Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fried Chicken at Rittenhouse Tavern

Taking a cue from the Sunday Supper trend working it's way around the city (I think I may have started something here) Rittenhouse Tavern has been offering a fried chicken special on Sunday nights for $18 a person. They fry up a whole bird with biscuits, coleslaw and a special side of the day. It's been so popular that they've added it to the daily menu (and upped the price to $22).  Go get yours now before they jack it up again. 

Bacon biscuits! Yup. You can taste it immediately. There's no bits inside, but I think they use bacon grease instead of lard in the dough. It obviously lends an incredible flavor but renders them dense as hockey pucks. These are the opposite of flaky and airy. They will sit in your stomach like a bacon coated rock. There's worse things that could happen to you. 

The cabbage slaw was very good. A quick pickling with vinegar on the red cabbage gives it a great tang and still leaves it crunchy and crisp. I would most certainly order more of this.  Blue corn grits with paprika were a surprisingly big hit. The texture seemed like they were ground in-house, nothing out of a box here. You could taste the earthiness of the blue corn with the butter & paprika bringing it all home.  Second and third portions were a must. 

This is what we came for though - the bird! Whole Amish chickens, cut up into manageable pieces, marinated, breaded and deep fried into sweet, sweet oblivion. This isn't the super crispy scrape the top of your mouth brand. This is old school southern style, with just the perfect amount of crunch and some incredible flavor. Make sure to reserve your order ahead of time, as they only order a limited amount each day. 

Warning: it is served molten hot out of the fryer. You will burn your tongue. You will not be able to stop yourself from eating. The smell is intoxicating - on a cool Sunday in April, your mind starts drifting off to lazy summer days when everything moves a bit slower. The skin is crazy delicious like those cupcakes on Lazy Sunday. Light & dark alike, the meaty bird yields huge hunks of chicken, still juicy from the quick fry and leaving you painfully aching for another piece.

If you can, snag a seat outside in the wonderful little garden courtyard (warmed in the cooler months by those mobile heaters).  It's a little oasis in the middle of dense and crowded Rittenhouse square. The building itself hosts art exhibits and is worth a look in it's own right. Beautiful old millwork and dramatic arches create a gorgeous dining space. Looking forward to coming back here on a date night to check out the rest of the menu.

Food Baby Rating:  Twins!

Rittenhouse Tavern
251 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pizza Challenge Round 2- Marra's

The oldest of the old school. Marra's has been slinging pies and plates of spaghetti and meatballs since the 20's. This place is red gravy legit, prominently peacocking on Passyunk. The service can be somewhat chaotic. Ladies who probably danced on American Bandstand when it was still in Philly do their best to keep up with the tables and the random string of commands being shouted over a loudspeaker. For some reason there's a flat screen in the main dining room tuned to college basketball.  The booths are tighter than jeggings on J-Lo and leave barely enough room for four people and their assorted cups & plates. 

What they lack in ambiance they make up for in pizza. All the pies we had were good. Bubbling hot out of the brick oven with great toppings and sauce. It's an unexpectedly good departure from the standard plates of chicken parm and fettuccini al fredo that you see on most of the other tables. This is a neighborhood place that has catered to generations of families in South Philly. Why mess with winning recipe?  Give the people what they want.

A note here before I start talking pizza. We didn't try any appetizers or pasta dishes. And none of us had ever been here before. The Yelp reviews are not particularly glowing for Marra's - most advise to stick with the pizza. Don't walk in here expecting Vetri style Italian. This place is about as unpretentious as it gets, and there's something to be said for that.

The pizzas come out pretty quick - no more than 10-15 minutes wait.  And they won't be spaced out. You'll get each one as it's ready to come out of the oven. Our favorite was the Parmigiana with thick cut slices of fried eggplant, sprinkles of parmesan and gobs of fresh ricotta, seasoned with fresh herbs for a beautifully speckled look. There is something magical about that mix of eggplant and ricotta. You feel like you could be whisked off on the Hogwarts Express before dessert.

The Alla Bianca featured some absolutely delicious Italian fennel sausage that lends a great tooth and sweetness to counteract the bitter and garlicky broccoli rabe & sundried tomatoes.  Marra's swaps out the standard mozzarella for sharp provolone and get's this pie humming.  Honestly one of the best toppings mixes I've had - a great suggestion from out waitress.

The margherita was tasty, with hunks of fresh mozzarella, whole basil leaves and maybe just a bit too much sauce.  The cheese was good, but not so amazing as to leave you pining for more. If you're only going to have cheese and sauce, it better be top notch stuff. It also could have used another minute or two in the oven to melt.  Of the three we ordered, this would get picked last for kickball. 

I have to say the sauce was a big step up from Zavino. Not nearly as sweet and with a better depth of flavor.  You can taste the fresh tomatoes that they started with.  Toppings were great on the first two pies, with some room for improvement on the mozzarella.

The crust was the only real negative I can speak to. It was more than sturdy enough to hold up to the heavy toppings, but the outer ring ends up being tough as venison jerky.  You could lose a crown trying to chew through that. This might be a symptom of the heavy hand used for the toppings themselves.  They give you an overly generous portion, which is appreciated, but they have to make the crust so thick to compensate that it loses any chance of being light and airy.

Overall I was pretty happy with dinner. Three pies and two carafes of wine only cost us $90 for the table, with tip.  Definitely worth a trip on the Broad Street line to check this old school Italian joint. Leave the pastas though, take the pizza.

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

1734 East Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

Friday, April 5, 2013

Top 10 Foodie Dishes

An anonymous reader forwarded this post from Zagat to me, with their take on the 10 dishes every self proclaimed Philadelphia should try.  It's by no means all-inclusive, but it is a fun little journey through some of the best of what this city has to offer.  

  1. Spinach Gnocchi at Vetri:  had it. loved it. worth the $155 tasting menu price tag. 
  2. Fried Cauliflower at Zahav:  had it. turned me into a cauliflower lover. 
  3. Foie Gras soup at Spraga:  not yet. on our check list though. 
  4. Beef and Tripe in chili oil at Han Dynasty:  really?  they didn't list the Dan Dan noodles?  i'll have to try this next time. 
  5. Escargots at Bibou:  not yet. on our check list though. 
  6. Chicken wings at Cafe Soho:  who's radar is this even on? apparently i need to take another trip out to Korea town. 
  7. Scallop Noodles at Ela:  not yet. on our check list though. 
  8. Bún bò Huế at Cafe Diem:  better than pho? this is now on my list. 
  9. Braciole at Vedge: have eaten here, no braciole though. i still think this place is overpriced. 
  10. Tagliatelli al Limone at Zeppoli:  seriously?  it's in Jersey. disqualified. 

What do you think? Is there something that they left off? There's a few things that come to my mind before South Jersey pasta. Grilled octopus at Amada? The whole roasted Pig's head at Alla Spina?  Anything off the Red Menu at David's Mai Lai Wah?  Regardless, it looks like I've got some eating to do. Let me hear your suggestions!! 

-Food Baby