Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Closings

The Food Trust has already announced that its Headhouse Square farmers' market will close Sunday because of Hurricane Irene. The Reading Terminal Market will hold off its decision until Saturday morning, but assuming Irene sticks to anywhere near the projected track, it too will close Sunday.
Tootsie's, Market Office
Next Up for RTM Renovation

From Tuesday, Sept. 6 through Sunday, Sept. 11, Tootsie's Salad Express will be closed due to renovations to the Market office. The Market office on the mezzanine above Tootsie's will be temporarily relocated to a storefront within the Convention Center along 11th Street. They'll be there for one or two months, starting the day after Labor Day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DiNic's Starts Rehab of Ochs' Stall

DiNic's has completed a rebuild of the walk-in refrigerator at the former Harry Ochs' stall, where it will relocate its roast pork and beef emporium sometime this fall (probably late October or November). Tommy Nicolosi and son Joe said they're already using it. Yesterday they met with the architects as the design nears completion. Expect to see work on the former butcher stall to begin sometime after Labor Day.
Beer Garden Shuts Monday,
Reopens on "Molly's" Birthday

The renovation of The Beer Garden will start next week, with the projected grand re-opening scheduled for Oct. 11, which just happens to be the birthday of the owners' mother. With the reopening, it will be renamed for her, Molly Molloy's.

In addition to more beer taps Molly Molloy's will feature food by chef Bobby Fisher, who's worked for owners Vinnie and Jimmy Iovine at a number of their catering venues. The new entrance to the Beer Garden will be from Center Count.

The Iovines had hoped to close off the entrance from the aisle between Franks A Lot and Coastal Cave, but the Philadelphia Historical Commission nixed that idea, which necessitated a modest redesign.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Avenue D Project Moving Along 
Works Aims For Completion By Flower Show

The new DiNic's will feature many more counter seats
The RTM is moving forward with its $4.5 million Avenue D improvement and expansion project first reported here more than a year ago. Last week GM Paul Steinke held a series of briefings for market merchants to update them on the sequence of construction and design updates.

If all goes according to schedule, the work will be complete and ready for use before next year's flower show, which opens to the public March 4.

For the market, the central benefit is creating more leaseable space for added vendors.

The biggest benefit as far as the market's customers are concerned is expanded and improved rest room facilities.

But the most visible change will be the addition of a multi-purpose room and new demonstration kitchen at the east end of an expanded Center Court. The room -- to be called the Rick Nichols Room in honor of the Inquirer's former food columnist -- will be used as a seating area when not in use for kitchen demonstrations and private functions.

Rendering of new La Cucina and multi-purpose room
A newly-added feature for the Rick Nichols Room will be a historical exhibit on the market's history adornning the facility's walls. Funded by a William Penn Foundation grant, the exhibit will be prepared by the Philadelphia History Museum (formerly the Atwater Kent) and include contributions from Nichols.

Much of the improvement work has already begun in the bowels of the market, in its giant basement where some of the merchants have storage and prep space. Earlier this year a second elevator went into service to improve basement access. New dry storage space is basically finished, and soon work will begin on adding cooler and freezer units so that the existing cold storage lockers under the mezzanine can be cleared for the rest room and additional vendor space.

The most visible work will begin after Labor Day when both The Beer Garden and DiNic's start construction.

The Beer Garden, purchased by the Iovine brothers earlier this year, will be shut down while a kitchen is added and the seating area and bar renovated and expanded.

DiNic's will be moving to the space last occupied by Harry Ochs & Sons. With twice its current space and lots of additional counter seating, the market hopes lunchtime congestion around the popular lunch stall can be reduced.

When DiNic's moves, Spataro's will take over that space. Flying Monkey will move into Spataro's spot, as well as additional space from what is now the Spice Terminal, which will relocate under the mezzanine. Other vendor alterations include a shift in L. Halteman's footprint to front on Avenue C (where Market Blooms had its second stall), Miscellania Libri and The Shoe Doctor to a new location further north along the renovated Avenue D, and the move of La Cucina to the new demonstration kitchen and multi-purpose room.
Back for Summer's Bounty

With trips to St. Louis and Maine over the past month, I've been necessarily neglectful in updating this blog, and more importantly of indulging in the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables now before us.

 This week I aim to remedy the situation.

Maybe by this weekend (or even this afternoon, when I intend to hit the Fairmount farmers' market) I'll be impressed with local tomatoes. So far, I have not. The Lancaster County beefsteak tomato I picked up yesterday at Ben Kauffman's RTM stall was quite disappointing. Clearly, this wasn't a winter tomato: it was red all the way through with plenty of meat. But the taste failed to live up to its promise. Although I didn't buy them, the heirlooms at both Ben's and Fair Food looked lackluster.

Could it have been July's excessive heat that accounted for the wan flavor? I know extreme and prolonged heat can toughen the skin, among other problems, but does it impact flavor?

The nectarines purchased at Fair Food yesterday, however, were wonderful. These beauties, from Beechwood Orchards (which also sells at Headhouse, Rittenhouse, South & Passyunk and other farmers' markets) featured chin-bathing juiciness and full flavor. I've yet to bite into the peach sitting on the kitchen counter.

Local musk melons, a.k.a. cantelopes, are also in season. The one I picked up a couple weeks ago from Bill Weller's Orchard Hill stand at the Fairmount market was decent enough. Perhaps by now the lopes have developed more sweetness and flavor.

Blueberries have pretty much disappeared (though I did buy some wild lowbush berries in Maine a week ago that were superb) but we've got blackberries galore, which I also adore; those I've had have been delicious. Red raspberries are also plentiful and big, if pricey.

The corn I've sampled so far has also been disappointing, but maybe that's because I've not tried enough. The Silver King from Ben Kaufman yesterday had nice kernels, but it should have been sweeter and cornier. Again, could excessive heat been a culprit? We'll keep trying.

Here's the price rundown on what I spied yesterday at the RTM:

At Kauffman's corn was 50 cents an ear for Silver King, with a slight discount for larger quantities. Bi-color was half the price. Beefstake tomatoes $2.49/pound, heirlooms $4.99. Yellow peaches $1.99, whites $2.99. Blackberries $3 a half-pint, red raspberries $5.95.

Fair Food was selling Beechwood's tree fruit: nectarines $2, donut peaches $3.50, plums $3.50, yellow cling and white peaches $2. Fair Food's organic tomatoes were $4, heirlooms $5.  I bought a couple of poblano peppers at a pricey $7.50/pound. Green bell peppers were  thrift 90 cents. New to me in the refrigerator case were sausages from Southwark restaurant, but I wouldn't try one priced at about $37 a pound!

Iovine Brothers Produce, of course, offers the cheapest quality produce at the market, though O.K. Lee can sometimes given them a run for their money. Pennsylvania-grown (Bloomsburg) tomatoes at Iovine's were $1.49. Jersey white peaches $1.49, California donuts 79 cents. Bloomsburg cantalopes were $1 apiece. Among the peppers, local green bells were 99 cents, while commercial peppers were $1.49 for yellows and reds. Banana peppers were 99 cents, fryers $1.49. Although not as tasty as the locals were a month ago, the West Coast sweet red cherries were worth it at $2.99.

L. Halteman also has relative bargains in summer produce. Corn was 55 cents an ear (3 for $1.19, six for $2.85, a dozen for $5.29). Heirloom tomatoes $2.99, slicers $2.29. Nectarines and peaches (yellow and white) $1.99. Huge cantelopes were $2.99 apiece.

Since it's grilling season now may be the time to make some ribs.

Over at Martin's Quality Meats, spare ribs sere $2.69, baby backs $4.89, beef back $2.39 and lamb $4.29. Giunta's Prime Shop had short ribs for $4.99, lamb for $3.89, baby backs for $4.59. L. Halteman's spare ribs were $2.99.

Short ribs are demanding to cook directly on the grill, but if you're willing to braise them first and finish them out-of-doors you're in for a treat. I made them a couple weeks ago using superb beef from Charlie Giunta. I asked for long cut rather than cross-cut, then braised two or three pounds' worth for about three hours in a slow oven after browning. The braise was simple, with some gently saut├ęd onions, salt and pepper, whole garlic cloves added to the dutch oven with plain old tap water. After cooking I let them cool in the pot, then before serving charred them over a very hot fire on the gas grill. They were tender and flavorful, among the best short ribs I've had either made at home or ordered in a restaurant. I give most of the credit to the quality of the beef.
'Market Money' To Go Electronic

The Reading Terminal Market's gift certificate program, Market Money, will go from paper to stored value cards -- the ubiquitous "gift cards" issued by credit card companies -- in the near future.

Paul Steinke, the RTM's general manager, said the biggest class of users of Market Money are convention and meeting sponsors, not individuals giving gifts. In May 2010, for example, the International Society of Autism Research purchased $75,000 in Market Money . . . but asked that it be issued in $5 denominations. That work out to 15,000 individual $5 chits market staffers had to count out and package for the meeting sponsors. Going to plastic will save considerable time and money for the market in the future.

Timing of the conversion awaits a decision on which payment system (VISA, Mastercard, etc.) offers the market the best deal.