Philly Chefs Recommend Their Favorite Local Grocery Stores
Avoid the lines and shop local.
As Philadelphia restaurants continue to embrace locally sourced menus, their chefs can teach us a thing or two about how important it is to grocery shop within the community. Whether they’re hunting down rare ingredients or connecting with regional farmers, these chefs have been supporting small businesses long before coronavirus made it an imperative.
Aimee Olexy, owner of Talula’s Garden and The Love, is dedicated to building community through food with a seasonal, local approach, and you can frequently find her shopping at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market and Essene Market and Cafe. “I have always been a massive farmers’ market proponent,” she says. “It’s a collection of some of the greatest foodstuffs in Philadelphia.” Her own gourmet specialty shop, Talula’s Table, continues to serve pre-packaged dinners, house-baked bread, and artisanal cheese during the shutdown.
For Matt Rodrigue, head chef at Marc Vetri’s newly opened Fiorella, the quick pivot to takeout has been a challenge. “Our life was cut short as a restaurant,” he says, “We were open only four weeks, and we had a lot of momentum going.” But he finds solace in sourcing local ingredients from spots like Iovine Brothers Produce, Green Meadow Farm, and Hung Vuong Supermarket. Olexy and Rodrigue shared more about their favorite grocery spots in the city, covering everything from authentic Italian markets to health food stores and everything in between.
Located within Reading Terminal Market, this family-operated produce market sells cold-pressed juices, healthy snacks, and hard-to-find fruit and vegetables. “It’s the place to go for mushrooms you can’t get from Whole Foods or Acme -- trumpet, maitake -- moderately priced mushrooms that are really delicious and hard to find in other places,” says Rodrigue. While the shop is currently open Mon-Sat from 8-5pm, you can get online delivery via Mercato, or set up a time for curbside pickup.
Another way to get farm-fresh produce is by ordering farmer’s boxes online. Green Meadow Farm, located near the town of Gap, Pennsylvania, is putting together a weekly farm share that can be ordered via email or phone and picked up at various restaurants in Philly, like Sidecar Bar & Grille. “It’s ramp season, so part of your farm box might have ramps in it, which is pretty neat,” Rodrigue says. “People can usually only get those if they go to a restaurant.”
Olexy makes an excursion to the Headhouse Farmers’ Market every Sunday to work her Talula’s Table stand and do some personal shopping. Once a beautifully frenzied environment, the market is now safely sectioned off, with an early opening for elderly shoppers. “To think that you can get some seasonal veggies and a couple pounds of scallops during this crazy time, it’s kind of like a beacon of light,” she adds. Some of her favorite producers include Shore Catch for fresh seafood, Birchrun Hills for blue cheese, and Morganics for oatmeal.
If you’re looking for all things Italian, and you want to try something other than Di Bruno Brothers, Claudio Specialty Foods is the place to go. “Before Fiorella opened, I went there all the time, but I also made sure to do business with them as a restaurant,” Rodrigue says. The store is packed with great olive oils and vinegars, as well as secret ingredient sauces, like the fish-based Colatura, which according to Rodrigue, is starting to gain popularity. “The owner, Sal, is awesome. He runs the store with his sons -- I think one of them is also named Sal,” he says. “He has a little bit of that so-called South Philly in him, but at the same time he’s extremely warm and very knowledgeable.” Claudio’s is currently up and running, open every day of the week.
Olexy describes Essene as an “old-school, hippie” natural food store, perfect for special grains and lentils. “It’s vegetarian, but even if you’re not vegetarian, it’s a great place to go to for nice pasta or couscous,” she says. You can also find a deli filled with seasonal fare as well as a dairy-free bakery. Essene is open everyday from 8am-9pm.
This Vietnamese market is your go-to for miso, seaweed, live seafood, and fresh produce. Just be prepared to spend at least an hour getting distracted by its massive aisles. Make sure to check out the roasted meats counter, rare Vietnamese snacks, and great pricing on produce. Just know beforehand that this place is best described as a plaza. “The outside belies how huge it is in there,” says Rodrigue. Hung Vuong is open everyday from 8am-9:30pm.
As one of the most well-known butchers in Philadelphia, the woman-owned Primal Supply houses pasture-raised meats from regional farmers. “The butchers there are really knowledgeable,” Rodrigue says. “If there’s a cut that they might not have, they can produce it for you if you give them an hour or two.” While the shops in East Passyunk and Brewerytown are closed for walk-in retail, they are open for web order pickups and are offering contactless home delivery.
“I live right near Isgro,” Rodrigue says. “Every morning, I get to wake up to the smell of pastry.” A South Philly staple that’s been open for more than 100 years, Isgro Pastries is known for its traditional towering cakes and ricotta cannoli. While the physical bakery is closed, you can order delivery through Caviar, Uber Eats, and Mercato. Be sure to pick up an at-home cannoli kit, which comes with six shells, ricotta filling, chocolate chips, and a pastry bag to fill.
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