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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Taco Bell Triple Steak Stack – Eden Prairie, MN

I enjoy trying the new products that Taco Bell test kitchens launch to the general public. Most of the time, I’m pretty pleased with them, and I’ll stand behind the fact that these guys are one of the most regular new product champions in the fast food industry. The Triple Steak Stack is something they launched back in 2011 and apparently have brought back.

First off, this thing isn’t cheap – it’s $4.99, but I figured since the commercials make the thing look like it is the size of a baby, it might be worth it. It is, in fact, smaller than a baby and even smaller than the marketing advertises. That isn’t to say it’s small – it isn’t. It’s close-to-a-foot-long flat bread filled with lots of steak. Not as full as the commercials let on, but it IS full. I can’t remember that far back, but I feel like this Triple Steak Stack is longer than the one they rolled out a few years back. Maybe I’m making that up in my head.

Aside from cheese, there isn’t anything else in this thing. Just steak and cheese. I’m not complaining, but most of Taco Bell’s inventions have some sort of sauce or sour cream in them. This has none. I’m glad I got a couple packets of fire sauce to jazz it up. The steak in Taco Bell’s products always surprises me. I expect gristly and overcooked pieces of pseudo-meat and I have always gotten flavorful thinly sliced restaurant quality steak. I really don’t want to like the steak at Taco Bell, but I do, I’m sorry. There is also a lot of cheese on this thing. Maybe they figured the melty cheese could replace the sauce.

I’ll be honest, this sandwich is better than I expected it to be. I’d recommend biting both ends off first, to ensure you’re getting a consistent level of meat throughout. And make sure you put some sort of sauce on it for another flavor component. The flatbread isn’t my preferred method of holding ingredients to push into my face, especially at a Mexican place, but it works in this case. It isn’t messy and it holds up just fine (better than some of their taco shells, honestly).

Yeah, I’d recommend this Triple Steak Stack. But be warned, some people will get bored eating it about halfway through. It’s kind of a one note pony without any sauce or lettuce or tomato or anything. So try this – put one flavor of sauce on one half and then another flavor of sauce on the other half, then you’ll feel like you’re getting two different sandwiches. Trick yourself into not getting bored.

I tried to look at its price and compare it to things I usually get. Would this same $5 sandwich fill me up like five items on the value menu? In this case, I would say it’s pretty close. I generally don’t eat FIVE of anything at Taco Bell, but I was as full at the end of this sandwich as I usually am when I get multiple things. I’m going to say the price is worth it for the size and quality of the sandwich. Again, just my opinion.

Not Taco Bell’s best showing (it doesn’t have any bacon – dur), but it’s a solid performer and something I’d get to fill my guts.

Forepaugh’s – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough had invited me to go to a random banquet with her, but it was an hors d'oeuvres thing only, so we needed to eat. Since we were going to be dressed up anyway for this function, we thought we’d have a night out on the town and hit someplace fancy. I asked her to pick, since I was busy watching the final episodes of Jersey Shore (yes, I’m serious). She chose someplace that neither of us had been, but both wanted to try – Forepaugh’s.

This up-scale restaurant in St. Paul is in a LARGE house/mansion south of the Xcel Energy Center and is a beautiful building. And word on the street is it’s haunted. The valet parked our car and we headed into to check our coats (yeah, it’s one of THOSE kind of classy places). The hostess walked us up three flights of stairs to the top floor of the house in a small dining area. Room for like 6 tables in one room (where a pregnant mistress/maid hung herself when the wife found out about her) and then a larger banquet table in another room that held about 20 people. The lighting is dark and it’s pretty swanky. The music cracked us up since it swelled outlandishly with classical brilliance and then would drop suddenly and you’d realize you were practically shouting at your dinner partner. Hilarious.

The water boy brought us water (obviously) and some bread - white and dark bread. Both were really good, but the dark had some raisins in it, which D.Rough isn’t a fan of. I powered through since the bread tasted pretty good. The white was fine – nothing special, but definitely not store-bought, we were thinking. We scanned the menu which has a variety of “New American” cuisine (which means American standards with some fancy or “out there” flourishes or flavors).

We ordered the Poutine (which had been highly recommended in a review or two), which is actually Canadian street food instead of new American food, but whatever – fries with beef gravy and deep fried cheese curds, but with red chilies and deep fried chilies. The poutine came out pretty quickly and was worth all the rave reviews. It was extremely tasty. I’ve had poutine a variety of ways, and while it may never LOOK good, it always tastes amazing. This was probably the best I’ve ever had. It was spicy without being overwhelming and none of the flavors were overbearing. The cheese curds were mild and not greasy and the gravy was just enough to make things flavorful and not sloppy. It was served in a metal cup with waxed paper (I apologize for the dim photo) and was simple and awesome.

We ordered a couple of pre-drinks as well. D.Rough got a Perfect Lady Martini and I went with the Bay Breeze (pineapple, coinctreau, and cranberry juice). I don’t remember what was in the Perfect Lady, but it was super tasty, though not nearly as tasty (or girly) as my pink Bay Breeze. Both drinks were good and strong and I’d probably order the Bay Breeze again.

The choices on the menu all looked good and, as a word of warning, the chef changes the menu pretty regularly, so don’t expect the same items every time you go. D.Rough and I both wanted the Beef Wellington – beef tenderloin wrapped in a fancy mesh of pastry and spinach in a red wine sauce with wintery vegetables – but we said we’d better both get something different, so we could try a couple different things. I decided on the Roasted Lamb Shank, which sounded perfect since I love lamb chops. We also needed some wine so we both got glasses of Malbec (which just sounded right for the evening).

The food came out without waiting long at all. My dish was a single lamb chop, but honestly, it had a lot of amazingly tender meat on it – my butter knife worked fine on this chop and I almost didn’t need the knife at all. It was a pretty large chop as well, so please don’t think it was just a small portion. The lamb was also in a red wine reduction, which I’m not usually a fan of, and this was a little odd with the meat itself – thankfully the lamb flavor was awesome, so the meal was still delicious. Consequently, the red wine sauce was in the bottom of the shallow bowl it was served in with various winter beans and it was probably the best part of the meal.

The Beef Wellington was pretty amazing as well. Perfectly cooked with pink in the middle and light crispy pastry on the outside. It was a big piece of beef, without being an obnoxiously large chunk of meat, if that makes sense. The waitress forgot the steak knife for D.Rough, and while it was pretty amusing watching her try to saw through the meat with her butter knife, we had to ask for a steak knife to cut it with. But the flavors of the beef with the spinach and pastry were quite good together. The vegetables that came with it appeared pretty nice (unidentified squash and various beans), but since someone ate those first without sharing, I didn’t quite hear the verdict on them.

We watched some of the people around us while we ate and were amused at the white bread people next to us that ordered a cheese and fruit plate for an appetizer and then the exact same thing we did, but they were considerably stiffer. Or the flip side is we’re lamer than we originally thought…

The place had really nice staff, but not fun loving – which is typical for a fancy restaurant. They made sure we were taken care of thoroughly, but they weren’t going to have fun with us, like most restaurant staff are able to do. They were there to serve us food and not to help out with our dining experience. Either way, they still made sure we were well taken care of. No complaints there.

I’m glad we got a chance to try this place. It’s been on my list of places to go to for a while, since they re-opened their doors in the last year or two. It IS upscale and you should expect that from the service to the menu to the check, but it’s pretty darn good as well. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all.

Top 5 things about Forepaugh’s
1. Poutine, for sure
2. Winter vegetables/beans in red wine sauce underneath the lamb chop – this should have been a soup all on its own
3. Beef Wellington
4. Lamb Shank
5. Bay Breeze

Bottom 5 things
1. Music was oddly distracting, especially when it stopped and you were yelling
2. Should have gotten a Waldorf Salad since the chef worked at the Waldorf in NYC and is rumored to make it authentic-style
3. Service was a little stiff, but that’s fancy, I guess
4. Hard to eat a piece of beef with a butter knife
5. If you’re handicapped, you’re not making it to the top floor up all those stairs – I hope they have some sort of elevator somewhere