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Category Archives: “Around Town”

Wylder and Joy Ike at Bourbon and Branch – Philadelphia, PA

Wylder and Joy Ike at Bourbon and Branch – Philadelphia, PA

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(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfood.com written by guest contributing writer and correspondent for “Small Bites Radio” William Knowles. He highlights his passions 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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Bourbon and Branch is a neighborhood watering hole in the Northern Liberties section off 2nd Street and Fairmount Avenue in Philly.  On Thursday, June 15th, I enjoyed some good food, drink, and music there in another one of my stops around town…

Wylder, an Indie-rock group based out of Washington, DC, headlined the venue’s upstairs rock club on that evening.  Blending a mix of rock, pop and folk, the band was in fine sound that is illuminated by their harmonies and melodic hooks.  Their new single, “Save a Way”, has just been released and is available at their website wyldermusic.com, along with all of their prior work.  The guys in the band were all a pleasure to meet, and take great pride and joy in performing their energetic set.

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Opening up for Wylder was local artist Joy Ike, a very talented singer-songwriter who performed a set of her recent work.  Accompanied by her sister Peace on percussion, Joy played keyboards and sang some beautifully crafted pieces to kick the evening off.  She is in the midst of recording a new album, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help her reach her dream.  You can visit her website joyike.com to contribute, and listen to her in action…

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Bourbon and Branch was a great setting for both artists to perform, as well as having a menu full of unique American fare food offerings.  Their specialty, of course, is a long list of bourbon drink offerings to sample and choose from.  The vibe was perfect for both musical acts, whom I enjoyed and highly recommend you check out for yourself.

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Until next time, “around town”…

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Quark Expedition Interview of Bluejeanfood.com

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Quark Expedition interviewed me about the Antarctic expedition I was a part of and my thoughts about the food. Click link below to read all the interview.

http://quarkexpeditions.uberflip.com/blog/how-s-the-food-a-popular-critic-weighs-in-on-antarctic-expedition-fare

Philly Gringos visit La Habana

Philly Gringos visit La Habana

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Philly Gringos visit La Habana

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A lot can happen in sixty years. A man walked on the moon. People started to watch television in color. Doctors stopped recommending smoking. There have been inventions from Atari, Apple, and Microsoft. The internet was invented. We have driverless cars. And can you believe it, businesses and citizens from the United States (under certain regulations) are allowed to visit and do business in Cuba again?

Everything I mentioned certainly happened in the United States and many other places around the world, but for better or worse Cuba is a touch like visiting what it was like to live sixty years ago. This is not to say that Cuba is not modern, as they certainly are, just not at the level most Americans are used to. The majority of cars are classic cars, many houses are well “worn” and patchworked in order to be livable. The internet is not easy to access. If and when you do find access, it is not reliable. Finding information of where someplace is or where to eat is not a “Google” or “Yelp” search. Everyone recommends that you ask a taxi driver. Many people respond, “Taxi should know, they know everywhere.” These were just a few minor adjustments and I actually enjoyed them. What I saw and loved that was really different was the absolute lack of visual and audible garbage advertisements and constant grab for attention from some sort of marketing, while walking and driving. It was a relief. You could view the world as is, without trying to be sold something. You would see many kids running around playing, not staring at screens of one sort or another, with nothing but pure joy on their faces. Nature is embraced. Food was fresh and delicious, and the lack of junk food was welcomed instead of having it pushed in your face at every convenience store. The people were extremely warm and hospitable especially when they found out we were from the United States. They assumed we were Dutch (which I took as I compliment, since it meant that I did not stand out as a typical American tourist). When we said we were from the United States, a millisecond of shock registered on their faces, but immediately afterward most would respond, “We are so happy you came to see our home for yourself. Please tell your friends to visit as well.”

Our main base during our stay was the Starwood Hotels and Resorts brand “Four Points by Sheraton” the first American hotel and leisure company, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut to offer hospitality on the island. The resort is situated in the affluent Miramar district of Havana. The pool area was beautiful, the staff extremely friendly, the room spacious, and the breakfast buffet was varied and tasty. By Cuban standards these were very high end accommodations. For the rack room rate of $800 a night (around $500 a night online), one certainly expects more though. This may change over time as it is evident Starwoods is working hard to improve the conditions and services offered at the resort, but certain aspects of the stay just do not make the grade yet. They may be better suited to offer concessions of some sort for booking Four Points Havana that you can use at another resort worldwide or Starwoods points credit to be used at a later date.

I am happy I was able to visit Cuba now. You can tell Cuba is changing and it will look a lot different in the near future. In Miramar there are signs showing that a sandy beach is going to be built where a beautiful natural reef exists now. In Old and Central Havana, China is building hotels, rebuilding the markets, docks, and train stations in several locations around the city. The agreement, as we were told, is that China is going to completely own these properties which was previously unheard of in Cuba. They have been permitted to use Chinese workers and bring in Chinese products and produce. This could be a deal with the devil as the United States knows all too well. I checked the labels of everything we were consuming and purchasing, it was comforting to see that at least eighty percent of everything we were using or buying was directly grown, produced, or made in Cuba. When dealing with China, this will change rapidly and probably not for the better, when it comes to the quality of products or economic gain for the people of Cuba.

To be able to walk, talk, eat, and be entertained in a mostly socialist style economic system was a priceless and educational experience. There are no easy answers to which lifestyle is better or worse. It is not possible to weigh which is right and which is wrong. Even after traveling the world, visiting all seven continents, the solutions to obtain peace, decent wages, and standards or rules for fair housing are still elusive. Whether it be democracy, republic, autocracy, dictatorship, or communism one would have to assume there must be a middle ground somewhere that could make utopia on earth possible. Information is power, and hopefully with more people connected to each other, this dream, this compromise, could one day become a reality.

Even with the proliferation of cell phones, it was surprising that at some locations, it was not recommended or forbidden to take pictures. The answer was not given as to why, nor did I ask. I would assume it is because they do not want anything that could be construed as negative to spread or be seen by others. I experienced this before in China and certain parts of Africa where quite frequently you were told cameras had to be put down or turned off, but everything I saw in Cuba was positive and nowhere near the atrocities that we hear about in parts of Philadelphia or Camden on a daily basis. Yes, certain areas were more economically distressed than others and some unsavory characters were present, but at no time did I feel threatened or unsafe in any manner during our visit.

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What is Cuba?

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Cuba is beautiful and Cuba is rough

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Cuba is old yet Cuba is refined

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Cuba is forbidden but Cuba is welcoming

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Cuba is plain while Cuba is a kaleidoscope

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Cuba is loud until Cuba whispers to you

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Cuba is Cuba and for that I am thankful

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We came to Cuba for food exploration, but we left with so much more. Below are some pictures of the places and food we enjoyed during our stay that I would recommend if you ever have the chance to visit Cuba. There are many people and services that made our stay in Cuba possible that we are forever indebted to, but first, I would like to give a special mention to the following:

Spirit Airlines – https://www.spirit.com/

Airline Brokers Co. – https://www.airlinebrokers.net/

U.S. Department of State – https://www.state.gov/

Four Points Havana – http://www.starwoodhotels.com/fourpoints/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=4531&language=en_US

Kerstin Sachl – Director, Public Relations and Social Media – Caribbean & Latin America for Marriott International

Madaly Tun – Director of Marketing – Four Points by Sheraton La Habana

Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida – www.alaingutierrezphotography.com and https://atasteofcuba.org/

Yudith Vargas Riveron – Art Historian/Agent – yvriveron@gmail.comhttp://oncubamagazine.com/author/yudith-vargas/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CUBA – La Habana

I-CE-NY at Chinatown Square Food Hall

I-CE-NY at Chinatown Square Food Hall

I-CE-NY at Chinatown Square Food Hall

(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfood.com written by guest contributing writer and correspondent for “Small Bites Radio” William Knowles. He highlights his passions 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”)


I-CE-NY, a new dessert establishment located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, held a tasting event on Wednesday, March 15th. I was invited to enjoy their offerings; some of which I have heard of, but have never had the opportunity to try before…

“Rolled ice cream” is something that has taken off recently in the States. The operators of I-CE-NY claim origination of the process and treat in Thailand. The preparation is interesting in itself to watch. The expert staff begin by using flavored milks which they pour onto a frigid circular dish (temperature well below zero). As the milk freezes up, it is crafted using spatulas and small knives, ultimately leading to the “rolls”. Additional toppings are added as requested, as they are in any great ice cream bar.

We tried the St. Patty’s Day special, with mint ice cream and Lucky Charms. The result is unique and more gratifying then your normal every day scoop. Strawberry and banana was next on the list, and the flavor was bold and fresh. The combinations are endless, with many different ice cream bases and toppings to choose from.

I-CE-NY takes the experience to added heights with a friendly, outgoing staff. Their bright, clean shop is located in the new Chinatown Square Food Hall, which is home to numerous new eateries specializing in Thai, Korean, Middle Eastern and Cambodian cuisine, among others. I was impressed by the wide variety of offerings, as well as the set up of the court. This will surely become a destination for those looking to try new and varied offerings for lunch and dinner in the coming months, especially with warm weather approaching…

Visit our friends at I-CE-NY soon, and I will see you there and elsewhere “Around Town”…

 

Revolutions at Penn Treaty

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(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfood.com written by guest contributing writer and correspondent for “Small Bites Radio” William Knowles. He highlights his passions 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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On the night of Wednesday, September 28th, I attended the red carpet VIP opening night party at Revolutions at Penn Treaty, the new entertainment complex located at the corner of Frankford and Delaware Avenues.  Featuring bars, a restaurant, bowling alleys on both levels, and interactive gaming, the city is gaining another lively nightlife spot that is helping to revitalize the Fishtown area of the city.

Randy Alexander, the head of Randex Communications, was eager to show off this new gem for adult fun and recreation.  A fantastic buffet of food greeted us as we entered the main doors, which in turn lead to the lower-level bowling alley, and soon to be famous Flair Bar.  This is where bottle tossing, cocktail mixing bartenders will be showing off their mixology skills, and will be a spot for competitions to be held for those all over the country to demonstrate the art of  the unique process known as flair bartending.

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Proceeding upstairs, one will encounter another bowling alley, along with other recreational activities such as pool tables and table shuffleboard.  One of the most popular stops of the evening was to the house gaming arcade, which featured many interactive video games such as electronic beer pong, carnival type skill competitions, and old school fun like air hockey, basketball shooting, and ski ball.  Like games at the boardwalk down at the shore, wins equal ticket accumulations, which can be turned in for prizes.

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Also located upstairs is a giant sports bar, with a beautiful view of the Philly skyline through the warehouse windows.  Live entertainment in the form of bands and DJs will keep the joint jumping every evening.  Burger and Beer Joint, a growing chain of gourmet burger restaurants, has its first Philadelphia location settled here as well.  The menu features a list of build your own burger choices, as well as their in-house creations, which all look phenomenal. Wings, pizza, and salads are also available, along with desserts.

Being a lifelong resident of this area, I am continually impressed by some of the new ideas that have come to fruition for making nightlife fun and enjoyable in the city. This particular area has experienced enormous growth over the span of the past several years, starting with the Sugar House Casino.  The opening of The Fillmore music venue last fall, along with the Punch Line comedy club that opened in the summer, shows the good that resident developers have done simply by converting old abandoned warehouses into something viable for the public to utilize.  Revolutions at Penn Treaty is the icing on the cake for a spot that badly needed improvement, and now will become one of the top destinations for entertainment seekers in the area.

Revolutions is now open to the public, and you should check it out as soon as you can.  I will be back with more soon, “around town”…

Spotluck APP Launch Party with Philly Weekly at Uptown Beer Garden

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(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfood.com written by guest contributing writer and correspondent for “Small Bites Radio” William Knowles. He highlights his passions 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”)

On Thursday, August 25th, I was invited to attend the launch party with Philly Weekly for the Philadelphia based version of the Spotluck app. A fun and innovative way to help you choose a local pub or restaurant with special deals, the app will soon become a popular download for those who enjoy trying new cuisine in and around the city, at a discounted rate…

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Originating in the Washington, DC area some two years ago, this unique technology has grown to begin expanding to other areas, and we will be the beneficiaries. By spinning the Spotluck roulette, you will instantly download a discount to the featured eateries on the wheel. Wherever the wheel stops will garnish you an even bigger discount. Over 100 local spots have signed on to take part in the program, as the overwhelming popularity in the DC area has created a win-win for restaurants and consumers alike.

To raise awareness for the Philly area launch, a massive party was thrown at the Uptown Beer Garden, located at 17th and Market Street’s. Previously featured here on Around Town, the locale has become quite a hot spot for events such as this, and the turnout showed the excitement that this app will generate. Free beer was provided to all by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co., and prizes given out to various game participants (including those spinning the real-life, giant Spotluck wheel onsite). Swag with the bright green company brand was handed out, and all guests got to see firsthand the benefits of the app and how to most effectively utilize it.

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Spotluck CEO and co-founder Cherian Thomas is putting forth a unique and refreshing way to partner with the city’s restaurants, and taking full advantage of a technology that will only continue to grow and change the way we do things. Not to mention that he throws a hell of a party to celebrate a launch! Try downloading the app now to see for yourself, and let it decide for you where to eat your next meal. You may stumble upon something new that you will enjoy, and may not have necessarily tried in the past…

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See you next time “Around Town”…

6th Annual Philadelphia Burger Brawl

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(The following is a special series on Bluejeanfood.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 6th Annual Philadelphia Burger Brawl was held on Sunday, June 26th in the outdoor portion of Xfinity Live! in the shadows of the Sports Complex. It was an eagerly anticipated event by both myself and many burger loving natives, as the massive crowd that turned out would prove.

One of the top culinary competitions in town, local restaurants and pubs who specialize in burger crafting present their product in hopes of earning top prize as judged by both an official panel, as well as a people’s choice tally. This year also marks the first ever “taco takedown”; in total, over 40 burger spots and 10 taco offerings were there for consumption.

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Among the Philly area contenders for best burger were Amanda’s Bar None, Butcher and Singer, Fireside Smoke House, Hugo’s Frog Bar and Chop House, Pineville Tavern, Prime Stache, Village Whiskey, Rouge, Spot Burger and the Twisted Tail. I sampled many of these fine sandwiches, all with their own unique twist. My personal favorites of the lot however, were the offering from the A.Bar (located in Rittenhouse Square), and the wildly popular peanut butter and bacon burger, with jelly, from Lucky’s Last Chance of Manayunk. The crowd seems to have agreed with me on one, as Lucky’s took the people’s choice crown for the second time in recent years.

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Taco participants included Cafe Ynez, Heffe Tacos, Loco Pez, Revolution Taco (who we previously visited around town), Taqueria Feliz, and Wahoo’s Tacos, which recently opened a stand in Citizens Bank Park, in addition to their regular University City location. My top vote here was for the pork taco from 1100 Social, the new restaurant recently opened in Xfinity Live! itself. The people’s choice vote went to El Vez, Stephen Starr’s durable Mexican themed spot in Center City.

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Local celebrity judges included former Phillies star Garry Maddox, FOX29 tv hosts Mike Jerrick and Alex Holley, WMMR’s Steve Morrison and Matt Cord, and WIP host and noted burger lover Glen Macnow, among others. Their selection for best burger this year was Bucks County’s Pineville Tavern’s Million $ Bacon Burger. Top taco went to Lolita’s (in the Midtown Village section of the city).

A fun summer event that has become an annual tradition is also a worthwhile cause, that initially started as a fundraiser by founders Rob and Maggie Wasserman to fund their children’s school in South Philadelphia. The ensuing growth from the initial competition has allowed the school, William M. Meredith Elementary, to build a new computer lab and create additional technology initiatives that are in the works. This year’s event and all futures ones will continue to benefit the school and other charitable endeavors…

The Burger Brawl is a knockdown winner, and I look forward to be back covering next year’s battle. The summer fun will continue “around town”…