Monday, October 26, 2015


Suburban Square
105 Coulter Ave.
Ardmore, PA 19003
(484) 417-6825

Besito (little kiss) is a new entrant to the high-end Mexican scene in the burbs. They have a number of other restaurant locations, and invited me to come check out their soft opening last week. It is located in Ardmore, and the attention to detail is extremely nice.

The interior is slick, with modern Southwest flair (which reflects their menu), and nicely appointed decorations.

I was told to start with margaritas, so I had to oblige. They were great drinks, though possibly a bit of the old velvet hammer, as I could barely taste the tequila. The salsa was fire roasted tomato, and had a touch of heat.

First up was the table side guac. I really don't care if it's gimmicky, I love watching it be prepared.

The server took into account the level of heat I wanted, and served it in the same stone mortar it was mixed in. The guacamole was great. Each order contains a whole avocado, and was well seasoned, creamy, and still had the chunks that let you know this was made with a ripe avocado.

The owner John Tunney stopped by and chatted while I stuffed my face. He also sent out some shrimp tacos, as they are always a crowd favorite. I can't argue, these were one of the tastiest things of the night.

Crispy shrimp, chipotle sour cream, and queso fresco, three of the things I like most about Mexican cuisine, came together for an explosion of flavors and textures. It was fresh, rich, and clean. I could eat approximately fifteen of these things.

Next up was the dinner course (I skipped any additional appetizers), and decided to try the enchiladas de mole poblano, the mixtos tacos, and a variety of sides.

The mole sauce was rich, thick, and delicious. It had a perfect consistency and was deep in the toasted flavor of poblanos. I really liked this iteration of the timeless (yet time consuming to make) Mexican dish.

The mixtos was basically queso fundido, topped with chorizo, chicken, and grilled skirt steak. It came with napoli (cactus) salad, and two sauces. The salad was fantastic. It was like a Mexican version of succotash, and was bursting with bright acidity. I was surprised with the flavor and how much I liked this salad. The queso was made with melted queso Chihuahua, and had so much flavor I could have  eaten this with a fork (and possibly did). The chicken and steak were good, the only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the chorizo. It was more like a Mexican hot dog and less like the chorizo I traditionally see.

All together, this was a great dish, and the cheese was just fantastic. You will not be able to tell from these pictures, but it is incredibly dark in there. They even give you little Besito branded lights to see the menu. It's that dark. Probably a good thing if you were going on a date with someone who looked like me. Not so much if you are a fat guy trying to see what ELSE you are going to order.

A cheesy taco creation shown below.

The elotes de la calle was simple and fresh. It was roasted corn, some queso fresco, and some chili. I loved this take on the traditional street corn (which I make quite often at home), but I use mayo at home and wished they had too...

The beans were okay, nothing to write home about, but they came extra with the entree, so that is a nice touch. The rice was well cooked, and was studded with pepita seeds. It was almost like a pilaf, which was an interesting twist on standard white rice.

John the owner came by and asked if I tried the plantains. At this point, I was starting to hit the wall of gluttony, but I powered through when he had an order brought out. Fried sweet plantains, queso fresco, and crema. Simple, indulgent, and delicious. The cheese and cream balanced out the sweetness, and the caramelized edges had just enough crispiness.

At this point, I was really getting too full for comfort. That being said, the flan was supposed to be great. So I obviously had to indulge.

Sure enough, it was great. A light texture, with not overly sweet base, and some fresh whipped cream.

The meal ended with a to-go bag of hot churros, and a gift of two Mexican worry dolls. You put these under your pillow and they take your worry from you. Very cool little treat, and I was happy to only be worrying about waddling back to the car. Thank you Besito, I will be dreaming of that queso fundido until I make it back.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fortis Craft Spirits at White Dog Cafe

Fortis Craft Spirits
2300 Trumbauersville Rd
Quakertown, PA 18951
(215) 268-6071
White Dog Cafe
3420 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 386-9224
I was recently invited to try out a new local "craft" distillery that had a unique niche – they are shooting to be the well-liquor of choice in Philly. Never one to turn down free drinks (just ask about anyone), I figured it was worth a try. To double down, I asked the rep to meet me at the White Dog Cafe in University City, as I have been meaning to try the food Chef Josh Varquez is putting out (I had heard rumors of house cured jowl pastrami). I was surprised with how nice the building was, and the food was no slouch either.

Rum, Gin, and Vodka, are the standards at Fortis, and I had to sample them all. The have some flavored varieties as well, but I'm more of a cut and dry guy with my hard alcohols. Check out the basement dining area at White Dog in the background. Amazing.

They use Fortis in a variety of mixed drinks, such as the Snoopaloop for fall.

The rail is populated with a variety of Fortis products. Fortis is headquartered in Quakertown and is slowly spreading their product throughout the eastern, central and western parts of PA. Founded by a couple of Carnegie Melon grads, they have a good business plan and they know what they're doing.

You can see their interactive map here, and they expect to have 1L bottles in most PA wine & spirits shops before the end of the year. I mean, it's affordable with a great looking label, so I recommend trying this as your at-home well-drink (if you have a bar, I'm currently working on getting one in my basement...). In the meantime, they're having a Philadelphia launch/cancer research benefit in Northern Liberties this Friday night; get info here. Now on to the White Dog experience.

On the left is a Marmadaiq, with "Green Apple & Kiffir Lime Infused Fortis Rum, Lime, Cranberry Bitters, and Sugared Cranberries." Although I am a whiskey and beer type of guy, this was a refreshing drink. The Fortis tasted just as smooth as I would expect of any other mid-range rum.

The other drink was a Cowan's Hero, "Fortis Gin, Art in the Age Sage, Pear, Honey, Lime, Sage, Soda". This was a real winner. The sage flavor mixed well with the neutral gin, and the pear and honey added some fruity sweetness.

I then had the pleasure of trying some of Chef Varquez's favorites, starting with the short rib sliders. I am not usually a slider fan, but these things fixed all of the issues inherent in small sandwiches.

Look at the texture of this beef. The spicy cheddar was local and delicious, and the fried quail egg put this over the top. I was not left with any "bread only" bites, and could have eaten another six of these things.

At this point I transitioned to the cask Hop Devil, and Chef Josh transitioned to pastrami. From left – house cured beef pastrami, cold smoked salmon, and guanciale. Mixed in for toppings were some beet pickled quail eggs, pickled red onions, cornichons, whole grain mustard, and a caraway aioli.

My god, look at this pork cheek. Fatty, decadent, and speckled with dry rub, this literally melted in your mouth. This is not for those counting calories, and it was worth every fatty bite.

The salmon was fresh, with the texture of velvet, and the light smoke made for a great match with the caraway sauce.

Finally, the beef pastrami. This stuff was highly addictive. It was tough to beat the pork jowl, but this was a close match. Again, the tender fat kept this from being dry, and the attention to preparation was apparent.

One of my favorite parts was the ability to mix and match flavors and meat textures, with crisp pickles, tart onions, and flavorful spreads. I am hooked on the meats, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Well done, White Dog Cafe. I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Shifty's Bar

1401 Burnet Ave.
Syracuse, N.Y. 13206
(315) 474-0048

On a road trip, I like to try and find somewhere to stop that is a couple steps better than the standard chain crap. See my last time doing so here. It is a major plus if I can grab a beer with my food, because nothing eases the stress of not driving like a slight buzz. Shifty's is a staple in Syracuse, and I have been a number of times when my travel takes me through the area. Their motto is "cold beer, hot wings, live music". Done.

At its heart, this place is a venue. As I was lunching, the band for the evening was bringing in a never-ending stream of equipment.

The menu is bar food, but the real specialty are the wings.

Of course, that didn't mean I wouldn't order a burger as well . . .

On the left are the "Godzilla" wings, basically a teriyaki/Asian with some heat and couple secret ingredients, and on the right are the "red hot and blue," which have blue cheese mixed in with the wing sauce.

The Godzilla wings were perfectly cooked, crispy, and nicely coated in the sticky flavorful sauce. These are damn good wings. The soy/hoisin flavor translated well, and I greedily scarfed them down.

The red hot and blue wings were the winner of the day. Nothing too fancy, but the salty, pungent chunks of blue were delicious, and ALMOST negated the need for additional blue cheese dipping. Just the right amount of heat, and a perfectly crispy skin, what more can you ask of the chicken gods?

The "Upstate" burger boasted sharp cheddar, horsey mayo, bacon, and maple glazed onions.

This was not for the pure of heart. Mostly because your heart was under direct attack while eating this.

The bacon was crispy and salty, the cheddar had some bite, and the onions added some significant sweetness to the burger. This was a good burger, but I still favor diner style. Shifty's is a very cool place to stop in for some wings and beer, and it's not too far off 81 if you are up that way.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

123 Ewing Drive #3
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-9442

If you have ever seen any type of travel show about Nashville, they undoubtedly mention hot chicken. Hot chicken (along with meat and three) is one of the staples of this incredible area. Unfortunately one of the most famous hot chicken joints also happened to be one of my least favorites. The picture below screams everything I like about hole in the wall food spots. Cheap table clothes, amazing branding, and phone numbers with no area code.

When you walk into this place, the air is thick and warm, the crowd is large, and the service friendly. You order at the window and jockey for a table/seat. Luckily, the Southern friendliness did not hold up well against the Philadelphia attitude, and I was able to snake a table within ten minutes of ordering.

There are a variety of awards around the restaurant. I was getting very excited. This is one of my favorites.

And then you wait. And wait. And WAIT. It took about 45 minutes from ordering to getting your food. I got a half a chicken at the "hot" spice level, a lemonade, coleslaw, pickles, and potato salad. The counter lady said "you eating all that yourself?". I nodded and took my trays away in shame. Luckily for me, I don't care about my tendencies for gluttonous over-intake and soon was trying to pry the skin off of a thigh that was approximately the temperature of the sun. It took no less than ten minutes to get the chicken to a first degree burn temperature and shove it into my gullet.

Look at this line up. Fried chicken on a slice of white bread with some pickles. Perfection.

There was one problem, however. Now I am a HUGE fan of hot food. Love it. I DON'T love unbalanced heat that is just there to burn. There were still two levels of heat above the "hot" flavor I ordered, so I figured I was in the clear. Not so much. The only way I can describe the level of burn on this chicken is like this.

I could barely get the skin down. I was afraid I was going to vomit involuntarily from the level of spice hitting my throat. I was actually laughing hysterically as it was all going down, because I just couldn't understand the place. My god, some honey or sugar would have done wonders to this stuff. It was pure burn, nothing else. Literally brushing cayenne paste onto the chicken that has cayenne in the breading, and was perhaps soaked in Lucifer's sweat. The skin was crunchy but nearly inedible, the meat was hot but tolerable, and the temperature inside of this place did not help matters. I thought someone slipped me some hallucinogens.

While I am glad I went, I don't know that I would rush back. If so, I would likely get the medium or (gasp) mild. It was just not enjoyable in its hot form and that made me sad. So sad.