Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post: Sabrina's Cafe

[& Spencer's Too]
1802 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 636-9061

Let me start by saying that is the dumbest name for a restaurant that I have ever come across. I understand that you named your flagship cafe after your daughter, and just because you had a son soon after opening your second restaurant, it doesn't mean you have to tag his name on there too. If anything, it's more of an insult to the boy. Either give him his own restaurant, or leave him out of it entirely.

Secondly, I want to say that the quality of food and consistency in its preparation is so close to that of the original in the Italian Market (on Christian at 9th Street), that you would think the kitchen staff are literally in both places simultaneously. 

I've been eating their food (on and off) as long as I've been in Philadelphia, which is nearing 7 years now, and it hasn't changed at all - which is a really good thing, and a trait that's tough to come across in the ever-changing geography of this city's food scene. 

My long standing dish of choice (as an omnivore) is the vegetarian cheese steak, and although they offer delicious daily brunch specials, I'm always more in the mood for the same thing. For $9.49 (which also hasn't changed after all these years) you get an enormous seeded Sarcone's roll that is over-flowingly packed with seitan, sauteed onions, sauteed long hots and an abundance of melted provolone; a side of fries, either regular or sweet potato (they also offer 'parmesan fries' but they're merely the reg.s with a sorry sprinkling of shredded parm, so I don't recommend those); and their daily mix of whatever coleslaw they've thrown together. NOTE: In addition to the staple shredded cabbage, I've experienced day old apples, cherries, raisins, you name it and they've made a slaw that contains it - and I usually never even touch that part of the plate.

The sandwich is filling and satisfying, almost too much for one lunch when you start in on the pile of fries. The seitan is suprisingly flavorful and juicy (not sure how this is possible), the onions are perfectly browned and add a sweet and buttery contrast to the squish of the fake meat. Of course the long hots & provolone speak for themselves. The roll I had today was semi-soft all around, with the Sarcone's trademark looking better than I've seen it in a while. All in all, a great value for a delicious vegetarian feast.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pizzeria Pesto

1925 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-6840

When I heard there was another potato pie on Broad Street, I new I had to make it a point to get there to check it out. After the snow started this week, I figured it was as good a time as any to grab a couple of pizzas and wait out the "thundersnow."

I called ahead and it took only 15 minutes to prepare my pies because there was no one out, due to the aforementioned storm. I decided to go for the potato pie, and the "Quattro Stagioni." The potato pie featured thin sliced potatoes, ricotta, rosemary, roasted garlic, and mozzarella. This is a bit of a change up from the potato pie by which all others are measured, but I was willing to give it a go. Well, it wasn't too bad. It was actually pretty okay, but no match for the current champ. Not enough garlic, or rosemary for my taste, and the cheese was good, but made it really quite rich. La Rosa wins on simplicity in my book.

The Quattro was also good, a four section pie with prosciutto, (canned) mushrooms, (canned) artichokes, and (canned) black olives. This was also a decent pie, but it wasn't as good as my usual go-to, the Italian, from Franco Luigi's. The Italian is basically the same deal, but not in quarters, holding prosciutto, olives, and roasted peppers. Except it is also better. I guess the Quattro would be good if you had a picky group of eaters and each person wanted one of those four options exclusively. However, at that point, I would probably question my choice of friends and then order whatever I felt like.

It's nice having another pizza option in South Philly, but there are two places within a couple of blocks that do some of the same things better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jake's Sandwich Board

Although I have sung the praises of Jake's many a time (here, here, and here) I hadn't tried the Fire Steak, and so I felt I needed to share the experience. First, it's really, really hot. Deep fried long hots and fire sauce make sure of that. Second, it's really quite good, which is taken care of by the thin sliced rib-eye, fried mushrooms and onions and the provolone cheese. Last, it's got great texture, which is due to the aforementioned deep fried long hots on top of the crispy Carangi roll. Definitely worth a shot. Just be ready for some heat.

Also, if you are feeling like a fat kid, try a Mensch (brisket, horseradish sauce, fried onions and prov) haystack style, which is served over a bed of crispy fries. So good, yet so bad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pagano's Market

701 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 925-4700

This place is located in a weird concourse under Market Street that I never even knew existed. It's really close to my internship this spring, so it tends to be one of the lunch favorites for a quick and close bite. Not that it's really good, it's just convenient. It's like a combo of DiBruno's, Old Nelson, and a supermarket; but lacking the quality of DiBruno's, the price of Old Nelson, and the convenience of a supermarket.

You basically stand in a line, order food that is pre-made, and if they have to "assemble" a hot sandwich, they unabashedly use a microwave. It's sad. I don't want a $9 chicken cutlet that has been sitting around which you just nuke on a roll. I have to imagine, you probably don't either.

You then get your sandwich, stand in another line to pay (took about 3-4 minutes), and then either sit in the weird area provided, or take yours to go.

Everything seems good in theory, but it's a lack of attention to detail that derails everything here. Plus, when there are so many better places to eat just a few blocks further, why would you bother with Pagano's? This all being said, it was jam packed after 1pm, with people eager to hand over what falls on the high end of sandwich prices, for an inferior product. I went with the "Classico" which contained prosciutto, sopressata, salami, hot coppa and roasted peppers. I always forget that people still use roasted peppers, because they aren't really that good, they're normally cold and slimy. My second gripe, was that the sandwich was pre-made and just sitting in the case. Thirdly, I asked for oil, and got very little. Dry. Fourth, THEY CUT THE BREAD ALL THE WAY THROUGH! WHY? Everything was sliding all over the place, shooting out the back, however it was not due to a well oiled sandwich, it was because of the wet, mealy tomato slices.

My specialty sandwich was $8 too much.  I am sure I will be back there, due to the weird location of my office, but once the temp. gets above freezing, I will venture further from the convenience of the underground market.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tyson Bee's

33rd and Spruce
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Well, full disclosure. Tyson Bee's is awesome. Ha. Seriously, they are probably the best food truck at which I have eaten in Philly. They are cashing in on the (current?) Korean fusion fad that swept the nation a while ago and has been sweeping our fair city as of late. They make some seriously tasty food. And the truck is generally bad ass.

Tyson Wong Ophaso, previously of Iron Chef fame, runs an incredible cart out in University City, right in the middle of UPenn. If I went to school there, I would eat at this truck seven to eight days a week. It's street food done gourmet. Your taste buds will be in heaven. The biggest problem: still wanting more after finishing three separate menu items. However, that is my own problem of completely ignoring moderation, something I have yet to master.

I went for the Korean BBQ short rib burrito, grilled BBQ lemongrass pork Banh Mi, and the red chicken curry over rice. I dove straight into the burrito first. It was straight out of my food dreams (which, disconcertingly, I have almost every night!). Tender, smokey, sweet beef, a variety of pickled veggies that had an incredibly addictive tart smack, and perfectly cooked rice, wrapped in a tender flour tortilla. Incredible.

Next stop, the Banh Mi. Although I LOVE traditional Banh Mi, the problem can sometimes be unwanted pop-ins from gristly, chewy pieces of meat. Problem solved, only order Banh Mi from this truck. I kid, I kid. But seriously, this was a real treat, and a steal at $5. Cucumber, carrots, radish, banana pepper, cilantro, a drizzle of spicy mayo and meltingly tender pork made for one of the best of the "Koagie" variety around. Everything at this place just "popped" with flavor. If I had to make one change in my entire meal, it would only be to wish that those carefully thought out ingredients were lovingly laid into an authentic vietnamese hoagie roll. The Amoroso'ish hoagie roll was just lacking that crispy exterior that some of the more authentic places use as a delivery vessel. That being said, I am certainly going to order this again, and most likely within the week.

The red curry was the grand finale. Only because I figured the shelf life on the tortilla and bread of the other two was much more time/liquid sensitive. Suprisingly, the red curry was, once again, incredible. I only say surprisingly, because if you go to a place that specializes in fusion, and order something traditional, you might, rightfully so, expect it to be an afterthought. But the red curry was executed with the same level of precision and love as the rest of the food. I immediately thought of how it was actually BETTER than its Chinatown counterparts. Needless to say, I implemented a scorched earth policy with any of the remaining holdouts I managed to find in any of the corners of the take out containers. I am talking - not a grain of rice was left when I was through with this meal. And all this inside of my car, because it was so cold outside!

To put it lightly, if you are within any reasonable distance (100 miles?) and you don't try Tyson Bee's for lunch, you are only hurting yourself. They are open 11-6, I believe Monday through Friday at least, and possibly weekends, and as can be expected, cash only. Take a nice bike ride across the new South Street bridge, turn right on 33rd and it's right there. Just be prepared for some of the best food you have eaten in a long time.

Finally, a salad that eats like a meal

Monday, January 17, 2011


848 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 687-1426

I heard through the grapevine that Kennett may have the best new burger in town, and so I headed to what used to be the Lyon's Den to see if that was really the case.

The interior is sleek yet rustic, and makes you feel hip yet not too over the top so as to come off as pretentious. For a starter we went with the roasted parsnips. Although this is something I would usually never order, I was really impressed with how good they were. They came out as beautiful heirloom parsnips which they roasted until perfectly tender, finished with pepper, herbs, and some shaved parm. They were almost like roasted fries. Absolutely delicious. They also had some fennel fronds in there which added an interesting twist. I would definitely order this one again.

Everyone at the table was in the mood for a burger, which was good because the pizza oven is not yet operational, and so we ordered two lamb burgers and two hamburgers.

The hamburger consists of bone marrow, salt & pepper, pickled onion, lettuce, and anchovy mayonnaise. Its simplicity is what makes it so magical. Earthy, rich ingredients, and most importantly, a perfectly cooked medium rare burger makes this one of the most delicious I have had anywhere. When I first dove in, the anchovy mayo was a bit overwhelming, but when it was given just a minute more to heat up and slightly dissolve into the warm meat and soak into the bun, it was sublime. I had to consciously stop for a minute or I would have eaten this little piece of heaven far too quickly, which was good, because I then had the opportunity to seize my next victim, the lamb burger.

Look at the perfect pink interior. The puffy brioche was a perfect complement for this exceptionally well thought out offering. The bone marrow lent itself to keeping the meat quite juicy.

The lamb burger might have even been better than its beefy counterpart. Seriously. Once again, they saved the burger from traditional overcrowding and let the quality of the components shine. The smoked paprika, cucumber and yogurt slaw with capers, shaved onion, purple cabbage, and toasted cumin was the perfect accompaniment for the rich lamb, and once again, the roll saved the day by keeping everything together. Hearty enough to stand up to the natural juices, yet not so much so that you were just chewing roll, it was perfect. Like the hamburger, the lamb was cooked to a perfect medium rare. This is probably the most amazing part of the meal. It's been quite some time since a place has gotten medium rare perfect, much less gone four-for-four on the temperature scale. Both burgers are served simply with a side of braised collards and a pickle. Nothing more needed. Cheers to you, Kennett. You certainly have my heart and my stomach for the moment.