Ok so here is the thing, Wawa convenience stores have such a strong presence in the Philadelphia area, why do they not offer a scrapple sizzli breakfast sandwich? I mean we helped Wawa become the powerhouse they are today, so why have they not shown the Philadelphia love of our beloved breakfast meat in return. It’s time to take this to the streets. On Facebook, Twitter, heck even right old fashioned letters to the newspaper, or any other way to get the message out there, time to get us the respect we deserve. A campaign with the hashtag #wewantscrapple and tell them you’re with Bluejeanfoodcritic.com on this.
Knife and Fork Inn – Atlantic City, NJ
Atlantic City has changed numerous times since 1912, but one thing in this town has stood the test the time. The Knife and Fork Inn (KF) now owned by Frank Dougherty a fourth-generation co-owner of Dock’s Oyster House also in Atlantic City has KF primed to keep watching AC’s growth or decline first hand for the foreseeable future. KF embraces its past with painted portraits such as being an exclusive men’s drinking and dining club when it first opened housing illegal gambling and rumored prostitution, as well as getting a renewed spotlight due to the interest from the HBO show Boardwalk Empire staring Enoch “Nucky” Johnson a political hotshot of the time, who was a regular at KF and main character of the show. With KF’s purchase in 2005, Frank Dougherty has renovated KF into a pristine establishment that is just a joy to walk around and witness all of this buildings architecture just thinking how much fun it must have been to visit KF in the roaring twenties.
I arrived with a party of sixteen for this article, which KF handled with ease by sitting us on the third floor that was setup entirely just for us, with its own bathroom facilities and private server by the name of Casey. Now I wish I could give Casey a better title than server, because let me start by saying I hope KF and Mr. Dougherty recognize the talent they have in this man. The title of server extraordinaire, general manager to be, or future VP of hospitality management for some corporate conglomerate would be better suited for this individual. He was the most enthusiastic, knowable, and pleasant server I have encountered in quite some time and I hope his talent is recognized by those who matter. Having him take care of us made such a positive lasting impression this group will not soon forget.
Now lets talk about what we really came for, the food. The evening started out with a Thai infused soft shell crab that was to die for. The crab was cooked to perfection, having the sweet juicy crab meat squirt with each bite, while the Thai spices added an exotic and amazing take of a shore classic. A must order for any soft shell lover.
After a start like that, KF really had their work cut out for them to out perform themselves, but they did just that with the colossal sized shrimp cocktail. They served four shrimp that were literally the size of small lobster tails and so fresh I would not be surprised if Casey himself pulled them out of the Atlantic Ocean.
Could KF keep the momentum going? The crock of french onion soup was the wildcard of my order and they did not disappoint. With a broth strong with the essence of perfectly caramelized onions, with just the right out of cheese and toasted bread, KF really sent this dish from a wildcard in my mind to a must have for any fan of french onion soup.
Now the main course finally arrives. Ribeye filet with roasted long hot peppers and a side of sautéed wild mushrooms. Unfortunately KF had a slip up. The steak was overcooked, quite a bit of gristle, and the mushrooms had a strong bitter profile to them. Do not get me wrong, this was just slightly better than the average, but when you perform with such perfection in previous courses, nothing except greatness becomes the only option.
After all of that food could anyone possibly eat dessert? For Bluejeanfoodcritic the answer is YES! A vanilla bean creme brulee with an almond florentine cookie and fresh berries is delivered. The cookie was a tasty nice touch and the berries were again so fresh I think they must have a garden out back. A perfect ending to a great meal.
Atlantic City has had many changes throughout the years, but if KF’s performance is any indicator, I think KF may be standing longer than a lot of other things AC is famous for. They excelled in every portion of a meal a diner looks for with service that just is not seen these days. Maybe Casey is just a throwback to the roaring twenties type of service, but whatever school he came from, I hope other restaurants send their servers there as well. KF has a keeper in Casey, and the kitchen staff they currently have cooking for them.
To finish the night, AC’s latest catch phrase is DO AC, and the party of sixteen did just that after leaving KF. First a visit to Tropicana Casino’s Ri Ra Irish Pub and then ending the night at Harrah Casino’s hip The Pool After Dark Nightclub. No one in the crew hit for big money, or became famous, but we can always try again. You may never know how a night in AC will go, but what I can tell you is that if KF serves meals like they did the night I went, it is a guaranteed jackpot of an awesome meal out at least if you go to KF. Tell them Bluejeanfoodcritic sent you and ask for Casey.
Four out of Five Stars
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SOWE Bar/Kitchen – Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia is a town that transforms quickly. So quickly, sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle around here every ten years. SOWE at 918 S 22nd St, is the perfect example of how things change fast. Who in their right mind would have thought ten years, heck even five years ago about thinking of the edge of Southwest Philly or Point Breeze section of Philadelphia as having a dining out scene. Well South Philadelphia Taproom, Circles Asian Cuisine, American Sardine Bar, and now SOWE are some very real and tasty options to try in this area that has transformed this area quite a bit.
Proprietor Nancy Law along with her business partner Troy Barton must have seen this when they envisioned SOWE and took over the spot formerly occupied by Divan Turkish Kitchen. The inside of SOWE is warm and welcoming, especially with all of the visually appealing art hanging on the walls that could be yours for the right price, a very nice and fine selection of adult beverages available to consume, and a beautiful bar area that fits any occasion without cramming as many seats as possible as a lot of other places do with theirs.
I did not go to SOWE to drink. So as much as Nancy and Troy gave SOWE a nice ambiance, my visit was for the gastro portion of their gastropub. This means that the spotlight would shine on Chef Jennifer Choplin, a West Deptford, NJ native who originally went to college and majored in English, but then found her true calling after working at a local bakery and enrolled herself to attend The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College instead to pursue a career in the culinary world. After graduating she spent some time working in Hotlanta, and came back up to her hometown area honing and crafting her culinary passions at a few places in and around Philadelphia. Did this change in career vision pay off, does she have what it takes to be the head honcho of the kitchen instead of reading this review and nitpicking all of my grammatical errors? The quick answer is, YES and hopefully my grammar is not all that bad if she reads this.
To start out, the order of the day Spice Rubbed & Fried Pork Spare Ribs lathered in a homemade bourbon barbeque sauce with hoppin john (black-eyed peas) and bacon. The overall dish was a success and the flavors were a good combination, especially the sauce on the ribs was simply amazing, but a few things could have been slightly better. The ribs were good, but just a tad dry and the way they were served with only an odd-shaped knife to cut them apart made the meal a little more work than I enjoyed or wanted to be doing. I know a kitchen staff has a million things on their minds and things to take care of already, but I feel if the ribs were individually cut and sauced before being brought out, that would have greatly enhanced the experience and have the amazing sauce surround each rib could have masked the slight dryness so that the average person would not have even noticed anything was awry and made for a much more enjoyable time with less work on this diners end. The hoppin john again hit all the right notes in the flavor profile, and made a very nice compliment to the ribs that is not normally seen around here, I just wish there was a little bit more of them on the plate as the serving was a bit tiny.
To finish the meal was the SOWE Bacon Beignets, because really what is not better with bacon. The candied bacon was just an absolute guilty pleasure, as well as the delicious homemade carmel topping drizzled all over the beignets that were heavily dusted with cinnamon sugar. The beignet was tasty, but The legendary Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans should have no worries about us Northerners overtaking their crown. For my personal taste, I would have liked to have seen the beignets have been a little more soft and fluffy,but even with that being said, overall it was a delicious way to end the meal.
Would I go back to SOWE? Without a doubt, the entire staff at SOWE was very accommodating and pleasant for the entire service. The overall meal was delicious, and with minor touches could become phenomenal. The small things I mentioned that the average person probably would not have even noticed, can be fixed very easily, and should in no way have you overlook the bigger picture. SOWE is a neighborhood gem for this area, and will continue to be one provided they keep the gastro part of gastropub alive and well. The only question is as will they still be a gem in the future as I feel this area will be seeing a lot more competition soon. I believe if the menu continues to evolve and the kitchen’s precision is a priority, I do not see why they will not continue to shine.
Four out of Five Stars
phone number), name and location of your restaurant, restaurant website (if
you have one), type of cuisine you serve, how long you have been open and most importantly…WHY you deserve Gordon’s help!
** Restaurant must have been open at least one year, not be a franchise or chain and have
at least 35 seats. This is a casting call with no guarantee of acceptance.
Andrea Trattoria – Millville, NJ
On a beautiful Saturday evening that kicked off the month of April, a crew of eight hungry showgoers and performers land in Millville, NJ with plenty of time to spare before showtime at The Levoy Theater. The downtown area has quite a few dining choices, but we descend upon Andrea Trattoria (AT) as our choice for the night.
AT is run by Andrea Covino who originates from Naples, Italy and spent a little time in my hometown Philadelphia, PA cooking at Girasole as well as their Atlantic City location. He operated another AT that was in Newfield that unfortunately is no longer in business, but he still runs AT2 in Sea Isle City. With this being said, Andrea is no stranger to the restaurant business. The question I have, is can he create another successful restaurant and rise to the top of the up and coming Millville theater district dining scene?
If stepping inside AT Saturday night was any indication of measuring success, then AT has hit it right where it counts, with butts filling all available seats. The restaurant was filled to capacity, with staff zipping around the room taking orders, filling glasses, bringing out ice buckets, quickly cleaning up when one table was done and immediately seating other patrons who were waiting at the door to be next.
Now crowds do not automatically equate to receiving great food, as fast food locations prove this theory easily. So could AT provide quality food in mass quantity? The quick answer is yes. AT started the experience off with homemade breads that were so delicious, two bowls of the stuff were dismantled so quickly I did not even have a chance to take a photo of either bowl.
After placing my order, a short while later, my two appetizers appeared. First to arrive was the Gambrei Con Fagioli, with sautéed shrimp, grape tomatoes, arugula and cannellini beans followed by my order of Antipasto. I will talk about the antipasto first as it was fabulous on every level, being fresh, tasty, with quite a nice variety, and I highly recommended it. The same can almost be said about the shrimp as the flavor profile was there, but the shrimp were slightly overcooked, and the plating was horrendous looking with the dish swimming in juice. Two very easily fixed problems, and problems that can easily occur dealing with crowds as large as they had that night, so hopefully they will take note on future orders of the Gambrei Con Fagioli.
After enjoying the appetizers my main course appeared. I ordered farm-raised bass presented over a delectable puree, mashed potatoes, and fresh vegetables Again AT hit the spots that really count, as the veggies were crisp with a taste that would make a vegetarian weep in joy. The potatoes were creamy and fluffy, and the puree simply was out of this world. Again, the meal was great, except the bass was slightly overcooked. It was not so overdone that it was too noticeable, but I could not peel the skin off the fish to enjoy like a properly cooked fish dish should provide. With a slight more precision, AT could have knocked it out of the park, but hit a slight bump in the road.
With AT being so busy, the staff seemed a little overwhelmed at times, but I must say for the most part they were all extremely gracious during the entire service and very helpful in understanding the majority of the table had to have their dinner brought out expedited as we had to perform and get to sound check at The Levoy. Service started to run just a tad late, so myself and few others at the table had to skip dessert to prepare for the show. I can not personally attest to this, but those who were able to stay said that they thought the desserts at AT were wonderful.
With a fantastic dinner in our bellies, we were all prepared to put on a killer show at the amazing Levoy Theater that night. With its revitalization, Millville may be on to something and creating a hot culture and arts destination spot in deep South Jersey rather soon than later. This has been accomplished with new restaurants appearing, people coming into town to watch shows at a theater that truly doesn’t have a bad seat in the house while providing state of the art sound and visuals, having a lineup of upcoming shows that has a little something for everyone, and also the town has provided more than ample free parking surrounding the entire theater area.
The show at The Levoy could not have gone better with a crowd that was just simply electric. Was it the food beforehand that made the show that much better? I do not know, but what I do know is my stomach thanked me for going to AT and then performing for a fun night out for the huge crowd who arrived at an amazing theater
Would I go back to AT? Without a doubt, and I hope the Levoy brings us down again soon as there are so many other things I would love to try on AT’s menu.
Is AT for everyone? For the Philadelphia crowd, AT fits in perfectly for a great meal out, but they may have to push the boundaries slightly more to appease the Philadelphia base. What I am not too sure though, is if the clientele living near AT is used to or fully appreciates what is going on there. I feel as their prices could keep a large majority of the local base away, as many of the people I talked to at The Levoy stated that while AT seems nice as well as another restaurant nearby called Winfield’s, they are a little too pricey for their taste. To AT’s credit though, AT is a byob so that does allow them to be slightly more competitive to the cost conscience consumer. To correct this, maybe Millville could come up with a restaurant week like many other towns just so those on a fixed budget could at least experience some of their nicer restaurants once and then make the decision to save up and eat there again for special occasions or feel it is not worth it and continue to stay away. Either way, Millvile would at least have the locals energized and talking about their downtown.
What could be better? As mentioned above, just a slight bit more precision in the kitchen on overcooking, making sure the plating looks appealing, maybe have just one or two more servers on the weekend so that the staff could get into a more comfortable groove to cut down on the chaotic feeling at times, and to just keep on bringing that delicious bread out all night. Even with these things being said, it looks like Cumberland County has a culinary destination for the foreseeable future as the night could not have been better. Even with the slight negatives that were mentioned, if you are in the area and lucky enough to experience a great show at the beautiful Levoy, you should give AT a try as it takes talent for not one out of eight diners to be dissatisfied in the least with their experience or meal.
Four out of Five Stars