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Victoria Freehouse

21 March 2014

victoriafreehouse

1stars10 S Front St | 215.543.6089 | Old City | $$ | 10 Taps/2 Casks
@TVFHPhilly | facebook.com/TheVictoriaFreehouse | victoriafreehouse.com

Even though it’s tucked right around the corner from the uber-happening 2nd Street and Chestnut area, the Victoria Freehouse doesn’t seem to get its due.  For our latest trip, my wife and I went on a Friday night, and the place was dead.  Granted, it was Valentine’s evening, so hopefully the lack of customership was due to young lovers going out for some lame prix fixe with complimentary champagne somewhere.

The former Swanky Bubbles spot had now become a right proper British pub, offering a slew of English beers (10 on draft, two in cask, and a large bottle selection), as well as some pretty decent cocktails.  The beer prices can be a little high, but the offerings come in full or half pints, so you can try a few without breaking the bank.  While the taps are usually stacked with Fullers, they did have a super-smooth and near-perfect Wells Eagle IPA on cask.

To the best of my knowledge Philadelphia doesn’t have a thriving British food scene, and the only other place I can think of (The Dandelion) is pretty pricy for what you get.  The Freehouse acts as a foil to that, offering traditional British pub fare—with a liberal use of Stilton—for a reasonable price.  The place also has a bunch of regular events, including Pie and a Pint Thursdays with different British pies and pasties, British Beer Tasting happy hours on Friday, and the usual industry nights and Quizzo.  But, whether for an event or a regular evening, this is the place for affordable British pub food in Philly.

ISOB Top Three:

Fish & Chips: I’ve mentioned before that I judge a place on its Fish & Chips, and I’ve been looking high and low for something as good as what I can get in Atlantic Canada.  Victoria Freehouse comes damn close—even though the menu says they use a market selection of fish, the night we went they were using haddock, which is the only fish that should be used.  Get a large order with excellent fries and malt vinegar and you’re good to go.

Devils on Horseback: Dates stuffed with stilton and wrapped in bacon—I’m not sure that much more needs to be said about this. It’s an excellent combination of sweet and salty…and bacon.

Welsh Rarebit: There’s something strangely delightful about Welsh Rarebit.  Perhaps it is the simplicity—it’s basically toast with cheese on top, with a layer of sauce between.  But it’s so rich—English cheddar and an ale sauce on top of thick-cut toast, it’s worth splurging on more than one serving.  Victoria Freehouse serves there’s with a small jar of Coleman mustard if you need a little extra zing to cut through the richness of the cheese and sauce.

Picture is borrowed from fishtownbeerrunners.com.

Celebrity Chefs Cook for a Cause on June 10

19 March 2014

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On June 10 at 6pm, Marc Vetri will once again gather more than 40 of the world’s greatest chefs at the Urban Outfitters World Headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in support of the Vetri Foundation for Children and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.  1,200 people will gather for the event, which is hosted by Vetri, restaurateur Jeff Benjamin, and chef Jeff Michaud, with an exclusive VIP after-party at Alla Spina.

For the event’s ninth year, Vetri has once again hand-selected some of the best chefs from around the world to donate their time, talent, and food for guests to sample during the gala.  In addition to the chefs, there will be plenty of representatives from wineries, distilleries, and craft breweries (see the full list below). The event will also include music as well as silent and live auctions for the represented charities. The auction items, however, will include one-of-a-kind experiences like having participating chefs prepare dinner at your home, or a guided tour through Belgium led by beer expert and Monk’s proprietor Tom Peters.

General admission tickets are $350 per person, and VIP tickets—which include access to the after-party—are $525 each and can be purchased at greatchefsevent.org. While the price may seem steep, do keep in mind that the event is for charity, and you will each like you’ve never eaten before.  With the likes of Tom Colicchio, Kevin Spraga, April Bloomfield, Michael Symon, Jose Garces, and Michael Anthony cooking—and tons more—there is no way the event won’t be worth the money.  The event has grown to raise donations of more than $1million for the charities, and you can be part of that.

While you wait for the website to load so you can buy your tickets, feel free to peruse the list of participating chefs and beverage personalities (which may change—we’ll update you if it does).

Chefs:

Michael Anthony – Gramercy Tavern – NYC
Timon Balloo – SUGARCANE Raw Bar Grill – Miami
Franklin Becker – The Little Beet – NYC
Jonathan Benno – Lincoln Ristorante – NYC
April Bloomfield – The Breslin Bar & Dining Room – NYC
Joey Campanaro – Little Owl, The Clam, Market Table, The Venue – NYC
Marco Canora – Hearth – NYC
Andrew Carmellini – The Dutch – NYC + Miami
Cesare Casella – Ristorante Rosi – NYC
Michael Cimarusti – Providence + Connie & Ted’s – LA
Josiah Citrin – Mélisse Restaurant – Santa Monica, CA
Amanda Cohen – Dirt Candy – NYC
Tom Colicchio – Colicchio & Sons – NYC
Neal Fraser – Redbird – LA
Katsuya Fukushima – Daikaya – Washington, DC
Jose Garces – Garces Group – Philadelphia
Suzanne Goin + David Lentz – A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern, The Larders, The Hungry Cat – LA
Paul Kahan & Erling Wu-Bower – One Off Hospitality Group – Chicago
Mark Ladner + Brooks Headley – Del Posto – NYC
Adam Perry Lang – NYC + LA
Jenn Louis – Lincoln Restaurant, Sunshine Tavern – Portland, OR
Tony Mantuano – Spiaggia – Chicago
Joseph Manzare – Zuppa, Globe, Tres Agaves, Hecho – San Francisco
Emilio Mignucci – Di Bruno Brothers – Philadelphia
Fred Morin – Joe Beef – Montréal
Marc Murphy – Benchmarc Restaurants – NYC
Drew Nieporent + Kamal Rose – Tribeca Grill – NYC
Ken Oringer – Toro – NYC
Douglas Quint + Bryan Petroff – Big Gay Ice Cream – NYC, LA
Marco Rossi – Osteria Le Cantine D – Bergamo, Italy
Jonathon Sawyer – The Greenhouse Tavern – Cleveland
Kevin Sbraga – Sbraga – Philadelphia
Michael Schlow – Via Matta, Alta Strada, Tico – Boston
Michael Schwartz + Bradley Herron – Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Harry’s Pizzeria, The Cypress Room – Miami
Jon Shook – Animal + Son of a Gun – LA
Mindy Segal – Hot Chocolate Restaurant & Dessert Bar – Chicago
Alon Shaya – Domenica – New Orleans
Nancy Silverton + Matt Molina – Mozza – LA
Michael Solomonov & Erin O’Shea – Zahav, Percy St. BBQ, Federal Donuts – Philadelphia
Daniel Stern – R2L – Philadelphia
Michael Symon – Lola, Lolita, B Spot, Roast – Cleveland
Bill Telepan – Telepan – NYC
Andy Ticer + Michael Hudman – Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen – Memphis
Sue Torres – Tierra – NYC
Jonathan Waxman – Barbuto – NYC
Rocco Whalen – Fahrenheit – Cleveland

Beverage:

Ron Barchet & Bill Covaleski, Brewmasters – Victory Brewing Company – Downingtown, PA
Joe Campanale, Beverage Director – L’Artusi, dell’anima, Anfora, L’Apico – NYC
Tom Kehoe, Owner – Yards Brewing Company – Philadelphia
Greg Lindgren, Owner – Rye, Rosewood, 15 Romolo, Rye on the Road – San Francisco
Shelley Lindgren, Owner/Wine Director – A16, SPQR – San Francisco
David Lombardo, Wine & Beverage Director, Benchmarc Restaurants – NYC
Tim Staehling, Head Bartender – The Hungry Cat – Los Angeles
Carol Stoudt, Brewmaster – Stoudt’s Brewery – Adamstown, PA
Tom Peters, Owner – Monk’s Café – Philadelphia
Gary Fish, Owner – Deschutes Brewery – Bend, OR

Brewer’s Plate Wins Again

11 March 2014

brewersplateEvery year, there are plenty of great beer and food events to choose from, and it often seems like every other weekend we’re filling some huge building, parking lot, or park to get our fill of all the local breweries and all of our favorite restaurants.  It’s a good thing, though, that they don’t all happen at the same time; if they did, there would be only one: Brewer’s Plate. This year, as with each of the four years that we’ve gone, Brewer’s Plate easily tops the list of the best beer and food events of the year.

Why is it the best event of the year? For one, everyone shows up—whether it’s a blogger, writer, photographer, chef, or brewer, everyone puts in an appearance.  As Steve Wildy of Alla Spina noted at the event, “Some [brewers] don’t even make it out to GABF, but everyone is here tonight.” In addition to being able to chat up your favorite chefs and brewers, what they’re serving you is also top notch.  Everyone puts in the effort.  And not only do the restaurants bring great food, but they really try to pair it or prepare it with the beers they’ve been assigned—no one just shows up with a tray of food. There is thought and care put into the event.

forest-mainFrom the piles of meat found in Fette Sau’s smoked burnt ends with spicy slaw or Khyber Pass Pub’s massive roast beef po’boy to the delicate Mexican ceviche from City Tap House or beef tongue involtini from Alla Spina, the quality and care of the food was evident.  While there were, of course, many dishes that were better than others, we don’t recall any bad dishes.  There was also plenty of variety—whereas last year’s event seemed to be very heavily focused on pork, the chefs mixed it up this year and brought a mix of meat-lovers and vegan food, touching on all ends of the spectrum from shrimp, beef, duck, pork and lamb to vegan chicken and seitan. There was also a fantastic selection of cheeses, breads, and desserts.

While it doesn’t happen often, this was one of the events in which the beer took a backseat to the food.  Don’t get us wrong—there was some excellent beer there, and none more excellent than Forest and Main’s barrel aged lemongrass saison Nalanda.  We also enjoyed Sly Fox’s Fat Pig ale, though we were let down by the Victory/Sam Adams collaboration Brewer’s Plate Stout.  While it was a nice stout and the only beer on hand pump, it just couldn’t hold up to the myriad flavors throughout the event.  It was also nice to try out some beer from Conshohocken Brewing Co., who won’t be open until next month.

We could ramble about the event forever, especially with the expanded space of the Kimmel Center and the additions of the Angry Orchard cocktail contest, the Locavore Lounge, and the Best of the Wurst sausage competition between Jose Garces’s restaurants.  Suffice it to say, though, that this is the single best food and beer event of the year, no matter your taste.  There is something for everyone, and it is well worth the ticket price.  If you’ve been, you know how great it is.  If you haven’t, you truly are missing out.  Show up hungry and show up thirsty, but just show up.  You will not regret it.

Photos borrowed from Bryan Kolesar at The Brew Lounge. Check out his write-up of the event here

Philadelphia: Get Over the Cheesesteak

7 March 2014

20140307-082411.jpgRecently, 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.

In Search of Beer Quick Finds: Vol 2

5 March 2014

Sit back, grab a beer, and check out these quick tidbits of news we’ve collected for you.

BakeSaleFlyer2Jerky Bake Sale: On Saturday, March 22, Marcos Espinoza and his Side Project Jerky will be teaming up with four local chefs to have a bake sale—but not with boring old cookies and brownies.  Head to American Sardine Bar from noon until 4 to try the jerky stylings of Scott Schroeder, Jeremy Nolen, Eli Collins, and Jonathan Adams.  They will all be selling jerky by the slice or by the ounce, with proceeds benefitting Fresh Palates to Palettes, a Fresh Artists Program to keep art in public schools.  Side Project Jerky will have its flagship flavors for sale, and Sixpoint will be sampling an as-yet undecided beer.

Camilla Eats Food: In other Side Project Jerky news, Marcos has started what could be the greatest video series ever, called Camilla Eats Food in which his daughter, Camilla, eats food and comments on it.  Check out their YouTube channel.

NJ350: On Monday, Flying Fish brewed NJ350 Anniversary Ale, a beer to celebrate the 350th anniversary of New Jersey’s statehood.  It is an English stock ale brewed with blackstrap molasses and traditional English malts and barley, and finished with American hops like Simcoe, Centennial, and Cluster. The beer will be light brown and have a pine aroma as a tribute to the famous Pine Barrens.  Look for the beer in 750ml bottles and on draft in the NJ/PA/DE area in April.

Victory in Parkesburg: Victory’s new brewery in Parkesburg is up and running.  The facility if more than 140,000 square feet and settled on 42 acres of land in Chester County, and when at full capacity will be able to brew 225,000 barrels a year—this more than doubles the capacity of the original Downingtown brewery.  Tours are available Saturdays from 11a-2:30p and 3p-6:30p, and will originate at the original brewery and require a ticket.  The tours will include a welcome beer, a tour of the facility, and a beer and food pairing to end the day.  There are just 40 spaces per tour, so act quickly.  Tickets can be booked in advance on Victory’s website.

Brewer’s Plate is Less Than a Week Away

3 March 2014

bp-10There 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.

L’Chayim to the 2nd Annual Bubby’s Cook-Off

1 March 2014

lambSometimes, 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.

dessertThe 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.

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