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MarketStEl

eG Foodblog: MarketStEl - My Excellent Sub/Urban Adventure

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Sandy, you are doing a beautiful job with lovely pictures and food!

Thanks for sharing, I'm really enjoying learning about your city.

I love the pics of the stations and the markets.

Btw, my daughter had a phase where she had Hello Kitty everything.

I recall Alton Brown cooking the sliders and you did a great job.

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[

On the good news side, I'm excited to see that there's actually a good wine/liquor outlet in Philadelphia!  Pennsylvania is notorious for their archaic, inconvenient alcohol distribution laws.  My folks live in West Chester and have been driving to Delaware and Maryland for years to buy beer, wine, and liquor.  My Mom got busted on 202 years ago coming back into PA with a case of wine, the cops were watching the liquor stores just over the border in Delaware and stopping people returning to PA.  My Mom the rumrunner, right.  Dad said at her hearing "if you had a decent wine store in PA, we wouldn't have to drive to Delaware!"

They fined her and confiscated the wine. :sad:

Penna was also sending liquour board agents over to hang out around the New Jersey liqour stores . On one memorable occassion, two Penna liquor board agents were arrested outside a NJ liquor store for "loitering".

"Though they were being slowly phased out when I arrived here in 1983, the old State Stores were thoroughly gloomy, depressing affairs with a counter at the front and everything else behind it. You walked into the store, flipped through a book if you didn't know what you wanted or needed to look up a price, then told the guy at the counter what you wanted and he would go get it for you."

Back in the early 60's when I was living in Phila, the stock in the stores tended to be what the big sellers in the neighborhood were. The closest store to the Reading Terminal was very well stocked with Thunderbird and Tiger Rose wine. To get anything decent you had to go up to the Rittenhouse Square area stores.

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Thanks for the Upper Darby stuff, I'll have to check out that east/west grocery store next time I'm heading to a show at the recently renovated Tower Theatre, one of my all time favorite live music venues. Great atmosphere and acoustics.

If we'd had food service like you showed at Widener when I went to Clemson in the late 70s, I'd have thought I'd died and gone to heaven! :laugh:

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...We took the train into Philly one day (I'm also a train maniac) & went to the Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first taste of Brie, among other delights.

Funny how things go, but of the hundreds of varieties of cheese out there, Brie is one of the few that don't float my boat. Unless it's baked, in which case it's wonderful.

Brie doesn't excite me much these days either, but 40 years ago, to a still wet-behind-the-ears college freshman..... OK I was about to dive into the cliched "it was a revelation!", which would be a bit exaggerated, but it was a memorable experience.

Delighted to see your photos of the new DiBruno's! We'd stumbled onto the South 18th St. version on our last trip, & wound up buying our travelling supper there for the train trip back to NJ. Watching the scenery float by the train window & savoring their wonderful pasta & veggies, also memorable. I wanted to go right back and order a half dozen other dishes that we had to forgo.

Thanks again for bringing the Philly area to life so well, this is terrific fun.

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"The podiatrist told me to do stretching exercises, get arch supports and roll my left foot over a frozen can of juice or food to fix the plantar fascitis." :shock:

You should get hazardous duty pay for doing all this hoofing around with plantar fasciitis. I know from experience how much that can hurt! Various types of shoe inserts have helped a lot, but they ain't cheap.

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"The podiatrist told me to do stretching exercises, get arch supports and roll my left foot over a frozen can of juice or food to fix the plantar fascitis."  :shock:

You should get hazardous duty pay for doing all this hoofing around with plantar fasciitis. I know from experience how much that can hurt!  Various types of shoe inserts have helped a lot, but they ain't cheap.

I'm wearing my Airwalk sneakers today. That helps a lot.

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Good afternoon...from Chester!

I had to come out to campus today to shoot a Shakespeare stagecraft workshop in Lathem Hall, home to our communications program, because a community weekly in Ridley Township wants a photo from the event, which included Ridley Middle School students performing scenes from "Macbeth."

Unfortunately, I dallied just a bit too much after coming back from the Reading Terminal Market, and missed the 1:17 to Elwyn. So I ended up taking the El to the 109 and got there 50 minutes into the two-hour event.

The Ridley middle schoolers were accommodating enough to re-enact the scene for me:

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In addition to scene acting, there were face painting, swordplay, costumes, videos, and accounting.

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And food:

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These hoagies came from Trio Cold Cuts, a deli about a mile from campus on MacDade Boulevard in Ridley Township, just past the interchange with the Blue Route (I-476). There were ham and cheese, roast beef and turkey. The basics--meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato--were already inside, but you had to finish the job yourself from the containers behind the hoagie tray to the left: Hot and sweet peppers, chopped onion, pickles, mayo and oil.

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For dessert, honey buns and Tastykakes, another local delicacy:

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The only thing not present were children from Chester, who were also invited to the event. The weather may have had something to do with that. Our string of gorgeous summery days ended this morning, which dawned gray in the gayborhood:

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and by 1 pm--an hour before the start of the workshop--it was raining buckets. The rain has let up now.

In any event, I received extra compensation for working on Saturday: Three hoagies, still wrapped, to take home.

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On the way to the office to upload these pix and post this, I heard a roar coming from behind the dorms on the right in this photo:

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Now I understand one more reason why people don't want freeways through their communities. Though the campus itself is tranquil, and there's very little traffic through it, the roar of the traffic on I-95, which runs right behind those dorms, is unstoppable.

I still have to upload the rest of the Reading Terminal Market photos, which are on my computer at home. You'll see those later this evening.

In the meantime, let's review the standings in the Trivia Quiz and get to our final Trivia Questions for the blog (yes, I'm offering a Weekend Double Edition).

I'm surprised more of you didn't respond to yesterday's Trivia Question, it was that easy. But thanks are due to mizducky for bringing back memories of Frank Zappa's outrageousness:

They left that night, crunchin' across the Mojave Desert . . . their voices echoing through the canyons of your minds (POO-AAH!)

"ETHELL, wanna get a cuppa cawfee?"

(Howard Johnson's! Howard Johnson's!

Howard Johnson's! Howard Johnson's!)

"Ahhh! there's a HOWARD JOHNSONS! Wanna eat some CLAMS?"

From "Billy the Mountain,", off his album Just Another Band from L.A.

Yes, that was originally a HoJo's. The architecture remains distinctive enough, I figured this one to be a no-brainer.

So I'm surprised I only got seven responses, counting Ellen's. The other correct respondents were ghostrider, suzilightning, annarborfoodie, judiu, Sancerre and Nina C.

Now to the first of today's two Trivia Questions, which concerns a distinctively Philadelphian breakfast item--scrapple. (You'll have to wait for the RTM tour to see some.)

This is perhaps the ultimate in "mystery meat." As some would have it, it's whatever parts of the pig that remain after the rest is butchered, mixed in with corn meal and spices and cooked into a loaf. To eat it, you slice some off the loaf, pan-fry it, and chow down--maybe with a little maple syrup on top.

Here's the question:

True or false? Scrapple is so named because it is made from animal scraps.

The second Trivia Question is about local geographical features.

One of the reasons Philadelphia is such a walker's paradise is because the streets are narrow and the blocks are relatively short. Within Center City, there are only two--excuse me, three--wide streets: Broad, Market and Vine. The first two have been wide from the beginning, as they are the principal axes of the original 1682 city (in the numbering system, Broad Street takes the place of 14th). Astride what should be their intersection is Center Square, on which sits Philadelphia City Hall, the largest and one of the grandest municipal buildings in the country, an elaborate Second Empire pile that took 30 years and millions more than it should have to complete, thanks to the city's legendary political corruption. (I'll try to get a photo for you.) Vine Street was widened in 1955 to provide a quicker connection between the Schuylkill Expressway and the Ben Franklin Bridge; completion of the sunken Vine Street Expressway about a decade ago made the street safe for pedestrians to cross once again.

But most city streets are no wider than this one--South 11th, looking north from Bainbridge, one block below South:

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Yet in a few locations, these narrow streets suddenly become very wide, as South 11th does south of Bainbridge:

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Today's second Trivia Question is: Why?

See you after I finish my grocery shopping when I get back into town.

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... on which sits Philadelphia City Hall, the largest and one of the grandest municipal buildings in the country, an elaborate Second Empire pile that took 30 years and millions more than it should have to complete, thanks to the city's legendary political corruption. (I'll try to get a photo for you.)...

This is what Philadelphia City Hall looked like around Christmas time this past year.

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Some French lighting firm was contracted to take photos of the building, colorize them and then reproject the colorized pictures back onto the building facades perfectly matched to every minute detail. It looked really beautiful and made you feel like you'd stumbled into Oz or down a rabbit hole. Very cool.

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Have you offered to satisfy the curiosity of your fellow passengers?

The answer is yes but you'd be surprise how many folks say no thanks. Only one person so far pharmacy student from richmond accepted.

Why DC cannot have food trucks like those in Phili (sighhh).

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...Btw, my daughter had a phase where she had Hello Kitty everything...

Oh, dear, Sandy, is that a naughty thing to you? I'm fairly well stocked with Hello Kitty, and I'm 43! Will my Transformers collection redeem me in your eyes? That, and the fact that I drop major dime in Philly lately! :biggrin:

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... on which sits Philadelphia City Hall, the largest and one of the grandest municipal buildings in the country, an elaborate Second Empire pile that took 30 years and millions more than it should have to complete, thanks to the city's legendary political corruption. (I'll try to get a photo for you.)...

This is what Philadelphia City Hall looked like around Christmas time this past year.

gallery_7409_476_27026.jpg

Some French lighting firm was contracted to take photos of the building, colorize them and then reproject the colorized pictures back onto the building facades perfectly matched to every minute detail. It looked really beautiful and made you feel like you'd stumbled into Oz or down a rabbit hole. Very cool.

Thank you for posting this photo, Katie.

The Christmastime light show was the coolest thing to happen to City Hall since...well, since it was built.

Architectural fashions being what they are, City Hall went unappreciated by Philadelphians for many decades. In fact, in the early 1930s, legendary Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon proposed that the entire building be razed except for the tower.

By the 1980s, the building had come back into favor, much as the works of local architect Frank Furness did. A massive reconstruction project aimed at reversing decades of neglect and restoring City Hall to its original condition has been under way for some time now. The west facade is completely restored and lit at night now; it looks spectacular. (The photo Katie posted is of the west side of City Hall.)

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Now, back to yesterday morning.

It started with a corned beef special for the roomie from the Pac a Deli:

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Calling this store a "convenience store" is actually something of a misnomer, for it has a somewhat more extensive product selection than the typical convenience store. For starters, it has a full deli counter, but then, many Philadelphia convenience stores do, Wawa (about which more later) having set the standard.

But not even Wawa carries products like these:

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(BTW, the Pac a Deli was a Wawa once upon a time. Wawa Inc.--which owns, not franchises, its stores--has high standards for maintenance and safety, and stores it deems below the threshold get closed or sold--as this one did in the early 1990s.)

One other thing the Pac a Deli has is beer (behind the deli guy in the first photo). The store obtained a take-out beer license about a year ago.

With roomie taken care of, I set off to do a little grocery shopping, via the roundabout route. My ultimate destination was the Reading Terminal Market, but since it's right next door, I figured that I'd detour via Chinatown:

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Oops! That's the Aramark Tower at 11th and Market. I though you might want to see what I meant when I referred to it as a "Neo-Deco" structure. It's actually a very well-mannered skyscraper and a good complement to the landmark PSFS Building across Market one block west. (The PSFS Building, a National Historic Landmark structure built in 1932, is the first Modernist skyscraper in the United States.)

Let's try again, one block north and one block east:

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This is the "Gate of Heavenly Peace," the official entrance to Philadelphia's compact Chinatown, at 10th and Arch streets. This neighborhood is constantly fighting to survive against multiple pressures--the Convention Center immediately to its west, the Vine Expressway on its north, no room to grow in the other two directions at all, and the general real estate boom all around.

Somehow, it manages. Which is good, because it preserves not only another bit of history--Philadelphia's is one of the nation's older Chinatowns--but also many good places to eat, some of which I've been to. Like this one, right across Arch Street from the gate:

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(Aside: The street signs within Chinatown include the street names in Chinese characters. I guess the Streets Department was being a bit too literal about Chinatown's boundaries here.)

This is not the best pho house in the city--IMO, that honor belongs to Pho 75 on Washington Avenue, a huge room with all the charm of a high school cafeteria but excellent soup, and others would argue that it belongs to Pho Xe Lua in the 900 block of Race Street, a place I should have eaten at by now because "xe lua" apparently means "the train" in Vietnamese and there's a big neon locomotive in its front window. (Actually, a bunch of PhillieGulleteers did organize an outing to Xe Lua a few months back, but it was closed on the night we picked, and we ended up "settling" for Rangoon, around the corner on 9th Street, instead. I believe there is full documentation of our feast that night on the Pennsylvania board.)

However, it was convenient for both me and the Harvard classmate I was meeting, a Harvard Medical School professor who was in town for a wedding and had only a little time to spare. (If you're reading this, Ashok, drop me a line.)

I see there's a new addition to the lineup next door, not yet open, but it looks like it will be soon:

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Two blocks west, and I've arrived:

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"The Greatest Public Market in America" actually traces its history to the market stalls in the middle of High Street that date back to the early 1700s. High Street became so identified with the market in its middle that its name was changed to Market Street in the 1750s. By the mid-19th century, the food vendors who occupied the stalls had all been relocated to a large lot at 12th and Market. When the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad picked this site to build its grand new Philadelphia terminal in 1892, it offered to house the food stalls in space beneath the trainshed, and the Reading Terminal Market was born.

The market has had its ups and downs over the years; by the early 1980s, it had few merchants and was in danger of closing. The Reading Company made a major investment that reinvigorated the market, and under its current owner--the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority--it's gotten even better.

(I had hoped to introduce you to Paul Steinke, the general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, who shares with me a strong interest in trains and mass transit--he once served on SEPTA's Citizen Advisory Board and recommended me for an open seat [i didn't get it]--on this trip. But it turns out Paul's on vacation. :sad: )

The RTM is a food lover's Nirvana, full of--well, I'll let one of their marketing posters do the talking:

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It doesn't matter whether you're hungry for something right now, or want fresh food to cook at home later--you can find it here.

Remember that soul food place in 30th Street Station I told you about earlier? Here's its original location:

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It's part of a string of eateries that line the 12th Street side of the market, including Bassett's ice cream, which is quite possibly the best in America:

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There's also a chocolate maker whose kitchen is right inside the market:

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and one of whose creations made "Ripley's Believe It or Not!":

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Jack McDavid, who I mentioned earlier in this blog, has a popular restaurant, the Down Home Diner, in the market as well.

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And for hoagies, there are few in Philly better than those made by Salumeria:

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which also has a good selection of cheeses from around the world on the other side of their stand.

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But Salumeria isn't even the best cheese shop in the market. That honor goes to Downtown Cheese:

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which is IMO the only cheese shop in town that gives DiBruno's a run for its money.

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Nothing pre-wrapped here, no siree:

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Nearby is one of the city's best butchers:

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The city named Filbert Street, which runs past the market on its south, in Harry Ochs' honor about four years ago.

They specialize in dry aged steaks and great smoked sausage:

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and they'll be happy to send you some.

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I usually buy fresh sausage from the butcher next door, though.

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Sausage is what they do best:

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One of the great things about Philadelphia is that it's just down the road from Lancaster County. Some of the best foodstuffs in the world come from the Amish who settled in the area--the "Pennsylvania Dutch" (they're actually German; the mislabeling comes from what the Germans call themselves).

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The Pennsylvania Dutch merchants have a section all their own, in the market's northwest corner. They are only open Wednesday through Saturday, which is another reason why the market is mobbed on Saturdays.

In peak season, the Kauffmans' farm stand is overflowing with Lancaster County produce; in the off-season, arts, crafts and nonperishable items dominate. But on this Saturday, a sign of what's to come is already on display:

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(Doesn't that asparagus look great?)

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This is where the Trivia Contest prize will come from:

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They sell handcrafts as well as food:

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As Easter was only one week ago, there are plenty of these Just Born treats from Bethlehem in stock as well.

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I used to buy bread from this bakery regularly when it had a retail store on Antique Row (Pine Street from 10th to 12th), but haven't bought much from them lately. I should get back in the habit:

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Market management is big on supporting local farmers and food producers, and between Metropolitan Bakery and the Dutch corner can be found some of the best locally produced foods around. If I weren't so broke, I'd probably have picked up something from the Fair Food Farmstand today...

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...like these fabulous locally grown mushrooms.

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(Actually, when it comes to mushrooms, everything--even the ones you find in the supermarkets--is locally grown. Kennett Square, in Chester County, is "The Mushroom Capital of the World," where most of the mushrooms sold in the U.S. are grown.)

And I definitely would have shelled out for some of this:

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This is Pennsylvania Noble, the best Cheddar I've ever eaten, bar none. It's made by a Swiss emigré who settled in Lancaster County and started a dairy farm, Green Valley Dairy. It's a cave-aged, raw milk cheese (Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states where raw milk and raw milk products may legally be sold anywhere, to anyone) produced by cows fed a diet of grass, and only grass. This is a cheese that changes with the seasons--the winter variety is a little sharper than the summer version--and has plenty of character. It's won plenty of awards, including one of these:

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and it's worth every penny of the $20 per pound charged.

Remember where I said I didn't much care for Brie? Green Valley Dairy's Christiana Brie--the only Brie produced in the United States--may make me reconsider:

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There's also a limited-edition white Noble.

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By the way, the proprietor, who comes to the market every Saturday:

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is also a man on a mission.

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I hate to leave you in mid-tour like this, but it's now 10:30 a.m. I have to get the Sunday papers, and if I'm to have any hope of getting some pictures of the Italian Market at all, I've got to go now. See you again in a while.

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"which is IMO the only cheese shop in town that gives DiBruno's a run for its money."

Hey, what about Claudio's?

Someone on 9th street once told me you're either a Claudio's person or a DiBruno's person but you can't be both. It just happened that I was introduced to Claudio's first. I frequent both places when I hit the Italian market (sshhhh! :cool: ) and find them to excel at different things. Claudio's has a smaller selection and seems to concentrate on the top notch product from Italy. Dibruno's has wider, more international selection of great quality cheeses and meats and also makes fantastic cheese spreads and mozarella/prosciutto rolls to die for. Both places have great selections of cured sausages.

The only sad thing is the atmosphere at Claudio's isn't the same since its namesake proprietor passed away prematurely a few years back. I still remember him sitting my 5 year old niece on the counter and hand feeding her cold cuts and cheese like a princess, he was a piece of south Philly work.

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"which is IMO the only cheese shop in town that gives DiBruno's a run for its money."

Hey, what about Claudio's?

Someone on 9th street once told me you're either a Claudio's person or a DiBruno's person but you can't be both.  It just happened that I was introduced to Claudio's first.  I frequent both places when I hit the Italian market (sshhhh! :cool: ) and find them to excel at different things.  Claudio's has a smaller selection and seems to concentrate on the top notch product from Italy.  Dibruno's has wider, more international selection of great quality cheeses and meats and also makes fantastic cheese spreads and mozarella/prosciutto rolls to die for.  Both places have great selections of cured sausages.

The only sad thing is the atmosphere at Claudio's isn't the same since its namesake proprietor passed away prematurely a few years back.  I still remember him sitting my 5 year old niece on the counter and hand feeding her cold cuts and cheese like a princess, he was a piece of south Philly work.

Claudio's or DiBruno's?

Bryant's or Gates'?

I understand these theological arguments very well. I guess I've made my declaration of faith with the quote to which you responded. Besides, I love variety, and DiBruno's has a wider variety of cheeses than Claudio's, as you note above.

However, when I buy fresh Mozzarella, I get it at Claudio's gorgeous fresh Mozzarella shop, a separate store right next to the main store. (Pictures of both DiBruno's and Claudio's will be forthcoming.)

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Sandy,

Your blog is a thing of wonder. Great shots of the RTM. Everytime I come to Philadelphia for any reason I go to the RTM. Sometimes I come just to go to the RTM. In honor of your tireless efforts at this blog I will refrain from my usual comments on your opinion of the Commonwealth west of the Schuykill. Love this so much and thanks for showing the best of Philadelphia to all.

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The Christmastime light show was the coolest thing to happen to City Hall since...well, since it was built.

Architectural fashions being what they are, City Hall went unappreciated by Philadelphians for many decades.  In fact, in the early 1930s, legendary Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon proposed that the entire building be razed except for the tower.

By the 1980s, the building had come back into favor, much as the works of local architect Frank Furness did.  A massive reconstruction project aimed at reversing decades of neglect and restoring City Hall to its original condition has been under way for some time now.  The west facade is completely restored and lit at night now; it looks spectacular.  (The photo Katie posted is of the west side of City Hall.)

Gosh that's a splendid light display!

In researching Sandy's 2nd trivia question, I ran across the interesting fact that the Philly City Hall is the tallest building in the world that doesn't have a steel support system at its core.

It's something to sit & contemplate while savoring a takeaway mozz & tomato salad from DiBruno's.

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Oh, man~

I haven't been to the RTM since 1980 ! It sure has changed. And the Kennet Square mushrooms.......... :wub:

I am SO jealous!

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Sandy,

Your blog is a thing of wonder.  Great shots of the RTM. Everytime I come to Philadelphia for any reason I go to the RTM. Sometimes I come just to go to the RTM.  In honor of your tireless efforts at this blog I will refrain from my usual comments on your opinion of the Commonwealth west of the Schuykill.  Love this so much and thanks for showing the best of Philadelphia to all.

Thanks, Mike, and thanks for the compliment. Just like its biggest city, Pennsylvania is a wonderful place, really--but sometimes, again like Philadelphia, it's wonderful in spite of itself.

Growing up as I did in Missouri--a state that has a few things in common with Pennsylvania, including an aging population and two large cities at either end that don't see eye-to-eye on most things--I think I understand the dynamics of the state, even if I may express them in a very Phillycentric fashion. How could I do otherwise? It is the part of the state I know best, after all. I'll leave it to you to correct my ignorance of other matters.

Edited to add: Now I have to head to South Philly to meet up with a bunch of pizza-hungry fellow gluttons. More tours--and more pictures, and the answer to the final two Trivia Questions--to follow. There's still time to submit your guesses to what appear to be two real stumpers!


Edited by MarketStEl (log)

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One other good reason to go to Claudio's: Their name brand dried pasta is some of the best I've ever had. Great flavor and texture in a bunch of interesting shapes.

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Picking up where I left off:

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Another food item closely associated with Philadelphia is the soft pretzel. Most of the pretzels sold by street vendors are baked in one of a handful of commercial bakeries, are dense and very chewy (to put it charitably) and aren't really improved by the addition of mustard.

Fisher's soft pretzels are what soft pretzels should be: Freshly baked, doughy but not tough, with a slightly sweet taste that the salt (if you request it) balances.

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And they're even better with mustard or cheese.

As I mentioned upthread, the RTM supports local growers and purveyors. One of the ways they do this is by offering space to those who can't rent permanent stands.

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This entrepreneur is from Cape May, N.J. You can find her serving samples of her line of seafood soups--including a New England clam chowder--every Saturday.

Vegetable farmer Earl Livengood can also be found here every Saturday selling organic produce in a spot in the market's center reserved for a rotating mix of small produce growers:

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-------------------------

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The Pennsylvania Dutch merchants have been setting up shop at the RTM for a quarter century as of this year. They are among the most heavily patronized merchants in the market:

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because they offer good food, including many homemade or made-there specialties, at decent prices:

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I usually buy my lunch meats at Hatville Farms. Their shaved country ham is delicious. They also have a sausage that is unique to Pennsylvania, Lebanon bologna.

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It's the right-hand column of stacked slices in this photo. The two stacks in the back are sweet, and the three in front are regular.

This is a tasty sausage that somewhat resembles salami but has a more intense beef flavor--closer to that of dried beef. It is named for the county where it originated, halfway between Lancaster and Harrisburg. Should you ever find yourself in Pennsylvania, you owe it to yourself to try some of this in a sandwich or as a snack.

Here's a shot of their own make scrapple. Note that they have a turkey variety for the fat-conscious, though why anybody watching fat would eat scrapple is beyond me:

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I bought a half pound each of sweet and regular Lebanon bologna and some dried beef from here on Saturday.

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(Their country ham, which tastes better than any deli ham I've had, is on the right.)

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I'm mainly here to buy produce, a category in which the Reading Terminal Market vendors excel in combining quality and value. (General manager Paul Steinke has been waging a steady campaign to operate the market more like a modern business, surveying customers to determine their thoughts about the market and its competition--and despite what some merchants think, it does have competition: after all, I could be shopping at Whole Foods or on 9th Street instead--and trying to get them all to stay open during all of the RTM's posted hours of operation, the Dutch excluded. His surveys have shown that the market enjoys an outstanding reputation for produce and for all-around quality, but is seen as a bit expensive in some other categories. Personally, I think that the many vendors who sell prepared foods could do a decent business marketing to the take-home crowd, and I don't think they've fully exploited that niche yet--and would have difficulty doing so anyway with the market's current 6 p.m. closing.)

Bargains on quality produce abound at the RTM's two year-round, permanent produce stands. I used to buy heads of romaine, Boston and radicchio lettuce to make my own salads, but have succumbed to the convenience bug and now buy bagged salad mix--made on the premises--from O.K. Lee:

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They have poblanos in the mix this week as well:

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But the market's largest and busiest produce stand is run by the Iovine brothers:

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I know one of the Iovines--Bobby, who lives a block south of me and occasionally frequents some of the same gayborhood hangouts I patronize. He's at the produce stand so much, though, I wonder where he gets the free time:

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It's way too early for the local varieties, but apparently somewhere in the US, there's a corn crop ready, for Iovine's has a lot of it this week:

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They also have Vidalia onions in--genuine Vidalias, not Central American copycats:

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And for fungi, Iovine's mushroom selection can't be beat:

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The stand recently invested in a washing and packaging facility:

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that allows them to prepack many of the items they sell at prices no higher than they charge in bulk.

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And then there are their $1 "grab bags"--fruits and veggies that may be approaching their sell-by dates but are a great buy if you're going to use them right away:

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Had I known beforehand that Iovine's was matching Lee's price for bagged salad mix, I would have bought it here, for you get more for your money:

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Their price on red bell peppers this week is very good, but I don't need any right now:

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And talk about busy--this place is a zoo on Saturdays. Maybe I should follow the advice of friends and get here when the market opens at 8 a.m.:

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To wrap this visit up, I will show you some of the other food items you can get here, from one of the best roast pork sandwiches in town to pretty good sushi. If it's edible, you can probably find it here.

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Saturday midday:

I needed to refuel my wallet before going any further, so I walked over to 11th and Arch, where there is a Wawa on the corner.

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Convenience stores are usually places people pass through without thinking much about them, but people in and around Philadelphia have a curious attachment to their local Wawa. Even more than SEPTA, Wawa is part of the fabric of everyday life for millions throughout the greater Philadelphia region, and now in the Washington/Baltimore and Tidewater Virginia areas as well (though not in Washington or Baltimore proper).

My guess is, it's the coffee.

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Wawa brews millions of gallons of the stuff every day, and IMO it's the best convenience-store coffee around, not to mention some of the best you can get anywhere.

The company started as a dairy in the western Delaware County settlement of the same name--a stop on the PRR's West Chester Branch (the same line I ride every day to work*) was established to enable the dairy to ship its milk into the city faster--but as the home delivery business gradually faded in the 1960s, the Wood family, which owns the dairy, sought new ways to sell milk to its customers. In 1964, the first Wawa Dairy Farms convenience store opened in the Delaware County suburb of Folsom, and as the cliche goes, the rest is history.

But where did that funny name come from? Wawa is the Lenape Indian word for the bird we know as the Canada goose. I'm guessing that the Indians gave it that name based on the sound of its call. That's why the corporate logo has incorporated a Canada goose since the early 1970s:

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That's the 1970s version of the logo over the door of the Wawa nearest me, in the 900 block of Walnut Street.

Wawa stores are unusually busy places, most of them:

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and all of them have full deli counters that turn out good hoagies, decent hot dogs and a variety of hot sandwiches and soups:

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The item in The Philadelphia Inquirer business section that I referred to way upthread concerned Wawa's efforts to turn itself into a brand, much as Target or Ikea have. The company still produces its own milk and dairy products, as well as fruit juices and bottled teas, but store shelves now sport an increasing number of Wawa-branded products in other areas:

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Tea strikes me as a logical brand extension for a company with a reputation for good coffee. So does yogurt, which a marketing expert quoted in the Inquirer article questioned. I would draw the line at household cleaning products and pet food. Many Wawa stores in the 'burbs also sell gasoline, and the company is now one of the area's largest gasoline retailers.

This is probably a good move for the company, as there's probably not a Philadelphian alive who has never set foot in a Wawa.

From here, I went to Chester for the Shakespeare event I already described in another post. Next: the trip home from Chester.

*As the urbanized portion of Delaware County ends--or ended--at the county seat of Media, and the territory along the ex-PRR West Chester Branch was largely rural beyond there, SEPTA eliminated service on the branch beyond Elwyn, the stop after Media, in the mid-1980s as track conditions on the branch deteriorated. Increased development in western Delaware and eastern Chester counties has led to increased ridership on the R3 Regional Rail line to the point where the parking lot at Elwyn is now full to bursting. To alleviate the pressure, SEPTA recently announced that it will restore service to Wawa--3 miles west of Elwyn--by 2010. A new park-and-ride lot will be built at Wawa. In another act of good corporate citizenship, Wawa Inc. recently sold the land for the lot to Delaware County for $1; the county will in turn convey it to SEPTA.

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Wow. The pics of RTM alone make me want to visit Philly -- I've never been!

We've got an Amish market in Annapolis too. Something I've wondered about their meats and produce but have never asked -- do they use sustainable agriculture methods or otherwise strive for organic products? I haven't seen USDA Organic labels on their goods, but it seems like the whole slow-food thing would fit in well with some of their religious practices.

I also like the cross-culture appeal of H-Mart. Our Shoppers Food Warehouse approaches this crossroads feeling, though I don't think it's a stated objective anywhere. They've got a nice produce department with LOTS of items for the largely Latino clientele.

I like when I see people from different cultures there interacting about the food, like the elderly black man who held up a yucca and asked a group of young Latino men, "What do you do with this? How do you cook it?"

Of course, there's also the less enlightened end of the spectrum, like the women in line behind me the other day. Their cart was loaded up with sugary character cereals and large packs of ramen noodles. One of them said "They've got all kind of freaky food here. Like that," pointing to a butternut squash in my cart. Good thing she hadn't seen the celeriac and jicama.

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And Wawa too! Love it.

There's a Wawa convenience store and gas station just outside our community. I love that we can by milk (or half-and-half) there 24 hours a day. That can come in quite handy with small children. And an ATM with no surcharge!

They must make a killing -- the store is always busy.

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Okay, now I'm seriously jonesing for some Pennsylvania Dutch food goodness. When I was a kid my family would spend spring break vacations touring around Lancaster County, and local farmer's markets and Penn-Dutch style restaurants were always major parts of our itinerary.

None of us, however, were ever quite brave enough to try scrapple. Actually, I think my folks were weirded out by it and planted their weird-out in the young impressionable minds of us kids. I'd probably like it just fine these days ... though of course now I'm on the wrong side of the continent to sample the real deal fresh.

And speaking of markets--oh, the exquisite torture of gazing upon photos of yet another terrific urban public market while living in a town devoid of same. (Insert glyph of quiet weeping here. :laugh: )

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Saturday late afternoon:

I still needed to get a few grocery items for the week, and as I left Widener, it dawned on me that my comments about the Freshgrocer based on my experiences at 40th and Walnut might not apply to the 56th and Market store. So I decided to route my trip home via 69th Street and stop by the Freshgrocer store at 56th Street station:

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No sooner had I stepped through the entrance than my fears were proved groundless. The same dazzling display of prepared foods greets you on entry to the 56th Street store:

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If I'd have been thinking, I should have suggested the Pizza Club visit this place!

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Their hoagie counter operates on an assembly-line system--given the line of people waiting for sandwiches, it probably has to--and features both of the top premium lines--

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for a price:

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A nearby patron didn't think this display looked all that hot, but I sure did:

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The produce section is visually striking, and note the sign boasting about their selection of unusual items:

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Looks like I bought my Vidalias in the wrong place this week! It's rare to see a supermarket around here undercut the RTM on produce.

Now keep in mind that West Philadelphia is not a terribly affluent part of the city. So you tell me what this fancy stuff is doing here:

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I guess there must be a market for it. Wouldn't you agree?

The store has the full range of service counters--fresh seafood:

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meat and poultry:

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Note that there's something special about some of the meat sold here, something that you won't find in other supermarkets in the region:

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Remember what I was saying about taking your customers seriously? West Philly has a sizable Muslim population, including students from Muslim nations studying at Penn and Drexel.

Sale prices here are very competitive:

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and the store has an international foods aisle the likes of which does not exist on the other bank of the Schuylkill--or in many of the 'burbs, I'll bet.

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Crackers from Spain:

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More Hispanic brands--and is that Pears' soap in the middle?

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A big selection of condiment and cooking sauces from Jamaica--which no doubt appeals to the neighborhood's Jamaican population (I have a friend who is Jamaican and lives not far from here):

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And huge bottles of spices you don't see in Center City that much.

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I picked up a variety of juice that the Super Fresh and Acme don't stock:

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...and should I ever feel like keeping duck on hand for unexpected guests, I'll know where to get it:

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The store is very spacious, with wide, clean aisles:

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and security is excellent. One of the reasons supermarket operators shun inner-city locations is because shoplifting is often a bigger problem in such areas than elsewhere. This store is designed to make that much less likely. There is a security station inside the entrance/exit vestibule at which all bags must be checked, and CCTV security cameras are trained on every aisle.

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(It looks like the Freshgrocer was ahead of the curve on this: the 10th and Reed Acme, where I shop, recently installed large TV monitors in several places on the store's outer edge to alert shoppers to the fact that they were being watched by cameras now.)

And what really won me over was the checkout magazine racks. Instead of the women's mags and gossip sheets that you usually find, this store had, among other titles such as Road & Track:

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I think I'll have to ask my friend Bernard, who lives about three blocks south of here, if I can move in with him. On second thought, I may not have to, for it's right next to the El:

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56th Street station, BTW, may be open, but it's far from finished:

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But I was--with shopping for the day. Time to head home and rest before karaoke.

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