Tuesday, July 31, 2012

another day... another wee dram...

we left Inverness today, and our first stop was at the Glenlivet distillery in the heart of Speyside country where a lot of the Single Malt Scotch is made.  Although GL is a mega distillery, it is credited with being the first to gain noteriety as a producer of Single Malts.  had something to do with Prince somebody who liked their product, but at the time was illegal so he took it upon himself to legalize the production of Single Malt, so GL was the first to become commercially viable.  So it was chosen as our stop.

Anyway, as you recall "Single Malt Scotch Whisky" means it is a whisky made entirely from malted barley, produced at a single distillery and meets all the requirements to be called "Scotch" - produced entirely within Scotland, and aged for a minimum of three years in casks of less than 185 US gallons, bottled at a maximum of 190 US proof.

The distillery reminds one of a wine house in Napa, sleek courtyard, nice logos.

And of course like Napa, there are tours available and so our busload was split up and taken through in groups of about 15.  I picked our guide as an "older" gentleman who I figured knew his stuff.  After researching and fleshing out my knowledge on the subject as a result of preparing a presentation for our tour group, I figured I knew something about the subject, but wanted to see the "real thing".

I did learn something, but our guide seemed more interested in maintaining schedule more than helping people to understand the process.  More than once he sort of implied that we were too dumb to understand, especially some of the ladies in the group.  Not Good.

Glenlivet does not make their own malted barley, but instead contracts it out and it is delivered to the distillery, and must meet specific requirements as to sugar content, yield potential and so forth.  That was something different from the normal process.  The malted barley that is delivered has not been dried by peat, so no smokeyness in their product.  After that, it is pretty much the regular process.  Grind it, add warm water, drain it, add yeast to the resulting water, let it ferment, the distill it twice, put it in casks and there you are.  we saw the huge pot stills, barely visible (on the left) here because they prevent pictures in the distillery proper.

they use used American Oak and make a 12, 18, 20 and up product and some single cask offerings.  After our "tour" we were of course ushered into a tasting room to sample the product. 

I did get the fact that in creating a bottling (say 12 year old - their youngest) that they do "blend" different "fills" in order to create a consistent product.  He was a bit reluctant to admit that but I was glad to confirm my facts.

Ushered into the gift shop...

and then we had lunch in their cafeteria, and i had a cheese and pickle (an oddity in itself) sandwich

with a bowl of the seemingly common potato and leek soup, which is always good no matter where you go..

after leaving the distillery we traveled through wonderful country as we left the highlands for the lowlands..

we visted Balmoral Castle the home of Royalty in Scotland..

 on the way to our current location in Dundee..  another "Chose one from each category" meal at our hotel, and i chose a "Roasted Guinea Fowl" (those things that run around in barnyards) and it was pretty good...this is getting long and the hour late, so maybe more on that tomorrow.

speaking of tomorrow, we'll be heading back to Edinburgh via St. Andrews, visitng the Old Course.  Mecca to golfers..

so off to bed with a wee dram to help the sleep take effect.

Oh yeah we were indeed


Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Day in Scotland

as you may remember we are now in Inverness.  we spent the day doing some interesting things.

Started out with a cruise on Loch Ness, which is a beautiful Loch (it's a loch it's a lake, it's a lake it's a loch) ..

and docked at Urquhart Castle,

and were welcomed by a piper..  very appropriate..

we spent some time "touring the site" taking in the history of the place.  The Grant Clan was assaulted by the MacDonalds, and since the Grants didn't have much defense, the blew up the castle and left.. leaving us with a relic from the 1200's...

it's always sobering to hear of this kind of stuff..

Oh, despite eyes peeled we didn't see Nessie... didn't think we would..

So then we ventured back into the "Capitol of the Highlands" Inverness.   we were turned loose for lunch.  we wandered about for a bit, and found the place that the tour bus driver said was the oldest pub in Inverness

the little blackboard contained the specials of the day..

As it was raining we went in, and it was immediately obvious that it was very old.. hard benches, not much light, and many local folks enjoying a pint.  we went past the bar and sat at a table.  But as we have found in Scotland, we were approached by a nice young lady, asking if we would like to have something to drink.  Yes..  I had a pint of Tennent's Lager, and MFO went with tea.  Sure, yeah!
and we both took the Yorkshire Pudding..  No hint of being alienated for being American, just friendly.  No pretentions, you are who you are.  After beer and tea arrived so did some other of our traveler's and joined us.   They did a little more research and had some better beers, and ordered the Fresh Local Haddock and a Cheeseburger.  soon our Pudding arrived.

Not much on the presentation, just nice hearty pub food. There was potatoes and lots of meat (I think hamburger) and a puff pastry shell which you can't see.. Not spectacular, but filling and fit with the place.  The fish and chips were quite nice, but the cheeseburger was "not what i expected"

After more shopping (we still can't find a Craig plaid!) we reassembled, along with a dessert from a local bakery...

and with a visit to Culodden battlefield (where Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites were hammered by the British) we returned to the motel.

Dinner tonight was another "pick one from three".  It was not inspired. One of the appetizers was Ham Hock Terrine, along with the ubiquitous soup (Roast Leek and potatoe) which MFO selected and I took the Terrine. Mains were less impressive, with a Steamed Fillet of Haddock, a Roasted Breast of Chicken with Stornoway Black Pudding, and vegetarian Cauliflower Cheese Raviouli.  We both took the chicken with the Bottom Feeder's promise to take MFO's pudding.

eventually my Terrine arrived..

It actually was very good.  the dots were balsamic vinegar, the little garnish was a shaved cucumber, an ontion ring, adn a tomato.  quite nice. the chips in the upper left was a spicy lavosh kind of thing.  It was really very good.

wine and conversation resulted in not documenting the main course, but it was just above ordinary, with the exception of black pudding (meaning you don't find that often!).  I continue to be impressed by these restaurants serving traditional ingredients, in spite of an American audience.  good for them.  the steamed Haddock was quite nice and sauced in a pleasant parsley sauce.

the dessert was "Scottish Cheeses, fine Biscuits, celery and chutney".  It approached the table as:

The center is the blue with those odd markings.  i don't know what it was, but it was fairly tasty.  the slab to the left i think was cheddar but i didn't ask.  Quite a wholesome meal

This food is not memorable, nor is it awful.  The feeder could pick apart various things, like they should know who ordered what.  On the other hand, I do admire the practice of setting each place with silver that would accept any order (and a nice napkin)

and after the actual order is placed, the tools not needed for the selection is removed.  Nice.  Hear that, America? The Hotel staff works hard, the servers are extremely pleasant and earnest.  they want you to be happy.  We are guests in their country, and we should not necessarily judge them by American standards.  It is fun to eat their food.  Thank you..

and of course we were


off to Dundee tomorrow!  who knows when the opportunity to talk will turn up next!!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Scotland Tripping..

I can't understand this... tonight I finally get good internet, so i try to post a quickie on Facebook and the damn hotel blocks the site. what the hell is up with this?

I apologize to my readership that I have not been able to catch up with our ramblings.  they have been many, and have included interesting good meals.  and lest you think that all we do is eat, we see neat stuff...


Today, on our way to Inverness we had a lovely lunch at the "Old Inn"

 they served a very tasty Salmon lunch

After that, we wended our way through the Highlands to our current overnight in Inverness (nearby Loch Ness)

We are in a very nice modern hotel, and feeling frisky, I decided to get a cocktail in the bar. while MFO was getting ready for dinner. 

Intestingly enough, I find that the Scots don't do many cocktails (remember the DMOTRWAT experince in Ayr?).  Anyway, as I said, I went down early while MFO was getting DFD, and entered the lobby for a nice drink.  Turned out that you had to go to a little window to order, where there was a very nice young lady. So I figured what the hell, "gimme a Dirty Gray Goose Martini, up, with olives".  Blank stare.  "what was that again?"  Repeated, another blank stare with an earnest smile.  She held a bottle of Martini and Rossi white vermouth up, and said "does it use this?".  Yes it does.  "and what else?"  Gray Goose Vodka.  Search ensued and finally she produced a bottle of maybe Finlandia, and said "this is all we have for Vodka".  Okay, fine, we're in recovery mode now.  Yes, that will work.  Um, how much?  well, it's usually three parts Vodka to one of Vermouth..  Okay..  She reached for a "tall glass" and a jigger.  (let's keep going here).  Good.  Three (one ounce) jiggers of Vodka in the glass.  "now, how much of the other stuff?"  Oh, about an ounce.  Carefully measured and added to the glass, which now was maybe a couple of inches or so above the bottom.  "would you like some ice, sir?"  Yes, that would be fine.  Ice up to about half full.  "now, you said you would like some Olives?"  That would be great.  Out came a little side dish and a tupperware container of olives, both black and green.  She proceeded to put several of each in the dish, provided a stabber, and handed it over. Fine, thank you, i would like to charge it to my room.  Well, apparently that is not on the menu.  Cash would be fine.  13 Pounds for:

Dinner was another of the pick one of three from appetizers, mains, and desserts.  But this time we were served in the restaurant with a nice place setting..

and instead of the Xerox sheet we had in the more rustic western regions of Scotland (which was "just right" for that setting) we had a very civilized menu.

Without the eye strain, we both had the "prawn, melon, parma ham salad with Rose Marie Dressing" for starters, and MFO took the "Slow Braised Blade of Scotch Beef with Calendonian Ale Gravy" and (to be different) I chose the Crispy Fillets of Sea Bass, Fricasse of Savoy, and Pancetta Pine Nut
Starter was:

Note popcorn shrimp disguised as "Prawns"...  but they tasted good.  As did the entrees:

I didn't get to MFO before she forked it up, but it was very tender.. My "crispy" sea bass:

as a quick aside, i am not sure why it is served skin side up.. anyway it was very flavorful and a nice meal in a nice setting.. Despite any shortcomings on the Feeder scale of eating, sharing food in a different company with friends is wonderful

Tomorrow we have a little lighter day, and will visit more historic sites..

It is very nice to be in a different country with different ideas of culture and customs.  It gives one some perspective on our lives, and maybe the idea that Americans don't always have it right..

More to come

Yikes, It's late and i'm still


Friday, July 27, 2012


Location: Isle of Mull... today's trip to Island of Iona..great lunch much history.. try to report. later.  so many things so little time.

Tough to update because mostly we’re “doing” rather than taking time to document. So this may be a bit disjointed, terse,  and quick..

After that really good dinner in our first hotel in Ayr, as reported, the next night we eschewed the “group eat”syndrome”and deciced to dine at the TripAdvisor recommendation of Carrick Lodge restaurant. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. It appeared to be sort of a restaurant associated with a family hotel so there were family groups in the place with youngsters. And yes, cry Southern Maryland, there was a group included a person with a ball cap. We were seated near the door, but service was good. Everyone here is very friendly and accommodating.  I ordered a starter of the “Tower of Haggis”, and MFO selected “traditional Cullen Skink” which is not a Lizard, but turned out to be a seafood chowder kind of dish. For main courses, MFO took Chargrilled Ribeye of Sirloin or Fillet; All Steaks are served with Tomato, Portabella Mushroom, Potatoes and Onion Rings… I went more traditional with a main course of Pan Seared Lamb’s Liver with Bacon, Black Pudding, Caramelised Shallots and Red Wine Jus

I didn’t schlep along the little Point and Shoot so no photos. My “tower” was okay, and pretty much the same (Haggis) prep as I had for the appetizer. It was a base of the Haggis, and then a puree of potatoes and turnips (neeps and tatties) to make the tower. Okay. MFO’s chowder was very good. Oh, did I mention that my drink test of a DMOTRWAT resulted in a few cubes of ice in an “up” glass with a cherry in the bottom and a twist swimming around. When served, I asked if it was indeed Dry Vermouth (giving deference to the rosy red hue) and was assured it was, and I suspect a large dose of bitters was responsible. Main courses arrived, and MFO’s steak while ordered medium rare was served medium, and I had several pieces of (I assume) lamb’s liver but it was a bit tough and overly seared on top. The bacon was quite good. When in a new town, one is slave to outside reviews, and in this case I think maybe TripAdivsor wasn’t so helpful.

Our first group dinner in the current hotel (on Mull) was the typical choice of three from three categories.  I took the stuffed pork chop, and MFO chose a beef dish.  She picked the “seafood salad” as an appetizer.  Here’s what that resulted in: Popcorn shrimp, and what the heck is that raw fish looking thing?  Mostly pushed around the plate

My stuffed pork chop as stuffed with…. Haggis!!

That[s the black stuff...  Chop was fairly tough and surrounded by typical veggies…MFO’s beef was tasteless.  Bear in mind here that we are on vacation and dining with friends which overcomes the food (especially on this rather remote Isle), and i have to pay attention to it,  but it was not memorable..

That being said I would have to say that most of the food we’ve had here has been good to excellent.   I will update as able (given the vagaries of internet and time).

Just a comment....One odd thing we’ve encountered is related to the bar..  it’s always about the bar.  Before our welcoming dinner in Ayr, I decided to try a Scotch in the hotel bar.  The nice lady said she had a local scotch.  Okay, gimme that.  One ice cube in a glass, and then out came a jigger.  I swear to god, it was maybe half an ounce.  Barely covered the bottom of the glass.  GImme a double.  Maybe an ounce.  A couple of gulps and it was gone.  Ten pounds.  Another oddity is if you order a glass of wine, they will pour it into another cylindrical measuring device.  Don’t give the customer any extra (okay or any less).  Weird. But hey, it's not our Country!!

Enough for today.  We’ve had so many great experiences it will be hard to keep up..

we try to be

tomorrow Isle of Skye!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Haggis Checked!!

quick post...

ride over included airplane food the worst i've had ever.  period. ever.  have you experienced the drink/cocktal cart arriving at your seat 20 minutes after the pitiful plastic tray of plastic chicken was set before you?  thanks US Air..

but then things got much better.  after arriving fatigued from the flight over (no sleep) we got a pleasant tour of Glasgow, did one of the "Burns" sites, and arrived here in Ayr on the Firth of Clyde last night.   with a welcoming dinner with the tour group. and guess what?  passed apps was... (wait for it.....) Haggis!!  the were golfball sized orbs on a skewer, with oatmeal coating.  Why not?   Good news, it was pretty good.  I asked the server if it was close to "traditional" preparation and he said yes.  for southern Marylanders, the consistency and taste was not far from Scrapple.  a little spicy and pleasant taste, not gamy or anything.  So i am enthused with my first introduction to Haggis.  the meal was very good, and included smoked salmon starter.. very nice.

Today we visited Burns birthplace and very nice Museum telling of his short life and work.  There is a lot of reverence for him here.  Both places included a little program about him and reading of some of his poems and a couple of his songs..  Which locally, are pronounced "poEms".  the dialect here is pretty hard to understand.. turns out old Robert was quite the ladies guy...

tonight is one of the two nights we're not doing group dinners, so here in Ayr, we've selected the Carrick Lodge Restaurant.  one of the highest rated (tripadisor - what are you going to do?) places in town. On the menu is "Traditional Haggis with neeps and Tatties".  we'll see how that goes.

lovely country, nice people, and a great tour so far.  I have pictues but will am on a schedule at the moment.  so, i gotta go


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Almost Gone...

Well, as the song goes, bags are (almost) packed, but stuff is identified.  Just kind of marking time until we depart tomorrow morning at ten to join group for bus to Reagan, fly to Philly, then over to Glasgow.

Will endeavor to post a blog now and then, as usual you're at the mercy of the technology, and somewhat of time.  Part of the team is not in favor of taking time to do blogging things, and there is some truth to that.  But, for me that is part of the experience.  And, as much as I hate to give in, I might do a Face Book entry occasionally.

so,  here we go.. Haggis and Scotch, and


and rest well dear friend Butch, we'll miss you..

Friday, July 20, 2012

Heavy hangs the head...

That doesn’t wear the crown..as of last Wednesday night, my one year reign as King Oyster came to an end, as I passed the royal robes, crown, and scepter to the next King Oyster to begin another reign.  The succession plan is that the retiring president of the Rotary Club becomes King Oyster for a year, presiding over the Oyster Festival, and then accompanying the festival’s Champion Shucker to the world oyster opening competition in Galway, Ireland.  Which means that MFO and I will be journeying off to Ireland late in September.

I must admit that after getting over the initial embarrassment, it really was fun being King, and I enjoyed it immensly.  Not only at the two day Oyster Festival, but he also attended many local events like First Friday’s, wine fests, charity events, and so forth.  The little ones are the most fun, at first little nervous to approach the King but eventually warming up and want their picture taken, or an autograph.  As I was lamenting the passing of the torch (so to speak) a friend reminded me that the President, once a President, is always Mr. President.  That applies to Royalty as well, so (at least in my mind) I will always be King Oyster.. but I will miss the adoration of his loyal subjects ..


 The King is dead.... long live the King!

More on trucks…

As I mentioned last time, food trucks are a huge national trend.  A friend from food friendly Seattle passed this site along.  Worth a click/look to see what extent they go to.  Think that would look good in the Park?

On the Road... Again

As I mentioned in passing the other day, this coming Monday MFO and I are joining a tour group composed mostly of friends of Historic St. Mary’s City and are winging our way to Scotland.  This is mostly the same group we enjoyed Ireland with a couple of years ago.  We will be mostly in the southern half of the country, Glasgow, Ayr, the Isles of Mull and Skye, Inverness, Edinburgh.  We’ll visit historical sites that were important in the beginnings of Maryland history as well as other famous places, not the least of which is the Old Course at St. Andrews.  No clubs will accompany, but I will be able to touch the grass (I hope....sometime I’ll tell you about my trying to touch the ice in the Montreal Forum).

On the culinary side of things (always important to the Feeder), a lot of meals are included as part of the tour, so striking off on our own will be limited.  This is not bad, since experience has shown that the tour folks have excellent choices for places to take us.  But the thought of food in general brings up a problem that has been troubling me for a while and now will be brought to a head.  When you think of Scotland and food, what comes to mind (AFTER Scotch)?  Yes, it is that enigmatic dish: haggis.  Always a feature of Robert Burns dinners, it remains lurking out there for the feeder.   As a proponent of sampling traditional and indigenous cuisines I suspect I cannot come back without at least sample taste. Put up or shut up.  But knowing what I know, that will be tough.  Here’s a (I suspect classical) recipe passed along by that noted food scientist and guru Alton Brown:


1 sheep stomach
1 sheep liver
1 sheep heart
1 sheep tongue
1/2 pound suet, minced
3 medium onions, minced
1/2 pound dry oats, toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground herbs


Rinse the stomach thoroughly and soak overnight in cold salted water.

Rinse the liver, heart, and tongue. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook these parts over medium heat for 2 hours. Remove and mince. Remove any gristle or skin and discard.

In a large bowl, combine the minced liver, heart, tongue, suet, onions, and toasted oats. Season with salt, pepper, and dried herbs. Moisten with some of the cooking water so the mixture binds. Remove the stomach from the cold salted water and fill 2/3 with the mixture. Sew or tie the stomach closed. Use a turning fork to pierce the stomach several times. This will prevent the haggis from bursting.

In a large pot of boiling water, gently place the filled stomach, being careful not to splash. Cook over high heat for 3 hours.

Serve with mashed potatoes, if you serve it at all.

Appetizing, no?  So we’ll see if the feeder can follow through…it has been mentioned that a wee dram (or half a bottle) of the “water of life” helps..  I know I can do that..

Okay, off to do some more

PFS (Packing For Scotland) so i can be
DF(Haggis) and

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Madness....

When the temperatures go into the upper nineties
Your brain goes dead
When your brain goes dead, you get cranky
When you get cranky
You say things you probably shouldn’t
When you say things you shouldn’t, people don’t like you
I am that guy!

So, has anybody else noticed the proclivity of many Face Book posters to include pictures of kitties and puppies?  Once in a while is okay, but the thirtieth picture of Ruffles looks a lot like its tenth.  I’m sure they are delightful little companions, but day after day after day gets tiresome.  And what’s up with all those little “signboards”?   I do like some of the cartoons however.. there.  Don’t hate me..

Other this and that’s while I simmer (pun intended) down..

Barrista on the road..
Somebody sent me a notice that the new Fiat 500L, a “multi-purpose” vehicle to be released here early next spring will have an interesting accessory.  Guess what?  Those crafty Italians are going to include an in-car espresso machine!  All we need is an amped up bunch of drivers zipping around the highway.  I think they do say the car has to be at rest in order to brew it.  Maybe the Germans can get a Porsche with a beer tap!!

Dress Code
A friend of mine who will be journeying to the Scottsdale area soon, asked a friend of his for restaurant recommendations.  One of them was an Italian place, Tutti Santi. The feeder of course has to check out the menus and so forth, but I thought their dress code was interesting.  You can go to their site, but this is what it says:

Tutti Santi Dress Code:
In order to maintain the best dining experience possible for all of our guests, we ask that you follow the following dress code:
Business Casual
Please remove hats at the table
No sleeveless shirts

Good for them!  But after a little reflection, I suspect that the request to doff the chapeau refers not to the ball caps we have to deal with.  In that area of the country as I remember, a fair number of people tend to wear “cowboy hats” of varying sizes and forms.  Maybe it is directed at them.  But somehow cowboy hats and sleeveless shirts are not exactly compatible.  whatever, it’s a move in the right direction.

Ain’t Technology wonderful Department
As you may remember MFO and I are leaving for Scotland in a few days (next Monday).  In checking with my local wireless provider I find that neither of our cell phones are “international” and cannot be upgraded to same.  Verizon does, however offer an international “loaner” program.   So Sunday morning I gritted my teeth, dialled the “global” 800 number and prepared for “touch one if....”.  Well, that turned out to be partially true, but after putting in my 10 digit phone number and the “please listen carefully as our options have changed” menu, one more touch got a human.  She was quite pleasant and worked out the plan.  That, as I said was early Sunday morning, and just now the doorbell rang and there was the FedEx person with a box in hand.  Just over 48 hours from phone call to box in hand.  How do they do that?  Anyway the next step will be activating it, a process I am not looking forward to.  But, having capability in Scotland will be good.  More to come on that..

And now that my blood pressure has returned to its normally elevated state, final notes with a couple of foodie entries (or is it entrees?)

If you read many food magazines these days, you are likely to find articles and guides to “food trucks” which have become very trendy in many metropolitan areas.  Not your ordinary “roach coach” we are used to, but these vendors are often run by very successful chefs, and provide an outlet for quality food coming to you, or at least nearby.  So I was interested to see one parked outside the liquor store on the corner across from San Souci.  Owned by one of the (many) local catering outfits, it is there during the noon hour and also early dinner.  The feeder has not stopped to check out the menu however..  I suspect foie gras (still legal in our state) is not available.  Maybe better options than Jerry’s or Subway offers. 

Pork Fat Rules
Found this recipe – FWIW, and I don’t understand the Billionaire tag

Billionaires Bacon

The late chef and food consultant Gene Hovis gave the recipe for this decadent bacon to Mortimer's in New York City; it was subsequently adopted by that restaurant's successor, Swifty's, and served at cocktail parties both on premises and off.

1 lb. bacon
1 1⁄2 cups light brown sugar

1. Separate strips of bacon and blot dry with paper towels. Put sugar into a wide dish. Coat both sides of bacon in sugar, firmly pressing sugar into each strip. Lay bacon out on sheet pans as coated (some sugar will fall off).

2. Cook bacon in a preheated 425° oven, turning once, until browned and lacquered, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled sheet pan to let cool. Break slices into thirds.

Serves 8 -10

Back to planning to be

Friday, July 13, 2012

Unchain my heart...

Okay, passing on any sleazy triskaidekaphobia jokes, we continue with the subject at hand

As I said the other day, a few readers have been kind enough to provide feedback on their experiences with “chains”.  I am relieved and gratified to report I didn’t get any “Cracker Barrel is the best!!” or “Can’t wait to get to Lone Star” remarks.  Maybe a testimony to the collective tastes of the readership!  But what I did get was very interesting..

You remember that Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano  came in as overall highest rated?  Guess what.  I had notes from readers from as far flung as Ohio and Seattle, saying they have been to a Biaggi’s and greatly enjoyed it.  Both of these readers have discerning palates.  A couple of readers from here and Florida said they really liked LePeep (eggs anyway you like them) for breakfast. STL also weighed in in favor of First Watch for breakfast items, one even adding that if that wasn’t available, Bob Evans would suffice.  Black Angus Steakhouse (nee Stuart Anderson's) had its devotees among west coast folk.

You might remember that all of the above were in the “top ten” of CR’s report.  But equally interesting were other “chain” restaurants where good meals were enjoyed.  Places like Claim Jumpers; Salt Grass Steakhouse; Bubba Gump Shrimp; and even our old friend the The Chart House were mentioned.  One reader said she had been to a couple of locations of Season’s 52 (there’s one in Tyson’s), and had enjoyed meals that were very different in each location. So maybe painting all the “chains” with the same brush is not warranted.  It appears that there are varying levels of establishments under the umbrella, from the more creative (Season’s 52), to the close your eyes and you could be anywhere (Olive Garden).  I wondered previously what qualified you to be a “chain” anyway.  Who owns these places anyway?

Well, once you start peeling back that onion (I am not above using trite phrases), it gets very complicated very fast.  You may have heard of Landry’s (not the seafood house, the company).  They own/manage(?) about 39 properties, including Morton’s, that Salt Grass, Claim Jumper and so on.  Darden has the mega chains such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steak House, but they also harbor Season’s 52 and Capital Grille.  OSI Restaurant Partners reign in Outback, Carraba’s, Bonefish, Cheeseburger in Paradise, as well as Ray’s and Flemings.  Not all places roll up somewhere, LePeep, Cheesecake Factory, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evan’s, Applebees all go it on their own.  You can amuse yourself for hours googleing “Who owns……..”.  What a nightmare.. glad I don’t have to worry about that, only what is in front of me.

Oh, I saw a list in a trade publication of “Top 100 chains ranked by sytemwide foodservice sales”.  Guess who is number one with sales of over $34 Billion (yes, with a B)?  Golden Arches.  Second goes to Subway with a measly 11 Billion, followed (in order) by Starbucks, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, Applebees, and on down the list that contains every frickin’ place that comes to mind when you think “chain”.  The only one (out of 100) that was in the CR top ten was Bob Evan’s at 47th place.  The 100th with a paltry 392 million in sales was On the Border, just under Chuck E. Cheese and Big Boy.  So the vast majority of eaters out there (apparently) still prefer the drive troughs’, quick service (the new buzz word for “fast food”) places and grab and go.  

At this point there should be drum roll, crescendo, and some sweeping “what all this means” statement. I got nuthin’…  I guess what comes to me is that there is such a wide variety of places we put in the “chain” bucket (which seems to have some holes) that you can probably find something you would spend your money on more than once.  This makes it even harder for the independents to make it on their own.  I would recommend that that is the first thing to look for, a locally owned and managed place that suits you (yes, it’s work and you will have whiffs – such as faux crab) but when you find one support them.  Past that, maybe some of those lesser known, more esoteric “chains” that while part of a parent company, do have some autonomy and latitude to work with the food.. they appear to be out there..

As a closing footnote (for now) here in our little corner of Southern Maryland, we are stuck with those mega chains..and more rolling in..

And now for something completely different!

Being wrapped up in chain mail (get it?), I sort of passed over the recent All Star Baseball game (even with their lame attempts at convincing you it “Means Something!).  I don’t care so much about the game itself, but what I am interested in is the preceding competition of “hat tipping”.  There is an art to tipping your baseball hat when introduced in the pregame line up on the foul line.  It is as traditional as the sport itself.  When FOJTE went out for baseball in high school, there was an entire practice spent on the proper procedure of putting the hat on your head (which we won’t describe here).  I am afraid that the skill of “tipping” has eroded with the “me first” players vying to see who can make the most money, their talent apparently judged by how many dollars owners are willing to spend on them.  Anyway, at the extreme bottom of the ranks of tippers are the players that (gasp!) completely remove the hat from their head, hold it in one hand while giving the touchdown salute with both arms.  Awful.  Disrespectful to the game. A slight step up is the one hand removal, but only elevating it a foot or so from their head (please not at arms length).  Almost there is the unfortunate practice of grabbing the bill and lifting it UP to expose hair (if any) before pulling it back down.  Ah, but the paramount is when the player puts the tip of the thumb under the edge of the bill of the cap approximately over the right eye, curls the index finger on the bill over the thumb, with only the second knuckle to fingertip touching the fabric, pauses there just a second or two, and then dips the hand DOWN just a half inch (or not at all) before returning thumb/finger to the properly fitted hat position and removing the hand.  Now that is CLASS!  I gave the golden hat bill award to Bob Weldon this year, he closely approximated perfection. 

Preparations for Scotland continue as we get ready to

DF anything..

Ps: we didn’t make it to Coco’s the other night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More Links...

I used to call this “convenience store day” (7-11) but they seem to be dwindling..

One of the things the Feeder really enjoys is when readers take the time to respond with a note or comment.  One, it lets me know somebody actually reads the thing, and two, it always impresses me with the breadth of knowledge and experience of our little clan.

So it was particularly gratifying to see the response to the “chain” thing.  Many far flung readers have knowledge of, or have visited some of the lesser known chains I mentioned, and have passed along some thoughts.  I was going to paraphrase and condense today, but think we’ll give it another day or so in case somebody had something else more important (hard as it is to believe) than toread the blog..  I had notes from some people I haven’t heard from in quite a while.  Very nice.. good to know they're still out there!

A well known Chain

McDonald’s – from Hawaii!  With expressed in local architecture..

Where not only you can get the apparently ubiquitous McRib

But also a lobster roll!  although "Down Easterners" might cringe at the thought of a lobster roll on a hot dog bun...McLobster?? 

and at another chain look what appears on their A. M. menu! 

Along with other local “eclectic” selections for breakfast

Portuguese and SPAM!  and heaven's knows what "local deluxe" would get you...According to my source, during WWII, SPAM was introduced to the islands by the GI’s, and is viewed as somewhat of a delicacy.  Maybe like we have scrapple.. Anyway it is always fun to learn about food in other places.  For instance, this ought to send you to Google

Crabby experience

Back to local climes, a friend was at Fitzie’s (a crab house down by Compton) the other night and ordered Crab Newburg.  What was brought to the table was (in their words) “artificial” crab.  You know that orange rimmed stuff that appears in seafood salads that you never really know what is?  It was kind of like that.  It made a return trip to the kitchen to be replaced by a crab cake.  Guess what?  More chunks of “whatever” were in there.  When questioned about it, the server replied “well, it said “blue crab” on the can!”.  I have heard the crab harvest is not robust (yet) this year, maybe this is a symptom.

Face Lift

If you have had the occasion to drive by the “old” applebee’s on Rte. 235 you will note the renovations are not limited to the interior.  New awnings being affixed.

Sneak Peek

As we are attending this evening's meeting on the Lex Park Heritage Area development plan (6:30 Bay District Social Hall) we decided that maybe we would stop at Coco’s on the way home.  I usually don’t like to announce a Feeder visit for fear of terrorizing the staff, but there it is..ha ha.

And I guess we will be


keep those cards and chain letters coming!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Links in the ...


As most readers know, I generally denigrate “chain” restaurants, much preferring an independently run restaurant which has more latitude in sourcing ingredients and creativity in preparation and presentation.  Chains, on the other hand strive for consistency (a surprising exception is recounted below) in menu and preparation throughout their various outlets. Ideally, an Outback in Indiana should be indistinguishable from an Outback in Wyoming.  Of course the kitchen staff affects this, but that’s the goal.  That is why chains send in kitchen teams to “train” them.  On the other hand, the challenge to the independent is to make me want to come back.

So it was with some interest that I noticed the August Consumer Reports Magazine (that paragon of defending your buck) contained an article called “Restaurant Roulette – We rate 102 of America’s biggest chains”.  Now we all know that CR delights in being iconoclastic, giving top ratings to some model of a vacuum cleaner that you’ve never heard of, much less being available in your area, while putting your cherished Hoover at the bottom.  Of course all of their findings are based on “impartial” surveys and testing and are completely objective.  Of course. 

Well, they stated that their criteria for rating the chains was based on four attributes:  taste, value, service, and mood (not defined), and reflected the experience of 47,565 readers who consumed 110,517 meals at the 102 chains.  As usual, they fleshed out the article with lot of background info and tips.  A couple that caught my eye:  More Americans are ordering chain-restaurant food to go….order on line and pick up.  Even Morton’s has a “Prime to Go” menu”.  There's just something wrong with that!  And there was a “How to save” heading that contained even more gems, like: sniff out specials – deals and so on; Eat at the bar; Show your age; clip coupons; and Order to go – you can leave a smaller tip.  Atta boy Consumer Reports.

Anyway I am finally about to get to the point (amazing!!). Here are their top ten chains based on overall score in their big four categories:  Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano; Black Angus Steakhouse; Bob Evans; Bravo Cucina Italiana; First Watch; J. Alexander’s; Le Peep; Elmer’s; and Fatz Eatz and Drinkz.  Now the feeder tends to keep his eyes open when traveling, and the ONLY one I have heard of is Bob Evans.  How about you?  And throughout the rest of the article other “chains” are mentioned – Quaker Steak and Lube; Cheddar’s Casual CafĂ©; Buca di Beppo; Mellow Mushroom; Claim Jumper…. and more.  I bet out of the 102 entries I have never seen nor heard of eighty of them.  Of course some of our “friends” are there, Chart House is at the bottom of the ratings for “Contemporary/traditional American”; Olive Garden is in the lower middle of Italian; Buffalo Wild Wings at the very bottom of Pub Style or Grill; (Texas Road House upper third); Cracker Barrel upper mid of “Family” (Friendly’s dead last).

So what really struck me was the tremendous variety of restaurants represented as “chains” that I never knew existed.  I suspect they are regional, maybe started as an independent (Famous Dave’s Barbeque), and with success decided to expand.  Who knows.. not sure when you become a “chain”..

I guess (the bigger) chains with their consistency can have their place under certain circumstances.  If you can find a dish you like (I have another friend who has a favorite at Olive Garden) the consistency of a national chain has an advantage.  Such as when you’re traveling, stopped for the night, and want to eat. Unless you have done research, you may not know of a good independent , and even if you do, it may be far from your motel,  and (despite reviews) it still may be a waste.  So if you like their Venetian Apricot Chicken, you find your Olive Garden and have a pretty good chance of being satisfied.  But when you’re home, exploring locally owned places is worthwhile.  They all want to make money of course, and chains do it by supplying average food with corporate recipes cranked out by trained employees.  The independents are willing to take the risk to create something special and bring you back.  Good on them.

An encouraging "chain" exception

And in that vein, a good friend told me the following story.. Being a transplanted St. Louisan like us, as far back as 1961, he became a devotee of Steak 'n Shake, a (now expanding) “chain” founded in Normal, Illinois in 1934. They coined the phrase“in sight, it must be right” and were known for their (Steak)burgers n' hand dipped Shakes. They also were the pioneer of shoestring fries as I recall. I wasn’t a huge fan, but they did make a pretty good shake and patty melt. Anyway, he is/was very partial to their chili. He recalls the original as: “you got a bowl of beans and chili sauce with a large dollop of beef chili in the center. Never mind the variants like chili mac or chili three ways etc.”; but on a recent pilgrimage to STL, he was disappointed to find that the board room took over and morphed to what they (now) typically serve up and it is not that great” .  Then, on the return trip he chanced to find (with GPS help) an SnS just south of Louisville, and to his surprise the Chili was much better and very different from his STL experience. He thinks he may call the manager. I hope he does. Maybe another symptom of regional chains having more latitude..

Changing the Links

Based on a tipster’s report, I drove out to our local Applebee’s today.  Sure enough the place was loaded with equipment, men, and “stuff”

Huge effort.  So I noticed a little tent in their parking lot and drove up and a couple of young ladies (not “guys”) informed me that they are doing a total renovation, basically re-doing the front of the house, with a completely new dining room.  They gave me a little card for $5 off (on purchases of $25 or more) and I could come back Thursday.  I wouldn't know the difference because i have NEVER been in it.

I won’t but if I did I would be