Drunk Tex-Mex?

I was staying at a hotel in Seneca / Clemson and after a long day decided not to stray too far from the hotel. I’d already been to Popeye’s and Five Guys just felt like it was going to be too heavy so Tipsy Taco it was.

The place has outside seating that I would have gone with if it was just a few degrees cooler. Instead I parked at a high top in the bar area. This is a regional chain, mostly in the Greenville, SC area but they’ve strayed up to Charlotte now as well. As my title says it is a casual Tex-Mex restaurant with some interesting choices on the menu. In my case I went with their Street Taco and the Luck O’ the Irish with a side of street corn.

As you look at the picture you may be saying to yourself, “Dude that ain’t street corn, it’s off the cob”. You are correct, they may be tipsy but they know eating corn on the cob can be messy and conveniently offer it off the cob. It’s cooked on a flat top I suppose with butter and seasoning. It is quite tasty.

You can select from flour tortilla, white corn tortilla, hard shell or lettuce wrap to keep the filling from falling between your fingers. I got the street taco with white corn tortilla and the Luck O’ the Irish with flour tortilla. The street taco is beer braised pork, onions, cilantro and lime. Fairly standard and it is good but not outstanding. I started to say nothing to write home about yet here I am writing away. The LOTI consists of corned beef brisket, shredded cabbage, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing. Mine had a good flavor but was a bit fatty. Reflecting on it I don’t even remember the cheese. I’m not sold on the dressing but it keeps it from being too dry.

Food wise the corn was probably what I enjoyed most. My beverage, a Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA, came in second. The tacos were about even with the Street taking the taste medal but LOTI got the prize for originality. I wasn’t blown away but the atmosphere was good and they have a couple of other tacos that look intriguing so I expect I’ll be back once I move to the area.

I’ve Been Mooned

I normally restrict my Saturday breakfast comments to Google maps and Instagram unless there is an international intersection but this week I think the breakfast warrants a mention.

New Moon Cafe was number 9 (I can’t even type that without hearing that dang Beatles song) on my list based on the recommendations I got from the Connect Augusta Facebook group. Thumbs up to that group by the way, they are one of the best I’ve been part of. Anyhow, their number was up so downtown to the old JB Whites building I went. Parking was a breeze as there wasn’t a big crowd clamoring for breakfast at 8am on Saturday. I entered through the outside seating area and it immediately reminded me of Amelie’s in Rock Hill. Kind of a quirky coffee house aesthetic, bright colors and chalkboards, an upstairs seating area and the smell of fresh coffee.

As you can see from the photos it wasn’t busy so I ordered and got the order relatively quickly. I missed the breakfast special, chorizo breakfast bowl, on one of the chalkboards which I’d have probably tried but have no issues with what I did select. In the spirit of trying new stuff I went with The Downtown Mess – Augusta Style.

This breakfast mélange consists of creamy grits, pimento cheese, avocado, salsa, bacon, and Cholula hot sauce. I didn’t take an “after” picture once I’d stirred it all up because it looked like a dog’s breakfast. Taste though, that it got right. The textures and tastes contrasted and complimented one another, like the creamy grits and crunchy bacon. The Cholula hot sauce was a great medium spicy counterpoint to sweetness of the grits and cut the fattiness of the avocado. The whole was very filling and I’m glad I opted not to order a bagel to go with it. As messes go this was a great one. I will be going back for lunch one day this month because I want to try the BBQ Duck Grilled cheese and a Vader-ade.

Edit: Just wanted to throw this in since I got back to get the Duck and Vaderade before the post went up. The sandwich was very tasty but the drink was mildly disappointing only because the pomegranate overshadowed any blood orange that may have been there.

Greek Week or Maybe Weak

Passport Stamps | Greece

Friday night, food trucks, family, Greek food and music, what’s not to like? Lines. Lines are what’s not to like. Fortunately the other stuff made up for it.

It was that time of the month again at the Columbia County amphitheater for Food Truck Friday. I met my sister, brother-in-law and nephew there, all looking forward to some good food. The theme was theoretically Greek food. That was kind of thin since they only had one food vendor offering Greek food and another pizza. If you wanted deserts you had two trucks and a couple of tents to hook you up. The line for the Greek truck, The Mad Greek, was very long so we decided to find a seat and listen to the band, Pure Indigo, and hope it calmed down a bit.

We grabbed beverages prior to our seeking spots in the amphitheater. For my first drink I went with a local Savanah River Brewing beer called, No Jacket Required. It was a decent pilsner that went down easy on a warm evening.

After 45-60 minutes of chatting and listening to the music the line hadn’t noticeably eased up so we decided to bite the bullet and join the queue.

A quick aside. The conversations now are much different than 20 years ago. At one point my brother-in-law and I were enthusiastically discussing our favorite Great Courses and how Einstein’s theories can be tough to wrap your head around. Very different.

Anyway we spent a long time in line to place our orders and then another fairly long time waiting. I was number 91 and as I stepped into the crowd of waiters number 64 was called. The main benefit of all this waiting was I got to spend a lot of time with the family. Finally my number was call and I got my order of a Greek Dog and Spanakopita.

I almost hate to admit it but they were worth the wait. The Greek Dog was a pretty simple concoction of a grilled beef frank topped with olive tapenade and crumbled feta. It was a delicious but very salty combo. I like tapenade quite a bit so it was great topping for me. The spanakopita was outstanding. The pastry was flaky and crisp on the outside and the spinach and feta filling was perfectly balanced. The reports on the Greek potatoes and dolmathes were that they were also outstanding. We were hoping they had a brick and mortar location locally but turns out they are out of Marietta. I don’t think I’d drive that far but if I see them again I’ll be in the line to try some of their other fare.

Another good evening.

The Three B’s

I’m a tad tardy getting this written up but I didn’t want to just let it go since it was an important event for me in this pandemic influenced time.

For this entry the Culinary-Passport was all about the B’s. Columbia County Parks and Rec was having their Boots, Brew & BBQ event Friday which sounded interesting. It moved from interesting to “Let’s do this” when my sister sent me a text asking if I was going. She and my nephew swung by, picked me up and off we went, images of food trucks, beer in plastic cups (or a bottle of Sprite for the underaged) and live music dancing in our heads.

This would be the first fairly large live event I’d been to in a year so I was excited and also interested to see how folks handled it during these interesting times. It was about what I expected. Some masked, some not. The space between people sitting in the amphitheater was probably a little greater than in “normal” times. The folks in lines were observing more personal space than I’ve seen at similar events in the past, which suited me fine because I’m not a fan of people breathing down my neck.

The music was good, varied with a slant towards country. They were obviously experienced at events with diverse groups. When they broke into Gimme Three Steps I was on board. There were at least half a dozen options for the BBQ portion of the evening, some food trucks and some pavilion covered spaces. We opted for Pot Smoker BBQ.

It was a fairly good choice. It had the longest line but the benefit of the wait was one of the folks running the truck periodically walked the line giving out pork rind samples and copies of the menu. The menus helped keep the order line moving. I decided to pig out (pun intended) on the pulled pork plate that came with two sides.

Are you looking at the picture and asking, what the heck is that taking up half the plate? Well, what had happened was, they had pork rinds as a side option. I’d never had that as a choice of side before so I had to. For the second side the obligatory mac & cheese side was a no brainer. They threw in the slice of white bread because that’s what happens around here.

The picture is deceptive because the pig skins are covering half the BBQ depriving you of the full effect of the generous serving size of pulled pork. The pork had a nice smoky flavor and with the spicier of the various sauces added it got some heat, tanginess and a hint of sweetness. Overall a nice combo. The skins had some BBQ flavoring on them and a good crunch. I wouldn’t have them as a side again but I’d definitely munch them as an appetizer or snack. The mac & cheese was a minor disappointment primarily because it was cold. The flavor wasn’t bad and it had something added that gave it a reddish hue and an interesting flavor. I’m not sure what it was but it made it stand out from the myriad of mac & cheeses I’ve had in the past. If it had been hot or even warm I might be giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up, as is though it’s a thumb sideways. I may venture to the brick and mortar location to give it another shot for a final decision. I really enjoyed being out on a pleasant spring evening with family, dining, chatting and listening to live music. Looks like there will be a monthly Food Truck Friday here May-Sept so I expect I’ll be posting a few entries from those.

Bibimbap

Snap, Crackle, K-Pop

South Korea: stamps | Passport stamps, Stamp, Getting a passport

Korea

I’m going to go ahead and spoil it, there wasn’t any K-pop playing when I drug the old Culinary-Passport to Seoul Korean Kitchen but the snap & crackle showed up later. The restaurant is kind of odd because they took over another restaurant and that other restaurant’s branding is all over the place still. In spite of that, the employees I interacted with and the décor that was deployed throughout was enough to give a Korean vibe. .

They weren’t too busy when I got there, however there was a short wait while some tables were cleaned and sanitized. While the menu isn’t extensive it does have a good sampling of Korean dishes and I found myself going back and forth between bulgogi and bibimbap. Bibimbap was what I was planning to get when I left the apartment but the lure of the bulgogi made me as wishy washy as a politician checking poll numbers. Fortunately the nice lady taking my order steered me toward the bibimbap. Hot pot version please.

My sides came first.

I love these but I’m not sure why we’re calling them sides instead of included appetizers. Without exception everyone (everyone I saw anyway) who got these ate them before the main dish arrived. I guess it really doesn’t matter, the important thing is they were tasty. The cucumber had some sweet chili oil (or something like it) on them, the broccoli were steamed tender and had a touch of sesame oil on them, yum. The potatoes were ok, the kimchi had just a hint of spiciness and would do for a wide range of palates, I even used my chop stick skills, such as they are, to eat these. I abandoned those when the star of the lunch arrived.

The bibimbap arrived in a very hot stone bowl sitting on a plastic tray thingy that made it possible for the wait staff to handle. This was where snap & crackle came in. The rice under all these other ingredients was frying and creating a crunchy little base at the bottom. As I was getting that auditory show the colorful spinach, carrots, sprouts, beef and nori covered mushrooms provided a nice visual complement. Oh and the sunny side up egg in the center didn’t hurt either. Once I added the sauce and stirred it up it wasn’t quite as eye catching but it was pretty delicious.

As mentioned I didn’t even pretend like the chop sticks were going to be sufficient to the task and dove in fork first. The flavors and textures, including the crunchy rice on the bottom, just blended so nicely together I’m not even sure what more to say other than if you haven’t ever tried bibimbap you need to and Seoul Korean Kitchen can help you out.

If you aren’t tired of Korean stuff check out the recipe, music and random fact on the Tell Me More page.

Taking It to the Haus

Germany

This weekend I met up with my friends Renee & Zack at the Augsburg Haus in Evans, GA for a bit of German fare. It’s located in a busy strip shopping center with 3 other restaurants and a cupcake shop. Odds are pretty good I’ll visit this stretch of real estate again. The parking lot looked full but there turned out to plenty of spots. The Augsburg Haus itself was not overly busy and had plenty of room for seating. We picked a spot near the back away from most of the rest of the folks so we could chat without raising out voices. This allowed us to enjoy the authentic German food that much better. As for German ambiance here’s a shot of the wall I was looking at.

I got there first and decided it wouldn’t be a good German meal without a beer so I went for a Kostritzer Black Lager. It was so smooth I could have chugged it with no problem. I didn’t.

After going over the menu and deciding there was nothing I wouldn’t like I just selected the first item, the Augsburg Special. The special consisted of schnitzel topped with sauerkraut and swiss cheese plus mashed potatoes and gravy. There was also a salad included to start.

When that plate was put in front of me the first thought I had was, “Dear Lord, that is a huge hunk of meat”. Second thought was “That’s a very pale plate.” I got over the lack of color though and dove in. I was uber happy with the results. The potatoes and gravy were nice but the schnitzel was great. It was thicker than I thought it would be with and well seasoned and breaded. The sauerkraut was tart but not too tangy like some you can find and the swiss cheese was a gooey, tasty topper that held it all together. I wound up bringing half of it home for dinner so while we paid dinner prices on Saturday the portions made it a two meal deal for me.

Renee got the Gulasch plate that was beef sirloin tips and gravy on a king sized bed of spaetzle and added a side of German potato salad.

By all reports it was delicious and worthy of a redo. Zack went for the wurst plate with some mashed potatoes and mac & cheese (substituted for the normal sauerkraut). We did appreciate the fact that the server was up front and let us know the mac & cheese was Kraft and not something house made.

Based on this trip I’ll most assuredly visit them again for my German food fix and would recommend it to others. I do have a caveat though, the lunch prices are available on the weekdays only so if you’re budget conscious take that into consideration.

While you’re considering things if you want a recipe, music and / or need to know a beer fact, check out the Tell Me More page.

Murgh-nificent

India

In a rare weekday lunch for the Culinary-Passport I picked up my buddy Swain and we headed out for Korean. But wait, you say, the heading says India and you are correct. For reasons we had to pivot from Korean and landed at the Curry Hut. As landings go it was a pretty successful one.

From the outside the Curry Hut is not at all impressive. The building looks aged and you know they are not the first restaurant to occupy this space. The inside is better and the menu was downright expensive looking in this day and age of laminated or paper one sheeters.

We had two folks waiting on us, one a very experienced veteran of the Curry Hut and one that was a rookie and she let us know she was. So after spending quite a bit of time trying to make up our minds from the extensive menu I went with Badami Murgh (almond chicken) plus a side of garlic naan and Swain got Chicken Hyderabadi with pappadum. We had some discussion about spiciness with the more experienced of the wait staff and both got the spicy versions of our dishes.

You might have noticed the elegant serving dishes and plates. I will admit to a negative reaction. When it came time to leave however, I appreciated the leftover badami murgh already being in a to go container.

The badami murgh is very tasty. Kind of sweet with plenty of heat. The dish tasted like it might have had some coconut milk as well as the almond & cashew nuts. The curry was aromatic, creamy, nutty, and the spiciness was a definite taste on its own. It wasn’t like a specific type of pepper flavor but a sharp hot flavor. In fact the heat was just at the top end of my enjoyability spectrum of spiciness. Overall it was very nice with plenty to take home. Check them out for yourself.

If you want a quick hit of more India related content check out the Tell Me More page.

Ephesian Lunch

Turkey

I grabbed the old Culinary Passport and headed to Ephesus Restaurant on Washington Rd in Augusta for a Sunday lunch. Ephesus calls itself a Greek & Turkish kabob place and I’ll buy that. For the blog though I’m calling it Turkish because a) Ephesus is in Turkey and b) the entrée I got originated in Turkey.

Observations about the restaurant. They have plenty of seating with a fair amount of spaces between the tables. The walls are a light green that I’m pretty sure has a name like Sea Foam or Fresh Mint or some such. Adorning the walls are an eclectic mix of prints, paintings and objects with a mostly Mediterranean theme. Overall the effect is a nice bright atmosphere to have a meal. The lady who waited on me fit right in as well, being pleasant and informative.

After perusing the menu I decided to try the Iskender Kabob meal.

Iskender Kabob plate

This is layers of gyro meat covered in a tomato sauce atop pita bread and yogurt with roasted pepper and tomato garnish. Here’s another shot after digging in.

Iskender plate 2

I’ve had a similar dish before served with rice and was skeptical about how it was going to be just over pita bread but I needn’t have worried. The tomato sauce is paste based with a few spices added making a rich and tasty topper to the meat. It is taken up a notch mixed with the yogurt which adds some additional depth to the whole thing. The pita is cut into bite sized pieces which conveniently meant no knife needed. I honestly thought I’d fly through this but the portion was generous and I wound up taking some home. As she was taking my plate the question of dessert was raised and I was going to pass but baklava was mentioned.

You can see it is in a to go container so I’d have snacks for later. I tried one not long after walking in the door and I’ll say it was good. I appreciate the crushed pistachio topping for the color and taste addition but it still was not as good as my sister and brother-in-law make.

I’ll definitely go back and try some of the other menu items and feel confident recommending them to other people.

For a recipe, music, and a random bit of info check out the Tell Me More page.

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.