When Neilly Robinson and David Viana’s dreams to open their first restaurant in Philly were dashed by the pandemic, Robinson says it was “devastating.” The owners of Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, New Jersey had been raising money and planning the endeavor for over a year and a half when everything everywhere shut down. “What felt like a two week pause became three months of languishing into the unknown,” Viana says. “We couldn’t in good faith keep the money that we had raised. We decided to put a pin in it.”
The investments they had received for the Philly outpost came largely from regulars at the New Jersey restaurant who “believed in us and what we do,” Robinson says. “We put a massive business plan together. We put a lot into it. It felt like our growth was stunted.”
Finally, over a year later, the owners are getting a chance to show Philly what they can do — if on a slightly smaller scale. A few doors down from the original restaurant they had planned to open at 915 Spring Garden Street, Viana and Robinson will run a six-week pop-up, bringing Viana’s farm-to-table, constantly changing, easygoing fine dining menu to the neighborhood. When the landlord behind the original building approached them about the possibility of a pop-up, “It was something we mulled over,” Robinson says. “We just felt like, ‘Let’s give it a go.’”
The restaurant pop-up is in the space formerly belonging to W/N W/N Coffee Bar at 931 Spring Garden Street. Like the original Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, NJ, the menu will change throughout the six weeks Viana is cooking there, with a new dish coming off the menu once a week. “When something comes off the menu, it [goes] into the ether,” Viana says. “It’s a way to dare myself to be creative and try to push my culinary safety net.”
The $55 prix fixe menu will feature some of Heirloom Kitchen’s cult favorites, like duck with a foie gras popover and Madeira duck jus, and a pork Wellington with sweet potato and mushroom duxelles. First courses include tuna tartare, broccolini, and a paella agnolotti, with a sticky date pudding as the dessert menu highlight. Reservations open up for the following week on Tock every Sunday at 5 p.m.
Viana, who was a contestant on season 16 of Top Chef and a 2018 James Beard semifinalist, says he is most excited to work with Ricardo Rodriguez on the cocktail menu. “He really acts like a chef behind the bar,” Viana says. “His cocktail list is insane.”
For the space itself, Viana and Robinson got to build it out with simple design and decor and art from their friends. The whole endeavor is representative of the pair’s tastes, making the pop-up a true proving ground for whether they should give Philly another shot.
“We’re in the courting period between us and Philadelphia,” Viana says. “We’re going to wait to see how we’re received and how the food hits,” before they make any decisions about trying to open a full-service restaurant in the city again.
Robinson, though, is hopeful: “We would love nothing more than an opportunity to stay.”