Thursday, December 22, 2016

TOP 10 FOODS OF 2016 that I didn't write about for Saveur, yet.

Randomly reviving this old blog to give you the TEN BEST of 2016 - in no particular order - that didn't make it into my Hawks Illustrated America column for Saveur..... yet. And some honorable mentions that are only further down the list mostly because I don't have photos of them. Enjoy!


Holy mother of god. Potato Pizza aka "Pierogie Pizza" aka "Pagash" only served during Lent at a pizzeria slash coal mining museum near Scranton / Old Forge area. This is more than a gimmick. No joke in the top 5 pizzas of my entire life. (The other 5 being Pizzeria Beddia and I dunno, 4 other ones). Their regular menu pizzas were equally mind blowing. It's less than a 2 hour drive from Philly. DO IT. Look for this featured on in 2017.

106 Church St, Moscow, PA 18444



Double stacked thin and crispy scrapple, topped with egg, filled with cheese in a sort of omelette-esque fashion so it oozes out like a Jucy Lucy. All from a funny little store in the middle of nowhere Delaware that also serves as a notary public, and gun / ammo / fishing store, with proprietors that were much nicer than you might expect.. from a scrapple sandwich counter slash gun store. Hat tip to Mod Betty from Retroroadmap for the rec on this one.

24739 Springfield Rd, Georgetown, DE 19947



Living within a few blocks of South Philly's burgeoning Cambodia Town neighborhood, I get over here fairly often, and have been loving this Khmer bubble tea / street food spot right at 6th & Moyamensing. This "fire bomb" special was a sweet / spicy drink with chili dusted pineapple and mango in some sort of crazy (and delicious) frozen fruit-condensed milk smoothie situation. Also recommended- Cambo street corn, lemongrass stuffed wings, and Laos street sausage. Closed for winter- watch their IG (linked below) for opening info. 

600 W Moyamensing Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148



My blurry, half-drunken photos don't really do this place any sort of justice. I'm holding off on too many details for a possible future piece, but I would put this place in the top 5 restaurant meals of my entire life. It's a maybe 8-seat husband and wife insanely authentic Southern Italian / Sicilian spot in Providence's old-school Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill. But this is not red gravy and meatballs. Nor is it really bells and whistles and gimmicks fine-dining Italian. It's dead simple, but also mind blowing. It feels close to what dining in Sicily or Calabria would really be like (haven't been there.. yet?). More later?

256 Atwells Ave, Providence, RI 02903



Stopped here as a sort of "hot-dog-quota-filling" that I do on road trips these days, preferring to enjoy them one or two at a time, rather than the schedule of 10-15 different hot dog places PER DAY that I sometimes endured during my heyday as a "hot dog person". Not expecting too much, Voss rocked my world. The dogs are short and fat Zweigle's brand - one of my favorites - with natural casing and cooked to a perfect crisp on a flat grill. What sends them over the edge is the mini butter toasted New England buns.


We tried both a "Coney" (standard beef and pork dog I believe) and a "White Hot" (a white colored veal-and pork-and maybe egg white regional weirdo, with maybe a hint of Nutmeg or Clove) and both were delicious. Equally incredible were the chili fries topped with "chopped cheese" which is a scattering of roughly chipped-up white cheddar cheese, that I learned about from the dude in front of me in line who ordered it. One of those simple things but just freaking genius. Also malted shakes. This place is worth a drive, one of the best dogs I've had in recent memory, for real. I believe they are also seasonal / closed for winter.

815 Oriskany Blvd, Yorkville, NY 13495



Tiny Amish-y bakery that happened to be on my route to go camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In a crummy small strip mall in the middle of NOWHERE. I think they have another Maryland location that's in the back of a house or something. I came for Pepperoni Rolls but they were out. 

But good lord, these donuts. Something like 60 cents a piece and just incredible. Very light and airy and the cream was almost like a marshmallow meringue cool whip situation, totally different from any other donut creme I've ever had. I think I ate about 7 of these. It's also a super weird self-serve setup where they have a stack of boxes and you just grab one and fill it yourself from these bakery racks of just-cooked donuts, then pay at the register or maybe just drop a 10 into a cardboard box. Also fresh farm eggs and assorted bakery / local dairy items, and this mini Coconut Creme pie. Delicious. 


16110 Everly Road, Hagerstown, MD 21740 (reviewed location)
106 W High St, Sharpsburg, MD 21782



The very French-Canadian town of Manchester, NH has been on my list for YEARS, mostly with my eyes set on Chez Vachon, a legendary authentic French-Canadian food spot famous for real poutine. Planned as a lunch stop on a marathon 9-hour drive from NH to Philadelphia, we missed Vachon by a few hours, and Red Arrow was a sort of last minute yelp backup plan that I wasn't excited about. It looked newer and shinier than Vachon, but when we got there I was pleasantly surprised- a real deal 24-hour urban lunch counter packed with people and yelling waitresses and cooks. And DAMN this French-Canadian Pork Pie, covered in gravy with a side of baked beans (and mac & cheese) was a stunner. So goddamn good.

Also a solid spot for poutine, made with real deal squeaky gobs of cheese curd and the same thick gravy. Delicious. They HAVE been featured on the old "Triple D" so it would probably never make it into the Saveur column. It's also a real experience to eat there, everyone from Obama to Ru Paul has been here, commemorated by plaques where they ate. Also, if they suss out that you are a "virgin" (have never been there before) the waitress interviews you, rings a bell, and "devirginizes" you by introducing you to everyone in the diner over a loudspeaker, with everyone in the diner raucously clapping and yelling. This happened at least 3 times when we there - including to us.....

61 Lowell St, Manchester, NH 03101



Another one from Cambodiatown, a few blocks from my house. Khmer Kitchen a few blocks north gets all the love thanks to a Craig Laban review a few years ago, and it's delicious - but I Heart Cambodia is right up there, and a little cheaper, less busy, and closer to my house. They also really NAIL fish dishes like this whole fried fish with ginger- thick batter on a whole fried fish that pulls off in flaky chunks, lacquered in some sort of sour-spicy-sweet ginger sauce. Delicious.

Khmer Kitchen is still king when it comes to mainstays like Prohok Ktis (a sort of Khmer bolognese dip) but I actually prefer Cambodia's noodle dishes and aromatic stir fry's that aren't afraid to go hard with the spice or the funk. They also serve beer and booze - and are located right in the heart of the wild 7th street strip next to a Honduran restaurant and a bunch of Ben Eine murals. They closed briefly or changed ownership or something maybe a year ago, and the food has been 100% on point since then.

2207 S 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19148



I've passed this colorful water ice spot in the semi-dicey zone of West Snyder avenue in south philly probably a zillion times, and never thought much of it. And I practically lived on the scary, food-poisoning-y Pizza Pretzels from "Murder Mart" (One Stop) on Frankford when I was working on the Pizza Brain mural a few years back (before their kitchen was open) and never really thought of Pizza Pretzels as anything other than, well... something from a corner store that might give you food poisoning.

But Chuck's kills it in both the Water Ice and Pizza Pretzel department, always hopping on hot summer nights with people walking and driving up for a cheap sugar and cheese fix. The professionals know to order their pretzel "chopped" into small bites and/or topped with beef pepperoni - so instead of just a pretzel with some crap on it you get something more like South Philly Poutine. So fucking good. I can't believe I slept on this spot for YEARS.

1835 W Snyder Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19145


So my friend asks "Hey do you want some pierogies? This Ukrainian church near my house does them once a year and I'm picking some up". Yes of course. What happens next is maybe THE BEST PIEROGIES I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE. 

They are very simple, just potato and maybe farmers cheese? But somehow just mind blowing. I've had pierogies from A LOT OF different sources in my life- Port Richmond Polish places, NEPA Kielbasa shops, Dive bars in Upstate NY, Russian supermarkets, Eastern European restaurants in NYC, etc etc. And I really think these are the best. Just a perfect balance of everything you want it to be.

They come in a plastic to-go container swimming in butter so they don't stick together. I ate one right out of the package and it was delicious. The ones above I fried and jazzed up with more butter and some onions and a handful of chives.This sheet is all the info I have, and it looks like they are done for the year. Track them down next year for the holidays and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Also tried one topped with creme fraiche and caviar (from Net Cost in the Northeast), didn't suck.

Swarthmore, PA



• Food Underground's FRIZWIT
Just ate this the other day. So goddamn good. Part of a very rare breed of "gourmet" cheesesteaks WITHOUT ANY BULLSHIT. Just super high quality meat (from Primal Supply), cooked onions, and a homemade cheese sauce, made with local cheese and maybe some fancy stuff, but it looks and feels like whiz, on a standard steak roll. The whole thing eats exactly like a standard cheesesteak - just 10x better. Plus homemade hot sauce made from their garden peppers. Thumbs up.

• Double Knot
Not the daytime fare (which I haven't tried), or the upstairs stuff (which is basically just Sampan) but the "secret" downstairs restaurant, helmed by Kevin Yanaga. Insanely good Izakaya fare - skewers, sushi, various raw things - all incredibly delicious. Like so good you wonder why anyone would ever eat upstairs, but you're also paying at least twice as much, and you get to avoid the sort of club-douche vibe that happens upstairs. Whiskey and cocktails are also stellar, also not cheap. A good place to blow a couple hundred dollars and not even feel bad about it one bit. Worry about your student loans / gas bill next month, it's worth it.

• Pastaficio
Definitely my new jam for hoagies. Sorry Cosmi's, been with you for years but I needed to switch it up. Tried them years ago and it was just OK. Not sure if I ordered the wrong thing or if they stepped it up or what. You can never go wrong with anything topped with their homemade mozz like the "Maria Hoagie" which is cold roast beef, broccoli rabe and seasoned slabs of homemade mozz. It's also maybe the closest thing in Philly to these Jersey Heroes I was raving about a while ago.

• John's Place

No caviar here. I've been coming up this way a bit going back and forth to 990 Spring Garden, and also my fiancé works across the street. She is a little skeptical of this place but I love it for that sort of greasy "old Philadelphia" vibe. It's the closest you are gonna find to Little Pete's up this way in 2016.

Food is nothing crazy, but they do a solid grilled cheese and a cup of chicken soup for like 2 bucks. A funny mural of Italy on the wall, along with some dusty old photos of the city hall or whatever, nice waitresses who fill up your coffee and a steady stream of office workers and neighborhood people.

It's not really about the food but I have a love for these sorts of places, my favorite was the old "Spring Garden Restaurant" near the art museum that was inside a grocery / lottery store in the basement of a geriatric condominium and looked like food poisoning mixed with a David Lynch movie.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Allentown Cheesesteaks at Zandy's

As a lover of all things Hoagie and Cheesesteak, I’ve always had a fascination with the micro-regional variations and mutations of the form. Not “Arby’s Bell Pepper Deluxe Italian Hoagie” or some chef in Colorado calling prime rib with brie on ciabatta “Philly” but real, natural evolutions of the Philadelphia sandwich like Mexican Hoagies, Quakertown’s “Weber”, or the Norristown Zep

In some cases it’s nothing more than a different name for the same thing - the Weber is really just what we (in Philadelphia) would call a cheesesteak hoagie - in others it’s a small regional tweak, the omission or addition of a key ingredient, or use of a superior local bakery roll. Tweaks that may seem inconsequential at first, but are EVERYTHING to locals or obsessive hoagie documentarians such as myself. 

I’ve long been fascinated by the Allentown / Lehigh Valley Cheesesteak, normally disregarded by Philadelphians as just a lesser copycat or “they put tomato sauce on it or something, it’s weird up there”. Never having had a proper LV Cheesesteak, I was happy to have a chance to stop at Zandy’s, which looks the most old school, and I’ll totally admit I picked over other places because of the cool sign. 

Going with the old school joint is always a roll of the dice no matter what regional food you are chasing - you are either going to get the OG real deal thing that’s been around for 70 years - or a sad, crummy imitation made by people who don’t care who bought the business and ran it into the ground. Zandy’s more than exceeded my expectations. 

First impression is, it’s really REALLY short, at least compared to Philadelphia style. But it has just as much meat as a Philly would, so the meat to bread ratio is on point. The local Malone’s Bakery (also makes tomato pie, which they sell at Zandy’s) roll was delicious and soft but not too soft that it falls apart.

Standard dressing also includes american cheese (provolone is another option, no Whiz up here) and fried onions. I added hot peppers which they applied liberally as is the case with all their toppings. I definitely dig the "short roll & height created by piling on toppings" style as a change from the "long-roll with toppings hiding in/under the meat unless you put them on yourself" style more common in Philadelphia, especially with the "California" steak pictured below. 

And the “sauce” - not just on top, but dripped down into the entire sandwich - was delicious, and brings the whole thing together. The problem of a dry sandwich that you sometimes have in Philadelphia is gone.  Zandy’s sauce tasted mostly tomato-based to me, but various sources describe other Allentown Steak Sauces as something in the twilight zone between marinara, hot dog sauce, and bbq sauce, possibly containing things such as pulverized meat, worcestershire or even ketchup.

Above is Zandy's "California" style cheesesteak, which adds lettuce, tomato, pickles and MAYO to the mix. Delicious.
Anyway consider me a official champion of the Lehigh Valley Cheesesteak. Looking forward to another excuse to head north and make a stop or 3. 

Zandy's Steak Shop
813 St John St.
Allentown, PA 18103

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mac's Country Store & Exxon

15 Years ago on a road trip to New Orleans we pulled off of I-95 and ended up at some gas station that had a weird little kitchen off to the side selling fried chicken and fried potato wedges (aka Jo-Jo's in certain parts of the world and Q-Mart). Being mostly vegetarians (yup) we skipped the chicken and loaded up on deep fried wedges and sides and after being in a car for 15 hours it seemed like the best food I had ever had in my life. Since then I've been dying to get back to a place like that for some real fried chicken. 

Driving down to Virginia to go camping I realized we were heading into deep gas station fried chicken territory. Picked up a box of chicken from the Roadfood-approved Wayside Market in Charlottesville which was really good, but didn't really have that gas station vibe I was looking for. Next up was Mac's, a few miles from the campground and one of maybe 2 or 3 places in a 30 mile radius for gas / water / ice or food of any kind. Basically a house with a gas station, no sign, and awesome awesome fried chicken.

Anyway everything from here was fantastic from the chicken to the sides and the potato wedges. Always some locals hanging out at the tables and chairs and a busy parking lot, as I said this is really the only store or meeting place of any kind for miles in every direction, and they seem to be getting semi-famous for their chicken, which in my opinion was much better than Wayside, and seemed fresher, crispier, more golden brown, juicer, just in general more pride taken in the food. 

Awesome sides too. Nothing fancy, just made with care in that southern way with plenty of mayonnaise and several notches higher than your average Philly deli salads, the potato salad especially. Stopped in on the way out to fill up on gas, coffee, and a chicken biscuit with egg for something like $2. Delicious. 

Mac's Country Store
7023 Patrick Henry Highway (rt 151)
Massies Mill, VA 22967

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Green Dragon Type

Just some good signs from the Green Dragon Farmer's Market. And yeah I came home with a log of that Lebanon Bologna. 

Creamed Chipped Beef at Town Hall Restaurant

I've held a long standing belief that the best creamed chipped beef comes from PA Dutch country and not Philadelphia — although this is based mostly on hearsay, wishful thinking, and tales from my parents of some mythical creamed chipped beef they had somewhere in Ephrata in 1965. 

Most Philadelphia CCB is either wallpaper paste thick (you could hold the plate upside down with no problem and it jiggles like jello) with big slabs of barely-chopped dried beef (not optimum, but hey at least they still have it on the menu, and some people love it like this) OR way too fancied up. One exception being Two Birds Catering's delicious version served at Garage for sunday brunch.

Town Hall's creamed chipped beef - $1.95 over toast / $2.95 over potatoes (!!) was close to goddamn perfect. For real. The beef was chopped fine tender - usually achieved by slowly cooking it in butter - and the gravy was the absolute perfect consistency. And it just had flavor. 40 times more flavor than most of what I've had in Philadelphia. And totally different; a deep, rich flavor from something other than cheap beef and salt. Like there is some sort of secret ingredient- mushroom gravy? beef broth? lard? worcestershire sauce? 

Town Hall Restaurant is located in the Blue Ball firehouse. Although the locals call their town "East Earl, PA" - meaning don't ask for a Blue Ball postcard and save your jokes for the drive home. On a "pleasant to obvious non-locals" scale of 1-10 I'd give them an 8.

Great coffee. fluffy omelets, old guys in tractor hats reading the newspaper at the counter, old bread signs all over the walls, the whole deal, and still cooking some really really exceptional country diner / luncheonette food.

Town Hall Restaurant
4315 Division Highway (Route 322)
East Earl (Blue Ball), PA
opens 6am

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gayle's Market and Country Ham - Penn Laird, VA

"This place smells funny"
"There is a weird room in the back with a giant pile of pig parts on a table"

Red flags for my friends. To me a sign of the real deal. There is sort of a fine line between "uber authentic so-and-so from a shack behind the sunoco" and the sort of place you would see on TV with Gordon Ramsay tossing 40 lbs of rotten chicken into the garbage. There is definitely that moment where you bite into something and think "this is either going to be the best thing I've ever eaten or give me food poisoning".  I've definitely had both.

But it's also pretty ridiculous that our urban minds equate clutter and the south with "dirty" while back home we happily pay $60 a head to eat 4 slivers of "authentic artisan country ham" (made in a place like this) shaved onto an ikea plate in a joint made of "reclaimed barn wood" that probably came from a farm 2 miles from here. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you know don't miss the real deal when it's right in front of your face.

Anyway Gayle's is the truth. Country ham everywhere. Just piles of piles of it. They make their own, which you can buy by the ham, the slab, or sliced like deli meat. Also other brands of country ham, just stacked up all over the store. And other things like "side meat", ham hocks, pon hass (scrapple), and their own made loose sausage, which along with a styrofoam pint of country ham broth makes the best sausage gravy of all time. The hot dog and packaged sausage selection was pretty basic commercial brands, this is not the place for that. Stick with their home made pork products and you will not be bummed.

And in case the first paragraph makes you think otherwise, yeah this place is cluttered and funky but everything was fresh and rotated and food surfaces completely clean. I feel safer eating here than 99% of South Philly corner stores.

And yeah. Country ham freshly sliced on white bread with mayonnaise for something like 3 dollars. Holy god damn. They also have pre-made country ham sandwiches at the counter on burger buns for $1.25 but they are a little dry. You definitely need some mayonnaise (and maybe a 42 ounce can of bud light) to balance out all that salt. If you are down this way and like this sort of thing don't miss Gayle's. They also have a second location a few miles away that we found while getting lost.

Gayle's Market and Country Ham
5439 Spottswood Trail
Penn Laird, VA 

Gayle's Quick Stop
Highway 340
Grottoes, VA

Monday, August 26, 2013

Leavitt's Bakery - Conway NH

Found this place while desperately searching for vegetables to cook over a campfire. Right next to the quaint New Hampshire farm stand (which was awesome) was this terrific bakery.

One of the older folks walking up saw me pointing my camera at a donut and yelled "What are you doing? That's for eating, not taking pictures! Put it in your mouth!" And stood there waiting for me to  take a bite in a charming New England manner.

Apparently a "Lemon Bismark" is lemon filling and white cream sandwiched on a split donut. It was 99 cents and delicious. We also got an Apple Fritter that was equally as good. 

Donuts in New England are a pretty serious thing but also totally unpretentious and no frills. Atkins Farm in Amherst remains to this day probably my favorite donut of all time. Driving through Western Mass and New Hampshire there definitely seems to be a Dunkin every mile, but also a mind-blowing local doughnut shop full of old timers drinking coffee every 5. 

Read more about Leavitt's from the Conway Daily Sun

Leavitt's Bakery 
(& Whitakers Farm Stand)
564 White Mountain HWY
Conway, NH