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Cafe Mai Vy – Philadelphia, PA

Cafe Mai Vy – Philadelphia, PA – NOW CLOSED –

With all of the Banh Mi options around Washington Ave in South Philly it can be overwhelming, especially with half of them not even having things to read in English. I decided to give Café Mai Vy (CMV) a try and it was a worthwhile trip.

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I ordered the spicy bbq pork banh mi and it was not only one of cheaper ones around, it was one of the better ones as well. The freshness of the roll, carrots, cilantro and nice fatty pieces of barbequed pork in every bite were wonderful. The service was very minimal as the language barrier made things a bit difficult, but they were friendly and gracious. The décor is very dated and a little mish mash of trinkets and do-dads, but for the quality and price CMV will be seeing much more of me.

Overall

Four out of Five Stars

 

Coco’s – Philadelphia, PA

Coco’s – Philadelphia, PA – NOW CLOSED –

While strolling around Jewelers Row in Philadelphia, one can get hungry looking at all the glitz and glamour. Well I did, and that is where I found Coco’s (CO). CO has a very “Cheers” feel to it. Many of the patrons were regulars, everyone was friendly, and the staff was accommodating and efficient. I joined them around lunchtime and the prices were very affordable as well. My order would be The French Dip.

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The meal consisted of fresh roast beef served hot on an Italian roll with au jus and a side of fries. I must say that everything was top notch, very flavorful, and I enjoyed every bite. The fries, even though not fresh cut, were very well done and a higher quality than most bars/taverns. CO is not breaking any new ground here, but with what I ate to go along with the atmosphere and service provided I must say CO impressed. I have passed CO many times without ever noticing them, but CO is now on my radar and I just may become one of the regulars there as well. Now I just have to figure out what I want them to call me as soon as I walk in the door for my greeting.

Overall

Four out of Five Stars

 

Alla Spina – Philadelphia, PA

Alla Spina – Philadelphia, PA

My two experiences at dining destinations run by Marc Vetri could not have been further apart from each other. The first was his flagship “Vetri” which was an amazing out of body experience, and the other was “Osteria – Moorestown Mall” which is now out of business and not a tear was shed from me about the closing after the terrible meal I had there. With the news of Mr. Vetri supposedly “selling-out” to Urban Outfitters I was wondering what the truth was, and what I can tell you, is that food does not lie. As such, I would pop in to the more relaxed setting restaurant Alla Spina (AS) and start out with an appetizer of shrimps.

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The shrimp were Louisiana gulf prawns with citrus butter vinaigrette and they were downright delicious. From head to tail they were cooked perfectly, seasoned wonderfully, sweet, salty, and beautifully juicy to bite into. I was thrilled with the way things started out at AS, but as my visit at Osteria – Moorestown Mall proved, things started out amazing there as well and then went downhill quickly, so I was slightly hesitant to cheer AS just yet. Next up would be their North Philly sausage cheesesteak on a pretzel roll.

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Let me tell you from experience since I was born in North Philly, this was not like any sandwich I had ever eaten during any of my time living there. This “sandwich” was just AMAZING on every level. It was made from a nice house-made pretzel roll, then stuffed to the gills with a house-made black pepper sausage with no casing that were cut into tiny charred morals of mouthwatering meat wonderlands, topped with caramelized onions the way every place that lists caramelized onions should cook them, and if it could not get any better, it was splattered with a beer cheese with a kick created from cream cheese, asiago, cayenne, and Allagash White that just dripped all over the place and I did not care one bit. Then if that was not enough, it came with home-made old-bay chips with a crab dip that was fantastic on its own and was devoured with the same intensity as everything else. Bravo to whoever came up with this combination and it gives the term Philly Cheesesteak at whole new meaning. If sandwiches like this were easily found in North Philly, I may not have ever left, but I am happy to visit AS whenever I need another one instead.

Well I can see why Urban Outfitters bought Mr. Vetri’s restaurants. Even though I had a bump in road with Mr. Vetri, for the most part I have nothing but praise to say about my other two experiences. From atmosphere, service, food quality, and flavor, he has made sure they are exactly where they need to be and with Urban Outfitters wanting to expand their horizons in the food sector, to me it will be money well spent and a brand that currently means excellence and hopefully will continue to do so in the future. Whether the restaurants purchased stay the same or not, I can honestly say I am a fan of Marc Vetri and think this move will be beneficial for all parties involved.

Overall

Five out of Five Stars

Silk City Diner Bar & Lounge – Philadelphia, PA

Silk City Diner Bar & Lounge – Philadelphia, PA

Working your way up Spring Garden from the Delaware River, the first place to grab your attention (besides Delilah’s) is sure to be Silk City Diner Bar & Lounge (SCDB). The outside beer garden looks and feels like an outpost of South Street Magic Gardens, the old school dining car from the 50’s transports you back to another time, and the lounge has some really nice entertainment options with almost something for everyone at least one day on the schedule. Owner Mark Bee who also runs N.3rd Bar & Restaurant and Frank Bradley’s has a flair for visual stimulation. That is all fine and well, but it is my belly that needs to be stimulated the most to make me happy.  I would go with their Italian Dip with hand cut fries.

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The Italian Dip may look ordinary in the picture, but it was the opposite of visual stimulation, as it was its inner beauty that counted the most. Underneath the ciabatta roll was thin sliced roast beef, sharp provolone, marinated peppers and onions, roasted garlic aioli, arugula and rosemary jus. I really liked the combination of ingredients it the serving size was generous. The ciabatta was of nice quality and it held up well throughout the meal. The one thing I noticed immediately was that the peppers were raw. They were fresh and throughout the sandwich, but I prefer cooked marinated peppers as was stated in the menu in my sandwiches and the peppers being raw distracted me from my full enjoyment. The hand cut fries were pretty good and enhanced the overall experience as a good French fry should do; I just wish I had a larger serving of jus to dip them into. SCDB is probably the most eclectic diner I have ever visited, and sometimes the “show” overshadows the food in these sort of hipster havens. With superb service, a decent meal at an affordable price, and plenty to look at and experience at SCDB they are more than just a gimmick, they are gastronomic gem as well.

Overall

Four out of Five Stars

Philadelphia Christmas Village

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(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfoodcritic.com written by guest contributing writer William Knowles. He highlights his passions of of trying something new whenever the opportunity presents itself, or possibly something old, but new again since it has been a while. I hope you enjoy his very special perspective that I am sure many of you can relate to. Follow him on his exciting journey “Around Town”)

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The Christmas Village, located in Love Park at JFK Plaza in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, has become as much a part holiday tradition in the town as the famed light show at Macy’s (formerly Wanamaker’s).  Modeling itself after German open market style villages, it serves as a destination for families, shoppers, tourists and passerby who will immediately feel the holiday spirit.
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There is much to see, with over 60 wooden booths serving food, drink, gifts and novelties.  Pick up a delicious strudel at Helmut’s, authentic from Austria.  Or homemade chocolate from John & Kira’s.  Buy genuine hand crafted ornaments and objects from Kathe Wohlfahrt.  Take your picture with the giant Christmas tree in the park fountain, or with Santa himself.

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The German Society of Philadelphia has done a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere that truly makes you feel you are transported to Christmastime in Europe.  Kory Aversa of Aversa PR & Events, a friend to Bluejeanfoodcritic.com and Around Town, took us on a tour of the village and provided samples of many of the food offerings.  Kory and his team handle the marketing and advertising for many events in the region, with the Village being their crowning jewel for the year…

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Check out the Christmas Village between now and December 27th for great food and drink, unique gift ideas and seasonal cheer.  Happy Holidays to everyone “around town”…

Buffalo Bills Barbecue – Sicklerville, NJ

Buffalo Bills Barbecue – Sicklerville, NJ

I find critiquing barbeque one of the more difficult genres to be objective about since I am a Kansas City Barbeque Society Certified Judge. Eating barbeque from teams with dreams of winning hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one serving of food they labored over for days with recipes perfected over the years and then eating barbeque from a retail location setup to feed the masses is like night and day. With keeping this in mind I decided to try Buffalo Bills Barbecue (BBB) as I was seeing a lot of things posted about them on the internet. BBB is strictly a no frills take-out location. When I picked up the menu, I was a little hesitant as their menu was more on line with a pizza joint than a barbeque location and a little all over the place. I would go with a full rib combo.

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The meal consisted of a full rack of baby back ribs, mac and cheese, and collard greens. BBB is nowhere near championship caliber barbeque, but I must admit I was impressed for what is readily available barbeque in South Jersey. The ribs were cooked nicely and were tender throughout. I enjoyed the rub they used and the mild sauce painted on with just the right amount of sauce, unlike some places that pour the sauce on to hide an inferior product. Each bite was juicy and meaty as well. The collard greens really shined as hidden inside each forkful were tiny pieces of pulled chicken that enhanced the overall flavor profile and add a special surprise. The mac and cheese was not too impressive, but I have had worse and it held its own as a decent side.

BBB was enjoyable and I would be happy to try more things on their very large menu and hope everything is as good as what I had my first visit there. The staff was very personable and friendly. The woman behind the counter said she thought she recognized me and had I been to BBB before. With me responding I had not, she replied, “Well darling, I guarantee you are going to love your meal and if you don’t, come back and I’ll give you something else you like instead.” I respect a dining establishment who has confidence in what they are serving. I will be going back to BBB. Not to return what I ordered, but to order some more!

Overall

Four out of Five Stars

 

Royal Mandarin Chinese Restaurant & Sushi Bar – Deptford, NJ

Royal Mandarin Chinese Restaurant & Sushi Bar – Deptford, NJ

The Deptford Mall area is surrounded by restaurants, but sadly the vast majority of them are chains. Now Royal Mandarin Chinese Restaurant & Sushi Bar (RMC) has quite a few restaurants of their own, but they are mostly all located in South Jersey. In an unassuming strip mall sits RMC, and walking inside they really don’t have a lot character, but it gets the job done nicely and staff was friendly. I would go with a Chicken Teriyaki lunch special.

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The meal was good, just not great, but it was affordable. The chicken was a generous sized piece, but was a little dry from being overcooked. The sauce and rice was just your standard variety, but the veggies were nice and fresh and crisp. RMC is a nice change of pace around the area they serve; I just do not see myself rushing to visit them on their own without a pre-planned visit to this shopping area. If the next time I visit them, if their sushi selection knocks my socks off, then I will reconsider making them a destination.

Overall

Two and half out of Five Stars

 

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