Let Star Fusion be a lesson to you. The food industry in the United States has undergone a revolution in my opinion. It started in 1993 when the TV Food Network launched. Their chefs showed us the secrets of preparing excellent food at home and over the years elevated the food at restaurants. The average patron has become so much better at cooking and more conscientious of what ingredients they used, how it was raised or farmed that the supermarket revolution was bound to occur as well (Whole Foods, Wegman’s and Standard Mart in Chicago). These changes all but obliterated the neighborhood restaurant in Philadelphia.
Unlike a New York bodega, the neighborhood places here were simply drinking hole-in-the-wall’s famous for chicken (fried or buffalo), possibly a craft beer selection, and not much else. But something has begun to happen in Philadelphia. The neighborhood “jawns” are back and the quality of the places and menus have undergone a revolution as well. Enter Star Fusion.
It’s near St. Joe’s University on 63rd street in the Overbrook section (Yes. Will Smith’s Overbrook!) of Philadelphia just a short walk south of the Overbrook station on the regional rail line. It’s a non-descript location not known for its restaurants and you might miss it if not for the ad boards outside. You might not notice Darlene Jones as the owner when you get in either. She’s young, kind and engaging. Certainly, not what you would expect for someone doing “fusion” food.
My experience with “fusion” food peddlers has been that they are pretention in their white jackets and fake French accents combining 8 ingredients on a single dish that have nothing in common telling you its “art on a plate” and it’s your loss if you don’t get it. She doesn’t sell any alcohol which you would wrongly assume is a deal breaker. You are allowed to bring your own which is a better cheaper option anyway. Nope. Its when that first plate hits your table that you get it.
Food done right. Food that provides an array of flavors creatively combined that is as pleasing to your eye, nose and taste buds as anything you can find in some of the finest restaurants in America. I can say that because I have eaten at some of the finest restaurants in America. I have sat at the tables of places owned by Lydia Bastianich, Emeril Lagasse, Jose Andres, David Walzog, Kevin Sousa and other less known but brilliant chefs. Hey, Steven Starr and Jose Garces have places all over Philly and I would match her food up against theirs with no problem. Hell, if she sold her food in a downtown venue, I’d gladly pay their prices too.
But it’s not downtown. It’s in Overbrook. Fantastic food. She doesn’t reserve her talent and attention to detail to the important main dishes like blackened salmon. She expends just as much energy in the little things. Her Crab Caesar salad was the best Caesar salad I have ever had. Anywhere. “So what? It’s a salad” you might think. That’s my point. Its just a salad. But the freshness of the ingredients, lack of shells in the crab meat (equals quality) the proper amount of dressing….perfect.
Don’t get me started about the crispy salt and pepper calamari. I have to force myself into new territory because they are addictive. The wings are perfectly cooked with a variety of flavors. Jerked and the recent version was a peach cilantro wing. I haven’t had a bad meal yet.
“Star Dar” is also a big advocate of healthy eating. She is working with consultants to craft diabetes conscious food so that people concerned with their health can get a phenomenal tasting meal at her restaurant that meets their strict dietary requirements. Darlene has gone even further than that by reaching out and convincing other restaurants to do the same. She will be hosting her first annual restaurant Black Tie Ball soon where the other restaurant participants will be announced. Her mission is to “Take Charge Against Diabetes”. All of this from a restaurant in Overbrook?
Yes. From a restaurant in Overbrook.
So, the lesson. Don’t turn your nose up at your local spot. If there is an ownership change to an old spot or a new place springing up in your neighborhood, consider this;
- The talent coming out of restaurant schools is really good.
- Individuals opening restaurants today understand that the average person can make really good food at home. They can get ingredients as good as they get. The kitchen tools are excellent.
- To survive, they have to give you a food experience that you cannot replicate at home. Their food has to be creative, unique, taste wonderful and be brilliantly executed night after night.
Darlene has figured that out…
Star Fusion Restaurant
2013 N. 63rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19151