Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On The Menu

Anyone who's met me knows that I love to eat. And, I am an extremely democratic eater, which is a good fit for Philadelphia, which is an extremely democratic place for good food. From cheesesteaks, pretzels and cheap soul food to fine French dining, and especially the thick, yummy middle of Italian, Jewish, and Indian cuisine, Philadelphia has it all. Here is a short round-up of a few of my favorite things.

The salty: Well, maybe Philadelphia doesn't exactly have it all. Delicious proscuitto, dry rub bacon, cold cuts, and smoked salmon and trout, yes. But while the local potato chips are fine, I've begun importing my stash from Detroit, in the form of a box full of 1 oz. Halloween-sized bags of original Better Mades. My fix has a regular supply, and I don't eat a pound in a single sitting. (Delicious and responsible.) Plus, individual bags gives you a terrific whole-chip-to-crumb ratio.

The creamy: For cheesey imports, DiBruno Bros (either in the Italian Market or off Rittenhouse Square) can't be beat, but for staples, I turn to the Clark Park farmers' market. My Amish dairy hook-up supplies me with fresh raw milk -- really, the most fantastic stuff I have ever had -- and raw milk cheeses. The cheddar is fine, but the colby, which is aged less and has a more mild but complex flavor, is the very best. I didn't know what people were going on about with raw milk, but I am a true believer now. Luckily for me, it's legal to sell and drink the raw in Pennsylvania, without some of the quasi-legal contortions people go through in other states.

The sweet: The farmers' market is also my go-to stop-and-shop for small cakes, especially pumpkin, carrot and zucchini bread, and for fruit. My wife and I have both fallen head-over-heels in love with Asian pears. They are so juicy, lightly sweet, and full (I eat them right through the small core), and absolutely ready-to-eat. I don't know how we'll make it through the winter without them. Also available not far from the park: cupcakes and cherry walnut bagels from the Green Line Cafe, and croissants, tarts, and other pastries at the Restaurant School (up around 43rd and Walnut).

The robust: La Colombe coffee (roasted right here in Philly), particularly the rich Corsica blend. Half-and-half or light cream, and a packet of Splenda. My idea of heaven. You can buy the coffee by the bag or super-cheap by the cup at the Restaurant School, crazy expensive everywhere else.

The spicy: My wife has mastered the art of the Thai curry. First, curry paste and coconut milk from the Fu Wah Mini-Market. Fresh shrimp, which you can get at Whole Foods but we buy at a New Jersey Costco, or chicken thighs. Mushrooms, peppers, and onions from the market. Jasmine rice prepared with peas, cumin, and plenty of turmeric for color, boiled in a mixture of coconut milk and chicken stock. It's the sort of dish that makes you never want to go out or order in again. (But we do!) Fu Wah is also the home of unbelievable Vietnamese spicy tofu hoagies, cheap (less than 4$) and vegetarian (which, democrat that I am, is nice, but I don't particularly care) and right around the corner.

Sometimes it takes you years to figure out your own gastronomic map of the city, or even your own neighborhood. This is my sixth year in Philadelphia, and I still feel like I'm figuring things out. But it sure is delicious to continue to try.

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