The 2012 Philadelphia Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival is almost a week away! This year, the Festival boasts a NEW name, NEW venue, NEW VIP tasting, and an expanded selection of spirits! Join COOK Sponsor Philadelphia magazine and PA Wine & Spirits Stores on October 25th at Lincoln Financial Field for an evening of over 200 premium spirits from around the world, including whiskey, scotch, bourbon, tequila, gin, rum, and vodka, delicious fare from the region’s finest restaurants, entertainment, and more. Interested in a one-of-a-kind VIP experience? New this year, VIP ticketholders will be granted early access to the Festival, a behind-the-scenes stadium tour, and a gift card to PA Wine & Spirits Stores. For more information visit phillymag.com/whiskeyfest
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Growing up in Utah, Marcos Espinoza just wanted to be normal. When he was in fifth grade, his New Mexican family opened Navajo Hogan, a Native American eatery in South Salt Lake, translating to long work hours for mom and dad — and full-blown “little restaurant rat” status for their son, who washed dishes and lent hands during catering gigs while the 9-to-5 parents of schoolmates enjoyed a more conventional day-to-day. “I wanted so bad to be normal, because all my friends were quote-unquote normal,” he says. “But now, that’s the last thing I want to be.”
Business-wise, at least. Espinoza, a married father of two, is now a 9-to-5er himself — he works as a cost estimator for a local construction company. “I really like my job,” he says. “But I also wanted to do something other than that, something involved with food.” He turned this desire into an impeccably branded reality earlier this year with Side Project Jerky (SPJ), a handmade snack that appeals to the polished, meat-masticating gentleman inside us all.
Two weeks back, six Philly chefs made their way up to NYC’s James Beard House to cook the very first collaborative Pig Dinner off their home turf. Chef David Katz, who launched this porky tradition at his restaurant Mémé in 2009, invited John Taus (The Corner), Terence Feury (Fork, until next month), Peter Woolsey (Bistrot La Minette), Michael Solomonov (Zahav) and Jennifer Carroll (Carroll Couture Cuisine) up with him to crank out the multi-course meal, the only stipulation being that every plate had to include a porcine element in some way. Those who couldn’t make the trip up for the occasion should start thanking their lardo-coated stars — on Monday, July 30, Katz is getting the crew back together for a second run, at his spot right here in Philly.
In contrast to previous events, which featured a pair of seatings, 2012′s Pig Dinner 2.0 will have only one, and it’ll be capped at 30 people. All the chefs from the New York field trip are returning, and this go-’round will feature some choice additions to the crew, too. Starting at 7 p.m., Nick Macri, Southwark sous chef and charcuterie assassin, will be slicing his handmade salumi (hearing rumors about an Old Bay salami) along with a whole roast suckling pig and hors d’oeuvres via Katz and his kitchen. And mercenary pastry chef Monica Glass, a past Pig Dinner participant, is joining the fun this year on the sweet side of things. Michael Madrigale, the Philly-boy sommelier of NYC’s Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, will handle choice wine pairings for the six-course meal, which kicks off at 7:45.
Mémé will begin taking reservations by phone (215-735-4900) this coming Wednesday, June 27. The price is $200 a head. Cancellations must be made no later than 48 hours before the event; guests will be charged $100 a person for cancelling anytime after the two-days-before mark.
The greatest trick Danny Meyer ever pulled? Convincing the world that it wants to wait in The Line.
Since 2004, when the effervescent restaurateur opened his first Shake Shack in New York City, Meyer’s dealt with heavy queues — snaking through Madison Square Park regardless what’s falling from the sky, trickling out of a glitzy Theater District doorway, packing a greenified courtyard on the Upper East Side. Now, with Philadelphia’s one-week-old Shake Shack spreading crinkle-cut love all over Center City, The Line has a permanent 215 area code. It clings to the eastern wall of Shack’s former-dry-cleaner digs, stretching, at its longest, to the corner of 20th and Moravian, where late lunch-rush arrivals stare at their shoes, closer to Tower Style Pizza‘s graffiti’d Dumpster than to chilly salvation via Termini cannoli-studded “Liberty Shell” concrete.
At first exasperated glance, The Line seems impenetrable, interminable and not even remotely worth waiting in, lest ye be clowned by your Philly friends for liking something tourists also like. But for some reason, This Line is different, standing out from Sabrina’s sidewalk clusters or Village Whiskey‘s pert we’ll-call-you promises. “There is nothing particularly innovative about any single component of Shake Shack,” writes Meyer in his 2006 service-industry sacred text Setting the Table. “The key, as always, [is] how we might blend all the components to make it feel original.”
That statement, perhaps intentionally, glosses over the quiet power of The Line. “For a restaurant that takes no table reservations, the existence of a line means that patrons are willingly making the choice to wait for their food while standing,” Meyer tells me. “[We] make sure there’s something so good at the end of the rainbow. Smiles and good food are a good start.”
Kicking rocks while waiting to grub at a popular joint staffed by shinyhappypeople is nothing new (hi, In-N-Out), but the Shack’s ravenous queue possesses this very particular and very sincere twinkle, free frozen custard samples and friendly curbside employee banter notwithstanding. Why do we wait in The Line? And why is everyone in The Line so calm and cool, especially here in Philly, where we are traditionally not calm and not cool about anything? I visited Shake Shack on a beautiful afternoon last week in search of answers.
We all know Philadelphia is a BYOB-loving town — you can barely walk down a city block without passing one. Don’t get me wrong, I love to bring my own wine to dinner. I sometimes wish I had one of those cool neon-colored neoprene bottle holders. But with so many good options around here, who do you trust? You can trust me on this one: Go to Pumpkin. In 2004, chef Ian Moroney and his wife Hillary Bor opened their small South Street restaurant with a simple goal: providing an unpretentious food and wine experience that is accessible to everyone. For seven years, the couple kept up this approach, changing their menu daily to showcase the best products from local purveyors. Then, last December, Chris Kearse came on as chef de cuisine and began taking Pumpkin in an exciting new direction, bringing fascinating new ingredients and techniques to the table while still honoring Ian and Hillary’s philosophy. We knew we had to get them in here ASAP!
On a frigid Monday night in February, Ian and Chris came in for a night of seafood splendor that we dubbed “Under the Sea.” They heated up the COOK kitchen quick, preparing five fish-focused courses and one ridiculous hazelnut financier dessert. Both chefs are huge seafood fanatics and shared their extensive knowledge of fish and its many preparations. Ian filled us in on the complicated steps it takes to properly prepare Spanish octopus, while Chris broke down some of the unconventional accompaniments he used for the dish, such as Buddha’s Hand, an exotic Asian fruit. (Even though it’s citrus, its odd shape and color led many to comment that it looked like a sea creature — perfect for the evening!)
One thing that really separates Pumpkin from other BYOBs in Philly: Their food looks just as good as it tastes. Chris, who has cooked in the cutting-edge kitchens of icons like Charlie Trotter, Laurent Gras, Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller, has such an incredible eye for building ingredients on a plate that really adds to the overall visual impact of your meal The bacalao al pil-pil with potato chantilly and pistachio was a big hit with everyone, but my personal favorite dish of the night was the fifth course, a filet of cobia served with cauliflower, black truffle, salsify and vermouth. Cobia, also known as black kingfish, has a firm texture and a strong flavor, so pairing it with truffle and hearty salsify was a perfect fit. Just one small example of the tremendous talent Ian and Chris have for combining flavors in such a memorable way.
COOK looks forward to having the Pumpkin crew return very soon, but in the meantime I’m happy to know I can stroll down the street to 17th and South to dine in their house anytime! One of the best ways to try them out is on a Sunday night, when they offer a five-course tasting menu for just $40. You can’t beat that deal, and you can’t beat the cozy feel of their beautiful dining room, either.
Check out the full menu from the evening and some additional photos:
Push up your spectacles and put down your glasses. It is time to shine, geeks. Philly Beer Geek 2011 is upon us.
Beer geeks should not be confused with snobs. Beer is joyous, welcoming, inexpensive, and, for the most part, accessible. Beer is simple and plentiful like the cheesesteak or the pretzel
- and equally Philadelphian at this point. Even in Philly (where retail beer costs are stupid expensive, relative to almost any other state) we almost never pay more than $10 a glass or $25 dollars a bottle for even the most hyper-limited of beers and the majority of craft beer costs somewhere between $2.50 – $5 per bottle.
I think it was Benjamin Franklin himself who said that beer is proof that God didn’t want us to go broke drowning our sorrows. Your wine-loving friends may be ashamed (or perhaps
eager) to tell you that their collection contains many multi-Benjamin bottles. But you can really drink your way to an encyclopedic level of expertise with that kind of dough in the beer world and many Philadelphians have done so.
And this is not meant to belittle wine aficionados at large, but, frankly speaking, your “average wine aficionado” is significantly wealthier than your average Philadelphian. Our Joe, by the way, makes about $16k per year and has worked only 16 of the last 24 months. Calling Philly an essentially “middle” or “working” class city is precisely the kind of overstatement that one might hear over a ninety-dollar glass of Alsacean Pinot.
OK, rant over. Philly Beer Geek 2011 celebrates the cash-strapped, likely-bearded sud-savants of our city. Compete yourself or come for the show. Qualifying rounds continue through May. Next up – Monday the 16th at the P.O.P.E.
Full schedule here.