Eighteen months in, Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s community-minded Rooster Soup Co. is getting a second life as a Jewish deli, complete with a shortened name. The Rooster will serve corned beef, smoked whitefish, and patty melts, and continue to give all its profits to charity through the Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative.
The CookNSolo team announced the change Monday morning to its Kickstarter backers, who first got excited about the notion of a charitable chicken soup restaurant back in 2014. Complementing the philanthropic mission, the idea was to make use of the leftover chicken carcasses from fried chicken-and-doughnut chain Federal Donuts, co-owned by Solomonov and Cook along with Felicia D’Ambrosio, Tom Henneman, and Bob Logue.
The rebranded Rooster (1526 Sansom Street) will still sell chicken soup — it is a Jewish deli, after all — but the menu now puts aside the beer-braised pork and cheeseburgers for bagels and pastrami. Yehuda Sichel of Abe Fisher, which serves CookNSolo’s upscale take on Jewish fare (not Israeli; find that at their Zahav), consulted on The Rooster’s menu and it includes a version of Abe Fisher’s famed Montreal-style smoked meat. (Note that both restaurants cook Jewish-style, not kosher, food.)
One reason for the change was to get “soup” out of the name to make it sound like more of an all-weather eatery. The owners also say they had been throwing around the idea of a Jewish deli for years, often with Sichel, who was raised in an orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore. His first restaurant job was making matzo balls in a kosher deli.
The matzo ball soup at The Rooster is a Yemenite recipe made with hawaij, a spice blend donated from Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boite spice shop in New York. The wedge salad — “the king of lettuces,” as Solomonov and Cook describe it — uses the sesame paste tahini instead of cream. It’s the same ingredient used in their tehina (another word for tahini) shakes at Goldie.
The sandwich section of the new menu starts with hot corned beef on house-made rye. It’s “pastrami’s red-headed stepchild,” Solomonov and Cook write. “It doesn’t have the same smoky flavor, it’s the simplest sandwich on the menu, but it’s the purest example of all the techniques that come together in the deli.”
Pastrami is found in the Montreal smoked meat sandwich, created with a Baltimore pit beef sandwich in mind. Like the Montreal-style short ribs at Abe Fisher, the meat is cured for five days, crusted in black pepper, allspice, and coriander, smoked, and then confit. Abe Fisher serves it bone-in, but here it’s on a Martin’s potato roll, with horseradish sauce and onion.
The patty melt on the menu is similar to a reuben — “especially because of the ‘everything’ sauce with everything nice,” the owners say — and the smoked whitefish comes on a bagel with tomato, red onion, and capers. There’s also a vegetarian take on a reuben made with beets.
For dessert, look for a rotating choice of fruit pie (it’s blueberry crumb right now). The milkshake, available in four flavors plus one spiked version, is another sweet option.
Rooster’s revamped drinks list includes classic cocktails, like a dirty martini and a Manhattan, here made with pastrami-washed rye; a short selection of wines; and local beers on draft.
Rooster already went through smaller revisions since it debuted in January 2017. Opening chef Erin O’Shea left last summer after 12 years with the restaurant group. George Sabatino signed on about six months ago and tweaked the menu. He just left, because of the concept change.
Jarrett O’Hara, who was sous chef for both O’Shea and Sabatino and previously worked under Sichel at Abe Fisher, has now moved up to chef at The Rooster.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. A brunch menu will be added later.
The Broad Street Ministry’s Hospitality Collaborative provides food to Philadelphians in need, in the form of a restaurant-style sit-down meal, along with a slew of other services. According to The Rooster, the Hospitality Collaborative served more than 72,000 meals last year.
In Solomonov and Cook’s words:
[Pt. 1 of 2] Five years ago we had an off-the-wall idea for a restaurant called Rooster Soup Company. The unused parts from Federal Donuts chickens would be repurposed into soup, which would become the backbone (pun intended) of Rooster’s menu. And, by the way, 100% of Rooster Soup’s profit would go towards funding the mission of our partner, Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative. Broad Street is an amazing place where Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens receive food, vital social services and the kind of radical hospitality that inspired this whole idea in the first place. Thanks to the support of over 1,500 Kickstarter backers, along with some private donations, a bank loan and a bunch of our own money, we opened the restaurant in January 2017. We did some things right and we did some things wrong. We adjusted as we went. When it was cold out, the restaurant was humming and we even made a little money. We managed to donate $16,000 to Broad Street during our first year, enough to cover the cost of about 7,000 meals. When it was warm out, the picture wasn’t as rosy. For some people, even thinking about soup on a hot day is enough to make them sweat. And even though soup was only a small part of our menu, it seemed to be keeping people away. Normally, when a restaurant is losing money, you don’t hear the owners talking about it in public. But Rooster is different.
[Pt. 2 of 2] We opened the restaurant as a kind of public trust. And with that trust comes responsibility. The whole point of Rooster is to funnel money back to Broad Street and make some small, tangible impact on relieving the suffering of our fellow citizens. So if we’re not doing that, then what the hell are we doing? And then it dawned on us – let’s just do it all over again. Let’s change the name, embrace our assets (good location, cool space, great community) and tailor our menu to what our customers want and that we can do really well. So let us introduce you to The Rooster: a new and concise menu of Jewish deli favorites with a twist - Yemenite Matzo Ball Soup; a Wedge Salad dressed with creamy tehina ranch, thick-sliced Hot Corned Beef on Jewish Rye, a Beet Reuben to knock your vegetarian socks off, Montreal Smoked Meat with Horseradish on a Martin’s Potato Roll, homemade seasonal pie, and fountain milkshakes. It’s the same great mission, now ready to rock twelve months a year! Welcome and thank you in advance for your continued support. Best, Steve Cook and Mike Solomonov