Archive for the ‘ Food ’ Category

Paisano’s Philly Style Rocks

Well, the sandwiches at Paesano’s are not rocks, but the concepts and their execution rock. Oops, my bad saying execution in connection with a South Philly foodery, down here where so many mob hits took place after a fine last meal. These included Angelo Bruno, who had dinner with the “Geator with the Heater” Jerry Blavat within an hour of being shot in his car outside his Ninth and Snyder home, (a mere mile from Paesano’s at 901 Christian) and John Calabrese outside of a mob restaurant a year later.

The night Bruno was murdered, March 21 ,1980, my husband and I had just flown in from Jamaica, arriving at Philly airport at about 10:30 pm. I had insisted on bringing back a Ritz cracker box full of some weird pods that a gang of machete wielding domino players insisted were Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. We knew they weren’t but we were alone on a “plantation” our driver had taken us to and they wanted $8 for the box. Over my husband’s objection, I paid. I don’t argue with men with machetes.

At customs, I placed the blazing bright orange plastic bag with the Ritz box on the floor in front of the counter. Not a single customs agent noticed. All were chattering away about Bruno. And that is how we could have gotten away with smuggling in a kilo of ganga, had we known.

I never thought I’d be living around the corner from the scene some 25 years later, but here I am. I’m also in what I call Food City, which I locate between and around Passyunk Avenue, the Italian Market and Whole Foods on South Street.

Much as I love to cook, grill and entertain, trolling for ready-made meals in the area is a treat too. At Fond one night I met Billy, one of the sandwich makers at Paesano’s, and he urged me to stop by. So after a Tai Chi session at Chi Movement Center just below Pat’s Steaks one too-hot-to-cook day, I headed up to Paesano’s. The Ninth and Christian location is their second and the esteemable Modo Mio at Hancock and Girard Ave runs it, as well as the first location just across Girard.

For my husband I chose a Giardina — roasted eggplant, fennel, peppers and onions, mozzarella and basil pesto.

For myself, I picked up a Paesano — beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino, sharp provolone and fried egg. The sweetie who waited on me said this was a very messy sandwich and not so good to go. He suggested that he hard cook the egg so it would hold until I reheated the sandwich later at home.

Both sandwiches held up well when two hours later I popped them into a 400 degree oven to toast up for 5 minutes along with the order of Potato Arrosto — “roasted with all the fat and flavor we could muster” just as the menu claims.

I will try a Paisano at the shop next time so I can get that squishy, yolky sauce squirting all over the meat and my chin. But even without it the egg, especially the whites, added a very pleasant texture to the other ingredients and balanced the hot pepperoncino. The brisket could have been browned more at the beginning of its braise for a more appetizing color, but this is a minor observation on the sweet and tender beef.

I’m going for the Bolognese soon — Crispy Fried Lasagne Bolognese, smoked mozzarella, sweet peppers, red sauce, sharp provolone and fried egg, and the Arista — Roast suckling pig, broccoli rabe, Italian long hots & sharp provolone. All the sandwiches are made on sesame crusted Italian bread.

We never found out what those strange pods we smuggled in 30 years ago were. And there hasn’t been a mob hit around here in almost as many years. So it seems safe to say that you could come down to Food City any time of day or night and eat well. Paesano’s is open seven days a week from 11 to 7 pm. It’s just another kind of hit you don’t have to die for.


Born on July 26, 1944: Mick Jagger, Annson Kenney and Joseph Franklin

© Merilyn Jackson

Photo by: Merilyn Jackson

Annson Kenney at a party six months before his death.

I don’t know where Jagger was born. I only saw Mick once in person, after a concert at the Spectrum. He was pacing up and down the sidewalk at a restaurant across the street from my Front Street house in Queen Village. In typical Philly fashion I threw up my window sash, stuck my head out and yelled “Yo Mick, how ya doin?” Startled, he stopped searched for my voice, gave me a wave and said “Quite all right, thank you.” I responded with something like “Glad to hear” and respecting his privacy, I lowered the window and left him to his to and fro.

I did know the late Annson Kenney and do know the very live and quick Joseph Franklin who were both born in the same Philadelphia hospital on the same day as Jagger. As I recall, the two did not meet until they were in their 20s and burning to make a mark on the city’s arts scene, Annson with his music, performance art, writing and neon works and Joe with his New Music. The two met through a mutual friend in the 70s who later also introduced them to Arthur Sabatini. (I would shortly meet and run off to live with Sabatini and still do.)

A quick friendship formed between the three men. Over the next few years Kenney and Franklin, along with Joseph Showalter, formed Relâche, the Ensemble for Contemporary Music, now known simply as The Relâche Ensemble. At first Sabatini was an ad-hoc advisor; later he wrote much of the copy for the programs and the New Music America Festival in 1987. By that time I was the Relâche publicist.

I’d cook for us all as the guys held meetings, interviewed musicians and planned concert programs. Many nights we sat in the living room overlooking the Delaware River, eating, arguing and laughing in front of that window through which I’d later greet Mick. We called it Café 752.

It was in the late 1970s that Relâche first introduced such contemporary musical giants as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars and John Cage, along with a host of other composers, to Philadelphia audiences. Make that, SMALL audiences. Philly wasn’t so hip and smart in those days to take these musics in their stride, let alone with enthusiasm. Save for a small but growing coterie, few so-called music-lovers liked what Relâche was serving.

Meanwhile Kenney had a late night radio program on WHYY called NOIZE, taught at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) wrote on a variety of subjects for Philadelphia Magazine, Metropolitan Magazine, Foxylady and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote columns under the pseudonym Blackie Carbon for long defunct alternative paper, The Drummer and a restaurant review column called Oral Gratification for the Daily Planet. He composed music (performed solo and by Relâche) and created astonishing videos and performance art he called stunts. Simultaneously, he was showing his neon art at galleries like Marian Locks, The Painted Bride (where Sabatini and I met after he read his poetry) and his last show, Variations on Three Bauhaus Bends at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“Eternity is a long, long gig.” Annson installing a show at the Art Alliance

On New Year’s Eve Eve, 1981, Annson and Buster Thompson, a racing car mechanic from the UK (working on Roger Daltry’s cars for one) began bar-hopping. Sabatini and another friend, David Erlich, had planned to meet up with them at one of the places they usually hung out back then: Lickety Split, Sassafras, Purgatory, The East Side Club. But everywhere they went they were told Annson and Buster had just left. Someone had stolen Annson’s custom racing jacket off his barstool at Lickety and they were searching for it, partying the night away as a matter of course. Well after the after hours clubs closed and not wanting to troll the after after hours joints, Arthur and David gave up their chase.

About 1 p.m. the next day, the phone rang. Arthur answered, talked for a few minutes and came up to our attic office white-faced – and not just from his hangover. I stared at him from behind my desk and said “Annson?” He nodded. I said “Dead?” He nodded again, this time nearly crumpling. I said “Gun?” He shook his head no. I said “Car?” He said “Yes.”

Later, we learned that about 5:30 that morning, according to Buster, the tires on his Ford Fiesta got stuck on trolley tracks up in Germantown where they had just dropped off a couple of guys. The trolley stopped in front of them and Buster says he could not brake in time. The Fiesta’s hood smashed under the trolley’s “cow catcher.” Annson was not wearing a seatbelt and the dashboard crushed his chest. He did not die instantly. He was still alive while the firemen used the jaws of life to free him. It took an hour. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Only 37 years old with what he had started ending in the middle.

That night, Arthur and I were having our usual New Year’s Eve party, where Annson had been expected. I had already prepared a lot of food and bought two Peking ducks from around the corner. Within hours we had called a number of people to let them know and invite them to what was then a wake. Annson’s Irish mother, Ann, and his sister Charlene came. We had ordered two more ducks and more than 40 people (some strangers who had just heard) came laden with food and drink. We asked for donations for the funeral and one jerk asked if it was a rent party.

Nicholas Boonin, a close friend and the one person Annson entrusted to install his gallery shows, was there. Joanne Hoffman steamed us a salmon which I swear was salted in tears. Julius Scissor (Frankie Pinto) talked about Annson dancing The Worm and when Annson’s mother asked what that was, Julius got down on the floor and shimmied.

At midnight the fireworks went off at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and some went outside to watch while the rest crowded around our three windows. When they were over, Nicholas threw his glass out on the pavement, cursing. Joanne chided him. She knew I had just bought 10 new champagne flutes for the celebration. But I said “It’s only a fucking glass,” and threw mine out the window as well. Nicholas looked at me in quizzical amusement.

In the morning, as I washed the glasses, I found I still had nine, not eight of those good Rumanian-made flutes. I called Nicholas. “No,” he said. “I didn’t throw a glass. I threw the champagne bottle. But when you threw yours, I thought it was the most gracious gesture of commiseration and hostessing, so I didn’t say anything.”

I ran to the window, the very same I had yelled out to Mick Jagger, threw it open and looked out. Sure, there were the remains of green glass scattered and my glass about he pavement.

This year is the 32nd anniversary of Annson’s death. To the asshole who stole Annson’s jacket, you will never be forgiven for setting off this terrible trail of events.

Annson was brilliant and funny and aggressive. And thoroughly Philly. He titled one of his neon exhibitions, Loose Language. “As an artist I am ethically sworn to make the move which spawns the memory.” That he did.

Happy Birthday and rest in peace, Annson. Happy Birthday and many more years to come, Joseph. And Yo, same to you too, Mick.

For photos of the 54 piece retrospective neon exhibit of Kenney’s work that took place at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia from October 21-November 13,1983, see the link to Nicholas Boonin’s website in the links column.

A Catalogue with biographical material, photographs (many by Joseph Czarnecki) and writings by Annson Kenney available upon request (limited supply in stock).

Price:  $ 25.00 includes shipping.

Hello Dancers & dance PR peeps,

Once again it’s time to troll for dance events for the Inquirer’s annual FALL GUIDE. We are looking for the following:

Dance Concerts that take place between September 20 & December 31, 2010 mainly in Philadelphia, but will consider including interesting stuff in the Tri-County area.

That means: NO dance that takes place during the LA/Fringe festival — that will already have been covered — though you may and should send me your LA/Fringe events separately.

We need to have the what, who, when, where by August 12. Anything that comes in after will not have much chance of being included unless it’s DYNOMITE and blows up my screen and jumps out and grabs me by the throat and screams “COVER ME this is a once in a lifetime event.”

We will not include workshops, works in progress, lec/dems and the like, but only concerts open to the public.

I have included everyone I have in my address book and am sorry if I have missed anyone. If I have, please let me know and send me your contact info to Also please share this with the rest of the community. We hate leaving out something great because we didn’t hear about it in time. I am asking Steve to kindly post this on the PhillyDance website as well. Can’t wait to hear whatch’all got up your sleevees this year…

Merilyn Jackson

By Merilyn Jackson

© Merilyn Jackson 2003

Director Lee Breuer and his Mabou Mines crew came over for supper after their last Peter & Wendy workshop/rehearsal at Arizona State University in 1992. It went on to win two Obie Awards and many others around the world.

First to arrive was the great Scots drinker and fast talker, Johnny Cunningham, (Nightnoise; Silly Wizard) composed and played his violin for Breuer’s show, Peter & Wendy. (Check out his brilliant CD on Itunes.) We had grilled salmon, black beans in dark rum, corncakes, and grilled eggplant in balsamic vinegar and a key lime tart. But Johnny ate nothing, having found our liquor supply early. He claimed to have gotten an upset stomach the night before and that only a few shots of tequila would stay down.

At the Pub

Everyone left by 11, so we took Johnny over to the Dubliner Pub. His dirty blond locks fell down between his shoulder blades and he constantly threw his head back like a horse tossing its mane.  He dressed in black with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, but tucked into his jeans. Around the instep of his thick boots were heavy chrome chains, ready for riding or fighting, depending on which came first – a motorcycle or a moron.

At the pub, John sat in with the band for a few tunes, fiddling madly. Back at the table he picked up on the stories he’d been regaling us with at supper. His stories of a  recent gig with Hall and Oates held our attention.

In Vegas

“I was, I mean, there I was, in Caesar’s Palace, down the hall from Elvis Presley’s suite.  Sleepin’ in a huge bed that could’ve slept six.  It was so big they called it “The Four or More.”  So there I was, livin’ the life of Elvis, shit, with a huge sunken tub right next to me bed.  And I had me a wakeup call everyday at 5 PM and breakfast sent up shortly thereafter.

And at the wakeup call, the fuckin’ faucets to the tub go on so when they bring me me breakfast each evenin’ there I am, already in the tub waitin’ for me coffee and me International Herald Tribune. I mean t’say, I was livin’ the life of Elvis, sittin’ on, maybe, the very toilet seat where he’d once sat. And if I went out, the chauffeur would be waitin’ right outside t’take me anywhere.  Angelo was his name.

“Good evening, Mr. Cunningham, sir,” he’d say. “Where to?”

And then, West Virginia

“And then back in the room after the show, Darryl and me and some of the others would wind down. Hall went to his room with his young chippie — can’t be blamed — and there we all were, livin’ the life of Elvis. And when the gig is over I fly off to West Virginia, to this little coaltown college where I’m givin’ a master class and they show me to this little dormitory room with no air conditionin’ a’tall and they hand me sheets to make up me own bed!

“This, after livin’ the life of Elvis!

“I tell you,” he paused to down the fresh Tequila Sunrise that had just appeared before him, “I tell you,” he began again, “What I did was I got them to get me a refrigerator in the room and I unscrewed the fuckin’ light bulb and slept all night with the door of that refrigerator wide open on me. I mean, once you’ve lived the life of Elvis,” he winked, “there’s no turnin’ back.”

John Cunningham: 1957, Portobello, Scotland – 2003, New York, NY

Peter Pan: 1902, United Kingdom –

While the days are still cool, I need to make Barsch Czerwona like my Polish babci did, adding blood red beets to the loamiest of beef stocks I can brew. If I am lucky enough to have some dried white-capped Borowiki mushrooms from Poland, I can make the stock so dark you’d think nothing could penetrate it. But only a few beets redden and lighten the broth, heightening its flavors from the nether regions to ethereal ecstacy. If that seems hyperbolic, just watch someone’s face during the first deep sips. I’ve seen people close their eyes in what seems like prayer.

So at James one recent rainy night before the heat turned us sticky, I ordered the Borscht. Chef Jim Burke deconstructed the ingredients of a very faithful Borscht (the Russian spelling, there are Ukrainian and Lithuanian versions as well) and reconstituted them into a pretty plate painting.  Three rosettes of pale sorrel foam, snuggled inside a curved tangle of wilted bright green sorrel & shredded beef with bright red quartered and steamed baby beets nestled on top. When our server poured the hot dark consomme into my bowl, I nearly swooned from the aroma. It took me back to barschs past, especially to one I drank from the thinnest of china tea cups in a restaurant near Wawel Castle in Krakow…

Are You My Umami?

by Merilyn Jackson
New York, NY

The search for your true umami never ends.

For my three-year-old grandson last Christmas, I bought Maurice Sendak’s and Arthur Yorinks’ book, Mommy? an extremely intricate pop-up book in which a little boy looking for his mother approaches horrific monsters and asks Mommy? My cautious daughter put it away until he grows a little older. Apparently, I had confused Sendak and Yorinks’ book with a less macabre one by Carla Dijs, called Are You My Mommy?

Around Mother’s Day, you may know where your mom is, but finding and identifying umami, the fifth taste, can be just as confusing and, often as scary as the Sendak book or as benign as the Dijs version.

Reading about umami and getting a definitive description is like getting five different diagnoses for a skin rash. No one seems able to define it as easily as they can sweet, sour, bitter or salty. Early in the 20th century, a Japanese scientist first identified umami when he found that glutamate had a flavor distinctive from the known four. Many food writers have since described it as a marriage between sweet taste and glutamates. I liken it to what is called mouth feel, that sensation you get when something wonderful fills your mouth and the insides of your cheeks are already opening wide for the next bite.

It’s the taste that can drive you to eat wildly, furiously and with great gusto. I once secretly and sadly watched an anorexic friend, a dancer, in my kitchen shamelessly wolf down the cracklings from my ham. She disappeared before I set the by then cracklin’- free platter out for a party.

Asian, Mediterranean and Eastern European cuisines were on this eons ago, giving us fermented and cured foods like miso, soy and fish sauces, ham, prosciutto, sausages, cheeses and other dairy, like butter, kefir and buttermilk. Soup stocks often have the deepest, richest umami.

MSG is a glutamate product manufactured after the taste discovery and Asian cooks use it to achieve umami. In very small doses, it is not a bad thing for people who don’t have an intolerance. And as anyone who has ever put a spare shake of Accent on a steak before grilling knows, it is a flavor coaxer. But there are ways to reach umami without it.

An Architecture of Flavor

One is the blending, or building of flavors some might even think antithetical to each other. Another is the proper caramelizing of foods like bone-in roasted meats, roast chicken and turkey skin, mushrooms and vegetables like baby bok choy, grilled squashes, peppers and corn. The food’s sugars blend with natural glutamates and inosinates to make this fifth taste, often described as savory. In the right hands, caramelizing can give those and many more foods terrific, mouthwatering umami. Vegetarians love grilled portabellas because they are so steeped with umami they taste like meat.

The urge to define this tantalizing taste is like the urge to scratch that rash and remains no matter what you learn about it or how many definitions you hear. I know how to find my umami at home. My carefully chosen cookware caramelizes my dishes to bring them to the height of umami. And when I go out to eat, I look for it in many places.

I recently found it at Piano Due, in several entries on their tasting menu. Their butterflied Ecuadorian shrimp sat smartly on a sunchoke puree drizzled in a lemon and mustard sauce and the duck breast perched on an apple shallot puree over vanilla braised endives. Both sent my senses reeling. But the coconut sorbet with warm pineapple sauce brought me back to umami hominess again with two flavors that have had the longest and happiest of marriages.

Umamis I’ve lost

I’m still looking for a properly aged, runny brie. Cheesemongers rarely sell it ripe. The shelf life is too short and you cannot ripen a cut brie at home. It needs to sit out for days in the wheel, turned over daily, rolled along its edge to see if it’s runny inside and sniffed for the right floral bouquet. Even so, what France sends to the American market does not have much umami.

I yearn for deep and woodsy hot and sour soup made with pork bones, and not, for goodness sake, chicken broth. The fat police won out on that one. And hey, if you know where I can score some foie gras closer than Canada, I’ll sear it for you and serve it with my Chambord sauce, fat police be damned.

If you don’t recognize umami, you may be looking in all the wrong places. But if you think you found umami, let us know where. It’s the mother of all tastes. Take the mom in your life out for a umami hunt and give her a Happy Mother’s Day.

© Merilyn Jackson, 2007

Original version appeared in


I’d Like to Buy the World a Kosher Meal

By Merilyn Jackson Thursday, Mar 28 2002

When I was 16, I met a handsome guy with a perfect shiny black pompadour who told me his name was Alan Conti. Three weeks later he confessed that his real name was Alan Waldman. He was Jewish, not Italian, and had been afraid I wouldn’t go out with him if I knew he was Jewish.
Years later I told the story to my friend Doug Kahn, who asked if I continued to date Alan.
“Of course,” I said, “I had a big crush on him. And he was in hairdressing school, so he did my mother’s and aunt’s hair when he came over. By then, despite my family’s prejudices, he had inveigled his way into their hearts.”
Doug’s double takes were always swift. “He imbagled his way?”

Work or W(h)ine?

The Philadelphia Inquirer has just been sold. I may be out of a job soon, but I just did a rum run to Delaware and came home with with a Bordeaux Rose, Chateau de Cornemps, an  Abbyville Fume Blanc from Napa Valley and a Vin Gris de Cigare, from Bonny Doon vineyards, all in the $10-12 range. If you don’t know whether I’ll still be working perhaps you can tell me which of these I should drink first?


This is a story of mice and chocolate.
The Brits claim they did it — built a better mousetrap that is. With the construction going on all over town, they did it just in time. As my exterminator, Dom, explained, Philly houses are overrun with mice driven from one habitat to another by the construction vibrations. He says he’s never been busier. Yours may be the next stop on the rodents’ and Dom’s citywide tour.
I returned from a two-week trip to find my South Philly home invaded and would have put it on the market immediately had Dom not told me that no matter how clean you are, if there is something they smell and some teensey opening no larger than a dime, they’ll be your unwelcome house sitters. The only hope is to keep everything in glass or heavy plastic containers.
Opening my pantry shortly after my return, I saw one scurrying away in broad daylight. My shriek brought my neighbor to my door and we commiserated. She had them for the first time in her 60-year residency.
I put on plastic gloves and started throwing away about a $100 worth of damaged goods. As a former pastry chef and baker, I keep many costly ingredients — candied ginger, coconut, chocolate, dried cherries. Until now, I just left them in their original bags. What skeived me most was picking up the expensive, cellophane-wrapped blocks of partially eaten sweetened to unsweetened chocolates. Chocolate? Mice eat chocolate?
Yes, according to Dom, who laid out chocolate-scented glue traps along the perimeters of my basement and first floor. The secret has been out for some time. Mice love it. Most creatures like things that are bad for us, might even kill us. For mice, it won’t be the food but what it’s on.
Fornicating Mice
My more humane friend, Malgosia, begged me not to use glue traps. “It is a terrible way to die,” she said, “and it may only be the one mouse anyway.”
“Are you kidding?” I cried. “These are biblical multipliers. They have nieces, nephews, ex-husbands, mistresses, bastard children, even foster kids. If they’re not eating, they’re fornicating. I’ll be inundated.”
Dom disposed of one that had expired at the scene of one of their gruesome parties — a carefully sealed bag of cheese curls eaten through leaving bits of cheese curls which, mixed with their droppings looked like Halloween-colored confetti.
Chocolate Mice
I poked around online for the effects of chocolate on mice. There are many people who actually like rodents and raise them, not for research, but as pets. I suppose if kept in a cage, it’s not so bad as if they have the run of your foodstuffs.
The Rat and Mouse Club of America is not your Mickey Mouse Club. They actually breed the critters, and seem to prize something called chocolate mice that they breed for their natural chocolatey color, and what I swear I saw in my pantry. One article concluded that despite the possibly toxic the bromines found in chocolate, feeding your pet rats a chocolate chip or two a day would not kill them, “especially when you see how much they enjoy it.”
A 2003 scientific abstract from Poland, however, cites a study in which chocolate-fed mice produced offspring with shortened limbs. On a chat room I found a toxic recipe for Chocolate and Plaster of Paris using a dry mix of the plaster with cocoa which, when ingested, will send the mice out of your home to seek water and die out of sight. Right.
Nebraskan writer Marilyn Pokorney asserts that chocolate is poisonous to mice and chocolate covered peanut candy will kill them without introducing poisons to your home, pets and children.
The British mousetrap is not necessarily a better one. Looks something like the old spring-loaded trap, but they manufacture chocolate right into the plastic putting the highest concentration on the spring. Problem is the scent disappears after about six months and then has to be used conventionally with chocolate or cheese. But the UK scientists are working on a chocolate scented spray that may give the traps a longer shelf life. Sounds like the mice will have a longer shelf life too.
So, if you love your mice give them just a little chocolate. If you hate them, give them a lot. There is no such thing as a humane death, but there may be a sweet one.


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