PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The first thing I think of at holiday time is food. That’s what happens when you’re raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood where holidays are shared events. And, we’re about to enter a rare smorgasbord of ethnic and religious celebrations. St. Patrick’s Day is up first, closely followed by Passover and Easter. So, outside of home cooking, where do we go to savor the unique flavors that reach their zenith once a year? Let’s begin with the Irish, of course.
Making a day trip to Center City for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the annual pub crawl? My first choice for food and drink is McGillin’s. I know. They get most of the attention in a town, awash in Irish Pubs. But this is personal. The owner family watered and fed the KYW Suburban Bureau when the Mullins operated Morley’s Pub, just steps from the bureau in Norristown. Then they took over McGillin’s where a favorite hard to find dish will be on the menu for the celebration week – Irish lamb stew. Lamb is the key. Add traditional bangers and mash and Shepherds Pie washed down by Guinness or Smithwicks and you might as well be in Dublin.
The name St. James Gate is known the world over as the address of the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. This one is in New York which stages the largest St. Pat’s Day parade in the nation, if not the planet. From the parade, head to 82nd and Amsterdam to meet half of New York and tuck into the pub’s famed corned beef and cabbage or bangers and you know what.
And if the “Luck of the Irish” is shining on you and you make it to Dublin for a weeklong celebration, do stop at the Guinness Storehouse where the iconic Stout was launched over 3 centuries ago. See how it was brewed and distributed worldwide over the years. Then make your way to the rooftop lounge for the best view of Dublin and a pint of the rich, creamy brew in the place where it was born.
When Moses was packing up to lead the Jews out of Egyptian bondage, rye bread was too bulky to carry and make-your-own wasn’t an option. So the matzoh – unleavened bread was born. It was flat, easy to pack and carry. Matzoh is the centerpiece at Passover as Jews forgo bread and turn to a flavorful breakfast of Matzoh Brei – fried matzoh and egg. You’ll find it all the time on the menu at Schlesinger’s Deli in Center City and it goes into overdrive during Passover. So make a day of it in the city, but stop first to stoke up on this holiday treat.
Remember? No bread. So, skip the pastrami on rye. But, if you want to follow tradition and find a smoky or pickled treat, head for New York and Russ and Daughters. With more than 100 years of history, it’s one of the few remaining “Appetizer Stores”. It specializes in mouth-watering smoked fish. At the original Russ and Daughters on Houston Street, there’s an incredible array of lox and kippered salmon, smoked whitefish and gefilte fish, the holiday special – all for takeout. But a few block away on Orchard Street where the Lower East Side absorbed our early immigrants the R and D Cafe serves up smoked fish combos on planks to share around the table and perhaps try a few unfamiliar herrings.
At Easter time in the service, we always began craving the roast legs of lamb and sliced ham that would be part of the traditional mess hall meals. Both the ham and the lamb are still a focus of home cooked Easter dinners. And that brings us to Shady Maple, a sprawling Pennsylvania Dutch complex in the heart of Lancaster county. Before Easter Sunday, families enjoy a day or overnight getaway in the country to find the perfect meats from local farms. And of course fresh eggs for the hunt, symbolic of the dawning of life. A reminder: The seemingly boundless Shady Maple smorgasbord will not be open on Easter Sunday.
Easter brunches and dinners at area eateries have become the new traditions for a couple of generations. In the suburbs, reservations are a must for the popular all day “Easter Dinner” at the classic William Penn Inn. The 2018 menu is not yet up, but I’m told it will be the same as last year. At the top of the offerings is that rarely seen roast leg of lamb.
The view from the Moshulu, one of the last survivors from the storied days of sail and sailors takes in the bustling Delaware River waterfront. Now a popular Penn’s Landing restaurant, the Moshulu has become a magnet for Easter Sunday brunch seekers. The Tennessee Benton’s ham, featured on this year menu is a smoke flavored reminder of American tradition. From Eggs Benedict to a hand carved salmon, the Moshulu menu meanders from the traditional to new age. The setting is dynamic. The buffet is on-board from 10am to 6pm.
Shared holidays and their special foods and customs have long been a staple of American life, especially in “Melting Pot” cities, a label that defines Philadelphia and it’s suburbs. The foods are now changing, becoming spicier and more daring. We’ve just enjoyed an Asian New Year and are now looking forward to sharing the flavors of Cinco de Mayo.