We tried the soup that’s helping to end homelessness
This unassuming storefront in Philadelphia is making lunch a charitable affair.
In pursuit of hot soup on a cold day in Philadelphia, my colleague and I found ourselves swooning over the simple pleasures of lunch at Rooster Soup Co., a cozy and endearing new luncheonette co-founded by Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov.
It's what they do behind the scenes that really warms the heart. One hundred percent of Rooster's profits goes to charity. And not just any charity: Broad Street Ministry, an alternative nonprofit church community in town that runs a homeless shelter and specializes in showing the ultimate hospitality to all who enter: rich, poor, young, old, privileged and needy.
The restaurant divvies up salaries among its staff, sets aside a little to keep the lights on, and donates the rest. They've been doing it every week since they opened in January. And they don't plan to stop. Ever.
And as a result, there's an understanding within the walls of this basement cafe that everyone is doing their part for real, tangible social change.
So with that alone in mind, it's easy to enjoy your meal, since the food here is just tremendous. It's not complicated. It's not expensive. And it's definitely not fancy. Take, for example, the vegan cauliflower soup, one of manager John Nicolo's favorite dishes and one of Rooster's most popular (and not just among vegans!). It's served in a coffee mug, with nothing but a spoon and a saucer to accompany it. No frills, no garnish, no pretense.
So I proceed to sip. I'm not a vegan, so I know what creamy tastes like. And this ... this is creamy. Impossibly so. But it's vegan? How in the ...
"I know, right?" said Nicolo, a thirtysomething veteran of the restaurant industry who previously worked at Zahav, Solomonov's signature modern Israeli fine dining spot, before taking the reins at Rooster. "It's all about the cauliflower. You can do amazing things with it. You can mash it up and it tastes like mashed potatoes. You can turn it into rice. And in this soup, it's all you need. You would never know it's vegan."
And with the backing of Solomonov – a renowned chef and a winner of the James Beard Award – it's also perfectly acceptable to have a little fun. Enter the Rooster BLT, where the "L" actually stands for two things: lettuce and latkes.
It's their house-made potato pancakes, fresh off the skillet, between two slices of fresh bread, with in-season tomatoes (that means green, not red, since it's still winter) and locally sourced bacon (Leidy's in Harleysville, Pa.). A little crispy, a little hearty, a little sandwich of the gods.
A few other noteworthy items: Thai salad, which is terrific if you're a cilantro person (and even if you're not, you still gain an appreciation for the flavor combo); smoked matzo ball soup; the chicken cutlet sandwich, punctuated by a pickled beet spread with capers that's a subtle homage to Zahav's popular beet-tahini salad; and coconut cream pie. Oh, the pie. I imagine it's akin to feasting on a cloud.
"We source locally wherever we can," Nicolo explained. "We don't cut corners. We have the same goals and the same margins as every other restaurant." Much of their broth comes from Federal Donuts, Solomonov's beloved chicken-and-donuts shrine, which is where the idea for Rooster hatched. (Get it?)
"People are starting to think about restaurants differently than they used to," Nicolo said. "It's not enough to just have really good food. You have to really set yourself apart."
Keep crowing, Rooster.
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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants