Reader: Just picked up some local black radishes at Mariposa Food Co-op (Baltimore Ave. between 48th and 49th), perfect for thinly slicing and baking into chips. Do you have a favorite food co-op?
C.L.:I’m in Center City — so we tend toward farmers markets more than co-ops. Though I see the appeal. Weaver’s Way is a worthy oldie — a real part of the Mount Airy community that’s been a big success. The Swarthmore co-op has impressed me: excellent cheeses, and some really fine meats. They have a serious butcher there in former chef Mike Ryan. I know some chefs, like Todd Braley of Pickled Heron, actually drive to get their pork.
Reader: I would like to see food reviews of some of the area’s private clubs.
C.L: It’s an intriguing idea that I’ve thought about. We have some great private kitchens, like Marty Hamann’s 1862 at the Union League, probably the gold standard. Then again, there’s such incredible growth in Philly’s open-to-the-public restaurant scene — the very phenomenon that doomed our once-vibrant club culture to decline in the ‘80s — that it’s hard to find time. Not saying never. For now, I’ve got my hands full covering places most of our readers can actually eat at.
Reader: I’ll bet you’re looking forward to doing the Xfinity Live piece sometime this summer (wink)!
C.L.: I’m winking right back at you. I took a quick look at the menus for several eateries that have opened at this new complex in South Philly, and with the exception of the Victory beer hall, I wasn’t very intrigued. I need to visit in person, of course, before passing judgement. But it seemed like they’ve chosen to go the chicken-wing route over something more ambitious. I’ll be reporting back on that shortly.
Reader: I have to say, the burger at Spectrum Grille, while $16, was delicious. Perfectly cooked, and charred.
C.L. OK — like I said, I’m gonna reserve judgement until I taste myself … .
Reader:Visited the new White Dog Cafe on the Main Line about a month after it opened. Found it a bit over crowded, and well, more like a ML pickup bar. In preparation for an upcoming dinner gathering, someone suggested we give it another try — is it worth it?
C.L.: White Dog in Wayne was one of the places I revisited at the end of 2011 for my Year in Bells. The kitchen had improved — at lunch, at least — enough to rise to two bells. I doubt the nightlife scene, though, has changed much from your first visit.
Reader: Craig, can you give us the inside scoop regarding Hop Sing Laundromat? It’s gotten so much buzz, but what’s the real story here … when can we expect to dine here? If ever?!
C.L.: Stand in line — the very LONG line — of people who’ve been whipped into a frenzy of online salivation waiting for this odd-but-intriguing Chinatown cocktail bar to finally open. Will it ever open? I don’t know. One reliable pal, though, who was at a preview night there, said the place looked “incredible” — the kind of cocktail lair that could earn some national repute. The drinks, though, took forever. And I’m totally confused by the concept of delivering a handful of greatest hits from neighboring Chinatown restaurants for the menu. I’ll believe Hop Sing exists when it opens.
Reader: How’s the pizza at Chuck E Cheese?
C.L.: With two kids, I’ve experienced more parties at Chuck E’s than I care to remember. Any time you get to eat prefab pizzas while dancing with a giant rat, well … you know what I mean. Eat before you go.
Reader: C’mon, admit it — Federal Donuts’ chicken is overrated, right? What’s the best fried chicken place in Philly?
C.L.: No, it isn’t overrated. I don’t think there is a better fried chicken in Philly.
Join Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan for live chats Tuesdays at 2 p.m. at Philly.com