Pete’s Burgers: Peter’s Favorite Things

Do you remember the Oprah’s Favorite Things episodes that used to pop up every few months on Oprah’s talk show?  They’ve been spoofed multiple times on Saturday Night Live, but I will happily admit that I was exposed to the real thing multiple times over the years.  I caught a couple in college and it seemed like any time I was home sick there was one on TV.  Which I of course had to watch.  The premise was simple: Oprah unveils items that she loves to her audience and they go completely berserk.  Why?  Because the whole audience got to take home whatever Oprah unveiled.

Those videos of teenage girls losing their minds when the Beatles played in the 60s?  Does not even compare to the insane reactions of these middle aged men and women.  Fainting, tears, strangers hugging, and milk curdling screams punctuated unveils like home pedicure treatment kits. People love free sh*t.  In 2004 when I was working on GM, they gave away 250 Pontiacs on a Favorite Things episode and I’m sure you can imagine the insanity of the reaction.  I probably watched the highlight reel 50 times at work cackling like a madman.

Anyhoo, you don’t get to take home anything, but enjoy following along as Pete cooks his ultimate burger and unveils a few of… his Favorite Things.

Big surprise folks, it starts with…. BACON!!!!!!!!!

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking again instead

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking cigarettes again instead

I’ve had lots of wacky meat-based burger toppings like foie gras, braised pork belly, and even a beef cheek a few weeks ago, but none of them compare to what bacon adds.  At the same time, not a fan of the long bacon strip that sticks out the ends of the bun and pulls out of the burger when you bite down.   Which is why I like the idea of bacon lardon as a topping.  All the flavor and crisp with none of the drawbacks.

While that cooks, it’s time to bring out the… RED ONION!!!!

I have lost all resistance to the tear effect of red onions.  I looked like I'd been pepper srayed after cutting this thing

I have lost all resistance to the crying effect of red onions.  I looked like I’d been pepper sprayed after cutting this thing

Any caramelized onion makes a burger better, but for this one I went with a red onion since it holds up to longer cooking time while still retaining some texture.  After skimming off a little excess bacon grease, the onions joined the bacon in the pan.  Once the onions were a little translucent, I added in a few large crumbles of brown sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

That’s right folks, we’re making… BACON ONION MARMALADE!!!!!!!

I’ve had this stuff on burgers in a few restaurants and was inspired by a coworker to make it at home.  It has everything you dream of on a burger: the sweetness of caramelized onions, with brown sugar and vinegar replacing the key aspects of ketchup and pickles, and of course the salty crunch of bacon.  I had to wing the recipe a bit due to a truncated timeline (easiest to slow cook for a few hours), but with this combination I knew it would end up solid.

"Oh you're adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a racing motorcycle to work instead?" - Pete's doctor

“Oh you’re adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a motorcycle to work helmet-less instead?” – Pete’s doctor

This cooked over low heat for another 20-30 minutes, but that wasn’t the only topping that needed cooking time.  You didn’t think I’d forget the TRUFFLE MUSHROOOOOOOOOOOOMS!?!?!?!?

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to pry this mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to have to pry this Mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post I write

Mushrooms and truffles have a ton in common from a flavor standpoint, and they obviously work well when combined.  I’m cheap and I don’t keep truffles lying around, but dried truffle salt and a couple pats of truffle butter usually gets a good amount of flavor in there.  An awesome texture and flavor contrast with the other toppings.

Let’s get on to the main event people, 85/15 GROUND BEEF Y’ALL!!!!!

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don't become meatballs on the grill.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don’t become meatballs on the grill.  Write that down too.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

I love the idea of grass fed beef and want to love the burgers that it makes, but I’ve been hit or miss with it lately.  If I see corn fed ground beef from respected New England farm, odds are I will choose it over the grass fed variety.  Just more likely to be tender and not have a chewy sausage-like texture on the outside.  I mixed the ground beef with a substantial amount of salt and black pepper and then segmented the pound of beef into three equal-sized, patted flat burgers.

I’ve heard that behind every great man is a great woman, but what I think they are really trying to say is that on top of every great burger is a great cheese.  Uh oh, you smell that folks?  It’s announcing itself from inside the cheese drawer, STANKY BLUE CHEESE!!!!!!

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don't worry, we're almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don’t worry, we’re almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

I’ve referred to this multiple times on this blog, but I will only get a burger in a restaurant if it has blue cheese or a similarly stinky cheese topping it.  I think cheddar, Swiss, and American are all incredibly boring and barely add any flavor.  Stinky cheeses compliment the burger by not just disappearing flavor-wise in each bite.  A few crumbles of this Stilton is my idea of heaven on a burger.

The marmalade had cooked to a nice consistency.

Wasn't quice the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

Wasn’t quite the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

I switched the heat off and let as much oil drain off as possible before spooning these into a separate bowl.

I heated the grill to 500 and threw the burgers on for a a few minutes on each side with the buns toasting on the top rack.  What kind of buns you ask?!?!?!  MAIER’S POTATO ROLLSSSSSS!!!!!  And we’re done with that.

From the grill to the bun.

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maiers Potato Roll.  I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maier’s Potato Roll. I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

Due to the amount of toppings, I went with the cheese on one side pressed directly into the bun.  I spread the marmalade on the other half and then piled the mushrooms up on top before tipping them together into one glorious whole.  Served with some vinaigrette-tossed greens on the side, Grace Tavern-style.

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my favorite thing, but that's combining multiple mildly unpleasant sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my fave thing, but that’s combining multiple unpleasant-sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

Let’s go through the toppings in one sentence instead of all spaced out: A blue cheese, bacon & red onion marmalade, and truffle mushroom topped hamburger on a Maier’s potato roll.  Good golly.

Not sure what you’re looking for on the reaction section here, because obviously this was one of my favorite burgers of all time.  I’ll try.  I despise ketchup and bread & butter pickles on a burger, but I love a little sweet contrast to all the salt of a burger.  The marmalade delivered that and then some with the slight tang of vinegar and sweet onion flavor.  Then of course there is the strong smokey bacon flavor mixed with all of that and crunchy chunks of it in each bite.  The mushrooms provided the umami that matches well with stanky cheese and medium rare beef but also stands on its own well.  The burger meat was juicy and full of flavor and was made even better by the cheese oozing through it following each bite.  Just an absurd burger.

I traded a 2 pound block of scrapple for a 50+ pound cow’s head this past weekend.  Not cooking it anytime soon, but figured that’s the type of post that requires a few months of warning.

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Pete’s Burgers: The Coq au Vin (feat. Pheasant)

Last summer I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow and had dinner with one of Wayfair’s business partners, Good Ideas.  The Good Ideas guys know how to do a tradeshow dinner (amongst other things like innovative composters and chicken coops) and we enjoyed a couple hours of wine and massive amounts of Italian food.  During the course of the dinner I discovered Greg, the owner, has a sprawling ranch in South Dakota where he avidly hunts along with the Cary, Mike, and various other folks from the company.  I in turn babbled about my love of game meat and my complete lack of the necessary intestinal fortitude to hunt.  We found a yin and yang relationship there, and Greg agreed to send me a bunch of pheasants next time he went hunting as long as I came up with a good recipe for them.

Now, my teeth were stained purple and we’d all been on our feet for 12 hours, so I wasn’t exactly sure whether our agreement would come to fruition.  Then, a few months later, I got an email that I would be receiving a big box of birds in a few days.  Well then.

Here's a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don't tell your wife that it's coming and let her open it while you're at work.  Hilarity ensues.No, no, no.  Actually, I was in the dog house after that one

Here’s a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don’t tell your wife that it’s coming and let her open it while you’re at work.  Hilarity ensues.
No no, don’t do that actually.  I was in the doghouse after that one

A box of three gallon-sized bags with multiple frozen pheasants in each.  The pheasants were fully cleaned and skinned aside from one feather-covered wing that they like to keep on for identification purposes.  Definitely added to the slightly macabre scene and the general rage of my wife, though.  Since it was mid-December and we were planning to be out of town the next few weekends, I moved all three bags to the chest freezer in the basement.

In the following weeks, there weren’t many days that went by that I didn’t think about what the hell I was going to do with these things.  I originally wanted to make sausage but with how lean the meat was, I would need to probably go with a 1:2 ratio of pheasant to pork fat to make an enjoyable sausage.  So, it sat and I sat, and the weeks passed without me making a move.

Nemo got me housebound and antsy, so I thawed out a package and went with my original idea: fully prepared pheasant coq au vin, removed from the bones, ground, and formed into a patty.  Had no idea how it would work out, but what else is new.  Let’s start with some mirepoix.

I don't know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic

I don’t know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in case you were previously unaware

I chopped everything shown on the cutting board and placed in a bowl to wait their turn, then pulled the birds out of the bag and laid them on the cutting board.

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had not concept of how big these things were since all I could see was feathers

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had no concept of how big these things were since all I could see were the feathers.  Turns out the answer is 2.  These both looked identical, the one on the right is just wing side down

The birds smelled clean and poultry-like, but not like the occasionally farty smell of thawed grocery store sweatshop chicken.  I was immediately struck by how much the body looked like rabbit, particularly the thighs.  The wing was an odd sight, but it was easy to remove which left me to try and figure out how to break the pheasants down.

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process.  Either that or someone left loose change and their car keys in the shotgun barrel by accident

Since I was planning to braise bone-in, I wanted to break each bird down into two breast and two thigh portions.  I started by cutting perpendicular to the backbone and separating the thighs from the breast portion.  For the thighs, one cut through the center of the backbone was all I needed, but since the chest had to be cut on both sides, the breast bone was a little trickier.  The bones were thin and east to cut through with a little pressure, but I still felt like a I was mauling these things.    Eventually each bird ended up like this.

Very little trim away, mostly just the featery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let's move on

Very little to trim away, mostly just the feathery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let’s move on

It was around this time that I recognized the small tears in the flesh were likely due to the birdshot that brought the pheasant down.  I inspected each piece thoroughly but didn’t find any shot during the breaking down process aside from one small piece.  Made me a little wary about my teeth surviving the consumption of the finished product.

After breaking down the second bird, I had this pile of meat.

Been experimenting with shots by my window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

Been experimenting with fotos by the kitchen window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

With the ingredients all prepped, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in ‘Lil Blue.  After a good seasoning of salt and pepper, the pheasant went into the hot grease to brown in two waves.

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass given the size of the birds

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass and waste of time given the size of the birds

Once the meat had some decent color, I removed it from the pot and dumped in the mirepoix with a lot of dried herbs de provence.  After a few minutes of cooking they started to brown slightly around the edges and were pretty fragrant.

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs.  For some reason the last batch of onions Kristi and I purchased delivered an equivalent experience to getting pepper sprayed when chopping

At this point I added a few bay leaves, a bottle of red wine (#3BuckChuckMerlot) and turned up the heat until the liquid started bubbling.  After lowering the heat a little,  I let the wine and veggies simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit.  Then the browned pheasant pieces headed back in.

I was already well aware that this meal was running the risk of being extremely dry

I was already well aware that this meat was running the risk of being “The Turkey in Christmas Vacation”-level dry

After topping off with a little chicken broth to fully cover the meat, the lid went on and the heat went down to low for 60 minutes.  Leaving me with this:

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magic

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magical and I’m a wizard y’alllll

I pulled the pot off of the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before transferring the meat to a cutting board.  While the meat cooled, I removed the mirepoix from the pot using a slotted spoon and into a bowl lined with cheese cloth.

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person's face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person’s face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

After a few minutes of cooling, I twisted up the cheesecloth tight while holding it over the bowl and started to press some of the excess liquid out of the vegetables.  Press, tighten the cheesecloth, press some more, tighten, etc.  Eventually, I was content with the amount of excess moisture I’d pressed out.

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  That liquid is what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stew.  I am unpleasant to dine with

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  It was what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stews that I don’t make myself.  I am unpleasant to dine with

The pressed liquid went into the braising pot with the reserved cooking broth and set over low heat to reduce for the next few hours.  Which brings me back to the braised pheasant.

Here's a little thing: do this at home and tell your young child these are chicken McNuggets.  Then  blame Ronald

Here’s an idea: I should do this again in a few years and tell my young children that these are chicken McNuggets.  Then eat all their chicken McNuggets when they refuse to eat them on future visits to McDonalds

With the meat cooled, I went through the relatively annoying process of pulling the meat off of the bones and trying to fish out any small bones and bird shot.  Although there are less gnarly tendon-y pieces than on a bigger bird like chicken or turkey, I couldn’t believe all of the tiny pinbones around and in the thigh meat.  After some lightly burned fingers and frustration, I had this bowl:

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn.  I don't think it's possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn. I don’t think it’s possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

With this stage complete, I moved the meat and vegetables into the freezer for 30 minutes to chill to an easier grinding temperature.  While that cooled, I put together the attachments for our Kitchenaid mixer that makes it into a relatively easy to use meat grinder.

Finally, it was time to grind.  I loaded a handful of the shredded pheasant and pressed mirepoix into the grinder, continuing by alternating handfuls of both.

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spoungey feeling, but I knew that most of the moisture that would make them unpleasant once through a grinder were gone

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spongy feeling, but I knew that the excess moisture that would make the final ground product watery was gone

I've shown this grinder in action a few times.  Since the meat was cooked, it was relatively easy, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

I’ve shown this grinder in action a few times, but I like sharing my multitasking skills with a camera.  Since the meat was cooked, it looked a little less appetizing, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

With the meat and vegetables fully ground the mixture looked a bit like sand, which had me concerned about how dry it would be.  So, I added some broken homemade mayo.

Quick sidenote: my lovehandles have lovehandles these days, so I’ve been dabbling in a few different types of cooking and/or diets.  Making homemade mayo isn’t healthy, but it’s healthier since it uses better oil and no preservatives.  It’s also extremely frustrating and doesn’t work (correct term: emulsify) 50% of the times I’ve done it.  In those cases, you end up with lots of broken mayo; essentially olive oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar and some seasonings coexisting unpeacefully in a small space.  Seemed like the perfect item to fatten up and bind my ground meat mixture.

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper. The greenliness of the homemade mayo is the best part

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper.  The green color of homemade mayo and the sharp olive flavor are the best parts

After a few minutes in the mixer, the ground mixture looked like this:

First big moment of doubt; looked more like lunch line tuna salad than what I was going for

First big moment of doubt.  It looked more like cafeteria tuna salad than what I was going for.  Mmmm, cafeteria tuna salad

The ground mixture went into the fridge for an hour long “gettin to know ya” sesh which I was hoping would bring the flavors together and firm it up a bit.

All the while, the braising liquid simmered.

Love the lines on the side, they are like merit badges for patience

Love the crusty high flood mark-type lines on the inside.  They are like merit badges for culinary patience

Once I felt the ground meat was ready for cooking (read: I was hungry), I heated up a round bottom pot on the stovetop and made a couple tablespoons of roux.  Once the flour had cooked for a few minutes and the roux had a little color, I whisked in the reduced braising liquid to make a poor man’s demi glace.

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn't into it but wanted some of the demi glace

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn’t into it but wanted some of the demi glace

With the sauce over low heat, I heated up a little olive oil in a pan and formed the ground pheasant meat into a patty.

Looks extremely high fat, but it clearly wasn't.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren't

Looks like extremely high fat sausage, but it clearly wasn’t.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren’t

Flip, fry, then smother with sauce.  That’s right, a burger post with no bun.  It was a friggin’ blizzard for cripes sake!  Trains weren’t running!  It felt like end of days outside and there was no chance I was hiking to 7-11 to engage in a knife fight over the last pack of hamburger buns.

Anyhoo, would have been a hell of a burger but,as it was, we had Salisbury steak.

Felt very old school.

Felt very old school, like I should have been giving Kristi a dressing down about not having enough starch in my collars while eating it

To get a key point out of the way, that sauce was absurd.  You could put it on pretty much anything and it would be delicious.  The burger also had great flavor, with the (slightly) gamey poultry and red wine cooked vegetables both clearly coming through in each bite.  Combined with the sauce, the flavors were rich and pretty awesome.

The only reason this wasn’t a complete victory were some texture problems.  The primary issue was that using a the broken homemade mayo threw off the egg to added fat balance a bit.  While the may was likely 3 parts olive oil, 1 part egg yolk, it should have been a half and half ratio to properly bind the burger and keep some density.  As it was, the texture was most similar to a crab cake, which probably would have been less of a big deal in a bun. The secondary issue was that  I missed some small bones and a few little ground pieces of them made it through.  Not a ton of pieces, but enough that you didn’t want to bite down too hard while chewing just in case you had one.

Oh well, all in all still a pretty successful experiment.  Thanks to Greg, Cary, and Mike for killing stuff and sending it to me.

Another weekend at home.  I have ideas.

Pete’s Burgers: The Breakfast Burger

Two weekends ago marked the arrival of a new member of the Ryan family; our new gas grill.  The grill is very similar to a child really; the whole process started with an extended painful labor (the assembly), it was unconditionally loved from birth, and we’ve played with it nonstop since.  Most nights Kristi and I have both checked on it before we’ve headed to bed.  Oh, and Janet turned one.

Anyhoo, with the new grill on the front deck, it seemed like it was time for another round of Pete’s Burgers.  I’ve always enjoyed when a restaurant burger has the added bonus of a fried egg on top, so I figured I would do my own version of that and make it as breakfast-like as I could.  As usual, any good burger starts with good ground beef.

I love me some Costco, and their organic 85/15 ground beef never disappoints

To continue on the path of things that should be done every time you make any kind of burger, I mixed the ground beef with lots of salt and pepper.

I need to take my wedding ring off before I do stuff like this.  It acts like a to-go container with the amount of crap it collects in situations like this

When thinking about how to use the egg, I’d heard of people doing some sort of birds nest burger where the burger is a ring, with an egg cracked in the center, cooked in a pan.  Boooring.  Who cooks burgers in a pan anyway?  To cook it on the grill I needed to break out a little razzle dazzle.

While Kristi fried some bacon (what else would go on a breakfast burger?) I broke the meat into four equal portions then divided two portions into four large thin patties that I flattened on wax paper.

Normal burgers on the right, two of the four large extra thin patties on the left.  In other news, I’ve discovered the subpar pictures coming out of the nice camera lately must be user error, because look at the quality of every picture Kristi took for this post.  Also, lotsa stuff going on behind this shot

Now for the egg.  Whites are boring, they are for binding or bland omelettes; you really only want the flavor of the yolk.  The key for this one is to match the quality of your beef with your egg yolk.  I recommend the Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Americauna and Maran eggs because the yolk is huge and flavorful.  I separated out the whites and dropped a yolk in the center of two of the large thin patties.

Heirloom yolk on the left, standard Pete & Gerry’s (which is still 10x better than a sweatshop grocery store egg) on the right. The Americauna yolks are dark orange in person and taste the way an egg yolk should

With the yolks in the center of the bottom halves, I laid the top half of the burger meat over the top of the yolk and carefully pinched the sides while letting out any excess air.  I think if I had screwed up this step I would have acted like Janet when she wants out of the booster and started crying while dropping ground beef out of both hands with my arms above my head.  Luckily everything went smoothly.

A roll of wax paper will take several years to go through in our condo, but it is completely crucial every time it is used

With the burgers all sealed up, I shaped them a bit to resemble regular burgers, then got started on my key condiment.

Although ketchup often goes very well with eggs, we were on the razzle dazzle train at this point, so I wanted to do a little better.  The olllld razzle dazzle train, CHOO CHOO!!!!!

I ended up going with a maple aioli consisting of half Vermont maple syrup, half mayo, plus some ground pepper and dried herbs.

I used to lose my sh*t when syrup got on my bacon, eggs, or sausage since I’ve only recently started to like the salty/sweet contrast.  Still not a huge fan of straight syrup on my breakfast meats, but I knew a toned down version would be awse

With the toppings and burgers all prepped, it was time do fire up the King Griller!

This lid says “King Griller” but its real name is way cooler: The Stealth Griller.  Nice heavy lid and gets up to 600 degrees in about 5 minutes.  Shameless plug: you can get ’em with free shipping to your door at Wayfair.com for around $200.  Second thinly veiled product placement of the post!

Let’s address those buns for a second.  In principle, I like brioche, but I also have complained about its overuse in restaurants due to how much larger it is than any reasonably sized burger.  I prefer perfectly sized Martin’s Potato Rolls.  But, Kristi was doing the shopping this day and I have to say it ended up being the perfect bun as you’ll see later.

Once the grill was good and hot, the burgers went on with the lid down and the heat set to medium/high for about five minutes before flipping.

Yeah, Kristi is definitely a better photographer than me.  Eventually the only things I am going to be better at than her are cooking organ meats and eating, which most people will react to by shrugging and saying, “sounds about right”

Since I was using a nice sharp Cabot cheddar (3rd placement!), I put the cheese on immediately after flipping and put the buns on the top rack before closing the lid again.  After a couple minutes I took the buns off and slathered a good amount of the maple aioli on the top and bottom before pulling the burgers off the grill.

Figured this would help show how much of the aioli I put on each side, but I am also just really in to how good these pictures came out. I promise the reason all that extra bun worked out will make sense eventually

With the addition of the bacon on top of the cheese, these bad boys were ready to eat.  So here, without further ado, is the finest three-picture series of food porn in the storied history of this blog.

I wrote half of this post while in the painful throes of some sketchy burrito-induced food poisoning and this picture was still able to make me hungry.  I defended you for years Boca Grande, but no mo’.  Fooled me twice, shame on me

As Uncle Jesse would say, “Haave mer-cy”.  Forget the TV quotes, lets go with, “Jeepers creepers!”  Actually, I mean, Good Golly Miss Molly!  They haven’t invented an exclamation in the past 20 years that can encapsulate how awesome this was.  This burger was really the cat’s pajamas

Serve with a pile of goddess-dressed beats & greens and a Brooklyn Summer Ale (4th!) and you have one hell of an amazing dinner.  I can’t look at these fotos without salivating

In order to make sure the yolk wasn’t completely cold, I cooked the burger to a medium/medium well temperature.  The temperature didn’t really matter, though, since they were plenty moist from all of the rich egg yolk and melty cheddar.

The burger meat reminded both of us of sausage from all of the salt and pepper and because it was complimented by so many other breakfast flavors.  The cheddar and bacon were obviously awesome, but the maple aioli really brought it all together with that distinct maple sweetness complimenting without overwhelming the other flavors.  Of course, the divine purpose of the large brioche all along was sopping up that delicious yolk that went everywhere when we cut into the burgers.

The photos in this one might be tough to top, but I’ve got some ideas for next week.

Finally, to give a proper shout out to my (slightly older than a) baby girl, happy first birthday Janet!  You’ve made this past year more fun than your mother and I could have ever imagined.

Alright, fine.  Maybe the burger pics can be topped

Pete’s Burgers: The Wellington

In the midst of my 18,000 word missive on the food in Philly, I addressed my feelings on what should be considered a good burger.  I was sick of complicated restaurant burgers with foie gras and chutney instead of bacon and ketchup being considered the best in a city just because they essentially buy your taste buds.  So I ranted about it.  But you likely missed that since the post was intolerably long.

Allow me to refresh you on my thoughts.  A great burger is ground beef, heavily salted and peppered, charred on a rarely cleaned grill, and served on a simple bun with a strong cheese and mushrooms/bacon/onions/condiments as desired.  Simple and really delicious, it especially helps if the ground beef is closer to 80/20 than 93/7.

That doesn’t mean I avoid messing around with burgers and trying to come up with new delicious ways to eat them.  I love trying to make new stuff (very eloquent, Pete).  So, while I will address the perfect traditional burger and the famous Dupee burger at another time, let’s kick off this new post category with the burger we made in Naples, FL last week: The Wellington Burger.

My mom lives in an awesome condo in Naples with lots of perks; high-end community grills, great restaurants, and a butcher shop that has adventurous cuts. Most importantly: delicious tasting kiddie pool water, at least according to Janet

We made a Beef Wellington over Christmas in Michigan 5 or 6 years ago and I wasn’t the biggest fan.  Each component sounded awesome; beef tenderloin, liver pate, duxelles (mixture of mushrooms, onions, and shallots), all wrapped in pastry dough.  It ended up being way too much in my opinion; just insanely rich.  But stuffed in a burger…. that had some potential.

We started out by throwing a sliced red onion in a pan to caramelize and sauteing a half pound of sliced mushrooms in butter.

Tim is such a nerd, he looked up a recipe for caramelizing onions. Admittedly, he did an awesome job and even cooked in bacon grease which got my nod of approval. But, honestly, who looks up a recipe to pan cook an onion?

Kristi prepared the mushrooms and didn't even need a recipe to do so. Tim was completely blown away! He was all like, "how did you know how to do THAT?!?!?" Friggin jerk, I'll show him

While those cooked, I got the other ingredients prepped.  First, the duck liver mousse.

Annnnd prepped! Went with the pre-made gourmet food store variety since I can't fathom taking the time to make a liver mousse then stuffing it into a burger. That's a Bells Two Hearted in the background. For those keeping track, Naples has Michigan beer, Philadelphia scrapple, and a Skyline Chili franchise. Great place

The selection of what kind of liver pate to use wasn’t that complicated since Mommy Ryan had a block of duck liver mousse in her fridge.  She is a Ryan after all, and odds are that if you look in a Ryan fridge or freezer there will be some form of liver product somewhere.  Makes choices in these situations easy.

The ground beef headed into a bowl for seasoning with lots of salt and pepper.

I know it looks like a ton, but you need a lot of salt for two lbs of meat. It didn't taste salty. Side note: I mysteriously dropped my rant on the stupidity of ground Kobe beef and people paying more for it because Mommy Ryan bought ground Wagyu (American Kobe) despite my pleas not to do so. Lets just move on and pretend it's regular 85/15, OK?

With the ground beef mixed and the onions and mushrooms cooked, the burgers were ready for final prep before grilling.

Wow Tim, those look great! And it only took you 45 minutes of research and 30 minutes of cook time? Amazing! Can you blame Tim for wanting to start a blog about how awful I am at cooking?

I combined big spoonfuls of the onions and mushrooms and a thick slab of the duck liver mousse in a bowl and mashed together for each burger.

Pre-mashing. On it's own it looks decadent, then you remember it's heading inside of (Wagyu) ground beef. Diet still isn't going well, thanks for asking

On wax paper I flattened out large thin patties of the ground beef to roughly the same size.  The idea was that two patties would surround the filling and be pinched together at the edges.  Each burger got a hefty spoonful of the filling.

Burger #1. You know that looks absurdly delicious, even if you're not a huge poultry liver fan

Burgers #2 and #3. They weren't just for Tim and I, Mommy Ryan was extremely into the idea as well. Kristi sat out, she's still not on the liver bandwagon

Throw the 2nd half on top, pinch the corners, and you have what looks like an innocuous normal burger.  Albeit an extremely large one.

Even without seeing the size of the plate you can tell these burgers were enormous. That plate is the equivalent of the tags on my shirts

The three stuffed burgers went onto a hot grill along with three normal burgers (Tim and I both wanted the best of both worlds).  Big error was putting them all on the grill at the same time since we only wanted the stuffed ones to cook well done with the lid down.  Pretty stupid; the regular burgers ended up medium-well, which is how you narrowly avoided this being my preachy post about a correctly-made real hamburger.

A little perspective on the difference in size. Also, I should give credit where credit is due, Tim really pushed his Wellington burger into a different world (of unhealthiness) with that handful of blue cheese on top. I was extremely jealous once I had time to think about it

From the grill directly onto the essential toasted Martin’s potato rolls, served along with extra condiments and toppings as needed.

Added a little mayo for richness on the Wellington burger. Also, because mayo is awesome. Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves. Wait, what? I already did that one? Dag, how long ago? Oh well

I had to slice into the Wellington and check it out, it would have been less enjoyable without doing so.

I wanted the filling a little more runny for picture purposes but it was warm and mushy throughout. In a good way. Best part was that the filling ran up to the edges of the burger

Despite my previous complaints about traditional Beef Wellington, you can’t combine this many delicious ingredients, in this type of preparation, and have it come out poorly.  The flavor was rich, very decadent, and delicious.  A stuffed burger is the only case where well-done is an acceptable temperature because the contrast of textures is great and the meat stays moist from the filling.  Really amazing, but not really a hamburger.

Next week will either be the crazy surf and turf I referenced previously or something else.  I pickup a cooler full of cow organs this weekend courtesy of Uncle Billy, so, you’ve got that going for you.

Iron Chef: “No Animal Left Behind” (feat. Cabrito Sliders)

The goat head cheese was just a first course at the annual JP Super Bowl party.  The decision to make it, plus an overflowing freezer of random meats, led to our 2012 Super Bowl food theme: No Animal Left Behind.  Every couple/team of attendees was responsible for a different animal, and we had goat, pork, venison, chicken, and lamb covered (with a nod to cow in the form of baked brie).  And THAT theme was apparently the equivalent of putting out a “not welcome” mat for our vegetarian friends (sorry Taylor).

After missing too much of a few Super Bowls in a row due to cooking, my goal for this one was to cook and serve my dishes before the game.  The head cheese was ready to serve out of the fridge, but my other planned item required a little bit more prep: cabrito sliders.  For those who don’t spend their evenings groaning about how good the food looks on a few consecutive hours of food shows, cabrito is young goat meat.

Got this at the Fitler Square farmers market in Philly. I really miss the food in Philly, the farmers markets were about half as expensive as the Stillman farms circus that rolls through JP

There’s not a ton to do with ground goat, I’ve been trying to figure out a use for almost a year, but I’d heard that they make burgers with it in Texas, so that’s what I went with.  Due to the similarity to the flavor of lamb, I wanted to add some flavors that would cut the richness.

First thought was to pickle some onions, something I’d wanted to learn how to do for a while.  I got started a few hours before people arrived by throwing two sliced red onions into boiling water.

Not much of a blanching or par boiling guy, so this was a first for me. Boiled onions sound like something from a You Can't Do That On Television sketch about eating dinner at your grandparents. That reference makes no sense to anyone under 30 or anyone who grew up without cable

I blanched the onion for a minute, strained it, then put the slices back in the pot.  A cup of apple cider vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, and just enough water to cover went back onto high heat.

Already starting to have that bright color I associate with every awesome pickled red onion that I have used as a condiment

Once it started boiling, I timed off a minute and poured the whole pot into a large mason jar.

This part terrified me due to once watching Brother John pour hot coffee into a glass with an iced cube (because he missed out on the pitcher of iced coffee) and having the heavy glass he was using explode in his hand. He was fine (and quickly attempted the same thing with a plastic cup) but I wanted to avoid shards of glass and pickle stank all over my kitchen

Lid went on the jar and it headed into the fridge where I was instructed that the onions would crisp and brighten as they cooled.  Big surprise, a recipe was correct and not subject to the same wild variances as my guesswork.

As game time approached and I was within 20 minutes of cooking my sliders, I pulled and rinsed a couple handfuls of cilantro leaves and a handful of mint leaves.  Once finely chopped, they headed into a bowl with the ground goat meat, 8 cloves of roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

I know it looks like a ton of garlic, but roasted garlic is much more mild and blends in fully without running into a strong tasting chunk. Also, I knew the goat would be pretty strong and gamey

After a trademark Pete Ryan hands-on ground meat blending, including the requisite disgusted looks from party guests when they see me up to my wrists in their food, the slider meat was ready.

About how I wanted it to look. At this point I was surprised by how much fat had been ground into the meat since I expected something 93%+ lean, but I also knew that fat would probably be heavily lamb-y in flavor

After tasting a quick test batch and getting a sense for the size that would be perfect for two bites, I had an idea of the sauce that would match.  I wanted something with a Greek or Morrocan-type flavor that also replaced the need for cheese on a slider.

With that in mind I went with a non-fat Greek yogurt (since I am so health conscious) blended with paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon juice.

Unfortunately, the same spices are used in Old El Paso taco seasoning and always make me think of that flavor when I taste them individually or together. Also, Old El Paso taco seasoning is the bawmb

With my sauce and toppings made, it was time to throw a full round of sliders onto the griddle.  Since I was making them thin and small, the griddle was over high heat with the plan to only cook for a couple minutes on each side.

Size-wise my goal was for each to be about 1/16th of a pound. Annoys the crap out of me when I order sliders at a restaurant that are basically a half full-sized burger. Sliders should be two awesome bites and, like the rest of my thoughts on burgers, I will argue this passionately and support with violence where necessary

The other secret weapon I had in my kitchen waiting for these were the old standbys, Martin’s Potato (Dinner) Rolls.  They really never fail; everything you put in them looks and tastes twice as good.  Plus, they fit Pete’s two-bite doctrine.

After about five minutes, the sliders were ready for construction.

They look just like little Jimmy Dean sausage patties. Mmmm, Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeah, the 2012 diet hasn't gone so well, thanks for inquiring

Each slider got a small dollop of the yogurt sauce and a couple slices of the crunchy pickled red onions.

Yes, we went from 8 in the last one to 7 in this shot. Different batches. My blog readers are such jerks with their nitpicking of details. Not really, actually. I'm not even sure anyone is reading this thing aside from the boner pill and Russian free music site bots that fill up the comments spam folder

Close ’em up and serve.

Back to 8, but a totally unnecessary shot. I wanted to show a picture between the 1st and 2nd bite but the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot (legal name now) refused to focus on the slider due to its fascination with my cracked mid-winter knuckles

The burgers were pretty dece in my opinion.  The meat was a good mix of crisp and tender with the roasted garlic and herbs adding a lot of flavor.  The sweet acidic crunch of the onion was exactly what I wanted; the flavor of dill pickles and raw onions in one flavorful compact package.  I over-spiced the yogurt sauce and although it gave the cheese-like flavor I wanted, it made the slider “have a lot going on” as Trisha said.  That Trisha shout-out is intended as a mea culpa for not telling her she was eating goat brains and eyes in the head cheese.

Now for the rest of the Iron Chef entries.

The app(s):

Nate and Emyo's Buffalo Chicken Dip. I love this stuff; sharp cheesy/buffalo-y chicken mess scooped up with tortilla chips. Falls under the category of "once a year" foods for me only because I am unable to contain myself and ate approximately half the tray

Not pictured: Chet’s venison sausage from his family’s game ranch outside of Austin, TX.  I am positive I took a picture of these but I think I.A.P.n.S. has now added randomly deleting photos from the memory card to it’s repetoire.  Delicious and spicy, I was psyched that there were leftovers that I could use in a pasta dish later in the week.

The entrees:

Con's Moroccan lamb meatball dish, served with warm pita for scooping and eating. Really good, and the spices he used reminded me of every bite of food that I loved in Morocco. The texture of the meatballs was the best; not dense but held together great

The Booshzels Pulled Pork sliders. Buschy was nervous I'd be mad at him for making competing sliders. In reality I was mad at him for showing that pulled pork is so easy to make that even he can make a delicious batch of it. You know, with his unrefined palate and all

Dessert(s):

Chrissy's bacon and French toast cupcakes. The real dish that blew everyone else's out of the water. Salty bacon on top of a maple cream cheese frosting and French toast flavored cupcake. Delicious meat dessert!

Not pictured: Julie’s vegetarian chocolate chip oatmeal cookies which gave anyone experiencing the meat sweats a break in cookie form.

Gonna give the 1st place ribbon to Chrissy for the creativity with everyone else tied for second since everyone was a winner in this competition.  Overall, a solid theme for a party, would love to give it a shot again with a larger group and more animals.  Always could handle a few more animals, we didn’t even cover beef, rabbit, turkey/duck/other fowl, or any fish or shellfish.

A few options for next week.  We’re down in Naples right now where we discovered a solid butcher shop with lot’s of interesting cuts.  Nothing beats surf and turf where the “turf” is lamb kidneys and alligator.

Pete’s Picks: The Best of Philadelphia

A return after four weeks of graduation festivities and a 400 mile move of all our earthly possessions back to Jamaica Plain, Mass.  My apologies, I really didn’t expect it to take this long to get bloggin’ again but I also underestimated everything related to this move. Mainly the exhaustion and general apathy of being a chubby fella in May humidity.

Anyhoo, with my two year stretch in Philadelphia finished, I might as well wrap it up with a megapost on my favorite food in Philly.  Most of these places are in the Center City and University City area but there are a few outside of that region.

Six blocks from the upscale restaurants and apartments of Rittenhouse Square is the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. It's a lot that was squatted on by an artist and filled with trash and junk that has been turned into "art". The contrast is a dece representation of how different every block in Philadelphia is

Much like the rest of my blog, nothing really fancy on this list.  Some of the best restaurant experiences I had in Philly were at Zahav, Barbuzzo, and Tinto.  The best gourmet food at reasonable prices (because they are BYOB restauarants) were Mercado, Matyson, and Pumpkin.  But you can find out all of that in Zagats or on Yelp.  This post is about the more humble spots I loved.  Here we go.

Vegetarian Food any Meat Eater Would Like – Magic Carpet (36th & Spruce)

This one doubles as also being the best food cart I have visited, and visited regularly.

During my time in Philly they expanded from one cart to two, both around the Penn campus. Surprisingly, the lines didn't shorten at all, just multiplied by two

I’ve talked at length about it in previous blogs, but they serve phenomenal vegetarian food.  My personal favorite is their Magic Meatballs which are made with seitan and sit in a tray of marinara sauce.  I like them served over an iceberg lettuce-based salad with a giant spoonful of their hummus.

It looks like a mess, but this is after my half hour walk home with the bag in one of my wildly swinging arms

I had always assumed vegetarian food was bland and boring, but between this cart and my friend Cindy’s reeeediculous pasta fagiole, my mind has been officially changed.  I think I could be a vegetarian if I needed to, but I don’t need to, and the rest of this blog is dedicated to the wonders of delicious, delicious meat.

Best Burger – Grace Tavern (23rd & South)

Burgers are on more menus than any other food item (source: TBD), yet I think they are rarely done right (wokka wokka).  Everyone has a different opinion on who has the best burger, and some of those barely resemble a hamburger.  Sure, the $26 Whiskey King burger at Village Whiskey is delicious with its combination of foie gras, bacon, and blue cheese, but it also represents what I hate about “great” restaurant burgers these days.  It’s a half pound patty, which is bigger than it needs to be, the bun is somehow still too big, the toppings overwhelm the beef, and it’s way more expensive than a burger should be.

Which brings me to Grace Tavern, easily the place I will miss the most now that I am back in Boston.  Located in the transitional zone between Rittenhouse and a slightly dodgier area, it looks like a dive bar when you first enter.  Once you get settled, you notice a few things that separate it from a normal dive; very clean, excellent beers on tap, friendly bartenders and a small menu of simple but unique food items.  Like the blackened green beans:

My iPhone camera is like the rest of my iPhone 3 at this point: awful

Raw green beans, coated with spicy cajun seasonings, charred on the grill, and served with Grace’s bourbon mayonnaise that would be the most used condiment in my fridge if I was allowed to take it home with me.  So simple, yet so good.  The same could be said for everything on the Grace menu, and that’s why I love the place so much.  They really care about their food, represented by the daily featured desserts that are made at home by the head chef and brought to the bar in a tupperware container.  Lots of care and years of getting each item on their menu right.  Especially the burger:

The burger comes out with the top bun lightly placed to the side, almost like they were asking me to take a picture before I ruined it. But I was too eager and mashed my bun on top before remembering the picture and removing it, hence the mess

This is the South Street, one of four burger options on their menu.  It’s a pile of blue cheese and carmelized onions, served on a perfectly sized, always soft roll with a side of seasoned fries and more bourbon mayonnaise.  No mealy tomato slice and oversized piece of lettuce, just the perfect amount of topping to not overwhelm the meat.  The actual burger is just juicy beef that is well seasoned with salt and pepper and given a solid char on a grill that is likely rarely cleaned, but always cooks to exactly the right temperature.

This is burger perfection, served with a local microbrew or two, for around $20 total per person

I could write a thousand words about my love for this burger and this place, but will stop here.  Grace Tavern made me a very selective burger eater and now that I have moved away it is really going to become an issue for me.  I miss them already.

Most Creative Gastropub – Time (13th & Sansom)

On the other end of the spectrum is Time.  Their core business is the bar with nightly jazz music, a long beer list, and elaborate absinthe setups (if that’s what you’re into). But when I went here for a Wharton event, I glanced at the menu and knew I had to come back with Kristi.  Specifically, for what they called the Chicken Fried Foie Gras.

Effing iPhone

That’s a poached egg sitting on a little chopped bacon, duck sausage gravy, and a battered deep fried piece of foie gras.  A little crazy right?  The flavors are all so rich, but the bites that incorporated a little of each were just absurd.  If you’re ever in Philly, preferably in chillier weather, head a block east of Broad Street and enjoy this ridiculous dish while listening to some live music.

Most Authentic Buffalo Wings – Tangier (18th & Lombard)

When Kristi and I found our apartment, we noticed a small divey-looking bar about 50 feet from the rear entrance to our building.  Once we moved to Philly, we ate there a couple times and were generally not impressed with the food.  That hasn’t changed, but in early spring of 2010 Kristi texted me that she would love to meet for a beer near our apartment.

As I sat at the bar drinking a Yuengling Bock, I noticed that the buffalo wings looked surprisingly good.  Since Buffalo visits have made me a wing snob, I rarely order them at restaurants but decided to take a chance and ended up completely shocked.

I searched for this plate for six years in Boston and never found it. You may think these look like your local bar's buffalo wings, but I have never had a wing outside of Buffalo that came close to these

The wings are the perfect medium size, fried until they are crispy outside and tender inside, and tossed in an authentically flavored buffalo sauce.  Once Kristi and I discovered how good the wings are, we were hooked.  We became regulars, and enjoyed the friendly bartenders, good beer selection, and always cheap tabs.  Speaking of dive bars…

Cheapest Drinks – Bob & Barbara’s (15th & South)

If you are in Philladelphia and want to see an old school Philly bar without being armed and terrified, you have to head to Bob and Barbara’s.

Wasn't open when I walked by. I have pictures from most of my visits there, but all of them would threaten my future employment status

The walls are covered with a collection of Pabst Blue Ribbon memorabilia that would likely sell for over a million dollars on Ebay.  The bar is edged with torn red vinyl, much like the chairs, and on weekend nights a pair of 80 year-olds in velour 3-piece suits play blues and jazz.

But the real reason to visit is the “Philly citywide special” that seemingly is only honored at Bob and Barbara’s: a shot of Jim Beam and a can of PBR for $3.  Now you see why I didn’t share my photos from inside.  Let’s move on.

Best Mexican Food – Don Memo (53 Garrett Rd, Upper Darby, PA)

I spent a year in Philly griping about the lack of good Mexican food in the city once Pico De Gallo started their downhill slide to going out of business.  I knew it existed, I just never put the effort into finding it.  Instead, I would overpay at places like Tequilas and El Rey or get burritos at places like Chipoltle or Qdoba which I generally dislike.

Ten days before I was set to leave Philly, a friend set up dinner at Don Memos in deep, deep West Philadelphia.  Please never make the mistake I made and go there often if you ever live within 30 miles of Philadelphia.  All of their food was incredible, including the margaritas they make with the tequila you bring.  I think about their taco de lengua often, because I don’t know when I will ever get to eat it again.

Again, sometimes food items look so good that I can't stop myself from eating before I remember to take a picture

I am guessing that this tongue was boiled until it was tender, sliced, and then grilled before ending up in this taco.  Combine with raw onion, cilantro, and lime, and that is one awesome taco.  The tongue gave a rich beef flavor and the toppings are a perfect fresh, crunchy counterpart.  Start off with the ridiculous queso fundido and guacamole, and you will be regretting not renting an apartment over the restaurant instead of wherever you live.

Best Roast Pork Sandwich – John’s Roast Pork (Snyder & Weccacoe)

Roast Pork is a very popular sandwich in Philly.  From what I can tell, it’s generally a whole roasted pork shoulder sliced thin and left to simmer in the pan juices.  The most popular toppings are sharp provolone and some sort of cooked garlicky greens (broccoli rabe or spinach).  After having versions of this sandwich at several places including Tony Luke’s, I decided to head out to one the of the most famous purveyors, John’s Roast pork, on my last day in Philly.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Not a beautiful setting: railroad tracks on one side, abandoned warehouse that likely has a few movie shootouts filmed in it each week on the other. Plus, it was 90 degrees and humid enough to make a fellow DB sweat through his shirt en route

I am assuming that when John’s opened the whole area was an industrial wasteland, but in recent years the surrounding region was filled with big box stores and strip malls.  They held their ground and remained extremely popular, but it makes for an odd setting.

As the line slowly moved I was nearly exploding with anticipation as I saw each hoagie get overloaded with massive amounts of thin sliced pork.

From what I learned about marketing at Wharton, this woman should lead off her Match.com profile with "free roast pork sandwiches"

After getting our sandwiches we thought we were lucky to find an open table.  Took a few minutes to realize that the direct sunlight made it the hottest table possible.  Perfect for a gigantic steaming roast pork sandwich.

I cant imagine if you tried to take this home. It would be a pile of mush within 15 minutes in a wrapper due to all the juice

The pork had way more flavor than other roast pork sandwiches I had tried and there was also a lot more of it.  The spinach was pretty garlicky, but I like that, and the sharp provolone was perfect.  I sweat through my shirt in time for large pack of Whartonites to show up, but it was worth it.

Best Meatballs and Gravy – Villa Di Roma (9th & Carpenter)

Another spot I’ve referenced in previous posts.  Villa Di Roma is located in the middle of the Italian Market and is the type of red sauce restaurant that I love: 60’s decor, fake wood laminent tables, paper placemats, and everyone on the staff seems to be related.  The second time I visited was in early afternoon and there was a grandmother sitting at the bar rolling tiny meatballs for Italian wedding soup.  Just awesome, much like the full sized version of their famous meatballs.

The four pack with a side of gravy was the go-to to-go order

Aside from the great flavors of the sauce and meatballs which cook together for 24 hours (according to that same grandmother), the texture really sets them apart.  Crispy outside with a firm uniform texture inside that isn’t too dense.  Also, despite the flavors of onion and garlic, there are no big chunks of them inside.  Really good, and they are well equipped for to-go orders if you’re just passing through town.

Top Five Cheesesteak Joints

This post is running long, but Philly’s cheesesteaks need to be addressed.  The crazy thing about arguments on who makes the best cheesesteak is that there is seemingly so little room for differentiation.  Shaved beef, cooked on a griddle, served with a customer’s choice of cheese (cheez whiz, american, or provolone) and hot toppings (onions, peppers, mushrooms) on a hoagie roll.  Yet somehow they are all a little different.

The five most famous cheesesteaks in Philly are served at John’s Roast Pork, Tony Luke’s, Jim’s, Pat’s and Geno’s (across the street from each other). Some would argue Steve’s, Primo, DiNic’s or a bunch of other places belong on that list.  That’s the thing about Philly; if you go to any successful deli that doesn’t cater to tourists, they are going to have a cheesesteak that is better than 95% of the ones available nationwide.  The key is the roll, usually from Sarcone’s or Amoroso bakeries, that serve as the perfect vehicle for a cheesesteak due to their chewy but soft texture and not being too bready.

For the purposes of this countdown, know that I tried these all with onions, mushrooms and whiz (the only cheese for a true Philly steak).  In some cases multiple times.  Anyway, here we go:

#5 Pats King of Steaks (9th & Passyunk)

It kills me to have them this low because they are friendlier than Geno’s (more on that later), are arguably the originator of the concept, and have great advertisements.  At this point, I think they are successful due to tourists, being open all night (HUGE post-bar closing crowds), and continued fame from Michelle Obama and other celebrity visits.  But the sandwich…

You know you have tried to many cheesesteaks in Philly when this looks subpar to you

The whiz isn’t hot enough, the mushrooms literally come straight out of a heated can, and the biggest issue is the steak is always way too chewy.  These sandwiches are usually made with cheap cuts of beef, but Pats is always chewier than its competitors despite being chopped.  Makes the experience less enjoyable when you need to carry floss.

#4 John’s Roast Pork (Snyder & Weccacoe)

While at John’s for their roast pork sandwich, we ordered a couple cheesesteaks to go halfsie splits on (totes).  I had heard great things and some people called it the best in the city.  Although I enjoyed it, I just don’t agree.

Again, direct blazing sunlight. Even if the viewing screen on my camera was a Kindle, I still wouldn't have been able to tell if I was taking good pictures

The biggest issues were the roll and the under-seasoned steak.  Although I think the roll was from Sarcone’s, it was a different variety that was coated with sesame seeds and wayyy too crusty.  Nicked my mouth up a bit.  The steak was light on the salt and pepper which, despite being easily rectified, was a little surprising.  Again, this was still better than 99.5% of the cheesesteaks you could get anywhere else in America, I am just picking nits here.

#3 Geno’s Steaks (9th & Passyunk)

As a contrast to Pat’s, it kills me to rank them this high.  To be blunt, the owners and staff at Geno’s are complete assholes.  Their policy is that if you speak anything but English in their line they will refuse you service, and they are visibly impatient and rude to anyone who isn’t white.  Multiple friends have argued that they do it strictly for the publicity (all press is good press) and it’s become their shtick.  Regardless, it is still annoying and why Mrs. Obama is a patron of their neighbor.

Unfortunately, they make a better steak than Pat’s.

I have probably consumed 15+ Geno's steaks in my two years, but only one or two before midnight. So, not my picture. Had to Google image this one

The meat is always tender and its just a better sandwich overall.  No more praise for them, but if you find yourself deciding between Geno’s and Pat’s, I recommend you choose taste over conscience.

#2 Jim’s Steaks (4th & South)

I am bummed that I discovered Jim’s so late in my time in Philly.  A short twenty minute walk from our apartment, Jim’s looks and feels like a 1950’s diner.

I walked the mile to and from Jim's. It was like my version of the Jared Diet, but as usual my version led to gained weight

The staff wants to move you through quickly but likes to joke around a lot more than any of their competitors. Much better as an experience, and the sandwich is freaking awesome.

I got a little crazy with the pepper shaker on this one, but I loved that you could see griddle marks on the mushrooms. A surprising number of places stick with the canned variety

I mean, look at that!  Anybody who likes a good hoagie knows how excited they are when they have to do some pinching and maneuvering to get all the meat into the roll.  The steak is tender, the whiz is nicely melted, and the onions and mushrooms still have some texture to them.  Messy, but who cares if a cheesesteak is messy; you’re not eating a Philly steak if you have anything important to do currently or in the near future.  Its not exactly a power lunch.  It should be messy and delicious, which Jim’s is…

#1 Tony Luke’s (Front & Oregon)

…But Tony Luke’s wins the grand prize.  The sandwich itself resembles Jim’s in many ways; gigantic, messy, and overstuffed.

Also not my picture, sigh. I have eaten 4 or 5 Tony Luke's steaks, but never taken a picture because I ate them too fast

This one tastes and chews differently than all the others; it’s got a lot more beef flavor and is seasoned very well.  Supposedly, they use only thin shaved ribeye, which sounds ridiculously expensive compared to what their competition uses, but it also makes sense given how good it tastes.  Requires a car to get to, but it really is the best cheesesteak I have ever tasted in my life.

And that’s it for this absurdly long post.  Now that you know what I have been eating for two years, I ask that you refrain from questions like, “So, did they not have gyms or places to buy running shoes in Philly?” and “Are you on Prednisone or something?”.  I am looking forward to my return to in-home cooking and have a few posts and potential featured products lined up.

Sorry for the long break, I think there will be some good stuff this summer.  Thanks for reading.