Saturday, March 24, 2012

Things Change: Expected and Unexpected

You go away for a week and things change.

Like the sudden pullout of Delilah Winder from the Reading Terminal Market. Or the arrival of spring.

Officially, the market hopes to welcome back Delilah when her bankruptcy/financial issues are resolved. Market GM Paul Steinke would love to see Delilah back -- the bankruptcy court told him Delilah's could be re-open in just a few weeks -- given Delilah's high visibility through her Oprah connection and Food Network exposure. But he's got to be thinking of bringing in another soul food restauranteur if that doesn't happen.

Another change, this one no surprise: Flying Monkey Bakery moved to its new location in the former Spataro's spot this past week. Which reminds me: I neglected to pick up some whoopie pies this morning!

Flying Monkey's move clears the way for a faster pace of work on the remainder of the Avenue D improvement project at the market, especially the Rick Nichols Room, the multi-purpose room to be located behind the bakery's old spot and adjacent to La Cuchina at the Market, Anna Florio's institution of higher culinary education.

Work should begin next month on Wursthaus Schmitz in what's now seating space behind Flying Monkey, with opening hoped for before Memorial Day, the official start of grilling season. The connection? Bratwurst!

A bit later on the schedule will be Valley Shepherd Creamery, which will locate along Avenue D across from Molly Molloy's. They aim to open in late spring. Chief Shepherd Eran Wajswol and crew are busy right now with lambing. They expect 800 little ones to join the flock this spring.

Another sure sign of spring is the arrival of ramps. Iovine's had them today, $1.99 for a small bunch (enough for two servings as a flavor accompaniment to your eggs or just about anything other protein. Alas, they had traveled too far and were in less than pristine condition. I'll wait a few weeks.

Greens and garlic await oven at Dinic's
Dinic's has got new menu boards up and, as reported earlier, scallopine is gone and meatballs are in. Joe Nicolosi says they pretty much have the meatballs every day, though they might occasionally skip a day.

Bobby Fisher, chef at Molly Molloy's, has been missing in action due to surgery, according to Jim Iovine, proprietor. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Bobby.

Like J.P. Morgan's yacht, if you have to ask the price you probably can't afford it, but the jamón ibérico de bellota (Spanish acorn ham) at Jack Morgan's Downtown Cheese is like eating ham butter. It puts the best prosciutto to shame.

The American version of dry aged ham can be obtained at L. Halteman Family. It's also priced dearly (though not nearly as high as the Spanish pig). You can buy some of the Smithfield ham slices (vacuum packed on premises) for a bit over $5, enough to make three or four sandwiches. The Riehl family, operators of the stall, will be shifting their footprint closer to Avenue C next month, also part of the market's current improvement project.

Steinke will be off to Los Angeles late next week for the annual conference of National Association of Produce Market Managers, the professional association of managers of permanent wholesale produce markets, retail farmers' markets, and public markets. He'll make a presentation about the RTM's current Avenue D improvement project.

Leveling Up To Pay

A significant number of Reading Terminal Market merchants accept the Level Up payment system, in which a QR code on your smartphone is linked to your credit card. Besides ease of use, most merchants offer customers credits for using the service.

You'll need to rack up $30 to $100 in cumulative purchases before the credits kick in, which usually work out to 5 to 10 percent, depending on the merchant. There are also occasional special days -- like the market's 120th anniversary February 22, when any purchase earned you an immediate $10 credit. (I was thrilled that day with a $10.50 cheese purchase that cost me 50 cents.) I've been using the system since it was introduced last November and have racked up $60 in discounts since.

It's a lot easier than fumbling for the discount cards offered by some merchants, like Old City Coffee and Metropolitan Bakery. Most of the merchants I've spoken with like the system, which doesn't cost them much more than other credit card transactions and takes less time. Just hold the smart phone with the code on the screen in front of the reader and it's done. You'll get an immediate email message confirming your purchase. On your credit card bill it shows up as a charge to Level Up, but you can always go to the Level up website to review the particulars.

About 300 area merchants use the system, most in Center City.

Mike Holahan, co-owner of the Pennsylvania General Store and president of the RTM Merchants Association, finds it both amusing and forward-looking that Philadelphia's 19th century public market is a 21st century technological leader.

Philadelphia is Level Up's largest market, but it also has a significant presence in Boston, New York and San Francisco. It's also been introduced in Atlanta, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and St. Louis.

You can learn more and sign up for Level Up at its website:

In a related development, RTM General Manager Paul Steinke says the market is well along with its plan to replace its Market Money gift program with a gift card. The cards would be similar to credit cards and be processed by First Data Merchants Services, which currently provides credit card processing for about a quarter of the market's merchants. Steinke said about half of the merchants are on board with the gift card program, but he won't go ahead until at least three-quarters agree. He hopes the system can go on line sometime this summer. Merchants who don't use First Data for their credit cards would have to add another device to read the gift cards. Not everyone is happy about that, given the limited space they've got for their payment terminals, cash registers and Level Up devices.

Fair Food, RTM Plan Festivals

March and April have shaped up as a busy time for foodies.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Fair Food held its annual Brewers' Plate bash, pairing local and regional breweries and restaurants. This year it was held at the National Constitution Center.

Fair Food has another big event, the Philly Farm & Food Fest, scheduled for Sunday. April 1, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It's an outgrowth of the non-profit organization's Local Grower/Local Buyer event, held in recent years to bring together restaurant and institutional food buyers with farmers and food producers. But where the previous event was limited to "the trade", the new one is open to all. (Though there will be a "trade only" buyers reception as part of it.)

The public event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with about 100 producers exhibiting their food products (many offering sample), ready to discuss what they do and how they do it. You can also learn about the various Community Supported Agriculture  (CSA) offerings, wherein you can buy a "share" of a farm's output, guaranteeing yourself a supply of farm fresh foods. Fair Food farmstand staffer Albert Yee, an accomplished foodie fotog, will be on hand to guide you through his "The Hands That Feed Us" photo series.

There will also be a series of workshops (attendance limited) and presentations on a range of subjects, from "Land Use Planning & Policy for Farmers" to "Tasty Small Grains" and "The ABCs of Bee Keeping".

Advance ticket sales are $15 or $20 on the day of the event. You can get them at the Brown Paper Tickets website. General information about the event can be found at the Philly Farm & Food Fest website. The event is co-sponsored by the Pennslvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

Later in the month the Reading Terminal Market begins its festival season with its Festa Italiana. It's scheduled for Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At last year's event center court was filled with tables displaying and dispensing Italian goodies, from espresso from Old City Coffee to Italian style beef chuck roast from Dinic's and roast pig.

At last year's festival the roast pig almost wasn't. The city's Health Department insisted that rather than being displayed whole and cut when served the entire animal be pre-cut in a kitchen. This year, according to Paul Steinke, the RTM's general manager, things have been worked out with the Health Department and a whole pig will be served as such. Last year the pig came from the Italian Market's Cannuli's House of Park, but this year the market's own Martin's Quality Meats & Sausages will provide the porker.

Also on tap for the festa, a mandolin orchestra. Steinke says the event is being planned with help from Judy Saye, formerly of the Book and the Cook, who has also helped organize the Italian Market's annual festival.

St. Louis Landmark

My week in St. Louis ended this past Wednesday, but not before a visit Ted Drewes, the landmark custard stand in the city's south side on Chippewaw Avenue, a.k.a. Route 66.

Since the temperatures were in the low 80s, the frozen dessert hit the spot. Only one flavor, vanilla, but you can have it mixed with a couple of dozen different flavors, or build various sundaes. Along with gooey butter cake and "toasted" ravioli, Ted Drewes is one of the Gateway City's great contributions to the American culinary tradition. (Wisconsin is big on frozen custard, too, and I'll try that late next month.)

The other culinary high points of my visit: chicken feet at dim sum at Lulu's (as good as any I've had in Philadelphia's or Vancouver's Chinatowns) and a lamb burger at the Schlafly Tap Room, a brewpub downtown, which makes a far better brew than its larger St. Louis competitor.

A decided miss was the pastrami served by Lester's Sports Bar & Grill. I was sent there by a local who original hails from central New Jersey. He claimed Lester's pastrami was better than Carnegie Deli's. I doubted that, but I still should have known better. Even though the restaurant is owned by a Brooklyn-born octagenarian millionaire, the pastrami was a royal flop. The flavor wasn't terrible but the meat was all wrong. Where Carnegie, Katz's and our own Herschel's and Famous use beef navel, Lester uses brisket. Good for corned beef. Wrong for pastrami.

A Busier Market

January and February at the Reading Terminal Market were nearly 7 percent busier than the prior year. That may be due largely to the impact of last year's big snowstorms, which cut down traffic, but the 934,00 visitors during January and February made for a busy market.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Scallopine? Fugetdaboutit. Meatballs? Yeah!

Over the past few weeks meatball sandwiches have occasionally appeared on the menu at Dinic's at the Reading Terminal Market. Starting after the flower show the new sandwich will gain a permanent place among the offerings.

To make room, Dinic's will forgo the scallopine sandwiches, made from thin cuts of pork. Joe Nicolosi, who runs the stall with his father Tom, said they sell fewer than half a dozen scallopines daily.

Although a handful of other market lunch vendors sell meatballs, Dinic's is the only one made on premises -- all the others come from commercial suppliers, according to Joe.

For their meatballs the Nicolosis start out with a lean beef chuck, for about 70 percent of the weight. They make it succulent by using trimmings from their pork before it gets roasted for the roast pork and pulled pork sandwiches for the remaining 30 percent. They grind the meat at the store and also make their own sauce.

The meat balls were available today for lunch, but don't expect them once the flower show starts Saturday for a nine-day run: the thick crowds and demand for the pork sandwiches will take up all their available time.

Another TV Bow for Dinic's

Adam Richman (right) with sandwich maker Jun and Joe Nicolosi at 2009 taping
Is Dinic's roast pork classic one of the 30 best sandwiches in the nation?

Adam Richman thinks so. He and a production crew from the Travel Channel were back at the Reading Terminal Market early last week watching Tom and Joe Nicolosi show how they prepare their fresh hams and other appurtenances that go into the sandwich.

Dinic's will be featured as one of three eateries on an epside of a new 10-show series highlighting the 30 top sandwiches. Episodes are scheduled to begin airing on the cable channel in June.

Richman got his first taste of Dinic's roast pork nearly three years ago when taping a segment for his Man Vs. Food show; in addition to repeats a re-edited version is part of his Amazing Eats episode on pork.