Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

Real Food AllWays

This week I finally made it over to one of my favorite cafes in the area. When I first moved to PA, this was the first place I came across that reminded me of home. The AllWays Cafe is a little spot in Huntingdon Valley that is known for it’s healthy and fresh food choices. Six years later, it is still my favorite, especially during the Autumn and Winter months.

During this time of year, there is nothing I crave more than a good bowl of soup and AllWays has my absolute favorite…butternut squash. It just might be the best one I’ve ever had! Along with this, I am also addicted to their Sweet Potato Quesadilla, made with pumpkin seeds, spinach, honey-lime chipotle sauce, sweet potatoes and cheddar cheese. It is served with a side of their salsa and sour cream. I have tried duplicating the quesadilla at home, but it just doesn’t come close.

What makes AllWays so unique to the area is their healthy choices of local and organic foods that cater to a variety of foodies and diets: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, raw diet, etc. I have had their Raw Salad, Lavendar Salad, Asparagus Salad, Thai Peanut Salad, Fresh Mozarella Panini, Veggie Wrap, Portabello Mushroom Sandwich, Falafal, Black Bean Burrito (thought I asked for chicken in it) and their Hummus & Veggies Starter. All of these dishes have been absolutely fantastic. They also carry my favorite line of ice teas, Steaz, and they make some good lattes. The meal isn’t complete without one of their famous Chocolate Bombs (a cross between a brownie and a cookie) for dessert. I only wish they made some without walnuts.

The Cafe is located in the Bethayres Shopping Center and while the parking lot isn’t tiny, it can get tricky during peak lunch hours. The place itself is very small. If they are busy it can be difficult to find seating and service can get slow. This is a great place for the whole family because of the quality of food, but if you are going to take small children, avoid peak hours or maybe just order it as take-out. Inside the cafe has a nice, boho-artsy and relaxed feel to it. Their menu is written on blackboards across the top of the ordering counter. Prices are extremely reasonable (average of $10 or less), especially for the amount of deliciousness you get. The only negative points, besides the lack of seating at lunch time, are their hours and that they don’t offer BYOB. They are only open Mon-Sat., 11am-7:30pm. It would be great if they had longer dinner hours on the weekend so you can enjoy a glass of wine or two with your meal.

AllWays Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

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Organic Chicken in Philly Restaurants

Last month I posted some of my thoughts on chicken, specifically organic chicken. Coincidentally, the last 2 restaurants I have visited had Organic Chicken on the menu!

It’s as if someone was listening. So, just thought I’d share the two places in case you’re in Philly and in search of some healthier alternatives…

A couple of weeks ago, after a baseball game, the family decided to stop in Northern Liberties for some dinner. A friend recommended a Mexican place called El Camino Real. As we approached the place, I should’ve known to turn back…a full pig was being roasted right outside the front door! Yeah, my daughter wasn’t too thrilled at seeing a pig head on a table either. Hubby, however, was intrigued, so in we went…far away from the pig. To make this short and sweet, the service was slow, the chips and salsa were ok, and the menu was…so-so. Of course, my only ray of light was the Organic Chicken burrito on the menu. The waitress said it came with 2, so the little and I split the dish. It seemed like a deal at $10, but I wouldn’t exactly call these burritos. They were more like little american-style wraps. The burritos had plantains in it, another plus. However, the “wraps” were very skimpy, tasted pretty good, but nothing mind-blowing. Hubby was not happy with his steak burrito at all. The little was disappointed not to get her refried beans, as they only had ones with pork. A lot of their menu items seemed centered around pork, and well, we just don’t really do swine. Like I said before, I should’ve known to turn around upon seeing one being BBQ’d out front.

To learn more about El Camino Real click the image:

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Last week, the bestie and I headed out to the Rittenhouse Square area to Tinto, a Spanish Wine bar and Tapas restaurant. Again, I was surprised and excited to see Organic Chicken on the menu! I regretted not ordering it. The restaurant itself was on the over-priced side and we were not impressed with the food at all. We were surprised as we had high expectations for a Garces Trading Company establishment.  There was lots of pork on this menu as well. I don’t get it. The place was also very small and the seating downstairs was awkward.  Nonetheless, it is nice to see that more places are offering organic dishes, especially chicken! To learn more about Tinto click the image:

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The Silver Diner presents Farm-To-Table

After getting recommendations from several friends, my chiropractor, even my masseuse, I finally made the time to visit the Cherry Hill, NJ Mall. While the shopping was great, it was definitely secondary to the food. I was excited to find a Cali style fro-yo spot in the middle of the mall, tempted to hit up Bobby Flay’s Burgers, pleased to see a CPK, but in the end my real reason for venturing over the bridge was to experience the Silver Diner. Located across the street from the mall, the outside’s red white and blue and silver structure with the neon signs made me think of an old school all-American diner meets The Jetson’s.  Inside, “The Next Generation Diner” theme continued to stand out. The mini table-top (working!) jukeboxes were reminiscent of the “Happy Days,” but the menu definitely screamed out 2012.

This is a diner like no other I have experienced.  As soon as I walked in I noticed the FARM TO TABLE sign and couldn’t wait to see what the menu had in store.  I quickly learned that the co-owner, Ype Von Hengst, is also the executive chef. Chef Ype prides himself in feeding his customers the freshest and best quality foods by supporting local farms and using locally sourced products and ingredients. Instant fan. One look at the menu and I knew I’d be coming back again.  It includes everything from healthy. low-cal dishes and gluten-free options to local beers and wines, to all natural (healthier) hand-dipped shakes and malts even! I definitely plan on going back for breakfast soon…nitrate-free bacon and pancakes made from natural, unbleached flour. Perfect.  There is just far too much deliciousness to choose from and that’s just the Spring/Summer menu. Since Silver Diner uses locally sourced foods, their menu goes through seasonal changes. Can’t wait to check out Fall/Winter.

Sunday is burger night for our family, so this time around we had to sample some Silver Diner burgers.  With local, all-natural, hormone and antibiotic free beef, bison, turkey, chicken and veggie on the menu, you can’t go wrong.  Hubbs was as excited for the build-your-own burger option as he was for his Bison burger. (If burger construction were an art, he’d definitely be a famous artist.)  I eagerly ordered their new Pesto Burger…Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef with local goat cheese, basil pine nut pesto and sweet potato fries on the side:

Let me proudly say I ate all of it! Need I say more? Wait, yeah I do…at the table I found this to go with my fries:

One of the things that impressed me most about the Silver Diner…the kid’s menu. My Little ordered a Bison Burger, which actually came in a kid-friendly size, with a side of mashed potatoes.  She ate all of it. Their kid’s menu is by far much more varied than most I’ve come across with healthier options and reasonable portions.

 

Besides the menu, we were also very happy with our overall experience. The service was great. Everyone was professional, friendly and attentive. The prices on the menu were extremely reasonable, especially considering the high quality food that you are getting. The average price of a dish was no more than a typical diner.  Lastly, the restaurant was super clean, inside and out.  I have to mention that as we were leaving the restaurant, a line of classic cars was pulling in.  A section of the parking lot had been taped off and several (older) men were sitting on lawn chairs next to their cars.  It made me think of an old favorite Los Angeles hang-out and landmark…the Bob’s Big Boy diner.  I mean really, what kind of all-american diner experience would it be without a car show?

For more information, to see the current menu, and/or get directions, visit the Silver Diner’s website. (Several locations in Virginia and Maryland too!)


Silver Diner on Urbanspoon

Reserve Restaurant, Bar and Lounge….organic steak!

This past weekend, after a rough couple of weeks, the Hubbs wanted to treat me to a nice steak dinner with some good friends. We opted for Reserve Restaurant, Bar and Lounge in Old City, Philadelphia. We were in the mood for a new, upscale steak and seafood place and learned that Reserve had just opened back in February. Imagine my delight at discovering I was about to partake in my first ORGANIC steak experience at a fancy restaurant…life is good. 😉

Upon arriving at the restaurant we were blown away by the high ceiling and beautiful structure of the building. Clocks that feature the time zone of several different countries hang over a cooper top bar. There’s a beautiful staircase in the back which leads to a Cigar Lounge.  They also have a beautiful private events room.  The whole place seemed to encompass a vintage feel with a modern twist. As soon as we sat down in our comfortable and roomy booth, the Jazz music that began to play completed the nice ambience.

The restaurant’s bar menu is centered around Bourbon, with over 100 varieties.  (I’m not a big Whiskey fan, so I tried one of their many speciality drinks called Old City Dude…pinnacle whipped vodka, caramel apple liqueur, Kahlua, cream, and coffee bean garnish…delicious.)  Reserve holds a weekly event on Thursdays entitled Women and Whisky.  The bar also features some local and well-known beers, as well as some California wines. They also host weekly Wine Wednesdays and while I was surprised not to find an organic wine to go with my organic steak, the Syrah accompanied it just fine. Their Sunday Brunch menu looks very good, with a pre-fixed price of $30 per person…very reasonable.  In fact, you will not find many dishes on the entire Reserve menu for more than $30…very reasonable for the fine-dining, sophisticated experience you will encounter.

Back to my steak….the 10oz All Natural Organic Signature Cut was only $26 a la carte. I mistakenly ordered it medium-well, when I normally would have my steak medium-rare so it was a little more cooked than I would have liked.  (I’m not one to fuss, especially if it’s my own fault, so I dealt with it.) However, it was accompanied by a smooth, brown sauce that gave it just the right amount of moisture and added flavor, not too salty, not to sweet. With my steak, I ordered the House Salad, which featured Organic goat cheese. I was in heaven…I almost licked the plate! The red wine dijon vinaigrette blended so well with the cheese, greens and vegetables. On the menu, you can also find an Organic Salmon dish, as well as a Chopped salad made with Organic Turkey! It’s really wonderful to see so many restaurants catching on to the better quality found in local and organic foods.

Aside from the organic selections, we made sure to sample as many of the other dishes from the menu as we could. From their Raw Bar we had the oysters on a half shell, shrimp cocktail and the clams. We also tried the tasty Oysters Rockefeller and the delicious Asparagus Soup.  With our entrees we each ordered a different side, which were perfect for sharing. Parmesan Truffle French Fries, Cauliflower Gratin with Garlic and Parmesan (everyone’s favorite!), Garlic Spinach and a ONE pound baked potato…I would go back to Reserve just to have these side dishes again. The whole table agreed that the side dishes were unbelievable and the stars of the night.

If you are looking for somewhere to spend “date night” that serves good, high quality food with local and organic selections, along with an elegant, yet friendly and warm environment, I highly recommend Reserve Restaurant. I would be wrong not to mention that the staff was fantastic too.

P.S. I was so excited by the food that I never made it around to taking pictures of it!

 
Reserve on Urbanspoon

Derek’s Restaurant in Manayunk, PA

Recently a girl friend and I decided to head over to the Manayunk, PA area for a Friday night dinner and glass of wine. I love this section of Philly. The town has a very young, fresh and fun feel with several dining locations to choose from that serve a variety of locally sourced foods. This time we chose to try out Derek’s Restaurant on Main St. The owner, Derek Davis, has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years and supports locally sourced foods and farms. He is also very passionate about wine and has traveled to various wine regions internationally. This is a man after my own heart. As if I couldn’t love him more, though they have a wonderful selection of wines at Derek’s, they have a BYOB option, as well! You are limited to one bottle, as Derek’s maintains your safety a priority, and there are no corking fees.
So, the besty and I arrived at Derek’s with our bottle. Now, I normally only drink a Malbec or Organic wine, but she was insistent that I try Apothic Red Winemaker’s Blend 2010. If you have not sampled this fusion of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot California grapes, it is a must! Smooth, silky, semi-sweet with dark fruit flavors and a hint of chocolate…heaven in a bottle. It is named after an Apotheca, a place in Europe where they stored and blended wine back in the 13th century. Highly recommend it.
On to the food…
Since we both were starving we proceeded to sample several different dishes. We started with the enticing pumpkin dumplings as an appetizer. Normally, I love ANYTHING pumpkin. While the dumplings were unique and pleasant, I felt the pumpkin filling was a bit on the bland side. Perhaps the pumpkin was overcooked, or lacking some spice, but they were tasty enough that I would try them again to make a fair comparison. We continued with a “small plate/snack” of the Spanish Arbequina olives, which were delicious, and the Crispy Thin Onion Rings, which for a $5 snack plate was a huge dish of fried bliss. (I had to take some home!) We then opted for a salad instead of one of the “large dishes.” The Baked Lancaster County Goat Cheese Salad was to die for. Derek’s menu has something for everyone. I definitely plan to return so I can sample their pizzas, steak and burger.
Once we polished off the bottle of wine with dinner, we each sampled a wine from Derek’s extensive wine list for dessert. I was ecstatic to find both Organic red and white wines on the list I had not yet tried. I had a glass of Shooting Star Blue Franc 2009 from Washington…a little fruity and a bit tart, but velvety too. I enjoyed it very much. My friend had a California Cabernet Sauvignon, Louis Martini 2009 and was very impressed. They had one of my favorite Malbecs on the list, Ruta 22, and several other high quality wine varieties, but my 3 glass max had been reached….next time!
Besides the great food and wine, what made our time at Derek’s Restaurant enjoyable was the ambience. The warm lighting, contemporary décor with touches of red throughout, the friendly hostess and patient waiter, amongst several other factors, all contributed to us feeling welcomed and very satisfied. It was a fine dining experience without too much fuss and a variety of high quality food/beverage at reasonable prices. If you are looking for a place to spend a romantic dinner, ask for the more private tables in the back, or for a more fun and hip vibe, sit at the Vodka Bar where a DJ is featured on Friday and Sat. evenings. Whatever the occasion, I highly recommend Derek’s. I hear their Sunday brunches are very popular and they have special promotions going on every day: Monday Margarita & Mojito Madness, Full Moon Friday, Saturday and Sunday 1/2 price wine, to name a few. There are plenty of nearby parking lots at half the cost compared to Downtown Philly, a couple are even free!
For more information visit: Derek’s Restaurant

Derek's on Urbanspoon

ORGANIC BURGERS? I am complete.

WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD BURGER? Beef, Turkey, Veggie…there are all sorts of possibilities. I did the Veggie thing for a while. I did the Turkey thing for a bit too….but my heart is in the real, 100%, all-American, beef burger. Growing up in Los Angeles, the closest thing to a “healthy” burger I knew was In-n-Out. Every now and then when I visit, I must have one. They are definitely tasty and the nostalgia makes it even better. It’s a West Coast thing. 😉 Times have changed though, and with people growing more concerned about the quality of their food, healthier options for dining out are becoming more available. As a burger lover, I have listed my Top 3 healthy burger joints. So, next time the kids ask for some McDonald’s, I mean, a hamburger, consider one of the following if you have one close to you.

During my trip back to Cali last year, I soon learned the new “it” place for a burger is THE COUNTER. 100% Natural Angus beef, hormone and antibiotic free, humanely raised and handled. You sit down in a hip, social environment while enjoying a cold beer or glass of wine and custom order your burger. A Burger Bar…love at first sight! You choose the bread (there’s a burger bowl option too), toppings, type and size of patty, and sauce, all from a small clipboard. To go with that, their 50/50 fries (half regular/half sweet potato…though the onion rings are good too) are a must. I have visited the Toluca Lake, Studio City, and Manhattan Beach locations and have experienced bliss every time. (Celebrity sightings are the norm in most of the L.A. sites.) Locations have sprouted all throughout California and slowly showing up in other states. The Counter can also be found in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, New York, Florida, Virginia and even Ireland! If you’re looking for a unique, healthier Burger experience and are near one of their locations, check them out: The Counter Burger

Now, if you are ever near the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles, I’ve got another great option for you. How about a burger joint where EVERYTHING is organic?! I discovered O Burger while staying at a friend’s house last summer in the area.  I almost burst from the excitement.  At O Burger (yes, as in O for Organic) when I say everything is organic, I mean EVERYTHING: buns, veggies, meats, sauces, ketchup, mustard, even the FRIES!!! “If it’s edible, it’s organic!”  No GMOs, no added anything…just REAL FOOD…and let me assure that this definitely means REAL TASTE. While I tried the regular cheeseburger, which was juicy and full of flavor, they also serve turkey and homemade veggie burgers and bowls and beef hot dogs. I think I would probably eat here every day if I could.  As if they couldn’t win me over any further, O Burger is eco-friendly too! Not only is their packaging environmentally friendly, but the cleaners they use and even their paint are non-toxic! Just stepping foot in O Burger is a detox.  Here’s to hoping more of these types of healthy fast food places continue to emerge.  Check out: O Burger

So, after 7 months in Los Angeles, I was a little bummed to leave the plethora of good eats. Imagine my over-the-top excitement at returning to PA and learning an Elevation Burger had opened nearby! Here I was consoling myself at the thought of having a burger at Jake’s Wayback Burgers in Willow Grove (not organic, but NOT McDonald’s, and delicious, so it would be ok). Well, no need for guilty pleasures now…I have guilt-less pleasure just minutes away at Elevation Burger in Willow Grove, PA. Happy homecoming! Their motto: ingredients matter. At Elevation Burger the product and experience are definitely elevated…100% grass-fed, free-range, USDA-certified organic beef and French fries cooked in 100% olive oil that are addicting. With beef that’s ground on the premises and tastes like it’s supposed to, you can add the Elevation secret sauce, which is a nice touch and isn’t smothered all over or overpowering in taste. Though their menu is simple, you can also order your burger wrapped in lettuce instead of bread, or get the “Half the Guilt” Burger for one beef patty and one veggie patty. The family and I have been going just about every Sunday for the past 2 months. With the Club 7 (frequent burger buyer) card we’ve already scored on 3 free burgers. This is mostly thanks to my burger crazy husband who orders the “Vertigo” every time. The Vertigo burger comes with 3 patties and you can add up to 10! So far, he’s stuck with 4, no problem. I think this weekend he’ll be ready to up it to 5 patties. 😉 This environmentally friendly, organic burger chain has won my daughter’s heart, as well.  There’s nothing like having her ask for a hamburger and fries (which is now specifically asked for as Elevation) and being able to take her to a “fast food” place with confidence.  Last week, as a treat, we ordered their Vanilla malt with ORGANIC cheesecake for dessert. BLISS! Enough said. Elevation Burger is sweeping the nation, get there…locations in So Cal, Vegas, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Maine, Florida, and luckily for me, Pennsylvania. My life is complete.

Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill…don’t panic, they’re organic!

Before having my daughter I was a vegetarian and a vegan for a while. All that changed when this pregnant mama craved nothing but Mexican Carne Asada and Patty Melts! Call it coincidence, but my daughter could live off of steak (or as she calls it, “carne”), beans and rice. I created a Mexican monster, and we’re not even Mexican. 😉 I grew up in Los Angeles where there are Mexican restaurants and fast food joints on almost every block. While I love an occasional sit-down-fancy-mexican-meal-where-I-pay-a-lot-of-money-to-get-stuffed-on-chips-and-salsa-before-my-meal-comes, some quick, healthy Mexican eats are a must on a much more regular basis. Imagine my delight when I discovered Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill in Hollywood, CA a few years ago…ORGANIC Mexican fast food?!?!?!? I’m sold.

Now, whenever we visit California, the little and I can’t wait to have lunch and/or dinner at Sharky’s. You will find us there at least once a week, ok, sometimes twice. We’ve been to the locations in Hollywood, Burbank, Toluca Lake, Tarzana and Woodland Hills. We have never been disappointed. A menu that includes organic rice and beans, organic greens, organic tofu even, and meat and chicken that are chemical and hormone-free, how could you go wrong?  I can’t get enough of the Nachos and their Naked Santa Fe Burrito with Steak. The mashed Yucatan yams are a must and their chips and salsa addicting. Oh and let me not forget, this fast food joint serves beer too, but I usually skip that and go for their Bahamian Tropical Iced Tea. I take full advantage of the free refills.

Steven Paperno, owner and founder of Sharky’s, had a mission and a vision before even opening Sharky’s many years ago, “Changing the way the world eats.” Thanks Steve. Ask my daughter why she loves Sharky’s so much and she will tell you, “It’s got the best rice and beans and burrito…and it’s organic.” Yeah, I’m doing my part to help with that mission too. 😉 One of Sharky’s philosophies reads, “Don’t Panic, We’re Organic.” Yup, basically one of the reasons I am comfortable taking her there to eat “fast food”.  I also have to mention that Sharky’s does not use any microwaves. Everything is prepared fresh on stone fired ovens and mesquite grills in an open kitchen right behind the ordering counter. Aside from the food, I also appreciate that I have always been treated well when visiting any Sharky’s location. I have always experienced friendly, fast service in a casual and very clean environment.

Being back in Pennsylvania, I haven’t really found good quality Mexican food in my area. There are a few places in the city and nearby areas that I will be giving a try. But no organic Mexican fast food around here. Some pretty decent places for Mexican food are Las Margaritas in Northeast Philly and Taqueria La Morena in Hatboro, my current favorite. Sadly, while I was in California recently, enjoying my Sharky’s, Tortillas Restaurant in Willow Grove closed its doors. I think the new Mad Mex chain that opened nearby may have been too much competition. So here I am, dedicating this post to Sharky’s simply because I am craving it so much that I thought a post was in order. After all, they are one of the pioneers of organic fast food. Maybe Steve will eventually bring the premier “Fresh-Mex Grill” to the East Coast. If not, it’s okay; nothing beats Cali-Mex food anyway. :-p

So if you plan on visiting Southern California, or you live there and haven’t been to a Sharky’s yet… umm, what are you waiting for???? Check out Sharky’s!

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Sharky's Woodfired Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon