Blueberries Are Taking Over Philly Menus. Here’s Where to Get Your Fill Before They’re Gone
Despite a challenging season, blueberries are ending strong with a bumper crop that is inspiring chefs across Philadelphia.
When it comes to seasonal produce, New Jersey blueberries are a local favorite, drumming up as much excitement as tomatoes, corn and stone fruits. The hype is warranted. Most of the state’s blueberries come from the Pine Barrens — in Hammonton, the self-proclaimed “Blueberry Capital of the World,” to be exact – where the sandy, acidic soil and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer provide the perfect conditions to cultivate juicy, tart blueberries.
The season typically begins in mid-June and tapers off around mid-August, with most blueberries gracing menus with their vibrant color and floral sweetness during peak season in July. But here we are, over a week into August, menus are still bursting with blueberries, and chefs are getting funky with them.
At Gass & Main in Haddonfield, New Jersey, chef Dane Demarco just introduced a colossal shrimp cocktail to the dinner menu, swapping out the traditional cocktail sauce with a blueberry and maple syrup version. Rittenhouse’s Friday Saturday Sunday is serving a salted blueberry jam with their chicken liver bites. Even Zahav is getting in on the fun with a blueberry and sumac compote on houlumi and a Turkish coffee ice-cream sandwich with blueberries. It’s a versatile ingredient with both sweet and savory applications, and chefs are taking full advantage of this year’s blueberry bounty.
So why all the buzz about blueberries? Did we have a record crop this year? Not quite. This season was really complicated.
“This season started out strong,” says Marcello Giordano, managing partner of Giordano Garden Groceries, which provides produce to numerous restaurants in the Philadelphia region. The company also operates its own blueberry farm in Hammonton, New Jersey. “The first two weeks were amazing, but the rain really started to hurt the crop.”
After a mild winter and a dry spring, New Jersey was shaping up to have a banner blueberry season. It even started early. But the excessive rain in the middle of the season put a literal damper on things. Too much rain can cause a multitude of issues.
According to Giordano, rain can impact a farm’s picking schedule, causing berries to become overripe. The rain can also cause blueberries to get too fat, and blow up “like little water balloons,” says Giordano. Big, fat blueberries might sound ideal, but not when it comes to picking, packaging and shipping out to customers. “Even if they look gorgeous, if those overweight ones are still on the bush, you can’t get that field. You have to just let them fall on the ground,” he says, explaining that super plump blueberries burst very easily, making the other berries they’re packaged with wet and prone to mold.
Despite the middle of the season getting practically washed out, the season is ending on a high note. “Usually in the blueberry business, if you get a third pick, you’re lucky,” says Giordano. “Our third picking looked like our first picking. The blueberries were really strong and abundant.”
Giordano’s team just finished picking the last of their blueberries. Of course, different farms are on different schedules, but for the most part, the end of this year’s blueberry season is coming soon. But with a bumper crop that is really bumping, chefs in the Philadelphia region are making sure this year’s blueberry season goes out with a bang.
Here’s where to get one last taste of New Jersey blueberries this season. But don’t wait too long – this blueberry moment will be fleeting!
Where to Find Blueberries on the Menu Before They’re Gone
Gass and Main, Haddonfield, New Jersey
Demarco, Gass and Main’s owner and chef, used to experiment with blueberry ketchup. When adding a shrimp cocktail dish to the dinner menu, instead of making a classic tomato-ketchup-based cocktail sauce, they decided to coat their colossal shrimp in a sweet and tangy blueberry-maple-syrup sauce. Served with marinated crudités, it’s a refreshing and exciting summer dish.
Ember & Ash, East Passyunk
Speaking of the unexpected pairing of seafood and blueberries, Ember & Ash has a Hiramasa crudo with blueberries. Their happy hour menu also features squash skewers served with charred blueberries and a fermented black bean sauce.
Friday Saturday Sunday, Rittenhouse
Part of the fun of blueberries is pairing them with contrasting flavors. At Friday Saturday Sunday, the richness of the chicken liver bites is amplified by a salted blueberry jam.
Roxanne, Bella Vista
There’s no shortage of blueberry action on the menu at Roxanne. Alexandra Holt is serving up a blueberry risotto with scallop, pea and pepperoni breadcrumbs. For dessert, a sweet heat blueberry, horseradish and sweet milk ice cream as well as blueberry macarons.
Zahav, Society Hill
Zahav is serving a blueberry and sumac compote with their Phyllo-wrapped houlumi, and for dessert, a Turkish coffee ice-cream sandwich with blueberries.
Ambra, Queen Village
How about blueberries expressed through modern Italian cuisine? Ambra is serving duck leg and foie gras zeppola with a blueberry mostarda and fresh corn polenta. For a fruity, herby dessert, they have cantaloupe served with chamomile ice cream, blueberries and lemon balm.
Cafe Lift, Callowhill and Haddonfield, New Jersey
The “Sweet Stuff” section of the brunch menu at Cafe Lift has always been borderline dessert, and that is very true of the blueberry pie French toast, a stack of custard-soaked brioche baked with cinnamon and vanilla and filled with a citrusy blueberry filling, topped with whipped cream and even more blueberries.
Southwark, Queen Village
Southwark has a refreshing and herbaceous snap pea and bitter lettuces dish featuring local blueberries, mint, Doe Run Gouda and lemon, drizzled with a chamomile-honey dressing. End your meal with the corn soufflé cake made with a lemon curd and blueberry jam, served with tarragon ice cream.
Lebanon meets Jersey Fresh with their lemon verbena verrine, a visually stunning layered dessert made with lemon verbena ice cream, macerated blueberries, pistachio cake, toasted arak sabayon and anise hyssop.
Farm and Fisherman, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Danny Childs, the creator of Farm and Fisherman’s locally sourced and foraged cocktail menu, is paying homage to New Jersey blueberries with two drinks: The Blue Sangria, a warm spiced, upscale punch made with Pine Barrens blueberries; and the Summer in the Pines gin cocktail with blueberry jam.
Fringe Bar, Old City
Peaches and blueberries come together in Fringe Bar’s gluten-free cobbler. It’s an ooey gooey dessert made complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Darling Jack’s Tavern, Midtown Village
No matter what time of day it is, blueberries are on the menu at Darling Jack’s Tavern. For brunch, puffy pancakes served with a zesty duo of labneh and freshly macerated blueberries. For an after dinner dessert, blueberries fill in the nooks and crannies of a spongey olive oil cake.
Cicala at the Divine Lorraine, Poplar
Cicala’s pastry chef, Angela Ranalli-Cicala, is bringing together two of New Jersey’s star crops with her blueberry crostata served with a sweet corn gelato.
Franklin Fountain, Old City
Philadelphia’s favorite old-timey ice cream parlor sticks to tradition by not just preserving historically accurate recipes, but also by using the freshest local ingredients they can find. Their blueberry ice cream is one of the most vibrant scoops in town, getting its stunning violet hue from blueberries sourced straight from Blueberry Bill Farms in Hammonton, New Jersey. A vegan version of this summer classic is also available.
Cuzzy’s Ice Cream, Queen Village
In a recent “Just One Dish” column, food writer Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé, swears by Cuzzy’s Ice Cream’s sour cream ice cream with blueberry compote and crunchy brown sugar streusel. You may want to get more than one scoop of this one.
Messina Social Club, East Passyunk
Messina Social Club has an elegant take on a summer classic. It’s certainly not your average blueberry pie beautifully presented with a white chocolate cremeux. It’s available on their tasting menu.
Bud and Marilyn’s, Midtown Village
Like blueberries, you can do a lot of fun things with French toast. Both are blank canvases of the culinary world. Right now, Bud and Marilyn’s has a cardamom-vanilla-soaked French toast with caramelized blueberries and a lemon-tahini mascarpone, making for an aromatic, nutty and tangy brunch. For dessert, they’re offering a blueberry-lemon slab pie with a cream-cheese crust topped with a scoop of buttermilk ice cream.
Finish your pizza and pasta dinner at Wilder with a refreshing scoop of blueberry crumble ice cream.
Bloomsday, Society Hill
The backyard salad features blueberries served up in three ways – blended into a blueberry balsamic, in the sunflower butter, and as whole berries tossed into the salad. For brunch, indulge in a blueberry with lemon curd and mascarpone “croiffle,” a “waffled” croissant.