Monday, September 30, 2013

Glenn C. Hilton Memorial Park Disc Golf Course – Hickory, NC

I was lucky enough to have some time to play some disc golf while visiting friends in Hickory. The course was really close to their house, so I took the morning and checked out this 24-hole course.

I had printed a map of the course from the pdga website, so it made finding the flow of the course pretty easily. The course starts with a mostly open hole, which I actually enjoyed.

Then you head into the woods. For a long time. Lots of woods.

Thankfully, there are a handful of interesting holes to break up the tree-fulness this course has to offer. Some tricky pin placements next to a creek and one in a tree stump.

But then, back to the trees.

Then, there were a few holes with absolutely no decipherable fairway. Just a wall of trees to throw down and hope you plinko off in a positive direction. I always have problems with these holes. Even if it’s a super narrow fairway, I’m fine with it. Just show me where you intended me to throw the shot. Hole 16, I believe, was the worst I’ve seen in a while. Just no point leaving your eyes open to play this hole.

The last hole was one that some message boards talked about. It’s a throw off the side of one hill, across a wooded valley with a creek, to a basket on the side of another hill. The throw isn’t very far – I used a mid-range and slammed it into the side of the hill right next to the basket. Is it an interesting hole? Not on its own merit. However, compared to the wooded holes that encompass 95% of the course, this hole is pretty fun to play, especially right before walking to your car.

Overall, I’m not a huge fan of this course. It was a little monotonous with THAT many holes in the woods. I will admit I’m a little biased since I’m not a finesse player and wooded holes with incredibly narrow (or in some cases, non-existent) fairways. But they did a couple of creative things with pin placements that I was a fan of. I’ll likely play this one again when I visit my friends again, but I don’t think I’d fly down just to play this one.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge – Abingdon, VA

I had the opportunity to go to Virginia to visit my awesome aunt and uncle. My aunt had just had surgery, so they thought we should go out to eat, rather than subject us to my uncle’s cooking (or trip to McDonald’s). They suspected (correctly) that I wasn’t going to be interested in any sort of chain restaurant, so they suggested the Peppermill, which had recently reopened in a new location and had been getting good reviews.

The restaurant is in a beautiful old big southern house with a large porch outside and a grand staircase on the inside when you walk in. The place is filled with rich, dark woodwork and is really classy. We were seated right away and got to look at the really eclectic (but tasteful) menu. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I finally went with the stuffed pork loin with pineapple salsa. And since I was given the option of soup or salad, I decided on the soup – potato chowder.

The soup was actually quite good. I’ve had different potato soups and chowders, but this one was one of the best. It had pieces of bacon in it and some cheese and scallions on top. It was really thick stuff and had a nice rich velvety texture. I’m glad I added the fresh ground pepper on the top, as it complemented the smoothness with some spicy bite. I’d order this again, absolutely.

The pork loin was also really fantastic. There were two thick slices of pork loin on a bed of black beans and rice. Then they covered the top with a wonderful sweet and spicy pineapple salsa. The pork was cooked perfectly and matched well with the smokiness of the black beans and rice. The salsa should be bottled and mailed to my house. I would eat this on pretty much anything.

I cleaned my plate, which I’m not sure if it impressed or horrified my aunt and uncle. Hahaha.

The Peppermill sounds like it took a big step up from its previous location. The place is classy and the food is really good. Thanks to my really fun family for such a good night out on the town. I look forward to my next visit. I’ll bring D.Rough next time!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

17th Annual Running of the Llamas – Hammond, WI

I won’t get into how I even heard about this event, but as soon as the topic passed my ears, I knew I was in. A group of us thought this would be the best way to kill a Saturday in the history of the world, so we headed to Hammond without much knowledge of what was about to happen.

We piled M. and Trash Giant, DeltaForceCommander and FireRetarded, D.Rough, ChicaPequena, and SalsaSandwich into various cars and headed to Hammond, Wisconsin (which, thankfully, is a pretty short drive). When we got to the parade route, we heard the announcer say over the PA that for this event, the liquor laws in the town were not in effect. So, open containers are allowed, but keep the glass bottles off the streets. Cans and solo cups only.

The first part of the day is the llama festival. There are food vendors (like 2 or 3), craft vendors (like 2 or 4), llama queens (pre-teen, teen, junior miss, and regular), a couple of beer booths, and a couple of bars. There’s also Llama headquarters at the local art gallery. This gallery is where you'll find a room-full of llama-themed art pieces available for sale, some llama-themed merchandise, and a video about llamas running in a small room.

We started with their version of bacon on a stick. It’s really thick cut bacon and more like a strip of pork belly. But, either way, it’s delicious... especially dipped in the container of maple syrup that comes with it.

Then, mini-donuts. I love me some cinnamon and sugar covered mini donuts!

I kept seeing kids with construction paper llama ears, and I knew I had to sport some myself. Juvenile? Yes. Do I care? Not at all.

We checked out some of the craft booths and then hit up one of the local bars.

Ras’ on Main is a pretty awesome place – sort of a bar in the front/restaurant in the back kind of place. We were intrigued by the list of boozy ice cream drinks they have. Awesome sounding things like the Pink Squirrel, Andes Mint, and the Creamy Punani. I would guess FireRetarded and I both said "creamy punani" about a hundred times this day.

The super nice bartender said she didn’t mind making these kinds of drinks, so we all ended up ordering one. These were some of the best boozy drinks I’ve ever had. They were really fun to drink, especially while watching llamas. I went into the bathroom and like any good Green Bay Packers bar would do, they put a television in the bathroom so you didn’t have to miss the action when the call of nature happens. Brilliant.

We headed out to grab a spot for the parade. Yes, parade. The parade route is literally one rural town block long. So when the owners pull their llamas down the block, followed by 10 unicycles, and finally the float with the giant paper mache llama in it passes the crowd, the parade is over in less than ten minutes. Seriously, less than ten minutes. And, did I mention, the giant llama they built moves his head back and forth and spits water? Absolutely stellar. And, the kids love it.

Then, comes the “running” part of the day. I was led to believe that the llamas were released on the crowd and trampling ensued. Thankfully, this didn’t happen. This event is more about racing the llamas than about them trampling people. I’ll also note here that the llamas don’t actually enjoy said running. It’s more the dragging of the llamas. It’s quite hilarious. Especially when the younger kids are dragging the llamas down the street.

Before the races started, there are lists handed out with the llamas names and origin and which heats they’ll be racing in. This surprisingly led to a large number of people from age 4 to 80 betting on the races. Openly. Envision small children waving five dollar bills in the air when the announcer yells the name of the winner after each race. Cute and awesome at the same time.

At the end of the races, which last all of about 30-40 minutes, the crowd cheers and then disperses to go to the rib fest. Don’t worry. It’s pork ribs, not llama ribs. You buy a meal ticket (actually pretty cheap at $3) and then go stand in line to choose between four different rib vendors. The ribs are all made differently and most come with a side dish of some sort. I had to try ribs from all of the vendors to make sure I had a good representation of the rib quality. Actually, they were all delicious.

There’s a live band that entertains all the people remaining. They were having some technically difficulties with the PA system, but they played through it. I’m hoping M.Giant’s band can get the gig at next year’s event. I think they would be an awesome addition to the festival.

We rolled out of there about 6pm or so, since it looked like some of the crowd was heading towards that rowdy redneck stage. I’m not saying it turns ugly there, I’m just saying we didn’t stick around to watch people break bottles over each others’ heads.

Before we headed out, our friend Joe – who is a champion unicyclist – let FlameRetarded and I try our hand at the unicycle. He gave us a quick lesson and then stood us up with our hands on his shoulders. We were both terrible. But it was fun and something we were told we might pick up after about 10-15 hours of practice.

This was a pretty fun event and I would recommend this thing to everyone. I’m not sure if I’ll go back every year, but I will go back at some point, especially if I get to bring new people to experience this. I know Trash is trying to figure out what we can sell and be vendors next year. We will see. If you’ve got ideas, pitch them at me!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Creekside Taphouse - Asheville, NC

I’m going to try to keep this review short, but I already know I can’t.

I was in Asheville, NC with some friends watching the Divisional roller derby tournament. One of the volunteers helped me out with some food recommendations – during which he said “always trust a fat man’s food recommendations”. I told him we needed some good Carolina BBQ and he suggested this place. He also warned me it appears to be in a residential neighborhood, so don’t be alarmed when you get near it.

The place is large. There’s a pretty large dining room with some tall tables and short tables and bar seating. Then there’s the outside patio – which is like a wonderland. The place is really designed for outside maximization. There’s a bar outside, but there’s so much more:

A designated area for bags/cornhole/bean bag toss.

There’s a sand volley ball court (with a few bocce balls in it).

There’s a fenced-in children’s playground.

There’s skee ball and basketball hoops.

But the best feature is this awesome creek running next to the building. They’ve put picnic tables with umbrellas next to it. Such an awesome idea.

The menu at Creekside Taphouse has some delicious things on it – both for carnivores and for vegetarians. We saw something called Piggy Pockets that we all knew we wanted, so we got an order of those. Then we put in our orders for some delicious BBQ-ness! I got a club sandwich, which I understand is enormous, but they had an option to add beef brisket to it – so I DID. And I got sweet potato fries. Myrna got a half slab of BBQ ribs with a side of IPA collard greens. A-Wow got the beef brisket platter with mac and cheese. And Sarah got a burger and fries. All sandwiches can be order Michael Bolton style – which turns out means “extra cheesy”. That slays me.

The place has a serious beer menu, as well. Lots of local stuff, which our group is a fan of trying. I got a Gaelic Ale from Asheville’s Highland Brewing Company. It’s a fantastic amber ale that we had been drinking all weekend. Then I saw something called Red Devil from Pisgah Brewing. It is a Belgian-style ale made with cherries and raspberries, but is also 9% ABV. Boom! This might be the best beer I’ve ever had. I drank two of these (since A-Wow was driving).

The Piggy pockets came out and were fought over. Here’s the description of them, “Puff pastries of love filled with smoked pork, caramelized onions, and roasted corn. Served with spicy garlic sauce.” That’s exactly what they were. Puffy pillows filled with meat. I might have overstepped my bounds when I stole A-Wow’s last one.

But he got over it quickly when he ordered a second order. A spite order, I believe. Nicely done.

The beef brisket A-Wow got was good. A tad dry, but when you add the awesome sauces Creekside has, it apparently got MUCH better. Nice and tender with some good smokey flavor.

The mac and cheese was pretty good, as well. Nothing game changing, but still wonderful.

Myrna’s half slab of ribs was nice and saucey. She loved it. The meat wasn’t falling off the bone tender, but she was able to get the bones mostly clean. The sauce was smokey and not vinegary and she seemed pleased with this dish.

The collard greens were made with IPA and were just ok. I’ve become a collard green snob, and while these were good, I expected them to be much better this far south. They weren’t bad or anything, but I might have had my expectation set too high.

The burger got good reviews from Sarah, but she said she had had better fries.

I saved the best for last. I was warned the club sandwich was a force to be reckoned with. It’s massive. It also has a grilled cheese sandwich right in the middle of it. It is a triple-stacked club with smoked pork, sliced ham, smoked turkey, and smoked bacon. Then they throw on a couple of fried green tomatoes and club ranch sauce. Oh yeah – and I had added beef brisket to it. Serious sandwich. The awesome waitress we had, Kristen, said she’d be surprised if I ate the whole thing, especially after we ordered the Piggy Puffs. I’m happy to report, I killed that club sandwich! It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I had to use a fork and knife to cut it into bite-able pieces, since there’s no way to get it in your mouth. But I loved it. Great smokey flavor in all of the meats. Delicious cheesy goodness. Incredible fried green tomatoes, and the sauce tied it all together. I’ll also add the sweet potatoes fries were top-notch, as well. Very thick, but not floppy and not too sweet.

This was one of the best meals I had all weekend in Asheville.

In fact, it was so good, we got a bunch of the Minnesota RollerGirls to come back that evening with us for round two. I also had to make sure I drank more of the Red Devil.

This go around, D.Rough and I split an order of fried wings with Cheerwine-habanero glaze on them. Some of the best wing flavor I’ve ever had. Awesome combination of sweet and hot.

D.Rough got the pulled pork to which she experimented with some delicious sauces.

I got the HNG Chili Dawg Plate. Two local hot dogs covered in chili and cheese and coleslaw. Soooo good!!!! I’m pretty sure people were happy with this particular venue. We made a serious dent in their alcohol supply that night. Thanks for all your help, Savannah!

I’ll recommend the heck out of this place to anyone. Vegetarians, even! Really awesome people working there and the BBQ is fantastic. Plus, you have the added benefit of getting some bar-sports-exercise while you’re there. Go Here!!!!

Top 5 things about Creekside Taphouse
1. Creekside BBQ Club
2. Amazing outdoor patio with creek
3. Red Devil Belgian Ale
4. Thorough menu for food and beer
5. HNG Chili Dawg Plate

Bottom 5 things
1. The place gets loud, especially lots of children noise outside
2. You have to get up and go to the BBQ sauce station to get sauce
3. Collard greens were a little underseasoned
4. People complained about the cornbread being dry and not sweet, but I assured them it’s a regional thing and how some people like it
5. seems like a lot of wasted space on the inside, but the patio is where you need to hang out

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar – Stillwater, MN

D.Rough has had a hankering for Caribbean cuisine for a few weeks and we thought we’d try a new place. We love the Minneapolis authentic offerings of Marla’s and Harry Singh’s, but I had my eye on this pirate-themed restaurant and bar out in Stillwater. She finally caved, especially after we found out Monday’s are all day happy hour (food and drinks in the bar only).

The restaurant is in a brick building with a shared hallway space with a bunch of retail shops. It’s easy to drive past, but if you know it is the first building on the right-hand side of the road when you enter Stillwater (like I’m telling you right now, so you’ll know), it’s really easy to find.

The menu has a LOT of things on it. Enough to cause you to change your mind at least ten times. We started with the happy hour menu to figure out what we should focus our attention on. We started with some rum based drinks (it’s a pirate bar, after all). I got the Sunsplash (rum and pineapple juice punch) and D.Rough got the Cabin Boy (some juice and four various shots of rum). We couldn't tell which one was which, as shown in the photos below. This place has a huge list (like in a fancy wine-list sort of book) of rums. You need to try them all.

We had conch and corn fritters in mind when we sat down. But the server talked us out of them by using this line, “those aren’t on the happy hour menu. Order something on the happy hour menu and when you come back (you’ll be back, I promise), you can order the fritters since they’re always regular price anyway.” Not sure of the logic, but for some reason, we bought into his strategy. We ordered a couple of jerk chicken wings (medium jerk spice-level on the house sauce) and two jerk pork tacos. That was just until we could figure out what we really wanted to eat for dinner. Thankfully, it didn’t take too terribly long. We went with the BBQ combo – Ribs, Beef Brisket, and Pork Shoulder. We went with the hot jerk seasoning on everything. We assumed the medium jerk spice would be too mild for us. And for our two sides, we got the beer battered plank fries and the roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized pork and sausage.

And because I’m a 5 year old, I ordered the full bar-sized portion of mac and cheese, complete with all the toppings – which I will explain in a second.

The jerk pork tacos looked pretty darn good. They were larger than I expected them to be and they were actually much more full of pork than I expected them to be. The flavor was good but not too spicy. It was a really good sort of pulled/shredded pork with some cilantro, crumbly Chihuahua cheese, lettuce, and some tomatoes on top, all wrapped in a soft flour shell. I’m glad we tried these. Not spicy, but quite good (and probably more filling than I expected them to be.

The jerk wings were actually fantastic. It’s hard to see them in the photo, since they look BLACK, but they’re not burned. That’s just the sauce on them. Great meat flavor and the spice was pretty awesome. These were D.Rough’s favorite part of the meal. I’m not kidding. We should have gotten more of these.

The combo came out and we were ready to dig into it. The first thing I noticed was the cornbread with candied jalapenos. I saw it on the menu as a side, but didn’t know it came with the meal. It was delicious.

The roasted sweet potatoes were also really delicious. There was more meat than sweet potatoes, but I didn’t mind at all. Delicious chunks of various meats intertwined with large chunks of sweet potato. I might need to figure out how to make this one.

The beer battered plank fries were much better than I expected them to be. I’m not a huge fan of fries all the time, but these were quite good. The batter absolutely made them. Well done.

The pork shoulder was shredded (not what I was expecting, honestly), but you could tell was seething with spices. Remember, we decided we didn’t have a typical Minnesota palate, so we went with the spiciest jerk sauce they had. D.Rough took one bite and suggested maybe we should have gotten one level down. Seriously, this stuff was tear jerking and sweat creating spicy. But I will also say this – it is some of the best flavored seasoning I’ve had. Especially on pork shoulder. It’s even made with imported pimento wood, so it’s actually authentic jerk flavor. So the strategy is basically take a bite and then make sure you have some of the sides to help your taste buds reform. Repeat. Seriously hot, so if that’s your thing, get it. But also, REALLY good flavor on them. We put back plenty of this meat.

The same thing went for the beef brisket – shredded and cooked in hot jerk sauce. Also incredibly flavorful but painfully hot. I honestly loved it. It was pushing the bounds of my heat tolerance, but I kept eating it. You just had to pace yourself and add some sides to get the heat levels timed right. Once you figure that out, you will be home free. The jerk sauce here is really awesome.

We needed more drinks, about half way through these spicy meats. I got a Dirty Wench – passion fruit and mango sparkling rum-ita. D.Rough got a Gringo Margarita – gold tequila, orange liqueur and scratch sour. Both wonderful. Both refreshing.

The spare ribs on the plate didn’t seem to be as hot as the other two meats. Maybe we had blown out our taste buds already. Hahaha. But the meat was smoky and sweet. Just chewy enough it didn’t fall off the bone, but you didn’t have to fight it off the bones. Whatever seasoning they used on these ribs was about perfect. They weren’t nearly as spicy as the other two meats. Not the best ribs in the Twin Cities (see the Bar-B-Quest 2013 reviews to find out who is), but they did a darn good job on them.

And finally, the Mac and cheese I ordered. I knew from reading some reviews how to order this dish. You get all the fun accoutrements put on it. Bacon – check! Roasted green chilies – check! Cheetos – check!

Yup, you heard me right. Cheetos. When they brought it out to our table, we got some oohs and aaaahs from the fellow diners who didn’t know this thing existed. It was really fun presentation and added some unusual but great crunch to the mac and cheese. Both D.Rough and I thought the mac and cheese was going to be pretty standard issue, but it’s one of the better ones in the Twin Cities. It’s homemade with actual cheddar and the addition of some (but not too much) of the chilies and bacon made it even better.

I really liked this place. This place is different than the other Caribbean places in the Twin Cities – those places are very authentic and the people are from the Caribbean. This place is more focused on the BBQ and the meats, but have done a fantastic job of slapping the authentic jerk flavors throughout the menu. The servers were nice, the ambience is pirate-y but not too over the top. It’s kind of the boat-life crowd since it’s walkable from the docs. Not too expensive, but still great quality. Fun rum drinks and mojitos. Patio in the front for dining. A separate pirate-themed bar in the back (yup, business in front, party in back!).

This place is worth the trip.

Top 5 things about Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar
1. Jerk Pork Shoulder and Beef Brisket – I like them both equally
2. Jerk wings (according to D.Rough)
3. Mac and Cheese
4. Sweet Potato and Caramelized Pork and Sausage
5. Great menu, happy hour menu, rum selection, and beer list

Bottom 5 things
1. The Pirate Bar was shutting down when we left. Or was it opening up? Either way, the door was locked and they were sweeping up.
2. Sooo difficult to decide what I wanted from the menu. Even the salads looked good
3. I wish I knew what the chalkboard behind the bar meant. I should have just asked
4. It can get loud in there during Monday night football with the happy hour crowd
5. I’ve never seen a website more difficult to get to than this one