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.

Scannicchio’s

Last week, my father’s best friend of 40+ years came to visit Philadelphia with his daughter, Emily, for a whirlwind visit to the region’s top colleges. It’s always so much fun when Pat visits. We eat a lot and drink a lot and my dad is very happy. I saw Pat and Emily, twice during the week. The first night we ate in with a massive amount of Pat’s famous grilled paella (to be blogged at a later date.) On Friday night, however, Emily wanted to visit an authentic Italian-American restaurant. It was immediately a battle between Villa di Roma and Scannicchio’s in my mind, although Scannicchio’s won out for two reasons: proximity to my house and its BYOB status. For some reason, I didn’t think Pat would be a fan of Villa’s jug of house red served in juice glasses, although it’s never bothered me. When in Rome, right? Pun intended.  Scannicchio’s it was and no one was disappointed. We first visited it with my parents a couple of years ago for some sort of family birthday or going away celebration. We can’t remember why we were there but everyone had a great time.

Pat and Emily got to our house about an hour or so before our reservations. Emily wanted a cup of coffee so I sent my husband and Pat off to the “Fine Wine and Good Spirits” store to pick up some wines for dinner while Emily and I set out in search of caffeine. Although I wanted to take her for a stroll along the avenue, I thought Ultimo Coffee on 15th and Mifflin, which also has the distinction of being attached to Brew, a boutique bottle shop. How cool is that??? I quickly eschewed my plan for peppermint tea and Emily got a chai latte while I settled for a little taste of the past.

My brother studied abroad in London and we all drank many a canned Strongbow during a chilly December visit. In fact, last time I was at Brew, I requested that they add Strongbow to their offerings so I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was available. Talk about customer service!

We arrived at Scannicchio’s just in time for our 6:30pm reservation and were seated by the owner’s friendly fiancee. As they dropped off the complimentary bread and roasted peppers, we opened my first ever rich, raisiny Amarone.

Our waiter came over to recite the specials and all of the appetizers sounded fantastic. They had my absolutely favorite arancini (which I pretty much have to get when they’re on a menu) so I was pumped! For appetizers, we ended up with two orders of the aranicini (they called them rice balls) and sausage and figs for the table while Emily got a salad of mixed greens and Pat got the special grilled romaine heart with strawberries.

The arancini were, not surprisingly, amazing. They were crunchy on the outside and soft, cheesy and gooey on the inside. As an added bonus, they came with a small serving of greens as well. While each order only had three balls, each one was pretty sizable, making sharing an option–not like you’d want to share this bite of deliciousness.

The sausage and figs was a surpringly good combination, although the darkness of the dish makes for a terrible picture. It was very sweet but the soft figs and chewy sausage provided a great textural combination along with a kick of syrupy balsamic. I would have liked for the dish to have a little more sausage though, as it seemed to be a bit fig heavy.

Pat’s salad could have easily been split between a few people as the romaine heart was generous. Pat believes it was grilled with the outer layer of leaves were removed in order to maintain the smoky grill flavor without the char of the leaves. The strawberry dressing and blue cheese were a perfect marriage for the crisp, clean bite of the romaine. What a refreshing dish.

We opened up another bottle of wine as the entrees came out. I didn’t really taste many of the entrees as I was busy focusing on my heart attack on a plate. I love fettucine alfredo. As much as I enjoy trying different things, I can be counted on to get fettucine alfredo at just about any Italian restaurant (Marra’s, Villa di Roma and Ralph’s come to mind.)  In my very unofficial search for the best fettucine alfredo in Philadelphia, Scannicchio’s is officially leading the way. The sauce was thick, flavorful and creamy. All it required was a quick twist of the pepper grinder and some parmesan for the added texture and it was perfetto!

Look at that thick, white sauce! The fact that I got two meals worth of food for $14.95 doesn’t hurt either.

It was around this time that they noticed me taking pictures and said “I hope you’re going to put them on the internet!” I assured them that I would.

I only tried two of the other entrees. My mom’s pork chop and Emily’s veal chop special. The pork chop was incredibly moist and chock full of flavor.

My husband’s white fish special.

My father and Pat both got clams with white sauce. One of them had fettucine and the other had linguine. About halfway through they realized they were eating the other’s dish. Whoops.

My dad got a side of escarole with white beans. I didn’t eat too much because my dish was more than enough, but the few bites I had were homestyle Italian perfection in the brothy dish.

Last up was dessert.  We had no need for dessert with the amount of food we had just consumed, yet everyone wanted to hear the options. We ended up  with three orders of blood orange sorbet (or was it gelato?), some other fruity gelato–maybe dried cherry and some crazy dessert of nutella ice cream sandwiched by two pizzelles for my mom.

The blood orange gelato was a little too fruity for my taste and I only had a few bites. Blood oranges are EVERYWHERE lately (including my house, where a batch of blood orange-cello was, ironically, straining through a coffee filter as we dined)

Oh whoops, did I forget to take a picture of the complimentary pina colada-cello that came with dessert? I guess we enjoyed them a little too quickly for that! Overall, Scannicchio’s is an amazing place to go with a group of hungry friends or family. While we enjoyed nicer libations, a group walked in with a cooler of Miller Lite and boxed wine as we were finishing up and they were welcomed just the same. Scannicchio’s welcomes all sorts of diners with open arms.

Green Eggs Cafe

My in-laws came to South Philly to help around the house once again (this may become a recurring theme on the blog.) By help, I generally mean my mother-in-law and I hanging out and my father-in-law and husband painting, tiling, spackling and/or sanding.  When they come down, we usually “do work around the house” for a few hours and then head out to lunch. Last time they were here, we tried to go to Green Eggs Cafe, but didn’t want to wait and happily ended up at Stogie Joe’s instead.

Green Eggs Cafe is a relatively new bruncherie at 13th & Dickinson with a second location in Northern Liberties. My husband and I visited a few times when it first opened and always enjoyed the food but the service was just…off.  You know, we had to ask for utensils, ask for drink refills, ask for our toast, etc. And we always sat at the counter. The thing that burned me up the most was that the owner was always there, but was he working? No. He was always just sitting around, hanging out. It’s important for me, especially in neighborhood establishments, to feel welcomed. Why do I like Green Aisle and Fond and Black and Brew so much? The owners are present and friendly and accommodating. I just wish he wouldn’t rest entirely on the fact that a place like Green Eggs was sorely needed in the neighborhood. Take the extra step, dude.

Stepping off of my soapbox.

Anyway, the in-laws, husband and I headed over there for a very late lunch (around 3pm) on a recent weekend and was told there would be a brief wait. No problem. It seems as if they took ownership of the space next door which was being turned into a comfy little “waiting room” while the space where these couches previously were is now occupied by tables.

There’s still a little work to be done but Green Eggs is definitely making better use of their space by adding tables to what was previously a pretty open area–and the previous resting place for the couches.

We were seated within ten minutes and briefly perused the menu (although I had already checked it out at home, of course.) From previous visits, I knew that I was a fan of their meaty, thick-cut turkey bacon, and thought that I’d be ordering from the breakfast side of things. Instead, a special caught my eye–beef bacon reuben. I like beef, for sure, and I like everything about a reuben. That was a winner for sure. It looked awful tasty when it came out.

Look at that carrot-flecked slaw! The sandwich was as good as I expected, if not better. The beef bacon wasn’t really bacon at all. It was kind of just corned beef (or something like that) but I didn’t really care. It was awesome. The sandwich was pressed so all of the flavors were melded together and each bite was simply delightful.

My father-in-law got the BLT with sweet potato fries. I didn’t get a photo of it because the poor guy was so hungry I figured I’d just let him eat. My husband and mother-in-law both got the club with “off the bone” turkey and smoked ham. Check this bad boy out.

We’re talking Koch’s sizes here, folks! With two kinds of meat (there were special raves for the carved, non-lunchmeat turkey,) this sandwich is a bang for your buck at $8.50. My husband hadn’t eaten all day so he managed to finish off most of the sandwich and my father-in-law helped my mother-in-law with hers.

Overall, this was the best experience, and certainly the best food I’ve had at Green Eggs. I look forward to going back and hope that my expectations continue to be exceeded.

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.