Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse opens sister barbecue joint in Allentown – The Morning Call

Autumn’s chill is finally in the streets, and that calls for savory, home-style, belly-warming eats.
At downtown Allentown’s newest restaurant, Ichiban Express BBQ, you can dig into slow-smoked, Southern-style brisket, pulled pork and other meats, along with made-from-scratch sides such as candied yams, collard greens and mac and cheese.
The 29-seat restaurant, which held a grand opening Oct. 14 at 514 N. Seventh St. (former Susan Kim’s Beauty Salon), is an offshoot of the longstanding Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse on Catasauqua Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
Ichiban Express BBQ operator Josh Blampied met Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse owners Sonny Ly and Tam Nguyen while shopping for items at Restaurant Depot in July. At the time, Blampied was working at another barbecue restaurant, Vagabond BBQ, in Frenchtown, N.J.
“They said to me, ‘Oh you do barbecue? We have a property on Seventh Street in Allentown, and we’re looking to get into barbecue,’” Blampied recalled. “So, we linked up and the rest is history.”
Blampied recruited his friend, Evan Armitage, who also gained barbecue experience at Vagabond, along with sous chef Katrena “Polo” Glover to join him in the Allentown restaurant’s kitchen.
The culinary team prepares signature barbecue like sliced-to-order brisket that’s been smoked for 14 hours, pulled chicken that’s been rubbed with a house spice blend and St. Louis-style, “fall-off-the-bone” pork ribs that are mopped with a “Figs 4 Pigs” sauce made from fig jam, ancho peppers and stout beer.
Meats, available in full- and half-size portions (starting at $6), are served with cornbread and sauce on the side.
Customers also can opt for a sandwich or combo, such as one meat and one side for $9. Sides include smoked potato salad, coleslaw, mac and cheese and more.
“We also have weekly specials like chili and homemade desserts like sweet potato pie and Key lime pie,” Blampied said.
For fans of the original Ichiban, the Allentown restaurant also offers a limited hibachi menu of egg fried rice and lo mein, both available with chicken or shrimp.
Ichiban Express BBQ, which offers catering, takeout and delivery through third-party apps, also has a brewery license and plans to offer its own made-on-site beers in the coming months. Beers from Emmaus’ Funk Brewing and Maxatawny Township’s Saucony Creek Craft Brewery are currently on tap.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Info: 484-350-3836.
Switching gears from barbecue to international cuisine, a new restaurant has brought jollof rice, lamb dibi and other popular African dishes to downtown Easton.
HOZA African Restaurant, a full-service establishment serving specialties from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and other African countries, opened Oct. 20 at 349 Northampton St. (former Gino’s Pizza space).
The 65-seat restaurant, a few doors down from the Easton Public Market, is owner and chef Sibu Mafundikwa’s second Lehigh Valley business. She opened Braai Hut, a casual eatery specializing in traditional Zimbabwean cuisine, in August 2020 on East Broad Street in Bethlehem.
HOZA serves Ghanaian favorites such as kelewele (fried plantains seasoned with spices); Kenyan dishes like tilapia and kachumbari (tomato and onion salad); and South African specialties such as pap and wors (cornmeal porridge served with boerewors sausage) and chakalaka beans (relish with baked beans, peppers, chopped tomatoes and thyme).
A dozen entrees, starting at $18 and featuring choice of two sides, include goat stew, red snapper, grilled lamb chops, marinated peri peri chicken and braised oxtail with garlic mashed potatoes.
“Our beef with peanut sauce has been a great hit,” said Mafundikwa, a native of Zimbabwe. “Our jerk salmon also is amazing; people are loving it so much.”
HOZA, which is BYOB (beer and wine only), takes its name from a celebratory term equivalent to TGIF (thank God it’s Friday) in Africa, Mafundikwa said. Info: 610-330-1000.
About a block away from HOZA, 420 CBD Lounge & Cafe, featuring CBD-infused coffee, teas, smoothies and mocktails along with various CBD retail products like tinctures, body oil and honey, held a soft opening Oct. 16 at 436 Northampton St. A grand opening and ribbon cutting is planned for Nov. 13.
The cafe supplements the business’ original location, 420 CBD Lounge, which opened in June 2020 on Route 209 in Stroudsburg, CEO Nicholas Martens said.
Both locations source natural and organic hemp products, most grown and produced in the Lehigh Valley region and other parts of Pennsylvania.
“I visit the farms and hand-pick the products,” Martens said.
Customers can enjoy Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s “Mendocino Morning Gold” CBD-infused coffee, starting at $4.20 for an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee (pour-over and French-press also available).
Other drinks include mocktails ($10-$13), featuring organic hemp and natural ingredients, such as a “Hempjito” and “Moscow Motivator”; and locally and internationally sourced organic teas (starting at $4.20) such as matcha, chamomile, lemongrass and ginger turmeric.
“We’re thinking our mocktails will become really popular later in the day because they help to relax you,” barista Amanda DeVito said. “And with the State Theatre across the street, we’re definitely looking to capitalize on people looking to enjoy a drink before or after a show.”
In addition to craft beverages, customers can shop organic hemp products from more than 40 brands. Items range from pre-rolled hemp flower from Grateful Acres in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County to hemp-infused brownie mix and olive oil from Pocono Organics in Long Pond, Monroe County to hemp honey, tea and tinctures from Wild Fox Provisions in Barto, Berks County.
There are also CBD chocolate bars, dog treats, lip balms, topical patches and massage oils.
“For the CBD massage oil, there’s calming effects, but when taken through the skin, it also works to provide inflammation relief and reduces pain sensation,” Martens explained. Info: 484-548-1408.
A final Easton tid-bit: Hot dog stand Rod’s Dogs opened a few weeks at the Easton Public Market.
Husband and wife owners Mike and Rebecca Pichetto had previously operated the space’s former tenant, Full of Crepe, since 2018. The couple also operates Easton’s 3rd & Ferry Fish Market, a popular seafood restaurant, a few blocks away.
Rod’s is named after Mike’s grandfather, Rod, who ran a hot dog cart in Rutherford, N.J. after WWII. The stand offers the iconic northern New Jersey-style hot dogs called “rippers.”
“The hot dogs are fried to obtain that ‘ripper’ state where they plump and crisp, and split either at the ends or down the middle,” Mike said.
Rod’s Dogs also offers chicken dogs, vegan bratwurst, hand-pressed burgers, waffle fries, disco fries, onion rings, draft soda and ice cream, milkshakes and floats. Info: 484-548-1646.
From brats to barbells, Nazareth Strength & Fitness, offering a variety of cardio and weight training equipment, trainer guided fitness classes, one-on-one personal training and more, held a grand opening Oct. 24 at 410 Nazareth Pike in Lower Nazareth Township.
Nazareth Strength & Fitness partners Kris Hicks, Kerianne Hicks, Joe Fortunato and Dani Fortunato label the business a “one-stop shop for all things fitness,” with members having access to the facility’s wide array of fitness equipment from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Membership is $35 a month (no contracts) with a one-time sign-up fee of $25. There’s also an opening special of no sign-up fee with 3 months paid upfront ($105). Info: nazareth-strength.com.
For people in search of a little pick-me-up, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a coffee shop chain employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has announced that its seventh franchise will hold a grand opening and ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. Nov. 6 at 74 W. Broad St. in downtown Bethlehem.
The new location will be on the ground floor of the Liberty Center, the same building that houses American Hairlines, AM Luxe Apparel, Edge Restaurant and other businesses.
Bitty & Beau’s founders Amy and Ben Wright like to describe their company — named after their children — as a “human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.”
They’re the proud parents of four children — the two youngest, Bitty & Beau, having Down syndrome — which makes them feel like the “luckiest people on the planet.”
“As advocates for the value, inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Wrights have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place for their children and others living with disabilities,” a message on the business’ website reads. Info: facebook.com/BittyandBeausCoffee.
I’ll finish with a couple of departing businesses:
First, Plow & Hearth, selling products for the home, hearth, yard and garden, is holding a store closing sale — up to 50% off select items — at its only Lehigh Valley location at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley.
A company spokesperson did not return a message seeking more details, but a store employee said the shop is expected to close in mid-January.
Plow & Hearth, with locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina, sells home furnishings and household items such as wreaths, area rugs and fireplace screens, along with outdoor furniture and garden and yard items such as flags, hammocks and bird feeders. Customers also can shop apparel, snacks and holiday decor.
The company, founded in 1980 as a small country store in Madison, Virginia, in recent years has closed a multitude of stores, including those in Wyomissing, Berks County; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Annapolis, Frederick and Hunt Valley, Maryland. Info: plowhearth.com.
Second, Grandpa’s Attic Antiques & Thrift Store, selling antiques, collectibles, gently used home decor and more, recently closed after about two months of business in Northampton.
The 1204 Main St. store struggled to attract enough customers to continue operations, owner Herculis Foskolos said.
Retail Watch, appearing every weekend, keeps track of retail and restaurant news in the Lehigh Valley. Contact Ryan Kneller at 610-820-6597 or retailwatch@mcall.com.

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