Philadelphia’s most esteemed food reviewer, Craig Laban, wrote about my neighborhood several weeks ago for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Hot on his heels, am I. After all, Fishtown was a dairy desert when I moved here 10 years ago. Now, it’s a cheese (and baguette) lover’s oasis, as long as you know where to look.
Here is my go-to list of dairy ephemera near Frankford and Girard Avenues, from cheese-centric bar specials to hot spots for raw milk and artisan cheese. If you live in Fishtown or are visiting soon, may these tips bring you closer to delicious agriculture in this rough-hewn, trash-strewn thicket of concrete north of Center City.
1. The Cheese Cooler at Greensgrow Farm
This urban farm is one of the reasons I put down roots in Fishtown when I moved to Philadelphia. On weekends, I like to ramble down to Greensgrow‘s bountiful produce stand and sniff out the cheeses in the cooler. Make it a habit and you’re likely to find an ever-changing supply of Firefly Merry-Goat-Round, raw-milk cheeses from Keswick Creamery, cheddar from Goot Essa, stinkers and blues from Birchrun Hills Farm, delicate heart throbs from Doe Run, and French-centric cheeses named after wildflowers from Valley Milkhouse. For a summer cheese board, look in Greensgrow’s cooler for Witchgrass (below), one of my favorite local cheeses.
Greensgrow also stocks jams, pickles, and black garlic (tastes like dried figs) that I love to use for pairings. Ask about their cheese CSA.
2. Bulk Feta and Dates at Jerusalem Corner Store
When I want to buy goat- or sheep-milk feta in bulk, I scamper down to 115 W. Girard Ave. to Jerusalem, a halal corner store crammed full of spices, spreads, and baklava. I’ll grab a bag of fresh pita, some garbanzos, a scoop of marinated olives from the bulk bin, and a few other odds and ends when I need a quick meal. This is also where I stock up on beautiful dates — sometimes fresh (such bliss!), but mostly dried — for stuffing with blue cheese or Parm. My favorite 3-ingredient dish sourced from here? Baked feta with dates and honey. My next-door neighbors make it all the time.
3. Raw Milk, Cheese, and Local Ice Cream at Green Aisle Grocery
Fishtown’s newest addition, Green Aisle, stocks several brands of raw milk, local yogurt, and a selection of local cheeses. On a recent visit, I found blocks of Hillacres Pride (good for sandwiches), along with Roundtop Farm Camembert, cave-aged PA Noble, and Valley Milkhouse Blue Bell. Those last three would make a terrific cheese board — just grab some crackers from the shelves and a jar or two of Green Aisle jam or chutney.
Green Aisle also carries the neighborhood’s best selection of local ice cream, from Capogiro Gelato to Zsa’s to Weckerly’s. Once a week, Andy Satinsky (below) stops in to stock the freezer with Weckerly’s dairy-gasmic ice cream sandwiches. This week, I picked up creme fraiche & carrot.
4. Local Cheese and Cocktails on Tap at The Martha
The Martha is my idea of a ferment nut’s clubhouse. In my fantasy world, I own a motorcycle with cheese-cooler saddle bags, which I park in front of The Martha whenever I meet up with my crew, the Rennet Roughriders. (Our cheese gang does exist, but the wheels are still my fantasy.) At The Martha, I like to order a few local cheeses, a cocktail, and a shot of beet kvass or kombucha. The Martha is all about representing local terroir, from local cheeses to local spirits (Rowhouse, New Liberty, Kinsey) and regional beers. Keep your eye out for Monday evening “maker nights,” a chance to meet local brewers, distillers, cheesemakers, and more.
5. Butter and Cheese at Kensington Quarters
Oasis Cultured Butter (a.ka. OCB)? If you’re not eating it, you’re missing out on incredible local butter. Go get some, and spread a little grass-fed New Jersey candy on everything — toast, steamed carrots, a baked sweet potato. To find the cheese at Kensington Quarters, you’ll need to take your eyes off the butcher counter and look for the tall cooler near the door: see those raw-milk cheeses lurking in the dark? Whatever they are, you want some. The selection changes, but it’s always good (I’ve found Birchrun Hills Red Cat, just sayin’). KQ is also my mortadella source and my bone source, because when doesn’t a cup of bone broth and a cheese board make for beautiful digestion? For happy hour, try a mushroom toast sprinkled with Meadowset Camel’s Back — a local sheep’s milk cheese made by Tom Schaer in Landenberg. The happy hour gimlets are great, too.
6. Drunk & Cheesy at Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen
Yup, that’s the name of this Tuesday night special. Lounge on Cedar Point’s outdoor deck with a pint of good beer or a barrel-aged negroni in hand, and try the grilled cheese of the week. Look for their specials, which sometimes highlight local dairy. I still dream about the goat-cheese-strawberry-shortcake brunch special I ate here two summers ago. It shimmers before my eyes as I write this.
7. Chocolate Cheesecake at Ramona Susan’s Bake Shop
Down the block from my house, there is a new itty bitty bakery called Ramona Susan’s, where sumptuous dairy-laden treats are baked by a pair of young angels. I’ve been known to slink down to this bakery after dark, wearing my slippers, for chocolate cheesecake. It comes in a small tin, just right for two people. Tiramisu in a cup? Real good, too.
8. Local Cheese Pie at Pizzeria Beddia
Dough-head Joe Beddia probably doesn’t want any more press — his tiny corner pizzeria is already overloaded with business and he only makes 40 freakin’ pies a night (for which one must wait in line, cash in hand). BUT, you should know that Beddia uses some great PA cheese, including Hidden Hills Old Gold from Pennsylvania’s Lori Sollenberger — she’s one of my faves. Her aged Gouda is fantastic, perhaps a bit lost when shaved on pizza but wonderful wherever and whenever. I would mug Beddia for some.
9. Scallion Cream Cheese and House-Cured Lox at Philly Style Bagel
I fantasize all the time about someone making “real” Philadelphia cream cheese. Believe me, I am working hard on conjuring this fantasy by sending very focused thoughts to the guys behind the counter at Philly Style Bagels. That said, I have been known to fly out of bed during blizzards for beer-boiled Everything bagels and a tub of fresh-scallion shmear. The house-cured lox here is a recent revelation, thanks to a rec from cheesemaker Jamie Png who moonlights behind the counter as a shmear grrrl when she’s not making buffalo cheese. May I plan your perfect Fishtown excursion? Grab one of these bagel sandwiches and eat it on a bench across the street in Palmer Park. You may see Olive, the pet pig. She has her own Instagram account. For dessert, sip on a good milk stout from nearby Bottle Bar East (in a paper bag, of course).
More Fishtown Cheese/Dairy Favorites…
Great Mac’n Cheese: Memphis Taproom
Great Grilled Cheese: brisket grilled cheese from the Smokin’ Taco Truck
Great Cheese Board: Kraftwork
More Great Pizza: Pizza Brain
Wild Ice Cream: Little Baby’s
Great Cheese Art: Mike Geno’s Studio
In planning for the release of my new book this spring, I’ve been searching for a way to bring together all of my favorite things: cocktails, farmers’ markets, and — of course — cheese. When I learned that the opening of Philadelphia’s Headhouse Market coincided with the week of my book release, a vision emerged for a market-centric book party at The Twisted Tail!
We’re calling it…
An Homage to Fromage: A Farm-to-Glass Cocktail and Cheese Tasting
- Sunday, May 1, 2016, noon- 2 p.m., tickets $45 (book included)
- Reservations 215.558.2471 or thetwistedtail.com
Proprietor George Reilly and I will pluck the first spring herbs from Headhouse Market and gather the tastiest local cheeses. You’ll enjoy a flight of 3 show-stopping cocktails from the book, like the Flutterby Lassi (pictured), along with a glorious cheese board. Sit back and let us show you how to fix a great cocktail using market inspiration, plus taste 5 delicious cheeses you can use for spring entertaining.
I can’t wait to celebrate the publication of The New Cocktail Hour and introduce you to one of my new favorite brunch spots, The Twisted Tail. If you’ve never eaten at this southern-inspired Bourbon bar located next to Headhouse, consider this a chance to explore the restaurant’s cheese-centric brunch menu, which includes a trio of mac’n cheeses, along with the most etherial ricotta donuts I’ve ever tasted. They are feather light, served with warm caramel.
Big shout-out to Katelyn Repash of Greensgrow Farm for introducing me to brunch at The Tail (I’m partial to the Tasso Ham Benedict, below). I look forward to seeing you all there very soon!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for someplace to enjoy cheese and cocktails, check out The Tail’s fabulous selection of cheeses on the chalkboard below. You’ll see two of my biggest heart throbs, Vulto Creamery Ouleout (from NY) and Von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma (from VT).
You know I love to support anyone who carries American whey! Three bits of trivia worth knowing:
- The Twisted Tail offers live music 6 nights a week (check the calendar)
- British proprietor George Reilly is obsessed with southern cuisine. And he plays blues guitar.
- There are blues dancers on Sunday evenings. An excuse to shake it and eat blue cheese?
For more book signings and tastes, please check my Events Page.
Dear Ones, at last I have something to show you from my sequestered life as a cocktail nun these last two years. My next book, The New Cocktail Hour, will be out on April 26 from Running Press, the same publisher (and the same incredible photographer!) I worked with for The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese. I hope this book trailer gives you a much-deserved glimpse behind the scenes. Come into my living room, meet my brother and co-author André Darlington, and join us in the photography studio with Jason Varney.
I want you to know that I lobbied very hard to write a cheese and spirits book. Alas, this is a book about spirits — with lots of cheese pairings. If you, like me, enjoy a little something on the rocks or in a coupe with your cheese board, you won’t be disappointed here. Watch the trailer, and let me know what you think. Thank you for your eyes and your enthusiasm!
- Listen to NPR’s show on “The American Cocktail Renaissance” (our book is featured!)
- Check out our cocktail blog Sprig+Spirit
I’m working on book tour dates. Stay tuned!
Gratitude: Huge thanks to Aimee Knight (@aimeeknight) for creating this video!
If you’re anything like me, you are starting to dream about spring goat cheese. Philadelphia has been cloudy and cold — total cheddar weather — but the iphone forecasts birds, and Instagram brought a crocus this week. To stave my hunger for all things bright and beautiful, I took a break from editing a new manuscript last week to fix a pair of pre-Prohibition cocktails from the new book (another thing April will bring!) to pair with some Vermont goat cheeses I love dearly: Cremont, Bonne Bouche, and Bijou.
Vermont Creamery is featuring these cocktail recipes on their blog this week, and they’re running a special giveaway! The prize: a copy of my forthcoming book, The New Cocktail Hour, plus a basket of these stunning goat cheeses so you can try these pairings at home. Here’s the link to enter.
What are these gem-like cocktails and why pair them with cheese?
Aviation (purple): Made with gin, lemon, and a touch of creme de violette, this cocktail tastes like morning sun on spring violets. The first time I made this drink in my kitchen, I wanted to pair it with a French goat cheese rolled in something…lavender, I thought, or rose petals. That might be too much. With ashy Bonne Bouche, this drink is the perfect late-winter pairing, redolent of minerals and new buds.
Bijou (pale green): Made with Chartreuse, this drink tastes like a monastery garden. The herbal intensity is rounded out with gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and orange bitters. Dry, aromatic, and wild, it’s perfect for a small, lush round of goat cheese like Bijou.
Please have a look at The New Cocktail Hour — Amazon will let you peep! I am working on a post all about how this book came together. I’m very proud of it, and I hope it will help you explore new pairings, like herbaceous spring cocktails and goat cheese.
An EVENT with Max McCalman
If you live in Philadelphia, consider joining me at Fork on Sunday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m. for a tasting of natural wines and cheese with author and maitre fromager Max McCalman. I will be a participant, not a presenter. We can toast! Reservations ($50): 215-625-9425.
Dear ones, you’ve probably noticed that my posts are taking longer than usual to set. Thanks for your patience. I’ve been in a curd blizzard of book projects. If you’re confused, let me explain — I’ve been working on not one but TWO new books that will come out in 2016: The New Cocktail Hour (April 2016) and Movie Night Menus (November 2016). Both are driven by cocktails…but, of course, you’ll find plenty of cheese.
March 1 is my last big deadline, then I’ll be ready to emerge from my writing cave and play in the whey with you. Can we still be friends? Here are 3 upcoming events in Philadelphia where you can be sure to find me:
I’ll be moderating a panel (2:25-3:10) called “Cookbooks 101” with author Marisa McClellan of Foodinjars, editor Tiffany Hill of Quirk Books, and cookbook literary agent Clare Pellino from Profile.
Held Sunday and Monday at Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, this conference is a great way to meet the Philadelphia food community, from chefs and bartenders to writers and bloggers. This year’s special guest will be — be still my heart — Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking. (Friends, you know I keep this book by my bedside.)
Fair Food Philly returns to the Kimmel Center for its much-anticipated festival of beer and food pairings. If you’re looking for exquisite cheeses, beer ice cream floats, and more — this is the place for you! Of the many food events in Philadelphia, this glorious bacchanal seems to offer the most dairy.)
Oh, oh, there’s so much more to tell you about come April! Get ready for a cheese and cocktail party to kick off the first day of Headhouse Market AND the city’s first-ever curd festival. More soon!