Mofongo? Sure

Dominican Republic

Image result for dominican republic passport stamp

This weekend I was feeling like I needed to hit the Caribbean scene and specifically the Dominican Republic since they were on my “not yet done” list.  As the surrogate for the DR I found Punta Cana in Charlotte.

It’s easy to find from the road as it is a stand alone building of good size.  Inside is a large main seating area and also a sort of sun room area with more tables.  Dominican maps, flags and other memorabilia adorn the walls including these interesting masks.  There were two more on the other side of the TVs.  I forgot to ask the significance but they were pretty cool.

They’ve got several flat screens mounted on the walls and a poster for live music so there is certainly an indication of a busy evening spot.  When I entered I was greeted with a smile and seated quickly as there were only a couple of other tables occupied.  By the time I left though the place was three quarters full.

Once I’d had a chance to look over a pretty extensive menu I had a couple of questions and the waitress patiently answered them.

Sidebar – Kudos to the wait staff for continuously circulating and answering questions with good grace.  I overheard the conversation between the server and a lady behind me and the server had to explain this was not a Mexican restaurant and they didn’t have burritos and tacos and then patiently asked the lady some questions and made a couple of recommendations to her that totally worked based on more overheard conversation.

Anyway I settled on the mofongo with chivo (goat) after my Q&A with the helpful young lady waiting on me.  She did kind of look at me and asked if I’d had goat before and liked it and was satisfied when I assured her I had and did.  As the “keep them busy” course they provided a basket of garlic bread.

Thin sliced, lightly toasted and fairly garlicy. I had one piece while I was waiting because I had a feeling this was going to be a substantial lunch and I wasn’t wrong.

As you can see it came in two separate dishes and my first instinct was to ladle the goat over the mofongo but I figured I’d ask so I didn’t commit some culinary faux pas that would get me banned for life from Dominican food.  When I asked the waitress if you were supposed to eat them separately or combine them or what she went politician on me “however you want is OK”.  She was a bit more definitive when I asked “How would you eat it?”.  “With the gravy all over” the mofongo (that’s just fun to type) was the answer so I felt good about my instinct.

Okay by now if you haven’t Googled it or didn’t already know you’re probably saying to yourself, “What the heck is mofongo?”  Well what it is happens to be fried green plantains with butter (oil is also apparently acceptable), garlic, salt and little bits of crispy pork mashed into a dome shaped mound.  They use this as the base and have a lot different partners to serve it with.  As I said I got the goat because I like the rich taste of it and you don’t get it just anywhere.  The goat stew was bony, as it can be, so I made sure to take care when spooning it on the mofongo.  The mofongo had and interesting texture, in a good way, and soaked up the gravy like a good starch.  The chivo was cooked pretty tender but did require a bit of chewing.  It had a great flavor being cooked with just a few onions and peppers plus spices.  The combo was really very tasty and oh my goodness so filling I couldn’t quite finish it all.

The waitress asked me how I liked it and seemed to be genuinely pleased I enjoyed it so much.  It’s nice when the staff seems invested in the success of the dishes.  I’ll say the Yelp ratings are just above average for this place and I don’t understand why.  My experience was way above average in quality of food and service.  I’d say they were a good proxy for the DR and would definitely recommend them.

If you are interested in know more about the Dominican Republic check out the Tell Me More page.



Thank God it’s Food Truck Friday

Almost everyone looks forward to Friday and I’m no exception and when it’s Food Truck Friday in Rock Hill it’s just that much better.  It was another hot one but a quick stop at the adult beverage station to pick up a Windy Hill Orchard blueberry cider made sure I was properly provisioned to peruse the prolific parade of possibilities.  Wow that was a lot of P’s.  Anyway, after careful deliberation I decided to see what Ruthie’s of Charlotte could offer.

What they could offer was a some dinners with a meat and two sides plus a variety of “melts”.  I decided to try their Best Melt sandwich because it was the best, it says so right in the name.  It was a half and half sandwich; half pulled pork & half meatloaf.

The right side that you get the peek of in the photo was the pulled port half and the left side was the meatloaf side.  Like most of the food trucks this was not fast food but it was good food.  In addition to the two meats the implied cheese part of the melt was actually mac & cheese.  Mac & cheese on a sandwich?  Yep, and it was gooood!  The pulled pork was kind of saucy but that just allowed it to meld nicely with the creamy mac & cheese that was clearly made with real cheese.  The meatloaf side I was initially disappointed in because of the thin slice of meatloaf but it turned out to be just enough to give a great taste to compliment the rest of the sandwich and not make you feel overstuffed.  When they grilled this thing they did not skimp on the butter either which  didn’t detract at all.  I chose to try the okra as the side instead of the chips so I could call myself eating vegetables.  They were ok but nothing remarkable.

After enjoying my meal and listening to live music courtesy of the Flatland Tourists I wandered a bit more and found some coffee entrepreneurs offering some cold brew coffees and a couple of their own varieties of coffee beans.

After some conversation with the enthusiastic couple from Knowledge Perk I decided to give their bourbon barrel aged cold brew a try.  I wasn’t sure what I was in for but it was quite good.  It wasn’t as dark and robust as I like generally like my coffee since it was made from a medium roast but that allowed the subtle bourbon taste to ride the coffee wave across the taste buds.  One of the proprietors mentioned he liked to have it with a pump of caramel syrup which really kicked up the bourbon taste and sweetened it.  I also bought a couple of packs of their beans and was amused by the interaction.

Him: (Face looking kind of sad that he’s got to ask this question) Do you need this ground?

Me: (What am I, a barbarian face) No!

Him: (Smile like a proud father) That’s great! Do you use a French press?

Me: (Less superior) Well, actually I grind it and use it in reusable K-cups.

Him: (Mild disappointment accompanied by visible deduction of cool points) Ok, well um, sometime you should really try a French press.

The coffee smells great and I can’t wait to try it.

Overall another good experience and I hate that I have to wait a month to attend the next one.

BBQ Time

American South

Not finding any restaurants representing an untried country and with food trucks on deck for next week I decided to add another variation to the theme and look for restaurants that represented regional American cuisines.  So I might not need a passport to visit their home area (unless SC doesn’t update their drivers licenses then I’ll have to use my passport card) but it’s still from outside the area.  Figured it made sense to start on the home turf with some pork BBQ from a local establishment.

In this case I decided on 521 BBQ in Tega Cay just up the road from me.

There are in a little strip mall and don’t have an outdoor pit or big smoker outback with guys shoveling in coals or anything but I understand they do smoke their own meat.  When you go in there are some tables and the bar up front and then down the left side of the restaurant there is a fair amount of additional seating.  The bar area has a few flat screen TVs showing sports and a nice selection of craft beer.  As a side note it amused me that the bartender had to go look in the back to see if they had any Michelob Ultra when someone asked for it.  Since it was right there in my face that’s how I started my visit, with one of the craft draft beers.  Specifically it was a DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus.  I know that might sound like a questionable name and it didn’t provide salvation but it was tasty.

As you might have noticed this is a darkish beer.  That’s because it is a chocolate peanut butter porter.  When I picked up the beer the foamy tan head gave off a distinctly peanut butter scent and the first sip backed that up with a peanut buttery taste.  I didn’t get much chocolate from it but the slight bitterness expected from a porter was there along with the peanut butter.  It was smooth and delicious but really kind of heavy for the lunch I had planned.

I ordered a combo tray that came with two meats and two sides.  Chopped pork and ribs were the meat selections while baked beans and collards were the sides I settled on.  While I waited on the entrée they provided a complimentary basket of hushpuppies to keep me occupied.

They came with some honey butter spread that I’m sure would have been good but I just ate a couple plain.  They were slightly sweet with just a vague hint of onion.  Not my Granddad’s hushpuppies but acceptable.  It was just a few minutes though and the main attraction was delivered.

If it looks like a lot of food that’s because it was.  I started with a small taste of each of the sides before digging into the meats.  The baked beans were made with a smoky, sweet thick bbq sauce that was the predominate flavor.  They had some bacon and onion as well to balance the sweetness a bit.  The collards looked great and you could see they had added some pork in with them.  I can’t lie, the first bite had an sort of fishy taste that almost made me quit it right there.  I don’t know if it was just some weird combination of the aftertaste of the sweet smoky beans and the savory collards but man the initial reaction was not cool.  I waited a second and tried them again and didn’t get the same taste so I could proceed.  They were ok, texture was good, not mushy like some and the pork was ok but smoked, salted meat would probably have been a better flavor choice.

The ribs on the other hand were great from start to finish.  There were two ribs in each of the pieces and they were generously coated in the sweet, smoky sauce.  They were not fall off the bone ribs but the meat came away from the bone cleanly as you ate them.  The chopped pork was delivered without sauce just the smoked, chopped meat and you had three options of sauces at the table.  The previously mentioned smoky, sweet sauce, plus mustard based and vinegar based sauces made up the choices.  The pork itself had a mild smoke flavor with salt and was edible plain but much better with sauce.  Being from an eastern NC family I loaded mine with the vinegar sauce after segregating a couple of small portions to sample the other two.  It was a bit sweeter than I prefer but not bad.  The mustard sauce was nice and tangy and the other sauce was ok in the beans and good on the ribs and decent on the chopped pork too.

Final verdict for me is the place is solid but nothing exceptional based on what I had.  After the beer I’d say the ribs were probably the next best thing.  If you’re in the area and feel like getting some BBQ you’ll do okay if you stop in.

Persian Repast


This weekend I found a relatively new place just a couple of miles from me that serves Persian cuisine so I had to go check them out.  Nayeb is a restaurant and hookah lounge on Anderson Road in Rock Hill.  It is easy to spot because it looks like a yellow barn.  When I say yellow I mean bright like Tweety bird kind of yellow.  The place has plenty of parking places and lots of seating inside.  Outside there is a courtyard kind of set up the picture below shows a corner of.  In front of this are some outdoor tables and to the side there is what looks like an outdoor lounge with sofa and everything.  I’m guessing the courtyard is the hookah hangout.

I was the only patron in the place the whole time I was there.  The only other person I saw was my waitress, Cindy.  I’m guessing on the spelling since she didn’t have a nametag, it could be Sindee or Cyndi for all I know, not that it’s relevant.  Anyway, she greeted me and I had my choice of seats so I grabbed a table with a window and a view of the hookahs and assorted tobaccos.  The menu was presented and my drink order of unsweet tea was taken without delay.

The menu is limited but the dishes all had Persian names even if they weren’t exclusive to Persia so it felt authentic.  The entrees were mainly kabobs which was cool with me and although I was tempted to get the combo platter which had 3 kinds of kabobs I decided to stick with the koobideh so I could try an appetizer as well.  For the appetizer I selected the dolmeh stuffed grape leaves.  After I placed the order Cindy brought me a pre-appetizer appetizer they serve each guest.

What we had here was warm, almost toasted, flatbread with basil and parsley, feta cheese, a wedge of raw onion and butter.  According to her you take a bit of the herbs (sometimes you might have mint as well or in place of one of the others depending on what’s in the larder) and the feta and put them on the bread and either add some onion or just take a bite of the onion.  I dutifully tried it with some basil, cheese and a layer of onion.  It was ok but the bread by itself was the star of the little quartet.  I didn’t eat much because I didn’t want to be full for my app and entrée.

The grape leaves arrived next.  As you can see there were four grape leaves and what you don’t see is that they were stuffed with rice, herbs & spices.  My first taste caught me by surprise because they were tangier than I expected.  The grape leaves were tender and the filling was almost creamy in texture but you could see the grains of rice.  I have since learned that dill and lemon juice are constituent parts of these stuffed grape leaves and account for the tanginess.  I also tried some spice concoction that Cindy recommended trying on everything.  It was ok and actually acted as a counterbalance to the tartness of the grape leaves.

My koobideh arrived nice and hot from the grill.  Koobideh is ground, spiced meat formed around a skewer and traditionally grilled over hot coals.  I’m not sure if these were grilled over a gas fire or a coal fire but they didn’t have any smokiness to the flavor so the flavor was all from the meat and spices.  Again there was a tartness to the first bite that caught me off guard but it went well paired with the relative blandness of the rice.  I have to say the odd segmentation of the kabobs was unexpected as well.  They were handy places to cut the meat in bite size pieces but didn’t really enhance the visual appeal.  The rice was just about perfect.  There was no stickiness and you could have easily eaten one grain at a time if you were that weird.  The bit of saffron added some color but not much in the way of flavor.  The grilled tomato also was a nice touch.

A last note on the tea.  I enjoyed it quite a bit and could taste something other than teas in it.  I asked and was told it was a Persian tea that included cardamom and it clicked.  I was basically drinking iced Earl Grey.

I’ll definitely be going back, if not for the weekday all you can eat Mediterranean buffet for 6.99, then at least to try one of the other types of kabobs.  I’m surprised they aren’t busier than they are and they have a lot of tables and parking sitting idle.  The Yelp reviews may be keeping some people away.  The most recent 4 reviews are a couple of one star reviews sandwiched between two five star reviews all within a couple of weeks.   Maybe the money’s in the hookahs.

If you’re interested in how to fix the koobideh or in Persian music or just a random fact check out the Tell Me More page.