Jim’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

When Dane and I were in Philly at the end of September we (finally!) made it to Jim’s Cheesesteaks. Since Dane is from Philly, I was surprised he hadn’t tried all of the best known cheesesteak places in town. Somehow, Jim’s slipped past him. At least I got the bonus of being there for our first try together.

Jim’s has been around for over 70 years at it’s original South Street location in Center City. Now it’s expanded to four locations in and around Philly. All have the original signature cheesesteaks. While we stayed with Dane’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, they were kind enough to make sure we got the experience. We went to the newest location, in Springfield (actually it’s over 10 years old now, but still it’s the newest of the four locations).

Jim’s has this art deco thing going on (which I read is similar for all their locations). Just a grab your food, sit, and enjoy kind of place. Which is exactly what we did.

The sandwiches were huge. There was a lot to love about it. Everything about it was perfect. I went with provolone on mine, but there was a choice of cheeses. It was a juicy, cheesy mess of goodness.

Adults love it. And kids do too! Best to get them started on a love of cheesesteaks early in life.

It’s such a nice treat to have an actual cheesesteak from Philly. Up in Boston there are a ton of places that claim to have the best steak and cheese subs, but it’s never quite the same as a cheesesteak.  You have to go straight to the source for the real thing.

If you’re visiting Philly, head down to Jim’s! And while you’re at it, you should probably hit up three of four cheesesteak places. For research purposes, you know? Enjoy!

Ula’s Cafe, Jamaica Plain

I love my funky neighborhood. Dane and I make an effort to eat close to home and try new places, and a favorite of mine is Ula Cafe in the Brewery complex in JP.

The cafe is a great gathering place for JP locals and visitors, that offers sandwiches, soups, and beverages. Baked treats are made on site and fresh each day. During the summer the outdoor patio is the place to be, and the cafe is dog friendly, providing treats and a water bowl for pups while they hang out on the patio with their owners. Ula’s also strives to support sustainability in their food and daily operations. In short, it’s a funky neighborhood place that welcomes everyone and supports the planet. Pretty great, if you ask me.

I mentioned the fresh baked goods. They are AMAZING. I’m a huge sucker for the raspberry crumb bars (or any of them really – I’ve tried apple, fig, and apricot too) and popovers. I would love to learn how to make popovers, but Ula’s are just so good that I feel like mine wouldn’t live up to them.

If you’re a coffee or tea lover, this is the place to try things. I love the Rooibos tea, served in a small teapot. If you’ve never had Rooibos, give it a try. Smells like vanilla and tastes so soothing.

Not in the mood for sweet treats? Grab one of their sandwiches. You have the option of a whole or half sandwich and some change with the seasons. Each has some unique toppings and amazing flavor blends. I LOVE the Black Forest Ham sandwich with herb cream cheese, apricot chutney, and cucumbers. The mix of the cream cheese and sweet apricots makes for great complimenting flavors.

With my sweet tooth, I usually only have room for a half sandwich, but I think it works out for the best. Ula’s is a gret lunch spot and hangout for coffee and a snack.

Until recently, Ula Cafe had unlimited free Wi-fi for patrons. In the past few months free Wi-fi hours have been limited to exclude the busiest times (lunch time during the week, and mornings/lunch on weekends). Smart move in my opinion for Ula’s. There were times I’d go in and one person would sit with their laptop at tables meant for four people for hours upon hours at a time, while purchasing one cup of coffee. I hope this will help this small business bring in more revenue and allow more people to come and enjoy the food and atmosphere.

If you find yourself in JP, (maybe visiting the Sam Adams Brewery?) check out Ula Cafe! Enjoy!

Ula Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bottega di Capri, Brookline

On Saturday afternoon Dane and I decided to venture into Brookline and find a place to eat. We passed a few places until one caught our eye: Bottega de Capri. Sounds Italian, and therefore is probably delicious.

We were right. The restaurant was small, smelled heavenly, and was a place to grab a quick bite. There was one big problem though, and that was picking what to order. Bottega di Capri offers freshly made specials that change each day, along with a set menu of sandwiches, paninis, and pasta.

We decided to each get a sandwich for lunch, but couldn’t resist getting a stuffed bell pepper to share too.

Bresaola, if you are wondering, is a dried and salted lean beef which has a dark reddish color. And it is DELISH.

That stuffed pepper was one of the best things I have ever eaten. It was beyond description good. The pepper was perfectly cooked and it was stuffed with rice, cheese, sauce, sausage, and I’m sure some other things I couldn’t even identify. I became so obsessed with stuffed peppers after eating it that I developed my own recipe for it (which I’ll post soon).

Bottega di Capri was very reasonably priced and the staff was great. We picked the brain of the gentleman helping us before deciding what we wanted, and he was patient and gave some great information. I only wish we could have eaten more!

I cannot wait to go back here again. In fact, I think I’ll go for lunch tomorrow. Ciao!
Bottega di Capri on Urbanspoon

American Craft, Brookline

I was really excited to hear about the opening of American Craft a few months ago, and it took me way too long to actually get myself there for a meal. Dane and I finally ended up going one night after work, and it’s safe to say we’ve found a new favorite.

American Craft opened at the site of the former Roadhouse, which closed after 2 years due to complaints from neighbors because of the smell from their smoker and mediocre reviews from diners. American Craft was refashioned in only a week, with a great selection of craft beers, funky decor, and a new menu.

When we arrived around 6pm, the restaurant was empty, but quickly started to fill up within about a half hour. We had heard great things about their chicken wings, and started with those for an appetizer.

One bite in and it was easy to see why we’d heard great things about the chicken wings. They’re roasted, not deep fried, in a honey ale sauce. The sauce is slightly spicy, sweet, and makes you not want to miss a drop. We powered through the wings in no time. Thank goodness I had a great beer to wash it all down with too.

The beer menu has about 40 different beers on draught and the staff is very knowledgeable about each of them. Great if you’re in the mood to try something new, but need a little guidance. We moved along to dinner after we polished off the last of the wings.

My steak was awesome. Perfectly medium, as I ordered, and the fries were a great compliment. The spinach was garlicky and I made sure to have a bit of spinach with each bite of steak. Dane loved his sandwich too. The applewood smoked bacon and cheddar were delicious with the turkey.

After dinner we sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere (and I wished I could get their wallpaper in my own apartment). American Craft will certainly make a cool hang out spot in Brookline with their two bars and patio seating in the warm weather. We were intrigued by the handmade truffles on the dessert menu, but were so full after our meal. We found the perfect solution, and just ordered them to go.

When we got home and had some room in our stomachs, we tried all the truffles.

My favorite was the Bourbon Caramel, Dane’s favorite was the Allagash White. Another cool twist on all the beer varieties at American Craft – using them for dessert too!

Glad we were able to finally get to American Craft and we’ll definitely be going back!
American Craft on Urbanspoon

The Nook & the Jucy Lucy, St. Paul, MN

Before I went to MN to visit Sam and Jason, I heard about the Jucy Lucy. How could a cheeseburger get any better? I wasn’t sure how, but this is the answer. I got really pumped when I saw the Food Wars episode on the Travel Channel with two battling restaurants claiming to have the original Jucy Lucy, Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. Sam and Jason promised to bring me for a Jucy Lucy first thing after I landed in Minneapolis.

They kept their promise, as good friends do. We headed to their favorite place for a Jucy Lucy (not either of the sites featured on Food Wars) as soon as we picked up my luggage from baggage claim. Having tasted all three, their favorite is The Nook in St. Paul, and I trusted their burger judgment fully and ordered the Juicy Nookie Burger (with pickles, obviously).

No joke, that cheese will burn your face off. It’s best to use all your willpower and hold back a few minute while it cools. Learned that the hard way. I honestly didn’t expect to taste much of any difference from your normal run-of-the-mill cheeseburger, but I was wrong. The cheese in the middles seemed to make everything juicier and the cheese just got into every nook and cranny of the burger.

All I wanted for the rest of the trip was another Jucy Lucy. And now writing about this, I obviously want one. Every place really seems to have it’s own “thing”. NY and Chicago have pizza, Philly has the cheesesteak, and Minneapolis has the Jucy Lucy. If you’re in the area, go to the Nook and get one!

El Oriental de Cuba, Jamaica Plain

I have nothing but wonderful, happy feelings for Oriental de Cuba. Dane and I have been going here for about 2 years now. Every visit is delicious. Always.

El Oriental de Cuba is located on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. The restaurant has been a neighborhood fixture since 1994. In 2005, the site faced a major setback when it was destroyed by a fire deemed to be an arson. El Oriental rebuilt and came back strong in the community in 2006, and has been thriving ever since. Once you’ve tried their food, it’s easy to see why.

My absolute favorite menu item is the Cubano sandwich. Besides the tostones, they’re also my favorite. OK, they’re both my favorite. Whatever.

Dane always gets something different. He’s tried everything from the pork chops, to ropa vieja, to arroz con pollo. Today he opted for the Churrizo sandwich. If you’ve never had it, churrizo is a latin sausage. And it’s delicious. This was another winner for El Oriental de Cuba.

Oh man, now I’m really hungry. We are big fans of El Oriental de Cuba, and feel pretty strongly that everyone should try it. We’d be happy to take you there. So just let us know. Any excuse to eat there, we’ll happily take.

Just go there. Now. Stop waiting. Thanks.

The Beantown Pub, Boston

We had friends visiting  a few weekends ago from Pennsylvania and did a ton of walking around Boston. They had only been to Boston once (one when she was much younger, the other about 2 years ago), so we took them to all the touristy fun spots. First we headed to Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market, then to the Granary Burial Ground. Before setting out again, we decided to stop for a late lunch at the Beantown Pub, which is right across the street from the Granary Burial Ground.

The Beantown Pub is located near Downtown Crossing and serves American pub fare in a relaxed atmosphere. On their website, the Beantown Pub explains what makes them different: “After all we are the only bar in Boston where you can drink a Sam Adams while looking at his grave!”. Yes, that is true. Creepy, but true. Unfortunately (or luckily?), we didn’t have a table with a view of the cemetery.

The hostess warned us when we got in that the kitchen was backed up, so there was a longer wait than usual for food. We did appreciate getting a heads up before being seated. That was fine with us, we just grabbed some beer and hung out. This is one of the few bars we’ve found with Samuel Adams Boston Brick Red on tap. One of my favorite beers from Sam Adams, and it can only be found on tap regionally. We ordered some nachos to start, and sandwiches for lunch. The portions were HUGE!

We all had different sandwiches for lunch, but they were all gigantic and delicious.

The last sandwich we got wasn’t actually on the menu. But they were nice enough to accommodate a special order.

These sandwiches were worth the $10 for the size. I could have easily gotten two meals out of it. They also have about 5 pool tables in the back, that were packed the entire time we were there (which was around 3pm in the afternoon on a Saturday).

The Beantown Pub was laid back and fun. It was a great place to stop in the perfect location for some good food before heading back out for our walk through the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden. It was great for our group of friends and our appetites.

Beantown Pub on Urbanspoon

The Knotty Pine, Newton

The Knotty Pine is a tiny, hole in the wall, kind of place about a 2 minute drive from my office. I had heard students and other staff members talk about it, but never went myself. Finally one day last year, my co-worker decided we had to go. Now, we make it a point to get there at least once a month.

The Knotty Pine has been around for what feels like forever and feeds locals and businessmen alike every day. There is nothing special about this place, and that’s what makes it great. No nonsense burgers, sandwiches, fries, and homemade pies make lunch quick and cheap.  Everything on the menu is under $7 (except one item, the Cheeseburger Club which is $7.25). The staff is awesome, always joking with customers and going the extra step to make people happy. Booths are reserved for parties of 2 or more, which is great during the busy lunch hour.

We went to celebrate the birthday of my co-worker (same one who first got us to go to the Knotty Pine) and she got what she always gets, a cheeseburger and fries. For about $6, you can’t beat it.

And possibly the best part of this meal was that I asked for pickles on my burger, and this is what I got.

Those awesome Knotty Piners. Always making my day so happy. If you’re in the Newton area around breakfast or lunch time, stop by the Knotty Pine. The meals are far from gourmet, but will hit the spot when you’re looking for some simple and delicious. We love you Knotty Pine!


Knotty Pine Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Nick Varano’s Famous Deli, North End

This past weekend, after seeing a feature on the Phantom Gourmet, we decided to try out Nick Varano’s Famous Deli. I don’t know why we even watch Phantom Gourmet. We can barely get through an episode without going out to eat somewhere as soon as we see something delicious. But then I guess that’s the reason we watch.

With Heather and Danny, we headed to the “gateway to the North End” to get some sandwiches. The location on Cross Street is ideal. You can see it easily if you are walking from Faneuil Hall as you cross the street towards the North End. On the inside, the restaurant is filled with nostalgic newspaper and magazine ads and articles that serve as wallpaper. The menu is inspired by old Hollywood, with each sandwich devoted to an athlete or starlet.

I got the Famous Eggplant Foccacia sandwich. It was piled high with thin breaded eggplant slices, tomato sauce, and cheese. Recently, I’ve been a little adventurous and tried or ordered things I normally wouldn’t have. Usually, I would have gone for some kind of chicken sandwich, but something made me get the eggplant.

Dane got the Famous Chicken Cutlet, with breaded chicken, roasted red peppers, and provolone. This worked out well, because I still got a bite of a chicken sandwich.

Heather opted for a make your own deli sandwich and went with tuna salad, lettuce, and tomato on foccacia bread. The use “Italian Tuna” which didn’t seem to contain any mayo. Instead it had some crunchy bits that I’m assuming were some onions and a great flavor that could have potentially been some sort of Italian dressing. Definitely different. In a good way.

And last but not least (Literally. Danny’s food was the last to come out), Danny got the Famous Pastrami. He actually said it was one of the best pastrami sandwiches he’d ever had.

Sandwich prices were almost all $9.95. For a sandwich, I felt like $8 would have been slightly more reasonable. I’ve definitely had sandwiches at other Boston locations that were just a huge in portion size for just a bit less money.

Everything was very good, but service was a little slow. We waited probably about 5 minutes in between each of our sandwiches. I got mine first, and then Danny’s didn’t come out until at least 15 minutes later, even though we ordered about a minute apart. Just makes you wonder what it’s like on really busy days or during lunch hour. I have to say, even though we waited a bit, the staff was very friendly and we had fun chatting with them. One of the staff actually told us about when Phantom Gourmet came to film because we mentioned that we saw the deli on the show earlier that day.

We had a good meal, but I’m not sure Nick Varano’s will top my list of places that I absolutely need to revisit. If I were to go back, I’d probably save half of my sandwich for lunch or dinner the next day!


Nick Varano's Famous Deli on Urbanspoon

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