Martha in East Kensington is all about the neighborhood

Martha in East Kensington is all about the neighborhood
Joe Carpino

Jon Medlinsky’s many friends in the local bar and restaurant scene stepped in to help him with Martha, an intimate East Kensington restaurant opening today.

“I love this neighborhood and love that everybody’s together in getting us running,” says Medlinsky of the eatery at York and Martha streets. “It’s an area where people make things — artists, fabricators, hard workers in food and design. What we didn’t make ourselves, like chairs and tabletops, we celebrate from others in the area.”

Medlinsky, a Khyber Pass Pub alum, talks up using “the fruits of this area” for concoctions the Martha team puts its own spin on. The draft cocktails from bartender Phoebe Esmon, for example, combine local spirits like Rowhouse’s Demon Rum and Dad’s Hat Rye, with house-made tinctures.

From the outside, the boxy corner space seems desolate. There’s even a blackboard outside Martha that spells out, “Yes, we’re open.”

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Inside, Martha is a dim, high-ceilinged room with glowing homemade chandeliers made from snare drums, wood furnishings, stacked barrels and a rec-room–like area where a turntable and stereo wait, ready for diners to play albums.

“Jaycee of Philadelphia Record Exchange gave them to us,” says Medlinsky. “Music is as important as atmosphere, which Mike Parsell [one of the building’s developers] designed and built out handsomely.”

The project has been taking shape over the last year in the in-transition neighborhood, across from Rowhouse Spirits and down the block from Philadelphia Brewing Co. and Moosehead Calypso Bar. Medlinsky began thinking of opening his own place while still at Khyber, where he came up with an annual Beer Week event that sourced regional, naturally fermented items. “Pete Merzbacher from Philly Bread brought amazing sourdough muffins, Mike Landers brought his handcrafted pickles — it was cool,” Medlinsky says.

Along with Landers, who cooks and bartends at Martha, Medlinsky brought in his Garces Restaurant Group pal, Tim Kirkland, to do a menu that is vegetable-driven, but “ there’s no morality here — we are serving meat.”

Everyone pitches in beyond his or her assigned role — “washing dishes too,” Medlinsky says. “I wanted to collaborate with people who can do it all, are passionate about food and beverage, and can make it all happen.”

On the menu

The kitchen at Martha is truly open: It has no hood, and cooking is done with electric rather than gas heat. Kirkland’s menu is vegetarian-focused, straightforward bar food.

There is meat to be found, like in a duck sausage dish and in the Hammy Sammy, made with country ham from Kensington Quarters and on a roll from Olney’s Philly Bread bakery.

Raising the veggie stakes, there’s the spicy Caribbean cauliflower with kale and rum raisins; a “vegan jawn” hoagie with eggplant; and a hearty dish of pastrami-spiced smoked beets with sauerkraut.