfish, Conshohocken] opening Mica [which is scheduled to open at the former location of Cuba! in March.]”

And Harrington, who lives in Lafayette Hill knows the neighborhood well.

“I spend a lot of my time on the Avenue myself and with my family,” he said. “We love Chestnut Hill and we want to support the community and add to the Avenue.”

Harrington said renovations to the old Solaris will include landscaping to the outdoor seating area with a rose garden and building an island bar inside with hanging televisions “so people can watch the Phils.” There will also be a number of large communal tables for parties of six and up.

“It’s going to be real upscale, but the price point is going to be between $6 and $18,” Harrington said. “It’s going to be a great place to go grab some oysters and wine or pizza and beer.”

Harrington, who attended Germantown Academy as a kid, started in the restaurant industry carrying plates and silverware and scrapping food intro trashcans as a busboy at Olive Garden in the late ‘80s.

“I had aspirations to be successful,” said Harrington, whose four boys attend Ancillae-Assumpta Academy in Wyncote, “and I’m still trying to achieve them.”

He credits elements of his success to interacting with customers, developing regular patrons, making friends “and making people feel at home. I spend a lot of time in my restaurants and get to know the guests.”

He’s hopeful that Chestnut7 will be a jewel in Chestnut Hill’s restaurant scene.

“This will be a really fun, cool spot,” he said.