Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday Funday at the Wishing Well

The Wishing Well  Home to possibly the greatest brunch special in the city, it's a wonder there's not a Sabrina's-like line around the corner at this place. For $25 you get bottomless mimosas and/or bloody marys.  That's right, there's no limit (unless you're falling out of your chair - but they're even willing to overlook that from time to time) and the deal runs 11am till 4pm! Along with those endless bloody's and mimosas you also get your choice of entree from the brunch menu. What a great way to spend a Sunday - football on the flatscreens, limitless drinks, and good food at your beckon call. Ahh, happiness.

There's also a $25 gift certificate you can get from, and if you wait till one of the big sales you can score it for only $2.
Bacon-Infusing our vodka; pre-mary
The bloody marys are make-your-own, which is definitely fun and much better than that generic house mix you get at some other places. You start with a glass of ice and vodka, and build from there. Choose straight tomato juice or a spicy house mixed batch. Add in worcestershire, old bay, hot sauce, horseradish, olives, lemons, limes, pink hearts, green clovers, yellow moons, blue diamonds, purple horseshoes, or red balloons! There should be bigger pieces of celery, but other than that I'm a huge fan. I like making my own bloodys at home anyways, so this is like I never left the house or my PJ's. Next time I might just come in a onesy. 
The make-you-own bloody mary bar

Oh, they also serve food. Solid brunch menu with a selection of salads (seriously who eats a salad for brunch?), burgers, sandwiches, grilled cheese, eggs, french toast, omeletes, and other choices. The menu is big enough so that everyone gets what they want, but not so long that your bloodshot eyes lose focus after reading the 9th different kind of omelet. 
Chicken and waffles
I rocked the southern fried chicken and waffles. Damn. That was really good. Served with maple syrup and black peppered white gravy, the chicken had super crispy skin and soft juicy meat underneath. The waffles were light and fluffy, and just a little bit yeasty - like good waffles should be. The salty & sweet thing is a theme on this blog, and this plate definitely follows suit. Everyone should try this. Not liking fried chicken and waffles is like not liking Bob Marley. If you don't, you have no soul. 

Crabcakes benedict
A pair of really good crab cakes underneath perfectly poached eggs and hollandaise sauce was also excellent. Big hunks of crab and just enough breading to keep it together. Definitely a winner. 

The burger
Surprisingly enough, the wifey and one of her girlfriends went for burgers. Kind of made me feel like less of a man, but my chicken was better, so I win. The burgers were good, not amazing. The one pictured above was just a normal burger (with some house-made pickles that were not quite pickled enough), but the Smokehouse burger was definitely better. Topped with smoked cheddar and BBQ pulled pork, it's like a cow & a pig made sweet, sweet love and have this illicit child to show for it. It's a pretty graphic reference, but if you taste the burger you'll appreciate it.

Lastly, I'd like to apologize for not ordering the Shame burger. As the wifey requested that I be coherent and not go into food coma mode after eating, I decided to hold off on this monster for another day (which will be soon). What is a "Shame Burger" you ask? Why it's a burger topped off with WW's own house-made scrapple, american cheese, and a fried egg on a Sarcones roll (they're right across the street). Don't forget the fries or onion rings on the side. I don't know what's shameful about it though. I plan on being the proudest monkey in the bar after polishing it off.  

They do, however, have the Shame Burger from HELL challenge, which I likely won't be attempting.  If you can knock out two double shame burgers - that's 2 rolls, 4 patties, 4 slices of scrapple, 4 fried eggs, 8 slices of cheese, plus 2lbs of fries and two pints of beer, you get your name and picture on the wall, a $25 gift card and they'll pay for the meal. Otherwise you're out $40. Apparently only 10 have completed the challenge out of 200 attempts. I'm impressed. 

Food Baby Rating: Twins!! 

Wishing Well

767 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147-2844
(215) 238-6555
Open Weekdays 4pm-2am
Weekends 11am-2am

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Great Burger Challenge Round 3.5: Kennett

Even though it's on the list for the Great Burger Challenge of 2011, we couldn't technically count this visit towards the official scoring since we were missing two team members. That doesn't stop me from trying on Kennett's very popular burger for size though. We'll be back at a later date to weigh in with the whole crew present, but for this night it was dinner with friends who live close to this gem of South Philly.

The space inside is sparse and looks like your average local - albeit much cleaner and with a gorgeous bar that is supposedly from the turn of the century. It was a quiet night, but I can imagine with all the tile work that it will be ear ringing in the winter with everyone packed inside. Kennett has a healthy selection of craft beers, and the bartender was happy to give us samples of whatever we wanted to try. Bell's Two-Hearted ale was on draught, so I stopped reading the beer list there. A couple of martini's and a manhatten were well sized (not those little mini IKEA glasses for $11 you get elsewhere) and mixed by a pro. Their drinks menu is a throw back to prohibition days with the list broken up into sections of "Bootleggers" and "Reformers". There are definitely some unusual ingredients on the cocktail menu (sweet potato shrub, theila jasmine liquor, luxardo maraschino??) that faintly remind me of the now defunct Apothecary.

We started with a couple salads and a pizza to share amongst the four of us. A tomato, feta & red onion salad was fresh and clean. The tomatoes tasting like they were fresh off the vine and the feta in nice big hunks. A summer veggie salad with more tomatoes, peaches, candy stripe beats, onion with a sherry vinaigrette was also good. These are the kind of dishes you long for in the dead of winter with only root vegetables to get you by. Mmmm....summer.
tomato, feta & red onion salad
summer veggie salad with crispy chicken
A huge plank of a cheese board was killer. A creamy, earthy blue, camambert style "smythe" and lancaster county bouche cheddar were all great. Nice little accompaniments of sliced apple, cornichons, olives, pecans and whole grain mustard were paired perfectly with the cheese selections. The honey toast points for spreading were a nice touch as well. Always a good sign for a restaurant. You've got to know how to handle your cheese.
cheese plate
The pizzas are one of the signature features of the menu. House made dough (nearly as good as Stella & Zavino, I might add) and local toppings baked in a wood fired oven all add up to a spot-on pie. I would come back just for the pizza. We got one with mushrooms, salami, and fresh mozzarella. You can always tell when they use real mozzarella vs. the pre-shredded stuff. Nothing against the latter - we're usually first in line at Lorenzo's at the end of the night - but the fresh stuff is just SO much better. Great crunch on the dough, which held up to the toppings, and just the right amount of chewiness. Super.

wood oven pizza with fresh mozzarella, shrooms & salami
The burger was the real star of the show for me though. Kennett is making their ground beef mix with bone marrow. Seriously. Bone marrow. That's such a ridiculous idea, I can't believe someone didn't think of it before. If you've never had marrow, it's one of the richest, tastiest, and most decadent things you'll ever eat. Just a little spread on a piece of toasted baguette, and you'll forever be spoiled. You'll feel sorry for vegetarians. Mixing it into the burger was a stroke of genius. It makes a good burger great. The patty, cooked on a flat top, achieving just the right texture and consistency. See that caramalization sear on the burger? That's good stuff. These guys know what they're doing. Topped off with some pickled red onion (god bless the pickling movement) and crisp lettuce, I'd have to put this one in the upper echelon of burgers in the city. The sides were good, but a bit of a let down with such a serious burger. Cucumber salad and potato salad were both ok, but not memorable - I forgot they were even on the plate till I looked at the pictures.
Kennett burger with pickled red onion, cucumber & potato salads
Kennett's vibe - like so many others in the city - is locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. If that seems like the trendiest thing possible, it's because it is. But it's a great bandwagon to be on. Remember when Chilean Sea Bass was on every menu in the city? I'll eat organic if I can get it (and afford it), but eating local is way more important to me. As menus change with the seasons, you see yourself getting more in touch with the natural rhythms of food. It's not normal to be eating tomatoes and peaches in Philadelphia in February. You better learn how to appreciate parsnips and turnips if you'll be spending your winters 'round here. Kennett is helping to spread the notion of eating what is fresh and hasn't been shipped from California or South America. They are also making really good food that is worth checking out. If you live anywhere nearby, they are located on on Second street just a couple blocks south of Washington Ave, you owe it to yourself and the ones you love to make a little trek over there. You'll be returning often.

Food Baby Rating - It's a boy!

848 South 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burger Challenge Round 3: Royal Tavern

Round three of the Great Burger Challenge of 2011 finds us at the Royal Tavern on East Passyunk. At first appearance no more than a local watering hole with a kitchen in the back, they have set the standard in South Philly for the gastro pub concept.  Partly because they've been doing this for a few years now, but mostly thanks to a small but thorough list of craft beers on tap, comfortable surroundings and a surprisingly inventive menu. A fellow challenge contestant referred to them as the "Memphis Tap Room" of South Philly, and I can definitely see the parallel. However I think it would be more appropriate to call Memphis the "Royal Tavern of Fishtown". Their sister restaurants of Cantina Los Caballitos, Cantina Dos Segundos & Khyber Pass Pub probably get more press and foodie blog write ups, but Royal Tavern quietly does some very good things.

Several people questioned my sanity when I mentioned the burger challenge and didn't put them on the list. Clearly, I was missing out. Coming from NoLibs though, there was never reason to slog all the way to Passyunk & Carpenter when we've in the middle of gastro pub land with Standard Tap, JB's, N. 3rd, etc. I now have a reason.

Royal Tap room serves one of the great burgers of the world. Someone should write a song about this piece of artistry so that generations from now, our kids will know the tales of The Great Angus Burger. Served on sesame seeded brioche bun, the patty thick and cooked properly on a flat top so that no drop of flavorful grease may be wasted. No gimmicks here, just really good ground beef, served exactly as ordered (medium rare, please) with all the suggested fixins - bacon, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pickled longhots and chili mayo. It must have taken them months if not years to come with exactly the right combo of toppings to put this burger over the top. The best bacon you can imagine, and not cut in half to fit the roll but whole strips protruding way past the bun, like the burger is sticking it's tongue out daring you to eat it. Thick slices of onion that taste like the've been slowly sauteed for hours. Oh, is that a hint of smokey gouda I detect? Why yes, yes it is. Pickled peppers for a bit of vinegary tang and creeping heat. And the chili mayo that had hints of cumin in it reminding you just oh so subtly of really good roganjosh from Tiffin (or maybe Ekta on a good night). And don't forget the huge kosher pickle on the side. This could be a candidate for last meal on earth.
The Angus Burger.  Kneel before it.
My only negative comments would be that there were too many sesame seeds on my bun, but thats just a matter of personal preference, and the toppings were not evenly distributed. First half of the burger was missing the longhots and chili mayo. Although that did make for an interesting surprise a few minutes into the meal - it's like I got two burgers in one!

Have I mentioned the fries? My god, the fries! They might be laced with meth. Airy and crisp, perfectly seasoned and definitely not soggy or sopping with grease. No shoe strings. No sweet potatoes here. Just some of the best fries in Philadelphia, giving the frites at Monk's a run for their money.

Oh, there's also the rest of the menu. Fresh popcorn served in a brown paper bag so you can see the little stains of truffle butter seep thru is sprinkled with shaved pecorino cheese. Now I know where Khyber got the idea for the bacon popcorn. Only $3 for this version makes a great appetizer on the cheap.

The sweet potato bahn mi (Vietnam's answer to the hoagie) is made with bibb lettuce, jicama, carrots, pickled daikon radish, plenty of jalapenos and a cilantro aioli. We had them cut it in fours to make like a starter so everyone got a taste. All highly approved. The crunch of the radish, carrots and jicama went great with the savory sweet potato. Good crusty role and the cilantro aioli was a clever plus. Even the collard greens served on the side were awesome. They didn't just phone it in here. Hints of smoke and ham hock tell me these were cooked long and slow, and a kick of vinegar and tabasco gave it some tang and heat. Tasty.

Sweet potato Bahn Mi served w/ sauteed collards
Since popcorn, collard greens and a 1/4 of a bahn mi are clearly not enough appetizers before a burger challenge, we went all in with an order of the Cubano spring rolls. Basically a Cuban sandwich with the roast pork, ham, swiss & pickles, but wrapped up and quickly deep fried with a side of smokey ancho mustard for dipping. The boys both really liked these, but the girls took a few bites and decided to save room for the main attraction of the evening. Eh, more for us. 

Cubano spring rolls with ancho mustard 
A few Founders porters on draft took care of the rest of the ordering for me - there was definitely no room for dessert. I am so thankful to the suggestions from readers to add Royal Tavern to the lineup for the Great Burger Challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown down. This will be a tough one to beat.

Food Baby Rating: Octomom!!

937 East Passyunk Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 389-6694
Open Weekdays 11:30am-2am; Weekends 10am-2am

Friday, September 2, 2011

Burger Challenge Round 2: Village Whiskey

Round 2 – Fight!  To get a hostess to pay attention to you.  Fight! To get a table.  Fight! For elbow room in the ridiculously small bar area while you wait for your table and overpriced whiskey.  A night at Village Whiskey can sometimes feel more like Mike Tyson’s Punch Out with you being Little Mac and Iron Chef Garces playing Don Flamenco.  They don’t take reservations, and your entire party has to be present to be seated (don’t even think about having a random straggler). There are only a dozen or so tables available inside, so if you come on a rainy night like we did, be prepared to wait.

Deviled eggs....yumm

Lucky for us, a college friend just happens to be a server at Village Whiskey (thanks Troy!) and we did get some comped snacks while we waited, and waited, for the table. A plate of very good deviled eggs kept us going while we sipped on excellently made Old Fashioneds. 

On a side note here, I have to say I am a huge fan of the resurgence of the deviled egg on menus around the city. I remember watching my mom make them for family parties and thinking to myself how revolting they looked and smelled. Now that I’m all grown up and sophisticated, I have realized the utter delight that a great deviled egg can be. Rich and a bit decadent, hitting different parts of the palette depending on the filling mix, they should always be served cold, a bit salty, a creamy yokey middle, and never limp or watery. These were perfectly done, classic devils. No fusion or experiments here – just a tried and true classic. 

And that’s really what Village Whiskey is all about too; tried and true classics that everyone can identify with. Unlike Garces’ other concept restaurants with tapas in every possible form and progressive, edgy interiors, VW leans toward the old school in every way. Prohibition style cocktails, mixed by bartenders who know the value of good ice and what bitters can do for a drink alongside an impressively large (albeit impressively pricey) list of bourbons. Servers dressed in classic whites with long aprons and black skinny ties. A menu of full size plates that are all America with burgers, bbq pork, turkey and chicken sandwiches.  

Chicken sandwich w/ long hots, shrooms & provolone

The chicken sandwich, on a good crusty roll with long hot peppers, mushrooms & sharp provolone was very good, and for $10 a decent value for dinner. It'd be nice if they included more than just a few veggie chips as a side, but I guess they're trying to steer you towards the $5 duck fat, $7 duck fat + cheddar sauce or $12 shortrib & cheddar fries. Cooking in duck fat is a bit trendy these days, but it is also usually pretty tasty. I like duck in all forms (see also: peking duck, duck rolls, duck hunt, duct tape), so frying taters in the fat seems like a good idea to me. But it's not. At least not in this example. Cut thick like steak fries you get at a Jersey diner, these guys were so crunchy that they were closer to potato chips. And you didn't get any of that duck taste you're hoping for. I was really disappointed. Next time I'm in (with an expense account) I might go for the shortrib & cheddar fries, along side the Whiskey King burger with fois gras on top. But for $26 the King was not on the docket for this night. And this being the burger challenge, we had to go for the straight-up, honest Village Burger that gets all the glory.

Duck fat fries w/ cheddar sauce
And onto that burger. The signature dish on the menu, the Village Whiskey burger has been on “best of” lists since they opened their doors. A mammoth half pound patty, cooked on a flat top, and served lovingly on a sesame roll with tomato, boston bibb lettuce, and thousand island dressing.  Choose your own additional toppings of cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, avocado, long hots, bacon, fried egg or even horseradish crab salad. The burger comes in at a pretty good deal for only $11, but just adding cheese tacks on another $3.50, with the other fixins running from $1.50 to $5.50. It’s an effort to squeeze  the thing down to an edible size, but soooo damn good when you do. Mine was cooked perfectly, a nice sear and caramalize on the meat, and medium in the middle. The cheese was still warm and melty, the lettuce cool and soft, and the tomato was thick and ripe. VW also makes their own pickles, and you get to sample one with each burger. The roll was fresh -  firm enough to hold up to the task of containing this bad boy but soft enough to not get in the way. I give this burger high ranks on taste, presentation and toppings. It's also an affordable price at a place where you feel like a high roller for just getting a seat. Well played, Jose. 

The Village Burger

Food Baby Rating: It's a Boy! 

Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Sunday-Monday 11:30am-11pm
Tuesday-Thursday 11:30am-12am
Friday-Saturday 11:30-1am