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Rick Nichols: Among 2010's top bites, this apple earns a gold star

I'd been on the lookout for a final taste of 2010, a last bite of the apple, so to speak. But there wasn't much time or energy left in me one day last week.

I'd been on the lookout for a final taste of 2010, a last bite of the apple, so to speak. But there wasn't much time or energy left in me one day last week.

I'd already had way too much of a lunch at the Dutch Eating Place in the Reading Terminal Market - my old standby cup of beef-vegetable soup and, this time, a roast turkey sandwich with gravy and creamy mashed potatoes.

So on the way out the door - passing by the Fair Food Farmstand - I decided to grab an apple. Let's be more precise. I was flummoxed by all the local varieties, so I asked staffer Shivon Pearl, who was working the cash register, to pick one out for me.

Which she did, reaching into the bin closest to her and picking out her current favorite, a somewhat coarse-skinned, blotchy yellow-green apple called a GoldRush.

It was from Beechwood Orchards in Biglerville, Adams County, and it is reputed (I learned later) to be one of the best-storing apples around. (My favorite apple of all time is the Macoun, a sprightly, crisp-sweet, little fellow that doesn't store or ship worth a hoot. So it's hard to find it, period. And when you do, it's not often this far south; it doesn't travel much below New York. And not much after September or October.)

Anyway, the GoldRush has some Golden Delicious in its family tree, which is not necessarily a selling point. But a lot of other apples got in the act somewhere along the line, and some amazing things started to happen.

Its tart-acidity went up and up. And so did its tempering sweetness and spiciness. Not peppery spiciness, but the kind more associated with spice cake, a mildly gingery note.

So when you bite off a chunk - and the bites pop off in crisp chunks - you get a hint of that ginger at first, then a whisper of lemon, then honey, then spearmint. Which is to say, it is a lovely apple to munch on, walking along a frigid 12th Street, heading back to the Paragraph Factory.

And, yes, I'd very much rank it as one of the fresh, new tastes I've encountered this year - complex and juicy, refreshing and clean.

Would I refuse a slice of the airy Black Forest Buche de Noel, infused with cherry kirsch and topped with curls of shaved chocolate from Narberth's Le Petit Mitron (another 2010 winner) for it? Maybe not.

But it earned its stripes in some stiff competition - the stretchy, mahogany baguettes at the new Agiato Bread Co. in Manayunk, the Korean tacos at Doma (and Meritage), Adsum's crunchy-crisp fried chicken, morning-harvested Romanian stuffed peppers at Supper, Louisa Shafia's watermelon (and tomato) gazpacho with toasted almonds, and (at last!) the wonderfully authentic, top-split Lobster Rolls at Oyster House and the Happy Rooster.

There was much, much more, of course - the wood-roasted vegetable salad at Osteria, and caramel-y Clothbound Cabot cheddar from Greensboro, Vt., Paesano's suckling-pig sandwich, the kabocha squash and black kale at J.G. Domestic, the rabbit in mole sauce at El Rey, the spiced chickpea and garlicky calabaza-stuffed "doubles" at Claudette Campbell's Trinidadian stand in the Chestnut Hill Farmers' Market, and the pressed Puerto Rican sandwiches at El Cafeito at Third Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia.

And, finally, a tight-bubbled, springtime craft beer from Long Island's Southampton Publick House called Biere de Mars that one critic perfectly described as having the aroma of mowed grass and fresh-pressed apple juice, with flavors of apple and pear and biscuits with honey, a mild spice, and a "finish like cider with a tiny bit of funk."

Which is probably why it's no mystery that six months later I'd fall in love at first bite with that GoldRush apple plucked from the bin and offered up by Shivon Pearl.