Lexie and Jackpot
Lexie and Jackpot
The problem with eating Italian food is that you’re hungry 5 or 6 days later…. Today I dropped by Defalco’s Italian Deli & Grocery in Scottsdale. I really wasn’t in the mood for Italian but rather I was continuing my expedition of finding the best cheesesteak in the Valley. I’m not really too wild about going into Scottsdale but this time it just had to be done. I pulled up to the strip mall in which Defalco’s is in and didn’t waste much time standing outside to take pictures since it was a sweltering 104 degrees today in the greater Phoenix metro area. When you walk in this place it looks more like a small Italian grocery store than a restaurant; they have tables spread out all over the store, intertwined between the pastas and the wines. I like it though, just a simple layout without the hassles of a big restaurant.
The ordering counter was all the way in the back of the store, right next to the deli counter (which also looked very good). Then it was my turn to step up to the counter and I was faced with a moral dilemma: which sandwich was I to order today? The menu is quite robust; they have cheesesteaks, chicken parm sandwiches, hot sausage, cold cuts, Italian beef… I could go on and on. Life is full of crucial decisions, this was one of them. At this point I’m between the cheesesteak (my original reason for coming here) and the chicken parm sandwich. I ask the gentleman behind the counter, which one he would recommend. He replied, “all of our hot sandwiches are fantastic, but I would go for the cheesesteak.” Done. Cheesesteak coming up. Actually I lucked out because my dining companion landed up ordering the chicken parm sandwich and I new that she would let me try it in the interest of my scientific expedition of finding the best food. So, one cheesesteak and one chicken parm sandwich coming up. By the way, the prices here are pretty reasonable; about $5.00 for a half sandwich and $7.50 for a whole one. No, it’s not Subway prices, if you want to eat that crap, then go next door and eat Subway. They also have a more than respectable beer selection including a good some nice imports.
Now, the waiting game. We found a table in the front of the store and I walked around to check out the merchandise. They sell a lot of pasta, cheeses, and wines at Defalco’s, although nothing truly special that you couldn’t find at a regular supermarket or local fine foods store. But I think the selection of all the dry pastas and cheeses added a nice Italian ambiance to the setting of dining here.
We waited about 10 or 15 minutes for the food to arrive, which was a little longer than I expected, but in my research of this place I read that nothing happens quickly here. When our sandwiches came out I felt like a kid on Christmas morning; they looked fantastic! Very simple presentation, just wax paper in plastic baskets with a few pepperchinis in the side. There was no waiting, I dove right into my sandwich like an Ethiopian in front of a 4 course meal. The cheesesteak was amazing! It’s not philly style, there is no cheesewiz in this bun, but rather a creamy white american mixed in with top sirloin, fried, onions, and mushrooms… The Italian roll was also superb; very crusty on the outside, but ever so slightly doughy on the inside. This was a dream come true! I would have to say this is one of the best cheesesteaks I have ever had anywhere. I have never experienced a cheesesteak where they were able to successfully mix the cheese so perfectly with the mushrooms and onions to give it that perfect balance of the meaty cheesesteak flavor, yet creamy at the same time.
As I said before, my dining companion ordered the chicken parm sandwich, which of course I had to try in the interest of blogging for the best food. Also fantastic! They used the same crusty Italian roll, lightly breaded chicken breast, and a generous amount of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Their sauce is pretty good too, a good slightly sweet marinara sauce. Even Tony Soprano would enjoy this. Chicken parm was very good, but I was still hung up on this cheesesteak. They also serve New York style pizza and a variety of simple Italian pasta dishes. Defalco’s hasn’t seen the last of me, I will return here to try something else. It’s definitely a hidden gym in the dregs of Scottsdale. Of course, if you want something cheap and fast, you can always go to Subway and have warm cold cuts on nasty bread, but my money is on Defalco’s.
Defalco’s Italian Deli & Grocery
2334 N Scottsdale Road, Suite 133A
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
The other night I watched Alton Brown make up some delicious Meat Sauce with Spaghetti. I thought I would give it a try myself. This recipe takes about 5 hours to make and the meat sauce is the star of the show here. It requires various meats, a large cast iron Dutch oven, and some other goodies. I’ll go through my experience below.
I had to make a trip to A.J.’s fine foods for this recipe; I needed some 6 ounces of bacon, fresh ground pork and sirloin, coarsely chopped. I also needed some whole cloves and a whole star anise. The recipe calls to put the cloves and star anise in a spice bag and cook it with the meat sauce. I couldn’t find a spice bag so I substituted a wrap used for steaming shell fish. A.J’s selection of meat is pretty good and they will cut it right there for you. The tough part was the Porcini mushrooms, although I knew A.J.’s would have them. Fresh Porcini mushrooms cost about $69.00 per pound; I used 1 ounce of dried Porcini mushrooms, which was around $6.00. The rest of the ingredients I purchased at Fry’s Supermarket.
I don’t have an 8 quart cast iron Dutch oven that Alton called for, but I have a cast iron 5 quart version so I went with that. The first step is to very slowly render bacon fat by cooking it over low heat in the Dutch over for 30–40 minutes or so. The bacon itself does not get used in the recipe, just the fat. While the bacon was cooking I chopped up the onions, celery, and garlic. The bacon took right around 40 minutes to cook in the Dutch oven over low heat. I removed the bacon and placed the onions, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and ground black pepper in the Dutch oven. I also placed my small pouch with star anise and cloves in the Dutch oven. Alton said it would take 45–60 minutes for the onions to cook and caramelize but it took about an hour and 15 minutes. Next, I added the celery and the minced garlic.
I let the celery and garlic cook with the onions for about 30 minutes; you could smell it outside the house. Meanwhile, I prepared a large pan to brown the ground beef and pork. About 1 tablespoon of olive oil and I browned the meat for about 5 minutes. After the meat was browned, I deglazed the pan with a half cup of chardonnay.
I removed the spice bag from the onion, celery, and garlic mix, placed the meat, the remaining chardonnay and bits of meat, condensed milk, beef broth, and porcini mushrooms into the Dutch oven. Now comes the waiting game. This has to cook for 3 hours. Right now, it’s essentially a stew, and the reason it has to cook for 3 hours is to break down the connective tissues in the meat. So far so good, it looks like Alton’s.
After an hour and a half it’s time to get back to work. I added my garlic, diced tomatoes, oregano, marjoram, basil into the saucepan and cooked it up until most of the liquid evaporated. This took about 30 minutes. After the liquid evaporated I added ketchup (yes, ketchup), worchestershire, sherry vinegar, and tomato paste. I let this simmer for another 30 minutes then added a bit of olive oil and fried it up for 3 minutes. I then combined the the fried tomato paste portion with the meaty stew portion. I let it simmer while I prepared the pasta.
Overall, it wasn’t bad. It was a very robust and meaty sauce. I think it was a bit too meaty. The flavor of the meat and the porcini mushrooms overpowered the tomato portion of the sauce. I ended up putting another 2 ounces of tomato paste in the sauce beyond what the recipe called for. It was a lot of work though for a mediocre result. I probably wouldn’t put this on my list as a repeat recipe.
You’re probably asking, what is Sheetz? If you are asking this question, then you are probably not from Western Pennsylvania. Sheetz is a popular gas station/convenience store chain located in Western/Central Pennsylvania, with a few locations in West Virginia and Maryland. What makes Sheetz interesting is a number of years ago they started this novel concept of making fast food in their convenience stores. They call their sandwiches MTOs which is short for Made To Order. When they first started producing MTOs, you would walk into a Sheetz, fill out a form of what you wanted, and hand it to the person behind the counter who would assemble your MTO per the instructions that you gave him or her. The Sheetz MTO concept has since exploded, and now they have fancy touch screen computers in which you can place your order on, and it is made fresh in the back, and delivered at the front counter to you. Now, the concept of eating food made at a gas station is a turn off to some people, but Sheetz is very popular in Pennsylvania. Sheetz makes everything from Sandwiches to Pizza, Burgers to Fajitas, and of course, Hot Dogs. I thought I would give a Sheetz dog a try.
I ordered 1 hot dog, with chili, nacho cheese, onions, and bacon. I am told that this style of hot dog is affectionately called the “death dog” by frequent Sheetz patrons. Since all Sheetz locations are in operation 24/7, 365 days a year, one can only assume that a “death dog” is potentially the drunk food of choice after the 2 AM hour on weekends. Anyway, I ordered my hot dog using the fancy Sheetz touch screen ordering mechanism, and took my slip up to the counter to pay for my hot dog. Now the cool part was this hot dog was cheap, really cheap. A standard Sheetz hot dog is $0.69 by itelf. That includes ketchup, mustard, onions, relish… pretty much any standard condiment. Now I ordered mine with chili ($0.29), cheese ($0.29), and bacon ($0.39), which added $0.97 to my $0.69 hot dog, giving me a total of $1.66 for my dog. Pretty good price nowadays!
Unfortunately, I think I got what I paid for. The Sheetz death dog lived up to it’s name. I wouldn’t say eating it was slow death, but not far from it. It failed the snap test miserably; the dog was just plain soggy. The chili was bland, and there was hardly any nacho cheese on the thing at all. Now, the only mitigating factor to the Sheetz hot dog was the price. I can imagine at 2:30 AM after a night at the bar, this thing probably tastes like the finest ambrosia from the Greek Gods, but at 2:30 in the afternoon, it tasted pretty lousy. One last thing I want to point out; I am only reviewing the hot dog at Sheetz, not any of the other selections on their menu at this time. I will probably be blogging about another one of their MTO products in the future but today I only had time to try a hot dog. After sampling the Sheetz hot dog, I give them a 2 hot dog rating on the rating scale, but I would like to try some of their other products in the future.
After 14 hours of flying I walked into my house at 6:30 PM last night and it felt good to lay in my own bed again. Jetlag has set in; I was up at 3:00 AM this morning. I’m still on Europe time. The trip to Europe was an amazing experience and I think I would like to explore more international destinations. My sister and I are thinking about visiting Berlin and Munich again next year to see all the sights that we missed on this trip. I wish I had something more profound to say. It was an amazing trip and I’m glad to be home.
Litterally, work will set you free. Today we visited Dachau Concentration Camp, which is just outside Munich. It was quite a moving experience to see something like this. I’m not going to write much about it, but just to give some background, Dachau was the first Nazi Concentration Camp that existed, and was also the SS training location for all Nazi Concentraion Camps. It is estimated that some 30,000 people died at Dachau. I have included pictures below.
Yesterday we went on an escorted tour of Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle was built in the 19th Century by Ludwig II. It sits up high on the foothills of the Bavarian Alps about 2 hours out of Munich. Neuschwanstein was used as the inspiration for Walt Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom Castle. It was really cool to see it, although grotesquely touristy. Unfortunately, they do not let you photograph the interior of the castle, but I have included a few exterior pictures below. You’ll notice in the first one that they are completing maintenance on the castle which is why there is scaffolding around the side.
My Europe blog broke 1000 views today. I want to thank everyone that has commented and emailed me while I have been in Europe. This has been a life changing experience. I know my posts have been shorter and more sporadic lately. The exhaustion has set in for all of us at this point. Tomorrow our last stop is Dachau Concentration Camp, then one last Bavarian meal, and then back to the hotel to pack up for the flight home on Sunday. I’m ready to sprawl out in my own bed and maybe even watch a little TV. Tonight I am just relaxing at the hotel bar and having a few beers. I will post pictures from today’s Neuschwanstein Castle expedition shortly.
I finally broke down and tried German McDonalds today. It seems that both the McDonalds and Starbucks empires have taken over Europe and can be found on nearly every corner just like at home. I ordered the Royal mit Cheese, their version of the Quarter Pounder. It comes with Fries and a soft drink for about 5 Euros. Comparable to our price at home but more expensive to us with the exchange rate. All in all pretty good; they put lettuce, tomato and mayo on them here (no ketchup or mustard), and the meat is seasoned. The fries tasted exactly the same as they do at home.
A few other junk food items I really like here: peanut butter kit kats and this banana milk drink they sell in all the convenience stores. The hot dogs and brats have been good just about everywhere as well.
Yesterday, we walked over to the Olympic Park in Munich, which was the site of the 1972 Olympic Games. On September 5, 1972 at 4:30 AM, 8 terrorists scaled the chain link fence outside the Israeli athletes’ apartment building in Olympic Village, broke in to the complex, killed 2 Israeli athletes, then took the remaining 9 hostage. During the hostage negotiations, the Olympic games continued. Eventually in a shoot out with German Police, the remaining 9 hostages were also killed. This and the Israeli retaliation was the premise for the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie ”Munich”. I took a few photographs of the memorial and of the apartment where these events transpired.
Below is a picture of the memorial; it is in Hebrew and German, but the translation is: The team of the State of Israel stayed in this building during the 20th Olympic Summer Games from 21 August to 5 September 1972. On 5 September, [list of victims] died a violent death. Honor to their memory.