Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bistros and (Foot)balls

I don’t want this to be deflating, but boy, this has gotten out of hand.  Nothing like giving the rabid NFL crowd the hint of a coverup/scandal/cheating and they can’t get enough.  Talk shows light up with “Bob from Dallas” who is sure that aliens came down and substituted the footballs, or that criminal Belichick and his partner in crime Brady are lying.  No facts mind you, but they are damned sure of it..  Sheesh..  Drop the puck, so to speak.  Too bad there’s another whole week to endure.. Or, tonight you can watch the Pro Bowl…. Not.

Anyway, back to more important matters like food.  Having done a “just right” entry, I have to follow up with, I don’t know, really right?  A different category entirely, but had a dinner at (sorry) Bistro Belle Maison at the Blue Heron Inn (whew) while MFO was cavorting in Wisconsin.  We don’t frequent the place a lot, but not sure why.  The food on that visit was superlative.  As  you may recall on the weekends (call first) the sitting room of the Blue Heron B&B is transformed into a restaurant.  I do have to admit that it looks more like a sitting room with tables than a restaurant, but that’s okay.  They are spaced far enough apart that you can have your own conversation without informing the table next.  Plus they are nicely set with small touches like a salt box instead of a shaker

The menu, which is printed for each weekend’s seatings, is composed of about five “small plates” and about same or less “main plates”.  The service is very informal, more conversational than stilted, with thank God, no speeches, and usually begins with informing you what they are out of for the evening, or maybe that trout is now substituted for the Corvina.  The wine list is somewhat limited but always contains some unconventional selections.  They also have a full bar, with some unusual bottles, like Green Hat Gin. The food choices are equally imaginative, and may have you (excuses please) grabbing for your cell phone to look up what “pinxto” means such as we encountered as: “lobster pinxto, light tempura batter, green tomato relish, aioli”.  Turns out they are kind of similar to satays, i.e.,  small hunks of "something" (in this case lobster) on a stick.   The term "pinxto" is of Spanish (particularly Basque), origin and is sometimes spelled “Pincho”.  However or whatever they are, they were very good, and as described, quite light on the palate

Another small plate of a radiccio and pear, chevre, and candied nut flat bread with mushroom – shallot white sauce is barely visible in the above image. Both were quite enjoyable.  A shared main plate of New Zealand Lamb chops, served with (nice touch) local yogurt tzatziki and eggplant napoleon rounded out the dinner.   As you may know, the Bistro is situated on the Solomons behind what was once Kim’s Key Lime Pies, (now Lotus Kitchen and...) so of course we had to have a two fork piece of that to finish.

As usual around here, you can’t go anywhere without seeing somebody you know, and there was a couple (of feeder readers) at an adjoining table who allowed me to take a shot of the Trout dish they enjoyed.

And, someplace along the way, the chef/owner Amanda, came out and chatted with everybody.  She is another local gem that we can count ourselves lucky to be able to enjoy her craft.  It is a place well worth your attention.  And of course to honor the food you must be



MFO arrived safely home from Wisconsin after two grueling days behind the MOMSTER

I am always gratified when somebody else shares similar feelings about things that drive me (further) nuts, like using the “Y” word for food and the unfortunately widespread use of “Guys”.  So it warmed the Feeder's heart to see this from a daily column (Rant&Rave) in the Seattle Times which reposts various social media entries, usually one rave and one:

RANT:  To the wait staff in supposedly sophisticated restaurants who habitually address my wife and I as “guys” as we sit down to dine. I assume they’re not blind and this insulting address is part of Seattle’s legendary and puerile informality. How gauche! Next time this happens we’ll call out the fool and leave.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hail to the.....

Longer time readers will know I constantly seek “just right” places (mostly for lunch) around the county and have often mentioned the (now shuttered) St. James Pub as pretty much what I consider(ed) the epitome of such places.  I kind of define "Just Right" as where everything is in harmony, food, service, setting.  Not where they're pretending to be something they're not. Courtney’s of course has a special place, but I thought St. James Pub had it all.  Well, I may have found a rival and it is NOT shuttered; in fact it seems to be going strong.  Finally following many suggestions, I succeeded in going to Chiefs, located down Piney Point Road (or Rte. 249 if need numbers) from Callaway, and just off that road a bit.  Many of my friends are frequent visitors and have recommended the place for a Feeder visit, and for some reason I just never have found the opportunity.  But, finally,with MFO still in Wisconsin, I met my fellow just right enthusiast there for lunch over the weekend.  

I am told that real county folk refer to it as “Dent’s” instead of "Chiefs" despite a sign on the highway advertising it as such.

Turning off you soon run into the reason why it is referred to as “Dent’s”

And those vehicles have to up the “just right” score

However there is a sign that directs you to the “Chiefs” part

So parking the car you enter what I would term a “just right” space:

Bar: check; 
Keno Screens: check; 
TV with sports on: (these days) check; 
Animated video horse racing game: check;  
Tables: check; 
People occupying the bar: check;  
Many of whom take occasional smoke breaks: check.

And while it isn't exactly a white board with daily specials, only minor points off for aligning with the times: check

It’s pretty much all there.

We sat ourselves at a table, and while there wasn’t the standard red plastic basket of crackers, malt vinegar, mustard, etc.,nor red checkered tablecloths it is a close second

Soon the lady behind the bar exited same and brought over to us plastic enclosed menus (check) and said she’d give us some time to look at them, and asked if we would like something to drink.. an inquiry revealed they were a Coke house, so my Pepsi preferring friend settled for that, and I got a Yuengling (check) – think the only craft beer offered was a Shock Top.  So we considered the menus:

(Shown only for documentation, not reading!)

It had standard categories, appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, etc.  I didn’t see any large entrees, like their popular steaks which leads me to believe there might be a dinner menu, or maybe an insert like there was for lunch

If you cared for oysters, you also had some choices

Based on a tip from a(nother) friend who is familiar with the place I ordered the Hot Ham and Swiss, and my friend veered off from his usual choice of a cheese burger and got the Reuben, and asked if they could hold the sauerkraut.  Sure..Sides were Slaw, Fries, or... (something else).  At any rate the former was selected for the Reuben and I got the fries.

A couple more groups came into the bar, and pretty much knew everybody that was there, or at least knew the bar lady (check).  Eventually (quite an eventually, really) our food arrived.
The Reuben

With a pretty nice cup of slaw, and as far as I am concerned a proper slice of rye bread (check), that is NOT marbled, although there are some schools of thought that accept that as being appropriate.

Hot Ham and Cheese

And here I was a bit perplexed.  In my rigid, hide bound world of food, a hot ham and cheese should contain cheddar, NOT Swiss.  Ham and Swiss is, of course, a classic combination, but I rather think it applies more to a deli type sandwich than the hot variety.  Plus the normal Kraft slice melts pretty well, as Swiss sometimes doesn't.  Both sandwiches were constructed with meat that I would call “lunch meat” (note the ham slices), BUT, that might be exactly what you would expect in a just right setting.  So, I won’t subtract anything for that, although I would knock off a few points because the ham was scorched in a few places, which isn't the best taste.  But, again, would you expect that in such a place?  Probably.  The fries were distributor fries, just as expected, and hot and crunchy, also just as expected.

Of course the Feeder can always find something to pick at, but all in all, Chiefs belongs right at the top of the (luncheon) Just Right list.  It all fits: setting, service, clientele, and the food..  I would like to try dinner sometime as they do their own meats, and as I've said a lot of people like them.

When I began penning this, I had intended to include a visit to Bistro Belle Maison at the Blue Heron Inn (quite a mouthful (ha ha) there!).  That place would definitely be on a “just right” list but under a different tab, maybe “Fine Dining”.  So maybe it's best to leave that for next time.  It was VERY good food.

And while maybe not necessary for the former, it IS appropriate at the latter that you


Friday, January 16, 2015

Dining out and dining in

I know my military friends have special meanings to those terms, and this ain't it..  just a meal out of the digs, and one inside.. 

Out of the digs

I finally had occasion to visit Charles Street Brasserie over on the Solomons.  I actually never knew there WAS a Charles Street till I googled the place.  Longer time residents will remember the place has seen a series of lives before it went dark for a while.  There was Harbors Lights, Harbor Sounds and maybe a couple of others.  And while we’re sort of talking history, I may have mentioned that one wintry night there in the eighties (?) I set a record at least amongst the engineers by downing eight dozen oysters either raw or steamed.  It wasn't a contest, just what kind of happened.  I should add that “F2” who was present might correct me.

A quick check of sources like Yelp and the (always chancy FaceBook) on Charles Street Brasserie resulted in a mix bag of “reviews”.  I would have to admit that more leaned toward the positive side than the negative, but for what it's worth those tended to come from locals.   So, decided to meet a friend and have dinner there.  Given the place’s history, I was prepared for a negative experience.  I am almost always prepared for a negative experience (in this case I was wrong!).. and drove over

It has been so long since I’ve been there that I kind of forgot what the place looked like.  I thought the exterior was kind of nice and they appear to have a deck for use in more clement weather.  Once inside the door, you face a bar area with some high tops and stools, and down off to the left (watch that step!) is the dining area.  From what I could tell, it is all painted black which helps give your table a little feeling of privacy.  We were seated at a table by the fireplace, which, depending on the attention of somebody was either: cozy, hot, or cool.  Unfortunately above that fireplace is a flat screen, which personally I would lose during the evening service.  We got there after seven and most of the tables were occupied.  One thing I noticed was that most tables consisted of a few families, and people more of my generation, and most were appropriately DFD’d.  I don’t THINK there was a ball cap, either frontwards or backwards.

We were approached by a server who gave the speech and asked if we would like to start an appetizer (negative points), and we said no, we haven’t looked at the menu yet. Which we then did.  They kind of advertize themselves as a Tapas Bar as well as a fine dining restaurant, kind of an oxymoron in my thought, so the menu does contain quite a number of small plates and plates to share.  Some do have a Latin slant such as Garbanzos and Chorizo, Polo Crema de Espinacas, but most are the standard set of things like of petite crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms, small filet (Mediterranean). Probably could find something you’d like there is quite a variety. Although not (yet?) open for lunch there are sandwich plates, soups and salads, and dinner plates of things like a pork chop, a larger filet, and that night a couple of salmon dishes Grilled Salmon Chutney and Stuffed Salmon (wrapped around our own crab imperial).  We were also informed that there was a special of three tapas plates for thirty bucks.   I didn’t do the math but a vast majority of the plates were over ten bucks, so it was kind of a deal.

We each decided to have a salmon dish, and I took the “stuffed”.  The atmosphere was pleasant, and the bottle of Chalone Merlot was quite nice.  The server remained attentive, but not overly so, and at one point assured us the food would be out soon.  I had not really started to wonder about that, I don’t think it was overly long.  When it did arrive, it was quite nicely presented.   The light was low, hence the crappy pictures of the stuffed

And the pineapple roasted red pepper chutney version

Both were served with loaded cauliflower mash and cucumber salad

Not sure what made the mash “loaded”, I guess the sour crème and onion top, and while i am not a big fan of Cauliflower, it was pretty good.  The salad was crisp and fresh.  Both main dishes were quite tasty, although my salmon could have stood a little more time on heat, but it wasn’t “send back”.  we did indulge in a Blackberry Liquer Cheesecake and two forks, which was....okay.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised, it was pretty nice food, the dining space isn't bad, reasonable service and the prices are about right.  I think maybe the "Tapas" tag is a bit overstated and perhaps refers more to the size of the plates than their content, but fine.  So, while there are many dining options on the island, I would put (one visit, remember) Charles Street in the upper quarter maybe.   Of course I’m biased but Dry Dock still tops my list with CD café on its heels.  Have not tried others like the most recent incarnation of DiGiovanni’s. 

In the Digs, (and what it is all about)

I often preach that food is a wonderful convener for friends and family to gather around and enjoy each other’s company.  We had a great example of that at the digs this week.  A couple of friends and I have long had a “Foie Gras Night” where we gather, cook, enjoy wine, with the menu centering on foie gras.  It is not MFO’s favorite food so having it here while she is in Wisconsin was appropriate.  I know there are strong opinions out there about that particular food, and this was NOT goose liver (now illegal to purchase), but rather duck (which isn’t… go figure).  In the hands of a creative and accomplished chef it can provide what I consider some of the greatest food you can get.

Anyway, we expanded the number of people, all of whom know about and appreciate good food.  We also expanded the menu to include not only the foie gras, but smoked Magret duck breast, and seasoned beef Tenderloin (not shown).

We didn’t count, but there must have been at least six or maybe seven courses, all sauced, presented, and enjoyed.  Of course you have to have appropriate beverages, which we did

One of those meals that keeps you going for a long time..Food and Friends

Who were

Monday, January 12, 2015

This, That, and DIna MO

Odds and ends today to bring you up to date.

This was the last I’ll see of MFO and the MOMSTER for a while, 

as she is setting off to Wisconsin to be with her sister to help with some medical stuff.  SIL is alone in the great white north, so off goes MFO.. leaving me with bachelordom!  Which is good and bad.  WHAT? Do my OWN laundry?  Clean my OWN Kitchen? But also… I think I’ll take a nap now, or,  Gee, I think I’ll just stay in bed for an hour longer.  And lest this sponsors any cute comments, I’m just being dramatic… kind of.. Anyway the MOMSTER performed admirably and MFO is currently helping SIL where the temperature is… zero.

 A couple more from Missouri

One of the things we did in Missouri after visiting the Covered Bridge and Stanley run and before the Gordonville Grill was to visit the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History, located in Marble Hill, Missouri.  It is in an old building that once housed Will Mayfield College (1878 – 1930).  If you click on the link, the currrent museum is housed in the building on the right. The accompanying story is pretty interesting also.  Its history kind of is a parallel to St. Mary’s College, a story for another time.  The current occupant (the Museum) touts itself as the home of the “Missouri Dinosaur” or Hypsibema Missouriense

The discovery of the remains of the previously unknown creature is pretty interesting, involving a kid, a geologist, a clay pit, a cow, and so forth.  The museum also includes lots of fossils and other prehistoric creatures

(life sized, by the way)

It was a fascinating visit into a small privately funded museum.  Being the day after Christmas, we were the only people in the place and talked a lot with the lady who was volunteering that day.  She was very eager to show us stuff, and of course was passionate about the museum and its mission.

Another facet of the many faceted Feeder is that he is a connoisseur of not only food and wine, but also of bathrooms. Mostly because he invariably visits one in almost any building he finds himself.  Enough of that, but I have to say that this old historical building housed one of the finest I have been in for a while.  Sparkling clean, spacious, a good door lock, all the necessities (besides the main one).  Inside the room were a couple of nice antiques and a lovely painting

And if your nasty little imagination is running, the answer is no, the photo was NOT taken that way..

A lovely stop in rural Missouri with our "kids"

Buy Local

After our lunch in Gordonville, we stopped at a local butcher shop in Cape Girardeau to get some meat for dinner, our last one in Missouri.  FOJTY knows all the haunts for local product and so we stopped at The Butcher Block

Perused the cases of lovely meat

Lovely steaks, but, after enjoying the FOJTY smoked brisket and its leftovers, our beef meter was pretty well pegged, so we thought some pork chops might be nice.  Seeing none on display we asked if there were any, and the butcher said he would gladly cut us some: how many, how thick?  We soon had some gorgeous rib chops for grilling

So nice when you can deal with “the man behind the counter” and don’t have to “ring bell for service”.   They produced a great meal..


And while we are on food (and about to close this chapter) I do want to prove that your intrepid food reporter does not (always) “hide behind my keyboard” as he is sometimes accused but occasionally rolls up his sleeves and gets into the food

Shown here participating in the Stuffed Ham party mentioned in an earlier posting.  Do you know how much stuffing those little pockets take???  But I really enjoyed the opportunity to actually get involved. 

Sports (and not really a rant for a change)

And finally, tonight at long last is (mercifully) the end of the college football season, with the so-called National Championship Game between the beefy Ohio State Buckeyes and the flashy, speedy Oregon Ducks (who had the team member who made that astonishingly stupid decision).  It will be an interesting game to watch.  It has altered my whole day, making me coming up with schemes as to how I MIGHT be able to stay awake at least until halftime (how about a nap?).   I guess I know the answer (West Coast Markets), but Geez Louise, why START the game at 8:30 EST??   Can’t those flower children on the other coast come home with their tofu just a little bit earlier?  Even a five o’clock start there would be a big improvement here.  Coffee anyone?

(bordering on rant, sorry)

And after tonight college game is settled “we're number one! - everybody else is crap” full attention will divert to the Holy NFL and the quest for the Super Bowl will take center stage.  I suspect that Gimpy Rodgers and team won’t be able to beat the other darlings of the west coast, the Seattle Seahawks and their classy players like Marshawn (I’m Thankful) Lynch and (new term coined) “The Twelves".  Deliver us.  And I’ll bet after Andrew and the Colts pretty much sealed Peyton’s career in Denver, we’ll see a Pats and Hawks Super Dooper Hoopla Bowl.  And for those of you who didn’t get punished on Facebook with my extremely rare selfie (another story for another time) I’ll (really close) with a bad picture of myself revealing who I rooted for yesterday

After which, I was NOT

On tap, the Feeder visits Charles Street Brasserie and is surprised

Friday, January 9, 2015

Missouri Dining, ...etc.

Well, we should wrap up (would you like a box for that sir?) at least the food portion of our trip to Missouri… and I’ll try to keep this one short(er)

St. Louis enjoys a reputation for Italian food, a heritage of many Italian immigrants who worked the clay mines in the late 19th Century.  Most people who know much about St. Louis have heard of “The Hill” a famous Italian neighborhood which produced Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra.  It always has been home to many Italian restaurants of all formalities like the sort of family Rigazzis, Cunettos House of Pasta, and others up to the grand Dame Dominic’s which always rivals the downtown Tony’s for the premier Italian restaurant in STL.  On our Christmas visit, we visited what must be considered (and probably is) another entry in that class. Our DC friend travels to see his family in STL regularly and so we arranged that we would all meet over Christmas (as we usually do, we see him more there than here) and have dinner.  He recommended John Mineos, another venerable restaurateur in St. Louis and a restaurant that has been around for about forty years serving Italian Food

Not on The Hill, it is located on one end of a bunch of stores that comprise a shopping center on Clayton Road not downtown, but in the fashionable West County area.  The restaurant doesn’t stand out and you have to park in the regular parking lot along with the shoppers.   Not really knowing what to expect, while we were definately DFD but not to the nines (I didn’t wear a tie – which I rarely do anymore) but did have on a jacket.  The more or less humble exterior hides what I would consider a classic Italian fine dining restaurant.  Large paintings on the walls with those classic heavy guilt frames, tables with crisp linens, chargers with elegantly folded napkins, crystal wine glasses, and leather cushioned chairs.   And everywhere you look there were tuxedoed waiters gliding around the room serving tables, and finishing dishes tableside.   This happened several times during our stay, and it was done quietly and efficiently, a means of making sure your entrée was hot, the sauce was as fresh as possible.  It wasn’t done as a side show with flash (literally) and pomp, just good attention to the food.  In fact, your dish might be prepared a few tables away and brought to the table.

While I need to move along here, I won’t go over the food dish by dish, but everything was excellent.  As I had an off the menu special swordfish (a sucker dish for me) with caramelized onions over wilted greens which was lovely.  Fueled by a pre meal martini and a glass of wine, I did yield to my inclination not to, and got a quick picture as discreetly as possible.

Oddly enough there wasn’t toasted Ravioli on the menu, nor my other go to dish Veal Piccata.  With apologies to our friends (I may get this wrong), the lady ordered salmon but wanted the sauce on the side and vegetables instead of the side on the menu.  The only response from the server was “Of course, Madam”.  Service was the classic brigade style with captains, front and back waiters and so on.  More and more you find out (welcome to the party Feeder) that service is what makes the experience.  Can’t fix bad food, but if the food is good, service can make a meal memorable.  This one was..  I would say it would be a “special occasion” restaurant, not where you go for a quick dinner.  Prices are a notch down from Tony’s (upper twenties, not thirties) but the whole experience is comparable.  All in all in think Tony’s remains king, but I would come to Mineo’s  a few times and save Tony’s for every other year or so..

The FOJ’s

Both the “Y” and the “E” cooked meals for us over the course of our stay.   Fortunately their Feeder father doesn’t have to make stuff up.  Both know what they’re doing.  The “E” prepared his traditional Christmas Eve Lasagna dinner in their beaurifully decorated home which was lovely as usual and enjoyed by all,

And Christmas morning we got up (early) in St. Charles, MO (FOJTE) and drove down (I think right behind Santa) to Cape Girardeau. MO (FOJTY).  TY was up early and used his Big Green Egg to produce a wonderful smoked Brisket for our Christmas Brunch (he had to be at work by 3, the life of a cop).

Eventually the other “J” team came along with our grandson, his friend, and FOJTE's wife's sister (are you dizzy?) so we wound up with a group of about ten, plus good old Stanley.  We had a good time opening gifts, snacking, and wine tasting (noon someplace was invoked).  It was a good day for all.

We stayed a couple more days in Cape before heading home and had a chance to visit one of our favorite places there, the

It is kind of a peaceful place, out in the country by the mill

And Stanley gets to do what hunting dogs like to do!

After poking around we went to a little place where we’d been before in nearby Gordonville for lunch at the

(Window Grab Shot)

Where I had what they called a “club sandwich”

Kind of just what you might expect, but it was ample, tasty and the fries were hot.  Good enough on a cold day...

So finally it was time to load up the MOMSTER and head east again (Documented in first posting, "reverse"). Was kind of a quick trip this year, but it is always heartwarming to be with the family, and as we age, the tug of Missouri might start weighing on the love of Maryland.

So Christmas 2014 goes into the books and memory bank with thoughts of a reluctant Santa