Jason Wilson's choices for foodie gifts

XXX Shine is a white, unaged corn whiskey.
XXX Shine is a white, unaged corn whiskey.
Posted: December 15, 2011

I WAS ASKED TO come up with a list of gifts for the foodies in your life. People like me. I know, I know, we're insufferable snobs who are impossible to buy for. But we're your friends and relatives and you love us, so you have to buy something.

I am not, unfortunately, much of a gadget person. If I get one more gimmicky corkscrew - like, say, the Bill Clinton corkscrew I received in which the screw extends from his crotch - I'm going to scream. My old, basic double-hinged waiter's corkscrew works just fine, thank you. And no, I don't want fancy 12-ounce "martini" glasses - simple, classic 4.5-ounce cocktail glasses from the local bar supply store work just fine, thank you.

For me, the best gifts are often just the food or drink itself. A nice bottle of something rare and complex. A nice box of something sweet. A nice hunk of something delicious.

And if you can't find anything acceptable on this list, please just know that we'll always just take a gift certificate to Vetri. Or Tinto. Or Good Dog. Or wherever.

Happy holidays.

For the fancy chocoholic

There are lowbrow chocoholics (like in a "Cathy" cartoon) and then there are discerning chocoholics. You know there's one of the latter on your list. As if Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran don't show off enough talents in their 13th Street food empire, they also make the best artisan chocolates in the city, sold under the Marcie Blaine label (16-piece Holiday Collection, $29.95). They use local, organic cream and butter, as well as seasonal produce, herbs and honey. And they boast cute little images of Philadelphia icons such as LOVE, the Liberty Bell and our skyline. The raspberry ganache, concord grape-balsamic, blood orange-olive oil, and amazing peppermint chocolates are just a few favorites.

Marcie Blaine, 108 S. 13th St., 215-546-8700, www.marcieblaine.com.

For all your cheesy friends

Sure, everyone eats gourmet cheese and salami these days. But surely some of your foodie friends are so over the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the sopressata. Why not give them some all-American alternatives? DiBruno Bros. is featuring the famed aged Vella Dry Jack from Sonoma, Calif. ($17.99/pound) - a nutty, fruity and mature cheese comparable to the best Reggiano. And from Olli, a wonderful, authentic salumeria in Virginia, one of four different salami ($9.99 each). It may be just as good as the stuff imported from Italy.

DiBruno Bros.: 930 S. 9th St., 215-922-2876; 1701 John F Kennedy Blvd., 215-531-5666; 1730 Chestnut St., 215-665-9220, www.dibruno.com.

For a gift box that doesn't suck

Green Aisle Grocery, a self-described "supersupertiny," boutique shop on East Passyunk Avenue, stocks a lot of foodie geek-out items such as Blue Bottle and Stumptown coffee, meats and cheese from organic local producers, and even Zahav's famed hummus. And now they offer holiday gift boxes.

My personal favorites focus on booze ($90 for Big Booze Box or $50 for Baby Booze Box), with hard-to-find items like Bittermens bitters, Fee Brothers orange flower water, and Q Tonic. Sure to please any cocktail fan in your life.

Green Aisle Grocery, 1618 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-465.1411, greenaislegrocery.com.

For the advanced cocktail geek

The past five years have been a golden age of cocktail-making, and no one has been a bigger part of it than bartender Jim Meehan, of PDT (short for "Please Don't Tell"), the iconic speakeasy revival bar in New York's East Village. PDT is the speakeasy that so many of the Johnny-come-lately "speak-cheesies" in other cities have tried to emulate.

Meehan's much-anticipated tome, The PDT Cocktail Book (Sterling Epicure), is a must-have collection, with unique twists on the classics, that shows how cocktails have evolved in the first decade of the 21st century.

For the adventurous drinker

That friend of yours who's been seized by the cocktail craze? She's getting bored with the normal, nice booze. These days, she's looking for more of an outlaw, bad-boy sort of drink. So consider how cool you'll look when you show up with a gift-wrapped bottle of moonshine!

Well, Philadelphia Distilling offers just the thing. Back in 2008, with Vieux Carre absinthe, it was one of the first domestic producers of the formerly verboten spirit of 19th-century Belle Epoch France. This year, it has launched XXX Shine, a white, unaged corn whiskey. Unlike many "white dogs" however, XXX Shine keeps the proof in check and offers a rich, complex, unique drinking experience straight or in cocktails.

Available in better Pennsylvania state and New Jersey liquor stores. Info at philadelphiadistilling.com.

For the caffeine addict

When it comes to coffee, Philadelphia has been a one-horse town for too long. Not that there's anything wrong with La Colombe, but it's nice to see Rival Bros, a new small-batch roaster, on the scene. Their approach feels the opposite of La Colombe in more ways than one.

Rival Bros has no scenester cafe, selling its coffee only from a truck that alternates between mornings in LOVE Park and from 11:30 a.m. at either 33rd and Arch, or Broad and Callowhill. Pick up a 12-ounce bag of beans (personal favorites are Revolver and Whistle & Cuss blends) for the coffee lover in your life, or order online at rivalbros.com. Follow on Twitter @RivalBrosCoffee for updates on where to find the truck.

For everyone you wanted to bake cookies for . . . but didn't

Gilda's Biscotti, a local favorite for more than 15 years, has been a mainstay of independent coffee shops. Gilda Doganiero's crisp, light delights put other heavy, dull, uninspired so-called "biscotti" to shame. There is no better accompaniment to any cup of coffee (regardless of whether it is artisanal, organic, small batch, or Folgers). I'd recommend pairing it with Rival Bros, above.

Available at fine local gourmet retailers and coffee shops, online at www.gildasbiscotti.com.

For the big beer nerd

Christmas ales, full of spice and high in alcohol, are definitely not for the session-beer crowd. But taken along in larger 750 ml bottles, they're a perfect housewarming gift for real beer drinkers. I recommend a trio of Christmas ales, all available at Philly's best beer store, The Foodery. The first two - 4 Calling Birds (The Bruery, California, 11 percent abv) and Delirium Noel (Belgium, 10 percent abv) - follow the classic, big Christmas ale formula. The third, local Sly Fox's Christmas ale, clocks in at a lower 6.5 percent but still packs that delicious ginger-cinnamon-clove flavor.

The Foodery, 2nd and Poplar, and 10th and Pine streets, www.fooderybeer.com.

For the sweet tooth . . . and a little DIY

Everyone loves cannoli. But the problem with taking cannoli to a holiday gathering is that it can often get soggy in the intervening hours between purchase and serving. That's why Cippoli Cannoli, in Collingswood, has been selling "cannoli kits," which include shells, a mini-sifter of powdered sugar, and a piping bag that will fill 14 mini-shells or seven full-size shells. Now, the cannoli can be served crisp and fresh.

Besides the traditional old-family ricotta recipe, Cippoli offers seven flavors, including pistachio, citron, amaretto, tiramisu and zambaione.

Cippoli Cannoli, 1150 S. Atlantic Ave., Collingswood, N.J., www.cipollicannoli.com.

For the wannabe food blogger

Your loved one already annoys you by shooting photos of every dish he eats . . . so you may as well help improve his skills. Hipstamatic is one of my favorite reasons to own an iPhone; it makes fun, unpredictable (and yes, hipster-esque) images reminiscent of old-time plastic toy cameras. At $1.99, it's cheap, and it offers lots of under-$1 add-on lenses, films and flashes for even more unique effects.

Hipstamatic's latest 99-cent add-on is the Foodie Snap Pak, in collaboration with food photographer David Loftus, which creates those softened-edge photos that foodies love.

http://hipstamatic.com.


Jason Wilson has twice won an award for Best Newspaper Food Column from the Association of Food Journalists. He is the author of "Boozehound" and editor of "The Smart Set," an online arts and culture journal at Drexel University. Follow him at twitter.com/boozecolumnist or go to jasonwilson.com.

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