An evening to eat out in Mt. Airy

Maylia Widjojo (second from left) grills skewers of lamb and chicken at Hardena Grill, staffed by her mother, Ena (far left), and sister Diana. The Night Market was one of series run in different Philadelphia neighborhoods by the Food Trust.
Maylia Widjojo (second from left) grills skewers of lamb and chicken at Hardena Grill, staffed by her mother, Ena (far left), and sister Diana. The Night Market was one of series run in different Philadelphia neighborhoods by the Food Trust. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)

Night Market drew crowds to mix, mingle, and sample the fare from food trucks on Germantown Avenue.

Posted: August 11, 2011

Night Market, an evening street-food festival launched as an experiment in 2010 along a stretch of then newly popular East Passyunk Avenue, proved the wisdom of its ways last Thursday on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy.

"People are talking to each other as they wait in the lines at the food trucks," said Jim Villarreal, a local with his own cable show about dreams.

"They're talking to people they never would have talked to in other circumstances," he marveled at the scene before him. They're all mixing and doing what Mount Airy is all about."

That was the point when the Food Trust, a local nonprofit that brings together growers and city dwellers by focusing on locally grown produce, got a grant from the William Penn Foundation to run six events, says spokeswoman April White.

The second Night Market, in University City in June, was going great until cut short by a downpour. Destination Mount Airy was the third; a fourth will be in Chinatown on Oct. 6 and two more are to come in 2012.

"The idea was to bring communities together, one neighborhood at a time, to celebrate the specialties of that area and the synergy that happens around food," White says.

In White's eyes, it was more than successful.

"Ten years ago," she says, "street fairs were about music, or crafts; now it's about food, and that says a lot."

The Mount Airy Night Market drew the largest crowd yet, White said. News of a stock market plunge that day might have kept them inside clinging to their last dollars, but they came.

Maybe they were relieved to have a break from the stifling heat and humidity. That, or the promise of the terrific street food at their fingertips, like Nomad Pizza, crafted on-site in a wood-fired oven in the flatbed of a 1949 REO Speedwagon truck. Its crisp crust was spread, not smothered, with a tangy tomato sauce and topped with caramelized onion, fresh basil, and mozzarella, plus spicy sausage or thin-sliced pepperoni.

A few sorry souls tired of the lines at Nomad wandered up the block to the Golden Crust. But they'll have another chance soon enough when Nomad owner Stalin Bedon opens his first local bricks-and-mortar pizzeria at 611 S. Seventh St.

Danielle Jowdy, 29, a Connecticut native who came to Philadelphia for work as a stained-glass artist and stayed for love, was making her debut on Germantown Avenue with Zsa's Gourmet Ice Cream, which takes its moniker from a childhood nickname.

She serves her stuff from the side of a 1963 International Harvester, an old three-on-a-tree stick shift, as they say in Oklahoma, from whence her fiance Parker Whitehead hails. (With a name like that you'd think Chestnut Hill, no? He designs exhibits at the Please Touch Museum.)

"He bought the truck on eBay and it was a complete surprise," Jowdy says. "It was just the push I needed to say goodbye to the 40-hour job and pursue this."

Jowdy buys from local farmers for her handmade ice creams and fruit sorbets. Flavors change with the harvest: lavender honey, chocolate truffle, lemon buttermilk. She bakes the chocolate chip oatmeal and the peanut butter cookies for her ice cream sandwiches herself, too. No wonder she sold 700 servings in four hours.

Some trucks, like Sweetbox, which may have suffered from too much good publicity for its cupcakes, sold out early. But most vendors and neighborhood stores were prepared for all four hours.

Latin Farmer, staffed by owner Wilfredo Manzano of Marlton and his new chef Ryan Fulford (late of Friday, Saturday, Sunday), served up Choripan sandwiches with locally made chorizo, fried onions, and peppers topped with pineapple-culantro grain mustard and banana ketchup.

You read that right - culantro is a much more potent version of its cousin, cilantro. Fulford makes the ketchup with a blend of malt and apple ciders, allspice, clove, and plaintains, and just a touch of tomato paste.

"Umm," murmured Josh Kolar of Abington, eating a vegetarian collard wrap filled with garlic mofongo.

"Didn't know what it was," he says, but he had plenty of time while waiting in line to discover on his iPhone that mofongo is mashed plantain.

(Boil plantains and let them cool, then mash in a mortar and pestle, add olive oil, garlic, vegetarian stock, and a hit of cayenne until that infuses the plantains, Fulford says.)

Made in the Shade served a fresh blueberry-basil lemonade; Maru Global, a favorite of regulars on 10th Street between Locust and Spruce, offered its Japanese takoyaki; Hardena Resto's beef rendang was a hit; and longtime fans of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe queued patiently for Carolina barbecue pork sandwiches, crab cakes, and corn on the cob.

In all, nearly two dozen cooks showcased their wares while bands performed on two stages, prompting tiny girls, accustomed to wearing their ballerina tutus on all occasions, to twirl in time with the music. The place was thick with dogs and babies.

Fruits and vegetables were rightfully glorified raw and grilled - as sustenance, as sweets, and even as playful props.

At Philly Homegrown's photo booth, marketgoers put on vintage aprons from Alethia Calbeck's private collection and posed balancing bunches of carrots, watering cans, and trowels - like a modern-day American Gothic.

Mansura Karim, a program coordinator at Temple University's school of social work, took time out from her lamb satay ("Great!") to assess the market:

"I live in Mount Airy," Karim said. "This is my neighborhood, this is my gym," she said, pointing. "And now this is my satay."


 

Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, dmarder@phillynews.com, or @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder

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