RATING |

WHEN JOE FEDERMAN bought the building at 1822 Spring Garden St., he had loftier ideas than a string of corner shops and a restaurant, but plans for a high-rise condo building never materialized.

Instead, Federman kept the store fronts and a year ago, he opened Feder's Fresh, a family business where you will find Federman, his wife, Ronnie, daughter, Michele and son, Danny.

The store sells fresh produce, but over the year it has grown to include a fresh juice and smoothie bar, and prepared dips and spreads from Rossman, the well-known Third Avenue produce mart in Brooklyn, N.Y., that also supplies some of the fruits and vegetables.

This isn't Federman's first foray in food. From 2007 to 2009, he owned and operated Pita Pocket, on Chancellor Street.

The Pita Bread (65 cents each or 3 for $1.75) at Feder's Fresh is worth the trip. Federman brings the dough in from Israel and it is baked on the premises. While there is no "Hot Pita" sign à la Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the joys of pita right out of the oven have made customers come in hoping to find the steamy hot bags lined up.

Unlike the store-bought pita we are used to, this is much lighter and airier. Within the pocket there are nooks and crannies that soak up everything from a little olive oil and salt to a thick coating of hummus.

Despite the many fans of the pita Federman says, "Hummus is my thing."

He has tasted hummus around the world and claims the best is made in Belgium at a Lebanese stand.

Federman noted that hummus may seem like a simple dish, but bringing chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and water together requires more than meets the eye. The best hummus is made as it is ordered and the cooked dry chickpeas are mashed by hand.

Even Federman admitted that the packaged hummus he sells leaves a little to be desired. Several of my tasters agreed with me that the classic hummus had a bitter aftertaste from the preservatives.

A drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil helped, but I suggest sticking to the flavored varieties such as the harissa. The spicy kick of the harissa helps to cover the potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. As for texture, I preferred the creamier red pepper hummus.

Still, we can hope that Federman eventually opts to sell the perfect hummus made à la minute.

The salads fare better as packaged items. A favorite was the Lobio, a kidney bean salad dish from Georgia, the former Republic of the Soviet Union. In this version there's a blend of nuts, cilantro and olive oil.

While the Tabouli has the correct ratio of parsley to bulgur wheat, this suffers from the package preservatives as well. There was no texture to the wheat and the tomato taste completely disappeared.

But scoring high marks was the Morrocan Matbuha. Basically a condiment, a dollop of this spicy, sweet tomato sauce is delicious on grilled meat. It also doctors up the packaged hummus.

Another one of my favorites was the Barcelona, chunks of tomatoes drenched in olive oil. Pile that on some of the Scarcone's bread that is delivered daily (except Monday) for a perfect pairing. The bread soaks up the oil while the tomatoes are a sweet/acid blend. Add a chunk of one of the Di Bruno's cheeses and it's a sandwich.

The students from Masterman and the Community College of Philadelphia are regulars of the Smoothies and Juice Bar (smoothies, 20-ounce $3.99; 24-ounce, $4.49; juice prices vary according to the market).

Mix and match whatever combination you desire, but I took the advice of the juice barista and ordered a refreshing strawberry, banana and pineapple.

Federman also has what he deems the largest selection of kosher wine in Philadelphia and sells it through a sacramental license.

According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, this "allows for the bottling and sale of wine to priests, clergymen and rabbis for use in the cathedral, church, synagogue or temple, or for members of the congregation or members of the faith who attend religious services, duly certified by such priests, clergymen or rabbis."

Interpret that however you may, you will find there's a large list that goes far beyond Manischewitz with a wide range from a Weinstock White Zinfandel to a 2005 Givon French Colombard or a 2009 Baron Rothschild Gran Malbec.

Lari Robling has been expressing her opinion about food since her first bite (according to her mother). She produces multimedia pieces for WHYY and is the author of "Endangered Recipes." Write her at larirob@gmail.com.