Food Issue: Smart Food
|Photograph by Michael Persico|
Just Say No: To the frozen food section
by Jacob Lambert
But if this prediction comes to pass, there’s a good chance we won’t be roasting it in
our own ovens, or hobo-style over an open flame. We’d likely wait for Acme to offer
rotisserie squirrel or for Tyson to roll out a line of frozen Rodent Cutlets in Gravy.
Because while trips to restaurants are dropping concurrently with our fortunes, they are
not, on the whole, being replaced by home cooking. According to recent reports, sales of
both prepared meals and frozen foods are booming.
Purchasing premade foods to save money is, to paraphrase George Carlin, a bit like
screwing for virginity. A frozen pizza or can of soup, while inarguably convenient, is
flagrantly overpriced when compared to its homemade equivalent. In letting Nestlé and
ConAgra cook for us, we’re wasting scads of money—and eating less healthily.
Below are some common “convenience” meals, compared by price with their simplest
from-scratch analogues. For once, the little guy comes out on top.
Tombstone Pizza (prices from SuperFresh)
A $5.59 Tombstone pizza is a definite money saver in comparison to a $12 takeout pie.
If these are your only options, then you’re indeed gaming the system. But to game it
even more ruthlessly, take matters into your own hands. You’ll need: • 3 ½ cups flour:
$1.79 • 8 oz. mozzarella: $3.19
• Canned tomatoes: $1.39
• 2 tsp. yeast: $0.96
• 2 tbsp. oil,
• 2 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. sugar
The total cost: $7.73. That $1.74 overrun makes more sense when you consider that the
above amounts will leave you with two pizzas and plenty of extra flour. An added bonus:
You get to awkwardly heave a wad of raw dough into the air—one of life’s great
Stouffer’s Lasagna (prices from SuperFresh)
Stouffer’s, which offers a wide array of faintly depressing, plastic-dished cuisine,
sells its frozen meat lasagna for $4.99. Not only is it one of their more dispiriting
items, it’s also outrageously expensive in comparison to homemade lasagna. • Lasagna
noodles: $2.19 • 1 lb. ground beef: $3.99 • Canned tomatoes: $1.39 • 8 oz. mozzarella:
$3.19 • Cottage cheese: $2.39
Your total: $13.15—substantially more than $4.99, but a bargain when you’re left with
a 6 lb. lasagna the size of a chessboard. Plus, no sad plastic dish necessary.
Progresso Split-Pea Soup (prices from Acme)
Soup is one of the most wholesome, mindlessly simple things to cook, and pricewise it
puts its phthalate-ridden canned cousins to shame. To wit: a 19-ounce can of Progresso
Split-Pea Soup costs $2.49. To make a heaping vat of your own:
• 1 lb. dry split peas: $1.29 • 4 carrots: $1.29 • 1 onion: $0.50 • 1 tbsp. salt
• 1 tbsp. pepper
• 6 cups water
The total cost: about $3. By spending an extra four bits, you’ve just produced eight
servings of home-cooked soup (at 38 cents per bowl) that you’ll struggle valiantly for
days to finish.
Egg salad sandwich (prices from Whole Foods Market)
Trying to value shop at the notoriously costly Whole Foods is a comically hopeless
endeavor. But even in the land of the $3 avocado, premade food items stand out as
particularly poor deals. Some of the worst are the “grab and go” sandwiches, with a
$5.49 egg salad job that’s the king of the ripoffs. For a week’s worth of your own,
you’ll need an initial layout of $13.45: • Whole wheat bread: $2.29/loaf • 1 dozen eggs:
$2.39 • 1 head lettuce: $2.49 • 2 tomatoes: $2.99 • 1 jar mayonnaise: $3.29
That investment will pay off with a proud fleet of seven sandwiches (and plenty of
leftover bread, lettuce and mayonnaise) at $1.92 a pop. And that price plummets when you
swap Whole Foods for a store that doesn’t radiate wallet-draining corporate crunchiness.
The bottom line: It’s much cheaper to cook than to be cooked for. It’s also far more
fresh, nourishing and fulfilling.
-By Adam Erace
27 S. Third St. 215.627.2485. www.ansillfoodandwine.com
Ansill is beautifully cheap if you dine on weekdays between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. During
those magical minutes, flutes of sprightly Prosecco are $5; pints of a selected local
draught are $3; and oysters are a buck-a-shuck.
210 W. Rittenhouse Sq. 215.790.2533. www.lacroixrestaurant.com
Chef Matthew Levin must have a crystal ball in his kitchen along with his immersion
circulator and NO2 dispenser. He’s been running this unbelievable deal for more than a
year now: On Monday nights diners can BYOB with no corkage or enjoy any of the
award-winning cellar’s 500-plus bottles for 50 percent off. Dig the Casa de la Ermita, a
flowery Spanish viognier you can nab for $27.50 during this deal.
828 S. Eighth St. 215.629.4980. www.jameson8th.com
Cozy up to the fireplace during “Hours of Happiness” (Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
at Bella Vista’s James with $5 rum-spiked apple cider and $3 local draughts like Slyfox
113 IPA and Yards ESA. Balance the boozing with complementary bar snacks like arancine,
popcorn and fresh roasted chestnuts from chef Jim Burke.
728 S. Seventh St. 215.629.0428
You might know this cozy, sun-washed BYOB for brunch, but they do a mean dinner
business. Go on Wednesdays for their $35 four-course prix fixe. There’s lots to choose
from—think black linguine with scallops, lemony branzino and house-made gnocchi—and for
dessert, head to the pastry case full of baked-daily fruit tarts and mile-high
Caffé Casta Diva
227 S. 20th St. 215.496.9677
This Rittenhouse gem’s $30 Recession Menu is a PW favorite. Just make
sure one of the your three courses features chef/owner Stephen Vassalluzzo’s heavenly
56 S. Second St. 215.238.5888. www.thekhyber.com
This Old City spot is owned by the boys from Royal Tavern. Every day from noon till 7
p.m., the Khyber sells Royal’s glorious trifecta of Angus beef, smoked Gouda and pickled
long hots for only $4.
746 Christian St. 215.413.0171
Here’s a sweet bonus from Bella Vista’s newish Mexican outpost from bros-in-law Ismael
Torres and Dionicio Jimenez: When everyone at the table orders an entree, the first
pitcher of limey, fresh-squeezed ’rita mix is on the house. Just remember to BYOT.
Taproom on 19th
2400 S. 19th St. 267.687.7817. www.taproom on19th.com
Should you find yourself way down South Philly, hit this Girard Estate saloon for its
rock-bottom lunch deal. Ten bucks buys a cup of soup du jour or house salad, followed by
a veal meatloaf sandwich, IPA-battered fish and chips, wintry chicken potpie or one of
several other entrees. Domestic pint included.
00 Catharine St. 215.413.3464. www.littlefishphilly.com
Every Sunday chef/owner Mike Stollenwerk puts out one of the best deals in town, a
five-course seafood-focused dinner that might include skate with truffled spaetzle or
mahi mahi with sweet potato and pear. The cost: $28, though expect reservations to
become even scarcer now that Bon Appetit has taken notice.
910 Christian St. 215.574.1599. www.sabrinascafe.com
Even though it’s not listed on the menu, Sabrina’s will do half portions if you ask.
That means those check-your-underwear-wonderful Pyramids of Giza in French toast that no
one can ever finish—and their price—can be cut into a manageable half-size.