HUGE NEWS! Staring 01-31-2015 Bluejeanfoodcritic.com will have a weekly segment airing on 610 WIP WTEL AM radio Philadelphia, for Beasley Broadcast Group highlighting restaurant, chef, and food news for the Philadelphia, Western South Jersey, Eastern Pa, and Northern DE areas. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org , post, and share any hot news or happenings you know of around the area or looking for possible coverage to me and please share this info!!!! The show I will be on is the award winning Ed Hitzel “Table For One” which will also be syndicated on Wond Radio Station 1400AM Atlantic City Longport Media, TuneIn Radio and SNJ Today 1240AM Millville. Be sure to listen!
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Shanks Pier 40 – Philadelphia, PA
With a dining location on the banks of the Delaware River you would think you have hit gold. Shanks Pier 40 (SP) does indeed have a riverfront location, but unfortunately the scenery is completely missing. It is just a tiny little building and a parking lot. For what they lack in scenery I had high hopes for the food from SP especially after touting accolades from the New York Times and Esquire magazine as well as SportsRadio 610WIP’s Winner of Best Hot Sandwich Award. I would order their award winning sandwich chicken cutlet italiano.
The chicken cutlet italiano included broccoli rabe with sharp provolone and I ordered a side of fries as well. I must talk about the fries first as they really surprised. They were a fantastic shoestring fry and cooked to perfection. They were nice and crispy and just the right amount of salt added to them. Best shoestring fries I have had in a long time. The sandwich was very good also as I really enjoyed the way they finely chopped the broccoli rabe and it was seasoned beautifully. They also had just the right amount of cheese and the roll stood up well. The chicken was good, but was just missing something for me whether it is in the breading or not, that I have had just a tad better cutlets other places. What SP has going for them is the all-around quality when you add everything together food wise. They do dreadfully lack an ambiance or any feeling of a waterfront attraction. If SP lucks out one day and gets something like Race Street Pier or the pop-up Spruce Street Park you may finally get the best of both worlds at SP, but until then you should still visit there, just know it is only for the food.
Four out of Five Stars
Independent Restaurants Sing the Praises of Weekend Brunch
(Chef Mark, Tortilla Press Cantina, with Huevos Rancheros)
South Jersey…At once comfortingly familiar and now replete with exotic additions, Brunch has become a tantalizing way for independent restaurants to showcase some of their best and most inventive dishes. While major chain restaurants offer traditional brunches, many small, independent restaurants in South Jersey are ready to show the public that brunch is no longer breakfast at the diner. Chef Mark Smith, owner of The Tortilla Press in Collingswood and Tortilla Press Cantina in Merchantville calls it “my go-to meal of the week. It’s immensely popular and unfailingly draws a crowd every Saturday and Sunday.” Smith, who offers a brunch with both American and Mexican classic dishes, has now opened his Merchantville restaurant, Tortilla Press Cantina, to the brunch crowd. “What could possibly be better at brunch than a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary?” he says. Like The Tortilla Press in Collingswood, Cantina is offering Huevos Rancheros,Breakfast Enhiladas and a Mexican version of French Toast which uses sweet cream topped bread drizzled with caramel syrup.
(French toast, Connie Correia, the Pop Shop)
While offering standard egg dishes, many restaurants are delving into gourmet specialty areas. Collingswood’s Pop Shop offers seven different kinds of Eggs Benedict as well as plate sized pancakes that come with toppings ranging from chocolate peanut butter chips to Oreos.
(Breakfast burger from Kevin Meeker, Keg n Kitchen)
Kevin of Keg n Kitchen in Westmont offers a hearty Breakast Brunch Burger as well as a special Grapefruit Brulee. And Chef Jim Malaby of Mullica Hill’s blueplate admits, “I go a little overboard…I love the idea of doing fun things with breakfast foods.” Malaby says brunch is one of Blueplate’s most popular meals. “The love affair many of my guests are having with brunch inspired me to create some new dishes.” Blueplate offers Shaved Porketta and Eggs, Breakfast Risoto and Malaby’s own creation, Breakfast pizza – a think crusted and crispy pizza topped with potatoes, bacon “To compete with the chains, independent restaurants have to offer their culinary skill to transform brunch into a unique experience.” says Malaby.
(Breakfast pizza, Chef Jim Malaby, blueplate)
Small restaurants recognize that the key to their brunch success are dishes offered at the right prices and an atmosphere that allows both adults and children to enjoy their meal. “If they come for brunch and like it, they’ll come back for dinner,” explains Tortilla Press’s Smith. “There’s just something magical about the meal and it sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the week.”
Jimmy G’s Steaks – Philadelphia, PA
Probably the first thing that comes to mind from anyone who is not from Philadelphia is our beloved cheesesteaks. We have become the international hub for where to get the real deal. I personally think we should make anywhere else that sells them outside of Philadelphia become certified just like chefs who have to fly to Rome to become certified in pizza making these days. Well sitting in the shadows of the Divine Lorraine Hotel is a new contender Jimmy G’s Steaks (JGS). It is not in the nicest of neighborhoods, but if the gentrification of the area happens as it has been rumored for years that could change. They have a very nice courtyard at JGS for you to sit and enjoy your meal so I hope the neighborhood does get some things spruced up to have a nice view while having a meal. On the food front, JGS has tried to differentiate themselves and avoid the argument of what is better, sliced or chopped steaks by offering both options. I would try the sliced version.
The meal consisted of sliced rib-eye, whiz, ketchup and fried onions on a roll with a side order of old bay fries. JGS has a HUGE sign on the front of their building proclaiming “Best Fries in Philly”. The fries were seasoned well, cooked nicely, and a jumbo version of a French fry which I have not seen around much, but they were no where near the best fries in Philly. I could tell they were frozen and can name a dozen places with better fries. Now to talk about the cheesesteak. The sliced steak gave it a little more of a luxurious feel not having to worry about the steak falling out between bites, was a bit chewy though, but they did provide a decent amount of meat. The wiz and fried onions were of your standard variety, roll was fresh, but ketchup was a little heavy handed. For being fresh on the cheesesteak radar of Philly, JGS handled themselves well. The cashier seemed new so the order took a little longer than should have, but with time JGS may have a well trained staff and sights to enjoy around them. You may want to get there before the tourists or hipsters do.
Three out of Five Stars
Aki Japanese Fusion Restaurant & Sake Bar – Philadelphia, PA
I like a place that has attitude, if it is channeled properly. I really like a place with good food. After hearing about Aki Japanese Fusion Restaurant & Sake Bar’s motto from someone “We Are Not Fancy, We Are Damn Good”, they caught my interest. The only question would be do they have attitude and good food?
As soon as I walked inside I was greeted kindly and warmly from the bubbly hostess and promptly seated at a very nice bar. The bartender was as friendly as could be and took my order with a thank you to follow. Right then and there I was happy to see that Aki certainly had attitude, a good attitude. I may have been searching for something rough, but they won me over with kindness. The décor is very hip, music was at just the right level, and service top-notch. I would order the lunch Chicken Teriyaki Bento Box.
The box consisted of miso soup, California roll, shrimp-broccoli-zucchini- sweet potato tempura, chicken teriyaki, and white rice. The tempura items were some of the better I have had in quite some time and impressed me. The chicken was quite nice as well and had just the right amount of sauce, but the meal feel flat with a tasteless miso and not the freshest California roll as the kani was slightly dry. Even though I left having just an average meal at Aki, putting all the other aspects together, I still enjoyed myself thoroughly and would happily go back and try some other items on their menu.
Three out of Five Stars
Marabella Meatball Co. – Philadelphia, PA
Whenever I hear or see something on a menu listed as the best of, greatest, or famous, I sometimes get a little leery. Well Marabella Meatball Co. (MM) has been listed by Huffington Post as having the greatest meatballs in America and many other press like CNN, FOX, Zagat, Philly.com, Foobooz, and Philadelphia City Paper have sung their praise at one time or another. With such a buzz surrounding MM, it sure did take me awhile to get there and when I did finally grace their presence I ordered their Beef Mozzarella sandwich.
The Beef Mozzarella sandwich is beef meatballs in a tomato mushroom sauce (or gravy for those of you who call it that) and mozzarella cheese on a toasted roll. Is it the greatest? I would not go that far, but it sure was delicious. The sauce perfectly balanced the beef and cheese allowing each ingredient to stand out yet works well together. It was a decent size for the price and the meatballs were indeed the highlight. My only complaint is that the roll did not stand up too well half way through. It became soggy and a meatball fell out.
I can see how MM has gained such a following as their meatballs and sauce would enhance any pasta dish they are added to. The service was very friendly and quick, they know what they are doing there, and with a nice varied selection of products they have a little something for everyone. Spruce up your pasta night and give MM a chance.
Three and Three-Fourth out of Five Stars
Irish Pub – 1123 Walnut location – Philadelphia, PA
Before or after an event or performance, sometimes you just want to eat something familiar and have a few adult beverages to top it all off. Well the Irish Pub (IP) with two Philadelphia locations and an outpost in Atlantic City offer just that. You are not going to be surprised by anything on the menu, décor, or the random loud patron drinking at the bar. IP’s 11th and Walnut location is centrally located to many of Philadelphia’s theatre houses and had a mix of customers ranging from people coming or going to a show, tourists happy to find an Irish pub as a safe haven, and IP regulars. The order of the day would be a roast beef sandwich.
The meal was thin sliced roast beef on a roll with melted provolone cheese, caramelized onions, au jus on the side, and served with steak fries. I was happy to see IP holding true to pub fare with the steak fries and not selling their soul for the much cheaper variety of fries available on the market. I took the liberty of pouring some of the au jus over the fries to flavor them up even though the portion size of fries was light. The onions were cooked just right, the roll held up well, and the roast beef was nice for what was placed in the sandwich. I say that because again with portion size, it had to be one of the smallest servings of roast beef I have ever had in a sandwich. The meat filled less than half of one side of the roll and barely a quarter of the other side. What I was served was better than average, I just wish I received a full sized meal. I know small plates are all of the rage in the restaurant industry lately, I only request I am forewarned if I am getting one. The staff was very friendly, gracious, and accommodating and I would have no problems visiting IP again even with a group of friends for a place to finish the night and so should you.
Three out of Five Stars