Thursday, April 29, 2010

La Rosa Pizza

2106 South Broad Street,
Philadelphia, PA

(215) 271-5246

La Rosa was on my radar for a while, I forget where I heard about it - actually, upon further introspection, I think I may have eaten it once a long time ago. Whether that happened or not is hardly relevant to the matter at hand; which is that fact that I tried it last night, after I was reminded of my desire to get some potato pizza by these guys. I have to say, despite the fact that I would normally not expect much of anything that came off of Broad and Snyder, this pizza was incredible. (Disclaimer: I say was, which is a stretch, because I am currently eating a portion of the massive amounts of leftovers, and I am thoroughly enjoying every bite)

I was hungry and in my never-ending quest for impartial food journalism, I decided it was only right to order two pies, and try three topping combinations therein. (I am becoming ever so clever at masking my gluttony under the guise of journalistic integrity) So I tried to find a menu online, to no avail. Apparently, and I mean this in all sincerity, they do not have one. So I called to verify this, and it appears to be true. You literally just call and tell them what you want. If they have it, they will make it, if not, they won't. You have to love South Philly. I called and asked for a pepperoni, black olive and onion pizza, but they didn't have black olives so I subbed mushrooms. I knew I had to try the potato pizza, so I ordered an additional pie, half white with potato and half sausage and green pepper. I also ordered them well done. This was a wise move. I guess for every ten poor moves in life (such as writing this while "studying" for finals), something has to come up roses. So they said it would be delivered within the hour. And the waiting game began. After an hour and fifteen (mostly spent staring out the window and jumping up every time I thought I heard a car), I was about to start eating my hand, and there was a knock on the door. I would have eaten an Ellio's with glee at this point. It was $24 for two pies, which is a really good deal. I was also relieved because they did not offer the price during the ordering phase and they only accept cash. The gruff yet polite delivery man was an additional treat. So I bring the pizza inside and as I am getting ready to binge like I am in Animal House, my phone rings. I can't be bothered with unknown numbers at this point, so I let it go to voice mail. It turned out to be La Rosa calling to let me know my pizza didn't have enough peppers to meet their standards and I wasn't charged for it. A+ for effort, and honesty.

The pizzas are square and HUGE. Like a Sicilian, but considered "Roman style" which means thinner and better I am assuming. (I don't care much for deep dish, subject to certain exceptions) The pepperoni was fantastic. I loved that the pizza was actually well done, and the onions were cooked on top, and slightly burnt. Perfect. The mushrooms were canned (whatever) but they were acceptable in this application, I suppose. Again, the pepperoni itself was great, not overly greasy, and packed a wallop of flavor. The crust is thick and rich, yet airy and crispy. I was/am a huge fan. This was definitely some of the best pizza I have had in Philly. It fills a niche I didn't even realize I was in search of.

The potato pizza was on another level. The potatoes were soft and tasty, slightly browned and sprinkled with a healthy dose of rosemary and pepper. Perfect. I LOVED IT. The sausage (which apparently is procured in South Philly somewhere) was also great. It had the perfect amount of grease and really added so much flavor to the pie. I have to think that this is what Pizza Hut originally started as, and we won't get into what a mess it has become. This is tavern style square pie at it's finest. Might be my new go-to for delivery. You also can't beat the fact that it was $28 with a nice tip for two pies delivered that could feed 6 easily.

Note the grease glistening below. Delicious.

The lack of peppers was hardly noticeable.

Next day reheat, turned out perfect after 5 minutes on the pizza stone in a preheated oven. Crispy perfection. Look at all of that rosemary.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Our Place

2036 Swamp Pike
Gilbertsville,PA 19525

Our Place is not in Philly. Nor is it fine dining, by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, however, is the place that holds the crown of "Best Wings" in my book, and has been atop the throne for most of my effective eating life. I used to go to this place in high school, and I always knew it was a gem. I haven't been here in about a year, and I planned a trip to the area with the specific intent of getting down on some wings in the process. I am happy to report, they are still on the top of my list. I have found a couple of pretty good spots in Philly, but none can hold a candle to Our Place. Seriously.

A basket has 12-15 and a bucket has about 50. On Wednesday nights, buckets contain about 30 and are only $11.95. So good. What most places around the city seem to be missing is the simplicity that makes an order of wings good. #1. Fry them hard. I mean super crispy. People do not want soggy or chewy wings. #2. Put some love in the sauces, but don't get too fancy. This is, after all, bar food at its most basic. They were (allegedly) invented because a bar owner had left-over chicken scraps, and fried them up for hungry and intoxicated patrons one night. So let's get off of our brining, marinating, pressure cooking high horse. Deep fry them, period. #3. Chunky, indulgent, delicious blue cheese. No watery, "is that a piece of blue cheese?" cheap dipping sauce. #4. Fry the wings hard.

Our Place uses fresh, never frozen wings, and fries them hard. They are ALWAYS crispy, and that is the single most important factor in making wings. Bar none. Above are the original hot wings. The sauce is a perfect consistency, perfectly coating the wings. A winner. I also like the dry spiced Chesapeake wings. They are basically just shaken with an Old Bay spice mixture, but they really hit the spot and are super crispy. The dry spicy exterior really soaks up the perfectly chunky rich blue cheese dressing, and maximizes the calorie intake.

The real surprise for me, however, was that I might just have liked the oriental sesame sauce the best. I can't remember having it there before, and I was beyond surprised at the complexity of the sauce, it was thick and sweet and perfectly complemented the wings. Dipping the original hot wings in the remaining Asian sauce produced a spicy, sweet, sticky wing that was more than I had hoped for. Our Place, you win again. I can't wait to go back, and really sink my teeth into another twenty to fifty wings.

The other big surprise was the crab fries. I was skeptical when I saw them on the menu, but once again, I was wrong. They were FAR superior to the lifeless cold Chickie and Pete's crab fries I have come to expect around the city. These were perfectly fried (no surprise) and the seasoning went great with the ranch dressing served on the side.

The Special, a homemade roast beef sandwich on rye with special sauce (a Thousand Island interpretation) and Swiss was delicious as always. The beef is perfectly tender and this is really a great indulgence with the gooey cheese and messy sauce held together by the slightly bitter rye.

The Southwest wrap, as can be expected, was nothing to write home about. A solid wrap with blackened chicken, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese. It was just what I had expected. I was so full I had to take the other half home.

The loaded baked potato topped with homemade chili was more than one man could be expected to finish. It was comfort food at its finest, which is what Our Place does best. It is the standard by which I measure all other traditional bar food. I wish it was closer to Philly.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cafe con Chocolate

2100 South Norwood Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145-3411
(215) 952-6878

I have heard a lot about Cafe con Chocolate, but I had yet to venture to this neighborhood in search of good food. It is actually not the kind of neighborhood I go to for anything, except crossing through it en-route to other destinations. It rides the line between being dangerous and backwards, with a healthy sprinkle of run-down store fronts and litter. Cafe con Chocolate, however, appears like a mirage, popping up when and where you would least expect it, on Snyder, between 21st and 22nd. When I was greeted by a rainy Sunday, I decided it was time. Nothing soothes the soul, and loads down the gut like Mexican food for brunch.

When I walked in, there were two older women, who either were still intoxicated from the evening before, woke up early enough to be borderline belligerently drunk by 10 am, or some combination thereof. Given the location, I was hardly surprised. So I grabbed a seat at the rear, and took a look at the menu. Tap water sans ice was immediately brought over, but there was no coffee order taken. Considering there were two employees working front of house and (including my table and the previously mentioned) a total of four customers, I was hoping to receive some coffee quickly. This is one of the first things ALL breakfast/brunch places should consider top priority. When people are awake on the weekend, they like to be caffeinated. I understand this is not universal, but for the brunch crowd it is pretty standard. So the waitress proceeds to not come over for about ten more minutes, while I scour the menu. All the while, listening to a strange smooth jazz play list of contemporary covers, and watching a computer monitor slideshow of said waitress on a trip somewhere. Two more people showed up, and I was worried all was lost. Would coffee even be an option now that there were six customers?

Well the coffee did come, however the order was taken with the food order. One Cafe con Chocolate (coffee with chocolate) and one black coffee, which took the same amount of time to get to us as the food. A huge issue for me. On a rainy day (or any day) when I am at brunch, I want to be sipping my beverage while waiting for my food. I would understand if they were backed up at the barista counter, but they were not. It was a huge disappointment. So the food came, along with the coffee, which was now too hot to drink until after I finished my torta. Oh yea, I ordered the chorizo and egg torta. It came on a crusty loaf of bread, and was HUGE. The ingredients were all tasty and included, sour cream and beans on one side of the bread, with chipotle mustard dip on the other. Packed in between was queso fresco, mozzarella cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, and avocado, along with the aforementioned chorizo and eggs. The eggs were moist and not over cooked, and the flavors were all there. I wish the chorizo had more bite/spice, as it was quite mild. Overall, this was a pretty great breakfast torta. It was hardly authentic, but it was good, and at $8, a generous portion.

My dining mate decided to be a bit more ambitious, and tried the huevos ahogados. It consisted of two eggs poached in salsa verde, with a side of refried beans, and chorizo was added to the order. On paper it sounded like it had potential (although I was skeptical), however in reality, it turned out to be a big flop. The dish lacked any kind of contrast of textures. It was basically a big bowl of warm salsa, with two poached eggs, some mashed beans, and chorizo. Everything in it was soft or chewy. It would have been a completely different story if there were some tortillas, or more reasonably, some chips served on the side. Or, perhaps even a spoon! Alas, there were none of the above, and the waitress then disappeared for about fifteen more minutes, and there was no longer any point. The flavor was there in this dish, but the execution was completely off point. There was no way to eat it, and the fork was very little help. It was a bowl of mush.

I like the idea of Snyder Ave. getting some love and offering something interesting besides the sadness that occupies most of the avenue west of Broad, but unfortunately, Cafe con Chocolate needs some work. I will try them again, but I will certainly have my coffee BEFORE I get there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sarcone’s Deli

736 South 9th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 922-1717

Sarcone's has been making bread in the Italian Market since 1918. They produce some of the best sandwich rolls in the city, and they opened a deli up the street from the bakery in the late 1990's. The deli has since branched out, and there are a couple of franchises in the surrounding suburbs. I have to say that they are a strong factor in my love for hoagies. I became picky at a young age, and began to weigh the finer points of different deli's, including: bread, meat and cheese selection, amount of ingredients, marinated veggies, etc. Although they are no longer my favorite, Sarcone's makes a consistently good sandwich.

I prefer the Italian hoagie at other establishments, but there are two sandwiches that Sarcone's offers that others do not, and I do really appreciate the opportunity to grab them every once in a while. As a side note, they have moved directly south of the original location, so look for the new sign. Below is the junkyard, which consists of sliced turkey, proscuitto, sauteed spinach, roasted peppers, sharp prov, fresh mozzarella, red wine vinegar, olive olive and herbs. This has always been on of my favorites, as I LOVE the large cubes of sharp prov and the fresh mozzarella, as well as the salty proscuitto combined with the mild turkey. Not to mention, all of these sandwiches (as long as you order a medium or larger) come on the famous Sarcone's rolls, which eat like a meal. They are crispy, seeded, and chewy, with a soft interior. Delicious.

The other sandwich I really like is the chicken cutlet Sicilian. They smear the bread with the DELICIOUS abruzzi cheese spread, and pile on roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and asparagus. I love the asparagus, as it is lightly sauteed to make it a bit tender. It adds an unexpected flavor profile that goes great with the rich (and I mean really rich) cheese spread.

The Italian is good, just nothing to write home about. Of course, anything would be good piled into that roll, so it is really no surprise. Sarcone's is a good place to bring anyone visiting who wants a real Philly hoagie. After you eat there, you can take them to some of the more interesting places and eat some really amazing sandwiches.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gooey Looie's

Gooey Looie's is STILL one of the best sandwich shops in the world. I haven't been for a while, and they are still on point, with copious amounts of ingredients, and the kind of attitude you can only find in South Philly. These pictures sum up the experience better than words, so I will let them do the talking. Oh, did I mention that a cheesesteak hoagie and an Italian were $13? Seriously.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Schmitter, home edition

I love the Schmitter. I really do. There is almost nothing that makes me as happy as eating one of these delicious, calorie laden gut bombs while watching the Phillies. One thing that compares favorably, is eating one in the comfort of my own home, while watching the Phils. So a quick run down of the ingredients is in order.

On the bottom, American cheese. Top that with ample amounts of sliced steak meat (not chopped). Next up are the fried onions, and fresh sliced tomatoes. After that, more cheese. Now you delicately plop some fried salami, homemade thousand island (ketchup, mayo, diced sweet pickles, salt, pepper, and a dash of chili sauce) and MORE CHEESE. After which, you simply close up shop with the lightly toasted top half of your kaiser bun.

This sandwich is remarkably simple to make, but it will really take your Phillies watching parties to the next level. I can't wait to have it again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vietnam Cafe

814 South 47th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19143-3613
(215) 729-0260

I have had Vietnam on my list for a long, long time. Unfortunately I am rarely in University City, and so I had not yet ventured to this restaurant. I recently found myself in the area, however, and I decided this would be a perfect opportunity to give it a try. The interior is well decorated, sleek and interesting. As I was in a particularly good mood, I decided to splurge on the $14 "flaming volcano" cocktail. It is well worth the money, as it arrives on fire, and is loaded with liquor. A good start to any weekend dinner.

For an appetizer, felt I had to try the "char grilled pork rolls." I love rice paper, and when it is rolled around char-grilled pork, lettuce, bean sprouts and fresh basil, there is no question it would be good. Well, there was a question, I suppose - I have eaten at some pretty shady Vietnamese restaurants - but this promised to be top notch.

The dipping sauce was made up of some shredded carrots, chili sauce, and ground peanuts in a hoisin-type sauce. The pork was crispy, with char-grilled ends, and when paired with the rich nutty dipping sauce, it was incredible. I think I could have eaten ten of these and gone home happy. But alas, I needed to try some entrees, and so I asked the server what he recommended. He recommended his favorite, the "Saigon noodle." It came out quickly, and was a savory blend of pan-fried soft flat noodles, shrimp, chicken, bean sprouts, tender greens, cucumber and crushed peanuts. I was blown away by the taste profile that came from this dish. It was served with a ramekin that had a rice wine vinegar sauce that I drizzled over the plate. I absolutely loved this dish. If there was a take-out place near my house that served this, I would order this on a regular basis. I was surprised with the subtlety that came through the combination of the sauce and the cooking liquid. It was amazing.

My dining partner chose the "shrimp curry." As most curries, it was served with sauteed shrimp with bell pepper, onion, lemon grass and light yellow coconut curry. It was not a spicy curry, but it was rich. I liked the curry, but I was sold on the Saigon noodle.

It had everything I was looking for in a comforting noodle dish. I will be back to Vietnam Cafe, and I can't wait. As an aside, they had the coolest hand dryer in the bathroom I have ever seen. It is made by Dyson, and is like a car-wash air-dryer for your hands. So cool. The air comes out in 400mph sheets. If that isn't reason enough to try this place, I don't know what would be.

Friday, April 16, 2010


702-704 North 2nd Street
Philadelphia PA
215-922-KONG (5664)

Kong has a Thursday night special, where all of the dumplings are $.50. You have to order three at a time, but it is still one heck of a deal. $15 for 30 dumplings (if you order every variety offered, like me). You can't beat it. I finally got around to checking it out, and it was pretty good. Not mind blowing, but taking into account the price, it's a sweet deal. If I were to do it again which I probably will at some point, I would go straight for the pork three ways, the sweet potato, the duck confit, and the Mongolian lamb. The others were okay, but I would have to say these were the standouts. The pork had crispy pieces of Chinese bacon scattered on top, and were just delicious. The Mongolian lamb were served in a crispy wonton, and had a drizzle of hoison that complemented the lamb nicely. The sweet potato were so buttery and savory that they tasted like dessert dumplings. Which was okay in my book. And the duck dumplings were rich and fatty, just as I would expect. A nice treat was the Kong rice ale on draft, crafted by Great Divide. It was delicious with the "rustic Hong Kong style street food" served there. I also liked the sushi style paper order form, where you just check which items you want. Overall, I was pretty happy, and the dumpling special was a real treat. Pictures and the menu items in full below. Sorry about the low light, but it's an "intimate" space.


Edamame and Tofu
Spinach dumpling wrapper, pan fried

Curried Vegetable
cabbage, edamame, asparagus, shiitake

Three Way Pork
Chinese bacon, braised pork, ground pork

Sweet Potato, Bacon and Green Apple
maple-soy dipping sauce

Mongolian Lamb
pickled eggplant, toasted pine nut, fried

Beef, Potato and Cabbage
ground beef, grated potato, scallion

Shrimp and Pork Wonton
ginger and scallion

Chinese Duck Confit
with leeks and cabbage

Chicken and Shiitake
soy braised chicken and shiitakes

Philly Cheesesteak
Beef, caramelized onions, mascarpone

(curried vegetable)

(pork three ways)

(sweet potato)

(Mongolian lamb)