CookNSolo Announces New Kensington Restaurant: Jaffa Bar

The crew behind Laser Wolf is trading in shishlik for scallops as they transform an old firehouse into a 120-seat oyster bar.

The old firehouse located at 1625 North Howard Street is where CookNSolo plans to open Jaffa Bar. / Photograph by Liz Wissmann

Here’s something to look forward to this fall: CookNSolo has just announced that they’re opening a brand new concept called Jaffa Bar inside a former firehouse in Kensington.

Yes, it should be noted that Jaffa is also the name of one of the three CookNSolo properties inside the Hoxton Hotel in Brooklyn, but this one seems like it’s going to be its own beast — derivative, perhaps, but unique.

Right off the bat, that’s good news because Michael Solomonov and company have opened a lot of restaurants over the past few years. They’ve closed a few and combined some others, and while not every concept has been an unmitigated success, not a single one has been boring. From fried chicken and donuts to soft serve and pomegranate lamb shoulder, each one has personality, style and an unmistakeable voice. They have — each in their way and each in their time — scratched some itch in the dining community that the community might not have even known it had until presented with a raucous, brightly-colored shipudiya full of Yemenite pickles, Turkish coffee soft-serve, meat on sticks and an electricity like licking a nine-volt battery.

But what makes it even better news is that this new place is being handed over to chef Andrew Henshaw and general manager Kailey Jenkins, who have been running the front and back of the house of that aforementioned shipudiya (Laser Wolf) since opening night. I have adored it since first stumbling into the place one night before the pandemic shut the whole world down. The place was loud and weird and generous and excessive on every level. It was loose and fun in a way that almost every deliberately un-serious restaurant tries to be, and almost all of them fail to achieve. It wasn’t my last meal in the Before Times, but it was close, and that just makes it even more magic somehow. I write a kind of end-of-the-world, fuck-it-all casualness into my recollections of that night which, maybe weren’t entirely present in real life but exist now indelibly in my memories.

Chef Andrew Henshaw and general manager Kailey Jenkins. / Photograph by Liz Wissmann

Anyway, Henshaw and Jenkins were co-pilots, just like they’ve been on pretty much every other night of Laser Wolf’s existence. And now, to have them bring whatever electricity it was that animated the menu and the floor at Laser Wolf to a brand-new operation? That’s exciting. Because I feel like even if the place fails (always a possibility), it’s gonna fail with some style.

For now, though, it’s nothing but potential. The set-up is a 5,000-square-foot 19th-century Revival-style brick firehouse (with a giant fire tower intact) planted right in that weird little triangle where Cecil B. Moore, Turner and North Howard Streets all come together — just a block from Goldie and Kalaya, two from Suraya and four from Laser Wolf (which I think now officially makes this micro-neighborhood a new hotspot for Philly’s food scene). What it will become is a two-story, 120-seat oyster bar inspired by (and named after) the Israeli port city famous for its oranges.

The cocktail program (run by Sean Byrne, another in-house hire who managed the bars at both Dizengoff and Abe Fisher) will heavily feature said oranges, most notably in the Jaffa Orange, a riff on the classic Orange Julius which I always thought was fairly disgusting, but who knows? Maybe what was missing all along was a shot of something strong. I’m willing to have my mind changed.

Jaffa Bar oysters. / Photograph by Liz Wissmann

The dinner menu is still coming together, but for an opening that’s a couple months off, minimum, Henshaw seems to have it pretty well dialed. We’re talking Israeli seafood, oyster bar classics and bar food: yellowtail pastrami, mussels escabeche, scallops with Merguez sausage and harissa, Yemenite-style monkfish, whole sea bream chraime (kinda like a tomato-heavy fish stew), fried chicken thighs with amba-spiked honey and a green chile burger with schug mayo that, as a former New Mexico resident, already has me missing the autumn smell of chiles roasting by the side of the road.

There’s no hard opening date yet, but I’m okay with a little uncertainty in my life. I just can’t wait to see how it all comes together. And even if it’s just for that burger alone, I’m willing to wait a little while to find out.