When one thinks about Philadelphia, images of the Liberty Bell, The Franklin Institute, Ben Franklin and of course, Rocky Balboa usually come to mind. Top-notch kosher dining probably doesn’t make the list. That is until you experience Citron & Rose Tavern and its sister restaurant, Zagafen.
Both restaurants offer the finest in kosher cuisine and are both housed in magnificent venues rivaling any restaurant in the larger kosher markets. Citron & Rose is led by Executive Chef Joe Fusco who, until coming on board with BiSiDi Hospitality Group—the corporate entity—was the executive chef of a Michelin-reviewed top 10 steakhouse in New York City.
Citron & Rose is a classic steakhouse situated in a converted historic mansion with rustic décor and a gorgeous bar with a sophisticated wine list, beer and mixed drinks. The menu is varied and current, with dishes to satisfy all palates.
We caught up with Michael Rappaport, the CEO of BiSidi, who explained that while operating at this level in a relatively small kosher market has many challenges, the restaurant draws from all over including Lakewood, Baltimore, Brooklyn and of course those traveling up and down the I-95 corridor for both business and leisure. Citron & Rose is a five-star dining experience from beginning to end. From sampling the Burnt Ends Smoked Brisket appetizer to the restaurant’s variety of perfectly grilled steaks to their home-made desserts, you will no doubt be glad you stopped in and will find reason to stop in again.
Zagafen is a very different kind of experience. The eatery opened right before the pandemic and never really got its feet on the ground until about a year ago. It originally opened as a pizza/wine bar—thus the name “ZA-Gafen,” but when BiSiDi Hospitality Group took over the concept was changed. The feeling is much more laid-back and family-friendly. The pizza has remained the driving force behind this restaurant. Their pizza chef, Giovanni Sparaccio, is the real deal. Born and raised in Sicily, he moved to the United States many years ago pursuing his dream of opening top-quality authentic Italian restaurants. In his younger days he did exactly that and opened several extremely successful restaurants on both coasts. Giovanni was brought on board to bring his pizza “magic” to the restaurant. And that he has done.
Zagafen only offers personal 12” pies made to order. You can’t beat the freshness and the home-made sauces—and amazing dough brings the kosher pizza experience to a new level. One of the unique aspects of Zagafen is the duality of experience. While it is every bit an upscale full restaurant experience, it is also a classic bakery café and ice cream bar serving house made desserts by their Pastry Chef, Tommy Jimenez (Tommy J). Chef Tommy worked at the iconic Belvue Stafford Hotel in Philadelphia and learned under Master Pastry Chef Gunther Heiland. From their Zagafen signature chocolate chip cookie to cream cheese frosted cinnamon buns to an array of finger pastries and full-size cakes, it is worth the trip if only for dessert. Add to that their classic 20 ounce milk shakes, Belgian waffles and dessert crepes and you are looking at a Willy Wonka experience in The City of Brotherly Love.
Rappaport of BiSiDi is always “shocked” at how many people from the tri-state area tell him that they wish he would open in their area even though there are many similar options available. When that fact is pointed out, everyone has the same response: “Not like Zagafen.”
And while pizza is the driving force, there is an entire menu of classic Italian and American cuisine. Rappaport recently hired Chef Damian Patterson, an expert in vegan cuisine, to cater to the very large surrounding vegan community. Rappaport believes that there is a natural relationship between kosher and vegan, but says that “unless you provide classic vegan options, the vegan community will not look at a kosher restaurant as a viable option to patronize.”
Both restaurants have a great vibe. Jazz music will always be playing and often the restaurants will bring in live jazz bands to add to the ambiance.
Rappaport told us that while admittedly Philadelphia will most likely never be a kosher restaurant mecca like Brooklyn, Manhattan or the Five Towns, both Citron & Rose and Zagafen rival any restaurant in those locations. When visiting or passing through the Philadelphia area for a taste of American history it would behoove you get a taste of these restaurants’ top-notch kosher cuisine.
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Citron & Rose—https://www.citronrosetavern.com; 261 Montgomery Ave, Bala Cynwyd, PA; 19004; (610) 257-7577.
Zagafen—https://www.zagafen.com; 370 Montgomery Ave, Merion Station, PA 19066; (610) 667-7777.