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An Outdoor Korean Barbecue Venture Pops Up in Center City

Char Kol comes from popular Philly restaurant group Schulson Collective

Char Kol invites al fresco diners to grill their own meats.
Char Kol/official photo

Center City diners just got a new place to sizzle raw meat under the stars with the arrival of a Korean barbecue venture called Char Kol.

The interactive pop-up is the latest project from Schulson Collective, the prolific Philly hospitality group from chef/restaurateur Michael Schulson and his wife, Nina Tinari. The seasonal newcomer (1525-1523 Sansom Street), debuting tonight for dinner service, sits in front of Schulson’s Italian-American eatery Giuseppe & Sons and glam cocktail lounge Harp & Crown. Both remain closed due to COVID-19.

Schulson’s al fresco addition to the neighborhood, scheduled to operate through the fall, arrives as outdoor eating and drinking remain the sole options for Philly diners. To stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, city officials just decided to prohibit indoor dining for an extra month (through at least September 1).

Char Kol invites guests to cook their own marinated meats over charcoal grills planted at each outdoor table, letting nature handle ventilation. Proteins are accompanied by a dozen bowls of banchan — assorted Korean appetizers traditionally served alongside the meal.

While Char Kol’s proprietors aren’t Korean, unlike many restaurant owners in Philadelphia’s Koreatown and elsewhere, the chef manning the menu has a professional background in Korean cuisine. For the past nine years, Schulson vice president Matt Rudofker cooked under celebrity chef David Chang across his Momofuku restaurant group in NYC. Schulson scooped up Rudofker last year, inspiring the the husband-and-wife team — who say they “love Korean barbecue” — to roll out a grilled-meats venture in Philly. Char Kol adds another theme to Schulson’s portfolio, which swings from Italian (Via Locusta) to Japanese (Izakaya at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Monkitail in Hollywood, Florida).

At Char Kol, guests can choose from a variety of thinly sliced marinated meats (pork shoulder, ribeye, beef short rib, chicken, pork belly). Tabletop real estate also gets gobbled up by a parade of banchan exiting the kitchen (house ferments, marinated vegetables, salads, and cheesy corn). The interactive event, accented by rice and lettuce wraps, runs from $35 to $56. Appetizers that don’t require work on the diners’ end include mandu (Korean dumplings), bibimbap, rice cakes, gyoza ($8 to $13).

The setup, lined with lush planters and umbrellas, sports two-tops and picnic tables for parties up to six. To keep diners at a social distance, the 22-table operation will accommodate just 70 guests at a time.

Mixologist Kareen McCafferty’s drinks list plays with lots of Korean ingredients, like soju, gorchugaru, yakult, and omiga-cha tea. Sake, beer, and wine lists are designed to pair well with the spread.

Dinner is served Tuesday through Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. Guests can snag a seat via Resy, but some outdoor tables will be held for walk-ins. Its website is expected to go live soon.

Char Kol’s strong showing of banchan.
Char Kol/official photo

Schulson’s fast-growing group, named Eater’s Restaurant Empire Builders of the Year in 2018, temporarily closed a large chunk of its 14-location portfolio during the pandemic. A handful of Philly restaurants are currently open on a limited basis, including Italian eateries Via Locusta and Osteria; fast-casual sushi spot DK Sushi; day-to-night destination Double Knot; and Independence Beer Garden.

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