I snuck into the wildly popular Tasty n Sons on a weekday morning at about 11:30, just before the peak of the brunch rush. The high-ceilinged, post-industrial building bustled with folks hurrying to the coffee bar to beat off the morning, rainy chill while they waited. My sister and I finally grabbed seats at the bar, and having already had plenty of time to peruse the menu, ordered right away. I had a bloody mary (surprise) spicy and well-garnished with house-made pickled vegetables (if a bit small) “Midwestern” style – with a beer back just like they serve them in Chicago.
Tasty n Sons divides their brunch menu into small and larger plates, though often the servings look to be about the same size. My sister’s fried green tomato BLT was equal in size to my “tasty muffin,” a fried egg, cheddar, tomato and aoili sandwich on a delightfully fluffy and skillet-fried english muffin. No giant platters of food here, just great local grub. Next time I’m in the PDX I’ll be back for dinner.
I rarely make it to Philadelphia’s summer weekly happy hour party. I always feel like I have to rush there to beat the crowds, it’s load, and sometimes I’m disappointed with the service. But if you’re going out after work on a Wednesday anyway, like I was last week, it can be a good opportunity to try a new place, check out the menu, and have a cheap drink.
I decided to meet my friend Bridget at Cooperage because they had an exciting CCS drink menu, and I like that they focus on local and seasonal food. They call their style “southern bistro” and, as you would expect, there are plenty of meaty options, but I also ordered the above sweet potato tots with maple chutney. I wasn’t so sure about the chutney, but it was actually delicious – sweet but not overwhelming. The tots were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. While they were the only half-price veggie option, I was also really tempted by the sides: Paperbag Greens ($5), Leek Bread Pudding ($4), Creamy Grits ($3)
Oven Roasted Mushrooms ($4), Asparagus Casserole ($4), Side Salad ($4) – all of which sounded so delicious, I could have made an entire meal out of them! I’d love it if Cooperage added a few vegetarian mains, but you could certainly make a tasty meal from their large selection of salads and sides.
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If you happen to ever frequent Bushwick (Brooklyn) you have to stop by Roberta’s. A former garage with a great outdoor space, Roberta’s bakes their own bread and pizzas in a wood fired stove, grows their produce on the roof, and uses old shipping containers to create extra “rooms.” And the pizza is pretty damn good, too. At a long picnic table on the patio, we started with some local beer and the cheese plate – the chef’s choice of a classic goat, cow and sheep selection. The blue was divine.
I can never resist a mushroom, or pesto, for that matter. Of course we had to order the M. Martigan with mozzarella, mushrooms, pesto, artichoke. Surprisingly creamy, rich, and a crispy crunchy crust.
Next up, The White and Green pizza, a genius combination of mozzarella, arugula, parmigiano, lemon. The arugula was fresh and raw and tossed in olive oil, the parmesan sharp, and the lemon gave the entire pizza the perfect snappy balance. In the neighborhood? Definitely give Roberta’s a try.
What to do with a pile of greens that’s interesting, fast and delicious? I had a huge pile of kale and bored with all my old ideas. A little flip through Simply in Season saved the night with their kale with peanut sauce recipe. Organic peanut butter, garlic, red onions, and the result was delicious greens. I rounded out the meal with some quickly boiled sweet potatoes and local tofu, dredged in rice milk then cornmeal, quick-fried in the and the skillet. As fast as ordering out, much healthy and cheaper, and a great little comfort dinner.
Why a dinner party? Because the Phillies were playing, and because my CSA was bursting out baskets. Pre-game we all sat down for dinner and wine and cheer, which helped us later, when we lost the game terribley.
I love spaghetti squash, and served it with a homemade heirloom tomatoe and roasted garlic sauce that I made in the summer and froze. Yellow and orange sweet potatoe were roasted with a touch of butter and fresh sage from the garden. Slightly bitter dandelion greans were tossed with an olive and truffle oil dressing and sprinkled with roasted squash seeds. Metropolitan made the bread, and an unpictured apple crisp lay in wait for later, when we ate it the hot cider and whiskey. B ad game, delicious dinner.
Barn Burner, Manhattan
When I found out that Farmacia, a great local restaurant that focuses on seasonal, locally sourced food, had added a 1/2 off drink menu to both their happy hour and their brunch, I made my way over quick. Farmacia makes a great bloody mary, called the “Barn Burner” as well as some exciting mixed drinks using herb and fruit syrups and other unique cocktail inventions, including one of my favorites, “the garbanzo” with pear vodka and just a hint of lime and pineapple.
Trio of spreads with baguette
I’m serious about my bloody marys, but I’m also serious about my food. The happy hour bar menu offers an extensive vegetarian-friendly list of snack and sandwiches, all in suprisingly large portions. I shared the trio of spreads with sliced Metropolitan baguette. The white bean spread was bland and gluey, but the olive tapendade, filled with chunks of sundried tomato, was plenty flavorful, and the artichoke pesto was suprisingly complex and almost had a tuna texture. I should have stopped there, but I also orded the grilled goat cheese on sourdough sandwich. Unfortunately, the kitchen was running slow and I had to take it to go. 30 minutes later in the dark movie theater the sandwich was cold and greasy, but under such sad circumstances, I don’t think it’s fair to judge it!
Always ready to try some place new, I think I shocked all my brunch companions by agreeing to return to Farmicia just a few days later. It was the barn burner, I’m telling you (they make it just as spicy as I want and with a huge meaty green olive) and the fact that they offer brunch of Saturdays and a happy hour from 11-3 – you can’t get much more civilized! I ordered the Hacienda Eggs,two fried eggs, crispy tortilla, re-fried black beans, salsa, and sprinkle of queso fresco. I asked for the avocado salsa instead of sour cream, and our incredibly friendlyl and accomadating waiter said “no problem.” Drinks flowed, everyone loved their food, we had a lusciously large round back booth, and it was one of the best brunches I’ve had this year.
Spinach, fontina, mushroom omelet with home fries
Fork has been on my “need to visit” list for quite awhile. It’s conveniently located right of an El stop, and they’ve been serving up delicious fresh and local food since before those became buzzwords. Opened on 3rd and Market street over ten years ago, Fork helped to begin the Old City renaissance, and served as a model for other restaurants interested in locally sourcing their food. The beautiful cookbook Forklore describes the history of Fork, and offers plenty of delicious recipes. I had the honor of hosting owner Ellen Yin at the Writers House earlier this year, and we prepared a reception spread of recipes pulled straight from the book!
The restaurant itself is modern, with a cool cement bar and warm lighting. I’d recommend a reservation, but walk-ins are offered bar seating with the same menu! I ordered the three-egg omelete, featuring branch creek farm spinach, shitake mushrooms and fontina cheese. The omelet, made from local eggs, was bursting with eggy flavor, while the ingredients sat demurely under their bright orange blanket, subtle and refined. The “home fries” were really young potatoes, boiled and delicately seasoned with fresh herbs, and the beautiful edible pansy added a bright splash of color to the plate. I’d already eaten a crusty, seeded bun before the main plate arrived, so turned out to be almost too much food! While drink prices are steep, food is very fairly priced, in a convenient location, and locally sourced! I’ll be back.
Spinach, mushroom, fontina omelet
Grid - The Local Food Issue
As I wrote over at Farm to Philly today, the lastest issue of Grid magazine is out! I love this new local freebie – it’s all about urban sustainability, with each magazine issue devoted to a different “spoke in the wheel,” as it were. This issue has interviews with people doing the good hard work of making healthy local food a reality, and some recipes from great restaurants and urbanvegan.net. Other good stuff abounds, from composting to rock ‘n roll. Check out Grid in print, or online, and let them know you support what they do!
I’d been hearing a lot about vrapple lately. As a non-native Pennsylvanian who has never tried scrapple, I had no idea what it tasted like. As a long-time vegetarian, I’ve never truly longed for meat substitute products – they just didn’t exist when I stopped eating meat. But I understand sentimentality for the food of your youth, and figured this was a close as I was going to get to tasting one of Philadelphia’s signature foods. I picked up a frozen package at the Fair Food Stand in Reading Terminal last week ($5), with Sunday brunch on my mind.
Vrapple is a locally-made, small-batch vegan product. A real meat replacement, it’s low-fat (until you fry it in oil) though its primary ingredients of seitan, locally grown & milled cornmeal, locally grown & milled buckwheat don’t make it particularly low in calories. I had let the package thaw in my refrigerator overnight. The instructions were pretty simple – slice it thin and fry it up. A fairly thin slice (about 1/3 inch) yielded pieces that crumbled on the edges. Perhaps I should have kept it frozen?
Vrapple in the skillet
I heated up my iron skillet and added some peppercorn and rosemary olive oil, then fried the vrapple two pieces at a time. I had to be gentle flipping it, as they sides were already crumbly, but it soaked up the oil like a champ and browned well. Even more oil (I just couldn’t bring myself to do it) might have ensured more even browning.
I kept the fried Vrapple on a plate in the microwave, adding to it as a fried, and it reheated well when my brunch guests were slow to come to the table. Though none of us had previously been scrapple fans, we agreed it was tasty with some ketchup and sriracha. I usually reserve my breakfast protein for eggs and yogurt, but Vrapple is an interesting alternative that I’ll add to my brunch repertoire.