What to Look Forward to at Kensington Quarters

By Danya Henninger  |  January 22, 2014
Credit: James Narog

Kensington Quarters head butcher Bryan Mayer and executive chef Damon Menapace

Fishtown will soon be home to one of the most exciting restaurants in the city. Kensington Quarters will be a collaboration between Michael Pasquarello (who owns Cafe Lift, Bufad and Prohibition Taproom) and Bryan Mayer, a former head butcher at Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Their space will house a retail butcher shop, a full-service dining room and bar and a kitchen-classroom area on the second floor. Though an opening isn’t expected until spring, diners have been able to get a glimpse of what the partnership will bring with a series of fried chicken pop-ups. The last one is set for this Thursday at 6 PM at Cafe Lift.

We recently chatted with the two partners and came away impressed and intrigued. Read on to find out why you’ll definitely want to make plans to visit 1310 Frankford Avenue once Kensington Quarters is ready to go.

The Farmers and the Chickens

The reason Mayer and Pasquarello have been holding these preliminary fried chicken pop-ups comes down to a commitment to an Amish farmer.

“Sometimes chickens are the last thought in butcher shops,” Mayer says, “but I feel strongly about paying the same attention to them as we do with pork or beef.” He made the decision to buy chicks directly from a hatchery - he’s still playing around with what breed works best - and then send them to a farm to be raised.

After visiting a few, Mayer found a Lancaster County farmer that understood his free-range philosophy. “Chickens grow very quickly,” he says, “and when the first batch was ready before we had KQ open, we had to decide what to do.”

There was no allowance for change in plans, because the farm is Amish - it’s not even hooked up to local electricity. “There’s no calling them on the phone and saying, ‘Oh, we can’t take the chickens this week,’” Mayer points out. Hence, the fried chicken pop-ups, which have so far been a big hit.


How It All Began

It was a bit of serendipity that led to the Kensington Quarters partnership in the first place. Pasquarello knew he wanted his fourth restaurant to involve whole-animal butchering, so he called renowned butchery Fleisher’s to inquire about an educational series. Mayer happened to pick up the phone - a rarity, since his hands were usually full of raw meat - and the two hit it off.

Mayer had been planning a move to Philadelphia anyway (his wife’s family is from the area), and when he arrived in search of a location for his own butcher shop, Pasquarello acted as a guide. During one scouting trip, they landed in front of Pasquarello’s already-leased spot at 1310 Frankford and began discussing how big the space was. Then they had their brainstorm - “We’ll put a butcher shop inside the restaurant!” - and the idea for Kensington Quarters was born.

“When you’re sourcing sustainably-raised, GMO-free animals direct from farms, you need to make sure you have a way to use all the meat,” Pasquarello explains. “With both a butcher shop and a restaurant, we can justify our one-to-one relationships with the farmers.”

The Space

Kensington Quarters’ butcher shop won’t actually be *inside* the dining room (both partners mentioned the glassed-in carving room in Jamie Oliver’s London restaurant Barbecoa as inspiration), but it will be connected.

“When you first walk in, the butcher counter is what you’ll see,” Pasquarello tells us. “You’ll walk past the windows to the huge cooler room, where you can watch the butchers breaking down the animals, then you’ll get to the front bar, and beyond that is the dining room.”

Seating for 125 will fill the room, and there will be an outdoor private dining area, plus the upstairs educational space. Two bars will pour craft beer from 14 taps. Eight wines will also be on draft, and the beverage program will follow the philosophy of the food, tilting local and preservative-free.

The Food

Chef will be Damon Menapace, a Vetri Family alum (he worked at Osteria and opened Alla Spina) who is a longtime Prohibition Taproom regular. His response to Pasquarello when tapped for the Kensington Quarters position: “I was just waiting for you to ask.”

All of the food served at Kensington Quarters will be GMO-free and as sustainable as possible, which puts a bit of strain on the chef as far as sourcing and ordering. “Some chefs don’t want to have to think about or deal with that, but Damon does,” Pasquarello says.

Though KQ will still be relatively casual - servers will wear aprons over jeans - the menu will be more “coursed out” than the Lift-ProTap-Bufad trio. Expect sections titled “Small Plates,” “Starches, Grains and Greens,” “Entrees” and “Desserts.” The plans is for large plates to come in under $24.

Local cheeses will be featured on a charcuterie board, which will eventually feature house-cured meats (there’s a curing room built in to the space). As much cooking as possible will happen with what Pasquarello refers to as “solid fuel,” i.e. via the wood-fired grill and wood-fired oven. “We’re trying to go back to the old methods of cooking slowly and smartly,” he says.


The Butcher Shop

Mayer is excited about reviving the relationship between shoppers and their butcher. “We want our customers to partner with us - they’re helping us buy from these great farmers,” he says. Plans call for the shop to stock chickens, beef, pork and Mayer hopes customers will also get into more unusual meats like goat.

“A goat is a strong, hearty, animal that does well in many different climates,” he explains, continuing, “The beauty of goat - and a lot of animals, when raised right - is they have such wonderful flavor profiles. You don’t really have to braise or stew them. Actually older animals have a lot more flavor than younger animals, in my opinion.”

The Classroom

That’s where the upstairs classroom space comes in. An eight-foot counter - “enough space to break down a whole animal” - is flanked by a stove, a gas grill and a small griddle. “We’re going to have friend chefs and chefs from out of town hold sessions, both for customers and maybe also for other cooks who want to learn.”

And while that well-received fried chicken will not be on Kensington Quarters’ menu, this is where you’ll likely find it, popping up again in classes or special events.