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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hitting the SPOT

Spot is an adorable, bright yellow food cart currently roaming the streets of Philadelphia serving up gourmet burger, steaks & pork sandwiches, and gaining quite a name for itself in the process. Usually stationed around 33rd & Arch on Drexel’s campus, they’ve also been chillin out at several Philly MFA meetups, local events and at The Porch @ 30th street on Wednesdays during the Farmer’s Market (which is where I enjoyed them most recently).

My first SPOT burger!

I’d been missing Spot in my life for a while since I was forced back to work in the suburbs, but through some arm-twisting on Twitter by Josh (the man behind the grill), I got my butt on over  there when I was working in the city one Wednesday afternoon. I’d never gotten a chance to try their fries before (either sold out or not being offered because it was a special event), so I was super excited. (Everyone loves fresh cut fries, ya’ll!) The line was long and the sun was hot, but I was patient and determined. I placed my ordered and waited some more.

Lunch rush at Spot can be crazy and Josh is the only one in the box, so just relax and let the man do his job. I promise the end result will be worth it! And after a brief name mix up (Seriously, no one has my name ever. What are the odds?) in which a lady stole my lunch and we had a good laugh about it, I sat down ready to enjoy my Spot burger & fries. The burger comes topped with homemade slaw, pickles, bacon, cheddar cheese & super secret SPOT sauce.

The bun is nice and soft. The burger itself gets more delicious with every bite; you can taste the difference in the fresh ground sirloin they use for their patties. I love the dill pickle wedges. And the fries! So good, I had to cut myself off from eating them because I was already so full. It’s safe to say that Spot hits the spot (oh hey, I see what you did there!) every time, so track em down when you get the chance!

Doughnut Believe the Hype

Doughnut. Donut. Do-nut. However you spell it, it’s a ring of delicious that you can essentially enjoy any time of day. (Well, ok, maybe not later on in the day once they start getting kind of stale. Unless the place is making em 24/7.) You’ve got your chain donut shops: Dunkin Donuts, Twin Donut, Krispy Kreme – and then you’ve got a bunch of awesome regional places that you see on Food Network or the Travel Channel like Voodoo Doughnuts, Top Pot, Doughnut Plant, and even Philadelphia’s own Federal Donuts. Just like everything else in life, there are the good, the bad and the downright awful when it comes to donuts. Plus, the age old battle between Cake vs. Yeast. (I’m partial to yeast donuts myself.) Here’s a recap of some recent treats I’ve indulged in.

First up, Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts, which touts a menu of “hand forged”, primarily cake donuts and a few yeasty bars as well. We got a little over-zealous and just grabbed anything that looked good which included 3 different glazed old fashions and a chocolate covered with sprinkles (a classic fav!)

Maple glazed, original glazed & chocolate glazed.

I honestly found them to be way too sweet for my taste. Plus, there’s just something about cake donuts that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They feel too dry, even with all the glaze on top. The maple one was almost tooth decaying, that’s how sugary it was. And while the chocolate one had the sweetness of the glaze, the chocolate cake part itself was kind of bland and un-chocolate like.

Then you’ve got Portland’s infamous Voodoo Doughnuts. Yes, there will be a line but if you’re not willing to wait with the crowds, they’re open 24/7. They’ve got a huge menu board plus some rotating displays if you need a more visual way to decide.

They’re most famous for the maple bacon bar (because DUH, bacon on a doughnut. HELLO ULTIMATE BREAKFAST), but I didn’t find it to be appetizing at all. The bacon just tasted bland and soggy and didn’t really add anything to the overall flavor of the doughnut. Then there was the little raspberry jelly stuffed voodoo guy doughnut. WAYYYYY too sweet. Like, disgustingly sweet to the point where I just spit it out. The doughnut that looks like a Bob-om from Super Mario was filled with a Bavarian Cream; not so bad but I’m not a big fan of cream filled donuts. The fruit loops one would probably have been better if the cereal didn’t taste super soft and stale. And the chocolate rice krispy one with the peanut butter drizzle was the best out of all 5. If I hadn’t already taken bites out of 4 other donuts, I would have just eaten that one alone and been satisfied. (Because let’s face it – anything with chocolate & peanut butter is amazing.)

I also recently wrote about an amazing Cafe Au Lait doughnut from Dough in Brooklyn that was out of this world. And I’ve been less than impressed with Federal Donuts since they only do cake donuts and the good ones are always out by the time I get there. However, I do love the fact that they do hot, fresh donuts all day long – and that they have a donut called the Apollonia! (Hello, Purple Rain!)

Long story short: I don’t need all the fancy toppings and fillings; just give me a plain old chocolate frosted with sprinkles any day.

Mangia!

In Riva has been open for a few months now and, despite almost being able to see it from my house in the same way that Sarah Palin can see Russia from her backyard, I hadn’t been there until recently. The menu is based on a southern Italian trattoria-style, featuring small plates, salads and pizzas so if you’re looking for your red-sauce joint favorites, this isn’t the place. Tuesdays are ½ price pizza nights if you snag the “secret password” from their Twitter account, so I figured that would be the perfect opportunity to check the place out.

We started with the tomato conserva vasi, a jarred spread paired with crotini bread that was similar to bruschetta. The tomatoes were mashed and sweetened with basil and onions, then topped with thin-sliced cuts of parmigiano cheese. I was reluctant to share it and kind of just wanted to eat it straight out of the jar, it was that good. I saved the rest to put on my pizza crust later at the suggestion of our waitress.


Next up was the crispy pork belly. Topped with an apricot glaze, the combination of sweet and salty flavors paired with the house Pinot Grigio was a perfect complement to the cool, summer night. Plus, it seriously got me considering replacing an out-dated honey glazed ham for the holidays with this modern, fruity twist.

Finally, our pizzas arrived. Instead of metal pizza pie trays, they plate them on your table atop giant, empty crushed tomato cans. We sampled three different pies: a Quattro formaggi with spicy, marinated tomatoes, the Polpette, topped with meatball, mint and crumbled feta, and the Speck and Pineapple, a spicy twist on a Hawaiian pie with jalapenos and thin-sliced prosciutto.

The Quattro Formaggi

I wasn’t sure how the mint would taste on the Polpette, but it actually turned out to be my favorite.

And despite my aversion to Hawaiian pies and peppers in general, the Speck & Pineapple was tasty as well. All pies are prepared in a wood-fired oven, Neapolitan-style with puffy, charred crusts and well balanced ingredients (no supreme meat-lovers toppings here!)

When we were leaving, we noticed a sign that said they would be offering a pizza making class. It definitely sounds worth checking out, especially if you’re like me and your home pizza-making skills involve throwing some sauce and cheese on an English muffin. I emailed them for more information and the pizza class will be held once a month on Mondays (October 1st, November 12th & December 3rd, if you’re too lazy to look it up) for the rest of the year and is $85 per person, which includes the class, a 4 course menu with wine pairing and tax & gratuity. It’s a total bargain when you compare it to the classes that are usually held at Cook.

BYOB – Burger You’ll Obviously Bite

(I know, that headline was silly, but bear with me.)

Have you ever wished for a burger so big that you thought you might have to detach your jaw in order to even get it in your mouth? Well then stop by Hickory Lane in Fairmount! What’s that? You haven’t heard of it? Its ok, it’s probably just because they used to be a BYOB, but they’ve just built a brand, spanking new bar and are currently featuring Oktoberfest & fall beers, with a plan to transition to winter warmers, barley wines & stouts in the coming months. They’re also offering no corkage fee on all wines until the end of this month. Holler! Because I’m not trying to pay $15 to uncap my bottle of Two-buck Chuck.

So this burger monstrosity (which is an exclusive blend created by Chef Matt Zagorski of filet mignon, short ribs, and brisket) comes on a soft, challah bun and is topped with a thick slice of aged cheddar, bibb lettuce, tomato and garlic aioli. On the side is the biggest, thickest dill spear pickle I’ve ever had (Hey now, leave your dirty thoughts out of this!), plus a hefty amount of some awesome hand cut fries and MORE garlic aioli for dippin’.

I asked for medium and it was probably maybe a little on the medium rare side, but still bloody and tasty-delicious. The only problem is this then led to bottom bun soggery (a very serious condition in the burger world). If you like your burgers well done GTFO. No seriously, you’ll have to GTFO because this bad boy is so thick, it’s going to take at least 30 minutes for them to cook it all the way through. It took me a while to work through it, but I was determined! And the victory of an empty plate tasted so sweet.

Check that baby out! It’s HUGE!

Like I said earlier, they just got a new bar installed – so new in fact that the bartender told me that I was the very first person to sit at it! As a result of this privilege, I got to try 2 super-secret, up & coming punches that are going to be featured on the bar menu that Hickory Lane is rolling out soon; a watermelon-rum-mint and a cucumber-gin-honey. The cucumber was super fresh and hopefully they’ll be a couple of warm days left yet that you can try this. The same goes for the watermelon mint, which I kind of wish I’d been able to put rum in the watermelon mint juice I drank on my juice cleanse; it would have been a great improvement.

The only problem with the bar was that there’s no flap to get in and out from behind the bar so the bartender and bus boy kept kind of playing this awkward limbo game to slide underneath it; it seemed a little awkward to me. I know it’s a work in progress, so maybe they’re factoring that in? Same goes for shelving space if they’re going to be operating a full bar back there. Otherwise, it’s a great compliment to the space and I can’t wait to come back when it’s in full swing!

Pub Grub

Recently I spent my first official Labor Day weekend spent in Philadelphia since moving here three years ago. It was also the first weekend all summer that I’ve felt like I hadn’t had to be somewhere, doing something at a particular time, and I decided to maximize it by taking my favorite person to dinner Friday night: Myself. Originally I had planned on checking out Hickory Lane in Fairmount since they are no longer BYOB, but thanks to the Made in America festival re-rerouting everything in a 5 mile radius I wound up at The Dandelion instead. Their burger was just voted one of the top 10 hottest burgers in town by Zagat, so I figured I’d check it out.

Being a Stephen Starr joint, I had my reservations about its quality (and its $16 price tag). It arrived on a cool, round butcher’s block/Lazy Susan contraption with a size of hefty, hand-cut chips which are fried in beef fat. (Not fries; this is supposed to be an English pub, after all.)

After having a bunch of recent misses when ordering my burger medium and getting nearly well done, this burger was cooked perfectly to medium and the aged beef blend & buttery brioche bun kept me wanting to savor every bite. It’s also topped with some thin sliced brined pickles, bacon and sharp cheddar – plus a secret “Churchill sauce”. Usually I’ll slap a little ketchup on a burger if I think it’s too dry or flavorless; that was certainly not the case here. I could see why it was in the top 10 and now it is in my own personal top 5 burgers in Philly.

I also sampled their Cask beer flight, which at only $8 for 5 oz of three beers, you can’t go wrong. I was given a Marston’s Pedigree (an EPA), a Weyerbacher Last Chance (an IPA) and a Wychwood Hobgoblin (an ESB). I especially liked the IPA and I’m not usually a big IPA fan. All of the beers perfectly complimented my meal, as well as each other. For a nice (albeit humid) evening, it was a great way to wind down the summer.

SEA/PDX Burger Throwndown: The Final Round

Wild Card Round: Katsu Burger (SEA) vs Slow Bar (PDX)

….

I’m not even sure if this is a fair fight. I’m such a Japanophile that the minute I heard there was a place called Katsu Burger, I knew I had to run and eat there immediately. While quite off the beaten path of downtown Seattle, located in an industrial park in the Georgetown neighborhood, I promise that when you make the trek you won’t be disappointed. The walls are adorned with kawaii illustrations, whacky Japanese burger signage and other Anime lover/Otaku favorites. The burgers are named awesome things like the Tokyo Tower, Gozilla Attack and the Ohayu Gozaimasu. Their fries can be topped with Japanese curry or Nori flakes. They even have a black sesame milkshake (my fav!). The burgers are all served “tonkatsu” style (tonkatsu is traditionally a breaded & fried pork culet) but you can also order your burger with beef, chicken or tofu.

I opted for the traditional beef Ohayo Gozaimasu burger, while Brian chose pork. Since “Ohayo Gozaimasu” means “Good Morning” in Japanese, the burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, cheddar, Japanese mayo (the Kewpie kind) and Tonkatsu sauce (yum!).  It was love and first bite. Despite all the toppings, the presentation under the bun was perfect – definitely up to other Japanese food standards I have experienced. I wish there was an East Coast equivalent to this burger; I want it again soooooooo bad! It was all the things I love in a burger but on a burger that was deep fried! If that doesn’t scream AMERICAN, then I don’t know what does. Katsu Burger was hands down the winner before I even ate the next.

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Our runner-up here is Slow Bar in Portland, one of the staples on their “best burger in the city” list. In an innocuous bar on the other side of the Willamette from Downtown Portland you’ll find Slow Bar, which is I’m sure a comfy hipster bar at night but we were there at 2 in the afternoon. I ordered up their Summer Slowburger (since it was nearly 100 degrees out) which is 1/2lb. Painted Hills natural beef, Grafton white cheddar, heirloom tomato, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle.

I ordered it medium and it came out more on the well side, which was a disappointment (a disappointment I seem to be having far too frequently, sadly). It was on one of those cute seeded buns again, made of nicely toasted, soft challah bread. I loved the heirloom tomato and the pickles; presentation was great. And it wasn’t heavy tasting thanks to the natural beef! (They need to get on that trend out here.) If it had been cooked the way I asked, this could have made the race much closer. Still, it was a decent burger that I’d love to try again.
That makes the final burger score: SEA, 2 – PDX, 1.

Sorry Portland, you’ll just have to try harder next time! (Or at least seem like you’re trying less hard since that’s the ironic, hipster thing to do, right?)

SEA/PDX Burger Throwdown, Part 2

2nd Category: Fast Casual

Contenders: Red Mill Burgers (SEA) vs Little Big Burger (PDX)

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Red Mill was another one of those “Can’t leave town without eating there” burger places. Slightly outside downtown Seattle limits in North Queen Anne, we took a 15 minute bus ride to this little roadside delight which is a reincarnation of the 1937 original that was located in Capitol Hill. They serve up flame broiled 1/4 lb patties and are cash-only, so bring your friends Abraham Lincoln and George Washington along for the trip.

I went with the Red Mill deluxe with cheese, which is topped with American Cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, and their signature Mill sauce. Guys, this thing tasted like a Whopper. And not like a gross, 3 AM Whopper that you pick up on your way home from the bar, or something just slapped together and oozing out from under the bun on some wrapped BK printed paper; it was like a gourmet Whopper. That classic, flame broiled taste you remember as a kid (before you realized fast food was the devil), the pickles, the soft seeded bun – it was all in here. Originally I promised that I would share with Brian since he got the Red Onion Jam burger, but then I remembered I hate a ton of onions and that this was too fucking good for me to not eat it all. (Sorry! #fatkidproblems)

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Down the coast, we headed to Little Big Burger in Downtown Portland, where they’re serving up 1/4 lb. of cascade natural beef, local cheeses, organic veggies and Camden’s catsup on tiny brioche buns.

I got mine with Tillamook cheddar, mostly just because it’s fun to say ‘Tillamook”. It was cooked to order and had a nice, pink center – and looked totally cute! (I love when my food looks cute.) They also had truffle fries, which reminded me of 500 degrees here in Philly – but they were definitely not hand cut and probably frozen, which gave them a strange taste when mixed with the truffle oil.

Winner of Round 2: Red Mill Burgers for sure. The classic, Whopper-esque taste definitely gave it the edge over Little Big Burger.

Point count: Currently tied with SEA, 1 – PDX, 1

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