Category Archives: Frugal Finds

Peter’s Gourmade Grill: A Real Gastropub

It’s been a while, readers.  Last time I wrote, I was just getting to know Philadelphia, scouting the city for the best cheesesteaks and farmers markets.  And then, being a first year law student finally got the best of me–finals period.  Fortunately, many frozen dinners (gasp!) and late nights at the library later, I’m happy to say that I survived.   After a much needed and well deserved Christmas break at home in Los Angeles, I am back in Philadelphia, in the midst of my second semester.

Looking back over the past couple months, one meal in particular stands out and proves that good food can come from the most unlikely of places.  I’m talking about Peter’s Gourmade Grill, located (literally) at a gas station convenience store in Tustin, CA.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first.  When my boyfriend and I pulled up to the gas station, it looked pretty deserted except for one other parked car.  The car’s windows were up, and completely black, but I could hear laughter and voices coming from inside.  Thinking this could not possibly be a good sign, I beseeched my boyfriend to leave and find somewhere safer to eat.

Fortunately, for both of us, he declined my desperate pleas.  We walked up to the window, where a very affable and pleasant waitress took our order.  When we couldn’t decide between the gyro fries and the sweet potato gooeys, she generously threw in an order of the sweet potato gooeys on the house.  As we waited for our food, we could see Cordon Bleu-trained chef Peter Stavros deftly navigating the tiny kitchen, carefully flipping burgers on the grill and slicing fresh tomatoes and lettuce.

Our food was ready in no time and we hurried home to eat while everything was still hot (Peter’s has no tables, so most customers either take out or eat in their cars–hence, the sketchy parked car full of people we saw on our way in!).

We started with the sweet potato gooeys: crispy sweet potato fries topped with marshmallows and maple syrup, all of which become caramelized and, well, gooey after a quick spin in the broiler.  Though the dish sounds like it would be overwhelmingly sweet, it somehow managed to remain perfectly balanced.  The sweetness of the marshmallow, saltiness of the fries, and caramelization of the maple syrup added up to a surprisingly sophisticated take on a classic dish.

Next, we tackled the gyro fries.  My boyfriend and I harbor a strong love for gyros (as evidenced by my first ever blog post), and this dish shamelessly catered to our every desire.  Tender gyro meat, chopped tomatoes and onions, cool cucumber tzatziki, and a generous pinch of oregano all sit atop a mountain of fries.   It was well-executed, flavorful, and will convert even staunch gyro haters.

Finally, we moved on to the main event of the meal: our ABC burgers, named for the star ingredients of avocado, bacon and cheese.  What struck me most about this burger was not so much the flavor (which was excellent), but the quality of the ingredients.  The bacon was thick cut and crisped to perfection, the avocado creamy and ripe, and the tomato fresh and juicy.  It was certainly much higher quality than anything I’d ever expect to find at a gas station.

That’s really the beauty of Peter’s Gourmade Grill: it reminds food snobs like me that good, quality food and talented chefs can be found anywhere, especially at gas stations.

Peter’s Gourmade Grill

16851 McFadden Ave.

Tustin, CA  92780

(714) 599-3866

Follow their Twitter account for updates: twitter.com/gourmadegrill

Peter's Gourmade Grill on Urbanspoon

Meat Fest at Tony Luke’s

If that video doesn’t make you salivate, I don’t know what will.  I’d heard about the venerable Tony Luke’s while watching some of my favorite TV shows: Man v. Food and Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  I knew that once I moved to Philly, Tony Luke’s would be one of my first destinations for a Philly cheesesteak.

And so, on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend and I headed to Tony Luke’s in South Philly, ready to devour some of the best cheesesteaks in town.  Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, the line went all the way down the block.  But despite the daunting line, not a single customer was deterred; more and more people kept queuing up, lured by the sights and smells of sizzling meat on the grill.  I could tell these were pretty die-hard fans.

After about a half hour wait, we eagerly sat down to enjoy our food: a Philly cheesesteak ($7.25), roast pork Italian ($7.95), and a side of fries ($3.00).  The cheesesteak definitely lived up to its reputation.  The meat was tender and juicy, its flavor accentuated by the gooey, melty provolone cheese (we forewent the wiz–next time!).  The bread provided just the right amount of crunch and soaked up the meat drippings well.

Surprisingly, my favorite turned out to be the roast pork Italian ($7.95): slow-roasted pork with pungent broccoli rabe and sharp provolone.  The combination of flavors in this sandwich was enough to make me swoon with joy.  The pork was perfectly seasoned with tons of black pepper and fresh herbs, while the broccoli rabe and sharp provolone provided a nice bitterness and complexity.  Though I meant to save some for later,  I couldn’t stop myself from eating the entire thing, right then and there!

After we finished, we got a real treat: the famous Tony Luke Jr. himself made an appearance (pictured right)!  He filmed a segment for Comcast Sports, which aired during the Phillies-Giants games.  Even during filming, he was gracious and receptive to customers, posing for photos and taking special order requests back to the kitchen.  With such a personable leader at the helm, it’s no wonder why Tony Luke’s customer service far surpasses its competitors.

A few more notes on my visit: Tony Luke’s offers only outdoor seating, so make sure to dress warmly if it’s a cold day!  And as for transportation, if you don’t have a car, I would just cab over (and make sure to call one in advance for the ride home, too).  Buses and cabs were few and far between down there, and I  didn’t notice a subway station nearby either.  But, as you can tell from this glowing review, Tony Luke’s is worth braving the elements for its signature Philly style sandwiches.

Tony Luke’s

39 East Oregon Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19148

(215) 551-5725

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P.S. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Cafe Lift Perks Up Your Mornings

I’ve never been a fan of brunch.  Waking up early on a Sunday and waiting an hour for some eggs benedict never had much appeal to me, especially after reading Anthony Bourdain’s harrowing account in Kitchen Confidential.  In short, brunch is not my fave.

After dining at Cafe Lift, however, some of my reservations about brunch have been lifted.  Located in Philly’s Spring Garden neighborhood, Cafe Lift is tucked among loft apartments and industrial warehouses.  On a Sunday morning, the area seemed abandoned except for Cafe Lift, which was bustling with hungry patrons.

The word “funky” certainly comes to mind when describing Cafe Lift’s interior. Contemporary paintings and quirky chandeliers add some fun and liveliness to the otherwise minimalist dining room.  Exposed ceilings and floors pay tribute to the area’s industrial feel.

The brunch fare is the real draw at Cafe Lift, where fresh ingredients and attention to detail set the dishes apart.  The menu is divided into savory stuff (such as eggs), sweet stuff (with decadent dishes like pumpkin cannoli french toast), paninis, and salads.  Since everything sounded so tasty, we had a hard time deciding what to order!

We finally settled on the buttermilk pancakes topped with strawberries and bananas ($7.50), the breakfast burrito ($8.50), and a side of spicy fennel sausage ($3.00).  The pancakes arrived under a pile of freshly cut fruit on top, dusted with powdered sugar.  The pancakes were light and airy, just the way buttermilk pancakes should be.  My only complaint (if you can even call it a complaint) was that instead of butter on the side, they gave us whipped cream.  Interesting, and not bad, but not what either of us were expecting.

The breakfast burrito ($8.50) was a behemoth of a burrito filled with scrambled eggs, roasted peppers, mushrooms, sweet onions, and jack cheese.  It was served with fresh pico de gallo salsa and homemade hot sauce, which added nice spice to the dish.  The burrito was so flavorful, and the freshness of each of the ingredients really shown through.  Though it was heavy, I powered through and finished the entire dish, potatoes as well!

The only disappointment of the meal was the spicy fennel sausage ($3.00).  I couldn’t taste the spice or the fennel, and it was cut down the center and cooked flat (see above photo, in the back).  Sausage, in my opinion, is supposed to be juicy and I thought by cooking it flat, it lost a lot of its flavor.

Our meal ended with the hugest cappuccino ever–and a steal for only $3.  Made with La Colombe coffee, a local Philly favorite, it was smooth and frothy, just as a cappuccino should be.

In short, Cafe Lift is sure to satisfy brunch lovers and haters alike with its fresh fare and moderate prices.  Weekend mornings just got so much better.

Cafe Lift

428 North 13th St.

Philadelphia, PA 19123

215-922-3031

Open Tues-Sun 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Cafe Lift on Urbanspoon

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Hello, readers! I’m finally moved and settled into my new home for the next 3 years: Philadelphia. So far, I am loving this city: home to Benjamin Franklin, the Phillies, a vibrant art community, and of course, a phenomenal dining scene. Oh, and it really is always sunny (or at least, since I’ve gotten here).

I thought it would be apropo for my first Philly post to be about a quintessential, almost sacred food tradition in the city. Of course, I’m talking about none other than the Philly cheesesteak: that chopped steak and melted cheese stuffed hoagie that Philadelphians are crazy for.

There is still fierce debate over who really invented the cheesesteak, but many sources say it was created in South Philly during the early 1930s. Guidebooks usually recommend Pat’s or Geno’s, which are located across the street from one another and both claim to have invented the cheesesteak first.

My first Philly cheesesteak experience was not at either of those famous spots (though of course, I plan to go to both of them eventually). It was at Mom’s, a tiny, non-descript food cart located near Independence Hall. 

Now, I am no cheesesteak expert, and I’m sure fans would say that Mom’s isn’t the best cheesesteak in the city. But, it was really tasty and made fresh to order. I added mushrooms and opted for provolone on mine, and it arrived toasty and full of tender, chopped beef. Plus, at $5, it was a steal for lunch.

I’d like to go back and try Mom’s pizza steak, a cheesesteak topped with spicy marinara sauce and extra cheese, or any of the other dozens of affordable hoagies listed on their menu. Next time you find yourself starving after a tour of Independence Square, head down the street to Mom’s! (Exact loction TBA!)


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Chinatown Coffee Co. Saves the Day

Just as my friend and I were leaving Taylor, happy and full from a fabulous lunch, it started to downpour on us (typical DC). We sought refuge under a random building in Chinatown and waited for the storm to pass. But even though the rain only lasted 20 minutes, we were still completely soaked and in desperate need of a pick- me-up.

Luckily, Chinatown Coffee Co. was there to save the day with its inviting interior, friendly staff, and quality coffee. My latte ($3.09) warmed me up after the unpleasant storm, and the adorable heart-design on top made me smile. Chinatown Coffee Co. serves coffee from all over the world, including Intelligentsia and Counter Culture, two of my favorite coffee purveyors. The baristas expertly brew the coffee and are happy to offer recommendations.

Chinatown Coffee Co. also seems like a perfect place to work or take refuge from the traffic and noise (and in my case, rain) outside. Next time, I plan to bring my computer and blog from there!

Chinatown Coffee Co.

475 H St. NW

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 559-7656

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Top-Notch Ingredients at Taylor Gourmet

After reading about Taylor Gourmet in Tim Carman’s annual Washington City Paper Dining Guide, I knew I had to try one of their famed roast pork hoagies before I left DC (note: I’m in Los Angeles for the next couple weeks!). To make the sandwich, Taylor Gourmet co-founder Casey Patten  marinates Niman Ranch pork shoulders overnight with salt, thyme, rosemary, and garlic and then slow-roasts it for about four hours until they’re juicy and tender. He finishes the pork with a homemade pork stock for extra moisture and intense flavor.

The meat isn’t the only ingredient getting star treatment at this sandwich shop. Breads are also taken very seriously–so seriously, in fact, that owners Casey Patten and David Mazza have their rolls driven in everyday from Sarcone’s, an Italian bakery in Philadelphia that’s been in business since 1918.

Taylor’s commitment to top-notch ingredients certainly shined through in the Market Street ($7.20 for a 6″) sandwich I ordered. Every component was fresh as can be: warm sliced pork topped with sprightly green arugula, sweet roasted red peppers, and bite-sized chunks of fresh mozzarella, all packed into one of those famous Sarcone’s sub rolls. The roll was crusty enough to hold together, even with the generous amount of fillings, and anchored the sub nicely.

Based on my first experience at Taylor, I’d love to come back and try some of their other subs–like the South Street made with tomato, pesto, goat cheese, and your choice of breaded or grilled chicken. Or their newest creation, the Cherry Street, slow-roasted slices of rosy-pink beef topped with double-cream brie, roasted garlic spread, and a handful of arugula served on that unforgettable Sarcone’s roll. All of Taylor’s subs are named after streets in Philadephia, paying homage to the owners’ hometown. And best of all, nothing on the menu tops $10–a steal for sandwiches made from such high-quality ingredients.

The aesthetic at Taylor Gourmet is just as pleasing as the food: spare and modern, with exposed brick walls, wood tables, and black industrial light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. I’m not sure if this is the case at the H St. location, but the K St. location opens up to the street, letting in lots of fresh air and sunlight during the day. The only problem is that plenty of heat and humidity are let in as well, making for a somewhat uncomfortable dining experience temperature-wise. If it’s like this all the time, especially during in the summer, I’d probably go for take-out instead.

Taylor Gourmet

485 K St. NW

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 289-8001

OR

1116 H St. NE

Washington, DC 20002

(202) 684-7001

Taylor Gourmet II on Urbanspoon

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Extraordinary Ethiopian at Ethiopic

I started to panic as my birthday approached: not only about whether to book a reservation at Komi, but also whether to organize a celebratory dinner with friends (ah, the plight of being a foodie). What restaurant would be able to accommodate a big group? And what type of cuisine would be fun and interesting for everyone to try? And where would I get a birthday cake!??!? These were the questions racing through my mind.

Luckily, the Washingtonian Cheap Eats Guide saved the day once again. I’d heard a lot of buzz about Ethiopic when it opened a few months back, and a quick glance through the Washingtonian showed they recommend it for “big groups who like to share.” Perfect for a birthday party, I thought. The next day, I called the restaurant and booked a reservation.

Ethiopic’s shabby exterior belies its classy interior. Polished hardwood floors, dim lighting, and columns wrapped in tribal-designed fabric make the small dining room seem intimate and more inviting. The only drawback was the temperature–it was pretty toasty inside, but that could be due to the fact that it was over 100 degrees outside.

To start off, we ordered 3 appetizers to share (which unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of!): azifa (cold lentil salad), buticha (smashed chickpeas, almost like an Ethiopian version of hummus), and key sir (beets and potatoes). All 3 of the dishes were served cold and eaten with Etihopia’s ubiquitous spongey bread, injera. What surprised me most about these salads was the heat and spice they were able to pack into each bite. Even the beets were spicy! And yet, the spice didn’t overwhelm and the integrity of the ingredients remained in tact: the sweetness of the beets, heartiness of the lentils, and earthiness of the chickpeas. Each of these appetizers ranged from $5-7, and were a filling and flavorful start to the meal.

For our main courses, we ordered a vegetarian sampler (pictured left, above) and a beef and chicken sampler (pictured right above). Sampler platters cost $30-35 each and serve 3-4 people. Now, I’ll be quite honest: I wasn’t entirely sure what each dish on the platter was. All I knew was that everything tasted delicious–and very smoky and spicy. I may not have the most discerning palate when it comes to Ethiopian food, but I do know that my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our food–and couldn’t stop ourselves from sopping up the different sauces with more and more injera bread. I also felt the flavors at Ethiopic were bolder and more pronounced than at other Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to.

There was one dish that really stood out in my mind though: their signature lamb tibs ($16). Boneless leg of lamb is quickly sauteed with red onions, garlic, jalepenos, tomatoes, and rosemary, and served tableside in a sizzling pot. The lamb was tender and flavorful, and like all the other dishes, spicy as heck. But in contrast to the other meat dishes, the flavor of the meat really shined through and enhanced the dish.

Service was very accommodating, offering very helpful suggestions on what to order for a big group. We did have trouble getting our water refilled at times, but otherwise, I thought the wait staff was excellent. And, they were even nice enough to let us bring in a birthday cake! (Purchased from Whole Foods for $25.99–I highly recommend their strawberries and cream cake!)

Thanks to Ethiopic for a memorable birthday and a wonderful meal!

Ethiopic

401 H St NE

Washington, DC 20002

(202) 675-2066

Ethiopic Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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