Tag Archives: local dining

Meat in Shapes, 7-11 Style

J writes:

In its continuing quest to see how many things it can make into a hot dog shape, 7-11 has nailed it. We all know about the failed attempt to put a bacon cheeseburger into a hot dog roll (they really just need to stop selling the big cheeseburger bite), but the new buffalo chicken rollers are a marvel of food engineering.

I discovered them last night on my way to class as I was looking for a quick convenient dinner. I’m told by my recent reading that 7-11 specifically caters to my demographic, that is men age 17 to 35 whose digestive systems can handle not only convenience store junk food but in a pinch could process the plastic wrapper it comes in.

That ain't a hot dog.

Here’s something else I didn’t know: 7-11 got its name because when it first opened it was open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., which were then unheard of hours. Everyone was impressed at the time. Now if you are a convenience store whose primary product is coffee and you don’t open until 7:00 a.m. people think you cater to rich, lazy, limo driving public school teachers on summer vacation.

I stopped at 7-11 and went immediately to those roller grills that spin the hot dogs and sausages all day long. You know what I’m talking about. The convenience store wizards had created a hot dog shaped buffalo chicken tender. I ordered one from my friendly Middle Eastern cashier, who mistakenly thought I had ordered the buffalo chicken taquitos. It was an honest mistake, I suppose, especially from someone who was new to the country. He apologized and got me the rollers I had ordered.

The rollers are in a class by themselves. Unlike taquitos, which are overpowered by the bread wrapping, the rollers are pure unfettered buffalo goodness. At $2.29 for two ($1.39 for one, so yes it’s worth it to get two) they are a bargain at three times the price.

I don’t want to get into how they got it to be that shape any more than I want to discuss whether square fish can swim with some old fart shilling for Wendy’s. They were the perfect hand-held snack.

And here’s the key. They were even better the second day, when I visited one of the local 7-11s in Philadelphia. This one was also operated by a friendly young man from the Middle East (does the chain have some kind of recruiting program in Yemen?) but my efforts were hampered considerably by some woman who couldn’t quite figure out how to order a hot dog with mustard (it’s on the condiment stand, lady. He shouldn’t have to tell you twice, this ain’t the Ritz).

But when I got my rollers (no mistaken taquitos this time, thank you Apu) I had the perfect snack for the rest of my walk.

Congratulations, 7-11, on a job well done.

(written to me by J via e-mail on 5/3/11, posted by me entirely too late and after one particularly expert guilt-trip by J)

Checkers

J emails me on Monday with this:

F— you Checkers. F— you and everything you stand for. OK, honestly I’m not sure what Checker’s restaurant stands for. I don’t see many signs that say “Eat Checkers and Free Tibet,” or “Eat Checkers–It’s What Nelson Mandela Does,” so admittedly there’s no moral equivalent to eating at Checkers. Maybe that’s why I went there.

Checkers is one of those places I keep meaning to go to. Unlike Sonic, which has brilliant advertising but no locations anywhere near me when I’m hungry, Checkers is conveniently located about a mile from both my jobs, so, theoretically, I could eat dinner there every night on the way home.

But having a Checkers so close by is a lot like living in a town with a major tourist attraction or knowing a hot girl who is terminally single. You could always see the Liberty Bell, or go out with her, so while you keep meaning to you never really do and then one day they either board up the museum due to budget cuts or she gets married and suddenly you’re left with the friggin pancakes and no syrup–don’t try to find the analogy, pervert, it’s not there.

So tonight, I went to Checkers.

Checkers has this unique system where there is no place to sit down. It’s just a drive-in. I guess some consultant in New York City told them, “You want to get an edge on all the other restaurant chains? The most profitable part of any fast food business is the drive-thru. If you want to make serious bank, have JUST A DRIVE-THRU!!!.”

“That’s brilliant,” said all the suits around the table.

“So what should we name this place?”

“Hey how about Checkers?”

It wasn’t a great idea, but the guy who brought it up had been dating the hot, terminally single girl from accounting thus taking her out of the pool and everyone hated him for it. They figured the boss would smoke him out for the weinie he was, but he didn’t.

No one knew why, but they suspect it was because the boss was already calculating what he could buy with the $7.10 an hour he could save by not having to hire someone to mop the floors of a restaurant so he said, “Sure, what the hell, Checkers it is.”

What the hell indeed.

So tonight, I went to Checkers.

Doesn't the neon glow just make want to go in, sit down, and grab a burger? Well, you can't.

The first thing that should have tipped me off is their menu variety. Checkers has a lot of stuff on their menu. An overwhelming amount of stuff in fact.

Here’s a rule of fast food. Fast food is for burgers, and maybe chicken sandwiches. I know a lot of them serve fish sandwiches, but the less said about that the better, especially with the Lenten season almost upon us. Out of respect for my Catholic brethren who necessitated the Filet-O-Fish in the first place, I’ll defer.

Checkers sells buffalo wings, both boned and boneless variety, and they sell them in five different flavors. I love boneless wings. I love the fact that someone came up with the idea of boneless wings, because what they are really saying is, “Look pal, we know you’re too lazy to throw the bones away or put in the extra effort to get the meat off the bone, so we’ll go ahead and make some illegal immigrant in Lake Titicaca do it for you and, just to keep the joke between us, we’ll still let you call it a wing? OK pal?” Lazy bastards.

Needless to say I ordered the boneless buffalo wings. I got them in garlic parmeasan flavor, which I shouldn’t have done, but I did. I’m not proud of it, but I did.

Here’s the thing. I’m just putting this out there as an unpaid consultant. If I am going to make a restaurant where people can’t sit down, I’m only going to sell things that you can eat in your car. So I got the box of boneless wings out and the sauce starting dripping out of the box and onto my jacket.

WTF?

Oh well, I thought. I’ll wait until I get to work. If the sauce is dripping out of the box, they must really lather it on, this must be good.

I think you probably know where this story goes. The wing sauce, that managed to drip all over my coat, did not manage to coat a single boness wing. And they were dry.

Moreover, I had been talked into upsizing to “large,” so the whole experience cost me $9.39. What did I get for “large?” No extra boneless wings. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by the tub of fries you get at most fast food places, but the french fries hardly seemed abundant either. What I got was a giant soda that made me want to pee so bad by vision started to blur.

So what have we learned today?

Don’t eat at Checkers.

Go see the Liberty Bell.

And for the love of God man, just ask her out, she’s not going to wait for you forever.

Now who wants pie?

Reading Terminal Market, The Gallery, and Specialization

On 1/18/11 at 2:29 p.m. J writes:
It’s not like I really want to stick my finger in the eyes of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, but eating at the Reading Terminal Market is an exercise in disappointment.

I want to like it. I mean it is, after all, the READING TERMINAL MARKET!!! A holy place of eating in a city famous for being fat because, well, we know how to eat and, for the most part, how to cook.

But I’ve eaten at the Reading Terminal Market four times now, and each time I’ve said, “That’s it, I’m never going back!” and yet I keep going back like a dog to his own vomit or a battered spouse because, well, I keep thinking this will be the time. But it never is.

Today I had lunch at the Cajun place, the name of which I cannot recall. I love Cajun food. Of all the places I have visited in my business travels, the place I have loved the most is New Orleans. Even the Food Court at the mall by the Convention Center in New Orleans is an exercise in deliciousness. When Katrina hit, and I did my requisite feeling bad for the people trapped in flooded houses and hating President Bush for his non-response, my first real cognitive thought was, “I wonder what happened to Mulate’s. They had awesome Po Boys.” Call me insensitive, but I really didn’t know anyone from the Ninth Ward; I did know Mulate’s sandwiches.

Where was I? Oh yes, Philadelphia.

Reading Terminal Market can be overwhelming in its choices, but a couple of days ago I walked by the Cajun place and they offered me a free sample of their chicken and sausage gumbo. The cup was a typical sample size, but somehow the lovely young lady filling my sample cup managed to get both a piece of chicken and a piece of sausage in it, and it was delicious. I decided right then and there that I would head back someday and get lunch.

Too many options, IJS.

Today in Philadelphia it’s cold and miserable. I had packed a bologna sandwich with some fruit, chips and cookies, but the weather really called for hot soup, and my preference is hot spicy soup, and gumbo fits that bill. So I set out on a quest for the one true lunch. I took no companions because I didn’t want them cramping my style. I have no real evidence of this but I suspect that people who have first dates at Reading Terminal Market don’t make it to second dates.

“So where do you want to eat, dear?”

“Oh I don’t know, where do you want to eat?”

“How about here.”

“Do you want to eat there?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“How about here?”

“Do you like that food?”

“Do you?”

And assuming the guy hasn’t gone all Kensington Strangler on his date by this point, the couple likely winds up eating at Chili’s which, whatever its demerits, is at least predictable.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the gumbo.

So I order the chicken and sausage gumbo, and here’s the part they don’t tell you when they sample—IT’S SERVED OVER RICE!!!!!! The sample was not served over rice; the sample came in a small free cup. Basically, the gumbo at the Cajun place is an exercise in selling rice for $7 because by the time the little twit filled my bowl with heaping spoonfuls of rice there wasn’t much room for the gumbo, and despite my best efforts the rice managed to absorb most of the gumbo sauce so I was left eating a flavorless bowl of rice with a couple of pieces of sausage.

And the whole exercise came to $9.40 because I wanted something to drink (next time I’m bringing my own bottled water) and Philadelphia sales tax is 8 percent.

From now on, I’m sticking to the free samples.
_______________________________________________________
I remind him what he ripped off from me and his love of the free sample guy in The Gallery:
“So I set out on a quest for the one true lunch. I took no companions because I didn’t want them cramping my style.”

You’re welcome.

“From now on, I’m sticking to the free samples.”

…and retarded people.
________________________________________________
J retorts:

Hey man, if we’re going to share a brain I’m going to use your material sometimes.

My little retarded friend was at Chic Fil A today, but he was back wiping the counter, which is a degrading waste of his time because he’s actually really good at passing out free chicken, not that it’s hard, but you know, when someone does something right you want to acknowledge it in a world where all we do is criticize people, so what I’m saying is, HERE’S TO YOU RETARDED YOUNG MAN AT CHIC FIL A! THANK YOU FOR YOUR EXCELLENCE!!

You know what else I learned about free samples today in the Gallery?

First, the samples at Charley’s Cheese steaks are way better than the actual sandwiches you pay for. Even controlling for the fact that the samples are free, they never get the sandwiches right. But if you hit the free sample lady at just the right time it’s the perfect taste.

Second, if you’re getting sick of Bourbon Chicken, walk by one of the stands and wait for them to ask if you want a free sample. You can ask for whatever you want. Today I asked to sample their General Tso’s chicken knowing full well what it tastes like. I suppose when you have an interaction with the person behind the counter, as opposed to a sad, silent type standing in the crossway with a piece of chicken on a toothpick, you might feel more of a sense to buy lunch there. I didn’t. I took my sample and walked away, but a person with social graces might.
_____________________________________________________
I remind him:

I’m pretty sure you already did several posts about free samples in the Gallery…specifically Charley’s Cheese and how their samples are more delicious than their actual product.

Some might call it a repeat…more genius staff assistants would say you’ve gone into syndication.

And, as a generalist, I too applaud the retarded young man at Chic Fil-he has become a master of a specific craft and he needs to be recognized. He has succeeded in specificity in a way I have not…bravo!
_________________________________________________________
J:
Or perhaps that I’m resting on my laurels. The Gallery is a gift that keeps on giving when it comes to material. Today I noticed four uniformed and well armed security agents leaning on a post talking to each other, interested in nothing so much as their own engaging conversation. You could have held someone up at gun point and they might not have noticed. Made me feel a lot safer.

When you find yourself being a bit jealous of a man who’s main job function is passing out chicken on a toothpick you perhaps need to reevaluate your choices. I’m just saying.
________________________________________________________________
Me:
Remember that article Nancy sent us about that strangling that happened at 11 a.m. last week in the Gallery? Yeah-made me feel great about unknowingly spending my lunch break there at Five Below on the same day.

Reevaluate my choices I am. Maybe instead of working in an office, I could work in an ice cream shop. I’d really love scooping ice cream all day and handing out cones to people. I mean, you get to give people ICE CREAM all day.

Hey-maybe I’ll see if Ben & Jerry’s is hiring…
__________________________________________________________
J, for the last time:
Yeah I remember. I walk through the Gallery regularly. I know exactly where it happened and exactly where he was found. I see people screaming at each other there all the time.

I was at the library this afternoon over my lunch break. I saw that some janitorial services was hiring. Third shift, cleaning office buildings. For a moment, I considered it. I loved being a janitor. I actually considered applying to my campus department after graduating. I found the work satisfying, I liked the people (and not just the other students, the full time folks who have made custodial services at a small Christian liberal arts college their career) but then my friend Jeannine’s mom said I was nuts and she was right, so I took the path I’m currently on. But there are moments when I’m being figuratively shit on that I think to myself, it would be better to just literally clean up people’s shit because at least then I wouldn’t be fooling anyone about what my job is or my station in life.

Ben & Jerry’s is awesome. They have a policy that the top executives cannot make more than seven times what the people on the lowest rung make. In practice, this means they have a hard time finding executive talent, but it probably also means you can make quite a lot selling ice cream and no one yells at the ice cream man.

On the road…again.

On 11/10/10 at 11:05 a.m. J writes:

So I’ve been on the road again a good bit this week, but not really on the road, which means that I get my food stipend and can eat in places that I normally wouldn’t, because, well, I’m cheap. So food trucks serve a special niche for me because of their low cost goodness.

And before everyone starts to get all upity on me, you should know that some very highly placed journalists and industry PR people have enjoyed food trucks as well, so smoke on your pipe and put that in, or whatever.

This week though I was taking some out-of-town friends and colleagues out for a Philadelphia cheesesteak. They said they wanted the authentic experience, which, of course, as we all know, means Pat’s, Geno’s or Jim’s. We eliminated Pat’s and Geno’s because it was 30 degrees and while I do have fond memories of eating a cheesesteak from Pat’s at 3:00 a.m. when it was 12 degrees out, with my friends and I all saying various versions of, “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!!!” I think I might have been drunk at the time. So my memory might be cloudy.

Anyway, we went to Jim’s. Jim’s is the cheesesteak place on 4th and South. It has pictures of famous people and it sells T-shirts and hats. I’m not ready to call this an iron-clad rule yet, but if you are selling hats and reminding people that famous people once ate there, presumably before veganism and vegetarianism became morally superior, you really aren’t thinking about your food anymore.

We got to Jim’s at around 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and the line was out the door. There were people from Germany, Montreal and what I assume were other foreign countries because the line moved in an orderly non-disruptive fashion, so it’s unlikely they were all from Philadelphia.

My companions and I kept in good humor as we waited in line at the cheesesteak stand. By the time we got to the grill, I had in mind what I wanted to order. Whiz with extra whiz. My female companion behind me said she wanted the same thing, and the other dude ordered the same thing without onions.

We managed to find tables upstairs surprisingly easily given the crowd in the lobby, but while I enjoyed the company, the food was a total disappointment. I had paid $.70 for extra whiz, and I was left wondering what a normal whiz steak would have looked like. Part of the charm of a Philadelphia cheesesteak is when the whiz drips out onto the wrapper and you can sop it up with what’s left of your roll like a biscuit. But on this cheesesteak I couldn’t even taste the whiz.

In fact, all I could really taste were the onions, which were piled on top, rather than grilled into the meat like they are supposed to be and not quite cooked right. The bread was cold.

I paid $10.50 for the experience; money wasted.

On Tuesday night I wound up working late again and walked through the Gallery Mall. There’s a steak place there called Charley’s Fried Steaks, which gives out excellent samples on days when you are lucky. But here’s the thing- the actual cheesesteaks you pay for are not nearly as good as the sample.

I ordered the chicken club, which was supposed to come with cheese, bacon, tomatoes and lettuce. They grilled it, and didn’t put any bacon on it, which was my first disappointment.

Then they sent it down the assembly line to a surly little man who stood in front of the fixings bar. He stared at me. Not, with a “what would you like, sir?” smile but with a “what do you want?” look that didn’t have a question with it. I was going to say just put on what it’s supposed to have on it, but since they had already screwed up the bacon, I didn’t have much hope that they’d get the rest of the sandwich right so I proceeded to make my own creation.

And it didn’t work out. The combination of swiss cheese (yes, swiss cheese), ranch (I choked) and hot peppers (again, another mistake) made the whole sandwich a disappointment.

Equally disappointing were the cheese fries, which I had paid a premium for and which, well, wound up being far too soggy.

I paid $11.67 for the experience. Money wasted.

From now on, I’m just sticking with the food trucks.

Now who wants pie?

Adventures in Lunch

Monday at 2:05 p.m., J writes:

Lunch is risky in Philadelphia. Today is my first day of class, which means I eat lunch out and eat the lunch I packed in my car on my way to class. Makes for an interesting foraging expedition.

I often supplement my lunches with items from the food truck, but food trucks, for all their merits, have a severe lack of options when it comes to chips and dessert. So I went to Washington Square Pharmacy today, where I expected to find something good.

Most pharmacies are really mini-grocery stores anymore, but not Washington Square Pharmacy. The lighting was dim, the place smelled like old ladies and it really did have nothing but drugs and associated vitamins, oh and canes, yeah this store, which had less square footage than my office, had an aisle with canes. Nice ones too. I wasn’t in the market for canes, but I suspect the clientele, who may appreciate that the place smells like home, would be.

Anyway, because of the overabundance of drugs and canes–did I mention the canes?–they didn’t have much in the way of chips or dessert. I had been hoping for a lemon fruit pie, but walked out with a Reeses Cup and a Butterfinger, because when you can’t decide it’s best to get them both.

The candy bars didn’t disappoint, but the experience of Washington Square Pharmacy most certainly did. And to the guy who was sorting tampon boxes at the counter while I waited for him to ring up my purchase, would it kill you to smile or say hello, or is that part of the charm of the place?

Anyway, after selecting my desert I went to my favorite truck to get my latest and greatest creation, the bacon cheese steak. He hit another home run. This time, instead of pork bacon he added turkey bacon. Maybe he was out of pork bacon, maybe because I’m a regular customer he was concerned about my health, I don’t know. But he got the taste exactly right, the sandwich fit inside the bun, which he kindly toasted, and the cheese whiz didn’t spill out, which often happens.

Cost today, $5.50, fifty cents less than last time for you avid readers. Why? I don’t know and I don’t care. The sandwich was pure deliciousness

I write on Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. (I was out Monday):

I love it.

I’m glad that “The candy bars didn’t disappoint” because one would think that with candy bar purchases you’re guaranteed to get the same level of candybarness each and every time. Not true.

Have you ever had a stale Reeses Peanut Butter Cup? They’re terrible. They’re not even worth eating.

J replies:

Actually, I’ve never been disappointed by a candy bar. Never.

Me:

You’ve never had a Reeses that was literally CRUMBY?

It happens when they’re stale.

J muses:

Haven’t, and oddly I feel like I’ve missed out on one of the great joys of life.

I retort:

It’s not one of the great joys of life.  It’s TERRIBLY disappointing.

There’s nothing like looking forward to biting into a nice, moist Reeses, and having your teeth meet with tasteless peanut butter dust. Awful, simply awful.

ALMOST as bad as looking forward to some ice cream you’ve put in the freezer (which you’ve watched your diet all day for), only to open and fruitlessly search the freezer’s frigid depths to find out your mom ate it.

One of the main reasons I moved out.

J agrees:

When your roommate, wife, mother, father, brother, pet sheep, et al. eat your food it is the end of the relationship, or beginning of the end, people should just know not to do that.
_________________________________________________________

Yes. They should.

No Subject

J writes via e-mail today at 1:53 p.m.:

I hate being disappointed with food, but after walking a block out of my way and spending $5.94 I am calling them out. Paganos. Your pizza sucked today. It reeked of sucktitudinosity. I wouldn’t eat it again if someone paid me to. It was dry. It was tasteless. It was way below what is normally served by your restaurant.

That's a mess.

You’re slacking. I don’t appreciate it.

I ordered steak and bacon and chicken and bacon. Both tasted dried out if they tasted like anything at all.

The pizza crust was chewy instead of that thin crispness.

In short, it sucked, and I had anticipated it too. Was really looking forward to it.

Thank you, Paganos, for ruining my day.

Post-Lunch, Pre-Labor Day Observations

I begged J to write a blog post, thankfully, he acquiesced today at 1:18 pm:

So today was a rather productive lunch hour.

First, I went to Borders. Rather disappointing. I had gone because the store had enticed me with a 40 percent off coupon that had to be used before Labor Day and I’m going to be busy all weekend. Thing is, the Borders at 13th and Chestnut doesn’t really have a non-fiction section, so I wasn’t sure where the book I wanted, “MORNING MIRACLE: INSIDE THE DECLINE OF THE WASHINGTON POST,” was going to be.

So I went to the computer and typed it in. Within about three seconds some pimple faced kid was on me like I was going to discover his porn collection with the ubiquitous, “can I help you sir?” I told him I had done a search for the book I wanted and it was showing, “not in store.” He said that was right, but if I wanted they could order it for me and it would be in within three to eight business days.

That seemed an inordinately long amount of time for a business that had a separate online operation that can deliver things in 24 hours, so I thanked him for nothing and went on my way.

And here’s the thing that really annoyed me about Borders. I used their bathroom. It was painted bright yellow. I don’t want to quibble, but should we really be painting a place where you pee bright yellow?

I’m just saying.

Is that little boy holding a GUN?

On my way back I walked through the Gallery. Sampling was a mixed bag today. They had the Charley’s Cheese Steak samples out, but she had gone back for a new sandwich when I passed through the first time. Out of three places that serve Bourbon chicken, only one was giving it away. And my little retarded friend that gives away chicken nuggets was nowhere to be found.

Auntie Anne’s was giving away free pieces of their pretzel covered hot dogs. I took two samples and got a glare. Is it coming out of your pocket pal?

Speaking of Chic-fil-a, I finally bought their Spicy Chicken Sandwich. It was a little disappointing. I mean it’s basically just a spicy version of their regular chicken sandwich, which I suppose I should have expected, but it still left me with a certain emptiness.

And for reasons I have never understood, Chic-fil-a puts just pickles on their chicken sandwich. Not free lettuce, not free tomatoes. Free pickles.

Pickles have a very distinct taste and they don’t really add anything to the sandwich.

Again, I’m just saying.