Happy Father’s Day Poppa Beck🍴

There is no one on this earth that I know, who loves burgers more than my dad, Poppa Beck. I have gone to the finest restaurants with him where the cuisine is artistic, fanciful, seasonal, and full of flair, yet he will order a burger. So when it came to celebrating the most handsome and loving man on this earth this Father’s Day, I knew that having a burger was in order.

The place that we opted to try was Wilmington, Delaware’s own Farmer & the Cow. This small restaurant is in the city of WIlmington where the city streets are less busy on the weekends, only the locals are strolling down the street, and the bright lights big city persona is non-existent, but they have something that can rival any big city, big name restaurant, any day of the week.

First up, mac and cheese, now I am fully aware that I write about mac and cheese quite a bit, but my thought process is,  if a restaurant is bold enough to put it on the menu I have a responsibility to taste it. Mac and cheese with aged parmesan, bacon jam, and sweet onion, in a nutshell… absolutely yummy. Nutty parmesan melted so wonderfully that I got a cheese pull with every forkful, the bacon jam worked double duty by giving it saltiness and a smooth hint of sweetness, and the onion was honeyed as only a vidalia onion should be. Yes, I found this mac and cheese delicious, but the best treat to this dish was the unexpectancy of it all. You just don’t presume that a burger restaurant would put that much panache into a side dish that easily fed 3.

Next up, the burger; the list of burgers were overwhelming, so many combinations, so many options, so many opportunities to let my comfort zone talk me into just ordering a standard burger, but I decided to go on a small limb and order “That’ll Do Pig.” Now if you follow me or know me personally you know my intimate relationship with bacon and how I affectionately call it the super meat, this burger was right up my alley. Let me inform you that all beef burgers at Farmer & the Cow are made with a blend of chuck,brisket, and filet. But to up the ante this burger had toppins of tater tots, cart sauce, bacon, bacon mayo, bacon jam, and my substitution of american cheese on a warm bun. 

Real talk, the first bite of that medium well done burger literally made me slightly close my eyes and gently rest my elbows on the table, and it was then I knew I had found infatuation. This burger stole my taste buds and handled them with care. I am totally convinced that the bacon was made in-house, this was beyond slab bacon, it was perfectly cooked, the perfect amount of meat to fat ratio, the jam cut through some of that saltiness that the back of my throat needed, I don’t even like mayonnaise, but bacon mayonnaise is a pig of different color, then topped with the tater tots that provided me with texture and the nostalgia of elementary school, and the american cheese that was fully melted, not semi-melted let me know this chef knew his burgers, understood his craft, and loves to have people enjoy their food.

It’s been some time since I have had a burger that I would define as wonderful, but Farmer & the Cow you have a prizewinner on your hands and it was my absolute pleasure to have it in mine.

This was the perfect place to celebrate my dad, to give him something that caused him to smile, that made him anxious to want to come back, and he legit enjoyed it and it wasn’t simply because I took him, well done Farmer & The Cow…well done🍴

Was it Really Worth the Splurge?🍴

There is something about seafood, it is kinda like a bell that rings loudly in the ears of men, women, and babies. When the words “seafood” are wafted through the air people find themselves thinking “indulgence is in our midst” and for a moment they envision themselves about to partake in a level of sumptuousness that doesn’t come around on a daily basis.

Papi Cuisine in Baltimore, Maryland gives off this very vibe, the images on Instagram looked so ravishing and the reservations so unyielding I found myself in a frenzy trying to make my acquaintance with the cuisine, and as serendipity would have it, today was my day.

During my time as a restaurant goer I have become very accustomed to levels, in other words the progression of the menu. First the appetizers, then entree, then the dessert; this progression is not only designed to set the tone for the palate, but it is a true introduction to the cuisine. The menu provides the patron with a peek into the range of the chef and what he or she deems as the apple of their eye. 

 The appetizers are often petite in portion and smaller in price, but this is certainly not the case for Papi Cuisine where seafood, especially the crab is the apple of this chef’s eye. So first up was the Crab Cake Egg Roll, a hand crafted roll filled with cheesy crab and drizzled with aioli sauce. Real talk, this was an expensive egg roll, but I will also write it was worth it. From the first bite I knew I was tasting premium crab meat, no filler whatsoever, it was sweet meat, it was tender, it was buttery, it was rich, beautifully golden brown, and savory, this egg roll was an absolute hit.  

After eating this egg roll, I found myself needing a refreshment, not because it was overwhelming in taste, but simply because I wanted something to wet whistle. When it came to ordering a refreshment there were none, or should I rephrase it was none for me; you see Papi Cuisine only serves alcoholic drinks and water. Now I am generally not a person who would find themselves easily slighted, but in this case I certainly did. Was Papi Cuisine making a statement without forwardly making one? I would certainly say they were, and whether or not they were aware of it, they were making the statement that they were not that interested in all kinds of clientele. What they went on to say without saying was that they devalued the non-alcoholic drinker and that their focus was not on me and that they were ok with that. No coke products, no pepsi products, no tea, no lemonade, no consideration. 

Second up, the Ultimate Seafood Alfredo, with grilled lobster, colossal shrimp, and jumbo crab. If there are kudos for the presentation you definitely deserve yours, the exhibition was very nicely done. Now there is something to be said for thinking a plan out to the end and putting yourself in the shoes of the patron. Although the staging was great the actual plan for eating was a bit on the flop side for me. You see I am the kind of eater who hates to eat with their hands. If I order pasta I am strategically picking not to get my hands integrated into the festivities, but I had to in order to eat this. I had to pull and I do mean pull with an extra umph to get that lobster out of the shell, I had to remove the shells from the ends of my shrimp, and all of this before I could take one single bite.

When I took that first bite of the pasta and lobster, I thought creamy and I tasted yummy from the pasta and sauce only. The lobster on the other had not taken a trip to flavortown and was left rubbery, vapid, and completely unfulfilling. Having grown up on crab, I fancy myself as a semi-expert, so I know that no matter the description of the crab, lump or otherwise it is a delicate piece of meat. When you have something so delicate the matchup is crucial. When you go out of your way to use the term “Ultimate Seafood…” what you are insinuating is that with every bite I will participate in every piece of seafood in the pasta, and I could not taste the crab. It was swallowed up by the heaviness of the alfredo, the sauce left no room for the crab to shine through. But then redemption took place in between bites when I got to the shrimp. In most cases I would frown on fried shrimp in a wet pasta, but the shrimp held up and the taste of those shrimp was better than a home run. Papi Cuisine each time I wanted to condemn you for your sins with that lobster and that overpriced appetizer, I found myself letting your transgressions escape me with each bite of that alfredo pasta and shrimp.

Papi Cuisine, I am well aware that you are still a young business and I view your infancy compared to your execution, so I am prepared to give you some allowances. However, I will give you some feedback, keep in mind that appetizers probably shouldn’t be the same price as entree prices, and for goodness sakes man get some non-alcoholic drinks in your establishment and stop shunning those who have opted not to partake, and lastly for the prices you must get some desserts on the menu. Desserts act as a culmination to an experience and serve as a last impression.

Papi Cuisine I am actually excited to see how you will grow, how you change, and more importantly how you take feedback from your patrons. Next time I come I know to order the appetizer only and to bring my own lemonade from Chick-Fil-A🍴

A Secret Garden🍴

Take me to another place, take me to another land, make me forget all that hurts me, let me understand your plan. There are times in life where we come into a moment and that moment seems so reminiscent of a song that we once heard; and when I walked into Terrain Glen Mills Garden Cafe, in Glen Mills Pennsylvania I was transported to another place. It felt as if I walked into a beautiful yet magical land, the smells caused me to think no more of all things that may have hurt me, and as I took in the scenery I found myself quietly saying to myself in a whisper, Lord , my mind is clear and I am ready to understand your plan.

Dang, that is magical….could you imagine going to a place like that just for an afternoon? If you can’t,  I strongly suggest you do. If for nothing else than to simply recalibrate your sensory receptors so that you can be present in the world to know when you see something beautiful.

You see the Terrain Glen Mills Cafe is inside of a garden or super amped up nursery of sorts with a Cafe in the back. All things flowers, all things gardening, all things botanical, all things self-caring, simply all things enchanting, and the topper you get to eat after you have perused or shopped.

So first up on the list for lunch was the Lavender Lemonade, yes I am writing about the drink which in most of blogs I do not, but this was a special that I felt inclined to try. I always find myself trying foods that in mind commemorate something, and with this being Memorial Day weekend, the onset of summer, my way of doing things shouted you must celebrate with a drink that is not only refreshing, but with remnants of requiescence, and for me the official sign of summer…lemons. Oftentimes when you order  lemonade from a cafe that has its foundation on the more organic side of things, the taste leaves little to be desired, but this lemonade was delicious, it was sweet as lemonade should be, it was tangy, it was cold with no ice, and it was fragrant.

Second up was the Artisanal Cheese Board; I have to write that ordering the cheese board gave me the immediate feeling that I was amongst the ladies who lunch club. I felt so sophisticated, so adult, so refined, and so rich, that was a powerful cheese board. With the seasonal cheeses with super fancy names, and the waitress coming to explain each cheese to a tee, with the aromatic honey, the house made pickles that looked like ribbons of cucumber and tasted better than any vlasic pickle I have ever tasted, the slight complement of strawberries and blueberries and grain mustard, was unpretentiously enchanting.

Last up was the Grilled Cheese on sourdough bread with camembert cheese, fig mostarda, honeycrisp apples and a side of french fries….essentially a ladies who lunch grilled cheese. If you didn’t know camembert cheese is a soft creamy cow’s milk white cheese with a nutty taste, yet with a fruity backdrop. Needless to say this is not your grandma’s government cheese and when you pulled it apart it was very apparent. There was no stringy pull which I believe is essential for every grilled cheese, the cheese was not fully melted, and the fig mostarda was a tad on the pungent side. 

Terrain I think it is imperative to understand, there is a fine balance between palatableness and conception. The key is not only to keep the essence of grilled cheese, but to ensure that the fundamentals are still present and those fundamentals are super melty cheese, the cheese should not look like it was just sliced, and if it does, it is because it has not melted sufficiently, the cheese should not be so thick that it is virtually impossible to get a cheese string pull, and the cheese probably should have more of a buttery slightly salty taste just to balance the fruitiness and nuttiness all out.

Terrain in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania although I was not impressed with the grilled cheese and probably will not order again until you change your choice of cheese, the ambiance of this cafe and the preludes to grilled cheese was only what I can describe as a dream that I didn’t want to awake from. The name of the cafe is perfectly fitting, you took me on a Terrain to a place that was serene, to a land that was a little bumpy, but so aesthetically pleasing, and when I left there I felt mentally better for it🍴

Pretty on Outside, Not so good on Inside

There are some restaurants that are the same as photo filters. The filter has the ability to make you think that beauty exists, the images often convey a place of exuberance and facade of decadence. But as we all know there is a real image behind every filter, oftentimes it can be a close correlation between reality and the filtered world or they can be as far as the east is from the west.

Avenue Kitchen in the Glen Eagle Shopping Square in West Chester, Pennsylvania wore a bit of a filter on my visit to them for an early dinner. Now before I proceed I come from a background where I was trained to start every potentially constructive comment with an affirmation. So let me start with a favorable comment. The ambience in Avenue Kitchen was what I like to call a cutie patootie, it was bright, it was airy, it was inviting, it was upbeat, it was a place I wanted to sit my caboose down and I get excited about the grub in which I was about to partake. The waiter assigned to the table was great, he was everything a waitstaff should be, attentive, but not pushy, patient and not slowly annoyed, happy but not incessantly so, I honestly could not have asked for a better waiter.

The menu was chocked full of amazing choices, and with each item I felt the salivation begin and my fervor surge. So first up on the table were the crab beignets. I chose these crab beignets, because I was intrigued on how this restaurant was going to take the lightness of a beignet, the sweetness of the dough, the powdered sugar acting as a backdrop, and form it into a crab beignet. When a chef opts to recreate a culinary delicacy which seems so simple when executed perfectly, what they are endeavoring to do is to pay homage to its origin all the while leveling it up a bit with their own personal spin. It is in this endeavor that not only individualism is essential, but sublime, and the taste of the product be in the realm of magnificent.

When the beignet was brought to the table I found my countenance display confusion; understanding that you eat with your eyes first, what I saw was not a beignet, it was not in the shape of beignet, it was not the color of beignet, it was obviously not light as a beignet. Taking my first bite, my tongue’s memory alerted me immediately and it clearly reminded me that what I was eating was a fritter more importantly a crab fritter or a glorified hushpuppy. There was no sweetness, there was no light doughnut consistency, but it was a deep fried ball that was crunchy on the outside, and I must admit good crab in the middle, with a small amount of breading for what I assume was to act as a binder. With each dip into the aioli sauce I felt compelled to take another bite, it was large and it was an in charge appetizer, and although deep fried it did not hide the crab meat, in my opinion that was the challenge that the chef won. 

While I am being transparent about Avenue Kitchen it wasn’t the taste of the crab beignet that tripped me up, it was the name. When reading the menu my mental rolodex began to recall the taste of a beignet and what I received was in total conflict and although I had a strong penchant toward it, my consciousness was left feeling disoriented. In this particular case Avenue Kitchen there is certainly an easy fix to this edible problem and the answer is….change the name.

Next up was the short rib grilled cheese. There is something special about a grilled cheese, a grilled cheese has super powers, it has the capability to draw your mind back to a simpler time in your life, it has the wherewithal to rapidly take you down memory lane where you remember grilled cheese on a special day. So when someone orders grilled cheese what they are really saying is, in this moment I want to feel nostalgic, but when I get short rib on it, I want it to be known that I am a grown up who wants to heighten their experiences.

The short rib grilled cheese came out with a nice helping of perfectly seasoned and sized fries on the side. At first sight the short rib didn’t look like short rib, but resembled a shredded corn beef, but I digress. At first taste, I tasted a buttery bread, delicious stringy cheese, but no short rib. I took another bite right where I could clearly see the short rib and still I tasted nothing. On my third bite, because I am not a quitter, I recognized that the short rib was tender, but it was flavorless, it was bland, it was boring, it was simply humdrum. When a chef opts to place short rib on a classic grilled cheese what you have conveyed to the patron is that you are prepared to come with the heat, you are qualified to deliver intense flavor, that you have taken this portion of beef and contrived it into an undeniable flavor bomb that will not only give you comfort, but it is wrapped up in intensity. But you fell short to the degree that it felt wasteful for you and for me.

Avenue Kitchen the culinary experience is what I can only describe as lackadaisical, there were points where I saw your potential, but even in that you couldn’t identify it properly, there were times when I saw your goal which was to elevate, but execution fell by the wayside. The experience reminded me of that slogan…close but no cigar.

Avenue Kitchen, it is not likely that I will return for a second run at this, but I am blogger who believes life is all about progression and you can get better, what I would recommend is following through on your goals to the end, remembering that good is the enemy of best and that greatness comes from those who can take feedback. Good Luck on your future food endeavors🍴

It’s the Experience for Me

To be able to go out to eat after being in lock down for over a year is not only a palate parade full of joy, but it is a different experience. For some restaurants it seems as though the wait staff is completely overjoyed with this new environment of restauranting, no more physical menus, you have to read a menu by scanning a QR code, no more face engagement with the patrons due to mask, so now every wait staff must adopt the power of the Smize created and perfected by Tyra Banks. No more salt and pepper on the table and no more freshly grated parmesan cheese being done at the table. So what does this all boil down to? It boils down to an experience being lost. Dining is so much more than the food, it is totally about the experience, the small slither of time where we can actually put our phones away and engage with our fellow food partners, it’s a time to feel a little self-indulgent, it’s a simply a time to feel like we are leveling up in experience.

Covid-19 instituted a lot of mandates in this season, and sure we must all adhere to them not only for the benefit ourselves, but for the benefit of our fellow man, and I do believe that restaurants have a challenge on their hands, and that challenge is: How do you make the indoor restaurant patron not feel like they should have gotten take-out?

It is my opinion that they should take a page out of the menu from The Blue Crab Grill in Newark, Delaware. The Blue Crab Grill instinctively grabbed hold of my sentiments and delivered an indoor dining experience that was not only gratifying but sumptuous.

If you opt to name your restaurant after a seafood, then the food should be filled with seafood from beginning to end, no fillers, no imitation, just seafood through and through and The Blue Crab Grill delivered.

First up, the crab deviled eggs with an edible adornment of parmesan crisp; now people tend to think that deviled eggs are a non-exquisite appetizer, but a relatively simple one that deserves to be left in the corner like Baby in Dirty Dancing. But, I have you know that deviled when done correctly, can engage your appetite for more with every single bite. Especially when they are filled with crab, and not just any crab I suspect, but the legs of a blue crab, where the meat is a little more briny, a smidgen more salty, and the texture a bit lighter. When you couple that with the parmesan crisp, you get crunch, you get sharp cheesiness, and texture, then you are off to the races for the next course.

I am always of the mindset that when you try a new restaurant you tend to stick with your old faithful items. Meaning you select food that has tongue memory, you have a framework on how it should taste, you can recognize rather rapidly if there is a twist in the new dish, and if this simply measures up or exceeds your expectations.

With that being written second up was the Lump Back-Fin crab cakes with a vegetable medley and mac and cheese with asiago cheese, provolone cheese, and cheddar cheese. To start, when they stated lump crab cakes they did not lie, it was all meat, no fillers, no bread, just sweet, swank, slightly buttery crab meat, and slightly toasted atop. Crab cakes should taste fresh at the same time they should taste light, with the inherent ability to ensue a smile in a way that only crab cakes can.

Because, every plate should have vegetables I guess with the goal of fulfilling the food pyramid in some form of fashion, they provided a medley of broccoli, in which I am a broccoli lover, butternut squash, and zucchini, all of the conventional companions with a seafood dish. 

Then the extra side, the mac and cheese, it was good, not remarkable like the mac and cheese at Cut by Wolfgang Puck, but certainly good, it was cheesy, they made a bechamel sauce and stirred the macaroni in and lightly baked the top. So when I write about this, it is purely about preference, I individualistically prefer a tighter texture to my cheese, not necessarily a saucy texture. But it landed in the land of good and good is definitely not bad and I would certainly order it again as an accompaniment as I believe it went very well.

Last up, the flourless chocolate torte, where only chocolate lovers will begin to salivate at this reading. There is something special about flourless, it makes the torte dense, and the chocolate more profound tasting, then when you put it in a torte, you get that dainty feeling, that compulsory feeling to hold one pinky up in the air while taking your first bite. This torte was unquestionably decadent, delectable, and simply heavenly. This is the desert that you get to go, so you don’t have to share.

The win here for The Blue Crab Grill is not only was the food made to order, perfectly hot upon arrival, the service was 5-star, I can hear the inflection of the waitresses voice they subtly appreciated our presence, there was salt and pepper on the table, there were actual menus that were nice heavy to give you the impression that you were about to engage in a dining experience and not a grab and go one, and an absolutely delightful one at that.

This was a true find, and I have officially dubbed this as my spot for great seafood, fab service, and amazing desert.

Lift Up A Standard

You may not do it consciously, but nevertheless I am sure you do it. Whenever you eat certain foods you always have a place where that particular food is simply exceptional, and it is by that food that you lift up a standard. Subconsciously or unconsciously your palate recall is being activated and it reminds you what this similar food should taste like, look like, and smell like, and since the standard being often exceptional this bar of the palate is often very high.

I would not call myself a lunchmeat kinda person, I’ve even with bourgeoise undertone I have lifted up my nose to lunchmeat as if its the meal of steelworkers or mineworkers only, and I am neither. But every so often, I mean very rarely I get a hankering for a corned beef special. I mean who doesn’t want the coolness of meat, stacked up against the creaminess of cole slaw, and the fanciness of russian dressing, on rye bread. Just the mere description of it can make the most prudish of us salivate at least a little.

Needless to write first up is a corned beef special from Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Hatville Deli. Now I did have a standard by which I compared this sandwich to and my standard is Koch’s Deli also in Philadelphia. The Koch’s sandwich is a powerhouse sandwich, packed with premium corned beef and enough meat to make three separate sandwiches for three different days, it is what I like to call everything right with the world.

When I approached the Hatville Deli the picture of the corned beef special captivated me, and being the thorough foodie that I am I boldly asked the Sandwich Maker if the sandwich I would receive was going to look like the picture and taste as good as I was imagining. Being the self-respecting employee she was, she gleefully said, “yes it will”…so I ordered.

On my first bite my immediate thoughts was…wow this bread is soft, its freshly baked, its pretty darn good. Now if you are sandwich eater then you know the magic behind any good sandwich is the bread, when the bread is good we are off to the races. Next up was the meat; now my preference is that the meat should always be practically paper thin, and anything thicker than that is dancing on the line of blasphemy, and this meat was truly revering the meat cutting etiquette, third the meat should melt in your mouth and with a hint of saltiness that hits the back of tongue ever-so slightly, and it was with that that another box on the standard list was checked.

Now there is a small space when building the corned beef special that no matter how soft the bread, in spite of the thinness of the meat, the sandwich can all fall apart, and that is with the texture of the coleslaw and the ratio of the russian dressing. Is the coleslaw creamy? is it more than a accoutrement, but enough to standup next to the behemoth which is the corned beef special? Is the russian dressing not sloppily on the sandwich, but not so delicate that you miss out on at least one good lick of the fingers? Well Hatville Deli received another check box on the standards list. The coleslaw was creamy and tasty, and I got two good licks of my fingers in from the russian dressing.

Although she put my sandwich together faster than Superman in a race to fight Batman she nailed that balance better than I hoped for and for that I smiled in appreciation.

The Hatville Deli corned beef special sandwich was good, it wasn’t delicious, like Koch’s Deli, but it was aesthetically pleasing, my tastebuds were certainly susceptible to it, and in the event that while in the Reading Terminal and my hankering for a corned beef special should hit, I will not hesitate to have Hatville Deli be the cure for the corned beef special craving.

Heaven Must Be Like This.

Summer is for long walks, to get tans, to take each moment a little slower than the last, and most of all to eat ice cream. Ice cream is one of those sweet reflection desserts. It is like with every lick or each spoonful a quick transport to a happy place flickers in your members and when the ice cream is absolutely delicious a sense euphoria comes alive in you and you feel compelled to chase it like a drug.

So the story goes,

I was walking on the Upper East Side of New York City and I passed by an ice cream shop called Van Leeuwen. The sign on the door read, “ice cream + vegan ice cream + coffee.” Now I have always been under the impression that vegan ice cream was a gimmick and should not be mentioned in the same sentence as real ice cream, and it was these words that initiated my hesitation, but I was coaxed in anyway by a reliable source.

Upon entering I asked for a sample of ice cream, but due to Covid all samples have been discontinued until further notice, which is also known as, “take my word for it that it is good.” With no samples I had to ask the most appropriate question “is the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream amazing?” The Van Leeuwen employee replied, “its very good.” With that statement my reluctance grew more intensely. It grew because everyone knows that “amazing”and “very good” is as close as the north is from the east, sure not a grand distance, but far enough to be recognized. Then the employee said something that calmed all of my misgivings about this ice cream, and what he said was, “if you dont like it bring it back immediately and we will find you a flavor that you do like.” And so, it was with that statement that I dove right in to the chocolate fudge brownie ice cream and although it didn’t need it I added chocolate sprinkles simply to commemorate the weekend.

With my second taste, my brain tapped into the creaminess that was simply undeniable, the ice cream coated my tongue with a depth of of flavor that registered a dark chocolate that was perfectly sweetened. Brownies so delicately entangled with semi-thick small burst of fudge that it took my brain on a ethereal ride; one bite ice cream, the next bite brownie, and the next bite fudge, it was an unadulterated party for my palate.

This ice cream with no preservatives, nothing artificial, this flavor gluten free, not a hint of fabricated colors or enhancers, just simply delicious and completely enslaving, left me smiling like I just hit the food lottery.

I always fancy myself to believe that because God loves me so much that He will have all of my favorite things on earth also in heaven waiting for me when I arrive. However, in this case it is the owner/maker of Van Leeuwen who has earned their spot in heaven and even if God doesn’t say it to you, I am here to write, well done good and faithful ice cream maker, you have done my tastebuds a wonderful service.

Not quite Chef-Boyardee, but close.

Yes, we are still in a quarantine, and yes only some people are wearing their mask in New York City, and yea it remains super humid outside, but amid all of those disenchanting situations when the night falls the concrete jungle remains just as busy and social as ever.

Restaurants are closed for inside dining and the streets of the jungle have turned into sidewalk cafes, that make the sidewalks crowded, the wait long, and take-out the best option out there.

On the docket for tonite was take-out pasta from a three year old restaurant called in Biogi Venezia located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Take out pasta dishes only and it is up to you to find a sidewalk table and chair or grab your food and prepare to eat it while you watch Chris Tucker in the movie Rush Hour (a true classic if I do say so myself).

What I opted for tonight was yet again the Pasta Bolognese, made with a thick sauce, lamb, pork, beef, and scratch made thick spaghetti noodles. Unfortunately I have to write that upon first bite, I felt no love or should I write I tasted no seasoning. No salt, no pepper, no Worcestershire sauce, absolutely nothing, my chagrin led me to do the unthinkable and that was to grab the salt and the shaved parmesan cheese and pray to the food gods that those insufficient side samples camouflaged as season would add a sapor that would excite my palate just a smidgen, but my attempt failed and the food gods turned a blind eye to my efforts.

The smell of the pasta was extremely reminiscent of beef-a-roni by Chef Boyardee, yes the cook had a hat on like Chef Boyardee, but I am confident that I didnt see him open a can of it in the open kitchen. But the noodles were gummy like Chef-Boyardee, the flavor profile was nil like Chef-Boyardee, could it be that it was Chef Boyardee and I was given the 52 fake out?

It has a fancy name, and an intriguing chef who told me himself that he had been cooking for 55 years, but unfortunately it tasted like he was a quarantine cook, who had never cooked before, who got excited about the concept of cooking from scratch and decided to charge his friends for the experiment.

Biogi Venezia you missed the mark here with this Bolognese. The thing is Biogi, I dont suggest you remove this from the menu, but I do suggest you get a focus group who will give honest feedback so you can go back to the drawing board and potentially drum up something more appetizing.

Better luck next time Biogi, better luck next time.

No Additives Needed

Let me start by writing that I have not dined in a restaurant since March 10th and the struggle has been real. To not have the dining out experience of being waited on, to chat it up while my food is being prepared, to have someone check on me and see if all is well is a luxury that I have truly missed.

Going out today to North Italia in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania was like going out on a first date. I was overly excited, slightly giddy, and a tad nervous. The idea of being waited on by people in mask, how would it all go down is what I whispered to myself. I mean under a pre-Covid situation to be confronted with multiple persons with gloves and masks would look like a highjack situation that I clearly was not going to make it out of unscathed. But now here we are in the midst of a Covid society and to see only eyeballs and foreheads is the way we operate in this new normal.

So how does a restaurant function in this wonky environment and how does the restaurant not only build that food connection, but the personal connection that speaks you are safe here, you are welcome here, and you will be satisfied? Well you do it the North Italia way thats how. You welcome people with such a warm greeting that somehow we see the smile hidden behind the mask. Yes they are wearing gloves, but they are showing that cleanliness doesnt mean less engagement. The inflection in the waitresses voice displayed that she was happy to see me as I was her and we never even met. She approached us with an attitude that screamed North Italia knows you could have stayed home and cooked, but we appreciate you taking the time out to trust us with your dining experience.

So first up on the menu was the White Truffle Garlic Bread, just writing it causes me to salivate. It is always a treat when bread comes to the table, but it is something loving about the bread when its hot, when its thick cut, when it lightly toasted so the edges are crispy and the center is warm and chewy, when it is lightly flavored with garlic, and the accoutrement of trufle takes you to a delightfully savory place that your tongue will be forever grateful for.

Second on the dining table was the Grilled Cauliflower. Now I like to think of cauliflower as the quintessential adult vegetable. I mean it doesn’t hold the beauty that broccoli carries, yet you eat it because although its not as vibrant as its sister broccoli it has the ability to grab hold of flavors broccoli can only dream of. And so when you add a fried egg atop for creaminess, pancetta cream for texture and saltiness, breadcrumb for a slight grittiness, what you have is a stroke of genius in a cast-iron bowel.

Last up, house recipe Bolognese. In case you were wondering it seems to me that when they write “house recipe” that means that the ingredients are top secret and can only be shared with someone super cool like Dr. Fauci or something. Nonetheless my tastebuds tell me the beef and maybe some pork for fat flavor had cubed carrots, fennel, super ripe tomatoes, a hint of sweetness, and plethora of other flavors that needed nothing to be added other than my fork.

North Italia is so confident in the flavor profiles that salt and pepper were not even on the table, neither did they offer it. No one came by to offer extra cheese, because the amount present in the pasta landed on perfection. The pasta was so delicate, so light, so airy, the meal left me satisfied, but not so full I felt compelled to push the car home.

North Italia you checked all the boxes during this Covid dining experience, you were safety first, you were compliant to all cleanliness rules, your service was pleasing, and your food was delectable. Well done North Italia, well done!!

Condensation & Reservations Lessons 🍴

I was taught a very valuable lesson regarding marketing by the Cheesecake Factory very early on and that lesson was not taking reservations serves as the best piece of visual marketing ever. So the masterful idea is that not taking reservations forces people to stand around and wait from fifteen minutes up to two hours and with there being no space to accommodate the often large parties, by default people stand outside, in the lobby, in the corridor, on outside benches, just absolutely everywhere. What this marketing screams to passerbyers is that this food is absolutely delicious, it bolsters the onlookers with anticipation that you too must be in on whatever it is they are selling, Cheesecake has basically perpetuated the “I want in” syndrome.

As a result of this masterful marketing scheme, many restaurants including Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge in Philadelphia have adopted the no reservations scheme and to be honest I cannot hate, because thanks to Cheesecake Factory I have been indoctrinated into the “I want in” syndrome where restaurants are concerned.

In conjunction to the no reservations the Rose Petal Cafe has a niche that they are known for and that niche is waffles all kinds of waffles, chicken and waffles, quesadilla waffles, spinach cheese waffles, almost any kind of waffle that strikes your fancy. But, while coming out of the “I want in” syndrome coma I decided to go against the grain and get catfish and grits. After all this is a soul food brunch and there nothing more soulish than grits.

When I was growing up we made grits with water and although fair tasting they weren’t creamy, they needed a boat load of salt and if you didn’t have any Philadelphia Rapa scrapple to mix in with it, you were left with a bland grain. Nowadays grits have become elevated, by adding milk or maybe half and half to develop that creamy texture, along with an infinite amount of sweet butter, and enough salt to balance it all out. It is this levitation of flavors that the Rose Petal Cafe & Lounge has done well, not just with grits, but with waffles also. Those grits came out piping hot and there were enough grits to feed a family of five a top with chives. The grits needed absolutely nothing but a spoon for me to dive in.

Accompanying the grits was a bowl of curled up catfish. Now before I proceed about the catfish, let me take you on a small trip down memory lane. Do you all remember your momma or grandma cooking fried chicken, and for some reason she was cooking it with the anticipation that your father or father figure would be walking in the door shortly, momma and big momma would cook that chicken to a golden crisp. That chicken skin glistened, the crispiness was displayed with the ever infrequent skin bubble filled with grease, the meat was juicy and flavorful, and with every crunch you felt a feeling of jubilation you could only get in your family kitchen. Yet, inevitably that father or father figure never came in the door when he was supposed to, so what happened? Mommy and big momma put that chicken breast in a flower bowl and put a plate on top of it to keep it somewhat warm. Now I don’t know what happened to the chicken breast in your house, but in my house by the time my father got home, the condensation had deflated the crispy, crunchy chicken and unfortunately, what he ate was wilted, no more grease bubbles surprises, basically unimpressive home cooked chicken. Ok ok now fast forwarding to the present to the Rose Petal Cafe, the catfish resembled that flashback fried chicken. That catfish was not crispy because the lid has been placed on top of the bowl, did I see the bowl and the top with the fish in it? No, but I tasted it and I saw and felt the skin. The fish was bordering on soggy, the crust had lost its initial burnish shimmer. The fish tasted fair but certainly unmemorable. The reason it was characterless was simple, it was not hot and it was not crispy.

Whenever you order anything crispy what the palate is really craving is layered eating even if they aren’t able to articulate that. What the gustatory cell is craving is the crunch from the skin, the slight coarseness across the tongue when it hits the crust, then the burst of flavor that implodes in the mouth which in this case should be the saltiness from the breading as it mixes with sweetness yet tanginess of the fish, then the heat from the fish just being fried, evokes the commodity of every human which is to be seen. When food is hot, it conveys to the eater that this was made just for me, the preparer is thinking of only of me, when the chef received this order, he sprung into action to present to me fried crispy catfish.

Rose Petal Cafe and Lounge you didn’t think of me when you made that catfish, you took a 1970’s home cook rookie mistake and distorted my crispy experience. In the age of Food Network and the Cooking Channel even the novice cook now knows that the lid on the bowl to conserve warmth is the enemy to crispiness.

Rose Petal Cafe I believe in redeeming grace, this fish is fixable, you can give the eater of fried food the layered eating experience they crave, it not to late to let the patron know you cooked that meal just for them and that what they eat matters. On the bright side my counterparts raved wildly about the delicious waffles.