Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cuba Libre, Philadelphia PA

Cuba Libre is one of the first places I ever brunched in Philly. I’ve been here many times, and while the atmosphere, presentation, and service have remained consistently good, sadly the quality of the food has shifted from exotically bold to touristy bland.

Mango Butter with toast
But first the good news: the complimentary mango butter with toast is still as delicious as always. Even less than die-hard butter fans may have to fight the urge to eat it straight from their knives.

On a recent visit I order my once-favorite Torrejas ($12), a hazelnut and almond encrusted French toast stuffed with Frangelico-Mascarpone cheese and “druken” strawberry-honey drizzle. The honey flavor of the topping is quite strong and it is certainly more than a drizzle. Given the intensity, I’d suggest asking for it on the side.

What this dish really rides on, though, is the bread. When properly chosen, it delivers a perfect combination of crispy (complimenting the crunch of the perfectly toasted nuts) and soft (to soak up the Frangelico-Mascarpone filling). This time, the bread is way to thick and “bready.” While the filling is nice, the bread ratio is too high in comparison and the strong sugary flavor of the topping overwhelms any hint of Frangelico that may have existed. While the first few bites do taste delicious, by the end I am suffering from an overwhelming sugar-coma and have no desire to finish.

The savory dishes also suffer from a heavy-handed sugar shaker. My brunchmate orders the One-Eyed Ropa Vieja Hash ($13), a beautifully cooked brisket, served in a sweet tomato stew with vegetables throughout and topped with a fried egg. My brunchmate is thrilled with the freshness of the ingredients (the corn looks and tastes like it is right off the cob) and there is a generous proportion of well-cooked beef throughout, but the hash is overly sweet and lacks the variety of traditional Cuban spices, ultimately resulting in a one-note dish.

Wanting a hot chocolate, I order the Café con Xocolati, Cuban coffee fused with traditional Mexican chocolate and topped with whipped cream ($4), minus the coffee. I was excited when the server warned that the flavor would be richer, spicier and more bitter than a traditional hot chocolate, but the warning was not needed. While there was a hint of spice, it was extremely subtle and the drink was equal in texture and sweetness to most American-style hot chocolates. If you’ve never tried a real spiced hot chocolate, this would be a good introduction. But if you’re looking for the real thing, go to Golosa, Naked Chocolate, or Sazon instead.

A better beverage option is the tropical juices, sans ice. Pure summer delight, my favorite is the mango juice but they also offer passion fruit, guava, and orange ($3 each). Or for something a bit more exotic try the aqua frescas: mamey, guanabana, or lulo ($5 each or $20 for a pitcher). Not sure which one you’ll like? Go with the sampler ($8) so you can try each flavor.

Between the banana fans and the live plants one thing Cuba Libre gets right is the atmosphere. It could be the middle of the winter and you would still feel like you’ve entered a tropical paradise. If the chefs would lay off the sugar and allow for a few other flavors to shine this brunch could be something much more than simply adequate.

If you go:
  • Saturday and Sunday brunch
  • 10 S. 2nd St, Philadelphia PA 19106 (and locations in Atlantic City, Orlando & Washington D.C.)
  • Phone: (215) 627-0666
  • They accept credit cards—in a Cuban cigar box.
  • Cuba Libre

Monday, November 22, 2010

Smokin' Betty's, Philadelphia PA

When you go to brunch at Smokin’ Betty’s, there’s really no need to read the menu. You should just go ahead and order the Cinnamon Bread Pudding French Toast ($10). If, as it was on the day we brunched, the cinnamon bread has been substituted for Berry Bread Pudding, don’t think twice: order it. Served with honey butter and real maple syrup, the Berry Bread Pudding is like eating a hug: It’s warm, soft, and comforting all at once. The tart berries so perfectly balance the sweetness of this dish, that it could soften the heart (and stomach) of even the meanest scrooge. Did I mention that it’s delicious?

Berry Bread Pudding

But if bread pudding just isn’t your thing, then Betty’s Grilled Cheese ($8) is another great option. It’s served with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and fig jam on sourdough, but I substituted the proscuitto for jack cheese. The sourdough offers a nice crunch, but the fig jam is the true star of this show.

Betty's Grilled Cheese

For those who always like something new, Betty’s offers a waffle ($8) and pastry ($9) that change flavors every weekend. And for those who prefer the traditional, try the Country Gravy & Biscuits ($9), served with sausage gravy & potato hash.


Betty’s also has a full list of delicious sounding cocktails, like the Fuzzy Mimosa with fresh peaches & strawberry puree ($7). If you like your OJ plain, Betty’s serves the no pulp variety ($2).

Somewhat of a newcomer to the Philly Brunch scene, it looks like Smokin' Betty's plans to stay awhile.

If you go:
  • 116 South 11th Street (N.W. corner of 11th & Sansom), Philadelphia PA 19107
  • Phone: (215) 922-6500
  • They accept credit cards.
  • Smokin' Betty's

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Full Plate, Philadelphia PA

A Full PlateEverything that I’ve ordered from A Full Plate has been quite good. Most offerings have more than a hint of a southern flare, which is a bit surprising given how many vegan/veg friendly items show up on the menu; the words “Southern food” and “vegan” do not usually go hand-in-hand. The décor is busy and funky. As one brunchmate put it, “I’m not sure if I’m hip enough to eat here.”

On my most recent visit (one where unfortunately I forgot to take photos), I order the Vegetarian Sausage w/Biscuits and Gravy ($10), served with a heaping pile of home fries. The fries are a mix of regular and sweet potatoes, which is a nice surprise. The sausage is properly spiced, and thoroughly smothered in a delicious onion-gravy. The biscuits are good, but they could stand to be a bit flakier.

A brunchmate orders the Toads in a Hole ($10), multigrain bread filled with scrambled eggs, either turkey or veggie sausage, onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheddar cheese and also served with home fries. Delicious and filling, it’s a twist on the traditional English dish.

While I would like to give A Full Plate a full endorsement, my brunchmates have not always fared quite as well as I. It could be a matter of taste, but it seems that the menu itself is a bit of a hit or miss.

The Vegan French Toast ($10), is exceedingly bready and, while the granola crust is a nice touch, it could use a little help in the flavor department. Perhaps some berries or a vegan cream-cheese filling?

The pancakes are so dense that they "taste vegan.” Which, unfortunately in this case, is not a compliment. Vegan pancakes can be fluffy, it’s not impossible!

And while not unlikable, both the Hush Puppies ($3.50) and the Fried Pickles ($3.50) would be much improved with a little less grease.

On the upside, the Fried Green Tomato Salad ($7.50) offers a fantastic mix of flavors, combining Southern-style friend tomatoes with an Italian-style caprice salad of basil and fresh mozzarella.

While it is not always on the money, A Full Plate is one of the best choices in town when you’re trying to please a wide variety of palates. There are enough options that both your rib-eating uncle and your vegan best friend will be satisfied. Just make sure that your uncle doesn’t order the Brussels Sprout Salad ($7.50) and that your friend stays away from the Catfish Po’ Boy ($8).

If you go:
  • 1009 N. Bodine St (On Liberties Walk), Philadelphia PA 19123
  • Phone: (215) 627-4068
  • Be sure to stop in the bathrooms where you can leave your mark on the walls (in chalk).
  • A Full Plate

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mississippi Marketplace, Portland OR

Brunch Philly: Summer Travel Edition

Mississippi Marketplace Like Philadelphia, Portland Oregon is a city known for good food. And also like Philly, much of that food can be found at food trucks. You really cannot go wrong when choosing a truck at the Mississippi Marketplace (corner of N. Mississippi at Skidmore).

The Ruby Dragon Café and Teahouse offers a delicious vegetarian menu, with an emphasis on raw foods. I order the Tiger’s Paw Quinoa Pancakes ($4 for one, which was filing enough for me! Or $7 for two). Quinoa Pancakes
Made with ground quinoa and ginger, these gluten free pancakes have a delicious, slightly nutty, flavor. I add berries and dark chocolate chips (.50 each), and while I wish there were just a few more berries in my pancake, the ones in there were juicy and plump. Served with the perfect amount of real maple syrup, I wish I could figure out how to replicate this recipe! It tastes so much better than one might imagine.

Grandmaster ScrambleA Brunchmate orders the Grandmaster Scramble. A blend of various Ethiopian spices, tempeh (or you can substitute tofu), yams, bell peppers, spinach, onion, garlic, cashews, and veganaise, this dish is a flavor explosion! The sweetness of the yams compliment the curry spices—as described on the menu, this dish truly is the “Bruce Lee of scrambles.”

We also decide to split 2 herbal life raw truffles ($1.50 not pictured). Made with dates, spices, coconut, and cocoa these were not overly sweet or deserty. Unlike most anything you’d order from the Sugar Cube:

Sugar Cube Food Truck

Triple Threat Ice Cream SandwichThe Sugar Cube’s owner is super friendly and offers suggestions on what to order. Temping items on the menu include the Amy Whinehouse Cupcake (with boozy yellow cake, $3), Bruleed Passionfruit Panna Cotta ($6), and Black Cow Float ($5). We decide to go with the Triple Threat Ice Cream Sandwich ($5).
Two espresso, pecan, and triple chocolate chunk cookies surround a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. Everything is covered in an incredibly delicious salted caramel sauce. This decadent dessert is best shared!

Sushi Tree’s Specialty Mega rolls are no joke. These rolls come so big that it was actually hard to fit this into my mouth! Not something you’d want to be eating when trying to impress anyone…

This B Stuffed

I order the “This B Stuffed” roll ($8), filled with asparagus, sprouts, green leaf lettuce, sunflower seeds, smoked tofu, red cabbage, cucumber and avocado and rolled in sesame fried panko breadcrumbs. I would have never thought to put sunflower seeds in my sushi, but the crunchy flavor of the seeds totally makes this roll. It’s a subtle lingering flavor that you do not even taste until you are almost finished.

I cannot remember the last time I had a real California roll. It is possible that I’ve only ever had one once, which would mean I was 10. I remember that roll because it was the first time I ever had sushi. I cannot fairly compare Sushi Tree’s vegetarian version of the California roll to the original, but made with soy crab salad, avocado, green leaf, and cucumber this is one tasty roll.

Mock California Roll

Sushi-Tree Menu

I wish I had room to try every item on the menu at Sushi-Tree! Philadelphia sushi-makers take note: vegetarian sushi can be so much more than your current offerings!

Chickpea Sandwich

A brunchmate orders a Chickpea Sandwich ($6.50) from the The Garden State Cart . One bite of this sandwich and I was suddenly wishing that I had ordered one as well (despite how delicious everything else is). Wow. Crisp fried garbanzo cake, lettuce, lemon aioli, and roasted butternut squash served on a ciabatta roll. Little piece of heaven for even the biggest carnivore!

Dogfeather Juice Truck

I am very glad that gave into my last minute craving for juice, and ordered from Dogfeather’s Organic Coffee and Fresh Juice.

Other people claim to offer fresh juice, but after drinking from Dogfeathers, you may begin to doubt them. I had an orange-strawberry juice that was so refreshing and delicious that words cannot do it justice. This picture cannot do it justice either:

Orange Strawberry Juice

If you happen to enjoy a cold alcoholic beverage with your food truck fair, Prost!, a German pub adjacent to the trucks, allows you to bring your food into their beer garden (or indoors on a colder day). Rather than compete with each other, the restaurant and food trucks have created an atmosphere where patrons can enjoy the best of both worlds.

If you go:
  • Mississippi Market Place 4233 N. Mississippi at N. Skidmore, Portland OR
  • Phone: Some trucks have one
  • Hours vary by Truck.
  • Mississippi Marketplace

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Off The Waffle, Eugene OR

Brunch Philly: Summer Travel Edition

If you are ever in Eugene Oregon, a trip to “Off The Waffle” will be well worth the line. I was introduced to the place by a brunchmate who declared: "I really don’t like waffles but I love this place!"

When my brunchmates & I arrive the line to order is long still but inside. By the time we receive our waffles, it is out the door and wrapped around the building.

Off The Waffle was started by three brothers who spent time living in Belgium, perfecting their yeast-based Liège Waffles. Crispy, with tiny sweet spots of imported Belgian pearled sugar that caramelizes in the batter, I’ve discovered that their waffles go best with a “savory” or “in-between” topping.

Ole Banana SplitI order the Ole Banana Split ($5.75 without substitutions) but substitute the ice cream for a locally made mango sorbetto and add strawberries. Something is lost in translation, because I get strawberries but no bananas. The waffle is incredible—topped with fresh real whipped cream, slivered almonds, a dark chocolate sauce, fresh berries, and the cold tart sorbetto. However, the sweetness is just too much. It overwhelms the waffle rather than compliment it. That said, it is a very tasty treat.

One brunchmate orders the BMB ($5.75), bacon, basil, maple syrup and Havarti cheese. Everyone decides this is one of best, if not the best combination, that Off The Waffle makes.

Another brunchmate orders the Habib ($5.50 without additions), raw pistachios, chévre goat cheese and ground cardamom. She adds bacon to this combination. The cardamom nicely complements the chévre and the crunch of pistachios really pulls everything together.


On a second visit, much later in the day, there is no line at all. I try the Shmooli ($5.50) pear, smoked gouda, applesauce, crushed walnuts, and ground coriander (sorry, no picture!). This combination works much better than the first, each ingredient compliments the other in an outstanding flavor combination!

No matter what combination you choose, even if you decide to have one plain ($2.75) you really cannot go wrong.

Oh, and if you’re broke, Off The Waffle is open to bartering for their waffles…

If you go:
  • 2540 Willamette St
    Eugene, OR 97405
  • Phone: (541) 515-6926
  • Hours: Sun-Thur: 7am-7pm, Fri & Sat: 7am-11pm
  • They accept credit cards.
  • Off The Waffle

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cafe Chocolate of Lititz, Lititz PA

Wilbur Chocolate FactoryA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of brunching at the Café Chocolate in Lititz, Pa.

About an hour and a half outside of Philly, Lititz makes for a great day in the country. The town itself is quaint, with delightfully kitschy shops galore.
Lititz is home to Wilbur’s Chocolate Factory and Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. It’s well worth the drive on a beautiful day.

Despite it’s name, the Café Chocolate offers a full menu of other delights, with lots of vegetarian-friendly options. I am tempted to order the Mulligatawny Soup (with organic quinoa & veggies) but the day is just a tad too warm. Instead I opt for the House Salad.

House Salad & Chocolate Strawberry LushSuper fresh mixed baby greens, perfectly ripe grapefruit slices, artichoke hearts, and crushed walnuts, served with a perfectly tart chocolate raspberry balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is a not a bad deal for $3.95.

Chocolate Strawberry Lush

I also order a Chocolate Strawberry Lush ($4.95). Clearly the drink to order, about 4 or 5 locals stop in and order it to go while I am enjoying my meal. Similar to a frozen hot chocolate, this drink combines cocoa, strawberries and ice.

Café Chocolate also offers some fantastic looking desserts. I can’t help but order a slice of the Key Lime Tart, which comes in an organic chocolate cookie crust, and beautifully plated with dark chocolate sauce. Not too sweet, not too sour, this tart is delicious but extremely rich.

Key Lime Tart

Totally full, I relax for a bit in my comfortable sofa-chair and take a look around. There is a shelf full of books to read, if you want to settle in for awhile. There is also a soda-fountain style bar, where a couple has just adorably ordered one drink to share. As I leave, I notice they also have a patio area if you want to eat outside. As well as a shelf full of cute little gift items.

Next time I’m here I am going to have to try the Breakfast Panini – toasted peanut butter & banana panini with dark chocolate ($5.95). Or perhaps some Sunshine Crepes – filled with fresh strawberries, kiwi, pineapples, grapes, bananas, with pure local maple syrup & dark chocolate, dollops of organic fresh whipped cream ($9.95).
Or maybe I’ll go savory with a Portabella Mushroom Burger – Meatless burger served on a wheat bolillo roll, with vine ripened tomato, Vermont cheddar cheese, and jalapeño mayonnaise ($7.95).

Oh yeah, they also sell some super good chocolates too…

If you go:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Brunch Recipe: Avocado Tomato Salad

Avocado Tomato Salad
The Avocado Tomato Salad is perfect for warm weather since it involves no cooking. Serve as a side with eggs or scrambled tofu, add to your favorite sandwich, or just eat it as is!

  • 1 avocado, sliced into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • dash of sea salt
  • dash of Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper
  • dash of Pino's Press Limone Oreganato Olive Oil (or other nice olive oil)
  • 1 splash of balsamic vinegar

    Toss all of the ingredients together and enjoy!

    While you could substitute with plain pepper and olive oil, Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper and Pino's Press Limone Oreganato Olive Oil are two of my all time favorite ingredients.

    The Lemon Pepper consists of black peppercorns, sea salt, onion, lemon rind, garlic and lemon oil. I use it in everything from soups to mashed potatoes!

    Pino's Olive Oil
    The oil has a lovely Meyer lemon smell, and very subtle olive flavor. If you are local to the Philadelphia area, you can find it at Di Bruno Brothers (1730 Chestnut Street).
  • Monday, January 18, 2010

    Brunch Recipe: Tofurkey Spinach Sandwich

    In the spirit of the New Year, I’ve decided to expand the scope of Brunch Philly. In addition to writing reviews of local brunch spots, I will be sharing some of my favorite recipes.

    Tofurkey Spinach Sandwich

    Making The Sandwich
  • Sliced onion ciabatta bread
  • 2 slices of Cranberry & Stuffing Tofurky Deli Slices
  • 1 handful of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 slice of cheese (I like Rice Vegan Pepper Jack)
  • As much Vegenaise (or mayo) as you desire
  • As much cranberry sauce as you desire

    Spread Vegenaise and cranberry sauce on bread, add spinach, Tofurkey, and cheese.

    Heat in oven @ 325°F until cheese melts (about 5 minutes).

    Serve with side of chips or salad.

    Tofurkey Spinach Sandwich
  • Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Mixto, Philadelphia PA (Review from 3/28/09)

    Located just off the corner of 12th and Pine, it is not always easy to find parking in Mixto's neighborhood. On a recent Sunday morning, a brunchmate arrives a few minutes after we are seated because of parking trouble. She lets the hotstess know she is meeting people, and the response is: “Oh I don't know. You can take a look around.” The service overall is so-so, but the food is good enough to make up the difference.

    Half-tempted to order the Croissant French Toast, I choose a savory dish for once: Sopa de Tomate ($4) and Ensalada de Espinaca ($7.50).

    Sopa de Tomate The soup tastes very fresh and is nicely seasoned. It comes with chunks of perfectly ripe avocados in it. At first I'm wary about avocado in my soup, but it is divine. The soup is dairy-free but the richness of the avocados creates a lovely cream flavor. The soup is garnished with two plantain chips.

    Ensalada de Espinaca

    The salad is delicious and the mango salad dressing is bursting with flavor and not too sweet.

    I order a small fresh-squeezed orange juice ($2.95). The juice reminds me of childhood hand-squeezed oj, made with a bright plastic juicer. It is for pulp-lovers only though; my brunchmates looked on in horror at the massive amounts of pulp.

    Orange Juice

    Orange Spiced Scrambled EggsOne brunchmate orders the Orange Spiced Scrambled Eggs ($7.00) which are served with chorizo, peppers, onions, and arepas (corn meal patties). The subtle flavors beg the question: “Do I taste the orange because I really can taste it in the eggs, or do I taste it because it's supposed to be there?”

    Hearty Meal: Name Forgotten
    Another brunchmate orders something else.

    Because I did not write down the name, and later could not find it on the menu, I put off publishing this review for almost a year.

    Hot Sauce

    Whatever it was, she is pleased because: “The hot sauce is actually hot.”

    Saving just enough room to split a dessert, we order a flourless cake (whose name has also slipped my mind). It is so delicious, that I forget to take a picture until we've almost entirely devoured it.

    Flourless Cake

    Perhaps the best part of this dessert is that the moist, airy layers of “cake” are made with hazelnuts and are completely flourless.

    If Mixto's service would step things up a tad, this would be a slam-dunk Sunday brunch.

    If you go:

    Sunday Brunch starting at 8AM
    • 1141 Pine St, Philadelphia
    • Phone: (215) 592-0363
    • They accept credit cards.
    • Mixtophilly.com