Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 – Year in Review

Just because a lot of people seem to be doing some sort of Year in Review, I thought I’d put some thoughts down to quickly document some highlights. That way when I’m old and senile (in two years), I’ll be able to recall what happened in 2011.

Here’s how 2011 panned out for me:

The good stuff!...
  • Got engaged to a wonderful Italian red-head in my favorite town in the world – Riomaggiore, Italy
  • Finished my MBA
  • Travelled to Italy, China, Nashville, Denver, Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis, and the Quad Cities
  • Watched a TON of roller derby
  • Ate the best steak in the world (literally) – Chianini beef from Florence, Italy
  • Was the Ethics co-chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the Special Libraries Association
  • Went to my first LaCrosse match
  • Was shirtless in public more times than I can count
  • Sang Anthrax songs on stage with a throw-together cover band at Station 4
  • Am learning Greek
  • Joined a gym, but was raised to keep it quiet, so I have
  • Ate some amazing food – I could include sooooo many things here, but some highlights are the Denny’s Super Mega Slamwich of Doom, Bar-B-Quest 2011, ICP Chex Mix, Eli’s Donut Burgers
  • Actually found a legit beer I can drink and enjoy – Kwak from Belgium (one step closer to man-hood)
  • Had an awesome birthday party at Grand Slam
  • Played more disc golf than I have in years
  • Went to some killer Demolition Derby to see Derby Dan crash his car up
  • Ate bizarre animals – donkey, horse, jellyfish, octopus
  • Won a Halloween costume contest (with D.Rough) at a gay bar
  • Bought a new Mac laptop
  • Found out the house foundation wasn’t cracked and leaking, but was actually a leaky hose in the air conditioner (saving thousands of dollars)
  • Shoveled tons of snow
  • Bought an awesome grill for the deck
  • Went to the best party of the year – the Special Needs Halloween Party
  • Saw some amazing films – Trollhunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, 13 Assassins, My Afternoons with Margueritte,
  • Went to a rained out major league baseball game and ate non-stop
  • Went to a minor league baseball game and ate non-stop
  • Saw some amazing local bands featuring my friends – All the Way Rider, Rockford Mules, Lesser Known Saint, Earthrise
  • Put multiple ads in the Minnesota RollerGirls bout programs, making all of my male friends mad at me for being the best fiancé ever
  • Played in the best kickball league ever
  • Got to see my nephew and niece's new babies!
  • Presented to a Library Science class about what I do for a living
  • Helped B.Sweet move into my old house
  • Bought Ladder Ball for our yard – it was only a matter of time
  • Hosted hours of Wii Big Buck Hunter on the 12-foot screen in the basement
  • Went to the St. Paul Farmers Market a TON
  • Saw amazing bands – Madball, D.R.I., The Ocean
  • Went to some amazing weddings – Michelle and Isaac, Tracey and Carrie, Sam and Citizen Pain, Hüsker Stü and Scarmen Hellectra, and Reney and Smokahontas
  • Did the .10K Triathlon
  • Got to go to Cooter's Dukes of Hazzard Museum in Nashville, TN
  • Went to my first Horserace at Canterbury Park – but only to go to the Food Truck Festival they were hosting
  • Did some culinary damage at the Minnesota State Fair
  • Helped paint Garrison and Myrna Killer’s fabulous Victorian house
  • Went to my high school class reunion and didn’t make an ass of myself
  • Got to go back to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving along with my sister from Michigan
  • Decorated as much of the house as I could for D.Rough’s birthday
  • Went to my first equestrian show (the fancy gate-jumping one, not the rodeo style)
  • Bottled multiple bottles of hard cider with TheDoctor
  • Grew some amazing facial hair and cut it into anger-inducing patterns

  • Said goodbye to one of the most special people in the world – I miss you, Curtis
  • Hosted far too few Bad Movie Nights (I’ll try harder this year)
  • Racked up even more school loan debt
  • Failed every biometric screening required by my insurance
  • Didn’t golf a single time this year
  • Missed both the World Pork Expo (Des Moines) AND BaconFest (Chicago) this year
  • Only went to the Uptown Market a few times
  • Missed every soccer game Killsbury Doughboy and A-Wow invited me to
  • Missed the annual canoe trip in Mequoketa – my first miss ever
  • Missed going to the Christian Homeschool Science Fair at the Har Mar Mall – those brainwashed kids are insane
  • Didn’t get to go sledding once in 2011
  • Missed out on significant portions of my social life, thanks to school (sorry Kickball, Librarian, and roller derby friends)
  • Missed BobaFred’s annual BBQ – again
  • Missed out on the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival (MUFF)
  • Missed every men’s roller derby bout
  • Saw some really terrible movies – Sharktopus, Zombie Strippers, The Seduction of Dr. Fugazzi
  • Went to an MMA fight - won't do that again

I’d say I had a pretty good year. No wonder I’m so exhausted all the time. For those of you who have been following me for a while, you know that I like to do a theme each year. 2011’s theme was the year of being shirtless in public. I’m down to the wire for 2012, but I’ve got a few ideas. Here’s to 2011 being a better year than 2010. And 2012 should be even better, what with a wedding in April, trip to Greece in April, another wedding in June in Seattle, and roller derby trips to Niagara Falls, Seattle, and Atlanta!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Grandma’s Bakery – White Bear Lake, MN

D.Rough had purchased a bacon-covered donut for me from Grandma’s a few months back and I haven’t found a time to get up to White Bear Lake to check out what else they’ve got. But when the guys wanted to play disc golf near there, I knew I’d be able to hit up the bakery for some pre-game goodies. I’m also a gentleman, so I figured I should purchase a little extra so others could enjoy the donuts, as well.

Grandma’s is in a weird location. A sort of industrial park back behind the main road. I drove past it, in fact, the first time. I looped back around and went inside. I will say this – these guys have the largest set of display cases out of any bakery I’ve been in in the United States. Seriously like 7 or 8 separate units filled with breakfast-y baked goods. Cakes, cookies, donuts, cinnamon rolls, and a bunch of other things. I was a tad overwhelmed.

The inside of the place is absolutely enormous. I think they supply a TON of the restaurants, gas stations, and coffee shops in the twin cities, so you can see the cavernous warehouse are behind the retail portion. The entire location is filled to the brim with sugary-sweet deliciousness. It took me a while since they have so many things to choose from, but I finally opted for the bacon-covered donut, a white-frosted raised donuts with Christmas sprinkles, a chocolate covered donut, and a glazed. I asked if they had any raised donut holes, but they only had cake donut holes. Worthless.

I was pretty happy with these donuts. They aren’t the best in the Twin Cities, but they’re good. They were a tad dry, but were about perfect on the sweetness. Not over the top, but really just about right. The bacon donut was decent. The bacon was cooked well, but again, the donut part was a bit dry. And it sucked because I had forgotten to grab a carton of milk to drink. It was a long round of disc golf with a pasty mouth after that.

The other guys were happy to get some breakfast, so there were no complaints from them. And of course, I got the left-over donut that no one wanted. Thankfully, I was smart enough to buy only donuts I would eat. Hahahahaha. I still win. (…At least at donut eating, not as disc golf. I lost miserably on the last hole… sigh)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Uncle Buck’s Bacon Jerky

My awesome cousin Mimi sent me a surprise present in the mail this year for Christmas. It was a package of Uncle Buck’s Bacon Jerky from Bass Pro Shop. She and her guy know I really love bacon so she bought a package after sampling it first. Despite the fact they felt like they were eating dog treats, they knew by the flavor that it was a must-have for me.

The pieces of jerky are actual meat – not fabricated pseudo-meat like some jerky tastes like. It’s not stringy or anything. Very tender pieces of meat that you can tell are pieces of real bacon. I brought it to work with me and am enjoying a few days worth of breakfast, without that troublesome grease spot you get when you try to sneak bacon strips into the office in your pocket – I hate that.

Thanks a million for my amazing present, Mimi. You rule.

(If I was really smart, I’d make this bacon last longer by thinking of new food items to add bacon crumbles to – it won’t last that long, I assure you…)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bueno (from Kinder)

I’ve been to Europe a bunch of times and one of the candies I look forward to when I’m over there is Kinder chocolate (pronounced like tinder). That’s why I was surprised M. and Trash Giant hadn’t ever heard of it. I’ve seen it in stores in the U.S. more and more. Kinder is a German company owned by Ferrero (an Italian company) that makes candy. Kinder means “children” in German, so it makes sense they do a lot of marketing of candy towards children. It’s really light and cheap milk chocolate.

Kinder does half a billion different kinds of candy shapes, flavors, and injections, so they really know how to build out a product line. The Bueno candy (which cracks me up that it’s a Spanish word made by a German company owned by an Italian company and sold in the U.S.) is a chocolate wafer candy with a bit of milk crème inside.

Picture a couple layers of wafer candy (like what’s inside a Twix, but not as thick), put a dollop of sugary sweet crème sugar on top of it and then cover it lightly with milk chocolate. There are four in each individual sleeve and two sleeves per package.

This is most tame candy I think I’ve ever received from M. and Trash, so I ate this one up before they could change their mind about giving it to me. It is very smooth chocolate and not waxy. You can tell it is inexpensive chocolate, but it doesn’t take away from the flavor. The added crunch of the wafer makes this even better. Plus the added sweetness of the milk crème on top of it pretty much made my afternoon meal.

I’ll look forward to getting more Kinder chocolate the next time I see it in the store. It isn’t made with children. It’s made FOR children.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dippin’ Candy Banana Split Flavor Candy

As I said before, M.Giant had bought a large bag of gross candy and brought some of it to lunch with Trash and I. We had just tried the Maynard’s Wine Gums – which sadly were non-alcoholic – and now we were on to the Dippin’ Candy. If you’re unfamiliar with Dippin’ Dots, it’s basically ice cream flavored sugar that people claim is eaten in space. It isn’t. They claim it’s the ice cream of the future. It isn’t. This is the candy, aka non-refrigerated, version of Dippin’ Dots.

This was the banana split flavor, so we kind of knew what we were expecting flavor-wise. There are four different colored sugar balls in this package. Some are smaller than others, but there’s pretty much a standard small-pea-sized piece of candy with pink, white, brown, and yellow colors. It is safe to assume this point that the pink is representing strawberry, the yellow is banana, the white is vanilla, and the brown is chocolate. Did each individual ball taste different though?

The answer is…. Yes! They do. You could have your butler pick out all of the banana ones if you wanted him to (you guys have butlers, right?). So M and I set about picking out individual flavors and eating only what we wanted. To get the maximum banana split flavor though, you have to eat a handful and mix it all together like in the real life non-dippin’ world. IT actually does taste pretty close to a banana split with some alterations. I’ll explain.

You know how banana flavoring tends to over power every other flavor, no matter how small of an amount is in there? There were an equal number of banana balls in with the other colored candy. Uh oh. Also, these things are pure sugar, so you should probably borrow your little brother’s insulin and shoot up before doing this (if you guys don’t have butlers, you surely have diabetic little brothers, right?).

So translated into the real world, you’d have this. First, take those trays you get for tooth whitening or for fluoride treatments or maybe a hockey mouth guard and fill it with sugar. Then put it in your mouth. Then take some sort of heat source and mold that half-inch thick layer of sugar to your teeth permanently. Then, take about 200 bananas and somehow get them all into your face hole. When you’ve done that, get one scoop of vanilla ice cream and one scoop of chocolate ice cream on top of that. Finally, stick two small strawberries into any space in your mouth possible. Now you’ve kind of got the proper ratios to visualize eating this kind of candy.

I was sick of this candy within about 5 tiny morsels of Dippin’. I know kids go crazy for this stuff, but obviously, those are the same kids who are doing lines of pixie stix dust off of pre-whore butts. I don’t think the human body can process that much sugar, and it certainly can’t process that many bananas. No way. Also, I can't imagine giving children access to a million tiny balls of sugar that you'll never be able to find unless you're sitting in an enclosed glass box while eating them (the candy, not the children). These little bastards roll EVERYWHERE (again, the candy, not the children).

Thanks for letting me try this candy, M. and Trash, but I don’t think I can have any more of that stuff. I’m going to go chisel my teeth now. Again.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Maynard’s Wine Gums

While having lunch with M. and Trash Giant, Trash had brought a couple of candies for M. and I to try. Apparently, M. had picked up a large back of grotesque candy and Trash loves to watch M. and I’s faces contort as we try to power through them.

The first on the list was Maynard’s Wine Gums. Yes, as in wine-flavored gummi candy. They come in a tightly wrapped plastic tube and look sort of like JuJu Be’s or Dots. We sorted them out, so both M. and I got the same number of each color. With the exception of the green one. Wait, what? Green? Yes. Green.

We started out with the darkest one. We figured we’d bust out the lighter wines first to maintain proper palate, right? Yeah, we’re classy like that. We jumped right into what was sure to be a Zin or maybe a Pinoi Gris. Frankly, it wasn’t bad. It chewed like a JuJu Be or a Dot, and stuck to your teeth like one, as well (remember this part). It really didn’t taste a whole lot like wine, but I guess you could kind of see where they were going with it. Not a bad start.

We headed for the darker colors next. In fact, there was an orange-ish colored one that I went right for. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a rose or something, but it was delicious. It did taste a little like orange, but I wasn’t sure if my mind told my tongue it was going to taste like that due to its color. Stupid brain. It was good though.

Then, M. claims he read “Claret” on one of the gummis somewhere, but I couldn’t see that anywhere. That one was far less tasty than either of the first ones. Not sure exactly what the flavor was on that one. Not awful, but not good.

We finally got to the darkest of the bunch – I’m sure it was Merlot. It wasn’t Merlot. It was basically a rubber tire flavor. Absolutely disgusting. Not quite a black gummi, it was such a dark purple that it appeared to be black and evil. It tasted awful. I finally decided we should split the green one. What wine was going to be green. None at all, in fact. It was lime. I’m not sure how limes made it into a wine-flavored package, but one of them did. I thought perhaps maybe it was supposed to represent a margarita or something else alcoholic. It wasn’t bad, though.

And for the finisher, I had stashed an extra orange one to cleanse my palate. It was probably the smartest thing I had done since starting this odd version of adult gummi bears. I don’t think I’d recommend these gummis to anyone. They’re not terrible and they’re certainly edible, but if you’re looking for a buzz, go ahead and soak some gummi bears in vodka like a normal person.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Surabhi – Bloomington, MN

One of my blogger friends, Jen, recommended this place to me after reading one of my reviews on a local Indian buffet in Bloomington. I took her advice and tricked M. and Trash Giant into meeting me there for lunch. It’s in a strip mall, so it’s already got something going for it. Minnesota is known for having amazing strip mall food. Seriously.

M. and Trash got there before I did and were seated and given a pitcher of water. This is the last time there would be interaction with the staff until we got up to pay. Really. Hilarious. We even get to fill our own water cups with the pitcher on the table.

When I sat down, Trash was excited to show me that M. had commandeered a giant bag of gross candy and we’d be finishing our meal with some tasty desserts. Brilliant. Let’s get started.

This place has many of the things you’d expect to see on an Indian food buffet, Tandoori chicken, Naan, garlic naan, different rices, palak paneer, goat curry, and a few others. But it also has Okra Masala, butter chicken, some other paneer with orange mush and cheesy bits (shahi paneer, perhaps?), potato pakora, sambhar and a bunch of other things. They even have the rolled up crepe-like things called dosa – there wasn’t any filling, so I’m assuming it was the Moong Masala Dosa (based on their website photos).

I loaded up the plate with considerable portions and then laid my various breads over the top of everything. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like, but I will tell you one of my favorite surprise things I liked. The Okra Masala was sooo good. Very spicy and not at all what I expected. I’m not always a huge okra fan, but prepared this way was the best I’ve ever had it. It wasn’t slimy at all and had great seasoning, heat, and flavor. I had to get seconds of this stuff. The goat curry was nice and tender and fell off the bone, which was nice. The butter chicken also had some kick to it, so I really enjoyed that. And you could tell M.Giant also did, since he loaded his entire plate with that and naan. He doesn’t ply around when he finds something he likes.

And of course I went back for a second plate. I mainly got the same things I did the first time, since I didn’t fine anything I didn’t like on the buffet. The paneers were quite good and had flavor, which some Indian places manage to cook OUT of the dish sometimes.

M.Giant also pointed out a hilarious note taped to the buffet. “Please ask your Waiter/Manager If you are Allergic to Nuts of Spices.” M.Giant simply asked, “How would they know?” We chuckled about this throughout the meal, trying to figure out if they had some sort of mind reading ability, or millions of years of Indian medicine had flown under the radar. One of the best signs ever.

This was one of the best restaurant recommendations I’ve ever gotten, and I can’t thank Jen enough. She’s absolutely right. It was some of the best Indian food I’ve eaten and it was spicier than any I’ve eaten, as well. Be ready for it! I can’t wait to come back to this place.

Despite sharing odd candy for dessert after the meal, I’ll review the candy in separate posts. They deserve their own attention.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wildfire – Eden Prairie, MN

My boss was in town and wanted to take our work team out for a nice dinner. We thought we’d do something close to the office and people voted on Wildfire – it’s a nice restaurant at the corner of the Eden Prairie Mall. I’d been here before, but haven’t reviewed it, so I was pretty excited for it. I remember the food being quite good the last time I ate here, but that was a few years back. Wildfire is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant (the same folks that own Maggiano’s, Big Bowl, and a few other nice chain restaurants). Wildfire is sort of a Chicago-based place, and is known for its steaks and chops.

The first thing I did was order a Jack and Coke – hey, if the company’s paying for it, I’m not going to skip out on the aperitif, right? After spending what seemed like hours deciding what I was going to eat, I finally settled on the lamb chops – the Lamb Porterhouse Chops, to be exact. I wasn’t sure how these were going to be put on a plate, but I do love lamb. I also had to pick a side with my entrée, so I went with the mac and cheese. Fancy restaurants usually do this up nicely when you see it on the menu, so I felt good about ordering it.

The servers bring out delicious onion bread before the meal so everyone is sure to get full on it. We decided we didn’t need appetizer, but we apparently made up for it by going through like 12 loaves of bread. Really good stuff.

The food came out quickly, especially for as busy as the dining room was. It looked delicious. I started with the mac and cheese. It had some bread crumbs on the top and was baked, so I had high hopes for it. Sadly, it was just alright. The cheese wasn’t like cafeteria cheese or anything, but it wasn’t anything I’d rave about. It was just good. Maybe if they had used a different cheese or had a thicker cheese crust on it, it would have knocked my socks off. But as it was, I was hind of meh about it.

Why not have another Jack and Coke? Don’t mind if I do, boss!

The lamb chops, on the other hand, redeemed the mac and cheese ten-fold. The chops were like little porterhouse steaks and looked really cute. They were sitting in some lamb juice and smelled fantastic. I cut into one and it was perfectly cooked (medium). Very tender meat on this tiny porterhouse and the flavor was top-notch. Some of the best lamb chops I’ve eaten. I probably should have stopped after two chops, but I went on to finish the third one – it was worth it. A very nice char on the top of the chops, without having a burnt taste, and it was full of juice, despite there being a nice pool of juice on the plate. I’d get these again, over and over. Really fantastic work on the Lamb Porterhouse Chops.

I love hanging out with my work team, and we even have a few new team members who I’m happy to hang out with and get to know further. My boss divulged I have a food blog, so they are probably going to be looking for it. I tried not to smack-talk them too much in this post. I can reserve that for when they forget all about the blog… then it is ON.

Top 5 things about Wildfire
1. Lamb Porterhouse Chops
2. Onion Bread
3. Really appetizing menu
4. Very helpful staff (there are tons of people working the floor)
5. Everyone raved about their food

Bottom 5 things
1. Mac and cheese was almost a let down
2. Very loud walkie-talkie speaker near our table next to the kitchen – very loud
3. Not cheap
4. The tables are really close together so it is difficult for staff to get around the dining room
5. Too stuffed to eat anything from the delicious dessert cart our server brought around

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Giant Gummi Bear

My wonderful fiancé bought me a gummi bear for my birthday this past year. For some reason, I’ve not found a good reason to eat it. I know it sounds like one measly gummi bear, but I assure you, this thing is a force to be reckoned with. It’s enormous.

As you can see from the photo, it is bigger-than-fist-sized and on a stick. Everything’s better on a stick, and this is no different. I had wondered why she asked me what my favorite flavor of gummi bear was shortly before my birthday, and I found out soon enough. I still don’t know why I haven’t eaten this thing.

We both did our best to eat this thing in one sitting, but it isn’t possible. It’s like drinking a gallon of corn syrup with a little bit of pineapple flavor in it. It’s delicious for about three minutes, then it’s painful and your jaw locks up (twss). I put it back in the bag and its coffin-like carrying case. I’ll eat the thing later. I just wanted people to see how enormous this thing is (twss).

Thanks for the birthday gift, lady. It is perfect!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rebanaditas (Mexican candy)

I know I said I was going to stop eating Mexican candy a few posts ago, but I didn’t know someone was going to bring a piñata to my house filled with candy. I felt obligated once the donkey innards exploded all over my living room floor.

I was surprised to see chicken-flavored suckers in the pile, and I left those alone. Especially since I have a bag of them from a prank I played a few years ago. They’re not getting eaten at my house, so we sent them home with someone who has children. Maybe those chicken suckers will cure them of candy forever. (yes, they ARE shaped like little roasted whole chickens and yes they DO taste like chicken – freakshow)

I picked up something called Rabanaditas. The picture looks like watermelon on a stick. What could be bad with that, right? Surely nothing!

Well, you would be wrong. It looked like the thing was wearing a furry little brown coat. It certainly couldn’t be dirt, even though that’s what it looked like. It isn’t dirt, my friends. It’s chili powder. Mmmmmmmm, nothing says hot luchadore kick in the face like covering a sub-standard watermelon Jolly Rancher with a thick coat of chili powder. People’s faces were on fire after they took one lick of this thing. I’m convinced this is the worst thing you can do to someone who lives in Minnesota – they have very wussy spice palettes here. This candy is like Minnesotan Kryptonite. It’s painfully hot, even though you really want to get to the middle where the awful taste of a bad watermelon-flavored hard candy resides. It isn’t even worth powering through. It wasn’t too hot for me, but it was definitely spicy.

This confirms my fact that Mexican candy is borderline (no pun intended) child abuse. They REALLY don’t want their children eating candy. I applaud the entire culture for going to this extreme to stop diabetes around the world, but there has to be a better tasting way to do this.

The upside to this entire event is that there was no tamarind in this candy. I can’t wait for people to come over to my house and dip into the ole’ candy dish… (insert evil laugh here…)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chef Driven Food Truck – Broomfield, CO

I won’t write very much about this food truck, and I only have one picture, but I will tell you this. The food there is top-notch. I stood in line for quite some time while on a break from the 2011 Roller Derby World Championships, and listened to people rave about the food. Due to the direction of the sun, it was impossible to even see the video monitor with the menu on it because of the glare. The truck had the website written on the truck itself, so people all hopped on their smartphones and found out the menu online (thankfully). The menu is extremely diverse. Dishes inspired by Cuban, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, and Mexican food. Eclectic, but delicious-sounding. We were all ready with our orders by the time we got to the window to order.

With as busy as it was, the food truck was running out of food, but thankfully, they had what I wanted when I got to the window. I heard tons of people talking about the Kogi – the Korean BBQ short ribs. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to get, but enough people were talking about them, that I knew it would be awesome. They guy even ran out of tortillas and toppings to make taco out of (the normal way they’re presented), but it was alright with me. I got an aluminum foil wrapped little packet that was super hot and a drink and I went inside.

I should have taken photos of this thing, so you knew what to expect. It was a thinly sliced set of a couple short ribs in an Asian-flavored sauce. The meat was delicious – it chewed well (meaning it wasn’t stingy at all and was very tender) and it had the best flavor I can remember in a long time. I don’t even think it would be as good if you added the tortilla and toppings. It was perfect the way it was – just the meat.

I left a nice pile of bones in the aluminum when it was all said and done. If I didn’t have to stand in line for another half an hour and if one of the roller derby bouts wasn’t starting, then I would have gone back for more. Seriously, these were the best Korean short ribs I’ve ever had. And judging from the comments everyone else had, everything the truck has is awesome.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tom’s Home Cookin’ – Denver, CO (2nd time)

A few years back, my good friend EyeHeartPizza told me about Tom’s Home Cookin’ when I went out to Denver. I have dreamt of this place ever since. So when the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association decided to host the world championships of roller derby in Denver, I knew at least one place I was going back to.

I went out to Denver with a few of the other derby spouses and talked Mr. Novia into driving me around after we played some disc golf the first morning. The last time I was there, there was a line out the door. I didn’t see a line this time when we pulled up, so I was worried they weren’t open. However, when we walked in the door, immediately, large groups of people appeared and the line was out the door. We made it just in time.

The menu boards were as I remembered them. The dry erase boards tell you what is available that day. It changes all the time, so you don’t know what you’re going to get, but I can assure you it’s all delicious. No checks, credit cards, or IOU’s – cash only. I was torn on what to order since I knew everything was good, but I finally decided on country fried steak and gravy with some mac and cheese and broccoli rice (and a side of jalapeno cornbread).

They serve it up right away and you get your drinks at the drink station. If you’re a fan of sweet tea, you’re in luck – Tom’s has the best and a good variety of different flavors of it. I went with the Strawberry Fanta. I’m a big fan.

We found a seat, thankfully – since we were ahead of the rush. The mac and cheese is delicious. Just like I remember from last time – it reminded me of how my Alabama grandma used to make. Home made, with velveeta cheese and not much else. Awesome. The broccoli rice was also fantastic and cheesy – apparently, I was in a cheesy mood. The country friend steak was good. Not stellar and amazing, but it was really good. I can’t say that I’ve had better, but maybe there’s just a plateau of country fried steak and it’s hard to surpass that. Like I said, it was good, but not game changing. I would probably get something else the next time I go (and I WILL go again), but Id’ not steer anyone away from the country fried steak. I just simply want to try more things on the menu.

Tom’s, I’m looking forward to telling more people about your restaurant and getting additional hordes of people to show up at your door – not that you need it. You are one of my favorite restaurants in Denver and I am looking forward to my next trip out there. Fortunately I have a cousin who lives in the area with an awesome husband and amazingly cute kids, so I don’t need THAT much of an excuse to come for a visit!

No top five since I did that last time. I just wanted to remind people to go here!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bar-B-Quest 2011 UPSET!!!!!!

A few months back, HotGirlsBrother and I were pretty upset to find out that C. G. Hooks BBQ was delicious. We were upset because A) the restaurant is quite a drive from either of our places and B) C.G. was up against our number one seed, Lee’s & Dee’s. Neither of these things should upset us at all. The ribs are simply amazing at both places.

Since that time, there have been numerous conference calls, spreadsheets, graphs and charts, and tears shed over who was going to come out on top during this particular battle. And it WAS a battle.

HotGirlsBrother and I love Lee’s & Dee’s. In fact, L&D’s has been a game changer for both of us since we first tried it a few years back. We’ve recommended it to everyone that asks about ribs (and a few that didn’t ask about ribs). The ribs there are top notch and the folks that work there are super friendly. They also have Galaga in the restaurant – bonus! I will, however, defer to the fact that this is a single elimination tournament format. Each restaurant (unknowingly) has one shot at beating the BBQ place they are up against. The last time we went to Lee’s & Dee’s (meaning the one shot in time that we are gauging the head-to-head battle with another rib place), both HotGirlsBrother and I had fantastic meals – as usual. Sadly, one of our party got a bad batch of ribs, though. Normally we don’t believe her (I’m TOTALLY kidding, Low-Vee), but this time, she stopped after two of her ribs. I ate them later that night re-heated and was horrified to find Low-Vee was right. They were absolutely a different batch of ribs from the ones the rest of our group ate. It’s simple things like inconsistency that cost Lee’s and Dee’s the battle.

…Plus, we never saw C.G. Hooks coming. All around, they excelled. The ribs were incredible and the sides actually beat the pants off of Lee’s & Dee’s. So, I think we have our first upset of Bar-B-Quest 2011!

I am announcing this with the full knowledge that HotGirlsBrother and I will continue to go to Lee’s & Dee’s every chance we get. We love to eat there and it’s much closer. I hope L&D aren’t offended, but these bracket head-to-head competitions are tough sometimes. We will also continue to send people to L&D without abandon and listen to the subsequent stories about how people never expected the ribs at Lee’s & Dee’s to be as good as they are.

Kudos to you, C.G. Hooks BBQ. You are a true sleeper contender and I look forward to visiting you MUCH in the upcoming years. In fact, HotGirlsBrother and I are already figuring out free weekends to rent a pontoon boat across the street, buy a boatload of ribs (literally) and set sail on White Bear Lake with our closest carnivore friends. I am anxiously awaiting to see if C.G. Hooks can pull off even more upsets in the remainder of the Bar-B-Quest. We wish you the best of luck!

Signed HotGirlsBrother and Chao

Here is the new and updated bracket:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. BBQ – Columbia Hieghts, MN (Bar-B-Quest 2011)

With the end of the year approaching, HotGirlsBrother and I have resigned ourselves to the very real fact we cannot complete the Bar-B-Quest in the next two weeks. But we WILL continue BBQ ribs through next year to make sure we cover all of our bases and complete the task we started with.

Mr. BBQ was up on the list. I had a major c(gr)oupon in my possession for Mr. BBQ. They were on the Eastern Division bracket since I drove past their Maplewood location. Sadly, I realized the day HotGirlsBrother and I had scheduled that the coupon was only good at the Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Center locations. AGGGH. Oh well, we would pretend we were on the East Side of the Twin Cities just this once.

The place is bigger than I expected. It has a decent sized dining room with 10-12 tables and also a large patio (closed for the winter) outside, as well. When we walked into the place, it was smoky. As in, a considerable haze about 4 feet from the ceiling. I don’t think it was intentional, but it actually smelled delicious, so we didn’t complain or even comment on it. We have found it makes it cheaper if we split a full rack of ribs and then get our own sides, so we did that. Full slab of baby backs, baked beans, coleslaw, and extra order of fries, and it comes with a cornbread muffin. Done. The guy behind the counter was REALY sellin’ his food. REALLY. He told us the guys that work at Famous Dave’s come here to eat (NOT a ringing endorsement in our book, but whatever). People come for miles to eat their burgers when McDonald’s is right next door! (Again, not really going to win us over with that comparison, but we could see he was proud of his food.) The guy is quite the salesman.

The counter guy handed us our number so he could find us later. That’s right, WE’RE NUMBER ONE!!!! As we were walking away from the counter, a really large man in line behind us asked us if this was our first time here. We said yes. He told us, “You’ll be back.” Wow, people really like this place. We grabbed our various eating accoutrements and sat down. They have moist towelettes at the condiment station, which is always super nice. Reinforced plasticware, perfect for eating ribs, and bendy straws. Things were looking up.

I was a tad disappointed that A) they had Coke products and B) there was a severe lack of orange, grape, or strawberry pop to drink. But I can deal with that.

We waited a while for our food, but we had a lot to catch up on, so it wasn’t a major deal. The food showed up on a cafeteria tray – which is how all ribs should be served, I’ve decided. They did bring us individual Styrofoam plates for us to put food on, but the initial presentation is old school and I like it. We started with the coleslaw since ti was the only thing not piping hot. The coleslaw was actually quite good. Very creamy and bright like it was very fresh. It could have used a touch more vinegar in it, but it honestly was one of the better coleslaws we’ve had since we started this quest.

The baked beans were next. Holy crap. These were good. Really good. They tasted like meat, but didn’t have any meat in them. Smoky, without being fake-smoky. They had a thick sauce in them and were perfectly cooked. These were MUCH better than we expected. I’d go back just for the beans (if it wasn’t a 45 minute drive from my house). The cornbread was really quite moist – not the tiniest bit dry. But it was extra sweet and very cold – not a fan of those two things together.

The fries were pretty good. I say that knowing that anything you put Lawry’s seasoning salt on is going to be made better. We didn’t complain one bit, but I wouldn’t say these fries were anything special worth selling your children for.

The meat – that was why we do this thing. First off, the meat is saucy – not a dry rub. I know people like to know this up-front. The meat was very tough. Really tough. We had trouble cutting it with the knife we had and we sawed at it longer than we should have, and that was just to separate them so we could get them on our plates. We had to fight the meat off the bones a bit too, all the while dodging cartilage pieces. That being said, the sauce was quite good. Both the sauce that was cooked onto/into the ribs themselves, and also the stuff in the squirt bottles on the table. I think Mr. BBQ has the sauce nailed. So we slathered the heck out of the ribs and finished our meal. A bit disappointed with the rib experience, but the aftertaste of the sauce still was lingering.
I checked out the bathroom, which some people find amusing that I write about it, but deal with it. I’m glad I checked it out. It was in rough shape. There is no lock on the men’s room door and there’s a handwritten sign taped to it that says the lock doesn’t work and you should knock first. I did so. However, I’d be a bit cautious if there are children in the restaurant who may not be able to read the sign. That’s just me. Once inside, I was less than impressed. The toilet seat is stuck in some half-open arrangement that forces you to hunker down and recreate a scat film with Hasbro’s Mr. Mouth board game. Very weird experience.

As we left, the guy said to come again: We won’t. Then he said to tell all our friends: We are doing that…. here.

And to look at the Bar-B-Quest 2011 brackets to date, HotGirlsBrother and I noticed that Dickey’s BBQ Pit is a chain restaurant and we’re not doing that in this little quest. So we’re disqualifying them. Not because they’re bad – I haven’t tried their food – they might be good. But we can’t be comparing home town heroes to stores with over 200 locations around the country. So that moved Mr. BBQ to the next round, which was immediately destroyed by the awesomeness that is Big Daddy’s. Those guys are going to be tough to beat. (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

Top 5 things about Mr. BBQ
1. Baked beans
2. Coleslaw
3. BBQ sauce
4. Bendy straws, reinforced plasticware, moist towelettes at the condiment stand
5. Really friendly staff who are proud of their work

Bottom 5 things
1. Really tough ribs
2. Cold and painfully sweet cornbread
3. Really smoky inside
4. Bathroom was a wreck
5. Put Lawry’s seasoning on anything and it will be 39.4% better. That's just science.

4621 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55421

Monday, December 5, 2011

Surdyk’s Flights (in the MSP airport) – Bloomington, MM

D.Rough sent me a txt a few months ago from the airport. She said she wanted to get a meat platter at Surdyk’s when she was at the airport. I had forgotten she mentioned that until I was actually AT the airport looking for a snack before my flight to Denver. Ding! Meat Platter! I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. …I’m totally lying. I was looking for one of those giant meat platters they sell at the grocery store that has enough meat and cheese on it to stuff 50 rolls. I didn’t see such a thing in any of the refrigerated cases in the front of the storefront, so I assumed it was a menu item of some sort.

Someone had just gotten up to leave and I took the last seat in the small restaurant. The nice server brought me a menu of delicious sounding food. I kind of knew what I was supposed to order. I did, however, consider about 15 other things. But, alas, I went with what I came in there for. The Sulami platter. And I got the one with the three accompanying cheeses. I had no idea how large it was going to be or how long it would take. I was already pushing it with my boarding time, but meat comes first, I always say.

I got to watch the chefs make a whole host of entrees and sandwiches for people from my seat. I had the best view in the house. There was a guy whose job it was to only use the meat slicer. That guy is a men amongst men. You’d think it doesn’t take much, but he sliced and placed meat slices on everything imaginable with the finesse of an artist. Very fun to watch him work. I wasn’t even sure which plates he was making, until I saw the growing mound of meat that was going to be my platter. Y. E. S.

It actually took a bit longer than I Was expecting, so when the server brought it out, I asked her to bring around a to-go container when she had a chance. I was excited about this platter. It looked amazing. Not too much meat that I was going to go into a coma, but enough that I was going to be verrry verrrry happy. Which I was. I know the woman told me which cheeses she had brought me, but I don’t remember them. One was a blue, and the other two were something else. I should have written them down, but I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t write down the meats either, though I know one was a spicy capicola. The fruit they brought was fantastic – apricots and grapes – and the nuts were also delicious. It was a very well balanced meal in my opinion.

And since it took the server a while to get back with the to-go box and my check, I had almost eaten all of the food on the platter. I took what was left in the box and headed to the gate. Last one on the plane! Hooray. It’s becoming a habit for me, but I haven’t missed a flight yet (well, within the past 5 years, anyway). I took the Bit-O-Honey with me that comes with the restaurant check, and had a little snack before my in-flight snooze.

I was really impressed with the new location Surdyk’s has in the airport. It’s worth a stop if you’ve got the time. They are also a wine bar, so please feel free to fill up on (or bring with you) a bottle of some really quality wine. I wish I had, but I knew I was going to have to eat quickly. I know the meat platter started out as something I was going to eat as a joke in the airport before a flight, but I’ll probably going to get it each time I go to MSP in the future. Now, aside from Popeyes Chicken, I have a new restaurant I’ll look forward to eating at in a US airport. Thanks for the suggestion, D.Rough!

No top 5

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant – Rock Island, IL

While I was back visiting the family in Illinois over Thanksgiving, my brother in law wanted to eat some food that wasn’t Applebee’s. My sister isn’t very adventurous when it comes to food, so I told him D.Rough and I would show him the good stuff. But we had to make sure the place we chose had something other people in my family could also eat. My niece had mentioned there was a new Mediterranean restaurant open in the area, so we thought we’d take them there. Worst case scenario, they get a plate of rice and complain about it for the next ten years. Hahahaha

The restaurant is located in a small strip mall in the Kmart parking lot, so it was easy to find for everyone. We rolled inside and found a set of tables we could combine to fit our family. There were other people eating inside, so that was a good sign. Sadly, my niece Frog, who recommended the place, couldn’t join us. But, DeliveryBoy and AmandaHugginkiss and their new twins were able to – bonus!!!! We looked at the menus given to us and eventually realized we had to go up and order at the counter – whoops. I was surprised a lot of the Mediterranean things D.Rough and I like to eat weren’t on the menu. We’re in training for our honeymoon, where we’ll be staying in Santorini, Greece, so we’re trying to eat as much Greek food as possible. No dolmades and no mousakka for us at this place. It’s ok, there were other things that sounded good. D.Rough got a gyro salad and I got the special for the day, Shevid Baghali Polo – basmati rice with dill, lima beans, and seasonings, topped with marinated chicken.
The food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, but since other family members’ food came out first, I helped myself to their plates (I always blame it on the blog writing, even though I’m just rude).
The red pepper hummus and the garlic hummus were pretty good. Much smoother than a lot of places I’ve had, so no complaints on that part. The falafel ball I ate was pretty good, although just a tiny bit dry for my taste. The tahini that came with it helped a lot, though.
The homemade fries were good, but I wasn’t in the mood for fries. They were a lot like my mother makes, so we knew we had to tell my dad so he could sneak away and eat thousands of fries without my mother’s knowledge. He’s sneaky like that. In fact, he’s from a long line of sneaky people (his diabetic brother tried to get me to sneak him cookies without letting my aunt find out).

D.Rough’s salad arrived and it looked pretty good, even if all of the lettuce was iceberg. There was plenty of meat and feta on it, so it passed as a Greek salad just fine. The flavor was good, according to her, and she ate almost all of it, so I know it wasn’t terrible. The balsamic tasted like it should have and there weren’t any surprises in the salad like some of the Quad City restaurants like to throw in to keep it “Midwestern”. She did knock it a point for using canned black olives, but aside from that, she enjoyed it.

My dish wasn’t at all what I expected, but I still enjoyed it. The rice was really quite flavorful and I loved the seasonings they used, even though they were pretty mild. I also love lima beans, so I’ve got that going for me. The chicken was cooked well and I was pretty happy with the amount of meat on the plate. The grilled veggie kabobs were a nice addition to the plate, both for color and flavor. I even sprinkled some of the magic dust the place has on the tables. I’m not sure what was in it, but it isn’t spicy – just unique. I’d use it again the next time I went, and I’d use a LOT of it – like I said, it’s pretty mild.

Overall, I thought it was a decent Mediterranean meal, especially for a Midwestern town. It isn’t fancy, but it’s good food and filling. I think everyone was happy with their meals, since I didn’t get any complaints. I’d eat here again if the family wanted to when I come home next time. I did, however, tell my brother in law that he can eat a guinea pig at two different restaurants when he comes up to visit us in Minneapolis. THAT’s incentive…

Top 5 things about Sultan
1. Shevid Baghali Polo
2. Gyro Salad
3. Hummus
4. Friendly staff
5. It wasn’t terrible expensive

Bottom 5 things
1. The fries get RAVED about in online reviews, but I thought they were just meh
2. One of the workers offended my niece by commenting on her children - yikes
3. Limited menu, and missing some standards
4. We didn’t get the baklava we ordered and then forgot about it and paid for it
5. The falafel was a bit dry