Due to a glitch in WordPress and Libsyn, I didn’t realize episode 10 did not post!
Episode 10 is with Blake Wexler, a friend of mine from comedy in Philly. He now lives in LA and works on the show Review and also is hilarious! Oh, and he can eat like he has 2 hollow legs. He was in town opening for Todd Glass at Helium Comedy Club. We had a small surprise pop in. Can you guess who it was?
Have a listen!
Episode 11 is with Chef Wes Lieberher. Wes is a displaced Philly guy living in LA. He is the head chef at Beer Belly and also at Whiz. Check out his restaurants and lsiten to this great interview. A very chill dude, indeed. Special shout out to JP Boudwin for turning me onto Beer Belly and helping me get ahold of Wes too!
Have a listen!
You can also subscribe on iTunes!
A few weeks ago I was scheduled to do some standup at the F Harold Festival in downtown Philly. I was super early and parked a few blocks away so I could get some dinner at the famed Jake’s Sandwich Board.
I guess I’m on a sandwich roll lately (no pun intended). I’ve heard some crazy stuff about this place, and it is mostly known for it’s awesome pork and brisket as well as it’s Jake’s 5 pound Philly Challenge:
I would love to someday kill that challenge but frankly, I’m too much of a wuss to do it these days. NEVER SAY NEVER!!! *insert fist shake here*.
The menu at Jake’s is pretty awesome. They offer everything on either a seeded, unseeded or wheat roll from a bakery in South Philly. Got gluten issues or are on atkins? Have your sandwich in a bowl, or in a bowl on greens or in a bowl on fries (called a haystack!). Roll it or Bowl it! That’s thinkin’ when it comes to customers!
As you can see, they break it down to pork, brisket, steaks, and then other favorites. I stood staring at the board for quite awhile, catching flies with my jaw on the floor. The worst part of trying to order is when you are starving and one of everything sounds good. My problem was that I was going to be telling jokes to a (mostly disinterested) crowd of people and I didn’t need to be belching into the mic (altho, that might be an added jewel to my set…). I needed something filling and delicious but not super heavy. Decisions, decisions.
I went with, surprise, the Midtown Chicken. It has sliced chicken breast, roasted red pepper, avocado puree, red onion, cheddar and mozzarella. I got it on a seeded bun, for kicks. Yes, there is a kick ass sandwich under those onions.
The chicken is chopped more then sliced, but really that’s just nit picking. Sometimes when you get sandwiches like this, the chicken is dry from sitting around or overcooking on the flat top. Not this guy. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, and mixed well with all the other ingredients, it was like a festival of luscious delight in my mouth (take that, thesaurus.com).
I mean seriously, look at this picture and tell me it doesn’t immediately make you start drooling all over yourself. The roasted red pepper blended into the cheese which blended into the chicken and the avocado was a smooth transition into the roll. Unreal. So good.
And then I started thinking to myself, what could make this sandwich even better? Not the orange soda I ordered, that had brought it to the level I was currently at. I needed to jack it up another notch. Bring it way, way up. it needed some heat. Where could I get some heat? NEED HEAT!
And then this stuff shows up.
It’s some kind of hot shaker habanero powdered hot craziness. I covered the top of my sandwich with it and my eyes bugged out like Tom on Tom and Jerry when Jerry would smash his foot with a bowling ball. Whoooooo! (yeah with the name of St. Lucifer, you’d think I would have been tipped off. I’m not that bright, ya know.)
I left Jake’s feeling good about my food choice. I didn’t feel like death while waiting to go onstage (I mean, not more so then usual) and I can’t wait to go back and check out the brisket & chocolate covered bacon! Oh yeah!
If you find yourself in the area of 12th and Sansom, swing on over and check it out.
I know I’ll be back!
I grew up in the neighborhood next door to Fishtown, and frankly, it has come leaps and bounds from where it was when I was a kid. Let’s just say teeth were optional back then. Anywho, there are so many new places to eat, it’s hard to even keep track of what’s opening. So when I heard there was a new diner opening, I had to check it out, because, man, I love diner food.
Mugshots opened, a bit behind schedule, in the 2424 building on York street. It’s actually not a free standing diner, it is on the first floor of the building, with office and artist spaces above it.
Hot Mess Hess went with me to get some dinner before we hit a local comedy show at Urban Saloon in Fairmount. And yes, we were HUNGRY.
Walking into the diner, I was struck by how clean, happy and bright the place was. Yes, they did just build it, but I am used to diners where the years of grime are part of the character. Plus, do you really hear the words “new diner” often? Nope. The motif of this place is, yes, mugshots. So the walls are littered with celebrity mugshots. I sat under Bill Gates. The booths are cool vinyl blue and yellow and really are reminiscient of 50’s diners without being too in your face Happy Days retro.
The menu was large but not too big, with interesting appetizers, which is always a favorite thing of mine. We decided on Pork Tostadas ($9) to share for an appetizer. They stack 3 shells and fill them with chipotle cream, sour cream, diced tomato, red onion, sliced cabbage, cilantro and pork. They were pretty great. The pork was full of the bbq sauce and it was really messy to eat, not that that is a bad thing. The waitress didn’t give us plates for it tho, so we got it all over the place. Looking back, we should have asked
for plates. All the ingredients were fresh, bright and delicious. There might have been some hand stabbing for the last few bites. It was nice to see a place understand that you can fry your own tortillas and not just grab them out of a bag.
I should mention here how nice the wait staff was. The plate thing aside, our waitress was really on the ball, and everyone who worked there was pleasant, but not in a stepford wives sort of way. Any questions I had about the menu were answered promptly, and when I asked about food she had not eaten, I was given a great answer of “I haven’t had it but *soandso* (pointing) did and they like it”, which I like better then I lie or a shrug with an “I don’t know”.
For our dinners, I got the Reuben Sandwich. The rye bread was nice and warmed from the melted cheese and there was a nice amount of delicious, medium cut corned beef (too thin and it disappears and too thick and you are chewing for 3 days). The cheese was, as cheese always is, delicious (it knows it’s role) and plentiful (sometimes when you order a Reuben, they skimp on the cheese). The kraut was basically out of the bag, but it worked with the sandwich. What I found peculiar was that the russian dressing was on the side. Normally on a Reuben, it’s on the bread, under the kraut. I just used all that was there and covered the whole thing before I dug in. Yes, it looked odd to me, but was still great.
Hot Mess Jess got herself her standard grilled chicken sandwich with mayo. A grilled chicken sandwich is a grilled chicken sandwich, there’s not too much you can do to pretty it up.
It’s a (not so) secret in the food biz to buy meats with grill marks that are frozen and then just warm them up either in the microwave or quickly on the flat top. That chicken seemed to me to actually have been grilled. It was also (yeah I had a bite) juicy and a thick piece of chicken. Even the roll was a bit toasty. Finally, I go out to eat with Hot Mess quite a bit, and we always ask for extra mayo (we ordered fries too, which I didn’t take a picture of because, well, fries are fries. They were hot, they were cooked perfectly, they were delicious) for fries. Sometimes that means a small shotglass of mayo. Sometimes that means they wheel out the 5 gallon jug of Admiration mayo (my fave but still a bit much). Our waitress brought us out a big dish for each of us. Gold stars for her!!
Finally, because we are gluttons, we had a piece of Oreo cheesecake. It was everything it says it is: cheesecake with Oreos in it. It was smooth, creamy and hit the spot.
Not to say it was easy to pick a dessert, apparently they make all thier desserts in house and they have a truckful! Pies, cakes, cookies, all sorts of stuff.
On our way out, we walked past, who I believe is the owner, who was visiting with all the tables asking if everything was alright, if they enjoyed thier food and stuff. When he asked us if things were ok, we told him yes, and then I asked him why the dressing for the reuben was on the side, that I found that odd even tho I still enjoyed it. He told me that they were finding that some people liked the dressing on there, and some people did not like the dressing at all, so they decided to just put it on the side. It was nice to see a place listen to thier customers, like the gang over at PYT.
Finally, our bill was about 35 bucks, which is acceptable for 2 people, in my opinion.
So, if you find yourself in Fishtown, check out Mugshots. The food is good, not too expensive, there is ok parking around the building and the owner is on top of stuff. Good stuff.
Here is thier new commercial, check it out!
Ok, so if you read this food blog at all, you might have picked up that I enjoy a sandwich, but almost never, ever from a chain sandwich shop. Specifically, a nationwide sandwich shop. I try them, because I am not only a glutton, but a glutton for punishment, alas, it never goes well. The meat is gross or the bread tastes like recycled cardboard. Nasty. Granted, I live in the Capital of Sandwichland (aka Philly) and we do it right. But still, I keep looking. Hope, it spring eternal, or something.
Potbelly is a company out of Chicago (a sister glutton city of Philly). They toast their bread before they make your sandwich. Actually, it isn’t so much toasted as it is thoroughly warmed through. This makes an unbelievable difference in the bread. Ever put your socks in the microwave? It’s like that. A warm hug. (Try it). It’s not toasted like a grinder, where you take a bite of literally toasted bread and it all falls apart and you scratch the roof of your mouth so bad that all you can eat is milkshakes for a few days and you get that one piece of roof skin that drives you nuts (I hate it when that happens. This is why I had to stop eating Captain Crunch.)
Anywho, there is a Potbelly close to my work, and the other day I ventured in. The place is kind of neat, with mismatched table sizes and they had a sign saying they even have local musicians come and play. I thought that was supportive for a chain restaurant. They have a hanging menu for all to peruse. They have 3 sizes for the sandwiches: Original, Skinny (less meat and cheese on thin cut bread) and the Big (with 30% more meat and cheese). You can even get the sandwiches on “thin cut” bread, which is a nice wink to people watching thier carb intake. They will even make their sandwiches on a salad for you if you’d like. I didn’t try one but I saw a lady walk out with one and it was the size of a medium sized soccer ball.
Ordering is interesting. You walk up to the counter and tell them what sandwich you want, what size and what kind of roll (multigrain or regular). Then you scoot down, maybe pick up some chips and tell the next person how you’d like it: condiments, bacon, whatevs. Then they hand it to you and you get a fountain drink or just pay for what you have. They have plenty of snacky stuff too like brownies and cookies and whatnot.
A very cool thing this place has is in it’s fountain drink offerings. Usually, a chain will make a deal for either Coke products or Pepsi products. Very rarely will the two meet. I know people who will go to specific places and avoid others, just to be able to get the fountain drink of thier choice. I am happy to say that Potbelly gets you and your craving for fizzy beverages by offering BOTH. And also Dr. Pepper! And sugar free Minute Maid Lemonade! Two thumbs up for choices!
But seriously, let’s get down to business. We all know I got the biggest thing on the menu. In this case, it’s called A Wreck. It comes with: Salami, Roast Beef, Turkey, Ham & Swiss Cheese. I also got lettuce, tomato, onion (it’s almost a salad!) and sweet peppers along with extra mayo. And yes, in a Big size (please note the straw on the sandwich wrap for scale). This thing isn’t a monster but it’s warm and snuggly and delicious.
Sometimes you order extra mayo and all you get is a head nod from whoever is making the thing. The girl who made mine knew what extra mayo is and gave it to me, like a Christmas present I hoped for all year (I can almost hear my cardiologist planning his next European getaway). As you can see here, even with the Big size, they aren’t crazy with the meat and cheese. In fact, the salami is kind of lost in there. They do give you the option of ordering extra meat and cheese, but the drink and the sandwich cost about 9 bucks total and that’s about as high as I’ll go for lunch. Ok, maybe 10 bucks. Still, this is it.
The bread is the real star here. Like I had said earlier, it is very close to amazing. With a hoagie roll, you want a chewy inside with a slightly more done outside. It also has to have depth of flavor or you end up with crap (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Johns). This bread made me do a little dance in my chair. It soaked up some of that mayo and sweet pepper juice with ease. You know you have a winner when you get to that last bite and it has soaked up all those things and has just a little bit of meat and cheese left with like 2 pieces of lettuce hanging on…and it is the absolute best bite ever.
The funny part is that I do not want to know the details of this bread. They say it’s a secret and I am ok with that. It’s an amazingly, delicious secret and Potbelly has made me think that perhaps someone outside of Sandwichland might have a sandwich clue.
Keep it up Potbelly! I can’t wait to go back!
I went back and had the exact same delicious Wreck a few days later. So good! And the staff at the Potbelly on 17th between Market and JFK are super nice.
I first came across Tony Boloney’s in AC when I covered the AC Beer Fest. They blew me away with their Cheesesteak Ole’ and their Reuben Pizza. Unreal. Plus, I loved the fact that they understood marketing (see their blue truck (that will come and cater your event!) with the giant moustaches and their mascot, an old school chef with said handlebar moustache) and had fun with it as well. I swore I would get to their shop on Oriental Ave, 2 blocks up from the Revel, and I finally did!
I tried to have a few things from the menu, starting with the Reuben Frio! Where to begin? Let’s start with the bread. When making fantastic, mind-blowing sandwiches, you need a good base to keep things from falling apart 3/4’s of the way in. Tony’s hits it out of the park with rolls from A. Rando’s Bakery, the oldest bakery in AC and the 3rd oldest Italian bakery in the country! And wow, what a roll! Chewy, crusty, lovely goodness! It’s had to find a roll that doesn’t feel like it is taking over the whole show, and Tony’s did.
Ok, so the sandwich. Whew! Beautifully thick-cut Pastrami, not skimpy on the kraut, thousand island dressing to keep it moist and just enough Muenster cheese to keep this puppy on track and I fell in love. A theme you’ll find in this article is “not skimpy”. In the times we live in here, which are recession times, food places try and cut corners by inching the prices up and lowering the amount of ingredients. This sandwich was brimming with meat and kraut! I feel like this thing was created in the 80’s when everything was overstuffed and then time traveled right to my table. And man, I am way ok with that!
Next up, was my absolute favorite: The Sh#tfaced!
This thing is a straight up knock out. I would eat this everyday for the rest of my life and not bat an eye, that’s how good it is! Beer battered chicken with a Stout Honey BBQ sauce. That’s so many flavors and textures working together, it actually short circuits your taste buds for a second. The beer batter (which is not very heavy at all) plus the sauce, which is just a little bit sweet and a little bit buttery and a whole lot heavenly. Oh, and it’s got melted Mozzarella and Cheddar on it too, just in case you needed some more awesome to go with it! You owe it to yourself to try this thing, it is absolutely mind-blowing. And if that’s not enough! You can also get it on a pizza!
Moving on to another work of art, meet The Po’ Doc Carver! Deliciously fried chicken with a house made Chipotle sauce and covered in a smoked Mozzarella that’ll spoil you on regular mozz for life! Toss in some lettuce and tomato and you got yourself a rainbow of texture, aromas and deliciousness.
Now, Tony Boloney’s isn’t just sandwiches, they also make some unreal pizzas as well! When I popped in, I picked up a slice of the Carnival Freak. The pizza at Tony’s is unlike most, it’s a crispier crust and is nice and light but still have the cojones to carry whatever sick and twisted ideas that owner Mike Hauke has up his sleeve.
The Carnival Freak has breadcrumbs on the crust, herbs to keep that flavor palate hoppin’, Mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and a marinara that bent my brain, it was that good! I know it sounds odd that there are breadcrumbs on the crust, but it adds to the impressive texture of the pizza as a whole.
What really impresses me about the pizzas at Tony’s is that they understand that not all of the toppings need to fill the entire slice. Don’t get me wrong, I completely enjoy an everything pie once in a while, where you get a bite of all the toppings in each bite, but that doesn’t work with a lot of different combos of pies. In this one, you get some marinara and some ricotta in one bite, then some mozz and herbage in another, and so on. It’s really a delight.
Finally, I also ordered The Crab Fries! Chickie and Pete’s serves frozen crinkle cut fries with some Old Bay and melty American cheese in the side. Tony’s serves Crab fries with CRAB on them, along with some butter, Old Bay and Mozzarella cheese! They were pretty kick ass, and again, NOT skimpy with the Crab!
The cheese went all he way thru and the butter gave it a delicious smoothness that combined with the Old Bay to dance around the fries and hug it with awesome. Seriously. Awesome.
So, you might be wondering, after reading this review of Tony Boloney’s, if there was anything I didn’t like about this place. The answer, honestly, is no. they even offer awesome sugar cane sodas like Boylan’s along with the usual suspect sodas. The tables were clean, and at the right heights so you don’t feel like you are sitting on the floor when you are eating. Don’t feel like sitting inside? Sit outside on the picnic tables and get some fresh air while ya eat.
Even the staff was awesome. I am a bad order-er in places. It takes me more time then it should to order (I think my brain shorts out when there is too much choice and my friends all make fun of me for it) and this guy, who was working himself behind the counter and juggling like 9 things at once, was super nice and didn’t at all try to hurry me along. In fact, he answered all my stupid questions with ease and didn’t bat an eye when I ordered enough food to feed 9 people “for here”. I was thinking he was the twin of that one guy from the show House, but he is not. What I am saying, is that this place has it covered: great food, great customer service, and a cool place to eat!
You would be cheating yourself if you didn’t check this place out on your next trip to AC! 300 Oriental Avenue, right on the corner! Look for the blue and the big moustache!
Philadelphia, where I am from, live and love, is a town known for cheesesteaks (And soft pretzels and other stuff. But the media focuses on cheesesteaks. Whatever). So when you can look forward to something as awesome as a cheesesteak, nothing else really compares. Chicago has hotdogs (big deal) and New England has lobster rolls (a little pinchy) but none of that stuff has ever really taken hold here. So when burger places started popping up, I was intrigued. All we have ever really had was the run of the mill chain places, and frankly, I love a good burger. The good folks at PYT do an awesome job, Bobby’s Burger Palace is pretty great and even Shake Shack became a favorite for me. I even visited the Holy Grail of Hamburgers, In and Out Burger (nine thumbs up!).
When people started telling me I HAD to go to Five Guys, I was a little skeptical. It looked, from the outside, kinda cheesy. They had giant 50 pound bags of potatoes stacked up with a sign telling you what farm and state they were from. They had boxes of peanuts for the people to munch on. But besides that, it was just a red and white place that was a little sparse. I had heard that you either liked it or hated it. I heard lots of things. I never got over there. On the last day at my old job, I ventured out with Brian and Jen to the Five Guys in Moorestown and, um, almost hurt myself.
First of all, let me say that if you have a peanut allergy, or are planning on taking anyone to this place with a peanut allergy, dont. They have a giant box of peanuts (altho not in a bathtub, oh I miss you Ground Round) for you to eat while waiting. Jen and Brian ordered like humans, and I was assured that one order of fries would be
enough for all 3 of us. I, on the other hand, not knowing anything about the menu, ordered like an animal. 2 burgers: a cheeseburger and a bacon cheeseburger. We self served our beverages and had a seat.
I was informed that the one order of fries would be enough and I figured they would have alot of fries. I’m not a huge fry fan so I shrugged it off…. then I saw the size of the order of fries.
Brian said there was a lot of fries but yeah, I was not prepared. The amount of fries came to the second band of red checkers on that cup. Holy portion control, Batman. Seriously. Wow. And they do come right in the brown paper bag. Before you say “Ew!”, brown paper absorbs oil and grease so that your food stays hot but it doesn’t swim in the residual grease form the fryer and get soggy. In the South, when people make fried chicken, they pop the finished product on folded brown paper bags as well. It’s almost an unspoken industry secret.
The fries themselves weren’t bad. They fry everything in Peanut Oil (and I am sure make a tidy profit selling the oil to a secondary market), so the fries aren’t exactly crunchy, but a little oily and chewy. Some people like fries like that and some, well, don’t. I am on the fence.
I had a fistful of fries but I didn’t go back for too many. But kudos for Five Guys offering malt vinegar for the fries! That was a surprising touch and all three of us enjoyed it.
The burgers on the other hand. Yeah, wow. First of all, here is a tip: if it doesn’t say “little” in front of it, it’s a double burger. I, like I had said, ordered 2 burgers and didn’t realize I’d be eating 2 double burgers. You see what I do for you people? This is what I do for journalism! And for my cardiologist (who apparently will be buying a new boat soon! Called “The DidjaEat?!”)!
The burgers are wrapped in a simple aluminum foil wrap (with stickers to tell them apart). That saves them big overhead on custom printed wrap (So far they have saved on things to put fries in, recycling oil and now burger wrap. Pretty crafty.). Opening this thing up, you have to grin. It’s got handmade written all over it. When you order, there is a laundry list of toppings you can get (for free!). I got mayo, lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
The pickles were thick, the tomatoes were thick cut and fresh and the iceberg lettuce was nice and crunchy. But I am sure you don’t care that much about the toppings, you care about the MEAT!
First off, the bacon was not skimpy and it was not cheap, crappy bacon. It was delicious and you could taste that it hadn’t been cooked too far behind the burger. The burger itself Jen said was juicy and I agree wholeheartedly. It was juicy and delicious. There wasn’t a whole bunch of crap mixed in, no pink slime, no trimmings, no cow meat (just steer and heifer meat, so says the website). Even the cheese was perfect. Needless to say, there was very little conversation while we were chewing.
The regular cheeseburger (the same as the bacon cheeseburger, but without the bacon and tomato) was pretty excellent as well. Jen and Brian gnawed on fries while I, again, complained about what I do for JOURNALISM! They nodded knowingly, with my Mom and Cardiologist on speed dial. They are good friends that way.
Also, a word about the bun. The bun is always the unsung hero of a good burger. Have a crappy one and halfway thru it’s in 9 pieces. Have a stale one and it falls apart. Too chewy and you end up ripping it when you take a bite. This bun was perfect. it stood up to the burger and kept the whole mess in place without ripping, falling apart or dissolving form the grease. Two thumbs up for the best bun I have had in awhile
If I would have had to reorder the food, I would not have had 2 double burgers, but frankly, that was my stupid fault for not checking it out before we got there. I did not have to eat for the rest of the day tho, so that’s something, right?
So, let’s talk about price. I wouldn’t exactly say the Five Guys was cheap. If you wanted to get the same thing at McDonald’s, it would have been about 10 bucks cheaper (in Meal form). But then again, the meat isn’t nearly as delicious. For 4 Double burgers (with as many free toppings as you can stuff on there), the giant vat of fries that they almost had to wheel out on a hand truck and 3 large (all you can drink) sodas, it cost about 40 bucks. I probably wouldn’t eat there everyday (because I’d like to live to 40), but I have to say it was worth the money. Jen and Brian, who had been there before, really liked it too.
I say, if you are looking for a quick lunch that is something a little different, hit them up! Fresh burgers, clean restaurant, and a small business instead of a giant conglomerate who puts god knows what in the burgers? If it’s not In and Out, the go Five Guys!
This summer was ungodly hot and humid. At one point it even almost killed my car. At one point it almost killed me (100+ degree weather plus no ac in the car is no good for anyone, including an overweight jackass who has to drive to AC from Philly). While I am not looking forward to winter and all it’s bs that comes along with it, I do love fall. My birthday was this week and usually right after that (or after I recover from my hangover) Fall creeps in. I got my first look at it when my neighbor had a big bag of candy corn (that, much like Lewis Black says, tastes like crap but I eat it every year). My second look at Fall was that the Wawa Gobbler has returned!!
For those of you who don’t live within an hour of Philadelphia (or now in Florida!), Wawa is what some might call a convenience store. Using the word convenience store, you think of 7-11, which is correct and very, very wrong. Wawa has all the things a convenience store has, along with awesome freshly made food. A night out is not the same without stopping into the store to pick up a hoagie, and a morning after is usually soothed by a breakfast sandwich. Everyone has a favorite, and they have some awesome seasonal favorites, which brings us to The Gobbler!!
The Gobbler is a sandwich that we have all made: the Thanksgiving sandwich! Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy.
Most places make them with lunchmeat turkey that has just taken a quick dip in some kind of salty, gross neon gravy. Not this turkey! It is thicker cut for some bite and they aren’t skimpy with it!
The stuffing has some seasoning in it, and it tastes like it came off of someone’s kitchen table, as opposed to just slapped together. Now, I am not naive, I know there isn’t some little old lady in the back making turkeys and stuffing for all of us. But I like the fact that they try and don’t just make a tub of salt and slap it on a roll.
Anyway, the gravy is excellent too, and it is not, as some gravy bought in stores ca be, a salt bomb. it’s actually tasty and really pulls together the whole sandwich. It also seeps into the roll and makes a home within it, oozing in over, under and around the ingredients. My absolute favorite part is the cranberry sauce, which has real actual cranberries in it! See them in the picture? Oh yeah!
When you order a sandwich at Wawa, it’s all computerized, so you can customize it any way you want. I added pepperjack cheese and creamy horseradish sauce. Delish! The flavors mingled like a drunken wedding party at 2am. Strictly speaking, the sandwich is happiness on a roll. Get one if ya can!
Being a life long resident of Philly, I have to say I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to New York. Besides the ridiculous NYC attitude, it is seriously irritating the way they seem to assume that the whole world revolves around them (ps nyc: your town smells like pee). So when I heard that the burger place that is all the rage up there was coming to Philly, I shrugged. Yes, I shrugged. I shrugged when someone said “You gotta check out Shake Shack“.
First of all, expensive burger places are nothing new around here. In fact, Jose Garces’s Village Whiskey was going to be right across the street from the proposed eatery, and they have expensive burgers as well, along with about 900 kinds of whiskey (true story). Plus, there is PYT in the Piazza, Bobby’s Burger Palace, Good Dog and a million other places. One more overrated burger joint wasn’t going to get me excited.
Aaaaand then I went there…twice.
One night after doing the open mic at Helium Comedy Club, my friend Hot Mess Jess mentioned to me that we should stop at Shake Shack. It would be an easy stop because it happens to be on the corner of the block where Helium lives. I mulled it over for about 6 seconds and off we went. Usually there is a giant line outside the place, but we got lucky and it was almost empty since it was around 10pm. We did get a pager, ala The Olive Garden, but the wait was only maybe 8 minutes or so.
The place is pretty standard as far as burger joints go. The menu is giant and bolted to the wall, like the one at Bobby’s Burger Palace. There are a few booths and some tables and some high tops to sit at as well. They have a liquor license so you can get a beer with your burger if you choose (they have outdoor seating but as of the day I went the second time, you still couldn’t take the booze outside yet. I think they are waiting for the permit).
I got the Double ShackBurger for $7.10. It comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ShackSauce. Hot Mess Jess got ShackStack, a burger with a fried Portobello mushroom on it. We also split some fries.
First off, let’s talk about the Double ShackBurger. Let’s start with the condiments. The lettuce was fresh, the tomato was juicy, the cheese was…cheesy. I still don’t really know what Shack Sauce is, but it’s a nice mild addition to anything. The bun was spongy enough to hold the mess of a burger but not over chewy. More on that in a bit.
The meat. Oh, the meat. The menu says that they use “100% Angus Beef without any added hormones or antibiotics.”. But is it good? The answer is an unequivical HELL YES.
For years, chefs on tv have been telling people that all you need is a little salt and a little pepper to season a burger. There is a reason for this! Let the flavor of the meat shine! The people at the Shack understand this. Grind it, lightly season it, patty it, flat top it (no pressing or squeezing please) and serve it up. If you looked up “kick ass juicy burger” on dictionary.com, this burger would be pictured prominently. With a big blinking frame around it. And a little band playing a jig. And possibly some fireworks. Yeah. It’s that good. Oh, and they cook all burgers to medium unless otherwise specified. Do yourself a favor and just take it the way it’s meant to be: Welcome to flavor country!
Hot Mess Jess also had an interesting burger. One patty of meat and one patty of Portobello mushroom. She loved it and said it was delicious! You can also order it without the meat (as The ‘Shroom Burger) and have a very fine vegetarian burger! If the bun is vegan (and I am not sure if it is), you could even have an awesome vegan shroom burger with the L&T and they also offer pickle and onion. As you can see, they are not skimpy with the sauce!
One incredibly smart thing I noticed while stuffing my face full of delicious meat was The Hinge. I don’t know if they do this on purpose, or if it just happens with the buns they use but it is GENIUS! You see, the burger is really juicy, the melty cheese is messy and it could end up being quite a mess. And overall, it is a bit messy (neat eaters need not apply). However! With a regular bun, things start sliding around (and sometimes right out the back, which is why you need to eat burgers without The Hinge with The Claw, which is something I will write about some other time) and then you end up with a a disproportionate bun to meat ratio. That makes me angry, like, Hulk angry. MUST SMASH BURGER! HULK SMASH MESSY BURGER!!…ahem…anyway…This bun has a hinge on the back. It keeps the top and bottom from sliding around and it also catches a lot of that juice and cheese so that when you are done, it’s like a sponge of deliciousness. It is also a sponge of genius-ness!
We also got some fries on the side. They were good…basically for crinkle fries that I am sure some kid in the back had to either cut or defrost. They don’t salt them, which I find odd and a little irritating because they come out right away (for the most part), and fresh out of the fryer fries are the best to hit with just a little bit of salt. But, at $2.65, they weren’t bad.
A few weeks later, I revisited Helium with my friend Jackie O to see some friends in a showcase show, and she suggested that we stop at Shake Shack as well after the show. Who am I to say no to my friends? Plus, Jackie is the best! We both got some burgers, but we also got something else they do at Shake Shack. Yeah, this place is not a one trick pony.
They offer something called a Concrete: dense frozen custard blended at high speed with things mixed in. You can make your own but they also have set ones they have that you can order. Jackie O and I both ordered The Center City Pretzel (Vanilla Custard, Philly Style Soft Pretzel, Caramel Sauce, Marshmallow Sauce and Banana).
This thing was pretty kick ass. The Caramel and Marshmallow Sauces kind of blend together, and the banana mingles around the middle, but it all somehow comes together and is dotted inside and out with pieces of pretzel. Be warned however, it is more of a Super Pretzel then a real Philly Soft Pretzel. There is a big difference, but in this case it does work. It would be cool if Shake Shack worked with a local vendor, like PYT does to make their pretzel rolls for the cheesesteak burger, but that’s up to them I suppose.
Anyway, the frozen custard is blended smoothly and each bite feels like you are mingling with all the ingredients. While doing a blend isn’t anything new (Dairy Queen’s been doing blizzards foreeeverrrr), they are doing it well. At $4.25 for a half and $6.50 for a regular, it might be a little high but worth every penny.
So, while I wouldn’t eat at Shake Shack every day (mostly because I’d be dead by the end of the month), it is on my list of places to visit if I am in the area. It might not be as internationally known like Capogiro or the Jose Garces’ place Village Whiskey across the street but it does what it does well! Try and hit it on an off hour and there won’t be much of a wait (I spontaneously combust if I wait in lines for too long for stupid things). I also found that the prices were in line with what they were offering, perhaps on the high side, but the flavors make it worth the trip and the lightening of your wallet.
I didn’t grow up eating a lot of frozen food type stuff. I’m old enough to still remember Swanson dinners in the foil trays when I was really little, but only maybe a few times. I was, indeed intrigued at the idea of eating dessert first (or just dessert in general, we didn’t really do that). Besides that, it was mostly frozen waffles or frozen vegetables.
As I got older and microwave stuff started popping up, I ate some of that when I hung out with my friends at my friend Melissa’s Grandmom Floss’s house. She always stocked her fridge with cool stuff and when we stayed over to watch Headbanger’s Ball, we would eat frozen microwaved french fries, burgers and other assorted stuff. I never really liked it that much, but it was interesting to try it as the food science got closer to making microwaved food suck less. For those of you who are in your lower twenties, trust me, it used to be oh so much worse.
So after a movie the other night, I was driving home and didn’t feel like cooking, ordering out or eating fast food, so I popped into the local Target and decided to pick up a little pizza. What I found was a big selection, a lot bigger then I was thinking of having to choose from. It ranged from the Mama Celeste $1 pizzas (which are good but it freaks me out that the cheese is not cheese), to the “gourmet” frozen pizzas. I decided to go right in the middle and get a “Red Baron Feast For One”.
This thing intrigued me from the get-go. first of all, on the box there is a nice looking picture of the pizza, but there is also a picture of some guy.
I thought maybe the guy was a contest winner or maybe a member of a winning sports team that Red Baron had sponsored. It doesn’t really fit with the graphic design of the box, so I figured it had to be something, right?
I also liked the idea that they put “Exclusively Prepared, Microwave Ready” on the box. Since it is 2012 and not 1980, I would hope that a frozen pizza would be ok in the microwave. Maybe it’s just me. It’s like the guys in the graphics department were really high and decided that everyone needed to know…it’s ok to put in the microwave!
So when I turned the box over to check out the cooking instructions, I found out who the guy was…he was nobody. More specifically, he was someone, just not anyone.
You see, according to the box, this pizza was made for BIG APPETITES! The pictures were of dudes being dudes. Being goofy, licking sauce from a finger, riding a crazy bike, looking mischievous. These are all things you’d do before eating a frozen pizza! Of course! For a minute I wondered if I could eat this thing. I mean, I’m not a dude. I did just come back from seeing Batman. But otherwise, I didn’t do anything remotely dude like. Oh wait, I did spit my gum into the street on the way in because coughed and almost choked. Ok, so I guess that qualifies me. Score!
I wonder what a women’s pizza box would have the girls on the pictures doing. Well, first it would probably say something like “Hey Girls! Got PMS like a fiend and need a pizza that you can stuff in your face while watching Steel Magnolias in minutes? Well this pizza is just for you! Red Baron Feast For One is made just for YOUR HORMONES!”.
I took the pizza out of the box and of course it was sealed up tight in the plastic. They packaged it in the silver box tray that all microwaved pizzas have been cooked on since the beginning of time (around 1984). I wonder what is coated on that tray so that all food must be cooked on it. Soylent Silver? Silver crack? Cooked down silver dollars? I don’t know but I’m sure they’ll say it causes cancer in 10 years so eat up now, kids!
If you can see thru the plastic, you can see what it would be a Meat Trio. The pepperoni were equally distributed around the pizza, which was nice, and the ham and sausage were just dumped in the middle. I was ok with that tho. I had other plans for this thing….
The cooking instructions were pretty odd. Put the pizza on the tray and put it on the edge of the turntable in the microwave, then push it to the center and let it go for a little longer then let it sit before you take it out. I’m not sure that position on the turntable really makes any kind fo difference but whatever.
This is pizza when it’s done with the cooking. The cheese has cooked decently, the meat is hot and this puppy is seriously hot.
That’s why I decided to rip up 2 pieces of mozzarella string cheese and cover the top. There is never enough cheese on these things.
This is the finished product. NOW there’s enough cheese! Now if you decide to go ahead and buy one of these things, there is one thing you must know, understand and deal with: once you make this thing, you cannot eat it for at least a half hour. Why? Because it holds onto heat like nobodies business. Most pizzas, you take them out, let them sit for like 5 minutes and they are ok to eat. This thing is hot pocket lava level hot.
You might think it’s like that because of the extra cheese. Noooope. You’d be mistaken. The reason this thing stays so freakin’ hot is because the dough is like a giant sponge (hence “Thick Pan”). It almost reminds me of the big soft dough crust at Pizza Hut (only with a little less grease). It actually was pretty good, considering what it is. Would this thing have been the same if I had not added more cheese? Yeah pretty much. Honestly, I had one a little while back without the extra cheese and it doesn’t make too much of a difference, unless you like extra cheese. I’m a fan. Have a mentioned that?
So overall, what did I think of Red Baron’s Feast For One Meat Trio Frozen Pizza? I like dit, it wasn’t bad. The crust was spongy and flavorful (probably from oil), the sauce was punchy but not overdone and it wasn’t a giant salt bomb. I’d probably try it again, maybe if they had a mega pepperoni one, I’d be even more inclined. but yeah, not bad Red Baron, not bad at all.
Edited to add:
I just noticed that the box says that the pizza is actually 2 servings. Who eats half a frozen pizza and keeps the rest for later? That’s pretty sneaky, Red Baron, and I don’t like it.
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!