The Dandelion, An Empire & A Bit of London in Philly

May 2012

There were many motives for a Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia:  friends in need of a vistit, family, a variety of restaurants from which to choose, a cultural pull, the pulse of a bigger city and a bit of scheming that led me to a very special dinner. There’ll be more, much more, on that dinner later.  Once my special one agreed to support my Quelcadelphia whims, I began setting my food goals.

Hamburger research put The Dandelion high on my list of restaurant goals. Its metropolitan hommage reminded me of the very grand, inaugural adventure my special one and I made to London.  Consequently, the dapper and Dandy Lion introduced me to a well known name for Philly foodies, a name that is synonymous with “Philly food scene”- Stephen Starr.   At the young age of 21, Starr entered the restaurant business.  Fast forward a few decades, and his name is now behind several concept restaurants in Philly, a couple in New York and then some in Atlantic City and Florida (I have no goals for sampling from those last two locations).  After experiencing The Dandelion and a brunch spot, which I shall address in another post, I understood why the man had become an empire.

From street level, a tall, corner locale with a dim, warm glow from ornate bay windows caught my eye.  As I took in its stately elegance, my view shifted to the text on the streetlight style lamp above the door- The Dandelion!  We had arrived!

The Dandelion
18th and Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Neighborhoods: Rittenhouse Square, Penn Center

Scotch Honey Suckle
Dewar’s scotch, dry vermouth, honey, lemon, rose water

Smoky and floral all at once.  A solid choice for a slow sip.

Bourbon Ginger Fizz
Bulleit bourbon, ginger, lemon, bitters, egg white

Refreshing like a high quality soda.  I would have slurped this too quickly had it been my own rather than offered to me for a few sips.

Dandelion Salad
mixed greens & dandelion leaves, cucumber, avocado, lemon vinaigrette

This salad was the obvious choice based on its name, and for a simple salad with a few green accents, it packed a complexity of flavors stemming from the bitter (in a good way) greens and the extra buttery kick of the lemon vinaigrette.

Oysters Of The Day 
with shallot mignonette sauce

My special one is the oyster expert in our duo, and he said these were just the way he likes them- vinegary.  I can barely keep oysters and mussels straight (much to my special one’s disbelief), but oyster indifference aside, these shells even impressed me.

Berkshire Pork Paté
celeriac remoulade, shallot-pear chutney, wheat toast

The specificity of “Berkshire” in the name is what first drew me to this appetizer.  It’s a fitting choice of swine for a British inspired gastropub, since the Berkshire pigs originated on the fine soils of the Queen’s land.  It seems foolish to write, but what had me repeatedly dipping the knife into the paté was its meatier pork flavor versus the heavy notes of fat that often overpower a paté.  The shallot-pear chutney added the contrast of sweetness that pairs so well with pork, but I preferred the celeriac remoulade as a separate side dish (Pittsburghers would probably automatically use it as a sandwich topping due to its similarities with coleslaw).

House Blend Aged Beef Burger 
Vermont sharp cheddar, Brooklyn brine pickles, apple smoked bacon, special sauce

Our raison d’être- the burger that brought us to the table.  Jono took a big bite and then offered, “Don’t hate me for saying this, but it tastes like a Big Mac.” I couldn’t hate him for saying it (aside from being a rather minor reason to hate someone) because he was right. McDonalds hasn’t fed a nation on convenience alone.  The chain knows a thing or two about pleasing people.  I’m not throwing away all my food values.  I’m merely justifying an odd compliment because this burger tasted like a better Big Mac, and the thick french fries clearly had a stronger tie to the potato than the greasy lot of a Happy Meal.  Our burger search had not led us astray.

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie 
mashed potatoes, root vegetables

Succumbing to the tantalizing temptation of this shepherd’s pie results in a burned tongue. Beware!  However, when root vegetables and lamb are hidden under cheesy, mashed potatoes, a little burn is easily (or all too hastily?) ignored.

There was no room for dessert, but there was room for us at The Ranstead Room (which I documented here previously), located conveniently just a few blocks away!

Stephen Starr Addendum

Remember all the way to the top of this post when I used “Stephen Starr” and “empire” in the same sentence? I thought I was being hyperbolic, but when I looked for a Ranstead Room website, I found myself directed to none other than a Stephen Starr restaurant.  I felt deceived, dumbfounded and inspired all at once.  What I would describe as your hipster cousin’s attempts to redecorate your sleezy old uncle’s basement was a 100% intentional concept bar, and it had been fooling me this whole time!  I’ll still continue to go there when I’m in town, but now I know I should order the tacos too!

Stay tuned for more Quelcy in Philly adventures, or what I like to call… The Adventures of Quelcadelphia!

Once Upon A Sticky Toffee Time in London

November 2011/March 2012

In the back of my mind- in the very back of my mind– I knew he was going to London with his family.  The front of my mind [clearly this post is steeped in “neuroscience”] was focused very intently on escaping my home base, adventuring and feeling very, very far from certain sad gray clouds hovering over me.  I looked at flights to Paris very longingly, but I concluded I owed it to myself to try a new locale.  That’s when London popped into my mind, and once I get an idea like that in my head, all the best to you should you try to stand in my way!

I had already set my idea into motion when the back and front of my mind began working in conjunction again [even more neuroscience].  Oh yeaaaah… he‘s going to London too! The “coincidence” of my destination choice seemed questionable since I had joked about wanting to be a member of his family (whose travel history included a family vacation on the Amalfi Coast!!!  Pick me!!!), but I am sticking to my story- his trip was unrelated to my planning!

The motives of my story became all the more questionable as the two of us grew closer.  At first, we were two friends who happened to be traveling to the same major metropolis at the very same time.  We thought we’d meet up and maybe share some London sightseeing, but as the trip approached, our friendship became something far more significant!  I had unknowingly arranged to travel to London with my SigFig to be and his entire family!

Who does that?!?  This girl!

So it was I came to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in a foreign land with my new boyfriend’s family.  With any other family, this may have been odd or intrusive, but my special one comes from a tremendous family who generously included me in their wanderings and explorations of one of the most captivating cities on earth!

Thanks to the sister/tour guide, who had been exploring London for an entire semester, I came to experience a phenomenon called “sticky toffee pudding,” which isn’t all that sticky, nor is it really pudding.  Oh those Brits!

My first sticky toffee encounter occurred at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub, which is notable for a few reasons:

1.  Its age!  It was rebuilt in 1667 after The Great Fire of London, meaning some semblance of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub existed even earlier than that!

2.  The entrance is quietly tucked away from the commotion of the street, marked by a beautiful sign and surrounded by beautiful brickwork.

3.  To arrive at the cellar requires an acute awareness of one’s body in space, as the winding stairwell is narrow, and the ceilings are quite low.

4.  The rustic wood!  There was wood everywhere, and “rustic” does not do justice to the age in those dark wood grains.

5.  The concept of the British pub is brilliant in general- good drinks and comfort food in a unique and dignified setting!  To eat and drink at a pub is like eating mom’s Sunday dinner in the den of an old fashioned gentleman (It’s the style I channeled for this shoot).

Why, oh why America, do you not adopt such a concept en masse?!?

The sister/tour guide was wide eyed and very nearly drooling as she ordered “sticky toffee pudding” at record speed (try saying it five times fast!).  Her eagerness was intriguing. Beyond my bowl of creamy corn soup (again..such delectable food for a bar!) was the answer to my question, “what is sticky toffee pudding?”  My bite from the shared bowl provided the answer:  warm, spongy cake in a pool of custard with a sweet surface layer.

Part of why I travel is to be inspired creatively and culinarily, and that bowl of sticky toffee pudding sure did inspire!  The special cabin in the woods was the perfect place for my first attempt, and my special one was the perfect partner for sharing dessert.  Not surprisingly, the recipe inspiration came from the delicious photos of one of my favorite blogs, Tea With Me.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Recipe adapted from Tea With Me. 

Dates!  Who knew?!?  Dates are one of the prominent ingredients in sticky toffee pudding, so it’s really a wonder this traditional dessert did not come to be known as “caramel date cake.”

The sneaky Bear-Pig tried to nab the dates as they soaked, but his attempts were foiled!

Sticky Toffee Pudding


1 cup dates, pitted
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp baking soda

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup organic, unsalted butter
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 egg (local/free-range), beaten

1 Tablespoon AITA Snap

For the Sticky Toffee Pudding

In a separate bowl, pour boiling water over dates and baking soda. Let sit until all or most of the water is absorbed (ideal time for a forest wander).  Add a splash or two of AITA Snap for an extra kick.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Cream butter and sugar until lighter in color and fluffy. Beat in egg gradually.

Fold in the flour mixture.

Add the date mixture.

Mix in the Snap.

Pour in a greased oven proof glass baking dish.

Bake on the middle rack for 250 degrees F for 40 min.

Caramel Sauce

1/3 cup organic, unsalted butter
1 cup organic brown sugar
4 tbsp organic heavy cream

For the Caramel Sauce

Melt butter in a pan, add sugar and cream, stirring all the time for about 3 minutes.

Cut a slice of pudding, serve with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzles of caramel sauce.

Snap Whipped Cream

1 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
2-3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3-4 Tablespoons AITA Snap

For the Whipped Cream

Combine all the ingredients in a chilled bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

More To Come…!

I’m not about to offer the sister/tour guide my first ever attempt at sticky toffee pudding, especially since this version reminded me more of my mother’s banana bread than my afternoon at that wooden table.  Thus I see much more sticky toffee experimentation on my horizon.  There is also so much more of my London wanderings I intend to share, so…

Stay tuned!

%d bloggers like this: