Saturday, December 31, 2011

Smallest Town I’ve Visited

In the early decades of the automobile, Alabamians shuttling from Huntsville to Decatur traveled along highway 20. In 1952 Jack Webb decided that he needed to cash in. The small town of Greenbrier would be where he would build his take out restaurant. By hand no less. The single room building would serve BBQ, Hushpuppies and catfish. The latter stored in a barrel out back. If you didn’t see it you’d probably hear it. Jack would hire country music stars to play atop the roof to pull in the crowds.180
In many ways Greenbrier was then as it is now. Little more than an intersection along the highway. Much has changed around it though. Highway 20 was replaced by another highway 20 which was replaced by I-565. The restaurant is no longer on well water and has grown substantially in size. Jack Webb is long gone too. A string of owners have put their touches on the place but through it all, the orginal corrigated steel and wooden signs have remained. Now part of the interior décor.172
Along with the original signage that graces the dining room you’ll find some original tables, build by Webb himself. Rustic would be a great way to politely describe the interior. The concrete floor has had the paint worn off. The pannelling harkens back to a renovation from the 70’s and pictures celebrating the history of the area are scattered about the place. In one true oddity, in a rundown roadhouse in the middle of nowhere they provide WiFi. Go figure.179
The reason for our visit, outside of seeking great food in a unique and legendary place of course, is the Hushpuppies. On the list of Huntsville’s 20 Most Distinctive Dishes these deep fried cornmeal dough balls (finger shaped here) are rumoured to have been invented by hunters as a way to keep their dogs satiated. As meals were prepared a simple cornmeal dough ball was fried as a treat to “Hush the puppy.”

So with all this build up, could the food live up to the billing??

Greenbrier’s Hushpuppies are complimentary and limitless. They put them down as they serve you and constantly top up the basket.
The standard cornmeal batter was augmented with a good hint of onion. Being an onion lover this was preaching to the choir. The two BBQ sauces were excellent for dipping.170
The white BBQ sauce was good but nothing special in my mind. Conversely I loved the red sauce. Rich and tomatoey with a good smokiness to it. It was fabulous on the ribs.178
Mrs. Sippi couldn’t say enough good things about her catfish. I’ve really enjoyed the fish finger style, flour and cornmeal breaded versions we’ve had lately and this was not that. This was traditionally cornmeal breaded fillets. Don’t get me wrong, it was great but I’m less a fan of the all cornmeal breading. I really liked it but Mrs. Sippi was in catfish heaven.173
Both the chciken and ribs were perfectly cooked although lacking in that good smoke flavour I desire. The ribs in particular provided a good chew while pulling cleanly off the bone.
The sides of sweet potato and slaw were good as well. Simply done they didn’t stand out but were solid offerings. I have no problem with that. They give you some brown sugar, butter and cinnamon to dress up your sweet tater and sour cream for the regular tuber. The slaw was a vinegary concoction of pretty much just cabbage and vinegar. Quite good. 175
So there you have it. Great food at a legendary place serving a dish that has people coming from miles around. Doesn’t get a whole lot better.

You can find the “Old” Greenbrier Restaurant at 27028 Old Hwy 20 in Greenbrier (Madison), Alabama.

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You can also find them on the web and facebook.
(Old) Greenbrier Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Greenbrier Restaurant on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now folks. Have a good one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seaport Reunion

It was not with the happiest circumstances that I found myself in San Diego. As you may have read, my uncle had just passed away. His final wishes were to have his ashes spread in San Diego Bay. So there we were, in San Diego. This also allowed me to catch back up with my aunt and other cousin. Both of whom I hadn't seen in a few years.
After a few phone calls on the road we decided to use The Harbor House as a marshaling area. This boat house themed restaurant at the edge of the water across from the Naval Air Station served the purpose quite well. Close to everyone’s hotels, the marina and easy to find.101_1291Opened in 1980 the Harbor House has upscale dining on the ground level with a more relaxed atmosphere upstairs. The real treat is out on one of the terraces though. This beautiful late fall afternoon saw perfect weather at lunch. Our terrace, overlooking the afore mentioned US Naval Air Station North (Coranado) Island was beautiful. The station serves as quarterdeck for the pacific fleet. It’s also home to the USS Carl Vinson which sat prominently across the channel. Named for the 50 year Democratic Representative and "Father of the Two-Ocean Navy". It was the Vinson’s flight deck that served as a basketball court for the inaugural Carrier Classic. Played veterans day (November 11) 2011.101_1280Everyone in our group enjoyed their food but unfortunately I was only able to sample an oyster and my own lunch. Both of which were great by the way. So let’s have a look.

The oysters (on the half shell) of the day were Blue Point. Six plump, lovely bivalves. They were of course very fresh tasting but less briny than other’s I’ve had. They had a light, creamy taste. Hard to go wrong with fresh oysters. Hard to go wrong any food that comes with it’s own sauce for that matter.101_1283The fish tacos were fantastic. Battered and fried (California style) white fish with guacamole and shredded cabbage. Fresh salsa and hot sauce rounded this out very well. The only fish tacos I’d ever had I made at home. Occasionally grilled but mostly baked in a hobo pack. The crispiness of this style was a nice contrast.101_1284The local hot sauce was great. Made in El Cajon, just outside San Diego it was fiery and very flavourful. The Original Ring of Fire hot sauce is peppery, salty and cuminny (if such a word exists).101_1288I really enjoyed my visit here and will gladly return in the future. I can’t really attest to the rest of the menu but trip through Google shows mixed reviews. As I said above, everyone at our table enjoyed their lunch so take that for what it’s worth.

You can find the Harbor House in Seaport Village at 831 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, California.
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You can also find them on the web or facebook.
Harbor House on Urbanspoon
Harbor House Seafood Restaurant on Foodio54

Well that’s all from seaside in San Diego, California.

‘Til next time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

For Families, By Families

An interesting twist on the family run establishment can be found at Country Boy Restaurant in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Not one, not two, but four different families have held title to this community anchor since the Mealer family opened it in 1968.
The current owners, Shannon and Charlie Martin set out to give the oldest restaurant in Williamson County still in its original location a facelift. The structure itself would get the TLC that it needs and the menu would be reworked to feature more in house cooking. Seems the “Home cookin’” principals on which the restaurant was founded had started to slide. That needed to be fixed by ditching the pre made frozen foods and concentrating again on in house food prep.
The all day breakfast, a staple for the place since inception would of course remain. 

Locals had regaled me with tales of a dumpy, run down room that was in desperate need of attention. What has resulted after a renovation lasting more than a month and 5,500 man hours is a clean country home setting. Unfortunately, with the change the place loses a lot of that character. So it’s not all roses but I’m not complaining. Ambience is nice but what come out of the kitchen is really what matters.
So lets have a look at what is coming out of the kitchen then shall we??

The Fried Chicken was crispy and juicy but I like a heavily seasoned and herbaceous breading. It was a simple breading so I can’t rate it near the top on my scale. It was however perfectly done. Really good all 'round flavour.
The Greens weren’t as “Porky” as I’ve had but that said they were still fantastic. Of course a little pepper sauce always helps too.
The Mac & Cheese was outstanding. A creamy cheese sauce mixed into the noodles with grated cheese melted on top. Very cheesy. Very tasty.
The simple dinner roll was perfect for sopping.
028The Country Fried Steak was fabulous. Crispy breading that stood up well to the gravy and tender steak inside.
The Fried Okra was very good but not really my thing.
The Pinto Beans were very tasty too. Again, not too porky like the greens but all in all, had a really good taste that really allowed the earthiness of the beans to shine.
The Corn Bread was fine. It was true Southern style and as such, not my favourite.
029We were so full from dinner that we had to take desert to go. Country Boy also makes Fried Pies on site and that was too good to resist. We had a few options but we went with the “Elvis.” Peanut butter and bananas encased in pie dough and deep fried. It was fantastic.

You can find Country Boy Restaurant at 4141 Old Hillsboro Road, in Franklin, Tennessee.

You can also find them on the web, facebook and twitter.
 Country Boy Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. Catch ya later in the food court.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Best Tortillas in Town

I didn’t try them all in Phoenix but I’d be stunned if any were better.
A peek in Carolina’s Mexican Food kitchen at breakfast will reveal a platoon of women dedicated to the tortilla making process. They make that many daily. In fact, in the mornings the kitchen is quite populated since basically everything they serve is made in house. The only exception may be the soft drinks.
Immediately after booking my trip to Phoenix I started planning meals. Top of the list?? A hole in the wall, outstanding Mexican place. Some poking around on the internet (and in particular Chowhound) turned up Carolina’s.101_1404_thumb
Pronounced Care-O-LEEN-az this Phoenix institution has been serving up their crepe like flour tortillas since 1968. In fact, if you count selling food out of the back of their car, Carolina and Manuel Valenzuela got started in the business back in the 50’s. They’ve both since joined the great fiesta in the sky sadly but have left a strong legacy. Their kids and grandkids now operate the restaurant and catering ends of the business. If you take into account Carolina’s mom was the first employee it’s basically a 4th generation now.101_1405_thumb
The current flagship restaurant has been at it’s original location since 1986 having moved twice previously. Once to make room for the near by Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Business always flourished through the moves, family crisis and economic hard times. The reasonably priced and rather large menu has meant that the neighbours could always get a good meal without breaking the bank.101_1411_thumb
Inside the restaurant it’s rather lunar. The building once housed a coin-op laundry and has all the pleasing esthetics you’d expect from one. The once painted floor now shows the bare concrete. The tables are a mishmash of old Burger King, 80’s burger joint and flea market food court. Not to worry though, this place is clean but if you really don’t like the divey appearance or sketchy neighbourhood, it does full take out as well.
So not only did Carolina’s fit my Mexican dive restaurant criteria but several people hailed it as having the best machaca Phoenix has to offer.101_1421_thumb
Originally made from dried beef or pork that’s been rehydrated and pounded until tender machaca is a staple in north central Mexico. These days it’s more like the beef version of carnitas. Slow, slow cooked until ridiculously tender and shredded. The beef is then returned to it’s juices and stewed until the desired consistency has been achieved.
Anyway, let’s have a look at the goods. I’ve had both lunch and breakfast and I’m pretty sure you could throw a dart, blindfolded at the menu board and hit a homerun. It’s that good.
The tortillas were as good as advertised. Paper thin with a delicate yet sturdy feel and very good taste.
The salsa could easily be confused for ketchup. Served in little paper condiment cups from a red pump action (ketchup) dispenser. That’s where the similarity ends though. This sauce is salty, garlicky and spicy. A perfect compliment to the entrées. 101_1410_thumb
The tamale was very tasty but not the best I’ve had. First of all, it seemed to be pretty sloppily made. Simply unwrapping it saw the filling spill out. It seemed they didn’t use enough dough to fully encase the meat. Now that said, having a too much meat to dough ratio is far better than the other way around. And as usual, taste trumps all. The red beef stuffing was quite good.101_1407_thumb
The chorizo, egg, beans and potato breakfast burrito was terrific. A little heavy on the potato which meant the beans were a little over shadowed but that could just be a personal taste issue. The chorizo is fantastic in spite of having very little heat. 101_1406_thumb
The machaca is everything it’s cracked up to be. Juicy, flavourful and very tender. I copied a standard order from a fellow Chowhounder which was a “Red machaca burro, foot long, enchilada style. Don’t skimp on the brown sauce.” Again the tortilla was great. The “Brown sauce” is really red enchilada sauce and was certainly better than any other I’ve had. It had it’s usual chili flavour but fortified with a brown beef gravy component. It was very interesting and incredibly addictive.101_1417_thumbChorizo, tamales, tortillas and salsa are all available for sale as well.
So if you’re ever in Phoenix and on the prowl for some great Mexican food head to the hood and check out Carolina’s.

You can find Carolina’s (south) at 1202 E. Mohave St. in Phoenix, Arizona. 
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There are also north Phoenix and Peoria locations as well.
You can find them on the web or like them on facebook
 Carolina's Mexican Food-The Original on Urbanspoon


Friday, November 25, 2011

The Finest Dive in America

So says the welcome banner on Rick’s White Light Diner in Kentucky’s capitol city, Frankfort. Quite honestly Rick could probably greet internet visitors with “Come for the food, stay for the lecture.” Yep, owner/chef Rick Paul knows a thing or two about just about anything you can imagine. And he’s not afraid to tell you about it either. 017
Rick, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America has owned the White Light Diner off and on for years. He’s left for other ventures but has always returned. A little older, a little wiser and a little grayer in the beard. When not manning the kitchen or harassing employees, Rick can often be found perched on the back counter with his feet up on the front counter. Espousing his thoughts on life, politics, other restaurants, the weather and, well, you get the idea. He’s attracted a lot of attention from local media outlet and even CNN but what put the diner on my “To do” list was a visit from Triple D gang.012
The tiny space perched on the side of a steep hill is the oldest restaurant in the state. Dating well back into the 19th century. The porcelain tiled two story building was once part of the “White Light System” which near as I can tell was a local hamburger chain. Much along the lines of White Castle.013
8 stools line the counter and 3 four seat tables round out the dining room. The walls are covered in souvenirs, stickers, slogans and a whole host of other memorabilia. The perilous walk down the stairs to the restroom in the basement would make a mountain goat sweat. Flat out, this place oozes character.

Enough about the place, how was the food you wonder. First off, let me tell you that Rick uses local meats, dairy and anything else he can get his hands on making him Kentucky Proud.
We opted for the daily special, Jambalaya with a side of Mac and Bleu Cheese. As well,  the Triple D Sample Platter featuring Crawfish Pie, Fried Oysters, BBQ Pork, French Bread and side of Fried Green Tomatoes.

I’d have passed off the Jambalaya except that it tasted pretty good. The presentation was rather odd in that it was an unattractive amalgam of rice, sautéed veggies, chicken and sausage. It’s then topped with a Creole sauce. It was a strange way of doing things based on my knowledge of the dish. Again, it was good but odd.
The side of Mac and Bleu Cheese was an interesting and quite good retelling of the old diner standard. Good job here.015
One thing not mentioned on the menu that showed up on the Sampler Platter was the “Salad.” A small wedge of lettuce with some salad dressing. It was pretty tasty. The oysters were good but ultimately relatively “Dime a dozen” deep fried oysters. Nothing wrong with them but not outstanding. The BBQ had an interesting flavour (all spice??) and was good but again, nothing mind blowing. The Crawfish Pie was excellent IMHO. Crawfish etouffe baked into a pie shell. Delicious. Rick’s home made French bread was very good too.
The side of Fried Green Tomatoes were much like the oysters. Good but not special.014
A little sign behind the counter advertised Deep Fried Oreo’s. Okay, I’ll bite. I mean, how could I not. Anyway, 3 chocolate Oreo’s battered with pancake batter and deep fried. Very good.019
The Bourbon Pecan Pie was fantastic. A pecan pie laced with some of Kentucky’s finest.018
If there wasn’t enough booze in the pie for ya, an atomizer of bourbon is at your disposal. To kick things up even more.020
So all in all a good meal but in the pantheon of Triple D places I’ve visited, this one is at the bottom. Rick himself is worth the visit if not the food.

You can find Rick’s White Light Diner at 114 Bridge Street in Frankfort, KY.
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You can find then on the web, on facebook and twitter as well.
 Rick's White Light Diner on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now in the food court.

Urban Revival

Call it a sign. Call it coincidence. Call it dumb luck. Whatever you call it you have to admit there did seem to be some cosmic forces at work to point me in the direction of Slows Bar B Q in Detroit.
Less than a week before we depart on our Thanksgiving trip (which takes us through Detroit) I see Adam Richman and the Man vs. Food crew showing off the Triple Threat Pork sandwich at this down town Detroit establishment. As if that wasn’t enough to put it on my radar a day before we leave I notice someone hailing the TTP sandwich as one of Detroit’s top 10. It had to be a sign.

I always approach BBQ joints north of the Mason Dixon Line (or Ohio River) with trepidation. Far too many places up north don’t get it. Old school, down home BBQ is an art form. Something, sadly, most northern joints can’t seem to master. Part of that is simply experience. You don’t just pop a couple shoulders and a few racks of ribs into a smoker and poof!! Great BBQ. Nope, truly awesome Q takes years upon years to master. The big BBQ craze afoot has seen many Johnny Come Lately’s who figure mastering a grill is all the prerequisite they need. Top it off with northerner’s pension for wanting to “Upgrade” and it most often falls well short. Why try to reinvent the wheel, right?? But we feel the idea of three types of pig in one convenient package was enough to warrant a stop in Motown at Slows.002

I’ve always viewed Detroit with both contempt and sadness. I’ve looked down my nose at the “Shit hole” I see from the interstate. Murder capital and all that it is, wondering why anyone would live there. The thing is, as I’ve ventured off the interstate and down to ground level sniffing out food, a different Detroit reveals itself. A once vibrant city sits in ruins yet those who’ve remained are voraciously proud. To people who’ve never been, I’ve likened it to Muhammad Ali. Once great now ravage by time and circumstance. A once hulking champion now regarded with sadness. Well enter businesses like Slows. Leading the charge in the rebirth of Detroit headed by part owner Phillip Cooley. Cooley has been named chairman of the mayor’s Detroit Works Project. Helping to map out Detroit’s potential future. Just one of several boards on which Cooley sits. He isn’t alone and his efforts to return Motown to it’s former glory aren’t going un-noticed. Slowly, very slowly people are returning to the city. They see bargains and find them a little too good to pass up. The architecture is beautiful albeit blighted. Nothing some TLC won’t fix though. Take the Michigan Central Railway station across the street from Slows as a microcosm. Majestic yet sits derelict. Waiting to be returned to its former glory. Much like the city itself.

The rebuild is taking place in the Corktown area where Slows has grown to the point of bursting. Long line ups are a common sight in the evening and on weekends. Arriving after 1pm on a Monday saw the place very crowded but no line. The smallish dining room has a nice warehouse feel to it with exposed brick and beams. Perfectly complimenting the late Victorian Era exterior. Opening the front door I was sadly not met with the smell of smoke hanging in the air. Boo. There was however the unmistakable smell of pig fat that I was more than eager to drink in. Yea!!003

So how was it?? Oddly enough we stayed with the more traditional style offerings and we were quite pleasantly satiated. The more normal Q offerings would have to wait for another day.

First, let’s talk sauces. Slows makes 5 of them. All good but two really stood out. Although the Apple and Sweet were nice, the Spicy (while not very spicy) was even better. The NC and Mustard sauces were however the clear winners. The NC hinted strongly at Buffalo Chicken Wing sauce and seemed clear that it would be terrific on poultry. The mustard sauce had a nice honey like sweetness to it for great balance. Perfect for pork.008

The Brisket Enchiladas were good but not the homerun that AR made them out to be. Not good enough for a second try but certainly satisfying. One criticism I have is that the beef had very little Q taste. It tasted like beef but no real Q hints.006

You seldom see fish on a southern BBQ menu and certainly not battered and fried. But Mrs. Sippi loves catfish and tempura so she couldn’t resist. It was simply outstanding. Crispy on the outside with melt in your mouth fish inside. The lighter tempura didn’t over power the delicate flavour of the fish and the creole mustard remoulade was an excellent compliment.007

Then of course there’s the whole reason for the visit. The Triple Threat Pork sandwich. Bacon, pulled pork and ham stacked on top of each other. Fabulous right off the line it was made even better with the mustard sauce. A truly outstanding sandwich worthy of the praise heaped upon it.005 
I will point out a couple things about the pulled pork since a few large pieces fell out and were consumed al a carte. It doesn’t have the big smoke flavour that I prefer and didn’t really scream “Rub” or anything like that. What it did have was an incredible pig flavour. The meat itself was some of the best tasting pork I’ve had.

So all in all, my views on BBQ and especially northern joints has taken an uptick. Seems you can do this nouveau Q thing and make it work. As I’ve always said, taste trumps all.

You can find Slows in Detroit’s Corktown district at 2138 Michigan Ave.

You can also find them on the web, facebook and twitter.
 Slows Bar BQ on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks. See ya next time in the food court.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Battlefield Fries

You probably had to have been living on Mars, in a cave, under a rock for the last hundred and fifty or so years to have not heard of the battle of Gettysburg. THE iconic battle of the Civil war. What you might no know however is why Gettysburg. What brought two massive armies to a small town that was little more than a way point on the road to somewhere else.
While there are various reasons for the Confederates venturing into the north and the Union maneuvering north to defend Washington, the simple fact is this. To move massive, marching armies you had split them up and move them along congruent roads. Well, in south central Pennsylvania at that time, all roads lead to Gettysburg. So well laid out and positioned it was, 10 roads culminated at or around the town square. The two armies were literally on a collision course that had them slam into each other outside the tiny hamlet of 2,400 in early July, 1863.
The 3 day battle would open to the north east of town.  The Union would be pushed back to defensive positions south of town for the second and third days fighting. The main part of the battle and of course battlefield park lay to the south.
The town of Gettysburg today would all but not exist if not for the battle. Virtually every business is there to support the tourist industry. Outside of hotels, banks or gas stations, pretty close to every proprietor sells either souvenirs, food or kitsch.
And speaking of food, that brings me to Hunt’s Café.
A short walk up Steinwehr Ave. from the battlefield sits Hunt’s. Much like many of the businesses along the road it occupies an old house.
One part restaurant and one part souvenir shop Scott Hunt is serving  up some of the best eats in the town. Featuring fresh cut fries, great burgers and “The best darn cheesesteaks out side of Philadelphia.”
The interior as you can see is small and cramped. Plastic outdoor furniture outfits the dining room and the smell of beef cooking on a flat top hangs in the air. As does the smell of fries cooking in hot oil. The walls are concealed by head shots of famous guests, hats, posters and just about anything else they sell.101_0792
A neat place doesn’t always translate into good food but in this case, Hunt’s delivers the goods. The sign outside advertising fresh squeezed lemon and orange juice was to portend the goodies inside.

The lemon and orange ‘ades were great. So fresh tasting (go figure) and nice to refresh ourselves after a morning in the heat at the battlefield.
The double cheeseburger had a really nice beef taste but was somewhat overcooked and a little too weighed down with condiments. For instance, there’s no need for tomato on two different levels IMHO. I’d give it a passing grade but it could be a lot better. Next time I’ll ask to have it more streamlined and tuned into my tastes. Less tomato, lettuce and I’d ask for it cooked to medium. That will probably kick up its grade a few ticks.101_0798
The cheese steak was beyond good. We don’t really have them in TO so I don’t have much to judge it against but this was easily the best I’ve had. We had ours with onions and mushrooms and the beef had a nice peppery taste. It was simply incredible.101_0797
The fries were good. Really good in fact but ultimately not a paradigm shifting experience. I don’t know whether my life long exposure to frozen fries has ruined me for fresh cut or I was expecting too much. I just wasn’t blown away. Perhaps there’s only so much you can do with french fries. Perhaps french fries just don’t move me.101_0799
All in all a really good place to eat that could still do better I think. I look forward to a return trip.

You can find Hunt’s Battlefield Fries and Café at 61 Steinwehr Ave in Gettysburg, Pa.
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You can find them on the web here or on facebook here.
 Hunt's Battlefield Fries on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks. See ya next time in the food court.