Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Philly Cooks: THE BIG (DRUNK) EVENT



Times are tough for This Drunk Bitch. Back in January, I broke my ankle in a less than graceful, less than sober tumble down the steps. Since pain pills and crutches make it nearly impossible to go out drinking, I've temporarily traded boozy nights out for a lot of time on the couch with my leg elevated.
My life for the last two months.
But there was no way I was going to let that keep me from Philly Cooks. This was my first year attending arguably the biggest food/drink event of the year, so I braved the cold, rain and pain and headed for the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, crutches in tow.




They definitely don't call it THE BIG EVENT for nothing. Nearly every restaurant in the city worth visiting was there, with their tasty offerings ready to be devoured. I received some great advice from Susan to try the things I wanted most first, since the best places are notorious for running out. I made it to many of the booths and had a mostly pleasant experience with all of the offerings.

I have to say that I was disappointed by some of the most buzzed-about restaurants. I went to Laurel first (of course), and while their duck confit cassoulet with onion ash wasn't bad, it certainly wasn't very exciting.


That was the unfortunate theme of the night. While there were some big winners, most of the food fell pretty flat. The problem with Philly Cooks is that, while it sounds fantastic on paper, it's nearly impossible to execute properly and for me, it failed to live up to the hype. For example, I was super stoked to try the food from the highly anticipated Bing Bing Dim Sum. I waited about 20 minutes in the longest line in the building, and their Pan-Fried Steam Bun - Reuben was a huge letdown. Actually, it was probably the biggest letdown of the night. First of all, I am not a fan of the idea of putting Reuben in a steam bun. It's just wrong. I like both, but separately. What's worse, they were very obviously previously frozen, and mine was ice cold in the middle. I don't think this will keep me from checking out their location, but I wouldn't visit their table again at an event of this size.

NOPE.

The Fat Ham was next. I really liked their dish because it was much more than your basic Pork and Beans. This dish consisted of some really well executed pork belly served over flavorful baked beans. I love how Kevin Sbraga's ability to take basic-sounding dishes (like the mind-blowing meatloaf served at his flagship) and turn them into something extraordinary.


The real winner of the night for me, however, came as a huge surprise. I visited the Kensington Quarters table on a whim, as sort of a "let's see what this is about" visit. First, I loved how they had their own little note card instead of the proprietary "Philly Cooks" one (because fuck the system). They were also very friendly and took the time to greet everyone who came up to the table. And that cured pork with cured turnips was so damn delicious. I could have hung out and ate just that all night and been fucking thrilled. The fermented turnips were mildly spicy and were reminiscent of freshly grated horseradish, but with more depth, and the sweet potato chips added just enough texture to make it feel whole. Bravo, Kensington Quarters! You have certainly gained a fan.

Do you think they'd notice if I stuffed 20 or so in my purse?

Of course, it wouldn't be This Drunk Bitch if we only talked about the food (because This Fat Bitch doesn't have the same ring to it). While there were several bars around the perimeter serving a variety of beer, wine and spirits, the Foobooz Speakeasy was the place to be. Affixed smack dab in the middle of everything, this cozy but classy structure-within-a-structure was serving up seriously legit cocktails from Olde Bar, Frankey Bradleys, and The Franklin. Naturally I sampled each of the creations, and they were all really delicious and unique. I love cocktails with a savory element, so the Jawn if the Dead was my favorite, but definitely not by much. These three establishments put their best foot forward and definitely brought their A game.



I also loved that there was plenty of seating in the speakeasy, because nothing goes with a broken ankle like a chair.

Overall, I was thrilled to attend this huge event, and the hiccups and imperfections are to be expected. Even if I was incredibly sore the next day from crutching around for two and a half hours, it was totally worth it.

The bottom line is this - You could visit any one of these restaurants and have a stellar meal. That doesn't mean that every restaurant in Philly has to be good at catering, too. If someone runs a 20-seat BYOB in South Philly, they are probably not used to feeding 1,000 people in 2 hours. Hopefully these guys and gals learn from their experiences and get better every year. I already can't wait to see what they do next year!

Stay drunk, bitches!

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