Pat Burns, president of Fresh Grocer, says that he and his staff research the unique customer base of each neighborhood before opening a new store.
"We try to understand the ethnic and religious background of each area," Burns said. "In Germantown, it's a very balanced, melting-pot area. There is demand for organic and natural foods, and for international ingredients." Like goat meat.
"Yes, we had some requests for goat meat, so we brought it into the Germantown store and it's selling pretty well. We also have it at our 56th and Chestnut Street store," he said.
There are now nine Fresh Grocers in the area, including more upscale, take-out-oriented stores serving the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova campuses, with three more sites due to open late in 2007. Two of those are in the city - at Progress Plaza on North Broad Street (the nation's oldest African American-owned shopping center, absent an anchor food market since 1998) and at LaSalle University on Olney Avenue.
Three of the Fresh Grocer stores - at Progress Plaza, LaSalle and in Germantown - received financing from the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a program to increase the number of supermarkets in low-income communities.
"There is no question that the initiative has been bringing markets into underserved areas in the city," said David Adler of the Food Trust, which helps administer the program.
What may keep them in the black is catering to the people who shop there.
"I think that accommodating consumer preferences in the neighborhood is really important to the store's success," Adler said.
It's a strategy that has served well the 30-year-old chain of Cousin's supermarkets in the city: Its store at 1900 N. Fifth St. (at Berks Street) carries a good variety of beef and poultry products processed according to Halal regulations. Their stores also stock a wide range of fresh and smoked pork and chicken parts.
Tropical fruits and items popular with Latino shoppers - tomatillos, cactus pads, various hot peppers, yuca, batatas, sugar cane and the largest avocados I've ever seen - are standard fare at Hispanic markets such as Cousin's and the newer Supremo markets.
Supremo, a New Jersey-based chain, has two stores in Philadelphia (4424 N. Broad and 4301 Walnut), with another nearby in Pennsauken.
For Asian and Indian ingredients, the best selections are found in specialty markets such as First Oriental Market, (1111 S. Sixth St. at Washington Avenue) which, at 30,000 square feet, is among the city's largest Asian supermarkets. In its 10-year tenure, it has become an integral part of its neighborhood as well as a destination food source. Nearby is Hung Vuong (1122-38 Washington Ave.) and the Italian Market area, now with a mix of Italian and Asian foods.
In West Philadelphia, you have the Asian American Market (4421 Chestnut) and International Food & Spices (4203 Walnut), with more markets serving the Northeast and suburbs.
In some cases, international specialties are integrated in the aisles of mainstream markets. To satisfy a craving for Irish butter and cheese, for instance, you can find the Kerrygold brand at the Port Richmond Thriftway (Aramingo and York Avenues).
In the suburbs, the markets are also fulfilling the demands of their clientele, with more prepared foods at stores such as Foodsource, an upscale specialty branch of the Clemens, soon to be Giant, chain offering some 350 varieties of gourmet cheeses, a wide selection of artisan breads, caviars, and exotic olives. Another unique offering: a wine and chocolate tasting at the Glen Mills Foodsource (925 Baltimore Pike, on Nov. 10, 6-9 p.m.).
And this summer, the Cherry Hill ShopRite (Route 70) expanded its kosher section, creating The Kosher Experience, a store-within-the-store, about 3,000 square feet, with one of the largest selections of kosher specialties in the region, including Glatt Kosher turkeys, a full deli, a dozen forms of gefilte fish, and kosher versions of Chinese, Moroccan and other international dishes, all supervised by the Tri-County Vaad HaKashrut.
In this time of greater food homogenization, with national brands and more chain restaurants, it is interesting that supermarkets are catering to their market instead of the mass market.
Indeed, any new-to-you market may reveal unexpected treasures. I once found fresh foie gras - all wrapped and ready to toss into the cart - in the meat case of an otherwise average-looking Greenville, Del., grocery.
Contact food writer Marilynn Marter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-854-5743. Read her work at http://go.philly.com/marilynnmarter.
Ajiaco de Mariscos (Savory Tropical Tuber Stew With Seafood)
Makes about 22 servings (great for a party)
2 gallons rich shellfish stock or light fumet (finished with clam or shellfish base)
2 each: Yuca, malanga, green plantain, boniato, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, white onions, all diced
2 ears corn, cut in 1-inch wheels
1 pound Cachucha peppers
2 cups sofrito
1/2 cup recaito
1/2 cup garlic, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon Jamaican curry
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
4 bay leaves
4 or 5 pinches saffron
1 pound each: Small clams, scallops, peeled and deveined shrimp, diced fresh fish, black mussels, crab meat and lobster meat (optional)
1 can coconut milk
1/2 bunch cilantro
2 cups clean spinach leaves
Truffle oil (optional)
1. In a large pot, combine the stock, vegetables, peppers, sofrito, recaito, garlic, cilantro, curry, oregano, cumin, bay leaves and saffron and bring to a boil. Let simmer until half done, with the vegetables barely tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Adjust the seasonings. If the stew base is made in advance, remove from heat, cool quickly in an ice bath, and refrigerate.
3. When ready to proceed, bring the stew base back to a simmer and add the seafood, starting with the clams, then the scallops, shrimp, fish, mussels, crab and lobster meat.
4. Add the coconut milk, chopped spinach and cilantro, and simmer until the clam shells have opened and the seafood is cooked, 8 to 10 minutes. Divide into serving bowls. Drizzle each portion with truffle oil and hot sauce.
- From chef Guillermo Veloso, formerly at Cuba Libre
Per serving: 370 calories, 32 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 12 grams fat, 87 milligrams cholesterol, 960 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Rabbit With Cognac and Calamata Olives
Makes about 6 servings
2 pounds fresh rabbit, cut up
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 ounces cognac
4 tablespoons beef bouillon concentrate mixed with 2 cups hot water or stock
40 calamata olives
3 to 4 ounces mushrooms, white or cremini
1 tablespoon baking soda
dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1. Lightly brown the rabbit in the olive and vegetable oils.
2. Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook 10 minutes.
3. Add the cognac to the saute and ignite carefully, letting it burn until the flame is half down. Cover to extinguish flame.
4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the rabbit mixture to an ovenproof pot. Adjust the seasoning. Add the bouillon. Bake covered for 35 minutes, then uncovered for 25 minutes.
5. Add the basil, mushrooms and olives. Cover and cook 15 minutes more.
6. Ladle out a portion of the liquid and whisk in the baking soda-water mixture. Return the liquid to the pot, cover, and cook 5 more minutes for the broth to thicken. Serve hot.
- Adapted from www.italiancook.ca.
Per serving: 422 calories, 35 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 25 grams fat, 123 milligrams cholesterol, 1,943 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Jamaican Curried Goat
2 pounds goat stew meat with bones (or substitute lamb)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch scallions (optional)
2 fresh garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or
2 tablespoons dried
2 tablespoons curry powder (preferably a Caribbean mix) 1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup each of cubed potatoes and chayote squash (optional)
2 cups water
1. Trim any fat from the meat and cut the meat into small pieces. (Traditionally the bones are left in the curry to add flavor and nutrition.) Rub the meat with lemon juice.
2. Combine the meat, onion, scallions, garlic, thyme, curry, white pepper, salt and hot chili pepper. Cover and refrigerate to marinate overnight (or at least two hours).
3. When ready to proceed, heat the oil in a skillet or dutch oven over medium heat and brown the meat mixture. Add the water and let simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Adjust seasonings to taste and continue cooking until tender, about 30 minutes more, adding more water as needed to prevent scorching.
4. If desired, add the potatoes and/or chayote for the last hour of cooking. Serve over white rice cooked in coconut milk.
- From the Empire State Meat Goat Producers Association.
Per serving: 281 calories, 33 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 323 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.