Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Common Wealth

319 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 372-7581

I was asked to check out a tasting of the menu at Common Wealth in Old City, a "Lowcountry" style bar/restaurant I had not heard of before. As I LOVE Lowcountry food (and living), it did not take much coaxing.

I was offered a drink ticket for myself and a guest. Which was a little strange. Usually if you are invited to review a joint, they at least get you a couple of drinks. Get ya nice an liquored so the food tastes better, right?

Well, unexpectedly, this event took almost three hours and one drink ticket didn't cut it. So I ran up a healthy bar tab drinking some beers after trying some signature cocktails that were recommended. The Queen Anne’s Revenge is on the left – Bulleit Rye, sugar cube, squeezed citrus and bitters and the Travelers Passage on the right – house infused pineapple vodka. I was a bigger fan of the Queen Anne, because I love bourbon and don't particularly enjoy sweet cocktails.

The pork belly with citrus salad and hoisin glaze was first up. It was probably one of my favorites of the night. Although when isn't pork belly? It was crispy on the outside and succulent in the middle. Plenty of fat, though maybe a bit under salted. All in all, not a bad pork belly.

The hush puppies were likely my favorite of the evening, though I am not sure they are still on the menu. The tender interior was contrasted by the crusty fried shell, and the creole style sauce was delicious.

Next up, chicken and waffles. Usually one of my go-to's, can you tell what my complaint was with these? Yo waffles, where's the chicken? They should have been open faced, and served with a spicy/sweet side sauce. It was DRY. But the chicken was delicious. The honey-sriacha aioli was good, but those waffles needed a drizzle!

Open faced was more realistic, but I was left wanting for sauce.

You can see in the cut-away shot the chicken to waffle ratio is way off.

The oysters "Bienville" were next, in a roasted shrimp sauce with Creole butter. I thought these were okay, but they were so rich, they needed some acidity to cut the fat. Also, an oyster on the half shell, which gave me the zing I was missing with their heavier counterparts.

The oysters were fresh and the sauce tasty.

A lot of care went into these, but they were a bit heavy.

The shrimp gumbo was a disappointment. The roux was under developed for my taste, and lacked heat (and flavor).

I mean, almost every course had shrimp in it.

Fried green tomatoes with pickled shrimp were another highlight. The "pimento" was a sauce rather than a cheese spread (as I had hoped when I squealed with delight when I saw it on the menu), but the dish worked.

Crispy, well fried green tomatoes, and tart shrimp, with enough greens to cut the grease. But the tomatoes themselves were not great. Mealy. not even worth showing you that photograph.

Seared scallops on hoecakes with collards and a bacon cream sauce were, again, okay (who doesn't love scallops), but not all that memorable. This could be that I already ate about eight courses (doubles and triples of some), but it was just scallops.

Definitely cooked the right way, but under-seasoned.

Least favorite of the night (and biggest disappointment) was the shellfish and grits. The shellfish sauce lacked a discernible direction, and the subtleties of the lobster etouffee were not enough to save it. The texture of the Anson Mill Grits were great, think pastina but needed some more salt and punch to carry the dish.

The fried bread pudding dessert was well executed, but it was a lot of filler to eat after a meal.

All in all, this was a pretty okay spot, but I don't know that I would be rushing back. It was filling but lacking that lowcountry depth of flavor all around.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gaul & Co. Malt House

3133 Gaul Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134
(215) 423-7878

Up near the Polish area of Port Richmond is a hidden gem of a bar.  When I first walked in, there were a couple of locals having some bottled domestics and talking over the TV. While this is my typical type of respite, I thought maybe I was in the wrong place for the famous kielbasa cheesesteak that had come so highly recommended by a reader. I decided to persevere and was brilliantly rewarded from the previous neighborhood hang known as Shenanigans.

The wings smelled fantastic, so I obviously indulged. Perfectly crispy (I ordered them well done) and rendered to their bare essence, the sauce was a kicked up version of the traditional Frank's and butter.

The portion was fair for the price, and the sauce was perfect.

Cheese fries were also of interest (I am obviously cutting carbs). Perfectly fried and the American cheese sauce was just delicious.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good orange Wiz, and I do usually get my cheese sauce on the side. This application was perfect because not only was the cheese sauce white and deliciously tasting of American and cheddar, it was just the right viscosity to lightly coat the fries, make them glisten, and not lose their crispy outer shell.

Now the star of the show was undoubtedly the "Wit or Witowski". A cheesesteak, made of kielbasa. Yes.

Local 'bassi sliced thin and fried. Like a cheesesteak, just around fifty times better. It brought to mind the fried pastrami cheesesteak at the late great Cisco's in Flourtown. Topped with fried onions and American cheese wiz. It is spicy, salty, and one of the best sandwiches I have ever had.

Look at those thin bits of beautiful kielbasa meat. This might be my death row meal. I know it looks a bit like a creamed chipped beef, but believe me, this was well beyond and took me sailing through Polish flavor town.

The roast beef with au jus was good sandwich, just not as great as its counterpart. I would order two kielbasa next time. Just because. But the beef was well cooked, nicely seasoned, and would ordinarily be a hit. It was just outclassed this time.

The thinly sliced fold of beef was nice and tender.

Gaul & Co. Malt House features a somewhat compact menu, but they execute everything just right. Although it's a bit up there, I'll be back, you can count on that.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Not Your Average Joe's

561 Glen Eagle Square
Glen Mills, PA 19342
(610) 500-2222

I was asked to check out Not Your Average Joe's recently, and though I had never heard of it, I figured it was worth a shot. It is a small chain that has locations in Glen Mills and Ardmore locally. Surprisingly it was not too far out of the typical Philly Phoodie price range, and they had a craft beer selection to rival most independent eateries.

I chose to sit in the bar area, as I feel most comfortable around a lot of liquor. There were a number of TV's around with sports on, but it didn't feel like a "sports bar".

They offer a seasonal menu along with a standard menu that has some entrees, and a lot of options like pizza and sandwiches.

Check out the local draft list.

The GM Stephen asked if I had tried some of the drafts, and immediately brought out some of his favorites. He was extremely knowledgeable on beer and food, and all around a great guy. A breath of fresh air from some of the places I have been invited.

Many chains are known for their free starters. This was one of the best. Onion focaccia bread, with a spiced olive oil and cheese dip. Diet food this was not. I think I ate the whole basket.

Incredible garlic flavor in the oil and wonderfully caramelized onion on the bread.

The first thing I tried was the bacon-leek flatbread. This boasted applewood smoked bacon, melted leeks and blue cheese, finished with Romano cheese and marinated tomatoes. It was quite tasty, though it was my second favorite flatbread of the evening.

The bacon was crispy, the leeks were tender and sweet, and the blue cheese had just enough funk going on. Also, the crust on this was very thin, and crisped up perfectly.

The OTHER flatbread was butternut squash-based. Now butternut squash is not one of my favorite things. In fact, I generally avoid it. But I happened to love this offering. A thin and crispy base topped with sage-pecan pesto, roasted butternut squash, shaved brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and balsamic reduction. The smoked mozz and sweet tart balsamic were in harmony with the shaved sprouts (which cut the bitterness) and the natural sugar in the squash. I really liked this one.

Look at how thin that crust is.

As if by joke, I was informed the next courses were coming out. I was at the point where a more intelligent person would say, "thank you for the great food, but I am totally stuffed". Luckily(?), I am not that kind of person. I proceeded to do my damnedest to attempt to plow through THREE entrees.

First up, and reigning champion, was the Molasses braised pork shank. I am always a sucker for any kind of shank. Except you know, the prison kind. The shank was slow cooked, served over smoked gouda white-corn polenta with a tart apple relish. This meat was so tender and well rendered, it just pulled off the bone with a gentle nudge from my fork. At $20, it is a STEAL. The smoked gouda (one of my favorites) gave the polenta the fat and flavor so often missing, and the tart pickled apples and red onions cut through their heavier counterparts, adding some "pop".

Look at the crust.

Perfectly pulled off the shank.

The Harvest Mac and Cheese was an insane bowl of smoked mozzarella and pepperjack cheese sauce with roasted butternut squash, roasted mushrooms, pulled chicken, spinach and cavatappi pasta, topped with asiago bread crumbs. This was likely a meal for two on its own. I really liked the bread crumbs, but it was probably my least favorite dish of the night. This might have been because I ate approximately 5,000 calories before it got to me, or because it was outshone by the other dishes.

It was by no means bad, it was just kind of heavy, one note, and maybe lacking a bit of the cheesey roux that mac and cheese conjures up. It was more of a chicken pasta bowl maybe?

Are you feeling full yet? Because we are about halfway there. The Mustard Crusted Chicken didn't seem like much on paper, but it had that "it" factor that made it work, and quite well. Featuring pan-seared chicken in a three-mustard marinade and panko crumbs served with green beans, garlic mashed potatoes and lemon aioli, this could have easily been dry or bland. I mean we are talking about chicken breast and mashed potatoes. This was anything but. The mustard marinade added some tang, and must have helped keep the chicken breast moist (also the kitchen knew what they were doing, thanks Jose), because this was a great WHITE MEAT CHICKEN BREAST. Yes, I said it. I am a thigh man in general, but this was an exception. The lemon aioli was bright and acidic, which helped to make this potentially heavy dish light(ish).

Check that crust. Not very photogenic, but delicious nonetheless.

At this point I was about to nap, but they heard me mention my affinity for both wings and pizza, and out came a dessert Buffalo Chicken Pizza. This one had crispy chicken tenders tossed in  mango-buffalo barbeque sauce with mozzarella, scallions and blue cheese dressing. It was different than the flatbreads from the appetizer menu. And my second favorite dish of the night (behind the pork shank, maybe). The sauce was sweet, spicy, and smokey, the blue cheese was cool and together they formed a sauce to be reckoned with. I would eat those crispy tenders on any occasion.

The crust was super thin, and light. I was shocked such good pizza came from a chain that didn't even specialize in pizza. Though the attention to detail and care put into the other dishes should have been an indicator.

To add insult to gluttonous injury, I was told I could not leave without trying dessert. This was like delicious torture. I was a victim of deliciousness. The Peanut Butter Thing, their signature dessert is peanut butter and chocolate chunks folded into vanilla ice cream and rolled in oreo cookie crumbs, topped with fresh whipped cream and drizzled with hot chocolate and caramel sauces tableside. See below for tableside saucing.

I thought, well I will just take a few bites to be polite. I couldn't possibly eat anything more.

And then I finished the damn thing. Seriously. It was heaven on a plate. Everything sweet I love in this world mixed together. Holy hell.

I did not pay for my meal, which should be apparent above. But I would gladly part with my own money if I were in the area looking for somewhere to eat again. The prices were right, the food was on point, and it is unfair to other chains to call it a chain restaurant. It is leaps and bounds above its competition. It's like they took all of the comforting parts of chain dining (large portions, reasonable prices, approachable food) and made it actually good.