The new space was dreamt up by famed hospitality designer Adam Tihany
Roasted chicken, grilled beets, toast—upon first glance of the menu at Vernick Food & Drink, these dishes may not seem particularly revelatory. But diners at chef Greg Vernick’s eponymous restaurant in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood know otherwise. Whole, crispy-skinned chicken emerges perfectly juicy from the wood-fired oven, small plates like the beets, tossed with a bright bacon vinaigrette, showcase unexpected and seasonally-changing flavors, and the toast has a cult following. To taste the thick, grilled slice of sourdough bread from nearby Metropolitan Bakery, piled with sweet, plump chunks of Maryland crab and slivers of pickled peppers, or avocado dotted with shavings of spicy radish, is to appreciate why these seemingly standard dishes are revered.
When asked to describe his menu, Vernick doesn’t have a succinct answer. “When we first opened, there was this strong push to create a paragraph defining what we were about, and it was very hard,” he says. “What is a contemporary American restaurant? I still don’t know what modern means, and we didn't want to say comfort food because it felt too casual.” Five years later, the chef is more comfortable telling people to just come in and experience it, and the elusive reservation and packed dining room suggest diners don’t care, either. “We like to think of ourselves as a Philadelphia restaurant.”
Vernick, who took home a James Beard Award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic this year, opened his eponymous restaurant in 2012 after years working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. His tenure at the famed French chef’s empire began on the line at Perry Street, and, after moving on to restaurants like Jean-Georges and Spice Market, trained chefs for Vongerichten properties around the world. Now, in a poetic turn for the culinary world, the two chefs will reunite at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia in the forthcoming 60-story Comcast Technology Center. While Vongerichten, whose dozens of restaurants span the globe, will occupy the top space, Vernick will open his second restaurant on the building’s ground floor.
The chef is in regular communication with Vongerichten and his team, and contemplates reuniting in this context. “I always tell people that if I didn’t have this restaurant, I’d still be working for JG and that group,” says Vernick. “I’m flattered and scared at the same time. Their infrastructure is so strong; they’re so good at it. They have the ability to hire, staff, train and execute on the highest level possible, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.” With the restaurant on schedule to open sometime in the second half of 2018, the details, including the concept, food, and name, are still being kept close to the vest, but the chef was able to share some exciting news: the restaurant will be designed by Adam Tihany.
The legendary hospitality designer has dreamed up unique and innovative spaces for Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Paul Bocuse, Charlie Palmer (the iconic wine tower at the Aureole in Las Vegas was Tihany’s work), and Vongerichten, among so many other distinguished chefs, and now, in a first for Philadelphia, will lend his vision to Vernick’s new restaurant. “I have watched the Philadelphia restaurant scene evolve over the last few years to rival some of the most sought-after food cities in the world,” says Tihany. “Greg has been a major part of that growth, which is why I am excited that this restaurant will mark our first-ever project in Philadelphia.”
For his part, the chef still can’t believe Tihany will be designing the restaurant. “I’ve known about Tihany for so many years, I worked at Per Se, and then he redid the dining room at Jean-Georges about eight years ago, so I’ve followed his career for a long time, and I think he’s the absolute best in the business,” he says.
Vernick Food & Drink occupies a simple townhouse — it’s a warm and elegant but straightforward place where the service is top-notch and the food takes center stage. Vernick says they’re not trying to replicate his current restaurant, but aims for the essence to remain. His diners share the sentiment.