Two great food events happened recently, and both were loaded with notable eats. The first was John DeBella’s Comfort Food Fest at the Cescaphé Ballroom in downtown Philadelphia, and the other was Main Line Madness, held in the atrium of the Radnor Financial Center (not exactly the most dramatic backdrop, but certainly spacious enough for such a lavish spread). The latter event featured food and drink from 20-plus restaurants and bars, benefiting the Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania Foundation.
First up at Main Line Madness was Stella Blu and Gypsy Saloon’s signature lobster mac ’n’ cheese, which in hindsight I should have requested a care package of, as it was stuffed with huge chunks of lobster meat (and about a thousand calories a bite). Next to the cholesterol table was Verdad, which served the same thing I’d tasted at the Comfort Food Fest: very delicious pork carnitas topped with crisp green apple slivers and pomegranate seeds. The only thing missing were sips of tequila, another thing this Spanish-leaning tapas restaurant is known for.
333 Belrose sported some yummy alcohol samples: ROOT liquor and Canton Ginger liqueur, both very tasty. Nibbles included large pieces of spicy tuna tartare on homemade tortilla chips with sriracha mayonnaise, scallions and sesame seeds. I can’t say that was the perfect pairing for the liquor that was served, but it was a great mouthful all the same (I’ve had them before!).
I followed the tables around both sides of the room and straight ahead, taking photos and asking people their opinions of the chefs’ offerings. Sullivan’s table was a hit, fully loaded with lobster-tomato bruschetta and pesto risotto, apparently a second course as they’d run out of the initial offering of shrimp cocktail and prime rib rollatini.
One of my favorite touches of whimsy was the miniature—and I mean miniature, no bigger than my middle finger (sorry, it’s the only accurate comparison)—Italian hoagies from Jack Francis Catering. Blackfish had some wild soup going, cocoa bean with refried beans and chives, and Nectar showed up with artsy-looking vegetable maki rolls filled with cured hamachi. Yangming had chafing dishes overflowing with one of my favorite dishes, though not a frequent choice for me: shrimp with honey walnuts. (I’m a sucker for the eggplant and tofu, plus the firecracker veal, so I never stray).
Floret, the new place brought to you by Scott Morrison, made a showing with three different courses. The poached mussels with saffron aioli, diced red pepper and fennel fronds looked pretty snazzy laid out on a big, square mirror. (No one is really sure what is going on with Floret, so if anyone has any scoop, please e-mail me!)
Still no word on how much money was raised, but by all accounts, the evening was a success and all of the restaurateurs made a solid showing with their eats and friendly staff. A lot of these types of events can be too crowded, with the food not so fabulous and scant by the end of the night, but this was timed perfectly with cocktail/dinner hour, and the items brought in were easy to eat with a cocktail in hand and a conversation going on.
The Comfort Food Fest was really a lot of fun, and until I went, I had no idea what a coveted invite it is. Hosted by John DeBella and WMGK, the event is full-on food, with a diverse roster of chefs whipping up their twists on comfort food. I was a judge this year, and when I first got there, I got treated to a hefty cocktail—I chose a Knob Creek on the rocks. I’ve done judging before, but never on stage! I was in good company, too: NBC 10 meteorologist Dave Warren and, due to a last-minute dropout, Lisa DeBella, who, I must say, is a hoot.
The food came rapid-fire, with a first course of some pretty savory and moist meatballs from Il Mulino New York and chef Josh Gravish. Great texture, and I loved the light-and-tangy crushed-tomato sauce.
The portions were pretty large for a tasting so, at one point, I had about five different plates in front of me. The caliber of food was pretty surprising—but of course, I was a newbie. If you check back at the end of the week, I should have more scoop on the chefs and dishes. For now, check out the photo gallery below.
Before I go, though … I can’t leave you hanging on the big winner! It wasn’t an easy decision, as the final three choices all made an excellent showing with their innovative takes on comfort food. However, the dish that really knocked all of us out came from Cuba Libre’s Robert Legget, who was channeling some Jose Garces with his clever amalgamation of hickory-smoked Kobe short-rib chili. Served in a steal-worthy cast-iron-covered casserole dish, the chili was layered with a deep-fried cornbread cookie, foie gras ice cream and a pasilla chocolate sauce.
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