Pennsylvania Tastemaker: Ellen Yin, Philadelphia Restauranteur

Photo Credit: High Street Hospitality

Restauranteur Ellen Yin is a grande dame of Philadelphia’s vibrant food scene — her beloved eatery Fork has been open for more than 20 years, while the adjacent all-day cafe High Street on Market made a huge splash when it debuted in 2013. Her company High Street Hospitality also runs A.Kitchen and A.Bar in Rittenhouse, as well as an outpost of High Street in Manhattan.

Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, High Street on Market shines with its bold breakfast sandwiches (Lancaster bologna, Amish horseradish cheddar, gherkin mayo, and fried red onion), creative salads (grilled broccoli with blistered grapes, Marcona almonds, and spring garlic ranch), and homemade pastas (burnt grains campanelle with wild boar ragù). Then, there are the kitchen’s pastries and fresh-baked breads — artisanal marvels crafted using heirloom grains. In 2014, Bon Appétit placed the casual spot at number two on its annual “Best New Restaurants” list. High Street also boasts an all-domestic drink menu. Yin and company carry a host of Pennsylvania wines; some of her personal favorites include Chaddsford Winery, Penns Woods Winery, Maple Springs Vineyard and Pinnacle Ridge Winery.

Philly Wine Week is coming up on March 22-29, and High Street will be getting into the spirit with a special event pairing Pennsylvania wines with their kitchen’s delectable eats. PA Wine Land Post chatted with Yin about her love for all things local and the Berks County wine that first blew her mind.

Can you talk a little about your restaurants? Do you have an overarching philosophy in terms of the food that you serve?

High Street was the name of Market Street in the Colonial era. We were looking for a name that would support the idea of cooking as a craft — for example, our baking and our handmade pastas are very artisanal. That has been part of our ethos from the beginning.

Prior to High Street, we had a little concept called Fork, Etc. It had a great breakfast and lunch program, but one of the things we were really trying to create was an all-day restaurant. The idea was to show that even a simple breakfast sandwich had as much care as our dinnertime pastas.

Can you talk a bit about your beverage menu?

We decided that we were going to go all American, and, with the wine list, as local as possible. That is a huge challenge. When I opened Fork 20 years ago, no one would ever dream of putting on an all-domestic wine program because it just wouldn’t be diverse enough.

So, fast forward from 1997 to 2013, my business partner and wine director Roberto Sella found this winery, Pinnacle Ridge, in Berks County. He said, ‘You have to try this sparkling rosé. I can’t believe it! It tastes as close to a sparkling rosé from France as [wine] from any part of the country.’

We set our minds to try and find some other wineries in the Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey area. As much as we can highlight these local producers, it helps tell our story.

Do you feel like you need to do any work to educate customers about Pennsylvania wines? Have people become more open to it in recent years?

People are definitely more open to it. It used to be that a lot of the wineries were just making Chardonnay, Cabernet, maybe Cab Franc — but now there are so many other varietals. There are a lot of people experimenting with Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, these cooler-climate wine varietals.

We have worked really hard to build our reputation as a restaurant where people feel they can trust us, that we’re not going to just put something [on our menu] because it’s a trend. We really believe in it.

Are there any Pennsylvania products or producers that you really love?

High Street has done a series of cheese events with local dairies. We’ve worked with Valley Milkhouse, Meadowset Farm, and Birchrun Hills Farm. A lot of these local wines, especially wines that have a little more residual sugar, pair well with their cheeses. Chester County has had this reputation for making great goat cheese for a long time — Riesling with goat cheese or Grüner with goat cheese is great.

You have an upcoming event for Philly Wine Week.

Philly Beer Week has a huge presence in Philadelphia. Why not wine? There are so many wine drinkers and Philadelphia has such a huge culture of BYOBs. We’re doing an event with High Street and local Pennsylvania wines. We’re super excited about it — to share good food with wines that are going to be really approachable.

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