It’s time again for Philadelphia to support its favorite mobile food producers by way of the Philadelphia Vendy Awards, the annual festival held to promote and reward the city’s best food trucks. Now in its fourth year, the event will feature over 20 trucks and carts sampling their wares, as well as an array of alcoholic beverages. The Vendy’s take place on Saturday, June 14 (thankfully after Beer Week this year) at Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown from 2pm-6pm and tickets are a scant $45 for early-birds.
For the first year, there will be an all-female judging panel made up of some of the area’s brightest food writers and industry stars. The panel will include Felicia D’Ambrosio, founding partner of Federal Donuts and Communications Chief for CookNSolo Restaurants; Lily Fischer, Food Network Cupcake Wars winner and co-founder of Café Life Bake Shop opening in Fishtown this fall; Danya Henninger, local editor for Zagat and contributor to a variety of Philly-area publications; Ann Karlen, Founding Director of Fair Food; and Nicole Woon, blog editor for Penn Appetit, the University of Pennsylvania’s premier food publication. Clearly, if anyone is going to be able to accurately judge food, it will be these five.
And who will they be judging? That’s up to you. Nominations are open until May 12, and the top-voted trucks will all be invited to the party, so make sure you nominate your favorite truck in the city. Attendees will also be able to take part in the final voting, as in addition to the Vendy Cup, a Peoples’ Choice award will be given to the crowd’s favorite truck. Last year, King of Falafel won the Cup and Cow and the Curd won Peoples’ Choice, and Best Dessert went to Lil’ Pop Shop.
In Philadelphia, the Vendy’s serve as a fundraiser for the Food Trust, so be sure to get your ticket and support a great cause (all while getting unlimited excellent food and drink for four hours). Early bird tickets (act now!) are $45, but will go up to $55 soon. Children can get in for $30. Having gone two years ago, we can attest that it’s a great time, and well worth the price of admission. Tickets can be found here, and vendor nominations are here. If you’re unfamiliar with the food truck scene in Philly, now is the time to try it out, so come hungry so you can eat as much as possible. Not to mention this would make an excellent tailgate before the DMB show in Camden later that night!
Taste of the Nation, the fundraiser for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, had a lot of potential disappointments: it is a high-priced event, there is a lot of hype behind the restaurants in attendance, and the idea of a fundraiser at Hotel Monaco could bring to mind a snooty, upper-crusty crowd that wouldn’t be much fun to hang out with. Luckily, though, all those potential disappointments proved not to be disappointing at all. The crowd was great, the multiple rooms of the event were used perfectly, and the restaurants really put their best foot forward, making the ticket well worth the cost.
While there wasn’t much beer (Cisco Brewers from Nantucket had the monopoly on offerings with four from their lineup), the cocktails more than made up for it—especially the Laxness, made with Tito’s Vodka, cucumber dill shrub, Lillet Blanc, orange bitters, and club soda, served by Jesse Cornell of Sbraga and the brainchild of Christian Gaal of Emmanuelle. The slight sourness of the shrub made the cocktail non-stop drinkable, and I went back for it more times than I care to admit. Other mixologists—including Vincent Stipo of Vernick and Phoebe Esmon of Emmanuelle—served up delicious concoctions featuring Hendrick’s Gin, Dad’s Hat Rye, and Buffalo Trace bourbon.
The food, however, was the real highlight of the event. And while not everything was amazing, it was hard to find anything to really complain about—not surprising, as the list of chefs in attendance read like a Who’s Who of Philly dining. Local stalwarts like Scott Schroeder, Christopher Kearse, Eli Kulp, and Nick Macri shared space with relative newcomers like Peter Serpico, Townsend Wentz, Justin Bogle, and Mike Sultan.
The standout dishes were myriad, but a few rose above the rest to really wow. High Street on Market—where my wife and I had previously had a just okay dinner—had a shaved pork belly in a tehina sauce with rye crumbles that has us considering going back immediately. The pork was shaved to mimic noodled and the rich, thick sauce was perfectly paired with the crunchy little rye crumbles. The Taco Mondo food truck, as well, had a brilliant little taco that we went back for seconds (to get good pictures, of course) made of smoked pork cheek, house-made kimchi, ginger cabbage slaw, and crispy shallots—the tender pork and crispy shallots played off of each other well while the kimchi and slaw added a wonderful zip to the dish.
The only minor complaint I had would be with the Celebrity Cruises “relaxation lounge.” It had all the makings of a relaxing spot—soft lights, two stations for drink making, and nice comfy couches—but the music was more dance club than lounge, so I think the message was a bit confused. Otherwise, the spaces were laid out well and never felt overcrowded, even when the VIP hour ended and general admission came in. And other than Jesse Cornell running out of his cocktail near the end of the night and Cisco running out of beer, almost every table was still pushing their wares at the end of the night – an impressive feat for having such great food. Not to mention the plethora of great silent auction items, all donated to raise money for No Kid Hungry.
If you have the opportunity, make it a priority to go next year. Not only does it help a great cause, but it puts on display the best of the best in Philly food. If you want to get a sneak preview of a restaurant before you go, the ticket price of Taste of the Nation will allow you to see the talent and flavors of most of the area’s best chefs, and that is well worth the $95 admission. While you may not be technically getting a full taste of our nation, you’ll definitely be getting a robust and comprehensive taste of Philadelphia.
To say that we were excited when the Jose Pistola’s crew decided to open their second location in Fishtown is an understatement. The original has been in the top three of our Center City go-tos for quite a while thanks to the beer selection and food quality, and from the looks of things Sancho Pistola’s wasn’t going to be any different. And on those two fronts, they absolutely deliver.
Everything about Sancho Pistola’s points to the place being an elevated version of Jose Pistola’s: it’s not as divey (the space is much more new and clean), the food is more refined, and the cocktails are interesting and delicious. The team behind the two places has always known the importance of having a great beer list, and that has not changed at the second location—and neither has the humor put into the menus. The bottle list is far-reaching, and the tap selection always has something worth ordering.
The only downfall, however, is a big one—and the reason Sancho Pistola’s only received one star instead of a possible two stars. The music, while often good, is way too loud for the small space, and makes conversation nearly impossible. The first time we went—the second day they were open—we chalked it up to inexperience with the space and let it slide, even though there were three of us at the bar and the person on either end couldn’t hear the other. The second time—two months later—and we still couldn’t hear each other speak. There were six of us, and everyone being in on the conversation was a non-option.
That being said, if you’re a party of one or two and don’t mind yelling, the food and drinks make the place well worth checking out. Hopefully brunch, which we haven’t been to (yet), is a bit more subdued.
ISOB Top Three:
Mole Meatball Steamed Buns: Dense little meatballs dripping with mole sauce inside perfectly puffy Korean-style steamed buns, served with a touch a pickled jalapenos, chipotle aioli, and guac. As an appetizer, the tray of two buns is perfect, but as a meal, three or four orders would be even more perfect. They can be slightly messy, but you’ll be glad to have some of the extra mole sauce to mop up with some steamed bun, or to wipe up with your finger, or to lick directly off the plate. A must-order.
Sancho Burger: A large patty piled with poblanos, onion, pickle, bacon, and chipotle aioli. The pickles add a nice crunch and tang to the savory burger, and the poblanos and bacon make it similar to Royal Tavern’s, though not as spicy. It might be nice to minus the bacon and put some of their awesome taco protein on there, but then again you can’t argue with bacon. It comes with a pile of Pistola’s fries, which are excellent, and some extra aioli to dip them in. When we ordered it, it was cooked a perfect medium rare.
Spicy Pork: You can get the spicy pork in a taco (with tomato, red onion, cilantro, and lime), or atop Pistola’s pile of nachos (with crema, tomato, refried beans, cilantro, jalapeno, onion, and “really expensive cheese”)—but the point is, you should get it. The pork is succulent and the sauce is not only spicy, but tasty. And the spice level is perfect: enough so you know the spice is there, but not so much that you have to pound water after each bite. Even people who aren’t necessarily into spicy things will find the pork perfect, regardless of what it’s put atop.
If you’re reading a blog about food and beer, it’s a pretty sure bet that you enjoy one or both of those things. There’s also a good chance that, unless you like torturing yourself reading about things you can’t have, you’d have a relatively easy time tracking down and affording the food you enjoy. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works for nearly 560,000 kids in Pennsylvania, which is where Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign comes in. Taste of the Nation serves as an annual fundraiser to help end childhood hunger in America and to benefit the one in two children in Philadelphia who have been to a food pantry.
The fundraiser will take place on Sunday, April 27 from 6-9pm at Hotel Monaco, or 5-9pm if you go in for the VIP ticket—which you should, as some of the best chefs in the city will be donating their time and food to help support the cause, and an extra hour will only help sampling everything there is to sample. The VIP ticket will also let you sample from the Beef Tartare Smackdown sponsored by Creekstone Farms, as well as an invitation to and two drink tickets for the chef after party. Tickets are $95 for general admission and $145 for VIP.
The lineup of restaurants at the event, which is serious business, includes: Alla Spina, Avance, The Avenue Deli, Bar Ferdinand, Bistrot La Minette, Border Springs Lamb, Brauhaus Schmitz, Buddakan, Charcoal, Cherry Bomb Bus, Creekstone Farms, Devil’s Den, Fond, High Street on Market, Izumi, Lacroix, MilkBoy, Paradiso, Pennsylvania 6, Red Owl Tavern, Russet, Serpico, Serrano, Shake Shack, South Philadelphia Tap Room, Square 1682, Sweet Box, Taco Mondo, Townsend, The Twisted Tail, Valanni, Varga Bar, Vernick Food + Drink, and Will BYOB. Whew.
As you can see, there’s not much more that needs to be said to convince anyone to buy a ticket. But, in case you do need more convincing, there will also be silent auctions to benefit the cause, which will include an overnight stay at Hotel Monaco; a Philadelphia sports package with Sixers box seats, Union sideline tickets and signed Eagles photographs; an Uber gift card; a wine tasting for four at Penns Woods Winery; and restaurant dinners and gift cards.
In 2013, Taste of the Nation in Philadelphia alone raised $50,000 to help end childhood hunger, which can translate into up to 500,000 meals. Help them out once again this year, and help yourself to a great time while doing it. We hope to see you there. Get your tickets here.
As Philadelphia puts its long winter in the rearview and looks forward to summer, the best part of the warmer months looms ahead mere weeks away – Philly Beer Week. From Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 8, America’s Best Beer Drinking City will be awash in myriad events, tastings, meet-the-brewers, beer dinners, tap takeovers, and anything else you can possible associate with beer. If you’ve got the vacation time at work, book it.
As always, the week will kick off on May 30 with the Hammer of Glory Relay through the bars and breweries of the city, ending at Opening Tap at 7pm (or 6pm if you have VIP tickets). After my first relay experience last year, I can say with utmost certainty that if this is something you’ve never done, take the day off work and do it. As for Opening Tap, it will be in its first year at the 23rd Street Armory, which will hold the over 30 craft breweries and 1,300 attendees for the event. Opening Tap is also the first opportunity to try Philly Tripel, the PBW 2014 collaborative beer between raffle winner Daniel Neuner, Justin Low of Dock Street, and Anne-Catherine Dilewyns of Brouerij Dilewyns. Tickets are on sale now and are $45, or you can get VIP tickets for $90, which include early entry, free food, and access to VIP bathrooms. Designated driver tickets are $25.
Also returning for 2014 will be the 5th annual Throwdown in Franklintown, which is at Kite & Key on Sunday, June 1 from 2pm – 6pm. The event is pay-as-you-go and will feature local beer luminaries squaring off in a variety of competitions including sumo wrestling, boxing, chariot wars, and more. The ultimate battle once again will feature Yards head brewer Tom Kehoe squaring off against Kite & Key owner Jim Kirk. Then, on Tuesday, June 3 from 3pm – 7pm, the infamous dunk tank will return to London Grill to allow attendees to try and dunk their favorite local beer and food people, with a beer-themed raffle that will benefit PAWS.
New events to look forward to will include Beerlesque: Tastings and Tassels from 7pm – 10pm at Boot & Saddle on Monday, June 2, hosted by Deschutes. The event will charge a $5 admission fee and the drinks are pay-as-you-go, but you’ll get a nice variety of Deschutes on tap as well as a special guest beer while you watch the ladies of the Peekaboo Revue. And on Thursday, June 5 from 6pm – 8pm, you can head over to Greensgrow Farms for just $16 to learn how to grow hops with George and Nancy from Home Sweet Homebrew and Tom Peters of Monk’s Café. The event will also include beer tastings from Philadelphia Brewing Company and finger foods from Monk’s.
Finally, don’t forget to once again check out the Memphis Taproom Homebrew Fest from 12pm – 4pm on Saturday, June 7. It is $30 for a ticket, but you will get four hours of all-you-can-drink homebrew from some pretty talented homebrewers (a few of whom are making the jump to professional brewing) and all-you-can-eat gourmet hotdogs from the Memphis hotdog truck. Tickets will be available soon on the Memphis website, so keep an eye out and get your ticket as soon as you can. Did I mention I will be brewing a beer for this event as well?
While it may seem premature to look forward to Philly Beer Week at the beginning of April, for many of us it is the most exciting time of the year. It’s never too early to look forward to the best 10 days of the summer, and many of us will need to start getting our calendars in order now. So make time, put in for PTO, and get ready to drink. You’ve only got two months to get into shape.
The Philly Food & Farm Fest, now in its third year, has doubled in size for 2014. Filling the Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex, the event will bring together local farms, food artisans, farm-to-table restaurants, local beer and spirits, and sustainable businesses for one day on Sunday, April 13, from 11am until 4pm. The fest will offer food and drink samples, DIY kitchen demos, kid-friendly workshops, featured speakers, and industry leaders in nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and sustainable entrepreneurship. General admission tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door, with children under 12 getting in free.
New in 2014 will be an exclusive Shellfish Salon—a guided tasting by Sam Mink, the owner of Sansom Street Oyster House—and an expanded Local Libations Lounge with local spirits and an opportunity to learn from and chat with the makers themselves. There will also be a Demo Kitchen, where farm-to-table chefs will create easy DIY dishes featuring local ingredients, which will all be available for purchase in Hall G. Guests will also enjoy a sneak peek of the family-friendly movie Watermelon Magic by Philadelphia filmmaker Richard Hoffman, and a “Great News About Good Food” discussion panel moderated by hospitality consultant and food blogger Clark Wolf.
If all this wasn’t enough, there will also be over 100 vendors sampling and selling locally grown and produced foods, which will include everything from fruits and vegetables to gluten free baked goods and meats, poultry, and eggs to desserts and organic ice cream. All of this makes five hours seem like not quite enough time, and $20 sounds like the deal of the century. Get your ticket and arrive early to take advantage of everything you want to see, eat, and learn.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at phillyfarmfest.org, or at the door. To receive the latest updated, be sure to follow the fest on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll be sure to let you know if we hear anything else. Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, and we’ll see you there.
There are plenty of great books out there for those just being initiated to craft beer: Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer being chief among them, and Joshua Bernstein’s Complete Beer Course being another option. But, while these books are great at explaining the origins of beer and what different styles are like, neither of them focus closely on what you, as a drinker, enjoy drinking and what you should drink next. Enter Michael Larson and his “Beer Select-O-Pedia” in Beer: What to Drink Next (Sterling Publishing, $14.95).
The book operates on the assumption that you’ve found one or two beer styles you like, but may not be sure where to look next. Once you locate the beer style you enjoy in the book, you can then turn the page—either forward or back—to find a similar beer style to try next. And while the beers themselves are divided by region, as most beer books are, almost all regional beers are similar enough to find something else you like with few exceptions.
Each beer style gets a two-page layout, with the first explaining the general characteristics of the beer, as well as a chart showing the color, IBU, and ABV ranges and what kind of glassware to use with the beer, and three of the finest examples of the style. The opposite page shows the “atomic structure” of the beer, showing recommended brewers, interesting facts, and defining characteristics. Most of the information here is helpful, though the page can appear jumbled with all the “atoms” and thought bubbles floating around. There are also a few quick food pairing suggestions.
Some jumping-off points may not be the best—I’m not sure how Belgian Pale Ale transitions to Lambic, or how Fruit Lambic transitions to Belgian IPA—the styles are generally close enough that taking the leap to the next beer style isn’t much of a leap at all. Craft beer beginners will certainly find the suggestions helpful, and not only to find something similar to what they like. I remember plenty of times when someone mentioned a beer style I was unfamiliar with and didn’t know what it was similar to—with this book, it’s easy to look up a new style and find out what to liken it to and if it may be something you’re interested in.
While the book may not have an in-depth history of beer or an explanation of how it’s made and what makes different beers taste the way they do, the average craft beer beginner may not want all of that quite yet. After dipping a toe in the waters of craft beer, this book will help the newly initiated step a little further into the pool of choices. A few other books may be required when moving to the deep end, but for now What to Drink Next will help get you swimming.
Cover and excerpt reprinted with permission from Beer What to Drink Next © 2014 by Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.