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.....