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.

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.

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.

SpiceBreeze part 2

As mentioned in the SpiceBreeze review I decided to make at least one of the recipes included with the spice blends from each of the three envelopes I received. Each of them turned out pretty well and the spice blends played key roles in every case.

The first one was using the “Tacos al pastor” seasoning mix.

This recipe called for creating a thick, onion heavy marinade that included the spices, some oil and tomato paste then coating the pork with it and letting it marinate for a while. It also called for frying up some pineapple rings to go along with the meat. The recipe called for the pork to be cooked then cut into strips and then fried again. I had some salsa in the fridge and threw that on as well to get the end result you see below.

They were terribly tasty tacos that had a smoky flavor imparted by the spice blend. Was worth my efforts.

The next one was a spice blend for and Indian dish, Summer Aloo Gobi Matar.

This hearty dish is a stew of potatoes, cauliflower, and peas that also included garlic, onion, tomato and ginger. In my case I exercised one of the suggested options and included a bit of chicken. Served with the suggested Basmati rice and naan this was filling and had some nice color. The spices in the blend played well together and it was savory and satisfying as well. For the curious the spices were; fennel, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. As an aside there was another pack in the envelope of whole cardamom seeds with a Mango Lassi recipe that also got used. I love mango lassi.

The last one was a Kabob Koobideh spice blend. This is a ground meat grilled kabob popular in Persian communities, as well as with others who just like good food.

Now I’ll admit up front these aren’t as visually appealing as they could have been and bear a striking resemblance to something you might not want to eat but trust me they tasted better than they looked. The restaurant versions of this dish I’ve had were a little thinner and were formed such that there were little ridges along the length almost like delimiters for bite sized chunks.

The recipe called for lamb, beef or chicken and had the store had lamb I’d have gone that way but instead I settled for lean ground beef. The recipe is fairly basic other than grating an onion and squeezing out all the juice, which isn’t difficult just something I’d never done to an onion before. Next up was adding some garlic, egg, spices and then the meat. Then you knead it for a while to incorporate everything and give it texture. In this case the spice blend consisted of sumac, turmeric, black pepper & parsley. The recipe called for just shaping the meat into long patties and frying but I was having none of that and decided they’d be shaped on skewers and grilled like they should be. The end result, when paired with the marinated cabbage (also included in the recipe) and some rice, was very good and bonus there were plenty of left-overs.

I have to give the SpiceBreeze team props for some fairly simple recipes that were delicious and did a good job showing off the spice packs they sent. So while it wasn’t something I wanted to continue I could certainly recommend it to others who might want to try their hands and discovering new cuisines.

Beach Week 2020

In spite of efforts by COVID-19 to destroy this year my family still got together in Surf City for our Beach Week vacation. Dining out, however took a big hit and instead of eating both breakfast and lunch out most days I only ventured forth 4 times and 3 were to places covered in other blog posts but I’m going to revisit 2 of them in this entry because I got something new at both places. The first place, Hot Diggity Dogz, was just a short walk from the house.

My brother-in-law and I strolled over and grabbed a couple of dogs each and wolfed them down at one of the picnic tables. I got the Carolina dog that had mustard, chili & coleslaw plus a Hawaiian dog that had cheese sauce, jalapenos and crushed pineapple. The grilled all-beef hot dogs were served on potato buns with toppings that were fresh(ish). I say ish because some of it came out of a can but it seemed like the can was recently opened so I’ll take it. I’m sure somebody is going, “back up there big kahuna and explain what was up with that Hawaiian dog” so I’ll tell you. It’s pretty obvious the only thing remotely Hawaiian was the pineapple but that was weird enough to get me to try it. It never occurred to me that pineapple and jalapenos would be a great pairing much less throwing in some cheese but it turned out to be a successful three way. The sweetness of the pineapple took some sting out of the jalapenos but left enough to let you know this wasn’t a wienie for weenies and cheese goes with anything. I might get it again but they have a handful of other dogs I need to try before another repeat.

One day a subset of the family headed to the Riverview Cafe. Another repeat but on this trip I got the scallops with two sides special.

That plate full of fried scallops was down right dee-licious. A quick word about the restaurant. It’s in Snead’s Ferry, NC, has a nice view of the New River and they make better than passable pies. As for lunch they have a multitude of options and change specials daily but I’ve only ever gotten seafood and after this trip I see no reason to change that up. The scallops were beautifully fried tender morsels of seafood goodness. The cheesy, garlic potatoes had no choice but to be good just based on the ingredients and the broccoli casserole offered redemption to broccoli for being broccoli. Between the lot of us we wound up taking home a box of seafood and a box of sides to be consumed later because the portions were so generous.

The last place I wanted to cover was a new (to me) place I checked out on the last full day we were there. It was also within walking distance, just a few steps past the hot dog joint actually. I was solo this trip but I think next year I’ll be able to talk some folks into going to The Fast Fish with me.

The Fast Fish is a Poke place with some other stuff too as you can see from the menu board.

I’d never done the poke thing before (stop laughing) so I decided to get a bowl. I started with one of the daily specials, spicy soy salmon, as the protein with rice for the base and kept it relatively simple with pickled vegetables and green onions for add-ins.

This was a very tasty lunch. In case you can’t tell from the picture the salmon was not cooked but the spicy soy sauce it was marinated in dressed it up just fine. The pickled vegetables were mostly cabbage and carrots but there were some onions, cucumbers and a jalapeno or two floating around. The whole thing was topped with toasted black and white sesame seeds. Stirring up the bed of white rice into this mix made for an excellent lunch that was filling but not heavy. Would very much recommend this place if you’re ever visiting Surf City, NC.

Now I’m just going to throw in a gratuitous food pic and let it speak for itself.

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.

   

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.