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. 

If your idea of the perfect noodles calls for red sauce, check out Brigantessa's cappellaci dei briganti. The pasta looks like little pointy hats worn by "brigands," or gangs that ambushed and robbed travelers in the forests and mountains of Europe long long ago. So that's cool but even better is Chef Joe Cicala's butcher’s ragu (a mix of meats) in red sauce, served with shaved pecorino canestrato. The little pointy hats were served perfectly al dente, as one would expect from the Le Virtu native. Only wish is that the portions were larger, but there's enough other great stuff at Brigantessa to fill you up (like pizza).

As an Italian BYOB option, Roberto Cafe at 21st and South is the neighborhood standby for simple pastas and traditional entrees. Bradd is always a fan of their spicy penne amatriciana. Since our last visit, I can't stop thinking about the fusilli salmone, a corkscrew pasta with pieces of tender salmon, fresh asparagus and brandy pink sauce. As a lighter pasta option, it will leave you satisfied but not stuffed. If you're looking at the menu online, know that some dishes (like the fusilli) are only listed on the lunch menu but anything can be ordered at dinner for a few extra dollars. 

Last but not least, one of my favorite food truck indulges is MacMart's BBQ-in-a-Bowl mac n' cheese. It's made with MacMart's delicious-on-its-own original mac plus barbecue chicken chunks and smokey barbecue drizzle topped cornbread crumble and potato chip crisps. Admittedly, this is really a gut bomb. God bless anyone who can finish the whole thing; pace yourself and enjoy every bite. Also, be sure to mix in the toppings so you still get the barbecue flavor as you get further down the cup. 

December 7, 2014

Why P&S Ravioli Company Led Me Eat Three Hoagies in One Week

Leave the ravioli, take the hoagie.

That Godfather-inspired quote came to mind after several visits to P&S Ravioli Company (or do they call the stores P&S Deli?) to try the Spicy Godfather and eventually the traditional Italian hoagie.

Made with this hoagie hunter in mind, the freshly sliced heapings of hot capicola, hot soppressata and sharp provolone on a Liscio's roll combine to make the Spicy Godfather one of the best sandwiches of 2014.

The Spicy Godfather will make you an offer you can't refuse.

Adding sweet and vinegary roasted peppers to the saltiness of the sharp provolone tapers some of the heat, but some bites would definitely still have been too hot for Kristy.

My first trip to P&S only included the Spicy Godfather (recommended by a friend, who ordered for us) but since it is technically not a traditional Italian sandwich, I had to bite the bullet and make another trip. Woe is me!

P&S Italian Hoagie
On my second visit, my initial reaction to the Italian hoagie was to crown P&S the leader of Hoagie Quest, my ongoing search for the best Italian hoagies in Philadelphia. The Italian combined everything needed for greatness - quality meats piled high, thick-cut cheese, sliced onions, a crusty, soft roll and no mayo - all within a South Philly neighborhood vibe.

But champions are not crowned after just one bite, so once again I had little choice than to continue this hoagie gorge by visiting P&S as well as current Hoagie Quest leaders Salumeria and Paesano's again to compare.

After stuffing myself with so many great hoagies for a week, I'm not ready to place P&S alone at the top, but the sharp Italian should be added to your short-list of go-to sandwiches in Philadelphia.

P&S serves small and regular hoagies for a mere $4.25 and $7.25 (for comparison the Daddy Wad at Paesano's is $9). My suggestion is to order a small sharp Italian and a Spicy Godfather, so that with enough willpower, unlike me, you will have leftovers or enough for someone else to taste.

You can also skip the South Philly trek as P&S has several suburban locations. My first taste of the Spicy Godfather was in Havertown so I can vouch for the quality control.

One last look at the Spicy Godfather

November 30, 2014

Philadelphia Pizza Craze Part Two: Square and Thick Crust Pies

The thing about pizza is that it can warm you up on a chilly winter night, fill your tummy after a long summer day at the beach, and everything in between. It's the perfect food for any time of year and you can't go wrong at many of Philly's pizza spots, new and old.

This post, the second in our quick series on Philadelphia's latest pizza craze, shares four square and thicker crust pies that we think are among the best in Philly. As we mentioned last post, we take with a grain of salt any discussion about the single "best" pie - especially when so many of today's hot new pizza joints are cooking with a similar style (like the ultra-thin Neapolitan pies that are all the rage).

To help you sample several of the "best" pizza in Philly - new and old - here are a few more pizzas we think you should try next. 

Salciccia from Square Pie with sausage, peppers, onions, mozzarella and red sauce. Brought to us by Gene Giuffi, the owner of Cochon BYOB, find these new square pies in the old Blue Belly BBQ corner in Queen Village. Giuffi taps his Brooklyn roots to make these thick crust, Sicilian-style pies, adding his own flair with meat toppings reminiscent of pork-focused Cochon just across the street. It's nice to see someone focusing on any other style than Neapolitan and they do a great job with a really thick crust.

The Salcicca from Square Pie Phily

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

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.