Classic Comfort Food in Center City (Philly Burger Round Up – Week 4)

Photo May 20, 7 49 58 PMSmokin’ Betty’s
116 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Photo May 20, 7 49 30 PM

Photo May 20, 7 49 46 PMIn the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there is an entry for comfort food. Comfort food, according to Webster, is defined as “food that is satisfying because it is prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends.” There is nothing quite like dipping some ooey-gooey grilled cheese into some velvety tomato soup, or having a spoonful of creamy, decadent mac n’ cheese, or a big bowl of chocolate ice cream. Eating comfort food somehow taps into our sense of nostalgia and makes is us feel warm all over. Burgers—at least for me—are one of the biggest comforting foods around. So for the next stop on my Philly Burger Round Up, I’m heading to Smokin’ Betty’s located in Midtown. Smokin’ Betty’s is a haven for comforting sandwiches, saucy barbecue, meaty burgers with lots of delicious twists on classic American food.

Photo May 20, 6 56 29 PMLuckily we had gotten to the restaurant in time for the tail end of Happy Hour, so were able to have some cocktails for only $5. They also have some of their signature appetizers available for 1/2 price as well. The Berry Lemonade ($5) is available everyday at happy hour and was made with Citron vodka, and came in a decent sized tumbler. It wasn’t too sweet, but nice and tart. It had a good amount of alcohol so it had a bite and there was enough to know it was there in the background. It was delicious with the burger to come!

We started with the Black Angus Beef Cheesesteak Eggrolls ($9), served with smoked tomato jam. I mean, come on, this is Philly–what’s more comforting than a cheesesteak? Fried cheesesteak eggrolls! The sweet dipping sauce is a nice alternative to ketchup. The super crispy wrapper was tightly wrapped so the filling did not go all over the place, and it was easy to eat. The filling was not too heavy from the meat and had a slightly smoky taste inside—it was probably cooked near the BBQ meats. The portion size was a bit on the smaller side since there were only 4 of them, but it was a perfect size plate for two people to share.

Photo May 20, 7 18 59 PMI was feeling like a more traditional burger, and my dining partner wanted to try something a little more “out there,” so we each ordered a different dish. The Betty Burger ($13.95) is a classic burger, but made special from the delicious toppings and garnishes. The patty is made with 1/2 pound of quality ground sirloin. It’s then topped with some super tender confit pork belly—confit is just a fancy way of saying it’s cooked in fat, usually its own. Pork belly has a very, very high fat content, so as you cook it the fat cooks down and bastes the meat to keep it moist, chewy and melt in your mouth soft. Next up is some creamy avocado, sharp cheddar, crunchy lettuce, slightly acidic tomato, and a slightly runny sunny side up egg. The bun is slathered with a house made roasted garlic aioli to finish it off. The meat is cooked to temperature (medium-rare) and so juicy, and though the cheese was kind of lost in the shuffle, but the rest of the garnishes make up for it. As you bite into the burger you get that hit of meaty goodness, the pork belly is salty and chewy, the avocado is creamy, the lettuce and tomato give crunch and cooling effect, then egg yolk breaks open and coats your palette to add another level of richness to this burger. The juice starts to run down your hands and it’s basically an orgasmic experience. Yum!

Photo May 20, 7 18 44 PMThe Tur-Duck-En Burger ($12.95) is, on the other hand, unique from the get-go. The meat is smoky and slightly gamey with a nice crust. The poultry patty stayed moist, which might have been from the gravy—it was hard to pinpoint, but was definitely felt. The layer of stuffing was soft inside and crisp on the outside—my favorite part of thanksgiving. The cranberry sauce wasn’t too sweet, but had a nice tartness, and the sweet potato ribbons gave the sandwich a velvety softness. This burger basically is Thanksgiving on a plate, but much more handheld.

Photo May 20, 7 19 04 PMThough the burgers usually come with regular french fries, we decided to switch things up and order Sweet Potato Fries (extra $1) with our burgers, which were on point. The potatoes were rustically cut thick and clearly homemade. They were meaty on the inside, but also slightly crisp on the outside—probably from a double frying technique. The regular fries are great here as well, but this time the sweet potato were the right choice this time and played well with the other dishes. They complemented the slight sweetness of the cocktails, and definitely matched the holiday theme of the Tur-Duck-En burger. Plus, they serve you a jumbo sized portion of fries with your burger.

Photo May 20, 7 49 27 PMAfter our meal, I was definitely feeling comforted—and maybe a little stuffed lol. Everything on the menu at Smokin’ Betty’s tastes delicious, and the service is pretty great too. If you want a night of comfort food that’s going to make you reminisce about wonderful experiences in the past, or an amazing delicious weekend brunch, come eat here any day of the week!

Photo May 20, 7 19 07 PMBetty Burger: A
Tur-Duck-En Burger: A-

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Recipe: Mediterranean Inspired Lamb Flatbread

The other day I was in the mood to make some fish tacos at home, but the local market I went to only had these small onion flatbreads. So, I decided to scrap the idea for the night. The  flatbreads actually turned out deliciously for my “new” tacos—or really chalupas maybe—and I ended up having a few of them leftover. So I thought of what I could do with a flatbread and was feeling in a very Mediterranean mood. I felt this was a very appropriate recipe since I’ve dedicated the last couple of weeks of blog posts to my recent vacation in the Middle East, and decided to do a fusion of Greek and Israeli cuisines.

These (not so mini!) lamb flatbreads were an experiment, but I knew the flavor combinations would mesh well together. The spicy lamb mixture, the creamy and tangy feta sauce, the briny pickled red onions and the soft, chewy onion flatbreads make a killer combination for dinner, appetizers or even to entertain!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground lamb
  • 8 oz block of Feta cheese–I’m going to echo the Barefoot Contessa by saying that you should make sure to use a quality feta in your dish—preferably Greek or Bulgarian
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1 teaspoon of mint, dried
  • 6 large garlic cloves (or 8-9 small cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • (optional) Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 7-8 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 can of pitted Black olives
  • 1 teaspoon Olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Feta sauce:

  1. In the food processor, add the 3/4 of the feta cheese, lemon juice, yogurt, mint, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  2. Whir it up until the feta is completely broken up, but the sauce still has some consistency to it—I like my sauce to still have some body to it, but blend to your own preference
  3. Taste for seasoning!—I don’t add any salt since the feta is already so salty, but everyone has a different palette.

Pickled red onions:

  1. Peel and slice the red onion thinly and place into a sieve or pasta strainer with small holes
  2. In a jar or bowl—whatever canister you’d like to use to make your onions, I use a mason jar for my leftover—pour the sugar, tablespoon of salt and crushed red pepper
  3. Cover with water and fill the jar, but leave enough room for the onions as well. Stir to dissolve
  4. Add the vinegar—plain white vinegar is alright as well. Even rice wine vinegar could make these delicious for a banh mi sandwich
  5. Boil a few cups of water in a kettle or on the stove, and when the water comes to a boil, pour over the onions
  6. Place the par-blanched onions into the sugar-salt bowl. There should be enough water/vinegar mixture to cover all of the onionsPhoto May 18, 11 48 35 PM
  7. Leave for at least one hour, but I left mine most of the dayPhoto May 18, 11 50 55 PM.jpg

Lamb mixture:

  1. In your food processor—no worries if it has residual sauce, it’s all going on the same dish—finely chop the olives, chilis, and remaining garlic
  2. Mix together the lamb, salt, cumin, oregano, chile-olive-garlic mixture, olive oil, and the rest of the pepper in a bowl—use your hands to really get the meat to absorb the marinadePhoto May 18, 8 42 24 PM.jpg
  3. Don’t mix the mixture too much or you might make the meat tough when it eventually cooks
  4. Let the meat sit and absorb the spices and marinade ingredients for at least 30-45 minutes and up to overnight

To assemble the flatbreads:Photo May 18, 11 33 11 PM.jpg

  1. Lay flatbreads flat on a baking sheet—a pita or even naan bread would be a good substitute. Just make sure you use a bread that has a large flat surface and has some heft to itPhoto May 18, 11 35 25 PM.jpg
  2. Spoon some feta sauce on the bread and spread around the surface with a spoon to almost the edge—I put a good amount of sauce, but don’t use it all!Photo May 18, 11 38 00 PM.jpg
  3. Using your hands, spread the equal amounts of the lamb mixture onto each flatbread and form into semi thick layer—at first I was going to cook the lamb first, but actually ended up forgetting to. By the time I remembered, it has already started cooking and the fat from the lamb ends up absorbed by the bread and flavored the whole dish amazinglyPhoto May 18, 11 38 40 PM
  4. Sprinkle some feta over the top of the lamb, and slide these babies into the ovenPhoto May 18, 11 47 18 PM
  5. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes—some ovens vary so if your oven tends to get super high, maybe stay on 350 insteadPhoto May 19, 12 05 53 AM
  6. Remove from oven and let rest for a couple of minutes Photo May 19, 12 05 55 AM
  7. Scatter some picked red onions all over the flatbreads after it comes out of the ovenPhoto May 19, 12 07 49 AM.jpg
  8. Crumble some fresh feta over the top, as well as a few dollops of feta sauce
  9. This last step is purely optional, but I thought it gives it a wonderful fruity afternoon and a bit of panache. Pour a little bit of thick balsamic vinegar over the top to garnish. I used a deliciously thick grapefruit, white balsamic that I had in the pantryPhoto May 19, 12 09 44 AM.jpg
  10. Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Απολαύστε το γεύμα σας!

An Italian Feast in Tel Aviv (What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation, Part III)

Piazza
Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar
99 Dizengoff Street
Tel Aviv, Israel

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FullSizeRender-5I have to admit, while I love trying new cuisines and sampling unique, ethnic flavors—I love me some comfort food! High up on that list of food that makes me feel good is Italian. Whether it’s a big bowl of pasta, a gooey, cheesy pizza, or a delicious fresh cannoli, I have a weakness for the heavy carbfest that comes from most Italian meals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Piazza is one of my favorite restaurants in Tel Aviv, and a “must eat at” when I’m by Dizengoff Square.

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FullSizeRender-1Piazza is aptly named as it has a large outdoor dining area that is modeled after an Italian piazza—in fact there are trees and beautiful lights that only add to the magical trip to Italy that you’re taken on by the food. There is also an indoor seating area that is reminiscent of a trattoria or Italian bistro. The focal point of the indoor dining space is the large brick oven that has clearly been imported from Italy, as well as the Little Italy style white and red checkered table cloths—very “Lady and the Tramp.” There are English and Hebrew menus available, and the waiter brings a funky-looking bottle of cold tap water to the table as you sit down. Although I didn’t order one on my most recent trip, the Italian soda bar here is tasty and refreshing as well.

FullSizeRender-2I’ve eaten here a few times and have tried multiple dishes, but every time I come here I can’t resist ordering the Truffle Pizzetta (34 shekels, ~$9). The pizzetta is in actuality a mini pizza. The pizzetta is baked off in the brick oven so it maintains its crisp edges—even with toppings—as well as a wonderful chewiness only found from expert pizza makers. In fact, the crust reminds me of the one I’d get from a small, brick oven pizzeria in NYC. After it comes out of the oven, the crust is slathered with truffle cream, which is so important to this dish. The truffle spread is garlicky, pungent, earthy, creamy and oh so delicious. Then a soft-boiled egg—complete with slightly loose yolk—is cut into quarters and placed onto the pizzetta as well as a few thinly sliced radishes that are spicy and help cut through the richness of the dish. The cold egg and truffle cream atop the hot crust is makes for great temperature play, and the hot crust warms the cream and intensifies its unctuous truffle flavor. In addition, there is wonderful textural contrast between the crisp crust, the creamy egg yolk, velvety softness of the truffle spread, the crunch of the radish and the soft chewy egg white. Honestly, I could eat this everyday and be so happy. The dish is also playful and beautiful to look at. It comes with your own little pizza cutter so you can have it all to yourself—which I usually do—or divide among a few. The dish is garnished with some chives and micro basil before it hits the table, which is a classy touch and adds some freshness to an otherwise heavy starter.

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FullSizeRender-11For the main dish, I try to switch it up each time I come here. One of my favorite dishes, which is technically a special, but is served somewhat often, is the Seafood Linguine (64 shekels, ~$17.50), composed of shrimp, calamari and mussels in a crab and butter sauce. The shrimp was plump, perfectly cooked and moist, while the calamari was tender and not springy or chewy at all, and while most of the mussels had come out of the shells, they tasted good and looked very pretty and absorbed some of the spicy sauce. The linguine was cooked al dente so not mushy at all, and drank up the wonderful butter based sauce, and coated the noodles. The sauce was made with sweet green basil, rich butter, piquante raw garlic, and cherry tomatoes, which are a national specialty of Israel. In fact, Israel is known for their sweet cherry tomatoes since much of the water used to grow them is from the Dead Sea, which is so salty that it causes the tomatoes to become sweeter than usual—you could taste that sweetness in the dish, especially contrasted with the subtle heat in the sauce. There’s some sliced (almost) raw garlic, which perfumed the dish and enhanced the flavor of the pasta as well. The hot pasta tossed with the sweet tomatoes, some fruity olive oil, creamy butter, raw slivered garlic, earthy basil and plump, meaty seafood was a heavenly combination. This dish is so fresh tasting and the bounty of seafood is perfect for Tel Aviv, since it’s a beach city—makes you feel like you’re at the sea! I’d get a meal like this in a five-star Italian restaurant at home. Delizioso!

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Without chicken
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With chicken

Another great entrée choice is the Tripoline Carbonara (62 shekels, ~$16) or fettuccine carbonara, which I added grilled chicken to (7 shekels, ~$2). The chicken was grilled and had a nice crust develop on the outside of the flesh—probably from using flour in the coating of the chicken before it went into the pan. The result was some very moist meat that went well in the pasta.The fettuccine was cooked nicely and cooked softer than the linguine, but not chewy. The carbonara sauce clung to the noodles, and was creamy and thick. There was a nice kick of black pepper, and some saltines from the Parmesan and bacon, The bacon itself became soft and almost melted into the dish. This was a very decadent dish of pasta and very, very comforting.

FullSizeRender-10I’m usually so full by the time the waitress asks if I’d like to see the dessert menu, but I made it a point to have dessert on one of my visits here a couple of weeks ago. I’m a big fan of chocolate and was actually eying the appetizing Marscapone and Nutella Pizza, but ended up going with the Creme Brûlée (34 shekels, ~$9). The creme brûlée was cooked in a large, wide ramekin and had a perfectly bruleed top and a thin layer of custard underneath. The top itself was almost like stained glass and I performed the spoon tapping test and it passed with crunchy colors. As I ate this dessert, I sometimes got a little of a charred bitter flavor from the burnt sugar, which was wonderful in contrast to the sweetness of the custard. The custard was sweet, with a strong vanilla flavor, and velvety smooth. It had an almost pudding-like consistency but still very much set. The combination of the crunchy top and the creamy custard was also very playful. The ramekin was garnished with a sprig of mint—a lot of attention to detail was given to the dish’s presentation. Great way to end the meal.

FullSizeRender-5The dining experience at Piazza was and is always great. They have special discounted prices at lunchtime, and the service is always friendly and attentive. The food is delicious, and the portions super filling. Come eat here when you are in Tel Aviv, you won’t leave disappointed—or hungry!

Philly Food Fests

Sorry I’ve been a little MIA the last couple of weeks as I’ve been out of the country, but I have a special week’s worth of posts from my yep starting next week. In the meantime, I’m going to start the Summer season with some outdoor food market experiences. 

I am a big fan of food festivals since they’re a great way of trying out local vendors–especially with friends. Philadelphia has so many food events over the summer including Night Market and the Italian Market Festival. Night Market is a roving food market that moves to a new neighborhood once a month and has a ton of local food trucks,’carts and food artisans selling their products. From cupcakes, to cookies, to dumplings to sandwiches, there are so many foods to try. The Italian Market Festival is a once a year two day, weekend celebration of the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia and features live music, local artists and artisans, and stalls for Italian market vendors. If you’re a fan of Italian food, this is one event to definitely pencil in! 

Although I couldn’t try everything, I think I got a good sampling of foods at both events. Night Market began in Philadelphia, in 2010, as an homage to outdoor Asian markets, and showcases hot Philly neighborhoods, and street foods. Each month it moves to a new area of the city such as Lancaster Ave, East Passyunk, Chinatown, Northern Liberties and more. 

 

  The Night Market season kicked off this year on South Street last month. The South Street area is funky, with a mix of cool restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a new area for the market–for me–to take place, but they were up to the challenge. 

  

We really started out the night Philly-style at the T & N Homemade Kitchen truck with Phried Hoagie ($6), which was exactly how it sounds. They took a quarter of an Italian hoagie, dipped it into a tempura batter made with Ginger Ale and deep-fried it. This dish was super messy, but in such a fun way. As you but into it there was a great thick crust that grew outward from the middle of the sandwich. It was thick, but still chewy. The meat on the inside stayed moist and semi-cold. The temperature play was a nice touch. The only real issue was the ratio of crust to filling — I wish there was a bit more meat. 

Next up we had a sample of some picked green beans from Brine Street Picklery, which were tart, sour, a little bit sweet, and so refreshing. 

Next up we stopped at Pbon’s Fresh Phood of Philly. Pbon sells sandwiches with an emphasis on crab. The Philly Melt ($8) with crab was calling our name. This sandwich was pretty unique. The crab cake was grilled and not fried, and the crabmeat was juicy and succulent. It was served on a chewy pretzel bun that absorbed a lot of the excess moisture. It was a perfect second course and was great to walk with.  

     

It was time for a drink, and luckily, Bistro Romano, in addition to selling food, were serving drinks. For $5 we each got a summertime cocktail – Limoncello Vodka Lemonade for me, and Vodka Watermelon Cooler for my friend. The drinks were light and perfect for the hot night air. There was a good amount of alcohol, and were more distinctive (and cheaper!) than a beer. The lemonade wasn’t too sweet and had a subtle lemony flavor.

   
  

  

 

After walking the length of the market, we had built up our appetite again and heeded to Mama’s Balls, a food truck that specializes in meatballs of multiple varieties. I’d been looking forward to trying this truck for a while and so we went with the 3 for $13 plate. The Rabe-Father meatball was made with ground turkey with a peppery spiciness from the broccoli rabe, which also kept the turkey moist. It was stuffed with asiago cheese that also helped keep it moist and garnished with pesto that helped elevate this meatball to deliciousness. The Spicy Sausage Ball had a nice kick from the hot Italian sausage and a nice cooling effect from the delicious marinara sauce that it was dressed in. The final meatball was the Blue Ball that was stuffed with blue cheese and bacon, and covered with a creamy blue cheese sauce. The meatballs were all served on mini, slider rolls which were easy to eat, but not always necessary. These meatballs were so moist and delicious, I wish I had like 20 of them. 

  

  

  

The Mac Mart Cart was (finally) calling our name. This truck specializes in everyone’s favorite comfort food, max ‘n cheese. We had to save this for towards the end since it’s so heavy, but also so delicious. It was the creamy noodle dish of my dreams. The Buffalo Mac and Cheese ($8) features their classic mac is topped with spicy buffalo chicken that is chopped into small pieces, tangy buffalo sauce, creamy Buttermilk Ranch sauce and a Parmesan-Panko crust. The portion itself was also huge and easily fed two people.      

 

At this point, we were ready for dessert. The first stop was Sugar Philly for some amazingly, appetizing French Macaron ($1.50 each). The strawberry was a bit tart and had a nice berry flavor that perfumes the cookie. The banana and chocolate chip flavor was a nice balance of sweetness from the chocolate and mellow banana flavor. The milk and honey macaron had the flavor of the best angel food cake, but sweeter. The final one was watermelon and mango and was awesome; it wasn’t too sweet but had a wonderful fruit flavor and a burst of summer in my mouth. All of the cookies had crisp edges with a wonderful chewy texture. The cream in the middle was just the right amount as to not overwhelm the delicate cookies. 

The macarons had only half satisfied out sweet tooth, so up next was The Baker’s Jar. Baker’s Jar specializes in miniature sized desserts of cakes, pies or puddings served in mason jars. They had a variety of flavors available at Night Market, but we went with the Carrot Cake and Dulce de Leche Brownie ($4 each). The carrot cake was moist and had a nice cinnamon aftertaste, with a good amount of cream cheese frosting. The frosting was velvety smooth and I could’ve eaten it by the spoonful. The brownie was intensely chocolatey with a deep cocoa flavor. The brownie was garnished with a thick caramel sauce, and was very fudge-y. The jars were small enough that I didn’t feel guilty eating two of them myself.

Next up was the Italian Market Festival the following weekend, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary, or Cent’anni, of the 9th Street Italian Market. As I walked towards South 9th Street, I was hit by the aroma of some sort of pastry in the air, which were cannoli shells maybe. I passed Twin Smoke Shoppe selling hand rolled cigars that gave off a heady musk, and there were food vendors going in both directions – pasta, pastries, meats, and more.

  

All the smells in the air was making me super hungry, so I started the afternoon off with a slice of Lorenzo’s Pizza ($2.50). The slice had a perfect cheese and sauce ratio, and became a blank canvas for the crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. The crust was doughy and chewy, and simply delicious to eat. Great way to start off the day. 

  

My next stop was at the Humpty’s Dumplings food truck for some Italian themed dumplings (3 for $5). I chose the sausage, spinach and pork. The pork dumpling went great with the tomato sauce and tasted almost like a mini-Stromboli. The spinach dumpling was super moist and reminded me of a spinach purse appetizer. I thought the pork dumpling would have ground pork, but turned out to be be stuffed with chopped up pork and spinach from a roast pork sandwich. It was my favorite of the three and super appropriate for Philly. The skin on the dumplings was not too crispy, and almost like puff pastry. They were good for walking and definitely unique. 

Villa di Roma Italian restaurant had samples of their homemade marinara sauce. The sauce was the same sauce they use in the restaurant and not sell by the jar. It was luxurious, thick but not too chunky. It was sweet and had a earthy Oregano taste. The other version was more basil heavy.  

 

I decided to take a small break from eating to explore some of the local market food vendors. Cardenas Oil and Vinegar Taproom is a specialty food store featuring various flavored extra virgin olive oils, vinegars and sea salts. There were flavors like lemongrass mint vinegar, basil oil, pink sea salts, and more. The Bordeaux cherry vinegar was dark in flavor and in color. There was an after note of spice–classic but modern. I wanted it to glaze my grilled salmon, but but also on a chicken liver crostini. It might even be good in a dessert! The garlic chili oil was also slight darker than a normal olive oil, and was spicy but not too hot. It had s building heat with a punch of garlic flavor. The sage onion oil was also tasty with a very strong sage flavor, appropriate for bold dishes . It would also be good for poultry dishes, especially a heavier bird like a turkey. The oil had an aromatic onion background flavor as well. I ended up buying the Grapefruit, White Balsamic Vinegar ($16). It was tangy, but not very acidic. It wasn’t too cloying, but had a perfumed sweetness and was syrupy thick. It would be delicious drizzled on a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad, or even used to make an Italian soda with some seltzer. 

My next eat wasn’t very Italian, but I couldn’t resist. There happen to be a few Latin shops in the Italian Market area, so I wasn’t that surprised to see the popular Mexican street corn ($4) being sold at a few stalls. The corn cob was slathered with mayonnaise and then covered with Mexican cotija cheese. The corn itself was so juicy, and every time I took a big bite, juice would go flying. The cheese wasn’t as salty as Feta, but gave each bite great texture. The mayo didn’t add much taste and mostly acted as the glue for the cheese and corn. The corn had that perfect amount of summer sweetness and was perfectly cooked, though it could’ve done with a bit more char for my taste. They were also selling some grilled, roasted mango in “mango flower,” so I took a sample. The mango was so sweet and delicious. It would have been perfect for salsa. 

No visit to the Italian Market is compete without a detour at Termini Bros Bakery ($5), a legendary Italian bakery making cookies, cakes, pastries and, of course, cannoli. Termini had a few stalls set up throughout the festival where they would pipe cannoli shells full of cream on the spot. So I had to get a cannoli for myself, and went with the classic filling with chocolate chips. Biting into a cannoli from Termini is heaven–the whipped ricotta was so amazingly light and creamy, but so filling. It’s not too sweet, and complements the crispy pastry shell nicely. There were chocolate chips hidden in the filing, but thy didn’t overwhelm the delicate ricotta. The shell was super crispy, and just big enough for scooping up extra filling with broken pieces as you bite into it. The filling to shell ratio was spot on. The slight dusting of powdered sugar wasn’t even needed. I needed a few moments alone with my cannoli. 

 

My final stop of the day was at the famous Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food that was selling their homemade pasta to long lines of hungry Philadelphians. It was hard to decide for me as to what I wanted, so I had a bit of a combo bowl ($8). The cheese ravioli were pillows of pasta surrounding a slightly grainy but creamy ricotta filling–much more savory and thinner than the cannoli filling. The ravioli presented a greater surface area for the tomato sauce which was very basil heavy, sweet snd chunky. The other half of my bowl was penne with vodka sauce, and the ridges on the penne allowed it to catch more of be sauce. The vodka sauce had a peppery bite that came off as spicy, but not hot. Overall the pastas were pretty saucy and pieces of the meatball would break off and incorporate into the sauce. It very much allowed for a cohesive eating experience. The meatballs were absolutely delicious. They have a generous portion of two big meatballs. They must have used a nest blend because not only could you see the different meats in the ball as it was split open, but the meatball stayed very moist and juicy. It didn’t suffer from the downfall of many meatballs where it dries out due to being in a larger piece of meat and sitting out. This pasta and meatball bowl was the perfect way to end my Italian Market experience and sent me home with a belly full of tasty Italian treats.

This was my first round of Philly food festivals this summer, look for Night Market – Callowhill coming up soon!

Philly Burger Round Up: Week 3 – Marathon Grill

I’m back with the third installment of the amazingly delicious Philly Burger Round Up. I took a break for a couple of weeks for Passover, and burgers just don’t taste the same on matzah. 😁  

Last week, I had just finished volunteering and decided to go out  to dinner with a friend, but we didn’t want anyplace too fancy or fussy, and settled on Marathon Grill. Marathon is a local favorite with a few locations around Philadelphia, with good food, a nice amour of space and decent prices–it often reminds me of a modern, upscale diner. In fact, Marathon is often a brunch spot for me since their brunch quesadilla with chorizo is big and delicious!
  
For dinner, I opted for the Marathon Burger ($11.50). They also have the option of customizing your burger, but I went with the pre-customized menu version. The temperature of the burger was good, just a hair over medium rare, and it was amazingly juicy, greasy and messy in the best way possible–all burgers should be a little messy! For their beef, Marathon uses a blend of short rib, sirloin and chuck. The party tasted very gourmet, and because there was a blend of cuts, it had a nice amount of fat that kept the burger incredibly moist.
The tomato wasn’t sliced too thick, and the lettuce was easy to take off as I don’t usually like lettuce on my burgers. The applewood smoked bacon was cooked through, but still a kept some chewiness, which I love. I hate when bacon is super crisp and it’s lost all of its porkiness and meatiness. On the other hand, the bacon wasn’t flabby, and had a subtle smoky taste.
 

 

The BBQ sauce was slathered on the bottom half of the bread and also helped keep the sandwich moist–and wet. The sauce itself was spicy and had a nice bite to it–interesting, but in a good way. The cheese didn’t have a very bold flavor, but helped the sandwich keep a creamy consistency. The sweet, caramelized onions were on point and played well with the spicy BBQ sauce, especially since there was a generous portion of them on the burger. The burger was served on a country, brioche bun that was strong enough to stand up to the heavy burger. It had a slight, pleasant sweetness to it.
I wasn’t in the mood for fries, or for the other side choice of Caesar salad on the menu, so I substituted some spinach for the fries. The spinach was served in a small bowl on the burger plate and was cooked with a nice amount of garlic, though perked up a lot with some salt.
  
My friend ordered the Grilled Salmon ($15.50), which was glazed with a whole grain honey mustard sauce. The fish was cooked well, and stayed moist. The mustard wasn’t too strong as to overpower the salmon. The mashed potatoes were super creamy and absorbed some of the juice and sauce from the salmon. The accompanying asparagus was a smaller portion, but tasted delicious. The stalks weren’t mushy, and still had great texture. 
The restaurant staff was very friendly, and the servers were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu. Marathon Grill was a solid weekday dinner option with a tasty, comforting old school burger.
Grade: A-
They only lost a few points because the cheese for a little lost in the shuffle. I wish it was a bit more forthright. The meat blend and onions were fantastic though.

Recipe: Chicken Parmigiana Meatballs

I’ve been thinking about how to put a twist on some classic dishes lately. One of my favorites is Chicken Parmigiana. Who can resist the call of crispy chicken, hearty tomato sauce, and gooey cheese? Not this guy. But there are only so many ways to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a good chicken parm. So, I thought, “what about chicken parmigiana as a meatball?” and the idea for this dish was born. These meatballs have all the aspects of a plate of chicken parm that you love, without all of the work, and in a new, unique way.

Ingredients:

IMG_18891-2 lbs of ground chicken—I like white meat, but if you’re afraid of your meatballs drying out, then dark meat is delicious. Same thing with ground turkey

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of minced onion, dried

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1 egg

IMG_18861/4 cup of wheat germ—breadcrumb lam work well too, but I think the wheat germ in the actual meatball gives it a little bit of sweetness that you often find in slow cooked chicken parmigiana dishes

IMG_18911 ball of fresh mozzarella

1/2 cup of Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup and 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (use a sliding scale depending on your preference)

1/4 teaspoon of basil, dried

1-2 cups of tomato sauce (see recipe here)

To Make the Meatballs:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix ½ cup of Parmesan cheese with the Panko breadcrumbs, and set aside
  3. Cut a few slices of the mozzarella, about ½ of the ball, and cube all but 2 of them
  4. In another bowl, combine ground chicken, wheat germ, egg, salt, pepper, basil, garlic and onion together in a bowlIMG_1890
  5. Mix the meat mixture, but not too much, just until it becomes homogenous
  6. Grab about 1/8 of the meat mixture and form into a small patty
  7. Use your thumb to make a small well in the center of the patty and place a couple of cubes of cheese there
  8. Use your fingers to curl the meat around the cheese into a ball and your other hand to seal the edges. All do the cheese should be covered by meat so it doesn’t leak out
  9. Roll the meatball in the Parmesan breadcrumb mixture until coated all over
  10. Place the coated meatballs on a greased baking sheet, evenly spaced apart
  11. Put the meatball sheet into the refrigerator for about 30-60 minutes, or 15-20 minutes in the freezer to firm up
  12. Add a bit of olive oil to the top of each meatball before bakingIMG_1899
  13. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes
  14. Once they’re starting to brown, flip the meatballs and bake for another 15 minutesIMG_1903
  15. Remove the meatballs from the oven and turn the heat up to 425 degreesFullSizeRender-2
  16. In a small baking dish, or a large one, if you’d like to do them all at once, place your meatballsIMG_1902FullSizeRender-6FullSizeRender-7
  17. Cover with 1-2 cups of the tomato sauce and the remaining cheese
  18. Bake the meatballs again in the oven for 6-8 minutes. You just want to get the meatballs to absorb some of the sauce, and the cheese to melt nicelyIMG_1912

Serve and enjoy! I like mine with a nice Caesar salad on the side, but these would be great with some pasta tossed in the same tomato sauce, on a sub, as a topping for pizza, or even as an appetizer. You’ll love this twist on your normal meatball recipe. Go balls to the wall! 😉

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Philly Burger Round Up: Week 2 – Good Dog Bar and Restaurant

 For the second installment of my Philly Burger Round Up, I decided to visit the location of one of my first burger experiences in Philadelphia, Good Dog Bar and Restaurant. Good Dog Bar is a casual gastropub located on 15th Street in Center City that has been around for over 10 years. It has a decent selection of craft beers, creative cocktails, but most importantly, decidedly delicious food. This place is no frills in the best possible way, and the food is what matters in the end. The menu is made up of mostly modern comfort foods like burgers, Buffalo Shrimp, truffled cheesesteak empanadas, and one of my personal favorites, duck pot pie.   IMG_1726-0I went with a classic, the Good Dog ($12.50) burger, which consists of 1/2 lb. of beef—ground in house—stuffed with Roquefort cheese, and topped with caramelized onions. It’s served on a brioche bun. I ordered my burger medium rare, and it was cooked nicely—the temperature was spot on! The blue cheese inside the burger not only kept it moist, but also oozed out when I cut my burger in half. The onions weren’t too sweet, but gave the sandwich a nice change in texture. They were soft, but still chewy. The bun was a bit dense, but absorbed a lot of the burger juice. The sandwich didn’t need any ketchup since the burger was so juicy.

IMG_1728The burger came with a large side of mixed regular potato and sweet potato fries, which accompanies all of Good Dog’s sandwiches, as well as their signatures fry sauce—a homemade garlic aioli—for dipping. Aioli is similar to mayonnaise, but made with garlic and does not always have vinegar, and it is not as thick as mayo. The fries were fresh-cut and crisp, and the aioli helped cut through the heaviness of the burger and fries.

Overall, the Good Dog burger was delicious, and was everything a bar burger should be; it was comforting, juicy, meaty, no frills with great gourmet touches. It was a stick to your ribs kind of burger, and unique enough that it earns high marks. Always a classic, and all it needs is a good beer to help wash it down. Good Dog Bar has plenty of drinks and other tasty dishes to help complete your meal!

Grade: A-