Relish Was Hot on Election Day — While Famous 4th Street Deli Was a Ghost Town
This year, Josh Shapiro didn’t go to the power crowd’s longtime Election Day lunch hangout Famous 4th Street Deli. Instead, the Democratic frontrunner in the Attorney General’s race dined at the other, newer power lunch spot in Philadelphia: Relish, a Southern restaurant in West Oak Lane that serves immaculate fried chicken and mac and cheese. “This is where real folks come to enjoy themselves in the middle of a busy Election Day,” Shapiro told me, as he worked the room in a crisp blue jacket and rimless glasses. “I enjoy the camaraderie here.”
Shapiro wasn’t alone. While the Famous 4th Street Deli managed to attract only a small crowd Tuesday, Relish was awash with politicos. Gov. Tom Wolf was there. So was Mayor Jim Kenney, who appeared on a live show on 900AM WURD that was broadcast from the restaurant. U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty was there, too. Ditto former Mayor John Street, District Attorney Seth Williams, Pennsylvania Democratic Party leader Marcel Groen, state Sen. Daylin Leach, state Sen. candidate Sharif Street, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Councilman Derek Green, Laborers business manager Ryan Boyer and … the list goes on.
Is Relish officially the new place for politicos to see and be seen on Election Day? “This place is taking over,” said Leach, who was noshing with Aren Platt, a political advisor to Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. “I grew up on Jewish deli food, so Famous always has a special place in my heart. But I gotta tell you, this place is terrific. We shall see how this rivalry plays out over the next few years.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans built Relish into the hot spot that it is today. He and former Councilwoman Marian Tasco are the leaders of the Northwest Coalition, a powerful alliance of black politicians that gained a great deal of political clout when it decisively endorsed Kenney in the mayor’s race. The fact that pols swarmed Relish, as Famous 4th Street Deli looked like a ghost town, underlines how much power the coalition has gained in the last year.
The Southern restaurant’s popularity on Tuesday also probably had something to do with the contentious race in the 2nd Congressional District. Evans is running against indicted Congressman Chaka Fattah, along with Brian Gordon and Dan Muroff. The real test of the Northwest Coalition’s power will be whether Evans pulls off a win tonight.
“It varies from year to year,” said Sharif Street of the rivalry between Relish and Famous, as he ate and listened to Kenney’s radio interview. “This year Relish clearly was the place to be. I think this is more central to the dynamics of the Congressional race. And I think some people want to go where the action is, and there’s more excitement here than, say, in South Philly, where Congressman Brady is not exactly in the fight of his life.”
Street predicted that the race in the 2nd Congressional District is “going to be a nail-biter.” Kenney, who dined with Evans at Relish, insisted that his ally “is going to win.” Evans, for his part, said that he is “cautiously optimistic” about his chances in the race.
When I asked Evans if Relish had officially overtaken Famous, he took the high road. “There’s enough room for everybody.” Then he explained the backstory of the restaurant. “This took some years to really build up. It started about eight years ago. Some of us decided that we wanted to build the brand around elections. And we got together Local 332 and some other people and we just started hosting the event here at Relish and one thing led to another. But it was really the celebration of the turnaround of the community … you just have to find ways to bring people together.”
Then I got up, and Evans, dressed in a black suit and light blue shirt, chatted up an endless array of politicos around him.
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