Tuesday, April 29, 2008


In his interview with Zagat's in 2006, Stephen Starr commented, "people want to eat food that's not frightening." Jones typifies this sentiment by focusing on comfort food. Not a nouveau twist on comfort food, either. Things like meatloaf, mac and cheese, fried chicken. The real deal. With decor reminiscent of a Brady Bunch set, it both appeals to both celeb and suburbanite. I pretended to be the former and snagged an outdoor table.

Although the menu consists mostly of comfort food, it's still Stephen Starr, so the drink offerings run the amusing gamut -- from "Father Knows Best" (Tanqueray Rangpur Gin, fresh lemon and lime juices) to "Bug Juice" (raspberry vodka, cranberry juice, sour mix and 7-up with a gummy worm) -- but manage to stay within the theme of old-school kitsch (wait - is there any other kind of kitsch?). In any case, I went with "Happy" (Absolut citron, lemonade and club soda). Unfortunately, Jones's lemonade is not particularly sweet, and it's hard to admit to your average server that yes, you prefer your cocktails very sweet. It was, however, quite refreshing.

The nachos were a big, sloppy, delicious mix of chicken, salsa, black beans and lime sour cream. A lot of nachos have to do with the chip itself, in my book, and these were great. They were perfectly crisp, stood up to the toppings and still had a good, subtle flavor.

I ordered the fried chicken. They kindly accommodated my dark meat only request. It was straightforward and delicious. Appropriately served with fries and cole slaw (in a red basket no less!), I enjoyed it.

My Veggie Burger Friend ("VBF") ordered - you guessed it - Jones's veggie burger. Labeled the "Vegetarian Soy Burger," served with charred red onions (and most other fixings if you want them), VBF deemed it one of the best in the city. The onion rings rated highly as well.

I have to say that the best part of the meal was the one for which I was way too full. Desserts are hard to resist in a place that prides itself on comfort food. With items like the "Duncan Hines Chocolate Layer Cake" and "Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream Sandwich," the desserts trigger those happy childhood memories of box birthday cakes and choosing flavors at Baskin & Robbins. I went for the white chocolate and banana bread pudding, topped with white chocolate ice cream and caramel. You could really taste the white chocolate in the ice cream, amazingly, and the bread pudding was done to the right combination of both crusty and soft. Excellent. It also helped that a friend's real estate agent was seated nearby and bought our desserts.

More reasons to love Philly -- it's a small town that unabashedly enjoys its comfort food. While sitting outside and drinking frou-frou drinks. Not a bad April evening.

Jones is located at 700 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa, http://www.jones-restaurant.com/.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tavern 17

When the weather becomes this beautiful, one of my favorite activities is people-watching. Preferably at a place where I can order frou-frou drinks and pleasing bar food, and, most importantly, get a table. Tavern 17 is one of those places.

Since it opened last year, I have been a fairly regular customer. Its service has generally been a bit spotty (although this week brought us a witty waiter) and its food, while ambitious, sometimes misses the mark. A few blocks off Rittenhouse and down 17th Street, it's also off the beaten track for many. For these things, I am grateful. What might otherwise be a mobbed scene manages to always have an available table or a seat on one of the comfortable leather sofas. When I held my annual birthday happy hour there over the summer, I knew that my guests would fit.

Tavern 17 also offers one of the best ideas: the 3 oz cocktail. Allowing one to sample all of Tavern's riffs on the mojito, including the "bojito," with basil, and the "o-jito," with fresh oranges. I went traditional, pictured above. The cocktail menu is long and interesting, with everything from a cucumber martini to "butterfly kisses," featuring macerated berries in cointreau and brandy spooned into a glass of champagne.

The highlight of Tavern's food offerings has to be the sliders. They offer five types: the hamburger, with dill pickle chip and homemade ketchup; the smoked pork, with apple slaw and cranberry mayo (pictured below); lamb and feta with cucumber and sweet curry mayo; beef short rib with provolone and caramelized onion; and the lump crabcake with romaine and remoulade. The best part? Sample all five for $12.50. Or, as my friend did, order five crabcake sliders (pictured withe mojito, above). Last night, the brioche buns were a bit stale and the sparse portioning of toppings like the ketchup, curry mayo and remoulade added to the dryness of the bun. The stars were the smoked pork (below) and the crab cake, which is always pretty pleasing.

Tavern 17 is located in the Warwick Hotel. In perhaps my most bizarre celebrity sighting, when I went to the ATM in the lobby, I saw... C. Everett Koop. Former Surgeon General.

With all of its quirks (including the Surgeon General), Tavern 17 is a great bar/restaurant for the value. And the outside table, of course.

Tavern 17 is located in the Warwick hotel, 220 S. 17th Street, Philadelphia, http://www.tavern17restaurant.com/.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ansill (Updated: Now Closed)

Once upon a time, I dated an adventurous eater. On the second date, he suggested that we find a place to eat frogs' legs. Trying to appear bold, I readily agreed and, after some research, found Pif, chef David Ansill's first restaurant. Upon arrival, chef Ansill himself told us that while frogs' legs were not on the menu that evening, if we picked some up at the nearby Asian supermarket, he would have the kitchen prepare them. Several gruesome minutes later involving unexpectedly live frogs, we were eating said legs, perfectly done and yes, tasting faintly of ... chicken.

Because of that evening, David Ansill had worked his way into my heart (unlike my date). I followed his career as he evolved from Pif to Ansill. I listened intently to friends who went and described their adventures in offal and who felt that all of Ansill's offerings were pretty gosh darn tasty. And so as I surfed opentable.com at around 6 pm, I boldly made the reservation.

Ansill did not disappoint. Smoothly greeted by an attractive server who managed to be charming but not intimidatingly so, we followed his suggestions. Which entailed ordering the roasted beets with warm goat cheese (by far my favorite), the shrimp and avocado with crispy bacon and lobster roe, the house-cured smoked salmon with greek yogurt and dill, and ... the pigs trotters. Yup, at the suggestion of said gorgeous server, we were lulled into ordering pigs' feet. Personally, I thought his description that they were "sliced thin" and otherwise delectably prepared was reassuring in the way that I would not be able to associate the dish with its original form. As it turns out, the preparation was more difficult to enjoy than I had hoped. To me, it was reminiscent of scrapple without the crispy fried exterior. It was what it was, and I'm sure it was prepared well, but I just wasn't there. It was more at the end of a slippery slope that begins with dark chicken meat, heads into game, and then down to offal. It's a different taste, which begs the question -- did I want it to taste like chicken meat? Do I embody my fellow blogger philafoodie's observation that Philly isn't ready for molecular gastronomy? Well my friends, maybe. Maybe I'm not ready for it. I had been close to ordering the lamb's tongue when, after the pigs' trotters, I backed away from my brave face, my wannabe adventuresome spirit.

David Ansill was omnipresent throughout our meal, a fixture at the bar, wandering frequently through the restaurant, presumably back and forth to both the kitchen, occasionally pouring himself another glass of wine. It was at his suggestion that we ordered the squid risotto, flavored with ink and prepared with shellfish broth, as well as what he described as Ansill's self-described signature house dish, the Lamb Osso Buco sandwich. The "sandwich" turned out to offer a decadent, brioche-like bottom layer, immersed in lamb jus, topped with tender lamb. Exquisite. The squid was unexpected, with a peppery rich taste that was both different and pleasing.

The desserts left a bit to be desired -- at least my chocolate fondant, which was appropriately bittersweet, but too dense for my tastes. The maple mousse with ginger snap was delightful, but I still see Ansill's strengths in his smaller plates. I thought the value for the meal was excellent, with all of the options being between $7 and $16.00.

Bring your adventuresome spirit (or date), or a simple appreciation of a good restaurant, and enjoy.

Ansill is located at 627 S. 3rd Street, Philadelphia. www.ansillfoodandwine.com

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Philly Food Blogger Potluck

My kudos and thanks to Elizabeth (www.foodaphilia.com), who graciously hosted our most recent Philly Food Blogger potluck. As it turns out, folks who write about food are pretty good cooks, as well. Among my favorites included Sandy's spicy meatball skewers with couscous (Five Spice Duck) and hostess Elizabeth's Elvis Balls, a tasty concoction of banana chocolate chip bread covered in peanut butter icing. The folks who brought us Illadates brought pumpkin sage balls, which were truly amazing (recipes were promised!).

Check out the links to these blogs. Keri's Great Cheese Quest promises to meaningfully catalogue her samplings; there are already a few recipes from Rebecca's Plastic Bowl I want to try. And Joe's photography on An Equal Opportunity Eater is pretty amazing. David McDuff's blog, McDuff's Food and Wine Trail, inspires you to put down your computer, take a wine tasting class at Tria or, at the very least, drive to Moore Brothers. Marisa's living the food blogger dream at Fork You and Slash Food. Good stuff and a great evening.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Have you heard of the card game Pinochle? Well, apparently, it's back "in." Or knowing myself, it's been in for a while and this is the first I'd heard of it. As it turns out, however, thanks to my grandparents, I was raised playing it. I was taught when my hands were too small to hold all of the cards (there's a whopping 12 dealt) and my family allowed me to spread everything out under the table. I was told what was played and I would throw up the right card to play on the trick. In any case, now that the game has managed to surface again, I am one of the few people out there among my friends that knows how to play. Cards on the table, this time. Of course, I had to turn this into an evening where I can cook for everyone, too.

I decided to make guacamole. I began with a Martha Stewart recipe that my chiles rellenos friend whipped up while we were at the beach. Then, after doing that and realizing that I had about a bazillion leftover avocados (her recipe calls for ... one), I started to riff on her theme. The one idea I borrowed, and will borrow again, goshdarnit, is her use of mortar and pestle. To be honest, I lack these things in my kitchen (why must they be so heavy?) so I improvised with a mint muddler (hello mojitos!) and a pyrex bowl. I think it worked out well:


avocados... let's say 3, peeled and chopped
5 tbsp chopped cilantro, more to taste
1 small - medium white onion, finely chopped
3 large juicy tomatoes, seeded (or substitute salsa fresca and use a little less onion), chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. finely chopped, seeded jalapeno pepper
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp kosher salt

Trick to cutting avocado: take your knife and cut the avocado in half length-wise, avoiding cutting the pit. Twist the two halves apart and chuck out the pit (you can attempt to do this with your knife, but your thumb is a little safer). Holding one of the halves in one hand, take your knife and cut into the avocado flesh through to the skin (but not through the skin) in a checkerboard pattern. Scoop out the chunks with your thumb or a spoon.

Combine 2/3 of the cilantro, the onion, the garlic, the jalapeno and the salt into a bowl. Combine with the mint muddler until (these are Martha's words) "smooth and juicy." Blend in the avocado chunks with the muddler, but keep it fairly chunky. Blend in the remaining cilantro, tomato or salsa and top with lemon juice.

I'm a blue corn chip fan myself, but pretty much anything will work with this. I'm multi-tasking with the guac tonight for make-your-own-burritos. And enjoying the spring!