Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Mercer Cafe is not too far off of Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond. An old roommate took me here a few years ago and I've been in love with the Mercer Cafe ever since.
A few staple omelets are always available, one of my favorities is the mushroom, onion, bacon, and cheddar. Lots of cheese and crispy bacon are cooked along with mushrooms and onions into the eggs, then folded in half on the plate. The side potatoes are nothing special, just sliced and fried on a flat top, suffering a bit from being slightly undercooked. Admittedly, I'm a bit picky about potatoes, especially breakfast potatoes. Crunchiness is necessary. Another omelet not to miss out on is one that combines asparagus, mozzerella and crabmeat. Absolutely delicious.
If you're into something sweet for breakfast, which sometimes I am, the best thing to order at the Mercer Cafe is the marscapone french toast, served with berries and syrup. The marscapone is spooned in between the warms slices of egg-dipped challah bread so that it melts and mixes with the sweet berry syrup. It's so good that I always eat too much and end up with a tummy ache. But it hurts so good, you know?
2619 E Westmoreland Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Once a year, as part of the Taste of Philadelphia event, the Philadelphia Weekly puts out a glossy insert called "Taste" in their weekly paper. Those of you in the Philadelphia area should definitely check out this week's issue of the Philadelphia Weekly.
Five food bloggers (including me!) are mentioned in an article about Philly's blogging scene surrounding food and drink.
If you don't live in the area you can follow this link to check out the online version.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This past Sunday, Marissa, Lauren and I made the traffic-heavy trek out to Media to visit Linvilla Orchards. I was starving by the time we got there, so we decided to divide and conquer the food stands and meet back up together at a nearby picnic table to share and taste everything we picked up.
Apple fritters were delicious if not a bit greasy, but hey, this is like fair food, it's supposed to be a little greasy. Whole slices of apple were dipped in a slightly sweet batter and fried. The batter puffs up nicely and is dusted with powdered sugar before serving.
My favorite of all the things we devoured were these cider doughnuts. Again, slightly sweet dough is spiked with cider, and fried, then rolled in cinnamon sugar. Totally amazing. I could have eaten six.
We also got an order of fresh fried potato chips. These reminded me of the fresh chips I had in August at the Alaska State Fair, but here in Pennsylvania they pour cheese on them!
After we ate our fill of fried food, we grabbed a few apple crates and went picking. It's a bit late in the season, so many trees were bare and the ground was covered in slowly rotting apples, which attracted bees. Luckily, I remained un-stung and found a few trees with ripe fruit. One even landed in Marissa's pants!
If it weren't so crowded on Sunday I would have gone crazy in the Linvilla Orchard Market, which is across the road from the pick your own apples hut. Among many other things, they sold freshly baked pies and breads made with fruit and vegetables grown on the premesis.
In the end, I picked about 15 pounds of apples, and it only cost $17.99. I've already made an apple crisp, passed a few pounds on to friends and I'm thinking about trying to 'bake' some apples on the grill as soon as it stops raining.
Marking its eleventh consecutive year, the Pie in the Sky is MANNA’s largest fundraiser with a goal of selling 13,000 pies to raise $325,000. From now until November 16, a selection of five gourmet pies will be on sale for $25 - $35 each, with all proceeds benefiting MANNA’s mission – delivering care and hope by nourishing people at acute nutritional risk due to a life-threatening illness in the Delaware Valley. The purchase of each pie provides a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner for a family of four.
Pies are $25 - $35 each and orders can be placed online on MANNA’s website www.mannapa.org or by calling 1-866-SKY-PIES (1-866-759-7437).
Deadline for all orders is NOON on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2007.
Are you a food blogger? Do you live within a reasonable distance of Philadephia?
If you answered yes to both of these questions, let's get together for a Philadelphia Food Blogger Potluck!
If you're anything like me, you're interested in meeting the voices behind the blogs we read daily.
Marisa, from Fork You! fame (as well as Apartment 2024 and Stories from Reading Terminal Market has agreed to host the event, and we all decided a potluck is a great idea for this group of self-proclaimed foodies. So whip up a signature dish and join us!
If you consider yourself to be a food blogger/vlogger/podcaster/writer and you live in the area, we happily invite you to join us. If you want to attend, please give Taylor a shout at taylorhigh24 (at) hotmail (dot) com. The event is scheduled for Friday, November 2nd. Please send Taylor an email at the above address and she'll send you the full details in return.
See you there!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I recently had a very important guest to Philadelphia, my mother. I've lived here going on five years, and while she'd been in town briefly a time or two, to help me move or to accompany me on a drive to New Hampshire, I hadn't yet had the opportunity to show her my city.
I planned most of her visit around where to eat, and Villa di Roma was high on the list. Not only is it in a fun part of the city, necessitating a walk through the markets near Washington Avenue, but Villa di Roma is also an iconic part of Philadelphia Italian American cuisine. The staff is no-nonsense, all the women call you "hon" and an annoying buzzer alerts servers and patrons that someone's dinner is hot and ready to be served.
We debated ordering the Villa salad, but after a description from the waitress, we decided against it. Something about the combination of Italian and Thousand Island dressing made me nervous. Instead, we opted for the friend asparagus, which I've posted about previously as little spears of heaven. Mom had the eggplant parmigiana and declared it some of the best she's ever had.
I tried something I'd never ordered before, but heard was delicious upon recommendation from a friend, the Chicken Neapolitan. Chunks of white meat chicken are sauteed with garlic, onions, and mushrooms in a white wine butter sauce. I almost melted at the first bite, and after trying a piece herself, I think my mother had a little order envy. I ate half, took the rest to go, and had a glorious lunch the next day, too.
If you're in the mood for some delicious red Italian fare, check out Villa di Roma. It's also a great place to bring someone from outside of Philly to show them a little authentic food and attitude.
Villa di Roma
936 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I finally made it to National Mechanics and it was worth the multiple attempts! It had been a long week, but I was looking forward to hanging out with a few friends I hadn't seen in awhile.
We ordered the Frito Taco Extravaganza, because with a name like that, how couldn't you be curious? It's a nostalgic treat for me, bringing me back to watching my brother's little league games, where they served this dish right in the Frito's bag, covered with chili and cheese, a spoon stuck in the middle. National Mechanics cuts open the bag and loads the Frito's up with a chili loaded with beans. We all loved it.
Since I was dining with meat eaters, we also ordered some wings. For me, wings are the kind of food which takes more effort than it's actually worth, but of course I tried them. I enjoyed the sauce, it wasn't overly sweet.
The burger was a nice size, and served with some truly delicious steak fries. For me, a steak fry must be crispy to stand up to the thick cut of the potato. These were great.
Fish and Chips was served with the same delicious steak fries. The fish was good, but after four years in Wisconsin, I'm a fried fish snob, nothing can compare.
Lauren and I decided dessert was necessary, so we ordered a three layer chocolate ganache cake and, upon suggestion of our waitress, the bread pudding. This bread pudding was really good. When it was gone, I kinda wanted to order another. But I didn't. Instead, I went over to say hi to Marisa, who I recognized from her blog, Apartment 2024, as well as Fork You. She immediately introduced me to another blogger I read, Philafoodie, who asked me if I was a vegetarian, to which I answered "no", and he immediately handed me a shot of bacon vodka. Yes, bacon vodka.
I went back to my table to tell my friends about the bacon vodka, and they were so intrigued we ordered a round. Here's a picture of us just before we took the plunge. (Ha ha! My friend Marissa looks scared) That's right, I followed up one shot of bacon vodka with another. Overall, it was bad. It smelled stronger of bacon than it tasted. But I still contend it's best application would be in a Bloody Mary.
Go to National Mechanics. The food is good, the decor is unique, even in the bathroom!
22 South 3rd Street
Philadelphia PA 19106
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
After months (maybe even a year or so) of talking about taking me to an excellent Thai/Loatian restaurant in University City, Alison finally brought me to Vientiane Cafe on Baltimore Avenue. It's a small restaurant that utilizes their limited space well, even accomodating a large party of 10 during a busy dinner on my recent visit.
We started with the fresh vegetarian summer rolls ($3.95). Sometimes the fresh summer roll wrapper is too chewy for me, but these are a favorite of Alison's and I enjoyed these rolls at Vientiane Cafe more than I normally do. Rice noodles, along with thinly sliced carrots, baked tofu and cucumber are swaddled inside of a fresh rice paper sheet and served with spicy rice vinegar and plum sauce.
Another of Alison's favorite dishes is Pad Thai. The Pad Thai at Vientiane Cafe is excellent and comes with your choice of shrimp, chicken or beef. On this occasion however, I encouraged her to order something new and it payed off. The sweet basil chicken ($8.95) is a delicious mix of garlic, chili pepper, broccoli, carrots and onion in a spicy sauce. Neither of us agreed that the sauce was spicy, but that was nothing a little Siracha couldn't fix, and the sauce was full of basil and crispy vegetables.
The red curry is also a smart choice ($9.95). A huge bowl of steaming coconut milk red curry sauce is laden with string beans, broccoli, carrots and your chocie of meat. All entrees are served in very substaintial portions and are all reasonably priced.
Our two entrees and appetizer came to just $25 and we were stuffed!
See Vientiane Cafe's menu on Menupages.com.
4728 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
My roommate, who is a going out to eat afficianado, first took me to Dimitri's for my birthday a few years ago. It is, hands down, the best Mediterranean seafood restaurant in the city. Dimitri's recently opened up a second restaurant location at 23rd and Pine. The newer Dimitri's is larger, has a bar, and accepts credit cards, while the originial location on 3rd and Catherine in Queen's Village is a tiny, cash-only BYOB. My mother was in town recently, and in the whirlwind of showing off my favorite places in the city, we headed to the original Dimitri's location in Queen's Village.
I simply can't eat a meal at Dimitri's without ordering their hummus. It's super creamy, with lots of garlic and garnished with olives, paprika, and parsely. Scooping the hummus onto char-grilled pita bread triangles and washing it down with a glass of red wine is a heavenly experience.
We also ordered a small plate of feta cheese and an assortment of olives. My mother swears she doesn't like olives, but I convinced her to try at least one of each we were served. The feta is plated in 2-inch cubes alongside the olives, which I love, as some of the olive brine gets soaked up by the feta, turning it's already salty character a even more complex.
Grilled scallops were perfectly cooked and served in a very generous portion along with rice, sauteed escarole and lemon wedges.
Squid was cut into fun triangle shapes and charred to perfection in Dimitri's open kitchen. This squid held no resemblance to the often chewy and batter-laden calamari served on menus around the city.
The grilled lamb was a first for me on this visit, and the only non-seafood item on Dimitri's menu. The lamb was sliced and grilled quickly as to remain medium rare and juicy and served with grilled vegetables and cucumber dill sauce.
Since you can bring your own wine or beer to the location in Queen's Village, Dimitri's is an affordable way to sample some expertly cook fresh seafood. Two appetizer plates and three large entrees came to $60 before tip. Large plates are also very large. I'd been on a small fast all day to save room for the dinner I knew I was going to love, but I still had to ask for half a dozen of my scallops to be wrapped up for lunch the next day.
795 South 3rd St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Cash Only, BYOB, No Reservations
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Coffee is one thing I'm pretty snobby about. I find I enact the same philosophy with coffee as I do with bed linens, I'm going to use them every night, so they better be good. Most of the time, I could care less if I'm drinking a $4 or $40 bottle of wine, but I almost always care about what kind of coffee I'm drinking. That's why I was very excited to participate in a coffee cupping with Peet's coffee last week.
Peet's coffee is based on the West coast, and has had a healthy mail order business to supply their excellent coffee to those of us who live too far away to visit one of their retail stores. However, my invite to this particular cupping coincided with the release of Peet's Coffee into ACME supermarkets in the Philadelphia region. I met with a coffee educator named Erica Hess, who taught me how to correctly French press coffee and answered all the questions I could muster about coffee growing, roasting, storage, and brewing technique. Above are samples of the brews I had the pleasure to sample (Colombian, Major Dickason's Blend, Panama Esmeralda (unroasted) and Panama Esmeralda (Roasted). Most importantly, Peet's coffee is obsessed with freshness. Every package that you'll find in a local Genuardi's or ACME is guaranteed to have been shipped to the store within 24 hours of being roasted and to remain there for only 90 days.
When using a French Press to brew coffee, it's important not to grind the roasted beans too finely. If you over-grind, the grounds will pass through the filter and you'll have gritty coffee.
Some things I was surprised to learn:
1. Use 2 heaping tablespoons of ground coffee per 6oz of hot water. For a 32oz French Press such as the one pictured, you should use approximately 10 tablespoons of medium ground coffee.
2. After the your water has come to a boil, let it sit a minute before pouring the hot water over the coffee grounds. Boiling water can actually scorch coffee, so by letting it sit for 30 seconds to a minute off heat will bring the temperature of the water down by just enough to prevent burning.
3. Start timing 3 minutes from when you initially pour the water over the coffee grounds. Less time will give you weak coffee, more time may over-extract from the beans.
4. Pour half the water in the French Press and let the coffee "bloom" as you swirl carefully with your hands or with a spoon. Erica Hess explained that coffee is very gassy and letting it expanded or "bloom" before pouring the full amount of water gives it room to let excess gases to escape.
5. After you've poured in all the hot water, press steadily and evenly, but only half way down with the plunger. Wait for the three minutes to pass, and then press the plunger as far as it will go.
By following these steps you'll be rewarded with a rich and flavorful cup of coffee with just a touch of extra effort.
Prior to this educational experience I could have only told you that I liked certain coffees a great deal and others I was less impressed with. It wasn't until I sat down and tasted numerous coffees side by side could I really piece out distinct flavors and notes. While I'm still no expert, I definitely have a broader understanding of the nuances between beans grown on different continents and roasted to different degrees.
I also had the immense pleasure of meeting Eric Hales, the Four Seasons Executive Pastry Chef, who created some special dessert pairings for the coffees I sampled that afternoon. Starting at the top is a triangular Tiramisu, to the right is an almond cake with pear jelly, in front is a chocolate cake with figs and honey and finally to the left is a croissant bread pudding with white chocolate shavings. All were delicious, but the bread pudding was my favorite and paired very well with the Major Dickason's Blend.
Check out Fork You's video episode of the Peet's coffee tasting.
A local Inquirer writer also covered the cupping. Read about it here.
Look for Peet's coffee in an ACME or Genuardi's near you!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
If you like to bake and read food blogs, you've probably come across Baking Bites. It's a veritable gold mine of recipes and tips for bakers. I check it daily and have tried a few recipes, all of which have turned out delicious. One recent recipe had me in the kitchen about 30 seconds after reading it. The following recipe for Chocolate Cinnamon Bread is actually a recipe made for Starbucks by Chef Marcus Samuelsson and Andrew Linnemann. The original recipe can be found in .pdf format here.
I made some minor alterations to the recipe based upon my preferences and what I had in the pantry.
Chocolate Cinnamon Bread
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated white sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Cocoa
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cocoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Line two 9x5 loaf pans with release foil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In an electric mixture, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition.
In a medium bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients.
In a small bowl combine buttermilk, water and vanilla paste.
Add half the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and combine. Add the liquid ingredients and combine. Add the remaining dry ingredients and make sure all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
Combine sugar, cocoa and cinnamon and mix with a spoon. Top the two loaves with sugar crust mixture and bake for 55 minutes. Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then use the foil to lift the loaf from the pan.
Let cool completely before slicing.
This bread is soft and light, but chocolately and crunchy on top due to the sugar crust.