Monday, March 28, 2011

Preston’s Urban Pub – Minneapolis, MN

I’ve been to Preston’s before and I never could figure out why they call it an Urban Pub. It doesn’t matter. It has a bad-ass stuffed lynx above the bar. That’s about as urban as it gets. Wait. What?...

Anyway… I had had a really tough night at school. I had one of those grab-your-ankles kind of mid-term exams and I needed to drown my sorrows in some tasty beverages. Some other folks in the class were going to head there with me, so it wasn’t going to be weird with me crying at the bar or anything. That being said, I walked in, ordered a shot of Goldschlager and a tall jack and coke – strong. And then another. I TOLD you it went really poorly.

My people showed up and we bitched and moaned about the difficulty of the exam (read “unpreparedness by someone who just doesn’t get MBA-level Finance classes”). I realized I wasn’t going to be in any shape to drive, especially since I wasn’t done drowning my sorrows – I had a lot of sorrows since I had performed even worse on the previous evening’s exam in Accounting.

I needed food. I hadn’t really heard that Preston’s was known for anything in particular, so I just found something that looked good. I got the BBQ pulled pork sandwich with some fries. The waiter said it was one of his favorites, so that’s always a good sign. Or he says that about anything you order.

It arrived after more drinks and it looked pretty good. Not fancy at all, but just good. It might also have been the booze talking. I started with the fries and was really surprised. They were delicious. They are the kind of fries that seem like they’re borderline-battered, but aren’t? You know what I mean? Super crispy shell on the outside, soft and hot in the middle. Perfect fries.

I dug into the pork sandwich and was surprised again. The meat was oddly flavorful and juicy without being sloppy. I actually contemplated ordering another one. It wouldn’t have been an unwise decision. The sandwich should be tried by my friend Smallz – he’s a connoisseur of pulled pork sandwiches. I’m wondering if the server wasn’t actually telling the truth about this being his favorite thing on the menu. It really was delicious.

Again, keep in mind, I was a couple of drinks in, and complaining loudly about the uselessness of studying foreign economies at this point…

I probably could have saved myself some cash by ordering one of their girly fruity drinks in a fish bowl (for 2 or 4 people). Next time, I’m all over that. I’ll even bring in my own Swedish fish candies to throw in the bowl and take a photo for you all.

Go to Preston’s Urban Pub. Preferably after you fail an exam. It will make you feel better. Did I mention the random lynx? So weird.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ice Cream Palace - Silvis, IL

When I go back home to visit my parents in Illinois, there are hundreds of places I think I should eat at, mainly because they were long time favorites in my family or amongst friends. It is difficult to decide, so I generally try to pick one or two each trip and head there. This time around, I took D.Rough to Arthur’s Garden Deli for lunch, and then we decided to hit up the Ice Cream Palace for dinner before going to a fancy big gay Iowa wedding.

I haven’t been back to the ICP (yes, the same initials as the assclown rap group) in probably three years, but I was pretty sure nothing had changed. It is cheap and it is delicious. I already knew what I was going to get. Large Combination. But I let D.Rough peruse the menu for what she wanted. She decided on a taco salad. I’m not usually a taco-salad-at-a-mexican-restaurant kind of guy, but she needed more lettuce than she had at the garden deli earlier, so I didn’t think twice about it. I also had to order a cheese crisp – which I’m discovering is an Illinois thing, NOT a Minnesota thing.

An amazing thing about ICP is you can order two-liters of pop/soda for your table. They have pepsi and coke products this way and it works out to be cheaper. Plus sometimes, you get to take some home. However, the only catch is that if you’re with only one other person, you kind of have to like the same soda or the whole thing doesn’t work. I ended up with a Dew and D.Rough got a Pepsi. Just glasses, not two-liters.

The cheese crisp came out first. It’s very simple – fry a flour tortilla and then melt cheese all over it. DONE. Most places in Illinois use smaller shells for this and substandard cheese, but ICP uses giant tortillas and tasty cheese, so these are probably the best I’ve ever had. Also, it isn’t fat free, if you’re wondering. Hahahahahaha.

The food came out shortly after we started eating the cheese crisp. So shortly that we didn’t have room on our table for everything I had ordered. The large combination is a taco, a tostada, an enchilada, a tamale, and beans and rice. It is a thorough sampling of what the place has to offer. I know it isn’t the most amazing Mexican food in the world, but it brings back all kinds of flavor-memories for me. I loved every bite of it. Super tasty tamale, fresh ingredients on everything, especially when you add the salsa they bring to your table. It’s runny salsa – which the staff refer to as hot sauce – but it is plenty spicy. The beans and rice are served with tortilla chips and fill in all the gaps that the taco and other fun things don’t (there aren’t many gaps to fill in after that meal).

D.Rough’s taco salad ended up being mostly ground beef and minimal lettuce, which didn’t thrill her. After she stirred it up a bit and added a generous helping of the hot sauce, it became more palatable to her. She wasn’t thrilled with ICP, to be honest. I will chalk it up to me growing up eating this food and really missing it, and her being used to some sneaky but delicious Mexican food from St. Paul.

I was thrilled with my meal, and that’s all that’s really important here.

I usually get the Carne de Res (CDR) burrito when I go to ICP. It’s a large bean, rice, and carne de res burrito covered with meat chili and cheese. It’s amazingly delicious as well and uber … I mean muy filling. That’s the other thing I usually get when I come back here.

I miss going there with Coach and with my former John Deere work people. When I lived in Illinois, I used to go more often than I should and there are all sorts of stories I have from there. What’s really awesome is one of the waitresses recognized me from years ago. She asked if it was me and I told her I moved to Minnesota, but wanted to come back to ICP when I came home to visit the folks. She seemed genuinely proud that I said that. Ahhhh memories.

Also, you’ll notice I didn’t mention any ice cream at the Ice Cream Palace. It’s because there isn’t any. Seriously. That’s the big joke. It has been a Mexican restaurant for a hundred years and doesn’t have any ice cream. That’s the kind of things people from Illinois find amusing. Deal with it. Besides, you wanted a burrito, not a sno-cone, kid.

Top 5 things about Ice Cream Palace
1. CDR Burrito (even though I didn’t get it, I know it’s the best)
2. Cheese Crisp
3. Large combination
4. Super awesome staff that remembers me from years back
5. The food is REALLY inexpensive here (and you can get a 2-Liter of soda)

Bottom 5 things
1. Taco salad is basically a ground beef salad on top of some lettuce
2. The timing of food meant we had to put some of our food on the empty table next to us while we cleared off our previous plates
3. They only take cash (but they have an ATM)
4. This place makes me miss all kinds of people I’ve dined here with…
5. It isn’t the best Mexican food in the world, but I love it

Ice Cream Palace
307 1st Ave
Silvis, IL 61282

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Champp's - Eden Prairie, MN

The old gang from my previous employer gets together every time one of them wises up and walks off the job. It isn’t the kind of place you give two-weeks notice. You just get fed up and choose whether to come in to the office armed, or simply storm out of the building with your middle finger held aloft. (EnyaFace! was the first of a long stream of FU's and we're hoping DawgMan gets out of there next...) Two more had bit the dust, so we decided to meet for lunch. This time at Champp’s.

I hadn’t been there before, but as it turns out, it’s a lot like Major’s or Jake’s, if you’re familiar with those place. Or a downscale Granite City without the microbrew activity, for those in need of a more national scale comparison.

The menu is pretty comprehensive, but on the day we went, the burgers were all half price. Cha-ching. I was hungry for a burger anyway. Then I had to decide between 7 or 8 delicious-looking burgers. I finally got it narrowed down to the Firehouse burger. It has red and yellow bell peppers, green chiles, poblano peppers, onions, chipotle Tabasco, Cajun seasoning, pepperjack cheese, and sliced jalapenos on top. Sounded top-notch, especially when paired with the waffle fries that come with it.

The food came out quickly, since they pride themselves on doing a quick lunch rush turnaround. The burger looked pretty good, honestly. I know a lot of the people around me were picking off the jalapenos, which I found amusing, but then it started to make me a little nervous. Did they know something I didn’t? I stuck by my guns and kept everything on the burger they brought out. I was going to conquer this burger as designed. The meat itself was juicy and tasty – really quality stuff. However, I was super underwhelmed by the lack of heat in this Firehouse burger. I thought it would be tons spicier, and it ended up not being much kick at all. Not much more than ketchup and some pepperjack maybe. I thought I’d be sweating, but I was just disappointed.

I think I might have had the expectation set too high, awaiting the heat. It just never showed up to the party. What’s bad about the experience was that the burger itself was really good. I could tell that, honestly. But I just wanted some fire along with it. I think next time, I’ll order a different burger, knowing it will be just as tasty, and then I won’t expect any heat. The other burgers on the menu looked great, as well, so I’d probably not be disappointed with any of them.

The waffle fries are delicious as usual, so not much to report on that. Just a big let down on the heat-aspect of the lunch. I’ll go back to Champp’s at some point, I’m guessing. Maybe not my first choice for a full-service restaurant, but it’s right around the corner from work, so it’s easy to get to for lunch if I have to.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Black Stone Family Restaurant - Green Bay, WI

After a night of heavy drinking at “The Bad Bar”, you need a place where you can walk or have someone drive you to fill your belly with something to help diffuse alcohol. The Black Stone Family Restaurant is just what you need. It isn’t fancy, but the people are generally nice (unless you anger them first), and the portions of food are significant.

We rolled in with a group of about 30. Yes, about 30 of us. We managed to get one of the cordoned off areas with some spillover into the main dining area and settled in. The menu has a ton of greasy spoon diner-y things to get. But because I’m adventurous, I decided to get something called “The Great Seal” – 2 eggs and mini pancakes and hashbrowns topped with sausage gravy with bacon. I also got a side of bacon – duh. What's funny, I can distinctly remember ordering it simply so I could make some hilarious comment about there being a severe lack of seal meat in the dish, but then I forgot about doing it. Two (more like 10 but my family reads this blog) Cherry McGillicuddy's and 7 will help you lose your train of thought sometimes...

While w waited, we contemplated whether the icon on the ketchup bottle was a chef’s hat or balls. You decide…

We didn’t wait long for the food to come out. These chefs must work some magic back there in the kitchen. The amount of food is incredible. But thankfully it looked good – like it always does there, even WITHOUT a BAC of higher than 3.0.
The gravy was almost covering the entire plateful of hashbrowns and the bacon was cooked perfectly. (The waitress forgot my side of bacon, so I had to remind her - *I* certainly didn’t forget.) The eggs were cooked to completion – something I’ve had problems with in the past at greasy spoon places – and everything tasted fantastic.

I’ll draw your attention to the mini pancakes. Yeah, they’re 10-inchers. Those are the “mini” ones. Be prepared.

I’ll repeat, this is the place to go for late night dining. It is open 24 hours so you’ll have luck finding them open, but around bar close time, they will be packed with people, so leave the bar a little early if you can. You will get painfully full, which may also give you the impetus to walk back to your hotel, rather than attempt driving – which is never a good idea in Green Bay, where if they’re breathing, they’re drinking. These Packer fans are ridiculous…

706 West Walnut Street
Green Bay, WI 54303

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bar Abilene - Minneapolis, MN

Our large kickball group likes to meet every once in a while for Sunday Brunch. Generally, someone picks a random restaurant that serves alcohol and as many as 20 of us descend upon an unsuspecting restaurant for drinks, food and fun. EJens was the ring leader this go around and he picked Bar Abilene.

I’d never been there, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d heard it was kind of a meat market club for dbags in Uptown (just being honest – my apologies to those I offend). However, when D.Rough and I rolled in to the place, it was much nicer and well lit and modern inside. People seemed to be friendly, even though there were 20 of us. We like that.

Our server Jenna hooked us up with brunch food and drink menus and everyone got to ordering. They have a bloody mary bar if you’re into that, and they also have some drink specials (cheap beer specials and mimosas mainly). D.Rough got a brunch margarita and I got a tequila sunrise – yeah – I’m THAT guy. I was bummed when the tequila sunrise came out without any grenadine to make the “sunrise” part of the drink. But we figured that’s either how they make the drink there, or they did it intentionally since it was overcast and rainy. It didn’t stop me from drinking many of them though, don’t worry. And for the record, D.Rough's margarita was surprisingly good - fresh lime juice makes all the difference. I'll get 13 of the margaritas next time, since they're on special!

The food menu looked much better than I had expected. The regular food menu had all kinds of things that sounded delicious. And then the smaller brunch menu has 6 items on it – ALL of which sounded incredible. It was a tough decision. We both wanted Tortilla Soup, so we decided to split a bowl of that. Then, D.Rough ordered up the Huevos Rancheros and I got the Chilaquiles (with extra bacon). See, a tequila sunrise and margarita were the perfect choices for our Mexican brunch.

The food took a totally acceptable amount of time based on the number of people we had and the busy-ness of the restaurant. No one complained at all about the wait time, so that was good. The food arrived and everyone was much more excited than I think they even expected. People thought it was going to be simple or crappy bar food, but this was the exact opposite.

The Tortilla Soup was much better than most restaurants I’ve ordered it at. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was better than average – a welcome surprise which we will capitalize on at a later visit, for sure. There was a nice slice of avocado on the top as well as lime for squeezing into the bowl of chicken-y tomato-y broth.

D.Rough’s huevos rancheros were delicious. The chorizo was perfectly cooked and didn’t taste greasy at all. There was a healthy glob of guacamole on the plate which was very flavorful and combined well with all the other flavors. D.Rough was able to puncture both egg yolks on her huevos, which is a big thing to her and means they were perfectly cooked. This was on some flour tortillas with salsa verde and queso fresco, for additional awesomeness. There were crispy tortilla strips which added some great texture to the whole thing, as well. This was a great dish of food.

My own Chilaquiles I can’t say enough about. They are in the top 2 or 3 chilaquiles dishes I’ve ever gotten – and I order this a LOT. I thought it was going to be small when Jenna brought out a small cast iron skillet filled with molten cheese. However, as I ate it, I realized this was the perfect portion size for this dish. Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish usually made with soggy tortilla chips/strips made so by melty cheese and eggs. I didn’t get much in the way of tortilla strips, but even if they weren’t in there, they didn’t need to be. The eggs had green chili in them and salsa roja, as well as sour cream and bacon. A couple friends tried this and said how great it was, as well, so I’m not simply biased. This was a fantastic way to start the morning, especially with the tasty strips of bacon they added to the top of mine.

Based on the comments I heard from almost all of our friends, Bar Abilene was exponentially better than any of us expected. And the best part was the brunch specials are all $5.95. Of course, the number of drinks we had pushed it way over the $40 mark, but still, the food is pretty inexpensive. Then you have to go out to the pay-lot in the back of the building and give them another $5… sigh…

A couple margaritas and tequila sunrises later and D.Rough and I headed home for some naps. Siesta time, suckas…

Top 5 things about Bar Abilene
1. Chilaquiles
2. Huevos Rancheros
3. Tortilla Soup
4. Super awesome staff willing to accommodate a super large group
5. Fantastic food menu, both for brunch and for lunch
6. The food is really quite cheap!

Bottom 5 things
1. Pay to park
2. Tequila Sunrises are not on special
3. People complained about them adding 18% gratuity to the bill, but that’s how it works with large groups, people – I would have given her 20%
4. No grenadine in the tequila sunrise
5.Beer specials were Miller Lite and Michelob Light, since the Coors Light was out…I heard people complaining about this beer special – I really don’t care about it, but I’m listening to the people

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cecil’s Deli – St. Paul, MN

It had been a long time since I was at Cecil’s, so when D.Rough and I drove through the neighborhood the other day, we decided to stop in. It was just after lunch, so we were hoping we wouldn’t find a huge line of people waiting to eat. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait.

We ate in the dining room, so we got to see the menu. If you order at the counter, you’d better either know the name of the sandwich you want, or what you want on your sandwich, so you don’t waste their time deciding.

I ordered a strawberry phosphate (because I’m an old man) and a sandwich called the Sasha (I think – if it isn’t, it’s the other one right next to the Sasha that also starts with an “s”) and a side of sweet and sour cole slaw. D.Rough ordered the Spicy Roast Beef sandwich and a side of potato salad. The sides come with all the sandwiches, so we had to pick something, right? I had to fight really hard NOT to order the matza ball soup, but I persevered and didn’t get it.

We didn’t wait long at all for our food. It arrived looking delicious and super filling.

My sandwich had brisket and a bunch of cheese with a fried egg on top and also a layer of what Cecil’s calls Bird Sauce – I don’t even care what that is, it’s delicious. Then they grilled the bread like a kick in the face grilled cheese sandwich. This was amazing sandwich. It was only a little bit drippy, and somehow the whole thing managed to stay together for the entire meal. I can’t figure out how it wasn’t falling to pieces, but it didn’t. It was a solid sandwich. I can’t rave enough about the sweet and sour cole slaw. I’m not a huge may fan and this is the reason why I am now spreading the word about this slaw. Seriously killer – some vinegar and some sugar ad green and red peppers mixed in with the slaw with some celery seed (perhaps). Brilliant and I might be swinging by Cecil’s every day after work now…

D.Rough’s sandwich was also awesome. It was a roast beef sandwich with lots of giardiniera on it. I was curious if the meat itself was spicy or if it was just the peppers. D.Rough assures me it was just the peppers. It didn’t matter, it was great. We kept trading bites of sandwiches so each other could sample it. That’s the way to eat at Cecil’s (but only if you really know the person you’re eating with – although now I want to have a business lunch and snag a bite of my boss’ sandwich there. Hahahaha). D.Rough’s potato salad was good. The yellow coloring comes from the egg yolks they used rather than using mustard, so I was glad about that. It had plenty of chunks of potato in it, and I thought it was one of the better potato salads I’ve eaten (which honestly, isn’t that many).

I love going to Cecil’s and really need to get there more than I do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

El Gordo – St. Louis Park, MN (take 2)

I hadn’t been back to El Gordo in almost two years, so when Trash wanted to go to lunch, I thought of this place for some reason. Last time, I gave it a mediocre review, so I thought I’d give it another shot. I’ll try to do a quick update rather than a full review.

The menu has a lot of items on it, and a bunch of lunch specials for cheap. Consider ordering off this limited menu if you’re strapped for time or cash. El Gordo has chips and salsa for your table, which I love, as well as some white cheesy ranch seasoned dip for your chips. Trash didn’t care for this, so I devoured all of it myself.

I had the chimichanga the last time, so I thought I’d get something different. I went with Combination number 23 – taco, enchilada, and chalupa. Trash got three cheese enchiladas, with extra cheese – she’s a vegetarian, so it isn’t weird. They also have Dew, so that’s what I got. Wurd.

The food came out quickly while we chatted. It looked pretty good, with the exception of the enchilada sauce. It was quite a bit water-ier than I’m used to seeing. Thankfully, it was only visual, because it tasted fine. I’m fairly picky about my enchilada sauce, so I was glad to see it had great flavor. Maybe it’s just their own particular style of enchilada sauce and I’m not used to it. There was tons of cheese on everything, which also added to the tasty-ness. The taco was standard, although packed full of ingredients. And the chalupa is what many people call a tostada with guacamole, so be sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting when you order it. It was delicious, so I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed when it arrived, even if it wasn’t what you pictured in your head.

I didn’t get a chance to try the cheese enchiladas because by the time I had looked up from my plate for a breath of air, they were completely cleared off Trash’s plate. I was pretty impressed by that. As you can see from the photo, by the time I got a chance to take a photo, there was already one gone. Impressive. She did give them a good rating though. I won’t tell you who she compared them to, because it was an obvious victory for El Gordo, even with Trash being sober.

Overall, a much better return to El Gordo and I hope it isn’t another two years before I head back to El Gordo. Maybe I’ll call up DawgMan at our old work place and see if he wants to hit it up again!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hmong Village – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough sent me the newspaper article for the grand opening of this Asian mall back in October of last year and we’ve been meaning to go ever since. The place has gotten great write-ups in the paper and on various food blogs, so we rearranged our schedule to make this happen. We are glad we did.

The first thing the articles warn you about is the parking. And frankly, the parking isn’t’ atrocious. It’s just packed and insanely busy. The parking lot is enormous and there are TONS of spots. However, ALL of the spots are taken. It is seriously that busy at this place. Just drive around and circle the lot for a bit, you’ll find something. The traffic flows fairly well, so you won’t get too trapped or anything. Just be patient.

We went in one of the many lettered-entrance (door D, I think), and found ourselves in what looks like a mini-storage unit facility. Seriously. I think it is. If it is, it’s probably the best use of a storage facility ever created. There are over a hundred small booths and shops set up in small spaces. Stores are selling everything from DVDs, clothing, custom made clothing, bubble tea, food, jewelry, herbal bust enhancers and stimulants, to hats, sunglasses, ice cream, swords, toys, lingerie, and insurance. It’s an overwhelming hodge-podge of consumables in an indoor market atmosphere. There’s even a large refrigerated fresh fruit area that has huge amounts of fruits and vegetables.

We roamed the aisles for a while – the vendors were very friendly without being pushy. If you stopped to look, they asked if they could help and then left you alone. No hard selling or hawking of items. On one side of the building, we found an entire row of food stalls. Some of them are smaller booth-versions of larger established restaurants and some are just stand-alone booths. Many of them have some of the same items, but most of them have some sort of specialty items they’re known for. D.Rough and I cruised the entire area before deciding on a place. We kept seeing signs for papaya salad (which neither of us had ever had) and we knew we wanted that. Fortunately, most of the booths made it fresh right there in front of you (you can select what goes in it and how spicy you want it). There’s also all sorts of fried meats and tons of wraps and rolls.

We decided to eat at Moon's Kitchen – the food looked delicious and the line was moving quickly. I ordered fried crispy pork and fried rice. And we got a papaya salad, of course. The counter lady (who turns out is the owner’s wife and does much of the cooking) asked me how hot I wanted it and what I wanted and she cut it all up fresh and threw it all in the salad for me. Delicious. Her husband came out and chatted me up for a while – SUPER nice guy and hilarious. She cut up the crispy pork and put it in a to-go container with some very dark fried rice and handed everything over. It was extremely inexpensive – see for yourself on this one.

D.Rough and I hadn’t had any of these things before, so we were anxious to try it out. I loved the pork most of all. It was like extra thick cut bacon mixed with ham and the deep fried. I’m sure it was pork belly – which is exactly what ham and bacon combined is. There were a couple of fatty pieces that D.Rough steered clear of, but those were the ones I went for first, so we made a great team. It had a delicious spicy dipping sauce that went extremely well with the cooked meat! The rice was a very dark color and ended up being like sticky rice. I didn’t know if it would have an odd flavor, but it really didn’t. It just tasted really good. It wasn’t plain rice, but it wasn’t soy or hoisin or anything else we could figure out. It was just delicious.It is a little weird upon first seeing it, but I assure you, it IS delicious.

I think we are officially undecided on the papaya salad. It’s a cold salad, but it’s got cut up peppers in it along with papaya slices and tomatoes and these green things that I have no idea what they are. The flavor changes from weird to delicious to spicy to weird to a little off and then back to delicious and then weird. Overall, I think I liked it, but D.Rough currently is down the middle on this. We will both change our minds the next time we talk about it. I think it takes getting used to, but you could tell it was fresh – even if I hadn’t seen her cut it up in front of me. That’s what made us happy. A Fantastic meal from Moon's Kitchen!

We walked towards the door where we were parked and got sidetracked by Blueberry – a bubble tea stand that has more than bubble tea. They have bajillions of flavors and the guy working the counter was very friendly and helpful. D.Rough asked if the cupcake flavor tasted like cupcakes and the man working assured us it did. He had us pair it with another flavor (coconut) and we got a shake of some sort with lychee jellies in it. I really don’t like bubble tea, so I had low expectations for this. It blew me away. I was really mad I didn’t get one for myself. It actually tasted like some freaky liquid cupcake. It was awesome. Go to this place.

All in all, we had a super successful day at the Hmong Village. I didn’t buy any martial arts DVDs, as my willpower was particularly high. We will go back to this place many times. People there were friendly and some asked if we’d been there before and if we were having a good day. It is a very friendly place. Don’t be intimidated if you aren’t of Asian descent. It’s perfectly fine and you won’t be black listed. Simply ask what certain things are if you don’t know and maybe try something new. You’ll be glad you did.

1001 Johnson Parkway
St. Paul, MN

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trattoria da vinci – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I had driven by Trattoria da Vinci a number of times and thought we’d better check it out. We were completely unsure of the fanciness of the restaurant, so we got a little “business romantic” and headed downtown to check it out.

It’s a challenge to get in the front door, being as the front door is actually through the lobby of a high-rise that the restaurant is nestled in. So you have to go in what looks like the front doors to a hotel/apartment building then go to the restaurant (rather than roam around the outside looking for a door while diners pointed and laughed because it’s 10 below zero outside).

The inside is more casual than we thought, but there was a good mix of dressy and casual people, so we weren’t out of place. It’s got a couple of Italian columns inside and some Italian artwork on the wall, so it's sort of got a Pier 1 Italian feel. We got a seat near one of the windows so we could mock other people who couldn’t find the entrance.

The waitress brought us menus and helped us determine what we should get. The menu isn’t huge, but there are plenty of things to eat – from pizza and sandwiches to a pasta bar. We thought we’d split some things, so we went with Insalata Misticanza (salad with almonds, dried cranberries and topped with parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette) and Prosciutto E Mozzarella (pan seared mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto do Parma) to start with and then split an order of Gnocchi Do Patate (potato dumplings with Bolognese). We were also in a wine mood, so D.Rough got a glass of Pinot Grigio and I got a glass of Reisling.

The wine was wonderful for both of us and the appetizer and salad came out pretty quickly. The Misticanza salad was simple, but quite good. The cranberries were really flavorful and the dressing wasn’t too heavy. The Prosciutto was quite tasty as well. The presentation was a little weird, but we eventually figured out how to cut it efficiently and made sure we ate the entire thing. We really liked the crunch of the bread with the saltiness of the prosciutto. The fresh mozzarella is hard to beat, no matter where you’re at. And of course, D.Rough and I fought over the balsamic reduction. Hahahaha.

The entrĂ©e came out while we were still eating our appetizers, so we had to scramble to get room on the table for everything – but we managed. We dug into the gnocchi and knew right away we had ordered the right thing. It wasn’t the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, but it really hit the spot. The sauce was good and wasn’t too liquidy or pasty and there was a tiny bit of spice, which we were both glad to taste. The gnocchi was cooked pretty well and we didn’t leave a single bit on the plate – surprise surprise, right?

The whole time we were eating, there was a guy playing guitar upstairs for the restaurant. He wasn’t a highlight or anything, but he did play some awesome versions of top 40 hits from the 90’s with all kinds of awesome jazz solos thrown in. A large group of drunk girls sang a couple of the tunes loudly while he played and he seemed amused, for the most part.

The restaurant is pretty casual and the food is good. Not stellar or ground breaking, but we’d eat there again. It’s a good safe Italian restaurant and you’re not going to go away hungry, nor broke.

Top 5 things about Trattoria da Vinci
1. Gnocchi E Patate
2. Prosciutto E Mozzarella
3. Insalata Misticanza
4. Decent wine list by the glass
5. Very good server who took care of us

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s difficult to find the entrance
2. The menu isn’t huge
3. They have different things on the online menu that we were unable to order
4. The timing of the food could have been better, leaving us more room on our table to eat
5. It’s a bit more casual than we expected

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weetacon VII – Green Bay, WI

Once a year (see, I already lied – it’s 1.5 times a year), a close knit group of writers (mostly bloggers and a few published book authors, as well) convenes in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The word “convenes” should indicate to you this is a convention of sorts. The kids these days are too lazy to say the whole word, so they shorten it to just “con”. Additionally, it is hosted by the best hostess in the word, Weetabix, which is how we’ve arrived at the official title for this annual (plus .5) convention of socially awkward and incredibly lovely people called “Weetacon”.

(I say .5 because they have a mini-weetacon in a various city during the off-season as well, it’s just less-well attended.)

The entire event doubles as a large fund raiser for local foodbank and there are many many many ways for you to separate yourself from your money for a good cause. Raffles – I mean ENORMOUS raffles -, bake sales (which I’m amazed they pull off at all since people fly in from all over the country and a bunch from Canada), calendar sales and cookbook sales. And I haven’t even gotten to the events portion. There are simply too many events to highlight all in one post, plus there are probably a few incriminating photos which will remain undiscovered as well. However, so you understand the kind of people I associate with and what the best convention in the world entails, I will tease you with a few photos and descriptions of the aforementioned convention. (Plus I want to torture M.Giant since he was unable to attend Weetacon AGAIN this year…)

Furthermore, if any of the Weetacon sponsors should happen across this post, please be assured this is a very serious writers conference and there are a variety of workshops and focus groups that attendees participate in. There are also various competitions – most of which involve drinking and/or yelling.

Additionally, we do a lot of things like eating. Buffet-style gorging always works for me.

And we do a considerable amount of drinking of adult beverages. This is done primarily at a wonderful little place called the Sardine Can – also known as “The Bad Bar” – because bad things happen here. Prompted by things like long-distance shots using a golf ball retriever holding a shot glass by the bartender from 25 feet away and a snow-ski limbo that sometimes breaks out.I mentioned the Bad Bar in a previous post a while back if you're interested.

Yes, those are some of our Weetacon attendees dancing on the bar, as well as a Weetacon pimp standing in front making sure no one touches the merchandise.

Mom, earmuffs. Also, twice a night at the Bad Bar, they have vibrator races. Before the races start, there is the playing of the national anthem, a surround sound F-16 flyover, and then things get lively. Bar patrons are encouraged to choose their racer using small slips of paper with the number of your racer on it. The racers are all turned on (pun intended) and vibrate their way down the course to an incredibly loud array of drunken cheering. Then if you pick the winning “pony”, you get a free shot of something awful that the bartenders are trying to get rid of. I wish I were kidding, but sadly, I’m not.

With enough adult beverages, you might wonder why it’s called the Bad Bar, especially when Weetabix hands you delicious cotton candy to help “soak up the alcohol”.

But then non-Weetacon DBags eventually make their way to our section of the bar and get grope-y. Then Weetacon secret militia steps in a starts slapping and punching. Yes, again, I’m not joking.

There are soooo many reasons to go to the Bad Bar (and a list exponentially longer to regret going once you’re about 27 drinks in…). A non-exhaustive list might include: an entire wall that moves to make the standing room more narrow since it’s “always packed” inside; a list of rules on a chalkboard including no drinks with more than three ingredients; an outside bar totally tarped off with suspended swings instead of bar stools; a bathroom in which you need to wash your hands after washing your hands; a trophy hammerhead shark with a bra on it; an amazing collection of musical tunes to scream loudly with; a wide variety of stickers applied by the bartenders when they feel someone is “top heavy” or has a “trophy rack”; bartenders that play dueling banjos on Southern Comfort bottles and then finish with a chug contest; and soooo many more things. You really need to be there to experience it.

Towards closing, we all head over to a 24-hour place for “Pantscakes”. I’m not sure of the origin of this name, but it’s always a good time and the food at the Black Stone Family Restaurant is amazingly helpful at soaking up anything you might have accidentally drunk at the Bad Bar. The breakfast there is worth a look, however, this year we ate while pondering the question……..

Chef’s hat or balls?

The following morning, we all gather in the banquet room of the host hotel and various prizes and trophies are issued. Some are made up due to incidents during that weekend, and some are long-standing Weetacon traditions.

I won four trophies this year, which I think is pretty good since I missed over half of the events and festivities. I do have to thank Frau Scientits and Apron of roller derby fame-iosity for loaning me the recipe for their patented ICP Chex Mix which I mailed to Weetabix the prior week to make it into the bake sale. Apparently it was a huge success, winning me two different trophies for the ICP Chex Mix alone!

I sincerely love all of these people and even though I only see some of them once a year, we have a blast like we’ve been seeing each other daily for our entire lives. There’s a boat load of work that goes into this event and people involved aren’t thanked nearly enough, but my true and sincere thanks go out to all of the organizers of this event.

I wish my work schedule had allowed me to attend the entire Weetacon this year, but due to an upcoming trip to China, I had mandatory engagements that allowed me to attend only a small portion of the weekend. Next year, I will make up for it!

Sleep well, Weetacon-ers. Going back to real life sucks, especially when you’ve only gotten 3 hours of sleep over four nights…

Monday, March 7, 2011

Joe Rouer’s Bar – Luxemburg, WI (Or Duvall, WI, depending on what your GPS says)

I was in Green Bay for a conference this weekend and I’ve been hearing about Joe Rouer’s for a few years since I started coming to this annual conference. A bunch of attendees went to Joe Rouer's on Saturday for lunch, but I rolled into town while they were there so I missed the whole thing. I had some free time on Sunday, so I drove there myself (with multiple sets of directions and two different GPS units – I’m dead serious).

The place is in a town called Luxemburg… or Duvall, depending on which town your GPS recognizes. Add the additional complication of the highway department changing the actual name of the road from County Road A to County Road X and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Complicate things further by the fact that I got Main Street in Green Bay mixed up with University so I got myself thoroughly turned around. Based on previous experience, the more of a debacle it is to find a restaurant I’ve been urged to eat at, the better the food usually was. This food had REALLY high potential for greatness.

I drove about 30-35 minutes out of Green Bay and down some tiny double lane roads in farm country by a giant lake, and eventually found it. In the middle of nowhere. Seriously. It’s at the intersection of a one-stop-sign town. Here, I’ll show you. Basically it’s the first turn on the left after you get lost, but that’s difficult to put on a website (which is probably why they don’t have a website).

The place was busy. Tons of cars in the lot. Almost all of them American-made. My Toyota stuck out like a turd in a punchbowl. Oh well. I hoped I was going to make it out of this place with my tires intact. I walked inside and found the place equally packed with people inside. I found one empty barstool at the bar right in front of the cash register. Not even enough room to put a plate between the edge of the bar and the cash register. Oh well. I grabbed a table tent menu and found what I needed. A cheese burger and some white cheddar cheese curds. I’d make it simple since I had to get back to my people at the conference. They also had Sprecher rootbeer on tap, but I was feeling a bit … off… due to the Bad Bar the previous night, so I got a Dew.

I will tell you I was a little disappointed that I had a time constraint because if I hadn’t, I would have ordered some Booyah and a bowl of Pea Soup in addition to the burger and curds. It just sounded delicious. If you haven’t had Booyah, then you need to find some somewhere or make it. You’ll be glad you did.

I looked around the place while waiting and being jostled by waitresses trying to sneak between me and the cash register near the kitchen. Oh well. I seriously didn’t mind and it was kind of amusing. They were super friendly about it and it wasn’t a big deal – I’m just telling you so you don’t choose that stool if there are open places elsewhere. Joe Rouer’s has a bubble hockey table and no one was using it. Sadly, I was solo so I didn’t get to play, which was a bit of a bummer, but I’ll live. I was most entertained by the staff telling customers they couldn’t show the NASCAR race on television since Dish Network had some sort of argument with Fox and they weren’t showing channel 11. Seriously, people were outraged. One guy couldn’t even sit down – he just paced around angrily with his beer complaining about it. Hilarious. They take it very seriously there. Like most Wisconsin bars, there was Packers gear EVERYWHERE and some historical Packers footage showing on the screens (instead of NASCAR).

The food came out fairly quickly, despite the place being packed with customers. The curds looked awesome, there was a pile of pickles, which I only had two of, and the burger looked amazing. I dug into the curds and was really happy with my decision. They were perfectly battered and cooked. Zero complaints on the curds. I then moved to the burger after a few curds. This burger was really good. Really greasy, but really good. Here’s a photo so you can tell how good/greasy it is.

The flavor was fantastic. It was seasoned with something I didn’t recognize, but could have been Lawry’s and something else. I loved it. I wolfed this burger down really quickly. Like I said, lots of grease, but not a sloppy burger. That was just love oozing out of the burger.

Unlike my disappointment with Kroll’s burger last year, this burger was worth driving for. I’ll likely be back here when I’ve got a little more time to spend and also when I have someone to play bubble hockey with.

Thank you, Joe Rouer. You were a terrific cap to the weekend!

No website, but here is the address – good luck finding it!
E1098 County Road X
Luxemburg, WI 54217

Friday, March 4, 2011

Arby’s Angus Three Cheese & Bacon – Hopkins, MN

Trash sent M.Giant and I a message asking if we had heard about the new sammich from Arby’s. We hadn’t, but we are generally fans of their food, so we had high hopes. When she sent us the link to it, we were in. After M.Giant made me wait an entire day to join me for lunch, we commenced the fun-fest for our taste buds.

When I ordered the new Angus Three Cheese & Bacon, the manager behind the counter commented on how good they are. He said every day he tells himself he’s not going to eat another one and he does anyway. And he’s a skinny kid, so I assumed these things are healthy if he’s on an all beef and cheese diet and keeping pounds off like a heroin addict. (Hey, this is America – the land of proactive disillusion – don’t oppress me with the truth.) Rave review from a manager? Yeah, I’m easily swayed.

M.Giant and I got the appropriate condiments for our meal (I had curly fries, so I needed some lubrication for them), and a Diet Dew – yeah, that’s right. Diet. We sat down and unwrapped these things. Holy cats, they looked delicious. M.Giant exclaimed “There are cheeses in three states!!!” (Here is where I’ll admit I was trying to figure out which states besides Wisconsin were known for cheese, and I was pretty sure that Switzerland hadn’t been colonized by the United States… YET. I realized a day later how much of a dummy I am.) What M.Giant actually meant was there were three different STATES of BEING for the cheese – Shredded Cheddar, Slice of Swiss Cheese (processed, of course), and Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch Sauce. To recap – that’s shredded, sliced, and sauced.

All this is covering the pile of super-thick sliced roast angus beef. Not the usual Arby’s thin sliced beef – which I know a lot of people complain about, but I LOVE – this is serious cut and seasoned slices of actual Black Angus beef.

Then, they have pepper bacon on top, which is taking my favorite food and making it even more favorite-y!!! Unpossible, you say? To quote Dolemite, “I ain’t lyin’”.

This sandwich is sooooo much better than I expected. In fact, M.Giant and I determined that it stands alone and needs zero condiments on it. All of the proportions of cheese were correct and the ratio of meet-to-cheese-to-bun was perfect, so the flavors are all. You don’t need Arby’s mega vinegar-y BBQ sauce to assist on this one. You don’t need ketchup to mask any flavors. M.Giant said the Horseradish sauce just complicated and covered the deliciousness. The only one that I even liked to put on this sandwich was the five pepper sauce they have. But it totally didn’t need it. The sandwich is fantastic.

We both decided this sandwich is a winner. Kudos to you, Arby’s. I’m now convinced Arby’s stole the chef from the Taco Bell test kitchen who required bacon on all new menu items and now have him leading R&D for Arby’s. To back my theory, Taco Bell has significantly lacked bacon-themed menu items in recent history. I will eat the Angus Three Cheese and Bacon again. In fact, I just got a coupon in the mail and I might leave for Arby’s right now. Yeah, I think I will.

Be forewarned – M.Giant has vowed to hand out an ass-whoopin’ to anyone he catches stealing the “g” off of any Arby’s sign promoting this new sandwich…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Grumpy’s – Minneapolis, MN

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how awesome Grumpy’s tots are, and in fact, at a roller derby party, Grumpy’s catered a tater tot bar for the banquet, and I was muy impressed. M U Y. Since it was my birthday, I decided to cancel my biometric screening I had scheduled the following morning (requiring me to fast for 12 hours) and drink after class instead. Perfectly reasonable excuse, I think.

I told the Book of Faces that I’d be at Grumpy’s after class that night and anyone available should show up and have a drink with me. I rolled in right after class let out and met a bunch of people. Boom, Lush, and Mrs.Maddening were already there when I got there and were waiting to order the tots. Mrs. Maddening suggested I tell the bartender to make me “something complicated with fruit and rum in it” – which I did. And we got a large order of tots. Lush also knows my personal tastes after reading a lot my blog posts and hearing me talk about bacon all the time, so she ordered a side of bacon to go on the tots.

More people showed up while we waited: D.Rough, M.Giant, Smallz, TheDoctor, Maddening, Pants, and Johnny. My drink showed up and was absolutely delicious – very fruity and very Rummy. (Sorry, no photo) I will have to remember to order things like this in the future. The tots arrived and were delicious as I remembered them being from the catered party. Seasoned with some sort of magic dust to make them impossible to deny. (again, no photos - I was too excited to eat them and forgot to take my camera out first) The bacon never showed up though…. Until later…

The waitress brought out a plate of bacon strips with a candle showed into a tater tot. It was Birthday Bacon!!!! Awesome idea and I love it when restaurants have fun with the customers. It was perfect. Thank you, Grumpy’s!

Smallz ended up buying me another fruity girly drink (although this one ended up having more peach schnapps in it than rum)(but I still drank it!!!), and Boom bought me a Scooby Snack – which are her patented favorite drink.

I was starving and decided to order food. D.Rough and M.Giant said they were hungry, but not enough to eat a full meal, so when I decided to order the Cheesy Garlic Burger, they both said, they’d eat a bite and be happy with that. So I did. And it proved to be a wise decision.

The burger arrived and looked sort of simple, actually. I was a little worried based on the presentation of this burger. Simple meat patty without vegetables and on a cheese-covered piece of garlic toast. I take back everything bad I said about this burger. It was incredible. From time to time, I mention that a big part of cooking has to do with proportions of ingredients. Some thigns have too much of some things and not enough of others. This burger was perfectly proportioned. There was Fantastic garlic flavor with the ample amount of cheese on the bun. And the meat itself was perfectly cooked. I think having vegetables on this might ruin it a little bit. It was great, and I’d recommend the heck out of this burger.

We didn’t stay out too terribly late since most of us had to work the next morning, but I’m looking forward to the next time I can go back to Grumpy’s. They have an amazing menu with sooo many things I’d like to try on it.