Friday, July 18, 2014

BYO Burger – West St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I drive past this place every time we go to the gym – which I’ll tell you is NOT very helpful. We caved one day and I thought I’d let you guys know how it is.

The inside of this place is interesting. Odd, but interesting. It’s a construction-themed restaurant, which makes sense when you use the Build-Your-Own part at the beginning. So there’s all kinds of black and yellow stripes on things and orange warning signs and such.

Once you look at the various menu boards, you can decide to build your own burger or pick one of the signature pre-designed burger options. I figured I’d take the easy way out and get one of the signature ideas. The Hawaiian Burger sounded good to me – grilled ham, pineapple, salsa, lettuce, and tomato, served on a multi-grain bun. D.Rough go the Atomic Burger – fried onion strings, pepperjack cheese, jalapenos, horsey sauce, and BYOB sauce on an onion roll. And we caved even further when we ordered some cheese curds – I may or may not have talked D.Rough into getting these with me.

The Atomic Burger looked good, though I thought it would have more onion rings on it. That being said, it was a delicious burger. The meat was juicy without being greasy, and the sauces were well developed. This was a good burger!

The Hawaiian Burger was also quite good. The salsa didn’t taste like it was from a can/jar and the ham (or Canadian bacon) added some good flavor to the already delicious burger. It was a little messy, but really quite fantastic.

And of course, the cheese curds were amazing. It’s hard to mess these things up. They were really what we both wanted.

Not enough things to do a Top 5 list on, but pretty much everything was great, especially for a small chain burger place. It wasn’t a greasy spoon burger, it was just a well put-together burger. I’m looking forward to going back and trying out my own concoction on these guys. (and more cheese curds).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lake & Irving – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I set up a double date with two of our favorite people, LowVee and Kevin, at Lake & Irving in Minneapolis. They had some interesting things on the menu that I was looking forward to trying.

We grabbed some drinks and some ciders before ordering and then set out to find the best things L&I had to offer. We ordered some homemade corn nuts (duh) and some pork aranchini bites. D.Rough wanted the Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich with Duroc bacon, pepperjack, and served on sourdough. I had been dying to try the L&I Half Smokes – chili dogs with Duroc pork and beef sausage and chuck chili.

The corn nuts come in a small paper bag with an appropriate amount of grease residue on the outside of the bag. The little nuggets were super tasty and fried well – I’m not even sure how these things are made (probably wizardry), but I’m glad someone figured them out. We probably should have gotten two orders of these…

The aranchini bites were decent. Not fantastic, but just good. They were a little small, but they’re BITES, after all. They didn’t have a ton of flavor, but they kept our mouths full until the meals arrived. Again, not terrible or anything, but fell a little short (mainly because we’ve eaten these things in Italy and it’s hard to compare them to the US versions).

D.Rough’s Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich looked better than it tasted (despite the poor quality of the photo due to dim lighting). The chicken was fried well, but didn’t end up being as juicy as she had hoped. The pepperjack flavor didn’t come through but the sauce drizzled on it was pretty good. She had to look for the bacon pieces, so obviously there wasn’t a lot of bacon flavor in the sandwich, either. She was fine with the sandwich, but she’d order something else the next time we go back.

The Half Smokes I had high hopes for, since they had been written up in Citipages or some other food-related publication. The dogs were cooked well and had good flavor, but I was really surprised at the minimal flavor of the chili that was on top when I tasted it alone. I couldn’t tell where the pork stopped and chili began – but there was a lot of it piled on the dog. It tasted fine, but I really thought it would be a big bold meat flavor and it wasn’t. It could probably be compared to a decent chili dog, but when you get them at a nicer restaurant, you expect something to pop or stand out. These were just alright, I’m sorry to say. Even the fries were just about average.

I’m not saying it was a terrible meal. I’m just saying I’d order something different the next time we go there. We’ll likely be back, but we’ve got a few other places in Uptown to hit up before then. That being said, our next double date with LowVee and Kevin is going to be something crazy. I’m sure of it.

Top 5 things about Lake & Irving
1. Corn Nuts – homemade!
2. Full bar, so good drink selection
3. Open late with limited food offerings
4. They do have a parking lot in back
5. The brunch menu looks pretty fantastic

Bottom 5 things
1. Half Smokes/Chili Dogs
2. Aranchini Bites
3. Average fries
4. Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich
5. It’s fairly pricey for the quality of the food we got that evening

Monday, July 14, 2014

French Hen Café – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I headed over to the French Hen Café for breakfast (well, more like brunch since we slept late). I had heard good things about this place and couldn’t wait to eat here.

We started with a few blood orange mimosas (D.Rough got Prosecco and I got Moscato). It’s hard to have a bad meal when you start with these things.

D.Rough ordered the Croque Suzette – a grilled sandwich on Brioche with smoked ham, Gruyere, Dijon béchamel, and topped with a sunny side up egg and served with hashbrowns. I ordered the Omelette a la Florentine – spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and Brie and I got a side of root vegetable hash.

The food came out pretty quickly and we shared each of these things like pros.

The Croque Suzette was really good. Dense but tasty bread with all kinds of messy toppings. Great ham and Gruyere flavor were especially good combined with the runny egg. Great work on this thing. The hashbrowns had great flavor and were thinly cooked, so there were lots of crunchy parts.

The omelet was tasty and had a lot of fresh tasting ingredients on the inside. I will say the highlight for me was the root vegetable hash. Really seasoned well and lots of good textures and fresh flavors.

We didn’t spend long here, although we did pop into the flower shop next door (run by the same wonderfully nice family). It’s a very nice atmosphere and they serve really good food. They also serve dinner, so I’m curious how that’s going to be when we return. Looking forward to it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bad Movie Night (WTF Theme) – West St. Paul, MN

As many of you know, D.Rough and I like to host a Bad Movie Night occasionally and show horrible movies to our friends – mainly movies that no one should be able to find, let alone OWN. I do, however, own many of these films.

I wanted to host a night where I really pushed the envelope on people’s comfort levels. So warned people these movies would be pretty awkward, disturbing, horrifying, and bodily-fluid-filled. So, it was a WTF-themed Bad Movie Night.

The first movie was “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”. This is a film shot in the 70’s on the set of Hogan’s Heroes about a Nazi doctor named Ilsa. She does experiments on men and women and then tortures them in bloody and horrific ways.

The second movie was Takashi Miike’s “Vistor Q”. This movie is more suspense and oddity than it is traditional horror. There are a lot of bodily fluids in this one and some really gross disturbing stuff.

People were genuinely angry at these movies and appropriate bothered by them, so mission accomplished. I’ll make sure the next batch of bad movies are more FUN for people. But the best part of these Bad Movie Nights is the potluck food people bring based around the theme of the night. In this case, the WTF-theme encouraged people to think outside of the box and bring some really weird things for people to eat. I’ll list a few honorable mentions for the evening.

My own contribution was homemade mac and cheese (grandma’s recipe) but with hot dogs in it. Not too terribly weird, but I figured if people brought too many gross things, then I’d at least be able to eat what *I* brought.

D.Rough made a peanut butter, soy sauce, and garlic pizza with mozzarella cheese and sri racha and covered in peanuts. Actually, this ended up being fantastic and went pretty quickly.

LooseChange brought White Castle burgers and cheeseburgers, because seriously WTF is in those things?

Taco brought chips whose first letter spelled out WTF. Wavy – Tostitos – Fritos. Pretty creative, in my opinion.

SVB and Southpark brought dates filled with blue cheese and peppers. The note on them is pretty hilarious because I asked if that meant his date was “hot-ish”, which certainly got him scolded appropriately.

I give the honor of best food to Hüsker Stü. He brought the Snowplow Special – something he used to eat in his poor college days.

Thanks everyone for bringing odd food and yelling along with the movies. I’m already looking forward to the next Bad Movie Night!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hearts Made Out Of Hands Incorrectly

For some reason, I have an irrational hatred for when people make a heart out of their fingers and thumbs. No particular reason why, I just do.

But what really bothers me is when people do it wrong. Like this, for example:

So I went ahead and fixed it to make me not mad. You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Haute Dish (HauteQue Soul Hut Pop-Up) – Minneapolis, MN

[Editor’s note: The following appears to be a fluke/freak incident where we had a bad experience and everyone else in the world had a fantastic experience. Keep this in mind when you read what appears to be the only less-than-raving review of Haute Dish ever written. And, don’t let this jade you from going and trying their regular menu! That being said, I’m writing about one specific experience, knowing that it’s not the regular experience from everything I’ve heard from friends about this place.]

Some friends sent me an article about Haute Dish doing a 4-day pop-up restaurant this week. When they saw it was BBQ-themed, they knew I’d be game for trying it out. For those unfamiliar with a pop-up restaurant, it’s more-or-less someone coming in to an established restaurant and cooking a wildly different menu than usually served there. Basically, to try some new things out or give an aspiring chef ideas about what works and doesn’t work in a restaurant setting. In this case, it was the chef from Haute Dish, Landon Schoenfeld, with a few ideas from pop-up phenom Erik Anderson. Some local articles mentioned cheating on the bbq, which is completely understandable. I get that they’re not set up with pit smokers to cook meat for 16 hours or anything. No knocks against the guy for making some adjustments, right?

We walked into Haute Dish and immediately saw a giant painting of fancy John Goodman in the waiting area – it isn’t really him (it’s Fernand Point, father of modern French cuisine), but D.Rough saw it and fell in love with it, anyway.

I will also apologize in advance as I realized I’ve become a BBQ snob in recent months. I blame HotGirlsBrother.

The comprehensive beer menu has Blast on it, but not the Colt 45 Blast, be warned. It’s an imperial IPA from Brooklyn Brewing in NY. The restaurant has a great beer list with tons of microbrew selections. Lots of stuff from Victory Brewing, which I think is part of the pop-up part of this promotion. The fantastic server steered me clear of the beer I thought I wanted. He brought me a sample and told me people were not pleased with it. I won’t mention the name of the beer, but he was 100% right with his recommendation. He suggested something else which was really delicious, and he warned D.Rough about their gimlets being strong, as well. Very bourbon-y and he was right (not in a bad way at all). Really, a super helpful server.

Atomic Chicken Wings – We asked before ordering how hot these atomic wings were (we like flavor, not just heat) and the server assured us they were good. Thankfully, he was right. The wings had a lot of meat on them and the sauce was spicy, without being painful and flavorless. While not mind-blowing, they were pretty good.

Mac and Cheese – Really quite good. It was baked in a little tin with some bread crumbs on top. Good texture and good cheese flavor. Best thing on the plate.

The Watermelon, Tomato, and Cucumber salad had peanuts and some creamy white dressing/sauce (could have been yogurt, or sour cream, or anything) delicious!

Jalapeno Spoonbread – I love spoonbread, but this wasn’t good. The less hot that it got, the more it tasted like I was shoveling butter into my mouth. There was zero jalapeno in this, not even a hint of the jalapeno flavor nor a speck of green in the gritty mush.

Brisket – The worst brisket I’ve ever had. At least 70% fat and even had some gristle in there to power through with my knife (butter knife, so judge accordingly). Flavor wasn’t even decent, thankfully, but the sauces were necessary to cover the fatty texture and flavor. I’m not sure how anyone in the kitchen could have looked at this brisket, seen the massive amount of fat on it, and sent it out to a table anyway.

Ribs – I fought the meat off the bones in this 4-bone mini-slab. The smoke flavor didn’t come from an actual smoker, but rather from a bottle. A little bitter and the aftertaste of fake smoke. As I said earlier, they cut some corners since they don’t have giant pit smokers running 16 hours a day, so I get that. But again, more fat than was worth eating, and I was pulling a lot of gristle out of my mouth and putting it on my plate after almost every bite.

Pork Belly – The fat didn’t dissolve like in almost every pork belly I’ve ever had. You had to chew the fat. A lot. It almost tasted undercooked, like a raw ham or something. I was really looking forward to this, since I’m a huge fan of pork belly.

The sauces were quite good – Jalapeno, Bacon, and Maple sauce was just ok. A little thin and might have been with bacon drippings/fat.
Sorghum, Mustard, and Vinegar - second best, and really good. I don’t even like mustard, but it wasn’t a strong mustard flavor.
Tomato, Coffee, and Raisin – amazingly good. None of those three strong flavors stuck out – it was the perfect blend. Very thick and delicious.

Despite most things on the plate not being very good, it did not jade me from Haute Dish’s regular menu and I’m still looking forward to eating there. I’ve been especially encouraged to check out the weekend brunch menu they have, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m a big fan of the 3 strikes you’re out rule, and this was my first experience. I won’t blame customer profiling (though I do joke about it), but maybe someone just had a bad day back in the kitchen. Not a problem. I simply feel bad writing a negative review for a place that regularly receives rave reviews from people I trust. So take this review with a grain of salt – I’m just reporting my particular experience this one time.

…And then, since Haute Dish is next to Sex World in downtown, Minneapolis, we saw a garbage can outside with an adult DVD in it.

Top 5 things about HauteQue Soul Hut Pop Up
1. Mac and Cheese
2. Fantastic server
3. Atomic Wings
4. Watermelon, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad
5. Very unique and delicious sauces

Bottom 5 things
1. Brisket
2. Pork Belly
3. Ribs
4. Jalapeno Spoonbread
5. Bad first experience here – which I’m sure will be remedied the next time we go back!