November 10-16, 2005
: Manuel Dominguez Jr
David Ansill lends his own name to the South Street-area legend.
When Bar Noir owner David Carroll sold his dive-y Holy Tomato in 1973, he never realized that a famously gay-friendly, comfort-food neighborhood institution would wind up at that address.
"There was nothing on Third and Bainbridge, let alone something so theatrical," laughs Carroll. "My place was just billiards and cheap booze." Yet when Eileen Plato and Judy Galfand turned his shot joint into Judy's (Galfand won a rumored coin-toss), it became revolutionary and institutionary. Not just for what Judy's fed the burgeoning neighborhood -- two-for-one weekday coupons for veal-and-pork meat loaf with spinach and provolone that still litter old bureaus of mine -- through the area's awesomest era. Institution? If you lived in Queen Village between 1974 and 2005 and wanted dramahh in your environment and comfort in your food, you did Judy's.
"Judy's -- South Street, period -- always held a place in my heart," said David Ansill, owner and chef of Bella Vista's four-and-a-half-year old Pif. "It was the most fun restaurant."
Ansill knows. The 47-year-old Elkins Park native used to stuff Judy's meat loaf.
Now, Ansill owns the glass-blocked boîte that Plato kept going solo until this spring, when she unloaded her heralded corner spot. (Plato could not be reached for this story.) Scheduled to open in early to mid-December, Ansill restaurant will have a whiff of Pif but be extended in its culinary boundaries. "It's my style without the French focus. I want to bring the food I loved in my travels to bear -- Portugal, North Africa, Sweden -- things that made me love cooking in the first place."
Loathe to discuss the menu, Ansill will drop hints -- langoustine with truffle vinaigrette, charcuterie faves, baked egg with foie gras and truffles (he'd like a whole section of egg dishes; duck and fish, but not chicken), sea urchin with a squeeze of lemon on toast, bottarga (dried cured tuna roe), sweetbreads, rabbit, venison.
Ansill is not without some South Street cred. He dishwashed at Grendel's Lair in 1978, bartended at Copa and Ripley's -- the latter being one of several Stephen Starr gigs, including The Continental. "I ran screaming from Steve," says Ansill, holding back a laugh. Ansill did better cooking for Serrano's Rich Machlin and Jude Erwin and Lucy's Hat Shop's Avram Hornik, with whom he's had a lasting friendship. Ansill did better still when he moved to Miami in the '90s. Not only did he align himself with that region's French cooking trend, he found himself a business and life partner in pastry chef Catherine Gilbert.
Pif became Ansill's revolution -- an unpretentious baby-bistro whose food rocketed him to fame beyond South Philly.
Like Judy's in its heyday, Pif -- now with a staff of 10, a GM and chef de cuisine David Kane -- serves neighborhoodies and traveling foodies, regulars who come three times a week. No longer is Pif "simple countryside French housewife" fare like mussels with white wine and shallots or calves liver with raspberry vinaigrette and bacon. Pif uses squab, not chicken. Foie gras has been added. So has the exotica of pig's feet and heads, and veal kidneys. Ansill does raw fish "out of context": Mediterranean and not Japanese, elegant with pink salt and olive oil.
"The type of food I like to snack on," says Ansill.
Named in tribute to his father, Leonard, a Florida retiree (at Pif, there's a table with a plaque that reads "Reserved for Leonard Ansill"), Ansill will be a "European snack 'n' wine bar for food-conscious adults."
Maybe that tag ain't catchy. But if he says "tapas," people will only think Spanish cuisine. And Ansill hopes to provide a variety of interesting foods that audiences rarely taste at nice prices; smaller portions with one garnish; the same menu offered day 'n' night throughout his 78-seat (as opposed to Pif's 38) location.
There is nothing left of Judy's save for the bones. No glass block. The pink neon "Judy's" sign, its name and menu have gone to bartender Chris Rago. In its stead: a long mahogany bar and sculpted lamps, an open kitchen and a color scheme rich in soft-toned chocolate and mustard. "I think Eileen liked selling this not only to a guy who'd worked here previously, but who'd continue the idea of good quality food and a love of the neighborhood," says Ansill.
"I want an adult bar with good food where there isn't a DJ at 10 p.m. I want a civilized drink in a civilized place. I'm getting old, I'm sorry to say. I blame the DJs."
Ansill, 627 S. Third St.