Here at CityEats, we wanted to get up close and personal with some of our favorite restaurant people. Going beyond what’s cooking in their kitchens, we want to know what’s going on at home – and what could be more intimate than scoping out someone’s refrigerator? So, in this series, we’ll take a look into the most sacred of spaces of some of the most talked about food people in the city.
This week the South Philly Review’s restaurant critic/food columnist, Phyllis Stein-Novack shares her fridge, and her take on the city’s restaurant scene.
You told me there’s something special about your fridge.
It’s a Sub-Zero 611. Whoopi Goldberg and Eric Ripert have the same model.
And what do you keep in there?
This is a very multi-ethnic refrigerator. My French olives keep company with my Sriracha. And I only buy organic half and half. In my mind, it just tastes better.
Is that a canister for coffee?
I go to the Melitta coffee warehouse sale in Cherry Hill twice a year and buy about $250-300 bucks worth of coffee and filters.
There are also some fresh strawberries and blueberries, which I purchased at Springdale Farms store in Cherry Hill.
Now we go to the Trader Joe’s shelf. My little cornichons, the artichokes and peppers. I used to roast peppers. I said forget it, I’m not doing that any more. I’m too lazy. Then we have our two kinds of Matzo meal because I’m a nice Jewish girl.
And I’m a V8 person when I make gazpacho. I don’t like tomato juice. I like V8. You know it’s whatever you like. I just think it tastes better.
So what did you make for dinner, the last thing you made?
Last night I made I went to Gotschall, in the Reading Terminal. I get a lot of my poultry there and I bought two roasting chickens. I sort of made a Thanksgiving dinner. I made stuffing with mushrooms and celery and onions. And Brussels sprouts with pancetta and shallots. It was a cool night. When we get those cool blasts, I’ll put the oven on.
Phyllis, where did you get your start?
When I was about eight years old, I would write stories and punch holes and tie yarn and make little books. But all of my adult life I have been a journalist and a cook.
Usually when you go out to eat, you have somebody with you: your husband, your mother…
Friends, Cousin Carl… My restaurant criticism is unique because it’s not like anyone else’s. The late Don Hewett who created 60 minutes would look at his reporters and say, “tell me a story.” So when I write food criticism/restaurant criticism, I’m telling my readers a story.
I have a cast of characters that accompany me.
Writing about food and restaurants: the grapes were green and the soup was warm. It’s more than that. You have to create an image. I’m a very image-oriented writer. And you have to put the person right at the table with you. And that’s what I do. And I have a great cast of characters. It’s fun.
You’ve been with the Review since 1995. How have you seen the Internet change the business?
I really, really love Twitter. It’s is one of the most wonderful things because one of my readers is walking around Queen Village. Such and such restaurant just opened. I know immediately. And I can be the first to review the restaurant.
So what do you say to your critics? A critic always has critics.
My critics? On the web? I’m not following you. I’m sorry… I mean, I know who the jokesters are. We all do. They have the made-up names. But some of them are really good. And if I can steer a person in the right direction, I fell like I’ve done my job then. If a place is a rip-off, I’ll tell them.
So what is your ideal place? What do you like to see?
Really good service. Just the other night we walked into a really casual place. Charming young woman. Lit-up face. “Is this your first time dining with us?”
And then they give you this song and dance about the water… just pour me a Schuylkill River Punch with ice and GO Away.
And PLEASE. When you put something down: “And here are the XYZ with the…”
I don’t want to hear you talking. Leave me alone.
For the most part, and I mean this with a lot of respect: wait staff should be seen and rarely heard. They constantly come up to me. “Is everything alright? And I’m chewing. And then they think I’m ignoring them. But I don’t talk with food in my mouth.
What else about the city’s food scene have you noticed?
I think this pizza thing is getting great. I’ve been to so many pizza places… Pizza is one of my favorite things to eat. And make. So, I see that.
Not all, but many BYOs will up the prices of the food because you’re bringing your own wine. I’ve noticed that. Not all but some. I mean $24 for chicken, I don’t know.
And there’s nothing special about a special except the price; it’s usually jacked up. Now many years ago the special was something that the chef would have in the walk-in that may not be edible in a few days and create something new and unique. Bronzino is not a special. At $28 it’s common. Though I happen to like it.
But what I love about the city is the diversity. The BBQ places are so wonderful. I said to my husband, I want to do a road trip to Memphis in the fall, to eat BBQ and listen to the blues. American food is wonderful: real American food. Southern food’s my favorite. But what I want to stress it that Paula Dean does not cook southern food. And we’ll leave it at that.
We could literally go on all day. But with today’s one-toque review of Shake Shack, next week’s Bastille Day post, and a book in the works, there’s always something fresh to look forward to from this talked-about critic.
Thanks to Phyllis for letting CityEats raid your fridge!