Everything Old Is New Again

The Dish

by r. eric thomas

I recently got into a debate about what the true boundaries of Philadelphia are. Well, actually, as with most conversations about the nature of Philadelphia, it wasn’t so much as debate as it was one person making loud declarations and me saying “What? That doesn’t make any sense. You’re crazy.” My friend Andre holds fast to the belief that the only true Philadelphia is South Philly. “Anything above Washington isn’t Philly!” he shouted. “What is it, then?” I asked.

“It’s the Delaware Valley.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. You’re crazy. What about West? I think Will Smith would contend that he’s from Philly.”

“Is he from South Philly? Otherwise he’s not from Philly.”

I love Philly, all of it. I’ve lived in South Philadelphia for 8 years, and I doubt I’ll ever leave, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a Philadelphian. I think it’s one of those birthright things. South Philly, with all it’s peculiarities and eccentricities, is a country all its own. It has its own language, its own rules (park wherever you want; savies totally apply), and its own national holiday: Mummers Day. For a couple of years I lived across from Potito’s and was greeted every Sunday morning by the delightful aroma of freshly baked almond cookies mingling with the garlic and oregano of homemade gravy on my neighbors’ stovetops.

South Philly has a unique, familiar feel that, thankfully, has not been resistant to newcomers, interlopers and change. If you ask Andre, the borders don’t expand, but they’re not closed either. Nothing makes that more clear than the recent boom in business on East Passyunk Avenue. The diagonal street presided over by his majesty, the King Of Jeans, has seen a sharp rise in new businesses of late. Many of them are decidedly un-South Philly. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just different. The sometimes-pricey additions like Scandinavian BYOB Noord and the upscale Fond, which offers foie gras and escargot, stand in stark contrast to the neighborhood’s roots.

Thankfully, the boom in business on EPA  has given birth to the delightfully classic Noir. A warm, friendly bistro serving Italian-French fusion, Noir is the best of old and new South Philly.

When you sit down in the dining room at Noir, you’re likely to be reminded of your grandmother’s house. Well, I don’t know your grandmother so I could be totally off on this. Besides, the mention of grandmothers tends to bring to mind lace doilies and moth balls, which is not my intention. The dining room at Noir, with rose-colored walls dressed in large sepia-toned photos of a happy Italian family, has the family feel with a nouveau Philly sheen. Atmospherically, everything from the cherry-wainscotting to the collegial staff to the music—a mix of 80s classics and Motown—is homey and perfect.

Noir is the brainchild of chef-owner Marco DeCotiis and partner, Donnamarie Motto. DeCotiis, who is Italian by birth and a Montreal native, brings the two aspects of his heritage together beautifully in a menu populated by Italian standards with French-Canadian touches. I started my lunch with a spinach salad topped with pears and shaved cheddar and dressed with a maple Dijon dressing. Chef Marco stopped by the table and pointed out that the maple in the dressing was one of the menu’s many welcome Canadian touches. I wanted to ask him if I could have a glass of the dressing to go, but I refrained because I pretend to have class.

I mulled over the entrée possibilities while chatting with Marco and Donna about their charming love story and their plans for the restaurant. “We’re changing with the response that we’re getting from people,” Donna told me. She noted that they were still tinkering with the space and the acoustics, but had recently brought in their first comedy event and a speed dating night. “We have a following,” Marco added, “Old school and new school.”

Time and again, the co-owners came back to the local focus and family roots of the restaurant, something that is apparent and welcome in every aspect. Donna drew my attention to the drink menu, filled with variations on 40s- and 50s-era cocktails, mostly made with the house-infused cherry vodka. She also noted that as temperatures rise, she’d be introducing a spiked water ice cocktail, made with product from Mancuso’s across the street. “We’ve become friend with everyone on East Passyunk Avenue,” she said. “I don’t view it as a competition. Everyone has their own clientele; we help each other.”

The menu is full of delights, including Montreal Sandwich, featuring meat smoked in-house, but I finally decided on the decadent-sounding Linguine Raffeala with shrimp and crab in a tomato lobster cream. My waitress warned, “it’s addictive, but you won’t be able to finish it.” Challenge accepted, madame! The dish arrived moments later; it was huge and rich but surprising light. I devoured it like it was my last meal on Earth. I could tell my waitress was impressed, or frightened. Either way. The Linguine Raffeala is one of those amazing dishes that’s so good it’s hard to imagine ever getting anything else on the menu. This, of course, is counter intuitive since it clearly shows that Chef Marco can do no wrong. Next time I’ll probably try the Pappardelle Bolognaise or the Ghnocchi al Telefono, but I’ll get a Linguine Raffeala to go.

I finished my meal with a truly phenomenal lemoncello marscapone cake. Everything about it was heavenly. It was so light that it seemed the epitome of the phrase “melts in your mouth”, yet had a tart sweetness that lingered long after it was done.

If the nation-state of South Philly has a national food, it’s clearly Italian. The abundance of Italian options in this region is unparalleled. Is there such a thing as too much Italian in one place? Not when it’s this good and comes from an even better place. Noir has all the time-worn traits of classic Philly with just enough fresh ideas to keep this transplant coming back.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 9.06.32 AM R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) is a playwright, stand-up dramedian and teaching artist. He has been called “one of the most talented storytellers in Philly” by the Philadelphia Weekly. He is the author of four produced plays, including “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, Baltimore) and “The Affair” (LateNite Theatre, New York City). His solo show, “Will You Accept This Friend Request?” premiered to a sold out run in November 2011 as part of the First Person Festival. “Overexposed: A Slightly Awkward Peep Show”, a three-person show Eric co-created with Daniel Student and Jennifer Macmillan was produced by Quince Productions and played a sold-out run in February 2012.
Eric has read or performed for Kevin Allison’s RISK! with Janeane Garofalo, The Soundtrack Series, Yum’s the Word, BalletX, Jaime Fountaine’s Second Stories at the Dive, Queer Memoir, “Live at Kelly Writers House” on WXPN and First Person Arts Story Slams, at which he has twice won Best Presentation. His writing has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, Columbia University’s The Collection, thinkingdance.net and The Q Review.
He has opened for comedian Kelli Dunham at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn and returned to Stonewall with Kelli in a new two-person comedic storytelling show in February 2012. He was honored to be asked to speak at the 2011 TEDxPhilly.
He can be heard weekly on the roundtable storytelling podcast, The World Exists, available on iTunes, Stitcher and at TheWorldExists.com.
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Hitting The Burger Bull’s Eye

THE DISH
by R. Eric Thomas

Even if you’ve never eaten at Jon’s Bar & Grille, you know it. The bumblebee-colored bulls-eye Larry Fine mural on the side of the restaurant looms over South Street like a tribute to the patron saint of shenanigans. That’s an actual saint, by the way. This new Pope is doing all kinds of things. In any case, shenanigans are what you’re likely to find on the corner of 3rd and South that Jon’s occupies. It’s situated across the street from drunk-munchies staple Lorenzo’s, a brightly lit headshop and an oddly successful hat shop (honestly they’ve stayed open for years just selling hats. Only hats. For your head. America is amazing!). On any given day and far into the night, you’re likely to encounter literally anything outside of Jon’s doors. South Street is known for many things, but culinary delights hasn’t always ranked. With a newly refocused menu and a commitment to an extensive quality beer selection, Jon’s seems to be trying to change that.

jons burgerI sidled up to a bar a little after 9 on a Wednesday and sat between two couples enjoying a little nosh. When I dine alone I like to sit next to people on dates so I can listen to their conversations. It’s like dinner and a romcom. Yes, it’s creepy; no I’m not sorry about it. The couple on my right were mumblers, which I have no time for. It’s just rude, really. Jon’s has such a chill ambiance: the lights are bright, the sound is low. It should make for perfect eavesdropping. But apparently these people were not interested in sharing their sweet nothings with a third. Their loss. The couple on my left were not as circumspect. One got the manager’s attention and called across the bar, “I’ll have the beer that’s my namesake: Old Heathen.” Well, well, I thought. The plot thickens.

 Jon’s is all about the beer. The manager told me they regularly seek out brews you likely won’t find anywhere else in the city, including the Blanche de Bruxelles, an impossibly light witbier, that seems perfect for sipping on Jon’s ample patio space in the summer. Should summer ever come again.

I found myself sitting in front of the tap for Southern Tier Crème Brulee, an imperial stout that filled the air with the aroma of caramelized sugar. It smelled like a confectionary, which is not a complaint. It’s just nice to find a bar/restaurant that doesn’t smell like the tale end of a Saturday night.

I shook the sugary dreams of dessert from my head and focused on the task at hand: spying on the couple on my left. The woman took a sip of her date’s Old Heathen. “This beer matches your personality: sweet but bitter.” I stifled a laugh. The first step of eavesdropping is playing it cool. I jotted a note in my notebook that read “Don’t let this charming couple dominate your review.” And I’m actually just now reading that note. It looks like that ship has sailed.

The woman told the manager, “I’m having a conflict. He wants a burger and I want ribs. But I also want a burger.” The manager pointed out that from Monday through Thursday Jon’s runs a buy one burger, get one burger free deal. “How’s your conflict now?” he quipped. Nothing solves a dilemma like free meat. That’s not even a double entendre; that’s just the truth.

I found myself persuaded by the deal, too, even though as a solo diner I didn’t really have a use for a free burger. Well, that’s not true. I always have a use for a free burger. Always. I’ll pull a Kristen Bell at the Oscars: throw it in my purse and keep on moving. But I was trying to act civilized in front of my new favorite couple. I vacillated between the 3 Stooges Burger, which boasted smoked mozzarella, bacon and sautéed onions, and the Mesquite Burger. I chose the latter because it has avocado and I’m all about health.

This burger is the truth! Don’t believe me—my new couple friends also got it and flipped out about it. Sharp cheddar, applewood bacon and the aforementioned avocado topped the huge patty and the whole thing was accompanied by a mesquite mayo. I am such a sucker for a good aioli. If someone proposed to me with a ring topped with a little ramekin of spicy sauce I would immediately say yes. And then I would grab a side of fries and go to town. This is a strange scenario. I’m just saying, don’t be shy about the mesquite mayo. I used it on my burger, I used it on my fries, I snuck a little in my pocket for later. Don’t be shy!

I probably ate the burger in 5 minutes. I was starving and it was delicious. It was a hefty portion but I’m also a para-professional eater. I mean, I don’t do it competitively, just compulsively. And it’s my para-professional opinion that Jon’s is a surprisingly welcome, totally delicious find on a stretch of South Street known for booze and bands. It’s chill on weeknights and rarely on a wait even on the nicest day due to ample seating indoors and out. And if that’s not reason enough to stop in, remember this: they will give you a burger for free. You buy one, and they will just give you another one. America is the best!

When I looked up from my plate, I noticed my couple friends had also devoured their meals. The man turned to his lady, “I like how when we first started dating, you’d take two bites and then say you’re full. Now your plate is clean and you’ve got your hands on mine.” I leaned over and said, “That’s how you know she’s marriage material, friendo. Now breakout that aioli engagement ring!”

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 9.06.32 AM R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) is a playwright, stand-up dramedian and teaching artist. He has been called “one of the most talented storytellers in Philly” by the Philadelphia Weekly. He is the author of four produced plays, including “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, Baltimore) and “The Affair” (LateNite Theatre, New York City). His solo show, “Will You Accept This Friend Request?” premiered to a sold out run in November 2011 as part of the First Person Festival. “Overexposed: A Slightly Awkward Peep Show”, a three-person show Eric co-created with Daniel Student and Jennifer Macmillan was produced by Quince Productions and played a sold-out run in February 2012.
Eric has read or performed for Kevin Allison’s RISK! with Janeane Garofalo, The Soundtrack Series, Yum’s the Word, BalletX, Jaime Fountaine’s Second Stories at the Dive, Queer Memoir, “Live at Kelly Writers House” on WXPN and First Person Arts Story Slams, at which he has twice won Best Presentation. His writing has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, Columbia University’s The Collection, thinkingdance.net and The Q Review.
He has opened for comedian Kelli Dunham at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn and returned to Stonewall with Kelli in a new two-person comedic storytelling show in February 2012. He was honored to be asked to speak at the 2011 TEDxPhilly.
He can be heard weekly on the roundtable storytelling podcast, The World Exists, available on iTunes, Stitcher and at TheWorldExists.com.
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Power House Salad

salad1 salad2 This salad had Charisma!

Dressing

Juice of 1.5 lemons
2 TBS of Soy
2 Crushed Cloves of Garlic
2 TBS of Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

8 Cups of chopped Kale
Pour half the dressing over the kale and massage very hard.  You want the acid in the lemon to break down the fiber in the kale.

Add
1/8 of a Cup chopped purple onion
1/2 an avocado cubed
1/4 C Sunflower Seeds
Pineapple
Strawberries

This salad has everything.  Sweet, sour, salt, zing, sweet, creamy smoothness.

 

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Tempeh w. Garlic, Mushroom & Spinach Over Quinoa Pasta

garlic. mushroom. spinach temphe over quinoa pastaI Died A Little When I Tasted This

This is seriously a quick lunch I made with some goodies, I had in the house.

I boiled 8 oz pkg of Tempeh from Trader Joe’s for 30 minutes.

Sauteed:

3 TBS Minced garlic
1/4 Cup Minced Red Onion
2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms
3 TBS Olive Oil
dash Salt
dash Pepper
3 TBS Soy Sauce
3 TBS Capers
3 TBS Sriracha
2 TBS Maple Syrup

After the above sauteed for about 20 min, I added some water and the mashed up tempeh.  Then I added in a ton of baby spinach and some more water.

Served over Brown Rice/Quinoa pasta.

Seriously amazing flavor, great textures, vibrant colors.  I highly recommend.

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Barry’s Baked Tofu

baked tofuPomegranate Ginger Soy Baked Tofu

I seriously had no idea how this was going to turn out.  This was a test recipe and I have to say I think I nailed it!

3 TBL Olive Oil
3 TBL Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Vinegar
3 TBL Soy
3 TBL Agave Nectar
1/4 TSP Minced Jalapeno
1/4 TSP Minced (very fine) Ginger
Dash Blk Pepper
Dash Salt
1/2 of a Trader Joe’s 15 oz  Sprouted Tofu
Drain, Dry and Cube the tofu.
2 Cups Chopped Mushrooms

Marinate for 1 – 2 hours.
Bake at 350 for 40 min turning every 10 minutes.

Pull the mushrooms out at 30 minutes, set aside.

Steam 2 Cups of brussels sprouts until tender.
Place the leftover marinade in a saute’ pan.  Add in the mushrooms and brussels sprouts in the pan and then stir until marinade thickens and evaporates.

Serve over brown rice.

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Drink Yer Juice Shelby

IMG_6779Oh no, he bought a juicer

I got creative this morning with my new juicer.

Beet
Romaine
Apple
Carrot
Cucumber
Ginger

I honestly just started throwing the veggies and fruit into the juicer.  Yeah, willie nillie, just like that, no recipe.  I’d watch the color and see how it looked.  I wanted beets and carrots with ginger, I knew that.  But I also wanted greens and had some romaine that was aging fast in the fridge.  I threw in the apple to bring up the sweet factor and eliminate some of the earthy beet flavor.  The cucumber was to an attempt to dilute some of the denseness the beet and carrot were bringing.

It was not a juice you’d want to drink on a sunny summer day.  This was a power house juice that you would drink when you know you want to dramatically increase you oxygen flow and stamina, which is perfect because I’m heading to Ranger Boot Camp!!!

IMG_6781

 

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Hippie Liberal Vegan BBQ

hippie liberal vegan bbqBBQ That Would Vote For HILLARY

“Read My Lips, I am not a VEGAN.”  However, I consider it an enjoyable challenge to create meals that are vegan and see how healthy and delicious I can make them.  This dish [minus the bbq sauce] is like Barak Obama in 2008 – A Winner!

I am guesstimating on the exact quantity of veggies and mushrooms.  Don’t over add oil to anything, you’ll pack on needless calories.  The roasting and broiling bring out such amazing flavors, always err on the side of less oil, less salt and less pepper.  You can add seasonings when it’s done!

I give you:  BBQ Cremini Mushrooms with Maple Syrup roasted Brussel Sprouts and a side of Cauliflower Mashed FAUX’taters.

Mushrooms
Pay attention because these are HARD!
Cut 3 cups of mini cremini mushrooms into 1/2 thick slices.
Add 1/2 TBS of oil to a pan w. salt and pepper
Sear mushrooms on one side – flip do the other.

Put seared mushrooms on baking sheet – broil for 3 min each side w BBQ Sauce – I used Amy’s BBQ Sauce form Whole Foods ( i DO NOT like the flavor)

Brussel Sprouts
These are harder than the mushrooms
Cut about 3 cups of sprouts in 1/2.
Lay cut side down.
Drizzle w 11/2 TBS of oil & 1 TBS combined.
Salt and Pepper.
Bake at 400 for 25 Min.

Cauliflower Mash FAUX’taters
Boil 3 cups of Cauliflower until it breaks apart with a fork.
Put into food processor.
Add 1 TBS of oil.
Pepper
Garlic Salt”
Puree’

 

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