Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of lists pop up on various websites about the best parts of Philadelphia or the reasons Philadelphia is underrated or even the best sandwiches in Philadelphia. Despite only living here for about seven years, I’ve grown to love the city and this rash of notoriety for more than its uncouth sports fans makes me intensely proud. There is one thing, however, that without fail rears its ugly, lumpish head on each and every list: the cheesesteak.
It’s grey meat cooked on a flattop grill smothered in cheap not-even-real cheese that you can get wit(h) or wit(h)out sautéed onions. Generally, this isn’t even the best sandwich at a cheesesteak shop, let alone in the entire city of Philadelphia. And it’s certainly no reason to visit the city with everything else we’ve got going on here. Can you make a good cheesesteak? Sure. But you can also make good chicken fingers, and those are no reason to go anywhere.
And for the love of god, if you come to Philly to get a cheesesteak, please do not go to Pat’s and/or Geno’s. These obnoxious neon eyesores featured in the recent cringe-worthy Geico “cheesesteak shuffle” commercial are nothing but A+ #1 tourist traps. If you absolutely have to, FooBooz has dubbed 2014 the “Year of the Cheesesteak,” so you can get some recommendations from them. But let me tell you: you don’t have to. When I first moved to Philadelphia and, as everyone does, enquired about where to get a good cheesesteak, a co-worker gave me the best cheesesteak advice I’ve received: “It’s doesn’t matter where you get it, as long as it’s on an Amoroso roll.” When the bread is the defining characteristic of the sandwich, please move on.
Philadelphia is making progress, though, which is promising. Food and Wine’s FWx section [link] recently ran a list of the best places to get a roast pork sandwich, which is what Philly should be known for. With better ingredients (slow-cooked roast pork, sharp provolone, charred long hots, braised broccoli rabe), more depth of flavor, and no I-just-slept-in-a-sewer feeling after eating one, the roast pork should reign supreme—and it has, as the Travel Channel’s Best Sandwich in America bestowed the title on DiNic’s roast pork sandwich. If you come to Philly for one sandwich, eat this one.
There are also plenty of other great sandwiches you can get in Philadelphia. We don’t have quite the fine dining scene that New York has, and we’re not as food truck savvy as LA, but what Philadelphia does excel in is the gastropub. If you want elevated bar food—which includes some pretty fantastic sandwiches—this is the place to be, and your options are endless, and that’s not even including all of the excellent burgers around town. You can go to Paesano’s for their eponymous sandwich with beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino, sharp provolone and fried egg. Or head to Memphis Taproom for their spaghetti sandwich with lentil meatballs, marinara, vegan mozzarella, and a garlic bread sandwich roll. Geico posted a somewhat solid list on Buzzfeed—just ignore the cheesesteak at the beginning and the commercial at the end.
There’s no end to the great sandwiches around Philadelphia, and no reason to settle for a cheesesteak. So please, whether you’re just visiting or actually live here, get over the cheesesteak. It’s not good, and it’s not something to be proud of—especially when the city offers so much more sandwich-wise.
There is only a week of waiting until Philadelphia’s finest food and beer pairing event, The Brewer’s Plate. The 10th anniversary of the event, which will be held at the Kimmel Center on Sunday, March 9 from 6:30 – 9:30 (or starting at 5:30 if you have a VIP ticket), is the area’s greatest and longest-running celebration of local fare and the main fund raising event for Fair Food Philadelphia.
While the speakeasy will be gone this year, it will be replaced with a Locavore Lounge, which will be a focus for the hyper-local participants at the event. While everyone at Brewer’s Plate espouses the “buy fresh, buy local” mentality, the Locavore Lounge will feature the nanobreweries that seldom distribute past their own walls or the small-batch food artisan you don’t see very often, the lounge will be a showcase for them, and it will be open to VIP and general admission attendees alike.
A few of the pairings for the night have come to light, and they are just as exciting as they’ve been in past years. For instance, Southwark will be pairing a banger terrine with curried egg gribiche and rye flatbread with Nodding Head Brewery’s Rufus Ale, as well as a special bonus beer from Nodding Head. Also, Franklin Fountain will be pairing their pumpkin ice cream (both a dairy and dairy-free version) with Vault Brewing’s Oatmeal Stout and IPA. If those two aren’t enough of a preview for the myriad restaurants and breweries at the event, how about El Camino Real, who will be pairing a drunken maple bacon shake and pork belly sliders with Weyerbacher’s Last Chance IPA and Heresy Russian Imperial Stout—continuing on last year’s (awesome) trend of pork overload.
We’ve also received word that our favorite restaurant from last year’s event, Cedar Point Bar and Kitchen, will be teaming up with Free Will Brewing as well as Sam Adams to offer two variations on a single dish—though they are keeping exactly what the dish is under wraps.
There are still tickets available, but you better act soon, because the event always sells out (and always delivers). Be sure to get your VIP pass, as well—not only is there an extra hour in the event, but there is also a VIP section that will house special beers (including the event’s first collaboration beer made just for Brewer’s Plate) and all of Jose Garces’s restaurants competing for Best of the Wurst. The competition will not only give the best chef bragging rights for the best sausage in Philly, but will also feature several celebrity judges. The judges will include Jose Garces himself, Fair Food’s Ann Karlen, the Eagles’ Brent Celek, Marc Summers, Victory’s Bill Covaleski, and Sheena Parveen. If you get a VIP ticket, you could also be a judge—one lucky VIP attendee will be chosen to help judge the sausages along with the other local celebrities.
Tickets can be purchased at brewersplate.com. The event is, year after year, our very favorite. Don’t sit on your tickets, as they’re selling fast and won’t be there much longer. This is the home stretch, so if you’re going to get them, get them now. We hope we’ll see you there, and we hope you’ll be in the VIP area along with us. There is not better food and beer experience at any event in Philadelphia.
Sometimes, writing for a beer website gives you experiences you wouldn’t normally have. On Wednesday night, the 2nd annual Bubby’s Cook-Off was another to add to the books as a predominantly Jewish fundraiser and food cook-off to benefit Lubavitch of Bucks Count and Philadelphia Friendship Circle North. The event features five local chefs battling for the Peoples’ Choice award for best dish (kosher, of course), as well as wine pairings, passed hors d’eouvres, samplings of Israeli wines, and a celebrity-judged dessert competition.
While, as a gentile, the yarmulkes and invocation from Rabbi Abraham Shemtov may not necessarily have been for me, I could appreciate the camaraderie I felt in the room. Despite clearly not being part of the crowd, I felt less self-conscious and more welcome at this event than I do at most beer events—the crowd wasn’t too big for the space, everyone was having a great time, and while the drink selection could’ve used a little work, the food was the real star here and worth the ticket price.
Along with two tables of side dishes, which included a beet and apple salad, an Asian cucumber salad, potato salad and a few other vegetables, as well as the passed hors d’eouvres the likes of broccoli-stuffed knish, tuna tartare, and falafel, the five chefs in the cook-off mostly brought their A-game. While my personal favorite was the braised lamb shank with mini pomegranate tabouleh from Jae Shin and Sterling Reitzel of Citron & Rose (very clearly influenced by Mike Solomonov’s lamb at Zahav), the Peoples’ Choice winner was my second favorite dish of the night: Laura Frangiosa of The Avenue Delicatessen’s chopped liver arancini with hearts of palm, celery, and schmaltz aioli.
Other entrants to the competition were Rich Berardi of Rat’s Restaurant with his lamb shoulder, white bean puree, pickled beet salad and pistachio pistou, Patrick Szoke of Alla Spina and his brisket stuffed cabbage, and Sonny Pache from Ocean Prime with a veal and porcini mushroom kreplach. While the top two dishes for me were very close, there was a wide gap between them and the other three, which didn’t seem like they were trying very hard.
The dessert competition was also a no-brainer, with Julia Deppe of Pure Sweets & Co running away with the competition with a cardamom macaroon cake sitting in a layered dish of dark chocolate ganache, chocolate cream, and pistachio rosewater coconut cream—a dessert that was somehow free of sugar, gluten, and dairy. I don’t even like chocolate and I finished it in record time. The other dish, a chocolate and sour cherry coulis donut from Citron & Rose, was disappointing.
While I may not be Jewish, the event was a great time and worth the ticket price. The food is great, the bar never gets backed up, and the two organizations the event fundraises for are doing good work regardless of religious affiliation. While I personally wouldn’t say the VIP package is worth the extra price, I would definitely recommend the regular ticket for next year’s event, and I look forward to seeing which chefs they will have and how else the event can improve. Hopefully you will be there, too.
It’s a fair bet that almost everyone has heard the Yiddish term for grandmother, “Bubby,” at some point in their lives. It’s also not a stretch to assume that when people think of a Jewish grandmother, they can immediately picture what kind of food she would be making. What they may not be able to picture, however, is an updated twist on the food, which is what they will get at the 2nd annual Bubby’s Cook-Off, happening at Vie on Wednesday, February 26 from 5:30-8:30pm.
Five chefs will compete to offer their best savory kosher bites, with a People’s Choice Award on the line. Taking part in the competition are Rich Berardi, chef de cuisine of Rat’s Restaurant; Laura Frangiosa, Co-Owner and Proprietress of The Avenue Delicatessen; Sonny Pache, executive chef of Ocean Prime; Yehuda Sichel, co-chef of Abe Fisher; and Pat Szoke, executive chef of Alla Spina. The chefs will be preparing food for the competition according to the Jewish dietary laws of Kashrut in a koshered kitchen under strict rabbinical supervision—something that is surely out of the comfort zone for most of these chefs.
New for 2014 is also a sweet category, with Karen Nicholas (executive chef of Citron & Rose) and Julia Deppe (executive chef of Pure Sweets & Co.) in a head-to-head face-off for best decadent dessert to be judged by a panel of influential “bubbies.” The panel consists of chef and author Hope Cohen, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office Sharon Pinkenson, and award-winning journalist Marciarose Shestack.
In addition to the food samplings, guests will also be able to enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and award-winning Israeli wines. There will also be a live painting by pop artist Perry Milou, and the event will be MC’d by Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Tickets are on sale at bubbyscookoff.com for $145 per person or $350 for VIP (which will get you premium program seating right in the front and a reserved cocktail table—which means constant line-jumping drinks). Tickets can also be purchased at a group rate of $594 for six, which comes to $99 per ticket. All proceeds benefit Lubavitch of Bucks County’s social, educational, and religious services and programs as well as The Friendship Circle – Philadelphia North’s social experiences and services for families of children with special needs. This also means your ticket is tax-deductible!
Kosher food isn’t something you run into everyday—at least not where we generally eat—so the Bubby’s Cook-Off will be a great way to be introduced to the food, though I’m sure some of the chefs participating may feel differently. The fact that you get to try something new, have a few drinks, and help a good cause should only make it that much more enticing to buy a ticket. Hopefully we’ll see you—and maybe your Bubby—on Wednesday night.
Anyone who has attended any of the three Philly Bierfests, or who has read our numerous previews and recaps over the last two years, knows that it’s not a run-of-the-mill beer festival. Bierfest functions as more than simply a room full of brewers handing out samples of their most accessible beer while people hop from table to table, pretzel necklaces swaying, trying to get as drunk as they can for the $35 ticket. Bierfest is focused on the nuances of German beer, the deep roots the area has to Germany, and, most importantly, educating attendees about both.
Every year, amidst the beer and food and music and masskrugstemmen, event co-founder Marnie Old makes sure attendees have the chance to learn not only more about the area’s heritage, but why they should be so proud of it. Giving a VIP guided seminar pre-Bierfest and moderating a panel discussion for the last hour of the fest, Marnie makes sure you leave knowing more than when you got there. And it doesn’t hurt that the guided seminar always features beer.
Each year, the talks are different—there is no revamping what was said in past years. That would be lazy, and all signs point to Marnie Old being the very opposite of lazy. This year, the VIP seminar focused on beer and food pairing, using German beer and mostly German food to illustrate points about the best ways to pair beer and good. While the main point was “pair like with like”—i.e., lighter beer with lighter food, heavier beer with heavier food—which may seem obvious to many, the talk went well past the usual “pair this beer with this cheese” set of rules and delved into sensory perception.
The most interesting point made during the talk was that your senses cannot process two sources of the same stimulus, which was shown perfectly with Troegs’ Troeganator Dopplebock and honey. The beer itself is malty and heavy, but ultimately very sweet—until the class was told to dab some honey on their tongues. The tongue sensed the sweetness from the honey, but then couldn’t pick it up from the beer, making the Troegenator a much drier experience and allowing different flavors to shine. Another great example was using a lemon and salt to alternately mute the saltiness and acidity of Ritterguts Gose.
Our second learning experience was “The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of German Beer Styles,” a panel talk moderated by Marnie and featuring Don Russell, Thomas Woelfel of Kulmbacher, Bill Moore of Lancaster Brewing, and Joel Shelton. The talk covered everything from the beginnings of German beer in the states—“Good German beer taught a lot of people how good beer can be,” said Russell—to the Americanization of the beer, and why the water in Bavaria and Pennsylvania are both so perfect for German beer.
I could go on about each talk for quite a while, but if you want to get the full effect you’ll just have to attend. And whether you are going to Bierfest for the beer, the food, the games or the education, there is one common thread that runs through all of them: pride. This area has an immense German heritage and some of the best German beers in the country, but no one seems to know. Bierfest is making sure people do know, and making sure people want to tell everyone else. As Marnie has preached, a Pennsylvania lager should be just as much of a requirement to beer drinkers as a West Coast IPA. The only way people outside the area are going to know this is if we tell them. It’s up to us to be proud of our area and our heritage, and that—more than drinking as much as you can or gorging yourself on schnitzel—is the real underlying message of Bierfest. Prost.
It’s not hard to find a beer festival that offers the highest ABV beers, the hoppiest IPAs, and the most mouth-puckering sour beers, especially in the Philadelphia area. To find one that promotes the subtler side of beer, though, is not always as easy—but quite a treat when it comes around. That’s why each year we look forward to Philly Bierfest, the celebration of the area’s intense German heritage set against the backdrop of excellent German beers.
Once again, Marnie Old, the German Society of Pennsylvania, and the Philly Roller Girls have made sure not only to keep the event as good as the past two years, but to improve upon what they already had. And the improvements weren’t small—the team went well past adding a few more beers to the roster and expanded the space for the event, added burlesque performances, and provided a beer learning center and free childcare.
With all the additions and extras, though, the beer was still the star—whether it came from the German import hall courtesy of the Foodery and Shelton Brothers, or from local brewers showing off their own German-style beers. The imported beers provided quite the competition, with the near-perfect Mahr’s Ungespundet, the smokey (but not overly so) Monarchy Gratzer, and a delightfully salty and sour Dollnitzer Ritterguts Gose. The locals rose to the challenge, though, with the likes of Nodding Head’s Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse—a perfect example of the style—Victory’s Braumeister Pils, and the refreshing I Wish It Were Summer Kolsch from Barren Hill. With over 50 beers to choose from, there was certainly no shortage of German drinking goodness.
In addition to the German beer was German food once again provided by Wursthaus Schmitz, this year in the form of passed finger foods throughout the main beer hall and more substantial plates in the Rathskeller of the German Society for sale. One of the only problems with the event this year was the passed samples—with roving trays of sausage and potato pancakes, it was often hard to track down the food, which can be detrimental to someone drinking for four hours. Luckily, DiBruno Bros. were set up next to the imports with a beautiful spread of cheese.
The newly-named Bierfest Academy this year was also more interesting than years past, using German beers to educate about the larger world of beer and food pairings. The discussion panel at the end, as well, was kept interesting—the hour-long seminar with Don Russell, Joel Shelton, Thomas Woelfel of Kulmbacher, and Neshaminy Creek’s assistant brewer seemed to end way too quickly.
It will be interesting to see how Marnie Old and crew can possibly improve on this year’s event, but with their track record it is sure to happen. While the space for the event can’t possibly hold many more people or beer, there seems to be no problem looking elsewhere to improve—making the event better rather than just bigger. This is on display in the burlesque shows and bands, the arm wrestling contests and masskrustemmen competition. We’ll be looking forward to seeing what new fun the fourth iteration of the event will bring next year—almost as much as we’ll be looking forward to the beer.