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A world of great food from the corner store | Let’s Eat

Also: A sweet recipe for Diwali, a Jamaican takeout shop that exceeds its hype, word of a new Japanese hideaway, and 12 great spots to enjoy jazz.

The exterior of Queen Village Food Market at Fourth and Bainbridge Streets promises hoagies and cold cuts. Inside is a treasure trove of Turkish-style ingredients and Mediterranean cheese.
The exterior of Queen Village Food Market at Fourth and Bainbridge Streets promises hoagies and cold cuts. Inside is a treasure trove of Turkish-style ingredients and Mediterranean cheese.Read moreCraig LaBan

Who’d imagine that a corner grocery store could be a serious Turkish market? Or that a bodega could be an Ethiopian cafe with traditional coffee service? We share some Philly secrets today, along with a sweet recipe for Diwali, a Jamaican takeout shop that exceeds its hype, word of a new Japanese hideaway, and 12 great spots to enjoy jazz.

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Mike Klein

Two street-corner food treasures

Critic Craig LaBan poked inside what appears to be a routine corner grocery store with the prosaic name Queen Village Food Market, and found a fantastic assortment of Turkish foods. Beyond the breakfast sandwiches and hoagies are spices, teas, coffees, ice cream, and 28 varieties of feta cheese. Just what is John Atalan up to? Craig explains.

Ethiopian native Hayat Ali opened Alif Brew & Mini Mart last year in West Philadelphia with an eye to serving the neighborhood with a pandemic-resistant cafe-meets-market concept. She sells everything from Milk Jawn ice cream to berbere spice. It’s the cafe’s food that keeps regulars coming, as colleague Jenn Ladd shows us. Ali also roasts her own coffee and serves it ceremoniously in a pot known as a jebena, maintaining the tradition of her homeland. Speaking of great specialty grocery stores, Jenn took us inside Amman Mediterranean Market in Cherry Hill last year.

So many ways to celebrate Diwali

Diwali, being celebrated this year on Nov. 4, is a festival of lights at its core, the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. As contributor Shaan Merchant explains, Diwali boasts as many traditions as there are stars in the sky. Sweets are always involved — as you’ll see from this recipe for gajar ka halwa. Imagine the best of carrot cake, the carrots and warm spices, condensed into a thick, pudding-like consistency.

Craig LaBan finds a takeout spot that exceeds the hype

With 164,000 Instagram followers and counting, Kingston 11 co-owner Abbygale Bloomfield never wastes an opportunity to give her fans a chance to interact and spread the gospel on social media. Hype aside, Craig says enthusiastically that this Southwest Philadelphia Jamaican takeout delivers the goods.

Philly’s 12 sharpest jazz clubs

Now that indoor gatherings are returning, we’ve got the urge to hear live jazz in Philadelphia. Staff writer Nick Vadala asked musicians for their favorite spots for jazz, and here’s what they recommend. Most serve food, notably at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City. And I’ll share a sad note here: Jazz guitar great Pat Martino, who lived in the ame South Philly house he grew up in, died this week after a long illness at age 77.

Mighty Bread opens a South Philadelphia cafe

Mighty Bread Co., tucked away on a residential side street in South Philadelphia, has seen a growing audience during the pandemic. Starting Nov. 4, Chris DiPiazza and crew open a cafe next door to sell sourdough, sandwiches, and more five days a week.

Bonk’s, the storied crabhouse, is spared from a roaring fire

Fast work by the Philadelphia Fire Department and a lucky wind helped spare Port Richmond’s Bonk’s Bar from a terrible fire last weekend. You can understand why the owners of this crab destination are feeling shellabratory.

Restaurant report

There’s already Royal and Ginza and Sakana and Sushi Planet. Queen Village’s sushi scene has expanded yet again this week with the opening of Nikai, just above Bon Siu’s venerable Mustard Greens Chinese restaurant at 622 S. Second St.

Nikai stars Abel Cruz, who for two decades was the sushi chef across the street at the Japanese restaurant Hikaru, which closed in 2018. Cruz, raised in Veracruz, Mexico, credits owner Takashi “Stash” Yoshida’s Japanese crew for teaching him.

Nikai means “second floor,” and so you walk into Mustard Greens and immediately head upstairs to take a spot at the small sushi bar or at a table in the comfortable dining room.

Rolls, sashimi, and a few kitchen dishes such a miso soup, shrimp shumai, seaweed salad, and fried calamari. Talk to Cruz and peek into his fish case for your selection. Last night, he had sweet and creamy uni from Maine and firm, pristine Spanish mackerel. Incidentally, Mustard Greens is still going strong after nearly 30 years at Second and Bainbridge, doing dine-in and takeout, but no affiliations with delivery apps. Siu and I go way back, to the days of Tang’s, which was a premiere Chinese restaurant 40-plus years ago at 429 South St.

Briefly noted

I told you last week that Sazon, the Venezuelan destination, was evicted from its longtime home at 10th and Spring Garden Streets. It’s due to resurface on Nov. 4 as Sazon 2 Go for pickup and delivery out of 1308 W. Girard Ave.

Rangoon, the city’s first Burmese restaurant, announced that it would close at the end of the year. But the news brought several restaurateurs out of the woodwork with offers to keep it going, and current owners are deliberating. Meanwhile, it’s open for pickup and delivery at 112 N. Ninth St.

Various goings-on at Goldie and Federal Donuts, two pieces of Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s empire. First off, they just opened a Goldie at 1601 N. Front St. in Fishtown, which has a nifty dining room and an exclusive on coconut-favored tehina shakes. It’s next door to their forthcoming event space, Lilah. Now for some more intel: A Federal Donuts will open next week at 18th and Cherry Streets, behind the new Victory Brewing taproom on the Parkway and across from the Logan Philadelphia hotel. And further ahead: Be advised that in 2022, both FedNuts and Goldie will open side by side on the ground floor of The Harper, on the 1900 block of Sansom Street. This setup will replace the Federal Donuts that was on the 1600 block of Sansom, which moved to 1526 Sansom last year beneath a Goldie location. (In other words, FedNuts and Goldie will move next year from 1526 Sansom to the 1900 block of Sansom, next to The Goat.)

Nunzio Ristorante Rustica, which helped launch Collingswood as a dining destination, is coming back under a new chef who used to work for Nunzio Patruno. It’s a couple of weeks from reopening.

Kismet Bagels and Kalaya are teaming up for Thai-inspired bagels, schmear, and open-face sandwiches beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 at Kalaya Thai Market (922 S. Ninth St.). Preorders are encouraged as limited walk-up orders will be available.

In other bagel news, Chestnut Street Philly Bagels has shuttered its location at 1705 Chestnut St., but owner Aaron Wagner is working on a takeout-only location in the 1500 block of Locust Street. Stay tuned.

What you’ve been eating this week

I’m putting out the call for deliciousness. Send me an Instagram photo of the best dish you’ve eaten recently at a restaurant in Philadelphia or the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs. This week’s submissions come from @lizphiladelphia, who raved about the ricotta gnocchi with maitake at Fiorella Pasta in the Italian Market, and @jayandjerusha, who visited the brand new Rex at the Royal in Southwest Center City and came away impressed with the fried green tomatoes. Share your photos on Instagram to @phillyinsider.