Monday, June 28, 2010

Local legend: The Rathskeller

Last Thursday, we took mom to see Jersey Boys at the Murat (yeah, yeah, I know it is now called the Old National Center or whatever). We wanted to get in a meal beforehand, but not be too rushed. We found great street parking very close, and so we walked over to the Athenaeum and ate at The Rathskeller. Living downtown and being a member of the YMCA located in the Athenaeum, we're pretty familiar with The Rathskeller. But, we don't go there to eat a lot. They serve big meals, and they are heavy meals for the most part. I can't speak for the quality of the beers, but if you are anywhere near the area on what seems to be any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night in the summer, there is a lively crowd enjoying live music in the biergarten those nights.

I call this entry a "local legend" because the Rathskeller seems to have that kind of cache to me. And, the Star just came out with a new Taste section in the print version, and they referred to St. Elmo's as a local restaurant icon.

Going to a German restaurant always reminds me of when I went to Germany with two of my best friends in our early 20s. I was perplexed then by the amount of sausage being consumed. Especially the odd looking white ones at breakfast time. And, I was also frustrated because I was following the ordering style of the one guy in the group that had some German language skill, and he raved about the schnitzel but always ordered it plain. I kept thinking - hasn't this country discovered sauces yet? And, of course, they had, I just wasn't asking enough questions about the menus.

We arrived just after 6 p.m. and many others also had chosen to eat at The Rathskeller before the musical. The place was jammed and we finally found a table in the bar since we did not have reservations. You can order from the full dinner menu back there, so that wasn't an issue. I really enjoy the feel of the dining and bar areas of the Rathskeller. The decor and setting seem very German, and the bar very much feels like it is from a hunting lodge, as we had this creature looking down on us.

The complementary bread basket is nice, especially the pretzel and the very spicy mustard that is included. Mom went with the schnitzel cordon bleu, and the Better Half had the jaegerschniztel. I ended up having the hot wurst platte. I am still not sure why I ordered that. Mostly, I wanted a bratwurst. But, ultimately this plate gives you 5 sausages. Neither my cardiovascular system nor my GI tract wanted or needed that. And, the odd thing is, I even kind of knew I wasn't crazy about their bratwurst. If I remember things correctly, I think Claus' German Sausage and Meats (just south of Fountain Square on Shelby) provides The Rathskeller with sausage. I've picked up meats from Claus' counter, and maybe this sounds so non-authentic, but I really enjoy a Johnsonville brat more than from the local butcher.

Look at this, though. I mean, that's just too much meat.

As I feared, I found the bratwurst kind of bland, and the bockwurst even worse. The keilbasse, though, was fantastic. And, I think the plate actually had two types of German weiners, and those are pretty tasty. I always enjoy red cabbage, and the sauerkraut was good, too.

The jaegerschnitzel, though, was fantastic. They do a very nice job on the pork in general, with a very tasty breading mix, and the pork was tender and juicy, even if you hadn't gotten a sauce. Mom's cordon bleu was very tasty too.

Overall, I think The Rathskeller is a winner. The meals are huge, filling and seem to be well prepared and true to their "nativity", though to me, they are a tad expensive.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5) - schnitzels are winners.

Post Script: You know what amazed me the most about being at Oktoberfest in Munich? It was the waitresses walking around with so many full glass steins of beers. My forearms hurt just looking at them.

P.P.S: Now, my single favorite fun memory of Oktoberfest was when in one of the beer tents, the little Bavarian band started in on John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads". The crowd erupted, and hundreds of drunk Germans joined in singing. Wunderbar!
P.P.P.S: Oh. And, we really thoroughly enjoyed Jersey Boys. I was surprised to realize how much of the Four Season's music I did know. The pace was fast, lots of comedy, great talent on display, full and enthusiastic crowd. It's only in town for one more week, and it looks like the ticket sales were high, but if you have a chance it is a great show.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just asking: What makes a "premium" chain?

I've never really bought the notion that all chains are bad. Sure, I definitely appreciate local and unique, and I do "vote" that way with some of our disposable funds. But, I do think that most chains provide a consistent experience from which there is some value.

A pet peeve of mine has often been when someone holding a Starbucks cup would rip on McDonalds or Wal-mart..... huh? Give me a break, kettle! Now, a friend of mine that works on the Board of Trade up in Chicago, he buys his coffee at Intelligentsia, and he had an interesting point - Starbucks isn't trying to be the Wal-mart of coffee, but maybe more or the Target of coffee, instead. Maybe that is true (though that could lead to a discussion of elitism v. populism). Nevertheless, chains can be purveyors of good stuff. In fact, I've often told friends that my favorite restaurant is likely Chipotle or Qdoba. They always leave me satisfied, they always taste great, and I always feel like they're good value.

Anyhow, in my rambling, what I'm getting to is - what makes a "premium" chain?

I got thinking about this last night again because we were running errands and stopped in at the Houlihans at Castleton. I hadn't been to a Houlihans for a long time, well before the one downtown shut down. I always viewed them as another in the Fridays-Applebees-Chilis line. But, once inside, it seemed obvious that Houlihans had kind of reinvented themselves. The menu seemed much better, too, including an extensive list of small plates. I especially liked the interior lighting.

The new version of Houlihans reminded me of a chain up in Canada - Milestones. Once we received our food, the food was good enough, but instead of a review I just decided to post a question instead. My chicken wrap was below average, but the Better Half's fish tacos were a decent attempt and tasted very fresh with the salsa and lime juice. There is potential here with Houlihans, it would fit a large group well, and I'm sure there are some really good choices on the menu.

Growing up, my dear dad was not much into eating out. As one of 14 kids, times were always tight and since he was quite a bit older than my mom, he also remembered the depression very well. So, our eating out was more about value, and the restaurants in the rotation were pretty limited. A luxury was going to Red Lobster, and though we rarely go now that my father is no longer with us, I still view Red Lobster as kind of a premium chain. I feel the same way about Outback.

Palomino has 4 locations across a wide geography - does that even count as a chain? The Oceanaire has 12 locations from coast to coast (and one former chef was on a season of Top Chef) - does that count as a chain? Are they definitely premium chains? Are they premium chains only because of the meal cost? Or, back to my thought on Chipotle and Qdoba, maybe those are premium chains?

Or, more importantly - does it even matter?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Field Report: Powers Hamburgers (Ft. Wayne)

I had to make another quick trip to Detroit this week. I was heading up on Monday, and guess what? Detroit had a River Days festival going on with the fireworks that night. Folks from our office told me that downtown would be jammed, so I ended up staying by the airport and heading downtown on Tuesday morning. I had hoped to swing by Greektown this time, but I'll have to wait a bit longer till a return trip there.

Anyhow, on my way home, I decided to look up a place I had read about at A Hamburger Today - a little establishment called Powers Hamburgers in downtown Fort Wayne.

Powers is located in a nice part of downtown Ft. Wayne. It is very close to the minor league baseball stadium, and since I pulled into the lot around 7:40, I think that was a scheduling boon to me, as it wasn't very crowded and that nights game had already started. Any early visitors must have been through. True to the descriptions I had read, it is a neat little building with black and white awnings. This is not a trendy spot. It looks authentic because it is. This is no Broad Ripple shop trying for a vintage feel. The place IS vintage in the way that your grandma's closet is vintage - it has lived through the style changes and not flinched.

My picture isn't that great, but... man, there are some nice exposures found on Google images. Hopefully it is okay to show this one here.

The restaurant seats maybe 20 people maximum. There is a counter in front of the griddle, two small counter areas facing out windows, and one booth in a back corner. The restaurant is located catty-corner from a Lincoln National Life Insurance building, and I wonder if the actuarys have figured out an acceptable number of visits employees can make to Powers in a given year....?

This place serves sliders. And, I guess they are true sliders, not just mini burgers. The meat patty is maybe a quarter inch thick, on a soft bun, and a large pile of grilled onions. I had three cheeseburgers. They come with no condiments. My first bite was unadorned, and... well, it was just kind of average. I love grilled onions. The large pile on this burger was not only a welcome site, it was a selling point. But, in this case, I think the grill chef has so many onions on the griddle that I think some of onions basically only "sweat". What I love is caramelized onions, especially when cooked in butter. Some of these onions were merely white and translucent, and I think in the large pile they didn't get much butter and were cooked only through rising steam. This leads to a less tasty onion flavor. I added some ketchup and plain yellow mustard and that made a world of difference. Once dressed with some condiments, the burgers were considerably better in my opinion. The inconsistency of the onions was a bit disappointing, because sometimes when you got some from the bottom of the pile that had caramelized in butter or oil, man was that tasty. The little burgers are maybe 15% bigger than a White Castle, about the same cost (I think they were $0.85) and better tasting to me.

I also had a bowl of chili. Now, the funny thing to me is that despite the enormous amount of onions used in this restaurant (my clothes were saturated with the smell of onions), the one thing this chili needed was more onions. It is a nice brew of ground beef and beans, with a slight sweet tang to it. I added some hot sauce and it was a nice, filling addition.

When the Better Half and I drive to see her family in Ontario, we usually take I-69 and pass Ft. Wayne. We usually don't stop. So, leaving town, I took a bit of time and found it a nice, well maintained downtown area for a city of its size. I drove out on Washington Boulevard, and parts of that road, with its leafy canopy, really has some potential. As a one time hoops junkie, I knew that Ft. Wayne was the original home to the NBA's Piston's franchise, but I couldn't find any retro jerseys online to link to. If you have time and are wandering around NE Indiana, stop at Auburn, too. That little town amazes me. With the one-time wealth it had from the car company there, there are some fantastic, large old brick homes in Auburn. And, they do a really nice job keep the downtown clean and appealing to visitors.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). A true slider, great appeal to its authentic and timeless style, onions were a bit uneven.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Memory v. Reality: Tomato Pie

I was introduced to Tomato Pie Bistro by a friend of mine. In just a few visits, I really loved it. I don't get especially opinionated about pizza (hey, it's pizza, it can be really decent in many forms), but I did find this to be really pleasing. I can't say it reminded me expressly of the fantastic pizza that the Better Half and I ate on a daily basis during a trip to Italy in 2006, but... I thought it was pretty tasty. And, I also felt like the owner really cared, was really trying to do something from his "heart", and since the owner is seemingly always there and some of his large family is helping out as staff - it is just a really nice, cozy, family environment.

In short, I really liked this place for the owner and wanted to see him succeed. He seems like a really nice guy and seems to have a wonderful family.

Tomato Pie offers "southern Italian food". I am no expert on Italian regions, so I'm not sure if they're true to this promise or not. The pizza are thin crust, with simple toppings. That is exactly how it was in Italy, and it was fantastic there.

Well, it had been a while since I'd been to Tomato Pie. But, with this blog, I really wanted to try and feature them. In fact, I've been 2x in just a few weeks. Once we took some friends on a Saturday evening. During that visit, I noticed they had a lunch buffet, so I met up with a friend there last Friday.

It was close to closing the time we went at dinner time with friends. The pizza seemed a bit rushed, and the crust didn't seem fully cooked. But, I was willing to overlook that. On the second visit, I knew any review was subject to the skewed view that can come from a buffet, but... again, the pizza was underwhelming. And, there was usually no more than 2 varieties on the counter. The salad was very basic. There was also one pasta, which was very tasty with some onions and spinach in with a nice sauce with penne. The sauce was pretty heavy from what I experienced over in Italy, but maybe that is somewhat of a concession to American tastes.

Ultimately, the visits were underwhelming. And, that left me sad. Again, I really like the owner from the very brief interactions I've had with him. But, while that adds to the overall feeling you have about a place, it can't override the truth on the plate. It gets me to wonder if my memory was off, or is it accommodations to keeping the doors open and changes that had to be made to do so? Anyhow, there is potential here. But, right now, it isn't realized.

So, I'll hope for improvement, and I also need to make it to Napolese to try their version of pizza.

The verdict: 1.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Underwhelming, but my memory tells me there is potential here.

[no pictures this time - the interior is incredibly low lighting, and I got over-zealous in deleting pictures off my phone]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summah time.....

Ah.... isn't summer great? With all the heat, it just felt right to have a refreshing BLT and some corn on the cob.... let's hope it is a great eating summer!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

John's Famous Stew

This place is definitely an Indy original. John's Famous Stew's website says that they've been going since 1911. I'm not sure how long they've been on Kentucky Ave. near the Lilly tech center, but... the place sure looks authentically vintage!

I've been to this place a lot, especially since I did a lot of contract work at Lilly at one point. The only downside to me about this place is that it has kept the distinction of being a bar, not a restaurant, so people can still smoke inside. At lunchtime, the smoking seems usually fairly rare, but you'll catch the scent in the air.

How many places specialize in stew? That is what first caught my eye when I saw this place when I had moved back to Indy in 2002. I can't say I'm some stew aficionado (who is?), but... it seems unique - and it is. My friends that first introduced me to John's all go for the Tenderloin Supreme. And, it is truly a sight to behold.

Somewhere under there is a tenderloin nearly the size of the plate. On yesterday's visit, I took a neophyte who'd never been to John's, my friend the Running Man. These are definitely heroically sized portions. I got the regular tenderloin, and as you can see through the fork for scale, the bun and tenderloin are ginormous.

The value component of being good grub is completely satisfied here. The Running Man is rail thin, but can put down the food. He had the tenderloin supreme ($6.95) with a big ladle of the medium stew over the tenderloin. He also had two pieces of bread and the pickle from my platter! He drank just water, for for $7.50 that's huge value. The breaded tenderloin is $6.25, but fries (the cheap, frozen from a bag variety) were an additional $1.35. I only ate 75% of my sandwich, so value abounds.

How's it taste? Go with the tenderloin supreme. My breaded tenderloin is just too salty and too dry. The stew just makes the tenderloin so much more moist and as long as you go with the medium or hot stew, there is a lot of black pepper in it to add some punch and to balance the salt a bit more. The decor isn't anything to try and recreate in your mancave, but... it sure feels genuine. And, the waitstaff is fast, friendly and also very authentically vintage.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Great value, great local color, unique place.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Canal Bistro

We had another place in mind last night, and.... we really should have suffered through the wait. But, instead, we went to Canal Bistro. It is a known quantity to the Better Half and I, but mom had not been. I am fond of the lamb Mediterranean burger there, and I have very good memories of the garlic & feta fries, so... I was looking forward to the visit.

We saw out on the patio that is along Guilford, and this is one exceptionally nice thing about Canal Bistro, they have a lot of seating outside. Especially if you are in a party of two, as there are numerous tables for two along the canal side. I like the decor, and the service is for the most part pretty prompt. We started out with the baba ganoush. It is smoky and very smooth. In fact, it is so smooth and there are so few egg plant seeds, it seems like it might be blended in with some hummus - which isn't a bad thing. The quality of the pita was a bit mixed, which sort of seems picky to mention. One thing I am not a fan of at all here is the spice mix they put in with the olive oil for the complimentary pita bread you are given when you arrive. (No other pictures as the low lighting and flashless iPhone left me with just a few blurry exposures)

Now, despite really enjoying the lamb burger, I tried the spicy tilapia sandwich. It was okay. The fish was fried well and the sauce had some bit, but ultimately it seemed like a buffalo fish sandwich on crumbly pita. The Better Half had the gyro, which was.... well, I don't know. It was okay, as well. It was tightly wrapped up what I think was more of a tortilla than a pita, and so it seemed like you ordered a gyro wrap at a place like McAllister's or something. The gyro meat tasted the part, but there was too much of the tzatziki sauce. And, let me make a mention about the tzatziki sauce - it was too watery and devoid of chunks of anything. It was garlicky, yes, but it struck me as a sign of lower quality in their components. The other disappointment was the garlic and feta fries. Now, it has been about a year since we were last there, but I remember a much higher quality fry, and remember them as thinner. But, maybe I confuse them with somewhere else. I also remember the feta and garlic being distributed in a lighter "tossing" with the fries. The fries we were served last night were a thick, gooey cluster of what seemed like cheap frozen bagged fries and just too much feta and oil, to the point that the fries were soggy as soon as they landed in front of you. Not good.

Mom had the lamb kebab, and this was an excellent dish. There is lots of meat, the lamb was all between medium and medium-well and was still nice and moist, it stood well on it's own (you didn't have to use the tzatziki sauce).

My memory of Canal Bistro was much better than how the night turned out. Now, the fact that yet another fierce late spring storm blew in as we were finishing and had us scurrying to the inside had nothing to do with the quality of the meal. The service, which in my memory was always fast and exceptional, was on this night kind of lackadaisical. But, based on seeing our neighboring tables' waitress far more than we saw our own, I think it was individual rather than institutional.

If this was my first visit - I'd likely not go back at all. There are too many other good Mediterranean choices in town (namely Saffron Cafe and Santorini's). But, my memory holds out hope that it can be salvaged - and I'll go back to see if the lamb burger is still as good as I remember.

The verdict: 2 belly rubs (out of 5). Sandwiches are a good value, but poor execution this night, and the fries were a globbed mess.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Does this equal a serving of fruit?

Just want to make a quick comment that the Chick-Fil-A peach milk shake really is terrific. And, it does make me wonder, while the peaches within this frozen milk mixture came from a can, is there any way I can consider one of these milkshakes a serving of fruit? What about if I get the large????

Also, while I'm here, this review of sliders from Boston Market got me in the mood to mention - haven't sliders jumped the shark, oh... about a year ago? What took the test kitchen so long getting this to market? When every other chain establishment out there has had some kind of slider (except for you, McDonalds, as far as my memory can tell - and congrats on that), is it safe to say that the trend is completely over-done? My guess is, those marketing folks must think that tattoos are still kind of "edgy" over there as well.........

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chain-o-rama: O Canada (Tim Horton's)

Went up to Ontario this past weekend for a long weekend. Spent most of it with the Better Half's family, and spent it camping. But, how could any trip up north be complete without a stop in at Tim Horton's?

Tim Horton's is kind of an amazing thing to me. If you are Canadian, you likely are fond of Tim Horton's. I really don't feel like there is an American equivalent. I mean, I've seen some areas in the Northeast where there affiliation with Dunkin Donuts is quite strong, but... the appeal of Tim Horton's in Ontario, especially, is incredible. I mean, you see such outrageously long lines on a daily basis at their shops it is amazing. They just recently started accepting credit cards, and yet they only accept Mastercard. The reason - the feeling that cards slow down the lines. And, hey, when you have what seems like a nearly inelastic product, you can pull that off. Again, the appeal of TH's is amazing. It is strong in a big city like Toronto, and it crosses every class. Even when Starbucks held more cache then their current status of a near-cliche, there was always somewhat of a divide with coffee drinkers who just didn't care for Starbucks' roasting. I had worked as a vendor with Starbucks, and we went through some of their cultural training, and I did applaud their feelings about that - they felt like they had the best coffee product out there, and so while they knew they didn't meet every taste, they were fine with that (um, how that old mentality now fits in with this idea of having the Via instant coffee, I'm not quite sure, but SBUX obviously has had a lot of issues with controlling growth).

Anyhow, the Better Half's parents live in a small town in Northern Ontario, and the appeal of TH's is even stronger in the small towns. At last count, the small town where her parents live is a population of around 35,000 and yet there are at least 6 TH locations! Crazy.

So, we didn't do much eating out this weekend, but we did make 2 stops in at Tim Horton's, coming and going. I do like their restaurants. The food is somewhere between fast food and a Panera. And, despite the rambling, I'm not really much of a coffee person. But, I like their chili, even though it may not constitute a "real" chili to some people as it mostly lacks beans yet does have mushrooms. What I like most about there locations is the kind of throwback feel. I mean, look at this, you get your food on this metal platter!

And, even better, look at the simple little plate you get your donut on if you eat in the store.

Now, is it all that great tasting? Um... no, not really. It is dependable, it is simple, it is unadorned. And, really, I guess that is what you have to achieve as a mass marketer. Even the donuts, while tasty, are not exactly my style. They're more cake-y, even for something like a simple glazed or chocolate dip. Yes, they're tasty, and they're, again, consistent, but I think Dunkin's actually has a better donut, much less a plethora of more local places.

The verdict: 2 belly rubs (out of 5). While not hitting any high notes, the dependability and consistency is safe and comfortable.

Finally, I'm a whole-hearted American, though of mixed ethnic decent. I do love our anthem, and am not sure why so many Americans seem to praise the Canadian one, though it is quite nice. Anyhow, I really like this video. The fan over the hockey player's shoulder at the 1:00 mark is especially inspiring.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

El Jaripeo

Man, that old internet. It sure can teach you things..... like, until I looked up the El Jaripeo web site, I didn't realize that they were part of the local El Rodeo conglomerate.

Growing up on the East side, and with Mom still out there, I had noticed the El Jaripeo in the little shopping plaza back in the day... it was on far East Washington Street, near what was once a Wacamaw, and near the Putt Putt Golf where we youngsters went to play Putt Putt and video games. Somehow, we never made it into El Jaripeo. Of course, back then, Mexican food was only defined to me as being from Chi Chis.

Anyhow, in the last year, El Jaripeo took over a location on the opposite side of Washington Street in what used to be a Buddy's Carpet. A green restaurant! Recycling space!

If you know El Rodeo, you know the drill here. It is good, fast, efficient. It is high end cuisine, no. But, I always leave satisfied and feeling like it was money well spent. The Better Half typically gets the Burrito Loco (with just chicken) and it is tasty and enormous.

I most recently had the Hot & Spicy Burrito, and while it was fairly spicy, it wasn't over the top spicy, but decent. I'm not crazy about ground beef, though, so I likely won't get that again. My favorite dish here is the Chile Verde, which is slow roasted pork in a chile sauce. Fantastic to have that with some tortillas, and it is incredibly filling.

Service is always fast at El Jaripeo, and it's a safe, solid bet for a good Mexican meal.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Consistent, tasty, good service, good value.

Product Review: 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp

In a word - yum.

Have not seen this candy bar very often, but picked up a 2nd one and.... it's fantastic. Maybe it is just because I'm also fond of Twix bars, but these two chocolaty sticks are just great. I usually feel like when a mass-marketer tries to put out anything to do with being a "truffle" it means it will be bad. But, this is not the case here. The taste is rich, smooth and slightly airy. There is a crispy layer, which slightly resembles foam toffee, but I'm not sure what it is. I can catch the taste resemblance to a regular 3 Musketeers, but... it is not substantial at all.

Another bonus - it is less guilt inducing. The two sticks are together just 170 calories and 9 grams of fat. Compare that to your regular snickers, and it is a huge caloric savings.

If I had any recommendation, though, to the good folks at Mars - drop the 3 Musketeer's name. I don't feel like this helps market the new candy bar. Sure the branding tie-in gives it an immediate sense of recognition, but.... I'd let this bar stand on its own if possible.

Now, the only drawback is... well... it seems like a dainty candy bar. Sure, 170 calories is enough for an indulgence, but... you end up wanting more - especially if you share it with the Better Half, as I did.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Tasty, nice new addition to the candy bar cavalcade.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Complaint: Mongolian BBQ's

Is it just me or does anyone else struggle with the popularity of Mongolian bbq's? Yes, they were kind of cool and sort of fun about 15 years ago. But, why do they stay in business? I definitely don't go out to do my own cooking. And, yes, I know you don't do your own cooking at a Mongolian BBQ, I also am not very interested in having my collection of stir fried items mixed and mingled in with so many other people's food on that gigantic griddle.

Oh, I know, I have no idea what happens to my food behind the kitchen doors, but.... while I get that there is something nice about hand selecting what goes into a stir fry, why is it up to me to determine exactly how much sauce and oil will be part of my food? Yes, even if there are flavor recipe cards available. And, how much flavor transfer happens through those metal yard sticks that act as the frying utensils? Did I really want some peanut sauce and shell fish in with my teriyaki beef? No. No, I did not.

So, out with the sales person I was travelling with, and he wants to go to the Mongolian BBQ that was right next to our hotel. Blah. Is there volume? Sure. Can I scrap a bowl if I don't enjoy it? Definitely. It is good grub? No, definitely not.

Chain-o-rama: Popeye's Chicken

Travelling can lead to some great food discoveries, or it can leave you in a rut of chain restaurants and food choices driven by convenience more than food. Such was my short little trip to Raleigh this week. On my way home, all I had was a chance to grab some lunch in the airport. It was an A&W, a bagel place, a generically themed varsity grill, or.... Popeye's Chicken.

I'll be real direct - when Colonel Sanders figured out the pressure-frying process - that was a landmark food innovation. I really enjoy KFC's original recipe (and, I could write a whole entry on the cole slaw). So, while I like Popeye's, I find their chicken not as tender as KFC's. But, I was rushed, and while Indy has several locations, I felt it was the best use of my time.

The chicken - fairly tasty. I had some of the fiery strips, and they weren't very spicy. It is tasty enough, but chickens strips are so prevalent, it is awfully hard to really find anything noteworthy about them. But, the thing I really wanted to mention that was kind of a revelation to me is - the red beans and rice side item. This is a tasty item. They seem to be more like smoky pinto beans, but when they drop in a scoop of the cajun rice with it, it is a really great side. I'd have likely been more satisfied if I would have just gotten a large order of that instead of having the chicken, too.

The verdict: 2 belly rubs (out of 5) - average chicken, but the beans and rice were a pleasant surprise.
Question: why don't they offer spinach at Popeye's? I realize there is no direct tie to the sailor man, but.... shouldn't creamed spinach or something like that be a signatue side anyhow?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Field Report: Ann Arbor, MI

Zingerman's Deli is a pretty famous spot. And the breadth of the menu is just fantastic. Ann Arbor is also a fantastic college town. Talk about variety as far as food along the main drag. The only thing I couldn't figure out was why were all the football players practicing so much when I drove by the field house....?

Zingerman's has tons of breads, baked goods, cheeses, and deli items.... But, I've struggled with this place for a bit. I mean, the sandwiches, they're great. The breads are great, the meats and cheeses are fantastic. But, man, they're expensive. I thought a reuben at Shapiro's at $10.50 or whatever was bad.

On this stop at Zingerman's, I got a sandwich with Montreal smoked meat. It is like corned beef, but... better. It is a cured brisket, but different spices. With the Better Half being Canadian, I first had some Montreal smoked meat up in Montreal when we were there for the final immigration interview. Anyhow, we went to this places, Schwartz's, and it was a huge hit. Great sandwiches, great local chain.

Zingerman's does several different things with their meats, and, hey, they offer 3 versions of brisket! Hot American brisket, corned beef, and Montreal smoked meat. Can't go wrong with there. I had Stan's Canadian Hotfoot. The dijon mustard and the green chilies were a great complement to the meat.

So, here is my struggle with Zingerman's. It's really expensive. Yeah, I was on expense account, but... $13.50 for a sandwich (or, $2 more for more meat)? Yeah, it comes with a choice of their home made pickles, but.... that's a big outlay for a sandwich. I did pick up a fantastic small rhubarb pie to take home, but... still, the price is eventually a detriment.

The verdict: 2.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Yes, very tasty. Fantastic menu. But, not a good value at all. But, if you are okay with paying $15 for a sandwich, you are in for a treat, and will have a hard time picking a single sandwich.

Ain't it cool?

I found this retro-styled bottle of Faygo pop while up in Detroit. Love the throwback design on the glass bottle. Faygo was apparently started in Detroit, and yet you see them all the time around Indy. I hadn't really paid attention to the fact that they still use real cane sugar, so if you're into that, that is kind of a neat ingredient fact.

I liked the Rock & Rye, though I didn't find it a must have flavor. Just really enjoyed seeing the retro designed bottle.

And, it made me think of this video, below. All I know is that I'd love to go visit this guy's shop in Los Angeles. But... cucumber soda? Not into that one......

Friday, June 4, 2010

Field Report: Detroit

Someone needs a salad. And, that someone is me. Tried to make the most of some eating while up in Detroit for work, but...... I really need some exercise and some healthier food for a change after this visit.

Detroit surely needs no sympathy from me. It is sad, though, how much the city continues to shrink and suffer economically. This is just a small thing, but... this city must have been something just after WW2.... so many great older buildings. This was from my hotel. Hope things can turn around up there before long.

A reader commented on the side-by-side coney island restaurants. Happens that they're around the corner from our office. So, even though one time while in Philly I did eat at both Pat's and Geno's back to back on a cheesesteak comparison, I did wait a day between trying out Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. You can learn about them in this truncated youtube video.

It is pretty odd to have such similar businesses set up shop right next to one another. I mean, you'd never see a Walgreens near a CVS.... uh.... scratch that.....

Anyhow, I've now had like 5 hot dogs in the span of 3 days. I really need a good long bike ride.

First, on Thursday, I went to Lafayette. Tasty. I was really looking forward to the lunch, and it didn't disappoint. I'd have liked some hot sauce, but the dogs had a good snap when you bit them, the chili sauce was tasty, there were plenty of onions, and the mustard give a bit of punch to the taste. Overall, it was $6 for the two dogs and a coke. Pretty solid value, and I was full enough. I coulda likely fit in some fries, but I surely didn't need to.

On Friday, I zipped over to American for the taste test. I also added some fries this time, apparently feeling my system needed to be tested by more than just the nitrates and saturated fat from the dogs (fries were very pedestrian, from a bay variety). Again, tasty, good snap, woulda liked some hot sauce (there was some at the counter, guess I shoulda asked for some).

So, the comparison? I don't know. They're hot dogs and chili sauce with mustard and onions. I enjoyed Lafayette more, but mostly cause I was just looking forward to it. I likely will disappoint native Detroiters, but I felt they were incredibly similar. American serves Pepsi, Lafayette serves Coke, for what that matters (and, I know it does to some). Oddly, the thing that puts Lafayette on top for me is that they are... more dilapidated.... American has actually tried to decorate more, and to have a noticeable theme. Lafayette kind of charms me by being unadorned.

Luckily the folks I travelled with were not feeling very ambitious or interested in heading over to Greek Town, so we just ate at the hotel, and I did get a salad. But... um.... I don't think I should do the 5 dogs in 3 days thing again any time soon.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Tasty cheap eats, keep the breath mints and defibrillator close by.

Recommendation: For the drive home, I listened to several installments of the podcast A History of the World in 100 objects. Fantastic. Really interesting stuff.

Daydream material?

Anyone want some sandwich inspiration? Check out this long slide show.....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Product Review: Graeter's Buckeye Blitz

I lived in Ohio for about 8 years. I really enjoyed it. I was over near Akron, in Cuyahoga Falls. I worked up near Cleveland for the last 5 years, and I really enjoyed the old feel of the city. And, good grub abounds over there. Not so healthy, no, but good stuff. They didn't have a Primanti Brother's there, but there is a string of restaurant/bars that serve that fantastic sandwich. Little Italy in Cleveland is great. It is where I found out how good real pirogies could be, too. The old steel-age city has a lot of character, and ethnic burrows.

What did I not like about NE Ohio? Well, it is what drove me crazy about the whole state - from every border, it is just rabid about Ohio State University sports (I'm personally surprised they came in only at #2). Ugh. As a Boilermaker, it was hard to take. Especially when we just couldn't beat them nearly enough! Oh, the pain of the 2002 season... I'm not even sure why I'm linking to this, but I was standing in the stands, yelling for the upset, ready to end OSU's undefeated season. Oh the pain (tho, yes, I so admire the nerve).

Anyhow, that was all to just set up the fact that while at the grocery store, I noticed a take home pint of a Graeter's flavor called Buckeye Blitz. As unappetizing as the name is, I love peanut butter and chocolate, so.... I wanted to try it. We've already established that you really need to try some of Graeter's ice cream (black raspberry chip and coconut chip are both 5 big belly rubs).

This is a pretty tasty ice cream. I still don't know what is so special about Graeter's french pot style of ice cream making, but it produces some fantastic stuff. I love the inconsistency of the chocolate chunks. The ice cream is smooth, rich and tasty. The only thing I'd say that is lacking in this flavor is that I'd have liked more peanut butter. But, overall, a really solid flavor.

The verdict: 4.5 belly rubs (out of 5), despite the name!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

King David Dogs

What is there not to love about a good hot dog restaurant? They're down to earth, tasty, easy on the wallet. They will likely soon get more and more attacked by the culture police, but... I just get a hop in my step seeing a hot dog restaurant.

Chicago, of course, has tons of them. I worked for a firm based downtown in Chicago for a bit, and Gold Coast Dogs became my favorite. Chargrilled loveliness. And, just love the sport peppers and the neon relish. If you're ever in Buffalo, you have to try Ted's Red Hots. Man, the Ted's sauce is just legendary. And, the loganberry drink? That's high class. No doubt about it. I even found a Ted's in Phoenix once by chance. I did a drive around the country, and stopped there to see some friends, they wanted to go to a hot dog stand, and I was in. Lo and behold the Ted's owners moved or wintered in Phoenix and opened one up there!

Needless to say, I like hot dogs. And, Indy has a great restaurant right downtown - King David Dogs. I love everything about this place... well... everything, that is, but the hot dogs. I love the location. I love the souvenir glasses. I love the crushed ice. I love the simple logo and signage. I love the fact these guys can make it in the restaurant business by only being open 11-4, Mondays through Fridays. I love the buns. I love the tater tots, even if they're likely from an OreIda bag. I love the plethora of toppings. I love the fact that it is a good value for the huge, quarter pound dog. I love the fact you are full when you leave.

So, what don't I love? Well, I feel kind of wimpy about this, but... it's just too much hot dog for me. I'd actually prefer a smaller diameter hot dog. Now, I think it is a good tasting dog, yes. I guess it is that I like a different hot dog to toppings and bun ratio. And, while on today's visit I had the Reuben Dog (pictured with some tots) and could pick it up, on some dogs like the South of the Border Dog, it is almost impossible to pick the thing up and eat it. That is a pretty lame complaint, eh? Yeah, I know.

So, ultimately, if I could make any change to King David Dogs, I'd just offer a secondary choice of maybe 1/8th pound dog, and I'd likely get two... with different toppings on each so I could try more things on the same visit! I am pretty consistent on this meat-to-toppings ratio thing. I am not very crazy at all about Bub's burgers up in Carmel for the same reason (and don't care for the bun). And, I love the smash burger style at Culver's, Steak N Shake and 96th Street Steakburgers.

King David Dogs is a great local place, hopefully you've tried it already, and hopefully you'll continue to support them. They also have a location at the airport.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Again, it is more of a preference thing, but just too much hot dog for my tastes.

Thai Orchid

Wrapping up the weekend still.... we tried Thai Orchid finally. WIBIA just this morning reviewed another of Indy's Thai restaurants. Siam Square is still solidly in the lead position for my favorite local Thai place, but it was good to try something new.

Thai Orchid is an attractive restaurant, though it shares a wall with a fireworks shop. So, I assume it could get explosive over there. The wait staff is attentive and they all help out regardless of table assignment. To get a gauge of the place, the better half and I tried a curry and also the pad thai. Pretty standard fare, but I am a curry fanatic, so I have to give that a try at any new Thai place.

You start with a small dish of salad/slaw. It is in a perky rice vinegar dressing with crushed peanuts. Very tasty.

We got the red curry with chicken at medium-hot, and the pad thai also at medium hot. They offer 3 other levels higher than medium hot, and I found this heat level was barely registering. With the red curry, it was a very tasty broth, good balance of flavors, nice amount of chicken, and a good serving size. A very good curry, but not quite to the richness level that I most admire from Siam Square.

For the pad thai, it seemed overly sweet, and it also seemed like the amount of fish sauce was out of proportion with the dish. I don't rate noodle dishes exceptionally highly in general, but this was lower on the quality scale compared to most pad thai offerings in town. I also did not notice egg on this pad thai dish. I find that neither distressing nor pleasing, but... just noticeable. For Pad Thai, while not my favorite, I find the favorite offering to be from Jasmine on 96th.

The verdict: 3.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Good value and service, plenty of food, nice curry, a bit off on the pad thai.

While on this topic, I'll note my overall favorite Thai restaurants.
1. Siam Square
4. tied: Thai Orchid and Jasmine Thai
5. Sawasdee

I just feel like Siam Square is so much better than the others, I need to build a buffer there and hope for more competition.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Very exciting news!

A Korean taco food cart in Indy? Wow. I'm stoked.... can't wait to find them......

Upcoming road trips

I'm pretty excited to be taking my first few road trips since I've started this blog. In the next 10 days I'll be going to both Detroit (driving) and Raleigh (flying). I won't be able to stop myself from dropping in at Zingerman's Deli as I'm driving by Ann Arbor. Anyone else have any suggestions for these two cities?

El Meson

Hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend. It sure felt like August on Saturday and Sunday. Monday brought a big picnic with friends on the south side... we ate so much there that there was no chance to try some place new from the south side...

Last Friday, though, I ran over to El Meson on the NW side, on Michigan Road. Due to the office location, it is a fairly common lunch spot. It is a really colorful spot, and looks to have a big bar area (cantina) for events and it looks like they have some salsa dancing there. Like many of the Mexican restaurants in the area, El Meson has a solid, dependable menu and incredibly fast service. You can be in and out within 30 minutes no problem, and have a very filling meal at reasonable prices.

I usually trend towards burritos, but since I wanted to write something about El Meson, I did try something different this time. I had the Arroz con Pollo ($6.49), and it was really good. The grilled chicken had a ladle of the white cheese sauce poured over it. I asked for some tortillas ($0.49) and for a just under $7 (water to drink) I was stuffed. The cheese sauce is really rich and very tasty, and the chicken was quite moist, which sometimes can be hard to find if they've cooked it too long. The chips and salsa are good, though nothing remarkable. The only problem I had with this meal is that I thought the cheese sauce was just a bit too salty, and so I felt thirsty for most of the afternoon.

Anyhow, Indy has a lot of these locally owned, mostly independent Mexican restaurants, and they all seem to be a solid value, tasty food, and very fast service.
The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Solid, filling, great value.