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Monthly Archives: March 2013

South in yo’ Mouth

Last night I was invited to the Four Roses Whiskey Tasting at Percy Street Barbeque, which also doubled as an unveiling of their delicious new menu items. While the menu had been primarily focused on Texas style BBQ, a lot of other competition in the BBQ arena has started to pop up around Philly (Most notably Stephen Starr’s Fette Sau). Looking to stay ahead of the curve, Chef Erin O’Shea has spiced up a bunch of Southern favorites while still keeping your tummy happy with delicious smoked meats.

First up were a variety of appetizers:

Poached shrimp with spicy pickled vegetables, beer vinegar, saltines. Just think of it as a Hillbilly shrimp cocktail!
 
Lamb ribs with braised sauerkraut and apples; so tender & falling off the bone.
Pork Belly with house made potato bread, cured egg yolk, maple syrup; I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Fried Virginia oysters with sausage and grits; The oyster was so light and moist considering it was fried. This was probably my favorite of the starter dishes.

Meanwhile, we were busy blind sampling five different bourbons from Four Roses’ lineup. We learned that Four Roses uses 5 proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce 10 different bourbon blends, each with their own unique character, spiciness, and rich fruity flavors. Each of these bourbons are aged in different distilleries throughout Kentucky, and depending on temperature, evaporation and other environmental factors , each bourbon has a different taste. We were asked to rate each of the 5 samples from 1 (being our least favorite) to 5 (most favorite), and at the end our results were tallied and that would determine which barrel Percy Street will be using this upcoming season.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Philadelphia Whiskey Society, so I’ve gotten used to tasting different whiskeys and adapting my palate.  We were first asked to take a drop from each whiskey and rub it in our palms to heat it up, and then smell our palms to detect the different fragrances in the whiskey. Then, nose the whiskey with your mouth slightly open to pick up more of the aromas (kind of the way snakes use their tongues to smell, right?). Finally, the sipping! With your tongue pressed slightly behind the back of your bottom teeth, letting the liquid slide into the middle of your tongue to get a good “mouth feel”; determining the burn or smoothness, texture, floral or woody-ness, etc. and letting it coat your tongue thoroughly as it works its way though all your flavor receptors. After sampling a bit of each whiskey, I then added a few drops of water to see how it would open the bourbons up. Some of them improved slightly, but for others, not even water could change my mind. I went with the whiskey in the Green dotted glass, which turned out to be the overall winner. I twas just very smooth and sweet and there wasn’t a lot of burn afterward (Percy Street will be revealing the exact name of the bourbon and its distillery location this week, with the barrel arrive in 4-6weeks).

Just when I thought everything was said and done, each of our tables was delivered Percy Street’s epic meat tray; The Lockhart – several slabs of brisket, half a chicken and a handful of ribs, along with five sides. Holy cow (and pig)!
Baked beans, sauerkraut, housemade coleslaw, German potato salad and collard greens: yum!

After all those amazing appetizers, I wasn’t even sure if I had room to eat any of it, but I took a chicken leg, a small rib, some brisket, all the sides and went to town. There were six people at our table and we received three Lockhart trays between us. We were a table full of ladies and could easily have probably just shared one or two between the group; there was so much food left over! (Although I did look around at the Men’s tables and their plates were pretty much licked clean, lol) I’m pretty sure I left in a meat coma and woke up this morning smelling like BBQ, but it was so damn delicious. I definitely can’t wait to get back over there to try more of the pork belly, grits and of course, our specially selected Four Roses bourbon. Keep your eyes on their Twitter feed for the whiskey name and its arrival at the restaurant!

A Rex-cellent burger

I’ve been meaning to get over to Rex 1516 for quite some time so I hopped in around the tail end of happy hour on a Friday night where, from 5-7 PM, they have some little bar bites for around $5. I decided to get a little cheese plate to start because cheese is delicious (duh!), but we all know I was really here to try their burger. The burger on their dinner menu has actually changed a bit since they opened; it’s currently in it’s 2nd incarnation – the previous version had onion marmalade, bacon and blue cheese – and actually, as of tomorrow (March 22nd) their Spring menu launches and will feature an all new burger topped with pimento cheese, red onion, bibb lettuce, bacon and the option to add a fried egg. (Oh great, now I have to come back and try another burger!? Kidding!)

The burger as it stands right now is an 8oz house grind, topped with pepper jack cheese, bread & butter pickles, bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomato, red onion and is tucked under a shiny brioche bun. I ordered it medium and it was cooked perfectly. The burger had a great flavor thanks to the pepper jack and was nice and juicy. I’d had a couple of burger misses lately, but this really hit the spot (And apparently I woofed it down so fast that I shocked the bartender!) My only complaint was the bread and butter pickles; they were tasty and fit in with the Southern theme of the restaurant, but I just didn’t care for them on my burger.

I also hung out for a while and had several cocktails. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very relaxed and cozy, with a nice bar and they were playing old movies on a big screen TV on the wall. The bartender, Sweet Lou, was really knowledgeable and made me a couple of fun, off-menu drinks which I really enjoyed, one of which was a Dutch Blood & Sand, made with fresh squeezed Blood Orange juice! (Top right corner in the photo below)

Clockwise from top left: Sage Advice, Dutch Blood & Sand, Rye & Amaro digestif cocktail and Pan’s Elemental.

So if you’re in the area, swing on by Rex1516, grab a burger and keep Sweet Lou company!

Burger rating: “B+”

Whiskey & Waffles

This year for St Patrick’s Day, I decide to eschew the grand traditions of drinking copious amounts of green beer and eating a bunch of food that has all been boiled together in a giant pot for something a little more upscale. Seeing as St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, you couldn’t ask for a better new tradition to start then the Whiskey & Waffles brunch at Ela, helmed by Scott Schroeder & Mark Regan from South Philly Tap Room. It consisted of five delicious courses with twists on some of your favorite brunch concepts; there was also an optional whiskey pairing. (I opted to get a Truffle Bloody Mary instead. My problem is I always think I want a bloody mary so I order one and get bored with it halfway through because it’s either too tomato-y or too spicy, but the truffle really gave the tomato a nice flavor; they had a few other non-traditional bloodies as well.)

First up: A pancake with syrup shot, a whiskey and OJ starter shot with maple syrup. I didn’t find it too be too sweet, but some of my dining companions found it to be too sweet to drink all at once.

Next came the cereal doughnuts: Fruity Pebbles encrusted fried balls filled with a cream based on the milk that is left behind after you eat all the cereal. The batter for the donut tasted great, wasn’t too heavy, and paired nicely with the sweetness of the cereal. (It’s about time the East Coast had a cereal donut trend like Voodoo in Portland – but these certainly blew those donuts out of the water!)

I’d never had oysters before, so I was nervous for the next dish. I’m really weird about giggly, slimy consistencies in food; they make my skin crawl. But the oyster was a lot better than I expected. It wasn’t slimy at all and had an almost  hollandaise-like sauce on it. I enjoyed it so much that I ate someone else’s oyster because they didn’t want it! This was paired with a hashbrown drizzled with bone marrow gravy and now I may never want to eat a McDonald’s hashbrown ever again (unless I’m really hungover).

On the more savory side, the next dish was coffee-coddled eggs with duck hash. Piercing the egg and mixing the yolk in with the duck made for an amazing flavor combination that was only heightened by the coffee infusion. Now this would definitely be the perfect hangover food! It also came with a little bit of bread to sop of the extra yolk and coffee gravy. I finished this before everyone else at the table, so clearly I hated it.

Last, but certainly not least, the piece de resistance, the reason we were all here in the first place: sausage waffles with foie gras whipped cream and smoked maple-whiskey syrup. They were delicious, fluffy and decadent. It was almost like the Willy Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper of breakfast foods: First you tasted the sausage, then the waffle, then the whiskey, then the foie, then the maple, back to the whiskey, and then you were practically licking the plate clean. I was glad they only gave us half a waffle because I don’t think I could have managed a full portion of this without having to take a break and do some light cardio in between.

We all agreed once we finished eating and spending another 45 minutes digesting  – both physically and mentally – that the best part about this brunch was that  you didn’t have to choose between any of your favorite aspects of brunch. Normally you have to pick one dish: Sweet (waffles, pancakes), Savory (eggs benedict, omelets), or salty (sandwich and fries) – but this brunch had a little something from every category. All the portions were just enough and every course was spaced out with plenty of time for you to get psyched for the next dish.

The Ela/SPTR crew is hoping to make Whiskey & Waffles an annual St Patrick’s Day weekend tradition, so if you missed it this year, make sure you mark your calendar now to get a spot in 2014!

The Vulgar Chef

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