Thursday, September 27, 2012

Magic Carpet Foods

34th and Walnut
Philadelphia, PA

 Magic Carpet is one of the legends of the West Philly food cart scene. They have been around forever, and consistently crank out some seriously vegetarian delicious food.

The owner is really nice, attentive, and humorous.

I usually roll with the falafel on pita sandwich, but decided to dabble, as I was writing this trip up.

Once you place an order (they take cards!), you can wait around the side of the cart and creepily stare at people.

The "Sloppy Jason" consists of vegetarian chili, cheese, and salad on a pita. It will run you about $6, and is a damn fine portion size for the money.

The veggie chili was surprisingly complex, and had a nice flavor to it, reminiscent of a chili with extra tomato base.

They certainly don't skimp on the cheese.

I also went with my usual, the falafel with hummus, feta, and hot sauce. These special requests bumped my sandwich up to $7, which the owner kindly warned me about, but I was willing to bite the bullet for salty cheese.

As usual, the sandwich was great. Fresh ingredients, attention to detail, and delicious falafel all made for a winner.

I love giant chunks of feta.

If you are looking for a cheap, healthy, vegetarian friendly meal to go, you really can't go wrong here. Also, you can find where you are going with this sweet map.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Dapper Dog

Food Truck | Special Event
Moore College of Art & Design

I don't know how many people are familiar with Parking Day, but it occurred all over the world on Friday, including Philadelphia. To celebrate being part of the action, The Galleries at Moore hosted an event focusing on urban greening through a 'parklet' design competition and they invited The Dapper Dog to cater the event.

They're usually posted up at their small, stationary unit at 3rd & Poplar in Northern Liberties on the weekends, but for special occasions, there's a mobile unit that was recently put into action. Owners Harry & Seth:

The truck is outfitted with some fresh, killer artwork by local illustrator, Adam Smith.

For this occasion, they offered three menu items: a Coney dog, a Chicago dog and an Italian sausage. Because it was a catered event, there were no prices - the host set up the contract for 100 dogs and paid the invoice in advance. In order to recoup something, they sold food tickets for the wallet-friendly cost of $3, which got you a dog + drink.

The Chicago dog had fresh tomatoes, relish, pickled sport peppers, chopped red onion, a dill pickle spear and yellow mustard. Although this wasn't truly a classic Chicago dog, it was pretty delicious. It was missing the bright green sweet pickle relish, which lends an extra pop of (fake) color that I love – not to mention that tangy sweet flavor. Also, red onions? They have too much punch when raw, and in this situation, were a bit aggressive.

The buns definitely make their presence known in these constructions, and although they're quite good, it was difficult to get a bite that contained beef AND toppings. It was either one or the other. Maybe splitting & grilling the dogs would have taken care of the distribution issue. That said, all of the ingredients were high quality and well worth the struggle. Next stop, Coney Island.

Sort of. Dapper Dog's take on the Coney consists of an all beef dog, beef chili (Coney sauce), shredded cheddar and sliced green onion.

Again, they're really exercising their artistic liberties in the interpretations, but that makes it interesting, right? I really liked this dog, but it could use some more contrast in textures. Maybe the definitive crunch of chopped onion... but with all of the onion on the Chicago and given the limited menu, I can understand their decision in differentiating the two through varying ingredients.

I had no interest in the Italian sausage, but I'm sure it was also pretty good. All in all, the dogs were definitely dapper in appearance. The consumption part – not so much. Sloppy eating aside, they're tasty and worth consideration, especially for an affordable, catered event when you're looking for a gourmet spin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pat's Philly Cheesesteaks

1624 Market St
Denver, CO 80220

Editors Note: We always have people asking about cheesesteak places outside of the greater Philadelphia area, and/or claiming they are just as good. One reader thought that this place was owned by the lesser evil of the two tourist-steak places, so we sent a friend of the site (Mayor McCheese) who resides in Denver to investigate. Enjoy. And forgive the crappy pics.

Full disclosure: I’m not from Philadelphia. In fact I’ve never been to Philadelphia. But, I have spent the bulk of my life eating cheesesteaks everywhere else. Seriously, I scout cheesesteak places before Chicago pizza and hot dog places and I grew up at 183rd and Halsted. The point is, just because you’ve never seen the Sistine Chapel, doesn’t mean you can’t know that Damien Hirst is crap. So, here we go.

There is a fairly decent cheesesteak in the area of downtown Denver where I work, but I just found out about another that has somehow slipped by unnoticed: Pat’s Philly Cheesesteaks. Well, at least that’s what it’s called at its two other Denver area locations. For some reason it’s called Pat’s Downtown Bar & Grill over this way, but it supposedly offers the “best cheesesteak in Denver” just as the others do. The location is pretty ideal at 16th and Market, mostly because this is the biggest bus terminal in the city, meaning you could (in theory) eat 4-6 cheesesteaks and sleep them off in the back of the bus no matter which suburb you lived in. It’s also ideal because the 16th Street Mall Ride is free, stops roughly outside my door, and offers information you can get nowhere else (e.g., “Nukes are under the entire city” and “Sometimes I love searching through the trash because you find a bus pass and don’t have to walk everywhere”; thanks Guy Dressed Like Gandolf and Girl With Mike Tyson’s Face Tattoo On Her Chin, respectively!)

Here I am, outside Pat’s, and it is starting to look more like a fake-divey bar than anyplace with a high likelihood of a good cheesesteak.  As I walk down the stairs (yep, downstairs is divey, right?), there’s a sign for today’s specials. It includes a $6 crabcake sandwich.  If you’re wondering how they can offer a crabcake sandwich for so cheap, I assume it's local, Rocky Mountain crab, plucked from the Sea of Colorado (note: this sea does not exist).

Sure, weird to find crabcakes living alongside a cheesesteak, but perhaps it's a fluke. Nope. Look at this menu.

And there's another side, equally as populated! Can you really have a "specialty" when you've got so much else to worry about?

I ordered a cheesesteak with onions and white American, minus the included peppers (aye...), plus some mayo (I'm from the Midwest; I'd put macaroni salad on it if it was offered). The waitress was fantastically nice, and quick with my Coke.

As I waited, I took in some soundless ESPN on the three dozen flat screens. Certainly a fine setup, but I am accustomed to one or two crappy televisions when pursuing choice hotcdogs, Italian beef, and overstuffed gyros. If you're not worried about making a place sleek, you've got to worry about serving up greasy, lovefilled food. Otherwise no one will come back. What was Pat's setting me up for?


Let me knock the fries out quick. They were perfect. Unbelievably crispy outside, warm and potato-y inside. They were extremely oily, but I prefer them that way. If that's a problem, mop them up with the napkin. After I polished those off (I insist on eating items in their entirety, in reverse order of deliciousness), I examined the one for which I came.

The first thing you notice is a bread-to-meat ratio of at least two-and-a-half to one. And the bread is clearly some sort of Safeway bakery bulk buy. Listen, the cheesesteak should be gluttonous; it should make you feel bad about yourself. Glutton gave way to gluten and my jaw felt like it was in the sourdough championships by the end of the first half. The steak was tasty and tender, and the onions not overpowering, but seriously, I felt like I was just eating a roll.

To give ol' Pat his best shot, I ate the second half starting with the ends and working my way in. I packed as much meat as I could into the last bite. The result: pretty good. That's it, pretty good. When you stage your eating so that the last bite will be best, you expect more (like saving a cheese corner on a Big Mac). But all I got was back up to neutral.

There are two lessons here:
1.  The fancier the place, the less likely you're getting good fat food.
2.  Look out Iran, Denver's strapped.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cucina Zapata

Food Truck, University City
S. 31st & Ludlow St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this truck, and after I heard that it was Asian/Mexican fusion, I figured it was worth a try. Oh, and they have a Cap'n Crunch crusted tilapia burrito for $6.

The line is longer than every other truck on Drexel's food truck row. Of course every other truck only offers regular Chinese food, cheesesteaks, hoagies, or all of the above.

When I was looking at the menu, I just couldn't figure out what to get. So I went kind of nuts.

I started with a chicken satay taco (top) and a short rib taco (bottom).

Both had an amazing amount of components for the price tag. The avocado was fresh and plentiful, the slaw crisp, and the Sriacha sour cream on the satay was absolutely delicious. The green chili sauce on the short ribs was also a winner. Of the two, however, I think I liked the satay just a bit better. The rich marinade cut through the rest of the ingredients, and was about perfect. The short rib itself was just a bit chewy, which was one of my few complaints.

The Cap'n Crunch crusted fish burrito was the best value of the meal. It was quite hefty, certainly a steal at six bucks, and made with the same love as the tacos, and although it had many of the same components, it tasted totally different. Crunchy, slightly sweet breading, with flaky fish inside. The spicy sauce mixed perfectly with the slaw, diced tomatoes, and avocado slices. I was probably most impressed with this offering, overall.

The chicken Katsu, which is a traditional Japanese dish, for anyone who is going to dispute my saying this truck is Thai/Mexican fusion, was also pretty good. An extremely crispy, thin flat cutlet of chicken, served over a bed of slaw, with a fried egg, rice, and Sriracha drizzle. My only complaints were that the egg yolk could have been just a bit more runny, and this dish could use a side of one of their amazing sauces. I ate a lot of plain white rice that was hiding under the egg, and needed something to jazz it up a bit. I am sure the owner, who was ridiculously accommodating, polite, and funny, would be more than happy to fulfill my diva-like requests for extra sauces in the future.

This is now one of my favorite trucks in the city. If you liked how good Tyson Bee's USED to be, you will LOVE Cucina Zapata. Get the fish, get a Thai tea, hell, you can't really go wrong. Just get something.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kennedy Food Garden

1901 John F Kennedy Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 977-9655

Kennedy Food Garden is a hidden gem in Center City west. It's the ground level of a large retirement/older person apartment building. They have EVERYTHING there, from groceries, to rotisserie chickens, to a pretty damn good deli.

Also, the chip and drink selection is second to none. It's like a high-end Wawa.

Although you can order your food at the counter and eat it there, I usually get mine to go. Whether I am going back to work or headed to a park, its a perfect grab-n-go lunch. Now this may be surprising, but one of my favorites there (you really can't go wrong as long as you get something on a French baguette) is the veggie sandwich. This allows me to feel as though I am eating healthy, but I still get the "ingredients on crusty roll" experience I crave. Plus they load this one up with ripe avocado (every time!) and feta.

This one has tomato, banana peppers, cucumbers, avocado, sun-dried tomato, romaine, feta, and mayo. Fantastic. $7. The sun-dried tomatoes give it a meaty chew, the avocado adds the fat, and the feta has the salty kick that would otherwise be missing. I am also a sucker for cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, and vinegary peppers. Did I mention that the rolls are fantastic? This sandwich is more than enough to fill you up until dinner. Or five o'clock, the snacking hour.

Another big winner is the chicken Parmesan. Although its more of a chicken pizza steak, with chunks of chicken rather than breaded cutlets, it's really tasty. Melted mozzarella, tangy marinara sauce, and tender chicken is all it takes to make this one a winner.

It is by no means a clean eat, but its not overly sloppy either. Well seasoned, and again, served on this great roll, its a filling sandwich for about $8.

If you are working in the area, I recommend stopping by the Food Garden to give it a try. It's not the most incredible thing ever, but it's consistent and has the reliable familiarity of an ex. But in this case, it's a good thing.