Monday, April 30, 2012

Hip City Veg

127 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 278-7605

HipCityVeg, one word or three? I'm not sure, but either way, I've decided to call it TimeMoneyCalories, because that's what I wasted on a cool, windy day during my lunch hour on this recent visit to the new Rittenhouse eatery.

In case the title leaves you guessing, it's a strictly vegetarian joint that opened a few weeks ago in what used to be Pad Thai Shack – talk about quick turn-over. It's "fast food" for health nuts, vegetarians, etc. with a pretty comprehensive menu that offers a range of plant-based salads, sandwiches, wraps and sides.

The inside is small, but clean and modern with an open kitchen – the line runs the length of the space, its only separation being a chest-high counter. It's nice to see what's going on in there, and while I took a late lunch, even at 2pm, this place was packed with a steady flow of customers so I didn't get the opportunity to really sneak a good peak.

After little deliberation, I decided to order the Crispy Hipcity Ranch and a side of sweet potato fries (they don't offer regular ones). After nearly 10 minutes, my name was called and I retrieved my bag.

Not surprising that the packaging was, dare I say it, "hip." It was clean and really driving home the whole, "we recycle" thing, but I found myself having trouble breaking the sandwich out of its little tightly pleated shell. There was sauce everywhere to begin with.

The Hipcity Ranch came with battered chick'n, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles & peppercorn ranch on some sort of large, really bread-y, dense brioche roll. I took one bite and realized that I'd have to deconstruct this thing to even try and enjoy it. The bread was 5/6ths of the sandwich, and it was d-r-y. The ranch wasn't ranch, it was like a bland soy-based mayo that offered moisture, but really no flavor.

I pulled the chick'n out and ate it first. It WAS crispy, and pretty delicious. With a well-seasoned batter with the punch of coarse ground black pepper, it reminded me of a sassy McDonald's crispy chicken, only 3 times the price, for (most likely) the same (soy-based) ingredients. All of the bread and its 'ranch' dressing sat idly nearby, waiting to join the paper bag in the can.

The sweet potato fries were good. Not crispy, but still good, likely because their mate, a cilantro-black bean dip, was the highlight of the meal. My chick'n patty definitely saw a few dunks in this stuff as well. It was flavor-packed with bits of cilantro and tasted like a fresh Tex-Mex ranch.

Sadly, I can't say another visit will be in order, especially when a $14 price tag leaves me mostly with food waste. Next time I'll go around the corner to McD's when a crispy chicken sandwich is what I'm craving.

-posted by gabulous

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ro-Lynn Deli

3407 Edgmont Avenue
Brookhaven, PA 19015
(610) 872-9575

The DelCo hoagie hunt will forever be ongoing, but today, Ro-Lynn had exactly what I was looking for. Truth be told, I was driving past, noticed the deli, almost kept driving, but I spotted my favorite Liscio's rolls out front and made a u-turn. I also don't know why every place has a "Godfather" hoagie, but I will be trying the one at Ro-Lynn soon.

They have about everything you could ever want in a deli at this spot.

The chicken cutlets had me intrigued.

I was also charmed by the "specialtie sandwichs" sign.

In the end, I went with a buffalo chicken cutlet hoagie.

The sandwich was lovingly constructed, with cutlet, lettuce, tomato, blue cheese, and wing sauce on a Liscio's roll. I swear these are about the best rolls ever.

The cutlets themselves were well seasoned, and perfectly cooked. The sandwich was certainly messy, which made it even better. Everything was in perfect order.

I really loved this spot. From the great service and ample selection, to the well-crafted hoagies. This is exactly what makes Philadelphia (and the burbs) the best place to eat in the world. You could be driving past a small deli that you didn't even know about, and it turns out to be a fantastic new (to you) secret spot.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest Post by Caitlin O: Zavino Wine Bar Pizzeria

112 S. 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Any place that makes you feel okay about ordering more than one pizza pie easily deserves a rating of three cheesesteaks. The fourth comes as a result of fresh ingredients and crisp flavors in a mildly comforting way.

Zavino Wine Bar Pizzeria sits on the corner of 13th and Sansom, among other popular hot spots like El Vez and Raw. The layout of this eatery is a lot like its pizza: thin and understated, yet surprisingly adequate. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar, you’ll be greeted by friendly bartenders and quick service. The proximity to the wood burning oven is just an added bonus that teases your senses and intrigues your taste buds.

Lining the back of the bar are a few high tops and a row of tightly packed booths that sit along the windowed walls. On a nice night you could be lucky enough to get a seat outside – and don’t worry if there’s rain, the awning will keep you dry.

As a party of three on a Saturday night, we weren’t surprised that there was a 40 minute wait – Zavino does not take reservations. But aside from this little glitch, the hostess pleasantly took our phone number to call us when our table opened up, allowing us to pop into another bar down the street as we waited for our table. Just a few minutes shy of a half hour we were getting a call that our table was ready.

Aside from a large selection of red, white, and sparkling wines, Zavino also offers several Victory drafts, a handful of bottled beer, and a few specialty cocktails. In the mood for something other than wine and beer, I took the waitress’ suggestion and went with the Rosemary Peach Sangria.

The concoction combines white wine, peach brandy, and Prosecco. But the sweetness of those three beauties is tamed with the blunt earthy spice of fresh rosemary. The sangria was refreshing with a bit of a kick, perfect for a warm night.

When it came to the food we started with a Tasting Board, a plank of wood adorned with the chef’s selection of meats, cheeses, vegetables, fresh baked pita, and a trio of spreads. On this particular night our Tasting Board came with a mound of salty prosciutto, buttery salami, a whole roasted red pepper, pickled onions and carrots, two triangles each of drunkin' goat cheese (although more on the mild side) and Pecorino Romano. Our spreads included a tangy whole grain mustard, fig jelly (which went amazingly with the meats and cheeses), and strawberry rhubarb jelly (a little too perfumey for my taste). Although a little on the pricey side ($18 for the board) the ingredients were fresh, the combinations were inventive, and most of all it kept up busy picking while we waited for the pizza.

The pizza came out just as we picked the plank bare. They were hot from the oven, and a few inches larger than a personal sized pizza. My warning comes now – don’t be shy – order more than one! The crust is thin and you can easily get away with ordering one pie per member in your party. It seems excessive, but you’ll have a hard time choosing between your options. Make life easier on yourself and splurge.

Our first pizza was The Joey, topped with Berkshire pork sausage, Fior Di Latte, crushes tomato, spinach, garlic, chili flakes, and provolone cheese. This pizza had it all, juicy sausage, healthy veggies, and the perfect subtle thrill of heat. The flavors were balanced and no component was too overpowering.

Our second pizza was The Stache. This one started with a whole wheat crust topped with pistachio pesto, Fior Di Latte, Parmigiano Reggiano, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and baby arugula. The name is clever, but the pistachio pesto seemed a little heavy handed in comparison to the rest of the ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of everything that comes on this pie, I couldn’t seem to get past the thick texture of the pesto. I was really looking forward to tasting the lemon vinaigrette against the arugula (one of my favorite greens), but every bite I took came up a little short. I wouldn’t say this pizza was bad, but in comparison to The Joey, which came with a generous amount of sausage and cheese, ironically this one felt a little heavier in the waist.

Overall I would give Zavino 4 cheesesteaks out of 5. The pizza is delicious, the staff is friendly and accommodating, and the atmosphere is comforting. The only reason I wouldn’t give Zavino a 5 cheesesteaks is because some might find the prices a little steep for the portion size (price of pizzas range from $14-$18). But if you’re looking for fresh ingredients and an interesting combination of flavors, this is not the place to miss.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Bros. 5th St. Deli

16 West 5th Street
Chester, PA 19013
(610) 874-3868

As the DelCo hoagie quest continues, I was pointed to this little hole-in-the-wall in downtown(?) Chester. So, I threw caution to the wind, got in my tank, and ventured into Chester proper.

As you can see, about every other place on the block was boarded up. Like a glimmer of hope, the Italian Bros. 5th St. Deli was smack dab in the middle of the block, still standing.

I think the sky is pretty much always this color in Chester.

When you get inside, the first thing you notice is the decor: all of the memorabilia representing Philadelphia athletes, and then other athletes, and then I looked closer.

The Rock!

They have about the same menu as every other Italian deli.

I had no choice but to go with the "Godfather Hoagie."


At $9.25, it was not cheap. But it was definitely sizable.

According to their menu online, it includes: "Sopressata, prosciutto, pepper, ham and shrimp provolone served on a seeded loaf". I am still interested in seeing what this shrimp provolone is all about, but for now, sharp will have to do. It came with the traditional prosciutto, sopressata, and pepper ham. It also boasted sharp provolone and was served on a nice seeded roll. Notice anything weird?

That's right, they used cherry tomatoes. I don't think I have ever seen that on an Italian hoagie. It also came with lettuce, onion, sweet and hot peppers. The hots were roasted long hots, and they packed a pretty healthy punch.

All in all, this was a solid, meat-wrapped hoagie. For some reason, there was just not much "pop" to it. I don't know what it was missing, maybe a little vinegar? But it was still a solid sandwich. Just not my favorite ever. I would definitely go back, but maybe ask for that bit of vinegar next time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


32 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 324-3840

Crisp is a falafel-based transplant from New York. You can probably already tell this isn't going to end well.

Located just north of Chestnut on 18th, I figured it was a good time to get my Center City falafel fix, although I knew going into this that I should probably have just walked over to Mama's. Mostly because their website has the tagline "Syncs your tastes with your conscience." Yea, I will take my lunch without the side of smugness, thanks.

Crisp has the usual sandwich building station that you would find at most burrito/falafel/sandwich places. They do have some interesting combinations, however.


After spying the sad buns for the "falafel burgers" I decided to stick to the pita sandwiches. One "Athenian" and one "African" sandwich was where I landed. I must admit I was totally drawn in at first by the cardboard to-go containers.

They even come with ironic instructions.

So, I unzipped and began. Eating. The Athenian was up first. It comes with herbed yogurt, Greek salad, green onions, olives, and feta. The feta was tasty, as was the tangy Greek yogurt. The falafel itself was okay, it had a nice flavor and was full of herbs, but it was not crispy in the least. Kind of an issue when your whole schtick is reliant on the single word "crisp." I found it pretty decent to eat, but was less than impressed with the mild hot sauce they served it with.

I also thought that the other sauce-on-the-side was spicy peanut sauce, but it turned out to be nothing more than bland tahini.

The African was more of a let-down. I was expecting harissa-based flavors to be popping out of the pita – I wanted some sizzle with my steak, err vegetarian sandwich. I was expecting more North African peanut sauce, sweet potatoes, and habanero harissa sauce, and less corn salad, cherry tomatoes, and green onions. Well not really fewer green onions, but for the first four-fifths, this was like eating an exclusively tomato and corn salad sandwich. It turned out all of the other goodness was at the very bottom. Bummer. When I got to the very bottom, it was pretty good. But the poor execution was the problem.

My major problems, and the reason for the two cheesesteak rating are that two sandwiches and ice water was over $19 (water is free), the ingredients were not well portioned, the falafels were not "crisp," and (dare I say it again) there is a better place two blocks away, whose patronage is not supporting some chain from NYC. I have said it before, and I will say it again, I think the last thing we need is some spin-off of a popular franchise from up there (Shake Shack aside) because we have plenty of our own good things going here. And most of the time, they are better. Also, I guess their (fake) conscience doesn't really care about the environment, because they use an exorbitant amount of packaging on their product for eat-in customers. It's a nice gimmick, but I will pass next time.