Celebrity chef Franklin Becker just brought Philly not one, but two, new virtual restaurants that are churning out chickpea-centric plates (Shai) and Sicilian pies (Benny Casanova’s).
The Top Chef Masters alum’s dual ghost kitchen in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philly (3300 Fairmount Avenue) is now open for pickup or delivery six days a week (closed Mondays), starting at 11 a.m. until midnight Sunday to Thursday and until 1 a.m. on weekends.
Israeli-inspired Shai sends out variations of hummus and other Mediterranean dishes and sides, while Benny Casanova’s brings Philly a taste of Becker’s native Brooklyn via square pies and pasta-stuffed arancini.
Meanwhile, Philly just got its own full-blown virtual food hall. Fine-Drawn Hospitality just debuted The Commons out of its Walnut Street Café and large beer hall The Post in University City. On-site ghost kitchens include Ghost Chicken (roasted chicken); Agea (Mediterranean eats); Sunset Social (burgers and seasonal cocktails); and Philadelphia Wing Shop.
Here’s a closer look at Becker’s new Philly ventures:
Becker, co-founder of fast-casual chain The Little Beet, taps into his veggie and vegan experience with hummus, falafel, and a chickpea stew and parsley salad at Shai. There’s also spit-roasted chicken shawarma flanked with eggplant, onions, preserved lemons, and pickled raisins.
Accompaniments include Middle Eastern sauces and condiments, harissa (hot chili paste), and whipped sesame tahini with extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, salt and lemon juice.
Seasonal sides include cumin roasted carrots, grilled beets, and sweet potatoes finished with olive oil, sea salt, and Turkish chile pepper known as urfa biber. All orders come with pita bread made daily.
Benny is a nostalgic homage to the Brooklyn pizzeria that Becker worked at in high school, whose owner and Becker’s first-time mentor shared his Sicilian grandmother’s secret recipe back in the day. It lives on at Benny in the form of 10-inch pizzas with six crispy squares each (starting at $13).
A hefty “Passyunk Ave” is loaded with pork sausage, spicy cherry peppers, broccoli rabe, and pecorino cheese, while the “Sfincione” features breadcrumbs, anchovies, onions, caciocavallo cheese, and tomato sauce. Veggie options include a cremini mushroom and ricotta variety or an eggplant-topped creation.
Popular pasta dishes take shape inside fried arancini (rice balls), stuffed with the same ingredients that go into carbonara and cacio e pepe. Other non-pizza options include eggplant Parmesan and garlic “wheels” — a beloved Brooklyn side.
Philly is acting as a testing ground of sorts for his forthcoming food hall in Columbia University’s new science center in West Harlem, which plans to also serve Sicilian-style pizza and Israeli-style hummus upon its debut in 2021.