It was July 2011. Handsome Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee and his young son and daughter had just finished a round of wiffle ball in Rittenhouse Square and were looking for food. They strolled over to Serafina on 18th for an Italian lunch, only the hostess there didn’t recognize Lee and told him he’d have to wait—for at least 30 minutes. So Lee turned around and walked immediately across the street to just-opened A.Kitchen. “We didn’t have a table,” remembers general manager Larry Morris. “But I said, ‘We’ll make space for you.’”
Since Lee’s visit, a relatively steady stream of celebrities has broken bread at A.Kitchen, pushing it past Rouge and Parc as the boldface-name spot of choice. There was the night that Colin Farrell, in town shooting Dead Man Down, and Ellen Burstyn, taping episodes of the critically acclaimed Political Animals series on USA, both stopped in for dinner around the same time—an exacta of A-list celebrity sightings. Farrell would become a regular customer throughout the nine weeks of filming, and Burstyn’s co-star, Sigourney Weaver, would stop in, too.
Ex-Dawson’s Creek-er James Van Der Beek dined with his family. Country gal LeAnn Rimes noshed, after a round of target practice at a South Philly gun club the day before. And most recently, Miley Cyrus turned heads over multiple nights in the restaurant, when she was staying in Philadelphia to visit fiancé Liam Hemsworth, filming Paranoia here. Remember when John Bolaris and Alycia Lane were the best we could do on the celeb front?
A.Kitchen operator (and former Philadelphia magazine food critic) David Fields suggests that many other major talents have moved through the room, but he’s not naming names—not even off the record. The only celebs he’ll verify are those who’ve already been dimed out by fans and paparazzi, like those mentioned above. “Part of our ethos is to respect the privacy of folks,” he insists.
The stars don’t dine at A.Kitchen because they read about it in some city magazine’s awards issue or are sent by a publicist. They show up because it’s close and convenient, since those in town for long-term movie or TV shoots tend to be put up at the extended-stay AKA suites, the hotel property attached to A.Kitchen. Many of them use the restaurant’s side door, which connects them directly to their elevator, so they don’t even have to leave the building—though Farrell made a point of going out the front. “He was super-regular,” observes Fields. The restaurant also provides room service to stars staying at the hotel and will honor off-menu requests where possible. “We’ve been known to make oatmeal all day long,” Fields says, naturally refusing to identify the healthy eater.
This close-mouthed approach to celebrity visits isn’t shared by all Philadelphia restaurants. At a recent lunch at Stephen Starr’s Parc, where Lafayette Hill resident and actor Terrence Howard dined a few tables away from me, the hostess made a point of mentioning to one of my companions that Harrison Ford was seated on the other side of the room. And 13th Street chef Marcie Turney is known to tweet the occasional sightings in her own restaurants, from Chase Utley, who’s been to all of her spots, to Julia Stiles, who made an appearance at Barbuzzo. A.Kitchen, though, has a strict “No Twitter” policy. “And we remind our employees of our privacy policies every few weeks,” explains Fields. I believe him. Not one of the employees I reached out to for a little celebrity dish had a word to say. I guess they know: Loose lips shrink tips.
This story originally appeared in the October issue of Philadelphia magazine.