Marabella Meatball Company

Although I work in Center City, I rarely get a chance to actually eat out downtown.  I try to bring lunch most days and when I need to buy lunch, it’s usually a quick trip to Trader Joe’s, Primo’s Hoagies or Arch Gourmet, the deli across the street. On holidays, I try to meet my husband in his neck of the woods to grab a bite. Although we were prepping our stomachs for our Han Dynasty dinner that evening, we thought we’d grab an early lunch at Marabella Meatball Company, the lunch and dinner spot on 12th and Walnut that was recently opened by the Marabella family of Marabella’s fame.

I hopped on the 23 up 11th street and arrived at the front door before my husband, giving me some time to grab a photo and scope out the inside.

I walked through the door just minutes after their 11am opening and was greeted by the friendly staff. They obviously had some sort of catering delivery that was set to leave and the family members all took part in the process. As I waited for my husband, the incredibly friendly woman (the owner, I assumed) explained the vast menu to me as I pondered the possibilities. The menu is simple yet expansive offering four types of meatballs (beef, pork, chicken, veggie); four types of sauce (marinara, tomato sauce, alfredo, mushroom sauce); four types of cheese (aged provolone, fontina, piave vecchio, gorgonzola) along with a myriad of optional toppings and two types of rolls–long or round. On top of that, there were options for “slider” combos of three meatballs on mini buns, or sampler bowls of meatballs and sauce, hold the bread, please. Wow. Where would I begin? For those who could potentially become overwhelmed with all of the combinations potentials, MMCo offers a list of six “favorite” sandwich combos including the classic (beef meatballs, aged provolone, tomato sauce) and chicken ricotta (chicken meatballs, spinach, ricotta.)

I ended up walking the path of simplicity and ordered the classic with broccoli rabe (+$1.25,) even though my love for all things little had me leaning heavily towards the slider, while my husband wanted a little bit of everything and opted for the sampler bowl. We each got a San Pellegrino Limonata and the total came to $25 which was a bit more than we wanted to spend for lunch. Hopefully it would be worth it!  As we were ordering, I saw the chef (co-owner, I’m guessing?) boiling cauliflower and broccoli for the day’s veggie meatballs. It was refreshing to see that fresh ingredients being used when it is so easy to flash freeze these days.

We took a seat at one of their beautifully finished wood tables and waited a few minutes for our food. When it came, it was obvious that time and care had been put into the preparation. My sandwich was steaming with beefy deliciousness and gooey cheese.

Check out an inside view!

Look at the bright green of the broccoli rabe. Although I do generally prefer it slightly less al dente, I appreciated knowing that it was freshly made and the garlicky goodness just about made up for it. Let’s talk about the meatballs though. Oh, the meatballs. Most folks swear by the meat mix (pork, beef, veal) for meatballs but not Marabella’s. Their beef meatballs are 100% beef. They were dense yet airy and the meatball fell apart in my mouth yet maintained its integrity on the roll. My kinda ‘ball. As I’ve noticed before, however, the real winner of the dish was the cheese. As I savored the tang of the aged provolone, you know, the tang that makes your mouth water just a bit, I considered just how much it added to the dish.  Marabella’s definitely doesn’t skimp on the cheese (see picture above) but it is certainly the quality that makes the difference. What a sandwich.

The sampler bowl came out in a disposable plastic container which hurt my little green heart a bit but I quickly recovered.

I had to taste each meatball. For the blog, you know. My husband has been so nice ever since I commenced my blogging adventure. He quiets his growling stomach when I need to take a picture and he always, always lets me taste. What a guy! He started with the chicken meatball and I can barely begin to describe the morsel of velvety chicken. I barely tasted the “ground” part of the meatball and felt literally like I was biting into a moist and freshly cooked piece of chicken–but better. It was an incredible sensation. I make turkey meatballs at home quite often and have difficulty managing the dryness factor. These meatballs (well, all of them, but most notably the chicken) absolutely nailed it. The next ‘ball I tried was the veggie. First of all, I would like to give MMCo a shout out for not only offering a veggie option but actually putting some thought, time and energy into it. I was a vegetarian for a long time and am no stranger to Morning Star and Boca products but these meatballs had cauliflower, broccoli and chick peas and I COULD TASTE EVERY ONE OF THEM. What a phenomenal and honorable interpretation of a veggie meatball. I loved biting into a little hunk of cauliflower hidden among the sauce. I’m glad I didn’t find a piece of the golden raisins that are supposedly inside because I don’t like raisins. Guess I just got lucky.  I didn’t taste the beef because, well, I had beef of my own, or the pork (there’s still a little Jew left in me every once in a while.)  I did neglect to mention the two slices of bread that my husband eagerly used to sop of the meaty (or veggie) bits that melted into the sauce.

I don’t usually shill places like I’m about to (and I promise I’m not getting anything for it) but I implore you to go to Marabella Meatball Company–and let me know if you want company. I’ll be back for sure. Buon Appetito!

Nam Phuong

I may have mentioned once or twice that my husband and I love Vietnamese food. Well, maybe I’ve mentioned it before. It’s like my love for all things Italian–it comes up often. We usually frequent Vietnam Restaurant (either the Chinatown or the West Philly location) but sometimes when we’re in the mood for a lightening quick and inexpensive meal, we go to Nam Phuong at 11th and Washington in the Wing Phat Plaza.  Parking in Wing Phat Plaza deserves a post of its own, but let’s just say it’s always interesting trying to score a spot in the parking lot packed with folks lurking for a spot to park their minivans. There are lots of minivans in Wing Phat Plaza.

The main dining room is huge and almost always packed with a primarily Asian clientele. Last weekend, there were remnants of Chinese New Year littered throughout the parking lot and leftover decorations inside the restaurant itself. We were quickly ushered to a table, as usual, and our water and tea appeared before we could even remove our coats.  We’re so familiar with the menu that we generally know what we want to order, so a quick perusal always does the trick. This time, we went with the vegetarian summer rolls ($2.95) and each got a bowl of pho. My husband doesn’t mess around. He got #152 Deluxe Pho with Eye-Round Steak, Well Done Flank, Fat Brisket, Soft Tendon, Beef Tripe, Beep Balls ($6.25.) Good boy. I’m a little safer with my meats and stuck with #162 Pho with Slices of Eye-Round Steak ($5.75.)

The summer rolls came quickly with the standard peanut sauce. I always take little tastes of the peanut sauce alone because it’s just so darn tasty. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about the rolls but, in a way, that’s why I like them so much. I always know what to expect and there’s something kind of cool about an appetizer that feeds 2 for under three bucks.  They may not be as pretty as the ones at Vietnam or Le Viet, but let me tell ya, they certainly do the trick.

Before we could even finish the rolls, our bowls of steaming hot pho were placed on the table. Before your pho is served, they give you your plate of “fixins” as I like to call them. The fixins contain basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos and lime and are mixed into your pho according to your tastes. I like a lot of lime and jalapeno, while the husband steers clear of the spicy.

Check out this big ole bowl of noodle soup. The meat is dropped into the soup immediately before it’s brought to the table, so it finishes cooking in front of you.

This broth was so rich and full that I could have poured it into a cup and drank it plain. Instead, I fully embarrassed myself, as per usual in authentic Asian establishments, with my poor yet earnest attempt at chopsticks. Folks have tried to teach me for years but I’m a lefty and I hold a pen funny so chopsticks are kind of a lost cause. That doesn’t mean I don’t give it my best effort though! Each bite contained a big scoop of noodles (or whatever size I was able to capture with the chopsticks) along with the crunchy bean sprouts and maybe a hunk of meat if I was lucky. It was divine and I almost forgot how much I probably stuck out as I happily sloshed around in my bowl o’noodles. We left that day with warm bellies and perhaps a few broth stains on our shirts (I wear a lot of black for a reason, folks.) The best part about it? The entire meal was under $20 including tip. If you are so inclined at dinner, you can even get an inexpensive glass of wine or other spirits and you will certainly not break the bank. Just be careful when you’re leaving the parking lot.

Erawan Thai Lunch Deal

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Michael, had a business lunch near our Center City school. He came back and excitedly shared the news that Erawan Thai, just a few blocks from us, has a great lunch deal. For $7.95 per person, you get a salad, soup or appetizer and entree (upon checking their website, there is a similar dinner deal for $15.95.) We decided that we had to check it out one day.

This week was jam-packed and seemed eternal, especially with an awesome conference we hosted over the weekend. By Friday, everyone was exhausted and VERY ready for the weekend. Michael and I decided to check out Erawan together for a mix of relaxation and business.

We walked a few short blocks over to 23rd and Sansom, across the street from Greenfield Elementary School. The outside of the place was cute.

When we stepped inside, the place was packed with people taking advantage of the special. There were a few large groups–this seemed to be a go-to spot for quick and inexpensive business lunches.  We were seated quickly and I checked out the options for the lunch special. The salad  included the “Erawan salad” with peanut dressing or “Thai garden salad” with creamy Thai dressing (whatever that entails.) Say peanuts and I’m sold. Michael and I both went with the Erawan salad. The salad came quickly and was a pretty unassuming plate of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, unripe cherry tomatoes, onion and shredded carrots and radicchio. Let’s talk dressing though. The peanut dressing was the bomb! Rich and nutty with chunks of crunchy peanut. That’s my kind of dressing.

The appetizer options were fried spring rolls, fried chicken curry dumplings, chicken dumplings, pork dumplings, veggie dumplings, fish cakes of golden tofu (any guesses on what that might be–I’m guessing fried tofu.) We both went with dumpling–he got chicken curry and I opted for veggie. The veggie are below.

The dumplings were fine. They were pretty skimpy on the filling but the ingredients were fresh and green (even the dumpling wrapper!) I didn’t grab a shot of Michael’s, but he seemed to enjoy them.

Our entrees, like everything else, came out quickly. There was a long list of entrees to pick from and I was torn between noodles and a red curry. I usually get awesome noodles from Circles Thai, so I figured I’d opt for the red curry that I love but rarely order. Michael went with the traditional pad thai. As soon as the waiter walked away, I started to have order regret. It continued when the entrees arrived. Check out this beautiful pad thai! Take an extra close look at the flurry of peanuts on the bottom right corner. That’s what I’m talking about!

I was actually so busy dealing with my dish that I didn’t grab a taste of Michael’s but I trust his report (and empty plate) that it was great. My red curry was listed as one star on their three star scale of spiciness. I don’t know if the chef had a heavy hand that day or if the star system (one star is mild with a little bite) is a bit skewed but holy hell, that dish was spicy!  The dish came swimming with yummy veggies like Japanese eggplant, zucchini, string beans. carrots, onions and peppers along with tofu–but not too much tofu, which worked perfectly for me. This dish was packed with flavor and heartiness but each bite was quite fiery!

I like heat but if I ordered this again (which I would definitely do) I’d ask them to tone down on the chili peppers a bit. Overall, the entire lunch was about 45 minutes from door to door and would have been even less had it not taken me about 20 minutes to eat my entree. Sure Erawan has its flaws but I declare it a solid place for a quick and tasty sit-down lunch that won’t make your wallet scream. I’ll definitely be back (and want to try the noodles!)

Rocco’s Sausages

My husband and his friend, Brian, used to always joke about the “Depot dogs” you could get outside of Home Depot. My primary response was “ew, who would possibly want to buy a hot dog at Home Depot? Home Depot is for things like paint and tools and drywall and such.” Recently, however, people have been all atwitter about Rocco’s Sausages located outside of three Home Depots in the Philadelphia area (literally atwitter–follow them at @RoccosSausages.) I usually get my weekend sandwich from The Sausage Truck at Headhouse Square (follow them on twitter too–@TheSausageTruck) but didn’t need anything from the Farmer’s Market so we thought we’d try something a little different. After a detour past Wawa for a cup of coffee (I wonder if Wawa is on twitter,) we pulled into the Home Depot lot and headed towards the stand.

While my husband waited outside with the dog, I walked in with his order in tow.  As soon as I entered the premises, the friendly gentleman behind the counter offered me “a sample, miss.”  Anyone who calls me Miss gets a thumbs up in my book, but I was distracted by intense taste of the sausage. I was sampling the spicy sausage and the flavor emanated throughout my mouth and remained a little tingle after it went down. I tasted a slight hint of fennel too, and the sausage was nicely browned on the outside without being too charred and was perfectly juicy on the inside. I was sold. I went with the hot sausage with peppers and onions and got the sweet sausage for my husband. I grabbed a bag of chips for us to share and the guy tossed another one in my bag “on the house.” I went outside and we settled at one of the umbrella table outside the store. This was the spicy sandwich–not that it matters, they both looked the same.

I love, love, love lots of toppings and this sandwich was just dripping with sauteed onions and peppers.  And a close up.

That’s a lot of sausage for one gal! As usual, I couldn’t resist and shared a little bite of the meat with my dog. The sausage sandwiches were both outstanding–rich, juicy and full of flavor. A word of warning–the spicy is definitely spicy so be sure you’re up to it before you order.  I finished off a half and wrapped the other one up for later.

A few hours later, I was hanging out with my dad and sister who happened to be hungry and I thought–why not?–we ended up back at Rocco’s. The gentleman looked at me quizzically when I returned so I let him know that “I liked it so much I brought my family back!” My sister was also handed a sample and decided to go with the sweet sausage. My father, on the other hand, keeps his own special version of kosher and ordered a chicken cheese steak. Because I was a little more comfortable, I snapped a shot of the action.

That’s right–just two guys back there running a tight and efficient ship! On the right you’ll see the sausage coils which they cut to order for each sandwich. On the left are the cooking onions and the area they use for cheesesteaks. The meat they brought out for my father’s chicken cheesesteak was a nice big hunk of non-frozen chicken that they cut while cooking–none of that frozen, pre-shredded junk. And even though dad told them a million times that he didn’t want onion, they were nice enough to always respond with a smile. He also threw in some chips for me and my sister (is it a female thing?) We went back to my house so they could eat their sandwiches. The chicken cheesesteak with peppers (NO onions!)

Look at those nice hunks of chicken meat!

As it turns out, Rocco’s was a success all around. If you’re ever picking up some DIY supplies around lunchtime, hit Rocco’s. I promise you’ll thank me. And whoever would have thunk that I’d eat a “Depot dog.”