November 28, 2011


Hopefully everyone had a terrific Thanksgiving holiday weekend- A & I were split up as I traveled home to Florida and she stayed in the Philly area.  Before I left for home, I met up with a friend who was in town for dinner at Cooperage- a small, casual spot located in the Curtis Center on Walnut Street.  When Cooperage originally opened, the food was heavily influenced by the South, with menu items like fried green tomatoes and mac n’ cheese.  As it has evolved, the menu has become a little more generic with just a subtle Southern accent.

The space is broken into two distinct areas- a U-shaped bar with a TV broadcasting the current game and a quieter section with booths for diners.  The décor seems Middle Eastern, with ornately patterned curtains, lots of throw pillows, and sequin embellishments- certainly beautiful but gives the restaurant a bit of an identity crisis.  We were thankful for the quiet booth- the host made sure to let us know that our table would be an “intimate” setting.  The limited number of patrons meant we got perfect service from our friendly waitress.

We split a couple of appetizers- starting with one of the remnants from the original menu- the pulled pork nachos ($8).  Served on a wooden board, four thin and crispy tortilla chips acted as the base of little pulled pork mountains.  Minimal sauce coated the finely shredded meat, allowing the slow-cooked smoky flavor to shine through.  A slightly sweet pineapple and purple onion salsa and a bit of lime crema added upscale nacho accoutrements, while a drizzle of sriracha sauce made for customizable spice levels.  While this was no pile of gooey, meaty nachos, we both really enjoyed the more “grown up” version of the dish.

We also ordered traditional buffalo wings ($8)- 10 pieces of fried chicken tossed in a not-spicy-at-all sauce that could have used a good kick of heat.  We both felt that the wings could have used more sauce, but the creamy bleu cheese dressing made up for this deficiency.  The meat itself had a great texture and flavor, as if it’d been marinated in some kind of a tenderizer.  Crunchy carrots and celery sticks rounded out this very conventional appetizer- a good rendition, but certainly not the best.

I tried to pick out the most “Southern” entrees but ended up ordering the crab cake sandwich ($11)- a well-formed hockey puck patty of finely shredded crab meat served atop a pillow-y brioche roll.  Simply adorned with a fresh leaf of butter lettuce and a drizzle of aioli, the lightly fried crabcake played the starring role.  The texture of the egg-washed brioche highlighted the softness of the crab and made each bite very gratifying.  All sandwiches are served with potato chips, which can be substituted with fries (sweet potato or regular) or a salad for an extra charge.  The $3 side salad was completely worth it- a generous pile of cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, purple onions, and mixed greens tossed with a light house vinaigrette.  Perfect for satisfying the constant vegetable consumption requirement.

My friend ordered the BBQ chicken ($14), a quarter bird with crispy darkened skin slathered with sauce.  He chose sweet potato fries and spinach as his two sides, but the kitchen sent out sautéed zuchhini instead of fries.  Fine by us- we got a large basket to share as an apology.  I didn’t think the fries were particularly sweet potato-y (quite light on the inside) but they were super crispy, salty, and addicting.

I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the more original initial menu offerings, but Cooperage provided us with a great place to catch up and eat an inexpensive, tasty dinner.  The multiple personality aspect actually benefits the restaurant by providing a little something for everyone.

123 S 7th Street

November 21, 2011

Bulgar Wheat Risotto

There are a lot of culinary adventures I have yet to take- both at restaurants and at home in my own kitchen.  Some just seem scary to me, which is why I hesitate to move outside my cooking comfort zone.  One of these is risotto.  Perhaps I've watched too many episodes of Top Chef, with contestants warning other contestants to stay away from risotto, since it's apparently quite easy to mess up.  I don't even order it at restaurants, since I just assume it won't be good.  Plus, there's that whole stirring-your-arm-off-for-an-hour thing.  Recently, I decided to face my fears and make a simple risotto.  Of course, I had to make it cheaper more challenging by using a grain I had in my pantry- bulgar wheat.

If you've never tried bulgar, it's a crushed wheat grain that has been parboiled and then dried.  It has a very nutty flavor, and cooks up with a texture similar to couscous- it's the grain most commonly used in tabbouleh salad.  In order to make a complete dish, we hit Whole Foods for a few extra ingredients.  A very rare occurrence for us, but we'd been holding on to our Living Social deal for a special treat.

What you'll need if you'd like to follow along!
The shopping list included:
  • bulk baby portobellas
  • two large shallots
  • fresh thyme
  • low-sodium chicken broth
  • and some local smoked Gouda.

I started the risotto by heating 3 cups of the chicken broth (you can use vegetable or mushroom broth to keep this dish veg friendly) with 3 cups of water, keeping it covered at a simmer.  One of the shallots was then finely diced and sauteed in a tablespoon of olive oil, until softened.  I then added a cup of bulgar wheat, and allowed it to toast in the pan for a few minutes before adding 1/2 cup red cooking wine- but white will also do fine.  Allow the liquid to absorb/steam off before moving on to the next step.

In the meantime, I prepared my mise en place by slicing the portobellas, chopping the second shallot, finely grating the gouda, and plucking leaves/finely chopping the thyme.  This prep work helps make a hands-on dish a lot easier once everything gets going!

The next 45 minutes were spent in similar fashion: add the warm water/broth mixture to the pan, stir it into the bulgar mix and allow it to absorb.  The first two broth additions should be voluminous- about two cups.  After those are absorbed, add an additional cup, and then begin adding in 1/4-1/2 cup increments towards the end.  Risotto- at least of the bulgar form- really isn't as difficult as it seems, however.  Once each new addition was stirred in, I would allow it to simmer on it's own for the most part, just giving an extra stir here and there maybe every minute or so.

Steamy risotto.
After the first liquid addition, wait until the bottom of the pan is dry before you add the next.  The risotto should be able to be pulled away from the bottom of the pan and remain solid.  I'm at a loss for WHY this must occur, but I just follow instructions.  I do know that the use of a large, flat, open pan allows for evaporation of a good amount of the liquid you add, which intensifies the flavor of the broth in the final dish.

Once I felt comfortable letting the risotto do it's thing, I started on the sauce.  Since we were making a separate protein component, I kept it simple with a mushroom focus.  The baby portobellas and the second shallot, along with a chopped clove of garlic, were sauteed in butter until softened.  An additional 1/2 cup of red wine was added to this mix as well.  Immediately prior to serving, a sprinkle of dried rosemary and the chopped fresh thyme were stirred in, adding a rustic, woodsy flavor.

After all of the liquid had been absorbed into the bulgar, I was left with a porridge-like pan of cooked grains.  While typical risotto using Arborio rice should maintain a texture of individual grains, the smaller size and shape of the bulgar made a significantly creamier final substance- a bit like slow-cooked steel cut oatmeal.

In order to bring the final dish to the next level, we stirred in a couple large handfuls of the grated cheese, and then served it with the mushroom suace.

The creamy wheat and melted cheese were just right for each other- the nutty flavor of the bulgar and the smokiness from the cheese made this a bowl of delicious comfort.  While we could have used a braised meat or eggs as a topping, the mushrooms seemed the best choice, providing an earthiness that was a good match for the rustic risotto.

With the colder months moving in, I have a feeling we'll be spending more time in our warm kitchen- and dishes like this, while more time consuming than I'd like for a weekday, make a special winter weekend treat!

November 20, 2011

Brunch at FARMiCiA

To celebrate a friend's recent engagement (congrats J & M!), we made plans to meet up downtown for brunch.  Looking for a casual, not-too-busy spot with convenient parking options, A decided on FARMiCiA.  I've eaten there for dinner and loved the atmosphere and healthy, delicious fare.

On weekends, FARMiCiA serves breakfast for the early birds starting at 8:30 AM, but switches to a lengthy brunch menu at 10.  There were several open tables when we arrived a few minutes before noon and we quickly settled into the bright and open industrial-space-turned-country-farmhouse.


With so many great sounding options, we all struggled quite a bit to choose our entrees.  However, we quickly came to the agreement to split a starter- the trio of cheeses ($12.90).  Three types of cheese- one cow, one sheep, and one goat- are served with a pile of crispy baguette slices and a heap of fruit chutney.  The firm crumbles of salty sheep feta and the bacon-y smoked goat gouda were my favorites- perfect to eat in little bits by themselves, or smushed onto a piece of bread (anyone else terrible at actually spreading cheese?) with a dollop of the chutney.  The spicy and only slightly sweet chunks of dried apricots, apples, cherries, and raisins were balanced by a tart vinegar note- I couldn't ask for a more perfect complement to creamy cheese.

Goat, cow, sheep.

Overwhelmed by the rest of the menu, I kept it simple with lox and eggs ($12.50)- a vibrant yellow pile of buttery soft scrambled eggs under a blanket of smooth, smoky salmon.  Fresh slices of juicy tomato and two pieces of a seed-y wheat bread made for a "complete" meal.  Our entrees were served with a cute basket of ketchup and a super chunky strawberry jam (house-made?), the latter of which made for a great toast topper.  Though I typically choose more elaborate dishes when I dine out, this time keepin' it simple ended up being a great decision.

A ordered a sandwich- the hummus and avocado ($9)- served with a chopped veggie salad.  The sandwich was served on wedges of pita and included thickly sliced avocado, crisp tomato, and generous spreads of creamy hummus and artichoke tapenade.  Mixed greens topped with crunchy peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and a fresh herb vinaigrette made for a colorful and tasty centerpiece on the plate.  Unfortunately the dressing made one half of the sandwich a bit soggy- a light toast of the pita might have helped prevent this, as well as given some structure for ease of eating- it was slightly awkward to pick up.

The newly-engaged enjoyed equally tasty looking dishes- steak fajitas and a nova and cream cheese bagel sandwich served with a fresh fruit salad.

FARMiCiA was the perfect environment for catching up on proposal stories and wedding plans- the farm-fresh menu full of good eats only sweetened the deal.  Our sour-faced waitress was the only downside to the experience- although the food came out quickly and we were well-taken care of, a smile or two wouldn't hurt.  If you're looking for a hassle-free and relaxed (and affordable!) brunch with a dish or three that would satisfy any palate, keep FARMiCiA in mind!

15 S. 3rd Street

November 16, 2011

Royal Tavern

If I had to list some of my favorite restaurants in the city, I tend not to put the fancy-schmancy spots on the top of my list.  Maybe because we're just poor twenty-somethings and tend to eat at those places less frequently, but I also think it's due to the great number of affordable, fun eats.  Many of the cheaper spots happen to be bars, or "gastropubs" if you will.  You don't have to make a reservation, you don't have to dress up, you have ample people watching opportunities, you won't break the bank, and best of all, the food is both creative and high-quality.

South Philly tends to have more of these spots than anywhere else (perhaps to appease the large number of hipsters?), including Royal Tavern, a bar I've heard serves delicious eats for quite some time.  Run by the same group that owns Cantina Los Caballitos, my tipping point came when I heard their burger was the best in Philly- an opinion which also reverberates across Yelp.

The space, in one of my favorite areas of the city, is long and narrow, with a good number of tables, indicative of their emphasis on eating here.  A half hour wait was almost expected on a Friday evening, but the waitstaff was great at getting people in and out.  The menu isn't too extensive, and includes a lot of bar food staples- still, we had a hard time making decisions since everything sounded so delicious.  I had "heard" via Twitter about a new menu item, Duck Confit Potato Skins ($??- somewhere around $10), and I knew I needed to try them.

One thing bars are horrible at: good lighting.  Apologies.

Four small half potatoes are baked, then their innards are scooped out and replaced with shredded duck confit, bacon and truffle butter, then topped with thin slices of Gruyere and chopped scallions before going in for their re-baking, with a final dollop of cool sour cream added at the end.  These are in no way healthy, but when you combine every rich savory ingredient, the delicious result is absolutely worth it.  Shared among four of us, the few bites of moist duck (which tasted a lot like Thanksgiving turkey to me) and the melted cheese were a good start to our first meal here.

We also had no problem choosing the Fresh Popped Popcorn as a second snack to start ($3).  A big paper bag is filled to the brim with steaming hot popcorn, coated in truffle butter and parmesan cheese.  The truffle flavor was very subtle, but just enough to make this popcorn highly addicting.

While several seasonal dinner specials are available, we all chose to try a sandwich selection.  J decided on the Chicken Frankie ($9), a unique name for an interesting wrap of shredded chicken slow-cooked with peppers and onions in an Indian-spiced sauce, along with a bit of coleslaw all stuffed into a thick, chewy lovash.  The Indian-inspired flavors are a bit unexpected in an all-American place such as this, but they did it right- just a bit of curry and spice without being unapproachable by your average palate.  The lovash also held up well to the mix of wet ingredients.  Another fun thing about Royal Tavern is that they allow you to substitute any of their side options for the typical fries, allowing you a chance to sample anything from Refried Beans to Spicy Greens or Grilled Asparagus for no extra charge.  J went with a side salad, which was a regrettable decision after being served a very simple soggy romaine and parsley mix.

The burger, of course, was a must order by at least one member of our group ($10).  There are many contributing factors to the making of one of best burgers around, that I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so good.  The brioche bun is large and fluffy, providing enough substance to prevent sogginess or tearing, but being light enough to not detract from the main event.  The meat itself is pretty substantial, and cooked perfectly to order.  It's topped with bacon, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pickled longhots, and chile mayonnaise- a combination that seems somewhat overwhelming, but is actually a brilliant concoction.  The side of fries is served with a malt vinegar mayonnaise- a combination that almost reaches "pure food genius" status.

Another menu item that seemingly everyone raves about is the Tempeh Club, one of many vegetarian and vegan friendly items available (hipsters, right?).  I knew before arriving it was my top choice of eats, so I had no problem adding it to our order.  This sandwich is pretty epic- and I'm pretty sure would be loved by even the most meat-centric eater.  This picture does it no justice, as this sandwich is massive, a triple stack of grilled multi-grain bread, slices of vegan bacon (which my bacon-fanatic-fiance agreed tastes remarkably like the real thing), grilled tempeh, romaine, tomato, and a basil aioli ($8).  Some people have issues with the texture of tempeh, but here it blends well with the toasted bread, the soft tomato, and the crunchy lettuce, just providing a great nutty, smoky flavor.  The half I saved for the next day's lunch was just as good- almost like a good soup, the flavors amplified as they sat overnight.

I couldn't pass up fries, but opted for the Old Bay spiced fries instead of the regular.  The same hand cut fries (with skin-- my favorite) were potato perfection- thick, but still crispy, with the spicy seasoning giving it an extra pop of flavor.  Kind of weird with the malt vinegar mayo- or ketchup for that matter- but delicious all on their own.

The last sandwich choice of our group was the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($9), which to me sounds like an absolute yawnfest.  BUT.  This is Royal Tavern-- this is no ordinary chicken sandwich.  Toasted sourdough encases a pile of delicious ingredients, including chicken, of course, as well as prosciutto, blue cheese, thinly sliced pear, arugula, and lavender-honey mustard.  Again, at first glance, I thought this sandwich would be flavor overload, but each of the toppings paired well and complemented instead of clashed with one another.  Mashed potatoes > fries, apparently.

Even though we were all stuffed, there is always room in our stomachs for 1/4 of a dessert, so we decided to split one as a table.  Although there are just a few options listed on the chalkboard menu (5 out of 6 of which were cake), we still had trouble deciding, and had to ask our waitress for dessert advice.  She steered us towards the Cookies 'N Cream Cake ($6), which was much appreciated advice (although I'm willing to bet the other options are just as good).  I doubt these cakes are baked in-house, but when they're this delicious, does it really matter?  Dense, cold chocolate cake (temperature matters, in my opinion) is smothered in a creamy icing speckled with cookie crumbs, visually like a cake version of an Oreo, but a bit plainer in taste.  A sweet ending to a good meal, although next time I probably wouldn't order dessert.

While the Philly food scene has so much to offer in terms of five star restaurants, a huge variety of ethnic eateries, and of course, a million cheesesteaks, the gastropub deserves more recognition, especially places like Royal Tavern.  This visit also helped move their other sister restaurant, Khyber Pass Pub, to the top of my must-eat list.  Good thing I have a visit planned for next weekend!

Royal Tavern
937 East Passyunk Avenue

November 13, 2011


A couple of weeks ago, Groupon offered a deal we just couldn't refuse- a six-course meal for two at the Argentinian-Italian restaurant 943.  For $30.  Which breaks down to $2.50 per dish.  Are they crazy? We quickly scored Saturday night reservations- a requisite seeing as they turned down every single group that came in without one.  The space is nestled right smack in the middle of the Italian Market, in a surprisingly airy and spacious spot off the awning covered street.  Black and white tiled floors, sparse decorations, vast front windows, and plain white walls make the space seem somewhat industrial and sterile.

As soon as we were settled in at our table, the waitress brought us a complimentary ramekin containing bits of a sharp white cheese and a mildly spicy hard sausage.  Even though I felt a little weird eating them with my fingers, it was certainly a unique start to the meal.  They also provided us with a more standard bread basket- slices of soft and crusty Italian baguette served with a bland sweet pepper oil for dipping.  A little seasoning would have gone a long way.

There were two options for almost all of the courses in the deal (we ordered from a special tasting menu) so we were able to eat everything they were offering.  The first course was a salad- I chose the Ensalada de Atun- essentially a fancy tuna salad made with calamata olives and red onion served over spinach.  Half of a flavorless fig and a sweet balsamic reduction finished the dish.  I was expecting a thinly sliced seared tuna, but still enjoyed the pile of fish- the slight brine of the olives was enhanced by the sea-salty tuna.

The other salad was a simple house variety- iceberg lettuce and a few cherry tomatoes simply dressed in a lemon-y olive oil and a bit of salt.  We enjoyed the slightly tart dressing, but this salad was still incredibly boring.  A few more fresh vegetables wouldn't hurt. Of note- the portions of the salads were much smaller than standard portions, which as part of a tasting menu was much appreciated, but you can expect a larger dose of greens when ordering from the regular menu.

The second course was an empanada.  Our options were ham and cheese, beef, and chicken- we chose the first two.  The filling of the ham and cheese was molded to the floor of it's thick wrap of pastry, making it flake apart a bit during consumption.  I loved the crispy rounded edge of the crescent shaped empanada, but the salty flavor of the filling was rather one-note, reminiscent of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich straight from an elementary school cafeteria.  The more robustly packed beef empanada had a good mix of juicy ground beef cooked with some chopped olives and a bit of chili powder, lending the illusion of a pastry wrapped taco.  Enjoyable, but again just relatively boring.

Up next was a sausage course- choice of blood sausage (morilla) or a spicy chorizo.  We've never had blood sausage so we were excited to try something new.  Made by mixing pig's blood, pork fat, a few chunks of meat, and cream together to form the filling, this was definitely... interesting.  It had the texture of soggy bread- we actually both commented that it felt like we were eating a non-food substance, almost like a paper pulp.  The flavor was slightly metallic and the dark color off-putting-- I think it is safe to say blood sausage is not our new favorite food.  However, the chorizo was a highlight of the meal- snappy skin, well-seasoned meat, the right amount of greasy juice oozing out on every bite... I could see this being fabulous in a sandwich or soup.

Our fourth course was a shared vegetable dish- grilled asparagus served over a white bean and tomato base and topped by a fried egg.  The bean mixture was hearty and tasted as if it had been carefully tended through a long and slow stew.  Vibrantly green spears of asparagus were slightly smoky, their softness pairing well with a bit of fluffy fried egg white.

Our main entree options were the ravioli of the day (two choices here), a grilled NY strip steak, or short ribs.  A chose the butternut squash and goat cheese ravioli served with a mushroom sauce.  Large, thin squares of fresh pasta pocketed a small dab of sweet and creamy filling.  A shallow pool of earthy mushroom broth and a dusting of parmesan contributed an array of savory flavors.  The pasta had a firm bite without being chewy- after my foray into fresh pasta making, I can really appreciate a restaurant quality version.

Under A's direction, I ordered the NY strip- a half portion of meat that still came as a solid serving size.  My medium-rare order was cooked to more of a medium-well, but the meat was still flavorful and juicy (aided by some melt-in-your-mouth marbling) with a nice peppery crust and beautiful grill marks.  Served with a simple side of green beans and fingerling potatoes, it just seemed like a standard steakhouse meal.  The oily, parsley-heavy chimichurri sauce wasn't quite enough to take this dish to the next level.

We were understandably stuffed at this point, so we were again thankful for small portions, this time in the form of dessert.  We're not typically fans of phlegm-y flan, but the sweet and creamy version at 943 ended up being a hit.  The dessert was more firm and less jiggle, and was served with a blob of dulce de leche caramel, the plating of which seemed like an awkward after-thought.  Regardless, the milky custard and sweet caramel made for a supremely mouth-watering end to the meal.  A simple wedge of flourless chocolate cake was fudgy and rich, but nothing exciting.

There is absolutely no denying that this meal was daylight robbery on our part- a pretty solid meal for incredibly cheap.  But I still left with a feeling of disappointment- everything was just. so. basic.  I really wish they would have delved a little deeper into authentic Argentinian flavors instead of playing it so safe.  I also felt that the fusion of the two focus cuisines wasn't all that translatable, emphasized by the restraint in the kitchen- were there really any dishes that incorporated concepts from both?  I'm glad we could check 943 off our list, but we won't be rushing to return.

943 S. 9th Street
BYO and cash only

November 10, 2011

Caramel Bacon Brownies

I had another bout of baking inspiration this week.  They seem to be coming more frequently... I blame the impending doom of winter.  Although I certainly can't complain about the gorgeous days we've had recently!  Anyway, Philly Weekly recently had a lovely feature of 50+ Things You Must Eat Or Drink in Philly.  I'm a sucker for a good list, but one item in particular struck my eye- the Bacon Brownies at Watkins Drinkery.  As PW stated: "Salt and chocolate. It's a thing."  I have to agree- that Salted Caramel Budino (with chocolate cookie crust) at Barbuzzo is nothing short of phenomenal... but I'm getting distracted again.  Although we were fans of Watkins, the trek is a little far, so I thought to myself, "Self, how hard can it be to make brownies with bacon in them?"

I ended up choosing a recipe that was a little more ambitious, so truthfully, the answer to that question is "moderately hard."  Or maybe just "easy to screw up."  Based on this recipe, the brownies have multiple components, starting with the simple task of cooking the bacon.  I used a very "natural" version that I have found to have a great texture and flavor.

The recipe only calls for two pieces of bacon, which is the first thing I would change- more bacon please!  Next time I would go with at least twice as much meat.  I crisped up the bacon to make it easy to crumble- an important quality for this treat.

After the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan to cool.  Then add 1/2 cup of cream (I used half and half) to the pan of bacon grease- it will bubble a bit and then cool to make bacon-infused cream.

The next part is somewhat difficult- making the caramel.  Reading through the recipe made it seem super easy, but when you add high heat and sugar, you can often end up with a sticky disaster.  The first step is melting one cup of sugar in a pan.  As I said, the recipe called for high heat, which meant the sugar melted rapidly and required a lot of attention.

Unfortunately you can't exactly turn down the heat of the sugar once it has reached its melted state, so my sugar ended up with a mildly burned quality- not good for caramel.  As soon as it was melted (it gains an amber color as it melts) I turned the heat down and added a stick of butter, which created a rather combustive reaction.  Super bubbly.

Top left: Melting sugar.  Top right: Sugar+butter.  Bottom: Slightly chunky caramel.
After the butter melted, I turned off the heat, poured in the bacon cream, and crumbled the cooked bacon into the mix.  Because my sugar got a little too hot, there were little hardened sugary clumps in the mix.  I figured it'd all be going back into the oven anyway, and let the mixture begin to cool.

The next step is making an actual brownie batter.  Another stick of butter and 1/2 a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chunks were melted in the microwave- 30 seconds, stir well, repeat until blended (don't overdo it!).  Combine this with 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, three eggs, another cup of sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 cup of flour.  I was surprised there wasn't any salt (wasn't that the idea?), so I added a teaspoon to the mix.

Double line an 8" square pan with aluminum foil and grease with butter or non-stick spray.  Spread half of the batter into the bottom of the pan- this requires some patience as the batter is pretty thick.  Then drizzle a third of the caramel over the batter.

Next, spread the remaining batter over the top and add the rest of the caramel.  My caramel was nowhere near cooled so it pooled over the top.

Sugar and butter coated brownie batter.
Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes.  While your house begins to smell chocolate-y and delicious, take gratuitous pictures of your cat.  Wait, no, that's not part of the recipe...

After the surface of the brownies was firm, I allowed them to cool for about an hour and a half.  The high butter and sugar content makes them incredibly sticky and moist- and difficult to cut.  The cooler, the better.  Cut into small pieces- trust me, a few bites is all you need.

As I indicated at the beginning, the brownies aren't terribly bacon-y.  There's a very mild hint of bacon, mostly due to the small chunks that are few and far between.    And since my caramel wasn't exactly caramel, the brownies were instead just extremely dense, chewy, and rich-- and extra sweet!

Next time I would absolutely use more bacon (and more salt), and perhaps follow a more exact recipe for caramel-  I think a candy thermometer may be essential.  Regardless, these were some darn good brownies.  We wrapped up about half the pan into individual servings and popped them in the freezer- a single pan will serve a sweet tooth for quite some time.

November 7, 2011

Pierogie Kitchen

When a pretty important person in my life moved to Roxborough recently, I was thrilled to have a whole new neighborhood of eats to explore.  While he usually frequents a sandwich shop and a diner (nothing against them!), I'm more excited about the specialty spots in the area.  We often drive by a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a corner near his house, and the first time I saw it I got excited-- I mean how cute is it??

The Pierogie Kitchen is bright, cheery, has a great name, and an even better logo.  Plus- where else can you get pierogies around here?  I'm at a loss.  Sometime after his move, I received a Groupon offer for this very place.  $12 for $25 worth of pierogies had me hitting "Buy!" in a snap (well, after a short discussion with the Roxborough resident).

After a lovely long run in the Wissahickon (another great perk- just a few warmup miles away!), we set out to use our deal.  The menu is fairly extensive, offering a few dozen flavors of pierogies, a number of sandwiches (which all have pierogies IN them), a few delightful looking soups, and a few other Polish classics such as kielbasa and kraut and stuffed cabbage.  They even have a couple authentic Polish desserts (our mom would be all over the chrusciki).

The daily specials are all regular menu items, so I'm not sure what makes them special.  Also, when ordering, make sure to look at the menu board to ensure that what you want is not "Sold Out" (which we have a sneaking suspicion means "None in the Fridge Today." There are only two tiny tables in the front, so plan on taking your food to go.  Also, plan on waiting. A long time.  Although there were no orders up in front of us, we still waited a good forty-five minutes.  Pretty unacceptable for a take-out spot, if you ask me.  Slightly disgruntled, we hurried our bags of food home to feast.

We all ordered "Stackers," or monster sandwiches that include a pierogie in the mix.  However, needing to fill our $25 quota, we also ordered six pierogies on the side- and requested three Farmer's Cheese and three Sweet Potato (the only dessert pierogie option that was not "Sold Out").  About half an hour through our wait, we were told that we'd have to pick a new flavor- so we deserted dessert (heh) and went with spinach & jack cheese ($5.20 for 6).  Served hot, these little packets of dough were coated in oil, and fairly soft (not pan fried to crispness).  We're not picky on texture, and actually enjoy slightly doughy items, so it was fine by us.  The dough to innards ratio was decent, with a fairly thick skin giving a good bite.  The flavor of the inside was hard to perceive, but a hint of spinach was enough for us.  A small tub of sour cream is also provided for dipping- we recommend it.

Seeing as we HAD just completed a long run, I felt a sandwich of "considerable size and stature" was only appropriate.  They aren't kidding though- these sandwiches exploded from their bread/bun/wrap and filled an entire takeout container each.  While the below picture might look like a pile of mush, it was actually pretty awesome.  Called the "PK Stacker," it was nothing like you might find at Burger King.  Instead, a slice of rye bread is covered by a large potato-cheddar pierogie, a large smoked kielbasa is cut in half, grilled, and placed on top, and then the entire thing is covered in at least a pound of hot sauerkraut and sauteed onions.  The final part is another piece of rye bread, which is toasted and spread with a spicy mustard ($6.25).

If you order one of these sandwiches, get ready to eat with a fork and knife- there is no possible way to pick this up.  Even sliced in half, the incredibly soggy bottom piece of bread is useless as a tray for this falling apart heap.  In any case, it tasted delicious- my salt cravings were completely ablated, and the sauteed cabbage and onions were tangy without a crazy dose of vinegar.  The flavors are pretty classic Polish, so if you like kraut and kielbasa and can demolish an elephant, get this.

Another terrible picture awaits, but really, the description of the following sandwich will do: the "Spicy Chicken Stacker," a spicy, fried chicken breast topped with bacon, cheddar, caramelized onions, a jalapeno-cheddar-potato pierogie (yeah they have every flavor combination ever), and a huge dollop of garlic mayo, all on a large toasted kaiser roll ($6.25).  My arteries are clogging thinking about this- but of course, a boy would order this.  I took a little bite and it was just as you would expect- spicy, salty, cheesy, meaty, greasy, and admittedly, pretty delicious.

The final sandwich choice was definitely the best of the day- and I'm lucky that J agreed to split our picks.  Because I had major enormous-sandwich-envy.  The "Special of the Day"- the Wild Salmon wrap- was probably also the most normal of the day ($7.95).  A thin piece of pan seared salmon filet (a little dry on its own) is stuffed into an herb-garlic wrap alongside delicious accompaniments of baby spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, the ubiquitous herb-garlic pierogie, and a garlic mayo sauce that makes everything super moist, a bit like a salad dressing inside a wrap.  Honestly though, I don't really understand the addition of pierogies, besides the originality factor.  They blend into the sandwich, and with so many ingredients and toppings, get completely lost in the mix.

As a whole, the meal was a great deal for the more than 50% discount we got-- and provided an amazing, massive lunch.  I think we're still annoyed about the incredibly long wait we faced, and thus wouldn't run back immediately.  Even though the Pierogie Kitchen is more than convenient to my new second home, the convenience factor was completely wiped out by the wait.  If they had a "call ahead" option, I might consider going again, just for the wild salmon wrap.

Pierogie Kitchen
648 Roxborough Avenue