Beer, Cookies and Paddles

Once upon a rainy, nasty, cold day there was a brewery that offered an interesting pairing event that drew me from the comfort of my snug apartment to the hinterlands of Lincoln county. Along the way my sister joined me since she was the instigator of this quest.

Our destination was Back Paddle Brewing and a pairing of Girl Scout Cookies and beer. Lunch was in the plans too because beer and cookies on an empty stomach seemed like too much of a risk for people with sugar issues.

I got the Brat Burger and my sister got the BBQ pork tacos.

The Brat Burger was made with heritage breed pork, house made beer mustard and apple slaw as well as lettuce and tomato on a potato bun. It was a tasty combo. The report on the tacos was positive too. My sister had ordered them before so they have to be deemed re-order worthy.

Now the main reason for us being here was the pairing.

They had my top three Girl Scout cookies; samoas, thin mints, and tagalongs. The also had the lemon one. The beers in order they were to be paired with the cookies as listed above were:

  • Easy.Ready.Willing Witbier – Wheat beer
  • No Luck At All – Irish Stout
  • Celebrate We Will! – Brown Ale
  • Black IPA – didn’t get this one

We agreed on the success or lack thereof for each of the pairings even if our taste buds were on slightly different pages. The best was surprisingly the lemon and wheat bear which paired very well together. The tartness of the lemon and the lightness of the wheat beer melded nicely. The tagalongs were to the brown ale as a pesky younger sibling to a teenager. On their own they are perfectly fine but as a companion to the brown ale the sweetness of the cookie just overwhelmed the ale and canceled out the flavor . The black IPA and the thin mints weren’t ideal mates but they didn’t conflict either so that one was ok. The stout and samoa was interesting in that the samoa countered a lot of the flavor but left a coffee aftertaste that was quite enjoyable.

Back Paddle is not someplace you’d just stumble on but it is worth a drive. I liked the picnic style tables they had spaced well apart and pairs of stools at the bar. The folks working there, including the owner, were all very nice and willing to answer questions, make suggestions and let you take a taste of a beer if you needed to help you decide. Nice place I’m very certain I’ll visit again. Oh and the paddles were the tap handles, no one was actually paddled in the making of this blog (well this entry anyway).

Mexican Omelet with a side of bacon

The King of Bacon

Mexico

This week I decided to combine both my Saturday breakfast out with a blog relevant restaurant, Taqueria El Rey. El Rey (The King in English if you didn’t know) is a Mexican place that, as of this blog posting, recently started offering breakfast on the weekend.

The seating area is spacious and I was the only one there so social distancing was pretty easy. I was surprised to get chips for breakfast but I rolled with it.

I didn’t get any salsa and that had me confused until I saw the server, Madeline, distributing ladles at the Salsa bar. Yes, you heard me, the Salsa bar.

In addition to a lot of options they have a heat score card atop the bar so you don’t pick something that will hurt you. I opted to try the spicy version of the salsa verde and the peanut salsa.

Both had some heat but weren’t too spicy. The peanut salsa was different. There was a peanut flavor but I found it a bit thin. Thankfully I only had time to try a few chips in each because my main dish was going to be a challenge to finish.

I asked which item was the most authentically Mexican on the menu and was directed to the Mexican omelet. Madeline confirmed my impression that most of the items were Mexican with a “twist”. I went with the suggestion and because there was no meat in the omelet got a side of bacon.

The picture doesn’t do the scale of this breakfast justice. The omelet was at least a 3 egg omelet, filled with refried beans and mozzarella. It was topped with pico de gallo and sour cream with queso fresco blocks on the side. Talk about a filling breakfast and this has to be in the conversation. Presentation was nice and it tasted great. I could have foregone the bacon but I am so glad I didn’t. For one thing this side portion had to be at least 6 slices of the crispiest, least greasy bacon I’ve ever had. Ever. The title probably makes sense to you now. If you love crispy bacon it’s worth visiting just for the bacon. I had to take a break and read a few minutes to let it settle some before I could finish.

I enjoyed every bit of my experience at El Rey. Even the coffee mug was intriguing.

The inside of the mug was glazed as was the brown chocolate colored dripping around the rim. The decorative painting on the outside was also glazed but the clay was not so you could feel the texture of it. Very interesting.

It’s a shame there weren’t more people showing this place some love but at least there were more people pulling in as I was leaving. Maybe they were waiting on me to leave. If you’re in Augusta on a weekend and want something different for breakfast I’d recommend giving El Rey a shot. The fajita omelet and breakfast chimichangas sound like a reason to return.

Also check out the Tell Me More page for Mexico for some randomness.

Tea Time pt 1

I teased (see what I did there) this on the FB page last month after the family had our post-Christmas Christmas gathering. My niece and her husband got me this bag of teas from around the world.

Outer bag

Selection of countries

Twelve countries and twelve teas. The packaging is utilitarian rather than fancy but that’s ok with me if it helps deliver value. I’ve tried half of the teas to this point and while I’m researching suitable restaurants in the Augusta area I thought this would be a good item to keep my blog momentum going and it certainly is in the spirit of the blog.

A quick note about my preparation that will likely appall any tea aficionados among you. I use filtered water that I microwave to boiling and then steep the tea according to the package recommendation or 5 minutes if there isn’t a recommendation. I take mine with sweetener only.

My first random pull from the bag was the tea from Israel, Wissotzky Tea.

This was a black tea in a double chamber bag with string like the majority of the teas we see here in the US. My tea palate is not refined to distinguish subtle variations within the tea types so my main gauge is strength of flavor. I found this to be a nice black tea but somewhat mild, definitely drinkable and I graded it 3 out of 5 tea bags.

Next was the Azerbaijani tea.

Another black tea, the Azercay Buket was packaged in the double chamber with string format. It was a bit stronger than the Israeli tea which suited me fine. While I said my taste buds weren’t that refined there was something a bit different with this one in addition to the strength that I liked and earned it 4 out of 5 tea bags.

Nepal was the next contestant out of the bag.

The KTE Black with Chai Spices was the first tea with additions and they were nice additions. There was no overpackage to the bag and it was a single chamber style. I like spiced tea and this one came with a very pleasant aroma and taste. I’m not sure what all spices were used but I could taste the cinnamon and cardamom complimenting the mild black tea. As I mentioned I prefer strong teas and like flavors that punch you in the face however I found this enjoyable enough to give it 4 tea bags.

Number four in the tea parade was the Russian entry.

Not a lot to say about the Maisky other than it was a moderately strong black tea with a good tannic mouthfeel. The bag was double chambered with string and no outer package. A 4 bagger on the rating scale.

England represented with a Twinings tea.

The 1706 Strong Breakfast Tea is my favorite of the lot so far. I don’t love this bag style but the tea within was as advertised. This was strong, astringent tea that was taking no prisoners. One of these for breakfast and you’d have to be dead for it not to get you going. If I was the type to add milk to my tea this would be the only one I’d consider because even diluted the tea would still be the dominant flavor. This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The last one for this edition is the Indonesian entry.

The Sosro Heritage Green Tea was the first non-black out of the bag. Green tea is not my favorite as they tend to be subtle but I do enjoy one every now and then as a change of pace. This one was very pleasant. In spite of the label saying there was no roasting the tea presented with a faint smoky aroma that carried over to the flavor. I found the overall taste to be kind of grassy and mild and while that doesn’t sound great the flavor built up as I drank it. It earned a 3 out of 5 tea bags.

That’ll do it for part I. I’ll do part II once I finish the other 6 teas and I’m hoping for at least one more “punch me in the taste buds” like the Twinings in that batch. If you’ve had any of these teas let me know what you thought.

Starting New With a Sunrise

It’s been a while since I posted anything new but life and relocations happen. I’m back in Augusta now after being gone for more than a decade. One thing that excited me about moving back was there would be a whole new set of restaurants to discover.

I decided to keep it simple for the first entry here while I search out the international restaurants. I opted for a good old American breakfast at the Sunrise Grill just up the street from my apartment. I’d eaten here before but it was many years ago so aside from the location I didn’t remember much about it.

Sunrise is in an older or shall we say well established shopping center that has seen facelifts over the years but you can tell it’s on the other side of prime. In spite of that when you walk in to the place it is bright, big and open. The wait staff was extremely friendly and masked up whenever they were interacting with customers. There was plenty of spacing out for social distancing.

I sat at the counter and I don’t think the next stool was quite 6 feet away but the capacity at the counter was cut down to half or less than what would be there in pre-pandemic times. Plus the only other person sitting at the counter sat at the other far end so we’d have needed walkie talkies or at the very least cup and strings to even communicate. OK maybe not that far away since I did hear him order fried bologna and eggs for his breakfast.

I kept my order simple with fried eggs, grits and sausage. Grit consistency is a good gauge for a southern restaurant, are they too soupy, too thick or just right. That attention to detail can tell you how they deal with the rest of the meal.

After ordering I had my meal in less time than it took me to open my Kindle app, sync it and read more than a page or two (no it’s not because I’m a slow reader). The grits passed muster, the eggs were fried up as ordered and the wheat toast was toasty. The sausage was a pleasant surprise because not only were there 3 patties instead of the 2 I’d grown accustomed to at most places now they had a bit of a spicy kick to them. Nice touch. The coffee was middle of the road, not strong, not weak, just hot, fresh and coffee flavored.

Overall it was a good start to discovery or re-discovery of my new old environs. Next week I’ll get the passport out and see what international culinary destination I can find.

German Box Zwei

Well I didn’t cancel my German Box subscription like I meant to so in the absence of a new restaurant let me share what I put together from the most recent box. It included something I’d never had before and have become kind of a fan of even if I don’t see myself seeking it out on a regular basis.

Here are the items I used from the box to construct a meal (actually meals because there were left overs).

Fortunately for me there were English instructions on both the Bread Dumplings and the Schweinebraten mix. I couldn’t find a suitably sized pork roast so I opted for a pork loin of equivalent weight to sub for it, otherwise I cooked as instructed. I mean roast pork and gravy, how could this be bad?

The bread dumplings were the new thing for me and I was digging the packaging and ease of preparation.

Yep, those are little plastic bags with bread bits in them. I went into this with very little confidence in how these would turn out. Man was I surprised. The bags are porous and you soak them in water before you boil them. The packaging contains the growth as the bread hydrates and forms a cohesive dumpling. Once done you just free them from the plastic restraints and chow down. German engineering for the win baby.

The red cabbage and apples just needed to have the jar open. I guess you could heat them up but I liked them just fine at room temp. Once I got everything done the end result was a fine dinner.

The succulent pork loin medallions were fork tender and tasty from the gravy, the bread dumplings were a chewy, tasty vehicle for gravy distribution and the cabbage & apples added a bit of color, texture and a hint of sweetness to the meal.

I’d say the German Box folks did a nice job putting together some items that melded well together.

Hot or Not Cocoa

I posted a few weeks ago that I was going to plow through a variety box of hot cocoa K-cups and see how they stood up. Some did and some didn’t. It took a while to get through them because the unseasonably warm weather just didn’t call out for warm cup of chocolatey goodness. I did finally make it through all of them. Of course as soon as I was done we have sub-freezing mornings, thanks 2020.

The number of different brands and flavors in the variety really surprised me. There were 22 distinct k-cups, some sporting well known brand names and some not. Some with great names that reflected the contents and some that overreached. I’m not going to review them all just the overall winners and the dregs so you’ll know which ones might be worth checking out and which ones to avoid at all costs.

I graded on a 10 point scale and the ratings ranged from 5 to 9. None were total failures but mediocrity was in evidence. I considered the smell, the chocolateness (I know I’m making up words), the success of any adjunct flavors and overall impression in my grading.

There were 4 that hit the top score of 9 and 3 cellar dwellers that had a 5 rating. For stat nerds the break out was:

Score% of cups
918%
818%
732%
618%
514%

The Buy recommendations, in the order they were consumed, are: Soho Cocoa Decadent Cherry Cordial, Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie, Tootsie Roll Premium Hot Cocoa and Sugar Babies Premium Hot Cocoa.

The Soho Cherry Cordial was a pleasant experience from the get go. There was a scent of cherry that wafted up from the mug to greet me as I took a sip. There was a cocoa presence but the cherry came through as the most prominent taste as well as smell. It might not have been spot on a cherry cordial but it was spot adjacent.

The best of the mint flavors was the Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie. Minty aroma with an undercurrent of cocoa on the nose. The initial sip hit the tongue with a mild chocolate flavor that was quickly overwhelmed by a bold mint that was definitely the alpha flavor. I liked it a lot. If you’re meant to be mint, be minty and this was.

I’m not going to lie the Tootsie Roll one surprised me because I am not a fan of the candy. As a hot cocoa it was not my favorite in spite of the rating but it did match its name very well. There was a nice chocolate smell and they nailed the flavor of the candy down to an almost waxy taste. It was the single best match of name to taste.

Last on the hit parade was the Sugar Babies. Up front I’ll say the caramel flavor was definitely artificial but not bad at all. Like a lot of the other flavored hot cocoas the prominent smell was from the add in flavor and in this case the caramel charged up from the cup like it was on a mission. On the flavor though the caramel and the chocolate were more balanced than in any of the other caramel flavored cocoas in the batch. That balance and general pleasant taste got it to the top.

The loser list is made up of Pingo Peanut Butter, Charleston Chew Vanilla Nougat and Brooklyn Bean Midnight Hot Cocoa. The first two both suffered from a thin milk chocolate taste and neither had a pleasant aroma. The Peanut butter smell was as weak as the chocolate taste and the taste was only marginally better. The Vanilla Nougat gave off a whiff of burnt sugar and indifferent cocoa. While there was an indistinct sweetness atop the average chocolate flavor, I was hard pressed to identify it as vanilla or nougat.

The BB Midnight Hot Cocoa started with the promise of a slightly bolder chocolate smell than most of the others but the flavor was disappointing as it was only a shade more chocolaty than the plain. If you’re going to call yourself Midnight hot cocoa I expect a certain level of dark chocolate to back it up and that was not in evidence. I will say the chocolate flavor did build up over time and if it had been labelled just Hot Cocoa or maybe Dusky Hot Cocoa it would have been higher rated but Midnight was just too far outside reality for me.

That’ll do it for this entry. Hope not to have such a gap between posts again for a while.

Swiss Miss

It’s been a month or so since the last blog entry and I haven’t been too motivated but I got a box from another country this month and as you might surmise from the title it was from Switzerland.

The Swiss Box comes in 3 varieties and I opted for the mid range box at $40. The cheaper one is all chocolate and the more expensive one you can pick items you want. Once I ordered the box there was a wait for shipping day and when it shipped I got an email notification but there was no tracking info only a message that it would take 2-4 weeks. It was right at 2 weeks for me. Here’s what I got in my box.

I have to admit I stirred up the packing peanuts looking to see if I was missing something because this didn’t look like much for my forty bucks. Alas, this was it and I started off disappointed from a perceived value standpoint. The only hope was that one or more of these food items would be such a home run (since we’re talking Switzerland I suppose a goal is more appropriate) that it would overcome that perception. First up was one of the raspberry hazelnut tarts.

The snack consisted of three parts; a crispy hazelnut ring, raspberry jam, and a biscuit, I mean cookie (watching too much British TV). I tried just the cookie first since it was the quite prominent base the other two sat on. It was so bland and at the edge of stale I almost didn’t bother with a real bite to get all three components. Fortunately I did. The hazelnut ring had a great taste and excellent crispness that started making up for the sad, sad cookie and then the delightfully sweet and tart raspberry jam joined the party and made this not just tolerable but delicious.

The next two items were also not bad but I wasn’t enthused enough to offer them their own photo opportunities. One was a fairly tasty bite sized chocolate covered malted milk morsel that was pleasant. The chocolate was a darkish and the malted center was crunchy and malty. The other was chocolate covered shortbread balls. They were enjoyable. The milk chocolate was of good quality and the shortbread had a good flavor and crumbly cookie texture. It wasn’t as buttery as an excellent shortbread would be but maybe the chocolate would have masked had it been. Both were well done snacks I’d happily have again.

The item I saved for last, because I hoped it was going to be the one that made me most nostalgic for Swiss snacks, was the chocolate bar.

My hopes were met as the Frigor bar by Cailler turned out to be the star of the box. It was an excellent milk chocolate bar with a hazelnut almond cream filling. The chocolate and the cream filling melded so well together it was hard to call it a filled chocolate. The whole had a silky texture that literally melted in the mouth, as well as hands if you held it longer than a second or two. This conjured memories of Geneva where I used to get a plain milk chocolate bar at a tobacco shop located by the central bus station whenever I took the train and bus home from school. That bar had the same silky consistency and meltiness that this bar had and while I can’t swear to it I believe it was made by Cailler as well.

As much as I loved the Frigor chocolate bar it didn’t totally overcome my issue of perceived value. So while all the elements included in the box were very much quality examples of Swiss snacks I didn’t feel like it was a $40 experience. If I was going to recommend Swiss Box I’d say try the smaller box and enjoy the Swiss chocolate experience at the lower price point.

Turkish Delights

Well since there aren’t really any new restaurants opening, ethnic or otherwise, I’m still having to have my global flavor fix delivered. I found a very reasonable snack box on Amazon from Turkish Munchies and ordered up their Midi box.

The neat little pamphlet on top was something I appreciated. It has a list of possible snacks you could receive and each one has a thumbnail picture, a bit about the item and a couple of other nice touches. One being a group of icons showing major allergens that might be present as well as beverage pairing icons (non-alcoholic). There are also Stars you can use to rate the snacks and they encourage you to share on social media, because who doesn’t like free advertising. Here is a layout of the contents of my box.

I didn’t take photos of the individual snacks out of the package except the Kagit Helva wafer cookie on the bottom right.

I only did that to show the scale of the thing. Unfortunately that was the only impressive thing about it. It had the taste and texture of one of those cheap ice cream cones you get in the super market, one step above sweetened Styrofoam. There were some really nice ones though. The chocolate cupcake that was supposed to have cherry filling was really tasty. The cherry filling had just been absorbed by the cupcake so it was actually just a moist center but the flavor melded in a lip-smacking way.

The Bidolu wafer cookie’s filling of chocolate with nuts and crisp cookie was a standout along with the herb coated Krispi snack sticks. The banana wafer cookies and the coconut / chocolate ones were both more than acceptable versions of their type. The Cubuk Kraker pretzel sticks were nothing special but they had the advantage of being the most plentiful snack in the box.

I wasn’t in love with the sour bubble gum or what was supposed to be popping candy (there was no popping). The weird strawberry cupcake with sprinkles was in my bottom four as well. It wasn’t so much bad as it just wasn’t my deal.

I would definitely recommend this little slice of Turkish snackdom for the price, quality and taste. They offer other options too but I think for under $15 you can’t beat this for an intro.

Egyptian Yums

Happily the August box from Universal Yums was not a repeat and instead filled with treats from a first time country (to me at least), Egypt.

I thought this box was a notch over average with none of the snacks being rock stars but on the other hand none totally tanked either. My favorite of the Yum turned out to be the least photogenic of the lot.

The Chocolate Wave Hazelnut was one of 3 snacks that had wafer cookies. In this case the chocolate got a little melty and presented a patchy appearance. Fortunately I was grading on taste. The wafers were crispy and the hazelnut filling was appropriately nutty so the end result was a delight. The one I’d say was my number 2 was a savory snack.

I’ll have to admit when I first saw these the apparent lack of salt had me skeptical that this would be good. My bad. Although they weren’t at the salt lick level of a lot of American pretzels they had a very pleasant flavor. These were butter and herb flavor and they lived up to the billing. The butter was evident and the outside had a light dusting of an herbal mixture that went splendidly with the turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich that I paired them with. Solid pretzel.

The most disappointing yum for me was the Cono Puffs Crazy Tomato.

Even one of the Puffs on the package looks less than enthused about the product. On the positive side the puffs were all nicely uniform and pufflike. The ingredient list was short and often that’s a good thing but in this case it seemed like something was missing. The initial flavor was a bit oniony then an acidic tartness that I guess might have represented the tomatoes and finally there was a sweet corn taste that didn’t all meld together. I felt like that pissed puff after a few of them. Cono didn’t totally let me down though.

Now I didn’t find these Mind Blowing as the title suggests but they did have a pizza flavor quite loaded with olives which I love on a pizza. So unlike the grumpy cone on the bag I was sold on crispy corn and pizza flavor of the Bugle like cones. Oh and like I have done every single time I’ve ever had one of these cone shaped chips I had to turn one into an edible talon.

The other snacks included some chili & lemon chips, a Halawa & coffee wafer cookie, a date filled cookie reminiscent of a Fig Newton but with dates, a weird green apple gummy called Spaghetuss Apple that you could tear into, you guessed it, spaghetti like strips. There were a few more as well in the solidly above average box. Next month is going to be from South America but I’m not sure where. Looking forward to it.

German Box

Since the pandemic has made it more of a challenge to go out I thought I’d try some other boxes besides the Universal Yums to get some new international flavors. My first was one I felt relatively safe with and by the title I’m sure you aren’t quite in a state of suspense wondering what it was. I only ordered the one month just to see what this was about.

The box was nicely packaged to protect the items inside but I did find little shreds of paper days later under the sofa. When opened there was a nice card with a recipe for jaegerschnitzel that had somewhere around 20 ingredients so it was tossed to the side as that looked like too much work. Here are the items from the box.

The soda was wrapped in bubble wrap to keep it safe during shipping, which it did. I wasn’t blown away with the selection but I tried everything but the egg noodles so far and I’m pretty comfortable I’ll like them well enough when I do use them.

The tin of candies I’m still not sure what flavor they are supposed to be but the tin is big and they are sweet and taste good so I’m okay with that. The orange chews were interesting. There were 6 strips wrapped like chewing gum that were scored into 5 sections and had the consistency of silly putty that is just about too dry to play with any more. In spite of that the flavor was a pretty good tangy fake orange flavor.

The black licorice cats I’ve still not managed to finish off in spite of the fact that I love licorice. They looked like they were going to be in the gummy family and they are slightly pliable for the initial nanometer and then switch to a hard plastic texture. If you gnaw on them long enough you can disrupt the molecular cohesion and tease out a nice flavor. Not a quick snack is what I’m saying.

I was kind of excited when I saw the Knorr soup package because I know they make a quality product and this was Spargelcremesuppe. I was excited again because I recognized spargel from a trip to Germany during white asparagus season when every restaurant had a seasonal dish on the menu. I was able to figure out the cremesuppe part without overloading my brain as well so I had high hopes.

My hopes were well founded. This was some tasty soup that paired well with a ham and Swiss sandwich. I might check the local stores to see if they have this on the shelf.

The soda was Karamalz Classic, a non-alcoholic malt beverage.

This very much reminded me of Kvas I had from a Russian place a few years ago. It had the same kind of raisin bread flavor. The carbonation started strong but died to a level that meant you weren’t fighting head with every sip. It was a good change of pace drink and I liked it but I wouldn’t want it to be a regular drink.

Lastly there was the box of pretzel mix. This one I wasn’t sure about but I managed to work through it and make some reasonable facsimiles of pretzels.

Now I have to admit when I first looked at the box and read instructions I just about tossed this to the side for what would likely have been ever. I mean one of the last steps was dissolve food grade lye in warm water. Lye??? Who am I Granny Clampett that I’ve got lye just, well lying around? Then I got to studying it a little more and realized this was a kit that had everything you needed, including yeast, coarse salt and lye so I pulled out the mixer and bread hooks and went to town.

I know I’m not going to win any style points with the results but they were sehr gut. I tried them with yellow mustard, Dijon mustard and stone ground mustard and if I’d had some beer cheese I’d probably have eaten the whole dang pan of them in one sitting. Definitely worth buying a box and giving pretzel making a go. The box didn’t explain how to make the pretzel shape but unsurprisingly there are a number of YouTube videos that can help in that regard.

Overall I was pleased with my choice to try a box from these folks. I’m not going to make it a habit but it was a great little box.