Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Ghost (Kitchens) in the Machine with two new ventures: Livy’s Plant Based Foods and Rustika Pollo.
With most restaurants in Philadelphia still not allowing indoor dining up to 50% of its capacity, the culinary buzz words of winter 2020 – “ghost kitchen” – will continue to ring out. And bong louder, into the earliest of 2021’s months. Probably longer if we consider that most local top-tier restauranteurs with pricey rents and high overheads can’t afford to bring back full staffs until Philly indoor dining heads closer to the 75% allowance range. With that, Iron Chef and multiple restaurant co-owner and operator Jose Garces is ghosting Philly diners with two, new, wildly diverse concepts out of one location.
Livy’s Plant Based Foods and Rustika. Garces is already an old hand at the collective ghost kitchen concept. The chef already re-introduced his Washington Square West Garces Trading Company location as an online marketplace for his Garces-branded wares like sauces, rubs, etc. As well as being a take-out, delivery, pick-up restaurant hub for his distant locations such as Amada, The Olde Bar and Village Whiskey.
Like other recent ghosters such as Stephen Starr’s Pete’s Place and Chicken Scratch (both working separate menus out of Peter Serpico’s joint on South Street), Garces, this week, began going beyond his own restaurants’ usual fare. He found new, previously un-tried culinary disciplines for Livy’s Plant Based Foods (affordable, high-quality vegan dishes inspired by comfort food favorites) and Rustika (Halal chicken and Peruvian rotisserie chicken).
By the way, whether it’s the healthful comfort aspects of Livy’s or his early pioneering of the ghost kitchen aesthetic, Garces already spoke of such with dosage MAGAZINE back in November. Just saying.
For his post-vegan, plant take on the classic burger and fries concept, Chef Garces borrowed a page from his daughter Olivia’s move to an all plant-based lifestyle. He called his tasty experiment Livy’s Plant Based Foods. The idea was to go with Garces’ usual “rich and decadent flavors” profile. But utilize their spices and cooking styles for meatless dishes. Such as all-black bean (faux) chorizo and burger options. As well as the still-recent-invention, Impossible that goes handsomely with everything from sweet potato fries and tater tots to a vegan mac and cheese dish and charred corn.
You can build your own burgers, as well as go with Livy’s choices which include The Greek Burger (with feta, cucumber and tzatziki sauce). The BBQ Burger (with pickled Jalapeno, White Cheddar, caramelized onions, crispy shallots, Alabama white BBQ and Carolina Mustard BBQ). And The Philly Steak Style Burger with Cheese Whiz and all.
From Livy’s kitchen, not only did I try a salsa-riffic black bean ‘chorizo’ chili, but, three different burgers. The Big Kahuna black bean burger featuring cilantro aioli, vegan white cheddar, vegan bacon, and sautéed mushrooms. The Breakfast Burger, topped with salsa rosa, vegan egg, vegan white cheddar, vegan bacon and hash brown. And The Love Burger, which was topped with salsa rosa, lettuce, sliced avocados and tomatoes with smoked gouda and sautéed onions. Each of these burgers were generously sized and hearty. Meaning, for a carnivore such as myself, I didn’t miss the meat. Not on the Impossible or the black bean ‘chorizo.’
Each sauce was a tangy (such as Livy’s Sriacha remoulade) as its vegetable toppings were fresh, and I was thrilled by the entire package – especially as ours were on Martin seeded buns. Plus, as my wife, Reese, doesn’t eat meat (she’s a pescatarian), both of us had an opportunity to share in a juicy burger experience. Big points.
Jose Garces’ Rustika chicken, at least its Peruvian rotisserie chicken, had a perceptible, slight tang to the brine of its bird. Certainly aided by my choice of accompanying sauces, Peruvian black mint sauce and purple olive chimichurri. While its Halal pulled Truck Style Chicken, in the Street Food section, with yellow rice, white sauce and Harissa style red sauce’s zest blended nicely with the pita-based meal’s accoutrements. While I missed out on the aptly-titled Big Bowl of Chicken Soup, I did go for the slightly spicy Salchipapas featuring shoestring fries, sliced Hebrew National hot dogs, fried egg and a smorgasbord of condiments. As far as sides go, though the Asparagus a la Plancha looks great, I went with the rich Grilled Peruvian Corn with Andean White Cheese and never looked back.
Menu items range from $6.00 to $20.00. Livy’s Plant Based Foods and Rustika will operate from 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Monday. Delivery will be available via Uber Eats, GrubHub, Postmates and coming soon, DoorDash.