For his third restaurant since winning “Top Chef” in 2010, Kevin Sbraga goes for something fun, even slightly kitschy, with the 1980s-themed Juniper Commons at Broad Street’s Southstar Lofts, opening late November/early December.
Picture table-side Caesar salads followed by beef bourguignon with red wine–marinated short ribs topped with fluted mushrooms, roasted potatoes, lardons and tourne-cut carrots. Sip a housemade wine cooler or a Sex on the Beach while a soundtrack of Hall & Oates and Michael Jackson plays in the background.
“It all started with ’80s music,” says Ben Fileccia, director of operations for Sbraga Dining. “On a train from Manhattan two years ago, I was playing Pandora to Kevin. We realized we loved the memories that came flashing back [and we] made a list of what we dug about dining back then.”
For Sbraga, the decade meant eating at wood-paneled spots like The Pub in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Londonshire House in Burlington.
“We dressed up; they were fancy,” says Sbraga. “They had grills where you could see chefs cooking. To a kid, this was as impressive as the way everything tasted.”
The wood-and-metallic look of Juniper Commons, with its wall of newspaper clippings and brown and red tiles, was inspired by those memories.
Thinking of the ’80s, Juniper Commons’ head chef Greg Garbacz recalls monster steaks with baked stuffed potatoes at Ponderosa, while Fileccia fondly remembers dining at Sizzler.
“These meals were classic for a reason,” says Garbacz. “When we designed Juniper Commons’ menu, our goal was to elevate the old-school prime rib, using the best dry-aged meats from North Jersey’s Debragga & Spitler and putting our touch on things.”
That touch, says Sbraga, is about keeping dishes simple and uncomplicated, whether he’s making raw seafood towers, wedge salads or a seven-layer chocolate cake.
“[The] technique is more refined and disciplined than it was in the ’80s,” says Sbraga “From our food to our decor, we’re not replicating, we’re ‘furthering.’”