Stateside

Green Eggs Cafe and I had a love/hate relationship from the start. I’ve discussed it elsewhere so I’ll leave it to that but let’s just say I was tentative upon hearing of the owner’s new venture, Stateside, just a few blocks from our house. All I knew was that Stateside’s aim was to focus on local ingredients in their small whiskey and small-plates bar overlooking the Passyunk Avenue fountain. I was interested in checking it out but only cautiously optimistic about this new addition to the “Avenue.”

A few weeks after they opened, I had heard some positive buzz about their food on Twitter and decided to finally check it out. It was a chilly Saturday night and I had just put duck legs in the oven. We planned on grabbing a martini and possibly a bite or two while the duck braised.

From the time we stepped through the door, we were treated to nothing but smiles and friendly staff members going above and beyond in order to please. As we settled into two recently vacated bar seats and ordered our martinis, our bartender informed us that all of their alcohol was local to the United States as well. What a novel concept. However, have no fear! The bartender, Jen, asked us what brand of booze we usually take in our martinis and patiently offered up other options. It was obvious then and at many repeat visits that she has a strong knowledge and command of her bar. Jen has also created their custom cocktail menu which contains unique (and seasonal) offering such as the recently added “hot buttered rye.”

Zach and I both opted for Death’s Door in our martinis–gin for him and vodka for me, of course. We perused the menu and chatted with Jen as she mixed our drinks. I, not unusually, wanted pretty much everything on their menu which is divided into meats, pickles, cheeses, small plates and large plates. We decided on a cheese and a small plate. We were immediately drawn to the Bayley Hazen Blue cheese with SMOKED BACON CARAMEL. I mean, I love blue cheese but add bacon AND caramel. I was sold. It was a little tougher to pick just one small plate but we ended up agreeing on the beer braised beef cheeks with cauliflower puree, radish and pickled mustard seeds.

Our cheese arrived first.

Look closely and you will see a little chunk of smoky bacon swimming in the caramel atop the cheese. Smoky, sweet, tangy, creamy…what a fantastic flavor collaboration. This is a great nibble for just $4 and bacon + caramel + blue cheese is really a winning combination. I may or may not have been tempted to lick my plate…

Next came the beef cheeks.

Don’t you just love their menu font, by the way? These beef cheeks are perhaps the favorite thing I’ve eaten at Stateside thus far. While the meat was good (and it was damn good and buttery soft,) it was the accompaniments that shone. The cauliflower puree was rich and creamy and I could only imagine what it was doing to my arteries while the pickled mustard seeds popped at just the right moments. The best bite was a piece of meat and a dollop of puree swirled in the braising liquid. This was a memorable dish.

Unfortunately, our braise beckoned and we begrudgingly walked home, happy to have found our perfect neighborhood gem for that night when we just want a well-mixed drink and tasty bite at the bar.

We went back the next weekend, of course. When we stepped through the door, the general manager, Anthony, greeted us with “good to see you again.” This was the neighbor-friendly service that was always lacking for me at Green Eggs. That visit and future ones gave us gems like the crunchy house made goat cheese.

We have also enjoyed charred broccolini (great sleeper dish) and duck sausage with sweet potato, sour cherry mustard and frisee.

Our friend, who wasn’t sure about the duck sausage, was an immediate convert. This dish even turned my husband into a sweet potato aficionado (for the moment, at least.)

More recently, we finally got a chance to try the crispy maple glazed pork belly over fried nora nora grits, gala apples and spiced cider jus.

Everything about this dish was phenomenal. Duh. I don’t have to tell you that though–just look at it. The pork belly followed the beef cheeks in highlighting and focusing on not just the main protein but every component of the dish.

As a special treat, Anthony brought out the rabbitt rillettes with pear preserves. This is something I never would have ordered but that’s what made it especially neat to taste.
This dish was subtle, yet robust. While the flavor was not overwhelming, it had an easy “eatability” to it. Another perfect bar snack to share with some of your favorite people. Besides, the jar they serve it in is just so darn cute.

Executive Chef, George Sabatino, is obviously having a blast pushing out fun and unique dishes comprised of all local ingredients. If you’re on twitter, check him out. He tweets out specials and other fun kitchen pics. Most recently, the bartender told us about their new seafood purveyor who offers only line caught fish. In fact, customers will soon be able to receive a code that will allow them to track the fisherman and boat that caught the dish they’re eating in this food-forward little restaurant in South Philadelphia. Talk about Stateside…

I cannot say enough good things about this place. From the front of the house to the back of the house, this restaurant aims to please and achieves on so, so many levels. I just hope, for our sake, that it doesn’t get too popular and will be able remain our neighborhood gem where we can always snag two seats at the bar. I won’t hold my breath though. If you haven’t eaten at Stateside, get there now. Seriously.

Advertisements

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.

Philly Beer Week on Passyunk Avenue

Although we did not get to visit as many Philly Beer Week events as we would have liked to, one of our highlights of the week was the East Passyunk Avenue Craft Beer Fest. After my husband returned from the Bike Race, we made our way west on Passyunk to our first stop–the beer garden at Le Virtu. My husband and I love everything about Le Virtu and one of our very favorite things to do is to stroll down there on a weekend evening and have dirty martinis (Belvedere for him, Tanqueray for him) with a side of arancini. We were excited to check out their outdoor garden, taste some Victory, Troegs, Innis & Gunn, Saranac and Riverhorse and have $5 tastes of their Abruzzese fare. When we got there, the place was popping. My husband hopped in line for some beer while I spotted two friends and grabbed a seat at the table with them.

I decided to check out a few of the beers.

My friends were especially excited for me to sample the Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer.

I tried the original and the one aged in a rum cask. You could definitely tell.

What a complex beer.

After we had a few tastes of beer, we decided to order some $5 snacks from the owner, Catherine Lee, who was acting as waitress for the day. We went with the fried olives stuffed with porchetta and sausage with polenta. Meanwhile, Chef Joe Cicala was serving up pieces of roasted pig.

The food was delicious, as usual. I hadn’t tried the olives before but my mother had them about three years ago and still raves about them. She was right.

For my olive-phobic readers, have no fear. This has only a very subtle olive flavor. You mostly taste the pork and fried goodness! The sausage was simple yet bursting with grilled flavor. I loved sopping up the polenta and getting a little bit of everything in each bite. My only complaint is that we didn’t order enough.

My friend, Heather, and my husband enjoying themselves in the sun.

After I ate, I spent some time exploring Le Virtu’s garden. Check out these zucchini blossoms!

I also fell in love with this contraption they have hanging on their wall that allows them to grow herbs in neat and organized “lanes.”

I had to run out to a graduation party for a bit and met my friends at Stogie Joe’s about 90 minutes later. Stogie Joe’s was concurrently celebrating the Craft Beer Fest and the Italian Fest on Passyunk Avenue. Thus the craft beer served inside and piss beer served outside. They were running a special of a bucket of five Riverhorse beers for $20. By the time I got there, however, they were out of Riverhorse and were allowing you to make your own bucket–they even let my husband sneak a Chimay in there! Stogie Joe’s was packed–there was a band playing right outside.

Our last stop was Salt & Pepper’s meet the brewer happy hour with Riverhorse. I was pumped to try some Riverhorse since Stogie Joe’s had run out. Unfortunately, Salt & Pepper was down to their last bottle as well. I let my husband have it and I got an Ithaca Apricot Wheat. That was yummy too.

We did get a chance to chat with one of the Riverhorse reps.

Then we ran into a friend and finished our beers with her and Robert Reilly, one of the owners.

And then, after that jam-packed day, I went home and went to bed!

Izumi

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my  favorite things about living just off Passyunk Avenue is the ability to step out of our house for a stroll, a bite to eat and/or a drink or three. During the warmer (but not too hot) months, we love taking our bulldog, Jewels, along on our jaunts. She loves it too for two reasons. First, we almost always stop at Doggie Style (it’s a pet store, folks) where she is doted upon and receives numerous treats. Second, she usually receives people food (and more attention) when we’re out to eat. Gee, this dog likes to eat. She’s obviously part of the family.  One of our favorite places to visit is Izumi Restaurant on the corner of 11th and Passyunk. We love lingering over their maki and a glass of wine.

A few weeks ago, we set out to do just that and our plan was thwarted. We waited at the front door. Then we waited some more. Then we flagged down a waitress who told us she’d be right with us. It was around that point that my husband thought he saw Darren Daulton walking into the restaurant. Who knows. Then we waited some more. And some more. I was not pleased. My husband knew what was coming. The waitress finally came over and told us there would be a 20-30 minute wait (after asking if we wanted an inside or outside table. Duh, lady, we have our dog with us.) I let her know how I felt about that and walked away frustrated. My husband tried to put things into perspective on our walk back down the Avenue saying things like “maybe someone else was supposed to come in tonight but they died.” Who knows. Either way, it wasn’t about the wait for an outdoor table, it was about the wait to even be acknowledged.  I may have mentioned this before, but I put some weight on being a neighborhood place. You have to put yourself out just a little bit more. Be a little friendlier.

Anyway. We went home and ordered some delicious take out from Tres Jalapenos and my trials were forgotten.

Last weekend, we decided to give it another try. We headed up 11th street on the later side–close to 9pm–and were treated to a number of empty outdoor seats. We were seated quickly and our speedy waitress whipped open our bottle of wine and poured two glasses before we could even tell her that we wanted to start with this.

(See the glass of wine in the background.) No biggie though. We sipped our beers and took in the specials while perusing the menu. A number of the specials stood out to us and we opted with two of them, two maki, the sashimi sampler and a heavier dish.

Our kumamoto oysters came out first. These were a refreshing and oceany start to our meal.

The oysters were followed by an interesting-sounding dish–grilled octopus in sesame oil. My husband bit into one before I did and exclaimed “it’s cold!” Although we expected a hot dish, this octopus was chewy without being rubbery and the sesame imparted a great flavor throughout. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top added a nice crunch to balance the chewiness of the octopus.

The sashimi sample was up next. The sampler consisted of two small bites of the following: tuna with tofu vinaigrette, fluke with tataki sauce, salmon carpaccio, squid with smoked sea salt and lemon oil and surf clam with spicy miso.

Surprisingly (to me,) I think my favorite was the salmon which had a perfect texture and the most subtle of flavors while leaving a buttery finish on my tongue.

Our food just kept coming. I swear it was flying out of the kitchen. Our maki and pork belly came at about the same time, but we ate the pork belly first because it was warm.

The braised pork belly over congee is definitely more of a cold weather dish, but we had had it before and liked it. Besides, all of our other dishes were very light so it was nice to have something to balance that out. This dish is phenomenal, by the way. The pork belly is, well, pork belly. It slips apart under the gentle touch of a fork and the flavors just fill your mouth with comfort and happiness. The congee is a tricky little devil. It has the porky flavor of the meat along with sweet soy sauce. As you eat it, you’re likely to happen upon a mushroom or edamame pea nestled in the porridge. This is a soulful dish.

We finished with the maki–shrimp tempura and a softshell crab. The shrimp tempura was great, while the softshell crab left a bit to be desired. I was hoping for more meat and less veggie. Let’s just say we emptied our plates anyway.

As we slowly finished up our meal, I started to make my way to the bathroom before noticing that the entire staff was busy cleaning the inside of the restaurant and the floor was being mopped. Oops, guess I’ll hold it. It was before the 11pm closing time so I guess they were just trying to get a jump on their evening.

Izumi is just the kind of restaurant Passyunk Avenue needs. While they may have some missteps here and there, they fill the perfect niche and I’ll keep coming back for more.

The Cantina

Ever since September, my former student, (and new friend!) Jerome, and I have been trying to get together for dinner. We both love good food and looked forward to spending some time together outside of school. Well, September became October, November, December and all of a sudden it was March and we still hadn’t gotten together. We finally committed to making it happen and I asked Jerome to come down to my neighborhood so I could check in on the dog before we went out.

When Jerome got off the 23 at Passyunk, I gave him the choice of Mexican (the Cantina,) bar food (Lucky 13,) or something else…I think I threw Stogie Joe’s or Marra’s out there as well. He immediately chose Mexican and we crossed the street and headed into the Cantina.

Sometimes the former vegetarian in me sneaks back and I couldn’t help eyeing up the seitan buffalo wings. Jerome was nice enough to indulge me and we split an order of them to start.

The “wings” were good. They were fried extra crispy and had a big kick. We sopped up plenty of blue cheese to counter the spice. Those who get squeamish when dealing with seitan or other “fake meat” probably would have been ok with this dish.

I went with the quesadillas for my entree. I knew this would happen. It’s been a few weeks since our visit and now I can’t remember what kind I got. It was either chicken or mushroom. Either way, they were darn tasty.

And Jerome went with the goat burrito. Now Jerome is not a little guy but look at the size of this burrito!

Isn’t Jerome adorable??? I love his blog, too, even though he hasn’t updated it in months! The burrito defeated him about 2/3 of the way through and he packed up the remainder for the next day’s lunch (or perhaps a late night snack.) What a lovely evening with a lovely gentleman.

Chhaya Cafe

Almost a year ago, I heard about a new cafe opening on Passyunk Avenue. Since we live just a few blocks from “the Avenue,” we’re always excited to hear about a new shop, bar or restaurant. [Side note: some of my favorite spots are Green Aisle Grocery, Fond, Salt & Pepper, Izumi and Nice Things Handmade, although I could spend–and have!–hours strolling with my dog, husband and a La Colombe cafe au lait from Capogiro and chatting with locals and shop owners alike.] In October, The Food Trust hosted the first ever Night Market on the Avenue and we (along with hundreds of others) checked out local food merchants, including Chhaya, a new cafe that served a variety of food on waffles.  My friend, Farish, and I got something that was either chicken or chick pea curry on a waffle (I’m still not sure why we couldn’t figure it out–I think the guy said one thing but it tasted like the other.)  We enjoyed the little taste and made a note to check it out.

Fast forward to last weekend. My husband and I slept in and were ready for a hearty Sunday brunch. He wanted pho but was overruled–I wanted a place where I could relax with a leisurely cup of coffee and Nam Phuong isn’t quite that place (don’t worry, he got what he wanted later in the day!)  I had been eyeing up Chhaya’s reviews on Yelp for the past week or so and figured it would be a great time to check it out.  We headed over there with empty bellies and high hopes.

Chhaya is adorable. I walked in and noted immediately that it had more of a coffee shop vibe than cafe. We were greeted immediately by the friendly waiter (who also served us during the Night Market) and gave our drink orders. Chhaya has four different types of coffee that can be served three ways–siphon, pour over or french press. This is my kind of place! I’ve recently become obsessed with “pour over” or Chemex style of coffee thanks to Bodhi Coffee (love that place!) Chemex is an hourglass-shaped glass vessel in which you pour hot water over a special filter. It’s very streamlined and simple and I am absolutely in love (hint, hint, my birthday is coming up!) I went with the Honduras coffee and was very ok with the forewarning that the pour over style would take some time. As the gentleman behind the counter prepared my drink, I walked over to get a photo. He was a bit perplexed and had some difficulty understanding what I wanted but this was my drink in progress.

When it finally came to the table, I had about a cup and a half of coffee. It was a pretty light roast and notably SMOOTH.

We perused the brief but comprehensive menu and I went with one of the waffle specials–their version of Huevos rancheros with black beans, tomato salsa, avocado and chorizo topped with a fried egg and hollandaise. I remarked that the Hollandaise was an interesting addition and the server explained that some folks had complained that the dish was too dry so they figured they’d add a little sauce. Hollandaise makes everything better, right?  My husband went with the bagel sandwich with cream cheese, bacon, avocado and tomato with an optional egg. He added the egg but never received it. Oh well.  The sandwich was good but pretty straightforward.

Then came my waffle. Take a look at the picture and tell me if anything looks strange to you…

It’s a little harder to tell in this picture but the waffles are all served on plates that are just a bit larger than the waffles themselves. This caused quite a dilemma for me. Because the dish was slightly deconstructed–the beans, tomato, chorizo were all in separate areas rather than mixed together–I had a hell of a time trying to get a good bite. Besides, every time I tried to cut into the waffle, the whole thing would slide around a bit and, inevitably, something would fall onto the table. It was a messy meal. I need a little space, folks! Taste-wise, the waffle was still pretty dry, even with the addition of Hollandaise that is evident in the picture but I barely tasted it. Each of the flavors was good on its own, but the plating made it impossible to mix them.

Final verdict–great concept, implementation needs work. Give me a bigger plate and double the toppings so that each bite is not overwhelmed with dry waffle and we can talk.  I will definitely return to Chhaya for a cup of coffee and perhaps a smaller bite, but I’m not sure about this whole waffle thing anymore.