The Dining Guide Chef Kurt Evans Is Fighting for Criminal Justice Reform— P G . 2 5 One Dinner at a Time Amateur Chefs in the P G . 2 0 College Houses Reviews of Prunella, P G . 4 4 , 4 0 Amma’s, and More
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Contents October 2022
Emily White, Editor–in–Chief email@example.com Eva Ingber, Digital Managing Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Walden Green, Print Managing Editor email@example.com Arielle Stanger, Assignments Editor firstname.lastname@example.org EDITORS
Kira Wang, Features Editor Hannah Lonser, Features Editor Jean Paik, Focus Editor Natalia Castillo, Style Editor Alana Bess, Ego Editor Kate Ratner, Music Editor Irma Kiss–Barath, Arts Editor Jacob A. Pollack, Film & TV Editor Andrew Yang, Multimedia Editor Kira Wang, Social Media Editor
THE DINING GUIDE 8 Ego of the Month: Joel Olujide
44 Prunella: Come for the Pizza, Stay for the Atmosphere
20 What’s Cooking on Campus: Meet Penn’s Amateur Chefs
46 The Volstead by Unity Serves Up Classy Cocktails Sans Alcohol
25 Kurt Evans is Fighting For Criminal Justice Reform—One Dinner at a Time 37 ‘Eat with Your Ears First’: The Art of Restaurant Playlisting 40 Walk a Couple Blocks to Amma’s for Your Home Away from Home RESTAURANT REVIEWS 10 A Night Out at Grandma’s Philly 18 Run, Don’t Walk, for Juana Tamale’s Birria Tacos 42 Fresh and Vibrant Flavors Thrive at Hibiscus Cafe
ON THE COVER
Food is many things: nutrition, friendship, culture, comfort. This cover features Kurt Evans, a local chef and activist who mixes all the things food can be and cooks up something better than just a meal. Photo by Emily White CONTACTING 34th STREET MAGAZINE
If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Emily White, Editor–in–Chief, at email@example.com. You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. www.34st.com © 2021 34th Street Magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. No part may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express, written consent of the editors. All rights reserved.
i am alice
Tyler Kliem, Design Editor Sophie Apfel, Copy Editor Collin Wang, Deputy Design Editor Alice Choi, Deputy Design Editor Caleb Crain, Deputy Design Editor STAFF
Features Staff Writers Sejal Sangani, Gemma Hong, Avalon Hinchman Focus Beat Writers Connor Nakamura, Sruthi Srinivas, Samara Himmelfarb Style Beat Writers Shelby Abayie, Naima Small, Shahana Banerjee Music Beat Writers Derek Wong, Grayson Catlett Arts Beat Writers Jessa Glassman, Emily Maiorano, Grace Busser Film & TV Beat Writers Jacob A. Pollack, Kayla Cotter, Julia Polster Ego Beat Writers Anjali Kishore Staff Writer Emma Marks Multimedia Associates Roger Ge, Max Mester, Derek Wong, Andrea Barajas, Rachel Zhang Audience Engagement Associates Kayla Cotter, Yamila Frej, Katherine Han, Emily Xiong, Gemma Hong
LET TER FROM THE EDITOR
In which food is a window to our past, and a door to our future
very year when it started to get cold, my grandma and I would set up shop in the kitchen and start our annual Christmas Eve ritual: making kolaczki. The fruit–filled cookies, a staple in many Polish and Hungarian households during the winter months, were more than a sweet conclusion to our holiday dinner. They were also a key part of our relationship, a tangible way of showing love and appreciation for each other despite having few other common interests. We’d spend hours cooking the fruit and making the dough and assembling the individual cookies, and by the end we’d have caught up on months’
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worth of family gossip and funny stories. Even when dementia stopped her from being able to remember the word “kolaczki” and her hands became too arthritic to fold the dough over its filling, she still smiled every time she bit into one of those cookies—whether or not she knew what making them meant to me. Food is the center of all our lives, even if we don’t always realize it. It isn’t just what keeps our bodies physically alive—we also live for the little moments where we laugh over a plate of pasta with friends, or share memories with our families as they pass down their culture through cooking. We bring soup to our loved ones when they’re sick, and we bring them cake and champagne when there’s something to celebrate. Food can also feel impossibly mundane, just another task on our daily agenda that we have to pencil in between classes and clubs and part–time jobs. We eat every day, and when anything becomes that commonplace, it’s easy to forget how special it really is. This dining guide tries not to take food for granted. We know that food is all these things and so much more—and we dedicated a full 52 pages to it for that very reason. We’ve covered everything from the best new restaurants to how a local chef and activist is using food to end mass incarceration, but the one constant is this: Food is never just a plate, it’s about bringing people to the table.
Thank you Jeremy Allen White— now my friends pretend to understand the hell of brunch service.
BY ESTHER LIM
he first time I cried at my job as a front–of–house hostess, I was already four months in. I set down the iPad with the screen frozen on Yelp guest manager, stuffed my face into my palms, and slumped over the host stand with no regard to the customers enjoying their brunch four feet away. But rather than the guests at the tables, I felt more conscious that I had caught the food runners and our trainee hostesses off guard. The mood would turn grey and it was all my fault. If my life were The Bear, adapted for a uniquely front-of-house hell, this was my “Sydney walking out.” Everyone who's worn black non–slip Skechers and waddled across a greasy dish pit floor could recite their own seven–minute Carmy monologue—one’s love letter to the fiercely astringent purgatory of food service on the other side of the check—and likely go on for much longer. There's a page to be written about every day in a food service job; books to be told of everyone’s careers.
WORD ON THE STREET
Cheers to Jeremy Allen White, who was frustratingly spot on. His role as Carmy presents a young, compelled star chef as a personification of the intensity and fragility of men in a commercial kitchen: an undeniably captivating maelstrom to spend time with, either in person or through the screen. His persona speaks eloquently to those who live the real lives behind the kitchen double doors, who participate in the unspoken solidarity on the 7 a.m. public transport commutes, where almost half of the feet planted on the floor are the same kind of black shoe. On one particular Sunday morning, when the trolley to work was unusually empty, looking for those black shoes felt like safety before I unboarded at 19th Street station, where a man died the afternoon prior. The march up the stairs of the station was like any other. Tumult is written into our job. We continue, because to choose otherwise is a luxury we can’t afford. But we don’t have to tumble alone. My rose goes out to the scrappy line cook with sleeves sketched in ink who carries heaping portions of ego. You’re not bothered by his peppery attitude, though, maybe because he’s wearing black non–slips instead of suede beige Madewell’s. Sometimes I tiptoe and peer through the kitchen window for some extra chipotle mayo— takeout, por favor. But most of the time I’m just curious about the ballet occurring on the line, his hate steaming against the hollandaise. Here’s another rose to the food runners who know every delivery guy asking you for the cellar keys, although they never remember their names. Even the stranger who’s not one of the usual Sysco drivers, and is likely the plug in the back alley, but who always unloads the Giordano truck the quickest. Almost every restaurant has a side hustle happening behind the bins,
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but we keep it hush–hush because we like each others’ company almost as much as we hate being there. And they will exit your life by disappearing. Six months later, you’ll learn through the grapevine that they’re geeked out on staging at some pompous brasserie. Four dollar signs on Google Reviews, and a menu no longer than a one–page tasting list. White tablecloths instead of screechy chairs. Utensils set by bussers, instead of napkins rolled ferociously by the closing hosts. He’s moved on to fine casual; an oxymoron like himself. From their hands erupts only the magic of gastronomy, but they feed their own gut biome the diet of a middle school lunch. Hollering on expo while teetering on the brink of a meltdown, as tickets continue to spit, never looked as attractive until Jeremy Allen White. Or maybe it always has. How many crushes on the kitchen have been shamed, and how many have we talked ourselves out of? The tattoos are coping mechanisms and red flags. The short–fused frustration isn’t worth the fixer–uppering. Seeing it through a screen turns it tasteful, enough that those not in our world pine for the turbulence of food service as romantic. Our in–the–weeds panic looks romantic in 16:9. I don’t remember how many people saw me crying at the host stand besides my friends. But just like the shoes I counted on the 7:30 a.m. SEPTA trolley, there was safety in the tumult, and humor in our shared frustration. The mood wasn’t grey, but rather colorful with support. After unrolling half a roll of toilet tissue to tap at my shiny nose and lashes, and catching my breath in the walk–in next to the beaten eggs and pico de gallo, I stood near the back of the kitchen, near the habitually ensuing Sunday brunch storm. I sliced lemons and vented. My Carmy listened and cursed out hollandaise. ❋
Three publications. One convenient app.
of EGO the
MONTH Andrew Yang
Columbia, Md. ————————————————————————————
Management and finance ————————————————————————————
Undergraduate Assembly, Class Board Executive Vice President, WAVe Dance Team, Sphynx Society, Onyx Society, Bell Society ———————————————————————————— In 2019, Street profiled an up–and–coming chef who was creating major buzz in Hill College House. And it’s no mistake that same young talent has been featured once again in this season’s Dining Guide. A young first–year Joel Olujide (W ‘23) would take over the Hill fourth floor kitchen every week, cooking up complex meals to fulfill fellow students’ orders from a few days prior. Joel’s passion for cooking has shaped every day of his time at Penn, from accidentally setting off the Hill fire alarm to his upcoming anniversary plans for his girlfriend.
Joel Olujide Three years after his last conversation with Street, this student chef still hasn’t slowed down.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
BY ANJALI KISHORE Last time Street talked with you, it was all about cooking. Is that still something that you’re involved in? Yeah. It’s funny that we’re doing this interview now, because for me it’s a very full–circle moment. When that article came
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out freshman year, it really changed my life, even though it sounds very cheesy. I’ve [been cooking] since eighth grade, and it’s always been a passion of mine. When that article came out, I was just starting to cook like that, and the week after was my biggest
week. People came out, but right after that article Penn shut me down, because it was a violation of University policy to sell anything in the dorm [since] I lived in Hill. After that, I was really sad and wasn’t cooking, so I reached out to some alumni who
had a similar experience as I had at Penn. I was able to connect to one individual who’s been a really great mentor and friend of mine since then. He got me two jobs, and I’m actually working for him right now, so that’s [also a] full–circle moment. Now I’m back here, still cooking and working with him, too, and it’s just been very complete. I’m still getting started for sure, but back in freshman year, I never could’ve pictured that this is what that would lead to, so I’m happy with that. I’m still cooking since I moved off campus junior year, so there’s going to be a new meal announced soon. Where do you see your Penn experience and education fitting in with this passion? I feel like that intersection is perfectly encapsulated with what I’m doing now in food [venture capital]. Though I came into Penn as a marketing [concentration], I realized that management was pretty cool. I was scared of numbers, which was the biggest thing. I thought a lot of finance would just go over my head, I’ll be honest. I’d look at financial statements and anything like that and just think, “That’s too much.” My alumnus has been investing for a long time, so he introduced me to the finance world, which I was hesitant to enter, but I wanted to give it a shot. Of course at Wharton you have to take courses that force you to be introduced to that world, [but] I ended up honestly really enjoying it. I didn’t expect that coming into Penn, but now with my passion for food and restauranting, especially working in the VC space on projects that I really am passionate about while using my finance and technical skills, that’s really powerful for me. In terms of this operation in general, I know I need to scale it up, and I won’t be lacking the background to do so. If I’m in a conversation with extremely talented accountants, at least I know the basics of what’s being said, so I think that’s the great-
EGO est benefit to me of having been at Wharton and having this education. What else has been particularly important to you during your time here at Penn? My relationships. I met my girl here freshman year through WAVe, and it’s our three–year [anniversary] really soon, so that’s going to be crazy. My roommates are also my two best friends who I met freshman year, and I’ve just made really amazing friends here. I think Penn truly has amazing people, and that’s what I’m going to miss the most about being at Penn. I’m excited to be an adult and have adult money and do cool stuff, but I’m going to miss always seeing my friends every day because they’re really amazing people. They’re go–getters, they’re passionate, they care about what they do and other people, and the people I’ve met have definitely been the greatest part of my Penn experience. One thing about me entering Penn is that I wanted to leave the space differently than [how] I found it. Up to this point I can say I’ve made an impact of some sort, whatever that is, but it makes me really happy. It’s honestly just been a really great time, getting closer to people whom I didn’t even talk to that much freshman year. How does this work into your post– grad plans? I kind of want to scale it up after I graduate, and whatever I do, I want to still put some time into that and build it up. I see it getting a lot bigger than it is now. I’d start off with a catering business to do events and build from there. I kind of want to go to culinary school, because I think that would honestly be very valuable. I know I can cook, but I know there’s a lot of techniques I could learn to improve my cooking even further, so I’ve been thinking about that a lot. For the future, are you thinking of staying around Philly? Yeah, I definitely want to stay around Philly. Everyone’s going to New York—I know it’s a Wharton thing where everyone goes to New York. Personally, I like Philly, and I know people have their pros and cons, but I see myself here for the foreseeable future while I’m young and I can do things.
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It’s not too far from home in Maryland, not too far from New York, and I love the cost of living. I don’t want to feel poor, and I feel like if I go to New York I’ll just feel poor. I
don’t think I’d stay in the University City area, just because I want a change of scenery, but I’d like to stay here for the next year or two, for sure. ❋
Photo courtesy of Joel Olujide
LIGHTNING ROUND Last song you listened to? I love [Lil Uzi Vert]. If you ask my friends, he’s all I listen to. “Space Cadet” by Uzi, which is from his new EP, is very good. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— No–skip album? Brent Faiyaz’s new album, Wasteland. That’s a movie. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Must–eat spots in Philly? Mulherin’s Sons—the last date my girl and I went on. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Favorite dish you’ve made? Rasta Pasta. It sold out—my biggest night ever last semester. I didn’t have a job, and I wanted to take my girl out for Valentine’s Day, so I sold the Rasta Pasta and it was a big hit. I was like, “Dinner’s on me!” —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— There are two types of people at Penn… People who live in a Greek life house and people who don’t. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————— And you are? I don’t. There are two different kinds of Penn experiences, and it’s important for people to be aware of that. We just threw our freshman [Black Student League] party, and we don’t often have the resources to throw those kinds of parties, but I know people in fraternities and sororities have endowments to support throwing those parties a lot. For BSL to have that kind of party, we have to heavily convince a lot of members of the University to [give] us that funding. Some people never have that issue, but it’s always important to keep that in perspective.
This month: Renaissance paintings, dairy devotees, and evolutionary anthropology
“I thought an antelope was a fruit.” CONFUSING HUNTING WITH GATHERING
“Do I track my macros? No, I just try to eat as much good shit as possible.”
“It’s like The Last Supper but depressing and in Commons.”
ON HIS EIGHTH GLASS OF MILK
LEONARDO DA PRESSION “If my smoothie doesn’t have moss in it, I don’t want it.” EREWHON APOLOGIST
“You say you cook, but all I see are cut–up peaches and lettuce.” LIFE AFTER THE DINING PLAN
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FILM & TV
Feast Your Eyes on Street’s Favorite Food Scenes in Film On the Menu: Ratatouille, pastries, red sauce, and pastrami BY ARIELLE STANGER
• • • Some of the most scrumptious food porn can be found on the big screen—in everything from mob flicks to rom coms to animated movies. But food scenes aren’t just there to get the audience’s mouth watering. Rather, the meals depicted on screen can represent bigger concepts and themes that drive the plot and reveal characters’ true colors. Here are some of Street’s all–time favorites:
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Ratatouille (2007), Anton Ego tries ratatouille When notoriously harsh restaurant critic Anton Ego sits down to review Gusteau’s, the kitchen is sent into a frenzy—but Remy the rat grabs the reins, preparing the quintessential French dish of ratatouille. He uses a mandoline to slice eggplant and zucchini, making sure they’re ultra–thin and pliable before stewing them in a rich tomato sauce. He plates the elegant stack of vegetables, alternating in color, with a sprinkling of herbs and a drizzle of olive oil. With one bite, Anton Ego is transported back to his childhood home: His mother places a bowl of ratatouille in front of him, patting him on the shoulder and assuring that all will be OK. Back at Gusteau’s, he smiles to himself and proceeds to scarf down the dish with a beam of nostalgia painted clearly on his face. This scene is testament to the connection between food and memory, and how the right combination of textures and flavors can bring us back to moments of pure joy.
Goodfellas Prison meal
food as a sacred ritual, no matter where you are, and acts as a communal and unifying factor for the prisoners.
Inglourious Basterds (2009), Hans Landa and Shosanna eat strudel
In this scene, Nazi Hans Landa’s evil grin is almost as tantalizing as the apple strudel with copious dollops of cream. He orders the dessert for himself and Shosanna, who is Jewish but living as a gentile cinema owner in France. He initially forgets to ask for the cream and makes her wait to take a bite until it arrives. Landa, the infamous Jew–hunter, is the man who murdered Shosanna’s family on a dairy farm when she was a child, sparing her life because he didn’t believe she’d make it through the night. The tension is palpable, and the question remains: Does Landa recognize Shosanna? When he orders her a glass of milk to drink, the answer becomes clear.
Marie Antoinette starts off sobbing in the corner of her room, but what’s better to cheer you up than a shopping spree complete with lavish pastries, flowing champagne, adorable puppies, and bedazzled shoes? Girlie was having her cake and eating it, too. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” plays in the background as the queen and her crew devour the most delectable sweets, complete with colorful sanding sugar, plump raspberries, decadent whipped cream, and even gold leaf. Marie Antoinette wasn’t known as Madame Déficit for nothing—but I’d step into her shoes in a heartbeat.
Marie Antoinette (2006), Shopping scene
4 The Godfather (1972), 6 When Harry Met Sally
(1990), Red sauce
There’s nothing more resourceful—or visually satisfying—than using a razor blade to thinly slice a garlic clove. So thin, in fact, that it could “liquefy in the pan with just a little oil.” Paulie’s system is a great one, according to Irish–Italian American narrator and Mafioso Henry Hill. “In prison,” he says, “dinner was always a big thing.” These mobsters were eating better in jail than most young adults do at college—what excuse do we have? This scene exemplifies
the violence and chaos of being involved in the Mafia, Clemenza distracts the young Corleone by teaching him something more wholesome and crucial to family life.
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”: The same man who utters this unforgettable line also spills his secrets to perfecting the classic Italian red sauce, and you can recreate it yourself. Capo Peter Clemenza explains it to Michael Corleone as follows: “You start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. And a little bit of wine, and a little bit of sugar—that’s my trick.” Amid
(1989), Katz’s Delicatessen
Sally’s little performance in Katz’s Delicatessen tops the list for most iconic rom com scenes. She’s trying to prove a point to Harry: How can he know for sure that the women he’s been with haven’t faked their orgasms? Her public display of “I told you so” is convincing enough to make Harry question all of his past sexual encounters, and loud enough to attract the eyes of every patron in the restaurant. But hey—Katz’s pastrami on rye really is that damn good. The older lady sitting nearby says to the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having!” k
A Night Out at Grandma’s Philly
The tapas restaurant brings bite–sized portions of Northern Thailand to Philly. BY DEREK WONG
ocated just south of City Hall, right on the edge of the Gayborhood, sits a small establishment that blends into the vibrant city surrounding it. Don’t mistake Grandma’s Philly for just another restaurant—this Thai spot invites you to enjoy delicious, homestyle meals, grandma– style. Founded by husband and wife Jan Brookes and Donrutai “Chef Locket” Jainon, Grandma’s opened in July 2022, but the restaurant feels like it’s been a part of the city for ages. When I entered, the interior was bustling with people, waiters zipping back and forth carrying delicacies known as “Thai Tapas”: small plates meant to be shared with a group. I sat down on the comfortable couch near the back of the dining room, decorated with pillows made by a local artist. Jan brought water to my table and welcomed me to the restaurant. This hospitality continued throughout my time there, making me feel immediately at home.
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Derek Wong The day I went was particularly busy, and there were only two waiters in the front, including Jan himself. During my time there, however, the small restaurant drew in help from the local Philadelphians when a good Samaritan decided to help the overwhelmed staff with an influx of orders and customers. It shows how this relatively new restaurant is already totally essential to the surrounding neighborhood. Jan suggested I start with the Grandma’s meatballs, and it was the perfect choice. The meatballs arrived on a tiny plate, coated with a sweet and savory sauce. Taking a bite into them was like a piece of heaven, and the meatballs were so tender and flavorful that I wanted to order more. Along with the meatballs, I ordered the creamy tom kha soup, the pillowy curry puffs, and the crispy dumplings. The soup is made with tofu and mushrooms, a perfect balance to its peppery and coconut–y broth. The curry puffs are similar to Indian samo-
sas, but with a more delicate puff pastry and potato filling. The dumplings tasted like the meatballs, reinvented with a crispy skin. Paired with oyster sauce, they make for a delicious starter dish. The restaurant emphasizes using fresh and local food items. “I was really surprised that a lot of [restaurants use] factory–made food,” Jan says. “We feel like people would wait a little longer for freshly–made food.” While there was a longer wait compared to other restaurants, Grandma’s thoroughly rewarded me for my patience. The main dishes of the night were, without a doubt, the highlights. I ordered the ratchada duck, which came with a bowl of steaming hot jasmine rice. The duck had a wonderfully crisp skin and easy–to–chew meat, a surprise given that duck meat is hard to cook perfectly. The creamy sauce gave the duck that extra umami my tongue was looking for. Soon, my plate was cleaned! I also ordered a Thai staple, chicken pad thai. The tamarind sauce
DINING GUIDE was sweet and tangy with decadent noodles and crunchy bean sprouts. One can never go wrong with a tried and true classic, and this dish didn’t disappoint. But the best plate of the night was easily the daily special. On that Friday, it was pork curry fried rice, which arrived to the table steaming hot. This fried rice was flavored beautifully, with just the right amount of curry paired with the crispy pork belly pieces, and a freshly–made hard–boiled egg. The food and atmosphere reminded me of sitting at my own grandmother’s kitchen table, waiting to be spoiled by her delicious cooking. Donrutai’s grandmother, unfortunately, passed away last year, but her influence is alive and well at Grandma’s. The cheery logo of her face is the symbol of the restaurant, an instantly recognizable and friendly icon that greets all patrons on their way inside. Designed by one of Jan’s best friends, the logo is symbolic of the restaurant’s core ethos: food made with love and patience. All these tiny details made for dining experience like none other, ensuring that Grandma’s Philly has more than earned its name. ❋
TL;DR Great authentic Thai cuisine that tastes like home and is definitely worth the wait Location: 1304 Walnut St. Hours: Monday, Tuesday, and
Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays. Price: $$
Put joy back on the table with ideas that make weeknight meals feel special.
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Pizzata Pizzeria Is a Deceptively Simple Stop for Naturally Leavened Greatness Philadelphians are buzzing about the pizza joint for its committed founders, as well as its unique approach to pizza–making. BY GRAYSON CATLET T
s soon as you enter Pizzata Pizzeria, a take–out joint just a couple blocks from Rittenhouse Square, its outstanding reputation for the craft of pizza–making might not be readily apparent from their simple layout. A small bit of room with a mirror for one wall and a neon pink “Welcome Pizza Lovers” sign and disco ball on the other, the New York– style pizzeria didn’t bear its praise until I got closer to the register. Once I saw articles pinned up to the wall from Thrillist and Pizza Today, I started to understand the hype. Pizzata Pizzeria is the creation of friends Davide Lubrano and Vinny Gallagher, both of whom have credentials in pizza–making. Lubrano was raised in Naples, Italy by a family of pizzaiolos, eventually training at the Roman Pizza Academy in Miami. Gallagher trained himself in the art of pizza–making in his hometown of San Francisco. Later, he
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Andrew Yang would go on to win the Neapolitan event at the 2019 Caputo Cup in Atlantic City, N.J. After meeting at Pizzadelphia in 2018, the two became friends. They collaborated in late 2020, a challenging experience due to the ongoing pandemic, to open up Pizzata. However, the grueling opening process paid off in spades with the pizzeria’s booming success. During Pizzata’s opening, Lubrano and Gallagher received their mid–pandemic help from other pizzerias and bakeries in the city. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of 20th Street Pizza, Pizza Shackamaxon, Angelo’s, and Mighty Bread. They helped get us open, get us through this. We all talk to each other in the pizza world,” Lubrano said in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine. Their appreciation for Philly shines through in their ingredients sourced from local bakeries and their merchandise—including a fan
favorite shirt that reads “Crust the Process.” Pizzata’s dishes start with naturally leavened dough, which is a testament to baked goods, the tradition of pizza–making, and their “gratitude to the inspiring pizza community and our Philadelphia neighbors for all their support,” as per their website. Their unique take on dough is immediately apparent when digging into one of their pies, creating a crisp and satisfying sourdough base for the quality ingredients on top. After checking the menu for various red and white pies, many of which are based on classic recipes, it may be hard to determine which pizza sounds the best. Some unique toppings—hot honey, soppressata salami, burrata, Calabrian chili paste—find their way onto multiple options on the menu, making for a cohesive and exciting list for pizza lovers to choose from.
After hearing a few recommendations from the staff, I ordered the Calabrese, a red pie with mozzarella, pepperoni, long hots, the aforementioned Calabrian chili paste, burrata, and hot honey. When the pizza came out, I was immediately greeted with a savory aroma and a pie that looked even better. Trying the pizza was an even greater treat. Above the crisp and textured crust, the lightly sweet sauce and the accompanying ingredients combined for easily one of the best pizzas I’ve had in Philly. Pizzata Pizzeria is quickly making a name for itself after two years of operation, and it’s easy to see why. From its successful and crafty founders who are passionate about their pies to delicious ingredients and authentic cooking, Pizzata is the perfect spot for great pizza in Center City, as well as inspiration for pizzaiolos here and beyond. k
TL;DR New York–style pick–up pizzeria with great dough and an even greater appreciation of pizza–making. Location: 240 S. 22nd St. Hours: Wednesday through Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (or until they sell out). Closed on Tuesdays. Price: $$
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Run, Don’t Walk, for Juana Tamale’s Birria Tacos After years of pop–ups and selling out of a van, chef Jennifer Zavala delivers in her new South Philly storefront. BY SAMARA HIMMELFARB
ucked behind the traffic of East Passyunk Avenue sits an unassuming sidewalk sign promising tacos. The inside of Juana Tamale, on the other hand, is anything but discreet. I’m greeted with the soundtrack of Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE blasting from the speakers. The decor can only be described as Alice in Wonderland meets Day of the Dead meets acid trip: outlandish paintings hanging askew, hot pink walls, and a giant alien space cowboy sign beaming its neon lights. All of this only makes me more excited to try the food. The menu is concise, but everything looks enticing. I order the birria ramen and vegan tamales, and then ask the server (who’s dancing as he takes our orders) for a recommendation, upon which he enthusiastically endorses almost everything. I settle on the Cali burrito with chicken and pay at the register. The dishes are a bit more
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Sophie Poritzky expensive than expected, but a sign next to the register reminds patrons that a 20 percent gratuity is added to each meal, ensuring that each employee has access to a living wage. It’s part of chef Jennifer Zavala’s mission of being a positive force in the local community. My group sits down in pink stuffed chairs as a donkey piñata overlooks our table from the window display. The birria ramen comes with chopsticks and extensive instructions for how to properly prepare and eat it, along with a single birria taco on the side. I pour the hot consommé broth over the ramen and impatiently wait for the cheese to melt. After just one bite, I’m a completely devoted fan. The crunch of the pan—fried corn tortilla goes perfectly with the soft braised beef and buttery, salty cheese interior, and dipping the taco in the consommé is the perfect combination. I would’ve been happy dipping the tacos in consommé without the ramen, which
was fun to eat but didn’t contribute much to the dish, and I gladly would’ve skipped it in favor of three birria tacos. The burrito is crisp on the outside, stuffed full with thick–cut potatoes, acidic and citrusy shredded chicken, and refried beans. It’s served with Juana sauce, which is thick, smoky, and delicious, and pairs well with the slight spiciness of the burrito. Since they’d sold out of the standard tamales, I opted for the vegan ones, which I was assured were just as good if not better than the meat. I was excited to open up the tamale and see that it was full of poblano peppers and potatoes, earthy flavors which were teased out by a squeeze of lime. The restaurant also offers their birria tacos vegan– style, so everyone can have a similarly transformative taco experience. The Beyoncé music fades into Nicki Minaj and people begin to clear out for the night, and
I decide we haven’t had the full Juana Tamale experience and head back to the counter to order some churros. They emerge from the back warm and covered in cinnamon sugar. Suddenly, I’m hungry again. The crunch of the churro gives way to a soft interior filled with a sweet—but not cloying—custard filling, the perfect way to end a spicy, savory meal. On the way out, the server tells me to return soon for one of the restaurant’s frequent pop–ups, where they partner with local chefs and other creative minds for conversation and tacos. If this wasn’t reason enough to return, there are still menu items left to try, like the Mexi–pizza, chicken carnitas tacos, and homemade hibiscus tea. I’ve been telling everyone I can’t wait to take them to this restaurant, and am definitely looking forward to delivering on my promise. k
DISCO TOPIA thu. oct 6 8pm-12am
The RotundA 4014 Walnut St. TheROtunda.org
TL;DR Birria, burritos, and eccentric interior design make for a transformative dining experience.
DJS PARTICLE RAY AND ALEXOTERIC SPIN FUNK, DISCO, AND BOOGIE. HOSTED BY ICON EBONY FIERCE $5 ENTRY Check out our events calendar for other october events!
Location: 1941 E. Passyunk Ave. Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
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What’s Cooking on Campus: Meet Penn’s Amateur Chefs For the best home–cooked (or dorm–cooked) meals this side of the Schuylkill, look no further than the High Rises.
BY HANNAH LONSER
rom instant noodles to microwaveable mac and cheese, the so–called “struggle meal” is a hallmark of many a Penn student’s diet. Often juggling a never–ending stream of problem sets, SABSing obligations, and late–night Van Pelt study sessions, no one can blame the average teen or twentysomething for reaching for a ready–made option rather than breaking out the recipe book. And for the 5,500 or so undergraduates who call the College Houses their home, worn–down appliances and minimal storage space make cooking a meal from scratch all the more arduous. Yet there are a select few students who remain undaunted, regularly assembling delectable homemade dishes in the dorms against all odds. For these amateur chefs, cooking is many things: an exercise in stress relief, a creative outlet, a bonding ritual—even an expression of love. They’ve mastered the art of the dorm–cooked meal, and they have plenty of tips and tricks to share with fellow Quakers on how to kiss the “struggle meal” goodbye.
Hailing from the 18th floor of Harrison College House, Elyse Kim (C ‘25) began her baking career at age 5. While other kindergarteners were busy heating up mini chocolate chip cookies under the incandescent light bulbs of their Easy Bake Ovens, Elyse was whipping up boxed cake and brownie mixes under the watchful eye of her mother. “I always thought that it was so fun!” Elyse says. “And those mixes are automatically delicious, so it was just building my
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Photo Courtesy of Elyse Kim
Andrew Yang confidence. It made me really proud of what I was creating.” Elyse now spends most of her mornings bustling around her in–suite kitchen. While she admits to being an avid fan of dining hall fare, switching to a lower–swipe, lower–Dining Dollar meal plan this semester has inspired her to start making breakfast every day. From mushroom, green onion, and
spinach omelets to spinach tortilla wraps, Elyse’s elaborate early–morning bites put typical convenience meals to shame. “I like to eat the rainbow, so I’ll eat really healthy stuff and try to make it really beautiful,” she says. As for her favorite breakfast she’s made to date, Elyse beams while describing a dish that she made while at home over the summer.
“My mom and I put sweet potato in the air fryer and got it all crisp, so it was like toast,” she recalls. “Then I put avocado and mushrooms and smoked salmon and then an egg, and fruit on the side. And it was so good. It’s definitely a special occasion breakfast.” While her kitchen setup at home allows her to embrace her culinary creativity, Elyse acknowledges that Harrison’s facilities present a challenge to the amateur chef. On the one hand, the lack of equipment has made Elyse much more aware of how many supplies are required to whip up her favorite recipes. “When you’re at your childhood home, your mom just has everything, so you don’t really think about what you need,” she explains. But frustrations and a lack of prep space aside, Elyse emphasizes that the time spent in her shoebox kitchen is perhaps her favorite part of the day. A reprieve from the daily stresses of life as a college student, Elyse isn’t ready to give up her dorm–cooked meals anytime soon: “I personally think that the process of making your food and eating something that you created is just so special. Being able to start my day with that—I love it.” And for those aspiring student chefs who are looking to follow in her footsteps, Elyse is eager to share some advice. Her first recommendation: Know what you like, and get creative with it. “I started by just writing down all of my favorite ingredients … and thought about how I might be able to package this stuff,” she explains. “It’s a fun challenge to be able to think of new recipes.” In terms of more practical tips, Elyse swears by the meal prep process. Grocery shopping, followed by an hour or so of chopping vegetables and measuring out ingredients, has become one of her Sunday rituals. For the student who’s always on the go, she highlights that meal prepping eases some of the time constraints that scare many of her peers away from the kitchen. “I have an 8:30, so I’m not trying to wake up earlier than I have to. I just throw the ingredients in the pan with the eggs and then I mix it up, and it’s done in like seven minutes,” she says.
Andrew Yang Thirteen floors below lives Anika Prakash (C ‘23), a fellow Harrisonian also using cooking as a way to flex her creative muscles. “I just like experimenting with new recipes, and sometimes my friends and I will cook or eat together, or I’ll cook for them,” Anika says. “It’s just fun!” Anika’s love for cooking was sparked later in life—a byproduct of pandemic–induced boredom and a slight social media addiction. “I got into cooking at the start of the pandemic because I was at home, and I had so much time. I kept getting these recipes that were really unique recipes on my Instagram and my TikTok, so I was like, ‘Okay, I want to start making these,’” she says. Two years later, Anika has made it her mission to try new dishes as often as possible. Now fully immersed in the cooking side of TikTok, Anika has dozens of recipes saved to her phone and is slowly working her way through the list. “Once my algorithm started realizing that I was into cooking, I ended up getting tons and tons of new recipes,” she says. One of her favorite meals that she’s made thus far has been a simple chickpea salad. Composed of mashed chickpeas, onions, peppers, vegetables, and spices, Anika’s chickpea salad is as easy to make as it is satisfying. “You put that on bread, and you have a solid, nutritious meal that also tastes good,” she says.
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Now in her fourth year of living on campus, Anika is well aware of how lackluster the kitchen appliances in the College Houses can be. This semester, she notes that her in–suite oven has presented a particular challenge. “There’s a weird smell every time that you open the oven, and it’s just not a great oven either,” she laughs. Still, she advises her peers not to be so easily disheartened by the difficulties inherent to preparing food in a dorm environment: “Even though the dorms are gross, it’s definitely not impossible to cook in them.” To compensate for the far–from–luxurious amenities available in the dorms, Anika rattles off three must–have appliances for any student aspiring to start cooking for themselves more often: an air fryer, a kettle, and a toaster. “Especially when I’m cooking smaller things that don’t require a full, long tray or whatever, having [the air fryer] to heat or cook things is really helpful,” she says. “And then having the kettle for boiling things just helps save time, and the toaster for obvious reasons.”
Just across Locust Walk sits Rodin College House, home to roommates–turned–sous– chefs Jaymaba “Jay” Ndiaye (C ‘25), Anne– Christie Duvert (W ‘25), and Lisa Nnaji (W ‘25).
Courtesy of Anika Prakash Coming from households that bonded over traditional recipes and shared meals at the dining room table, the threesome finds joy in making family–style dishes for each other here at Penn. “It’s a lot of work for one person to cook for everyone, so we’ve made [cooking together] into a social thing,” Lisa says. Finding a time when their schedules align can be difficult, Jay notes. But when they do have free time on their calendars, they prefer to spend it in the kitchen together. “We usually cook together on the weekends when we all have time,” Jay says. “Last Saturday, we had all three meals together, and I was like, ‘This never happens!’ ... It’s fun when we have the time to do that every now and then because it’s something that we can’t do every day.” When asked what their favorite dish to cook together is, Lisa is quick to name Jay’s Jamaican–style rasta pasta, calling it her “signature dish.” “I mean, I’m not a one–trick pony!” Jay
laughs, though she agrees that it is one of her most–loved recipes. “What I put in it is chicken breast, shrimp, sauteed bell peppers, onions. I use penne pasta, and I’ll put cream and cheese and spices and jerk seasoning in it so that it’s really flavorful,” she says. Anne–Christie’s homemade banana bread also gets a shoutout from the group, with Lisa adding, “It goes crazy!” Jay gives a nod to Anne– Christie’s zucchini muffins as well, though she admits that she was initially wary of trying them. “I was expecting it to not have any type of sweetness,” she says. Yet Jay and Lisa were pleasantly surprised by their taste—a nod to Anne–Christie’s baking prowess. In addition to bringing them closer, the roommates stress that embracing their chef–y sides has also given them more agency over their diets. “I feel like a big pro of being able to cook for myself this year is that I get to have a lot more variety in my food, and I can cook food the way that I want to eat it,” Anne–Christie says. “I like being able to customize my food and not always have to eat the same thing.” As for their tips for fellow amateur chefs looking to take more control over what they
eat, Jay recommends saving time by making a few basic dishes early in the week that can be kept as leftovers and incorporated into a variety of different meals in the following days. “You try to make two to three dishes that are versatile,” Jay explains, offering an example of a base of rice with multiple sauce options. “It prevents you from having to do something every single day. You get busy, life happens, and sometimes you don’t feel like cooking, so it’s nice to have something in your fridge.”
For Ayesha Patel (C ‘25), cooking is more than just a hobby—it’s a love language. From preparing her younger brother’s favorite pasta dish for family dinners to leaving fresh–baked cookies on her friends’ doorsteps before big exams, sharing her culinary creations with the people closest to her is one of Ayesha’s favorite pastimes. “If I cook you food, that’s my sign that I love you and I want you to have a good day,”
she says. “One of the things that I love most about cooking is being able to share it with my friends and my family.” Ayesha moved into Harrison College House this fall, and she’s been putting her in–suite kitchen to good use ever since. “[Having the kitchen] is really nice because I can have that same sense of home–cooked food at school, especially because the dining halls don’t always give that same vibe,” she says. As of late, Ayesha notes that cooking has also turned into a bonding activity for her and her suitemates. “I have two roommates that I hadn’t met before moving in,” she says. “My roommates and I will have what we call ‘roomie dinners,’ where I’ll cook up a big meal and we’ll all sit and eat dinner together. It’s been a really great way to get to know each other.” Ayesha admits that making photo–worthy meals in the High Rises presents its fair share of challenges. She laughs as she describes how the four burners on her stove all have different strengths and how half of her desk has now become a dedicated
Photo Courtesy of Jay Ndiaye
meal–prepping area—a necessary sacrifice considering the lack of counter space available in the kitchen. “I use my desk in my room as my little place to chop vegetables and stuff and then bring it out to the kitchen when I’m done,” she explains. “It is a bit of a hassle.” But slight inconveniences aside, Ayesha remains committed to the amateur chef grind—and she’s picked up a few hacks along the way.
Namely, she emphasizes the importance of cultivating a positive mindset in the kitchen. Rather than thinking of cooking as a tedious chore, Ayesha reframes the pastime as a well–deserved break from a mounting workload. “When I’m stressed about finals or club interviews or anything like that, [cooking is] what I’ll use as my study break or as my fun little activity before I get back to work,” she says. “It’s become a bit of a therapeutic activity for me.”
Whether they’re whipping up elevated avocado toasts or veggie–based sweet treats, Penn’s amateur chefs are making the most of what the College Houses and their cramped kitchens have to offer. But these budding culinary experts are doing more than just dishing out Instagrammable bites. They’re making meaningful connections—with the roommates that share their shelf space, with the friends who are always willing to take leftover baked goods off their hands, with the family members whose recipes they’ve brought with them back to Philly, and even with themselves. While the average Quaker might survive off of Class of 1920 Commons fare and customizable Wawa grilled cheeses, Penn’s amateur chefs are proving that fresh meals made from scratch aren’t as far out of reach as one might think. Whether you’re searching for a brief respite from a busy day, a way to connect with classmates and floormates, or even just a little taste of home, these chef–y students know that breaking out the pots and pans every once in a while could do us all some good. ❋
Photo Courtesy of Ayesha Patel
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K F E AT U R E
As a chef–organizer–entrepreneur, Evans highlights the stories of incarcerated individuals through food, narrative, and most importantly, empathy. Content warning: The following text describes an incident of sexual assault, which can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers.
urt Evans, born and raised in Southwest Philadelphia, is a chef by trade. His career aspirations were nurtured by the intimate relationship between food and family he experienced growing up. “I got involved in cooking at an early age through my grandmothers,” who Evans affectionately dubbed
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“cooking machines.” “They had big families, so they did a lot of cooking,” he says. With over a decade's worth of experience in the culinary field under his belt, Evans has earned himself the nickname “cheftivist”’—a nod to his penchant for using food and cooking as a method of activism. In 2021, Evans opened Down North Pizza in Strawberry Mansion, generating national attention for his food–related advocacy. The restaurant exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals and hopes to encourage other businesses to hire open–mindedly as well. He sees food “as a vehicle to be able to talk about mass incarceration, food insecurity, [and] racial systemic issues.” Specifically, Evans is passionate about criminal justice reform. Watching several of his own family members go to prison added a personal dimension to his fight against mass incarceration. According to The Sentencing Project, there are two million people incarcerated in the United States, more than any other nation in the world per capita. Over the past 40 years, the number of incarcerated people has increased by 500 percent due to changes in sentencing law and policy rather than an increase in crime rates, with Black and brown people being disproportionately impacted by this trend. In fact, studies suggest that mass imprisonment has not contributed significantly to crime reduction, highlighting the dysfunction of America’s criminal justice policy. While most people would call Evans an activist, he prefers the term “organizer.” In fact, he feels that the label “cheftivist,” though used with good intent, is often inaccurate to the work he does. “Activism is to the point where you’re being reactive to something— organizing is being proactive,” he says. The ethos that drives Evans’ work is simple: He wants to help his community, using his
skills as a chef to organize for justice. “There have been so many issues that have been compounded on society,” he says. “How can we educate people in ways where they [know where] to get help?”
ix years ago, Evans started holding a series of dinner events that center conversations about the criminal justice system, aptly named the End Mass Incarceration (EMI) Dinners. Since then, he’s spearheaded successful EMI dinners in all corners of the United States—from Alaska to Texas to New York—but most of his recent work is concentrated in his hometown of Philadelphia. The newest iteration of the EMI series is called Stories of Resilience. At each dinner, a formerly incarcerated individual who’s since engaged in advocacy work is highlighted and invited to share their story with attendees. “They’re doing preventative work to stop people from going [back] to jail in their re–entry stage,” he says. As the guest of honor speaks, everyone is served dinner, prepared in part by Evans. I was invited to attend the most recent EMI dinner on Sept. 10 at the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises in West Philly. When I arrived, Alexandra Hunt, who ran for Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District this year on a progressive platform, was already seated at a table, chatting enthusiastically with the person sitting next to her. Past iterations of Evans’ EMI dinner series have drawn several other local politicians, including District Attorney Larry Krasner and Councilmembers at–large Kendra Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, and Helen Gym. As more guests slowly filtered into the dining area, introductions were exchanged, as well as warm greetings between friends. Ev-
F E AT U R E
IT’S NOT SO MUCH JUST TALKING ABOUT MASS INCARCERATION, IT’S ACTUALLY HEARING SOMEONE THAT HAS BEEN INCARCERATED. KURT EVANS ans notes that many attend more than one dinner, a testament to the series’ ability to not only raise awareness of the need for prison reform, but also build a community of advocacy in the process. Before the presentation began, my table mate, Sampson Jean–Louis, enthusiastically shared that this was also his first time attending one of Evans’ EMI dinners. He was particularly excited to have gotten a seat at that night’s event because pineapple upside– down cake was on the menu—one of his favorites. A spicy mango salad and mahi–mahi with rice and green beans were also served. Evans encourages attendees to sit with people they don’t already know to facilitate the exchange of personal stories. During our conversation, Jean–Louis told me about an elderly man who’d been previously incarcerated. After his release, he went on to work— and eventually retire from—a position with the government. He said to me several times, “You would never guess that he had been to jail.” During our interview, Evans speaks to this point: He’s using the EMI dinner series as a platform to create a narrative shift. “People look at these individuals as not worthy. [They think,] ‘Lock them up, throw away the key, don’t let people out,’” he says, but his events get “real people … to tell real stories about their lives and how they got to where they are.” As the dinner began, guest speaker Cynthia Alvarado described the work she’s done to transform her own narrative and those of other incarcerated individuals. In 2010, she was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life without parole. In 2020, she successfully appealed her case and was released from
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prison—something few other people in her position have the legal knowledge or resources to accomplish. Aided by questions from local judicial candidate and friend Caroline Turner, Alvarado told the story of her encounter with the criminal justice system. She opened by detailing the story of a devastating car accident she was involved in—one that tragically killed her uncle. Alvarado also suffered serious injuries, including a broken pelvis. The trauma of the accident led her to begin self–medicating with Xanax in an attempt to numb the physical and emotional pain. In October 2008, Alvarado drove to Fairhill Square Park in North Philadelphia in search of Xanax, accompanied by her cousin, Oscar Alvarado. She waited in the car as her cousin secured the medication. When he came back, he was holding a gun and instructed her to drive away. In the panic of the moment, Alvarado complied. Soon after, she found out that he had killed a woman named Marta Martinez–Lozada. Alvarado was never aware of what her cousin had planned, and she didn’t participate in the actual murder. However, a judge’s decision and the Pennsylvania felony murder statute led to her second–degree murder conviction, which carried a mandatory life sentence without parole. Alvarado spent 18 months at the Riverside Correctional Facility, a prison in North Philly. In prison, Alvarado was subjected to multiple types of abuse by the guards. She was forced into solitary confinement for eight months and raped. Alvarado cried as she recounted her incarceration, but she still managed to speak with impassioned clarity about the substandard
health care and lack of resources within the prison system, repeatedly telling the audience that “women are dying in there.” After Alvarado finished her speech, the floor was opened to questions, which evolved into a lively discussion as the night progressed. Between courses, participants offered their ideas on how best to combat mass incarceration. Alvarado munched on green beans with a concentrated look on her face, interjecting every once in a while with her opinion. Through the EMI dinner, Evans gave Alvarado the platform to use her experience to generate a night of advocacy, learning, and engagement. The money raised from donations made by dinner attendees was presented to Alvarado at the end of the event, a contribution to support her work, since activism tends to pay very little as an occupation. “Storytelling is very healing,” Evans says. “It’s not so much of just talking about mass incarceration, it’s actually hearing someone that has been incarcerated.” Sarah Gager, a two–time attendee of the EMI dinner series, seems to agree. “These prisoners have a story to tell,” she says, “and it’s not the story that ends up on the police report or the court docket. There’s much more to the story, and the EMI dinners let you look at the situation in a holistic way.” But these dinners aren’t just educational— they’re also transformative. Gager says, “The [EMI dinners] to me are just very moving, and I’m usually in tears while I’m eating.” By highlighting the stories of formerly incarcerated people, Evans’ EMI Dinners challenge prior conceptions of imprisonment in an empathetic, human–oriented way.
n addition to hosting the EMI dinners, Evans also devotes much of his time to his role as an organizer for the 215 People’s Alliance, a multiracial collective dedicated to building poor and working–class solidarity and justice in Philadelphia. 215 interviews political hopefuls, endorses policy changes, recommends judicial candidates, and calls for prosecutor accountability, among other undertakings. Although he was originally hired to a temporary position during Dis-
trict Attorney Krasner’s campaign, Evans is now 215’s mass liberation organizer. Within his role at the 215 People’s Alliance, Evans founded Justice for All (J4A), a volunteer group “committed to ending mass incarceration and reimagining what community safety looks like.” Currently, J4A is involved with Voices of the Unheard, a project whose purpose is to collect, share, and center the stories of those who are incarcerated. Robert “Mjasiri” Dowell, who’s currently on year 12 of his 25–year prison sentence, is the project creator. He initially reached out to Jaime Sullivan, a member of J4A, who ultimately brought the idea to Evans’ attention. Dowell’s collaboration with J4A will culminate in an art exhibit at the Urban Art Gallery on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11. Visitors will be able to interactively listen to audio recordings of participants who shared their stories and view various other artworks done by incarcerated individuals. In a phone interview with Dowell, he says of his aspirations for the project, “I’ve never seen anything out there telling our stories in a positive light, even though there are individuals who were formerly incarcerated that came home and are doing well.” He wants to gain support by sharing the personal stories of inmates and motivate the public to take action toward ending mass incarceration. Although J4A is coordinating the exhibit from the outside, leveraging their resources to help Voices of the Unheard succeed, Evans stresses that the project is Dowell’s at its core. The two of them talk on the phone multiple times a week so that the final product presented to the public reflects Dowell’s vision. “You need to understand that everything here is for the [incarcerated] individuals. They should get the reverence. I take pride in helping behind the scenes,” Evans says. Those who shared their stories for the exhibit will be compensated for their time using grant money. On Sept. 7, during a weekly J4A Zoom meeting, Evans, Sullivan, and Beatrice, another J4A member, reviewed the logistics and marketing approach for the Urban Art Gallery event. After about half an hour, Sullivan got a call from Dowell, who joins the J4A meetings to discuss Voices of the Unheard in addition to his frequent one–on– one conversations with Evans.
[EVAN] AND DOWELL ALWAYS MAKE SURE TO SAY GOODBYE AND HANG UP BEFORE THE SYSTEM ENDS THE CALL—A RECLAMATION OF AGENCY AND HUMANITY IN THE HEAVILY REGIMENTED CRIMINAL (IN)JUSTICE SYSTEM.
“This is a prepaid collect call from an incarcerated individual at SCI Coal Township. This call is not private. It will be recorded and it may be monitored,” the automated prison phone system warned. Immediately after, Dowell and the team got to work. When talk of exhibit graphics subsided, Evans suggested that Dowell and other incarcerated individuals contribute to another project in the works at J4A. They’re collecting questions, such as, “What kind of education and counseling services can the government provide for children to end the school–to– prison pipeline?” to create candidate forums on mass incarceration reform. Many local political hopefuls are inclined to engage with the 215 People’s Alliance to garner support for their campaign. For example, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is now running for governor of Pennsylvania against GOP extremist state Senator Doug Mastriano, has already been interviewed by 215. Eventually, conversation turned away from J4A altogether, becoming an informal, but nonetheless thoughtful, deliberation on the failures of the criminal “(in)justice” system— as Dowell prefers to call it. These passionate, organic conversations seem to be typical in Evans’ work, since he and Dowell launched into a similar unprompted discussion at the end of our first phone interview. Dowell emphasized the importance of creating safe places for kids to play. The needs of children who are exposed to daily trauma are not being addressed. Instead, they bottle up their feelings, leading to behavioral problems, and, all too often, stints in juvenile prison. Alvarado made a similar point when she emphasized that the details of her uncle’s death, and her subsequent struggle with mental illness and self–medication, were never discussed during her trial. In Dowell’s opinion, the government is uninterested in ameliorating these systemic inequities, failing to provide funding for prevention pro-
grams—such as trauma–informed mental health services—that could create change. Fourteen surprisingly jam–packed minutes later, the robotic voice returned, this time informing us that there was one minute left on the call. A chorus of thank yous and goodbyes followed. Evans tells me he and Dowell always make sure to say goodbye and hang up before the system ends the call—a reclamation of agency and humanity in the heavily regimented criminal (in)justice system.
lthough Evans doesn’t directly work with food in his position at the 215 People’s Alliance, he insists that, for him, it’s all connected. Food and advocacy are inextricably intertwined. From Down North Pizza to the EMI dinner series to his work with J4A and the 215 People’s Alliance, Evans brings a uniquely creative and entrepreneurial energy to every project he touches. “He is tireless and he has a mission. … When I’m listening to the news, having a nervous breakdown, he’s just chugging along. He’s a positive force,” says Gager. While the daunting nature of organizing may leave some people paralyzed, Evans says that his enduring passion for the cause is what motivates him. And by incorporating his love for food into much of his advocacy, Evans has managed to put his own creative spin on an ongoing, citywide fight for criminal justice reform. The connection between food and social justice work might not seem particularly obvious at first glance, but sharing meals has the capacity to spark hope and camaraderie among people of all walks of life—and that’s what makes it essential to Evans’ mission. “People may not drink coffee or tea, people may not drink liquor, but you can get people together over food,” Evans says. “Food is what brings people to the table.” ❋
Take It to the Streets
What to Do in Philly This Month This month: Haunted houses. Autumnal festivals. Story slams that are sure to be good, and stand– up comedy that isn’t.
oing to college in Philly, we’re so often bombarded—on social media and IRL—with seemingly endless options for how to spend our free time. So I’m delighted to announce that Street has done the hard part for you: We’ve rounded up what we think are the can’t–miss events for the month in one convenient place. If I’ve done my job right, there’ll be something in here for every one of our readers, no matter what you like to do with your weekends. Walden Green
forming along to the original movie. That’s a whole extra set of jaws! $15, 10 p.m., Ritz Five, 214 Walnut St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 7 + 8: Brauhaus Schmitz Oktoberfest @ The Armory
Enjoyment mileage for an Oktoberfest celebration is going to vary significantly based on what kind of person you are (beer person or non–beer person). But what we can all agree on are the aesthetics of Oktoberfest: polka music, milkmaid braids, and plenty of bratwursts. It’s all about putting the hoe in lederhosen. 21+, $25, 23rd St. Armory, 22 S. 23rd St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 9: Old City Fest
Apparently most Philly neighborhoods were dead set on scheduling their annual fall festivals for Oct. 1. Luckily, Old City gave us enough time to give everyone a heads up. Go out to eat, drink, be merry, and best of all, partake in assorted seasonal activities. Free, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., N. 3rd and Arch streets. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 9: NexGen Music Festival @ W.O.W. Philly
All Month: Halloween Nights @ also way cooler than you, and you’re a little The most fun part of this event, hosted by Eastern State Penitentiary afraid she could ruin your life if you crossed The Impossible Group, is that it’s extremely Eastern State Penitentiary must’ve not heard the end of it when they canceled ‘Terror Behind the Walls’ last year. Because now they’ve returned with not one, not two, but five haunted houses to officially scare the shit out of you this go–round. Tickets from $34 (cheaper in groups), 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., closed on Mondays, Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave. ————————————————————————————
Mondays in October: Open Mic Night @ Punch Line Philly
Last year’s Under the Button comedy night left me traumatized … and hungry for more. I want my stand–up with a bunch of talent and a big ol’ heaping of cringe, and there’s no better place to find both than open mic night. White men of the world, this is your time! 21+, two drink minimum, doors at 6 p.m., show at 7, Punch Line Philly, 33 E. Laurel St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 2: Maude Latour @ The Foundry
Listening to a Maude Latour song is like having a chat with your best friend who’s
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her. She’ll be bringing her city girl charm and immaculately rocked low–rise jeans to The Fillmore’s club–within–a–club. $23, 8 p.m., The Foundry, 1100 Canal St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 4: The Moth StorySLAM: Grown @ World Cafe Live
This is required reading for anyone who watched Girls and built their personality on of it, who spent sleepless nights poring over that PowerPoint trying to figure out if Jack Antonoff actually cheated on Lena Dunham with Lorde. If not, you can always check out The Moth StorySLAM anyway—all adventurous women do. $17.50, doors at 6 p.m., stories at 7:30, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. ————————————————————————————
hard to tell what it is from the webpage. It definitely involves DJ sets, “giving back to the community,” and one extremely ugly poster design. As for the rest, you’ll just have to fuck around and find out. 21+, $16, doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9, Warehouse on Watts, 923 N. Watts St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 10–15: Philly Music Fest
For anyone who’s been meaning to dive headfirst into the Philly music scene, this is your best opportunity. Six days, 21 bands, six venues; you’ll be as well–versed and pretentious as a WXPN intern. Oh wait, that’s me, isn’t it? Anyway, go see Mannequin Pussy. Day tickets from $20 to $39, various locations. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 7 + 21: The Rocky Horror Oct. 11: Sudan Archives @ World Picture Show @ Landmark’s Ritz Cafe Live Music Hall Five Over at the Stroffice, one of our favorite alIt’ll be a science fiction, double feature kinda night when the best theater in the city screens this kinky, kooky, camp classic. This production will take “a different set of jaws” to a whole new level with a shadow cast per-
bums from 2022 has been Sudan Archives’ Natural Brown Prom Queen. It’s flirty, sexy, and experimental, and you can expect Brittany Parks to bring all of that energy to the stage. Our editor–in–chief Emily and I will
definitely be in the crowd. $20, doors at 7 p.m., show at 8, Music Hall at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 16: Opening of Modigliani Up out high than Matisse. Pro tip: The PMA Close @ Barnes Foundation does pay–what–you–want nights on Fridays
In a month full of festivals, one festival more. This new celebration of all things served out of a truck/on a stick/in a paper container feels so Philly it’s kind of crazy somebody didn’t think of it already. Catch me on the mechanical bull re–enacting Lady Gaga’s 2013 SXSW performance (read: throwing up). $10, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Xfinity Live!, 1100 Pattison Ave.
Oct. 23: Philly Burger Brawl @ Xfinity Live!
Oct. 15: Philadelphia Street Food Festival @ Xfinity Live!
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani’s women are just straight up stunning. Face: correct. Neck: correct. Body: correct. The things I would do to look like these ladies—but looking at them isn’t half bad either. $5 for students, Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. ————————————————————————————
Oct. 20: Opening of Matisse in the 1930s @ Philadelphia Museum of Art
Two of my friends are planning to take edibles and go to this, and frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a better artist to check
from 5 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. $30, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. ————————————————————————————
This ain’t your middle school’s fight in the parking lot. The competitors are some of Philadelphia’s most illustrious restaurants, and their weapon of choice is a patty between two buns. Maybe if we’re lucky some actual hands will be thrown over the results. $50, 12 p.m., Xfinity Live!, 1100 Pattison Ave.
LOCAL, SEASONAL, SUSTAINABLE
3611 Walnut St. | 267.805.8585 louielouie.restaurant Daily Penn Fall Dining Guide 22.indd 1
3420 Sansom Street | 215.386.9224 whitedog.com 9/19/2022 3:32:58 PM
For Doc Pickle, Pickling Is More Than a Science. It’s a Labor of Love. Originating 50 years ago in a basement, this third– generation pickle company has perfected its art and gained a cult Philly following in the process. BY KIRA WANG
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e call ourselves a ‘flea–tail’ pickle company,” says Josh Nadel, owner of Doc Pickle. He’s not wrong. The company is known to Philadelphians as a humble stall in the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. Manned by a character affectionately known as “the Pickle Man,” Doc Pickle draws in loyal fans with the Pickle Man’s charm and keeps them coming back with their flavorful concoctions. “We started doing the market about five years ago,” Nadel says of Doc Pickle’s cult Philly following, “and it’s become one of our best markets. People see us day in and day out. They love seeing us there.” The secret behind the company’s famous pickles? Fresh packing. No pickle is canned or jarred—they’re immediately packed in barrels and then sold in quart containers to the general public. In addition to fresh packing, Doc Pickle utilizes natural fermentation, pickling cucumbers without vinegar so that they can “lacto–ferment,” creating probiotics and a more nutrient– packed pickle in the process. The company also ensures that its pickles are made with the highest quality produce, each cucumber being hand selected. But Nadel remains humble about his multi–state–spanning business, bashfully saying, “I just try to focus on myself, really.” It’s clear that Doc Pickle is committed to pumping out a damn good pickle. But for Nadel, pickling is more than just business— it’s also deeply personal.
As a third–generation pickling company, the business was started by Nadel’s grandfather and his brother in their basement. Inspired by their Eastern
European and Jewish heritage, Nadel’s grandfather “saw a need for pickles,” and began driving a truck to sell their goods in the Catskill Mountains’ bungalow colonies. After much success, he expanded the business into a small wholesale manufacturing plant, later passing on his business to his son—Nadel’s father. Twenty years ago, Nadel took over along with his brothers, leaving behind his business in the restaurant equipment supply industry. Contrary to the impression that family– run businesses tear families apart, Nadel’s relationship with his brothers only became stronger throughout their years at Doc Pickle. While Nadel’s parents were initially reluctant to pass on the business due to troubles with the prior generation’s working relationship, he and his brothers have been brought together—all thanks to pickles. As Nadel continues to elaborate on the dynamics of a multigenerational business, he suddenly pauses and briefly hangs up. “That was just [my brothers] on the other line calling me. I thought it was a serious call, but it was really about nonsense,” he says. “[The business] allows us to be close— sometimes too close. But fortunately, it’s good because we can help each other out. If I need something and I’m in a bind, I know they’re there.” Pickles were a large part of Nadel’s life, even when he was a kid. “My whole family is pickles,” he says. “It’s not like we ate pickles every day, but if we wanted some extra money on the weekends, [my dad] would be like, ‘We’re gonna sign up for a street fair in the city, and you guys can sell pickles.’” This pro–pickle sentiment rings true even in the family’s youngest generation, with Nadel’s two daughters, ages 5 and 7, “eating sour pickles since they were six months old.” They also try their best to help out at the farmers’ markets. “My wife will bring them to the farmers’ market. They’ll jump behind the barrels and they’ll try their best to help wrap stuff up. They’ll help sell to the customers,” Nadel says, “but right now, they mostly just eat the pickles.” Does Nadel plan on passing the business down to his daughters? He doesn’t know. “I don’t know how briney they want to get right now—they’re interested in makeup and dolls. My daughter is a great salesperson,” he says fondly. “I love the pickle business, but I feel like my daughters are destined for greater things.” OCTOBER 2022
STYLE Throughout Nadel and his brothers’ tenure as owners of Doc Pickle, they’ve focused on bringing the business back to their roots while growing the company’s operations at the same time. As Doc Pickle thrives, they’ve expanded beyond cucumber pickles—they also pickle mushrooms, garlic, and other vegetables while also collaborating with businesses to serve up other delicacies like pickled pepper jam. Surprisingly, Nadel’s favorite item on the company’s long list of goods isn’t a cucumber pickle at all: It’s “Mmmelish.” One of Doc Pickle’s most popular items, Mmmelish is a delightful combination of sauerkraut brined in horseradish pickle
Photo Courtesy of Doc Pickle
brine, spicy brown mustard, sweet relish, and shaved horseradish pickles, meant to be served on burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, or just eaten with a spoon. Not only is Doc Pickle expanding its pickle horizons—it’s also growing nationally,
Photo Courtesy of Doc Pickle
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offering up a pickle delivery service called “Dr. Pickle’s Brine Club,” where fans of the company can have their “pickle prescription dillivered” on a recurring basis every month. For those who live in North Jersey, where Doc Pickle is based, Nadel hand–delivers pickles once or twice a week—a testament to his love for the business. In spite of the brothers’ business innovation, they aim to pay homage to their roots as well. Just like how their grandfather used to sell their pickles at farmers’ markets, Doc Pickle has stalls at over 30 markets per week, where they’re met with customers’ bright eyes and a shared love for briney goodness. “When people come to the stand, they’re transformed back to the days when they
were children,” Nadel says. “It’s like dipping their hands in magic brine. The smell of garlic hits them so thick that they have to brush it away from their faces.” Nadel’s words are no exaggeration. As I make my way to Doc Pickle’s stand in Rittenhouse, I’m immediately greeted with a distinctly pungent, briney aroma that makes my mouth water. I’m greeted with a pickle pun (“They’re dill–icious!”) and grab a container of their half sours. Soaked in a lightly salted garlic brine with no vinegar, they’re just as light as they are tasty—not too sour and packed full of flavor. After hearing Nadel’s sales pitch, I eye the Mmmelish and decide to pick up a jar. The punch of the mustard combined with the acidity of the sauerkraut, the heat of the pickles, and the sweetness of the relish make the combination almost addictive, especially when smeared on a grilled cheese. The condiment is sour, sweet, and spicy all at once, and I can see how easy it is to eat the entire jar in one sitting. The relish–mustard–sauerkraut combination clearly lived up to Nadel’s high praises. But the quality of Doc Pickle’s products doesn’t just come from fresh ingredients or a fancy pickling process. It comes from years of thought and generations of Nadel’s family working together to perfect each recipe. Pickling clearly isn’t just a family hobby for the Nadels—it’s a labor of love that’s been refined over time so that each customer can revel in the pickle experience. k
‘Eat with Your Ears First’: The Art of Restaurant Playlisting How music affects your enjoyment of food, according to a restaurant owner and a neuroscientist. BY KATE RATNER
Alice Choi OCTOBER 2022
few years ago, my mom visited Royal Izakaya, a Japanese bistro in Old City. She described a warm atmosphere, good food, and an overall positive experience, but she was especially excited to hear several of her favorite songs on the restaurant’s playlist: “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest, “Brown Sugar” by D’Angelo, and the entirety of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She asked the manager for the playlist, he sent her a Spotify link, and she kept listening for months after her meal. My mom’s R&B throwbacks listening spree was the most defining part of her dining experience that night. There’s more to eating than the food on our plates. According to a 2018 study conducted by the European Journal of Marketing, the music we listen to while dining heavily influences our eating patterns and processes. Sixty participants were given two of the same cookies, one with “pleasant” music playing in the background and the other with “unpleasant” music. At the end,
the participants deemed the first cookie as better tasting than the second, despite them being identical. But you don’t need scientific explanations for the connection between food, music, and the brain to explain why restaurant music matters. Through eating and sharing food with others, we create
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memories to associate with our dishes. The music is an audible reminder of moments we share with others and our meals, from a quick lunch before class to a five–star birthday dinner. Robert Collins, a New York City–based filmmaker and restaurateur, is a lover of all things food and music. He describes sound and music as “addictive,” and says it contributes to just about every human experience. Despite never playing an instrument himself, Collins has curated playlists for every restaurant, hotel lobby, and museum he’s worked in. Collins owns Jue Lan Club, an upscale Chinese–fusion restaurant in the former Limelight nightclub in Chelsea. He describes the playlists at Jue Lan as “hip– hop–driven,” catering to its young and energetic clientele and atmosphere. Collins walks me through a typical night, in music, at Jue Lan Club. “We start off, in the afternoon, a little more old–school. You’ll get anything from Al Green, to Michael Jackson, to Aretha Franklin,” Collins says. “As the day goes on, you might get a little Ja Rule, a little 50 Cent. Then, we take it up a bit more, and as the night goes on, you get more modern stuff … you got Drake, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby.” It wasn’t always possible to press play on a Pandora channel or carefully curated playlist. At the start of Collins’ career, he relied on iTunes to fill the lobby of The Mercer hotel in SoHo with music. “I would go through iTunes, and I bought 15,000 songs myself … I had a whole huge collection,” Collins says. “I would literally curate [the playlists] to every half hour. When I picked a song, I’d put it into its proper place [in the night]. I’d be like, ‘Wow that’s a great eight o’clock song!’” Now, Collins has an easier role as resident restaurant playlister. He often uses Pandora to find stations he enjoys, and tweaks them by adding, removing, and reordering the songs. Whether they know it or not, Jue Lan Club’s patrons are all avid listeners of the Pandora station for TLC’s 1990s hit “No Scrubs,” a personal favorite of Collins’. Michael Kaplan is a professor of neuroscience at Penn who studies the intersection of music and the brain. Instead of referring to any of the various studies of music and its impact on our eating experience, he encourages us to
look at food and music as one and the same, in terms of neuroscience. “Music, food, and most of the other things we love are all pushing the same buttons,” says Kaplan. “Combinations of dopamine shots here and there, endogenous opiates, and other things in various combinations.” Kaplan focuses on music as a method of social signaling. By listening to a certain kind of music, we’re telling the world “what group [we] belong to.” This mentality helps restaurants decide what music to play, identifying their intended audience and atmosphere through sound. “Music is like a T–shirt that we wear to tell the world what kind of person we are,” says Kaplan. In contrast, Collins believes that restaurants should curate playlists to reach beyond their intended audience. He playfully offers a hypothetical situation where a uniform playlist can negatively impact a restaurant’s business. “I’ll go to some edgy pizza place in the East Village, and they’re only playing grunge music, cranking it up, because that’s what [the employees] like and want to hear. … And it might be OK for a few songs, but after a while, you might not psychologically want to come back next time because they decided to play the whole Metallica tape.” Music streaming platforms have also capitalized on restaurant playlisting. Spotify offers several playlists fit for every type of dinner party in existence: Chill Dinner, complete with soft indie favorites; Soulful Dinner, a playlist fit for an afternoon at Jue Lan Club; and several others. Additionally, the Dinner Party Mix, curated by the Spotify algorithm, creates a dinner party playlist unique to each user. Music is essential to our experiences with food, offering a backtrack to enjoying memories with every dish. Apart from taking orders and serving us food, restaurants are responsible for adding more than just the noise of conversation to a dining room. According to neuroscientists and restaurant owners alike, the music we listen to while we eat determines if we’d rather continue to enjoy our meal or leave the restaurant as soon as possible, packaging our leftovers into to–go containers. Street took our own crack at throwing together a dinner playlist that can bring some of our favorites to your next gathering of friends. Check it out below. k
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Walk a Couple Blocks to Amma’s for Your Home Away from Home No matter your heritage, you can count on Amma’s South Indian Cuisine’s new University City location for a taste of comfort and familiarity. SRUTHI SRINIVAS
mma” means mother. It’s perhaps the most ubiquitous word in South India; in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam alike, the word “amma” evokes a range of emotions, from love to belonging to warmth. When I think of my own amma, I think of my childhood in Chennai, India: loitering in a cramped kitchen, touching everything, asking her
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Rachel Zhang what this ingredient is or what that smell is. I think of slowly counting down the minutes after she shooed me out, waiting until she plated whatever concoction she’d decided on for the day, and then gulping it down before I was reprimanded for eating too fast. This nostalgic sense of place is the exact sensation that the owners of Amma’s South Indian Cuisine—Balakrishnan Duraisamy
and his friend and co–chef Sathish Varadhan—tap into. I walk into the Amma’s location in Center City and pick up on an instant familiarity. The walls are an earthy brick design, stylistically peeling like an old apartment building. Doors that don’t open are attached on the side, like the doors outside boiler rooms, or the stairs leading up to a terrace. The lighting is dim but not too dim; intimate but not dark. “When you taste the food, I want it to feel like you’re tasting your own mother’s food,” says Duraisamy, whom I sit down with after he offers me a mango lassi, a smoothie with mango and yogurt that’s refreshing even on the hottest of days. “We want our food to be as authentic to South Indian food as possible.” When Duraisamy and Varadhan opened the first Amma’s restaurant in Camden County, N.J., they noticed that there was virtually no local place that served authentic South Indian food. “People were driving up to Edison for this kind of food, [and we] wanted to change that,” Duraisamy says. “We were the first South Indian restaurant in the area.” Amma’s was an instant hit, and after tasting their food, it isn’t hard to see why. I order the chili paneer appetizer, an Indo– Chinese dish where fried cubes of paneer (a kind of cottage cheese) are served with chili and soy sauces, vinegar, and bell peppers. The sauce is sweet, sour, and spicy, a big component of South Indian cuisine. The paneer is crunchy yet soft, melting in my mouth as I savor the explosion of flavors and textures. Then we get to the two showstoppers. First
DINING GUIDE comes the masala dosa, a type of dosa (fermented pancakes made of rice and lentils) stuffed with potatoes and curry leaves and served with sambar (lentil–based vegetable stew) and chutneys (dipping sauces including coconut, which is white, and mint–coriander, which is green). I tear apart the flaky dosa, dipping it in the chutney and crunching through the spiced potatoes. Next arrives the vegetable thali, which translates to a “vegetable plate” or “full meal.” And it’s a full meal indeed. A plate of basmati rice is placed in the middle of ten rotating sides: chutneys of varying spice levels, pakoras (spiced fritters), and a soft, sweet dessert. On top of the basmati rice are a couple of chapatis (a type of flatbread). Despite the compartmentalized look of the dishes, they’re meant to be combined—the rice mixed with the chutneys, the pakoras and chapati mixed and blended with the sambar. The only dish I used a fork for is the chili paneer. Finger food is a staple of a mother’s cooking; one doesn’t care for using knives and forks properly in the comfort of one’s home, after all, nor in the comfort of the region’s cuisine. When looking at the three dishes in unison, I notice the color distribution quite vividly: orange, yellow, white, and brown, all hues from spices that make up the majority of South Indian food. “We grind our own spices,” says Duraisamy. “We didn’t want any artificial sweeteners or MSG in our food … that’s not genuine, that’s only for attraction.” And Duraisamy and Varadhan have proven that they don’t need artificiality to grow their business. Only a few days ago, a new West Philadelphia Amma’s location opened right next to Penn’s campus. “We received multiple [requests] from Drexel and Penn students and we wanted more people to taste our food,” Duraisamy says. He also expresses a desire to spread South Indian food as a giant in its own right within wider notions of Indian cuisine. “[Non–Indians] have only heard of chicken tikka masala or curry when it comes to Indian food … they don’t know anything about South Indian food, and we want to introduce people to that.” “Amma” means mother, but it also means home. And that’s exactly what Amma’s South Indian Cuisine feels like. ❋
Rachel Zhang OCTOBER 2022
Fresh and Vibrant Flavors Thrive at Hibiscus Cafe Look no further than this West Philly gem for your next vegan– plus food and smoothie spot. BY JEAN PAIK
prawling green plants—real and illustrated—usher me into the windowed entrance of Hibiscus Cafe. Located on the corner of 49th and Catharine streets, the restaurant specializes in Caribbean–inspired vegetarian dishes and a wide array of fruit drinks. Hibiscus has been open for nearly ten years, offering great options for vegan and non–vegan eaters alike. The space itself is gorgeously painted with striking pops of color and a sweeping mural on the right–side wall. The painting grounds the cafe, with “you are here” handwritten in cursive letters next to the row of brick buildings that hug both sides of the restaurant and a few delectable–looking fruit drawings rounding out the corner. It adds a hearty ambience to the interior, which has two small tables for people who want to dine in. Earl, the owner of Hibiscus, greets me at the front. One side of the neon yellow menu
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Jean Paik placed on the counter touts various smoothies and juices, some containing intriguing add–ins I’ve never tried before, including sea moss and rice milk. The other side of the page displays its many vegan and vegetarian items, offered as both platters and wraps. Earl recommends the Philly cheesesteak— vegan, of course, and spicy style—and I add a Reboost smoothie to my meal. He writes down my order on a Post–it note. Ten minutes later, I’m promptly met with a steaming container of open–faced sandwiches and a light pink smoothie. I take a sip of the Reboost smoothie to start. Blended with strawberry, banana, bee pollen, protein powder, and rice milk, the drink has a mellow sweetness to it. The first hint of fresh strawberries is trailed closely behind by the bananas, a flavor that usually overwhelms any drink it touches but is balanced well here.
The beverage is slightly thicker than a juice, still drinkable through a straw without too much effort. While the strawberry banana smoothie combination is certainly a flavor profile that we’ve seen before, the Reboost is a refreshing and unfussy pair to a main dish that packs more of a flavored punch. Next, I dig into the sandwich rolls. The plant– based Philly cheesesteak is made with seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat protein. But in this dish, the seitan is more than wannabe steak. It’s soft, tender, and light—the best I’ve tried in my three years of being vegetarian. Melted cheese blankets the generous portions of well–seasoned protein, which has a mild kick of spice. Sauteed green peppers and onions also intermingle in the mix, adding a complementary crunch to the juiciness of the seitan. The warm mixture is cradled in between zigzags of ketchup and mayo that are spread on top of
toasted slices of bread. The narrow loaves are the perfect vehicle for the cheesesteak fixings. Cushiony and lightly crispy on the insides, the roll springs back after each bite. I finish the meal feeling full and satisfied, slowly sipping on the last remnants of my smoothie and watching the soft orange rays of sunset filter through the front window. It’s clear that Hibiscus Cafe is a place that celebrates the integrity of its plant–based ingredients, rather than shying away from them. The restaurant has the ability to warm you up—satisfying any cravings with a freshly–made dish full of heart, and a brightly painted interior to match. For vibrant flavors and textures that bring every component of the meal to the forefront, try the dishes that Hibiscus has to offer. Trust me, you won’t miss the meat. k
TL;DR Spruced–up smoothies in Cedar Park, with vegan (or vegan– adjacent) dishes that won’t make you miss the meat.
Book Your Exclusive Event at Pulse! Drink specials available for private parties
1526 Sansom St, PHL @PulsePhilly firstname.lastname@example.org | 215-751-2711
Location: 4907 Catharine St. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Sundays.
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Prunella: Come for the Pizza, Stay for the Atmosphere Head to Midtown Village for playful twists on Italian–American classics. BY NAIMA SMALL
runella is Midtown Village’s new hot spot, serving up creative and tasteful twists on classic Italian and American fare. Amid much anticipation, the restaurant opened in late March 2022 and is owned by celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson. Schulson is widely known for his other Philadelphia restaurant, Double Knot, a sushi bar that was named one of Open Table’s top 100 restaurants in America in 2018. Like Double Knot, Prunella provides an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere and equally Instagrammable plates. Its mission is to create an inviting space and serve fresh, unique ingredients. 34th Street recently sat down with Amy Norris, Prunella’s manager, to get an inside scoop on the popular neighborhood spot. “Prunella’s mission is to host a nice at-
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Anna Vazhaeparambil mosphere, to send people to a place of comfortability: good vibes, good pizza, and good wine,” she explains. “It’s kind of like an escape from the rest of your week.” Just after noon on Labor Day, the restaurant was reasonably packed, but we were still able to snag a lovely table outside. That said, the true crown jewel of Prunella’s aesthetics is the interior. With a gold–framed photo wall, ivy strands, and eclectic bar setup, their design is enviable by any restaurateur’s standards. There’s a view of the kitchen from the seating area, where you can catch a glimpse of chefs expertly kneading dough. The inside is small but charming and comfortable, with floor–to–ceiling windows that brighten the space. Our outdoor seating felt like sitting in a vintage cafe: cozy despite the lively streets around us, while perfect for people–watching and pizza–eating.
Service is quick once seated, and we settled on one of their most popular pizzas by our waitress’ recommendation, The Process: pepperoni, pickled peppers, and provolone. This pizza is everything you’d expect out of an artisanal take on a classic pepperoni pizza, with tiny, crunchy pepperoni, tangy cheese, and a charred, thin crust. Each pizza comes in one size, but it’s certainly enough for two people to share. Though I expected more of a distinctive flavor from the inclusion of pickled peppers, The Process is definitely still worth the price overall. In addition to the pizza, I ventured on the wild side and order Prunella’s zero–proof piña colada. The texture was creamy and smooth, while the wedge of lime on the side provided a tartness to the otherwise sweet drink. Together, the combination of the
drink with the savory pizza struck an enjoyable balance. For those who visit Prunella, Norris recommends that diners try “the spicy caesar, it’s balanced out with mint but also has some spice; the Big Nick, our mushroom pizza with burrata; and also the squash blossoms. They’re like elevated mozzarella sticks.” I would certainly revisit Prunella, simply because of the sheer number of enticing dishes on the menu and the gorgeous atmosphere. If you’re looking for unique spins on Italian–American classics, then this is your spot. Its upscale–casual environment is the perfect place to host a birthday dinner, a lunch date with friends, or even a solo self–care trip out in Midtown Village. I’d recommend this hip, fun restaurant for your next exciting meal. ❋
TL;DR Prunella should be your next go–to spot for delicious—and aesthetically pleasing—pizza, pasta, and drinks.
CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN ALL MONTH! 22ND & WASHINGTON AVE | (215) 546-7301 | WE DELIVER
Location: 112 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Tuesday 11 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Price: $$
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The Volstead by Unity Serves up Classy Cocktails Sans Alcohol Vegan bites and zero–proof nights lead to perfect, hangover–free mornings at this unconventional Manayunk bar. EMMA MARKS
ocated along the banks of the Schuylkill in charming Manayunk, The Volstead by Unity is Philadelphia’s first zero–proof bar. Opened in the spring of 2022, The Volstead is the newest addition to Arielle and Robert Ashford’s Unity spaces throughout Philly—all of which aim to support individuals’ health and well–being while creating a sense of community. They serve non–alcoholic drinks in order to carve out a safe space for people who are in recovery, choose not to drink, or are just “sober–curious,” and provide delicious, 100–percent vegan food to support sustainability. They also employ those in recovery and returning from incarceration. Walking along Main Street, The Volstead’s bright purple exterior draws me in. Right outside the front door is a heart–shaped mosaic sign that reads “I believe in you.” Stepping into
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Emma Marks the restaurant is like entering a fairytale: I’m greeted by a beautiful wood bar with orange neon–lit shelving, dark green and black walls, railings covered in flowers and vines, and lightbulbs surrounded by geometric cages hanging from the ceiling. The hostess seats me at the bar while the television plays Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In accordance with Philadelphia’s alcohol laws, you still must be 21 to drink their zero– proof cocktails. However, in addition to The Volstead’s fully stocked, alcohol–free bar, they also have a selection of kombucha. Because it’s still so hot outside, the bartender makes me a drink that tastes and looks like summer. With a sunset–like gradient and a strawberry and orange slice on the rim, it’s citrusy and refreshing.
I order the short stack of oat pancakes, and as I wait, I notice an employee standing near the kitchen wearing a shirt that says, “Zero–proof nights lead to perfect mornings.” Three pancakes, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with whipped cream and strawberries, arrive in front of me. They’re warm and sweet, and they melt in my mouth. The bartender then hands me another drink and tells me it’s their apple bourbon fizz. I admire its layered presentation: cider at the bottom, then foam, and lastly an apple slice topped with cinnamon. I take a sip and it tastes like fall. The warm cider mixed with the cinnamon is the perfect combination. Then, to my surprise, the waitress brings over some tasters of other offers from their upcoming fall menu. First up is the Regal
DINING GUIDE Bacon Chedd’r Slider with house–made vegan grounds, vegan cheddar cheese, and king oyster mushrooms as a substitute for bacon. It also comes with pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and sweet potato fries on the side. Biting into the slider, you’d have no idea it’s vegan. Up next, it’s Volstead’s pumpkin bucatini, made with pumpkin puree, heirloom tomato, pumpkin seeds, and brazil nut parmesan. The dish has so many different textures and flavors, from the creamy sauce to the crunchy toppings. It’s the perfect combination of strong, salty flavors and more subtle notes.
Lastly, I sample a plate of three appetizers— Carolina corn ribs, balsamic soy-garlic roasted mushrooms, and garlic parmesan boneless wings. The corn rib has a subtle yet smoky flavor with coriander and paprika, and the mushrooms are light and chewy with a hint of sage. The wings are made out of seitan, and are salty, garlicky, and fried to the perfect consistency. If I wasn’t so full, I’d eat the whole thing. Luckily, they have to–go boxes. The Volstead’s chef tells me that even though he isn’t vegan, he cooks exclusively vegan food because it’s cleaner and healthier. Their fall menu, with flavors like cinnamon and cran-
berry, is the third they’ve put together since they officially opened last March, and he feels it’s the best one yet. When I’ve packed up my leftovers, the hostess offers to show me the upstairs section of the restaurant. Walking up the stairs, there’s a wall covered in moss and flowery vines and a built–in shelf containing their zero–proof bottle shop. The Volstead by Unity is the perfect restaurant set in a scenic location and buzzing with youthful energy. The food and drinks are amazing, and the people who work there are friendly and passionate about what they do. k
TL;DR Visit The Volstead by Unity for a good time with your besties; sober, plant–based, or otherwise. Location: 4371 Main St. Hours: Wednesday and
Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Price: $$ Emma Marks
El Vez Is Philly’s Go–To Classic, Loud, and Lively Mexican Joint As Philly’s Mexican food scene grows, Stephen Starr’s El Vez remains a cheerful and consistent crowd–pleaser. BY KAYLA COT TER
n 13th Street lies one of Center City’s many long–running success stories: El Vez. The modest yet rambunctious Mexican restaurant, which prides itself on its “Mex–Eclectic spirit” and “bright, boisterous” nightlife, is a Philly classic, having been open for 19 years as of 2022. It’s a place that screams fun, even if it pales in comparison to Philly’s ever–growing Mexican food scene. El Vez is the brainchild of Stephen Starr, arguably Philly’s most illustrious restaurateur. From its contemporary Mexican decor, the Midtown Village staple is distinct, yet still aligned with Starr’s 19 other high–quality restaurants dispersed throughout the city. It speaks volumes that El Vez is one of his few restaurants with a second location—which
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Kayla Cotter opened in New York City in 2014. In terms of aesthetics, the inside of El Vez is dimly lit, with tables surrounding the centerpiece: a circular bar that features a rotating low–rider bike. Gold velvet clamshell booths hug the sides, conjuring images of old Hollywood. Immediately catching the eye is a stunning, picturesque wall mounted with photos and illuminated by light. Despite its gaudy interior, the restaurant’s exterior is surprisingly modest, indicated only by an eccentric yet humble neon sign. Upon arrival for a 5:15 p.m. reservation, the space was crowded to the brim with people ready to indulge in everything El Vez has to offer. My group first ordered the macho nachos as an appetizer, which was neatly presented
on a round pizza tray. We couldn’t stop picking at the nachos even as our entrees arrived; every flavor popped, from the queso mixto to the pickled red onion (the chicken is also a worthwhile addition). Next up was the taco tasting platter, which included mahi–mahi, shrimp, chicken, chorizo, and steak tacos. A taco rests on each corner of the plate, with one in the center, for an unexpectedly neat presentation. The tacos are understated, filled with classic ingredients like white onion and pico de gallo. Still, each aspect of the shrimp taco was delicious, which is high praise from someone like myself, who usually has a distaste for seafood. One friend also ordered the shrimp enchiladas, although those apparently lacked flavor and paled in comparison to the nachos.
Overall, the service is quick and polite, and the menu is extensive, especially when it comes to the drink offerings. El Vez has a detailed tequila and mezcal list, as well as a generous selection of margaritas. The food itself is reasonably priced as well, with most items ranging between $10 to $25. El Vez isn’t the perfect restaurant. But its imperfections—the extremely dim lighting, wobbly tables, and deafening music, to name a few—all contribute to the ambiance of the dining experience. Its menu may not be as ambitious as some of Philly’s emerging Mexican restaurants, but it’s a straightforward crowd–pleaser, and the vibe is vibrant and animated. It’s a restaurant that feels alive, and one where the company is more valuable than the food. k
TL;DR Center City staple with a unique, electric ambiance and crowd– pleasing Mexican food
Catering 0 Delivery 0 Takeout 4040 Locust St. pattayarestaurant.com
Location: 121 S. 13th St. Hours: Monday through
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed on Sundays.
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FILM & TV
‘MasterChef’ Is Culinary Colonization on the Big Screen The famed cooking reality show is a microcosmic demonstration of the racism and classism that pervade fine dining. BY KIRA WANG
asterChef is often seen as the great equalizer of fine dining, taking some of America’s best home cooks—no matter their background—and squaring them off in a high–pressure contest that serves as a training ground for a career in cuisine. Its most recent season, MasterChef: Back to Win, hosted by television food personalities Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Aarón Sanchez, and featuring 20 returning contestants, is shaping up to be one of the show’s most competitive yet. Back to Win boasts a star–studded cast, with former MasterChef winners Christine Hà and Gerron Hurt coming back to the show to present their own spin on the classic mystery box challenge, where contestants are given a box of ingredients and are instructed to prepare a recipe with every element in the box. As the first Asian American contestant to win the show, Hà prepared a box as a tribute to her own heritage. It included traditional Vietnamese ingredients like fish sauce, cilantro, limes, sambal, and green onions. But as Back to Win contestant and MasterChef Junior finalist Dara Yu presented her highly successful dish of rice porridge with seared duck breast, sautéed morning glory, mung beans, and chili oil, Bastianich commented, “What you did is take Vietnamese flavors and techniques and somehow manipulated them into seeming like it’s a European Michelin star dish.” This isn’t a flippant, one–off comment about the perceived inferiority of Asian
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food—Bastianich has also exhibited patterns of anti–Asian racism in the past. And this isn’t even MasterChef’s first brush with the racist and classist rhetoric that’s far too common in the world of fine dining. From featuring known racist Paula Deen as a guest judge to Bastianich insulting season five contestant Daniel McGuffey’s pasta by comparing it to a “steamed dumpling in a Chinese restaurant,” MasterChef has and will continue to perpetuate the notion that fine dining is largely white, wealthy, and inaccessible. Despite the diverse cast that make up the show, for Bastianich and the people who permit and enable his behavior, food must be European—and white—in order for it to qualify as cuisine. MasterChef is merely a microcosm of the reality of fine dining. While European styles of cooking like French and Italian cuisine get labeled as “high–end,” non–European cuisines are labeled as “ethnic.” Restaurants labeled as ethnic are seen as commonplace, while restaurants that serve bastardized versions of this so–called “ethnic” food win awards for innovation. But the food they serve is not a result of innovation—it’s a result of culinary colonization. Most of the celebrity chefs we see on television are white, and MasterChef is a welcome reprieve from that. But in spite of the diversity of race, gender, and class that we see on MasterChef, the show continues to perpetuate attitudes that make fine dining so inaccessible in the first place, harming the contestants they claim to value in the process. ❋
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