Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gaul & Co. Malt House

3133 Gaul Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134
(215) 423-7878

Up near the Polish area of Port Richmond is a hidden gem of a bar.  When I first walked in, there were a couple of locals having some bottled domestics and talking over the TV. While this is my typical type of respite, I thought maybe I was in the wrong place for the famous kielbasa cheesesteak that had come so highly recommended by a reader. I decided to persevere and was brilliantly rewarded from the previous neighborhood hang known as Shenanigans.

The wings smelled fantastic, so I obviously indulged. Perfectly crispy (I ordered them well done) and rendered to their bare essence, the sauce was a kicked up version of the traditional Frank's and butter.

The portion was fair for the price, and the sauce was perfect.

Cheese fries were also of interest (I am obviously cutting carbs). Perfectly fried and the American cheese sauce was just delicious.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good orange Wiz, and I do usually get my cheese sauce on the side. This application was perfect because not only was the cheese sauce white and deliciously tasting of American and cheddar, it was just the right viscosity to lightly coat the fries, make them glisten, and not lose their crispy outer shell.

Now the star of the show was undoubtedly the "Wit or Witowski". A cheesesteak, made of kielbasa. Yes.

Local 'bassi sliced thin and fried. Like a cheesesteak, just around fifty times better. It brought to mind the fried pastrami cheesesteak at the late great Cisco's in Flourtown. Topped with fried onions and American cheese wiz. It is spicy, salty, and one of the best sandwiches I have ever had.

Look at those thin bits of beautiful kielbasa meat. This might be my death row meal. I know it looks a bit like a creamed chipped beef, but believe me, this was well beyond and took me sailing through Polish flavor town.

The roast beef with au jus was good sandwich, just not as great as its counterpart. I would order two kielbasa next time. Just because. But the beef was well cooked, nicely seasoned, and would ordinarily be a hit. It was just outclassed this time.

The thinly sliced fold of beef was nice and tender.

Gaul & Co. Malt House features a somewhat compact menu, but they execute everything just right. Although it's a bit up there, I'll be back, you can count on that.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Not Your Average Joe's

561 Glen Eagle Square
Glen Mills, PA 19342
(610) 500-2222

I was asked to check out Not Your Average Joe's recently, and though I had never heard of it, I figured it was worth a shot. It is a small chain that has locations in Glen Mills and Ardmore locally. Surprisingly it was not too far out of the typical Philly Phoodie price range, and they had a craft beer selection to rival most independent eateries.

I chose to sit in the bar area, as I feel most comfortable around a lot of liquor. There were a number of TV's around with sports on, but it didn't feel like a "sports bar".

They offer a seasonal menu along with a standard menu that has some entrees, and a lot of options like pizza and sandwiches.

Check out the local draft list.

The GM Stephen asked if I had tried some of the drafts, and immediately brought out some of his favorites. He was extremely knowledgeable on beer and food, and all around a great guy. A breath of fresh air from some of the places I have been invited.

Many chains are known for their free starters. This was one of the best. Onion focaccia bread, with a spiced olive oil and cheese dip. Diet food this was not. I think I ate the whole basket.

Incredible garlic flavor in the oil and wonderfully caramelized onion on the bread.

The first thing I tried was the bacon-leek flatbread. This boasted applewood smoked bacon, melted leeks and blue cheese, finished with Romano cheese and marinated tomatoes. It was quite tasty, though it was my second favorite flatbread of the evening.

The bacon was crispy, the leeks were tender and sweet, and the blue cheese had just enough funk going on. Also, the crust on this was very thin, and crisped up perfectly.

The OTHER flatbread was butternut squash-based. Now butternut squash is not one of my favorite things. In fact, I generally avoid it. But I happened to love this offering. A thin and crispy base topped with sage-pecan pesto, roasted butternut squash, shaved brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and balsamic reduction. The smoked mozz and sweet tart balsamic were in harmony with the shaved sprouts (which cut the bitterness) and the natural sugar in the squash. I really liked this one.

Look at how thin that crust is.

As if by joke, I was informed the next courses were coming out. I was at the point where a more intelligent person would say, "thank you for the great food, but I am totally stuffed". Luckily(?), I am not that kind of person. I proceeded to do my damnedest to attempt to plow through THREE entrees.

First up, and reigning champion, was the Molasses braised pork shank. I am always a sucker for any kind of shank. Except you know, the prison kind. The shank was slow cooked, served over smoked gouda white-corn polenta with a tart apple relish. This meat was so tender and well rendered, it just pulled off the bone with a gentle nudge from my fork. At $20, it is a STEAL. The smoked gouda (one of my favorites) gave the polenta the fat and flavor so often missing, and the tart pickled apples and red onions cut through their heavier counterparts, adding some "pop".

Look at the crust.

Perfectly pulled off the shank.

The Harvest Mac and Cheese was an insane bowl of smoked mozzarella and pepperjack cheese sauce with roasted butternut squash, roasted mushrooms, pulled chicken, spinach and cavatappi pasta, topped with asiago bread crumbs. This was likely a meal for two on its own. I really liked the bread crumbs, but it was probably my least favorite dish of the night. This might have been because I ate approximately 5,000 calories before it got to me, or because it was outshone by the other dishes.

It was by no means bad, it was just kind of heavy, one note, and maybe lacking a bit of the cheesey roux that mac and cheese conjures up. It was more of a chicken pasta bowl maybe?

Are you feeling full yet? Because we are about halfway there. The Mustard Crusted Chicken didn't seem like much on paper, but it had that "it" factor that made it work, and quite well. Featuring pan-seared chicken in a three-mustard marinade and panko crumbs served with green beans, garlic mashed potatoes and lemon aioli, this could have easily been dry or bland. I mean we are talking about chicken breast and mashed potatoes. This was anything but. The mustard marinade added some tang, and must have helped keep the chicken breast moist (also the kitchen knew what they were doing, thanks Jose), because this was a great WHITE MEAT CHICKEN BREAST. Yes, I said it. I am a thigh man in general, but this was an exception. The lemon aioli was bright and acidic, which helped to make this potentially heavy dish light(ish).

Check that crust. Not very photogenic, but delicious nonetheless.

At this point I was about to nap, but they heard me mention my affinity for both wings and pizza, and out came a dessert Buffalo Chicken Pizza. This one had crispy chicken tenders tossed in  mango-buffalo barbeque sauce with mozzarella, scallions and blue cheese dressing. It was different than the flatbreads from the appetizer menu. And my second favorite dish of the night (behind the pork shank, maybe). The sauce was sweet, spicy, and smokey, the blue cheese was cool and together they formed a sauce to be reckoned with. I would eat those crispy tenders on any occasion.

The crust was super thin, and light. I was shocked such good pizza came from a chain that didn't even specialize in pizza. Though the attention to detail and care put into the other dishes should have been an indicator.

To add insult to gluttonous injury, I was told I could not leave without trying dessert. This was like delicious torture. I was a victim of deliciousness. The Peanut Butter Thing, their signature dessert is peanut butter and chocolate chunks folded into vanilla ice cream and rolled in oreo cookie crumbs, topped with fresh whipped cream and drizzled with hot chocolate and caramel sauces tableside. See below for tableside saucing.

I thought, well I will just take a few bites to be polite. I couldn't possibly eat anything more.

And then I finished the damn thing. Seriously. It was heaven on a plate. Everything sweet I love in this world mixed together. Holy hell.

I did not pay for my meal, which should be apparent above. But I would gladly part with my own money if I were in the area looking for somewhere to eat again. The prices were right, the food was on point, and it is unfair to other chains to call it a chain restaurant. It is leaps and bounds above its competition. It's like they took all of the comforting parts of chain dining (large portions, reasonable prices, approachable food) and made it actually good. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Opinicon

1697 Chaffeys Lock Road
Elgin, ON K0G 1E0
CANADA (eh!)
(613) 359-5233

Dreaming all the way back to summer... I spent a magical evening drinking beer and eating pizza in beautiful Ontario, Canada. I have been traveling to this particular area for most of my life, and the local lodge is undergoing a major renovation.

They have kept the fantastic color scheme, and gutted the main structure, now incorporating a modern menu and pub.

Check out the charming general store. They serve ice cream and coffee. So dreamy.

The liars bench is for after your fishing trip.

While the completely renovated beer garden is what made my night so special.

A couple of pizzas did not hurt either.

Mushroom Chorizo - Chipotle Alfredo, Sautéed Mushrooms, Seed to Sausage Chorizo, Roasted Peppers, and Pickled Onions. Well executed for being served out of a truck (the kitchen was still under renovation).

Look at that overlap of toppings onto the crust.

Duck Confit - Parmesan Sauce, Pulled Duck, Caramelized Onions, Hoisin Sauce, and Mozzarella.

A bit more exotic, the rich duck paired perfectly with the Hoisin.

I recommend checking this area out for a long weekend away. It's about a six and a half hour drive from Philly. But it will make you feel as though you are in a different world. The people are as friendly as can be, and the scenery is gorgeous.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

MealPal: Philly Launch Party

Website/Join MealPal

I was invited to a launch party for a new lunch purchase program for folks working in Center City. MealPal lets you pay per month, and then choose from a multitude of vendors for a daily lunch option. Kind of like Netflix for food. You can choose what you want to eat from a mouthwatering display of Pinterest-style food photos, up until 9:30am that morning, and then pick up your meal around . . .  lunchtime. It ends up costing about $6 a day, and you basically just walk in and grab your food without having to pay or wait in line. Some of the vendors were offering samples, so I indulged. My favorite of the night ended up being these Kansas City Beef Dogs from Destination Dogs.

The casing had a great snap, and the short rib chili and house slaw on top added just the right amount of savory and sassy accessories. They also baked the top loader buns in house. I was a big fan.

You could also tell that the care that was put into the assembly process was a carry-over from the general thoughtfulness and "love" that these guys had for the product.

I spent a good bit of time eating these doggies talking to the chef/co-founder Jimmy, who clearly has a passion for what he does and as I mentioned before, it shows. The short rib chili is a task in itself and when you make your own sausages (and other cased meats) and breads in house too, the dudes at DD have their hands (deliciously) full.

I may or may not have eaten three (along with all of the other foods I sampled). I felt a bit like Frankie MacDonald by the time I was done.

Real Food Eatery is another newcomer on the Center City scene that I pleased to meet, literally. I spoke to John (co-founder) about his passion for nutrition and how it shouldn't be considered a bad thing. AKA bland. I was surprisingly pleased with his options. I tried some of the sweet potato hummus and the chicken dish, again both surprisingly good for how healthy they looked.

Plenty of herbs on the tender and flavorful chicken thighs.

And here I was trying yet ANOTHER new place with some Asian flair, Oishii Poke in Chinatown. The spicy salmon poke bowl was yet another favorite.

Look at the color on that salmon!

The shrimp "ebi crunch sushi burrito" rolls were also delicious. Reminded me of my original favorite sushi burrito, but with a little less pizzaz (AKA spicy sauces).

The Farmer's Keep brought some ranch flavored beef meatballs that were not made with your packet of dried ranch mix, but with actual fresh herbs. Surprisingly delicious.

I passed on this one, below, from a local fitness-oriented fast food joint (too healthy for my tastes at that moment) but just want to show you that there is definitely a good mix of options for those who might be watching their waste line.

Matt and Marie's brought some sandwich options including their famous Italian stallion. A decent choice for an Italian hoagie in Center City.

This is actually a great lunch option for people who work downtown and want a reason to get out of the office. You have the option to eat on premises or go back to your desk (like so many of us are guilty of doing). You also get a huge variety of options every day, and can get in and out of the restaurant in less than 5 minutes. Definitely worth a trial subscription, if you ask me.