Monday, December 28, 2009

Guided Missile versus Kamikaze

Rather than jumping head first into the funeral pyres of processed food like I tend to do, Hamburger Calculus uses a more, er, calculated approach.  Integrate yourselves into their blog this week as they drop some science on Japanese snack foods and where to get them (I stole the photo above from this post).  Buen provecho.

The Worst Shit I Ate All Year

This year marked the introduction of "Why Did I Eat This?" on Fidel Gastro, a low-brow culinary oddyssey of bridging the gap between the food you see in the commercial and what it really looks like when the wrapper comes off, or sometimes just letting hunger get the best of me with no marketing involved.  Behold, another not-very-well-thought-out list of the terrible excuses for food in 2009.

10. Taco Bell's Blackjack Taco: As the unofficial spokesfood for the Phillies' 2nd World Series bid, the photoshopped images were pure comedy, but the actual taste of this thing was more miserable than the entire white sneakered population of gents mourning a loss to goddamned Yankees.
9. Big Ben Burger at Union Jack's: Amazing wings, terrible burger.  I guess you can't be good at everything (Michael Phelps is a great swimmer, but he sucks at not getting busted for smoking pot).
8. Flavia Coffee from my office pantry: Is it that difficult to make single serving coffee not taste like burnt water?  And is a carton of half-and-half really that much more than a squirt bottle of non-dairy creamer?
7. Wawa cheesesteak: Duh.
6. Baja Fresh burritos: We really tried to like these.  Even if you give them odds against the likes of Chipotle and Qdoba, they still can't get past "sucks only a little" status, which makes them a waste of money.
5. Dunkin' Donuts Waffle Breakfast Sandwich: A poor excuse for a McGriddle with waffle marks.
4. Pizza Hut Tuscani Pasta: You're better off making a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese.  Hell, you're better off just opening the packet of cheese powder and dumping it into a glass of water.
3. Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak Flavor Potato Chips: I will forever feel stupid for falling victim to these.
2. Buffalo chicken cheesesteak from Cosimo's Pizza: Last time I checked, hot sauce wasn't supposed to taste sweet.
1. Wendy's Asian Chicken Bites: A high fructose corn syrup-based sauce sloppily glopped over boneless breaded chicken that was obviously fried in grease weeks overdue for a change almost ruined fried chicken for me.

There were two things I couldn't manage to get to that would both be shoo-ins for this list, but you'll just have to wait and see what 2010 brings (aside from another 15-20 lbs on my frame).  Here's to another great year of regrettable eating.  Buen provecho.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Best Shit I Ate All Year

Disclaimer: I'm rushing this out, so if it sucks, I apologize.

It's been a big year for the Gastro family.  Following a move to Philadelphia (yes, Chestnut Hill is STILL Philadelphia), we managed to cram in a house purchase, a baby, and the beginning of business school.  Through it all, I've been fortunate enough to have the time and inspiration to eat, write, and inflate the spare tire that is my ever expanding midsection.  Without giving it much thought at all (assuming that there are few of you out there who give a rat's posterior), here are the best things I've shoveled into my face in 2009 (a worst list will follow shortly).

10. Nachos at Solaris Grill: The homemade chips and mountain of toppings are a bright spot in an otherwise dim menu at this Chestnut Hill jack of all trades.
9. Wings at Union Jacks: Full of townies (my favorite kind of place), the crispy/spicy/meaty balance of these wings more than makes up for the shitty service.
8. Chicken cutlet sandwich at Shank's: I can only infer from the photos and write-ups eating the wall space in the new Shank's that the old timey location was magical, but for me, having it within walking distance of my office is all the magic I need.  If you don't like broccoli rabe, you will after eating this sandwich.
7. Butcher & Singer burger special: For $5.95, it's worth the derision of a thousand vintage upselling waiters, not just the one that you get stuck with.
6. Veggie burger at Campbell's Place:  It's a samosa on a bun, and the bun is one of best you'll ever eat.
5. Short rib huarache at Distrito: Garces' year kicks the shit out of my year. I'm just happy that I was around to see it all go down.  Even if the Phillies shit the bed, we've always got Garces. The gooey cheese was the highlight of this pizza-esque dish, one option of many on the list of small plates (I also recommend the pork tacos). 
4. Roast pork w/sharp provolone at DiNic's: There are few lines worth standing in.  This is one of them.
3. Short rib and cheddar fries at Village Whiskey: What can I say? The man knows his way around short ribs.  Served in a cast iron skillet and lightly scented with cinnamon, these will warm your soul, even on the coldest of days.
2. Strike Zone and D.P. Dunkers at D.P. Dough: Surprisingly, I preferred this vegetarian zone to any of the meat options I had.  I just supplemented it with a box of boneless and breaded bites of chicken.  Make sure you get a side of bangin' sauce.  You won't be disappointed.
1. Fat boy monster at PYT: The burger that I paid for (this one) was better than the burger I got for free. Go figure.  This burger makes you want to be morbidly obese just so you can have a second or third without making yourself sick.

Stay tuned for the worst.  Because I ate so many awful things, I'll need to think on that one a bit.  Buen provecho.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

In nature, warning signs abound for things you're not supposed to eat. The cactus has thorns, the lobster has claws (but mad props to the guy who figured out a way to get at its delicious meat), and poo smells like, well, poo.  Under the fluorescent lights of a bustling Wawa, the signs are there, but you need to look a little closer. 

After two artificially flavored successes, Herr's suffers a face mangling fall from grace with their Kansas City Prime Steak Flavor potato chips.  If the shittily designed packaging was any indicator of what lurked inside, I should have heeded its warning.  The off-putting "Western" font whose name I can't place (because I'm not well-versed in fonts), the brown-checked background, and a floating steak that looks like it came from an old Sizzler advertisement. Clearly Herr's is paying the flavor fellas more than the graphics guys.  I could have opened a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix and gotten the same result, an overly salty and artificial crunch that could only be delicious if I were exiled to the eternal blackness of a space station behind the moon, and there was nothing left to eat after the other dude lost the coin toss.  Space station or no, there's a better use for a dollar.  Buen provecho.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Twas the Hour Before Lunchtime (An Ode to Chipotle)

An old buddy of mine just composed this Christmas miracle.  Some time ago, we spent a month's worth of business days eating Chipotle burritos (thanks, Hank) :

" 'Twas the hour before lunchtime
And all through the city
Chipotles were starting
To steam rice...not too sticky
The foil was all stacked
By tortillas with care
With the knowing that customers
Would soon be there...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

It's called "The Gobbler."  Translation? You need to eat this pile of mush lightning fast. Otherwise, call up the IT boys and order a keyboard replacement, because that's where most of the cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy will wind up.  There are few better ways to ingest 1,000% of your daily intake of sodium than this mess of a holiday hoagie, especially for $2.99.  Buen provecho.

Available at Wawa for a limited time. You can also forgo the hoagie roll and get the same pile of shit in a plastic bowl.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Why Did I Drink This?

I call this the El Camino.  Equal parts Mountain Dew and Jose Cuervo poured into a stemless wine glass.  Let's put it to a vote.  I am either:

a. Extreme!!!
b. Innovative in the face of adversity, the adversity being that there is no beer, wine, or whiskey in the house
c. A pathetic drunk

If you're curious (which you shouldn't be), it tastes like a sickly sweet hangover reminiscent of the days when you would pour whatever you suspected mom and dad would not miss into a plastic tumbler and hope for the best.  Adults, don't try this at home.  Kids, I'm pretty sure you're already trying it, so I won't tell you to do otherwise, but I don't condone it.  Buen provecho.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

M'm M'm Good

All parenthood and no dining out makes Fidel a dull boy.  Thankfully, I've been blessed with a very portable daughter.  Whether or not this spells doom for her teenage years, I can't say, but for now, she is more laid back than a Jamaican in Amsterdam, and that's a beautiful thing when it comes to date night with no babysitter.  Sometimes you just need someone else to pour the wine and cook the food, so we strapped Baby Gastro in the carseat, packed up the sweet diaper backpack, and headed to Campbell's Place for said services this past Friday.

Located at roughly the midpoint of Chestnut Hill's stretch of Germantown Avenue, it's great for both old money and new money (and in our case, no money) Northwest Philadelphians.  The menu reflects the clients, running the spectrum from a burger with your choice of toppings to filet mignon with truffled mashed potatoes.  In between, pub standards such as fish and chips, and a few departures, notably, guava glazed ribs, and a veggie burger that could make me quit meat (well, that might be a bit dramatic). 

Following our noses, we started with a plate of cornmeal dusted calamari.  Fried anything is good, but when it comes to calamari, it's a tad more difficult.  Cook it too long and you find yourself chewing on an assortment of novelty squid pencil erasers.  This was not the case for what came out.  After the initial crunch of cornmeal, each bite melted in my mouth.  There wasn't even a need for the accompanying marinara.

For entrees, we ordered his and hers burgers, mine being a Paulie burger with bacon and bleu cheese, Mrs. Gastro's being a veggie burger.  The his burger, while cooked to my liking, had the opulence one associates with a steak dinner.  A severe helping of blue cheese and bacon--usually something I would gobble up (and I did anyway)--punished the rest of the plate.  To make matters worse, the handful of light-refracting salt crystals strewn all over the fries made my tongue feel like an old nautical rope.  I had to order a second beer to fend off the impending dehydration.  On the other side of the table, however, we found a true gem.  The hers burger is without a doubt the best interpretation of a veggie burger I have ever tasted.  Composed of Indian flavors, it was like eating a samosa on a bun.  Texturally (and just like magic), the makeup of curry rice and vegetables was such that it didn't crumble into a mushy mess that one typically associates with non-processed and frozen veggie burgers.  It was served with a creamy yogurt dill sauce that was not quite as thin as a raita, so it was perfect for dipping both sandwich and fries.

No dessert this time around, but we will be back for sure, undoubtedly to eat this veggie burger of veggie burgers.  The atmosphere is casual and fun, albeit a bit cramped, and the popularity of the place makes it moreso.  The establishment is long and narrow, and I would argue that the best seats in the house are at the bar (hard to sit there with a baby, though).  The hostess service was very accommodating, but our waitress seemed annoyed.  She wasn't exactly a jerk, but she wasn't very nice, either.  If you find yourself in Chestnut Hill and you've already had the Schmitter, grab a table at Campbell's Place and see what makes it so m'm m'm good.*  Buen provecho.

Campbell's Place is located at 8337 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill (that's in Northwest Philly).  We got full and drunk for $55 including tip.  Full disclosure: I have a tall and handsome friend that introduced me to the owners, but they didn't remember who I was when we were there.

*I really hope Campbell's Soup doesn't sue me.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Local Innovators

Another spud success from Herr's.  Cheddar Horseradish flavored Kettle Chips.  Totally worth the calories and nasal discomfort.  Buen provecho.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Squanto Ain't Got Shit On Me: Turkey Day

Holidays kick ass on many levels, but at the top of my list is always the copious amounts of food and spirits, and the way things have gone down in the households I've been a part of, consumption of said food and spirits usually transpires while wearing pants with an elastic waistband.  It puts the comfort in comfort food.  It also saves you from that whole cliche of eating too much and then having to undo buttons that really shouldn't be undone in public.  Even if your family says they don't mind, they're all re-thinking your place setting at next year's table.  Luckily for me, elastic pants or otherwise, my indispensable roles as both stuffing stud and turkey titan (wow, those are both horrible) have hopefully secured me an invite for many years to come, even if I decide to stop wearing pants altogether.

This year I opted for what I'm sure was everybody's alternative to Alton Brown's brining method (which has slayed in the past), the dry-brine (or cure, for all the hair-splitters on  The thought had popped into my head after reading an article by Drew Lazor over at Meal Ticket.  In fact, my man was even the first to respond on Twitter that this has been done before (in Vail, CO, likely sometime between skiing and skiing).  Salting the cumbersome holiday bird and letting it sit in the fridge seemed a lot easier than immersing it in gallons of vegetable stock in a cooler, then balancing it on top of whatever you can find in the garage so the bird will stay submerged for however many hours.  Turns out I wasn't the only one with the idea this year, and the NY Times was gracious enough to both lend me a recipe and make me look like I was jumping on some sort of bandwagon.

So last Saturday, I picked up my naturally raised bird from Fair Food Farmstand and gave it a nice rubdown with salt before throwing it in the fridge for four days (I got stuck with a nineteen lb bird so it needed some time).  I won't bore you with more details, but as you can see, it turned out beautifully, more likely because I got a little nutty with a stick of butter than any method of making the meat more succulent.  Underneath this golden brown dermis resided somewhat of a disappointment, however.  The meat was juicy and flavorful, but nowhere near what I had experienced when I used the same method on the chicken.  Compared to the wet brined turkeys of years past, I prefer this method, but at the end of the day, I didn't taste too much of a difference.  The real game changer was the bird's size.  I just don't like working with such a big bird.  I think next year's festivities will involve two small birds (and perhaps a deep fryer).

On the side should have been a delicious giblet gravy (just look at that stocky goodness), but I really shit the bed on that one.  I need to find some sort of sauce class, or at least get a fat separator.  My attempt at transforming the drippings into something magical and horrible for you ended in Mrs. Gastro saying, "Well, I can taste the grease and the booze from the wine, but that's about it."

My other signature, a pound of sausage intermingled with processed cubes of cornbread and aromatics, came out a tad dry, but still gorgeous and about as Thanksgiving-y as you can get.  And on that note, here's hoping you and yours had a blessed and delicious holiday.  Buen provecho.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?


With all of the crap I've been eating lately, I may as well just change the name of the blog to "Why Did I Eat This?" or maybe, "How Am I Still Alive?"  I suppose there's the possibility of a spinoff, but nine times out of ten, spinoffs are depressingly unsuccessful (did anyone watch "Joey"?  If you did, please stop reading now because you're making my blog a lot less cooler than it should be).  Speaking of which, I was able to catch the Sixers vs. Jazz* game this past Friday, and in true fat ass fashion, I spent more time back and forth to the vendors than I did watching the Jazz crush the poor Sixers (actually, since there was literally nobody there, the food lines weren't that long, so I think I may have managed to see at least half of it).

I really miss the days when basketball was cool.   Nowadays, the freakishly tall dudes just look bored running up and down the court.  It's kind of sad, but if nothing else, it gives me an excuse to eat arena food, and as written so eloquently in a previous post, it gets better as you get closer to the action.  The poor saps eating hot dogs way up high (even though they could have easily walked down) ain't got nothin' on two of my favorites: chili cheese fries and boneless buffalo wings.  As you can see above, the chips are replaced with french fries in these Irish nachos, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially when you have a fork to do your bidding.  I love the redundancy of cheese and sour cream.  It's like wearing belts and suspenders, or so I've heard.

This last one's a little blurry, but it's still easy to see that this is a chunk of breaded and fried chicken slathered with a gut gouging combination of hot sauce and bleu cheese.  By the time we got to these, I think the beers had made their way to my dome piece, giving them the appearance that they were going out of style (get it? I ate them really fast).  The murderous pairing of all of this processed goodness with upwards of twelve beers racked up a major digestive debt that I was left to settle the next day, and although I enjoyed it at the time, I am once again left wondering why I ate this.  Buen provecho.

*Before you comment on how John Stockton was the cheapest player in the NBA, I already know, and I don't care.  As the all-time assist leader, his generosity with the rock cancels out any cheapness.  Eat it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

Maybe it's because I'm Mexican, but I find it very hard to fuck up beans, cheese, grilled chicken, and tortillas.  Not knowing whose concept Baja Fresh belongs to, I'll just assume that it's a bunch of white dudes in suits who say "tor-till-uh" instead of "tor-tee-yah," and then proceed to talk a bunch of shit on their inadequate burritos.  Here goes:

1. When your fresh salsa bar sits out from 11am to 9pm, I question exactly how "fresh" any of it can be at 8pm, hours after the acid in the tomato finally loses the battle to the acid in the lime, and the pico de gallo becomes a mealy mess of sodden produce. The mango salsa suffered a similar fate, and what remained resembled canned peaches in syrup (a bad thing).
2. Don't put the word "fresh" in your menu if you're going to serve the chicken with the artificial grill marks.
3. "Enchilado" is neither a word nor a style.
4. Since you're really not much higher up the food scale than Taco Bell, I strongly recommend not serving fish.
5. Tortillas should be gently warmed, not toasted to the point of crumbling at the slightest bit of pressure.

I imagine we'll eat here again because it's so close, but if you can avoid it, you should do so at all costs.  You're better off just buying a can of beans and a stack of tortillas from the grocery store.  Buen provecho.

Our local Baja Fresh is on Ridge Pike across the way from FWOT in the shopping center where there's an REI.  We wasted $18 on two burritos and two sodas.  The burritos came with chips, but they were soggy and salty and very upsetting to eat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Dreams Are Made Of

According to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, unrequited love smells like bitter almonds. Had that love been reciprocated (and I think it finally was at the end of the book), I'm pretty sure the smell of almonds would be replaced with the aroma of D.P. Dough. Why, you ask? Because after six years of waiting, I was finally able to sink my teeth into these pockets of perfection, and now I am whole again.

A late-night (read: drunk) food staple in Ithaca and various other college towns, D.P. Dough makes calzones filled with a dizzying assortment of ingredients, so you're covered whether you need to soak up some of the booze with pepperoni and cheese, or if you find yourself so high that steak, eggplant, and ham sounds like a great idea.

I was able to catch up with the proprietors the other day, and between banking, commuting from NYC, children, and whatever else life can throw at you, they were gracious enough to school me on their version of the American Dream, a three year journey that taught them, in their words, "Everything."

Check out the interview after the jump.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

As the scale rapidly approaches Philadelphia's area code when I step on it (a very bad thing given my short stature), I can't help but wonder yet again why I'm eating a third and fourth installment of today's dining hall option, "chicken" parm. I am literally defenseless when it comes to breaded and fried chicken. You want to know how bad it is? Here are a few reasons why I am a pathetic lump of lipids:

1. It's 3:19pm. That means this has been sitting and sweating for over three hours, and it's a soggy mess.
2. The food service lady had some serious saran wrap skills, and I had to wrestle with her handiwork.
3. I'm eating this with my hands. In a classroom.
4. It's not even mine. It belongs to the guy next to me. Granted, he offered it to me, but common courtesy requires I say "no" instead of taking it before he actually put out the offer, thereby forcing him to offer it up out of guilt.

Feel free to pass judgement, because if I was reading this about someone else, I'd do the same. Buen provecho.

Give Me a Break

Sometimes I'll while away the days being remarkably unremarkable. Please take advantage of this brief service interruption to check out Hamburger Calculus' magnum opus on Kit Kat bars. It will send your brain into diabetic shock (that's a good thing). The grapefruit sports drink Kit Kat is the hands-down winner in the "would only try it on a bet" category. Buen provecho.

*image stolen from

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Burger's Fine, it Walks the Line

Trying to stay relevant in the suburbs is a difficult thing. I keep things interesting by wearing a light blue pair of cutoff jeans when mowing the lawn (to the disdain of Mrs. Gastro. Sorry, love). In the much more important world of food, you have to toe the line between a menu of crowd pleasers and something a little more edgy. Trying to accomplish this balancing act, albeit with a net, is the bar menu at Alison Two in Fort Washington.

This past Friday was the 3rd Annual "Guys Who Shouldn't Be At a Beefsteak Dinner Go to a Beefsteak Dinner" field trip (previous trips documented here, here, and here). Earlier in the week, I had all but written it off. It was a logisitcal nightmare that wasn't made any easier by the fact that we had guests coming the next day. Maybe it was a second Phillies trip to the World Series, or perhaps it was my uncanny talent for rationalization, but by the time Thursday rolled around, I had changed my mind and accepted the challenge of leaving Philly at 5pm and getting to North Jersey by 7pm, all in the name of stuffing my face with mountainous piles of butter-soaked tenderloin. Then it literally rained on my parade, and for whatever reason, rain really fucks shit up when it comes to being on the road. My ride finally showed up at 6:15 in a gasless Plymouth Neon ("I wanted to wait until we got to Jersey"), and after missing the PA Turnpike exit, we reluctantly accepted defeat somewhere near Fort Washington, where it was either Alison Two or Rich's Deli, and Rich's Deli was closed.

The last time I ate here was with Mrs. Gastro on Valentine's Day, when there were a few food missteps. In order to play down the current man date situation, we decided to sit at the bar, which would have been great had there been seats. Instead, we were seated in a cozy banquette near the wine lockers. Near the bar, but a little more romantic than what we were looking for. Being in the bar area allowed us to eat from the bar menu, so we bailed on the anniversary prix fixe (which looked like a great deal) in favor of a calamari "steak" milanese, a couple of burgers, and an assortment of cocktails and beers including a dark and stormy, something from Ommegang*, and a Brooklyn Belgian Ale.

Whoever seasoned the appetizer had either a light hand or bionic taste buds. The calamari "steak" milanese, a breaded and fried squid head served with arugula and a lemony "tartar" sauce, relied too heavily on the arugula for any sort of bite. Eaten alone, it was a high-end fish stick, excellent texture without any flavor. The burger was your standard tony establishment interpretation (that's a good thing), a behemoth of a patty artistically formed to resemble something made by robots (also a good thing), and juicy as a Georgia peach. Topped with blue cheese, lettuce, and tomato, it was like simultaneously eating an iceberg wedge and a ribeye (with my hands). The bun, studded with drug-test-failing poppy seeds, was an excellent patty platform, almost as dense as a bagel, and more than enough structural integrity to keep the sandwich from falling apart. On the bad news side of things was the advertised jalapeño & onion jam, which erred on jam side, all sweet, no heat. The accompanying house made potato chips also missed the mark, having the texture of being cooked in oil that wasn't hot enough. I like a lot of grease, but these poor potatoes were drowning in it.

Service was of the bartender-as-server variety, a little less than attentive, but not to the point where you say, "Man, that guy's a dick." I really wish I would have made it to the beefsteak, but Alison Two at least gave us the opportunity to make some lemonade with the shitty ass lemons we were dealt. Buen provecho.

The bar experience at Alison Two will set you back $40 for an appetizer to split, a bar entree of your own, and cocktails (two) to keep you under the legal limit.

*I was at a bar many years ago and the dude next to me ordered it as an "Omega Man." That was amazing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ever Heard of Sky Juice?

Ethan drops some serious knowledge on "sky juice," an unlikely pairing of gin and coconut milk available at the Fish Fry in Nassau, Bahamas. Tommy Up, if you're reading this, it may well rival the Pickleback in the category of sounds gross/tastes great. Buen provecho.

Why Did I Eat This?

Choking Hazard: The $1.99 sausage biscuit special at Dunkin' Donuts is a dried out mess of processed foodstuffs. Keep a glass of water handy if you order this, because quick-thinking with hot coffee will turn your esophagus into a scalded food highway. Buen provecho.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Did I Eat This? A Trip Down Wing Street

Busy studying for an accounting midterm yesterday, I took a quick TV break in the hopes that I would see Vick get hurt (or at least hit really hard). Instead, I happened upon another Pizza Hut commercial where they pull a fast one with their food (Take that, ususpecting diners!). This time around (and I'm sure you've seen the commercial), it was wings, and since I really like wings and anywhere with a decent batch is not likely to deliver, I figured what the hell? Why not give these "award winning wings" a shot?

What the hell indeed. This is the third time Pizza Hut has suckered me into a food purchase, and for them, the third time is the charm (although the P'zone was pretty damn good). I'm not sure who bestowed the award upon these wings, nor am I certain what the award was, but I'll stand behind it. These wings were cooked past the point of "you won't die from food borne illness," but not to the point of being dry, although they were so saturated with wing sauce that the overdoneness could have been masked. I like a saucy wing, but not to the point where you get it on your cheek and it stays there because your wife doesn't tell you she sees it until 8pm. Pizza Hut forgot to include any sort of dipping sauce, but since we keep a healthy stock of ranch dressing on hand, this wasn't an issue. I would definitely order them again.

Further contributing to my premature death was a stuffed crust pizza. As if it's not enough to soak the crust in butter, they haul off and put a ring of cheese in the damn thing? And of course, there's me again with ranch dressing in hand, squeezing away (the picture of health). This pizza is so greasy that when I finally take my accounting midterm this coming Saturday, I wouldn't be surprised if there are grease spots on it when I hand it in. Buen provecho.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

It's 3pm.
I'm not high (I'm not even sure that I'm hungry).
The packaging sucks.

Major waste of 99 pennies. If you've ever had the pleasure of eating powdered non-dairy creamer, the flavor is that plus a light dusting of cayenne pepper. And they go horribly with Cherry Coke Zero. I should have opted for the Baby Back Rib flavored chips. Buen provecho.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Why Did I Read This?

"what we eat has become a dominant, and perhaps obnoxious, part of our everyday cultural discourse." - Joe Pompeo

Hey Mr. Pompeo, I'd just like to let you know that you can suck it (and the cow pictured above feels the same way). Your piece in the NY Observer can also suck it. So what if there's a growing obsession with food? Would you rather we all just ate soylent green (it's people, you know)?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Peeing into an Ocean of Hype

Back in July, I sat down to a gratis meal at PYT. Soft open or no, free or paid (come to think of it, I threw down a $20 tip), I was blown away. Then, in September, Trey Popp made me feel guilty for giving props, thinking perhaps that the only reason I didn't find the burger marginally better than an Angus Third Pounder was because it was free. I don't know the guy from Adam, and a single post shoudn't make you a villain, but it's hard not to take it personal, especially after hearing the deafening rally cry put forth by the dude behind I wasn't able to shake his hand at last night's Social Media Club meeting, but it was like watching a white Che Guevara. If I had a gun in my hand, it would have been fired in the air, if not at someone else. But this isn't the point of this post. What we need to discuss is that for the second time in as many visits, PYT delivered the goods once again.

Wading through the endless @tommyup tweets and retweets, the good reviews and the bad, I'm reminded of 2001, when there was a group of five trust fund shitheads who gave sliced bread a run for its money, sailing the tradewinds of hype until they wound up marooned on an island of haters. Oh yes, The Strokes were munched up into bits and pieces until some kid in Pumas informed me that "they were so six months ago." But objectively speaking, if you drowned out the noise and just listened to the music, it was brilliant. An old friend of mine hit the nail on the head by saying that they made rock sexy again (I guess they brought sexy back before JT). I would have to say the same goes for the burger at PYT.

This time around (and to the disdain of my arteries; sorry guys), I opted for the Fat Boy Monster, two patties, cheese, special sauce, bacon, and two onion rings. The challenge was not whether I could finish the thing, but how well it would travel back to Chestnut Hill (newborn baby and all). And the verdict? PYT knows how to cook a burger, season a burger, and top a burger. Cooked perfectly to temperature, each bite was juicier than the previous one, and although I got my stemless wine glass a bit greasy, it was totally worth the mess. I was also pleasantly surprised that it traveled so well. The fries were another story, but the onions they were tossed with made up for the expected sogginess.

I have to agree with the masses on service. I placed an order to go, so I suppose I'm an outlier, but it's clear as day how little of a shit the bar/waitstaff gives about the customers. It's almost like PYT is Leave it to Burgers from Silver Spoons and the staff are just extras in the background. Make no mistake, the vibe is fun, but a little bit of "how's everything?" goes a long way, and if it's what transforms good into great, I suggest Mr. Up give his employees a kick in the pants. Buen provecho.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Riding the Old Timey Wave

If we're being honest here, I recall that nostalgia for the good old days was reserved for the kids who sucked at sports (the same ones who sucked at drama but insisted they were good, or at least could pull it off at a high school level). The 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s were the test scores the cool kids got, not decades of bygone eras begging someone to say, "Those were the days." In recent times, however, it has become increasingly more badass to sidle up to the bar in your bespoke suit and order a cocktail that nobody's heard of since before your dad stopped drinking. Score one for the drama geeks for being way ahead of their time (and for continuing to ballroom dance at any cost), and score one for Jose Garces for capitalizing on old timey chic with Village Whiskey, a time warp of an establishment that makes you want to smoke a pack a day (indoors).

More important than the ambience, though, is the food. There's been a fair amount of dialogue regarding the Whiskey King, a culinary triple-dog dare of a burger piled high with the richest toppings imaginable. The right thing to do would be to accept the challenge, but it's best to leave it to the experts. Besides, I've had one thing and one thing only on my mind since Meal Ticket posted pictures earlier this month: short rib and cheddar french fries. So today (actually today), I braved the wind and the rain (could this also be considered 'going postal'?), sidled up to the bar (in khakis), and tucked into this most comfortable of comfort foods.

It was major.

Not only was the cast iron skillet of potatoes blanketed in sharp cheddar and tender beef, but there was a shallow bath of cheese sauce beneath! The potatoes themselves had a hint of cinnamon, making them taste like picking apples on a crisp Autumn afternoon (that's a good thing). You know the commercial where the snowman comes in from the cold, eats the soup, and transforms into a little kid? Eating cheddar and short rib fries is like that, but a million times better. There was also the added bonus of Sixpoint Righteous Rye on tap (the best I could do given the fact I had to go back to the office. As a side note, there's a wall of whiskey that would be worth the alcohol poisoning and/or job loss). Eventually, I'll get to the burger, but probably not before having another ten or twenty plates of these fries. I strongly recommend braving the crowds (lunch is probably better than dinner) just for these, but among the cocktails, booze selection, and food, there is certainly no shortage of great things to try. Buen provecho.

Village Whiskey is on 20th and Sansom, right next to Tinto. I got nicely sated for $24 including tip.

This Free Meal Makes a Total of Two Free Meals as a Food Blogger

Free food is never a bad thing (even though Trey Popp might lay a guilt trip on you) provided that whatever the freebie happens to be won’t poison you*. Bottom line, there’s risk involved, and today’s (actually two weeks ago's) risk was the Basic 4 Vegetarian Café in Reading Terminal Market, already behind the Fidel eight-ball by being vegetarian. I get it, eating healthy is right and good, and reducing your meat intake can shave years off your life. But try as I might, opulence and gluttony suit me a lot better than being able to look down at a gnarly pair of 98-year old feet in Birkenstocks.

Somehow and somewhere the PR heads at Basic 4 stumbled upon my contact info, and I was given the opportunity to eat their “Press Sampler,” a Styrofoam clamshell of their greatest hits: carrot “tuna”, “chicken” salad, pickled vegetables, and a veggie burger. I even got a drink, a rather refreshing lemonade that was thankfully made of lemons and sugar (at least that’s what it tasted like). Here’s a quick review of the herbivore eats:

Carrot “tuna” –I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to eat shredded carrots that tasted like chicken of the sea, but I was pleasantly surprised that the dominant flavors were mostly Asian and not canned fish.

“Chicken” salad – Mayonnaise makes anything—even smoked soy protein—taste better. Add a crunchy element with diced celery and you’ve got me fooled.

Pickled vegetables – Again with the Asian flavors. Not revelatory, but not soggy either.

Veggie burger – There was no attempt to imitate beef flavor. Instead, they made a patty that tasted like Stove Top stuffing. A bit mushy, but by no means bland. Hands down the best of the bunch.

One thing you have to get past is the service. The two old ladies behind the counter were working their asses off, but it was very slow going. My lunch buddy had already eaten and taken a lap around RTM before I even got to order. Clearly, Basic 4 should put less focus on press and more on hired help. After I ordered (at 12:30pm, aka “the eye of the RTM shit storm), there was a line that must have been 12 deep (I imagine that the last of them got back to work at 4pm). Another thing you have to get past is the crazy voodoo lady loitering by the cash register. I don’t know what’s worse, crazy people screaming expletives in your face, or crazy people who are dead silent that just stare blankly (like this voodoo lady). Buen provecho.

*If the sign says “Free Poison Donuts,” you should assume that they’ll kill you, although they might just be named after the band, which would be kind of sweet.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

To the (not quite 5th place) Victor Go the Spoils

If they had actually tasted the "fajita" roast beef sandwich (not saying they didn't), I'm sure the outcome would have been much more favorable, but I gotta give it up to the folks at Vincent Giordano for softening the "you suck on camera and you're ugly" blow with a $25 American Express gift card. Buen provecho.

How Do You Deal with Colic?

I lip-synch:

Buen provecho.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fish and Tripps

As far as I'm concerned, the best fish and chips (and surprisingly, fried chicken) reside at McDonagh's in Galway, but this sounds like a close second, newspaper and all. Buen provecho:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pork Tacos, Bike Shorts

Behold the first (and probably last) installment of "Cooking in Bike Shorts." This episode features a very well filmed (thanks, Mrs. Gastro) but horribly produced (way to drop the ball, self) segment of me making the Homesick Texan's carnitas recipe. Since I do a shit job of explaining what it is that I'm making, I've included the recipe below.

Carnitas is one of my favorite ways to prepare pork, and I love the simplicity of these tacos: a warm corn tortilla is the vehicle for a handful of carnitas, onions, a squeeze of lime, cilantro, and salsa (if you like). I could eat fifty in one sitting. I used to get them at a place called Panaderia La Diana in Salt Lake City for a buck each. It was a tortilla bakery with a small kitchen tucked into a corner of the building, the stuff of legend. I couldn't exactly replicate the flavors, but I think I came pretty damn close. Buen provecho.

Carnitas (adapted from Diana Kennedy)
3 pounds of pork butt
1 cup of orange juice
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt

1. Cut pork into strips (three inches by one inch), add to a large pot with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours. Do not touch the meat.
2. After two hours, turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered (about 45 minutes). Stir a few times, to keep pork from sticking to bottom of pan.
3. When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat in the pan). Serve either cubed or shredded (pork will be tender enough that just touching it will cause it to fall apart).Goes very well with a green salsas such as Ninfa's green sauce or this tomatillo salsa or this salsa verde with avocados and tomatillos.

Serves 4-6

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Craving

I meant to write this back on 8/2, but time has certainly taken on a new meaning now that we have a new roommate.

I have to commend dear Mrs. Gastro for shattering each and every pregnancy stereotype out there, but I would be a filthy liar if I didn't say I was a little disappointed at the lack of cravings. If nothing else, it would have given me carte blanche to eat Taco Bell completely guilt free at her whimsy. But craving or not, every once in a while hunger would give way to something exotic and/or greasy. This time around, it was soup dumplings, something I haven't had since moving from NYC, and something that I sometimes miss even more than my SLC-based parents.

Baby Gastro's refusal to arrive on time left us with little do to but be angry about it. After the due date came and went, we almost felt like it wasn't going to happen, and my darling wife would be pregnant for the rest of her days (which would be kind of sweet because I'd have a permanent designated driver). This anger quickly became hunger, and before we knew it, we were avoiding eye contact with junkies and huffing gas fumes as we made our way into Dim Sum Garden, a well documented diamond in the rough and supposedly the only place in Philadelphia that serves up these gastronomic gobs of goodness.

I always find myself at Chinese restaurants during the staff lunch break, and this time was no exception. If I was in the middle of eating a three foot pile of lo mein, I wouldn't want to be disturbed either, so I had no expectations for prompt service. Besides, Mrs. Gastro wasn't going into labor anytime soon. When the waitress finally ambled over, we managed to spoil our dinner with soup dumplings, scallion pancakes, and a deep fried pork chop nestled among noodles that were more fettucine than lo mein. The dumplings were perfection, dredging up memories of the first time I ate them, anticipating a burnt mouth but caring very little as I bit into one resting on a spoon used to catch the broth, which was so rich and full of fat that it would become chewable at lower temperatures (that's a good thing). The scallion pancake was another success, a flaky crust surrounding a pastry dough interior, studded with green onions, and deceptively light. The deep fried pork chop was an afterthought, but by no means regretful. It was another rich dish, so meaty that if you told me the noodles were made of meat, I would have believed you.

What's odd about the whole experience, apart from that whole dining under an elevated parking garage next to a makeshift bus depot, is that we still can't figure out how soup dumplings even came up. Regardless, we'd go back every day if we could. Some things are just that delicious. Buen provecho.

Dim Sum Garden is located at 59 N 11th Street in Philadelphia, where the convention center meets Chinatown. It's not the best location, but your mom told you not to judge a book by its cover, and I suggest you do what your mom tells you. We got three menu items and two Cokes for $25 including tip. Cash or credit card, no booze.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My Future Food Lover

Introducing Camila Sarah Espinoza, born August 4, 2009 at 3:23pm, weighing in at 6lbs, 6oz. May she love food as much as I already love her. Buen provecho.

Friday, July 31, 2009

This is Why I'm Not a TV Chef Personality

Man, I suck ass on camera:

In directly related news, this is my entry for the Vincent Giordano Video Chef contest. My entry, as you'll see, is a delicious "fajita" sandwich I made by putting VG cold cuts on the grill and topping them with sauteed peppers and onions, pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and homemade (housemade?) salsa. If there was online voting, I would ask for your support, but there's not, so merely enjoy it/hate it/poke fun at it/link to it. And if you're feeling inspired, hurry up, because the contest ends today. Buen provecho.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Did I Eat This?

The real question here is, "Why didn't I buy fifty more bags?" Herr's just threw an artificially flavored haymaker and it landed smack in my mouth. These things tasted EXACTLY like ribs (but not my ribs because my ribs are life-changing; more like something you'd get at a chain restaurant). I'm amazed at the leaps and bounds the food scientists have made since creating something that was supposed to taste like oranges. The only other chip closer to the real thing that I've tasted was a bag of pollo-flavored Lay's in Bogota that might as well have been chicken skin. Buen provecho.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Shoulder to Cry On

With the arrival of Baby Gastro on the immediate horizon (3 days!), my plan was to lock myself in the home office this past weekend to tie up any loose ends hanging over my head from the 9-5. Instead, I sort of went to Rice's Quality Meats in the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market and sort of bought a pork shoulder. And then, I sort of had to make a dry rub and sort of had to keep an eye on it for 4 hours, which--when you figure in sitting down to dinner--left little to no time for the loose ends. A big oops, but procrastination is sure delicious sometimes. Buen provecho.

I used this recipe from Mark Bittman (I would up the salt by a teaspoon or two):

2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons mild chili powder, like ancho or New Mexico
2 teaspoons paprika
1 pork shoulder, about 5 or 6 pounds

1. Start gas grill, using burners only on one side to achieve a heat of 250 to 300 degrees. Put a couple of handfuls of wood chips in a tinfoil pan, and set it over working burners. While grill heats, mix together dry ingredients, and rub them all over pork, including under skin as best you can and in any crevices.
2. Put pork on cool side of grill and cover. Check about 15 minutes later to make sure chips are smoking and heat is below 300 degrees. Check every hour or so in case heat escalates too much or chips need replenishing.
3. Pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of about 190 degrees, about 4 hours later (less time if you used a smaller piece of pork, more if larger). Meat will be very tender. If you like, raise heat and grill meat to crisp it up a bit. Serve immediately.