"The potential of creating a destination" drew him to fast-growing Gloucester County and the former Old Swedes Inn, but it's also the first time the respected Philly chef has had a financial foothold in a restaurant, a partnership with certified public accountant and Marlton Diner owner Gus Tzitzifas. That might explain his near-microscopic approach to housekeeping.
"It's not a job I could just walk away from," said Feury, originally from Monmouth County, of his signed-up stake in the business and bricks. "But I've always run kitchens like I've owned them, [and] I've always been given the autonomy to do so. I'm always best at what I do when I'm left to do what I do best."
Katz took a slightly different path to Tavro, which means "bull" in Greek ("I'm very stubborn, like a bull," explained Tzitzifas).
In July, the fellow Jersey boy decided to close his well-loved Mémé at 22nd and Spruce. Taking meetings en route to the next opportunity, he began talking with Feury about Tavro 13. "The stars aligned," said Katz. "I don't have my next step yet, so I'm here. Opening new restaurants is exciting for sure, even if you're not 'the guy.' "
Since Feury favors working the line during service, Katz has taken on the responsibility of expediting the plates flying out to Tavro's 70-seat dining area, big barroom and live-music lounge, prepping the dessert menu and maintaining the wine list - much more elaborate than the selection he cultivated at Mémé.
On paper, it reads like the abstract of a culinary sitcom we'd all watch: Two prominent, big-city chefs cooking upscale food for a downscale town in an overhauled 18th-century inn a few feet along Kings Highway from a Christian thrift shop. The first question that comes to mind: Is this weird for you guys?
"It's a little bit weird," admitted Katz, coming off a long chef/owner stint between M Restaurant, in the Morris Hotel, and Mémé. "For the past seven years, I've been where the questions come. I made the decisions, and I like that role." But the unorthodox setup clicks, according to Katz, because he's working side by side with Feury, a chef he's "respected for a long time."
His supervisory reflexes still kick in. "When people come into the kitchen and say, 'Chef,' I look up. But they're talking with him."
"It's great to have another chef," said Feury of Katz's presence in his (unsurprisingly) spotless kitchen. It allows him to focus on the cooking, which is "no departure from the types of things I did [in Philly]," difference in ZIP code be damned.
"It's not dumbed down," Feury said. As with everywhere else he's cooked, "I really am focusing on keeping things very straightforward and very recognizable."
But that downplays some of the more ambitious work on Tavro's menu, dishes Feury is pleased Tavro's crowd is taking to. Yes, there's free-range chicken and strip steak, but he's also doing swordfish with tatsoi and yellowtail with blanched sea beans. One plate in particular, confit lamb belly with braised quince and harissa, is something he offered at Fork to middling response.
"We [might have] sold three on a Saturday night," he said. "Here, I'm selling a lot of it. I'm on my third batch in a week and a half." The same goes for sweetbread-stuffed chicken wings on the bar menu.
"I thought just the word 'sweetbread' would put the brakes on that, but it hasn't."
It's easy for us city slickers to assume that small-town Swedesboro would be apprehensive to this type of cooking, but the opposite is proving true in the early going. Diners who might have hauled over to Philly or Haddonfield, N.J., to eat now have a much more local option. "From Cherry Hill all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, there's not much fine dining. It's a big, untapped market," said Tzitzifas of why he targeted the location.
Feury and Katz both chuckle at some of the "Jersey-isms" they've encountered so far ("You got clams casino?"), but both are high on the bounty the rural locale offers. In adjacent Harrison Township, they attend weekly livestock and produce auctions (BYOC, as in: bring your own cage), and hope to work animals from here onto Tavro's menu. Katz might not be around to see it happen, but as of this moment both chefs are cooking in the now.
"You can't be everywhere at once," said Feury. "Having another general there to watch the flank? It's awesome."
Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene for more than six years. His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at email@example.com.