Breakfast at Tierra Colombiana

Photo from CubanFoodUSA.com

Joe and I recently bought a car. Nothing fancy, just a cheap little used car that gets us where we need to go and doesn’t look too awful. I do most of the driving, because he works in Center City and I work up in the northern suburbs.

My new commute takes me straight up Fifth Street right until it ends. I had no idea there was so much North Philadelphia! This stretch has long been known as Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community, although its northern reaches comprise Koreatown. It’s not a wealthy area, but it’s bustling and vibrant. If you can dodge the insane double-parkers, there are some really good eats up this way.

Of these, the most well known is probably Tierra Colombiana. This Colombian-Cuban hybrid is consistently well reviewed, though many reviewers have a tendency to worry too much about the location, which is ZOMG THE GHETTO!!!1!one!! Yeah, it’s not that bad, white people, calm the hell down. Go with a light heart, find yourself some on-street parking and prepare to be amazed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pennsylvania Omelettes with Fingerling Potatoes

I was going to call this a California omelette, since it’s all about the flavors of avocado and tomato, but then Joe pointed out that the tomatoes, cheese, eggs, potatoes and onions were all locally raised in Pennsylvania.  (The avocadoes are from Mexico, by way of Trader Joe’s, and they were mostly overripe.)  So Pennsylvania omelettes it is.

This is a great dish for a lazy Saturday brunch.  Really, this is how Saturdays should be spent.  The way I see, it, our foremothers and fathers in the union movement of the 1930s fought and sometimes died to win us the weekend, and we ought to enjoy it fully.  (Ditto for lunch breaks.)

By the way, don’t skimp on the tomatoes here, because the whole dish depends on their quality.  If you use fresh, ripe, organic tomatoes that are in season, you will not regret it.  Good cheese is also crucial here.  We used some amazingly sharp, funky Colby from the Headhouse Market.

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Pound Cake with Lemon Curd

pound cake

Oh, pound cake, you buttery temptress.  So satisfying, yet so versatile.  You’re dessert, breakfast, a coffee break snack.  You’re so easy to make, yet so often you’re served dry and crumbly.  Can I do you justice? 

The good news is that Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, that venerable friend of vegetarians, has a beautiful pound cake recipe.  And my favorite cooking guru Alton Brown has a wonderful recipe for lemon curd that goes with it beautifully.  Lemon curd, if you’re not familiar with it, is a tart, lemony custard that has many, many applications, my favorite of which is as a topping for pound cake. 

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Ida Mae’s Bruncherie: Not just for brunch anymore.

Ida Mae's

I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.

So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?

I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.

The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.

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Honey’s Sit’ N’ Eat: Texan-Jewish Fusion Brunch

It was a sunny fall Saturday, we’d slept in late after an exhausting week, and we’d heard great things about the newly reopened Silk City Diner in Northern Liberties, so Joe and I waited for the number 5 bus and schlepped over to Spring Garden St. We arrived at Silk City at 3:50 pm, salivating with anticipation, only to be told that they were closed already and would reopen at 5. There was no sign to tell hungry potential diners they were out of luck, of course.

I’m generally a friendly, easygoing person, but don’t get between me and food. It’s just a bad idea. We made our unhappy way up the street to Honey’s Sit’N’Eat and arrived at the stroke of four, just at closing time. We weren’t expecting to get anything to eat, but popped our heads in anyway, and a friendly, bearded server told us that if we ordered quickly we could still eat.

We both ordered chicken-fried steak, which came with gravy, two eggs, a potato latke and a buttermilk biscuit. Yes, a potato latke. Honey’s is run by Jewish foodies from Texas, and the cultural combination makes for a fascinating and eclectic menu— beef brisket and biscuits and gravy share space with Mexican breakfast dishes and matzo ball soup. Our latkes tasted and looked more like spicy hash browns, but they blended well with the slightly spicy gravy and savory buttermilk biscuit. And oh, the chicken-fried steak…

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Brunch at Cuba Libre

Joe and I are brunch eaters. I’ve come to believe that brunch is the best of all possible meals. First of all, it’s the meal of leisure: you don’t eat brunch on work days, you eat it on the weekends, after sleeping in. You eat brunch with your sweetie after a relaxing morning, or with a group of friends. You take out-of-town guests to brunch. It’s fun. Second, there’s the meal itself: It’s breakfast! It’s lunch! Technically it’s both, but really it’s about being able to decide which meal you want after sleeping late enough that you really ought to be eating lunch. And unlike breakfast and lunch, brunch comes with delicious cocktails. And coffee. The dishes, too, tend to be more creative at brunch: restaurants try to outdo one another with unusual meals that draw crowds.

Brunch, in other words, is awesome. Any restaurant that can do it justice (and so many do not) is one I will frequent.

We’d heard good things about the Tropical Brunch at Cuba Libre in Old City, but it wasn’t until last week that we finally made it over there. I’m almost reluctant to write about it, because we didn’t have to wait for a table, and if I tell you how good it is you might all start going and then I’ll have to wait in line. But- sigh- I’m a food blogger, and that’s my job, so I’ll let you in on my secret: Cuba Libre’s brunch is amazing. It’s been a week and I’m still salivating at the memory.

The restaurant’s main dining room is built to resemble the patio of a Cuban villa, with tile floors and an upper level with traditional architecture and plants hanging down. In warm weather, the outer doors open onto sidewalk seating. The black-clad waitstaff darts back and forth from their sections to a small coffee bar built into a nook underneath the stairs.

Drinks are all themed, and would be a little gimmicky if they weren’t so good. Joe had a Cafe Cuba Libre, a large cup of Cuban coffee flavored with coconut milk. It was rich and sweet enough not to need sugar (which Joe normally adds). I had a pomegranate champagne mojito, which was strong, sweet and served with lots of properly muddled mint. Yum. The serving was generous enough that I had a hard time finishing mine.

Joe ordered the Torrejas, described thusly: “hazelnut and almond encrusted French toast stuffed with Frangelico-Mascarpone cheese, aromatic honey drizzle.” It’s a huge dish, beautifully presented covered in crushed nuts, honey and powdered sugar. The inner Mascarpone filling is incredibly rich. The pleasant surprise here was that it was not, as you might expect, overwhelmingly sweet. In fact, the filling and bread were very subtle, and most of the sweetness came from the drizzle and powdered sugar on the outside.

I ordered the Duck Frita Salad, and I swear to you, a week later I can still taste every bite. I’m not normally a big salad person, but this just floored me. Here’s the official description: “Warm braised duck leg meat shredded and crisped, garlic mojo, mixed greens, hearts of palm, banana chips and a poached egg, orange-saffron vinaigrette.” Yeah, I know, and it tastes even better. The duck meat was rich and crispy, with a complex flavor that contained hints of garlic, mint, anise, and possibly cumin, and the serving was generous. The greens were fresh and crispy, mostly spinach with some romaine, evenly tossed with the subtle vinaigrette. I prefer spinach in my salads and was pleasantly surprised. The poached egg added even more richness, and the hearts of palm and banana chips liberally sprinkled throughout gave the salad a wonderful crispy texture. Did I mention this dish is gluten-free? It is, like many of the dishes on the menu.

Service was mixed- we sometimes had trouble getting our server’s attention, but that was mostly because she was busily attending to the next table over, which was filled with people who hadn’t read the menu and then got surprised when their food was served exactly the way they’d ordered it and demanded changes. (I really hated customers like that when I was waiting tables.)

The brunch at Cuba Libre isn’t cheap enough for us to do it regularly– entrees average around $12– but it’s really worth the splurge. I’m looking forward to having that salad again as soon as possible.

[where: 10 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106]

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Cuba Libre in Philadelphia

Cashew Banana Muffins

This is a wonderful, quick and simple recipe that was sent to me a few years ago by a very nice woman from the message boards at Celiac.com (I’ve made a few small alterations).  These are gluten-free and dairy-free, delicious, and an easy, nutritious breakfast.  They’re a great way for Crohn’s patients to get low-impact protein.  If you’re not into cashews, by the way, you can use peanut butter, almond butter or any other nut butter.

Gluten-Free Cashew Banana Muffins

8 oz cashew butter

2 bananas

4 eggs

1 teas. baking soda

pinch salt

1 teas. vanilla

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp flaxseeds (optional)

1-2 Tbs softened butter or oil (so the muffins will come out of the
paper cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend all ingredients in a food processor until they make a smooth batter.  Pour into a muffin pan (either lined with muffin cups or well greased).  Bake at 350 degrees for *about* 15 minutes or until top is slightly firm.  (To test whether they are done, insert a toothpick into the center of a muffin.   If it comes out clean, they’re done.)  These freeze really well and you can take a couple out in the morning for lunch or the previous night for breakfast the next day.  They’re particularly good toasted and buttered, or with yogurt. Makes about 12 muffins.

By the way… technically, these aren’t muffins at all, but soufflés.  I won’t tell if you won’t.

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