Sunday, August 16, 2009

A photo essay.

When one moves to New Jersey from any other state, one endures a certain amount of good natured ribbing and well-intentioned advice about how to avoid getting stabbed/run over/a speeding ticket/a noticeable Joizey accent.

But what no one told me about was the amazing bounty of Jersey farms. I really had no idea. Based on a few drive-throughs and visits, I knew that a lot of south and central Jersey was farmland, but really didn't know how rich the farmers' markets and supermarkets would be with local produce.

And good local produce, too. I wouldn't be writing about it if the tomatoes were mealy and the eggplants bitter.

The farm stands, farmers' markets, and local produce selection at grocery stores has become my favorite thing to discuss when out-of-staters ask me how I like living here. (If it's the summer time -- if this conversation occurs in the winter I undoubtedly talk about Monster Beverage, my favorite restaurants, and the Flyers.)

I didn't actually like summer until this year, but now, we have an agreement, summer and I. Summer gives me food. Glorious, flavorful, heaping piles of locally grown food that I shovel into my mouth by the fistful. Summer in New Jersey also means going to the Shore -- something else I hated until this year. But with the discovery of surf punk and the encouragement some friends who spent their childhoods on the Jersey coast, I've bought a bathing suit and have noticeable freckles for the first time in about ten years. And then there's the garden in the backyard, grilling, cold beer, thunderstorms, sitting on the screen porch, gin and tonics, and popsicles.

So summer in South Jersey generously gives me all of this. And in turn I tolerate the sunburn, the sun tan, the heat, the sweatiness, the screaming kids, the teenagers who are IN MY WAY, the sunscreen in my eyes, the crowded trains, the humidity, and the mosquitoes with out too much complaining. Except about the mosquitoes. They're so high on my list of hated things that they mingle with intangible concepts. I do complain about them quite a lot.

But if someone hands me a fresh tomato I'll forget about the mosquitoes for a few minutes, which is really a good thing for everyone involved.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cantina Los Caballitos

1651 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia

Okay, yes, I should've known better than to pay $14 for a burrito, even if it was a "smoked seitan barbecue burrito" (or something like that). But for that price, I was expecting something special. Instead, I got a tortilla filled with plain, unseasoned white rice and a few strips of seitan doused in barbecue sauce. It resembled something hastily thrown together from other dishes' leftovers. I might have considered it a decent deal for $5, but not $14. Also, the guacamole had obviously been sitting out for a while (it was more brown than green) and was probably the worst, yet most expensive, I've ever had.

That said, I like the atmosphere, the servers were pretty nice, the margaritas were very good (and plentiful), and the appetizers provide more than enough food for most people--and, at least at our table, tasted better than the entrees. Go during one of their margarita specials and stick with the appetizers. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sabrina's Cafe

Italian Market, Philadelphia

I still have dreams about these Eggs Florentine.

The Bean Cafe

615 South Street, Philadelphia

I've met some people who really and deeply hate The Bean. I think some people just deeply hate anything that involves young people who look like (or actually are) hipsters.

If you don't have -- or have, but can get over -- a fear of kids with sloppy hair and glasses, this is actually a nice coffee shop. It's quiet, they have free wi-fi, employees who aren't sickeningly cheery, and tasty baked goods. And as this place is right on South, the people watching can be pretty good (lousy on Monday morning, better on Friday night). They used to give you a fortune cookie with every drink, but lately they've been skimping on those. This saddens me.

That said, I'm not a coffee drinker and have never had the coffee. Better than McDonald's? Probably. As good as Crescent Moon? Probably not. Also, the bathrooms? If you panic about touching doorknobs, you're going to want to take care of your bathroom needs before you come.

Crescent Moon Coffee & Tea

Mullica Hill, NJ

Supposedly this place has the best tasting coffee and the best coffee selection in the area, but I'm not a coffee drinker so I really have no idea if that's true. It does smell really good though, for what it's worth. I do frequently get their hot chocolate and it's the best I have ever had, hands down. They have an impressive selection of teas for the non-coffee drinkers (like me) and they aren't too pricey ($1-3). The food in general ranges from ok (greasy sandwiches) to amazing (quiche! mac 'n cheese! soups! lavender eclairs! salads with lots of stuff in 'em!), but the desserts are always delicious. If you go, you really should get something from the baked goods case.

There are only a few drawbacks to this place (and at least one is out of the owners'/employees' hands):
1. Kids. Babies. Loud.
2. There's a guy working there who deeply and passionately loves Dave Matthews Band. So much so that he thinks listening to 4 hours of it is really enjoyable. It is, in fact, the opposite of enjoyable.
3. They've started limiting their allowed internet use. Their wireless access used to be unlimited and free, but now you have to buy something and you only get 2 hours with every purchase. Which means I can no longer buy my $2 cup of tea and productively work for 4 hours. Which isn't terrible but is kind of inconvenient when I have a hard enough time throwing money at a coffee shop when I could just work from home for free.