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Defiantly arbitrary reviews of restaurants I have patronized over the years, recorded mostly as an aide de memoir for future visits. If you don't live near Philadelphia, then this won't make much sense.



When I was younger, I was really crazy about restaurants. I could eat out every night. During that time, there was a short period when I was intensely interested in cooking. But as the infatuation of learning something new wore off, and I faced the impracticality of cooking for one, it stopped making sense to cook. Fast forward a lotta years to my meeting Anne, in whom I found an audience for the three interesting dishes I knew how to make well. After sweeping her off her feet with these, however, I was at a loss. But she wasn't interested in my cooking, it turns out, and we've since managed to keep ourselves very well fed through a collaborative effort. She has introduced me to organic produce (we shop mostly at Fresh Fields, a chain managed by Whole Foods Markets). I've come a long way since those three dishes. Through the daily practice of cooking, we've progressed to the point that I no longer long to go out to eat, or at least not for the food (sometimes it's fun just to get out of the house). Eating at home has become so satisfying that we don't need to go out for a culinary treat. Some dishes (I'm thinking especially of a Paul Prudhomme catfish recipe from his book "Seasoned America") are so mouth-watering that they rank up with some of the best dishes I've ever eaten. Most restaurants who are forced to mass-produce their fare don't really satisfy, and I'd just as soon stay home. What follows are some very short reviews of restaurants we've visited when we finally do decide to get out of the house.


Philadelphia / Downtown

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse We ate here for the first time preceding a Philadelphia Orchestra concert. Service was brisk and very professional. I thought the menu was a bit strange, but then I'm not a devotee of steak houses. The steaks were priced individually, but included no sides of any kind. You could conceivably just order a solitary slab of meat on a plate for dinner. We all ordered petit filet mignon. I believe the beef is broiled and it is served on a white china plate that was incredibly hot. The sides we ordered were fine but unremarkable. I've never had a better steak, but I believe I've had steaks as satisfying as this one on many occasions. For steak lovers, I can strongly recommend this place for the prime beef and excellent service. But if you're looking for novelty or daring, look elsewhere. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Philadelphia.


Pizzicato (3rd and Market) We ate here on Friday, June 7, 2002 before throwing ourselves into the frenzy of First Friday. The weather was beautiful, so we ate outside. The sidewalk was actually packed with tables (I think there's more seating available outside than in), and we had the least-desirable location right on the corner practically in the street. It was noisy at times, but there were plenty of people (and cars) to watch, and we didn't have any trouble conversing. The food and service were excellent. I had halibut in a melange of tropical fruits that was delicious.

Afterward, we went in search of Leica Users, who converge on the neighborhood to terrorize it every First Friday. Kyle Cassidy was supposed to be hanging out at Arts and Infinity (63 N. 3rd St) at an exhibit by photographer Kaye Hirst, but wasn't there. Kay's photos were excellent, however. A group of Leica users were also supposed to be meeting across the street, but they were also nowhere to be found. I think we were there too late.


Vietnam (221 N 11th St) We ate here in February, 2004 before a concert at The Trocadero. One thing's for sure--Vietnam is popular. Sure, we were there at the busiest time of the week--8:30 on a Saturday night (and they don't take reservations)--but we passed any number of half-empty restaurants on our way there. There were probably 20 people packed into the waiting area. We ended up waiting about an hour for a table. After the long wait, service was incredibly fast. We had barely taken a few sips of our "33" Export beers when our dinners were whisked before us. The food was excellent, and best of all, cheap. Vietnam's winning formula starts with a warm and interesting decor of wood with stainless-steel wainscoting, includes fine food with crisp service, and all this for a very reasonable price. It's no wonder the place was mobbed.

Philadelphia / Chestnut Hill

Roller's Don't let the fact that Paul Roller and I played in the same rock band together in high school make you distrust my opinion of his restaurant. Roller's is great. It's become a classic institution that still exudes the same energy as the day it opened. Chef and owner Paul Roller played a significant part in the Philly restaurant revolution, helping to fight for freedom from boring food.


Ralph's of South Philadelphia I joined my brother's family for my nephew's birthday dinner. This restaurant is the big news in dining in Ambler at the moment (2002). It sure is noisy and crowded. I put off writing this review for a couple of months because I couldn't think of anything interesting to say, and now I've forgotten the food completely. That's how Ralph's is: competent but unmemorable.


Philadelphia / Glenside

Journey's End Cafe If you like Caribbean cuisine, definitely pay a visit to this colorfully-decorated Jamaican getaway. If you don't think you'd like Jamaican food (it's on the spicy side), stop in anyway and give them a chance to convince you. The cafe is on the corner of Keswick Avenue and Easton Road, a very short walk from the Keswick Theater. We ate here in June, 2002 before a Keswick Show. They had no problem getting us in and out in under an hour, and our meal was imaginative and delicious. Highly recommended.

Wilmington and Vicinity

Cromwell's Tavern I've been going to Cromwell's Tavern off and on for several years now ever since it was first recommended to me by staff members of the Wilmington Country Club. I don't think I would ever have found it on my own. It's located (I should say buried) in the Powder Mill shopping center in Greenville, Delaware. Although it's right on Route 52, and I had driven past it many times, I never noticed it. Anyway those dark days are past.

Cromwell's is an unpretentious and laid-back establishment in what could be by rights a very pretentious neighborhood. Greenville and environs is the eastern edge of an area filled with one beautiful estate after another. For example, the former du Pont mansion (now museum), Winterthur, is only a few minutes away. Even if you don't own a horse farm (or even a hobby horse), you'll be welcome at Cromwell's. The service has always been exceptionally friendly. Cromwell's has no pretensions as a restaurant. It's "just" a tavern (although with a rather small bar) that includes the usual complement of televisions and video games. Yet the atmosphere is cozy with leather booths and walls lined with old books.

What prompted me to write this review is a dinner I had in late November, 2002. Before I get to that, I have to say that, as nice as the atmosphere and service are at Cromwell's, it's the food that keeps me coming back again and again. Not only is the menu ambitious for a pub, but everything is so well executed. Every dish has a unique touch that raises it above the ordinary. At the aforementioned dinner, I ordered a bleu cheese burger. It's not exactly a gourmet item, and you can order the same thing at a thousand other restaurants (and I have over the years). Yet this burger was sensational--among the best I've ever had, perfectly cooked to order, blackened on the outside and bursting with juices on the inside.

Everything I've ever ordered at Cromwell's has been excellent, and I'm sure you'll pleased with your choice. By the way, there's a coffee shop right next door called "Brew-Ha-Ha" where you can go for an after-dinner espresso, but be warned that they close early at 8:00 PM.

Waffle House

We visited Waffle Houses in May and June (2002) on trips to Williamsburg, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, when we arrived in Atlanta and saw that there was a Waffle House next to the Marriott, we asked the cab driver to let us out at the Waffle House.

In the South, there are Waffle Houses seemingly on every corner. In fact, I saw a bank ad that read "We have so many branches, you'd think we made waffles." We Yankees are so deprived; the closest Waffle House to me is about a two-hour drive.

Posts in “Restaurants”

November 8, 2007

Teresa’s Next Door

Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne opened in June, but I wasn’t able to visit for a meal there until last week and then ended up eating there twice. I’ve been working my way through the restaurants on North Wayne Avenue (not far from where I work) and have been to Christopher’s, The Freehouse, the Great American Pub, and now Teresa’s Next Door. I have been more than happy with every meal, but have to say that Teresa’s is my favorite. For many, the beer selection would be enough of a draw, and the hostess confirmed that the place attracts beer geeks from far and wide. There is an emphasis on Belgian beer (half of the 26 taps and 250 varieties in bottles are Belgian) of which I know little. I had a grilled chicken salad the first time I ate there and a sandwich called the Cuban (with Serrano ham on a brioche roll) the second. The sandwich especially was superb in every detail. We ordered fries to split and out came an enormous basket. I couldn’t imagine eating all of them, but they were so good, we had no problem. Our servers were both knowledgeable and friendly. Go for the beer; stay for the food.


I'm going to try that one out. It's close to home...and "Go for the beer; stay for the food" is a review I can endorse!

September 19, 2007

Ludwigs Garten Closing? [nanoblog]

So says phillyskyline. And I’ve never even been there.


i can't believe it! their beer is always fresh, their food wonderful, their curvy women in lederhosen fun to look at.

i'll have to get there before it closes shop.

just what we need more of in CC, overpriced condos.

June 1, 2007

Sly Fox Royersford

The last time I visited Sly Fox (Phoenixville) and had their beer sampler was a while ago, and it was time for another visit. Besides, we needed to visit Martin Motorsports in Boyertown to pick up helmets and gloves before the motorcycle safety course begins next week. Before leaving we filled the car with hoarded recyclables that our boro doesn’t collect and made our first stop of the day at Recycling Services in Pottstown. Then, after admiring the bikes at Martin, we arrived at Sly Fox in Royersford around 1:00.

This was our first visit to the Royersford location, which is a little closer to Route 422 than Phoenixville is. The restaurant is large with a big bar, two dining rooms, and a room with pool tables and some video games. I knew my tastes had changed substantially in the last year, so I was curious how I would rank the beers this time. (Last time, Pete’s Peerless Ale was first and O’Reilly’s Stout last.) I couldn’t order the exact same beers, but here’s what I had from best to worst:

  1. Route 113 IPA
  2. Jake’s ESB
  3. O’Reilly’s Stout
  4. Pikeland Pils
  5. Black and Tan

What’s significant is that I liked all the beers this time and had trouble ranking them preferentially. In times past, India Pale Ales were among my least favorite brews, and now clearly they have become a favorite. The Route 113 IPA is a good one. Even without a side-by-side comparison, I have to say that I prefer O’Reilly’s stout to Guinness, although that’s not a strongly-held opinion, and neither is a match for the big Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout we have at home right now. Finally, the Pikeland Pils had the strong taste of honey as its dominant flavor even though the description didn’t mention it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the superb pub fare we enjoyed for lunch. The kitchen turns out some excellent stuff.


Oooh, thanks for the recycling link! I keep trying to find a center that recycles plastic. Pottstown is a little far afield for me, but if I save up my junk, it'll be worth the trip.

May 16, 2007

My Evening with Helvetica

I got to the polls first thing yesterday morning and was voter number 12; seemed like a decent turnout.

After work I zoomed into town (OK, SEPTA doesn’t zoom anywhere) for Helvetica, the movie at Drexel. I met up with Scott and stellargirl, and we got in the line which snaked around the perimeter of the atrium. Once we were seated, they kept trying to pack more and more people into the theater. If only they could have adjusted the kerning on the seats, they could have fit another 50 people easily—monospaced seating is such a drag.

If you enjoy watching smart, passionate, creative, talented people talking about what they love to do, you would love this movie. I like that sort of thing myself and enjoyed every minute of it. It was over all too soon, although the DVD promises to have lots of bonus material. The director, Gary Hustwit, answered questions from the audience (how cool is that?). Gary was just as engaging as the subjects of the movie. Clearly, he loves what he does, too.

At 30th Street Station, I noticed that Bridgewater’s Pub has added the lobster roll back to their menu, and since I had some time before my train, I indulged. Chef Michael Zulli is now serving lobster roll sliders, which are a vast improvement over the soupy lobster roll they used to offer. They are described as “poached lobster, celery, mayo on a trio of grilled buttered buns,” but there wasn’t a trace of mayo on this lobster, just pure, unadulterated crustacean. The butter from the grilled buns complemented the lobster perfectly for a taste of buttery goodness in every bite. Awesome.


"adjusted the kerning on the seats"-- tee hee. I'll see if I can view this movie sometime.

I may have to find some excuse to go to 30th St. Station....

February 12, 2007

Restaurant Week: Alma de Cuba

Hmm, I seem to have overlooked posting about Restaurant Week. We missed the last one in September; this time we remembered and chose Alma de Cuba, which occupies the site of the old Le Colonial on Walnut Street.

Overall, it was an entirely pleasant experience, and we would definitely come here again if only it weren’t for the 600 other restaurants we’d like to try. There was no problem with our reservation, and we were seated immediately on the second floor overlooking a gigantic photograph (at least 16 feet tall). We each started with a version of the mojito, garnished with sugar cane. My appetizer was classic ceviche. Not something I have every day, but I always love it. The Restaurant Week menu had two choices for each course, and I had planned to have the halibut mentioned on the web site, but the actual menu didn’t include it, so I switched to the Chicken Combo; Anne had the skirt steak. We both had flan for dessert.

I really couldn’t find much to criticize with the food; I enjoyed every bite. The acoustics contrive to undermine the atmosphere a little, however. While the rooms are dark and intimate in appearance, there is nothing to dampen the sound, so the place is quite noisy.

I always think it would be a great idea to go out every night of Restaurant Week, but quite apart from the expense, I just don’t have the stamina. At the end of this meal, I was pleasantly stuffed, and the satisfaction of this great meal lingered for several days.

July 24, 2006

Smoked Joint Has Closed [nanoblog]

One of the best barbecue joints in town has closed, but apparently not from lack of business. Here’s hoping they find a more sympathetic location soon. Via PhillyFuture from Foobooz from City Paper’s Clog. Word really gets around.


that's nuts! i just walked by their booth on the Parkway during the fireworks. i've only heard good things about that place. too bad they had such a horrible location for their storefront. that's probably what did them in.

Awwww - I've been there a few times - they were really good! I hope they relocate soon.

Great food and best bloody mary in town. Come back, we miss you!

This is crazy i havent been there in over a year .. obviously ..... but just mentioned it as a place to have a christmas get together....

Is anyone aware of them reopening ..

June 15, 2006

Villanova Diner RIP

I noticed the other day that a Main Line landmark has been erased from the planet: the Villanova Diner. (It was torn down and replaced by a bank.) Many years ago, the building was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant which offered decent typical diner fare and a galaxy of ice cream flavors. The Howard Johnson’s closed and was reopened as the Villanova Diner.

Because of its convenient location and the dearth of restaurants in the immediate vicinity, I’ve eaten there quite a few times over the years. So did a lot of people; the place was always busy. Normally if I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t bother to write about it, but in this case I’m making an exception: I can’t think of a place with consistently worse food. Nothing I ever ate there was any good. Over the years I kept simplifying my order in a quest to find something that tasted good. Even a humble tuna sandwich or a diner staple like bacon and eggs had that certain nothing. An amazing place; I don’t know how they did it. I’m sure the bank will serve better meals. At least the dishes should come with interest.


there was a 24-hr diner near me that sounds similar in consistency of "food quality" that went under a couple years ago (Savoy, I think, 11th & locust).

Wow. All those times I went there with friends when it was busy, we just thought our sense of taste was radically different from everyone else's.

Speaking of Main Line diners, I was out toward Manilla's a while back and I didn't see it anywhere. Didn't it used to be next to Chili's? Just wondering.

Location. Location. Location.

You can be crappy if you're convenient. Which is true for a lot of things in life.

Howard, Manilla's is there, just not Manilla's. They sold the original diner building to a place in Florida, disassembled it piece by piece, and put up the over-loud monstrosity up in its old place next to Chilis. Crazy, the place is completely different. I won't go there now. Little kids grinding pancakes into the carpet while their parents ignore it and the decibel level hovers in the mid 90s. I'd rather eat in the jetwash of a 737 than go to this "Manilla's."

Tony, that Villanova Diner...everyone I know, including me, has had a parallel experience. I'm into a few good diners in the are now: Nudy's in Devon, The Classic Diner in Frazer, and Meredith's in Berywn. All are different, but worth the trip on Sunday morning.

If I know anything about restaurants, I know that the Villanova Diner was way below average; still it’s nice to hear that opinion echoed.
Ellen, I’ve been to the dearly-departed Savoy maybe a half-dozen times, so I can say that, as funky and humble as it was, its food outclassed the Villanova Diner’s handily.
Wow, Frank, that’s interesting about Minella’s. Because the footprint of the new place is the same, I assumed that it was just remodeled. Minella’s and I go back to around 1976 and I’ve eaten there hundreds of times, although not recently. Sad to hear it’s nothing like the old place. Thanks for the recommendations further west!
Howard, I think your sense of taste is fine. Like Tom said, Location. Location. Location.

Thanks for info, Frank.

I must've driven by the Manilla's location a couple years ago (I think). I remember it was after a late movie and we were going to go in for a bowl of soup or something. It was gone. I just assumed that was it for the old place -- guess it was, now that you mention it.

Ah, the memories (and nicknames; we used to call the place Sal-Manilla's)

And thanks for re-affirmation of my taste, Tony. Sometimes I'm not so sure...

Yeah, Sal Manilla! Great tenor player from South Philly. Haven’t seen him in years. He usually worked with this guy Al Dente, who sounded just like Louis Prima. :-)

Impressive...For going there so often and not liking the food, that doesn't say much about actions speaking louder than words. I would never go back to a restaurant i spoke so poorly of, which makes me think that maybe it wasn't the food that bothered you there but maybe someone. There are many different categories in the restaurant business. When you pay $5 for a burger at a diner, you shouldn't have the expecations of a $20 High-end Restuarant burger. I think this is what people who don't know the food industry can't distinguish between. I hope the next restaurant/diner you go to so often is actually one you can praise. To say you went often although you didn't like the food, doesn't say much... sorry.

June 5, 2006

Let Us Now Praise Famous Dave’s

Had lunch at Famous Dave’s yesterday. That makes three BBQ chains I’ve visited so far, Smokey Bones and Dickey’s being the other two. I wonder if BBQ is a hot, new sub-genre of chain restaurants, or if they are just now reaching the Northeast. In other words, are more on the way? As much as I love BBQ, I’m no connoisseur and am easily satisfied; I enjoyed my pork sandwich very much. The short list of beers was uninspired, but included Newcastle Brown Ale, which I ordered. Judging from our waitress’s reaction, I may have been the first person to do. She asked me skeptically if that beer was on the list. I said yes, and she carefully wrote all three words down. When she returned with the drinks, she apologized for taking so long; they had to search for the stash of Newcastle.

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way falls into the category of gimmicks that chain restaurants do to differentiate themselves from each other (since the food itself is somewhat interchangeable). It’s the Scripted Greeting. I encountered this gimmick first at a Roy Rogers many years where I was greeted with, “HowdypartnermayItakeyourorder?” Spelling that as one word doesn't begin to do justice to the mindless, robotic delivery this poor employee had mastered after saying it so many times. I’m sure that’s not the effect that Marketing had in mind. Fortunately I don’t hear this too often, but at Dave’s we were greeted with, “Hi, I’m famous Kim.” Aw, c’mon. It’s Dave’s world. We just live in it. Only Dave gets to be famous. When I open my chain of lobster-roll restaurants, you can bet there’ll be a script (’cause I always wanted to direct), but for the greeting step it will say:

Greet the customer. In your own way.

There was one other odd thing. Kim took great pains to explain the five BBQ sauces, but when my sandwich arrived, it was already sauced! Granted, it was sauced with the one I identified as my favorite during the tasting, so maybe she was just being thoughtful.

By the way, if you want superb BBQ in a non-chain restaurant (and you know you do), please visit The Smoked Joint (1420 Locust Street) or Sweet Lucy’s. I haven’t been to Sweet Lucy’s yet, but I know at The Smoked Joint they will greet you in their own way. If they don’t, just ask them what they’re smokin’.

April 28, 2006

I Pod

Earlier this week, my brother hosted a celebratory dinner at Pod in honor of my nephew’s birthday. Anne had mentioned Pod (a restaurant in the heart of the Penn campus) to me a while ago because she learned they serve a “lobster roll.” I knew it wasn’t a real Maine lobster roll, but I was eager to try it nevertheless. Lobster is lobster after all. It’s all good.

I’m not a habitué of stylish, trendy restaurants, but I think I know one when I see one. Pod’s look has been compared to the set design of Sleeper or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Pod does feature the ubiquitous whiteness of those movies, but it’s not as harsh or sterile, although it is unabashedly artificial. Populating this shiny environment was a lively crowd. Most were young, although there were plenty of people there my age, including one gentleman radiating a Quentin Crisp aura. He was absorbed in a crossword puzzle while waiting for his party.

Pod has a nice scene, if you’re into scenes. I felt surprisingly comfortable there even though I’m more the Irish pub tweed jacket type. But enough about the atmosphere, let’s talk about the food. It’s very good and, even though most of it was unfamiliar, every new flavor was a delightful surprise. Pod can stand on its food alone.

The featured cocktails are charmingly named by their color, although I tried something simpler, a sake mojito. We ordered three or four appetizers to share and an entree apiece. Dishes arrived willy-nilly, so we always had something to pass around. I don’t know how to label the cuisine, but it’s Japanese in spirit. I ordered the lobster roll, which was delicious, and my brother ordered the lobster stir fry, which was even better! The sushi sampler was much fresher and tastier than the supermarket sushi we usually eat. Service was attentive and friendly. I liked everything I tried and so many items on the menu sounded so good that I’m really looking forward to heading back there.


When my wife and I checked out Pod a few years ago, we thought it was overpriced and overrated. But this is the second time of late that I've heard credible acquaintances talking about having a good dining experience there. Maybe things have improved.

will have to schedule a trip out there to try their goods

I like Pod. I especially like going as a party of 5 or 6 because then it's Pod City. My favorite part is adjusting the lights. I like the food, and I have gotten used to the Stephen Starr approach to food delivery as the years have progressed. Glad you liked it there. And great title for the piece, btw.

Frank, there were six in our party, but all the pods were occupied. That would have been fun. Some people changed the lights; others left them alone. My mother always said, "Don't play with your food," but there's no harm in having a little play with your food.
Albert and Tom, I really enjoyed our meal, but don't want you to be disappointed. Pod is not up to the same standard as, for example, Susanna Foo (I haven't been to enough good restaurants to make any other comparisons). Maybe that will help calibrate my opinion of the place. It was a fun time.

Of all the Stephen Starr restaurants I've been to (admittedly, on someone else's dime), I like Pod the least. I wasn't impressed with their sushi the last time I went. I've always wanted to try one of their colorful drinks, though.

Yoko, that's good to know. I know nothing, really, having only eaten supermarket sushi, and this was way better than that. Can you recommend some places? Unlike the typical trend at many restaurants, maybe Pod has gone “uphill” recently.

I'm not a huge fan of the sushi at Pod, mostly because I've had the sushi at Morimoto's, and it's light-years away. Tony, if you want your sushi-mind blown, you've got to check out Morimoto's. If you stick to the sushi, it's really not even all that expensive.

Places I recommend:
1. Sagami, in Collingswood, NJ. It's just over the Ben Franklin Bridge, so it's not too far.
2. Genji, 17th and Sansom. Although they seem to be concentrating more on the supermarkets and less on the restaurant, the restaurant sushi is still pretty good.
3. Fuji Mountain, 20th & Chestnut. I've just recently tried this place, and it was tasty.
4. Shiroi Hana, 15th and Walnut. This place gets overlooked, but their food is impeccable.

Yoko, great list, thanks! As much as I am drawn to sushi, I may never pluck up the nerve to go to a fine sushi restaurant. It’s the intimidation factor. Silly, I realize. However while this article I read yesterday promised guidance, it only scared me more: How to Eat Sushi. :-)

Egads! Sure, there is an etiquette for eating sushi, but honestly, I think these rules get broken all the time, and the Japanese waitstaff know that and are mostly gracious about it, as well as very willing to give advice if you're not sure what to get or how to order it. It can be intimidating to eat at the sushi bar if you're not used to it, but there's no shame in sitting at a regular table and ordering sushi.

Go for it! Your taste buds will thank you. ;)

February 25, 2006

Restaurant Week Wrapup

In my dreams I would be out every night of Restaurant Week (which ended last night), taking advantage of the great deals, eating in restaurants I could normally never afford. The reality is that until this year, I never took advantage of Restaurant Week, and this year, we only went out once.

With 99 places to choose from, picking one restaurant can be daunting, but I had a glowing recommendation from Messy and Picky for Valanni. Four of us had dinner there Monday night.

Making a reservation required leaving a voicemail and waiting for confirmation. Unusual, but we booked a couple of weeks ahead, so that was no problem. When we arrived, Valanni was completely full and our table wasn’t ready. A round of mojitos at the bar helped pass the time until we could be seated. The atmosphere is sophisticated yet cozy; the warm colors and materials contribute to the inviting feeling. I guess the cuisine could be called Latin fusion.

The $30/person price included three courses, and we had free rein with the menu—only one item was excluded. We started with Autumn Pear Salad (with bacon and gorgonzola), and our friends split the Medi-Latin Plate (feta and greek olives, pepperoncini, hummus and pita, some salad, chicken empanadas, etc). After that we were both pretty full, but that’s typical for us. I had Classic Paella and Anne had Braised Parmesan-Crusted Volcano Lamb Shank (I didn’t see any lava, though). We took most of it home. There was so much left over that we got two more meals out it, so we ate for three days on that $30. Every ingredient showed great care in preparation, not to mention all the creative ways they were combined. The service was flawless, and it’s an easy walk from the train. We look forward to visiting Valanni again.


I'm so glad you liked Valanni. We really love that place. We went, last minute, to FriSatSun for the final night of restaurant week after a long work week.

February 13, 2006

Restaurant Google map [nanoblog]

Whoa, here's a nice resource: a Google map of restaurants participating in Philly Restaurant Week (Feb 19-24). That'll be useful long after the week is over. I'll bet a lot of those little flags would be gone if they could show the restaurants that are already fully booked. Via 51:51 seen on PhillyFuture.

January 17, 2006

Back to School

We headed down to the University of Pennsylvania yesterday so Anne could finalize her online account for a course she is taking. I went along for the ride, hoping to renew my alumni card, which expired two years ago, but the office was closed.

We stopped for lunch at Cavanaugh’s on 39th Street. The last time we were there, the place was packed; today it was deserted. I ordered a scrumptious sausage sandwich on a crusty roll that was bursting with peppers. Cavanaugh’s has a large beer selection, so it was difficult making a choice. I finally decided on one that was new to me, Flying Fish’s Abbey Dubbel. I usually like dark beer, but I didn’t care for this at all, even though Flying Fish describes it as an ideal accompaniment to sausage and other savory foods. The real highlight of the meal was Anne’s beer, Blue Moon Belgian wheat—very light and simply delicious. I was kind of surprised to learn this beer was produced by Coors.

December 18, 2005

Lobster Rolls Rock!

Bon Appétit January 2006

So claims Bon Appétit, a magazine we cancelled a while ago but continue to receive for some reason. Anne couldn’t help noticing one of the headlines on the cover of the January, 2006 issue: “Lobster Rolls Rock!” Well, yes they do, and they rule as well (or whatever term the kids use these days to indicate unqualified approbation). It’s the Best of the Year issue, and the lobster roll was named Top Dish of 2005. Rebecca Charles of New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar gets the credit for igniting the alleged firestorm of popularity. Deservedly so, I might add. My sources all agree that Pearl serves the best lobster roll in New York. The article includes a mouth-watering photo of a larger-than-life roll that got me all hot and buttered, uh, I mean bothered. Maybe I should consider renewing my subscription...

November 20, 2005

Meet the Wolffish

When I was in New Jersey last week, I had dinner for the first time at Bonefish Grill, a chain restaurant created by the folks who brought you Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. They had wolffish on the menu, which was described as “A medium to fine white fish that forages for lobster.” Hmm. The same could be said of me as well.

November 11, 2005

Food Chains, Good and Bad

Part of what I like about living in our little town is that there are no chain restaurants (or chain anything, for that matter). When we weary of night after night of homemade gourmet meals (right...) and deign to dine out locally, we have a choice of five or six pretty decent places, most of which we can walk to. Still there are some chains we like. High on the list are Bertucci’s and Macaroni Grill. Lowest on the list is Applebee’s. Then there is that vast middle ground inhabited by the likes of TGI Friday’s. Cut from the same (table) cloth as Friday’s is Houlihan’s. There’s one not far from us, although I’ve never been there. I used to like Houlihan’s a lot; I just got out of the habit of going there. Bennigan’s, which on the surface seems like a clone of Houlihan’s, was always far worse mainly because the service was uniformly glacial at every location I visited. Being so much alike, perhaps the two should merge and create a new chain. I’m thinking a good name would be, um... Hooligans!

August 29, 2005

I Drank Many Beers

Six to be exact. No, I haven’t suddenly taken to the bottle. I was just "sampling" beers at Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville where Anne and I had lunch on Saturday. I ordered a sampler of five Sly Fox brews, and here they are from best to worst (in my humble and utterly unsophisticated opinion):

  1. Pete’s Peerless Ale
  2. Jakes ESB
  3. Helles Golden Lager
  4. Galena Anniversary IPA
  5. O’Reilly’s Stout

I really didn’t care for the stout, but I liked all the others. There were at least another six or so beers I didn’t get to taste. The food was great, too.

But that’s only five... The sixth beer was yet to come.

After lunch, we headed home as fast as we could given the rain, and I grabbed a train to Philly and strolled over to Nodding Head for the Philadelphia Webloggers meetup. This was the best meetup yet, perhaps because of the change in location (Nodding Head instead of Independence Brew Pub) as well as time (Saturday afternoon instead of Wednesday evenings). Thanks to events czar Scott for not only organizing but paying the monthly Meetup fee. Way beyond the call of duty.

There were at least 20 people there. Unfortunately, I was a full hour late to this meetup and apparently missed some punctual people who had already left. As it was, I didn’t even get to talk to everybody who was still there either. Still I had a great time. This may be my last meetup for a while as Saturdays are not usually a good day for me.

I met Michael of River Tyde, and one of the topics of conversation was Katrina. He explained something I didn’t know about New Orleans. Most of the city is below sea level and is protected by levees. If water crests the levees, it will not only flood the city, but have nowhere to go after the hurricane passes through. He’s written about it here and here. See also this article at WWLTV in New Orleans.

This morning, Katrina has weakened to Category 4 as it is about to hit land. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you in the storm’s path.

August 3, 2005

Burgers and Fries

While Philadelphia can’t field a decent lobster roll, the city has no shortage of good burgers. Don’t just take my word for it. I learned from Scott that’s list of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die” includes not one but two burgers from my fair city. The only other burg to snag two entries in this elite list was New York. Scott has already sampled the burger from Rouge. I look forward to his review of Barclay Prime as well. I haven’t been to either restaurant, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion, baseless as it may be, and blogging about it.

What am I looking for in a burger? Not perfection, certainly. Where burgers are concerned, I’m a polyglut; I enjoy plain and fancy alike. My first gourmet burger was years ago at a chain called H.A. Winstons with locations formerly in downtown Philadelphia (I think at 15th and Locust where Fado is now) and on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr. That introduced me to the concept of the burger with toppings a trifle more exotic than American cheese. Since then I’ve lost count of all the burgers I’ve eaten, but a few stand out.

In downtown Philly, my vote goes to Copa II, which consistently serves some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. My favorite is the Mediterranean (olive tapénade and goat cheese). My other two favorites are both near Wilmington. The Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike (Route 202) offers just the basics, but the basics flawlessly executed. One thing they do exceptionally well is cook your burger exactly to order. If you want rare, rare is what you get. My single favorite burger comes from Cromwell’s Tavern in Greenville. It’s a blackened bleu cheeseburger made with Black Angus beef.

What’s a burger without fries? There’s a thread on Chowhound’s Pennsylvania message board about “great fries in Philly.” Here again, Copa II gets the nod from me for their Spanish fries. But the best fries I’ve ever had anywhere came from Le Bar Lyonnais, the little bistro downstairs at Le Bec Fin. Le Bec is too rich for my blood, but downstairs is informal and surprisingly affordable.

New York City has a lot of little coffee shops, such as Viand on the upper east side or Tom’s Restaurant (made famous by Seinfeld). The burgers in these little places are invariably terrific. I will have to try this Rouge burger myself some time...

June 26, 2005

Lobster Rolls for Lunch

OK, let’s get back to basics. The first piece I ever put up on the web (back in ’00) was devoted to lobster rolls and those pages are still the most-popular section of this site by far. It’s not something I blog about much, however, but lobster rolls formed the highlight of this weekend, sooooo...

Back in May, I wrote about hearing Cal Hancock of Hancock Gourmet Lobster inteviewed by Jim Coleman on A Chef’s Table. Her company makes a variety of lobster products, including a lobster roll, which you can order online. This we did at our earliest opportunity, and four of us gathered on Saturday afternoon to partake. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


Lobster roll kit from Hancock Gourmet Lobster

The lobster roll kit is shipped overnight in an iced styrofoam cooler and includes six rolls and one pound of lobster salad. Price is $58 plus $21.50 shipping, which is exactly what you would pay for six rolls in a restaurant in Maine. Except you don’t have to go to Maine. A steal, I’m tellin’ ya.


Six top-split rolls

So I said to these rolls, “You’re not from around here are you?” I’ve occasionally seen top-split rolls in supermarkets in Philadelphia, but none as nice as these. Note the large uncrusted area on the end just ready for buttering.


Tub of lobster salad

The heart of a lobster roll is the salad. The ingredients list is simple: “lobster meat, mayonnaise, spices.” It looks like it wasn’t dressed with anything at all, which is exactly how I like it. In addition, the lobster itself was sweet and tender.


The finished lobster roll

The top-split rolls grilled to an even, golden brown. The finished product was about as good as any I’ve ever eaten.


Scott’s homemade cherry pie

Bonus! For dessert, Scott brought a cherry pie. Homemade crust, of course, and some of the cherries came from their two-year old sour cherry tree.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about lobster rolls, but for those still reading, there’s more! I keep up with lobster roll doings around the web with a Google Alert, which, um, alerted me to two interesting articles about lobster rolls in New York last week. One was an article in the Village Voice surveying a handful of Manhattan lobster rolls. Another was from the food blog “The Food Section” highlighting a visit to New York by French food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier who enjoyed her first lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar. Even though New York is only two hours away, I’ve never had a lobster roll there. Really got to do something about that....

May 29, 2005

Have Your Birthday Party at The Waffle House

After just writing about organic produce and lobster rolls, I’m a fine one to talk about the Waffle House, but I’m a simple man with simple tastes, so perhaps you will understand how a meal at the humble Waffle House is one of my favorite treats. Ever since discovering Waffle House restaurants on trips to the southeast US, I have always looked forward to going there. When Anne and I went to Atlanta three years ago, we had the cab drop us off at a Waffle House first before we checked in to our hotel.


Waffle House, Elkton, MD

Waffle House, Elkton, MD. (May 22, 2005 2:15 AM)

So what’s so special about the Waffle House? Well, for one thing they are open all night. Coming home from work in the middle of the night (pre-Waffle House), we would often stop to eat at a diner, mainly because that was the only place that was open. Diners have enormous menus, but at that hour I would invariably order breakfast—eggs, bacon, and potatoes. That’s what I usually order at the Waffle House (I like my potatoes “scattered and smothered”). Come to think of it, I’ve never even had a waffle at the Waffle House. (I never order pancakes at the International House of Pancakes, either. What is wrong with me?) Besides being open all night, Waffle Houses serve a mean breakfast. I guess their waffles are pretty good, too...

Waffle Houses have other charms beyond their outstanding cuisine. The staff usually stop whatever they’re doing and greet customers as they come through the door. It’s corny, but I enjoy it. If you ever wonder what’s going on back in a restaurant’s kitchen, you won’t wonder at the Waffle House. All the orders are prepared right behind the counter. On a busy night, it’s quite a show.

Until recently, there were no Waffle Houses around here (Philadelphia), but in the last few years, Waffle Houses have begun appearing in the north. There are three along I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington, and I’ve also visited ones in Lancaster and Carlisle. While it’s great that I don’t have to get on a plane to go to a Waffle House anymore, the closest one is still well over an hour away, so I only visit when traveling in that direction.

When I was younger and hanging out in clubs, I often heard older jazz musicians use the word “grease” as a verb meaning to eat. (It was always pronounced greeeeze.) I can’t help but think of this when I eat at a Waffle House, because where better to grease than a place where butter is delivered in freight cars.


Waffle House, Elkton, MD

Greasin’ at the Waffle House, Elkton, MD. (May 22, 2005 around 1:30 AM) Happy Birthday, Ward!

Last Saturday night, we stopped at the Waffle House in Elkton for a little birthday celebration. We all ordered breakfast. One maverick ordered an omelette, but the rest of us ordered a custom breakfast sandwich: a bacon, egg, and cheese on grilled bread (instead of toast). Since that sandwich isn’t on the menu, we always have to explain it. “It’s like a grilled cheese with bacon and egg.” Usually we get what we want, but tonight we weren’t so lucky. All four sandwiches arrived on toast. What’s more, the potatoes were a little on the raw side. When they’re done right, the potatoes kind of mat together and form a cake, but these weren’t on the grill long enough. It was the “worst” meal we’ve ever had at a Waffle House. It wasn’t terrible, just not up to their usual standard. There was no birthday cake, but we did play the special Waffle House Happy Birthday song on the jukebox. That made everyone smile.


I work at the Elkton waffle house on 3rd shift. I have seen you all in there plenty! I don't believe I was there for the party though. Haven't seen you recently though. Hope you make it to the area soon!


I work at Waffle House in Archdale, NC, also on third shift. I found this article quite interesting, as I've been looking for blogs with feedback from other Waffle House regulars and current/previous employees. Would you mind linking up with my blog? :) A Day In The Life Of A Waffle House Cook

May 28, 2005

Hancock Gourmet Lobster

Cal Hancock of Hancock Gourmet Lobster was one of Jim Coleman's guests today on A Chef's Table. They make a variety of lobster products (including a lobster roll!) you can get in select stores or shipped direct.

As I was about to enter the Acme to buy some limeade for margaritas (Whole Foods doesn't sell limeade), I had one of those “driveway moments” where you can't get out your car until the piece ends, although it was more like a parking-lot moment.

Anyway she actually brought a lobster roll into the studio, and I had to endure listening to Jim Coleman eat it. I hadn't even had lunch yet! While Cal was talking, you could hear Jim sneak his first bite, which elicited a short Mmm. This was followed by some muffled chewing and another Mmm. Finally he said, “That's unbelievable.” and went back to the interview. I wouldn't have had that much self control, believe me.

I'm off to make Texas shrimp and rice for four. In the absence of lobster rolls, that'll do fine.

May 7, 2005

Lobster Rolls in Manhattan?

Anne's sister graduates from NYU with an MBA next week, and we are headed to New York to celebrate. Such an auspicious event calls for lobster rolls (if not champagne), but I'm not sure we can work any into the schedule. The only lobster roll I've ever had in New York was at Aquavit, and that doesn't count, so I'm looking forward to trying some others. There are no places within walking distance of Madison Square Garden, and the two closest places, Maine on Fifth and Shaffer City Oyster Bar & Grill, I know nothing about.


Google Maps search of Manhattan for lobster rolls

What this? It's a Google Maps search for lobster rolls in Manhattan.

  1. Maine on Fifth
  2. Mary's Fish Camp
  3. Pearl Oyster Bar
  4. Mermaid Inn The
  5. Shore
  6. W New York Times Square Hotel
  7. About.Com
  8. Bongo
  9. Pier 116
  10. Lobster Place

February 25, 2005

Never Quit Smoking Continued

We tried a chain restaurant that was new to us last weekend. It's called Smokey Bones, and is located on Route 30 in York, Pennsylvania. They have about 50 other locations so far, all but a handful east of the Mississippi. The decor is decidedly Western, however; along the back wall is a large faux picture window displaying a Rocky Mountain panorama. Yeah, York looks just like that.

You could tell they've definitely done this before; even though the restaurant opened only a few weeks ago, everything ran like clockwork. With that many stores, it's no surprise. I think they were expecting to do a lot of business right away, too. Not only is the place large, but they were ready with those vibrating pagers all the popular places have adopted. They needed them, too. We had to wait 30 minutes for a table on a Saturday afternoon. The wait was just as long when we left.

I can see why the place caught on so quick. There's something for everyone on the menu (unless you're a vegetarian), although barbecue is the spécialité de la maison. Since barbecue is one of my minor obsessions, I wanted to try as much of it as I could, so I ordered a combination platter of pulled pork, smoked beef brisket, and grilled smoked sausage. All of it was excellent, especially the brisket. I washed it down with draft Newcastle brown ale, one of the smoothest and tastiest dark beers I've ever had. Anne had fried catfish, which was also excellent. Our waiter was pushing the "Old-Fashioned Skillet Cornbread" so we ordered a skillet-full for the table. It was sweet and delicious and comes topped with crushed pecan butter, which I thought was gilding the lily; it was delicious plain.

Portions were more than ample (our leftovers easily made a second meal), and prices were reasonable. I would definitely come here again. The only problem is, I think everyone else felt the same way, so long waits are likely to be the norm.

February 23, 2005

Lobster Rolls Denied!

Last fall I was surprised and excited to learn that the Bridgewater Pub (inside Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia) served a lobster roll, and, according to a reliable source, a good one. A couple of weeks ago, we made plans to visit them for dinner. Before leaving, I called to make sure that the lobster roll would be on the menu, and alas! I procrastinated too long. The lobster roll is gone, gone forever! How could they do such a thing?