Chef Aaron Gottesman went from Kevin Sbraga’s namesake Center City restaurant to Fat Ham, the much more intimate Sbraga affair in University City. Gottesman is keeping it in the Sbraga family as the chef de cuisine at a place that is busy just about every night of the week. Chances are you can find at least one person in the dining room at all times that came to Fat Ham after hearing about the hot chicken — and we’re warning you now, they mean “hot” as in “your mouth will be on fire.” Good thing there are plenty of options on that extensive whiskey list to wash it down with.
How was the transition from Sbraga to Fat Ham?
I wanted to try to run this restaurant as similarly as I could to Sbraga. A lot of the systems that are put in place here work. It’s still a different space but everything is going really well. Having limited space is nice. The busier it is, the more people want to be here. It’s great to see that people are willing to wait, which is better than having a big space with a lot of empty tables.
Fat Ham is part of this new restaurant push in University City. What do you think of the area?
I had really no experience with the restaurants in this area of the city. I never made a point to come over here before they opened the restaurant. But there are so many people here with the schools — both employees and students — that there’s a market for the restaurants. There’s a lot of room our here for new stuff. Zavino just opened a new location here, and same with Federal Donuts. That really shows where this area is going.
Where are you grabbing a drink after work?
I’d say that a lot of people within the [Sbraga] organization go to Pub and Kitchen. It’s a good in-between spot for both restaurants. Generally we go to St. Declan’s [Well] since it’s right here. They know all of us, and we know them. It’s easy to pop in there after work since everyone lives in different neighborhoods.
What’s your neighborhood?
Queen Village. I go to Ela a lot. I know Jason [Cichonski, the chef and owner] and it’s basically right across the street from my apartment.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to use for this time of year?
I love peas. I’m working on a chilled pea soup for the spring menu.