Short Rib Ragu That Will Change Your Life: A Review of Mercato

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

There’s a 400 sq ft restaurant on the corner of Camac and Locust (Mercato) that will change your life. I love this fact because the prior tenant of this tiny little corner space was another life changing phenomenon. The space housed a psychic reading center ;-) , but this was back in the day – before the renaissance of the gayborhood. Before the laundry mat on the corner of 12th and Locust became TRIA, before the burnt out Western Union building became a modern condominium and Garces Trading Co. Before the crack / prostitute alley of 13th Street turned into the hip, modern bustling row of amazing restaurants. Yes Foodiez, Philly has forsaken seedy and shady for some deliciousness!

I started with the Market Salad, thin slices of peach, topped with buffalo mozzarella, sliced almonds, mache lettuce, red onion, speck and white balsamic vinaigrette. Ok, are you scratching your head? mache? speck? really? WTF are they?

Food lesson #321 – Mache Lettuce is also called Lamb’s lettuce because it resembles a lamb’s tongue. Now my first thought when I read this was, who looked at a piece of lettuce and said instantly – “oh that looks just like a lamb’s tongue.”? Anyway… it’s a delicate mild green that can be expensive because it is so delicate.

Food lesson #322 – Speck (as defined by my gorgeous waiter with the European accent) is German prosciutto.

There, now that I’ve defined the ingredients, I can tell you that I would go out of my way to get this salad again. Like you didn’t see that coming, the sweet peaches, the mild creamy cheese, the crunch of the almonds, the bite of the red onion, the delicate freshness of the lettuce, the salty tinge of the speck all brought to culinary climax by the light, barely there vinaigrette. It was the kind of salad that required some alone time, protection and a cigarette for after. But wait; don’t be so impetuous, there’s more. Just rest and take a deep breath.

Short Rib Ragu

When I ordered it, my gorgeous waiter told me that it was his favorite dish. When it was delivered, the equally beautiful woman told me it was her favorite dish.

Ricotta Gnocchi, Short Rib, Broccoli Rabe, Shaved Locatelli. The gnocchi were good, a little more firm than others I’ve had. I still dream about the gnocchi at Garces Trading Co. But honestly, the gnocchi were not were the money was in this dish. The Short Rib was a religious experience. I just pulled it apart with my fork. The beautiful strands of beef dangled limply from my fork, they’d given in. Given in to the relentless hours of simmering in a delicate red sauce that was infused with a red wine that was – I’m guessing – on the lighter side. The unbelievable delicate balance in the flavor of the beef clearly indicated that it was given the utmost love from a bright fruity red. The broccoli rabe was a nice addition; however, the shaved Locatelli’s salty bite was not to be outdone by the almost melted consistency that manifested as it sat atop the warm short rib. The tender balance between the smooth earthy flavor of the ragu and the salty edge of the cheese made this dish an experience – not just a meal.

Now you can have your cigarette.

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