What is happening to chef/owner David Gilberg's Northern Liberties beacon of Portuguese cuisine?
In 2009, my husband (then boyfriend) and I worked at a local foodie event at the Piazza at Schmidt's, where we poured beer for the attendees.
Stationed next to us was a husband-and-wife team representing a restaurant that was opening soon, with the then-inscrutable name of Koo Zee Doo. They offered a homemade hot sauce that was incredible.
It was at that moment that I fell in love with their flavors and immediately resolved to be there when they opened their doors.
Koo Zee Doo is a BYOB with an open kitchen serving authentic Portuguese fare. But, it's not the kind of food that you'll find in restaurants in Portgual — the restaurant's flavor profile focuses on comida caseira, or home cooking — what grandmothers cook for their families.
I remember in 2010 when Craig LaBan awarded the restaurant three bells in a glowing Philadelphia Inquirer review. Shortly thereafter, it won Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly" for New BYOB.
Things changed after that. We could no longer decide at the last minute to walk the two blocks from our apartment to have dinner at the restaurant, which derives its name from the phonetic spelling of both "cozhinado," the Portuguese word for "cooked," and "Cozido a Portuguesa," a traditional Portuguese dish. People from all across the Delaware Valley were driving to the BYOB's Northern Liberties location, and the place was continuously packed.
And the success wasn't limited to just popular appeal: In 2012, Koo Zee Doo's Jewish owner and chef David Gilberg received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef in the Midatlantic Region.
What makes this place so special to me goes beyond the amazing food — it's the people. Gilberg's co-owner and sous chef is his wife, Carla Gonçalves, who changed career paths to stand in the small kitchen space and work next to her husband.
The servers, in their uniforms of simple black T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, have always added a friendly note to the intimate ambiance.
So, why did this remarkable restaurant announce that it is closing its doors?
Gilberg and Gonçalves told me that their abrupt departure can be traced directly to their landlord, whom they described as "shady." Unhappy with his business style, they made the decision to not renew their lease and instead shut down. In an unexpected turn of events, the landlord recently sold, but for Koo Zee Doo, unfortunately, the decision was already made. Running a restaurant is such hard work and, like so many entrepreneurial endeavors, can easily lead to burnout — after getting a glimpse of an extended period of freedom from their venture, the couple was in no hurry to change course again.
I am sad that one of my favorite restaurants is closing, but I wish Gilberg and Gonçalves the best of luck and can't wait to see what they open next.
Koo Zee Doo doesn't officially close until July 14th so hurry up and get your table!
If you make it in time, be sure to try some of my favorite menu items, including: braised chicken gizzards; whole grilled sardines; roasted peppers; salad of chopped vegetables with red wine coriander vinaigrette; lamb skewers; rice & bean; and baked duck rice. Definitely save room for dessert!
Koo Zee Doo
614 N 2nd St Philadelphia, PA 19123
The Bubbi Project