I made it through jury duty, well-fed and thoroughly caffeinated. But it wasn’t as easy as one might think. I teased my turn in the jury box a couple months ago with some mystery dish clues in my Crumb Tracker Quiz. But that was in the fun early days, before I realized I’d been locked into a marathon murder trial that would ultimately last three weeks.

It’s one thing to take a break the daily grind to do your civic duty for a few days, pop by the Reading Terminal and collect your 10% juror discount. It’s another to reckon with the reality your regularly programmed life is being turned on its head indefinitely. With a commitment to be in court daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with barely an hour for lunch, every decision regarding sustenance and time management required strategy. One cannot survive several hours of DNA expert testimony awake on an empty stomach.

The avocado toast at Bluestone Lane bear City Hall offers a nutritious start for a long morning of jury duty.
Craig LaBan
The avocado toast at Bluestone Lane bear City Hall offers a nutritious start for a long morning of jury duty.

Like many of my fellow jurors, work obligations outside the courtroom continued – including my regular columns. That meant I needed to find a café near the Criminal Justice Center on Filbert Street behind City Hall to caffeinate, grab a satisfying bite, and write as fast as I could. I found my peaceful early morning oasis at the nearby Bluestone Lane (1 S Penn Sq.), where a country table hidden on the second floor mezzanine was a quiet haven to work and launch my day with fresh avocado toast or a yogurt-granola parfait.

The tucked-away upstairs mezzanine at Bluestone Lane near City Hall is a quiet place to get work done in the early morning before jury duty.
Craig LaBan
The tucked-away upstairs mezzanine at Bluestone Lane near City Hall is a quiet place to get work done in the early morning before jury duty.

By the lunch hour, though, I was inevitably famished. And, not to be denied, the Reading Terminal Market just one block away is a blessing for an easy, affordable lunch hit. I’ve covered the Terminal’s offerings extensively in my dining guide before, but some favorites had to be revisited – the grilled turkey Rachel at Hershel’s East Side Deli, the legendary pulled pork at DiNic’s (though no long hots to avoid jury box tummy aches), the signature sandwich at Olympia Gyro, and a ham-and-cheese omelet-stuffed pretzel at Miller’s Twist for a portable breakfast indulgence. The line for grilled salmon at Little Thai Market, sadly, was inevitably too long.

The Waffle Shot at Old City Coffee In thé Reading Terminal Market is an espresso inside an edible waffle demitasse lined with dark chocolate.
Craig LaBan
The Waffle Shot at Old City Coffee In thé Reading Terminal Market is an espresso inside an edible waffle demitasse lined with dark chocolate.

But a parting shot of espresso at Old City Coffee ably kept me alert through afternoon of cross-examination – even better in an edible demitasse made from a chocolate-covered sugar cone, essentially coffee and a dessert hit of sugar in the same gulp. With precious few bathroom breaks in court, espresso gets the job done with minimal strain. A 24 oz. Wawa cup is not a juror’s friend.

Quick-serve cacio e pepe (al dente!) with focaccia from DaMò Mo Pasta Lab (105 S. 12th St.)
CrIg LaBan
Quick-serve cacio e pepe (al dente!) with focaccia from DaMò Mo Pasta Lab (105 S. 12th St.)

As the days ticked into weeks, however, I needed to expand my horizons, and the lunchtime adventures became more wide-ranging. I quick-walked west across Dilworth Plaza to try the quick-serve Lebanese chain Naya (1601 Market St.) for a reasonably juicy chicken shish taouk bowl. I headed south for chickpea soup and fresh tonnarelli cacio e pepe at DaMò Pasta Lab (105 S. 12th St.), followed by an intense shot of Croatian espresso at the new Cogito (105 S 12th St.). I devoured a chicken schnitzel pita at Merkaz (1218 Sansom St.), a meatless Smokehouse burger from Hip City Veg (121 S Broad St.)

The curry ramen at Yamitsuki. The restaurant is notable for its focus on chicken- and vegetarian-based broths.
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
The curry ramen at Yamitsuki. The restaurant is notable for its focus on chicken- and vegetarian-based broths.

But I spent most of my lunch hours exploring the western end of Chinatown, bolting from the courthouse for soup dumplings and Shanghai shumei at Tom’s Dim Sum (59 N 11th St.), the original egg roll and steamed shrimp and pea leaf dumplings at Nom Wah (218 N 13th St.), curried chicken ramen at Yamitsuki (1028 Arch St.), an elementary bowl of pho at Pho Street (1230 Arch St.). That sizzling hot dolsot bibimbap at Dae Bak in Chinatown Square (1016 Race St.) was also delicious. But in my rush to make it back on time I left a credit card behind – the ultimate verdict I’d gone a block too far.

Dolsot bibimbap with spicy pork from Dae Bak (Chinatown Square, 1016 Race St.)
Craig LaBan
Dolsot bibimbap with spicy pork from Dae Bak (Chinatown Square, 1016 Race St.)

On the eve of deliberations, I learned we’d no longer be excused for lunch, which would now be brought in. But the judge, looking directly at me, warned: “It’s not gourmet, you may want to brown bag it.”

It was, strangely, a wonderful relief. For this workaholic critic, compelled to note every bite even while on jury duty, nothing made me happier than making myself a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich.