Michael Schulson is going big with Giuseppe & Sons, the Center City destination the chef and restaurateur is opening with wife Nina Tinari and members of the Termini family, famed for their 100-year-old South Philly bakery. The restaurant, which pulls from the Italian-American cuisine South Philly is known for, is set in a massive, bi-level space offering two very different experiences upstairs and down. It opens Tuesday.
Step inside Giuseppe & Sons, under the tall arched window surrounded by deep blue brick at 1523 Sansom Street, and you’re in a classic luncheonette with a counter for ordering and a choice of chair, booth, or stool. This is where to stop in for a meaty Italian hoagie or a thick veal parm sandwich on bread from Atlantic City’s Formica Bros. Bakery, plus an order of the Terminis’ cannoli or a slice of pie. There’s also a full bar with wines, made specifically for the restaurant, on draft.
For now, the airy street-level operation is open during lunch, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with plans for dinner hours to be added later.
Similar to Schulson and Tinari’s hit Japanese eatery Double Knot, once you make your way down the staircase, around a bend, and through the photo-lined hallway in Giuseppe & Sons, you’re transported to an entirely different restaurant — and maybe a different era. The feel is old-school Italian gone upscale, with dim lights, plush seats, and Sinatra crooning in the background.
The basement in this 14,000-square-foot eatery is enormous. But since it’s broken up into lounge areas, raised and sunken dining sections, private rooms, and a long bar, it feels much smaller and more intimate than a place this size could.
The chef, Wesley Fields, spent the past several months learning how to do things the South Philly way at Italian eatery Mr. Joe’s Cafe, owned by Vince Termini Sr., son of Giuseppe Termini, who founded Termini Brothers Bakery with his brother Gaetano in 1921. Vince Termini Sr. and his sons, Vinny and Joe, are all involved in both the bakery, which now has multiple locations, and Giuseppe & Sons.
“Nina and I are very close with the Termini family,” Schulson says. “We really wanted to do a South Philly Italian restaurant — something like the food at Mr. Joe’s Cafe, which we love, but in Center City and with the type of design we like to do. We started talking to them about it, one thing led to the next, and we just said, ‘Let’s do it together.’”
The menu downstairs covers the classics — linguini and clams, mussels in white or red sauce, braciole, chicken parmigiana, veal saltimbocca — balanced between the South Philly style and more modern takes on the cuisine, Schulson says. It took a lot of recipe testing to get it right, he adds, with Fields and his kitchen crew trying to tweak the dishes and the Terminis — along with Tinari, who grew up in an Italian family — making their case for keeping the dishes “true.”
“As a chef, I know what good food is, I know what bad food is, but I didn’t grew up eating this food. The Termini family and Nina, they grew up eating it — that’s the driving force of the authenticity,” Schulson says. “The guys in the kitchen are making the broccoli rabe, and they’re adding white wine to it, and I’m like, ‘No, get Nina’s father in there, show them how to make broccoli rabe. Stop playing around with it!’ And meanwhile [Vince Termini] Senior is just saying, ‘More garlic! More garlic! More olive oil!’ And then Wesley wants to put some butter in the pasta and Senior says ‘We don’t cook with butter. Stop with the butter.’”
The design has a retro edge but it’s a departure from South Philly Italian authenticity, with its curves, light wood, and plush banquettes. Home Studios out of Brooklyn worked with Tinari and Schulson to create the look. The same design firm is also involved in their upcoming restaurant on Locust Street, just off Rittenhouse Square.
Along with Giuseppe & Sons and Double Knot, the couple has Harp & Crown (next door to Giuseppe & Sons), Sampan, Independence Beer Garden, DK Sushi (an offshoot of Double Knot in the Franklin’s Table food hall), and Osteria (purchased from Urban Outfitters, who bought it from Marc Vetri). Outside of Philly, their restaurant group includes Izakaya at the Borgata in Atlantic City and Monkitail in Florida. Alpen Rose, a steakhouse next to Double Knot, is slated to open for events in December and for dinner in January 2019.