It started with gelato. As I've mentioned before, Capogiro is always the first stop when I make my occasional Friday-to-Sunday weekend trips to visit Alex in Philadelphia because gelato is one of the best things to ever be crafted by man. Wheels, steam engines, transistors, sandwiches...gelato. All good things.
Although I'm not a big fan of Capogiro's pistachio gelato (pistachio usually being my gold standard of gelato awesomeness)—I prefer L'Arte del Gelato's version—they have a wider range of interesting flavors than gelaterias in New York City, and everything is "good," if not, "OMG [brain sputter] FRIGGIN' GOOD." In my cup of hazelnut and ginger, hazelnut was "good" while ginger took the brain sputtering trophy. What made it better than other ginger-flavor ice creams? It tasted better than ginger. Not the face-punching sort of ginger, but more mellow and fragrant. I ate it three weeks ago so I'd be lying if I said I remembered every nuanced layer of flavor (...okay, I wouldn't remember every nuanced layer of flavor even if I ate it an hour ago), but I do recall looking at my melting spoonful and thinking, "Man, this is good." And then sticking it in my mouth. That's about as contemplative as I get.
After that, Alex and I along with Mel and her friends went to Mel's apartment and splayed ourselves out on her couch while watching I Shouldn't Be Alive. Never heard of the show before? Neither had I. The topics for reality-based TV continue to amaze me. As alluded to by the title, the show reenacts real life incidents where people in life-threatening situations should've died, but miraculously didn't. And the dude in the episode we saw ("Fear in Freefall") totally should've died at least 10 times, if not from the emergency skydiving part and being the only survivor from his plane, then the dehydration thing, or the "getting stung by a bagillion jellyfish" thing, or drowning, or something else leading to failure of indispensable organs. But on what must've been the worst day of his life, he had some luck on his side. (What was Fate thinking? "I could let you drown now...but nooo, let me throw you this floating log to give you a glimmer of hope. OHH, HERE'S A SCHOOL OF JELLYFISH, have fun while they sting the shit out of you. Damn, are you hallucinating from dehydration now? Meh, I'll let you live. Then you can tell you story on the Discovery channel.")
Day 2: Muffin, Pork, Burger, Etc.
Alex and I started with a morning snack at Garces Trading Company, where vegetarian-since-forever Alex shakes his fist at their non-vegetarian-friendly pizza made with duck fat-enhanced dough. Aw.
My blueberry muffin would've been near perfect if the blueberries hadn't all collected in the bottom half of the muffin to give the muffin a mushy midsection. But they were nice blueberries. The cakey part was moist and tender, and I loved the crisp sugar-sprinkled top crust.
Alex got this flaky tart thing filled with fruit and nut things. Yeah, I totally didn't write down what it was. Um. It was super flaky and probably packed with butter. Those are good qualities for a pastry to have.
Paesano's, Home of Awesome Pork Sandwiches
She wasn't exaggerating. I only got through half before feeling like my stomach was gonna 'splode from the compressed log of roast pork. Look at that innards shot; they give you waaay more than your money's worth. Aside from the mass of juicy pork shreds, there's also broccoli rabe, Italian long hots, and sharp provolone, all of which go well with the pork without overpowering it (I especially liked the spicy long hots). Because what the hell could overpower that much pork? Nothing. The bread doesn't do much besides act as an edible container, just a barrier between your hands and the meat.
Although I'd recommend this sandwich to other people, I think it was a little too much of a good thing. It would be more of a balanced sandwich experience with half the amount of pork and still be worth $8. I ended up eating the other half of the sandwich for dinner the next day, replacing the pork-soaked bread with rice.
While I fulfilled my pork quota for the day, Alex happily ate his vegetarian-friendly Panelle ($6), a wrap filled with Sicilian chickpea pancake, roasted tomato, fennel, lettuce, peperoncini, and maybe other stuff. It was falafel-y.
Since Mel had already eaten a meal that morning, she just got a side of roasted potatoes. They're crispy and well salted; if you have any stomach space, you should try them. Hell, who am I to care about "stomach space"—there's always space in there! Just shove it in! Yeah! [PS: My eating methods may make you ill. You probably shouldn't listen to me.]
Lil' Trip to Bryn Mawr
Alex had been telling me since last year year that I should visit Bryn Mawr's campus (he's studying art history there; undergrad is all female, but grad is mixed) on a nice day to soak in the prettiness, but I didn't get my chance until this day. The weather was great, the trees were a-blooming, and we didn't have to be anywhere until dinner. After the short train ride we got to see...
This honkin' huge tree spurting flowers from every branch.
This statue of Athena. ...I forget what the story is behind it.
Archways for frolicking.
Cloisters for hangin'. (I thought about writing "hanging," but that's not the same as "hangin'." I think.) We doodled and I made Alex read an issue of Fillerbunny. That comic has consistently filled me with delight and horror since high school and probably shaped my brain in way that I cannot undo.
Hangin'. My leg is the non-hairy one.
I look pretty normal in this photo. That's rare. Relish the moment; I'll negate it later.
It was nice roaming around a mostly empty campus with an abundance of foliage and Gothic architecture. "So this is what I missed by going to NYU," I thought. Granted, I chose NYU partially because it's in a big, congested city and doesn't have a closed campus, but it's nice to have...cloisters.
Burger Time at Village Whiskey
For dinner we met up with Philadelphia's main Burger Baroness, Jess Ward of Fries With That Shake, at Village Whiskey. I totally need to write a "real" review for A Hamburger Today, but until then I'll splodge out some hopefully not-too-malformed, not-especially-in-depth words for you guys.
We started with herb cherry tomatoes pickles ($4) served in a cute little jar accompanied by black olive tapenade, whipped ricotta, and toasted sourdough slices. As a lover of bread, spreads, and pickles, I give this combo a big, "YAY." It's refreshing and simple (interesting-simple, not boring-simple), a good way to start a meal if you know it's going to end with a slab of ground beef in between two buns.
We also tried the homemade Tater Tots ($3) just to see what fancified tater totes looked like: They come in a porcelain bowl sprinkled with herbs. But these aren't Tater Tots; they're fried mashed potato nubs, like potato croquettes. And that's so not the same thing. I mean, they were perfectly tasty, because it's hard for fried potato matter to not be, but we wished they had been more Tot-y by being made of grated potato instead of mashed. I'd assume that they tried it and maybe it just didn't work. Oh well. We liked them, but don't expect something that's better than regular Tater Tots.
Jess and I got the same thing, the Village Burger ($9) made with an 8-ounce patty on a sesame roll with Bibb lettuce, tomato, and house made Thousand Island dressing. They have lots of toppings to choose from—avocado, fried egg, smoked bacon, and horseradish crab salad to name a few—but I kept mine unadorned, even though I usually order cheese. And it turned out fine; the burger didn't suffer from lack of gooey coagulated milk.
Even though the patty looked a bit more cooked than I prefer (medium rare), it was plenty juicy. The beefiness hit my nose before I bit in, and the flavor of the well seasoned patty held up as I ate it. One of the most memorable parts of the patty was the texture: loose, light, sort of fluffy. It was no surprising when later I found out it employed the Heston Blumenthal burger-making method, which entails aligning all the strands of ground meat in the same direction.
I thought the excess bun overhand would be a distraction, but it turned out to be fine. The soft, light bread melded well with the meat. The only thing I wasn't that into was the sauce—if the meat had been dry and tasteless the sauce would be more important, but the meat didn't need it.
Alex's veggie burger ($8) didn't fare as well as its beefy kin. It sounded fine on paper—black bean and lentil patty topped with guacamole and pickled red cabbage—but the patty seemed to have some structural issues, in that it was a patty of mush. Not surprising since it was made mostly of black beans and lentils, prime members of the "mushy stuff" family. At least it came on a nice bun.
For dessert we shared the hot fudge sundae ($6) made of vanilla ice cream topped with bananas, peanut butter brownie chunks, chocolate ganache, whipped cream, and crushed peanuts. First collective thought as we dug in: "Whoa, this is good." Moist brownie chunks, chocolate goo, whipped cream—every component came together in sugary harmony. But there were some problems: One, there wasn't much ice cream in it, resulting in spoonfuls of mostly brownie and cream (a good combination, but you know, you want more ice cream in a sundae); two, the spoons were too fat to reach the not-completely-insubstantial dregs packed into the bottom inch of the cup. We would've happily eaten those dregs, but not to the point of picking them out with our fingers.
Otherwise, it was a great sundae. (Just change those spoons, Village Whiskey.) Perhaps it was too small for three people to share, hence why there seemed to be an unbalanced distribution of ice cream, but it provided just enough dessert to fulfill our sweet tooths.
Village Whiskey has an extensive whiskey menu, as you would expect, along with many cocktails, beers, and wines, but my non-alcoholic self still got in on the drinking game with a Sprecher Root Beer ($3).
After we parted ways with Jess, Alex and I got...gelato. This was over an hour after we left Village Whiskey, mmkay guys—our dinner had time to settle before we piled more frozen awesomeness into our stomachs. We met up with Mel at Capogiro (not the one across the street from Village Whiskey, but one that required more walking) where I got a cup of dulce de leche and grape. Dulce de leche was fine, but that grape...oh man. That grape was brain sputtering-good, like the ginger I had the night before. It had a slight flowery flavor mixed with mellow fruitiness. Grape and ginger, you two are winners.
We went back to Mel's place for another round of "splayed on the couch while watching TV shows I've never seen before." Tonight's show: 16 and Pregnant. And I thought I Shouldn't Be Alive was scary? Jesus christ. Watching 16-year-olds going through raising a baby boggles my mind in so many ways. I can't imagine having a kid until I'm well settled and have the potential to save enough money for a college fund, which means I may never have a kid. The 'boppy line ends here. World, you can thank me later.
After Hours at Garces Trading Co.
Alex's friend Justin, a baker for Jose Garces, happened to be working that night at Garces Trading Company (where some baking and other food prep is done for Garces' restaurants) and was nice enough to give us a tour of the kitchen when Alex and I popped in after 11:30 p.m. A few photos from the kitchen:
The room of hanging meat logs.
A mother meat log for Village Whiskey's burgers. (Justin is the one who informed me on the Heston Blumenthal method.)
Meat for the burger meat log.
A forlorn Alex overlooking the stand mixer full of duck fat-enhanced pizza dough. Aw.
Thanks to Justin for letting us mosey around the kitchen!
Day 3: Kanella and Rita's Water Ice
Alex and I ate lunch at the Greek restaurant Kanella for a few reasons: 1) It's only a block away from his apartment; 2) Another restaurant we thought about going to was closed for Easter; 3) One of his friends was working there that morning (actually I don't know if we knew that before we went there, but it all worked out!); 4) It's good.
We started with complimentary Easter bread, a mildly sweet, eggy bread, to celebrate the holiday.
Upon Alex's recommendation, we shared the semolina porridge with warm milk and preserved fruit ($5). And it's a good thing we shared it because it's a helluva lot of porridge for one person. It's super thick, smooth, and creamy, flavored with just a hint of rosewater, and gets plenty of sweetness from the fruit and syrup at the bottom. The preserved fruits vary depending on what they have at the time; I just called to find out that today's version included apricot, plum, and raisins. My shoddy memory can't recall if this is the same version I got three weeks ago, but whatever I got was great. I'd love to eat this porridge again, just not by myself.
Every weekend chef Konstantinos Pitsillides roasts a different kind of meat just outside the restaurant on the sidewalk. Today's meat: pork butt (which is a shoulder cut, just to clarify; the first time I heard of "pork butt" I thought it was...butt). It took me about a millisecond to decide to order it.
While it sounded expensive—around $15 if I remember correctly—compared to other dishes on the menu, which hover closer to $10, it made sense when I received a portion big enough for two people. I couldn't defeat the two ginormous herb-rubbed chunks of pork. They weren't dripping with succulence, but were juicy enough. Stomach, how could you fail me?
Alex ordered the shaksouka ($7), two eggs poached in a cumin-scented tomato and pepper stew served with grilled bread.
For dessert, I fulfilled my craving for custard and water ice (the name for Italian ice in Philadelphia) from Rita's, which I haven't had since my trip to Virginia in 2008. Yup, I've been craving it for about two years. I had plenty of chances to go to Rita's during...you know, all those trips I've taken to Philadelphia over the past year (and I just found out there's one in NYC on the Upper West Side), but I guess I was always too full before.
I skipped the limited-time-only Peeps-flavored ice [shudders] and went for mango in my cup of gelati, their combination of custard and water ice. Although Rita's is known for water ice, what I really love is their vanilla custard. A. Lot. A crapton. It's what I wish Mister Softee was: super rich with a discernible milk and vanilla flavor. It's much more likely I would order a cup of custard on its own instead of a cup of water ice, but the best choice is to get them together so you get a bit of fruity ice and creamy custard in every bite. It's all about balance. Yes. Balance the non-dairy-based thing with the dairy-based thing. Don't say you never learned anything while reading this blog.
And then I went back to my Alex-less life in New York City. And it's all been downhill from there since.
But it'll get better because in two weeks I'm going to Hawaii to eat my butt off with Kathy for a week! Prepare yourself, Hawaii.
And if you made it through this entire post, holy crap, congratulations. I'm going to "reward" you with this splodgy custard-inspired doodle:
- Levitating custard.
I like drawing fat bunnies.
Multiple locations listed at capogirogelato.com
Multiple locations listed at ritasice.com