May 22, 2013


Location is everything super important for a restaurant to succeed, and one would think 11th Street between Walnut and Locust would be fail-proof.  Unfortunately, after the long stint of Doc Watson's (1971-2010), the space has changed hands a number of times in just a few years.  Strangelove's is the newest rendition, thankfully run by the same experienced pair who has brought us Memphis Taproom and Local 44.  Let's hope this concept sticks because it sure is good.

We were seated in the back portion of the first floor, which was a little too dim but cozy and quiet. Our waitress was completely emotionless but no other complaints on service.  The menu finds inspiration from NOLA cuisine, a nod to Chef Paul Martin's place of birth.  I particularly enjoyed the "greenery for your scenery" section of the menu- I love a good, inspired salad, especially amongst many gastropub-y options.  The Russian kale salad ($10) is hands down the best salad I have had in recent memory, an ENORMOUS portion of kale perfectly massaged with an acidic sumac dressing and mixed with nutty farro grains, edamame, chopped pecans, and huge chunks of sweet roasted yellow beets.  Although this is the perfect balanced meal all by itself, three of us could not take on the size of this thing.

Obviously we had to try lots of the unhealthy stuff as well, including the loaded tots ($5).  The "tots" were more like really rich gnocchi, with a creamy center- I'd like to see a little more crunch, but if you like melt-in-your-mouth tater tots, these are for you.  The potato bites are topped with a thin, mild white cheddar "wiz," crumbled smoky bacon, and chunks of tomato and finished with a sprinkle of fresh chives.  I think a few more toppings are needed for these to be truly "loaded" but they were enjoyable.

The wings were also a necessity ($8), oddly served in a bowl topped with a carrot and celery slaw instead of the typical carrot and celery sticks.  These are described simply as being coated with "hot sauce," but we tasted an interesting complexity to the sauce- rice vinegar? Sesame oil? Something Asian, it seems.  There was definitely a crisp, tangy bite thanks to plenty of vinegar.

Strangelove's caters to the vegetarian/vegan population, with several clearly marked options for each.  Even though we're indiscriminate eaters, A tried out the "really good mushroom soup" (vegetarian, $6) which had a surprising amount of flavor- very well-seasoned and with a richness probably due to plenty of cream and a variety of mushroom species.  A drizzle of truffle oil didn't hurt a bit.  The large crouton dressed in a pea puree added some textural variety and helped make the soup a little prettier, but the pickled mushrooms didn't pair quite as well.

I also tried out the signature burger ($14), an incredibly dense, thick patty of beef on a fluffy potato roll.  Well seared with a perfect pink center, thankfully medium-rare as ordered. The thing I noticed most was that the burger didn't drip grease, making for clean eating and all the flavor retained in the sandwich instead of on my plate.

Toppings include a fried green tomato (always a good bet), a pool of goat cheese sauce layered with a chili pepper aioli, and a bacon BBQ sauce in place of your typical ketchup.  There was lots going on, but each element was portioned perfectly to create the right ratio of flavors.  It was even great eaten cold for lunch the next day (yes, I'm weird, I prefer things cold over reheated).
A simpler sandwich is the catfish po' boy ($11), a flaky fried piece of fish on airy white hoagie bread complemented by a slightly spicy tartar sauce, a bit of shredded iceberg, and sliced tomatoes.  The softness of both the fish and the bread was slightly surprising- not a lot to bite into- but the simplicity of it was appreciated.  A chose the "greens" over the house made chips- definitely not as good as the kale salad, but a solid mix of crisp veggies with a light lemon-y dressing.

The last dish we tried was the only disappointment- the duck and sausage gumbo ($8).  Though this soup had a dark color and plenty of shredded meat, the flavor was extremely subtle and the texture was a little on the thin side.  Maybe a good "starter" gumbo for someone breaking into the Creole scene.

I wish we had bigger stomachs because all of the side dishes and the desserts sound terrific- definitely lots of the menu left to return for, and knowing Brendan Hartranft's other endeavors, the menu will evolve over time.  Though this place seems to be getting the most attention for their beer list, the food alone is well worth a visit!

216 S 11th Street

May 15, 2013

EATS Philly 2013 Part 2

After stuffing our faces on unlimited food truck snacks (if you missed out, read here), we headed inside for the EATS Philly Chef Throwdown.  The huge ballroom at Vie was transformed into an Iron Chef-type competition space, with the judges up on stage and tables for each of the competing chefs down below.  

The judges included Michael Klein from the Inquirer and Tony Luke Jr., famed cheesesteak heir, and the competition was emceed by NBC 10's Tom Furlong-- it was fun to see so many local "celebrities." Tim did a great job of interviewing the contestants, the judges, and the crowd, but unfortunately the sound system wasn't great enough to overcome all the chatter of the guests.  While it would have been fun to catch all the action, it was enough just to taste test all of the competitor's goods.

The food started rolling out almost as soon as we sat down, clearly having been made in mass quantities ahead of time.  For some of the dishes, that was fine, but some would have been significantly better if eaten straight off the stove.  Understandably, providing samples for 200+ folks at the same time doesn't allow for that.

There were two rounds of 6 contestants, so plenty of bites circulating over the course of the hour.

Up first: Chad Rosenthal from The Lucky Well (Ambler): Memphis Pie-- Handmade pie crust, filled with a backyard Ambler smoked pork shoulder, homemade BBQ sauce, and slaw with a kick, finished with a pickle trio.  Genius idea, but not as flavorful as I hoped (and it was cold).  Second out: Angie Brown from Soul Catering Inc. with a Louisiana Creole Peacemaker: Louisiana oyster po'boy with spicy remoulade sauce and creole praline.  Can never turn down a fried oyster, but again would have been better fresh outta the fryer.

Memphis Pie; Louisiana Peacemaker

The judges gave marks for Taste, Interpretation of Street Food, and Originality, and I have to give major props to the chefs for getting very creative.  Clark Gilbert from Bisou on Main made one of my favorite dishes: pork and shrimp sausage with pickled slaw.  A really nice two-bite dish. Some of the dishes were way too big, including a ridiculous artsy dish from Tony Clark (Valley Forge Casino)- a steamed bao bun with BBQ shrimp, pickled vegetables, and five-spice bacon.  The overly sticky bun dough sealed the deal: not my favorite.

Pork & shrimp sausage; bao bun concoction

The final two dishes of the first round were a two-component dish from Tim Spinner (the owner) of La Calaca Feliz, and a Mortadella corn dog with housemade mustard from Adam DeLosso of Garces Restaurant Group (formerly head of Garces Trading Company).  Tim's dish was awesome: a "fish taco" (in a mini hard shell) with Hawaiian kampachi and a lemongrass-coconut sauce, and an off-the-cob corn salad reminiscent of the Mexican street classic, esquites.  This dish actually won the "People's Choice" award-- top ranked by the audience, although not so by the judges.

Fish Taco/Esquites; Sylva's Slider

After a short break and some amazing auction items (really wish I had a couple grand to spend on a private event at COOK or a dinner with Craig LaBan!), the food began again.  The second round was a more competitive round, as chefs included Greg Vernick, Aimee Olexy, and Marcie Turney.  Scary!

Marcie's got this in the bag.

We were allowed to go and watch the chefs making their creations (larger portions and more beautiful plates fresh for the judges), but I mostly stayed out of their way.  Highlights from the second round included:

Sylva's Slider (from Sylva Senat of Tashan; see above): a wonderfully flavorful pork tenderloin slider with mango mayo and pickled cucumbers-- is this on the regular menu at Tashan?!  The bun was a bit dry but the meat and the topping flavors were perfect together.

Korean mushroom tacos with kimchee "crema" from the team at Vedge: Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby have no trouble concocting a vegan dish for a carnivorous crowd, that's for sure.  I do think they could have been more heavy handed with the spice, but understandable for a mixed audience.

Korean mushroom tacos

Gooey cheese and mushroom crepes from Aimee Olexy of Talula's Table: quite a feat to provide something gooey to such a big crowd, but she succeeded.  Unfortunately at this point in the evening, something this heavy wasn't sitting well with my palate or my very full stomach.  On its own it may have been one of my favorites!

Mushroom crepes
Last, but not least, Marcie Turney's Indian turkey khema kabob with fresh chickpea salad, yogurt, and mint.  Another ridiculously over-the-top plate which was kind of a turn off (no food truck would construct this!), but especially when wrapped up in the Bibb lettuce leaves, all of the components shone together.  And here we are: the winner of the evening!  Apparently the judges were more enamored with the presentation than I was.  I also loved that she went with an Indian dish, a little throwback to her days at Bindi.

Indian turkey kabob
The evening wrapped up with additional live auction items, and then we rolled ourselves home.  A walk down deserted Broad Street was perfect for recapping our favorite eats of the night- and mentioning several times how happy we were that the team at EATS Philly reached out to us with the offer to attend as their guests.  A really nice event from conception to conclusion- very well organized, with lots to offer attendees: an overwhelming amount of food and drinks, hours of entertainment, and the chance to meet and mingle with some local celebs (we fangirl gawked at Jose Garces on our way out!).  A great way to support worthy causes, and get a big bang for your (tax deductible) buck- we're looking forward to future events.

May 13, 2013

Giant Starburst

Hi there.  Guest blogger here.  A’s picky husband who usually orders the steak or the burger at fine dining establishments.  Since we got married, she’s been showing me the debatably wonderful world of vegetables.  Feeling that it was a bit one sided, I figured it was only fitting that I broaden her horizons in my personal favorite food group – candy.  If you follow the 4 simple steps in this guest blog post, you’ll have no problem achieving type II diabetes.

Since we wanted to make a Starburst that was proportionally correct, I made a mold out of some small plastic sheets inside a small cardboard box.  Any cake pan or loaf pan should work just as well as long as you grease it.* 

Step 1: Unless you’re looking to add some roughage to your diet, you should take the wrapper off all the Starbursts.  We used about 600 Starbursts so it may take some time.  You can also separate all the colors if you want to have a giant Starburst with layers.  Otherwise it will come out pinkish-orange.

Step 2: Fire up that stove. Pick your favorite flame height (I clearly know nothing about cooking) and dump the Starbursts into the non-stick frying pan.  Use a non-stick spatula to stir them until there are no lumps left.  No lumps.  No lumps.  No lovely Starburst lumps.

Step 3: Pour the goopy mix into the baking dish.  It should be liquefied enough to spread itself out evenly but you may need to spread it a bit to the corners yourself.  I recommend using disposable utensils if you have them since the molten Starburst remains will harden like a rock on it after a few seconds.  And they’ll be very difficult to get off.  If you don’t have disposable utensils, you can just suck it.  No, really, you can just suck on the Starburst remains till they melt away in your mouth.

Step 4: Now it’s time to wait.  Set it on the counter to cool and pop in Arrested Development Season 1 on DVD to kill some time (or later seasons if you’ve seen Season 1).  You can also wait it out by cleaning up, reading a book, or scheduling a dentist appointment to replace the fillings you’re about to lose.  After roughly 11 hours (or one full season), it should be cool and hardened.  If you leave it out overnight and live with roommates, I’d suggest making a little sign that says “No Touching.”

And voila!  There you have it.  Your very own giant Starburst.  If you decide to wrap it up, use wax paper so it doesn’t stick to it like ours did.  And I wouldn’t recommend eating it unless you want to lose dental fillings.  I wasn’t kidding.  It’ll harden like a rock.  A super-firm but ultra-sticky filling-grabbing rock.  It’s best for gag gifts or discussion pieces atop a fireplace mantle.  Enjoy.

*Assumption based on roughly 23 minutes of cooking experience.

May 10, 2013

EATS Philly 2013: Part One

It's been a month (!!) since I gave you details about a fun event for a Philadelphia-based charity, EATS Philly.  Just a little reminder, EATS (Eat Along The Street) is co-chaired by Moon Krapugthong, a much-loved Manayunk based chef, and was established to support organizations through "feed(ing) both body and mind through multicultural cuisine and education."  This years event raised money for new kitchen facilities at both Wat Bodd Voraditth, an orphanage in Thailand, and Children's Village, a local Chinatown education center.  The event was really a two-for-one, with a free-for-all of amazing food trucks to begin, and then a Chef Throwdown, with chefs from around the city challenged to produce their best street food inspired dishes.  Our recap will be split in two, since there was so much to do (and eat!).

The event was held at Vie, on South Broad, with participating food trucks making a mini food festival on adjacent Green Street.  After checking in, guests were invited to sample from amongst all of the trucks- quite a feat, especially so soon after the Manayunk StrEAT Festival.  Thankfully, the trucks realized we didn't want to fill up and offered smaller portions.

Since J was unfortunately occupied at a Phillies game, I invited a food-loving friend to help me get a wider perspective on the offerings.  After doing a quick run through of the options, we started at the far end at Foo Truck.  A new-to-us truck with a definite Asian flair, Foo Truck actually got my vote for Best Truck at the event.  The truck typically produces "Foowiches," your choice of filling tucked into a tortilla and grilled.  For the EATS eaters, we were provided just a sample of the filling- perfect to get a taste.  I sampled the Lemongrass Chicken, chunks of grilled chicken with plenty of flavor from both a lemongrass marinade and the smoky grill.  The Thai Curry Quinoa completely stole the show though- a surprisingly delicious vegetarian option that completely outshined its simple appearance.  The green curry was both intensely bright and super spicy, and helped create an almost risotto-like texture.

Our runner-up for Best Truck (well, it may have been a tie, since we had two votes between us) was Nomad Pizza.  I already know that the Nomad storefront off of South Street is one of the best pizzas in the city, so no surprise that they can turn out the same quality of pie from a (very decked out) truck.  This isn't your typical food truck.  Nomad sets out separate tables under an attached awning for pizza preparation, including dough stretching and topping application, and the truck serves essentially as a mini kitchen- wood-fired brick oven, refrigerators, and sinks.  A major step up from most trucks, but the food they produce makes it all worthwhile.  We sampled slices of Truffled Pecorino (with super runny egg- yes!), Spicy Soppressata, and Arugula con Proscuitto.  I definitely preferred the Truffled Pecorino, but all of them have the ridiculous soft, chewy crust and high-end organic/local ingredients that make Nomad what it is.

I was pretty pumped to try Sammy Chon's KTown Express Koagie Truck, but they unfortunately were only offering a sampling of tiny tacos (Korean tacos?) and two flavors of wings.  The man dishing out the food suggested the tacos over the wings, and instructed us on different sauces available for extra flavor.  The taco shells were essentially deep fried wonton wrappers, but made eating the little guys more difficult than you'd imagine.  The fillings weren't terribly memorable, although perhaps too small of a serving to really get a handle on.

Vernalicious was our next stop, although looking back we probably should have skipped this one.  No offense to Verna (?) but the menu was much more basic and "typical food truck" fare than most of the other trucks.  The Fried Haloumi wrap caught my eye, since I am obsessed with the squeaky cheese, which worked really well in a soft pita with lemon dressed greens.  A grilled lamb gyro was also solid- flavorful meat and all my favorite Greek toppings.  

I had to laugh at the nonexistant line at The Cow and The Curd, since it was probably THE most popular truck at the Manayunk lineup.  Definitely a different crowd at EATS, and apparently a crowd that doesn't favor fried cheese curds.  My first foray with these little fried nuggets was fine (although the truck owner did a terrible job of keeping track of who was next to be served, which was semi-ridiculous considering the overall lack of interest), but really just reminded me of mozzarella sticks.  Am I missing something here?

While waiting for our curds, we were entertained with a Dragon Dance, a traditional Chinese celebration performance.  Three two-man dragons danced down the street to live drum music, attempting to "eat" guests along the way.  I can't remember ever seeing a live dragon dance, so it was fun to see the participants get so into it, even though it was relatively small compared to some of the ten-men dragons out there.

Our final truck eats of the night was at Gozen Yogurt, which I personally enjoyed based on their concept alone.  It was seriously just like a serve yourself frozen yogurt shop, just stuck into the side of a truck- so great!  A small variety of flavors, both fruity and more dessert-y (fruit alone doesn't classify in my opinion), with a small stand of add-your-own toppings and sauces.

At this point, we'd been perusing and eating for about an hour, and it was finally time to head inside for the first round of the Chef Throwdown-- and more eats!  Stay tuned for details on the competition itself.

May 7, 2013

Reads and Eats: Garlic and Sapphires

For this month's book club meeting, we read another memoir-style novel, this time from the perspective of a food critic.  And not just any food critic, but Ruth Reichl, who held the title of The New York Times' food critic for many years through the 90's.  Though her life sounded as glamorous as you might expect (decadent meals at every turn), she struggled to keep her identity a secret, wanting a truly anonymous dining experience at some of New York's finest dining establishments. However, Garlic and Sapphires tended to emphasize the over-the-top characters Mrs. Reichl concocted for herself rather than the food these characters were tasting.  A bit over-dramatic at times, but an interesting view into the everyday life of a famous food writer.

Though the book did contain a handful of recipes- the author also spent some time in the kitchen and went on to edit Gourmet magazine- most fell into the "serve immediately" category, difficult for a group of women all meeting up after a day at the office (or in the lab!).  We all took some inspiration from a restaurant or chef to which we would like to award four stars.  For me, that was a no-brainer; Kanella is consistently one of my favorite restaurants in Philly.  I put together a baked eggplant salad with olives, capers, and cilantro finished with plain Greek yogurt.  A great mix of earthy but vibrant Greek flavors.

Another member of our group followed a Jose Garces recipe for a quinoa soup.  This "soup" contains corn, potatoes, bacon, and cream and was incredibly satisfying- Latin comfort food at its finest.  For some reason, this turned out more like a casserole- incredibly thick with the tri-color quinoa soaking up almost all of the liquid.  I couldn't stop myself from taking a second serving.. and then a third...

Our club raved so much about Marcus Samuelsson's "cool and crunchy" Vietnamese-inspired salad that we requested to have it made again.  I'm still enamored with this bok choy and spicy shrimp salad, complete with tons of crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs.  Perfect for our first meeting where we could appreciate our hostess's wonderful outdoor dining setup- the joys of a large porch!  A also took advantage of the location, using the grill to cook a chermoula marinated sea bass inspired by Michael Solomonov.  Chermoula is a pureed mixture of parsley, cilantro, ginger, lemon juice, garlic, and a few spices- perfect for the flaky white fish.  The veg-friendly meal was rounded out by a Talula's Garden-esque carrot soup, made by the newest member of our group.  Based on this refreshing soup with a nice zing from plenty of ginger, she's a welcome addition!

Of course we had to finish off the meal with something sweet- this time my favorite baker whipped up some excellent lemon bars, using a recipe from Wolfgang Puck.  His role as a judge on this past season of Top Chef had us seeing him in a new light- he's quite a character! These bars are complete with tart gooey lemon custard and a buttery, crumbly cookie base.  One of my favorite desserts that doesn't involve chocolate or peanut butter.

Another successful meeting- I can't believe we've been getting together for over a year now!  Even though this book wasn't my absolute favorite, it still provided lots of fodder for discussion- the crazy costumes and personality changes that Mrs. Reichl rotates through are enough to question her sanity.