Atoles (ah-Toll-ays) are an extended family of beverages, usually cornmeal-based, of various consistencies, that are common in Latin America. This particular Mexican atol (small, $1.50) is thin, with a faint tropical-fruit flavor. Fail to take note of the handwritten sign on the front door, and you might furrow your brow for a moment or two before you identify guayaba — guava.
The glowing notice, posted outside, helped identify one classic "Philly breakfast." Inside, a clearer signal was sitting on the counter: a rectangular sheet of tomato pie, already minus most of its squares ($2 each). At 9:30 in the morning, many other customers had already come and gone.
Other tomato pies, exemplified by those in Trenton, New Jersey, first top the crust with mozzarella, then with sauce. (Some say "gravy.") Sarcone's prepares the archtypal Philadelphia style, which has little cheese and is served at room temperature. The effect is similar to swabbing your spaghetti plate with good bread for a last saucy dose of garlic and oregano.
"Red with cheese" is reportedly the bakery's best-selling style (each about $1.50 per slice), but this "pizzaz" takes a better photo. (The spelling is the Cacia's, perhaps for branding. Scrabble devotees will note, too, that although "pizzazz" is an impossible play, with two blanks and a Z you could actually set down the word "pizzaz", subject to challenge.) Sometimes this slice is made with hot peppers; mine added milder "vinegar peppers" to the standard tomatoes and American cheese.
Also shown: remnants of a white pie.
Cacia's Bakery 1526 West Ritner St. (at South Mole St.), Philadelphia 215-334-1340 (One of many locations) www.CaciaBakery.com
This sister operation to the celebrated Beiler's Bakery — home of sticky buns and shoo-fly pie, across the aisle — is little more than a year old. Over the year the Beiler (Bye-lur) family had routinely fried doughnuts for special events, notably for the annual Pennsylvania Dutch Festival at Reading Terminal Market. Bowing to popular demand, nowadays the family turns them out five days a week. (Such accommodation goes only so far; like the Philadelphia market's other Amish vendors, Beiler's is closed on Sunday and Monday.)
The hands-on production process, in plain sight of waiting customers, is a big part of the Beiler's appeal; in the first photo, a worker stamps out doughnut blanks with a roller. To be sure, the price — which almost seems to belong to another era — is very appealing, too. The going rate for any of twoscore varieties, like harvest apple (shown), is a thrifty 95 cents.
Beiler's Donuts 51 North 12th St. (Filbert-Arch Sts., inside Reading Terminal Market), Philadelphia 267-318-7480 www.Facebook.com/beilersdonuts Closed Sunday and Monday
One door shuts, another opens. The fellow who related the details of Dutchie's closing — he was seated outside the neighboring barbershop whose clientele had supplied many customers to the tiny Surinamese storefront — recommended 3 Sisters, a Guyanese restaurant not far away. "Their food is always on point," he proclaimed, adding that further seasoning was not needed.
Indeed, at the tables in the back room of this cafeteria-style restaurant, a nondescript bottle of hot sauce is the sole condiment, and ultimately I did without. My vegetable sampler over rice ($8) included an exceptional smoked eggplant (closest to the hot sauce) as well as pumpkin, potato, callaloo, another eggplant dish, okra, long beans (cut down to size), and kerela, or bitter melon.
3 Sisters' & Shanta's Restaurant & Bakery (also called 3 Sisters Liberty Bakery) 107-04 Liberty Ave. (107th-108th Sts.), Richmond Hill, Queens 718-845-3570
These overloaded pretzels (about $2.50 each) are nearly big enough for a game of quoits, but you'll be much happier on the receiving end. Clockwise from my sundried tomato with ricotta, front and center, tentative IDs include almond, raisin, spinach and ricotta, pepperoni, and jalapeño. For the savory varieties, napkins are vital.
An outside confectioner supplies ABC with these multilayered slices of douce Macos (about a half-pound, $6). Spellings vary widely: The first part, often rendered "dous," signifies "sweet"; the second, sometimes given as Makos, Marcos, and Macoss, names a family with roots in Petit-Goâve, Haiti. Milk, condensed milk, and sugar account for the calories; some versions (though not this one) also include butter. Cinnamon, chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla are the target flavors, achieved in part through the addition of brown and pink cake icing. Though not as creamy as its American counterpart, essentially this is rainbow Haitian fudge. Best sliced thin.
Douce Macos is never in great supply. If you hope to try it, best to call ahead.
The counterman's Expos cap wasn't only for show: An order of "one black, one white" duly scored two bagels ($1.50 each), one poppy, one sesame. Compared with most of their New York kin, bagels made in the Montreal style are crispier, a touch sweeter, and tend to have less heft and more hole. (Black Seed's are rolled by hand; your bagels may vary.) Next time I'll try one with toppings, but the mark of good bagels like these is that you can enjoy them unadorned.
Vehicles, like buildings, can be made over to suit the needs of new owners. Often a restaurateur will leave old signage in place, especially when it has a burly, blue-collar appearance; the same is true of shopkeepers whose business has nothing to do with food but who understand that meat is chic.
The second owner of a commercial vehicle, on the other hand, is much more likely to efface signs of its previous use, or try to. (Perhaps the difference is that made-over buildings and their signage are intended to be part of historically or sociologically layered experiences, if innocuous ones, into which customers are invited, while a sign on a truck is simply a sign, and simpler is better.) In the bright light of day, I snapped a photo of this Arnold Bread delivery van; only later, onscreen, was it easy to spot the traces of "Penske truck rental."