Friday, March 30, 2012

Mr. Joe's Cafe

1514 S. 8th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 334-1414

I went to Mr. Joe's Cafe a while ago, but I completely forgot to write about it. I don't know how, it was easily one of my favorite meals of the year, and believe me, I've had a lot.

Mr. Joe's Cafe is a neighborhood spot in South Philly that will make you think you ended up at your friend's Italian grandparents' house. Everything about this place is adorable.

Mr. Joe's is owned by the Termini family (Termini Brothers is across the street) which means there is bound to be some delicious pastries involved.

Although at first blush, the prices may seem a bit steep for a lunch place, but the value is undoubtedly one of the best around. With your order, you get a complimentary glass of wine, some hearty bread, a salad, entree and dessert.

While the decor may be kitschy, the service and food are no joke. Everything is hearty and well prepared. I had decent tomatoes in my salad, in the winter, and the hearty bread sops all of the leftover oil and vinegar nicely.

In between courses I snuck back to peek into the kitchen. I have no idea how they put out the food that they do from that little room.

In the bathroom is the original deed to the land. Amazing.

The salad was delicious, but I was more excited for the main event. First up was the gnocchi in gravy. The red sauce here was an exercise in simplicity. The quality ingredients spoke for themselves, and the gnocchi was as light as air. Not to mention, this is a generous portion, even by my standards.

The hearty tomato sauce was slightly sweet, well seasoned, and just the right consistency.

Check out the mid-air cheesing shots.

The panini came highly recommended, so I decided to go with the fresh mozzarella, tomato and proscuitto. The rustic bread was doused with olive oil prior to construction, which added a nice lubrication to what could have been dry. Again, the simplicity in ingredients was greatly appreciated. Mr. Joe's Cafe uses no gimmicks, just carefully crafted, quality food.

Of course, this was not the end, there was still dessert (it IS owned by Joe Termini, after all). Each entree gets its own choice, so I went with the rum cake, and the Tiramisu. The Tiramisu was light, slightly rum tinged, and incredibly addictive. I was already stuffed, but no cake went uneaten.

The rum cake was indulgent. Although I didn't think I would like it just by looking at it, I was again impressed. The silky custard filling was not nearly as heavy as it looked, and it felt like a trip down memory lane – eating a cake that has probably been made the same way for decades.


When all was said and done, the gnocchi was $16 and the panini was $12 without tip. A steal. Seriously. A three course meal and a glass of wine at a laid back Italian place in South Philly, for less than $20 per person. Just don't come there in a rush. Sit back, take in the old neighborhood folks and enjoy the food. Because if you wouldn't enjoy this honest, delicious food, then you wouldn't be reading this in the first place.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wedge + Fig

160 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(267) 603-3090

Wedge + Fig (or is it Wedge and Fig?) is a small BYO bistro in Old City, and I desperately wanted to like it. But I didn't.

When you walk in the front door, there is a small shop and counter, backed by a wide-open kitchen - you can see straight through to the rear windows, all the way to their ivy'd fence. There was an incredibly awkward server/host there to make things confusing, mumbling about seating and stumbling around, but the space itself is fantastic. After a brief pause that seemed like an eternity, he managed to garble that there is a backyard-courtyard with additional seating.

You then walk back around the front of the store and back this tiny easement to a magical little oasis behind the store front and far off of the bustle of Third St. I was impressed. Mostly I was relieved he was not following me down this tiny alley.

The courtyard is great, it really has a relaxing vibe to it. Which might be a prelude to the service.

They were offering a Mad Men/March Madness(?) themed menu, so I had to bite on the specials.

After my dining partner and I were the first arrivals to the courtyard, we were instantly ignored for the next table - a group of touristy German girls sitting right next to us. We had no choice but to listen to him attempt to coax them to come to some karaoke night with him. It was a feeble attempt. This guy was like a poor man's Eddie Austin, minus the charm. Anyway, after we ordered a Lance Pryce (the character's name is actually "Lane," which should have been a sign of the errors to come), a Joan Harris and a Weaver's Way Pickle, we experienced a twenty-five minute hiatus. Things kept accelerating in the awkward and frustrating manner I had grown accustomed to. When the sandwiches came out, the Joan Harris was nicely grilled. However the Lan(c)e Pryce had a long hair sticking out of the chicken salad. I am pretty sure I spotted it before it even hit the table. Hair in chicken salad is one of my ultimate turn-offs. Something about mayo and human hair having been thoroughly mixed and set, that strikes the wrong chord. I quickly called the server back from space and alerted him. He replied "oh" and took it back. An apology would have gone a long way in this situation. Much longer than barely acknowledging the fact that there was someone's locks in my sandwich. Not these lox, but these. I tried to watch the kitchen, through the enormous back windows, intently from this point on, because I wanted to make sure they did not just pull the offending stray and "return to sender." However, it was put off for another five minutes. Luckily I could (cautiously) eat half of the other sandwich.

The brioche was nicely toasted, and filled with gorgonzola dolce, Sriracha glazed chicken, and caramelized onions. It was a good sandwich. But I was already pretty disgusted at this point.

When we had finished eating the other sandwich in its entirety, the Lan(c)e Pryce made an appearance. It was at least five minutes later. Which was kind of mystifying, as it was just chicken salad. Here's the other thing. It was good. Pretty tasty. But at this point, it would take more than Farmhouse cheddar, maharaja curry, apricots, and almonds to please me. Also, this sandwich was sort of like an illusion.

It looks good right?

Check out the bread ratio.

Even better view below.

A bread sandwich with a side of chicken salad. Yum. Besides the incompetent service, the health code violation, and the fact that both the pickle I never received and the hairy chicken salad were still on the bill (paid for the sandwich not the pickle), I really might have liked Wedge + Fig. The atmosphere is quite nice, and the ingredients are locally sourced and carefully thought out. However the execution is not there.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hot Diggity

630 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 886-9253

South Street has some very hit-or-miss food spots. Although, in general, South Street is better left to teenagers and frat boys at night, there are a couple of diamonds in the rough. I think everyone has their own nostalgic look back at how South Street "used to be," but in reality it is about the same as it ever was. Anyway, Hot Diggity has been open for quite a bit, but unfortunately I had not yet ventured there. However! To my credit, I once tried around midnight (they close at eleven).

The whole store is decorated with art work by the amazingly talented Hawk Krall, and I wish I could buy every single thing he has done.

They also have an amazing section of gourmet sodas.

Basically you come in, order at the counter and wait for them to bring out your food. The fries are not to be missed, especially because they have eighteen dipping sauces.

I went with this month's "monthly special," the Swedish Dog, as well as the Philly Surf & Turf. The Swedish Dog came with an Ikea pamphlet instructing you how to put it together (they do that part for you) and eat it. It was amazing.

This hot dog was phenomenal. It starts (as do all of their dogs) with a Sabretts dog, on a Liscio's roll and comes with Bibb lettuce, a lemon vinaigrette, tarragon rock shrimp salad, dill, salmon roe, and crispy potato sticks. The varying textures, flavors, and tastes made for a complete package that was far and away greater than the sum of its parts. The lemon lightened everything up, while the shrimp salad boasted perfected poached shrimp with delicately applied tarragon flavor (which can quickly get overpowering). I also loved that they used roe on there to give it a briny pop every once in a while. This was an awesome special, and I would not hate them leaving this one on the board indefinitely. And just look at those colors.

In between bites of deliciously crafted dog, I got into some fries. These fries were a bit thicker than I usually prefer (of the Belgian frite variety), but they were well cooked and actually quite good. For dipping sauces, I can't recommend the HD (Hot Diggity) sauce enough. It was a bit spicy and had a smack of ginger. I would get two of them next time. The chipotle malt vinegar and the garlic and herb aioli were not bad, they just couldn't hang with the HD (see orange sauce below).

Finally, I had to get to the Philly Surf & Turf. This dog is a nod to the old school dogs that used to be served around the city, and still are, in some places. Hot Diggity, instead of smashing a fish cake in with the dog, wraps it in fish, breads it and fries the whole lot. They top it with traditional pepper hash and spicy mustard. This one is another winner. I absolutely loved the crunchy fish cake wrapped around the dog; the cool hash (it is not spicy), mixed with spicy brown mustard was like a delicious trip back in time.

Hot Diggity is – without a doubt – one of the best, if not THE BEST hot dog spot in the city. I will be back shortly to try most everything on the menu. I only WISH they were open later, so that I could balance out beers on South Street with some tasty hot dogs. On second thought, I would probably eat far too many of these and/or hang out on South Street more often if that were the case, so maybe it's for the best.