Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A SLICE of Pure Pizza Bliss

So it was the kids and I with about four hours to kill in Center City Philly. Of course they fell asleep en route, which made it easier for me to cruise Center City, Bella Vista, Washington Square West and check out all the new places that have cropped up in the past year. It's been a loooong time since I've been able to spend any time in the Italian Market area, and it's just amazes me how many Asian and Mexican places are all around now. I've been away too long. $1.50 tacos all day on Tuesdays at La Lupe! Damn, the kids are still asleep. So I start my search for Bebe, the new 'cue spot on 9th St. And I CAN'T FIND IT!
I did find myself on 10th St. at some point, and watched the sad spectacle of Shank & Evelyn's being emptied out, a small forlorn crowd watching from across the street. God, I used to love that place. I'm sure Center City denizens will be glad when they re-open on 15th St near Sansom, but I also drove by that storefront later in the day, and it looks like a dreary little location. Maybe Ev knows something we don't.
Tried to check out the soon-to-reopen (nee Sansom Street) Oyster House, but it was covered in plywood, concealing all the interior construction.
While I was on 10th St. though, I did drive by SLICE, the raved-about pizza joint (10th & Federal, 215-463-0868), but it was yet to open. Parked across the street in front of Bitar's Bakery and scanned the newspapers I brought along, picked up the Jim Rome Show on a radio station in Wilmington, DE, and relaxed and chuckled while the kids slept. Felt like a pizza place stalker. And I was.

Within a half hour, a neon "OPEN" sign flashed on; soon we would be in business. And not soon after that, Sophie wrested herself from slumber and said the magic words: "Daddy, I have to pee." That woke Ben, conveniently enough, and giddily we walked across the street for pizza and potty breaks at SLICE.

Owner Jason Dilks was already taking orders for delivery over the phone; we quickly ordered 3 slices and found the restrooms, which led us througn the entire kitchen area where 3 other workers were chopping mounds of basil, shredding cheeses, stirring crushed tomatoes. Glorious.

With my eyes closed (or you can check the photos yourself), it was scarily close to a Delorenzo's of Trenton tomato pie. And Dilks should know; he grew up eating the stuff, and he thinks it's still the best pie in the US. Appearance-wise, he doesn't burn the crust quite like a Trenton tomato pie, but he has the flavor profile down pat. Ben and Sophie scarfed down their huge slices (we had to cut them up a bit, Jason serves a very large slice), because, like their dad, they know what the good stuff tastes like; they go ga-ga for Delorenzo's.

We chatted pizza for a while, joined by some neighborhood residents and a pressman from the Inquirer who stopped in for a slice: a random room full of pizza geeks at 3 in the afternoon.

Jason's pie is nicely thin crusted, without the random bumps and odd shapes common to Trenton pies, but the bottom was nicely charred, and the flavor was nutty-yeasty-smoky, the texture chewy. The way it's supposed to be. It's a great homage to the pizza of his youth.

And he is looking into opening a branch of SLICE in Center City. Oh you lucky Center City bastids. Jason is gonna change the way you think about pizza, and you will be spoiled forever.

Dilks says he makes a mean white clam pie, too. Guess which pie the kids and I will be trying on our next visit? Along with a traditional red, I mean. You can never get enough of pizza this good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Got a great e-mail from foodie Dan McMahon about a small, independent movie (is there any other kind?), and the teacher and students who inspired it.

Dan writes:

"Unorthodox Culinary Arts teacher Mrs. Stephenson is a tyrant known throughout her Philly public high school for her hoarse rebukes of her students' creations. She may be disarmingly blunt, but she cares about the final product. Last year, 11 of her seniors got scholarships to top culinary schools across the nation. Here, we follow three of Stephenson's dedicated inner-city kids with circumstances stacked against them whose best hope for the future depends on the perfect results.

'Pressure Cooker' is finally about to be released in Philly this June. .....made in North Philadelphia, it shows how cooking can help students. they get $ 750,000 in scholarships---- getting good reviews."

Gordon Ramsey got NOTHING on this woman. Here's the trailer for the movie. Can't wait to see it!


Friday, May 22, 2009

McGillin's Anniversary Ale

(photo courtesy of Drew Lazor)

I was very fortunate to be asked to a special tasting at McGillin's Olde Ale House in Philly yesterday, to sample the first test batch of the tavern's 150th Anniversary Ale, to be made by Stoudt's Brewing Co. in Adamstown, PA. McGillin's (if you didn't know already) is the 2nd oldest continually operating tavern in the US (McSorley's in NYC is the country's oldest, by just a hair), and one of my favorite places on earth to enjoy a good beer.

So Carol and Ed Stoudt were there, along with Chris Mullins Sr. and Jr., George Hummel from Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, Don Russell (Joe Sixpack) from the Phila. Daily News, food columnist Drew Lazor from the City Paper, and a bunch of other foodie writers from around town, as well as McGillin's outstanding PR guru Irene Baker, who organized the tasting.

Plenty of munchies were on hand (various crackers, cheeses, grilled bratwurst and knockwurst, baguette slices, spicy mustards), in the McGillin's tradition, as well as plenty of pitchers of water. Carefully they poured the first glasses: cloudy, golden, with a thick head of white foam. First sniff: sugary, like sugar cookies and sweet pie crust. First sip: surprisingly sweet as well, big, decent bite of hops, spicy effervescence and a long, long, dry finish. Started out like a sweet IPA, finished like a tart pilsner.

Carol Stoudt herself described the brew as "an unfiltered IPA with the malt character of a traditional English IPA. It contains Centennial and Amarillo hops and some mystery hops our brewer won't divulge." Aha! I love a good mystery!

Our assembled group all seemed to enjoy the beer quite a lot; George Hummell picked up on that sweet initial note, and pronounced it a very "dangerously delicious" beer. Most of us agreed. Drew Lazor imagined that he could put quite a few pints of the beer. I would have a hard time switching to another beer if I was drinking it.

Stoudt told us that our sample beer was just under 6% ABV, and has the long dry finish that she favors in her own favorite style of beer, a pilsner. She was especially interested in feedback for the beer, wanting it to be the right beer for an anniversary such as McGillin's. I think it just might be.
They intend to bottle the beer (a collectors' item), and hope it will be a beer people will enjoy and cellar, and are still working on the name. How about "McGillin's 150"?

In Other Seafood News.....

Ah ha! Got you to look!

While I was sampling a new beer especially created by Stoudt's Brewing Co. to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of McGillin's Olde Ale House, and giving requested feedback to Carol and Ed Stoudt as well as McGillin's owner Chris Mullins (more on that terrific beer in my next post), I received an e-mail from our friends at Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill, NJ:

NPR will be featuring a story on the Exit Series of beers Friday afternoon on All Things Considered (4-6pm local time). If you miss the broadcast, you can hear it online after 7 pm Friday at

Way cool! Great exposure for a great local brewery!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Crazy for Crawfish at The Station Bistro

The cozy Station Bistro in Kimberton has found its groove. And yesterday, that groove was decidedly Cajun with a chorus of spicy crawfish singin' loud and proud. The sleepy little Chester County village was enveloped in the seductive aromas of Louisiana cooking. Folks traveled from as far away as Havre de Grace, MD to chow down on big red trays of juicy, salty, fiery mudbugs, earthy jamabalaya and Sly Fox beers. Man, what a good time.

The kids and I made the 90 min. trek early Sunday afternoon, and when we got to Kimberton, the restaurant was packed.

Owner Nancy Miller arranged a small table near the fireplace with coloring books, puzzles and Legos, and Ben and Sophie quickly settled into coloring with the Miller's two sons, WIlliam and Edward.

Over 450 lbs of the critters were flown into Philly on Saturday, and boiled up in small batches by Chef Craig Miller every 15 min. or so all Sunday afternoon. Craig worked two boil kettles under a tent outdoors all afternoon, carefully adding the peppery boiling spices at just the right moment, tossing red potatoes and corn-on-the-cob chunks and onions in at another moment, carefully tending to the process like the secret Cajun master that he is. The crawfish were big and meaty, still a bit of work for the reward, but the other highlight of this special event was Miller's jambalaya, with complex layers of flavor and generous slices of real andouille. The dish could stand on its own every day, and I hope they add it to the Station Bistro menu permanently.

I chose a Sly Fox Dunkel with my tray of bugs, and what an inspired pairing: malty and mellow, it was just the tasty foil I needed for those hot crustaceans. I opted out of stopping at the nearby Sly Fox Brewpub in Phoenixville for a growler or two, owing to the 90 min drive back home and my priceless passengers in the back seat. A growler of any Sly Fox beer is tempting temperence.

Rolls of paper towels were stationed on every table, and you really did need a lot of them. The boiling spice on the crawfish found every gardening nick and paper cut on my fingers, and my forehead was moist with sweat after just a half tray of munching. At least I wasn't alone; at almost every table, people were sweating and whooping and whistling and laughing. Lots of Sly Fox and Victory growlers on those tables, too, a good sign. Some folks opted for platters of the restaurant's excellent baby back ribs instead of crawfish, but the vast majority of eaters were groovin' on the crawdaddies.

Nancy made hot dogs and fries for the kids; they wanted no part of the mudbugs, especially after Nancy took the kids into the kitchen freezer and showed them crates of the crustaceans still wiggling. I figured Sophie, who loves spicy food, would try a few, but she was firm with her dad: "Get them away from me," she said very seriously.

But what do kids know? The Crawfish Boil was fantastic, and the Station Bistro made a lot of new friends and surprised some of their regulars. I hope we can persuade Craig Miller to cook Cajun more often. Man has a gift.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Great Beer Week!

As usual I'm just a pinch late with this news, but hey, Jack Curtin got it first on his Liquid Diet blog yesterday. But what the hey, it's another great reason to drink great beer. So how about this: drink a new craft beer every day this week. I'm copying an idea that I read today on another blog, Tom Cizauskas' superb Yours For Good Fermentables. There he suggests we all drink a local craft beer every day this week, and if you can do it, by all means do so. Think globally, drink locally (damn, I am just a font of plagerism today..).

Well, as my renowned high school Greek teacher Frank Long used to say frequently in his classes at Scranton Prep, "Ancient history teaches us that nothing is new."

Drink some good craft beer this week. You deserve it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I may have found my new favorite beer. Two months ago I tasted my first Sieera Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA when it finally made it to central NJ, and it just blew me away. It pours a tall, cloud-like head, deep copper misty color, and the nose: citrusy, slightly piney, floral, sweet, ripe grapefruit aromas. The first sip plows a ton of hops into your mouth, all green and herby-spicy, and then the beer slips over your tongue like mist through your fingers. Beyond a (overused cliche, especially by me) silky finish. A spectacular beer.

This beer has quickly become one of the darlings of the beer world, highly praised in Beer Advocate magazine and elsewhere (like our weekly beer chat the No Bull Inn, on , and it's become damn hard to find. After my initial six-pack purchase, I haven't been able to find it anywhere in these parts (my local Wegman's in Princeton, which contains a wine and beer store, told me that they went through TEN CASES of Torpedo in two days). Yesterday on a whim, I wandered into Landmark Liquors in the Capitol Plaza on Olden Ave. in deeply Polish/Slavic/Russian North Trenton and discovered among the stacks of Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian, Ukranian and Russian beers (and if you're into them, this store is the Mother Lode), two ignored sixers resting atop a large pile of SN Pale Ale. Score! And the best surprise was the price: $7.26 a six. My lucky day.

Really, no matter what you drink beer-wise, FIND THIS BEER. Thank me later.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Crawfish in Kimberton!

I don't do restaurant promo posts as a rule here at all, but I just gotta do this one. Friends Nancy and Craig Miller own The Station Bistro, a terrific BYOB in Kimberton, PA, in the western burbs of Philadelphia, with good, straightforward cooking and some of the best house-smoked ribs, turkey and shaved pork I've ever had.

But it’s May, prime crawfish season, and Craig and Nancy are itching to do a crawfish boil.

For years with them it was a Louisiana-style backyard thing at their home, and now they have this 1-1/2 yr. old restaurant in a bucolic village in Chester County....well, it just makes sense to open the thing up a bit.

Save the date: May 17, 12-7PM

I don't know of any place that does a real crawfish boil anywhere near Philly, so that's why I'm mentioning this one here. I've been to a few of these, and it just doesn't get any better than a Craig and Nancy crawfish boil.

“We have the crawfish flown in fresh from Louisiana that day,” Nancy tells me, “and we use an authentic seasoning blend to flavor the boil. It’s the real deal.”

Diners will have a choice of getting All-You-Can-Eat crawfish, jambalaya, coleslaw and a beverage for $28.95; OR a full helping of Craig's now-famous, smoked-on-site baby-back ribs, french fries, coleslaw, and a beverage for $25.95.

There will be some Sly Fox beers for tasting, but since the Station Bistro is a BYOB, Craig suggests you also bring a few good beers to pair with his down-home Cajun feast: “A good, crisp pilsner such as Sly Fox Pikeland Pils or Victory Prima Pils, or an amber lager like Yuengling’s will taste great with my crawfish, as would a hoppy beer like Victory HopDevil or Sly Fox’s Belgian style Saison Vos Farmhouse Ale But definitely a beer that can stand up to the bold flavors.” Personally, I'll be grabbing a growler of Pikeland Pils, Rte 113 IPA or the new Dax Maibock from nearby Sly Fox Brewpub in Phoenixville.

Reservations can be made at (610)933-1147 or via the restaurant’s e-mail link at I'm going to try to put a group together for this; if ya likes the Cajun food, cher, this is a good day in the country, I gar-on-tee.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Dead in the Spectrum Sunset

It had been over 20 years since I'd been to a concert by any configuration of the Grateful Dead (I saw my very first Dead concert in 1971 in Scranton at the Catholic Youth Center, when I was all of 13), and Saturday I returned to the site of my last Dead concert, the Spectrum in Philly, to see the current band, The Dead, bid farewell to the oval cylinder sports arena. The Dead hold the record for concerts at the Spectrum, 55 in all. Bruce Springsteen's 32 appearances are a distance second place.

I am showing my age when I state that I wasn't prepared for the sheer giddy humanity of the tailgate-flea-market-Shakedown Street that arose in the parking lots around the Wachovia Center prior to the concert, but good friend John Hamada, who procured the tickets for the show, made sure we were in South Philly in plenty of time to drink in the atmosphere. And we drank well. John had brought a small cooler of Magic Hat and Saranac beers (a nice Saranac Irish Red was my choice for our initial leg stretching in the parking lot), as we ventured in and around the hundreds of merchants that scattered the grounds.

What a familiarly aromatic place.

Impromptu tailgaters were grilling (and selling) burgers and hot dogs, and LOTS of grilled cheese, and almost everyone had coolers of beer for sale. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the dominant label in the majority of coolers, but Newcastle, Saranac, Blue Moon, Yuengling, Sam Adams and Dogfish Head were also plentiful. There were some tasty discoveries too: New Belgium Fat Tire from Ft. Collins, CO and Four + Brewing's Wildfire Extra Pale Ale from Salt Lake City, UT showed up in a couple of coolers. At $3 a bottle, John and I scooped up a few as soon as I spotted them. The Wildfire, made with organic malts, was really tasty, with a nice hoppy bite. Went great with a few slices of local Celebre's pizza, which was being sold by several enterprising young men from Baltimore who had procured 30 pies from the pizzeria a few blocks away and were selling them under the sign, "Pizzas For Peace", promising that 10% of their proceeds would be donated to peace-promoting causes. Indeed.

Lots of clever t-shirts, endless tie-dyed stuff (snagged some tie-dyed overall shorts for Sophie and a snazzy diamond print t-shirt for Ben) and paraphernalia aplenty, along with over fifty locations where folks were loading up balloons with nitrous oxide.

But some of the food here was pretty damn good: homemade French bread pizza that puts that Stouffers stuff to utter shame (not really hard to do, but this stuff was terrific); a whole wheat wrap filled with hot, herby felafel, harissa and wild picked greens that may be the best felafel sammie I've ever had, served up by a non-stop dancing chef that gave new meaning to the term "kitchen choreography". Every manner of wrap was available here: veggie, vegan,pork, chicken, fruit, turkey, you name it. John grabbed a huge grilled chicken number with feta, aioli and greens that was an explosion of flavors. We snacked on a lot of stuff in just under 3 hours of roaming, fueled by several beers and the undeniable contact high of the place.

Concert started pretty close to on-time (7:40!) and the Dead began the night with "One More Saturday Night". Pandemonium at a sold-out Spectrum.

The first set was about 90 min. with an intermission and some "Space-Drums" play with Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. John took a power nap during the break (an entrenched devotee, he went to the Dead show the night before as well) I checked e-mail and Twittered a bit. Balloons bounced everywhere. After about 40 min. the band re-assembled, and though I'm not really trying to nit-pick, they just didn't seem to have the energy of previous Dead concerts. Lots of extended solos and jams, maybe just a few too many. And Warren Haynes is a good guitarist, but he's just not Garcia.

The concert wound its way down near midnight. Bassist Phil Lesh finally acknowledged and adressed the audience, spoke about and urged organ donation. And finally, the encore: "Samson and Delilah", showing the Dead's awareness of their place in the Spectrum's history, and their legendary status as its final concert. The packed house sang along for most of the song, especially the chorus

"If I had my way,

If I had my way,

If I had my way,

I would tear this old building down."