It started off as an evening like any other. Eli Kulp, chef/owner of High Street on Market in Philadelphia, texted his wife, Marisa, shortly before he boarded Amtrak train no. 188. At 9:23 p.m., taking a curve at least 50 mph faster than it should have, the train derailed, killing eight people and injuring two hundred more. Kulp was paralyzed from the chest down. “Everyone was in shock,” his business partner, Ellen Yin, tells the Voice, her shoulders straightening and body tensing as she recalls hearing the news.
At the time of the accident last May, the pair were already deep into expanding their company, High Street Hospitality Group, outside of Philadelphia’s borders with its first NYC outpost, High Street on Hudson (637 Hudson Street; 917-388-3944), which opened yesterday. “There was no turning back,” says Yin. “His team is so dedicated, everyone has stepped up.”
Yin first met Kulp, a veteran of top NYC concepts Torrisi Italian Specialties, Del Posto, Casa Lever, and La Fonda del Sol, back in 2012 through a mutual friend. She was looking to revamp her American bistro, Fork, which had opened in 1997. The place was representative of the industry’s decadent heyday; the ornate dining room managed to make it through 9-11 and the Great Recession but had acquired a reputation as more of a special-occasions place. “People would walk by and say, ‘That’s a really great restaurant’ but they wouldn’t come in,” Yin says. She knew she had to do something, and finding the right person was key. When she first spoke to Kulp on the phone, Yin says she “knew he wasn’t like everyone else. I was like, who’s interviewing who here?”
The restaurant was completely overhauled. Aside from the signature chandeliers, the décor changed completely. Vibrant murals went up on the walls. The white tablecloths — gone. The indulgent fare was swapped out for Kulp’s hyperlocal contemporary American menu. It took a while for regulars to warm up to the changes, but the updates were lauded by the critics.
From that first conversation, Yin knew she and Kulp shared a common vision: that to remain relevant, they’d have to recruit the best and the brightest, the most forward-thinking people. When chef Jon Nodler and pastry chef Samantha Kincaid came in to dine one night, ordering a rare bottle of wine, Yin knew they were in the industry. She thought, “Those people look like our type.” She and Kulp struck up a conversation with the couple, hiring them two months later. In 2014, Fork was the only restaurant in the country to boast both Food & Wine‘s “Best New Chef” (for Kulp) and “Best New Pastry Chef” (Kincaid) distinctions.
Their next project, High Street on Market, an ingredient-driven, all-day dining concept, opened its doors in the fall of 2013, converting the space formerly occupied by Yin’s casual sister restaurant Fork Etc. The team started off with breakfast and lunch, offering an array of sandwiches and creative pastries. Equipped with an industrial bread oven, they began making things on the premises.
When Sullivan Street Bakery alum Alex Bois came aboard, he helped the team to evolve the concept. The breads and baked goods, made from locally milled flour and grains, are now an integral part of the concept. Those products helped make High Street on Market Bon Appétit’s no. 2 “Best New Restaurant” for 2014; Bois, for his part, was a James Beard Award finalist for “Rising Star Chef 2015.”
Breakfast and lunch were filling a gap. The end goal, though, was to draw more of a dinner crowd. And while evening service may have taken some time to catch on, its U.S.-centric natural wine list and pasta-forward menu incorporating local grains started to garner national attention. With dishes like “Angry Crab” spaghetti with Old Bay and charred scallion; toasted grain pacchieri with duck ragù, black trumpets, and hazelnut; and sourdough ravioli with smoked brook trout, whipped potato, and poppyseed, High Street secured a place on Travel + Leisure’s 2015 “Best New Restaurants in the World.”
The place was such a hit that a year after opening High Street, Yin and Kulp took over operations at a.kitchen + a.bar at the AKA Rittenhouse Square, two additional beloved hyperlocal Philly spots. There, Nodler was named a James Beard “Rising Star of the Year” semi-finalist for 2015. With now four successful concepts under their belts, Yin and Kulp started thinking about where to go next. They weren’t sure Philadelphia could handle another High Street. They began considering New York after a friend suggested it. “It’s always been Eli’s dream to have a restaurant in Manhattan,” says Yin. They started planning around this time last year.
High Street on Hudson is highly similar to its Philly sibling. Dinner service is set to begin sometime in January, but for now many old favorites are on the menu, such as pastrami on rye (cabbage slaw, Russian dressing, and Gulden’s mustard; $18), grilled broccoli salad (radicchio, spiced marcona almonds, and blistered grapes), and the Red Eye danish ($4.50), a breakfast pastry with Benton’s ham and savory coffee “gravy” (the latter was featured on the March cover of Saveur). Another media hit on the menu: the Hickory Town ($12), named by Epicurious as the “Ultimate Egg Sandwich,” with Lancaster bologna, gherkin mayo, crispy onions, and horseradish cheddar. There are some NYC-specific creations, like the Bodega ($13) — malted breakfast sausage, egg, and aged cheddar on a sage/black-pepper biscuit. An eggplant cutlet sandwich ($12) with charred eggplant tahini, Cloumage cheese, and pickled cabbage is another new dish.
Yin and Kulp’s team have moved up to New York while Kulp continues to recover from the accident. Nodler is now culinary director for the group and Taylor Naples has become chef de cuisine (most recently, Naples held the same position at Tom Colicchio’s Craft NYC). Reynard and Wythe Hotel beverage director Kirk Sutherland made the switch over to Hudson. General manager Julie Gray of Soho’s Uncle Boons now oversees the NYC location’s front-of-house. Yin stresses that everyone on the team rose to the occasion: “It’s a tribute to Eli that he has inspired so many people to do a great job for him.”