Not Just Pork at Jake’s Sandwich Board

Since its opening two years ago, Jake’s Sandwich Board has gotten great buzz from the foodie world and Center City lunch crowd alike.  I’d been meaning to go and finally ventured there when Level Up ran a promotion where anyone using the app would get $10 to spend at Jake’s. What the hell, free lunch.

We popped in and got to know a little more about Level Up, but then we got down to business with our order. During our conversation with the friendly Level Up gentleman, he pointed out one of the specials–BBQ brisket with swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Sold. My husband went with the Barnyard–pork, ground veal, sharp provolone, spinach, roasted peppers and roasted garlic spread. I also wanted to try the fried pickles that Midtown Lunch had raved about. There was a quick moment of terror when they thought they might be out of pickles. As it turned out, they had ONE order left. It was obviously meant to be. Then I saw the farm fries. Crispy fries topped with sharp provolone, pulled pork, bacon and homemade pork gravy. STOP IT RIGHT NOW! We obviously had to get them too! With the $10 promo and $5 for signing up, we ended up paying just $10 for all that food! I took a seat and twiddled my thumbs as we awaited our bounty, which came in just a few short minutes.

The Barnyard had a nice, Italian flare. It was stuffed to the brim with meat and topped generously with sharp provolone and fresh veggies (to make you feel a tad bit healthier.)
But I was more interested in this.

The dill pickles were thinly sliced and coated with a light batter with a creamy sriracha dipping sauce. It was the perfect side dish and a complete steal at just $2. The pickles were warm and crispy and the sauce provided the perfect heat to balance out the crunch. Heaven.

My sandwich was pretty darn good too.

Just look at it! Brisket slathered in sauce and topped with gooey Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and a hearty portion of sauerkraut. This is a six-napkin sandwich, folks. There is nothing not to like about it. The BBQ sauce was sweet but not overwhelming and the tangy kraut is always a palate-pleaser.

While one might think this sandwich would distract me, I also managed to dive headfirst into these guys.

LOOK AT THAT!!! These are no Caffe Chicco “gravy fries,” my friend. You can SEE the hunks of pork and crispy bit of bacon slathered generously atop these fries. When I’m looking for a gravy fry, THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Jake’s Sandwich Board is making some of the better sandwiches in Philadelphia these days. Not sure why it took me so long to get there but I can certainly promise I’ll be back soon. Farm fries. Swoon.

Editor’s note: If you’re not using LevelUp, you’re missing out! It’s a way to pay using your smart phone by linking it to a credit card. It’s fast and you gain rewards by using it at certain merchants. For example, for each $100 you spend at Giunta’s in The Reading Terminal, you get $10. Sign up here using my referral code (172989)  and we’ll both get $5 to spend anywhere!

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Caffe Chicco

A few months ago, I tweeted that I was going to Nick’s Roast Beef for the first time. I got a tweet back from someone imploring me to try Cafe Chicco on South Broad Street, just blocks from Nick’s. I had never heard of Caffe Chicco and despite driving up Broad Street frequently, I couldn’t even picture the space. I tucked it away for a day that I had off from work as their weekend hours are limited. When I started my summer break and still hadn’t gotten there, I knew it was on my short list. In fact, I went there on my second day off!

Caffe Chicco is easy to miss amidst some of the other more prominent store fronts on South Broad Street between Snyder and Oregon.

With a simple glass sign and a small sandwich board advertising their specials (gravy fries!) it’s rather unassuming. On one of the hotter days in June, I dropped my husband at work and hustled back down to Caffe Chicco to try the famous roast beef sandwich. Once I saw the sandwich board, I was obviously planning on adding gravy fries to the order. Duh. I snagged a meter right out front with 32 minutes on it. Score!

I walked inside the small shop with just a few tables holding a woman studying and an older, Italian guy waiting for his order. I waited. And I waited some more. Finally, a younger teenager emerged from the back to take my order of gravy fries and a roast beef sandwich with sharp provolone on a round roll ($5.50 + $1 for sharp provolone.)

I sat at an empty two top and waited. Then I waited some more. When I was done, I waited a little more. In the meantime, two others came in and ordered roast beef sandwiches. Finally, a gentleman came out of the back and started composing the sandwiches. Like Nick’s Roast Beef, the roast beef sandwiches are made in front so you can watch the meat being sliced and dipped in the juicy gravy. As the man kept making sandwiches, I kept thinking ONE of them had to be for me. Finally, the girl walked up to me.

“Are you allergic to peanuts?” she asked.

“Uhhh, haha, no,” I responded quizzically. She turned to the guy in the back.

“See, everyone laughs at me when I ask,” Apparently, the potatoes are fried in peanut oil. Luckily, I’m not allergic and all could proceed. Then I waited a little more.

Finally, the girl let me know that my food was ready. I hopped in the car with just minutes to spare in my free 32-minute meter (that was a looong wait.) Luckily, I lived just a few blocks from Caffe Chicco and was able to rush home to rip into my lunch.

Look at that gooery cheese! Opting for a thicker cut than most places, Caffe Chicco’s sandwich was certainly good. The meat was warm and tender, although I could have used a bit more cheese and gravy.

Then I opened the gravy fries. Oooh, the gravy fries. I recently wrote about my love affair for this dish at Nick’s Roast Beef and was excited to try the competition.

What I got were limp fries, bland gravy and just a dash or two of shredded meat. I could taste (and enjoyed) the peanut oil that was used for the frying but they could have benefitted from being twice fried or something to get them just a little crispy. And the gravy was a complete let down. Let’s be honest, folks. The gravy makes or breaks a dish and while the fries were lackluster, the sandwich was good. I think it could have been great with a richer gravy. Guess I’ll stick to Nick’s, unless anyone can give me another suggestion?

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.

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!

DiNic’s

This is not a “real” post because there’s no way I could capture my affinity for DiNic’s in a simple blog post.  Besides, in the interest of full disclosure, they are friends of mine. Let’s be honest, though. Friends or no friends, their sandwiches are the bomb. In fact, you don’t need me to tell you. Ask this guy or this guy instead. Suffice it to say, their sandwiches are pretty awesome. My personal favorite is the brisket with cheese and greens (broccoli rabe!) but I don’t get it often enough because the brisket isn’t ready until closer to lunch time and I’m usually there early Saturday mornings. Poor me, I guess I’m stuck with the roast beef with peppers and cheese (with some added horseradish and banana peppers.)

Or maybe the sausage with peppers, onions and cheese–a recent discovery of mine.

When I was a vegetarian, Joe would even make me veggie sandwiches with peppers, cheese and greens. You can’t go wrong at this place. I promise.