Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Igloo Food Fight - The Plaid Penguin vs. Papi Queso Food Truck

I'm ONLY almost 30 but I have an old soul. I'm tired by 9pm every night. Binge watching Netflix with Mark and Watson is more exciting than going out. I already talk about what technologies (or lack there of) "youths" will never experience. I don't understand most social media platforms except for Facebook. I haven't made much of an effort to engage in the Twitter, Tumblr and Vine communities.

Over the past several weeks I have become more of an avid Instagram user though. Since we are new to the Charlotte area I have found it to be a useful tool in learning about local businesses and events. I search for posts with hashtags such as #clt, #queencity, #qc, etc and browse through different photos and profiles.

Recently I discovered The Plaid Penguin, a consultant group for the food and drink industry. They posted a contest to submit a photo of your interpretation of penguins and sandwiches. Winners of the challenge would serve as a sandwich judge between The Plaid Penguin staff and the Papi Queso Food Truck. I searched for the #igloofoodfight hashtag and only a few people had entered. Many of entrees were photos from Google searches or paintings/drawings, so I was inspired to submit my entree using food. I made my penguin using manchego cheese, an olive and pieces of a carrot.

Since I am still job searching I have to make more of an effort to fill up my schedule during the week. I saw this as a great opportunity to meet people and network while eating free food. Fortunately for me my photo was selected (YAY!) and I served as a judge.

For the competition we judged two Cubano sandwiches. If you are not familiar with a Cubano it is a grilled sandwich with ham, pork, cheese, mustard, and pickles. The movie "Chef" has a good representation of how it is made. We were given a scorecard and Sandwich A and Sandwich B. We did not know which team made each sandwich to remain impartial. Bribery was on the table though.

(A bribe)

Sandwich A was served in a cigar box and wrapped in parchment to keep the sandwich together. The bread was PERFECT and there was a good balance of the ingredients. The sandwich was served with rice and beans and thick cut fries.

Sandwich B was also served in a cigar box and with a flag (nice touch). The sandwich was a bit heavy on the pickles and was messy to eat. Herbed potato chips were served on the side.

Both sandwiches were great and the decision was very hard. If the sandwiches were part of a menu, I would order them, rave about them and recommend them to everyone I know. There had to be a winner though. I voted for Sandwich A which was the overall winner of the competition. Sandwich A was created by the Papi Queso Food Truck.

The event was a great time and I am glad I was able to participate. This was one of many Igloo Food Fights to come so follow The Plaid Penguin on Instagram to learn more!


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rooster's Southpark - Vive la Charlotte

The idea of moving is exciting to me. It is an opportunity to explore a new city with fresh faces and different things to do. Everything is new (and shiny). The act of actually moving is less than thrilling though. You have to pack and unpack, update your address for every bill, online store, subscription, etc., and learn your way around a new poorly mapped city.

For several months Mark and I discussed moving in 2015. We wanted to move to a city that was more culturally and ethnically diverse with a growing population, that was WARMER, and was within a reasonable travel distance to our families. Mark had been job searching nationally but we were unsure of where we were more likely to relocate. In December of last year Mark accepted a new job hundreds of miles from Pittsburgh. We sold our house and packed up our 10ft U-Haul truck rental, which was too small by the way, and moved our lives to Charlotte.

I believe it's important to note that I had been very skeptical about the food scene in our new city. Pittsburgh has a diverse and eclectic array of dining options and new restaurants were opening every month. We had our favorite restaurants for specific cuisines, occasions, and moods. Charlotte is a city of transplants and I have been trying to determine what is authentic to the city and what it is known for. Soul food? Barbecue? My new esthetician, who was an army brat as well, recommended Rooster's as an introduction to Charlotte cuisine.

Rooster's Southpark is one of the four restaurants owned by Jim Noble. There is a seasonal menu with ingredients from local farms and sources. Farm to table is popular in Charlotte as there are several farms in the surrounding area. From reviews, the menu is described as southern food with a European influence.We were able to make a same day reservation using OpenTable.

The dining area is large with an open kitchen. There is stool seating around the kitchen and bar areas and high top tables for walk-ins. The restaurant is decorated with an array of roosters on the walls; a taxidermist's heaven. We were immediately seated upon our arrival and promptly greeted by our waiter Sean. He was extremely attentive and personable but he didn't hoover like he was trying to turn over the table. He was very knowledgeable about the food and offered us two tastings of local beers they had on tap.

We started our dinner with the fried oysters per the recommendation of our waiter. The oysters were lightly breaded, tender and not greasy. They were served with a freshly made cocktail sauce. Mark isn't normally a fan of oysters but we both enjoyed the appetizer. The oysters weren't too heavy but left us satisfied until our dinner arrived. For drinks, we ordered Old Fashions to start and then beer with our entrees.

 Mark had the smoked chicken wings as his entree. The wings were smokey (obviously) and crispy and the meat fell off the bone. I had the duck breast which is one of my favorite dishes. The cut was perfect with good meat to fat ratio. The seasoning was very basic which accentuated the natural duck flavor.

The sides are sold separately and are intended to be shared by the table. We ordered the mac and cheese and the butter wilted spinach. The spinach was from Rooster's garden but I thought it was a poor substitute for collard greens. I grew up eating Southern food and collard greens was a staple in my house. The mac and cheese was served very hot and was creamy and savory. Probably the best restaurant mac and cheese I've ever had. EVER.

 For dessert we had a peanut butter cheesecake which wasn't worth having again (or discussing in much detail). The cheesecake had a metallic flavor and was too stiff.

Rooster's is a dining experience rather than just a restaurant to get food. The food is well priced for the quality and how it is prepared. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal though next time we will go with the waiter's recommendation for dessert.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Did You Miss Us?

And we're BACK after a short hiatus. It's been an overwhelming few months so we do hope that you excuse us for our absence. We got married, we ate our way through Spain, Mark accepted a new job, we sold our house, and we moved to Charlotte (wipe your brow)! Now that we are settled in our new city, we are excited to explore the food scene and share our thoughts with those who are willing to read our nonsense. We are expanding our reviews to include our own cooking failures and successes and the over abundance of breweries in Charlotte and the surrounding area. We've already planned a trip to Asheville, so be on the lookout for a post about Beer City.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Il Tetto: A Rooftop Beer Garden

As a Pittsburgh native I have witnessed the growth and development of the city over the past several years. The city of Pittsburgh hasn't always had positive connotations-irrational Steeler fans, uneducated yinzers, underachieving Pirates, etc. But recently Pittsburgh has made many "Top" and "Best of" lists for places to live, young professionals, where to visit, etc. It has been a hidden gem in the United States that is often overlooked by visitors and even some residents. There have been many successes in Pittsburgh's efforts to appeal to a changing population-East Liberty, increasing bike trails and lanes, the restaurant "renaissance." One emerging trend in the city that Michelle and I appreciate is the presence of rooftop bars such as Il Tetto, a Rooftop Beer Garden.

Il Tetto is located on Penn Ave in the Cultural District. It is one of the three Sienna Mercato dining options. In addition to Emporio, a Meatball Joint and Mezzo Charcuterie, Il Tetto features craft beers, small plates, wine and cocktails. The spacious rooftop makes you question what was there and why it wasn't utilized before. The long tables can accommodate large groups but there are smaller tables for a more intimate outing. The decor is reminiscent of a European style beer garden/urban open market with bright metal red chairs, gas street lanterns with only a few TVs to allow you to keep up with the game without being overwhelmed. Although you might not be able to see many Pittsburgh Landmarks from the roof, you will be able to stretch your neck and take in fantastic views of the city's sky scrapers and an alternative perspective of downtown.

The most important aspect of any beer garden is of course the beer selection. Il Tetto has a selective menu of micro and import brews not offered at the average bar. I ordered the Brooklyn Sorachi Ace Saison/Farmhouse Ale. This beer was outstanding and was the perfect choice for a warm summer evening. Michelle had the Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombero, a Mexican style chocolate stout with ancho chile. It was a full bodied dark beer with a hint of spice. Naturally, craft beers such as these will come at downtown craft beer prices.

Il Tetto offers food but it is far from your traditional bar fare. The Apple Wood Smoked Chicken Wings were larger than most wings with crispy skins and lots of flavor. The Duck Confit Steak Fries with duck fat gravy, cherries, and a sunny-side up duck egg was reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner in one bite. Although Michelle and I enjoyed the dishes we agreed that the pricing (approximately $18 each) is a bit much for beer garden appetizers. But they are still worth ordering for the occasional late night indulgence.

Since moving back to the city I have been impressed to see the changes Pittsburgh has been striving towards. With more places like Il Tetto emerging downtown, Pittsburgh will be sure to maintain "Top" or "Best of" lists for many years to come.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Point Brugge Cafe-Waffles and Mussels and Frites (Oh my!)

For Memorial Day weekend Mark and I decide to visit our favorite brunch restaurant in Pittsburgh, Point Brugge. I am confident that I don't have to commence this post with how much Mark and I love brunch as it should be evident by now. Though we have dined at this restaurant and its sister resturant Park Bruges several times, we haven't had the opportunity to blog about it. This is not because the restaurant isn't  "blog worthy" or that we hope to keep one of our favorite restaurants a secret from our readers. It is that every time that we dine there, we are too enthralled with the food, drinks, and the atmosphere that we forgot to take photos of our food.

Point Brugge is located in Point Breeze; tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh. It is a small restaurant with tables, a bar, and outdoor seating. The restaurant doesn't accept reservations so it is best to dine at less popular times or anticipate at least a 45 minute to an hour wait. Point Brugge is known for its Belgian waffles, mussels, and frites. They also serve a small selection of craft and Belgian beers, wine, and cocktails.

Brunch is only served on Sundays from 11am-3pm and a line begins to form around 10:45am when the weather is warm. The menu features several entrees, a la carte items, and a prix frixe menu. The brunch menu changes seasonal but the integrity and quality of the food remains the same. The menu includes traditional items such as steak and eggs, omelettes, and eggs benedict though with a European bistro like flare.

Regardless of the meal Mark and I always order mussels. For dinner, patrons can order a pound and a half of mussels prepared with one of three of sauces served with their famous frites. During brunch, the mussels and the frites are sold separately but each for a reasonable price. We had the mussels prepared in a classic white wine with shallots, garlic and light cream.

I had the Chili Verde Baked Eggs as my entree. This was the first time we had seen this item on the menu which meant an opportunity to try something new. The meal was light and not overly greasy yet filling and was full of flavor. I enjoyed the textured and the queso fresco really tied the meal together.

Since Point Brugge is a Belgian restaurant, Mark insisted on having their Liege Waffles and sausage served as an open face sandwich with potato hash and a sunnyside up egg. As described in their menu, Belgium has multiple styles of waffles with the Liege Waffle being a dense, crunchy waffle with a caramel flavor.  The meal had a nice contrast of sweet and salty flavors and the fruit was a great compliment to the entree.

The best two words to describe Point Brugge are seasonal and fresh. The quality of the food is consistent and we have never had a disappointing meal there. We do hope one day that they will accept reservations but the experience of the food is well worth the wait. Mark and I would consider Point Brugge one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh and one that locals and visitors should enjoy.

And as a special treat, here is a photo of me eating a Belgian waffle in Brussels when I was in college. Enjoy.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bama's Southern Kitchen-A Family Affair

Nothing says warm weather like friends and family lounging on the patio and sipping spiked lemonade while smoky aromas emanate from the grill. It is a time when even the most amateur cooks attempt to perfect their techniques and develop their grilling reputations. Ribs, in my opinion, are one of the most difficult foods to cook because of the different types of rib meat, variety of cooking methods, and infinite sauce/rub combinations. While in Texas I had the luxury of having a plethora of BBQ restaurants where I could experience each restaurant’s definition of good ribs. Unfortunately in Pittsburgh the number of BBQ restaurants is sparse but as the food scene and the city continues to grow, with it comes more diverse restaurants with its changing population. Pittsburgh now has a restaurant reminiscent of classic southern comfort right in the heart of Brookline, Bama’s Southern Kitchen.  

As you enter Bama's, you will smell the comforting essence of southern cooking.  It is a family run establishment in which every member has a role-hosts, waiters, cooks, etc. It is evident from the operation and the service that they a new restaurant but the quality of the food makes you appreciate their work and the progress that they have made. The layout of the tables and the placement of the countertop limit the dining space so I would recommend getting your food to go. Comfort food should be enjoyed in your home or on your deck/patio anyway.

A significant distinction of Bama’s is that they serve beef ribs.  Beef ribs are meatier and bigger but will have more fat and be chewier than slow cooked pork ribs. I appreciate both styles and think each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Typically I slow cook pork ribs on my outdoor charcoal grill so I value a restaurant that ventures from the more common method/style.  The ribs are served with one of three sauces and are blackened on the surface though the fat and the thickness of the meat help retain the juices. We opted for the spicy sauce as Michelle and I enjoy bold flavors. I found the sauce to be my favorite part of the rib as it expelled just the right amount of heat to stimulate the taste buds.  

As a southern kitchen, Bama’s offers more than ribs and serves a variety of combos including chicken wings and sides. The wings were lightly breaded, crispy, and not overly greasy. The wings were “naked” and were a good foundation to eat with or without a sauce. Michelle sometimes craves kitchen sink wings from Peter’s Pub in Oakland and Bama’s offers a good local alternative. Bama’s has many traditional sides such as collard greens, green beans, and mac and cheese. The mac and cheese was soft and creamy with a sharp cheddar flavor while the greens were perfectly seasoned and have the authentic bits of ham hock that remind you that you're eating real soul food. I will never say that Bama's greens and mac and cheese are better Michelle's because I value our relationship, but they are damn good.

Spring is finally here Pittsburgh so celebrate it at our new barbecue home, Bama's Southern Kitchen.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Banana Nana Fofana Puddings

Growing up my mom did most of the cooking. Though my mom regularly worked, sometimes two jobs, she always managed to have dinner ready every night. The holidays were a cooking marathon of turkey, collard greens, potato salad, chitterlings, etc that lasted for days. My mom isn’t much of a baker but she would always make a pumpkin pie. Always. I don’t remember seeing my dad cook when I was a child, but however I do vividly remember his banana pudding. Layers of bananas, vanilla pudding, and wafers topped with whipped cream fueled my love for bananas and question the sanity of those that despise it. It is truly golden heaven in a bowl.

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

For Mardi Gras, Mark’s parents hosted a party in which we were invited. We were charged with bringing banana pudding though Mark and I had never made it. I texted my dad for his recipe and he replied that I should check the Nilla Wafer box. I was weary that the recipe called for pudding mix but he assured me that the pudding was made from scratch. When we went to the store to buy the ingredients the Nilla Wafer box had a recipe for a raspberry tort. It is because we live in the north according to my dad.

(Baked Banana Pudding)

After reading the reviews for several recipes, I found a common theme. The pudding was soupy and runny. This made me apprehensive because the pudding is the foundation of the recipe. Mark and I found two recipes that we wanted to try both by Alton Brown-Refrigerated Banana Pudding and Baked Banana Pudding. We couldn’t decide which recipe to make so instinctively we made both. We believed the ingredients and cooking method for each recipe were different enough for us to determine the best dish. The pudding for the refrigerated recipe calls for sugar, cornstarch, salt, eggs, egg yolk, whole milk, butter, and vanilla extract. After the pudding is assembled it is topped with whipped cream and refrigerated (obviously). The baked pudding version calls for sugar, flour, salt, egg yolks, half and half, and vanilla extract. The egg whites are saved to make a meringue that is spooned over the pudding and then baked until the meringue is evenly browned.

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

The puddings are cooked on medium-low heat until they reach an internal temperature of 172 to 180 degrees which according to the recipes should take about 5-10 minutes of constant whisking. WRONG. More like 20 minutes. From this we learned that those with soupy, runny pudding didn’t allow it to cook long enough. You will know when the pudding is done when it has a pudding consistency (duh).

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

(Baked Banana Pudding)

We made the pudding the day before in case our efforts ended in disaster and we had to think of a backup plan. The following day we finished each of the recipes and assembled the dishes. The baked pudding with flour and half and half was extremely thick and was like more of a custard. Because this recipe called to bake the dish we moved forward with the directions in hopes that the heat would loosen up the pudding.

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

At the party we served both puddings at the same time. We asked guests their opinion on each dish and if they tried both, which they liked best. Many people were reluctant to answer as they thought Mark had made one and I had made the other. We assured them that we made both together and sincerely wanted their honest answer. We learned that people liked both (that isn’t helpful)! Some people preferred the more classic refrigerated version while others liked the more sophisticated baked version. In the end it comes down to preference though with either recipe, you can’t go wrong.

(Refrigerated Banana Pudding)

(Baked Banana Pudding)



Alton Brown Refrigerated Banana Pudding:

Alton Brown Baked Banana Pudding: