Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Honesty is the Best Gastronomy

This morning Stu Franks and I ventured to Drexel University's campus to meet and interview Tom McCusker, owner of the ubiquitous Honest Tom's Taco Shop. Two Sundays ago, Tom's truck fed famished foodies at the Headhouse. The Sunday after that, he provided punks provisions at the Punk Rock Flea Market at 9th and Callowhill. The rest of the week he was and still can be found at Drexel, the Parkway, Clark Park in West Philadelphia and soon - permanent business (one without wheels) back in West Philly. I wasn't trying to flex my perspicacity when I said ubiquitous; this guy is everywhere.
Alas, this is a typical day in the life of the food truck vendor in the days of vendorchic. A trend that originated on the West Coast, the food trucks have rolled their way east and are now a fixture in most major metropolitan areas. What used to be known, albeit not so affectionately as a "roach coach", the food truck has gained an aura of legitimacy thanks in no small part to offerings like the one pictured to the right. Thanks to fresh local ingredients and a committed local entrepreneur, some lucky residents of Philadelphia are tasting tacos for breakfast. And after enjoying more than a couple ourselves, it's easy to understand how the The National Restaurant Association proclaims that the food truck category is projected to top $630 million in nationwide revenue in 2011, up 3.6 percent from 2010, which would outstrip the 2.5 percent growth estimate for the entire restaurant business. When we told Honest Tom about these figures, he couldn't believe it, although the facts belie his disbelief. Case in point - he has been so successful with his truck that he will be opening up his first "brick and mortar" establishment this August.   
Tom McCusker, 29, has been in the food truck game since 2009. A native of Delaware County, he graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Hospitality Management and discovered the breakfast taco (see above) while in Austin Texas. He came back to Philly and started up Honest Tom's with his brother Matt, although per Tom, his brother Matt "has left the business to pursue wedded bliss with his lovely fiancee'..." McCusker isn't short on help though, he recently hired Phil, whose interests Include (per the Honest Tom's Facebook page),  cold beer, hot legs, and Aerosmith. Funny guy this Honest Tom...Speaking of Facebook, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the role of social networking in the rise of the mobile vendor, and McCusker acknowledges the value of sites like Facebook and Twitter, especially when it comes to sharing his schedule with the Honest Tom's faithful. For instance, I wasn't sure if he would be at Clark Park the Saturday before Memorial Day. I checked his Facebook and boom - closed Friday, Clark Park on Saturday - Real time updates for free for a mobile eating establishment! I keep hearing that the rules have changed and in the "new economy" you need to become innovative to survive; by utilizing social networking and offering a product that is considered gourmet fare, the food truck vendor can navigate through the pitfalls of the recession and bypass the normal start-up costs of a sit-in eatery as well as the cost of marketing said eatery. Heck, even this blog post, one of the cornerstones of social networking, is a commercial for Honest Tom. While we are on the subject of commercials, I mentioned I came to see Tom with Stu Franks, whom you may recognize from his groundbreaking interview with Three Springs Fruit Farm's Ben Wenk two weeks ago. He has put together a video about Honest Tom that continues to glorify the Taco Truck King...enjoy

Here is Tom's schedule. If you first heard about him here, let him know. Word of mouth, social networking...there seems to be a theme here. 
Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays - 20th and Race 11-2
Tuesdays and Thursdays - 33rd and Arch 
Saturdays - Clark Park - 43rd and Baltimore 10 - 2
Sundays - Various for Breakfast. 
His new location will be at 261 South 44th St., between Spruce and Locust. 

Special thanks to Stu Franks (video production) and Rachel Playe (photography) who both contributed to this post. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Bob!

I know this is a blog about food, but I would be remiss if I didn't wish a happy 70th birthday to Bob Dylan. While I have always been into music, for some reason in my first 33 years, Dylan was off my radar screen. Then last year my wife scratched her glasses. On the way to America's Best, I had the radio on scan and picked up a staticy station right when the DJ was giving the number of the station and asking for the 7th caller. I literally had no idea what I was calling for, but by the end of the hastily made call I had won tickets to see Bob Dylan in Monmouth College in North Jersey. LOL. Believe it or not, I saw Ray Davies of the Kinks exactly the same way. That is my M.O., I like farmers' markets and 70 year old popular music icons. Ok, cool. So I wanted to bone up on Dylan in the two months I had to wait. Wow. Blood on the Tracks? Wow. Freewheelin'? Wow. This is like up there with the Beatles to me now. I know, like 50 years late right? And then I saw him.
As some of you know I am at Clark Park every Sunday and on the way down 95, I am blasting Dylan. So there, I made it relevant.

So here is my list of top 10 Dylan songs as of today. See me next week and it will at least change in order, if not new songs. Happy Birthday Bob!

1. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
2. Tangled Up In Blue
3. All Along The Watchtower
4. Simple Twist Of Fate
5. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
6. Positively 4th Street
7. Hurricane
8. If Not For You
9. The Man In Me
10.Masters of War

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chariots of Fiber

Remember last week when I referred to asparagus as a super food? When I alluded to its super-sized selection of vitamins and nutrients, I had no idea that it also could be super in size as well. Courtesy of Margerum's Herbs, Etc., this monster of magnesium (asparagus contains 4% of your daily allowance) will probably become part of a cream of asparagus soup I want to make either today or tomorrow. Incidentally, if anybody out in Feed Land has a recipe for said soup, lay it on me either here or on Facebook. I could just look one up on the interweb but it would be more fun this way I think.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What We Are Doing Up In Here

With the market season back in full swing, we are spending more time in the kitchen devising ways to best enjoy our weekly bounty. We have plenty of asparagus and last week I blogged a recipe of an asparagus egg bake my wife and I enjoyed. The asparagus can be and should be used in a myriad of ways. This speedy growing member of the lily family, asparagus is a nutrient rich food, high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. We are big about fiber in this house and Asparagus has about 3 grams of fiber per 5 ounces, but only contains about 20 calories for the same amount. Did somebody say Super Food? Besides nutrition, asparagus is delicious no matter how you prepare it, and the methods are many. You can grill it, boil it, steam it, include it in risotto, pasta, soup, salad, stir fries...I could go on. So with all of those methods at our disposal, we decided to make the same egg bake. 

How good does that look? For real. I used the same recipe from last week except I added a quarter tsp. of Cayenne Pepper. Definitely gave it a kick. Next week I'm going to change it up and make it with fresh spinach and feta. Anybody have a good recommendation for where to get feta? Lay it on me. 

Speaking of making the same thing over and over again...all winter I have been making potato soup. Like all winter. I really don't know if I have ever posted the recipe before but no matter, it is way better now than when I started making it so I want to post the recipe I have pretty much anointed as the standard potato soup recipe my family will use ad infinitum. 
Philly Food Feed Potato Soup (How Original)

  • 3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup diced cooked ham 
  • 3 1/4 cups chicken/vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup light cream

  • Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and stock in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper, celery seed and garlic. In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk/cream as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through. 

  • If anybody has any ideas about how to perfect these recipes, we are all ears. Please post your ideas and if I use them, I will surely give you credit!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Out of Hibernation

I'm watching the last inning of the Phillies game as I write this. They are a super, super team, of that there is no doubt. However, I would have liked to see them at least win two of three against the surging Atlanta Braves. Another division rival tomorrow in Florida against the Marlins. Ah, baseball chatter. Must be Spring...and Spring has certainly sprung for the The Philly Food Feed as we are back in blogging action for the 2011 farmers' market season. With the weather finally changing to bearable, the Food Feed family has been enjoying the kick-off of this year's farmers' market season at two of Philadelphia's premier markets - Clark Park Farmers' Market in West Philadelphia and the Headhouse Farmers' Market in Society Hill.
This season at the Food Feed we are offering those in the community the opportunity to contribute to this blog, whether it be an article, tip, recipe, picture, etc. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that take awesome pictures of asparagus and would like a way to showcase them other than Facebook, or maybe you are a budding star of journalism looking to "make your bones". As you probably can tell from the use of food vernacular in the proceeding sentence, we only ask that your submission be food related and pertaining to the local food scene in the Philadelphia area, as well as pieces related to sustainable agriculture on the local and national level. We are gonna give this a shot. We already have added a correspondent this season! And his first "assignment" was the opening of Headhouse on the first Sunday in May. Stu Franks, rock star, movie maker, and now local food fancier was on the scene with his shopping list and video camera. Talk about commitment! I can barely remember the grocery bags and the baby when I go to Headhouse and more often then I want to admit, I end up forgetting the grocery bags. I would imagine that's better than the alternative. My wife would concur. Check out this interview Stu did with Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm at last week's season opener at the Headhouse:


Moving on to West Philadelphia - Saturday marked the "unofficial" kick-off to the season at the Clark Park farmers' market although this market is open all year round. With the Spruce Hill May Fair going on right across the street and the return of Gina Humphreys of Urban Girls Produce, Fahnestock Fruit Farm, and the University City High School garden club to the farmers' market, foot traffic was at a level not seen since last summer. I asked Jon Glyn, Clark Park market manager and Food Trust stalwart about the turnout and his enthusiastic response said it all -  "As usual, the Spruce Hill May Fair was a wonderful, family-oriented event, full of great food and interesting music, local businesses and lots of sunshine and good cheer.  The turnout was amazing.  Everybody was in that spring mood.  Everybody was green and flowering inside."
I'm flowering inside just reading that. Lots of guys here flowering inside. I must be growing an entire garden in my stomach because after cooking what we bought from the purveyors at the park for Mother's Day, I look like I'm eating for two. Asparagus and Lettuce from Brogue Hydroponics, Onions and Potatoes and Eggs from Margerum's Herbs, Grass fed ground beef from Landisdale Farm...Mother's Day brunch and dinner at our house had a distinctive Clark Park flavor this year. For brunch, I made my lovely wife Sarah an egg bake with said Asparagus, Eggs, and Mushrooms which went over great. I will gladly include the recipe at the end of this post - I found it on the internet and made some adjustments per our personal tastes. It made enough that after brunch I was eating it cold for the rest of the day.  

We fired up the grill for Mother's Day Dinner and the aforementioned ground beef from Landisdale Farm did not disappoint. I made 12 burgers and I don't think there were any leftovers. We have a new grill with three burners which is awesome because I like my burgers mooing and my wife likes them char-broiled. Hers weren't as done as she would have liked but mine were spot-on. I guess I can't bring myself to scorch such delicious meat. There I go flowering again...

As promised, here is the recipe for the egg bake. Special thanks to the Perfect Pantry. Enjoy!
Asparagus Egg Bake

10 large eggs
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
10 asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed, sliced 1/8-inch thin
2 cups grated or shredded cheese
2 Tbsp light cream
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaf
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp Hungarian Paprika
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
Cooking spray (canola or olive oil)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare a casserole dish by spraying with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs.
In a small frying pan, heat the oil, and add the onions and asparagus. Sauté until onions are translucent, 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and set aside to cool for 2 minutes. Then, mix the onions and asparagus into the eggs along with all of the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into the casserole dish.
Bake at 375F for 35 minutes, until the casserole is lightly browned and a bit puffy. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before eating.
(Can be made up to one day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. To reheat, uncover and place in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes.)