Elwood BYOB: New Restaurant to Open on Frankford Ave. Later This Year
In July 2016, Fishtown resident and chef Adam Diltz announced his intent to debut a restaurant of his own, Elwood, at 1007 Frankford Avenue across from the Fillmore.
Those familiar with the Fishtown dining scene have become accustomed to Diltz cookery by way of Johnny Brenda’s, a kitchen he landed at in 2014. There, Diltz helped refocus the bar-meets-concert venue’s culinary program into a richer, locally sourced experience deepened with rabbit rillettes, Griggstown Farm chicken breasts and BBQ-dressed seitan sandwiches. Heck, he even makes his own scrapple for brunch service too.
It has always been important to the chef in his 20-year career to respect the bounty that surrounds the region he cooks in and to pay tribute to the culinary traditions that are deeply rooted there. This is why his forthcoming 30-seat BYOB will celebrate Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic cuisine through its dishes.
Though he was raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania, in Hetlerville outside of Bloomsburg, he clocked a laundry list of national accomplishments before he returned to his home state. After studying culinary arts at the Penn College of Technology in Williamsport, he traveled to Boston, where he began to build the foundation of his career under Barbara Lynch — recently named in TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” — at the legendary No. 9 Park.
Eventually, he progressed to Everest in Chicago and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee — where he gave up everything to go work there and do it “for real.” It wasn’t until six years ago that his career brought him back to Pennsylvania, working first at Old City’s Farmicia until he claimed kitchen residence on the corner of Frankford and Girard.
Now, at 37 years old, it’s time to build something of his own.
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, I caught him in the Johnny Brenda’s kitchen breaking down pheasants for dinner service. He explained that our city has minimal regional-specific restaurants.
“There are so many Italian and Mexican restaurants, but no one in the Philadelphia area celebrates our heritage,” Diltz said. “My name isn’t on the door — it’s ‘Elwood,’ my grandfather. It’s not about me and my ego. It’s more about what we are missing in Philadelphia. This city was the Hong Kong, the Marrakesh, the London, the Paris in the 1800s. And now it’s not. I want to bring it back.”
Diltz reveals he’s always held a passion for Pennsylvania’s culinary history, so much so that he began reaching out to Pennsylvania food historian Dr. William Woys Weaver in high school. He actually hosted a Pennsylvania Dutch brunch with Weaver this year, taking no shortcuts in creating from-scratch dishes like stuffed pig stomach for the event. “Delaware River used to be the caviar capital of the world,” he said. “Native Americans used to catch eels. The Mid-Atlantic has tons of history and I’m going to try to showcase it.”
Diltz believes a progressive neighborhood like Fishtown has room for a regionally inspired concept like Elwood. “I live and work in Fishtown. My wife and I really love it, so it’s only natural to want to open my own place here,” he said. “I am from Pennsylvania—this is what I want to do.”
Currently, he is working through menu development. “I want my cooking to be like your great-grandmother cooked it, but she was trained as a chef,” he explained. His grandmother was famous for preparing soul-warming dishes for the whole family — and always had fresh-baked desserts, including shoo-fly pie. He will source from local farms and forage as possible and feature sharable whole-animal options, like venison rack for two, or a whole roast duck for four with all the necessary fixings. He’s shying away from offering a tasting menu, and is more inspired by the structure of communal dining like that seen at Korean BBQ that keeps eating fun throughout the whole meal. Elwood will also be a place for those who are looking for an intimate dinner for two.
Diltz will continue to run the kitchen at Johnny Brenda’s until Elwood gets its start. The restaurant project is currently in zoning-approval mode, with his next development slated for approval on June 7. His wife, Jenny Ko, and sister-in-law own the Elwood building and lot next door. Ko is an architect by day and will be designing the space.
In the meantime, you can receive a preview of Diltz’s cooking at an upcoming Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery wine dinner he’s hosting at COOK on June 29. If you’re in luck, you’ll also find him teaching classes at Greensgrow, including his popular scrapple-making course.
Stay tuned for developments on the Elwood project and news of its opening date. •