Restaurant Review: Morning Glory Diner

The DMV is pretty close to the top of my “least favorite places” to go list, but my license was thisclose to expiring, so I had to drag myself there yesterday. I convinced Chester that something terrible could happen to me if I went alone and that he needed to go with me. I figured if I had to wake up early on Saturday, someone else should have to suffer, too. I bribed him with a promise that I would take him to breakfast afterwards.

Turns out, the trip to get my photo taken was pretty uneventful. We were in and out in less than five minutes, and for once I took a photo that I don’t mind being stuck with for the next few years. I wasn’t even in there long enough to see anything crazy/funny happen, which was slightly disappointing. But, it did mean that we could probably beat the rush at the Morning Glory Diner (735 S. 10th Street), which we had been wanting to check out for awhile.


We actually tried to go Morning Glory once before, on a Sunday, but woke up way too late. By the time we arrived, there was easily a 90 minute wait ahead of us. And, as I was close to gnawing my arm off, we decided to go elsewhere. Turns out, if you go at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, you can probably get a seat right away.

Morning Glory opened in the late 1990s, and has since become a neighborhood favorite and winner of numerous awards from the likes of Zagat and Philadelphia Magazine. The restaurant offers traditional breakfast and lunch favorites, using local ingredients, some of which come from Philadelphia institutions like the Reading Terminal and Italian Market. The restaurant also prides itself on making its ketchup and jam from scratch and brewing its own blend of dark coffee. The latter is excellent (it reminded us of La Columbe) and is served in tin camping mugs. You know I’m a sucker for cute presentation.

I considered two of the specials—Pumpkin Pancakes and Chocolate and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast—before deciding on the Neighborhood Frittata, with egg whites. The frittata was packed with a generous amount of fresh red peppers and spinach and finished with a layer or provolone cheese. It was accompanied by two sides—warm spiced apples and grits. The real star of the show was the enormous thick, golden brown, crumbly biscuit, which I enjoyed with a generous helping of butter and cranberry jam.

Chester had steak and eggs, one of his favorite breakfast dishes. The portion of grilled rib eye was pretty generous, but arrived well done instead of medium rare like he asked for (this always seems to happen to him). The side of bacon that he ordered, on the other hand, was cooked to crisp perfection. He tried some of the ketchup on his poached eggs, and compared it to sweetened tomato sauce. Doesn’t sound all that appetizing to me—I’ll take the processed stuff, thanks.

I would probably be willing to go back to Morning Glory, but I do think it’s a bit overrated. Yes, the food was decent and the portions were generous, but it was nowhere near as delicious or creative as what you find at other places in South Philly. Also, at $40 for the both of us, I felt that it was bit pricey for pretty standard breakfast fare (remember to bring cash if you go, because credit cards are not accepted). I would wait in line Sabrina’s or Green Eggs Café before Morning Glory any day.

Restaurant Review: Tortilla Press


Our house is a stones throw away from the Walt Whitman Bridge, so we can be in South Jersey in about five minutes. To me, however, New Jersey may as well be a foreign country. I generally get lost every time I go there and the rules against making left turns annoy me to no end. I would much rather stay on the “right” side of the bridge.

Chester and I made an exception recently, though, and ventured into Collingswood for dinner with some of my Drexel friends. Our pilgrimage coincided with Collingswood’s Restaurant Week, so we (me, Chester, Lara, Matt, Richard, Louisa, Darin, and Joe) decided to head to The Tortilla Press (703 Haddon Avenue).

Tortilla Press serves Mexican “influenced” food—familiar dishes fused with Mexican herbs, spices and sauces. It was pretty busy when we arrived around 7:30 on a Friday evening, but since we had more that 6 people in our party, we were able to make a reservation and were seated right away.

Collingswood is a dry town, all restaurants are BYOB. We all brought wine, but it would probably be fun to bring your own margarita mix to Tortilla Press, too. The restaurant was offering its full menu, in addition to the four-course, $30 Restaurant Week menu. Most of us opted for the latter. While we waited, we munched on chips, two kinds of salsa (one mild, one spicy), and black bean dip.

I started with the Pumpkin, Goat Cheese and Black Bean Quesadilla, which was served with a sour cream based chile sauce. This seemed like an odd assortment of ingredients, but the combination of sweet, savory, and spicy came together surprisingly well. I also sampled a bit of Chester’s chile rellano, it could have been a bit warmer, but I really liked the tomato broth and queso fresco that accompanied it.

Next, was butternut squash soup. After the excellent bowl that I had at Meritage earlier this fall, my expectations were high. Tortilla Press’ version fell short, unfortunately. It didn’t have the velvety smooth texture that Meritage’s had and it was sort of bland. A more liberal sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg would have kicked it up a notch.

For an entrée, I opted for the Chicken Milanesa, breaded chicken breast, topped with avocado, queso fresco and pico de gallo, served with rice and red beans. The chicken was moist and flavorful, but like the soup, could have used a bit more spice. It fared much better, though, than Chester’s entrée—the apple and chorizo stuffed pork loin—which was seasoned well, but bone dry.

Dessert was probably the highlight for me (isn’t it always?). I would love to try to recreate my pumpkin bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream at home, but I am sure I could never turn out anything close to what I had at Tortilla Press. It was served warm, and the cinnamon and pumpkin flavors kept it from being cloyingly sweet, like some bread puddings can be. Chester’s apple & walnut empanadas with vanilla ice cream were delicious as well. I liked how they soaked up the house-made cider syrup that accompanied them. We both would have just preferred them to be a bit warmer.

The atmosphere was relaxed, service was friendly, and the presentation of the food was very pretty. Overall, I enjoyed my meal, but the food wasn’t memorable enough for me to want to rush back.

On our walk to and from the restaurant, I noticed that Collingswood’s main street is actually pretty adorable. I noticed a bunch of cute little boutiques and restaurants that I would like to try. I never thought I would say this, but I’m actually looking forward to my next trip over the bridge.

(Side note–thanks, friends, for turning me and Chester on to American Horror Story on FX. We’re all caught up now, and I’m officially scared of my own house.)

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Along with blonde hair, a boatload of allergies, and a strange sense of humor, my mom also passed a dislike of Halloween down to me. She was never a fan of the holiday, and put an end to trick-or-treating when I was maybe seven or so. Instead, my brother and I got to pick out three king sized candy bars each, and then we stayed home giving out candy to the other kids that came to visit our neighborhood. Sounds mean, right? Truth is, I didn’t really care. I’ve never liked seeing people in masks, the feeling of being scared, or knocking on stranger’s doors. And, as Halloween involves all of these things, I am more than happy to not participate.

This year, I guess I was feeling a bit more festive than usual, and decided to make cupcakes to celebrate. I’ve had a recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcakes bookmarked since September (along with a million other pumpkin and apple recipes that I just know I’ll get around to. Someday.), and this seemed like the perfect time to try them out. They were pretty easy to make, and tasted exactly like my favorite Starbucks’ beverage. The combination of espresso powder in the batter and brewed coffee brushed onto the cakes while they are still warm lends a rich flavor to the finished product. The batter also includes canned pumpkin, which makes for an extremely moist cupcake. I omitted the cloves, but added a bit more cinnamon and nutmeg than the recipe called for, because I like an extra hit of these flavors in my pumpkin flavored treats.

So, you should probably skip the trick-or-treating and just stay home and make these cupcakes. But, if Halloween is your thing, hope you had a great one. I’ll probably celebrate tomorrow by hitting up the big candy sale at my local CVS to get a Reese’s variety mix (the one with the Fast Breaks, Peanut Butter Cups, etc.) for me and a bag of Indian corn for Chester.

Now, bring on Thanksgiving and Christmas–those are the holidays that really matter!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

From Annie’s Eats

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

What you will need

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. espresso powder *
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup coffee or espresso, for brushing

* If you can’t find espresso powder, you can use instant coffee. You’ll probably need to use about 50% more than the amount of powder that the recipe calls for if you go this route).

For the whipped cream frosting:

  • 2¼ cups heavy cream, chilled
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

For the caramel sauce:**

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. coarse salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract (the original recipe also calls for vanilla bean, which I didn’t have. It was fine without it.)

** Try not to get the melted sugar on your fingers. It will burn like hell and leave an ugly blister.

Ground cinnamon to garnish

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first eight ingredients (flour through salt). Stir to combine.
  3. Using an electric mixer, blend pumpkin, sugars, and oil. Add eggs one at a time and blend after each addition until fully incorporated.
  4. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour until combined.
  5. Fill cupcake liners ¾ of the way and bake for 18 to 20 minutes (or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for ten minutes in pans, and transfer to wire racks. Brush cupcakes with brewed coffee two or three times. Allow to cool completely.
  7. To make whipped cream for frosting, beat heavy cream using whisk attachment of electric mixer, until stiff peaks form. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar.
  8. To make caramel sauce, spread sugar in the bottom of a saucepan and place over medium-low heat. When edges begin to liquefy, use heatproof spatula to move it towards the center of the pan. Keep stirring until sugar is completely melted. Once the sugar reaches a deep amber color, take off heat. Stir in half of the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble like crazy) until fully incorporated. Whisk in the rest of the cream, along with the salt and vanilla. Allow to cool before using.
  9. Use pastry bag and decorative tip to frost cooled cupcakes. Drizzle with caramel sauce and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  10. Refrigerate cupcakes (if you have any leftovers).

Restaurant Review: Nam Phuong and a bit of Capogiro

On Saturday, I had to work all day (I’ve become a bit spoiled, actually, as I haven’t had to work on a weekend since before leaving DU.) and when I left, it was dark and chilly, my feet were killing me, and I was tired and hungry. Chester suggested going out for Pho, and I thought it was the best idea ever.

We headed to Nam Phoung (1100 Washington Avenue), which we discovered shortly after moving to South Philly. The restaurant has been around for more than 20 years, and bills itself as “the best Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia.” Evidently, more than a few people agree, since it’s always packed when we go.

Some people swear by chicken soup, but I’m convinced that a heaping bowl of Pho from Nam Phoung is the cure for whatever ails you. The broth is rich with beef and ginger flavor, but is not salty at all. I usually order mine with chicken, and Chester prefers the Deluxe version, with steak, flank, brisket, tendon, beef tripe, and beef meatballs. A side dish of Vietnamese basil, lime wedges, bean sprouts, and mint and assorted condiments are placed on each table so that you can season it to your taste and preferred level of spiciness.

In addition to the soup, we really enjoy the spring rolls, with shredded pork, and the summer rolls with shrimp and chicken. The former is served with a rich peanut based dipping sauce that I’m pretty sure would be amazing on just about anything.

Nam Phoung has yet to disappoint, and best of all, it’s pretty inexpensive. Dinner for the two of us (two appetizers and two soups) adds up to less than $20. Service is friendly and efficient and there is also free parking in the adjacent lot.

After this most recent visit, we took the money that we didn’t spend on dinner and headed over to Capogiro (1625 E. Passyunk) for dessert. I suggest you do the same. At some point, I’ll need to devote a whole post to the love I have for Capogiro. Their gelatos are made with fresh ingredients that make them well worth the price tag.

Nutella and Peanut Gelato

I was all better after that.

Restaurant Review: Fuel

After a few days of eating like New Englanders, we were craving something on the lighter side when we got home. We decided to check out Fuel (1917 E. Passyunk Avenue), which serves salads, snacks, soups, sandwiches that contain fewer than 500 calories.

The lounge style furniture, brightly colored walls, and TVs tuned to dance music videos at top volume combine to create an atmosphere that’s a cross between a club and a gym. It seemed a little strange, especially on a slow Monday night (I’ve since learned that Fuel is owned by Rocco Cima, a DJ at Q102, so I guess these things make sense).

With this first impression, I became a little bit skeptical about the place. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Service was attentive, and everything was made to order, with fresh ingredients.

We debated between guacamole and hummus to start, and finally chose the latter, which was served with soft, grilled pita. It was decent, but had a bit more lemon than I typically like. A bit more garlic could have evened it out.

The sandwich and salad combinations were creative. I considered the skewered Greek salad and spinach and strawberry salad before I noticed the South Philly wrap (note that the bread will up the calorie counts on the sandwiches past 500!), with grilled chicken, provolone, spinach, roasted red peppers, and garlic spread. The wrap had a generous helping of tender chicken and was served with a side of mixed green salad with tangy balsamic dressing.

Chester opted to order the  Roasted Portabello and Eggplant Sandwich as a salad. It was served with roasted peppers, strips of provolone cheese, olive tapenade and chicken. The portion was also generous, but there was a little bit too much dressing. This probably pushes the calorie count up too, so order on the side, and you should be fine.

In between courses, we perused the juice/smoothie menu. Of course, the Protein Buster, with peanut butter, honey, and banana was the first thing I noticed, but many of the fruit based options, including the Fruit Fuzzion (with strawberries, raspberries and banana) sounded appealing, too.

If you are one of those people who don’t believe that healthy food can be delicious too, a trip to Fuel is sure to change your mind. Fuel also has a location in Center City (around 12th and Walnut), and delivers pretty much anywhere. Prices are reasonable too—our meal came out to roughly what we would have spent at a fast food restaurant and the quality was far superior.

We’ll definitely visit again, even when we aren’t in detox mode.

On the Road: New Hampshire

When Chester and I are on vacation, we usually spend some of the time thinking about where we’ll go next. When we were in Pittsburgh over Labor Day, we came up with the idea of a trip to New England to see the fall foliage. We mentioned the idea to my BFF and her husband, since they live in Boston. Turns out, Bridget and Bill had the same idea for a fall vacation. We decided that we would all head up to New Hampshire and rent a cabin for a long weekend.

We flew up to Boston and then drove about two hours or so up to Lincoln, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains. Bridget and I had scouted cabins online, and I think we made a pretty good pick with Green Village Cabins. The cabins were pretty tiny, but clean, comfortable, and centrally located to all the major attractions in the area.

Then, we spent the weekend doing festive fall things.

We picked apples.

Took in nature at the Lost River Gorge and Caves.

Drove along the Kancamagus Highway.

Saw rainbows (three to be exact!)

Encountered wildlife.

Drove half-way up Mount Washington (it was too windy to go all the way up), the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. And nearly froze.

Of course, we ate. A lot.

Cider Donuts!

Before we left Boston, we stocked up on fancy meats and cheeses at Formaggio Kitchen. Combined with the apples we had picked, wine (for me and Bridget) and beer (for Bill and Chester), we had some pretty awesome nighttime snacks while playing Apples to Apples and Catch Phrase.

We were all kind of craving comfort food throughout the weekend. It must have been the chill in the air. Luckily, the vast majority of the restaurants in the area seemed to specialize in this type of cuisine. For lunch, we just grabbed whatever we happened to be near, but we had really good dinners each night.

On the first night, we ate at the Adair Country Inn and Restaurant, in the nearby town of Bethlehem. The restaurant is casual, but elegant, and its menu showcases local ingredients and specialties. We all ended up doing the three course menu option (you can choose as few as two courses or as many as five) which included an appetizer, salad, and entrée.  My whole meal was excellent, but I particularly enjoyed my spinach salad, mostly because it had dried cranberries, and the entrée, the Haddock New Bedford, which was lightly breaded with cornmeal, and served with a tomato, clam, and chorizo topping. For dessert, we all shared the apple-popover bread pudding. The texture was very light, and it wasn’t as sweet as some other bread puddings that I’ve had. The tartness and natural sweetness of the apples really came through, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot of extra sugar added.

Toasting the Weekend!

The second night, we went to the Common Man, which is actually a restaurant chain in New England. The rustic furnishings and homey feel of the place reminded me of the Cracker Barrel—which I hate—so I was a bit skeptical. But the food was far superior. The menu is pretty extensive, and features everything from soups and salads, to lobster mac-and-cheese, to ribs and steak. I had the meatloaf which was served with a rich tomato based pan gravy and topped with caramelized onions. I can’t imagine anything that would have tasted better after a day of being outdoorsy.

The Woodstock Inn Brewery was our final dinner of the trip. I think Bridget was probably the only one who was not totally happy with her dish—sesame maple scallops, served over linguine. It was…interesting, and not in an entirely good way (it kept making me think of that scene from Elf, where he douses his spaghetti in maple syrup). I enjoyed my chile glazed salmon, since it was a change of pace from the heavier dishes I had been eating. The Brewery also featured a selection of Wellingtons, which the boys both enjoyed.

On the last day of our trip, before getting on the road back to Boston, we sought out a pancake house. A lot of places had closed for the season, but, luckily, we found Flapjack’s Pancake House. Best. Pancakes. Ever.

Cranberry Apple Flapjacks

The whole weekend was very relaxing, but Monday rolled around so quickly, and it was time to go home. It was so nice to spend some time with our friends and I’m looking forward to being able to do it again soon!

Chinatown Night Market

October is one of my favorite months of the year, but it always seems to be the busiest. I guess that the first hint of fall in the air snaps everyone back to reality after three months of summer mode and we pack as much as we can into its 31 days. Work and the rest of my life are always seem extra busy in October, which is why I started to write this post more than a week ago and am now just getting around to putting it up.


The Food Trust launched its Night Market events last year and they’ve quickly become a Philadelphia tradition. The concept is based on the night markets traditionally held in Asia and brings together entertainment, artisans, and food in a residential area. Many of the well-known, as well as the new players, in Philadelphia’s food truck fleet participate. Despite the fact that there has been one held in South Philly (where I live) and University City (where I used to work), Chester and I didn’t get around to experiencing the festivities until a couple of weeks ago, when the fourth Night Market was held in Chinatown.

When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the market was in full swing, with live music, dancing and throngs of people making their way down 10th Street, which was closed to traffic.

We picked our way through the crowds to make it to our first stop The Dapper Dog. This truck serves all-beef hot dogs with a variety of toppings, from fried egg to mac and cheese to asparagus. At the Night Market, the truck was offering a traditional Chicago Dog and a Cheesesteak Hot Dog. You’ve probably been reading long enough to guess which one of us ordered what.

The truck uses Sarcone’s hoagie rolls as the vehicle for their creations. While Sarcone’s is awesome on its own, I’m just not a fan of overly chewy, thick bread with a hot dog. Give me a traditional potato roll any day. But, The Dapper Dog’s version of the Chicago Dog was spot on—even Chester, who hails from Chicago and has had many a hot dog in his day, was impressed.

Our next stop was Chewy’s a new food truck that specializes in burgers, fries, sandwiches, and salads. The blue cheese slider was well seasoned, but pretty basic. The kimchi slider was unique and much more memorable. The fries were a bit disappointing, as they were limp and soggy (but did bring back memories of food truck dinners in college). I’ve read a few more reviews about  Chewy’s since the Night Market, and the tater tots are getting a lot of buzz, so those might be a better side dish option.

You all know by now that I spend most of the time planning what I’m going to have for dessert. There were quite a few dessert options to choose from at the Night Market, but I had my sights set on sampling the gourmet cupcakes from Sweetbox Truck.


Sweetbox was offering several flavors that night (including a Pumpkin Spice, which was really tempting!), but we kept it simple and went with a Vanilla Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache.

Oh my goodness. With the first bite, you can tell that the ingredients that the bakers use are extremely high quality. The cake was moist and delicious, and the icing was not overly sweet. They were on the softer side, which made them a bit tricky to eat, but perhaps that was because it was a bit warm that night. Overall, these cupcakes were heavenly, and I see a quite a few trips to Love Park, where Sweetbox is frequently stationed, in my future.

The crowds had started to thin out a bit, so we went off in search of Guapos Tacos, Jose Garces’ mobile outpost. I love that the truck is covered in bottle caps, by the way.

We shared a chipotle short rib taco, with onions, radish, cilantro, crema and queso fresco. The short ribs were juicy and well seasoned, as though they had been marinating all day. This was one of the highlights for me, and I wish I had saved enough room to try one of the other flavors as well.

Our last stop was Yummy Yummy, for Hong Kong egg waffles. Yummy Yummy had a stand at the Market, but the waffles were only available from the shop on (52 North 10th Street).

These doughy sweet treats are made from eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk and produced on a special griddle that gives them their fluffy, egg shape. The outside of the waffle was crispy and golden brown, but yielded to a tender, creamy center. These could be habit forming.

And, with that, we called it a night.

Overall, the Night Market was a fun experience. A few tips, if you plan to go: Pack your patience as the lines are long. We waited about 20 minutes or so at the beginning of the evening although the crowds did thin out as the night went on. The price point at most trucks is about $5 and portions were quite generous. So, pace yourself and don’t expect that you will be able to sample every single thing on offer.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see where the next installment of the Night Market will turn up. In the meantime, I’ll be stalking some of the other trucks that I missed out on at the event, as were so many things that we just couldn’t get around to sampling.

Restaurant Review: Spread Bagelry

I love bagels. So, when I first heard that Spread Bagelry would be coming to the Rittenhouse Square area, it immediately went on my list of places to try. However, three days after opening in May, a small fire broke out in the shop and it ended up closing for repairs for a bit. Chester and I finally got around to trying it out for lunch last week.

Spread specializes in Montreal-style bagels, which are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and baked in wood-fired oven. At first glance, the only thing that seems to differentiate this kind of bagel from the typical New York style bagel is the larger hole. But, it’s, chewier, lighter and sweeter than that variety. Spread offers plain, sesame, poppy, everything, whole wheat, whole wheat everything, and a sweet daily special.

Toppings include Amish cream cheese (plain and flavored), butter, jam, peanut butter, smoked salmon, bacon/turkey bacon, tomato, onion, and apple slices. I chose to keep things simple and opted for the mixed berry variety, last week’s featured special, on my whole wheat bagel. It was light and fluffy and studded with bits of blueberry throughout. And, there was a lot of it.

Spread also offers a variety of sandwiches and melts. Chester had the Bagelry Club, with roasted turkey, cheddar, apple slices, and bacon on a whole wheat bagel.  All of the ingredients were fresh—the apples were a particularly nice touch—but we both would have preferred it as a melt. Although this didn’t seem to be an option, maybe next time, we’ll ask.

Also, they serve La Colombe coffee. It’s self-serve, and unlimited. Bonus points.

The line was out the door during our week day lunch visit, so I can only imagine what it’s like at breakfast and on weekends. There were more than half a dozen staff members milling around behind the counter, but only one person taking orders (who was a bit on the slow side. She kind of stared down at her notepad for almost 30 seconds before asking if she could help us). It all seemed a bit disorganized. But, the staff members were all very friendly. There seemed to be quite a few regulars around, and the owners went out of their way to chat with them.

While the bagels are pretty good and offer a change of pace from what you find at Dunkin Donuts (whose bagels I actually happen to like) or Manhattan Bagel, they are pricey. One bagel will run you $2 and a half-dozen come in at $10. Then, you’ll need to add on an extra $3 or so for a spread. Sandwiches are about $8 or more.

Ultimately, I think Spread offers a great concept and product, I don’t know that the long wait and the price tag are justified. Maybe I’ll stop by every once in awhile, but I won’t necessarily go out of my way. They’re just bagels.

Restaurant Review: Meritage

We had one last hurrah for Restaurant Week, this past Friday evening, with dinner at Meritage Restaurant and Wine Bar, located a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square. This was my favorite of the four places that I visited during the last two weeks.

Anne Coll, the executive chef, spent time at the now closed Susanna Foo (which, sadly, I never got to visit), and has created a menu at Meritage that blends French techniques with Asian flavors. The menu changes seasonally, and features ingredients that are sourced by the chef herself from local farms and vendors.

The vibe of the restaurant is casual and relaxed. The bar area at the front was packed when we arrived. Judging from the laughter and banter between the bar patrons and the staff, I got the sense that this is a neighborhood hangout. I liked that the dining room is located towards the back of the restaurant, which separates it from the bar area and minimizes the noise. It was a warm, inviting, tiny space, and reminded me of some of the South Philly restaurants that are located in old houses.

There is an extensive selection of wines by the bottle (most under $50) and the glass (all about $10). If you are the kind of person that likes to pair a different wine with each dish, there is no shortage of options. We stuck to the basics with a Cabernet for Chester and a Chenin Blanc for me.

Meritage’s Restaurant Week menu was very impressive. Sometimes, restaurants eliminate the pricier (to keep the costs to $35) or more labor intensive items on the menus during these two weeks. This wasn’t the case at Meritage, where foie gras, scallops, escargot, and other high end ingredients were showcased prominently throughout the menu.

I started with the roasted butternut squash soup, with ginger and apples. The soup itself was thick and velvety, with a slightly nutty flavor. There were bits of apple in each bite, and it was topped with a crispy shrimp fried wonton—I would have eaten a whole plate of those on their own and I don’t even like shrimp that much. Chester, meanwhile, enjoyed the red wine braised escargot. They had already been removed from the shell and they didn’t have the same briny flavor as the ones we sampled on vacation this summer. But they were prepared so that they were perfectly tender, and served with a flavorful garlic puree that brought back memories of France.

For an entrée, I ordered the seared mahi mahi, which was accompanied by a lemongrass beurre blanc. The fish itself was well seasoned and tender, and wasn’t swimming in the rich, flavorful sauce (Audrey Claire take note). I liked that I could dip the fish in the sauce, kind of like how I like to eat my salads with the dressing on the side. The fish was served with a fricassee of white corn, summer squash, and herbs. Chester has the red wine braised beef short ribs, with smashed new potatoes, button mushrooms, and baby carrots. The beef was well seasoned, and like the fish, wasn’t so overly sauced that the taste of the meat was obscured.

Finally, I had the chocolate peanut butter bomb for dessert. This was a smooth peanut butter mousse—that looked heavy, but was actually surprisingly light—enrobed in a chocolate shell. It was a little difficult to crack it open and eat it with a spoon, and I had to be careful that I didn’t send it flying across the room. It was served with a side of current jam and a creamy, slightly caramelized meringue. Chester had the pot de crème, which was served with a homemade chocolate dipped biscotti. The biscotti was a little bland, in my opinion, but the pot de crème, with a combination of milk chocolate and cinnamon was delicious.

Service was attentive throughout the evening, but it was just a tad too fast for my liking. We were in and out in just about an hour, and I would have liked to linger just a little bit longer between each course. Still, that’s the nature of Restaurant Week. I’m sure that they had other reservations coming in after us and needed to turn the tables over. Overall, I felt like we got a true taste of the kinds of creative dishes that the restaurant is capable of producing on a regular basis, and I would be glad to return to Meritage again.

So, fall Restaurant Week may be over, but at least we’ve only got a couple of months to go until the next one. Usually, there is one in early winter, around January or February. By then there will probably be a dozen or more new restaurants on my list of places to try.

Restaurant Review: Audrey Claire


I’ve had a busy schedule for Restaurant Week this time around. What can I say, I’m pretty popular and everyone wants to have dinner with me.

To kick off the second week, I met up with a group of my girlfriends—Rhonda, Gab, and Lauren—for dinner at Audrey Claire. We try to get together for dinner every month, but this was an extra special occasion as we celebrated that Gabby will be tying the knot in just a couple of weeks!

Audrey Claire is a tiny BYOB, located right on the corner of 20th and Spruce in the Rittenhouse Square area. Everything about the restaurant—from the bowls of green apples and vases of sunflowers perched on the windowsills, to the rustic furniture, to the food—is overwhelmingly simple. And, that’s part of its charm. If you plan to go, be aware that the restaurant is cash only, and does not take reservations on Friday and Saturday evenings.

The menu draws heavily from ingredients, herbs/spices, and dishes from the Mediterranean region. I had an amazing mushroom risotto on my first visit a couple of months ago, and I was looking forward to ordering that—or some other version of risotto—again. But alas, it wasn’t included on the menu. That’s the way it is during Restaurant Week sometimes—a more limited menu that tends to eliminate the things that take a lot of time to prepare and/or that would make it difficult to keep the dinner price down to $35. Oh well.

For an appetizer, I ordered the seared haloumi, which is a cheese from Cyprus that’s made from a combination of goat and sheep’s milk. The cheese is slightly salty and stays pretty firm even when grilled or fried. It was served with candied dates and sesame compote, which made for a nice combination of salty and sweet.

For an entrée, I had the shallot crusted lemon sole. It had a bit too much butter and not enough lemon for my liking. Also, to me, the term “crusted,” implied that the shallots would somehow be incorporated into the breading. But, they were instead fried and placed on top of the fish. And, there were a lot of them. They reminded me of those French’s onions that sometimes go on top of green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. It was served with green beans that had a nice crunch, and a couscous that was kind of bland. I kind of wished I had followed Rhonda’s lead and ordered the tuna, which didn’t seem to be heavily sauced and looked to be cooked perfectly on the rarer side, just as she requested.

For dessert, I chose the cinnamon white chocolate bread pudding. I think that the white chocolate was part of the glaze, but I honestly couldn’t really pick up on it. But, it was deliciously warm and sweet, the bread was slightly chewy, and the cinnamon flavor made it the perfect dessert for the transition into fall. Maybe they would give me the recipe to add to the ever growing list of fall baking projects I’ve been lining up.

While I’ve enjoyed the overall experience both times that I’ve been to Audrey Claire, I do think that the food gets more hype than it deserves. There are plenty of other places with a similar atmosphere and concept that have far more to offer in terms of food (such as the highly underrated Southwark in Queen Village or Fond on Passyunk Avenue).

As a side note, Audrey Claire Taichman (the owner) also owns two other places right on the same block of Spruce: Twenty Manning and Cook. I last went to Twenty Manning years ago, and wasn’t impressed. But, it’s since undergone a renovation and menu redesign, and I’m willing to give it another try. Cook is a boutique, bookstore, and collaborative kitchen, where celebrity chefs from around the area will be teaching classes. I’m looking forward to checking that out this fall!