Another unusual year has come and just about gone. It would be remiss of me to pass up an opportunity to do a year-end roundup of my culinary highlights of 2021. I’ve actually only been blogging since September and don’t have a record of everything I’ve eaten going back to the start of the year. So this will be more like a final third of 2021 roundup.
As regular readers of this blog know, I ate a lot of cheesesteaks this year. More of them could have been included here, but I didn’t want to make the year’s highlights too cheesesteak-heavy. So I’m being very picky and just including what I consider to be the four best steaks I’ve had in 2021.
I wrote about Delco Steaks twice over the past few months. I first checked out their original location in Broomall, Pennsylvania, and was blown away by the entire package: a great seeded roll and plenty of meat with lots of Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions blended in. They have been in expansion mode and recently opened a location in Ridley, about 10 minutes from where I live. The steak I picked up there a few weeks ago was no less impressive than the one from the Broomall spot.
The Collegeville Italian Bakery in the western suburbs of Philly is a great all-around establishment. Not surprisingly, they bake their own rolls and also offer several styles of very good pizza. But I was there to sample their cheesesteak, and my friend and I split one each with Whiz and American cheese. They were both outstanding.
The other two steaks that I’m including here were from restaurants in Philly. Cafe Carmela is in the Northeast section of the city and is a fantastic restaurant, with great pizza and the best fried Mozzarella I’ve ever had. But those both took a back seat to their sensational cheesesteak on an excellent seeded roll, again, with plenty of Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions blended in among an abundance of meat.
But the best cheesesteak I had this year was one of the more recent sandwiches I’ve written about. I refer to the one from Charlie’s Roast Pork of South Philly. That steak – which I ordered with Whiz and fried onions- was absolute perfection in every conceivable way. The seeded roll was one of the best steak rolls I’ve ever had.
Aside from cheesesteaks, I ate a few other stand-out sandwiches that were beef-centric this year.
The hot roast beef sandwich at Ye Olde Ale House of Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, was probably the best I’ve ever had. It was just bursting with flavor. My top burger of the year was the one I ate just last week at The Dandelion, which is in Center City, Philly’s downtown. And no list of the year’s best would be complete without a Jewish deli sandwich. The corned beef on rye at Philly’s Famous 4th Street Deli fits the bill nicely. They don’t skimp on corned beef, and it comes on excellent, thick-sliced rye bread.
My wife and I hit the highway for several road-trips during the Fall, and there were dining stops during all three that were memorable enough to be included here.
We ventured west twice; to Pittsburgh and Cleveland. That meant a return to the roadfood establishment that I’ve visited more than any other over the years; my beloved Summit Diner of Somerset, Pennsylvania. We arrived shortly before closing on the way out to Pittsburgh, but managed to take out a meal that included a breakfast sandwich – one of my Summit standbys – and a vanilla shake to eat in their parking lot. On the way home from Cleveland, we dined inside, where I enjoyed chicken fingers and waffles. Unfortunately, they were out of pie.
While in Pittsburgh, I returned to Pamela’s, a longtime local institution with several locations that serves some of the best pancakes in the U.S. They are almost as thin as crepes with crispy edges. I had mine with bananas and walnuts.
On the way to Cleveland, we stopped to eat in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. That meal didn’t qualify, but between the Turnpike and the restaurant, I noticed a Meadow’s Frozen Custard, a small PA chain I tried a couple times some years back. We stopped off there after lunch, and I enjoyed a cone topped with a couple scoops of fantastic chocolate-marshmallow custard.
Our other road-trip was to Connecticut, which is one of the best roadfood states in the country. We took advantage of that, first, by stopping at Denmo’s, a stand I’ve been to a number of times that features a large menu which includes fried seafood, lobster rolls, burgers, hot dogs and ice cream. I opted for fried whole-belly clams, a New England favorite I hadn’t had in some years. They were heavenly.
I said Connecitcut is one of the best overall roadfood states. But they are number one when it comes to pizza. And we ate at two of the state’s top pizzerias. First, there was the Manchester location of Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana – a.k.a. Pepe’s, the most famous of Connecticut pizzerias, which now has a number of locations. I was in a state of pizza-ecstasy while wolfing down one of their trademark white-clam pies. Then, on our way home, we stopped off at Carminuccio’s in Newtown, CT, and ordered a basic Mozzarella and sauce pie; half plain, half “Stern’s Garlic Crown.” That’s one of their specialty pizzas that is topped with crumbled sausage and roasted garlic and peppers. Man, was that good!
But we hadn’t quite had our fill of Connecticut roadfood and drove straight from Carminuccio’s to Ridgefield Ice cream, which specializes in dense, flavorful soft-serve. I ordered a peach milkshake that was absolutely divine. I can still taste it.
And speaking of pizza, I need to include the half-sausage pie I ate at Conte’s of Princeton, NJ, over the summer. A long-time friend had been recommending I try their pizza for years and I’m glad to have finally gotten around to it. He was right about how good it is.
The year also featured a couple memorable meals at Chinese restaurants, both of them within the past few weeks. There was my first stop in Philly’s Chinatown since Covid hit. That was at Sang Kee Peking Duck House, where I was reminded of how much I love their honey-roasted barbecued pork and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. And last week, I had a classic old-school Chinese meal that included a traditionally-served PuPu Platter and Sweet & Sour Shrimp at Da Chen of Prospect Park, Pennsylvania.
But the number one dining highlight of the year for me was the final meal I reported on; just yesterday. I refer to the lunch of brisket and pork ribs I had at Holy Que Smokehouse in Lahaska, Pennsylvania. This was the best barbecue I’ve ever had in the Philly metro area. I look forward to returning there in 2022.
I can’t thank you all enough for reading my posts this year. I’d also like to thank the friends who accompanied me on a number of these outings. But most of all, a big thank you to my wonderful wife for putting up with my food obsessions.
The experience of blogging has been fun for me. While the frequency of my posts may taper off a bit in ‘22 due to my new work circumstances, I’ll continue to write about all of my memorable dining experiences and hope to get back out on the road a few times to sample food in other regions.
Happy New Year to one and all!