Tale of the Tape: Philly’s Finest Sambonis Cheesesteak

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Last year when Philly’s Finest Sambonis competed on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, we had a bit of fun at their expense. In Philadelphia magazine, Jason Sheehan wrote, “Philly’s Finest Sambonis truck never vended in Philadelphia before appearing on The Great Food Truck Race. Which is why I am hereby declaring myself the King of Bulgaria and the prettiest Eskimo in Atlanta, Georgia. Because apparently that’s just how this shit is done now.” But the team of friends from Philadelphia made the finals of the show and started hitting locations around Philadelphia. But it wasn’t till yesterday that I was able to catch up with the truck while they vended at the Porch at 30th Street Station.

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Lo Spiedo Reviewed

Murals by "Distort," the same artist who did the much more wild artwork at Alla Spina.

Adam Erace has a new favorite Vetri restaurant and it’s Lo Spiedo. The newly opened restaurant at the southern end of Broad Street impresses the City Paper critic with its cocktails, its burger and its pasta. Surprisingly, he isn’t in love with the entrees that come off Lo Spiedo’s namesake spit but he has does have praise for other dishes coming off chef Scott Calhoun’s wood-fired grill.

Scott Calhoun is a stud that deserves as much of the credit as his mentor. I couldn’t quit the Lancaster native’s smoky spit-roasted cabbage in a crock of Gorgonzola fonduta, or the sponge of cornbread soaked in rotisserie drippings. Al dente rigatoni tossed with spit-roasted tomato sauce and ricotta salata had such depth of flavor, I barely believed him when he told me it was vegetarian.

 

Vetri’s latest, Lo Spiedo is firing on all cylinders at the Navy Yard [City Paper]
Lo Spiedo [Foobooz]

Tale of the Tape: Train Wreck at Beck’s Cajun Cafe

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As Serious Eats pointed out in its rundown of Philadelphia cheesesteaks, under seasoning is a big issue. Even spots that aren’t just phoning it in often lack adding any salt or pepper. Under seasoning is not an issue on the Train Wreck at Beck’s Cajun Cafe. This Philadelphia take on the Po Boy adds Andouille sausage and salami to the traditional cheesesteak.

Today we take the Train Wreck for a spin and see how the Creole take on the cheesesteak stacks up.

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Where We’re Eating: Martorano’s

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In a region overrun with Italian restaurants, this trendy goombah-and-gravy joint from Philly expat and Florida/Vegas restaurateur Steve Martorano is one of the best and most fun, even if it is majorly gimmicky. You won’t find anything here that needs explanation. The Famous Meatball & Salad is exactly what it sounds like. There’s chicken cutlet parmigiana, spaghetti pescatore and Sunday gravy. It’s like dinner at your grandma’s, only with tight-dressed hostesses, Italian gangster movies on the flat-screens, a maître d’ who’ll jokingly tell you you’ll be sleeping with the fishes if you don’t watch it, and a bumping, liquor-fueled dance party that erupts late in the evenings and on weekends. So, actually, not really like dinner at Grandma’s at all, unless we had very different grandmas.

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Where We’re Eating: Cafe Ynez

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A Mexican restaurant in your neighborhood is a way of knowing you’ve arrived. An attractive BYOB serving breakfast nachos and carne asada salads and offering dinner specials like poached tilapia is a subtle clue that house prices are rocketing skyward and you’re happy you bought when you did. That’s what Cafe Ynez does for both the Grad Hospital and Point Breeze neighborhoods. The husband-and-wife team of Evan Malone and Jill Weber (Jet Wine Bar and Rex 1516) have created this third restaurant as a companion to Malone’s NextFab Studio. But it’s the neighbors who make out best in the deal. Whether it’s the huevos rancheros that don’t need to take a backseat to any in the city, or the rotisserie chicken that can anchor a dinner platter or be a key ingredient in the Tinga burrito, a meal at Cafe Ynez is affordable, tasty, and just what this neighborhood needs.

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Where We’re Eating: Chops

Photo by Alex Tewfik

Photo by Alex Tewfik

For years, Alex Plotkin’s Chops steakhouse in Bala Cynwyd was an exercise in mediocrity. It didn’t have to be great, because it was the only place to get a rib eye and filet in the eastern half of the Main Line. But once Plotkin moved the operation to the old Table 31 space inside the Comcast Center — the most important corporate headquarters in Philadelphia — he needed to step up his game. Fortunately, he has. The kitchen delivers pristine cuts from Creekstone Farms and Gachot & Gachot, and a stellar shrimp cocktail and sides (though we are so over lobster macaroni and cheese). And if you think steaks and shrimp are hard to screw up, you obviously haven’t been to Del Frisco’s or Ocean Prime.

Chops
1701 JFK Boulevard
215-567-7111

Originally published in the December, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine

Where We’re Eating: My Thai

My Thai at 22nd and South | Photo via UWISHUNU

My Thai at 22nd and South | Photo via UWISHUNU

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A year ago, a typical night at My Thai might include a single occupied table — usually a Penn professor and friend — plus one or two people standing by the entrance waiting for their to-go orders, the door and vestibule still proudly displaying decade-old accolades from Zagat, AOL City-Search and Philadelphia magazine. It had the feel of a restaurant whose best days were behind it.

On a recent evening, though, the majority of the tables were filled. The Penn professor was still there, as were the customers standing by the door awaiting their orders. But there were also tables of neighbors sitting down to dinner. There was an energy in the dining room, and it was picked up by the kitchen. The Thai basil chicken was better than ever. The curry was punched up. Even the Singha beer tasted fresher. The always-polite Thai waiter was joined by an equally polite sidekick. When he noticed I’d devoured everything on the plate but the broccoli, he suggested that next time, I substitute a vegetable I like better. I will, and that next time will be coming up soon.

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Abe Fisher Gets Three Bells

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Photo via Abe Fisher

Craig LaBan is back on Sansom Street, just weeks after giving Dizengoff three bells, to test out Michael Solomonov’s Ashkenazic restaurant, Abe Fisher. LaBan is a fan of just about everything, from the pastrami smoked short rib to the bacon tinged take on the egg cream.

But Abe proved its worth in many ways. The uniquely creative menu is bolstered by outgoing, informed service. The excellent drink program was thoughtfully conceived, from well-crafted theme cocktails (the beet-stained and rummy Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) to its $12 Cruvinet pours of intriguing food-friendly wines, from grenache blanc to bobal and negrette. This is easily one of the year’s most distinctive, well-rounded, and ambitious openings.

Three Bells – Excellent

Read Trey Popp’s review of Abe Fisher and Dizengoff from December’s Philadelphia magazine.

Abe Fisher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Abe Fisher [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange

grain-exchange-interior-940Craig LaBan visits Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange in Mount Airy and finds a restaurant and bar that is elevating food and cocktails on Germantown Avenue.

For $18, a slice of sustainably raised Verlasso salmon, nicely seared over buttery barley risotto studded with diced sweet potatoes, is one of the best fish bargains I’ve tasted in a while. A handsomely roasted acorn squash, brimming with flavorful red quinoa sparked by hazelnuts and cranberries, was one of several hearty seasonal salads that anchor the menu’s starters. A hot skillet of Anson Mills grits came topped with tender shrimp, pickled cherry tomatoes, and house-made sausage, a satisfying $17 meal of Southern comfort.

Two Bells – Very Good

Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Drink: Honey Bear at Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange [Facebook]

Laban Gives One Bell To The Gaslight For Its “Flicker Of Hope”

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Ouch.

Over the weekend, Craig Laban finally dropped the hammer on Jason Cichonski’s Old City tavern, The Gaslight, giving serious consideration to handing out zero bells, but finally offering the arguable mercy of a single bell in recognition of the fact that Cichonski apparently already knows how badly his restaurant sucks.

But chef-owner Jason Cichonski is the one here with the jittery hand. The poor fellow’s nerves have gotten the best of him as we speak on the phone, and his voice oozes the dread of self-recognition – without any prompting on my part – that things have not gone as hoped with his second restaurant, even nine months after opening: “I’m going to have to take this one on the chin.”

1 Bell – Hit Or Miss

The Gaslight: A flicker of hope for this Old City pub with the cool chef {Philadelphia Inquirer]
Sex Panther! Gaslight Review [Philadelphia magazine]
All of Craig Laban’s Zero Bell reviews, 1998-2013 [f8b8z]

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