January 25, 2015

These Tamales Will Get You Up Early on Saturday Morning

There are a lot of great breakfast options around Philadelphia, but for something really different get up early one Saturday morning and go to Mole Poblano for tamales.

Just fold open and devour with a spoon.
The South Philly taqueria is supposed to be a great spot for all sorts of authentic Mexican food (we haven't been for lunch/dinner yet) but the real gem here are the tamales, available early morning on weekends only. Husband and wife, Papá Pedro Ríos and Ynes Sandoval get up at 5:30am to start making tamales by hand and have them steamed and ready for sale from about 8:00am - 10:00am. Perfect for a morning treat, or a way to make your next venture to the Comcast Service Center on Delaware Ave not suck (worked for us!).

Tamales look fairly simple, but are packed with a variety of rich, fresh flavors - and major TLC from the hands that make them. The inside "dough" is masa corn flour mashed with lard and homemade chicken and pork stock, then folded inside corn husks to steam along with any other stuffings picked that day.

We literally just said "one of each, please" and ended up with four: chicken, tomatillos and salsa verde; shredded pork with roasted salsa; vegetarian with stringy Oaxaca cheese, bell peppers, tomatoes and onions; and our favorite, pork with the chefs' housemade mole sauce. The mole added volumes of deep, rich flavor, baked right into the meat. As you unfold the corn husks, the aroma alone will capture your heart before you even take a bite.

Craig Laban named these signature mole tamales one of the 15 best things he ate in 2014 and tells more of the backstory on how Mole Poblano was founded and how great the rest of their Mexican dishes are. The restaurant is one of several great Mexican options in the part of South Philly known as "Puebladelfia" for the number of residents originally from the Puebla state in Mexico. We met a food blogger from Puebla last year who said this pocket of Philly is one of the largest populations of Puebla immigrants in the U.S., with great access to ingredients from home. 

You can eat the tamales in Mole Poblano, or just don't open the foil and head straight home. We sat ours in the oven for an extra 15-20 mins until we were ready to eat and they were still warm and delicious. Oh, and the price for all four? $10. Can't beat that. Give them a try!

Delicious pork with rich, dark mole sauce. So good!

Vegetarian with stringy Oaxaca cheese, bell peppers, tomatoes and onions. Although ask first about the chicken/pork stock used if you're strict about zero animal products. We read about the stock but didn't discuss with them in store.

January 18, 2015

10 Things I Learned on a Tour of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia

Hours of my childhood were spent dreaming about playing baseball at a major league stadium. I can't tell you how many times I won the World Series for the Phillies with a two-out grand slam home run (yes, I dreamed big), in the stadium others called my front yard.

Decades later I brought back that inner child by taking a tour of Citizens Bank Park. Sitting on the dugout bench marked with spikes and spit was my chance to rekindle those thoughts of being swarmed at home plate after the game-winning grand slam. Seeing the locker room and walking on the field were thrills even in my older age.

Whatever your childhood aspirations, touring a stadium is an overlooked, cheap idea for tourists, diehard and casual fans alike to go behind the scenes and discover information about any team and stadium - even during the winter. Over the years, we’ve toured Coors Field in Denver and Camp Nou in Barcelona.

Right here in Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park offer weekly tours. The Wells Fargo Center only allows scheduled group tours, although maybe the 76ers should consider selling tours instead of game tickets... 

Tours of Lincoln Financial Field are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2:00pm and Saturday at 12:00pm and 2:00pm. Tickets are $10, purchased through Ticketmaster. I would buy in advance to be safe.

Citizens Bank Park tours run Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30am in the off-season (October-March). During baseball season (April - September) tours are at 10:30am on non-game days and 10:30am and 12:30pm on game days, unless there is an afternoon game.

I purchased my ticket online only 30 minutes before a 10:30am Wednesday tour in November and was one of five participants. Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds, as the guide said tours can fill up quickly during the season with 30 or more people. 

The tour begins with a promotional video on how the park got built and the vision. I knew most the story already, but the Scottish visitors on my tour enjoyed comparing it Camden Yards, which they had visited a few days earlier.

Holding Chase Utley's bat
Stops along the way include suite boxes, the Diamond Club, the Hall of Fame Club, the press box and indoor batting cages. The show stoppers, however, are visits to the playing field, dugout and locker room.

The locker room was nice, but I was expecting something borderline ridiculous considering the pampering professional athletes demand nowadays. My highlight was holding baseball bats used by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz. 

Here are 10 fun facts I learned during the tour and from the encyclopedic guide who spouted all kinds of Phillies history and facts about the stadium.

1) A $900,000 Grass Field. The NHL paid $900,000 for the new, Bermuda grass field after the Winter Classic ruined the old field. It's the furthest north the sturdy grass has been tried in a stadium.

2) The Phanatic's Special Request. During the design of the ballpark, the architects asked players and workers for any special requests. The greatest mascot on earth asked for a wider locker room door that would enable him to enter/exit more quickly than at the Vet where he had to shimmy through a normal-sized door.

The famous four-wheeler

3) Get those foul balls signed. If you catch a ball during batting practice or a game, an usher is supposed to ask if you want it signed by the player, for free! If they don't, make sure to ask. 

4) World Series History. After the 2008 World Series victory, professional sports artist Jamie Cooper asked Major League Baseball if he could do a painting of Phillies history. It's a classic painting of the best players from the Phillies World Series' teams hung near the entrance of the Diamond Club. Contact Jamie here

5) South Philly's Alarm Clock. We could hear Chip Kelly's playlist loud and clear from Eagles practice next door. Is that what South Philly wakes up to every morning during the NFL season?

 6) Veterans Stadium Lives On. The indoor batting cage, which you can view from one-way glass inside the Diamond Club, is carpeted with the infamous turf from Veterans Stadium and lined with the original outfield wall.

7) An Overworked Boxing Bag. The Phillies installed a punching bag just inside the the dugout so the players could vent frustration after a bad at-bat. Ryan Howard made quite a dent in the bag last year...

8) An Improved Chris Wheeler. Inside the radio booth is a life size image of former Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler. but if you look closely, the #26 on the bottom of the bat reveals the body is actually Chase Utley! Wheels drove me crazy as an announcer, but his 2008 World Series celebration is a classic! 

9) Baseball Superstitions. The lineup posted inside in the media booth for each game is not changed until the next home game. As such, today the lineup still has the last game of the season listed. The final World Series game in 2008 was listed as Game 5.5, which can be found at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

10) 16,200 mistakes. The walls of the Hall of Fame Club are lined with baseballs showing the Rawlings' logo when it was supposed to show Major League Baseball. The Phillies actually called Rawlings to see if they would pay for the advertising. The offer was rejected, but the balls still stayed.

January 7, 2015

Why Philadelphia is Still in Knead of Great Bagels

Fennel & Sea Salt from Knead
Amid all the conversations about what amazing food Philadelphia does have, one repeat afterthought remains: "...but you really can't get a great bagel around here." Many have tried - and we're getting better - but for anyone who defines a "great bagel" as the plump, fluffy wonders from New York/North Jersey, the void frustratingly lingers on. Especially in Center City, which is really our personal frame of bagel reference.

Spread brought us smaller, chewier wood-fired Montreal bagels, which are good in their own right. The trick is to head for right side of the counter and ask for a couple unsliced bagels to-go with a tub of cream cheese so you can skip the line that always snakes out the door. Watch out for the prices, though; a dozen costs $18 - yowzers.

According to Michael Klein at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Spread plans to open a second location in Midtown Village and will compete with another Montreal-style bagelry coming called Mount Royal Bagel Company. Queen Village's South Street Philly Bagels, which we often hear has great bagels but haven't tried yet, is also expanding to 17th & Chestnut in early 2015 so hope is still alive. 

Togarashi, Plain and Fennel/Sea Salt from Knead
Knead bagels is the newest kid on the block (7th & Walnut to be exact), baking a perfectly fine variety, too. They are kettle-boiled, a little larger than Spread and less dense - but still didn't satisfy our search for that big fluffy NY bagel. Looks like Midtown Lunch agrees.

At Knead you can get traditional plain, poppy, everything, etc. with butter ($2) or cream cheese ($3), as well as a standard bacon or sausage/egg/cheese ($6) sandwich.

But what's more fun about Knead is their non- traditional menu deemed for the "brave and curious." Mix and match any of their unique bagels and spreads or defer to a helpfully suggested combo for $3.50, such as: Black Sesame bagel with kimchee cream cheese; Moroccan Spiced Apricot with lemon goat cheese spread; or Superload vegan bagel with red lentil hummus.

December 30, 2014

Can Philadelphia Win the Best Sandwich in North America?

Exciting news, Philadelphia. The Lasagna Bolognese sandwich from Paesano’s has been nominated for the 2015 Chowzter Awards as one of the Tastiest Fast Feasts in North America!

We rallied hard for Philadelphia to be represented in the Best Sandwich category, given that (in our humble opinions) Philly is the greatest sandwich town in America. Next weekend we're off to New Orleans to eat our faces off with our fellow Chowzter contributors from the U.S. and Canada, and to cheer on Paesano's at the annual awards. Keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram feeds on January 10th for the results.

It was VERY hard for us to pick a single nominee from Philly. Bradd actually went on a two-day sandwich spree to retry favorites, including the fearsome foursome of the cheesesteak at John's Roast Pork, the roast pork at John’s, the Italian hoagie at Salumeria and the Bolognese at Paesano’s. All of them, plus many others, are deserving of a nomination.

Ultimately, Paesano's thick hunk of lasagna, breaded, fried and slipped between a sesame seed roll with sweet peppers, extra sauce and a fried egg won out in our hearts. Perhaps more important, we've been saying for years that Paesano’s is one of those special places that represents the rich food culture of Philadelphia - simple, unpretentious and delicious. Both the South Philly and Girard locations are always packed with locals and out-of-towners alike waiting for one of Chef Peter McAndrews' stuffed sandwiches (but note that the Bolognese is only available in South Philly).

This nomination for the Bolognese is another push to tell the world that Philly is more than just a cheesesteak town.

What is Chowzter, by the way?

It all starts with a simple question: When you're getting ready to travel to a new city, what is one of the first questions you ask? If you're anything like us, it is... What should I eat? Where do the locals like to go to avoid tourists? I just want something simple, where can I get a good sandwich? That's where Chowzter comes into play. It gives visitors and residents alike a quick n' easy list of what to eat in cities across the globe, all hand-picked by local bloggers.

If you've been following our Chowzter adventures, last April we traveled to London to meet up with about 50 other food bloggers from around the world for the 2nd Annual Global Chowzter Awards. We've been contributing to the site for more than 2 years now, helping advise visitors to Philly on what to eat here that's affordable, authentic and really shows off Philly as a great, underrated food city. For us, the Bolognese was just that.

Here are all the nominees for this year's Tastiest Fast Feasts:

Looks like we've got a lot of traveling ahead of us to try all these great nominees. Next time you're on move, take a look at www.chowzter.com for short, easy-to-digest lists of the best local dishes and fast feasts in 100+ cities around the world. And let us know before you go - we might be able to introduce you to a local foodie for tours and other helpful ideas.

December 22, 2014

Oodles of Noodles, Part II: Five Ways to Cozy Up to Winter in Philly

Cold weather makes me want pasta. And ramen. And udon. And basically any other form of noodles I can get my hands on. Here's a run down of some great noodle dishes we've had in Philadelphia lately to keep you warm and carb-loaded for winter. Check out last year's Oodles of Noodles post for more delicious feasts. 

Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown has always been a favorite of ours, but it's hard to look past all the dumplings and find room in your stomach for anything else from the six page menu. On a whim we ordered the Pork with Sauce Noodle, learning later from Facebook and Twitter comments that it's apparently a favorite of many regulars. No wonder there's a picture of it on the menu. Handmade noodles, beef, scallions and not much else, it's a $6 dream. Swing into Dim Sum Garden for this, plus an order of soup dumplings, and you're golden.

One of the most delicious pastas we tasted this fall was the capelletti with sausage in a butternut and lemon sauce at new restaurant, Aldine from George and Jennifer Sabatino of Stateside fame. When Jennifer came over to our bar seats to ask how it was, I think I summed up my feelings well with, "you should really serve this in buckets" because that's how much of it I would eat. The tender housemade cheese-stuffed pockets and light but extremely flavorful sauce was really something special - almost didn't even need the sausage. It was a small portion at $16 though, so prepare for a more expensive night out in order to get your fill of food and drink. But don't skip this dish when your order.