Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Whistle Stop Hoagie Shop & Eatery – Stuart, FL

While visiting LBJ down in Florida, he and ChristiNA thought I should check out this breakfast-y place they like. Of course I was game for that. The Whistle Stop is owned by a guy from Philly who claims to make the best philly cheesesteaks ever. The place is basically a more robust snack shack that built walls around their once-outside patio. It’s also right across the street from the marina, so many boaters are passing through this place before heading out onto the water.

You read the menu boards above the counter and then order before sitting down.It was too early for a cheesesteak, so I went with the Breakfast Hoagie. It’s got 3 eggs, cheese, home fries, and choice of bacon/sausage/ham (obviously, you go with bacon). I’m always impressed with the amount of sweet tea the south consumes – I’m not a fan, but I always notice it in restaurants down south. Multiple tins of different flavors – they take it very seriously there. I got a milk since it was breakfast time – and yes, WHOLE milk. Suck on that, doctor-who-yells-at-me-about-everything!

The hoagie arrived and it was much larger than I anticipated. Thankfully, it was also delicious. It came on a home-made hoagie roll that was perfectly soft and in two 5-6 inch sandwiches. Yikes. Frankly, it wasn’t anything that many places wouldn’t offer on a menu, but the home-made and super-soft hoagie roll made it much better. Plus with a little Chalula sauce on it, it was a fantastic breakfast. Knowing now that the cheesesteaks come on the hoagie rolls I just had makes me want to come back and order a philly cheesesteak.

There was a cute mexican family having breakfast and one of the really small children began crying. One of the old guys in the restaurant flipped out and yelled at the mother. I mean YELLED directly at her, "KNOCK OFF THE SCREAMING KID S$*t!!!!" He was an atrocious old man and secretly wished he'd choke on hie breakfast. The family took care of the child and got her to stop crying, but the guy was king of the d-bags this day.

And of course, now that I ate that, I was ready for a serious nap. Unfortunately, I had a three hour drive in front of me with a time deadline and I couldn’t nap. So instead we went to the beach and checked out the Atlantic Ocean. You really DO need to do that when you’re that close. It’s worth it.

Thanks for a fantastic visit to Stuart, Florida, LBJ. I had a great time and owe you big for your couch space and girly drinks!

Not enough for a Top 5 list, but suffice it to say it's pretty darn good.


Monday, May 27, 2013

B. Merry Gastropub – Stuart, FL

I popped down to Orlando to visit some friends and family. I hadn’t seen Coach’s brother LBJ in a while and decided to exploit him for a place to sleep for the night and have some hang-out time. It was a blast. We headed out to dinner with his girlfriend ChristiNA, and hit up a casual restaurant in a hallway called B.Merry. The restaurant is situated behind some clothing shops and you have to walk between the shops (inside) to get to the restaurant. There are tables and a courtyard that the restaurant has setup in the hallway and courtyard for its guests. It was also the local high school’s prom, so we had plenty of comments about many of the hoary outfits we saw, including one girl who couldn’t commit all the way and was wearing what appeared to be a white t-shirt underneath her really revealing dress.

The menu has lots of sandwiches and burgers, along with some seafood and salads. There is also a thorough hand-written beer list that changes daily/weekly. The server recommended a few things from the beer list and gave us very good descriptions of many of them. I got a black cherry beer – like kriek or framboise – really quite good. Then I got an Elder Betty (from Magic Hat) that was pretty darn good – good enough I’d order it again or even buy some.

The deep fried mac and cheese fritters sounded really intriguing to us, especially since it came with sriracha ranch to dip. The server offered to wrap them in bacon, but we thought that would be unnecessary and overkill – just standard presentation would be fine. And it WAS just fine. LBJ, who doesn’t even care for mac and cheese that much really liked these. They were cheesy macaroni spirals deep fried into balls. Nothing out of a box here – all hand done. Pretty impressive and delicious. I’m glad we got these.

We all had a tough time deciding on food, but I was in the mood for a good burger with creative ingredients. I had it narrowed down to two and asked the server which I should get. He helped me decide by saying I should get the Purple Haze but also order a fried egg on top. A wonderful idea.

The Purple Haze had roasted purple beets, goat cheese, cucumbers on it, and then with the fried egg, it worked its magic into every bite. The meat was really quality stuff – the server said they use some rib meat, ground in with the chuck for better flavor. I wish there were more beets on there – but, I realize not everyone likes beets. They were on there, but I wish they were more of a powerhouse flavor. The goat cheese was also awesome. But like I said, the fried egg was the champion of the day – oozing into all the crevices. Be warned they cook their meat a couple notches more than requested. LBJ told me he ordered his well done once and it came out REALLY well done. So I ordered mine medium and it came out well done – no pink at all (still delicious, though). I’d recommend ordering medium rare if you like any pink at all. The hand-cut fries were better than average. I’m not a fry connoisseur, but they are better than a lot of fries I’ve had.

ChristiNA ordered a Mother Earth – sort of a vegetarian sandwich. It looked good and she said it was good, but after the monstrosities that LBJ and I ate, I feel like it would not have been able to stand up to scrutiny. LBJ got a sandwich called The Dip – it’s a pot roast sandwich with a bowl of French onion soup to dip the sandwich into. He said it was really good and didn’t have any trouble eating it all faster than anyone else at the table.

Overall, this non-chain restaurant was exactly what I needed. The server made sure all our questions were answered and was pretty frank about some of our questions – he’s a full disclosure with humor sort of guy. Plus, we got to go surprise Coach and LBJ’s mother after dinner, since she didn’t know I was in the area. Wonderful night!

Top 5 things about B.Merry
1. Purple Haze burger with a fried egg on top
2. Deep fried mac and cheese fritters
3. Betty
4. Hilarious server
5. Really good approachable but not snooty combinations of ingredients on many menu items

Bottom 5 things
1. Meat was cooked a notch or two more than requested
2. It would be easy to walk past this place if you didn’t know it was behind the shops
3. Menu and beer list had way too many delicious-sounding items to make a decision easy
4. The food isn’t cheap, but frankly, it was worth the $13 I paid for the burger. Just be ready
5. The musician in the courtyard was more distracting than attracting

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Glazed Donut Bread Pudding at Senor Wong’s – St. Paul, MN

This isn’t a full review of Senor Wong’s, but I like to give a shout out for creativity when it is due. After a generous meal at Senor Wong’s, I made the mistake of asking about dessert. Normally, I don’t care much about dessert, but I was curious what this place would be offering. I shuodnl’t have asked.

The special dessert was a Glazed Donut Bread Pudding. The more he explained, the clearer it became that I would be ordering this. I’ll explain a minute. But first, here is what they brought out to me.

It’s a glazed donut bread pudding, but it also has a lemon ginger glace, bananas foster, and fortune cookie streusel. Who even thinks of these things? The combination of these things was pretty creative and delicious. Very impressive. Well, most food you hit with a blow torch is impressive, to be fair. But this was a pretty delicious dessert. I WILL say that it was probably the most dense cake-like thing I’ve ever eaten. It actually took effort to get the fork through the bread itself. Like a brick. I also wish I could have tasted a little more donut in there, but it was very subtly there.

Again, I’m not a seeker of bread pudding in most situations, but I did have a fabulous donut bread pudding at the The Donut Cooperative in Minneapolis. That one set a pretty high standard for me, to be sure. But this version at Senor Wong’s was pretty good.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thai Ginger – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have driven by here a thousand times and sometimes it looks like it’s abandoned, and other times when we drive by late at night, it looks like it’s packed to overflowing. I thought I’d pop in and check it out during the daylight hours and see what’s what. When I pulled into the parking lot, it was clear they do a decent lunch business – lots of cars.

The inside is set up with two different dining rooms: one with standard four-top tables and booths, and the other that is sparsely set up with a couple of tables and some tall round bar tables in a night club. Yes, this place doubles as a night club/bar, CLEARLY. It’s got a dj booth, laser and multicolored lights, a considerable sound system, an impressive bar, a dancefloor, and signs banning drinks out in the parking lot. I bet this place gets hopping. Which is why it also makes me laugh that there was a playpen with the most adorable baby next to the giant speakers. Some people have issues with babies in the workplace, but I think it’s cute and funny, especially when they interact with customers and are laughing and having fun. This baby was all of that times a hundred.

I got a menu and a smaller list of lunch specials. The specials didn’t appeal to me at the moment and were mostly stir fry dishes with one pad thai and one fried rice dish. The regular menu was well explained and had some photos for people who aren’t familiar with Thai food. I’m a sucker for fresh spring rolls, so I got an order of those and finally decided on Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles).

The spring rolls came out first and I was impressed with their size. Really thick rolls and tons of filling. It was impressive looking and was better than average, to be honest. Not mind blowing, but it tasted fresh and was pretty generous. Even the amount of dipping sauce they brought to the table was large enough I didn’t have to skimp on any bites, thankfully.

The Pad Kee Mao was out before I finished the spring rolls. It looked good to me. There were a lot of onions, but they were all cut large enough that it was easy to separate them out. There was an average amount of chicken, which was cooked well and had some black pepper and seasonings on them. The red peppers were quite delicious, and the basil leaves were basically whole. Whole branches, in fact. I found myself eating 5 or 6 leaves at a time along with the stalk. It was fine, but I felt like I ate all the basil in three or four bites and didn’t have enough to last me the entire dish. And the noodles were not very separate. When you cook flat noodles, sometimes they stick together and the inside ones don’t get cooked all the way. It was like a dough-y pillow in some spots. That being said, the flavor of the sauce was good. The dish was about average. I certainly didn’t have any problem finishing the entire thing, but I’d like to try some of the curry dishes next time.

The servers that brought me menus, food, and drinks were very friendly and would pop in and check on the baby sitting near me (don’t worry, there was a gentleman watching her and playing with her).

Top 5 things about Thai Ginger
1. Spring Rolls
2. Pad Kee Mao sauce
3. Super friendly staff
4. Full bar – and it looks like there are drink specials during happy hour
5. Pretty thorough menu offerings

Bottom 5 things
1. Noodles were stuck together and not done in the middle as a result.
2. Pretty odd layout, but they’re making the most of the space they have
3. There’s nothing indicating it’s a nightclub – so I assume it’s top secret. The sign on the door says they still close at 9pm (I’m assuming that’s the restaurant hours)
4. The lunch specials were limited
5. The parking lot is pretty small, especially when full of cars at lunch


Friday, May 24, 2013

First Boozy Shakes Of The Summer – Minneapolis, MN

A bunch of thought we’d get together and celebrate Minnesota’s passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill – something our awesome friends feel quite strongly about. People were encouraged to bring their favorite booze and favorite milkshake toppings/ingredients to a little outdoor grill party session our friend Marg-a-que was hosting.

I thought I should keep mine simple. I threw a little Cherry Pie liqueur in with some vanilla ice cream and dumped in a metric crap-ton of rainbow nerds (the official nerd of the marriage amendment, obviously).

Threw in some ice cream and milk and hit GO on the blender. It was awesomely delicious.

And so was the second one…

I was witness to some of the most awful combinatinos of thigns I think I have ever seen at this event, however. Bourbon-caramel-fudge-cloves-sea salt may or may not have been made, among other monstrocities. I'm glad I kept it tame.

Cheers to you, Minnesota! I’m anxiously awaiting some fabulous weddings in the near future.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ward 6 (re-do) – St. Paul, MN

I always give restaurants a second (sometimes third) chance. Especially when I feel like it’s an ordering error on my part that jinxed the whole operation. I’m glad I gave Ward 6 another chance – they fully redeemed themselves from my last visit, and assured me it was completely my own fault for ordering wrong.

This go around, I met EnyaFace! at the restaurant and we got caught up over some beers. We split an order of meatball appetizers which were fantastic hand-made Italian meatballs. They came in a small pile sitting on top of some delicious marinara sauce. Unfortunately, there were five, which doesn’t split easily. But fortunately, I’m NOT from Minnesota – this means I’m not afraid to take the last one on the plate. Haha, sucker! I’m kidding. EnyaFace! totally told me I could take the last one. These non-dense meatballs were filled with garlic and oregano and other seasonings and I wondered how many of these I could eat in one sitting. I REALLY need to stop challenging myself like that.

This visit, I decided to get the Cicero Stew. It’s a vegetarian-for-sure stew, and maybe even vegan, with a distinctly Moroccan seasoning to it. I was skeptical if this could stand up to some of the more meaty dishes Ward 6 had on the menu, but I was feeling lucky.

This dish was excellent. Great amount of seasoning without it being overwhelming. I could still taste all of the individual items like broccoli and sweet potatoes, and there was a hint of Minnesotan heat to it. Nothing spicy, of course, but there was a little warmth there. Which was nice since it had snowed just days before – yes, in May. It was served on a bed of basmati rice that simply soaked up even more delicious juice than I even expected. This is what you need to order here.

EnyaFace! ordered the Grilled Camembert Sandwich, which is a grilled cheese with pears, walnut butter, and arugula on sourdough. She raved about this almost as much as I raved about the Cicero Stew.

You should probably check this place out, people. It’s got a great Minnesota beer list with very thorough descriptions and categories. It’s got adult milk shakes. It’s got fine and friendly people working. And it’s not off the charts expensive. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you like charcuterie. They take it very seriously at Ward 6.

Ward 6

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ward 6 – St. Paul, MN

The guys and I needed a night on the town, and some of us had been interested in trying Ward 6 – a relatively new restaurant on Payne Ave. I’d heard great things about the food and the beer selection there from most people. I also heard there’s usually a wait to get in, and since we had five in our group, I headed over a bit early to get our name on the list.

The inside wasn’t what I expected. It’s bright and airy and fun (especially with the sun shining). I’m not sure why I was expecting a dark and quiet pub, but I was mistaken.

I took a quick look at the specials board and found they had a lot of interesting food items for dinner. Roasted Red Pepper soup, turkey meatballs, seared pork loin, a couple of bizarre charcuteries, and some cocktails and beer special. Noted. I grabbed a seat at the bar, since I might as well drink if I’m waiting for my friends. Thankfully they showed up right on time and only had to wait a couple of minutes since I had gotten there early. Slam rolled in a little later.

There’s a pretty comprehensive beer list with almost entirely craft brews from Minnesota. Pints are $5 and smaller glasses are $3, so you can try different varieties. They’re also separated under categories to make it easier for non-beer-snobs to decide on what to order. On the back are wine and cocktails which included some standards and also a couple of creative options. Finally, they have five adult milk shakes which all sounded really tempting. It was difficult to talk myself out of ordering one.

We got seated at one of the larger round tables and scoped out the menu. There’s a lot of appetizer items (or technically “Food For Drinking”), a handful of sandwiches and salads, 4 or 5 entrĂ©e-sized dishes, and a kids section. They do have breakfast, as well, which I will be returning for at some point. They do have a decent selection of vegetarian options, so if that’s your thing, you should be ok. And, what they do have available for veggies sounds pretty good. Enough about vegetarians: I had been told about the fatty melt and told myself a number of times I wasn’t going to get it – I was going to try something normal. I absolutely caved when I couldn’t decide and ordered it anyway. There were too many other things I wanted to try and it clouded my judgment. We also ordered poutine and an order of chicken wings to share at the table.

Chicken wings came out first. They have a house-made buffalo sauce on them that was actually pretty delicious. Maybe even my favorite thing of the night. “Someone” thought it was on the spicy side, but he’s Minnesotan. It wasn’t spicy at all – hahaha. But the wings were quite fantastic and large.

The poutine wasn’t what I had hoped. The sausage gravy was alright (note: I’m a sausage gravy snob, since my family is from Alabama and know how to make sausage gravy), and there was plenty of it, but I honestly didn’t touch a cheese curd the entire time I was eating. The fries were standard, as well. I wanted them to be so much more, but they were just ok. Better than some places, but not as good as I thought they might be. Again, my expectations…

The fatty melt looked pretty intimidating. It’s a burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. And we all commented on how this place is fancy and cuts the crust off for you. It’s true. The sandwich is massive though. Really tall and there’s no way to smash it down to get it to fit in your mouth. You have to eat part of the top and then part of the bottom. The meat on the burger had good flavor, but I felt like the grilled cheese sandwiches would taste more cheesy. I forgot at one point that they were grilled cheese and thought I was just eating bread. It wasn’t until I was almost finished that someone asked about the bacon on the sandwich. I honestly hadn’t tasted it until then. I saw a small piece there, so I knew it was on there, but clearly it wasn’t enough. I feel bad giving this sandwich a meh review, but again, maybe my expectations were set really high. I should have gone with a standard burger, I feel like, and maybe the logistics of eating it wouldn’t have been so distracting – at one point, everyone had finished their meals and I got asked, “are you still eating that sandwich?”. Again, it was fine and am impressive thing to tell your friends about, but I wanted it to have more flavor excitement, not just horror factor.

I got to try a bit of the fish and chips and while the flavor was good, I had just had a crazy good fish and chips meal at a restaurant in Wisconsin that made this fried batter seem soggy. The flavor was good and there was a generous portion, but if it were crispier, it would have made the whole thing less greasy and soggy to me. I feel like if I had ordered this I’d be full quickly and moving slow the rest of the night.

The pot roast sandwich looked really good to me and got a “good” review. I loved the fact that it had blue cheese on it. The only complaint I heard was the bun was too hard to crush down to make it fit in your mouth.

The relish tray – one of the vegetarian options – was presented well and was appetizer sized. It had kimchee, pickled onions, fruit compote, olive tapenade, red pepper tapenade, cilantro somethingorother and some spiced nuts. It looked pretty, but I was disappointed it came with slices of French bread to eat it with. I thought there would be something racier like pita points – I know, racy, right? I didn’t get a review of this dish, nor was there in fact any comment spoken about this one at all from the person who ordered it. Take that how you want to.

I finally caved and ordered one of the adult shakes. I held out as long as I could. I wanted one of each, but since this was going to be day four of having ridiculous milkshakes, I only ordered one. I got the Sour Sophie – Vanilla Vodka and sour cherry syrup and just a hint of chocolate sauce. This was really quite good. You couldn’t taste the alcohol (which I THINK is good), but the cherry was just the right amount of sour to be tasty and not obnoxious, and there was just a hint of chocolate in the aftertaste. It was a really well-done milkshake and I’m glad I got it.

Overall, I was ok with my meal. I believe my expectations were set rather high for this place. I do appreciate the fact that this place takes pride in its cooking and creativity and drink selection. I feel like it’s better than bar food and less better than many nice restaurants I’ve been to. I will absolutely go back, but I’m going to tailor my expectations appropriately and maybe just enjoy a couple of appetizers and some drinks. That’s where I think this place can shine for me, personally. And it could absolutely be chalked up to ordering error on my part. (Please realize this is only my review, and this place has gotten TONS of great reviews from people – which may have adjusted my expectations really high up there to an unachievable place – it happens.) And, if you have a mouth that you can fit an 8-inch sandwich into (cough Sandra Bernhard cough), then feel free to order any of the sandwiches.

(For the record, I’ve already planned another trip there with a friend, so I guarantee it’s worth going back for. And I’m actually looking forward to it. …I just didn’t want you guys to think I was jaded.)

Top 5 things about Ward 6
1. Chicken wings
2. Sour Sophie shake
3. Fantastic beer and cocktail list (including all the different beers I had or shared)
4. Amazingly helpful and friendly staff
5. I love that the menu for both beer and food changes regularly and has creative things

Bottom 5 things
1. Fatty Melt wasn’t what I wanted it to be
2. Poutine wasn’t what I wanted it to be
3. Sandwiches are logistically difficult to eat
4. You’ll likely have to wait in line to eat here
5. Now that I’m looking at the brunch menu, I’m mad I didn’t go on a Saturday or Sunday…