Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Big O' Plate of Scrapple

I thought it was strange when my wife picked it out at the grocery store and I don't recall every hearing about it.  But the Scrapple package was staring us blue in the face.  It was new and strange and not something that we have seen before, in all of our travels.  But it looked weird enough and after trying out the restaurant that was on Bizarre Foods America and being completely disappointed, I thought it would be worth a try to see how this goes.

What made this product interesting to us, was the ingredients.  They are: Pork stock, pork, pork skins, cornmeal, pork livers, wheat flour, pork fat, pork hearts, salt and spices.

So, I was expecting something like Spam and that is just what it is.  It resembles a breakfast sausage.  And while it may sound strange to me, a woman in my office loves it and eats it all of the time.  See, this came from the Pennsylvania Dutch and in the New England states has become a bit of a regular food item.  There are many favorite ways of eating it and from a Midwestern tongue, it doesn't taste half bad.  In fact, I would dare say it tastes good.  You open the package, slice off some and cook it in a hot oiled pan.  Producing something with the flavor of a good breakfast sausage and the texture of foie gras, it still is interesting indeed.

Still, I have heard from people outside of St. Louis who think that pork steaks are the strangest thing ever, so I guess it is all regional.

Still though, for a quick bite and adventure into the strange, I'd recommend something as harmless as Scrapple.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

some recipes?

Okay, someone a while ago wanted some recipes and I have to say that when I have no idea what to talk or write about, a recipe is the easiest thing to share.  My children don't eat food.  I know it may sound strange but it is true.  They are both growing and not badly underweight but we don't really see them eating anything, most of the time.  We joke that my older son gets his energy from photosynthesis.  This mean though, when we do find something that he WILL eat, then we try our best to replicate it as best as we can so that he can eat more of it.

So, the first thing I made was this roasted pork loin.  The pork loins have been on sale lately at places like SAMS Club or even Shop n' Save.  They have been going for as low as 99 cents a pound!  So, we picked up this giant 15 pound strip of the loin and I chopped it into thirds.  I took the other two to the freezer for later use and then I cleaned the large strip of fat off of the other one.  I placed that one in a gallon sized Ziploc bag with about a 1 cup and a half of apple cider vinegar and then about 3 tablespoons of ground mustard.  I let that sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Then, out it came and placed in a cooking dish.  It was rubbed with some dried onion powder, crushed caraway seeds, paprika and salt and pepper.  Take that and have that sit aside.  Then take some carrots and onions and dice them up.  Take both veggies and place in a large pan and cook them with olive oil until they start to get a little browned.  Then, add the loin into the pan and sear all sides of it while the veggies are still cooking.  When the loin is seared, then place it in a nice glass roasting dish and sprinkle the veggies on top or all around.  Cover with foil and cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 and 1/2 hours.  When the timer goes off, remove the foil, add some water to the pan, about an inch of water, and then place it back in the oven for another hour.  The water will mix with the veggies and make a sauce while keeping the pork moist.  Because it was marinated overnight in the vinegar, it will be very tender.

The other thing I did, was roast some small butter potatoes.  I picked up some fresh potatoes from the local farmer with his stand, down the road from my house and then sliced them in half and placed them slice side up, with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkling of rosemary, salt and pepper.  They roasted for about an hour.

Lastly, I had some asparagus done up. I snapped the last bit off of each stem and threw the lot of them into a pot of boiling water.  I let them cook for about 3 minutes and then took them out and placed them in a bowl of cold water.  When they cooled down then, I placed them flat, in a large pan and cooked them with some extra virgin olive oil and then lightly seasoned them with salt and pepper.

Now, it isn't very fancy, but this meal is delicious and is very easy to do.  If you have any questions about it and the recipe specifics, let me know. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Catching up is fun to do

While wanting to write about everything I see and taste, sometimes there isn't enough to write a whole article about.  So, I like to come up with these little bits where I have a few things in one.  First off, a few weeks ago my wife and family and I got a chance to try out a newer restaurant in Kirkwood called Crushed Red Pepper.  The place took up the spot where the San Sai restaurant used to be.  The restaurant lets you go inside and order your own personal pizza, and then you customize it and they make it and deliver it to your table.  Well, they did make some good pizzas.  I think it will work well as a nice restaurant but there was only one problem: the woman, taking my order, behind the computer, entered things in that never made it to my plate.  For example, my pizza originally on the menu had Gorgonzola cheese on it: which I do not like. So, I asked her if I could replace that cheese with another.  It was all approved by her and when she read it back to us, everything sounded correct.  But it was not delivered correctly.  There is no communication between the person taking the orders and the people filling them out.  My wife could have told the cashier that she didn't want anything to eat and then told the two guys making the salads that she ordered something and they would have made it.  So, food was good but the service was just okay.  I'd give this food and the restaurant a 3 out of 5.

Next, last Thursday we had gone to a Crazy Bowls and Wraps restaurant on Tesson Ferry, near the hospital. I had ordered a big bowl of items and chicken, my wife ordered a bowl and my kids both wanted some plain noodles.  I noticed that on the menu, on the wall, it mentioned that you could get noodles as one of your starch options.  So, we thought, that we could get chicken and noodles and everyone would be happy. That was not the case.  The man at the cash register/computer told us that the option of just noodles and chicken was not possible.  The manager came over and said "oh yeah, we can do that."  Then he stepped away and the cashier told us again, "we don't do that."  How lovely.  So, we get our food after a bit and we all try it.  I have to say, that I have never, ever tasted anything so plain and bland.  My food, as well as my wife's and my kids, was so bland, it was as if they just took fresh or steamed vegetables and threw them in a bowl with some plain rice.  I mean, it was bad.  It was actually so bad, that we all thought of and talked of leaving and going a block away to St. Louis Bread Co., and eating our fill.  My kids didn't like it, I was having an open mind and I didn't like, it was just so bland.  I'd have to give the food and service a 1 out of 5.

Now, something that was really good, was my bacon and egg which I had at a store in the Ozarks.

What I had purchased, from this candy store, was a milk chocolate covered bacon strip with a white chocolate 'egg'.  The white chocolate egg was hard as it was about a half of an inch thick of solid white chocolate.  The chocolate covered bacon is always a quick favorite.  With every bite, you taste the smoke, the salt, the pork fat and then you taste the sugar and chocolate.  It is a match made in heaven like rosemary and bread or peanut butter and bananas.  It was awesome and was like a 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some restaurants do it while others do not.

What I am speaking of, is how a restaurant handles their favorite, every day and regular customers.  I know from personal experience and managing a restaurant, that you want to treat your regular customers even nicer than you would a new customer but should refrain from doing so.  You still want the new customers to become regulars and because of that you need to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and equally.

This past Saturday, I went with my family to Schottzies Bar & Grill. I chose this location for our lunch, partly because it has always been there and I have never been in before and because Andrew was there for his show: Bizarre Foods America.  Although I know that the routine practice for the producer of shows like this is to call ahead or meet the owners and staff and set it up, so these restaurants look packed and everyone is so friendly and so forth, I still wanted to bring my family in and try some food.  So, it was my first time.

The building is easy to get to as it is across the street from Olive Garden and it is sandwiched between two streets so you can access it either way.  We opened the door and walked inside.  It was cold, dark and we noticed about 7-8 televisions all playing different channels.  There was enough going on that someone who was ADD would go nuts.  There were two visible servers: one sitting at the bar chatting with some regulars and another sitting on a chair by the far door.  The bartender was chatting with the 4 people at the bar, with the server and there were 4 other people at two tables ordering food. My wife and I picked a table and sat our kids down, ready to be served and try the food.  As soon as we sat down, the waitress who was sitting at the bar chatting, noticed us, got up and came over.  We ordered our drinks, which on the menu were 2 Sprites, a Mello Yello and an iced tea. What I think was odd, is that after seeing the bill, when we were finished, three out of four of the drinks we had ordered were not the drinks we had received.  I know it may sound like that big of a deal to some, but it leads way that not only is their website out of date, but the menu is also.  Instead of Sprite, we were given Slice and instead of Mello Yello, we were given Mountain Dew.

So, after our drinks came, which would put us at about 5 minutes after we had sat down, we had ordered our food.  I didn't have the guts to order a brain sandwich.  I'm sorry.  I know that this restaurant is famous for it, but just wasn't feeling like it so I didn't do it.  We ordered the Appetizer Combination Platter and the Fried Chicken Livers, we also ordered a pepper burger and a Buffalo Chicken pizza.  Then we waited, and waited and waited.  While we waited, we watched the table behind us get their food, eat it while chatting, pay, leave and then a father and daughter sit there and order and get their food.  We watched another table get their pizza, eat half of it, ask for a box and a check and pay and leave.  We watched a table of three come in, order food and get their food.  We watched a group come in of 3 adults and 4 kids, order their food and get it.  We also watched a man walk right in from the door, say hi to everyone as they all acknowledged him and chatted with him.  He sat down and within minutes had a pizza delivered to him so he could eat that.  We waited 40 minutes, with my kids complaining about how long the food was taking.  We had to flag a waitress down, ask her to check with our waitress, who was no where to be seen, and see how long our food was going to be.  It was quite apparent, that we were being ignored.  Everyone that was there, besides us, were recognized by one of the two servers or the bar tender.  They would chat for a few seconds and then get their orders done.  Now, 40 minutes after we had walked into the door, when I did flag down our server and she came over, I asked her how much longer our food was going to take.  She responded with "it will be out any second", which is restaurant code for "I screwed up and I have to tell the cooks to do it".

We got the appetizers, 45 minutes after we walked in the door and sat down.  Our appetizers, this Combination Platter, was so hot that the filling inside of the toasted ravioli had burned the inside of my mouth.  Having an appetizer tray, with mini tacos, chicken strips, cheese filled bread sticks, and toasted ravioli, come out that hot after 40 minutes from ordering, meant that someone forgot our order and just cooked it.  On top of that, everything tasted like it was frozen at one point and then just heated up.  A miserable tray. Nothing on the tray, in my experience, takes longer than 6 minutes to deep fry and cook.  The cheese filled bread sticks, probably take 5 minutes in an oven, the mini tacos, toasted ravioli and chicken strips probably only took 3 each.  I would give the combination try a 2 out of 5 stars meaning that it was okay, but I would not order it again.

My ordered appetizer, was the fried chicken livers and they came at the same time.  The first bite, if you could get to it, was tasty, with the white gravy.  The problem was that not only were these big chunks of liver, but they appeared to have been quadruple breaded and then fried.  I mean that the breading was so hard and crunchy that they were almost as hard as a jawbreaker.  They were no colored light like other people's pictures on websites and in their reviews, but ours were almost a mud brown, like they were over cooked.  I would give these a 1 out of 5 because after trying to eat the first one, I don't know how I would tackle eating another one.

Another 10 minutes after the appetizers came out, we finally had gotten our main courses.  Here is the thing, they were also piping hot.  A burger, drenched in black pepper and cooked to well-done when I had asked for medium, can be cooked well within 10 minutes.  The pizza, which was a 14 inch thin St. Louis style pizza and crust, should not take more than 10 minutes either, especially when the chicken was cooked ahead of time. So, we got our pizza, like it just came out of the oven and was so hot that if you held it at an angle, the cheese would drip off.  When cooled, it was okay.  The breaded and fried chicken, was a tad spicy, but seemed like it was frozen at one point.  So, the chicken was overly cooked, the pizza crust was just right and the onions were under cooked.  My wife and I thought it was a bit strange that when we had ordered the pizza, our server didn't ask if we wanted the chicken to be breaded or grilled, as indicated on the menu. However, we received the breaded chicken, which suggests that if the server doesn't ask and you don't tell them, you will get breaded chicken by default. I'd give the pizza a 2 out of 5 as it was okay and I wouldn't order it again.

The burger had some good flavors: the pepper crust was nice, the pat of butter on the patty was a nice touch, the onions were fresh, the thick slice of tomato was deep red and tasted like a real tomato and not a gassed one and there was a nice large leaf of crisp lettuce.  It looked good but do you know what happens when you mix a lot of pepper and a dry and well done burger together?  "Bleh".  I mean, maybe it wasn't entirely "bleh", but it was really close.  When you use the white gravy from the fried chicken livers and dip your overly peppered well done meat into it and it tastes better than before, then you don't have a very good product.  I understand that they had a little anecdote about the peppered burger stating that it was "Not for the faint of heart!", but it tasted of nothing but pepper.  You could have taken anything, rolled it in the pepper coating and placed it on a bun and it would have been like the same thing.  All I tasted was fresh vegetables and pepper: like a salad.  I'd give the burger a 2 out of 5 as well because while it was edible, I would not recommend it to anyone.

So, overall, the food wasn't what I was expecting.  I have always known that this bar and grill was there and thought that it had to have some decent food, in order to stay in business this long.  I guess it relied on the "brain sandwich" to keep it in business because from what we had of the other food, there is no way that food can keep this place afloat.  I can see that out of the online reviews currently existing, on, out of the 8 of them, none of them rated this place 5 stars.  They have some 2, 3, and 4 star reviews.  The reviews would suggest that if you come in the evening, you would have great food and service.  However, the original title of this is about regular guests and it is very true now.  You see that while we were there, we watched people, who were called by their names, by the servers, get their food faster than us, and get friendly service.  I mean, I actually had to flag the second server, not the one who was taking care of us, in order to have her check with our server and see how much longer our food was taking.  People who had just walked in, were greeted within seconds and then asked their food and drink order.  I kid you not: the people to our right, walked in about 20 minutes after we did and then before our appetizers had come out, they had food on their table.  My wife and I 100% agree, that had we been someone who had come before or even just once a week, we would have had excellent service.  In conclusion; I cannot honestly suggest or recommend that anyone ever go to Schottzies for food.  It was not kid friendly, the food was not fresh, it certainly took about 45 minutes to deliver us something that takes 6 minutes in a 385 degree fryer and the service was almost non-existent.  It was almost as if they would have been happier had we not eaten there. I'm sorry Schottzies, but you are a big loser in my book.  You not only pissed off a small family on their weekend but a food writer.  Good luck with that.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bizarre Foods of St. Louis are not that bizarre

Or maybe that is just because we live here and the things that we grew up with and are part of our own culture and city-wide heritage, are normal.  This bast Spring, Andrew Zimmern came to St. Louis for his show: Bizarre Foods America.  In this show, Andrew travels all over America and eats bizarre and strange things in cities all over.  Some things seem pretty normal and other times the things are quite strange.  Well, his show was on this past Monday night and I think that everything in St. Louis seemed pretty normal.

He had fried and cooked pig snouts in North City.  While the idea may sound strange at first, the way that they were cooked and how they looked, reminded me of some very thick pork rinds.  In fact, that may get me to go up there and get some.

He tried the "hot salami" at Gioias Deli, which also features pig snouts in the mix.

He also went for pig heart pastrami at Farmhaus.  I have written about Farmhaus before and it is awesome. The food is very fresh, very tasty and prepared perfectly.  Also, remember to buy beers for the crew.

He also took some time at Soulard Market.  What most people have a hard time coming to terms with, is that Soulard Market really is the oldest outdoor market, West of the Mississippi.  This means older than anything in California or older than anything in Louisiana.  Most of America doesn't really quite associate St. Louis with The West, but considering that the Arch was built as a monument that would come to symbolize the "Gateway to the West", this would mean that everything West of the Arch, is in the West.  That is the same West that Westerns are about, the same West where Route 66 goes and the same West where everything is cool.  Welcome to St. Louis, Gateway of the West.

Now, click here to see the places that he visited in the episode:

When I was young, my father always talked about, and on special occasions had, a brain sandwich.  There used to be places all over St. Louis that served fried cow brain sandwiches.  I always joked as a child, asking if you could acquire any of the memories of the cow, from eating its brain.  Now, it seems that only a few places serve brain sandwiches any more.  Schottzie's Bar and Grill, is where Andrew went for one of these deep fried brain sandwiches and he seemed to have enjoyed every bite of it.