Taste of history: P.J. Clarke’s at the Curtis blends tradition with new culinary creations

PJ Clarke Curtis
Reese Amorosi

P.J. Clarke’s at The Curtis is serving up delicious cuisine with plenty of history.

Both P.J.’s and the Curtis Building were born in 1884, but this month, P.J. Philly’s Culinary Director, Chef Taylor Weldon, along with Chef Neil Walker, have begun crafting a host of new menu items to blend in with P.J.’s traditional favorites.

And with that, the past and present of P.J.’s and the Curtis have become one.

“We love being a small part of the Curtis Building legacy and the history that’s passed through these walls,” says Tim Killeen, GM of P.J. Clarke’s at The Curtis.

P.J. Clarke’s Norristown-born owner, Phil Scotti, took on Philly’s historic Beaux Arts architectural marvel in 2018. This Center City location was the one-time home to magazines such as ‘Saturday Evening Post’ and ‘Ladies Home Journal’. When Scotti got to the Curtis Building, he began using his own flair for the theatrical on P.J.’s first floor.

PJ Clarke Curtis
Reese Amorosi

“We had options of where we’d land when we came into Philadelphia,” says Killeen. “Between the Curtis itself and the ability to look out our front window and stare upon Independence Hall, every day we’re reminded that this part of the city is a world of its own.”

The inescapable beauty of the Curtis starts in its lobby nearest P.J.’s door with its ‘Dream Garden’ mosaic designed by Maxfield Parrish. From there, Scotti picks up the historic thread with P.J.’s old school Crosley jukebox, its original oyster cart bicycles — the staff biked around NYC in the 1900s, shucking fresh oysters — a vintage lightbulb scoreboard (2017’s Super Bowl LII, when the Eagles beat the Patriots), original Bell Telephone booths, and more.

“Guests visit P.J.’s and tell us stories of how their parents or grandparents worked here when it was a publishing house,” says Killeen. “The Norman Rockwell illustrations throughout the building are a reminder of that. Our menu leans toward Americana, but there is nothing more Americana than Rockwell’s Illustrations that generations have grown up with.”

Mention that Americana menu with its spring update, and Killeen is quick to note that there’s no shift from “P.J. Clarke’s standard that made us a part of so many memories and traditions. We’re a brand with such deep history that there is no need to re-evaluate what works.”

Like its vision of traditional hospitality, Killeen says “our burgers made the way they have been for decades, our cocktails leaning towards the classics.” However, along with its menus’ next-level elements and freshly-created twists, P.C. Clarke’s new spring dining options are all about “getting back-to-basics.”

When Chef Walker makes his own zesty hot pepper relish for P.J.’s Philly Cheesesteak, it’s a twist on tradition that goes a long way in remaking the Philadelphia classic.

PJ Clarke Curtis
P.J. Clarke’s serves up Buffalo Shrimp.Reese Amorosi

Along with menu regulars like its multitude of oyster options (try the Broiled Ginger Oysters with scallion) and a dense but tender slab of Cedar Plank salmon juicy in a bed of garlic sautéed spinach, there are new highlights such as PJ’s Buffalo Shrimp tossed in its piquant buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing. 

For every P.J. tradition like its Proper Fish & Chips and PA Dutch Coalcracker Meatloaf, there is a refreshing golden roasted beet and mandarin salad with house whipped ricotta, and arugula tossed in honey Limonette dressing, as well as grilled swordfish skewers, Cajun spiced, and served over couscous, with a Green Goddess Greek yogurt sauce.

“From a menu standpoint, we’re always looking to create really amazing options that bring value and intentionality,” says Killeen. “We update seasonally and listen to our guests – we want them to feel a sense of ownership in what we are doing.”

“I hear people say, “I pass you guys all the time, but have never stopped in” or “Oh, you’re the ones with the red umbrellas outside” all the time,” says the GM about people deeply familiar with P.J. Clarke’s without having dined there. “And to them I say, ‘It’s time to come in and see what it’s all about: the beauty of the venue, our smiling staff and our food and drink are all things we’re proud of. We want to show off what we have and are always looking to meet new friends.”