Monday, September 19, 2011

Darling's Dinner At The Piazza At Schmidt's

I suppose it was serendipity, divine providence or whatever you want to call it that brought Harry Arnold and myself together. All I know is, based solely on the value of the cheesecake involved; I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

About four years ago I was photographing a wedding. I struck up a jovial conversation with a very charming, very inebriated, voluptuous blonde who suggested a venue for my art. After explaining to me all about her significant other and his brother that owned two dainty cafĂ©’s in Philadelphia called Darling’s, she exclaimed, “I’m The Darling!” She scrawled down the contact info slipped it to me and went about her merry way on the dance floor.

Between the two brother’s, Harry was my connection. We worked together to assemble an art show on his walls. Though a tiny place, it was a huge success. – almost too much of a success. Everyone came out to support, but not only that – to eat! After the show all I heard from friends, family and various others was, “That cheesecake was amazing.” Best of Philly got it right.

So here we are in 2011 and as I walked through The Piazza a few months ago, my boyfriend and I were shocked and elated to see Harry has moved to the big times. Before us was a spacious well-equipped establishment with the words emblazoned on the doors, “Darling’s Diner”. Surrounded by glass on all sides, it stood like a large-scale version of the encasements that hold all those delicious cakes.

I made my inaugural visit this past weekend. It was great to reconnect with the spirited Harry. He buzzes around welcoming and concocting. No task is too big or too small. From my perch at the bar (which by the way is a full service bar), I watched him greet people at the door, assemble tables, supervise staff, bring out food, converse and, of course, give hi-fives.

My sample of hearty, russet potato French fries was satisfyingly garnished with sea salt and a creamy dipping sauce. The hummus and pita bread, of which I am overwhelmingly picky, was in the same league as Wadif’s at Oasis restaurant. Wadif’s is my measuring stick for hummus. So, the fact that it’s even close means buy it. You won’t be disappointed. The pumpkin cheesecake was appealing on many levels. It’s creamy texture made me savor each bite and the subtlety of the pumpkin flavor gave it a lighter, airier taste, making it possible to complete the monstrosity.

Darling’s is the kind of place that you’d stop in, expecting a diner. Don’t be mistaken, you’ll get that - complete with sandwiches, coleslaw, fries, and pies. Yet, the brilliance behind Darling’s is that each dish has a garnish of flavor that sets it apart from your run of the mill diner. You’ll find yourself asking, “is that (insert spice here) I taste?” in an unassuming dish. Really, that goes beyond food – to the service, bar and overall atmosphere.

So, if you find yourself yearning for some diner food, but maybe you’d like a white Russian and one of the best cheesecakes you’ll ever eat in your life too. Then stop by Darling’s.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

James Vincent McMarrow @ Johnny Brenda's

Last Thursday I made a weekday trek to Johnny Brenda’s for a late night show and regretted nothing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Johnny Brenda’s (J.B.) is a small haven in the Northern Liberties/ Fishtown area. They serve up local brews, decent food, eclectic atmosphere and a steady rotation of brilliant, under-the-radar, affordable acts.

Thursday’s feature was an artist I’ve been more recently exposed to – the Dubliner, James Vincent McMarrow. This singer/songwriter marries his haunting voice and lyrics in perfect folk union. His voice resembles some form of quasi-falsetto with a raspy quality that manages to carry itself beautifully and distinctly.

This was his inaugural stop on his first American tour. He came backed by a full band that displayed resounding vocal harmonies at the drop of a hat. I had not heard such perfect pitch from a live ensemble since I saw Neko Case last year. When the entire band, with all their instruments, joined in; it was emotionally stirring. However, it was also overpowering James’ voice. He seemed to strain over it and be most comfortable with himself and the guitar. Yet, I’m not convinced that wasn’t mostly the venue and/or the jet lag. This strain was in no way compromising to the show as a whole.

J.B. proved to be the perfect venue for McMarrow. It mirrored his display of unassuming intimacy. Definitely catch him on this tour, if you can. My prediction is that he’ll develop a strong following this year and thus get the notoriety he deserves. Inevitably ticket prices will rise to uncomfortable heights and venues will be less intimate. It’s best to take advantage of this before that happens.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

North Wales Has A Brewery?!: Prism Brewery

Today I felt like Magellan or like Columbus… only lazier. I rolled over in bed this morning and reached for (as most of you probably do, but hate to admit it) the Internet. I was researching the Jenkintown Fest. It sounded like a hoot with a brew fest. It was at this point that I made my sleepy-eyed discovery. Scrolling the list of participating brewers, what did I see? Prism Brewery (click here for a link to the site) of North Wales is participating.

North Wales has a brewery?! I promise it was like the discovery of the Americas, 2.0. There are additional continents in the world? A few hundred years later – There’s beer being brewed within biking distance of me? How could I have not known this before today?

However, beer being brewed under one’s nose is a mute point. You and I both know the matter is whether good beer is being brewed. This is, indeed, good beer. I sampled all eight brews on tap and liked all but one. I simply didn’t like the sour (Sorry. It’s name illudes me at the moment) because I don’t care for that style and in no way did it reflect poor craftsmanship on the brewer’s part.

Rob, the brew master, has taken the time to select unique ingredients that set his beers apart, but is careful to not bog down the taste buds. For instance, Par Tea marries a pale Ale and whole leaf tea. Bitto Honey is the flagship IPA that is infused, of course, with honey. For those of you looking for a little more meatiness to your suds; the Insana Stout tosses in a helping of bacon. It works. Beyond taste the beer manages to attain a status of altruism. Two dollars of every pint of Chemosabe goes to help a local girl fight cancer. It’s a solid brew, making it easy to toss back a couple and feel good about helping someone out.

Rob is proving to be a man with a clear vision. Jack: bartender, friend of Rob’s and comrade in business is a welcoming, down to earth addition to the bar. It all comes together well. Casual, intimate, fun and small are what Prism needs in a full service bar right now. If they tried to pull off anything else more pretentious it would bomb in a second in this area. It just wouldn’t be relatable to the demographic. Walking in, I got the impression that this was the kind of place where people who know each other can come, have some beer, watch sports, listen to music, grab a well-made, cheap hot dog and shoot the shit. Really, isn’t that what most people want? I know you’re about to start singing the theme to Cheers any minute. Instead, just go straight to Prism, grab a growler and fill it up.

Getting There:

You’ll need help. If there was one draw back to the brewery, it’s the lack of advertisement in the immediate area. I found it, but I was determined - on a mission. I feel bad for all the local people missing out. If only there was a sign on main street or even right outside of Dickerson. I know it’s a costly investment probably with some sort of bureaucratic red tape involving zoning, but I hope it’s high on the to do list.