Meet the Ambitious Philly Chef Behind Delco’s Hottest Restaurant

Elijah Milligan has worked in some of Philly's best restaurants. Now, he's taking his talents across the border.

Chef Elijah Milligan inside his new Delco restaurant Rosemary in Ridley Park

Chef Elijah Milligan inside his new Delco restaurant Rosemary in Ridley Park (All photos by Rashiid Marcell)

Behind the Line is Foobooz’s interview series with the people who make up Philly’s dynamic food and beverage scene. For the complete archives, go here.

Delco has its share of good restaurants. But in the last few months, a different kind of restaurant has emerged in Delco to positively rave reviews. That restaurant is Rosemary in Ridley Park. And it’s become Delco’s hardest table to get. Here, Rosemary chef Elijah Milligan talks Georges Perrier, how Delco is like Napa Valley (said no one ever), and the most overrated restaurant in Philadelphia.

I was born in… South Philly. Grew up there at 23rd and Wharton and 3rd and Snyder. Afterwards, East Oak Lane, which is where we are now. Back then, South Philly was much different than it is now. Basically, 23rd and Wharton wasn’t the most beautiful place. But now they keep the park gorgeous. So many trees. It’s almost unrecognizable.

I learned to cook from… my grandma, Vanessa, and later my step-father, Nate, who was a chef. My grandma and I had a deal where I would stay up late with her on Christmas Eve cooking and get up early with her on Christmas to do more cooking. And then I would be the one who could open my presents first.

The Philly restaurants I worked at previously include… Le Bec-Fin, Vernick, Stateside, Laurel, and Rae, which was Daniel Stern’s place inside the Cira Centre.

My first tattoo was… my grandma’s name inside of a heart. However, I’ve lost count of how many tattoos I have. But I’m certainly in the over 50 club. The last one I got was a phoenix on my back, because of the story of the phoenix, which we see so much in this business. Falling and then rising again.

My favorite thing about Delco is… the authenticity of the people. They love where they are from.

When somebody first proposed to me the idea of opening Rosemary in Delco… I came out to Ridley Park. And, honestly, it was reminiscent of Yountville. When I worked in Napa Valley, I would go to Yountville. And it was just this charming small town. It’s a quiet neighborhood. But then, you have the French Laundry there. And I really see Ridley Park as having that kind of potential. So much potential.

Elijah Milligan, chef at Rosemary in Delco's Ridley Park, putting the finishing touches on a burrata toast dish

Elijah Milligan putting the finishing touches on a burrata toast dish that includes Thai basil pesto, charred strawberry-jalapeño compote, compressed strawberries, and pistachio

If you’re coming to Rosemary for dinner, you should expect… no gimmicks. Just great food. Great service. And great drinks.

One dish you shouldn’t miss at Rosemary is the… shrimp mafaldine with Calabrian chilis and yuzu. We’re working on the seasonal changes to the Rosemary menu, and this will be on there. We’re running it right now as a special. Also, we should be launching brunch by the end of the month. Our brunch food will be approachable but also fun. To be honest, it feels like brunch can be just thrown together sometimes. The cooks are tired. But I want to put the same focus we put on our dinner menu into our brunch menu.

Since I started in this business, the biggest change to the industry has been… the culture. I am from the old school French kitchens with all the yelling and screaming and throwing things and physical altercations. It’s much more calm now. Furthermore, the price of everything has gone up.

The best compliment I’ve received at Rosemary thus far is… people saying that it’s the best meal they’ve experienced in their entire life. That is always good to hear.

The most consistent critique has been… the noise level, before. But we now have sound panels up and cork under the tables. Since then, probably people being surprised that dinner doesn’t come with a salad. That’s very common in Delco. Your dinner comes with a salad. We’re just doing something a little different.

People would be surprised to know that I eat… hot dogs from 7-Eleven once a week.

My TV credits include… Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Guy’s Grocery Games, and a marijuana cooking show. But I don’t think it was ever released. I had a really good time on Guy’s Grocery Games. He’s actually really cool. He is much different than his TV persona. And he is definitely so knowledgeable about food.

The Philadelphia chef I look up to the most is… Georges Perrier. I had so many great mentors. But he instilled so much in me. If I never experienced working with him, I honestly have no idea where or what I would be.

The most overrated restaurant in Philly is… Steak 48.

The Delco restaurant I plan to visit next is… the Clam Tavern. Probably this week!

One kitchen tool I can’t live without is… my gold tweezers.

Elijah Milligan greeting guests at his Delco restaurant Rosemary in Ridley Park

Elijah Milligan chatting up guests at Rosemary in Ridley Park

One kitchen gadget no home chef needs is… Slap Chop! Do you remember those commercials?

One restaurant trend I’d like to see more of is… cooking over hot coals and fire.

A cookbook you should definitely own is… Salt Fat Acid Heat.

If you’re ordering pizza for me, please do not order… pizza with pineapple on it. I’m sorry, but pineapple on a pizza is just crazy.

If you’re ordering a cheesesteak for me, please do not order… a cheesesteak with lettuce on it. I ordered cheesesteaks on UberEats not long ago. And this place put lettuce on my cheesesteak. It was so stupid!

On my days off, I like to… hang with my daughter, Jada, who is 12 going on 18. And sleep.

One thing we do at Rosemary you probably won’t find elsewhere is… we always keep quarters on hand and go outside to fill all the meters on the street during dinner.

The best advice I’ve received in the restaurant business is… every day is a new day.

Rosemary is located at 25 East Hinckley Avenue in Ridley Park.