Happy Rooster

118 S. 16th Street
(Corner of 16th and Sansom Streets)
(215) 963-9311

Feeling cocky? Make your way without doodling to this center city tappy whose legendary front bar stools have braced and embraced the tushies of loquacious well-bellied “old boys” networking their eruditions of commercial and real estate war stories. From the late 1960’s, this venerable well-heeled fox hole has given refuge and sanctuary to those Philadelphians who abhor 16th Street’s noisy northbound traffic, perspired parading pedestrians and paralyzed parking signs.

As you enter, tufted maroon leather booth-banquettes appear bolted to the wooden walls on your left. Hanging from the upper walls are wine racks jutting out as if aimed artillery. A mundane inappropriate smallish television is brightly straight ahead, upon whose flat tube silent sports feats seem in play. To your immediate right is the two-lamppost-laden thick rosewood bar surrounded by a dozen high stoolies. Flickering red candle holders abound from every crevice and at every height, making the surroundings devilish and concurrently prayerful.

I’m not a betting man, but if you arrive at about 7:00 p.m. on a weekday (weekends are different), I’d wager that of the dozen tightly seated patrons at the bar, eight will be men; four will be women. Of the men, six are attired in jacket and/or tie, and three shall be bearded or ponytailed. Five men are accompanied by briefcases or laptop carriers at their feet and two attend to cell phones at their ears. Five resemble Ralph Lauren; three are doubles for Ralph Cramden. Of the women, at least one is a lovely long-haired blonde; at least two shall be wearing suits or dresses richly colored in solid blue or red, and one is accompanied by two of the aforementioned men. Nine of the twelve are sipping martinis; three, scotches on the rocks. Betcha.

There is also a newly renovated bar in the “back room,” which serves the overflow and provides a number of tables-for-two and one window-relegated table to seat eight. To move toward this posterior protrusion, you take your life in your hands, having to cross through an arm-railed indented floor-tile moat which can be tricky on the feet. If you can choose: be up front. To complete the picturesque pub ambiance, statues and artifacts of roosters are displayed here and there as shrine-like wake-up calls to cockiness.

This eatery used to be high-falootin’ and expensive for decades, with “Doc” Ulitsky et ux Madeline serving haute roasted Kiev chickens that were absolutely skinful, or extra-thick skirt steaks gloating over buttery mashed potatoes. But most importantly, caviar and vodka were settled in as close to each other as Sarah Palin and Russia. Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga eggs were the Rooster’s credit card-sopping signature form of luxurious happiness. The restaurant changed hands several times over the years, and amended chefs just as handily; but has settled recently into the competent cooking utensils of Jason Goodenough, whose vita respectfully alludes to “Morimoto” and “Lacroix.” He delights with adventurous nods to Southern and New England surprises that seem startling for this Sansom Street sanctuary. For instance, Crawfish Fricassee ($12) is an Appetizer which curls your tongue into almost as many “s’s” as are slurped in “Mississippi.” Baby shrimp sing Dixie to sautéed onions upon which fried green tomatoes salute with nostalgia. Tiny diced squares of red and green peppers join the confederacy. An exuberance of shell fish essence is calculated to pervade the bowl in which the opaquely breaded tomatoes arrive, and you breathe in the vapors as if the bowl were a snifter.

Then, travel culinarily to Maine for an entrée of Philadelphia’s best New England Lobster Roll ($19). Classically prepared on a split-top bun, chomping chunks of a red and white crustacean’s meat lusciously lingers in a dense liquid sauce tinged with mayonnaise. Your mind calculates in geometric progressions in order to determine how your lips will best fit around the turgid sandwich so as not to spill or waste a drop. Groans accompany your first foray into the fistful of loaf and lobster. Eyes dilate on cue, salivation is supererogatory; and your teeth grasp and gnash as if you have no control over the involuntary contractions of your jaw. The lobster mixture is choice, sweet, sultry and tantalizing. You may thereafter add French (deep-fried) potato sticks, abundantly supplied, to placate your palate with sea-saltiness until you’ve regained your composure.

You may not wish to overlook Chef Goodenough’s Grilled Baby Spanish Octopus ($13) served on a white Haman’s hat-shaped platter. Rich tomato paste serves as a crimson base upon which frolic black olive bits, chopped green string beans and thin well-oiled meandering octopus arms. Ask that the grilling be curtailed at the first nuance of dryness. If done perfectly, the appendages are toothsome, juicy and flavorful. And never miss The Happy Rooster Burger ($14), sanctimoniously situated among a mirror image of the aforementioned mounds of French fries, with slices of lettuce and tomato. The top of the densely ground huge hamburger is bathed in melted Gruyere cheese; the bottom is sopping upon a bacon-onion jam. Brioche halves surround the concoction. “Goodenough,” you think, “at his very best.”

“Nullem Crimen, Nulla Poena, Sine Lobstere"
Copyright 2010 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back