Carolynn Angle, who as the longtime chef at Northern Liberties’ Standard Tap helped lead the city’s gastropub movement in the early 2000s, has a new kitchen.
She started last month as chef at the popular Good Dog Bar, on 15th Street near Locust in Center City owned by Dave Garry and Heather Gleason.
Angle, 45, who grew up in Ardmore and started in fine dining at such destinations as Central Bar & Grill, Striped Bass, and Fishmarket, replaced Jessica O’Donnell, who left recently after 14 years to spend more time with family.
Angle and I sat down last week to catch up before the dinner rush.
How did you get into the gastropub scene back then?
[Fishmarket owner] Neil Stein’s whole world collapsed [in 2001], and then I took off a little bit. I was friends with Paul [Kimport] and they needed help at Standard Tap. I was there to eat and drink and then it was like, ‘Do you know anybody?’ I’m like, ‘Well, actually, I’m not working.’
You worked at Standard Tap till almost two years ago. Why did you leave?
I was just burned out. I wanted to spend time with my family. I had a new nephew. You get older and you see less and less of your family. I wanted to get reacquainted with my family, pretty much. I didn’t want to work the hours and enjoy happy hour and the weekend and all the things life gives you. But I found that really boring.
But you didn’t go back to restaurant work till now. What were you up to?
I went to work for Greensgrow [the nonprofit farm, garden center, and farmstand in Kensington] after [founder] Mary Seton Corboy passed away, because I was good friends with her. I just wanted to get in there and learn more about plants and kind of reconnect. I lived around the corner from there and I wanted to learn really more about the nursery and the plants and stuff, but I wound up running their commissary kitchen and doing their catering and doing some of their prepared food.
That seems low-pressure.
It’s nonprofit, so it’s like you’re the only one doing it. You’re the only one working [in the kitchen] unless it’s a volunteer that wants to come help for a few hours, but they’re on their phone the first hour and a half. You’re sort of on an island. I was cooking and doing catering for Philly Brewing Co. up the street, at the commissary, and I was like: ‘I miss this. I miss working with food.’ I really missed the camaraderie of working next to a bunch of people in the kitchen. I didn’t miss all of it. I didn’t miss the hours and that kind of thing but I really did miss the working side by side and working really, really hard and that kind of thing. I’m also not the temperament for working for a nonprofit. I’m a little too intense.
How did Good Dog come up?
Dave sent me a text message. I worked with Dave at Standard Tap. He was a bartender there. I always got along great with him. I knew Heather through him. I used to go to [the now-closed] Industry a lot when I lived down there. We kept in contact through the years and he just sent me a text message, ‘I’d love to work for you again. I’d love to work with you again. We’re looking for a chef.’ Then I think I sat on it. I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t know,’ because I was hemming and hawing. Then I met up with him and we talked, and it sounded great. Then, I was like, ‘Am I crazy? No, I can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this.’ I sat on it for a little while — they say five months, but I feel like I sat on it for a month or two. I guess it felt like five months to them. They didn’t do anything, either, in the meantime, because Jess was still here. Jess was me two years ago. She was there for 14 years. We were talking some more and I’m like, ‘This is a good situation in front of me with good people, and they’re saying all the right things. It’s a good fit. I should never turn this away. I should never turn this up.’
What are you going to do differently with the food?
We’re revamping the menu, and we’re slowly going to just put more of a local thing to it — more of the local, fresh food, simplified, just good, tasty bar food that is what we’re eating now because we all have high cholesterol. Bringing more fresh fish in here, less fried items, more seasonal stuff. More seafood, live seafood. That’s exciting. That’s what I enjoy working with. Nothing too fancy, but just simplified.
Fried stuff is always a big seller. How do you satisfy the commerce part of it while sticking to your guns?
Your burger is always going to be your biggest seller, and you just have to get over that. You can have some of the best vegetables in the world, and we have a Roquefort-stuffed burger and people get cheese put on top of it. But then you also have the theater district and you have people who know that they can come in here and don’t have to get a bunch of fried food — that they can get something lighter. They can go to the theater and feel all right and say, ‘Hey, we went to Good Dog and had a really good meal. Unassuming little place on 15th Street.’
Tell me the changes you’ve seen in public taste.
I think people have just gotten pickier. The way people like to just pick apart a menu and feel that they can customize it any way they want, regardless of your suggestion. People just dismantle menus and it’s like, ‘Why are we even here?’ You have to do it because they’re paying for it. I love the ethnic scene here. But now, you’re seeing kimchi in everything on non-Korean menus. It’s almost a little overkill at this point. Put it down a little bit. Let it be kimchi. And banh mi. You see banh mi everywhere, but it’s not the right bread. There’s a reason why the bread is the way it is in a true banh mi. You shouldn’t change the bread.
As a woman in the kitchen, what changes have you seen?
I have never, ever, ever had an issue with getting respect or anything like that. You see it with the delivery drivers sometimes, but then they see you picking up cases of whatever and they see you. I think I like to lead by example, and so, if I’m going to ask them to do it, I’m going to do it, too. I think it’s gone a long way for me in my career, that it’s allowed me to get along well with my cooks. As far as sexual harassment, it exists in the industry. It’s getting less, which is nice, but I’ve never had a problem opening my mouth and sticking up for myself, either. I’m thrilled to be working for Dave and Heather. I think they run a really tight ship and they’re super-passionate about their business. They’re hands-on and it’s really nice to be in this environment.