"The Bassetts’ Hot Side Dish" By Carolyn Wyman
*“The Bassetts’ Hot Side Dish
Time to gobble up The Original Turkey owner’s cooking advice.”
By Carolyn Wyman*
You might think this would be exactly the wrong time of year to be talking about Bassetts. If you think Bassetts only makes ice cream, that is. This story is about another one of Bassetts Ice Cream partner Roger Bassetts’ other Market stands, the Original Turkey.
The Bassetts Ice Cream company was launched by Roger’s great-great grandfather, Louis Dubois Bassett, in 1861. The Bassetts only started talking turkey in 1983.
At the time Roger was operating a satellite to their main Market stand devoted to ice cream sundaes that was, financially speaking, kind of a turkey. One day Roger’s father, David Bassett, stopped by the Market on a lunch break from his printing business looking for a turkey sandwich. Amazingly, there was none.“So,” Roger recalls, “I went to Godshall’s for turkey meat, Edible Adventures for bread, and Roe and Sons for tomato and lettuce, and made him a sandwich.” While enjoying the sandwich, David Bassett speculated that it could be the basis of a successful new Reading Terminal business.
Roger might have thought twice about running with the food business idea of a man who had retreated to printing after an inauspicious few years running the family’s main ice cream stand. But Roger thought his father had identified a viable niche. Within a week Roger was selling turkey sandwiches from a corner of the sundae stand; within the year Philadelphia Magazine declared the business namesake “Original” the best turkey sandwich in all of Philly.
Roger, 51, credits the success to fresh, quality ingredients. Although at least six other Market stands now serve turkey sandwiches, the Original one is one of few where the meat is hand-carved to order from a bird piece. “Nothing we serve is more than 36-hours old,” adds Roger, including the artisanal bread delivered fresh daily from Baker Street in Chestnut Hill.
Customers are responsible for most of the Original Turkey’s compact menu. They suggested the Stuffin’ Cranberry (the bestseller after the Original), the Club and the Boston-Market-like hot turkey dinners, which now account for about 30 to 40 percent of sales. At this time of year, Bassett supplements the Original’s usual $30 hot white-meat turkey dinner package for three to four people with a holiday catering menu of heat-and-serve cooked whole roasted turkey ($75 for a 24-pounder, serving 14 to 16) and side dishes ($12 for enough Market-made stuffing or real mashed potatoes for four to six).
To make all these sandwiches and dinners, Roger roasts from 200 to 300 pounds of turkey in the Market each day. The majority are breast sections for the low-fat white meat the majority of his customers crave — although Roger also roasts one whole bird daily for dark-meat fans who can get there before it sells out (usually by noon).
“People used to call to reserve the legs or thighs, and people would see it sitting there on the carving station and ask why they could not have it,” says Roger, by way of explaining their current first-come, first-served policy.
Based on his 29 years of daily turkey-roasting experience, Roger has two pieces of advice for Thanksgiving once-a-yearers who struggle to produce moist and flavorful turkey white meat.
1. “Put foil over the top part of the breast for at least two-thirds of the cooking time. Take the foil off then and it will brown up really nice without becoming dry.”
2. “People are told that to be safe, turkey has to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. So they keep it in the oven until that’s what the meat thermometer reads. What people don’t realize is that the turkey keeps cooking after you take it out of the oven. So you really need to take it out at 155 or 160, or it will overcook.”
Showboat cooking has no place at a Thanksgiving table surrounded by people of varying ages and tastes, Roger believes, based on his experience trying to jazz up hot sides for a diverse Market clientele.
“Smashed potatoes, garlic-roasted, red, Yukon Gold, we’ve tried them all. They don’t sell. People don’t want to take chances with this kind of food. They want pure, simple, comforting renditions like grandma used to make.”
Save your creative ideas for the day after Thanksgiving, using Roger’s rotating menu of weekly specials as your guide. These include a wildly popular Turkey Rueben, turkey cheesesteak, turkey noodle soup and Florentine and Texas grilled wheat tortilla wraps.
“Turkey has very little flavor by itself so it goes well with almost anything else,” says Roger.
And if you’re a Thanksgiving guest sent away without leftovers, go buy a turkey sandwich at the Original Turkey on Black Friday. You won’t be alone.
“You might think we’d be dead but business that day keeps growing every year,” says Roger. “There are apparently plenty of people who are nostalgic for yesterday’s meal.”
The Original Turkey, Center Court, 215-925-5598, www.theoriginalturkey.com.Posted on 11.15.12