Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pop Lyfe

You don't have to be from New Jersey to have heard of The Pop Shop. Bobby Flay threw down here two years ago! The 50's dineresque atmosphere and the extraordinarily family friendly menu has earned it a high place atop many lists of favorite restaurants. I can always convince Molly to forge through a day of thrifting (South Jersey has a lot of great places!) if I promise to take her here. This was another family outing destination when we lived in Haddonfield. To be honest, I always had a little Collingswood envy. It's such an awesome town! Haddonfield is great but there was always a lot more going on further on up the road.

As soon as I step in the door, my diet goes out the other direction and hits the curb.

I know I'm in my 30's but that doesn't stop me from ordering a bubble gum shake we are (finally) seated. You can go here at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon and there will be people here. There isn't always a wait but it's always busy.

We went last Sunday afternoon for a family reunion celebration. Molly and I landed in Philadelphia after spending almost two weeks in Georgia. She came back to me at the beginning of the month from visiting her dad for six weeks. Since it was our first outing as a family in almost two months, we had to make it special.

Milkshakes for everyone!!!!

They have an entirely separate menu for ice cream based bliss. Sundaes, shakes, sodas.... Chris got a peanut butter and chocolate shake and Molly went with her usual vanilla.

As far as the eats are concerned, the Pop Shop has you covered. Didn't get up until 2 in the afternoon? They serve breakfast all day! There's a wide selection of egg dishes and a variety of pancakes (bettys). Feel like a grilled cheese? They have right around 50 different makes and models. Veg like me? No sweat! They have veggie dogs and burgers, vegan pancakes and even vegan cheese. They have a section of the menu dedicated to all of their veg*n specialties. I sometimes go with either the dogs with kraut and mustard but a word of caution: the mustard is atomic! Get it on the side! They have homemade ketchup too! Another favorite of mine is the tofu wings!

It's listed under appetizers but I order it as a meal with some fries. It's difficult not to suck down my shake immediately but it always pays off to save it to go with my meal. There's nothing better than the salty/sweet combo!

With the massive menu full of choices at the Pop Shop, you can come up with your own favorite salty/sweet combination.

Hmmmm....maybe I could throw down at the Pop Shop with my fried green tomato grilled cheese sammich....

The Pop Shop
729 Haddon Ave
Collingswood, NJ 08108

Friday, August 20, 2010

Factory Girl

When we lived in South Jersey and decided it would be a good night to step out for some dinner, it was never difficult to convince the family to go to the Mexican Food Factory. Actually, it was Chris who would suggest it first with Molly and I quickly falling in line and rushing out the door.

I know, I know...lame name but believe me, it's EXCELLENT!

Not only is there a feast for the stomach, there is also a feast for the eyes. The restaurant has a lovely ambiance that is decked out in Frida Kahlo and Deigo Rivera.

You can't trip and fall up here in New Jersey without going face first into great Italian food. There's a slew of ethnic eats that aren't easy to come by in the South but great Mexican restaurants are few and far between. There is one great place here in Princeton that I hope to get back to for the blog but if I had the choice between that and this one, I'd go with Mexican Food Factory any day. This isn't just a burrito place....the food here is fresh, festive and authentic. I haven't had a single item off of the menu that was less than a solid 10.

They start you off by bringing out some chips with three different styles of salsa with varying levels of heat. The verde is my absolute favorite and it's the midgrade. The chunky pico de gallo brings maximum spice. The salsa is not complementary but it's very reasonably priced and definitely worth the splurge.

No matter what I order on the menu, I always make room for one very important thing.

Black. Bean. Soup.

It's the best of the best. I dream of this soup and I'd give anything to be able to replicate it . It's dark and rich with a small bed of rice at the bottom. It's the main reason I come here but even if it didn't exist, there are many other reasons that we'd still make the trek down from time to time. It's always worth it. This is one of the true gems that I have to offer you on this blog if you live in New Jersey.

The Mexican Food Factory
601 W. Route 70
Marlton, New Jersey 08053

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This One Goes Out to the One I Left Behind

If you've never been to The Grit, you've never truly been to Athens, GA. It's not only one of the most famous vegetarian restaurants in the country, it's a rock n' roll landmark. Athens has a hopping music scene with some fantastic local history. If one of your favorite musicians comes to town to jam out at the 40 Watt or the Georgia Theatre (before it burned down), your best chance at a sighting is to stake out The Grit. All of them eat here.

There's a good reason they come to The's delicious! I've brought two skeptical omni friends here who left with full bellies and smiling faces. The atmosphere is adorable, there's excellent people watching and the menu is full of great choices. They have everything from breakfast, sammiches, various ethnic specialties and a rotating selection of southern style veggies and sides along with side splitting desserts.

I know this picture doesn't make it appear so but it's a hopping place! It isn't very often that I'm able to go to a restaurant and order ANYTHING on the menu so I always relish the experience. Being able to order a rueben is an exceptional treat!

There are many variations of the vegetarian rueben. Tempeh, seitan... The Grit throws it down with tofu and it is so good that it's almost scary. They slice it in small thin pieces and season it just right. The first time I brought an omni here, he had the rueben and was blown away. In the background is the Baby Dal. My sister Allison was with me and threw me a curve ball by ordering this! She likes the curry my mom makes at home which is of the Golden variety. Indian curry is quite different from this and she isn't a very adventurous eater so I was impressed. She took a bite from the small bowl and said it tasted bland. "Bland" is the exact opposite of how I'd describe a proper dal so I took and bite and, sure enough, I was underwhelmed. What could have gone wrong? We were a bit thrown by the 'dressing' that came with her meal which is pictured right in the middle of the table. I told her to try mixing it in and that was the kicker. It completely transformed the experience. The flavors were distinctly Indian and had a pleasant level of spice. There are a lot of great Indian places where I live but none of them have sauces that you stir in to activate the curry. This was new and thought provoking.

We split a slice of turtle pie which was basically pecan pie with chocolate chips. It didn't photograph well but it tasted awesome. If you don't have the reason or the means to make it down to the Liverpool of the south, The Grit does have an awesome cookbook available to order. I've had a copy for years and it's a great addition to any collection. The book is a treasure trove of Grit goodness that is busting with rock star testimonials. You can jam out any of these recipes and earn some rave reviews of your own.

I'm already looking forward to headin' down the Atlanta Highway again this winter for a repeat performance. It's a little ol' place where we can go together.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FGT + Grits = :-)

My sister, Allison

I recently returned home after spending almost two weeks in Winder, Georgia visiting family and friends. Winder is about 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta and 15 minutes from Athens which is the home of the University of Georgia (and R.E.M.,The B-52's and one of my husband's favorites: Of Montreal). I usually am busting to get over to Athens because several of my favorite places to eat are there. Winder isn't quite as fun or hip. Every time I visit, I see a new restaurant but when I return, it has usually closed down. Unless you're an already established name that people know, it's just about impossible to do good business there. Well known chains manage to flourish. When I lived there, a Sonic came to town and had the most successful opening in the history of the restaurant. There was actually a truck full of cargo in the back that was being cooled by a generator because they kept running out of food. It was the place to be that weekend....I know because I was there! Meanwhile, the coffee shop I was working for at the time went out of business a few months after it opened up.

Not too long before I moved to New Jersey, a restaurant called FATZ Cafe opened near the local Wal-Mart. It makes sense to want to be in a spot with lots of traffic so that was a good move because the Winder Wallyworld is hoppin'. I'd never heard of Fatz before but they evidently have quite a few other locations in the southeast. I was sure they wouldn't last long and I'm glad I was wrong. Why? Because I can get fried green tomatoes on top of cheesy grits.

And while I'm waiting for them to fry those bad boys up, they will bring me some (free!) poppy seed donut thingies that I can dip in cinnamon honey butter.

When I'm done with my meal, I usually have a FGT or two leftover. They will gladly bring me a box and when I'm hungry later on in the evening I can heat them up and eat them OR....

...I can make a grilled cheese sammich with a dang 'ol fried green tomato in it. I tell you what man! You talkin' 'bout GOOD!

I'd say that's definitely a recipe for success!

Fatz Cafe
442 Atlanta Highway NW
Winder, GA

Monday, August 16, 2010

Breakfast at Pamela's

Our hotel in Pittsburgh had fancy and overpriced breakfast items available for delivery to our room and I'll admit, breakfast in bed was tempting! However, we decided to venture out and see what the city had to offer up. My friends Eric and Mandi had been to the 'Burgh a week before us and raved about the amazing hotcakes at Pamela's so I couldn't pass that up! This chick is a serious Pittsburgh player. Her awesome diner has several locations (and a major following!) and she is also a partner in the Peruvian restaurant from the previous post.

The crowd outside the Strip District location was large but they got us seated in about 15 minutes. It was a difficult decision deciding what to go with but I came for hotcakes. I knew I'd want something salty along with it so I ordered a side of their "almost famous" Lyonnaise potatoes. They may not look like much in the picture but there was definitely something about them that nailed my craving. The hotcakes were a masterpiece. Thin and succulent on the inside with a crispy frame. Chris ordered his stuffed with banana and chocolate. I tried my best but I barely made it through half of mine before I had to throw in the towel.

I don't know if I'll ever have another hotcake that comes close to this! It was tempting to go back to Pamela's the following morning but we were lured to another place in the Strip District by the promise of donuts.

The rise of artisan sweets is one of the most triumphant things about being alive right now. Ice cream, cupcakes, breads.....and mmmmmmmmmmmmm donuts!

Peace, Love and Little Donuts puts just about ever other place to shame. The hot donut sign is always on here! Since it was our first time, we each got a free sample. They gave us a choice of powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. Chris went with the first, I went with the latter. It was hot, fresh and good good good! I tried to convince him to go with a full dozen but he decided to be sensible and get a half. We each picked three and they were not easy choices! I think we did okay though....

The sea salt one was my favorite. The vanilla sprinkle was also delish. Yes, that is maple bacon in the back. The only thing that could make it better was coffee so we went next door and made it happen.

21st Street Coffee and Tea specializes in just that. To watch them lovingly grind and press each cup to order with their sexy chic toys and such, you'd swear that these people must have a PhD in hot beverages. I ordered a decaf/skim cappuccino and it was masterfully prepared to the point where each sip had my eyes rolling into the back of my head with pleasure. It was just the thing to send a freshly made donut over the top and off the hook. I know I'll never have another cup of coffee as good as that one.

My belly is begging me to go back to Pittsburgh.

21st Street Coffee & Tea
50 21st Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Pamela's P&G
60 21st Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Peace, Love and Little Donuts
2018 Smallman St
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Friday, August 13, 2010

Around the World in Pittsburgh

I slipped a little bit last month but things have been busy (which is good!) and I've got lots of stuff to share (which must be why my waist has expanded).

My guy and I decided to try to salvage the time we had together this summer before Molly came back and do something fun and romantic! He knew I'd always wanted to see the Andy Warhol Museum so he proposed a trip to Pittsburgh. I was excited to plan the trip and we ended up saving a bundle on a nice hotel via Hotwire. I've heard you can do well with airfare as well but we've yet to try that option. It felt like an adventure not knowing where we'd end up but we scored a room at the Omni William Penn and I'd been drooling over that place so I was thrilled! The room had a pitiful view but the location was great! Downtown Pittsburgh is lovely and quite clean! The people were nice and there was a vast selection of things to see. We walked to and from the museum on Saturday from our hotel which was lovely. We stopped at the Pittsburgh Popcorn Co and got a small bag of buffalo and ranch flavored goodness. We sampled a few other interesting popcorn flavors. The guy behind the counter said that the Chicago blend is very popular. It's a mixture of cheddar and caramel corn. I was skeptical but the sample was delightful! We crossed the Andy Warhol Bridge to and from the museum and then decided to hunt down some dinner. Our hotel had a great issue of a local magazine that had a cover story on cheap ethnic eats! Chris and I had a good time deciding which places to try. We went Vietnamese and Peruvian. We saw several of the other places in the article while we were exploring the city and we already can't wait to plan another trip back so we can try some tacos made with fresh shells and ingredients.

Our first evening in the city, we thought the write up on lemongrass tofu sounded too good to pass up in the magazine so we headed up to the Lawrenceville neighborhood and went to Tram's Kitchen.

Very tucked away but also quite worth the hunt! The menu had a great selection of Vietnamese fare and was so vegetarian friendly! Almost anything on the menu was fair game. Chris and I split an order of lemongrass tofu and rice (delicious!) and we each got a bowl of serious soup! I went with the satay which was full of flavor without being overrun by spice.

It's not very big but the service is excellent and the food was very satisfying. If you do decide to check it out, please note that it is a cash only establishment.

The following night took our palates across the city and across the globe to La Feria in Shadyside. This is a much more upscale neighborhood with everything from an Apple Store to Lilly Pulitzer. You can get your shop on and then relax over a comforting dinner of Peruvian rice and beans that will allow your wallet to recover. While you're waiting for your food, you can check out the lovely selection of handcrafted items that they have for sale. They have a daily special everyday that features some sort of a combination of rice, beans and grains served along with garlic rice, French bread and salad. On weekends, they have two each of vegetarian and meaty cassaroles. I went with the tacu tacu which was black beans and rice topped with some fried banana.

The combination of flavors from the casserole mixed with the banana was wicked awesome. The salad was nicely dressed but I could have done without the powdered parm. Chris really loved my dish. He said it was the best thing he had the whole time we were there. He was thrown off by the whole banana thing but they were draped over the top and could have easily been removed (and given to me!).

We really enjoyed exploring the city and expanding our world cuisine experiences. Dinner for two at both places averaged about $25. We decided to drop a little extra at La Faria for dessert...

Housemade pastry with dulce de leche. Totally awesome!

Pittsburgh was bursting with city pride and ethnic goodness. The Strip District is loaded with various markets and grocers from all over the world including the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.

We topped off both nights that we were there with a little visit to The Church Brew Works.

It's a century old church in Lawrenceville that has been renovated on the inside and transformed into a brewery!

They have a great selection of different brews. We went with the sampler the first night we were there and for $16, we were able to taste a 3 oz. glass of every different beer they had on tap (eight in all). We had an early dinner on Saturday so by the time we arrived later at the Church, we were in the mood for a snack. We went with the traditional perogies and they were insanely good! Probably the best perogies I've ever had actually!

The next Pittsburgh blog will focus on the most important meal of the day! We started off each morning with even more local awesome!

La Feria
5527 Walnut St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Tram's Kitchen
4050 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Church Brew Works
3525 Liberty Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15201