It’s a little early in the year for a Shore boardwalk stroll or county fair excursion but you can go there gastronomically right now at the Market’s new Fox & Son.
It’s the first gourmet corn dog restaurant in Philly, if not the world, and the only stand in the Market to be totally gluten-free.
You might expect the owners of a stand featuring corn dogs, cheese curds and poutine to come from the Midwest or Quebec, where these kinds of fair foods are king. But it was actually more of a strategic decision by co-owners Rebecca Foxman and Zeke Ferguson, both Pennsylvania natives formerly of the Market’s Valley Shepherd cheese stand, and Foxman’s former culinary school classmate, Kevin Kwan, originally of Seattle. (The stand name is a portmanteau word formed from Foxman and Ferguson’s last names.)
“We didn’t want to compete with what other vendors were selling,” Foxman explained. “We also wanted to make things that were easy to produce in large quantities with high quality.”
Quality? Corn dogs? That phrase might seem oxymoronic if your only experience of this food is from the supermarket freezer case (quite possible, if you’ve always lived on the East Coast). But Foxman says people who have enjoyed fresh-made ones at county fairs who stumble on the stand squeal with delight.
Anyone who has enjoyed one of the grilled cheese sandwiches at Valley Shepherd’s MeltKraft stand-within-a-stand has already experienced Foxman’s ability to elevate a humble dish. Fox & Son does this for corn dogs with Dietz & Watson (pork and beef), Hebrew National (kosher), Kunzler (turkey) or Lightlife (tofu) franks but also with sauces and add-ins not found at the typical fair corn dog stand. The Sweet Potato corn dog has real mashed sweet potato incorporated into the corn batter. The cheese in the housemade queso sauce adorning the Cheddar Jalapeno dog has been aged for three years.
These are two survivors from a spreadsheet of more than 40 corn dog ideas and recipes the partners tested and/or discussed. (One corn dog incorporating scrapple got scratched because of preparation difficulties; a fish-sauce-containing Asian corn dog loved by all three partners was deemed too esoteric to sell big, though Ferguson says it may yet show up on the menu as a special).
Although it’s rare to see corn dogs or funnel cakes on a local restaurant menu, they’re familiar to many locals. Not so cheese curds, which require more explanation, says Foxman. She compares them to mozzarella sticks: “If you like fried mozzarella sticks, you’ll probably like fried cheese curds.” Custom-made for them by Chester Springs’ Birchrun Hills Farm, the curds are also sold fresh by the pound and atop hand-cut French fries with gravy to make the classic Canadian poutine.
The cheeseburger fries (topped with ground beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and the Big Mac-like sauce Royale) sell even better.
Also on the menu: chili, funnel cakes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, organic soda, and cole slaw. The latter is a peanut-butter-containing style Foxman fell in love with while on a food scouting trip to the Texas State Fair in the fall. But Foxman’s menu favorite are fries topped with ranch powder. Despite their simplicity or perhaps because of it, they’re “very addictive,” Foxman says.
Fox & Son is not the only Market stand with hand-cut fries (Dutch Eating Place, Down Home Diner and Molly Malloy’s are others) but it is the only stand where they’re guaranteed to be gluten-free (because they are made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer). This has made Fox & Son a magnet for celiac sufferers, who have comprised as many as half of the stand’s early customers.
“We’ve actually seen tears,” says Foxman, not of dissatisfaction but of joy from people who for the first time since their diagnosis, see the whole world of fried food opening up to them once again.
Fox & Son, Avenue C and 4th Avenue, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun., 215-372-7935, www.foxandsonphilly.com.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market’s news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal’s bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (www.tasteofphillyfoodtour.com).