Monday, November 14, 2011

Pippins and Winesaps

Newtown Pippins from North Star Orchards
There were apple varieties galore at the Headhouse Square farrmer's market yesterday at the three primary apple vendors: Three Springs Fruit Farm, Beechwood Orchards, and North Star Orchards.

When it comes to antique (a.k.a. heirloom) varieties, North Star always has a few surprises. This week I picked up an apple I've been waiting for: the Newtown Pippin. This is a green but sweet-tart apple native to the Mid-Atlantic region (it's named after Newtown, which is a neighborhood deep in the heart of Queens: perhaps you've crossed Newtown Creek while snailing along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway en route to a Phillies-Mets game.

The beauty of the Newtown Pippin is its storage quality, indeed, this apple improves with age. North Star's Ike Kerschner said he picked his crop a month ago, but is only now bringing them to market because they weren't ready to eat then. But they'll get even better in a few months. Kept loosely bagged in the refrigerator these will make especially fine eating come January and February when most other apples will be well-passed peak flavor.

Another interesting variety from North Star this week was the Reinette Simerenko, a tart Eastern European variety for a welcome change of taste. North Star has a fine web site that includes spot-on descriptions of their apple varieties.

Golden Russet is yet another variety you are unlikely to find at the Acme, or even Wegman's. I bought some more this week from North Star. They are far from the classic red apple, but well worth seeking out, with a pear-like flavor and texture. Great with a good cheese, like Birchrun Hill's Fat Cat washed rind comestible.

Over at Beechwood Orchards (they also have a website with apple descriptions worth consulting) Stayman Winesap and Northern Spy were my apples of choice. Both are older commercial varieties (19th century). Although either can be eaten either raw or cooked, I find the former tops for consuming fresh, the latter best for pies, tarts and other applications involving heat.

Beechwood also had the original Winesap, which is a tad tarter than its Stayman offspring. I like it better for cooking than eating though it can be used either way. It's also a good "keeper" for two or three months. If you're into drying your own fruit, sliced Winesaps are ideal for schnitz.

Three Springs Fruit Farm isn't into the antiques, but Ben Wenk and family still offer a nice selection of commercial varieties. I'm not a big fan of Honeycrisp (too one-dimensionally sweet to me taste), but it's a favorite among a lot of apple shoppers, and Three Springs has them as well as Staymans and other popular varieties. (And if you want a taste of summer through the winter, buy some of their canned peaches: delicious.)

About apple storage: As mentioned earlier, I keep my Newtown Pippins in the fridge, along with all other apples. While some fruits improve with room temperature storage to come to proper ripeness, apples don't and will deteriorate. Keep them in the crisper either loose or very loosely bagged, allowing them to breath. If you like to eat your apple at room temperature, take them out no more than a day before you intend to consume them.
Molly Molloy's: Quick Take

It's shakedown time for Molly Molloy's, the Iovine Brothers' production that replaced The Beer Garden off center court of the Reading Terminal Market. With the understanding that any new restaurant will have kinks to work out, and that I've only tried two breakfast items and one lunch dish, here are some early impressions.

It seems that all restaurants are noisy these days -- one wishes Craig Laban's well-intentioned decibel critiques had more influence on interior designers -- and Molly Molloy's is no exception. It's louder at a table here, even when it's only one-third full, than the tables in center court.

Both breakfast items I tried (taken out for enjoying in center court) were superb.

The French Toast was cooked perfectly from good quality bread with a very slight background vanilla flavor (which of course was mostly overpowered by the maple syrup I ordered). Just as good was the scrapple: crispy exterior, creamy interior with the proper pork liver-y (but not overpowering) flavor.

A few days later I ordered the Pumpkin Pancakes with fresh cheese, and here's where one of the kinks kicked in, though by no means impacting the quality and flavor of the food. It was about 15 minutes after the 8 a.m. opening and chef Bobby Fisher had yet to prepare the batter. Jim Iovine, who knows me, noticed this and came over to distract me from what would be less than lickety-split service. (To no avail; I had already spotted Bobby making batter and surmised there would be a delay.) Still, it only took about 15 minutes or so until my order was ready, and it was perfectly enjoyable, though the traditional pumpkin pie spice flavors were a bit too subtle; in the words of that New England Portuguese-Québécois chef transplanted to New Orleans, it could have been taken up a notch. Given the lack of spice the fresh cheese seemed unnecessary, though it would be more welcome if the pancakes had greater kick. I selected sausages as my accompanying meat and found them very banger-ish, which is a good thing.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I stopped by for lunch a week after opening, and we both agreed the starter we shared -- Butternut Squash Croquettes -- was the big hit. Although pricey (four golf balls for $4.50) they were perfectly fried, greaseless, crackly exterior and squashy interior. The plate could have used a bit more of the spiced pear butter, though.

SWMBO ordered the hamburger ($10) which arrived as a substantial piece of meat and an even more substantial brioche bun. (I wish rolls served with burgers were more appropriately sized; I think London Grill has it right in using English muffins for their excellent burgers). She enjoyed it very much, and it had a great charcoal grill flavor. (I'm not sure if they have a charcoal grill, though the rib eye steak sandwich says it's "char-grilled".) Since she likes her burgers medium, and I'm a Pittsburgh-rare kind of guy, it was too well-done for me. The burger also seemed tightly packed; I think the grind should be more loosely packed for best flavor and mouth-feel. Still, a quality burger if not up there on the first level. We both thought the French fries were very good.

I ordered the Braised Short Rib Pie ($6.50), but I didn't pay enough attention to the menu description: I thought I was going to get a pot pie. Instead what appeared on my plate, otherwise barren except for a Guinness reduction, were two empandas. Once I got over my misunderstanding of pie type, I was impressed by the quality of the pastry wrapper itself: thin, crunchy and greaseless: it was baked prior to service to cook through, then quickly deep-fried upon ordering. My only complaint (and others would consider this a merit) was all I could find was the shredded meat, but no carrots or onions. When I noted this to one of the managers he responded that he had another customer who complained of too many veggies and not enough meat. There was not a huge amount of meat inside, even considering the paucity of vegetables, but it was flavorful. The Guinness reduction as sauce (which prompted me to order a Guinness as my quaff) was a nice touch. The platter could have used some sort of vegetable side, though.

While I went with the Guinness, SWMBO read the bar menu and immediately pounced upon the Juicy Pear ($10) among the specialty cocktail offerings: Blue Coat gin, pear nectar, ginger ale and lemon. Alas, though listed on the menu Molly Molloy's had yet to have any available after more than a week after opening; seems they hadn't made the necessary pear nectar, which they insist be made on premises rather than purchased. Good intensions. No execution. If they don't have it, it shouldn't be on the menu.

I've yet to work my way through the extensive list of draft (24) and bottled (24) beers, but so long as they actually have them it's impressive. Perhaps Molly Molloy's will never be a destination beer bar (especially since it closes when the market does, 6 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday) like Monk's or any number of other tappies, but hop-heads won't be disappointed with offerings like Dogfish 60 Minute IPA, Stoudt's Scarlet Lady, Spaten Oktoberfest, Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Harpoon UFO, Ithaca Apricot Wheat, or Great Lakes Elliot Ness as well as the pedestrian macro-brews. Still, they could do better than O'Doul's for a non-alcohol offering (SWMBO suggested Kaliber from Guinness).

All-in-all, Molly Molloy's offers plenty worth trying right now, and I expect that under the Iovine's management and Chef Fisher's talents it will only get better. I intend to work my way through the entire menu over time.