Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Best Part of Waking Up - Grab some breakfast at Morning Glory Diner

I don't often write about breakfast places. The hubby and I go out to breakfast on the weekends, and that's about it. Nick loves Penrose Diner in south Philly, so we go there quite a bit, but we also try to hit up a new breakfast spot once a week (hangovers allowing). Most are good, but nothing to write home about. A lot of the time a good plate of eggs and scrapple at Penrose (Nick's breakfast of choice) beats out a heaping plate of some crazy brunch concoction any day of the week.

But sometimes you're looking for a little more out of your breakfast experience. I often have a hankerin' for quiche, and unfortunately lately I've had two pretty poorly executed ones in a row and am beginning to feel like the GoldieLocks of egg dishes. A quiche I had at Old City Cheese Shop was too runny (I mean, I like soft quiche but the crust on the bottom was completely raw), and the fact that it was $13 didn't help either. Then a quiche I had at Ida Mae's Bruncherie was so overcooked that it ripped the moisture right out of my mouth (which is a shame because they do have some decent dishes there...beans and toast are good and the Soda Farl is excellent). So this morning when the hubby and I went to breakfast at the Morning Glory Diner I shied away from the frittatas and ordered a scramble instead. This scramble was so perfectly executed that I think I'm going to throw caution to the wind and order the frittata next time we visit. I'm confident they can deliver on it.

We heard about Morning Glory Diner on the Travel Channel's show, Best Food Ever. If there is a show out there about travel or food you can be sure it's being recorded on our DVR. So not to be left in the dark we headed out there this morning for some grub.

We arrived earlier than usual this morning (around 10:30-ish) and it was a good thing because by the time we were seated the waiting area (which is a cute little garden) was packed. The service was friendly and prompt and we ordered quickly. I had the "veggie scramble" special and Nick ordered their claim to fame (or at least what the Travel Channel thinks is their claim to fame) the "monkey french toast".

My scramble was ridiculously good. The eggs were cooked to perfection, the veggies were pre-cooked nicely so they didn't water-down the dish, and even the often overlooked potatoes were seasoned to perfection. My scramble had a myriad of different veggies in onion, tomato, kale, unidentifiable yet yummy greens, and it was topped with a thin layer of brie (they had me at brie). It also came with a biscuit (a little dry but ok) and a slice of watermelon, which ended up being a welcome and light flavor at the end of the meal. Two thumbs up from me.

The hubby's french toast was good as well. He gave it 3 1/2 stars out of 5, and considering Nick really doesn't like sweet breakfasts all that much, it's a good star rating. The french toast was thick cut and filled with caramelized bananas and mangos. Then it was topped with a caramel sauce and served with a side of whipped cream. A bit rich for my blood but he gobbled it up.

The only thing I had a beef with was the coffee. I personally don't drink coffee (those who know me realize I'm hyper enough as don't want to add caffeine to that me), but the hubby appreciates a good cup 'o joe. He commented on the fact that the coffee was, in fact, a step up from typical diner brew, but when the check came we realized that two cups ran him $5. Maybe it's just me but any place that calls themselves a diner and specializes in breakfast should really be giving out free refills. But that's just my two cents.

When it's all said and done it looks like we will certainly be back. I simply MUST try one of their many frittata options (this morning the special was one with kalamata olives, broccoli rabe, cheese and pasta baked in!). I caught a glimpse of a few as they came out of the kitchen and they look wonderful. And perhaps Nick will order two eggs with scrapple and see how they compare to his beloved Penrose.

So head out tomorrow morning and give this glorious place a try. They are cash only and did seem to fill up around 11. If you're a late riser no worries. Take the paper with you and enjoy your wait in their garden. And please, if you try the frittata, let me know how it was!

Morning Glory Diner on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tartes - The names says it all

I have a list of restaurants that Nick and I have recently visited but have yet to write about. Sometimes I'm just lacking inspiration. Sometimes I'm torn about how I should word my review. And sometimes I'm just plain lazy. But then there are the times where I simply forget about an establishment. It's not that I didn't like it or that I've never been back. The problem lies in the fact that I go back...A 2 to 3 times a week. When you frequent a place that much it becomes part of the landscape and you almost start to take it for granted. The other day when I was visiting Tartes bakery for the hubby's weekly (if not more) tart fix I realized that it was time for me to spread the word about this little gem of a bakery.

We live about 500 feet away from Tartes, and needless to say, I walk by it multiple times a day. Housed in just about the smallest, not to mention cutest (it's freakin' pink for goodness sake) little building I've ever seen, this small wonder cranks out some amazingly big flavor. They sell cookies and cakes...brownies and lemon bars...small and big bites alike. But the reason we go, and will keep going, is right there in the name. We go for the tarts.

I bought miniature imported French tart tins. I watched video after video about how to make the perfect pie crust. I slaved week after week to make the perfect tart and when I finally made something that was amazing, it still didn't hold a candle to those we buy from Tartes. I don't know how they do it but the crust is honestly, perfect. And the fillings! Oh, the fillings! They change them from time to time, but one of my favorites is the pear-pistachio. The fruit is amazing, the glaze is lovely, the pistachio is pistachio-rific. I love it. And the creme brulee tart is to die for!

This week we bought a lemon tart as well as a coconut creme one. Look at these pictures and tell me they aren't delicious looking works of art. And for around $5 a pop you can try a new one every week (or a few new ones every me...once you start it's hard to stop).

They are cash only and you order through a walk-up window (like I said...the place is miniature). In nice weather they do put a table and chairs outside as well. They are closed Sunday and Monday and I forgot to jot down the exact hours but I'm pretty sure they're noon to 7, and I think they open around 11am on Saturday.

So next time you have to bring dessert to a dinner party, or you just want to treat yourself (come deserve it), stop by this teeny, tiny little pink building. Trust me, you can't miss it...and you'll be happy you went.

Tartes Fine Cakes & Pastries on Urbanspoon
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Soup's On - A Delicious Surprise at South Philadelphia Taproom

The hubby and I, much like many other Philadelphia sports fans, are watching, with fingers crossed to see if the Flyers will make it to the Stanley Cup. So far, so good. After Saturday's win they're up 3 games to 1 over the Canadiens and a win tonight could put them into the cup.

When a Philadelphia team is this close to something big, Nick and I can't simply watch the games at home. One by one, game by game, we've been heading out to different bars and looking for exciting fans, exciting beers and of course, exciting food.

This Saturday we ventured down to the South Philadelphia Taproom in search of all these things. We really liked the atmosphere, the beer selection was good and the game was playing for a bar full of fans. But the thing that makes this bar blog-worthy is something you wouldn't expect...soup.

Nick and I never order something like grilled cheese when we're out (I mean, it's cheese and bread right?), but when we caught a whiff of the tomato soup that comes with it we couldn't resist. This soup deserves a cult following. I didn't take a picture because honestly, I didn't think it would be that good. They call it their "tomato lager soup", and I must know what's in it. It was creamy, but had chunks of tomato and small ribbons of green onion running through it. It was mild but all of the sudden hits you with the perfect amount of heat (I think hot sauce and the hubby thinks it's just Cayenne pepper...chef, if you read this, I would LOVE to know what adds the heat). Honestly, it's some of the best soup I've ever had. We sat there on a muggy day when you would never think to order soup, and sopped every last bit of it up with the grilled cheese.

You must try this soup. Even if soup is the last thing you think you want on a warm spring day, order it anyway. The grilled cheese is the perfect vehicle for transferring that amazing flavor into your mouth without having to hover over a steaming hot bowl. South Philadelphia Taproom has rewritten the rules about soup, and I would like to thank them for it.

P.S. We also had the Southern Fried Chicken wings with collard greens and they too were very good. The wings were crispy and fried perfectly. They could have used a bit more zing in my opinion, but the collards were right-on. I would recommend this dish as well.

South Philadelphia Taproom on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, May 20, 2010


Looking for a good deal on drinks tonight? You're in luck! Old City is hosting their weekly Old City Social AND the Flyers are playing game 3 of the playoffs at 7pm. Both will offer not only good deals, but good reason to get out there and enjoy a drink or two. Check out my links on the left banner to the Old City Social page for info, as well as The Daily Boozer page for a list of bars that are offering drink specials during the game. Cheers!
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Distrito "That's a healthy amount of food"

The hubby and I, for reasons unbeknown to either of us, hardly ever venture out to University City. There's nothing actually keeping us from going. Thanks to the blue line we can get there from Old City in just a few minutes. Whatever the reason, one thing is for's a shame. University City has it's own pulse. It's own feel. It's own identity, just like many other Philadelphia neighborhoods. So a week or so ago when we were trying to decide where to go on our weekly "Friday date night" we decided to venture across the river and see what we were missing.

We set our sights on Distrito. Another of Jose Garces' winning restaurants, Distrito calls itself "modern Mexican". I call it delicious.

The restaurant itself is broken up into two parts. The main dining room and the Cantina. Always happy to eat in a bar setting the hubby and I chose to have a seat in the oh so festive and cutely decorated Cantina.

The Cantina has it's own menu which is mainly comprised of "street food" type dishes and they are VERY reasonably priced. Tacos start at $6, black beans and rice are only $3 and a can of Tecate can be yours for the low, low price of $2. That's right. We drank quite a lot of Tecate that evening. You can also order from the "main" menu while seated in the Cantina...and order we did. When the waiter came by to take our order the hubby rattled off a list of 6 items. When I asked the waiter if that was too much food he cleverly responded by simply saying, "That's a healthy amount of food". Thanks Mr. Waiter. We feel less piggy and more "healthy" now.

We started with the Octopus Ceviche (Pulpo). It was served in a martini glass and was accompanied by lime, chile and micro cilantro. It also came with delicious little fried chips that added a texture contrast which always seems to be needed in a ceviche. Perfect execution. Deliciously fresh octopus. No complaints so far!

Next we ordered the tongue tacos (Lengue). Pardon the pun, but they were melt in your mouth tender. I've had some chewy tongue in the past but this was tender, tender, tender...not to mention flavorful. The sauce was perfect. Just enough acid and not too much spice. I would make the trip back for these tacos alone. Outstanding.

Our third course was the Crab enchiladas (Enchilada De Cangrejo). They came with roasted corn and a salsa verde. I personally chose this dish as a "must try" in my mind and was, unfortunately, let down. Technically there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the dish, however, it really fell flat. The flavor was just not there and honestly, if I wasn't told that there was crab inside I never would have known. But one misstep out of 6 ain't bad.

After the crab we had a little interlude and munched on some sweet plantains in a queso fresco sauce (Platano Y Crema). Plantains are one of those "super" foods. They can be sweet. They can be savory. And they can be both at the same time, just as they were in this dish. I'm a huge fan of plantains and I was glad to see them treated so well by the chefs. Another winning dish and something I'm glad we didn't skip over on the menu.

Our next dish was the, drum-roll, Pork belly Verde. I'm sure by now you all know that if pork belly is on the menu my husband will ALWAYS order it. This time was no exception. It was cooked to perfection and garnished with pepita (roasted pumpkin seeds...which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) and a verde sauce. The thing that really impressed me about this dish was actually the lack of sauce. When you think Mexican food you think big, bold flavors. But pork belly has such amazing flavor all by it's lonesome that sometimes you just want to let it sing.

Our final dish was a short rib flat bread, that they called a "mission style quesadilla". It was served with a crema, mixed cheese blend, poblano and the ubiquitous shredded radish and micro cilantro that they seemed to use in everything (seriously...I think it was in or on at least 4 out of our 6 dishes...and although it really did add a lovely flavor and texture, after a while we felt like Jose owns stock in a radish and micro cilantro farm). I ordered it as a filler of sorts but it really turned out to be one of those perfect "bar foods". Crispy, creamy, salty, cheesy & meaty. It was executed well, and although nothing truly mind-blowing, it's exactly the type of thing you crave when you're drinking beer. I would order it again if I went back for happy hour and was looking for some perfect finger food.

So there you have it. A "healthy" amount of food and an even healthier amount of beer, tequila and margaritas to match. We sat and grazed on truly delicious food and paid an average of $7 per dish. The hubby and I will certainly return. Of the 6 dishes we tired only 1 fell flat, 5 were delicious and of those 5, 2 were what I would call amazing. Numbers like that don't lie.

Distrito on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TO splurge or NOT to splurge...That is the question.

If the question is TO splurge or NOT to splurge I can promise you my husband's answer is a definite NOT. Ok. That's not completely true. He can be exceedingly generous and he really does enjoy the finer things in life. He just seems to go through phases. One week he'll come home with a very lovely, albeit very expensive bouquet of flowers and declare that we're hitting the town that night. The next week he'll ask if I really needed to buy ALL that toilet paper. I mean, what are we doing with it all? Flushing it down the toilet or something?

And thank goodness for that! Honestly. I'm so happy he has a sound financial system (which I would know nothing about because I haven't looked at our bank statement since our wedding). I always say that if it weren't for him I'd be hitchhiking around the country and living in a cardboard box...but of course eating black truffles that I shaved using my handy dandy imported Italian truffle shaver!

I certainly try to save money whenever and wherever I can, but I also have two soft and cuisine. I always start planning our next vacation before our plane from our present vacation even touches down and I reach for that shiny French kitchen gadget or ornately packaged Italian fungus like most women reach for Manolo Blahnik shoes.

So when it comes to food, what should you splurge on and what should you leave on the shelf? Here are two food items I've recently splurged on. One was a winner. The other a huge waste of $15 (that I might as well have just flushed down the toilet). **spoiler alert - Black Truffle Oil scam!**

Splurge #1: "worthy splurge"...Saffron

I'm sure you have heard that saffron is the harvested from a saffron crocus thread. Which means that it takes A LOT of flowers to get a usable amount of saffron. That also means that saffron is pricey, pricey, pricey. Even some of the lowest quality saffron costs around $1,000 per pound. For that price you would think it would do more than just flavor your rice. But you would be amazed at how a little bit of it goes a long way. I bought this small package (0.4g) of Spanish Saffron at a local grocery store for $6.00, and it will get me through about 4 or 5 dishes, depending on their size. It's an amazing spice.

And the flavor!?! I use it to flavor SO many dishes. From fish stews to rice dishes. I put it in chicken stock before I add it to sauces. I use it to cook fingerling potatoes. The list is endless. It adds the most earthy flavor and floral aroma. I love it. Of course it's to be used sparingly, but it's worth the price. Every penny.

Splurge #2: "scam splurge"...Black Truffle Oil

I personally love truffles. They are earthy, aromatic and completely unlike anything else on earth. Have you ever seen one of those travel shows where they demonstrate how pigs sniff for truffles? It's adorable!! Those pigs are not only cute, but they're also money making machines. These ugly looking fungi cost about $500 per pound and......WAIT!....stop the presses....while researching the price of black truffles I just read that most truffle oil doesn't even contain truffle! Apparently the vast majority of truffle oil in the US is olive (or grapeseed in my case) oil flavored with something called Dithiapentane.

No wonder my truffle oil sucks. It doesn't even have truffles in it! Now that I read the label they keep saying, "infused with black truffle AROMA". Ha! I knew this was a waste of $15 the moment I first cooked with it. I would place a crock of truffled-mac-and-cheese in front of Nick and say, "what's the secret ingredient" and he would say, "cheese?". I would even drizzle copious amounts over mild vegetable and all he could say was, "why did you put all of this oil on the veggies?". It was practically flavorless (in our opinion). Now I know why.

So long story short, this small (8 oz) bottle of truffle oil is not a good splurge by a long shot. Not only does it not add ANY discernible flavor to my cooking (and trust me, I've tried it a million different ways) but it's not even infused with freakin' truffle!

Here you have it. Two very pricey items. Two very different flavors. Two very different results. One is worth every penny, and the other might as well be infused with old pennies...perhaps it would even make it more flavorful.
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pizza Pizza

I went to jury duty the other day, and yes, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The only good thing about the hours of endless waiting was that is was peppered with random hour breaks that I used to stuff my face at the Reading Terminal Market, (Profi's Creperie!) or catch up on some reading. While digging my way through the stack of reading material I brought with me I stumbled upon an article in Philadelphia Magazine about deep-dish pizza. The first line in the article read, "Philly is officially a pizza town now...". I love Philly, and it is many things, but unfortunately a pizza town, I believe it is not.

I'll admit. I'm a little hard on pizza places. Growing up my parents took me to what I will likely always believe is the best pizza place in the world, De Lorenzo's in Trenton, NJ. Now. I have to clarify two things here. First. They do not make "pizza" there. They make "tomato pies". Basically more tomato, less cheese and a crust so thin you can see through it. Second. Don't be fooled by impostors. The original De Lorenzo's was in a tiny row-house on Hudson Street in Trenton (they now have another location in Robbinsville) and it had no bathroom (I kid you not...don't ask me who they had to pay off to get away with it...I'm just reporting the facts). Here is a screen shot of the google-map street view.

Perhaps after years and years of eating pizza from this NJ institution I've developed a bit of a prejudice against pizza. It was bound to happen. But lately I've been trying to open my mind, and my mouth (not a difficult feat), in hopes of finding some other pizza gems here in Philly. I HAVE in fact found a few winners, but Philly still has, in my mind, a long way to go if they want to "officially" be "a pizza town". Here are my Philly pizza hits and far...

The Pizza and Wine Bar
Ahhhh the pizza and wine bar. Just when you thought it didn't get any better on a Friday night than pizza and a beer you find out that you might want to trade in that PBR for a Pinot Noir. I've been to two pizza and wine bars here in Philly. Pizzeria Stella and Zavino.

Of the two, Pizzeria Stella is my favorite, hands down. I posted about Stella a few months back (link to post) and gave it a rave review. The pizza, the small plates, the wine selection and the wait staff were all amazing. I constantly try to re-create their grilled octopus salad and just thinking about their Tartufo pizza (picture right...sorry about the quality), which features black truffles and is topped with a sunny side up egg, makes my mouth water. I have to say. If Philly wanted to make it's mark on the pizza world, Stella is doing a good job of setting the bar high.

Zavino, unfortunately, didn't wow me. The small plate of Fish Crudo was lovely in appearance and superior in terms of freshness, however it was completely lacking flavor. No salt. No acid. Both were sorely needed. The pizza we ordered was the Sopressata, which featured, quite simply, tomato sauce, mozzarella, sopressata, olives and pickled red onion. It sounds fantastic right!? Unfortunately I found it to be lacking flavor as well. The crust was fantastic, I must say, but the flavors were muddled (how they manged that I haven't the foggiest) and they all fell flat. I might, however, give them another try as their ingredients were top notch and the service was second to none. Honestly. I even emailed myself our waiter's name so I could give him a shout out. Thanks Gary. You were wonderful!

The "Classic" and "Boutique" Pizza Joint:

Nick and I live a block from one of the better brick oven pizza joints in Philly...thank goodness. Soho Pizza in Old City is a lifesaver to us. It's pretty much our go-to place when we're returning home from a long trip, when our fridge is empty or when all we can think about is a slice of pizza and a beer. As a matter of fact, I recently had a conversation with a guy in my building who compares all of his pizza's with that of our neighborhood Soho. Apparently he's a fan as well. Soho is a winner in my book because of the crust. It's not the thin, crispy "pizza and wine bar" type crust I wrote about earlier. It's a sweet, chewy and downright addictive crust that I could eat on it's toppings needed. Actually, when it comes to toppings at Soho I tend to be less than excited but perhaps that's because I'm blinded by the dough. They have a little bar next door and serve brewskie's. They also have some decent outdoor seating that is packed 24/7 in good weather. Me likey.

Then there's Tacconelli's. Do a google search of "best pizza in Philly" and it comes up over and over again. I've actually never eaten there. Let me explain. The hubby and I drove up there, six pack in hand one evening. We stood at the front door for, and I'm not exaggerating, almost 30 minutes and no one approached us or even acknowledged that we were there. I have never experienced anything like it. We stood there for about 10 minutes at first and we saw a few waitresses come in and out of the room, but then they disappeared. What troubled us was that the room was full of diners...and none of them were eating. Not one table had a pizza on it. Finally, when a waitress re-entered the room Nick made a b-line for her and was informed that you need to call and pre-buy or reserve your DOUGH before you come. What!? Seriously!!?? Reserve my ass...the restaurant wasn't even close to full! So we left. I may return, dough reserved, just because I MUST know what the fuss is about. We'll see.

On our way home from Tacconelli's that evening we realized we still needed to find somewhere to eat. Driving through Northern Liberties I spotted this place called Rustica and since we already had a six pack in hand and pizza on our minds, we stopped. This is what I love about Philly. You can find little gems when you least expect it. We sat down, opened our beers (BYOB!!!) and ordered the Bistecca del Tartufo. It was a white pizza with truffled steak and caramelized onions...and it was AMAZING. Seriously. Where has this pizza been all my life? It was the perfect combination between crispy (super duper crispy) thin crust, chewy outer dough and flavorful ingredients. We could not get over what a find this place was. If you're looking for an all around great piece of pizza I highly recommend you try Rustica. It's on 2nd street in that Northern Liberties "restaurant row" next to Standard Tap. I can't say enough about this place. Go there and see for yourself.

These pizza joints just happen to be some of the more stand-out places in my mind, but that doesn't mean that this post is the end all be all of Philly Pizza Picks. I'm going to keep-on-keepin'-on in my search for the best pizza Philly has to offer, and that's where you come in. As much as I would love to eat at EVERY pizza joint in Philly, I'm afraid if I did my bathroom scale would stage a coup. So please either email me YOUR favorite pizza places in town or leave a comment about it. Maybe together we can unearth some more round, cheesy hidden gems.

Pizzeria Stella on Urbanspoon

Zavino on Urbanspoon

Soho Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tacconelli's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Rustica Pizza on Urbanspoon
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