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Chickening Out

CanchickenAfter my less than convincing experiment with farmers' market chicken this weekend, I was pleased to read Pete Wells' Cooking With Dexter column (which I normally ignore because I can't handle the foodie kid theme), "The New Chicken Economy." Apparently, a $35 chicken has sent him fleeing for the supermarket. I've been there along, good times or bad.

Perhaps even more notable was his mention of a pay cut in the publication that cut his pay. If the six-figure salaried think greenmarkets are expensive, what hope is there for the rest of us?

At least no one has resorted to chicken in a can yet

Photo from I Hate My Message Board

Eating Like a Girl


Forget all this dude cooks like a lady gender in restaurant kitchens business. What about eating like a girl? I was bemused to note that in Ed Levine's recap of a recent Bay Area excursion, he mentions throwing out Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream”

"I ordered a large cup with scoops of salted caramel, roasted banana, malted vanilla, and some hot fudge. It was insanely, seriously delicious, rich and creamy, and vividly flavored. It took all the self-control I could muster to throw most of it out."

How girly of him. Or not.

I've always found the concept of normal eating totally confusing, meaning that I don't know what normal is. And food blogs have only added to my uncertainty. I've always associated behavior like throwing food in the trash or sprinkling Drano on irresistibles with bingey (maybe purgey) women…and possibly Frank Bruni, which I’m sure we'll learn all about in his memoir. I'm still disturbed by a scene in Heroes from seasons ago where The Cheerleader makes a big batch of cupcakes with her mom, and then they throw them out. Seriously? People do that? Who does that benefit except freegans?

I just can't throw good food away or not take substantial leftovers to go (I was kind of shocked yet happy to see a waiter at Kevin's during my rare brunch foray, asking a customer if he wanted his food wrapped up. It was seriously like three bites of blueberry pancake. And the guy said yes.) and maybe that's what's keeping me from losing those 13 pounds that will get me to my "goal" weight (not my goal, but BMI standards) a number I haven't been since my teens. Clearly, tossing non-essential food is working for Ed. I see the benefits of strictness and self-discipline but it's tough. Me, I wouldn't have ordered an ice cream in the first place, knowing I shouldn't eat the whole thing.

Then I get all conflicted when I read many food blog maintained by young women, that give the impression they eat junk food, rich fatty food and/or sweets every day (then again, people think I eat out every day because I blog, when realistically I only go to restaurants maybe twice a week). I'm genuinely curious if they eat whole portions, if they share or if they throw a bunch in the trash. Maybe it's simply the difference between mid-20s and mid-30s, a decade ago I  ate whatever I felt like too (um, and maybe that's why I have troubles now). I'm not supposed to eat sugar at all, though I do drink alcohol and splurge on sweets every couple weeks (Amish sticky buns and gelato in Philadelphia two weekends ago), and maybe that's why I'm so hyper-attuned to the eating habits of others. Because I’m freaking sugar deprived. I had to turn down mini Crumbs cupcakes at work today and it pained me despite my scorn for the whole tired cupcake trend. I'd eat Crack Pie and Concretes (I've still never been to Shake Shack) on regular basis if I could. And no, I wouldn't throw one bite in the garbage.

Rhong Tiam

I don't want to overstate their case, and I'm wary of mid-teens pricing, but Rhong Tiam definitely has some of the best non-Queens Thai food I've had recently. Dare I say even a bit Sripraphai-esque?

I think I'm responding to the Bangkok styles they both produce, which I've interpreted as rich curries cooked down to a thickness that ingredients stick together, spicy with balanced sweetness. I have heard that Bangkok's cuisine is considered sweeter than in the rest of the country, though I doubt that means Brooklyn-style sugary pad Thai. Just that the food is sweet in comparison to the austere lime-chile-ness of a northern larb or a fiery hot-and-sour southern fish curry.

You'll be fine as long as you stick with the Thai dishes. I wouldn't cross over into Vietnamese summer rolls or salmon teriyaki, though I'll admit I was curious about the Thai nachos using shrimp chips. I'll save that nonsense for visit number two.

Rhong tiam thai chorizo

Obviously, they just like using familiar lingo, hence this "Thai chorizo." It's crumbly mild grilled pork sausage that doesn't taste like anything Spanish (or German or Italian, for that matter). I ate little bites of chile with mine but the slabs of sliced ginger were too much for me. It is traditional, though.

Rhong tiam pork on fire

Yes, “pork on fire,” dark, possibly soy sauced cubes of meat, with forward chile heat and a hint of lemongrass, is spicy but hardly as punishing as hyperbole on other blogs would lead you to believe. You just need a small pile of jasmine rice, here, molded into a conical shape, to cushion the blow. All of the components are discernable through the heat, which is a good sign. If you want to have your ability to taste obliterated with a burn that surrounds your mouth, grabs your tongue and creeps into your ears, you should try the Southern Curry at Sripraphai. It's a bit much, frankly.  Crispy (I'm still not sure why that word is an irritant to Robert Sietsema—I’m just defensive because I’m a crispy/tasty/perfect abuser) fried basil, lime leaves and onions add both texture and mellowed herbaceousness.

Rhong tiam catfish & eggplant This catfish preparation isn't for the impatient, there are a lot of fiddly bones to contend with in these fried cross-sections. I always thought that the little bones were rendered edible with this style of fish. I hope so, because I eat them. Maybe I've been doing this wrong all my life. I also eat shrimp shells. Roughage, right? The absorbent green Thai eggplant halves added more crunch and the slew of krachai shreds lent a fresh bitter sweetness that I prefer over sometimes too pungent ginger.

Rhong Tiam * 541 LaGuardia Pl., New York, NY

Sunday Night Special: Saffron Chicken Breasts with Pea Shoots and Mint

Saffron chicken with snap peas

Hmm, I don't write much about cooking because it's boring. Coming from me at least. It's already asking a lot of strangers to read about what I eat in restaurants. That's why I'm always amazed at the wild popularity of recipe-driven blogs where comments can reach triple digits and book deals abound. Odd.

But I feel compelled to share the edible results of my Opposite Day experiment with greenmarket ingredients. I'm not spontaneous so the concept of picking up what's fresh on a whim and creating a meal is counter-intuitive. Plus, I don't tend to cook New American fare, which is what seems logical when confined to seasonal and local raw materials. I mean, coconuts and limes don't grow here. Chiles would be manageable, though.

I thought I could come up with something using the chicken, snap peas, pea shoots and mint I'd picked up. Needing guidance, I found Saffron Chicken Breasts with English Pea Purée, Pea Shoots and Mint and instead of making a bed of mashed peas, I tweaked Sugar Snap Peas with Mint and Orange  to use lemon as the citrus. But if I had known this was what I was going to make I would've bought parsley and green onions at the farmer's market, too.

After Grand Army Plaza, we just ended up going to our cheap no-frills stand by, Western Beef, anyway. It's a weird place, great for basics as well as Latino and Eastern European obscurities, but you won't find things like tarragon, Colman's mustard powder (on our shopping list), Fage yogurt or non-utilitarian cheese. I guess that's what Fairway is good for.

While inside the sizable  walk-in meat locker, I decided to buy $1.59 per pound skin on bone-in chicken breasts in plastic-wrapped Styrofoam to compare with the $5 per pound chicken piece (breast, wing and drumstick) I got at the greenmarket. That's not just a little more expensive, it’s leaps and bounds beyond. Three times more. Would I be able to taste the difference?

Chicken breast comparison

Side by side, the conventional chicken breast on the left was bigger, fattier and more yellow than the pinker, more petite fresh one on the right. Once cooked, though, these plus the other two regular breasts I sautéed, all started looking the same. James is dismissive of boutiquey meat so I gave him a standard breast and took the organic for myself.

I thought mine was more tender and super juicy, though I did miss the larger amount of crispy skin (partially my own doing, I’m not much of a butcher and mangled the skin when separating the breast from the leg). But then, I tasted James' and it was also moist and had good texture. Argh, we kept tasting mine hoping for a revelation but both conceded there wasn't a major discernable difference.

For me, flavor is prime. Of course, there's also something to be said for simply avoiding meat filled with antibiotics and chemicals, the product of an animal's miserable life. I'm just not ready to pay three times as much for that yet.

It is a luxury and a matter of priorities. I prefer spending my money on restaurant dining.  It reminds me a bit of my mom’s perception of therapy (which to my knowledge, no one in my family including myself have ever really participated in, not that they/I couldn’t use it). She once mentioned almost wistfully, “that would be fun,” meaning paying for self-discovery and analysis is something self-indulgent that rich people do. In the same way, I view organic meat as being for other people.

Bizarro World

Write what you know? How about write what you hate? It’s not really fair to say you don’t like something if you haven’t even done it, but sometimes scorn is contagious and irresistible. At least to me. So, this Saturday I vowed to be open minded and actually experience popular food-related activities before making any judgments. Opposite Day wasn’t really that painful.

Brunching and trying Stumptown coffee would be easy to accomplish at the same time in 11231. I feel like I cheated a little bit because instead of heading into the maw of the beast, a.k.a. Smith Street, or just walking the three blocks to Prime Meats, we drove to Kevin’s in Red Hook. A true Opposite Day would involve biking the short distance but procuring a new means of transport was too much on short notice. Oh, if I were doing this full force I would’ve found a venue with sidewalk seating, that’s the worst. I’ll sit in a backyard if it’s not crazy hot and humid but there’s nothing less appetizing than dining all exposed on an NYC sidewalk.

Kevin's stumptown coffee

 Kevin’s was suspiciously mellow, just a few occupied tables, a same sex couple, single diners, not a stroller in sight, completely trauma-free. I never ever go out to breakfast or brunch because I don’t like getting up early, and yes, to me being somewhere at noon is getting up early. If I truly wanted to experience what I think I loathe I would’ve woken up around 8am and walked a dog, gone for a run and/or bike ride. None of those things will ever happen (I’ll jog, but only indoors). Other non-food related activities that are likely to never happen: yoga, mani/pedi, paying to have my laundry done and bikini waxing.

Kevin's bacon cheese omelet

A rich cheddar cheese and bacon-filled omelet was just what I needed. The bacon was soft and fatty, which I prefer, but if you like crunchy doneness you might be disappointed. The toast was buttered within an inch of its life, soaked through and through.  The potatoes were ok, though I’d like a little more char on the edges. I would never cook food like this for myself in the morning, but I do appreciate the break from my dull weekday packet of oatmeal or Kashi bar.

Me drinking stumptownI’m by no means a coffee connoisseur, despite how it may appear Northwesterners are not born with an exacting coffee palate, I drink a pre-ground brew from Trader Joe’s. I was expecting this coffee to be stronger, however it was subtle, low in acidity and very smooth. I wouldn’t say there was anything unique about the coffee but the large pot for $5 seemed fair. It turns out I don’t really have any problems with Stumptown or brunch as long as they are consumed a non-populous neighborhood.

 Greenmarket groceries

Next stop, the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket. Rationally, I don’t issues with fresh produce and meat from humanely raised animals. I just don’t like crowds and I happen to be very cheap. For a little over $30 I picked up random odds and ends that included: pea shoots, snap peas, sourdough bread, Cato Corner Farm Hooligan cheese, half a dozen eggs, half a chicken, mesclun, peppermint. It was ok, and definitely didn’t kill me but I doubt I’ll be back any time soon. I am trying to look happy in my photo but I'm not sure if I'm succeeding.

Pretending to like greenmarket

My original plan was to go to Hapa Kitchen at BKLYN Yard, which is completely walkable from my apartment. Asian female food bloggers cooking greenmarket sourced food, the Treats Truck and DJs? Can it get any more Brooklyn? No. And I took a pass.

I fully embraced the speakeasy experience, though. Well, sort of. I think I was probably cheating again because I went to Dutch Kills, in the still no-man’s-land of Long Island City. Oh, and at 8pm so there were only two other groups of people and everything was running smoothly, lots of personal attention.

Dutch kills water lily

First I tried one of the chalkboard specials, the Water Lily. I will always try something using Crème de Violet, partially because I like the pretty lavender hue (which this didn’t have). The main liquor was gin and I think there was also Lillet and lemon involved.

Dutch kills pendennis club

Next, I asked for something citrusy (I prefer sour over sweet drinks) that uses Peychaud’s Bitters and was given a Pendennis Club, a riff on the Pegu Club that was made from lime juice, gin, apricot brandy, bitters and sugar syrup. It certainly looked girly with its rosy hue but the bitters keep the drink from heading into Sweet Tarts candy territory.

Dutch kills silver lining

One more, I requested, “something like a whisky sour” and received my favorite of the night, a Silver Lining (rye, Licor 43, lemon juice, egg white and club soda). I love frothy egg white-topped drinks and the fruity-vanilla flavor of the Licor 43 was soft and creamy. I don’t know why vanilla, like pineapple or coconut, seem to make a cocktail seem trashy, there’s nothing wrong with any of those ingredients if they’re balanced. You never see a sophisticated bar using coconut or pineapple, though. Maybe I should ask, or better yet insist on Kahlua, and see what kind of reaction I’d get. (Ok, weird, a New York Times article on coconut cocktails just showed up in my feeds.) Here’s a Silver Lining recipe if you want to try one at home.

I can deal with $9 non-crappy cocktails, the going rate at Dutch Kills, because you can experiment a bit. Yes, they’re all dead serious about the ice cubes, the foam, the pomaded hair and dress suspenders, and old-timey vibe…and it didn’t bother me in the least. It might’ve though if I was paying $12+ and had to wait in line to get in. Go Queens!

Er, or not. After 10pm Opposite Day went off the rails. I took it upon myself to check out the new 18,000 square foot beer garden, Studio Square, in the same general area. This wasn’t Opposite Day material because I would drink beer and eat pretzels outdoors with no prompting. Yet, I was shocked at the mob scene and gruesome clientele. Maybe I’d spent too much time in the rarified dark woody interior of Dutch Kills, but yeah, this was a serious Queensy crowd, tanned, loud and in their twenties. The only bust of the day. I waited the snaking line to use the bathroom, then we left.

Jollibee aloha burger

Starving after three cocktails on a now-empty stomach that hadn’t seen a thing since brunch ten hours earlier, food was a must. Roosevelt Avenue is a treasure trove but a startling number of restaurants close by 11pm. I started getting panicky and cranky, very much Normal Day not Opposite Day. James wanted to try Jollibee, but they were closing in ten minutes so he ran in and got two Aloha burgers to go. These we saved for Sunday. Now it’s Sunday and I’ve eaten mine (no, I'm not bothered by day-old fast food) so I can say that yes, I do love a pineapple ring on a cheeseburger. Pineapple seems to be a running theme.

Donovan's cheeseburger

Still with burgers in mind, we knew bars would still be serving food and headed up to the Irish part of Woodside and got a pint of Bass and an always awesome cheeseburger at Donovan’s. I hate steak fries, Opposite Day won’t change that, but the medium-rare burger was juicy and perfect with a gril-marked bun and two just-beginning-to-melt slices of American cheese on top and bottom. Donovan’s totally saved the night.

Iron Hill Brewery

After a grueling afternoon of outlet shopping in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Limerick, Pennsylvania, an early dinner was in order. The on site Ruby Tuesday wasn't calling to me so we checked to see what the GPS might come up with nearby. There appeared to be a cluster of restaurants in two towns: Royersford and Phoenixville. I wanted to avoid already-known-to-me chains and was wooed by Texas Roadhouse and Iron Hill Brewery. The latter sounded classier so off to Phoenixville.

Along the Schuylkill River, Phoenixville was quainter than expected with a cutesy main street inhabited by outdoorsy types. I was willing to be swayed by any restaurant along the strip. The thing is, independent doesn't necessarily mean good cooking. The little hamlet was rife with tapas abuse.

One restaurant, 101 Bridge, with colored strobe lights and a disco ball beaming from the second floor of the historic Victorian house, was advertising $16 "tapas" of chicken marsala and rigatoni. Ok.

Just down the way was The Fenix, "Phoenixville's only martini and whisky bar" offered tapas that included, California rolls, lobster nachos and a peculiarity called shrimp lejon, which you'll soon see is a favorite of the area.

Iron hill brewery exterior

I also wasn't sold on New Orleans pizza whatever that might be. So, we ultimately ended up right where our car's oracle suggested in the first place: Iron Hill Brewery, a bright clean suburban-style restaurant with vague upscale tendencies (lots of $20+ entrees and steak) and an almost comical seriousness about their beers. It really wasn't terrible in the least, though unprompted you will get a lengthy description with lots of flowery tasting notes if you ask about a beer. To their credit, they'll also give you juice glass-sized tastes if you show interest in a particular brew. We ended up with full servings of the Abbey Dubbel, Pig Iron Porter and Extra Special Bitter.

Iron hill brewery cheddar plate

Always a sucker for a cheese plate, we had a cheddar sampler and honestly I don't remember which each wedge was. The crumbly aged variety in the middle was a favorite. Extras included grainy mustard, pear compote, dried cranberries and cinnamon-sugared walnuts.

Iron hill brewery lejon pizza

Ok, here's that shrimp lejon again. I pronounced it lehon like it was Spanish and was corrected to lezhan. Apparently lejon is the combination of shrimp, bacon and horseradish, here in the form of a pizza. I ordered it because it was so foreign. I've never heard of this creation in my life. I'm assuming it's regional, much like that frightening Goeslin coiff, which I did see on a woman in the dining room. I'll concede that the flavors combine well, the creamy mildly hot horseradish sauce instead of tomato helping balance the double richness of bacon and shrimp. I still think it's weird, though.

Iron hill brewery fish & chips

Fish and chips in a beer batter, of course, their Vienna Lager.

Iron Hill Brewery * 130 E. Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA


1/2 I don’t really eat at places like Amada in New York. There's something Meatpacking District about the popular Philadelphia Spanish restaurant and its environs, which also includes sceney mega-eateries like Buddakan and Morimoto (both now with NYC outposts). I wouldn't go so far as to say Amada is style over substance; the food was solid but I don't think the bulk of their clientele is serious about what on their plate.

The small collection of kitchen-side counter seats a few steps higher than the rest of the room seemed to be the foodie section, and tellingly occupied by diners a good decade or two older than the rest of the couples and groups of men dressed in mirror image uniforms of untucked patterned oxfords and jeans like the sales guys in my office. I didn't even notice the women.

I also had my eye on Cochon, a pork-centric French BYOB, but settled on Amada because I like Spanish food. (Though it might’ve been folly since we were just in Madrid—do you really want to compare a cuisine on its on turf to a second or even first tier American city's version? I did.) Plus, Ecuadorian chef Jose Garces, who's developed a mini empire based on the cuisines of  Spain, Mexico and Peru (with a dash of China), had just won a James Beard best chef award for the Mid-Atlantic region. That must say something? I haven't even eaten at The Modern and Gabriel Kreuther was our winner.

I hate to say no when asked, "Have you dined with us before?" because it's not likely I'm going to be enlightened by whatever is coming my way. In this circumstance, I acquiesced and we were prodded to order three-four dishes per person. That initially seemed a bit excessive. Then next thing I knew we were picking wildly from the menu, trouble that stemmed from a 9:45pm reservation without a proper lunch to cushion the two pre-meal gin and tonics at a dive down the street (perhaps I should've compromised with a single $12 violet tequila martini called Talk To Her—yes, the cocktails are all Almodovar inspired). "Small plates" can wreak havoc when ordering on an empty stomach. In the end we definitely picked too many—seven items in total—and easily could've done with one less dish, probably two, and should’ve asked for our cheese at the end.

Amada tuna dip No dainty amuses here, this was a tuna-based dip, akin to something you might see stuffed into a pequillo pepper, with crackly flatbread triangles. It got ignored because within minutes everything non-cooked came out in overwhelmingly successive waves. There was too much going on.

Amada jamon serrano

Serrano ham was fine but nothing special. We didn't really need this. The accompanying cornichons, mustard and caper berries were totally Gallic and a little off-kilter even though they suit cured fatty meat.

Amada cheese

Caña de cabra with fig-cherry marmalade, Manchego with lavender honey and Roncal with black olive caramel. I guess we didn't have to order three cheeses but I like sampling a variety. I expected to be drawn to the olive caramel (which I can't even remember and blurred with the fruity jam) but was surprised at how amazing the Manchego with honey was. Normally, I’m kind of creeped out by the gooey cloying sweetness of honey and I never would eat it straight (I felt doubly vindicated after recently reading Ruth Reichl doesn't like the bee product either, doubly because I had read that sentiment before) and I hate eating flowers too, but something about their pairing created a magical savory reaction. We ended up using it for all the cheeses and futilely looked for a jar among the many Amish stands at Reading Terminal Market selling honey (and separately, lavender flowers) but clearly it's not a specialty of the region.

Amada patatas bravas

Deconstructed patatas bravas were reminiscent of the tiny filled cylinders we just had at Sergi Arola Gastro in Madrid. These were fatter and rougher, a lot more potato per aioli dollop, though not mealy like the traditional version can be.

Amada pato con datiles coca

I will never not order a sweet-meat combo even topped with cheese so the coca with duck and dates was impossible to ignore. It was certainly classier than a ham and pineapple pizza but the concept isn't all that different.

Amada pulpo a la gallega

The paprika-dusted rounds of octopus and potato were tender and zapped with flavorful char around the edges. We could've eaten twice the amount. I do need to look into why squid is always cheap but octopus is often pricey.

Amada habas a la catalana

Ok, we had to squeeze some vegetables in. Warm limas and favas in a vinaigrette were substantial and had great texture. Who knows why lima beans have such a bad reputation.

Amada cordero relleno

The breaded lamb chops stuffed with goat cheese and sitting atop blobs of romesco came late in the game so I didn't have the appetite to appreciate them. One of the most expensive dishes at $19, these weren't a necessity. Now I know.

Amada sweet

Way too full for dessert (but not for a midnight run to both Geno's and Pat's) we were sent off with a simple thin almond cookie.

Amada * 217-219 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA

Oh Canada

Foodguide According to a recent Nielsen survey, 21% of Canadians prefer the "cuisine of my country," their number one choice with American food down at 12%. With the exception of French-Canadian fare, which only dominates in one province, is Canadian food really all that different from American food?

I can't think of single Canadian restaurant in NYC, though I think now-dead, The Inn LW12, was supposed to be but really only did things like put Canadian bacon in a Caesar salad.

In Hong Kong there was a restaurant, Canucck, selling itself as "modern Canadian cuisine." Of course they serve poutine, but then they also have jerk bbq wings with blue cheese dipping sauce so I'm just as confused as before.

Image from Health Canada


Frozenmeal07 There was a time in the not so distant past when I declared my love of all things Swad, which appear to be the house brand at Patel's. Anything Indian you can think of, and they make it. Even though I can get fresh chiles and lotus root, I still like stocking up on their frozen their frozen versions, plus exotics like cubed ratlau (purple yam).

Clearly, I'm not the modern all-from-scratch woman. I like to cook, but on a weeknight I'm not always up for scrubbing and peeling, or more accurately sourcing ingredients on the fly. I don't even know who stocks any Indian items in Brooklyn.

I've always been fond of Swad’s 99-cent boxes (which contain pouches) of sides that knock Tasty Bite out of the water for price and variety. And that's where my love affair has turned tragic. Two weeks ago I whipped up a quick mid-week meal of madras curry chicken supplemented by a package of paneer makhani around 9pm. It all tasted fine. About four hours later, just around 1am, I was hit with sharp and sudden stomach pains, no gentle nausea or indigestion. I was violently puking within minutes. Urgh. I blamed the frozen chicken breasts and wondered if I should start shunning grocery store meat, after all. The inexplicable thing was that James ate the exact dinner and he was fine. The only thing I ate that he didn’t was a mango (fresh, thank you) that had been sitting on the counter for a week. A reluctant fruit eater, I wanted to blame the mango for my distress.

Then last night it happened again. We had leftover lamb chops and I thought they would go well with peas but being too lazy to track down fresh peas (yes, even though they are in season) I grabbed a box of methai mutter malai from downstairs. Indian peas with fenugreek in minutes. James questioned my use of readymade food after the last incident but I figured that was a fluke. After my first bite, I became hesitant even though the puree didn’t taste off, and only ate two more spoonfuls.

This time I was puking by 12:45am. And yet again, James wasn't sick. What is up with you, Swad?! Is this tough love pushing me to the greenmarket? I'd go if I could walk to one. That little sad one on Carroll Street has done nothing to motivate me and Grand Army Plaza isn't where I want to be on the weekend, it's all handholders and zombie pregnant women with cups of gelato sauntering in front of your car during green lights and giving you the evil eye if you act as if you'd, you know, like to Drive when you're legally allowed to do so.

It's not just me, car-owning friends who moved from Oakland to Greenpoint who I think are returning to Oakland, were all what the hell is wrong with pedestrians here? They guessed that the problems stem from the city being a non-driving majority who don’t understand what it’s like to behind the wheel (I’m way too jumpy to drive in the city).  That's the nice theory. You could also argue that people in New York are just self-absorbed to the point that they think cars should stop for them. Me, I'm a namby-pamby rule follower both ways because people drive like assholes in Brooklyn and I don’t want to get smooshed. Common sense would dictate that if you have a Don't Walk sign yet continue walking without looking, you might just get flattened.

Jeez, now oblivious, selfish Brooklynites have distracted me from the matter at hand–my poisonous stash of packaged Indian food! I think I’ll lay off the Swad for a while, it's making me delusional.

Geno’s & Dalessandro’s

1/2 Some Americana I love (cheeseburgers), some I could live without (hot dogs). Cheesesteaks are definitely in the love category. Lots of goo and grease, less tame than a burger. Even though I haven't detailed it extensively, I've tried quite a few Philadelphia specimens over the years. Of course, Geno's and Pat's numerous times, Tony Luke's, Chubby's (second choice after a no go at classily named Chink's) and now, Dalessandro's.

Geno's neon

On my most recent visit, I did a taste comparison between South Philly drunk-magnet impossible-to-miss Geno's and the cramped Roxborough no frills lunch counter, Dalessandro's (which is across the street from Chubby's). (We also picked up a cheesesteak at Pat's, but James ate it before I could get a photo or even a bite.) At the latter, it felt like everyone was known by the staff, but that might've just been because they ask for your name when you place an order. There is a few minute's wait because everything is cooked on demand.

Geno's window

Geno's is more of an assembly line with their gruff schtick and pre-made subs that are instantly slid across the counter toward you. Geno's doesn't sell alcohol while Dalessandro's has refrigerated bottles of beer—I spied Yuengling and Labatt. Beer makes sense with cheesesteaks.

Geno's cheesesteak

Dalessandro's just feels better (unfortunately, I didn't take any photos inside or outside) which is why my conclusion pains me. I actually prefer the "touristy" sandwiches like Geno's above (cherry peppers not my doing). It's the style more than quality. Both are good in their own ways, but they are different breeds. I will give them both two-and-a-half shovels because three just seems weird for either (though looking from my 2001-02 perspective I deemed Pat's worth of three shovels—it was a younger, gentler time).

D'alessandro's cheesesteak

Dalessandro's chops the meat fine where Geno's uses Steak-umm-like thin strips. I prefer the solid pieces of beef to the crumbles. Of course, you can ask for Cheez Whiz, American or provolone pretty much everywhere but Geno's screams whiz, just look at that orange façade. I didn't specify what cheese I wanted at D'Alessandro's and was given provolone by default. Sure, provolone is classier but it melts away to nothing and is subtle amongst so much beef . Provolone is perfect on a roast pork sandwich (which I'll get to later) but for me a cheesesteak needs the sharp, unmistakable tang of viscous processed cheese.

Dalessandro's is definitely a better value, the sandwich is nearly twice as big, a giant hoagie completely stuffed to the bun’s limits and costs $5.94. Geno's is petite on a cut roll and a little skimpy for $6.75. My ideal would be a massive sandwich with steak slices and plenty of whiz. Onions too. And while you can find a bottle of now all-American sriracha (my cheesesteak condiment of choice at home) at Dalessandro's, it's worth trying a few small spoonfuls of the chunky hot chile sauce at Geno’s. It burns like crazy, so much so your mouth numbs and everything starts tasting like dirt. I never said it was a positive experience.

Geno's vs d'alessandro's wrapped

How they are wrapped to go. Paper-lined foil and logo-covered paper. The foil keeps the heat in better for immediate eating.

Geno's vs d'alessandro's open

Pardon the unappetizing display of these halves. I'm a leftover freak. What I learned the hard way was that the foil isn't a good idea if you’re saving the sandwich for the next day. Dalessandro's uses a softer bread and the sandwich had steamed, sogged and adhered to the wrapper. After re-warming both, I had to rip off the formerly crusty exterior of the roll to get the paper off. Eat Dalessandro's sub immediately. Geno's, maybe due to all the processed ingredients, held up just fine.

Geno's * 1219 S. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA

Dalessandro's * 600 Wendover St., Philadelphia, PA