High Street on Market
From the first taste of its house-baked bread to the final spoonful of its imaginative desserts, this Old City standout delivers an outstanding experience shaped by the deft hands and gifted mind of chef Eli Kulp
by Brian Freedman

When it comes to modern, forward-thinking dining, there is a fine line between creativity and pretense. It’s a high-wire act to be sure, and too often otherwise promising meals get laid low by chefs who don’t know where to stop, dishes over-thought or over-garnished or flat-out overwrought.

Chef Eli Kulp, one of today’s most ambitious and visionary culinary professionals, has the deep intelligence needed to create his astounding dishes; he also possesses the all-too-rare instincts to know exactly how far to push a dish conceptually. His food challenges convention and surprises guests, yet it never crosses over the line into the realm of the baroque. And, of course, it always hits the bull’s-eye in terms of deliciousness.

His food, in other words, is as finely tuned and exciting as any in the city right now.

A little more than a year and a half ago, co-owner Ellen Yin of Fork and Fork:etc fame, brought Kulp in from New York, where he had been making a name for himself at some of the city’s top restaurants. It was a gutsy move: Fork was a beloved Old City stalwart, and Fork:etc was a charming market and café ideal for more casual dining.

She clearly knew what she was doing. In the past year Yin, Kulp and the astounding kitchen staff they have amassed have turned Fork into a regional destination for creative, exciting food, while Fork:etc has become High Street on Market, now known as one of the city’s most ambitious restaurants.

High Street is open all day, with breakfasts comforting enough to start the morning off with confidence and sandwiches that may make you dream of them long after finishing. The duck meatball sandwich, with liver, onions, Swiss cheese, and spicy marinara, is lust worthy, as are the ever-rotating selections of Roman pizza of the day.

It’s not just the combinations and outright creativity of the dishes that set them apart; it’s also the bread, which is baked in house as part of one of the most ambitious bread programs I’ve ever seen. From beautiful baguettes to ancient-grain loafs, whose hearty slices could tide you over for a week, Kulp and his team are nothing short of bread geniuses.

“High Street’s goal is to become recognized as one of the highest-level bakeries, both regionally and nationally, while offering our customers a product that has been thoughtfully sourced, cared for and produced,” Yin wrote to me in an email. Kulp added, “Our key objective is to always to retain the ‘soul of bread,’ which truly sets artisan bread apart; it’s not just the bread as the final product, but it’s the high-quality individual ingredients too that help illustrate the bread’s character. As such, we also strive to support local producers who are trying to resurrect the farming of artisanal wheat and grain like those from Castle Valley Mills, Daisy Mills and Farmer Ground.

“High Street offers six to seven different breads for retail,” he continued, “but at any given time between the three different restaurants, Alex, our head baker, is producing nearly 20 different breads throughout the week. Fourteen of those are daily mixes; the rest are spread throughout the week.”

At High Street, you could literally live on bread alone. But dinner, too, really has High Street’s fans buzzing. Any given night here is likely to shift your personal paradigm. I’ve been here multiple times for dinner, and each one has left me even more stunned and charmed than the one before, and it doesn’t quite seem possible for that to happen given the supremely high quality of each meal.

Kulp is that rarest breed of chef, as comfortable with more modern methods as he is with the sort of ancient techniques that have been ignored for far too long. He is, for example, the city’s resident yeast and bacteria master, bravely pairing silky lamb tartare with cultured cashew spread and smoked artichoke; and dusting dehydrated leafy greens, during the less humid seasons, with nutritional yeast and more; and, at lunch, amping up a roast pork sandwich with fermented broccoli rabe. This willingness to work on the more savory end of the spectrum results in dishes far deeper and more complex than they otherwise might be.

He and his team also know how to have some tongue-in-cheek fun. The classic Reuben sandwich is reimagined as a flawless pasta dish, a springy caraway-rye rigatoni luxuriating with a pastrami ragu and the punch of Gulden’s mustard. Green tea garganelli turn out to be the perfect frame for smoked duck ragu of impossible depth. Lobster tartine boasts generous knuckles of meat glistening with a buttermilk-habanero aioli with a fiery zip that sneaks up on you. This is food for the tongue and the brain in equal measure.

All of it is washed down with your choice of any number of highly intelligent cocktails, both made to order and bottled, as well as a selection of beer and wine that runs the gamut from the familiar to the unexpected. Don’t hesitate to ask your server for a pairing recommendation; the staff is supremely at home with the food and drink here.

I finished a recent dinner with High Street’s version of a sundae, this one built on date cake and gilded with coconut sorbet, malted milk ice cream and coffee-zipped butterscotch. Alongside a swig of Dad’s Hat rye, it was pretty much all I could have asked for—just like seemingly everything else at the stunning High Street on Market.

High Street on Market
308 Market Street, Philadelphia
215-625-0988 | highstreetonmarket.com

Photograph by Felicia Perretti