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City Tap House

I’ve been looking for an excuse to try City Tap House since Meal Ticket released pictures of the interior.

It looked like a perfect place to take my suburban parents for brunch, should they ever come into the city to visit. Well, I’m still waiting for that excuse, but I did have a friend looking to lunch today because she had a federal holiday.

It’s an intimidatingly big space with most of the seating near the kitchen and far from the door, so we grabbed menus and walked toward the back to meet the host. And then we wrangled for outdoor seating because it was a gorgeously sunny afternoon and the roof deck is beautiful. Sure, the green roof is pretty scraggly, but it’s still a lovely space. I want to come back at night just for the flaming pits of fire.

One of the reasons I had wanted to bring my mother here was that I was under the impression that in addition to having an impressive array of beers that they’d also had a good selection of bourbon/whisky/whiskey/scotch. I was wrong. Still – plenty of beer.

Neither of us opted for the beer, so I can’t speak to her beer knowledge, but our server was well versed with the food menu and quite helpful. Also, even though it was quite a walk for her, she was good at keeping our water glasses refilled (not an easy task for any waiter of mine).

I started with the chilli. It was made from actual pieces of meat, instead of ground beef, so it automatically levelled up in my standards. There were some kidney beans, but not so many as to seem cheap – just adding to the body. Actually, this chilli would have been very good cooked a little thicker and then put in a sandwich (like a sloppy joe, but even tastier). Decent marks, and it ended up being the highlight of the meal.

A coworker had recommended the wings, so we ordered them. The house ranch dip had chunks that made it look suspiciously like blue cheese dip, but the taste was mild and indeterminate. The wings, however, were plenty seasoned. They took a delicious mixture of spices and added quite a lot of sugar and salt to it – but mostly sugar. And I’m not talking a little brown sugar for caramelization, but it tasted more like spoonfuls of straight domino’s sugar.

My companion was excited about the bratwurst sandwich because it’s something that’s hard to cook at home properly when you aren’t getting out a grill and charcoal. Well, they weren’t getting it out, either. The philly-standard Amoroso roll (if it wasn’t, it was similar enough that they might as well) was lined with cheese. Who puts cheese on a bratwurst sandwich? They do. Only it’s not adding any flavor – we checked. It’s just sort of there to glue the sandwich in place. Both the sausage and the sauerkraut were bland, but oddly sweet (again). Or maybe they were sweet because the mustard sauce was sweet. We later asked for a dipping sauce, and this was suggested – only instead of tasting of mustard and a bit of honey, it was a syrup with some yellow-brown in it.

Right, so we had a choice of fries or salad to accompany the sandwich, and I asked the server for a recommendation as to which was best, and she enthusiastically recommended the sweet potato fries. And they were the right balance of crispy and tender, and even still warm by the time she’d walked them from the kitchen. They only came with plain ketchup, so we asked for another dipping sauce and ended up with the syrupy mustard. And while I believe that these are very exciting fries, they were also weirdly sweet. I’ve never before had fries that tasted like Halloween candy corn.

The whole meal was just too unrelentingly sweetened, but the experience was so lovely that we were sad to be disappointed by the food. I might yet come back to try their brunch, but it’s no longer at the top of the list.

Craig LeBan’s review in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Ghost Chili Breakfast

So I have these insanely hot peppers to test (see previous entry for full disclaimer about free peppers), and I don’t actually have any friends who will eat spicy foods with me. They sometimes have difficulties with black pepper.

I solved that by putting out a call on the internet to find local people who were excited by spicy food. And this morning I got to meet a lovely person with a delightfully high heat tolerance (who happened also to know two of my pre-existing friends).

We met for breakfast.

Fried eggs were just as tasty on the second go through.

The sweet potatoes were amazing! They didn’t get as caramelized as I expected, and the heat ended up being surprisingly mild. I think I might try candying the sweet potatoes, instead of glazing, just to see what happens.

The butters got approval (as did my homemade bread), and she preferred the honey butter on general principles of texture.

And then I started to improvise.

I picked some of the (bountiful and thriving) chard from my garden and prepared my Kenyan greens recipe, but with some hot pepper sliced in… and that was too hot. Unpleasantly so, without adding anything to the flavor. But once I picked the pieces of pepper out, it was pretty tasty – so perhaps just adding a chunk of pepper while cooking and then removing it.

And then I had the lovely stems left, so I made some fried rise with an onion, chard stems, diced carrot, leftover brown rice, finely sliced ghost chili, and a few drops of oyster sauce for moisture. It received approval from my guest, and I added some roast pork leftovers to it as I packed it up and froze it into lunch portions.

And I sent her home with the spicy truffles, so I haven’t heard back yet. The filling was right on the edge of okay for me, so I’m hoping they end up better once they have another layer of chocolate. I only had time to coat three of them, though, so my taste has to wait until tonight. I did learn an unrelated lesson about truffles, though – using a lower milk fat dairy option for the ganache center (the store was out of heavy cream) really makes a noticeable and unpleasant difference to the texture. I won’t be doing that again.

Note: Marx Foods did provide the ghost chilies to experiment with for free. They did not, however, influence my impressions of the product.

Experimenting with fresh ghost chili (naga bhut jolokia)

So I was lucky enough to trip over Marx Foods and Justin Marx a bit ago. And he’s been generous about letting me try the products he sells.

So I tossed my name in to try out their fresh ghost chilies. Yes, these were free and given to me by a company.

And they are hella intimidating. I’ve never had peppers tingle my nose before, and these could do it while whole and untouched.

Right, so I haven’t talked about hot peppers much here. I’ve frequently grown jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros. I think the flesh of a couple jalapenos are pretty decent substitute for green bell peppers in many dishes. Serranos are perfect for tingling up a summer sandwich of garden fresh tomatoes, white bread, mayonnaise, and salt. I rarely ever use the habaneros because they don’t add much in the way of flavor while they’re adding heat. My father’s the one who wants to plant them, and it’s mainly so he can talk about how he grows these really hot peppers. The most machismo I’ve had about peppers was eating a whole fresh bird’s eye chili on a dare in college – it hurt a lot, but I managed to surreptitiously drink a can of cola and that did a great job of cutting the burn and giving me style points.

In addition that background, it’s also worth noting that I usually can’t be bothered to wear gloves, even with habaneros. I just have one dirty hand (which touches the peppers) and one clean hand (which only touches the knife) – and then I try to remember which was which as the day wears on (okay, fine – my right hand is always the one with the knife). For these, however, I went to the sex supplies and pulled out the gloves.

Right, so the first recipe was just a private experiment to see just how impossible it was to eat one.

Ghost Chili bagel and egg breakfast

step one – fry half a slice of bacon. Once crispy, remove the bacon to a towel to dry.

Cut flesh of the chili from the seeds and membranes. Slice very thinly. Toss the slices of chili into the hot bacon fat and stir them around until they start to brown.

Put sliced bagel in the oven to toast.

Scrape the toasty pepper slices into a single thickness gathering, and crack an egg over the peppers. Continue to fry the peppery egg as you enjoy.

Gather your plate of toasted bagel (with cream cheese), bacon, and fried egg. Place the egg on top of one bagel and salt generously – but don’t make a sandwich in case you want unadulterated bagel to soothe your mouth later. Also slice some cheese for buffering, too.


End result of the breakfast was actually not bad! I might do it again. My nose ran a little and there was a little sweat on my scalp, but it ended up being an entirely delicious breakfast.

Oh – one more bit of background, I recently went to visit my ex, who has since become a rabbi, and while there we made candied etrog peel. I suggested we save the boiling liquid, so I came home with two jars of etrog syrup and my bags having been searched by TSA.

Right, so etrog syrup.

First things I made was citrus candied chilies.

Candied Chilies

First, I cut the flesh of two chilies away from the seeds and membranes – hold by the stem, and aim shallow. I managed to get one pepper into two pieces and the other into three.

Next I boiled the etrog syrup – already so supersaturated that crystals had formed, so I didn’t add more sugar. If you are starting without syrup, add equal quantities of water and sugar of sufficient quantity that the pieces float about and you aren’t worried the liquid will boil away.

Once it came to a boil, I carefully transferred each piece of pepper and let them boil for about three to five minutes.

I placed the pieces on some waved paper to dry, and I poured the (now insanely spicy) syrup into a clean jar.

Once the peppers were drier, I dredged them in sugar and put them in a jar.

So what do I do with candied peppers? Well, so far I’ve tried truffles

Candied Ghost Chili Truffles

ganache center
6oz República del Cacao° 75% Los Rios
4oz light cream (should have been heavy cream, but the store was out)
2 grams candied ghost chili, minced finely

70% Santander

But that just used up one of the five pieces, and the truffles are just on the slightly insane side of spicy, but tasty.

And I still have the etrog/pepper syrup. But I have a plan. Well, at least a plan for a little of it.

Chili-glazed Rosemary Roast Sweet Potatoes

Cut sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes, or larger chunks.

Roast them in oven, until just cooked through, with rosemary and ground allspice.

When cool enough to handle, toss the potatoes with the etrog/chili syrup and then put the potatoes back in the oven long enough to get some caramelization.

Finish with kosher salt for texture.

I tried roasting some of the peppers in the oven, but they are thin-skinned peppers and I chose some of the smaller ones, so I ended up with dried peppers, instead. From them, I made two seasoned butters.

2 Ghost Chili Seasoned Butters – sweet and savory

4-5 Tablespoons of softened butter
pinch powdered ghost pepper (about a pinch’s worth, if from a jar)
3-4 Tablespoons of buckwheat honey
sprinkle of powdered mace

4-5 Tablespoons of softened butter
pinch powdered ghost pepper (about a pinch’s worth, if from a jar)
1/16th teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon paprika

And that still leaves me with quite a few peppers to work with!

Using up spices

My friends are getting together a communal order for spices to save on shipping, and for some the Thanksgiving season is the time to go through their cabinets and weed out the old spices.

I mostly want to make grabby hands at them and take on any old ill advised purchase because I don’t believe in waste, but I shall restrain myself and instead offer a few suggestions to all you all on how to use up weird spices.

Pick a spice – almost any spice. Cut up your meat into quick cooking pieces (so you don’t have to think about whether your meat is tough or whether your spices will burn) add about a teaspoon of spices/herbs for every 3 ounces (varying, of course, by pungency and personal palate). Marinate, quickly cook, nom on a salad, sandwich, in a quesadilla, over rice, in rice, with pasta, chilled later in a grain salad – whatevs

Or rub it all over the outside of your whole roast. If you’re worried your animal will be dry, mix the spices into butter first, and then rub it all over the outside.

Potatoes love your crazy spices. potato salad – pick a lipid (mayonnaise, olive oil, coconut oil, some toasted sesame oil, chili oil), pick a seasoning (well… anything, really), and pick your potato.

Shallow fried potatoes also love your crazy spices! If you’re looking for a way to use up chewy rosemary, then this is perfect. My secret trick is to add the rosemary at the very beginning. Let it fry crisp (flavoring the oil deliciously) and then when you eat it, it crumbles into just a tiny bit of crispy texture.

Mashed potatoes? Oh, yeah – go crazy

Other root vegetables
You can just cut up any root vegetables into 1″ cubes (if including beets, be aware that they will color everything they touch), toss them into a dish or a foil/parchment packet, add a tiny amount of butter or oil for flavor, and add any seasoning – put at the bottom of your oven while baking other things (will take a little more than an hour at 350F and maybe 40 minutes at 500f – feel free to occasionally poke at the packet and see if it’s squishy yet – these are very vague cooking times)

Foccacia was made for this, but really any bread can take an addition of herbs and/or spices. Add in the kneading, or as a swirly layer in shaping, or as a coating on the crust.

Any time you go to sautee some vegetables, feel free to peek into your spice rack and toss something in there. Anything – it doesn’t have to be well planned. But, because vegetables are not as sturdily starchy as my other suggestions, use a more judicious hand with the quantities and taste as you go. (Note – great use of whole mustard seeds)

You can be incredibly gourmet and exciting this way! Woot! Mix random ass seasonings into butter, cream cheese, mayonnaise/aioli – all of a sudden you have something delightfully paired/contrasted with the flavors in your meal. Well done, you! And anything left over will be good on a bagel. Everything is good on a bagel.

Toast nuts! To get your spices to adhere, use a little bit of melted butter and/or sugar while tossing the spices/herbs with the nuts. You can’t go too weird here.

Or, you can give any you can’t use up to me.

random encounter with Coup de Taco (Philly food truck)

So there I was, walking home after having stayed at work until the place closed at midnight, when I encountered Coup de Taco, one of the city’s reknowned traveling food trucks.

Well, I hadn’t eaten in nine hours or so, and it was a bit late to start cooking (plus the depression from having two close midterm elections not turn out the way I’d hoped), so tacos sounded like a grand plan.

I parted with $6 for two tacos, and a told the guy to pick whatever was exciting or they still had a lot left over from the day.

While I was waitinng for my order, I saw a regular come by to order, and I overheard them warning him that with his peanut allergy he shouldn’t order the thai taco. I was impressed by that.

My order did include the thai taco and a cuban one.

I ate the cuban taco first, and I liked it so much that I stopped halfway through lest the thai one not be as good. The cuban one was similar to dinners I’ve made in the past – soft rice, several kinds of beans (at least small black beans and garbanzos, but there might have been another kind what with it being dark at midnight and all), a little bit of tomatoey goodness to cook in – but crunchy with small pieces of chips. Very tasty.

But the thai taco was even better. Fragrant fluffy rice was beside chicken cooked, not in the easy bought thai curry paste I expected, but in fresh seasonings with a mild hint of sweet and chili. And fresh herbs! There was at least a full sprig of crisp cilantro (still very fresh for it being midnight) and I suspect that if I’d dissected my taco there’d have been another herb there as well (a mild basil?).

So what were they doing there at midnight? I asked. Apparently, the colder weather had led to slow lunch sales, so they are going to try late night sales for a bit near bars closing for the night.