Thursday, November 15, 2018

blk mrkt StP – St. Paul

D.Rough sent me an excited message about this BBQ place that was near our house.  This place is a giant custom grill on flatbed trailer. They’re open one day a week (Friday from 5-7pm) and take advanced orders (so they know how much to make and don’t waste anything). They also occasionally do guest appearances and cater events from time to time. You order from their website before Thursday night and the next day at 5, it’s ready to be picked up. It’s pretty ingenius!

During the summer months, it’s like a big party around their trailer (which I believe is parked in front of their house). People sitting in lawn chairs drinking beverages and eating picnic style all the things they’ve picked up from the BBQ trailer. During the winter months – which they say is actually one of their busy times since people want to pop by and grab something quick for the family on a Friday night – there’s less socializing, but the people working are still just as friendly and happy to see you.

The menu is pretty simple and set up on a website to purchase with a card online or pay in cash when you pick up your food. It’s a small menu with family sized portions, but it’s got all the really awesome items you’d expect:
  • Baby Back Pork Ribs
  • Beef Brisket
  • Beef Short Ribs
  • Pork Shoulder (both shredded and whole)
  • Beef Brisket (both sliced and a whole giant one)
  • Smoked Beans

I decided to get the Baby Back Pork Ribs and the Beef Short Ribs. Some people say it’s expensive, but it literally is the exact same amount you’d pay at a sit down restaurant – it just isn’t portion controlled for one person. It’s family style. It is very appropriately priced, in all honesty. Don’t listen to those complainers! Hahaha

The Baby Back Pork Ribs were delicious. Not falling off the bone (which means they’ve been steamed too long), but just the perfect amount of fight to them. You can get the bones clean on these ribs, but it chews like actual delicious well-prepared meat. There’s not really a sauce on them, although they’re juicy enough to make it look like a sauce. Just the perfect amount in my opinion. And a full rack looks really large when you see it up close and personal. Great work on these ribs!

The Beef Short Ribs were huge. We literally got two rib bones with a large amount of meat on them. The meat on these is crazy flavorful and the little fat that was on there was the melt-in-your-mouth kind, not the gristle-and-grease kind. Excellent bark on these, as well. These folks know what they’re doing. Immediately after D.Rough and I ate these things (well, ate half of them and saved the rest for the next day), I sent out a bunch of emails and FB messages about these things. They were really that good. I know people aren’t going to drive across town to pick up these ribs, but anyone in the Downtown St. Paul area, West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and even Mendota Heights could pick a Friday dinner up for the family and be reallllly happy with the results.

You won’t be sorry!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Kuma’s Corner (Original Location) – Chicago, IL

After a hard night of tiki-drinking, there’s no better place to go with a pounding headache than to a heavy metal bar. That bar also happens to serve the best burger in Chicago and one of my top 5 burger places I’ve ever been to. Let’s just say that between the black metal they were playing loudly over the bar speakers and the sitting-next-to-the-sun daylight streaming through the windows, it was a sunglasses-on sort of burger feast. I’m also amazed that I’ve never written about this place before. My apologies on not spreading the love. Sometimes you have to wait an hour or two to get a seat (literally), and other times, when you walk in right when they open, you get seated right away.

I could go on and on about Kuma’s Corner. It really is an incredible place. Don’t let the heavy metal part of this fool you. It’s an upscale burger place – Think caramelized pears, chicken strips, fried giardinera, crab cakes, whiskey soaked dill pickles, braised venison, or pork chops as toppings on a wonderful beef patty. THAT’s the kind of fancy stuff you get here. Most of the burgers and sandwiches are named after metal bands, which is fun for a guy like me. They also cater to vegans and vegetarians by offering substitutes to beef patties, like chicken breasts, and a few different non-meat substitutes that are apparently some of the best in the business. These folks support local bands and craft beers, and also give back to the communities they’re in. Each month, they have a new over-the-top burger that a portion of the profits go to some local charity picked by the staff. Really smart and HUMAN.

The menu always takes a while to go through, since everything looks incredible. They have mac and cheese, tons of burger options, other amazing sandwiches, and a few salad options. Then they have a large craft beer list. I’d always encourage you to check out the Burger of the Month, though. It’s sort of a thing there. This particular trip, I knew I needed to have it. It was called the Dillinger Escape Plan – a band I do NOT support for a number of reasons involving d-baggery on stage – and the proceeds were going to a good cause. This burger will blow your mind.

It’s a 10 oz beef patty on a bed of spicy potatoes O’Brien, monterey jack cheese, country fried steak, chorizo & poblano sausage gravy, a fried egg, and chives. It’s a wonderfully delicious mess.

D.Rough got the Sourvein – 10 oz beef patty covered in deep fried blackened chicken tenders, Applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, Belgian waffle strips, maple syrup, and raspberry aioli. Brilliant.

We didn’t realize that both of us basically ordered brunch-style burgers. Also, neither of us had beer.

On the DEP burger, the chorizo sausage gravy was simply killer. It went so well with the chicken fried steak that it was insane. The fried egg drizzled everything nicely and cheese was a nice surprise every once in a while. Well done on this very special burger plate.

The Sourvein burger was a challenge to eat, due to its height, but was basically chicken and waffles on top of a burger. The raspberry aioli was a really well thought out touch and everything was magical. Loved this burger!

If you’ve never been here, you need to go. It’s so good they had to open up three additional locations to keep the crowds manageable. I haven’t been to any of the new locations, but they look cleaner and less dive-bar-style than the original one. But I’m guessing the food is just as awesome. I’ve got friends that live in Chicago that post about Kuma’s all the time and I’m always jealous. I was long overdue for a visit here and I’m glad it happened…even though I was ready for a nap and still had 6.5 more hours to drive back to Minneapolis…

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

3 Dots & A Dash – Chicago, IL

Most of you know D.Rough and I have a deep love for tiki drinks – think rum and fruit juice on a Polynesian island. We’ve tried to find a way to get to Chicago’s 3 Dots & A Dash for a few years now. We finally made it happen!

A lot of tiki-lovers have issue with this place because it’s loud and expensive, but we didn’t care. We saw a few comments that said you should get a reservation if at all possible, so we did long ahead of time. Even so, we could only get a spot at 10:30pm, which was fine by us. 

It has a sort of speakeasy feel, with an entrance in an alley (although, it’s pretty well marked once you’re in the alley), and a dark staircase into the basement (once you get past the bouncer). If you don’t have reservations, be prepared to stand outside in a line about 200 people long waiting to get a standing spot near the bar – just letting you know. 

When you walk down the staircase, you’re facing a beautiful glowing wall of skulls, which is sort of a signature feature in the place. Very tasteful and fun, in my opinion. There’s a spot to stand near the hostess stand where we waited a couple of minutes for our table to be made ready. Everyone is so nice here!

As I said, if you don’t have a reservation, you don’t get a table. GET A RESERVATION. There is a long row of 4-person tables in the middle of the dining room and then larger booths and spaces for parties along the walls of the dining room. It’s very well decorated and definitely has a relatively authentic (but upscale) tiki feel to it. Yes, it IS loud, but it’s a combo of both music and talking energy, which we thought was enjoyable. Sorry, old people, it isn’t a quiet 1960’s Polynesian basement den with calming ukulele sounds in the background! The server we had was pretty fantastic and went through the layout of the impressive menu. Single person drinks on these pages, multi-person drinks on these pages, ridiculously expensive drinks (like $400 or served in a pirate ship with a full bottle of rum) on these pages, specific fancy sipping rums on these pages, food on these pages, and merchandise on these other pages.

D.Rough and I had intended to keep it tame and have one or two single-person drinks. That was the PLAN. Every drink on this menu sounds amazing, however. But we started tame. D.Rough got an Aloha Felicia and I got a Fat Bottom Mermaid. 
These drinks showed up VERY quickly, which was amazing. (Note: a lot of the drinks are made in the back of the house, since the bartenders serving non-reservation people can’t keep up with the crazy demand of the tables, so you won’t get to see your drink being made, if that’s your thing.) Both of these drinks seemed to be tailor-made to our tastes. Mine was rum and crazy fruit juices, and D.Rough’s was rum and crazy coconut and other juices. Completely different tasting drinks and we loved both of them. In fact, they were some of the best tiki drinks we’ve ever had.  They’re probably pricy for drinks at a tiki bar in say Omaha, but in Chicago, this is how much drinks cost – deal with it.

The night was going well. We were happy with our drinks, with our server, with the random people talking to us as they walked past, and with our entire situation. We looked at the single-person drinks, and then a little deeper into the menu and decided that since we were here and it was sort of a special destination for us, that we should possibly take advantage of the circumstance and get something special. We literally wanted every drink on the multi-person drink pages, but we finally decided on the Bali Bali – rum, Armagnac, gin, and various juices – but for 4-5 people. Also, the picture on the menu sold it, as well. 
It arrived just as fast as the other drinks, but it was bubbling and glowing and “smoking” all over the place from the dry ice. People from around the bar literally came over to our table to take photos and video of it – really one of the most impressive drinks I’ve ever had. AND, it was D-LISH-OUS! Sure we were getting a little crazy with our ordering, but we felt like this was worth it, even for the presentation alone – not to mention the taste was way better than we expected.

We polished that drink off and thought we had better order some food, since we didn’t appear to be slowing down. We ordered the Lanai Luau Chips. These seemed like they might soak up some booze! They’re like vegetable pork rinds (which I’m sure just horrified a bunch of my vegetarian friends), served with a delicious mango guacamole. There were more of them than I thought there would be, but we definitely finished them off. Really tasty snacks.

We weren’t sure the chips were going to be enough so we ordered the Thai Fried Chicken…. and then some more drinks. I got the Saturn & Negroni and D.Rough got the Idle Hands Do The Devil’s Work. Again, these drinks were perfectly suited to our regular drinking tastes, except they were monumentally better than what we normally drink. The Saturn & Negroni is gin, homemade orgeat, and tropical juices and the Idle Hands is like a classic non-blended daiquiri, but with banana rum. Both were killer. And the Thai Fried Chicken was much better than we thought it was going to be. Great fry on the outside of these chicken pieces and just a tiny bit of spice in the wonderful glaze that was on them. We’re really glad we got these! 

Somehow, I talked D.Rough into getting another drink with dry ice in it – I’m sure I’m SUPER smooth and convincing when I’ve had eleventeen drinks. So I ordered the Shotstopus. 
It’s basically shots of 151 rum and juices but served on an awesome octopus display with dry ice. D.Rough was ready to be done when it came out, so I basically drank both shots (slowly, so I could actually taste how amazing they were). And they were awesome, in case you were wondering.

At this point, I was feeling on top of the world. SO much so that I spoke German with our server – who was originally from Germany. Fact: I don’t speak German. (To be fair, I took German in college for a bit, but that was a hundred years ago and I’ve lost it all…until I get a “few” drinks in me”)

Thankfully, D.Rough talked me out of ordering any more delicious drinks. She’s the brains AND the looks of this operation. She asked if this is a regular occurrence when I find tiki bars with my friends while I travel around the country for roller derby tournaments. (She’s an actual athlete that takes care of her body while the rest of us schlubbs regularly request late check-out of hotels and eat Advil like M&Ms after tiki nights.) So I suppose I’m more “in practice” than she is. That being said, no one was surprised when I woke up the next morning in our hotel room (thankfully) fully clothed and cradling the TV remote like it tried to get away from me during the night. Worth it. Worth every penny of the most expensive tiki night we’ve ever had. So much fun!!! 

And then the following morning, D.Rough and I continued the tiki fest by putting fun tiki garnishes in the copious amounts of water that we needed to drink!
You will be amused to find out where we went for lunch the next day on our way out of town…… hahahaha

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Iron Range Eatery – Crosby, MN

D.Rough and I were "up north" at the family cabin and needed to find some food – mainly because we didn’t catch enough crappies to make dinner.  We had done some previous research on restaurants near the somewhat isolated cabin and found the Iron Range Eatery. The menu looked fantastic and the reviews are almost entirely raving (in a positive way). Reservations can be made for 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00 pm – very specific times, so they probably have some control over their workflow and such. It’s just a good idea to get a reservation, even though it’s a small town – this place fills up!

We decided to split the poutine, since someone else had it and it looked amazing. Battered fries with chicken gravy, cheese curds, and Applewood bacon. Yeah, it was crazy good.

We also got a caramelized pear and gorgonzola pizza – it just sounded right. It was! A really interesting – in a GOOD way – combination of flavors you don’t normally run across. The blue cheese wasn’t super overwhelming, and was balanced nicely with the sweetness of the pears. The walnuts also added some fun textures. A fantastic pizza!

I really “won” this dinner with my order, however – roasted sausage and chicken penne. It sounds like it could be blah, but it was some of the best pasta I’ve had recently. It’s their signature pasta and now I know why. It’s really quite spicy, so Minnesotans should steer clear of it, but the flavor was so incredible, I couldn’t stop eating it. The sausage was spicy and flavorful without being too fennel-y, and the chicken was moist and plentiful. The sauce was simply magic. I’d recommend this to anyone who can handle the heat. I will be hard-pressed to order anything else when I go back to this place, since it was so good.  Well done, Iron Range Eatery.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Crystal Garden – Minneapolis, MN

A-Wow and I had finished our work-based-biometric-screening-that-impacts-how-much-we-pay-for-health-insurance-premiums, so it is time again to let our bodies go for 11.5 more months. We usually hit up a buffet to really maximize our caloric intake and today was no different. We picked a spot neither of us had been, so we were really going into this with low expectations. I mean, one of our worst experiences was Wang’s, and they’ve since closed – so it couldn’t be worse than that.

The place is a challenge to get to, first off. You can only see the place from one direction on Hiawatha Ave, and if you SEE it, you’ve already driven past it and can’t get back to it. So, you have to circle behind a couple of buildings and a gas station to find it. Then, add on a bunch of construction to the mix and you consider yourself lucky to get to the business. However, A-Wow and I are tenacious, when it comes to food.

The inside is a pretty typical mom and pop Chinese restaurant, so not much to note here. A lot of older Caucasian folks in this particular lunch crowd. The buffet does have a decent spread, which was nice. However, many, if not most, of the name tags above them were scrambled in a pretty hilarious way, so you really didn’t know what you were getting. (Note: during our second trip to the buffet, there was an attempt made by the staff to correct this slightly)

As you can see, a lot of the food is friend and/or brown. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I like to point it out for my vegetarian friends who expect a little more color on the plate. The vegetables that DID exist were actually pretty good. The first plate ended up being more appetizer-y things than entrees, but that happens when I haven’t gotten a good feel for buffet items in relation to plate real estate. I’m not an egg foo yung guy, but the old people here were literally eating it up – it had to be replaced multiple times while we were there. The food was actually surprisingly delicious – better than expected, which was nice. They know their way around a fryer, clearly, and the food didn’t taste greasy. The cream cheese wontons were actually some sort of pork product packets, but whatever. The egg drop soup, which I know everyone likes different styles, is of the “snot” variety with lots of egg yolks and not much broth. It was tasty though.

Plate two – more of the same, but with more entrees. Delicious.

What? There’s more? Yes. Plate three. A-Wow is more polite than I am, so he stuck with only two plates. Will power: Something I don’t excel in.

This place is about average or slightly better than average in the grand scheme of Chinese food buffets. I’m not sorry I ate here, but I know there are other buffets to try before I end up back here. Not bad, though! Definitely worth a try if you fully intend to go there – you’re not going to swing past it and remember in time to make the turn to find it. Plus, the price is right - $7.75 during the week.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Café d’Marie – Davenport, IA

D.Rough and I were headed out of town and needed to grab some coffee and a snack for the road. The number one place from Trip Advisor was Café d’Marie – I’d never heard of it, but if everyone thinks it’s great, then we’d have to go there.

There’s a newspaper clipping just inside the door with the history of the place – Dr. DeAnna Walter operated a chiropractic office out of her home and would serve coffee, tea, and sometimes whatever she baked in her kitchen in the waiting area. People began asking for more food items, and within a few years, she hung up her chiropractor jacket and started a breakfast and lunch place – and is KILLING IT!

It’s not a big place, so you may have to wait in the hall way of her really beautiful house (literally) for a seat in the dining area, but there are all kinds of coffee and tea options, scones, cakes, cookies, and a bunch of amazing-looking quiches. We grabbed some coffees and a slice of quiche, and then while we waited, we caved and got a slice of this really attractive chocolate cake (somehow, I managed to talk myself out of the signature bread pudding, which I still regret).

The quiche was even better than we expected, and we wolfed that down pretty quickly, even though the slice was generous.

The chocolate cake was extremely moist and rich without being overwhelming.

Overall, the people at Café d’Marie know how to work magic. Give these folks a visit and you’ll be glad you did!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nally’s Kitchen – Davenport, IA

D.Rough and I were in the Quad Cities visiting some friends and we both stumbled across recommendations for this place independently – which meant we probably should go there. 

It’s a small little shop, but it does have plenty of room in the dining room for 15 tables or so. 

We checked out the menu behind the register and finally decided what we wanted – it wasn’t easy, since everything sounded delicious and there are photos of some of the dishes that kept making us change our minds.

We went with an order of empanadas – one of each of the dinner ones (meaning, not the dessert ones, which they are known for, as well), and the beef enchilada plate to split. We didn’t want to over-do it, so we kept the order small…. Or so we thought…

They brought out chips and salsa to the table, which was exactly what we needed (we were starving). Great homemade chips and the salsa had a little amount of heat to it, but great flavor. The server noticed we plowed through the first basket of chips and brought us another – super service!

The enchiladas came out and looked so tasty. A good amount of cheese on top, without being completely covered. The rice and beans were fine and I ended up eating all of those, since D.Rough didn’t want to waste her time on them – hahaha. The beef enchiladas were really awesome. Tons of meat in them, which great flavor and the enchilada sauce clearly was NOT from a can. Fantastic enchiladas!

The empanadas were where it’s at, though. Light and flaky crust and lots of filling inside each one. Also, molten lava. These were the best things we ate the whole trip! I think how we ordered them (one of each) is the best way to eat these, but some people like to really commit to one, so here is the order that I would place them in based on my own internal and random rating system:
  1. Chicken
  2. Cheese Steak
  3. Spicy Ham
  4. Cheesy Potato Bacon
  5. Beef
  6. Potato with Chorizo
Note: Nally's does have some desert empanadas and stuffed churros, as well, but we were too stuffed to eat anything else - NEXT TIME!!!

The folks here at Nally’s Kitchen were really nice and helpful. They were rockin’ some awesome music from the kitchen (I’m a big fan of Jose Jose and I was singing along with it in the dining room). The food selection is pretty impressive and the quality and taste can back it all up. Just get here, if you’re passing through the area or if you live there. Really top-notch Mexican food.