Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Friends are Cooler Than Your Friends: Rachel Chamberlain

Our dear friend Rachel, whose lasagna was documented back in May of 2008, has finally decided to do what we've all been hoping she'd do for a while now.  The answer you're looking for is not "re-up on the pregnancy (although we're stoked that her and Dave are proliferating la raza cosmica), but rather "putting shit down on digital paper,"  so it is with great pleasure and high hopes that I introduce Blog Gras, an account of what happens when a Baltimorean marries a cowboy and decides to settle down in Salt Lake (there are also plans to involve food, home cooking or otherwise).  So far, we've seen a restaurant that looks like a dentist's office that houses a full bath, complete with a pair of socks drying on the shower door. We look forward to more such hilarity that can only come from reality.  Her acerbic wit cuts through life's bullshit like a jagged and rusty saw.  Plus, she's got the mouth of a sailor.  Welcome to the terrordome. Buen provecho.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

The Bread Bowl Pasta from Domino's had fallen so far down the to-do list that I almost forgot about it (that's a lie). While I didn't think about it every day, I was nervous that it would be taken off the menu before I could subject myself to such torture.  Unwilling to drive the 20 minutes to pick it up (the slogan's "Get the Door. It's Domino's," not "Get in the Car. It's Domino's."), I was certain that the Bread Bowl Pasta would leave this world before passing my lips.

Fortunately, we found ourselves directly in front of a Domino's on our way home from rug shopping, and it was just late enough that cooking dinner would have been too hectic.  Some curse timing; I champion its crucial role in the instant gratification of rationalization. It's one of the soupiest, hottest, hurts-to-breathe days of the year, and I'm eating penne alfredo out of a bread bowl.  What the hell is wrong with me?  To save yourself the calories (which you should), here's a list of why you shouldn't follow suit:

1. It's not that it tastes bad. It tastes bad for you.  I'm usually fine with this, but when every bite is followed by a stabbing pain in your chest, it takes the fun out of eating.
2. It's summer.
3. Their new crust--which shows up here in bread bowl form--is taken straight from the Pizza Hut playbook: saturated in grease.
4. It's the middle of summer.
5. The pasta was overcooked to the point of being gummy. I expected overcooked, but they went way overboard.

We all know that I'm stupid enough to try this again, but I'll probably (hopefully) wait until it's not 90 degrees out.  I don't recommend it, but it you must, please wait until winter to eat this.  Buen provecho.

Field Trip: Austin, TX

The traditional stag party has given way to opulent jet-setting. In an effort to maintain this new status quo (and to avoid a weekend of unsuccessfully pretending to be the dudes from the Hangover), Las Vegas lost the destination race to Austin, Texas, where opulence is offered at a steep discount.  I showed up with a hundred bucks in my wallet and went home with more than half of it (that's a bit of a lie, but not much).  Here's a list of what we shoved in our face when we weren't too busy knocking back cold ones:

Happy Hour at Hickory Street Bar & Grill: Chili cheese fries and onion rings. My hands were too greasy and cheesy to snap a picture of either, but both provided an excellent Tecate pairing.  The fries looked like they came from a potatoes the size of footballs, while the onion rings were probably the size of basketballs before being sliced.  Among six of us, these two apps plus fifteen beers was a jaw-dropping $40.  Turns out everything's bigger in Texas save for the check.

Dinner at Parkside: Thanks to a heads up from Tasting Table, we ordered nearly everything on this classic yet inventive menu. My personal favorite was the blond pate with strawberry relish (can anyone tell me what makes it blond?).  It tasted like cheetos (a great thing). Once again, food took priority over pictures, so you'll have to check out their website for the food porn.

Breakfast on the go from the Hideout: Waking up with an uncharacteristic burst of energy, I went for a jog (who goes jogging on a bachelor party?), which ended with me scooping up iced coffees and a dozen breakfast tacos.  This is a thing down here that I wish would be a thing everywhere.  Packed with chorizo, eggs, cheese, and refried beans, your hangover will thank you.

Lunch at the Salt Lick: Finally, some footage.  This place is as touristy as it gets, but the giant smoker piled high with assorted meats is truly a sight to behold.  Another example of how cheap things are down here, the all-you-can-eat offering is $18.95, and includes a heart attack's worth of baked beans, potato salad, pork ribs, brisket, and sausage. When you get full (which usually happens after one plate), the leftovers are shoved into a container for you to enjoy over the next few days.  Above is a video sampling of their beef rib, on special for $4.95 each.  It was a toothsome and greasy homage to Flinstonian times.  Something to try, at least for the photo opportunity.

Dinner at Manuel's: The afternoon-to-evening went thusly: I got the shit kicked out of me by a wave runner, the bats decided to stay under the bridge (supposedly thousands of them fly out at dusk to eat people bugs), and I got iced (yes, I am a not-so-secret fan of this douchebaggery). When we could no longer ignore hunger, the group consensus was good Tex-Mex.  Unfortunately, the concierge gave us a bum tip, and the trend of cheap and delicious eats was brought to a screeching halt.  My cousin Orlando has a theory about Mexican food's deliciousness being inversely proportional to price.  This meal further verified the negative correlation. The last thing we wanted was contrived Mexican food, but that's exactly what we got.  It was all brittle tortillas and watered down sauces, and the service was tortuga-slow, even though we were one of only three groups in the dining room.

It was a great trip from start to finish (except for the stupid bats and the stupid Manuel's).  I could have used more time and a bigger stomach, but that would mean me being jobless and fatter than I already am, so I'll just have to plan another trip down there.  Buen provecho.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


As I write this, an Indonesian and an Irishman are fighting about floor areas.  Sadly, there isn't a punchline to follow.  There's a serious language barrier that may have to be overcome with fisticuffs.  As I await the outcome and then keep it to myself, please enjoy the following links:

- Guess who's a featured luncher over on Midtown Lunch Philadelphia?  I'll give you a hint.  He just typed this.

- Phoodie (plumber) cracks the (crave) case of Where Is This Is Why You're Fat?

- If you happened to attend any events during the delicious amazingness that was Philly Beer Week, taking this quick survey could net you free tickets to next year's Opening Tap imbibery.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Friends are Cooler Than Your Friends: Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt of Goods Restaurant

When the world ends (which might be soon), I can say for a fact that Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt will be among the few to manage the daunting task of recreating civilization.  Their Mad Max approach to sustainability not only allows them to make lemonade out of lemons, but helps them find the right lemons to use.  Case in point, Goods--their recently soft-opened food concept in Williamsburg, Brooklyn--began as an empty lot and an abandoned trailer (that they tracked down in upstate NY).  Two years later, they've transformed the two into a kitchen, bar, and outdoor eating/drinking spot.  Some of the neater details: the fully custom kitchen is inside a 1946 Spartan, the outdoor flooring will be repurposed wood from Coney Island's boardwalk,and the menu--created by chef Alex McCrery--will feature beef sourced from Pat LaFrieda, hot dogs made with grass-fed beef, house made pickles, and beignets made to order; quite possibly the freshest donut you'll ever eat.  I went with a Goods burger and curly fries.  The loosely packed ground beef made for a surprisingly juicy burger for what I'm told is an 85/15 blend.  Topped with local cheddar, caramelized onions, and served on a potato roll, I made a mess of myself eating it, but it was too delicious to put down and bother with napkins.  And the curly fries.  It was amazing to see these on the menu, not only because hand cut fries aren't my favorite, but because I haven't had them in years, and they're really fucking good.  While I ate my face off, Jason took time out of his busy schedule to catch up with me about the project, about 3rd Ward, and plans for the future.  It's a bit long, but we hadn't caught up for while.  Regardless, it's an excellent opportunity to deconstruct the synapses of an artist who has launched himself, along with his business partner Jeremy, head first (and nuts on the table) into the role of being an entrepreneur, and a successful one at that.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

 I've been burned by Dunkin' Donuts on numerous occasions (check the WhyDIET? archive, it's full of Dunkin' disappointment), which has lowered my near-zero expectations even further, which means there will be a huge upside if they ever manage to serve something worth eating for enjoyment and not just to break the fast.  I present to you said huge upside: Pancake Bites.  They are the answer to oft asked question*, "Is it okay to have mini-corn dogs for breakfast?"  Provided that you dip the shell in maple syrup and replace the cocktail wiener with sausage, the answer is a resounding yes.  And much like the donut hole, you can convince yourself that you're taking the healthy high road because, hey, it's just a few bites, not an entire donut/breakfast sandwich.  You can further rationalize using the price tag: $1.49 for a sack of 3.  So, dear Dunkin', thanks for not ruining my breakfast this morning.  For the rest of you, I highly recommend trying these as soon as possible. Buen provecho.

*Question may not actually be oft asked

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

I have no idea how they did it, but Burger King has managed to transform hot dog meat into something that resembles ribs, complete with a bone.  No mention of them on the consumer website (yet), but I tracked down a press release claiming that their ability to bring "authentic" bone-in ribs to market is due to "proprietary cooking technology."  So how does this cooking technology taste?  Imagine a hot dog marinated in liquid smoke, then burnt beyond recognition.  In other words, just like the turkey leg at Disneyworld, but somewhat easier to eat.  Not surprisingly, the mad scientists came real close to recreating the charcoal flavor, but it wasn't enough to mask the disappointing flavor of the rib meat.  With a hefty price tag of $8.20 for a value meal that includes a half-dozen ribs, you're better off ordering from your local Chinese fast food joint with the bulletproof glass and the lunch specials that you can get at any hour of the day.  Buen provecho.

Opening Tap: Complex Beers, One Word to Describe Them

Philly Beer Week, now in its third day of ten, kicked off the festivities this past Friday with Opening Tap, a veritable Eden for beer geeks and alcoholics alike.  Two hours of drinking the finest craft beer the region has to offer, crowded yet intimate, it's the kind of event that makes you loathe your day job.  I get paid to make graphs (which do not get you drunk); these guys get paid to make beer, and the good majority of them are really cool.  For example, Mitch from Yards probably should have punched me in the face after I told him he looked like Jake Gyllenhaal. Instead, he shook my hand and poured me another glass of their Polish smoked wheat beer (he told me what it was called, but I forget). It was, in my opinion, easily the best beer of the night.  No joke, it tasted like an Islay single malt (a very good thing).  If you couldn't make it this year, you should definitely mark your calendar for next year.  After the jump, some tasting notes on the weedy, pickly, and cardamom-y, in video form, complete with crappy audio.  Buen Provecho.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Why Yes, that IS a Hamburger Patty Sandwiched between Two Sandwiches

It's called the LOVE burger, which I am assuming is an acronym for "Life's Over Very Early." From top to bottom, a grilled cheese sandwich, special sauce, a medium rare patty, and another grilled cheese sandwich. I didn't bother with the lettuce leaf, slice of tomato, and onion.  While the patty was delicious, the "buns" were not. One was burnt, and both were straight up bland (Kraft singles are great for their melty-ness, but not much else).  On the side, I opted for jalapeño fries, which were nothing more than regular French fries tossed with fried jalapeños.  They would have been better executed had they been able to get the peppers to stick to the potatoes, but the flavor was great nonetheless.  If you've ever had jalapeño-flavored Dirty chips, Deli chips, or Kettle chips, imagine that flavor on a McDonald's French fry. Seemingly, we now live in an era of throwing ideas at the wall and using the power of prayer--or the more secular, buzz--to make them stick.  This one doesn't stick to the wall, but it will certainly provide a good base for Philly Beer Week's Opening Tap tonight.  Buen provecho.

Frog Burger is located in front of the Franklin Institute at 220 N. 20th St. Look for the big tent on the lawn next to the bi-plane sculpture.  In addition to the LOVE burger, they've got regular burgers, crab rolls, hot dogs, and fries.The LOVE burger, fries, and an Arnold Palmer set me back $16. More coverage and full menu here.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Lemonade out of Lemons: Pathmark's Lobster Special

Betting that the blowout sale was primarily a function of the Memorial Day mass exodus and not because they were poisonous, I scooped up three lobsters at $5.99 per pound and upped the fancy ante for Mrs. Gastro and the Gastro-in-laws this past weekend.  It was my first time grilling lobsters, which is somewhat labor intensive, and consequently requires more sobriety than usual at 4pm on a holiday Sunday.  I overcooked the claws (might be a good idea to snap them off before grilling), but the butter-basted tails were resplendent. The crowd agreed that it felt like being down the shore, even though we were nowhere near it.*  Four days later, there have been no complaints about getting sick, so the bet paid off, and I can now add grilled lobsters to my wheelhouse, although I'll probably wait until the next lobster fire sale to do it again. Buen provecho.

Grilled Lobster, adapted (mostly stolen) from Kim Knox Beckius
How ever many lobsters you want to cook (I made three 1-1 1/4# chickens)
3 tbsp butter
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
Granulated garlic, salt, and pepper to taste

Bring a stockpot full of salted water to boil. Drop the lobsters in, two at a time, and boil for 5-7 minutes. Remove from water and let cool.  Meanwhile, melt butter and combine with lemon juice, zest, and granulated garlic, salt, and pepper. When lobsters are no longer too hot to handle (nor too cold to hold), use a chef's knife to split the lobsters in half. The easiest way to do so is to stab between the eyes and then rotate the knife down and into the rest of the body. Rinse out the tomalley, pat the halves dry, and baste the tails with the lemon-garlic butter. Place the prepared halves on a heated grill, shell-side down, for another 8-10 minutes, or until meat is white and opaque. Serve with the rest of the lemon-garlic butter, grilled corn on the cob, and whatever else you fancy. We had potato salad and some ridiculous skillet macaroni and cheese. Save the shells to make stock, use the stock to make risotto, extend the fancy bender.

*Conversation may not have occurred

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Getting High on Beef at 500°

 As the burger trend wanes if favor of offal in spandex (hot dogs, gourmet or otherwise), what's left in its wake is nothing to mourn.  Philly now has a burger for everyone, even Bobby Flay fans.  But if you're like me, and Bobby Flay's steely blue eyes and mascara-stained lashes make you want to cry tears of rage, you're much better off forgoing the food emperor's palace for anywhere else.  Today's "anywhere else" took me to 500°, the burger joint that Burgatory calls "a champagne burger on a beer budget."  The verdict?  Sorry to say, but this one's got PYT beat, which is huge for me considering that their Fat Boy Monster topped my 2009 list of "The Best Shit I Ate All Year."  Griddled enough to help you get over the moral dilemma of being a meat eater (if that's an issue for you), their medium rare still drips with blood-tinged juices to remind you that you're at the top of the food chain.  The patty’s cross section fades from a griddled edge to a deep red center, a color gradient that looks as beautiful as it tastes.  Thanks to the cheese, the ribbon of bacon stays with the sandwich instead of prematurely jumping ship, and not only do the fresh jalapeños provide a crunchy contrast to this pillow of perfection, their spice reminds you that this world is cruel.  Served with truffle fries on the side, I could eat 499 more.  Buen provecho.

500° is located on 15th and Sansom Sts in Center City.  I got their version of an extra value meal for $10.80.  The burgers alone are closer to the 5 to 6 buck range, which is a stellar value. You can follow them on Twitter @500_Degrees.