Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dogfish Head drops by Westmont, NJ's Pour House

Last night my wife and I wanted to celebrate our first year of wedded bliss by going out and relaxing at one of our favorite places.  While quite a few popped into our heads, the clear winner this eve was the Pour House, about fifteen minutes away from South Philly over in Westmont, NJ.

We love the Pour House because it is truly a place that perfectly combines beer with great food in a casual atmosphere. Giving a quick check to their website (which was updated this very morning), they currently have 20 different beers on draught and the different bottles they carry seem nearly endless.  The Pour House menu consists primarily of standard bar fare like sandwiches, burgers and wings but just like they declare on their website "only better," and I couldn't agree more.

This, however isn't a food review so be sure to look for one (with delicious photo accompaniment) in the coming weeks.

On this night, as we saddled up to the bar we were greeted by one Nick Vitalo, a Dogfish Head regional representative who had set up shop right next to us.  What he was doing on this night was infusing the Dogfish Head Namaste (Witbier) and Saison du Buff  (Saison/Farmhouse Ale) with various herbs, fruits, veggies and spices...and passing them around for free tastings!

The key to the event was Dogfish's patented Randall Jr. infusion canisters, which allow for surprisingly intense, full body infusions in a relatively short amount of time; think literally 5-10 minutes.  Nick was equipped with four of these darling little devices and along with his arsenal of infusion ingredients concocted mad scientist-like mixtures ranging from basil, cucumber & mint to honey comb, cinnamon stick & maraschino cherries both using Namaste as the primary beer. 

People would pass us by commenting on how I had the best seat in the house and I just couldn't deny it.  When you're out on your wedding anniversary with the person you love the most, at one of your favorite eateries and you're flanked by an awesome craft beer rep. that keeps passing you one delicious infusion after another...yeah, it certainly is a good night.

I'd like to say a thanks to all involved, from the folks we were chatting with, to Nick from Dogfish Head and the gang that make Pour House a great place to continue visiting.  I had a great time and really appreciate the free swag.  Yeah peeps, I was the receiver of a couple Dogfish Head pint glasses and a couple key chain bottle openers. The only thing that could have capped this evening was winning the lottery.

Perhaps I'll play on wedding anniversary #2.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting the VIP treatment at Xfinity Live!

Indeed, another piece in a continuing series about my quest to experience everything the new Xfinity Live! complex in South Philly has to offer.  Hell, I may even ride the PBR Bar & Grill's mechanical bull soon!

Last night I went out with my pal and frequent hanger outer Johnny C to watch the debacle that ended up being Game 4 of the Flyers/Penguins first round playoff series.  Out destination to watch the game was Xfinity Live, specifically their VIP section, to which we each purchased $99 entry passes.

This isn't something I ever do and with the place so new, many people told me to keep them in the loop to let'em know how it was for that kind of cash.  In a word, the overall VIP experience was fantastic!

For the entry fee we were offered a 2-hours of buffet-style eats consisting of such manly hits as wings, cheese steaks, roast beef sandwiches and pizza. 3-hours of open bar were also included and for someone that is a notorious vodka drinker, this was heaven made physical.  Though the Grey Goose was certainly flowing, I opted to relax with the sugary sweet Pinnacle Gummy (gotta love Swedish fish taste!) on the rocks.  There was a pretty comparable selection of bottled beer up for offering and as mentioned, harder liquor was readily available and included. The only thing I really didn't notice was wine.  That isn't to say they didn't have any in the VIP area, but we were there for a sporting event and despite all the women in attendance, it just wasn't a wine type of crowd.

I had two nice-sized plates from the buffet and have zero complaints about the food. It was exactly the type of liquor-sopping, got-the-munchies,l "I'm off the diet tonight" deliciousness you'd expect when talking about various types of cooked meat sandwiches in Philly.  I'd have gone back for a little more, but a few trays of very soft, insanely good chocolate chip cookies were brought out and that was the end for me.  I think I ate nearly 10 of those things!

The VIP area itself had plenty of seating and on this night was two-levels (the bartender told me that it wasn't always up and downstairs, though always up); downstairs VIP was where you could be in the scene and get that feeling of everyone staring at you while you did your "cooler than them" thing.  Upstairs was where my buddy and I hung and the bar was readily available the entire duration of the eve.  I think I may have waited a minute when I needed a drink, never any longer.  The same couldn't be said for the downstairs which, even though I didn't grab a drink down there, was much more close quarters and busy than the second level ever was.

Second floor of VIP also had it's own restroom, which isn't the case for most/all of the restaurants in the Xfinity Live! complex. If you're in Spectrum Grill and nature calls, you'll have to exit the venue and hit a corridor that  leads to a restroom (think how it is done in casinos).  So that was nice too, being able to walk mere feet in the same room and not have to worry about over-crowding on a crazy sports night.  Also a part of the second floor VIP was what I'd have to call the "uber-VIP" area where your local famous people hung.  On this night was word of Eagle Jeremy Maclin being spotted, among others. This area was blocked off by a house of a male bouncer/security guard so there was no sneaking in and harassing the talent.

All of the staff worked their asses off.  The bartenders were excellent and always courteous, taking time to chat up attendees whenever they could.  If a patron dropped anything or deposited a plate/glass somewhere it didn't belong, someone was there to cart it off almost instantly.  When one over-exuberant female tossed back a shot and then vomited right after, staff was right there to clean everything up; so quickly that I missed the whole scene (dammit!) and it happened five feet to the right of me.

Finally, I'd be a terrible writer if I didn't mention the view. For sports, there is nothing better than a packed house and the view from the second floor was just unbelievable and totally the clincher for making you feel like you were totally somewhere special.  Treat yourself to their VIP experience and cheer for your favorite Philly team, or just go there and hang out simply because you love the energy and the scene  Enough words.  Here is a photo or few:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A discourse upon my Spectrum Grill dinner course

On Friday night a good friend and I made plans to hang out over at the new Xfinity Live! complex in South Philly.  We did a mini crawl through the various bars, coming through most impressed with the Broad Street Bullies Pub's happy hour selection which was ALL draft beers were half-price.  Gotta say, nothing like getting a tasty pint of Guinness for $3!

Our dining destination was the Spectrum Grill - also in the same complex - which was the higher end of the...pardon my pun, spectrum in terms of food offerings.  Billed as the "crown jewel of Xfinity Live!" and featuring steaks, chops and seafood, I didn't know what to expect since I tended to hit Center City eateries for this sort of fare; almost never South Philly.

We walked in and scoped the place out, instantly liking the relaxing atmosphere it instantly provided.  Dimmer lighting and slower music than the rest of the offerings at the complex, Spectrum Grill has the looks of a place you bring someone you wish to impress.  It has classy, yet minimal sport motif which should be a given since the restaurant is themed to grounds former structural inhabitant and former "America's Showplace."

The bar was empty with the exception of an older couple seated to the far left so we swiped a couple seats and proceeded to order drinks.  (Note: I sat directly in front of some old Spectrum newspapers that had been processed into the bar's counter top. C'mon, I'm not going to sit in front of Frank Sinatra clippings?)  Two female bartenders aided in quenching our thirst and chatted my buddy and I up, which was cool because we like getting to know staff in places that we liked and this looked to potentially be a new one to add to the list.

After looking over their menu a time or two I decided on an appetizer of "Bone Marrow 3 Ways," and an entree' of "Kennett Square Wild Mushroom Ravioli,"  which my friend told me was  no-brainer that he knew I'd order.  He got a big ole juicy-looking steak and some other things but I'm keeping this short and to MY food only.  I promise to have another review (photo heavy) of the place soon with other menu items.

TWO of the three ways. Couldn't resist! bone marrow appetizer arrived and instantly, I was in love with the place.  Dare I say that no restaurant in Philly that I know of does a bone marrow dish of this size, beauty or deliciousness? I've ordered marrow in at least three other places and the bone that housed the meaty heaven tended to be rather small and hard to maneuver into.  Not so on the centerpiece of the dish, which isolated each of the three tastings into their own little areas.  There was a truffled leek custard, a miso glazed bone that'd make my dog insanely jealous with me and finally my favorite, a Kobe slider topped with a perfectly cooked quail egg.  OH MY GOD!

I dove right into that custard, that was tasty but ended up being my third favorite on the dish. Easily using my fork, I dug out the marrow from it's home in that miso glazed bone and it was nothing short of heavenly. I didn't even need the small crispy crackers that came along with it but the combination of their crunch along with the creaminess of what I'll simply call meat butter was just texturally out of this world. But the best was yet to come for me in the form of that little egg-topped slider that was marrow and American Kobe along with bacon between the meat and egg.  I could have ate at least five of them and though I may have died from it, my belly would have gone out very happy.

On came my wild mushroom ravioli and I was surprised to find them arriving in a tomato sauce.  Typically they'll be accompanied by a pesto or even an Alfredo, so this was a first for me.  The acidity of that red sauce worked as the perfect counterbalance to those soft pillow-like ravioli.  It was a pretty sizable portion too, but never stood a chance with me.  Just like my appetizer, I'd order this dish multiple times.

 Of note on the food that I didn't eat and my buddy did was their chocolate lava cake dessert that he'd gotten along with a vanilla gelato.  Had I any room this eve (I honestly wasn't starved) I'd have gotten that sucker.

Ah, but so much to look forward to in other visits to the Spectrum Grill.  Friends, Philadelphians, total strangers...I couldn't recommend this place more right now.  The food was great, service was awesome and no matter how packed Xfinity Live is at the moment, this place is still a hidden gem that offers a quiet respite and cool atmosphere.

See ya there!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The 2012 Philles: A glance at the Pitching Staff

Last week I blogged about the Phillies lineup and my concerns, so here I am with the second and final installment of the spring training look at my hometown team.  Today we look over the pitching staff and while some of this will be really easy, it isn't the cakewalk that most people are in the belief.

I know, I know.  Teams all over MLB would like to have Roy "Doc" Halladay or Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels or even Johnathan Papelbon and we're immensely lucky to have them all on the same team.  But what about those four and five spots in the rotation? Who is going to get us to our new $50 million dollar closer?

Lets start with the good first.  I mean, we Phillies fans do have much to be happy about in terms of the pitching anyways.


The anchor and the man who truly paces the rest of the pitching staff. Doc has legitimized the Phillies pitching from the second he arrived here in the off-season of 2009.  His relentless competitive attitude has inspired everyone from fellow ace Cole Hamels to the marginally talented Kyle Kendrick. He makes people around him want to be better and leads them quietly by example.

Each year the man is a candidate for 20 wins and the Cy Young award and that was even so when he was on perennial AL East cellar-dweller the Toronto Blue Jays.  Barring injury (something that hasn't occurred since 2005)  Halladay will go out there every five days and give the Phillies their best chance to win a game.


The staff Zen master in terms of keeping the pressure of the world at bay.  Whereas Halladay is infinitely competitive, Lee calmly heads out to the pitching mound seeming like he is about to pitch a backyard baseball game.  This isn't said to be a slight in any way, shape or form.  These are two aces who couldn't be more far apart in terms of how they approach a game, that's all.

Yeah, me may have momentarily pissed off the city of Philadelphia last post season by coughing up a four run lead in the playoffs, but I'm still in the belief that Cliff can get it done when it counts most. Another candidate for 20 wins and the Cy Young, Lee will follow Doc's lead and go out there every fifth day.  He has averaged just over 30 starts each of the last three seasons and has avoided any major injury.


The bad news is that as of this writing, Cole still hasn't managed to agree with Phillies brass on a long-term deal.  Until he does, we've got him for the duration of 2012 and that is it.  So at least until the end of the season or a contract extension announcement, Cole will be our third ace and pitch over 30 games this season for the team just like he has on average for his entire career.

Hamels is an interesting one because we're still awaiting a career season out of the 28-year old.His last two seasons have been really nice but the team just doesn't seem to get the wins for Hamels. As a result, he has yet to win more than 15 games in a season and the only time he reached that number was back in 2007.  Playing in a "contract year" makes me believe that somehow, someway, Cole will put it all together and have luck on his side to finally reach (and exceed) the 15 win plateau.  Maybe he'll even be in the running for the second straight year for the Cy Young.

All I want is for my favorite Phillies pitcher to find a way to agree on a long-term deal because it isn't nearly as simple as fans want to believe. You see the status of their offense. Having THREE pitchers making $20 million a year or more just doesn't leave all that much free cash to get hitters.


Yes, I'm placing him ahead of the rest of the pack and will continue to do so until either someone else unseats him or the "Vanimal" gets hit with the sophomore jinx.

The 24-year old third round draft pick came out of nowhere last season to grab 11 wins (against just 3 losses) and nearly stuck out a batter per inning on the season.  Critics and commentators city and country-wide keep ragging on the kid for not having amazing stuff and that batters will eventually catch up to him and that may be so.  But until they do, there is no reason to hold a kid back by making him out to be a one-season wonder.

Worley has great composure and never seems to get rattled on the mound. He has a great group of teammates to learn from on this staff and managed a cult-like fan following in his full-season debut. Double-digit wins are in order again...and I'll go out on a limb and say that Vance'll have a higher K-count than 2011 too.


I'll keep this one short and sweet because I haven't been into Blanton from day 1.

All I keep hearing is that Joe is an "innings eater" and I just fail to believe that we don't have someone in the system that can do exactly what Blanton does at about a tenth of his ridiculous $10.5 million dollars he'll make in 2012. 

Don't forget that this "innings eater" coughs up runs like nobody's business on this staff, never having an ERA under 4.05 in his Phillies career.  You're telling me a pitcher who gives up that many runs and never even got a complete game over the past 4 seasons is not only worthy of being in the rotation, but no one can supplant him?

I realize the Phillies are somewhat stuck with Blanton, but this is just a player we don't need and payroll that'd really help elsewhere. I can't wait until he is gone this season (he'll be a free agent at the end of the baseball year) and Phillies brass can use that cash more productively.  Hell, give me Kyle Kendrick as the little engine that could in the fifth spot of the rotation.  Give me anyone but "Fat Joe" Blanton.


We've got some worries here.  Currently, Mike Stutes is injured, as is 100-year old Cuban Jose Contreras. 2011 Phillie phenom Antonio Bastardo hasn't looked great this spring and his velocity is slightly down.  It is early yet so as long as Bastardo is still pitching, I've got faith he'll round into form. With a name like his in Philly, you just can't help but want to love the guy.

The signing of retread Chad Qualls and the holding over of Rule 5 pickup David Herndon will be the bullpen equals to Joe Blanton but I'll personally dislike them less than I do Joe.  Herndon doesn't display anything that excites me as someone coming from the pen. He'll likely alternate with Qualls for those middling innings to either mop up on rare days we're blown out, or the 40+K strong at CBP will cross their fingers and hope they can hold down a lead for Papelbon.

Speaking of our new closer...

I need to finally get my head around Jonathan Papelbon being in Phillies pinstripes.  I don't dislike the guy; his stats show him as much better than we could have had with Ryan Madson (especially at this point).  But...he was a Red Sox player.  I just can't get hyped to root for someone who played on the BoSox for his whole of his seven previous seasons.  Oh, I know I'll come around because everything points to Papelbon being a real hammer at the end of the game. 

What I'd love to see in the bullpen is that we end up keeping a youngster or two.  We don't know who'll make the team as of this moment and young guns like Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont are still on the roster. Inexperienced? Oh absolutely but you know who else was last season?  How about Atlanta Braves fireballers Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters?

You just never know with young pitchers.  You could have the next two studs of your relief corps already on the roster...or they could end up imploding and at worst, they're sent down anyway and the Phils gets stuck looking through all the players cut from the spring training rosters.  If they keep piling on the injuries, that may happen anyway.

I'd still rather have this staff more than any other staff here in the National League.  Sorry there Davy Johnson...your Washington Nationals top three pitchers probably couldn't even hold Doc or Lee's jocks.  Perhaps someday though.  Just not in 2012.