Renaissance Sausage Truck 2.0

Any reader of this little blog knows how much I adore the Renaissance Sausage Truck and just how heartbroken I was when they shut down. For me, every Sunday between May and December meant a sausage sandwich from their truck at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. I often opted for the hearty vegetarian sausage with caramelized onions and a vegan chipotle mayo. Ever since they closed, our Sundays haven’t quite been the same.

Recently, I heard news that the Sausage Truck was re-imaging itself as a Sausage “cart.” Cart, truck, makes no difference to me. I couldn’t wait to wrap my mouth around one of those tasty sausages again.

When we first approached the cart, everything looked kind of like a mini-me of the original truck.

I love the “Made in South Philly” logo.

Talk about hyper-local eating.

I scoped the good-looking menu, albeit smaller due to obvious space constraints.

I had actually eaten the breakfast sandwich once before and it was probably the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten. I obviously ordered that again. Pork sausage, organic egg and local american cheese. Can’t quite beat that. Luckily, the breakfast sandwiches come pre-made and I was able to eat immediately.

I don’t love a breakfast sandwich that’s heavy on the egg and these folks got it just right. Rather than using it as an add-on, the focal point of the sandwich is actually the meat. How can you possibly beat that?

While I’m sure my father will be aghast, this porky sausage is inimitable. The sage and thyme flavor mingle perfectly with the tiniest bit of a spicy kick. Bottom line: eat this sandwich now.

Philly Food & Drink Writer Meet-Up

One of the most special aspects of food and eating is that it brings people together. Family meals, dinner or drinks with friends–sharing food with others is an intimate way to connect and create memories that can last for years. Oftentimes, people ask me why I started this blog. My answer is simply that I like food and found that I was always taking pictures of what I ate. Once I started blogging, I slowly began meeting people in the food community who were just like me. It was liberating to discover that I wasn’t the only weirdo who had to take photos of any and everything food-related before it went into my mouth. I began to gather a consortium of friends who had one prominent, similar interest: food.

One of those friends is Wendy of the fabulous La Phemme Phoodie. A lawyer by day, Wendy has taken to organizing area food bloggers meet-ups. The first was at Supper earlier this year, another was a food photography class and the most recent was a joint effort between Wendy, R2L Restaurant, VisitPhilly.Com and local photographer Eric Mencher.

As we stepped off the elevator at the 37th floor and into R2L for the first time, we were greeted with glasses of bubbly. We sipped and mingled, meeting and greeting friends old and new. As we chatted, we were treated to a variety of passed h’ors d’oeuvres such as steak tartare on a potato chip with beef butter (my first time eating tartare,) skewered tuna au poivre, truffled flatbread, crisp risotto balls with truffle soy (the server told me not to be shy with sopping up the truffle soy. I wasn’t,) and smoked salmon with mustard cream cheese on a pretzel crisp. An unmentioned surprise was this take on the chicken cheesesteak.

The hungry bloggers pounced on these delicious offerings.

Just as we started to get sated, out came the drinks. The R2L-Evation with gin, parfait amour, luxardo, fresh lemon, cherry

and the Sidecar with hennessy vs, pallini limoncello, cointreau, fresh lemon.

I didn’t try the R2L-Evation because my body has had a no gin mandate since high school, but those Sidecars certainly were tasty–and potentially dangerous–cocktails.

After some intial mingling, we made our way to the photography workshop conducted by Eric Mencher, a former Inquirer photographer who spent many years eating with Inky food critic, Craig LaBan. Before the workshop began, Chef Daniel Stern spoke to the crowd of excited bloggers and food enthusiasts, thanking us for “keeping the food conversation going.”

La Phemme Phoodie introduces Chef Dan

We were then greeted by Caroline and Alethia of VisitPhilly.com and Philly Homegrown, co-sponsors of the event, who spoke about local food and gastronomy.

Once Eric began, he regaled us with stories and jokes. Rather than discussing detailed camera function, he spoke more to the art of taking a photo and the eye with which we view our subjects. After his brief, yet informative talk, we were set free to take photos of all the beautifully plated dishes that Chef Dan created for the event. Between my husband and I, we have over one hundred photos which you can view on our Flickr page here and here. We were lucky enough to have two cameras thanks to my co-worker and extremely talented photographer, Doug Herman.

Here’s a snapshot (no pun intended) of our lovely Saturday afternoon.

Sushi sampler

Variations of Chocolate

Variations of Chocolate

Row Home Eats in action

Our stunning view

Blueberry lemon tarts with lavender marshmallows

Donut ice cream sandwich

Steak tartare

Lobster macaroni and cheese

Smoked salmon brunch pizza

Roasted Rabbit, fresh + pickled squash, eggplant, yellow steuben gravy + basil

Everyone wants to get a great shot

Mr. Row Home Eats is pretty handy with the camera too

Blogger buddies (L-R In Search of Beer; Apples and Cheese, Please; Row Home Eats; Bridges, Burgers & Beer)

HUGE thanks go to host R2L and Chef Daniel Stern for hosting the event and providing us with phenomenal food for tasting and shooting (can’t beat the view either,) Caroline and Alethia from Visit Philly and Philly Homegrown for helping promote local food initiatives and for the neat swag bag–including a beer koozie and “Who’s Your Farmer?” apron and Eric Mencher for his sharing his expansive knowledge with a group of crazy food lovers like us. Last, but certainly not least, MAJOR love to La Phemme Phoodie for, as Chef Dan put it, helping us to “keep the food conversation going.”

If you’d like to check out what some of the other attendees had to say, check out La Phemme Phoodie’s blog roll. So far, the list includes:

The Palate Princess

A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis

Zen and Potatoes

My Life On A Plate

Bridges, Burgers & Beer

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Asian In America

I Can Cook That

From Graduate to Gourmet

Pass the Sushi

Feed Me Lee

South Jersey Locavore

Eric spoke about things we can do to make food look more appealing in photographs. One tip he mentioned was the use of a fork or spoon so that the eye follows its curves. After the restaurant let us loose on the gorgeous dessert cart, all that was left was this.

The End

Rotisseur

Finally! After one failed attempt and a summer away from Center City lunches, I finally made it to Rotisseur, the new(ish) rotisserie chicken joint in Rittenhouse. It was actually kind of destiny. My husband happened to call me, just as my meeting ended, to see if I wanted to meet for lunch. YES, YES, YES! Let’s meet at Rotisseur in ten. 

We wandered in and scoped the chalkboard menu.

The inside is very simple, with clean lines and a focus on the food. I admired the sides but drooled over the rotisserie.

Zach and I ended up splitting the 1/2 chicken meal with two sides and added a third side, just for fun. We knew we wanted mac and cheese (if you’ve spent enough time reading this blog, you know I’ll always order mac and cheese when it’s offered) and the watermelon orzo salad but had trouble deciding on a third. The sides rotate seasonally and we opted for the hyper-seasonal succotash to round out our lunch.

We ordered at the counter but the counter-woman delivered our food and real silverware to our table (my dad would love this place!) This was a little awkward as I didn’t know what to do about tipping when we left.

The chicken was super moist and packed with lots of flavor. However, I’m more of a side gal and I quickly attacked all three of them with equal gusto. The succotash was definitely the sleeper–the fresh corn highlighted the otherwise simple dish and made me keep coming back for more. The mac and cheese was delish, as always, but the watermelon orzo salad was another winner. Let’s get a closer look at that.

Yum!

Rotisseur is quick, tasty and affordable lunch option in Center City. I can’t wait to get back to try their pesto chicken salad sandwich and chicken banh mi. At $6, these sandwiches are a steal.

Hot Diggity

I love a good hot dog. I mean, who doesn’t? I was ecstatic a few years back when Moe’s Hot Dogs opened up on Gray’s Ferry Avenue, conveniently located between my then apartment and my parents’ house. Then there’s Top Dog in Rockport, MA, one of our go-to vacation spots, that has an extensive variety of  dogs all named after, you guessed it, dogs! The only local place I have yet to try is THE authentic Philly hot dog place, Texas Wieners, on Snyder Ave. which is, ironically, just a few blocks from my house.

But then came Hot Diggity. After hearing glowing reviews from folks such as this guy, who’s just a tad obsessed, we put it on our long list of places we wanted to visit. But 6th and South is kind of random. When are we ever in that neck of the woods???

That question was answered one Sunday after a late morning visit to Headhouse Farmers Market. We were both famished, having skipped breakfast for the market and were just not in the mood for any of the offerings there. A-ha, this was the perfect time for Hot Diggity. I pulled up the menu on my iPhone and started excitedly reading it aloud to my husband. I know I’ve got a keeper because not once did he interrupt me or tell me to be quiet. In fact, he was just as excited as I was for exciting offerings such as Cincinnati Skyline with chili, nacho cheese and other fun stuff.

Luckily, after rolling down South Street, we found a spot right out front. He waited in the car with the dog while I hopped in line and checked out our options.

We had decided to split three dogs and he let me pick, woo hoo, knowing that the Cincy Skyline would definitely be one of the choices. The line was short but the wait just to order was a little longer than expected. Meanwhile, I scoped the awesome illustrated menu by local artist and food lover, Hawk Krall.

I was pretty set on our hot dogs, but I also decided to get fries and had to pick from the looong list of dipping sauces. Fun! I love me a good dipping sauce!

Decisions, decisions!!! Eek, I just didn’t know what to do. I ended up going with the bacon aioli, chipotle malt vinegar and roasted garlic rosemary.

Luckily, despite the wait to order, my food came up very quickly, even though I had to bag the last of it myself because things seemed a little hectic. We could barely wait to get home and demolish our dogs.

Cincinnati Skyline with chili, white onion, scallions and nacho cheese.

Look how long the dog is! This one was the hands down favorite. There was a nice smothering of chili made in-house and the nacho cheese, well, I have a serious affinity for that stuff and a conviction that processed cheese makes almost anything taste better.

The Bronx Bomber with sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard and New York style red onion sauce (whatever that means.)

This dog had a serious tang that hit your taste buds in the back and brought water to your mouth. What a mouthful of flavor. Then again, sauerkraut is up there with processed cheese, although I’m a little more picky about its use.

The Southern Comfort with creamy coleslaw and creole mustard.

This was the only one that left me slightly disappointed. While it was still one of the better hot dogs I’ve had, I was hoping for a creamier coleslaw. But have no fear, Hot Diggity has absolutely mastered the topping: hot dog: roll ratio. I still enjoyed a little bit of everything in each and every bite and my very lucky dog (real dog, that is) got a taste of the end. She was a happy pup.

Oh, the fries. I just love that they’re served in paper cones and when you have you order “for here,” they have cute little holes in the table for propping up your fries.

These salty, hand cut fries were the best fries I’ve had in a long time. I loved the option of different dipping sauces but have to say that the bacon one was straight up disgusting. My husband thought that roasted rosemary garlic had too strong of a rosemary flavor but I loved the creaminess and the chipotle malt vinegar lacked spice but all I really cared about was the vinegar which is just SO darn good with fries. We should eat like the British more often.

Bottom line. Eat at Hot Diggity. Like, now-ish. Besides, I heard they’re starting a delivery service. As my friend, Mellody Brewing,said, this could be very good for me. And very bad for me.

The Latin Farmer

What is it with me and food trucks? I seriously can’t get enough of them! In the Row Home Eats household, our Sunday tradition (at least between the months of May-November) involve waking up and heading over to the Headhouse Square Farmers Market while listening to brunch with the Beatles. Dog in tow, of course. We used to do our shopping for the day then hit the Renaissance Sausage Truck and munch our sandwiches on the cement stairs adjacent to the shambles. My favorite was the vegetarian while my husband usually opted for the Mediterranean. But alas, a few months ago I stumbled across some alarming news. The Sausage Truck would be closing! We were sure to visit Headhouse on their last official Sunday and split a kielbasa in sadness as we wondered who could possibly fill their big, big shoes.

Around this time, another truck began to make a name for itself in the Philadelphia area. The Latin Farmer debuted at the stupid Mt. Airy Night Market where I couldn’t find a stupid parking spot after driving all the way up there in rush hour traffic. Nah, I’m not still bitter. The Latin Farmer promoted healthy, local eating and had an eco-conscious truck to boot. I had to check this place out.

Unfortunately, my day job (i.e. my only job) does not allow me the leisure to take long lunch jaunts to Love Park, where the truck set up shop, so I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that it would be replacing The Sausage Truck on Sundays. The first time we spotted the truck there, we just knew we had to try it. I love the shiny green truck (get it, the “Green” truck is green?)

We checked out the menu and I was drawn to the chicken salad but couldn’t quite wrap my head around the collard wraps. I do love me some bread.

My adventurous husband chose the steak collard wrap while I ended up with the braised beef sandwich, the bocadillo.

The collard wraps were pretty adorable, I must admit. For $8, however, it was a bit shrimpy. Luckily, reports were glowing. The steak inside was well-seasoned and the salsa was the perfect sweet accompaniment.

The bocadillo looked pretty hearty in comparison.

Surprisingly, the highlight of this sandwich was the crunchy apple slaw that sat atop the braised meat. The crunch played well with the soft and chewy meat and gave it a great tang. I must say, and it’s funny that I’m complaining after whining that the collard wraps had no bread, that the bread to filling ratio in the bocadillo was a bit off. There was just too much  bread for this sandwich and it overwhelmed the filling, which should have been the star.

While I miss the Sausage Truck, who will always remain near and dear to my heart, I’m happy to say the The Latin Farmer has found a home. Unfortunately, since that Sunday, the Latin Farmer has temporarily ceased operations. Hopefully we’ll see them back in business in the near future.

A Full Plate

It’s so hard to find outdoor seating around here. Are you kidding me? You say. Nope. It’s hard to find outdoor seating at a place where there’s not an interminable wait. Oh, and if you have your very cute and adorable dog with you, you don’t even have the option to take an inside table. Every weekend, my husband and I struggle with this as we ponder our brunch options. We often end up munching on something at Headhouse Farmers Market but other days we’re in the mood for more of a sit down thang. One recent weekend, we decided to head up to A Full Plate Cafe in Northern Liberties after learning that yes, they did have outdoor seating. However, once we got dressed and ready to go, the sky looked ominous and we kept the pooch home.

A Full Plate is a cute little place with a simple outside that doesn’t match its bright, colorful decor on the inside.

I was a little freaked out that the place was completely empty at prime brunch hour. Was that a sign of what was to come? I decided not to let it bother me and checked out the specials instead.

As we were deciding what to eat, our waiter brought over our drinks. In Mason jars. In large Mason jars. I can’t stand when places have little water glasses, especially for brunch. Don’t they know that everyone was out drinking the night before? This place is just so darn cute!

As usual, Mr. Row Home Eats went healthy with the Darren Salad ($7.50) of grilled chicken, grilled asparagus, roasted red peppers, cucumbers and tomato.

I, on the other hand, totally pigged out with the Toads in a Hole ($10) of multigrain bread filled with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, veggies and cheddar cheese.

Unfortunately, while I appreciated the concept of the dish, the overall implementation didn’t quite add up. It was too dry and the flavors were hidden by all the bread. The sweet potatoes homefries, on the other hand, were spot on. A perfect balance of crisp to chewy potato, I could have eaten these homefries all day long.

Oh, I forgot to mention what else I ordered.

I’ll admit it. I am a sneak. I often tell my husband what I’m planning on ordering and then add a last minute additional dish like macaroni and cheese. OK, it’s often macaroni and cheese, which is my favorite food and I have a LOT of trouble not ordering it. Besides, I convince him that we can split it. This mac and cheese was one of the better ones I’ve had recently. It maintained its ultra creaminess while packing a bit of a crunch on top and the cheesey flavor lingered in my mouth with each bite. This is certainly a dish to savor.

While A Full Plate didn’t knock it out of the park on every dish, I would return again and again for the mac and cheese. If they picked up a little speed in the kitchen (our food took a while to come out, despite being two of the only people in the place. I guess it was being made very fresh?) and tinkered with some dishes, this place has the potential to be top notch. Besides, how can you not love a place that hosts vegetarian friendly rib cook-offs?

Chicken Ricotta Meatballs

A few weeks ago, Slow Food USA put out a “$5 Challenge,” encouraging people to come up with home cooked meals for under $5/person. Joy Manning over at The Oyster Evangelist took up the challenge and shared her results with the Inquirer. When I saw that she had made chicken ricotta meatballs, I knew I had to check them out. We are constantly trying to eat healthier and I was interested in exploring this meatball alternative (not to mention the last chicken meatball I had from Marabella Meatball Co. was the bomb.)

Chicken Ricotta Meatballs (adapted from Joy Manning)

2 lbs. ground chicken (Manning suggests purchasing chicken thighs and running them through your food processor)

2 cups ricotta cheese (get fresh ricotta if you’re able. I got mine from Salumeria in the Reading Terminal)

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

1/3 cup minced onion (or to taste)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

-Combine the ground chicken, ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix gently until well combined.

-Form into meatballs the size of ping pong balls. They will seem very wet and gooey but have no fear.  Arrange on a silcone mat or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, turning after about 15 minutes, until golden brown in spots.

Before baking

After baking

See those crispy black bits on the silpat? Scrape them off and snack before dinner. I promise they’re divine.

-Transfer to a pot of tomato sauce and simmer until serving. I was planning on have a low-carb meal and serving them over zucchini noodles but ALAS, we had no zukes. This carboholic was just fine with spaghetti.

 

I was amazed by how light and fluffy the meatballs were and the ricotta seriously salvaged the dryness that is often prevalent in ground poultry. I made an abundant amount of meatballs but we somehow tore through them in just a few days. They were that good and absolutely packed with flavor. Next time I’m at the Reading Terminal, I’m hitting up Godshall’s to buy some ground chicken in bulk as this would be a great freezer meal.

The Happy Taco or Why I Love Food Trucks

Upscale food trucks are THE in thing these days and you know what? I’m very ok with that. What could possibly be better than freshly made, mobile and low-cost food? As a Philadelphia resident, I’ve been eating at food trucks for years. Luckily, we live in a city lush with carts, a city that beat the recent trend with its line of specialty trucks along Spruce Street on Penn’s campus. Trucks like Le Anh and Magic Carpet have been there since I can remember. In fact, there are so many, I recently (like, just now) learned that there is a website devoted to Penn food trucks–PennFoodTrucks.com. How cool is that?!

Philadelphia, along with many other big cities across the country, has fallen hard for food trucks. Recent, hip additions to the scene include Tyson Bees, La Copine Brunch Truck, Sweetbox Philly and, of course, Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Guapos Tacos. Many of these trucks have twitter accounts so their hungry followers can locate them with the click of a keyboard. Somehow, the mobile nature of these trucks makes it all part of the game.

My husband and I travel to Gloucester, Massachusetts a few times a year to visit family. Gloucester is a sleepy little Portugese and Italian fisherman’s town that is best known for the movie The Perfect Storm, Gorton’s Fisherman and this guy. While The Perfect Storm is a fairytale that falls far outside the understanding of most Northeasterners, the story hits a little too close to home for many fishermen’s families in the area. Each June, the city shuts down for the Festival of St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen.

For the visitors to Gloucester and other coastal New England towns, lobster is a delicacy. To these fishermen and their families, it is their livelihood. Because I love to support the local economy, we do our very best to eat lots of lobster when we’re in the area. From rolls to benedict to boils, we don’t discriminate. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to eat a lobster roll for lunch followed by a lobster dinner that night. At prices lower than a half-decent steak, how can you NOT eat lobster?

But then…

My fabulous sister-in-law, who recently moved to Gloucester with her husband, had some news that she just couldn’t wait to share. “Guess what?! There’s a FOOD TRUCK in Gloucester!!!” I was shocked to learn that a taco truck had recently popped up in town. I just had to try The Happy Taco.

After a fun day of shopping at an hour way too close for dinner, we decided to take the plunge. I love the friendly yellow truck with a literally “Happy Taco” logo.

We called my husband and cousin because we didn’t want them to miss out on the fun and ended up with two sirloin asada, one fish (recommended by the owners) and one pulled pork burrito. The owners were beyond friendly and accommodating. They were even nice to the woman behind us who thought she was at a Taco Bell.

We also grabbed a couple local Mercury sodas made by the nearby Ipswich Ale Brewery.

After a slightly too long wait–I’m hoping they’re just working out the kinks–our burritos were ready to go. Unfortunately, we had to resist digging into them until we met up with the guys but the smells permeated the car. Drool.

When we finally tore into them, they were worth the wait.

The sirloin asada (my order) was great. Tons of flavor and lot of crunchy lettuce. It was a touch heavy on the rice, though. It’s difficult to find the perfect balance in a burrito. To me, it’s about having a variety of flavors but also textures and a wet: dry ingredients ratio.

As promised, the fish was excellent. The battered cod played its role perfectly in creating that perfect balance in the burrito.

Check out that flaky fish!

And the pulled pork.

The pulled pork definitely wins for the most flavor-packed dish of the day. Besides, this guy likes it.

The Happy Taco is a great addition to Gloucester’s waterfront. The affordable prices create accessibility for a variety of customers and the fresh and nutritious food will keep them coming back. With a little tinkering here and there, The Happy Taco has the potential to be a serious contender–not just for the fishermen but on a national level.

Fuel on East Passyunk

It’s tough for a food blogger to eat healthy. We’re always checking out the hottest dishes at the latest restaurants and dining (and boozing) out with friends. We try to make up for our fat and carb laden weekend splurges by eating relatively healthily on weeknights. A general summer dinner consists of a grilled protein and two veggie sides.  On Friday nights, we usually order out and spend the evenings watching movies or playing with our new Apple TV.  Our go-to is Los Jalapenos, which stills delivers to us despite their move, but we also love Circles Thai, many of the local pizza/cheesesteak spots and New Noodle Heaven, the Chinese store on 12th and Snyder. Some nights, however, we get a little too comfortable with our routine and are itching for another cuisine. Recently, we didn’t quite know what we wanted, but we know it needed to be healthy. A former student of mine, who loves food just as much as I do, had raved about Fuel, the healthy dine-in/take-out spot who advertises all of their dishes under 500 calories.

Fuel has two locations–Center City and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Their menu is a little odd as it has a salad section but you also have the option to order any of the sandwiches without bread, thus making them a salad. I decided to go with a traditional chicken caesar salad, while my husband ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (hold the bread, please) with artichoke, mixed greens, provolone, sun dried tomato and balsamic reduction. I was a little hungry so I added the sweet pea dip as an appetizer. Fuel has the nutritional information along with Weight Watchers points on their menus so you can have a clear snapshot of what you are eating.

Our food arrived promptly. The green pea dip was phenomenal. My parents used to make mashed peas for us when I was growing up and this sweet vegetable was certainly reminiscent of the past with nice, chewy bites of sun-dried tomatoes to add some texture.

I’ve ordered this salad again since this meal and still don’t quite understand why they don’t cut up their lettuce. The salad is simple, yet tasty but it can be difficult to eat.

Also, if you’re a “light on the dressing” kind of guy or gal, you might want to ask for it on the side. I thought it was just dandy.

My husband’s salad sure was pretty.

That’s all I know, though. Between the pea dip (I must have “forgotten” he didn’t like peas when I ordered it) and my whopping salad, I was too full to check it out. He gave it two thumbs up, though, so that’s good enough for me.

Fuel is a great option if you want to eat out (or in) without letting the calories pile up. They have a dessert and smoothie selection as well that I have yet to check it out. Let me know what you think.