Review By: Eric Hoover -
Chhaya in Sanskrit (chāyā) means shelter, shade, shadow. In Hebrew: living, life. In Japanese: chhaya (chāyā) simply means tea house. All these words encompass what the eatery has become to the neighborhood, and to this writer.
When I moved to South Philly in 2008, after an unsuccessful stint as an Anglo in Montreal (did you know they speak a lot of French up there?), I hunted for “off the beaten path” cafes and diners to spend lazy weekend afternoons sipping caffeinated drinks and stealing Wi-Fi. East Passyunk Ave. was beginning what some called a renaissance, and what others referred to as simple gentrification. Galleries were taking over empty store fronts that once housed “King of [insert anything from kitchens appliances to steaks to men’s clothing].” The Cantina, a popular faux-Mexican watering hole, was the place to be, just a few blocks south of the already popular gastropub P.O.P.E. (Pub On Passyunk East).
I stumbled into Chhaya one afternoon after work, looking for a pick-me-up. What I thought was a small café is actually the perfect size for brunch or lunch. Want private conversations with a public view of Passyunk East? Chhaya has two “antique” chairs and a table set up in their window display, the perfect sensual yet voyeuristic spot for their incredibly strong coffee.
Speaking of coffee, theirs is prepared via pour over (yum), siphon (ooooOOOOoooo) or a small/large French press (that’s a bingo!).
I should probably get to the actual subject of the review. Sunday brunch is popular these days – personally I am all for it. There are Philly staples near to my heart (see my Johnny Brenda’s review) but Chhaya is not only physically closer to my apartment, at the right moment you’ll grab a table quickly. It helped that the Broad Street Run (a 10-mile race down the center of Philadelphia) was happening a few blocks away, keeping spectators away until its conclusion.
As soon as I entered Chhaya, the decision to get their bagel sandwich came to me. I’ve had it multiple times and was always pleased. My lady-friend ate their French toast stuffed waffles, which are intense, but I’ll let her write about them one day if she wants. Think cream cheese, avocado, tomato, bacon and egg on your choice of toasted bagel sounds superb? You must have excellent taste. And if you’re not sure, trust someone who has been going to Chhaya on and off for 5 years. It is.