Reading Terminal Market
I’m actually losing weight. I just consume microbites when doing this sort of chowconnaissance. The unfortuitous food combinations still leave me feeling vaguely queasy, as if I’ve overeaten, but my total calorie count’s pretty low. The Chowhound Diet.
Reading Terminal Market is a wonderful place, especially Wednesdays through Saturdays, when the Pennsylvania Dutch section is open. I mostly stuck to that area, because 1. the food looked best there, and 2. I wanted to get myself calibrated for my trip to Lancaster County.
1. Yes, I know it’s pronounced “Redding,” not “Reeding.”
2. My interview subject is, in case it’s not obvious, just this woman who sat down at the next table. That’s how the best chow tips are elicited. Obnoxiousness pays.
The woman in the podcast was right: LeBus Bakery makes wonderful onion rolls. She was right about everything else too.
Hot news: The potato chips at Glick’s Salad look homemade, packaged in unmarked bags. I said in the podcast that they looked like they were fried in vegetable oil rather than lard, but no. I tasted (read: ravaged) them and found them properly lardy (a lard-fried chip emits the bouquet of fried pork chops). And, hot news, I dragged out of the stand’s proprietor the fact that these are repackaged red-bag Good’s chips. To explain: Blue-bag Good’s and red-bag Good’s look similar, and are made by different parts of the same family, but the rivalry is fierce. I’ve long ago taken sides, prefering Ralph Good’s red-bag chips to Lewis Good’s blue. So the glorious upshot is that red-bag Good’s can be found in downtown Philly (albeit repackaged in unmarked bags).
Here is the fantastic rotisserie chicken from Dienner’s Bar-B-Q that I was swooning over in the podcast. The wings were stunning—bones shattered easily, yet the meat was consummately moist. Perfection!
Hear a concluding podcast (MP3 file) about the unforgettable smoky ribs from the Rib Stand.
... and also mentioning the great soft handmade buttery pretzels (and very good ice cream) from Fisher’s:
Tracking Wonderful Ena
I’ve been tracking a brilliant Indonesian chef named Ena for many years. I first found her cooking in the basement of the Indonesian Consulate, and the story of her gig there is too good not to tell. Here’s the review I wrote for a guidebook about 10 years ago:
The Cafeteria in the Indonesian Consulate
Atmosphere/Setting: You walk down the stately steps of the Indonesian consulate, into the building’s basement. Open the massive iron door, buzz to be admitted through another set of doors, pass a receptionist (tell her you’re there for lunch), go through still another door and head straight toward what appears to be a large closet. In the center of this closet there’s a single long table (covered with a cheap plastic cloth), at which dignified Indonesian men in suits are eating from paper plates. To the right, in a small alcove, a good-humored Indonesian woman is juggling dozens of pots and pans on her huge antique stove. The smell is positively hypnotizing. Tell her you want to try everything, and go have a seat at the table (grab some plastic utensils from the big central bucket and water from the water cooler) and await bliss.
House Specialties: The menu changes every day; you’ll be served tastes of five or six different things, all piled high on your plate. Luscious possibilities include chicken or fish in spicy peanut sauce, spicy potatoes, tempeh concoctions, a vegetable hodgepodge or other, and lots of perfectly cooked rice. The sole complaint is that the sambal (fiery Indonesian chutney) is usually commercial … but at least it’s a good brand.
Other Recommendations: There’s optional soup, for an extra buck (raising your tab to a whopping $6). Go for it.
Summary and Comments: Not only is this by far the finest Indonesian food in town (perhaps in the entire country), but it’s also a regional style (Sundanese) hard to find cooked this well even in Indonesia. The cuisine will please even skittish eaters; its exoticness lies in the spicing and condiments, while staples are relatively familiar (the chef does cook pretty spicy, but rarely does she apply serious heat as you’d find in, say, Thai restaurants). While nobody minds well-behaved outsiders stopping by, this lunchroom is not particularly seeking our business, either. Be patient about waiting for your food, and expect little in the way of coddling. Remember, this is not a Real Restaurant.
After that, Ena operated a quasilegal catering operation from her home in Queens, and was also, I’d heard, commuting to Philadelphia to run a secret place out there (serving the ever-growing community of Indonesian immigrants). The secret place has blossomed into a full-fledged restaurant, though you’d never know it from its anonymous position on an otherwise purely residential block.
Hardena Restaurant (1754 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 215-271-9442) is full of potfuls, panfuls, trayfuls, and steam tables full of Ena’s great cooking. She couldn’t cook only one thing at a time if she tried. I was almost delirious with happiness tearing through her adobos and vegetable patties and whatever else she piled onto my plate.
This place has been sort of discovered by the Philly food press, but they’re underrating it. Ena is one of the most talented chefs I know, and her restaurant is worth a drive from just about anywhere.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Lancaster County)
Then it was down to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where I completely lost it while shopping at Yoder’s Country Market (14 South Tower Road, New Holland, Pennsylvania; 717-354-4748).
I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the snack food aisle, completely loaded as it was with a huge range of superb local pretzels and lard-fried potato chips, including nearly monumental supplies of both red-bag Good’s and blue-bag Good’s.
Just look at the beautiful variation in brownness among bags of Martin’s pretzels!
It’s downright surreal to see so many holy grail brands presented proudly, and in larger quantity than mainstream brands. It’s as startling as if a Truffaut film were to get top billing at a suburban multiplex. My pulse raced, my brow grew moist, and once I’d exhausted my camera’s flash, I compulsively loaded up a shopping cart with $30.17 worth of snack products:
I’ll assemble a tasting panel next week in North Carolina to work through this mother lode, so watch for my notes.
I ate dinner at Yoeder’s restaurant, near the market in the sprawling Yoder’s compound. Buffet’s the way to go here, and having been all riled up by potato chip shopping, I ate myself into a stupor. This is one of the rare Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants that’s patronized more by locals than by tourists, yet a lot of the food had the same tired-out, commercialized feeling as in the tourist meccas. This is a cuisine one must eat at home—or at church events. The hip church, I’m told, is Belleman’s Church (3650 Belleman’s Church Road, Mohrsville, Pennsylvania; 610-926-4280 or 610-916-1044), but my timing was off. No churches for me.
But along with exhausted greasy noodles and drab salads, Yoder’s did make a few real good things: great bacon salad dressing (quadruple your Lipitor tonight), very good rotisserie chicken, and a revelation: baked oatmeal, made from steel-cut oats and a recipe I need to try to re-create one day (after many return trips to try it again and again). They also do broasted chicken, a licensed term for chicken cooked on a type of frying equipment that was popular in the 1970s but seems to have disappeared everywhere but in this part of Pennsylvania. The fried chicken I tried had been sitting too long, but it’s my fault for dining at the ungodly hour of 7:30 p.m., just before closing. Damned city people …