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El Camino Real – Real Dissappointing

As is my custom, I rarely go to newly opened restaurants right away. It’s not that I have anything against it, or are afraid to try something new, it’s just something that rarely happens. Maybe I’m just not hip or cool enough. Maybe I like to let others experiment first. The last time I went somewhere early was Distrito, and I had a great experience then. So when I got to decide on a place for my birthday, I thought perhaps I should go against the norm and go somewhere new, like El Camino Real. Well, perhaps I should have gone with my gut and not gone there.

The place is dark and loud. I went on the night of the Eagles game so it was fairly dead. I’d say the place was maybe 1/5th full. I really wanted a booth, but we got seated at a table instead. Right next to the kitchen and the bar, a fairly high traffic spot. Did I mention how loud it was? And it seems like they have the Quentin Tarantino soundtracks on a loop. It started off on a bad foot as our waiter didn’t even show up at the table right away. It took unnaturally long for him to even come by and give us menus. If I notice, then you know it’s too long. And I already mentioned how not busy it was, right?
Ok, on with the food. So the place serves bbq as well as mexican. We ordered a thing of chips and salsa, which aren’t free, but it’s neverending refills. It came with two different salsas, one verde and one smoky pico de gallo. The salsa verde was just fine. And normal. The smoky pico de gallo was strange. The “smoky” equated to being doused with liquid smoke. It was just strange and pretty much wrong. I love me some pico de gallo. It’s fresh, that’s what’s good about it. Fresh tomatoes, fresh onions, fresh cilantro, fresh lime juice. So when you throw artificial liquid smoke flavor on it, it’s just bizarre. You know it’s not natural. I don’t know whose idea it was, but they should just go with fresh pico. For the love of mexico, please. The chips were fine though. Crunchy and not too greasy. J got the taco salad. He liked it, but he expected it to be more salad, and less taco chips. It was loaded with chips, and not loaded with actual greens. So not quite salad-y enough.
So I got the brisket sandwich on texas toast. You get to pick what kind of bbq sauce you want, sweet or spicy. I’d read that the spicy was too damn spicy, so I went with sweet, which I liked. It also comes with fries, which I enjoyed very much, and pickle slices. So as you may be able to observe with your own peepers, you can clearly see what the problem with this sandwich was. Seriously. Does ANYTHING have to be so fatty? I mean, did I order a fat sandwich? No, I ordered a brisket sandwich. And believe you me, having lived in Austin, I’ve had my fair share of texas bbq. And no brisket I’ve ever had looks like the brisket that was in this sandwich, and no brisket I’ve ever had EVER has any fat on it, let alone 33% fat. It was seriously disturbing. Which is a shame really, because once the fat was hacked off, it was fine. Not great, but fine. Acceptable for being Philadelphia.
And just to show you that I was not being a crybaby or extra picky, just look at all the fat that I had to remove from the meat. Literally, each slice of brisket was practically divvied into thirds, with the middle third being a big strip of fat. Gross. I was actually surprised that they would serve something like this. Shame on you! I would have said something, but I was just so disappointed and it was my birthday, for pete’s sake, that I just didn’t have the energy. I should have recognized it as a bad sign when immediately after I ordered the food, our waiter came right back and asked which sandwich I had ordered. For someone who’s sole job is to take food orders and then serve them, he’d already screwed half of his job up. Sure, he looked like a mocha version of sideshow bob, but that did not make up for him being a bad waiter. In fact, he really wasn’t particularly good. And neither was the food. And thus, on my birthday, I was severely underwhelmed. The owner was there too that night. If I see him again, I’m going to do everyone a favor and say something to him! I promise!

El Camino Real
1040 N 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 925-1110

El Camino Real on Urbanspoon

Highway food, literally…

While driving from Delmar to Dewey Beach, we drove through some fairly rural areas. See cows below for evidence.

We also drove past a BBQ cart on the side of the highway. It promised NC style BBQ. We had to check it out. Notice how happy that little pig and chicken look on the sign. They’re not gonna look so happy in my stomach.

They had two cookers set up. Look at these fine specimens of bbq wizardry. They had plenty of pork ribs and chicken smoking up in these bad boys.

We got the rib plate. It came with about half a dozen good sized ribs. It was NC style, so it was a vinegary sauce. You could tell it’d been cooking for a long time. The meat came right off the bone and it had a nice caramelized crust. Also in the platter was some delicious sweet corn that came from a can (nothing wrong with that) and a roll that was surprisingly good. Perfect for soppin up some rib grease. Yum! All this for $8 and a priceless view of cars whizzing by.

Big Chain BBQ

How do you feel about big chain restaurants? As a concept, I’m not a fan. Probably because there are so many bad ones out there. The food is crappy and what they’re selling is not food, but the brand, the experience, the chotchkies. This is not to say that I never go to chain places. Especially when I’m travelling, and if I haven’t done any research in advance, there’s always a few chains around that you know you can count on. There are certain ones that I actually do like, such as the Pappas chains (Pappadeaux’s, Pappasito’s, etc). I even love the grilled caribbean salad at Chili’s. If I lived near a Sonic Burger, I’d be there all the time.

So I was a little hesitant about going to Famous Dave’s. They’re a national chain and they’re serving something sacred, barbeque. It’s so easy to do it badly. But I’d been watching all this stuff about bbq on tv and had a hankerin. The restaurant is a big old log cabin lodge type of place, with fishing gear as decoration. The tables themselves are no frills, with rolls of paper towels hung on pipes for you to clean off your mitts. There’s a six pack of bbq sauces for you, this I just loved. Ranging from their rich & sassy, sweet & zesty, to the two spiciest ones, Texas Pit and Devil’s Spit, you could pick your own sauce to slather onto your meat. Design your own bbq basically.

They’ve got an extensive menu, and you can pretty much order whatever you want. You can get a sandwich, or a salad, ribs, any combo of meats. I went with the two meat platter. I got brisket and chopped pork. You also get two sides, in addition to corn on the cob and a corn muffin. So you know what? I liked it all. I liked the brisket. It comes with the rich & sassy sauce, but you can also get it dry. It actually had the red ring around it, which shows that it was slow smoked and cooked for a long time. The chopped pork was also damn good. It was really surprising. I had the garlic mashed potatoes as one of the sides, and these rocked. I could have eaten a giant bowl of these. I had the beans too, and these were good, but nothing exciting. There were big hunks of pork in it though, so those were the best bits. I also loved the corn muffin. I love corn bread and corn muffins in general. This one was nice and sweet and moist. It wasn’t dry or crumbly, which I can’t stand. The corn was good too. So good and juicy that when C bit into his, he shot corn water into J’s eye. It was classic.

Here’s a shot of the two meat combo with brisket and sausage. I’m not too into sausage so I didn’t taste it, but everyone who got the sausage liked it. We also had a few Texans in our party, and they all enjoyed the food. Our waitress was adorable and was extremely helpful in explaining the food and the different sauces. Even with such a big party, our food came out fairly quickly. And even when A spilled his beer, they brought him out a free one. And it was his fault! I definitely want to try some of the non-chain bbq places in town, but the next time I feel a need for bbq, I won’t hesitate to go back to Famous Dave’s!

Famous Dave's on Urbanspoon

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