Photo by Jay Paul
Opportunity doesn’t always come knocking. Sometimes it just hangs out in a doorway, waiting to be noticed. Kevin Roberts, owner of The Black Sheep, was making a routine deposit at the Wells Fargo on Grace Street last fall when he noticed a sign on the door of Perly’s across the street announcing the restaurant had closed.
The news was tough to swallow for many fans of the Art Deco delicatessen, which has been a downtown lunch institution for more than 50 years. But, for Roberts, it also felt a little like kismet. The chef had been on the lookout for his next venture. “I’ve always loved that building,” he says. “I just never thought it was a possibility.” So he looked into it with his business partner, Johnny Giavos, and by February he had signed the lease.
Coming up with the concept for his new restaurant was easy. “It’s printed right there on the building,” he says. “Restaurant delicatessen.” But not just any delicatessen — he wanted one that forages through the dusty recipe boxes of Jewish grandmothers and Eastern European émigrés, extracting old traditions and making them palatable for new audiences.
Robert’s artisanal ethnic deli will feature fresh takes on Jewish dishes like noodle kugels, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, tzimmes and rugelach. There will be bagels and lox, inventive schmears, house-fermented pickles, and homemade breads — and, of course, deli meats.
The concept and the timing feel spot-on. A Jewish delicatessen is not only a return to the restaurant’s roots, it also brings a Eastern European option to a lunch crowd that has proven itself faithful to Western European delis such as Olio and Coppola’s. Other cities already are enjoying this new breed of Jewish deli; Perly’s will join the likes of Gefilteria and Kutsher’s Tribeca in New York.
The new Perly’s, which will open this summer (as soon as Roberts finishes jumping through “city hoops”), will keep its original Art Deco design, but will be a brighter, cleaner space for noshing on kugels and cabbage rolls. A restaurant that preserves the best of the old while adding something exciting and new — to that we say, challah, yeah.