February 22, 2015

High Chairs, Changing Tables and Chicken Fingers: Big News at 22nd & Philly!

Big news, friends: life at the 22nd & Philly homestead is about to change. Starting this May, we'll be a party of three! We're very excited to welcome a baby boy and couldn't be more pumped for this new phase of life in Philadelphia.

A few thoughts we want to share with readers:

Onesie purchased at Open House on 13th St
Everyone wants to know, what's going to happen to the blog? Let's be honest. Who the heck knows?! We never dreamed that we would have been blogging for so long when we started writing in 2008. However we do know that it's impossible to predict how our schedules, eating patterns and everything else in life will shake out. We love writing this blog and will do our best to keep posting, tweeting, instagramming and more. We are determined to be those people who just strap the kid on and go, but we will just have to see. Hopefully through midday excursions, early bird dinners and Saturday night babysitters (recommendations welcome) we will still be able to tell you about great places to eat in Philly, while adding advice about dining out with kids to our coverage. Stay tuned and bare with us!

Being a pregnant foodie can be fun and so will being food-loving parents. We've been a little behind on posting during the last 6 months, distracted by checking off baby prep lists and binge watching Netflix when I was too exhausted to go out, but it's also helped us experience Philly's great food scene in a new light. Just because your eating interests are all messed up, you can't booze and you're dead tired/getting fatter by the minute doesn't mean you can't enjoy what Philadelphia has to offer.

We have a ton of farmers markets giving us access to fresh, organic foods that are healthy for mom and baby. Peanut butter on Honeycrisp apples from the Fitler Square Farmer's Market was my savior this fall. Bradd is hell-bent on making our own baby food so we'll continue to be regular market shoppers. Philly is a very walkable city, making it easy for expectant mothers to get some exercise around town or during her commute. Only want to eat carbs and baked goods? Perfect! Indulge! Federal Donuts, Beiler's, Frangelli's, the list of quality bake shops goes on and kept this momma happy all winter. Philly's pizza craze also offers plenty of classy options to help you feel like you can still go out on the town. Schools and whatnot? Well that's another story but we're all about positive thinking here and know it's partly up to us young parents to start demanding change. 

Non-alcoholic drinks can be cool. I owe a big shout out to the bars/restaurants that didn't blink an eye at my requests for non-alcoholic cocktails these last 7 months. Lolita's blood orange margarita tasted delicious even without tequila. The Cambridge and In Riva made some solid fake mojitos. One bartender at Tinto must have dedicated five entire minutes to making me something fun. Vedge, Pub & Kitchen and Crow & The Pitcher were all very accommodating, too. Even some places like Aldine and La Calaca Feliz have non-alcoholic sections on their cocktail menus. There were others that stumbled at the request, though. Our ask of all restaurants is to train your bartenders to make at least one simple, signature virgin cocktail. Please don't ever make them resort to, "ummm, well, we have juice, I guess?" Pregnant or not, no one should be made to feel uncomfortable not drinking. 

Making babies is harder and more stressful than you think. This is really important. Getting to where we are today was one hell of a journey - and it's time we speak up. It took the strength of our marriage, endless love of our families, support of wonderful friends, dozens of appointments with the good people of Penn Medicine, serious retail therapy, copious amounts of red wine and an awful lot of tears to survive our baby creation process. It's hard to nail down just how fertility issues make you feel and impact your life. Frustrated. Helpless. Angry. Jealous. Failure. The list goes on. Your life has a feeling of being put on hold.  And worst of all, no one talks about it. If we have one regret it was not opening up more and seeking emotional support from other people who faced the same challenges earlier. We want our readers to know that we are here to listen and offer any small words of encouragement we can to people facing a similar journey. Life is not just the joyous moments you see on Facebook. Please email us at editor at 22ndandphilly dot com if you ever need someone to talk to about this. That goes for the husbands, too. Don't be the tough guy.

Bradd is the superstitious one of us. From racing cars to the end of city blocks for good luck to a healthy smoothie binge that put him the hospital with stomach issues, he exhausted his attempts to create good karma. In the end, it's possible that listening to Pearl Jam non-stop for an entire month saved the day. Or it was finally just the right time for us.

Next up? Picking out a name. And maybe a second slice of cake.

February 15, 2015

A Nana Test First: Zeppoli Earns the Perfect Score

A year ago last month, the inspiration for The Nana Test, my Italian grandmother, passed away. The Nana Test began as a simple and different way to grade Italian BYOBs not just on the quality of the meal, but on their ability to replicate the classic, Italian, family-style food experience that my Nana fostered.

Zeppoli's namesake dessert, as Zeppole = fried dough
Since her passing, The Nana Test has become much more than a gimmick on our blog. It's now an opportunity to find restaurants that can rekindle the great times we shared and the lessons she instilled in my family.

The Nana Test has seen its share of hits, but the perfect score seems to be an impossible ask. Do I need to temper my seemingly unrealistic expectations? Or can a 15 minute trip over the bridge to Collingswood, NJ, prove that a perfect score is possible?

Zeppoli, the intimate Collingswood BYOB that soared to legendary status in 2012 with a "Best New Restaurant" nomination by Bon Appetit, has been on our "must" list for years. It's only fitting that we finally visited right around the time of my Nana's anniversary.

The combination of perfectly-executed food, lively conversation with friends, free tastings and plenty of wine all led to thoughts of meals with my Nana. The night felt more like an event than just a meal. Chef Joey Baldini understands the soul of the Italian food experience.

There is no greater compliment that I can bestow on Zeppoli than to say you’d make my Nana proud.

Here's how the perfect score breaks down:

February 3, 2015

Hot Cocoa You Have to Try in Philly this Winter and a Few to Skip

Welcome to Hot Chocolate Wars 2015! Over the past few years, I've written several posts to help fellow non-coffee drinkers navigate a wide range of options in Philly to find the elusive cup of cocoa that's not lukewarm, bland and/or overpriced. Here are a few new reviews to help you sip the best, with a extra tips about what to munch on, too. 

Little Spoon

Hot chocolate and tasty little biscuit at Little Spoon cafe
Little Spoon is the latest addition to South Street West, taking over the corner spot at 15th & South. From the outside, it looks like a cute little coffee shop to swing in for a quick bite. You can certainly grab a drink to go or sit at one of the few counter spots, but a full menu of breakfast, brunch and lunch options makes Little Spoon more of a sit-down cafe.

The hot chocolate offered good chocolately flavor and a bonus biscuit on the side, but fell short on temperature. I've said before that my pet peeve is fancy cafe hot chocolate that starts out lukewarm and quickly turns cold. I won't go out of my way again for Little Spoon's hot chocolate, but do plan to go back for brunch. On a Saturday in December it was packed with a 40 min wait; clearly we needed another spot like this in the neighborhood.

The Bakeshop on 20th Street

The Bakeshop on 20th Street is pint-sized but chock full of delicious-looking scones, muffins, croissants and more. They serve breakfast sandwiches, too, but note that the shop is not owned by Spread Bagelry across the street, so you aren't getting sandwiches on their bagels. (Originally Spread nabbed the property but that fell through so it's owned by someone else now.)
Cinnamon Brown Sugar Scone from The Bakeshop on 20th

Hot chocolate is not listed on the chalkboard menu, but when I asked they said they made it - and make it they did! Ding ding ding... finally a winner! The Bakeshop's hot cocoa was definitely one of the best I've had around the neighborhood lately in terms of flavor AND temperature. I got it to-go, but it started off plenty hot enough to warm up my walk home and stayed that way. And my cinnamon brown sugar scone was quite good, too. Definitely going back for more treats and hot chocolate.

OCF Coffee House 

Heading back to South Street, OCF Coffee House is one you can skip if you're jonesing for hot cocoa but worth a swing in for a decent bagel. The bagels come from Four Worlds Bakery at 46th & Woodland. As you read in our Knead Bagels review, great bagels are tough to come by in Philly but an everything from Four Worlds made me pretty happy. OCF also serves gluten free cupcakes from Sweet Freedom down the street.

OCF often advertises Nutella Hot Chocolate on its sidewalk chalkboard. It is not on the regular menu inside but usually available. The drink, well, tasted like hot boring liquid. The barista said they just swirl Nutella into hot milk instead of cocoa mix. Could have been a lot more potent but at least it was a deviation from the norm. I tried the regular hot chocolate on a separate visit, and it, too, was pretty bland and lukewarm. Sitting down inside OCF can also be an odd experience. For a while there was no music and only a few people so you could hear every word of the conversations around you. Needs some acoustic help or sound absorption.

(No further photos. Let's face it, to-go hot chocolates all look the same.)
Readers: where else should I try this year for Hot Chocolate Wars??

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.

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.