Rittenhouse Tavern is the latest restaurant to claim the gracious dining space in the stunning Philadelphia Art Alliance, a mixed used art and event space built on Rittenhouse Square in 1906 as the historic Wetherill mansion. Besides the chance to dine in the newly landscaped secret garden, reason enough to pay a visit, the Tavern dishes creative and gorgeously composed modern cuisine from chef Nicholas Elmi, formerly of Le Bec-Fin. Chef Nick, working with consulting chef Ed Brown of Restaurant Associates, pays homage to his classical French roots while bringing seasonal sensibilities to every plate, starting with spring asparagus with wild ramps and preserved lemon and a paired rhubarb reduction with English peas and seared dayboat scallops. Sassy bar snacks deconstruct a deviled egg over scrapple and hop to with frog legs crisped atop a watercress smear and a dab of Philly cream cheese. The fried chicken Sunday supper is served family style for $18 per person, including sides and buttermilk biscuits. For dessert, the brown butter cake with lavender crème fraiche sorbet is a must. A tidy menu of craft beer, artisinal cocktails (love the Betsy Ross with gin and St. Germain) and a well balanced wine list offered by the glass, bottle and quartino, round out the menu. While chef Nick was certainly adept at classic French cuisine, he’s having fun here, and the change is delicious.
A snowy egret is watching us cagily from the banks of the Bayou St. John, strutting with his over sized yellow feet like a clown on parade.
Maybe he’s not used to seeing humans kayaking in his urban waterway, a sight that’s becoming increasingly common, thanks to Kayak-iti-yat, a fledgling touring business owned by local partners Sara Howard and Sonny Averett.
Founded last year, Kayak-iti-yat (a paddling riff on the local query, where y’at?) sheds new light on the city’s charming Mid-City neighborhood bounded by the historic canal, once a vibrant transportation waterway connecting to Lake Ponchartrain. Sara and Sonny take turns leading the tours, which are geared mostly to novices, unless a wind whips chop into the usually placid canal.
Bits of history and lore are shouted into the breeze, historic homes are identified and a growing confluence of birds remarked upon, from great blue herons to beady eyed pelicans. Special tours can include lunch at Liuzza’s at the Track (don’t even think about getting anything besides the barbecued shrimp po’boy) and admission to the racetrack during the season, a fun chance to see what happens there when Jazzfest isn’t the main event. If you’re feeling lucky, and since you’re in New Orleans, that’s a given, the night is still young, and anything can happen.
When New Orleanians “make groceries” in the Big Easy, chances are they’ll be patronizing one of many locally owned, independent grocery stores. Langenstein’s, Robert Fresh Market, Dorignacs and Rouses are four great options, each with its own signature style and claim to fame.
Marc and Darlene Robért are newcomers to the party, opening their first Robert Fresh Market in the suburb of Metaire in 1994, now with multiple locations around town, each with an emphasis on local and organic product. Rouses is the go-to spot in the Quarter, with a fancy new location in the burgeoning Central Business District. The store has its roots as the City Produce Company, founded by J.P. Rouse in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in 1923. Dorignac’s, opened in 1947 in Metairie, is known for its terrific wine selection and outstanding customer service.
When Michael Langenstein and his sons George and Richard opened Langenstein’s supermarket in the early 1920’s, their goal was to carry the best meat and seafood in New Orleans. Locals love this place for its amazing quality meats and gourmet prepared Louisiana specialties.
Making groceries N’Awlins style means it stays in the family.
On any night of the week, within a two-block stretch of Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, you can follow a brass band down the street, catch a reggae groove at Cafe Negril, and swing dance at Mimi’s and the Spotted Cat. Just across the street, get down with rootsy rock and brass at d.b.a. and at the corner, grunge out at Check Point Charlie’s, a serious rock ’n’ roll dive where you can also do your laundry. A few doors up, you might catch some excellent funk at Blue Nile with Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and support local talent at the Apple Barrel Inn. Hungry? Frenchmen is also a great spot for cheap ethnic eats, like Italian at Adolfo’s and Middle Eastern from Mona’s, along with assorted food trucks that keep things cooking. Window shop for a tattoo at Electric Ladyland before finishing the night at Snug Harbor, a straight ahead jazz club.
Old school is always in session at G&M Market in Glendora, a South Jersey town not far from the Deptford Mall. Master butcher and recantour Hank Mariotti just celebrated 55 years at the family-run bushess, an old fashioned butcher shop and deli that still makes homemade sausage and grinds and cuts meat to order. For customers with no time to cook, beef and pork is roasted fresh daily for sandwiches, and the hoagies and sandwiches are some of the best around.
As he approaches his 80th birthday, Mariotti, who co-owns the business with his son Gary, still works seven days a week. It’s a work ethic he learned young.
Mariotti remembers going to the South Philly butcher with his mom as a kid, and being fascinated by the business of cutting meat. The shop owner noticed, and gave him a job for 25 cents a week sweeping up the store. He was nine. That job turned into apprenticing at an Italian Market meat palace, working for $15 a week. “I asked for a raise, and they said what raise, you’re learning a trade, that’s your raise.”
What’s so special about G&M?
“We take care of our customers,” he said. “I tell them what to buy and how to cook it.” Asked how he’s changed over the years, Hank has a quick answer. “I used to eat six pork chops and 12 veal cutlets at one time. Since I’ve gotten older I’ve cut my meals in half.”
I was strolling through the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, a crowded movable feast of everything from antiques to fake Rolex watches, when I saw her. Maybe I noticed her patchwork colored face and dark brown eyes because I was missing my puppy, as I often do when I’m on the road. Or maybe because the idea of a Westie pop portrait was so incongruous. Do they even have Westies in Thailand? Sweet brown mongrels are more the norm. I made a beeline to the artist’s booth, and while Ton didn’t speak English, he smiled when I showed him a picture of Ruby on my phone, and sold me his painting for $7 in Thai baht. He even signed it for me. I wondered where he had found his inspiration; I knew where I found mine.
Read more about the small treasures we appreciate the most in this Boston Globe round up.
Instead of ordering an impersonal gourmet basket from a national outfit like Harry and David, why not patronize a local business and customize a basket to the tastes of your client, neighbor, office mate or friend? Here are three Philly-area locally owned businesses that do mouth-watering jobs at packaging a gourmet gift basket sure to please.
At the Pennsylvania General Store in the Reading Terminal Market, owners Michael and Julie Holahan showcase some of the best food products in the region, available individually or in gift baskets. Treats include Uncle Jerry’s pretzels, Bucks County Coffee, Sweetzel’s spiced wafers, Asher’s chocolates, Lancaster County saffron and homemade jams and Philly born and raised Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. There’s even a basket designed with the Philly sports fan in mind. For $47.97, your pal can cheer on the Eagles while munching on the likes of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets, Utz Potato Chips, Rosie’s Butter Cookies, Asher’s Keystone Crunch, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, Uncle Jerry’s Hard Pretzels and Mama Lou’s Dipping Mustard. You even get an Eagles’ bumper sticker as a bonus.
A basket from Chaddsford Winery puts the spotlight on Eric and Lee Miller’s award winning wine. Oenophiles will love the $58.99 Craft Cuvee Collection, 2009 vintages made in small lots of 200 cases or less.
At Carlino’s in Ardmore, three generations of the Carlino family purvey all kinds of imported Italian goodies. Prices start around $50 for customized gift basket, with the Italian feast one of the most popular combos, at $60-$125. Savor olive oil from the family’s hometown in Abruzzi, fresh mozzarella, aged provolone, olives, fresh baked bread and assorted other goodies, including something for the sweet tooth, like Italian biscotti, chocolate or cookies.
See a whole different side of Yellowstone in winter, using Cody, Wyoming as a gateway.
This homespun charmer of town, refreshingly light years away from the glitz and glamor of Jackson Hole, was founded in 1896 by western showman Buffalo Bill Cody. A natural gateway to Yellowstone, Cody’s broad streets, world-class Buffalo Bill Historical Center and thriving western culture sets the ideal stage for an authentic Old West family experience.
Winter action abounds here, from ice climbing to skiing and snowboarding just three miles from Yellowstone at Sleeping Giant Ski Area, with its unique terrain park and tree skiing & boarding challenges.
Getting into Yellowstone in the winter is part of the adventure. Two of the park’s nine lodges are open, but only the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel near the north entrance is accessible by car. Better to leave the driving to snowmobile or snowcoach — a pretty cool experience for kids (and adults)!
Kids activities include skiing, snowshoeing and ice-skating. There are ski trails near the lodges, and families can arrange “ski drops” — snowcoaches take them to the trailhead and return to pick them up at an appointed time. As an added bonus, winter is prime wildlife viewing season. There are even multi-day excursions led by naturalists via cross-country skis and snowshoe, a memorable way to experience Yellowstone the way Buffalo Bill might have back in the day
Ruth Pettit snips away in her fragrant garden, gathering an armful of aromatic gardenia and lemon verbena to steep for tea. It’s a sample of what awaits the hungry visitor in search of both beauty and sustenance in the North Island’s stunning Coromandel coastline along the northeastern shore. When asked about farm to table cuisine, Ruth seems a bit flummoxed. “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” she says with a shrug.
Ruth and her husband Andy own the Colenso Country Shop & Cafe, an outgrowth of the family orchard business. “With four children to put through school, we needed more than mandarins,” said Ruth, who opened the cafe and shop 22 years ago.
Perched on a scenic hillside overlooking Mercury Bay, the cafe is on “state highway” 25-A – one of the ribbons of gorgeous roadways crisscrossing the North Island. The Cafe’s menu is all about fresh and seasonal comfort fare, usually starring herbs, veggies and fruits from the garden out back. Dishes might include local lamb enfolded in buttery puff pastry, wedges of feta and spinach pie and grilled ham and cheese panini featuring happy porkers from a nearby pasture. Homebaked scones, with clotted cream and fresh peach jam, are the perfect accompaniment for Ruth’s just-picked herbal tea.
After lunch, browse through the stylish shop for a few New Zealand made goods to take home. At the very least, buy a jar of local Manuka honey, a tonic for just about anything that ails you. Then again, the same can be said for New Zealand, a destination that’s definitely good for the soul.
Located just 30 minutes west of Fort Myers and off of most tourists’ radar, Pine Island, Florida doesn’t have a single beach to its name. Ditto for high rise development, theme parks and the typical chain stores. Yet its Old Florida appeal is undeniable, both for the 9,000 year-round residents of the 17-mile long island, and for the savvy visitors who come calling.
Besides a plethora of wildlife and a no-frost tropical clime, Pine Island is also home to the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival, which takes around the beginning of November every year. . Hundreds of paddlers, competitors and outdoor enthusiasts convene to follow in the wake of the Calusa Indians, who first paddled along the pristine gulf coastline.
Pine Island is at the northern most point of the Blueway’s 190 miles of marked water trails that start in Bonita Springs, and offer meandering views of leggy wading birds, mangrove tunnels and sugar-sand beaches.
Pine Island’s section of the trail brings you in splashing distance to the artsy small town of Matlacha (say Mat-luh-shay), with its funky waterfront galleries and restaurants. Here, you’ll meet Leoma Lovegrove, whose Painting Out Loud performances have earned her international acclaim. Peggy McTeague at Wild Child Gallery is proud to showcase her own metal sculptures, along with art by more than 120 mostly local artists. And Lou Demek, a New York shoe wholesaler who “retired” to Matlacha and opened the Shoe Gallery, a lemon-colored shop full of serious fashion bargains. Stroll up and down the main drag, and in each shop, it’s the owner who will welcome you, something that just doesn’t happen at your average chain store.
So while the masses flock to the sandy beaches of places like nearby Sanibel, the fortunate few seek out the road less traveled to Matlacha. People like Bill and Diane Stoelker, who moved from Philadelphia to this quirky little town a few years ago. Co-owners of the comfortable Angler’s Inn, the couple fell in love with the island’s laid back lifestyle and friendly vibe.
A paradise for boaters, Matlacha is made up of a series of canals, so you’re never far from the water. And there’s a strong sense of community in town, a one-mile strip of ramshackle fishing shacks turned into galleries, restaurants and shops. Painted in rainbow hues, downtown Matlacha is reminiscent of what Key West used to be like, long before the cruise ships started bringing boatloads of tourists to town.
Order some just caught fish, blackened, broiled, fried or grilled, at Olde Fish House, a waterfront market that serves food Thursday through Sunday out on the shaded patio. Or grab a cold one at Bert’s Bar, where you can sample the best smoked smelt in all of Lee County.
Pine Island isn’t the usual FLorida beach destination, but if it’s authenticity you crave, along with fresh seafood, friendly bars (when was the last time you had a $1 beer?), great fishing and a bona fide artists’ community, then you’ll give this off-the-map destination five stars.