10 Things I Miss about You, Philadelphia, Part II

Sabrina’s Cafe

Whenever anyone came to visit me in Philly, I always wanted to take them to brunch–breakfast and booze, a great combination! There are a number of fantastic brunch spots in the city, but my default was set to Sabrina’s Cafe. Sitting in one of two tiny dining rooms, you almost feel like you’re having breakfast at your mom’s house. It’s cozy and fun and it’s just my favorite place to go. Judging by the line that perpetually crowds the cafe’s sidewalk (even in the dead of winter), it seems the rest of Philadelphia agrees.

Sabrina’s does not cater to the calorie counter, as you can see for yourself by that behemoth plate of stuffed french toast above, or to the picky eater. The menu is an eclectic mix of ingredients, some of which I would have never thought to pair, but they certainly know what they’re doing! Every week they feature a new laundry list of specials which always includes jazzed up pancakes, stuffed french toast, and eggs benedict, among others. Each special is packed with so many yummy ingredients, you might feel like you’re reading a grocery list rather than a menu. To give you a taste, mother’s day brunch specials included: Pumpkin pancakes with Rum Raisin pound cake topping, roasted pecans, topped with peach-molasses syrup and apple-cinnamon butter and the mother of all sandwiches, braised sweet and spicy brisket smothered in mango-poblano pepper BBQ sauce with caramelized onions and roasted peppers on brioche, topped with creamy old fashioned coleslaw and fried pickles, served with roasted sweet potato salad with red onions, bell peppers, corn and carrots tossed in a mustard-mayo-red wine-garlic dressing. Phew, re-reading that, I’m out of breath! Hungry yet?

Nick’s Roast Beef

I would never have imagined that one of my most memorable dates would occur at a beef and beer whose motto is “we make sure our customers never get a bum steer.” But life is surprising like that. When my boyfriend and I were seeing each other for about a month or so, he randomly took me for a ride to see the area where he grew up. We drove past his old house, and he pointed out all the places where he used to hang out, one of them being Nick’s Roast Beef. We stopped in for dinner since he had grown up going to this place and had lots of memories with friends and family. I let him do the ordering and I will never forget what he asked for: a huge plate of chicken quesadillas, something called the “turn-up-the-heat” appetizer which includes every spicy app they make (hot wings, jalapeno poppers, buffalo shrimp, spicy fries, etc.), a basket of regular fries, roast beef sandwiches for each of us and a bottomless pitcher of birch beer. The sandwich alone was more than enough for dinner, piled high with shaved beef and sharp provolone with pickles, chips, hot peppers, horseradish and au jus on the side. Let me just say, there was an obscene amount of food on the table and I was more than a little bit embarrassed (I will quickly learn that this is normal for him and to this day, I don’t know where he puts it).

I would go back for that roast beef sandwich again and again but the best part of the night was the fact that he was sharing a little part of himself with me. It was fun to see him so excited while he reminisced about old times and to hear the childhood stories that suddenly flooded his memory. He had taken me to romantic little BYOs, and out for fancy cocktails, but sitting in that booth in our jeans and sneakers, with greasy fingers and piles of dirty napkins, I think I fell a little bit in love with him.

The Cheesesteak Feud

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly love? Not when it comes to their cheesesteaks! If you are not already aware of the ongoing epic cheesesteak battle in Philly, most notably between Pat’s and Geno’s, get up to speed with this funny little video.

If you made me choose between those two, I would have to say I like Geno’s better. And not because “it’s flashy and I like casinos” (as I have seriously been taunted by die-hard Pat’s patrons while I stood in Geno’s line). It’s because I like the sandwich better and the establishment is a hell of a lot cleaner. The honest truth is that in the grand scheme of things, I would not go to either place for the best cheesesteak in town. I get “wiz wit” at Geno’s, not because I particularly like fake orange-y cheese goo, but because getting any other cheese at either rival will result in a dry, tasteless sandwich. One of my favorite steaks is actually not even in Philadelphia, proper.

If you’re looking for the yummiest cheesesteak you’re better off looking elsewhere, but if you are interested in the comedy of it all, the non-stop rivalry and the ridiculousness that is Joey Vento, look no further than the crossroads at 9th and Passyunk.

1720 Lombard Street

Are you thinking this is some back alley hidden-gem of a restaurant? Well, not exactly; it’s my old apartment in Philly! It was a few blocks from Rittenhouse Park in a great little neighborhood on a tree-lined street with a beautiful view of the Philly skyline. It was quiet and clean and adorable. I loved it. There was one drawback: the kitchen was itsy-bitsy. For that reason, there was not as much cooking going on there as I would have liked, but that doesn’t mean it was devoid of great food. Between my roomie and me, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one neatly wrapped bundle of Di Bruno Brothers’ cheese in the refrigerator or fresh veggies in the bin. There was no shortage of fantastic food with the Italian market so close and wonderful restaurants on every corner.

I absolutely love my new apartment in NYC but I still think of that little apartment, sometimes. It reminds me of all of my favorite places there, the parks, the restaurants, my Philly friends, and of sitting in my room with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, the skyline of my first city glowing in the window.

Metropolitan Bakery

One of my very favorite things is a loaf of good bread. Add some cheese and a few olives and I have a meal I could eat for weeks on end. This bakery’s artisanal bread is out of this world. Like any good bakery, they also serve delicious sweets and confections like lemon tarts, chocolate pound cake and my very, very favorite, sour cherry chocolate chip cookies with sea salt.

The first time I had one, I was headed for a stroll in the park, thought better of going on an empty stomach, and stopped in at this conveniently located bakery. The cookie was over-sized, to say the least, and I figured I would save half for my boyfriend who I was meeting up with shortly. I barely walked 2 yards into the park before sitting myself down and devouring every last crumb. I immediately went back to buy another, ate half of that one, and pretended that I had only eaten half of a cookie when I triumphantly handed over the leftover goods to the boyfriend. Yes, they are that good. But technically these cookies should not be on a list of things I miss since thanks to Philadelphia Magazine (and the bakery for divulging the recipe!), I can make these cookies for myself! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I know the last two posts may have been a bit of a tease for those of you not living in the Philly area, so let this be my peace offering.

Metropolitan Bakery’s Chocolate Chip and Dried Cherry Cookies with Sea Salt (pics to come soon! It’s Friday and I’m exhausted from my first week of blogging 😉 )

My note: If you skip out on the salt on top, you’re really missing out!

Ingredients:

1 c. rolled oats
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 ¾ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ c. unsalted butter
1 ¼ c. granulated sugar
1 ¾ c. light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 ½ c. bittersweet chocolate chunks
1 ¼ c. dried tart cherries
4 ½ tsp. coarse sea salt

Using a food processor, grind oats into a fine oat flour. In a bowl, sift all-purpose flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add oat flour and kosher salt. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate and cherries. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion cookie dough into 18 balls. Place cookies on a parchment-lined tray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet 2 inches apart. Press slightly to flatten cookies and sprinkle each cookie with ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Bake until cookies are golden brown around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Makes 18 cookies.

Notes from Metro’s pastry chef:

– Use high-quality “pure” — not “imitation” — vanilla extract for this recipe. Save the vanilla beans for liquid-based recipes, like custards.

– Affordable, reliable kosher salt is a staple in the Metropolitan kitchen, but delicate, briny fleur de sel is best for finishing these cookies.

– Chilling the dough improves the texture (it lets the flour’s glutens relax, for a more tender cookie) and the flavor. After three days, though, the baking soda and baking powder lose some of their leavening power.

– Barrett’s advice: Don’t trust your mixer. After adding the chocolate and cherries, frisage the dough by scraping it onto a clean surface and folding gently with your hands to combine ingredients the mixer may have missed.

– No, the oats don’t make these cookies healthy — but they do give them a crisp texture and slight nuttiness.

– Look for bittersweet chocolate that’s 60 to 70 percent cacao. Barrett recommends Callebaut and Scharffen Berger brands.

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