Friday, March 11, 2011

Post-Floral Repast

After wearing out my legs strolling through the Philadelphia Flower show late yesterday afternoon and early evening I visited the Down Home Diner for sustenance. There I found this chicken.

It shows on the menu as "Cast Iron Chicken", i.e., pan fried. Since it came to table within five minutes of ordering, no way was it cooked to order. Yet, it tasted as if it had. I don't know how they do it, but somehow Jack McDavid and his staff have found a way to hold the chicken and refresh it so it comes out perfectly.

This is no extra-spicy bird. The skin is delicately thin-crusted, but crisp. And it perfectly manages to hold in the juices. Ever piece -- thigh, drumstick, breast -- was plenty juicy. One strange note: I think of drumsticks as all dark meat, and thighs as half-dark, half-white; but through some fluke of nature, they all appeared white to my eye; maybe it was the lighting.

The accompaniments match the succulence of the bird. The collards had both acid tang and sweetness (lemon juice and raisins?), and the sweet potato fries were among the better examples of these I've had. While the interior of the fries were soft, the exteriors were crunchy (at least until they cooled off; I have them first).

For $8.99, a nice dinner plate. 

The Down Home Diner, on the Filbert Street side of the Reading Terminal Market, is open until 10 p.m. When the market is closed, enter via Filbert Street, a.k.a. Harry Ochs Way.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Truth in Advertising

Golden Fish Market's sign makes it clear, if only by implication: it's all farmed salmon right now. Also spied today at Golden, skate at $6.99/pound. Previously, only Wan's Seafood handled skate.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Down Home Diner Adding Booze

Jack McDavid
Jack McDavid hopes to be serving alcoholic beverages in a few weeks at the Down Home Diner. With his restaurant now open until 10 p.m., that's got to be good for business. Although he won't have a bar serving freshly mixed drinks, do expect wine and and beer along with some bottled mixes.

McDavid reopened a rehabbed Down Home Diner last fall, giving up some seating in return for a larger kitchen and a take-out counter. The take-out business has been growing, though not as fast as McDavid would like. Although much of what he sells at the counter is for bringing back home, he also does a lunch business for those who would prefer to eat in center court (or bring back to the office). Among the items added are cheese steaks, which he has cut by Charles Giunta of Giunta's Prime Shop from top round.

Much of what Jack buys comes from market vendors. You can frequently see him chatting his produce suppliers, Vinnie and Jimmy Iovine. He's also been buying some meat from L. Halteman. And he's used Giunta's brother Martin for sausage since he opened the original Down Home Diner where Amy's Kitchen and La Cucina now stand.
Produce Prices: Yikes!

If it's from California, Arizona or Northern Mexico it's expensive.

Any produce shopper would have difficulty not noticing high prices of fruits and veggies from California and the Southwest.

Lettuce in particular has been hard-hit. Three weeks ago I paid $1 for a head at Iovine Brothers Produce. Today it was $3.99. A trade publication, The Produce News, said production "continues to be hampered" by weather problems": cold, wet and rainy weather in December  combined with more rain and cold temperatures over the past several weeks. Other lettuces and vegetables grown in the area are similarly afflicted.

The price pressure extended to South America: seedless green and black grapes which last week sold for $1.99/pound are now $2.49 and $2.99. Limes, from Mexico, are 99 cents apiece.

Some California crops are only minimally affected by the weather, including strawberries and oranges, though Florida production is more trouble-free and less pricey.
Another Sign of Spring

We're still a few weeks away from ramps, but another sign of spring appeared at one of the fish markets this week. Golden Fish was selling Spanish mackerel for $3.99/pound (the same price as sardines). Odds are they were from North Carolina or thereabout. When Boston mackerel show up, then I'll really know it's spring.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Valentine To The Market

Michael Schulson of Sampan was among the local
celebrity chefs demonstrating skills with mystery
ingredients at market party.
An event that's been among the missing for 15 years was renewed Saturday night, the Valentine to the Market gala. About 400 guests attended the festivities, which raised cash for the Reading Terminal Market Preservation Fund.

Tasty tidbits were supplied by many of the market's merchants. Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage doled out juicy portions from a whole roast pig. Tommy DiNic's offered pulled pork with an exceptionally garlicky broccoli rabe. Mini-reubens could be had at Hershel's East Side Deli.

One of my fav offerings came from Iovine Brothers Produce, which put together a beautiful colorful display of produce-based treats. Chef Bobby Fisher, who will handle the kitchen duties when the Iovines reopen the Beer Garden as Molly Molloy's, had a hit with his almond gazpacho; he also made a fruit terrine by gelatinizing prosecco, the slightly sweet bubbly from Italy.

Among the many other vendors supplying tastes were Old City Coffee. Pennsylvania General Store, Beck's Cajun Cafe, Pearl's Oyster Bar, Tootsie's Salad Bar, Bassetts Ice Cream, The Original Turkey, Shanghai Gourmet, Famous 4th Street Cookie, Franks-a-Lot, Tokyo Sushi, and Metropolitan Bakery.

Early in the evening, at the VIP pre-party held in La Cucina, four local chefs, paired with amateur assistants, tried their best to concoct edible food utilizing two mystery ingredients: cocoa puffs and marshmallows. Joe Poon and Delilah Winder took the prices. "Also rans" were Michael Schulson and Daniel Stern.

At the pre-party, Reading Terminal Market General Manager Paul Steinke announced that the new multi-purpose room to be built near center court, will be named after Rick Nichols, who is retiring from his columnist duties at the Philadelphia Inquirer.