November 23, 2014

Philadelphia Pizza Craze Part One: Are Neapolitan Pies the Best Pizza in Philly?

Philadelphia's pizza craze has reached bubble territory with the likes of Capofitto, Square Pie and Brigantessa all opening in the last few weeks, and Pizzeria Vetri, Bufad and several others not too long before them. It's as if the pizza gods are trying to make up for years of limited options by ensuring a quality place is on every city block.

We're big fans of the bubble like anyone else, but as pizza simpletons we take with a grain of salt the constant in-your-face debate about the best pie. It's easy to tell when pizza is bad. But as one of the greatest foods on Earth, pizza inadvertently imposes a real challenge in separating the "best" from 2nd, 3rd and even 4th best - especially when so many of today's popular pies are similar in style (ultra-thin Neapolitan being all the rage right now). 

To help you sample some of the "best" pizza in Philly - new and old - our next two blog posts will share eight great thin and thick crust pizzas.

Let's start with some of our favorite thin crust pies, in no particular order:

Nomad's Margarita pizza. Now with two locations and a food truck, Nomad's Neapolitan-style pizza is never more than a few steps away. And it's super light so you can polish off this whole sucker by yourself. Many say it's the "best" and most authentic Neapolitan in Philly but you should decide that for yourself.

Nomad's Margarita Pizza

Newest to Philadelphia, Brigantessa's thin, chewier pizza reflects the same Neapolitan style found at Nomad. It's flash-cooked in a wood-fired oven and raced upstairs to your table - don't be surprised if your waiter shows up sweating. Fun note: this is the only place we've even been given the option to slice or not to slice our pizza. When we asked why, Brigantessa's staff explained that ripping apart pizza is how the Italians always ate it. So consider that touch of authenticity next time you go. There's more on the history and tradition of Neapolitan pizza on Brigantessa's site

Brigantessa's Margarita Pizza

Pizza Brain reminds us more than most Philly pizza of the thin NY-style slice we cherish so deeply. They have all kinds of wacky flavors but you know what? That super cheesy plain Jane slice is damn well worth the trip to Fishtown on its own. Save room for ice cream at Little Baby's after.

Pizza Brain's Jane slice with a sliver of their 4-cheese special of the day

Last but not least, old stalwart Tacconelli's signature pie with sausage. Love that garlicky crust, those tomatoes, oh boy. Want it now. Well worth all the effort to make plans, call ahead for the dough and trek to Port Richmond. The new Mercer Cafe at the Navy Yard just announced it will feature the Tacconelli family brick oven pizza recipe, too, under the training of Tacconelli's Maple Shade, NJ, location.

Tacconelli's signature pie with sausage

Check back in a few days for our next post on square pies and thicker crust pizzas around town!


November 16, 2014

Four Ideas for a Quick Center City Lunch (and One Bonus Donut)


Desperate to get out of the office some days or anxious to start holiday shopping over the weekend? Here are a few ideas for lunch in Center City to fill you up with something quick.

Sushi Burritos

When Hai Street Kitchen opened this past spring, Philly was hard core buzzing about the crazy new "sushi burrito" place. I thought, ummm isn't that an awful lot of raw fish at once? I'm here to clear up that Hai Street a) does not exactly serve gigantic sushi rolls but that is what they look like, b) isn't the same at High Street on Market - can't tell you how many people have confused them - and c) is a good little spot to swing in for lunch.

Make your own nori (seaweed) wrap, rice bowl or salad bowl, or choose a signature item. Among the fresh, all-natural ingredients are yellowfin tuna and tataki salmon, but you can also opt for shrimp tempura, chicken, steak or pork and then add in all sorts of Japanese sauces, veggies and crunchy stuff like roasted peanuts or fried shallots. We tried the three Signature wraps seen below. Didn't quite live up to all the initial hype but  the Hai Street Chicken and The Crunch were good enough that I'd order them again. Each is $8-10, similar in price to your average Center City sandwich. Worth a stop in to try something new and a lot lighter on the stomach than a traditional burrito.

Signature wraps: The Crunch (shrimp tempura, spicy mayo, romaine, cucumber, mango and asparagus); Slammin' Salmon (tataki salmon, spicy gochujang sauce, romaine, cucumber, mango, red onion); and Chicken Katsu (lightly fried chicken, black pepper teriyaki sauce, red onion, red cabbage, green papaya salad)

Boneless Ribs and Tacos at RTM

If you're closer to Reading Terminal Market, two spots we tried lately are The Rib Stand and the newly refurbished 12th Street Cantina.

Run by the Pennsylvania Dutch, The Rib Stand is all the way in the northwest corner at RTM and only open Wednesday-Saturday. Grab a rack of ribs or the boneless rib sandwich you see here with a side of macaroni n' cheese. For a simple, well-stuffed and juicy bite you can't go wrong with the Rib Stand sandwich. Skip adding cheese when they ask, you don't need it.

For those in the mood for Mexican, you can make just about any taco, burrito, enchilada or tostada you want at 12th Street Cantina. But I wouldn't say it's the spot for for taco purists. While delicious, fresh and enormous, my steak and shredded beef tacos were more like the Americanized version. I guess that also depends on what I choose to put on top... also grab plenty of napkins because they can get messy!

Left: boneless rib sandwich and macaroni & cheese from the Rib Stand. Above: Giant steak and ground beef tacos from 12th Street Cantina. Both are in Reading Terminal Market.

 
Falafel Pita

A mere $7 gets you one of the best falafel sandwiches in Philadelphia from Mama's Vegetarian on 20th Street between Market and Chestnut.

The Middle Eastern shop stuffs their pitas with creamy hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and five soft falafel balls. Ask for the spicy sauce and call it day. Those looking for a lighter lunch can order the small version for $4, one of the better deals around.


Last but not least, don't forget to pick up a perfect pumpkin spiced latte doughnut from Federal Donuts on your way back to the office or home while they're still on the fall menu. They are just as fantastic as you'd expect. Fruit not included. 



November 4, 2014

La Viola: Where You End Up with More Pasta After the Bill Arrives

I went to La Viola recently to try one pasta and instead ate three. Here's how.

A year ago my father called me about a pasta so delicious that he thought about ordering another.

While he went against his gluttonous instincts, I did not, but only because he accidentally told me the wrong thing earlier that night - the orrechiette alla romano instead of the fusilli estiva.

Newest obsession: Fusilli estiva at La Viola
By the time he discovered the error and texted me an emphatic and expletive-ridden correction, I had finished an espresso and was about to pay the bill. (The hostess actually came to take the bill twice!) But the fusilli was the sole reason we came to La Viola, so I had no choice but to order a second entree. It also didn't hurt that the average orrechiete made me wish for a more memorable pasta.

The homemade fusilli with cannellini beans, sausage and white onions in an olive oil sauce is one of the best pasta dishes we've had on the Nana Test. I could have ordered a fourth dish to go, ha!

How did the rest of the meal fare in The Nana Test?

October 27, 2014

Abe Fisher's Culinary Tour Through the Jewish Diaspora

At their newest restaurant, Abe Fisher, restaurateurs Steve Cook and Chef Michael Solomonov - a.k.a. "CookNSolo" - introduce Philadelphia to food inspired by cuisines of the Jewish diaspora.

Don't worry, I had to look up the word "diaspora," too. It means the dispersion of a people from their original homeland and is often used to describe the millions-strong Jewish population outside of Israel. So what's cool about Abe Fisher is that it incorporates cuisines from all over the world, as Jewish immigrants have settled in places from New York to Montreal to Moscow.

As he did so successfully with Zahav, Solomonov again introduces Philly to a food experience that we don't get anywhere else - especially if you're like us and have little-to-no access to Jewish home cooking.

Here's a look at several of the dishes we tried at Abe Fisher. They're all served as small plates, divided up on the simple menu by veggies, meat and fish. The menu changes frequently and not everything we ordered is currently available.  Be sure check out the menu online to get a sense for what you'll eat.



October 12, 2014

Have You Tried the New Orleans at Plenty Cafe?

Keeping up with best new and old sandwiches in Philadelphia is difficult with only one stomach and limited time. Without your recommendations to help prioritize Sandwich Quest, I'm merely a one man rowboat trying to cross an endless ocean of sandwiches.

Thankfully the recommendations come often, like this from a recent Twitter tipster:
Not only had we not tried the New Orleans, we had never been to Plenty Cafe. We took Tim up on the suggestion and headed to Plenty's new-ish 16th and Spruce Street location (the original is on East Passyunk Ave.)

Tim was right - the New Orleans is certainly a worthy subject for Sandwich Quest. Pressed between halves of a demi-baguette, the cured and smoked spicy tasso ham, sliced green apple, fig jam and gruyere make for a delicious sandwich.


I don't recall having tasso ham before, but the spicy, peppery flavor is the star of the show, making this sandwich stand out from others in Philadelphia. As I reported back on Twitter, the sweet fig jam combines perfectly with the spicy ham to make the New Orleans a must-try sandwich. It's expensive at $10.50, but the final product is worth the price of admission.

Since the first visit, we have also tried the pesto chicken, Texas brisket and Seoul sandwiches as take out. All were just fine, but none of them came close to the New Orleans and the brisket is the only one I'd recommend. Has anyone tried others or disagree?

Please tell us about your favorite sandwiches and restaurants via Twitter, Instagram, email, whatever. Hearing about all your food experiences is a big reason why we write this blog! Frankly, it's the interaction with all of you that keeps us going.

Also, check out a guest contribution from @TRappaRT - How to Make a Turducken. Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's an epic post full of humor and tips to make your own legendary monument of meat.