Reflection, Motivation, and Camera Phone Pix!

My blog post frequency has been sporadic lately to say the least.  To be honest, I needed some motivation.  I found my muse in the simplest of places, the memory on my camera phone.  Here are pictures that haven’t made it into the blog before, but deserve to be shared.

Dive Bars to Michelin Stars?

During the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to eat and drink at some of the most amazing places. I have experienced food prepared by James Beard nominees and winners, eaten at my first Michelin rated restaurants, and enjoyed my first trip to Napa.  Here are a few highlights.

During my last trip to New York, I had my first Michelin experience(s).  I was able to get a table at both Daniel and the Modern during that trip, and both dinners had me wishing I could have worn stretchy pants.  So many courses and so many amazing bites… Below is a picture from the beginning of a peaceful dinner at the Modern while I was enjoying a Blood and Sand.

blood and sand

You know those folks that always talk about hearing a band before they were big?  Yeah, we do the same thing with food.  Below is a chef’s gift during a five course meal at Bluestem before Chef Colby Garrelts won his James Beard award.

bluestem

In 2013, I went to Napa for the first time.  What an experience!  A weekend full of some of the best wine on earth and some of the best restaurants to go with it!  This is my favorite picture from the trip, a glass of Opus One at their winery.

opus one

 

What about Dive Bars?

Of course Dive Bars have continued to be a way of life for me.  They keep me grounded and it would be a shame to miss out on the entire spectrum of food and drinks available.

Did you know that I like PBR?  Yes, it’s true.  Here are two of my favorite pictures involving that beer that is best served in ice cold cans.  It’s no surprise that both come from watering holes in my home away from home, Lawrence, Kansas.

An excellent sign at Louise’s on Mass Street:

pbr

I just happened to be in Lawrence during one of their Final Fridays.  The Lawrence Arts Center helps setup an event where artists show their work in different spaces downtown. In the picture below you can see a PBR that I was enjoying while listening to live music and checking out vinyl at Love Garden sounds.

pbr2

What is the furthest thing from five and Michelin stars?  A buffalo roast in the middle of nowhere.  To be more specific, the 3rd annual buffalo roast:  It was cool that they kept the head each year on this tree.  It was a good hour and an half drive out of St. Louis, but worth it for the experience.  There is something special about eating meat prepared on a fire out in the woods.

buffalo

Libations Anyone?

I love all things boozy, whether it is beer, wine, or cocktails.  Here are a few favorites:

I have to mention Libertine, as the bartenders do an excellent job taking care of the regulars.  I drank the drink below (the tequila based Voodoo Glow Skull) so often they once told me that I have consumed more tequila than any other Patron…. I mean patron.

vgs

 

The best part about it was seeing a drink that I tasted in its’ earliest form be transformed into something that made the latest cocktail menu.

Skatalites in Jalisco

Skatalites in Jalisco

Just another Wednesday night at the Libertine waiting to see if Ben will accidentally set himself (or the bar) or fire.

old flame

I’m a little sad when I look at the picture below since it’s from the now shuttered Table.  I had some excellent times sitting at that bar.

table drink

Here is a view of my favorite spot at 715 in Lawrence.  I still get a Former Spy martini every time I go to that town.

715 lights

But of course the focus has always been about food

I have more pictures of this dish than any other. However this is my favorite!

Crispy Pig Tails at the Libertine

Crispy Pig Tails at the Libertine

A lobster that was alive just minutes before:

At the Chelsea Market in NYC

At the Chelsea Market in NYC

Some cupcake creativity:

cupcakes

My favorite sushi in STL at Central Table:

central table

 

And let’s finish it off with how my blog started:

My first post ever was an Entre Underground event.  I recently started attending another group’s underground dinners, Rogue Underground.

I love the uniqueness of their decorations:

rogueAnd they experiment with food in fun and creative ways:

Pickled Lam Tongue, Crispy Mushrooms, Arugula, and Tarragon Aioli

Pickled Lam Tongue, Crispy Mushrooms, Arugula, and Tarragon Aioli

"Live" Scallop, Roe foam, Sea beans, Black salt, and Edible flowers

“Live” Scallop, Roe foam, Sea beans, Black salt, and Edible flowers

So there you have it!  My blog will be two in July and these are my favorite pictures from my phone that were never posted.  Some are favorites for how the photo turned out and some just for the moment they captured.  Hopefully it has inspired you to try something new or at least go out and eat somewhere fun tonight.  Now let’s see if it has inspired me to get back on track with some more reviews!  CHEERS!

 

SoHa Bar and Grill, St. Louis, MO – Great Beer Selection but the Burger Needs Some Work

Admittedly, I have not spent a lot of time near the Hill.  I found myself near there and stopped in at SoHa for a quick dinner.  My first impression of SoHa was very positive.  I love a place that features bar seating.  I found a great spot at the bar right next to the fireplace.  With as ridiculous as this winter has been, it seems like I’m always on the search for a place to warm up.

As I was admiring the draft beer selection, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the bartender and another patron.  To make a long story short, one of the wings he ordered was not cooked.  I was a little bummed because they did smell good and who doesn’t appreciate wings at a bar?  They were now off my list for the night.  On a side note, they did make good on the mistake by bringing him out additional properly cooked wings.

I was starving so I went with a pretty big meal.  I decided to start with the fried goat cheese medallions and finish with “the Lipithor”.   The burger actually arrived first, but the fried goat cheese arrived 30 seconds later.

Fried goat cheese medallions:

soha fried goat cheeseNot a bad way to start.  They aren’t too breaded; they melt in your mouth.  They are very rich and pair well with the provided sweet onion dressing.  I definitely recommend these.

Next up, the Lipithor:

soha burgerLook at that 15 oz beast!  There were several people commenting as they saw this burger being delivered.  There’s bacon, pulled pork, cole slaw, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese.  It looked amazing, but unfortunately fell short of expectations.  First off, I ordered it medium and it was overcooked.  There was no pink at all in the burger patties and they were just plain dry.  That’s rough for such a large burger.  The pulled pork really didn’t have flavor.  The bacon was the only highlight here.  Maybe I should have ordered the Notorious BLT.

If you look to the left of the burger, you will see my side: mac n cheese.  What can be said about it?  It looked a little soupy and was topped with Doritos.  Surprisingly it was great.  Even after struggling through eating the entire burger, I didn’t waste any of the macaroni.  Now I understand why some people just come there and order this side at the bar.

SoHa is different breed.  My excitement level was all over the map during my experience.  I would recommend the goat cheese medallions and the mac n cheese but stay away from the burgers.  The beer selection is great and I seriously considered getting a growler to go.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.   Good selection of beer and good placement of TV screens.  Not a bad place to watch a game.  It’s a pretty small space and the parking is even smaller.  On a Monday evening it was just above 50% capacity and there were no parking spots to be found.  I’m sure if I lived closer I would enjoy the draft beer selection on a regular basis but likely would be limited on what food items I ordered.

SOHA Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

King Edwards – Kick Start My Heart

Time for another lunch excursion!  Can you believe this will be my third post about fried chicken?  It may earn itself a category on the blog soon.  To satisfy that constant craving most recently, I tried King Edwards Chicken and Fish in St. Charles.

This is a very small space; there are only about six tables. You can tell this place has not changed much over the years, they still have the old style Pepsi menu with the letters you can rearrange.  For seven bucks you can get the lunch special:  four pieces of fried chicken with a side and a drink.

Photo

As you can see it’s very simple: chicken in a basket on a bed of fries.  This chicken is unique because of the batter.  It is heavy and almost like a shell.  It isn’t a typical cornmeal batter and reminds me of something you would find on fried fish.  This meal comes with your month long supply of vitamin G (grease) and stays with you the rest of the day. I wish I could say I didn’t like it, but unfortunately I did.

King Edward’s is a fast and friendly restaurant in St. Charles that specializes in all things fried.  Most of their business is carry out orders, but you can dine in if you choose.  The fried chicken is different than what you would get at most other restaurants or fried chicken chains.  The batter is the difference.  Who serves your favorite fried chicken in St. Louis?

Dive 2 Five Scale:  1.  Technically, it’s not a dive bar because there is no booze; but it is definitely a dive.  It’s in an old strip mall, there are several tropical photos on the wall.  Every table has a roll of paper towels, so feel free to get messy.  It’s kind of dirty, very simple, and very greasy.  I don’t recommend touching the M&M’s and skittles from the candy machine, that’s not why you would go there anyway.

King Edwards Chicken on Urbanspoon

Element – Was I in My Element?

You have all heard about my “list” of places to try.  Well Element has been on there for a long time.  It was time to cross this one off.

My visit was a Friday so of course, a drink was in order.  At the time, they were redoing the cocktail menu so I can’t say if they have any custom creations.  I stuck with a Cabernet so I could keep things simple and focus on the food.  The server shared that the menu does change based on what’s fresh and they stick with as many local ingredients as possible.  Since I had already reviewed the menu before going, I had a few things that I knew I wanted to try.

For appetizers, I went with the country fried foie gras and the Pork Belly.  I’m sure the pork belly isn’t a surprise to anyone at this point.  In case you didn’t know, foie gras is a must order for me as well.  I love the decadence and texture.  I’m sure that PETA won’t be showing me any love after that confession…

This is my first time having country fried foie gras so I was a little unsure of what to expect.  It was paired with greens and green tomato chow chow.  The dish had a very southern feel and frying the foie gras made me think of fried chicken liver.  It’s a completely different take on this delicacy.

foie gras

My quest to eat pork belly more than any human should continues!  This pork belly was served with prunes, pear, walnuts, and blue cheese.  I love dishes like this.  Each bite gives you the opportunity to mix-and-match different flavors and textures.  My personal favorite was the belly, walnut, and blue cheese.  I loved the pairing of the pear, walnut, and blue cheese. Be careful; the blue cheese is strong, so a little goes a long way.

pork belly 1

The first large plate was the lamb pot roast.  I needed a dish to redeem lamb after my experience at RJ’s.  This was not your mom’s pot roast, unless hers is also tender and rich.

lamb pot roast

The second large plate was the duck breast with scrapple, brussels sprouts and apple butter.  I haven’t had a vegetable surprise me in a while, but I really liked the brussels sprouts.  Wait, did I say I liked brussels sprouts?!?!?  They weren’t over cooked so they stayed crunchy.   The apple butter was a solid accompaniment to the duck breast.  I always love fruit pairings with duck.

duckAfter all that food I was going to stop, but thank God I didn’t.  Dessert was the payday and I felt like I hit the jackpot.  The peanut butter cake and caramel was fantastic.  If you don’t like things that stick to your teeth, you may not like this dish.  Personally I was happy to be able to save that flavor for later. This made the struggle to drive down I-64 through the traffic and construction completely worth it.  I would go back just to eat this and hope it stays on the menu.
payday

Element has an adventurous menu that changes frequently so each visit will be unique.  It’s clear they like to have fun and like to experiment.  The highlight of my meal was the dessert.  Hopefully the Payday is frequently part of the regular menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  This place is hard to find in the dark if it’s your first time.  Look for the rock climbing gym.  It’s very contemporary inside and has a lively atmosphere.  They have small and large plates to fit all appetites and dining preferences.

Element on Urbanspoon

RJ’s Bob-B-Que – Lamb Ribs, Pig Tails, Bison, and More!

During a recent road trip to Kansas, I was slowed by an ice storm on my way back.  While passing through Kansas City, I decided to get fuel for both the car and myself before getting back on the treacherous roads.  Since it was Kansas City, the choice was clear.  It’s time to try a new BBQ restaurant.  This time, I tried RJ’s Bob-B-Que.

When you pull up to RJ’s, you will find that it is a shack on a side street.  Once you are inside, it’s a small shack.  The walls are decorated with lots of ribbons and awards from competitions and there are oldies playing in the background. They have so much love for John Wayne that an entire wall is dedicated exclusively to the face of “The Duke!”

Enough about the decor, I was there to check out their “Bob-B-que”.  Their menu will set them apart from most barbecue joints, with interesting features such as lamb ribs and pig tails.  As you all know by now, I’m a very adventurous eater, so I was excited.  I ordered the pig tails, brisket soup, and lamb ribs.

I must admit that any place serving pig tails is going to struggle to impress me after what I’m used to from the Libertine.  They are battered and fried, which reminded me of calamari.  Definitely use the Sriracha that they put on the edge of the bowl to give them some kick.  I prefer them to have a crisper outside; these were much chewier.

pig tailsNext up was the brisket soup.  This reminded me of a creamy minestrone but with brisket.  On a cold day like the one I was experiencing this was a great way to warm back up; a very solid choice.

One of their highly acclaimed dishes is the lamb ribs.  I am a huge pork fan so it was a stretch for me to try this rather than going with what I love.  There is a pretty clear difference between pork and lamb ribs.  These were very tender and yes, “fall off the bone,” but they were also very fatty.  For some reason I couldn’t stop eating the cheesy corn bake.  It is nothing fancy, but it reminds me of something someone would bring to a family gathering.

lamb ribs

RJ’s is not your typical Kansas City barbecue place.  They feature some unique menu items like pig tails, lamb ribs, bison, and many other palatable offerings.  It would not be a place to which I would make a special trip.  There is just too much other barbecue to sample and some old favorites that are too hard to pass up.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  It’s a shack so it’s definitely a 2. You are getting barbecue in a dive, but the service is quick and friendly.  There are plenty of TV’s showing sports, plus it is family friendly.  I think I could do without the golden oldies.  :)

RJ's Bob-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

For those that work in the world of supplying distilled spirits to the rest of us, there is a term that has always fascinated me:  The Angels Share.  The Angels Share refers to the quantity of alcohol that evaporates during maturation while being stored in casks.  Recently I had a chance to receive a promotional sample of Angel’s Envy Bourbon in celebration of its Missouri launch.

angel

After some research on the brand, it became clear that this is a labor love.  The attention to detail and care put into each batch could only be done by someone that has devoted their life to the pursuit of the perfect bourbon.  That person was Lincoln Henderson and you can read a great description of how it’s made here.

I have sampled the bourbon on two different occasions and have done a side-by-side with Eagle Rare.  Eagle Rare has been a mainstay in my liquor cabinet for a couple years now.

Smell:  It has a lot going on from the first smell which is why it took several attempts to break this down.  First, you definitely know this is a bourbon.  It has a slightly sweet  maple smell.  There was also a hint of fruit, which was likely a byproduct of the port barrel finish.

Taste:  The best way I can characterize it is ballsy.  It reminds me of all the things you like about drinking bourbon.  In my opinion this is a bourbon drinker’s bourbon.  There is a lot of depth and I liked the vanilla and caramel that I tasted.  In comparison to Eagle Rare, I would give this a nod if you really enjoy drinking bourbon.  Eagle Rare is less bold and something I have used to lure in  my non-bourbon drinking friends.

This has now earned a permanent spot in my bar at home.  It’s the perfect bourbon to sit and savor in its simplicity.  I must admit that I did mix into a Kentucky Mule and it added more punch than the Eagle Rare.  However to me this is a waste for this product when the bourbon should be the focus.  At this moment, we have a reason to feel lucky just being a mere mortal and enjoying the Angel’s Share .

Pastrami Joynt – New York vs California Style?

Finally back at it again with some new blog posts!  Expect to see something about  a bourbon that was just released in Missouri as well as another Kansas City BBQ place soon…  However; today is about another lunch adventure in St. Peters:  the Pastrami Joynt.

The Pastrami Joynt claims to be “a different kind of deli”. They have sandwiches of all types with most being $7.50.  When you order you pick the bread, cheese, and dressing.  They also offer lettuce, onion, and tomatoes as optional included toppings.  I decided to start with the namesake and ordered pastrami.  Being somewhat of a purist, I went with rye bread and mustard but did opt for the lettuce, onion and tomatoes.

Pastrami whole

Pastrami Joynt serves the thin sliced California style pastrami rather than the thicker hand cut style you expect in New York, but they do at least give you a good amount of meat.

Pastrami half

I prefer the New York style with juice dripping down your arms but this will satisfy any life threatening pastrami cravings.

Pastrami Joynt is a small place in a strip mall off of Mexico Rd.  This is a no frills place with the main decorations being two small TV’s. You order at the counter and pay after you eat.  There was only one person working both the kitchen and the register.  That slows things down and makes it awkward to pay when you are having to wait in line again.  Would I try it again?  Maybe for take out or a call ahead order.

 Dive 2 Five Scale:  3.  Small strip mall place with a friendly person manning the counter (and kitchen).  Most of their business seems to be takeout. They offer reasonable lunch options if you are tired of chain sandwich shops like Subway.  They offer drinks in cans and bottles and have a list of standard sides.  I have not located a website but you can have a sneak peek of their menu that I scanned:  Pastrami Joynt

Pastrami Joynt on Urbanspoon

Daddy Ray Burgers, O’Fallon, MO – St. Charles Shack Attack

What’s up with food prepared in shacks in St. Charles County?  I found some excellent fried chicken at Chicken Coop last November and this year I stumbled upon Daddy Ray’s Burgers on the day of their one year anniversary.
Since it was my first time, I ordered their namesake:  the Big Daddy Bacon Cheddar Burger.  It doesn’t come with lettuce, tomato, or pickle but you can ask for them.  It does, however, come with their pub cheddar which I’ll admit I was leery of.  Remember my experience at the now shuttered Fatted Calf?  I also ordered the garlic Parmesan fries as my side.  After only a quick 5 minute wait I had my food.

Daddy Ray burger

This is a meat lovers burger.  It’s a 1/2 pound burger topped with crispy bacon that is clearly a diet crasher.

After Two Big Bites

As you can see, the middle isn’t pink but they still keep it juicy.  The pub cheddar was creamy and added a nice contrast to the beef and bacon.  It was nothing like what I had at the Fatted Calf.

fries

The fries are thin and crispy.  They loaded them up with Parmesan and just enough garlic so you would notice it, but not so much that you would offend all your co-workers after lunch.

I usually bring my lunch to work so I can save my calories for dinner or the weekend; however, I’m starting to find reasons to change that.  Daddy Ray’s Burgers is one of those places.  They make a mean hamburger without a lot of fluff. Wanna go eat a burger without anyone watching? Daddy Ray’s gives you that option.  My only recommendation would be for them to ask you how you like your burger cooked.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 1.  Although Daddy Ray’s is a bit nicer than the Chicken Coop, I had to stay consistent with my earlier shack rating.  Daddy Ray’s is in a small building in O’Fallon along Veteran’s Memorial Parkway.  I bet a lot of people have driven passed it without noticing. Their business is completely take-out or outside dining.  They do let you call ahead and you can pick up your order behind the building. This is appreciated now that it is getting colder and you may not want to get out to order at their window.  As an added bonus, they have a loyalty program that after 9 burgers you get $5 off.

Daddy Ray Burgers on Urbanspoon

In Honor of Halloween, A Spooky Drink: The Blueberry Rickety Eyeball Punch

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  Why?  There are tons of parties to go to!  Not only that, but it gives you an excuse to spend the evening as someone or something else.  What’s a party without a great cocktail?  If you are looking for one that’s in the Halloween spirit and tasty at the same time, the folks at FoodNetwork.com have you covered.  Let me share with you my experience and tips from making their Blueberry Rickety Eyeball Punch.

Here’s the recipe:

Blueberry Rickety Eyeball Punch

Prep time 1 hour, 10 minutes
Occasion Halloween
Website Food Network
This is a great Halloween version of a classic rickey. Add gin to make it the life of the party or leave the gin out to make it kid friendly. The eyeballs are a great touch!

Ingredients

  • 12 - 24 fresh blueberries
  • 1 can lychees in syrup, drained (reserve 5 to 6 tablespoons syrup from the can)
  • 3 cups blueberry juice cocktail
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (~ 4 limes)
  • 2 cups sparkling water
  • Ice
  • 3/4 cups gin (This can be left out to make it kid friendly!)

Directions

Step 1
here's looking at you
Poke 1 to 2 blueberries, depending on size, into the cavity of each lychee. Place your "eyeballs" on a foil-lined baking sheet and put in the freezer for at least an hour. (Note: To prevent risk of choking, let the "eyeballs" thaw a bit before eating. Very important on batches one or two for the boozy versions and EXTREMELY important if making the gin-free version for kids). I vacuum sealed the leftover frozen ones so I can thaw them for Halloween.
Step 2
squeeze bottle
Stir together the 5 tablespoons of the lychee syrup you reserved, the blueberry juice, and lime juice. This can be in a bowl or directly in your serving pitcher. If this is the adult version add the gin now. If not, stir in the sparkling water and add a few of the lychee eyeballs. This is a great time to taste it. If it's too tart from the blueberries and lime juice, add in an extra tablespoon of the lychee syrup.

Pro tip: Put your syrup from the canned lychees in a squeeze bottle. It makes it easy to use and you can store the rest for other cocktails.
Step 3
Blueberry Rickety Eyeball Punch
Serve in any glass over ice. Don't forget to add some of the eyeballs for that spooky Halloween vibe!

This recipe makes a refreshing punch, but it just seemed light on the gin. Perhaps that is just because of the crowd with which I hang. (Hiccup!)  I would suggest adjusting the ratio of sparkling water and gin depending on how strong you want the drink to be.  In general, this punch is very easy to drink and will be a hit at your next Halloween party.  Everyone  will absolutely love the eyeballs!  I guarantee people will take a second glance when they see them.

A few of suggestions for making this drink your own:

  • Sample each of the ingredients before you make the first batch.  This way you know what flavors each contributes.  Adjust accordingly!
  • Finding lychees in canned syrup can be challenging.  Call your local Asian or international market.
  • Use quality ingredients!  This is true for all cocktails.  Take the time to make the fresh squeezed lime juice.  It’s the details that make all the difference.
  • When making the eyeballs, I used strawberry ice cream topping to roll the eyeballs in to give them a “bloodshot” look.

Please share your experiences.  Cheers!

Gobble Stop Smokehouse, Creve Coeur, MO – Where’s the Beef? Nevermind, It’s Not Needed!

Can you believe it, time for another BBQ post! Gobble Stop Smokehouse in Creve Coeur opened in 2012 and I was confident it was going to fail.  Why?  They serve only turkey and chicken.  How can you have a BBQ place without any pork or beef offerings?!?!?  Since they found a way to survive, I figured I better finally give it a try.  Once I did, this place quickly earned a spot in my regular rotation of dining options.

The dish I order the most frequently is the smoked wings.  Take a peek at this:

gooblestop wings

The wings have a perfect smoky flavor without being dried out. They serve them with a sweet sauce that they will put on for you or you can have it on the side.  They do have a spicier sauce available if you request it.  After eating these wings I don’t see a need to ever eat a breaded and fried wing again. One time I was so excited I didn’t wait to get home, I just opened the box outside at one of their tables and went to work!.

I have tried a handful of the sides and all were satisfactory.  There really hasn’t been one that will steal the show from one of the turkey or chicken main dishes.  I typically stick with the baked beans or their creamy potato salad (pictured above).

St. Louis does get some love for its BBQ, but in my opinion not enough.  When you can have a restaurant that only does chicken and turkey and it survives, we are unique.   Is it enough to make me swear off pork?  I wouldn’t go that far!.  It is good enough for me to not miss it, and I clearly must not be the only one that thinks so.  I have had days where I’ve had to move to a third or fourth option because my old standbys are already sold out. Some of the other dishes I like are half smoked chicken, pulled chicken, and the turkey ribs.  This is my favorite place to eat in Creve Coeur.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  2.  Gobble Stop is located in an older strip mall at Fee Fee and Olive.  It’s a strip mall that I have driven passed daily for 2 years and didn’t see any reason to stop until now.  The inside is clean and small.  The owner usually is the person taking your order.  I see a bright future for this restaurant but I hope they don’t move to a different location!

Gobble Stop Smokehouse on Urbanspoon