Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Out and About: Charging Up

Gone are the days of traveling with nothing but a paperback book.

When I started packing for my month away from home, I packed heavy. With substantial time in Minnesota, which would be warm(er) and then a week in Alaska, which will be pretty cool and damp, I wanted to prepare for every contingency. I packed ALL my summer clothes and shoes and then a bunch of warmer layers for the 50-60 degree dampness in Juneau.

But really the one thing I was most concerned about forgetting was some charger. Sure, you can find places to charge devices, but if you don't have the right cable with you at the right time, you are in for some frustrating moments. I needed cables for my phone, Kindle, laptop and tablet. I also packed my small portable charger. I can use it during the long trip on the plane and in airports tomorrow, when I go from Minneapolis to Juneau.

But. The charger has to be charged too. And for a while this morning I thought I was missing a way to make that happen...the charging cable! So I sat down and started working on other projects, sipping my coffee, and figured I'd have to go get another one somewhere today. I'll be traveling around 13 hours tomorrow, when you count the several-hour layover in Seattle. As I sorted through all the wires and plugs, I discovered that the plug for the tablet would fit! That little cheap, free Verizon tablet has come in handy more than I like to admit. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Review: All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness, by Sheila Hamilton

All the Things We Never Knew is without a doubt one of the best books about mental illness I have ever read. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it is more informative than the Mental Health First Aid class I took this winter at work.

Sheila Hamilton was married to her husband for 11 years. It wasn't until she was well into the marriage that she learned that the cause of his erratic, unusual (and rather jerky behavior) was his undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. I'm not ruining anything by tell you he ultimately committed suicide. She reveals this at the beginning of the book.

Hamilton alternates chapters in the book, covering the story of their life and information about Bipolar Disorder. She gives a very detailed account of the toll this illness has on the sufferer, their family and work life. But she also gives excellent advice for those who are caught in this nightmare.
I especially appreciate how she talks about educating her daughter about Bipolar Disorder. Her daughter is at risk for the disease, and Hamilton is careful to teach her about that.

I told my counselors at school that I think this should be required reading. I'd recommend this book to anyone, though. It's engaging and informative at the same time...which always delights me as a reader.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

First (Well...Second) Visit: Gusto!

The school year was winding down and one day we just needed to go out for a tapas and wine wind-down after work. Since I get off at 3:30, and my friend, a teacher, gets off at 4, it's a good time of day to hit a restaurant that will most likely be crowded a little later. We chose Gusto! in Ballantyne.

Bruschetta Barcelona-kale pesto, goat cheese, garbanzos, and tomatoes

My friend is not a fan of goat cheese, but she's willing to give things a try. I didn't push her. She kind of pushed it herself. I love all things goat cheese and she was willing to try it again, thinking she may not have had good applications. This was an excellent appetizer, and she definitely came over to the goat side. 

Let me say here that the most memorable part of this experience at Gusto! was NOT the food. It was the service. Actually no...not the service...which was excellent. It was the server himself. He brought the food, suggested the wine, gave us good ideas on the apps. All that was good. BUT HE WAS ANNOYING. He was a pure salesman. And it was not about what we were ordering. It was about what we were NOT ordering. Namely, the pasta. 

Gusto! prides itself on their house-made pasta. Every noodle, every sheet, rolled out by hand. The dough made from the finest semolina flour. "Have you tried it?" he asked. "Yes, I have," I said. "But today we are here for light appetizers and drinks. Thank you." 

He was relentless. 

Seared tuna crusted with sesame seeds. I am just now realizing the menu says there is avocado. Maybe they were out that day? No matter, because this was absolutely ravishing. It was all I could do stop myself from pulling the entire plate of tuna to my side of the table!

This was my second visit. I visited Gusto! one Saturday morning with another friend and we had an early lunch. My companion that day had a pasta dish. I don't remember what I had. We tasted each other's. Yes, the house made pasta is good. So is Oggi's. And so, for that matter, is mine. 

Stuffed zucchini with roasted veggies and orange almond sauce

We ordered our apps all at the same time, but they came in a succession. Which was fine. He paced them rather well. We were not quite done with the first when the tuna arrived, and then the third arrived as we were savoring the tuna. I thought it was cool, how he did that. I thought, "This is nice. Sort of a progression." But the problem is that, each time he came back to the table he would try again to get us to order a pasta entree. More rhapsodizing about their pasta. 

I was getting more and more dismissive. My friend was backing me up, but not quite as vocal. When he said, "Have you had homemade pasta before?" I said, "Yes." She said, "She makes it." He said, "Oh, but the semolina flour..." I cut him off and told him "I KNOW". 

As we wound down our visit, my friend looked at me and said, "Would you come back here again?" And I honestly can say I don't know. The food was delicious. Fresh and light. The wine was good, the time of day was wonderful for a sit-down after work. 

Maybe I should drink a glass before I go. Then maybe the hard-sales waiter might not bother me so much. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

First Visit: Sabor Latin Street Grill

We need to go back to Sabor. This food was good, but I think I made a mistake with my choice. I should have just had tacos. Instead I ordered Dominican Nachos and, while it tasted good, it really turned out to not be what I wanted. 

Sabor Latin Street Grill in the Elizabeth neighborhood, is very close to the Grady Cole Center, where we see the Charlotte Roller Girls. We love to eat in Elizabeth or Plaza Midwood after the bout. It also turns out that Saturday night around 7 or so, parking around Sabor kind of opens up a bit, and there are no long lines at the counter. There was a steady stream of customers, but they were not slammed.

We liked how approachable the staff are. They were patient with the people in front of us, who asked several questions about the menu. Even the bus people were friendly and eager and to help us be comfortable. 

Bob had an empanada and a ground beef taco. The empanada was huge, so he felt like he had plenty to eat. 

I had the Dominican Nachos. The nachos were well seasoned and there was a LOT. It didn't help that the nachos were made on yucca fries, rather than chips. The fries were large wedges. There was a ton of wonderfully seasoned chicken layered next, and then all the toppings...cabbage, onions, salsa, cotija cheese and rosada sauce. It was all very flavorful. Just too much food. And I think the yucca wedges added a sorty of mealy texture that I didn't really love. I think if I made something like myself, I'd make yucca chips, crisply fried, and serve them on the side. 

I think we'll try it again.

Friday, June 03, 2016

First Visit: Brazwell's Pub-Ballantyne (Veggie Burger Quest)

This is a clear winner in my quest for the ultimate veggie burger. Not THE winner...there will be many winners...such as Emma's of Salisbury, Bang Bang Burger, and The Cafe @ Williams Hardware. Today I was pleased to find a fantastic, house made black bean burger just a short distance (albeit long drive, with Ballantyne traffic) from my house.

I heard about Brazwell's Pub last week, when a former student stopped in at school to pick up a transcript. He said he's one of the chef's at this pub in Ballantyne. His story is like many great chefs: he started as a dishwasher and his boss found he had talent in the kitchen. This was not news to his Foods teacher at school. 

This loosely formed(which, to me, proves it's house made, and not full of fillers and commercial additives, like this place), well-seasoned black bean mixture overflows a wonderful bun that has been lightly toasted to a pleasing crunch. It's topped with melted pepperjack cheese, sour cream, slices of avocado, a pretty decent tomato slice, lettuce and red onion. Even the red onion won me over. Often people serve too much red onion on their salads and sandwiches, causing them to overwhelm (and maybe mask?) flavor, dry your mouth out, and cause you to burp onion for the rest of the day. This one had two slices of onion. I still took off one, but I wasn't shoveling ring after ring to the side of my plate. 

And the FRIES! They were well-salted and had a couple other seasonings on them. They were slightly wilted, but forgivable. These are the fries that come with the sandwich and I can't imagine wanting to pay more to take them off and sub for something else. 

As a side note: that beer is Old Mecklenburg Brewery's Hornet's Nest. It's the brew in season right now, and it's very delicious.

Back to the food: both my lunch companions had the black and blue burger and loved it. The Friday special was fish & Chips and I'll probably have to go back for that. They are often my bar food of choice.

Monday, May 09, 2016

First Visit: JJ's Red Hots

This review might surprise you for two reasons. Actually, maybe three:
1. What am I doing at a hot dog joint?
2. Why would I say "meh" about a place that is a Charlotte favorite?
3. Why am I saying I'll try it again?


Ok. I went to the hot dog joint because I live with two people who will eat meat, no matter where it came from. Do they discriminate between "humanely-raised" meat and other? No. Do they love ground meat with seasonings and anything else that might get swept up from the floor? Yes. But also, I'd heard so much about JJ's and how great it is, and that they have a veggie dog that even non-vegetarians would eat. So why not?

On to the "meh" part:

First of all, I pretty much think the joint is inappropriately named. I really should be "JJ's Hot Dog Fixin' Joint." Because, based upon my veggie dog and the guys' meat dogs, I'd have to say the hot dog is really just a filler. They have several choices on their menu for how you want your dog decorated, and it's clear that it's pretty much all about that. In the case of our dogs, it's all about mustard. Ballpark mustard, actually. We all ordered the first item on the menu, the JJ's "No. 1 Red Hot." To me, it makes sense to order that item because it seems that's where this whole venture of theirs probably started. They use Sahlen's Hot Dogs, which I've never heard of before. 

When I visited the Sahlen's website, I found that this company has been around since 1869, and they boast about their "signature smokehouse flavor."  What we got was mustard. Mustard and mustard and mustard. The guys were not impressed with the smoky flavor of their hot dogs (they didn't detect any), and I'm still not sure what the veggie dog actually tasted like. 

Now, I am a lover a mustard. Don't get me wrong. In fact, I've been known to snarf down 2 or 3 Hormel Wrangler or Nathan's hot dogs with nothing but ballpark mustard on them. But those dogs are fatty and have a robust flavor and texture and snappy skin that can hold up to a nice, thick line of mustard. These dogs couldn't cut it. They are meant for a finer hand, I think. 

I'll try it again. I'm not sure when and I'm not sure what I'll have. I don't know if I'll throw out my questions about the sources of the meat and just eat a meat dog or sausage, or if I'll try the veggie dog again but with different fixin's. I will try it again because hundreds (maybe thousands) of people can't be wrong. I'm willing to guess that we just chose the wrong dogs. 

Oh. And we like the hot dog with the roasting fork. Cute.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Book Review: Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking

 Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen

Before picking up this book, my knowledge of Stephen Hawking could fit into maybe two sentences: He has something like ALS. He's a super-genius science guy who talks about black holes. 

Both of those are true, but of course there is so much more. This book, written by Jane Hawking, is a fascinating story about Stephen Hawking's meteoric rise to scientific fame, as well as his descent into physical immobility. 

Ms. Hawking details how they met in their later teen years (through Stephen's sister) and their decision to marry, despite his diagnosis of motor neurone disease, with it's bleak prognosis. Through years of struggling to obtain disability assistance from Britain's National Health Service, and navigating the globe without the handicap accessibility we take for granted these days, Stephen thrived in academia and the Hawking children grew under Ms. Hawking's steady and constant care. 

Hawking's struggles are detailed and persistent in this book. She pulls no punches, calling out people and institutions who failed to offer support. But she also heralds the many people and institutions who provide unflagging encouragement and assistance. The book is not bitter, but one can not fail to wonder how she managed to escape developing an entirely bitter outlook on life. 

The edition I read had two postscripts, written as the book was re-published after it's original 2007 release. The story has also been made into a movie, "The Theory of Everything," which came out in 2015.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Book Review: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


This is the story of  Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who emigrate from Nigeria to two different countries and then come home again. I'm not sure how this book came to me, but I sure didn't want to let it go back to the library. I am quite certain, however, that I decided to read this book solely based on my experience another Adichie book, "Purple Hibiscus." Her absorbing storytelling, done with some of the best prose I can remember ever reading, is both entertaining and educational. 

Adichie's observations about human behavior touch home. As you read her books, you often find yourself realizing, "Of course! I've seen people do and say those things and now I get a glimpse of understanding the thought process behind it!" 

Ifemelu came to the U.S. as a student on an education visa. Her education in Nigeria was frustrating as she tried to find continuity in a time of turmoil that caused work stoppages, power outages, and government upheaval. In the U.S, she moved in with her aunt who had emigrated here with her young son. Ifemelu's struggles to find work and become self-sufficient were tough, but she survived the hardship to become a blogger and speaker with a focus on race issues. Her assessment of racism in America, and her observations of the heirarchy of non-white people is compelling and familiar. 

Ifemelu's childhood friend and teenage lover, Obinze, emigrated illegally to the U.K. His plan was also to pursue education, but he did not have the benefit of family or government assistance. His part of the story is short but sometimes brutal, as he tried to work under a borrowed National Health card.

Both Ifemelu and Obinze end up back in Nigeria. I won't tell you how that happened for each of them, so as to not spoil the story.  They find their way to each back in Nigeria, which is the third component to the story. 

One of the most compelling passages of the book, to me, is when Adichie has a character that contrast racial attitudes in the U.S. with those in the U.K. 

There are time, particularly when Adichie inserts some of Ifemelu's blog entries, where the book drags for a few pages. But there are reasons for those entries, and they don't detract from the story.

Get this book. Then read "Purple Hibiscus" too.

Friday, April 08, 2016

First Visit: Bang Bang Burgers

This, my friends, is how you do a black bean burger:

This is a quinoa black bean burger, from Bang Bang Burger. This sandwich respects the black bean burger and those who choose to eat them. This creation has a crisp crust, flavorful mixture, and is topped with delicious condiments. There were crunchy pickles, a chipotle ranch dressing, and some mo' jack cheese on a wonderfully toasted bun. The accompanying fries were crisp and generous. 
Mensa Boy had a Bang Bang Burger, which was a standard burger with lettuce, tomatoes and onion and their special Bangburger sauce. Burgers come in single patty or double patty sizes. He had the single and felt it was plenty. I've seen a couple people comment online that it's expensive, but I don't think so. For $10 you get a meal that is high quality. thoughtful, and filling.

I don't know what is in their Bangburger sauce. Their website doesn't go into that. We thought it tasted a bit like a zipped-up Thousand Island sauce. I dipped my fries into Bob's. The restaurant is a counter-ordering place, but they bring your food to the table. The offer a nice selection of craft beers, many of them local. We were there on a Saturday night around 7 and it was steady busy but not crowded. It's located in the cool Elizabeth neighborhood. I could see it being a neighborhood place. There were no TVs up playing sports, I think. I don't remember, so that tells you it's not an obvious attraction if there are any. 

The restaurant is about 5 minutes from the Grady Cole Center. With the close proximity to the Charlotte Roller Girls, and the wonderful food, I'm sure we'll be back. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

First Taste: Anew Riesling

I picked up the Anew Riesling almost without thought the other day. They had this and the Rose on an endcap at Harris Teeter. I'm sorry to say I don't remember the price, but I'm cheap, so I'm pretty sure it would have been less than $12. 

The only thing I looked for was its appellation. It's from the Columbia Valley, Washington, so that's all I needed to know. I'll drink domestic Rieslings from there or Oregon. Otherwise, I'll go with European, Australian or Chilean ones. California Rieslings are awful. 

The main thing about Columbia Valley Rieslings is that they all pretty much taste the same. They all seem to be moderately sweet, with notes of peach. They are good well-chilled, alone or with white meats, seafood or vegetarian dishes. I don't suggest them with cheese. They will work with meat, but really it's a lighter wine for a lighter meal.

I have to say I'm a little disappointed in the vintner for not being entirely truthful in their labeling. This is not actually all Riesling. It's a blend. Riesling is the grape in majority, but there is some Gewurztraminer and Muscat in there, as well. I found this out when I sussed out the website to give you the link. I can definitely see adding the Gewurztraminer for some acid and spiciness, but the Reisling grapes don't need the added sweetness offered by Muscat. 

Oh and also...there is plenty of room to mock the vintner's campaign. They say their wines are "perfect for those seeking balance in their life." 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Internet Recipe Test: Wonton Soup

You know how, a lot of times you see a photo of some food on the internet and it's just gorgeous? You think it looks so wonderful and appetizing that you just want to make it. So you read the recipe and feel it's fairly straightforward and you are pretty sure your family members will like it. 

But sometimes...actually often...your finished product doesn't look at all like the one on the website. And sometimes you find you really don't like the flavor, either. You'll never make that recipe again.

That happens with cookbooks and magazines, too. But on the internet, any dummy can put up a shot of some food and publish a recipe. There's no cost to them. There's no editor stopping their product from getting out into the world. So there are a lot of recipes out that that have no business being published in any way, shape or form. And there are a lot of good food ideas out there, but the recipe has flaws. 

I use a lot of recipes off the 'net. Some I return to again and again and others I'll never make again. And there are some that, I suspect, are not what they appear. I think there are lots of photos attached to recipes that aren't a true representation of what the final product is. 

So from time to time, I'm going to show the results of my internet recipe experiments. Some of them will be recipes I think seem true to the photo and advertising and are well-written, and some will be epic fails that I think should be taken off the www. 

So today I bring you Wonton Soup. And this one is a fantastic success!  I don't remember where I first saw this recipe. It could have popped up on Pinterest. I am a fan of Asian soups, particularly Wonton and Hot & Sour. This recipe looked like a good weeknight meal with minimal fuss. There are not too many ingredients, and it's a good candidate for a chilly night.

So here is Wonton Soup from a website called The author is Bee Yinn Low. The website has been around since 2006, and this recipe was published in September, 2014. The author says she's a cookbook author and recipe developer. I didn't know that when I made this soup tonight.

I don't plan to post the entire recipe here. I think you should visit the website, look around, and make it from there. But here are my notes on the recipe:

First, my issues with the recipe:

1. I'm not a fan of bouillon, but I can understand why she uses it in the recipe. She doesn't mention where the chicken stock is going to come from, but the average home cook is probably going to buy it at the grocery, and the bouillon will plump up the chicken flavor. I make my own stock and freeze it, so I doubted I needed to add that. I didn't and I'm glad.
2. Salt. She has you put in bouillon and salt to the marinade seasonings. Don't do that. Leave the salt out of the marinade. You can adjust later in the soup and the marinade has a very nice flavor already from the fish sauce and sesame oil (and bouillon).
3. Cutting the shrimp. She tells you to use "big shrimp," and then to cut them into 3-4 pieces. I did that and it worked ok. But really they should be cut smaller so that you are able to more easily fold your wontons. With the larger pieces, my filling was much too lumpy and the wonton skins didn't want to fold around it well, and some broke open. Mind you, I was careful not to use too much filling, but it still was a bit difficult. After the first 4, I didn't curl them up into traditional wontons. I left them as triangles and that worked fine. 

My tweaks:

1. I added miso to the marinade. It added a nice depth of flavor to the shrimp. I used Awase miso, which is a blend of red and white miso. I found it on the shelf at Harris Teeter. I added maybe 1/4 teaspoon to the marinade and then 1 tablespoon to the chicken stock. It really made the soup pop with flavor. 
2. Next time I will finely chop, or even mince the shrimp. When you look closely at the photo of the original recipe, you can see a fairly uniform texture under the surface of the wonton wrapper. No bumps and edges like I had from the varying sizes of the pieces of shrimp. You've got to remember that wonton noodles are dumplings, and most often the stuffing is ground pork. GROUND pork. So next time I make this soup (and there will be MANY, many next times), I will just about mince the shrimp.

The final thing I will say about this recipe is...she has you finely chop yellow chives or scallions (Use scallions. You're not going to find yellow chives in a regular grocery), use half in the marinade, and then never tells you what to use the other half for. I lost my concentration for a split second and dropped the full amount into the marinade and then saw what I had done. I knew it would be too onion-y that way, so I scooped out half the scallions. drizzled in a little fish sauce and sesame oil, and called it a day. It came out fine. I read some of the comments and did find one where someone asked what they were supposed to do with the rest of the scallions...use as garnish? The author said "yes." So why didn't she go back into the recipe and add that line?

Oh. And a final, final thing. The author was absolutely correct in the time estimate she put on the recipe. It took about 15 minutes prep time. But that was active prep. There is an hour of waiting around for the shrimp to marinade. Alton Brown has taken to including those inactive times to his recipe time estimates and it's really helpful.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

First Visit: Hobo's

 Hobo's is a tavern in downtown Fort Mill. It's been open for a while now, but I kept getting information from friends about slow service and uneven food quality. I hadn't heard anything for a while now, so when a group of friends from school wanted to go out after work, I was ready.

I'm always looking for a good bean burger, and they have a house made one on their menu. It's an impressive-looking sandwich on great bread. There is a slice of avocado and tomato on top, as well as some bean sprouts. To be honest, I'm not sure why people feel they must put avocado on a black bean burger. It really doesn't add anything most of the time. If you have a great-tasting patty, it's going to pop with flavor and really nothing you put on top is going to be necessary, unless you add some crisp lettuce for crunch. 

That said, this was not a great-tasting patty. Actually, this patty didn't have much flavor at all. It wasn't terrible, but it really had so much potential for being great. It just was kind of..."there." And it was huge. It seemed almost as if they had some black beans and glued them together with more smashed beans and then shaped a huge patty with the mixture. I'd estimate that the patty was over 1.5 cups in size. I brought half of it home. If they had put a little thought into the patty, such as maybe some garlic, some cilantro...really any kind of aromatic...and then cut the size down by at least a third, maybe a half...they could have had something really good there. Also, a good black bean patty should have a little crispness to it. This did not. Will I have it again? No. But it won't kill anyone. 

The fries were another thing, too. I didn't capture many of them in this shot, but the few that you can see tell the story. They were a bit greasy, not terribly hot, and I think I had the bottom of the batch. I had a lot of little ends and shards in mine. One of the other people at my table had house-made chips and they looked fantastic. I'd definitely go for that next time. I might also try their grown-up grilled cheese next time. The only other vegetarian sandwich option is a portabello mushroom burger. Those have been done to death in the vegetarian world, and most of the time not done well. I have little reason to believe Hobo's would do them any better. I often eat fish when I go to taverns, and a friend of mine says their grouper bites are good, so I might try that or their fish sandwich. 

So yes, I'll probably go back. But it will be because our group would like to go out again and it's a convenient location. I doubt I'd take my guys there or invite friends to go. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: "Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail," by Jennifer Pharr Davis

I loved reading "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail," by Bill Bryson. And also "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," by Cheryl Strayed. Both were made into pretty good movies, too.

But I hope this one is not made into a movie. It's a book you need to read in bites and enjoy. A book that has things to teach you about hiking and faith (without being preachy) and being willing to accept help and give help. 

Jennifer Pharr Davis went on this solo hike right out of college. It's a perfect time to do such an adventure, before the work world, bills, family and other cares take over your life. I guess another time to do something like this might be when you retire, or when you accumulate enough weeks of vacation to take extended time off. 

In the book, Pharr Davis is kind of hard on hikers who are not thru-hikers...people who tackle the Trail a section at a time, or who just hit a part occasionally for a weekend. Actually, she's a bit unfair. But you must remember she is only 21 in this book, and she did run into some self-absorbed lawbreakers during her experience. She has a blog on her website, Blue Ridge Hiking Company, and she does have an entry there where she expresses her regrets about some of those comments. I'm glad she did that, because it was wrong to paint everyone with a broad brush. 

This book allowed me to dream about hiking long distance, and to walk alongside Jennifer in spirit. That's what a good book is to that allows me to live the story vicariously.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

First Taste: Frisk Prickly Riesling

I think I've found a new favorite. This wonderful wine comes from Victoria, Australia (Victorian Alps, actually. Did you know there were Alps in Australia? Me neither) and sells for about $11 at the Teeter. See those little bubbles there? A bit spritzy. The wine is a little sweet but not too, and has a gentle limey zest to it. It reminds me of D.R. Loosen's Riesling, another favorite of mine, but is a little sweeter than that. 

They have a cool website, with very "young" sounding text. The scrolling is a little tricky. If you scroll down, you kind of have to be careful not to go too fast, and then it's a little difficult to get back to the top. The photos are very cool. 

This would be good alone as an after-school sip, or with nachos (my afternoon snack today), or with really any kind of food you might feel like having. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

First Visit: Famous Toastery-Indian Land

"How is everything?"
"Everyone is your server. We don't assign a server to your table."

And this is kind of what lessened our enjoyment of the experience. They interrupted our conversation 6 or 7 times. We were in the restaurant only about 45 minutes and it was so hard to keep our conversation going because of all the interruptions. In fact, when the manager came by and started asking our opinion, I even mentioned it (after Bob explained that the potatoes, while good, are NOT hash browns). He STILL STAYED and talked to us longer! He explained to us that everyone is our server and also that they weren't busy, so...
So here is the New Yorker (what's left of it):
I love smoked salmon in scrambled eggs. Like most breakfast places, the omelette is a 3-egg one, which is way too much food. The potatoes are ok. They have a good taste, but they are more boiled and sauteed than anything. There is nothing crisp about about them, They are not hashbrowns, as the menu implies and the manager even said there has been conversation about changing the name. These are more like home fries, but I don't think I'd even call them that, since there is nothing fried about them. Oh, and the toast? Not really toasted. It's funny they didn't ask how I'd like that. We had sourdough toast, which is a great option, but I think it has barely passed under the broiler. It was mostly just hardened up a bit, with a tiny bit of browning on one end.
The restaurant itself is very cool and spacious. We ate in the sunroom next to the see-through fireplace and it was very comfortable. They weren't busy because it was early. We were there before 9, but I know the place is jumping later in the morning, after the Baptists and Methodists get out of church. 
The prices are pretty similar to Another Broken Egg's prices. The best deal is an omelette plate, which comes with toast or fruit, and potatoes or grits. But if you add a side with bacon (which Bob said was wonderfully delicious...and they ask how you like it cooked), or orange juice (which is freshly squeezed to order), it can get spendy for a breakfast.
Famous Toastery would not be a common spot for us. We are more into places like The Yolk in Rock Hill. 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

First Visit: Luigi & Sons Italian Restaurant

We visited Luigi's on Cherry Rd in Rock Hill Friday night to celebrate Nate's birthday. 
The star of the table was definitely their pizza. Taylor said it was the most delicious pizza he's had in a while. "I can't wait to wake up in the middle of the night and eat the leftover slice!" He said. 

Bob had the meatball roll, which was beautiful to look at it. He liked it, but said it really had too much cheese in it. It's probably right for most people, but he and I don't, as a rule, eat just a ton of cheese. 

I had the eggplant rolatini. I'd rate it just "passable." It was seriously lacking in flavor, namely salt. But the eggplant was cooked appropriately...not too oily, and the pasta was al dente. I'm not really impressed with their sauce. It just seems sort of bland. That said, I will eat the leftovers. Not all the pasta, but I'll definitely finish the eggplant. Oh, and the salad. Ask for the dressing to be on the side. I was served a wonderful side salad with nice, fresh-looking ingredients, but they drowned it in dressing. You know what they say about "assume...."

About the restaurant itself: it's very much a family style restaurant and shows its age...mismatched tables and chairs, and aging decor. 
Service was terribly, terribly slow. But the staff were all gracious and friendly, even if not real attentive. It was not full in the dining room, so I figure their takeout and delivery must be pretty heavy. 
Would we go back? Probably not. But if I lived in Rock Hill, I'd probably make homemade pizza a lot less often. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

First Visit: Spice Wagon Kebab Food Truck

We were bumming around SouthEnd. We hadn't really been thinking about lunch, but we were open. We stopped in at the Atherton Farm Market and there in the parking lot was this kebab food truck. Taylor perked up immediately. "It's been a long time since I've had a kebab," he said. And so we queued up.

Let me first say the food was good and plentiful. But the process was an exercise in patience and nerve-calming. 

First, it took an incredibly long time to get our food. Bob and I had jerk chicken kebabs and Taylor had beef. I don't know if we got there just as they were about to make another batch of meat or what, but the wait turned into about 20 minutes. And it was a little chilly outside. There were tables behind the food truck that are part of the Atherton area,, but the generator they had on the back the truck was SO LOUD and SMELLY that we really weren't up to sitting back there.

I suspect they might be better on a food truck night, when things are fast and heavy. They probably have more food ready then. Like I said, the food was good. I wouldn't say it was excellent. The corn was fairly old but not totally gummy and the Parmesan they sprinkled on it was really good. The fries were a tad soggy for me, but not terrible. They had a spice dust on them that could have used some salt. The meat on the kebabs, though, was cooked perfectly (they were thighs, which hold well) and seasoned nicely. There was a small pita underneath the kebabs, and you got a little container of tzatziki on the side. The tzatziki was good.

It would not be a "destination" for me. I'm sure I won't wake up one day next week wishing I had another of their kebabs. But it wasn't a disappointment or waste of money.

Friday, February 26, 2016

First Visit: Tamaleria Laurita, on Arrowood

We ate in the car. And loved it. 

This little tamaleria was written about in Charlotte Five last week, which is what brought my attention to it. It's a tiny place with 6 tables in a strip mall on Arrowood. It ended up being an hour-and-a-half experience for us, which we will make again. And probably again. And there may be nights when I'll text Mensa Boy and beg him to stop by and pick up supper there before coming home.

The menu is simple. Tamales. And some American options for people who probably have no business going to a tamale restaurant, but have been dragged there by someone they love. We ordered a plate of 3 tamales. No sides. We could have gotten a combination platter that had rice and beans but we wanted to just try the tamales. There was a fantastic pork one, a chicken one, and a third one we didn't even unwrap because we were full. So next time we'll try that one first, I guess. We each took our third tamale home and Taylor had them the next day for lunch. There were two sauces, a red sauce, which CharlotteFive characterized as "mild," but made our eyes water and noses run (and we eat spicy food), and a very mild green tomatillo sauce. 

Go there. Really.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

First Visit: Yama Izakaya, a Ramen Restaurant on Central Ave

This is not my photo. I lifted this from Yama Izakaya's Facebook page. The restaurant was just too dark for me to take my own photo.

I visited this place with my friend and acupuncturist, Adrienne Wei, owner of Inner Peace Acupuncture and Wellness. Adrienne and I have been close friends since I started as her patient five years ago. We go out to lunch or dinner whenever we can, and it's usually Asian. This last Friday I texted her and asked, "Are there any ramen places?" And so we found Izakaya.

We absolutely gorged ourselves! We started with a seaweed salad that about blew our minds. It had a sesame dressing on it and the flavor of the sesame was just delicious. As usual, I forgot my reading glasses and the darkness in the dining room made it absolutely impossible for me to read the menu. So she ordered for me. We each got these giant bowls of ramen that were full of pork belly, fish cake, poached egg, sesame and other things. My broth was salted chicken and hers was tonkostu, which is made from pork bones. 

We toasted our friendship with warm sake, which really didn't trip my triggers. It seemed almost oily to me. Oily and thick. I'm more of a wine chick. Adrienne commented that the cups were unusual. I'm not sure what she was thinking of there. She felt like the cups may have made me feel the way I did about it. I dunno. It just seemed like a liqueur that didn't have much alcohol or flavor. It was a house sake, so maybe next time we'll do something a little more specific. 

I have to say the only thing I'd change if I ran this place, is that I'd serve the ramen noodles separately, like they do in many Japanese noodle places in Japan. Then you add the noodles a bit at time add them to the broth as you eat along. 

We'll definitely go back there again.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Trisha Yearwood's Chocolate Pound Cake

Actually, this is my Chocolate Pound Cake. Which I made with Trisha Yearwood's recipe on Food Network.

Pretty, huh? I haven't tasted it yet. I'm taking it to work tomorrow to celebrate a dear friend's birthday.

I've never made a pound cake before. I'm not sure why. I've really only eaten it a few times. If it's good, I may make it more often. It was easy enough to make. Just sift the dry ingredients. cream the fat and sugar, add 5 eggs, one at a time, and then add the dry ingredients and milk, alternating. 

I should mention that mine took 90 minutes to bake. The recipe calls for a 10-inch tube pan and this pan was 9.5 inches. I expected it to take little longer, but not quite that much. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

First Visit: Way Back Burgers

I have never heard of this place, so when I saw it as we pulled into a shopping area, I assumed it was an independent burger joint. But I googled it and noticed it was part of a chain. Ok. I'm always skeptical of chains, especially burger or chicken places. But they had a veggie burger on the menu so I figured we should give it a try. 

I wish we hadn't. Foodwise, anyway. 
The staff was wonderful, the food was not. 

We were greeted by Sarah, who immediately figured out we'd never been to one of their restaurants before. She explained the menu options and set us up. Later she came back to our table and said she'd charged us for an item we didn't order and gave us a refund for it. 

Now. To the food:

My chips were the best part of the entire meal. They were beautifully crisp and nicely salted and they offered various dipping sauces for them. Bob's fries were just ok. They were skin-on potatoes and had a nice flavor but they were fried in oil that was not hot enough, so they were slightly greasy. 

The burgers were not great. Bob's patty melt seemed ok but it was served in a smashed, but toasted bun and just looked unappetizing. The veggie burger was also served on smashed bun, not toasted, just doughy. I'm not at all sure what ingredients went into the veggie burger. It looked like a hash brown potato cake with some flecks of carrot and maybe a few other diced veggies in there, a couple black beans and maybe some grain like oatmeal? It was greasy and seved with a slice of pretty white iceberg lettuce and and a terrible slice of tomato. 

A gentleman came by and asked how we like our food and Bob told him very kindly that the buns could use some work. He was polite and friendly and didn't seem to mind the criticism, but he offered that we might could ask for the bun for the veggie burger to be toasted so it wouldn't seem so doughy. He didn't apologize for the meal at all. 

So there you have it. We definitely won't try them again. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

First Visit: Brown Dog Deli, Charleston

This is a fun little deli in Charleston. They have a great variety of stuff on their menu: a hot dog line-up, burger line-up and vegan/vegetarian one, too. I had a Caribbean Black Bean burger that was pretty good (after I lifted the burned crust off one side):
That's pimento cheese sauce and mango salsa on top. They do not have fries, so I opted for a broccoli salad, which was pretty good. 
The decor is a ton of fun. It's all really bright colors and there are paintings (one is just a childlike painting of a dachshund on a solid background) and posters from old rock bands. There are stacks of record albums and 45s around, but I'm not sure the jukebox actually works. 
The bathroom has great stuff on the walls too, like this giant painting of Godzilla:
Next it was that picture of beetles. Here is shot of the entire thing:
I like how it explains itself: "A Bunch of Beetles on a Chart."
I'd go back there. I know Bob would. He said his Turkey wrap was one of the best sandwiches he's eaten. It did have bacon on it...