Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The History of the Roasted Potato

I just got the latest e-mail newsletter from McGillin's Olde Ale House, one of my all-time favorite watering holes (best kept secret: it's a very good restaurant), and as usual with that busy place it's chock full of activities to put on your calendar. But one date especially caught my eye:

Historical Event -- The "beginning of the end" of Prohibition finally came on April 7, 1933, when bars were once again permitted to sell low alcohol beer. McGillin's Olde Ale House will celebrate that monumental day in its long & colorful history and its own 150th anniversary with a historic event. Starting at 6 p.m. on April 7, 2010, McGillin's will offer rollback pricing on drinks and food, hand out free "fireplace-roasted" potatoes and dedicate a plaque commemorating the anniversary. Ma McGillin will be offering pricing from an earlier era, including:

* Free "fireplace roasted" potatoes - to all patrons, all day;
* $18.60 Dinner for Two -- Three course dinner including 2 mugs of McGillin's 1860 IPA, 2 house salads & 2 entrees;
*$1.50 mugs of Victory Throwback Lager & McGillin's 1860 IPA (by Stoudt's for the anniversary);
* Blue Coat Prohibition Martinis -- served in a teacup

"Free 'fireplace roasted' potatoes"?

So I wrote McGillin's, asking about the history of that free spud, and here is what they wrote back:

" Thanks for asking Rich! Below is a clip from William McGillin's obituary from 1901:

'So it came to pass that the Bell-in-Hand was famous in its sphere. Millionaire and politicians, statesmen, leaders in the old set, were glad to step into its shade and quaff of its amber fluid and eat the “roast potato,” which latter constituted its unique and only free lunch. Given a roast potato, some butter, salt and pepper and a glass of nut brown ale, and many temporary kingdoms had been erected. And if perchance the stranger made himself known to the proprietor he was almost certain to be accorded an invitation to inspect the cellars, which inspection, with sundry “samples,” was an event. Mr. McGillin showed the cellars himself and drew the samples with his own hand; and so tender and affectionate was he in his regard for the various brews that no person could be hardhearted enough to refuse to drain every sample glass to the bottom. The sample glasses, fortunately were small, else the consequences of a visit might often have been serious.'

We are bringing this old and famous tradition back for the day - and we will bring it back for other significant days while we celebrate our anniversary!"

Sheer poetry from a bygone era. Imagine the pride of Pa McGillin taking folks down to the cellar to show off and sample (!) his fine brews (a tradition current owner Chris Mullins has been known to do from time to time for certain beer aficionados)! By the way, the Bell-In-Hand was the original name of the tavern now known as McGillin's. You can even find the original wooden sign behind the bar today.

I'll see you on the 7th of April to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition and to savor that historic roast potato.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tacos of the Gods. Honest.

I lucked into a quick visit to Center City Philly on Friday for a haircut at Liquid. Coincidentally I read on Twitter that just a few blocks away the legendary Honest Tom's truck was moving from their usual location on 33rd St. on the Drexel Univ. campus, and setting up operations on Fridays at 18th & Vine, near the Logan Circle fountain, and appropriately serving just fish tacos next to the Basilica of Sts. Peter & Paul for the meatless Fridays that folks like me observe during the Lenten season. Hence, a no-brainer.

Oh my. What tacos. Simple, yet so much more. Two small flour tortillas. Hunks of griddled fish, tangles of shredded lettuce and red cabbage and maybe jicama, some pineapple and tomato, squirt of hot sauce. Etherial. As good or better than any I've sampled at the famous stands around San Diego, CA.
Airy light, yet surprisingly substantial. And I bet I could down a dozen of these easily. I now know what people have been raving about. Definitely a destination feed. And you can follow them on Twitter, if you so choose @HonestToms and on Facebook at Honest Tom's Taco Shop.
Killer stuff!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perfect Pairs, A Good But Incomplete List

The Brewers Association has just produced a pretty comprehensive list of Beer and Food Pairings, the kind of thing I always enjoy reading, but frustratingly, it's a tad incomplete. Hell, it's more than a tad incomplete.

Now this list has a lot of the usual suspects (and an inordinate amount of barbecue pairings), and I would imagine that it serves a beer novice pretty well. It also has a nice column devoted to just cheese pairings. But it still seems incomplete somehow. Maybe I'm just expecting too much.

It's missing a few beer styles (Saison, anyone? Or is it just classified in a way that I don't understand?), and some terrific, obvious food pairings, some of which I've written about previously here.

If you know me only slightly well, you know I live for beer and food pairings. It's an almost endless labor of love for me.

Did they leave off any of your favorite beer-food pairings? Let 'em fly here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sweet and Sour Sixteen

Well, by now almost everyone's March Madness brackets are in shambles. Except for the secretary in your office pool that picked her brackets using team names she liked.
According to ESPN, only .2 of one percent of the participants in their Bracket Challenge have Northern Iowa in the Sweet 16 and beyond, and they are most assuredly NI boosters or students. But you saw that upset coming a mile away, didn't you? Of course you did.

Cornell mowing down first Temple then Wisconsin, the first Ivy league team in the Sweet 16 in 31 years, when my alma mater, Penn, swept into the Final 4 for my senior year, the year of Magic Johnson (Michigan State) and Larry Bird (Indiana State) and Keven McDonald (Who?? He was Penn's star forward that year.). Butler hangs in there this year, tough as Bulldogs, as does St. Mary's, more than ready for their more than 15 minutes of fame.

At this point, with 16 teams left in the NCAA Mens Basketball Championship, there are so many likeable Davids AND Goliaths. Love to watch Cornell's aerial attack as much as Michigan State's grittiness, as much as John Wall doing anything for Kentucky, and as much as that quiet big man for St. Mary's, Omar Samhan.

But I'm tired of the Dukes and Kentuckys and Syracuses and Michigan States year after year. It's time to follow some new kids.

I'm watching Cornell.

Friday, March 19, 2010


What an ugly day for some of us who love the Bracketology. Down in flames went my Thursday picks of Georgetown, Notre Dame, Marquette, UTEP, San Diego State, Richmond, Vanderbilt and Texas. And Villanova almost went down with them.
Maybe the worst first day I've had filling out the brackets since I began following the March Madness.
But that is exactly what makes the NCAA Mens' Basketball playoffs so irresistable. David vs. Goliath. Low seed vs. high seed. Buzzer beaters. That's why even after this debacle, I'll watch or listen to as many games as I can every day they play.

By the way, I was able to find President Obama's actual, handwritten completed 2010 bracket, and so far, he's done pretty well. On ESPN's Tournament Challenge, he's ranked 149,238 with a winning percentage of 96.7%.
I'm somewhere in the deep 4 million ranking. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Yup, I'm one of them. One of the people who dig March Madness and really get into playing the bracketology game, filling them out wherever I find them. So, as a service to you, here are a few of my favorite bracket sites, each with their own set of fabulous prizes, world reknown and street cred wherever you roll.

CBS Sports has one of the most deeply detailed websites, with the CBSSports.com Bracket Challenge, and several of their sponsors offer you the chance to copy your brackets onto their websites to win prizes from them. Cool!

ESPN offers the most research-focused game with the ESPN Tournament Challenge, including a trifecta of assistants, such as the Bracket Predictor tool and Bracket Insider, both of which surely can't hurt.

Even Philadelphia area sandwichery Slack's Hoagie Shack gets into the Madness, with their own bracket game, "Tourney Time", with lotsa prizes and usually some free food offers for winning along the way. Winning food is good.

So when do we find out what President Obama's doing, bracket-wise? I'm taking aim at him this year.

Er, let me rephrase that......

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Serious Time for Serious Beer, So Let's Get Serious.

If you care even one whit about good beer, serious beer, craft beer, microbrews, whetever you want to call it, the wacko Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB)'s Gestapo-like raid on 3 of Philly's better beer bars (Memphis Taproom, Resurrection Ale House and Local 44) should raise some of your hackles. You can read about the initial raid HERE, and the subsequent raid by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) on a Philadelphia-area distributor last night HERE.

One of the best beer writers anywhere, Lew Bryson, has started a Facebook group HERE to marshall support and allow some venting, of course, and I hope you'll join and show you raised- hackled beer support. If you needed a reason to finally join Facebook, I hope this is it.

Not a good environment these days in America's Best Beer City. But let's hope the tide can be changed, just a few days before Philly Beer Weekend, and just a couple of months before Philly Beer Week!