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September 21, 2015

First Look: Kanella’s new home in Queen Village

Cypriot chef Konstantinos Pitsillades relocates to a spacious Queen Village restaurant with a full bar

Restaurants Openings
Kanella Exterior Wendy Ramunno /for PhillyVoice

After seven years at 10th and Spruce streets, Kanella has a new home at 757 S. Front St. in Queen Village

It’s been a long summer for fans of chef Konstantinos Pitsillades: He shuttered his much-loved Kanella, the cozy Greek-Cypriot BYOB at 1001 Spruce St., in May. But the good news is the chef and his wife, Caroline Christian, are about to debut Kanella 2.0 — a big restaurant with a bar and cocktail program — at 757 S. Front St. (at the corner of Fitzwater Street).

The new Kanella has been in soft-opening mode since last Wednesday, including a grand-opening party over the weekend. The full dinner menu will be available beginning this Tuesday, with brunch and lunch hours added within a few weeks.

Kanella Dining Room
The dining room at Kanella. (Wendy Ramunno/For PhillyVoice)

In consultation with Christian, Tim Shaaban of Urban Space Development revamped the former home of Village Belle. The bright, airy dining room is awash in traditional Mediterranean white and blue, but it’s more subtle and sophisticated than Greek theme park. Wood accents and natural elements are incorporated throughout.

The open kitchen features a wood-fired oven and charcoal grill. 

“The idea was to be able to watch the chef from just about every seat in the place,” said Shaaban.

Chef Pitsillades works behind the chef’s counter at Kanella
Chef Pitsillades works behind the counter. (Wendy Ramunno/For PhillyVoice)

The separate bar area is darker, with warm copper hues in the light fixtures, bar stools and the cliffside town–themed wall covering.

Pitsillades has received many accolades over the years, and longtime customers who appreciate his critically acclaimed food can breathe a sigh of relief. 

“There will be no difference between the menu of the old Kanella and the new Kanella,” said Pitsillades. “Why change it when it works?”

Kanella Wallcovering
The bar area features warm copper hues, like the metallic accents in this cliffside town–themed wall covering. (Wendy Ramunno/For PhillyVoice)

Expect Greek-Cypriot dishes that are simple, reasonably priced, tasty and unpretentious, said the chef, who retained his kitchen staff, including sous chef Evan Butkovsky, from the previous location.

But Pitsillades’ shiny new equipment will enable him to add more items to the regular menu, including a grilled whole fish and meat of the day.

“The charcoal grill is my baby; I love charcoal,” he enthused. “So instead of me grilling illegally outside every Sunday at the old Kanella, now I’m doing it legally inside.”

Kanella Chef Pitsillades
Chef Pitsillades and his new wood-fired oven. (Wendy Ramunno/For PhillyVoice)

According to Pitsillades, other dishes to look out for are whole trout in saffron-almond sauce with warm potato and lobster salad, pork shoulder rotisserie, sardines “spetze style” (with breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon) and zucchini fritters.

“We’ll do our own flatbreads here, and we’re featuring to start the Armenian lacmajun — flatbread with ground lamb,” he said.

Vegetarian mains include haloumi-and-mint-stuffed Cyprus tortelloni with yogurt sauce. The dessert list will remain the same minus the ice creams, which are temporarily unavailable.

General manager Ulises Robles, a Positano Coast alum who worked with mixologists Junior Merino and Andres Sanchez, developed the bar program. Mediterranean ingredients like pomegranate juice and beets find their way from the kitchen into cocktails like the mezcal-based Daphne.

The Cypriot cocktail, whose name refers to Pitsillades himself, is a masticha- and tequila-based riff on a margarita. The Kotsios, a nod to Pitsillades’ grandfather, combines bourbon and Rakomelo (a Greek spirit) with yogurt, almond-coriander syrup and lemon. Vodka pairs with bergamot juice and orange blossom syrup in the Nefeli.

Kanella Bar
The bar at Kanella. (Wendy Ramunno/For PhillyVoice)

The wine list showcases bottles from such regions as Greece, Spain, Lebanon, Hungary and Austria.

As for why he decided to close a very successful restaurant and branch out to a new location, Pitsillades said he started to find the BYOB format too restrictive.

“But I did feel very sentimental when I left 10th Street, because that was my baby,” he admitted. “This one will be my teenager, because it’s a bigger place.”