French Yums

The February box from Universal Yums was stocked with snacks from France. I was really hoping for the some fancy escargot flavored chips but alas things were not that exotic.

While I didn’t get to try my first snail in this box there were some other quite decent snacks to try. The oddest was also one of my favorites so I’ll save it for the Odd slot and promote another to the Silver Medal spot. In a fortunate situation the Worst one was really just disappointing rather that bad and I’ll start with that one to put it behind us.

The Sibell Tube a Grignater Fromage looked like it should have been great. I mean it’s a cheese snack from France how can it not be good? Well if you don’t really have enough cheese flavor that’ll do it. The tubes were mostly squashed flat rather than being a rounded tube. I guess that made packaging more efficient. The corn snack was crunchy and corny but the cheese element was disappointingly light.

The chocolate elements fared better and all three were very tasty, however the Cemoi Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt Crystals was the top of the box for me.

I’d call it darkish rather than straight up dark chocolate that was nevertheless good quality and the salt crystals were a nice add. The whole had a slightly smokey flavor that was just delicious.

These little strawberry chews were a favorite also. They were a bit waxy and tough but I grabbed a handful and ate one at a time. Turned out the heat from my hand softened them a little and made them easier to chew. The flavor was absolutely artificial strawberry with a little sourness but they embraced it and poured it on. I know that doesn’t sound like it should be in the favorites but they were a treat to eat. The chews had that in common with the weirdest of lot.

The brown oblong blob on the left is a tart cola taffy that was probably the snack I enjoyed the most in a box that had good stuff. The chewy texture was like a taffy and the cola flavor was in your face from the start. It also had some added tartness that I could feel in the pucker glands (those exist, don’t doubt me).

I have to give the truffles honorable mention.

The first pic shows a pack that was about the size of standard candy bar and the 4 truffles in this pack, that looks like something you’d buy at the gas station or as you’re at the checkout line, were better quality than the fancy box ones. They were just plain old creamy cocoa dusted truffles but damn fine. The fancy box ones were almond flavored cocoa dusted truffles and were quite good as well. The flavor and texture gave it a marzipan-y taste and mouthfeel if marzipan brought a big chocolate friend. Good stuff.

So even if I didn’t have anything really new from a flavor profile there were some good snacks in the box. The next box is from Brazil so I hoping to get some new flavor from them.

Polish Yums

The most recent box from Universal Yums was loaded with great snacks from Poland. I was excited for these because I’ve been to Poland a couple of times so I felt more connected even though I didn’t have any of these.

Another pretty solid box, nothing that would make a top 10 all time snack list but nothing making the worst 10 either.

It was actually difficult to pick a favorite because there was no “star” but several I really liked. Upon reflection I enjoyed one of the simple ones most.

E. Wedel Ptasie Mleczko are dark chocolate covered vanilla marshmallow treats. The chocolate was moderately dark and had a good cocoa taste. The marshmallow was a slightly different texture than most I’ve had. It was almost like a cross between marshmallow fluff and a gummy. Very sweet with a hint of vanilla. As I said simple but tasty. The next favorite was more complex in the flavors dept.

This big bag of Pierniczki Basniowe turned out to be heart shaped gingerbread covered with dark chocolate and filled with an apple jam like substance. Lots of flavors going on here. The chocolate was decent, the gingerbread was mild and the touch of apple filling was appley and sweet. Very nice combo and hard to stop eating. Weirdly it was also hard to stop eating what I’m putting in the “worst” category.

I didn’t even get a picture of these so here’s a photo from the internet.

Image result for beskidzkie paluszki

These were poppy seed covered pretzel sticks. Worst in this case means they were the most disappointing, not that they were bad. The pretzel stick was actually delicious and the poppy seeds were plentiful but there was no salt other than what might have been in the stick batter. In my opinion that was a significant lack. However once I started munching on them I kept going back for one more crunchy little stick.

The oddest one was also one I’d say was probably my third favorite of the box.

Rarytas Crackers were little Ritz like crackers with black cumin seeds and onion. I like cumin as a spice but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to add it to a cracker, fortunately someone else had better vision. After tasting the first of these I immediately went and made a bowl of soup to go with the crackers and make no mistake the soup was the side dish for the meal. I mean I really enjoyed these crackers.

I’m going to throw out a mention to the first of the snacks I had out of the box just because they were fun.

These little ghost shaped potato crisps were light, crisp, salty and potatoish. A tad on the greasy side but still made me smile as I devoured the little spirits.

I think next month’s box is going to be from France so I’m hoping for wine and cheese but no snail flavored snacks.

Get Samoha

Nigeria

On this bright sunny, if not exactly warm, afternoon I got the culinary passport out and ventured north to Charlotte’s Sugar Creek Rd to grab some food at Samoha African Cuisine restaurant. They are labeled as west African or even more specifically a Nigerian restaurant (thus the country title) depending on where you see them referenced.

The shopping strip they are in is not exactly parking friendly but I found the lone spot and popped in. I was greeted with a big smile and welcome from the lady behind the counter. They have a few tables for dining in however they prominently display their ability to handle take-out as well and that’s what I decided to do.

They have a lot of the stuff made up like a cafeteria so they can fill an order and get you moving quickly. It’s nice that you can see what you’re getting prior to ordering and they had a number of good looking items. I decided to go with the jollof rice, fried plantains and some stewed goat meat for protein.

When I got to the register the gentleman checking me out was also smiling and pleasant and when I asked him to pick me out a soda he liked from the case he was more than happy to grab me a Jamaican Pineapple soda he said was his favorite.

I saw the lady loading the jollof rice into the container but didn’t appreciate how much it was until I got home and really got a look at it and there was easily two meals worth. If you haven’t had it before it’s basically tomatoes and rice with onions, peppers and spices and both times I’ve had it the onions and peppers were very finely cut up so you hardly knew they were there except for the taste. That it was rice and tomatoes reminded me of my father as he liked that combo a lot and factored into my decision to get it over something else.

It was very tasty and meshed well with the sauce from the stewed goat which was also tomato based. The two big hunks of goat meat were cooked reasonably tender and were virtually boneless, just one little piece that easily pulled away. There was a little skin and gristle but the taste was good and not even remotely spicy, which I kind of expected.

The fried plantains were a lightly sweet contrast to the acidity of the tomatoes in the other two dishes and the pineapple soda went surprisingly well with the meal. The pineapple was not as tart and strong as straight pineapple but present enough it was enjoyable and you knew what flavor you were drinking.

It was sufficiently good I didn’t regret having to drive on I-77 & I-85 to get there (a testament all by itself) and would do so again. Maybe I’ll try one of the fufu dishes next time, the melon soup sounded interesting.

Spaghetti Western

Italy

To be fair I didn’t have spaghetti but the restaurant was such a ghost town tumbleweeds were blowing through.

It occurred to me that I have really given Italian restaurants a short shrift for much the same reason I avoid the standard Chinese & Mexican restaurants in every shopping plaza in America. They tend to be generic and for all practical purposes share the same menus. Acknowledging that prejudice I decided to give a local Italian joint a chance.

Right around the corner from me I have two to chose from, located in adjacent shopping plazas, Mario’s & Luigi’s. It makes me chuckle every time I think about it, all we’re missing is a Princess Peach Ice Cream Parlor. I’ve eaten at both since moving to Rock Hill so I knew Mario’s had very little in the way of atmosphere and the menu was pretty standard. Luigi’s has the Italian restaurant aesthetic with pictures, vines, and wines.

When I got there the staff was already outnumbering the customers and the single table of 3 left shortly after I arrived so I was soon the lone diner. My server was very nice and attentive throughout the meal. The menu did have the staples of various noodles with red sauce or alfredo and various parmigianas plus of course pizzas. I decided on the Chicken ala Luigi as something that was a little different.

The Chicken ala Luigi was a couple of thin chicken breast pieces lightly floured and seasoned along with mushrooms and artichokes in a garlic, white wine sauce over fettuccine. It came with 3 little garlic bread sticks. The first bite was not impressive. The sauce was decent but it felt like it was missing something. I got a bite with some of the chicken and the blank was filled in, salt. The bit of salt from the seasoned chicken made the difference and the same for the bread that had garlic salt on it. It had the effect of making one appreciate the chicken and bread more than usual. Now lest you wonder why I didn’t just add some additional salt, I probably would have as a reflex except there was no salt or pepper on the table. I decided not bother requesting any and just enjoy the extra importance the chicken and bread assumed.

Honestly if I had to pick between this and Olive Garden the only reason I’d pick Luigi & Sons is because they were local and not a chain.

One bit of amusement I probably wouldn’t have gotten at the Olive Garden was my server talking with a co-worker about things going on in their lives and a subject came up that the one said to the other, “That’s probably not something to talk about out here”. They walked into the kitchen and because of the noise raised their voices so I heard the conversation even clearer than when they were standing in the dining area.

It was good enough I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it even if I’m not making it a regular on the “I’m too lazy to cook tonight” tour.

Trail Head

So as I mentioned in the last entry my plan was to start hitting the international flavored restaurants again and while Legal Remedy Brewing doesn’t represent any country specifically there are some tenuous international connections which I’ll point out a bit later.

What kind of derailed my initial plans were the weather and downloading the Visit York County app so I could do the Brew Trail & Taste Trail. One is a list of breweries in the county and if you check in at 6 of 8 you can get a t-shirt and the the taste trail has a list of 15 or so restaurants and if you hit 12 and have their “signature” dish you can also get a t-shirt. I saw these as win, win, win contests and I love winning contests. I decided to start both at the one establishment that gave me a twofer being on both lists. Legal Remedy Brewing is also a place I’m familiar with and like.

Their signature dish for the Taste Trail is an appetizer, Southern Poutine.

Here’s our first international connection, Poutine is a Canadian dish, eh. The LRB Southern version happens to be well fried, semi-crispy French fries topped with smoked jalapeno pimento cheese, bacon, and pepper jelly. Initially I disdained cutlery and proceeded to play a sort of edible jenga game where the goal was to get a hold of the fry with toppings and not get any on me. That led to a leisurely dining experience until people started noticing the intense concentration and deliberation with which I was eating and I think they started worrying about my sanity. When the fork and knife were brought to bear the pace was accelerated and the bacon and pimento cheese disappeared in a frenzy of fries.

The pimento cheese was good but I didn’t notice much smokey or jalapeno-y about it. The pepper jelly was an interesting addition that was more jelly and peppery. The bacon was just right. Overall it was enjoyable the portion generous enough I didn’t even finish it all. The beer might have helped in making me feel full.

As is my want in a place that offers the option, I got a flight of the seasonal offerings. As you can see I got a mix of light and dark. I started with the heaviest and went lighter as the meal progressed. The Barrel Aged: Elements of a Crime was an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels and conditioned (I have no idea what that means) on Brazil Monte Verdi coffee from a local roaster. And there’s the other international connection, Brazilian coffee. The stout was just that and had very much embraced the barrel and its bourbonness.

The next dark beer was Exhibit:Gingerbread Porter. A mild porter that had some hints of clove but that was about the only one of the winter spices it was brewed with I could discern. After the two dark ones I had the Probation Pilsner, a German pilsner with a light flavor and hints of evergreen. I saved the Bribery Bittersweet Orange Wheat for dessert. A sip of that provided a nice flash of orange that quickly dissolved into a bitter finish, in a good way.

In summation your honor it was a good lunch and a great start to the trails.

Holiday Yums

Well after several weeks of laziness I decided to drop the December Holiday Yums box entry.

The 2019 Holiday box had 13 snacks from 13 different countries; Spain, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Philippines, France, Jordan, Austria, Croatia, Belgium, Japan, and Poland. There were a couple of repeats from previous boxes but mostly it was new stuff. My favorite was a repeat.

The Jabri Mixed Baklava was my favorite from last year’s Holiday box as well. The regular is great but the birds nest version with pistachios is just a special treat. It did have some competition this year in the form of a Belgian treat.

If I haven’t said it before I’ll say it now, white chocolate is not my jam but add some cinnamon cookie bits and I’m inviting you to the party. It was like an uber-sweet snickerdoodle. A little went a long way sort of like the most unusual paring of the box.

The Spanish weighed in again with a twisted chip flavor because someone thought, “you know what this chip needs? Raspberries!” It really didn’t. It was better than I expected but I had the bar pretty low going in. The raspberry flavor was reasonably muted so it was more like a distraction from a quality chip that an enhancement. The French, not to be left out of the chip wars said “hold mon bier”.

Roasted chicken chips? I had high expectations in spite of past experience with most “meat” flavored chips. First chip had me impressed and thinking “by golly these do have a roast chicken flavor” by about the 4th chip though I was over it.  It was just too much of the roast chicken flavor, which is something I never imagined saying. I could’t even finish the bag. Croatia managed to come in with powerful entry though that I did finish.

As soon as the package was opened the garlic smell ventured forth like it was planning to conquer the world or at least the room.  The pretzel sticks were good and crunchy even with the hollow core that was loaded with garlic.  I do mean loaded.  It was so garlicky I had to go brush my teeth and gargle just so I could move on with my day. 

Most interesting taste sensation goes to the Polish gingerbread.

This was actually the first thing I had from the box. Gingerbread snacks have been hit or miss but this entry with black currant icing was tasty and light with a hard glaze icing.  For the interesting taste sensation. As I was biting it I got a strong hint of black currant that was like a combination of scent and taste but it hadn’t yet hit the tongue. This certainly has happened with other foods but this was probably the most remarkable because the black currant taste on eating it was very subtle until I was finished and then it lingered. Good start, good finish.

The other snacks were mostly good with a couple of so so but the grade for the Holiday box was an A-.

The next blog entry will have me out and about again for a lunch at one of a couple of new (to me) restaurants I’ve found.

   

Spanish Yum

The Culinary Passport has been gathering dust recently and I need to get that turned around and do some searching for new restaurants. Until that happens here’s another box review. Goodies from Spain as curated by Universal Yums.

I didn’t have any ideas what the folks in Spain may be snacking on but if the box is a good representation they have a bit of a sweet tooth. I was definitely looking forward to trying them out.

The snack I enjoyed most was the Lucasas Trufas, cocoa dusted chocolate truffles.

These little treats were a chocolate lovers friend. The chocolate was very good quality showcasing the why people would go to the dark side for their chocolate. Very rich and smooth and more than enough to enjoy over several days. The cocoa dusting was a good addition from a flavor standpoint but it was kind of like glitter in that it got everywhere.

My second favorite was about as far away from the truffles as you could get and still be a sweet.

The Gummi Spicy Mangos were definitely a fun treat. Of course they have the chewy, stretchy gummi consistency and a pronounced mango flavor that lulls you into a false complacency. I was thinking to myself, “these aren’t too spi…Hey now!” That spice comes out of nowhere to tango with your mango. It was quite the surprise and the combo was great.

There was a tie for the worst snack. Unlike some other months where that is really just my least favorite these were just not good.

The first one was supposed to be a ham flavored corn puff but it was mostly just puff. The flavor was not good and the texture was more like a decades old cheese puff without the cheese flavor or the unnatural orange color. The second was also supposed to be a corn based snack that was ketchup and mustard flavored. I was skeptical of these off the bat and they lived down to my expectations. The flavors were just nonexistent. The best use for them was as packing material to make sure the other snacks didn’t get damaged in transit.

The most unusual was probably more of a mental thing plus some bias based on hearsay.

I figured this one could go either way. I’d heard people who’d tried egg chips before comment they were nasty, smelled bad and / or were just weird. With that feedback I opened the bag with mild trepidation as I expected an assault on my nasal passages. There was not so much as a skirmish. I even decided to get in there and take a good whiff and while it did smell a tad eggy it wasn’t as bad as a boiled egg. The flavor was mildly eggish and not unpleasant at all. The chip was a quality chip to boot so I enjoyed them even if it was a combo I would not have put together.

For me the Spanish box was a mixed bag or box in this case. In addition to the favorites covered I really enjoyed some lemon cookies, a smoky snack mix, some dark chocolate covered peanuts and the Cortadillo Relleno de Crema that was OMG sweet but tasty. But there was also an olive oil, almond and spice cookie thing that couldn’t commit to being sweet or savory and suffered from the indecision.

The December box is a holiday box that is a virtual UN of snacks with 13 different countries represented and I already tried one from Poland and it was delicious.

Austrian Yum

The October box from Universal Yums had delicious snacks from Austria.

I had some high expectations for this one and there was plenty of chocolate plus some savory items that left me with a positive impression of the snack scene in Austria. There was nothing I didn’t like at least a little so the “worst” item will be the least liked.

My favorite was the Pischinger Mandel Ecken, little chocolate covered, almond topped wafers with almond creme in a tasty little square.

The milk chocolate was decent quality and the almond crunch paired with the crispy wafer worked well. There were a generous number of them and as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee it was outstanding.

My second favorite was a toss up between some Cool Mint Lemon patties and the winner, Schoko-Erdbeeren.

This was a big old bag of strawberry shaped treats. The dark chocolate shell covered a strawberry filling of an interesting consistency. It was like a cross between cream and jelly fillings, very odd but full of artificial strawberry flavor. It was weird and delicious.

My least favorite wasn’t bad but just the laggard in a decent box.

The Milch Wafflets also had strawberry flavor and chocolate but it just wasn’t in the same class. The wafers were not as crispy as the ones in the several other snacks that had wafer cookies. They were a bit styrofoamy. So they were meh.

The weirdest one in the bunch was the Big Banana.

It was a chocolate shell very much like the strawberries but not quite as dark. That shell covered a banana flavored core that again shared a consistency with the strawberries but the artificial banana flavor was not top of the line. It was pretty darn big though.

Everything I’ve highlighted was sweet but there were a couple of savory snacks as well; some Paprika Chips of the potato variety and some Creamy Onion Mini Fritts french fry sticks. There were some additional chocolate snacks and a gingerbread cookie that had hazelnuts, almonds, honey and candied orange peel. Overall the box was loaded with leckerein.

Next box is from Spain and I have no clue what to expect.

BBQ Bonus

I was travelling to the eastern part of North Carolina for a family gathering and decided to go a bit out of my way to try a restaurant that is on just about any Best BBQ in NC or Southeast list you care to check out.

Skylight Inn BBQ is not exactly on the beaten path unless you’re from Ayden, NC but it’s worth trodding the unbeaten for.

I got there early for dinner, about 4:30, and there were a half dozen cars in the lost and people walking out with bags of to go food. The main area has seating with dining rooms off to the side and is shaped like a half hexagon or an isosceles trapezoid if you prefer. Going with the half hexagon analogy the bisecting line was the ordering counter. They keep it pretty simple with 3 tray sizes a sandwich and barbecued chicken plus just a few sides. I got a medium tray and drink for less than 10 bucks.

Well it wasn’t fancy but it was delicious and honestly it was some of the best BBQ I’ve eaten. The coleslaw was just cabbage slaw and was really too sweet in my opinion but I can see it going nicely on a BBQ sandwich with the slightly tangy sauce. The cornbread can only be described as a slab. It was dense and heavy but much better than I was expecting. In contrast to the slaw it was not nearly as sweet as a lot of cornbread you get at restaurants. Now the BBQ. As you can see it is pretty well chopped but you occasionally get chunks of solid meat. The smoked flavor is easy to taste but not overpowering and there are also crispy bits of skin mixed in like little prizes as you eat. I ate most of it without adding any of the sauce found on the table but I did try that as well. It was ok, not as thick as a lot of store bought sauces but similar enough that I don’t think it really added much to the meat.

So if you find yourself in the neighborhood or want to go wandering definitely give them a try.

A Tail of Two Crabs

After months of having an Opening Soon sign out front a new restaurant opened just down the road from me. Knowing it was a seafood place and boils were going to be a thing with them I was eagerly waiting to give it a try. In the meantime another, similar restaurant opened a few miles further away so when this one finally opened I figured I’d give them both a try and compare.

The place near me is called Yummy Crab. When they first hung the Opening Soon sign it was going to be called Crazy Crab. I don’t know if the mental health community or Big Crustacean got involved but the name got changed to Yummy Crab before it opened.

The building they were in was also previously a seafood restaurant and it has a very large seating capacity that was largely unused when I went for lunch. This suited me fine as I got good service and got in and out rapidly while having a good lunch. They have fried and boiled seafood but I came for the boil so I really didn’t pay the rest of the menu much mind. I got the lunch snow crab legs. (The original pics I took I accidentally deleted so this is from a second visit)

The boils come with different types of seafood and they have combos and add-ins. I kept it simple and got the 1/2 lb snow crab legs lunch special which came with a potato, small cob of corn and a boiled egg (this was a new thing to me). Once you pick the seafood and add-ins you pick a flavor, I went with Cajun, and a spice level, medium for a first try.

It was delivered to the table in a big plastic bag, along with a bucket, bib, claw crackers (I had to ask for these on the first trip), and gloves. I’m a big fan of the gloves. The cajun spice was obviously the powdered version and in spite of the copious amounts you can see it really wasn’t that cajuny. Medium was fairly weak on the spiciness front. On the upside everything was well cooked, the crab came out of the shells nice and easy and it was a great lunch that didn’t leave me stuffed. I rated them 4 stars because I had to ask for the claw crackers and sweetener for my tea plus boils like this should have sausage not egg. Obviously since the picture is from a second trip I liked it enough to go back.

The place that opened first that I visited second is named Fiery Crab Juicy Seafood. When I first saw the name I thought, “you couldn’t work moist in there too?”. Fortunately the web site and menus all just have Fiery Crab on them. I don’t know what this place was before it was Fiery Crab but it also has a large seating area that was marginally more occupied that Yummy’s. Again I was good with that because the service started good and I did get my food in a timely fashion.

To make the comparison equal I got the same thing at this place.

Here you can see the plastic enclosure it’s served in. The accouterments accompanying the meal were essentially the same but the gloves were slightly different and they didn’t provide any wet wipes. I got their Cajun flavor with was called Fiery Cajun with medium spice. You may be able to tell from the pictures that they use the liquid boil mix instead of the powder and their overall spice level at medium was significantly higher than the other places. Another difference was it came with two potatoes and a couple of pieces of kielbasa sausage in lieu of the egg. The crab didn’t come out of the legs quite as cleanly but did have a good taste. I gave these folks 5 stars because I didn’t have to ask for anything and sausage was a default ingredient.

Comparing the two I think the actual crab was superior both times at Yummy but Fiery has the edge on overall flavor and they have sausage. Either one gets a thumbs up from me.