Jack's Firehouse

2130 Fairmount Avenue

When I go to Jack's Firehouse Restaurant, I bring my own pickled watermelon rinds; Jack's aren't worth a noontime hoot from a nightowl. They smell of paraffin and citronella combined with lye and ether. Cut a pimpleball in half, lick its insides while sucking upon a cellulite dimple: Jack McDavid's "watermelon pickles."

My Bubba used to yell across the dining room table at her daughter-in-law, my mother. "Shushie!" She'd shudder while pursing her lips, "Yir vatlemelon shud be devoist ting evvehappenink to me." Bubbie would freeze her face in a snicker-grin for a slow ten-count as she dropped a greenish-red two inch chunk of pickled rind back onto her plate, while holding an elegant pinky well above the rest of her fingers. Mom's eyes would begin to tear as all four dining room walls seemed to inch forward.

The next day, my sister, Brucha and I became guinea pigs again for the one hundredth new recipe as my mother sang "A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow casket." Brucha felt so sorry for our mom, that no matter how venomous the outcomes, she gurgled with fawning pleasure as vinegar and saliva dripped from her chin. My sister traces her facile ability to fake orgasms to these early childhood rind recipe trials. I, on the other hand, never hesitated to tell my mom the truth; and to this day, I can floss my teeth using only my two pinkies.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned minor dillful dereliction, Jack's Firehouse offers the finest and most interesting culinary treats in Philadelphia. McDavid is the only restaurateur to oversee a menu laden with Buffalo steaks, Venison filets, whole Farmed Large Mouth Bass, pulled Pork Barbecue, bowled Black Eye Pea and Hog Jowl Soup, bottled Chardonnays from France, California and Texas, and home-brewed white Lightnin' from the hills of Virginia. The staff is attentive and gracious in starched white shirts and tuxedo bottoms. Most welcoming is the food.

One begins with freely offered rolls, muffins and biscuits to which real butter (no preservatives, no yellow dye) and freshly jellied cherries are to be introduced. The breads are so light and hot that the butter is absorbed thoroughly and instantly. The rolls swell and glow golden chartreuse as they are topped with the gleaming fruitspread. One's tongue can barely manage the menage. Senses are regained by sipping a glass of Macon Vire Bonhomme (1988) ordered form the huge copper still "cruvinet" at the end of the bar.

Even if you must skip appetizers, never miss salad here. Jack's contacts with Amish farmers in Lancaster are legendary. Moreover, it's rumored that this restaurant's owner has beds of lettuce and mushrooms growing on the premises' roof and cellar floor, respectively. Nowhere are the leafy greens and vegetables so extraordinarily fresh and flavorful, crisp and verdant. Add nothing more than a sprinkle of olive oil, cider vinegar and lemon. Your tastebuds ride the Paoli Local eighty miles west.

Entrees range from scrumptious to curious. There are superlatives and grateful groans emanating from patrons who've just jostled jawfulls of North Carolina Crab Cake or Breast of Goose with Pear and Black Walnuts. Giggles arise from the tickle of deep-fried Kale. But if one is adventurous in an establishment reverberating with reverence for American regional dishes, then order Buffalo from Minnesota or Venison from Jack's own deerfarm without change of venue.

The former is a sauteed steak the size of a paperback dictionary whose beef is fatless and rich. The bison is painstakingly slowly pan-cooked in peanut oil to render it as tender as the cowboy's tush who rode all day to hunt it.

The latter are scallops of venison tenderloin surrounded by a warm cranberry-fennel sauce. A knife served with innocuous desuetude, for a wriggle of fork's edge is all that's required to carve perfectly sized morsels. Dear deer.

Pastry Chef Andrew Smith choreographs a gregarious glissade of desserts from Key Lime pie to wild rice pudding, from apple crisp with hard sauce to chocolate creations of such lusty lasciviousness as to take Le Bec aback. Complete the repast with a snifter of Quinta de Noval Port (1970) or a double-shot of Eagle Rare Kentucky bourbon; just don't drink both. Never mix malmsey and mush. As my Bubba reiterated whenever my mother passed within hearing, "If ya vanna get pickled, use mein recipe:"

Bubbie Bockol's Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Large-mouth jug with sealable top, the bigger the better. Skinned rinds (with 1/8" of red) cut into inch long, inch wide pieces.

10 skinned garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
4 tsps. salt
2 red tomatoes, 2 green, quartered
8 sticks celery, cut into 2" long pieces
2 sprigs of dill
32 oz. white vinegar

  1. Layer the bottom half first with half the red and green tomatoes, five cloves, 1 dill sprig, half the celery, 1/4 tsp. of hot pepper flakes, 2 tsp. salt; then do the same to the jug's top, only in reverse order.
  2. Add the vinegar fist high with fingers going up the jug, pinky on the table, extended. (About 1/3 full).
  3. Close or seal the jug tightly and shake while singing "A tisket, a tasket."
  4. Leave on a window sill for six days turning over onto lid just after sundown every other day.
  5. Refrigerate overnight before opening and devouring.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back