In 1923, my great-grandmother Elizabeth opened tea room called the Russian Inn. Her husband had died a few years earlier and she had struggled to support her family of four.
My great-grandfather had been a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and knowing that Elizabeth was having a hard time, his fellow musicians took up a collection to help her start the business.
Elizabeth ran the Inn for two years, and when she died in her early 30s, her sister Sue and Sue’s husband Harry took it over. My Aunt Sue and Uncle Harry ran the restaurant until it closed in 1968.
I am too young to have ever stepped foot into the Russian Inn, but I grew up steeped in the stories of all that had taken place there. Of Aunt Sue, her hair carefully combed and sprayed into a black flip, greeting customers and fawning over celebrities. Of my grandparents falling in love, standing on either sides of the cashier’s station. And of the fortune teller who was always in position on the upstairs balcony.
Over the years, visiting celebrities because a big part of the Inn’s reputation. It was located just a few blocks away from many of Philadelphia’s theaters and so performers would often come by for a meal after the show had wrapped for the night. Aunt Sue comped their meals and the actors and musicians repaid her by posing for photos and signing headshots.
Many of those photos have been lost to history (a lot turned up at a local auction house a few years ago, but I only found out about it after the auction was over), but we still have a handful. My favorite are the ones where Aunt Sue is posing while pretending not to.
One of the pleasures of writing The Food in Jars Kitchen was the opportunity to include a handful of recipes inspired both my family’s Jewish heritage and our long association with the Russian Inn.
Best of all, one of the very first events I’m doing to promote this new book is one that honors the Russian Inn. I’ve partnered with Fork Restaurant to create an afternoon tea menu that features recipes from the book that would have been at home on the Inn’s menu.
Here’s what the menu will include:
- Jam-Streaked Scones
- Rye Toast with smoked trout, crème fraîche and pickled onion
- Russian Dressing Potato Salad on potato bread
- Pistachio, Honey and Roasted Peach Jam Babka
- Tomato Jam and Goat Cheese Rugelach
- Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake
- Pickled Beets with fromage blanc
The tea will be on Saturday, April 6 and will run from 12-3 pm. It costs $55 per person (a price that includes a copy of the book). I’ll be there all day to sign books, answer questions, and share bits of ephemera from the Inn.
You can click this link to make reservations. I do hope some of you will come!