I stand in line with you, week in and week out, as you decide what to buy at the Flying Monkey. I know, the Pumpple is one of Reading Terminal Market’s celebrity dishes, what with being on the Today Show and all. The cupcakes are as cute as a button. However, you’re really leaving some great options at the counter. So, as a favor to you, I’m here to tell you about the top three treats, from great to best, you haven’t tried yet at the Flying Monkey.
3. Ginger Molasses Cookies
I get it. Your eyes are on what’s in the cases, not what’s on top of them, but the ginger molasses cookie should not be missed. It’s chewy, it’s buttery, it’s got a sprinkling of sugar on top for a little crispness. And it’s not only delicious, it’s cheap — just $1! Go ahead and add it to what you have already picked. You’ll be back later for another one.
2. Flourless Chocolate Cake
The Flying Monkey knows chocolate, and nowhere is that knowledge showcased more effectively than the flourless chocolate cake. It’s chocolate cake, topped with a super thick, super rich layer of chocolate ganache. This is not a dessert you’ll gobble down, it’s one that you’ll savor. Know you have an long afternoon at work? Bring a slice of this back to your desk, and it’ll get you through. (My husband and I get a slice Saturday mornings, and leave it on the counter to snack on as we clean the apartment.)
1. Whoopie Pies
Whoopie pies are a Pennsylvania specialty, and nowhere does them better than Flying Monkey. Someday, I hope that whoopie pies will rank up there with cheesesteaks as “things you must eat when you come to Philadelphia”. Until then, here is your chance to get ahead of the curve. Start with the traditional styles — two soft, moist cakes sandwiching cream cheese frosting. Then, give the flavored frostings a try, or go crispy, like my personal favorite, the oatmeal caramel. (Shown above, from left to right: oatmeal caramel, classic, pumpkin, double chocolate. They have lots of other great flavors that change daily.)
Bonus tip: The Flying Monkey makes all their marshmallows in house. If you’re a marshmallow fan, you’re in for a treat.
The Flying Monkey is open 7 days a week in Reading Terminal Market, right off center court. I’ll see you in line!
Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, once referred only to tea with dark, chewy tapioca balls in it. It’s delicious, and how the trend got started. But tapioca balls are tricky little buggers. They have a very short shelf life once cooked … like 4 to 5 hours. They get softer the longer they sit in liquid. So, if your bubble tea purveyor doesn’t have high turnover, end of the day customers are going to get a mouthful of mush. (My personal policy became, “never buy a bubble tea with tapioca pearls from a place that doesn’t have a steady stream of customers coming out with them.”)
So, a range of alternatives joined tapoica pearls as the fun, chewy insert to your tea. Flavored jellies have been around almost as long as pearls, but I have never really been a fan. I was introduced to, and delighted by, chunks of aloe vera in Australia. (You can get one closer by at Rising Tide.) But the newest innovation pops!
Popping bubbles, pop pearls, popping boba — what are they? Imagine a tiny, edible water balloon. Now fill that water balloon with sweet goo, dump about 30 of them in a flavored tea, and you’ve got your bubble tea with popping bubbles. They’re available all over Chinatown, including the newly opened, exclusively drink-focused Tea Talk.
(Pictured: passion fruit green tea with tapioca pearls, mango yogurt tea with popping bubbles)
They offer popping bubbles and the full range of traditionally expected drinks. I am pleased to report that their traditional tapioca boba were done really well, nicely chewy without the dreaded hard center. If you’ve been mourning the loss of Zen Tea House and the Bubble House for your bubble tea outings, Tea Talk is here to fill the hole in your heart.
Tea Talk 205 N 10th St (between Race and Vine) Philadelphia, PA19107
At long last, Spread Bagelry is open, and the unbageled masses are washing up on their doorstep.
A fire shortly after their original opening closed their doors, the unchanging website and silent Twitter account mocking those of us who hadn’t been quick enough to try them in the first go round. But, be warned — if you want to try these bagels, you still need to be quick. I got two of the last 4 bagels on Saturday 2.5 hours before closing, and there were crazy long lines on Sunday, too.
So, why all the excitement? I’ve bemoaned the lack of good bagels in Center City before. South Street Bagels are great, but it’s a pretty hefty walk considering their seating is limited to 3 stools in the front. I was hoping Spread Bagelry could deliver me from my chain bagel blues.
First, they have seating. And it’s cute! Little bagel-themed takeoffs on movie posters decorate the walls. (“Of all the bagel joints in all the cities in the world, she had to walk into mine.”)
Be warned, though. It’s hot in there. There’s a wood-burning oven, folks, and the heat’s got to go somewhere. I’m sure it will be delightful come winter, but, for now, plan to eat your bagels in Rittenhouse.
(Yes, that’s their wood pile.)
The bagels are Montreal style, which typically means they’re smaller, sweeter, have a bigger hole, and are cooked in a wood-burning oven (so you may get some smoky char on the bottom, like you get on your wood-fired pizzas.) I’m guessing they may have gotten some “feedback” from the first go round, because while my bagels were sweeter and wood-fired, I wouldn’t say they were noticeably smaller than a standard bagel. They had a slightly crisper, thinner crust than most bagels, which is a good thing — many bagels leave me feeling like I’m tearing through bagel leather to get at the inside.
Unfortunately, they were sold out of everything bagels by the time I arrived. I tried the $9 Spread Classic (cream cheese, smoked nova, tomato, onion) on a plain bagel, and took home a $2 cinnamon raisin.
The Spread Classic was good. Very good. A nice quantity of fish, a not-overwhelming amount of cream cheese, and the fresh, ripe tomato certainly helped. Yay for summer. I would definitely order it again.
The cinnamon raisin was also good, but $2 is about a dollar more than most straight bagels to go, and I didn’t think it was twice as good. Since I’m being nitpicky, the fresh brewed iced tea was also quite small for $2, and had that bitter flavor of a tea that had been steeped too long.
Will I be back? You better believe it! And I hope they’ll be using that sweet iPad cash register to tweet flavor sellouts, lest I forever make it there too late for everything bagels. They’re open 7 AM to 7 PM, seven days a week.
Update, September 6: The everything bagels are excellent. The lines are still epic if you get there after 10 AM. The iced tea is all fixed up (I think they may have just put too little ice in my first glass.) The bagels are made throughout the day, so if your chosen flavor is out… there may be more in just a few minutes.
As soon as you walk into Barbuzzo, the smell of the wood-burning oven fills your nose. This has to be one of the most delightful, welcoming smells on earth, and immediately had me thinking happy thoughts about the 6th venture in Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran's takeover of 13th Street.
We started with olives and pig popcorn. The olives were a just right starter — a small enough portion that you don’t feel like you’re eating them forever, and sprinkled with Marcona almonds and fried rosemary for a little extra punch. The “pig popcorn”, aka pork rinds, were a light wisp of food, like a foam that magically hardened. They had the wonderful smoky flavor whose odor hit me as I walked in the door, a nice porky taste and lovely seasonings, but, ultimately, they are a novelty dish that I probably would not order again. (The horseradish aioli they were served with, on the other hand, was begging to be snuck out and enjoyed with an order of fries.)
Our next two dishes highlighted the incredible produce of the season. The burrata salad was served with generous slices of pear that brought the whole dish together. Even Bryan, who normally objects to fruit in salad, gobbled it up.
Hands down, the gnocchi was my favorite dish of the night. It’s served with smoked corn, tiny tomatoes, roasted mushrooms and an amazing truffled butter sauce. The sweet, juicy tomatoes burst in your mouth when you bite them. The corn and the mushrooms together were sweet, salty, smoky, savory, all in one mouthful. This evening, the temperature was still pushing 88. I can only imagine how satisfying this dish would be if evening temperatures ever dropped below 75. Again, Bryan (for this dish, playing the role of “mushroom hater”) was won over by how the flavors played off each other, and actually took a mushroom off my plate.
"We can always take the pizza home," I told Bryan, even as I knew we were probably over-ordering. Sure enough, I only managed to eat one slice before calling it quits. But the capriccosa pizza was definitely not at fault. It’s topped with clumps of shredded proscuitto, black olives, artichoke, and mozzarella, with just a tinge of smoke edging the sweet creaminess of the mozzarella. It is served with very flavorful Sicilian oregano and a housemade chili oil that you can apply yourself. The crust was just how I like it, not too charred, not too thin. More than a bit of crisp iwhen you finish the toppings, it’s a nice bready rind. I’m definitely looking forward to having more of it tomorrow.
We had been intending to hit Capogiro before heading home, but if there’s one phrase I can’t resist for dessert, it’s “salted caramel”. Barbuzzo drew us in with the salted caramel budino — a glass crock with a chocolate cookie crumb base, filled with vanilla custard, topped with a generous layer of salted caramel (sprinkled with a little extra salt for good measure) and a spoonful of crème fraîche sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs. It’s a little like creme brulée and a little like vanilla cream pie and a lot like eating spoonfuls of delicious salted caramel. Needless to say, that little crock went back to the kitchen with barely a speck in it.
Additional pluses: Barbuzzo’s kitchen is open until midnight, every night. They do takeout pizza, in super cute boxes to boot. If you like any of serving dishes your food comes in, I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted many of them for sale at Open House, their homewares shop across the street. If you get there too late to hit up Verde (or your husband is concerned about melting), Marcie has included a selection of her marcie blaine chocolates on the dessert menu. (Hopefully, this is a sign of crossovers to come. I’d love to see some of her barks sitting on the counter at Grocery.)
Hardena: You really can’t beat a place that serves up a mountain of food for $6. They also had a fish curry that I absolutely gobbled up, and I am not typically a fish fan. Follow your instincts on what looks good, or let the guy guide you. Or bring a friend, and try 6 dishes for $12. Thanks, Mark, for the rec.
M Restaurant: It’s an incredibly cute space — a quiet courtyard, set off from the street, with a little garden. Now that it’s cool enough to consider sitting outside without getting heatstroke, it would be a great place for drinks and snacks. None of the food was memorable in any way when we were there, so I’m happy to hear they’ve changed chefs and menus. Let me know what you think if you go by!
Amis: I seriously never recommend Italian places. So, take this with all due seriousness. I have recommended it to people, and I would go back. This probably translates, if you normally dig Italian, to: you will find this restaurant mind-blowingly delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered (the rice balls were my particular favorite.) Also, the people-watching was great. I was very amused by the guy sitting next to us bragging to his date about how he was a regular, and knew all the best dishes, and she should just let him order for her. Then he ordered exactly what we had gotten.
El Rey: It’s fun. It’s kitschy. The chilaquiles were good. The enchiladas were delicious. It was cheaper than El Vez, but even louder. How loud? My waitress repeated my order back to me, and it was loud enough that I couldn’t hear her confirm that she had heard me wrong. Oh well. The carnitas tacos I ended up with were tasty enough; if you actually had the gorditas, tell me if I missed out. I’d probably go back if I were nearby, but wouldn’t make a special trip for it.
Maru Global: Oh, Maru Global, I wanted to like you so much. I love takoyaki! I want so badly for there to be non-sushi Japanese restaurants in Philly! But after you made me and my co-workers wait FORTY minutes from ordering to food on the table, at lunch no less, and offered up not so much as an apology, I will not be back.
I cannot tell a lie. Being pregnant has definitely reduced the number of places I write full-on reviews for. But I do leave the house, more often than you might guess from the posts of late. Here are some 10-second reviews of spots I’ve hit this spring and summer.
Adsum: Their foie gras poutine sparked a heated debate over which was the superior over-the-top fry dish, that or Village Whiskey's short rib fries. (Me: poutine, Bryan: VW.) The fried chicken was tasty, but Rick Nichols had me expecting mind-blowing. The pickled watermelon is the distillation of all things summer, so go grab a drink and snack at one of their outdoor tables!
Sampan: Their pan-asian fusion food was fine. Maria Valetta from Sips, Bites and Sites raved about their ramen, which I am hot to try when it returns to the menu come fall. But none of the dishes created a burning desire for a return trip, and the world’s most overly solicitous waiter made me feel like my dinner for two was fast on its way to a dinner for 3.
Koo Zee Doo: This was the last place Bryan took me for a date before our wedding, which may have burnished its glow, but I thought this place just had such a warm and wonderful vibe. They were doing lively trade with couples, larger groups… I even saw a few kids there. Being portuguese, the menu is fairly fish-centric, but the Bife à Portuguesa (steak, fried eggs, potatoes, yum!) was on at least a third of the tables, so I don’t think I missed the ultimate experience dining with my seafood-hating husband. Seems likely to get a return visit post-pregnancy.
Sketch Burger: Everything was very tasty, but we had a burger, salad, fries, shake and a soda, and spent more than $30. I probably will not be back.
Paesano’s: OMG. Everything you have heard about Paesano’s is true. If you haven’t heard anything, let me spread to you the glorious word. Their sandwiches are amazing, and I can’t believe I waited this long to go there. Warning: No human being could eat a whole one at once. Their magic: We reheated them in the oven for dinner, and they were JUST AS GOOD as hot at the shop. I might almost say better, because amazement is such a delicious side dish.
A couple of weeks later, I heard someone at Reading Terminal complaining about some lackluster sandwich they had just eaten, saying, “And I could have spent that money getting a sandwich at Paesano’s!” I am with you 100 percent, sir. If they got Paesano’s to open a location in Reading Terminal Market, it could truly seize the title of sandwich mecca. Kick that sushi bar out of center court. Reading Terminal, your destiny is waiting!
For more 10 second reviews, check out my Winter Wrap-up (Part 1 and Part 2).
I lived on 13th Street for 5 years, so I feel a warmth in my heart every time another great neighborhood spot opens. I may not live there anymore, but it still feels like my own. Zavino is a far cry from the greasy tables of Mama Angelina’s and the 13th St. Pizza counter of my day.
The menu has 4 sections: veggies, seasonal specials, meats and cheeses, and pizza. It being the height of the season right now, both the veggies and seasonal specials are wonderful. They love to pair a vegetable with a fruit (as do I) and that is perfect at this time of year. Most of the seasonal specials I have ordered involve mozzarella. Last week, this was pillowy slices of burrata, for those days when fresh mozzarella isn’t quite indulgent enough. If you are cheese resistant, the specials usually include at least one pasta dish daily, pizza specials, salads, and other little things they feel like sticking in there. (all veggies $6, specials $6-$15)
(Kennett pizza. I can only apologize for the quality of this photo; the light was fading.)
The pizzas are my preferred crust type — not paper-thin, practically a flatbread; not overly-thick, “did I get a fancy Boboli?” — but a thin crust, with a nice bit of chew on the ends. The oven is hot, hot, hot, as you will discover heading to the bathroom, so there’s a nice blackening bubbling going on with the crust. All 3 pizzas I have tried have been lovely, but I think the Sopressata, with pickled onions, olives and Claudio’s mozzarella, is my favorite. ($9-$14)
On my last visit, I also saw several of their meat/cheese/veggie tasting boards ($18) go by, and was regretful each time that I had not ordered one. But, I’ve found that for two people, a veggie, special, and pie were the perfect amount of food. If you’re feeling ambitious, I did see several pizza fans finish off their own!
They have plenty of wine choices, all available by the glass, and their seasonal cocktails looked tempting. (Root beer float with ROOT and cream soda? Um, yum!) But Zavino, you won my heart with one simple move.
This is one of Zavino’s tasty housemade sodas. It is $5, a perfect size for sharing, and available flavors vary by day. The lemon-lime is wonderfully tart. The strawberry had nice fresh strawberry flavor. None of them are super sweet. Trey Popp informed me (via Restaurant Club) that they even fizz the water in-house. You know what stinks about being pregnant? Ordering iced tea all the time. You know who feels my pain? Zavino. On behalf of the preggie sisterhood, I thank you for your delightful non-alcoholic options.
Zavino 112 South 13th Street Philadelphia, PA 19107-4532 (215) 732-2400
Zavino is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week; late-night Friday and Saturday.
I am not a sucker for the over-the-top burger, generally. But it’s like the folks at Frög Burger peeked into my secret heart of hearts, and devised the over-the-top burger guaranteed to melt me into a puddle of joy.
The LOVE Burger is a burger with grilled cheeses for a bun. A patty in TWO grilled cheeses! How has this not already swept the country? How has an abomination like the Double Down preceded the grilled cheese bun burger to the national stage? It matters not. Now you have access to a grilled cheese bun burger, and, well, the rest of the country can just fend for itself. In the dreamy future, I hope they offer an option with bacon in those grilled cheeses. But the LOVE Burger has already stolen my heart, and I expect to eat more than a few this summer. (With a buddy, though — it is 3 sandwiches in one, people.)
Not already drooling at the thought of the LOVE Burger? You’ll still want to get over to Frögburger right away. These dudes hanging out? They have just figured out early what many will soon know. This is the perfect spot for summertime hanging out — you’re right on the edge of Logan Circle, with the grass under your feet, and the breeze off the Parkway in your hair. Frög Burger is serving beer, wine and sangria, and if they get the guy busking with cowbells on the steps of the Franklin Institute to find a new haunt, it will be a terrific place to while away a summer afternoon.
Minor complaints (and I’ll note this was their first day): There was definitely too much special sauce on the LOVE Burger; it took me 7 napkins to eat it. The cheese fries were eh — they were cheesed too soon so it was congealing by the time I got them, and the cheese is just whiz. I found the lemonade too tart. (A personal preference. Bryan said that’s exactly how he likes his lemonade.) The half and half was fine, but both drinks were $2.50, which I think is pretty steep, considering the size of the cups and the $4 Yuenglings available. Also, where were the “Killer Cake” Bars? Tempt me, folks. Put them out where I can see them!
For the burger-haters out there, they are also serving turkey burgers, hot dogs and a Chesapeake “crab roll”, and a bunch of interesting veggie dishes, too. You can check out the full menu on Mealticket’s writeup. Then, make plans to show off this new spot to your friends, before they want to show it off to you!
Initial reviews of Bobby’s Burger Palace had not been so good, so I had more or less ruled it out (who wants to trek out to West Philly to wait a long time for a meh burger?) But one of my co-workers told me he really liked it, and it’s open late, so I swung by one night at 10:30 to give it a shot.
I promptly found myself there TWICE more in the following two weeks. Were the burgers just that good? I actually had chicken sandwiches every time. They are tasty enough, and I really liked the fries, but it was two other elements that brought me back.
1) I love the number system. You go place your order at a register, and they give you a number. Take a seat — they’ll bring you your food when it’s ready. I first encountered this ordering system in Australia, and I thought it was genius from the get-go. There’s no negotiating your bag, your coat, whatever, with a tray in your hand, with its accompanying undertones of your high school cafeteria. Want more food? Stand up and order some more. Want to leave? You paid when you walk in, so you can walk out whenever you want.
2) It’s well suited for solo dining. Bryan was away for a couple of weeks, so I had more opportunities than usual to dine alone. I think my criteria for solo dining is pretty standard — mostly I’m looking for somewhere bright enough to read, with non-hovery wait staff as a plus. Bobby’s is not only delightfully well-lit, but a good third of their seating is at a long serpentine bar, perfect for the solo diner. With a regular flow of wait staff around the bar, I could always find someone if I needed something, but overall, they were pleasantly chit-chat free as I tried to read.
As you can see above, in addition to the fries, I sampled their onion rings and the Bobby’s signature item, the crunch burger (or the crunch chicken sandwich.) The onion rings were of the thick and oniony variety, with 6 or 7 in an order. They were fine, I suppose, but I don’t really consider myself an onion ring lover. I’d get the fries again, or try the sweet potato fries next time. And I cannot tell a lie — I really dug the crunch burger. But I also put Doritos in my hot dog buns as a kid, so take that for what you will.
I will also give them credit for offering their wide variety of burger options as turkey burgers and chicken sandwiches. If you’re in the market for a chicken sandwich, this is actually one of the best selections in town. And the lines have dwindled substantially from the first few weeks. It never took me more than a few minutes to take a seat.
There are a lot of tasty burger options in Philly at this point, ranging from Five Guys/500° to Barclay Prime. Bobby’s may not have blown me away with their food, but they managed to carve out a place on my dining card by differentiating on service style.
Check out the Wrap-up Part 1 for Percy Street Barbecue, Ladder 15 and more!
Lacroix: I love their brunch, absolutely love it. The next time you have a special occasion, treat yourself to it. It is the best $55 you will spend on a meal this year. Their lunch is pretty good. I was not wowed by their dinner. This could be because they are very fish-centric, and Bryan is a fishophobe.
Silk City Diner: Inconsistent. They had a pork belly special that night that was so nice we ordered it twice (one to eat, and one to bring to a friend), and Jenn actually developed a love of brussels sprouts after eating it. But the tuna tacos were nothing to write home about, and the edamame was a disappointment. If you say “soy ginger & sea salt dipping sauces” on your menu, I expect to receive multiple sauces, not one sauce, and edamame with salt on top. It’s just one of those places that rarely comes to mind when I’m thinking food. But outdoor brunch days are nearly upon us, and they certainly have a delightful spot!
10 Arts: We went to 10 Arts the week after Meritage, and had the pork belly appetizer at both. Meritage had a tasty, crispy, fatty, everything-you-expect-pork-belly-to-be dish. 10 Arts was totally, transcendently different. We licked the plate. I have had some things here that were just ok (skip the pasta), but most things I have had here were truly noteworthy. A pricey meal, but worth trying. I’ve heard bad things about the Restaurant Week experience, though.
Le Virtu: As a rule, I don’t go out for Italian. I think I make it pretty well, and I think Italian out is expensive for what you get. Le Virtu did not change my mind. If you go out for Italian, though, I bet you will like it. My dining companions definitely did, and check out how tasty that mozzarella looks!
New Delhi: Though they are not as spicy as when you order off the menu, I dig Indian buffets. Otherwise, with 2 people, you only get to taste 2 dishes, and this makes me very sad. New Delhi is my in-town standby for buffets, almost entirely because they let you pick your dessert. What if I couldn’t have gulab jamun? I might cry. I had a truly awesome Indian buffet in Exton or Pottstown a few months ago. (It had a chaat bar! And mango lassis in the buffet! Well worth the $12 lunch price.) Where do you head when you’re looking for an Indian buffet?
Fond: Do not skip dessert! I had a mascarpone “cannolis” made out of tuile cookies, a hazelnut sauce and raspberry-rhubarb sorbet that was just incredible. Dinner was tasty, service was lovely, and the price was right. It’s a really small place, though, so a table of loud and obnoxious people can spoil your meal. Not that I wasn’t fascinated by their diatribes on the female psyche, but … I can stay home and watch Spike TV for that.
I’m going to be on my honeymoon in Belize next week. So, keep an eye out for posts from Jenn and Michael, and I’ll see you when I get back!