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Winner Winner (Fried) Chicken Dinner

Happy (belated and/or Chinese) New Year, readers!  Apologies for being M.I.A. the past couple months.  After law school finals, holidays, and a much-needed vacation, I am back and ready to blog–with lots of exciting new content!

It seems both apropos and ironic that my first post of the year is devoted to fried chicken.  Of course, one of my many New Years resolutions is to eat healthier and I really am trying to stick to it.  But after watching an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” about fried chicken, I knew I had to splurge a little.  The episode featured two places that I am fortunate to have visited in the past couple months: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, and Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe in Philly.  While the two restaurants couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common: serving damn good fried chicken.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken 

Gus’s definitely lives up to its name, serving world famous hot and spicy chicken for over fifty years.  The original location that started it all is in Mason, TN, about 40 miles outside of Memphis.  Since opening back in 1953, the fried chicken recipe has remained a closely guarded secret, and to this day, the Bonner family still delivers its secret batter to franchisees rather than release the recipe.  According to Food Network, the Bonners have been offered up to $1 million for their recipe, but they haven’t budged.

If you’re in Memphis and don’t feel like driving 40 miles to the original Gus’s, head to the downtown location, just a few blocks from the infamous Beale St.  While the other businesses seem eerily deserted, Gus’s is the exception on the block, as hungry diners pour into the one-room restaurant.  It’s definitely no-frills, with picnic-style gingham tablecloths and plastic plates and silverware.  But what Gus’s lacks in ambience, it more than makes up for with its fried chicken (pictured above: 3 piece white plate w/ beans and slaw, $8).

Though perfectly crisp on the outside, what stood out most about Gus’s fried chicken was the meat itself.  The spices of the marinade permeated the meat, with just the right amount of heat in each bite.  The light exterior also managed to keep the interior incredibly moist, sealing in the juices and flavor.  Wash it all down with some of Gus’s equally infamous sweet tea, and you’ve truly got yourself a piece of heaven.

If you can manage to save room, definitely order dessert!  Gus’s bakes all of their desserts from scratch, including this decadent pecan pie.  Served warm, the filling was gooey in the best way, with the crust balancing out the sweetness.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is seriously the stuff of legends–even sparking a feud between Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and Bon Appetit!  I have to agree with Ed Levine on this one, and declare my absolute love, devotion, obsession, addiction–whatever you want to call it–for Gus’s.

310 S. Front St.
Memphis, TN 38103
(901)  527-4877
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe

Well-known as a casual spot for satisfying soul food, owner Keven Parker has completely revamped Ms. Tootsies, aiming for a swankier lounge feel.  Black, red, and white seem to be the dominant color scheme throughout the restaurant, with large black and white photographs of African American celebrities hanging on the walls (be sure to check out the [unisex] bathroom, where there is a particularly sensual photo of Janet Jackson covering the entire wall).  While I appreciate Ms. Tootsies’ efforts to go more upscale, but I’m not entirely sure it works with both the surrounding neighborhood or the food.

While the ambience has changed a lot, fortunately, Ms. Tootsies seems to be sticking to its successful soulful cuisine.  My friend and I started with Sadiki’s catfish fingers and fries ($8) appetizer.  The thin breading on the catfish fingers was well-seasoned and flavorful, even better when dipped in tartar sauce. I also enjoyed the fries, which were crispy and coated with a similar seasoning as the catfish.  In addition to the catfish, Ms. Tootsies serves complimentary cornbread muffins with homemade strawberry butter as a starter to the meal.  Despite being a bit burnt from the toaster, the warm cornbread muffins were delicate and cake-like, sweetened just a touch with the strawberry butter.

For our main course, of course, we had to order the infamous fried chicken basket, with mac and cheese and collard greens ($26 w/ 2 sides).  The chicken arrived fresh from the fryer, glistening and golden brown.  Ms. Tootsies batter was much thicker and crunchier than Gus’s, but nonetheless delicious.  The interior was juicy and tender, and we found ourselves devouring the entire basket in a mere ten minutes.  The mac and cheese and collards were also respectable, and we managed to polish off those as well.

And of course, I could not eat a fried chicken dinner without….sweet tea!  Thought Ms. Tootsies sweet tea is far from traditional, and pricey at $5, it was a pleasant and surprising change from the norm.  Instead of black tea, Ms. Tootsies uses tropical iced tea, and tops it off with a slice of watermelon.  Her upscale version of sweet tea definitely worked, and was refreshing even on a cold winter night.

For dessert, we ordered the sweet potato pie ($4), one of my favorite soul food desserts.  The pie had a nice cinnamon flavor, but would have been ten times better heated up, or even served at room temperature.  Our slice seemed like it had come directly out of the fridge, and the filling was very cold as a result.

Despite some small flaws, I really enjoyed my meal at Ms. Tootsies.  The fried chicken definitely rivals some of those I’ve had in the South, and I can see why Chef Robert Irvine dubbed it one of the best he’s ever eaten.

1312 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 731-9045
Ms. Tootsie's Soul Food Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Stay Simple at Sabrina’s

I’m really a simple girl at heart.  Though I am always up for trying the newest dining trend, I am not really one for haute cuisine.  What I really love is simple, down-to-earth comfort food—food that reminds you of home, family, and friends.  So when my good friend Erika came to visit me in Philly, I recommended we try Sabrina’s Cafe—a place known for their fabulous brunch menu, featuring comfort food dishes kicked up a notch.

Because we had been forewarned of the notoriously long lines, we decided to wake up early and arrived at Sabrina’s around 10am on a chilly Saturday morning.  Though not terribly crowded, there was already a 30-minute wait.  None of us minded though, as we spent the entire time perusing the voluminous brunch menu.

Sabrina’s has two locations: the original is located on South St. and its second, slightly larger location is near the Art Museum.  While I can’t speak to the South St. location, the Art Museum location is warm and friendly.  It had a retro coffeeshop vibe to it, with wide counter seating, large booths, and a bright interior.  The crowd seemed to be very family friendly, with lots of strollers and high chairs being toted around.

Even after 30 minutes, my friends and I were at a loss when our waitress seated us and came to take our order.  The menu had so many appealing options, from stuffed French toast with bananas and vanilla bean syrup to sandwiches to omelettes galore.

We finally settled on huevos rancheros, a tofu scramble, and two of the (many) specials: French toast stuffed with cream cheese, nutella, and hazelnuts with a peach syrup on the side and a sweet potato-corn pancake wrapped around chicken, black beans, plantains, and peppers topped with a cilantro sour cream.  We also ordered La Colombe coffee (a local Philly roaster known for its dark roasts), which arrived in adorable oversized coffee mugs.

My friends and I really enjoyed the huevos rancheros and the tofu scramble.  The huevos rancheros ($10.99) included two fried eggs sitting atop 2 crispy blue corn tortillas, topped with a spicy chorizo sauce (which, in my opinion, could have been spicier), avocado, cheese, and pico de gallo salsa, with rosemary potatoes on the side.  All of the ingredients were fresh and well-prepared, making this a memorable version of huevos rancheros.

The tofu scramble ($7.89) was also excellent and flavorful.  The texture was strikingly similar to scrambled eggs (which most tofu scrambles don’t get right).  I was also impressed with—of all things—the toast!  Sabrina’s serves Le Bus multigrain bread, another local Philly establishment.

On the other hand, we were not so impressed with the specials.  The French toast itself was tasty: a rich, slightly chocolate mascarpone filling slathered between two huge slabs of brioche.  However, the peach syrup that accompanied the dish was a mystery to all of us.  It did not enhance the dish at all; in fact, it didn’t taste good at all.  And thank goodness our waitress warned us to order it on the side!  Even on the side, we received a behemoth bowl of sweet, fruity syrup that, had it been dumped onto the French toast, may have made the entire dish inedible.  I would have much preferred some good old-fashioned maple syrup, and perhaps less of the mascarpone filling.

The sweet potato corn pancake dish was also a letdown.  It was kind of a bizarre burrito, wrapped in a pancake instead of a tortilla.  But there were so many ingredients to the dish that they all seemed to overpower one another: heavily seasoned chicken, sweet plantains, zesty peppers, black beans, and cilantro sour cream.

One thing that I can’t complain about, though, is the portions.  You certainly get your money’s worth at Sabrina’s, even if the dishes are not spectacular.  Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Sabrina’s: the friendly atmosphere and appealing menu made for a lovely brunch.  The classic dishes seem to be Sabrina’s strengths.  It’s when the kitchen tries to do too much that the dishes lose their appeal.

Sabrina’s Cafe
(Fairmount/Art Museum)
1804 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 636-9061

Sabrina's Café and Spencer's Too on Urbanspoon

Scenes from the Clark Park Farmers Market

I feel grateful to have lived near some incredible farmers markets in my life. Growing up in Los Angeles, I remember going with my mom to the Hollywood Farmers Market every Sunday. We spent the morning meandering through dozens of booths, selling everything from freshly picked strawberries to steaming corn tamales. During my college years at Cornell, the Ithaca Farmers Market held a special place in my heart. Just thinking about it makes me crave a latte from Gimme! Coffee and spicy chicken curry from my favorite Cambodian food stand. More recently, I was a loyal customer of the Dupont Circle Farmers Market, where Dolcezza Gelato and Toigo Orchards were my guilty pleasures.

And now, after having spent a month in Philly, I’m happy to say that I’ve found my go-to farmers market. Located on 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue, the Clark Park Farmers Market is a gastronomic oasis for West Philly residents and Penn students and professors. Farmers and local vendors congregate in the park on Saturday mornings from 10a-2p and Thursday afternoons from 3p-7p (May-Nov; the market only opens on Saturday mornings from 10a-1p in the winter months).

There’s tons of fresh produce ranging from gorgeous swiss chard to butternut squash to apples galore. Amish farmers also sell their infamous baked goods, including whoopie pies (apparently a staple dessert in Philly), bread, and fresh fruit pies. Perhaps best of all, the prices at the market are very reasonable and for those in need, they accept food stamps as well.

But why tell you how fabulous this farmers market is…when I can just show you? Here are some photos from the past few weeks:

Head over to the Clark Park Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.! (And check the website for winter hours starting in November.)

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