|The elf freed from his bottle.|
Celebrate your Friday evening liberation from worklife with the craziest little gnome of all: The Mad Elf, by Tröegs Brewing Company. The Northeast's über-beer destination, The Grey Lodge, will be hosting their annual Elf madness event, pouring both 2007 and fresh 2008 Mad Elf on draft. Trögester Nick Johnson will also be on hand, selling Mad Elf merch and generally contributing to the XXXmas-themed frenzy.
Mad Elf is a garnet-red holiday ale, brewed with spicy yeast and very little hops. The brew is sweetened with honey, helping it to achieve its monstrous 11 percent ABV, and flavored with tart west coast cherries. It is a limited-release seasonal beer with a completely insane cult following. Mad Elf fanatics start hounding bartenders about it before Thanksgiving, and they don't let up until the last drops are drunk, and the last drunks are dropped — usually on their faces, early in the new year.
Ed Yashinsky, Tröegs' brewery manager, shared the differences between an aged keg of the Elf and the fresh 2008 batch. "Though the recipe is identical year to year," Yashinksy said, "the nature of the beer — the high alcohol, the tart cherries and the complexion of the yeast — it will change over time. In the fresh 2008 Elf, the nose is mostly cherries, peppery yeast is the main flavor and the alcohol is well-hidden. As the beer ages, the cherry flavor starts to dominate, and the alcohol peeks through as well."
So get into the spirit: Not only is Elf on tap at the Grey Lodge, but 12- and 22-ounce bottles are available from Penn Distributors in Philadelphia for gifting.
The Grey Lodge, 6235 Frankford Ave, 215-825-5357, greylodge.com
Penn Distributors, Inc., 401 Domino Lane, 215-467-0300
It starts like this:
And, like all other Thanksgivings, ends like this:
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Baby bok choy, exotic gummies, soba and green tea noodles, S&B curry and
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Wing Phat Plaza, on Washington Avenue at 11th Street, bustles like Penn Station at rush hour all day long. The anarchic parking lot was surely designed by some mad trickster bent on watching cars wheel and dart as though in a pinball machine. Though you can purchase nail salon supplies, book a trip to Vietnam or drown your stuffy nose in a steaming bowl of pho, the gem of the plaza is the cavernous Hung Vuong Supermarket.
Aisles stuffed with inventory beckon the grocery shopper weary of Whole Foods' dizzying prices or Acme's endless Saturday lines. Produce here is a great bargain — especially if you are keen on the sharp, bitter greens of Filipino cuisine or the various funky fruits of Vietnam — but more familiar grapes, lettuces, onions and apples are stocked, as well. At the stainless-steel barbecue counter, glistening roasted ducks wait patiently for a buyer to convey them home and serve them with pancakes. An expansive seafood counter holds dozens of fish and mollusks, some of them still swimming. Dry goods range from literally a thousand types and shapes of noodles to any of the myriad sauces that lend authentic Far East flavor to home cooking. The selection is so broad, American monoglots could spend all day peering at the mysterious labels searching for what they want.
An entire aisle is dedicated to biscuits, cookies and candy wrapped in cellophane packaging on which cheerful characters romp. The much-hyped Kasugai gummies, purported to be the best in all of Gummy World, are in full force. The melon, mango and kiwi flavors were soft and juicy, packed a realistic, not-too-sweet fruit flavor. Though the litchi flavor was underwhelming, even those pale gels left the Haribo bears in the dust.
Though you might need to call your insurance agent after a zoom through the parking lot, Hung Vuong yields up a treasure in every dizzying aisle.
Hung Vuong Supermarket, 1122-38 Washington Ave., 215-336-2803, phillychinatown.com/grocery_market/hungvuong
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
B.A. Nilsson, restaurant critic for the Metroland alt-weekly in Albany, New York, recently tapped Meal Ticket for restaurant suggestions for a weekend trip to Philadelphia. We came up with a big list of destinations, and he went for it. Check out his full eating recap, with photos, below. —Drew Lazor
This is about dining in the age of the GPS, making it possible for a
hungry out-of-towner to graze across the length of several
neighborhoods during the course of a weekend. Thanks to my daughter
Lily's recent passion for Panic at the Disco, her mother and I were
bringing her to Philadelphia, one of the stops on the band's Rock Band
Tour, and Susan, my wife, generously relieved me of any need to sit
through the show.
I review restaurants for Metroland magazine, the alt-newsweekly published in Albany, NY. It's an area that struggles to achieve any multi-ethnic culinary variety, and often seems like the red-sauce capital of the universe. Right now we're being inundated with Japanese steakhouses, provoking the fear that I'm doomed to an eternity of forcing a chuckle at little plastic squeeze-dolls pissing on teppanyaki flames.
Why not see what Philadelphia has to offer? There’s a strong collegial feeling among alt-weekly writers, so I sought the advice of Drew Lazor. I’ve been so consulted in the past, and Drew, it turned out, also has turned to a far-flung counterpart. He and Felicia D'Ambrosio put together a list
After depositing the family at the Spectrum’s Pattison Street entrance, I continued north for a taste of the grilled octopus at Dmitri's. Here’s where the GPS got wacky. Instead of sending me to Queen Village along the river, I was led through a maze of one-way residential streets, each block ending in a stop sign, traffic light, or, as far as I could tell, free-for-all. And the tiny dining room of my destination was packed, the sidewalk thick with waiting customers. It was approaching 7. I couldn’t imagine the crowd thinning too soon.
On to Chinatown. The route was more direct, but parking on the narrow streets eluded me. I dropped the car at a for-pay lot where it was crammed into an array that couldn’t possibly be untangled when I chose to depart.
|Pork kidneys at Potluck Café|
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
I had the rest of it wrapped, and carried it a short distance down N. 10th to the Potluck Café. We’ve got a million of these tiny storefront takeout joints in my area, but none offering "Frog with Three Kinds Mushroom in the Hotpot." I like to boast of epicurean adventurousness, but that was daunting. Presented with tasty morsels of salted chicken as I studied the menu, I settled on pork kidneys with hotbean paste.
"They make their own hotbean paste," Darren Finizio told me. "It's excellent." He was dining at an adjacent table, and couldn’t extol the Potluck too highly. “I’m the one who told Drew Lazor to review this place,” he said. My conclusion: If I'm going to eat kidneys, let it be in a hotbean paste. But with lots of rice.
I marveled at the parking attendant's skill at vehicular Tetris, quickly bringing my car to the head of an exit lane. I wanted to get to Indonesia. I was eager to sample fare from Ethiopia or Eritrea. And I was running out of hunger. I drove a short physical distance for a huge change of neighborhood, and entered Wazobia for a Nigerian meal.
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
And then pathetically addressed each item individually, forking into my face a bit of this, a bit of that. "This is Nigerian food," explained a man named Peter, taking pity on me. "You mix it all together, that's how it's supposed to be eaten." Then he launched into a fascinating comparative survey of African cuisines, describing so many unfamiliar aspects that I failed to follow much of it. He even left me with his phone number should I wish to learn more.
Still trying to pace myself, I added this fresh round of leftovers containers to the car and journeyed south. A navigational pattern was emerging. No matter where I headed, once the GPS signed off and left me in front of the restaurant and I continued on to find parking, I ended up on Broad or Market St. with City Hall looming in front of me. You can’t fight it.
Had I done more research, I would have discovered that the recently reopened Minar Palace closes Saturdays at 7. It was well past 9 when I read the sign on the door. My luck continued lousy: Vic Sushi had just closed when I neared the place, taking my hope of sushi with it, and the walk to Almaz Café also proved fruitless — I missed the place by minutes.
|Zilzil tibs at Almaz Café |
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
|Carnitas tacos at Distrito|
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
"I used to work for the chef when he had a restaurant in Chicago," our server, Jessica, told us. So she contrived to move to Philadelphia to work here. "He's honestly the nicest, most generous chef I've ever known."
"We could move to Philadelphia," my wife observed as we strolled back to the car, adding, with the braggadocio of the infrequent drinker, "and I'd have a margarita every day." And why not? I enjoyed the food and the friendliness and was confident that I’d soon solve the mystery of parking. And I felt like I was beginning to know my way around the city, so I set off for the hotel without bothering to set the GPS, looping around City Hall a couple of times before returning to that instrument's surety.
In my soporific little hometown of Bel Air, Maryland (about 80 miles south of Philly), beer and liquor is sold in one store (and it's so, so cheap), jacked-up, mud-splattered Jeep Wranglers rule the unnaturally wide roadways and the only things outnumbering the big-box chain restaurants are the gigantic McCain/Palin signs stabbed into peoples' pristine lawns.
There's also this old Exxon gas station that a guy named Richard converted into a seafood shack. As you can see from the first picture above, Richard did not take very many aesthetic steps to make his business appear more like Harford County's blue crab-steaming HQ than an unleaded refueling station. But that's OK — he's got fresh oysters.
My girlie and I made a pitstop at Richard's during a weekend trip to visit one of my oldest friends who celebrated the big 2-5 on Halloween. The Lazor household is huge on oysters, so we scooped up 48 in total — a dozen Chincoteague salts from Virginia, a dozen blue points from Long Island and two dozen Jersey salts, which many Philly-area seafood fans are familiar with — to share with mi familia. Moments after we proudly strutted through the door with our soaked-through, smelling-like-the-shore paper sack of shells, my mother popped in with another two dozen Jersey salts. Also from Richard's.
What the hell do you do with 72 OYSTERS?
Get to shucking, kids.
I'm a total noob when it comes to all this, so I let my dad clue me in to the process. He busted out a short, flat wood-handled knife that he admitted was designed more for clams than oysters. ("The purists are probably going to call you out on this," he told me.) On paper, the process is simple. Using a rag or glove to steady the oyster, find the space near the rear "hinge " — where it comes to a point — slide your knife in as far as you can get it and twist. It should pop open with a sound eerily similar to the noise that comes from a vacuum-sealed tube of Pillsbury crescent roll dough when you strike it against the edge of your kitchen counter. I watched my pop run through a good two dozen with minimal effort.
"This doesn't look so bad," I thought to myself. Foolishly.
I stabbed myself soooo many times. The problem is not the knife, though — it's the damn shells. These things are killers. I sliced open my hand in at least five places as I struggled to half-shell a mere dozen. After stoically refusing to don a bulky oven mitt (my mom's idea), I opted for a dishrag to hold my great-with-fresh-squeezed-lemon enemies in place. But of course, the rag got progressively wetter the more I shucked, as did the cutting board I was using as a support, causing my digits to flail and scrape over every rocky unforgiving nook and bastard barnacle. This shit is not easy!
After shedding a good amount of blood, though, I started to get the hang of it a little bit, and managed to run through about 20 before stopping to properly dress my wounds. That pop sound is definitely one of the most satisfying noises I've heard in a long time. (That's what she said) When I order oysters out somewhere, servers and bartenders almost always take great care to describe origins and flavors, information I pay especially close attention to because I'm a nerd. With my own go-round, however, I just slurped and slurped and slurped, aided by a great homemade mignonette whipped up by m'lady, never quite noting the subtleties between the different varieties. They all tasted like the ocean and they all tasted great.
I have newly acquired respect for the mother shuckers at my favorite restaurants. Here's to you, flat-blade-wielding sirs and madams. May your hands forever remain cut-free, and may your demeanor stay as salty as an oyster scraped from the bottom of the Choptank River.
|Victory makes you sooo hungry.|
|Ron Cortes | Inquirer|
O happy day and unifying jubilation! The Phils have won the big one, and will be revered all the way down Broad Street today in the first championship parade this city has seen in 25 years. The AP reported on fans who staked out their locations at 6 this morning in anticipation of viewing 3 minutes of passing players and dancing maidens strewing flower petals in their wake.
If you plan on joining in the chaos, you'll need to refuel along the way. The parade departs from 20th and Market streets at noon, and makes its way down Broad Street to culminate in a ticketed rally at Citizens Bank Park. Check out these classic Philly joints for food, beer and all the high fives and chest bumps you can handle.
Start off strong with a cheap falafel from Mama's Vegetarian at 20th and Chestnut. Don't worry, the line may be out the door but those dudes keep things rolling. The warm pita, fried chickpeas and crunchy pickles will provide a friendly base for all of the beer you are now going to pour in to your poor, defenseless body.
By the time you reach the City Hall turning point of the parade, your backpack will likely be empty of adult beverages. Pop into the Latimer Deli at 15th and Latimer (between Spruce and Locust) and pick up a crafty six-pack of local Sly Fox Pikeland Pils or Phoenix Pale Ale. They're packaged in cans, which will keep the cops off your back — no glass bottle bombs coming from you.
Deep into South Philly lies Cacia's (1526 Ritner St.). A traditional Italian-American bakery with some of the bitchin'-est bread around, they also turn out tasty square pizzas and tomato pie for uber-cheap. Pick up a few squares of Pizazz, a combination of hot and sweet pepper strips on an American cheese pie. If you've had enough of the mob, take a pepperoni or spinach stromboli to heat in the oven at home.
Yeah, it's a bit hackneyed and filled to the brim with South Philly Willies and Millies, but Chickie's and Pete's on Packer Ave. (between Broad and 15th) is a magnet for sports fans. There are 51,000 TVs, cute gum-snapping neighborhood girls serving in sweats, and it's guaranteed to be a love-fest of Phils fans. Order a tower of local lager and dig in to some crab fries and red-sauced mussels, reveling in the feeling of living in Championship Philly.
If the stadium scene gets to be too much, call Celebre's Pizza (in the same shopping center as Chickie's and Pete's, 215-467-3255) to pick up a whopping thick-crust pie to take home. Oh, and happy Halloween or whatever. THE PHILLIES WON THE WORLD SERIES!!! If Obama wins on Tuesday, I'll never ask for anything ever again. Not even a decent Neapolitan-style pizzeria close to my house.
Oh, callow youth. A quartet of Temple University students have created a YouTube paean to Pat's King of Steaks for their Computer Information Science class. Watch them state their cheesesteak preferences — using the accepted Philly lingo of "a type of cheese and a preposition" — and even look charming manhandling one of Pat's ordinarily-grease-bomb sandwiches. Where's the drip?
Tori Ershler, Emily Hutz, Rachel Levin and Dina Maslennikova are adorably awkward in their three-minute video project and express appropriate disdain for the neon monstrosity that is Geno's. But I'll never concede that Pat's is anything but convenience grub acceptable only to inebriated Iggles fans and tourists. Girls, if you see this, I would like to take you to John's Roast Pork for a really transcendent cheesesteak experience. That said, well done! I never did anything half as interesting in my years at good ol' Temple. Nor did I take any Computer Science classes, come to think of it.
|The rows of Red Hill Farm|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
Red Hill Farm in Aston is an environmental initiative of the
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, dedicated to providing
sustainably produced food for the surrounding community. Though I
traveled to Delaware County hoping to see nuns, habits tucked
into overalls, cheerfully tilling, weeding and doing God's work, I was
not disappointed when I met Red Hill's farmer, 26-year old Abygail
A graduate of UMass-Amherst, Wright majored in environmental science and minored in plant and soil science. After graduation, she worked in a variety of farms: conventional, organic, low-impact. Red Hill, a non-profit, is her first managing position. Though the farm is not certified organic, they use organic agriculture techniques: composting, fabric row cover to bar pests, clay spray to deter cucumber beetles. The diminutive 5-acre farm currently grows enough food for 130 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, who invest $700 before each growing season for 22 weeks of a share of Red Hill's production.
|A donation of fresh food to PhilAbundance|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
takes a seat by the Children's Garden, an sandpit play area flanked by
benches, flowering plants and an arbor. From here we take the long
view of the early fall crops — U-pick raspberries and blackberries,
greenhouses filled with dangling tomato vines, rows of baby bok choy
and kale. A small barn crowned with solar panels houses farm equipment
as well as the CSA member pick-up area. Members move along the
colorful bins, filling their bags with their piece of the week's
harvest. Red Hill's CSA program is maxed out at 130, and a waiting
list for the 2009 season has 50 names. Abygail sees small-scale agriculture as a
"Local eating is a growing field," she says. "Food is talked about so much on the news, especially since Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemna ... our members are really happy ... there is just so much demand. I've worked on farms where the waiting list for CSA is 150 people."
Red Hill hosts tours, and Wright says first graders and college students alike marvel at the process of growing food. "The college kids and older people are as surprised as the young kids ... they have never seen how a zucchini grows!" Abygail hopes that more people will return to eating locally, and that children will regard farming as "a cool job."
Supporting your local farmers benefits the environment and the local economy — but will the public at large ever give up their supermarket, one-stop-shopping habits? Cool farmer Abygail doesn't bother with cerebral arguments. "Convincing people to buy local is easy — just invite them over for dinner! The argument is always in the taste."
|Farm truck and greenhouses|
|Photo l Abygail Wright|
|Open your mouth and close your eyes.|
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
When is a hoagie not a hoagie? When it's a hero, sub, submarine,
zeppelin or grinder. And especially when it's a zep. This Norristown creation possesses subtle but crucial differences from lookalike
sandwiches. A true zep contains only one meat and one cheese — and
lettuce is absolutely forbidden under any circumstances.
Eve's Lunch in Norristown, which is often credited with inventing the zep, still turns out the standard-setting sandwich to much local acclaim. Eve Mashett has operated the business since 1965, when she bought the sandwich shop Linfante's from Joseph Linfante, her employer of 10 years. In 2001, Mashett's family took over daily operations. The traditional Eve's zep is stacked with provolone cheese, cooked salami, tomato, thick slices of raw white onion cut to order, a dressing of oil and a bit of oregano.
The zep entered the annals of fiction in Jerry Spinelli's classic middle school tearjerker Maniac Magee. When Maniac is in funds (and not living with the bison at the zoo), his preferred meal is a zep topped off with a round of Butterscotch Krimpets. Spinelli, who grew up in Bridgeport and mined his own childhood experiences for the novel, still goes to Lou's Sandwich Shop to lunch on the lunch he immortalized. Meal Ticket traveled to Lou's to feast on the stinking delight — the incredibly chewy "Conshy roll" combined with the substantial onion crunch makes the sandwich. (Note that our zep was modified with ham instead of the classic salami.)
With a pedigree like that, who needs lettuce?
Eve's Lunch, 301 E. Johnson Hwy., Norristown, 610-277-6600
Lou's Sandwich Shop, 414 E. Main St., Norristown, 610-279-5415
|Chicken Nugget Coop|
|Photo: Robert Stolarik for The New York Times|
Brit graffiti artist Banksy is known all over the world for his subversive street art. His painted works are typically sprayed on buildings, roadways, sidewalks — even boats and sandy beaches — through ingenious stencils. The often life-size paintings force viewers to regard a familiar trope or image in a new (and often disturbing) light.
Scourge of cops and hero of graf artists, Banksy has now turned his saboteur's eye on a new medium — installation sculpture. His first-ever New York City exhibition, The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill, opened yesterday. Contained within the storefront is a menagerie of animatronic critters, real pet supplies and strange edibles, like cans of Hormel's Pork tidbits. In her New York Times article "Where Fish Sticks Swim Free and Chicken Nuggets Self-Dip," Melena Ryzik catalogs the creatures populating Banksy's "pet store".
“Open for Pet Supplies/Rare Breeds/Mechanically retrieved meat” says a sign in front of the shop. Bales of hay dot the sidewalk, along with a kiddie dolphin ride, wrapped in a fishing net like the day’s catch. But it is the leopard in one of the storefront windows that stops passers-by first. “Is that — real?” a woman asked on Wednesday, peering at a large furry object perched on a tree branch, its tail swinging.
It’s not: it is an ingeniously arranged fake fur coat. The robot monkey is more lifelike: it sits, breathing, in a cage inside the store, wearing headphones, holding a remote and watching a television clip of some fellow monkeys in an amorous moment.
A rabbit wearing a pearl necklace files her nails in a window; the coop in the next one has chicken nuggets with legs, busily dipping themselves in sauce.
Inside the store, hot dogs and sausages squirm like snakes in sand-filled terrariums, and the floating fish sticks are so lifelike that a visitor tapped on the tank, as if to get their attention.
Ryzik also reported on Banksy's inspiration behind his anthropomorphized pets-cum-snacks.
“I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainability of factory farming,” Banksy said in a statement distributed by a publicist, “but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing.”
The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill runs through October 31, 89 Seventh Avenue South (near Bleecker). The exhibit is free to the public.
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