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.