Monk’s Cafe (Philadelphia)

Monk's Red Light Mussels

Monk’s Red Light Mussels

Ever have a sour beer? Not one that’s gone bad, but a beer that’s brewed that way? It’s quite distinctive, deriving its sourness from lactic acid.  Monk’s offers a Flemish sour ale that is made for them in Belgium. On first taste, the sourness is surprising, but it grows on you. It pairs especially well with the restaurant’s specialty, steamed mussels, which come in a variety of preparations. All the mussels are cultivated in the cold waters of Nova Scotia. The dish pictured above is the Red Light Mussels steamed in Belgian witbier (white ale), fumé blanc, toasted chile de arbol peppers, chervil and garlic. The mussel meat was small (the way I like them) and perfectly cooked, if somewhat gritty. All the mussel dishes come with Belgian fries, cut small and twice-fried for crispiness, accompanied by a tasty bourbon mayonnaise. A single roll is also provided for sopping up the delicious broth.

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Monk’s Cafe
264 S 16th St
Philadelphia, PA

Carmen’s Italian Hoagies

Carmen’s Super Italian hoagie

The hoagies of Philadelphia are justifiably famous. The sheer number of restaurants that serve them keeps the competition high. Besides Chickie’s, Carmen’s is a local favorite. I ate one of their sandwiches on our last trip to Philadelphia and was impressed. I ordered the same hoagie again, the Super Italian, filled with sweet sopressata, capocola, mortadella, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and roasted spicy peppers, whose fire sort of sneaks up on you. The bread here was light, yet wonderfully crispy and seeded on the outside. I much preferred the bread here than at Chickie’s, which uses Sarcone’s. Here, on some sandwiches you can also add “extras” like sharp Provolone and broccoli rate, Philly favorites.

Carmen’s Italian Hoagies
51 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Between Arch St & Filbert St

Tommy Di Nic’s (Philadelphia)

Tommy Di Nic’s is another hoagie stand (Reading Terminal Station in Philadelphia) that appears on many favorite lists. They specialize in roast beef and roast pork, as well as pulled pork. I got the roast pork, plentiful slices that were piled into a light, crispy roll, mounded with sautéed broccoli rabe and sharp Provolone, and finally finished with pork gravy. This was a superb sandwich, with ingredients that typify the hoagie made in this part of the country (including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware).

Adam Richman ate and praised this sandwich on his Man v. Food show back in 2009 (Season 2).

Roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rate. Photo borrowed from (Cynthia L)

Reading Terminal Market
1136 Arch Street
12th and Arch streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Chickie’s Italian Deli (Philadelphia)

Chickie’s veggie hoagie

Chickie’s is one of many restaurants in Philadelphia that make Italian hoagies. The veggie and tuna sandwiches are their two famous specialties. The vegetarian in particular has received several awards and media recognition. Chickie’s claims that even blue collar workers can’t resist it. Roasted red bell pepper, baked eggplant and sauteed broccoli rabe are nestled in a sliced and lightly toasted bread made by Sarcone’s, a long-time bakery in the Italian shopping district. Grated sharp Provolone and a vinaigrette dressing round out this delicious sandwich. I found that the bread suffers from a somewhat dense and chewy texture, like a baguette, with the result that biting into it causes the filling to be squeezed out at the opposite end. Other than that, this is a noteworthy hoagie. The tuna sandwich (featuring oil-packed tuna, which is much more flavorful than water-packed) will have to wait for another visit.

Chickie’s Italian Deli
1014 Federal Street
Philadelphia, PA

Mercato (Philadelphia)

Within a few blocks of our daughter and son-in-law’s house is Mercato, a restaurant that draws inspiration from Italian and Italian-American cooking. It’s nestled in a tiny space on Spruce near 12th, but the cheerful saffron yellow walls make it feel more expansive. Our daughter brought along an Italian soave because of a BYOB policy observed by many Philadelphia restaurants.

The evening got started with spectacular antipasti, Mercato’s splendid version spread with grilled and marinated vegetables, bocconcini, a sampling of cured olives, crostini topped with diced tomato, slivered basil and red onion, and thinly sliced soppressata artfully folded to suggest a flower.

Mercato Antipasti

Another appetizer was a spot-on grilled artichoke accompanied by a citrus aioli. The grilling intensified the vegetable’s flavor.

Grilled artichoke

Grilled artichoke with citrus aioli

Three pan seared diver scallops were served on a bed of mushroom and English pea risotto, topped with a Parmesan crisp. As if that weren’t enough, the entire dish was drizzled with truffle oil. The scallops were crisply browned but still sweet and succulent. An excellent entrée.

Pan Seared Diver Scallops

Ricotta gnocchi were served with long-braised, fork-tender short ribs, broccoli rabe and locatelli cheese, and bathed in a fresh tomato sauce.

Short rib ragu

You know it’s was winning restaurant when it was hard to say which entrée was our favorite.

1216 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Won Ton City (Bellevue, WA)—CLOSED

Sui kau noodle soup

One person, the proprietess of Wonton City, runs the entire operation: preps, cooks, waits and cashiers. Who we presume to be a daughter occasionally helps out. In a tiny space in the Lake Hills Shopping Center, having no more than 10 tables, she serves noodles and congee (rice porridge) at very reasonable prices. Of the several kinds of noodle soups, our favorite is one with sui kau dumplings, made with pork, shrimp, mushrooms and black fungus. The owner-chef makes only a limited number of them each day; when it runs out, which can happen quite quickly, you’re out of luck. The broth is briny, tasting of shrimp shells, splashed with a little sesame oil. For $4.95, there is no better bargain.

Wonton City (** closed **)
Lake Hills Shopping Center
503 156th Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98007
Cash only

Spring Blossoms at the Washington Park Arboretum (Seattle, WA)

Emotionally, springtime is my favorite season. Life is springing up everywhere and better weather lies ahead, though here in the Pacific Northwest, that is a relative expectation. Still, flowers are blooming wherever you turn. One of Seattle’s great showcases for flora is the Washington Park Arboretum, jointly managed by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle. Spread over 230 acres, the grounds boast over 10,000 specimens. There are walking trails that wind through the park, an excellent way to get outdoors and exercise those winter-tired legs.

The flowering trees are mostly mature and put on a grand display of blossoms. We timed our visit perfectly, for the cherry, apple and pear blossoms were at their peak.