18 August 2011

A Journey to Philly

Two tickets to see Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger at Susquehanna Bank Center provided me the perfect opportunity to reaffirm (or disaffirm) my favorite sandwich on the planet: Tony Luke’s roast pork Italian with broccoli rabe. The show started at 7pm, so after packing up the cooler with a few pre-gaming goodies, we were on the road by 2pm.

The traffic heading north on 95 was pretty brutal. What should’ve taken 1.5 hours took over 2, so it was about 4:15pm when we snagged a great parking spot (in the middle of the street) and were presented with this disheartening sight:

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I expected as much, however. In the 2.5 years since my last visit Tony Luke’s has received a lot of publicity on Food Network, and general media exposure from blog and other food-centric websites. I’d been there twice before, and both times it was the best sandwich I’d ever had, so I wouldn’t be deterred. We got in line and waited with the rest of these bandwagoners.

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Luckily there was entertainment to be had during our wait. We got to watch this daring young fellow attempt Tony Luke’s Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge made popular by Travel Channel’s Man V. Food.

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He was about three bites away from completing the challenge when he lost his lunch in the street, much to the joy and horror of the diners around him. This was the first eating challenge I’ve witnessed in person, and it proved to be a great way to pass the time.

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25 minutes later we finally made it to the ordering window. My order was obvious, and Nikki went with a plain whiz steak. I’m so proud that she didn’t order a turkey burger or something.

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15 minutes after that, we finally had our sandwiches. We grabbed a fistful of napkins and made a beeline back to the car. Oh yes, this was it. The moment of truth was upon me.

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Sometimes the truth hurts. In this case the truth was like feeding my genitals to a pack of raving hyenas. The first thing I noticed after unwrapping my sandwich was a greasy flaccid slice of “sharp provolone” sticking out of one end:

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All I could hear was the guys from ESPN saying "C'mon maaaan!" As appalled as I was to see this, I decided to try it to see if at the least the flavor was still solid. It tasted like your grandmother’s foot bath water smells. The fact that the cheese wasn’t melted was just a kick to the groin, but throw in the unpleasant (and that’s putting it mildly) flavor and that’s when the hyenas came into the picture. Sadly, this was just the beginning of the sandwiches many downfalls.

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By just picking the thing up I knew the bread had been sitting around for a while. Gone was the perfectly crusty on the outside fluffy on the inside roll (fuck hyphens) that I remembered from my previous visits. This thing was one spongy texture throughout. Dare I even take a bite for fear of even more disappointment? Dare I did indeed. Did done do it, I did.

And boom goes the dynamite. Ah, where to begin. Well let me say that foot fungal-esque cheese aside, for the most part the flavors were still there. The huge glaring flaws came in the execution of the components. In other words, at this point a strung out elephant showed up, scattering the pack of hyenas, and straight up gored my bait and tackle. My cash and prizes. My (now trampled) twig and berries.

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The pork was dry, but there was plenty of juice squirting out of my slightly stale bread. You may be able to fool your every day tourist Porky Pete with this tactic, but I saw right through the ruse. Basically a massive amount of pork was (over)cooked all at once, and then left to stew in a pan of juices until service.

Unfortunately, the rabe also fell prey to the ham-fisted execution. The flavor was solid--a little garlic, a little spice, and a lot of bitterness, but it was overcooked to the point that it could’ve come straight from a jar of Gerber NatureSelect. With a look of utter defeat on my face, I turned to see if my wife was faring any better with her whiz steak.

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After taking a bite I immediately noticed that her bread was significantly fresher. The flavor was better and the outer crust was present. I guess it’s just the luck of the draw on whether or not you get good bread. Come to think of it I did notice when I was ordering that the counter was covered in rolls topped with a slice of what appeared to be provolone. Maybe they prep the two sandwiches differently. It would explain a lot.

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The whiz had a noticeable grit to it, and it also had a very pronounced synthetic flavor to it, but I still vastly preferred it to my provolone. This was also by far the toughest meat I’ve had on a cheesesteak anywhere in Philadelphia (and I’ve had a lot). It may have been due to the fact that it was sliced on the thicker side.

Overall, I preferred the cheesesteak over the RPI, but neither is a sandwich I would bother ordering again. Yes, you read that correctly. After this severely disappointing experience, I won’t be patronizing Tony Luke’s ever again. The king is dead and the crown of my favorite sandwich on the planet sits unadorned, gathering dust in a forgotten corner of my perception.
Well, fortunately we had dessert to look forward to. We roughly 10 minutes north and after a few circles around the block, found a spot just a few short blocks away from The Franklin Fountain.

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This was yet another place that has received attention on Food Network in the form of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The place was much smaller than I’d imagined, and luckily not nearly as busy as Tony Luke’s.

We got in line and after a few short moments we had the full attention of the entire staff. They joked back and forth while filling their short list of orders, and when we were ready to order, they couldn’t’ve been happier to serve us.

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(A shitty picture, I know) The plan was to split a sundae so we went with the Franklin Mint which their menu describes as ‘Mint chip and vanilla ice creams striped in chocolate syrup, fluffy marshmallow glaze, and crème de menthe finished with home-made whipped cream and a mint green maraschino cherry.’ Quite a mouthful.

Due to the disappointing sandwiches I wasn’t as full as I’d anticipated so I asked which phosphate they’d recommend. They asked if I’d ever had a phosphate and I replied that I hadn’t so they immediately recommended the Japanese Thirst Killer which is Orgeat, grape juice, Angostura bitters, and citric acid (bubbles). They described it as the best grape soda you’ve ever had. Well, since I love grape soda I couldn’t ignore that recommendation.

Let me start by saying that charging over $16 for a sundae and a soda is re-goddamn-diculous. I don’t care how artisianal your ingredients are, or how painstakingly crafted the food is, shelling out almost $20 for what would cost around $5 at any other soda shop is just wrong. This shit had better be made with Mother Mary’s tit milk. Is this what quality costs these days? No, actually, it isn’t. This is what happens when a place gets a little fame, they can charge whatever they want, and people will still pay it. I did. It was a black day for gluttons everywhere.

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Moving forward. We proceeded to the far end of the shop to wait for our order. The sundae was up in mere moments, but we were told the drink would take a little time, so I asked if Nikki wouldn’t mind securing us a table while I waited for our beverage. I made sure to give her the stink eye, ensuring that she knew that if a bite was taken out of that sundae when I sat down, there would be hell to pay.

Blah, blah, blah let’s get to the food already.

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The soda was a delightful magenta color and perfectly fizzy. It was light on the tongue and not syrupy in the least. It had the light body of a diet soda, with the full rich flavor of the real deal. The almond was subtle, but detectable. Out of all the things we tried in Philly, this was my favorite. My only complaint was the meager amount of ice in the glass, which all floated to the top. If I did a quick stir before I sipped it was slightly cool, but overall it was barely above room temperature. This was emphasized by the fact that we were eating a nice cold sundae along with it. Other than that, this soda was the tits.

Minor flaws aside, the sundae was quite good. I don’t know about $10 good, but good nonetheless.

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As you can see, the presentation was very nice. I’m usually one that eats with his mouth, not with his eyes, but striping and the dots of whipped cream were very nice. That green glass dish almost went home with us. Almost.

This was definitely some of the smoothest ice cream I’ve ever had. My complaints were that I wished they had mint/chocolate syrup throughout because once we polished off the top layer, the sundae was kinda bland. Plus, I wish it’d been all mint chip ice cream, since the mint flavor was fairly subdued.

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The same goes for the marshmallow flavor. Luckily the mint chocolate chips studded throughout saved the dish from doing a headlong dive into complete blandness. I usually don’t care for whipped cream in sundaes, usually acting as nothing more than filler, but here the fresh creamy taste complimented the mint perfectly. I usually prefer hot fudge, but the chocolate syrup suited this dish, not overpowering the somewhat delicate mint flavor.

Even with all of those complaints we still housed this thing in about 90 seconds.

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Overall, it was a damn good sundae. It took me a while to finish off the lukewarm soda, and after our meal I did feel little queasy. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t eat a lot of sweets. We took our time getting back to the car and heading to the concert.

It started sprinkling on the way, and by the time we paid ($25 wtf!?!) for parking and claimed our spot, it was a full-blown downpour. Luckily the showers were spotty, and we were able to listen to music with our windows down while we pre-gamed for the show.

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I asked my wife to turn down the A/C and her merry monkey feet happily obliged:

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Night Ranger was the opener, so as soon as we heard them blaring Sister Christian we knew it was time to make our way inside.

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How is it that when she makes silly faces she still looks beautiful and when I make them I look like Sloth?

The show was quite good. Great, actually. The sound was VERY loud, I felt bad for the people down in the pit, but after fashioning some earplugs out of some extra napkins we were good to go. Foreigner completely upstaged Journey.

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They were both good, but Foreigner really put on a great show. Up there with some of the best live performances I’ve seen. They sounded better, they had a better stage and stage presence, and the hits just kept coming. I had no idea they sang so many great songs. When they closed with Jukebox Hero the place was going nuts.

Journey played a decent set, but we sat down (as did almost everyone else) for the songs off their new album.

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They opened with Separate Ways and closed with Don’t Stop Belevin’ and Any Way You Want It, but we rolled out as soon as they started the piano intro to DSB trying to beat the traffic home. After refusing to pay $35 for a Foreigner t-shirt we made it back to the car… and it wouldn’t start. We flagged down a guy and his wife and after some coaxing he pulled his huge diesel pickup around and we hooked up our jumper cables, but it still wouldn’t start. Shit.

Another cracked out dude in an Eagles jersey came along and informed us that we needed to scrape off the corrosion around the plug things (can you tell I’m not a car guy?) to get the juice flowing. After doing so it started right up. We thanked the guys for their help at which point the guy in the Eagles jersey tried to sell me a gold Rolex. You gotta love your fellow man. I respectfully declined, but chucked him a couple bucks for his help. After about 15 minutes we made it out of the parking lot and were back on the highway. While not the perfect day, it was definitely a trip worth taking, but Foreigner definitely made the day.

Well this is my last post before we leave Saturday for our second anniversary trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley.  I'm very excited since I've never been to the west coast before and expect tons of shiny new content on whats good to eat (and drink!) out there.  Until then.


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