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.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? Wawa's Pulled Pork Burrito

This is probably the least appetizing picture of Mexican food I have ever seen.
Most people or places can't be everything to everyone, but Wawa will certainly never stop trying. The latest in their attempt to leverage trends is the burrito, whose launch happened right around the time of the E.coli outbreak at Chipotle. Coincedence? Perhaps, but I'll leave that to the 9/11 truthers and other people who wear tin foil hats. I am merely here to discuss the successes and failures of mass produced foodstuffs and whether you should give them a try. Is the Wawa burrito a success? Let's analyze a few key performance indicators to make the decision:

Heft: Wawa's value proposition, like the rest of the fast food world, wants to kill you. An abundance of food for little money makes everyone happy, including me. Whether that food is wholesome is another story. Once assembled, Wawa's burrito weighs in at over a pound, which isn't bad for five bucks. Grade: A-

Tortilla: The tortilla itself is passable, but Wawa uses the same industrial grade toaster they use for hoagies to warm up the assembled burrito. Mine was left in the dry heat of this contraption too long, leaving my tortilla as brittle as stale matzo. Grade: B-

Rice: As great of a cook that my mother was (and still is), her rice skills sucked. Rice was an afterthought after beans and green chile, and to this day, I still question its presence in a burrito. Wawa's rice was reminiscent of my mom's, a watery mess of bland overcooked mush. Grade: C

Beans: Beans are easy to fuck up, unless said beans are from a can. Like Wawa's. Grade: B+

Pulled Pork: I had the utmost confidence that this would be the worst part of the burrito. Wawa's meats are of the boil-in-bag variety. Surprisingly, despite the pork being underseasoned, it had a excellent texture and it was hard to tell whether it actually came from a boil-in-bag. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B.

I'm just as surprised as you are, though I'll probably stick to hoagies moving forward. Buen provecho.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Stargazy: Does Pie and Mash Make You Run Faster?

No Fault in This Star

Nutrition is a big part of race training, or so I've heard. I'm not really one to follow any sort of food regimen while training (or in general, really), but I try not to be a total dumbass about it, either. That means things like no drinking before a workout, Alfredo sauce or otherwise (although I did have the best swim of my life after four Bud Lights at the Gowanus Yacht Club many years ago (remember that place?)), no heavy food, blah, blah, blah.

So it would seem that pie and mash from Stargazy might not be the best idea whilst training, but I was really in the mood for a pie today and they're 2.2 miles from my office so I went ahead and said, "Fuck it," fully prepared to run back to the office afterward with a belly full of delicious savory pie.

But instead of a painful 2 post-pie miles, I experienced an amplified runner's high. Turns out that pie and mash is actually great for mid-race nutrition. And if you don't believe me, check out these statistics:

The Run to and from Stargazy
My pace is boxed in yellow. I'm hovering around 9 minutes per mile. The first two miles were probably fueled by my excitement about eating pie and mash. Mile 3 was the slowest, but I hit a lot of red lights on the way back. Mile 4 was exhilarating. I felt like a fat middle-aged Prefontaine (this is a good thing) and could have probably run another 4 miles. Now take a look at my previous three runs:

Boring Ass Treadmill Run
Run Along Kelly Drive, I Think
Run Back to Manayunk
As you can see, today's pace was a full minute faster than my previous three runs. Ladies and gents, I have discovered the secret to running faster! Now all we need is a race belt that can fit a few pies in it. Any investors out there? Buen provecho.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pitchers Pub. Really? Yes, Really.

Whether or not you choose to run the 7 miles home from Center City to Manayunk, you should really do yourself the favor of stopping into Pitchers Pub between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.

I am not joking when I say that this is hands down the best happy hour in Philadelphia in terms of value for money. For $3 a pop, you can get at least 75% of what's on their draft list of 27, and it's a serious draft list. I stumbled into the place with my brother-in-law thinking I'd knock back a Miller High Life, and the next thing I know I'm on my fourth pint of Fat Head's Headhunter. Food was an afterthought, but also cheap and surprisingly delicious.

There's a chance you'll walk by this place and think, "Wow, what a shithole," or maybe, "But I'm not wearing a white hat and boat shoes!"

Keep these thoughts to yourself and just walk in. You'll be as surprised as I was. Buen provecho.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Happy Belated Easter!

This is my Easter Ham and I think it's just lovely. That is all. Hope everyone had an Easter full of good news (He is risen) and great food (like the ham pictured above). Buen provecho.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? Buffalo Wild Wings

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. And a Red Robin. And a Buffalo Wild Wings. And some self-service frozen yogurt shop that will be closed in six to nine months. And a PetValu.

But most importantly, a Buffalo Wild Wings, or B Dubs, as it is lazily shortened (because fuck syllables). For some, this is much more of a paradise than the empty field full of snakes and broken bottles (and at one time, deer probably, who are now displaced and confused and inevitably roadkill) it replaced. For me, it was a step just below adequate until the diarrhea kicked in later that evening and lasted most of the day Sunday and I contemplated arson. I don't understand how we as humans choose convenience over intestinal discomfort more often than not. I suppose it's easy to choose the path of excess when it's paved with five thousand times the recommended daily allowance of sodium. Wash it all down with a beer to forget that you're in the suburbs, then yes, it is paradise; a temporary vacation where you're given a "Guest Experience Captain" who will bring you unlimited samples of B Dubs' signature sauces and/or anything on draft (may I please have 100 samples of Miller Lite?).

The disappointing truth is that while you're dying to go there (whether ironically or not), the reason you want do is because of their endless commercials and the fact that it's more socially acceptable than Hooters. Aside from the glut of TVs in the place, it's no different than any other chain.

At least that was my experience. Our server was bummed that we only ordered a sampler platter and a snack size order of bone-in wings (plus two kids' meals), which were undersauced and just a touch past cooked. Raw chicken texture isn't my favorite. The boneless wings that were included in the platter were all bread and also devoid of sauce. The nachos were soggy, topped with mealy tomatoes and a congealed off-yellow queso. The mozzarella sticks held up, but you've got much bigger problems if you're fucking up mozzarella sticks.

Although I wasn't happy paying $60 for 48 hours' worth of intestinal discomfort, there's a 100% chance I'll go again because I hate myself. Plus, I didn't get my nifty cardboard hat this time, so they owe me that (I may also try out the unlimited beer sample scheme). If you can avoid being swayed by their marketing and that stupid winged buffalo logo, you're a better person than I. If not, stick to mozzarella sticks if you get suckered into going. Buen provecho.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March Madness: Five Burning Questions for Duke's Head Coach

One shining moment
1. Why is your last name pronounced "Shuh-shef-skee?" Did you just make that up?
2. Can't we just say, "Kurzizewsky?"
3. Can you tie a Half Windsor instead of that sloppy Four-in-Hand knot?
4. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that last name?
5. Are you a fan of pierogies?
6 (Bonus Question). Why does everybody hate Duke Basketball so much?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Paying the Troll Toll: Andrew Zimmern

Celebrity is fucked. Even more fucked are the expectations of a celebrity's fan base. Of course you can't be all things to all people, but at a minimum, you should be allowed an opinion. Heck, your opinion is what got you in front of the camera in the first place, right? I'm specifically talking about Andrew Zimmern, who replaced his appetite for destruction with an appetite for increasingly strange foodstuffs and became a household name along the way. It's really hard not to like the guy, or at least his media persona. Follow him on Instagram and you'll see that despite enjoying opportunities that many of us won't, he's a humble ass dude and he's truly grateful for his lot in life.

Unfortunately, here's what else you'll see, especially when he uses his personal feed (yes, he's the one posting to Instagram (I think)) for things other than travel and food: his liberal aka tolerant leanings incite a vomitous stream of hatred, whether it's his position on addiction, gay marriage, or most recently, Donald Trump.

It's nothing out of the ordinary in a place where we can all hide in a digital stream of ones and zeroes, but for someone like Zimmern who just seems like a genuinely happy guy who wants other people to be just as happy, it's a shame that we as humans are terrible piles of garbage. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Snap Judgment: Cleavers

After Spike Mendelsohn unceremoniously opened a Philly outpost of his Good Stuff Eatery in June of 2014 and then closed it a little over a year later, the lights are back on at 108 South 18th Street, this time in the form of a cheesesteak joint called Cleavers.

Although there wasn't much rework needed in the wake of Good Stuff Eatery's gut renovation of the space, the owners were smart enough to repaint and re-wallpaper all of the nonsense left behind by Spike's branding team. Unfortunately, they overcompensated a bit, plastering their namesake all over everything, including the salt and pepper shakers. They even have an actual brand they use to emboss their cheesesteak rolls (this is actually pretty cool but doesn't work as well as it should).

After my first bite, the reason for all this pomp and circumstance became dreadfully apparent.

This was a bad cheesesteak.

It was Upper mezzanine Aramark concession stand bad. Mall food court in Salt Lake City bad. Random country in the European Union trying to make a buck by leveraging Americana bad. Send it into Mikey Il's "This is Not a Cheesesteak" tumblr bad.

The seeded roll was so dense that I felt like a dog tearing at a chew toy in an attempt to extract the plastic squeaker with every bite. Each time, I lost a bit more of the underseasoned meat as it fell to the plate along with glob after glob of cheez whiz (at least they're using actual cheez whiz) until I was eating nothing but (bad) roll. The fries, of the crisscut variety, were also lacking in the salt department and soggy. In what seemed to be somewhat of a social experiment, there was one bottle of ketchup for the entire dining room (I hate ketchup so this didn't really affect me plus this is kind of petty because they just opened a week ago). If it actually were, I'm happy to report that humans, at least when fed, are generally friendly and willing to share their precious ketchup.

This "cowmap" is pretty fresh tho.
I'm not sure how (or if) they'll fix the bread situation, but I'm sure I'll give the place another shot in the near future. Hopefully by the time I go back, they'll have fixed the rest of the kinks as well, provided they don't shutter first. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Quick Note on Rare India Pale Ales

For the first time since I rationalized my alcoholism by getting into fancy beers five years ago (and I swear I told that joke before stupid Jimmy Fallon did), I left work early to hunt the rare beer beast known as Pliny the Younger. It helped that Bru--who had a whole Leap Day thing going on with a list of other hoppy-as-fuck limited releases like Hopslam and Nugget Nectar--wasn't tapping their PTY until 4pm (most places will pull the trigger around 11am, which takes a bit more planning).

When I got there (probably 3:55pm), the line was deep, but it didn't look like 100-people deep (there's only so much to go around, like Bitcoin). I queued up, and just before I got to the front, like six people before the front, the well had run dry.

Or did it?

Fortunately for me and the rest of the stragglers who didn't leave work early enough, the guy at the door said that the dregs of the keg can usually kick out a few more pours before actually kicking, so he urged us to hang tight. I had given up at this point, but figured I'd wait since I had nothing better to do, and after about fifteen minutes, he came back out with enough tickets for the last of us. I would finally get to taste five years' worth of hype.

And sadly (but not surprisingly), the hype wasn't justified. Make no mistake, Pliny the Younger is good. Would I say it's 100-on-the-Beer-Advocate-Scale good? Probably not. A convincing 97/98, but for all its rarity, I think I'd rather have a Hopslam, or even a Firestone Walker Double Jack. I'm glad I got to try it, but I think the fact of the matter is this: we now live in a world where pours like Pliny are increasingly common and more accessible than ever. And if big beer continues to gobble up little beer at the pace they're currently going, not only will these high octane hop hippos be readily available, they'll probably be cheap enough to keep in the fridge on the reg. Let's just pray that consistency remains as they scale upward in pursuit of profits. Buen provecho.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Top Five: Lunchtime Lenten Friday Non-Fish Meat Substitutes in Philly

Photo Credit: Who the fuck knows? I found it by Googling "Lent."

In an attempt to reconnect with the religion bestowed upon me by my parents, I gave up drinking for Lent (during the week, except last Wednesday and maybe this Monday for Zahav's Lamb Shack). I'm also trying to hold fast (straight edge reference!) to this whole "no meat on Fridays" thing, even though someone told me that the concept was the result of shilling for the fish industry back in the day. Still, it's a form of sacrifice because I eat meat most days. For example, today's calorie massacre would typically start with a sausage, egg, and cheese burrito, then a fried chicken sandwich for lunch, and probably a burger for dinner (wow, that sounds awful when you put it down on paper). Instead, because it's Lent, I'm gonna eat some dumb instant oatmeal after I type this dumb list about the best things you can eat on Fridays during Lent in Philly that are neither meat nor fish. From worst to first, here are the definitive* rankings:

5. Bullshit Salad, assorted locations: Whether it's SaladWorks, Jake & Max's in the Comcast Food Court, or Devon & Blakely, you can be certain that your lettuce/mixed greens/spinach will be unwashed, your tomatoes will be unripe, and there will be entirely too much dressing all over this cold mess of an attempt to be healthy.

4. Falafel from the dude on the corner of 16th and JFK: Does anyone know how long this guy has been here? He's definitely a relic of the "food carts before food carts were cool" era. He's also super nice and his falafel is cheap and excellent. I recommend getting two because they tend to be small.

3. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup from Meltkraft: You can get a three-cheese classic or opt for something more elaborate like their Melter Skelter (raclette, pickled green tomatoes, jalapeno, bbq potato chips, and watercress). The soup is made daily from roasted tomatoes. Doesn't taste like mom's, but then again, it's not wonder bread, pasteurized processed cheese product, and a condensed glob out of a can**.

2. Margherita at Pizzeria Vetri: If the pizza is good enough for Urban Outfitters to back a dump truck full of cash into Marc Vetri's driveway to acquire the company, subsequently causing the termination of some of his undocumented workers due to the parent company's e-verify requirements, then it's good enough for you and your quest to be closer to God. To be honest, eating the pizza sometimes feels like a religious experience because it's so Goddamn good.

1. Hummus at Dizengoff: Everybody's talking about King Georges at the moment, but I'm all about Prince Solomonov. When it first opened, I had my doubts about hummus being a meal in itself. Then we shot an episode of Camila Eats Food there and I was literally full for a good 36 hours after. I also know a dude who eats it exclusively for lunch 5 days a week. It's hale and hearty and impossible to stop eating from the first bite until the bowl is licked clean.

Buen provecho.

*Not Definitive
*Gotta love the nostalgia of the original, however

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Revolution Taco's Not-So-Secret Secret Burger

Clip-Art, Yay!

What makes an off-menu item even more desirable? When there's only an allotment of six per day. Such is the case with Revolution Taco's eponymous Revolution Burger, teased out via Instagram yesterday (I also got an insider tip).

In keeping with their mission of "Tacos without Borders," former food truckers Carolyn Nguyen and Michael Sultan top this taco burger, a (many-hyphened) ten-dollar dry-aged rib-eye and t-bone blend from Indian Ridge Provisions, with house-made bacon (Stryker Farms pork belly cured in garlic and cascabel chiles), Cooper cheese, roasted poblano crema and avocado chimichurri sauce. It's like eating a taco and a burger at the same time, and it sounds fucking delicious. Not sure when I'll get to play the burger lottery, but please take note. If you're ahead of me in line and you get the last one for the day, I'll probably punch you in the face or at least kick you in the shins and then run. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? Taco Bell's Quesalupa

The gold wrapper's a nice touch, at least.
They said it was going to be bigger than man buns, hoverboards, and drones, but here's something to chew on: man buns, hoverboards, and drones don't really exist outside major metropolitan areas. Even with Amazon allowing the world access to anything and everything whenever we'd like it (through the use of what is essentially slave labor), most of our country 'tis of thee could give a shit about newfangled harstyles and methods of transportation (I'm totally speculating here).

So it's fitting that Taco Bell's Quesalupa has fallen flat on its deep fried face (again, speculating here. I live under a rock). I'm all for the innovation. Add more fat in the form of melted cheese to something that already rots your insides in the name of deliciousness. That's a fast food slam dunk. The trouble with cheese, however, is that its melted state is fleeting, especially when subject to below freezing temperatures and a quick stop into church to get some ashes in an attempt to be more Catholic even though you've got a sack of Taco Bell "goodies" tucked under your right arm so you can make the sign of the cross before having dirt smeared all over your face (which actually didn't happen because there was a whole mass to get through before you could get ashes and I was too hungry to wait).

This is what happened to me. I had to try the Quesalupa, but I also had errands to run. By the time I got back to my office, the cheese congealed, so when I ripped it apart, that cool thing where strings of melted cheese hang onto each other until finally yielding to the tension of my weak arms separating their gooey union was non-existent. Instead, the shell crumbled and the cheese tore apart like chicken skin separating from chicken flesh, and you could wring the fryer grease out of the whole assembly. This cheesy surprise that was supposed to be all the rage failed in spectacular fashion. The claim of pepper jack cheese inside the shell was also a lie. No flecks of diced peppers that I could see, and certainly no spice. At $3.99 for the chicken version, you're better off sticking with old faithful, the Cheesy Gordita Crunch (with a Dorito shell). Buen provecho.

Friday, February 12, 2016

On Dining Out and Splitting the Check

Photo: Google image search with an assist from my shitty photoshop skills

Eater, ever my muse, just ran a little blurb on a fake app called "Equipay," which won a comedy hackathon for its ability to "split the cost of a meal in accordance with gender and racial income inequalities." The app, while hilarious, gave me a feeling similar to what would happen if the dude in the picture above came to life and ran his nails across the entire length of that chalkboard.

I'm all for equality, but when it comes to dining out with friends (or anyone, for that matter), as soon as that padded leather folder hits the table, the equation should be:

Individual Contribution = (Total / Number of Diners) + tip

And it should be done without hesitation. Alternatively (as pointed out by a few readers), one person can pick up the whole thing and take a pass the next go-around. The equation should never involve pulling out calculators to determine how much one owes for their half of the one loaded potato skin they ate from the appetizer sampler platter plus the harvest salad with chicken and strawberries plus the bite they had of Steve's burger minus the bite of grilled chicken they gave to Rob.

I understand that money may be tight, or you may not drink, or animal proteins aren't your thing even though you showed up in a leather jacket. But if you're out to have a good time, why ruin it with math? Not to mention the server who has to deal with your bullshit accounting.

Here's how I think of it. It's all about game theory. You approach the situation knowing you're going to split the check evenly, so you do one of two things. Keep the bill at a minimum by not drinking booze and ordering cheap entrees, or maximize your bounty by ordering expensive shit knowing that your portion will be supplemented by your fellow diners. Or, you could not be a dick and just eat and drink like a regular human and not worry about what's happening around the table. And if you happen to feel guilty because you ordered the 96oz. bone-in ribeye topped with a small fishing vessel's worth of lobster meat, then take it upon yourself to offer to pay a smidge more.

But at the end of the day, just split the fucking check evenly. Please. It'll make your friends hate you less and want to dine out with you more often. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Little Lion Happy Hour Exclusive: Southern Poutine

Just a quick little reminder that poutine is Canada's greatest contribution to modern society (unless Vice is reading this and they want to give me a cool food show even though I'm not a rapper or a chef or really all that cool even though I've got like 4 tattoos. Then you guys are the greatest contribution. Sorry, poutine).

And southern food, currently having a moment (I think), ranks among America's greatest contributions to modern society (and obesity).

Put the two together, and you get The Little Lion's Southern Poutine, available starting tomorrow, February 11th. It's a happy hour exclusive, but since I'm old and like to go to bed early these days, the timing couldn't be more perfect to enjoy French fries tossed in dry rub, short rib jus, pork belly, and cheese sauce. Add a fried egg and some scallions, and you've put the "happy" in happy hour without even trying. Buen provecho.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken

Nashville Hot Chicken is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that Kentucky Fried Chicken has figured out a way to make the regional and legendary spicy fried bird available nationwide.

If you don't know the story behind hot chicken, Wikipedia is a great place to start. Basically, some scumbag dude's girlfriend wanted to exact revenge on him by dousing his chicken with cayenne pepper (and other secret spices). Unfortunately, the plan backfired when he liked the chicken so much that he developed a recipe for it and opened up a chicken shack of his own. Call it an unhappy accident.

Presently, Nashville touts a couple dozen places to get hot chicken, and plenty of chefs have brought it to their home states, including our local boy and Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga. At his southern-inspired restaurant The Fat Ham, Sbraga's version is the result of many road trips and tireless research in the days leading up to its opening. And it's really fucking good. I would definitely consider him to be an expert on the subject matter, so it came as no surprise when I saw a picture of KFC's version pop up on his Instagram feed, followed by a lengthy review. His verdict? A failure in all categories. Bad breading, bad sauce, bad meat, bad seasoning.

Of course, none of this would deter me from giving it a go eventually, and I took it as a sign (literally) when the colonel's shit-eating grin kept popping up on the blue service signs on a recent road trip to Maryland. I told myself after the fifth exit advertising a KFC that if there was one at the sixth exit, I'd pull off. Well, you can guess what happened. Here's my opinion of mass produced "Nashville" hot chicken, in a handy dandy list:

1. Kevin's right about the sauce being too much. I watched the lady behind the counter empty almost half the squeeze bottle into the tray of chicken. There was a wading pool of it left over when I was done.

2. The chicken was adequately crispy despite the sauce waterboarding, but that's to be expected because KFC is using their extra tasty crispy chicken. Left dry, you could cut someone with the shards of breading.

3. The meat was fine. I always ask for dark meat so it's typically juicy (fatty) no matter what. I'm not gonna pretend that this wasn't factory farmed and I'm basically eating the fruits of modern food science instead of an actual chicken.

4. Flavorwise, Kevin's right. The chicken isn't hot. At best, it's lukewarm. I suppose naming it "Nashville Lukewarm Chicken" would probably hurt sales, though. My palate for hot chicken is not as refined, so I couldn't pick out anything that was really off balance in the spice blend other than the full court press of sodium.

Kevin says he won't get it again, but I think I would. It could have been a lot spicier, but I didn't mind the overall experience. It certainly wasn't "The Best Spicy Chicken You've Ever Had" (as the warned by the sticker on the box), but it was passable. I was also happy that I didn't get a preservative headache from KFC like I normally do. I certainly wouldn't go out of your way to try it, but if you find yourself finger lickin' for whatever reason, it's probably the best thing on the menu right now. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

We Have Reached Peak "Overhead Time-Lapse Recipe Video"

Take a look at the troll talent of "march_of_the_pigs" above.

Okay okay okay we need to pump the brakes on this whole time-lapse cooking thing. Last night on Instagram, 7-Eleven used the gimmick for what has to be the stupidest recipe I've seen since Rachael Ray's "late night bacon." Using the hashtag #hacksonsnacks, the bodiless arms disassemble everything from a Big Bite hot dog to a taquito and...

Wait a second. You're buying the prepared food just to take it home and unprepare it?

Let me go ahead and stereotype here because I'm an ignorant jerk. I assume that if you're stopping into a 7-Eleven for food, either the meth's wearing off, the weed's kicking in, or you're me. You're not doing so to repurpose their hot dog roller options for gameday snacks. 

Think about it. Chances are that most of the stuff has been sitting on that encased meat treadmill for at least three hours, and even if it hasn't, it still looks as old and shriveled as, well, I'm not gonna go there. And even if you live next door, you still have to wait for the "food" to cool down before slicing it up and topping it with cubes of cheese (because melting cheese is an integral part of every one of these goddamn time-lapse videos). Does 7-Eleven really believe that this stuff is stable enough to reheat? It's barely edible to begin with. 

I understand the need to be creative* in order to move products, but #hacksonsnacks is an insult to the Superbowl snack table. For shame, Sevs.

*Use words like "squad," phrases like "yo frands," and other peoples' ideas like time lapse videos.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Cadillac Grille is a House of Lies

Part of my day job is letting salesfolks pretend to like me. There are a select few that can pull it off (and some I even consider friends), but for the most part, I think there's a mutual understanding of obligation. I'm sure these dudes actually hate me because I actually hate me. One the easiest ways to pretend to like me (or anyone, really) is sporting events. There's food, booze, and root-root-rooting for the home team. And since it's loud and you need to keep one eye on the action so you can cheer when everybody else does, you only kinda sorta need to pay attention to whatever products or services are being offered underneath that layer of cheese on your free nachos.

Last night was one of these sales calls, and we dined at the Cadillac Grille before the game. There were numerous indicators that this place would be shit: it's in the stadium; it's sponsored by Cadillac; the bartender flat out ignored me when I tried to get a drink; but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (what an odd, yet beautiful expression), and I couldn't really pull the plug on it since we were already in the stadium. Plus, I checked out the menu beforehand and it actually looked good.

My first instinct was to get the lamb shank, but the place had this whole steakhouse vibe going and the dude I was with ordered a filet so then I changed my mind and got the 30-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye for $55. I have no problem paying (or letting someone else pay) that much for a steak, so long as it shows up as advertised. Unfortunately, what I got was neither ribeye nor bone-in (I'd bet $55 it was a sirloin), nor did it possess any of the opulent qualities I would expect in a $55 steak. The dude who dropped it off must have seen the disappointment on my face, quickly commenting, "Yeah, these ones showed up without a bone this time." Huh? Typically, when a menu says "bone-in," the goddamn thing shows up with a bone, right? Although Serious Eats has debunked the myth that bones don't actually add flavor, how much more badass does your steak look when it's on the bone? That's really what I'm going for when I order a bone-in ribeye. I'm a motherfucking captain of industry and I have conquered the cow! But nope, not this time. It was cooked to temperature, so it had that going for it, but it was underseasoned and was thinner than something you'd get at Sizzler. The sides were another example of mismanaged expectations. The asparagus was as thin and limp as overcooked vermicelli, and the poor maitake mushrooms were cooked into a rubbery stringy pile of "those are mushrooms?"

It's not that the place is bad. The service was great (except for that bartender. He was a dick), as was the atmosphere (it's a fancy restaurant that overlooks the ice/court/stage). It's just way overpriced. Then again, when I'm with the gen pop, I pay $8 for a shitty beer and another $10 for some bullshit chicken fingers, so I suppose I just need to manage my expectations a little better. If you happen to find yourself there, I'd probably steer clear of the steak, however. Buen provecho.