Jack’s Hoop House Suppers
Jack Goldenberg grows veggies in his yard and sells them to Philadelphia restaurants like Le Bec Fin and The Farm and The Fisherman, where he works part time. His garden, which grows in hoop houses alongside his Kensington rental house, also inspires pop-up dinners that tend to draw a vibrant crowd, from hipster kids to members of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS).
That’s because Jack, or “Chef Jack,” as he’s called, serves up a rollicking good time, along with things like mouse melon salads and steaks of giant foraged mushrooms. Of the 5-lb Maitake he served on Saturday, he says, “I got a call from my friend David Siller who found the mushroom in the woods — it was as big as your torso! It should have cost me $100 but David’s a friend, so I got it for thirty bucks.”
I’m telling you about this because 1) I took a cheese board to Jack’s pop-up on Saturday night and people devoured it like hyenas, and 2) I had a great time. I am still marveling how someone with an apartment kitchen could cook for 40+ people. Each meal was five courses. That’s not counting the Fairy Tale Eggplant bar snacks or the sunchoke soup served in beakers by roving waiters (a.k.a. roommates).
The best bite of the night was a salad of tiny turnips and baby lettuces with hide-and-go-seek entities under each leaf: a ground cherry, a speck of cashew puree, a bright squiggle of Corncord grape syrup that tasted like liquid hyacinths. All the while, servers clambored up and down stairs — the meal was served in two conjoined apartments — and purple-veined sprouts of red sorrel stared up at a heat lamp on the wet bar where guests stood around drinking wine, waiting for a seat on a folding chair. No one minded the wait.
The experience reminded me that sometimes the best dinners take place outside of restaurants and aren’t quite perfect (a bland chicken-and-chestnut-stuffed tortellini was the only dull moment). In fact, the best dinners are memorable ones, are they not? I will never forget eating at Jack’s house, where a pair of apartments became — for a single night — Kensington’s Little Vetri.
If you like wild foods, Wes Anderson movies, and unpredictable dinner companions who wear leafy fascinators in their hair, join Jack Goldenberg’s email list (firstname.lastname@example.org) or join his Facebook page. Future pop-up dinners are in the works. Reservations require a donation ($35-50).