Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jimmy John's (an ode to Kevin Durant)

It is gourmet.  Dude.

If you've ever spoken to me for any extended length of time, you most likely realize that I have some sort of weird obsession with Kevin Durant. Not gonna lie, that guy's a stud, no bromo. After reading Danny's post on cupcakes (see here), in which he seems to imply that KD is not currently the best player in the NBA, I was livid, and felt obliged to respond. When the debate about the 'Franchise Player' pops up, Lebron's the easy choice. He's gaudy, annoying, and yeah... he puts up big numbers, but Kevin Durant's that guy that people respect, but don't talk about as much. He does everything right, has untapped potential, keeps his mouth shut and just plays the game. In the sandwiching world... that's Jimmy John's.

For the 22 years that I've been on this earth, I had never heard about Jimmy John's, despite the fact that they have locations in a bajillion states. It wasn't until a friend of mine, who wouldn't stop praising their sandwiches, forced me to try it, and then I was absolutely hooked.

Beach club (Jimmy John's)

The 'Beach Club' in all its glory. For $7, it's a monstrosity of a turkey sandwich filled with guacamole, alfalfa sprouts, and all the standard fixings. While nothing about the sandwich wows you at first glance, its excellence is subtle. The bread is actually fantastically special, a french bread that's good enough to stand on its own. A firm, yet not quite crunchy, outer shell contains a matrix of fluffy innards. The only way to describe the flavor would be... delicately sweet. It's a sandwich that's fundamentally sound in all aspects.

Insides of beach club

The turkey is certainly passable, the veggies all fresh, but this is definitely a case where the overall surpasses the sum of the parts. I don't even like alfalfa sprouts or cucumbers, but in the overall equation, they were good. They made sense.

Bootlegger club (Jimmy John's)

Or you can get the 'Bootlegger's Club.' A combination of roast beef with turkey and the standard lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. Like Kevin Durant, Jimmy John's isn't a one trick pony. He can shoot the lights out or penetrate like no other. A generic sandwich when it comes to fillings, but yet again it does everything correctly. It's easy to fuck up a sandwich, but to properly execute a number of different sandwiches is infinitely difficult.

Yeah it's true that Jimmy John's is a fast food establishment, but that doesn't really detract from their ability to make sandwiches. Starting with bread baked fresh daily, through wickedly well thought out flavor combinations, they're a franchise that does everything right... loads of potential, fantastic sandwiches, but not quite as well liked/known as the Subway or Quiznos of the world. Maybe it's not so flashy, but just like Kevin Durant... it's already the best in the sandwich game, I think people are just slow to accept it because there are flashier options around right now. In due time, people will realize the awesomeness of JJ's, just as they'll come to accept KD as the unanimous choice as 'The Franchise.'


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Burritos from MexiCali Cafe

MexiCali Burrito Kitchen

The number of burritos I've eaten over the past week is no laughing matter, and I'm not sure why I've gone on a bender either. Maybe I've gotten kind of bored going to Kim's all the time, or maybe it's because I'm kind of embarrassed the guys at Wawa recognize me... either way, Don Memo, has made quite a bit of money off me lately. Wanting to throw some variety into this whole eating thing, I decided to give MexiCali a spin. They supposedly have a cart on 38th and Walnut (which I've seen occasionally), but it's harder to come by than a leprechaun on speed. Undeterred, I walked my lazy ass 4 blocks (not NYC blocks!) to their actual location.

Oh and it was a glorious hole-in-the-wall kind of place. Not like Greek Lady, which got bastardized to infinity and beyond. Nope, this place had a real homey type feel, just chillin' in a small corner shop location.

Behemoth of a burrito!

Even though their website is kind of bootleg, their burritos sound incredible. I was kind of torn between the combination burritos... I wouldn't mind having plantains stuffed inside, but french fries are also a welcome addition in pretty much everything. I ended up going with the San Diego Chicken for about $7, which when unwrapped, turned out to be quite a behemoth of a burrito, about 10" long and weighing more than a trio of baby pandas (3.5 ounces if you're curious).

Chicken San Diego burrito

Glorious innards! The chicken was alright, a tad on the dry side, but the guacamole and cheese more than made up for that (it wasn't very evenly dispersed). The guac and the salsa were more than adequate, although they lied about the salsa being spicy, but obviously you order this for the fries. They lacked the satisfying crunch of a double-fried fry, but the mushy texture was decent in combination with everything else. Basically, they replaced beans as the starch of choice, and since fries are less healthy than beans, I'm down with that.

As far as how good they are, I don't think there's any denying that they're pretty damn satisfying for the price, but I'm pretty sure I'd still rather go to Don Memo. That dude makes good burritos.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gyros from Greek Lady


As I recall, Greek Lady was a cart that served low priced gyros that would make you sick about a third of the time. Greek food from a cart with meats of questionable origin that might or might not have you befriending the toilet = awesome to me. As dumb as that sounds, there's something that just feels more genuine when you get cheap eats from a cart. It's just different when you see the proprietors every single time, and you know they're the very same people who take your order and make your food. Simply put, it's more personal. When I came to Penn, I was kind of excited to go to that crappy little cart, and to build a beautiful relationship with them, but I found that they had been replaced... with a full sized restaurant.

What is this shit Greek Lady? You have a website now too? Lame. Instantaneous loss of street cred. I was devastated. Since it's not really fair to judge their food based on their choice of cart vs. restaurant, I did my duty as a fat ass and trekked on over to 40th street to have another one of their gyros.

House gyro (Greek Lady)

The House Gyro ($6.25) is basically just a pita with marinated pork, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, french fries, and tzatziki sauce. There's nothing out of the ordinary here except for maybe the french fries being inside of the sandwich. I mean... it was an okay sandwich, but nothing spectacular. Not too far off from a generic gyro sandwich from any street cart in NYC... plus french fries (which weren't all that great). Color me disappointed Greek Lady. After 6 years of buildup and expectations... the trademark is an average/overpriced gyro sandwich? For shame. Maybe if they were still a cart, I'd feel different. Maybe if I had friendly banter with the person making my food I'd be more impressed, but it currently feels like they're trying a bit too hard with presentation, and not enough on the food.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's-Its at Google HQ

Magical case of ice cream treats

Yes, they are just that magical. Like unicorns that fart rainbows, It's-Its are fantastical ice cream sandwiches that float delicately amongst the clouds, just dripping in molten chocolate. Or at least that's what the drawing on the small freezer case of ice cream promised me. On my last excursion to NYC, I made another trip to Google HQ to visit a buddy of mine (whose name shall go undisclosed, lest I get him fired). It was fun, I got to try hipster fruit drinks made with agave nectar, I replaced most of the Guitar Hero high scores with my own, complete with inappropriate names, and... oh yes, I got to have It's-Its.

Last time I ate at the cafeteria for their burger, Robyn mentioned the existence of an ice cream sandwich that was pretty awesome. I was kind of annoyed at my friend for holding out on me, so I made it a point to remember to get one on a return trip. From what Wikipedia tells me... It's-It ice cream sandwiches began in 1928, and are only sold in California, and luckily for me, available for freeeeee at Google.

It's-It wrapper

Sweet ass custom wrappers. How cool is that? So yeah, if you haven't figured out what they are yet, It's-Its are basically a 1" thick layer of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal raisin cookies, and dipped in decadent dark chocolate. Fuck yeah heart attacks.


Taking pictures of it kinda sucked. People kept walking in and out of the upstairs pantry giving me dirty looks. I'm not entirely sure if it's because they think taking pictures of ice cream (when it's melting) is weird, or if it's because taking pictures of Google stuffs is frowned upon.

It's-It innards

Phenomenally delicious. The chocolate layer is like that of a Klondike bar, but it fills all the crevices of the oatmeal raisin cookie, giving it an uneven texture. The chocolate itself is darker and richer too. Maybe a bit too rich. The cookies? They were nice and thick, with a strong buttery flavor. Didn't really get too many raisins in there (probably too healthy), but I'm not really complaining. Last, but not least, the ice cream wasn't anything to brag about, but certainly passable as part of the equation. Basically, it's a giant puck of frozen win.

Know how good these things were? When we were waiting for the elevator, which takes a long time since it's on the top floor, I grabbed and finished another. When the elevator finally came, I had a split second to decide if I wanted a third, and of course the answer was yes. After I had finished three of these babies, I finally had a chance to glance at the nutritional facts. Each one has 49% of your daily maximum for saturated facts. Was I disgusted with myself? A little bit. Will I do it again next time I go? Probably.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More dishes from KOJA

Jap chae box (Koja)

I've written about KOJA before (see here, and here), but that doesn't expand on the full awesomeness of their little truck operation. On Friday's I don't really have a set schedule since I don't have class and have zero incentive to wake up to do anything, but you can say with 100% certainty, that sometime after 3 pm... I will be at the KOJA truck getting dinner. Not any other day of the week, just Friday. While this probably makes me sound neurotic and like some sort of idiot, there's a good reason. Sort of. On Fridays after 3 pm, something magical happens... like when the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella turns back into the bumpkin that she is, but in reverse... everything on their menu becomes $4.50, which is all sorts of awesome.

Normally everything on their menu is around $5.50... which, now that I think about it, actually isn't all that expensive, but... I'll take those savings any day!

Jap chae (Koja)

The jap chae here is pretty good. It's not Koreana good, but it's pretty decent. Plus when it's $4.50, you really have very little to complain about. There's nothing out of the ordinary, it's just a really massive portion of glass noodles cooked with vegetables, served over rice, and with 2 fried dumplings. The dumplings kind of suck (never get them as an appetizer... ever), but when you give me carbs on top of more carbs for next to nothing... then we straight yo.


The pork bulgogi is actually one of my favorite dishes at the cart. I know bulgogi should technically be beef, but whatever... sweet beef is just too mild for me. I go spicy pork, because that's the manliest thing possible... or something along those lines. The pork isn't the tenderest cut, and the sauce could use some tweaking, but the main flavor profile is present. By which I mean spicy. If you ask them to cook it mild, it will actually be spicy. If you ask them to make it extra spicy, you will most likely be on the toilet and in pain. You have been forewarned.

Beef sukiyaki yakisoba (Koja)

More noodles! I was once told that I should get the noodle dishes here, since they'll pile them across all portions of the box without wasting any precious real estate for rice. True story. The beef sukiyaki yakisoba was decently good. The noodles were springy, the sauce was savory, with a subtle hint of sweetness, and the beef was appropriately tender, but the main point here is that there's a buttload of food for not that much money.

Basically, their food is alright at regular prices. Not something I'd go to as a default. On Fridays though... shit's on, and I'm always down for Korean-Japanese food (if it's after 3 pm).


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chicken wings from Tebaya

Chicken wing lunch special (Tebaya)

When I found out that I had to go back to NYC for a weekend, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do... I mean eat. There's a lot of things that I never had the chance to try, a lot of restaurants that I miss immensely, and a lot of places that just opened up that I've never even seen before. Too much food, not enough stomachs... a dilemma I seem to come across pretty frequently in life. I was craving Korean fried chicken, so I considered going to Kyochon or Bonchon, but what's the fun in that? I've been to both numerous times already. I really wanted to try something new, which is when I remembered a place that I'd heard about years ago, but never got to visit... Tebaya.

I had first heard about Tebaya way back when, even before I lived in NYC. I saw a profile done on them by some Japanese food show where they introduced their specialty, lightly fried chicken wings coated in a sweet and savory teriyaki sauce. It sounded like the winning idea ever, and the photos made it look even better, but for some reason or another, I never made it a point to try it. Then, a few months ago, I read about it again on Danny's blog, and I knew that this shit was real legit. I knew I had to have it.

Chicken wing (Tebaya)

Their chicken wing lunch special will run you $6.95. It's basically 8 of their wings served over plain white rice, with some bootleg salad served on the side (it's just plain lettuce, slivered carrots, and a small cup of vinegar dressing on the side). A bit annoying is the fact that they no longer give you a drink as part of the meal, but whatever, minor gripe. Shit son... no one's going here for their drinks, it's all about the chicken! Anyway, not gonna mince words here, the wings are fantabulous... that's right, so good I had to make up a word to describe them. Fried skin on, they're superbly light and crisp, without a semblance of burning. The inner meat is juicy and perfectly tender. Even if they were just served straight up plain, I'm pretty sure I'd still be able to down them without complaint, but what elevates it to a whole 'nother level is for sure the sauce. Seeming to defy science, the sauce is viscous enough to stick to the crispy skin, but not your fingers. The flavor profile is a sweet teriyaki blend, with a subtle vinegar-like kick. I know people tell me not to say this, but these wings are sensual. That's the only way I can think of to describe them. I'll leave it at that.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The return of the McRib


Know that feeling on Christmas morning... where you asked for some stupid toy for the past three months, waited and hoped that it'd be under the tree, then when you finally open the box and start playing with it, you realize, after 10 minutes, that it's actually a piece of crap? The McRib is exactly like that. Except instead of three months, I've waited something like 7 years, and instead of 10 minutes, the disappointment is instantaneous.

I know, I know. It's a 'rib' sandwich from McDonald's. I'm an idiot for expecting anything spectacular, period. The thing is, the last time I had this sandwich... I was 15... and really fat. It really didn't matter how it tasted, all I knew was that the idea of a rib bbq sandwich was glorious. So for the past 7 years, I've held this image of an incredible sandwich in my mind as fact, just waiting for the day of it's spectacular return... like a robot zombie Jesus sandwich of sorts.

McRib undressed

It's not so much that the sandwich is awful. I still like it, and I've been eating plenty of them, it's just that it's impossible to live up to expectations like that. The bun is like any other McDonald's sandwich, so there's not much to complain about there. The patty on the other hand... leaves a lot to be desired. My memory is super hazy, but I always remembered it as something that was texturally similar to the inside of a McNugget, not the soft eraser brick that I found inside my sandwich. When you get over the fact that it doesn't feel anything like pork, the McRib isn't too bad. It does it's job as a glorified sauce carriage, is super cheap, and doesn't taste half awful.

I'm actually not really sure what direction this post is supposed to go in. I guess I'm kind of pissed off that my childhood memories have been effectively stomped into the ground and spat on, but at the same time, I've come to the realization that if I just adjust my expectations to McDonald's standards... the McRib is pretty decent. Enjoy it while it lasts people.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Cheese pies and cheesecake (Allegro Pizza)

Plain pie (Allegro Pizza)

Cheap hole in the wall pizza plays a major role in my life. When I was at Columbia, I had Koronet, Pinnacle, and Famiglia, all located within a few blocks of each other. None of them were fantastic, in fact, barely passable would probably be a more appropriate description, but none of that really mattered to me in the middle of the night. When hunger struck, all I wanted was some form of dough, sauce, and cheese... in that order. Like an addict, I needed to fill that same void in Philly too. I had to find another source of cheap, dirty, pleasure, in the form of carbohydrates and dairy... and oh I did. That place is Allegro Pizza.

Plain slice (Allegro Pizza)

For $11, you can get a pretty sizable 16" pie. That's 201 square inches (rounding down for arguments sake) of pizza, or roughly 18 square inches per dollar. That's actually better than Koronet, given how wack their pricing scheme has been lately. In any case, while I'm pretty sure no one would consider their plain slices anything spectacular, it's a pretty good deal.

Upskirt slice shot (Allegro Pizza)

Their slices are pretty standard. Thin average crust with nondescript sauce and cheese. Nothing to write home about (yet... here I am writing about it?). Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's tasty, but I don't know if I'd say it was a sensual experience or anything close, but it definitely fills that void. You know what I'm talking about... that hole in your heart that yearns for a slice of cheap pizza that can only be characterized as average at best. Oh yes, I've found my pleasure palace of pizza in University City.

Strawberry cheesecake (Allegro Pizza)

I don't know what I was thinking when I got this. I was tempted by a fridge full of cheesecake after lunch. It seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, but it was pretty fail. For $3.75 (which feels pretty expensive actually), the cheesecake is more dry and crumbly than thick and decadent, and the sauce is more chemical flavoring than actual strawberries. For how it looks, it's deceptively disappointing. I guess that's what happens when you get cheesecake at a pizzeria. Oh well, doesn't make their slices any worse, and that shit is what really matters anyway.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

General Tso's vs. grandfather chicken (King's Wok)

Grandfather chicken (King's Wok)

Before arriving in Philadelphia, my default at Americanized Chinese takeout places was always General Tso's, Tao's, Gao's, or whatever you want to call it... chicken. Sometimes I'd change it up for the sake of variety, and I'd order sesame chicken, but the point stands. I'm a big fan of fried chunks of chicken and sauce. Imagine how surprised I was, when I learned of the existence of a third such implementation of chicken. One that's known as... 'grandfather chicken.'

One problem... I'm not entirely sure what grandfather chicken actually is. Some places list it as the same thing as General Tso's, and some places have both on their menu (see Kim's Oriental, Yue Kee, and King's Wok). In an effort to get to the bottom of this mystery, I went to King's Wok... and ordered up both.

King's Wok Chinese Food truck

For the past few weeks, I've heard about King's Wok non-stop. It's supposedly the greatest thing to hit the Chinese food truck scene since the advent of pork fried rice (and that stuff is fantastic). They seem to have quite the following, since if you go around lunchtime, there's usually a crowd of 15-20 people standing around waiting. Maybe it's because their food is wonderfully delicious, beyond the description of words... or maybe it's just because the guy running the truck is smart and parked right next to the engineering buildings (a.k.a. Asian person central). Either way, they get a lot of business, and people seem to like them.

Grandfather chicken (King's Wok)

I think the chicken pictured above (and at the very top) was the grandfather chicken. For $4, you're given a box of rice with breaded fried chicken, broccoli, and some sort of dark sauce with scallions in it. Pretty standard from what I've seen when ordering grandfather chicken. The rice was fine, no one really fucks up rice. The chicken was appropriately tender, with a thin crispy shell, all covered in the dark brown sauce, which was overly salty, not really sweet, and pretty nondescript really. It was okay, but the soy sauce really needed to be toned back a bit.

General Tso's (King's Wok)

... and onto the General Tso's chicken. I think. I actually got the two mixed up, because the guy never told me, or marked which was which. He probably thought I was a bit of a moron for ordering two things that are 99% the same, but whatever.

General Tso's (King's Wok)

For $4, you're given a box of rice with breaded fried chicken, broccoli, and some sort of dark sauce without scallions in it. Pretty standard from what I've seen when ordering General Tso's chicken. The rice was fine, no one really fucks up rice. The chicken was appropriately tender, with a thin crispy shell, all covered in the dark brown sauce, which was overly salty, not really sweet, and pretty nondescript really. It was okay, but the soy sauce really needed to be toned back a bit.

If you think I just copy pasted that last description word for word, you'd be wrong. I noted the lack of scallions. Honestly, I have no clue what the difference is. One of them had a bit more sauce, and looked soggier, but I'm pretty sure it was the same exact thing... minus scallions. So in conclusion, General Tso's = grandfather chicken. It's just some brilliant ploy by Chinese places to make their menu look more awesome. Secondary conclusion, King's Wok is not that good. I'm not really sure what my friend was talking about.


Monday, November 1, 2010

The Wawa 'Gobbler'

Wawa 'Gobbler'

There's a lot of things I like about Wawa. The fact that it's open 24 hours a day in a city that basically shuts down at 10 pm is nice. The fact that I never have to talk to anyone, and that I get to order everything from a nifty touch screen is pretty spiffy too. Ooh, and their milkshakes... getting a milkshake from a convenience store feels so wrong, but tastes so right. It's really hard to explain to anyone not from NJ or Pennsylvania why Wawa is so full of win, but it really isn't just a convenience store, it's like a home away from home. So much in fact, that it even has your Thanksgiving meal covered, in portable form, otherwise known as the Wawa Gobbler.

The Gobbler isn't anything groundbreaking or special. It's simply hot turkey laden in gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, all packed inside a hoagie roll (you can add cheese and bacon too... both highly recommended).

Wawa 'Gobbler' innards

No the turkey isn't fantastic, the cranberry sauce comes from a refrigerated can, and the stuffing feels... mealy, but when all three unite in sandwich form, something glorious results. While this wouldn't appeal to most advocates of 'fine dining,' I absolutely loved it (yes, even sober). A blend of sweet and tart from the cranberries, an odd contrast of textures from the stuffing, and turkey that doesn't taste half bad, all make for an oddly satisfying sandwich on the cheap.

My only complaint here would be the fact that it's as messy as it is delicious. The gravy overruns everything, soaking into the bread into a soggy mess of failure. Pro-tip to combat this would be to simply ask the person at the sandwich counter to try to strain your turkey before slapping it down on the roll. If you ask nicely, they'll comply 9 times out of 10. This actually works terrifically well, and makes the sandwich infinitely more enjoyable. You're welcome.