Not just another food blog – I hope

28 Jun

“When are you gonna write a blog?” This from a number of friends who are either really interested, or tired of seeing all the FoodSpotting, Yelp and other food posts on my Facebook page, in my Twitter feeds, FourSquare check-ins, etc. So, here it is… at least the start of it.

The design and visual stuff may change over time. Just bare with me.

I welcome your interaction.

Keith – I’m Your Neighborhood Chow Hound

I blame Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

20 Sep

Zesto Drive-In Restaurant on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta, Georgia is closed. I call it a local institution. Others may have another opinion. The Ponce area has been “under new management,” if you will, for some time. It’s lined with prime real estate along a main artery of the inner city. Fresh retail options, new residences and businesses have sprung up. It’s received the old live-work-play treatment. So it’s no surprise that Zesto’s property owner succumbed to a developer’s offer to sell the land.

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I have never been opposed to revitalizing and upgrading neighborhoods which were once neglected and avoided. But I still feel a sense of loss when places like Zesto become collateral damage and destined to live on as only a memory.

I blame General Sherman and his infamous March to the Sea, which he began by burning Atlanta to the ground, November 15, 1864. From that day, it has been bred into the DNA of Atlantans that we can recover from anything, reinvent ourselves and our city, as needed, whenever needed. The city’ mascot? The Phoenix Rising, of course.

Zesto isn’t one-of-a-kind. You kind find diners like it, probably, in most cities. A hamburger joint that dates back to the 40s and 50s. In fact, there are five other franchises around metro Atlanta. But this was “the” Zesto Drive-In. It was the fast, friendly service, food cooked to order and the ice cream. Oh my, the ice cream. And it was the home of the Chubby Burger for goodness sake!

Again, I don’t begrudge evolution and progress. I hate to lose little bits of character that make a city unique. I think Zesto is – was – one of those places. I savored my last meal: Chubby Decker (double-decker cheeseburger), fries and a chocolate malt.

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So I encourage you not to overlook that little corner bar, pub or restaurant in your city – or any city – that’s been around quietly for generations. It may not have the best food and drink you’ve ever had. Chances are they have something special waiting for you. There obviously is something special that’s kept the place in business. Make a stop and check it out before a new breed General Sherman comes and takes it away.

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Better Half Seeks to be the Best

6 Jan

This is sort of the third time I’ve written about this place. In it’s previous life as Push Start Kitchen, I raved about the food and the folks who brought it to us. Now I get the chance to do the same in it’s current incarnation as Better Half. Less than one month old, Better Half is on the way to being a hot spot in Atlanta’s dining scene. And I’m going to do my part to make it happen by shouting about it.

Zach and Cristina Meloy have produced a labor of love that is at once what Push Start was and was meant to be. It’s a cozy, familial and special place. Zach marries South American and Southern American flavors deliciously. I guess that is what makes his food so good; it’s unique, sometimes exotic, but always approachable.

On a recent rare visit to the A, I scored a table for dinner. At the time the place had only been open 10 days. Even so, it had a modest crowd and I was glad I made reservations well in advance. Zach was hustling in the open kitchen which is right behind the bar/chef’s table set up. He likes to see people eat and chit chat. He’s a touchy-feely type guy. Not in a creepy way, though. Well, the beard gets a bit disturbing at times. 

Leidy (mom-in-law) was up front greeting everyone warmly. Unfortunately, Cristina had mommy duty that night and wasn’t around. The rest of the staff, though, treated us like family and gave the place a comfy, welcome home feel. It was the kind of vibe you expect to get around the family dinner table during the holidays with people talking and laughing and leaning over to their neighbor to suggest their favorite dish. “Oh, you gotta try the so-and-so.” “Hey, what is that you’re having?”

In fact, that’s what happened to me and my date. We got several recommendations from the folks at the table next us. That’s the kind of vibe Push Start was known for and thankfully it has carried over to Better Half.

Let me walk you through my meal.

First – pickled shrimp, black bean falafel, red onion jam, cilantro

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I want to convince Zach to offer a plateful of the falafel and jam on the side. However, I think he has a Charlie Trotter thing going, where you won’t see the same dish twice on his menu. I haven’t so far, and he has fed me quite a few meals.

Second – seared tuna, ham hock, guajillo sauce, baby kale

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A little surf and pork? Sounds odd but it was a great combination. I think that was a little polenta cake in the center. I forgot to ask, but I ate it.

Third – black cocoa sponge, ancho cajeta, vanilla milk

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The story is Zach asks his mother-in-law to fix this cake each year for his birthday. I totally understand why. He is a HUGE dulce de leche fan, so the cajeta (the caramel colored swipe) was no surprise. The peppery hint of ancho chile paired well with the cocoa cake. Sweet and just a touch of spice. Next time a big ‘ole hunk will suffice. I’ll sacrifice style for substance in this case.  

Other items on the menu included, roasted apple bread pudding (pictured below), 18-hour short rib, plantain crusted turkey and beet salad.

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Bringing strangers together in an intimate setting, to share some good food and drink is what this place is about. You may end up with several new friends along the way. It happened to me. So let me encourage you to take a friend or two and spend some time with friends you don’t know yet. You might get a shot of moonshine if the stars align correctly. The featured flavor on my night out was chai tea – Yowza!

Tell Zach and Cristina that I sent you. And as Zach would say, “go get fed!”

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End of summer BBQ

5 Oct

The weather has definitely taken a turn toward fall. You can tell by all the Halloween decorations in the stores. Friday night high school football is back. I think less about a cold beer than I do a soothing Manhattan. And of course, BBQ becomes a rarity. Yes, you can throw some meat on the grill in most types of weather, but the joy loses some of its appeal when you’re wearing long sleeves and thermals.

So I’ll live a bit in the not too distant past and relive some of the Q I shoved down my gullet this summer.

12 Bones – Asheville, North Carolina

I was told this was the “power stop” for BBQ. National and local political types put this place on their tour stops when they want to be among the people. Even Barack Obama visited on while on the campaign trail. I’ll give their campaign staff kudos for at least having good taste. The line is long but moves fast. The staff is friendly.

The baby back special of the day (3 flavors are offered each day) on my stop – blueberry rub. Yes. Blueberry. As in the fruit. But as Johnny Gill would say, my, my, my, my, my-my-my-my.

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The smoked potato salad is something out of this world.

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Chicago q – Chicago

It’s on Chicago’s Gold Coast so you know it starts out expensive and a little upscale. I mean they serve Kobe beef ribs and brisket. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Anyway, a friend flagged this for me on someone’s Top 10 list of places that handle bacon with a little extra special something. More on that later.

The q was quite respectable. I went traditional and got the baby backs. Nice smoke ring, crust and enough bite on the bone. The house made sauces provided for good pairings if you’re so inclined – mild original, spicy (which is just the original with red pepper flakes), Eastern North Carolina vinegar and South Carolina mustard. I liked mixing and matching the sauces, except the mustard (never been a fan).

I sought out this place for the house bacon cheddar hush puppies. These warm, golf ball-sized puppies had chunks of salty, smokey bacon that made my tongue dance. I’d make a meal out of them any day. 

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The ribs.

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The sauces.

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 Slows – Detroit

When you ask about BBQ in Detroit, people send you to Slows. They are correct. That’s all you need to know.

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Slows sauces.

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Rub BBQ Pub – Detroit

I wager that if you ask people in metro Detroit for a good BBQ recommendation, Rub will come in a close second behind Slows. I went one day for lunch and wanted to go back for dinner. That’s all you need to know.

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The Slim Shady is a heaping mound of BBQ chicken topped with a heap of coleslaw on Texas toast. I don’t know if its namesake had anything to do with the sandwich, but he’d do well by saying he did.

 

Luella’s – Asheville, North Carolina

Luella’s has tons of good stuff to eat, but they keep it simple. Smoke the meat. Don’t get fancy with sauces. Keep a steady supply of homemade sides and fixins.

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Ribs, vinegar coleslaw, hush puppies, calico baked beans. What you don’t see are the smoked wings that came in round 2 and the bourbon ice cream that finished me off… after I finished it off.

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Keep it simple – ketchup based, vinegar (we are in North Carolina, after all)

 

Rib Cage – Kalamazoo, Michigan

This trailer is as close to street food as you get in this part of West Michigan – as far as I know, anyway.

I knew I was in the right spot when I walked up to the window to place an order and the owner shoved a plate of freshly made deviled eggs in my face. “Thanks for stopping by. Have one. You’ll love it.” Who was I to refuse such hospitality?

While not the best DE I’ve had, it made for a good first time experience. The ribs, however, are what keep me coming back. This brother has some southern heritage. The meat is smoked to perfection; you can watch them being made in the huge smoker right across from the trailer. These aren’t made the night before and reheated. They are done when they are done. If you’re not around when they come off the grill, then shame on you because they won’t be around long.

I’ve not mastered the schedule yet, so I’ve walked away disappointed on more than one occasion.

But when I hit it right, look out. Nothing else matters. I have tunnel vision. I’ve even started the meal in the car. Yes, I am that guy.

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There are no extra sauces. You get the slightly thick, sweet maple or molasses sauce that is a secret family recipe. I don’t know if you can get the ribs dry or not. I don’t care. The sauce doesn’t get in the way. Everything is right as rain, as long as I guess right about the time the ribs come off the grill.

Hmmmm, BBQ. 

Eat well.

How Do You Food? The redux.

8 May

I won’t insult you and pretend that I haven’t posted in a while. I haven’t. Life changes and such have given me an excuse to be lazy. One thing hasn’t changed though; I still love good food and drink, and I love helping other people discover the same.

Since we last had a chance to chat, I left the comfortable, warm climes of the Peach State to the decidedly more frigid frozen tundra. Well, it’s actually only Michigan, but it’s damned cold enough most of the time.

With that move came a very different sensibility when it comes to food. I’m not tastebud bashing, however, if you start with meat and potatoes and go off the map to walleye and asparagus, you’ve pretty much run the gamut here. But that only speaks to variety. (I will not be a food snob. I will not be a food snob. I will not be a food snob.) There is a lot of good food to be found in these parts.  

Going forward, and because I travel a lot, many of these entries will be from locales far and wide. A growing emphasis will focus on what you can find in airports. For those of us who spend a lot of time flying, finding decent food between long or short layovers is essential. I hope to be of assistance. I tend to schedule my flights to allow time to eat something, particularly in marquee cities. You never know what you may find.

So for my thirsty and hungry faithful, I have captured much in the last several months. I just need to set “pen to paper” and serve it to you in the delectable bites you’ve said you like. Until then, eat well my friends.

Here are a few pictures teases of things I want to share with you.   

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Killing Fish in Seattle

18 Nov

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you what this post is really about – a perfect sushi experience. I traveled to Seattle recently and my culinary mind was fixed on seafood of all varieties. It had been a while since I’d had really good, fresh seafood. So, in my week-long trip I enjoyed seafood of all stripes and varieties in almost every meal, even breakfast.

A standout experience happened at Wann Japanese Izakaya. On the menu is a maki roll like no other I’ve ever had. The Black Belt Roll made my head spin. It was so good that I went to Wann three different times for it. The ingredients read fairly simple – tuna, salmon, yellowtail, pickled ginger, shiso leaf, daikon sprouts, cucumber. But, sushi is about simplicity. I watched a movie a few days ago, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about a 9-seat, Michelin 3 star sushi restaurant in Japan. The owner and head chef, Jiro, does one thing – sushi. And he does it well. His theory is to focus on perfecting your skill, keeping it simple, and doing it the same way forever. I felt that kind of dedication in the execution of the Black Belt Roll. That’s how it hit me.

Black Belt Roll – Wann Japanese Izakaya (Seattle)

The taste of each ingredient burst onto my tongue in each bite. The balance of flavors was uncanny. The textures fit perfectly. To have that same experience in three separate visits was unique.

The izakaya itself is nothing particularly special. The service is good, the decor is fine and the atmosphere is comfortable. Beyond that, there isn’t much to crow about. It’s all about the food. The Black Belt Roll is on another level. You’ll do yourself a disservice if you go to Seattle and don’t try it.

BTW… you can get Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix.

Eat well.

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