As an epic brunch had just ended, I was about to walk out the revolving door of Samuel’s when I heard someone shout my name (“Hey, Craig! Hey, Craig!”) . I turned around cautiously to find a pleasant surprise: an old gym buddy, whom I only know as “Fish”, was waving at me.
“It’s my seat!” Fish said, smiling broadly from a stool at the end of the counter near the host’s stand at Samuel’s. “I only eat bread twice a week now, but this is where I come every Saturday and Sunday, straight from yoga class across the street. They cook the breakfast sandwich perfectly. lunch and they know how I like it: a full, hollowed-out, well-done bagel with cheese and an egg — runny.
Fish, who I saw frequently before the pandemic when I was still hitting the gym, enthusiastically beamed her low-carb glow fresh out of yoga class. I, on the other hand, probably still seemed to float in a daze of indulgence on the weekends. I had just polished a plate of scrambled eggs and onions in the melted fat of kosher beef salami, the shear rings of which glistened atop that fluffy yellow mound like fragrant red buttons. I snacked more than I would have liked on my wife’s delicious thick challah French toast with dark Pennsylvania maple syrup. My lips were still soft with the cocoa syrup buzz of a frothy chocolate egg custard.
But no judgment from my buddy, Fish. We were so happy to see each other, and kibitz about the details of the homemade bagels and the value of Samuel’s personal service. (On my second visit, our excellent waitress, Sara Robbins, knew our drink order before we were even seated.) It was exactly the kind of casual get-together with old friends that’s supposed to happen at a good grocery store. neighborhood Jew. Samuel’s has already changed the daytime routines of many people near Rittenhouse Square to cross paths there in the three months since it opened, a testament to its early success.
It comes after a series of conceptual misfires in this ground-floor space on Rue Sansom, above the huge underground Italian restaurant by the Schulson, Giuseppe & Sons collective. Previously, an Italian canteen, then a pizzeria had failed to sparkle. But Samuel’s perfectly repurposed the nostalgic decor of pendant lights, upholstered booths and tiled floors in a bustling downtown brunch niche where lunchtime mojo has struggled to return anywhere else.
Samuel’s is also celebrating a return to craftsmanship on elemental ingredients such as corned beef, rye bread, nova salmon, knishes and pickles – so often outsourced to smaller restaurants. All are prepared here by Chef Waldemar “Val” Stryjewksi’s team using recipes developed by the Collective’s corporate team of Culinary Director Ed Pinello, former Park baker Nicholas Brannon and Pastry Chef Abby Dahan, also old in the Park.
Don’t just call it a “Jewish grocery store”. For reasons I still can’t figure out, the Collective insists on using the bland label of “all-day dining destination” to describe this restaurant. It may be named after owner Michael Schulson’s grandfather, Samuel Yoselowitz, who was a kosher butcher in New York. They cure and cook all the meats from scratch, cook bialies, Jerusalem rugelach and Jewish apple cake, two kinds of rye (seeded or mixed with corn), and even smoke whole whitefish to be whipped into a creamy salad. But Schulson is adamant that not marketing it as a Jewish grocery store will allow them to target the widest possible customer base: “We’re not trying to compete with Schlesinger’s or Famous 4th Street,” he says.
There’s no doubt that Samuel departs stylistically from some classic Jewish deli conventions, such as the occasional use of bacon (not unusual in non-kosher deli meats). Most notably, Samuel is moving away from the tradition of absurdly large portions of meat in sandwiches that are unsustainable from a food cost perspective. Given the current price of brisket, an overstuffed corned beef dump would cost over $20 a sandwich. Samuel’s has smartly kept its sandwich portions manageable and its prices accessible to teenagers. There’s also a flavor boost when the ratios are adjusted to highlight each of the carefully crafted ingredients that make a balanced sandwich a greater sum of its parts, from Brannon’s fantastic rye to a homemade kraut that still has flavor. crisp.
I’d rather like Samuel’s pastrami. With only the slightest trace of a peppery crust on the thinly sliced meat that filled my Reuben, it was, despite a slight smoke, all too much like Samuel’s corned beef, taut and crisp rather than a creamy searing tenderness. other good scratch pastramis around town exude (Hershel’s, Famous 4th St., Middle Child and High Street to name a few). In fact, I preferred Samuel’s other pastrami proteins – the moist, smoky pastrami turkey and the spicy pastrami salmon, whose cilantro and black pepper sprinkled a crust of molasses that melted into a whiff of hickory vapors.
Try this fish (or domestic sturgeon too) as part of a tiered tower that can turn even a modest bagel brunch into an event. Brannon’s bagels are good enough to do them justice, with a nice balance of crunch, chewiness, and savory batter, even if they aren’t. enough as damp inside as some of my local favorites (Philly Style, Vanilya) and their lightly varnished exteriors lack cracking.
Samuel’s rare roast beef is a dream of prime meat, its rosy goodness elevated on a sandwich with a dusting of fresh horseradish, peppery arugula and sour cream. But I loved the beef brisket sandwich even more, that tender beef expertly layered on a slice of corn rye on a charcoal mash of carrots in between.
Some of the best dishes here are among the starters, like the crispy fried schmaltz latkes (not a deli, no, not at all…) Treat them to a “Royale” upgrade with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar. The pierogies are also excellent, as is the more flaky knish than usual. But I was able to relive my mustard-soaked bar mitzvah boy dreams with the upgraded pigs in a blanket: these puff-wrapped puff pastry-wrapped Hebrew nationals bites revealed a see-through inner pouch of A&H Garlic Salami.
The fact that Samuel’s has a bar is another distinguishing feature of your usual deli, although the cocktails are made with Manischewitz or a can of Doc Brown’s for the celery spritz. (Yum, by the way.) The handful of entrees also tend to be more diner than deli. I would absolutely return for the chicken pot pie, whose lovely crust and creamy chicken sauce puts its inspiration from Stouffer’s TV dinner to shame. A vinegar-brined fried chicken with warm honey was solid, but not a reason in and of itself to come.
Abby Dahan’s baking kit, on the other hand, is worth a look. The French-born and Cherry Hill-raised dessert genius, formerly de Parc, whips up a range of classics, from sugar-dusted linzer cookies to perfectly cakey black-and-white cookies, jelly-filled donut bombs, rugelach to chocolate, fluffy coconut macaroons and fluffy Jewish apple cake according to her mother’s recipe. Dahan’s mother, Laura, is also responsible for the challah recipe that anchors the remarkable French toast, managing to be both soft and chewy.
But it’s the chocolate DNA that Abby inherited from her father, Jacques Dahan, president of Michel Cluizel USA, that powers her most memorable dessert: a Death by Chocolate layer cake so dark, rich and creamy-bitter. , with the beaded snap of crunchy chocolate pearls on the outside, it tastes like…
“This tastes like a dream,” Sara Robbins said as she wistfully cut us a slice to take away.
She wasn’t kidding. And whatever you call this cake, or this Jewish deli dressed in the generic robes of an “all-day restaurant”, it’s good enough to be part of my new routine.
523 Sansom Street, 215 330-2732; samuelsphilly.com
Take-out menu and sandwiches at the counter available daily from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Full menu with table service daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reservations strongly suggested during weekend brunch hours.