Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hamburguesas El Gordo – St. Paul, MN

A rare lunchtime-date with D.Rough led us to a restaurant we had heard about. It’s in a small complex of shops on Payne Avenue, housing a brewery, a fruit smoothie shop, a barber shop, a jewelry shop, and a Mexican restaurant. The Hamburguesas El Gordo is almost a glorified food stand in this little complex, but it’s definitely worth stopping at. They’re known for ridiculously massive burgers and hot dogs… also burritos and tacos, oddly enough.

D.Rough and I both decided we needed the signature burger – it’s one beef patty, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, ham, mayonnaise, lettuce tomato, onions, jalapenos, bacon, avocado, ketchup, and mustard. D.Rough added pineapple to hers, and I added a fried egg and salchichas (hot dogs) to mine. Apparently, the standard version didn’t have enough toppings. We also ordered the supreme french fries, you know, in case there was room for some filler.

The food came out in just over five minutes, and thankfully we got there right before a long line formed. The food was pretty impressive, to say the least.

The burger meat itself tasted great – we don’t think it was a frozen patty, which is always nice. The toppings were pretty impressive. I was surprised at how well the whole thing stayed together, probably because I had to smash it down pretty far to even get it in my mouth. I will tell you the total stand-out ingredients of this burger were the avocado, the fried egg (which was fried hard, not runny), and the pickled jalapeno slices. I really enjoyed this burger more than I even expected to. Well done on both the accuracy of the name and also the quality of my lunch.

The fries were good. Actual cut potatoes and loaded with toppings (mainly sauces – crema, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, and jalapeno slices). We didn’t even eat half of these since were plenty full from the burgers. We decided that the next time, we’d get the asada (steak)-covered fries.

We also laughed that they have double burgers – which would probably kill someone. They also have mini burgers, and a double mini burger (which would likely end up being just a regular sized burger – hahaha).

This place is great and I’m glad we checked it out. I’m assuming the other items on the menu are going to be just as good, based on the showing we had at lunch! Cheers!

Hamburguesas El Gordo
990 Payne Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55106

Monday, November 28, 2016

Multnomah Falls - Portland, OR

D.Rough and I were out in Portland, Oregon, and I convinced her to go to Multnomah falls with me. Neither of us had been, but I was glad we did.

It's a 620-foot waterfall about a half hour outside of Portland. You can see it from the road, but you REALLY need to get out and see it.

The closer you get, the cooler it looks.

It's really difficult to get the entire top-to-bottom shot using your iPhone, but I did pretty well:

But, personally, I prefer the shot of OTHER people posing in front of the falls...

There is a short hike to the top of the falls. It's only about 1.2 miles. Sounds easy, right? Well, it isn't. It's a bunch of switch-backs with increasing slope and your legs are on fire when you get to the top. D.Rough and I had fun playing the game "make it or not" as we superficially and without-any-evidence judgmentally decided who we thought would make it to the top of the falls. When we realized we were being callous jerks, it gave us the fire to finish the climb so we didn't fall into the latter category ourselves. hahaha

The climb to the top has really awesome fuzzy mossy trees. They're both creepy and beautiful at the same time.

D.Rough is a daredevil. I fear for her safety at the best of times. This wasn't the best of times. We were 620 feet up near a raging river that's spraying everything within a mile with cold wet mist, she's got shoes with no traction, and (super-respectfully-of-course) she can pull some Lucille Ball moves that don't always end well - so yeah, I was TERRIFIED when she slid her way down the muddy bank to get closer to the water and grabbed a tree to catch herself.

I mean no, she was fine. Nothing to see here!  ...and I wasn't capturing it all on film while yelling at her to be careful repeatedly...

But seriously, this view at the top is REALLY awesome and heart-stopping.

And we got a fabulous photo of ourselves that we should probably put on a postcard or on the wall or something. Sometimes, we take good photos!

And, sometimes, we take photos that look like D.Rough has a waterfall on her head.

On the way back to our car, we walked along this stream (from the waterfall, obviously), and saw huge trout swimming back upstream. Really amazing and something I hadn't seen before. Obviously, they aren't going to get very far upstream, unless they've got the fish-cohones to jump 620 feet, but I still admire their persistence. Really fascinating to watch.

If you're in Portland, this place is worth a quick drive. Really.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Nighthawks – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I hadn’t been to Nighthawks, even though many of our friends had recommended it to us. We set up a time to meet our lovely friend AllBlack and have some brunch. The place is bright inside, but still has an upscale diner kind of feel. We waited less than five minutes before getting a table, even on a Saturday around lunch.

The menu has all kinds of delicious sounding really inspired and unique food items, especially the pancakes. We decided to split a table poutine and each of us would get our own meal. I went with one of the specials – the Brisket Hash. D.Rough got the chorizo cheddar corn pancakes and AllBlack got the breakfast sandwich. And since we were right next to Five Watt Coffee, both the ladies ordered a Big Watt Circuit Bender Cold Press.
The entrees arrived pretty quickly, and I was impressed with the size of these things, as well as the presentation. The brisket hash was outstanding. Really tender and flavorful pieces of briskets on a bed of three different potatoes, with some salsa, guac, and pickled onions – then, covered with an egg. Every bite had all the components in it and it was a really heavy duty brunch meal.

The chorizo cheddar corn pancakes were surprisingly great. It sounds weird to put al those things together, but it totally works. They had layers of ingredients worked in, not just put on the top section. Nicely done, Nighthawks.

The breakfast sandwich was also great (I heard), and the hashbrowns were perfectly cooked. Not soggy and limp – they were crispy and tasty all the way through.

Sadly, our table poutine came out after we were finishing our meal, so none of us were really in the mood to eat it. I lied – *I* was in the mood to eat it. It was great. It had a ton of cheese curds and a wonderful gravy. It was covered with a LOT of banana peppers (maybe too many) and then another fried egg. The flavors were great, but I embarrassed myself by only being able to eat half of it myself. Hahaha

I liked this place even more than I expected to like it – which was already going to be a lot. I should have listened to people sooner and gone here. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Maya Cuisine – Minneapolis, MN

My friend Margs and I hadn’t hung out properly in a while, so she decided to go grab some Mexican food. We had originally planned to go to Bar Luchador, but she had been hearing good things about Maya in Northeast. The deciding factor would have been drinks, but since Maya has a liquor license, there wasn’t any reason to put up a fuss.

The inside of Maya is split into two sections: in the front is a less-expensive cafeteria-style line (with a salsa bar) with plenty of seating, and in the back is a more polished full-service restaurant and bar. I wasn’t sure what Margs has in mind when she chose this place, but I headed to the bar area and got a table. And promptly ordered two margaritas. …which were LARGE.

The menu has some standard fare items on it and some delicious sounding appetizers, but I kept going back to this really fancy sounding dish called Mixiotes de Res. Margs had her heart set on a bunch of various meat tostadas.

We managed to go through two baskets of chips while waiting – not because we had to wait long, but because we were starving and the salsa was delicious. But when the food arrived, I realized I should have scaled back my chips-and-salsa wolfing. It arrived on two large plates. One plate had rice, a nice cucumber and radish salad, and a crock of black beans, and the other plate had a generous portion of guacamole and a large paper pouch of meat.

The server told me not to eat the leaves that were in the meat – apparently just for flavor, so I picked out 3 or 4 bay-leaf-type greens and began to build my tacos on one of the six shells they provided. The meat was fantastic. It fell apart with a fork and had a deep smoky flavor. The guac was fresh and the other ingredients complemented the meat very nicely. Also, they brought out some green salsa which was too spicy for Margs, but I thought was fantastic. I didn’t think I could put back six of these, but I totally did. I’d highly recommend getting this entrée when you go here. It’s one of the more pricy items, but you’re going to get a ton of food. It’s probably not frowned upon to share with someone, either.

Margs really liked all three of her tostadas. She regretted saving the carnitas tostada for last, since she liked that one the most, but she was really pleased with both the flavor and the amount of toppings on her tostada. They looked delicious and I even used serious will power by not finishing whatever she left on the plate. You’re welcome.
I look forward to going back to this restaurant. I used to say that Minnesota doesn’t have good Mexican food, but a few places like this are changing my mind. You just have to find the right places. This is one of those places.

Monday, October 24, 2016

East Side Club Tiki Bar - Madison, WI

We were in town for a roller derby tournament and you know what that means ...... TIKI BARS!!! We always try to find the town's tiki bar when we're on the road for roller derby. Madison had one fairly close to the hotel we were at, so a couple of the guys and I drove over there.

When we arrived, we discovered the East Side Club was hosting a wedding inside. So we skirted the main building and followed the signs to the tiki bar, which was behind the main building. It isn't much of a tiki bar, to be honest, but it does have some of the prerequisites: super awesome bartender and rum. She whipped us up a couple of mai tais and we headed out to the patio area to view the beautiful giant lake in the middle of Madison.

Fortunately, we got our painfully uncomfortable stupid adirondack chairs just in time as some of the wedding folks began to spill out into the tiki bar area and down by the water. No big deal. In fact, we lasted at least oen more round before the torrential downpour happened:)

Overall, not impressive, but it did the job. If that's all Madison has in the way of tiki bars, then it'll have to do. It definitely treated us right.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fred Garvin's Cottage - Hancock, WI

This isn't a review, at all. Just a couple of photos from an awesome guy's weekend we had at Fred Garvin's family's cottage in central Wisconsin. Basically, we played disc golf the whole drive there, fished/drank/slept, and then played disc golf on the way home. Fantastic relaxing weekend with great friends and great golf.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito from Taco Bell

I like to try out all the new stuff that Taco Bell launches. I'm a huge fan of their test kitchen and think they are actually pretty innovative in the fast food world. Their new Cheesy Core Burrito had me intrigued, so I checked it out.

It's a standard burrito, but it's folded/rolled in such a way that there's a little tube on the inside that you can fill with cheese (and in this case, jalapenos). It's not fancy, and it isn't going to look perfect every time, but it IS a way to get more pump cheese into my facehole. I like where they were going with this.

It's on the list of "just ok" and "perfectly edible", which isn't a bad thing. It just isn't going to change my regular order to include one of these. Sure, every once in a while, I'll get one, but I'm not planning to stand at the drive through and convince people this is the holy grail. I liked it just fine and surprisingly, it wasn't terribly messy, like I suspected it would be. Maybe because I ate it so fast. I do like the flavor and ratios of this thing, so I was still pretty pleased with the burrito I got.

You did, as always, really well, Taco Bell. Thank you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Off-menu Monstrosity from Chipotle - The Quesarito

If you're bored sometime, google "menu hacks" and you'll find multiple lists of things you can order at restaurants that aren't on the menu, but that can either be assembled by the line workers or by you. It's great fun to be horrified at some of the things that people have come up with. What's even more fun is going to a restaurant with a like-minded friend and eating those monstrosities.

I've done a few of these culinary adventures with various people, but I know that my co-worker #1Fan is always up for abusing his stomach. We've eaten the Land-Air-Sea Burger and the McGangbang at MacDonald's a while back and we were due for another one of these. This time... Chipotle!

The Quesarito was our target. Picture this: a burrito from Chipotle is delicious, right? What if you took the tortilla and made it into a quesadilla filled with cheese and then wrapped that burrito with it? Brilliant! Sometimes, if the integrity of the thing isn't secure, they'll wrap it with another tortilla to hold in the guts.

The best way to order this is to do it online before you go. I found this out when I called the store and asked how I pre-order this thing. The guy at the counter told me to go ahead and put in the order online and in the comment section, just say, "Make this a quesarito". They'll have it ready for you when you arrive and it doesn't slow down the line too much during a lunch or dinner rush. I worked splendidly! They were ready just after we arrived and paid for our burritos. Magic.

The thing is pretty fat. It's the size of a Yorkie, we decided. It's difficult to get your hands around it, but surprisingly, it held together the entire way through. Very impressive. The first bite or two is mostly tortilla. The folds at the end add up, so you have to power through the first two bites before you hit the innards. Then you're in heaven. The amount of cheese is monumental and worth the first two tortilla-full bites.

We actually thought these weren't going to be that filling, but we forgot about the double or triple amount of cheese. While we were both pleasantly full, it truly wasn't a challenge to get this thing finished. In fact, we discussed how we could bump up the challenge for next time. We've got some horrific ideas, if you were wondering. Thankfully, this thing was really tasty (like all Chipotle burritos are), and I'd definitely order this again. Totally worth it. (sometimes place upcharge you for the additional tortillas, and sometimes they don't. Just shut up and pay whatever they tell you. It's going to range from the price of a regular burrito up to the price of a full burrito AND a full quesadilla - there's no set price, so be ready to pay whatever they ask. You're totally inconveniencing them, so be thankful you got one at all. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen – Eugene, OR

We were in town for a big roller derby tournament and I had done some food research – I usually do. I found a place that had some highly ranked BBQ. Papa’s was always at the top of the lists I was finding.

There’s always a big line (yeah, it’s one of those places), so we ordered at the counter to eat it back at the venue. I ordered a two bone lunch snack with collard greens and mac and cheese for sides, and then also ordered a cornbread.

While we were waiting, we saw a menu with fun drinks on them, so we decided to get a couple for ourselves. The Kool-Aid Fizzie was exactly what we needed to pass the time waiting for our food. It’s vodka, muddled lemon, sprite and either red or purple Kool-Aid. These things were fantastic.

Also, since these folks know their way around Kool-Aid, the bartender had made some Kool-Aid pickles. Basically take out half the brine from a giant jar of pickles, then replace with Kool-Aid and let sit for a few days. These cheery Kool-Aid pickles were amazingly sweet, but still had a great crunch. I’ll be doing this at home, just you wait.

We took the food back to he venue and everyone dug in. I was lucky I remembered to take a photo since everyone wolfed down their food in silence. I am positive everyone was thrilled with everything they had. The ribs were really tender, without being completely fall-apart-style. The collard greens were fantastic (actually some of the best I can remember), and the mac and cheese was really good (rue based, not just Velveeta).

The cornbread was also fantastic, and they were sure to give me enough butter to make sure there was a massive coating on the cornbread before eating it. I’d recommend this place pretty highly if you’re in the Eugene area. Just be prepared to wait (but get some Kool-Aid Fizzies while you’re waiting. You’ll be glad you did.

No top 5 for this place, since I cranked through the review pretty quickly.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mi Casa Tapas Bar – Frankfurt, Germany

I always do my food research before going to a new city (or even a city I’ve already been to). I wanted something special for my last night in Germany and I stumbled across this small Tapas place that was well-reviewed and sort of an out-of-the-way gem. I knew this place was a haul, so I hopped in a cab from the hotel and drove for like a half hour – yeah, it was out-of-the-way.

I asked for a table for one, which is always funny. They always ask if I’m meeting someone and I assure them I’m solo. I got a nice table by the window. I looked at the wine list since I was in the mood to do some damage. I ordered a bottle of nice Tempranillo – Preferido Tino 2014. My server asked if I was meeting someone. I said no. She asked if I wanted the whole bottle. I said I did. She paused. Then she went back behind the bar to find me a bottle of wine. Another server brought out my wine and my original server stopped him before he got to my table with two wine glasses. I couldn’t make everything she said to him, but he was just as confused why one person would order a bottle of wine for themselves. Eventually it made its way to my table and was delicious.

I ordered some Brot und Aioli (bread and aioli) and a plate of Serrano-Schinken with Melone (Serrano ham with honeydew) for an appetizer. It came out pretty quickly while I decided what I was going to eat. The bread was the rustic kind that was super dense with a thick crust. Perfect for this aioli I was given.  But, the ham and melon was amazing. I love meats wrapped around melon (insert joke here), but this was exactly what I needed to celebrate a successful trip to Germany (along with a bottle of wine for myself). Very bright melon flavor with a dark rich ham slice always cheers me up.

I flipped through the menu, but I saw what I wanted written in pen on the mirror on the wall in front of me. The Tapas plate for one person – the Diverse Küche.  

It had Oliven (olives), Teigröllchen mit Schafskäse (filled pastry rolls with sheep’s cheese and herbs), Hähnchen grill spieß (grilled chicken on skewers), Calamari Ringe (battered squid rings), Datteln im Speckmantel (bacon-wrapped dates), Runzelkartoffeln (roasted salty potatoes), and Hackfleischbällchen (a meatball in a tomato broth).

Everything was fantastic, but of special note was the meatball and the pastry rolls with cheese.  Btu honestly, I’d order this exact same thing again next time. It was so good and filling. I ate everything.

And I drank everything.

I chatted up a family that was having dinner because I was drunkenly drooling over the paella that had been brought to their table. The mother asked me a question in German and recognized my butchering of the language as American, so she politely spoke with me for a few minutes. About how good the food was at this restaurant. I needed to head back, but I really wasn’t feeling a cab ride filled with motion-sickness-inducing weaving and starting/stopping activity. (Did I mention I had an entire bottle of wine?) So I walked. I knew roughly where I was going and my phone GPS was actually working quite well in Frankfurt, so I hoofed it.

Hoofed it much further than I anticipated, but I needed to walk off some food and wine. So it happened to be like 2.5 miles and an hour and a half stroll in the dark. Probably one of the best walk-abouts I've had in a long time. Worth it and well-needed.

A night or two ago, I walked by a REALLY fancy restaurant on the south bank of the river – the old town of Sachsenhausen. It stuck out to me because it was a REALLY upscale restaurant, but had a cartooney chicken logo on the sign. It’s called Coq Au Vin. I’m not usually a dessert person, but I was going to rock this entire night in all things culinary. I had already knocked out a brilliant dinner and now it was time to blow up the dessert course after walking 1.5 hours to get there.

All the tables in the place looked full, so I grabbed a seat at the bar. Based on the number of people at the bar (zero) and the look on the server’s face (confusion), people don’t sit at the bar at this restaurant. I saw a chair at the bar, so I’m sitting at the bar. When the server recovered he was actually quite polite and talkative. Maybe he’s been dying for someone to sit at the bar and chat with him since he started – I’ll just go with that. It was dessert, so I ordered a dessert wine – a sweet Gewurtraminer from Spitz & Fils. I love me some Gewurztraminer and this one hit the spot. I asked for the dessert menu and found what I was looking for. It was basically a ridiculous dessert sampler with everything imaginable on it. I’m sure it was for a table of 8, but I didn’t care. I ordered it. The server asked if anyone was joining me (I get that a lot, to be honest), and I assured him I was celebrating – so he filled me wine glass back up to the top – I like this guy.

It has a small crème brulee, mousse au chocolat, profiterole, sorbet, and Tagedessert (dessert of the day).  The mousse was actually chocolate and vanilla mouse, which was wonderful. There were three different sorbets (lemon kiwi, and raspberry). The profiterole was dipped in chocolate and covered in almonds – delicious. The crème brulee was wonderful, like they always are when YOU get to break your own shell. But the sleeper dessert was the dessert of the day – strawberries in a rhubarb sauce. Trying to determine the translation of rhubarb from Germany to English was a bit of an adventure, but we figured it out and this thing was magic. 

I absolutely killed this entire plate (and multiple glasses of wine). 

The server was extremely gracious and thanked me for coming in. I really feel like the weirdness caused by me sitting at the bar sort of broke down a barrier. We’re both in a better place now (that may have been the gallon of wine I drank that night). All in all, I feel I did justice to what I refer to as the celebratory dinner experience. Nailed it.

(Yes, I know I combined Spanish dinner with French desserts, but frankly, I eat what I want.)