Monday, November 23, 2015

1st Ward Sandwich

100 Morris Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 551-8000

Only 4 years after I moved out of Pennsport, the neighborhood starts to look more appealing. Don't get me wrong, I prefer the old school Philly neighborhoods before gentrification, but there's something to be said for that stretch of time in-between when the mix of old and new struggle to find balance. The 1st Ward is one of those newcomers who has all the appeal of an up-and-coming neighborhood joint and so I went in with high hopes.

The decor is pretty basic, but it's tastefully bright and welcoming for being on Front Street right under 95. They have a clean presentation style and serve the sandwiches on cutting boards. Everything seems pretty good so far. Their menu is small, think of a pseudo-Paesano's style set of options, but fresher; well, not fresher but maybe healthier?

I went with the fried oyster po'boy and my friend tried the schnitzel. I was somewhat surprised to see my po'boy come out on an Italian seeded roll. I understand the 'fusion' they're going for here, but I think maybe this was taking it too far.

It comes served with "fried Chesapeake Bay's, spicy mayo and lettuce-tomato slaw." This sounds good but the execution definitely fell short. The slaw wasn't a slaw at all, it was more of a large-chop which made it sort of difficult to eat. The oysters were small, sort of heavy on the breading, but the flavor was there. Actually, for looking so wet, the whole thing was kind of dry and literally had no resemblance to a po'boy (and believe me, I've eaten my way around New Orleans enough to know the truth).

I mean, just call it an Oyster sandwich.

My buddy's schnitzel boasts, "thinly pounded pork loin, greens, fried egg, grain mustard on a butter roll." First off, there was no butter roll in sight. It was the same long seeded Italian roll. Which is fine, but again, let's just call it like it is. Another very dry sandwich. Weakly seasoned all around. Meh. I don't need to say more.

But hey, the fries were awesome. I asked if they had any aoili sauces for dipping and the cook said, "you mean like mayonnaise?" and I sadly replied, "I guess." She proceeded to spoon mayo out of the jar into a little cup for me. What about that spicy mayo that was on my oyster sandwich? Throw me a bone here people. Maybe they've worked out the kinks, but I don't expect I'll ever go back to find out.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mid St8 Taco

West Shore Farmer's Market
900 Market Street
Lemoyne, PA 17043
(717) 737-9881

I was over in Central PA for a weekend and decided to try out the West Shore Farmer's Market. This place is like a JV version of the Reading Terminal Market, but it certainly boasted a whole lot of different kinds of food. It was surprisingly good, and I won't go into details, but I ate at three places within an hour. My favorite was Mid St8 Taco, which had all kinds of flair, and even better tacos.

This gentleman on the right is hitting the complementary salsa bar. On the left is their fresh tortilla making stand.

This salsa bar was pretty great, with pickled peppers, onions, fresh salsa, and limes.

I decided to try the fried fish, short rib, and chorizo potato tacos.

The chorizo and potato was garnished with onion, garlic, and cilantro. I am always a fan of the fatty, greasy chorizo providing color and flavor to potatoes. These can be somewhat mushy, but the onion provided some textural crunch. Also, the fresh tortillas were fantastic. It is hard to beat fresh when it comes to taco wrappers.

The braised beef special was another great taco. Tender shredded beef with a hint of spice. The crispy ends (always the best part) added some texture and a healthy amount of flavor. A very good taco as well.

The fried fish was perhaps my favorite. It held achiote marinated and roasted wild atlantic cod with cabbage, pico de gallo, creme and shaved radish. I loved the variety of flavors involved with this. The cod had a nice heat and was perfectly fried. Radishes and cabbage gave fresh crunch, and the crema cooled everything down. It was a great taco de pescado if I do say so myself.

The color on the cod was brilliant. Who would have thought great tacos would come from the middle of the state? I guess if you knew the chef attended the Institute of Culinary Education on a James Beard scholarship, you might have had an inkling . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ben's Chili Bowl

1213 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 667-0909

Sometimes there is a landmark (or two) that you feel the need to eat at because it's (they're) famous. Ahem. Other times the place is a landmark AND it's just that damn good. We are dealing with the latter in this case. Ben's Chili Bowl serves up the finest half-smokes you have ever seen. Not fancy, not expensive, not for those on blood pressure or high cholesterol medication. It can be both a bit stressful, and a bit greasy. I love it.

This is a tight space to wait, and you need to find the line and get in it. The bar is the best place to sit, as usual, and you can check out all of the action. While you stand in line, you get a glimpse of the food to come. It will definitely make you re-adjust your order.

Look at these BEAUTIFUL half-smokes on the flat top. Having to watch these brown is no mistake on their part. I doubled my original estimates.

This encased meat maestro was working this grill like he was born in the kitchen.

The menu is small and sausage/chili focused. ALTHOUGH you could order a veggie burger if you wanted. Although they may laugh you out of the store. And I wouldn't blame them.

The bag is a throwback to simpler times, much like the food.

A tidy meal, this is not. Below is an order of chili cheese fries, and a chili cheese half smoke (one of two I ate). The fries left a bit to be desired, but they stayed surprisingly crispy throughout the seconds that made up their short lives.

The star, by far, was the half smoke with chili. Good lord. Half beef, half pork, coarsely ground and smoked. This is comfort food at its finest. Charred on the grill, smothered and covered, this beats about any hot dog around.

The snap on this sausage casing adds a perfect texture to offset the soft chili and bun. The combination of salty, smokey, fatty, and crispy makes for a sensual overload. This is not fancy, but your taste buds will be wearing an overcoat made of grease. This may be the best and/or only thing worth going to DC for . . .

...well, partial take back: Rumor's (an Eagles bar) will be another repeat on my list for next time.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Kinzer's Station Tavern

3572 Lincoln Hwy East
(Route 30)
Kinzers, PA 17535
(717) 442-8799

Kinzer's Station is located off of Route 30 on the way to Lancaster. I have wanted to stop in here for years, and had planned on it in the spring, but they were closed for a stretch due to a fire. They are back up and running, and I made a Sunday pit stop on the way home from a weekend road trip.

The joint is owned by a really nice fellow named Mike, a South Philly born-and-raised transplant, who bought the place almost sight unseen to get himself out of the city and into a slower-paced lifestyle out in the country. That's my kind of country living: owning a bar/restaurant with Philly originals all over the menu.

They allow smoking, which would have been annoying, but there was barely anyone there, so it wasn't too bad. Bud heavy was the drink of choice.

The food is nothing fancy, Philly area bar food done well. I had a cheesesteak and wings, two of my usual go-to choices.

The cheesesteak was quite good. The meat was well seasoned, and had plenty of cheese spread throughout. The roll was fine but not great. Being there on a Sunday right when they opened, I didn't expect it to be from the same day. Let's face it, I wasn't firing on all cylinders either. For being a day or three old, the roll was still okay.

Pretty well chopped, the meat didn't have any annoying gristly or fatty bites.

One thing you will notice, is they certainly do not skimp on the meat. I was a big fan of the both the quantity and quality.

The wings were also solid. I asked for the cooked extra crispy, and they sure were. The fat was nicely rendered out, and the skin retained it's crunch while I worked my way though them. It did not take long. This is a solid pit stop on your way to/through/from Amish country. A great roadside dive with Philly food done right. I hope to make a stop on a Friday night to get a real feel for the crowd. If I ever get to, I'll report back.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Suburban Square
105 Coulter Ave.
Ardmore, PA 19003
(484) 417-6825

Besito (little kiss) is a new entrant to the high-end Mexican scene in the burbs. They have a number of other restaurant locations, and invited me to come check out their soft opening last week. It is located in Ardmore, and the attention to detail is extremely nice.

The interior is slick, with modern Southwest flair (which reflects their menu), and nicely appointed decorations.

I was told to start with margaritas, so I had to oblige. They were great drinks, though possibly a bit of the old velvet hammer, as I could barely taste the tequila. The salsa was fire roasted tomato, and had a touch of heat.

First up was the table side guac. I really don't care if it's gimmicky, I love watching it be prepared.

The server took into account the level of heat I wanted, and served it in the same stone mortar it was mixed in. The guacamole was great. Each order contains a whole avocado, and was well seasoned, creamy, and still had the chunks that let you know this was made with a ripe avocado.

The owner John Tunney stopped by and chatted while I stuffed my face. He also sent out some shrimp tacos, as they are always a crowd favorite. I can't argue, these were one of the tastiest things of the night.

Crispy shrimp, chipotle sour cream, and queso fresco, three of the things I like most about Mexican cuisine, came together for an explosion of flavors and textures. It was fresh, rich, and clean. I could eat approximately fifteen of these things.

Next up was the dinner course (I skipped any additional appetizers), and decided to try the enchiladas de mole poblano, the mixtos tacos, and a variety of sides.

The mole sauce was rich, thick, and delicious. It had a perfect consistency and was deep in the toasted flavor of poblanos. I really liked this iteration of the timeless (yet time consuming to make) Mexican dish.

The mixtos was basically queso fundido, topped with chorizo, chicken, and grilled skirt steak. It came with napoli (cactus) salad, and two sauces. The salad was fantastic. It was like a Mexican version of succotash, and was bursting with bright acidity. I was surprised with the flavor and how much I liked this salad. The queso was made with melted queso Chihuahua, and had so much flavor I could have  eaten this with a fork (and possibly did). The chicken and steak were good, the only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the chorizo. It was more like a Mexican hot dog and less like the chorizo I traditionally see.

All together, this was a great dish, and the cheese was just fantastic. You will not be able to tell from these pictures, but it is incredibly dark in there. They even give you little Besito branded lights to see the menu. It's that dark. Probably a good thing if you were going on a date with someone who looked like me. Not so much if you are a fat guy trying to see what ELSE you are going to order.

A cheesy taco creation shown below.

The elotes de la calle was simple and fresh. It was roasted corn, some queso fresco, and some chili. I loved this take on the traditional street corn (which I make quite often at home), but I use mayo at home and wished they had too...

The beans were okay, nothing to write home about, but they came extra with the entree, so that is a nice touch. The rice was well cooked, and was studded with pepita seeds. It was almost like a pilaf, which was an interesting twist on standard white rice.

John the owner came by and asked if I tried the plantains. At this point, I was starting to hit the wall of gluttony, but I powered through when he had an order brought out. Fried sweet plantains, queso fresco, and crema. Simple, indulgent, and delicious. The cheese and cream balanced out the sweetness, and the caramelized edges had just enough crispiness.

At this point, I was really getting too full for comfort. That being said, the flan was supposed to be great. So I obviously had to indulge.

Sure enough, it was great. A light texture, with not overly sweet base, and some fresh whipped cream.

The meal ended with a to-go bag of hot churros, and a gift of two Mexican worry dolls. You put these under your pillow and they take your worry from you. Very cool little treat, and I was happy to only be worrying about waddling back to the car. Thank you Besito, I will be dreaming of that queso fundido until I make it back.