Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Monotheism Changes Everything

Name: Athena Restaurant
Location: 264 Keswick Avenue, Glenside
Personnel: Jesse, Me
What We Ate: Kafteri (a dip of tomato paste and feta) and Pita Bread; Complimentary Salad and More Pita Bread; Pastitso; the Pikelia Platter (Moussaka; Feta; Olives; Spanikopita; Gyro; Dolmades; Keftedes)
Condiments: Tzatziki, at our server's suggestion
Bill Total: $52
Observations: Keeping up these suburban excursions through the holidays might be a little challenging—not to mention jeans-expanding—but I'm going to try to work through it. Last night, in fact, Jesse and I left a holiday party early, giving up a free buffet, open bar and what looked like a bakery smorgasbord to journey out to Glenside. I'd been to Athena, but it was at least a decade ago, and I wanted to know if it was as good as I remembered. Parking was surprisingly tight around there, perhaps because Cyndi Lauper was playing at the Keswick Theater a few doors down. Yet the restaurant itself was quiet, which is to say we interrupted an employee mopping up. The motif, in classic American Greek restaurant style, is azure and white, and the walls are embellished with mini bottles of ouzo and nostalgic photos of stark island houses. Like a true goddess, Athena is truly generous. You are plied with free salad and many piles of fresh warm pita triangles, which we used to scoop up the tangy kafteri dip. Other dishes, however, were only okay. Both of our meals came with potatoes roasted to a nice lemony crust, but Jesse's also had string beans that had been cooked to splitting. Everything needed more seasoning, including the moussaka and pastitso, which are such indulgent dishes that when you order them they ought to be worth their cholesterol count. If I had to do it over I'd try the fish. And, had I known, I would have gotten Cyndi Lauper tickets.
Bonus Errand: Jesse scored some mistletoe at the florist across the street.

Monday, December 05, 2005

He Who Feels It, Tastes It

Name: One Love Cafe
Location:6417 Rising Sun Avenue
Personnel: Bethany, Me
What We Ate: Complimentary Cornbread, Jerk Chicken, Cabbage, Rice and Peas, Fried Fish, Macaroni and Cheese, Collards. One Ginger Beer.
Condiments: Tartar Sauce. I think this was an American appurtenance, but I'm not one to turn down mayonnaise in any form.
Bill Total: $24.50
Observations: Though technically not in a strip mall, One Love Cafe is in a strip of restaurants and stores on Rising Sun Avenue. I've been looking for a good new jerk for sometime (the reigning favorite is Taste of Home in Cobbs Creek). I heard about One Love but I was somewhat skeptical. The name sounded iffy, like it could be a Rainforest Cafe kind of theme park restaurant/"retail concept," only Caribbean, with eternal blue sky painted on the ceiling, drinks in coconuts and bad reggae. Not hardly. One Love was the real deal and it's one of the better suburban finds in recent memory: The jerk chicken was saucy, tender and brightly spiced with cinnamon and hot pepper; the mac and cheese had the impressive girth and crispy crust of a kugel; the cabbage, cut in ribbons, was fried to a buttery softness without melting to mush. "I love the Northeast," I said to Bethany as we got in the car. That was before we hit the quagmire of Roosevelt Boulevard's 15 lanes, none letting us turn left. But still.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Iran So Far Away

Name: Caspian Grille
Location: 539 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill.
Personnel: Me
What I Ate: Baba Ganoush, Cucumber Salad, Persian Rice With Apricots, Carrots and Raisins, Eggplant Stuffed with Ground Beef, Phyllo-Wrapped Chicken and Spinach, Whole Wheat Pita Bread and Pumpkin Bread Pudding.
Condiments: None
Bill Total: $34.28
Observations: I grew up in Lafayette Hill, and back in those days of piano lessons, Golden Dream Barbie grooming and Hebrew school, dinner out was usually limited to a pu-pu platter at the Golden Dragon, or a flabby slice of Vino's pizza. The past few times I've been back in the Hill, though, I've passed by this new addition to Germantown Avenue and looked at it longingly from the car window. I finally pulled into the parking lot and saw it up close today. Turns out it isn't a proper restaurant—at least not yet. It's more like a takeout counter/catering business. And, unlike the nearby Persian Grill, the Caspian Grill is not limited to Persian food. Its 25-foot glass display case is filled with salads, curries, rice, fish, moussaka, dolmades, and burritos. (The Iranian owner, a slight man with a snowy beard, also operates a stand in the Flourtown Farmers Market. He explained that Mexican cuisine was popular among American customers, so he is just keeping his bases covered.) In addition, he and his co-chefs had laid out some Thanksgiving items like a rolled turkey breast stuffed with apples and a pretty hot-rockin' pumpkin bread pudding. I wasn't so big on the chicken, which was mostly flavorless underneath its crisp wrapping, but the saffron-tinted rice was sweet and fragrant and the baba ganoush had the perfect smoky : tangy ratio. It is a friendly place, and even if you order as much as I did they will not make you feel like a total pig.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My Little Gulab Jamon

Name: Uduppi Dosa House
Location: Galloway Road, Bensalem
Date: Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Personnel: Jesse, Jon, Me
What We Ate: House Special Assorted Plate (Medhu Vada, Masala Vada, Vegetable Pakoda, Samosa, Vegetable Cutlet and Bhajia); Tomato and Pea Uthappam, Mysore Masala Dosa, Malai Kofta, Alu Parata, Gajar Ka Halwa, Gulab Jamun. One Mango Lassi.
Condiments: Coconut Chutney, Tamarind Sauce, Sambar, Coriander/Mint Chutney
Bill Total: a paltry $41
Observations: We were greeted by Lakshmi, garlanded for Diwali, the festival of lights. (See below.) The all-veg dosa house is divided by a series of stainless steel buffet warmers which were disappointingly barren. Turns out the regular buffet is at lunch time ($6.99 on weekdays and $8.99 on weekends). On Wednesday night there's also a chaat buffet. Have to come back for that. A family behind us ordered thalis and knocked them back in record time. Uduppi staff were friendly and gracious. Our server gently walked us through the menu, acknowledging our indisputable Western-ness without making us feel especially ignorant. In retrospect I believe we ordered too many starchy dishes—the lentil donut was no joke. We left feeling spongy, indolent, and just slightly stoned on chili peppers. Also intrigued by the many stripmall dining possibilities in Bensalem.
Bonus Errands: Old Navy (baby gift); Home Depot (faux wood-burning stove)