Townsend Wentz, the pedigreed chef whose resume includes stints at French-influenced temples La Croix and the Four Seasons, says his plan for the former Sophia’s at 1623 E. Passyunk Ave. will be to focus on “wine-driven food.”
And what’s that mean exactly? Simply, that he wants “to make food that’s best paired with wine.”
“My background follows a French motif,” Wentz told us in an interview with his general manager Lauren Harris. “So I want to make sure the food is well-balanced, full of flavor, not too sweet, not too spicy – food that won’t overpower the wine.”
The move to Passyunk Avenue brings Wentz back to his French wheelhouse after earning accolades revamping the former corner tap McCrossen’s Tavern in Fairmount. But don’t expect stuffy. “Come as you are but expect excellence,” he said. “We want to be approachable but we’ll have that expectation of great service and a great experience.”
Harris said she’s excited to be able to design the beverage program from the ground up. “We’ve worked together before and our favorite part is collaborating our efforts on pairing what goes well together,” she said. “We’re excited to have a clean slate and start from scratch, and to flex our muscle with a unique wine program.”
“It’s such a big beer town, so we’re trying to play up the wine. But we will have a great beer program – I love beer.”
Three taps are going in behind the bar, which may have a few small food items in addition to the dining menu, but that hasn’t been settled. Speaking of the bar, they’re tearing it out and rebuilding it. They also may replace the facade of the building to open up the front of the room, but that’s not certain either. It’s still early. They don’t expect to be open for a few months. “But I’m ready now,” Wentz said. Look for collaborations with some of the neighborhoods other top restaurants to start happening next month.
Other details: about 50 seats in the two dining rooms, including the second floor; the a la carte menu will include a tasting menu option; price point will be comparable with the higher-end restaurants of the neighborhood.
Wentz, who lives in South Jersey, and Harris, of Fairmount, said they’re thrilled to have such prominent culinary neighbors.
“This is the hub of it right now,” Wentz said. “If you’re not going to go for the high rent of Center City, this is the place to be. It’s a great dining destination.”
Oh, and what about that name on the liquor license, Encelade? No, that’s not the restaurant’s name, but that of a holding company. It refers to Enceladus, a Greek giant who was slain by the goddess Athena. So, why that name?
“Don’t fight the gods,” Wentz said.