Monday, April 24, 2017

Conch Republic Grill – Redington Beach, Florida



D.Rough and I were passing through the area during lunch and the “conch” part of this bar and grill caught our attention. We’re both big fans, so we knew we had to pop in and get some lunch. All of the seats outside were taken, which was fine because I was hella-sunburned (don’t ask). We pretty much wanted everything on the menu, so we decided on an appetizer sampler. It had conch fritters, buffalo shrimp, and deep fried zucchini and a bunch of dipping sauces. Hard to go wrong, frankly.
But first… beach cocktails!

The conch fritters were just ok – they could have used a bit of seasoning in the batter, but they weren’t terrible. They came with a spicy remoulade sauce, which helped, so they ended up being alright. They were about average, as far as conch fritters go.

The buffalo shrimp was the best part of the plate. Really great sauce on these and it didn’t taste like it was from a bottle. We pretty much fought over who was going to eat more of these.

The zucchini was good at first, but then became pretty soggy once we hit the half-way point. I really liked them a lot at the beginning of the meal, but when we came back to them, we were both a little disappointed. 

This is one of those places I wouldn’t make a special trip to, but I’d certainly go back to if we were in the area and needing some food (and cocktails). Just an average giant beach bar and grill.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa – Orlando, Florida



Is Florida even on the map when it comes to BBQ? Well, Pig Floyd’s certainly is. They’ve got a bunch fo traditional smoked meats, but I was there for some different things. D.Rough and I thought we’d have a light lunch before going to hang with my relatives in Orlando. Light lunch is something that I don’t have a good track record on. But I thought I’d give it a shot.

I know this place is known for their ribs, but I knew I had to eat light. So we got an order of Yuca Fries, their signature sandwich called The Big Floyd, an elote (Mexican street corn), and a butter chicken taco. Yes, you read that right. Butter Chicken – as in Indian food style butter chicken.

This place is hoppin’, for the record. People inside, people outside, people in line, people picking up orders to go, etc. You get the point. Be ready for a wait – but it’s worth it.

The Big Floyd pretty much has everything on it. Oakwood smoke brisket, pulled pork, sausage, house-made sweet BBQ sauce, citrus peanut slaw, on a toasted pineapple coconut roll. You can taste all of the things in there, as well. Lots of meat on this, but I really loved the slaw that was on top. The roll was fantastic, as well. The fries were fine, but nothing to note, especially compared to all the other stuff here.




The yucca fries were good, and the dip that was with it was also good. We’ve had better, but we’ve also had worse. I wouldn’t hesitate to get these again, so I’d still say they’re better than average yucca fries.

The Mexican street corn wasn’t the best, however. I know we’re spoiled with the neighborhood we live in being so Hispanic, but we can get some REALLY good and messy street corn where we’re from. This was a little lacking in ingredient quantity. But, of course, that didn’t stop me from devouring it quickly. Hahaha.
The butter chicken taco was a little less incredible than I had set my expectations for, but it was still REALLY good. I wanted it to be good enough to move to Orlando for, but it wasn’t. But I would still recommend it to people. The amount could have been larger on the tortilla, but what was there had a great flavor. And the peppers on top of everything also added to it. I really liked it, but I think I had set my hopes REALLY high. Hahaha. Great concept, however!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Aku Aku Tiki Bar – Orland, Florida



When I’m out of town, I generally do some research on food places and if I can find one, I try to get to whatever tiki bar is in the area. Orlando (surprisingly) doesn’t have a lot of tiki bars, but apparently, we picked the best one. It’s set off the main street, so it’s easy to miss, but we tracked it down on a slow night. There were only a couple of people inside, so the bartender (Joe)(the most amazing man on the planet and a hell of a bartender) made sure we were well taken care of.

Joe recommended drinks for us and told us about all these fabulous off-the-menu drinks that they bring to cocktail contests and win with, but haven’t gotten around to putting them on the menu. If you go here, ask them about some of their incredible drinks they have back behind the bar that they don’t really have a lot of names for.

I can’t tell you a lot of the names of these drinks, mainly because Joe kept them flowing. He would tell us about a drink and it sounded really…uh…unusual (I’m being tactful). But then he’d offer to make us a sample (shot sized) to convince us. And EVERY one he made was better than the last. He had one he made with soy sauce and maybe brown sugar that was amazing, but the best one of the night was something involving a banana-infused rum and some sort of chocolate/coffee-hinted drink. I know I was expecting something sickeningly sweet like 99 Bananas, and it wasn’t that at all. It was made with like dehydrated bananas dropped in rum and took a lot of effort. Joe really knows his craft and I’m glad he was our bartender that night.

The place filled up with upstairs residents (Aku Aku is on the bottom floor of an apartment building, so the residents use it like their living room and Joe knows all of them by name), and became a lot more hopping, but Joe took time to come hang out with us and sit around and talk music with me. I’m sure I have a photo of the 13 or 14 rum drinks we had, but I can’t find it. Thankfully, D.Rough was driving home and making sure I celebrated my birthday properly. I assure you I will go back to Aku Aku every time I’m in Orlando. It’s in the top 5 tiki bars I’ve been to in my entire life. Thanks for KILLING IT, Joe.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Frenchy’s – Clearwater Beach, Florida



D.Rough and I took a little beach vacation for my birthday this year and ended up on the Gulf side of Florida. Clearwater Beach has a great little set of related restaurants called Frenchy’s – Frenchy owns like 8 restaurants in the area and they’re all different atmospheres, but all with delicious food. We popped in and had to wait a bit for a table since it was pretty packed (mainly with boaters from the marina next door). 

We grabbed a couple of cocktails since we were on vacation and scoured the menu. We knew we needed fried food, and thankfully, that’s a big part of the menu here.

We got some conch fritters and a couple of Kalik beers – our staple diet from when we were in the Bahamas. It brought back some good times… sigh.

We decided we needed to split an order or garlic crab fries and a fried grouper sandwich. I’m glad we did, since all of the portions are pretty generous. It was just about the right amount, and tasted great. 

The garlic crab fries are garlic fries with crab meat on top - REALLY great!

The breading on the grouper sandwich was fantastic, but still let the fish flavor come through.

Top 5 things about Frenchy’s
1. Conch fritters
2. They have Kalik!
3. Garlic crab fries
4. Fried grouper sandwich
5. Really nice servers and staff

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s pretty crowded and loud
2. I hope you’re in the mood for fried (thankfully, we usually are…)
3. If you’re anti-chain, this may not be your place, since they own MANY restaurants in a one mile radius
4. Nothing else is bad!!!!
5. N/A

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Shish – St. Paul, MN



TattooBoy and I needed to get some breakfast after a hard night of after-partying. I had been wanting to check out Shish in St. Paul, and he was game, so we headed over. The menu is on large boards hanging on the walls, so it was pretty easy to figure out what we both wanted. They’ve got a lot of Middle Eastern-leaning dishes, but also a wide variety of more traditional American items for those less adventurous (no judgment). I was drawn to the Chaksuka, and TattooBoy went with a serious Turkey and Cheese Omelet. 

While we waited for our food to come out, TattooBoy had a great view of the fancy cake display case, so it was only a matter of time before he caved…

My Chaksuka looked fantastic, and better yet, it TASTED fantastic. It was a cast iron pan full of grilled sweet red peppers, roasted roma tomatoes, garlic and onions, and an egg. It came with a bunch of accoutrements like kalamata olives, feta, pineapple slices, pepperocinis, tomatoes, fried potatoes, and a ton of pita triangles. The people here do not want you to leave hungry EVER.

TattooBoy was really happy with his omelet with turkey sausage and cheese, but that certainly didn’t stop him from grabbing a piece of incredible pistachio cake. Which made me think, “I should get something to bring home to D.Rough!” I’m glad I did – that Bailey’s cake they made here was top-notch!

There were a bunch of things I’d get on the menu here, so I look forward to going back here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Young Joni – Minneapolis, MN



It was a nice night for a double date with D.Rough’s sister and Brother in Law, and we just happened to get a table at Young Joni. I’ll start by saying the entrance is painfully hidden. I walked by the entrance a few times while other tables laughed at me and eventually the hostess had to come out and open the hidden door for me. They really need to put some sort of indicator on the all-glass front so people know where to find the door. Our table was against those windows, so we watched at least 20 different groups of people who were unable to find the door and needed to be helped. Just wait outside the place until someone comes out – that’s my advice.

It’s an upscale restaurant by the folks who opened Pizzeria Lola, so we knew it was going to be good. We weren’t disappointed. They’re also known for their pizzas, and a few other dishes, so we split a lot of things four ways and got to sample a lot.

We started with the Brussel Sprouts, the Cauliflower Appetizer (it’s actual name), and the Bi Bim Grain. D.rough and I also split an Amatriciana Pizza.

The brussel sprouts were awesome. Nice shavings of parmesan cheese on them and a little pork belly that wasn’t fatty mixed in. Delicious, really.

The Cauliflower Appetizer (it’s actual name) was perfect. Lots of roasted veggies (something they’re known for) and some jalapeno rings that made the whole dish sing. I loved it.

The Bi Bim Grain was unusual, but I really liked it. More Asian vegetables than most places have, and some of them were pickled quite nicely. There were purple daikon radishes, nori, and something called Job’s tears, and faro.  The dish was topped with a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg and some saffron strands. Great appetizer!

The Amatriciana Pizza is a red sauce pizza with pecorino cheese, guanciale (pork cheeks), and lots of onions. Panchetta also, I think. It was quite good and the crust was nice and crispy while being super thin. Not too much sauce probably helped this thing, since it let the toppings shine a little bit. Nice pie they’ve got here. 

And since dessert must always be at least looked at, we found ourselves with the Cone Trio. Tiny ice cream cones with various dips. They were fine, and a good way to finish the meal. I didn’t eat much of these. And the brother in law got the Church Basement Bar sampler. Which he said tasted like they were bars right out of the church basement. It’s been a while since I went to church, so I couldn’t tell you. hahaha

I think you’ll like this place if you can find your way in. There is also a hidden bar entrance in the back that you have to enter from the alley – which ALSO has a hidden entrance. It’s weird how difficult his place is to actually get inside. And, oddly enough, the website isn’t up and running yet, so that is ALSO difficult to get into. Geeeesh.

Top 5 things about Young Joni
1. Amatriciana Pizza
2. Cauliflower Dish
3. Bi Bim Grain
4. Brussel Sprouts
5. There IS a parking lot next to the building – hooray!

Bottom 5 things
1. Can’t get inside the restaurant
2. Can’t get inside the speakeasy-style bar in back
3. Can’t look at their website
4. You’ll have to wait for a table – which isn’t necessarily bad
5. It’s priced for date night, but after you eat, you won’t mind paying it

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Draft Horse – Minneapolis, MN



This place had been on our list to try for a few different reasons, but it took us forever to get here. The place is proud of the fact that it leverages local (and in many cases in the same building) suppliers of meat and veggies for its delicious sounding menu. They’ve got a few star items and we tried to get a couple of them. 

We had to wait a bit for a table, but we were expecting that. So we grabbed a few beers and watched the servers bring out delicious smelling plates to various tables. We chatted up the bartender and a couple of servers that helped us make our decisions. We got seated and as we were looking at our menus, the table next to us kept offering their food for us to try. They had ordered too much and were SUPER generous about sharing with us and another table. Really Minnesotan and really awesome.

We ordered a meat plate to start with, since it’s difficult to go wrong with those. We also got a pork cassoulet to share. For our entrees, D.Rough got a roast chicken pot pie and I, after changing my mind a few hundred times, decided on the pork shank.

The meat plate and pork cassoulet came out first and we dug in. Great mixture of meats on the meat plate, and each one tasted different (sometimes the meat boards end up tasting the same, but I like variety of this one). Great choice.

The pork cassoulet was quite good. I would get this again, without question. The beans were nice and soft and not grainy and the rustic bread complemented it really well.

The chicken pot pie was good, but not great. I know D.Rough was expecting more flavor, but it was just ok. Plenty of food, but we wished it had more flavors in it (aside from a boat-load of onions).

The pork shank was massive. Really waaaaay too much food. I should have split this between two or three people. The rub it had was fantastic, so I was pretty stoked about eating the rest of it. The skin was a little thick and chewy in spots, but one I got down to the meat, it was incredible. I really loved the flavor of this giant chunk of meat. The seasonings on the outside had clearly soaked into the meat below and gave this meat serious flavor. It was perfectly cooked, as well – not dried out.  I’m glad I got it, but I’d only get it again if I were sharing with a few people. It’s not a one-person portion.

Great restaurant with a slightly higher price tag than our usual stops, but we’re glad we went there to have a nice date night.

Top 5 things about Draft Horse
1. Pork Cassoulet
2. Pork Shank
3. Meat Plate
4. Super friendly people that shared their food with us
5. Love the locally-sourced food

Bottom 5 things
1. Wished the Roasted Chicken Pot Pie were better
2. It's upscale pricing
3. You're going to have to wait, since it isn't very large inside
3. Nothing else was bad!!!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wrestlepalooza 9 – Minneapolis, MN



I can’t believe I’ve been to almost all of these ridiculously fun semi-pro wrestling events. Each one is more fun than the last. I’ve reviewed these before, but I wanted to keep it in front of you so you can remember to buy your tickets to these always-sold-out events. It continues to be like a huge party sponsored by PBR with wrestling, burlesque, and bands. It’s such a good time.

I got to see one of my favorite wrestlers lay some waste in the ring as well – Cody Rice: The Husky Heartthrob. He’s so fun to watch (and also to hang out with).

Here’s a couple more photos to remind you of the awesome times we have. Just go, for your own sake. Go.

Also, I love seeing people legit cry at these things. 
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mucci's (for donuts) - St. Paul, MN

Mucci's is one of my favorite donut places in the Twin Cities. I've reviewed this place before and they absolutely kill it every time I've gone there. The small restaurant is a nice homey Italian restaurant at nights, but on Saturday and Sunday mornings, they make upscale donuts.

For example, these donuts are Blood Orange glazed and Pistachio glazed, respectively. They were absolutely incredible.

We also got a slice of their homemade pizza for breakfast. Brilliant idea, Mr. Niver. Thanks for making me give you all my money at all of your restaurants. hahaha

www.muccisitalian.com

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Naughty Greek – St. Paul, MN



D.Rough found some online photos of the food from this place and we dropped by one night we didn’t feel like cooking. The small shop has about 6 tables in it, so you may have to take your food to go if there’s no room. The menu is on the wall and explains things pretty thoroughly – and otherwise, you can ask the staff if you have any questions. We ended up getting a pork gyro platter (with an upgrade to naughty fries – which means they add some feta to the top), a pork gyro sandwich, and baked feta pastries drizzled in honey.


The platter is pretty large and comes on a mini-cookie tray. It’s got all the toppings you could want and a mound of meat. I also LOVE that they cover the pita in olive oil before serving it – something more places could take a hint from. The pork flavor was fantastic and there was more than enough – in fact, I couldn’t eat the entire thing. That doesn’t happen very often. The fries are very crispy, which rules, especially when you have to take half of them home to reheat the next day.

The pork gyro sandwich was basically the same thing, but comes all wrapped up in one package – no assembly required. Maybe slightly less meat than the platter, but it’s still got plenty. Really delicious.

The baked feta was great. Truly. I think you’re probably going to want to split one of these for two people, but if you reeeeeeally enjoy eating a block of feta on your own, no judgment here.

The owner, Angelo, came out and we chatted about D.Rough and my trip to Santorini a few years back. He’s got family in Greece and has been to Santorini himself. We swapped some good stories and assured him we’d be back (to both Santorini and to his restaurant in St. Paul).

For the record, they do serve Greek beer and wine here, so that doesn’t hurt anything.

Looking forward to our next visit here. We loved it. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Naked Chicken Taco – Taco Bell



As usual, Taco Bell has knocked it out of the park on their new menu item. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be walking into with this thing, but I do love fried chicken. So, when Taco Bell told me they were making a taco shell out of fried chicken, I knew right away I was in. I thought I might be bummed that there wasn’t any ground beef in the taco, but the meat-flavor of the chicken was surprisingly good, and the crispiness of the fried part also added to the whole situation.

I’m a fan. Thanks for rockin’ it once again, Taco Bell test kitchens. You keep doing what you’re doing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Spoonie’s – London Mills, IL

I saw someone post a photo of a gigantic deep fried pork tenderloin at this place this fall and I knew if I was ever in the neighborhood, I’d check it out. Sure it’s an hour and a half drive from my parent’s house, but that’s about as close to “in the neighborhood” as I  was likely to get to the 392-person town in central Illinois nowhere near an interstate.

I walked in and everyone looked at me. When they didn’t recognize me, they kept looking at me. I quickly ordered a PBR to set everyone at ease. Apparently, everyone that eats here knows each other.
Damn I miss small-town life. It’s tantalizingly simple and honest. Seriously, I miss these kinds of places. The inside is decorated with craft-y signs like “$5.00 charge for whining” and “you can’t fix stupid” and “Today’s menu: take it or leave it”. It’s also got that always-under-construction feel to it with some exposed studs on the wall.

They’ve got a huge patio on the side of the building for the warmer months. I  bet that place gets hoppin’ in the summer.
The bartender/servers were really nice and helpful. They made sure I got what I needed to drink and a menu. The place was almost full, even at lunch on a Thursday. And a lot of those people were ordering pork tenderloins. The menu had quite a lot of things on it, many of which visit the deep fryer before getting put on a plate. There are also plenty of sandwiches and pizzas to make sure no one starves here.


The tenderloin didn’t actually take that long to cook, and I was really happy about that. The thing is much thicker than I expected. Yes, it’s really large, but I thought that would be because they pounded it thin and wide. It’s wide, but it’s actually got some pork in there to contend with.  The flavor was actual pork and not just brown/fried. The guy working the fryer knew what he was doing, as well. No greasy flavor and not just overdone crunch. Well played, Mr. Fryer Guy. It comes with a regular sized bun (which my friend referred to as a Pork-T yarmulke), which means – based on the bun size – that this should be four sandwiches.

I promised my wife I wouldn’t try to eat the whole thing, and I didn’t. I basically ate three sandwiches by eating all the way around the bun. I’m sure I could have finished it, but I wouldn’t have fallen asleep on the country roads of Illinois. And also probably would have been in pain, but that’s beside the point. It was a great sandwich and I think the largest one I’ve ever tried to eat. The second closest would be the one in Indiana at Big Daddy’s.

If you’re ever driving near Peoria, Illinois, and have some time for a lunch excursion, it’s worth the drive.  You’re not going to get fancy beer here, but you will get full, and you’ll be happy about it.

Spoonie’s Bar & Grill
103 3rd St.
London Mills, IL 61544