January 31, 2013

Peanut Butter Appreciation

You may not be aware of this, but January 24th is National Peanut Butter Day.  You also may not be aware that we LOVE peanut butter. And can't understand anyone who doesn't.  We went through multiple years of high school eating plain peanut butter sandwiches for lunch everysingleday, and I would happily continue that trend today... if I still had my high school metabolism. Devil's Den, a bar and restaurant in South Philly, decided to run with the Peanut Butter Day celebration and created a one-day-only special menu full of the stuff.

Apparently there are a ton of other peanut butter lover's in Philly, because the place was packed.  We had to wait a bit past our reservation time, but enjoyed a few minutes by the crackling fireplace on a particularly cold evening.  Our waiter was swamped, constantly running back and forth between tables, the kitchen, and the bar, which meant more waiting on our part.  Regardless, between the four of us, we ordered 4 of the 5 peanut butter dishes (opting out of the Elvis sandwich, which while delicious, can easily be made in our own kitchens).
Fried chicken bites ($8) served with a spicy peanut sauce sounded relatively "safe" and were just that. Strips of boneless chicken were breaded and deep-fried to a crisp.  The "spicy peanut sauce" was only slightly spicy and just didn't have a lot of depth to it.  Chopped scallions were essentially a garnish- they didn't exactly incorporate themselves into the dish. 

Having eaten dinner at home, I was only in the mood for a few bites of food, which I knew was all I would get in a seared foie gras dish ($11).  A thin square of brioche was topped with a tiny piece of seared foie and topped with a slightly sweet peanut butter sauce and a few crushed peanuts.  Unfortunately, I know a good piece of foie from a bad one- if it's cooked in a pan that's too hot, it'll release all of its fat the moment you touch it.  A harried kitchen is no excuse for butchering a luxurious piece of liver.

Fortunately, a fellow peanut butter-loving friend had yet to eat dinner, so she ordered the PB entree, a roasted pork dish with peanut butter mole ($15).  Not only did she receive a well-cooked, generously portioned pork chop, but the spicy mole sauce was inventive and unique.  This is really what we were looking for- a dish that celebrated peanut butter in a creative way.  Sauteed greens and slow-cooked Cuban black beans rounded out the meal.

A opted for dessert- a simple chocolate peanut butter tort ($5).  The base was a thin, crunchy, almost shortbread-like crust coated with a layer of peanut butter and topped with chocolate, whole peanuts, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Nothing adventurous or exciting, but satisfying.  Kind of like a Snickers bar in pie form...

We obviously weren't "wow-ed" by our quest for peanut butter, but we love that Devil's Den embraced such a ridiculous (but awesome) "holiday" and created a simple menu for the masses (and the masses came!).  We might just need to do some experimenting with peanut butter in our own kitchens- that mole sauce looks like a good place to start!

January 29, 2013


My list of "need to try" restaurants has been a little stagnant recently- many of the long time contenders are either 1) too expensive for a regular night out, 2) impossible to get a reservation (I'm looking at you, Vedge), 3) better suited for large groups, or 4) just don't call to me the same way they once did.  I'd also like to throw it out there that it's sometimes tough to choose a new-to-the-blog restaurant when there are lots of places I'd like to revisit (I know, my life is so hard).  In choosing a spot to eat with a friend recently, I suggested Sophia's- even though it's received almost no publicity, it's operated under a reputable chef, it's in one of my favorite neighborhoods, and the price points aren't an immediate turn-off.

It's located on a popular stretch of East Passyunk, down the block from Cantina Los Caballitos.  I had to look up the exact address twice to help us find it-- it's not well marked.  The building is laid out just as a brownstone home would be, long and narrow with a basement and stairs leading to an upper floor. The small dining room in the back of the first floor was small and quiet with room for just six or so tables.

The menu was really a surprise- I find it necessary to check out menus online before going to eat, but Sophia's barely has a web presence.  A small serving of soft sliced baguette began our meal as we decided what to eat.

Thankfully, everything looked great, and we settled on two appetizers to split.  First, the "Sophia's Meatballs" (yes, they're in quotes), two enormous meat mountains which we decided were mostly beef ($7).  An incredible creamy polenta and a soulful red gravy were the stars of the dish, with intense but comforting flavors from both.  The meat itself was soft and well-cooked but was underseasoned, leaving it to pale in comparison to the other components of the dish.

We also picked our waitress' brain on a second appetizer, and while she stood loyal to her employers insisting every dish was stellar, she helped us decide on the Pastrami Spiced Pork Belly ($11).  Definitely the (savory) highlight of my meal, the dish was a deconstructed rendition of a reuben sandwich- one of my favorites.  Soft shredded cabbage coated in a warm Russian dressing was topped with squares of smoked-and-seared pork belly.  The meat wasn't overly fatty as belly tends to be, and the charred edges mixed with the pastrami spices and the tender meat was a perfect combination.

After two great appetizers, we were hit with one of our most common restaurant complaints: the  smaller plates far outshine the entrees.  While we both appreciated the quality ingredients and careful preparation of our respective meals, they both failed to meet the expectations set by our first course.  I chose the Wild Striped Bass ($25).  Served in an exceptionally bright green sauce, from first glance I thought it would be full of fresh herbs- a great pairing for a solid piece of fish, in my opinion.  However, the broth was thin and much more dull than it appeared; while the bass was well cooked with a thin crispy edge, the sauce was too subtle for the already light dish.  Two little neck clams and a few braised baby turnips completed the dish. (Note: the folks at Philly-ism had nothing but praise for this dish, so either I am missing taste buds or there are some inconsistencies).

My friend's Proscuitto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin fared a bit better, although with such a solid pairing of ingredients, it should have been a real wow-er.  The pork was cooked to a lovely medium (a preparation not fully appreciated by germophobic Americans), and was perched atop a giant heap of kale.  

Perfectly prepared cranberry beans (soft but with just a bit of a bite) were served in a warm gravy with softened Mission figs and a balsamic reduction.  A solid dish, but not as fun and flavorful as the pork belly.

At this point I was definitely full, but I'd heard rumors about the desserts at Sophia's that I only hoped were true.  And, yes! At the bottom of the dessert menu reads the magic words: Desserts from Belle Cakery, Pastry Chef Jessie Prawlucki.  I've been wanting to get to Belle Cakery since it's opening, and this was a great chance to try her creations in the context of a real meal.

Unfortunately the menu is fairly limited, and my dislike for cinnamon and my disinterest in "rum pineapple" anything left me with an obvious last choice: the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake ($7).  Great excuse to try the most decadent item on the menu, right?  It was a phenomenal choice, and had my opinion of Sophia's back on very solid ground.  A dark chocolate cookie crust (my favorite part!), a dense cool block of chocolate-y sweet cream cheese, a perfect dark chocolate ganache top, and a beautifully caramelized banana confit.  It was impossible to finish- it would have been perfect to split amongst two or three, but I had this all to myself.

While significantly less exciting to look at, the homemade ice creams rivaled the cheesecake in flavor ($4).  A simple vanilla bean was one of the best vanilla ice creams I've ever tasted-- you could tell it had a huge percent of milk fat, just the way it should be.  The strawberry was bursting with summer fruit (thank you, Florida, for supplying great berries in a month in which we've hardly seen temperatures in the 30s!), with a bit less richness than the plain vanilla.

Sophia's is smart to take advantage of a nearby pastry expert, ensuring that your final bites at this restaurant will leave you nothing but happy.  The small menu at Sophia's sticks mostly to safe comfort foods, and with such limited options, we'd either like to see 1) some more exciting additions (like the pork belly!) OR 2) hitting home runs with the safer dishes.  I can definitely see a return visit in the future- I'd like to give it a few months to let the kitchen settle into a rhythm, but I think it will be a great addition in an already stellar food neighborhood.

1623 E. Passyunk Avenue

January 25, 2013

Little Baby's Ice Cream

After finishing our delicious pizza-fest at Pizza Brain (and taking a few minutes to digest), we moved from the pizza-centric dining area of Little Baby's into the somewhat-separate ice cream shop.  The decor here is more pastel 80's than the rest of the space.  Little Baby's has been around for a little while now- starting out as a bicycle-drawn ice cream cart and made famous by a pretty-darn-creepy advertisement- but they specialize in hand-made, "super-premium" ice cream using specially sourced Pennsylvania milk.

The options at Little Baby's are practically endless.  Not only do they have a solid selection of incredibly interesting flavor options (including non-dairy options as well!), but you also have to choose how to consume your flavor of choice- in a cup? in a cone? in a milkshake or a float?  Sandwiched between two cookies?  I think I spent more than a few minutes blankly staring at the menu and wanting to say "one of each, please."

Milk and cookies are offered to those who think it's too cold for a frozen treat, and the soda selection mirrors Little Baby's next door neighbors'.  The cookie options are just as intriguing as the ice cream, with flavors like sweet potato cumin or almond fennel.

While my friend tasted a few before making his choices, I somehow managed to zero in on a single flavor- the Peanut Chews Vanilla Molasses.  After our Philly food extravaganza at Jake's, I've had a special soft spot for the classic-Philly Peanut Chews- what's better than dark chocolate and sticky, molasses-coated peanuts?  This flavor was dairy-free, but to be honest, it was so creamy and flavorful that I didn't even notice.  Vanilla is my favorite, and as a base flavor, Little Baby's version is subtle.  The molasses provided a really round, robust, slightly spicy and slightly bitter component that perfectly matched the chunky bits of Peanut Chews.  I chose both a chai snickerdoodle and a sugar cookie to sandwich the generous scoops of ice cream- there is no way you can take a full bite through all three layers.  This actually allowed me to appreciate each cookie separately.  The cookie texture was perfect- soft and moldable without crumbling or cracking.  Best cookie sandwich ever... and it was only $5!

My friend couldn't resist the allure of the Peanut Chew flavor either, but he also ordered a scoop of the sweet potato burnt marshmallow and the peanut butter maple tarragon ($7).  Trying a bite of the latter two again showed how similar the dairy and non-dairy options are in texture- seriously indistinguishable.  The sweet potato was sweet and spicy with only a late hint of marshmallow, but the starchy vegetable makes a surprisingly good ice cream.  Peanut butter maple tarragon? Well, let's just say the flavors are so multi-dimensional, you need to go try it for yourself!

Unfortunately they weren't offering the pizza flavor which I would have jumped on, but I was perfectly satisfied by my cookie sandwich. None of the flavors, though some are seemingly odd, were overwhelming or in your face.  I didn't notice this till after we had paid (they take credit cards!!) but they also offer a "pick six" ice cream tasting option with six mini-scoops for $6.  Definitely the best bet for eating your way through the menu!

Little Baby's Ice Cream
2311 Frankford Ave

January 23, 2013

Reads and Eats: Like Water for Chocolate

This month's book club choice was definitely different than our usual reads.  All of the books thus far have been non-fiction or memoir style, so we decided to change it up and read a fictional story.  Our choice, unbeknownst to us at the time, is a Mexican literary classic, Like Water for Chocolate.  Published in the late '80s, the book revolves around the life and love of a woman growing up in turn-of-the-twentieth-century rural Mexico, who is essentially enslaved by her mother.  Her one passion is cooking, and thus each chapter of the book starts with a recipe- allowing us to continue our trend of  producing dishes from the book to bring to the meeting.

However, the "recipes" in the book involve native Mexican ingredients and are difficult to navigate as measurements and directions are very vague.  Thus, we all took on a dish with a bit of our own touch, just to make things a bit easier.  Guacamole is a must at any Mexican themed dinner, and made a perfect "appetizer" as we all put finishing touches on our dishes and caught up on non-book related gossip.  This rendition included lots of fresh garlic and  jalapeƱo, with the avocado pit left in to maintain maximum freshness.

Another not-from-the-book addition was corn kernel-studded cornbread with a bit of a Mexican twist- lots of Spanish spice and some grated cheese on top.

J tackled one of the recipes from the book head-on (the only one of us to do so!), choosing the first recipe in the book, known as "Christmas Rolls."  Essentially a sandwich with a meat filling, the recipe calls for a combination of sardines and chorizo, mixed with hot chili peppers and onion.  Honestly, it sounds like a strange mix but was definitely a hit- the hot chorizo was tempered by the salty sardines, and the fishiness of the sardines was certainly toned down by the spices from the chorizo.  Served on a crusty wheat roll, it would make a perfect quick lunch- plus, it's even better the next day as the juices from the meat have a chance to soak into the bread.

I jump at any chance to use my slow-cooker (especially when our meetings fall right after work!), so I produced my version (well, Martha's actually) of chicken mole.  The book features a recipe for turkey mole, but included far too many ingredients I knew I wouldn't get my hands on (chiles pasillos, lard, and chile mulato, anyone?).  My version was MUCH simpler- essentially throwing a seemingly random mix of ingredients into a blender, then slow cooking it with two pounds of chicken breasts.  The sauce included:

  • tomatoes
  • onion
  • dark chocolate (almost an entire bar!)
  • toasted almonds
  • raisins
  • cinnamon
  • chili peppers (I cheated and used fresh instead of dried)

The final product was a pile of shredded chicken soaked in a very flavorful sauce.  I'm still on the fence about whether I ENJOYED the flavor, but notes of chocolate and cinnamon were certainly apparent.

One of the girls suggested she make a Mexican casserole, but I insisted she make the cake featured in the book instead (she's a good baker, what can I say?).  The cake is served at a wedding in the book, and I would have loved this at my own wedding.  Since the recipe in the book produces a cake to feed the entire wedding party, I sought a real-life recipe to send along to the baker (found here).  The cake became a bit of a joke because it involved eleven eggs (!), but also was a somewhat involved process (baking several layers, making fresh lime curd, etc).  

The end result was delicious- so full of citrus but also plenty sweet, with several sticks of butter making sure everything was nice and moist.  The double-layer meant twice as much cake in every cut- always a good thing!

With dessert, we also sampled a classic Hispanic drink, horchata.  In Mexico, horchata is made with rice, although other countries produce it with almonds, seeds, or milk.  The recipe involves grinding raw rice into smaller pieces and soaking it overnight in water.  After straining and the addition of cinnamon and a bit of vanilla, the beverage is served ice cold.  Even on a freezing winter night, it was very refreshing- sweet and smooth, and a great pairing with the citrusy cake.

Although the recipes in the book were a bit too complicated (and/or too vague!) for most of us, I thought we did an excellent job of piecing together so many Mexican classics, while still featuring several items from (or at least based on) the book.  Over the food, we had a great time discussing the Mexican lore and magical realism of the book- a quirky read reminding us that cooking can be a great way to express yourself!

January 18, 2013

Pizza Brain

It doesn't seem like very long ago when I was lamenting the lack of good pizza in Philly.  However, we've since been blessed with a plethora of delicious pizza places including some of our favorites, Pitruco and Nomad.  Much further north, Pizza Brain has been getting some national publicity recently. A free Thursday evening gave me a great opportunity to catch up with a good friend over a few (OK, a lot of) slices.
We ventured north on Frankford Avenue, quite a few blocks from the more familiar area of Frankford Hall and Fette Sau.  It's a quiet neighborhood, so the brightly lit Pizza Brain and neighboring Little Baby's Ice Cream stood out like a beacon of hope and pizza.

 Right away, our attention was pulled to the seemingly endless pizza-related decor; Pizza Brain does hold the World Record for the biggest collection of pizza-related memorabilia.  The multi-level pizza oven (gas-fired brick) shines brightly with a somewhat unnecessary "PIZZA" sign announcing it's contents.

Pizza Brain rotates a menu of available slices depending on what is fresh and hot out of the oven.  Slices come from 20" pies so they're quite generous. Full pies are 16", still plenty big to share.  The two of us are known to order a TON of food when we hang out, and this was no exception.  We split each of the three available slices ($3-$3.50 each) and a whole white pie ($20.50 because we did a half-and-half).  Fortunately, this allowed for leftovers!  Unfortunately, they're cash only and I had $0 in my wallet... but again, fortunately, I was dining with a generous friend.
While we waited, we explored some of the decor, including a couple of iPads full of celebrity+pizza sightings, as well as plenty of classic 80's toys (pizza oriented versions, of course).  Am I the only one who thinks trolls are impossibly cute?

Kardashians + Ghostbusters + Troll= ??
Although Pizza Brain (I want to abbreviate to PB but they're not peanut butter!) offers a TON of fun sodas (and they're BYO), they also kindly provide a jug of ice water for people who prefer to eat their calories rather than drink them.  As my Dad likes to say, "Gotta cut back somewhere!"  Unfortunately there is VERY limited seating, so we ventured next door to Little Baby's which offers a few extra tables and even more pizza decor.

Our super sweet "waitress" brought us the individual slices while our whole pie spent some time in the oven. We ended up calling this our "appetizer" and started by tearing apart the simplest slice- the "Jane."  Red pies have a hand-crushed tomato sauce that was incredibly well-balanced- acidic, slightly sweet, and full of bright tomato goodness.  The crust is on the floppier side- not soggy but not overly crispy either.  Definitely thin, maximizing slice consumption, but still present with a bit of a sourdough tang and a cornmeal finish (and no added sugar).  OK- back to the Jane- just sauce and a three cheese blend including the requisite mozzarella, provolone, and a fancier grana padano (similiar to Parm-Reggiano).  A few torn leaves of basil finished it off- just a great way to get to know the sauce and crust.

The white slice above was the Leonard Bookman, again highlighting a three-cheese blend.  In this guy, the trio included mozzarella, fontina, and blobs of riccota.  Black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh oregano adds a surprisingly noticeable spice/herbal element to balance all that salty cheese.

The third slice looked a lot like the Jane, with the addition of tiny rounds of pepperoni.  In fact, that's essentially what the Forbes Waggensense (who came up with these names??) is, also switching out the sharp prov for fontina.  The switch in cheese made a huge difference in flavor, providing a slightly nutty and sweeter taste that paired well with the spicy pepperoni.  This was actually my favorite of the three.

We had a little reprieve after we inhaled the slices while we waited for our whole pie.  Our waitress came to check on us a few times and let us know how the pie was coming along; unfortunately, she was too busy to join in our conversation about the Flyers.

Any whole pie can be split into two types of white or two red (obviously not red and white!), giving us the opportunity to try even more types of pizza.  We chose the simpler Felix Huppert, topped with gruyere (my favorite!), mozzarella, caramelized onion, and fresh thyme.  Pizza Brain loves their fresh herbs- and so did I!  It seriously (and surprisingly) made such a difference in flavor profiles.  The crust on the 16" pie seemed a little thicker, with a nice edge around the top and bit more doughiness.

The other half of our pie is called the Queenie Delouche- a silly name for a complex pie with three cheeses, two types of mushrooms, fresh garlic, and fresh rosemary.  Our waitress told us that many folks find the rosemary to be a bit much, but the two of us could probably eat a rosemary sprig on its own so we were in rosemary heaven.  The earthy mushrooms (shiitake and portabella) as well as goat cheese made this my favorite pie of the night.  White pies are heartier and richer so I'm glad we balanced this with the red slices- it would have been optimal to switch back and forth.  Regardless, I ate my fair share of delicious pizza and it was a real culinary adventure to try so many different kinds.

Overall, Pizza Brain is totally different from our previously mentioned favorites, but it deserves attention just the same.  Great flavors, such a quirky and fun atmosphere, superb service- a serious pizza joint with more than a touch of whimsy.  I wish they took plastic but that's probably my only complaint.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this adventure- of course I still had room for ice cream after all this pizza!

Pizza Brain
2313 Frankford Ave

January 15, 2013

Jamaican Jerk Hut

Just a few weeks after our return from our honeymoon, I spotted an online deal for Jamaican Jerk Hut.  Even though these pop up every now and again, I'd never felt the need to partake.  I've been to the Jerk Hut at least twice before but had never ventured too far into the menu.  However, since I was in full-on Jamaican withdrawal, I had to buy it.  We recently had a chance to cash it in, and headed to dinner a bit early- the small dining room up front can fit about six small groups, although in the summer there is pretty much unlimited space in the adjacent grassy lot (often with live music!).

It wasn't this bright or green out Source
Although the Jerk Hut may be somewhat infamous (or not?) from its role in the movie In Her Shoes, it doesn't seem to have a ton of faithful fans now.  The majority of their business seems to be takeout and delivery, and those dining in are almost always toting an online coupon (never a sign of a successful business).  It seems one of the main problems is the service- food is slow to arrive, waiters disappear for extended periods of time, etc.  But, in Jamaica, everyone runs on "island time," which essentially means you'll wait and you won't mind (I mean, you're in Jamaica!).  Doesn't seem to translate well to the United States, as our always-in-a-hurry mentality prevents us from accepting slow service.  Fair enough- I don't love to wait either!

The restaurant seems to get by on just the basics- a small front counter with a soda cooler, plain chairs and tables, water served in plastic cups, and a single server.  Although we ended up waiting for about ten minutes once we were seated, it seems we timed our arrival poorly, with two larger groups ordering just before us.  Otherwise, the service was just fine- definitely no complaints.  

The menu is full of Caribbean treats, from fresh made juices to the classic Jerk chicken, with every native fruit and veggie side in between.  Prices are a bit higher than I'd expect ($20 for a plate of jerk chicken seems a bit steep), but we ended up choosing lower-priced items.

You CAN'T go to a Caribbean restaurant and not order patties.  One chicken and one veggie (they were out of beef) for the table-- you can imagine who got which ($2.50 each).

The patties were made with an excellent dough- these aren't thawed straight from the freezer.  The crust makes or breaks the patty, and thankfully here we had nothing to worry about.  Essentially a meaty handpie, the chicken is finely ground and mixed with subtle spices.  I prefer beef over chicken, but after three months without, we were happy.

The veggie patty is made with the same thinly rolled butter crust, but is filled with a mix of chopped vegetables (which MAY have come from the freezer) - corn, peas and carrots were easily identified.  A great example of how Jamaican cuisine is extremely vegetarian friendly.

Since I really wanted jerk chicken but wasn't prepared to spend two-thirds of my coupon on it, I went with the Jerk Chicken Salad ($10).  And... I was surprised with my new nomination for best salad in the city.  The salad starts with a huge base of spinach- the thicker, more mature leaves with more chew and flavor than baby spinach.  Strips of green and yellow bell pepper and some shredded carrot kept things crisp and crunchy, and a light coating of a mango dressing was evenly distributed.  

Thinly sliced onion wasn't my favorite addition-- I picked most of it out, but a small price for such a superb plate.  The obvious winner here was the jerk chicken- boneless strips of breast meat grilled and tossed with the thick, spicy jerk sauce that makes my mouth water just looking at it (spicy! so spicy!).  I can do a number on a salad, but this one was too much- I couldn't quite finish it (even though I desperately wanted to!).

Part of the problem came from the side dish I also decided to tackle  Even though I equate fried plaintains to growing up in Cuban-populated Florida, Jamaicans make just as good of a grilled banana.  Thick, plump plaintain slices are deep fried until softened, and coated in a good shaking of salt (seriously, try it!), they make up one of my all time favorite foods.  So-- you can see why I couldn't resist a side order of them ($3)!

Since our Jamaican vacation was in Ocho Rios, we became intimately acquainted with one of Jamaica's most well-known tourist spots- Dunns River Falls.  Located just a few miles from our resort, the Falls are a beautiful sight to see- AND an adventure to hike up.  The Jerk Hut has named a dish after this locale; whether it's founded on a particular regional recipe, we're not sure.  The Dunn's River Falls BBQ Chicken is stewed on the bone, although it doesn't take much for the meat to fall right off.  Coated in a tangy barbecue sauce, the spice level is definitely way lower than the Jerk chicken- great flavor for those who can't tolerate quite as much heat.  

The platter is served with greens slowly stewed in coconut milk (need to try this technique ASAP) and a generous slice of dense, sweet corn bread ($15).  It almost seems like down-home Southern barbecue- but with a special touch of Jamaican lovin'.

Even without the coupon, we ended up getting a TON of food for a reasonable price.  Our waitress worked hard to keep up with the small dining room, and the casual atmosphere made for a fun, relaxed date.  Over dinner we also decided to return to Jamaica for our one year anniversary- but I know we'll be back to the Jerk Hut before then to get us through the wait.

Jamaican Jerk Hut (online menu appears to be catering menu only)
1436 South Street

January 11, 2013

Dinner at Ants Pants Cafe

Ants Pants is a well-known brunch establishment on South Street "West" that recently extended their service to the dinner crowd.  We're big fans of famous-for-brunch Sabrina's, opting to skip the crowds and enjoy a quieter setting during the dinner hours.  Our mom was up here for a last-minute trip to take care of some details regarding a new real estate acquisition (so excited!) so we took her out for a low-key dinner relatively close to home. The cafe has a nondescript brown exterior identifiable by a few sidewalk tables during nicer weather.  Inside, you'll find a small counter with baked goods and an international candy selection.  The counter gives way to a small seating area in the back, which couldn't fit more than 25 or so.  Our group of five took up a large portion of the dining room.

The dinner menu reflects what Ants Pants is known for- breakfast foods- expect lots of bacon and eggs, and even pancakes.  Unfortunately, the chalkboard list of specials are strictly brunch only.

We ordered a couple of "small plates" to start- all of which are more dinner-focused.  A good brussels spouts dish ($6) rarely gets passed over- Ants Pants sautes their version, providing some nice crispy browned edges. The addition of shallots and a sprinkle of Pecorino rounds out a classic, ever-satisfying vegetable dish.  Our waiter warned us the portion was small, but we were all still able to eat a few cheesy, steamy Brussels.

A claimed to have heard good things about the sweet potato fries ($4.75) and it sure made me glad that she's our official Twitter and Yelp stalker researcher.  Thinly sliced (mandolined?) potatoes were dusted with salt and had a predominately chewy texture.  The Thai sweet chili sauce served alongside was a surprise hit, certainly unique and actually made a great pairing with the fries.  The side of sour cream? Not so much.

Mom, A and I all ordered different dishes which ended up being relatively similar.  First up, the "maple bacon" ($11), a fancy bacon and egg sandwich served on a crusty baguette.  Over-medium eggs ensured a decent yolky coating for the other components: arugula, avocado, and the special touch- some crunchy pickled red onion.  A lightly dressed side salad of romaine and spinach, carrot shavings, and cherry tomatoes was an always-appreciated option (you can have fries instead) but a little boring- more acidity, please!  Also.. I failed to get any of the "maple" in the "maple bacon."

I opted for the pancetta BLT, which carried over the arugula and avocado from the maple bacon. Numerous layers of salty, crispy pancetta are sandwiched between thick slices of a somewhat dry foccacia.  Unfortunately, the pancetta completely overwhelmed the more subtle tomato and avocado, two things I really enjoy on a sandwich.  Overall, not too enjoyable.

A chose a third rendition of the same sandwich- the "bacon stack" ($11), oddly listed on a different section of the menu under the appropriately vague heading "Other things...".  The bacon stack is an open faced sourdough sandwich topped with bacon, arugula, tomato, a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano and more "sunny" eggs- more or less a combination of the previous two sandwiches?  This might be nitpicking, but a single bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich would probably suffice. 

My boyfriend won the battle with A's husband for dibs on the meatball sub ($12) (no overlapping orders when you dine with us!).  Served on a long challah roll, the veal-pork-beef meatballs were lightly coated in sauce and finely shredded sharp Provolone.  While the meatballs had an interesting, slightly sweet flavor, the sandwich as a whole was very dry- it definitely needed more sauce and perhaps a layer of sliced cheese beneath the meat instead of a dusting on top.

The Aussie burger ($13) was the last plate to the table, a cooked-to-order patty served with grilled pineapple, roasted beets, and- what else?- a drippy egg.  However, the other toppings made this burger a win by providing a good amount of sweetness and textural interest.  Since Ants Pants is named after an Australian colloquialism, it was nice to see an Australian-inspired dish (but why only one?).  Since A's husband is a habitual vegetable avoider, he opted for the "chip fries" with his burger, a super thin, ruffled chip that tasted just like Chick-Fil-A waffle fries- a huge compliment!

Our meal started out well, but I was pretty disappointed by most of the sandwiches.  I know Ants Pants has a loyal brunch following, so we may have to return to see what the fuss is about- and have a chance to try any advertised special-of-the-day that piques our interest.  

2212 South Street