Move Over, 4th Street Deli — It’s Time for Some Relish

Philadelphia has more than one election day power lunch spot.

Election day scenes from Relish. | Photos by Bradley Maule and Liz Spikol.

Election day scenes from Relish. | Photos by Bradley Maule and Liz Spikol.

Relish, the gourmet Southern restaurant on Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane, hums with anticipation in the hour before lunch on Election Day. Women dressed in black polish water glasses and clean the glass doors that lead to the area the restaurant calls its veranda, with terra cotta-colored walls, ceiling fans and arched wooden-beam ceilings. Beyond that is the dining room, where tables are set today with white tablecloths and centerpieces with red and blue stars, for a patriotic feel. The buffet is being set up in the Jazz Café, which also has a long wooden bar.

The manager, Chris, in a crisp blue shirt, is busy debating the placement of a table, so he doesn’t have time to coddle journalists. But he definitely wants me out of the veranda area, so I go to a waiting area, where I sit across from another early arrival, Jewel Mann-Lassiter, who owned a restaurant in the area for many years and now owns the catering company Tuxedo. Mann-Lassiter has known Dwight Evans for many years, she says, and it was Evans who brought her into the Jim Kenney fold. She’s now planning to hold a fundraiser for Kenney in her penthouse at Alden Park, the 38-acre historic landmark gated community on Wissahickon Avenue. “We wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for Dwight,” she says, and by “this” she means this celebration of Kenney and, I suppose, his putative mayoral win. It’s a sentiment I hear again and again. Dwight Evans made this happen. People worry about Kenney owing John Dougherty after he gets into office. Seems to me he’ll be far more indebted to Evans.

Kenney and his team show up early, too, and Kenney poses for photos in the Relish parking lot, in front of a mural painted by Ernel Martinez. The explanatory panel on the mural says, “Special thanks to State Representative Dwight Evans and staff.” Evans’ office is adjacent to the building on which the mural is painted.

The dining room begins to fill up with Northwest Philadelphia politicos. At one table, Kenney supporter Sharon Powell, who works in the 49th Ward, says she thinks Kenney is going to do a great job. Across from her sits Harrisburg lobbyist Roy Wells, president and managing director of Triad Strategies, and the controversial Tommie St. Hill, who notes that I should talk to Council’s Marian Tasco, who he says is nearby.

And so she is, wearing those glasses that make her look a bit like Iris Apfel. “We always come here,” she said of the Election Day scene at Relish. “We were here for breakfast, lunch and dinner the day Obama won. This is a festive place. We’re proud of it and of our corridor.” She talks about the way Relish has contributed to the neighborhood’s revitalization starting a decade ago. Then she, Kenney and Kevin Dougherty — candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, brother of IBEW chief John Dougherty — sit down at a table to eat. They are surrounded by photographers.

When Dwight Evans arrives he and Kevin Dougherty handshake and hug with such affection, I half expect them to French kiss. Kenney keeps eating while this great love fest occurs at his table; I guess he and Dwight have already said hello. Brian Sims joins the table too; he and Kenney shake hands amiably. While all the other male politicians are wearing suits, Sims is dressed in a short-sleeved blue button-down that matches Kevin Dougherty’s tie. He looks casual but classy, as usual.

Other notable names who come to Relish for this event: City Council candidate Paul Steinke, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Sen. Vincent Hughes, City Council president Darrell Clarke, State Rep. Cherelle Parker, Sheriff Jewell Williams, Mayoral candidate Doug Oliver and his son, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., judicial candidate Kai Scott, Commissioner candidate Omar Sabir, and many, many other important people. Missing? Anthony Williams, Michael Nutter, John Dougherty.

The food threatens to derail the networking, that’s how good it is. There’s a salad bar, a fruit bar, a pasta bar, fried chicken, salmon, mac and cheese, pastries, and so much more. So it’s a good thing that both Parker and Sims hit on the same theme when they get up onstage to join Kenney and others for speeches: “It ain’t over till it’s over — the polls are open till 8,” says Sims. “Eat fast and get back out there,” urges Parker. Cindy Bass says she looked forward to working with Kenney as mayor. Marian Tasco briefly forgets Kenney’s name but remembers to thank the Gasworkers’ union, which is here in force. Kenney himself says he’s been humbled and thanks his friends onstage with him. He says people can be judged by the friends they keep, gesturing at Bass, Clarke, Evans, Hughes and Tasco. “I couldn’t ask for better friends.”