Restaurant critic enters the Twitter world

Posted: May 05, 2011

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Craig LaBan: Welcome to this very special Philly Food Chat! Special because I've finally gotten on Twitter (@CraigLaBan) wa-hoo! Now you get to see a steady stream of my deep, mercifully brief thoughts on food and drink all the time. Check out my second Tweet of the day, a picture of one of my favorite new breakfast indulgences at the long-awaited, finally opened Spread Bagelry.

A note on Popeye, and why he's my Twitter pal: He was my first food idol ever, and the reason I have a deep appreciation for Stouffer's Spinach Souffle (and all things spinach). And, he's got a thing for Olive Oyl . . .

  Reader: Where do you like your hot dogs this time of year?

C.L.: Honestly, one of the best dogs I've had lately was an all-beef link purchased from the cart parked in front of the Academy of Music last weekend during the PIFA street fair. It was a basic hot dog, but so darn satisfying, it was one of the few highlights from a fair that turned out to be all crowd and too little to do/sample. The steamy fresh buns on those dogs, by the way, were the softest I recall eating in a while.

Reader: My favorite hot dogs are at Texas Weiners on Snyder near Broad. Simple and delicious. No "surf & turf," though.

C.L.: I know those dogs, and kind of like them, if only because they vaguely remind me of the Coney dogs of my Detroit youth. Something about the gray, gruel-like appearance of the special gravy, though, is a turnoff.

Reader: Moe's Hot Dogs in Grays Ferry at Washington are pretty good as well.

C.L.: Respectable, but not quite exciting. ... Hot dogs, as we've said on this chat before, are the great unreinvented street food that Philly chefs have really yet to sink their teeth into.

Reader: Isn't there supposed to be a new hot dog shop on South Street or am I completely hallucinating? I thought I walked past a new hot dog sign recently (between 10th and Broad).

C.L.: Don't know about 10th and Broad, but yes, there was supposed to be an ambitious hot dog spot at 18th and South.

Reader: There used to be a cart on 17th by Duane Morris serving some good grilled dogs

C.L.: I'll have to check that dog out!

Reader: I just ate at Spread Bagelry for lunch today. Yum! I had a sesame with butter and cream cheese and an everything with cream cheese. They were not offering espresso, there was an issue with the machine.

C.L.: Yes - got a chance to visit this newcomer Monday morn for the grand opening. (Just couldn't resist!) And the early bagels I tasted were just outstanding-handmade and irregularly shaped, with a great dense chew, lots of toppings clinging on, and a crust that really benefitted from a re-toasting to revive its delicate wood-roasted crunch.

Most notable is the honeyed factor, typical of the Montreal style. After the spice and zing of the topping flavors were long gone, I could still taste the nectar of honey lingering inside my cheeks for literally an hour. That complex linger is the true sign of an excellent artisan product. More to come as we eat through the rest of Spread's offerings over the next few weeks (including Montreal smoked meat). Although, they've got a long way to go in streamlining the business logistics . . . long lines, slow and exasperated cashier, and very little coffee game for the moment. That will come.

Reader: With the demise of Harry Ochs at RTM, where in Center City are you going if you want a top-quality dry-aged standing rib roast?

C.L.: I'm very sad about this, too, watching a Philly food institution slip into Philly food history. Honestly, the great old meat stand hasn't been the same for the last couple years. Add in a rough economy for prime meat, and well, that's a tough business. Where to go now? In the RTM, I'd likely head right over to Giunta's, which doesn't have quite the high-end quality, but still a very good quality for a fair price. Otherwise, I'd head to the Italian Market for d'Angelo's (bring your wallet!) or one of the Whole Foods where they have a dry aging case. Also, Wegman's has a very nice meat counter where they actually still do some butchering, a rarity in these supermarket days. They have prime grades, if requested.

Reader: I heard about some of the healthy options now being offered at Citizens Bank Park; have you had the opportunity to sample any of them?

C.L.: If there are, I plan to find them this week at our first game of the summer. Stay tuned for the bleacher report next week!

Reader: Any info on new places down the Shore this summer?

C.L.: It's still a wee too early - but you won't have to wait long. . . . Stay tuned for my report in Weekend's Shore Preview on May 20.