Carolina Shrimp and Anson Mills lobster grits | Photo by Emily Teel
The first time I had chef Paul Martin’s food, I was standing in the street. Or a parking lot, maybe. Under a tent and the night sky. We both were—the two of us in attendance at some food festival or another—and though I don’t recall precisely what he was serving (shrimp for sure; some kind of sauce as smooth and rich as velvet), I do remember its effect. I couldn’t stop talking about it, demanding that people drop whatever they were eating and go, immediately, to taste what Martin was cooking. Eventually, I’d annoyed enough people and driven away all my friends and was free to just circle Martin’s table alone like a fat shark, pathetic but happy.
Martin was cooking at Mamou then, a Cajun-Creole place over on 13th Street, and though it was one of those restaurants that seemed to be overlooked by pretty much everyone, I went there, ate, drank—hoping only to get more food and more of those hot, immediate stabs of joy I’d experienced on the street.
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The Melter Skelter at Meltkraft | Courtesy of Valley Shepherd LLC
Grilled cheese is the queen of sandwiches. Say what you will about its simplicity, its lack of intrinsic finesse (only rule: don’t burn), but it is precisely this lack of complexity that makes it perfect. Grilled cheese is tabula rasa—a blank slate onto which can be written anything (a love song for a hundred cheeses, a lust for tomatoes or bacon, a treatise on the comforts of childhood, of moms and dads, of easier times or poverty or innovation)—and that is what makes it so beloved. The grilled cheese sandwich demands nothing, but there isn’t much you can add to a grilled cheese sandwich that will ruin it (broken glass, gum, broccoli). It is, as it is, ideal. But infinitely customizable.
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Photo courtesy of DanDan
DanDan on a Friday night is a mess in the best possible way—a riot of people and bags and plates, with servers squeezing through the spaces between while the bartenders do their best to keep up with the crush that keeps backing up to the door.
The place is small, but not small-small. Downstairs, the bar takes up an inordinate amount of room, and everything else is just squeezed in. Two-tops press up against the big windows looking out onto the hustle of 16th Street, and more are tucked under the overhang of the lofted second-floor seating area. The hostess stand half-clogs the only passage between the main floor and the stairs leading up. It would be a terrible place to eat if it weren’t also such a fun place to throw yourself into. There’s a mosh-pit sensibility to it: You can get where you’re going, but not without bouncing off a few bodies first.
I sit in the corner at the bar with a sweating Tsing Tao, slurping cold sesame noodles that have a nutty, sweet kick and working through a plate of cumin pork that leaves my tongue slick with a mix of dusty-hot cumin and peppers. Even the fizz of the beer won’t wash it off.
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You’ve got to be pretty confident to think about opening a vegan restaurant in a town that already has Vedge in it. That’s kind of like going to Williamsburg to open a trendy cocktail bar with a lot of pickles on the menu. Like heading for Yountville with the intention of showing those poor saps what real modernist cuisine looks like.
Locally, it’s like opening a high-end Italian restaurant right across the street from Vetri. That doesn’t happen by mistake. You don’t go through all the effort of opening and then just look up one morning and say, “Huh. I wonder when that Vetri character opened there.”
No, vagaries of real estate aside, when you do something like that, it’s a very deliberate move. You’ve got to believe you have something Marc Vetri doesn’t. And doing vegan—a vegan bar, really, offering lunch and dinner, Latin flavors, margaritas and caipirinhas—right down the street from the vegan bar opened by the people behind Vedge is the same kind of crazy.
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Who knew we needed a British pie shop? | Photo by Emily Teel
The best time I had at Stargazy was on a rainy afternoon when I was going somewhere else. I hadn’t even been thinking about pies (which is odd for me), but then there I was—like a block away, walking through the drizzle—and I thought, You know what would go nicely with this weather? A sausage roll.
I pushed in through the door and watched the cooks in the tiny backroom kitchen squaring pies on sheet pans. The sausage roll cost something like four bucks and was hot and greasy enough to stain the bottom of the brown paper bag it came in. Perfect, in other words. I stepped back out into the gray and ate it walking, in its c-fold wrapping, picking apart the crisp, flaking crust with my fingers. That was a good day.
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SouthGate | Photo by Aaron Hernandez
I have lied thousands of times.
Across countless dinners in half a dozen cities in four different states, I have been asked more times than I can recall: How is everything tonight?
How are you enjoying your tofu and pomegranate potpie? How is that ridiculously undercooked quail? Why are you just pushing those mushy snails around on your plate and not really eating them?
And, oh, I say, everything is fine. It’s wonderful. Excellent. I’m just not as hungry as I thought I was, but can I maybe get a box for the rest of this grilled guinea pig? I can’t wait to have it for lunch tomorrow. …
At Southgate, the bartender stopped by to see me at the end of the bar. He asked, “So how’s that cheeseburger?”
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Passyunk Pork – pork chop, sharp provolone polenta | Photo by Caroline Russock
Jeremy Nolen—chef at Whetstone, the man behind Brauhaus and Wursthaus Schmitz, lonely local champion of modern German cuisine and a fella who knows an awful lot about tube-shaped meats—stopped by our table somewhere between the drinks arriving and the menus being taken away. He looked distracted, tired— sucking breath like a boxer in the third round suddenly realizing that the guy across the ring from him is more of a fighter than he’d expected. Read more »
Nashville Hot Buns and the interior of Bud & Marilyn’s | Photo by Courtney Apple
My problem with Bud & Marilyn’s is that I always want to be drunk before I go.
There are reasons. This isn’t me confessing to some latent alcohol problem, or anything so pedestrian. No, it’s because they have this chop suey on the menu, and this chop suey in particular (this chop suey more than all other chop sueys I’ve known) is maybe the most perfect drunk food ever created.
I know. No one eats chop suey anymore because chop suey was, is, always will be the avatar of Americanized Chinese food. There are a million stories of its creation. All of them are probably true. And it’s a dish that has lingered in the American consciousness for a century, staling and growing hoary with legend until it’s become the kind of thing you’d expect to find in some tiki’d and Buddha’d gold-flake dining room in suburban Milwaukee in 1977.
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Greg Vernick in the kitchen of his restaurant | Photo via Facebook
Every restaurant has an inaugural “regular,” and for Vernick, it was me.
At least that’s what chef Greg Vernick divulged, with a chuckle, when I called to ask a few questions about a late-spring meal. It was news to me. It seems that after I paid my third visit — a bit too quickly on the heels of my first two upon its 2012 opening — general manager Ryan Mulholland giddily proclaimed that the restaurant’s first serial patron was officially in the bag.
Whereupon I returned once more — and then completely disappeared for almost three years. Read more »
Spaghetti and Meatballs at Triangle Tavern | Photo by Jeffrey Towne
There’s only so much you can tell about a restaurant from its staff’s sartorial choices. But Triangle Tavern’s bar — whose bulbous edge gleams darkly with decades’ worth of varnish — offered a fascinating study in contrasts as I settled in amid drifting speckles of disco-ball light. A bullet casing swung from my bartender’s pale white neck as she stirred Dubonnet into gin. Nearby, a slender crucifix tagged its owner as a South Philadelphian of a more iconic stripe. And passing between them was a young black man rocking a Portland Trail Blazers jersey. Read more »