Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spataro's Founder Dies, 94

Original 'Buttermilk' sign at old Spataro's
Domenic C. Spataro, who started the eponymous sandwich stall in the Reading Terminal Market in 1947, died overnight at the age of 94.

Mr. Spataro was "a legend of longevity at the Market, having worked here continuously since 1930 except for a military stint during World War II," wrote Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, in an email this morning to market followers.  He opened his own sandwich shop in the Market  in 1947, which continues in business to this day. "Up until the end, he had a near photographic memory of the Market and its people from the past 80+ years. His passion was his family and his work at the Market," wrote Steinke.

My first purchase at Spataro's -- in the early 1980s when they occupied a stall now housing Terralyn's Bath Body Spirit -- was lekvar, the Eastern European prune butter which they sold in bulk. But their specialty, loudly proclaimed on a sign that still stands at the original location, was buttermilk.

Spataro's had always been the home of an inexpensive lunch sandwich, simple stuff like cream cheese and jelly, priced for the lowly store clerk, not foodie. In more recent years the menu expanded, especially with the move about two years ago to center court and the addition of a grill for cheese steaks. The stall. operated by son Domenic, will soon move to the former Dinic's spot across Avenue C.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Valentine to the Market

This year's version of the Valentine to the Market will be held Saturday, Feb. 25, and if it's up to last year's standards another great evening is in store for party-goers. The shindig benefits the Reading Terminal Market Preservation Fund.

In addition to two bars, two stages with entertainment and great food from the market's merchants Philadelphia Brewing Company will present a special beer in honor of the market's 120th anniversary. (The RTM opened its doors in 1892, the successor to two earlier markets at 12th and Market.)

The event runs from 8 to 11 p.m. with tickets at $125 apiece. The pre-party VIP event, with a celebrity chef cook-off, cocktails and hors d'oeurves, begins at 7 p.m. ($300 tickets).

Tickets and more info here.

Monkey's Buttercake

I couldn't resist trying Flying Monkey Bakery's buttercake. It's not your German Großmutter's buttercake, but it's darned good. 

The big difference, to me, is that this cake is practically candy. Same flavor, same sugar and butter intensity. But it's set atop a shortbread-like base and creates an instant sugar high. Take a break from a cupcake or brownie and try this treat. Do enjoy it with a cup of Flying Monkey's coffee; I forget the roaster's name, but it's the tastiest coffee at the RTM.

If you want a comparison with a traditional German style buttercake, take a trip to Tacony, where Haegele's bakery offers the classic version.

First Sign of Spring

So what if it comes from way down south. The appearance of shad at the Reading Terminal Market is a surer sign that spring will eventually reach Philadelphia than any western Pennsylvania groundhog. The local spring run won't hit the Delaware (Lambertville is the center of local action, though Fishtown also holds a festival dedicated to the fish) in late April.

The first of the species could be found at John Yi's  "Eat Fish Live Longer" stall off center court. As always, the roe-laden females are a buck pricier than the bucks. I've got to admit I'm not a big fan of this herring-family variety due to its exceedingly complicated and fine bone structure; but when it comes to shad, it's all about the roe.

All three fishmongers at the market still have sardines in their display cases. Prices range from $1.99 to $5.99, with the cleaned fish commanding a higher price (though the whole fish really aren't that difficult to clean at home). Golden Fish Market (the one closest to Arch Street) also has some salt herring and mackerel available, the latter in filets. I've cooked the salt mackerels (after many changes of water to leach out the excess sodium) and enjoyed them immensely. They can be broiled, baked or pan-fried (sauté meunière).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

La Cuchina Next RTM Move

New La Cuchina, with view toward center court
La Cuchina at the Market, the cooking school and event venue operated by Anna Florio at the Reading Terminal Market, has just a few finishes touches and health department inspection to go before it can open at its new spot, perhaps as early as later next week.

Although plenty more works needs to be done on the market's Avenue D project, the opening of La Cuchina provides a preview of the new look for this end of center court, which will also include the Rick Nichols Room, a multi-purpose venue, adjacent to La Cuchina. The Nichols Room and La Cuchina will be separated by a removal wall so that large scale cooking demonstrations can be held.

Spataro's Starts Construction

Work begins on new Spataro's stall

Sign at old Spataro's stall when they used to specialize
in buttermilk and lekvar (prune butter)
Dinic's move to its new home in the Reading Terminal Market cleared the way for Spataro's to begin construction in the former's stall.

This will be at least the fourth location within the market for Spataro's. Once upon a time it was located where Terralyn's Bath Body Spirit shop now stands. Then it moved to center court where Hershel's East Side Deli now holds down the fort before shifting a few years ago to a different center court stall.

Once Spataro's moves to its new spot Flying Monkey Bakery shifts to where Spataro has been.

Monday, January 09, 2012

First Day at Dinics

Joe and Tom Nicolosi pose with meat they're prepping for first day at new location

Nothing is easy or goes without bumps.

In moving from old to new location within the Reading Terminal Market last night, the staff at Dinic's found that one of the ovens simply wouldn't fit through the opening in the old counter. So out came the sledgehammer to create a suitable opening.

"I almost cried," said Tom Nicolosi, proprietor of Dinic's.

But that wasn't the end of the oven problems. Because of electrical box issues, the electric ovens wouldn't work at all, and the gas oven needs electricity to drive its fan. Undaunted -- and with assurances from the electrician that all would be well soon -- Nicolosi, son Joe and the rest of the crew still planned to be serving their pork and beef sandwiches for lunch.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

DiNics Makes Move

DiNic's got its Health Department okay today and, as I write, is moving equipment over to its new location within the Reading Terminal Market.
More About Those Meat Hooks

I've still to photographically document the Moyers' Pork signage over Benuel Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce stall, but here are a few other original signposts/meat hook apparatus spotted at the Reading Terminal Market yesterday.

The meat hooks are largely gone but Kamal Barouki has kept the signboards
above Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties as an integral part of the stall.
Note the stall numbers.
Over at L. Halteman Family the otherwise unadorned signboards are
painted baby pink and baby blue, but the hooks are put to good use as
shopping bag dispensers and apron hooks. They also serve to store spare
fluorescent light bulbs.

Hershel's East Side Deli uses the old meat hooks for hanging up cooking equipment.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Dinic's Remembers Market's Butchers

When Dinic's moves into its new stall at the Reading Terminal Market (perhaps as early as later this week, if the city's Health Department can schedule its inspection), it will be adorned with signs remembering the stall's predecessors in vending meats at this spot. Though Tom Nicolosi is a purveyor of cooked meats, he knows it all starts with the butcher.

Most folks know that Dinic's will occupy space vacated last year by Harry G. Ochs & Son Prime Butchers. But that's only half the story. Until the early 1970s, while one side of the stall was occupied by Ochs, the other was home to another market butcher, G.M. Yerger. When Yerger went out of business, Ochs expanded to span the entire space along Avenue B between the market's Fifth and Sixth Avenues (aisles) .

The signs, by the way, date back to the market's beginnings under the Reading Railroad's train shed. Wander and you'll see a number of them over what had originally been hooks to hang meat and other vittles. At Kaufman's Lancaster County Produce, for example, you'll see a sign for Eugene M. Moyers & Son, which left the market in the mid-1980s (but still makes killer ham under its Blooming Glen brand in the village of the same name between Doylestown and Quakertown).

Before yesterday, the soon-to-be-home of roast pork, beef, brisket, pulled pork and pork cutlet sandwiches was shrouded in plastic, looking as if the artist Christo had arisen from the dead and moved into the Reading Terminal Market.

With Dinic's move, Spataro's will begin work to move across the aisle. When that work is done, Flying Monkey will take over Spataro's space.

Avenue D Project Running Late

The musical chairs involving the sandwich makers and baker is just one aspect of the Avenue D Project, which will create additional leaseable space for more vendors and a multi-purpose room for meetings and other gatherings (as well as additional seating during lunch hour). The entire project was originally envisioned to be completed by late February, just in time for the Flower Show when hordes from across the Northeast and Mid Atlantic descend for an early fix of springtime.

Like most construction projects, however, this one fell of its initial schedule. Although the revamped rest rooms should be open by late February, the rest of the construction won't be completed until late April.

Cardoons at Iovine's

If it's winter, then Iovine Brothers Produce has cardoons for sale at its Reading Terminal Market fruit and vegetable emporium. Cardoons may look like extra-large bunches of celery, but they are more closely related to to tdhe artichoke. You can find them in the same bin at Iovine's, along with beets, parsnips, turnips and black radishes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Giunta's Prime Shop

At least one reader of this blog complained in the past about the name of this butcher shop at the Reading Terminal Market, objecting to the use of "Prime" for a shop that doesn't sell prime beef. Technically, the critique is on-target: Charles Giunta does not sell USDA prime grade beef.

But I don't care. His beef may be "only" USDA Choice, but his eye in picking out primals and his hereditary butchering skills have won my regular patronage. For what it's worth, overall his meats are far better than that sold by Ochs in its last few years at the market.

For the holidays I picked up a small prime standing rib roast (prime as in the definition of the cut, not the USDA grade). Even though he was exceedingly busy on the Friday before Christmas he took the time to get a new full rib from his walk-in refrigerator and asked me how many ribs and from which end, i.e., chuck end or loin end. When I asked for his recommendation, he suggested the chuck end, which he thought more flavorful than the loin end though it can be a slightly tougher part of the full seven-rib cut. He did a great job of a trimming my two-rib roast, leaving just the right amount of fat, semi-separating the bones for easy carving and expertly tying it all together, ready for the oven.
It made a superb meal on Christmas Day. No doubt it was helped by the fact that it sat it in the fridge for two days, unwrapped except for some wax paper loosely placed over the top, a do-it-yourself aging technique which will improve almost any piece of beef. I took the meat out of the fridge a few hours before cooking so it would lose some of its refrigerator cool, then seared all sides of the meat stovetop in a roasting pan (no need for additional fat). After about 10-12 minutes of browning I simply salted and peppered before placing the standing rib in a 200F oven. It cooked on a rack in the roasting pan at this low temperature until my digital probe registered 135F (this took about 150 minutes). After resting half an hour while I prepped the rest of our meal I carved the meat, and it was perfectly medium rare (quite rosy, but not red) through and through, from just below the outer crust to the deepest part of the interior. Best of all, it tasted absolutely yummy with plenty of beef flavor, with the tenderness one would expect from USDA Prime. The five-pound roast priced at $10.95/pound could be considered dear, but I thought it great value for a superior hunk of protein.

Steaks cut from the same primal are a favorite of mine and I've always been satisfied by Giunta's rib steaks on the bone. But I've also cooked his filet mignon, flank steak and hanger steak and never been disappointed. Ditto for pieces of chuck I've braised in a variety of fashions, as well as short ribs.

In recent weeks I've cooked up two ground meat dishes from Giunta. I used his pre-ground (on premises, not from a wholesaler) meatloaf mix -- beef, veal and and pork -- to make meatballs. Last week I asked him to grind chuck to my order, which went into an all-beef meatloaf (it was assisted by my addition of half a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin to mimic the collagen veal would have provided). We enjoyed both.

Lamb is one of those meats that's pretty good no matter where you buy it, so sometimes I obtain it from Giunta's and other times from his brother Martin. (Both learned their trade in the family butcher shop in the Italian Market.) Giunta's ducks are superb, offering the classic Long Island style duckling raised and packed by Joe Jurgielewicz & Son of Berks County. (For Muscovy duck visit Godshall's Poultry.)

Best of all, Giunta's prices are competitive -- rarely more expensive than what you'd pay in a supermarket, and frequently much better value.