Monday, December 22, 2014

Cisco's Bar & Grille

1538 Bethlehem Pike
Flourtown, PA 19031
(215) 233-9981

Every once in a while you stumble upon something special, and given the amount of weird/sketchy places I venture for the sake of good food, it means the world when I find a place like Cisco's.

The interior is everything you could possibly want in an old school bar, with moose heads to boot.

The grill is located behind the bar, so you get to see the prep of anything you order while you drink your insanely cheap beer. Small glasses of domestics are $1.25.

The main claim to fame at Cisco's is the cheesesteak hoagie. It is a variation unlike most places, however, because instead of just adding some lettuce and tomato, they add salami!

The meat is quality, finely chopped and well seasoned. The cheese is melted throughout, and the fried onions are finely chopped, cooked to a deep golden color and sweet as can be. The other aspect that sets them apart is the hot hoagie spread available for your cheesesteak consumption. Briny, spicy, and colorful, it's one of my approved cheesesteak add-ons.

If you were wondering why there is only half a sandwich here, it's because I only ordered a small. The large is Philly Phoodie sized, but I was LITERALLY on my way to a vegan dinner party, so I decided I needed to eat something real before I got there.

Thick sliced provolone, thick sliced Genoa, fried and raw onions, tomato slices, and some dried oregano sprinkled on top to even it out. This place is incredible.

Flourtown is a bit out of the way of my usual routines, but my god this place is worth the trip.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria

8433 S Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60652
(773) 735-2050

Chicago is a town pegged as a deep dish pizza haven. But this is not accurate at all. In fact, most of my Chicago friends prefer thin crust, but will also dabble in the pizza casserole every tourist seeks out when offered. Vito and Nick's is my favorite type of place. Low key, reasonably priced, draped in history, tradition and warmth.

The takeout side is cut from a scene of lost America. I LOVED it.

Oh but wait, the dining room doesn't disappoint either. The lights are a permanent fixture, as are many of the folks sitting at the bar.

The shrine to the founders.

They utilize the crisscut method of slicing that is a staple of Chicago thin crust pizza. The half sausage half plain pizza was a definite feast. There were ALMOST leftovers. The sausage balls are house-made and contain just enough spice and fat. The cheese gets nicely blistered from its stop in the oven.

The cheese and sauce extended all the way to the crust, which is a requirement unless you enjoy eating dry crust like some sort of psycho.

The crust itself was buttery and flaky, and had a nice crackery crunch.

I love when the pizza is cut in this manner, as the slices are somewhat small. This enables me to eat fifteen slices of pizza, and not be too weighed down.

Although it is not in the greatest neighborhood, it is worth the short drive from Midway. And well worth the price of admission.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Isabella's Brick Oven

221 S. High St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 962-8888

Baltimore is an easy getaway for Philly area folks and I love spending a weekend down there eating oysters and crabs, and drinking some Natty Boh. But even in the Chesapeake Bay region, I am still on the lookout for a good sandwich and some pizza. Baltimore has a Little Italy all its own, and the neighborhood is like a slice of South Philly.

There are A LOT of options on the expansive menu, but I was recommended "The Scooch" by a reader, which is basically an Italian.

Their pre-made foods looked amazing, so I knew I was in the right place. Arancini balls almost did me in, but I held fast with my sandwich (AND I ordered a pizza).

The Scooch contained capi, sopressata, parmacotto, Prima Donna cheese (my God I love that stuff), lettuce, tomato, and onion. They also season with balsamic vinegar and oil.

The roll was pretty good, nice and chewy, perhaps lacking a bit of a crunchy crust, but that is to be expected when outside of the Philly "bread region."

The meat was thinly sliced, and the gouda was fantastic, as usual.

The margherita pizza also came highly recommended, and again, it did not disappoint.

The hot oven blistered the cheese perfectly, and the crust was crisped up as it should be, The creamy mozzarella and fresh tomatoes were a hit as well, with just a pinch of pepper flakes to add some kick. This is a nice little joint to grab some takeout and walk along Inner Harbor, or just eat on the way back to your car because you are a fat kid. Not telling which route I took.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sam's Butcher Shop (Round 3)

322 N. Main Street
Moscow, PA 18444
(570) 842-7392

As you may already know, I frequent an online meat delivery service ( based out of Northeastern PA and every once in a while, Sam the butcher hooks me up with some new products to try out.

This holiday season, he's got whole smoked ducks, smoked hams (bone-in), smoked salmon, smoked kielbasa rings, smoked breakfast sausage links and rendered duck fat by the pound. I received my package neatly wrapped just in time for my post-Thanksgiving turkey hangover blues.

The extra bonus was seeing the duck fat right on top, a nice surprise to get the unpacking started. Since the duck was number one coming out of the box, it was to be my first victim on my smoked meat journey last week.

Weighing in at just under 3 lbs. after its smoking, this beautiful bird was ready for some serious slicing and pulling. At this size, the meat could probably feed 3-4 people as a main course, but for me, it fed just 2 of us for one meal. I shouldn't have to explain my oversize appetite by now...

Slicing into the breast was like slicing through butter. Just look at the color and the tender meat encased in the glossy layer of fat just beneath the golden skin. A perfectly smoked specimen.

I couldn't help my craving for Peking duck when I began the breakdown and so I proceeded with my plans for a high heat dry fry on the pulled meat and I'd glaze it with my homemade orange-soy-ginger sauce. (I know it's not "Peking" in the traditional sense, but for my purposes, it works.)

After hitting the wok with some grapeseed oil for a bit of crisping up, I added my mixture of fresh squeezed orange juice (& microplaned peel), soy sauce, mirin, sugar, sriracha and hoisin to coat and let it caramelize on the shredded duck for a few minutes before serving over rice and stir-fried veggies.

It was incredible. The texture of the duck held up through my secondary cooking process and its flavor was an amazing blend of smoky, sweet and spicy with the most delicious bits of crisped ends for added complexity.

Second out of the box was the smoked ham, and this was another thing of beauty right off the bat.

It had the perfectly smoked finish, with the deep pink interior and the penetrating outer glaze. It smelled so good, I couldn't wait to try it and was eating every other slice while preparing for my grilled ham & cheese sandwiches.

It was smooth, silky and melted like butter in my mouth; sweet and salty with a smack of smoke.

It was incredible on white bread with yellow Cooper Sharp melting through the layers. One of my more simple indulgences.

With most of the leftover meat, I had planned on making split pea & ham soup (jumping off of Ina Garten's recipe) so I chopped it up into smaller, spoon size pieces. I used the bone to flavor my stock while the dry peas simmered for about 60 minutes, pulled it out and then added the ham to warm up in the soup for another 20 minutes.

I recommend letting the soup cool for at least an hour and then warming up again, the flavors improve ten-fold if you give it the extra time. The ham is crucial to a split pea soup recipe in my mind and Sam's ham is some of the best I've had. Even after my soup was full of ham, I still had a pile left and decided to make ham salad for my lunches.

I minced it up (just over 2 cups) and mixed it with 2 chopped hard boiled eggs; 3 diced celery stalks; 1/4 of a sweet onion, minced; 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley; 2-3 heaping tbsp. mayo; 1 tbsp. dijon; 1 tbsp. sweet relish; 1 tsp. hoagie spread; and salt & pepper.

Crisp, delicious and refreshing. Well, as refreshing as ham can be. The ham is well worth it, considering I made 3 very diverse meals that lasted me nearly a whole week! And when I ran out, I decided to have breakfast for dinner with Sam's b-fast sausages.

They were like smoked mini kielbasas with some early morning flavor. I sliced them in half lengthwise and got a good sear in some butter and served them over crispy hash browns and topped with cheesy scramble. What a delight.

Breakfast for dinner is too often forgotten, so my parting advice is do it more than you should and you will be happier for it. And hit Sam's Butcher Shop up for all of your BFD needs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hai Street Kitchen

32 South 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 964.9465

After many recommendations from a handful of my Center City cube-monkey friends, it was about time I gave this place a try. Known for their enormous sushi-style burritos, it was the perfect healthy meal to grab before getting on a flight to Chicago where I saw far too many hot dogs in my near future.

Simple fresh flavors: items definitely not available in terminal C at PHL.

Everything is prepared to order and there's a selection of house recommendations, but you can also build your own from the expansive selection of Japanese-inspired burrito fillings. I felt like I was at a fancier Chipotle fusion eatery.

The oversize rolls carried pretty well, considering they went from 18th & Market via Septa to the airport, through security, etc. Let's say it was just shy of an hour in transit before the unveiling...

I was short on time and full of hunger, so I couldn't waste any time selecting my own combination of ingredients, so I went with two of the house specialties. First up was the Hai Satay with grilled chicken, spicy peanut sauce, romaine, cucumber, carrot and pickled jicama. It was supposed to come with grilled zucchini, but I totally squashed that. Get it?

AND asked for extra peanut sauce. It was exceedingly fresh, full of flavor and easy to eat without making a mess, which is a recurring problem for me. Especially when I request extra sauce for nearly everything on the planet.

Second up was the Chili Citrus Pork with salsa verde, romaine, carrot, red cabbage and pickled red onion. I was thrown by the salsa verde, so I asked them to skip it and add the gochujang and spicy mayo instead. They were much obliged and catered to my every substitution. They even threw in the extra sides of ginger miso dressing and the spicy mayo at no extra cost. I'm pretty sure the salsa verde would be unwelcome in this combo, so if you do try it that way, let me know how it goes.

The pork was perfectly tender with not one chewy bit. The ingredients melded together so well and maybe it was the time they had to set, but no matter, when I'm craving a big fat burrito I won't mind subbing in the healthier version of a mega seaweed roll every once in a while. Maybe every 4th.