September 5, 2011

Deviation: Book Review of The Sandwich Encyclopedia

There's nothing quite like a hot sandwich on a dreary day. But who wants regular old grilled cheese?? Jazz up your day with an Artisanal Grilled Cheese Sandwich instead!

The great thing about The Sandwich Encyclopedia, by Food Blogga Susan Russo, is this the book is not only filled with delicious classics - peanut butter and jelly, po'boy, croque-monsieur - but there are stylish twists on all your regular favorites. For instance, the above! The recipe starts off with a brief history of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich, which really remained unchanged for decades. Then in the late 1990s, classy restaurant chef Nancy Silverton started offering Thursday Grilled Cheese Night and introduced "a whole new world of designer sandwiches."

The book offers a standard and delectable recipe for an Artisanal Grilled Cheese Sandwich, but goes the extra distance to include variations to expand your options based on palate, ingredients available, etc. - and they do that with just about every recipe! I love that it helps the reader/eater think outside the box!

So my lovely sandwich was a "sweet and savory" variation: grilled buffalo mozzarella, tapenade, and fresh basil on ciabatta bread (well, I couldn't find buffalo mozzarella, but I used a nice regular fresh mozz instead). It was great! The tapenade was rich but the fresh basil gave a subtle contrast and freshness. The crunch of the soft cheese against the crispy panini was delicious. It's a combination I wouldn't've thought of - especially in the context of a grilled cheese sandwich - but I would have been sad to have missed out on it.

So the next time you start craving a monte cristo, crab melt, or BLT (or BLAT, BLOFT, or BLTT for that matter!) hop on over to and pick up the latest from Susan Russo, The Sandwich Encyclopedia. The quirky trivia and sandwich histories, great photographs, and delicious recipes will surly satisfy every sandwich-lover in your life!

September 2, 2011

Sweet Potato-Encrusted Crabcakes

I didn't originally intend to order this dish. No, I had my eye somewhere else on the menu - but then I saw it walking towards me from across the room. And - in a move so smooth she must have pulled it a hundred times - the waitress comes over and all but wafts a neighboring table's lunch plate in front of me before setting it down to rest, tantalizingly just out of my reach. Clearly, nothing else on the menu mattered anymore. There was only one thing I was hungry for (though, admittedly, I wasn't even sure it was a crabcake at first glance).

The cake itself is entirely juicy, white lump crabmeat. The sweet potato gives a subtle sweetness that has just enough texture to distinguish the crabmeat. The flavor of the crust plays especially nicely with the roasted red pepper aioli, served on the side. And as always, the Greek side salad is fresh and bright, tossed in a perfectly balanced vinaigrette and wonderfully creamy feta cheese. Definitely a new favorite!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Canal Street Grille
27 East Afton Avenue
Yardley, Pennsylvania

August 31, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I don't often order spaghetti and meatballs when I'm out (my mother's would undeniably make my BEST list) but sometimes all you crave is a soft, moist blend of breading, garlic, fresh herbs, and - of course - meat. A hearty marinara that clings just enough to the spaghetti, with tiny bursts of tomato (gotta love a sauce with some body to it) completed our dish.

I say "our," because at Carmine's, no one dish is for one person. We're talking traditional family style cooking and serving - three of us couldn't make it through an appetizer and a single entree. It was a little embarrassing. My advice: go big and go hungry! Or go small and prepared for lots of leftovers (which were just as delicious the next day).

Where to enjoy this yourself:

425 7th Street NW
at the Penn Quarter
Washington D.C.

Many of you may know of the famous Carmine's in New York City - same get up! They've branched out to DC, Atlantic City, and the Bahamas. I can vouch for the Theater District (NYC) and DC locations!

August 29, 2011

Custom Hotcakes

Now, I've already posted about hotcakes. And I don't like to be redundant. But! THESE hotcakes aren't on the menu - they're a custom make-up of the best they have to offer (in my humble opinion :)

Pamela's offers a few really great combinations to fill their crispy-edged hotcakes. Fresh banana with chocolate chips and whipped cream is one...fresh strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar is another. So why not have the best of both worlds?? Fresh strawberries with chocolate chips and whipped cream? Yes, please!

Where you can enjoy these by request yourself:

Pittsburgh, PA

Here are all the different locations they have throughout Pittsburgh. Check out their website for exact locations of each branch:

- Mt. Lebanon
- Squirrel Hill
- Shadyside
- Millvale
- Oakland
- Strip District

August 26, 2011

Hello, readers!

Thanks to everyone for your patience. Early last spring I moved to a new state, new job, new life. It's been very exciting, and I've been keeping extremely busy! However, I think I can confidently say I'm now settled in. And have been enjoying some great food. Get ready for some great posts (with much better regularity)!

Cheers! :-)

June 6, 2011

BEST Calamari

I've mentioned in earlier posts that I usually just eat calamari for the sauce - it's all about using something fried as a vessel for great marinara. But - similarly to last time, while in Pittsburgh - I've disproved my own theory. The calamari at Wholey's fish market doesn't need a sauce, or a light dressing, or even some lemon juice: it's calamari in its purest form, and it is DELICIOUS. We asked for a small side (big mistake...we went back once? twice?? to order more) and they took out the raw calamari from the case - calamari that could only have been caught and brought in earlier that morning, it tasted SO fresh. They dredged each piece quickly in some flour then threw them into the boiling oil, and in about a minute or two we were given a piping hot, fresh order of the side.

I feel a little blasphemous saying this, but I now realize...marinara is just a cover up for mediocre calamari. And that's okay! Because I really love marinara. But truly good, fresh calamari doesn't need to be dressed up at all. I didn't think it was even possible until Wholey's. They've changed the way I now look at fish.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Wholey Fish Market
1711 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 1, 2011

Chicken Orzo Soup

I love a good soup. Especially when it's unexpected. I've never had a bad meal at this restaurant, but I was fairly indifferent when I ordered the chicken orzo with my lunch entree. It was one of those, 'Oh, it comes with a soup? Sure...why not?' moments that I now look back on and laugh at, since with just one bite they converted me from 'indifferent' to 'completely, madly in love with.'

The first spoonful of this soup will make you sit up and take notice. The flavor is simple - and simply - "bright." The slight creaminess is a nice backdrop for what can really only be described as a bright burst of ingredients - the soup is decidedly chicken, but then - out of nowhere! - there is a real zing of lemon. It's completely unexpectedly, and doesn't dull as you dig deeper into your cup. It's brilliant. The orzo contributes to give a nice body to the soup, and the carrots and a subtle sweetness. This is the perfect soup to precede a meal, warm up to on a cold day, or even enjoy in the summertime, given the strong lemon presence. It isn't overwhelming, but should really be included in the name since it plays such an important role of this soup.

Where you can (and definitely should) enjoy this yourself:

Canal Street Grille
27 East Afton Avenue
Yardley, Pennsylvania

May 27, 2011

BEST Philly Cheesesteak

My family and I once went to China for three weeks. Enter Jimmy D, the driver who met us at the airport upon our return home. It was late, we were tired, but more importantly we were STARVING. So Jimmy D took care of us. An Italian born and raised in Philly, Jimmy D knew everything about the city - including where to find the absolute best food. So after an 18 hour flight, we took a detour going home, for a short stop in South Philadelphia to visit the only REAL place to get Philly Cheesesteaks.

Let me tell you, these cheesesteaks are about as real as they get.

Recently, I found myself late at night driving through South Philly. I was starving. There are so many great places to eat in Philadelphia, but I only have eyes for one as I'm traveling through town (it should be noted I have them in my cell phone, AND in my gps, just for those chance times when/if I might be driving around the area). Close up on the roast beef Italian choice, pictured above: succulent, juicy roast beef is piled just high enough on a freshly baked roll that's crisp on the outside but fluffy on the inside. The spinach adds a nice flavor of salt to each bite, and the extra sharp provolone could ONLY be from a local master - we're talking high quality cheese you'll cut yourself on, it's so sharp. Each bite is better than the last. The freshness and quality of the ingredients just make your mouth sing the whole time you're eating (which sounds impossible...but that's just how good it is).

There are lots of locals' stories about who eats here and how often (apparently the Philadelphia Eagles order the whole team Tony Luke's cheesesteaks for breakfast every morning before practice). I'm sure most of the stories are true. All I know is this is the only place in the world I will order a cheesesteak!

Tony Luke's [original location]
39 East Oregon Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

May 25, 2011

Italian-style Pizza

The best judge of genuine Italian pizza is how long it takes between when it goes in the oven to when it comes out on your plate. Less than five minutes? You just found the real deal! Or probably close to it. Real pizza has such a thin crust that it literally takes just a few minutes in the oven before it's ready to be served. Seventh Hill Pizza just around the corner from Eastern Market in DC has just that. With service that makes you feel like you're part of the family and pizza toppings combinations that have you wishing for a slice of everything, all I can say is this was the perfect lunch to grab on an unexpectedly cold and rainy day.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Seventh Hill Pizza
327 7th St. SE
Washington, DC

May 18, 2011

BEST Pulled Pork Sandwich

Pulled pork is one of my favorite types of sandwiches. It all started in high school, when friends of the family would come over once a month, right after their trip to the big, local Amish farmer's market. Fresh, tender, once-fell-off-the-bone-now-falling-off-the-bun pulled pork with their family BBQ sauce was always in tow. Clem's BBQ in central Pennsylvania is the closest I've come to Pulled Pork Sandwich Perfection since those friends moved down to Florida.

The meat is in a nice combination of bite-size chunks and stringy bits, all smothered - but not drowning - in a sweet and tangy barbeque sauce that's just as enjoyable as the meat itself. Served throughout central PA at local stores and pit stops, it always comes with a fresh, locally baked roll that just perfects this lunch. The actual location is about as dive-y as it gets: small wooden hut off the side of the highway that normally I wouldn't go near - let alone actually stop and get out of my car at - with a twenty foot pole. There are large barrels set up as makeshift seating and it's really not much to look at - but talk about a diamond in the rough! I actually kind of love that it looks like such a dive and then blows you away with the juiciness of the meat and more than memorable secret BBQ recipe. Rumor has it, Clem's was invited to be on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives but they refused to give the recipe for their BBQ sauce, so they didn't get a slot on the show. But that's okay. Just means it's Centre County's best kept secret, just between you and me.

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Anywhere you see a "WE SERVE CLEM'S!" sign in the greater State College area
- OR -
Clem's BBQ
427 McFarland Road
Tyrone, Pennsylvania

May 16, 2011

Blueberry Pancakes

I came across this coffee shop on a local's recommendation. I was actually cruising around Old Town Alexandria (Virginia) in search of another breakfast spot, which woefully turned out to be closed (even though it was 9 am. On a Saturday. And their hours said otherwise). It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as a man sweeping his stoop nearby was happy to recommend this place just down the street!

Now, I LOVE pancakes. Give me batter, blueberries, and real maple syrup, and I will be one happy girl. But I'm always a little cautious order them out because (well for one, most places don't offer real maple syrup, but also) they're often just too sweet for me. I like my breakfasts more "hearty" than "sugary," but a lot of restaurants like to sweeten up their pancakes, muffins, etc. However, these cakes were GREAT - they had a real home-made taste to them. I could have taken a few more blueberries cooked in, but the fresh berries that came on the side more than made up for anything missing inside. This was definitely a meal I'd come back for - and freshly squeezed orange juice, too!

Where you can enjoy these yourself:

Extra Perks Coffee Shop
822 North Fairfax
Alexandria, Virginia

May 13, 2011

Western Omelet

I love visiting friends. It's great fun talking the night away and catching up, learning what's new in their lives and sharing stories - and of COURSE going to all their favorite local meal spots! Babycakes is a cute, chic little cafe that greets you with a GORGEOUS display of pastries beneath their chalkboard menu - gorgeous enough that you forget about breakfast or any of those other silly meals and can only think about dessert.

My omelet was CHOCK FULL of fresh ingredients, with the egg really just acting as a binding agent to hold everything together. Ham, peppers, onions, and mushrooms were complimented by the small fruit and toast sides.

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Babycakes Cafe
1-3 Collegeview Ave.
Poughkeepsie, New York

We took home some croissants to eat later. They were fluffy but with a nice shell and deliciously buttery.

March 7, 2011

Hello, wonderful readers!

I have been extremely busy lately (in a good way!) and as such it's been hard to find time to post new entries. I'll do my best to get at least a few more up here soon - please bear with me in the meantime. Over the past couple of weeks I have eaten at some amazing restaurants, and I promise to share them as soon as I get the chance!

Thanks for understanding :-)

February 28, 2011

BEST House Salad

I think salads are the perfect introduction to a meal: light, fresh, and flavorful, they prep the palate and the stomach for what's to come. I'm happy enough with iceberg lettuce, a couple of cucumbers, and the token tomato slice - but when my entree comes with a beautiful nest of fruit, leafy greens, creamy cheese, and homemade balsamic, I'm ecstatic. It's so good, it makes eating salad almost feel like an indulgence!

I've declared this the BEST because it's such a delightful surprise to see such attention and care given to what is often a universally humdrum starter. Also, it's delicious. Lilly's house salad is plated with a field of dark green lettuces and layered with dried fruit and candied pecans, sprinkled with goat cheese, and drizzled generously with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. It's almost enough as a meal in itself (if you're a big salads-as-a-meal person) or it's a great way to start out your dinner!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Lilly's on the Canal
2 Canal Street
Lambertville, New Jersey

February 25, 2011

"Red" Polish Platter

In my opinion, this is the best way to try a new type of food: sample platter! Here, we've got a Pierogi (looks like a dumpling), Kielbasa (grilled meat in the middle of the plate), Golabki (stuffed cabbage - it's the red stuff on the left), Haluski (cabbage noodles - that'd be at the top of the plate), and Kluski (homemade noodles and cottage cheese).

I like Kielbasa - hot dogs would be the American equivalent, bratwurst would be the German equivalent of this meat. The perogies, filled here with mashed potatoes and onions, are the BEST Perogies I've had. But what surprised me the most was the stuffed cabbage. I really don't like cabbage - I go out of my way to avoid it, in fact - but I DO love tomato sauce. So...I was willing to give it a shot. And it was pretty darn good! (Read: couldn't taste the cabbage at all ;-)

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Bloomfield Bridge Tavern
4412 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

February 23, 2011

Baked Apple Dumpling

I'd like to call this a little piece of heaven, but the truth of the matter is, it's a HUGE piece of heaven. Taking a dinner break off the highway during a small road trip, I'd ordered the previously posted about Grilled Chicken Tenderloin, and (despite my huge appetite at the time) opted for the lunch portion instead of the dinner. So after licking my plate clean, I was looking for something to finish off the meal: cue the dessert menu. My only mistake was vastly underestimating the scale of this dessert. (I probably would have ordered it anyway, but maybe would have asked for the ice cream on the side so I could easily take the leftovers home!)

This is a dessert to write home about. Somewhere between the size of a nerf ball and a football, this oblong dish of oven-baked goodness will warm you straight to your core. Cinnamon-sugared apples, forming the foundation of this masterpiece, are sealed shut by a pastry "dumpling" crust, which is followed by a layer of pecan streusal, vanilla bean ice cream, and a syrupy cinnamon-apple sauce. The crust and the ice cream balance nicely with the sweet syrup and apples; this is not an overly sweet dish. The small crunch of the candied pecans, soft apples, baked crust, and hot topping with the cool ice cream make for a perfect bite with every spoonful. This is definitely a dessert you'll want to share (and believe me, there's plenty to go around)!

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Cracker Barrel
Locations nationwide

February 21, 2011

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I have a weakness for creamy soups. Cream of chicken, tomato, mushroom, broccoli - you name it, I'll love it. There's just something so comforting about a hot bowl of your favorite foods in a splash of cream. Topped with fresh croutons and drizzled with truffle oil, what made this soup stand out was its consistency. Rather than a homogeneous texture, the creamy broth was light with substantial pieces of mushrooms throughout. I think it's nice when a chef is proud of their ingredients and shows them off in a dish that typically hides them. The mushrooms were small and whole and plump and sliced. The fresh croutons, as always, added a nice crunch to each otherwise quiet bite, and I always love the enhanced, rich flavor truffle oil adds to a mushroom-heavy dish - it just gives it that extra punch of refined mushroom that lasts the whole meal.

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Tuscarora Mill Restaurant
203J Harrison St SE
Leesburg, Virgina

February 18, 2011

Roasted Vegetable, Mozzarella, and Pesto Wrap

I love roasted vegetables because they're easy, healthy, and filling. Wrap them up with some fresh mozzarella (preferably room temperature) and pesto, and you have a lovely little lunch that will both warm and fill you up. This tomato wrap was stuffed to the brim with freshly prepared mushrooms, peppers, and eggplant, then topped with the cheese and a spread of pesto, accompanied by a little cup of balsamic dipping sauce. And the fries were really great!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Groveland Grill
5960 Easton Rd (611)
Pipersville, Pennsylvania

February 16, 2011

Japanese Pan Noodles

To come across this cute little bistro with fresh ingredients and smiling service, and craving noodles as badly as I was, this was a nice little snack that just hit the spot. The slight heat to the soy sauce stopped me from scarfing the whole thing down in just a few minutes, but it was balanced nicely by the vegetables underneath. Though, in all honesty, I can't say this was quite what I was expecting to get. It was chock-full of Asian sprouts, cilantro stalks, and had a nice combination of shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli, but I was hoping for a little more 'noodle' and a little less 'pan,' as they say (or at least a better noodle-to-Asian-sprout ratio). I think I would best describe this meal (snack) as feel-better twist on typical fast food - I always give extra credit for fresh ingredients!

Where to find this yourself:

Noodles & Company
4238 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, Virginia

I'm used to finding Asian food at noodle houses, but I was thrown for a loop when I first saw the menu for this restaurant: there are three sections for Asian, American, and Mediterranean noodle varieties. Talk about being international! I suddenly had to choose between teriyaki, pesto, or salad with my noodles, which I have to say was a little unusual at a place where you order at the counter. I'd recommend going with either a very open mind or one firmly set!

February 14, 2011

Grilled Chicken Tenderloin

There are a lot of chain restaurants out there, and there's a typical group of them you'll find at food stops off of the highway. While I'd prefer to eat at a family-owned restaurant serving "Mom's Famous Chicken Noodle Soup" and the like, sometimes that just isn't an option, and it can also more economical and comforting (you know exactly what to expect) to eat at a chain restaurant. But don't dismay when your roadtrip takes you 150 miles down the turnpike - there are still great meals to be had! I feature this one in particular because I NEVER would have ordered it had someone not pushed me to.

The Grilled Chicken Tenderloin at Cracker Barrel is AMAZING - it's actually a contender for BEST Grilled Chicken. It doesn't look particularly extraordinary, but the grilled chicken is Just. So. Tender. I've never had grilled chicken that was so juicy, and the savory teriyaki-based marinade is sure to please anyone's palate. I typically don't like to eat just chicken by itself, but I scarf these tenderloins down like there's no tomorrow. You will be taken aback by how great this chicken is - and want to know the best part?? (/why I never would have ordered them on my own?) They're on the low-carb menu! Now, granted, I got macaroni and cheese as my side dish (which I highly recommend, it's my favorite side of theirs - very homey, rustic, comfort food in a perfect little portion!), but they also do list 'low-carb sides' that you can get to complement your meal, as well.

Don't settle for McDonald's, or Wendy's, or Sbarro's. This dish at the Cracker Barrel is highway food at it's absolute best - give it a shot on your next long drive!

Where to enjoy this yourself:

Cracker Barrel
Locations nationwide

February 11, 2011

Homemade Donuts

Admittedly, every once in a blue moon, I like to indulge in a Dunkin' Donuts chocolate-iced donut. The light, fluffy texture makes me feel like I'm eating a chocolate cloud, and I get a kick out of the fact that I can finish the whole thing in about four bites.

But this? This is in an entirely different league. We split this homemade donut between three people and I could barely finish my portion. We watched them douse it in cinnamon sugar ourselves and it was served to us so fresh it was still warm. This is a dense little mouthful of heaven, with a richness in flavor and texture that shoots every commercial brand out of the water. And the cherry on top (literally!) is that every donut ring comes with the donut hole that was popped out of its middle. How cute! AND delicious!

Where you can enjoy these yourself:

Fred's Breakfast
13 East Randolph Street
New Hope, Pennsylvania
*But! The donuts are typically only available on Tuesday mornings.

Now, the thing about Fred's is that it's all a big secret. You can read more on their website about details, but the general gist is that you need to be a member in order to dine at the 31-seat counter surrounding the open kitchen. How do you become a member? By recommendation of a current member! It's an exclusive breakfast club with a retro-diner feel and very casual atmosphere, located right on the Delaware River. If you happen to know someone (like me!) who is a member, ask them for a Guest Privilege card to check the place out. Fred's is one of New Hope's best kept local secrets.

February 9, 2011

BEST French Toast

How good is this French Toast? Good enough that I didn't even add syrup (in part because they didn't have real maple syrup, but that's beside the point). Really, this was THE best French Toast I've ever had. The toast was so light and fluffy, made with - get this - HOMEMADE Challah bread! The texture and flavor of the bread itself is extraordinary. There's a sweetness to it that complements the seasoning in the egg batter that makes you really sit back and say "Wow." The seasoning definitely had notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, but there was something else in there, too, that I just couldn't put my finger on. But the whole meal was delicious - definitely come with an appetite (note how small that fork looks)!

Where you can enjoy this yourself:

Metro 29 Diner
4711 Lee Highway
Arlington, Virginia

February 7, 2011

Mushroom and Gruyere Tarte

I only like to occasionally include homecooked meals - and this dish is worthy of one of those few times (plus there's a recipe link at the bottom!). It's positively delectable: a light and buttery puff pastry smothered with layers of Gruyere cheese, fresh sauteed mushrooms, and sweet onions. There is beauty in simplicity. The savory flavor of the mushrooms and onions sauteed to golden-brown perfection (which I'm always a sucker for) melts into the mild-with-nutty-undertones cheese. This is a PERFECT appetizer, or serve two per person to make it a meal.

Recipe available in this month's Real Simple magazine - or find it on the website right here!

February 4, 2011

Salt-N'-Pepper Onion Rings

Crispy, seasoned rings of fried about great comfort food! Not only are these rings COLOSSAL, but the added salt and pepper into the batter adds a nice, seasoned flavor that raises the bar. They also aren't greasy at all, so you feel a little better eating them.

Where you can enjoy these yourself:

Ted's Montana Grill
1512 Main Street
Warrington, Pennsylvania

The service here is great. We were out on a Friday or Saturday night, and our waitress was honest and realistic to us about how things were in the kitchen - for instance, she recommended we order our burgers on the rarer side given how things were going back there, and after taking her suggestion, they came out just perfect to our tastes. It's worth noting when you have great service, I think it really enhances the overall experience.

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