What to Expect at Vernick Fish, Chef Greg Vernick’s New Philadelphia Concept
The James Beard Award winner said the restaurant will have some Jersey Shore touches, as well as whimsical nods to Philadelphia cuisine.
August will be an exciting moment for the Philadelphia restaurant scene, as not one, but two major chefs open concepts at the new Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center. First up is Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who will debut Jean-Georges Philadelphia—his first outpost in the city, featuring a mix of new dishes and his New York flagship classics—along with JG SkyHigh, a 60th floor lounge with casual cuisine and commanding views of Philadelphia. The other concept, Vernick Fish, opens on August 12 and comes from local hero Greg Vernick (who previously worked with Vongerichten), the James Beard Award winner behind Vernick Food & Drink in Rittenhouse Square. The latter is often recognized as one of the best restaurants in the city, where dishes that might seem deceptively simple, like toast, are elevated with ingredients like Maryland crab and pickled peppers, or sea scallop and black truffle butter.
“When we opened Vernick Food & Drink, which is now going into its eighth year, we realized that people were eating a little differently, they were eating lighter,” Vernick tells Food & Wine. “We tried to create this shareable concept and quickly realized that seafood and vegetables are a better vehicle for creating plates to share. Because they’re lighter and fresher, and gave us an opportunity to put more plates in front of a guest without filling them up too quickly.”
That concept became the springboard for Vernick Fish, coupled with the chef developing a passion for seafood when he butchered fish in the Vernick Food & Drink basement during the restaurant’s first three years. He became so invested in the product that he started talking to vendors on his days off, educating himself about sustainability, sourcing, and seasonality. The dishes at Vernick Fish will reflect those interests, with preparations that let the fish (and other proteins) really shine.
“[At Vernick Food & Drink] we’ll feature shrimp with beets, but we’ll do a couple different preparations of beets, and maybe we’ll do a sauce of shrimp,” he says. “But here, we’re just trying to feature shrimp, and everything else stands underneath the protein. It’s very minimal. It’s protein with a garnish, with a pickle, with a condiment, with a relish, but very stripped down.”
Expect crudos and raw fish and oysters, too. Vernick says he’s loved educating the staff about the different raw preparations, and has been learning along with them as well—through sourcing oysters, he discovered the vast differences in taste between oysters just ten miles apart. The menu also nods to the Jersey Shore, as Vernick spent much of his childhood summers in places like Margate, Longpoint, Ventnor, and Atlantic City. Think fried clams and chowders, as well as a blackened fish dish—at shore restaurants, he says, your server will often ask you if you want your fish grilled, blackened, or fried, so he’s paying homage to that tradition.
Philly natives will be pleased to see some local touches, too, though don't expect there to be a literal cheesesteak plopped on the menu. Vernick says there are a few dishes inspired by the city that are whimsical and playful.
“We’re doing an oysters dish that has this broccoli rabe and Parmesan cheese play on it," he says.
Vernick Fish will span 3,400 square feet with capacity for 200 guests, making it far larger than Vernick Food & Drink. Designed by Tihany Design, there will be a main dining area, as well as a private dining room, bar, chef’s counter, and seasonal outdoor patio. Vernick refers to the restaurant as a big brasserie, with a lot of energy and high ceilings. He says that rock music will soundtrack the dining experience—after all, he wants Vernick Fish to be fun and warm. But above all, it’s also important to him that guests trust the restaurant with its eponymous product.
“I don’t want it to be too serious,” he says, “but I want [guests] to know that everything we’re doing, from food to service to wine to cocktails, we are practicing at the highest level we know how.”
Vernick Fish will open on August 12. In the meantime, you can check out Vernick Coffee Bar, which debuted at the Comcast Technology Center last October. You'll find dishes such as "eggs in purgatory" for breakfast and a shaved porchetta sandwich for lunch, while the afternoon menu offers toasts (a Vernick specialty) and desserts like semolina olive oil cake.