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Archive for May, 2012

Thinly sliced roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone cheese. Who knew that this combination could be so heavenly?

I remember the first time I tried the Pattison Avenue at Taylor Gourmet on 14th street. The bitterness of the rabe balanced the saltiness of the sliced pork. And the cheese, well, cheese is always delicious. The sub roll was actually a little bland, but effectively soaked up the excess pork juice from the meat.

I soon developed an obsession with the roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone sandwich. Determined to find out the origins of this sandwich, I did my research. Casey Patten and Matt Mazza, two Philadelphia natives, opened Taylor Gourmet in 2008 because they wanted to bring the Philly hoagie culture to D.C.

In fact, all of their sandwiches are named after streets or notable landmarks in their home city. Taylor Gourmet’s sandwiches are made with roasted in-house meats, including turkey, ham, beef and pork.

Patten and Mazza have opened several locations in D.C., including the 14th Street location I visited, one on H Street, one on K Street and another in Bethesda. The modern, industrial design is used for all of their locations as well (thanks to NYTimes.com for the above photo). Although Taylor Gourmet is expensive for lunch, the sandwiches are thoughtfully made with quality ingredients.

So there’s Patten and Mazza. But that’s clearly not where the roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich started. What inspired these guys to create the Pattinson Avenue?

It turns out that this sandwich can be traced to a vendor located at Philly’s Reading Terminal Market called Tommy DiNic’s. (No, he’s not the only guy in the city who sells roast pork and broccoli rabe, but he’s definitely one of the most well-known.)

This large indoor market has a pretty interesting history. Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 to house food vendors who had previously operated outdoors along streets in downtown Philly. Market Street, a main thoroughfare in the city, was one of the most popular spots for these vendors. Due to complaints of residents and sanitation concerns, the city decided to ban vendors from selling their products on the street.

With the new law in effect, Philly’s street vendors found themselves without a place to sell to their products. Reading Terminal Market was the perfect solution to this problem. With an enormous refrigeration system, vendors could produce and sell their food more efficiently than before.

Today, the market is filled with every type of vendor imaginable. There are bakers, farmers with fresh produce, dairy and cheese farmers from the Amish country, butchers, and more.

Tommy DiNic’s has been a mainstay in the market since 1954. Specializing in slow-roasted, sliced pork and roast beef sandwiches, DiNic’s represents the traditional Philly hoagie.

Knowing this, I knew what I had to do. So, I booked a seat on the MegaBus and bolted up to Philly for the day. My first stop -DiNic’s at Reading Terminal Market.

The market was a foodie’s dream, with every type of vendor you could possible imagine. I wrestled through the throngs of people and made my way to DiNic’s. I ordered my sandwich with confidence. “Roast pork broccoli rabe and provolone cheese, please.”

This sandwich felt like it weighed five pounds. I carefully unrolled its paper wrapping. Dear God. The sandwich was a foot long pork monster. I took a few photos and stared in awe for a few seconds.

My first bite – I tasted melted Provolone cheese smothered over juicy, tender and perfectly seasoned pork. This was some of the best roasted pork I have ever had. Taylor Gourmet, while good, didn’t hold a candle to this.

DiNic’s sandwich had personality. From the sharp melted Provolone to the succulent sliced pork to the spicy, bitter broccoli rabe, every flavor sang. Even the bread, a soft hoagie roll that perfectly contained the sandwich fillings, was unique. It’s amazing that I finished most of this sandwich without the mass of toppings falling out.

Because I didn’t want to carry the rest of the sandwich around Philly with me, I decided to pull an Adam Richman and take on the entire thing. Actually, Richman visited DiNic’s during the Philly episode of his eat-feat show, “Man Versus Food.” He ate the whole hoagie with ease, but then again, he’s had practice at this.

By the end, the cheese began to get to me. There was just so much of it, probably a little too much. In classic Richman style, I stuffed the remainder of the sandwich down my throat before my brain could tell my stomach, “STOP EATING FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

Success? Well, yes. But then I felt sick, but sick in an extremely satisfied way. I waddled around the rest of the market, buying a few Philly soft pretzels and chocolate chip cookies for later. Much later.

DiNic’s roast pork and rabe sandwich is one of a kind. Unfortunately, Philly isn’t in my backyard, so it will probably be some time before I go back. Then again, this isn’t such a bad thing, considering this sandwich could feed a family of four.  In the meantime, I’m glad to see places like Taylor Gourmet showing diners what the Philly hoagie is all about right here in the District.

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Moules Frites, or mussels and fries, is one of my all-time favorite dishes. I have recently tried mussels and fries at two Belgian inspired D.C. restaurants, Belga Cafe near Eastern Market and Granville Moore’s on H Street. While Granville Moore’s interior has more of a casual, laid back feel, Belga Café is more upscale and modern in its appearance.

Both spots are known for their mussles and fries, but which one does this classic dish best?

At Granville, I ordered the Champagne mussels, with a porcini mushroom cream and red pepper puree broth with crispy artichokes. This broth had a smooth, creamy flavor without being too rich. However, I had difficulty detecting a porcini mushrooms or red pepper flavor. The broth was great as it was, but since I had the expectation of mushrooms and red peppers, I was disappointed. Here’s one thing that was constantly pounded into my head at culinary school – when writing a menu, it’s important to tell diners exactly what to expect. Most people don’t want to be surprised in a restaurant.

While both of my visits to Belga Cafe were enjoyable, like Granville Moore’s, the menu promised more than was delivered. I tried the Mussels “Chimay,” with Chimay beer, Belgian endive, celery and Chimay cheese (pictured, left). The endive, sliced into tiny pieces, was hidden underneath my mussels at the bottom of my bowl. Too bad, because it was really tender and delicious.

On another visit to Belga, I tried the Mussels “Green,” with Chorizo and spinach in a garlic cream broth. I enjoyed this preparation better than the Chimay, but I was still frustrated. I understand the dish is about the mussels, but if the menu says Chorizo, I want to taste it from the start. Not after I’ve eaten most of the mussels and am too full to enjoy the chorizo in the bottom of the bowl. I would have liked to have had the chorizo and spinach mixed in with the mussels, so I could taste all three flavors together.

Belga’s mussels were cooked perfectly – slightly firm, but still chewy. I ate every mussel in the bowl. On the other hand, my mussels at Granville Moore’s were a mixed bag. While a few were cooked well, the majority of the mussels were undercooked. Some of the shells hadn’t opened, so I couldn’t eat them. Although I ate the undercooked mussels anyway (maybe a bad idea?), the chewiness of them was not particularly enjoyable. Perhaps going on a busy Friday night was not the wisest choice, but still.

After I finish my mussels, I love to soak up the extra broth in the bowl with bread. The bread at Belga Cafe was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, perfect for finishing the broth. Granville Moore’s bread lacked the attention that was given to Belga’s.

Let’s talk about fries. Belga’s fries were good, but they lacked the crispness and seasoning of Granville’s. Belga’s fries also came with a golden mayo that was spot-on. Granville gave me the option of several different types of mayos, including a curry mayo, horseradish cream mayo, garlic ranch mayo and a truffle mayo. I enjoyed the simplicity of Belga’s mayo more. That’s all you need – a straightforward, delicious dipping sauce.

The fries at Granville Moore’s were not included with the mussels.  A small was $4 and a large was $7.50, but the portions were generous. Fries were included in the price at Belga Cafe. With fries, the mussels from both restaurants ended up being about the same price.

Impressive at both restaurants was their selection of Belgian beers, most of which I had never heard of before. At Belga Café, I tried a great Rodenbach, a Belgian beer with a hint of sour berry flavor.

So…what’s the final verdict?

Mussels – Belga Cafe

Frites – Granville Moore’s

While both restaurants have their pros and cons, the mussels at Belga Cafe win. The fries at Granville Moore’s are a solid step above Belga Cafe’s. Take the mussels from Belga and the fries from Granville and you’re good to go.

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