Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NJ Creamery To Make, Age Cheese at RTM

Although there's some food manufacturing going on today in the Reading Terminal Market, Eran Wajswol will take it in a new direction when his Valley Shepherd Creamery opens later this year.

Wajswol plans on bringing 24,000 pounds of raw milk to the market each week to make about a ton of hard or semi-soft cheese. With that much cheese, it will age both in the market's basement and back in the creamery's caves in Long Valley, in northwestern New Jersey. In addition to making, aging and selling cheese, Valley Shepherd will serve lunchers cheese paninis and offer an olive bar.

"We are designing and gathering equipment now to determine if we can, indeed, do what we want," Wajswol replied to your blogger's email inquiry. "In a few weeks we will know more."

Friday Architects, the Philadelphia planning and architecture firm which created the market's Avenue D renovation plan, will visit the farm and dairy next week to begin its design work on the RTM outlet, which Wajswol describes as "very complex, because there are four elements to the space, each requiring design, equipment and talented folks."

The first element will be sourcing and transporting the milk to the market in three weekly 8,000-pound shipments. It will be unloaded into basement tanks for storage, then pumped back upstairs as needed in the cheesemaking operations behind glass for visitors to watch.

Wajswol decided against making fresh cheeses, like mozzarella or quark, because a pasteurization system would be required. With only 610 square feet for retail sales, panini-making and cheese-making, there's simply no room.

The lunch menu will be based on paninis or, as Wajswol calls them, Maninis. He said they are "being conceived by some infamous food truck people and will be tested and redesigned by local Philadelphia food talent (which we are finding amazing)."

Using milk from sheep, Jersey and Guernsey cows, and goats, Valley Shepherd's cheeses cover a wide range of styles and traditions: fresh, soft-ripened, blue, hard, semi-hard, and washed-rind. You can read a full menu of the cheeses at Valley Shepherd's website. The store also plans to sell a few cheeses from "several family farms we know and love," Wojswol said. 

There will be additional brined products beyond olives on the olive bar, he said, "featuring products from several countries with a strong emphasis on brined products from that most foreign country called Brooklyn."

Brooklyn is no accident, since last year Valley Shepherd opened a retail store in the borough's Park Slope neighborhood after closing a Manhattan outlet.

A limited variety of Valley Shepherd cheeses has been available for the past few years at the Fair Food Farmstand of the Reading Terminal Market. Other than at a few farmers' markets, the Park Slope store, the farm, and a handful of retail outlets in New Jersey and New York City, the only other places you're likely to find its products are cheese plates at upscale restaurants.

Who makes food today at the RTM, besides the restaurants and lunch stalls?

Herschel's East Side Deli takes fresh meat and turns it into brined corned beef and cured pastrami in the basement. And Giunta's produces some of its sausages on site. Otherwise, food production is centered on baked goods and sweets: cookies at Famous Fourth Street and the Pennsylvania General Store, baked goods at Beiler's Bakery and Flying Monkey Bakery, pretzels at Miller's Twist, fudge at Sweet as Fudge Candy Shop, and molded and dipped chocolate items at Chocolates by Mueller.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another Lunch Vendor Wants Market Stall

Mural at South Street pizza shop
Rick Olivieri of Rick's Steaks isn't the only hawker of street food who'd like to set up shop in the Reading Terminal Market. Lorenzo & Son Pizza of South Street also wants in.

Lorenzo's is among a backlog of businesses who have submitted applications to rent space at the landmark public market.

Neither Rick nor Lorenzo has much of a chance. By its own count, 31 of the market's 76 vendors are "food court" businesses, which are technically limited to no more than the greater of one-third of the number of vendors or one-third of the floor space of the market. Since the raw numbers show 40 percent of the merchants to be in the "food court" category, the market manages to stay within the guidelines only by virtue of the square footage numbers.

Even though Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, told me earlier this month that the market was well within these guidelines, he'd be hard-pressed to bring in another vendor dedicated to the lunch crowd. Steinke has to keep his focus on bringing in sellers of food for consumption at home if the market is to retain its 120-year-old tradition as well as public and political support. If the balance tips too far in favor of the food court merchants, the market would be a considerably less attractive place for thousands of shoppers like me who buy regularly from its meat, seafood, produce, dairy and other food product vendors.

The only types of businesses selling food for on-premises consumption that have a chance would be those offering either something now unavilable or that also devotes considerable space and effort to selling food for preparing or eating at home. Neither Rick's nor Lorenzo's would fit either criteria.

There's good reason why Rick's wants to return and Lorenzo's wants in: traffic. Last year's 6.35 million visitors translates to 122,000 potential patrons a week, most of them hungry tourists and Center City workers. With that kind of traffic you could make a considerable profit selling chocolate-covered dust bunnies. (I think Chocolate by Mueller does; if not, you could have bought a chocolate heart -- with aorta and veins -- for Valentine's Day at Mueller's.)

Of the five categories of merchants at the market the Food Court vendors showed the biggest sales gain last year, up more than 13 percent. The Purveyors (produce, seafood, meat, etc.) recorded the least growth at 2.3 percent. Pennsylvania Dutch merchants saw their sales increase 9.0 percent. Food Basket vendors (sellers of other grocery items, including dairy products, coffee, baked goods, spices) had sales growth of 8.3 percent, while Mercantile (non-food) vendors were up 8.0 percent.

Vendor Adds Spices

Jonathan Best, the closest vendor to a general grocery store at the Reading Terminal Market, expanded its stock of bottled herbs and spices immediately after the late January closing of The Spice Terminal. They'll get competition when The Head Nut opens in early June, selling bulk herbs and spices, coffee, teas, etc.

White Asparagus from Peru

White asparagus from Peru at Iovine Brothers
Prominently displayed at Iovine Brothers at the Reading Terminal Market today is white asparagus, $1.99/bunch.

Since it's about two months until the first local asparagus (green) pokes its spears through the dirt, these have to come from a more distant clime. In this case it's Peru where, since the South American nation is mostly south of the equator, even if just barely, it's now late summer. But it must be cooler in those mountain valleys.

Peru is no johnny-come-lately to asparagus growing. Commercial growers harvested their first crops in the early 1950s, initially planting a white variety for canning. Peru now sells to the frozen and fresh-chilled markets as well.

Last week's imports of persimmons from Span flew off the shelves at Iovine, even priced at $7.95 a basket for about half a dozen fruits.

The Chilean fruit I picked previously was so-so. The black plums were way too astringent and hard. The nectarines (after some time in a paper bag) were sweet and tasted like nectarines, even though the texture was a bit off. The Bartlett pears were the best of the bunch: they ripened nicely in the bag and had typical Barlett flavor and texture: not the most complex flavor among the pears, but straightforward, sweet and satisfying.

First Flush at the Market

Next Saturday evening, Feb. 25, will be another edition of the Valentine to the Market, the fund-raiser renewed after a bit of a hiatus to benefit the Reading Terminal Market Preservation Fund.

It will be worth the price of admission ($125, or $300 for VIP tickets) just to see how the market celebrates the opening of its new restrooms, which are scheduled to be completed just in time for the event. Who gets the first flush? You can purchase your ticket here.

Carlolyn Wyman, who writes for the market's newsletter and website, has a nice article about the event here. Among the interesting points of the article:
This year’s party is actually a revival of a February fundraiser first held in the early ’90s to fund the legal fight to help save the Market from physical decline and development threats. In the later years of the Valentine’s ’90s run, monies raised were used to build the Market’s demo kitchen and to bring Market produce out to far-flung neighborhoods (an outreach that spun-off into today’s independent nonprofit Food Trust).
The new restrooms are a major component of the Avenue D renovation program at the market. New family/accessible restrooms opened a couple months ago. With the opening of new facilities for men and women, construction activity will pick up along Avenue D, including the new multi-purpose room to be named in honor of former Inquirer scribe Rick Nichols. (The market had hoped to have the Nichols Room open in time for the party, but that didn't work out.)

With Spataro's move Friday across Avenue C along center court, Flying Monkey will begin outfitting the old Spataro's spot (and a bit of the old Spice Terminal) as its new digs. L. Halteman Family Country Foods (soon to be Riehl Deli & Cheese) plans to shift its stall to Avenue C by April 1 if all goes well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spataro's To Move This Week

Spataro's, the oldest sandwich business within the Reading Terminal Market, could move to its new Center Court location as early as Thursday.

When Spataro's moves across the aisle to the spot formerly home to Dinic's, that clears the way for Flying Monkey Bakery to take over the Spataro's stall, all part of the Avenue D renovation project at the market.

Spataro's, whose pater familia Dominic Spataro died at the age of 94 last month, remains the home of the bargain lunch at the market, even though pricier cheese steaks and hoagies are also available. Still on the menu are two sandwiches priced at $4.50: liverwurst & onion, and egg & tomato. The closest competition is the Hatville Deli in the Pennsylvania Dutch section of the market, where a plain cheese or liverwurst sandwich also sells for $4.50.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

RTM's Leasing Strategy Works Against Rick's Return

With the market's renovation program centered along Avenue D opening up space for four new merchants, General Manager Paul Steinke's emphasis has been to fill those slots with "purveyors" who primarily sell foods for cooking or eating at home. That's why the chances of any new pure lunch vendor of getting one of the two remaining stalls is slim at best and why Rick Olivieri's attempt to reenter the market with his Rick's Steaks business will fail.

It's certainly possible, though, that a vendor selling for both on- and off-premises consumption could get that nod. I think the only chance for a new vendor to primarily sell for on-premises consumption would be to offer something not now available from other lunch counters. Hot donuts, anyone?

Only one of the three new vendors announced so far will sell food for eating within the market, but it will also offer groceries and other food products to take home: Wursthaus Schmitz would carry German groceries and cold cuts as well as hot foods for eating either within the market or at home.

The second new vendor would be artisinal cheese maker Valley Shepherd Creamery, which is expected to sign a letter of intent within a few weeks. The latter's product would be overwhelmingly for off-premises consumption, though there's no reason why someone couldn't have a sheep milk yogurt for lunch in center court. A third new vendor, The Head Nut will essentially replicate the offerings of The Spice Terminal, which declined to renew its lease.

That leaves two remaining spaces for new vendors: one along the Avenue D wall, another in a small space on center court adjacent to where Wursthaus Schmitz will be located.

The market's operating policy guidelines require that no more than the greater of one-third of the number of vendors or one-third of the floor space go to businesses "which offer food intended primarily or exclusively for consumption within the Market."

While Steinke is comfortable that the current breakdown of merchants is well within that restriction, by my subjective count 36 of the 77 existing merchants exclusively or primarily fall into the "on-premises consumption" category.

Let me emphasize the subjective nature of determining whose "primary" business is for off-premises consumption or not. As an example, take 12th Street Cantina, which I consider among those who "primarily" sell for on-premises conception but Steinke does not. Steinke says this business a "two-sided" purveyor that doesn't count against the operating policy ratios because of the many take-home Mexican groceries and prepared foods they sell. My opinion is influenced by the fact that 12th Street Cantina has a seating area for diners. (I've got to admit, though, nearly all of my purchases there have been for ingredients to use at home.)

The same debate could be held about any number of other vendors, from Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties to By George! Pizza, Pasta and Cheeseteaks, both of which also sell plenty of items for consumption and/or cooking at home, but also earn money as lunch vendors. (Indeed, the line for cheese steaks at By George! at lunchtime frequently blocks the aisle.) The key metric in making any such determination as to whether a business is "primarily" engaged in sales for off-premises consumption would be to know the revenue breakdowns, but neither Steinke nor I have access to that proprietary information.

Getting back to Olivieri, another factor why he has little chance of reestablishing his cheese-steakerie in the market are the three existing vendors who depend upon cheese steak sales, and two others who find it a highly profitable sideline. Although Steinke said he couldn't give a "blanket answer" to a hypothetical question about allowing a new merchant to compete with the same product of five existing merchants, it's hard to imagine him adding another tourist-centric cheese steak stall. He acknowledged to Dan Gross of the Daily News, who broke the Olivieri story Wednesday, that cheese steaks were not the market's "highest priority".

When Olivieri's lease was not renewed in 2008, the market allowed two additional vendors to sell cheese steaks: Carmen's Famous and By George! (Spataro's earlier had been permitted to add cheese steaks when they moved to a new center court location.) Today all three businesses incorporate "cheese steaks" into their formal names. In addition, the Down Home Diner sells cheese steaks, as does the new Molly Molloy's.

Rick's Steaks loss of its lease in 2008 followed Olivieri's vociferious leadership of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association when the market was restructuring lease agreements and fee structure. You can find earlier stories about the Olivieri-RTM clash here and here.

A Man Dedicated To Piggies: Drew Shattuck

Drew Shattuck, who until yesterday served as butcher at Dinic's roast pork emporium at the Reading Terminal Market, shows off his pig and fry pan tatoos. Drew, who managed the stall when Tom and Joe Nicolosi took days off at the same time, is moving back to the formal restaurant scene, taking a line job at The Capital Grille. Before joining Dinics about two years ago Drew shucked oysters at the late Oceanaire and worked in other high-end restaurant kitchens.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

John Yi, RTM Fishmonger, Dies

John Yi, who with wife Susie Kim owned John Yi Fish Market at the Reading Terminal Market, died over the weekend of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident last month. Mr. Yi was 80 years old.

Until the accident he could been seen almost every day behind the counter of the fish stall on center court. Because of the businesses' bright neon sign -- "John Yi Fish Market | Eat Fish Live Longer" -- his was one of the most visible names in the market.

To the best of anyone's recollection, he established the business in the mid 1980s.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Head Nut To Supply RTM Shoppers With Bulk Spices, Nuts, Coffee

Narrow aisle at The Head Nut devoted to condiments
The Head Nut of Ardmore, which traces its history to 1945 with the founding of Temp Tee Nuts, will succeed The Spice Terminal as vendor of spices, herbs, nuts, baking ingredients and other bulk goods at the Reading Terminal Market. The shop plans to open in late spring or early summer in space underneath the market's administrative offices.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke confirmed that The Head Nut signed a letter of intent today; the actual lease agreement is still subject to negotiation.

In visiting the Ardmore store on Haverford Avenue today I was impressed by the breadth of stock in its meandering warrens of shelves, everything from G-strings made of candy to Norwegian cod liver oil. Bigger sellers, no doubt, are the store's spices and herbs, baking and cooking ingredients (flours, dried fruits, vinegars, oils, condiments), teas and coffees, nuts and snacks, candies and jams.

In addition to the main store in Ardmore, The Head Nut sells at the Wayne Farmers Market. The website also lists locations in Swarthmore and West Chester.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Riehl Deli Deal: L. Halteman Stall Name, Location Change

Sign is up preparing for move and renaming of L Halteman
For nearly 70 years, a stall has operated under the Reading Terminal Market under the Halteman name. At one time, there were even two Halteman's: A.A. Halteman, selling meat and eggs, and L. Halteman, specializing in game and poultry.

A.A. closed in 2006, but L. Halteman Country Store continued, though since the 1980s its offerings changed, with the game and specialized poultry receding in favor of more popular varieties of bird, deli meats and cheeses, especially with Lester Halteman's retirement and the subsequent sale of the business to the Riehl family.

Although the Riehls have operated the stall for a number of years, they're finally getting around to slowly renaming at least the deli and cheese part of the business, concurrent with a location shift to Avenue C, part of the market's current renovation program. The deli offerings will be expanded with the move about 15 feet west to make room for a relocated Avenue D, but they will continue to sell fresh cuts of beef and pork along with the poultry, too. They move isn't expected to be complete until mid-spring.

I always check out the top of the meat case, because that's where they display various preserved meats that can enliven winter meals. I've used their smoked short ribs to add depth to chili, and last week some dices of country ham (Smithfield) along with wood-smoked kielbasa completed baked beans.They also offer a great, reasonably priced thick-cut, deeply smoky and porky bacon.

Beck's Beignets

Beck's Cajun Cafe at the Reading Terminal Market continues to offer fresh, hot beignets on Wednesdays and Sundays as long as they last.

When Bill Beck first offered beignets soon after opening his mecca to Louisiana foods their quality was hit-and-miss. But I've had them thrice over the past month or so, and they've hit the mark each time: crispy exterior, light interior, exactly what fried dough should be. Get a cup of chickory-inflected Community Coffee to go with an order of six of these large rectangular doughnuts doused in confectioners' sugar.

If I don't make it up to Haegele's Bakery in Tacony for Fastnachts on Fat Tuesday, I hope Beck makes the beignets a day early that week.

Newton Pippins Redux, and other Winter Fruit Tales

It's been nearly three months since I purchased my Newtown Pippin apples from North Star Orchards at the Headhouse Square farmers's market, and I'm down to my last four apples.

These great storage apples have gotten better with the time spent in the crisper drawer. Their skins are still shiny and waxy with little sign of age, and the flesh is a deep sweet-tart flavor, just juicy enough. I'm amazed I paced my consumption to still have a handful left, but glad to have this taste of autumn in mid-winter. Man cannot live by oranges alone.

Speaking of which, Iovine Brothers' Produce at the Reading Terminal Market has a wide selection of Chilean fruit. The bagged seedless green grapes I picked up last week were worth it at $2 for a bag weighing about a pound and a half. This week I selected two blemish-free Bartlett pears, a nectarine and a black plum. They're all sitting in a paper bag ripening on the counter, we'll see how they taste in a couple of days.

I also picked up some Temple oranges, which have come down in price to 4/$1, down from 3/$1. Very juicy, easy to peel but a tad more difficult to section than the last batch I bought. Limes eased in price to 4/$1, and avocados, which usually see their price increase dramatically for Superbowl Sunday, were a reasonable 2/$1.49 -- anytime they're less than a buck apiece I consider a bargain.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Vendors Lining Up For RTM: Wursthaus Schmitz, Nut Vendor

New temporary seating to become Wursthaus Schmitz
With work on additional leaseable vendor space at the Reading Terminal Market scheduled to wrap up by early April as part of the Avenue D project, General Manager Paul Steinke is busy lining up vendors to fill the new spots.

The latest announcement is that the owners of Brauhus Schmitz will open a German food shop -- Wursthaus Schmitz -- in the general area of where the Spice Terminal had been located, at the intersection of Center Court and Avenue D, opposite the new La Cuchina at the Market. They'll sell prepared food for consumption at the market and take-away, deli meats, as well as imported products, including mustards.

The market has been without wide-ranging German food products (beyond the limited Pennsylvania Dutch merchant offerings) since Siegfried's departed in 1990. Steinke has sought to fill that niche for years (Rieker's of Fox Chase declined the opportunity shortly after Siegfried closed). 

Owners Kelly Schmitz-Hager and Doug Hager are hot to trot and hope to be open by Memorial Day.

(I heartily welcome the renewal of a German food purveyor at the market, but it raises a question about the sudden mushrooming of German restaurants in center city. Once upon a time the only German restaurant around was Ludwig's Garten on Sansom. When it closed we were Gem├╝tlichkeit-less. Now, however, we've got Brauhaus Schmitz, Frankford Hall, and the newly opened Bierstube in Old City. Even Jose Garces and has threatened to get into the act with a Wurstmacher in the old Letti Deli on 13th Street.) 

Spice Terminal Successor Nears Dotted Line

Although negotiations are not completed, Steinke is optimistic to sign a new bulk spice vendor, who would occupy space beneath the market's administrative offices one aisle north of center court. The prospect is a long-standing suburban vendor of nuts, spices, herbs, coffee, grains, and condiments -- the same lines carried by the Spice Terminal. Looking at the potential vendor's existing website, it appears this outfit has greater depth of stock than Spice Terminal's.

Steinke said he decided to go after the suburban vendor because of its 30 years of experience, which trumped an otherwise attractive offer from employees of the Spice Terminal. He acknowledged that part of his decision mix was the tens of thousands of dollars it would cost the market to move the Spice Terminal to a new location, as required by the Avenue D Project. Extensive carpentry for the shelving would have accounted for much of that cost; a new vendor under a new lease is responsible for those costs.

Steinke also expects to sign Valley Shepherd Creamery within the next few week. In addition to selling its great artisinal cheeses (primarily sheep, but some cow and goat and mixed milk cheeses), Valley Shepherd plans to make fresh cheese on-premises.

With Spice Terminal's closing last Sunday, Steinke made quick work to turn it into additional seating, if only on a temporary basis, just in time for the last two days of the auto show. The extra seating will stay in place for the flower show in early March, than give way for Wursthaus Schmitz.

Name That Fish!

Fish display at John Yi, Reading Terminal Market
You can't tell a fish by its name. Sea trout is not a trout, it's weakfish, a type of croaker or drum.
But silver trout is whiting, which is really hake, part of the cod family. I haven't the foggiest idea about mountain trout, though it certainly isn't a trout and it certainly doesn't come from a mountain stream or lake. Striped bass and rockfish? They're the same, except when they're not.

Confused yet?

You'll find all these items at the fish mongers at the Reading Terminal Market, but it's hard to know what the actual species is. More than any other food, fishes tend to have very local names.

The weakfish, for example, has been called bastard trout, squwteague, sea trout, grey trout, sand trout, shecutts, silver sea trout, squeteague and squit.

In culinary terms, however, nomenclature is secondary. Just pick the broad type of fish you're hungry for (white flesh or oily, large or thin) and buy the freshest you can find. Most recipes for cod work just as well with whiting or haddock. Fluke or flounder? Doesn't matter! Mackerel or Spanish mackerel? There's a bit of a size difference, and while you might be able to distinguish their flavors, it's not that big a difference.

Rockfish and striped bass are the same, delicious, meaty fish, it's just that rockfish is the name in the Chesapeake and striped bass on the Hudson River northwards (New Jersey seems to be the dividing line between the names). With one big caveat. Some striped bass are true striped bass, caught in the wild. Others, under either name, may be a factory or farm raised hybrid of striped bass and white bass. The former is anadronmous, living most of its life at sea but spawning in fresh or brackish rivers; the latter is strictly a fresh water variety. Whether wild or hybrid, both have a good, meaty taste. You can usually tell the difference because the wild striped bass has a blue tag affixed to its jaw; also, the "stripes" on the hybrid tend to be jagged, and the fish are frequently smaller than the striped bass.

If you're as fascinated by culinary fish as I and would like to learn more about the denizens of the sea off Mid-Atlantic waters, I highly recommend Alan Davidson's North Atlantic Seafood. This British diplomat's tome covers fish on both sides of the Atlantic, is chock full of great stories, local recipes from Denmark to South Carolina, and entries for each North Atlantic food fish with discussions of range, best cooking methods, and names in various languages; before he died in 2003 he wrote similar books about the fish of the Mediterranean and South-East Asia, and was the editor of the Oxford Companion to Food.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Auto Show Crowds

Dinic's (in accompanying photo), Carmen's, Herschel's and all the other lunch vendors at the Reading Terminal Market have welcomed the auto show crowds this week. Joe Nicolosi of DiNic's says auto show week and flower show week are the two busiest of the year. So expect big crowds all day long for Saturday and Sunday's auto show finale.