Thursday, January 31, 2013

As seen on triple D

One day last weekend, my wife and I decided to try the Iron Barley.  I have seen many good reviews and after a spot on the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives", I thought it would be fun to check out for myself.  It is located on Virgina Avenue, in South City.  It was actually not too far from the River City Casino or even Temptor Salon, where I was getting my haircut.

It is a nice place with a bar set-up, open kitchen, and wood everywhere.  It has a lot of tables that seat between two and 4 people and while we came in at about 12:30, afternoon.  This meant that the large group of 8 people who saw the "Seat Yourself " sign near the entrance, had to stand there, like a gorilla in the room, until someone came up to them and asked to help them.  I saw this group of 8 people stand near the entrance door for 15 minutes before someone came by to help them.  If I was with them, I would have walked out and left.  Well, besides that bit of fun, everything we had was fairly good.

The bar area has just about every possible thing you can find, under the sun, behind the bar. We were greeted after a while and then ordered our food.  My wife got the pulled pork sandwich with the past salad and slaw, which was the special.  I ordered a sandwich called the Ballistic Elvis, but without the cheese. What it was, was a pan fried peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich, with some bacon, banana and red pepper flakes.  It came with a bag of Ruffles.  It was a good sandwich, but I had only one small, minor needed change: the red pepper flakes needed to be more spread out.

The sandwich tasted like there was no spice in it at all, until I was left with but a quarter of it.  Then, every bite was hot and spicy.  It just looked as if the pepper flakes were sprinkled in, with a heavy hand at the end of the sprinkling, so it was very spicy at one point but not others.  Id give the sandwich a 3 out of 5, which means that I like it, but next time I would try to order something different.

I'd probably order what my wife had, if it was there again.  She got a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with some slaw and some pasta salad.  What a good test we had as when the plate was delivered to us, the pasta salad was about 3 pieces of pasta mixed in with some eggplant.  This really isn't a salad and on top of that, there was no mention of eggplant being anywhere or from anyone.  My wife is allergic to eggplant.  So, like all good restaurants, when we told them of her allergy, they quickly got us a new plate, put the sandwich on it and gave her two scoops of the slaw instead of just one.
The slaw was good.  The bun was toasted and stood up well.  The large heap of BBQ pork was very, melt in your mouth tender.  The sauce though, was very sweet and tangy, like it was a mix of the vinegar based sauces and the ketchup based sauces at once.  I'd give this special sandwich a 4 out of 5, meaning that everything was done right and I'd order it again.

The server was very good at recovering after the eggplant issue and the only problem we had was timing.  We told the server that we were in a hurry and thought that 30 minutes was enough time to order some food, while we sat 4 feet from the kitchen.  It seemed that even though we had put in our order when there were only 4 orders in front of us, the 2 cooks still took almost 20 minutes to get our food to us.  The restaurant wasn't very full, maybe only 1/3rd of the way full.  So, it may have just been a timing issue, but it seems that you shouldn't go there unless you have more than 30 minutes to eat.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mundane activity yields a surprise

Like most guys in St. Louis, a haircut is just a thing that must be done or has to be done every once in a while.  So, I am off with my wife in South City to get a haircut.  After getting a great haircut at Temptor Salon, I decided to waste some time and investigate the area, while my wife gets her hair cut and styled.  Where do I go?  Well, next door of course.

What I didn't realize while waiting for my wife as she was getting her hair cut, was that right next door was the Perennial Artisan Ales.  Perennial Artisan Ales started brewing there in September of 2011. They specialize in being a microbrewery and have a tasting room at this location. So, I walk in, look around and start thinking about what to drink.
My stylist, Corey James, suggested that I get and try the Abraxas and so after remembering that, I went with his suggestion.

This beer was nice, heavy and light at the same time.  It reminded me of a porter or a chocolate stout.  It was thick with chocolate flavor and that hit you first with a dark roasted note.  Then, after those you had some small flavors of vanilla or spices.  What this reminded me of or a good way to explain this beer, would be as if you sprinkled some cinnamon on a chocolate candy bar and then just started to munch away.

Now, while this is all good, what you should really pay attention to, is that you can drink a beer while you wait.  So, if your wife or yourself are in need of a haircut or anything else and you feel like hitting up a beer next door and trying something good, I suggest doing so.  There is outside seating and inside as well in their tasting room.  So, the next time your wife or girlfriend or friend or you, need a haircut and you would like a drink before or afterwards, quickly, then I suggest going to Temptor Salon and then over to Perennial Artisan Ales.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I can't think of one

I know I'm supposed to have a post ready, but I haven't eaten anywhere.  I do wish that there was a food truck that was open downtown before 11, but that is just me.  I can't call a restaurant up and tell them to change everything they are and do because I didn't get to try something on their menu, so in reality, why should a food truck change what they do and are for just me?  Well, it isn't just me.  I think that if there was a donut truck that was open downtown from like 4am to 10am or whatever, they would make bank.  I eat donuts in all hours of the day, from morning till night and even make my own, non-fried, sugar free and baked in the oven.  Sell donuts for 75 cents each and watch the money roll in.  Sell some cheap coffee and you would have a line of people waiting for your food in any weather, even today's weather.

Not related to donuts however, there is a cool event this weekend.  In City Hall is a cook-off challenge with beer and food.  I know, what could be better than that.  This event is the Crystal Cajun Cook-Off:

Now, they do mention that paying for a ticket will not allow you to sample what the chefs are making, during the cook-off, but they have food already prepared for you.  And the best part?  It says on their site that attendees can have "unlimited" bud light.  How cool is that?  Tickets are $35 each and you will be inside where it is warm and dry and enjoying yourself while the rest of the world freezes.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Death of the secret...

While you have been going about your merry way for the past week or so, something secret has been happening, right under your nose!  Here in St. Louis, a secret has become less of a secret but still hidden to probably a good 99% of the people.  What makes it even more of a secret, is that the people in charge of revealing the secret to a select and chosen few, didn't even do it correctly.  And on top of this, the ones who are supposed to execute the instructions for the secrets, can't do it correctly either.  So, what you have is a failed secret.

Do you get it?

What I'm talking about is St. Louis Bread Company's "Secret Menu".

Panera Bread, created a "secret menu" which focuses on healthy and high protein.  This menu worked well out West.  The only way you can get access to this secret menu of items is by registering with Panera and being part of the email distribution list.  So, the only way that you could see the secret menu's item of the beef lettuce wraps, was to be on the email list, and have a Panera rewards card.

To even know about these items, you had to register on the Panera website.  If you ask me, the idea that coupons or even special items only available to those who register or are on the email list is a great marketing idea.  It promotes people to register.

The problem that is happening though, is because this is all a secret:

*People are complaining that they cannot access the secret menu items.  That's because they didn't register and are not on the email list.  If you don't register or subscribe to a magazine, you don't get issues of the magazine and furthermore, you don't get access to special deals or coupons.  It is simple.  If you don't have a Costo membership, you can't shop at Costco.

*The workers can't figure out the secret menu.  Apparently the secret menu had a full nation-wide roll-out two weeks ago.  So, every employee at every Panera store should know about this and how to deal with it.  What you have now, two weeks after the full introduction, are employees who can't figure out where to input the items on their computer screens or even how to price these items out.

*Management is the problem.  Every time that my wife orders the beef lettuce wraps, it comes out the same way.  They put the lettuce on the bottom and then the beef on top of that and everything else over that.  They layer the wraps, like a salad, but they don't chop anything up.  So, what you have is lettuce wraps, in one bowl with everything on the bottom.  In order to make the lettuce wraps, like the name indicates, you have to dig out the leaves of lettuce from the bottom and under from all of the other ingredients and then try to make something with it.  So, when the manager is confronted about this plating disaster, she blames corporate, indicating that the way it is plated, is indicated in their training and their instructions.  So, somewhere in these restaurants is a diagram telling the employee how to prepare and plate these beef lettuce wraps and these charts suggest that the proper way to prepare and eat a lettuce wrap is to place the lettuce on the bottom of a bowl and then place the beef, followed by the vegetables and then finally add the pesto on top of everything, like a salad dressing going on top of everything.

This has already been labeled as one of the biggest marketing disasters for Panera and it certainly will be.  It could have a chance of being fixed if corporate could make sure that the items on the secret menu are prepared and plated as they are supposed to be.  But, in any case, if you are not a registered member of Panera and do not have access to the secret menu, then you honestly are better off.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Hot Aztec downtown...

I know, I got your attention didn't I?  I'm sorry, there is no hot Aztec girl downtown.  (Or hot Aztec guy, if that is your angle.)  The Hot Aztec is a food truck, the OTHER taco truck or Mexican food truck downtown.  This one is difficult to miss as it is painted a pink and purple motif.  This truck can easily be seen driving anywhere downtown; possible even through the thickest of winter fog.

I really don't and won't argue and compare and contrast this Mexican food truck with the other Mexican food truck I checked out last week.  I think that should be something for you to see for yourself.  All I can do is tell you about my experience and what the food was like here.

The Hot Aztec is a family owned and operated food truck serving family recipes that are Mexican street food items.  Hot Aztec uses only organic or local ingredients, if they can get them.  Also, the food items are also biodegradable.  I did like how the Hot Aztec people set up a sandwich board, and used that to show some explanations of what some traditional Mexican ingredients are.  If you are going to order a taco and it has something called "Cotija cheese", you can see the definition and then understand what it is and whether or not you want it.  Pretty good idea.

Now, after looking at the menu items, I made a decision.  I picked the al pastor.  This dish, is just the same name as one I ordered in a Mexican restaurant in the Lake of the Ozarks.  The dish is supposed to be a baked chicken, perfectly seasoned and served with some grilled onions and pineapple.  This is what I received for $4.
It was a taco, made on two corn tortillas, and with little cubes of juicy, perfectly cooked and seasoned chicken, with some chopped onions, grilled pineapple and cilantro.  It was good.  It was just as I remember it supposed to have tasted and was right on the money.  Everything was cooked fine and I had no issue with it and it was an easy 3 out of 5 stars for me.

Unfortunately, this is all I had a chance of trying.  They have more menu items and serve items for breakfast as well so I will have to come back and try more.  The only issue I have with them, is that they say that they serve "authentic Mexican street food" on their Facebook page and yet on the page, they say that they serve "gourmet Mexican cuisine!".  Then they suggest that you will not find the "beans and rice Mexican food...", which is sad because I tend to enjoy the beans and rice more-so than the proteins.  Still, I suggest checking the Hot Aztec out because from what I can tell, they do change their menu from time to time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cheese... by: Chef John Johnson

Let's start with every one's favorite.....CHEESE!!!!

One of my favorite things to do is to make making mozzarella cheese. Making Mozzarella is usually a two part process. First making the curd which is made from fresh milk and cannot be made from the processed mild that we get from the stores today. You can buy the curd direct from some local dairies or on line like I do.
Traditionally once you have the curd you can begin by warming the curd with warm water so you can begin to stretch the curd and create the long strands that define good mozzarella.  Once the curd is stretched you can begin to form the size ball you want. The name of the mozzarella is determined by the size of the ball. The word mozzarella actually refers to the tearing away of the ball from the curd.

Here is where I get a chance to play in the kitchen. Instead of using warm water and salt I like to use different flavors and herbs to not only enhance my cheese but to create something that no one else has. Playing with different combinations like:Vanilla Port, roasted garlic, ginger beer, and my most current tomato basil.

Replacing the warm water with fresh squeezed tomato water adding basil stems and salt I warm the liquid to 175 degrees and warm my curd in this before stretching the curd and forming the mozzarella balls. Creating flavored mozzarella with an unlimited palette of combinations. For all the Foodies out there this would make a great interactive wine party. If you plan it I just may have to see if i can come and help.

Playing with your food is not a bad thing anymore!

-Chef John Johnson is the Executive Chef for the restaurants at both the Lumiere Place and River City Casinos

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The sleeping union station

Almost two years ago, I wrote about the decline of food locations in the St. Louis Union Station. It is much of the same but perhaps a bit better now.  I am sure that everyone has some memory of going into Saint Louis Union Station and seeing it busy with shops, shoppers and restaurants.

One of the worst sites, is seeing a large sign indicating an area known as Pullman Market, which was opened in 1881 by the Pullman Palace Car Company.  The  market was used as an open air market for items and foods for travelers to get on the way to their train and their journey.  As I wrote about last year, I complained at how the station was THE place to go and be at the time.  Now, it is empty.  I know that the manager of PR emailed me and felt that I was basically performing treason against St. Louis by suggesting that this "world visited landmark" actually be nothing but a flea market, homeless shelter and a hotel on the far end.   But that is what it is, or was.  St. Louis Union Station really is not a world visited landmark and with nothing there that anyone would be willing to visit or see from anywhere around the world, even 15 minutes away, I just feel like it has been betrayed by the owners.  The owners and people who run this place have the ability to make it THE place to go, once again, but choose not to.

Anyway, this time, I did notice some changes.  First of all, the hotel last year was a chain hotel and now the hotel is called "The Union Station Hotel", which is fine, I guess.  They still have the ballrooms and they still have the rooms overlook most of the interior and exterior of the station.  I think that it is a cool idea and maybe someday I'll get a room and see what it is like in there.
There is a nice sign up now, saying what food places are inside and the fudgery is still there, albeit operated by a single person who does not singing or dancing.  Here is the thing though, Landry's Seafood House and the Hard Rock Cafe' are outside of the station.  They are technically within the parking lot of the Union Station.  So, you don't even have to go inside.  I don't see this as a boon to the station because if they want people to come through, now they can stay outside and not even come in.

The Einstein Bros. Bagels place is no where near the other food areas but on the first floor, near the hotel rooms and mainly for the people staying at the hotel.  But all of those other places are located in the food-court area, on the second floor.  There are a few places to the one side and then chairs and tables on the other side.  What I saw, was no one eating there.  I saw some people sitting near each other chatting and on their cell phones.  I saw a group of workers gathering trash from the trash cans.  I even saw four homeless people setting their luggage aside and playing cards on a table.

The best place there is gone:

Nothing else could ever take the place of O.T. Hodges chili parlor.  Even the Hooters which was on the top floor is gone.  How does a Hooters go out of business?

The problem I have, which I expressed last time, was that it seems as if no one wants to do anything to make this place a better place.  If you want to attract families and people to the hotel, then make an attraction there.  The old, historic but homeless and trashy union station is not an attraction.  No one comes to St. Louis to see Union Station.  They come for other things now.  I'm just torn because the station is beautiful:
I just feel like offering some consulting services for like $1,000 and then give them some ideas guaranteed to fill the center and make it a thing again.  Does anyone still go to inside the union station for food?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mexican style

Until today, I was a food truck virgin.  I knew that there has been a huge number of food trucks stalking the workers of St. Louis for a few years now and there is even one street dedicated to the food trucks serving people downtown.  What I never did, was experience them. I don't work anywhere near downtown, so when these food trucks are out and about, it is impossible for me to leave work and track them down to get a bite.  Yesterday, I had a rare opportunity to spend some time in downtown St. Louis from about 9am to 1:30pm., which was a perfect chance to check some of these out.  I always wanted to try a food truck and my thought was that every chance I get, I will try one out and talk about it.  I tried two out this morning but will only focus on one of them.

While relaxing and taking pictures for fun in the City Garden, I saw the Taco Truck.  The Taco Truck is owned by Tomas Pedro and serves what I think is authentic Mexican food.  It is not your Taco Bell tacos being served here, but real Mexican food that tastes fresh and delicious.

It was my first time there and I just wanted to try the food, so I ordered the Mexican Tacos with steak and within minutes I was handed a large container with 3 tasty tacos, some fresh limes and some fresh pico de gallo.  I had what I thought was a good amount, for $7.00 even.

Without mentioning other taco locations or other Mexican restaurants, it is important to note that some places sell tacos this same size and weight for about $3 each.  This would make the meal from Taco Truck equivalent to a $9 meal at other spots.  So, the amount of food for the amount of money was a good deal. Now, the pico de gallo was good and tasty.  Everything tasted like it should, so the vegetables were fresh and crunchy and you could tell that it didn't come from a can.  The steak was juicy, tender and well seasoned. The onions were perfectly browned and tender and yummy.  The tortillas were warmed up and everything was easy to eat with little to no food falling out while munching on these.  Oh yeah, you have to try their hot sauce and a good squirt of fresh lime juice on them.  The lime juice picks up a citrus side of the cilantro and the whole thing explodes with happiness in your mouth. This was good, and furthermore: it was really good.

You can find Tomas Pedro and his Taco Truck, Monday through Friday on Market Street downtown.  While there are other places to get Mexican food downtown, I seriously would recommend skipping them and doing all of your business at the Taco Truck.

Now, you can find out what is happening or where the Taco Truck is by checking their Twitter:

And don't forget to visit their facebook page for more information and photos:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Iron Chef America (duh, duh, duhhhhhhh)

I admit it, I am a fan of the show, even though it isn't the same as the original and is way too easy now.  By easy I mean that instead of the chefs having no idea what the secret ingredient could be they have to think for anything and instead of making one dish of each kind in that hour time, they have to make enough dishes for each judge at that time.  It takes a lot more time to make 20 plates of food than to make 5 plates of food.  Also, they reveal that on Iron Chef America, the chefs are told that there are three possibilities for what the secret ingredient could be, so they prepare for all three.  I remember the old show having no clue as to what it could be.  I think one time the secret ingredient was cheese and one time it is wine and it was difficult.  I also hoped that Iron Chef America would have foods that are more native to the country.  But anyway, I could go off all day complaining about the show, even though I do watch it.

What I also watched was The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, where they took everyone who didn't make it to one of the Next Iron Chef shows and asked them to compete again for the prize of being the next Iron Chef.  The show was interesting as they had a theme for each episode and tried to make dishes tied to that theme, like invention or inspiration.  Anyhow, you start with a load of really good chefs and then weed it down to the chefs that will make good TV.  What you had was 10 really good chefs, all celebrity chefs, all owners of multiple restaurants and all probably doing well; financially.  Then you say, "hey, win this and you will have some extra work to do but will gain fame and some bonus bucks."  Then you have a "Top Chef" knock-off called the Next Iron Chef, where chefs can compete to be an Iron Chef.  Again, my main issue with this is: if you have 10 Iron Chefs, and you can find new ones every year, then the chefs really are not that good.  In the original series show, you had 4 chefs who beat everyone.  They didn't get a new chef each year, they stuck with these and they beat everyone.  Look it up: there are now 10 Iron Chefs for Iron Chef America.  That is a lot of chefs.  I guess at this point, in order to keep the franchise going, they will get a new chef every year forever.

So, Alex Guarnaschelli wins to the dismay of a lot of people and takes the mantle as Iron Chef.  Her first battle, is mortadella.   

Mortadella is a sausage, made from pork, with huge cubes of pork fat.  It is like a fatty bologna and has Italian origin.   The sausage was basically used by the ancient Romans, which indicates that it is an old recipe.  That picture is not of small people either.  The sausage links are huge.  I know this because on Friday, we went to a Schnucks and purchased some slices to make sandwiches.

Yes, this is real and not a fake ruler.  This is a slice of Mortadella, with pistachios, that is about 7 & 1/2 inches in diameter.  It is huge.  I was able to tear off a quarter and tried to fry it in a pan and treat it like a better bologna.
What you have here, is something that tastes like the best bologna, but with huge pieces of pork fat.  In this case, the fat squares that were white originally, had cooked and turned clear.   Then the sides and the fat started to render further and get crispy.  What finished was something that tastes like fried bologna with a slice of bacon on it.  I forget how much it was, for the quarter pound that we picked up, but so far, this is definitely worth it.  I recommend looking for this and eating this and buying this, if you can find it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A new years brings...more

This is a big year and like every other new day and start of the year, I like to look back at what I have done and also what is in store for the new year here of 2013.  First of all, last year I had written 107 articles or blog entries.  Thanks to all of you for reading them and thanks to those of you who have passed this site on.  In the past full 3 years of articles, I have a total of 343 posts and over 32,000 views.  I could safely say that it is about 10,000 views per year.  Also, of note, is that the all-time most viewed post from last year, 2012, was my review of the Coconut Energy drink;  by Rockstar energy drinks.  That page alone has had 689 views since it was posted on February 12th.

Writing for this is hard work.  I donate at least 2 posts a week, on a Tuesday and Thursday and finding time and money to go to a new restaurant once a week is difficult.  I have to say that last year is when I was asked by insidestl to be there food writer and while I have received some good feedback, most of the comments have been negative.  Some people complaining about my grammar and spelling which is awesome because they probably don't know how to write correctly, themselves.  I did start to gather more attention and finally had restaurants contacting me and offering reduced cost on meals so that I could afford to write about them. didn't have a food writer until I came along and with luck, I'd like to stay with them.  (I am doing this for free for them anyway.)  But try paying for normal stuff on the average salary of residents of St. Louis and then finding an extra $50 at least a week to eat someplace.  I understand that some restaurants can't afford to give me and my family a free meal or even a discounted, but any help would be appreciated.

I've also had a lot of good feedback on my food writings.  Whether I wrote about a random happening involving food or a recipe, I get people interested and people seem to like those as well.  This way, it seems I can cover all my bases as I can review restaurants and write about food stuff.

As a neutral post, for this past Christmas, with gifted money, I purchased a new camera.  While the camera is not edible and has nothing to do with food, this now allows me to take better pictures of food and maybe even restaurants, if they allow me to bring it in.  I used to have a Panasonic digital point and shoot camera and while it was nice, it was starting to lose its practical uses.  Except for taking pictures of my family at places, it wasn't that good for any real use.  What my wife talked me into getting, was a Nikkon D1500.  I'm happy for this purchase.  I finally have a professional level camera and the pictures of food should get better looking.

As the new year, I'd like to write about more things.  I want to write about every topic of food I can think of.    I think that if it is something that is not offensive, I will write about it.  After all, I don't get paid to write this stuff so I can write about what I want.  As such, I have branched out and asked others to guest write.  I did ask someone, a professional chef who has worked at the MGM casino in Las Vegas and is in charge of the food at two casinos here in St. Louis.  So, if everything works out fine, within this month, we should get an article by him up and maybe about 1-2 a month afterwards.

If there is anything you wish me to do, recipe attempts, restaurant reviews or do some research on a food, please let me know.  Thanks for hanging on to