cheeeeeeese! (didn’t we lock you in a Dumpster one time?)

Grilled cheese. One of the cheapest and easiest meals you can make. Perfectly paired with a multitude of munchies. The matchless melted marriage of my two favorite foods. A bit of nostalgia in every gooey bite. It’s no wonder we have an entire month to celebrate this fantastic food.

Yes, that’s right: April is Grilled Cheese Month, and I’ve been remiss in giving you ideas for how to celebrate, so for that, I’m sorry. (I’d really like to blame my computer and its inability to stay on for more than 10 consecutive minutes, but it’s been cooperating today so far, and I don’t want to jinx things. [Hopefully it’s not reading this.])

I found my own way to celebrate last weekend with a delightful lunch at The Pop Shop in Collingswood, N.J., a place known for its crazy grilled cheeses; their Calvert grilled cheese —  roast turkey, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, Monterey jack cheese and balsamic mayo on rosemary foccacia — was featured on Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” in 2008.

The restaurant’s observance of NGCM includes a different special sandwich each day, and on my visit, I was sold: lobster, brie and garlic aioli on country white bread. Sloppy and absolutely delicious. I wish I could eat there every day. (My apologies for the photo omission. I lost all awareness once that glorious thing was set down in front of me.)

I like to get a little crazy with my grilled cheeses at home. I’ve done tomato, bacon, shrimp, chocolate, avocado, horseradish, Doritos… (not all on one sandwich, but now that you mention it…). Two of my favorites, though, are pretty standard grilled cheeses with easy twists. Whether you like experimenting, or you’re a grilled cheese purist, give ’em a try.

honeyed classic with tomato, on wheat

Honeyed classicmakes one sandwich
Two slices of bread (white, wheat — your choice)
Three slices of medium-cut American cheese (I prefer Land O’ Lakes)
1 tbs. honey
Little bit of butter 

Heat pan over medium heat. Construct cheese sandwich, and spread a small amount of butter on the outside of both sides. Cook sandwich evenly, about five minutes on each side. When bread is just about to reach desired color, spread 1/2 tablespoon of honey on one side and flip. Repeat. The honey will caramelize the bread, giving you a great sweetness to go with the salty sandwich. For variety, add tomato, avocado or other favorites inside.

crunchy grilled cheese

Crunchy grilled cheesemakes one sandwich
Two slices of bread
Three slices of medium-cut American cheese
1 egg OR 1 tbs. honey
1/2 c. corn flakes, finely crushed
♦Little bit of butter 

Heat pan over medium heat. Construct cheese sandwich. Using egg: whisk one egg in small bowl, and brush both sides. (I didn’t want to waste my last egg on this, so…) Using honey: Spread 1/2 tablespoon of honey on each side of sandwich. Dip wet sides into crushed cornflakes, and coat well. Drop on pad of butter and let it coat surface. Cook one side, add pad of butter between flip and cook other side evenly. The crushed cornflakes add an incredible texture to your classic sandwich.

burger blitz at PYT

Calibunga, dude!

When it comes to mechanics of business diffusion (yeah, I’m getting all Marketing 101 on you), I’m almost always in the “late majority” group, i.e. I don’t care about the latest trends, and I very rarely go out of my way to get the “it” thing until I deem it necessary, and by that time, something more “it” has come out. I was, however, in the “early adopter” group when it comes to PYT in the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. Or at least I’m going to tell myself that.

See, a few months ago, I suggested to a friend that we journey there for their Burger of the Week: the Krispy Kreme Burger. We rearranged our schedules to make it before the gluttonous creation’s stint on the menu was done, and could not have been more amazed by the two patties, two slices of cheese and pieces of chocolate-covered bacon between — yes — two halves of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Turns out the burger was so popular that week, PYT put in on the menu to stay.

Fast forward to a few weeks later: I bring another handful of friends out to PYT, and they all fall in love with the place, too. We feasted on the awesome burgers and their special pumpkin cheesecake pierogies, and chatted with our super cool waitress, who revealed that the PYT acronym doesn’t actually stand for anything. And here we thought it was a shout out to Michael Jackson.

Suddenly, I’m seeing and hearing about PYT all over the place; on Jan. 13, the restaurant was featured on the Rachael Ray Show for “Rachael’s Burger Bash,” and killed it on Groupon this weekend with their $8 for $16 of food deal. I’m worried their little-to-no-wait style I’ve come to love is going to be out the window now that the place is blowing up. (Maybe I can dissuade people by telling them the bathroom is unisex; I know that freaked me out a little at first…)

Either way, if you live in the Philadelphia area, you need to check it out. And if you’re not carnivorous, they have plenty of vegetarian options; in fact, the last time I was there, I got the Calibunga burger — white beans, basil, garlic, tomato and breadcrumb patty topped with avocado, lettuce, tomato and caramelized onion “special sauce” (pictured above) — and it was awesome.

Oh, and don’t forget about their Adult Milkshakes, which their menu calls “a blend of premium ice cream and fine spirits.” Other than being a lightweight and needing to operate a vehicle within the next five hours, I opted out of the dessert beverage in favor of the neighboring gelato shop, Nana Petrillo’s. I recently had their Rosemary Honey Goat’s milk, and it was a sophisticated party in my mouth. If you’re not into the weird flavors that I am, they’ve got all sorts of crowd pleasers that change on a daily basis, as well as lattes, hot chocolate, etc.

Rosemary Honey Goat's Milk gelato from Nana Petrillo's

PYT on Urbanspoon

I’m going to be on Food Network?

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned Food Network in at least half of my posts, so it should come as no surprise I dropped everything last week when my friend, Jay, e-mailed me about a show taping at a local sandwich place: Jake’s Sandwich Board on 12th Street in Philadelphia.

I took the notification — “We will be filming all day on Thursday, but opening our doors to everyone during some of the filming around 3 p.m.” — to mean the crew would get some B-roll and be on its way, but what we walked into was a full-out filming of an “Outrageous Food” episode about the eatery’s Five-Pound Philly Challenge, and they let us sit in on the entire thing.

(had to be stealthy)

If you’ve never seen the show, it’s almost as if “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” procreated with “Man V. Food.” The host, Tom Pizzica, travels the country in search of ridiculous foods a la Guy Fieri, but often pits locals against restaurants’ ludicrous food challenges, like the 105-pound burger and the 72-inch burrito.

At Jake’s Sandwich Board, the challenge consists of an assortment of tasty Philly staples: a two-foot cheesesteak, four Philly soft pretzels, 12 TastyKake Krimpets, 24 Peanut Chews and one Champ Cherry soda to wash it all down. Oh, and you have to do it all in 45 minutes.

To date, only two individuals have successfully completed the challenge (and if you don’t finish in time, it’ll cost you $34.95), so to make the episode a little more interesting, “Outrageous Food” filmed two teams of three (boys v. girls) taking on the feat. I won’t spoil the outcome, but what remained of the losing team’s plate is pictured at the left.

My friend, Steve, and I were seated next to the challenge table, so we’re almost definitely going to be on screen when the episode airs next season, but we were both interviewed, so we might get some feature facetime, too. (I was really nervous, though, so I’m almost hoping they cut me on account of blushiness.)

Tom Pizzica was hilarious, and the entire production was so much fun. Oh, and did I mention how incredible the sandwich I ordered was? The Philly Wasabi — rib-eye steak, wasabi spread, American cheese and crunch onions. Yup. And based on the few bites I had of Steve’s Village Turkey sandwich and how drool-inducing the two-foot challenge cheesesteak was, I can’t imagine this place puts out anything short of amazing. I highly recommend you check it out.

Jake's "Philly Wasabi" sandwich

need pancakes!

snapping this quickly to avoid looking like a tourist

I went upstate to visit my college roommate last weekend. After a night out in NYC, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drop more money on a sit-down breakfast the next morning, but when the words “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” were uttered, my mind was made up.

I’ve often been ridiculed for how easily I’ll give up a Friday night to watch Food Network — particularly Guy Fieri “rolling out” to ridiculous restaurants and incredible hole-in-the-wall eateries all across the country. I love marveling at just how far these chefs’ creativity can go (and at how amazing Guy Fieri’s job is), so when my friends told me the diner down the street had been featured on ‘Triple D’, I was stoked.

The Brownstone Diner in Jersey City is about as much of a “family place” as you can get — not only as a dining experience, but also in its back-story. The menu is massive, the food is fantastic and the wait wasn’t nearly as long as it should have been for a Sunday morning.

Above: Started my meal with a raspberry steamer (steamed milk, no caffeine — it makes me shake), followed by four golden potato pancakes and applesauce. Special thanks to my dining companions for mocking my need to document everything I eat.

International Food & Wine Fest

I’m going to be that annoying relative who shows you a bunch of photos from vacation you probably don’t care about, but at least it’s not a two-hour slideshow with crawling commentary and a clicker only I can control.

Last weekend, I attended Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. For anyone who’s been to the park, you know Epcot does an incredible job of recreating the look and feel of countries all over the world — from the United States to Greece, Japan to Morocco. During the festival, each stop serves up a beer and/or wine from each country and an assortment of local fare.

UPDATE: It appears I can’t get a slideshow plugin with this WordPress account, so my layout here is a mess. I don’t know how the photos will appear in your browser, but I’m sure you’ll be able to place the captions beneath the photos with the correct subject — like a fun little game!

Epcot “golf ball” with IF&WF decor; my first taste of international cuisine, I indulged in some spicy tuna maki from “Japan”; killing time outside the Fish & Chips station, I got distracted by the malt vinegar packets; potato pierogies and kielbasa from Poland were a fantastic main course; treated myself to a glass of Riesling from Canada to celebrate the “wine” portion of the festival; capped off the feasting with amaaazing chocolate crème brulée from “France.”