Like any kid from South Jersey, Top Chef Kevin Sbraga is intimately familiar with The Pub, the mammoth and medieval steakhouse on the old Airport Circle in Pennsauken.
The smoke-belching, charcoal-burning hearths, tended by white-jacketed, red-kerchiefed cooks lining the back wall. The salad bar, where you quickly learned that your eyes were bigger than your stomach. The parquet floors. The stained glass.
Sbraga, 35, who owns Sbraga in Center City and The Fat Ham in University City, is reaching back to his '80s boyhood memories for inspiration as he comes up with Juniper Commons, opening in late November at Broad and South Streets.
Admittedly, the look and feel by Eimer Design pretty much suggests 2014 - there are no shields and swords on the wall and not a speck of wrought iron or hanging ferns in sight in the rendering - but Sbraga is installing a four-foot hearth whose rotisserie will burn charcoal and hard woods. Walls will be clad in wood paneling. He plans Lionel Richie and Chicago on the playlist. GM Ben Fileccia has orders to stock the bar with plenty of gin. Get it? Juniper = gin.
And in a real nod to the '80s, Eimer is having wallpaper created from pages of The Inquirer, Daily News, and Bulletin to cover the wall that separates the private and main dining rooms. (Thirty years from now, will new, retro-concept restaurants be decorated with smart-phone screens?)
Menu will feature baked stuffed flounder and beef burgundy, Caesar salads made tableside, prime rib cooked on the rotisserie, and in homage to The Pub's salad bar, a dish piled with salad-bar items and topped with dressings such as French, blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette.