Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Buttercream Cupcake Truck

Love Park

I'm not much for sweets, especially in the middle of my work day. I prefer to have a steaming hot cup of black coffee to give me the necessary afternoon boost. Today, however, with a staff meeting fast approaching, I thought I'd kiss some ass and bring in some treats to share, and made the trek over to Love Park.

I guess in the wake of Far From Home's retirement, a few new contenders have taken to occupying Philadelphia's center city locale. (Pizza? I guess Pitruco will have to be another day's experience.)

Buttercream's menu offers a variety of different cupcakes, with a few that are somewhat unique, but not too off-the-wall.

I decided on a six-pack of the following, from left to right, top to bottom: pumpkin with cream cheese, red velvet with cream cheese, chocolate with peanut butter, chocolate with chocolate ganache, banana with Nutella, and vanilla with vanilla.

I cut three up to share (small staff), with the anticipation of eating the rest later tonight - sharing with roommates, of course. Unfortunately, I don't think I even want to go through the trouble to carry the three remainders home with me. Anyhow, we sampled the chocolate/PB, vanilla/vanilla and banana/Nutella.

They were all cold, like almost out-of-the-freezer-for-one-hour cold. The vanilla was so dense, there was not a lick of air to be found inside. Like a heavy pound cake meets angel food cake, it was a bit flavorless with no vanilla coming through. Sugar, yes; vanilla, no. The icing was more of the same - there was definitely buttery creaminess here, with a smack of sugar, but no vanilla.

The chocolate/PB was compared to, "Duncan Hines cake mix out of the box," (only not as moist) and when my colleague suggested this, I couldn't agree more. The chocolate cake was also heavy and the icing, again, was primarily a butter-sugar whip with the very slightest hint of peanut butter.

The banana was more like a muffin than a cupcake and again, was lacking much banana flavor. Need I explain the 'Nutella icing'? I didn't think so. It was more of the same, flavorless filler.

Nothing was rich or delectable about these cupcakes. There wasn't much to talk about, other than the obvious sugar content – which is expected, but not as the primary flavor from a cupcake purveyor whose claim is "fresh cream butter, dark chocolate and whole eggs."

Maybe I don't remember what a cupcake is supposed to taste like, or maybe they're just meant to be eaten fresh out of the oven, but what I do know, is that these confections are mediocre and likely made at least one day in advance; not fresh and served at an undesirably cold temperature. I won't be sharing the remaining three, the roommates can have their pick. Note: I came back and tried the additional three last night. The red velvet was the clear winner. An eight hour stint at room temperature really helped. The pumpkin was pretty good as well, though incredibly sweet. And the chocolate ganache was like pound cake.

-Posted by gabulous

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Franco's Pizza

2573 Tulip Street
Philadelphia, PA 19125-2241
(215) 425-9133

I already know I should not be doing this, because I hold Franco's like a toy I don't want anyone else to play with, but I guess I have to share at some point. Franco's is my go-to pizza joint in the city of Philadelphia. There, I said it. Now I am not talking about brick oven this, that and the other thing. I am talking about reasonably priced take-out pizza that is better than most any other pizza in town. Regardless of style, or how many organic bees harvested the honey that some other place drizzles on my $35 pie, Franco's is gourmet pizza, from a local pizza joint, and in short, it's heavenly.

Franco used to own a Spatola's pizza restaurant in Southampton (on the outskirts of the great northeast), until he got out of the sit-down biz and decided to open an amazing pizza joint with his buddy Tony, right here in Kensington. Strange, but deliciously true.

Although they offer the traditional and unexplainable wide variety of items on their menu (why does EVERY pizza place serve club sandwiches?), the goods here are the pizzas, and if the mood strikes you, the strombolis. They also throw in an order of garlic knots with every order. Usually I would be ho-hum about this, except for two things. First of all, they are FREE. Secondly, they are delicious. Light, airy and jammed with garlic, I usually eat those to keep True Blood off of my TV. In all seriousness, they are little bursts of irresistible, buttery-garlic joy.

But really my true love is their upside down pie. Thin crust, cheese on bottom, sauce on top. Done. The sauce gets to shine in this one, and, my God, does Franco's make a nice sauce. Fresh, sweet, slightly salty with a garlic bite, I always get a side for dipping my garlic knots into.

This pizza works even better the next day. Give it a quick bake in the oven or toaster oven and it crisps up beautifully. Pizza is always better after its second trip to the oven, in my infallible opinion at least.

The regular pies are another winner, and the addition of roasted garlic (whole cloves!) and pepperoni is one of my favorite combos.

Also try the buffalo chicken (not shown), as a reasonably priced, gourmet-style backup pie. The stromboli is great when you have a crowd, and really pack in the bang for your buck. Below is the chicken special, with fried onions, green peppers, marinated chicken, sauce and cheese. Nothing over the top, but a solid contender. It gets a bit wet inside fresh out of the oven (a usual problem) but once it cools down everything solidifies and it becomes quite delicious.

These 'bolis are a bit unusual, or should I say unique, in that they're left open a crack at the top. Franco says it helps to allow the inside dough to get hit with a little more heat - in order to avoid being undercooked. Genius.

The special steak stromboli is one of my other favorites, with an "abundance of cheese," sauce, steak, pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper, onion and tomatoes. Sort of the "kitchen sink" of stromboli – I am a big fan.

Look at those pepperonis for presentation!

Another specialty pie.

Where the magic happens.

The bottom line is that Franco's is everything a pizza place should be. THIN CRUST, highly affordable, simple perfection. I will take it over my old standbys south of Lombard any day. Try it, just not all at once, because I like my pies ready in 20.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cafe Estelle

444 North 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123-4124
(215) 925-5080

Although not much to look at from the outside (it's housed in the ground floor of a building full of condos), Cafe Estelle is like the girl at the dance that seems homely at first, but it turns out she is a real sleeper.

They make some fantastic brunch items, including a delicious rotating stuffed French toast. Although I usually don't go for the French toast, I am a big fan of theirs. They cut out the top of the bread halfway, as though they are making toads in a hole, stuff, and replace. This particular morning, it was served with a light creamy filling of ricotta, honey, and pear and served with warm maple syrup. Slightly sweet, slightly savory, and totally delicious.

In addition, they had a special that was impossible to pass up. Salt cod fritter benedict. SAY WHAT? That's right. Perfectly poached eggs atop sweet and salty cod fritters, coupled with an orange/citrus hollandaise. This is a variation on the brunch staple that works better than the original.

The homefries were legit as well. Crispy ends, soft interiors, this is what homefries are all about. Cafe Estelle is one of the better brunch spots around, and you will get to shave quite a bit of wait time off of some of the more well-known spots. Just be advised that parking kind of sucks (bring change for a meter or go around the corner to fifth and park for free).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Liberty Steaks and Hoagies

1927 Macdade Blvd
Woodlyn, PA 19094

Another day, another DelCo hoagie joint. This one was a special request from an old friend who informed me that this was the first thing she wanted after child birth. So I knew it must be good.

I had never heard of Liberty before, which isn't surprising, as they don't even have a website or any internet presence. They also do a significant amount of crappy beer takeout, and I think there is a tavern attached to the other side. On second thought, I might have to try them again in order to drink a beer at the shady bar and then walk to the other side and get an amazing Italian hoagie.

The inside is incredibly sparse, and from the looks of things, they have been there for a long, long time.

No frills, just pick a sandwich, order and wait. Not a huge menu, but just right. When I got my Italian back to its final destination, a beautiful oil stain had appeared on the paper, which let me know I was in for a treat. A messy treat.

They follow the long-standing DelCo ordinanace: 1 DelCo Sandwich Code §2304 (1)(a)(2) there shall be meat both below and atop the cheese and vegetable components of any sandwich. I sure wouldn't want to run afoul of the law down there either.

I got "the works" on mine, which, again, consists of everything hot and everything sweet. I am still not entirely sure what that means, but it appears to cover most of my topping bases.

There is nothing gourmet about this beauty, it's more along the line of "baseball hoagies" I grew up with. Only to the maximum. Baseball hoagies were the cheap sloppy hoagies we used to hawk in order to raise money for little league. They were delicious, because they didn't over-do it. Meat, cheese, some shredded lettuce and an oiled up roll that will fill you up on a budget. This is the grown up version.

My main mistake was thinking it would be good form to eat this entire sandwich before doing a presentation. But then again, I was a victim of deliciousness. So the next time you find yourself on MacDade down in Chester on purpose, this is about the best thing you can do to improve your predicament.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Buick Discovery + Food & Wine Event

Last weekend, we had the marvelous opportunity attend the Buick Discovery + Food & Wine event (you actually could have too).

We got to test drive some cars.

After we signed in at the kiosks.

Female photo (not my painted nails) below, with Ming recipe on the event passes.

We had a quick nosh before the demos started.

The first group got to drive first. This was great, as I had the opportunity to drive the new Regal Turbo. It was a damn nice car, similar to the A6's I have driven previously. Our gracious test rider let me open her up on the short test drive, and let's just say, this car can move.

Here is a guy talking about the Enclave.

After that we had a pastry demo with Ben Roche

He applies molecular gastronomy to desserts.

His s'more "bombs" were nothing short of incredible.

He also made caramel soy sauce ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Awesome. I mean it was one of the best things I have eaten. That s'more next to it? A dried marshmallow "wick," and a chocolate ball filled with liquid graham cracker. Hell yes.

Here is a shot of the next chef, Jonathan Sawyer. I forget the name of the sous chef, but it didn't matter because all he did was stand there much like that.

He (they?) made ratatouille stuffed fried zucchini blossoms. Absolutely delicious to eat, will probably never make them at home.

Finally, after way too long without wine at an event sponsored by Food & Wine, we merged groups and headed to the main event. I was particularly excited to see Ming Tsai, as he is a legend in the food world. He came out to much fan fare, and did not disappoint.

He was witty, sarcastic, slightly off-color and enthusiastic. The perfect combination for an entertainer. He really made it apparent, the difference between the chefs we saw earlier, and a superstar.

He started with a soy noodle chicken. Nothing too crazy, but a satisfying dish. I actually went home and made stir fry the next two nights in a row. Thanks for the inspiration, Ming.

He waxed-poetic about his beloved Kyocera knives, and indeed threw a piece of ginger up and caught it on the blade. Show-off.

One of our group members correctly answered a trivia question, because I told them the answer (it was Thomas Keller – the answer, not the friend), so they were able to get a sample of his second dish.

It was a mango and pepper pork stir fry, he called it his "sweet and sour pork." I think this one was more for show, as it came out bland and kind of chewy. Nevertheless, it was really just a dish for him to demo techniques. Which must have seemed like insanity to the audience member that asked how he learned to flip food in a pan. Really lady?

We had an awesome time, received a free signed cookbook from Ming, drank some mediocre wine, and tasted soy sauce ice cream. What did YOU do on your Saturday night?