Monday, May 30, 2011
When most kids are growing up their parents tell them they can be anything they set their minds to... astronaut, baseball player, fireman, possibly even a man whore (if they choose to dream so big and reach for the stars). My parents were different. When I was growing up, they actually sequentially shot down my dreams one by one... shark biologist, snake wrangler, professional bass fisherman, and my favorite - professional eater. There was one additional occupation they said I wasn't allowed to pursue that was a bit weird. It was finance. You might be wondering why Asian parents would want to stop their son from pursuing something as lucrative as banking? They said I was too good with computers, so when combined with the fact that I was a greedy little asshole, they somehow came to the conclusion that I would launder money. Flawless logic. What's the point of this little side story explaining why I am not pursuing a career of finance? Well, long story short... they were (partially) right. I am a greedy motherfucker. That shit applies to all facets of life, especially food.
Again, what exactly does this have to do with food trucks at Penn? Let me explain - I've written about Kim's before. They're my go to food truck 1) because I'm Chinese and I like Chinese food 2) their stuff is cheap as hell and 3) they get your order done within 10 minutes regardless of the size of the crowd present. Awesome truck is awesome right? Wrong. Halfway through the year, they arbitrarily increased pricing across their entire menu. Grandfather chicken that used to be $4 was now $4.50... mapo tofu that was $3.50 was now an astronomical $4.25! WHAT IS THIS SHIT? You probably think I'm some sort of asshat for getting pissed about 50 cent price hikes. Well guess what? I'm cheap, this kind of stuff isn't kosher with me. What was I to do? Give into their price gouging?! No. Gotta look for the hidden gems on the menu.
A few months ago, I examined the subtle differences between grandfather chicken and General Tso's chicken. My conclusion was that there was none. I want to make a corollary to my theory of Chinese food truck fried chicken: chili chicken is the exact same thing as grandfather chicken and General Tso's chicken, but with a single chili pepper broken into it. This might seem like an insignificant observation to the casual visitor, but to a food truck connoisseur, like myself, you'll notice an interesting tidbit with regards to pricing. Grandfather chicken costs $4.50, but chili chicken costs $4. That, my friends, is where fortunes are made. I'm saving 50 cents per transaction. Obsessive? Maybe. Insignificant? Probably, but I feel like I've won.
Then there's the "Oriental Beef" (牛腩飯) on their menu. It's mostly ordered by the Asian kids, because they know what's up. Actually, I rarely ever hear this being ordered in English. It also costs $5. A full 25% more than the chili chicken. Why? Because it's entirely sensual. The crown jewel of their menu. Basically they take beef that's chock full of tendon, stew it for a hella long time with carrots and mushrooms, and serve it with broccoli and cabbage over rice. I realize that probably sounds like it smells and tastes awful, but it doesn't. I swear (although I also find the pungency of stinky tofu to be quite arousing, so take that for what it's worth). Added bonus? Because they have to prep it well in advance, it's one of the few dishes that gets done immediately. Literally zero wait time. You don't have to take my word for it, but if you go too late in the day, it's usually sold out. All those Chinese people can't be wrong. Or maybe we all just like eating things that smell funny.
But wait! I also eat other things aside from Chinese food. Like burritos. Probably the best burritos I've had in my life. I wrote about Don Memo's torta and tacos before, but not their burrito. Know why? Because I don't want people fucking up the price structure and adding to the already kind of ridiculous wait. Another truck that's guilty of raising prices mid-year, their burrito pricing has held steady at $7. What you get for $7 is totally a steal from a value standpoint. Their burritos are about 8" in length, which doesn't sound that impressive, but - like Gary Oak - you can't ignore its girth, which sits at 3" in diameter. Weighing in at well over half a pound (yes I broke out a digital scale for this shit), it's a simple combination of grilled meat, seasoned rice, black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, onions, and of course... unknown white sauce. I don't often spend $7 on a meal, but when I do... I prefer Tacos Don Memo's burrito.
As for why I've waited until now to make this post? Since I only have a month left (and all those grubby undergrads are finally gone from campus), I feel a bit better about sharing these things. I've never been very good at the whole econ side of things, but like I said - in my mind, increased demand means increased likelihood of raised prices. Increased demand also means longer wait times. I don't want to deal with that nonsense. "Time is money" they say. I don't have time to waste waiting for food and I surely don't want to be paying more for it.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
What up peeps? This week's installment on "My Inner Fatty" comes to you courtesy of my post over on AHT about a charming little eatery in East Philly called Bridget Foy's. Long story short, it's a brunch slash bar type thing that blah blah blah, whatever. If you want to read about the cheeseburger you can do so on Serious Eats... because I'm not going to talk about that here. Instead... spurned on by some of the responses to the initial post... I'm going to rehash the question of "what constitutes a burger," I'm going to discuss the ridiculousness of (some) commenters, and I'm also going to explain why broad sweeping generalizations aren't good! Basically, I'm going to write everything I'm not allowed to say on AHT here, using inappropriate analogies and colorful language. Fun times!
Now... the last time I brought up the idea of a "burger not actually being a burger," it was about the Monte Cristo burger - one consisting of a beef patty, smoked turkey, barbecued ham, and French toast - found at RUB Barbeque. In that post, I said that their creation was a sandwich, not a burger. Sure, Wiki's definition of a ground meat patty between bread would classify such a thing as a burger, but in this case Wiki's definition is looser than a cheap hooker. By what the "common braintrust" is suggesting, if you took meatloaf and put it between Wonderbread it'd also be a burger. That would be straight stupid... to me, RUB's creation... is no burger. Is it delicious? Yes. A burger? No.
I get it. In a lot of cases there's ambiguity on where to draw the line between calling something a burger vs. just a monstrosity of food. This isn't one of this cases. Bridget Foy's "Head House Market" burger definitely falls into the former category. Everything about it screams burger. It has a standard bun (yeah it's a brioche... but it's an uber sensual brioche), it has a patty comprised of an 8-ounce matrix of luscious beef, it's topped with a pretty standard cheese (gruyere), and it uses a fairly standard topping in grilled mushrooms. So where's the problem?
An egg? Are you freaking joking? Someone suggested I stop reviewing egg topped burgers because they weren't hamburgers, but were "breakfast burgers." Someone else suggested I stop reviewing egg topped burgers because they're "old news." Guess what bro-skis, no can do. First off... in case you didn't realize it when you were typing... the phrase "breakfast burger" has the word burger in it. I might not be the brightest guy on the block, but that suggests to me that an egg topped burger fits in perfectly at home on a site called "A Hamburger Today." So if it's alright by you, I'm going to kindly ignore your suggestion. As for commenter number dos who thinks egg burgers are boring and overplayed? So's apple pie. That shit's been around since well before your grandfather was spitting mad game at your grandma. That doesn't make it any less delicious (apple pies, not your grandmother). I realize that fried eggs on burgers probably isn't anything innovative, but a yolk soaked sweet brioche bun paired with the sharp contrast of gruyere and the subtle flavor of beef? It's a sexy party in your mouth. An instant tongue boner. It's like a Kevin Durant 3-point shot from the top of the arc. It's just... right.
Regarding how burgers should be cooked? That's personal man. Too personal. You can't just come all up in my post and tell me how I should like my meat. I like it soft and pink, is that such a crime? In all seriousness, this is the danger of sweeping generalizations. If you want your burgers charred and blackened, that's fine. I respect that. Do your thing. But if I specifically request that my burger be cooked medium-rare, I feel like the restaurant (and the reader) should respect and deliver on that premise. The moment you start making decisions and speaking for other people... well, then you just sound like silly. Sorry.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I figure I should probably write another post for old times' sake since the rapture is tomorrow, and I am 99% sure I won't be invited to party with Jesus wearing a tuxedo shirt. It's all going to be a moot point soon, but lately I've been paying a lot of attention to my weight. Why? Maybe it's because I'm a bit chunkier than I was just a year ago... and one of my greatest fears in life is getting super fat again. This is problematic since I want to eat pretty much everything (I think it's clear from most of my posts that I am not the picture-of-health when it comes to my dietary habits). Anyway, lately I've been rationalizing everything I eat as to whether or not I feel like the calories are worth the equivalent effort in burning them off, because... well, losing weight is hard. Sometimes that decision is really easy, for example I stopped eating at McDonald's and I no longer go to Dunkin Donuts for mediocre doughnuts. Sometimes that decision is super hard, for instance... an ice cream doughnut sandwich. I think I just blew an artery typing that. Is it worth it?
Absolutely. Imagine this - a freshly made powdered doughnut with a center formed by a network of miniature pockets of fluffy dough. Cut that shit in half while still warm and pillowy. Now shove in a block of ice cream over an inch in thickness (your choice of Neapolitan OR chocolate). Smoosh it back down. Tell me that isn't mind-blowing. It makes regular ice cream sandwiches look like embarrassing failures that shouldn't even be classified as "desserts" (not the It's-Its though). Take one bite and you'll experience the blissful union of fried dough, sugar, and cream. You'll also look like a crack addict, but who the hell cares. Your taste buds... they will be aroused. It is sensual. I promise.
Where might you get such a magical thing you might ask? In the deep South. Of Philadelphia I mean. Way way way past the Italian market at the intersection of 9th and West Ritner (why the hell would anyone go there?) is Frangelli's Bakery. They've been around since 1947. That's old as shit. Older than my parents. Ancient. They're your standard mom and pop bakery that does old-fashioned cakes, cookies, and pretty much anything that is a mixture of sugar and flour. They don't fuck around and try to put chocolate inside more chocolate topped with more chocolate... and that's fine, because they do what they do well. No-frills baked goods. Except sometimes they put ice cream inside, and that's fine by me too.
They'd be a pretty shitty bakery if they only did one thing well (but I'd still go). GOOD THING IT'S NOT! Their other doughnuts are pretty bangin' too. Bam, raspberry filled jelly doughnut. Their stuff's all made on premises, so that raspberry jam you see spilling out? Yep... pumped in on the spot. The doughnut itself is pretty much the same as the one they use for the ice cream sandwich, so there's nothing bad about that part of the construction. The only downside with this one is that, once again, you'll look like a drug addict after eating it. Powdered sugar goes everywhere. Who cares? Judge away. It's delicious.
And some plain glazed action yo. The standard by which all doughnuts should be judged. Theirs was... okay? It might've been because I had already eaten a buttload of fried dough by the time I popped this in my mouth, but it was borderline too sweet. There's absolutely nothing disappointing about the way they fry their dough, this one possesses the exact same chewy and airy framework as its powdered cousins, but the glaze was just a tad heavy for my tastes. Maybe another day and paired with a cup of coffee it'd be fine, so I'll reserve judgment for later. It was passable.
I also ate éclairs. In case you haven't figured out my stance on food restricted dieting (it's stupid), this should cement it. Frangelli's éclairs are... quaint. I don't really eat éclairs that often, unless you count the crappy Entenmann's kind, so I don't really have any metric for comparison, but I was down with theirs. The choice in glaze really makes no difference, you really can't taste the chocolate or vanilla on top, so the overall flavor profile is pretty neutral. It just kind of tastes like sweet bread to be honest. The cream though, that part's pretty fun. Instead of a fluid mass of whipped heavy cream, theirs has the consistency of a viscous marshmallow. You can squeeze it out like toothpaste (sounds appetizing right?), but it has a certain chewy resilience that I don't normally associate with the word "cream." Texturally, it's awesome. As for the taste... I'm kind of indifferent.
As for the rapture tomorrow... am I bummed I can't party hard with Jesus and his bros? Not really. While the idea a bro icing the son of god is pretty funny to me, I think I'll just make a trip to Frangelli's to get a doughnut. That's a decent consolation prize for not having my soul saved.
Late game edit: Someone just told me how the rapture works and apparently Jesus stays and parties with the heathens. This evidently makes my post not make sense. I don't care, I'm not really religious.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
After my rant a couple of weeks ago, I realized it's really easy to criticize people for doing things the wrong way for all the wrong reasons. I also realized I sounded like an asshat who just complains a lot about trivially pointless things (not that I take back any of what I said). Anyway, after reading through all the comments on that post, then reading Danny's post on his purpose for blogging, I've been giving a lot of thought as to why I still manage to continuously trick myself into wasting time writing posts devoid of actual content on a semi-consistent basis. I won't lie and claim that I write for the "love of the food" - not that I don't love food... just that it would be dishonest to claim that as the sole reason for this blog's existence - nah, in this here post I'll spill my brains on my motivations for keeping this nonsense up, and talk about some pimp ass sandwiches from one of my favorite places in Philly - Paesano's Philly Style.
Paesano's is in the Italian market area (although there's one in the Northern Libs too). They make Italian sandwiches if that wasn't obvious enough. Wait, no that's not exactly right. They make fantastically kick ass sandwiches built on seductively delicious bread. Credit given where credit's due. They were on that stupid Bobby Flay show Throwdown once. I'm pretty sure Bobby boy's sandwich (which surely contained some idiotic infusion of chipotle mayo) got violated by the OG Italian dudes who work at Paesano's.
Paesano's menu is something glorious to behold. It only consists of about a dozen or so sandwiches, so it's not awesome because there's a bunch to choose from, but if you read through the ingredients of each... you'll constantly find yourself wondering "why would they put _____ in a sandwich with _____?" Will that actually taste good? I have not eaten all of them, but I assure you the answer is yes. Always yes. Also, the sandwiches are handwritten on chalkboards so it's got that hipster artsy feel to it. I hate hipsters, but I love the quaintness of their handwritten menus.
The "Liveracce." While it's affectionately named after the effeminately beautiful pianist Liberace, the fact that they're both fabulous is the only thing they share in common. It's $8 of carbs filled with - amongst other things - fried chicken livers, layers of salami, roasted tomatoes, and Gorgonzola cheese topped with garlic mayo and an orange preserve sauce. Shit son, I don't even like eating liver (they have this weird... gameyness that I can't quite deal with) and I downed it without complaint. It might've been the shield of salami blanketing the liver, or it might've been the strength of the cheese, but the liver was more or less just there to provide a contrasting crispy/creamy mouthfeel (ugh, I hate myself for using that term). Regardless of my inability to describe the amount of quantifiable win contained in this footlong sandwich... it is awesome. Again, this is coming from someone who generally hates eating liver with a passion.
Ah yes, their namesake... the "Paesano." It sounds like some dude straight out of The Godfather. Lots to live up to with a name that's the same as the establishment, but oh this sandwich delivers like a boss. I liked it so much that I already wrote a post on Serious Eats about it. The gist of it is beef brisket, provolone cheese, horseradish mayo... and a fried egg, because well... eggs are good for you? They're just trying to make their brisket sandwich a modicum healthier. Basically, it's juicy-ass beef that shears apart in strips with a slight bit of tangy spiciness from the horseradish mayo. Know that last bite of every sandwich? The one so saturated with liquids that it's more sauce than bread? Trust me... you'll be in love too.
Then there is the "Bolognese." With an innocuous name like that, you'd probably expect a stupidly basic sandwich filled with meat sauce. As great as something like that would taste, it's completely selling the sandwich short. It's as if the bros as Paesano's huddled around and asked each other... "how can we make a sandwich sound normal, but be as insanely unhealthy as possible?" Just look at the contents: "Crispy Fried Lasagna with Classic Meat Sauce, Sweet Peppers, Smoked Mozzarella, Red Sauce, Sharp Provolone & Fried Egg." Take something as perfectly normal as lasagna, fry the shit out of it until crispy... then shove it into some of the finest bread in all of Philadelphia and of course you have a ridiculously tempting sandwich. Pile on some sweet peppers, provolone, and a fried egg? Game over.
Now, since I couldn't come up with a creative way to intertwine sandwiches with the other point I wanted to make about why I write this food blog, I'm gonna shove it all at the end here. Because I can.
- Someone suggested that, instead of sipping on haterade™ all the time, I should focus on the positives of food blogging. Some of the coolest people I've ever run across I met because I write about stuff I shove in my mouth (that'd be the other 10% of food bloggers). Part of why I still keep doing this is because I like hanging out with those people. Believe it or not, it's not only fun to eat with other people... it's fun to talk about food with other people too. Crazy - I know.
- Not gonna lie, I kinda sorta care about pageviews and all that jazz, but definitely not for the reason you might think. Sure it feels baller as hell when you get a sudden spike in traffic, and yeah it's an ego boner when people cite stuff you wrote as legit, but the only reason I care about site traffic is monetary. I don't know if you've ever lived as a grad student... but it kind of sucks. On top of taking really stupid classes, you operate with a budget that would make Somali pirates ashamed of stealing from you. I clearly don't make a buttload of money off of blogging, but it does help offset some of my expenditures. Obviously this isn't going to be much of an issue going forward - I actually think my blogging at least partially helped get me my job - but it played a part in the past. So while some people are blogging entirely for the emotional handjob... I kinda did it out of greed. Even so... no one likes writing without an audience (or at least I don't).
- I realize my "About Me" already says I started this thing because I used to be fat and I needed a reminder that to slow down and enjoy food from time to time. That part is still true. I freakin' love eating, I think that's pretty indisputable. I also said that I write all these posts as a form of stress relief/entertainment. That's... er, semi-true. It's not always fun when I can't come up with crap to write - in fact that's downright stressful. I dunno, all this thinking is probably bad. Maybe I've been blogging for all the wrong reasons as well. "Everyone has an agenda," and I guess I'm no different.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
You know what's a really dumb name for a burger? "OH." While I realize that it's nothing more than an abbreviation for Oyster House, in my head I kept reading it as "oh... burger." See how demented that looks? Whatever, stupid names and awesome food are not mutually exclusive things. Anyway, if you've been reading my blog for a while, surely you know I have a somewhat mild shellfish allergy. You might be saying "why the fuck would someone with a seafood allergy eat a burger that has fried oyster as a topping? You must be a huge dumbass." Well jokes on you. I know that already. But like I said over on AHT, this burger has quite a reputation as a winner. Who cares if I have to sacrifice my health to review it? Remember people... "life isn't about how many breaths you take, it's about how many times you have your breath taken away." What better way than to have a swollen itchy throat and arms full of hives?!? Correct answer - there is none.
If you didn't read my post over on Serious Eats - you should. That shit takes me a long time to write yo - here's a quick rundown on the "oh... burger": Moderately awesome buttery sweet bread, completely intoxicating mesh work of finely cut beef, mush of fried batter and shellfish, and giant pile of sock-smelling bleu cheese. Yep. As you can tell, there were things I absolutely adored about the sandwich as well as constructional elements I definitely questioned. As I explained in my other post... what ruined this burger for me wasn't the fact that I was developing hives or that my throat was itchy... it was the fact that the bleu cheese overpowered all the other elements. It was the fact that while the patty was texturally perfect and remarkably flavored... there was a squishy little oyster that sat on top all useless-like.
This post would be pretty dumb if I just rehashed what I already said, so instead... I'm going to complain about superfluous toppings in burgers.
I am a prototypical Asian person. I like to get value with my burger. What better way to get value than to stack costly oysters and bleu cheese on top of an otherwise plainly constructed burger? From a fiscal standpoint, it makes much more sense to get more expensive toppings than to get something plain. This is not a phenomenon unique to Asians. I feel like more and more places are dolling up plain burgers as a marketing ploy. Pancetta-onion fondue? Sure! Chocolate-covered bacon? WHY THE FUCK NOT? In the beginning, loading the hell out of burgers was awesome. It was cutting edge. It made me feel alive. But now, everyone's doing it for the sake of doing it (oh heyyy, that sounds like food blogging!). At some point, even my overwhelmingly Asian "VALUE" gene realizes something isn't right. Oyster House's burger is a prime example of this. An otherwise mindblastingly good burger tainted by the a fried oyster, the ocean's most lecherous shellfish, and a dollop of cheese it most certainly didn't need.
TL;DR - Oyster House, the way you named your burger is stupid as shit. It tastes pretty good though. It'd probably taste even better if you didn't put nonsense on top just because you can. Dear all burger places: Stop being idiots and putting toppings where they don't belong. The end.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Remember those stupid Lunchables things from Oscar Mayer? The ones where kids could "assemble" their own lunches out of components so idiot proof that not even a dumbass could make a mess? Yeah, I'm not ashamed to admit I used to cream my pants over those things. There was one in particular that made me pop a food boner instantaneously... every time. Pepperoni Pizza. Little more than a doughy disc of cardboard like flat bread, some marinara sauce in a plastic packet, and a small package of small pepperoni pieces - it actually didn't taste great, but to my adolescent brain, that ish was the best... I thought I was basically an 8 year old Emeril Lagasse makin' some bitch ass pizza. What's the point of this stupid story about my sad/demented childhood? Sarcone's Bakery in Philadelphia serves up something called pepperoni bread. It tastes nothing like the crap that my fat stubby hands used to churn out from Lunchables.
Sarcone's has been around since 1918 when it was opened by some dude named Luigi. It has been passed down from generation to generation to generation. They are boss. Sometimes if you go too late in the afternoon (by which I mean 3 pm) there will be no bread left. If that's not proof enough of how awesome they are, then I don't know what is. Maybe a sensual photo of pepperoni stacked inside of oily bread... aw yeah.
Fuck yeah... look at that. Pepperoni bread in all its glory. The bread itself is kind of hard to describe. Somewhat flaccid and oily on its own, it's really nothing to behold until you fill that cavity full of processed/fatty cured meats. When you get up in there with a fist full of pepperoni - then it's on. Count them stacks of pepperoni. I'll wait. You done? That shiz goes like 8 deep. I don't think Oscar Mayer even gave you 8 pieces of pepperoni - period - per box (thinking back, those things were a real ripoff). Basically... Sarcone's pepperoni bread is an oiled up giant rod of layered bread stuffed with 8 full layers of pepperoni along the entirety of the cross section. There is nothing in that equation I don't like. Oily bread... check. Pepperoni... check. It's not fancy (it probably falls under the stupidly simple category), but it gets... shit... done.
Disclaimer: I felt pretty awful after eating the entire thing for dinner, but whatever. Going in, Sarcone's pepperoni bread is more awesome than a robot ninja punching a dinosaur in the dick. How many other things can make that claim?
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
I've often said that Philadelphia architecture is "quaint" and "homely." If you read closely between the lines of how I truly feel about Philly, that actually reads... "old" and "ugly." Yeah yeah, I'm a heathen for insulting historical landmarks. National treasures! Whatever, that -ish happened like 200+ years ago. It's time to move on yo. The British aren't going to attack us again in the near future. They have more pressing issues... like weddings and the dreaded fight against dental problems. Anyway, in the middle of the craptacular backdrop of Old City is a bright pink brick shack. It takes balls to paint an entire building bright pink, but that is exactly what Tartes bakery did. Just a lonely bright pink shack with no tables and no chairs... just a window and an old lady. Why? Because she runs everything OG style - barebones. What a baller.
OT - I like thinking of tartes (it feels weird spelling it this way, but that's how the store does it...) as mini open-faced pies. I once said this to someone and they actually went on to correct me about how the crust or whatever makes the two distinctly different. Fuck that. Wikipedia says "the categories of 'tart', 'flan', and 'pie' overlap, with no sharp distinctions, though 'pie' is the more common term in the United States." The hivemind of Wiki is surely smarter than any singular person. I will continue to refer to tartes as open-faced pies. I'm just being a good American.
Behold! A glorious blackberry almond tarte. To be honest, I don't really know what went into this thing, but let me try to explain in my own demented way. The crust is flaky, buttery, and everything I want in a pastry. It's not without sweetness, but it's not strong enough to cover up the heavy-handed use of butter. It's curiously uneven in thickness and texture, but I guess that happens when shit's done right, by which I mean homemade. Inside this cup of flour and butter goes a brilliant blend of some custard-like filling, blackberries, and slices of almond. You know what? I don't even really like blackberries, but this shit was heavenly. It's like if you forced Keebler elves into slavery and caught a unicorn to fart rainbows into pastry bowls. Magically delicious yo. Lucky Charms ain't got shit on Tartes.
Their stuff is a little bit costly, with their single serving (ha!) tartes all teetering around $5, but goddamn it is good. It probably costs a lot to catch Keebler elves... so I guess that's fair. So... I know I harp on Philly all the time for being a crappier version of NYC, but once in a while there's things that make me feel otherwise. Like Tartes.