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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!

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Brunched Out

I used to be one of those people who, after waking up hungover on a Saturday or Sunday morning, only had one thing on the brain: brunch. I mean, how could anyone hate brunch? It stretches out almost the entire day, so you don’t have to worry about getting up early and missing breakfast. And, if you’re not in the mood for bacon and eggs, you can still get a sandwich or something more savory while your friend sits across from you chowing down on challah french toast. (Let’s also not forget the bottomless Mimosas or Make-Your-Own Blood Marys)


When I moved to Philadelphia, there were dozens of blogs about brunch: Who had the best menu, who had the longest lines, best drink specials, etc. I was both elated and overwhelmed; how would I ever possibly get to all these places and enjoy all this deliciousness? I started to set out in an attempt to make a small dent in the brunch-o-sphere, knowing full well that there just would never be enough weekends for me to enjoy brunch. 

And then, something started to happen: The dynamic of brunch began to change. People who didn’t go to brunch were looked upon as lepers. (What do you mean you don’t like brunch? You do realize what it is right – it’s all your food dreams come true on one menu!Restaurants that didn’t even have lunch menus started to notice how popular brunch had become and started opening on the weekends, dishing out marscapone stuffed french toast and red velvet pancakes alongside pasta and burgers. And that’s when brunch jumped the shark. 

Any time a restaurant opens that would be a perfectly fine dinner dining establishment or a place to grab a quick bite for lunch, they immediately hop on the brunch bandwagon a few weeks later. Restaurateurs of Philadelphia, I’m here to tell you – YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE BRUNCH JUST TO GET CUSTOMERS TO COME IN YOUR DOORS! 

Guys, I stand before you today to proclaim that I am officially OVER brunch.

I get it – most of you already have all that shit in your kitchens so it’s not a big deal to just schedule a couple more waiters on a 9-2 shift if it means more visibility for your restaurant. But you don’t need to open at 10 AM on a Sunday or add eggs benedict and some gross bacon flavored Bloody Marys to your menu just to generate business. It’s this simple; focus on doing the rest of the awesome good food shit that you do at night and leave it at that.  Places that people normally associate with great steaks or burgers or fried chicken are trying to somehow be known for their generic, overpriced breakfast items, and that just seems like culinary burnout to me. In a city that already has ridiculously long brunch waits and a plethora of places where you just HAVE to try their vegan chorizo frittata, why add more confusion to the mix just for a few more measly dollars? 

………

Alright, so I’m not here to totally shit all over brunch. I have had some pretty decent brunches before. (Of course, I wish a lot more places offered brunch during the week for when I have days off. A place I visited in Seattle does a brunch happy hour, Mon-Fri from 8-11 AM, with $8 for all menu items and $7.50 cocktails.) So I’ll share with you two of the best brunches I’ve had in Philadelphia.

The Khyber Pass Pub’s Bananas Foster French Toast: Despite having to wait 20 minutes to grab a seat at the bar at almost 2 PM (!) on a Sunday, and also despite waiting another 10 minutes for the bartender to even notice that I was there for me to put my order in, my food came out pretty quickly. The bread was nice and thick to soak up the rum sauce and the bananas were soft and sweet. (I kind of regretted not getting the beignets, but there’s always next time.)

Yep, I got a bloody mary, too. Guilty as charged!

Belgian Cafe’s Eggs Benedict: Eggs benedict is usually my go-to brunch order. Belgian Cafe kicked their shit up a notch by serving it on a motherfucking WAFFLE – then paired it with Lancaster ham and the freshest damn asparagus I’ve ever had in my life. 

Always trying to decide between eggs or waffles? Now you don’t have to! 

I think the next big trend should be breakfast for dinner, though. A few places have started to do late lunch brunch menus recently, and I predict that in a few years, that shit is going to take the food scene by storm. People will be rolling out in their PJs at 10 PM on a Saturday night just to get steak and eggs, do some tequila shots, and then hang out until last call at 2 AM and go to bed. It’ll be like brunch in reverse! Make it happen, guys (Just remember who gave you the idea.) 
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