Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dispatches from Abroad, Part 2: We Did Pat's and Geno's

So the Missus, the Giblet, and I ended up in good ol' Philly-delphia the other day. Ms. Dave is not usually game for my ridiculous food adventures, however, she is currently 8 months pregnant and had recently seen some Food Network special on Philly cheese steaks which inculcated in her a grand craving for cheese steaks. We decided to do the Geno's and Pat's thing, very touristy I know, but we were pressed for time.

If you don't know, Geno's and Pat's are a couple of walk up cheese steak joints that happen to be located kitty corner across an intersection and have something of a rivalry. The below picture is of Pat's taken from just outside Geno's.

If you do research you will find that a lot of Philly locals will poo poo these two places and recommend some joint that is located at the end of a hidden trail and staffed by magical creatures who shit out Plato's ideal of a cheese steak. Locals get very deep with the whole cheese steak thing (kind of like I do with dinky dogs), and Geno's and Pat's are considered touristy and bush league. But the wife had seen these places on TV which sealed the deal for my little family. We started with a Geno's.

Apparently, the owner of Geno's is something of a card. You get a little right wing propaganda to cleanse the palate at Geno's. They are even still doing the whole "freedom fries" thing.

The Missus and I decided to split each joint's offering. At Geno's we got a steak "wit" (onions) and cheese whiz. It was about 9 bucks. Here she is.

At Geno's the beef is left in slices, not chopped up as per usual with cheese steaks. The cheese whiz is placed under the meat and the onions are on top. The onions are diced and cooked through but still toothsome, not much caramelization. It should be noted that the onions seem to be cooked independently from the beef and placed on top during sandwich assembly. The bread is an Italian style hoagie roll with a chewy crust and airy crumb. The grease is copious and free flowing, but not in a badway. Mrs. Dave immediately voiced her approval of this form of sandwich.

We had been lucky enough to score a table at Geno's (perpetually crowded) so I left the wife and daughter munching on the remaining heel of the sandwich and ambled over to Pat's to see how the other half lives. Pat's is a little more subdued in decor than Geno's, none of the flash and a little bit more of a nuts and bolts operation. They give you some instructions on how to order a sammitch so you don't get yelled at.

Pat's is not shy about being the "originator" of the cheese steak. I picture Pat nightly shaking his fist across the intersection at the upstart operation that is Geno's.

I decided to get provolone on the Pat's for a little change of pace. Here is the Pat's steak. Notice the ketchup on half. Mrs. Dave is a hardcore ketchup fiend from way back and would not think to eat anything served betwixt bread without a dollop of the crimson goo. It should be said that the fact that Geno's offers Heinz and Pat's Huntz could have tilted her preference towards Geno's. She is a bonafide Heinz lady.

On my return trip it was pretty clear that it would not be the best idea to sit at the Geno's table and eat a Pat's sub, so we took this one to the car for consumption.

The meat on Pat's steak is chopped up and the onions seem to be cooked a bit more and mixed into the beef during cooking. A couple half rounds of fairly sharp provolone are placed on the bread before the beef. The only melting that occurs is through contact with the hot meat so the cheese maintains its form. I found the bread to be similar to Geno's but a little (dare I say it?) less fresh. It didn't have the same pleasant chewiness. Also, Pat's hands you your cheese steak on a square of wax paper as opposed to wrapped up like Geno's. If you are not careful, you will spill a torrent of beef grease onto your pants whilst holding the thing and walking. Trust me, I have a ruined pair of pants that serve as a testament to this fact.

Before my final thoughts, a note on condiments. Both locations have a stainless steel cart with serve yourself accoutrement for the cheese steak. The one pictured here is Pat's.

Both places have ketchup, mustard, and all you can eat cherry peppers. Unique to each is that Geno's offers a signature hot sauce (pretty spicy) and Pat's has these chiles.

I found this to be an interesting and pleasant surprise at Pat's. These are dried chiles in oil, not something I would have thought to throw on a sandwich but it is pretty ingenious. Should I ever open a sandwich shop this will be offered.

So which one did I like best you ask? The sandwiches weren't really that different in terms of quality but I would have to say I like Geno's better. Pat's was pretty good, but not leaps and bounds above your work-a-day cheese steak that you could find right here in the Capital Region. The Geno's cheese steak seemed to me a little more unique. I liked the pleasing greasiness of the intact slices of thin beef and the hearty chew of the bread. If you are ever in that neck of the woods I recommend that you do what we did and try both.

Anyhow, we did a little sight seeing in Philadelphia prior to the sandwiches and happened upon the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile at a red light. As we were stopped next to the blessed vehicle, Mrs. Dave (bless her heart) managed only to capture this image as proof.

Anyhow, Philadelphia seemed to be my kind of city. It was dirty, gritty (in parts), and working class but with a visceral since of history (not to mention a fiercely proud populous). Philly seems to operate within the same plane of America that I do (it is not quite Upstate America, but it is close).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dispatches from Abroad, Part 1: Indianapolis Jones

So I was removed from my native habitat and compelled to venture fourth to Indianapolis, Indiana for some work stuff. I have actually been flitting about the country quite a bit the past couple of weeks, that is why you haven't heard much from me. Even though I usually keep the subject matter limited to my ramblings throughout Upstate America, I thought I might widen my horizons for a couple of posts.

Upon arriving in Indianapolis I inquired of several folks where they thought I should eat. I got pretty much the same response from several people, i.e. "Go to St. Elmo's, have the shrimp cocktail." From what I gathered St. Elmo Steak House is kind of an Indianapolis institution. Most natives describe the restaurant as hanging in limbo somewhere between tourist trap and legit steak house. I decided to give it a whirl.

The place has your standard "wood walls with pictures of famous people and other tchotckes to show you that we are a real, ol' timey steak house" vibe. Having been very emphatically urged to "try the shrimp cocktail" I decided to make it so. The "fiery cocktail sauce" is apparently one of St Elmo's main claims to fame.

The waiter gave me a little "have you ever been here before? you better be careful..." schpiel, but I shrugged it off as I have found that more often than not these warnings are warrantless and I am left disappointed. I got a goodly looking pile of shrimp with a dollop of fresh looking cocktail sauce served up in a cunning little ice bowl thing.

I forked up the top shrimp along with a hearty amount of sauce and popped it in my mouth. OK St Elmo, I like the cut of your jib. I apologize for questioning your fortitude. This particular cocktail sauce is absolutely laden with freshly grated horseradish. The sensation of each bite is something like snorting wasabi. I don't know that I have ever ingested that much horseradish in one sitting. It was nostril clearing and painful in a pleasantly refreshing sort of way. Thoroughly enjoyable. Here is my empty bowl to affirm my manliness, I left nary a drop of the fiery sauce behind.

Another recommendation for good eatin' that I had received was for Shapiro's Deli. Shapiro's started off in Indianapolis about a hundred years ago and now has a couple different locations in the area. Food is served cafeteria style, lunchroom trays and all. They are famous for their desserts (which actually looked very, very good) and their Reubens. I took their word for it and got a Reuben and a deviled egg.

I had no complaints about the Reuben, it was fairly standard issue. The deviled egg was a little weird, extremely sweet flavor most likely from a hearty douse of relish. Much more enjoyable was the experience of being served things like kosher dills and matzo balls by people with broad midwestern accents.

To wrap up my culinary tour of Indianapolis, I went to the temple of all which is good and holy.

Don't care if it is cliche, I actually really like White Castle. Anytime that I am in the vicinity of a location I make a point to visit. This time I veered from my standard order of good ol' cheeseburgers and got a couple with bacon and a couple jalapeño (also 20 chicken rings for 4.99!)

I was pleasantly surprised by the jalapeño sliders, they actually had a little spiciness to them.

Anyhow, I kind of liked Indianapolis. It had a certain charm that I can't quite explain and I appreciated the city planning. All of the roads seem to be 4 lanes and make sense. Not like our ancient New York cities (Albany I am looking at you) with their maniacal jumble of streets. If you ever make it out there I can now recommend that you go to St Elmo and try the shrimp cocktail...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fried Cheese and Raspberry Sauce, Could This Be Our Corner of Upstate America's True Indigenous Creation?

The raison d'etre for this little blog has always been to explore the strange and wonderful foods unique to Upstate New York (Central, Western, North Country, and Southern Tier sometimes too). We have discussed Utica Greens, Chicken Riggies, Capital region Mini Dogs, Cold Cheese Pizza, Grandma Brown's Beans, and countless others from the pantheon of our storied homeland's delicacies.

Myself, I hail from Albany County. Born in St. Peter's and bred not far from it. Us Upper Hudson River Valley/Capital Region folk tend to be great lovers of blandness, meat and potatoes and such (not too much salt... or pepper...). This is much to the chagrin of many, but I have never cared. I find the mediocrity of much of our local food to be endearing in a folksy sort of way. I guess some of my lack of dismay stems from the fact that I have lived around here (with several exciting jaunts to the four winds) my whole life and I know where to get the good stuff.

Anyhow, I was thinking the other day about whether there exists any true Capital District food innovations. I know we have the mini-dog and our meat sauce, don't worry, I have belabored that point. But after all, a hot dog is a hot dog. The NEBA you say? Well, roast beef on a roll is common as sand at the beach, even if we did used to do it just a bit better than other folks around these parts. So what do we have to offer that an outlander might really have never had, or have even never heard of?

I propose that it could very well be fried mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce.

Kind of anticlimactic right? At least for those who grew up around here, mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce might not seem so strange, you have probably seen the pairing around for most of your life. But it seems to be a true local innovation, I could only even find a few discussions of the topic .

If you have never had it, the prototypical fried mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce used to be sold at Ralph's on Central. They used to have these great, square, lightly breaded jobbers they would serve. I was there a bit ago and the fried mozzarella was somehow not as good. Also, they were calling the raspberry sauce "coulis" which made me throw up in my mouth a little (I felt betrayed by Ralph's putting on airs). On the subject of the raspberry sauce itself, there really isn't too much magic involved. It is pretty much just thinned out raspberry jam/preserves. It is always viscous and smooth, i.e. no fruit chunks (although, sometimes there will be seeds).

But alas, this seems to be a tradition that is fading from this coil... I have been seeing raspberry sauce offered less and less. Most old timey independent pizza joints still have it if you ask. You know what? It is a pretty good combination, you can't usually loose with salty/sweet combinations and this is no exception. I will say that I miss the bliss that was the handcut fried mozzarella that Ralph's used to peddle. Mayhaps one of our more innovative Albany chefs du cuisine could take a hack at this and throw it on menu at a fancy joint. I think the whimsy would be welcomed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Fleet is Growing (Pez from P-Chopistan)

If you will remember, a short while ago I got all excited about obtaining a couple of Stewart's themed Pez dispensers. Well weren't I just tickled to find out that P-Chopistan (Price Chopper, click for way more posts on the subject then you may have ever dreamed to exist) has their very own Pez dispenser as well! I kind of like this gimmick, I was always a fan of Pez. I hope to accumulate a fleet of locally themed Pez dispensers, I think Hot Dog Charlie's should be next.

I will have to give the beauty in design award to the Stewart's truck. I find the P-Chopistani one to be a bit garish.

Anyhow, I was thinking that I wanted my very own Mr. Dave themed Pez dispenser. Only, I don't simply want my name on a truck. I want it to be the real deal head with the pez shootin' out of my neck. Well wouldn't you know? There is someone out there providing this very service (oh internets, how I love thee). So Mrs. Dave, if you are reading I am in the mood for a present.
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