Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of Dec. 8, 2015:
Reader: I made it to the La Panarda festival at Le Virtu for the first time. The 40-course, many-wine meal is spectacular. The food was unbelievable, wines were delicious; the atmosphere so cordial it felt like a family party.
C.L.: Congrats on surviving 40 courses. Joe Cicala is one of my favorite Italian cooks. What were the highlights? Is "a course" something as small as, say, a stuffed ascolana olive?
Reader: There were so many great dishes, some of my favs were Jewish artichokes, fried olives stuffed with pork, porchetta, the amatriciana [sauce], I could go on.
Reader: Di Bruno's rightfully gets a ton of love, but there are other great cheese shops, like the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, where the last time I was there, they were giving out wine to customers waiting in line. There's Evergreen Cheese Shop, around the corner. And in the Flourtown Farmers' Market, the Cheese Trap.
C.L.: Thanks for those cheese destination suggestions. I'm constantly on the lookout for the newest star in my "cheese of the month" lineup. The Chestnut Hill Shop is a longtime standby, but the last two times I was in the counter people were so rude, I did not feel like going back. Glad to hear they're giving out wine which sounds more congenial. Di Bruno's sets a high standard, offering unlimited tastes, informed counter people - anything less can sometimes be a put off. I've also had great luck at Downtown Cheese (when Jack's in a good mood), Valley Shepherd and Fair Food stand in the RTM [Reading Terminal Market], as well as Talula's Daily. And some of the big markets also do a pretty good job for big markets - Whole Foods on South St. ... and Wegman's in Cherry Hill.
Reader: I just booked the Di Bruno [Bros.] "after hours" for my wife's birthday next June. It's been sold out the last two years, so this time I took no chances. You get the whole 9th Street store to yourself, BYO, and you can eat pretty much anything in the store.
C.L.: You know, I've seen people mingling after hours in DB's downtown shop and always wondered how that worked. That sounds like a perfect birthday party idea! With the nightlife picking up a bit down in the Italian Market of late, from Blue Corn to Coeur and Neuf (see my review of Neuf this Sunday), there may be some more opportunities for DB's to pursue that wine bar on the corner they used to talk about.
Reader: Just had lunch at Federal Donuts. I'm aware of the accolades and realize people who know what they're doing are running the operation, but I think the chicken is totally average. It has a weird, almost squishy texture. I want to love them, I really do, but am I a terrible person for liking a boring Chik-fil-A sandwich instead of the FedNuts?
C.L.: I'm generally a FedNuts fan but agree the fried chicken sandwich, at least, was not what I hoped for, texture-wise, when I tried it in South Philly. (Noted on this chat a couple months ago. I have consistently more love of their bone-in fried chicken). Had some doughnuts, however, and they were amazing. The black-and-whites were notable because the dark glaze had one of the more vivid chocolate flavors I can remember from a doughnut glaze. You may well be a terrible person. But that doesn't mean you're not paying attention to your chicken sandwich.