Thursday, November 29, 2018

Amuse Bourse

Jesse and Jere sat across from each other at a long communal table at the newly re-opened Bourse food hall. Their plastic forks fought for the last grains of garlicky rice shimmering on a banana leaf. It was all that was left of their lunch from Lalo, a spot known for lutong bahay – Filipino comfort food.

They had shared Lalo’s lumpia Shanghai, Filipino spring rolls made with pork and lemongrass served with sweet chili sauce, and inihaw, skewers of grilled pork with atchara (pickles) over garlic rice.

“It’s phenomenal,” Jesse said. “Dangerous, actually.” Dangerous because it’s the kind of place that might derail the couple’s serious budgeting goals – they both work less than a block from the Bourse. Jesse works in HR for a telecommunication company and Jere’s the director of executive strategy at the Philadelphia Youth Network.

To save money, they typically pack lunch. Each morning, after letting out their new Dalmatian, Watson, Jere assembles peppered turkey or ham sandwiches with sharp cheddar cheese, bread and butter pickles and a small dab of mayo with a huge squirt of Dijon mixed together and spread on wheat bread.

But they’ll be back for the inihaw, Lalo’s classic that comes with a sweet story. It was the specialty dish of one of the owners’ grandfathers, who used to run a food cart right across the street from the Bourse. They used his recipe to create their version of the grilled meat with pickled vegetables. And they give a nod to him – and all their lolas and lolos (grandmothers and grandfathers) in the name.

“We remember the old Bourse,” Jere said. Smoothie King was the only draw for them back then. “This is obviously an upgrade.”

Author's note: This article and original illustration was published in Edible Philly's Winter '18 issue. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

De Lindenhof for Lunch

The best way to arrive at Restaurant De Lindenhof is by boat. After ducking under 100-year-old wooden bridges and shimmering willow trees, you’ll glide down a narrow canal flanked by purple lupine. A rose-cheeked, blonde cook may greet you, taking the ropes from the bow as you step on a small dock – the waterside entrance to an expansive garden several yards from the restaurant’s kitchen.

The quaint scene, guaranteed to impress a visiting American, wasn’t new to my hosts. Mas and Jacquline Boom own a small home nearby, where I stayed with their daughter and my good friend, Laurentine. The three had planned a surprise lunch at De Lindenhof - a Michelin two-star restaurant on the outskirts of a small canal village in Northern Holland.

“Quite the garden, yes?” Mas said, striding from the dock past a noisy chicken coop. He watched as I stood in awe of blackberry brambles and dill weed growing as tall as the Dutch. Up ahead, the aproned cook stooped in front of a bed of blooming rocket, dwarfing the delicate blossoms as he pinched them between his fingers.

The Boom family and I followed his garnish harvest through the restaurant’s back door, briefly touring the kitchen before gathering around a table in the bright dining room. Before “lunch” arrived, we tasted salmon wrapped in a wakame cone with lemon dill cream; cold soup of bouillon, cucumber, mint and wasabi; and snow peas dotted with smoked eel and hazelnut cream.

The onslaught of amuse bouches made us giddy, except for the last one, to which Laurentine scrunched her nose. “I’ve never really liked eel,” she said. But it was deeply smoky and brightened by the fresh pea an she took another bite.

“A child doesn’t like fish, doesn’t like some vegetable, you bring them to this restaurant,” Mas declared, slathering a roll with deep yellow butter. “First of all, they are spoiled; second, they like everything.”

Mas is usually eating lunch at the office canteen with the employees of Boom Publishing. He opts for a sandwich of ham, cheese, boiled egg, lettuce and tomato along with a glass of karnemelk (cultured buttermilk). He also likes the vegetable soup, “… with meatballs,” he grins. If it’s up to him, Elvis or Crosby Stills and Nash plays on the canteen Jukebox. (Author’s note: Mas recently retired from Boom Publishing.)

Jacqueline’s favorite amuse arrived at the table, served by Lindenhof co-owner Marjan de Jonge: an oven roasted cherry tomato encased in a crispy, sesame shell served atop a scoop of light ginger sorbet. It’s like eating fresh jian dui dipped in ice cream.

Jacqueline works from her office at home. For lunch? “To be honest, I usually forget.” When she gets hungry around 4pm she might head down to the kitchen and make a tosti. She likes brown bread with aged gouda (what the Dutch simply call ‘old cheese’) and sliced pickled ginger or mandarin orange. It’s her take on the more traditional Dutch Tosti Hawaii – a grilled sandwich with ham, cheese and pineapple.

“I refuse to bring a sandwich for lunch,” said Laurentine, who’s finishing her last clinical rotation in med school. Most doctors pack a bag with 4 cheese sandwiches, which they keep in their white coats, she says. “There’s no time – while they walk from one part of the hospital to another, you see them stuffing their faces.”

Laurentine’s non-sandwich strategy is this: early in the morning she scopes out a fridge in the hospital where she can stash a 450 ml container of skyr. Later in the day she’ll dash in and spoon down the thing, sometimes with a bit of granola, often unaccompanied.

But today we ate perch wrapped in blanched swiss chard in a sauce of beetroot, and shaved pumpkin dumplings filled with langoustine. The bread was scented with lavender from the garden, the butter deep yellow, the olive oil verdant in a small glass bottle on the table. Our desserts came in threes: peach, rose, and raspberry; dill, cucumber and yogurt; hazelnut, chocolate and coffee.

Nearly four hours later, as the cooks prepped for dinner, we shoved off from the dock, sleepy and enchanted. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday's Pozole Day

On Thursdays in Guerrero, a southern state on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the Pozolerias are packed. “It’s been the traditional day since I can remember,” says Ernesto, who grew up in Guerrero.  

At a Pozoleria, “You can order chicken mole or taquitos,” Ernesto says. But on Thursdays, “You’re not going to look at the menu. You’re going to sit down with your friends and order pozole.”

Pozole is a Mexican stew of pork and hominy seasoned with chiles, oregano, epazote and topped with shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, cheese, avocado, tostadas or chicharrones. Leave as is, or swap chicken in for pork, and you have pozole blanco; add tomatillos, pumpkin seeds and cilantro for pozole verde; cook with dried ancho or guajillo chiles to make pozole rojo.

At his usual lunch spot – behind the counter at Lupita’s Grocery on the Italian Market – Ernesto dipped his spoon into a warm bowl of pozole blanco topped with sliced jalapeno, crispy chicharron, queso fresco, and chunks of avocado.

“A friend of mine cooked this and brought it yesterday,” he says. (It was Monday – since moving to the states in 1991, he enjoys pozole any day of the week.)

Ernesto doesn’t cook much. For lunch, he often orders tacos from Blue Corn down the street, or heads to the truck on the corner of 10th St. and Washington Ave. “Sometimes I cook. Like every other week,” he says. But for the most part, the ingredients at his grocery store are for customers.

Ernesto opened Lupita’s after working in Philly restaurants for more than a decade. His brother helped him get his first job after moving to the States, washing dishes at a now-closed mall in University City. “I was washing dishes, taking in deliveries,” he said. “I didn’t speak English so what was I going to do? It was not easy.”

He then found a job at the Midtown II Diner where he met Freddy, a Puerto Rican cook who helped him learn English.

“I asked him when he wasn’t busy to write down the words I heard in the kitchen in English,” Ernesto said. “At night, when I got home, I’d take out all the little pieces of paper and look through the [Spanish-English] dictionary.”

A few years later, he was out of the kitchen and looking to start a business of his own. He bought the 9th Street storefront from an Italian couple. “The walls were falling apart,” he remembers. He did major renovations and stocked the shelves with Mexican pantry items and home goods.

At Lupita’s you can buy dried herbs, canned hominy, fresh chicharrones (and the rest of the ingredients you’d need to make pozole at home), plus leather belts Made in Mexico, fútbol jerseys, and piñatas. 

“[Shoppers] know the good thing are the avocados here,” Ernesto told me. There’s usually a box of Purepecha avocados from Michoacán – the Mexican state known for producing the best of the crop – in the cooler in the back. These avocados are named for the indigenous people living in the highlands of central Michoacán. They have the perfect creamy texture, rarely a brown spot, and a rich, slightly sweet flavor. 

One change Ernersto has noticed over the years at Lupita's: “Now, American people buy avocados more that Mexicans!” he says, eyebrows rising above his black Oakley frames. “How about that?”

Friday, August 10, 2018

That's a Wrap

Gyros & Fries on Germantown Ave.
AROUND NOON ON A RECENT FRIDAY, students from Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy crowded the counter at the small market next door. Two cooks in knit hats shaved meat from a rotating spit and kept fryer oil spattering as the students ordered falafel, cheesy fries, chicken tenders and shawarma. Al-Amana Grocery Store offers a mash-up menu including kid-pleasers and traditional Middle Eastern sandwiches and platters.

Garrett, a math teacher on lunch duty who asked us not to use his last name, ate a gyro at a booth near the entrance. The thin man with gray curls and wire-rimmed glasses typically orders falafel—made in-house with chickpeas, heaps of cilantro and parsley and spices. But on Fridays, he often splurges for Al-Amana’s seasoned lamb and beef, chopped tomatoes, lettuce and pickles dressed in tzatziki and hot sauce and wrapped in pita.

“On Fridays he splurges on lamb, beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles dressed in tzatziki and hot sauce in pita.”

Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy and this grocery/deli are both part of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, which houses a mosque and cultural center. On Fridays, members of the neigh- borhood’s Palestine and Arab Muslim community gather at the mosque for Jumu’ah, a weekly congregational prayer held just after noon. They stop at the market next door for lunch and groceries; the Syrian American owner stocks Al-Amana’s shelves with imports from countries including Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey.

Rushing past the case of halal meats, a student shouted hello to her teacher. Garrett replied with a nod.

“Now that’s disrespectful, you didn’t say ‘hi’ back!” She feigned a pout and marched out the door to enjoy her pile of ketchup- topped fries.

“Very bright student, but she loves to play,” Garrett laughed quietly and returned to his lunch.


Mama’s Vegetarian
18 S. 20th St.

947 Federal St.

Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties
Reading Terminal Market 45 N. 12th St.

1526 Sansom St.

4420 Walnut St.
Writer's note: This story was published in the Summer 2018 issue of Edible Philly

Thursday, June 21, 2018

British Squash & Philly Jam

Jennifer settled onto a sunny bench in Washington Square and untied the plastic sack on her lap. She withdrew a bottle of Schweppes, a container of tuna, and a bag of bagel crisps. She’d stopped at Old Nelson on her way to the park to pick up the cracker-spread combo. “I’m not a big sandwich person,” she said, pulling open the bag of New York Style Bagel Crisps.1

Her one o’clock lunch break was well earned; that morning, she’d used a CRM database to compile a list of contacts for an e-blast to promote an upcoming career fair. (She’s a sales manager at the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News and oversees the customer database.) She ended up with 850 contacts tagged with ‘HR’ or ‘recruitment,’ and was pleased.

“That might not seem like a lot to you, but those are highly customized contacts,” she said. “Some might be duplicates, but who cares!” She threw her hands in the air. “I decided, I’m going to lunch to celebrate.”

Jennifer wore a white and green polka dot sweater, a long khaki skirt, gray 50s-style sunglasses, and practical sandals. Recovering from an ankle injury, today’s walk to the park was the longest she’s managed in three weeks.

She took a sip of Schweppes pink grapefruit seltzer. “It reminds me of the Orange Squash from England,” she said. Squash is the British English word for concentrate, she explained. “We used to drink it when I went to visit my aunts and uncles.” They’d pour a bit of the concentrated citrus syrup in the bottom of a glass and then dilute with seltzer water.2

These days, Jennifer concocts a different type of concentrated fruit. Her and her husband run Fifth of a Farm Creations, a side-gig jam company. About once a month they load up with fruit and head to the Greensgrow Community Kitchen to spend the day making preserves. Their flavors, which they sell to MOM’s, and at the Church Street and Clark Park Farmers’ Markets once a month, are named after Philly neighborhoods: Strawberry Mansion Jam, Old City Quince Butter, and Point Breeze Tomato Jam.

They source fruit locally when it’s in season. “We use mint grown in our garden to make our mint jelly,” Jennifer says. Right now, she’s excited about the tart cherries ripening at Weaver’s Orchard in Morgantown. They’ll use them to make her favorite flavor: Fairmount Cherry Jam. 

It’s the flavor that inspired her to start the business. “Growing up, we had a sour cherry tree in our yard,” she said. “I had this fond memory of making jam and giving it to people for Christmas – and that's still what I do.”

Jennifer prefers her jam atop toast with peanut butter -- you won't catch her eating a PB&J at lunchtime.

1 You may remember the New York Style Everything Bagel Chips: a sturdy, savory dipper and the perfect beach snack. They came in a wax-lined paper bag and were irresistibly seedy and salty, and left a nice greasy sheen on your fingertips. Caving into the anti-fat fad, New York Style re-branded them as bagel crisps – and touted ‘Twice Baked, Never Fried,’ among other gloomy health claims. As with Lays Baked!, we miss the original.

2 Black currant squash made international headlines in 2016 when Kumbuka the gorilla escaped from his enclosure at the London zoo and drank 5 liters of the undiluted drink. Turns out, it’s part of the gorillas’ daily beverage selection – they are fed diluted squash along with cold fruit tea.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Una Bella Vista

Each spring, Philly’s Italian Market sets up a rollicking two-day block party. The music is loud, the people-watching spectacular, and the food plentiful. In search of lunch, one might walk the eight-block festival and consider a porchetta sandwich or ravioli, barbacoa tacos or tamales, skewered grilled quail or papaya salad. (‘Italian Market’ is sort of a misnomer these days; in the 1980s and 90s, immigrants populated the historically Italian neighborhood with Vietnamese, Cambodian and Mexican restaurants.)

Natalie and Hope, first-timers at the festival, were strategic: “We sat for a while and watched other people eat, and then decided what to eat,” Natalie said.

They chose Dibruno Brothers’ spinach arancini and chicken meatball hoagie, and made a tentative plan to return for Esposito’s massive porchetta sandwich. At a table set up a comfortable distance from the throngs on 9th street, they had a prime view of the festival’s main attraction: the Greased Pole Competition.

It’s an old, offbeat Philly tradition: people attempt to shinny up lard-sheened pole to reach sharp provolone, sausage, gift cards and cash hanging from the top. Some competitors form teams that meet to practice throughout the year; others join hodgepodge groups recruited by the MC on the day of the festival. A crowd assembles around the piazza on 9th and Montrose Streets to cheer and fling their shirts to the top climbers to use as grease rags.

No joke.

“That’s the way…”

“His hands are all up on his butt!”

“His arms are going to give out!”

Natalie and Hope scrutinized a team of six – two at the base of the pole gripping each other’s forearms, two climbing to stand on their shoulders, and two steadying ankles and boosting butts with both arms.  

“We’ve been watching this for a while,” Natalie said. “It’s the same group – they keep getting a little higher.” But the dangling prizes still hung 30 feet in the air, untouched. The MC, sporting a #GuidoLive t-shirt, tried to cajole a few more volunteers from the crowd.

“I think it’s the Breathalyzer,” Hope said. She suspected that passing the BAC test – a policy put into place two years ago – had deterred many.

Natalie laughed. “When I met up with her this morning, she had a pineapple with rum in it.” Blue Corn Restaurant serves piña coladas in hollowed pineapples.

“An excellent breakfast,” Hope said.

It was her day off. She’d spent the previous week thinning fruit in the rain at North Star Orchards, a farm and orchard in Cochranville known for developing stunning apple varieties. “Apparently the fruit doesn’t taste good if you leave all the clusters,” she told me. Growers typically pluck the diseased and undersized fruit to allow the tree to send its resources to fewer choice specimens.

Hope started working at the farm this spring. Everyday at noon, the entire crew eats lunch together. Hope forages for greens and mushrooms in the woods near the farm to incorporate into her meals.

She’s an urban forager, too.

“There were a bunch of pork skewers in the trash can that she wouldn’t let me eat,” Hope said, leather tassel earrings swishing as she gave Natalie a look.

“I figured there was a reason they were in the trash can.” Natalie says.

Natalie is a front of house operations manager for catering at UPenn. She typically eats lunch with colleagues at Houston Hall. “When we don’t have time it’s a standing lunch with returned hors d’oeuvres from whatever event we’re at,” she said. “It’s the one perk of working in food service – I never have to pay for lunch.”

The two might splurge on a few more lunch bites at the festival, and stick around to watch a dozen pumped bros armed with bath towels storm the piazza.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

 The team built a clenched, grunting tower around the pole and in fewer than five minutes, their top climber was throwing sausages to the ground in triumph. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

W.B. Saul's Brisket

 Steers grazed on an east-facing slope several yards from the Food Sciences building at W.B. Saul High School. A line stretched through the back door where students served beef brisket, pulled pork sandwiches and scoops of ice cream.

It was the 65th annual Country Fair Day at the agricultural high school in Roxborough; visitors shopped for herbs in the greenhouse, listened to students share vermicomposting know-how, toured the farm, and walked down a grassy trail to feed the sheep.

And many parents, alumni, and neighbors lined up for student-made lunch featuring dairy and meat produced on campus.

A senior at W.B. Saul splayed soft rolls in foil-lined paper boats and assembled them above trays of pulled pork and brisket. 

Charles is studying food science and processing, one of the four programs (including horticulture, natural resource management, and animal science) students choose between after their freshman year. “I didn’t know much about food science or nutrition,” he says, “I wanted to learn how to eat healthier.”

Charles wakes up at 5am and catches two buses to get from his home in Southwest Philly to school. But to him, it’s worth it. “It’s like two educations in one,” Charles says. In the morning, he’s in psychology, environmental science, English, and sociology classes; in the afternoon he’s studying food science, safety, and nutrition.

The day before the fair, he helped cut the brisket in Mr. Amoroso’s class. “This is all about student involvement,” the food sciences teacher says. Wearing a white, knee-length butcher coat, he popped between the meat lab (the school sell cuts of campus-raised beef to the public once a year at the fair) and the lunchtime operation, keeping an eye on brisket supply. 

As a student dug her tongs into the juicy brisket I asked if they enjoyed this spread during the school week. “Ha! We wish!” Though they're served the standard school district lunches, they get one special perk: salads made with veggies from the campus CSA farm run by Weavers Way Coop.

The students sold out of brisket a half hour before the end of the open house. “We had four pans!” Charles was incredulous, but Mr. Amoroso wasn't too surprised. Alumni come back for that W.B. Saul flavor, achieved with an extra zingy rub, eight hours in the smokehouse, and, of course, the well-tended steers of last year's pasture.