Prescription Chicken: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Valerie Zweig (left) and Taryn Pellicone (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Baltimore residents whose immune systems have been debilitated by the winter and its odd weather patterns need not go far this month for some Jewish penicillin — chicken soup (with matzoh balls).

They can just head to R. House in Remington, where their medicine awaits.

“It’s always been my favorite thing to make,” said Valerie Zweig. “I’m not good at presents, but the minute somebody’s sick or had a baby, I would be at their house being like, ‘Soup for your freezer.’”

Since the beginning of March, Zweig, “a nice Jewish girl from Bethesda,” as she puts it, and her cousin, Taryn Pellicone, have been serving up soup from their appropriately named Prescription Chicken at the Baltimore food hall. The menu includes “grandma-style” chicken soup, bone broth, vegan “bone broth” made with mushrooms, chicken-less soup for vegetarians and a spicy “hangover” soup, all of which can be served with matzoh balls (gluten-free and vegetarian options available), egg noodles and veggies.

“I don’t think there’s any other food that makes you feel a certain way when you eat it,” Zweig said. “You have a bite and there’s that automatic transfer to comfort as a taste memory.”

Prescription Chicken (which is not kosher certified) will be at R. House until March 29.

It marks the first expansion of the nearly 7-month-old Washington, D.C.-based business, which delivers in both Washington and Baltimore and retails in several Washington-area stores. And much like sickness may inspire customers, Zweig, 35, started the business after her own brush with illness.

“About two years ago, I got laryngitis twice in the course of five weeks, which is obviously the universe’s way of making fun of me,” Zweig joked. “I couldn’t get to the supermarket to get what I needed.”

After discovering there was no way to get chicken soup delivered, her journey took her to her local bar, a Korean restaurant, where she acquired broth for her soup. “I was like, ‘This is just nuts,’” Zweig said, and the idea for the homemade chicken soup delivery business was born.

Zweig, who studied at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education and still works for restaurant consulting firm Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, tapped Pellicone, 28, who studied hospitality at the University of Delaware and was working in fast-casual restaurant management.

Pellicone, who left her previous job to focus on Prescription Chicken, said she trusted her cousin’s vision.

“Every piece of this just seemed like a great idea,” Pellicone said. “Being able to bring joy to people’s lives through food is something we’re both passionate about.”

(Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Walking the JT through the menu, it’s clear how thoughtfully the company is branded and how passionate Zweig is about her business — reciting ingredients and their health benefits as she goes over the different soups.

She first explained the bone broth — “a long-cooked stock meant to draw all of the nutrients out of the bones, all the good stuff.

“The result is a rich, almost caramelized broth that is delicious on its own, and if you add stuff into it like veggies and matzoh balls, even better,” Zweig said.

The vegan “bone broth” is made using mushrooms, turmeric, ginger, carrots, celery and onions. “It’s not super mushroomy, it’s almost meaty,” Zweig said of the broth, which touts its own benefits from the super-food ingredient.

The chicken-less soup is “a nice clear broth with lots of goodies inside it.”

The grandma-style — which is Zweig’s own recipe, not her grandma’s — is made with dill, ginger and black pepper and is a clean, mild chicken soup with a fresh flavor, as she describes it. It’s available with matzoh balls or egg noodles or as a “bipartisan” bowl, which comes with both.

Then there’s the hangover soup, which to eat “you don’t have to be hung over, but if you are, it’s really helpful,” Zweig explained. This spicy broth is made with the usual chicken parts, carrot, celery and onions and gets its kick from turmeric, ginger, jalapeno, habanero, horse radish, fennel seed and thyme, and it’s garnished with a jalapeno ginger mixture for an extra kick — “all of these ingredients that have connections to hangover-healing properties … then it’s so spicy you sweat it out,” Zweig said.

The menu is rounded out with bagel bites that come in everything, onion and cinnamon toast crunch flavors and challah-style rolls. The rolls are from Washington-based Republic Kolache, which operates out of the same commercial kitchen Prescription Chicken uses and which usually fills the Texas pastries with sweet or savory ingredients. Since the rolls are similar to challah, Prescription Chicken sells them without filling, hence the challah-style roll.

Then there’s the “sickie tea” and honey lozenges for those under the weather, and of course a “hangover tea.” There’s also the hangover package, the “supersick” package, new moms package and superstress package, which have various combinations of the companies offerings, sometimes paired with orange juice and ginger ale.

Zweig — whose interview was interrupted by a customer who wanted to tell her, “Great matzoh ball, loved the white meat” — and Pellicone will continue delivering in Baltimore after its pop-up shop wraps up, and they hope to retail in the city as well.

“It’s been equally the most amazing and difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Zweig said. Echoed Pellicone: “It’s a roller coaster of fun and joy and craziness, but when you see it really come to life, it’s incredible.”

Zweig is well aware of the presence of her Semitic roots in the food. A lifelong member of Washington Hebrew Congregation who was active in the North American Federation of Temple Youth as a teen, she is the synagogue’s “unofficial chef” as she put it. When students go twice a year to a local farm — once to plant and twice to harvest — she helps them come up with a recipe for what they grew, which is then donated to Martha’s Table.

Pellicone, a soon-to-be Baltimore resident whose mother is Jewish, grew up celebrating the holidays at Zweig’s house. While she’s looking to get more involved in the Jewish community, she already feels a strong culinary connection.

“I love the food,” Pellicone said, adding that her favorite growing up was the family’s gefilte fish. “Being able to connect to the culture through the food is something that’s really important. That’s really where my Jewish heritage comes out, through the Jewish culture and the food.”

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