Sorry I’ve been a little MIA the last couple of weeks as I’ve been out of the country, but I have a special week’s worth of posts from my yep starting next week. In the meantime, I’m going to start the Summer season with some outdoor food market experiences.
I am a big fan of food festivals since they’re a great way of trying out local vendors–especially with friends. Philadelphia has so many food events over the summer including Night Market and the Italian Market Festival. Night Market is a roving food market that moves to a new neighborhood once a month and has a ton of local food trucks,’carts and food artisans selling their products. From cupcakes, to cookies, to dumplings to sandwiches, there are so many foods to try. The Italian Market Festival is a once a year two day, weekend celebration of the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia and features live music, local artists and artisans, and stalls for Italian market vendors. If you’re a fan of Italian food, this is one event to definitely pencil in!
Although I couldn’t try everything, I think I got a good sampling of foods at both events. Night Market began in Philadelphia, in 2010, as an homage to outdoor Asian markets, and showcases hot Philly neighborhoods, and street foods. Each month it moves to a new area of the city such as Lancaster Ave, East Passyunk, Chinatown, Northern Liberties and more.
The Night Market season kicked off this year on South Street last month. The South Street area is funky, with a mix of cool restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a new area for the market–for me–to take place, but they were up to the challenge.
We really started out the night Philly-style at the T & N Homemade Kitchen truck with Phried Hoagie ($6), which was exactly how it sounds. They took a quarter of an Italian hoagie, dipped it into a tempura batter made with Ginger Ale and deep-fried it. This dish was super messy, but in such a fun way. As you but into it there was a great thick crust that grew outward from the middle of the sandwich. It was thick, but still chewy. The meat on the inside stayed moist and semi-cold. The temperature play was a nice touch. The only real issue was the ratio of crust to filling — I wish there was a bit more meat.
Next up we had a sample of some picked green beans from Brine Street Picklery, which were tart, sour, a little bit sweet, and so refreshing.
Next up we stopped at Pbon’s Fresh Phood of Philly. Pbon sells sandwiches with an emphasis on crab. The Philly Melt ($8) with crab was calling our name. This sandwich was pretty unique. The crab cake was grilled and not fried, and the crabmeat was juicy and succulent. It was served on a chewy pretzel bun that absorbed a lot of the excess moisture. It was a perfect second course and was great to walk with.
It was time for a drink, and luckily, Bistro Romano, in addition to selling food, were serving drinks. For $5 we each got a summertime cocktail – Limoncello Vodka Lemonade for me, and Vodka Watermelon Cooler for my friend. The drinks were light and perfect for the hot night air. There was a good amount of alcohol, and were more distinctive (and cheaper!) than a beer. The lemonade wasn’t too sweet and had a subtle lemony flavor.
After walking the length of the market, we had built up our appetite again and heeded to Mama’s Balls, a food truck that specializes in meatballs of multiple varieties. I’d been looking forward to trying this truck for a while and so we went with the 3 for $13 plate. The Rabe-Father meatball was made with ground turkey with a peppery spiciness from the broccoli rabe, which also kept the turkey moist. It was stuffed with asiago cheese that also helped keep it moist and garnished with pesto that helped elevate this meatball to deliciousness. The Spicy Sausage Ball had a nice kick from the hot Italian sausage and a nice cooling effect from the delicious marinara sauce that it was dressed in. The final meatball was the Blue Ball that was stuffed with blue cheese and bacon, and covered with a creamy blue cheese sauce. The meatballs were all served on mini, slider rolls which were easy to eat, but not always necessary. These meatballs were so moist and delicious, I wish I had like 20 of them.
The Mac Mart Cart was (finally) calling our name. This truck specializes in everyone’s favorite comfort food, max ‘n cheese. We had to save this for towards the end since it’s so heavy, but also so delicious. It was the creamy noodle dish of my dreams. The Buffalo Mac and Cheese ($8) features their classic mac is topped with spicy buffalo chicken that is chopped into small pieces, tangy buffalo sauce, creamy Buttermilk Ranch sauce and a Parmesan-Panko crust. The portion itself was also huge and easily fed two people.
At this point, we were ready for dessert. The first stop was Sugar Philly for some amazingly, appetizing French Macaron ($1.50 each). The strawberry was a bit tart and had a nice berry flavor that perfumes the cookie. The banana and chocolate chip flavor was a nice balance of sweetness from the chocolate and mellow banana flavor. The milk and honey macaron had the flavor of the best angel food cake, but sweeter. The final one was watermelon and mango and was awesome; it wasn’t too sweet but had a wonderful fruit flavor and a burst of summer in my mouth. All of the cookies had crisp edges with a wonderful chewy texture. The cream in the middle was just the right amount as to not overwhelm the delicate cookies.
The macarons had only half satisfied out sweet tooth, so up next was The Baker’s Jar. Baker’s Jar specializes in miniature sized desserts of cakes, pies or puddings served in mason jars. They had a variety of flavors available at Night Market, but we went with the Carrot Cake and Dulce de Leche Brownie ($4 each). The carrot cake was moist and had a nice cinnamon aftertaste, with a good amount of cream cheese frosting. The frosting was velvety smooth and I could’ve eaten it by the spoonful. The brownie was intensely chocolatey with a deep cocoa flavor. The brownie was garnished with a thick caramel sauce, and was very fudge-y. The jars were small enough that I didn’t feel guilty eating two of them myself.
Next up was the Italian Market Festival the following weekend, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary, or Cent’anni, of the 9th Street Italian Market. As I walked towards South 9th Street, I was hit by the aroma of some sort of pastry in the air, which were cannoli shells maybe. I passed Twin Smoke Shoppe selling hand rolled cigars that gave off a heady musk, and there were food vendors going in both directions – pasta, pastries, meats, and more.
All the smells in the air was making me super hungry, so I started the afternoon off with a slice of Lorenzo’s Pizza ($2.50). The slice had a perfect cheese and sauce ratio, and became a blank canvas for the crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. The crust was doughy and chewy, and simply delicious to eat. Great way to start off the day.
My next stop was at the Humpty’s Dumplings food truck for some Italian themed dumplings (3 for $5). I chose the sausage, spinach and pork. The pork dumpling went great with the tomato sauce and tasted almost like a mini-Stromboli. The spinach dumpling was super moist and reminded me of a spinach purse appetizer. I thought the pork dumpling would have ground pork, but turned out to be be stuffed with chopped up pork and spinach from a roast pork sandwich. It was my favorite of the three and super appropriate for Philly. The skin on the dumplings was not too crispy, and almost like puff pastry. They were good for walking and definitely unique.
Villa di Roma Italian restaurant had samples of their homemade marinara sauce. The sauce was the same sauce they use in the restaurant and not sell by the jar. It was luxurious, thick but not too chunky. It was sweet and had a earthy Oregano taste. The other version was more basil heavy.
I decided to take a small break from eating to explore some of the local market food vendors. Cardenas Oil and Vinegar Taproom is a specialty food store featuring various flavored extra virgin olive oils, vinegars and sea salts. There were flavors like lemongrass mint vinegar, basil oil, pink sea salts, and more. The Bordeaux cherry vinegar was dark in flavor and in color. There was an after note of spice–classic but modern. I wanted it to glaze my grilled salmon, but but also on a chicken liver crostini. It might even be good in a dessert! The garlic chili oil was also slight darker than a normal olive oil, and was spicy but not too hot. It had s building heat with a punch of garlic flavor. The sage onion oil was also tasty with a very strong sage flavor, appropriate for bold dishes . It would also be good for poultry dishes, especially a heavier bird like a turkey. The oil had an aromatic onion background flavor as well. I ended up buying the Grapefruit, White Balsamic Vinegar ($16). It was tangy, but not very acidic. It wasn’t too cloying, but had a perfumed sweetness and was syrupy thick. It would be delicious drizzled on a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad, or even used to make an Italian soda with some seltzer.
My next eat wasn’t very Italian, but I couldn’t resist. There happen to be a few Latin shops in the Italian Market area, so I wasn’t that surprised to see the popular Mexican street corn ($4) being sold at a few stalls. The corn cob was slathered with mayonnaise and then covered with Mexican cotija cheese. The corn itself was so juicy, and every time I took a big bite, juice would go flying. The cheese wasn’t as salty as Feta, but gave each bite great texture. The mayo didn’t add much taste and mostly acted as the glue for the cheese and corn. The corn had that perfect amount of summer sweetness and was perfectly cooked, though it could’ve done with a bit more char for my taste. They were also selling some grilled, roasted mango in “mango flower,” so I took a sample. The mango was so sweet and delicious. It would have been perfect for salsa.
No visit to the Italian Market is compete without a detour at Termini Bros Bakery ($5), a legendary Italian bakery making cookies, cakes, pastries and, of course, cannoli. Termini had a few stalls set up throughout the festival where they would pipe cannoli shells full of cream on the spot. So I had to get a cannoli for myself, and went with the classic filling with chocolate chips. Biting into a cannoli from Termini is heaven–the whipped ricotta was so amazingly light and creamy, but so filling. It’s not too sweet, and complements the crispy pastry shell nicely. There were chocolate chips hidden in the filing, but thy didn’t overwhelm the delicate ricotta. The shell was super crispy, and just big enough for scooping up extra filling with broken pieces as you bite into it. The filling to shell ratio was spot on. The slight dusting of powdered sugar wasn’t even needed. I needed a few moments alone with my cannoli.
My final stop of the day was at the famous Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food that was selling their homemade pasta to long lines of hungry Philadelphians. It was hard to decide for me as to what I wanted, so I had a bit of a combo bowl ($8). The cheese ravioli were pillows of pasta surrounding a slightly grainy but creamy ricotta filling–much more savory and thinner than the cannoli filling. The ravioli presented a greater surface area for the tomato sauce which was very basil heavy, sweet snd chunky. The other half of my bowl was penne with vodka sauce, and the ridges on the penne allowed it to catch more of be sauce. The vodka sauce had a peppery bite that came off as spicy, but not hot. Overall the pastas were pretty saucy and pieces of the meatball would break off and incorporate into the sauce. It very much allowed for a cohesive eating experience. The meatballs were absolutely delicious. They have a generous portion of two big meatballs. They must have used a nest blend because not only could you see the different meats in the ball as it was split open, but the meatball stayed very moist and juicy. It didn’t suffer from the downfall of many meatballs where it dries out due to being in a larger piece of meat and sitting out. This pasta and meatball bowl was the perfect way to end my Italian Market experience and sent me home with a belly full of tasty Italian treats.
This was my first round of Philly food festivals this summer, look for Night Market – Callowhill coming up soon!