An oppressively steamy weekend in a locus of suburban blight about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia doesn’t sound crazy-awesome, because it’s not.
But in this case, it was a little nicer than it sounds. I think (I hope!) things might be looking up for Lansdale, PA. The town has long had some things going for it (a number of good BBQ spots; far more diversity than many surrounding areas), but it’s never been in danger of drawing the kind of people that like to get out of the city to spend the day tossing around words like “charming” or “adorable.” Its Main Street is not exactly thriving just yet—a number of businesses have shuttered in recent years, and where replacements have come in, several have not lasted long—but there’s been a steady trickle of interesting new businesses popping up, too. The best of the new spots seem to be doing quite well.
My favorite diner is there, and we’re well-known to the staff, as Jarred is apparently the only person they’ve seen finish entire orders of their gargantuan pancakes. (It’s a rare instance of huge food that is also good food.) It’s been around for a few years, but the chef was able to buy the place from the original owner towards the end of last year, making an already good place even better. A few doors down is Virago bakery, which specializes in vegan and gluten-free desserts. (There are some hits and some misses there, but no shortage of interesting choices.)
This spring, Lansdale even got its own brewery, right downtown and within easy walking distance of the town’s train station. Round Guys brewery has plans to begin serving food and operating as a brewpub, but thanks to the notoriously slow and finicky PA licensing boards, they can’t even sell pints yet. Even so, they’re there producing beer to distribute to a couple of bars, and to sample and sell in growlers to anyone curious enough to stumble in.
Please note that I didn’t take a picture of the actual beer. In an obvious display of my commitment—both to food blogging and to the domestic sciences—I had no clean glasses that weren’t pink. So yeah, I’m by no means a beer aficionado. As with wine and whiskey, I drink plenty of it, I try new ones as often as possible, I can point to styles I particularly like, but I’m just not a hobbyist when it comes to beverages. In fact, say more than a few words to me about a drink or ask me any in-depth questions and, I can’t help it, my inner frat boy comes out and I really, really want to tell you to stop being such a puss and just drink it already. Even so, I think these guys are doing some pretty interesting things, and they’re clearly only doing what they love (from their own FAQ):
What they really seem to love are sour beers, which is a genre I went in particularly unfamiliar with, but I ended up walking out with one nonetheless. We also tried the Alpha Blackback IPA (which I loved), the Mini-Bob (which is a very drinkable session ale, but I didn’t find it compelling in any way), and the Berliner-Weisster, which despite being described on the menu as “like a lemonade on a hot summer day,” still surprised me by tasting… like lemonade. Quite tart, though you can also order it with raspberry syrup, which makes it a Himbeer. Or so they tell me. (I liked it just as it was.)
Soon, it looks like there will be a take-out seafood restaurant opening, with the unnecessarily difficult name “Shellfish Sue.” But for now, the youngest addition to Main Street is Tabora Farm, a satellite store location of a farm in Chalfont that’s been a hugely popular vendor at the Lansdale farmers’ market since it began. The cafe and store, which just opened a week or two ago, sells bulk spices and teas in addition to their own baked goods, ice cream, and (soon, hopefully: wonder if the PLCB might be involved here again?) wine. (I never realized how much weird wine people are making around here until I heard about Cardinal Hollow, a couple minutes down the road in North Wales, where they make wine from peaches and jalapenos. Note to self: buy jalapeno wine.)
The market in Lansdale is currently in its third year, but only recently did they finally answer my prayers and get someone in to sell tamales. I don’t know what my deal is, but any time I see a gathering of people or tables of any sort, I immediately start nosing around for tamales. These were good. I was a little too distracted by the fact of their existence to ask a lot of questions or, you know, read their sign, but whatever. Tamales! The Food Trust clearly knows what they’re doing.
Like everyone else in the world, I love a farmers’ market. Not for any particularly poetic reason, or because I live to hunt down new things to challenge myself with, but just because the market experience fits so seamlessly into a lazy weekend. In a grocery store produce section, I’m lost without a list. I’ve thought of what meals I’ll be making, and I’m shopping to make them happen. At a farmers’ market, I just sort of find myself holding a giant bunch of beets, and then I guess I know what I’ll be eating. Pasta with beet greens, garlic, and pecorino romano that night; beet salad the next day. Whatever. Perfect.
So, to close this out, my “recipe” for beet salad:
Roast or boil beets (for now, boil them; it’s a little hot for a fast oven) until tender.
A few minutes before they’re done, slice an onion, drop it into a large bowl, and douse it with vinegar. Enough that you can also toss your beets in it, and don’t bother with a soft or subtle vinegar here. In fact, this is the time to take a second look at that jug of white vinegar you keep around for cleaning. Salt, pepper, dried dill, toss. No one’s stopping you from using fresh dill; we’ve just given up by now trying to grow dill for ourselves. We only keep growing it so the swallowtail caterpillars don’t starve.
Peel and slice the beets while they’re still hot, and toss them in the bowl with everything else. Stick the bowl in the fridge for a little bit.
That’s it. I don’t use oil in this case, because beets are already pretty lush, and the oil just dampens the acid. These are just shortcut pickled beets, really, but they’re what I usually turn to. In this case, tossed onto some lightly-dressed lettuce from the backyard. Beets are never going to be quick nor neat, but they are easy, and a big bunch ends up providing a few meals. Which leaves you to your weekend, be it somewhere idyllic or just, you know, in Lansdale.