April 17, 2014

For Your Next Weekend Trip to Brooklyn

Confession: we'd never been to Brooklyn before December 2013 (except when Bradd ran through the borough during the NYC marathon). Some say Brooklyn is now the "hottest" place to be with endless great food and shops. Others say it's "so last year" and all the cool kids have already moved on to other [cheaper] boroughs. Well, all we know is that we had a great little weekend getaway - and ate tons of great food - so if you are looking for a foodie excursion, consider Brooklyn.

Here are a few reasons why:

Skirt steak and basil spaghetti from Chimu, a Peruvian restaurant in Williamsburg. We wandered in at 5:15pm on a Saturday to an already-half-full restaurant and were wow'd with every bite. Chimu's ceviche mixto appetizer is an absolute must-order. It's an enormous blend of mussels, shrimp, crab and white fish cooked ever so delicately in lime and cilantro.

After the ceviche, the skirt steak must be the most popular dish at Chimu, as all three people at the table next to us ordered it. The meaty cut of tender, simply yet perfectly seasoned steak is served over a heap of green spaghetti - so much that I made an entire dinner the next night out of my leftover pasta and some fresh shrimp. Basil sauce coats the spaghetti without drowning it and tasted just as good the next day. This dish is fantastic on its own, but you can kick it up another notch by asking for a side of chimichurri.

Peruvian basil spaghetti and skirt steak at Chimu

Morning stroll through the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, the enormous flea and food markets that Philly has been working to replicate. Our strategy was to scope out all the food vendors first, each pick one thing to eat, wander some of the vintage stalls and crafters, return to food vendors for another bite, wander more stalls, repeat until you are stuffed and/or broke. We went during winter, when the two Brooklyn attractions combine and move inside, so we didn't actually get the full effect. But if the excellent mix of cultural and tasty delights we saw was any indication, the warm weather version of Smorgasburg must be out of control.

The vintage goods at the Flea are really neat to explore, too, maybe a little pricey for stuff that is supposed to look worn, but someday when we have a big house in the 'burbs to furnish, I'll return and shop for real

One of the many Smorgasburg vendors we visited making delicious little rice balls

Afternoon snack at DiFara Pizza. One of New York's most revered pizza shops, Di Fara serves up insanely good square slices that make riding the Q train out of your way, $5 per slice, and the possibility of a wait, all worthwhile. Founder Domenico DeMarco has been rolling the dough for every pizza since 1959 and places each topping with tremendous care. It's a safe bet that anyone else you see working there is family, too. There is space to sit but it's very small. No worries, you'll scarf Di Fara's down so quickly that standing is no big deal.

Di Fara square slice. Heaven. 

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge should be on everyone's bucket list. It's an historical artifact in its own right, having revolutionized the way bridges were built, like, a zillion years ago. (Actually constructed from 1870 - 1883, 13 years!) It also has a really interesting story behind it, including generations of a family, the many challenges of bridge building and the discovery of decompression sickness. The details are depicted on plaques spread out across the bridge, so while we fully support looking up and all around you at the sights, also be sure to look down and read the info along your journey. If you don't want to walk both ways, start on the Brooklyn end (take a subway there) and walk back to Manhattan for this stellar view:

Brooklyn Bridge with the Freedom Tower and Lower Manhattan in the background

April 8, 2014

South Street West: So Tasty, So Crepe!

South Street West's restaurant row continued to expand during 2013 with the openings of spots like Miles Table, So Crepe and, most recently, Entree. We haven't seen or heard much about Entree yet - have you?? This blog post gives a little history about the chef's Ardmore roots and sourcing of ingredients from Italian Market vendors. 

I've become a fan of So Crepe for Sunday brunch with girlfriends. It has a short menu of sweet and savory crepes, plus 4-5 daily specials. The crepes are plenty big enough for a meal; I'd recommend getting one savory each and then splitting a sweet for the table. Both times I went with a party of three we did this and it was plenty of food. Also, with a few coffees or juices added in the bill was only around $35 total, so it's very affordable. 

My favorite crepe so far has been the "So Chevre" with goat cheese, honey and walnuts (below). The crepe was nice and light, stuffed with plenty of cheese and just enough nuts. I couldn't finish it all and it tasted great heated up in the oven for dinner the next day. Other savory options include brunch-ish ingredients like ham, eggs and cheese, as well as shrimp, chicken, salmon, veggies and even hot dogs. Last visit, I tried a special crepe with leeks, swiss and bacon, which was less photogenic but also hit the spot. 

So Chevre with honey and walnuts, with a little spinach on the side

On the sweet side, you can't go wrong with the "So Simple" mix of sugar, butter and lemon, right off the streets of Paris. The "So Chocolate" (below) is always an excellent option, too, with your choice of fruit inside plus whipped cream and chocolate drizzle on top. Especially when you can replace the chocolate with Nutella! Other sweet crepes have caramel, apple, and even peanut butter and jelly.

So Nutella with bananas and whipped cream

So Crepe is also a BYOB, in case you're inclined to go for dinner and bring wine - or you roll like the party of six adults we saw enjoying a lovely bottle of red over brunch. Otherwise, So Crepe has all the coffee and tea you'd expect, plus a fun glass of sparkling apple cider for something different.

One of my latest companions had an excellent idea: So Crepe should open a sidewalk window where people can purchase fresh crepes to go, just like in Paris. How great would it be to snag a crepe on South Street and wander up to Rittenhouse Square on a beautiful spring day!?


March 29, 2014

The 2013 22nd & Philly Scarpetta Awards

The Scarpettas are back!

22nd & Philly's annual food awards give us a chance to review all our food experiences from the previous year and give you a round up of our favorites.

Each year, a reader will ask us, why the "Scarpettas?" Quick background: the Italian phrase for using bread to clean your plate is "fare la scarpetta." It's perfect for our awards because one of the most telling signs of a great meal is whether Bradd cleans his plate with a piece of bread. To wit, winning a Scarpetta means you not only passed the test, but exceeded all others.

Serpico's Duck Buns
Without further ado...

Best New Restaurant: Serpico. The latest winner from Stephen Starr puts a fresh spin on modern Asian/American cuisine, with dishes like fried duck leg buns and diver scallops you'll talk about for weeks. We loved our meal from start to finish!

Best Sandwich: Border Springs Pulled Lamb Shoulder with piri piri sauce and crushed potato chips on brioche. Skip the lines for other things at Reading Terminal Market, hustle straight to Border Springs for a lamb sammie instead. Here's our first podcast with the owner, Craig Rogers.

Best Place We Never Wrote About: Han Dynasty. This place deserves all the praise it gets from everyone else and we wholeheartedly back up the popular claim that you're guaranteed to dream about Han's spicy Szechuan food within days of eating it.

March 18, 2014

Four Things to Order at The Fat Ham and One to Skip

Oyster Slider
Kevin Sbraga first gained acclaim as a Top Chef winner and then for his namesake restaurant Sbraga, a 2011 Scarpetta Award honoree for best new restaurant.

Now Chef Sbraga has expanded with a more low key space called the The Fat Ham, which is focused on southern country cooking and traditions.

We loved the concept and enjoyed the food just as much. Here are four things you should order at The Fat Ham.

1. The Fat Apple cocktail. We recognized the bartender from his days at Pub & Kitchen. He’s the really tall guy, super friendly and knows his drinks. We took his recommendation for The Fat Apple - great, simple, whiskey drink. The kind you could have five of on a nice day. The Fat Ham also serves its own twist on the Moscow Mule in those famous copper mugs. (side note: I've had Moscow Mules at two other local bars since not served in the copper mug and it just isn't the same.)

2. Southern Hummus. If there was a “hummus” to give Zahav a run for its money this would be it. Mixing boiled peanuts with the traditional chickpeas gave it just enough distinction and the grilled bread served with it was excellent. You’ll want to lick the wooden bowl clean!

3. Oyster Sliders. These giant oysters were perfectly fried into a crunchy bite, while the coleslaw and gribiche was a tasty condiment. The real kicker, though, was the yeast roll – fluffy, buttery and quite simply perfect. Order one per person and see the photos below for other good apps/sides.

4. Hot Chicken. "Hot" in this case means to the touch and more significantly to taste. You’ll get a minor forehead sweat but also just enough sweetness to keep you diving back in for more, and taking advantage of the white bread, house-made ranch and pickles underneath. Just like the oysters, the chicken is perfectly fried. This version certainly rivals Resurrection and Federal Donuts. I’d love to see Fed Nuts come up with a spicy take like this one. Loved it. At $13 it’s an above average deal.

Hot Chicken!

One disappointment was the chocolate chip cookie skillet. From the sound of it (a hot skillet full of just-baked cookie dough) we thought this was going to be another highlight. The result tasted fine but was thinner and harder than expectations. Perhaps another scoop of ice cream and softer dough would have done the trick.

The Fat Ham is located near WXPN and World Cafe Live on Walnut Street, just before the heart of UPenn's campus in University City. Keep in mind that the space is uber small so try to get a reservation or go as a pair and sneak a spot at the bar. We’d advise against a big dinner party, as we saw one group waiting a good bit to get seated. It just doesn't have the volume seats needed to turnover quickly enough for a large group.

Have you been to The Fat Ham? What would you recommend?

Grilled Trout w/ brussels sprouts, pecan butter
Baked macaroni & cheese with BBQ potato chip crust

Hummus in a wooden bowl
Chocolate chip cookie skillet

March 6, 2014

Avance + Border Springs = The Best New Burger in Philly?

Border Springs lamb, onion marmalade, harissa mayo and feta on a sesame potato bun. Those, folks, are the ingredients for the next great burger in Philly.

Avance burger with a side of chickpea fries
Readers know we’re big fans of Border Springs Farm. Their lamb sandwiches are some of the best in Philly and their founder, Craig Rogers, is passionate about making lamb more mainstream. (listen to our podcast interview with Craig)

When we heard that Avance, the new restaurant in Le Bec Fin's old space, was using Border Springs lamb in its burger to rave reviews, we knew we had to check it out. It's definitely one of the best burgers in Philly, if not the best.

We are not alone in this feeling: both Craig Laban and Adam Erace loved the Avance lamb burger, too.

The healthy-sized burger comes with the refreshing and flavorful twist to traditional toppings listed above. The bartender raved about the sesame seed potato bun and we couldn't agree more. It was soft, tasty, almost like a slightly denser brioche. The lamb meat was cooked to an absolutely perfect medium rare. There was nothing to dislike about this burger. Even the $18 price is worth it. Go. Get. It. Now!

(keep reading for more tips about drinking/dining at Avance)

Inside the Avance lamb burger

If you need another reason to go, local writer and foodie extraordinaire Joy Manning, who ate a nearby table, said the dry aged duck was one of the top five things she’s had in Philly. High praise indeed from an expert.

Even better, you don’t need a reservation to get the burger, duck or anything else off the Avance menu. Just head to the downstairs bar, which reminds us of a high-class gastropub/cocktail bar. It filled up quickly by 7:30 on a Friday night. The scene was low key and the bartenders were conversational. With this undertone and a menu that brings in local providers like Border Springs, it represents well chef Justin Bogle's goal to create a dining experience that fosters community among the local farmers, the kitchen and its guests.

Speaking of the bar, we sampled a variety of cocktails and all were quite good. Toe to Toe is a nice, lightly fruity option for the tequila drinker. Run 'n Gun really does remind you of sitting around a campfire, as the bartender described. We didn’t try the Panda at the Disco, but the glass is covered in liquid nitrogen first so we got a show every time someone else ordered it - apparently it's popular.