Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bovines and Pisces... Just Right?



Well, I may have to create a new category... “Just Right” should be reserved for places that are true to their setting and have a history, generally being in place for many years,  a long part of the community.  So, kind of like “Zee Best Café”, “The Cow and the Fish” doesn’t exactly fit my definition of “Just Right”.  Maybe if they survive another decade or so, they might qualify.  So maybe something like “just fine” which might reflect a newer place that provides good food with acceptable service.  If so, the Cow and the Fish would certainly sit at the top of that list, with Zee maybe under that, and we can begin to explore more candidates.

So anyway, the “Just Right” team assembled Friday at the Cow and Fish north on 235 a bit from town.  A very nice sign marks the place



Theat location has had a few incarnations before the C&F folks took over.  I think it was a Capt something, maybe a deli before that.  Not really a great location. It is kind of a difficult place to find the first time, and you are very likely to drive right by it: “Hey! …there it was!” and do a kind of hazardous U – turn farther up.   I must admit I have never been in the space under previous owners, so don’t have much of a gage of what they have done this time. Whatever it is, the latest occupants have done a very nice job of creating an inviting, albeit sparse space just inside the door, with a seating area and a bar.




Although I never saw the last half, the first part of the name is carried out tastefully in decoration


 I never did see the piscine equivalent (if there is one)

Seating is mostly along the wall, with other of the nine tables distributed along the narrow space.  Again minimal treatment, no linens, at least for lunch service



The owners have a (culinary) background from Europe, mostly from Spain where the Chef earned his culinary degree in Girona.  Oddly enough, he was born in SOMD and spent some time on the Georgia Tech football team (not inside info, it’s on their menu).  They purport to love Mediterranean cuisine, although as of yet, it hasn’t translated to the menu.

We were greeted at the door by the Hostess/lady part of the owners (?) who had what I will call a German accent.  As MFO would attest, I am awful at placing accents, and what I may think is German often turns out to be Russian, some version of Slavic, or something else.  Anyway, she is very pleasant, and the (only) server (who also had an accent, MAYBE a daughter?) took us to one of the tables along the wall.  Two on the bench, and chairs on the other side.

There is a blackboard with specials in the waiting area, but it is not visible once you’re seated, so take note if you’re interested.  We were seated by the young lady who did an acceptable form of the speech,  “I’m …. And I’ll be your server”, and asked about drinks.  The do have a full bar available, but I stuck with H20 (for once).  The menus are a (two sided) single sheet encased in a flimsy page protector as opposed to the more common laminated variety. I would hope/suppose that allows for changes without great cost. 



Apparently an “all in one” menu as lunch and dinner options on the same sheet.  I would have to be honest here (as I always try to be) that despite the claim to be “bringing a taste of Europe to Southern Maryland”, it is not evident on the menu.  Maybe the other way around, as most of the selections are the standard burgers, Crab cakes and sandwiches, Philly sub, salads, Chicken or Shrimp Alfredo, etc.  Dinner expands the options to steaks (Cow):, flat iron (a nice variation), strip, and a Surf and Turf (C&F) of a flat iron with shrimp.  The (Fish) portion offers grilled Salmon, Crab Cakes, or Scallops.  There is a standing house special of a “Sandie” which consists of a steak with a  skewer of shrimp and scallops.  Prices of everything are under twenty five dollars.   Again, there are daily options which may contain more eclectic dishes.  Probably can’t read this in the blog, but it will give you the idea (I cautiously removed the protector to get rid of highlights)



As for our lunch, I ordered a special of fried (local) perch with a side (always have to choose a side in SOMD; French fries, veggie du jour, or spinach sautéed in garlic).  The other members of the team ordered burgers.  As we sat and chatted, I of course watched other dishes come out from the kitchen, all of which were pleasing to the eye, and seemed to be plentiful.  Even though it was lunch time, I was surprised (and pleased) to see several orders of Mussels being served. 

When one orders a “side salad” as part of your menu choice, especially at lunch, one would expect your main dish to be plated with a little pile of greens to the side.  Well, here is how the “side” salad arrived by itself, before the main dish was served.



A very pretty presentation, nicely assembled, and I thought the “compass point” halved cherry tomatoes were a clever touch.  Dressings were served on the side and yes, Blue Cheese WAS an option.   The greens were very fresh, crunchy, and provided a good start to the lunch.  My fish arrived a bit before finishing, but that may have been my timing, not theirs.  And look how nicely they were presented – could have been the ubiquitous red plastic basket, but no, a tasteful triangular wire affair



The perch were just "set" (no mushy, not dry) inside of the hot, crunchy coating that had a little touch of some spice (NOT OLD BAY) that I couldn’t identify.  The Feeder unfortunately is as adept at identifying spices as accents.  But whatever, they were very enjoyable

The burgers were not your run of the mill grilled patty, but instead looked to be a hand crafted patty of considerable size, draped with your choice of cheese (perfectly melted), tomato and lettuce, and the “fries” for the choice



Both owners of the burgers remarked independently “Wow, this is good”.   How often do you hear an extemporaneous endorsement of a burger!  Both eventually had to resort to knives and forks to finish as the juice from the meat finally overcame the strength of the bun.

Water “glasses” (no comment) served with lemon without a requrest




Were kept full, the server occasionally checked by visually, and in the end asked if we were through (no “werkin’ on that?”) before clearing the plates.  By the time we left, there were maybe six other tables for her to watch, and we never felt neglected nor coddled.   Just fine. My total (no alcohol) bill was under ten dollars.

I thought the food was excellent.  I will definitely plan to return for dinner.  On the way out, I asked the Hostess if they took dinner reservations, and they do.  If word spreads (and dinner matches the lunch quality) I would say you should book. 

So a very pleasant experience; much better than I expected.  Go! and at dinner be sure to

DFD

Clarification:  based on a comment from a loyal reader, my description of the veteran at the book sale was in no way meant to be critical nor disrespectful.  We couldn't enjoy our lives without their selfless service for us.  


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Ends


Well, the annual FOL book sale is over.  Three grueling days of sitting on a cold folding chair counting out change is done.  “One pamphlet is all you could find? (with a chuckle)”   Yes, how much?  “That will be a whole fifty cents (always with a smile)”.  Fumble, fumble, fumble,  here.  “Okay, $.50 out of twenty”.  Stuff like that.  

A couple of money related observations.  I am not trying to indict anybody here, but it SEEMS to me, that females tend to keep their folding money in a non segregated wad.  Twenties mixed indiscriminately with tens, ones, and fives, usually all unevenly folded about five times  Just an observation.  Another money related story that was when an endearing older gentleman (when I say older, I mean even older than me) came up to the table with just a couple of little things that totaled a buck twenty five. He had on a well worn flannel plaid shirt, and one of those military ball caps from some squadron or ship that has a dome about a foot high with all sorts of script on it, you know what I mean.  Lovely guy.  Anyway, when informed of the price he dug in his pant pockets and came out with one of those shiny plastic oval change purses that you squeeze from the ends to open, and fished out the correct change.  It’s why I love the book sale (and St. Mary’s County).  I should do so well.

 Another nice thing about the sale is that I get to see a lot of my former colleagues from work than I’ve seen in a long time.  Indicative of the intelligence of my old buddies.  (and they weren’t the fifty cent stories).  

This year we had real food for the patrons, Friday we had the Lenny’s folks offering among other things Danny’s stuffed ham.  It happens to be just the way I like it (uh huh, u huh) a little tang without a lot of heat.  Good stuff.  

The other two days we had an honest to goodness food truck from the “I’se Da Bye’s” folks



I was told they were an outgrowth of the “hot dog guy” that used to hang out by the Brass Rail.  Usual stuff, hot dogs, burgers, fries and the like. 

The last day of the sale (Sunday) things go to half price in an effort to get rid of more stuff (read on).  It’s always kind of amusing to see what DOESN’T get picked up.  For instance I was glad to see this item headed for the recycle bins.



Not only is it the NEW B(word) Recipes, it is an all new edition.  I suppose to differentiate it from the OLD B recipes, or an old edition of the NEW B recipes.  Too bad it was from the Cook’s Illustrated folks, hopefully the ones who ousted Chris Kimball. By the way, I think the "Booty Food" tome also was pitched and in response to a reader inquiry, I didn't investigate if bacon grease spattering was involved.  Wish i would have nabbed it now..  Collector's items... Another thing we always have (besides an enormous "Chicken Soup for....." collection) is a TON of “….. for Dummies” books



And these are the left overs! they tend to sell like hot cakes.  There doesn’t seem to be any subject that is not covered for us Dummies




Of course there are band wagon jumpers, and apparently they forsook "Dummies"  for “.......For Idiots.  Notice the ones that percolated to the top was one for divorce and one for motorcycles.  Maybe related.

The "Booty" comment above reminded me of a cute story, told in the best taste I can. A thirty something couple came to my checkout table with a couple of piles of books to be priced.  They must have had stacks of maybe ten to twelve books each.  The books are priced by hard cover (regular books) and what have come to be called “trade paperbacks” large but with a non hard spine, like the “Dummies” books.  (two or one bucks) . So we have to go through each pile to total up the stack.   The stack in front of me was mostly hardbacks, but somewhere down in the middle was what looked like a Trade book.  In order to check, I lifted up the book above it a bit, and found it was indeed a Dummy Trade…. Sex for Dummies.   I would have done the same thing.   

At the end of the sale, volunteers appear and fill up “Gaylords” with the (hundreds of) unsold books.Yes, each year starts with zero books.  This one of three buildings all result from one year of donations..

                  

The Gaylords get trucked up to a Rotary club in Parole (and now Frederick) that gets them distributed to underprivileged schools and libraries, veterans homes, over seas, etc.  So while they leave us they have a continued good use.  Long live Books!

TS (not Eliot)

As alert readers know, one of my idols (well somebody I greatly respect) is Tom Sietsema who writes food for the Washington Post.  My usual Sunday morning routine is coffee and savoring (get it?) the restaurant reviews in the Magazine.  While on the surface it would seem a perfect job, I am not so sure I would not like to have to produce a review every week.   

Anyway, sometimes he alters his routine and covers some aspect of dining other than the food.  Last Sunday (4/24) he had a column called “Dining and the delicate art of communication”.  He leads off with: “not a month passes that a reader doesn’t complain to me about something a waiter says.  At the TOP (caps mine) of the list of rants is a question meant to see if a plate is ready to be cleared, often delivered by a server as “Are you still working on that?”  HAH!  Where have you heard that gripe before? thank you very much.  He (like the Feeder) would prefer a genteel query such as: “May I clear your plate?” provided everyone else at the table is finished eating”.  Hah! number two.  Another complaint was the praising of a diner by the server with a loud “Good Job!” for a clean plate.  Won’t go on, but good to see a professional palate getting bugged the same as this poor man’s one.

Just Right Opportunity

Will occur tomorrow someplace in the County … restaurateurs tremble!  Report will follow

DFD


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bountiful Browsing


Well, I gave you a little info on the Friends of the Library book sale last time, but tomorrow the "real" show begins.  You might remember seeing the empty tables and filled boxes.  Now there are empty boxes and filled tables!




Notice the table in front contains books near and dear to the Feeder’s heart

With the recent “boom” in cooking and food, our cookbook table just gets bigger each year.  In the interest of capitalizing on the tidal wave, every chef you ever heard of has a cook book, and many of them eventually find their way onto the book sale table.  There is always a bunch of Rachel Ray cast offs, but there are also quality books by Julia and Jacques, if you look for them.  How many of you remember this guy, one of the early, early pioneers of TV chefs?



To make sure the Galloping Gourmet is still with us, I just googled him and he is still alive (in his early eighties), probably wine glass in hand, hopefully cooking something.  Notice he was parked next to a more recent celeb, The Barefoot Contessa.

The cookbooks range from serious to frivolous, with tips on how you can have a different chicken dish every day of the year (which i can't imagine)



Or, if you want more variety, you could take home these two beauties, for a mere four bucks and have 5 years (2000/365) of recipes.



I suppose that there might (hopefully shouldbe some overlap between the 1000 “classic” and the 1000 “b-word” version.  One would hope so.  I always wonder how the publishers come up with that many recipes.  
I was not sure how to interpret this one:



Meaning “easy to make”? or jump on the trendy band wagon, a la Dana Carvey's church lady:  "how conveeeeeeenient!"

The volunteers who unbox the books try to get them kind of arranged in groups on a particular subject.  One of the areas I always look for is the bar tending section, a small portion of which looks like



I enjoy looking in the older volumes, and generally check for the Feeder’s Favorite, a “Dry Manhattan”.  I was pleased to see at least two of them had the correct recipe



This is the recipe I prefer.   

Another was close:



but an olive garnish?  And notice the recipe for the “regular” Manhattan, just above the (dry) version.   No mention of bitters, now considered standard for Manhattan.

Anyway, it is always fun to browse, and you never know what you might find (I'm sure nearby Craig Claiborne is spinning in his grave)



Apparently she doesn’t have to worry about how to
DFD

Come and see me this weekend, in the Non-Fiction building..


Monday, April 18, 2016

Sometimes you feel....



...like a blog and sometimes you don’t.  Aside from our luncheon at “Zee” the other day haven’t had any food experiences worth noting lately, and for once we haven’t traveled anywhere exciting either.

But, a couple of things over the weekend that were fun, plus maybe a few notes from one of my latest magazines might be worth your time.

Books
Every year the Friends of the (St. Mary’s County) Libraries (FOL) holds their book sale at the Fairgrounds wherein thousands (yes, thousands) of books are for sale that helps to support the libraries.  It was pushed back a month this year to avoid the seemingly unavoidable bad weather that seems to haunt the sale.  This year it will be the 22nd through the 24th of April.  As usual there will be a building full of fiction, non-fiction, children’s, and rare and unusual books.  For a couple of bucks you can get a full fledged hard cover book (usually) in pristine condition, or paperbacks for less.  Amazing values, which attract dealers from all over the eastern seaboard.

I pretty much yak about this every year, but it is worth your time and treasure if you can fit it in.  Although the sale is next weekend, activity began last weekend.   All year, people bring books to the back end of the Leonardtown Library which gradually fills up




We got there a little later than usual this year, and this represents about a third of what was there originally.
Volunteers with strong backs help load them into a couple of box trucks



And an armada of “friends” vehicles



Including the MOMSTER


Then take the short drive over to the Fairgrounds, where they are unloaded into the correct building,




This week will be spent in unboxing, and sorting the books into categories on the tables.  You normally can find the Feeder helping with the cookbooks.

Anyway, hope you can come out.  Friday is “members only” day, but you can join the FOL on the spot and get first crack at the books.  During the sale I hang out in the Non Fiction building.  On Sunday,  with help from volunteers from Lexington Park Rotary Club, ALL leftover books are loaded in Gaylords, put in trucks, and taken up to another Rotary Club in Parole who then distribute them to various schools, libraries, and charities, service people, etc.,  world wide.

So each year, the FOL starts with zero books and still fills up the Leonardtown libraries "back room"

Chapel
After spending part of the morning at the Library and Fairgrounds I detached and went down to Historic St. Mary’s City to fulfill the Docent Duty I signed up for, sitting at the Brick Chapel and telling the story to people that visit.  Always a crap shoot on numbers of visitors, and in the first few hours, this was typical of the patrons



However, a few two legged folks showed up.  By the way, the famous Lead Coffins are now on display back in their original location under the floor of the left (or right) transept.  Funny about church geography; it always kind of hinges on if you’re looking AT the altar, or ON the altar looking at the congregation.  Anyway, the coffins are on the side toward Route Five, which of course was not there in 1667!

MFO found a new piece of “Office Furniture” for me which I debuted Saturday



You might notice the chairs in the background inside the chapel



Which was set up for…. no not a service, but a concert by the St. Maries Musica choral group, which was scheduled for three.  So, along about one forty five or so, the performers began to show up, and eventually rehearsed, sort of giving a preview



The interior acoustics of the chapel are not suited to screaming kids, but they are lovely for such vocal groups, string quartets and the like..  I stayed and listened to most of the concert, but departed for the end after a long day.  By the way, there is ANOTHER concert this coming weekend, performed by Ping, the choral group from St. Mary’s College.  I believe that starts at one.

No Show’s and Factoids
I think I’ve mentioned that one of the little print magazines I get is Restaurant Hospitality which is kind of geared to the business side of running restaurants.  What millennials really want, how to increase menu interest, etc.  The editor usually throws out a question for the readership.  

This month he was talking about the issues of “no-shows”, a constant problem for the restaurants.  How many times have you sat waiting for “your” table, watching empty tables created by the thoughtless people who don’t cancel if they know they can’t make it.  That sort of thing leads naturally to “over booking” to cover their butts.  Editor recounted an experience at an (unnamed) restaurant in DC where he arrived with three friends for an 8:30 reservation, only to find that the place was a madhouse with apparently every (overbooked) group showing along with walk ins.   After waiting for an hour and a half in the bar, it appeared that they were no closer and left.  Then, at 11:30, he got a call from the hostess stating their table was ready.  So his question to the readership was: “how do you handle no-shows”.  Will let you know, and don’t do it!

the ‘toids:

-A little box on page 18 says look for beef prices to be dropping 10 – 17 percent this year for all primal cuts.

-Like everybody else in the world, they bestow “Editor’s Choice” awards.  They do, however, have some unusual categories, samples:

  • Best Restaurant Name:  Sexy Tacos/Dirty Cash (Harlem, NYC)
  • Most Creative Cocktail Menu:  Butchertown Grocery, Louisville.  Menu is based on lyrics of Tom Waits; “Stirring my Brandy with a nail”; “get behind the mule”.  A bit esoteric for me
  • Ingredient of the Year:  Whole Roasted Cauliflower; kind of looks like a bloomin’ onion.  Several places, Domenica NOLA; Etch, Nashville
  • Best Chef Tattoo: Mindy Segal (James Beard 2012 Pastry Chef award winner) of Chicago; whole back devoted to a reproduction of her grandmother’s china.  Picture included….
  • Best use of Leftover Product:  Chef Franey of Monterey’s Restaurant 1833 makes his own ricotta cheese, resulting a lot of left over whey byproducts.  Fabricated the cocktail “No Whey” of that along with Remy Martin Cognac, lemon, and simple syrup. 
  • Cleverest Blog Closing:   DFD

Okay, I made that one up..


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Zee.... but NOT Ttop.

      
1637??

Well, as alert readers know I fancy myself as relatively knowledgeable on our County’s history, but I got a good lesson last Friday.   As you might remember, I wondered aloud why the “new” Bollywood "Pine Sine" has 1637 attached to their new tap room.  Well, I found out!  On the way to a pre-cataract doctor appointment  (another story), I dropped off the HSMC BeerFest food vendor forms at (the new location of) Bollywood.  Their food is always a big hit at BF.  Anyway, I asked if the envelope could be passed to Sunny, and it turns out he was there!  After a hello, he said: “So you want to know why we used 1637 on our sign?” I was pleasantly taken aback, and pleased to hear he always reads my blog, hence the question.   Also taken aback some when he explained that he appreciated the fact that Lenny’s was a large part of our county’s history, and wanted to keep that link.  And, since his establishment was in St. Mary’s County he wished to maintain the connection.   So, he reminded me, although St. Mary’s CITY was founded in 1634, St. Mary’s COUNTY was established in 1637! Which translated to the sign.   He hopes to put some historical pictures around and will consult MFO.  Anyway, a great guy, and nice to see he’s so conscious and respectful of our history.   Plus, they supply very nice Indian food to our community!

Zeeking Zee Best

Nice segue to food, eh?  Although my fellow traveler on the road to finding “Just Right” places has expanded his business base to include Florida, we still get together once in a while to explore candidates for the list.   Those who drive up and down on Rte. 235 may have noticed the little blue and white place on the western side of the highway by Laurel Grove Park.  I don’t know its complete history, but it has had a few occupants from liquor store (I think) to fine dining (didn’t last long) and is now the (legible sign on right)




We met there last Wednesday for a lunch and an evaluation.  It is very close, but I’m afraid I can’t quite add it to the list.  It just doesn’t have the longevity which I think is an important criteria.  IF there were a “nice (independent) place to get a good solid lunch without frills” list, it could go on that.  The interior seems freshly painted in bright cheery colors (not quite a criteria)


It is clean, and the service is efficient.  We didn’t get the “Hi I’m…. of you” speech, but during our session we were variously referred to as: “gentlemen, dear, and honey (or maybe it was sweet heart)).   She was friendly and maybe a third of my age, if that.   The place was eventually pretty much full, with some carry outs going out the door as well.  So the “nice place” tag seems to be true.

Okay, as to the mechanics:
Plastic laminated menu?



Check

Right stuff on there? Burgers and Subs; Reuben’s; grilled cheese (with bacon); open faced hot sandwiches; Chef Salad;  check.  

For me a negative was the lack of a tuna melt or a hot ham and cheese sandwich (which did appear as a sub…negative, too much bread).  Plus some interesting additions such as a Bison Burger (maybe from nearby Summerseat!).   

Anyway, I ordered the Patty Melt and my companion got the Bison Burger, and he added the optional Hand Cut fries ($2.99!) but I kept the home made chips which came with it.

Red plastic basket? Check!



Plenty of condiments?  Check!


why is Ketchup always "Fancy"??

Good Food? (bison burger pictured above:  “very good!”), the fries were nicely done..

As for the patty melt… good with minor reservations:



Sources are divided on whether a “classic” patty melt should contain Swiss or American cheese. This version was Swiss (personally I would prefer the cheddar), but the caramelized onions were very good, sweet and smoky, and the rye (although marbled) was fresh and nicely crunchy.   To be very picky, the ratio of meat thickness to bread thickness was pretty high.  But, all in all a very tasty sandwich.

Bud Light pared well!

Service remained attentive and friendly (see names) despite she being the only one in a lunch rush.   My total bill: $10.12. Good value…Upon leaving there was an encouraging sign of attention to food out back, although I don’t know how much they actually get used.



So although they are still too fresh for my “Just Right” qualifications, they certainly are worth a visit if you are in transit or don’t mind a bit of a drive.  They are also open for dinner, and I think there is a "Too" in LaPlata.  I'll check ten or fifteen years from now for Just RIght, although i will probably visit sooner...

Dessert
And on this visit, while we didn’t take time for dessert, I did have a chance to try a Maryland specialty the other day



One of the benefits to pushing words around about food is that occasionally I get some “donations”, like the still untried Soba noodles, but also the lovely slice of Smith Island Cake, created by a friend who knows her way around the kitchen pretty well.  Yes, there are ten slices of (yellow) cake and the requisite chocolate glazy frosting.  Since it appeared during MFO’s absence for the “ladies” on Amelia Island, it was much appreciated.   I probably stretched the definition of

DFD

Lagniappe:  The Wilson Brothers who are moving into the Café Des Artiste corner are apparently changing the name of the place from “The Gull” to La Rive Breton (on Facebook) meaning “The Breton Shore”.  Opening in early June.  Stay tuned