Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If you don't know anything else from the things I post on this blog about what I like to eat, you would learn that I just love BBQ. The smoke, the charcoal, the beef, the sauce, all of it. Andy Nelson's is one of the most lauded places in the Baltimore area to get some Q. Always on the list, I finally had a reason to be in the area to stop in and get a taste of it.

So Andy Nelson's is a quaint place with an outdoor shed set up that was bustling in the nice fall air that existed in the morning, an indoor seating area near where you order, a drive through - which my daughter and I were impressed by, and a separate area for catering orders. It's obvious that it's a popular spot. The decor is quaint and southern roadside, not what you would expect to find in this area at all. In comparison Mission BBQ is a corporate version of that style while Urban BBQ is a hipster version of the same concept. This is the real deal. They sell their sauces and some other items inside and ordering was quick and easy. The staff was warm and the food came out quickly.

Now in order to provide a comparison between all of these places, I try to make sure I order the same or at least similar items. So today it was a brisket sandwich for me with greens and Macaroni and cheese. I also ordered a half pound of rib tips. my daughter had the pulled pork sandwich with macaroni and potato salad. I am glad I got some sauce on the side because it's not on the sandwich, nor given on the side unless you grab it.

For my food, the brisket on the sandwich was from the lean part of the brisket, which is the worst part to give-on it's own. I have come to believe that if you don't ask me which part I would like it from, you should be giving me a mixture of both because you need some fat for tenderness. The rib tips were pretty good. Some pieces were more tender than others, but it also felt like it wasn't quite as slow cooked or smoked. it was marinated well and the flavor was well infused, but it didn't have a rub or anything on it. I did dip it in some of the classic red Andy Nelson's sauce, which was fine. It wasn't overly sweet or overly tangy. It was a good balance of flavors.

The sides were only so-so to me. I was told the potato salad was a bit salty, I didn't try it myself unfortunately. The Greens that I had weren't bad. They were seasoned alright but some more salt might have been good. They pale in comparison to those from Urban BBQ though which are some of the best you can get from a restaurant period. The macaroni and cheese was realer than say Boston Market, but also when compared to the BBQ places in the area which are chains of some kind, it doesn't keep up. Mission BBQ and Urban are way better with more love and time spent on their Mac and Cheese sides.

Andy Nelson's may have been crowned by the local media and magazines but it doesn't make it for me. While the place itself is a character, the food lacks the same charm. it's a bit sparse and bare and when I see these kinds of accolades given to a place I expect the flavors to stand out a little more and be bolder and stronger. I can't give Andy Nelson's the same accolades as others, it's alright to me but I wouldn't rush out to try it again.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, November 17, 2016

So Foundry Row is bustling and new shops are opening up every week. Searching for a bite to eat after a long day at work I figured something familiar yet good was in order so i rolled into Bagby Pizza Company, expecting to drop in order our normal pies and roll out. Lo and Behold I was surprised to see that apparently, Bagby is two different concepts under one umbrella, which could work but is definitely confusing.

So I normally get a bbq chicken pizza but as I ordered, i noticed that not only this version of the restaurant has pizzas, but also sandwiches and pasta. If that were the difference, that one is slightly larger and has an expanded menu I could understand it even if I thought it wasn't a good idea. However, there are also multiple pizza sizes, Small and Regular to choose from and if you look closely, some minor menu differences that could make a difference if you are really particular.

My wife and son are plain pizza types, so I got a pizza split with cheese and half with pineapples added. The crust is pretty good, I still think the other location seemed a bit better however. They also drop circles of mozzarella which is fine but when trying to eat the pizza and pull it apart, the cheese didn't separate on the slices like i felt that it should. The pineapple also wasn't actually cooked onto the pizza, just placed there afterwards which my wife wasn't feeling as much.

My daughter's BBQ chicken pizza was a little different but the chicken wasn't bad. It just seemed to be missing something. I ordered a Turkey and Bacon sandwich. I thought that it would be a warm sandwich for some reason but it's a cold sandwich on ciabatta bread. The turkey is good and the garlic aioli is superb. The bacon is salty and mixed with everything it is definitely good. I really like this, if it is a big more than I would expect in price. This is a decent addition to the menu.

The service was fine, the young men working were prepared and got the dining area cleaned quickly after customers left. The food came out fast as well. The one thing, I live maybe 5 minutes away and by the time I got into my door, the pizza was lukewarm. 

I don't pretend to be a restauranteur but I do think that there are a couple of issues with how Bagby is doing things. It's not really the food, because it is still solid, if not what I have expected and that's solely based on the operation. Because it is so close to the "Bagby Pizza" location there is bound to be confusion as to what is different and what is the same at each place. I can appreciate the addition of sandwiches and pasta, but the main draw is the pizza and they should be the same at both locations. At least the same recipes would be nice so there would be symmetry. I'm willing to give them more chances, and try some sandwiches but just the confusion I got was a bit unnerving.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So I'm definitely looking at interesting companies who are innovating with Donuts these days because, why not? I mean Dunkin Donuts exists as do all of the local markets in the area. The quality is pretty much iffy all of the time and none of them are really noteworthy. I tried B Doughnut earlier this year and there are a couple more Baltimore area places I would like to try, but DC is bubbling with the things. One of the companies I was interested in trying at the Emporiyum was Duck Donuts.

Duck Donuts is a company that makes cake donuts sort of like The Fractured Prune. While they didn't bring a full set up, they do something similar with toppings and flavors. We got some to go, Vanilla, Cinnamon and sugar, chocolate frosted. The ingredients are definitely of good quality and pretty fresh, even two days later when I got around to the chocolate. The cake batter itself is just good, and when heated up the cinnamon and sugar was really good. They are worth checking out.

Now BooQoo Beignets was one of the first things we checked out. I will admit, I have always wanted to have some beignets and never have had the opportunity to find a place that has them. These were good, a cross between funnel cake and a doughnut with a layering of powdered sugar on the top. We ordered the Creole Vanilla Caramel as well. Now my wife was not a fan because the caramel has a hint of pepper to it, but I loved it. The little bit of of a kick that it gives is really good and interesting. With the beignets, it works very well.

I finished up with Eggloo, a waffle dessert shop that makes a bubbly waffle with ice cream, some condensed milk, fruity pebbles and pocky. The waffles themselves were good. The texture was chewy, soft, and had a good texture and bite to it. It didn't fall apart and had a nice moisture to it. The ice cream was good and taken with the waffle it was a nice dessert. While using the pocky to taste the ice cream, the chocolate gave a nice contrast to the strawberry ice cream we chose. Overall it was a nice treat, if a bit over valued, but at this kind of event it's fine at that price.

These three places were really good and a great example of the kind of things you can find at The Emporiyum. High quality ingredients and a nice twist on what you may be used to make it worth checking out. Also, I would look for one of these spots if I was in the area and recommend others go and check them out if they are looking for a new place and an excursion on a weekend. FYI you can also order the caramel sauces from the BooQoo Beignets website.

BooQoo Beignets  4/5
Duck Donuts 3.5/5
Eggloo 3.5/5

Sunday, November 13, 2016

If you're into food and the latest trends in what's hot, you probably have seen the original Ramen Burger, a beef patty with sauce and some greens between two patties made up of ramen noodles. Now like any successful fad, there are copycats and you can find them in a few more places as other chefs of course pick up on it and remake it. That's life, but as far as I know, there is no where near me that actually sells a similar burger unless you go to DC and catch the original Ramen burger at a pop up shop.

This weekend, at the Emporiyum in DC I had my opportunity and you cold tell it was a hot commodity. There was a nice long line for the Ramen burger, but it moved quickly as the process is well oiled by now. Grilled burgers and pre-made ramen buns are prepped assembly style for your consumption.

The bun is just regular ramen, but the thing is, it can be hard to eat because ramen isn't prone to sticking to anything. When you add in the generous slathering of a teriyaki/soy sauce combination that isn't too wild or far out there. It is actually much more tame than I was expecting honestly. The beef patty is just that. It wasn't the best one I have ever had and I guess I expected the entire thing to have some sort of new or slick innovation. I sort of imagine a Five guys patty being much better in it's place and adding a little depth to it.

Overall I can say that I have experienced the Ramen Burger. Was it worth it? Sure why not, you only live once. Would I run to go and find one now if they were popping up again? I doubt it. It just didn't taste that good in order to justify it for me. It's an interesting thing to do but it wasn't wowing in the way I expected. Some of that is my own fault for build-up for sure, but at the end of the day it was just a decent burger...on ramen noodles.

Rating: 2.5/5

The second Emporiyum festival/event was held this past weekend at the Union Kitchen in DC. Once again, it was a definite showcase for some local restauranteurs, artisans, and food creatives to display their independent brands and build awareness. The first Emporiyum was really eye opening with the array of vendors that were there building new interesting food businesses.

The location of the DC Emporiyum was really tight and compared to the Baltimore event was severely lacking in parking space. I get it, all areas are not built the same and hopefully for Union Kitchen, some of the new construction going on in the area will have some parking but it doesn't seem that way. Maybe a normal weekend isn't that bad but for us, it was a bit of an issue, although we did get lucky and find a 'spot' there was a fear of getting towed possibly. The signage in the area was definitely confusing.

Inside the event, the first area which was outside in a tent was a bit condensed, with tables for sitting and eating at either end but crammed together. The crowd I would say wasn't as overwhelming, but I will say that the crowd itself was one where people either were not aware of their surroundings or didn't care. Being bumped into or crossed in front of rudely was the norm, now it's not the fault of the Emporiyum and it's organizers itself but it's worth noting it took away from the experience
a bit.

The selection of vendors wasn't bad, there were several I was looking forward to seeing such as Ramen Burger and Jeni's Ice Cream. I also was glad to get to try out Prescription Chicken, Bushwick Kitchen, and an official slice of the infamous "crack pie" from Momofuku Milk Bar. I also ended up being surprised by the Crab roll from Luke's Lobster which was smaller than I expected, but damn good and tasty. It was so good my wife went back for a second helping.

I have a lot of people who say I should have let them know about it and next time I will put out the APB before I get my tickets. The Emporiyum events have been great to attend even though this second one wasn't as exciting as the first, and maybe it was the drive and parking situation, or the fact it wasn't brand new anymore, but I still had a good time and will be going to the next one to see what gems can be unearthed.

My next post will be more specific about some of the food that I tried, but the small bites I had from Route 11 chips - I will be looking for them in stores locally. They had a great crunch and good flavor to the varieties that I tried. Bushwick kitchen has a unique set of honey and syrups that they make. The honey is exceptionally fresh and has subtle hints of flavor in it. I'm looking to order some of their items to try them out further. They would probably be great on some wings.

Be sure to check out the Emporiyum page for their next event.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

One of the things I am working on is eating better and when snacking, incorporating more whole grains and protein. Cookies are one of the areas where a lot of companies feel they can slide in some extra nutrition along with the goodies that we crave. Why not, just a few small ingredient changes and you can have something that is a treat and is good for you at the same time.

So I was in the store and I decided to give these Chocolatey Chip Cookie Bites flavor of Granola Bundles from Revolution Foods.  It seemed like it had potential, I like soft baked items and it has no artificial flavors, 17g of whole grains and it says it has the natural ingredients that will help provide your body with energy over a long day when used as a snack. Now I don't consider this a red bull or coffee replacement, bust something to supplement the potential hunger pains in the afternoon.

First thing is these cookies are pretty small. I know a normal chips ahoy type cookie isn't very large but these were a little surprising, considering the size of the box. I felt like it would be a little more substantial. Now it is a soft cookie, but also as the name states a granola bar as well. It does have that distinct taste that these type of products have, and it's a 'lack of artificial ingredients' taste. It's not bad, but it does take getting used to if you aren't someone who regularly eats this type of product. The chocolate drizzle on the top is good tasting but at the end of the day, the cookie is the main thing and we have to get used to it to enjoy these.

Of all of the organic, "clean" new products that combine both health and a treat, this one isn't bad. The taste at the beginning takes a little bit of getting used to but almost immediately, the other flavors bring it sort of out of the healthy realm. The other positive is that though small, the two cookies do provide a decent amount of protein and benefits to be a good snack for even adults along with their lunch. Kids would benefit from these immensely with their smaller stomachs, as long as you get them to actually eat them.

Rating: 2.5/5

So I am late to the Keurig thing. It was laziness and a lack of counter space coupled with this feeling I wasn't getting full value from buying the pods. I was given a machine and I am sort of converted because in general you can get a cup of coffee for under a buck which I guess is good if you are used to buying Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks a couple of times a day and spending at least 2 bucks a cup you are getting some value out of it. What has gotten me extra interested is the wide variety of specialty flavors. Today I want to talk about two of the more interesting ones I saw that grabbed my eye recently by the Donut Shop, Boston Cream Donut and Vanilla Cream Puff.

When it comes to coffee, I tend to like bold varieties, typically medium, but I can enjoy the dark roasts as well. Both of these are advertised as medium roasts and I'm no expert, but they really didn't seem the same as some of the other roasts I have tried from say Peet's Coffee (which I will be reviewing as well). The Vanilla Cream I expected to be a little bit light for the flavors to come through and it wasn't the boldest roast. The thing is with both of these kinds of coffee is the flavoring to make them really reflect the labels is off. The artificial flavoring is indeed a bit off-putting. Especially with this variety.

The Boston Cream Donut is a bit better than the Cream Puff if only because the chocolate and cream filling that exists in a donut allow a couple of extra layers in the cup. I really could taste the chocolate and cream flavors but the fact that both of them were there probably doubled up on the effect of artificialness and made the coffee difficult to drink. I get it, these flavors are more difficult to create naturally but they could do something possibly with one or more of the elements to make it blend together a little better. Maybe using a more natural ingredient for the chocolate flavoring would make it better.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend either of these coffee flavors. Even if you like something that is a little bit different and fun, these kinds of coffee don't really fit the bill. It's a decent idea but the execution needs work.

Rating: 1.5/5