Inquirer critic Craig LaBan enjoyed food-related travels in 2012, venturing to such spots as Belgium to watch the brewing of a special beer, to New York's Outer Boroughs for a look at ethnic dining, and closer to home, to the Pine Barrens, for soulful Mexican cuisine.
Here's a look back:
Long touted as "the blueberry capital of the world," Hammonton is rapidly gaining another distinction: taco capital of South Jersey. With no fewer than half a dozen restaurants and trucks, the town has become a destination for those craving everything from soul-food menudo stew to crispy tostadas de tinga or unapologetic Tex-Mex.
In August, LaBan published a two-parter on New York - but not Manhattan. Brooklyn and Queens have their own charms. The Brooklyn buzz - built over the last decade on affordable real estate and a youth culture obsessed with local ingredients, fedora-topped hipster-chic, and DIY foodcraft - has reached a crescendo that's impossible to ignore. And while Queens' touristic charms are not immediately obvious, the food scene is most cosmopolitan.
LaBan's family visit to Hershey, Pa., included craft beer, artisanal charcuterie, and genuine country cooking. But no chocolate! "Never would I have guessed such a thing possible from our last visit eight years ago, when we found little more than a soulless gallery of national chains," he wrote in November. He saved a rave for Tröegs' beer hall, where at least 15 house-brews are on draft and the "Snack Bar" run by chef Christian DeLutis goes well beyond the usual brewpub nibbles.
A rite of summertime is LaBan's Shore restaurant round-up. This year, his two-parter explored the restaurants at the new Revel in Atlantic City. "After visiting ... Revel's restaurants, several of them did, indeed, deliver on their promise, adding stellar flavors, unparalleled views and unique concepts to the A.C. dining scene. But there were also a few expensive meals I wish I could have back." He ventured elsewhere for another article.
LaBan assembles major beer heads to judge the annual Inquirer Brew-vitational, a local beer competition set to grapple with some of the most important questions of our time: What are the greatest beers made in the Philadelphia region today? Who would take home the title of the region's most exciting "new" beer? Who would be crowned this year's "Philly Classic"? The third annual Brew-vitational was held in the Inquirer's photo studio.
If it's brews-day, it must be Belgium. LaBan ventured to Belgium in February with a contingent of brewers and bar owners representing Philly Beer Week to watch as Brasserie Dupont created a special brew that was poured over the summer at Beer Week. It was the first collaboration in the brewery's 166-year history. And while LaBan was there, he did indeed get his chocolate fix.