Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Taste of Ireland

Fishers, Indiana has many places to eat and one of them stands out from the crowd. Fionn MacCool's Irish Pub is an outstanding dining destination and has rapidly become a favourite with my family. MacCool's is much more than a neighbourhood pub offering Irish music and a themed atmosphere, it is a fine dining establishment with a talented kitchen crew.

The first time we dropped in we had some of the standard fare you'd expect in an Irish restaurant. Fish and Chips, Shepherds Pie and kid plates of the same. The Shepherds Pie was served in a ceramic serving dish and sported a decent sized scoop of Champs (Irish style mashed potatoes). It's a nice meaty dish with a well seasoned sauce. The Fish and Chips come in 2 sizes (1/2 pound and full pound) and both are sure to please. The batter crisps up perfectly and the Cod is done to perfection. MacCool's serves their own signature thick cut pub chips with this and they are good! I was impressed by our first foray there and looking forward to our next visit.

We've been back a few times since that first outing, (I even scheduled a dinner meeting there last month) and the food has been a consistent winner each and every time. During the summer months Fionn's added a special summer menu that sported a few new items. Our favourite item off this seasonal menu has been the Irish Quesadilla. Fionn's Irish take on this favourite is "Rashers with melted bleu cheese, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar cheese, green onions and baby spinach in a large tortilla with sour cream, house made salsa and guacamole". This single item makes any trip to Fionn's worthwhile. The unique blend of tastes, especially the bleu cheese and rashers make this a wonderful starter. It runs $9.50 and while it is on the upper end of the scale for an appetiser like this it's worth the price.

Another of their Traditional Irish Fare dishes is the Big Irish Breakfast. It's just what it says it is; a typical Irish breakfast on a reasonably sized plate. It consists of "Galtee Bangers and Rashers, Galtee Black and White Puddings, Two Eggs (any style), grilled tomato, Heinz Baked Beans w/ Irish Soda Bread". If you've never experienced a typical Irish breakfast like this then take the time and treat yourself to a truly yummy experience.

The Puddings are just melt in your mouth good and too darned small by my standards. They were cooked just right and have a nice fennel and spice taste that complements everything on the plate, I only wish there had been twice as many pieces of it. Fionn's breakfast bangers were spot on! Crisp on the outside with an almost creamy textured meat on the inside that was lightly spiced. The rashers (bacon) were meaty and just plain great. Not overcooked in the least and with little fat compared to American bacon. I hadn't realised how much I missed having rashers until I had them with this wonderful "breakfast". The soda bread was nice and dense and was a good addition to the meal. While I'm not a great fan of pork and beans these cold little morsels went right along with the meal. The tomato was grilled just right and added a nice touch, along with my over medium eggs. This is a meal I will definitely have again.

If you're planning a night out in Fishers, or just passing through and want some excellent dining then drop into Fionn MacCool's. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sharing Can Be Good

As kids we all learned the axiom that it is nice share and I believe that's true, when it's voluntary sharing. So, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes before I reviewed a couple of places around the Indianapolis area. First up is the recipe I've been using for bread the last couple of weeks. I finally gave up on finding any bread that doesn't have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it. Even many of the whole wheat and so-called "healthy breads" have it in them. Enough is enough. Baking sandwich bread doesn't take an enormous amount of time or effort, especially if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer or even a food processor. I made a batch yesterday while making breakfast for my youngest.


Sandwich Bread:

3 cups All Purpose Flour (King Arthur is the absolute best)
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup hot water (perhaps less depending on conditions)
4 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons sugar (1 in your dry mix, 1 in the liquid you put your yeast in)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast (dissolve in your milk)

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix till it all comes together and leaves the side of the bowl. Transfer to a lightly oiled surface and knead for 8 minutes or so. If using a mixer with a dough hook knead at medium speed for 8 minutes.
Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.
Remove from bowl and shape into a log about 8 inches long and place it in an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. Cover the pan loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 1 hour or until the bread has risen an inch or so above the rim (more if you like big bread!).
Once bread has risen place in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Cool your bread on a wire rack and enjoy! Store it wrapped in plastic or bagged once it has cooled so no moisture will form on the surface.


And, while I'm at it let's make some marshmallows. Using this recipe you will insure you never buy marshmallows again! This recipe uses metric measures, if you do not have metric measures...get some. A set of measuring spoons costs about $1. And cups not much more. Or use this. This recipe is also free of Corn Syrup and uses Lyle's Golden Syrup which taste 1000% better!

Marshmallows:

400 grams sugar (500 ml)
pinch of salt
12.5 ml Lyle's Golden Syrup
250 ml water

20 grams gelatin (30 ml) soaked in
100 ml cold water

2 eggs whites (beaten stiff)
3 ml vanilla extract

100 ml powdered sugar
50 ml cornstarch

Mix sugar, salt , syrup and water. Heat slowly without boiling, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved completely.
Increase heat and boil to softball stage 115 degrees C (239 F).
Stir in the gelatin.
Pour the hot syrup mixture onto the stiff egg whites, beating constantly until mixture is thick and creamy.
Add vanilla, (you may also add colouring at this point if you wish). Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is stiff enough to hold its shape.
Mix powdered sugar and cornstarch together and sift a layer into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan. Dust with cornstarch and sugar mixture. Let sit till firm.
Dip a knife into warm water till blade is warm. Dry knife and cut the marshmallow into strips 25mm wide. Using scissors or a warmed blade cut the strips into 25mm pieces. Dust with sugar/cornstarch mixture. Store in an airtight container and enjoy!!!

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Heading Home

The trip home from the OBX took us through the heart of North Carolina with as few stops as possible. We made one lunch stop at a favourite "road food" destination so we could feed the kiddos and ourselves. Somewhere along the way we stopped in at a Sonic for some burgers, tots, Barq's and cheddar peppers. Yummy stuff in my book! We are unfortunate to not have a Sonic anywhere near our home, they all managed to close up due to incompetence in management. Sad thing, too since we love their food. I don't think there's much better than being on the road and hitting a Sonic for a Barq's and some drive-in food! I love those Cheddar Peppers, even if they don't love me!


We also made a stop at Mackey's Ferry Peanuts to buy some boiled peanuts. While we were there we also sampled and bought a few other treats we hadn't run across before like their Blister Fried Peanuts and their French Fried Peanuts. Maaaaan! These were finestkind peanuts and I am sad that they are gone, now. Mmmm...I can't wait till the next trip! Not only were their Boiled Peanuts just great, those fried nuts were a treat unlike any other. Top quality, local produce prepared with love and pride. That's a product worth selling and certainly one that is worth buying!

The Blister Fried Peanuts on the left were just deep fried peanut goodness. You can see why they're "blister" fried when you look at them. The French Fried Peanuts on the right...man, just when you thought it couldn't get any better it does.


These peanuts are lovingly fried to perfection, skin and all and are salted just right. Both of these peanuts are like handfuls of peanut crack. You'll find yourself going back time and again for just another little handful. And another. And another....

We did go a little out of our way for a post breakfast snack the next morning in Asheville, NC. We sought out a local Krispy Kreme for coffee and doughnuts for the next leg of our trip (Lexington, KY). As usual, the Krispy Kreme's were just right and the coffee was great. I admire a doughnut joint that has a good coffee and KK's blows Starbucks out of the water where a cup of Joe is concerned. After all was said and done our trip out to the Outer Banks was a good one. It had its culinary ups and downs, but that's part of the trip. Now if I could just manage to find some decent BBQ next time....


Next up: Local food in the Indianapolis area and some recipes! Stay tuned!!

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

OBX Finale

The last place we ate out at during our Outer Banks trip was Howard's Pub and Raw Bar on Ocracoke Island. From Avon you drive to the southern end of the island and catch the ferry over to Ocracoke Island. I would suggest an early supper, since traffic lines can get kind of long. The night we went over we got back to the ferries and they were running 3 at a time in order to get everyone back. The ferry ride is a nice 45 minutes or so and not unpleasant at all. Once you get off the ferry, just drive. You cannot miss Howard's.

Despite appearing to be packed to the gills there was plenty of space and we were seated immediately. I was disappointed to learn that they didn't serve Root Beer, despite serving beers from some breweries that brew Root Beers, as well. I was satisfied with the Ice Tea, tho. We got right down to business and started our ordering. My wife was delighted with her choices of beer, (Howard's offers over 200 beers on their beer list!) and even bought herself a nice pint glass to indulge herself with when she was at home.
Not being a beer fan and having no Root Beer I settled down to getting some eating done. We ordered up a platter of Conch Fritters and I got a half dozen Oysters on the Half Shell. Even tho they were out of season by a few days the Oysters were a nice starter. Not as good as Gulf Oysters, but they were pretty good. The Conch Fritters on the other hand were only decent. They were a bit on the bland side and just didn't do a lot for me. We also had an order of nice Onion Rings. They were nice and crunchy with sweet onions on the inside. Nice!

As with many places in the OBX the kids meals were served up on "frisbees", which were a delight for them. The pizza and chicken strips for the kids were pretty good, too (according to the kids). While I'm not sure that I would care for Big Bread Pizza and Hush Puppies it was a big hit with my eldest.

Next it was our turn to get our orders. My wife had a seafood platter that she was very happy with. Hushpuppies, Shrimp, Flounder and Crab Cake, along with a really good beer made her a happy camper. I wish I could say the same. I ordered a full rack of Howard's Baby Back Ribs, which they advertise as smoked in their own smoker until they are "fall-off-the-bone-tender" and then finished on the grill. They were moderately smokey but were hardly "fall-off-the-bone-tender". The sauce was something from a bottle or jug that was OK, but not as good as you might make at home. They were meaty, they weren't bad, but they weren't anything special, either and that's too bad. I had heard that North Carolina was renowned for BBQ...you couldn't prove it by me. I've had the ribs at Big Bib Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama and they -along with my own- set the standards for what I look for in a restaurant serving BBQ. Sad to say that Howard's has OK ribs, but I'll order something different if I go back. It's not a 'Que joint, for certain. The Hush Puppies are pretty good, tho.

All in all our trip to Howard's was a success. The food was good, the service was good and we got to experience a new place. Always a good thing. I recommend Howard's on Ocracoke Island if you're down that way!

PS: I can't report on their desserts since we were too full for that. Maybe next time.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

While In Hatteras...

Visit: Risky Business Seafood in Avon, (they also have stores in Buxton and Hatteras). On one of our evening outings we decided to just buy some seafood and eat in at our rental house. We stopped in rather late at Risky Business and the guys were just great! Will Anderson and his buddy Tim set us up with a couple of pounds of shrimp and the last of their blue crabs. They seasoned and steamed everything for us, even going so far as to chill the shrimp before we left. We got everything for a great price and the taste was phenomenal! The guys went out of their way and delivered a good deal for us. We'll be going back to do business with them again! Customer service like this cannot be beat!

Avoid: Bubba's BBQ, Too in Avon (and, if everything holds true then avoid the other location in Frisco). While their advertising says they deliver the best BBQ on Hatteras I will say that there can be no truth in that. The Food Lion carries canned 'Que that has to be better. Bubba's, without a doubt has the worlds WORST Barbecue. Ever! I had heard people say that Bubba's was bad but those folks were dead wrong. This stuff is VILE, NASTY, DISGUSTING and should never be fed to people. I am certain that feeding it to people in prison would be a violation of a number of human rights laws. The fact that they sell their "sauce" in plastic quart oil containers should have been a hint. Mobile One would taste better than the slop that came out of that bottle. Yuck! Avoid this place like the plague!

During my trip to the OBX I found nowhere that served "good" or even passable 'Que. It may well be possible that there is no good BBQ in North Carolina. I will continue to look for some, tho!

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Monday, July 17, 2006

The Dolphin Den

One of the better restaurants in Avon, NC is The Dolphin Den at mile post 55. While a good amount of their fare is standard food service delivery food there are some really nice items on the menu that deserve attention.

The evening we went to the Dolphin Den I had the Stuffed Broiled Shrimp. These crab stuffed wonders were a bit expensive, but definitely worth the price in terms of taste and satisfaction. Swimming in just the right amount of butter these Shrimp were delightful and worth having again. The fries were you standard affair, frozen and bagged food service fries.


The Spinach, Artichoke and Crab dip...well, it is mediocre at best. Another food service import and not a made on premises appetizer.

My wife thoroughly enjoyed her Fried Seafood Platter tho, and I sampled most of the items on her plate and can attest to the fact that it was good, if small for the price. The quality of the cookery made up for the volume. Where the Den shows through is in the deserts, which they say they make on premises and I am inclined to believe it. The Key Lime Pie was great and had a thick, homemade graham and butter crust with a frozen ball of whipped cream on top. Nice! The Chocolate Surprise was gooey and chocolatey and everything you'd think it was by the name.

The Dolphin Den can be a bit pricey in some areas but makes up for that in others. Go for dessert and you won't be disappointed. Be warned that many items are just food service items and not made from scratch, according to the server whom I talked with but this does not apply to the desserts!

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Buoy's Restaurant In Buxton, NC

While we were waiting for Surf or Sound Realty to insure that our rental was ready to be inhabited we decided to take a short ride to see where some of the local sights were. We drove through Avon and found the Food Line Lion, the BP (nice selection of premium Soda's there), Bubba's Too (more on this later), the Pier, The Village Grocery and a few more places. Then we hit the road to check out Buxton and grab some lunch. As it was Sunday we figured we'd be able to find something that wasn't too crowded, especially since it was off season. We settled on Buoy's Restaurant, since we had heard good things from Foodies at Roadfood.com concerning the food there.

We opted for the Sunday lunch buffet and the food was decent. All in all I think I'd choose menu fare next time, tho. The place wasn't crowded and all the folks who were there looked to be the usual after church crowd.

The buffet was just what you might expect from a small North Carolina town on a Sunday. Fried seafood of various sorts, turkey, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, etc...add in Iced Tea and you'll be alright. I did make one off the menu order and that was for a cup of Hatteras style Clam Chowder that turned out to be the best part of this meal. It was a simple clear broth chowder with clams, potatoes and onion and it was all about the clam. This was a good addition to the order!

The rest of the meal was OK, at best. They offered up Crab Cakes, Stuffed Crab, Corn Fritters, Hush Puppies, Bay Scallops, Fish and assorted vegetables. The Crab Cake and the Stuffed Crab were essentially the same thing in a different package. The Corn Fritters were nice, crunchy and corn sweet. The Bay Scallops could have been a bit fresher from the fryer, they were just a tad wilted in the coating and wet. The Hush Puppies at Buoy's are bullet-like and crunchy, not at all like the Hush Puppies one often gets that are ping pong ball sized. They are also not the most flavourful of Hush Puppies, but they'll do in a pinch. Avoid the Mac & Cheese. Also avoid the sheet cake pan of marshmallow, chocolate encrusted yellow cake stuff. It is less than good.

Despite the rave reviews I've seen concerning Buoy's I can't say a lot for their Sunday Buffet. Yeah, I know as a food service professional that's when most restaurants foist off their crappy leftovers and back bin fish but that shouldn't be the case in a coastal town. I have no issues with the quality of the food. The quality of the cookery and the turnaround on the buffet leave a bit to be desired, tho. On the plus side, their service is great. I likely won't be heading back to Buoy's, given the number of other places on the Outer Banks but, feel free to experience it for yourself since, as we all know eating out is like a carnival ride...you buys your ticket, you takes your chances. Buoy's is mediocre, but not bad.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Kitty Hawk Experience To Remember

After our brief stop in Richmond for some Krispy Kreme's we hit the road for the OBX, (the Outer Banks). We had quite a way to go through Virginia, down to Norfolk via 460 and then down to Kitty Hawk by highway 168. The drive is nice but it was a might aggravating. Too many cameras and cops in Virginia and way too many places advertising peanuts for sale that were closed, (I really wanted some boiled peanuts!).

We pulled into Kitty Hawk in plenty of time for supper and I inquired about places to eat with the front desk staff. Now, after having been burnt by the desk staff at our hotel in Charlottesville, VA (concerning BBQ) I was somewhat leery of recommendations, but was willing to take one more chance. The nice lady at the desk recommended The Black Pelican for dinner and we decided to take her up on it. Boy, was that a good decision on our part. It is quite likely that they provided us with the best meal of the trip.

The Black Pelican has a history that's hard to beat. It was originally Life Station #6, then a telegraph office and now a restaurant that does a brisk business, even in the off season when we were there. After a short wait we got to our table and set about ordering. The downside for me was that there were no Root Beers on their drink menu and they only serve Pepsi products. So, I settled for Iced Tea and that was good enough for the meal that followed. I, like my wife ordered their Southern Fried Flounder and Shrimp. Unlike her I did not order the additional Crab Cake, (I will next, tho!). The flounder and the shrimp were just great! Fried to perfection, not greasy, moist and delectable! As you can see from the picture, that is one big piece of flounder and it was super good! The rice was pretty good and seasoned well. As for the beans...I didn't touch them. I don't like green beans and won't eat 'em, no matter what colour they are. They also do not serve bread or rolls with their meals. The Black Pelican serves up a warm basket of home made Pita, that is soft, warm and delicious!

The Crab Cakes add $6 to an entree and, after tasting my wife's...they're worth it. These Crab Cakes are all about the crab and not the filler. I am surprised they managed to get these cakes to hold together, given the huge amount of crab in them. At $6 these are a bargain! Make sure you add one to your order.

If you've got kids with you they'll be happy, too. Kids meals are served up on Black Pelican Frisbees and the kids get to take them after the meal. The usual kids fare is available so feeding a kid off the menu won't be an issue. We were far from the only family there.

The only drawbacks to the Pelican were that we ended up in a rather smoky area on the far side of the bar facing the kitchen entrance and they serve only Pepsi products and have no Root Beers. They do have a good selection of quality beers for those so inclined to imbibe, tho. And they didn't have any oysters on the 1/2 shell in the raw bar, being 2 days out of season (a rather lame excuse in my book).

If you're in Kitty Hawk you can do yourself a favour and stop in to the Black Pelican. It may not be the cheapest meal of the trip but it may well be the best you have! The menu is priced in what I would consider the medium range $14-22 entree's. We'll definitely be going back to the Black Pelican again. The food's worth the trip for any foodie!


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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

Taking a momentary break from regaling you kind folks with my adventures in eating, Libertarian political blogging and Root Beer, I thought I'd wish you all a Happy Independence Day! Here at Mi Casa we are battling the elements as we head down to the wire to Dinner this evening. Like many folks I am planning to grill some meat this evening, (like last night and the night before...), and hopefully the rain will let up and not make the job a tough one. Unlike a lot of people we're having a traditional South African meat dish, Sosaties. A marinated lamb kabob that I started prepping a few days ago. (Yeah, I'll post the recipe below). My wife made homemade marshmallows (want that recipe? Let me know...they're gooood!) to go with the fresh, locally grown black raspberries I got yesterday and I am planning on setting off some major fireworks with my kids later. That's what it's all about!

Sosaties are a staple at South African braais and are quite possibly the best way to prepare lamb or mutton there is! My wife dislikes lamb in general but loves Sosaties, so that let's you know just how good these are! It takes a few days to prep for this and my recipe is in metric, but those are small hurdles to overcome. I got this recipe from a one off cook book issued by the South African government back in the late 70's, that was given to me when I lived in Pretoria, South Africa. When I lived in South Africa I usually bought my sosaties ready for the grill from my local butcher in Lynnwood, (a suburb of Pretoria..I lived in Lynnwood Glen, across from the Hyperama). South Africans have a love of braais (a grill out) that is almost an obsession and with food like sosaties it is easy to see why they love to grill out like they do! Enjoy this recipe, I know I do!

Sosaties

Meat

1 Clove Garlic
1 fat leg of mutton or lamb 1.5-2 kg
5 bruised orang, lemon or bay leaves
10 ml salt (2 tsp)
3 ml ground ginger (3/4 tsp)
3 ml pepper (3/4 tsp)
25 ml ground corriander (5 tsp)
125 ml milk
150 grams dried apricots

1. Rub an earthenware or glass bowl with the garlic.
2. Cut the meat into cubes large enough to skewer.
3. Mix the remaining ingredients and put the mixture in the bowl with the meat. Marinate overnight.
4. Prepare Sosatie Sauce (below).

Sosatie Sauce
4 Large Onions, Sliced
250 ml Water
1 Small Chili, seeded and chopped
25 ml Sugar (5 tsp)
25 ml Curry Powder (5 tsp) (I suggest S&B Brand)
3 ml Salt (3/4 tsp)
5 ml Turmeric (1 tsp)
25 ml apricot jam or 6 dried apricots, soaked and finely chopped (I prefer the dried apricots)
500 ml vinegar (I use Apple Cider vinegar)

Mix and boil all ingredients but the vinegar for 5 minutes. Add vinegar at the last minute. Remove from heat an let cool to room temp.

5. Mix the sauce with the meat and allow to marinate for 1-2 days.
6. Thread the pieces of meat, alternating fat and lean with apricots and pieces of onion on soaked skewers.
7. Grill slowly over charcoal (medium heat) until browned and cooked.
8. Thicken remaining sauce by adding flour and heating. Serve with the Sosaties, some Castle Lager and your favourite sides!
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A Snack Time Interlude

So, after our lunch at Michie Tavern we got out on the road and headed off towards the Outer Banks. Fortunately, we had already planned for a snack stop in Richmond. Having had the foresight to use the internet we had discovered that there was a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts not too far off the highway (OK, I would still have driven there even if it had been off the beaten path...so, sue me). Once we determined it's exact location we headed off to find it.

Now for a question...why is that Krispy Kreme's are located where they are? In recent years I haven't seen one that is in an accessible and nice neighbourhood. That seems to run counter to most business models, I can think of. Odd, huh?

Anyway, we stopped in got our dozen doughnuts (2 Creme filled, 2 Custard filled, 2 Chocolate Glazed with Sprinkles and 6 Plain Glazed), a couple of milks for the kiddos and some of that nice hot Krispy Kreme Coffee. Man, am I glad they started producing their own brand of coffee. It gets a hearty thumbs up from me for being a darned good cuppa Joe! And, needless to say the Doughnuts were fresh and delicious.

After getting the kids situated and napkin'd we hit the road, heading towards what was going to be one of the best meals of our trip!


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Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Original Road Food

Our second stop for food, (I cannot count the free "breakfast" given out to the patrons at the hotel in Charlottesville as anything resembling a real meal) was at the historic Michie Tavern, just down the road from Monticello where we enjoyed a nice day exploring the home of Thomas Jefferson. If you haven't had the chance the visit this wonderfully beautiful place then make the time and do so, you won't regret it! The view alone is worth the price of admission.

After spending the best part of the morning exploring Monticello we adjourned over the hill to Michie Tavern and lunch. Situated in a converted tavern/inn Michie offers tours and has a fixed bill of fare, (something I approve of, since I hate large menus). The ambiance of the place adds a nice touch to your meal, as do the hostesses in their period costumes.


Food is "served" via a buffet line on your initial run and the servers come around to refill any food or drink items you might wish seconds on. You can eat in the Inn itself or adjourn to a sunroom off the main building. We chose to eat in the sunroom and enjoyed sitting out in the cool lighted area, even if the floor was somewhat uneven in pitch.

The prices are about what you could expect of a tourist destination such as this. $14.75 for adults, $10.25 for youth and $7.50 for kids 6-11. Walking through the short self service line was not too difficult, and getting checked out was fairly quick and easy, given the shortness of the line a single customer could hold things up for quite awhile. Needless to say, we all loaded up on different items in an attempt to sample all and find out which were our favourites.

I helped myself to some Fried Chicken, "Hickory Smoked Pork Barbecue", Black Eyed Peas, Stewed Tomatoes, Tavern Beets, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw (for the "Barbecue") and some Cornbread. My wife had about the same thing and some of the Green Beans, (I did not have them as I am that one person who despises Green Beans) which she assured me were "pretty good". I had Iced Tea...just an aside here, if you're in the South you REALLY should have two Iced Teas, one sweet and one unSweetened. Sugar does NOT dissolve easily in cold Iced Tea...back to business, now!

The Chicken had a really nice coating and was cooked just right. I ended up having seconds of this deep fried delicacy. The Stewed Tomatoes were a delight and something I hadn't seen on a menu in decades. Sweet, creamy and filled with Tomato flavour in every mouthfull, even my 6 year old liked these! The Tavern Beets have a nice earthy taste to them, punctuated by little bits of onion. These are a good item, too. The Black Eyed Peas are about what you'd expect, pretty good. It would be a nice touch if they offered some onion slices or dices as a Pea condiment, tho. The Cornbread....well, it was sweet pan-style cornbread and that just doesn't do a lot for me. I'm a buttermilk cornbread kind of guy, if I want desert bread I'll ask for a sweet roll. It wasn't terrible, tho.

Now, since few meals are rarely perfect I thought I'd save the worst till last. Let's talk about that soi-disant "Barbecue" for a minute or two. Having already faced serious disappointment the previous evening where 'Que was concerned I was in need of reassurance that there was somewhere that offered good Pork Barbecue. Michie Tavern was not to be my saviour in this regard. Once again I was faced with sauce drowned pulls of pork that were reminiscent of heat lamp warmed, gas station fodder. I can only imagine that Mr. Michie is rolling in his grave over that particular menu item.

The Potato Salad was wet and too sweet, I am guessing that it may well come from a Food Service tub. The Cole Slaw was limp and not at all crispy, as it should have been, but it tasted just fine. This is something that the folks at Michie Tavern might want to look at, tho. Last, but certainly not least...the Iced Tea. It wasn't horrible, but it certainly was weak and that detracted from an otherwise lovely meal. Despite yet another day of Barbecue deprivation Michie Tavern served up more than enough Good Eats to make up for any of the flaws in the meal. I'd recommend a stop at their place as a matter of course for anyone visiting Monticello and I may well stop in again, myself. I'd like to try one of their seasonal offerings and see what that's like! I definitely recommend Michies if you're in the neighbourhood.


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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fear And Loathing In Virginia

The first real stop in our summer sojourn to the Outer Banks took place at the Frostop Root Drive Inn in Charleston, West Virginia. Since all I got from that establishment was a Root Beer it's reviewed only at the Root Beer Blog. We did stop for a late lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Charleston, breaking a 6 year hiatus from eating there. I must say that, as Cracker Barrel's go the one in Charleston outshone any of the ones which made us stop eating there. While I likely won't be going into another any time soon, I was glad that the service and quality had improved.

We drove on through West Virginia to Charlottesville, Virginia, snacking and noshing on this and that until we got to our hotel and started getting serious about dinner. I figured that Barbecue might well be in order seeing as we were in Virginia and there might be something decent around. So, I asked the front desk and they recommended a place called "Big Jim's". I also picked up a dining guide for the area and they too seemed to think Big Jim's was pretty good. How wrong could they be? Plenty!

Big Jim's is stuck in a tiny row mall of about three fronts and a small parking lot. It looks a lot like a neighbourhood bar, which it is. The patrons of the place were a mix of locals and University folks of many stripes. The waitress was really nice despite and obviously overworked since she was the only person out there on the floor. We got a booth and placed our orders for drinks (Sweet Tea for me, a draft Redhook for my wife and lemonades for the kids) and sat back to decide on our food.

Now, everyone had recommended Big Jim's for the BBQ and that was what I had my heart set on. A nice pulled pork sandwich on a bun...man, a yummy taste of heaven! So that's what I ordered, and it came with fries which I don't particularly care for one way or another. My wife ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings and we got a hot dog and a grilled ham and cheese for the kiddies.

Little did I know that everyone else was getting the better of this deal and that it was the beginning of my Summer Sans Q! When everything arrived I was presented with a sandwich on a Kaiser bun, some food service fries and a serving of what some people might call cole slaw (I would not be one of those people). My wife's burger, on the other hand looked like a pretty good burger, hand shaped, thick and juicy with a side order of gleaming onion rings.

Let's talk about the barbecue for a moment, shall we? This poor imitation of barbecue was some stringy pork with no smoke taste and was drowned in sauce, insuring that any barbecue taste that might have been in the meat was killed forever. I have paid $.99 cents in gas stations for better "barbecue" than Big Jim's sells. This stuff likely came from a food service tray of frozen pork gloop that was rejected for use by the military in their MRE's. Not good. The fried were standard bagged and frozen food service fare, something to put on the plate to fill out the space. The cole slaw? Yuck. Nobody even tried with this stuff. It was limp, soggy and flavourless.

The cheeseburger, on the other hand was decent (my wife let me have a taste of hers to get the taste of the "barbecue" from my mouth). Thick, meaty and worth the price. The onion rings were a bit on the greasy side but that seems to be the norm in many places that serve "beer battered" rings. So, in the end the high point of the meal was their sweet tea, which was good.

All in all the good folks of Charlottesville, Virginia who gave me recommendations were dead wrong. Big Jim's Barbecue sucks, on any level. I definitely do not recommend them for a stop in and if Jim's is the best they have where Q is concerned....well, the less said the better. Next time I stop in Charlottesville it'll be with something other than BBQ in mind and Big Jim's won't be on my list of places to eat. You could save yourself some time, too by avoiding this place. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a pork shoulder on the grill and I need some more hickory.


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Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Work In Progress

Welcome to yet another of my blogs. Soup To Nuts is my place to pontificate on things related to Food!
As many may already know I am a Chef. While I have held many jobs all over the world in my life, it is the art of cookery that I trained for and love. I left the profession some years back, because I was starting to hate the job and I did not wish to come to the point where I hated the art, which I love. Amazingly enough quitting the job allowed me to retain my love of the art and I don't feel bad about taking that decision.

Soup To Nuts was inspired by my fellow Foodies at RoadFood and our mutual love of food, as well as some of the places I've eaten recently while on vacation. So, rather than just let my fellow Roadfooders in on things, I decided to let anyone and everyone know. Sorry about that!

I hope you'll stop by every now and again and take a look at some of the things I've managed to eat. Some are good, some are bad and some are just plain good eats.


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