Monday, August 24, 2015

Meat Mountain: Arby’s Off-Menu Monstrosity – Eden Prairie, MN

If you didn’t read about #1Fan and my past off-menu culinary adventure, you should – The Air, Land, and Sea Burger. #1Fan and I decided we needed to do a similar stunt and, since neither of us had an insurance-related biometric screening scheduled anytime soon…. we thought we would go get a Meat Mountain. I know this sandwich is sooooo 2014, but I haven’t tried it yet. To quote #1Fan’s bastardization of George Mallory’s quote, “This time we're scaling the uncharted heights of the meat mountain, BECAUSE IT’S THERE."

When we ordered the Meat Mountain, the counter kid didn’t even bat an eye. Probably totally over it by now. I love that it is actually an item in their computer system (even if it isn’t actually on their printed menu). For those of you not familiar with the Meat Mountain, it’s every meat they have in the restaurant on one bun. With two slices of cheese for color.

  • 2 chicken tenders
  • 1.5 oz. of roast turkey
  • 1.5 oz. of ham
  • 1 slice of Swiss cheese
  • 1.5 oz. of corned beef
  • 1.5 oz. brisket
  • 1.5 oz. of Angus steak
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1.5 oz. roast beef
  • 3 half-strips of bacon
  • 1 bun
That’s a serious sammich, my friends.

And yes, we got curly fries and some of their new house-made parmesan potato chips. And DIET sodas.

When the sandwich came out, I laughed because the counter people are handing out two-inch-high wrapped sandwich after sandwich and then ours came out - it was like three times taller than everyone else’s sandwich. That’s when you puff your chest up and shoulder your way to the counter to pick up your macho lunch tray.

Doesn't look that big, you say?

First off, this thing is waaaaaaay bigger than you can fit into your mouth. Since humans fail miserably in the separate-your-jaw-to-eat category, you have to tackle this with some strategy: Top to bottom? Bottom to top? Layer by layer? With a fork (not recommended because you were already ballsy enough to order this sandwich – why wuss out now)? I went top to bottom then bottom to top.

Second, this thing may have a few milligrams of salt in it. Just be ready for that. I can’t help you there. Even if you put sauce on it, all of the sauces are sodium heavy. Maybe mayo might be the trick.

Third, this sandwich could use some lubrication. See #2 for the salt-caveat.

Fourth, the things it DOES have going for it are the flavor and the texture. Flavor-wise, it’s fantastic. I suppose only if you’re not a vegetarian, however – in that case, you’ve given up all joy anyway. But honestly, the meats actually tasted different from each other and the texture of each meat still kind of showed through in each bite. The best part are the chicken tenders that are on there. A really pleasant crunchy bite was fun in the mix. Much better than I even expected it to be.

I think you’ll be happy with yourself if you order one of these. Don’t look for it on the menu, it isn’t there. It’s a “secret menu item”, remember? You just have to ask for it by name. And then, immediately after you find yourself HAPPY with your decision, you’ll find yourself (or your spouse) REALLY angry with yourself.

Note, I would also recommend NOT eating this if you happen to be in a rush to get back to a meeting at work. I think forcing down that many pounds of meat was the most difficult part. It certainly wasn’t the curly fries. Just saying, you’re going to want to savor this thing with each bite. Consider postponing your meeting or do what I did – warn them you’re going to be late for your 1pm meeting. And sleepy. And smell like meat. And groaning periodically.

#1Fan remains a champion amongst men when it comes to food consumption. He had finished his sandwich and was tapping his foot hurrying me along before I had conquered the Meat Mountain completely. A most impressive showing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taco Libre – West St. Paul, MN

A new taco place opened up in West St. Paul last week, and it’s Luchador-themed (just think masked Mexican wrestlers). Since I’m a fan of both wrestling and tacos, I knew I needed to go there. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to go on opening night, but based on the business we saw on the third night they were open, this place is going to just fine. The owner is one of the owners of the American Burger Bar, which is one of D.Rough and my favorite burger places in the Twin Cities, so we knew it was going to be well done.

The inside is decorated with all kinds of luchador costumes, masks, and paintings – some of which are mind blowing. (Do yourself a favor and click on this first photo to enlarge it)

And it isn’t half-assed decoration; they went all out with the menu and everything. The menu has much more than just tacos (though they are really focused on the street tacos with simple ingredients like you get in Mexico). They have burritos, tamales, alambres, tortas, and even pozole – my favorite Mexican soup. I’ll also mention they have pozole all the time, instead of just on weekends like most places, so bonus points for that. They also get bonus points for being open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and 4am on weekends. That’s amazing to me and I look forward to capitalizing on that.

I decided to go with The Machete Burrito – it’s a masa flour almost-taco. D.Rough got a few tacos and a tamale. The nice thing about the menu is you can get any of the items on the menu with whatever kind of meat (or vegetarian options) you want. Brilliant! If you don’t know what kind of meat is best, ask the person you order from and they’ll suggest something amazing for you.

The food comes out really fast, despite being made to order. The tacos that D.Rough got looked amazing. One had marinated chicken on it and one had suadero (or rose beef). She was worried the chicken one wasn’t going to have enough flavor, but she was pleasantly surprised. Even more so with the beef taco – amazing flavor and not too much spice/seasoning – just right. Her red pork tamale was also fantastic – great masa flavor and the pork filling tasted fantastic.

The Machete was a force to be reckoned with. Like a 2½ foot long taco made of deep fried masa corn and filled with lettuce, sour cream, cheese, salsa and I got Pork al Pastor on the inside. It was massive. And both the red and the green salsas that come with it only boosted the already-good flavor. I was really happy with this order. I tried to eat it like a hand-taco, but I ended up laying it down sideways and eating it with a knife and fork, so I didn’t lose the toppings all over my shirt. It was wonderful.

The owner came over to our table and made sure things were alright and we chatted about the new restaurant and even heard he’ll be re-opening the American Burger Bar in the next few months again! Cha-ching!!! Adrian seems like a really nice guy and it’s clear he knows how to run a restaurant and take care of his people.

We’re looking forward to many more visits to this place that’s like 10 blocks from our house. And anyone who’s a fan of wrestling (Mexican or otherwise) needs to come here. There’ sno possible way you can be disappointed with it.

Top 5 things about Taco Libre
1. The Machete
2. Red Pork Tamales
3. Suadero Beef Taco
4. Marinated Chicken Taco
5. Best theme for a restaurant EVER

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s less than 500 feet form the gym I go to – This is going to be a problem…..
2. No liquor license, so you’ll have to pre- and post-game
3. Nothing else is a negative!
4. N/A
5. N/A

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chimborazo – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough has gone here a number of times and raved about this place, so I knew I needed to get there. She was busy one night, so I decided to go by myself. I will tell you this thing – people are really weird about customers eating by themselves. They always assume someone else is joining you, which also means the servers take a really long time to come over to help you. For example I waited at least 15 minutes before my server came to take my order. Thankfully, I’m patient, and based on what I saw at the restaurant, NOT a regular occurrence. They were simply waiting for my dining partner to arrive. And I had a great spot outside on the patio to watch all of the delicious dishes come out of the kitchen.

But, waiting that long really helped me hone in on what I was going to order. I had some advice from D.Rough for appetizers, but I was on my own for the entrée. I was told to get the Yuca Frita and one of the soups with peanut broth – there are multiple, so I got the one with meat in it. Then I finally decided on the Saltado – sort of a stir fried beef with onions, peppers, some rice, and an avocado.

The appetizers came out very quickly, which was nice, since I was starving. The Yuca fries were some of the best I’ve had. They were covered in a sort of garlic citrus pico (onions and tomatoes) and served with a dish of aji crillo (Ecuadorian green hot sauce). The fries were perfectly cooked with a super crusty outside and soft chewy inside and the flavors of the topping, the juice from the topping, and the green sauce was pretty magical. There’s a reason D.Rough told me to order this. It was fantastic.

The Caldo de Bolas de Verde soup was equally amazing. It’s a green plantain dumpling with meat sitting in a peanut broth with other vegetables in it. The broth itself was not like a Thai peanut flavor, but more thin and mild than that, and very seasoned. Brilliant flavor! The ball of meat in the center broke apart nicely with the soup spoon and had a great flavor. There was a slice of corn on the cob in the broth that I’ve seen in photos, but I’ve always wondered how to eat it. Do you pick it up like a full sized corn on the cob or eat the whole thing or eat the kernels off? I opted for the later, so I hope I did that right.

I was already starting to feel full when the entrée came out – the Saltado stir-fry is a hearty entrée. A generous helping of beef chunks in a brown broth stew with red bell peppers and onions, and served with fries (the potato kind) and rice topped with an avocado. The meat isn’t fork tender or anything, but this isn’t brisket, after all. It’s probably how Ecuadorians cook beef, so deal with it. The flavor of the meat is really quite good, especially when combined with the peppers and avocado. The fries were a weird addition, but they were pretty good when they got soggy. I wish they had been yucca frites, but I guess next time, I can ask to order them that way. I suppose I was jaded because I was already in Yuca heaven from the appetizer. Delicious and generous meal that I would highly recommend.

I am pretty pleased to have gone here (even by myself) and gotten way more food than I should have eaten by myself. It was totally worth it, though. I will be back here very soon.

Top 5 things about Chimborazo
1. Yuca Frita
2. Caldo de Bolas de Verde
3. Saltado
4. There’s nothing on the menu I wouldn’t eat
5. They do serve beer and wine – cha-ching!

Bottom 5 things
1. I wish the regular fries had been yucca frites
2. Long wait time if you go by yourself
3. Small parking lot, but there’s a small seating area, so it balances out
4. I JUST NOW found the brunch menu on their website! AGGHHHHH
5. You won’t stop eating your food until everything on the table is gone and you will be painfully full because it is amazing

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lucy Ethiopian – Boston, MA

D.Rough had to attend a conference in Boston, so I tagged along. That also meant that I got to eat a bunch of food I wouldn’t normally have access to. We headed out to Lucy Ethiopian with her coworker JanYAAAY, since it was only a 10-block walk. We also found out the restaurant name comes from the earliest known human being (found in Ethiopia) – cool factoids!

We all love Ethiopian food, so it was pretty easy to decide what we should eat. We ordered a large vegetarian sampler and an order of Lega Tibs (super seasoned beef chunks mixed with peppers and onions). The sampler always satisfies our need to eat every kind of vegetable imaginable, so we knew we’d be in good hands. Speaking of “hands”, this is the kind of food you eat with your hands (or with Injera bread), not silverware.

The food arrived pretty quickly and we dove in. Seven different vegetarian piles, including lentils, potatoes, spinach, salad, and some other random veggies. (I looked it up on their menu - miser wot and timatim fit fit with your choice of five vegetarian dishes - kik aletcha, spinach, gomen, tikile gomen, dinch wot). Some of these have some heat and some of them were pretty mild, but thankfully, ALL of them were delicious! The meat has amazing flavor, as well, but surprisingly, it isn’t the main focus of the dish. Everyone was really happy with this food and I have a feeling we would all eat there again.

I don’t have enough to put together a Top 5 list, but it’s a pretty safe bet anything you get here is going to be fantastic.

Lucy Ethiopian Café
334 Massachusetts Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

Friday, August 7, 2015

Zamboni’s – St. Paul, MN

I was downtown during the lunch hour and had been meaning to get to Zamboni’s for a slice. I’m glad I did.

I see this place packed during every event the Xcel Energy Center ever has, so I figured it was good. They do slices, but they also do full sized (S-M-L) pizzas, and also some sandwiches. The slices are in the $4-6 range, so pretty reasonable and they do a slice-salad-soda lunch combo, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I got the slice of the day (which you should ALWAYS ask about). White/garlic sauce pizza with roasted red peppers, Italian sausage, and rosemary. They heat up the slices as you order them, so it’s still going to take three or four minutes while it cooks in the pizza oven, but it’s worth the wait. Also, the place serves beer (including Surly and Flat Earth), so grab a pint while you wait – or a pitcher if you’re eating in.

Zamboni’s has the super thin cracker crust popular in Minnesota and it’s got tons of cheese on it. The ingredients are fresh and generous. It’s also a generous sized slice, so you’re not going to go hungry if you just get one slice. I’m guessing the lunch combo is the way to go to fill you up, but I was headed home and didn’t want to pay for parking (full transparency), so I was pretty happy with my order.

Worth the trip and I’m not sure why I waited this long to go there. They do online ordering so you can grab it and head home if you want. I’m glad I checked it out and now will be looking forward to going there before any additional Xcel events I go to.

Top 5 things about Zamboni’s
1. Slice of the day
2. Extensive toppings menu along with sandwiches
3. Really nice staff
4. They serve beer
5. Prices are pretty reasonable

Bottom 5 things
1. I’m always skeptical of places that advertise gyros, yet don’t have spinning meat poles visible
2. Parking can be tricky downtown, especially with construction near the Xcel
3. I was bummed to see the loaded tots appear to only have cheese sauce and bacon on them – seems like “loaded” would mean more than two items
4. The menu can be overwhelming due to the awesome things that are on it
5. The inside isn’t going to hold a ton of people, but it actually holds more than I expected it to