Friday, July 31, 2009

Holy Hoagie

Gooey Looie's
Pennsport Mall
Moyamensing & Moore
Philadelphia PA
(215) 334-7668

Oh Gooey Looie's, why have you ruined other hoagies for me? You may not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but you are the one who gets down and dirty on the first date. Every time we cross paths, a tree dies in the form of a roll of paper towels, but I wouldn’t change a thing about you.

First of all, unless you are in the know, there is NO WAY you have been to or heard of Gooey Looie's. It is in the Pennsport Mall, a sad, weird pseudo-strip mall from the 70’s and you have to access it from Moyamensing (3rd) street. Second of all, unless you are coming off of a recommendation, you would completely disregard this strange little hoagie shop - located smack-dab in the middle of said strip mall. Lastly, you would be making one big (if not THE biggest) mistake of your previously wimpy hoagie eating career should you not venture into said hoagie shop.

When I first started going to Gooey Looie's, it had been a long time coming. I never really found myself in the neighborhood, so I never made it in. That is, until I moved just around the corner. Now, I am not saying I moved there specifically for these hoagies, but let’s just say, it didn’t hurt (neither did Los Jalapenos).

Gooey Looie's is an old shop, deep in South Philly, with a “no nonsense” attitude. People of all walks of life will be sitting in this little place, waiting for their orders. There are two small tables, but they are really just for people who are waiting for their sandwiches – not the type of “eat in” tables you might expect to see.

A sign inside says that they have “award winning chicken salad,” and although I have eaten the chicken salad, and it is quite delicious, it is only a supporting member of the all-star cast. The real Gooey Looie’s show-stoppers are the cheesesteak/cheesesteak hoagie and the Italian hoagie.

Okay, personal revelation time. I eat A LOT. I mean, I am the person who eats my food plus someone else’s un-eaten portions most of the time. Gooey Looie's sandwiches are too big for me to eat by myself. Seriously. These sandwiches are MASSIVE – a solid pound and a half, at least. What really makes me wonder is how they give you so much for $6-7.

This is no gourmet sandwich shop. Far from it. This is a real-deal high-quality South Philly hoagie joint. No fancy meat or rolls, but you WILL NOT be disappointed. This is exactly what a hoagie should be. Now I love me some expensive, imported cured meat and finely aged cheeses, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, and a traditional hoagie is not made by those ingredients. At Gooey Looie’s, you will find ham and salami on your hoagie, with provolone; and unlike some (albeit most) hoagie places, you will not be left wanting for lack of meat/cheese.

When you open your first Gooey Looie’s sandwich torpedo, you might look around for a hidden camera. It feels like a joke. “How am I supposed to eat this thing, when it is bigger than my thigh?” Well, my friend, you simply grab a handful of paper towels, throw your inhibitions to the wind and dive in head first. Hopefully you ordered your Italian with “the works” a massive combination of mayo, hoagie oil, lettuce, tomato, onion, banana peppers and a shake of salt, pepper & oregano. It is truly hoagie heaven. Only thing is, you might need an extra roll. To quote the late, great Mitch Hedberg when commenting on the meat portions doled out at New York delis, “will there be anything else? Yea, a loaf of bread and some other people!”

Oh and on to the cheesesteak. Once again, the portions are enormous. A roll that is just stretched to the breaking point with greasy, cheesy goodness. One thing I really appreciate is that they chop their meat finely. This is my preferred method of steak-on-roll delivery. I have had many, many steaks from many places, and I always prefer not pulling out half of the meat in one bite when the meat is not well chopped. Some people might say that this is to hide the quality of the steak, well then go eat your $100 Barclay Prime steak, I am not impressed. When I want steak, I want it CHOPPED! Although I normally order extra cheese, as most places skimp on my creamy American fix, Gooey Looie’s, is no such place. The cheese is ample, and coats the meat and finely chopped caramelized onions, like a wetsuit - snug, and suitable for the circumstances. I often get the fabled cheesesteak hoagie (with the works), which is the best of both worlds adding the hoagie toppings to an already packed cheesesteak. At $7.25, you can honestly split a cheesesteak with someone and be good to go for lunch without pinching the wallet. Just make sure you get plenty of napkins (and possibly a garden hose), and don’t say they didn’t warn you, I mean it’s called Gooey Looie’s for a reason.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sushi in Jersey?

37 W Crescent Blvd
Collingswood, NJ 08108
(856) 854-9773

When I heard about Sagami, I envisioned a large Hibachi-style Japanese place with a new fancy façade and the whole nine. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I wanted something light last Sunday in order to balance out the pathetic amount of fast food I consumed that morning at Sonic after a camping trip to Maple Grove Raceway. Sagami came to mind, and it HAD been on my list so I made the trek to the dirty Jerz. Although it is a bit difficult to find, as it is a very non-descript building with few windows off of a main through fare in Collingswood, it was like finding a pearl inside of an oyster.

When you walk in, the ceiling is about six and a half feet high, and the aged wood and nautical theme feels like you are walking into a Long John Silver’s in the 70’s. There is a sushi bar directly on the right and it is manned with four chefs who looked very Japanese and very professional. It smelled distinctly like fresh fish. We sat down and checked out the menu. Being my first time, I didn’t opt for anything too adventurous. I am not going to order sea urchin on my first go around. We got a seaweed salad that was perfectly marinated in a sumptuous dressing that involved citrus, sesame and miso I believe. It was extremely refreshing on a hot summer day. For an appetizer, we ordered the Negimaki, which consisted of thinly sliced beef rolled around green onion, grilled and served atop a ponzu style sauce. It was quite tasty, though I don’t think I would order it again.

The reason I would not order said appetizer is that the next and every other time I go to Sagami, I am ordering nothing but fish. Not that the other food didn’t look great, but this place put out some of the best sushi I have ever tasted. Not that the Maki rolls were that stellar (too much rice), but the fish was unbelievable. The only time I have eaten fish that fresh was at a little shop in Sherman Oaks. The owner was the main importer of fish for Los Angeles sushi restaurants, and he kept the prize cuts for himself. This fish was on par. Seriously.

We opted for a traditional (Americanized) assortment of maki: Softshell Crab Roll, Spicy Tuna with Avocado, Yellowtail with Scallions, and Philly Roll (to represent!). The rolls were average sized and looked just like any other decent sushi joint. But my lord, the fish literally melted with each bite. It was outstanding. They really know their fish at Sagami, and next time, I am going to sit at the bar and let them decide what to serve me. It will not be too far in the future, either.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Big Easy

Cajun Kate’s
Booth's Corner Farmer's Market
Naaman's Creek and Foulk Roads
Boothwyn, PA
(484) 947-891

On a typical Friday night, after a long week of work, I like to head out to have some drinks to unwind/celebrate making it to another weekend. This is a tradition I value highly, as I don’t imbibe during the week. However, once in a while, there is something to do that is more desirable than unwinding with a couple of beverages. One thing that I will ALWAYS choose over imbibing is the food at Cajun Kate’s (well, not to mention we stopped and had a couple of Kenzingers at a bar for happy hour beforehand).

Cajun Kate’s is not a trip to be taken lightly. You literally cross into Delaware, and then sneak back up into Pennsylvania, only to realize you are now in the heart of Delco (Delaware County). For those of you not familiar with Delco, it is our own little slice of backwoods, with New Jersey-ish “flair” - kind of weird and backward. Enter Booth’s Corner Farmer’s Market.

It is a large warehouse with no windows, and few doors, very non-descript from the outside. But oh, what wonders to behold on the inside. As I had seen and recently heard on my last trip, the Amish run the market, and they do so with a (cast) iron fist. There are all kinds of stores/little stands inside, and you can literally buy anything - from a vintage Marlboro wall clock, to a puppy with fleas (flea market?), to farm fresh produce and homemade pickles. In short, it is awesome.

There is one stand inside that sets the market apart from any other flea market I have ever visited; and Cajun Kate’s is it. I will gladly drive here ANY TIME from Philly, in order to gorge myself on whatever masterpiece Don is offering for the day. Catch #1, they are only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Catch #2, playing musical chairs for a seat. First let’s start with Don. He is there EVERYTIME I go to eat, and he runs the show. I mean, the guy was Sous Chef at Emeril’s NOLA restaurant for three years. He KNOWS his Cajun Cuisine, and man, does he make that food sing! Not to mention, the guy cares deeply about food - from the quality of what he puts out to ensuring a quality experience of each individual customer, Don doesn't miss a beat. Although the process of ordering might be high paced and a bit stressful, you have to consider the madness going on in that tiny kitchen and how they try and take the time to address everyone in line and make sure they are taking good care of every single customer. That is a big deal, and one that many places seem to overlook when the going gets tough. Not at Cajun Kate’s.

I have been going there for over a year, unfortunately not as often as I would like, however, I do get there whenever possible. Until last week, I had only heard about the softshell crab po’ boys but it was my mission to make eating one a reality. I am on the weekly mailing list, which is both a blessing and a curse, because I find myself evaluating what my plans are for the weekend based on what special they are offering that particular week. I am a HUGE fan of the fried oyster po’boy specials, and the smoked brisket is to die for. Literally. I would want Kate’s to cater my wake, so that everyone who hadn’t yet tried it knew why I was such a fan of their food, and would get to taste that mac and cheese.

So back to the Po’ Boys. The bread is a light, airy slightly crunchy baguette, and it is slathered with a “mayo” that I believe has some herbs and spices in it, although I am not sure of the specifics. One thing of which I am sure: I always get an extra side of it, because it is so damn good. On the sandwich, they pile lettuce, tomato, pickles and your ingredient of choice. Here is the best part, you can’t go wrong. Go ahead, pick anything they offer, and try it on the po’boy. Every time, I guarantee you, it will be the best “insert protein here” po’boy you have ever had. Now, about that softshell crab. I have been making a valiant effort to ensure that none of our ocean dwelling soft cartilage friends died in vain this season, and this was the best use of crustaceans I have sampled to date. The crabs are battered and fried, crispy and delicious, with just the right amount of breading. They were light and crunchy and when mixed with the humble ingredients of the po’boy, well, it was all I could ask for (which is saying something). Don’t be afraid to throw down a healthy dose of the Crystal hot sauce (a No’leans specialty they provide) onto your sandwich. It plays wonderfully with the mayo sauce.

We also had the pleasure of trying the smoked brisket gumbo. All I can say is “wow.” The bottom is loaded with rice, and the smoky, rich, meaty gumbo, with huge chunks of smoked brisket, was unlike any I had ever had before. It was outstanding. But what about that mac and cheese I had mentioned earlier?

Oh don’t worry, I certainly did not forget about it. Truth be told, we bit (copied, stole, attempted mimicry – whatever you want to call it) it in our preparations for our Memorial Day BBQ extravaganza. However, we could not hold a candle to the amazing sweet creole tomato glaze that they masterfully prepare at Cajun Kate’s. The usual special is two generous triangle-wedges of deep-fried mac and cheese, with a blend of 4 cheeses, tasso ham, and crab meat. The glaze is offered on top or on the side. I go with it drizzled right on top. With its thick, crunchy outer shell and tender (but firm) hot pasta, salty ham, chunks of crab and cheeses inside, it is seriously the best mac and cheese ever. I mean, come on, it’s deep fried. God, I wish I was eating some right now (and it’s not even noon).

To finish, we had an order of beignets with powdered sugar. Although I am not a dessert guy, they were delicious, if not a bit heavy after I had consumed a po’boy, mac and cheese wedge, and a healthy dose of brisket gumbo. When you go, and although I wish I could be selfish and have this place to myself, be ready to stand in line. Unfortunately (for me), this place is well known, and people come from all over to get a taste of the bayou. If you need to, you can get your order to go and eat at the bench around the corner next to the Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop, but I urge you to wait it out for a seat at the bar, so you can embrace the hectic masterpiece (and funky jazz background) that is the kitchen at Cajun Kate’s. Just bring an appetite, and cash.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A new twist on an old standby.

The BLT is one of the most renowned sandwiches of all time. From truck stop diners, to upscale eateries, everyone has their own twist on this old favorite. No matter the place, the three ingredients stay the same for the most part. Well last night, while looking for a snack, I put a new, and slightly healthier twist on one of my favorite sandwiches, and the results were delicious.

I started with multigrain bread, because that’s what I normally have around. Although I do love white bread, it just has no nutritional value, and often can’t hang with the mammoth sandwiches I have been known to construct. After a quick run in the toaster, they get slathered with mayo. This is one of the most important parts of the BLT. It adds moisture and creaminess, and is a perfect match with both tomatoes and bacon. On the mayo, the first layer is tomato. I was lucky enough to be able to use a fresh tomato just picked from the garden. There is just no comparison with a store bought tomato. On the tomato, I crack sea salt and black pepper. Seasoning the tomato directly makes a huge difference, and really can affect the taste of your sandwich.

The next layer is bacon. This time I substituted turkey bacon. It is a great, lighter alternative to its beloved pork brethren. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE bacon, but turkey bacon, when cooked right, is a great substitute. It’s often difficult to tell when its done, and very easy to burn. Just keep an eye on it, and if you have to discard a couple of the first pieces, so be it.
After the turkey bacon came the cheese. Cooper Sharp. So good, and the creaminess is perfect for the middle of the sandwich, and the zing of the “sharp” is so tasty, it makes you wonder why Cooper Sharp is not a more popular cheese. Try and compare it to American, and you will be craving Cooper every time.

I then piled a handful of arugula (to add a spicy/peppery kick), and followed it with a couple pieces of crisp romaine, and another slather of mayo on the other side of toast. Cut it in half and enjoy. Try this sandwich and you will be a believer in the TBLACT (Turkey bacon, Lettuce, Arugula, Cheese, and Tomato). Enjoy!

Heavy Metal Burgers

Kuma’s Corner
2900 W Belmont Ave
(between Francisco Ave & Richmond St)
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 604-8769

Heavy Metal Burgers

With my few hours left to enjoy Chicago waning (and the Chicago dog having been given more than a run for it’s money), I turned my attention to another food that has a huge place in my heart. The Burger.

From early scouting reports I heard, not unlike Hot Doug’s, there WILL be a line. Having learned my lesson (sort of), I knew what to expect in the waiting game. Although my body was crying “salad, please!”, my heart was screaming “ground beef!” Kuma’s corner is a Heavy Metal Burger Bar. Yes, please.

From the outside, it looks as though it could be any other neighborhood dive bar on any given street corner in Chicago (they are EVERYWHERE); but by the looks of the menu, I knew I had come to the right place.

The line is chaos, and as we sat outside sipping iced coffee, unsure of weather we should be wearing tank tops or parkas (thanks Chicago weather), it was unclear as to whether we were actually on the list. The wait is more of a ‘mulling about on the street corner’ than the rigid ‘stand and deliver’ line of Hot Doug’s. The entertainment of the afternoon was, again (without fail), full of abundant people watching - the highlight was the guy who really wanted an awesome burger and the nagging girlfriend who just wouldn’t stop. No wonder the poor guy was looking to find happiness on a pretzel roll. More on that to come (the roll that is, what do I look like Perez Hilton?). After a solid hour and a half wait, we were seated.

We were lucky enough to be seated outside, as the music inside is really loud. Sigh, maybe I am getting old, but when the music is so loud that I can’t hear the people I am with, and it is lunch-time, I prefer to sit outside. Anyway, the beer selection is extensive, consisting of a large number of micro brews (and PBR, I mean it IS a metal bar), we grabbed an IPA and looked at the menu.

Make your own mac and cheese? Incredible. Only, the Polish in me inquired as to how I would be cooking such a concoction. A more apt description might be: “add 2 ingredients to our insanely, pathetically unhealthy mac and cheese bowl.” Done and done. We decided on prosciutto and peas. There were about a dozen choices, and although (in theory) I wanted meat on meat, the peas added a tasty green touch. This bowl of mac and cheese was to die for. $10, and we ate about 2/3 of it between 3 HUNGRY people who have been waiting for 2 hours to eat. They really mix the ingredients well, and sprinkle the top with chopped scallions. The peas delivered a nice fresh snap to each bite, while the chunks, not slices, of fried prosciutto supplied the salty, cured-meat taste I was craving. The combo blended perfectly together and I would have gladly finished the whole bowl. That is, if the 4 pounds of cheese I had just consumed didn’t object.

Now it was time for the main event. There are enough burger choices from which to choose; even if I lived in Chi-town, I would probably never get to try them all. Not to mention, I would also have to fork over at least 40 hours of waiting in line (at 2 hours a burger average). I have a real tough time deciding what I am going to eat when I go places, because I want to make sure to try the most delicious thing on the menu. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. I decided to go with the Lair of the Minotaur. Winner! I was obviously swayed by the words “bourbon soaked pears and pancetta,” however, “caramelized onion and brie” are no slouch when it comes to toppings. This burger was amazing. The sweet and smoky flavor in the onions and the complex sweet & bitter bourbon flavor of the pears was out of this world. The salty pancetta and creamy brie combination led to a burger topping flavor explosion - to the likes of which I had never tasted!

My dining associates picked two other awfully delicious burgers. The Dark Throne, which was chipotle peppers, goat cheese and fresh pico de gallo. The chipotle peppers were so smoky, spicy and saucy that it was like eating at an inland Mexican burger fiesta. The toppings blended seamlessly well together, and the goat cheese and pico helped sooth that fire! Last, but not least, the Iron Maiden. The Iron Maiden had cherry peppers, pepper jack cheese, avocado, and chipotle mayo. It was no joke, unlike its namesake. Zing! They also make their own waffle fries and potato chips, and they come with your burgers. Served with the waffle fries? Homemade ketchup! Does it get any better than this? I could have taken the easy way out and ordered The Slayer, which reads: “Pile of fries topped with a ½ lb. Burger, Chili, Cherry Peppers, Andouille, Onions, Jack Cheese, and Anger.” Ha. Instead, I decided to go with the local Chicago band, and I am sure glad that I did.

My only complaint is that our burgers were overcooked. Not burnt, but if the whole table orders medium rare and are all looking for that coveted-pink-inside, to no avail, they are over-done. I let it slide because they were still juicy and delicious. So the next time you find yourself in Chicago, and you need a Metal/burger fix, look no further. Just make sure you have time to wait it out.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Sausage Superstore

Hot Doug’s
The Sausage Superstore and
Encased Meat Emporium
3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550
You had me at “Encased Meat Emporium”

So, I was recently in Chicago on a quick trip and I decided to devote it solely to eating. In that, I had two places I would go on my three day adventure where I would eat, no matter the line. The first was Hot Doug’s.

Hot Doug’s is a small building in a commercial/industrial area of north-western Chicago, just north of Bucktown. Being from Philly, I obviously had to see how the sandwiches stacked up, and did they ever. After my first night there (and after consuming copious amounts of alcoholic beverages) I woke up with the incriminating evidence of a 4am torta on my foul smelling hands, and a hankering for some meat. People warned the night before to get there right when they open or right when they close, else the line will be wrapped around the building. “Ha,” I thought. “I am sure people have more important things to do on Friday afternoon than sit around waiting for an over-glorified Hot Do(u)g.”
As usual, I was wrong. At 11:45 the line was literally wrapped around the corner of the building and down the block. We left to get coffee, thinking at least if we are standing in line we might as well be awake, and that the line couldn’t possibly get any longer. Wrong again (well, about the line getting longer, at least).

Upon our return, the line now stretched even further down the block, but I thought to myself, “it should move quickly, I mean, they are just sausages.” Can you guess??? I was WRONG AGAIN! As I had already been made aware through my due diligence, each Friday and Saturday you have the option of French Fries cooked in duck fat. There was no way I was turning around. So we sat, and waited. At least there was plenty to look at while in line, guessing what the hell these people do in life that affords them the ability to sit there, waiting, for so long on a Friday afternoon. Not to mention eavesdropping, reading The Onion and local city paper they provide at the entrance, and briefing myself on the specials of the day through their website on my iPhone. I wanted to be ready; yet I was hardly prepared.

After what seemed like an eternity (in reality, a mere TWO HOURS), we got inside the door and were greeted by non other than Hot Doug himself - working the counter and taking orders. Awesome. He is a super nice guy. I immediately told him how happy I was to be there and that I was from Philly. He was quick to ask if I had brought his “Tony Luke’s chicken cutlet with Sharp Provolone and broccoli rabe?” HA. I loved the attitude, but had failed him this one. He said he was going to be visiting Philadelphia in the fall and I immediately informed him that he needed to forget Tony Luke’s and try the best sandwich in Philly at Pasesano’s. My partner-in-crime made him write it down and we gave him the address. He said we were “now back in his good graces.” Why do you think that line takes two hours? Because when you get to the counter, you are it. There is no rush, you get to shoot the breeze and the service is supreme. You order, take a seat, and they bring your order out to you. The line moves so slowly; you don’t need to fight for a seat when you get in there. You have a choice of seats. Amazing. Doug then hooked us up with some free drinks for our insider information. So what did we order?

The Chicago dog (which is available steamed, fried, or steamed then grilled) with all the trimmings - this was an easy one - and at $1.75, you can’t beat it with a stick. The Duck fat fries($3.50) - well, I wasn’t leaving there without an order - but what to pick for the sausage? It was a VERY tough call, as they have about a dozen “specials of the week.” After much deliberation, mulling about and second guessing, we decided to go for the “game of the week” which was Spicy Smoked Alligator Sausage with Cajun Remoulade and St. Pete's Blue Cheese ($8.50), and the Merguez Lamb Sausage with Spicy Harissa and Goat Cheese ($6.50). Oh brother. It was as though I was eating an encased slice of coronary bliss. The flavor combinations and the generous helpings of ingredients were absolutely incredible. This was the best sausage and fries I have ever eaten in my life. The alligator was the true star, spicy and smoky, with a cooling rich blue cheese top that skated across my taste buds as though I were attending the cholesterol ice-capades. I was in greasy foodie heaven. The fries, while not far from regular fresh-cut expertly-cooked fries, had something about them that made me keep coming back with a ravenous appetite. The lamb sausage was also tantalizing, with the creamy goat cheese conquering the spicy harissa like it was meant to do. But my word, that alligator!

I am afraid I will be unable to eat sausage in the near future (that is highly unlikely to be true), for fear that Hot Doug’s has ruined me for life. When you exit the door (leaving all that succulent beauty behind) and see all those people still standing in line, you get a (false) feeling of superiority. “Look at these suckers,” you think, “waiting in line for hours” as you wipe the duck/alligator/lamb/pork grease off of your chin; but there is a tinge of regret, where you would gladly trade places, just to be able to experience sausage supremacy once more. A lady asked, as we were making our exit,

“Was it really worth this line?”

I looked at her in all sincerity and responded, “Absolutely.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009


119 Fayette St
Conshohocken, PA 19428-1817
(610) 397-0888

I was trying to find a place for my sisters birthday dinner, and although I had made reservations at 2 places in the city, she wanted me to come to Conshy. So I looked at yelp, and I remembered that I had wanted to try Black Fish. And am I glad I did. We were seated right away, and although we were the last table to be seated (8pm), we did not feel rushed in the least. I ordered the chef's tasting menu, where he picks one ingredient and highlights it throughout four courses. It was like being a judge on my own personal Iron Chef.

The secret ingredient is...tomato. First course was gazpacho, while I am not usually a fan, this soup was great. It was spicy with finely diced bell peppers in it. Poured table side. Second dish was grilled sardines with a roasted tomato and sauteed broccoli rabe I believe. It was good, and not too oily or weird on the fish. I could have used another tomato. Third course was a BLT. Pork belly, with a tomato sauce, and medium rare pork tenderloin. It was awesome. The crust on the tenderloin was amazing. Final course of that sampler was white tomato water ice, served with blueberries, and a balsamic reduction. It was very refreshing.

Being the big eater that I am, I also ordered an entree, plus I figured we could all share plates. I got the house specialty, the bouillabaisse. It was fantastic. I couldn't stop sopping up the broth, which had a rich amazing saffron flavor, that was so good, I swore there was veal stock in there. I actually ate 3 pieces of bread just putting the hurt on that dish. It had mussels, clams, a large whole shrimp, a scallop, mahi mahi and skate. Uh. So good.

Other diners at the table started with the Salmon wrapped quail egg, the salad, which was an artistic masterpiece, and the beef tartar. Everything was top notch. For main courses, they had surf and turf, which was an incredibly delicious short rib, with the thickest glaze of barbeque I have ever tasted. It was like tar, in a good way. The potatoes and scallops served with it were divine. The halibut was delicious, and the sea bream with curry sauce was also quite nice.

For dessert (besides my tomato water ice), they ordered homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream, which got mixed reviews because it was obviously made with tons of fresh mint, and some felt it was over whelming. I was a fan. And the creme brulee. It was some of the best I have had.

All in all, yes its a bit noisy, but its intimate. It is a great BYOB with great service, and even though we were the last party to leave, we did not feel rushed in the least. I will certainly be back. (Money permitting)

"The Jalapenos"

Los Jalapenos
1800 S 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 468-1828

Torta=delicious Mexican Sandwich.

I had heard about Los Jalapenos before moving just around the corner, into my new Pennsport digs. Having spent 6 years in the West, I have eaten quite a lot of Mexican food and though the burrito is a go-to when trying out most places for the first time, the torta is a consistent barometer to test the level of hand-crafted love given to an establishment’s food. This is very important in Mexican cuisine. There is a thin line between greasy, heavy food and succulent, flavorful delights from South of the Border.

On the corner of Fourth and Moore, you will find the takeout-gem that is Los Jalapenos(also free delivery on orders over $10). From the outside, it looks like an old hoagie shop that was over-run with Mexican groceries. Well, that’s because that is exactly what Los Jalapenos happens to be. They have a good collection of Mexican food stuffs - perfect for that last-minute moment you decide you want to turn your dinner protein into tacos, enchiladas, or quesadillas etc. They have a variety of Mexican cuisine-common produce, and a selection of dried chiles. They also carry the Queso Fresca that leaves me craving chunks of cheese long after dinner. I think of the Queso as tasting like a hybrid of fresh mozzarella and fresh feta. Whew. So good. But when you get to the back of this little bodega, you realize there is a hot, steamy, fully functioning kitchen back there, and boy, does it function.

Los Jalapenos has consistently impressed me with all of their items, not to mention the price and value. However, thus far in my torta quest, they have produced the best Philly torta I have eaten to date. The only catch? It’s not on the menu….

Luckily, Los Jalapenos is more than happy to make tweaks (not tweets) to their offerings to satisfy picky consumers. I don’t know the reason that many places don’t offer Al Pastor as a choice of filling for tortas on their printed menus, but most are willing to oblige the spoken request - and how glad I am that they are. Al Pastor is like a BBQ pulled pork, Hawaiian style. In Mexico, it is cooked on a spit (much like Gyro meat) where it is shaved off and stuffed into tacos. I have eaten Al Pastor tacos in numerous small towns around the Baja, and they are amazing. Thus, I always try the Al Pastor when I try a new Mexican eatery. I also tend to really like the flavor synchronization of the various ingredients of the torta…

Los Jalapenos serves their tortas in the traditional style—with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, queso and jalapeno. I ask for Al Pastor, and it is no problem. The sweet, savory Al Pastor goes great with the fresh ingredients, and the salsas they provide on the side offer two contrasts in flavors that allow you a spicy green tomatillo kick with one bite, and a smoky tomato taste with the next. One problem with many tortas, they tend to be dry. The Al Pastor helps keep everything moist, as it is dripping with a pork and pineapple combo that complement each other so well; it is hard for me to order anything else. That doesn’t mean don’t try anything else here, they have things like pork and plantains, and grilled shrimp with chipotle mango sauce (on the burrito menu) that are also dynamite, but I would suggest trying these torta style – the spoken request will surely be honored. You might be surprised with how amazing the tortilla crowd makes a sandwich.

John's Roast Pork

14 Snyder Ave
(corner of Weccacoe and Snyder Avenue)
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 463-1951

You have probably driven by this place on Snyder, near Target, and wondered what the deal was. It appears to be some sort of food shop built from the remains of an old auto supply store. I have been told by many of my friends that they, “always see it and think about stopping, but it’s never open.” Well, that’s because it isn’t ever open (at least when the average person is down in that neck of the woods). And the reason - because they don’t have to be.

John’s Roast Pork (aka John's Lunch, The Snyder Avenue Lunch Bar, and The Shack), has been around since 1930, and has been a family run business for 3 generations, and it shows. The sandwiches are made with love (and grease), and they are divine. Although your only chance to eat there is Monday thru Friday 6:45 AM to 3 PM (the grill closes at 2:30), it is absolutely worth the journey to experience the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Wait, what????

Although the “John’s Roast Pork” name implies “hog” - it is, in fact, the beef that is the true magic. Now don’t get me wrong; I have, at a point in my life, called their roast pork italiano, with sharp provolone and sautéed spinach - an overly juicy, garlicky-peppery torpedo of flavor served on a fresh seeded Carangi roll from the South Philly Bakery - the best hot sandwich in the world, but I am afraid I have to relinquish the throne to their cheesesteak as the best in the land. You see, I am a very ethnocentric person, but I have been all over our great country, and I believe that Philadelphia makes the best sandwiches around. So, if this is the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia, (and if cheesesteaks are the pinnacle of sandwichery) then it obviously is the best hot sandwich in the world.

Let’s start with the line. Because there WILL be a line.

In line, you will see construction workers, city workers, office suits, older folks (some of whom might have been eating there since the place opened), and a basic cultural sampling of the diversity Philadelphia has to offer. Except for the one thing EVERYONE there has in common. They are in the know. John’s is the type of place you don’t mind telling people about, because more than likely, they will not be able to find themselves there, thus making the line even longer, with any regularity. I admit, I don’t go as often as I would like, as I have a job and go to school, although I do plan my non-holiday days off around the sandwiches there. In doing so, I’ve discovered a secret that most people don’t know about - if you are ordering Roast Pork, you can jump ahead in line. The line is waiting for the grill. The cheesesteak grill. The pork will be sitting on the counter bubbling away in its juicy goodness, and so if that is your sandwich for the day, by all means, poke around ahead in line and you will get called up to the front like a coach calling the scrawny kid up from the end of the bench. However, if you are getting a cheesesteak, hold fast and know your order.

While you may wait for what seems like an eternity, just be patient, cheesesteak nirvana awaits. You might be bored and sweaty from standing in line, but make sure you have your specs in mind. Take note of all of the various awards, newspaper articles and old pictures, but keep an eye on the order girl because your time there will go faster than expected, and you’d better know what you are ordering when your number is up.

John’s cooks the steaks to order, and they use a cut of sirloin, unlike the typical ribeye found at many steak shops. He does not freeze the meat, rather chills it in the freezer to slice it, and then has individually wrapped bags of steak. The meat is heavenly. You can get it with sharp provolone too. I alternate between the sharp prov and American, but never whiz; add fried onions, sometimes mushrooms. The juicy steak, which drips with twice as much cheese as your ordinary joint puts out, is a perfect storm of tender meat, sweet onions, cheesy goodness and grease. Oh god that grease. The South Philly baked Carangi roll, tough and crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, gets gutted in order to cram the maximum filling inside. It holds up perfectly to the drippy, gooey task presented by both the steak and the pork, and makes John’s food, much like their store front, truly stand-alone. Two final words of advice: first, CASH and second, PATIENCE - let your sandwich sit for a few minutes. It really allows the flavors to meld, and reduces the chances of a molten cheese bite burning off your taste buds before you can savor the rest of your meat-packed masterpiece.