"Visiting the Market's Two Newest Merchants: The Head Nut and the Tubby Olive" by Carolyn Wyman
The Market is wide in its array of ethnic and Philly and traditional American food offerings, but it is also deep in the many unusual or hard-to-find foods sold. It’s the latter quality that is showcased and enhanced by the Market’s two newest and quite different from one another vendors.
The Head Nut has a warehouse feel and similarly discounted prices, especially if you buy in quantity. It helps fill the void created when the Spice Terminal closed last winter, and is located not far from the Spice Terminal’s old space (behind Tootsie’s Express on Eighth Avenue) and boasts a similar product line of spices, nuts, coffees, teas and grains. One difference: Most Head Nut products are bagged to order, which helps insure freshness, says general manager Sheila Gray. Customers bring the big jars up to the counter to have the foods weighed out. Have a recipe calling for only a quarter cup of brown sugar? It’s possible to buy almost this little at the Head Nut, or to refill an empty McCormick spice jar for a quarter the supermarket price.
Originally a nut packaging company dating back to the ’40s, the Head Nut opened its first store in Ardmore in 1968 and has three other outlets on the Main Line. They sell 11 variations of their namesake best-selling almonds, including raw, sliced, slivered, skin-off, blanched, wasabi, fire-roasted, barbecue and tamari. The company roasts its own coffee — although unroasted green Columbian coffee beans are also sold. Other unusual finds: ground nut and chick pea flours, raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds), rosemary and clove oils, sumac powder (a Middle Eastern staple that is newly popular sprinkle-on to enhance the flavor of almost any dish) and guacamole cactus jaxs (cactus-shaped, guacamole-flavored corn chips).
Almost half their snack mixes are made in-house, according to Gray. At Reading Terminal they are temptingly placed right on the check-out counter. Popular blends include Rainbow’s End (featuring raisins, nuts and two varieties of M&Ms), Kiddie Trail Mix (a blend of Goldfish, animal crackers, pretzels, honeycomb cereal and M&MS) and the 40-year-old standby Nuts and Bolts (sesame sticks, soy-sauce-flavored rice crackers and mixed nuts). This is not to mention the dried fruits and bagged candies whose arrival awaits their custom shelving.
Just across a seating area from the Head Nut behind Molly Malloy’s and catering to the Market well-heeled is the gleaming new Tubby Olive stand. That gleam comes from track lighting bouncing off the white walls and the metal tubs containing high-end extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, each in more than 30 different flavors. Though the shop is named for the tubs used in harvesting olives (which the Tubby Olive doesn’t sell), these are tap-adorned tasting ones: Release a small amount into one of the tiny paper cups so you can try before you buy. The oils and vinegars are line-priced at $16.95 per 375 ml or $31 per 750 ml bottle (making the truffle-flavored oil a particular bargain).
Besides the interesting flavors — espresso or honey ginger balsamic vinegar, and blood orange or harissa olive oil, to give four examples — how are these different from the standard supermarket EVOO?
“I read the label on some extra virgin olive oil in the supermarket recently and it listed seven source countries. It’s basically the dregs, purchased in bulk,” says Tubby Olive co-owner Sharon Huss. Some supermarket olive oils also contain seed oils, though they are not always listed (a real concern for those with allergies). “The industry is not that well-regulated,” she says. But Huss and partner Nancy Murray — like renowned local restaurateur Jose Garces — get all their products from well-respected California distributor Veronica Foods so they know the source of their products’ ingredient grapes and olives down to the farm.
The most obvious use for their oils and vinegars are together in a salad dressing and the stand’s “sell sheet” offers ideas on many winning combinations. Every product purchased also comes with a recipe handout, although many of these oils and vinegars pack so much flavor that you need do little more than pour them over some cheese, fruit or meat.
Huss says a man in his 20s recently came into the stand saying the bottle of Tuscan Herb Olive Oil he bought opening week now has “all his friends thinking he’s a great chef. This is typical” of the things she has heard from customers of the original Tubby Olive, which opened in 2010 in Newtown.
Almost 25 percent of the Tubby Olive’s Newtown business is in gift tub and basket pairings, and she expects paired and packaged oil and vinegars will also be a significant part of their Reading Terminal business over the holidays.
The Head Nut, 215-238-5744, www.theheadnut.com; The Tubby Olive, 267-519-0450, www.thetubbyolive.com.Posted on 10.03.12