For Yehuda Sichel, leaving his executive chef job at Abe Fisher to open his own restaurant just before the pandemic began turned out to be surprisingly good timing. After months of at-home bread baking and recipe testing, Huda, Sichel’s new sandwich shop in Rittenhouse, opens Thursday with takeout, delivery, and (permits pending) outdoor seating.
“I think I’m in the perfect position, in a horrible time. My friends who own fine-dining restaurants are really struggling, and friends who don’t work at restaurants are laid off or working at 75-percent salaries. So for me — not to get too philosophical — this is a way I can control my own destiny,” Sichel says. “If we have to get shut down again, I’ll just bake bread here and make the sandwiches and deliver them myself. It’ll be a one-man show.”
Sichel spent the last decade working for Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook, starting in the kitchen at the nationally acclaimed Zahav until he was tapped to open upscale Jewish restaurant Abe Fisher in September 2014. When it came time to head out on his own, Sichel, who grew up in an orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore, was ready to move away from the dishes he had become known for.
“My name is sort of synonymous with Jewish cuisine, and I’m happy for that, but I felt like no matter what I did, there always had to be a Jewish twist,” he says. “I like that [at Huda], there’s no cuisine: The cuisine is good food. I don’t feel tied down — I don’t have to think, ‘oh, maybe I should put a little pastrami slice here.’”
Sichel signed the lease for Huda, at 32 S. 18th Street, on February 29, just a couple of weeks before Pennsylvania restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms. He hadn’t originally been thinking takeout and delivery would be the shop’s main focus, but since sandwiches — easy to transport, easy to grab and go — were always the plan, the pandemic didn’t drastically change his menu. (He did scrap the fruit-based soft serve and creative coffee drinks, since neither travel particularly well.)
Like everyone else, Sichel had tried his hand at bread baking during the early-pandemic stay-at-home order, kicking off a serious carb hobby that led from hearty sourdough to fluffy milk buns — the two building blocks of the sandwiches on his new menu.
“I started making bread every single day. I became a bread geek. And I really started to understand bread on a different level,” he says. “I realized bread needed to be the cornerstone of the restaurant.”
Huda does nod to Jewish cuisine with a brisket sandwich (with dijonnaise, lettuce, onion, and garlic pickles on a milk bun) and smoked salmon with nori cream cheese on grilled sourdough. But the menu as a whole doesn’t have an underlying theme beyond it’s what Sichel wants to make and eat.
There’s a crispy maitake mushroom sandwich inspired by a torte, with tomato, avocado, sour cream, chipotle, and mozzarella, chosen instead of Oaxaca cheese, which can get a little chewy if it’s not eaten right away. The swordfish with Napa cabbage slaw and kimchi tartar sauce is a riff on a beachy fish taco, with the fish grilled rather than fried to make it a better takeout option. The “sides” section of the menu makes use of the grill too, with lamb chops in a sweet chili glaze and grilled romaine and broccoli with cherry tomatoes, milk bread croutons, and a parmesan dressing.
“I want to make people think differently about what it is to go to a sandwich shop — sort of refining it a little bit, redefining it a little bit,” Sichel says. “I wanted to make a place that I would want to eat at every day.”
Following its September 10 opening, Huda’s hours will be Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Delivery is through DoorDash/Caviar. Here’s the initial menu: