Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No More Blogging

Really, it's my chair. I just let you sit underneath me.

…until I get back from my trip to Portugal with Jennie.

I’m leaving M&C and the ‘puter throne in the capable paws of Miss. Kittah. While I’m away she will dutifully be keeping the throne warm and covered in a fresh layer of hair and nail casings.

Oh, you thought she’d actually be posting while I was away? That’s just silly. What she will be doing is taking names and making a list. But I need your help.

Tell me where to eat!!

You see, I only have a couple of restaurant reviews in my reserves, and nothing on my to-do list of restaurants is exciting me at the moment. Winter depression is in full gear, and, really, nothing is exciting me. Hopefully, this vacation will throw a cog in that wheel, and, when I get back, Miss Kittah will hand over the list of all the wonderful places I should meet and eat.

So…do you have a favorite restaurant, bar, coffee shop, bakery, food cart, bodega, or whatever in Philly, Wilmington, or the surrounding area that you just can’t believe I haven’t eaten at yet? Or maybe there’s a place you’re interested in, but would like me to take the plunge first. Do tell!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sick Is The New Birthday

All fancy, decadent, piece-of-art cakes aside, my favorite cake is plain Jane yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I made a squee-like noise when the latest edition of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting. Squee!

I was saving CI's attempt at recreating a box mix yellow cake from scratch for my birthday, but I’ve been sick all week with nothing to do, so I jumped the gun by about a month. That’s OK, ‘cause I really want an ice cream cake for my birthday this year, anyway!How do they go about getting a light, moist, yellow cake like the ones from a box that you know your Sandra Lee-bashing self really loves? Delicate cake flour, whipped egg whites for lift, and egg yolks for color.

I ended up eating around most of the frosting. Don’t ask me how I could not love what was mostly butter, melted chocolate, cocoa powder, and confectioner’s sugar, but I didn’t. I much prefer the chocolate frosting (also from CI) I posted about a couple of years ago. I’m skipping the frosting intended for this cake and sending you straight to, in my opinion, the better frosting.

Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 ½ cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ¼ sticks butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, room temperature

  • Move oven rack to the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350°.
  • Grease two 9” round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Dust pans with flour.
  • Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 ½ cups sugar in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks.
  • Beat egg white in a small bowl until foamy, about 30 seconds. Then slowly add the remaining ¼ cup sugar to the egg white while beating. Continue to beat until whites hold peaks, but mixture still looks moist. (The original recipe calls for a mixing stand, but I did not have one. I used a hand held beater, and had to beat for much longer than the prescribed 60 seconds to get peaks.)
  • Add butter mixture to flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Gently fold in 1/3 of the egg white mixture, then add the remaining egg white mixture and gently fold in until fully incorporated.
  • Divide batter between two pans, tapping filled pans gently on counter to dislodge air bubbles.
  • Bake 20-22 minutes or until done.
  • Cool 10 minutes before removing cakes from pan. Remove cakes from pan, and cool on a cooling rack for 1 ½ hours before frosting.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sweet Basil

Update: no longer open.

I still haven’t found a favorite Thai restaurant in the area, but it’s not because of a lack of effort. The latest effort was at Sweet Basil, a BYOB Thai restaurant that opened up last year in a tiny, PA strip mall just over the border from DE.

The interior is sparse, yet clean and elegant. Part of the sparseness if because two of the four walls are windows looking onto the parking lot. We sat a few feet from a line of SUVs with blinding headlights on our visit, and, from that experience, I’d strongly suggest the owners move the blinds from the top of the window to the middle of the window – and pull them down!

The menu at Sweet Basil looks abbreviated compared to the menu books you get at most Thai restaurants, because Sweet Basil does not place the same dish under five different meat headings like many restaurants. There is no vegetarian section, either; you have to ask. You’ll find most of your Thai favorites on Sweet Basil’s menu, though.

We tried to start with summer rolls, and asked our server if they could be prepared without shrimp, but she finished our sentence before we could, and laughed, saying that she gets that question all the time, and, no, they can’t. Hmm… if you get that question all the time, you might want to consider making summer rolls to order!

If only I could have coordinated the picture taking with the headlights...

From there, we ordered two of our favorite Thai dishes – Pad Thai and Massaman curry – and my litmus test for new Thai restaurants.

I had to ask for the Pad Thai to be made vegetarian. There was definitely fish sauce in the Pad Thai, but I accept fish sauce when dining out. If you don’t, of course you already know about fish sauce lurking in vegetarian Thai dishes, and to be very clear when ordering.

The pad Thai came with slices of chewy fried tofu, and the sauce was almost near perfect to my liking (I'm in the sweet and tangy camp), but perhaps a little too salty. I would have liked a lime to squeeze over the dish, and maybe a few more leaves of cilantro other than the few that were obviously decorative. Really, these are small qualms!

You have to ask for the Massaman curry to be made vegetarian, as well. Vegetarian Massaman curry usually has fried tofu, potatoes, onions, and nuts. Cubed silken tofu strangely showed up in this dish, along with a ton of onions, a couple of cashews, and nary a potato. Silken tofu is squishy and disgusting, that’s why fried tofu is king. We love onions, but this was too much, especially since some still had a raw edge. The scant sauce covering the plate was actually very good – just the right thickness and balance of coconut, sweet, and spicy.

Normally, the reason I can’t find a favorite Thai restaurant is because the sauce on pad Thai and Massaman curry is just not right for me. With Sweet Basil, the sauces were near perfect, but there were faults elsewhere.

I just can’t win, but I'm not a quitter!

Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine
275 Wilmington-West Chester Pike (US 202), Chadds Ford, PA, 19317
Tues.-Thurs, 11:30 a.m. -3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Mon., closed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Geechee Girl Rice Café

Geechee Girl Rice Café is a BYOB in Germantown specializing in traditional Southern rice dishes. As a Carolina girl and rice lover, this restaurant has been on my “list” for a couple of years. A trip to Germantown last weekend allowed for a visit.

Geechee (and also Gullah) refers to descendants of Africans who brought their rice-growing skills from West Africa and worked the rice plantations of the Low Country and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia as slaves. A rice eating culture developed amongst the slaves and non-slaves of South Carolina that is present to this day. Mashed potatoes and dinner rolls are not supper's star starch in South Carolina; rice is.

Carolina Gold is the rice once grown on the coast of South Carolina, and has been resurrected by those interested in heirloom grains. Carolina Gold is a long-grain rice, but seems rather short because it is subject to breaking during threshing. To get your hands on some Carolina Gold around here, you’re gonna have to mail order…or go to Geechee Girl Rice Café.

Not all menu items at Geechee Girl are purely Southern. Chinese, Thai, and other world cuisines influence the mostly Southern menu at Geechee Girl. The two salad specials we ordered fall into the category of “not Southern,” but were tasty nonetheless.

The Brie, candied pecan, pear, and mixed green salad was quite good. The pecans were perfectly candied, and not bitter from over roasting. The Brie lent heft to the salad, and the pears tasted delicately of roses (they were soaked in something – missed it, though).

The beet and goat cheese salad was also a special, and how can you go wrong with this classic pairing? Rosemary was noticeable, but not overbearing.

Vegetarian items are clearly marked on the menu, although most vegetarian items are sides. Not a problem here, as the classic Southern sides are what I came to get.

There are two Southern sides traditionally served atop rice, though, that I was upset not to find. I’m not sure how they could not include stewed tomatoes and okra, but it’s missing. While they do have the traditional meat-inclusive hoppin’ John, I was hoping for a vegetarian version. Vegetarians will have to settle for black beans. So...I went rice-less.

The buttermilk biscuit is perfect – flaky, tender, a tastes like butter! I don’t think you can improve their biscuit, except by ordering two.

Collard greens come two ways at Geechee Girl – the traditional slow-cooked way, or the more modern blanched and sautéed way. I went with the blanched and sautéed greens, as that’s how I cook mine. These collards rock! The greens are not bitter, and loaded with caramelized onions and garlic. The garlic breath is fierce!

The grits were thick, creamy, and seasoned perfectly with salt. I would have liked to have had black pepper on my grits, but Geechee Girl is one of those restaurants that doesn’t provide salt and pepper shakers on tables. Unfortunately, there were a few distracting lumps in the grits.

The fish-eater ordered the salmon special of the day atop Carolina Gold rice (jasmine, brown, and wehani rice are also an option) with a side of sautéed collards. No complaints from that side of the table.

We were too full for dessert. (Knew I shouldn't have ordered a salad!)

I’ve read complaints about the service speed at Geechee Girl, and I will confirm that it is slow. It’s not neglectful or unprofessional, it’s just not the speedy service you’re used to at most restaurants wishing to turn your table for profit. If you’re a water guzzler or have a movie to get to, you’re gonna be a little bothered. Otherwise, it’s best to sit back and take it easy.

My only real complaint with Geechee Girl is the irksome note on the menu that a fee of $3 will be applied to shared plates. No one comes to dining establishments of this level to wheedle their way into a cheap dinner by sharing; they’re sharing for the sake of experiencing all the fine food. (Edit - Please note explanation of charge in comments below.)

Oh, and note that it’s cash only!

Geechee Girl Rice Café
6825 Germantown Pike, Philadelphia, PA 19119


Tues.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sun.-Mon., closed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

J. Farmers

After the last few scrumptious posts, I hate to throw up these pictures of food found on the buffet at J. Farmers in downtown Wilmington…but life goes on, glamorous or not.

On one of my walks to the Riverfront Market last December, I poked my head into J. Farmers having never heard of or seen the place. What I saw when I walked in the door were two huge buffets – one hot and one cold.

Buffets are scary, yet compelling. It could be really bad, but the whole world is yours. The only reason I came back to J. Farmer’s is because on the initial walk through I spied sushi, tofu, snow peas, and sriracha sauce on the buffet – and a couple of Asian women running the place. I knew they had stuck some goodies on the buffet.

I brought the boyfriend with me on the return trip, because I knew I would need help sampling the hundred plus items on the buffet. These two plates only represent a smattering of what was available on the buffet, not to mention that you can order traditional breakfast, sandwiches (including a veggie burger and a veggie wrap), and fried sides from the grill counter.

My plate starting at 12 o’clock:
Mac and Cheese – Very Stouffer’s.
Asparagus – Nice, but didn’t like gobs or dried oregano sprinkled on top.
Marinated Mushrooms – I love canned mushroom and marinated mushrooms. It’s my thang. These were in Italian dressing. Eh.
Veggie SushiNormal for buffet sushi.
Hard Boiled Egg – Not many signs on the buffet. I thought these were deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs, but hate hard boiled eggs. Mayo works wonders!
Silken Tofu – I had to get the tofu even though I hate silken tofu. I knew no one in would eat it, and I didn’t want it to feel unloved.
Kimchi Radish – Yum.
Sesame Asian Greens – Yes, ma’am!
Chicken Salad – Need more signs. Cubed says potato salad to me; shredded says chicken salad. Oops.
Fried Plantains
(center)– Can do no wrong.His plate starting 12 o’clock:
Rice and Potatoes – Don’t hate, but I forgot if I even tasted this.
Chinese Lomein – Greasy just like on Chinese buffet.
Mac and Cheese – Everyone’s doing it!
Avocado – Fresh.
Sushi - Avocado and fake crab.
Cucumber and Tomato – Yep.
Marinated Mushrooms – Again.
Date – Nice find.
Sesame Asian Greens – Great minds think alike.
Kiwi – Fresh.
Dolma – Sticky outside.
Spinach and Cheese Casserole (center) – Very Stouffers, but good.

I know. That was thrilling! By no means is J. Farmers a place I’d go out of the way to eat at, but if I were stuck downtown in one of the high-rise buildings, forgot my lunch, and was jonesing for a buffet (all things that will never happen), this would be my game plan …

Build a salad. It's light and $5.99/pound can get expensive fast. They had some fresh and interesting items on the cold buffet that you don’t normally see at salad bars – kiwi, dates, snow peas, asparagus, tomato and mozzarella salad, and a whole bunch of other goodies I can't recall.

Or, go Asian. Grab some steamed rice from the hot bar, then head back to the cold bar and pile on kimchi, sesame greens, snow peas, tofu, and sriracha sauce.

For dessert, get a few fried plantains.

Dude, someone needs to pay me for the investigative work I do!

J. Farmers
809 N. Market St., Wilmington, DE 19801
Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Monday, February 11, 2008


For all you Valentine’s Day haters, this is not a Valentine’s post! It’s really more of a Christmas/birthday post, so go ahead and read without spite for superfluous, romantic holidays that have the propensity to make you either feel like shit if you're out of a relationship, or inadequate if you're in a relationship.

For a while there I was making truffles for Christmas gifts, but then I moved far away from my family (the truffle recipients), and the idea of busting out truffles the day before traveling home for Christmas did not appeal. My Dad still requests homemade truffles every year, but I haven’t obliged in the past four or so years. Pretty cruel of me.

The dead of winter is a slower time for me, so is a better time for making truffles. It just so happens that my Dad’s birthday is in the middle of February…and he’s getting truffles this year!! (Dad, I don’t think you read this blog that regularly, but if you see this before you get a box in the mail, you got truffles!)

I’m gonna be ballsy and just go ahead and say… these are the best truffles I’ve made so far!

I follow the Joy of Cooking’s recipe for truffles ( ½ cup heavy cream and 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate) to make the truffle part, and I live by the philosophy of “mo’ chocolate, mo’ better,” so prefer my truffles enrobed in chocolate instead of rolled in cocoa, nuts, or other ingredients.

Colored Fiestaware helped keep the flavors straight, especially when the cream was mixed into the chocolate.

I made four types of truffles by adding ingredients to the cream, or infusing the cream with flavors before adding chocolate to make the ganache that gets rolled into truffle balls. This is what I made:

Port Truffle
I didn’t think I’d like the port truffles, but once they were coated in chocolate, the flavor was subtle and enhanced by the bittersweet chocolate shell. Very classic!

Basil Truffle
I loved the basil ice cream I made last summer so much, I had to try making a basil truffle. These truffles have the same unexpected, mysterious, herbal flavor of the basil ice cream. For the adventurer, not weenies! Bittersweet chocolate enrobes the magic flavors.

Curry Truffle
Curry was made for chocolate! My favorite chocolate bar is the Naga bar from Vosges – so aromatic, spicy, and sweet. These truffles are a close replica. I like a milk chocolate casing on these truffles.

Earl Grey Tea Truffle
I’m torn between honoring the curry or the Earl Grey Tea truffle as my favorite. The Earl Grey is sweetly floral, and reminds me fondly of my Granddad’s tall glasses of cold sweet tea mixed liberally with evaporated milk. Milk chocolate covers these tea truffles!

Basic Truffle
makes about 35 truffles

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup heavy cream

  • Scald heavy cream in a small saucepan on the stove.
  • Add hot cream to chopped chocolate, and stir until chocolate is melted and thoroughly incorporated.
  • Store in refrigerator until chilled (1-2 hours).
  • Scoop out a small portion of chilled chocolate ganache, and, with your hands, roll into balls about the size of…a truffle!

8 ounces chocolate (your choice), chopped

  • Melt 2/3 of chopped chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly.
  • To temper, use a candy thermometer and bring chocolate to 110-113°.
  • Remove from heat, and add remaining 1/3 chocolate, stirring constantly for about 8-10 minutes, or until the chocolate cools to 79-80°.
  • Re-heat chocolate to 90°, and dip truffles quickly in chocolate.
  • Place on wax paper-covered tray to cool.

This truffle dipper was fashioned out of a wire coat hanger. Very helpful!

Port Truffle
Instead of ½ cup heavy cream, use 1/3 cup heavy cream, then add port to heavy cream until the liquid reaches the ½-cup mark.

Basil Truffle
Tear about 10 large basil leaves into pieces, and add to hot, heavy cream. Set aside to steep for about 30 minutes. Remove basil before adding to chocolate.

Curry Truffle
Add 1 teaspoon curry powder and about 15 cardamom seeds to hot, heavy cream. Set aside to steep for about 30 minutes. Remove cardamom seeds before adding to chocolate. Add 2 teaspoons curry powder to melted chocolate used to enrobe truffles. Dust finished truffles with curry powder when chocolate shell is completely cooled.

Earl Grey Tea Truffle
Steep two or three Earl Grey tea bags in hot, heavy cream for 30 minutes. Squeeze out tea bags, and remove.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes

Not sure if it’s because Valentine’s Day is around the corner, but this site has been getting lots of hits for vegan red velvet cupcakes this past week. There’s a recipe for red velvet cupcakes, and the word vegan floats around this blog a bit, but there is no recipe for vegan red velvet cupcakes here at the M&C…until now!

I love vegans. I love red velvet cake. I love cupcakes.And I just hate to see people land on this site, and not find what they’re searching for. I guess that means I love you!

I compared the red velvet cake recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World to my Aunt’s recipe for red velvet cake, and the two are virtually identical.In the vegan version, vegetable oil replaces the shortening and eggs, and soy milk replaces the buttermilk. For the cream cheese frosting, margarine replaces the butter, and vegan cream cheese replaces regular cream cheese.Simple!

The resulting vegan cupcakes are super moist – almost a little too moist – due to the vegetable oil, and the frosting is just as good as non-vegan cream cheese frosting. I do prefer the lacto-ovo red velvet cupcakes to the vegan cupcakes, because I think the vegetable oil in the vegan cupcakes changes the original texture of the cake, but that’s not to say I didn’t scarf three of the vegan red velvet cupcakes the second they were frosted!

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and my Aunt
Makes about 22 cupcakes

Update: Because some commenters are concerned about the vegan-ness of red dye, let me clarify: some, but not all red food coloring is made from insects. Cochineal/Carmine is made from beetles (sometimes labeled E120). Red #40 is derived from coal. If you’re concerned about ingredients in red dye being vegan or not, just read the label.

2 cups soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 ounces red food coloring
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Add vinegar to soy milk, and set aside to curdle.
  • Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
  • Add vegetable oil, food coloring, and vanilla extract to the curdled soy milk, and mix.
  • Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix.
  • Fill cupcake liners ¾ full.
  • Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 20 minutes or until done.

½ cup margarine, room temperature
½ cup Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

  • Cream margarine, cream cheese, and vanilla extract.
  • Slowly mix the confectioner’s sugar into the creamed sugar, and then beat until smooth and fluffy.
  • Frost cooled cupcakes.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dosas Don't Suck And Neither Does My Life boyfriend emails me the other day from my favorite Indian restaurant in London (that I told him about) to tell me that his food is on its way, and then he’s off to see my favorite band (that I told him about) play with an accompanying orchestra.

Meanwhile, a dog is holding me captive. I’ve been stuck in Wilmington for the past two weeks looking in on the dog I’m sitting…three times a day! Life is not fair sometimes.

Yeah, but I’ve got mysore masala dosas purchased from the Indian grocery store in my freezer, so take that! Even though I’m stuck at home, my life is not suckin’ so much anymore.

The spicy potato-filled savory crepes are a Southern Indian fav of mine when dining out, but I just can’t make them at home. I’ve tried. So, when I saw dosas in the freezer section of the Indian grocery store, I grabbed a box. Just one, ‘cause I'm a little wary of frozen dosas.

These things are pretty good! Crispy on the edges after a quick ten minutes in the oven, and filled with spicy potatoes. Packets of coconut chutney even come with the four, hand-sized dosas. These dosas are not the three-foot long crepes of restaurants, but I don’t need three feet of anything in my belly even though it has been proven to fit.

Life is good, again. But I better get a jar of onion chutney from the UK (that I told him to get).

Update - I got two jars or onion chutney, an Art Brut t-shirt, and the current issue of BBC GoodFood. Life is good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Café Loftus

Compared to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches eaten by the cool kids at Café Loftus in Center City, the pb&j I ate yesterday, today, and will probably eat tomorrow is a sandwich for nerdy wallflowers.

Mommy never spreads Nutella or Fluffernutter on my peanut butter sandwiches. And I certainly never get sliced pear, cherry jam, and pistachio butter sandwiches in my lunch box.

Leave your lunch box at home so you can go out to eat one of the gourmet pb&j sandwiches at Café Loftus. Just don’t tell mom.

Café Loftus
136 S. 15th St., Philadelphia, PA 19102
Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


A few people in Wilmington have professed their love to me for Corner Bistro, a restaurant in Wilmington serving eclectic American cuisine. While, I’ve never had anything bad at Corner Bistro, I’ve never had anything memorable, either. After three attempts to love Corner Bistro as much as everyone else, I gave up.

Well, here go the owners of Corner Bistro. They open up a diner on Concord Pike in Wilmington right around the corner from Corner Bistro. The new venture is Lucky’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant, which takes the place of what was the Ranch House. Never went, but the Ranch House was apparently a scuzzy diner.

I’m hearing good things about Lucky’s, but then I never read anything bad about restaurants in Wilmington’s local media, which makes their opinions suspect. I’m gonna give Lucky’s a go, because, like I said, I’ve never had anything bad at Corner Bistro, just…well, I can’t remember what I had.

The interior of Lucky’s got an overhaul when it switched hands, and is now taking cues from Starr’s Brady Bunch-influenced Jones in Philadelphia – stone accent wall, retro fixtures and chairs. Booths with coat racks and tables with bright red vinyl chairs fill the large rectangular dining area. A long diner counter stretches along one wall, where a motley crew of lunch ladies and fresher faces retire between taking orders. A partially open kitchen allows you to see when your order is up...and languishing until the servers figure out which plate is theirs.

Sitting in the pod chair looking at the marshmallow couch by the entrance.

The interior is retro, without being sickeningly slick. The only sickening décor detail is the lettering on the wall leading to the bathroom – “Listen to the music and let your body flow.” What? I just imagined people uncontrollably pissing and shitting themselves upon entering the restroom area labeled “restroom/disco” with the owners' trademark disco ball spinning overhead.

I get the disco ball thing. You have one at Corner Bistro in front of the bathrooms, too, but this saying on the wall at Lucky’s needs to go. I overheard the confused table next to me wondering out load what was up, too. Leave the disco ball, just drop any mention of letting bodies flow while people are eating.

The diner and bistro blended menu at Lucky’s is extensive. Not only do they offer breakfast and lunch diner basics, there have offerings like tortellini and hummus not normally found at diners. Often, I find myself at a diner and not in the mood for eggs or pancakes, so the variety is welcome. The vegetarian menu is also impressive in its variety.

I try the Garden Vegetable Bowl with broccoli, spinach, carrots, and mushrooms over roasted tomato and parmesan cheese grits, thinking I’ve finally found a vegetarian rendition of Southern shrimp and grits. First thing you’ll notice is that none of the vegetables mentioned in the menu description are on the plate (carrot garnish doesn't count).

Then you’ll notice that the vegetables are not over the grits. "Big deal," you say. By saying the vegetables are over the grits, you imply that they are cooked to compliment, enhance, and be eaten with the grits. These vegetables were a side. They also had absolutely no seasoning. Steamed, unseasoned cauliflower – I don’t think there’s anything blander. This is the first time I can remember not eating food served to me, and I’ll eat anything.

How were the grits? The worst grits I’ve had in recent memory. The grits were lumpy, and if the tomatoes were roasted you fooled me. The tomatoes seemed to be just diced tomatoes thrown into cooked grits and simmered a bit. The parmesan was the only saving grace.

After spying a huge sticky bun on another table, I ordered one since I was still hungry. The cinnamon buns are split and heated on a grill, then smothered in sauce and topped with walnuts and raisins. The server dropped off a handful of butter packets to slather between the roll, but I declined the heart attack. Obviously, no one bothered to taste the nuts, because this lot of walnuts was extremely bitter. Had the nuts not been so bitter, this pastry would have been a winner

My partner ordered an egg and cheese burrito wrapped in a spinach tortilla with a side of home fries. There was nothing exceptional about the burrito. Inside the tortilla were eggs and cheese. He did like the extra crispy home fries, simply because he prefers crispy home fries.

When you have a meal of an atrociously bad entrée, a lackluster breakfast, and a pastry with bitter nuts, you don’t ordinarily go back for seconds, but I had to go back to see if things could get better.

For my second visit, I ordered two Asian-influenced starters from the vegetarian section of the menu, not knowing how large they would be – a soup and a soba noodles dish.

I was hoping the soup would arrive first, as that is the norm, but the Japanese soba noodles tossed in peanut sauce and served with bell peppers and mixed greens arrived first. The noodles had an uneven distribution of tangy peanut sauce – gloppy on the bottom, dry on the top. This is minor nitpicking, but, again, the menu description was not accurate. The mixed greens on the menu turned out to be a monoculture of spinach. And I can think of a few garnishes – scallions, cilantro, and cucumbers – that could better compliment and bring more flavor to peanut noodles than roasted peppers. The noodles were much better than the grits, thankfully, but they were no better than soba noodles found in the grab-and-go section of a grocer.

The Asian Dumpling Soup with three vegetable dumplings served in Thai ginger broth arrived last, and I’d be kind if I said the soup was lukewarm. The dumplings are filled mostly with cabbage, and are innocuous in flavor. The broth, on the other hand, packs a wallop of flavor with intense sweetness and spiciness. My lips were pleasantly burning. My only complaint with the soup, other than temperature, was the three sticks of raw red pepper floating in the soup. They look gorgeous, but I was forced to use a knife and fork to cut them into bite-sized pieces (the dumplings can be easily cut with the side of the soup spoon). Don’t make me cut my soup!

After two trips, I’m not impressed with Lucky’s – other than the fact that they have many vegetarian, non-traditional diner options to choose from, which I truly do appreciate that they cared enough to offer. Maybe they should scale the menu back, though, and make a few excellent dishes instead of many mediocre dishes.

Lucky’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant
4003 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE 19803
Open daily, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.