Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? Arby's Smoke Mountain Sandwich

It's sad and lonely at the top of Smoke Mountain
Before Philly Voice scoops me with their column that is, quite frankly, A DIRECT RIPOFF* of “Why Did I Eat This?” (I see you, Brian Bierman), I figured I’d file a recent trip to Arby’s, my first since a cousin’s wedding in Upstate NY over two years ago.

Unlike most of the garbage places where I poorly invest my daily calorie allotment, there isn’t a love/hate thing with Arby’s. Other than that one time me and Chris Kirsling smoked a bunch of weed (sorry, mom) and I single-handedly took down an entire 5 for $5 deal (that’s five regular roast beef sandwiches for five bucks), I’ve never walked out of there thinking, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

You know where I'm headed with this. One by one, my favorite fast food joints are starting to let me down. For Arby’s, the disappointment came in the form of their latest offering, the Smokehouse Sandwiches.

I hadn’t even seen the commercials for these. I just happened upon an Arby’s on the way home from a project meeting**. When I walked in, the cardboard cutouts and giant photos got the best of me. Color me curious (and stupid), but the polish on these turds was just too much. On offer was pork belly (yes, pork belly at Arby’s), shaved brisket, and smoked turkey, each served on a glistening roll with onion strings, smoked cheddar, and an oil slick combination of mayo and BBQ sauce. Worse yet (or perhaps better?), you could get something called a Smoke Mountain, which was a combination of all three “meats” on one sandwich.

The Smoke Mountain IRL
So, rather than go quietly into the day with a Beef ‘n’ Cheddar, I put my head into the marketing lion’s mouth and made my bid for the Smoke Mountain summit.

And the view from the top was terrible.

I probably should have just gotten the pork belly sandwich. The shaved brisket was dry and the turkey was an afterthought. I was really in it for the pork belly, but judging by the few overcooked chunks that were intermingled with the other meats, it would have been just as disappointing on its own. The “Smoky Q Sauce” had a chemical aftertaste, and the crispy onion strings were soggy at best.

As mountaineers will tell you, “Getting to the top is easy. Finding your way down is the hard part.” My descent down Smoke Mountain was all headaches and stomach pain. I found solace in the curly fries, but little else.

I’m not mad at Arby’s, however. When your research tells you that things like pork belly are cool and sales are flat because you’re getting crushed by an onslaught of new and improved fast casual joints owned by fancy chefs and their stockholders, finding the next big thing to ruin is all in a day’s work.

I shall return to Arby’s, but I’ll stick to their standard offerings from now on. Buen provecho.

*To their credit, I don't post all that often these days
**This is a damn lie. I actually drove past the Arby's and doubled back because I couldn't stop thinking about it like that Simpsons episode where Homer goes to Clown College.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Jose Garces is a Smooth Dude Who Wants to BBQ with You

Photo Credit: Matt Zugale
Best way to decompress from that first week of the back-to-school routine? Easy, an end of summer barbecue to keep the dream alive! And since we're lucky enough as Philadelphians to have local chefs who are also farmers and philanthropists (triple threat!), we can get out of hosting for a nominal fee and a short drive to Bucks County.

On Saturday, September 10, Jose Garces will host the third annual Garces Foundation Summer Barbecue at Luna Farm. I've never met Jose, but Jason Varney tells me that he's a super cool dude, so you should definitely make a day of this family affair. Seventy-five bucks gets you a barbecue lunch, endless sangria (but you should end it at some point if you're driving), an opportunity to make your own Tito's infused vodka, and a chance to meet the Iron Chef himself, who will be on hand signing his cookbooks while your kids do the whole Lord of the Flies thing in the bounce house.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Garces Foundation, whose mission is to provide medical, education, and nutritional resources for Philadelphia's immigrant community. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? Burger King's Mac 'n' Cheetos

Down with the King

I live an inevitable food truth: If it's 50% Cheetos and 50% macaroni and cheese, there's a 100% chance I'll eat it. Enter Burger King's Mac n' Cheetos, my self-fulfilling prophecy of sadness and sodium.

First came the sponsored post. Then, a straightforward #MACnCHEETOS hashtag. Finally, I'm making actual phone calls to BK locations in and around Philadelphia* to find out whether any of them are holding. Marketing really does work (at least on my own feeble mind).

And so there I was on a Friday evening, racing toward the local Burger King with my son in tow, who also happened to be stoked to eat a few neon orange mozzarella sticks (this makes me proud beyond belief). Rather than go full meal, we ordered nothing but the Mac n' Cheetos, lest we pollute our palates with flame broil.

$2.49 plus tax gets you five warm cheese puffs fresh out of the microwave. While we waited for them to cool, we scrolled through Snapchat geofilters until we got to the site/product specific "YASS CHEEEESE!"overlay (the marketing onslaught is worse than that time in Game of Thrones when all the dudes from Ramsay Bolton's army surrounded Jon Snow's army and then did that badass thing where they slowly closed their circle of spears whilst hiding behind shields), then we dug in.

Note the absence of Cheetos powder on the napkin
The outer shell, according to the BK product website, is covered with crispy Cheetos flavor. I didn't realize you could "cover" something with flavor, but I am neither a scientist nor a copywriter. Regardless of how it's accomplished, the consumer is rewarded with not having to deal with the dreaded Cheetofinger**. The innards were nice and creamy (like that one weird bite of a fried soft shell crab but without the briney poop taste), and the overall experience was a success in that I wanted to eat at least three or four orders. Seriously, if these were passed h'ors doeuvres (and they probably should be), I'd stand by the kitchen door and obliterate the tray before they made their way out to the crowd. I'm probably in the minority by saying this, but they might even have a slight edge over Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco.

And in case you're wondering, the answer is yes, I ordered a Whopper meal following the taste test. Please feel free to judge me. Buen provecho.

*I actually only made one phone call.
*An all-time favorite "Would You Rather?" of mine is, "Permanent Cheetos residue on your fingers? Or always (even in blistering July heat) having to wear a black suede jacket with fringe?". 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Philly Burger Brawl 2016: Handicapping a Few Contestants

This Sunday, June 26th, a handful of Philadelphia chefs will arm themselves with a grill, heaps of beef, and other secret weapons to battle in the sixth annual Burger Brawl. This will be my second time attending (first time was in 2013 and I got a sweet tan and a belly full of burgers), having missed the past two years due to a shore vacation (sucks to be me).

Of the expected 40 contestants, I've generated odds of winning for a select few using a proprietary algorithm whose variables include the quality of photographs from a Google image search, whether or not I know them, and whether or not they follow me on Twitter. If you plan to attend, please note that tickets will not be available at the door (but can be purchased here), kids under 10 will be admitted for free, and that maybe you shouldn't bring your kids because Mike Jerrick is one of the celebrity judges and he's been known to scare kids with his IN YOUR FACE style of video journalism*.

Without further ado, some odds on who's going to win.

Lucky's Last Chance
Hailing from Manayunk, this 2013 People's Choice winner has more burger offerings than Imelda Marcos has shoes in her closet (that joke was funny like 30 years ago). If you Google "Chris Barnes," you get a bunch of pictures of Six Feet Under frontman Chris Barnes, including this one of him with Ice-T. While not the actual owner Chris Barnes of Lucky's Last Chance (who's way more handsome), it's pretty sweet that at least someone named Chris Barnes has hung out with Ice-T, who also probably likes burgers.
Odds: 3-1

Taproom on 19th
I met Michael Strauss at a Big in Munich concert (the former chef band whose members included Jeremy Nolen and Ben Puchowitz). We sung along to 80s hair metal hits and he knew all the words. Strauss has also given me the honor of judging the Taproom's annual chili competition for two years running and he likes 90% of my Instagram posts. What's it all mean? I'm not sure, but look at how sweet those Ray Bans are.
Odds: 5-1

SpOt Burger
Josh Kim makes my favorite cheesesteak in all of Philadelphia. His burgers are no slouch, either. And look at that face. It's maniacal. It's saying, "You had better damn well like this burger!" Or maybe he's just trying to see the back of his throat. Either way, you're definitely gonna like the burger.
Odds: 10-1

The Blue Duck
And finally, back-to-back winners, The Blue Duck. From the looks of that shiner, it's apparent that these guys a prepared to defend their title. Will it be a 3-peat? If you've ever been out to their spot in Northeast Philly, they make a convincing argument with the rest of their menu. They also put pork roll in their burger, which could be considered a PEM (Performance Enhancing Meat). However, much like the MLB of yesteryear, this hasn't made it into the rule books, so I applaud their innovation. Plus, Kris Serviss (pictured) has a winning smile.
Odds: Even

You can sample these burgers and more (plus tacos and cocktails) this Sunday from 4pm-6pm at Xfinity Live! You're only limited by your appetite (and two hours, of course). If you see me there (look for a husky Mexican dressed like he's trying too hard), say hi. Buen provecho.

*I'm so jealous of Mike Jerrick and hope to have his job someday

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hair Garnish Update. Not Again! (Yes, Again)

Less than two weeks later, and I happen upon another hair nestled between two types of tubers on this gorgeous plate of food. The saddest part? The burger and fries were so good that I considered, at length, ignoring the little strand of keratin and dead skin cells just so I could finish eating.

I swear I'm not doing this on purpose. I am gainfully employed and happy to pay for my meals. More importantly, I want to EAT MY FUCKING MEALS. Thankfully, I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to things like this happening. And statistically, assuming I've eaten 3 meals per day for the past 36 years (less those 10 days I did the master cleanse which I won't count to keep things simple and they're really insignificant in the long run), thats:

3 x 36 x 365 = 39,420 meals

I've found a hair* in my food less than five times, so by higher math:

5 ÷ 39,420 = 0.0001268

Which means, despite the black swan of these past two weeks, there's a 0.01268% chance of finding a hair in my food (DF, can you check my math? Thanks). I'll take those odds any day of the week.

The real point here is that the restaurant handled things way better than Mel Crisco's Rubble Beagle Steakhouse. Not only was the burger taken off the bill, but the waiter also bought me a beer, which, in my opinion, is the proper way to handle a hairy situation. So to you, unnamed other restaurant that could probably be guessed just by looking at the picture and I apologize for that, I applaud your commitment to service, and thank you for restoring my faith in humanity. Buen provecho.

*That's not my own or someone I'm related to

Thursday, May 12, 2016

You Make the Call: Hair Garnish

Photo: Some Yelper
I had a short and curly stowaway on my plate during a recent trip to an unnamed mega-steakhouse (rhymes with Mel Crisco's Rubble Beagle). I understand that accidents will happen (that's what they all heard Ricky say), and I'm not the type to make a big deal of such things (though I suppose writing about it does just that), but I was so surprised at the way the situation was handled that I wanted to see what you would do if you were the manager of Mel Crisco's Rubble Beagle Steakhouse.

I'm not sure if there's a section on porterhouse merkins in the Mel Crisco's Rubble Beagle Steakhouse corporate manual. Maybe it falls under the umbrella of crisis management, for there are people in the world who might do a lot more than whisper and point. If there are guidelines, then I suppose the manager is beholden to corporate policy. If there aren't, then personally, I wouldn't expect my $60 porterhouse to show up on the bill. Granted, apologies abounded and the entire table was comped dessert, which essentially evened the score from a dollars perspective (they also offered to replace the steak, but considering the hairy one showed up almost an hour after we were seated, I didn't want to screw up the pacing of the meal. And I was pretty full, having eaten over half the first one). Philosophically, however, I would have gladly paid for dessert and had the steak comped. I'm not asking for the entire meal to be free (full disclosure: I paid for everything with gift cards so it really didn't matter either way). This is more curiosity than anything else. Do you agree that the steak should be comped? Or was it enough to get a round of desserts?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

As If Brian Dwyer Wasn't Already Cool Enough

Photo: Brian's GoFundMe Page

I've never met Brian Dwyer, but he's the stuff of legend. And if you live in Philly and like to eat food (especially pizza), then the folklore isn't lost on you.

I didn't take notice when his social media became less social. There's an ebb and flow and boredom and excitement to it, so it's rare when I think to myself, "Shit, that dude hasn't posted for a bit." Kind of like this food blog. It's there when I need it, but otherwise it gathers digital dust.

And then a few months ago, he popped up on Instagram, being about as Brian Dwyer as Brian Dwyer can be. Fun, strange, a character actor who isn't actually acting. And also in the frame, his smiling boy who is not much younger than my son. Yesterday, I found out the reason for the hiatus, and God almighty, it was heavy.

Brian's boy has been battling cancer for the past two years, and as cancer does, it wrecked shop. As a fellow parent (and one who can barely deal with a skinned knee), this is the type of thing that gives you a fuckton of perspective, so it's great that Dwyer decided to tell Waldo's story. It's not a sad one, but it is definitely left of center (because, well, that's how Dwyer does).

The standard course of action when cancer shows up is chemotherapy. In essence, drugs. Expensive drugs. And then more drugs to combat the side effects of those drugs. On a baby who is not even two years old. When you think about it, it doesn't make sense, but since that's the way it's always been, then that's what everybody does with fingers crossed for a positive outcome. This is what Dwyer did for a time, but ultimately got fed up at watching his boy suffer and found another option.

Cannabis oil.

Yes, illegal drugs, but drugs just the same. Brian switched from chemo to cannabis on a recommendation from Waldo's uncle, and the results were nothing short of miraculous.

Throughout the whole ordeal, Dwyer has been filming, and yesterday he announced that he'll be releasing a documentary on Waldo and the benefits of "alternative" medicine. In order to finish editing it, he's raising money via GoFundMe. He also needs a new belt, or so he says (I think the belt looks fine). The additional proceeds (goal has already been met but you can still donate) will go toward Waldo's medical bills, so if you haven't done so yet, please consider dropping a few bucks in the virtual tip jar. After all, if it weren't for Brian, we wouldn't have a pizza museum. Buen provecho.