September 26, 2012

Burgers with Mark Oldman

Last week, we were invited to attend a unique event hosted by a wine producer, Georges Duboeuf. The premise of the event was that wine (specifically Beaujolais, one of the specialties of this producer) and burgers pair well.  I don't claim to know anything about food and wine pairings, but the company snagged author and wine expert Mark Oldman to promote this idea.  He did a fine job of explaining the differences between seven (hence the glassware explosion on the table) different Beaujolais varieties and regaling us with some tales from the life of a "wine expert."

The reasoning behind this specific pairing is based on the fact that this particular line of Beaujolais is:

  • approachable
  • brings out the grilled flavor of the burger without being overwhelming
  • affordable

I thought the lesson was informative and entertaining, but to be perfectly honest, I was here for the burgers.  We were promised tastings from four of the "best local burgers from top restaurants in Philadelphia," and there was no way I was turning that down.  During Mark's discussion, platters of ground beef sandwiches were delivered to our table, already sliced in half to promote sampling.

First up was the Rouge Burger, a rather well-known rendition from the Rittenhouse establishment Rouge.  The first thing I noticed about this burger was how ridiculously thick the patty was.  It was also the exact same color throughout the cross-section, implying a near well-done temperature.  The patty was only minimally adorned with caramelized onion and a bit of gruyere cheese.  There were also plenty of onions mixed into the well-seasoned beef.  In this case, the patty played the starring role with a great flavor, but I felt it was a little too heavy to really enjoy- more like a brick of meatloaf than a burger.

The Rouge Burger
 Up next was a burger from 500 Degrees- the burger-only Rouge spin-off.  Even though 500 Degrees is essentially a descendent of Rouge, the thick and fluffy bun was the only similarity between the two.  Here, the meat was coarsely ground and formed into a more approachable patty.  A nice sear on the outside gave way to a perfectly pink center.  However, the toppings definitely came into play here- a fried egg, arugula, tomato, and braised bacon- not too much of each, but certainly enough to draw the attention away from the beef.  Although I approved of the toppings and the temperature, nothing about this burger really wow'ed me.

500 Degrees

The third burger I tried was from Spiga- an odd contender in this "competition."  Spiga is a relatively new Italian restaurant (brands itself as "Modern Italian Dinning" on it's website. And yes, they spell dining with two n's.) that hasn't gotten the best reviews.  I was surprised they even had a burger on their menu- looking over the other options depicted fairly standard Italian dishes.  A burger? Somewhat strange.

However, the burger definitely looked intriguing.  A more compact sandwich made with Angus beef, the patty is topped with sauteed spinach, applewood-smoked bacon, a creamy herbed goat cheese, and a thin layer of onion mostarda.  Definitely the most inspired set of toppings, all of which came together with the meat to create a heavenly bite.  The goat cheese seemed to meld everything together, soaking into the bun and the patty- creamy and delicious.  The meat was cooked a bit more than I typically like, but the cheese and spinach helped keep everything moist.  By far, the flavor of this burger was a unanimous favorite.

Spiga Burger

The last burger was made by the house kitchen: Alfa's Route 66 American Burger.  This was the only option with a unique bun- a really eggy, almost brioche-y potato bun that I was borderline creepily obsessed with. It was a little sweet and had that smooth texture that I love.. I could have eaten just the bun and been happy.  However, Alfa must know more than one of my weaknesses, as they added thick slices of crunchy pickles on top of a layer of cheddary cheese.  A rare patty, lettuce and tomato, and this sandwich found a special place in my heart.  It took a close second after the Spiga burger.

Alfa's Route 66

I was honestly pretty surprised by the outcome of our little burger fest.  I expected big wigs Rouge and 500 Degrees to step up in a big way, and they both just fell a little flat.  Regardless, it was really fun to do some burger taste-testing and compare notes with fellow bloggers and burger eaters.  Check out Steph's post for more details on the wine and her take on the burger pairings!  Of course, many thanks to Alfa for hosting us and Georges Dubouef for organizing the event (and footing the bill!).

September 22, 2012

Romesco Sauce

I've slowly been getting used to cooking for one in my new kitchen.  It's definitely been a learning experience!  After a few weeks of trials and errors, I was finally brave enough to invite A and her fiance over for dinner.  Ever since we had dinner at Jamonera, I've been thinking about the romesco sauce served with their deviled egg dish.  A couple of dinner guests gave me a great excuse to try making it myself!  I based this meal on  Healthy.Delicious.'s recipe for Romesco Roast Salmon, with a few alterations, of course.

This well-balanced meal had four components: a protein, a sauce, a starch, and a veg, so I was lucky A showed up early to lend a helping hand.  Before she arrived, I whipped up the romesco sauce- the easiest part of the dish!  

Romesco Sauce
2 tomatoes
2 roasted red bell peppers
2 cloves garlic
handful slivered almonds
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 t red wine vinegar
2 T olive oil

The first step is to roast the tomatoes.  My new place has an energy efficient halogen oven and I have yet to summon up the courage to try it out (help?!).  Instead, I made hatch marks on the top of the tomatoes with the tip of a knife and microwaved them for three minutes along with a clove of garlic.

The tomatoes cooked down perfectly well in the microwave, so I tossed them into the blender along with the rest of the ingredients (hold the olive oil).  I felt like this sauce was straight off Sandra Lee's show "Semi-Homemade" since it was so easy.

A quick blend of the components was all it took- I added the oil while the blender was going to help emulsify it.  If you like a chunky sauce, it only needs a few pulses- mine came out pretty smooth.

The other reason this recipe really stood out to me was the carb involved: pumpkin grits.  I had coarse yellow cornmeal on hand, so I used that instead of true grits.  Unfortunately, I didn't follow the directions on the bag to first mix the cornmeal into cold water, then add boiling water.  The result was a clumpy mess that required 15 minutes of whisking to make presentable... Oops!  The addition of half of a can of pumpkin to the water and cornmeal was easy enough, just had to decrease the water a bit (I used 1 cup grits, 2.5 cups water, 1 cup pumpkin).  Note to self: Polar brand pumpkin contains carageenan. Gelatinous pumpkin=not very appetizing.

I have limited burner space, so I sauteed the asparagus first for ten minutes or so- just a little salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Thankfully, I got lucky at the grocery store, finding some really tender, skinny asparagus that cooked quickly.

After I transferred the asparagus to a covered plate, I started the salmon.  I splurged on perfectly cut fillets from Whole Foods, which made splitting the salmon into portions a non-issue. 

So pretty. So expensive.
The meal came together quickly as soon as the salmon was cooked through (I like mine a bit pink in the center).  Top the salmon with a few spoonfuls of sauce, add kalamata olives to a scoop of pumpkin grits, a hearty serving of asparagus and you're ready to eat!

The replacement of oven baking with stovetop cooking meant the sauce wasn't cooked alongside the fish.  Next time I'd toss it into a saucepan to heat it up before serving (need extra burners...).  Otherwise, the romesco was just the way I remembered it- nutty, garlic-y, with a little acidity from the tomatoes.  Overall, a great pairing with the fish.  The kalamatas added a needed saltiness to the grits while the pumpkin gave extra creaminess and that fall flavor that everyone seems to love.

I had lots of romesco leftover- it's a really versatile sauce: I've eaten it over eggs for breakfast and as a spread on sandwiches for lunch.  Like hummus or pesto, the sauce itself could also be made in many alternative ways- different types of nuts, the addition of olives or beans, various fresh herbs, etc. I'll definitely be making it again!

September 20, 2012

Manayunk StrEAT Food Festival

It seems like every new blog post I see is highlighting the next big food festival around town!  It's a great time of year for them, as the weather is almost sure to be nice- the autumn months are what make me fall in love with Philly all over again every single year.  In this years festival line up, there's a new guy in town- one definitely worth taking a second look.  Manayunk StrEAT (ha! so cute!) Food Festival is basically a street fair, a farmer's market, and a Night Market (over twenty food trucks!) all rolled into one.  Plus, it's located along Manayunk's Main Street-- one of our favorite places in town.


The event takes place next Saturday afternoon, September 29th.  The early birds can arrive at 10AM, or you can treat it as a brunch, lunch, or late afternoon activity as it will be going full-swing until 5PM.  The fair acts as a kick-off event for Manayunk's Restaurant Week, which runs September 30th through October 5th.

The Restaurant Week runs at the same time as Center City's Restaurant Week, but offers prices that are a little more budget-friendly.  Options range from $10-$30, always featuring a special three course menu.  The full list of restaurants is available on their website, but we'd highly recommend Winnie's Le Bus, The Tomato Bistro, or Han Dynasty in the mid-range prices, as well as Gemelli on Main and Jake's and Cooper's at the higher price (a great deal!).

If you've been needing an excuse to hit up Main Street, the perfect fall weather and twenty of your favorite food trucks should provide just the reason you're looking for.  Pick up some produce, window shop, take a yoga class, stop for coffee or frozen yogurt, or try a new-to-you food truck (and make history, since this is the first time EVER that food trucks will be allowed on Main Street!).  All of the food trucks will be offering an item for just $3-$5, leaving you plenty of cash to check out more than one.  If there wasn't this whole wedding thing happening the same day, we'd definitely be there too!

Manayunk StrEAT Food Festival
September 29th, 10AM-5PM
Main Street Manayunk

September 17, 2012


Wow.  We've had almost a week to process, talk about, and look back on the events of last Wednesday night, and we're still in awe.  FEASTIVAL 2012 was unlike any event we've ever been to- and probably unlike anything we'll ever see again.  Three hours of unlimited access to almost one hundred of the city's finest restaurants- how did we get so lucky?  For those of you who don't know, the event is a (very successful) fundraiser for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe-- the once-a-year currently ongoing conglomeration of shows of every sort (a special shout out to Awesome Alliteration: A Magical Musical, one of the Fringe shows that we hold dear).

We were very blessed to win a free pair of tickets to the event via a Foobooz-sponsored food photography contest.  There were several hundred great photos, so we were very surprised (and extra excited) when we learned we won.  Another special thanks to the guys at Foobooz-- you rock.

Since this event ranks up there with our night at COOK in terms of "Best Food Events of Our Lives," we figured we'd piece together photos of the night with just a bit of text, the same way we did for our review of COOK.  So here goes:

What we learned at FEASTIVAL 2012:

1. Pier 9 is a great space for this event: more than enough room for everyone, interesting acoustics, a view out on the water, and ceiling heights that allow dancers and acrobats to either hang suspended from various objects or perform on extremely elevated surfaces.  I have no idea what it's used for during the other 364 days of the year-- perhaps we just need more FEASTIVAL's?

2. A greeting from two super athletic dancers performing in nothing more than silver body paint is one interesting way to welcome your guests.

3. Most of the portions were perfect- either a one-bite deal that we could each sample or a 2-3 bite plate that we could split and/or toss.

L: Rittenhouse Tavern's Rabbit and Foie Gras Croustillant with Concord Grape and Cocoa
M: Fond's Pork and Foie Gras Pate with caramelized onion and date jam
R: Nectar's Hamachi Tuna Canape with pickled carrots and asparagus
4. I will never look at grape jam the same again after trying Rittenhouse Tavern's dish (see above).  The dark purple sweetness was a perfect complement to the foie.

5.  There was a lot of foie.  Which only reaffirmed our love of it.

L: Stateside's Vodka Cured Skuna Bay Salmon with melon, pickled shishito pepper and crispy horseradish
M: Zahav's Kibbe Naya- raw lamb, walnuts, and sumac shallots
R: R2L's house made pretzel, smoked salmon, shaved red onion, mustard cream cheese
6. There was also a LOT of smoked/cured salmon.  Very telling of the fluidity of both foie and cured salmon- they both can be paired in so many different ways that each dish was unlike any other.

7. Raw lamb is delicious.  Each restaurant had a "station"- a table with a banner presenting the restaurant name and a sign explaining the dish.  As we read Zahav's description, J commented, "You had me at raw lamb."  One of the best dishes of the night-- spicy, and served in a perfect cup of lettuce.

Oyster House's Oysters & Clams on the half-shell
8. All-you-can-eat oysters are less appealing when it's also all-you-can-eat EVERYTHING.  We had two or three each from Oyster House's station-- fun but also very.. expected.

9. Any dish with fresh corn is phenomenal at the end of summer.  Fountain's dish exemplified this- a wonderfully soft, fluffy, and sweet corn terrine paired with smooth foie and a piece of popcorn- one of the most interesting and thoughtful presentations and executions of the night.

L: Fountain's Foie Gras Corn Terrine, Popcorn Cracked Coriander
M: Revolution House's Lasagna Cupcake with Ricotta Icing
R: In Riva's Tomato Soda

10. Lasagna cupcakes are way cuter in presentation than when they're all over your face.  Revolution House was offering a standard base of cheese, pasta and sauce topped with a number of freshly applied creams- we chose the Truffle, Parmesan, & Ricotta version.  Fun, but oh-so-hard to eat.

11. Holy tomato soda.  In Riva, you guys are geniuses.  Very savory with a hit of salt and fresh herbs, but fizzy and cool to keep it refreshing.

L: Brauhaus Schmitz's Foie Gras Liverwurst
M: Tashan's Malai Kafta Lollipop
R: Supper's Country Ham, Pea and Grits Fritters with Pimento Cheese
12. We're confused about the hype behind Brauhaus Schmitz's Foie Liverwurst.  Perhaps it's because we're German and therefore fine with liverwurst, but it wasn't mindblowing (only as mindblowing as foie always is!).  Next time, toast the toast, mmmkay?

13.  The "eco" serving dishes of the night aren't so ecofriendly when 900 attendees are using thirty each.  We applauded Supper for serving their delicious ham and grit fritters on a single tray for participants to grab and go (plus pimento cheese and pickles win us over every time).

L: Matyson's Cured Verlasso Salmon with quinoa, pistachios, and caramelized yogurt
M: Healthy Bites' Roasted Vegetable Chip
R: Miss Rachel's Pantry Vegan Lobster Mac N' Cheese
14. Another "huh?" over the talk of Matyson's Cured Salmon with quinoa.  A solid dish, but no better than the other smoked/cured salmon contenders (well, actually, I found the quinoa a bit boring).

15. Healthy Bite's healthy dish was rockin'- way more flavor than I expected after gorging on dozens of not-so-healthy plates.  A good dash of harissa did the trick on their roasted vegetables.

Parc's Cheese Plate
16.  The Stephen Starr restaurants had their own special row (he is a co-founder of the event!), and many had extra special dishes.  Parc's cheese board was an adorable presentation- if not a bit difficult to navigate with the beginning of a mob forming around you.

L: Talula's Garden Kale &Lamb Meatballs
M: Route 6's Crab Deviled Eggs
R: Butcher & Singer's Truffled Steak Tartare with squash blossoms and creamy horseradish
17.  Butcher & Singer's dish has me re-interested in the steak house concept (I've stayed away for a couple years).  Another one of the top dishes of the night-- steak tartare with squash blossoms (a new-to-me preparation, as I've never had them without a huge stuffing of cheese) and horseradish on a thinly sliced baguette.  Please give this to me for lunch, every day.

POD's Sushi Station
18.  As excited as we were about POD's sushi station, it went about the same way as all-you-can-eat oysters.  It also suffered the same problem as Parc- how to grab chopsticks, a plate, choose your sushi, and hold your drink all at the same time.  Near impossible, and don't even get me started on the wasabi and soy sauce issue.

L: Morimoto's Sweet Corn Miso, Scallop & Bonito Bacon
R: Monsu's Spicy Shrimp, Prosciutto, and Sicilian Tomato Marmalata on a Chestnut Pancake
19. Second best-corn-dish-of-the-night-slash-ever: Morimoto's Scallop on a sea of sweet corn miso.  Chunks of fresh corn remained in the thick, syrupy, sweet summer sauce.

20. Peter McAndrews is our chef BFF.  We chatted with him for a few minutes- one of our few extended chef interactions, and we are so glad we did.  His musings on being married to an identical twin were hilarious and very relatable.

L: Blackfish's Cinnamon Sugar Beignet with Raspberry Dipping Sauce
R: Pumpkin's Coffee and Cardamom Custard with Walnut Streusel
21.  After two dozen "entrees," dessert is still desirable.  We made our rounds the first time passing over desserts, and then went back to snag those that were still available.  J loved the Beignet from Blackfish, while I was obsessed with the Coffee Custard from Pumpkin (they do no wrong, in my eyes!).  Le Bec Fin also had some lovely dessert options (macarons, mini tarts, and the like).

22.  That said, we passed up a majority of the restaurants/dishes available.  We knew we couldn't try everything, so we stuck to things that really got us excited, used interesting ingredients, had fun presentations, or were from restaurants we loved/want to try.

23. If you're trying to roll yourself out the door and you're presented with a parting gift of a fresh Federal Donuts donut and a sultry dark iced coffee from La Colombe, a space will magically appear in your stomach.  A perfect ending to a perfect night (plus a macaron or two from our new friends at Sugar Philly!).

24.  Don't try to argue with professional coffee guru's about the benefits of decaf coffee.  They will laugh at you and present you with a fully caffeinated beverage- and you will forget that you have to be in bed in an hour, it will be that delicious.
La Colombe's Black Iced Coffee & Federal Donut's Hot N' Fresh
25.  We want nothing more than to attend FEASTIVAL 2013- here's to hoping Foobooz has another generous contest we can enter!

September 13, 2012


Even though it's been almost a month since I moved to my new digs, I've admittedly been bad about exploring the area.  The Italian Market used to be a destination for us, but now it's a mere three blocks away.  Thankfully, a dinner date with friends provided the perfect opportunity to get started with a rainy Saturday night dinner at Monsu.  A Sicilian Italian restaurant run by one of our favorites, Peter McAndrews (we've already revealed our crush on him here), Monsu maintains the Italian foundation that McAndrews is known for, with additional influences from Spain and France.

Located in the same space that the Italian Market rendition of Paesano's initially occupied, the restaurant is on the smaller side, dimly lit, and simply decorated, making for a pretty intimate dining experience.  Our waitress for the evening was a Modo Mio veteran filling in for a night, but she was very sweet and was sure to have all of our questions answered by other staff members.  While we were menu-perusing, she brought out a little amuse bouche- a piece of toast with a bit of spicy chickpea puree, a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan, finished with a drizzle of olive oil.  Nothing fancy, but still tasty.

Like the other restaurants in the McAndrews empire, Monsu offers a 4-course "Turista" menu for $40.  A & I decided not to partake, but the other two in our group did, offering a good mix of dishes (and a comparison of portion sizes!).  After we placed our order, we were given a couple of pieces of a dense and doughy foccacia bread (one of the highlights of the meal thanks to my love for chewy carbs) and a bowl of olives and raisins soaked in a slightly sweet and citrusy olive oil.  I'm a sucker for good bread service.

We started out with an antipasti that came highly recommended- the chicken liver bruschetta ($9).  A few pieces of thinly sliced, grill-marked toast rested on a generous disc of some of the creamiest chicken liver pate I've ever had.  Slices of fresh figs, pinches of goat cheese, and a cherry reduction sauce made for a classic sweet and savory flavor combination.  We had a hard time finishing this though, and were thankful for a little help from our friends- the regular portion sizes here are large.  However, the turista menu pares the portions down considerably- by at least 50%.  Keep this in mind depending on your appetite!

Monsu used to do half-portions of pasta but unfortunately is no longer offering this option.  We decided to split two pasta dishes, starting with the rigatoni Trapanese ($14). Taking inspiration from Trapani, a region of Sicily which grows a plentiful amount of almonds, the fat tubes of pasta are tossed in an almond based pesto with chunks of soft eggplant.  The "pesto" is a puree of almonds, tomatoes, garlic, and of course, basil.  However, the almonds and tomatoes provide the coloring for the sauce, so don't expect any vibrant green.  This sauce was similar to the romesco we had at Jamonera, and I loved it just as much.

While the pasta had a nice bite to it as any fresh pasta should, the gnocchi ($16) created a good contrast- it was impossibly light and airy, with a mild ricotta flavor.  The sauce was also relatively mild, tomato-based and dotted with bits of crab meat and chopped herbs.  Not a vibrantly flavorful dish, but a light version of gnocchi that is reasonable for the late summer months.

We went a little heavier on the meat course, opting for a slow-braised lamb dish served in a ceramic tagine, giving it a bit of a Moroccan flair ($23).  This was also an enormous portion of meat- super tender but also super salty!  Steamed broccoli swam in a pool of broth underneath the lamb, and the dish was topped with a thin crespelle- it seemed sweet potato based?  A little chopped olive salad sat atop the crespelle. McAndrews keeps his meat dishes pretty simple, highlighting the main ingredient, but I felt that the dish needed something to balance the hearty (and salty!) lamb.

There were three dessert options- a flourless chocolate cake, cannoli, and a coffee panna cotta, but none of these sounded all that appealing after a pretty hefty meal.  However, dessert came with the turista menu, so our table tried the chocolate cake and the cannoli, neither of which I felt were overly inspired. Looking back on our meal at Popolino, we felt the same way about their desserts as well.  Perhaps McAndrews should invest in a pastry chef...

However, the meal itself was a huge success.  We were able to taste plenty of other dishes thanks to our "sharing is caring" policy amongst our friends- other highlights were the pulpo antipasti (a cold octopus salad) and the swordfish entree.  The menu seems to be constantly changing (the online version is completely different from what we experienced...) which means we'll certainly be returning.  Portion sizes and pricing makes it the perfect place to go and split a few plates for an inexpensive meal!

901 Christian Street
BYOB and cash only

September 10, 2012

Hot Diggity

We tend to make an overwhelming number of statements along the lines of "We just HAVE to check out the new ___ restaurant," or "We will DEFINITELY be eating at ____ soon!"  Actually, you can usually find a sentence along those lines in the majority of our posts- what can I say, we really want to try it all.  For example, last March, I may have stated that a visit to Philly's favorite hot dog restaurant was imminent.  After a visit to Underdogs, my interest in the long, thin meat product was piqued after I realized they aren't all greasy meat sticks on squished, dry buns with a boring simple ketchup topping.  Six months later, and I finally found a chance to get into Hot Diggity, the (unofficial) most popular contender for hottest dog in the city.

Following a trip to our (yes, we share a stylist, don't act surprised) hair salon for a pre-wedding day hair trial, we slipped around the corner to the cozy spot on South Street.  For those of you who haven't been and/or heard, the walls are decorated with art by Hawk Krall, a local artist with a penchant for hot dogs.  Each of the available dogs are described and depicted in cartoon form, a fun way to share the necessary information AND simultaneously decorate.

Source: From the artist himself
Past dog offerings
The menu consists of about a dozen dogs each with a theme regarding the toppings- similar to Underdogs.  For comparison's sake (well, maybe just because I love the combination), I ordered Hot Diggity's version of the Chicago style hot dog-- called "The Windy City," of course ($5.50).  The Chicago dog is one of the most refreshing, with large pickle spears, lots of yellow mustard and electric green relish, thick slices of fresh tomato (perfect summer tomatoes here!), and a sprinkling of chopped red onion.  No sport pepper in sight, so perhaps missing a small piece of authenticity, but it's already an overflowing bun.

The meat here is long and skinny, griddled for a bit of char.  Each bite creates a snapping of the casing, something I actually have grown to appreciate.  The flavor of the dog blends with the toppings, making each bite a mix of salty, vinegary, sweet AND meaty.  The bun is soft but has a slight toast- almost unnoticeable but one of those things that makes the experience better as it holds up to wet toppings.

As you can see, the meat is really just a small part of the puzzle.  If asked to pick my preferred Chicago dog between the two main Philly competitors, I'm not sure I could decide.  I think that speaks to my overall interest in the flavor combinations though, leaving the nit picky details of the dog and the bun out of the equation.

The communal tables at Hot Diggity have a number of large, round holes scattered across the top.  Just as I was wondering aloud what these holes are for, our "server" (order at the counter, and they bring you your order) slipped a cone of fat french fries right into the hole- genius!  I ordered a medium to split ($3.50), but we should have stuck with the small- the fries are thick cut and super satisfying, meaning you don't need a lot to fill up.  Ketchup is offered on the table, but numerous other "fancy" sauces are available for just $0.25, too cheap for us to pass up.  I picked the sriracha ketchup, but barely tasted the hot chili spice- guess they want it to be approachable for picky palates.

There were two specials the night that we went, and even though they may not be available year round, they both were must orders for us.  A pickle plate?  I will never say no to that!  An interesting "side dish" at a restaurant that really only serves hot dogs and fries- no cooking required.  

This plate isn't just a pile of baby cukes- it's a great variety of colors and flavors, and all of the veggies are locally grown ($3).  The pickled onion slices were our favorites, while the pickled carrots could have used a few more days in the brine- still too crunchy.  Chunks of beet, okra, an unfamiliar white squash and fat roma beans rounded out the (extensive) mix.  Between the dog and the plate, I think I met my pickle quota for the year week.

The handmade corn dog special is on for the rest of the month- and we highly suggest making a trip before September is over just to snag these (3 for $5).  With a half-hearted "How many calories do you think are in a single one of these..?" we promptly devoured the trio.  The same juicy, thin hot dogs are encased in a thick, grainy cornmeal batter and deep fried.  The batter is stuck well to the dog, preventing any slippage issues.  Each corndog is coated in a different sauce- an orange Korean mayo, a honey ginger + sesame "dust," and a thick jalapeno cheese sauce.  Honestly, each tasted fairly the same as the next- the corndog base providing 99% of the flavor (not necessarily a bad thing, but kind of sad as the ingredient ideas sound so great).  I've never had a freshly prepared corndog- they all come in the freezer section of the grocery, right?- but now I don't think I could ever go back.

Since Underdogs is much closer to where I primarily shop and eat, I have a higher likelihood of popping in there for a quick meal.  However, Hot Diggity isn't second best.  Both restaurants have pretty killer dogs, and the number of flavor combinations and rotating specials makes each trip a new experience.  But for now, perhaps it's time for a pre-wedding diet...

Hot Diggity
630 South Street

September 5, 2012

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Barbecue is quintessential summer food, and since Labor Day marks the unofficial end of this glorious season, it calls for some serious BBQ action.  My new guy is a Syracuse alum so we spent this past weekend traveling around the area, attending a game (Go Orange?), and checking out the local food scene.  Dinosaur Bar-B-Que had its start as a roadside venue, catering mostly to motorcycle shows and fairs around New York.  The bricks and mortar location was opened in Syracuse in 1988, and they've been a famous local establishment ever since.

The space has lots of character- plenty of wood to soak up the smoky BBQ aromas, "decorated" almost entirely in various bumper stickers, motorcycle license plates, old advertisements and posters, and patron graffiti.  Although the surrounding area was completely dead on a Sunday at noon, the place filled up quickly and we were lucky to snag one of the last tables without a wait.

The menu is enormous- you can start your meal with all the classics, from fried green tomatoes to deviled eggs to my favorite BBQ app: sausage, cheese, and crackers.

However, we jumped right to the good stuff.  The Tres Hombres plate came highly recommended- with ribs, pulled pork AND brisket, it's a great way to try it all.  I didn't want to roll out of the place- thankfully DBQ (great nickname!) provides the perfect alternative, the Tres Ninos ($14.95), a "less spirited" rendition of the Hombres.  With two extra-meaty ribs, three thick slices of brisket, and a handful of pulled pork, it was the perfect taste of everything. DBQ has a unique mismatched cooking style: Texas-style brisket, Memphis-style ribs, and Carolina-style pork, and most impressively, they're all done well.  The ribs were my favoite- super smoky and coated with a peppery dry rub and slightly spicy vinegar-based sauce.  

All of the 'que plates come with cornbread and a choice of two sides.  The list of sides is extensive and there are even several additional specials each day.  The special of that particular day was a no-brainer for me- a broccoli and chickpea salad. Raw broccoli florets, a bit of shredded carrot and purple cabbage, and chickpeas are glued together by a thick, slightly sweet sauce reminiscent of honey mustard.  New favorite way to eat broccoli?  Simmered turkey neck collard greens came finely chopped and cooked down, rendering the tough greens into melt-in-your-mouth forkfuls of smoky goodness.  This place knows how to make vegetables approachable to the carnivores in all of us.

If you have a personal favorite, you can order a full plate of just ribs, chicken, pork, or brisket.  The Big Ass Pork Plate ($14.50) is aptly named- the plate comes with several servings of hand pulled pork coated in their signature sauce.  A rack of additional sauces is available for the adventurous types (or if you prefer your BBQ extra-wet)- the garlic chipotle pepper was great on the collards as well.  The cornbread is also notable, made with coarsely ground cornmeal and drizzled with honey.  Dense and sweet= cornbread perfection.

I never expected to find such good 'que in the great state of New York, but Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is renowned for good reason.  Although they've recently "sold out"- opening additional restaurants around NY and NJ- the original hasn't lost it's touch. But who can blame them? The obvious popularity of DBQ- for both the food and the personality- suggests they'd be successful just about anywhere.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Syracuse, NY