7th Annual Iron Fork Event Presented by the Riverfront Times

Anyone make it out to the Iron Fork event on 3/28?  If not, you missed out on a ton of food samples from some of the best restaurants in St. Louis.

Iron Fork is a benefit for the St. Louis Area Foodbank and this year it took place at one of my favorite places in St. Louis, Union Station.  It is sad to see such an awesome space that is not utilized to its’ potential.  I love walking around and checking out the architecture of the hotel when I am there.  Someone please buy that place and give it another life!  Ok, off of my soapbox…

So how was the event?

The Good:

This event featured lots of diverse restaurants.  There was tons of samples so you had no excuse to leave hungry.  I wish I could have tried them all, but I reached full stomach capacity way to early. Some of my favorites were:

  • BBQ was well represented.  Not only did you have the big two, Pappy’s and Bogarts, but you had PM BBQ and the Shaved Duck.  The surprise for me here was the Shaved Duck.  I love their house cured bacon but wasn’t a huge fan of their ribs when I tried them a few years back.  The rib sample I had last night was excellent.  I also enjoyed the smoked meatloaf slider.  I just wish I had some mashed potatoes to go with it.
  • Cleveland Heath – fine, I get it.  I need to drive over and eat there.  I haven’t done so yet, but when I go to these events I am reminded of why I should.  I loved the beef tongue sandwich.  Tongue can be so tender when cooked properly and they nailed this dish.  The cauliflower soup was really unexpected.  This did not interest me at all, but once I tasted it I wished I had more.
  • The Tavern Kitchen and Bar – the oxtail ragu and gnudi.  This was the first thing I tried and it kicked off the event well. I have sampled this before from them and knew it was a hit.
  • Honorable mention – Salume Beddu, Kakao chocolate, and Seoul taco.   All are in my regular rotation already. 

The Bad

I should have done my homework.  I didn’t know that there was a Blues game the same night.  Had I known, I would have been better prepared for the craziness that was traffic and parking in that area.  I missed the valet parking on the first try and it took a long time to make it back to that line.  They were extremely efficient when I was able to get in line.

The Ugly

This week has been review delivery week for work.  I don’t normally talk about my “real job” but let’s say that delivering 7 reviews in one day takes its’ toll.  I really wanted a drink to help restore balance in my life, but the bar lines were intense.   This seems to be a common issue with food events in St. Louis.  Someday we will all realize that we love our drinks when we go to these events and will be adequately prepared.  Dare I share that I did not use all 3 of my drink tickets…gasp!

Iron Fork lived up to expectations.  It gave me an excuse to visit Union Station and sample lots of food from the premier restaurants in the area.  Parking and accessing adult beverages was challenging, but it did not detract from the event itself.  I look forward to attending these events each year.

 

Friendly’s Sports Bar & Grill – St. Louis, MO – For that Fried Chicken Craving

Ever have one of those cravings that you just can’t shake?  That was fried chicken for me recently.  I decided to see if there was something on my restaurant “to do” list that could help satisfy that hankering.  I noticed the positive reviews of the fried chicken at Friendly’s Sports Bar & Grill.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but 2013 has been a little hectic.  Crazy weather, crazy work…crazy everything.  This was one of those nights that beer alone would not take the edge off.  I was pleasantly surprised by the vodka selection at Friendly’s and decided to try something new.  I have been hearing about a new vodka called, Salute American, and decided to give it a try.  After all, they donate $1 from each bottle purchase to the veterans charity, Project Blueberry.  That way I can lift my spirits while honoring those that have proudly served our country. 🙂

Even though I’m normally a martini guy, this was not really a martini bar.  I decided to keep it simple and ordered a vodka cranberry.

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Since I was asking about the vodka, the bartender also provided a small sample to try it straight.  It was relatively smooth and had a surprising sweet aftertaste.  It’s a vodka that would go well with lots of juices.  I now have a bottle at home to use for a limencello martini like the “former spy” I had at 715.

On to the main event…dinner.  I started with fried pickles.  Friendly’s serves the more common pickle chip variety.  They were fresh out of the fryer but not as crispy as you would expect but still had good flavor.

fried pickles

Now for their famous fried chicken.

fried chicken

Sorry for the blurry picture, it doesn’t do the chicken justice. 🙁  I had to let the chicken cool because it was brought to the table smokin’ hot.  The batter was perfectly crispy.  I love dark meat because white meat can be dry.  This was not an issue at Friendly’s.  I can now see why all the reviews say that you must order the chicken.  Clearly they do not skimp on the chicken, so make sure you bring an appetite!

Friendly’s is a neighborhood bar that serves great fried chicken.  For me it’s a bit of a drive, but it was worth it to say I have sampled it.  So leave the attitude at home and join some locals when you get that craving.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  This was a 1 for all the right reasons. It’s a sports bar that has expanded to take over other portions of the building.  It has a unique history that you should check out on their website.  You can catch one of the games on their many TV’s or maybe on some horses while playing video poker.  The waitresses are very helpful and willing to provide recommendations if it’s your first time there.  Just make sure you bring cash or you will need to use their ATM.

Friendly's Sports Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Strange Donuts – Coming Soon!

Obviously I love trying new restaurants.  It’s even better when you have a chance to have a sneak peek at a new restaurant.  Last night at the Post Sports Bar and Grill, Strange Donuts handed out samples for their upcoming shop in Maplewood.

Each person was given 2 of the 3 to try:

  • Chocolate peanut butter: a chocolate cake donut topped with peanut butter icing and more chocolate.
  • Crunch Berries: a donut topped with Crunch Berries cereal.
  • Maple bacon: not one that I sampled 🙁

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I am always a fan of chocolate and peanut butter together so it was a given I would try this.  The Crunch Berry donut was more out of my comfort zone.  It surprised me and was actually my favorite of the two.  I think the change in texture is what I liked most.

If this is a taste of things to come, I’m very excited to see what other flavors they create.  My two challenges for them are: Samoas (Girl Scout cookie) and Gooey Butter Cake (after all this is St. Louis!).  Those should provide a good enough sugar rush to thwart the worst Monday morning ever.

By the way, they have a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for some equipment needed for their new shop.  You can read about it here.  Show them support!

Ideas in Food – In Case You Missed It…

It’s time again for one of my favorite type of blog posts, a special event!  This was a one night only dinner at Niche in Clayton.  It started with a cocktail hour at 6 with the one seating only dinner at 7.  Of course James Beard Nominee Gerard Craft was on hand.  He was joined by fellow James Beard Nominee Kevin Nashan of Sydney Street Cafe as well as H. Alexander Talbot from the popular blog, Ideas in food.

It was a carefully orchestrated seven-course dinner with an optional wine pairing.   As the days lead up to the event, tweets began appearing with hints of what the menu could contain.  However the final menu was kept a surprise until the night of the event.  Chef Gerard Craft and the Niche crew created three of the dishes and chef Kevin Nashan created two.

Overall the night was fantastic.  Anytime you have people who have the passion that these chef’s do, it translates into excellent food. The whole experience was top-notch and I hope they choose to do an encore in the near future.  Below are some pictures of the courses.  Yes it’s a little mean if you didn’t get to make it, but maybe you should watch my Events page so you don’t miss out in the future!

Ice Cream and Caviar

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Dungeness Crab by Chef Nashan

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Escolar and Parsnip by Chef Craft

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Scallop and Carrot

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Monkfish by Chef Nashan

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Surf and Turf

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Elk by Chef Craft

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White Chocolate with Rhubarb by Chef Craft

Missing 🙂  Those cocktails and the wine pairing may have contributed to this…

 

What Makes a Good Food Establishment?

The title sounds a bit posh and snooty but go with it. Sometimes we need a little bit of snobbery in order to tell the difference between good and bad food experiences. We all eat in restaurants, pubs, bars and cafés.  We’ve all had experiences in these places that we would rather forget.  Food poisoning, dirty cutlery, a mouse running into the kitchen, bland  food, poor service, and ridiculous meal prices are just a few examples.

For every food establishment in St Louis and beyond, you will find both good and bad reviews for places that serve food and drinks. Some get more negative feedback than others, but overall, there will always be someone who hates even the best reviewed places. You know why? Because we all have different tastes. Some people might love Facebook while others prefer Twitter. Others will adore their Xbox, while their best friend has taken to FoxyBingo.com game play. What is it we are all looking for from our dining experiences?

Hygiene

Have you ever been in a restaurant where you immediately suspected the service staff don’t wash their hands? Or you’ve gone into the bathroom and it clearly hasn’t been cleaned all day? We all want evidence we are eating food which isn’t going to make us sick.

Atmosphere

Some people love a loud and lively atmosphere, while others would prefer to hang out in a low-key place of relaxation and fine dining. It’s all about preference. And considering different establishments will have themes, you’ll end up avoiding the loud and obnoxious ones if you’re into peace and quiet.

The Menu

Nothing bodes well about a small restaurant with a huge menu, or a huge restaurant with a tiny menu. For the most part you want a very specific menu, with notable and classic dishes which suit the premises. It’s strange going into a local restaurant that serves the cuisine of 10 different countries at once. Unless that’s your thing.  Let’s face it, the food is, and should be, the star of the show.

So readers, what else do you require out of a restaurant to earn your seal of approval?

Mission Taco Joint, St. Louis, MO – Late Night Dining in the Loop

Adam and Jason Tilford opened their new restaurant, Mission Taco Joint, on Thursday.  It’s located in the Delmar Loop and serves burritos, tacos, and tortas.  Being a fan of Milagro, I made a point of stopping in for the opening.

A lot of people think it is uncool to review a restaurant on opening night.  I tend to agree, but I also know a lack of available information on new places can deter people from taking a chance.  So hopefully this post will help give a little information on a new place from some already successful restaurateurs.

I started with the wild mushroom huarache.  This was a crisped corn masa boat topped with refried black beans, mushrooms, huitlacoche, goat cheese, arugula, and Mexican crema. If you love mushrooms like I do, you need to try this dish.

DSC00469 For my main course, I ordered three different tacos and a side of street corn.  A breakdown of the tacos: tacos

  • Roasted duck (left) – shredded chile roasted duck, crispy pork belly, avocado serrano sauce.
  • Yucatan chicken (middle) – achiote marinate chicken, pickled onion, fiery arbol salsa, and queso fresco.
  • Cochinita pibil (right) – achiote marinated pork shoulder that was slow roasted in a banana leaf with pickled onion and ancho BBQ sauce

My favorite was the duck but closely followed by the pork shoulder.  If smokey flavors are your thing, then go for the chicken.

Last but not least… the street corn.  When I go to Milagro, I always order this side.  I can never bring myself to order anything else.  Street corn is a drug and I’m addicted to it. street corn Mission Taco Joint offers some well thought out versions of typically simple Mexican food items.  It reminds me of the great tacos I used to enjoy when I lived in the Southwest.  Only thing missing for me would be cow’s tongue as a meat option for one of the tacos.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  They have a huge bar area with a nice selection of cocktails and craft beers.  Mission Taco Joint can satisfy that late night craving when in the loop.  For an opening night, they had the place over staffed to make sure things went smoothly.  Riverfront Times has some scans of the menu as part of their article.

Mission Taco Joint on Urbanspoon