Walk down Hudson Street in the West Village today, and you'll spot loaves of ancient grain, anadama miche and roasted potato bread through the new glass doors of High Street on Hudson—and likely a line of people waiting to get their hands on them.
The restaurant and bakery is one of the most anticipated openings of the year and an extension of Philadelphia's High Street on Market. There, chef Eli Kulp helped raise the state of Philly's food scene to national attention with his take on Lancaster County-inflected new American cooking and one of the most sought-after breakfast sandwiches in the U.S.
While Kulp says he developed his identity as a chef when he left New York to join Philadelphia restaurateur Ellen Yin at Fork in 2012, the Torrisi alum had always dreamed of owning a restaurant in New York. The reality of that dream took on new meaning this year: "Allowing myself and my family to enjoy something—it's a bright spot in a very difficult year," Kulp says.
An assortment of breads
He was paralyzed in last May's Amtrak train crash while traveling from Philadelphia to New York. "To lose your ability to hold something is devastating," Kulp tells me quietly while his team bustles around the space preparing for the opening. He has lost weight, and his voice is weaker than it once was, but he is still very much Eli, warm and welcoming and thoughtful about his restaurant. He's a chef's chef, fist-bumping and joking around with cooking friends who stop by to say hi and see the space. "Ninety percent of the battle after an injury like this is mental," he explains. And on that score, he appears to be pushing through.
Still, his involvement in the restaurant shifted after the accident. "Everybody had to put [the New York project] on hold and make sure all of the restaurants are well taken care of," he explains. Jon Nodler, Kulp's right-hand man (and the cook responsible for some of High Street's most beloved dishes), became the restaurant group's culinary director. "High Street's not a restaurant that has a single vision . . . it's an expression of a lot of really passionate people, and my job is to guide them into the right direction and make sure it fits into our vision," Kulp says. Yin and Kulp's kitchen is stocked with an impressive team—even by hot restaurant standards—including baker Alex Bois, pastry chef Samantha Kincaid and newcomer, chef de cuisine Taylor Naples.
Kulp and Yin still wanted to make sure that the entire team got High Street and their interpretation of new American cooking. "We knew that we had to inoculate the New York team with our culture and our ideas," Kulp says. General manager Julie Gray, who previously worked at Uncle Boons, has been training at High Street in Philly since June.
Inside the West Village restaurant
Breaking into the New York market is arguably one of the toughest things in the restaurant industry—the spate of articles about chefs fleeing the city simply underscores a long-standing fact—but Yin and Kulp are confident, citing Pok Pok and Mission Chinese Food as inspiration. "If you come to New York with a unique concept, the history shows that you'll be rewarded for your ambition," Kulp explains.
The concept at High Street on Hudson isn't precisely the same as it is in Philadelphia, but there are nods to the original throughout the space: church pews, a large art installation of Manhattan that conceptually mirrors an old map of Philadelphia, the open cooking area and bread display case. For the launch, much of the menu is similar, too: inventive egg sandwiches, squid-ink bialy with white fish, red eye danish (made with Benton's ham and topped with savory coffee gravy) and Rival Bros. coffee. There is also a handful of new dishes like an updated bodega sandwich made with malted breakfast sausage, cheddar, eggs and a sage-and-black pepper biscuit and yet-to-be-revealed dinner menu items that will debut in January.
Yin and Kulp both speak about the need for the New York location to find its own identity over time. "We want to be a neighborhood restaurant, obviously," Yin says, "but we'll see how the neighborhood responds, and we'll make adjustments; that's how it will evolve into its own restaurant much like we did in Philadelphia."
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