Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forno Antico Pizza Napolitana

416 E. Main Street
Collegeville, PA 19426
(610) 454-1130

A new pizza place in Collegeville recently opened up and I decided to give my old stomping grounds a return trip.

They opened in what I believe was an old catholic elementary school. And if that's not what it was, they had me fooled. If you didn't know, this place is so Italian they even sell fountains. All of my Italian friends LOVE fountains.

They opened with the promise of brick oven pizza, and the freshest ingredients. And they were not lying. The oven is a thing of beauty. Ciro Nuzzolese (owner) is the man in charge of the pizza game, and he puts a whole lot of love and care into each pie.

He's got a seasoned professional resume that started in childhood, working beside his grandfather in Italy at the family's Port Alba Antica Ristorant in Napoli. It's obvious that he had to bring Italy to us with the custom igloo oven, which is a thing of beauty.

The Margherita Del Re features a perfectly charred crust, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and a sweet San Marzano tomato sauce.  It is a perfect pizza.

The 800 degree oven is evident in the even blistering of the crust, despite the pie's quite brief trip into the oven (just two minutes according to Ciro). It's due to this quick, high-fire timing that the fresh basil maintains some moisture and doesn't burn away to nothing while it's in there.

Heated with wood, the oven is also hooked up to a gas line, in order to maintain an even temperature throughout every lunch & dinner service. The beautiful char, however, is solely the result of the wood's flame.

The veal parm was a perfectly simple example of one of my favorite comfort foods. Again, the San Marzano sauce shined (tart and sweet at the same time), and the thin tender veal was breaded and fried crispy. Just how it should be.

The lobster ravioli (another comfort go-to for me) was fresh, rich, and satisfying. I could barely fit all of the food in, but somehow I overcame adversity and demolished it. The price is extremely reasonable here, and the food is top notch, It's not fancy, but it's done really well. Also, it's a BYOB, so you can afford to splurge on the food. Highly recommended if you are anywhere near the Collegeville area.

Even if you're not "in the area," I'd say it's worth the trip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Berwyn Tavern

625 Lancaster Ave.
Berwyn, PA 19312
(610) 889-9352

The burbs have a couple of things going for them where the city is relatively weak. One of which, and probably the most important thing: blue collar bars with great drink specials and cheap delicious bar food. I'm not saying there is NO WHERE with this in the city, but the ratio of places where you can get a cheap domestic and some good wings is way off. As you well know, I am not a big fan of trendy gastro-bullshit that will be out of fashion in six months and cost me $40 at happy hour. Berwyn Tavern is the best of both worlds.

They have some unique specials, and incredibly fresh food.

They also have a load of traditional style appetizers, and some interesting twists.

The happy hour runs 7 days a week (!) from 4-6pm. Not my favorite hour spread, but having the weekend specials is a huge plus. All appetizers are half off, and they have a bunch of drink specials. Baskets of wings for $4 is enough for me, however. I was told I had to try the boneless wings and buffalo shrimp. So I had to oblige. Below are the coconut curry boneless wings and buffalo shrimp.

The wings (boneless, in this case) are fried extremely crispy, and the coconut curry sauce is delicious. Subtle, yet slightly spicy, and there was a hint of creamy coconut cutting through the heat. They also offer hot, BBQ, teriyaki, Thai chili, sesame ginger, and chipotle flavors for both boneless and regular wings; so there's no shortage of flavor opportunities. I'm willing to bet the wings with bones come out just as crispy and I shall find out soon enough.

I also tried the regular buffalo hot boneless wings, and they were also delicious. I am so fat.

The shrimp were surprisingly good, crispy, breaded, and lightly tossed in buffalo sauce.

The breading had a nice seasoning to it, you can see the pepper flakes below. Who knew that buffalo shrimp could be a thing? And then turn out to be such a GOOD thing? I mean, dipping shrimp in blue cheese dressing sounds crazy, but just take my word for it, you won't regret it.

As I had been there WELL past happy hour, I started to get hungry again, and so I asked to see the menu one more time. When I saw they had a riff on the "Schmitter" I knew I had to try it.

Pit beef, salami, fried onions, American cheese, tomato, and Thousand Island dressing on a brioche roll. This is all served on a bed of fries. My heart was struggling to pump at this point.

While this is no Schmitter, this is one good sandwich. I could only eat half. Mostly because I recently (but I won't say how recently) eaten 3 orders of fried appetizers chased by fries and one or 10 beers.

Delicious in its own right, their "stadium sandwich" is worth a try.

The fries were cooked to perfection, crisp with skin on the ends - they may not be fresh, but they are some of the best fries that can come out of a freezer.

While it may not look like much from the outside, its the type of place those in the know go.

And yes, I will be back to try every app on their menu during happy hour.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

AG Catering by Alex Garfinkel

At The Sage Farmhouse After Dark
Prix Fixe Menu / Fall Event
AG Catering Website
The Sage Farmhouse Website

I am often invited to events, but rarely make it. Once in a while something really interesting comes up, and I just have to see what it's all about. This fall dinner that featured local apples at the Sage Farmhouse was one of those opportunities.

The space is a circa 1785 farmhouse located just outside of Media, PA that's used as a rental venue for dinner parties, weddings, showers, etc. and has picturesque indoor and outdoor areas.

The focus of the night, however, was on the AG catering event. AKA the food.

The dining room is small, but intimate.

The kitchen is very cool, and features an old farmhouse stove. How they were able to crank out the meal in this venue is beyond me. The kitchen is definitely small for the output, but I guess that's the sign of a good chef – one who can triumph over the adversity.

Local Philadelphia artisans created these awesomely geometric water pitchers. They have a shop in Port Richmond called Edgewood Made and if interested, you can check them out here.

The experience began with the starters being prepped and we got to watch a lot of the action. Here's the chive butter with micro greens and apple butter for each table.

All of the greens were very locally sourced and I couldn't wait to get this stuff onto some warm bread.

The menu was small like a book mark, but it did the trick.

I pulled out some good wine from the secret stash, as this was a BYO event. The cups were also provided by the same Phila-based ceramics studio and kept the rustic theme going.

The warm rolls made a perfect vessel for the sweet apple butter and that rich & creamy chive butter. They were probably not intended to be eaten together, but I rarely follow tradition. Delicious.

The chicken rilletes amuse bouche was something I was looking forward to, and something I'd never really had before. Here they are, pre-plating with their little bits of pomegranate seed in the mix.

Just screaming to be set atop the crispy fried chicken skins. Who wouldn't love one of these perfectly edible, naturally-sourced 'plates'?

The stripped bass carpacio on the left was a delicate bite, served on a last-of-the-season green tomato slice. The fish was so smooth and buttery, with just the right smack of acidity from the tomato.

The rillete was helped along by the fresh herbs which gently cut the rich, poultry flavored puree. Two very well composed, and very different bites to get us started.

Beets, pears, and tomatos were dressed prior to their ultimate role as salad support team. And what a team it was.

Again, all major ingredients are locally sourced and fresh from the farm. So colorful!

The salad was anchored by a fried manchego cheese bite that had some pomegranate reduction tucked in, and just enough pepper and dressing to keep it spicy and fresh. It was a truly delicious fall harvest salad.

Fresh sunchoke chips were prepared for what might have been my favorite dish of the evening.

Again with the colors! So creative.

Sunchoke and apple soup was served with brandied apples, arugula pudding, and roasted wild mushrooms. A couple of pomegrante seeds gave a splash of color, and helped to further diversify what was an already unbelievable exercise in textural variety.

The soup itself was poured table side. It has the airiness of whipped cream, with a little bit of foam action, and the consistency was reminiscent of velvet.

An incredible edible velvet.

The Hudson Valley duck was among the finest cooked duck I have ever eaten. Again, presentation and creativity were front and center here. The hint of pomegranate can be seen here as well.

Tender, juicy and flavorful, the duck breast was accompanied by a wide variety of components – every dish of the evening had been so complex in its composition – and included charred romanesco, broccoli, cauliflower puree, among others. Even with so many differing items on the plate, every bite was balanced and everything worked together in perfect harmony.

The dessert was almost Halloween-inspired, with actual rootbeer leaves (I didn't even know that was a thing!) as the base for sassafras and bourbon ice cream served with stickybun bread pudding.

Here is Chef Alex Garfinkel making the icecream with dry ice for the audience.

Another perfectly composed dish in front of me, I was quite full and unsure if I could put this one down too. I had literally eaten every morsel they'd put in front of me up to this point.

But of course, I powered through and enjoyed these last flavors of fall from Chef AG.

In the end, it was a fabulous meal and one that I'd have recommended to anyone. He's a young chef with a big vision and seems to know exactly how to express it. If you're into it, I highly suggest you check out his supper clubs and get a taste of his colorful compositions in any season.