Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cause I live and Breathe this Philadelphia Freedom

We've been busy with tax season and project deadlines so we've enlisted a good friend and guest contributor Betsy aka BoBro to explore the iconic Philly Cheesesteak sending her back to the source Philadelphia.  Here are her impressions of that delicacy and some bonus food items--
 

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
― Benjamin Franklin


The Famous Philly Cheesesteak


First, lets get the cheesesteaks out of the way. Philly cheesesteaks just happen to be one of my favorite fast food items so I was excited to try several Philly cheesesteaks actually IN Philly. Pat Olivieri and his brother are credited with inventing the Philly cheesesteak in the early 1930s but several people warned me against Pats King of Steaks so I didn’t go there. Instead I tried a highly rated neighborhood joint called Ishkabibbles and a street cart called straightforwardly Philly Cheese Steak. Both were dee-licious!
 
Ishkabibbles, 337 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19147-1518 (215) 923-4337


Ishkabibbles has the highest Yelp rating, was within walking distance from my hotel, and had a Zagat rating of 25 (very good to excellent) so it seemed like a good choice for my first Philly cheesesteak experience in Philly. My grandpa used to call me ishkabibble (pronounced Ish-ka-bibble) as a term of endearment, an odd word from a song popular in 1913, which also told me this restaurant was a good choice. Ishkabibbles is a neighborhood joint located in the South Street Headhouse District amidst magic shops, art galleries, bookstores, and bakeries.

After strolling past historic brownstones on a drizzly, early Philly evening, I took one of the about 10 seats at Ishkabibbles, a seat with a perfect view of the grill, and I ordered a cheesesteak with onions and provolone. Cheesesteaks traditionally are made with provolone cheese, American cheese, or Whiz (Cheez Whiz). Other common ingredients are onions, peppers, mushrooms, mayo, hot sauce, and ketchup I prefer the simplicity of beef steak, onions, cheese, and a roll. Period.

I chit chatted with the regulars at the counter while listening to the ringing sound of two spatulas on the grill, the melodious song of the grillman chopping up my steak. The grillman added onions and provolone cheese to the meat and topped it off with a chewy white roll. After leaving it on the grill a minute or two to merge the flavors and warm the roll he flipped it all over and folded the melty, meaty deliciousness into the bun. I ordered the basket, which came with Ishkabibbles award winning fries. I didn’t try the restaurants other claim to fame, their famous Gremlin drink made of half grape and half lemonade, but every other person in the restaurant had one.
 

Ishkabbibles had a no nonsense take on the standard cheesesteak and I liked the mild flavor of the provolone (versus the plastic-y, salty, fake flavor of Whiz). The cheese added a nice fatty tasting finish to each bite. I also liked the chewy roll requiring me to bite and then rip off each new bite. I give this restaurant two thumbs up (because I only have two thumbs).
 


Philly Cheese Steak Cart, Corner of 5th & Market, Old Town, Philadelphia

My next Philly cheesesteak came from a small food cart across the street from the Liberty Bell. The sign on the side of the cart said THE BEST FOOD IN TOWN but that text apparently taped over some previous sign text! I wondered what it might have said under there but decided I’d rather not know. I decided to give the food cart  a try.


The Philly Cheese Steak's sandwich was pretty consistent with my sandwich from the previous day but, came steaming out of the cart much quicker and with no clattering of spatulas on the grill. According to Wikipedia, most of the Philly cheesesteaks in Philly are served on rolls baked by the Amorosos Baking Company and these fresh, chewy rolls really do make a delicious sandwich. If you don’t mind eating on the street then this street cart is a good choice.

I unwrapped the steaming, meaty sandwich sitting on a park bench by the Liberty Bell and enjoyed my second Philly cheesesteak.


 

Guest blogger BoBro


Woman Cannot Live Upon Cheesesteak Alone!

True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity, before it is entitled to the appellation.
― George Washington

I decided to take a midday meal at the oldest tavern in the U.S., City Tavern. It is nestled in the midst of the historic buildings managed by the U.S. Parks Service in Independence National Historic Park. Did you know that almost all of the historic buildings from Independence Hall to the Liberty Bell are free to the public? Amazing that anything is free these days.

 
City Tavern, 138 South 2nd Street at Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106


I was seated in the tavern section of City Tavern, an area that as a woman I would not have been allowed to enter in the 18th century when our founding fathers hung out here talking about revolution. City Tavern first opened its doors in 1773 and by 1774 members of the First Continental Congress used it as a gathering place. Thirteen years later they held their closing banquet there, after winning independence from that greedy tyrant, King George III of England,in the Revolutionary War. The tavern burned down in 1854 but was rebuilt as an exact replica upon the same foundation for the bicentennial celebration in 1976. In the 18th century the daily paper would have been read aloud in the tavern because many of the population could not read; the tavern also served as a merchant exchange and a central place where each person could receive his 6oz allowance of coffee.

All of the menu items at City Tavern were dishes that would have been served in the 18th century. This might have been a challenge for vegetarian/vegan patrons of the restaurant had it not been for Benjamin Franklin's love of tofu, a protein source that he introduced to America. I passed on the Fried Tofu and instead ordered the Colonial Turkey Pot Pie and a George Washington’s Tavern Porter (more about the beer later). The bartender shared with me that in case of a fight there is a gate that comes down in front of the bar that would separate the alcohol from the patrons; I promised not to fight.

My beer arrived along with a City Tavern Bread Tray including Anadama bread, Sally Lunn bread, and Thomas Jefferson’s favorite sweet potato biscuits. The Sally Lunn bread was quite dry and the Anadama bread was just boring brown bread but the sweet potato biscuits were GLORIOUS. Slightly sweet and ginger-y with crunchy pecans, these biscuits were reportedly served at the First Continental Congress. The recipe may have been brought back from Paris by James Hemmings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave who he took to Paris to be trained as a French chef. Hemmings was also the brother of Sally Hemmings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave and mistress of over forty years who bore him four children.

My turkey pot pie arrived along with a side of egg noodles with a very dark gravy. The pot pie had a puff pastry crust on top of a filling that consisted mostly of a too-floury gravy with a few gristly pieces of turkey and some underdone peas. I fished around and pulled out a couple of good bites of turkey to eat along with some of the topping. The egg noodles were perfectly cooked but the gravy tasted like it may have come from a jar. The meal was not bad considering it hailed from colonial times.

I checked in on Foursquare unlocking a free dessert. I ordered the apple cobbler with some cinnamon ice cream even though I was full and didn’t need any more food. It was FREE so I thought I'd at least have a taste. The apple cobbler seemed homemade with complete apple slices that appeared hand cut. The cobbler topping was made of brown sugar and oatmeal cooked to a wonderful crispiness. I enjoyed a couple of bites and then asked for the check. The cinnamon ice cream wasn’t noteworthy.


Thomas Jefferson's Sweet Potato Biscuits (from FoodNetwork.com)

Time: 1.5 Hours
Yield: 2 Dozen Biscuits
 
Ingredients
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup solid frozen vegetable shortening
2 cups roasted, mashed, and cooled sweet potatoes
1 cup heavy cream (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
 
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and allspice. Add the shortening and cut in with 2 knives or hands until crumbly. In another bowl combine sweet potatoes, cream and pecans. Make well in dry ingredients and add potato-cream mixture. Mix to combine. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut out with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits 1-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn down temperature to 375 and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack until room temperature.


Give Me Liberty or Give Me Beer?


Beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.
― Thomas Jefferson

I didnt describe my wonderful George Washington’s Tavern Porter I drank at City Tavern because I decided to go to the source, Yards Brewery, and do a more in depth tasting. I walked from my hotel to the Delaware river and followed it a few miles until I arrived at the Yards Brewery. I waved at New Jersey across the river from Philly and entered the brewery, sat down at the bar, and ordered a $12 sampler of Yards Brewery’s Ales of the Revolution.


The 6oz samples came in a wooden carrier and I got to taste:
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale: bubbly, golden, hoppy, spirit forward (tee hee) ale with a dry finish. This puppy is 8% alcohol made from Thomas Jefferson own recipe where he used rye, honey, and wheat from his Virginia estate.
  • Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale: This was Benjamin Franklin’s recipe using molasses and spruce since barley and hops were sometimes difficult to get in the New World. This ale had a unusual slightly herbal taste, fruity aroma, and a quick finish. 5% alcohol.
  • George Washington’s Tavern Porter: this was the beer that influenced me to visit the brewery after tasting its delicious, rich, and nutty barley and molasses flavor at City Tavern. It's everything I love in a sweet porter and is 7% alcohol.
  • Love Stout: this beer doesn’t actually have anything to do with the American Revolution but, was my favorite. Brewed with oysters in the kettle, this dark, chocolately, malty nitrogenated stout kept its creamy head to the bottom of the glass. 5.5% alcohol.

I tried to drink these slowly and savor them. I think because I was taking tasting notes on the beers, the bartender started giving me samples of some of the other beers, several of which he hand pumped from an untapped keg. I sampled the Trubles de Yards, an unfinished, fruity Belgian ale that the bartender described as a tripel dubbel monster, whatever that means! I liked it but, its high alcohol content would have had me under the table very quickly so I didn’t order a glass.

The next beer I tried was the Brown Ale. I love Newcastle Brown Ale and this Yards Brewery Brown Ale had a similar sweetness and golden color but, it tasted hoppier and was more fragrant than a Newcastle. I liked it but I didn’t LOVE it. My true beer love was yet to come.

As I’m sitting at the brewery bar many people start to come in. I end up sitting between a guy named Walt and a guy named Charlie, both of whom are friendly Philadelphians. Walt owns a bar in Manayunk, a neighborhood in the northwestern section of Philadelphia, on the banks of the Schuylkill River. He serves the Yards beers in his bar and has known the owner, Tom Kehoe, since he brewed his first delicious batches of beer in the 1990s. Walt made the wooden sampler holders that Yards used to served me my sampler and he introduced me to Tom who was enjoying a beer with some of his fans.
 

Philly Comfort Food


When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.
- Thomas Jefferson

My last day in Philly and I wanted to visit my new buddy, Charlie (from the Yards Brewery), at his food truck in the Drexel/Penn University area. I also wanted to try the old-timey ice cream place, the Franklin Fountain. I don’t want to think about the caloric total of these two outings.

Chewy's Food Truck, 35th & Market, Philadelphia

I took the Metro to the middle of Philly to find Chewy’s Food Truck and Charlie’s big smile greeted me through the window. Chewy’s specializes in burgers, sandwiches, and fries so I ordered the Kimchi Burger and Spicy Crab Fries.

After a short wait for cooking to order, Charlie handed over a piping hot, gooey, mess of a burger (the best kind of burger!) on a fresh, sesame seed dotted bun. Philly really knows its bread: every bun, roll, or bread item was uniquely matched to the sandwich and was high quality and artisan. The burger was spicy and my nose was running in no time. The Spicy Crab Fries were drenched in delicious Old Bay seasoning which tasted great but was WAY too salty. Maybe Chewy’s should use the low sodium version of the seasoning instead because I love salt but these were too much for me.








Franklin Fountain, 116 Market St, Philadelphia

My final culinary stop on this trip was the Franklin Fountain, an old-time soda fountain and ice cream emporium. The Franklin Fountain opened in 2004 in the original town of Philadelphia where the buildings are ancient (for American buildings...300+ years old) and there is Revolutionary War character oozing out all over the place. Named after Ben Franklin, the fountain serves creative ice cream concoctions such as the “The Lightening Rod” sundae (shots of espresso), “The Southern Sympathizer” (rum raisin), and “Japanese Thirst Killer” phosphate (almond, grape juice, and agostura bitters).


I’m a chocolate/vanilla kind of girl so I ordered the Mt. Vesuvius: chunks of chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream covered with homemade hot fudge and whipped cream with a dusting of malt powder on top. Experiencing a volcano has never been so chilly and delicious! At the table next to me was a young girl and her friend who scolded, “I’m judging you. Full on judgement right here!” as her friend enjoyed the ice cream. Me, I couldn’t give a flying brownie chunk about her judgement; I was enjoying myself too much!


This place even has vegan ice cream that is coconut based. Cash only and my sundae was a whopping $10+.

All in all, a most enjoyable, historical, and calorical trip to Philadelphia, PA, USA!

Guest Blogger, BoBro
Ishkabibbles Eatery on Urbanspoon

City Tavern on Urbanspoon

Yards Brewery on Urbanspoon

Chewy's on Urbanspoon

Franklin Fountain on Urbanspoon