When Chef Sam Jacobson came from Central London’s Holborn area to Philadelphia 10 years ago, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. “I moved here on a whim,” says Jacobson, who wound up in the kitchens at Sycamore in Lansdowne and Southwark in Queen Village before hitting upon a concept for a spot of his own.
“I was throwing ideas around for a little bakery, particularly a daytime shop,” the chef says. “My girlfriend at the time humored me through ideas, but when I mentioned pie and mash — there wasn’t anywhere to get that in Philly — she said, ‘Do that, and you must serve the eels, too.’”
Jacobson opened Stargazy on East Passyunk at the end of the summer, serving British-style pies, both savory and sweet, alongside Cornish pastry, sausage rolls and Bedfordshire clangers (long pastries that have a savory filling at one end and a sweet filling at the other).
“There’s no real secret to making these pies,” he says. “Just keep it simple.”
The star of Stargazy is its meat pies — go for the lamb curry with kale, steak and kidney beans, or the rabbit sausage. You can also opt for a parsley liquor sauce topping or a side of mashed potatoes.
Better still, there are those eel pies that Jacobson’s former girlfriend likes, a British favorite made with jellied or stewed eels, which Jacobson tries to source locally. “Every eel that’s not imported gets bought up in Chinatown, so I’ve been getting them from there when I can, live from the tanks. It’s worth it. The eel pies have been really popular. People seem nervous, but then they taste them and wonder what they were worried about.”
Stargazy typically sells out of the 100 to 150 items available daily, long before the day is over. Jacobson just bought a new cooler to double his storage space, and is experimenting with new pies such as duck, prunes and bacon. “I had expected to be slow at first because it was still summer, but the response has been fantastic,” he says. “Overwhelming, even.”
Stargazy had to close last Thursday right before the pope’s visit — the oven’s temperature sensor broke.
“The problem was it took five days to get someone out because of the papal visit — just unfortunate timing,” says the chef. “My friends at other restaurants on the Avenue were very generous in letting me use their ovens during that time, but ultimately I decided that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have a couple of days off.”