North Broad Street is growing and changing every day and with the re-opening of the hotel and the buzz around the tenants coming in, including Chef Joe Cicala, it is sure to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. Here's our exclusive interview into the opening of Chef Cicala's newest creation, Cicala, plus your chance to see it before the opening this fall & play a part in Philadelphia's Culinary History!
How do you know Eric Blumenfeld and when he approached you regarding this opportunity, what were your initial thoughts and feelings?
Cicala: I met Eric through my restaurant consultant Harris Eckstut. Both were having dinner on the patio last summer together at Le Virtu and after Eric mentioned the space being available. I was apprehensive at first because of the location but after doing my due diligence I found that the area's 5 year plan of development is going to bring a lot of potential guests and foot traffic to the area, paired with the renovation and opening of the Metropolitan Opera House one block north of the Divine Lorraine, it made perfect sense. I even met with Marc Vetri to discuss his relationship with Eric, (Osteria is a Blumenfeld property), and after his endorsement, I decided to go full steam ahead with the project.
What excites you about being in this location of the city, but more specifically The Divine Lorraine?
Cicala: The city has always had a love affair with the Divine Lorraine. It's one of the most iconic buildings in the Philadelphia skyline with a rich history in hospitality. I'm really excited to bring back the elegance which was once associated with the hotel. In my opinion, the neighborhood is underserved in full-service restaurants and I think our concept will give a great option from center city dining since it's only a few blocks from City Hall.
Did you immediately know how you wanted to design the interior after seeing the raw space within the building?
Yes, the raw space is what really sold us on the location. We immediately could see our food in that room. The space is on the south side of the building which means there will be great natural light year round coming from the arched windows. Southern exposure is very important considering we will have a rather large patio. As for the interior, we knew we wanted to keep the raw white-washed brick exposed as well as the steel beams. They were even able to keep the original wood floor which was a nice surprise. All in all, the natural state of the restaurant already feels southern Italian, a mix of Capodimonte and Puglian.
The renderings are so unique and elegant, what do you envision the atmosphere of the restaurant being for diners?
I think elegant is the correct word. We want to create a relaxed yet elegant environment for diners. nothing stuffy, still very approachable. Some of the design was based on the original design of the restaurant that used to be in that space. For instance, we added round booths along the north-side wall because we found some old photos of the hotel in its heyday. There will also be a full bar with a cocktail lounge, plus a semi-open kitchen with a chef's table
Will there be soft openings leading up to the grand unveiling in the fall? And is there are a more concrete date as to the opening night?
Yes, there will be a series of invitation-only soft openings where we will invite friends, family, and industry professionals to come in and give feedback while we fine tune cooking and service. The grand opening will be in November if the construction goes as planned. We do not expect any delays considering the demolition is done, it's only building from here on out.
You’d mentioned in a previous interview that “it will still be your food,” what staples will be on this menu, any family recipes?
Our family is why we are able to do this. We named the restaurant Cicala, not after me, but for after my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and even for my son who hopefully will have an interest in taking over the business once we retire. So expect a lot of family recipes from the Cicala's native Sicily and Angela's family roots in Abruzzo. The menu will also reflect our extensive work-history and travels through Italy including regions such as Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, and Molise. We may even sneak in some northern regions like Piedmont, Emilia-Romania, Tuscany, and Umbria. Main courses will be more refined and composed in comparison with our previous restaurant's menus, but the pastas will still be made by hand and the salumi/cured meats made in-house. The wine list will be strictly Italian with a focus on southern Italian wines including some obscure grape varietals which may not be widely known to Americans. We're really excited to share our discoveries with our guests.
With the layout of the semi-open kitchen, will your in-house cured salumi be displayed so that guests can appreciate the work you’re doing?
We had that idea at first but after taking a look at the refrigeration options compared with the natural light, we decided against it. The light would interfere with the curing process and the glass refrigeration became too costly. However, we will still be curing over 30 different varieties of salumi in designated refrigerators in the basement. We are even toying with the idea of having a salami cart, much like the old cheese carts and slicing the prosciutto tableside.
Will Cicala have a liquor license, if so will this be a full bar with traditional Italian offerings?
Yes, we will have a full liquor program. We expect to have around 100 wines on the list with 15-20 by the glass options. We will not have a draught system but we will be offering local and imported Italian beers by the bottle as well as craft cocktails.
We read an article by Philly Magazine, and were hoping this would be the case...desserts will come from Angela! Can you elaborate as to what desserts we may see at an evening at Cicala?
Angela has been really getting into chocolate work these days. She's been working closely with Amadei chocolate, an artisanal "bean to bar" producer from Tuscany. You can also expect to see her unique house-made gelati and sorbetti, desserts rooted in authenticity and tradition as well as many types of house-made breads for the bread program. I'd like to see a dessert cart-type option where she would make many different mini Italian pastries such as baba, delizia al Limone, scazzetta etc. The kitchen design has an extensive pastry program in mind, Angela will have her own "laborotorio" to experiment and produce way more than she has in her past restaurants whose spaces were smaller and restrictive. With the current design, she can delve into her repertoire and live up to her potential as a pastry chef. She's been recipe testing at home so follow her on social media to check the progress during the development stages.
Have there been any talks of expanding on your dinner service to host lunch or brunch options in the future? If so, will these offerings include traditional Italian breakfast pastries from Angela?
Absolutely. We will offer Sunday Brunch and Angela's house-made breakfast pastries will be a featured item on the menu. You can expect pan di chocolate and almond croissants. Lunch isn't a priority right now, we would have to test the market and see how that goes, but we are both really excited about the potential for private parties. The open floor plan lends itself really well to events such as weddings and business functions. We expect a large part of our business to be event related.
How do you see the relationship between the restaurant and the residents of the building?
Funny you mention this. We just received news that longtime regular guests of ours will be moving into the Divine Lorraine this summer. We have already met many of the residents who have all been really supportive of the idea of having a restaurant in their building. They are really looking forward to having a "lobby bar" where they can grab happy hour drinks on their way home from work, or grab dinner when they don't feel like cooking and not have to even leave the property. We'd also like to explore in-room dining. Not exactly room service but something similar. Think small-scale catering.
Lastly, will Augustino (your son) follow in your and Angela’s footsteps and become a chef? Has he had any pull in the decor or the menu for Cicala?
I hope Augustino has the good sense to stay in school and find a more lucrative career than hospitality! But if he decides to follow in the family footsteps and become a chef/restaurateur we couldn't be more proud of him. He has definitely had an influence on the menu. For a 10-year-old he has an amazing nose and palate. He'll notice if I use a different olive oil in his pasta and he'll call me out on it. He also has a very strict preference for which types of dry pasta we use. He prefers artisanal producers like Cavaliere Giuseppe Cocco and Faella, both of which will be on the menu at Cicala.