Learning to cook … one kid at a time

A Review: Grimaldi’s Pizza (Brooklyn) November 24, 2011

Filed under: Restuarant Review — gastromami @ 7:05 pm

Thin crust

Crispy crispy crispy

It comes from a coal-burning oven

An oven that can no longer be built

I have heard of Grimaldi’s for the past 6 years, since I first met Reny

So we drove right through lower Manhattan and crossed over into Brooklyn



Tossing the dough … two thumbs up … Fiona watching the pizza being made


Olde Brooklyn Root Beer


The Food:  Delicious.  The crust was pretty much perfect.  Ample topping and fresh mozzarella.  Not enough sauce for me but don’t tell my husband, he is smitten with the place!

Drinks:  The Olde Brooklyn rootbeer was good, lightly carbonated and loved by both Renys.  I had a glass of house red ($5) and it was just as I expected a house red to be – it may have tasted even better because of the cold & rainy weather.

The Restrooms:  Clean but no changing table.  It was pretty crowded the day before Thanksgiving so there was a consistent line for the single restroom.

Service:  Quick but not friendly.  Classic New York.

Price:  just under $30 for 1 large pizza (pepperoni & mushrooms), 1 glass of wine, 1 rootbeer & 1 gingerale

(+ $12 for validated parking – it was pouring and we couldn’t find street parking close enough to justify hauling the kids through the rain)

Grimaldi’s Pizza

(Under the Brooklyn Bridge location)

19 Old Fulton St.

Brooklyn, NY 11201


Happy Thanksgiving!


Review: Hot Diggity November 19, 2011

Filed under: Restuarant Review — gastromami @ 2:03 pm

I really want to be napping right now

Both of the kiddos were up all. night. long.

If it wasn’t Ren crying and asking for cuddles, it was Fiona – wide awake and refusing to sleep

I don’t know about you but when I don’t sleep I’m a sucky person the next day – and a super sucky mom

In an effort to turn this day around I headed to the gym with both kids this morning (let someone else deal with them fora bit!) and, on our way to grab a few things from Whole Foods (where I planned on grabbing a quick lunch), I saw a restaurant called “Hot Diggity”

Now, I walk up and down South St. a few times a week so I don’t know how I had missed a hotdog shop (it has been open for 5 months!) but I promise you I will be back!

The restaurant has 3 large community tables by a large front window and a small counter against one wall if you chose to stand up and eat your dog.  Ren and I ordered:  he opted for a plain dog with mustard (Sir Mustard Face) & ketchup and I got The Saigon Fusion;  I we also couldn’t resist an order of their freshly cut fries and Ren chose curry mayo for dipping (out of 13 different dipping sauces!)  We placed our orders with a friendly staff at the counter & sat down – the hotdogs and fries were brought to our table a few minutes after ordering.


Look how happy he is!!


Freshly cut & fried fries with The Saigon Fusion

House pickled cucumber, cilantro, red onion, carrots, jalapeno, Thai chili vinaigrette & hot sriracha

Now, I am partial to Smith hotdogs (they are the best!) but while the actual hotdog itself was just ok, Hot Diggity put on a mighty fine show with ample toppings!  The pickled cucumbers and cilantro were on the bottom and complimented the heat of the sliced jalapeno and spicy sauces perfectly!  The carrots & red onion added a much-needed crunch and the rolls were nice and soft but substantial.

The fries were served in a paper cone and the small was more than enough for the two of us!  I am a fry lover and these were awesome!  The curry mayo went perfectly with my dog & Ren was a fan as well, though he did ask for more mustard (of course).

It was a pretty perfect lunch for a cold but sunny Saturday & just might have been the break we needed to turn the day around!

The food:  yummy & perfect for kids with ample choices for the more adventurous eaters

Other hotdog choices include creations such as “The Philly Surf & Turf,” “The Big Kahuna,” “The Seattle Grunge,” and “The Bronx Bomber.”  I’ll let your imagination go to work before you get there to try one yourself!  I personally am ready to go back and try “The Windy City”

Drinks:  there was a soda fountain & they also serve craft sodas.  While I didn’t see any choices other than soda, I don’t know what else you would want with a hotdog other than beer – which you can bring yourself since it is a B.Y.O.B.

The restrooms:  clean but no changing table

Price:  For 2 hotdogs & a small fry our total was $11.59

Hot Diggity

630 South Street

Philadelphia, PA 19147


Mon-Thurs:  11am-10pm

Fri-Sat:  11am-11pm

Sun:  11am-9pm

Delivery available from


small style & a review: Frankford Hall October 13, 2011

Filed under: Restuarant Review,Small Style — gastromami @ 1:47 pm

I realized a few weeks ago that, since at least before Fiona was born, I have not looked at any Memphis blogs.

While sad that I no longer feel a deep “I need to know what is happening” connection to my old home, I have truly, honestly begun to feel right at home here in Philly – at least I was until we moved 3 miles away from that home. 

*** In fact, Tricia and I were out walking on Saturday and I saw countless people on the street – and now I’m a stranger again (sigh) ***

One of my favorite blogs in Memphis was Dining With Monkeys – written by local writer Stacey Greenberg

(also of Memphis Rock-N-Romp – my NUMERO UNO, would fly back for, need to start here in Philly, favorite Memphis activity!!!!)

So, unable to find anything of comparison here in Philly – I’m going to start my own little Philadelphia food review, for families, here on GastroMami.

To start, I’m going to “cheat” and use a meal prepared, somewhat, by my husband (but it’s not his restaurant!)

There is this thing about my husband:

He must cook a pig 3-4 a year

Or else he gets all grumpy, and twitchy & wants to take off and head to Austria

Despite the fact that he did this recently:

(that would be the lamb that kept humping the pigs)

There is something about The Swine that feeds his Cuban soul

And, although he makes a killer Lechon Asado at Alma de Cuba,

when Frankford Hall asked him to do a pig roast for their Oktoberfest, he said yes without hesitation

(and without asking me if he could disappear for 48 hours to smoke said pig,

but, with that said, I married him with full knowledge that he would drop everything for pork)

Little did we know that we would be doing a super-duper quick move during this period.  Good thing my wonderful, beautiful, spirited sister Tricia was able to head our way to help wrangle my children while I packed & Reny roasted some pork.

Reny picked up the smoker on Friday and began his own spiritual ceremony.

Tricia rolled into town on Saturday (with a piece of Ren’s new bed – wait until you see it!!!!) and we got to work drinking wine packing.

Sunday morning came and I was desperately feeling the need to GET OUT and away from toddler who won’t get dressed, a baby who keeps finding bubble wrap to eat, and boxes piled up in my tiny apartment.

So I went for a run and decided to make a water stop at Frankford Hall where my husband spent the night in his car, tending to some pork.

I was running down Girard Ave. and, immediately after emerging from the SEPTA bridge I smelled it – heaven.

The smell of this pig did something to my soul that made my little legs pump faster and faster … was I becoming part Cuban or was it the fact that I knew I would be eating multiple pork sandwiches in just a few hours and, therefore, must burn the calories now?

Whatever my motivation, I headed back home, showered, piled the kids into the stroller and set off with Tricia for lunch – ’cause nothing says “let’s get motivated to pack” like hitting up a Oktoberfest celebration (complete with beer) at noon.

We met a few friends at the restaurant and I was immediately impressed.  Besides during my early morning run I had not seen the space before.  The restaurant is a converted warehouse space, complete with exposed ceilings and brick walls.  While half of the space is inside, large garage doors open completely to reveal an open-air, gravel patio with numerous picnic tables.

We spotted our friends who were drinking beer on a beautiful fall day while their kids played in the gravel with shovels & dump trucks!

There is no server at Frankford Hall – you order your drinks from the bar & your food from a separate food window.  They give you a number to take back to the table and a runner brings your food when it is ready.

The menu is small – but perfect for a beer hall:

Sausages & sauerkraut, pretzels, spaetzle & fries dominate the menu


Homemade applesauce, fries, mushroom spaetzle (by far the winner – cream, thyme, mushrooms, dumplings!!) & the special of the day:  Reny’s pulled pork sandwich:  Bavarian marinated pulled pork served on a pumpkin seed roll with a pumpkin vinaigrette slaw.

The winner of the day was the soft pretzels!

Warm, soft, baked – they were perfectly cooked, salted and paired nicely with either spicy mustard, sweet mustard or a provolone cheese sauce.

(napkins, silverware & mustards are all self-serve)


Pros of Frankford Hall

Great space for hanging out with kids (during the day) – we were there for 3 hours!

Menu appeals to both adventurous & timid eaters

This Sunday featured:  Kids eat free!, face-painting, a magician & balloon clown

Great beer selection

Games for kids & adults alike!  A giant scale, ping-pong & arcade games.

Cons of Frankford Hall

Clean bathrooms but no changing table

Plastic silverware, paper serving containers – come on, it is 2011 … at least use biodegradable and/or recycled items


We will definitely be stopping by Frankford Hall again when the weather is nice!



On Ren:

Shirt:  Gap

Lederhosen:  direct from Germany, hand me down from Uncle Nate

On Fiona:

Dress:  Mini Rotation via The Mini Social

Diaper:  gDiapers

Espadrilles:  Mexico, gifted from Abuela

Linking up at Small Style on Mama Loves Papa


Los Gallos January 22, 2011

Filed under: Philadelphia,Restuarant Review — gastromami @ 11:18 am

When I was pregnant with Ren I could not get enough fruits and veggies

I would literally steam an entire head of broccoli, squeeze some lemon on top, maybe a little freshly grated parm, and call it dinner.

I would eat pasta with vegetables about 3 times a week and Reny would come home from the grocery store with 3 quarts of strawberries.

It’s no wonder that Ren has turned into the vegetable-loving, meat-scorning kid that he is – sometimes I think Dada Reny is a little concerned about his utter dislike for meat.  His intense love for anything green or sitting in the fruit bowl is a trait he inherited from his Nanni.   For as blonde and “gringo” as this kid is, we have always joked that #2 will come out with dark hair, dark eyes and with a Hispanic cry (seriously, Hispanic babies cry differently than American!)  It’s no wonder that some of my initial cravings were for Latin food!

One of the things we have missed the most from Memphis were the plethora of taquerias for our bi-weekly after-Mass lunch.  As anyone who loves Mexican knows, it takes a little bit of trial and error to find that one place that will always satisfy your craving and never disappoint.

For myself, a Mexican restaurant must have:

chips and salsa (duh)

tacos pastor

rice and beans

agua fresca  (i’m not picky but I love cantaloupe, pineapple or mango)




Reny has some Mexican cooks so he got a few names of restaurants and we headed out to try our first taqueria in Philadelphia.

Los Gallos

951 Wolf St.

Philadelphia, PA 19148





The restaurant looks like a corner market from the outside.

Well, it basically is a corner market with a restaurant in back.

Parking was a nightmare as it is in the middle of a neighborhood where, I’m assuming, everyone parks on the street.  We did happen to find a spot close to the restaurant after one circle of the block and headed in for dinner.

The front part of the store is a basic market – boasting a large (relative to the space) central produce area and basic necessities.

Along the wall they had a selection of Latin products, nothing too major that we couldn’t find in the Latin section at most urban groceries but it would be awesome to have it around the corner!

In the back is a deli counter and about 6 tables.

There were a few guys sitting at one table waiting for a to-go order and other than that the space was empty (it was 5:30 on a freezing cold Sunday night).

In fact, for our entire meal, no one else ate in the space but there were quite a few to-go orders being picked up.

We grabbed a table and asked for a high chair:

Big negative:  No high chairs  (i.e. nothing to strap Ren down!)

There is also a large cooler area to get your drinks:

Honestly, this could be trouble if Ren was much older.

Chock full of sweet, HFCS-filled drinks, it would be a nightmare if Ren registered anything but “jugo”

Unfortunately they did not have any aguas frescas so I settled on water and we got Ren a treat:


Ok maybe this kid is Latin afterall ….

Horchata is a rice milk drink with cinnamon – tastes pretty much like a chai latte

However, I love chai, iced or warm, but I can’t drink more than a sip of Horchata

Reny, speaking in Spanish to the lady, determined that they had homemade Horchata and ordered a glass for himself.

Well, Ren drank, drank, drank, all of his and then proceeded to drink half of Reny’s,

But, since our skinny kid has completely fallen off the charts, he can basically have whatever he wants for now until his weight bets back up.

Reny checked with me to make sure I wanted my “normal” tacos pastor, rice and beans and then proceeded to order in Spanish with our waitress.

(I’m guessing they speak English but I never heard any…)

He asked me about Ren and since he had eaten a quesadilla for lunch we ordered him a chicken torta, assuming that whatever he wouldn’t eat we would try and/or take home.

I don’t know much Spanish but I did hear the lady ask if we wanted chips, Reny saying no, so I quickly interjected that yes, we wanted chips and salsa (it turns out they are an extra $3)  Reny also ordered some guacamole with them.  (thought I didn’t hear this ….)

First the chips:

The chips were basic, homemade tortilla chips and served with a salsa verde and spicy chili aoili.

I was eating (well at least the baby’s weight) in chips before Reny informed me that he had also ordered guacamole and to “slow my roll”

The guacamole was awesome!

Fresh, and huge, Ren would’ve been happy with that as his meal

(those are his discarded chips – he basically just uses them as spoons – don’t come eat with us if you have an aversion to double-dipping)

Out next were our tacos:

Tacos Pastor

Tacos chorizo

I would seriously go back just for the tacos.  They were probably some of the best I’ve had.

Served traditionally with 2 tortillas, heaped with perfectly seasoned meat, onions, cilantro and (on the pastor) pineapple they were delicious!

Out next were the rice and beans:

Not the traditional rice and refried beans but they were delicious!  Huge, but delicious.

Although I would’ve preferred refried beans, Ren (the vegetarian) was happy with beans to pick up with his fingers.

Ren’s torta was seriously lagging time wise but it wasn’t a big deal as he was perfectly happy with our radishes (seriously, what is the deal with taquerias and radishes), guacamole, and beans.

The torta (a traditional Mexican sandwich so named for the way the bread is shaped like a turtle (or tortuga) shell) was huge!  It was loaded with chicken, ham (because you have to have pork somewhere I assume), lettuce, roasted peppers, queso fresco and avocado.

While, since eating at Los Tortugas in Memphis for the past 5 years, I am pretty much a “torta snob,”  I have to say that this sandwich was delicious.

Ren, however, didn’t eat more than one bite.  Thank goodness for a pregnant mama 🙂


All in all the dinner was good.



A few negatives:

No high chairs

Extra charge for chips and salsa

A tiny tiny bathroom with space to change a diaper



On a positive note:

The guacamole, tacos and torta were awesome!

And, after all, we went for the food so I’m assuming we will be back (or at least ordering takeout!)



Reny, Jose, and Kelly … Oh My! September 24, 2010

Filed under: Restuarant Review,Things that make me smile — gastromami @ 9:38 am

Have you ever had one of those nights when you just can’t decide where to go to dinner?

Have you thought, “I would love to go out and have a nice meal at one of the best restaurants in Memphis,” but couldn’t decide whether to indulge in the bistro-fare of Master Chef Jose Gutierrez at River Oaks, the New Orleans flare of Chef Kelly English at Restaurant Iris, or the Latin spice of Chef Reny Alfonso at Chez Philippe?

Well, now you don’t have to decide!

Months ago, these three chefs met for lunch; talk turned to food, and the three began to think about working together on a dinner.  As talk often does with chefs, ideas grew, and grew, and grew and this collaborative dinner became a

3 night, 3 chef, 3 course dinner series

On September 12th we gathered for the first night of the series and it went well beyond even my own expectations.  You see, I am married to Reny so I know how well he cooks (why do you think I married him!?);  and, I actually met Reny while I was working for Jose at Encore – so I know just how spectacular everything is that he puts on a plate.  I knew that with these three, dinner was going to blow me away … and well, it blew me straight to the Milky Way.

Upon entering River Oaks for the 6:00 PM dinner guests were greeted with a glass of Aria cava, sweetened with a little cassis and fresh raspberries while the servers roamed the room with tastes of rabbit confit, goat cheese fritters, salmon croquettes with creme fraiche, and potato and basil wrapped shrimp.

1st Course by Reinaldo Alfonso

Shrimp and Salmon Terrine, Wild Mushroom and Rice Salad, Spiced Tomato Coulis, Cracked Cumin Seed Tuille

paired with:  Twomey Savignon Blanc

Wow!  Moist, delicate, sweet, savory, spicy … this light and beautiful dish was the perfect start to our meal.  Paired with the delightfully crisp Twomey sauvignon blanc

2nd Course by Kelly English

Lamb Sirloin “Vin Cotto” with Andouille and Truffled Gumbo Jus

paired with:  Silver Oak Cabernet

*disclaimer – Reny was in charge of taking pictures in the kitchen and said he got too busy plating to get the final products!

Beautifully cooked, tender lamb served over a bed of flavorful andouille complimented by the earthiness of truffles.  Yum!  This dish was huge (perfect for the pregnant lady and all meat lovers) and no, that wine was not a misprint, we were really given SILVER OAK CABERNET (Alexander Valley) with the second course!  One of my favorites, the wine was the perfect balance to the gaminess of the lamb.  It is rare that I get to drink Silver Oak and I, for one, have never seen it featured at a wine dinner like this!  (and at this price!)  Oscar of Star Distributors did an excellent job, as always, visiting each table to talk about the wines and I can’t wait to see what he has coming for the next two dinners!

3rd Course by Jose Gutierrez

Almond, Fig & Honey Galette with Mascarpone Ice Cream

This dish was perfect on a hot summer night;  warm, light, and paired with beautiful mascarpone ice cream and the flavor of almond and the sweetness of the figs jumped on your tongue.  This dish was paired with a muscato but I’m sorry I can’t remember which wine!

This third course rounded out the meal by “The Master” himself and didn’t disappoint!

If you were unable to attend the dinner at River Oaks, you still have two more chances to dine with these three chefs!

Each dinner is held on a Sunday night at 6:00pm and includes 3-courses, 3-wines, and 3-chefs for $65!

Restaurant Iris

2146 Monroe Ave.

Memphis, TN 38104

October 17, 2010

6:00 pm

for reservations call


Chez Philippe

149 Union Ave.

Memphis, TN 38103

November 7, 2010

6:00 pm

for reservations call


Here is a sneak peak of the menu at Chez Philippe

1st Course:  Kelly English, Iris

Hifalutin Shrimp “Boil,”  Sauce Meuniere, Andouille, Corn

2nd Course:  Jose Gutierrez, River Oaks

Coq au Vin, puree de celeri-rave, and les petits oignons au vin rouge

3rd Course:  Reinaldo Alfonso, Chez Philippe

Dulce de Leche Mille-Feuilles, crisp pastry, dulce de leche mousse, poached apple and caramel sauce


Chez Philippe August 25, 2010

Filed under: Restuarant Review — gastromami @ 8:37 pm

For the last couple months, since the disaster that was the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, my Coastie (that is Coast Guard lingo) sister Linden has been, with both her Honolulu and San Francisco – based ships, in the Gulf cleaning up oil.

Doing this:

and cleaning up this:

Gross, huh?

After the well was capped, Linden got a few days of leave so she headed up to see us here in Memphis!  (well, I think she came to see her godson, but her sister and brother-in-law were a bonus!)  I decided that, after months of ship food, she was in desperate need of a good meal!  So we threw on some cute dresses, too-high heels, and headed downtown to The Peabody’s Chez Philippe!

I had heard that the chef recently changed the menu to reflect his Cuban heritage and just had to check it out!

Amuse Bouche

Chicken Wonton

This little crispy, yummy, warm and gooey teaser was the perfect way to “amuse our mouth” and get us excited for the upcoming meal!

**  Linden rounded out her dinner with wine pairings;  myself, not this time!  But rest assured, they were perfectly paired with each dish **

1st Course

“She Crab” Soup

The Red King crab meat was huge, sweet and beautiful in a creamy broth with a hint of cumin.  Paired with glazed carrots and braised celery, it paired perfectly with Chez’s house-made rolls.

Smoke Tomato Gazpacho

As good as the she crab soup was, this smoked tomato gazpacho was the winner of the first course!  Nothing is better on a 100˚ day than a cold soup and this one stood out with its slightly (Memphis-inspired?) smokey flavor.  In the center was a delicious, creamy treat in the form of a zucchini panna cotta.  Rounding out the flavor explosion was the texture provided by toasted almonds and fried leeks.  I knew from the first bite of this that we were in for a treat!

2nd Course

Papas Rellenas (Stuffed Potatoes)

A classic Cuban dish with a Southern twist, all with a French presentation.  The sweetness of the crawfish, paired with the sour orange relish, resting in an andouille-crawfish cream was the perfect dish for this wonderful potato dumpling.

“Jalapeno Popper”

A jalapeno popper?  Seriously?

Oh, but this did not disappoint!  A warm, gooey, and slightly spicy roasted jalapeno and goat cheese croquette was a fun play on classic bar food.  The spiciness of the jalapeno was offset nicely by the tomato-citrus marmalade and pepper arugula salad.

The chef gets his goat cheese from Bonnie Blue Farms of Tennessee and it’s to-die for!

3rd Course

BBQ Rubbed Veal Sweatbreads

This is the point where I began to go into a food frenzy, where each course was better than the next and all thoughts of my camera left my head – and these were sweetbreads, can you really blame me??

Here’s the description from the website because all I can recall is “ahhhhh…..”

Veracruz Style Ratatouille, Escarole, Cucumber-Cayenne Tuille, Sherry Jus


Margarita Sorbet

I didn’t take a picture here either (sorry!) but this margarita sorbet had a real kick to it, i.e. tequila in sorbet?  Fabulous!  and was served in a beautiful and yummy sugar basket

4th Course

Hawaiian Snapper

Thus began the part of the meal where I was gorging Linden’s wine made us forget to take pictures until after a few bites (or more!)  This beautiful Hawaiian Snapper was an homage to Linden’s last post on Oahu.  Served over stewed chick peas, it was spiced up with some Spanish chorizo, Serrano ham, and a garlic aoili!  The fish was perfectly cooked and perfectly yummy!

Weathervane Scallops

We are our father’s daughters, i.e. we love scallops!  Perfectly, perfectly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth scallops served over a warm black bean and corn salad with a roasted red pepper coulis!  What could make this dish even better?  Jerk butter!  Good thing the chef thought the same thing!

Bonus Round!

Shrimp and Grits

NOT TO BE MISSED!  So the Chef made sure we didn’t!  He brought this out as a bonus course for us to try.  We tried it and o.m.g. it was wonderful.  The Laughing Bird shrimp were like nothing I have ever tasted.  Each little tasty specimen of oceanic wonder exploded in my mouth in a joyous explosion!  Once I got past the delightful little morsels, I tasted the, ohmyheavens, braised greens tamale.  Cuban tamales have a wonderful flavor as all elements are mixed together, not layered like its Mexican cousin.  Here the corn has been mixed with southern braised greens and the classic Cuban flavor pairs perfectly with the shrimp and tomato coulis.  Wow, thank you Chef Reny!

5th Course

Ostrich Filet

This ostrich filet was perfectly cooked rare and served over my favorite pairing, a tangy parsnip puree, and sweet corn-fava been succotash with a toasted cumin seed jus.  Ummm, yum.  Summer flavors paired with a lean and yummy slice of heaven on a plate.

Niman Ranch Lamb Loin

In this lamb dish we really saw the Cuban-southern twist at its finest!  The lamb was served over a queso fresco grits cake with black eyed peas, stewed okra, and tomato jus.  This Yankee girl has never had okra outside of a stew and the surprise of its beautiful texture was a fun play in the dish.  While I am not a huge fan of black-eyed peas (again, not a Southerner) the grit cake with queso fresco was a delightfully creamy and flavorful pairing with the lamb and tomato jus!

6th Course (Cheese!)

The presentation is perfect!  After 6 (or 7) courses, having the cheese served “family style” allowed us to sit, enjoy, and sip our 6th glass of wine!

Evora, Quadrello di Buffula, Edwards Munster, Espoisses

Red wine walnut bread and house-made plum preserves

7th Course (Dessert)

Chocolate Ice Box Cake

A perfect ending to a perfect meal.  Neither Linden or I had heard of “ice box cake” but were told it is usually a custard or mousse set in the freezer.  Here it was a creamy, rich chocolate terrine with pecan pralines, candied orange cream, Jack Daniels Caramel (a southern twist I can get on board with!) and fresh raspberries (a nice throwback to our home up north!)