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.