Sunday, July 31, 2011

To Philly we go

An alternate title for today's post is Gems. Not the sparkly, rock--based kind you wear on your body. The kind that are sometimes called "hidden gems", "unexpected gems", "genuine gems". Places that may (or may not) be off the beaten track. In my case of course, eating places. The kinds of places where you find great food, happy customers, and the kind of ownership that you want to support with your patronage over and over.

One such place is Cafe Sazon, a hidden treasure on a very unremarkable stretch of Columbia Pike (not far from Goodwill. No, not that one on Glebe. Not that other one on Glebe either. Yes, there are many Goodwills in South Arlington). We knew about Cafe Sazon because they're been great about making donations for work- we had a park cleanup and they provided us with breakfast for 100 (which makes it a shame that 25 people, tops, employees included, showed up, oi). Anyway, active in the community with delicious baked goods, double points, on my radar. Then we were hitting the road to go to Philly for a visit with Steve's sister and a trip to my friend's wedding, and Steve was out of toilet paper! So we knew we'd need a pit stop before we left (tmi?). Plus we were hungry, obviously (this is us). And there it was! Cafe Sazon!


They had, as I’d gotten to experience before, a beautiful selection of baked goods (anyone know what those awesome donut-looking things taste like?!)


But boy oh boy I love love love walking into a place and seeing this sign.


(Today there aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare pupusas!)

Instinctively I read it out loud, in Spanish, and then turned to the lady at the counter, inquiring, "Pupusas?! Que sabores tiene?" And then we chatted away in Spanish! Love love love when that happens. I am so rusty.

Anyway, Steve and I decided to split a few things, so we got a pupusa de frijol y queso (beans 'n cheese, baby!) and also the lentejas (lentils).


I was totally stoked to see lentils at a Hispanic, rather than Indian, place, and knew I had to try them. I initially thought it was a sopa (soup), because Steve said Cafe Sazon was supposed to have great soups, but she said it was just lentils, but it was "muy rico" (I love how the word rico is used in Spanish. I kind of want to just start using it to describe delicious foods all the time).

While we waited for food, I wandered around admiring how cute Cafe Sazon is. I love hole-in-the-wall pupuserias, but if enough people discover Cafe Sazon's charms they could have a real niche, because it has a much nicer ambiance than some of the delicious but less than well-decorated places that pop up in South Arlington.

And the food comes in pretty epic portions.


I was delighted to see two burly guys who'd been at work all day order the lentils right after us, and I could see why- this was a man meal! And yes, vegetarians, came with sausages and chunks of beef :D


I apprecated the flavor they gave the dish (though mostly ate around them, leaving the meat for the man), but I was loving on the chunks of carrot and heavenly potatoes that livened up the dish.

The chili sauce made a nice condiment, too!


And of course the pupusa.


Queso y frijol. Oh refried beans, how I adore you.


Loved the heaping helping of curtido (a tangy-sweetish cabbage slaw) that cam with it. Can't get enough of the stuff. I want to learn how to make it!


And then we were on the road to Philly, where we jammed to sweet tunes (Steve is the king of creating road-trip mixed CD's) and then had a moment of sheer panic in Delaware when the sky kind of just... vomited water in unbelievable amounts on us and we were going like 35 miles per hour on a highway... it was super intense. I am so grateful that Steve likes driving and does ALL OF IT on these trips. Anyway, then there was a hugely confusing interchange to get in the direction of his sister's place and we were lost... for awhile... and we finally made it and oh my goodness the wine and whole wheat spinach-mushroom pizza on her balcony was sort of the greatest experience ever. Then BED.

The next morning we arose refreshed and ready to watch Jordin's TV debut! She's in fashion school and has done some work with a stylist in the area prepping for TV appearances. That day, however, she was not only setting up the shoot at the station (something that required her to be there at 7:30 in the morning for a 9:45 clip, eesh!) she also appeared as an on screen *model* in a story about color blocking (ooh la la!). Very cool to see her on TV and cheer her on.

We spent a few minutes getting plans together, figuring out an agenda, and writing out plans (made complicated by the internet crapping out on us before we could get a reliable Google Map into downtown). We hit the road... and then got lost. For awhile. And there being no food in my belly, the whole thing just felt hugely catastrophic. But finally, finally, my friend Benjamin Franklin hooked me up (definitely my favorite founding father) and we made our way onto the expressway named in his honor and we were good.

And walked to READING TERMINAL MARKET! A magical place.


Steve and I were both so overstimulated on our own that we just agreed to split up, get our own food, and meet up ten minutes later.

I started with my favorite addiction: caffeine. I was JONESING! (In all honesty, with dazedness from lack of caffeine and general meanness from lack of food, I had not been real fun to be around for much of the morning)


Iced coffee restored my will to live… and buy food.


As for food, there were a lot of delicious looking options, but soul food was speaking my name! DSC05418DSC05420

I made a meal of my favorite sides (cornbread, black eyed peas which came with rice, and cornbread).

Mmm mmm mm. The beans 'n greens had that wonderful Southern thing where they'd clearly been enriched with some kind of... pork product, probably :D And the  cornbread was like wonderful dense cake! Delish.


Steve returned with his second salmon cake (the first of which he’d eaten, immediately, from his hand, at the wonderfully affordable- this was $3.99!- stall)


Also some IMMENSE pickles, one of which he bequeathed to me.


Tried a bite of hot pickle, too. Liked it!


And his "apple dumpling" (an Amish thing, perhaps?), which was swell. You had the choice of getting whipped cream or heavy cream... of course Steve went for the intenser heavy stuff.


Plus, yknow, I couldn’t finish any of my food. So Steve stepped in. And swore by cornbread-salmon-cake sandwiches.


We were sitting in the vicinity of this Indian/Pakistani restaurant.


They'd already earned my love by having naan samples, and then I noticed that they had a wide selection of lassis, that included more than just the traditional mango. Pomegranate?! Cardamom?! I asked the lovely lady behind the counter (the woman for whom the place was named, perhaps?) and she said her favorite was the cardamom. Um, SOLD.


But WAIT. I hand over my Visa and she says "Oh, there's a credit card minumum!" and I said, "Oh okay, let me get cash!" to which she replied "Don't worry about it!"


This cardamom lassi, one of the most DELICIOUS THINGS I HAVE EVER TASTED, with the wonderful tang of the low-fat yogurt within, the wonderful warm spice of cardamom (it was green and it just said "cardamom" without mention of fresh or dry on it and I desperately want to know HOW THIS AMAZING BEVERAGE CAME TO BE), this subtly sweet. perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day, this tummy soother, this sublime concoction, was also FREE.


So I am trying to shout out to this GEM of a restaurant (and gem of a person) in the hopes that I will get her some publicity as a small reward for treating me so awesomely.

Anyway, then we're strolling and I see this sign and go, "Wait, what day is it?"


Yes. Then there were free crepes.

I really love watching people make crepes, and find it really sort of half the fun of going to crepe places.

DSC05437 DSC05438   DSC05441 DSC05442

Though my banana-nutella, that was fun too.


Money shot.


Oh and let's not forget Steve's strawberry pineapple, hard to go wrong.


Then to South Street! Home of fanciful stained glass stores…


Highly nontraditional museums, highly awesome trash compactors…


Oi, this graffiti I cannot even discuss. It involves the kids’ nicknames for us at work. They love Steve. They made up a mean song about me. Oi oi oi.


Ended up wandering over to Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a whacky project made by an artist squatting on a vacant lot that’s now become a Philadelphia landmark.


Can you spot the self portrait?


Then a total foodie heaven: 


Want zillions of kinds of homemade ravioli? Yeah, they have that.


Very friendly proprieter showed me the machine. Tip to locals: when they roll the ravioli too thin (they weigh it and are very precise about it, I guess), they sell it for a DRASTICALLY reduced price. Like, 2 pounds of the fresh stuff for $7.


Scads and scads of spices…


(What is malva?)


Produce everywhere (got nice photogenic spuds, instead of the slightly alarming looking fish)


A house of cheese!


Mozzarella the size of baseballs!


Pesto buckets!


Ceiling cheeses ‘n salami!


We decided gelato should happen. My pineapple sorbet cooled off my overheated body nicely (all this walking was happening in the hot hot heat!)


And I can never just walk by a bakery, so we went into one that had beautiful traditional Italian pastries…


And Cookie Monster :D


Steve’s sister had joined us partway through this tour, so this was a perfect time for a hostess gift. So I got Jordin a beauteous strawberry cheesecake. I had what I think was called an Old Fashioned? It had apricot in the middle, at which point I was sold.


Then we were off to Cavanaughs for happy hour (which apparently had beer deals all day Friday… happy day?). I love love love getting to sit by water.


The hammerhead shark hanging above the bar continues the nautical theme!


Our waitress wasn’t especially helpful about pointing out the specials in addition to the cheap beer, so I got a cheap beer.

I don’t like beer. So I like Bud Light Lime because it tastes like water. I like water!


Also got some steamed shrimp (as well as a steak quesadilla I didn’t really touch). The shrimp was great, especially after Jordin just started eating them with their shells on and then I did too and the shells were not too hard at all (and you figure I probably amped up my calcium intake!) and were also covered in delicious Old Bay. Good call Jordin!


And then ominous clouds stormed overhead and there was a misadventure of dinner plans and we ended up playing clean-out-the-fridge-Iron-Chef and gosh it was fun but this post is already long.