Ben Miller and his wife, Cristina Martinez, were cooking lamb barbacoa out of their house two years ago, delighting friends.
Meanwhile, the renowned mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar was slowly outfitting a warehouse/workspace near 10th and Watkins Streets, near the couple's house. It's an adjunct to his Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on South Street near 11th. (In the final scenes of the 2008 documentary In a Dream, Zagar's son Jeremiah shows the empty building. Now pretty much completed, it also features Warren Muller's light sculptures illuminating the downstairs.)
The couple and Zagar struck up a friendship, which then included Zagar's wife, Julia, who owns Eye's Gallery on South Street near Fourth. A year ago, they sought zoning approval to open a restaurant at the warehouse but neighbors pushed back.
Miller and Martinez started the taco truck South Philly Barbacoa, which now parks at Eighth and Watkins Streets on the weekends.
Zagar has decided to open the warehouse - a vast, two-story wonderland of glass, mirror, china and tile - to the public starting Dec. 15 with a pop-up dinner - candlelit and romantic - that will involve a good deal of culinary firepower: Besides Miller and Martinez, courses will be prepared by Taqueria Feliz's Lucio Palazzo and Vetri's Justino Jimenez.
Palazzo will handle the first half of the menu, featuring maize from Masienda, which sells corn grown by small farms in Mexico. Martinez, with the help of her son Isaias, will make lamb barbacoa and pancita, with tortillas made by hand, and the consomme, a broth made from the drippings of the meat. Jimenez will do an amuse bouche and dessert. Beer will be provided by Victory Brewing Co.
Ernest Stuart, a trombonist and the founder and creator of the Philadelphia Center City Jazz Festival, is assembling a crew of musicians. Maggpie Vintage Rentals, whose specialty is one-of-a-kind pieces, will provide the tables and chairs.