Top tomato: Local dishes celebrate a seasonal pick
Whether we’re talking the big fat blood red beefsteaks grown in your grandma’s garden or the gnarly-beautiful heirloom varieties coveted by quality-obsessed chefs, there’s no disputing we’re experiencing the full brunt of 2014’s attack of the killer tomatoes.
Whether we're talking the big fat blood red beefsteaks grown in your grandma's garden or the gnarly-beautiful heirloom varieties coveted by quality-obsessed chefs, there's no disputing we're experiencing the full brunt of 2014's attack of the killer tomatoes. Here's what just a few local restaurants are doing to celebrate one of the juiciest times of the entire growing year.
Nick Elmi is relying on tomato water, the translucent essence collected via a painstaking, patience-testing process, for a dish on his BYOB's current menu. After harvesting the H2O, he leaves it alone for 72 hours with its thoughts, plus add-ins like soy, bonito, kombu, lemon, lime and lemongrass. This produces a nuanced variation on the Japanese citrus condiment ponzu, which Elmi serves with Green Meadow tomatoes, smoked cod, fermented daikon radish and gorilla ogo, a type of seaweed. (1617 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-271-8299)
The Sbraga crew is of the less-is-more persuasion when it comes to tomatoes. They're taking sliced heirlooms with peaches, this time of year's other unbeatable globular fruit, flavoring the duo simply with raw white onion and a white soy-Thai chili vinaigrette. Reserve a couple bites of the gruyere popover they offer as bread service to sop up any leftover juices. (440 S. Broad St., 215- 735-1913)
While the nightshade illuminati insists perfectly ripe tomatoes are best served room-temperature, chef/owner Greg Vernick is going frozen. (Now is the correct time to picture him using dark magic to create a breathtaking ice palace.) Chunky heirlooms combine with blackberries and a zingy shaved-ice chili granita for a wholly unexpected sweet-and-cold experience. A simple sprinkle of torn basil finishes it all off. (2031 Walnut St., 267-639-6644)
Chef Sean Magee bakes his own sourdough for his hearty rendition of pan con tomate, a traditional Iberian snack made with whatever fruit doesn't get converted into ammo for the insane tomato war those crazy Spaniards have every year. The bread catches a nice grill over charcoal before being rubbed with chorizo fat, then topped with lightly grilled heirloom tomato slices, fried chorizo, shaved Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and a scattering of herbs and edible flowers. (1315 Sansom St., 215-985-4800)
Plenty of food people fuss over contemporary farm-to-table ethos, but the Southwark team has been living it since the beginning. Take the definitively locavoric makeup of an American comfort-food classic — grilled cheese and tomato soup — on the menu right now. Chef Sam Jacobson uses heirlooms grown at co-owner Sheri Waide's Cape May beach house farm for the soup, and Equinox, a killer alpine-style cheese from ChesCo's excellent Birchrun Hills, for the melty sandwich. (701 S. Fourth St., 215-238-1888)
A few blocks up from Southwark, Paul Lyons is up to his ears in 'maters at the Gallic-leaning Good King. He's created a seasonal tartine, or open-faced sandwich, using both cherry and regular heirloom tomatoes. Metropolitan Bakery country loaf gets a rub of garlic and a generous spread of goat cheese before landing a salad of tomatoes tossed with basil and white wine vinaigrette. On top: a tapenade of picholine olives and fried mortadella Lyons makes himself. (614 S. Seventh St., 215-625-3700)
The Brothers Petruce work heirloom cherry tomatoes, plus seasonal stone fruit like peaches and plums, into a special late-summer treat at their eponymous Walnut Street sit-down. The salad is further enhanced with hunks of American wagyu beef brisket, sweet onion and spicy harissa. (1121 Walnut St., 267-225-8232)
Just because you're in Deep South Philly doesn't mean all your tomatoes gotta hop aboard the gravy train. Taproom chef Elijah Milligan is taking a minimalist approach with his pretty specimens from Green Meadow, dressing them up with nothing more than fresh mozzarella, black garlic, charred garlic scapes and a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil. (2400 S. 19th St., 267-687-7817)
Ratatouille, that humble French country vegetable stew everyone knows about thanks to a charming cartoon rat, gets soupified at chef Eli Collins' P&K. His chilled tomato-based dish comes with a jam of sweet and sour eggplant, grilled halloumi cheese and croutons made from the house olive bread. (1946 Lombard St., 215-545-0350)
Brian Lofink is spreading the pomodoro glory across all three of the kitchens under his command, popping specials onto the board at Sidecar, Kermit's Bake Shoppe and Kraftwork. At the latter pub, in Fishtown, look for the gently warmed heirloom tomato salad, which he plates with whipped ricotta, shaved aspargus, fennel and saba, a concerted, balsamic-like syrup derived from grape must. (541 E. Girard Ave., 215-739-1700)
There are very few things that don't go with tomatoes, but right now F&F chef/owner Josh Lawler is hellbent on highlighting things that do. Like cantaloupe and grilled pork jowl, which he combines with gorgeous local Frosted Green Doctors tomatoes; or grilled peaches, which find their way into a great white tomato salad bolstered by smoked beet puree, purple basil and a raspberry vinaigrette. (1120 Pine St., 267-687-1555)