Bro Can Cook!

July 24, 2021

I’m currently staying at my brother’s house for a week-long visit. We are pretty simple folks. Nothing has to be too fancy and we look at food pretty straightforward. Today, he decided to ramp up his breakfast game and the result was pretty damn good. I’ve worked in upscale brunch places on and off for several years. His creation, though simple would be an excellent grab-and-go item for the busy commuter in the morning.
He made from delicious bacon, sausage, and cheese biscuit cups. He proceeded to make scrambled eggs, sausage that was chopped, and then rolled out biscuit dough with a little bit of flour and places the biscuit dough in a muffin pan, then spoon in the mixed egg and sausage mixture then top with shredded cheddar cheese. After about ten minutes, VOILA! Breakfast is served. Add some fresh fruit and it was a great filling meal! Nice job JP!!!

As I resurrected my blog after an extended time in limbo, I didn’t think that I would be focused on cuisine that spans from South America to Spain. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor combinations that are derived from fresh ingredients and the spices that make this food patently unique. I picked up some Red Snapper at a local grocery and some simple vegetables. It was to be a quick meal to keep things lite since my diet has been all over the board recently.

I managed to find purple potatoes, which are also called Peruvian purple potatoes. They have the same texture and taste as red bliss potatoes but are bright purple. The colors tend to fade when boiled but still have a nice colorful hue. They are different than the purple Okinawan sweet potatoes which I cannot seem to find anywhere but these worked perfectly for the dish.

The aim was to make a simple has combining fresh-cut corn, potatoes, red onion, , chives and some smoked apple wood seasoning. The combinations were great. Sweet corn flavors with a hint of smoke and some heat.

I used a blackening seasoning for the snapper and seared the fish in a cast-iron skillet. I then decided on a smoked Romesco sauce. It’s a simple Spanish condiment used on various proteins such as fish, chicken, or beef. It’s a combination of roasted peppers, tomato, garlic, chili flakes, red wine vinegar, and in this case I used smoked almonds instead of regular sliced almonds. The result was a deliciously tangy and complex sauce that worked very well with the fish.

I lived in California for over fifteen years. It’s a place I called home for almost a third of my life. I met my wife there, landed my first executive chef job there, and met some amazing people from all over the globe. It’s also where I was exposed to some of the greatest food I’ve ever eaten. When you think about San Francisco, the first thing that comes to mind is the food scene. During my time, there were over three thousand restaurants crammed into seven square miles. This is not an exaggeration. You had global cuisine at your every beck and call.

What many don’t realize, is that there is also a myriad of restaurants in San Francisco that are as equally as amazing as Michelin-starred restaurants which don’t carry names like Michael Mina, Alice Waters, or Nancy Oakes. These are little hole in the wall Taqueria’s that are all over the area but mostly located in The Mission District. I worked in the Mission for over three years. You can find any cuisine that starts from the top of Mexico down to the tip of South America.

Mexican, Peruvian, Honduran, and Salvadorian restaurants were my most favorite but you also had some Spanish Tapas restaurants that served cheap and amazing food. I’ve always have had an affinity for meats, spices, and vegetables from Mexico and South America. I worked in a restaurant that had cooks from six different countries working in my kitchen.

I was exposed to those amazing Salvadorian meat or cheese-filled griddle cakes called Papusas. My friend’s wife from Mexico introduced me to a meat and hominy soup that blew my mind called Posole. I learned how to make a proper hot salsa from my Mexican cooks. I had Beef Tongue for the first time. It was a life-altering experience that I never would have enjoyed unless I made the trek to California and I will be forever thankful for what I’ve learned while on my culinary journey in that incredible state. I do miss it.

The great thing about being back home is having friends who share the same enthusiasm for Latin/Hispanic food. Chris Mundy who in his own right, loves to dabble in this simple fare. But there is nothing simple about the flavors. Smokey, salty, acidity, spicy, and above all, fresh comes to mind when creating and eating this food. Chris is no slouch. If anyone has ever seen his “Jam Band” dinners, you realize he puts a lot of research and effort into what he prepares. Every meal seems carefully executed. I admire that.

This will be our second collaboration. Both have South American themes. In no way am I trying to replicate exact dishes of any specific country, but it’s more of an homage to the ingredients utilized to create dishes that I’ve learned from my friends in California and will always appreciate.

Chris made an Aji Verde sauce. Traditionally, the sauce comes from Andean countries like Columbia, Bolivia, and Peru. It is a mayonnaise-based sauce with cilantro, jalapeno chiles, red onion, and lime juice that is pureed and served as a condiment over fish, chicken, or beef. In Chile, they substitute lemon juice and is called Aji Chileno.

I made the ultimate trip to Jungle Jim’s, warned my knees about the size of the place and my brain about the hordes of people I’d encounter. I took and deep breath, and pushed the cart through the door! Yay! First step!

The place is huge but I had my list and made just a short pit stop by the wine department. I picked up various items for our dinner including Mojo seasoning which is a Cuban meat seasoning that I thought would go great with the chicken because of its citrus properties. I also picked up a cast-iron skillet. Yes, I always need this in my life.

The base of our meal was Peruvian beans, white onion, diced tomatoes, garlic, white wine, paprika, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Though Jungle Jim’s didn’t have Peruvian beans, white and red beans were a suitable substitute. I also topped the beans with sauteed arugula with fresh lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt.

I purchased a whole Amish chicken which I deboned into quarters. Dusted the chicken with the Mojo seasoning and pan-seared it in the cast iron skillet. I transferred the chicken to the oven at 350 degrees for a half-hour and then in a heavy pot, added olive oil, and brought the heat up to high. I sauteed the onions, added garlic to sweat then deglazed with white wine. I add the beans and tomato and then slowly incorporated the paprika and salt. Adding salt early and reducing the sauce of the beans can make the beans very salty. I finished with lemon just a put aside.

I did a quick saute of olive oil, garlic, arugula, lemon juice, and sea salt. Mounded the beans on the plate, topped with the sauteed arugula, arranged the cooked chicken over the beans and arugula, and topped it all off with Chris’s great Aji Verde sauce. He also brought a seared Halloumi cheese with mint and watermelon and the whole dinner was amazing. Cheers!

In my attempt to find fun ingredients to prepare, I discovered a small grocery store in Hartwell called Country Fresh Market. They offer a variety of dry goods, meats, prepared foods, and a killer beer and wine department. The prices are competitive as well. I managed to get my hands on some beautiful Spring Onions.

I also picked up Pork Loin, Honeycrisp Apples, and other various items that will help compel me to cook versus eating at chain food outlets.

It’s a fairly straightforward dish. I roasted the Spring Onions and Apples with Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper. I pan-seared the Pork Loin and roasted it with fresh sage. I made a simple Mushroom Couscous and then prepared a Balsamic Pan Gravy which was Beef Broth, Balsamic Reduction, and cracked Black Pepper. I reduced it to a glaze.

I let the Pork Loin repose, sliced half, and then kept the other half whole to give a contrast in texture. The result was a great, balanced meal. The whole process took me about a half-hour. No, there were no leftovers….

Bon Appetit!

When one is met with peculiar family dynamics that have not been encountered before, there are two paths to take, especially when there is potential for conflict. One option is to stand your ground, watch the cortisol levels rise like Mount Vesuvius, and in the end, never accomplish the result you were trying to achieve. The other option is to simply resign to the fact that this is life as we know it for the time being, so just sit back and try to enjoy the roller coaster ride.

I’ve been in this situation for five years with limited access to a home kitchen. My wonderful wife has taken on the arduous task of cooking for three people daily. It keeps everyone fed and the conflicts are minimalized. I for one, love what my wife prepares. She’s a great cook.

This current respite I’m enjoying has allowed me to cook again. Not in a professional kitchen where one can hear this old chef’s bones crack like stepping on celery with every bend, stoop and pivot, but at a home setting where the wine flows like a waterfall and the setting is calm, peaceful and creative.

My friend of almost forty years Chris Mundy came over for a nice, simple dinner collaboration. He in his own right, is an elevated cook with a great palette, a keen sense of creativity who isn’t afraid to push the culinary boundaries that would make most of our family members wince at the very mention of “Chimichurri.”
He was going to his family’s cabin in Michigan and we both had ingredients we wanted to cook that wouldn’t last the week he was in Michigan so we decided on a pot luck dinner. The result was pretty spectacular.

I’ve adjusted my expectations on where to shop while I’ve been back. I haven’t had the opportunity to make the trek to the infamous Jungle Jim’s where you can procure everything from Rattlesnake to a hot sauce that would give the Sun a run for its money. So, until then, I have been relegated to the big box corporate grocery stores that I also encounter where I live. To say the least, the choices were grim.

It makes sense to stock their shelves with items that the residents of that area would purchase. I get it. I was hoping for something a tad more exotic than Strip Loin Steaks. Perhaps even frozen Duck Breast would suffice? Unfortunately, Strip Loin was the only choice.

I purchased some Applewood Smoked dry rub for the steak. I roasted some fresh Cauliflower, Crimini Mushrooms, and Radish with fresh herbs and olive oil. We combined these with fresh Blue Lake Green Beans. I decided on butter basting the steak with fresh herbs and garlic. I love grilling steaks but butter basting creates a rich, yet artery clogging euphoria that grilling seems to miss.

I let the steak repose and sliced it thin and placed it over the vegetable melange and topped it with Chris’s homemade Chimichurri Sauce which is like an Argentinian pesto, made with parsley, oregano, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, and olive oil. It is used as a condiment on anything from eggs to vegetables. His version was excellent.
We added a Garbanzo Bean salad and we both shared wine. It was an excellent collaboration. It felt good to cook again. I’m hoping to keep this trend up during my stay.

Next stop. Jungle Jim’s. Just don’t tell my wife.

A Pandemic Threnody

June 24, 2021

As I sit here with pen in hand pondering what my next chapter in my life would entail, I was also ruminating about what I would use as a title for my next blog entry. I would not necessarily call it an ode to the dead, but rather a requiem of my life during the last fifteen months of this still ongoing Pandemic. The last year has not boded well with this old chef. I am sure this rings true with many of my friends and family.

Everything we knew about our lives and how we lived them was radically changed and we are all still reeling from the collateral damage this insidious disease has done to us as human beings. We’ve lost friends and family. I lost an Aunt to Covid-19. From my own personal confessional, I for one stopped living. I wasn’t working, I found a permanent home on the couch, arms reach from bad food and lots of booze and way too much time on my hands. The results were anxiety, health problems, and a complete lack of forwarding movement in productivity. Since getting the vaccine, I’m trying to change all of this.

I’ve been given a unique opportunity to spend some time in Cincinnati with friends and family for the Summer. This in itself has created some anxious moments. I haven’t been back to Ohio in almost four years and am taking this journey sans my amazing wife Judy. We’ve been together for almost twenty-five years. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away to attempt to right my ship. It’s the third time but Judy has been nothing but supportive and it strengthens our relationship which I am forever grateful.

I’m not sure what I am hoping to accomplish being back home. Part of this journey is to reconnect with family and friends. The thought of being alone growing old terrifies me. I’ve seen what it does to people first hand. We are social beings. We need a connection. I have been in a converted garage for almost a year and a half and honestly, my cat is a lousy conversationalist. I intend on changing this.

Another goal is to start seeing the positive things out of life. The last four years have done nothing but encourage my cynical side which doesn’t need much fostering. Waking up every morning and reading the news did nothing but raise my cortisol levels as well as my blood pressure. I’m in a much better space now.

As a once busy chef in Pennsylvania, because of our schedules and home life situation with my mother-in-law, we ate out. Frequently. On a typical week, we’d have dinner at our local haunts consistently three to four nights a week. When the Pandemic hit, that all changed. As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife Judy became an excellent cook. Her imagination shined through with every dish she created. When we were finally able to dine out, the disappointment of our dinner including the cost versus what we enjoyed at home for the fraction of the cost was like a kick in the head. Hey, I still love to eat out and love being connected to my industry folks but I don’t think we will return to the same habits that were familiar to us pre-Covid-19.

Coming back to Cincinnati was an adjustment. Not only demographically have things changed, so has the dining scene. And for the better. I’ve been fortunate to experience some great eateries here in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was pretty difficult to find places I wanted to eat because there are so many choices but thanks to industry friends, we’ve been able to enjoy some great places.

The search for breakfast restaurants in Cincinnati is hit or miss. Either greasy spoons or corporate cookie cutters like First Watch. I’ve worked in really upscale breakfast/brunch establishments. I know how to recognize good ingredients in menu descriptions. We decided on a breakfast spot in Oakley called The Sleepy Bee. https://www.sleepybeecafe.com/#locations

The place was open-air with high ceilings. It was reminiscent of the Portland breakfast houses we enjoyed. Lots of young kids who seemed to sincerely enjoy their jobs. A well-rounded “scratch” menu. They made their own bread and even served house-made Goetta. For the non-Cincinnati folks, Goetta is a German breakfast meat that is made from Pork, spices, and Pin Oats. We have a similar concoction in Pennsylvania called Scrapple which is a Pennsylvania-Dutch breakfast meat that uses Corn Meal versus Pin Oats. Not everyone enjoys it but damn, this was good. My wife had the Avocado toast topped with Granola and herbed oil and I had a Chorizo scramble. Both dishes were excellent. The coffee was amazing too. The service was top-notch. There is nothing remotely this good where we live.

The next restaurant that was suggested was Bouquet in Mainstrasse in Covington Kentucky. https://www.bouquetrestaurant.com/

It is a farm-to-table establishment that has been in business for over fourteen years. It opened about a year after we moved back to San Francisco. The menu changes daily and they source most of the product from local vendors. I have to say this was one of the best meals we’ve had in years. We decided on the tasting menu which allows you to choose three courses. We started with the savory ramp pancake with sesame seeds, soy ramp & sorghum sauce, and a roasted radish and seared tofu appetizer. Both were cooked perfectly.

For the second course, I had Wagyu beef meatballs Scallion Gremolata, Lemon Caper purée, and Chili oil. The acid from the Lemon Caper puree was a perfect complement to the meatballs. The thought of actually sharing this with my wife almost made me go into a homicidal rage! Yeah, they were that good! But I acquiesced. She loved them damn it! My wife had the Salmon with German hot slaw, Bacon, Sunchokes, and Horseradish. It was cooked perfectly mid-rare. It is had to find places that know how to cook Salmon correctly. Most of the time it is cooked to death and dry. We had a similar dish at home in PA that was so overcooked, it made baby Jesus cry rivers of blood. It was that bad, but this was moist and flavorful.

For the third course, I had the Duck Breast with Fava Bean puree, Fiddlehead Ferns, and root vegetables. The only other chef that could ever cook Duck this well was David Cook of the former Daveed’s. Perfectly seasoned, moist and the skin was crackly and crisp. Stunning. My wife had seared Boga I believe, which is an Argentinian white fish with English Peas and root vegetables and a sauce that resembled Chimichurri. It was moist and flaky. Just like her husband.

We ended the meal with a Cardamom Blueberry pound cake paired with a Sauternes.

The service was professional and courteous. It is a special occasion restaurant but it’s worth the splurge.

The next destination on our short culinary tour before my wife headed back to Pennsylvania was Otto’s in Mainstrasse which again is in Convington Kentucky. https://ottosonmain.com/

This is a cool and funky joint that’s been around for years. They provide both inside and outside dining. Outside can be a bit hectic with seating right on the pedestrian sidewalk adjacent to the street and can be loud at times. We had a good light brunch. My wife had the Brie, Figs, shaved country Ham, Arugula, and Local Honey. Cooked perfectly and well-balanced. We shared the Brussels Sprouts which were prepared with Bacon and Brown Sugar. I enjoyed the dish but adding a little heat like Sriracha would have given the dish more depth. Our dining guests and I decided on the BLFGT which was Bacon, Lettuce, fried Egg, white Cheddar, Mayo & fried Green Tomato on a toasted Croissant. It was light and flaky and not heavy or greasy. A very solid sandwich. The service was prompt and friendly.

Though I didn’t eat at our final stop, we did enjoy a beautiful evening with family on the rooftop of The Gaslight Bar and Grill in Clifton where my friend Kevin Worthington is the Chef/GM. https://gaslightbarandgrillclifton.com/

My Uncle and his wife did have dinner which was a simple grilled burger. I liked the plate composition and both of them enjoyed their meals. He has a great staff and we felt taken care of.

When I need to clear my head, keep that feeling of isolation at arms reach, and being around others, I head to Sitwell’s Coffee House in Clifton. Though they don’t have a website, they do have a Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/sitwells.coffeehouse/

It’s a funky coffee shop that used to be a pizza restaurant many years ago. Quirky décor, fun and helpful staff, and the coffee is good. I haven’t had a chance to try their food menu yet but what I saw coming out of the kitchen looks very appetizing.

These last two weeks have been an adjustment. I haven’t been without my wife at my side for more than a day in almost ten years. I miss her dearly but she also knows this Pandemic has done a real number on me and wants me to heal. She wants her husband back home whole and not fractured and frustrated. I’m trying hard to do that work and reconnect with family and friends. This blog has been cathartic. I want to continue to write and enjoy what I’ve been doing for over thirty-five years. Welcome back.

The pandemic over the last two months has been a life altering experience. Being laid off then going straight into an extended lock down has not only tested my mental resolve, but how I handle living in a three hundred and fifty square foot converted garage with my wife, cat and caring for her eighty eight year old mother in the other section of the house. We’ve painstakingly ensured that we are sanitizing, cleaning and disinfecting everything to protect her mother from this virus. It’s been rough at times. It’s been frustrating. It’s also revealed things that were passively overlooked.

I’ve been a chef for over twenty five years. I’ve been cooking since I was fifteen years old. This is one of those professions that can be considered a vocation. Who else would subject ones body to twelve hour work days, sometimes weeks in a row without a day off, in an environment where you could easily cut, burn or sear essential body parts if there wasn’t a higher calling to do so? I’ve had to give this up for months now. But it’s also given me time to reflect on my career, my life, relationship with my wife and where we live.

One byproduct of our living arrangement is that I haven’t gained access to her mothers kitchen. I may have prepared meals for them twice in almost four years. She is very particular about who uses her kitchen, so I have stayed away. The result of her mother’s proclivities was that we ended up eating out. A lot. This all came screeching to a halt in March because of Covid-19. We were left with a dilemma. How to meal plan with three people, one who had a palette that was trapped in 1955? Here is where my wife’s visionary talents really shined.

Living in rural Pennsylvania, you still have businesses that haven’t been gobbled up by big box corporate outlets. You can still find local grocers, butchers and farms that offer local product not found in places like Costco or Whole Foods. She meal planned for the next month. I had no idea what was in store.

She was given fresh Spring Ramps which she converted into a Pesto. She pickled the rest. The flavors were sublime. I’ve pickled professionally and only gave her minimal input on vinegar, but her sensibility to herbs, spices and supporting flavor ingredients blew my mind. Complex, not overpowering and subtle. I was floored.

She prepared oven roasted local pork chops with a homemade Apple compote that I would have served in one of my restaurants. Homemade quiche, hand formed flat breads with fresh local Asparagus, Ricotta and that amazing Ramp Pesto. Holy shit I thought! She could make a bologna sandwich sumptuous.

She came up with a Thai Chicken soup with fresh Ginger and Galangal root that rivaled any soup that we’ve ever had at a Thai restaurant. The balance of flavors, her attention to seasoning. She always had this in her. I just needed to get out of the way. Gladly. She also was able to prepare meals that her mother enjoyed as well. Nothing fancy, nothing really special but to her mom’s credit, she did try the Ramp Pesto flat bread and loved it!

The quarantine has also given her the ability to plant. Fresh Lettuces, Tomatoes, Jalapenos and fresh herbs. This is where I was getting excited. I worked with local organic farmers in California for years. I might have to push my way into the kitchen when these start to become available.

I’m not saying I don’t miss cooking in a home setting. I really do. There is a certain bonding we had when we both prepared our meals together and I miss that. It’s been a long time and I want that connection again. I do not believe we would have grown as a family if these challenges were not put in front of us. I believe it’s made us stronger. I do not think there will be a “normal” again. The world is a different place than it was a few months ago. In the meantime, I am more than happy to enjoy any creations my wife comes up with. She is an amazing cook.

In the vast wasteland of the Bucks County culinary landscape where you have to travel up to forty five minutes to find meals prepared that don’t require cheese steak, marinara or something that is deep fried , it is rewarding when you reach the destination of a number of restaurants, taverns and BYOB eateries that reward you with locally produced vegetables, meats and cheeses painstakingly prepared by cooks who sincerely care about what they are cooking and who they are cooking for.   

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts about truly great gems that we’ve stumbled upon in Bucks County that we still frequent today. Places like La Campagna in Quakertown, the never missed Hachi in Chalfont, Slate Bleu in Doylestown, Blue Moose Cafe in New Hope and Bowman’s Tavern in New Hope are just a handful of eateries that get it. They really understand how to menu plan and execute great meals.

We’ve also enjoyed a robust brewery scene that is continually growing in the region which include consistently great Freewill Brewing in Perkasie, Mad Princes Brewing in Buckingham and Vault Brewing in Yardly. This a just snippet of wonderful craft breweries that are in the South East Pennsylvania area.

Getting out and about trying to find new places to visit is hard. Restaurant work is tough. It gobbles up any free time you have and you end up either sleeping your entire day away or on the couch watching Netflix with box wine and sandwiches from your local Italian hoagie joint.

My wife has been trying to drag me up to Easton Pennsylvania for over two years now. I’m not a big travel guy. I work a lot so when I have time off, my battery is pretty low so even getting off my ass to get to the shore has been met with failure for three years and counting. I just love being alone and relaxing and the thought of strolling down a boardwalk in 90 degree temperatures being bumped into by one tone deaf family after another with the waft of cotton candy and sunblock is nothing short of cringe worthy.

This time I acquiesced.  I recently left my job and after a week have discovered new found energy not only physically but mentally. Jude brought up the idea of going to the Easton Market. They have Ramen place there and it’s been over three years since I’ve relished in the wonderful concoction of noodles, vegetables, eggs and proteins you normally don’t find in soups like togarashi dusted fried chicken or slow braised pork belly. Mr.Lee’s Noodles in the Easton Public Market offers pretty decent Ramen. It’s not most amazing Ramen we’ve had compared to Portland Oregon and San Francisco but for a small community in Eastern PA, I would definitely go back and have it again. The value of the product offered and the ingredients were solid.

The Easton Market was a breath of fresh air. I’ve never been to Easton before nor did I know of its history. Founded in 1752, it was a major hub during the Revolutionary War and one of three places where the Declaration of Independence was read. It resides by two rivers, the Delaware River and The Lehigh River. The layout of the town is interesting because you can see how they have preserved much of the city’s historical buildings and were still able to create new businesses without razing structures to be replaced with new construction.

The Easton Market itself is housed in a two century old building which is an outgrowth of the Easton Farmer’s Market which to this day is the oldest open air farmers market in the country.  The schematic of vendors is planned out well. They have a wood fired pizza restaurant, an east coast crab shack, a chocolatier, a spirits booth, a crepe restaurant, a bbq restaurant and various craft gift and vegetable stands. We tried the Ramen and Crab shack. Both were good but the Lobster roll we tried did not really seem like a value for $22.00. We are excited to try the crepe and pizza booths when we make our next trip.

We didn’t have a lot time to visit much of the town on our first trip. It was getting later in the day and we both were getting tired. I think the next trip will be an overnight stay so we can really get a chance to see what Easton has to offer. I personally enjoyed the architecture and how the town was split up by the two rivers. It was a gorgeous place. We spoke to a young server named Cody from the Ramen booth. He mentioned how the city is in transition and ten years ago it was a very rough place to live. I could see what he was talking about. Many of the towns outside of Philadelphia never survived the smoke stack industry decline and fell into tough times and disrepair. Easton seems to have addressed this and it shows by the businesses currently occupying the downtown.

The diversity was also a welcomed sign. Families, kids with purple hair, artisans, chefs, every ethnicity you could fathom were all together enjoying what the market had to offer. You tend to forget about this when you reside in an area that has no diversity what so ever. We actually laughed about this when chatting with Cody. We were like,  “When can we move here????” I think the only other area that remotely resembles this type of diverse environment is New Hope. Another place that we really enjoy.

I have no clue what my future has to offer me. Job hunting, getting grounded, not obsessing about the future is just a few things on my plate. It was refreshing though to see a new and interesting spot that is only forty five minutes away. Easton, you’ve found a new fan.

It’s Been Too Long

July 17, 2019

It’s been a few years since I’ve contributed to my blog.  Life always seems to get in the way of doing things that you really enjoy. Keeping the blog current is one of them. I started to compare this site to a reoccurring dream I’ve had over the years where I have a rented an apartment that I stopped occupying. I felt guilty about not using the kitchen, the place started collecting dust and it started to feel abandoned. It bothered me. I literally forced myself to brush off my aging  laptop today and compile a few notes and stories about what’s been going on in my life since moving to Pennsylvania.

My life has not been boring to say the least. After almost two and a half years as chef at the Farmhouse Tavern, I’ve decided it is time to move on. I’ve met great folks along the way but it’s time to change direction and find a new path.

Where I live is a quirky place. The borough I live in has a population of only about eleven thousand residents. Doylestown has a small, quaint downtown but five minutes in any direction is all farmland with pockets of residential neighborhoods. Finding decent food outside of Philly is a challenge. We find ourselves frequenting the same places to the point that I am a target of ridicule from friends and family because we eat at the same sushi restaurant about every week. Hachi in Chalfont PA has some of the best sushi we’ve ever had outside of San Francisco. Their attention to detail and techniques are beyond what you’d expect from a strip mall sushi joint. We also go to the Heart of the Oaks pub which in a basement of a 1700’s building that houses an Italian restaurant called Baci. Again, for what you pay, the food is so damn good and only five minutes from our house. Oddly enough, besides breweries, that’s our culinary social life. It is a far cry from the foodie towns of San Francisco and Portland where we spent almost twenty years.

I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over thirty years. I don’t regret ever taking this direction as a career. I’ve met amazing people along the way.  I’ve enjoyed being creative, learning and teaching. I’m not sure how much longer I have left. Fifty five is just around the corner and this is ancient for a working chef. I still have the stamina to work eighteen days straight and a hundred and thirty hours without a day off but I want to be around a bit longer for my amazing wife Jude, so my next step needs to include a life balance. You only get one shot on this rock so you have to make it count. Just not for you, but the ones that love and care about you.
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For the better part of two decades, my wife and I have resided on the west coast. Mainly in the San Francisco Bay Area. We decided to say goodbye to California in 2013 and make the 650 mile trek to Portland Oregon. It was a bold move. Neither of us had jobs but we had a supportive family and balls. Portland is a great town. I’ve highlighted our love for their dining scene in a previous post. The job market there was challenging to say the least. Saturated with folks like us from California and others from Washington and Idaho clogged the restaurant job market and finding jobs were few and far between. Finding quality jobs was even more of a stretch. I came to the conclusion that talented chefs were under appreciated and you ended up having to acquiesce  and take jobs just to make rent. We tried and tried and after almost three years decided to toss in the towel. Adding ridiculous rent gouging, it felt more and more like the Bay Area which we fled due to these same issues.

My wife’s family who she hand not seen except in short visits campaigned to have us move back. Her mother was getting older and we felt a responsibility to her and her family to be closer to them and slow things down a bit. I am now also realizing the job market in Pennsylvania is even more challenging. I don’t really think we really researched what we were getting ourselves into. We have had a history of being impulsive. That is what keeps us young. Settling into one routine seemed stale and boring. We’ve had to work very hard to get where we wanted to go. This decision was an exception to the rule. Pennsylvania isn’t like any other state we’ve lived in regards to population density. Even the extremely rural state of Oregon had a number of large cities and extended suburban neighborhoods. We found out that where we live which is Doylestown, is an area that has ‘pockets’ of populaton which comprises Buck’s County.  This made living here and finding jobs extremely difficult. We wanted to be close to her mother and living in Doylestown meant getting a job in Philly was not an option. The results were basic pub jobs. I worked at a brewery in Quakertown for a brief period of time in which I came to the realization I needed a break from the industry.

I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was 16 years old. I’m now 52 and wanted a change. I was experiencing debilitating pain from putting away fifteen hundred pounds of stock twice a week taking its toll on my back, knees and feet. My passion for the industry never waned but my body was telling me a different story. Adding the frustration with being  the ‘King of Wings’ chef in rural PA, it was time for a change.

I decided it was time for a break. My father who at the time was in his final stages of cancer was assisted by our local hospice facility. I loved the program and the folks that helped him were kind, caring and understanding. There was an opportunity for me to deliver medicine to hospice patients here in the Philly area and with my need for a break, I decided to pay it forward and take the job. I have wonderful clients and the job is very rewarding spritually but not financially. I will resume my career as a chef but in the time being, this was a good choice for me. My body is thanking me too.

Not having the luxury of being able to dine in Philadelphia, we’ve made an extra effort to ferret out great places to eat and drink in the Buck’s County area that I’d like to share with you. These include restaurants, brew pubs and breweries. They are not in any particular order.

One of our favorite local breweries is Free Will Brewing. They are located in Perkasie PA. They specialize in Sours and off the beaten path brewing styles. My wife, who used to be prone to drinking only IPA’s has now fallen in love with Free Will’s sours. They by far are some of the best  we’ve ever had. They also have a tasting room in Lahaska at Peddler’s Village.

Freewill Brewing

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Another great brewery we frequent that is just down the road from our home in Buckingham PA is Mad Princess Brewing. The brewery has been open for about 15 months and specializes in German style beer. They also brew styles that have not been brewed for years which is always exciting to try. I highly recommend them. They are very knowledgable and helpful without the pretension.

mad princess

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Eating in Buck’s county can be challenging. It’s mostly composed of burgers and wings. I shit you not. I’m not a food snob by any means and love a great burger and beer but sometimes you need things that have a bit of elevation to the dishes that are created. We found this great gem in Lahaska called Caleb’s American Kitchen It’s a BYOB which seems to be a huge thing here in PA and I applaud the idea. You can splurge on great food and take your own wine that doesn’t have a three and half times mark up which affords you to have more choices when eating out. The ingredients are very fresh, the staff are attentive and we highly recommend their burger night which is Tuesdays.

caleb’s

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If you are into wine bars which we really enjoy, head to New Hope. We love this area. Gay friendly hood on the border of New Jersey. Great small town with funky historical buildings that is nestled next to the Delaware river and canal. One place in particular that we really enjoy is called Nectar Wine Bar. They have an excellent small plates menu and a diverse by the glass and bottle list. We tried a white from Greece that was amazing. Slate and mineral notes. The service is very prompt and the space is quaint and pretty. We love New Hope.

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We we were urged to try an Italian Restaurant in Quakertown by my brother-in-law. If you ever visited the area, it’s not a hotbed of culinary delights. In fact, the dining scene with the exception of maybe two places is pretty dismal. This is an exception to the rule. By a long shot. They have an EXCELLENT happy hour where you can get amazing pasta dishes for under $15.00. We tried the bruschetta, the calamari, salmon entree and my wife had the seafood pasta. Everything was superb. You’d never would have known it by looking at the place. It’s in the middle of nowhere, pretty much a hole in the wall ran by two Italian sisters but the food is top-notch. It’s a BYOB so splurge on the wine and save the money for great authentic Italian cuisine.

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A local place in Plumbsteadville is called Devil’s Half Acre. It’s a German inspired gastropub and the food and drinks are solid. It can get pricey. Almost six dollars for the deviled egg app is a bit of a stretch. The draft beer can cost you a small fortune too. Some of the beers we tried even being local were seven dollars. They have a varied menu that features German fare like sausages, schnitzel and a German beer list that coincides with a domestic craft beer list. They also have a Tuesday burger madness night where two burgers compete to see which one will be on the list next week. We tried them. They were both great. I had a habernero stuffed burger which was surprisingly mild and my wife had a caramelzied onion burger. Both great but sloppy as hell. The place is gorgeous and the service is prompt and fun. We recommend it! download.png

devil’s half acre

If you are into Mexican as much as we are, we recommend Rey Azteca in Warminster. Portland did not have a great Mexican food scene but when we were about to move, it definitely started to blow up. The Portland Mercado on Foster Road was a great addition with food carts highlighting hispanic and latino cuisine from all over the planet. Rey Azteca is very authentic, a bit pricey for what you get but the food is solid. All burritos we ordered were accompanied by rice and beans and their menu is HUGE! Their carnitas are very good and they actually used pulled chicken verses sauteed chicken chunks which was a huge turn off for us. Pulled chicken burrtios are what makes me very happy!  The service is lightening fast and it also a BYOB. logo (1)

rey azteca

We just moved to Pennsylvania seven months ago. There is a lot of catching up to do in regards to the restaurant scene. This is just a snapshot of what we’ve tried and many places simply were not worth the mention. You have to be very diligent to see the culinary diamonds in the rough in regards to the Buck’s County food scene but we won’t stop till we have a full portfolio of places to try and we haven’t even ventured into Philly yet. That is next! Cheers!!!