Saturday, March 27, 2010

Gaetano's Garden Grows

Leaves of Acer palmatum 'Shin Deshojo' flower of Magnolia loebneri 'Ballerina

Friday, March 26, 2010

Honey's Sit 'n Eat

We were up on 4th Street Thursday grabbing a sack of Organic Mechanics from Angelo at Greenables. We popped into Honey's for lunch. The place was jamming. We took seats at the 'bar'. The menu has quite a few items. It seemed like 50+ dishes or so were listed. We ordered a reuben and fries and brisket taco and latke. We both had coffees. Our server was a sweetie and pretty much on the ball. The place ran like a well greased machine.

The coffee was really excellent. This was a fresh, nicely balanced brew full of flavor with good acidity and some distinctive coffee notes. Seriously a superb cup of joe. The reuben was decent. The corned beef was supermarket cold cut style it was open faced on fresh rye. It was tasty. The tacos were also pretty good. The brisket had good flavor and moisture and the avocado was nicely ripe and perfectly fresh. The fries were limp and lame and the latke was a deep fried wedge of gummy grey matter. Overall the place seemed a lot like Sabrina's. Not a lot of attention to detail or precision in cooking. Just plain old a lot of food.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weekend Markets

Spring most definitely sprung at the Piazza at Schmidts last weekend. The gorgeous weather and the March Madness contests on the Jumbotron merged for a lively afternoon.

There were no unsold canele so I wasn't able to make any food trades. I did get a chance to chat with Tom Colton. He told me that McGeary Organics in Lancaster is milling flour from his farm's wheat. The grain is heirloom, indigenous to Lancaster PA and fair trade and organic. I'm excited to test out this flour in canele recipes. This is the same mill that produces Daisy Organic Flour.

Another exciting prospect is a possible PAW PAW FESTIVAL. Last Autumn Tom told me about the huge harvest of Paw Paws (Asimina triloba) in his area. Paw Paws are so hard to find in Philly. In West Cape May raccoons and squirrels have been eating up my private grove, so I'm lobbying for a Paw Paw Festival at HeadHouse this Autumn. Very exciting right?

In other states paw paw festivals are institutionalized.

Meanwhile, across town at Clark Park , the lil lady enjoyed some virtuoso guitar music from Hot Club of Philadelphia and grabbed some chicken wings from Barb Shelly. She brought home the CD and we've been dining with those tasty tunes for a few days now. Barb's chicken wings are as different from those scrawny joints that WholeFoods Market sells as you can imagine. They are meaty with clean and assertive chicken flavor and firm texture. They are not 75% skin, more like 40% skin which makes for a way tastier wing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bread to Dread

That corned beef the other day was so satisfying I was compelled to do it again for St. Patty's. I grabbed the brisket at SuperFresh, made some coleslaw with a little hunk of local cabbage I got at Pumpkin and the lil lady grabbed Swiss and seeded rye dread from WholeFoods Mkt. The bread was where things took a dive. The first time we had Metro's German rye on hand. The difference between Metro's rye and WholeFoods rye is like the diff between delight and disaster. Seriously, I was disturbed that 2 slices of 'bread' nearly pulled all my careful cooking under. You might think I'm a little bit cranks.....not so. At the table I said "this isn't as nice as the first time". The very first comment from my son who also ate with us the first time was " ya the bread is totally different".

I didn't take any pics of that sandwich. But since Metropolitan is under discussion I posted a pic of their pumpernickel loaf. Wow, so amazingly delicious with smoked salmon and then later with a dab of ripe Brillat Savarin.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Market Day Fleur de Sel Caramel

Potential label for rum vanilla and chocolate Fleur de Sel caramels.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vietnam Cafe

Vietnam Cafe Inc
814 South 47th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19143-3613
(215) 729-0260

The cooking here was tame and tasty. I'm a bit privileged with this cuisine since the lil lady and her mom are superb Vietnamese cooks. Service was attentive and the space is open and roomy.

We sampled the nem nướng cuốn, bánh xèo, bún thịt nướng, and hủ tiếu. All were good, but we were disappointed that no fresh aromatic greens were served as accompaniments. The cooking was very similar to the 11th street location.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saturday at Clark Water Park

It wasn't as bad as the alarmist media led me to expect out on 43rd St. Saturday. Clark park customers are as intrepid as the vendors so biz was good for the first 2 hours. Canele were selling well and people are getting into the caramels as well.

Then our tent got blown away and well, we left and went to Vietnam Cafe.

Friday, March 12, 2010

WholeFoods Vs. Walmart...Closer Than You'd Guess

On NPR this morning Corby Kummer spoke about the piece he did for The Atlantic's March issue. His article is called The Great Grocery Smackdown. He shops Walmart and WholeFoods and cooks up the results and evaluates the outcome. The article is worth reading so I'm not giving up the results.

May I take this opportunity to point out some quality and price comparisons that caught my attention recently? Let's start with plain granulated sugar. Superfresh is selling 5lb Domino for $4.49, 10lb Domino $8.79. Not a deal. WholeFoods Market Domino 5lb bags are $3.19. Better yet, the 1olb "Market Pantry" sugar at Target is $4.79. DEAL.

I've already pointed out the very decent values found in SuperFresh's meat dept. Their store brand Italian sausage is a no-brainer up against the 2x+ priced WholeFoods version. Another negative for WholeFoods Market is in the produce section. Let's say you want an onion. Unless you're making 20 qts. of mirepoix you probably don't want onions that are often over one pound each. Seriously WholeFoods, it's slimy to only offer huge veggies that are sold by the pound. Same goes with potatoes. The potatoes at WholeFoods are too big to fit into my potato bazooka. Luckily, just across the street, at SuperFresh you can grab user friendly sized onions and potatoes. You cannot grab loose mushrooms there. You must cross back over to WFM for those.

Back to produce. OK, maybe I'm spoiled because I'm at the Farmer's Market every weekend, but it's a surprise to find excellent produce from either of those places. WholeFoods is especially egregious because the high price does not equate to flavor, ripeness, local-ness, freshness, etc. Only once in a while WFM will have something extraordinary, and so will SuperFresh. Don't build your menu around vegetables from either of these places.

SuperFresh South St. is a most unusual store. They play Christmas ads in Summer. They discontinue hi-quality or hard to find products. They make a joke of the word express, yet there are some endearing qualities. I feel a little joy inside when I see their generic Gruyere for $19.99/# or Perrier for close to $3. Savvy shopper's eyes may pop out of their sockets at this antic, I grin.

Finally I must say how extremely grateful I am that I live in a neighborhood where WFM, SuperFresh, Reading Terminal Market and the Italian market are all within a few minutes stroll. I am also grateful to live in a country where we can grow, buy, sell and enjoy this bounty.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Local Grower Local Buyer @ Reading Terminal Market

Fair Food Philly hosted an amazing, 7th annual local grower local buyer last night at Reading Terminal Market. There were all kinds of world class, local products. Many local buyers were represented. I was thrilled to offer Jose Garces a Market Day Canele. He ate a lg. canele so quickly that my pic shows him after scarfing it down. I saw Shola nimbly stalking amazing Asian produce and glowing micro greens. Adam & Andrew Erace were there scouting products for their PhillyGreen Aisle. Bon Appetit managers, from the organization that runs U of P's food service, were prowling for local items. Terry McNally from London stopped by for a canele and told me about baking with Paula Wolfert!

Where were Jeff & Pennsylvania Hospital, Marriot, Aramark, SRO and Four Seasons buyers and chefs

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is Parc Green ?

How much crap does a very large restaurant dump?

We have a bunch of friends and acquaintances who are current and former employees of Parc. I always hear about the mad business that this spot generates. I've heard about lines of grinning tourists queued up on weekend mornings as if they are going on a Disney adventure. Parc is a sheeples magnet. I was there on Valentine's morning grabbing a baguette. There was a remarkably homogeneous mob of love birds there to feed. I felt like a voyeur among them as I waited to pay for the bread.

Anyway, along with all that biz, gargantuan loads of recycle-able and compostable material are generated and sent to the land fill. I mean bottles by the thousands and loaves, leafs and left-overs by the tons. SRO is obviously not the only offender maybe not even the worst but a restaurant called Parc is a good target. SRO instituting an enterprise wide green campaign seems unlikely but landfilling tons of crap every day from a Rittenhouse location and having the name Parc gets my goat.

I did check in earlier this week with Parc, via E-mail, to ask about recycling efforts. No answer.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pre St. Irish Brisket

My craving for a home made corned beef brisket was just a little ahead of schedule. Every year the markets post St. Patrick's specials. Of course briskets are a featured and familiar item. At Superfresh briskets were in the case at $1.69/# they looked pretty good to me. Across the street at WholeFood$Mkt they had briskets at triple the price!

I risked it and took the cheap brisket.
We did use WFM slaw. The bread was Ginsburg rye from Superfresh no complaints on either. These were outstanding, just as tasty as the WFM brisket which I have enjoyed in the past.

We're at the table there with the lil lady's amazing chicken noodle soup, a basket of home made waffle chips and corned beef specials with Swiss. Our neighbor Tom joined us and mixed up some dark and stormy's. A simple and superb repast

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Garce$ Trading Co.

We took a brief look around the Garces Trading Co today. I wasn't expecting to see mini canelé in their pastry case. They were little beauties. We grabbed a few canelés and a few lemon ricotta cookies. The canelé were labeled "vanilla cannele de bordeaux" I didn't get much vanilla flavor and there were no vanilla beans visible in the canelé I tried. They did have a nice crispness but they were gummy on the inside and too sugary. They were inexpensive @ 6/$4.

Is the idea here a mini Di'Bruno Bros? They had a handsome cheese case and an appetizing cured meats array. The flowers in the vestibule and the self serve olive oils were charming. The folks working there were attentive and warm. Marnie Old was chatting it up in the glassed off wine room. My impression was that this is a culinarily tame, Martha Stewart-ish spot.

The tube of ground beef is for real.

UPDATE 3/7: The Lil Lady enjoyed Garces ricotta lemon cookies. At the Piazza Market this weekend I spoke with a customer who had been to Garces and also ordered the same cookies and canele. She thought both were pretty good. She bought a 6 pack of mini canele from us after trying a sample.

I did not mention the pleasant and sensible layout at Garces Trading Co. The area in the center of the space is laid out with tables and chairs for enjoying the fare on hand. Folks seated there looked as if they were comfortable in the lively market

Monday, March 1, 2010

Johnny Bears, The Lenten Specials

Our friends from Jerz were visiting for the Flower Show on Saturday. They are from C. NJ and unfamiliar with South Philly. Not anymore. We took them to Johnny Bears and John hooked us up with a perfect soup, salad, sandwich post show supper.

Our guests were startled by the parking strategies in play on Broad St, Shunk, Ritner etc. They devoured Bears grub and his hospitality.

In the pic John plated up chicken cutlet and spinach and also roast pork sandwiches.

Dangerous Price Break, Sorry Sausages*

Yesterday in WholeFoods, Ethan, the demo chef, suggested I purchase "Italian" sausage. It was on sale @ $2 off. You can see I had to dust off the dangerous price break sign. These were miserable sausages. Compared to SuperFresh house Italian they were sorry sausages. It would be blasphemy to even mention them in the same sentence with Cannuli, Fiorella or Capuccio.

*UPDATE 3-2: I've discovered that the sausage in pic is an "Italian Turkey Sausage". I was given that item mistakenly. Today I did purchase a "Mild Italian Sausage"still on sale @ $3.99/#. This one was a pork sausage. It was a little better than the turkey sausage but not enough to warrant a retraction. It was salty and dry with wimpy seasoning.