The Old-School Recipes at the New Liberty Kitchen

How the iconic flavors of Salumeria, Pastificio Deli and Cacia’s have found their way to the new Liberty Kitchen.

Liberty Kitchen hoagie

An Italian Salumeria hoagie from Liberty Kitchen / Photography courtesy of Liberty Kitchen

Welcome to Just One Dish, a Foobooz series that looks at an outstanding item on a Philly restaurant’s menu — the story behind the dish, how it’s made, and why you should be going out of your way to try it. 

There’s a fine line between celebrating nostalgia and allowing yourself to get stuck in the past. At the new location of Liberty Kitchen, just a block north of the original, Matt Budenstein is walking that line. The new space, which features the addition of tables for eating and a huge, airy kitchen, allowed Budenstein to bring in Beau Neidhardt, a full-time chef and fellow lover of Philadelphia’s nostalgic foods.

“It used to be a joke that Liberty Kitchen didn’t really have a kitchen,” Budenstein told me over slices of peach-topped pizza and meat-stuffed hoagies. “At the old space we didn’t have a hood so we couldn’t do hot food. We barely had an oven. You can’t have a chef if you don’t have a kitchen. Now, we have both.”

The centerpiece of the menu continues to be sandwiches, inspired in part by Budenstein’s time working at Salumeria, a long-running Reading Terminal Market stall which closed in 2016. Budenstein worked there for three years, starting as a cheesemonger and ending as a manager. When owner Ed Sciamanna passed away, Budenstein was gifted Sciamanna’s recipe book by the family.

The book holds many of Sciamanna’s recipes, including Salumeria’s house dressing which has now become Liberty Kitchen’s house dressing. You’ll find it in several applications on the menu, but it lends itself particularly well to an Italian hoagie. Try it on the the Ed Special, an Italian hoagie named for Sciamanna. Budenstein and Neidhart also top the sandwich with an artichoke-and-roasted-red-pepper spread that was “classic Salumeria,” says Budenstein.

That recipe, though, has evolved under Neidhardt’s leadership.

“With the exception of the house dressing, I’ve messed around with and dialed in pretty much everything else on the menu,” Neidhardt says. “The artichoke-pepper spread is also kind of an homage to Pastificio’s pepper-shooter spread.” Pastificio Deli, another long-running Philadelphia sandwich shop, is one of many points of old-school inspiration for Budenstein and Neidhardt. The resulting sandwich is well-balanced in every bite — bright and acidic, but still rich and salty with meat and sharp provolone.

The Pizzaz pie from Liberty Kitchen

Neidhardt has also developed a take on pizzaz, a style of pizza that’s highly specific to old bakeries in South Philly like Cacia’s, made without sauce but topped with American cheese, sliced tomatoes, and banana peppers. Neidhardt’s version uses New School American Cheese, a product created by Eric Greenspan that marries the gooey meltiness of American cheese with the flavor of real ingredients.

“Our version of pizzaz uses New School American, Urban Roots tomatoes, banana peppers, and also mozzarella, Maldon salt, and black pepper,” Neidhardt explains.

“That’s kind of what we do in a nutshell,” Budenstein says. “Because a lot of the classic Philly foods, they’re not that good. Because places aren’t taking care with ingredients. So what we do is we make the classics, but make them with just slightly better ingredients, and they just taste better.”