Triple the Fun

A visit to Blackfish Stone Harbor, plus musings on National Hot Dog Month and National Picnic Month.

I’m live from Avalon, N.J., and fresh off a visit to Chip Roman’s newest outpost, Blackfish Stone Harbor. Old-timers are surely lamenting the loss of its former inhabitant, Henny’s, and the old-school, dive-y comfort it imparted despite Stone Harbor’s evolving trendiness. The big old bar is still there, but now there’s also a wall of windows separating the “bistro” from the dining room (maybe that was in place before but, to tell the truth, most of my Henny’s time was spent drinking so I really can’t recall much of the interior other than it was very dark). The entire place is lightened up with a fresh coat of pastel-colored paint, pretty banquettes, glass vases with white twigs, and a few other contemporary décor details that echo the Pottery Barn look of its Conshohocken counterpart.

As far as the food goes, I came home a happy customer after stealthily consuming a generous mound of zesty tuna tartare topped with crunchy curls of fried wonton; a cool bowl of strained gazpacho embellished with a creamy dollop of pureed avocado and a large shrimp that surprised me with its lobster-like texture and taste; and a hefty halibut steak, its moist flesh sandwiched between a crispy outer layer (not quite like the caramelized top of crème brûlée, of course, but still crisp enough to make a mental note of). A tower of large, poufy beignets—paired with a raspberry sauce and, if not a vanilla crème anglaise, something close—rounded out the indulgence. Needless to say, walking around in a swimsuit tomorrow is going to be a little more unnerving than usual …

Two More Reasons to Love July

I recently stumbled upon a 2-year-old foodie factoid, or rather, proclamation, by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. It had projected that American hot dog consumption between Memorial Day 2007 and Labor Day 2007 would reach 7 billion—with 155 million of those consumed during the July Fourth weekend alone. With our ever-expanding list of food phobias, I find it hard to believe that that number is still as high as it was then. But after talking to several people, I realize no diet fads are going to suppress our taste for these all-American delicacies.

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Every once in a while, I can muster up excitement for either an all-beef version cut in half lengthwise, pan-fried and served on a super-fresh top-sliced roll with melted cheese and some very spicy mustard, or a plump ball-park creation topped with tangy sauerkraut and equally spicy mustard. But I never seem to get around to making one for myself, and despite living within five minutes of the area’s legendary Johnnie’s Hot Dogs, I still haven’t stepped foot inside—not even for the French fries, which I’ve also heard good things about.

As much as I love Wawa, I can’t get behind biting into one of those broiler dogs, and the same goes for 7-Eleven. But I see people buying them all the time, so I guess they must be palatable to some degree. If I was going to indulge—which, now that I know it’s National Hot Dog Month, I’ve got a pretty good reason to—the pretzel-wrapped puppies at Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Factory in Bryn Mawr or the Amish pretzel booth at the Strafford Farmers’ Market would be my first choice. Bundled inside that crispy, warm, salty pretzel blanket, and juicy inside, these monster dogs are the ultimate Philadelphia junk food—next to the cheesesteak and roasted pork sandwich, of course.

Which reminds me, July is also National Picnic Month, which means it’s time to perk up your picnic basket with fun goodies like the old-fashioned wooden ice cream spoons and utensils from Anthropologie, or the bamboo serving pieces at Food Source in Bryn Mawr. Better yet, stock up on some plastic ware from Target, my personal favorite for funky dining accessories. You’re also likely to find some whimsical salt ’n’ pepper shakers, cloth napkins and other accoutrements to “bling your basket” at Bed Bath and Beyond and Pier One.

You’ll also need a good thermos, a few straws, a serving spoon and fork, some version of a Swiss Army knife, and a picnic blanket that has at least one waterproof side to serve as your table and chairs. And don’t forget to pack a large bottle of water (for drinking and for rinsing), bug spray (and some type of sting remedy), Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, and sunscreen. Ziploc bags, a few sheets of foil, and a roll of paper towels will also come in handy. Once you’ve pulled all of these items together, though, you’ll be ready to pick up and go on a whim.

For sustenance and green grass, there are no limits—the Willows is a great place to spend a summer evening, as is stream-side down by the intersection of Saw Mill Road and Earles Lane in Newtown Square. Preston Park in Bryn Mawr is a little Plain Jane, but it’s nice and flat, and has a baseball diamond, as does the park in Garrett Hill, east of Conestoga Road. If you picnic before 7 p.m., you can grab some very tasty hoagies from Antonella’s Kitchen in Garrett Hill, or a couple of chicken or beef souvlaki pita sandwiches from Chris’ Grill in Rosemont. Just down the street is the Ithan Market, which has a variety of sandwich specialties and freshly roasted chicken. Just remember to call and have them set a few birds aside, as they’re a hot commodity. Of course, if you’re like me, a bottle of wine, a baguette, and two or three different cheeses are all you need to take in a cozy night under the stars.

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Regardless of what you pack, the most important ingredient is the company. Whether a romantic interlude or a family outing, enjoying dinner al fresco is far more memorable when your picnic blanket is shared by your favorite peeps.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!