New barbecue place a spicy addition to Roxborough
Almost everyone is looking for ways to beat the recession, which is undoubtedly why there was a long line of customers ahead of us waiting to order last Tuesday evening at Phoebe’s Bar-B-Q, which opened to the public April 19 at 5002 Umbria St. in Roxborough, about 10 minutes from Chestnut Hill.
“We have been blessed because it’s been like this since day one,” said owner Anastasio “Stas” Botsaris, 28, who also owns a sister restaurant of the same name that has been at 2214 South St. for 15 years. “We’re in it to win it. A restaurant can have a great food, but what’s the point if people can’t afford it? You can come in here and feed 10 people dinner for less than a ‘Ben’ (a $100 bill, called a ‘Ben’ because of the picture of Benjamin Franklin on it).”
I’ve actually been waiting for Phoebe’s to open since late last year, when a high school buddy of Stas’, Alexis Small, told me about it. “His food is absolutely great on South Street,” she said, “and the food in his Roxborough place will be the same. It is supposed to open in January.” (Little did she know about Philadelphia government bureaucracy. Stas took over the huge property on Umbria Street last July, but zoning issues set his plans back seven months. It was formerly a Produce Junction-like operation.)
When I want to know about a restaurant that I am not familiar with these days, I check out the internet to see what some of its customers have to say about it. Citysearch.com is one of several Web sites that post comments from local restaurant customers, so I recently checked Phoebe’s at 2214 South St. on Citysearch.
Most of the comments were raves. For example, a “jnf3” stated, “This Bar-B-Q restaurant is the best Bar-B-Q food I have ever had. Each item on the menu is as good as the next … The staff is extremely friendly, personable and helpful. If you’re looking to take out, you must order from here. The food is amazing!”
Several other comments were similarly laudatory, but one was probably the nastiest condemnation I have ever read about a restaurant on the internet. A woman with the code name “ieatmeat” declared, “I wish I could give this place zero stars. I used to work here.” And these were the nicest things she wrote.
When I asked Stas about this trashing, he replied, “That woman worked for me for three years, and she was definitely one of the best workers I ever had. Then one day she started cursing at me and quit. I honestly do not know why. I even went to drop off her final paycheck after that and asked to take her back, figuring that she just had a bad day, but she would not come back. I guess you can’t win them all. Bad comments like that just make me want to do better.”
The handsome young barbecue entrepreneur grew up in Lower Merion and graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1999, although he spent his freshman, sophomore and junior years with relatives in Greece. He attended Philadelphia Community College for a short time, “but that did not work. I was eager to make money.”
Stas managed some pizza shops in Philly as well as a Houlihan’s on City Line Avenue. His father owned the building at 2214 South St., where another man had started Phoebe’s Bar-B-Q in 1994. The owner of Phoebe’s lease was up in 2003, and he was pretty much burned out by then, so he sold the business to Stas, who proceeded to add a credit card machine and catering services, expand hours and delivery radius, purchase more expensive meats and cheeses, etc.
“This was a great opportunity for a 23-year-old guy,” said Stas, “and I was not about to mess it up. I bought the recipes from the previous owner and tweaked them. I worked day and night and was always there. I wish I could say every day was great, but that would not be true. On the other hand, that’s how you learn.”
Last year Stas’ brother, Demitri, 30, sold two mortgage companies that he owned (getting out just before the economy collapsed) and took over the operation of the South Street store, freeing up Stas to develop the new Phoebe’s in Roxborough.
Maybe it’s because of the economy, but barbecue restaurants have recently been sprouting up like daffodils in May. In the past six months we’ve seen, in addition to the second Phoebe’s, the opening of Philly barbecue joints like Smokin’ Betty’s, Holy Smoke, El Camino Real, BBQ & Tequila and the soon-to-open Percy Street Barbecue, but Stas insists that Roxborough and Chestnut Hill have been an “untapped resource.”
The new Phoebe’s has only five tables, but 70 percent of its customers order their food to take out. They are open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sample prices are: 10 chicken wings for $5.99; a large beef rib platter with three ribs, two sides and cornbread for $11.99; a quarter-pound of beef brisket barbecue with two sides and cornbread for $9.99; a sandwich with a third of a pound of pulled pork with cole slaw and sauce for $5.49; a half of a rotisserie chicken for $4.99; any two meats with two sides and cornbread for $12.99, etc. There are also lots of party specials and family packages that can feed three or four people, six or eight, etc.
We tried some pork and beef ribs, which were quite good and huge; chicken wings were just so-so. The homemade sauces, regular and spicy, were the real deal. Of the sides we tasted, the macaroni and cheese was decent; the potato salad was spectacular, and the cole slaw had little taste and no creaminess.
You can bring your own wine or beer, as we did; Stas says he will be hanging TV sets in the future and will attempt to get a beer license. There are also outside tables on a raised platform, which seem to be getting lots of use.For more information or to place an order, call 215-483-1330 or visit www.phoebesbbq.com