Tuesday, January 16, 2018

really the last link in the chain(s)

Well, you are probably pretty tired of this subject by now.   But I should pass something along to you, so it may deserve one more little shot.  And maybe a couple of comments.

While of course the Feeder (unabashedly) considers himself a champion of independent restaurants, with a specialty in “Just Right” places, there are other sources of such information.  Back in the day, when I was writing a little “Moody’s View” column for the Tourism folk, I got to know them pretty well.  They of course want to promote our county as a destination for various things, fishing, hiking, birding, small local festivals (Annual Oyster Festival and BeerFest), and of course the consumption of food. I have to admit they have included a very nice list of local places for eating around the county on their website .  While their “” category does include chains (all described as such in the tag lines… like for CIB “Casual, island-themed chain known for American fare and unique drinks”.  To be somewhat fair, chains, like them or not, are part of the fabric of the county, and some visitors probably are more comfortable going to places they are familiar with.

But the categories are further broken down into more specific themed places, like seafood and waterside, and "Hidden Gems", which are all locally owned establishments.  You might browse a bit there's a lot of good info there; it takes a lot of work to assemble those kinds of list. They did a nice job.

One of the establishments that shows up in multiple categories is the venerable Courtney’s down in Ridge (sometimes pronounced "Reeeeidge".  I have extolled their place in the list of just right places, but lately I have been receiving reports that time catches up with all of us.  Stories of empty tables, and even longer waits seem to be growing.  Tommy and Julie are getting on, but trying to hold fast.  There seems to be no successor in sight.   Maybe that’s just as well.  I keep urging you to go if you’ve never been, as I fear that maybe they are approaching the end of their run with the place.  Just imagine how many years they have been toiling in what is after all, a brutal business.   I still maintain the king of the “just rights” was St. James Pub, now of course defunct.

Speaking of defunct, I did happen on a little story that features places that were in (at least my) past.   Some are barely holding on, and some are gone only leaving us with memories… “oh yeah!  I remember when…”

It does contain ads, but also some interesting features; I thought it was worth a look

Thanks to those who have suggested other techniques for dealing with those pesky Crassostrea Virginica people.

okay, so that's it.  Please branch out from your "dining" comfort zone to try some of the neat little places in the county.  you might be pleasantly surprised, but no guarantees!  they do miss sometimes as well...  and it's up to you to figure out how to


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Last Chain Link

Okay, life intervened a bit yesterday and I didn’t get to the last link in the chain.  Tension only building.. So, we’ll wrap up this overly verbose series on Tom Sietsema’s reviews of top ten chains, with his “final Four”.  Let’s do a little game.   The final four include Denny’s, Texas Roadhouse, Cracker Barrel, and Olive Garden..  Take a moment and try to think what order you would put them in.  Probably you will be able to guess his lineup, but here are excerpts from his descriptions…scores removed

 “The cheeseburger? It’s a whopper. Bite down on the construction, built with a bun that’s freckled with Sesame seeds, and the crusty patty might squirt juices…you know, like a decent hamburger might.  My go to entrée is spaghetti and meat balls offered with a sauce that bridges sweetness and tang…Upon exiting his Uber driver told him that “it feels like my Grandfather’s, proof that chains can be personal”
Best of the Bunch: Pancakes, hash browns, spaghetti and meatballs, warm chocolate lava cake (with a tip of his hat to Jean-Georges Vongerichten)
Steer clear of: Seasonal specialties such as pancakes smothered in what tastes like white Chocolate with orange zest.

Cracker Barrel
no other chain restaurant in my months-long survey comes as close to home cooking as this operation.  An imbiber’s regret: no wine or beer to enjoy with my meal… Soda glasses are refilled without your having to ask… requests are met with “yes sir, or ma’am".. I take home what I can’t finish…a “country boy” platter (pork chops, fried apples and cheesy hash browns makes me think of my grandmother, a feat managed by no other chain.
Best of the Bunch:  Meatloaf, pork chops, trout (!), mac and cheese, pecan pie
Steer clear of: Chicken and dumplings

Texas Roadhouse
“Beef is your friend here, be it in a bowl of zippy chili, chopped steak under a cover of cheese and caramelized onions, or an agreeable rib-eye cooked to the color you ask…. This pine-walled roadhouse is the only brand I know that invites (birthday celebrants) to sit on a saddle-on-wheels, while being feted with staff led cheering and clapping… pleasant surprise is the Cactus Blossom (deep fried onion)..which puts the bloomin’ draw from the place that pretends to take you Down Under to shame.  Does enough dishes well to become your choice among like brands (steak houses)..
Best: Most anything starring beef, mashed potatoes, Cactus Blossom
Steer clear: Pulled pork (dry) and catfish (stiff)

Olive Garden
“unlike some of its competition, the place smells like actual cooking is going on…Of all the restaurants I surveyed, this one aspires to a modicum of sophistication… The bartender steered him away from the house wine…décor plays up the Italian theme.. but the popular breadsticks.. palatable only when warm are wholly American, as is the kitchen’s tendency to overcook its pastas…gloppy fettuccini tastes nothing like I’ve encountered in the Old World
Best:  gratis wine tastes, minestrone, spaghetti and meatballs, tiramisu
Steer:…: Sangria that tastes like Kool-Aid for adults, Tour of Italy (not!)

Ta daaa!
Of course your personal opinion will be colored by experiences you may have had in any of those four venues, BUT the palate for hire Mr. Sietsema puts them in the following order:
4: Olive Garden, Grade C; 3: Texas Roadhouse, Grade B; 2: Denny’s, Grade B; and the top dog: Cracker Barrel, Grade A.

So what do you think?  I’m not sure who I would put one, but personally I don’t much care for the “barrel”.   While Tom S. likes the (for sale) rockers on the porch and the requisite trip through “a folksy retail store peddling candy, regional sodas, clothing, toys and Gwen Stefani’s Christmas release”.  I find that kind of a sleazy marketing ploy for trapped patrons.  The whole place just seems too chummy for me..  But, a lot of people do like it (one reader enjoys the ability to choose sides).  I have only had breakfast. 

Of his ten chosen venues (only full service restaurant chains – for my friend near Carmel, CA), our little SOMD community is only missing Chili’s, Red Lobster, and Denny’s.  But, those are available 30 miles away in Waldorf…not destination dining..
Hope you enjoyed following the links in the chain… and now

A little lagniappe
Dining Disaster:
Since I usually pass along any dining triumphs, and what (little) success I have in actual cooking, I should relate the other side of the coin when it occurs.
Last night a friend in the neighborhood brought me a few Oysters.  He routinely cooks them, and I mentioned that sometime I would like a few.  So last night he brought me a few:

Now, even though I hang out with pro and good amateur shuckers, I am pitiful, and am afraid of injuring myself with an Oyster Knife.  So, I usually have others do the prep and I enjoy the consumption, I asked my friend how he usually prepared them.  “Easy” he says.. "put them on a sheet pan, put in a 325 degree oven, and in a “few minutes” they will “pop open” and you can pull them out, remove the top shell, cut them loose and enjoy".  Great, I can do that, says I.   So I crank up the Dacor

And commit the little bivalves

While waiting for the “pop”, I assemble the ingredients for the "in house" cocktail sauce:
  Not shown is teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice

Proportions by eye and taste, I whisk them together and get it ready to adorn the oysters still watching and waiting for the “pop”
So I wait.........and wait,  wait some more, refresh my cocktail, and wait… an hour passes and they looked unphased

So I followed MFO’s (sternly worded) suggestion to up the temp, which I did to 425.  Another half hour passes and they’re still tight as a drum.  Since (we got a late start) the hour was getting late, we doused the oven, turned out the lights and crestfallen went to bed…

I know a lot of folks use this technique, so I am not sure where the failure was.  I consulted a local aquaculture guy who grows oysters and he usually does them that way on a grill.  Figures the temp anywhere from 450 to 500, and takes around eight to ten minutes. 

While it seems obvious, the Feeder will welcome any (civil) suggestions, either by replying to the blog, or using my Metrocrap email address, or even PM on Facebook.

And I was a long way from being

and my chance to Moon you

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Second Link

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seat waiting for the next installment of the links in the “chain”.

Wait no longer!  I’ll summarize Mr. Sietsema’ s “ratings” of ten of the most popular chains we all know and (a few) love so well..  To use his lead in quote (without permission):

“people love to pick on chains.  Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets”

He goes on to make the point about national uniformity, and then says: “but not all chains are created equal” and how he spent several months “grazing through the menus of the 10 casual, full service restaurant chains that have the highest sales, according to National Restaurant News”.  As a quick fact, Applebee’s comes in at No. 1 (in sales) at $4.4 Billion.

Okay, so following David Letterman’s technique, let’s plow through the ten.  He gives a letter grade (A-F).  There were some surprises, see what you think.  He also includes a common list of “Best (dish) of the Bunch” as well as “Steer Clear Of” I’ll condense his couple of paragraphs as best I can.. [but, try as I might, i got pooped after the first six, so finish in next edition]

No. 10, Grade F: Buffalo Wild Wings
the saddest meal of my entire year; scrawny wings, taste like KFC minus those secret 11 herbs and spices; better miss a meal than to find yourself in this loud, garish, and thoroughly soulless restaurant-in-name only”.
Best of the Bunch: getting the check;
Steer Clear of: everything but the beer

No. 9, Grade D: IHOP
probably the best that can be said is that…the pancakes are fluffy; a leathery soft tortilla crammed with fish that appeared to be fried in a straitjacket;  Had to chase the server outside to get the check, she was on her smoke break”
Best of the Bunch: Patty Melt, Spinach Mushroom Omelet (sans hollandaise)
Steer Clear of: Burgers, Fried Fish tacos, country fried steak

No 8, Grade D: Outback Steakhouse
let me get this out of the way:  the piece de resistance here is one of the most vulgar creations that any chain has whipped up [bloomin’ onion]; people come here for steak.  They shouldn’t, [looks good, tastes tame], alternatives to beef (crab cakes, arid pork ribs) almost as bad; About as much in common with Australia as Olive Garden has with Italy”
Best… wine poured by the glass poured from individual carafes, garlicky mashed potatoes, Parmesan Herbed chicken, spiced Carrot Cake
Steer clear: Crab cakes, fish tacos, pork ribs, not-so-hot and batter heavy “volcano” shrimp

No. 7, Grade C-minus: Red Lobster
“Red Lobster makes for blue diners; steamed and split [Lobsters] reveal seafood that tastes like… not much without (lots of) melted butter; Salmon might just as well have swum in from a banquet; sometimes the most nautical part of my visits are the garnishes on the walls [paintings, flags, etc];
Best… Cheese biscuits, Yucatan shrimp, coconut shrimp, crab legs
Steer… Doughy lobster pizza, fried clams, fried clams, maple glazed chicken that tastes like airline issue, steamed lobster, achingly sweet and dense Key Lime pie.

No. 6, Grade C-minus: Chili’s Grill and Bar
“ribs: you would wonder what all the fuss is about.  No amount of BBQ sauce can hide the fact that the flesh is dry; Cajun Pasta penne with chicken or shrimp salty with parmesan.. a gummy bore; Simple is better, Rib Eye comes with a nice beefiness and a good scoop of mashed loaded with bacon, cheese and Scallions
Best: Southwestern egg rolls, mini-burgers, panko onion rings, rib-eye
Steer: Caribbean Salad, Cajun pasta, salted caramel cake

No 5, Grade C: Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar
“…offers sufficient choices on its multiple plastic menus in its rec-room-dressed dining room to keep the brand interesting; skeptics can warm up to the mildly zesty  Sriracha shrimp presented on tortilla chips and agreeable chicken tacos; forget the arid ribs with their sweet glaze, and Whiskey-bacon burger; better than you might expect are the juicy enough steak on the surf and turf combo;
Best: Sriracha shrimp, Crunchy-spicy chicken wings, steak quesadilla, Skin on mashed potatoes, grilled chicken with quinoa and cranberries
Steer: Ribs, salmon, apple chimi-cheesecake

Break, break…Okay, at this point I might assume you are as tired of reading this as I am of typing, so let’s hold the “Final Four” until tomorrow. 

Besides I want to let you know about a little food product we found.  As you should know by now, I have been placed on a restricted sodium diet, because “water follows sodium” and the retention of water is one of the culprits in my current medical condition.  So we have taken to be avid readers of “Nutritional” values of products we buy and consume.   MFO has got a few “low sodium” cookbooks and we’re trying use those. 

Anyway, as you also know cocktail hour is sacred in the House of Moody.  Most of the stuff we use for Knoshes is loaded with salt (which is why it tastes good) so we have a little scale we use to determine what an ounce of salted nuts is, limit cheeses to miniscule proportions, and so forth.  You might remember we had a wonderful Smoked Salmon Dip at thanksgiving.  Well, MFO was in the grocery store the other day and her eye fell on:

And she picked up the little tub.   Guess what??!! While not as lovely as the homemade variety, it really tastes pretty good.  Plus it is not particularly salt heavy.  I suppose one could pump it up a bit by adding dill weed, but we haven’t tried that yet. 

a good thing to keep in the fridge for surprise guests maybe.

Okay, so we're almost through with the chain, final link tomorrow and maybe we'll try to figure out how to


Friday, January 5, 2018

First Link in the.....

Well, the holidays are come and gone.  I hope everybody had a memorable time.  We sure did.   So, with all that behind us, I hope to return to the (new for me) normal, and maybe concentrate on food for a change.  I’ve been turning the discussion of the topic below over in my head a lot lately, and I wanted to get into it a bit without distractions of medical or holiday nature.

A subject I have danced with for a long time is the subject of “chain” restaurants.  I have been taken to task occasionally for always running down “chains” and not pushing the many local independently operated restaurants around here.  Almost the same thing in my mind, damning by faint praise, but it may be a fair comment. 

Although I think I’ve brushed on it in the past, I should narrow down the subject a bit; for the present discussion I offer what I would define as “chain”.  Generally, I would consider a chain restaurant as one that has multiple locations nationwide, a national headquarters, and pretty much the same menu at all locations.   Most of their food is prepared at a regional center, and distributed to all the venues.  McDonald's would be an example of what I am thinking of. 

There are some advantages to his approach.  If you’re on a business trip, or traveling in unfamiliar territory, it is comforting knowing you can go to say, Olive Garden and get the same identical bread sticks or endless salad you’re used to no surprises.  More later, but like Mr. Sietsema says: “You can sit down at Denny’s and get the same fluffy pancakes whether you’re in Miami and Minneapolis”.  Food quality, décor, speed of service, and prices are probably the same in either place.  Consistency is what they aim for.  Close your eyes, and once you walk in the door at Cracker Barrel you could be anywhere..

And before I go further, I have to state that some of my opinions are just that, opinions or beliefs.  I have never been associated with any particular business, but a few contrasts I see between “local” and “chains” would be:

(Your) Money does not all stay within the local economy.  A portion goes to “headquarters”.  With hundreds of outlets, if one restaurant fails or does poorly, revenues from 15 others can lessen the hurt without killing the enterprise.  If a local restaurant struggles, they’re on their own.  

If food arrives via 18 wheelers, local farmers get no benefit.

Delivered food offers no opportunity for creativity in the kitchen, how a dish should be prepared and finished is dictated in the name of consistency.  

A local chef must find financing on their own, with a massive corporation behind them, chains can bankroll a certain amount of the cost.

Of course the great leveler is the murky subject of “service”.   Whoever approaches your table can enhance or detract from your experience.  My only thought along these lines are that in a multi-state chain, most servers are just doing a “job”.  Of course they want you to enjoy your meal but have no stake in the business.  If you work in a small independent place your actions can affect the bottom line.  If it fails, you do also.  In the chain you can just move down the street and try again.  This of course is a gross generalization, but you get the idea, I think there is a kernel of truth here. 

So anyway those are some thoughts.  What kind of triggered this was a piece that appeared in the December 13 Food Section of the Washington Post.  My model, Mr. Sietsema, rated the nation’s 10 top chain restaurants, as a result of multiple visits to each.  I kind of hate to do this to you, but if I launch into that piece, your eyes will probably further glaze over, so we’ll save that for the next posting.   Just to throw you a crumb his number one of the ten (which surprised me) is a place has a front porch with rocking chairs.

Wonderful News

A bit of local news, I have heard from a few sources that the previous home of Café Des Artistes and La Rive Breton will now be ANOTHER Tex Mex emporium, perhaps associated with the Plaza Azteca Group.   And on the other corner, it is still dark…

You’ll have to now decide what is the Leonardtown



Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back...

Well, here we are at the end of 2017.  It is common at this time of year to see articles on “The year in review”, or “The (gulp) Best of 2017” on and on.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post for some good and not so good reasons.  Got me to thinking about the Feeder’s year so I’ll cave in and join my journalistic brethren with a few highlights from the year gone by.  Conscientious readers might find their memories tickled a bit…

Spring Journey

We made an inland waterway trip from Charleston (Foodie Mecca) to Jacksonville:
seeing things like lovely historic Southern homes:

 And who has had an oyster scald at Hog Hammock, Sapelo Island, Georgia?

Or “gone Shrimpin’”?

Summer Journey

An extended MOMSTER road trip to the Midwest to see FOJTE in STL (see "best" below) and FOJTY in Kansas City (BBQ mecca)

(featured in latest Southern Living magazine)

Then to Holland, MI, to deliver MFO’s organized Morris “Mose” Moody’s WWI archive to Holland, Michigan

And then some from the Craig side (My mom’s) to Michigan State University in East Lansing (my home town!)

Which included a lovely dinner at the MSU Hospitality facility of Kellogg Center

Fall Fun
A lovely Thanksgiving dinner hosted and attended by good friends

where's mine?

Somewhere in here the “not so good” part kicks in.  will keep it short (as was my breathing) which eventually resulted in a week’s accommodations in John’s Hopkins palatial guest rooms

Where I got to get scanned, imaged, injected, measured, poked and prodded, but a diagnosis of Idiopathic Pulmonary Hypertension has been levied, and medications have greatly relieved my symptoms.  I also am now in 24/7 Oxygen, but that is livable and I’m learning to adjust (one of many to come).

But I was “sprung” in time to get back to the digs and was able (with the help of friends) 

to enjoy our Christmas tree and displays once again

FOJTE was able to break free and came and visited for a few days, wonderful to see them….  
and so sad to see them go

TY was obligated by his police officer schedule to stay in KC, but we talked by phone several times.  So it was the first Christmas at “home” for the Feeders in all the time we’ve been in Maryland.  Who knows what the sand in the top of the hourglass holds.

Okay enough of that… I hope you all had a wonderful holiday period with friends, families, and good memories of those who were here in years past.

And, I’ll use the word I generally despise and criticize, but it applies in this case.
The BEST meal (with a nod to KC BBQ) I had in 2017 was at

Everything fit, was in harmony beautiful setting, exemplary service

And exquisite food

Another case where two dimensional image doesn’t do the original justice..

And now that the holidays are behind us (save tonight and tomorrow), soon you will see a piece on one of my favorite whipping boys: “Chains”.

So if you’re going out tonight, act sensibly and make sure you are