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.

Greek Yums

Snacks from Greece

The September box from Universal Yums was loaded with treats from the land of Greece. I’ll say up front it was a mostly solid box with nothing being awful but there were a few I’m ok with never having again.

We’ll start off with my favorite and also the winner of the least photogenic of the snacks.

The poor Serenata Triplo Hazelnut did not fare well in transit due to the ovenlike temps we were having. As much as it looked like something that would empty a public pool it was quite tasty. The milk chocolate was good quality, the hazelnuts were big generous pieces while the wafers and cream filling provided a delicious platform adding even more textures. A case of don’t judge the snack by it’s melty cover.

The second place finisher was a baklava variant call Soragli.

Phyllo pastry dough, almonds, walnuts, a hint of cinnamon and syrup wrapped in a roll, how can you not like that? I will say it did spike the old blood sugar but in small doses it’s a straight up winner.

I didn’t have a “This was nasty” experience so instead of a least favorite I have a most disappointing.

OK look at the package, now look at the inside of the cake. Notice the difference in the size of the cocoa cream filling? I know the pictures always show a best case scenario but come on that’s just false advertising. Aside from being a tad dry the bread itself wasn’t bad and the filling had a decent flavor even if it was spiced with disappointment.

Most unusual goes to another one that was also a bit of a let down.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the donut shaped, cakey looking item with the grapes on the package. I did expect something grapish about it though and that expectation was met only minimally. It was a wheat cake that was sweet and the 8th ingredient was grape juice and it tasted like that’s where grapes were in the priority. The texture was crumbly and wasn’t overpoweringly sweet in spite of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and sorbitol beating out the grapes on the ingredient listing. It went ok with some strong black hot tea. There are too many other better snacks though to bother with this one again.

I want to give a shout out to the candies from the Yum Bag.

They were all three a hit with me and each was very different from the others. The white ball was an ouzo flavored hard candy that had a great anise taste. The middle one was a honey flavored toffee chew that nailed the honey flavor and the toffee just about melted in my mouth as I chewed it. The pomegranate jelly candy had the tartness of the pomegranate and the consistency almost like a Turkish delight with a light dusting of sugar crystals. All nice little nuggets of goodness.

There was also a peanut and honey bar that was reminiscent of a peanut plank, some oregano potato chips, a bruschettini pizza cracker, and some mini breadsticks with pesto flavor plus a chocolate coated wafer cookie that rounded out the box. According to the hints the next box should be an assortment from Austria. Looking forward to seeing what that includes.

Food for the Soul

Southern US

A couple of Saturdays ago I was doing a dry run trip from my house to the Spectrum Center arena to get the timing down and see how close to the arena the light rail got. Turns out it’s really close.

Since I use my head for something other than a hat rack sometimes I also timed it so I’d be down there around lunch time so I could try a little something different. I did a little scouting via Google on the trip down but decided I’d just walk around and see what I found and I wound up at Mert’s Heart & Soul.

I’d seen this on Yelp and if you’re a Food Network fan you may have heard of Mert’s since it was on Diner’s, Drive Ins and Dives or something like that. I was more than happy to come up on it as I wanted to try them out at some point anyway.

The first thing I notice is how dim it is in there compared to the bright sunny day and the pictures reflect the dimness. The second thing that was evident was somebody in authority loves plays and musicals as there are framed, autographed posters all the flat surfaces. The third thing was the menu and I decided quickly to go for the app sampler.

I wanted to try the soul roll but didn’t want to get the app and then an entree so the sampler worked out just fine. It came with the soul roll, a salmon patty, chicken wings and cornbread.

The cornbread came out first and let me just say it was an excellent start. As you can see from the photo it was a mini loaf that was fresh out of the oven hot and served with butter that was already soft and ready to spread. It was a sweet cornbread. So much so I save half of it for dessert because it was so cakeish.

The soul roll is like it sounds, an egg roll with soul. It has black eyed peas, collard greens, rice & some bits of chicken wrapped in a egg roll wrapper and drizzled with a spicy honey. I could have lived without the honey but that’s probably the diabetes talking. The salmon patty was another pleasant surprise. The salmon to other stuff ratio was outstanding and it was not that canned stuff with the bits of bone and skin but a good quality salmon as well. There were onions and green peppers scattered sparsely throughout and the remoulade sauce was very nice. I wound up dipping everything in it at least once.

The sampler had two full chicken wings so it was more like 4 of what most people call wings. They were just skin on, lightly floured and spiced just like I’d have gotten in my granny’s kitchen. Not flashy but filling and quite the delivery vehicle for the sauce. And of course I finished it up the meal with my, somehow still warm, cornbread dessert. Whew that was good comfort food to make the ride back to South Blvd an my car a pleasant one.

I’ll definitely go to Mert’s again.

Friday Crab Day

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted due to a combination of vacation and sloth. However it was the third Friday of the month and if you don’t know by now that’s Food Truck Friday, put it on your calendar.

This month started way less hellish than last month at a much more tolerable 82 or 28 for the C folks. The sun was shining and the music was blaring when I pulled into the parking spot and the early crowd was robust compared to the last few FTFs.

A quick swing by the adult beverage tent secured me a Damn Yankee IPA from Southern Barrel Brewing. It was a passable and hoppy way to pass the time as I wandered from truck to truck looking for inspiration and dinner. The crowd was larger than normal and there were so many children running around the fountain I saw 3 separate instances of mothers mistakenly grabbing somebody else’s kid when they got too close to the water.

The bright red of the Baltimore Crab Cake Co caught my eye and lured me in.

The offering was slim; a crab cake sandwich, she crab soup, coleslaw and chips. The up side of that was the service was faster than just about any I’ve ever had at a food truck. I got the crab cake sandwich and because they had a money back guarantee on their homemade coleslaw I felt challenged to try it.

Up to this point the band had been inoffensive, not bad, not great, just live elevator music but then they hit us with Wagon Wheel during the brief time I was at the Baltimore Crab Cake truck which earned them some point with me. Sandwich in hand I settled in to see what else they might have up their microphones.

The photo will serve as my awkward segue back to the sandwich. The crab cake was loaded with lumps of real crab and spiced with Old Bay seasoning and enough filler to hold it together during cooking and long enough to get it to the bun but then all structural integrity was out the window. They had a mustardy, slightly spicy remoulade to accompany the sandwich. All good but I’m not sure I’d do it again for $11. The coleslaw was good enough I didn’t test the guarantee. It was mostly diced cabbage rather than the more common shredded or sliced. It had a bit of dairy flavor I couldn’t quite peg like they added a touch of sour cream or buttermilk to the recipe. Thankfully they didn’t add sugar and make it a sweet coleslaw. Overall it was a decent meal and with the amount of real crab I was okay with the price point.

That pretty much covers the food portion of the blog, now we’re on to the experience of the evening. After finishing the meal I wandered over to the other beer tent and got a Passion Fruit Kolsch beer from New Belgium Brewing. For those of you that gagged a little right there let me say it was really decent. I’m a big fan of passion fruit and was a mildly disappointed the flavor wasn’t stronger. This had just a enough of a hint that if you didn’t know what it was you’d think it was just hops. It also was more fizzy than heady. Not a bad choice to kick back and enjoy the band that was getting me even more on their side with the Zac Brown / Jimmy Buffet Knee Deep song.

I found a good spot along a low wall to perch and enjoy the PFK, the band who has belted out Black Water at this point got some applause out of me. I’m feeling in a generous spirit, watching this diverse crowd of all ages, ethnicities and Breakfast Club stereotypes enjoying a night out in harmony and thinking this is just people being people. It made me smile and feel good about my community.

Now before you start thinking “Damn, the pod people got James”, let me just tell you I wasn’t quite ready to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with everybody. There was a dude next to me talking to a couple of his buddies going on and on about his golf equipment, his carbon shaft, big club heads, putter faces and in a tone of voice that made it sound just that dirty and creepy. Then he started talking about this guy he played with the other day. He regaled them (and me due to proximity) for 10 minutes with stories this guy told him about holes in one and famous people he’d golfed with, etc. and finished with “but he’s a drug addict so he might have been lying.”

As I was rolling my eyes a fellow who looked like a 5′ 5″ Lebron James miniature walked by and the band started playing Drift Away. So I smiled at mini Lebron and drifted away from that group.

Friday Night Dumplings

The August Food Truck Friday started and ended as a hot one. When I headed down there at a bit after 6:00 pm it was 91, “feels like” Hell’s front porch and got hotter by the time I arrived. According to the weather app it was 93, “feels like” Satan’s armpit. OK, the “feels like” might have been numbers but sweat was dripping on the screen so I had to interpret. Anyway I went gamely forth to acquire food and drink.

Of course the first stop was the beverage tent where there were plenty of uninteresting options plus one called Shadow of Death from Snafu Brewing. I really wanted to try that but it was so hot the thought of that heavy stout made cringe so I settled for the Kick Plastic Pilsner from SweetWater Brewery. It was much lighter than the stout and more appropriate for the conditions. I didn’t take a picture because you’ve all seen a cup of Miller or PBR.

After scouring the choice of trucks this month the Dumpling Girls grabbed my attention with their pan fried dumpling combo. The Batman hat the young lady taking the orders was wearing didn’t hurt either.

They had pork & shrimp or chicken variants to choose from. I got chicken dumplings with 2 spring rolls as my side accompanied by the spicy sauce on the side.

The dumplings were steamed and then pan fried. I’m not sure what else they had in the pan but they picked up some fond from the pan and a soy glaze that went nicely with the ground chicken, herb filling. The “spicy” sauce was a bit of a disappointment on the heat front has it had no kick but it did have a good flavor. It was thin chili oil sauce that complimented the dumplings very well and honestly I was dredging the spring rolls through it as well. So it wasn’t hot but it was tasty. I’ll tell you what was hot though. the temperature.

I didn’t stay long after I finished my meal and beer but I did have to linger long enough to hear the band finish one of the most unusual mash-ups I’ve heard. The band was the Kevin Nichols Band and they skewed towards country but played other stuff as well. The one that caught my attention as I was about to leave though was Folsom Prison Blues. It was going along fine, I was finishing a spring roll and all of sudden the words weren’t making sense so I paid attention and there it was. Pinball Wizard sung to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues then he just segued right back to Johnny Cash and finished it off. I was left with that “what just happened” feeling and as you try to wrap your head around how that combo was possible I’ll just sign off.

WOB Wow

Prior to going to a concert in Augusta, GA some friends and I decided to give the World of Beer a try. I mean what could be more perfect for a blog about international foods right? I mean world, it’s right there in the title.

So after deciding to start with the $10 Local flight to hold us over while we were perusing the menus (food & draft beer) and waiting for our friends to arrive I never got into any of the other beers of the world. What happened was that I found one I really liked among the “local” brews and got one more of those with my meal. So let’s talk about the flight of beer I was working with.

When you order the Local flight you’re leaving it to the bartender to pick the brews and when the server delivered our flights I got the one with the dark beers and I could see what looked to be at least one fruity beer and one what I was betting was a sour on my friend Renee’s flight which I didn’t think she was going to love. I was right.

I’m not going to spend a lot of space talking about all the beers but I did want to talk about two. The first was the Reformation Cadence, the first on the left in the photo. It was a really smooth Belgian Dubbel that had a nice complex flavor. Renee liked it too so I traded it for two of hers she didn’t care for. The other was the far right very dark one. The Beerista from Terrapin Beer Company was great. A high alcohol content, barrel aged coffee stout. The minute you get it near your face you smell the coffee followed by a whiff of bourbon. As I drank the taste of the coffee was followed again by the bourbon both packed in a creamy stout that just made this a favorite. I got a full snifter of this 11.2% beer. Good stuff. Now for the food.

I was advised by my niece (thanks Paige) to try the pretzel and beer cheese so we ordered two of them plus some pesto hummus to nibble on while we waited for our friends (one who we forgot has gluten issues, sorry Swain).

Aside from being huge they were warm and soft and damn good by themselves. They came with a course ground mustard that was strong enough it opened up my sinuses. We also popped for the beer cheese because I’m a good uncle and heed recommendations. OMG that was the best damn beer cheese I’ve ever had. At one point I realized I was double dipping (you pick up savage habits living alone). When I apologized for this social faux pas I was told “We’re a little past that now.” I could only infer I came in second in the “who’ll be double dipping first” race. It was on after that. I may have even triple dipped. We only ate one of the massive pretzels since there was food coming as well.

Because of the appetizers I reined in my gourmand tendencies and just got the chicken sliders. They had promise, the bun was soft, the aioli was good, the pickle was pickley but the chicken was overcooked. I got three and they seemed to be progressively move overcooked from the first to the third. They had a good flavor but unfortunately they were almost like jerky when I got to the last one.

So the World of Beer was a mixed experience but on balance I give them a thumbs up. The beer was good, even the gluten free beer my buddy Mike got was actually drinkable and we found beer our scotch drinker Kim didn’t hate. The pretzel was great but the beer cheese was amazing and the star of the visit in my opinion. On another night the sliders would probably be solid. Throw in good friends and it is definitely worth revisiting.

Columbian Yum

Seems I haven’t included a Yum box in the blog for a while so let me jump back in with the box from Columbia.

I have to say Universal Yums did a great job with this stash of snacks. I’m not sure my usual MO of highlighting the top 2 plus the worst and most unusual will be maintained. Let’s see where the train of consciousness stops. We will start with one of my all time favorites though.

This little box was just fantastic. It pushed several of my buttons (the good buttons), it had variety with 6 different flavors, they were sweets and smooth creamy textures were a joy to eat. Caja de Dulces Surtidos, assorted sweets. There was a milk caramel that was essentially condensed milk and sugar cooked down into a silky consistency and sweet taste that belied it’s simplicity. The Coffee took that fantastic caramel base and added Columbian coffee that tasted fresh brewed. The Guava had a layer of guava paste on top of the caramel to give it a wonderful tropical flavor and add a second texture. The Panela was made from unrefined cane sugar and had kind of a brown sugar taste on top of the dairy goodness. The Orange had orange zest adding some citrus notes and some bitterness to contrast with the sweet of the candy. Finally the Coconut added a different tropical taste and consistency to the dulce de leche and different was good. I’m almost glad they don’t sell these here as I might become an addict.

Picking a second favorite was hard because there was nothing close to the favorite and almost nothing I didn’t like but I’m going with the Bacon Lime chips.

I wasn’t sure about them when I grabbed the bag, I mean bacon and lime? When I saw they looked like little bacon strips I started to come around. The composition was like a rectangular cheese puff and you there is a bacon aroma and flavor right at the start but then the lime joins the party like a diva headed for a microphone. In spite of the fact they look a bit like a dog treat and the lime is a tad strong I really did enjoy these chips.

There wasn’t anything I thought was just bad so the worst in this case is just my least favorite. They were unexciting enough that I forgot to take a picture of them. They were plantain cookies which were crisp and slightly sweet and that’s about all I can say about them. On the other hand I have two for the unusual category.

The first picture is of mayonnaise chips. Some of you may be gagging, some going Yum!, and others just intrigued or a little chip curious. For the most part it isn’t a combo you see in US stores. They were not bad at all. The chips were decent ruffled crisps and the mayo flavor was there but not at all overpowering. Honestly they’d probably be great on a sandwich you were putting mayo on anyway.

The pastel Easter egg looking candies were candy coated white chocolate bits with a gummy bear center. It was quite interesting to take a bite and just like the package shows, have a little gummy staring at you. If you throw a whole one in your mouth you get the crunch of the candy shell followed by the smooth white chocolate and you end with that chewy gummy so it has quite the mouth feel. They were good but also quite unusual.

There were some other nice snacks both sweet and savory, like the garlic plantain chips, the coconut cream wafer cookies, the cheese & butter arepa chips and the passionfruit lollipop with bubblegum in the center to name some.

There is one I’ll mention because the packaging threw me.

I saw this package and just knew I was going to get some turnip flavored gummy candy and that sent a shiver up my spine. I’m game though and gave it a try. Strawberries and cream? Heck yeah! The flavor may have been enhanced by sweet relief but even so I’d recommend them.

Well that’s all for the Columbia Yum box. The next one in queue is from Indonesia and there’s a few interesting tidbits in that one too.

Indonesian Yum

Welcome to the country of islands, 17,508 according to the booklet with the snacks.

If this box is a representation of the Indonesian snacks as a whole they have a bit of a sweet tooth in southeast Asia. Two thirds of the snacks were sweet rather than savory. The ones I’m highlighting betray my own sweet tooth, starting with my favorite of the box.

The Coffee Joy cookies were as named. They were thin crispy cookies with a hint of coffee taste and topped with a sprinkling of sugar crystals. I sat there enjoying them watching TV and was surprised when I realized I reached the last cookie. Nothing complex but a complete treat.

My second favorite came from the Yum bag which has the little bite sized candies. In this case one of the several gummies in the box.

The Cola Burger, on the far left in the photo, did in fact taste like cola. This took me back to youth and the first cola flavored gummy I ever had in Geneva. I’m sure the nostalgia bumped it up in the rankings but it really did have a very nice cola flavor and the burger shape was fun. Since you saw them in the pic I’ll say the tamarind hard candy was interesting and I wouldn’t mind one every now and then. The melon milk chew was a contender for the oddest thing in the box. It wasn’t horrible but not two flavors I love together. Speaking of odd.

The track record for meat flavored snacks has been spotty and best and this one didn’t improve the record. They have a slightly weird smell I’ve started to associate with artificial meat flavor and find off putting. The little balls are made of tapioca and have a slightly sweet flavor and a decent crunch. The size and shape make them a pain in the behind to grab a few and eat though. If the flavor had been different they might not have been my least favorite snack in the box but alas it was fake beef and just kind of nasty.

This little bowl of fun I thought was the most unusual, but in a good way. Both the egg and noodles are like gummies with some slightly sour fruit taste but sweet overall. The noodles had a slight sugar coating that also made them easy to separate. I don’t know what the flavor was but I like it and it was definitely a snack that brought a smile as I ate it.

I just wanted to mention these because of the savories it was my favorite and sort of like corn nuts I can get here. The difference was instead of being the swollen kernels we have these are regular corn size kernels and just as light but with a crunch that makes a sound like an 18 wheeler driving down a gravel lane. Bonus they were garlic flavored.

Overall the Indonesia box was solid with only a couple of duds. Well done Universal Yums.