Scenes from the AC Food and Wine Fest 2013
AC Food and Wine Fest: Blues, Brews and BBQ
There were many events at the AC Food and Wine Fest this year. The Blues, Brews and BBQ event was hands down the best one! Even tho it was, no lie, 900 degrees out and this thing was held in the parking lot across from the Showboat Casino, even tho the guys using smokers and grills made it 200 times hotter and even tho the big tents were no help from the heat, it still was a blast!
Yes, there was a band and yes, there was a lot of beer. But hey, I went for the BBQ!!
First up was Devil’s Alley. They are a, surprise, bar and grille in downtown Philly at 19th and Chestnut Sts. Chef Brian Fidiam come with a something offbeat, but still awesome! Spicy Dry Rub Wings. Now when I say these things were moist, tender and delicious, believe me. I ate, well, I coulda put their kids thru college. Let’s just leave it at that!
Next up was Smokin’ Betty’s, a place down at 11th and Sansom sts, in downtown Philly. They brought their signature Riblets. Now, some of you might remember places like Applebee’s who would have all you could eat riblets. these are not that! Not that! Not even close! The sweet sauce mingles with the porky goodness and the fat disintegrates right as it touches your tongue. Again, I think I ate a whole table’s worth.
Also, I cannot go much further without a shoutout to some neighbors of mine I ran into and went to a few events with! Maureen is a huge fan of the blog and her kids (All grown up now. I am so old!) love going to food events. Also, a shoutout to Brigid’s boyfriend Joe who bought a 5 gallon oak barrel in which to brew beer inside! I want to see how that turns out! They also kindly showed me some of the more awesome things I’m writing about today! So, hats off to Joe and the Ramseys!
Paula Deen was big and loud at the event and she cracked everyone up. As you can see in the picture, she’s lost a bunch of weight, as has Michael. She was really loving talking to the crowd, got onto the topic of her Diabetes and having to eat better and lose weight. Her son Bobby has been helping them eat better (and she plugged his show “Not My Mama’s Meals”, in which he remakes some of her recipes in a way that won’t kill you…as fast), which has helped with the weight loss, but she didn’t put a big shine on the whole thing. She basically pined what we all feel, that weight loss is hard and sometimes you just want that donut, but you gotta stick to it. Sometimes tho, have that donut! Am I saying Paula Deen, Queen of Butter, was being realistic? Yes, I am! Good god, anything is possible I think.
Paula also brought along her Braised Beef Brisket. I have never actually tasted anything she has made (or, as it was probably at this event, supervised the making of), and this brisket was pretty fantastic. It had a great crust on it and the sauce had a kick but with a smokey backend. It was right on!
This little puppy melted the socks right off my feet. Local Smoke BBQ brought their world-famous Smoked Jalapeno Poppers. When I saw the sign, I was intrigued. However, I have a problem with Jalapenos these days. You see, I’m getting kind of old and certain things just, well, tie me up into knots. They turn my body into a festival of terror. I actually start twitching when I see seeds sometimes. Once I was assured there were no seeds, I dug in and wowza! A hollow Jalapeno stuffed with a cream cheese and pulled pork filling, wrapped in dry-rubbed bacon and slow-smoked to perfection & served with BBQ ranch dipping sauce. Pop that sucker right in your mouth and your eyes immediately roll to the back of your head. You need to sit down. The layers of flavor melt all over your mouth. These things are a National Treasure. These things should be on every tv show in the land. These things are amazing.
Tyler Florence was in attendance at the fest as well. He brought up Paula and then later came out and mingled amongst the sweaty unwashed. When I say this guy was the nicest fellow I have come across, believe it. I approached him, told him my blog name and said maybe he should check it out and he repeated it back, and said he would. I got the feeling from him, well, he just might. He then asked if I wanted a picture and I snapped one of just him and then he insisted we take one together (of which I will spare you of because we both look like we just climbed out of a pool). I felt bad for him, he was wearing that chef coat and he was soaked all the way thru. But he stayed and took more pics, talked to people, signed autographs and all. I know they all get paid to be at these things but the guy is a trooper (and just as cute in person as he is on tv).
Zac Pelaccio is a world travelin’ dude. He’s written a book called “Eat With Your Hands” and pushes that exact idea: to get into with your food. He also owns 2 restaurants: Fatty Crab and Fatty Cue. This guy knows what’s what.
Zak was working with Amstel Light and made a Pork Burger with Twig Farm Goat Cheese, Citrus Mayo, and Onion Jam served on a soft rye burger bun.
It was juicy and very well seasoned. However, I am not a fan of goat cheese. I keep trying and trying but no go. The Ramsey’s really liked it tho, it seemed. I really wanna visit one of Zak’s places tho, they sound amazing. You can order a half pound of deep fried bacon!!
The biggest, brightest part of the day was from Dinosaur BBQ! I didn’t think it was the same one in Harlem, from which I have heard many fantastically awesome things from people I know. They didn’t mention that on the menu, they just mentioned Newark. Turns out, it was! And oh my dear mother of all that is good and holy on this planet and the next, this thing was transcendent.
Look close at the meat, you’ll see the smoke ring. Look closer and you’ll see how juicy that meat was. Look again and see the amazing sauce they laid on there. I walked away looking like a toddler who fought a plate of spaghetti and I did not care. Not one stinkin’ bit. It was that good. I was sweaty, tired, and covered in bbq sauce and it was some of the best BBQ meat I have ever had. Unreal. UNREAL.
Whew! So that was the Blues, Brews and BBQ event! I left there seeing BBQ everywhere I went. I should say that two of my favorite beer companies were there as well, Anderson Valley and Pyramid Brewing! Check them out when you get a chance, you will not be disappointed!
Thanks to the AC Food & Wine Fest crew for having me and thanks to Joe & The Ramseys for hanging out! It was a blast and I can’t wait for next year!
AC Food & Wine Fest: Redefine Cheesesteak
In the parking lot of the Showboat Casino, the AC Food and Wine Fest trucked on with “Redefine Cheesesteak”. And redefine they did.
Massive tents were set up in the parking lot and cheesesteaks were aplenty. Being from Philly, I am really picky as to how my steaks are, specifically that they resemble a cheesesteak or change the name. By definition, a cheesesteak is thinly sliced ribeye fried up with or without onions and served on a long roll with cheese of the american, provolone or whiz variety. Is it something I need to get over? Indeed. But I was able to bend enough to enjoy some of the offerings.
First up was Mike Scoats of The Grey Lodge and his merry band of steak slingers. The Grey Lodge is located on Frankford Ave in the Mayfair section of Philly and has a ridiculous amount of oddball beers and even hosts a Friday The Firkinteenth event on every Friday The Thirteenth that has just won Best Beer Event in Philly Magazine’s Best of Philly 2012! Mike has a great calendar full of fun things they do and an interesting menu full of outstandingly delicious food! He brought along his Lodge Steak for the masses to try: Rib-eye, Genoa salami, roasted pepper mayo & house cheese sauce. They cut their own steak, use quality imported salami and you can taste the handcraftedness. I guarantee you will not find a more unique steak in town. They could barely keep up with the demand of the people who came by and then returned, time and time again!
Next up is my friends at Tony Boloney’s! They won the Guy Fieri’s Cheesesteak Battle at The AC Food & Wine Fest in 2010 with their ridiculous Cheesesteak Ole’ and haven’t looked back since! If they sent Californian Fieri back home with the picture of the Ole’ in his head as to what a cheesesteak should be, then everyone is a winner! Their Cheesesteak Ole’ is actually a little more like a cheesesteak hoagie, but it’s still fantastic. It involves 10 spiced sirloin steak, pepperjack cheese & chipotle house sauce on top of lettuce and tomato. It all melds together to form what I like to call the Cheesesteak of Greatness. In all honesty, Tony Boloney’s, at 300 Oriental Ave and a stone’s throw fromt he Revel, is one solid reason to drive to AC. Keep an eye out for more of thier menu on this blog.
The Community Food Bank Of New Jersey had a stand and they weren’t messing around! A soft, buttery roll center stuffed with steak and perfectly cooked onions with a nice crumble of cheese of top made it one of my favorite steaks of the fest. I also love what they stand for: helping anyone who needs a hand in the area. They run a food service training academy, they run a whole kids division with a kids cafe (to feed kids who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to eat), a kids closet (clothing and coats), a backpack program and even a tools for schools program. They also distribute food, do catering and lots of other stuff. If you want to donate some money, sending them some cash would be a great move, or buy their new book “Cooking For Change: Tales from a Food Service Training Academy“. All proceeds benefit the Community Foodbank Of New Jersey! This is truly an organization that knows how to help people and help them move forward!
Percy Street BBQ come to the fight with their unreal take on the cheesesteak, which is not a cheesesteak at all. Frankly, I could care less because it blew my mind. Bercy Street BBQ sits on South Street in Philly between 9th and 10th streets, cranking out BBQ that, until recently, was only really available closer to the South. They understand what the ring is and they are dead serious about this fantastic meat.
The meat was carved in front of you and packed with delicious strips of it, and smothered with a creamy cheese sauce. Easily my favorite non-cheesesteak cheesesteak. Well, it’s actually a tie with..
This sandwich was unlike everything else at the fest! Definitely not a cheesesteak but definitely on my meat list! It was like juicy shredded potroast on a roll and I could not get enough of it. Unfortunately, I lost their business card and only remember that they were next to Tony Boloney.
I have to also mention that it was about 900 degrees that night. Eating cheesesteaks in that kind of heat does a number on your body. What helped was that there was plenty of beer, provided by Amstel Light, and plenty of booze, provided by Jameson, Jim Beam and Red Stag. Red Stag is a flavored whiskey that Beam is putting out. At first I found it to be a party foul of massive degrees to do such a thing, but after tasting it (the Black Cherry flavor), it’s actually kind of interesting.
Andrew Zimmern, of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, was the host of this shindig, and he is really the nicest guy ever. After talking onstage for a little bit, he hung out at his booth, making sandwiches for people, answering questions, taking pictures and overall being a very personable and cool dude.
It was super crazy hot and humid, like I said above and he very easily could have disappeared into his tent/trailer/hotelroom and retired for the night. He didn’t and that was very cool of him.
His offering at his table was a cheesesteak made, of course, of tongue. I found that funny, because, well, us Philadelphians are known for having big mouths. As you can see, it looks like a typical cheesesteak, with nice carmelized onions and green pepper strips. I have not had tongue before but I figured if Andrew can stand in that heat and cook it, I can stand there and chew it. It was a little chewy but the flavors were nice and subtle. The tongue itself has a really weird aftertaste that I didn’t particularly like, but I applaud the effort!
Here are some more cheesesteaks that were pretty awesome!
This steak from Carmine’s, the “Italian Cheesesteak” was pretty great, the meat was very juicy and the roll was deliciously chewy after it soaked up all the juices. two thumbs up!
Union Trust Steakhouse, at 7th and Chestnut in Center City Philly, was there too with thier very traditional but also awesome cheesesteak.
Square 1682 is a fancy pants restaurant in the also fancy Rittenhouse Square area of Center City. Thier little cheesesteak on a square bun (get it?) was amazing. It was like the big pot roast sandwich above but on a tiny little bun and covered with a delicious cheese sauce that was thick enough to stay on the meat but thin enough to roll around a little bit.
Lastly, but not leastly, was the Sammy D’s cheesesteak dumpling. As someone who used to make a cheesesteak pierogies, I have to say that these guys got it right. The meat was wrapped tight, with the cheese mixed in with the right proportions (too much and it’s cheese with a hint of meat, too little and it’s drier then a desert). Huzzah to Sammy D!
The event in general was pretty awesome: not too crowded but the chefs were all putting out top notch food for the crowds. My hat is off to Showboat and the organizers for putting together a fun event that clogged my arteries!
That brings the first half of Day 2 to rest. Stay tuned for the second half soon!
Atlantic City Food & Wine Fest: Pool Party!
For the past few years, the Food Network, along with Caesar’s Casino (and their other casinos: Showboat, Harrah’s & Bally’s) and a ton of sponsors, have thrown a huge Food and Wine Fest in Atlantic City. It’s a bunch of events over a few days revolving around food, booze and some music along with a bunch of Food Network personalities. It’s really a great excuse to meet some famous people, try some new foods and have a great time in AC. This year, DidjaEat? was invited to come and enjoy the festivities!
They started the weekend off with a Thursday night party at Harrah’s, at their cool indoor pool area. They try to advertise it as a pool club, which makes sense since the pool doesn’t seem to go over 4 feet in depth. No one actually went into the pool, except one chef who accidentally lit his pants on fire. The quick thinking DJ, DJ Vito G, played “Disco Inferno” just as the guy emerged out of the pool (would I have played “The Roof Is On Fire”? Probably. But then again, I am pretty lowbrow.). It was all I could do to not dive in because it was about 900 percent humidity and I drove down from Philly in my car with no AC.
The whole point of the kick off party is to give everyone a taste, literally and figuratively, of what the fest is offering this year. So, the Blues and Brews BBQ guys were serving up some pork tacos, the Re-Define Cheesesteak guys were serving up cheesesteaks and, well, you get the point.
Speaking of the BBQ, the Blues, Brews and BBQ guys had a big ol’ roast pig out on the table for all to see, along with some grilled corn (I took a skip on that because I cannot stand it when it gets all jammed up in my teeth, but it looked pretty awesome.) and delicious pork tacos. I had many, many of those. Unbelievably good! I can’t wait to go to that event and stuff my face full of BBQ!!
The DJ, who I mentioned above, really did a great job. I normally cannot stand loud dance music, but he mixed in some great old stuff and got people dancing in front of the DJ booth. The last hour, when people had really started feeling all the free drinks, busted out all the old stuff, starting with Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison and slid right thru all that late 80’s, early 90’s stuff. He knew his demographic and ran with it.
Even Anne Burrell was having a blast. While they kept her sort of behind a rope (to keep from people totally swallowing her up), she was dancing, having a great time and did not say no to one person who wanted a picture with her (and you had to use a flash because of the lighting, I can’t believe she wasn’t blind by the time she left). When the DJ played a special request of hers, she almost lost her mind. It was cool to see someone famous actually enjoying themselves with the fans, alcohol or no alcohol. I think Andrew Zimmern was supposed to be there too, but I didn’t see him.
Speaking of having a blast, the SteakHouse guys were not messing around. They had Dirty Grilled Flank Steak Bruschette with Jersey Tomatoes (note: if you have never had Jersey tomatoes, seriously, go get some.), a Goat Cheese spread and microgreens. I loved it so much but I would have liked it better without the Goat Cheese. I don’t know what it is with that, but I get a very weird after taste that makes me gag. I wonder if that’s what it’s like for people who can’t eat cilantro? I don’t know, but the rest of it was mouth-watering.
There was a stand that was all about the desserts. Oh yeah. Mini strawberry shortcakes, mini chocolate awesomeness, raspberry & berry with a gel in the middle and even a cool green gelee’ that looked like a votive candle but tasted like clouds.
The chocolate thing in the corner was almost mind bending. It was layers of chocolate with a hard chocolate base. So good.
My favorite thing is one I actually didn’t get to take a picture of, I ate it too fast. It was a tiny brownie type cupcake with caramel in the middle. It was topped with some sort of whipped cream and dusted with caramel dust. Unreal.
One of the more delicious of the savory things was something we don’t eat too much of on the east coast down below New England: The Lobster Roll. Usually the Lobster Roll is chopped lobster mixed with some mayo and maybe some relish and served on a bun that’s not unlike a hot dog roll. Well, they made an appearance at the Pool Party in Parker House rolls! They were absolutely amazing. Buttery, fresh and packed full of lobster meat. I had many, many of these (“Lady, she’s puttin’ my kids thru college!”).
Another thing I had that is a favorite of mine that I was expecting to appear somewhere close to this fest is the Cheesesteak. I am from Philly, I live in Philly and I think I swallowed a bit of Philly one day when I was sleeping with my mouth open. It was either that or a fly, I can’t tell. Either way, I know a cheesesteak. I can point you to not only good cheesesteak places (and no, not Pat’s or Geno’s. Those places are tourist traps. If you are from Philly, the only time you go there is if it’s after 2 am and you are shitfaced. Seriously.), but specific ones in a certain area of the city (ie: going to the Northeast? Hit up Chink’s on Torresdale Ave. Going to Roxborough area? Hit up Dellasandro’s, etc. etc. etc.).
Cheesesteaks are on the upswing these days, called “Philly Cheesesteaks”. When I see that, I get suspicious. It usually means that the people making them aren’t from Philly and might not know what they are doing. It’s easy to screw up something so simple to make. There was a stand making cheesesteaks on Parker House rolls and Cheesesteak eggrolls.
The bun was nice and fresh and I get that they are doing a new spin on the cheesesteak (“Redefining Cheesesteak”) but the meat was a little too chopped up for me. It sort of reminded me of the cheesesteaks from high school. I applaud the effort tho, and the servers and the guys working behind the table were super nice, very efficient in the plating and overall looked like they were having a good time.
The cheesesteak eggroll was a little different. The cheese was not inside the roll, as they were appetizer sized eggrolls, not what you think of when you think eggroll. But, considering how many had to be made, it makes sense. It would have cost them a bazillion bucks to make full size ones for all those people. They were tasty tho, and served with the cheese at the bottom of the cup for dipping (later on they used paper boats, but the little cups I thought were cool.).
They fried them to order and were blazing hot but still pretty good. I could give them some tips on putting cheesesteak in things, as I used to make some kick ass cheesesteak pierogies. Gimmie a call, guys!
So, after sitting down and relaxing for a while, I made one more trip around the pool and decided my time at the Pool Party had come to an end. I think it was when the DJ played “Ice, Ice, Baby” but I could be wrong. I had to rest up for the rest of the weekend and digest all the awesomeness I had consumed over the course of the night. On the way out I spotted a really cool sand sculpture, smiled…and burped. Whoo, time for a nap. See you on friday, Food and Wine Fest!