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In the cutthroat dining environment of Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood, eateries come and go. The restaurant wheel of life keeps on turning, food keeps on burning, and new chefs keep on learning. And so it is that John Patrick’s has moved on to that restaurant row in the sky, giving the new inhabitant of 208 Race St., the Race Street Cafe, a chance to shine. The new cafe is the brainchild of Neil Campbell, a self-described “foodie” for the past six years, and former kitchen manager of a TGI Friday’s franchise. With a price point for convenient dining, Campbell believes the restaurant caters to the community while offering an eclectic menu that flows from traditional American to a global fusion of dishes. The cafe presents three comfortable tables outside; just right for a temperate summer night. Inside, the restaurant offers a casual atmosphere with a large bar and numerous cozy tables. Every first Friday, the walls of the bistro are decorated with fresh masterpieces supplied by local artists. The perfect after-work spot, I thought, and decided to visit the cafe with three friends. Immediately upon entering, a fast-paced waitress rushed over to us and continued to keep a watchful eye on our table throughout the night. Even though Campbell claims he and his business partner Stacey Szymt are constantly developing new specials, a bountiful selection of traditional continental American cuisine had already made its way onto the menu when I visited. You can tell the Race Street Cafe understands the need for grubbing, since it refers to its robust appetizers as starters. From the list, I chose the moderately spicy homemade three-meat-chili ($5) and the universally welcome appetizer chicken quesadillas ($8). Both dishes were enormous and could be shared easily. Other starters of note included shrimp spring rolls ($8), sweet and spicy wings ($7), and lightly battered calamari ($9). Indicative of its pub roots, the cafe offers a sizable assortment of sandwiches as well as entrees. The sandwiches cover a lot of ground, from the traditional Race Street burger ($8), grilled to order with the usual toppings, to the uncommon grilled ribeye steak sandwich ($9), with chipotle mayonnaise. Vegetarians also needn’t feel excluded from the sandwich menu with either a grilled gardenburger served on a pita ($7) or a grilled vegetable New Orleans muffuletta sandwich ($7) served with sun-dried tomato dressing and Swiss cheese on foccacia, to choose from. One friend decided on the grilled merguez sausage sandwich ($8) — two thin sausages served on pita with sour cream, lettuce, tomato, onion and roasted yellow pepper. Although most folks think merguez sausage to be too greasy, he felt the unusual flavor was worth it. Race Street Cafe’s extensive entree menu seems to have something for all palates. Two of my dining companions chose the simple, yet highly recommended, large mixed green salad with chicken ($8) for its lovely parmesan balsamic vinaigrette. One of my friends gave her thumbs up for the dish in her traditional way — by declaring it fresh and clean, the two most portentous words in her dining lexicon. I went for a traditional entree myself, linguini in a tomato vodka cream sauce with chicken ($10). The large portion of pasta was served covered in a soft pink gravy that was just sweet enough without being too creamy. Other entrees I’ve heard good things about from Race Street regulars include the shepherd pie ($10), served with a smaller version of the salad, grilled pork chops ($11) with whole-grain mustard buerre blanc sauce and chicken roulade ($13) with boursin cheese and fresh basil in a roasted yellow pepper sauce. Keeping a sense of community, the cafe imports its desserts from the nearby Petit 4, from which I sampled a luscious raspberry tart ($4). Aside from the food, the restaurant has a major selling point for business — its acoustics make it easy to have a spirited debate or tell a riotous joke without disturbing fellow diners. Judging from the food and atmosphere, the Race Street Cafe should have a long life ahead of it. Race Street Cafe 208 Race St. Philadelphia, PA 19106 (215) 627-6181 Open every day, 11:30 a.m.-2:00 a.m.

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