Friday, June 23, 2017

Inside Stuff...

A peek behind the curtain… while it appears that the brilliant stuff that appears here just flows from the Feeder’s brain, the sad truth is that particular organ is showing effects of age (where are those keys?) and I have taken to be a “lister” making notes that are on sticky’s which are affixed to doors mirrors etc.   “Take out the trash; meeting at noon today” stuff like that.  And that carries over to constructing the blog.  How many times have I hit “Publish” only to remember that I wanted to say such and such (an example will appear under the Mexican Restaurants entry below.

So to combat this, I leave a little pad about and make notes of stuff I want to yak about.. It usually is in the vicinity of the laptop (with a reminder of things of the past)

So today we’ll just work our way down the list.


Technology always gets you.

Phishing:  the other day, MFO and I decided to try the new hot dog place up in San Souci for dinner, so I suggested she go to the website to look at the menu.  Immediately after clicking “website” on the google screen for the place we were greeted with

From “Windows Defender Alert”, and you could not close the screen by clicking the “x” or close window.  Well, that smelled kind of funny (figure of speech) but still it gives you pause for thought.  So instead of calling Microsoft Technical Department I called our IT guy who was in the area and came over and verified it was indeed a Phishing hoax, brand new apparently.  He said if you actually called they would want you to give them some Bitcoin to “fix” it.   I suppose people fall for it.  Amazing

Laptop: “accepted” the repeated “suggestions” to install Windows Creator 10 (Beware!!) on both the laptop and the desktop.   Seemed to go okay, except that the laptop slowed to a crawl.  A minute to open Word, 10 minutes to boot up, typing ahead of yourself, and so forth.  Again a housecall from the IT guy, who said the hard disk sounded like an “espresso machine” and would most likely need to be replaced. He took the machine back to the shop where he performed a “checkdisk” operation, where it found several sectors were damaged and were repaired.  No need for an investment.  Now it hums along. 

Shadow Box

A very nice (late) Father’s Day story.  One of my father’s passions was fishing.  Since we lived in Michigan where catfish were considered trash fish and the rainbow, speckled, and brown trout ruled the streams such as the (legendary) Au Sable in the upper lower peninsula.  Opening day of the season would find him in crisp white shirt, black bow tie, waders and hand tied flies for the fly rod in the middle of the stream..  DFT?(Trout?).  He would also take trips to Canada for Lake Trout, Northern Pike and so forth.  So over the years, he amassed a fairly large amount of equipment and tackle.   It wound up in our basement, and has languished there for years.   MFO has recently (I think I posted about this) taken to organizing all Dad’s “stuff” from the fishing gear to the official records and photographs from his WWI experiences (wounded in France) and so forth.  In fact, she has contacted various WWI museums and some are interested.  Stay tuned.   Anyway, on Father’s day last, she brought a rather large wrapped package out for cocktails (our traditional time for exchanging and opening gifts).  Upon opening it, I found a beautiful display of some of my father’s cherished lures and tackle.  Do you know which is a Daredevil?   A Rapala minnow? a Flatfish?

The little document at the right is MY fishing license from when we still lived in Michigan.  I’m sure Dad was looking down and smiling, dreaming of may fly hatches on the river.  Quite touching.  MFO is a treasure…

Okay, we’ll pick up the pace now with some (nearly) one-liners:

New Phone: I traded in my aging SamSung Note 4 on a Google Pixel XL.   Quite a nice instrument, and getting into the Google world is a good thing.  As part of the deal I got a free Google home assistant.   More later

Google Doodle: some nice ones lately

Mexican Restaurants:   I find out that Plaza Tolteca and Los Guayabos are co-owned, hence the word for word description of dishes on their respective menus.  And my memory jogger referred to above was that besides noting the absence of Chiles Relleños, on the menus, “Street Food” shows up as a category of dishes.

Steve Harvey: a complete idiot.  In the same league as Matt Lauer

Rachel Ray:  somehow it does my heart good to see she is now selling her own brand of dog food.

On Star:  MFO is on the road, and somehow her phone goofed up and would not articulate the driving directions through the Bluetooth.   Although we have paid for it for years, yesterday made it all worthwhile.

Well, that kinds of cleans out the list.  Riveting stuff, eh?  I’ll have more interesting things (IMHO) coming up.

Historic St. Mary’s City Beer Fest 2017 tomorrow.

And I’ll be there giving out beer glasses:


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Los Guayabos? what's that?

The Guava Tree…  Not sure how that name applies to the third (?) restaurant in “Charlie’s Diner” down toward Ridge on Three Notch Road (more colorful than State Route 235).   Anyway, their “Coming Soon” sign has been replaced by a real one

The other night MFO and I attended an excellent lecture by Dr. Terry Brock (another Sparty!) at Historic St. Mary’s City about the slave “landscape” (his term) in early Southern Maryland.  On the way home, instead of our usual dialog as we pass a restaurant of interest, of “we gotta stop there sometime”......we DID!.  

We went in, were greeted immediately and offered (and took) a booth (which always seems cramped to me, but didn’t object) and sat down with menus, and looked around.  Previous patrons of the other incarnations of the place wouldn’t recognize any physical changes, the bar is where the bar was, the dining space is still to the right, and I think there may be another room behind said bar.  Tables and booths remain pretty much as they were.

The décor, however has changed to suit the current folks with several wall mounted sequined and flamboyant sombreros, and those hokey plastic scenes attempting to look like tiles of happy people in a plaza dancing and carrying on.  All part of the experience.   The usual basket of tortilla chips and sauce(s) were dropped, and we were asked about drinks, and after finding the beer selections on a card separate from the menu, I got one of those dollar off Mexican Bottled beer advertised outside.

Due to the later than usual time of dining, we got down to business with the menus.  The in house menu was a plastic comb bound affair, but I’ll offer a couple of pictures of the carry out variety

I include them not to try to have you read them, but just to show the stunning amount of choices (20 seafood, 14 chicken and beef, 14 “Especialdidaes”, innumerable Appetizers, etc.).  Hate to generalize, but seems to be a trait of restaurant menus for other cuisines, not only “Mexican/Tex Mex”, but Chinese, Thai, Japanese and so forth.  Some of the latter (helpfully) attach numbers to eliminate poor Americans embarrassing themselves trying to pronounce foreign names of dishes and generally resorting to pointing.  

Most of the choices were common with other “Mexican” restaurants around here:
Los Guayabos: Enchiladas: Suizas; La Banderita; Rancheras; Pollo Asado
Plaza Azteca: Enchiladas: Suizas; Bandera; Rancheras; Pollo Sonora
Plaza Tolteca: Enchiladas: Suizas; La Banderita; Rancheras; Pollo Amigo

And of course there are various other beef and seafood and chicken dishes, but a lot of them have the same description.   I zeroed in on a common favorite:

Now, this is a bit of exaggeration, but sometimes I wonder if there is a giant Mexican Cocina someplace that a lot of these things are made and are distributed to where ever they are ordered..
Here are my Enchiladas La Banderita:

I’ve had this dish at all three above, and this picture could have come from any of them.

As to the food itself it was good, pretty much just as expected.  Lettuce was fresh and crunchy (not too common), the rice was orangeish instead of yellow as is more often the case.  One thing (which I somehow don’t care for) is the beef in this edition was ground, not shredded

Which is a bit closer to my Enchilada than you probably care for, so I won’t show the chicken which was also pretty finely shredded, not chunks as you find at the other outlets.  I did find the tortilla wraps had some texture and flavor, not just mush.  MFO had her go to (I can use the rest for lunch tomorrow) Mushroom Quesadilla which looked kind of lonesome on the plate.  

(Hey KWW, no comments about the WB please.. I know! - inside joke)

Fortunately for the Feeder’s somewhat delicate digestive system, nothing was overly spicy, although the little caddy on the table was there in case it wasn’t hot enough for 

Service was okay, with “is everything okay here?” inquiries just short of annoying.. I’m sure it was done out of enthusiasm however.. One thing that I found unpleasant (and MFO disagreed) was due to the fact that Mexican food tends to have a lot of “stuff” on the plate, quite regularly there is an escapee bit that hits the floor.  Well, as soon as this was noticed by staff, out came somebody with one of those pans on a stick with a broom and the bit of “extra” food was brushed up.  You know the feeling you get when you’re eating and somebody comes out with a mop?   That kind of thing.  As I said, MFO thought it was just being tidy and fastidious.

I have a friend who really likes La Guay.. to the point that it stands out above all our other options.  I’m not sure at this point I would drive the extra miles (the perennial problem with the “Charlies” site) for what I had.  Now, my disclaimer is that I never stray far from the Enchilada portion of the menu, some of the other dishes may be nicely done (Grilled Mango Salmon, Steak a la Mexicana, etc.)

Anyway, if you’re down that way around lunch or dinner time, try it out.  I hope the location doesn’t claim another victim.   While open daily for lunch, the Gate Three situation, unless it has changed, makes that tough.. and, whenever, from what we saw, not much call to


oh, whatever Spanish is for Lagniappe, a one thing i noticed about the menus, Chile Rellenos no longer appears it used to be fairly common

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Coming Soon!

As we all know, those words seem to be the watchword of restaurant development in the county.  As I’ve teased you already, here’s another entry

However, it could be now modified to “Opening REALLY Soon”, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Alert readers will no doubt (with maybe some eye rolling) remember in my last edition, I went on (and on, and on) about opening restaurants.  And now here comes “the Beanery” on the scene

(I have been assured that the second word over the door is not my surname)

Really alert (local) readers will instantly recognize the location dominated by the classy water tower as the corner of R235 and Chancellor’s Run Rd.  Okay, and last cheesy reference to alert readers, you might note that this is the building formerly housing Anita’s Cakes.

So  what are the chances of success for the (soon to be open) Beanery Café and Bakery?  Well, for starters, it offers a product that is in demand for the morning commute toward the Naval Air Station, i.e., on the southbound side of Rte. 235.  Secondly, and probably most important for success is that it is being opened and managed by somebody who comes from a “food family” with lots of food service background.   Dana Rebarchick Spicuzza, who has been running Blue Wind Gourmet since the previous proprietor moved on to Elements, will be running the place.  So chances are very good on a successful operation.

I had a chance to drop in the other day, and spoke to Dana who described their concept as: 

We are (will be) serving coffee roasted at Chesapeake bay roasting company in Clinton. We will (also) be serving organic fair trade espresso as well as coffee, smoothies and as specialty waters/ "soda" bar. We will have extensive list of pastries as well as pies, cookies, cupcakes, tarts, quiche, sandwiches and salads

Sounds like the ghost of Anita will be pleased.  She allowed me to take a few shots of the interior, which is still kind of in a state of assemblage, but looks like it will be pleasantly done

The pastry case will contain, duhh…. Pastries such as

She also “lent” me a couple of her potential sandwich shots

So the “really soon” opening may be as early as tomorrow (Monday) morning, but not at six, which is the ultimate aim.  Like Pizza and “Mexican” places it seems like coffee shops have unlimited markets, and coupling this with nice pastries and sandwiches would seem to be a sure bet..

Anyway, keep watching.. and

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

bail out

Been wracking (racking? wrecking?) my brain trying to come up with something clever to tie a bunch of stuff together but there’s such a wide diversity of stuff that even my superior literary skills can’t think of anything..  So……. I guess I’ll sort of lapse back to the “This and That” model.

“Coming Soon”
New places opening always fascinate me.  My years of hanging around restaurant people have taught me a lot.  First of all, God love them.  That job is like police and nursing work (e.g., FOJTY and wife), it is wonderful that somebody is called to that profession.  We need them, but it’s not something YOU would want to do kind of thing.   In the case of food service, for the most part you don’t have a life for a long time.  Lunch through dinner service pretty much wrecks any social or family life.  If you’re successful eventually you can train people and then maybe salvage part of that life. 

When reading about a new place, if the piece contains a quote of something like: “I’ve always dreamed of opening my own restaurant” I mentally give them one year at most (case in point: the first reincarnation of “The Willows”).  Bless them for trying, but most eventually successful (independent) restaurants are started by people with learned experience.   Rob Plant has turned the Tides (get it?), The Kelley’s “Ducks” are in line, Laurel Grove’s Michael and Silvia have graduated to the Cow and the Fish, Jeff Lewis has made the Front Porch hugely better (Leo, I still miss ya!). 

One enigma still remains in Leonardtown, the evolution of La Rive Breton.   The Owners/Managers/Chef/Staff certainly have a pedigree that would suggest that they could succeed in winning over the “empire” that Loic built.  Although I am certainly not on the “inside”, it appears that they have kind of had a tough time bringing their experience and vision align with the Leonardtown demographic (whatever that is).  Plus, the space on the other corner remains dark.  My experience is that the food is always great, and that is an anchor for success.   And before I leave Leonardtown, Jessie’s Kitchen seems to have a growing and large following.  BBQ? Not so much.

“Been there forever” 
And I won’t wander far from Leonardtown to (cautiously) interject a little note about the venerable Olde Breton Inn, home of the Bailey’s and its patriarch Eddy.   They certainly are part of the fabric of Southern Maryland, helping with innumerable events with tents and catering.  The building is a lovely setting for various dinners and functions.   My association with many organizations and societies brought me to the OBI on more occasions than I could count.   And if I may don my Feeder hat for a moment, I think I’ve had the same buffet every time I’ve been there.   Maybe a subtle nuance here and there like switching between Chicken Cordon Bleu and Chicken Chesapeake, but generally you get the same stuff, in the same order on the buffet.

Steamed vegetables, some sort of squash/veggie mélange, gravy, smashed potatoes,

then fried (baked?) stuffed chicken du jour; fried oysters, rolls, (maybe a green salad), and the traditional, omnipresent “steamship round”.
My plate at the end of the line (I skipped a few chafing dishes)

The Oysters are always good, but you look odd if you go back to your table with just a plate full of Oysters..  I just keep my mouth shut, nibble here and there, and enjoy the company of people who have eaten (and enjoyed) with Eddy for years.  Tradition.  You certainly get what you expect.

"More Links in the..."
Okay, let’s journey across the peninsula to the land of Chains: Lexington Park.  As you might remember, I hang out with a couple of gents who are part of the “just right” team.  We try to search out “just right” (lunch) places in the county (Courtney’s, etc.).   Well, through a recent DC “gig” (we would say "job") one of our group got a gift card for Five Guys.   Turns out he worked a Five Guys corporate event and all the working “Guys” (ha ha) received gift cards, which he generously shared, enough to feed all three of us.  So we decided to call our “just right” meeting at the Five Guys place in California (Maryland) which seems to be called “South Plaza”, which I had never heard before.  It’s across from Red Robin, Olive Garden, Texas this and that, etc.. Sometime I’ll relate the story of how my friend and Jerry Murrell  (founder of 5G) met.   

Also, and I don’t know if you saw it, but somebody’s (nationwide) poll of “Best (my favorite word) Burger” resulted in the perennial “champion” In and Out Burger being dethroned by 5G.   So after we all gathered, in we went, squinted at the menu on the wall

And made our choices.   “Burgers” offered are: Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Bacon Burger, Bacon Cheeseburger, (three things (bacon, burger, cheese) in all permutations) or they offer “Little” versions of same, meaning one beef patty in lieu of two.  Which seems to me kind of demeaning: ”are you a MAN or are you going to get your sissy, eensy “little” burger?”.  Well of course I bailed and got a "Little" Cheeseburger (with no visible snickering from the staff behind the glaring red and white counter), fries (which are cooked in Peanut Oil, incidentally) and a Soda.  They have the order here, pay there, model: you stammer out your order, and then do a Soup Nazi side step down the counter to pay for your order.   Then hang about a bit until a shrill (Number thirty-two!!!) summons you to your sack. 

They also have sacks of “in the shell” peanuts (more nut allergy hazards) laying around for you to help yourself while waiting or eating.  For those of you “old timers” of Lexington Park, remember when Lone Star did the same, and you had to wade through a floor full of shells to get anywhere?   The 5G staff does a pretty good job of eliminating the threat of taking a header, so munching is okay.

Anyway, “less is more” is definitely NOT 5G policy.  More like “more isn’t enough”.  This is my “Little” burger and a cup ‘o fries.

I didn’t include anything to give you a sense of scale but the burger is somewhere between a tennis and softball, and see those grease stains on the bag?  That’s because the whole bottom third of the bag is composed of more (loose) fries.  Anyway, you open the foil wrapped food item and even with the “little” burger, eating it is a challenge.  With all the “toppings” (mayo, grilled onions, pickles, lettuce, etc.)  it is drippy, tends to separate and getting your mouth around it is difficult.  Hence you wind up with messy hands (reason for no shot of the unwrapped item).

I guess it was okay, just seemed like a ball of grease, lettuce falling out, mayo dripping, but maybe it was just me.  If you’re going for a BURGER you can wallow in this one..

Well, I had a couple more things to cover, but I suppose you’re as weary of me as I am of typing, so we’ll just give a tease about what’s coming up.

And something I had no control over for lunch

Meanwhile wash the grease off your hands and go


PS, our morning visitor today... they just appear in the night

Thursday, June 1, 2017

To Sous Vide....

Or not to Sous Videthat is the question…. 

As alert readers will (hopefully) know, the latest (?) trend sweeping the culinary world is cooking Sous Vide, which translates as: “under vacuum”.  Without getting too involved, it basically is a cooking method which can regulate the temperature of an item in a water bath, controlled to a precise temperature.   Generally, the item is encased in a vacuum bag and then immersed in the bath. There are a couple of popular brands: Anova and Joule.  A friend offered to lend me his Anova to let me experiment with the technique a bit.

The attraction is that the item can be cooked to any desired temperature, and will stay there as long as you want, no “carry over” cooking like you have to deal with other methods.  The internal temperature is uniform, not varying from outside to middle, so to speak.  Plus, since the item is encased is a vacuum bag, no “juices” are lost during the cooking process.  Additionally, since we’re in the cyber age, there are “apps” that allow you to control the thing in your kitchen when you’re having that Latte at Starbucks or elsewhere.  I think these are most of the positives, we’ll deal with negatives in a bit (and I think there are some).

Anyway, in general, the only decision(s) left for the “cook” to consider are to decide what final internal temperature is desired, and then to figure out the overall timing.  There you need some initial guidance, since you need some idea as to how long it will take to get the water up to temperature and then how much longer to reach the end temperature of the product:  does it start cold?  Room temperature? Frozen? (not recommended). 

Okay, with that as preamble my adventure with cutting edge culinary technique ensued.  My target item was a steak, and coward that I am, I first checked the box for the timing issue

And decided that about an hour and a half in the bath would be fine (once there it can stay forever, but you have to get it there before cooking).    I also consulted FOJTY who swears by the technique (more later), and he said to shoot for 130 or so for the meat.  So I set up the device and cooking tank.

The controls on the Anova are easy to use and understand, it displays the set temperature and current temperature of the bath on the head, and in the previous picture, that little blue thing on the stalk is a thumb wheel that allows you to set the desired temperature.

(Set temp = 130.5, current is 124.8)

so once it reached 130.5 on both displays (with MFO’s help) I committed Mr. Willy Goddard’s (already vacuum packed) Porterhouse steak

To the bath

Okay, time passes, and at some point you decide the meat must be (by now) 130.5 degrees throughout and pull it from the bath.  

And now, here we go into the negatives (that I experienced).  What you have at this point is a “boiled” steak.   Perfectly cooked throughout to rare (130) but not anything you would put on the plate.   Now, FOJTY has a Big Green Egg, which he gets to about 800 degrees and puts the steak on the grill for a “few seconds” to get a nice caramelization and grill marks.  I had anticipated the need for “something” to make it table worthy.  All I have is a plebeian Weber and I did my best to get it "hot"

And committed the steak – (this side is what it looks like coming out of the bag)

and quickly turned it to the other side.

Looks good, eh? BUT, BUT, in the process of making it look “good”, it took long enough that the meat further cooked (duhhh) so it ended up more like “medium”.

So therein lies the problem (at least with this type of meat).   It takes two “cooking” sessions:  one for internal, and two for making it presentable.  Other options I considered was a “grill pan”, but that didn’t help much (and made a mess of MFO’s counter) and one I didn’t have, a torch.  I’m sure the Big Green Egg would be acceptable (except you have to build a fire, and shuck out about 900 bucks).  So that remains a drawback for me in this process.  Have not tried a salmon, or chicken. 

I was considering getting a Joule, because I thought it looked sexier, I find out the only way to control it is by your phone (iPad, etc.,).  Only the Anova has a visible display of temperatures.  Can you imagine an engineer not being able to observe data?  I think not.

Anyway, that was my initial experience with this technique. At this point not a whole hearted supporter.

Chef notes (Stating the obvious):
On another quick note, I finally got out the sharpener and treated my knives to a refresher

OMG, what a difference.  I waited too long.  There is an aesthetic experience to working with a truly sharp knife.   Not news, but I will be more careful in the future.. A word to the wise, take care of your equipment and….

New on the scene (more later):

Don't forget to