Mrs. Sicilian cauliflower

N and I were on the Upper West Side the other night.  We were there to see the touring SYTYCD show.  (So You Think You Can Dance – for those of you not “in the know.”)  I love this show.  LOVE IT, I said.  I’ve watched it since the first season when I saw it being promoted by the choreographer Wade Robson.  I was in a bit of a pop-culture-obsessive phase at the time, and had heard that Wade was – shhhh – perhaps the cause of the Britney/Justin break up.  Scandal!  He also stood in for a sick Joey Fatone in the Bye Bye Bye video.  True story.  Maybe that wasn’t the best reason to start watching, but the show stood on its own.  The auditions offer a combination of remarkable and dreadful contestants just like any reality competition show.  The judges over the years have also been a strange, but usually likeable assortment, and despite Mary Murphy’s ear piercing screams and Mia Michaels absurdly rude critiques, the tone of the show has managed to stay super positive.  This season was particularly good, and the winner, Ricky Ubeda, was the obvious favorite from the start.

Anyway, I digress, so let me wend my way back to dinner plans.  We stopped by The Smith near Lincoln Center.  It is a few doors down from Bar Boulud, another one of our usual Lincoln Center staples.  It was busy with the pre-show crowd, but thankfully also rather spacious, with additional seating in the back.  (Side note:  reservations are a must for a pre-theater table.)  N and I were ushered to our seats and began to peruse the menu.  It was an eclectic variety containing interesting bar snacks (fried oyster BLT sliders – we’ll get you next time!), starters, mains and sides.  N had heard good things about the burger (from Yelp and other online reviews), and since we were on a tight schedule that is what we ordered.  For me the burger did not live up to the hype.  N enjoyed hers more than I did, but we both noted that other menu items seemed much more enticing for a return visit.  The pot of mussels at the table next to us smelled delicious.  The vegetable bibimbap looked delicious, but the reason I am writing to you friends, is to tell you about the Sicilian Cauliflower side that I ordered.

There was no description of the dish on the menu other than the name, so I asked our waiter about it.  He informed me that it was a sort of oil and vinegar preparation with capers.  Now, I never met a caper I didn’t love and I’m also a vinegar fan, so that solidified my choice.  When our food arrived I picked at the cauliflower to taste… and I just. didn’t. stop.  I ate the entire side before I touched my burger.  I may have paused to mumble to N that it was so good I wanted to marry it.  All by itself it was a perfect marriage of warm charred cauliflower, tangy vinegar, salty caper, spicy red chile, and a touch of sweetness from some currants.  Boom!  Pow!  Fireworks in my mouth!  It was incredible.  N even admitted her food envy.

The next day, obsessing over the dish, I started checking Twitter and Instagram.  I thought that if I could pick out the ingredients in a photo, I could try to recreate it at home.  I scanned the entire feed of The Smith’s Instagram account and to my surprise couldn’t find a single picture of their cauliflower.  Cheekily, I tweeted to them expressing my shock at not finding a pic of their Sicilian Cauliflower.  To my delight, they replied, tweeting a picture and telling me to email them for the recipe.  Naturally I did, and had the most pleasant exchange with Amanda in their marketing department.  She sent me several more photos of the dish, along with the simple recipe.  How great right?

2014-11-13_10-18-18

And guess who benefits?  You do!  here are some pics of The Smith’s Sicilian Cauliflower along with the recipe.  Please enjoy… and please stop by any of their locations in NYC to sample the real deal for yourself!

The Smith’s Sicilian Cauliflower

Char your cauliflower as usual and then toss it with the vinaigrette below.  Garnish with parsley.  *Note:  we fry it after we char it.  Up to you!

Ingredients:

EVOO:  2.5 tablespoons
Red Wine Vinegar:  1/3 c
Dried Currants:  2.5 tablespoons
Capers:  2.5 tablespoons
Garlic:  4/5 teaspoons
Fresno Red Peppers:  1/2 teaspoons
Lemon Juice:  2/5 tablespoons

Directions:

1. Soak the currants in vinegar
2. Shave the fresnos very thinly
3. Chop capers
4. Grate the garlic
5. Add all ingredients to mixing bowl and whisk
6. Whisk in olive oil

I’ve included the recipes the exact way it was given to me.  It’s more of a guideline for creating the vinaigrette.  I’m going to play with this recipe to get it down pat, and I’m going to enjoy the process.  Dear Sicilian Cauliflower, I thee wed.

securedownloadsecuredownload3                                    Photos courtesy of Amanda Winer for Corner Table Restaurants

the vendy hungry caterpillar

9780140569322L_002
Illustration by Eric Carle

N, S and I have been friends for ages.  Back when S only used to eat Chef Boyardee, I never would have predicted that years later we’d enjoy a tradition of attending the annual Vendy Awards in NYC, sampling the diverse cuisine that NY food trucks have to offer.

The competition started in 2005 with just a few vendors and has since grown into one of the most fun, delicious events in the city and is usually sold out.  We like to support the Vendys because it is a fundraiser organized by the Street Vendor Project.  This non-profit organization works to protect vendors’ rights and obtain respect from corporations who do not value the contributions of vendors.  SVP is part of the Urban Justice Center which has provided pro bono legal representation and advocated for marginalized New Yorkers.  The Vendys also partners with local organizations that support the sustainable food movement and events have spun off into three other cities.  Participants are chosen for the Vendys through public nomination and there are several categories of competition:  Best Dessert, Best of Market, Rookie of the Year, Masters Cup, Vendy Cup and People’s Choice.  This year the Vendys were held on Governors Island and beverages were provided free of charge…  wines by Santa Cristina, lagers and IPAs from Brooklyn Brewery.

N, S, his bro and I got our tickets early.  Wanna know what we ate?  Let me tell you the story.

Rain clouds and the Freedom Tower from Governors Island

One Saturday morning, the grey clouds rolled in and pop, four friends took the ferry to Governors Island and stood in line to sample food at the 10th Annual Vendy Awards. They were as hungry as a certain very hungry caterpillar. Once the gates opened, they fanned out and started to look for food. 

That afternoon they ate through:

1 Shrimp & Scallop Empanada and 1 Italian Sausage Meatball empanada from the Nuchas truck
1 bowl of spiced Vietnamese Chicken on dirty rice and 1 bowl of Loco Moco topped with a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart
1 unbelievably fresh and crunchy Churro w/ Dulce de Leche from
Ricas Botanas Mexican
1 bowl of machete-hacked Puerto Rican Pernil and Rice w/ pigeon peas from
Lechonera La Pirana
1 creamsicle drink with a stripey straw from
Chickpea & Olive
1 glass of white wine and 1 glass of red wine courtesy of Santa Cristina wines
1 Thai Green Curry Asiancini (cute wordplay for their Korean version of arancini) and 1 beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli from
Zha Pan Asian
1 quarter of a Gribaldi Sandwich on a handmade English muffin from
GoGo Grill
1 Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas), followed by a delicious shot of Counter Culture cold brewed coffee from
Dub Pies
1 sampler plate of German sausages, served with sauerkraut, German potato and a side of mustard from
Hallo Berlin
1 perfectly crisp vegan Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar from
NY Dosa cart
1 Saltena: a baked empanada filled with stewed beef, and 1 Mini Chola: a pulled pork street sandwich from
Bolivian Llama Party
1 quarter of a Grilled Cheddar Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of gazpacho, followed by a shot of Cucumber Mint Shaved Ice at
Snowday
1 quarter of a Ramen burger (Yeah dude, the bun is a perfectly shaped cylinder of ramen noodles) from
Ramen Burger
1 Baja Fish Taco, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla from
Calexico
1 Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese empanada at Nuchas (yes, we circled back around. Don’t judge. I mean seriously, I’m not even done with my list yet, so if you’re going to judge, at least reserve it till the end.)
1 plate of Chicken & Rice doused in spicy and white sauce from
The King of Falafel & Shawarma
1 tiny bowl of black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl,
1 tiny bowl of black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel, and
1 tiny bowl of toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl from
Ice & Vice
1 Game Changer: a chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce from
Desi Food Truck
1 Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea from Shanghai Sogo

That night they all had stomach aches.

Believe it or not, despite that gargantuan list, there were actually a few things that we didn’t sample. Among them were: 
Cinnamon Snail: serving outstanding vegan fare.
El Rey Del Taco: authentic spicy Mexican tacos.
Solber Pupusas: Salvadorian griddled dough pocket of beans, cheese or chicken, garnished with pickled slaw and curls of red onion.
Alchemy Creamery: Dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan ice “cream.”  They works with custom blends of hazelnut, almond milk, and coconut milk so even the dietarily unrestricted can enjoy.
Craffles Food Truck: Crepes & Waffles (get it?) topped w/ Nutella, berries and banana.
Dough: Hibiscus and Dulce de Leche doughnuts
Ssam BBQ: Korean chicken, beef, and pork BBQ, marinated in their signature, house-made sauces

So, um, yeah… we ate A LOT, and you just read A LOT. Because I care about you, and because brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll try to quickly (too late) sum up my impressions.

Standouts to me were the Churro (simple, but the best I’ve ever had), the Asiancini (I’m partial to Thai green curry), the dosa (trust the Indian girl when I tell you that it was superb), the chola from Bolivian Llama Party (surprisingly tasty and they earned my vote for People’s Choice), the ice cream from Ice & Vice (so imaginative) and the Chicken & Rice (baffling how good it really is). There were other delicious foods, but if I had to go back for seconds (don’t be horrified, it’s just a saying) those are the ones I would pick.

As for regrets, I have a few. Namely not tasting food from the Cinnamon Snail which churns out such impressive food it’s hard to believe it’s all vegan. (They were serving Sage Tempeh Sausage Sliders, Korean BBQ Seitan Tacos and warm crème brulee doughnuts.  I mean come on!)  Also missed Solber who won the Vendy Cup a few years ago. I remember voting for them that year and I would’ve liked to see if they stood the test of time, but their line was never-ending. Finally the doughnuts from Dough looked really beautiful, but I was feeling like the Kool-aid man when we passed by their truck, so didn’t partake of their sticky, sweet goodness.

Calexico had the biggest plate of food, and Bolivian Llama Party had the best tunes blasting.  Snowday was the most polite, which was nice to note because I later discovered that they have a mission to train, employ and mentor formerly incarcerated youth in food service and entrepreneurship. The Ramen burger was the biggest “meh” but I would follow Freddy from King of Falafel & Shawarma to the ends of the earth for more chicken & rice… or at least to Astoria.

A panel of judges voted for the winners; among them were Chef Alex Guarnaschelli from multiple shows on the Food Network and Adam Richman of Travel Channel fame. The winners were: Vendy Cup – Cinnamon Snail, Masters Cup – Calexico, Rookie of the Year – Snowday, Best of Market – Zha Pan Asian, Best Dessert – Ice & Vice and the crowd voted for the People’s Choice – Nuchas

The Vendys are truly the Oscars of Street Food. And the pictures… Oh! The pictures! Now’s your chance to indulge.

WP_20140913_12_38_00_Pro
Nuchas offered different types of empanada: Veggie (squash, goat cheese, quinoa, green chile, oregano, whole wheat dough), Shrimp and Scallop (shrimp, sea scallop, shallots, Merken Nantua sauce, turmeric, sesame black dough or regular dough), Argentine (Pat Lafrieda’s ground beef, onions, peppers, scallions, potatoes, and olives with white dough), Braised Lamb (lamb, garlic, tomato sauce, parsnip, onions, thyme, lemon zest, and parsley), and Italian Sausage Meatball (Italian sausage, San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese dough).

WP_20140913_12_38_06_Pro
Vietnamese Chicken over dirty rice and Loco Moco: a traditional Hawaiian dish of rice topped by a juicy burger patty with gravy and a runny egg from
Big D’s Khao Cart

WP_20140913_12_43_58_Pro
best churro I’ve ever had

WP_20140913_12_44_56_Pro     WP_20140913_12_46_26_Pro    
Roast pork and rice with pigeon peas from Lechonera La Pirana.  Angel Jimenez from Lechonera chops his pernil with a machete.  It’s quite a site… and you can see it here.

WP_20140913_12_47_54_Pro
Stripey straw in my creamsicle drink

WP_20140913_12_52_45_Pro
pour me another
    
WP_20140913_12_55_13_Pro
Thai Green Curry Asiancini and beef Bulgogi Asiancini w/ gochujang aioli – I am a fan!

Garibaldi sandwich
Pulled pork, slaw and aioli in a handmade English muffin.  This ain’t Thomas’ people!
 
 WP_20140913_13_03_52_Pro
New Zealand style savory Mini Chicken Pie w/ mash & gravy (skip the mushy peas)

WP_20140913_13_09_03_Pro
Hallo Berlin’s sampler plate:  Pork Bratwurst, Bavarian veal Wurst, Berliner Currywurst, and beef-pork Bauernwurst, served with red wine cabbage, sauerkraut, and a trio of string bean, cucumber, and German potato salads with a side of mustard

WP_20140913_13_11_35_Pro
Pondicherry Masala Dosa packed with super fresh veggies and a side of sambar

WP_20140913_13_24_19_Pro     WP_20140913_13_26_32_Pro
Bolivian Llama Party got my vote with their spicy and original food.  Left is the saltena:  a baked Bolivian style empanada of amaretto flavored pastry encasing a filling of stewed beef, chicken, quinoa, and house made cheese.  Right is the chola: a Bolivian street sandwich packed with pulled pork, cured pork belly, and flavored with chuquisaca bacon, bacon and roasted garlic aioli, salsa criolla, pickled carrots, chiles, and hibiscus red onions.
   
Snowday Clay Williams
Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich kissed with Maple Syrup and a shot of savory gazpacho

WP_20140913_13_34_55_Pro    WP_20140913_13_35_08_Pro
The original Ramen Burger

WP_20140913_13_44_14_Pro
Beer-battered Baja Fish Taco w/ spicy slaw and mango salsa, homemade plantain and tortilla chips with a trio of dipping sauces, and half a rolled Chipotle Pork Quesadilla w/ pickled red onion

WP_20140913_13_44_07_Pro
Dulce de leche cheesecake bite and a guava and cheese fried mini empanada

WP_20140913_13_45_46_Pro
Oh that 7 spice chicken and rice from King of Falafel & Shawarma… sigh
  
WP_20140913_13_56_41_Pro

Tea Dance (pictured above): a Nigiri black tea ice cream with lemon charcoal caramel swirl.  Also sampled: Farmer Boy: black currant ice cream drizzled with goat milk panna cotta and dusted with buckwheat streusel), and Milk Money: toasted milk ice cream with sea salt chocolate ganache swirl

WP_20140913_14_16_08_Pro
chicken puri-bhaji with hot sauce

WP_20140913_15_06_30_Pro
Chinese chive and Pork Dumpling & Mango Bubble Tea

The End

the-very-hungry-caterpillar

The One ingredient non-recipe

Can there really be such thing as a one-ingredient recipe?  I am inclined to think not and so this is the first non-recipe that I’m posting.

In you’re a Pinterest addict like me, no doubt you’ve seen it… the recipe for one-ingredient ice cream.  A misnomer actually, because this recipe contains no cream.  You can search for it using hashtags like #kidfriendly, #paleo, #vegan, #nodairy etc.  I would categorize it as #HolyCowThat’sSoCool!  The moment I saw this recipe I was intrigued and knew I’d have to try it.  After all, it requires bananas and well, nothing.  As Gwen Stefani would say… c’mon, we all know what Gwen Stefani would say right?

The bananas I got from work.  There were two whole bunches sitting there on Friday evening, and they were slated to be tossed in the trash by the cleaning crew to make way for new green bananas on Monday.  I rescued the spotted darlings from their wasteful fate.

An important step in this recipe is peeling and chopping the bananas before freezing them.  Luckily I followed this tip, and so was spared the dilemma of trying to figure out how to peel a frozen banana.  The next step is to chop the bananas.  Coins, cubes… it doesn’t matter.  Just chop those bananas.  Then freeze those bananas.  If you’d like to place each banana coin gingerly on a piece of waxed paper to keep them separated, you may.  Feel free.  If you’d like to plop them all mixed up in a bowl and chuck it into the freezer, you’d be taking a page out of my book.  The last step is to toss the frozen bananas chunks into your food processor fitted with a steel blade and blitz away.  Process the bananas until they’re creamy… about the consistency of soft serve.

That is all there is to it.  I tried this recipe because I love bananas.  You could try it because it’s a super healthy treat that’ll easily replace full fat ice cream.  You could try it because you don’t believe that last sentence.  That said, being obviously low in calories you can load on the fixin’s.

Drizzle, hell, douse with chocolate syrup.  (Dark chocolate syrup works well.)  Add some crunch with granola.  Keep it low-cal with a dash of ground cinnamon or freshly grated orange zest.  Sprinkle on some coconut, ooh, or pretzel pieces.  If I were serving it to Elvis Presley I might toss in some bacon pieces… oh, oh, or candied bacon pieces!  Maybe when you’re blending the bananas you could throw in some frozen strawberries too.  Or Nutella, or peanut butter.  OMG, peanut butter cookies with banana ice cream sandwiched between ‘em!  Oh, I’m starting to get light-headed with all the possibilities you guys.

Here is a quick pic, but there are much better ones on the World Wide Web.  The best view of all though, will be when you make this for yourself in your very own kitchen.

WP_20140719_20_41_19_Pro

 

Banana Ice Cream
Ingredients:
Bananas

Directions:
1.  Peel those bananas
2.  Chop those bananas
3.  Freeze those bananas
4.  Blitz those bananas (in a food processor fitted with a steel blade)
5.  Eat those bananas!  yum

Cascabel


Cascabel:  a small, round Mexican chile pepper.
Cascabel:  A gourmet Mexican feast with wine, beer, circus, flamenco, comedy, live music and love story performed on a Chicago stage starring Chef Rick Bayless.

N and I were recently in Chicago and snagged one of the hottest tickets in town to see “Cascabel” at the Lookinglass Theater.  Rick Bayless is the co-creator and star of this one-of-a-kind sensory dining experience. He doesn’t actually cook for the 100+ guests, but he does a bit of acting and a small amount of dancing towards the end. I have watched Rick Bayless’s cooking shows since before the Food Network began, and as a fan I was curious to experience his latest creative attempt… and hopefully his mole.

The base story in the show is one of an unhappy woman, brooding over a long-lost love as a new suitor woos her. She refuses all food that the chef in her boarding house has worked tirelessly to make. Can he prepare something that will pique her curiosity and lure her out of her melancholy? As the supporting stories unfold they incorporate some stunning acrobatics and dare I say… magic? One character performs a risqué hand balancing act from a bathtub after sampling the chef’s cooking. Another manages to change clothes while walking a high wire. My favorite was the gasp-inducing, seductive, and spectacularly athletic routine of the last two characters… in essence an acrobatic pas de deux on a stripper pole.

LTC-Cascabel-Press-0219-composite-WebLTC-Cascabel-Press-0407web
photos by Sean Williams

And what of the food you ask? I shall tell. There is a single menu for everyone with no substitutions, but since you’re in Rick Bayless’s skilled hands, there really is no cause for concern. We were greeted at the door and ushered to a long community table, designed to look like a courtyard table joined to a Mexican boardinghouse. The chef was already on stage, in character, and was preparing a meal. Audience chatter bubbled noisily around him as each guest was served a margarita dusted with ground cascabel chile. Qué apropiado! On each end of the table were galvanized tubs holding several [fancy, still and sparkling] waters and beer and at each setting was a mysterious dish enclosed in a banana leaf and pinned shut with a toothpick and a note that “Patience is a virtue. Do not open.” More on that later… after all, patience is a virtue.  ; )

A series of small bites were offered to guests. There was no real description of the food we ate, which was a little frustrating, though no less delectable. Happily, guests received a thank you email following the show which detailed the entire menu. Here are the bites as listed in the email:
“All-Green Guacamole and Crab”  Green pea guacamole with Bayless garden hoja santa and mint, Alaskan king crab, pumpkin seed crunch, peashoot
“Eggs Benedict”  Sweet corn sphere, “hollandaise” (saffron, heavy cream, house-made crema), smoked paprika
“Smoked Salmon and Caviar”  Apricot “salmon” lámina, kaffir-lemongrass coconut crema, red chile apricot bits, black garlic and squid ink “caviar”
“Burnt Toast”  Crispy pork belly in salsa negra glaze (mulato and morita chiles, garlic, piloncillo), huitlacoche toast

The lights dimmed after the last tapas were served and the show began. The maître d’ character orchestrated the consuming of each dish from the stage and the audience happily obeyed his first directions to open, inhale and savor the mystery plate in front of us. We were served the same dish that the characters on stage ate. It was a delight to consume the food and listen to commentary and description as we savored it. The first course was a “Ceviche de Salmón en Maracuya”: Lime-marinated salmon, jicama, and cucumber, limey avocado, coconut-passion fruit tapioca ceviche which was topped with an orange passion fruit habanero gelée veil, and enclosed in a banana leaf surrounded with popcorn. The popcorn on my plate was finished well before I was instructed to dig in. Patience is clearly not chief among my virtues.

The main entrée was “Lomo de Res en Mole Poblano”: Grilled beef tenderloin in traditional Mole Poblano (mulato and pasilla chiles, almonds, peanuts, and 16 other ingredients), braised black kale, avocado leaf-black bean tamale with toasted sesame salt. This is the dish that I’d been waiting to try, and Chef Bayless’s legendary mole did not disappoint. Complex, nutty, spicy, velvety… it was everything, everything I thought it would be.

Mole
photo by Sean Williams
The sweet finale was “Oaxacan Chocolate Cake”: Chocolate cake, orange cinnamon ganache, blood orange buttercream, blood orange mousse, obleas. *sigh*

LTC-Cascabel-Press-1066web
photo by Sean Williams

Cascabel is a very sexy show and its magic lies in environmental immersion. It is designed to stimulate all the senses. The sincere and rowdy ovation was well-deserved by both the performers and by the kitchen staff who trooped out to the stage to bask in the adulation. We the audience were entertained, we were impressed and we were sated.

City of Brotherly Love


Ok.  I know I haven’t written in a while. 
I haven’t made time since I went on vacation… which was in early May. Yikes! I got a kick in the pants from my friend KSL, so I’m refocusing and trying to bring you good people a dose of Fatty Bombli for your reading pleasure. Now – what to write about?

Should I tell you about my trip to Paris… clue you in to the delicious nibbles and also the disappointments that I experienced? Should I give you my verdict on Annisa, Anita Lo’s spot in the West Village? Should I tell you about the Bacon Jam I made?  Or of Bobby Flay’s Gato? All of the above? None of the above? Bueller?

I have to start somewhere, so I will tell you about my trip Philadelphia, with a promise to revisit the topics mentioned above. Yes friends, earlier this month the family and I went to Philadelphia for a weekend. It was a nice way to kick off the summer season and left me feeling very patriotic indeed, which was great since July 4th was approaching.

We kicked it off with dinner at Buddakan on Friday night. I’ve been to the NYC Buddakan in Chelsea, which is also very good, but we stopped at the Philly location for one specific thing – the cilantro martini. I know all you cilantro haters are cringing, but I am a vociferous cilantro lover and this verdant cocktail (named “Strength”) is one of my favorites. It’s unique, and it’s delicious. *Tear* that they don’t have this on the NY menu. We started out with a few apps. Spotlight on the Tuna Pizza. I’ve had versions of this dish before at other restaurants, but this one was my favorite. It was tuna carpaccio, spicy aioli, pickled jalapenos and ponzu sauce on naan bread. All the ingredients worked so well together… even my parents who don’t usually dig the “raw” thing loved it. Our entrees were the Sizzling Short Rib, Korean Beef Fried Rice, and the winner of the three — the Miso Black Cod. Since its creation at Nobu, this dish has popped up everywhere, but it’s not always done well. Though Nobu has the edge, Buddakan definitely does it well. I was full after dinner, but N insisted on sharing the Dip Sum Doughnuts, and I have to say… I regret Nothing. They came to the table warm and covered in Chinese Five Spice sugar. The dipping sauces of chocolate, blackberry jam and gingered cream cheese were delicious by themselves but incredible when piled together. They were even listed as one of the “Best Things I Ever Ate” on the Food Network show of the same name. Seriously… don’t skip them.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that for breakfast the next day… we had donuts! It’s funny, because donuts are not my breakfast of choice, but when traveling, I try to experience the best of what a place has to offer. Philly has Federal Donuts. This chain proudly serves up a unique offering of coffee, donuts, and chicken. Yes, chicken. It being about 10am we did not sample the chicken, though this dish was also listed as one of “The Best Things I Ever Ate” on the Food Network show. Instead we tried their “fancy” donuts and their “hot & fresh” donuts with coffee. The hot & fresh were the victors. They were not cloying, even though they were covered in sugar. The cute donut guy behind the counter threw in a salted tahini donut for us to try. It was a little weird, but oddly good. P.S. I loved the cute donut guy because he was super friendly and liked my “Clizby” t-shirt. 5 points and a high five to you if you know about Clizby.
federal-donuts

From there we started our sightseeing for the day. We hit the usual landmarks… the Liberty Bell, Carpenter’s Hall, the President’s House, and the Museum of Art. Of course I ran the stairs there a la Rocky Balboa – theme song pumping in my head. In the afternoon we incorporated sightseeing and lunch into one scrumptious item. When I walked through the doors of the Reading Terminal Market my eyes widened and I heard a distant chorus of angels singing. Markets like these, in all their delicious neon chaos, are my happy place.
reading-terminal-market-23350

 

The market itself was N’s choice, but I wanted to go there to sample what Adam Richman (of Man vs. Food fame) crowned the “Best Sandwich in America” – Tommy DiNic’s Roast Pork sandwich. I shall tell you right off the bat that N did not like this sandwich. She hated the broccoli rabe. I’m usually not a big fan myself, but I totally “got” what they were going for and I loved this sandwich. They offer a few options, but I went with the classic pork/rabe/sharp provolone combo. Everything was in perfect balance for me. The juicy pork bathed in an herb rub, the very sharp cheese, the fresh and slight bitter edge to the rabe soaked up by the soft Italian sub roll…. Whoa. I would do it again. And again. And again. I don’t have pictures for you dear friends. N usually gives me a disapproving look when I bust out my phone to take a pic. Yeah, yeah, the flash is distracting… but still. Next time I will just ignore her and you shall have photo goodness to revel in.

More sightseeing ensued, with a side trip to Mac’s Tavern of “It’s Always Sunny…” fame for some beery refreshments. For dinner we didn’t have set plans, and so we wandered aimlessly around downtown for a while. N didn’t want the pressure of making all the plans, nevertheless she found a good review of the Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant which we settled on. Good call N! The place was a dive in appearance, and I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the parents… but looks were deceiving in this case. This is a little gem of a place with a surprisingly interesting menu. I actually tried their special – a Caribbean burger – after our friendly server gushed about the Jamaican hot sauce that was on it. Side note: if you’re going to Jamaica any time soon, please let me know. There’s a bottle of hot sauce that I would like you to pick up for me.

The next morning we visited the Barnes Museum followed by a tour of Independence Hall. Independence Hall is a must-see if you visit Philly. It thrills me to stand in the same room where the founding fathers of our country signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I wonder if they could fathom that more than 200 years later their beautiful and inspiring words would mean so much to the millions in this country. My secret thrill is that the movie musical of “1776” built a replica of Independence Hall to film in, and I vividly remember each scene when walking through the original, with the soundtrack running on loop in my head. “I say vote yes! Vote yes! Vote for independency!”

We closed out our weekend with lunch at National Mechanics, so named for the building’s original incarnation as Mechanics National Bank. Built in 1837, the structure itself is very stately and walking through the ancient doors curtained with red velvet sweeps you right back in time. The food was decent (I ordered the corn dog, which was fine, but not comparable to the golden goodness I’d sampled at the Houston Rodeo earlier this year.) but I was impressed with the service. There was a big delay on N’s fried chicken dish (due to a mishap, we guessed, based on the loud clatter from just behind the door to the kitchen that sounded like a piping hot plate of chicken crashing to the floor), and so our server kept checking in to apologize and give us an ETA. At the end of the meal, she removed the dish from the bill without us asking. Despite the error I felt very well taken care of and so wanted to share my experience.

Thus ended our trip to the city of brotherly love… minus cheesesteak, and no poorer for it. I don’t know when the next visit will be, but I know that I’ll want to try some new things, and will have some old favorites to hit.