Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A secret food truck feast

There was a food truck feast this past Saturday, but you would never have known it.  First off, it was announced in a small ad in the RFT magazine.  Secondly, it could have been a better arranged event.  Here is the thing: it was held partially be the Four Hands Brewery, which was on 8th street downtown.  The brewery has parking places in back of the building; about 8.  So, this event, was to have about 10 food trucks, live music and food and beer and all sorts of goodies, as well as the first fashion truck.  This is a good idea, but could have been a billion times better, had there been parking.  The closest parking, was on 8th street, but after those two blocks of parking filled up, the only answer left was more street parking.  Parking was done on the streets as far West as near St. Raymond's church.  Parking doesn't seem like an issue at first, but there was something gnawing at me: the vacant "event parking" lots nearby.  There was three, large empty lots within a shotput's throw of the event.

This meant that just a quick forethought on the event organizers, could have had those spots not only available, but for rent for just a few bucks.  Even if they charged a single $1, per car, they would have cleaned up with their 50-60 spots, versus not having them open at all.  Now, besides the parking and the tables setup for 50 people when there was over 200 people there at any one time, I'd say everything else was good.

My family and I tried as much as we could.  It was also important to see that some of the foods we ordered, were not only child friendly, but were inhaled by those same children.  We ordered a grilled cheese sandwich from Sarah's Meltdown: https://www.facebook.com/sarahsmeltdown .  We had ordered a grilled cheese in which my boys inhaled.  I think my wife was able to get a single bite of it before each boy grabbed half of it, and ate all they could.  It was definitely cheesy and I'd say as far as child friendly things, that was an easy 3 and 1/2 out of 5.

Next, my son ordered a dish from the Completely Sauced truck.  They say that they serve Creole Cuisine.  So, my son orders their nachos, which I wasn't happy about because I was expecting chips and cheese which sound great to a 6 year old, but isn't really note-worthy from a food truck.  These nachos were not nachos. They were $7.50 and it was this huge paper basket of sweet potato chips with what seemed like beef, green onions, and this amazing sauce.  So, I sat there, after having a sample and watched my 6 year old, take a fork and eat and eat and eat.  My skinny little 6 year old, ate the whole thing, which was probably 2 pounds of food!  The flavor of the sauce, reminded me a lot of the flavor of a sauce that Guerrilla Street food had on one of their dishes.  It was fantastic at an easy 4 out of 5 stars.

There was a Greek truck there called "My Big Fat Greek Food Truck" and I had to ask and order from them.  First off, I found out that they do everything there and even the woman, whom I spoke with, makes the yogurt fresh and then the woman makes the Tzatziki sauce from scratch, using that home-made yogurt.  They cook the meats, they spice and make the herb mix for pita bread.  I ordered the gyro and some baklava.  The baklava was made from scratch and made extra sweet with what tasted like honey.  It was so good and so moist and the woman said that everything, but the phyllo dough, was done by them. The baklava was a 4 out of 5 as in, you have to order it.  The gyro was huge and was great with the raw onions and tomatoes.  The sauce was great and the beef/lamb was delicious.  The woman there actually told me that at one time, they offered a pork gyro, but  no one liked it.  Weird.  So, the gyro was huge and was enough that I had to save it a few hours later and eat it again for dinner.  The meat was perfectly spiced and the first half of the sandwich was perfect and making me happy.  I think it wasn't until I got to the second half that I thought that the meat was getting salty and spicy.  I think there was actually a chili rub or spicy paprika or something that lent some heat, on the pita bread.  All in all, it was very good and I'd give both of these items a 4 out of 5 as you have to order them.

There was a truck that was called "The Sweet Divine".  The side of the truck mentioned that they had won Cupcake Wars.
What they specialized in, was cupcakes and they had this clever stand out front with what each cupcake looked like along with a description.  They had some interesting flavors and out of the 6 available, we had chosen 4.  Our four flavors were a Salted Caramel, which had an overly salty cake and a smooth and rich caramel sauce.  The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough one had a very rich chocolate cake with a small spot in the bottom with some cake that tasted like cookie dough.  There was a simple icing on top and some small chocolate chips also.  The Neapolitan had flavors of chocolate and vanilla and strawberry that tasted just like a scoop of the ice cream.  It was right every-way. The best they had was one called "The Drunken Pig".  It was a beer flavored cake with a simple vanilla icing and pieces of crumbled cooked bacon on top.  The thing was awesome.  The cake part tasted like a really, really yeast-y, like a good beer and then the bacon on top worked with everything.  Now, there were four cupcakes, but every one was worth getting.  It was an easy 4 out of 5 and each was awesome.
Now we also picked up a Nutella crepe' from Rooster:
It was as good as a Nutella crepe' can get at a 3 and 1/2 out of 5.

We also got a large sushi burrito wrapped type thing that my wife got and thought was delicious.  It was from Chop Shop and I forget which one it was, but it was huge and perfectly done.  It also came with some Wasabi spiced popcorn.  I'd say that it was a 4 out of 5.

There you have it.  This was a quick run through of about 6 food places and what I thought of them.  If you see any of these driving around, I suggest that you flag them down and give them your money,.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dressels' pub

About a week ago, my wife and I went with another couple to Dressel's Public House.  The other husband we went with, has been there many, many times.  His main thought about the location, was that half of the items are good and the other half are bad.  I thought he was just being a pessimist but, his thoughts and ideas were correct as about half of the items we ordered were good and the other half could have been skipped.

We stood and waited for a table, after I had made contact with someone from the email on their website.  I sometimes call and sometimes use opentable to see how they respond to my reservation request.  This time, they did horrible with the email request.  I did get someone to respond and they confirmed the day and time and I thought I was ready, but then when we arrived, there was no reservation in my name at all and we had to wait 15 minutes for a table.  The inside was covered with signs and memorabilia about Scotland.  The pub was originally opened in 1980 and was opened to let people have a place to relax and feel comfortable in the art and literary area.  There are autographed magazines and playbills and all sorts of things from Jon Dressel, who is a respected poet dealing with subject matter from Wales, although he was born and raised here in St. Louis.  His son, Ben, runs the pub now and has moved it in the direction of the farm-to-table and seasonal food approach.  But, all of that doesn't mean anything if the food isn't that good.

We started off with some starters, so we could get a good feel of the food here.  We ordered the Homemade Potato Chips with the added Rarebit.  What we had received was burnt chips and a tiny portion of $2 cheese.  For $6 of chips that were supposed to be cooked to order, our luke warm burnt chips were not what we had expected.

Properly cooked chips are not supposed to be brown, but lightly browned.  I think of the chips they serve at John D. McGuirks or even the ones in this bag from Lays.  Chips are lightly colored as you only fry them long enough to cook them, not kill them.  You know, started off with burnt chips isn't a great way to impress me.  I give these a 2 out of 5.  I will not be ordering chips again from them.

We had also ordered the House Banger Plate, which in this case was a blue corn pancake with a breakfast pork sausage and fried egg.
It was good: the pork sausage was perfectly spiced and perfectly cooked.  The egg was right as well and that pancake was heavy and dense and very flavorful.  The whole thing was as much of a success as the first one was as much of a failure, which was a lot.  I would give this one alone a 4 out of 5.  In fact, if I came again, I'd order 3 of these just for myself.

Again, on this side of the spectrum, the two wives present, happily ate the Mussels.  They said that these mussels were perfectly cooked and perfectly flavored so that the broth was worth taking the time to soak up with the rock hard garlic bread.  Everyone loved them and a 4 out of 5 for mussels was given.

So then, it comes to my main plate and I get ballsy.  First of all, I'm not a cheese guy.  I don't sit around trying and tasting all sorts of cheeses.  I don't like the pungent scents and flavors that go with cheeses.  I ate some white and mild cheeses on pizza and will let go with some provel or mozarella but I will not eat cheeses on a sandwich or burger.  So, anyway, what made Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives so happy was the Porchetta "Louie".  So, this sandwich is supposed to some herb roasted pork, rapini and peppercini on it.  So, I start to eat and eat and it tastes good at first.  If I had only had two bites, like Andrew Zimmerman, and stopped there, this would have been a 4 out of 5 stars for me.  The problem, was that it was so heavily peppered, that by the 4th or 5th bite, I was sensing heat and by the 8th or 9th bite, I was using my Guinness to wash the sandwich taste down.  And it was salty, like salt-lick salty.  The sandwich was bad and it was getting worse with every bite.  I didn't even finish it and I was starving at this point.  I gave this sandwich a simple 2 out of 5 stars. 

So, then, I get a choice of a side and I am suggested that I take the baked beans and so I take them.  They arrive with my sandwich and I am happy.  The others at my table and I all take a fork-full of the beans and...we all had mixed reviews.  Half of us had beans which were over cooked, in that they were mushy.  The other half of us had undercooked beans which were almost crunchy.  There was no huge pieces of bacon fat or brown sugar syrup slathered in and instead was a simple tomato tasting sauce with undercooked and overcooked beans.  A 2 out of 5 for me.

Overall, there were some hits and some misses.  It seems that if this is a restaurant where great thing happen, the one who does them was off and his sub just didn't care.  The chips really started it all for me because I am one of those guys that if the chips are really really good, I'll find an excuse to come and sit, drink and eat chips.  But when you fail at making potato chips, I wonder how good you can do anything else.

Dressel's Public House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How about a recipe?

I was playing around with making the perfect recipe for some meringue cookies and came up with these.  If done properly and depending on what flavoring agent you could have something that is light and cloudy and fluffy and airy and tastes like marshmallows.  Here is some good things with cookies like these:

1. They have no carbs. (Even though Truvia is listed as having carbs, it passes through your body undigested and therefore doesn't affect this.  Also, egg whites do have carbs, but the egg white from a large egg has 0.3 grams of carbs and so forth, eating the four needed for this recipe means that your single gram of carb will not change a thing.)

2. They have no gluten.  The cookies use the protein mesh of a meringue to create their lift and their structure so there is no need for fat and flour.  This means that there is no need for gluten and these are also gluten free.

3.  They have no points.  If you are doing Weight Watchers, you will notices that a single batch will make about 20-30 good sized cookies.  Four egg whites will have 2 Weight Watchers points, Truvia can be considered to have 0 and the flavoring will have 0 as well.  So, divide your 2 points over 20 cookies and you find out that you can eat them all and likely fill up before you eat your 2 points.

4. Made this way, they are diabetic friendly.  The egg whites needed would have a combined GL of 1.  This means that made with Truvia, someone who is diabetic, could eat all of the cookies with no affect on their blood sugar levels.

5.  They are fat free.  Egg whites are considered fat free, which means that this recipe made with Truvia, would have no fat in it at all.

6.  These are also almost no calorie.  Truvia has no calories, the egg whites would have 80 calories and that is it.  So, let's say that you have 20 large cookies made from this recipe.  Well, then, that is 80 calories divided into 20 cookies making each cookie only 4 calories.  Think of how many things someone could eat that has more calories than this.  There are 200 calories in a banana.  So, you could eat about 2 and 1/2 batches, or 50 of these cookies to get the same calories as that banana.

So, are you ready?  This recipe will require an oven, preheated to 300 degrees F, a mixing bowl with the whisk attachment and some ingredients.

You will need:

4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
1 tablespoon of flavoring (Vanilla extract, strawberry extract, etc.)
1/2 cup of Truvia

1.  Pour the egg whites, Tartar and flavoring into mixing bowl and turn on medium for 3 minutes.
2   After 3 minutes, the mixture should no longer be clear and you turn it up to as fast as it can go.
3.  Mix until it starts to get foamy.  When it gets to this point, slowly sift in the Truvia until finished and continue mixing.
4.  Keep mixing until it gets to stiff peaks.  You can tell what this is by turning off the mixer and taking the whisk attachment out.  Hold it over some unsuspected child's head as they have a look of horror upon their face.  Stiff peaks mean that the egg white proteins have formed a foam which has trapped air within in and has used the sugar substitute or real sugar and cream of tartar to help stabilize the foam enough that it will not break.
5.  When it gets to this consistency, get some baking sheets out.  Place parchment paper on the sheets and then using a spoon, scoop some of the batter on the baking sheets and place in the oven for 25-35 minutes.

DO NOT USE Wax Paper!  Wax Paper will burn in the oven and fill your house with smoke.

Eat and enjoy.   

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Local business on the right track

When I worked at an Old Country Buffet/ Home Town Buffet, more than 10 years ago, I remember cleaning up after we closed the restaurant and I was going through the kitchen.  At the end of a busy night, if we had a pot full of soup, we just threw it away.  Down the drain it went!  I remember overhearing an older man ask the general manager one evening, as she was still inside and finishing her food, "do you give your unused soups to local soup kitchens?"  It seemed like a reasonable suggestion.  I think every night we threw away gallons upon gallons of soup.  The soup would have been enough, each night, to give at least 20 - 30 people a full bowl of hot soup.  So, every night, we threw away enough soup, not to mention other food, to feed a lot of hungry people.  Now, my general manager responded to this man, "We don't give our soups away because they are confidential and company recipes and we don't want other people to find out what they are."

So, the reason that my manager stated for not giving away the food to hungry people who could actually use it, was that he was afraid that people, most likely these same people who haven't eaten a filling meal all day and have their first portion of food for the day, are going to sneak away a bowl of food and devise the secret ingredients so they can repeat and see a recipe to someone else?  I doubt it.  It made me disgusted to work there, even when I was sentenced to work in the dish room after hours and help.  I watched hotel pan after hotel pan of food, get thrown away, all because of company policy.  As if their secret recipe of making chicken soup from concentrated chicken base flavoring and water was so secret that just by me mentioning it will have me sentenced to death.

The good news is, that a St. Louis company does give away their food.

Panera Bread, is doing something new, to me at least.  I was told be an employee that they give away their unused bread, every night to food shelters.  That is great.  Having a bakery which probably makes at least 100 loaves of fresh bread a day and then gives that food away to someone who can use it is admirable.  Now, what they have recently started, is just, if not, better.
So, occasionally, they will pick a new menu item to be featured this way.  Then, you as a regular consumer can either pay the suggested amount or pay more than the suggest amount.  Now, the extra money would then be used to help off-set the loss, when someone who comes in and cannot afford to eat it.  In this fashion, Panera does something that no other restaurant does: accepts homeless people, or whatever is the proper PC term.  People who cannot afford to eat a bowl of turkey chili, at Panera, will get a bowl with whatever money they can scrap together.  So, if the guy comes in with 30 cents in his pocket and he has been living behind the dumpster outside for 3 weeks and he wants a bowl of chili, he can have a bowl of chili.  Now, whether he can sit inside and eat it or he has to take it to go, are still unanswered.  But, the idea is brilliant and will throw Panera into the humanitarian company of the year race.

So, the next time you are looking to be a little more helpful and you feel like spending a bit extra to help your community, I suggest you give a little extra so you can help Panera help out.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Austin catch-up

Alright, when I normally go out of town, I take pictures of everything.  I want people to experience everything and I want to write about everything.  But, after I get back and relax, the pictures just get pushed back further on my camera and I gradually forget what I was supposed to do.  Things are slow and as I look and see that I haven't written anything in a while, I need to catch things up and get rolling.

Austin is a great city for food.  It is starting to get to the level that St. Louis is at.  Every city has their fancy places and every city has their small places.  Every city has their farm-to-table and every city has their food trucks.  What makes certain places stand out though, is how they do it.

On 6th street, downtown, is a place for pub crawlers to get a complete hard-on.  The whole street has pubs and bars located side by side, for about 3 blocks or more, down the street, on both sides.  If you had started at 9am and went to each bar, had a bite to eat and a drink and listened to some music and then moved to the next bar, it would probably take you most of the day to finish every bar.  However, I didn't go into any bars: I had my two kids with me.  So, what do you do in an area which caters to the over 21 crowd and you have a 5 and a 7 year old?

We followed our noses and found ourselves near a pizza joint.  This place with a hole in the wall.  It had room for a doorway and a very small window and inside was a guy making and selling pizzas.  It was decorated with New York memorabilia and all sorts and had a very pizza theme to everything.  While the decoration was pizza, behind the glass, WAS pizza. You could see the yummy, steamy goodness of real tasty pizza.  Not some stupid paper thin crust, it was full, bready, yeasty happiness and with a tangy sauce and good ratio of cheese to meat, it was a great meal.

While this picture, shows the pizza a bit disheveled  this was after a long walk while carrying the pizza and holding the hands of said 5 and 7 year old.  So, even though it was a bit beat up, it tasted awesome.  I'd give it a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 As we were wondering around one day, we found a food truck.  We had learned that food trucks are starting to hit Austin and they have a few spots around the city where they stay.  While driving around, we found one: Lulu B's.  Lulu B's makes Vietnamese sandwiches, which means that they take the awesome flavors and stick them in perfectly crusty and yummy French bread rolls.
Nothing was too expensive with the average cost around $6-$10 each.  There were salads, rolls and sandwiches and there was actually nothing that tasted bad.  Every herb was fresh from the mint leaves to the lemongrass.  Everything tasted so good that the leftovers went into the refrigerator and became lunch for the next day.
My suggestion is, if you are in the downtown Austin area, hunt down this truck and eat there.  Everything is good, I'd give it a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

For dinner one night, we wanted something fun and close, since this location was across the street from our hotel.  We ate at a restaurant called Pirana Killer Sushi, and the lit up sign could be seen perfectly in the dark.

Pirana Killer Sushi is listed as an upscale sushi restaurant and it was inside.  I saw every guy wearing at least a collared shirt with slacks and about every woman in a nice dress and heels.  It isn't really a place to bring kids, but sure enough, they were great serving us.  They were very friendly and makes you think twice that perhaps nice sushi places are okay to bring kids.

We ordered some Japanese noodles with chicken for the boys along with some gyoza and they tasted delicious.

I ordered a Korean Beef Tenderloin and expected something more Asian in presentation and got this:
But the flavor was there, the asparagus as cooked perfectly and seasoned and the beef was tender and juicy: a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

My wife ordered some sushi and sashimi:

Now, it is a bit more expensive than the golden arches, for your kids, but my kids liked to be in this "grown up" atmosphere and I'm sure that if your kids are good and not so loud, they will like it and fit in here just fine.

The last place we stopped at was called Wholly Cow.

Wholly Cow is a burger joint, situated about a block from the Capital building, and all of their beef comes from grass fed cows.  So, no hormones, no added anything but just regular naturally raised cows.  I know this may sound cliche', but the burgers tasted like burgers.  Albeit, the burger I ordered, tasted like a very good and delicious hamburger, and I know that it tasted better than most other burgers I have had.  I'd give my burger a 4 out of 5.

The place was busy and with more people standing in line than sitting with food I knew there would be a wait, but worth it.

My wife, who is on weight watchers, wanted a burger without the bun.  They have something for that.  I think they called it a "Paleo-burger".  So, this burger was a regular burger except, instead of a bun, they did a smart move and placed the burger and fixings in between two grilled portabella mushrooms.

So, I know I mentioned a bad place to go in Austin and I hope these good places make up for it.