500 CALORIES OR LESS: FUEL Opens in South Philly

Q102 DJ Rocco Cima is giving health-conscious diners a new option

Ordering takeout no longer has to throw you off your diet. Fuel, a café serving up nothing-over-500-calories items, opened in South Philly on September 17th, and has been busy ever since. We caught up with chef/owner/Q102 DJ Rocco Cima as the Tuesday lunch rush dwindled down to get the facts about his new, fat-fighting fare.

What made you decide to open FUEL?
Well, I’ve always been health conscious, always going to the gym. But I could never find a place to eat that had good food and made you feel good unless I went uptown and spent an arm and a leg. I was trying to fill the void. Especially in South Philly, there’s nothing but cheesesteaks, pizza, and Chinese food. I also went to school for culinary arts and even spent time in France, but then the radio gig happened so I went with that. But I always wanted to fall back on this.

What’s it like balancing the radio and the restaurant?
I gave up sleeping. I put a couch down in the basement so I can take a nap. [Laughs.] I came up with the menu, but I’m also the chef. I have another chef who’s here when I’m on the radio, but we’re open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. But I love it. I love cooking, I love entertaining. This sort of puts the best of both worlds in one place. I’ve only been open 29 days and I’ve seen the same people come in 10 or 15 times already.

What is your goal for each item on your menu?
Obviously we wanted everything to be healthy and to make you feel good. I wanted to show people that healthy food can also taste good. There’s a little something of everything because I didn’t want to limit myself. We have Spanish shrimp, Thai chicken, some Italian … nothing on the menu is breaded or fried. Everything is grilled or roasted, from the chicken to the vegetables. My sandwiches don’t come with potato chips or French fries, they come with fresh, mixed-greens salad. There are no deep fryers in my kitchen.

Where do you get your ingredients?
I go to the produce market every morning — which is another reason I’m not sleeping. When I was out in LA reporting American Idol for the radio, I talked to Gordon Ramsey about my restaurant and he told me the best thing you can do is keep it simple, keep it fresh, and keep it local. So that’s what I’m doing. The bread for our paninis is homemade from Nino’s bakery around the corner. They worked on a low-calorie, low-fat recipe for me and they got it, so it’s baked fresh every morning and delivered to me.

What kind of vibe did you aim for?
Well, vibe-wise, we have dance music playing on TV screens, so it’s got kind of a cool, lounge vibe to it, but everyone from young adults to older couples — there’s one here right now with a bottle of wine — is coming in. I think people are just tired of the usual greasy, fatty food and paying an arm and a leg. The highest item on my menu is $10.95.

1917 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-468-FUEL; fuelphilly.com