Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ManBQue Dayton Kick-Off: July 17!

I've been lending my awesomeness to Chicago-based ManBQue for several months now, and it's time that shit gets real. In just a few weeks, ManBQue Godfather Jesse Valenciana and his crew of meat-centric goons will descend upon the Gem City to welcome anyone and everyone with a Y chromosome to enjoy three of the four things that men love most: meat, beer, and rock & roll.

ManBQue is a club, but by no stretch are they elitist. The main rules are very simple - you bring enough meat and beer to share. The grill must be in use at all times. No less than four different kinds of meat are to be served. You can read the rest, including the humiliation of vegetarians and required swearing here.

The first Dayton ManBQue will be held at a private residence (at most MBQs are), so please respond to me here, or to the email address on the above ad to RSVP and get more info.
If you're a chef or consider yourself a grill master (and have the chops to prove it), we'd love to have you attend as a judge in our grilling competition.

I'll stress, as redundant as it may seem, that ManBQue is only for men. Sorry, ladies. The only reason I'll be in proximity is because I've donated plenty of my time, resources and my own home to this organization, so I've earned my keep. Plus, I get to wear a mustache!
That aside, Dayton ManBQue hopes to grow in numbers and start hosting events at local eateries, same as the founding Chicago crew does now.

If you're a dude, and you love to grill (beginners are always welcome!), you need to get involved with ManBQue.

Also, if you think the above artwork is bad ass - which, of course, you do - contact Mr. FvF at therustyshackles@gmail.com

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pie Pizzeria - Dayton, Ohio

I'd just recently heard tell of a little place called Pie Pizzeria, thanks to an ad my friend showed me, where the place was very clearly calling Cousin Vinny's bluff on their late night eats lockdown. Let it be known that Food vs. Face is no stranger to Cousin Vinny's, and I've eaten just as many times sober as I have, uh...not sober. And it's good pizza. It's not spectacular, but it's good, cheap, and they'll deliver until 4 a.m. I hate to be the one to tell you this, and Vinny's - I'm so, so sorry - but there's a new sheriff in town, and that sheriff's name is Pie Pizzeria.

My friend Melanie who showed me the aforementioned ad raved about the pizza, and drooled over their 8 pound stuffed pie, the Fughetaboutit. Their online menu doesn't seem to have as much info as the print one I saw, but it's enough info to make an order. It also boasts the "Bigger 10," which is a 16" 1 topping pizza, 8 breadsticks and 2 cans of soda.

After spending all day cooking in the sun at a family reunion yesterday, my sister, myself and our beaus decided no one wanted to stand around in a hot kitchen and cook, and that this would be the prime time to try the new joint. So, we ordered the Bigger 10 and an additional large pie. Note: It should be mentioned that these photos were taken of reheated pizza. The ones taken last night came out with the big-foot effect again.

I should also note that we have nearly 12" dinner plates and the breadsticks still hung over the side. I've honestly never seen breadsticks this gigantor, and to boot - they were delicious. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Cousin Vinny's breadsticks (cheese dust and cheese sauce...om nom nom). So, Pie hasn't yet won the breadstick battle with me.

But the pizza, now that's a different story. As far as delivery goes, this is probably some of the best pie I've ever had. I never order from large chains like Domino's, but this is far better than CV's, LaRosa's, Sarpino's and maybe Corleone's. The tops of the crust (same as the breadsticks) have a parmesan-herb dusting that's divine. I'm not sure if they make their own sauce, but it's in the same category as Troni's marinara, which is saying a lot. Not too sweet, not overly salty or acidic. The crust itself is great, and almost pastry-like in its density. A lot can also be said for the perfect amount of cheese. It's not triple bypass cheese like Pizza Hut, but also not the "Hey, we perpetually just ran out of cheese while making your pizza" that Dayton-style 'za typically sports. I can't say a lot for the toppings, because we got 1 pepperoni and another pepperoni with green peppers, but I doubt they disappoint when it comes to the easy stuff.

Their specialty pies are a bit steep, but I'm sure I'll try them eventually (I'm looking at you, Bronx BBQ). But, the Bigger 10 is a great deal and somehow this stuff fills you up faster than the original Big 10 from Vinny's. Two of the biggest eaters I know (Meestor Seestor and Mr. FvF) couldn't polish off a large between the two of them, let alone by themselves. We had about 3/4 of a pie left and a few breadsticks left.

Considering their small staff and relative newness (they opened in November), delivery didn't take any longer than expected on a Saturday night - about 40 minutes, which was the estimate I was given on the phone.

4.5 out of 5 sporks!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Greek Speak: Souvlaki!

I've raved a few times about Tickets Pub in Fairborn and how much I love their Souvlaki. But, I don't always feel like driving across town to get it. Since it's grilling season, I may as well step to my Weber and learn to make it myself, tzatziki sauce included. It was not only easier than I thought, but sooooo much more delicious than expected. Most of the prep is done the night before, in order to let flavors meld and marinate, and even that only takes about 20 minutes.

Follow your nose over to Man B Que and see what all the fuss is about!

Editor's note: the heat index today was nearly 100 degrees, so it hardly seemed grilling weather, but this was so, so worth it.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bravo - Dayton Mall

My gal pal Ginger owed herself a ladies day out, which turned into a shopping excursion with me on the hunt for a gaudy dress for my dirty thirty party. Everyone knows that ladies lunch, but broads and bitches prefer to brunch. So, we hit the new-ish Bravo just outside the Dayton Mall and figured we'd give it a whirl. It took us a while to decide, since we had brunch, lunch and dinner menus to choose from. But, our handsome and attentive server brought me a peach Bellini and Gin a Bloody Mary while we perused. Let's not forget the mini loaves of warm, rosemary bread they bring out with the infused oil that I'd probably drink from a bottle like a hobo sipping on Thunderbird wine.

Gin decided on the Grilled chicken salad, and opted for the entree size, since the lunch portion seemed too small. Also, we had BIG hongries.
Her salad came out looking lot bigger then she'd planned, as did my food, so it was perfect sitting & chatting food while we picked away at it.

I chose the Omelet of the day - spinach, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, caramelized onions, asparagus, to which I of course added bacon. I was so excited to see that it came with fresh fruit. I was rushing through my Bellini so far that I didn't even spy that on the menu.
Dad, please don't get upset when I say this is the best omelet I've ever had. It was on an entirely different place then Pa FvF's omelets, which are usually stuffed which things not nearly as good for you, but are an absolute staple in my comfort food repertoire. The eggs were just the fluffiest I'd ever had, and filled to the brim with bright flavors and balanced out by the sweetness and smokiness of the bacon and onions. And the big winner - NO damn Hollandaise sauce. Put it on your fries or something, because it doesn't belong on an omelet like this (bob Evans, I'm looking in your direction). To boot, the fruit selection was all ripe and in season. I ate everything but the blueberries, which I knew would stain my teeth and make for an awful trip to the MAC counter later.

Considering prices rising all over the place on menus, this was quite a bargain. The bread, the omelet, the fruit and the Bellini only came to about $16. Minus the cocktail, you're looking at about a $10 tab, which you won't even beat at Bob Evans these days. The priciest thing on Bravo's brunch menu is only $13.99, and that's the Bistecca Benedict - "two poached eggs served atop beef tenderloin medallions and Romano crusted tomatoes with Hollandaise sauce. Served with breakfast potatoes." Sounds like some local restaurateurs need to up their game and get in on this brunch menu. Come on, even Baptists are out of bed by 10 a.m. If you know of any other local spots serving brunch, let a gal know!

5 out of 5 sporks!

Bravo Cucina Italiana on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 18, 2010

Smokin' Aces BBQ - Xenia, Ohio

After waiting several weeks with baited breath and a hankerin' for ribs that even North Carolina couldn't satisfy, Smokin' Aces finally opened for business today. Naturally, I have better things to do on a Friday night than cook dinner, so the mister and I headed there to let them do the cooking.

Back in May, I interviewed the owners and manager of the new Xenia eatery and got all of the scoop on the upcoming menu. Chef Andrew Englar impressed me with his menu plans and talked a good game about his know-how when it came to the grill - so I was really hoping he'd deliver.

The owners let me know that they had some issues opening because of, well - let's just say typical contractor issues. So, they had to ixnay the private tasting they'd planned and decided to open up shop today. They were itching to open, so the signage and decor is still a bit lacking, but in due time they'll have the place rockin' & rollin' as far as looks. And guess what? When I want ribs, I'm not looking for ambiance, I'm looking for good ribs.

They're a bit short on wait staff because everyone seems to think Xenia is out in the sticks, when really, Smokin' Aces is only about 11 miles from the woodman entrance on 35. It still didn't take them longer than 30 seconds to let us know we could sit where ever we'd like. Our server greeted us quickly, then one of the owners (Kate) came over to say hello and take our beverage order. They won't have their liquor license until Monday, but big props for having Coke Zero!

We were so famished that we opted for a full order of hog wings to start off with. You can get a half order, but really - why would you do that when they look like this?

I'd been really anxious to try these since it was a piece of pig I'd never tried before. They looked a bit different than I'd pictured in my head, but they were LEGIT. Mr. FvF barely took the first bite of his and said "These are amazing!" I replied, "You barely even had it in your mouth yet," which of course, yielded a "that's what she said." But honest to hog, they were amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if on my next visit, I ordered them as my entree. They were perfectly juicy with hardly an ounce of solid fat on them. They didn't really require any sauce, but they came with the house-made red sauce and mustard sauce. Both sauces had great flavor, but we both loved the gold sauce enough to bathe in it. (Okay, maybe that was just me.)

As for the entree, we played our usual hand - ordered the biggest ting on the menu and split it - the BBQ sampler. This was a half-slab of ribs and pulled pork served over johnny cakes with two sides. I picked the onion straws, and Mr. got the parmesan-garlic potatoes. The food came out quickly, but not so quickly that it made you suspicious of how long it had been sitting under a heat lamp.
You could actually pick up the scent of smoke coming off of the food. Knowing Chef Drew uses only real smoke, that small is enough to make you fist-fight someone over the plate. First, let's discuss the sides so I can blow my wad later talking about the meat. My onion straws were more than plentiful - I actually wasn't able to finish them. Somewhere between onion rings and haystack onions, they were sweet and crispy, but not greasy at all. The Mister's potatoes (which I forgot to snap a photo of) were top notch - scalloped-style with a few crispy edges and amazing flavor.

Now, my pretties, let's talk about meat. I consider myself pretty finicky about BBQ because my old man does such a fantastic job of it. It needs to have the right amount of fat, right amount of bark, real smoke flavor, and need not require sauce. Any place else in the Miami Valley serving BBQ have officially had their asses handed to them. Chef Drew did more than just talk a good game - this dude has perfected the technique. The pulled pork was ideal - the perfect ratio of meat, moisture and bark, and it paired perfectly with the house gold sauce. The ribs were cooked absolutely perfectly. It is so, so easy to overcook ribs, and to over-flavor them with both sauce and rub. These weren't sauced and had a killer dry-rub on them that made them easy to handle. The one end-all trait of good slab of ribs is when they don't need anything extra, and these didn't. I think I dipped into the gold sauce once or twice just to see if it matched up well (which it did), but they were so good that I didn't want to mask the flavor with it. Beautiful smoke ring, magically crispy bark - this is the stuff a carnivore's dreams are made of.

I really can't say enough wonderful things about this place. They're still getting their feet wet as far as operations go - but keep in mind, this is their first venture as proprietors in the restaurant biz. The floor was about half-full today on our visit, but I don't think those empty tables will last long if they're consistently serving food this delicious.

5 out of 5 sporks! 

Smokin Aces BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Agent Orange Chicken

Another great, quick weeknight meal. Chinese takeout-inspired cooking is quickly becoming one of my favorite go-to meal plans during the week, because it takes minimal prep and negligible time to cook.
The sauce came out a bit thin, but I'll remedy that in the recipe I post here.

1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup orange juice
1 packet Splenda (or 1 tsp sugar)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 cup mandarin oranges (drained)
3 cloves crushed or minced garlic
1 lb chicken breast tenders, diced about 1"

In a small bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients and set aside. Heat about 3 tbsp oil in a pan over medium-high and add your diced chicken. About halfway through cooking, add the garlic and cook until chicken is no longer pink. Add your sauce mixture and orange slices and continue cooking, kicking the heat up a smidge, until the sauce starts to thicken and bubble. A little orange rind would be great in this, too, but I didn't have any on hand.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

(Almost) Jerk Chicken

Since I've gotten back to the grill, I've been wanting to try making Jerk chicken for a while now. Only problem is, I know nothing about the dish and there are about two gazillion recipes for it on the webbernets. I'd normally wing it, but this isn't the sort of thing you wing. So, I took the most highly rated recipes and Frankenstein'd them. The result: totally delicious, but not really jerk chicken. I'd still definitely recommend making it. Here's what you'll need:

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken (I used tenderloins)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 pepper, seeded and finely diced (I used Serrano)
1/2 C white vinegar
3 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked pepper
4 tsp allspice
2 tsp nutmeg
4 tsp ginger

Toss all of the marinade ingredients into a food processor and blend until mostly smooth. Place the chicken in a large zippy bag or storage container and pour the marinade over top of it. Marinate overnight, or at least 8 hours.
Fire your grill up medium-high, or about 400 degrees, and grill about 15 minutes (7-8 minutes each side) total for tenderloins, longer for whole breasts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tuscan Wedding Soup

I was always pretty spoiled as a kid, having very resourceful parents who could cook up a storm. I never had store-bought soup, beans, or preserves until I moved out after high school. As anyone else who's been this privileged and spoiled will tell you, your first can of of soup or jar of jam is a severely rude awakening. Nobody makes it like mom does. If you're smart, you'll learn to make it like mom does, from scratch. I've pretty much mastered all of those homemade soups that I crave by now - from Pa FvF's chili to Ma FvF's devilishly rich and creamy potato soup. I figured it's time to make my own soup from scratch with no recipe and no help. I wanted something involving cannelini beans, spinach and sweet sausage, and probably some tiny pasta for the Mister. It's a lot like Italian Wedding soup, with the addition of white beans and using straight sausage instead of meatballs. Hence, Tuscan Wedding Soup. Here's what you'll need:

1 lb sweet (or mild or hot, if you prefer) Italian sausage*
2 cups chopped spinach**
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 32 oz carton chicken broth
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 cups small pasta (I used shells), cooked and drained
*I used links and cut them up, but you could just as easily used bulk and crumble it.
** Use fresh, not frozen. You can thank me later.

Cook your sausages however you normally cook them. I added about 1/4 inch of water to a dutch oven and let them brown for about 15 minutes over medium heat, then sliced'em up. Add a little olive oil to a small stock pot over medium heat, then add your onions and garlic. Once they start to soften, add the chopped spinach and beans, then throw the sausage back in the last few minutes to get it a nice, rustic brown. Plus, the fat will help the veggies cook down. Add all of your chicken broth, then seasonings and give it a good stir. Bring it to a near-boil, then back down to simmer and let it simmer for at least one hour. Add your cooked pasta and let it all come to temperature, then you're all set. Like most soups, the longer you can let it simmer, the better the flavor will be.

I don't mind patting myself on the back here, this was fantastic. Even for all the veggies in it, it got a 9 out of 10 from Mr. FvF - an esteemed list which normally only includes steak and stromboli. I topped it with an asiago-romano-parm blend, but it's absolutely fine on it's own. Also, if I had it to do over, I think I might go with a harder, aged parmesan.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tamale Tumble

Ever wonder how you can get the great taste of tamales without going to Mexico, or even worse, Trader Joe's? Food vs. Face has the solution! On accident!
Last month we had some spicy breakfast sausage over at Mr. FvF's mother's and he loved the hell out of it, so I wanted to make something dinner-y with it when we got back to civilization. I figured it would be super tasty, but I never put two and two together that it's basically deconstructed tamales, without the fuss of the husk. Not hooked yet? It's Crock Pot recipe. Just set it and forget it! Wait, that's dentures. Or super glue. Whatever. You only have to do real cooking for like, 5 minutes.

Tamale Tumble
1 lb/1 roll spicy pork sausage
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 can corn w/peppers
1 can diced tomatoes w/chiles
2/3 C yellow cornmeal
1 C milk
1 egg, beaten
1 C shredded cheese

Crumble and brown sausage in a skillet and drain. No worries if it's not completely done, because it's going to cook for 6 more hours. Spray your crock with cooking spray and dump the sausage in. Add the tomatoes, corn and taco seasoning and stir well. In a small bowl, mix the milk, cornmeal and beaten egg and pour that into the crock, then give it another good stir. Cook on low for 4-6 hours, then add cheese to the top and cover for another 5 minutes so it melts.

Burrito Bake

Mr. FvF isn't a huge enchilada fan, so I wanted to come up with a similar dish that he could get into. So, I basically made some burritos, half-assed a sauce to cover them in and threw it in the oven. It wasn't a total fail, but it was really lacking in texture. So, I'm going to give you the recipe the way I plan on making it next time.

Burrito Bake
6-8 medium sized tortillas (I used low-carb whole wheat)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
1/2 C black beans
1 packet taco seasoning (or make your own)
1 C salsa
1/2 C sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Sargento Artisan Mexican blend)

Preheat your oven to about 350 and brown your ground beef with the diced onion. Drain well and stir in the taco seasoning with about 1/4 cup of water, stir, then add your black beans.
While that's cooling, in a medium bowl, mix together the sour cream, soup and salsa and set aside. That sentence would be very difficult for someone with a lisp.
Assemble your burritos with the beef/bean mixture and 1/2 of the cheese and roll them up just like you're making regular old burritos - because you are.
In a baking dish (at least 9x9"), spoon out about 1/3 of the soup mixture and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Nestle your formed burritos in on top of it, cover with the remainder of the soup mixture, and top it with the remainder of the cheese.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is all melty and awesome.

When I made it (pictured above), I didn't use the beans or onion in the meat and used taco sauce instead of salsa. It was really delicious, but a bit too smooth for my liking. I'm sure, though, that means kids would eat the hell out of it because it completely lacks vegetables that way. The sauce had a great taste, though. Changing to salsa shouldn't affect the flavor, though - it would probably only add texture.

Chicken Hash

I found this recipe on a diabetes (dy-bee-tuhs) website and it seemed strangely delicious. Too delicious to be good for you. The first time I made it, I'd had a bit too much wine and forgot to boil the potatoes before adding them in, but it was still actually pretty tasty. So, I decided to give it another whirl since I had most of the pantry staples it required leftover from previous meals. I've adapted the ingredients to the way that I made it and trust me, it's a little better this way. Because the potatoes soak up so much liquid, it can dry up like an old lady at the bingo hall.

Chicken Hash
1 lb chicken breast (you're going to cut it up, so it doesn't matter if it's boneless)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves minced garlic
8 small red potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup black beans, drained & rinsed
1 tsp dried thyme (or substitute 1 tbsp fresh thyme)
1 tsp dried basil (or substitute 1 tbsp fresh basil)
1 tsp paprika
1 small can tomato sauce

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken with thyme, basil and salt and bake for 20 minutes or until done. Dice the chicken into large cubes and set aside.
Boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes and drain.
Heat the oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until browned and soft. Add the potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes, then the black beans and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes.

Add chicken cubes, paprika, salt, pepper and tomato paste to skillet. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes until it's all heated through. I like to throw a little shredded sharp cheddar and sour cream on top to make it feel at least a little sinful. Second time's a charm! It's definitely better when you boil the potatoes. Don't worry, you can still have wine afterwards. It prevents heart disease...or something!

Potato chip chicken

We've had some extra chips laying around ever since the MBQ practice round, so we decided to use what was left and coat some chicken in it. Mr. FvF said he'd had it before and loved it, so I figured it couldn't be too hard. Not much of a recipe, really. Crush up 1-2 cups of your favorite chips, drag some chicken breast through a butter or milk wash, then into the chip crumbs, and bake for about 30 minutes.

It sounded like a good idea, but I just wasn't impressed. We used sour cream & onion and there just wasn't enough flavor. I added extra salt to the chip crumbs, but that didn't do the trick. I think I may try this again with Mike Sell's Cheddar & Sour cream chips, and a good deal more salt. It was fine, but not "make again" good.

New ManBQue Site!

The Godfather and his team of web-demons have been hard at work on this for a while, and it's worth every bit of the effort. Carnivores, I give you the brand new ManBQue website. Go poke around, and be sure to check in with the blog occasionally for new recipes and drivel. And if you're in Chicago, go to one of their events!

In other news, I've been "unfollowed" on Blogger for the very first time. I offended you! I really offended you!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mac's Speed Shop - Charlotte, NC

Friday night, Mr. FvF and I finally got to get away and have a nice dinner alone, which meant we got to pick the spot. Since we'd driven there, we could hop in the car and head out of the hotel territory, where there were plenty of other dining options. I'd read a lot on Urban Spoon about Mac's Speed Shop BBQ and wanted to check it out. Luckily, it was just under two miles from the Westin.

Mac's has a nice ambiance, similar to Tank's or Fricker's, for those of you familiar with those two Dayton joints. It's billed as a biker hangout, but not a biker bar, per se. The decorum matched right up with their namesake - from light fixtures made from old wheel stock to an entire bike suspended from the ceiling, and you'll find everything from a Ducati to custom choppers in the front parking lot.

So, let's get down to business - the food! The service was fast AND friendly - two things that aren't typically mutually exclusive. The know how to cater to their kind of crowd, staffing a good handful of young, good looking girls wearing little but booty-cutters, black tank tops and tattoos. Our server was on it and got our drink order right after we were seated and had it to the table in just enough time for us to have decided what we wanted. We ordered the "Little bit of everything," which was around $20 and came with pulled pork, ribs, brisket and smoked turkey. Basically, they had five meats to choose from, and we picked everything but beer can chicken. The food came out a LOT faster than we had expected, but you'll never hear me complain about that.

None of the meat was heavily sauced, which is exactly the way I like it. They has their own, house-made sauces available on the table. There was the standard red, then the more mustard/vinegar style gold sauce. Strangely enough, they were both very thin, much more like a mop sauce than an actual, textbook BBQ sauce - but I'd be lying if I said they weren't both very good and accompanied their cooking style really well. Unfortunately, I was a little bummed when it came to the taste factor. Now, let's keep in mind: a.) we're in North Carolina, largely considered one of the greatest BBQ states in the US; b.) we're a bit off the beaten path, at a non-chain variety eatery; and c.) this place was voted Charlotte's best barbecue by the state's own BBQ Association (why don't we have one of those, by the way?).

I don't want to give the impression that it wasn't good, but by my standards, BBQ in North Carolina should be a lot better. The meat could have been more tender, and I detected little to no smoke flavor in anything. The pulled pork was a bit dry for my taste. I got a couple good pieces of bark, but not one single piece with a nice juicy bit of fat on it. Seems like it may have been all pork loin, and I think you almost have to add shoulder to the mix to get the right amount of moisture in there.

The sides were good, but not for me. I ordered cole slaw (of course), but I didn't like the style. Not enough mayo, too much vinegar - but this may just be NC's style of slaw. Mr. FvF really liked his baked beans, but they tasted like a well-doctored version of canned to me. I could be very, very wrong there, and if the cook or owner ever read this - please correct me if I am. Don't take it that badly, though - there's nothing wrong with canned baked beans.

But, the service made up for what little the food lacked, and they did a pretty killer job with dessert. We weren't completely stuffed and were craving something sweet, but I'm not easily sold on standard dessert fare. However, our adorable waitress did a good job selling us on how great they were. We ordered the apple bread pudding, which came with vanilla ice cream, both components drizzled in warm caramel. Top notch! Bread pudding isn't hard to totally screw up, but it's hard to get it dead on. This wasn't as good as Christopher's, maybe on par with the Bourbon bread pudding at Parmisano's at the Dayton Marriott (and they've won awards for theirs, too).
Our bill for the giant sampler (which came with two sides and toast), one whiskey, one beer and one dessert came to around $34. Not shabby at all, especially considering the price gouging that was going on elsewhere near uptown.

4.5 out of 5 sporks!
Mac's Speed Shop BBQ on Urbanspoon

Fuel Pizza - Charlotte, NC

On our last day in Charlotte, I met up with my friend Andy from United States of Geekdom to catch up and have lunch. I figured we'd hit the Sandwich Club again and I'd try something different - but alas, at noon on a Saturday, those assholes were closed. I realize that because of their location, they probably cater to the uptown business crowd, but they could have done Gangbusters business that day just opening for three hours.

This left us with few options, aside from Fuel Pizza, which had been raking in the dough (HA!) since late Wednesday night when the HeroesCon crowd rolled in. I was apprehensive because of the impending carb-fail, but they actually had a pretty varied menu for a small pizza joint, including wings (boneless, too), salads, apps and sides. The only problem is, perhaps because they were so busy, the gal taking orders at the counter practically bit your head off and moved on to the next in line if you didn't spit out your order within five seconds. So, I ended up getting pizza anyway because she scared the shit out of me. I ordered a combo of a side salad, soft drink and BBQ chicken pizza. Again, I wish I hadn't been so rushed because I really think I would have opted for something else, but it was the only thing I could read the sign on. The prices were pretty fair for the area, too - about $6.85 for my combo.

Not surprisingly, I forgot to snap a photo before digging in, but the consensus was that my pizza was dry and not impressive, and the pepperoni slices that Andy got were just greasy enough and pretty delicious. I really should have tried a bite of his, since he was acting like Karen Carpenter and picking away at his slice. My salad was just a salad, nothing to write home about. Some chopped iceberg, a few tomato bits and a tiny bit of shredded carrots.

It was a very hurried lunch, so I almost feel guilty giving them a sub-par rating, but given that they knew this rush was coming (the Con is held right across the street every year), they could have beefed up on their service to render the one girl working counter a bit less bitey.

3 out of 5 sporks

Fuel Pizza Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sandwich Club - Charlotte, NC

After being holed up in the hotel room for the better part of the day, I met Mr. FvF for lunch. Again, the cute little park across from the convention center left little dining options that were even relatively affordable. Apparently Charlotte seems to think they're Chicago with the prices they're charging. Did I mention that Thursday night I paid $17 for a drink? Yeah, and beers were $8.

The rub is, he was on a tight schedule, so we had to go some place within walking distance. The only thing other than pizza was a little joint called Sandwich Club. They had a pretty good variety available, and the prices were fair enough. Most specialty sandwiches were $6.50, while the more standard fare was $5.50 - all chips, drinks, etc were a la carte. They had a good variety of sides and bread options, as well.

The food was fine. Not spectacular, but not bad. My chicken salad was decent, but wasn't sweet enough and just not flavorful enough in general. The Mister's chicken cordon blue was admittedly much better than my choice, but they definitely used the frozen chicken patties along the lines if what you might get at BK or Wendy's.

While I'm glad it was there (and open), it was just very mediocre and I don't have much to add about it.

3 out 5 sporks

Sandwich Club on Urbanspoon

Mason's Uptown - Charlotte, NC

Once we stood in line amongst hundreds of clamoring nerds trying to check into the Westin for HeroesCon Thursday night, we cleaned ourselves up and met with a few of Mr. FvF's co-workers for dinner. Uptown Charlotte must have suffered some brutal financial blows since last year's con, because a lot of the restaurants everyone remembered were gone. Right across the street was a pizza place called Fuel (which I'll get to in another post), and the only other place we could find was called Mason's uptown. Based on their specials board, the prices didn't seem too hateful - and more importantly, they had a bar.

It felt like a good escape from the swampy heat when we walked it, but once we got seated it suddenly got very warm again. I found it pretty strange that the place was damn near empty and immediately wondered if we'd made a huge mistake. Our server, who was sweet - but appeared completely out to lunch, came over to take our drink order, but quickly informed us that there were no drink specials, no meal specials (really? then what's with the board?), and they were out of burgers and ribs. WTF. Not only did burgers make up nearly 1/4 of the menu, but they were the most reasonably priced. There were a lot of wraps, pizza, and other sandwiches, but as usual - not a lot of options for carb haters who don't eat seafood. Two of the fellas ordered fish and chips, another got a Caesar salad (meal sized), and I opted for the Bull Bites, which were billed as "tender tips of fillet seasoned and grilled to a perfect medium." This was on the appetizers menu and didn't mention coming with anything else, so I also ordered a side Caesar salad.

I should also mention that I ordered a Maker's Mark and diet, which they were also out of. I ordered another drink, which the bartender brought over to me and apologized for the shortage. About halfway through our meal, our server brought me a diet Pepsi - the same diet Pepsi that should have been in my Maker's that they were out of. Ugh.

Sometime before I reached retirement age, our food finally arrived, and I was more than a little chaffed to see what I had paid $10 for.
In case you can't tell from the photo, that would be two skewers, no longer than 5" each, with maybe 6 oz of very overcooked steak between the two of them. Oh, and let's not forget the two cold onion rings and Horseradish sauce. A minimal amount of time and effort could have gone into the plating and prep of this to make it less than a total failure, but we quickly learned why their give-a-shitter seemed to be broken.

When the server brought us our outrageous bill, she made mention that this was their last night open, and we were their last customers. While I still assume that the food and service was no better on a night that they weren't closing the doors, I suppose I can't blame them for not really giving a rip.

0 out of 5 sporks

Fiesta Chicken

On almost any major chain restaurant menu, you can find some variation on Fiesta Chicken. Even if they're culinary dullards, it's still usually pretty good, because it seems really hard to screw up. I made some earlier last week, and it's now in my top five "tasty as they are fast" dinners. Here's what you'll need (as usual, this recipe is for two people - double up as needed)...

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
house seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder)
5 tbsp ranch dressing
1 cup salsa
2 cloves crushed/minced garlic
1/2 C shredded Monterrey-Jack cheese

Warm a Dutch oven over mid-high heat and lube it up with either oil or cooking spray. Season the chicken on both sides with house seasoning and sear it for about 5 minutes on each side until it gets a nice golden brown to it. In a bowl, mix together the dressing, salsa and garlic and pour them into the pan over the chicken. Cover and cook for about 10-15 more minutes (no need to turn). Add the shredded cheese directly over the chicken breasts, then cover for 1-2 minutes so the cheese gets delightfully melty.

There's virtually no prep for this and you could serve it a few different ways. We ate it just as it was, with a mix of corn and peppers and some red potatoes I cut into wedges and seasoned in an attempt to replicate Taco Bell's Fiesta Potatoes. You could also easily chop or shred it once it's cooked and make it into a taco or burrito, or garnish it with cilantro and tortilla strips if you're feeling fancy.

Dot's Market - It's what's for dinner!

I know I go on and on about my beloved Dot's Market for their butcher shop, but there's another reason to love it even more that I've never thought of mentioning.

By Wednesday night, we were fresh out of groceries and saw no reason to buy more since we were heading to HeroesCon in Charlotte over the weekend. Didn't feel much like going out to dinner either, because we'd be eating in restaurants for the next several days. Well, that sounds like a perfectly good excuse to get broasted chicken from Dot's.

We went in and pulled a number, but they normally let you cut in line if you stand by the chicken, because your order won't take long. We got two of their dinner specials, which includes three pieces of chicken (breast, wing and thigh or breast, leg and thigh), cole slaw, a King's Hawaiian roll and three big potato wedges. Remember back when I mentioned Old Hickory (on N. Main) had changed their broasted potatoes by ordering them already wedged and coated, and that they were one of my new favorite indulgences? Well, Dot's has the same potatoes now.

The chicken is tops. Broasted has always been my favorite (aside from Ma FvF's fried chicken), and it's not easy to come by now that Chicken Louie's is "temporarily" closed. The breading is crispy and perfectly seasoned, and it's never greasy.

Considering this is leaps and bounds better than the mass-produced, greasy mess you can get from KFC, Lee's, etc - you'd probably expect to pay a fine price for that kind of quality. Not at Dot's you won't. $4.49 for a 3 piece meal, two sides and a roll.

Of course, you can also get Dot's chicken by the truckload (call ahead, too!) for things like picnics, family reunions and the like. So, the next time you're not up for cooking dinner, or you need to feed an entire football team, remember that there's more than just KFC. And don't forget about the Bull Pen, the restaurant inside Dot's. Yes, that's how awesome this little mom & pop grocer is. They have their own little greasy spoon right around the corner from the beer cooler, serving up gems like the often-craved meatloaf they sell in the butcher shop, country fried steaks, and pork chops.

Need less to say, this gets 5 out of 5 sporks!