Monday, October 24, 2011

The Cafeteria Chronicles 2: Pretzel Sandwiches

by Kevin

I would say that bread...is the make or break component of any sandwich. It's what makes a sandwich, a sandwich. The Cafeteria definitely has had failure in this category (see Cafeteria Chronicles 1). However, I'm delighted to report that it definitely has a success in The Pretzel Sandwich. I really have no idea why pretzels in the shape of a sandwich roll aren't like a standard bread choice for sandwiches everywhere.

Bread makers and bakers...GET ON THIS!! Make pretzel sandwich rolls please!! Cuz it just works. It has a firm crust, soft interior, enough structure to hold heavier ingredients, and has a familiar and appealing taste. I had one today with turkey, spinach, tomatoes and a pesto spread. Delicious.

Ok, maybe it's not an everyday thing. Sometimes you just want white bread. But having the choice...being able to say "Oh, I'd like to have that on a pretzel roll please" would be awesome.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Cafeteria Chronicles 1: Banh Mi

By Kevin

Today I'm starting a new series chronicling the triumphs and failures (mostly) of my work cafeteria, henceforth to be referred to as... "the cafeteria."

Some background...a couple years ago, the cafeteria came under new management and gained the leadership of an "executive chef." Since then the cafeteria menu has become more varied and one may even say...adventurous. "The Cafeteria Chronicles" will chart the course of this ambitious cafeteria cuisine, daring to go where no mundane meatloaf has ever gone before.

Up first..."banh mi" or vietnamese hoagies. Banh mi have become quite popular amongst sandwich lovers but is far from hitting the mainstream consciousness of the typical cafeteria customer. Let's review...what are the key components of a basic banh mi sandwich? Crusty, toasty, french baguette, grilled or cold cut meat, fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, sliced jalapeƱo, shredded/pickled carrots/daikon, mayo or other spread.

Ok, now let's see how the cafeteria did...

1. French Baguette: Fail. Instead of a toasty, crusty roll, you get a pale, dense, doughy, untoasted one. Lacking the signature "torpedo" shape and golden brown exterior color. Completely wrong. Unforgivable.

2. Meat: Partial Fail. Some sort of tough, rectangularly shaped, thickly sliced pork pieces. Not particularly flavorful and not appetizing from the look of it.

3. Cucumber: Partial Fail. Present but sliced incorrectly. Not cut length wise.

4. Daikon and cilantro: Fail. Neither are present.

5. Carrots: Ok fine. There were shredded carrots. Not pickled but whatever, all these fails are making me feel bad.

6. Mayo: Also fine. Yay mayo. Good job cafeteria.

7. JalapeƱos: Partial Fail. Pickled, not fresh.

So all in all, the cafeteria banh mi is a complete and utter fail boat. However, I give +1 to the cafeteria for its mere knowledge and attempt to create this trending sandwich.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tessaro's

By Sun


Bostonions have the Cheers television show where their theme song is all about a place "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." Pittsburgh has a place like that at Tessaro's... except they don't want to know your name.

From the outside, you know you are expecting All-American pub / bar food at first impression. Red brick facade with black accents all over the head, windows, and door arch. As you enter, you hear the roar of the wind blower to keep the outside air out and anything else that doesn't belong inside. Your eyes adjust to view the madness that is people standing around the entrance. Know one knows you and the fact that this entry space is so small (four by six people deep) helps you eye this old lady who seems to be keeping track of... something. There is no "Hi!" or "Welcome!" She stand silently there making checks and writing something down, not unlike a self-absorbed bean counter who keeps count. As I view a presumable local person ask for a table, I wait and follow. Except when she does not ask for my name, I ask her if she needed it. She said quietly and eyes half turned to make her check.... "No." It was a clear dismissal. I turn my head in mild disbelief and some wonder. Don't know where I am supposed to stand. There's barely enough room to turn around, let alone find a place to wait. Yet, I was intrigued and unoffended.


The restaurant itself is a combined two store front with the second dining area elevated above the what can only be called the main dining hall. There is a full bar up front and their trademark mesquite grill in the far back. Bells are ringing a single, double, or triple rings every ten to twenty seconds. People are drinking, laughing, and eating all the while. They are packed tight like sardines in a can. It doesn't matter if you are old or young, straight or gay, blue or white collar. You can be well-dressed or come in rags. They equally pay no attention to you except to do what restaurants do. Take your order, provide, and leave you be.

You come in, you belong to Tessaro's. You came to eat, you sit where you are told. The bean counter does her business counting while another old lady goes about her business, pointing her fingers to tell you and ask you to sit. She seemed nice and friendly, except she has no qualms of telling you to squeeze in... try treating someone in their established years to squeeze into a space that just sat two people to four people and not blink an eye. Apparently an unused corner of the table can be used to fit a person. For good or for worse, they passed it and we were seated ahead of them. (Fortunately for them, another table just opened up for four that was more respectable of their established years.)

The menu was fairly straight forward. Again typical pub / bar / old American fare. But all four of us were here for one and only one thing. Their burgers. The meat is grinded in house using their own in-house butcher. (How's them apples!?) What place has their own in-house butcher? They typically run through 400-500 burgers per shift (~eight hours) and that speaks volumes. All those people can't be wrong? Can they?


Going for the mattresses, I ordered the gourmet cheeseburger that's topped with two crossed strips of bacon, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, and your choice of cheese. It was smoked and full half-pound patty. But either they let it sit for two long under the heat lamp and overcooked itself or just overcooked because mine came a shade overcooked. I asked for medium-rare, I got medium / medium-well. To complete this cheeseburger, you get to chose a side... potato salad, cole slaw, home fries, white rice steamed broccoli/cauliflower, boiled red skin potatoes or chips but if you are looking for french fries. Don't bother looking. This is an All-American restaurant. No french here. I don't even know if they acknowledge french fries exist. I don't even know if they have french mustard. If you want french fries, Tessaro's doesn't want you. Never have and never will!


As to the actual cheeseburger. It was delicious. Overcooked, it was still juicy and moist. You can taste the mesquite grill flavors running through the beef of the cheeseburger. Whether you go the condiment route or without, the beef flavor makes no qualms of shining through. The buns were nice and firm to support the heavy meat yet soft and tastefully complemented the patty. It soaked up the natural fat and juices from the patty and did a good job of not letting those flavors run down your hands but into your mouth and watering taste buds. The patty lost some texture and structure as I was eating, probably from overcooking. It couldn't have been from using too lean of grounded beef. The cheeseburger was greasy... (tasty but definitely greasy). That didn't take away from the enjoyment of eating this burger. Just another challenge.

I could continue talking about the sides but they were of no consequence. Tessaro's serves great cheeseburgers. You come for the burgers and not the sides (especially the non-existent french fries). You leave very satisfied and fulfilled. You leave with no acknowledgement from the old ladies or your waitress. But you come back for the burger at a place where nobody knows your name.

Four and a quarter out of five cows.

Tessaro's
4601 Liberty Ave (map)
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
(412) 682-6809

Friday, September 30, 2011

Barbacoa

by Sun


Barbacoa has joined as yet another branch of that unexpectedly and vibrantly growing tree that is the culinary expansion in Upper Darby, PA. Forget that it is in the shadows of its bigger brother, i.e. Philadelphia. But then again you really can't. This new eatery is notable for not only being in the shadows of its big brethren but also in the shadows of Upper Darby itself, tucked away and removed from the main restaurant scene in the 69th Street area of Upper Darby. The closest eatery of note is the diner turned korean all-you-can-eat but why would you BBQ place. Even then, you must take a sharp turn and unless you looked hard, you would miss it and none be any wiser. But don't let that stop you.


Boy-oh-boy! If you are the type to look, knock on its door, my friend, and open it shall. You will be welcomed to taste the wonders of slow cooked, peruvian rotisserie style chicken. You must remember that this isn't KFC or Popeyes that can cook and serve a chicken in five minutes flat. Chicken like this takes time. Really slow time. Time-lapse photography slow. So come prepared and early if you can. Telephones were made for a restaurant such as this. Call ahead or you will leave frustrated and sad if told "No more chicken."


Ordered as a full chicken, Barbacoa served it butterflied and halfed. Carving into its components, breast, leg and thigh, and wings was easy as cutting a room temperature butter. If you weren't with people, I think most will just eat it right then and there and rip into that bird! And once you start, just like butter your teeth just sinks into its meat. A meat that is moist and wet to the tongue with bursts of its simple seasoning flowing through. No hacking and coughing over overly cooked meat or starving for water to force the meat to go down. None of that nonsense! This chicken is nothing over the top or extravagant. Just a nicely dead, cleaned bird, cooked to perfection, and eaten with side peruvian sauces. Not sure if you can choose your sauces but they seemed to have included chimichurri and aji with this order. You will grab for more pieces if you can. As another more famous chicken eatery would say but much more applicable to Barbacoa... "EAT MOR CHIKIN!"

Barbacoa
62 Sherbrook Blvd.
Upper Darby, PA 19082 (map)
(484) 469-3741

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cajun Kate's New Orleans Market

by Sun

First thing first. This hole in the wall (not an exaggeration) is tiny. It has 4 or 5 seats right next to the three-person kitchen / prep counter. If you think IJ's former room, you almost have it right. Don, proprietor and husband of the namesake Kate, is super friendly and... kind of loud. Makes you want to like food before you even order anything.

They had the basic food fare expected of a cajun place. Didn't have time to try all of them yet but in the next few days, we can see how they store overnight and taste. First taste belonged to the catfish po'boy. It was really good! I could not help but notice how the catfish was rightfully flaky and tasteful. It definitely was not minced or otherwise manipulated from what it previously was... a filet of catfish. Moist in the inside and crust was perfectly crispy and matched well with the fish inside. Not overwhelming or forgettable. I would definitely get it again, but only if they ran out of shrimp, gator, brisket, and oyster. Now I got to try them all!

What was most surprisingly good was their mac and cheese. I don't know if it was the best I've ever had but right now, I can't remember having one that was better! The macaroni was cooked right and cheese was just right. And the crust... it was phenomenal! It was unlike any I've ever had. The mac and cheese came with a sauce that is clearly sweet at first and I first thought it was a wrong match since I am not much of a sweet person but as the heat started kicking in, it was delightful. I was really full after eating half of it but couldn't stop myself... each bite was like a treasure hunt where you might get a chunk of bacon, ham, or andouille sausage. I'm intentionally leaving out a very key aspect to this mac and cheese so that you can enjoy the surprise. Cajun Kate has well earned best of Delaware County 2011. 5 out of 5 Mac and Cheese.

Cajun Kate's New Orleans Market
1362 Naaman's Creek Road
Boothwyn, PA 19061 (map)
(484) 947-8914

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Matchbox

By Kevin


I'm bored. I thought I wasn't going to post anymore but I'm bored. This place isn't in Philly but I'm going to write a bit about it because...yep, I'm bored.


So matchbox is a casual pizza restaurant chain in the DC area. I went to the one in Rockville, MD with my sister. The restaurant is really large and spacious with a modern decor.


Also, there were jazz musicians...jazzin' it up. Snazzy.


We were told the mini burgers were a popular item so we ordered that. Look at all those onion straws!!! We actually finished most of it, they were that good.


The mini burgers were pretty tasty as well. I think I could eat like 5 of 'em. But wait, this is a pizza place.


My sister ordered the coppa italian ham & arugula pizza. I thought it was a bit too salty. The ingredients were obviously very fresh and appealing tho.


I ordered the spicy meatball pizza. The meatballs were the real star of this pizza. Spicy, tender, and substantial. I thought the crust and the rest of the pizza were just ok.


For dessert we tried the doughnuts with a coffee dipping sauce. They were pretty good, kinda too many for us to finish tho.


I'm not going to be a new york pizza snob and say this place is unworthy. If I was in the DC area and felt like eating pizza I'd go back.

Matchbox
Various locations in the DC area

Photog notes: At lunchtime the restaurant had a good amount of sunlight coming in from the windows, so I was able to open up to f2.8 and keep my ISO around 200 for most of the shots with shutter speeds around 1/30s.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wing Quest

Just wanted to give a quick link shout out to a fellow Philly blog called "Wing Quest." They are out to find the best wings in Philly. I took a look at their "Wing Quest Conquering List" and it's quite extensive. A worthy quest guys...I wish you fair journeys.

wingquest2011.blogspot.com