Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013 Scotch Pong World Championships - West St. Paul, MN

Last November, our friend Dantigravity came up with a concept for something that had potential to be life-altering – Scotch Pong. It’s like Beer Pong, but much classier. Dantigravity thought D.Rough and I should host this event, since we have the room to pull off a party of this magnitude.
If you’re unfamiliar with Beer Pong, I’ll give you the basics: You set up a triangle of red solo cups at each end of a long table (like a bowling pin configuration). Then, one member of each team throws or bounces a ping pong ball and tries to get it into the cups at the opposite end of the table. If the ball goes in the cup, that opposing team has to drink what’s in the cup. Simple, right?
Now let’s look at some numbers. Beer generally has 3-7% alcohol by volume. Scotch has 40-50% alcohol by volume. Do you see where we are going with this? I had to come up with some way for people not to DIE at this event. I thought we’d go with just a shot of scotch in the cups, rather than a mostly full cup. Also, we’d only use 6 cups, instead of 10 cups. Still too deadly, in my opinion. This event is a double elimination tournament, so participants would be playing a minimum of two complete games. And people sometimes forget to drink water during these events, so I needed to add water into the game. That lead to three cups of water and three cups of scotch for each team.

Then, these games could go pretty quickly, so I needed to come up with a way to drag this out as long as possible,. If participants were required to drink multiple shots quickly, things were going to go south FAST. So…… I changed the red solo cups to glass low-ball (old fashioned) glasses. You might think this isn’t a big change, but it turned out to be the greatest impact on the evening. It is REALLY difficult to get a ping pong ball to go into a glass cup, even with liquid inside the cup. I bought a case of low-ball glasses from a bar supply store and did some trial runs. Plus, drinking scotch out of glass cups is more classy, and we’re all about class at the Scotch Pong World Championships.

Due to the high alcohol content for the evening, the official Twitter hashtag for the event was #MassSuicideFest2013. Thank you, TempleOfDoom for coming up with that most appropriate moniker for the event. And everything is more fun with FUN-fetti cake!!!
The entry fee was simple for this event – bring a new or full-ish bottle of whatever scotch you would like to drink. We had one team accidentally bring Irish whiskey and we would not let them participate. However, KingDavid had brought a bottle of Islay Mist (clearly the Arbor Mist of Scotland), and happily donated it to the team so they could play. Thank you, KingDavid, for your generous donation.

I won’t go into details about the entire night, but it was one of the most fun parties D.Rough and I have ever thrown. We encouraged people to dress formally, since it was a fancy event. Many people did dress up and it enhanced the atmosphere of the entire night. I even broke out a new ascot for the night. (I had already taken off my tux jacket by this point - sorry it didn't make it in the photo)
We had eight teams participating in this double elimination tournament with only one team swap out when one team went home ill (flu-related, not alcohol-related). Awkward Taco was under the weather to begin with, and coincidentally, The Kool-Aid Kids arrived just as Awkward Taco forfeited the game.
We had The Highlander and Braveheart showing on the television to highlight the Scottish heritage of this event. We also realized that we had inadvertently scheduled the event on Robert Burns’ (famous Scottish poet) birthday. What better way to honor his fine work than with a Scotch-drinking event.
We had a crowd of designated drivers, spouses, live-tweeters, photographers, and revelry-lovers. This group provided much cheering and heckling and even some food to help participants absorb alcohol. I’m so glad we had spectators to witness the shenanigans.
There were numerous upsets and nail-biting rounds. Many matches came down to one cup for each team. That cup is extremely difficult to drop a ping pong ball into, especially using glass cups.

In the end, Team Casual (featuring our very own M.Giant and his partner whom he hadn’t met before that night) triumphed TWICE over Bearded Wonders (featuring B.Sweet and ME!!!). Bearded Wonders only had to win one of the two games to win the title and we managed to get both games down to one cup for each team before Team Casual swooped in for the win. Team Casual had to win both games to win the title (which they did). It was an intense battle, but seriously, it was incredible fun for everyone.
(Thanks for the photo, Spike!)

Some other hilarious things that happened:
  • Team Commander Stein didn’t realize “cask strength” means super-alcohol-y scotch
  • Man wearing ascot vs. Man in Tuxedo
  • Team Dan Dan noticed after their second round, that their scotch was 10% higher ABV than everyone else’s
  • Space Jam was quite inspiring in Commander Stein’s gameplay, also thanks to Scar for top-notch coaching (You’re the best Mr. Fuji ever!)
  • Teams that pre-gamed before the event didn’t fare well
  • Unsanctioned extra-curricular scotch pong WILL, in fact, get you weavy-drunk
  • Irish AND Canadian whiskeys were barred from participation
  • Taki’s go with every party
  • More parties need roller derby infield seating
  • We even had some subtle product placement from the Twin Cities Terrors’s newest men’s roller derby team – The Thunderjacks! Nicely played, gentlemen.

Here is the final bracket for the night. Very impressive, mainly in people’s ability to hold their liquor.

And finally, the most hilarious part of the night (and a little before and after): the Twitter feed for the evening. It was quite entertaining to read. I broke it all down to only related tweets, to make your lives easier. But, if you are into twitter at all, you’ll be highly amused by the live event tracking for our home viewers. Open this document (which is in Word) and start at the bottom of the page and read up to the top. You’ll thank me later.

Huge thanks to all the participants, spectators, live tweeters, referees, photographers, food-bringers, and designated drivers. We couldn't have done it without you all!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Zombie Burger & Drink Lab – Des Moines, IA

I’ve been hearing people rave about Zombie Burger in Des Moines for a months and finally figured out how to make it down there to check it out. Thank you roller derby for helping me out. I put the bug in a few people’s ears and then sent around the website to get people’s excitement levels up. Fortunately, a few of us fell food lovers were dead (or un-dead) set on making it happen.

I was worried about the wait time, but we didn’t have a choice on when to go. It was about 5:30 on a Saturday, and I had a bad feeling about it. But there are two different areas to choose from. There is a full service area complete with wait staff and a full bar (that area had a 90-100 minute wait) which is where the drink lab is at, and then there’s counter service with a few tall tables and take out options. We obviously chose the quicker version of the two.

The inside is decorated with some fabricated movie memorabilia and other zombie-related items. Some of the movie posters were pretty funny – like the Deadward Scissorhands poster. I’m glad we took some photos of it all. And the sign for the restrooms is zombie related, as well.

Honestly, the decoration is tasteful and humorous without being touristy kitsch. It’s just fun.

While waiting in line, you get to view the really large menu boards hanging from the wall. Most of the burgers give a nod towards old horror/zombie movies, which is really fun. For example, there are burgers called 28 Days Later and Dead Moines and Juan of the Dead. Really creative and gourmet toppings on these burgers as well. That’s part of the allure of this place. They take pride in their varied toppings and outside-the-box menu.

It was a reallllllly tough choice, since I wanted to try pretty much every one of these burgers. But I finally decided on the Trailer Trash Zombie burger: American cheese, fried pickle, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds, and ranch. You also have the option of single, double, or triple patties – I went single since I was going to get some other stuff. I also wanted to try the mac and cheese with bacon, and finally a carrot cake shake to rinse it all down with. Yes, I said carrot cake shake. They have three shakes with different cake in them (carrot, chocolate, and wedding) and four shakes with cereal in them (crunch berry, rice krispie treat, cinnamon toast crunch, and cocoa krispie). Thena bunch of other equally not-normal shakes. Seriously, an awesome selection that you can even get liquor poured into as well, if you’re 21+.

We lurked in the dining room and then pounced when a group of four people stood up to leave. It was perfect timing. I’m not kidding when I say this place is busy. And keep in mind, this is the quick service side. The line for the full service dining room was immense.

The shakes came out first. They call your number and you hustle up to the counter to claim your food. I took a sip on the way back to the table and started smiling. This was fantastic. There were little bits of cream cheese and carrot cake blended up in the shake. It was also fine enough that the straw didn’t get plugged. Perfect. The cinnamon flavor in the ice cream sounds like it would be weird, but it was very mild and tasty – JUST like they poured Rumchata in it. Wow. I’m a big fan, as was everyone else in my group that tried it.

Then the rest of the food came out. Awww yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

DorkyBarb had ordered a giant pile of fries with various sauces on them – Dr. Heiter’s Poutine Basket. We’re all fans of poutine, right? Well, we SHOULD be. This large basket contained cheese fries, chili cheese fries, and poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy). All of these fries were good, mainly because the fries themselves were better than average. The chili cheese was fantastic. The regular cheese fries had lost most of their cheese to the bottom of the basket (but were still delicious), and the poutine was quite awesome. Very good brown gravy and just the right amount of non-fried cheese curds. Plus it’s a HUGE basket for $6. Get this and share it with your table.

The mac and cheese needed to go next. I dug in and was impressed with the amount of bacon piled on top of it. Lots and lots of it. I’m a fan of bacon, so that part is good. I was, however, disappointed with the flavor of the mac and cheese. Dang, this stuff had potential, but it honestly was not good mac and cheese. I can blame myself for this one – maybe it was just an ordering error and I should have gotten something else. Sigh. Big time let down. The cheese flavor was very artificial and gritty and didn’t taste like real cheese at all.

Finally, the burger. I was pretty impressed with it. I thought the place was going to be all hype and no flavor, but it really wasn’t. The burger patty itself, I’d give a B or B+. Good flavor and not dripping with grease, thankfully. The deep fried toppings were pretty fun to eat, especially since you couldn’t tell what was bacon and what was pickle, and what was curd. It was just a brown crusty pile of wow. The sauces lubricated it just enough without making it a big sloppy mess. I was actually surprised how well the whole ensemble stayed together. I was pretty happy with this burger.

Here we see Flip brought to near tears by the awesomeness of this experience. This photo makes me smile.

Everyone in our group kept trying to tweet and FaceBook about how good it was, but no one’s service was working inside the restaurant. I kept making un-dead zone jokes that no one found amusing. But it was still funny to me. I’d recommend this place if you don’t mind waiting for a table or getting some things to go. It’s not only a fun place to visit, but they really do have some awesome burger ideas. For example, the Walking Ched has two breaded and deep fried mac & cheese patties instead of a bun, piled with a bunch of toppings. They’re creative here without being insane. You should check them out, mainly so you can tell all your friends about it.

Top 5 things about Zombie Burger
1. Carrot Cake shake
2. Poutine and fries
3. White Trash Zombie Burger
4. Atmosphere
5. Diverse menu

Bottom 5 things
1. Mac and Cheese
2. Wait time in line
3. Very little seating
4. It isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it
5. I’m glad I didn’t look at the beer/wine/spirits list before we went, or I would have made them all wait for full service. It’s an immense list of beers and hard liquor that I’m sure I didn’t need before going to yell at roller derby for a few hours. But still I wish I had seen it on the website…

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spicy Buffalo Chicken Loaded Griller at Taco Bell – Minneapolis, MN

I needed a quick bite before heading over to a friend’s house for serious ping pong action. I had heard about these new loaded grillers at Taco Bell – basically appetizers wrapped in a tortilla, for lack of a better explanation. I figured I’d better try one.

I got the buffalo chicken one, which is supposed to taste like chicken wings. And at $.99, I thought about picking up one of each (probably Taco Bell’s strategy, in all honesty). That’s a pretty good deal, even for a newly launched menu item.

I was going to take a photo of the outside, but frankly, it just looks like a burrito or a roll-up, so there isn’t any point. It’s about the size of a normal burrito at Taco Bell, for comparison. It’s thicker and has more ingredients than a cheese roll-up, so don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off for $.99 or anything. It’s a healthy portion for an appetizer.

The insides were a gooey molten cheesy delicious mess. It has chunks of chicken and buffalo sauce, maybe even too much cheese/sauce. It did come squirting out from anywhere it could. I was hoping maybe the creamy white sauce was going to be some sort of amazing blue cheese sauce, but it’s simply sour cream. It’s messy, but I’d probably eat another one of these sometime.

It isn’t going to be the mind blowing things that Taco Bell has put out in the past, but it’s above average, and for the price, hard to beat. I was glad I got one, but I’m curious to try all the other ones. If you’ve got any experience with the other loaded grillers, chime in, folks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pannekoeken Huis – Minneapolis, MN

Trash wanted to meet me for lunch to discuss some work things, and what she really wanted was breakfast-type food. She hadn’t been to Pannekoeken Huis in some time and it had been maybe 5 years since I had been there. Sure, why not?

For those not familiar, Pannekoeken Huis is Dutch for pancake house. Yes, they do specialize in these sweet pastry-like pancakes called Pannekoeken, but it’s sort of a Dutch version of Denny’s. I think there’s only one left in the Twin City area, but I might be mistaken about that.

Trash ordered a mushroom and cheese omelet with hasbrowns, which comes with toast or a cinnamon roll. She went with the cinnamon roll. Then she tried to talk me into getting a Pannekoeken, but I wasn’t feeling it. I got an avocado chicken wrap instead with some home fries.

The cinnamon roll arrived quickly and looked pretty good.

It was oooooozing sugary frosting. I’m not sure from where, but you can see in this video, it is quite definitely oozing out of the roll onto the plate near the giant scoop of butter. It was a little intimidating.

Trash offered me a bite, but I wasn’t really in the mood for something that sickeningly sweet. Neither was she. She gave up after two or three bites – it was too sugary. I tried a bite of it and agreed 100%. Waaay too much sugar, and I’m not even sure the sugar was mixed in well with the frosting since it actually had a crystalline feel to it. Not my thing, to be honest.

The meals came out a short while later. Trash’s omelet was pretty straight forward. Nothing flashy, not even any salt or pepper – just sort of bland (especially since mushrooms are flavorless). I had a bite of hers just to see, and yup, it was bland and boring. Large, but bland and boring. Even the cheese didn’t help that much The hashbrowns looked plenty crispy on top (like I like them) and had serious cheese melted on top of them, but again, they weren’t seasoned with anything at all. We didn’t have any salt and pepper on our table, or we might have been able to dress these up enough to make it through them. Trash ended up finishing maybe half of her omelet and half of her hashbrowns.

My wrap looked just fine. I had a couple of bites before I realized I didn’t have any avocado in the wrap at all. Lots of olives and chicken and lettuce, but not any avocados. I was a little disappointed with this, especially the lack of flavor in the chicken. Again, no seasoning that I noticed. I only ate half of my wrap – which, if you read this blog at all, you know is unusual. The home fries were basically baked potatoes with some Lawry’s salt (see, I know they had SOME seasoning back in the kitchen), cut up into bite-sized cubes. I ate less than half of those, as well.

Overall, we were pretty disappointed with the meal there. It seemed like it was made for old people who live in Minnesota – nothing too hot or seasoned. The waitress was really nice, so there’s no complaints about service, but I don’t think I’d bring anyone here under the age of 70. Trash commented that we lowered the median age of the customers there by half when we walked through the door.

Top 5 things about Pannekoeken Huis
1. Staff
2. Pretty expansive menu, especially for breakfast foods
3. They yell “Pannekoeken!!!” when they bring one of those things out of the kitchen
4. Inexpensive
5. Really fast service

Bottom 5 things
1. Lack of seasonings
2. Sickeningly sweet cinnamon roll
3. House fries were dry
4. Fake and dusty flowers on the table
5. Close at 4pm, so breakfast and lunch only

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

JT’s Hamburgers – West St. Paul, MN

D.Rough has been telling me about JT’s Hamburgers since we moved to St. Paul. She said it’s a staple of the community and has been there as long as she can remember. I spoke with a guy who works across the street from JT’s and he said it was one of the first fast food places in the area, setting up shop even before McDonald’s came to the area, and had been there since at least the 60’s. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times on Robert Street, but have never been able to stop – until now.

I strolled in and smiled. It’s got a really homey feel to it. It has 4 or 5 two-top booths and two two-top tall tables. So the capacity isn’t a banquet hall or anything. The menu is posted on a faded sign with plastic letters and numbers behind the counter – like an old snack shop or something. There is also a poster board on the counter with combo specials listed on it. All of the lunch combos cost $5.59 (making them $5.99 with tax, as I found out). If it isn’t obvious by the name of the place, the focus here is on hamburgers and cheese burgers. You can get any of them with onion rings and a soda for under $6. This is going to rule. I ordered the double cheeseburger with onion rings and a diet dew. The super nice woman took my order and then passed it off to the guy working the grill and fryer.

I wish I had seen the written-on-notebook-paper sign with Combo #7 on it – two cheeseburgers and two egg rolls with a soda for $5.59. That would have ruled.

As I sat there and watched many may people come in and get things to go for lunch, I realized there are a LOT of regulars here. The guy working the grill knew all of them by name and chatted all of them up. This guy is a big deal in West St. Paul. It appears there is a large regular crowd that comes in and gets their burgers here. Nice.

My lunch got cooked in record time and the guy handed me a paper sack filled (seriously filled) with onion rings and a paper-wrapped burger on top of the rings. I dumped them all out so I could survey the feast.

I knew I was going to need some ketchup for the onion rings, so I grabbed what was left in the bin of ketchup at the counter. I’m apparently a ketchup snob, because I was bummed by the lack of Heinz ketchup. But I’ll make due with whatever, when it comes to onion rings. The rings had a good flavor to them, but were sort of inconsistent on the fry-work. Some were a little undercooked and others were beyond crispy. I ate most of them, however, and was pretty happy with the flavor. They were pretty greasy and filling, and there were way more than I expected.

The cheese burger wasn’t the best I’d ever had. It looked a little gray and had an onion-y flavor to it, very much like a slightly better White Castle burger (which I no longer eat). The bun was nice and moist, which was nice, but I was still concerned about what that gray meat was going to do to my insides later this evening. I think the whole thing is steamed to keep it moist.

Overall, it was a filling meal and I’m glad I went. I was really impressed at both the number of people that rolled through these doors and also the relationships these workers have with the community. It honestly reminded me of a small hamburger joint in the Quad Cities where I grew up – Henry’s Hamburgers. People didn’t go there because it was the most delicious, but because the people there are awesome and it’s incredibly cheap and filling. I’ll be honest, I do get a pretty regular craving for a greasy burger, and now that I know JT’s Hamburgers can fill that void (especially since they’re a few blocks away from where I live). D.Rough also says they deliver, which could be troublesome for me when I’m feeling lazy. Hahahaha.

According to the news, JT’s has had some issues with some tax payments, but they must have gotten caught up, because they’re back open and rockin’. I hope they continue to serve the people of West St. Paul for many more years.

Top 5 things about JT’s Hamburgers
1. Friendly staff and non-kitsch old timey atmosphere/nostalgia
2. Really inexpensive
3. Filling portion of onion rings
4. Fast service
5. They have Dew

Bottom 5 things
1. Grey onion-y burger
2. Inconsistent onion rings
3. Really small dining room
4. Non-Heinz ketchup
5. I missed out on the egg roll combo, which I’m guessing is awesome

JT’s Hamburgers
1224 South Robert Street
West St. Paul, MN 55118

Monday, January 7, 2013

2012 - Year in Review

I thought I'd put down some interesting things that happened to me in 2012, so I can remember them when I'm old. I'm surprised what is making the list this year, but it's all interesting stuff.

The good stuff
  • Got married to an amazing Italian supermodel
  • Honeymooned in Santorini, Greece
  • Roller derby roller derby roller derby
  • Was a groomsman for ChickenLittle's wedding in Seattle
  • Traveled to Seattle, Portland, Niagara Falls, and Atlanta, generally with a letter of some sort painted on my chest
  • Discovered Bemidji is an actual place, not some made up city like I thought
  • Shared some awesome food with my new wife - Butcher Block, Saffron, Butcher & the Boar, D-Spot, Pambiche, Bankok Thai Deli, etc.
  • Powered through a two-year ranking process of BBQ rib places in the Twin Cities Metro with HotGirlsBrother and LowVee - Bar-B-Quest!!!!
  • Had a hilariously awesome joint bachelor / bachelorette party at Camp Bar, complete with burlesque show
  • Saw ANOTHER burlesque show to benefit Marriage Equality
  • Shoveled almost no snow at all
  • Put some hilarious ads in the Minnesota RollerGirls bout programs
  • Saw a white-guy rap show featuring Errol Hemm, Milky Way, MC Nobody Cares, and Codependents 
  • Saw some hilariously awful movies in my basement with 50 of my closest friends (Valentine's, Religious, and Dance Party-themed)
  • Ran the .10k Triathlon (took 1st place in the men's relay)
  • Finally went to multiple Minnesota Stars soccer games with Killsbury Doughboy and A-Wow
  • Toured the Surly Brewery here in Minnesota - sponsor of the Minnesota RollerGirls
  • Watched major portions of the 2012 Olympics! Trampoline, Archery, Gymnastics, Pole Vault, Badminton, Tennis, Judo, Soccer (still don't care about swimming or track - the biggest time sucks of the event)
  • Attended the Christian Home School Science Fair at the Har Mar Mall - much smaller than previous years, sadly
  • Attended Bacon Fest at Sontes in Rochester - brilliant!
  • Saw awesome live music: Yanni, Meshuggah, Mastodon, Saltee, Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, Earthrise
  • Attended the Celebration of Pi Day Pie party
  • Attended my third Weetacon - blog writer's convention in Green Bay
  • Joined a Twin Cities Poutine Crawl
  • Went to see my first Miesville Mudhens townball game with Killsbury Doughboy and Apocalypse Wow
  • Made some delicious hard cider with TheDoctor
  • Went to L'exi Cuter's birthday skating party and didn't make an ass of myself (correct that, I didn't fall down at the party)
  • Rocked the Minnesota State Fair with D.Rough and my awesome sister and brother-in-law
  • Did the Polar Bear Plunge
  • Went to Meghan and Bryan's wedding in Minneapolis
  • Went to Tiki and Zack Torture's wedding in Wisconsin
  • Went to Meaghan's (Coach's butter-eating cousin) wedding in Illinois
  • Went to Venus and Grant Thightrap's wedding in Minneapolis
  • Went to my cousin Dawn and Kristin's wedding in Iowa
  • Went to a college dance club with D.Rough, my brother, and sister-in-law (I'm officially old now)
  • Was shirtless in a LOT of photobooths
  • Ran the Big Gay Race (an ACTUAL 5K race)
  • Played some new disc golf courses in the area
  • Learned how to put refrigerant in my car
  • Uptown Kickball League!
  • Got rid of my rage-enducing Blackberry Storm2 and replaced it with the new iPhone5
  • Sported some unique (and sometimes anger-inducing) facial hair styles
  • New foods I forced myself to like: pickles, olives, beer, fish
  • Won the "Manliest Quilt in All Creation" at the Weetacon charity raffle
  • Dressed as Wolf from the American Gladiators and D.Rough dressed as Hellga for Halloween
  • Attended the party of the year - D.Rough's mother's annual Special Needer Halloween Party (still have NOT fought the kid that regularly challenges me to battle for D.Rough's hand - I'm not kidding)
  • Finally attended Dranksgiving
  • Went to see WWE Raw live at the Target Center with my wife
  • Had a blast at the Waterpark of America when it was 10 degrees outside
  • Went ice skating for the first time in 25+ years and didn't fall
  • Went to D.Rough's work holiday party and didn't make a complete ass of myself
  • Celebrated D.Rough's birthday at Hunan Garden (aka Human Garden) with 25 of her closest friends, and a few new ones
  • Got to watch M.Giant's band The Question
  • Went to the MCAD art sale
  • Attended quite a few librarian happy hours
  • Had the best New Years Eve on record with D.Rough and some amazing MNRG skaters at the Gay 90's
The not-as-good stuff
  • Started paying back an immense amount of school loan debt
  • Missed the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival
  • Said goodbye to Tex, a wonderfully charming man who shouldn't have been taken
  • Saw the world's second worst film - New Years Eve - with M.Giant
  • Missed the annual canoe trip, for the second year - I'm the worst!
  • Showed up at HB's birthday party an entire day early
  • Absolutely SUCKED at Valentine's Day
  • Saw terrible live music: Ghost, Baroness, and a militant dueling piano bar - ugggh
  • Found out the hard way who doesn't approve of same-sex couples enjoying the same level of happiness that opposite-sex couple do
  • Sweated through an entire week of 95+ degree temperatures without A/C in the house or my car...Then struggled through 3 days of sub zero temperatures without heat in my car before I dropped almost two grand to get it fixed
  • Have neglected to call Gerd's parents and feel terrible about it
  • Missed a TON of good shows: Brontosaurus, Nehemiah, Broken Hope, Alestorm, William Elliot Whitmore, Bible of the Devil, etc.
  • Renewed my Minneapolis Film Society membership and didn't go see a single film at their theater
  • Joined the Minnespolis Scotch Society and then missed every event they had
  • Made my mother cry way too many times this year
  • Missed every Northstar bout this year
  • Looked for 12 months for a new job (I thought this MBA was supposed to pay for itself)
2012 was pretty much a success no matter how you look at it. Lots to plan for in 2013!

2012 was the year of cologne for me - I wore cologne almost every time I left the house. In fact, I participated in a panel where this company would just send me samples of cologne and I gave them feedback. I have been told I have more cologne than any straight man should, so I thought I'd go through it much quicker this year. In doing so, I found three or four more kinds I would like to add to my collection... It may have to wait a little bit though. Other important spending must happen first. I still haven't decided what theme 2013 will be yet. Give me a little while. These take time.

2012 was ALMOST the year of Coach (if it actually WAS, I'd never hear the end of it, so that's why it's *almost* the year of Coach). I saw this guy soooo many times this year it was almost like we don't like 6 hours away. I call that a win. Thanks for being the best friend ever, DJCoachieSmooth.

Looking forward to absolutely blowing out 2013! Just you wait - you'll see...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Bar-B-Quest Winner!!!!

After much deliberation, arguing, lobbying, charting, plotting, and general bullying, LowVee, HotGirlsBrother, and I have come to a consensus for the winner of the 2012 Bar-B-Quest Challenge. The winner is…

Q Fanatic !!!
from Champlin, MN
Their consistent mastery of all things BBQ, including a few awesome sides (and a life changing monster cookie), edged them out over C.G. Hooks Eatery for the win. We can’t say enough good things about Q Fanatic, but we will certainly try to. Huge thank you to Charlie, the owner, and his awesome team of cooks and servers. We always have a great time coming up to Champlin and we are looking forward to our next trip to eat.

Here is the completed bracket, for those who might want to print it out. I know it's going on my fridge!
A few honorary mentions need to be called out from a few other BBQ places, before we wrap all this festivity up with a nice bow and call it done:
  • Best Dessert: Q Fanatic monster cookie (though VERY closely contested by Big Daddy’s pumpkin cream cheese swirl cake)
  • Best corn-based side: Baldy’s Cheesy Corn Bake
  • Best Mac and Cheese: Q Fanatic
  • Best Baked Beans: Q Fanatic, followed by C&G Smokin’ BBQ
  • Best Fries: Baldy’s BBQ
  • Best Rolls: Q Fanatic
  • Best Potato Salad: Baldy’s, but just barely over Q Fanatic
  • Best Cole Slaw: Market BBQ, but a few were right up there like Baldy’s and C.G. Hooks
  • Best Stand-alone Sauce: Q Fanatic Vodka Pepper Sauce (closely contested by Pastor Hamilton’s)
  • Best Combination/Mixture of Sauces: C.G. Hooks K.C., Ghost, and Carolina, though Rack Shack may give them a challenge
  • Best Greens: Big Daddy’s collard greens
  • Best Cornbread: Rudolph’s
  • Best Root Beer: C.G. Hooks serves 1919, so they’re going to win every time
  • Best Wet-nap Alternative: Q Fanatic has a sink IN the dining room
A huge thank you has to go out to both LowVee and HotGirlsBrother for making this thing a reality. Yes, all of our LDL, LDH, Triglyceride, and blood pressure levels are through the roof and HotGirlsBrother powered through another kidney stone to finish the quest, but I think we can all agree it was 100% worth it. It was also some of the most fun we’ve had pretending to be food critics.

Also, a big thanks goes out to D.Rough, Kevin, and HotGirlHerself, for both putting up with us talking about ribs incessantly and also joining us for some of these amazing adventures.

Finally, a big thank you goes out to all the BBQ places we tried on this quest. I know you weren't necessarily willing participants, nor probably even care, but we had a great time eating your delicious food and look forward to many returns.

The three of us have a few things rib-related for 2013, in case you were wondering. First off, we plan to have some sort of awards banquet (where we don’t actually have any awards to hand out nor will we invite anyone else) at the number 1 ranked BBQ place in Minnesota (as declared by Minnesota Monthly Magazine) – Bob’s Smoke Stack Ribs in Elgin, MN. This place beat 2nd place Q Fanatic in the entire state, so we’re going to check it out and see if we agree.

Secondly, we’re going to rent a pontoon boat and pick up a couple of slabs of ribs from C.G. Hooks – you can do this at the same place on White Bear Lake. Tally’s Dockside and C.G. Hooks are in kahoots, so we’re looking forward to blowing a summer afternoon pontooning, eating, and drinking on the lake. Seriously, people, that’s sounding SOOOO good right now with it being 3 degrees outside.

Again, a serious congratulations goes out to Q Fanatic for sweeping the BBQ field in the Twin Cities. I know Champlin sounds far away, but I assure you it will be worth it. It’s just off US-169, so it’s really easy to find. Charlie takes great pride in his food and is a gracious host. Make sure you get a cookie, even if you’re full. You will be – I promise.

BIG HIGH FIVE for Q Fanatic!!!!!

Signed, extremely grateful and many pounds heavier,
Chao, LowVee, and HotGirlsBrother

Friday, January 4, 2013

Q Fanatic - Champlin, MN (Bar-B-Quest Championship!)

Here it is – the final round of the 2013 Bar-B-Quest Championship! This is for all the marbles. We ate at C.G. Hooks Eatery in White Bear Lake yesterday to make sure we have the closest head-to-head comparison of ribs possible. Here’s who Q Fanatic had to beat to get into the championship round: Mr. Pig Stuff, Ted Cook’s (#2 seed), Rudolph’s, and Baldy’s (#1 seed in the Western division). Again, an impressive list of BBQ and I’m sure there are a few names you’ll recognize on that list.

After eating at 20 rib places in the Twin Cities Metro, we are going to determine who serves the best BBQ ribs in the Twin Cities. I apologize to the winners for not having any sort of cash prizes, but knowing they did an incredible job will hopefully be enough. (Who knows, maybe we’ll whip up a trophy of some sort, just for the heck of it…)

First, the review of this outing at Q Fanatic. We’d been here recently in the semi-final round, but were anxiously looking forward to coming back. This time, we brought D.Rough, LowVee, HotGirlsBrother, and HotGirlHerself. I wasn’t worried – Q Fanatic can handle us. We got another one of those ridiculous picnic combinations they have that comes with a bunch of pulled meat. Then we also got a full slab of Baby Back ribs. All of these come with sides, so we got potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, and two orders of mac and cheese. D.Rough was going to do her own thing today, so she ordered a Q-ban (pronounced Cuban) sandwich. Pulled ham and pork with mustard and cheese, and a side of the parmesan potato gratinee. And of course you’ve heard us rave about Q Fanatic’s cookies – today they had a change from the best monster cookies in the world. It was a bourbon walnut cookie. So we bought four of them. hahahaha

This place brings out the food pretty quick, thanks to the brand new smokers they have on the side of the building. They’re actually going into a remodel period, so they’ll be closed the first part of January. They’ll be back, though – they promise.

Sides first.

Potato Salad – Seriously, this is really amazing potato salad – some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m not a connoisseur, but it is honestly fantastic. Not too mustardy and the potatoes are bite sized and seasoned well. It’s a tough call whether it beats out Baldy’s potato salad.

Baked Beans – Incredible. I love their baked beans and the huge chunks of meat in them. Again, I want them spicier for some reason, but it doesn’t matter, they’re the best I’ve had for years. Definitely, the best of the Bar-B-Quest.

Cole Slaw – Simple and straight forward (this time, a little on the vinegar-y side), but when eaten with the ribs, they’re even better. Cooling flavors mixed with spicy ribs are always a winning combination.

Mac and Cheese – The best mac and cheese on the Bar-B-Quest. Made with real cheese and not come packaged stuff. We love this stuff and always end up fighting over it – that’s why we got the double order.

D.Rough’s Parmesan Potato Gratinee – We all thought this was really good. D.Rough appeared to have hit one cold spot in the potatoes, but every bite I had was really delicious and hot. I ran into a few onions, which I wasn’t expecting, but honestly, the cheesy flavor was really good.

I didn’t get a review of the Q-Ban sandwich, mainly because I was shoveling ribs and mac and cheese into my face. When I stopped to breathe, I noticed the sandwich was mostly gone. I missed my chance, but based on the comments from D.Rough, the sandwich was quite good. Plus it was HER sandwich and I wasn’t technically supposed to be eating off of her sandwich. Hahahaha. It looked really fantastic, though.

The pulled meats: Delicious as usual. The pulled pork is really good, but it still doesn’t compare to the pulled chicken. I have never had that issue at a BBQ place before. The pulled pork always wins, but not this time. The chicken at Q Fanatic is really special. Great seasoning and flavor. The brisket here is also fork tender and super moist. Its goes great on a sandwich, as well. Which leads me right into the garlic buttered rolls… These little rolls are some of the best around. And to put this awesome pulled meat onto the roll is to make a little bite of heaven. Thankfully, we ended up with about 8 rolls between all of us. Dang, these are good.

The ribs: The ribs here are absolutely mind-blowing. Perfect bark all the way across the top of the really meaty ribs. Fantastic smoke flavor. No gristle and very little fat. Amazing vodka pepper BBQ sauce. I can’t rave about these enough. The meat comes right off the bone and you just can’t stop eating them. If we didn’t always order enough food for 15 people, I’m sure I would be able to finish a whole rack on my own. They’re delicious. They do have other sauces, including one or two at the table, but we all stick with the vodka pepper sauce. It’s wonderful.

And for the record, the monster cookie is still the way to go here. The bourbon walnut cookie was good, but not life changing.

So….. who is going to win the 2012 Bar-B-Quest challenge of the Twin Cities???!!! It was a really tough decision, to be honest. But I’ll post the winner soon. Again, here’s the bracket we’ve been dealing with over the past 16 months or so…

Thursday, January 3, 2013

C. G. Hooks Eatery – White Bear Lake, MN (Bar-B-Quest Championship!)

It’s the final round of the 2013 Bar-B-Quest and it’s C.G. Hooks against Q Fanatic. We had recently been to C.G. Hooks, so I won’t go into a ton of detail in the review, but I do want to make sure people know what to expect. C.G. Hooks is top-notch BBQ and they beat a lot of also-good BBQ joints to get to the final round. So far, they beat Ikea, Lee’s & Dee’s (the number one seed), and Hickory Hut. No small feat if you ask me.

So, LowVee, Kevin, and HotGirlsBrother met me for lunch. It’s the middle of winter, but this place is still going strong. We ordered our usual orders – baby back ribs with cornbread and beans and coleslaw for all of us. I also got an order of potato wedges to start with, since I was the first one there. And, since they have 1919 root beer on tap, I and almost everyone else got a large glass of that. I love that stuff.

The wedges came out and still weren’t super crispy. I had asked the server if she could make them a little crispier than they normally are when I ordered, but it didn’t happen. They taste delicious, but they’re still floppy enough to have texture issues going on with them. They do have the dry rub seasoning on them, which is fantastic. So I’m hard pressed to complain about these. That being said, they didn’t last long on our table.

The baked beans were a variety of different beans. Some large, some small. They also have some pieces of meat cut up in the beans. Coupled with the seasonings they put in here, none of us were disappointed with the baked beans. They’re always really good here.

Cole slaw – pretty good slaw, plenty of seeds and seasonings. It’s a good complement to the smoky flavor of the ribs. It isn’t the best in the world, but it’s pretty darn good with these ribs.

The cornbread is awesome. It’s in the shape of a fish, which makes it fun, but it honestly is sweet, crispy on the outside, and fantastic. No butter required.

The ribs – This is what you come here for. There is plenty of meat on the bones and there is a nice char on the outside. Not all the way across, but a considerable amount of bark. Nothing to complain about. This time around, the ribs were a little fattier than we’d had in the past (you can see the detail in the photo), but I know the fat flavors the meat. It was just not as melt-in-your-mouth as usual. Some bits of gristle to contend with. Don’t get me wrong – the flavor was still there and combined with our expert BBQ sauce chemistry wizard HotGirlsBrother, it makes for a realllllly impressive rack of ribs. Here's the recipe: two parts K.C., one part Ghost, and a splash of Carolina Vinegar. Bam!

Here's how LowVee likes to make her sauce. I think she has a "problem". Of course, that means, HotGirlsBrother and I are enablers...

We opted to not get ice cream this time, even though we were all eye balling the case. They have fantastic ice cream here and if it weren’t 3 degrees outside, we may have done it. Next time…

We said a number of times, no matter how the championship turns out, we’ll be back here to C.G. Hooks this summer and rent a pontoon boat to go out on the lake for a few hours with some ribs and beers. That sounds like the best afternoon ever, in my book. We shall see how C.G. Hooks fares after we go to Q Fanatic the following day.

Here’s the Bar-B-Quest bracket as it stands now. I’m really looking forward to seeing who comes out on top!!!!