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Category Archives: Food

Lincoln, NE – August 8, 2012

Another trip to the heartland (it’s pretty easy to see why Springsteen went to Nebraska to record “Nebraska”) and another opportunity to sample what Lincoln offers – which is a lot!

I had the evening by myself.  I’d walked by Dish on my earlier visits and decided to try it out this time.  I was there on a Wednesday night, and it was fairly quiet, which suited me as I pulled up a seat at the bar.

I was greeted by Teresa behind the bar and quickly learned that she had the cocktail mixing chops to go with the excellent selection of liquor and liqueurs behind the bar.  She made me a two speciality cocktails, with a Scapa single malt whiskey sandwiched in between, and all were excellent.

The first cocktail was their riff on a Manhattan that featured orange and allspice infused Maker’s Mark, just a splash of sweet vermouth and Agnostura bitters.  I had it on the rocks and enjoyed it.  Normally, I would consider infusing Maker’s with anything to be heresay, but this worked well.  Frankly, as I shared with Teresa, it was very similar in taste to a Twilight Lounge favorite, which is just to add a dash of orange bitters to rye whiskey on the rocks.

My second drink of the evening was the very straight forward Scapa with just a single ice cube.   I could almost taste the salt spray on my lips as I sipped this for the first time.  It wasn’t as smokey as I usually like in a single malt, but it was delightfully smooth with a hint of vanilla (which would have made the perfect after dinner scotch for me this night).  

 The last cocktail effort of the night was a blend of Hendrick gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with a bit of lemon.  I nice way to finish the evening.

The off menu dinner and dessert specials that she suggested were also spot on.  The shrimp and scallps were perfectly grilled and served with jasmine rice, spinach and a pepper pesto type creation.  The portion size was just right.  Dessert was an amazing homemade vanilla ice cream on top of a pecan chocolate brownie with rasberries, black cherries and an incredible Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce.  It was awesome!

I”m looking forward to my next trip to Lincoln — Thanks Teresa!

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Lincoln, NE – March 13, 2012

I feel like I could have just as easily titled this post Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I’ll explain in time, but that’s what my two separate experiences at Marz in Lincoln, NE have been like.

My first visit was last August, and the notes and pictures are still in my Blackberry, just waiting to get published.  So, with a return trip to Lincoln this week I was really looking forward to visiting Marz again and having a some great cocktails and food.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Marz is located in downtown Lincoln and has an incredible hip and cool vibe.  With 20 something foot ceilings, a very long bar lines one side and cozy velour covered half circle booths run down the other side.  With a space age decor and a comfy lounge area at the rear, and a very nifty acid jazz, chill electronic soundtrack going, I liked it as soon as I walked in the door.

During my first visit I had an ongoing conversation with the bartender who was very knowledgeable and into her craft.  She started me with a Smokey Vesper since a James Bond flick was running on the TV over the bar.  For my second drink I had the Martian Sunrise (pictured above), which features Cuervo, pineapple and pomegranate juices in a riff on the Tequila Sunrise.  A strong drink with plenty of punch from the tequila it settled in nicely once some of the ice started to melt.  Interestingly enough I also got a taste of banana from this one, and wasn’t sure if it was from the drink or the banana split I had for desert!

Along with my drinks I had a dinner of the homemade mac and cheese, which was good, very good.  All in all, my visit there last August was quite impressive.  So when I arrived in Lincoln last night I was very much looking forward to eating and drinking there again.

Boy, what a difference 7 months makes!  The atmosphere was just as hip, and given that it was in the 70’s, the outside patio was full when I arrived around 9pm.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the goodness ended and mediocrity took over.  I asked the bartender what he makes that’s unique and his.  His answer was pretty much a blank look and then mumbling something about their Manhattan’s being good.  OK, so he’s not really a bartender into cocktails.  I ordered a Sidecar Named Desire from the menu.  Consisting of Raynar VSOP cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice I was surprised when it was served with a sugared rim that had been wetted with a lime wedge.  The first two sips were overwhelmingly lime and that was spoiling the drink – not to mention that anything resembling a sidecar has no business being served in a sugared rim.

At about this time the second bartender (whose best feature, I learned, was her breasts spilling out of the top of her sundress) came over to ask how it was.  I started to ask her about the sugared rim and her answer was that the bourbon – which prompted me to correct her to brandy, she didn’t even know what was in the thing – made it strong and so they thought it should be sweetened.  I told her the lime on the rim was too much so she offered to pour into a fresh glass, which I gladly accepted.  As we continued talking I tried to point out that a cocktail like this is supposed to be strong.  Her final answer was “I just do what they tell me to do.”  So, two lifeless bartenders on duty.

So, without the lime and sugar on the rim it was drinkable, but unremarkable.  It was a bit disjointed and needed, most likely, some work on the proportions of Cointreau and lemon juice, and also, most likely, a dash of bitters.

As for my dinner, I ordered the cleverly named Moons of Pluto which were described as provolone risotto balls served with marinara sauce.  It failed to mention that they were breaded and deep fried, which was disappointing.  The risotto and cheese was good, and I would have enjoyed the balls if they hadn’t been deep fried and just drizzled with a bit of olive oil instead.  As for the marinara, it had the consistency and flavor of slightly thinned out tomato paste.  Again, disappointing.

Finally, as way of adding insult to injury, there was only one dessert item available, a honey lavender creme brulee.  I normally may have gone for it, but was dismayed by only having that one choice and passed instead.

All in all I was very disappointed by the second visit.  When back in Lincoln down the road I may try it again in the hoped of finding the good Marz is back.

Cheers?

Milwaukee, WI – March 10, 2011

Two sure signs of spring in Milwaukee are when the ice melts completely from my pool (and when the stories about ice fishers losing their trucks in lakes run in the paper) and the food trucks appear on the streets again.  The good news is both happened this weekend!

Yesterday, after a morning haircut and some shopping I was on my way home when I spied an El Charrito taco truck sitting on the side of the road.  I did a quick circle around the block and pulled up behind him.  Boy, am I glad I did!

The menu is basic and straightforward – tacos, quesadilla, tostadas,and burritos with a variety of meat options – pork, chicken, chorizo, steak.  For the more adventurous the options include head, tongue and chitlin.  I also appreciated the selection of Jarritos sodas that are available.

I ordered two pork tacos with a lime Jarritos.  At $4.50 I had a meal that was enough for my lunch time appetite, and was far tastier than anything from any fast food joint.  Oops, did I just give away my review?  Damn…

Yes, the tacos were excellent.  The corn tortillas were firm and strong enough to hold the spicy pork, lettuce, tomato and onion.  The pork was flavorful and the whole package was about as authentic as it gets.  Washing it all down with the Jarritos was just a bonus.  

The only drawback to the experience was eating off my lap in the car.  Hopefully next time the location will be adjacent to a park or some other place with picnic tables near by.  

I definitely recommend giving the El Charrito truck a try when you see it!

Milwaukee, WI – February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Day and Gwen and I decided to try someplace new for dinner.  A quick flip through our entertainment guide and I found The Eatery on Farwell in Milwaukee’s Eastside neighborhood.  It turned out to be a great find!

As usual, before ordering dinner we had a cocktail.  I was pleased to see a number of original cocktails on the menu (and none of them incorrectly termed a martini!).  After perusing the list I settled on the Hot Dan.  I was eager to try it because it used Roaring Dan’s Maple Rum from local distiller Great Lakes Distillery.  I love to see local restaurants supporting local providers!  In addition to the rum, the Hot Dan is made with house made allspice, simple syrup, cloves, a squeeze of orange and hot water. 

My first impression was the maple from the rum with an added sweet component to the flavor.  There was a hint of citrus on the back end, thank you orange slice.  A nice drink to chase away the chill of a cold Valentine’s Day evening.  The farther I got into this drink, the more the allspice took over.  By the time I was done with the cocktail the allspice was a bit too powerful – I’d like to see a little less of that in the drink and either a bit more orange or perhaps even a dash of Agnostura bitters. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Hot Dan is a good cocktail.  Gwen had the KK Smash, another cocktail featuring a spirit for Great Lakes Distillery (Kinnickinnic Whiskey in this case) that is a twist on the whiskey sour.  It was delicious!

As for dinner – it was fantastic.  The Pig in a Pot was absolutely fantastic, with mushroom duxelle providing an absolutely wonderful base for the pork tenderloin.  The presentation, in a terra cotta flower pot, was terrific and the potato galette was a fantastic accompaniement.  The Braised Short Ribs were also excellent and the root vegetable mash that came with it was every bit as good as well.

The next time you find yourself hungry or thirsty and in the vicinity of Farwell Ave. in the Eastside, you can’t go wrong with The Eatery on Farwell!

Cheers!

Fargo, ND – January 17, 2012

I know, I’m skipping around chronologically, but I just can’t let this one go…

I was in Fargo in mid-January during the coldest snap of this winter, with temps in the minus 15 range – before the wind chill!  I and my associates stopped at will remain an unnamed beer and burger joint.  Frankly, the beers, burgers and beer cheese dip for the fries were all very good.  But now, I was ready for dessert.  Problem was, there really weren’t any dessert items on the menu.  However, no worries as I had seen root beer floats on the menu before ordering dinner.  Sooooo, I asked for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  “We don’t have any ice cream,” our erstwhile (and brain dead) waitress deadpanned.  Sure you do I told her…you have root beer floats on the menu, you must have vanilla ice cream.  “I’ll have to ask if it’s OK,” she replied … my, the service level here is just knocking me over!

About 5 minutes later she comes back with a bowl filled with vanilla ice cream – very freezer burned vanilla ice cream.  “You don’t sell many root beer floats, do you?” I wisecracked.  All I got back from her was a very puzzled look.  Clearly her brain had been frozed a long time ago.  So, I did get my dessert…but really wished she had made my night by telling me I couldn’t have the ice cream, or that they were out, or (best answer yet), they had some but it was freezer burned and not up to their standards.

Oh well….

Saturday, July 23, 2011 – The Patio Swim Club at the Twilight Lounge

Summer is in full swing at the Patio Swim Club and that means it was time to break out the smoker and BBQ some pork shoulder.  With Paula and Cookie here for the weekend, this was the perfect day to do it.

Producing my eastern North Carolina style pork butt is an all day affair.  I started at 8am, getting the smoker out and getting the fire going.  After years of experimenting I’ve settled on lump hardwood charcoal as my base fuel with chunks of hickory to provide the smoke and flavor.  With the fire going, it was time to get back into the kitchen and prep my butt. 

I unwrapped the pork (thanks to the Germantown House of Sausage) and patted it dry then went to work with my rub.  Yes, it’s my own recipe.  No, I won’t publish it.  Yes, it’s good!  This part is critical and I make sure I really work the rub into the pork so that I’ll end up with a great crust on the butt when I’m done with the smoker.

It's All in the Rub!

With that, all I had to do was wait for the smoker to get up to about 200 degrees – and I didn’t have to wait long.  With that, the pork butt went on the grill, the cover was shut and now it was 8 to 10 hours of patience and fire tending.

Patience is the Key Now

Of course, nothing helps the patience like a good cocktail and some poolside fun.  Normally when I smoke I have bourbon – with cola, or maybe Mountain Dew (that’s what we did in the Carolina’s) or just with some ice.  However, as I was reading the Wall Street Journal after putting the butt in the smoker, I found an interesting recipe that used Pisco.  I’ve had a bottle around since New Year’s Eve (thanks again Christian and Meredith) and this seemed like a great way to use some of it up.

 
  El Capitan
  • 2 ounces Pisco
  • 2 ounces sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash aromatic bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.  Stir to combine and then pour into a rocks glass.

I used Cesar Pisco and Peychaud’s bitters in this drink, and enjoyed it immensely.  The flavor of the Pisco comes through, but there is a strong resemblence to a Manhattan, especially with as much sweet vermouth as is in this.  The orange bitters (from Agnostura) also make themselves known.  The whole cocktail comes together nicely, and since it was on the rocks, it was perfect for sipping as I tended my smoker and enjoyed the pool.

As for the pork butt – well, it was perfect if I say so myself.

A Little Bit of Carolina Heaven

Moist and spicy, but not too hot, we all enjoyed this along with beans, slaw and corn bread Gwen put together. 

 
Cheers and bon appetit!

 

June 21, 2011 – La Crosse, WI

I’d been hearing about the Starlite Lounge for years from my buddy Greg.  His daughter Katie had gone to college at UW La Crosse and as a result, Greg and Patti had numerous opportunities to enjoy the retro and swinging atmosphere of the Starlite.  So, when I had the opportunity to spend a night in La Crosse on a recent business trip I knew exactly where I was headed.  As luck would have it, I even managed to select a hotel right next to the Starlite…it was fate!

Beca was behind the bar for the evening and proved to be an incredibley good bartender and host.  She took care of all her guests deftly and during the peak rush was banging out martinis and various assorted cocktails with no muss and no fuss.  Great job Beca!

The decor of the Starlite is exactly what you’d expect.  Plenty of 50’s style light fixtures and vinyl covered bachelor pad chairs down in classic Howard Johnson aqua and orange.  A mix of Rat Pack and other lounge music was in the background, loud enough to add to the atmosphere, but soft enough not to be intrusive. 

As I perused the cocktail menu, my eye immediately was drawn to the drink I knew I’d have to have first.  The Daddy-O martini just called to me, and I could not resist its singsong melody.  Made with four parts vodka and one part dry vermouth, and garnished with an olive, it was the perfect way to unwind from the days meetings and travels. 

As I contemplated what to have from the appetizer menu I next had a Rusty Nail (yeah, by now Beca was beginning to think I was old…).  Made with Macgregor and Drambuie, this was a nice follow up to the martini, was well made, and went with the seafood stuffed mushrooms perfectly.

For a night cap, I finally cajoled Beca into making me her favorite drink.  Given that it is Wisconsin, she popped out an excellent and authentic Brandy Old Fashioned, complete with muddled orange and cherries at the bottom of the glass and an extra dose of bitters.  I have to admit that the bitters through me for a bit and I originally guessed that it was whiskey, but Beca was delighted to correct me on that score.  It was perfect way to end my visit to this terrific throwback lounge!

June 18, 2011 – Milwaukee

Ahh, Polishfest weekend in Milwaukee at the Summerfest grounds!  What could be better than Polish food, Polish beer, Polish vodka and polka music all day long!  On this day, nothing!

As is our usual custom, Gwen and I took the girls down on Saturday afternoon to eat, browse the market and listen to some polka music.  The day was perfect, sunny with just enough breeze off the lake to keep us comfortable.  We picked up our lunch at Busia’s Kitchen and had a sampling of everything they had.  The pierogi’s stuffed with potatoe were excellent with a nice buttery flavor and the fried onions that they were served with were a nice touch.  I enjoyed the stuffed cabbage.  The filling was tender and the tomato sauce had a touch of sweetness that I liked.  The sauerkraut was also good, slightly sweet (again) and with a touch of caraway seed.  Finally, Gwen had the Polish nachos – homemade potato chips with a creamy cheese sauce, diced polish sausage and tomato.  They were delicious, if not truly Polish!  The only disappointment were the potato pancakes which were limp and very doughy.

During the afternoon, while we browsed the market, I enjoyed a Tyskie beer.  Although Tyskie is owned by SABMiller (I know, disappointing), it is a very nice pilsner that still has its Polish character and beats a Bud or MGD any day of the week (and twice on Polishfest!).  It’s a full bodied pilsner and goes down smooth.

With our bellies full, we headed home for a short siesta and a Stanski. Round two was Saturday night with our friends Greg and Patti (and a brief cameo by Mark and Sue).  We started off with polka lessons and within 30 minutes could do a passable Polish Hop.  Next was dinner – more pierogies, yum!  Then, the vodka tasting.

The vodka tasting was again sponsored by Sobieski.  However, I have to admit that the Sobieski brand has been diminished in my mind with their recent introduction of flavored vodkas.  I always had admired them for not jumping on the flavored bandwagon, so this was very disappointing. 

Fortunately, I got over my disappointment and enjoyed several Krupniks on ice as we polka’d the rest of the night away!

June 17, 2010 – Wauwatosa, WI

A week ago Friday Gwen and I (with daughter number 2 in tow) went the Firefly Urban Bar & Grill in Wauwatosa to use our Groupon.  We’ve been to the Firefly before, and enjoy the casual atmosphere, good cocktails and some pretty good food.

Of course, I started with a cocktail, and ordered up the Pearly Cucumber off their cocktail list.  A straightforward and refreshing drink, it consisted of cucumber vodka, fresh lime juice and a splash of seltzer water.  The cucumber and lime flavors complimented each other well and this was a great alternative to my traditional summer gin and tonic.  My only quibble with the cocktail was the garnish.  That big, lengthwise slice of cucumber looks awfully cool in the glass, but actually makes it hard to drink.  I ended up using the straw, which I really don’t like to do when sipping a cocktail.  What can I say, it reminds me of being a kid slurping down a fast food soda.

Shortly after the drinks arrived our appetizer followed.  I had ordered a the smoked gouda and cheddar fondue.  It was delicious.  The texture was nice and silky and the flavor was awesome, with just a hint of smokiness.  Lightly toasting the bread cubes was a nice touch, and the granny smith apple slices were a nice contrast to the cheese.

Fondue at Firefly

All in all, another nice night at the Firefly.  I’m sure we’ll return again soon!

June 14, 2011 – Bar Z Winery

I was back in Amarillo, Texas for business and had the good fortune to attend a catered group dinner at the Bar Z Winery just outside of town.  I’d never imangined that I’d be having dinner at a winery in Amarillo, TX.  Just goes to show that life really is like a box of chocolates.

I had the opportunity to taste and drink two worthy wines.  The first was their 2005 Sangiovese.  Made from grapes grown about 100 miles south of Amarillo this wine had almost a creamy flavor to it.  It took a while for it to open up in my glass, but once it did it was a very nice, slightly fruity take on the Italian classic.  It made a very good partner with our dinner (more on that in a moment).

The second wine I had was the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.  A decent enough wine, but it didn’t have the fruit and tannin punch that I would expect in a Cabernet.  This wine probably needs a couple of more years to truly reach it’s potential (or as Robert Parker would say, it is in an ungenerous phase). 

Typically, I don’t discuss wines (or beer or cocktails for that matter) that I didn’t drink.  However, the exception here is the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon at Bar Z.  My associate Brian had the opportunity to taste the 2005 right from the barrel with the owner (how I missed that is beyond me).  He reported that it was excellent, with a very good blend of tannin and fruit. 

View from the patio

Now, about that dinner.  The featured entrees were grilled whole beef tenderloin that was simply seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic.  It was excellent, very tender and a great complement to the wine.  The second entree, and the real star in my mind, was the grill seared ahi tuna that had been salted, peppered and marinated in a teriyaki based marinade.  It was fantastic, melt in my mouth good.

So, if you happen to find yourself in Amarillo, check out Bar Z – you won’t be disappointed!