Saturday, August 2, 2014

Farmers Markets and World's Fair Donuts

It was a beautiful Saturday morning here in St. Louis, which for many people means a visit to the to the local farmer's market. I'm a big fan of the Baltimore Farmers' Market under the Jones Falls Expressway but I will admit, I never took advantage of it as much as I should have because I love to sleep in. But, in an effort to learn this city, I decided I needed to check out the local farmer's market scene here in STL. Jackie and I invited a few people over to grill out by our pool tomorrow, so I figured this was a perfect excuse to wake my ass up at the crack of 10am and check out the local farmer's market.

*Side note for your cooking/hosting novices out there - when hosting guests, it's always good  to tell people that you "sourced" the food from a farmer's market. Be sure to use the word "sourced." If you don't know why, I bet you don't even know what terroir means. Ugh. Also, feel free to mention the organic, sustainable nature of the vendors's products at the market. Bonus points if you know the name of the goat that produced the milk that produced your cheese. Wait, you eat cow cheese? How gauche, shoot yourself. Anyway, the reason you want to smugly tell your guests the source of their food is that if you mess it up, you can tell them it's rustic and organic, and they'll shamefully think their taste buds have been ruined to the nuanced natural flavors of your awesome cooking by the chemical and preservative-laden food that they get from the *gasp* grocery store. Another trick is to get them drunk. A third trick is to fry everything because America.

Anywho, I'd heard that the Tower Grove Farmers' Market here in the St. Louis is the one to go to. The cool thing about the place is that it's right in the middle of the park - there's no street closures, just a nice beautiful setup in the middle of the park, lots of parking, kids playing in the fountains, green grass everywhere - pretty relaxing spot.

Conveniently for me, when I was Googling directions, I learned that World's Fair Donuts is right on the way to the farmer's market.  I'd heard about World's Fair from locals and had even read about them in the NY Times, so I was obviously going to stop and check it out. I waited about 20 minutes to order, but ultimately, I think it was worth the wait. I'm not a donut snob - I've had Voodoo in Portland and Doughnut Plant in NYC, but I'm also a fan of the Colossal Donut from Shoppers. To me, there's still nothing that beats a hot Kripsy Kreme fresh off the birthing line. But, World's Fair is a good donut, and deserves it's notoriety. The place is tiny and when I was there, only 2 people were working- an old guy in the back actually making the donuts, and what I assume to be his wife in the front who fills your orders and collects your $. I'm an idiot and forgot to take pictures, but as you can see from the stock photos i found online, the place is a classic. I got a glazed yeast donut and a buttermilk cake donut. I'm not normally a fan of cake donuts, but this was the best I've ever had - crispy edges, chewy but not heavy, sweet but not cloying - a very good donut.

Anyway, donuts in hand (in belly, actually), I headed to the farmers market. Not nearly as big as I expected, but definitely a decent variety of vendors. I was able to score a bunch of tomatoes, onion, corn, a watermelon, and sirloin for the poolside cookout tomorrow. We'll be doing sirloin kabobs, tomato salad, and grilled corn on the cob. Hopefully it's good. If not, it's because peoples' palates are terrible.

Friday, July 18, 2014

St. Louis BBQ

I was worried that the Midwest was just going to be a culinary wasteland of chain restaurants, where Taco Bell and PF Chang's served as the only ethnic alternatives to burgers and meatloaf. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. We've already found some really good local spots, and there actually seems to be a thriving culinary scene. There's no doubt that I've got a lot of eating to do in the next few years.

The one cuisine I knew St. Louis was known for is their BBQ. After some research, the consensus seems to be that there are 3 places that vie for the top BBQ joint in town - Sugarfire, Pappy's, and Bogarts. I've been here just over 2 weeks now, which means I've already eaten at each one now multiple times. All three are terrific.  Anywho, on to my rankings -

Sugarfire is my favorite of the 3. On a trip with my brother-in-law, I had ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, sausage, fries, slaw, and beans. Oh, and that was all on one magical plate called the Meat Daddy.

For good measure, we also added a pound of smoked wings because it was a daily special. All that food plus Schafly for like $30. Pretty amazing. The brisket is probably the best I've had outside of Texas. Sausage was cheddar jalapeno - good heat without being obnoxious. Pulled pork was great, ribs were good, turkey was least impressive (fine, just nothing noteworthy). All their sauces are decent - mustard-based is best on the turkey, their sweet Kansas City style sauce was pretty good, but I thought their Bama style white sauce was their best.

On another trip, my buddy got a burger with balsamic onions and fried egg - I was definitely jealous of his order - it looked amazing. My wife got the smoked salmon, and it was really good. I was restrained, so I got a combo plate of just 2 meats - pulled pork and brisket. Both delivered again. The pleasant surprise was the special side of the day - reuben casserole - it was like a reuben sandwich (house-cured corned beef) chopped into hash browns. pretty fantastic.

Oh, and they have crack pie. Their own version of the Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie. Soo good.

This place is my favorite of the 3 for a few reasons - 1) best brisket (thick cut and so juicy); 2) really good fries (think of perfectly crisp Belgian frites); 3) daily specials that are unique and well executed; and  4) crack pie.

My second place BBQ joint is Bogarts. One of the guys from my softball team raved about it, and went on and on about the baked beans. He's biased because he lives down the street, but I have to admit, he's right about the beans. They are cooked in a tray in the smoker under the brisket, so the brisket juices and debris drop into the pan and flavor the meat. I like my baked beans sweet, but these are black peppery and meaty. Different than anything I've had before, and definitely awesome. But, to paraphrase the great Homer (Simpson), who once said you don't make friends with salad - you don't judge a BBQ place by its beans.

The photo is terrible, but here is the tray from one of my visits - beans and slaw on the left, pulled pork top right corner (notice it's pulled, not chopped) and burnt ends front and center (you see what i mean about not being distinct chunks).

What makes Bogart's my #2 is the burnt ends. For those of you who don't watch every BBQ show on Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, Destination America, PBS, etc. etc., burnt ends are the fattier meat chunks from the point end of a brisket - because they are fattier, they need to be cooked longer than the flat part of a brisket to maximize their flavor. Fat equals flavor however, so a properly smoked burnt end with a great bark is pretty much the best beef BBQ you can get. Bogarts burnt ends are great. You won't see the BBQ competition style chunks, but you will see a perfectly barked, juicy pieces of fatty brisket with a sweet, smoky finish. Heavenly. Their pulled pork is also deserving of mention, as is their house pastrami. And the throw-in starch on the side isnt just regular white bread - it's a mini-loaf of what I assume to be ciabatta - whatever it is, it makes a great leftovers sub roll.

Having named my 2 favorite places, you'd be inclined to think I don't like Pappy's. but the reality is, Pappy's in many other cities would be the best of the bunch. Pappy's is great, I just like it a little bit less than the others. It's splitting hairs really, b/c I actually love the feel of the place - one of the times I went, I met the owner who was going table to table and was a really nice guy. One thing that almost put Pappy's higher up my ranking is their pulled pork - I think it's actually the best of the 3 - juicy, flavorful, smoky, delicious. Their sweet sauce is also great. Another great thing about Pappy's is their Adam Bomb - below in all its terrible pic glory.

Rack of ribs, 2 sides, sausage, brisket sandwich, pork sandwich, 1/2 chicken, and for some reason cropped out of the photo, a frito pie. I'd go back for the frito pie, which gets most of its flavor from a sweet layer of baked beans. It also has onions, meat of your choices, and obviously fritos - insanely good.  The sides we got with the Adam Bomb were fried Corn on the cob (meh) and sweet potato fries (decent). Ribs were great, chicken was flavorful (but a bit dry), but the brisket was disappointing dry. Fortunately, their sweet sauce was awesome, so soaked in enough sauce, it was fine. Part of the experience of Pappy's is waiting in their line - in the multiple visits, the shortest wait I had was 40 minutes at 1:45pm on a random Wednesday. Smart marketing actually, b/c by the time you get your food, you're starving and think it's the best thing you've ever had. 

Anyway, I'm pretty happy so far with the BBQ I've discovered so far. What's the best BBQ you've ever had? St. Louisans, what BBQ joint in town should I go to next?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's been 2 years, time for another post

I started this thing ambitiously a few years ago at the peak of my happiness - I had finally left a lawyer job I hated, and was enjoying an awesome early midlife crisis - riding a motorcycle, working at an awesome running store by day, being an Orioles ballboy at night, coming home to a supportive wife and the cutest dog-child ever. i had big plans for this blog - i was going to post all the time, tell the world about my awesome life. then, well, i was just enjoying everything and not really taking the time to post. 2 years later, i checked on this and saw it still had some readers - more than I expected, really. So, I'm back.

Let's be honest, not every bloggers has the blogging discipline of Chocolate is My Life -  but, I've recently had a big life change too - no, we're not preggers like she is, but I did leave Baltimore for St. Louis. So, I've got a whole new world to blog about - St. Louis. So much to eat, so little time. stay tuned.....

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Beer Bread!

Being a well-traveled fatty, it's always surprising to me when I come across a food that I have not yet tried. Tonight, I picked up a gift loaf of beer bread made by my friend Alyssa

She's a recovering vegetarian, and I'm proud to say I am a big part of her recovery- I cooked the bacon that was her first bite of meat in years.  

Anywho, the beer bread was amazing. I cant believe I've never had it before. I had a slice at Charm City Run when I first picked it up, and then I had another 3 slices when i got home (toasted with butter, which is amazing). It smells like beer, but when you eat it, you dont taste beer- it's a sweet, dense bread, that's nutty and definitely awesome. Even Jackie, who hates beer and generally doesnt eat bread, really enjoyed it. If you're not lucky enough to be friends with Alyssa, I suggest u check out her blog and get her beer bread recipe, because it was awesome. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Pat's, Geno's, Jim's,  Delessandro's, Tony Luke's, John's Roast Pork- I've eaten dozens of authentic Philly cheesesteaks.  A shockingly high number of them, actually, especially for someone who has never lived in Philly. For example, when my college friend Esther moved to Philly for medical school, my wife and I visited her during her 1st year and tried Philly cheesesteaks for their time (not mine, theirs). We went to the famous Pat's/Geno's corner, and I had 1 from Geno's, 2 from Pat's, and the rest of the (sigh) Pizza cheesesteak that Esther ordered. (My wife finished hers despite not even being hungry, which is more evidence of why she is the most awesome person ever). 3 1/2 cheesesteaks in about half an hr. Hence my high number of cheesesteaks consumed despite not living in the city.  For a while, my favorite was the original.

Maybe it's the bias of knowing that Pat's invented the cheesesteak, or maybe it's the memories associated with Pat's (my above mentioned wife crushing a cheez wit, or my buddy Tim finishing one of their sandwiches before even getting to the soda window (5 feet, maybe 45 seconds))- but for years, any time I was driving up 95 and I had an extra 10 minutes to spare, I'd stop at Pat's and crush 2 "cheese wit's."

Within the last 2 years, however, I've been all about Tony Luke's.

Visually, it's not much different, but I believe their ribeye is more tender, their onions are well cooked, their Cheez Wiz is properly warmed, and importantly, their bread is awesome (yes, i'm aware it's not Amaroso's, the gold standard of cheeseteak bread in Philly). I dont know who makes their bread, but for the last 10 or so cheeseteaks I have had, the bread has been amazing- so, Tony Luke's is awesome, and for now, the standard by which I judge Philly-style cheesesteaks.

Despite my love for cheesesteaks, I haven't eaten them as often as I would like. For one, they're not very good for you, and I try to not be totally disgusting. But more importantly, there hasnt been many options for an authentic Cheez-wit here in Baltimore.  Until this year (at least to my knowledge), there was really only 1 place where you could get an authentic Philly-style cheesesteak- McGerks (there are good non-Philly cheesesteaks in Baltimore, even fancy versions,- but my favorite has always been a good Cheez-Wit). McGerk's sells a very good Philly cheesesteak, but for whatever reason, I just dont eat them that often unless I'm out for a night in Federal Hill- and that doesnt really happen anymore because I'm old and cranky.

Enter, Fat Larry's, just around the corner from McGerks.  Maybe because it's not a bar, or just the half block makes for a quieter location, but I've already taken to getting carryout from Fat Larry's much more than I ever did at McGerks.

To date, there have been 6 times I've eaten a Fat Larry's Philly-style cheesesteak (cheez-wit), and  they've been pretty good each time. The bread was good, the meat was tender, juicy, and well seasoned, the wiz was well-proportioned, and the onions were softened enough to take the bite off of them. This place is definitely trying to make as authentic of a Philly-style cheesesteak as possible, and it shows.  It is now my go-too spot for a Cheez-Wit in Baltimore.

PS-  I've heard that Tony Luke's cheesesteaks can also be had in Baltimore- at Scores strip club.  Can anyone confirm that? Has anyone actually eaten one there and is it really up to the standard of the Tony Luke's name?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Birmingham 2012

Each fall for the past 7 years, a few close friends and I have traveled to a random city for 3 or 4 days to do nothing but golf, eat, and drink. What started as a one-off weekend of golf just to catch up with some buddies I hadn’t seen in a while has turned into an annual ritual for us that is always a highlight of my year.  Fredericksburg VA, Hilton Head SC, Tampa FL, Birmingham AL (3 times), Omaha NE - different locations, but the trips have all been the same - 6am wake-up calls, golf until we run out of daylight, early dinner and drinks, and usually asleep long before 11pm.  Of course, there’s always low stakes gambling, drinking, and plenty of heckling on the course.  Some years we’ve mixed in fancy steakhouses, some years we’ve blundered into local restaurants of suspect quality (Mexican-Irish fusion anyone?) with painful results.  

For the most part, the focus has been golf and catching up on each others’ lives.  The last few years, however, we’ve also started to focus on the food.  Food focus for a group of thirty-something golfers is not complicated. We eat meat. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, but it has to be right for the trip - tasty, nothing too stuffy, and heavy with the drink pours. Last year, we were in Tampa, so of course we went to the legendary Bern’s Steakhouse, and found the experience to be everything it is purported to be. In years past, we’ve also genuinely enjoyed Outback Steakhouse.  Before all you food nerds click away in horror, just know that the Birmingham Outback is a different animal that the typical TGI McFunsters - first, it’s somehow about $5 cheaper per steak than its Baltimore counterpart. Second, a medium rare is actually cooked medium rare. Third, the Blooming Onion is awesome and everything that is right with #fatfluential America. If you still need convincing, go to a foodier blog- you’re not going to get me trashing a place just because it’s a chain.  I can appreciate when something is exactly what it’s supposed to be.  

Anywho, this year, Jon, Brian, Dominic and I went to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Birmingham, Alabama for the 3rd time in 5 years.  117 holes of golf in 4 days (18 thursday, 36 friday, 45 saturday, 18 sunday).  We have a special affection for Birmingham- it’s inexpensive, the golf is terrific, and we love the food.

Dreamland has been our BBQ joint of choice for our last few visits to Birmingham.  Right off the campus of UAB (and just 1 exit down the interstate from our hotel), it is what I want from a BBQ joint- casual, no fuss, and delicious.  White bread and their signature BBQ sauce is brought to the table with your drinks.  We shared the following- sausage, chicken, ribs, pulled pork, collards, mac and cheese, coleslaw, banana pudding.  We washed it all down with a tasty local brew, Good People IPA.  To me, the best items at Dreamland are the sausage and banana pudding.  Not that the other items are bad- they certainly beat almost everything I can get in Baltimore- but their sausage is juicy, well textured, and a perfect blend of smoke and spice.  And, the banana pudding is terrific.  In fact, they believe in it so much, it’s their only dessert.  

In years past, we were perfectly satisfied with Dreamland and Super Outback.  Birmingham rookie Dominic, however, wasn’t about to let us do the same thing for a third time, so this year, we added Saw’s BBQ into the rotation.  I cannot be happier with that decision.  We got sausage, pulled pork, coleslaw (vinegar based, unlike Dreamland’s mayo base), mac and cheese, and of course, banana pudding.  Saw’s easily has some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had.  Dreamland’s sausage and banana pudding are superior, but honestly, a BBQ place is all about the pork (with all due respect to Texas BBQ).  Smoky, juicy, perfectly spiced.  Insanely good.  Saw’s will definitely be a part of the rotation going forward.

It’s been 2 weeks since all the golf and BBQ in Birmingham, and I’m still smiling thinking about how much fun we had. I know lots of people have a similar annual trip with friends.  I see a few of the guys on this trip but once a year- on this trip- and yet, we pick up as if nothing has changed.  If you’re a runner, maybe it’s a particular destination race you do every year.  If you’re a poker player, maybe it’s an annual trip to Vegas.  Whatever it is, it’s a highlight of your year- the same group friends making the same dumb jokes every year, doing the same nonsense you did the year before.  

Readers, I ask you this- what annual rituals do you have with your friends and what makes it so special?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

1st Post

So, I've started blogging. It's been over 2 months since Chocolate is my Life showed me how to set up a blog, but now feels like the right time to get started.  People blog for various reasons- to keep track of their lives, to reflect, to connect with others and discuss things that are going on in their lives.  I guess I'm blogging for all of those reasons. I don't know what took me so long, but hopefully, this is something you find entertaining. My focus will primarily be on food and fitness, but honestly, how strictly I stick to that remains to be seen- this could just end up being a personal diary from which I seek advice from random Blogosphere strangers and where I keep track of where I've eaten.