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Everything posted by MarketStEl

  1. Cheaper than any therapist and far more delicious was the counseling session I had with Dr. Carman during my last extended bout with unemployment. Now that I'm back in the thick of it - check out my real estate blog, folks - I think I should try to make it down there to dine while I can.
  2. Here's a story that should inspire us all, from Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. The principal actors are Michael Rouse, who runs a summer camp for underprivileged children at Girard College* called Dream Camp, and Marc Vetri, arguably the finest chef cooking in Philadelphia today. Rouse's camp gives poor children the chance to have the kind of summer camp experience only affluent kids usually enjoy -- for free. Epicures wait for weeks to get a table at Vetri's eponymous restaurant on Spruce Street, where exquisite Italian meals run into the hundreds, while the rest of us wait for hours to enjoy the same caliber fare for somewhat less at his other two restaurants, Osteria and Amis. Now imagine this: Instead of eating lunches consisting of fried and processed foods that produce behavioral problems afterwards -- the usual fare children who qualify for free subsidized lunches get, as processed crap is about all most institutions can afford on a subsidy of $2.60 per child -- the Dream Campers get All thanks to the generosity of Marc Vetri, his business partner Jeff Benjamin, and the charity the two recently founded, the Vetri Foundation for Children. Read the full story to learn how this particular dream became reality. *Girard College is itself a dream world of sorts. Endowed by the estate of early American financier Stephen Girard, the institution is a boarding school for poor children from single-parent homes (Girard originally restricted it to orphaned white boys; the racial restriction was removed by a court in 1964, and the restriction to males came off a decade or so later) that gives them the kind of education found at prestigious private schools.
  3. The "Love Burger" with "special sauce"? Shouldn't that be the "G. Love Burger with Special Sauce"? Will peruse this thread in full later, but right now, will go on record as saying: --500 Degrees is good, but not great; the burger struck me as a bit on the dry side, surprising given the place's pedigree --PYT's burger-of-the-week shtick is cute, and one of the Hall of Famers, the bacon and blue cheese number, is actually worth the heart attack you will have after eating it --so many places to try, so little time (and money); so now I gotta add the Oyster House to the list? --Five Guys still has no peers in its subcategory, though 500 Degrees is clearly aiming at its turf
  4. I never seem to be in the vicinity when you're at the bar, Katie. Feh. Maybe I'll convince some hungry choristers to make it an early dinner sometime.
  5. About the only thing I can contribute to this discussion is to observe that the shrimp cocktail and bluepoint oysters with cranberry sauce (peppery as well as sweet-tart) that Union Trust served as freebie appetizers for the last Our Night Out there were quite good, and if that is indicative of how that steakhouse treats non-steak fare, then you might want to give that place a try. Judging from Katie's comments above, they could use the business (which may have been why they chose to host Our Night Out, which in a typical month causes some 200-plus gay men and lesbians, most quite thirsty, to descend on some lucky restaurant's bar for cocktails, appetizers and networking). But as far as non-ethnic, non-haute cuisine, non-steakhouse high-end dining is concerned: Could some of you give me some examples of this phenomenon other than The American Restaurant?
  6. Just a general note: You cannot buy beer by the case and by the six-pack in the same place in Pennsylvania. Case sales are the exclusive province of beer distributors; only "restaurants" with the appropriate takeout license may sell six-packs. Now that I've said that, I'll repeat something I believe I've said on these forums in another context: According to at least one craft brewer I spoke with at this year's "Good Food, Good Beer and The Rest Is History" fundraiser for The Food Trust, we have Pennsylvania's consumer-hostile beer laws to thank for the robust beer culture around here. Those laws apparently make it possible for small brewers to sell their product in a way that allows them to compete profitably. Another provision of those laws that works to the unintended benefit of the beer lover is the provision that bans wholesalers from buying up shelf space at retailers. The existence of this practice in other states is one reason why, when you go to the supermarket to get a six-pack of beer in a state with rational liquor laws, you can get anything you want as long as it's from InBev Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors (the US joint venture of SABMiller plc and MolsonCoors). So perhaps we should all meet at Wegmans in Collegeville and hoist a glass of Sly Fox, or Victory -- or Yuengling Lager,* for that matter -- to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. In spite of itself. *My source at the festival also told me that Yuengling dominates sales in the Southeastern Pennsylvania market -- which makes the Philadelphia region one of the few large metros in the country where the two big beer combines don't rule the roost. I'd like to think this is a testament to the superior taste and refinement of Philadelphians, but I can't help but think that those laws also have something to do with it.
  7. IOW, this Wegmans acquired a restaurant liquor license. Given that several Sheetz convenience stores in central and western Pennsylvania have done something similar, I assume that you can buy six-packs to carry out at this store. Am I right? Wegmans used to have prices significantly higher than most other supermarket chains, according to testimony I've heard from upstate New Yorkers I know. When management figured out that what their shoppers were doing was going to Wegmans for the wonderful prepared foods and specialty items, then going to Tops to buy most of their regular grocery list, they came to the conclusion that everyday low prices on the stuff on the shelves would be a better strategy long-term. Given what I had heard about Wegmans beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised to see when I went to their Cherry Hill store that their prices on ordinary grocery and household items were in line with those of other major chains. And, of course, Whole Foods doesn't carry most of what you find at a Wegmans -- or any other regular supermarket, for that matter; most processed foods contain ingredients WFM forbids in the foods it sells.
  8. I was shocked to find this out just now - after I sent in a request to revive my lapsed subscription. Yes, a lot of the recipes were a stretch for the ordinary home cook, but wasn't that part of the point of the magazine? And in the same publication you could find serious treatments of food issues (e.g., how chickens are raised and processed) and the completely unexpected, like the paean to American cheese currently up on Gourmet.com (and presumably in the front-of-the-book in the November issue). What I liked about the current incarnation of the mag was its wide range and its adventurousness: haute cuisine and street food each had their place, which I couldn't imagine in the old Gourmet -- or even the current Food & Wine. I hope some of that makes its way into Bon Appetit (which mag, btw, got its start as a modest publication in Kansas City). And if it doesn't, I hope it survives online -- either as Gourmet.com or on Epicurious.
  9. Take a cab? Bus? Walk? It's a pretty easily-accessible spot... Nearest SEPTA service: Bus Route 40 eastbound (via South Street daytime, via Pine evenings and weekends) to its terminus at 2d and Lombard; Bus Route 12 eastbound on Pine to its terminus at 3d, then walk two blocks; Bus Route 57 northbound on 3d or southbound on 4th to Lombard, then two- to three-block walk east. It's also about a 10-minute walk south from 2d Street station, Market-Frankford Line.
  10. Closed at the end of July. Fixtures and furnishings have been sold. She is going into semi-retirement - she will continue to operate her suburban outpost. Word on the street was that a retail tenant would take over the space, but there's been nothing else along these lines to confirm or refute. The space is currently listed as available.
  11. "That smell" -- which I notice more the closer I get to the fish counter at Hung Vuong -- comes from the fish handling area, if my own experience is any guide. Perhaps we should be glad these places do not sell live poultry. I find "that smell" I smell when I pass the place in the Italian Market that does this even more objectionable. But this now raises a question. The fishmongers in the Italian Market and at the RTM also handle and display whole fish, though usually not in tanks, as I have seen at Hung Vuong. And while I occasionally notice some fragrant aromas on 9th Street in warmer weather, I attribute those to the fact that the displays are outdoors, and warmer temperatures hasten the decay of fresh food, which is usually the source of the smells. So how do John Yi, the Wans, the folks who run Golden Fish Market, Hmart, Darigo's et al. manage not to have those smells (most of the time, in the 9th Street case), but the big non-chain Asian supermarkets all seem to develop them over time?
  12. So much for the famed Amish disdain for modern technology, I guess! Somehow, I managed to miss all of this over the last two months. Chufi: If you actually can read posts while you're here, PM me and I'll send you a phone number. I greatly enjoy meeting visitors and showing this place off, as you might recall from my first foodblog. Hope you're enjoying your visit! I trust you will hit the RTM sometime today; if so, do get a hold of me - I live two blocks away.
  13. Barb & Suzy's and S&B Meats are two sides of the same coin. Both are run by the same owners. Barb & Suzy's is the sandwich counter, and S&B the retail butcher. The "Barb & Suzy's" sign is on the side of the store away from Kauffman's. I've got Illg's liverwurst on my must-try list. If you desire a mediator, I'm willing to serve.
  14. I'm hardly in their league, but I now post weekly RTM updates (I had tried to recruit Bob Libkind, but he passed on it) and other occasional items about specialty grocers and foods in Philly on Examiner.com. Look for me under "Philadelphia Specialty Grocery Examiner" -- and "Philadelphia Public Transportation Examiner" (surprised? ). I tweet when new items get posted: http://twitter.com/MarketStEl Edited to add: Of course, relevant tips always welcome. Tweet me, PM me, email me, IM me -- just get them to me if you can.
  15. This is something that's worth exploring, and I think i goes a long way towards explaining why the best "American steakhouse" restaurants are mostly in NYC. Perhaps more than any other kind of restaurant, with the possible exception of fish restaurants, the quality of a steakhouse depends upon the quality of the ingredients. There is no room for skill or technique to obscure or mitigate differences in quality. If two restaurants are broiling 2 inch thick porterhouse steaks in the same broiler to the same degree of doneness, then the only thing that can differentiate them is the quality of the steak. And there are huge differences. So, there are a few things going on here. First is that there is only so much "prime of the prime" beef to go around. This drives up prices. Second, the meat has to be dry aged, etc. This drives up prices. But perhaps more important is the fact that there is a certain fixed cost associated with prime of the prime dry aged beef. Unlike many other commodity foodstuffs that may be less expensive in some cities than others, there is no way a prime of the prime dry aged short loin can cost meaningfully less in Philadelphia or Kansas City than it does in New York City or Tokyo. In fact, the cost will be right around the same. So, while something like milk is likely to be less expensive in Philadelphia or Kansas City than it is in Manhattan, this will not be true of prime of the prime dry aged beef.[...] Needless to say, there are a lot more people living in NYC who are willing to pay 40 dollars for a top of the line steak. And this is the last piece of the equation: Compared to other similarly expensive and high-salaried cities (San Francisco and Los Angeles come to mind), New York has a booze-drinking, cigar-smoking, red-meat-eating kind of culture that most of these other cities do not have. American steakhouses are just not part of California culinary culture the way they are in NYC.[...] ← Thanks to that much lower cost of living, a "high salary" in Kansas City doesn't have to be as high as a high salary in Manhattan (or any of the other four boroughs, for that matter, but as far as the people you're likely to find in NYC steakhouses are concerned, they're most likely from that one borough -- and also IMO more likely to be from certain parts of Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, or Bergen counties than they are Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx or Staten Island). And that leads to something you're dead on target about, something that even other Kansas Citians I know who've eaten at steakhouses in both cities have remarked on. Logic might suggest that, given the city's history, Kansas City would also have a strong steakhouse tradition, given that we cut up the cows and put their parts on reefer boxcars headed East. (Which is why the cut everybody calls "New York" on the East Coast is called "Kansas City" out that way, as in these reviews.) And it does, to be fair (again, see the reviews). But none* of the city's best known steakhouses serve steaks anywhere near the caliber of those at NYC's best. You can have a perfectly decent steak at the Golden Ox, the Hereford House, Jess and Jim's, the Plaza III, the Savoy Grill, or the Majestic (all of these are local to KC, and all but the last of these were in business when I grew up there). You will probably pay $25 to $35 for it.* And it won't be quite up to the level of those served in the NYC places above, for the reasons Sam stated: There's only so much top-notch beef to go around, and New Yorkers are willing to shell out serious money for it, whereas Kansas Citians aren't used to shelling out that kind of money for a meal out except on very special occasions, the kind that would have them making reservations at The American Restaurant in Crown Center. *Looking at the info on that "10 Best Steakhouses" list linked above, however, there are enough Kansas Citians who are willing to do this to keep one steakhouse that charges NYC prices in business: the Plaza III's listing indicates that the average main course there runs $50, while the other steakhouses on the list range from $25 to $37. For purposes of comparison, a main at the American Restaurant will set you back $70 on average. Remind me to save up for a Plaza III meal on my next trip to Kansas City and I'll give you a full comparative report. I wonder if "choice" is indeed the right word for it. Have you seen the size of some NYC apartment kitchens? There are lots that are barely big enough to turn around in. Even people who love to cook would be hard pressed to indulge their passions in one of these. And along with those stratospheric salaries also come insane work hours, in many instances. That also tends to discourage dining in. See my comments above for evidence of exceptions to that general rule. However, the fact that the city's culinary reputation today rests mainly on barbecue, which is a cooking method designed for less expensive cuts of meat, also backs up your point. Getting back to our New York-Philadelphia comparison, of course, as there are parts of Philadelphia that share these characteristics and thus are hospitable to people who don't (have to) drive any(every)where, this city too has seen a nascent cocktail culture emerge -- but it's largely drowned out by the huge wave of craft beer that washes through the streets of Philadelphia.
  16. What Chris Hennes said: I can't see Pecorino Romano as a substitute for Parmigiano-Reggiano or vice versa. The latter is mellower, less assertive, less peppery, and - yes - less salty, at least tastewise. I tend to snack on both, though, as I grate them. I use Parm-Reg so infrequently that I don't mind keeping a quarter pound or so on hand, usually to grate, sometimes in my mac and cheese or tomato soup. After encountering grapes accompanied by Cheddar and Swiss all the time, though, I think that Pecorino Romano would make a welcome change of pace. To the mother (aunt? grandma?) of the four-year-old: Next time, put the cheese in a high cupboard to let it reach room temperature. Then grate it over the asparagus before serving. It sounds to me that the child wasn't turned off by it as much as she suffered an overdose.
  17. I note with pleasure the progress on the new space, and saw that FFFS had lots of good produce today when I went to the RTM, some of it at attractive prices, especially the peaches. But every time I pass by the stand with its giant Access Card sign on the side, or walk through one of the farmers markets where farmers post signs stating that they gladly accept WIC Farmers' Market Program checks, I wonder: How many low-income Philadelphians actually avail themselves of these options? I imagine the answer to that question is probably different at, say, a Food Trust farmers' market in Chester than it is at the FFFS, where patrons can buy New Jersey peaches at a nearby produce stand for half what the Lancaster County beauties FFFS had cost. I guess what I'm trying to get at here is that it seems to me that Fair Food -- and a lot of the other groups working to reconnect city folk to the farmers who feed them -- have something of a challenge on their hands, especially if they define their mission as making direct-from-the-farmer foods available to buyers up and down the income ladder and also improving the food choices available to low-income shoppers. I get this feeling that before they get into the game, they may be pricing themselves out of it. Not having gone to a farmers' market in an poorer community (the Chester market was always closing up shop as I made my way home from Widener), I don't know whether or not my concern is off base, but I thought I'd just throw it out for you all to chew on.
  18. Oh, and confidential to brescd01: No need to apologize for your Philly boosterism. I've come to appreciate that some "Negadelphians" are hard on their hometown because they love it to death and believe that it could be much better than it is (and in several areas, they're right to be hard on the place in this fashion). But what it is is already great, and in most cases better than the natives crack it down to be. A little Kansas City-style boosterism can't hurt in that case.
  19. This native Kansas Citian - who still bristles inside when he hears the term "New York strip" - thinks Mr. Kinsey has a point. I haven't visited any of the New York steakhouses in question and am not likely to when I next head up that way, because (1) the great steakhouses are wildly expensive (2) as a corollary, I think I can get more bang for my dining buck trying one of the hundreds - thousands? - of other interesting restaurants in the city that offer a world of cuisines, including some that may even offer some form of beef on the menu. That said, one thing I think I can say about the new Philadelphia "steak + houses" is that they are probably the most appealing use to which a bunch of shuttered banks have been put in years. (Union Trust's name even alludes to its building's former function -- and the building's interior strongly evokes the main hall of 30th Street Station, which, I understand, was designed by the same architect). But you're there to eat the food, not the architecture. Nonetheless, the architecture remains awesome, thanks in no small part to those high ceilings and neoclassical or Art Deco touches. I probably won't dine in any of the Philadelphia places anytime soon either, with the exception of Butcher & Singer (formerly Striped Bass, nee Butcher & Singer - an investment bank) at lunch before the $5.95 burger special goes away.
  20. Easy to carry grocery bags to? That honor probably belongs to the surface lot at the southwest corner of 12th and Arch, directly across 12th Street from the market. Second place goes to the Parkway garage immediately to its south -- which is where your parents should park anyway. The RTM offers discounted parking in this garage: $3 for 2 hours with a total of $10 in purchases from RTM merchants (save your receipts and have the merchant who puts your total over the $10 threshold validate your parking ticket). If you want this discount, you CANNOT pay with your credit card as you enter the garage - you must obtain a ticket that can be validated at the RTM. Then insert the validated ticket into the payment machines when you exit. The garage has entrances on Arch, 12th, 13th and Filbert streets. Good luck!
  21. So what's this place that's going to serve "punk rock BBQ"? I can't seem to find the original post. One thing I can tell you is that there is apparently a mighty hunger for good barbecue abroad in the land. I just found out from site owner Steve McCann that my writeup of Smokin' Betty's in my most recent PhillyGayCalendar.com column was the third-most-viewed column in July. I'd say Smokin' Betty's is good, not great, but I was pleasantly surprised that they had pretty much gotten the basics right, especially given that its owners also own Devil's Alley, which didn't impress me, and that -- as I wrote in the column -- all the other signs this place had pointed in the wrong direction. I'd certainly rank it as the best 'cue joint (sort of: barbecue accounts for a minority of the menu items, although the sides are certainly barbecue-derived) within the boundaries of Center City.
  22. Looks good! Varga Bar is brought to you by the folks who run Valanni and Mercato. If Valanni is, as I maintain, a "gay bar on the DL," then this is its "straight" cousin. Needless to say, the owners don't observe these distinctions - everyone's welcome at both establishments. Think I need to schedule a visit soon.
  23. RonV: You wouldn't happen to be the former editor of the Philly edition of Metro, would you? If so, it's a bit of a shame the parent company is editing the local papers by remote control from New York. However, kudos are due you for your Newspaper of the Year Award this year. I've been impressed at how the paper zigs where the established duo zag (and loved your local primary election headline: "If you don't care, why should we?") and at how the paper has figured out a way to go deep on subjects while remaining true to its short-attention-span story length standards by doing multiple pieces on a subject. Back to food: You already saw my comments about the oysters. I invite you to go over to Philadelphia Speaks and check out the topic in Food and Drink about our July happy hour at the Oyster House. Seems everyone ate all the lobster rolls before I arrived - I had to settle for lobster hush puppies that tasted too much of fritter and not enough of lobster for my liking - and everyone absolutely loved them. However, once again, no Katie, just her cocktails. They taste good still, but it's not the same without her. (I had a house punch for starters, then switched to Dock Street Summer Session, the best summer brew I've ever had - like drinking malt lemonade, and I don't mean Mike's.)
  24. *So did my mom! Funny, isn't it, that this is probably the only territory on Earth where the Prince outranks the King? However, I wouldn't dismiss this sandwich out of hand; it's mediocre, true, and Pat's has been resting on its laurels for some time, but it still has character, which is more than I can say for the place on the other side of Cheesesteak Corner. There all the character is supplied by the owner, not the sandwiches.
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