PHILADELPHIA - Choices for lunch at the Reading Terminal Market can be anything from homemade Mexican at the 12th Street Cantina to southern cuisine at Delilah's at the Terminal.
At a recent lunch for food media representatives in one of several seating areas, food was served buffet-style: fried chicken from Salad Express, moussaka from Olympic Gyro, Philadelphia Cheesesteak sandwiches from Rick's Steak, fresh fruit from Iovine Brothers Produce, pasta salad from Salumeria, ice cream from Bassetts, and homemade cookies from Famous 4th St. Cookie Co, owned David Auspitz. Mr. Auspitz, obviously proud of the market, said it continues to inspire markets elsewhere in the country "like Toledo, Ohio."
Indeed, the Reading Terminal Market can be an inspiration for Toledo's Erie Street Market. The Philadelphia landmark averages 91,964 customers per week. The average purchase when eating at the market is $9.02, and the average total for items purchased to take away is $16.67.
"We rival the Liberty Bell for patrons each year," says Kelly Novak, marketing and public relations coordinator. Most vendors are open Monday through Saturday and 12 Amish vendors are open Wednesday through Saturday. The market is closed on Sunday.
Located near the Pennsylvania Convention Center, City Hall, and Liberty Bell, the Reading Terminal Market is one of America's largest and oldest farmers' markets, housed since 1893 in the same National Historic Landmark building.
It is home to 76 merchants and is 100 percent leased. When the market was renovated in the mid 1990s, it received $35 million from city and state sources. The market doesn't pay rent to its owner, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. The market subleases space to its vendors and is self-sufficient from an operating standpoint, according to general manager Paul Steinke.
Besides meat, produce, baked goods, cheese, poultry, flowers, and seafood, there's kitchenware, cookbooks, jewelry, and crafts. Foster's Gourmet Cookware has quality cookware. In the rear of the shop is Foster's Gourmet Kitchen with a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. The Pennsylvania General Store has Pennsylvania foods, crafts, and gift baskets that can be shipped anywhere.
Vendors sell apple dumplings, chicken pot pie, cheeses, and Dutch-style meat such as scrapple and ring bologna. There's a full meat case and seafood case as well as fresh ginger on display. There is lemon grass growing at another vendor.
This cornucopia of food and products can only inspire visitors, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) according to Mr. Auspitz.
She was in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Flower Show in March and visited the Reading Terminal Market. "She was impressed with the activity and the variety of offerings," says Lindsay V. Potts, special assistant to Ms. Kaptur. She has invited CitiFest board members to visit the market with her.
In addition, David O'Neil, market consultant and former manager of the Reading Terminal Market, will speak at the "Public Markets, Fresh Food, and Our Local Economy" event on May 31 at the Civic Center Promenade at the Erie Street Market. The workshop, "What Makes a Place Great?" will be from 1:30 to 5 p.m.
"He's talking about the 'market district' of Toledo," says Paula Ross of the Urban Affairs Center. This includes the Erie Street Market, the Farmers' Market, other bays in the market building and exploring how the wholesale market district relates. Reservations are required. Cost is $10 per person.
At 5:30 p.m. May 31, a one-hour presentation, "What Makes a Market Work?" is free and open to the public.
For information and reservations, call Connie Hoffman at the Erie Street Market, 419-249-5018 or Paula Ross at the Urban Affairs Center, 419-530-3595.
Markets open up a world of cooking and eating. There are several cookbooks this spring sure to inspire a visit to your closest market.
The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook by Christopher Hirsheimer and Peggy Knickerbocker (Chronicle Books, $22.95) is a guide for shopping at this sensational farmers market as well as a collection of recipes showcasing just-picked ingredients. The cookbook will take your through the seasons starting with spring with Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Clafouti. Summer recipes include Blackberry and Nectarine Crisp, Fall brings the Apple Farm's Applesauce and the bounty of winter includes Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. This cookbook is also a shopping guide for the West Coast traveler.
The world of produce in today's supermarkets is featured in Melissa's Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95). Melissa's Wold Variety Produce is a leading distributor of specialty foods and vegetables. Each fruit and vegetable has buying and storing information, use, and serving suggestions as well as nutritional information for everything from Asian pears to plantains. There's a list of chiles and a half dozen varieties of choy as well as six types of cucumbers.
The Center for Innovative Food Technology has published a producers' resource guide to provide farms with recommendations, contact information, Internet sources, programs, and institutions where local farmers can network sell their produce.
Selling to local restaurants is featured. CIFT will launch a farm to chef program in June involving farmers and chefs, managers, and owners of local restaurants, country clubs, and caterers who wish to highlight local produce on menus. For information call CIFT at 419-534- 3710 ext. 112.