Square Burger: Great Addition to Franklin Park

Philly has some nice parks but none is more kid-friendly than Franklin Square. It has a merry-go-round and mini golf, and guys walk around making balloon animals for the kids. What it was lacking, until very recently, was good food. It is fairly close to Chinatown, so you could pick up food there and walk over, but there was nothing right in the park. Stephen Starr has opened a shack in the middle of the park called Square Burger. No, the burgers aren’t square, but they are pretty damn good.

Along with the tasty burgers the place has one of the few good specialty dogs in the city. Philly, for all of its great food, has no gourmet dog shops like one of my favorite spots in NYC,  Crif Dogs. Their Philly Dog is a good kosher beef dog wrapped in kosher salami with hot peppers, pickles, tomatoes and mustard. It satisfied a hot dog search in Philly that had gone hitherto unfulfilled. Square Burger’s fries are fresh cut and made to order. A bit on the salty side but very good nonetheless.

The drinks and desserts were pretty good as well. Sarah had a tasty lemonade and a sundae, while I had the Cake Shake, a butterscotch shake with Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets mixed in. Very decadent and lowbrow – I loved it!

The only couple of complaints that I have are that it took quite a while to get our order and the size to price ratio. They were very busy and clearly still working out the kinks in the food prep. Also, the burgers are somewhat on the small side. At near $4 apiece, I wasn’t expecting a huge gastropub burger, but I would normally like a bit more that what I got. For this review I got both the burger and the dog so it worked out that I could finish both. But for most people who just want a burger these might leave you a little hungry.

Otherwise, if you are in Franklin Square, check out Square Burger. It’s good to have a high-quality fast food joint around while enjoying a day in the park.

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Recession Food: Recipe Bonanza, and Greek Bean Soup

Check out Shapely Prose for a great collection of readers’ favorite low-cost recipes for hard times.

This soup recipe from commenter Lisa sounds particularly tasty.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to whip up a pot this week in honor of Greece, where people know how to register their anger with failed economic policies.

Fasolatha (Greek bean soup)

3 Medium Carrots Sliced
3 Celery ribs Chopped
1 lb Navy Beans, soaked overnight
1 Cup Olive Oil
3 cups water
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 Pinch Pepper To taste
1 Pinch Salt To taste
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1 Cup Diced Tomatoes
Directions:

* Soak the beans in water overnight.
* Strain the water and place the beans in a pot with new water.
* Boil for 2 minutes; strain. Repeat once more. This prevents the beans from causing gas.
* After boiling and straining the 2nd time, return beans to pot, add 3 cups water, and simmer.
*While the beans simmer, saute carrots, celery, and onion in a small amount of olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to beans, stir and continue to simmer until beans are tender, approx. 1 hour.
*Once beans are cooked, add tomatoes and olive oil. Simmer again. Add seasonings to taste.

At this point, the soup is ready. I often puree about 1/3 of the soup for a thicker consistency. This is an old Greek recipe; inexpensive, healthy, and very tasty.

I’m guessing you could probably used canned beans in a pinch.  This is vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free, and could easily be vegan if you use vegetable stock.

Recession Food: Matzo Brei

Yes, folks, now that the financial sector is in total collapse and we’re staring down the very real possibility of a new Great Depression, it’s time for another installment of what will clearly be our ongoing series, Recession* Food!  Those of us who didn’t make millions running banks into the ground are tightening our belts, cashing in our change jars and wondering about that seven hundred billion dollars (!!) we’re being told we’ll hand over to the rich, so I’m afraid I won’t be reviewing many fancy restaurants on this blog anytime soon.  Seriously, a loaf of bread, a block of store-brand cheddar and a bag of Lay’s chips just cost me eight bucks.  It’s going to be a rough winter.  I will, however, be creative at finding ways to make tasty, nutritious food as cheaply as possible.  After all, that’s what most of the six billion people on this planet try to do every day.  Which brings us to matzo brei (or matzah brei), a Jewish favorite with Ashkenazi origins.

I’m not Jewish, and it’s been only recently (thanks largely to the lovely folks at the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) that I’ve been introduced to the joys of Jewish culinary traditions.  So my introduction to matzo brei came from a book: the delightful Garlic and Sapphires, former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her adventures in dining.  In one chapter toward the end of the book, Reichl is describing a period when the backbiting and snobbery of the food world began to get under her skin.  She reacts one night by cancelling her reservation to a lofty temple of haute cuisine and staying home with her two-year-old son making matzo brei, his favorite.

This matzo-and-egg dish is incredibly simple, quick and cheap.  (It’s also vegetarian and very Crohn’s-friendly, with its high protein and easily digested matzo.**)  I used Manichewitz ‘everything’ matzo, which, like the ‘everything’ bagel, has bits of onion, garlic and poppy seed for some added flavor.   There are lots of versions out there, including one that’s closer to a fritatta; there are also sweet versions with fruit and sour cream.

This recipe is meant for two, but Joe and I found that it took three crackers and four eggs to satisfy us.  Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  This takes five minutes to make.  Really.

Matzo Brei (recipe by Ruth Reichl)

2 matzo crackers

2 eggs

Salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Set a colander inside a bowl (to catch the crumbs) and break the matzos into little pieces, dropping them into the colander.  Remove the colander from the bowl and hold it beneath running water until the matzos are damp.  Allow them to drain; then put the damp matzos into a bowl.

Break the eggs into the bowl and stir with a fork just until mixed.  Add salt to taste.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add the matzo-egg mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and there are a few crispy little bits.

Put on plates and serve at once.

(Note: This might be blasphemy, but the spice lovers in my household ate this with a generous dollop of Sriracha hot sauce.)

*Stay tuned, I may have to rename it “Depression Food” and start offering recipes for roadkill and bathtub gin if this keeps up.

**Celiacs, you can buy gluten-free oat matzo, or try this recipe.  I haven’t tried these, so I can’t comment on their quality.  For those with wheat allergies who can tolerate spelt, though, I have eaten spelt matzo and it is freaking delicious.  Both are available from MatzahOnline.com.

Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

Leek Mashed Potatoes, with a bonus leftover recipe

There are some beautiful leeks coming out at the farmers’ market right now.  I love the flavor of leeks, but the only recipe I really know is potato-leek soup.  Joe and I put our heads together and came up with this easy, tasty fried leek mashed potato dish.  We had it with a roast chicken and Jennie’s excellent and easy roasted green beans.

Leek Mashed Potatoes

3 leeks, with green parts cut off, split down the middle

1 1/2 lbs potatoes (we used Yukon Golds), skin on

3 tbsp light cream

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste

Dice the potatoes, leaving the skin on, and boil them until they are tender enough to poke with a fork.  Soak the leeks in water for about 20 minutes to wash out any dirt.  Remove from water; drain.  Slice the leeks into 1/2-inch strips.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the leeks.  Let them cook down until they are soft.  Remove them from the oil and put them into a food processor.  Pulse the processor just once or twice– you don’t want to puree the leeks, you just want to chop them into smaller pieces.  Return to pan with 1/2 tbsp butter and sautee until the butter is incorporated.

Mash the potatoes in a large bowl.  Add cream, remaining butter and leeks and fold in until they are incorporated.  Serve hot.

This recipe is gluten free and vegetarian.

Got leftovers?

Leftover Leek Potato Pancakes

Leek Mashed Potatoes

1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs

1 egg

olive oil

plain yogurt or sour cream

Form leftover mashed potatoes into balls and flatten.  You should have a pancake about the size of your palm and half an inch thick.  Beat the egg in a bowl and dip pancakes in egg to coat them.  Roll them in bread crumbs.  Heat the oil in a pan and fry until golden brown and delicious.  Serve with yogurt or sour cream.

This recipe is vegetarian.

Sketch Burger: Holy Kobe!

I have been to the top of the mountain… and they serve hamburgers.

OK, that mild rise on Girard isn’t really even a hill, but the hamburgers really are amazing.  I’m talking about the newly opened Sketch Burger and Shake Joint, at 413 E. Girard in Fishtown [where: 19125].  Dear readers, we have a serious contender for Best Burger in Philly.

The menu is simple: burgers and shakes, and one token salad.  Pick your protein, sauce and toppings, and choose from four shake flavors (vegan or milk).  Options are beef, turkey, ‘smashed onion,’ vegan burger, chicken, and American Kobe beef, as well as the day’s special, a seitan burger highly recommended by the server.  Joe and I, being hedonists, went straight for the American Kobe burger ($9.75).  He got harissa aioli, I chose Thai peanut sauce on the side.  I went for grilled onions and avocado.  The burger arrived, and it was massive.  Really, I cannot believe they crammed that much meat into one burger.  Most kobe burgers tend to be on the small side– $9.75 may be expensive for a burger, but for kobe it’s really an excellent deal.  It arrived medium rare, thank God– overcooking meat of that quality is a sin.  We got our burgers to go, so the bun was slightly soggy, but it really held up well given the juiciness of the burger.  The grilled onions sat below the patty, and above it were slippery sliced avocado, a slice of juicy ripe tomato and some high-quality salad greens.  This is a difficult burger to eat.  It’s crammed full of fresh ingredients that want to come bursting right out of the bun.  The effort, however, is worth it, as is the 20-minute wait while your burger is cooked to order.  The end result is incredibly rich, flavorful, juicy, and did I mention rich?  It was a bit of a shock to my system since I’ve been eating lightly recently, but very much worth it.

We also shared a vanilla milkshake, which was flavorful and thick but not too thick.  (As Joe put it: “Thick, but I won’t have a brain embolism trying to suck it through a straw.”)  Everything is made fresh here, so no chalky chemical taste either.  I try to take it easy on the lactose, so I’m really looking forward to trying a vegan shake.

The shop itself is cute; there are blackboards everywhere and rolls of butcher paper on the tables, and customers are encouraged to doodle with chalk (hence the “Sketch” name).  It’s also open until 11 pm, which is wonderful for those of us who live in the neighborhood.  And vegans, vegetarians and the lactose-intolerant can all find joy in this menu.

I found only two downsides to our delicious, gut-busting meal.  One was the cheese selection: American (ew, plastic), horseradish cheddar, pepper jack, vegan and bleu.  One straightforward cheese option, an aged cheddar or maybe a sharp provolone, would be welcome.  The other was the standard side order of Cheesy Poofs– ours were stale.  Sketch would be better off dropping the little orange orbs and developing the ultimate French fry.  They’ve mastered the ultimate hamburger, so why not?

Memphis Taproom: Fishtown Foodways Grow Up

Fishtowners rejoice- you have a new hangout.  The new Memphis Taproom [where: 19125] opened this week at the corner of Memphis and Cumberland, and Joe and I went to check it out last night.

It’s a simple spot– a bar, a small dining room, wooden floors and lighted glass blocks for decoration.  The menu, too, is simple: hot appetizers, salads, sandwiches and platters, with an excellent selection of local beers on tap and reasonably priced bottles.  The food is straightforward– burgers, fried chicken, sandwiches– but it’s clear that chef Jesse Kimball, formerly of Center City’s Matyson, knows what he’s doing.  There are little creative twists on each dish that make this bar food into something special.  Jacket potatoes come with real, aged cheddar, not the canned stuff; steak frites are tinged with garlic and served with a light arugula salad and excellent fries.  Fish and chips can be ordered with fish, or with miso-marinated battered tofu.  The hot appetizers are substantial enough to satisfy late-night drinkers, and the meal portions are filling without the giant-plate excess offered at so many Philly restaurants.  Joe’s pulled-pork sandwich was a toasted roll filled with smoky, tender pork, spicy barbecue sauce and an inventive smoked coleslaw.

Memphis Taproom has only been open for four days, so some of the kinks are still being worked out: not all of the beers we ordered were actually available yet, and desserts, brunch and the late-night menu aren’t up and running yet.  Still, there’s no question that this will be a regular hangout for Fishtown locals and neo-Fishtown hipsters alike– they were represented in just about equal numbers when we visited.  It’s a balance that many local businesses find difficult to strike, and Memphis Taproom is succeeding so far: enticing hipsters with retro decor, lots of vegetarian and vegan options, and a sophisticated beer menu, while also making longtime locals feel welcome with reasonable prices, tasty interpretations of local classics like pirogies and Polish sausage (a dish that’s close to my Pittsburgh heart) and an unpretentious atmosphere.  (No cheesesteaks on the menu, though.)

The Taproom’s website says that Kimball is “currently studying the foodways of America’s inner cities,” and he’s certainly picked a good place to do that.  I for one am looking forward to walking down the street and sampling his interpretations of Philly cuisine on a regular basis.  Especially those steak frites.