Thursday, January 30, 2014


3720 Leavenworth Street
Open Mon – Thurs 10:30am – 10pm, Fri & Sat 10:30am – 11pm, Sun 11:30am – 10pm
Delivery with $10 minimum 
China Town on Urbanspoon

Signage that suggests they've been around since at least 2001,
plus the Marylebone in the background and Mother India in the distance,
making up the culinary corridor of Leavenworth Street.

I used to pass this place on Leavenworth without looking up. I hadn't given it more than one or two subconscious, dismissive thoughts that didn't even come close to making it to the forefront of my mind. I fully assumed, based on location, signage, and the fact that no one I know ever mentions it, that it was simply not for me. The sauces would be syrupy and sugary, nearly undigestible. The meats would have a freezer-burned aftertaste. The vegetables, questionable, and the rice, dry. It might as well have had bullet proof glass dividing the kitchen from the outside world. (I'm not claiming to be some tough bitch or anything, but there are a number of take-out joints in Philly like that.)

Point is, there are a lot of bad Chinese places in town, kids. Watch yourselves.

Little did I know, the grease pool forming while taking this
photo nearly cost me my zebra print tablecloth.

It's true that the first time I ate food from here I woke up twice during the night, too thirsty to even consider a glass, going straight for the faucet while cupping my hands. That's likely more due to the fact that I not only "tried," but pretty much finished two whole entrees. A double dose of sodium will do that.

Let me walk you through that evening.

#C15, Kung Pao Chicken Combo Platter
First, when I ran into an acquaintance on the street, I felt compelled to say I was simply going for a walk, instead of "going to gorge myself at that guaranteed disgusting Chinese place directly behind us." With that major bullet dodged, I entered, placed my order for two at the counter, Facebooked in the corner of the dingy, gray dining room, and quietly collected my brown paper bag after a short eight minutes.

The Kung Pao chicken seemed, as a whole, undercooked, with veggies still too snappy and peanuts somewhat slimy and raw. The lo mein had a sorry vegetable variety, limited to poorly cut carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. I piled it all on one plate and couldn't quite discern the differences in flavor of the two. The egg roll, with tiny bits of minced pork inside, was insanely greasy. I thought about a future devoted to improving temperature control of commercial deep fryers as I ate it, slowly, intense and immediate guilt forming with every bite.

#39, Vegetable Lo Mein 

I vowed to never go back, knowing full well I would because it's convenient, and probably soon.

The second visit, which happened to be on Christmas, provided a feast fit for a holiday absent of city bus service: General Tso's chicken swimming in a luridly sweet, addictive sauce, served with another egg roll I swore I'd throw away and instead munched on once it had chilled off a few hours later. A small order of broccoli in spicy garlic sauce (because it's important to get your veggies) actually had some spice.

These days, instead of dismissing this restaurant whenever I pass, it conjures thoughts of semi-enjoyment, of retiring early for the evening surrounded by an assortment of little white boxes. In this, my fat person fantasy, I never forget to ask for chopsticks.

Chinatown is not good food by any conventional measurements, but if you order carefully, you might just come away satisfied. Suggested strictly for delivery on a crappy weather day, I say get your usual Chinese dish and see how it stacks up against the likes of nearby Rice Bowl and Three's Happiness, two also not very good restaurants. Who knows — you might be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Frank's Pizzeria (and other thoughts)

711 North 132nd Street
Open Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 3pm-9pm
Frank's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

One time we ordered a bunch of Frank's at work. It lasted five minutes.

As I sat today compulsively wringing the excess cream cheese from my jalapeño popper before submerging it in a ranch bath, anticipating another just sorta decent pie at Frank's, I thought I'd weigh in. The Omaha World Herald recently named Frank's one of the three best pizzas in Omaha, specifically dominating the "less fancy" category. I found that interesting because I've eaten at Frank's four times in the last two months, but not necessarily because I love it. A more accurate description of why I make the trip Out West would be that I don't regret it. It's not bad by any means. It's just not that great.

Frank's is decent, but this pile of raw onions and
floppy sausage, combined with the wonky pizza cutter work,
sort of beg the question,
"What the heck is going on here?"
The cheese, sometimes with a grainy quality, often comes not melted enough -- it's definitely not the bubbling, browned appearance desired of New York-style pizza. In fact, both the sausage and onion on today's pie were curiously undercooked. The crust, however oven charred on the bottom it may be, somehow manages to reduce to a soggy state within minutes. A "best pizza" title holder might want to address this major structural flaw. It flops under the weight almost immediately.

Still, for the most part, Frank knows what he's doing. Overall, the assemblage of dough, cheese, and sauce tastes good enough to come back to, though I can't quite explain why.

Brick Oven likes to serve slices with an unusual 90° angle.

If you're looking for another New York-style option, try Brick Oven. Concealed in the shadows of Nebraska Furniture Mart, this pie -- available by the slice -- has a much sturdier and more flavorful crust. I can't vouch at all for consistency (one time I had to leave behind a mangled pile of stringy cheese and chewy sausage on the plate) but on a good day, it might just be better than Frank's. Plus, the place reminds me exactly of the mom-and-pop pizza joints I grew up eating at, save for the zealous owner/operator behind the counter who might be overbearing or just extremely passionate about his brand.

I'm partial to New York-style because I grew up with it. But I like Neapolitan. I like Sicilian. I'll own up to my vices and admit I even have a soft spot for total junk food Godfather's garbage when the time is right. Mostly, though, I'm a sucker for a timeworn recipe, or at least a healthy fervor for the craft of pizza making that doesn't wane after a few years. I think that's what makes a good pie, no matter what your style preference may be.

Consider the gallery below for a few other good ones in town:

A recent gut busting cheesy favorite,
albeit with an unimpressive crust
considering the owner's penchant for baking,
is the meatball pizza at Nicola's in the Old Market.

(UPDATE: A more recent visit revealed an herby, buttery,
flavorful crust. I stand corrected.)

Tasty Pastry serves personal sized pizzas on the cheap.
Here, atop an absolutely delectable, chewy crust,
are Brussels sprouts, pecorino, brie, bacon, and onions.

This is what Baxter's in Benson looked like when it first opened:
I'll trade you a sloppy pile of haute toppings
artfully made from local ingredients for a crust that's not corrugated cardboard.

This tasty jalapeño bacon slice illustrates the progression
of working out the recipe kinks at Baxter's. Cheers.  

Denying yourself a Dante pie because you're
repelled by its unfortunate location would be a shame.
The "Amore di carni" is a love worth dying for, even if that's just a
cheesy claim meant to convey that this
Neapolitan-style pizza is really effing good.

More Frank's