Henry Morgan and Elaine Gardner have a secret.
You’ve probably seen them at one of the two Philly Dizengoff locations. The young chefs — aged 24 and 27, respectively — regularly serve maybe the best hummus and pita you’ve ever had.
But what if that hummus and pita came surrounded by half a dozen types of salatim, the vivid Israeli bowls of salads and pickles? Followed by an entree you wouldn’t hesitate to call one of the best you’d eaten in the past decade — seared Moroccan cod with maitake mushrooms and aleppo pepper, for example. Plus a housemade olive oil cake with fruit and whipped cream for dessert.
This is Saturday night dinner at Diz. If you’re interested, move fast. It’s about to sell out. Again.
Since April, the Sansom Street fast-casual has done a transforming act every weekend. Gone are the jostling, crowded lines snaking up to the counter. No more grabbing your tray for the rush to squeeze into a picnic table seat next to a bunch of strangers so you can tear your pita to pieces, swipe the bottom of the hummus bowl and hustle back to work. Instead, the orange-walled space becomes a cozy, humming, full-service restaurant, spaciously organized to seat just 20 people.
The dinner is available via online pre-purchase only, for $60 per person, in pairs. Tickets, which become available for the coming month on the 15th of the month prior, disappear within a few days.
Seem steep? It’s no $12 lunch. But if you have the funds, it’s worth the splurge. Because for that one evening, Dizengoff stops feeling like a fast casual. Instead, it feels like a miniature Zahav, or a Middle Eastern version of Cheu Noodle Bar.
Gardner (sous chef at Diz Whole Foods) and Morgan (sous at Diz Center City) are co-chefs for the dinner series, and their collaboration is part of what makes the meal so special. The open kitchen means they’re working in full view of the dining room, so you catch snippets of their friendly back and forth as they plate the food. Although they both profess to love the simplicity of the regular menu — “We have this ultra delicious and dependable product; we make hummus the best way we know how” — they’re obviously thrilled with the chance to do more.
“The dinner menus give us an even broader canvas to be creative,” said Morgan, a Wynnewood native who’s been with the company for two years and calls working at CookNSolo a “dream come true.”
“We also keep it seasonal,” Gardner added, “which makes changing the menu seamless… It’s determined by what’s sick that month. I’m really looking forward to all the summer veggies!”
Gardner has been in the Solomonov fold for five years, three as a line cook at Zahav and one as sous chef there, and she pulls on that experience to help create these dinners. The other thing she references is her childhood growing up in Spring City, Pa.
“My mom used to make the best dinners and I remember thinking to myself, I’ll never be able to cook like that. It was she who taught me a meal isn’t the same without love. You have to love what you’re doing and it will show.”
Helping Morgan and Gardner spread the love on Saturday nights is Brian Kane, the longtime CookNSolo front of house lead. He’s not only a serious beverage expert — and there’s an optional pairing you can choose to add — he’s a master of hospitality, making customers feel like family. Which, Morgan noted, is par for the course.
“The extreme attention to detail, always questioning how we can be even better, is something that I have never experienced on this level with any other restaurant,” Morgan said. “It’s that kind of motivation that keeps me going everyday.”
To get in on the experience, head here for tickets ASAP.