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Freaking Huge Wings

There has been a lot of crappy weather lately.  When you work outside, you just need to treat yourself to a warm meal once in a while.  We were working only a few blocks from a restaurant that my boss, Steve, likes to eat at.  I’ve only eaten at Ray J’s a couple of times, but I’ve never had anything but great wings there.  Yup, you read that right.  I’ve never gotten past one item on the menu.  The first time I ate there, Steve recommended the wings and I haven’t looked back.

Ray J’s is your typical sports bar with plenty of seating for diners.  What sets them apart is their food (this is largely based on other people’s reaction).  In fact, Steve and I had a whole conversation about that (before construction, he managed a couple of restaurants).  The conversation started when I was commenting on the fact that they had a decent selection of wine and the special of the day was a baked brie.  Steve pointed out that these bars aren’t stupid and that by accommodating the wives (I know, stereotypes, but it’s based on statistics), they could increase their revenue.

Anyway, back to the wings.  I honestly have never seen chicken wings this big.  The first time I saw them, I was convinced that they were turkey wings that tasted like chicken.  I usually get the full order of wings (3 pounds!!!) and plan on having whatever is left for a snack later.  Okay, really it’s another meal.  I’ve had the Buffalo wings before and they are good, but it tastes just like Buffalo wings like everywhere else.  The ones that I had this time was the Asian Sesame wings which has a soy chili sauce and garnished with chopped scallions.  I liked the idea of this sauce and generally liked the taste of it, but it had an overpowering sweetness to it.  The flavor reminded me of a really good teriyaki sauce, but way too heavy on the sugar.  What I really like are the wings themselves.  Other than their freakish huge size, they are deep fried which gives the skin an amazing crunchiness that the sauce clings to and the sauce can’t penetrate.  Normally that would be a flaw in a dish, but since there is practically no distance between the skin and bone on wings (even ones this huge) you get a nice mouthful of sauce, skin, and meat in each bite.

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Yes, you’ll need a wet-nap.

 

Fun Fact For The Day

Because I was at a friend’s bachelor all day yesterday, I thought this would be apropos:

Americans walk an average of 730 miles per year and drink an average of 20.5 gallons of beer per year. Which means that the average American gets 35.5 miles to the gallon.

A couple of unique beers I’ve had recently (not yesterday):

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A nice lager from the Zamkowe Brewery in Poland, which is almost 700 years old (est. 1321)!

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A very malty ale with a fun name from the Lagunitas Brewery.

Trying New Things At The Baker’s Square

Last weekend Lindz, Dave (who was up from Rochester for the day), and I drove around our little corner of the Twin Cities doing some window shopping, and just to keep things interesting, some actual purchases were made.  As everyone knows, shopping makes you hungry, which is why we ended up at Baker’s Square.  I was flipping through the menu trying to figure out if I was going to go with my stand-by order (chicken fried steak) or try something else.  A little red box that said “NEW!” caught my attention.  It was the Nacho Cheeseburger.  A burger with nacho toppings?  What potential bliss could this be?

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Three major bar foods on one plate. Served at your local Baker’s Square.

Much like how the book is always better than the movie, I could do a better nacho burger at home.  But having said that, I would get this guy again.

A Very Polish Review

Several weeks ago Lindz found a Groupon for Nye’s Polonaise, the premier Polish restaurant here in the Cities.  Which is located in the Nordeast section of Minneapolis (you know, where the Polacks have lived for generations).  I’ve been itching to go there for years.  The urge gets worse when I’m working out in the western ‘burbs because I drive right by Nye’s on the way home.  Anyway, the Groupon was getting close to expiration, so we made plans to make a date night out of it.  After the usual bit of “What time do you want to go?”/”I don’t know, what time where you thinking of going?” we decided that sooner was better.  This turned out to be a good idea.  There weren’t many table filled when we got there at a quarter to five, but when we left around 6:30, there were people waiting at the door for their turn to be seated.

Based on the recommendation of my boss, Steve-O (also a Polack), we started the meal off with a Polonaise Martini each (Chopin vodka, dry vermouth, and olives).  As much as I secretly yearn to be James Bond, I really need to come to accept the fact that I’m not a martini drinker.  I can appreciate the quality of the drink, but it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak.  After the round of martinis, Lindz switched to her standard Bombay Sapphire G&T (gin and tonic) and I tried a Polish beer that I haven’t had before.  Okocim O.K. Beer is a full bodied pale ale that is really good.  Not too light and crisp, but also not too dark and heavy.  All in all, a very nice beer for all occasions.

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Yup. Brace yourselves. I’m going to go there.
It’s more than just O.K.!

For our appetizers, I ordered the pickled herring.  Hey, I’m a Polish kid in a Polish restaurant in the Polish section of town, what did you expect?  Lindz got the Cheese and Potato Pierogi.  The herring was very good, if a bit overpriced.  I do consider it a worthwhile purchase because it was emotionally comforting to be eating herring in that atmosphere.  Herring always reminds me of my Grandparents, Nick and Bert (really it’s Enoch and Bertha, but we’re all about brevity and nicknames).  Grandpa and Grandma have both made and purchased an obscene quantity of the pickled fish over the years.  Combine that with the mid-20th century decor of Nye’s (it’s not retro, they just haven’t changed it in 50 years) that I’ve seen in countless places with my Grandparents and you’ve got yourself a very nostalgic Polack on your hands.

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The individually wrapped crackers did throw me for a bit of a loop, but they did add some needed color to the plate.

Lindz and I both thought the pierogi were good.  Though she prefers the ones at Longfellow’s Grill (which I haven’t had yet).  I really liked the fried onions that came with the dish.  I thought they added a nice savory/sweet taste to the pierogi.

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A plate load of fried carbs, starch, and fat. What’s not to love?

For our entrees, Lindz ordered the special of the evening, creamy pesto shrimp linguini.  Even though the shrimp were a bit overdone, Lindz did like the dish.  Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of it.  I’m trying to find that delicate balance of doing a decent job of documenting these dishes in public without being that annoying prick of a food blogger at the next table who does a full photo shoot with the flash going off like a thunder storm.

Lindz and I both opted for the house salad over the soup with our entrees.  That was a mistake.  The veggies were fresh and the dressing was good, but the salad consisted of lettuce and a wedge of tomato.  Soup would have been better.

I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat until I saw one item on the menu that was an answer to all of my prayers.  The Polonaise Platter (sensing a theme yet?) under the section labeled Polish Specialties.  It came out on a small serving platter (the kind that you put a full roast on).  I just want to say that again to emphasize the amount of food that was placed before me.  It came out on a small serving platter.  It comes with a link of kielbasa (sausage), golabki (cabbage roll), three pierogi (filled dumplings), kluski (potato dumpling), zederka duszone (braised spare ribs), and of course kapusta kizona (our beloved sauerkraut, i.e. fermented cabbage).  I’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m just going to take one item on the plate at a time.

First up is the Polish sausage.  I’m heavily biased with quite a few foods because my family has been perfecting certain items over generations.  At the head of that list is sausages.  Grandpa Nick would make his own every year and I’ve had very few that comes as close to the perfection of his version.  The ones served at Nye’s are good, but not outstanding, even though they come from the Kramarczuk’s, a well known and well regarded deli in town.

My family rarely made cabbage rolls, so Nye’s is fighting a fair fight here.  In fact, Nye’s stands out quite proudly.  This was by far the best item on whole platter.  It was meaty with a nice flavor of caraway and garlic.  The cabbage leaf cover added a sweet note to each bite.

As far as I can remember, no one in my family has made pierogi, so once again Nye’s has the edge here.  At this point I had already tried the cheese and potato pierogi appetizer, and those were good, but not great.  The ones that I had on my platter were much better.  The one with sauerkraut was okay.  The one with mushrooms was quite tasty.  But the standout one was the one with a cranberry filling.

Kluski is a vague term that can apply to anything between a solid dough dumpling to noodles.  The kluski served at Nye’s was a flour and potato dough made into a dumpling slightly smaller than a baseball.  It was good, but like all the kluski that I’ve had, it is a really dense dough, so the bigger the dumpling, the harder it is to cut and eat.  Which is why I prefer the kluski Mom makes (around the size of the top two sections of your pinkie finger).  Flavor-wise, there really wasn’t any difference between Nye’s and Mom’s.  In short, it was a good dumpling, even if it was a bit large.

Growing up on the farm, I’ve eaten a lot of ribs over the years.  My desire and taste for them have grown and ebbed many times over the years.  Currently I’m in a pro-rib phase, so I really enjoyed the ones at Nye’s.  There was no dominant spice flavor which leads me to suspect that they were boiled with the kraut that it was served with.  Which isn’t a bad option if the kraut is good.

Which leaves me with the kraut.  I’ve never really appreciated kraut until I was in my twenties.  Now I crave it on a regular basis.  I’m not talking about the weird overly processed stuff you find at the grocery store (although Frank’s is pretty decent).  I’m talking about the stuff that is made in 30 gallon crock jars sitting in the basement of your grandmother’s house.  The kraut at Nye’s is arguably better then the stuff I grew up on.  It is less sour (less fermentation) and heavier on the caraway seeds, which I’m a fan of.  This was the other stand out item on the platter.

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Under that pint sized jar worth of kraut lies a half rack of ribs. You can see part of the kielbasa sticking up on top of the photo. The cabbage roll (upper) and kluski (lower) are wedged into the right hand side of the mound of kraut. The three pierogi look miniscule and a bit lost way off on the right.

As I was explaining to Lindz earlier today.  I had a great time at Nye’s.  Even though I had never been there before, I felt totally at home.  A super casual atmosphere and a lot of dear-to-my-heart comfort food is available.  Plus our waitress was super awesome.  I really look forward to making more stops here.

I’m going to leave with a saying that I saw on the menu: Jedzcie pijcie i popuszczajcie pas (Eat, Drink, and Loosen Your Belt).

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Yup. Fell asleep on the couch on date night. I’m such a romantic guy.

P.S. For those of you going “This place sounds really familiar, where have I heard of it before?”, the answer you’re looking for is that it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.

Our New Favorite Chinese Place

I should qualify that a little bit.  This is our new favorite local Chinese restaurant, i.e. one that’ll deliver to our place if we so desire.  I probably need to clarify that even more.  I’m talking about Americanized Chinese restaurants and cuisine.  Granted, this is what you find by default, but with a little effort, you can find places that serve authentic Chinese fare.  But that’s neither here nor there at the moment.

New Fresh Wok is located on Larpenteur Ave, just off of Snelling in St. Paul.  They opened up sometime last fall and it took us a bit of time before we actually went and ate there, even though it’s less than two miles from our apartment.  The reason for the delay is that we were hitting a long string of mediocre Chinese restaurants in the area and we were not all that excited about trying another place just to be let down.  The other restaurants weren’t bad, but Lindz and I are used to being spoiled.  When we were living in Decorah, IA, we would frequent two really kicking Chinese places in town (yup, two great Chinese restaurants in a town with a population of just over 8000).  Of course, there is our hands down favorite Chinese place of all time, China Star, in Rochester (located a disturbingly convenient half mile from our future home and 2.5 miles from Lindz’s folks place).  That’s enough of the past.

This post/review is a compilation of a couple of visits, both eating in and getting take-out.

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First up, we have the Thai Styled Mango Chicken.  This was an okay dish.  It had an adequate level of heat to it, but for some reason the flavor was two dimensional.  The veggies were good but the chicken was mushy.  It reminded me of the chicken breasts that I accidentally bought one time that were injected with a saline solution to make them more tender.  It worked, but it felt like I was eating a sponge that kinda sorta tasted like chicken.  Even though the flavors weren’t there, I do really like the concept of this dish.

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One of Lindz’s requirements for a good Chinese place is good Crab Rangoons.  But since they are hard to find, she is willing to settle for Cream Cheese Wontons.  This is one of those tricky things to cook, with it comprising of only a few ingredients, you have to nail it every time.  New Fresh Wok passes with flying colors.

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Outside of Decorah, I haven’t been able to find a place that does a Mongolian Beef to my liking.  Much to my surprise and even more to my delight, New Fresh Wok offers up a really good version.  I like Mongolian Beef best with just beef, onions, and sauce.  They throw in a few more veggies than I would prefer, but it doesn’t detract from the dish.  It’s a nice dish with a salty, earthy base highlighted with onions, garlic, ginger, and, of course, the beef.

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My true test of a Chinese restaurant is a dish that is not even Chinese.  I am obviously talking about General Tso’s Chicken.  This is a dish that needs a teeth shattering batter, tender chicken, and a sauce that will make you thankful for the rice because it cuts the heat.  New Fresh Wok delivers on all of these accounts.  This is the fundamental reason why New Fresh Wok surged to the top of our favorites list.

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OK, I didn’t have the Orange Chicken, but Sheryl really seemed to like it.  Even though she thought it was light on the veggies.

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Naturally, we had to try out a selection from their sushi bar.  And, naturally, we went with the Dragon Roll that has eel and cucumber in the center and topped off with avocado and roe.  Not the greatest roll I’ve ever eaten, but for the price, it was worth it.  Hmm, apparently somewhere along the way I’ve become a total sushi snob.

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What would a Chinese meal be without some tea?  New Fresh Wok served the standard Chinese restaurant tea.  I’m not a huge tea drinker, so that’s all the info you’ll get out of me.  But I really like the tea pot.

If you find yourself in the Roseville area and are hankering for some good Chinese, drop in at New Fresh Wok.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Blue Door Pub

First off, that is a great name for a pub.  Simple.  Unpretentious.  Easily shortened: the Blue Door.  Rolls right off the tongue.  Unique, as not to be confused with another establishment.  Great name.

Our good friends, Miles and Sarah, were in town for a preaching convention (yeah, I now know more pastors than I had ever thought possible).  Since we don’t get to see each other in the flesh all that often, we decided to go out and have supper together.  Miles, being a fellow food lover, suggested The Blue Door Pub in the Highland Park area of St. Paul.  This was a great choice because it is close and they have amazing food.  The downside is that everyone around the area knows that they have great food.  Which translated into a 45 minute wait for a table at 6:30 pm on a Thursday.

Ob-la-di.

The main reason (other than good food and good company) Miles wanted to have the Spam Bites.

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They look innocent enough . . .

As previously noted, I do love me some Spam.  So, basically, there was no possible way this evening was ending without having some Spam.  We also ordered the Deep Fried Pickles and Cheese Curds for our appetizers.

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I’m going to start referring to this plate as The Holy Trinity of The Blue Door Pub.

The spam bites went beyond my wildest dreams.  The bites consisted of diced spam and diced pickles, held together in a mass of cream cheese.  Then gloriously battered and deep fried.  If you’ve ever had the pickle/cream cheese/ham wraps before, these tasted just like that.  Deep fried pickles are out of this world.  The tart vinegar taste pairs very nicely with the beer batter and the garlic aioli.  Cheese curds are a Midwest staple (the really good ones squeak against your teeth).  They only improve if you batter them and deep fry ’em.  If you’ve never had any of these before, I most definitely recommend it.  Just not too often.  You know, heat attacks and such.

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I present to you the Merriam Park Juicy Blucy.

The burger of choice that night was the Merriam Park Juicy Blucy.  Three out of four of us ordered it, and it will make sense as to why in just a sec.  The Merriam Park is a hamburger stuffed with bacon, bleu cheese, and garlic.  Them topped with a red currant jelly.  See?  You want one too, huh?  All of the stuffing makes for a really rich and full bodied bite.  That’s where the jelly comes in.  It gives that bite just a hint of sweet and tart to balance out the flavor.  At the moment, it is my clear favorite Blucy.  I opted for the deep fried green beans as a side.  Though it was a close call because their tater tots are worlds beyond your fondest memory of them as a kid.  Really.  They are that good.

So if you ever find yourself in St. Paul (specifically, Highland Park) swing on over to The Blue Door Pub.  It is without a doubt worth the wait in line.

P.S. A quick shout out and a thanks to Miles for letting me use his pictures (the top and bottom ones).

A Motley Autumnal Conglomerate

I’ve been digging through my backlog of photos and I’ve found a bunch of single random ones that more-or-less fall into the category of “fall harvest.”  So this is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of a post.  (yeah, somebody’s gotten into the thesaurus again)

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The first snowfall of the year.  The Cities were eerily quiet that day.

Throughout summer and fall, Lindz was making semi-regular stops at the local farmer’s market and on one trip she picked up some gorgeous sweetcorn.

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Still working on “prettyfying” some of my photos.

The most consistent way I’ve found to cook sweetcorn is to get a pot of water boiling, add the corn, and let it come back up to a full boil.  I then let it cook for about a minute and then pull it out.  This way the corn is still nice and juicy but doesn’t taste raw either.

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Juuust about ready to be pulled out, buttered, lightly salted, and devoured.

I think it was the same trip that Lindz also picked up some delightful green beans.  These I steam for about five minutes (checking often) so they come out nice and al dente.  Toss with a pat of butter and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

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I love green beans, even if most people cook them to mush.

I enjoy sausages anytime that I can get my grubby little hands on them, but for whatever reason, I always think of them as cold weather comfort food.  I think they are best with either a spicy mustard or some horseradish (preferably homemade).

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A Hobbit approved snack. Perfect for second breakfast.

My boss, Steve, has really been into canning the last couple of years.  This year he was working on perfecting his pickle recipe.  He found a spicy pickle mix (I think it’s this one) at Mill’s Fleet Farm and gave me a jar to try.  It definitely packed a nice punch of jalapeno with a good and crisp pickle.  It was one of those nice burns that wasn’t too overpowering, but stayed with you for some time.  The more you ate, the more intense it got too.

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They look innocent, but they will grab your tastebuds and mistreat them in a way that will have you coming back for seconds. And thirds.

Mom picked up a half bushel box of peaches this fall and make most of it into jam.  It didn’t last very long once Lindz and I opened it and got a taste.

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Yes, Mom has been reusing jars for canning and pickling long before it was in vogue.

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You can just taste the peachy peachness of the peach jam, can’t you?

Along with the usual jellies and jams that Mom made, she also did some salsa this year.  Generally, I’m not a fan because the flavor usually seems dull and overcooked.  Probably the same thing.  This primarily applies to store-bought salsas.  I prefer a nice pico de gallo (fresh uncooked salsa) any day of the week.  However, the recipe that Mom used has me hesitating on my anti-salsa stance.  It was a bit sweet (from the tomatoes), a bit spicy (just enough to round out the flavor), and a whole lot of tomatoey goodness.

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Mmm, salsa. Cha-cha-cha!

And now for something completely different: Oreos.

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I’m a die-hard fan of the original Double Stuff, but these are surprising good. And a nice change to throw into the mix.