It’s that time of year: your office is filled with sugary treats, pop divas are murdering ‘O Holy Night’ on every radio station, you are tempted to drop five bucks on an eggnog latté, and every blog, magazine and newspaper is filled with ‘Best of 2007’ lists. Why should the Real Potato be any exception? Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of 2007, in no particular order.
www.tiffinstore.com, 710 W. Girard Ave. (between 7th and 8th Sts.), Philadelphia, PA
I can’t believe I haven’t written about Tiffin yet. Not only is this the best Indian food in Philadelphia, but my friend LeftyProf and his partner, both from Bangalore, swear this is the best Northern Indian they’ve had in 15 years in the US. In fact, I know several Indians who have gone out of their way just to get more of Tiffin’s food. We even had them cater our wedding. I am grateful to live in their delivery zone. They’re that good.
Tiffin is a multifaceted operation– they’ve got a dining room on Girard; they do regular old takeout; they have a catering business; and they also have an Indian-style lunch tiffin system. You order a light, healthy lunch online from a fixed menu in the morning, and they deliver at lunchtime anywhere between Fishtown and University City. Make sure to check out their specials, which change constantly and tend toward the fresh and seasonal.
2. Spring Garden Market
Spring Garden St at the corner of 4th St.
This is a brand new discovery– Spring Garden Market just opened its doors this week. This new addition to Northern Liberties, just north of Chinatown, is a cavernous, colorful, sparkling new Asian supermarket. The produce section is huge, and filled with all sorts of specialty produce (five kinds of sweet potatoes, anyone?) for Asian cooks. There’s a butcher and a fishmonger: their prices are low and the quality is quite high. You need pork belly? This is the place. Blocks of fresh tofu are 5 for a dollar; fresh noodles, whole water chestnuts, gigantic sheets of bean curd, you name it. The groceries are comprehensive, from Vietnamese noodles to black sesame oil to a huge range of canned fruits and vegetables, bags of rice, and 99-cent cans of rice congee. This is my new favorite grocery store.
3. The Les Halles Cookbook
OK, we all know I love Anthony Bourdain, but seriously, this cookbook is great. It’s not just the food, though there’s definitely plenty of food porn here. It really delves into Bourdain’s philosophy of cooking, and it’s filled with passion on so many things. It’s also written in Bourdain’s actual voice, so expect cooking instructions that swear at you, tell you that you don’t deserve good steak if you’re going to overcook it, and instruct you to roll your herb butter in plastic wrap “just like you would roll a joint.” Hee. The style doesn’t veer into the gimmicky, though, which is a hard balance to maintain. And the FOOD, oh my god. I’m going to get some pork belly at Spring Garden Market and try my hand at rillettes de porc, oh yes.
4. The Hot Sauce at Taco Riendo
It’s not red, guys. It’s a deep, velvety maroon, with a flavor that penetrates into the dark, smoky heart of chipotle flavor. And it’s totally amazing on al pastor tacos. If they bottled this, I would buy it and give it to everyone I know. (Aside to Taco Riendo: Seriously, have you considered bottling it?)
5. The Headhouse Market
This farmer’s market (which closes this weekend!) appears on Sunday mornings in the historic Headhouse pavilion at 2nd St. and South St. It’s sponsored by the Food Trust and features deliciously fresh produce, breads, dairy products and even wines. And some of the vendors are fellow Philly food bloggers!
3137 Mercury Drive, Columbus, GA
I was down in Columbus on a business trip a few months ago. The highlight of the trip was getting to see my cousins Maggie and Sheryl, but the culinary highlight was Country’s. My client’s directions involved the phrase ‘you can’t miss it, with all the barbecue smoke.’ He wasn’t kidding. The parking lot is full of fragrant black smoke from the barbecue pits– and it’s a wonderful sign of things to come. I went with some fellow translation project managers and shared achingly tender pork barbecue sandwiches and the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. (They also had fried pickles, which I hear are amazing if you like pickles– but I hate pickles with a furious passions, so I passed.)
7. Serious Eats
I first checked out this site after hearing that Alton Brown reads it religiously. It’s great– filled with food news, good recipes, and essays by serious chowhounds who share a passion for real food. They like to give away prizes, which is pretty awesome– I keep trying to win those Peter Luger steaks, believe me.
This is Joe’s influence– he’s turned me on to the joys of good scotch. I’ve been a beer nerd for many years now, and one of the things I enjoy about scotch is that it uses the same sort of palate, with malty, smoky flavors. Lagavulin, though, is the scotch that turned me into a scotch snob. It’s a single malt aged in sherry casks, and its dark, complex, smoky flavors just make other scotch seem kind of pointless.
9. Paizano’s Pizza
Baker City, Oregon
I’ve never been to Oregon, but I’ve been reading KeenEye’s blog for months now. In the time I’ve been reading, she’s renovated a building, opened a gourmet pizzeria and started to thrive. Her posts about the joys and pitfalls of running a restaurant are witty and sharp, and the food looks amazing.
10. Peking Duck
Yes, I realize that I’m years late to the party on this one. Until recently, I’d had Peking duck only once, on a college trip to London. I loved it but it never occurred to me to seek it out in the US. Thanks to Philly’s Chinatown, though, I’m a convert. We get ours at Wong Wong on the corner of Race and 9th. One whole duck feeds two people. You get tender duck with crispy, outrageously flavorful skin; fluffy little rice pancakes; fresh scallions; and plummy, tangy hoisin sauce. Make a little taco out of that and abandon yourself to the decadent glory of duck fat. Oh yeah.
Your turn: what’s your favorite food discovery of 2007?
I’ll be headed home to Pittsburgh this weekend and will probably be internet-less, so until then– merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak, happy Kwanzaa, blessed Yule, and if you don’t celebrate any of those, have fun on your day off. And thank you all for an amazing year!