Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Foresta's Market

1098 West Bridge Street
Phoenixville, PA 19460-2370
(610) 935-1777

Any place that can stay open since the 1930's (serving Phoenixville since 1934) must be doing something right. Even if some of them are entirely overrated. Foresta's is the kind of family-owned market that that makes you wish you lived next door. Quaint, reasonably priced, and with fantastic customer service (aka attitude), this is a throwback to times when things were just plain better.

Now I hadn't been here in decades, but my fond memories of summers spent working at the local skatepark and spending an hour's pay for a lunch that left me rolling on the ground in pleasure/agony were quite strong. They were not wrong. Taking the stroll down memory lane out of the equation, this was still one of the best hoagies I have had in 2015. That made me happy.

The deli is nothing to write home about visually, but it is packed with homemade goods that are a combo of Italian and Pennsylvania Dutch, each with their own comfort food specialties and followings.

The bread was from Amoroso's, which initially caused me to scoff. They have long been the gold standard for Philadelphia area sandwiches, though in recent years have yielded the throne to competition like Aversa's and Liscio's which have that crusty outside that makes a sandwich stand up to the wet ingredients. Lo and behold, you pick your own roll at Foresta's, and I was directed by the wonderful girl working the counter to the bottom row, second from the left. Amoroso's makes a crusty roll I never knew about. Fantastic.

My take from this haul. An Italian hoagie with sharp prov on a CRUSTY Amoroso roll. Pepperoni bread, and Italian mother lickin' hoagie dip. The hoagie dip alone would warrant a five cheesesteak rating. With the other pieces, this was bound for glory.

The Italian was perfectly balanced. They shave the onions, freshly slice the meats, and did not skimp on the sharp provolone. I am not joking nor embellishing when I tell you this is the perfect Italian hoagie. They even used hoagie spread instead of beat old banana peppers or cherry peppers with stems.

The roll held up perfectly, and dare I say, was every bit as good as my current favorites, if not better.

I also got mayo without so much as a wince. Because mayo and salty meat go hand in hand. Look at the construction of this thing. You will not find a better hoagie. Parallel, possibly, but you can't improve on perfection. It's the thing fat kid dreams are made of.

If the Italian wasn't enough for you, the Italian hoagie dip had all of the components, just minced together. The addition of the hot pepper relish gave this some acidity and spice, and the result was a flavor orgy on your tongue. I ate this whole container within a couple hours' of eating the hoagie, but that can be our little secret.

Finally, for dessert, I had a healthy serving of pepperoni bread. Look at the cheese vein running through this roll. Pepperoni worked its way through every fold, and the cheese spanned the width. Airy, well baked, and full of ingredients, you could do much worse for $5.59.

Foresta's reminds you just how much you lose in today's age of extra large super markets and automated everything. They have an incredible butcher, a great little grocery store, and a deli to make you forget all about that "diet" you were pretending to hang on to.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Zoe's Kitchen - Giveaway CLOSE! Elle, you are the winner!

761 W Lancaster Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
(610) 520-1389

The folks at Zoe's Kitchen have offered one lucky Philly Phoodie reader a $25 gift card to any of their locations. To be entered to win, leave a comment on this post about your healthy food that still tastes good (even though it's not smothered in butter) and be sure to send me your contact information ( so we know how to get in touch with the winner. Contest closes 3/24/15 at 12 PM EST. Winner to be drawn at random.

I had never even heard of Zoe's Kitchen, but when I was also offered a gift card to try some food, of course I was into it. Although they specialize in fresh, healthy food, I was still willing to give them a shot.

The inside is like a mash-up of Chipotle and Jamba juice. You order at the counter and make your way to a table with one of those little numbers on a standing stick things. This place is CLEAN. Also, the people working there were extremely friendly. It makes sense for a Mediterranean/Southern place.

Two of my favorite things here were their Greek dressing and spice blend, both available on every table.

You will be happy to have the salty spices and red wine vinegar tinged dressing to pep up the fresh healthy food they serve. It is all lacking a bit of salt, but I think that's what makes it healthy? But that's also why they let you season your own food. For a starter, I went with the hummus trio. Served with fresh raw veggies, pita wedges, and toasted pita chips, the red pepper, basil, and plain hummus's were pretty filling. I think my body is not used to raw vegetables, and so I felt artificially full. After a weekend of binge eating (including burritos at 2AM at Frankford and Girard, and two racks of ribs on the new Big Green Egg) this healthy food fit the bill. The hummus was very light and nicely textured. It did need a bit of salt, which I took care of by hitting it with the spice blend on my table.

My favorite was probably the roasted red pepper, but they were all good. I can't remember when I ate this healthy in the recent past. I mean, I DO get lettuce on my Chiptole, so I guess that's close?

The shrimp skewer platter was legitimately delicious. The shrimp were coated in a fantastic spice blend that had garlic and hints of paprika. They were surprisingly well executed, lightly charred and crispy without being overcooked; served over a bed of rice pilaf that had really nice flavor. The cucumber raita was a decent dip, and the salad had a load of feta, which is always a treat. Again, I was addicted to the dressing and spices, so I loaded it up. I was really surprised with how fresh and crisp all the vegetables were. I am pretty sure mine aren't that fresh within three minutes of leaving the grocery store.

Look at the beautiful crust and char on these things – the meat was delicately sweet. I actually even liked the zucchini.

The Greek chicken pita didn't fare so well. The problem was that it really wasn't a sandwich. Just a salad served in half a pita. When I tried to pick it up, all was lost.

Loaded with feta again.

Side of slaw had feta and was dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Pretty light and refreshing.

The aftermath of the first pita bite. A breech of the bottom and an outpouring of caramelized onions.

The bread tore in short order, so I doused the whole thing in more dressing/spice blend and ate it like a salad. Formal structure aside, it was quite tasty.

Even though this isn't my usual type of food, it was pretty damn good for a healthy alternative. I hope whoever wins is able to nurse their hangover with some fresh fare like I did.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ramona Susan's Bake Shop

South Philadelphia

I recently had a new local bake shop ask us to check out their cupcakes. Obviously I don't say no to free baked goods. These lovely young ladies even dropped them off at my work! Of course, in true Philly Phoodie fashion, I gave them the wrong address and they drove to West Chester. Well, I have never claimed to be good with directions. I do, however, claim to be good with fattening foods. The "unicorn cupcakes" fit that bill nicely.

The cupcakes came in a box with minimalist branding. It looked sleek. And it certainly drew my co-workers' attention when I was seen walking through the cubes with a box of bright pink baked goods.

The "unicorn" cupcakes feature a sugar horse with clouds, pink strawberry icing, and sprinkles around the edges. There is nothing about these that is not over-the-top.

There are even SPARKLES. I know many friends who have little girls that would LOVE these. That's not to say my grown-ass adult friends won't swoon over these beauts too.

But that's not all. The cake itself is a technicolor dreamcoat of rainbow proportions.

The icing was sweet, light and creamy. The cake was moist, airy, and had a velvet consistency. These were not hard to like. I may be a meat-and-bread type of eater overall, but these cupcakes were pretty damn tasty. I think I know what I am bringing to the next kid party I am invited to. Besides a fifth of bourbon.

Celebrate National Unicorn Day on April 9; call Ramona Susan's to get your order lined up!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Carlino's Market

128 W Market Street
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 696-3788

Carlino's started as a DiBruno's-style shop in Ardmore, but has since branched out to West Chester. The West Chester iteration is much larger, though just as claustrophobic as the original. They offer a wide variety of pre-made Italian food, as well as cheeses, meats, coffee drinks, and two sandwich counters.

When you look at the layout below, it seems like there is plenty of space. But when you are actually there, the mere presence of five people in the below area causes chaos. In my half hour of shopping and eating, I was in the way, or annoyed at someone in the way at least a dozen times. One of the issues is the islands displaying additional goods for sale scattered around the store. It broke up the flow of traffic, and led to bottlenecks at every turn.

There is no question they offer quality goods, the cured meats alone could occupy me for hours. Plus they offer illustrations by Hawk Krall himself, one of my favorite local artists/food experts. See illustrations below.

One of the best things they offer is the tomato pie. It is thick, chewy, has great acidity from the tomatoes, and is just simple perfection. I am a big fan. It was the best thing I ate on this trip by far.

The "Ultimate Italian" was not so ultimate. It came on a decent roll, though it was no Liscio's, and held prosciutto, mortadella, Calabrese hot salami, hot capicola, rosemary ham,and aged sharp provolone. While the meat was definitely all high quality, the cheese was lost, and it was pretty dry overall. In a different geographic location, this would be a fantastic hoagie. Around here, it was good, not great.

The bread left a LOT to be desired...

The mortadella had beautiful pistachios studding it, and the hot salami was a nice touch. The cohesive package was just nothing special.

The beef meatballs "Sicilian Style" held fried eggplant, ricotta, and grated locatelli. This was the most disappointing of the bunch. The meatballs were under-seasoned, the locatelli was sparse, the eggplant soggy, and the bread fell apart in the three minutes from receiving to eating. Would not recommend this one.

I felt there should have been more salt and a bit of spice to really make this sandwich worthwhile. In addition, the bread was not hearty enough to contain the ingredients without ripping.

It was like they got their rolls backwards here: the Italian was dense and stiff, almost stale and the meatballs were in a spongy, seeded roll. So maybe if they were swapped, I'd be writing with a different opinion. But alas, my one experience at Carlino's will likely remain my only.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Big Green Egg | Pizza Party

Well, given the previous post about Red Pack tomatoes, I knew some pizza sauce was in order. This is one of the best pizza sauces ever. It's simple: whole peeled tomatoes, fresh minced garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar, quality olive oil and salt & pepper (I also added some garlic powder for some extra umph! Recipe below.) It's also uncooked because when your Big Green Egg hits temps of 700-800, it's plenty hot to 'cook' the sauce; this keeps it tangy, sweet and bright.

In addition, some homemade pizza dough was necessary. It is really not as onerous as you would think, in fact, if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, the process is pretty damn easy. Three important pieces to this are using at least OO flour (very fine) letting the dough sufficiently rise so that it is not too elastic, and stretching it out THIN. I love thin crust pizza, and it took me two pies to get the method down for cracker thin crust (it had been a WHILE since I had made pizza at home. Recipe also below).

Oh, two more tips. I used a pizza peel covered in cornmeal to set the pies up, and then slid them into an 800 degree Big Green Egg! When using an Egg, the longer you leave the lid open, the cooler you are going to go. This is exponentially magnified when it is in the teens (as it was when I was making these pizzas). Twenty seconds with the lid open and the dome temp was down 150 degrees. You want to make sure your stone is hot, rather than just the Egg/grill/oven. I let it heat for at least an hour prior to pizza time. I am a newbie to the BGE, but I can't recommend it enough. It's expensive, but it's so much fun. The range of temperatures is mind boggling.

My first effort below. They started getting thinner after this one - admittedly, I was in a rush to get my pizza party started.

Look at how the cheese started to brown. This was the worst pizza of the four I made and it was better than 99% of the pizza I have eaten in my life. Which is a boatload of pizza.

The second pizza got better through the incorporation of spicy meats.

This version incorporated previously made meatloaf (also smoked to perfection on the egg), and featured BBQ sauce and cheddar. Incredible.

The char on the bottom is perfect. Each pizza cooked in a couple minutes. I can't wait to have some pizza parties. Now if I only had friends.

BEST MARINARA RECIPE (this recipe should do about 6 pies)
1 (28oz.) can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 can of tomato paste
2-3 cloves of minced garlic
2 T red wine vinegar
1 T quality olive oil
1 t oregano
1 t garlic powder
salt & pepper to your taste

I was following a recipe that called for one can of tomatoes, but it didn't say to dump out the liquid, so I went all-in with the entire contents and added a can of tomato paste later to thicken the juicy sauce and I couldn't have been more pleased with the result. So I'm telling you here my exact method.

Dump the 28oz can of tomatoes with juice and the minced garlic into a medium stock pot (not because you'll be cooking it, but because the high walls will help reduce splash action in the next step). Using a potato masher, smash the tomatoes until they're pulverized and broken into bite size chunks that suit your fancy. Do not use any sharp blades or machines to do this step because you do not want to break the seeds open - the broken seeds will just add unwanted bitterness to your sweet and tangy sauce. Once you have a good crush going, add the remaining ingredients and mix well with the potato masher, again, just combine everything and don't get too aggressive. Make sure your tomato paste is amply dissolved and you're done! Set it aside until you're ready to spoon it onto your crust.

THIN CRUST PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE (this recipe did 4 10 inch pies and takes almost 3 hours)
By weight - I do not recommend volume measurements for any baking because precision is key
500 grams Tipo 00 flour
325 grams lukewarm water
10 grams salt
6 grams sugar
3 grams active dry yeast

Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer, slowly for 2 minutes, faster for 5 minutes and then slowly again for 2 minutes. Remove bowl from stand and form dough into loose ball and cover with Saran wrap and set in a warm area to let it rise for about 1.5-2 hours; punch it down and push any air bubbles out. Form the dough into a loose ball again and cut into four equal pieces. If you want bigger pies or a thicker crust, do three equal pieces. Form each of those pieces into balls with a smooth top and seam-side down, set them on a baking sheet and dust the tops lightly with flour; cover with the Saran wrap (this prevents them from drying out, you want them to stay moist until you're ready to roll out your crusts) and let them rest for another 45 minutes to an hour. This is important because the balls will become soft and elastic, allowing you the thinnest crustabilities.

Roll that shit out!
On a lightly floured surface.

Top it!
With anything.

Cook it!
On a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven if you don't have a grill. Your ideal temp is 700-800, so if you have a grill and a stone, try that to get even hotter. You want your stone to be piping hot before sliding the pie on - put cornmeal down on the stone and put it on your pizza peal - or if you don't have a peal, use the bottom of a baking sheet as your prep surface and slide your pie easily off it into the oven.

How long?
Keep an eye on it. You'll know when it's ready.