Monday, March 28, 2011

Green Eggs Cafe

This breakfast-lunch joint has been open in our neighborhood for a while but we just got around to going (they have two locations, Northern Liberties and South Philly).  Now we've been there the past 3 weeks, partly because brunch is so confusing I never know if I want eggs or a burger, so better just go every week and eat the whole menu.  On my first visit I had "The Kitchen Sink," which had peppers, eggs, and potatoes, cooked in a cask iron skillet, all topped with, drumroll please, biscuits and gravy.  I had read Craig Laban's review, he thought that the eggs were overcooked and the potato cubes too big.  Perhaps, but the biscuit gravy was incredible, and with such a fantastic overall effect I can forgive minor imperfections on a component or two.  The next week I had the creme brulee french toast, one of several stuffed french toasts on the menu (the peanut butter is next on my list).  The giant slices of bread had this fantastic vanilla sauce oozing on top of it, and it was all topped with fresh creme and berries.  I would have like the bread to be slightly more egg-soaked, but that's a minor complaint.  This weekend I had the burger.  A great burger with vermont chedder, slab bacon and onions, and a side of perfect fries, just the right amount of grease.  Here's the thing, my wife and I have ordered the burger on two different occasions, both time we asked for medium rare and both times it was close to well done, even though when I ordered it I said, "I really want pink, last time it was ovedone!"  I think the problem is that Sunday brunch is so hectic that the orders aren't coming out perfect.  I would almost rather they just not have a burger and focus on the things that they do so well.  But even overcooked it was a juicy burger with great ingredients.  Of the three dishes I've had, the Kitchen Sink is my clear favorite to date.

If you go to Green Eggs on the weekend, be prepared to wait.  We've waited 40 minutes or so each time, and last time they said 45 minutes and it was an hour and a half.  I do think they need to come a little closer on their estimate so people know what they are getting into as they don't take weekend call aheads or reservations, but it's nice to see the business doing so well.  They appear to have recently bought the rowhome next door and knocked out the wall to add a bunch more tables.  One week we saw unpainted drywall, the next a beautifully finished room.  The whole place has a great vibe, with lots of sunlight, nice artwork, and a nice fireplace and big leather couches in the waiting area.  The "green" in the name is because of their eco friendly approach, with no styrofoam takeout containers, no plastic soda bottles, etc.  One other note--they don't have a liquor license, but you can buy a carafe of fresh squeezed OJ for $30.  It comes with a side of Prosecco.  Enjoy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Best Bourbons at Any Price Point

I feel I've been drinking bourbon long enough to make this list of my favorites at any price.  I'm sure I have a few blind spots.  There are also probably some bourbons that might not make it simply because I haven't had it enough to really get to know it, as one does in the course of a bottle, e.g., a lot of folks like Basil Hayden's, but I've only had it twice--once at a friend's house and once at the Beer, BBQ, and Bourbon fest in Annapolis last year.  The prices are what I've generally seen these bottles priced at.

Under $20
You can't find anything special down here, the goal is something that is enjoyable rather than simply tolerable (or intolerable).
Winner: Early Times 354 Bourbon
This is not the regular Early Times that was not bourbon (as it was aged in reused barrels), this is a new release bourbon.  For $15 bucks I was surprised at the fancy packaging, with tasting notes and a cool picture that reveals itself as you drink the bottle down.  Was I swayed a bit by the marketing?  Sure, but it made drinking cheap bourbon fun, and I found the stuff in the bottle to be enjoyable, too.
Honorable Mentions: Evan Williams Black Label, Jim Beam and Jim Beam Choice, Old Forrester

Winner: Buffalo Trace
Jim Murray, author of Whisky Bible, calls this one of the world's great bourbons from one of the world's great distilleries.  I've heard that this is essentially the same whisky as Blanton's Single Barrel which is more than double the price.  Tons of complexity for not tons of cash.  This is what I would call my "everyday" bourbon.
Honorable Mention: Elijah Craig 12

Winner: Evan Williams Single Barrel
With price taken into account, this may be my all time favorite bourbon.  For just 25 smackers, you get the fun of drinking a 10 year old single barrel whisky, hand labeled bottle that is vintage dated, meaning it comes out once a year.  I have unopened bottles of the 99 and 00, with an eye for a future whisky party comparing vintages.  And it tastes fantastic, a lot of influence from 10 years in the barrel and a nice cinnamon finish.
Honorable Mentions: Maker's Mark, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Knob Creek

Winner: Woodford Reserve
This makes a lot of folks' list of favorites.  It's a nice price point when you want something a bit more special than your everyday stuff but not too pricey.   It's got just enough burn that rocks may come into play, but not necessarily, and a lot of flavor.  Also their distillery tour is great.
Honorable Mentions: Makers 46, Four Roses Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Winner: Booker's
I love the wooden box, the high proof, and the note from Booker on the label.  Tons of character.  A lot of fire to it but not so much that I don't get some vanilla from the wood and some leather.  It mellows with ice in a nice way.  Sweet and spicy finish.
Honorable Mention: Noah's Mill

Winner: Pappy Van Winkle 15 year
Pappy is my all time favorite.  I described it in my tasting notes as "puckering."  Most wheated bourbons are known for being mellow, but even with 15 years in the barrel Pappy comes out red and fiery.  Another great bourbon from Buffalo Trace.
Honorable Mention: Blanton's (the entry level single barrel)

Winner: George T. Stagg
I had to hunt hard to find a bottle of this once yearly release from Buffalo Trace.  Would you believe if I told you you can actually sip it at 143 proof?  I won't judge you if you need some water, though.  The Buffalo Antique Collection is fun, next year I'd like to try another one, perhaps the Weller or the Sazerac Rye (which is incredible).
Honorable Mention: Wild Turkey Tradition

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pub Review: Fork and Barrel

On Friday night we made the trek up to East Falls to check out Fork and Barrel, an upscale gastropub from the owners of Tap and Table up in Emmaeus.   My wife and I decided to walk 5 miles from the subway to East Falls, to work up a nice appetite.  We walked along the river, it was bit chilly but a pleasant walk and certainly had me craving food and beer by the end.

The first thing you notice about Fork and Barrel is the lighting, the entire downstairs area is lit by candles only (luckily the fire department is right accross the street).  It makes for a dim atmostphere, but once your pupils adjust it's quite nice.  Next, the beer selection.  This was about the most interesting beer list I've ever seen.  The bar downstairs has about 8-10 taps, all imported beers.  We did a flight of 5 and then tried a few more throughout the evening.  Here are some noteables:  Hitachino Classic Ale-A Japanese IPA aged on cedar; a German granitbock cooked with hot stones in granite mash tuns, an Italian stout with a hint of chili pepper, and a fantastic British pale ale on nitro.  The pale ale was my favorite but that's just because I enjoy pale ales, especially when they are poured creamy as from a cask or on nitro (the beer name escapes me right now but when I update my beer list page I will get it in writing).  The granitbock had one of the most unique finishes I've ever tasted, which I can only attribute to the stone.  The bottle list was very impressive, as well, I didn't want to overwhelm myself by reading through every selection, but we did choose a nice Gose, which is a german wheat beer with salt and coriander.  Aside: Gose is one of the few styles that does not adhere to the German purity law because of the use of spices but gets a pass as a regional specialty.  In short, this place had a very special list of beers that could impress most beer geeks.  No pint was cheaper than 8 bucks, and the flight of 5 was $18.  Not cheap, but the beers were each pretty special. 

Now the food.  We shared the salt potatoes as an appetizer, they were these tiny baked potatoes that somehow were crunchy and came with a nice dipping sacue.  We were with two other couples, and each couple decided on the roast pheasant for two ($35) for dinner.  The pheasant was a lot of fun, we ripped it apart and made sure to get all of the "morsels" from it, as one friend called them.  I think game animals tend to be lean, and there were some dry bites, but on the whole it was a beautifully cooked bird.  The oyster stuffing was the best part, it was so moist and salty.  The brussel sprouts were fine but maybe could have been better.  Next time I'd probably want to try the lamb burger and/or the braised rabbit, but the "pheasant party" was a lot of fun; it was so funny to see them carrying three birds out of the kitchen to our seats.

After dinner we headed up to the upstairs bar, which is their casual area, serving a dozen or so different types of hot dogs and free peanuts.  The upstairs bar has one cask beer and then a bunch of American craft bottles.  We shared a Stillwater Stateside Saison, which I thought was fantastic.

I thought Fork and Barrel was pretty special.  It's not super cheap in relation to other gastropubs, but it's really more of a restaurant than a bar.  If I didn't hear familiar city sounds like car alarms outside I could have sworn I was in the British countryside.  I'm glad it's not in walking distance to my house, or I'd be tempted to see what's on tap on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grilled Cheese and Oak Aged Beer

A coworker of mine has been making grilled cheese for dinner for it's cheap and nutritious quality, but I think mostly for the comforting gooey goodness aspect of it.  This gave me the idea to make a gourmet grilled cheese.  I decided to try to invent my own sandwich trying to use mostly ingredients we already had on hand.  Here's what I came up with:

Ezekial 4:9 sesame bread- If you've ever had sprouted grain bread, you'll know it's quite a mouthful, for me a little too much for a basic pb and j but perfect for grilled cheese due to it's sturdiness.  Initially I thought of getting a sourdough loaf, but the Ezekial was surprisingly perfect.

Jarlsberg-Basically swiss, not expensive but an upgrade than your deli counter garden variety. 

Carmelized onions

Bacon-no brainer

Arugula-next time I would put this on the side with a little oil and vinegar, it got soggy on the sandwich and didn't add a lot of flavor

Pears-I sliced them and baked them in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes or so.  I sliced them a bit too thick so that they weren't evenly distributed throughout the sandwich.

Honey-I used a creamy type honey, just a spoonful.  There may be a bit too much sweet on this sandwich for some people, with the carmelized onions, but I thought it pulled together quite nicely.  Next time I might salt the ingredients or trial a different cheese.

And of course, butter for the grilling.

The end result was an extremely satisfying meal.  I served it with some roasted red pepper and tomato soup, the type you could get at Trader Joe's or many grocery stores.

For the beer pairing I choose an oak aged imperial stout, Dragon's Milk from New Holland Brewing in Michigan.  It's a high ABV, richly flavored beer that stood up well to the buttery cheesy bacony goodness of the sandwich.  The roasted aspect of the stout matched up nicely with the carmelized onions.  My coworker also loves this beer, so I guess she should get a lot of credit for this meal.

Just another Tuesday night in our gourmet househould. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Next 15 Shows

Here is the second part of my top 25 shows.

11.  Seinfeld-This would never drop below 11, if anything it should be moved into the top 10.

12.  The Office (both versions)-I had the pleasure of watching the original while studying in England.  The American version took it and ran with it.

13.  Lost-Should be a top ten show, except there were too many throwaway storylines.  It seems like the writers never really knew what the hell they were doing.  Still, the result was a phenomenon of a show, a watercooler show like no other.

14.  Family Ties-Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton, some smart political humor and a cheesy-as-hell 80s theme song make this one of my sentimental favorites.

15.  The Amazing Race-This could have been my reality entry in the top 10, except that a few of the seasons were kind of whack, and they only just started shooting it in HD.

16.  The Fresh Prince of Bel Air-I love the nonstop Carlton jokes and DJ Jazzy Jeff's acting skills.  The best episode is when Will's father (Ben Vereen) returns to his life.  I get choked up every time it reruns.

17.  The Cosby Show-One of my saddest memories is not letting my grandmother watch the Cosby Show bc/ my dad was taping something else and I didn't know you could change the channel without messing it up. The fact that my grandmother was hooked on the show says something interesting about race in the 80s.  I'm not sure what, exactly, but something...

18.  All in the Family-A groundbreaking sitcom, not just bc/ it's the first time a toilet flushed on a tv show.  This show manged to be funny and yet challenged the fabric of social norms.  When the Jefferson's moved into town, the show really got going.

19.  The Honeymooners-The original sitcom.  Nicole will probably say it's based too much on the comedy of one man and that disqualifies it ;) but I think it was pretty damn funny.
20.  House-Hugh Laurie's acting has kept this show watchable the past couple of seasons, bc/ otherwise it isn't very good.  The first few seasons were pretty neat, though, and the cases House and his team solved--and the way they solved them--made for some pretty intense tv.
21.  American Idol-I know this show is awful, but I can't get enough of the world's biggest talent show.

22.  Alias-The first two seasons of Alias are superb, but it jumps the shark quickly by letting too many cats out of the bag, if you can follow my metaphors.  Great spy show.

23.  Summer Heights High-This is hardly a show, but rather a one season story with three roles played by one actor.  It could be annoying but is actually a pretty clever Australian comedy.

24. Spaced-I have a feeling if I rewatch this it would jump up the list.  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright deliver some solid laughs in their pre Shaun of the Dead days with Jessica Stevenson as co-writer/co-star.

25.  Everwood-This is a pretty cheesy family drama, but it is well acted and written, and tackles some pretty touchy subjects, e.g. abortion with an amount of finesse rarely seen on network tv.

Honorable mentions:

Survivor-I watch this show bc/ it's one of my wife's favorites, and I sort of hate it, but sort of think it's a great show.  I just couldn't let it crack the list, though.

Da Ali G Show-Sacha Baron Cohen's three-headed-character-monster show was at it's funniest before people knew what the hell was going on.  My favorite of his interviews is Newt Gingrich.

The O.C.-Season 1 is actually critically acclaimed and very entertaining.  It immediately becomes a caricature of itself after that.

The Simpsons-I've never been a huge fan but I think it's funny and respect it's run.

Law and Order-Every actor was a guest start on it, either on the way up or the way down.  Procedural crime drama at it's best.