Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ready, Willing, and....

In my now gathering momentum to search out places that are “just right”, the same team that recently visited Captain Pat’s descended on Abell’s Diner down in Clements.  I had driven by it many times on the way to Colton’s Point or some destination deep within “the seventh”, but never stopped there.  So last Friday we made a visit about lunch time.

It is located in one end of a non-descript brick building near the intersection of Rtes. 234 and 242, or, if you prefer Budd’s Creek and Colton Point Roads.

(On far end)

It identifies itself with a simple banner over the door –

Upon entering, it was apparent that it was: a) lunch hour, and b) very popular with the local trades people (note truck).  Although there is a side room the space you come into has only about five small booths, plus a smallish horseshoe counter that may seat about ten more people on stools.  Almost everybody seemed to know everybody else, but nobody raised an eyebrow at our presence.   Only a couple of spaces were left at the counter, and they were right next to the exit from the kitchen, so until a customer left downstream of us, it was “’scuze me, pardon me” as dishes came out from the kitchen.  In such relatively crowded, cramped, close quarters I feel funny hauling out a camera. Although I did get a couple of shots (with the trusty point and shoot).  Here’s a peek toward the kitchen and the flat top where the food was prepared. 

Those green pitchers on the far side of the door are filled with Iced Tea (of both sweetness versions) which seemed to be the predominant drink.  Apparently beer is not served, although Anderson’s Bar occupies the opposite end of the building (and I don’t know if they serve food).

A very busy young lady greeted us with “what would you like to drink?”,  and handed us a couple of menus.  Exactly what you would expect: laminated plastic

With that same goofy chef caricature that appears on the banner.  Wonder who/what he is. The list of food choices also was exactly what you would expect, sandwiches, hamburgers, baskets of fried stuff, and platters, presumably for dinner.  She brought our (unsweetened) tea and water and the classic little green pad with which to take our order.  My benchmark sandwiches for a diner like this are a tuna melt, and hot ham and cheese.  My eye didn’t find the former so I ordered the latter, grilled, and the other order was for a bacon cheeseburger.  Both came with chips although fries were available for a slight surcharge.  We stuck with the chips.

Another Just Right criteria is what the décor is on the walls?  They passed

Although I am not quite sure of the function of the wire on the sign, it doesn't appear to be doing anything.  Anyway, we had a little time to contemplate the condiments and create the standard “diner still life’ shot with my iced tea in a plastic cup.  Hot sauce, catsup/ketchup in a squeeze bottle, check...Okay.  Fine.  Fits.

From my vantage point I could see what looked like my ham and cheese being grilled in the kitchen and soon enough was set before me

Somehow the fact that one of the ham slices didn’t yield to the knife (and NOT cut on a diagonal) was kind of fitting.  The cheese was gooey, the ham was NOT just luncheon meat, and on the whole was a pretty satisfying sandwich.
The bacon cheeseburger was also just fine

With equally gooey cheese and by golly real bacon, and a little piece of burger hanging off showing it wasn't a Sysco pre-processed patty.

By the time we left (shortly after one) the place was pretty empty as people had to get back to work.  We didn’t!! 

Anyway, I will add Abell’s Diner to the “just right” list, not at the top, but certainly on the list.   The quest will continue, suggestions welcome but must fit the criteria of being not in their first youth, or a (gulp) chain.   Not necessarily a requirement to


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rock On!

Social media is amazing (remarkable talent for recognizing the obvious).  After publishing my little diatribe ("Rock the Grill") on the foibles of trying to use the Rockwood for the first time, a comment appeared from “Rockwood Charcoal”.   It was a very nice note, and I think I “published” it so you can scroll down and read it.  How in the world they found me is probably much beyond my comprehension.  At any rate it was much appreciated.  Will probably keep me using that brand (if you Rockwood folk are seeing this again!)

Anyway as with most things, the first step in solving a problem is to throw money at it.  In this case it was in the form of obtaining the suggested charcoal chimney.  I had failed to purchase same when we were in Annapolis and got the Rockwood fuel.  Well, I thought, I’ll just pop into Lowes and pick one up.  The new look Lowes with friendly employees helped me look and eventually we found an empty shelf where they should have been.  There was some knock off brand available (at a lower posted price) but of course not good enough for the Feeder, have to have a genuine Weber.  Okay, no real problem, I’ll stop by Wal-Mart on the way home - surely they'll have one. (Insert Shirley joke here) However, I had the same empty shelf experience there, sans any help from their employees who seemed to be enthralled with checking their shoes or condition of the floor.

Last ditch, I even went into the K-Mart (first time in YEARS) and found another knock off cheapy.  Crestfallen I returned home.  So next day I ventured out to Ace Hardware in Leonardtown and was asked if I needed help within steps of entering, and was guided to a very complete display of Weber products which included not one, but two sizes of the chimney.  The smaller one seemed to me to be too small so I got the same model I denied in Annapolis.  After that was my experience introducing the McKay's deli folk to Mortadella.

So the next day we decided to put it to the test with some Bruce Aidell’s famous Chicken and Apple Sausages (the history of which would make an interesting feeder column by itself).  So I assembled all the gear

Cubes, chimney, charcoal and newspaper (suggestion from FOJTY), and of course the trusty grill. So wadded up paper, set chimney on top, a little layer of charcoal, couple of the cubes, more charcoal, and we’re ready to go

So applied flame to the paper, and off we go

And unlike my previous experience (thank you “Rockwood Charcoal” note) we had a very nice fire in pretty short time

Only little hitch was dumping it out onto the grate, which resulted in kind of an untidy pile.

Room for improvement there.... Anyway, it produced a very nice grilled sausage.  Since this is about the heat source, I didn’t bother to take a picture of the finished product.  It is left to the imagination of the reader to envision a nicely brown sausage.  Plus, we were hungry.

One little concluding note however, as you might notice in the top picture the label is still on the chimney (for clarity).  Well, when I took it off and unwrapped it, the inside looked like below.  I don’t expect you to be able to read them, but what are all those paragraphs?  Recipes? Instructions?

  Nope! all twenty one of them are warnings in twenty one languages 

I'm sure the attorneys are involved in generating gems like: “do not use starter in high winds”, and “keep away from children and pets”.   Darn, i hoped to teach my parakeet to start the fire...

Anyway, with this new gear and knowledge I think we’re on our way to losing Mr. Briquette!  However we still will be


Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Very Docent Day

As some people might remember, I volunteer weekends at Historic St. Mary’s City, mostly sitting out at the (Reconstructed) Brick Chapel of 1667.  As a method of reporting our day to other “Chapvols” as we call ourselves, we sometimes publish a little thing called “Chapel Chatter”.  Last Saturday was quite a day for me and resulted in a rather lengthy and unique for me “chatter”…so I thought maybe others might enjoy a little break from food and have a pleasant diversion seeing what us Docents live with..
Editor’s (me) note:  this will be a repeat for some that see the Chatter…(and for them I have edited some from the original)

Well, yesterday was a day of “firsts” for me.

First “first”:   my usual practice of Chapvol Duty is to park on the road, unload the “gear” over the fence, drive over to the VC (Visitor Center), park the car, check in/chat with Laurel, hike out to the Chapel, set up camp and settle in.   For the first time ever (!) when I arrived outside “da fence” (about 10:50) there was a group of four guests just approaching the chapel and another bunch on the walkway by the signs.  So with gear and seat bags in hand(s) I hopped (well, struggled) over the fence and walked into the chapel shortly after the initial group entered.  They kind of gave me the “who the heck are you?” look, but after the standard “Hi, have you seen the chapel before?” we had a nice conversation about the chapel and its story.   Shortly after their arrival the second group arrived, and then another, then another..  I wasn’t able to get the car over to the VC until a little gap at almost 12:00.  I counted 17 folk between my arrival and close to noon.

The 12 to 1:00 slot featured 11 more people, including a group with 3 adults and 2 kids, a boy and a little girl.  I became aware of their presence when I heard screaming from out by the pavilion (near the chapel).  I peeked out to see the youngest girl (eight? I’m no judge) kicking her pink flip flops high into the air, yelling “NO!”.  This went on with mom cajoling her to calm down and resulted in a tantrum while the little kid sat on the Joe Poe bench screaming and crying, with a couple more field goals of the sandals.  Meantime Dad, Gramma, and the little boy came into the chapel.  The little lad was interested in the bricks.  Dad appeared unconcerned with the histrionics outside.  Eventually mom and Louise “the toe” came in also.  You forget about having kids..  been a long time.  During that time a couple more people just walked right by the chapel.  They did have tickets.

The second “First” occurred between 1:00 and 2:00.  Things had kind of quieted down and I was reading my book: “Winter King – A Biography of King Henry VII” and looked up and saw what appeared to be somebody riding a bike (not the “first”) on the path, turning into Mackall barn.  I quickly called the VC to get policy straight before I tackled the guy, and Aaron said while we don’t like it, it isn’t worth being nasty.  Eventually the person approached the chapel by the pavilion, and the bike was some little contraption, maybe it folded up or something I don’t know, just wasn’t a standard two wheeler.  Plus, I couldn’t see a ticket displayed by its rider.  I’m ready for him I thought.  He got off the bike at the head of the path, and walked it up to the chapel.  He had on an orange (maybe significant, read on) “pork pie” hat turned backwards, and it was apparent that he was not from this country.  When he got to me and the chapel he had a charming smile, and politely said “I know I don’t have a ticket, but can I look inside?”  Nobody else was there and so I said sure come on in.. [ed. Note:  people who “jump the fence” and get on the site without paying (tickets) are the bane of our existence]

What followed was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had in the Chapel.  He was from Thailand, and language was still a bit of a barrier.  Turns out he “works” for Harry Lundeberg School, is an engineer, and is aboard ship for six months, and then travels the other six.  Somehow he lives in Alaska.  Eventually the “First” came when he said that while in Thailand he was a practicing Buddhist Monk!!  I’ll bet we’ve never had a Buddhist Monk in the Chapel! He was very interested in Baltimore’s “freedom of conscience”, and we discussed Catholics and Anglicans in England, William and Mary and their penal laws, how religion should be treated, how one should live one’s life (very simply – money was a problem), and many other subjects.  I would have paid HIM ten bucks for the experience.  As he left, he thanked me profusely, said he would come back next week and buy a ticket, but who knows.  Very pleasant, little (maybe five feet three), sweet guy.  The Calverts would have been proud.

The rest of the day (up until about three fifteen) saw 15 more people, the only wrinkle was a pair who had on “Sturgis” motorcycle garb, and since I was from Michigan, I could relate to that and we talked a bit.

I finally left about 3:30, and even then passed a couple of folk who were heading out.  Big day, which resulted in the last “first” (clever, eh?), that being that I had 53 visitors!!  A personal best.

Feeder’s note again:  A common day at the chapel during the summer would be about 20 to 25 guests

Question of the Day:  “How much of this is original?”  Polite answer (only the foundation Ma’am)

Mortal Situation:

Okay I can't help but including a concluding food note:  I was over in Leonardtown today tracking down that darned charcoal chimney (score! – more to come) and went into the McKay’s next to the Ace Hardware.  Lately when I am home for lunch I have gravitated to a sandwich of (Boars’ Head) Mortadella and baby swiss cheese.  Knowing McKay’s carried Boar’s Head at this location (Hollywood Road location carries Deitz and Watson) I went in to replenish the larder.  Got to the deli counter and the young lady said the usual “may I help you”?  Yes, I would like a half pound of BH Baby Swiss, and also Mortadella.   Excuse me, what was that?  Mortadella.  I have never heard of that!.   Well, it’s kind of like bologna (don’t tell the Italians that!) with little globs of white stuff (fat) in it.  Blank stare.  Eventually she reached into the case and brought out a little roll of Pancetta… This?  Nope.  So I prowled the case a bit and couldn’t see it.  She asked her fellow worker and received the same “Never heard of it”.. and sort of turned to me with that “look”.  At this point I spied a little glossy Boar’s Head brochure and mercifully thumbing through that I found it listed (and pictured).   Showed it to the young ladies… That!.   I’ll be darned.  We don’t carry it (statement of the obvious at this point).  They said they don’t carry every BH product, depending on demand.  They would have ordered it for me if I wished.  No thanks…  The Baby swiss was fine. (they do carry it at Giant)

So I came home and will now get


Friday, August 15, 2014

Rock the Grill!

Almost anything can turn into an obsession, such as a love of food (guilty), but recently I was given a little glimpse into another world, that of Barbecue.  You might remember I went to an event earlier this month which among it’s attractions were a “sanctioned” BBQ contest of the Kansas City variety.  I won’t dwell too much on that, but competitive barbeque is a world of its own.  Ever watch Pit Masters on TV?  FOJTY has it on just about like wallpaper on his set at home.  And, neither FOJ is slouch when it comes to being around the grill..

Anyway, I did a teaser about Rockwood Charcoal (see image) in the last posting (if you got by Harry Browne’s). At the BBQ competition there are all sorts of (expensive) equipment things

And characters

So kind of tweaked by that event, and a recommendation by both the FOJ’s, I got that bag of Rockwood as part of our Brunch trip to Annapolis.  Speaking of obsessions, who would think the humble bag of charcoal would evolve into a cult industry.  Take a look at this website (and I have NO idea why it is named thus).  If you are at all interested in grilling, you might want to browse a bit for the ratings.

Anyway, now in possession of the coveted bag of lump charcoal (briquettes?  Ptooie!), I decided to give it a try.  So last night we got out a little steak from local purveyor of meats, Mr. Willie Goddard

Unbagged it and I seasoned it with just Kosher salt (eschewing the normal Penzy’s Chicago Steak Seasoning)

So then (in reality) the steak just being the excuse to use the new fuel, I set up the grill (I have not graduated to the Big Green yet) – and note funeral garb of unused gas grill in the background

And got out another recommended exotic product to start the fire (Lighter fluid?  Ptooie!)

(I think Kamado Joe is a competitor of Green products)

And laid the little fire in the Weber (yeah, I know Weber?  Ptooie!)

And lit (with some difficulty, I might add ) the KJ starter cubes

And after about 20 minutes the conflagration had grown to

And so we continued to sit back with a beverage that clinked in the glass, and….. waited.  And…. Waited.

A passing shower gave us a nice little scene while we waited..

and refilled the glasses, and… waited some more..

Finally and before the charcoal had that “completely covered with ash” look the light and our resolve was fading, and I committed the meat.  Unfortunately, there is no image of the completed product, we were so damn hungry that we just ate the steak.  It was pretty good.

And while all of this sounds negative, I only take it as part of the learning process, and most likely with some FOJ consultation we will try again, this time with a little more perspective.  I think I got the tools (sans the egg/Joe stuff) and just need to brush up on technique.  Which is why food is my obsession!  That and the compulsion to


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I’m just wild about Harry...

Browne’s that is..  we had planned to meet some traveling friends for brunch Sunday at Harry Browne’s in Annapolis as they were going to be passing through.  Unfortunately, they had to change schedule, but MFO and I went anyway because: a) we had errands along the route, and b) we do like the place.  So first stop was at Wentworth’s in Prince Frederick to load up on bird seed as the gold finches, while nicely DFD, are eating us out of house and home.  So did that, and proceeded to Annapolis for a nicely civilized lunch.  What we didn’t know was that it was “Plebe Weekend” for the Naval Academy.  Meaning the place was CRAWLING with sharply dressed “middies” in their fresh crisp whites, usually accompanied by at least three generations of family there to see son/daughter/grand of each, maybe grand join the Academy.  Meaning that parking was a joke.  I dropped MFO at the restaurant on State Circle to secure the table, and then I had a hellish fifteen minute tour of the area looking for a space.  Me, along with about a hundred others.  I finally found one, only to discover it was “residents only” and you had to have a sticker.  I noticed that all the other cars parked there exhibited the sticker so meekly pulled out.  The only parking ticket I have had in recent memory was in Annapolis when we arrived at the (expired) meter about 5 minutes late.  

Finally, a gentleman in front of me approached his parked car, bags in hand and I darted in behind him, only mildly impeding traffic.  After futzing around for a bit, he lit the burners and left, and I pulled in.  MFO in her wisdom (and memories of last time) had brought along a pouch of quarters plus other loose change.  In Annapolis, one quarter in the meter (yes, even on Sunday) gets you seven (what did you say, Feeder?) yes, seven minutes!. The next deposit (total fifty cents) raises the ante to fifteen minutes, and to save you the math, that is two dollars per hour.  Figuring we would need at least a couple of hours, the meter gobbled the whole pouch plus my pocket full of dimes and nickels.

Okay, end of frustration.  About ten minutes of walking found me at Harry Brownes, and I entered the cool interior, with white table cloths, crystal and silver, and that somehow just right tin ceiling.  I spied MFO at a nice little two top on the raised platform, and made my way toward her.  

Unnoticed by me, I was followed to the table by (what turned out to be) Larry, and upon seating his first words were “I’ll bet you would like a drink”.  No silliness, just that.  Yes, why yes, I believe I would.  Given the time of day and the sixty miles between us and home, I opted for wine.  He said a complimentary glass of wine, champagne, or Mimosa came with each entrée order.  I asked for a chardonnay, and MFO a Sauvignon Blanc.  I asked if they were house wines.  His reply was: “I think I can do a little better than that”.  I ended up with a very nice glass of Talbott Kali-Hart, and MFO’s a Ponga New Zealand.  Upon delivery, he just said I’ll let you wind down a little bit and left (our menus remained closed).  No “are you ready to order?”,  just a courteous departure.   Nice. 

It being Sunday, they did have a buffet which (according to later conversation with Larry) contained all the usual stuff, eggs, meats, seafood (not sure if there were oysters), waffles, smoked salmon display, and an omelet station.  MFO thought an omelet would be nice, but unfortunately it didn’t appear on the a la carte menu.  It had four variations of Eggs Benedict, classic, crab, smoked salmon, and steak plus a wrap, a Panini, and a burger, along with a selection of salads.

Given my walking tour of the city, along with a general aversion to buffets, we decided to do the a la carte.  We devised a little plan, so when Larry came back to the table MFO said:  “I see you don’t have an omelet on the menu”.  I was in hopes of a response of “No we don’t, but I would be glad to get you one from the Buffet”.  The omelet maker was within fifteen feet of our table.  I don’t think that would be unreasonable.  What we got was “No we don’t, I don’t have a good answer for you”.  Understandable, but still…  So she got the smoked salmon Eggs Bene, and I did the steak version.  Upon finishing my wine, he caught my eye from across the room, raised an eyebrow, and soon another glass was resting by my plate.

You might notice I have dwelled on service to this point, and for good reason.   While food is certainly important, the enjoyment of same can be highly influenced by the associated service.  We came away impressed with the service, and maybe partially because we sort of clicked with Larry.  As for the food, it was very good.  I took a picture of my steak eggs benedict, but upon looking at it, I am not going to include it because it was after a couple of bites, and with poached eggs, things degrade pretty fast.  Speaking of poached eggs both our plates had perfectly poached versions, obviously done in the classic (and proper) method of breaking the egg directly into boiling water.  The inside was creamy yellow, the whites were just firm and they tasted, well, like eggs.  None of those little cup things, but a nice egg.  Have you ever tried poaching eggs that way?  I don’t have much luck.  And the Hollandaise sauce was obviously freshly made, no skin, it was bright and tasty..

A pleasant brunch, wish our friends could have joined us..  Next time.. and there is still the Vin 909 recommendation to check out.

Our other task did have something to do with food, and was engendered by this picture from the recent  Brew and BBQ event at the fairgrounds.  I prowled around the “pro’s” and that little journey deserves a posting by itself but came across this..

Not so much for the equipment, but the bag of charcoal.  When I mentioned it to the FOJ’s who are both pretty good around a grill, they both agreed that Rockwood was one of the best charcoals to use.  Silly me still uses Kingsford, lighter fluid, and a common Weber.  Both of them have graduated to Big Green Eggs, fire starter cubes, chimneys, and use the hardwood charcoal exclusively.  So I decided to see if I could find Rockwood, and turns out that it is available in Edgewater, on the way home from Annapolis at an Ace (Hardware) lawn and garden shop.   Sure enough we stopped there and I now have a bag to try..  Reports to follow..

And I did have a lead off piece about the vagaries of technology, but to save us both time, I’ll make that next post.

And tonight we are going to try to re-kindle an old tradition a few of us had, a variation on “Boys Night Out”, called "Foie Gras Night".  Reports to follow.

For which I will have to be