Cosmi’s Deli

Cosmi’s is one of the neighborhood stalwarts. Sitting on the corner of 8th and Dickinson since 1932, Cosmi’s is both a go-to lunch spot for South Philly regulars and a destination for others. With hoagies named after Rick Nichols, Questlove, Howard Eskin and someone named “Big Ant,” this place does meat right.

On a lazy Friday evening, we were looking for a new place to deliver dinner. In the mood for sandwiches, we discovered that Cosmi’s did, in fact, deliver and was open for dinner, unlike some of the other local delis. I took my husband’s order, made my selection and then, well, something caught my eye.

Our food came quickly with a friendly delivery guy.

The husband, who often veers for the Italian, had the “Vespe” with prosciutto, sopressata, hot coppa, mortadella, sharp provolone, roasted peppers, along with a few of his own, personalized add-ons. Extra special bonus to Cosmi’s for slicing their onions paper thin on the meat slicer which is obviously the best way for hoagie onions. He enjoyed the Italian trimmings, especially sharp provolone like you can only get in South Philly.

Preferring a softer, simpler roll, he got a plain roll while I went with seeded for my “award winning” cheesesteak hoagie.
Meaty, cheesy and a great balance of filling to the chewy, seeded roll. I can certainly see why these are “award winning.”

And just in case I didn’t have enough cheesesteak, I figured I’d check out their cheesesteak fries. Yep, cheesesteak fries.

I opened the container to this glorious concoction staring me in the face. We know I love cheese fries but cheese fries with meat AND fried onions? Oh yeah.

This is what was hiding under that delightful layer of whiz.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t need the cheesesteak hoagie AND the cheesesteak fries. But they were both oh so good. A word to the wise: eat the fries first as they won’t keep well. My husband and I split the fries (most of them, at least,) and by the time we were halfway through, I was already too full for my sandwich. Well, I suppose I did eat some of it…

Cosmi’s is a neighborhood institution that has remained true to itself throughout all of the neighborhood’s changes. I look forward to going back to try some of the other hoagies and chicken cutlet sandwiches. But really, ya gotta try those fries.

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La Rosa Pizza: Potato Pie!

I kept hearing about La Rosa’s. Not from just anyone but from people who knewwhattheyweretalkingabout. You know, Dennis from the Saturday morning Reading Terminal coffee crew or Philly Phoodie. What intrigued me was not their supposed simplicity, square pies or local charm. Instead, I was drawn towards their potato pie. Potato pie?! I live steps from La Rosa and folks were SHOCKED upon hearing that I had never tried their pizza–in particular the potato pie. POTATO? On a PIZZA? I had to check this out. My husband, on the other hand, was a bit skeptical. He’s never been a carb fanatic and the concept of potato on dough had him leery.

I waited patiently until he left for a weekend visit to his grandparents’ place in South Carolina. Three nights of eating for one. I obviously had to plot accordingly. On the second night, I decided that I would finally go in for the kill. I googled “La Rosa menu” to no avail and wondered how I would decide what to order. I saw somewhere that they would do halves and the question arose–what do get on the second half? I ended up asking the friendly man who took my order for a half potato (duh) and half sausage pie. One size.

After a brief wait, my pie appeared. The simplicity of the place is evident in my order and contact info scratched quickly onto the bare box before it is filled with my cheesy, doughy bounty. The weird photoshop smudge on the upper left is my erasure of my phone number lest I get overwhelmed by my myriad fans.

I opened the box to a thing of beauty.

Wait, hold on. Let’s get a little closer here.

Look at that rosemary, eeeeh!!!

I started with a piece of each (actually, I finished with a piece of each too. Two pieces was more than enough for me.) The pizza, despite the speedy delivery, was a little cooler than I’m accustomed to. Regardless, the sausage was phenomenal. It had an excellent ratio of dough: cheese: topping and the crumbled sausage was just. so. flavorful. The slight fennel flavor subtly imposed on each bite. The potato on the other hand was, well, different. The flavor was absolutely spot on–the traditional marriage of rosemary and salty potatoes was managed perfectly. The pizza suffered from the temperature, however. I did not realize until the next day (when I had a slice reheated in the oven) that the best way to enjoy the potato half of this pie is hot and crispy, right from the oven. So, if your order takes a little longer or (ahem) someone insists on having a photo shoot before eating, stick it in the over for a few minutes. You’ll thank me. Despite the minor temperature woes, I dare you to try the potato pie. I know you’ll like it.

Circles Thai–An Asian Feast

I like Thai food. A lot. I don’t eat it often because there are no great Thai restaurants in my neck of the woods and, well, if I’m going to grab a quick bite, I’ll usually get Vietnamese. Occasionally, though, I have a real craving for a good, hearty red curry or spicy Thai noodle dish. Until recently, I ordered from a rather expensive place on South Street–our house falls one block inside their delivery radius. A few months ago, however, I saw mention on Twitter of Circles Thai, a Thai take-out/delivery spot just a few blocks from my house. Ummm, what?!?! This was fantastic news! I ordered from them once or twice and knew that this would become a go-to delivery spot for us (especially with Los Jalapenos’ recent demise.) I’ve ordered from them a number of times and have never been disappointed.

This weekend, we decided to meet up with some friends, order takeout and just hang out. A back and forth ensued regarding our cuisine of choice and we happily settled on Thai. We were a hungry bunch and our final order consisted of summer rolls, cheesesteak spring rolls, fried tofu, chicken satay, rice soup, red curry, two Thai beef salads and Pad Kee Mow.

The food came quickly and my friend, Brian, engaged in a brief conversation with the friendly delivery guy that seemed to center around my bulldog and skateboarding. We brought the food into the kitchen to unpack and realize that we had quite a haul.

Brian’s rice soup. I didn’t taste this but he seemed to enjoy it and I think it looked simple and tasty.

The fried tofu. For someone who was a vegetarian for many years, I’ve never been able to get behind tofu. This tofu was good though. Their secret? Frying, duh. Make anything crispy enough and I’ll love it.  Although it did have a nice, crispy coating, the tofu inside still maintained its integrity. There was a syrupy dipping sauce that reminded me a bit of duck sauce.

The summer rolls were pretty straightforward.

The cheesesteak spring rolls. Oh, the cheesesteak spring rolls. When I was in college, I used to go to a Chinese store in Germantown that sold cheesesteak spring rolls and I devoured them like it was my  job. When I saw these on the menu, it brought me back to those days and I eagerly ordered them. These are nothing like the cheesesteak spring rolls of yore. They have a light and flaky wrapping with a flavorful cheesesteak filling–rich meat mingled with onions and cheese. An order gives you three and I could easily house all of them.  It comes with a side of spicy ketchup that I usually toss in the fridge and save for later (it’s actually really good) because I don’t want anything marring the flavor of the spring rolls. Wow, apparently I feel pretty strongly about this dish.

My other favorite is the chicken satay. My husband and I grill a lot and know how difficult it can be to get moist white meat chicken. Circles NAILS this dish. It comes with three huge skewers that are marinated in something unrecognizable but the meat is so, so very tender. There are two dipping sauces on the side. Two sauces?! I can never decide if I prefer the vinegary cucumber sauce or the peanut sauce so I usually alternate between the two.

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh–vegetarians!!! I just checked out the online menu and it looks like they have vegetarian versions of the spring rolls and VEGAN versions of the satay. Love it!

On to the entrees. Teresa went with a red curry. I didn’t taste it but the scent wafted into my  nostrils as I was taking a photo and if it tasted even half as good as it smelled then she was ok. Check out the trails of creamy coconut milk.

I got the Pad Kee Mow (Drunken Noodles) which is wide rice noodles with a garlic chili basil sauce. You can add your choice of proteins but I usually opt for veggie (hold the tofu, please.) By the time I got to this dish, I was pretty full already. It was so darn good, though, that it didn’t stop me from eating and eating. The sauce has just a bit of a kick and I have a serious weakness for wide rice noodles. They’re NOT easy to find on takeout menus in Philadelphia so when I get them, I’m a happy lady.

The story of the night goes to the Thai beef salad. My husband and Brian both ordered it but Brian specified spicy while my husband, Zach, prefers mild. When they started eating, Brian made a few comments about how spicy his dish was and Zach quietly munched. Towards the end of the meal, Zach made a comment along the lines of “if this is mild, I don’t want to taste the hot.” I grabbed a bit of rice and soaked up some of the juices. Holy hell, that dish was HOT!!! I then tasted Brian’s to get a comparison and his was either just as hot or hotter. My taste buds were so burned by then that I couldn’t really tell the difference. Poor Zach liked the salad so much that he finished the whole thing (with a little extra sweat and clear nasal passages of course.) Regardless of Spice-Gate 2011, the gentlemen enjoyed the salads and kept going back for more.

Did I mention we were also celebrating Chinese New Year? Teresa is Chinese-American and has quickly become my resource of all things Chinese (remember when we got Dim Sum?) When we walked in the door, I immediately gravitated to the cookie sheet perched on the counter with these delightful looking won tons.

Teresa informed me that they were nutella-stuffed won ton wrappers that she would be baking for dessert. Meanwhile, she brewed me a cup of tea (ok, this isn’t really because she’s Asian, but just because she likes tea but I couldn’t really fit it anywhere else in the post.)

While she was brewing the “Women’s Favorite Tea” that contains ingredients such as alfalfa and dandelion, she showed me a traditional Chinese tea set that her parents had bought for her boyfriend and explained the process by which the tiny little (shot) cups of tea are served. Interesting stuff.

Another intriguing item that she had was Chinese New Year’s cake. Now, earlier in the day when Teresa told me she’d be attempting this cake, I expected to see flour, sugar and eggs. How wrong I was. Chinese New Year’s cake looks more like this. Well, the sweet version does. Apparently there’s a savory version as well.

Above is the glutinous rice dish pictures before being dipped in egg and pan fried. Here’s the final product of both desserts. Honestly, the “cake” didn’t look so pretty so I strategically placed it near the back of the photo.

Teresa didn’t care for the baked won tons and mentioned that she had probably overcooked them a bit. So they were a little crispy and the nutella inside had hardened a bit. Um, it was still nutella which was ok by me! The cake was interesting and I’m not just saying that to be nice. It was only slightly sweet and heavy on the gluten. It was one of those dishes that I couldn’t tell whether I liked it or not. So I kept eating it.

After that dish, Teresa surprised us with a final dessert of sesame rice balls. Jeez! She must be trying to prepare me for my upcoming trip (20 course tasting menu) to Han Dynasty. The rice balls were glutinous as well, yet slightly less sticky and they were stuffed with a murky, sweet sesame paste. We decided together that this glutinous flavor/consistently is unique to Asian cuisine, which is why my palate was having so much difficulty with it. Really, I just couldn’t tell how I felt about these dishes because they were so unlike any sweet dessert I am accustomed to. In the end, I enjoyed each of them.

The black stuff at the bottom of the bowl is a bit of the sesame stuffing that leaked out of the rice ball. Check out the steam! Ultimately, this was an amazing Asian feast. I love that we started the night in Thailand and ended in China. I’m game to take an intra-continental dinner any time and Saturday did not disappoint thanks to Circles Thai and Teresa!

Los Jalapenos–The End of an Era

About a year or two ago, my husband and I caught sight of a unique delivery menu tangled between the myriad pizza and chinese trifolds that litter our front steps each day. Taqueria Los Jalapenos was a Mexican delivery place at 4th and Moore. South Philadelphia is teeming with Mexican taquerias yet we were moved by the affordable menu and their willingness to deliver. And the kicker–they even took credit cards! Score! We checked it out for the first time with my family and shortly after we hung up the phone, our hot food was at the door. I don’t quite remember what everyone got, but highlights were definitely the chicken and rice soup in a creamy tomato broth and my sister’s carne asada.

Since that fateful night, my husband and I have been ordering from Los Jalapenos almost weekly. We love the friendly service (no joke, every time I hang up the phone I say to my husband “they’re so nice,”) speedy delivery and, more than anything, their hearty and flavorful fare.

A few weeks ago, my husband sent me an article with a note “this is terrible.” We learned that Los Jalapenos would be closing so the owner could focus on his new restaurant, Three Jalapenos, that recently opened at 8th and Christian. Tragic news! We had to get our last few orders in before they closed at the end of February (according to the article.)  On Friday, I called in an order and things seemed a little different. The man answering the phone had trouble hearing me due to lots of metallic banging sounds in the background. When he finally got my order down, I asked him when they would be closing and he responded “well, we were supposed to close today but now we’re closing Monday.” HUH?! First of all, who pushes back a closing? Isn’t it openings that don’t happen on time? More importantly, we thought we had much more time with our beloved Los Jalapenos. Whatever would we do?!? Luckily we ordered a truckload of food that would make for a memorable last meal.

The food came quickly, as usual, and we gave our delivery man a healthy tip in honor of our farewell meal.  This was our closing order: A steak, pepper and onion burrito with guacamole, hold the rice; crispy ground beef tacos, chicken rice soup and El Mojado (two crispy tacos, one guacamole tostada, one cheese enchilada and a side of rice and beans.) The burrito was large and in charge, as usual.

It was chock full of meaty, cheesy, beany, guacamole-y goodness.

We usually share the crispy tacos as an appetizer. Simple, yet tasty. I love a well-made crispy taco with a perfect balance of filling and CRUNCH.

If our dog is extra lucky, she’ll get to lick the container of extras that fell out of the tacos.

The chicken rice soup never skimps on fresh, shredded chicken breast with a rich tomato broth. It comes with a side of corn tortillas for dipping.

Ouch, that picture is really, really bad.

Next up, the noble El Mojado. It starts with two crispy tacos and one guacamole tostada. Depending on the day, the tacos are either chicken or ground beef (or sometimes one of each!)

That tostada is awesome–lots and lots of guacamole contained in a crispy tortilla cup. The next container has a cheese enchilada with a side of rice and beans. My husband usually saves that for leftovers the next day.

My favorite way to eat this is to get a little bit of everything in one bite. The creamy beans are a personal favorite.

I couldn’t write a post on Los Jalapenos without discussing their salsas. Our refrigerator is littered with leftovers of these little packets. The green tomatillo is usually a little smoother and fresh tasting while the red salsa has a great smoky kick. We have a love-hate relationship with these sauces as they seem to be slowly taking over our fridge but they’re just so darn good.

Unfortunately, as quickly as our food was delivered, the dinner came to an end. Goodbye, dear Los Jalapenos (or Three Jalas, as we so affectionately call it,) we will miss you on our Friday movie and Mexican nights. Guess we’ll be seeing you at your new location’s Taco Tuesday–$11.95 for All-You-Can-Eat tacos. While our relationship was too short, we’ll never forget you.