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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Ommegang Presents: Hop Chef

Last night was the Second Annual Hop Chef competition in Philadelphia, hosted by Ommegang, where six local chefs go head to head creating dishes that incorporate and pair with various beers from the brewery. Competitions are held in various cities, with the winners from each city being granted the opportunity to compete at the brewery’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown beerfest. (Last year, Philly’s own George Sabatino took home the crown!) This year’s competitors were Mike Deganis of Alla Spina, Lucio Palazzo from La Calaca Feliz, Nick Macri of Southwark, Pat Szoke from The Industry, Eli Kulp of Fork and Yun Fuentes from JG Domestic.

Look at all those handsome dudes!

So let’s take a look at the dishes:

The first one I tried was Yun Fuentes’ dish: A duck arepa with duck confit, jamon, a cherry-fig marmalade and a glaze incorporating the beer, Rare Vos – which was pairing for the dish. I thought the duck was succulent, and the marmalade gave it just the right amount of sweetness. The Rare Vos glaze definitely brought everything together as well; it was definitely the most balanced dish I had all night. (I liked this dish so much, I snuck seconds!)

Next up, Mike from Alla Spina’s BPA braised lamb neck with fava bean, mint fregola (a tiny round Italian pasta similar to couscous), topped with a BPA vinaigrette. While I did enjoy the lamb, the fava beans and pasta didn’t really add anything special to the dish (but it sure looked nice on the plate!)

Third was a Foie Gras hot dog, topped with kimchee relish & Abbey Ale mustard on an Abbey Ale potato roll, paired with an Abbey Ale pretzel topped with Cracker Jack & mustard powder and a potato wedge seasoned with Old Bay – “Crab Fries” style – from Eli Kulp of Fork. Having just been to Fork on Saturday, I thought this dish was quite a contrast to the upscale items on the restaurant’s menu (but that’s part of the challenge when having to incorporate beer and have it pair well with the beer as well, right?). I really enjoyed the Foie dog, but the solo potato wedge just seemed like it was just thrown in and didn’t complement anything else on the plate.  I got that it was supposed to be a ballpark tribute since Cooperstown is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but maybe sometimes less is more.

Nick “Meat Man” Macri of Southwark cooked up a dish of Hennepin cured coppa, pickled chilies, “Ballpark” nuts with grains of Paradise bread crumbs and an orange & coriander sauce. Because you can’t win friends with salad, but you can win friends with a meat salad!

Pat Szoke of The Industry created a “slider” of Three Philosophers braised beef short ribs with pickled long hots and a Three Philosophers cheddar sauce. I thought this was the worst dish at the event. I think the cheddar sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the short ribs ( it was just kind of slathered on top). It just seemed very sloppy and I thought that a better job could have been done given the quality of the food at the restaurant itself (I mean, they have buffalo sweetbreads on their menu, for crying out loud!)

Lastly was a lamb barbacoa taco on a hominy tortilla topped with watercress, radishes and a Witte consommé, made by Lucio Palazzo of La Calaca Feliz. Again, this is another one of those dishes where I felt there was a lot of reaching going on. I wasn’t sure how the consommé was supposed to work with the taco (because honestly, who is eating consommé with a taco?) And I get that tacos are pretty easy to make and for people to eat when they have to walk around a giant room sampling a bunch of other finger foods, but seeing as the taco was the main part of the dish and it didn’t even incorporate the beer, that was kind of disappointing. (I was also disappointed because this was the only dish that I had to wait on line for a long time for and I wish I hadn’t.)

So, drumroll please…. The People’s Choice winner was Yun Fuentes of JG Domestic and the Judges’ pick was Nick Macri of Southwark! Overall, I had a great time at the event and can’t wait to check it out again next year!

Double Take

I’d been promising myself that I’d get back over to The Industry to give their burger a second chance since the first time I was totally underwhelmed; the bun was too big for the single patty I’d ordered and it left me sad and unfulfilled. So I had a burger a do-over, doubling my efforts – literally – by ordering two patties instead of one.

The burger is 1/4lb ground brisket topped with red onion, Cabbot cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and pickle mayo (no preference is asked on how you want it cooked since the patties are fairly slim). The double patties definitely made a difference this time around. The burger was much juicier and more meaty, completely filling out the bun. I did still find myself with a small bun heel left over despite all the meat that had been sandwiched between it, but it was a vast improvement over my first, single patty burger there last year where I felt like there was so much bread overshadowing the burger itself. It just goes to show that sometimes giving things a second chance can make a big difference!

And if you needed more of an incentive to get your buns over to The Industry to check this burger out, Eater Philly just made it one of the top 15 burgers to try in Philly right now as part of Philly Burger Week!

Burger Rating (two patties): “B+”

Buon Appetito!

My grandmother is Sicilian and the other half of my family is Irish, so I never got the whole big “Sunday Dinner” experience like some of my friends, especially some of them whose parents were immigrants or second-generation Italians here in America (My grandmother also called it sauce and not gravy, but that’s a debate for another time). I always loved Italian food and when I was in college, I worked at an Italian restaurant as a hostess. I sneered at people who ordered chicken parm: like my high school ex-boyfriend who would order it at the diner, or my spanish co-worker who put ketchup on it and then ordered it with a side of french fries at our office holiday party. My go-to dishes were penne vodka or tortellini carbonara; I was never a big red sauce or baked pasta fan. However, when I moved to Philadelphia, these so-called “red sauce joints” in South Philly seemed to be my only option. Plus, they put peas in the penne vodka – what kind of Communist country is this?!

But then, a friend introduced me to Le Virtu on East Passyunk Ave. When I walked in, a beautiful, Mediterranean style dining room welcomed me with low lighting and soft music. I sat at the bar and received a basket of crunchy, Tuscan style bread with a plate of olive oil, ordered up a glass of Pinot Grigio and sunk into the menu. No fried cutlets slathered in sauce and cheese. No kids in high chairs crying while eating spaghetti and meatballs. This was exactly the kind of place I was looking for.

The special salad for the evening was topped with cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, topped with shaved mozzarella (!) and dressed in a balsamic reduction. I was originally only planning on getting pasta but this sounded amazing. It tasted even better. The fresh mozzarella really made the dish. I know salads are supposed to be “healthy” and all, but to me – the more cheese, the better!

For my main course, I went with the Maccheroni alla mugnaia: A hand-pulled, single-strand of pasta, tossed with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, hot pepper and sprinkled with pecorino. They also provide a basket of various peppers if you’d like to spice it up even more. I am a baby when it comes to spicy and hot things, so I left it as is (plus, I figured it was better to try it in it’s “virgin” state ). The pasta had a wonderful flavor and consistency. I had heard about this dish – and the uniqueness of the single strand pasta in the Abruzzo region – for quite some time and was excited to finally try it; it exceeded all my expectations.

But wait, there’s more! What Italian dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert and an espresso? Don’t expect tiramisu or cannoli here, but definitely try the Semifreddo al torrone di cioccolato if you’re looking for something sweet and delicious: It’s a dark chocolate semifreddo, torrone crumble, drizzled with salted caramel sauce. It was so rich and creamy, it’s a good thing I was splitting it with a friend.

Molto bene! È squisito!

Le Virtu immediately reminded me of the the rustic vibe of the osteria that I’d worked at, and when I’d finished my meal, I knew that this would instantly become my favorite dinner spot. It was like finding a lake after so many years scouring the desert. I can’t wait to come back again (my skinny jeans are already quivering in fear!).

Oui Oui to SoWe

A friend from out of town was looking to grab dinner and “strong drinks” during St Patrick’s Day weekend, and it was difficult to try and narrow down which area would be the least “shit-show-y” with people dressed in green vomiting on the sidewalks of Philadelphia (it was also a challenge trying to find someplace that sounded cool and wasn’t a BYO). So I spun the magic wheel of the internet, decided anything west of Broad and south of Walnut would be a safe bet and so we wound up at SoWe in Graduate Hospital. It’s just under a year old and a little off the beaten path, so I hadn’t really heard too much about it, but Jennifer Choplin just came in as their new chef so I figured it would be worth checking out (When we were seated we were told they’re under new management but still operating on the old menu).

We ordered some drinks and I ordered the burger: A 1/2 lb Angus patty topped with fried peppers & onions, sharp cheddar, saturally smoked Applewood bacon, served with horseradish mayo on the side and a toasted brioche bun. The burger came out and the buns looked similar to the ones at Royal Tavern so I got really excited. I love when buns are seeded; I think they look so cute (It’s like freckles for bread!).

The patty was nice and thick and cooked perfectly medium throughout. The bun was soft and held up well against the juices and the bacon was crisp and delicious. And the horseradish mayo gave everything a nice little kick – and cleared up my sinuses!

I really enjoyed the burger and it was definitely one the better ones I’ve had in a while. The drinks were also really great and strong, so my friend complimented me on my good choice (he couldn’t even finish his 3rd drink, but he also couldn’t tell if that was because he might be a bit of a lightweight since he’s been in the military). I got a cocktail with Laphroaig 10 yr (which I would never have thought of putting in a cocktail before), honey and ginger; it was a nice, smokey sipper and a great after-dinner drink.

If you needed any further incentive to check out SoWe, Jen’s new menu just rolled out this week, so head on over to check it out!

Burger Rating: “A-“

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