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rlibkind

Reading Terminal Market (Part 2)

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The Reading Terminal Market's leasing strategy for the new stalls made available through the Avenue D project works against the return of Rick's Steaks.

With the market's renovation 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 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.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Lorenzo's Pizza Seeks Market Spot

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.

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.

White Asparagus from Peru

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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.

With Spice Terminal Departure, Shop Adds Stock

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.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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

Wojswol plans on bringing 24,000 pounds of raw milk to the market each week to make about two tons of hard or semi-sort 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," Wojswol replied to my 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 Wojswol 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.

Wojswol 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 Wojswol 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.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Corrections to my previous post:

It's Eran Wajswol, now Wojswol.

My math error: Valley Sheperd will make about a ton of cheese a week, not two. (It takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.)


Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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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: https://www.thelevelup.com/.

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.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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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.

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.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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120329fiddleheads.jpg

Signs of spring at the Reading Terminal Market this past weekend: local spinach, fiddlehead ferns, and carp and yellow pike for gefilte fish.

The spinach could be obtained from any one of the market's produce vendors: Iovine's, Fair Food, Kauffman's. OK Lee, and L. Halteman. I didn't check, but farmer Steve Bowes might have had some at his day stall in the piano court. Most were priced at about $2 a bunch. With few exceptions, the spinach didn't look super attractive for a raw salad (that's usually true for overwintered spinach), but they were all perfect for sautés or any other cooking method you choose. Many folks prefer the taste of overwintered spinach to the new crop that will appear later in the spring. Butch Dougherty of Iovine's Produce said they were great cooked and used to top a sandwich.

The Japanese painted fern in a planter in my backyard patio sprouted up with a vengeance last week, and the same is happening along the streamsides of Chester, Delaware and Bucks County (heck, probably along tributaries of the Wissahickon in Fairmount Park, too). That means commercial foragers are bringing their fiddlehead fern finds to local restaurants and specialty produce vendors. Fair Food had some rather pristine samples last week (pictured). Frequently when you find fiddleheads in stores, they'll have some brownish, papery edges to them which is easily enough cleaned off. These, however, had none of the brown tinges. You can pretty much use them wherever you'd use asparagus, and cook them the same way. As an accompaniment to protein, I think they work better with fish and poultry than beef or lamb. And they excel as a stir-fry veg in Chinese cooking. Just don't go overboard on your consumption, and cook them thoroughly: Fiddleheads contain low levels of toxins which can cause nausea and diarrhea. Sustained heat usually kills any toxin (health authorities recommend boiling or steaming for 10-15 minutes). I usually do a light steaming or par-boiling before sautéeing and have yet to experience any symptoms.

John Yi featured carp and yellow pike in its dislplay case this week, priced at $3.99 and $7.99/pound, respectively. Either or both fish are the traditional base of gefilte fish, a traditional but non-Biblically mandated first course for the Passover seder. I could not find, however, a live carp to place in the bathtub, as was traditional in olden days to assure a fresh fish for the holiday table.

Iovine's continues to stock ramps. They looked a bit better today than last week, but they'll continue to be dear at $1.99 a bunch, which makes for maybe one serving.

Two items I've enjoyed all winter long from Iovine's have now disappeared: fresh chick peas and temple oranges. There are still plenty of other orange varieties available, but the peak season is starting to fade, even though they're available pretty much year round.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Coastal Cave, a long-time purveyor of live lobster, Dungeness crab and smoked seafood delicacies, ended its Reading Terminal Market tenure at the close of business Sunday.

I wasn't able to speak with him personally but proprietor Steven Cho is retiring from the market. His family also operates Ritz Seafood in Voorhees, New Jersey.

Coastal Cave's departure leaves another big hole for the market to fill. Last month Delilah's closed (reportedly temporarily) due to bankruptcy proceedings.

For the past year or so Coastal Cave updated its menu with some unusual sandwiches. Among them: pickled herring, smoked salmon and sardine Vietnamese sandwiches (bahn mi). Until Herschel's East Side Deli opened Coastal Cave was my source for Sunday morning lox.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke has dozens of businesses that would love to locate to the high-traffic market. But many want to sell "carnival" foods that the market won't permit: popcorn, funnel cake, etc.

Steinke's first order of business will be finding a home for the lobsters and lobster tank, which on Tuesday remained crawling and bubbling away, respectively, in the now otherwise empty stall.

The RTM plans to ask the three full-service fishmongers at the market -- Golden Fish, John Yi Fish Market, and Wan's Seafood -- to bid on the tanks. Expect one of them to jump at the chance to take over this part of Coastal's business.

When I visited the market this morning, I had expected to see the lobsters gone to the family's New Jersey restaurant, where they could be put to good use. But they were still on display.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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The Tubby Olive, a Newtown, Bucks County, purveyor of on-tap vinegars and olive oils, has signed on to occupy one of the new spaces at the Reading Terminal Market made available through the Avenue D expansion project. The shop will be located along the market's Avenue D wall across from Molly Molloy's.

The Tubby Olive's web site lists three dozen varieties of traditional, organic and flavor-infused olive oils and a similar number and variety of vinegars. Most are priced at $29 for 750 ml (25.4 ounces) and $15.95 for 375 ml (12.7 ounces), with organic oils going for $2 and $1 additional. (Regarding the vinegars, although most are listed as "balsamic", at those prices they won't be the finest, the kind where just a few drops can raise simple foods like ice creams or strawberries to whole new level. Classic balsamic vinegars like these would retail for about four times the price of the Tubby Olive's. What the shop sells, however, appears, to be perfectly fine vinegars for a wide variety of uses, though from the flavor list on the web site there are few I'd purchase. Does anyone really need or Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar?)

Tubby Olive is the fourth new merchant to sign up for space made available by the market's Avenue D project, joining Brauhaus Schmitz, the Head Nut and Valley Shepherd Creamery. RTM General Manager has a few other new spaces still to fill, as well as the recently vacated Coastal Cave stll along Avenue C. In addition, he's still waiting to hear from the bankruptcy trustee for Delilah's to see what we become of that space; when Delilah's was shut in mid-March, the trustee told the market they expected to reopen in just a few weeks.

The entire imrovement project is running along at top speed, with Flying Monkey Bakery now relocated and the new merchants expected to open in phases between May April and early summer. L. Halteman Family Country Food to shift to their new footprint by the end of the month.

Steinke said the new multi-purpose room, named in honor of former Philadelphia Inquirer food columnist Rick Nichols, should be finished in the next few weeks. By next weekend, all the chairs and tables in center court and the piano court, which have been showing signs of wear, will be replaced to match what will be going into the Nichols Room.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Tubby Olive sounds like a similar concept to A Taste of Olive, which has stores in Ardmore and Cherry Hill. Nice products, dispensed into small or large glass bottles as you wish, friendly staff that lets you taste anything you'd like. I love that.

Great news on the Rick Nichols Room completion. Does this bode well for the Heartland Gathering? :smile:


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120507nicholsroom.jpg

The new multi-purpose room at the Reading Terminal Market, named after semi-retired Inquirer food columnist Rick Nichols, opened while I was away in Wisconsin. Today it was nearly full for the noontime lunch crowd.

Most of the time the room will simply be another seating section at center court, but the market plans to make it available for groups via reservation, and for special events. It can also be combined with the kitchen area at La Cuchina at the Market, Anna Florio's adjacent cooking school classroom.

Later this spring the market will add to the back wall of the room an exhibit on the history of the market, created in cooperation with the Philadelphia History Museum (formerly known as the Atwater Kent).

The seating in center court environs -- recently upgraded with new chairs and tables -- temporarily expanded this winter into the area that formerly housed The Spice Terminal. When Wursthaus Schmitz begins construction of its new stall, that extra space will disappear.

This is all part of the Avenue D Project at the market, which is nearing completion. As part of that program, L. Halteman Family recently rejiggered and expanded its space, renaming part of it Riehl Deli & Cheese. Work is also progressing on the space along Avenue D for Valley Shepherd Creamery and the Tubby Olive. Another new vendor, The Head Nut, will begin work on its stall under the mezzanine soon.

The market has yet to announce a new tenant for the space created by the retirement of Coasal Cave's owner. Also up in the air is what will become of Delilah's: officially she could still return, but that appears more and more unlikely as time rolls by since the business was put into bankruptcy.


Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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120512artichokes.jpg

According to Wikipedia, artichokes are so named because you can choke on the heart of them. I can't vouch for that etymology, but these huge examples of the globe artichoke (about 4-5 inches in diameter) on sale Iovine Brother's Produce in the Reading Terminal Market today certainly require more than one bite. They were priced at two for a buck.

Another frequently dear item that could be found at a bargain price: limes. Five for a buck.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Lots to report, so here's a roundup of what's new at the market:

The Halteman Split

L. Halteman Family settled into its new footprint occasioned by the Reading Terminal Market's Avenue D renovation, but split itself into two distinct businesses: Riehl Deli & Cheeze Shop for (surprise) cheeses and cold cuts, and L. Halteman, continuing to sell beef, pork, poultry, bacon and other smoked meats, as well as local produce.

Although both parts are owned by the Riehl family (which took over from Lester Halteman a decade or so ago), they're attempting to separate the businesses which may formally part sometime down the road. In the meantime, if you buy some fresh meat but also want to purchase slice ham, you'll have to make two stops.

The deli part of the operation also changed its procedures. Previously, cold cuts were sliced to order. Now, they're pre-sliced and placed in trays. It looks pretty, and I understand the efficiencies the system brings to the business, but as a customer I liked seeing the cold cuts sliced to order to my desired thickness or thinness.

Nichols Room Dedication

Mayor Nutter will join in the official ribbon cutting of the Rick Nichols Room June 18 at 10 a.m. and the exhibition of the market's history and its role in the region's food system on the new multi-purpose area's back wall. New signate will be installed next week.

The ceremony kicks off a week of special events celebrating the market's $3.4 million Avenue D renovation program. For the remainder of the week special programs will be held in the Nichols Room and the adjacent La Cuchina at the Market kitchen, which can be turned into a single space by opening the sliding doors. Market merchants, local chefs, authors and leaders of the Philadelphia regional food system will be featured in the programs.

The market and La Cuchina at the Market apparently resolved their differences over the kitchen school's flooring. As designed, the floor was the original slighty sloping surface, installed when the market opened in 1892 to allow water drainage from ice. La Cuchina proprietor Anna Florio was concerned that the sloping floor could lead to falls and injuries. A new floor with new tiles was installed to provide a level surface, which requires a slight step up from center court. The Nichols Room retains its sloping floor.

More on Avenue D Project

The dedication of the Nichols room won't mark the end of the Avenue D renovations, since work will continue well into the summer on spaces the project created for new vendors: Valley Shepherd Creamery, the Head Nut, the Tubby Olive and Wursthaus Schmitz. A vendor has yet to be selected for a small (less than 250-square feet) space adjacent to Wursthaus Schmitz along Avenue D.

The market also has to find new vendors to fill the slots vacated by Delilah's and Coast Cave. Legalities still have to be resolved with the bankruptcy trustee for Delilah's before a new tenant can be signed there. Coastal Cave closed earlier this spring when its owner retired. RTM General Manager Paul Steinke said he's close to signing with a hybrid retail/take-away operator (product line unspecified) for the Coastal Cafe spot.

The market was unhappy with its floor tile selection of the new restrooms -- the white tiles simply showed too much soil no matter how frequently they were cleaned. Gray tiles were installed in the women's rest room this past week; the men's room gets the makeover Monday night.

Just outside the restrooms you may spy new icons installed this week into the wall: split silhouettes, one female, one male, on the appropriate side of the common entryway.

But There's Still Lobsters

Coastal Cave may be gone, but late last month the market's board approved changes in the leases of two fishmongers, Golden and John Yi, to include the sale of live lobsters. They'll be installing their own tanks rather than taking over Coastal Cave's old ones, which the market probably will scrap.

For Mother's Day sales, John Yi was selling live lobsters today, which can be maintained outside of water for four to five days when properly packed and refrigerated.

More Parking, New Discount Program

The parking garage on 11th street between Arch and Filbert will soon join the market's parking program, with a maximum of two hours for $4. (You'll pay considerably more if you overstay your welcome.) With the Parkway Garage on 12th Street still part of the program, the market expands considerably its discount parking capacity. Merchants, however, will have to have two separate validation machines, one for each garage. The second garage should begin to offer the discounts on or about July 1.

The market's gift certificate program is going to plastic from paper. Nearly 60 of the market's 72 current merchants signed up for the program, which eases the record-keeping for market's back office. As soon as the plastic cards are delivered the program will start.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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The deli part of the operation also changed its procedures. Previously, cold cuts were sliced to order. Now, they're pre-sliced and placed in trays. It looks pretty, and I understand the efficiencies the system brings to the business, but as a customer I liked seeing the cold cuts sliced to order to my desired thickness or thinness.

I used to run the deli operations for the Wisconsin IGA distributor. There was a constant debate over slicing to order vs.displaying the cold meats presliced. The disadvantage of preslicings is the moisture loss (a pound of evaporated water costs as much as a pound of cold cuts) and that slower moving cold cuts deteriorated day to day. The advantage of preslicing is that we sold significantly more cold cuts when they were displayed sliced - both more eye appeal and, for the meek, the deli workers aren't burdened by being asked to slice individual orders.

In high volume delis we presliced. In slower delis, we sliced to order.

Incidently, the coldcuts and smoked meats we sold came from Usinger's and Klemments, both old-time Milwaukee and German sausage makers. The quality and variety was unsurpassed.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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Incidently, the coldcuts and smoked meats we sold came from Usinger's and Klemments, both old-time Milwaukee and German sausage makers. The quality and variety was unsurpassed.

Ah! So that's where you learned about Usinger's. We just got back from Wisconsin with a cooler full of good stuff, including summer sausages from both processors, as well as Danish pastries from Racine. Also managed to fit in a case of beer in the trunk: Leinie's original and Spotted Cow.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Along with the rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal Market unveiled the season's first English peas, sugar snap peas, and cucumbers.

Prices were dear on the peas: $7.99/pound on both the English peas in the pod and the sugar snaps. Ben Kauffman also had shelled English peas, which if I recall correctly were priced at $7.99 for what looked like a half-pint container. Ben says he does the shelling by hand, not machine. Also showing up this week at Kauffman's: beets, scallions, and radishes.

I would expect farmers' markets this week to also start displaying local peas.

Over at Iovine's the local strawberries were there, but hard to find. More prominently displayed were clamshell packs of California "stemberries" -- huge berries still showing stem -- at quite reasonable prices. If you want a strawberry as a centerpiece, this is for you, but even though the flavor is decent, they still can't compare with the locals.

The best bargain in local berries I've seen so far is at L. Halteman, which had pints for $3.29 and quarts for $5.79.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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John Yi Fish Market has got live and cooked lobsters, but no lobster tank, at least not yet. Golden Seafood has a new tank, but it isn't filled. Both intend to rectify their respective situations soon.

Live lobsters are once again regularly available at the Reading Terminal Market, something that hasn't happened since Coastal Cave closed with its owner's retirement April 1.

At $11.99 a pound, John Yi's lobsters are a trifle dear, but that's pretty much the standard once you get away from the Maine and Nova Scotia coasts. In Portland, Maine, last week, 1-1/8 pounders were selling for $3.99 at wharfside fish markets, 1-1/2 pounders $4.99, some of the lowest prices in years for softshell (newly molted) lobsters, which are more common that hardshells during the summer months. (And no, you can't eat the shell of softshells as you can softshell crabs.)

Pot Pie Savings

Chicken and turkey pot pies are more of an autumn or winter thing for me, but if you enjoy them in the summer. you can safe $1.75 on a small pie if you head over to Martin's Quality Meats in the Reading Terminal Market. Where Fair Food sells the small pies for $12.50, Martin's asks $10.75, iirc.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Lester Halteman Dies

Funeral services were held today for Lester Halteman, 76, who operated the eponymous butcher shop and deli in the Reading Terminal Market until he sold the business and retired about a decade ago. He died July 6 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

L. Halteman Country Foods started out as a poultry purveyor, but expanded over the years to include fresh meats, deli meats and cheeses. Amos Riehl continues the business today.

Lester and his wife Millie were featured in "Reading Terminal Market: A Family History", a video recounting the history of the market through interviews with long-time merchants. They were among the honored attendees when the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association premiered the video at a gala party in the market in 2009.

In the video the Haltemans "told vivid stories from their long tenure. In fact some of the best moments in the film were theirs," wrote RTM General Manager in an email announcing Lester's death.

In recent years a number of the market's long-time merchants have died. Most recently, Domenic Spataro, whose son continues the family sandwich business, died in January at age 96. Butcher Harry Ochs died at age 80 in December 2009, just a few months after the video's premiere party.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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When it comes to hamburgers, I ask the butcher to grind meat to order for me. It's not that I don't think the pre-ground meat at a good butcher shop isn't good -- it usually is. (I'm always a bit more suspect of the pre-ground meats I find at supermarkets, especially if it's ground off-site by a larger processor.)

I ask for grinding to order because I prefer chuck rather than round and/or sirloin, or the less desirable cuts found in "hamburger". I think the flavor of meat ground from the chuck far superior to others. And since I prefer my burgers cooked very rare, I don't want the meat sitting around, even for less than a day, after grinding, giving any bacteria a chance to multiply.

Usually I ask Charles Giunta to grind up chuck for me at the Reading Terminal Market. But earlier this week when I stopped by Charles was busy and said I'd have to wait about an hour until he had a chance. Since my meter was just about expired, I thanked him and went to his brother's shop, Martin's Quality Meats.

When I asked the counterman for chuck, he tried to steer me (pun intentional) to the "ground sirloin" on display, priced at $2.99 a pound vs. the $4.59 I'd pay for chuck. "It's chuck, too," he said.

I suggested he look at his butcher's chart: sirloin comes from the back end of the animal, chuck from the shoulder. Either the ground meat was chuck and it was wrongly labelled, or he was fibbing. And I doubted it was chuck because if it was, he wouldn't be selling it for $1.60 less a pound that unground chuck, even accounting for the extra fat that's usually thrown into ground meat.

"I'm just trying to save you money," he said. I thanked him for the consideration, but said I preferred chuck and am willing to pay for it. He finally relented and ground a hunk of chuck roast to order -- I asked him to de-bone a piece of short rib and throw that into the grinder as well to provide a bit more fat as well as flavor.

I wound up with a bit over two pounds of ground meat for a bit over $11, enough for seven five-ounce burgers (I don't like behemoth burgers, like the half-pounders you tend to find at too many pubs). They were tasty and good. But I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the buying experience.

I don't know why the counterman tried to get me to buy the ground sirloin, other than his stated reason of trying to save me a buck or two. Maybe he simply didn't want to take the time to run it through the grinder, though there weren't many customers and his co-workers could easily handle others while he was tied up serving me.

This is hardly the only example of unclear or downright untruthful labeling to be found.

I've written before about the loosey-goosey nomenclature for salmon. John Yi at the Reading Terminal continues to sell "Wild Organic King Salmon". What that really means is that it's farm-raised king which had been fed "organic" feed.

Since it's Alaskan salmon season I had a hankering today for king (also known as chinook) salmon. Over at John Yi's they had "Wild King Salmon" at $17.99/pound, a relative bargain. But when I asked where it was from I was told it was New Zealand.

There's no such thing as a commercial king salmon fishery in New Zealand. There is, however, a substantial farm-raised king industry; indeed, New Zealand is the world's largest producer of this product. I don't have any qualm about the quality of the product; my issue is misleading labelling by retailers.

(There is some "wild" sea-run king salmon in New Zealand, but it's not fished commercially. It was brought to Kiwiland in the late 19th century in form of eggs from California kings in an attempt to establish the species there as a sport fishery.)

At the Reading Terminal Market Yi's and Golden Fish do have truly wild Alaskan salmon right now: sockeye priced at about $14 a pound; it's also an excellent fish like truly wild king, but it has a slightly different flavor profile and the filets are considerably thinner.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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More Musical Chairs: Downtown Cheese, Nanee's to move

Downtown Cheese will take over much of the Piano Court and Nanee's Kitchen will switch to the vacant Coastal Cave spot this fall.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke eventually hopes to lure a Latin American (but not Mexican) merchant to Nanee's spot. Farmer Steve Bowes, who occupies day tables in the Piano Court, will also be shifted as part of the shuffle.

All this means there will be a few less seats for lunchers in peak hours. But since Nanee's move to a larger space also requires them to add South Asian groceries in addition to their lunch items, it reinforces the market's mission to sell foods to be cooked and consumed at home. The product line will include spices and chutneys; let's also hope they include dried legumes and items like chick pea flour.

Jack Morgan, proprietor of Downtown Cheese, has had additional refrigerated display cases in storage since he had to close his second shop at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, where DiBruno's takes up his former space and a whole lot more, probably about a quarter of that venue's square footage. When Morgan moves, probably in November if all goes well, Downtown Cheese will have an L-shaped layout. He also believes being located across the aisle from Metropolitan Bakery and Blue Mountain Vineyards will be beneficial.

Taste of Norway Takes Day Stall

Although Coastal Cave has been closed since April, you can still buy seafood at that spot in the Reading Terminal Market. At least until Nanee's moves in.

Taste of Norway, started by Norway's Honorary Consul in Philadelphia, Erik Torp, and Swedish entrepreneur Jonas Vesterberg, is importing smoked salmon and steelhead and selling them at a day stall in the former Coastal Cave stall. They'll be there at least a couple of months, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to closing. If it works out well they'll try to be there at least through Christmas and New Year's, though probably at a different location depending on Nanee's schedule.

Right now their product offerings are limited to cold smoked Atlantic salmon and steelhead salmon; the latter is actually the farm-raised version of sea-run rainbow trout. Erik and Jonas also plan to sell salmon burgers at the stall.

The cold smoked fishes were being sold at a relative bargain: $10 for an eight-ounce package. That's no more (and even a little bit less in many instances) than you'd pay at supermarkets for pre-sliced, packaged smoked salmon. (And much of what's labelled "Norwegian" in the supermarkets is actually Norwegian salmon that's been shipped to Poland for smoking and packaging, where processing costs are cheaper.)

While I prefer hand-sliced belly lox or nova to pre-sliced, packaged product, Taste of Norway's offerings are sure to please. I tried the steelhead on a buttered baguette and found it well-satisfied my cold smoked fish craving. The steelhead is a tad milder, I'm told, than the Atlantic salmon.

I'm not averse to purchasing farm-raised salmon when I know it's been produced in a safe and reasonably environmentally-benign manner. That's the case with Norwegian salmon, whose pens are scattered in the deep cold-water fiords all along the nation's west coast. For example, the Norwegian aquaculture industry ensures the fish is raised in a low-density environment, at least 97.5 percent of open water volume per pen to allow the salmon the freedom to grow to full size in a clean and natural environment. (Sounds a lot nicer to be an industrial salmon in Norway than industrial chicken in Delmarva.) In addition, Taste of Norway's producers raise fish that are hormone-free, not genetically modified and free of artificial ingredients.

Jámon Ibérico de Bellota

Downtown Cheese has Jámon Ibérico de Bellota back in stock at a necessarily pricey $159/pound. I treated myself to an ounce for my birthday last January and the only worthwhile description of its taste I can offer is this: Ham butter. The free-roaming pigs rely on fallen acorns for their diet.

In addition to a broad and deep selection of cheeses, Downtown offers some tasty cold cuts, primarily Italian style. Some are imported, but some are locally made, like the soppressata from Claudio's, which also supplies the RTM stall with fresh mozzarella and riccota.

Tubby Olive, Head Nut open

Two new vendors raced to open their new stores at the Reading Terminal Market, and both opened over Labor Day weekend.

The Tubby Olive had its full stock of bulk olive oils and vinegars in place for opening day. It's located along the back wall of Avenue D, next to the Rick Nichols Room across the aisle from Molly Malloy's.

The Head Nut still has plenty of shelves to fill, but you can find spices and herbs for just about any cooking need. One I found that, if I recall correctly the old Spice Terminal didn't stock, is Za'atar, the Middle Eastern blend of sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and a variety of dried herbs (which vary depending on who's doing the blending, though thyme and marjoram are frequent components).

Wursthaus Schmitz is still under construction, with little more than the framing in place last time I looked. Still, if the pace picks up they could be open by the end of the month.

Valley Shepherd Creamery finally has all its permits in line, so construction could start soon.

The market has four additional spaces to fill.

Late last month it held a "cook-off" for four soul-food outfits contending to fill the former Delilah's space. Members of the market staff and board were among the tasters. No decision yet.

The market also will need to fill the spaces now occupied by Downtown Cheeser and Nanee's Kitchen.

A fourth space yet to be filled is a sort of "end cap" wedged inbetween Wursthaus Schmitz and the Avenue D aisle. The market hasn't even begun to fill that tiny space yet.

Winter Produce, Tropical Fruit

Pumpkins and winter squash filled a market cart at Iovine Brother's Produce by one of their Reading Terminal Market checkout lanes. The cart is alongside the Filbert Street (Harry Ochs Way) windows until Tuesday, when new refrigeration units for mushrooms and other items are installed.

Produce from warmer climes made its way to Iovine's shelves this week, too. It's the end of the season for citrus fruits in South Africa, so the Iovine's are selling large, juice-laden Mineola oranges at three for a buck.

Dragonfruit from tropical lattitudes and prickly pear (cactus pear) from the arid deserts of the southwest U.S. and Mexico also made their appearance this week, as in photo below.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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KeVen Parker's plans to expand his Ms. Tootsie's restaurant brand through franchising, disclosed in the Philadelphia Daily News a few weeks ago, won't earn him any points in the competition to succeed Delilah's at the Reading Terminal Market.

Parker's South Street soul food operation is among the four contenders to fill the space Delilah was forced to vacate last spring when her business went bankrupt. In late August the four took shifts in the market kitchen at La Cucina to serve their food to RTM board members and staff. The board is expected to make a decision at its late September regular meeting.

Although the market tolerates the few vendors who have operated a limited number of other outside venues (the owner of Downtown cheese used to operate a shop at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, and Delilah at one time had three or four operations going at the same time), it doesn't condone franchising. Though Parker's proposed RTM stall would be his own, rather than franchised, if the brand is franchised that might put his chances to gain space at the RTM at risk.

Right now, though, it's only conjecture, since Parker's plan to franchise Ms. Tootsie's is only that, a plan.

According to PDN columnist Jenice Armstrong's article, Parker is "looking to franchise the Ms. Tootsie's restaurant and KDP Lifestyle store and Luxury Suites brand next year in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington."


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I don't mean to pick on Martin's at the Reading Terminal Market (see my previous post about the shop's ground meat labelling), but where's the "eye" in this ribeye steak?

It's there, but hardly more than two or three bites. All the rest is bone and "deckle".

Now it happens that this would be perfect steak for me. The deckle is the fattier meat surrounding the ribeye, and it's more frequently known as ribeye cap. I love it: flavorful and tender because of all that fat marbled through it.

But that high a proportion of deckle to ribeye is not what most people expect when buying a ribeye steak, a.k.a. Delmonico. In case the steak was cut from one of the ends of the rib primal (I'm guessing the chuck end rather than the short loin, from whence strip steaks and porterhouses reside).

By the way, deckle is not a specific cut of meat, rather, it's a term to describe any piece of fattier meat normally cut along with leaner meat. Get a whole brisket (as opposed to the "first cut" you usually see) and it will have a huge, fatty, flavorful adjunct of deckle. The best tasting brisket you'll ever have will be one cooked whole with the deckle.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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If you're a regular at the Reading Terminal Market this is probably a familiar face.

Alan Segal has greeted visitors to the market from the information stand at the 12th and Filbert entrance for 17 years, dispensing information and market wisdom to tourists and city denizens alike.

He was honored this morning at a meeting of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association for his years of helpful service. The retired Navy man was honored along with Sgt. Anthony Rappone of the Philadelphia Police Department. Sgt. Rappone, assigned to the convention center, helps market merchants in cutting down on thefts and other security matters.

I first met Alan when he was among the regulars of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, an informal group organized by Pennsylvania General Store co-owner Michael Holahan (who is current president of the merchants' association). The SMBC met every Saturday to discuss food topics, including hearing from guest speakers like Harold McGee, Fritz Blanc and others.

[Moderator note: This topic continues in Reading Terminal Market (Part 3, 2013–)]


Edited by Mjx Moderator note added. (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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