Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard

The New Traditional

We can finally say it’s so—the opening day has arrived for Izzy and Mo’s. A whisper on the winds
for months, that whisper rose to a fervor when it was finally announced that the new bakery/deli would open late last month. The next door neighbor of parent restaurant Till Dynamic Fare,
this new venture from culinary power couple Magdiale Wolmark and Cristen Austin is a small sliver of bright space offering a large burst of flavor.

While the road to opening day was bumpy and filled with flooring potholes, literally, the end result is a soothing yet invigorating destination breakfast/deli spot. The white brick walls are highlighted with hand-painted medallions of earth and sea tones; the airiness grounded by a lighter wood bar and stools. A 10-top community table waits in the back room under white vases sprouting with greenery.

Opening morning found the space filled with neighborhood walk-ins—moms with babies en sling, young couples, older academics—ordering to-go or sitting outside in the lovely breeze, the morning rush hour traffic creating a city soundtrack. Inside, those intoxicating primordial doughy bread aromas waft, mixed in with the smoky smell of sandwiches. Wolmark and Austin perfectly execute the opening-day shuffle, smiling with customers while putting out the small fires that any soft opening uncovers.

Even though the two had been up all night the previous evening, both were bright-eyed and ready to talk about all the curiosities on the menu. A mash-up of the traditional Jewish foods that Wolmark grew up with in Philly mixed with contemporary and world flavors, it’s like a traditional deli reflected by a funhouse mirror.

While deli stalwarts are represented by three traditional bagels—the bialy, the water-boiled bagel, and a Jerusalem bagel (long and skinny, sprinkled with Zatar) —others are tweaked in surprising ways. The Izzy bagel features house-cured gravlax with caviar cream cheese, fresh dill, and—here comes the surprise—hot sauce and pickled onions. And the babka! This customary delight is remixed into a sticky bun, deathly addictive with top-tier chocolate and a sweet glaze. Blintzes, made to order, come in rotating flavors.

There are also homemade fig newtons, filled Berliner donuts, and a number of sandwiches created with superior, farm-raised, house-smoked, grass-fed meats. The Reuben gets a Cuban spin with smoky pastrami, cheese, sauerkraut, and mustard all pressed between slices of rye. Thunderkiss coffee is served East Coast-style—meaning already gussied up with cream and sugar. There are herbal teas and juices, but the real interesting concoction is the cold tahini mocha. Yeah, strange-sounding but awesome. It’s a mocha, with all its chocolatey caffeine familiarity, and an added je ne sais quoi. Well, we know what it is, it’s tahini, but the flavor is subtle and earthy, with a smidge of nuttiness that makes your eyebrows furrow at first, then relax with pleasure three sips in.

Admiring the gorgeous morning that welcomed the opening, Austin recalled her mother-in-law, Mo (the namesake, along with her husband Izzy) talking about Tuesday as an auspicious day. “It’s the day God separated the land and sea and created food,” she said, smiling as she walked back into the restaurant.

Izzy and Mo’s is located at 249 King Ave.