Kaszeta's 2012 in Review

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Double Cheeseburger
2012/12/18 14:39:55
Like the last two years, I figure it was good to do a year in review thread.
This year started out slowly: for a variety of reasons I did almost no travel the first three months of the year, and originally thought 2012 might be a mild year for me.  That said, as I'm sitting here now, I've visited and written up 112 places this year (see the full list here), and the year's not even over yet (I'm slated to visit Buffalo, Detroit, and Cleveland in the next 10 days)!.  Here's a nice Google Maps breakdown:

What started as a slow year turned into quite a few trips (9 US states and four foreign countries):
  1. A trip to Quebec City for the Winter Carnival
  2. A trip to Chicago for this year's Death March (read the full trip report here)
  3. A repeat trip to Austin, TX for more BBQ and food carts
  4. Several day trips to NYC and Montreal courtesy of Dartmouth College's After Hours employee program
  5. Accompanying my partner to a conference in San Antonio
  6. A work trip to the Arizona dessert to test things for work in hot climates
  7. The Iceland Trip (an entire thread of its own)
  8. A trip to Frankfurt, Germany, hitting London again on the way home
  9. A trip to Minnesota to give an invited talk, and visit some old haunts.
That, and a lot of local exploration made for a very busy year (and uncountably many calories!).
So, let me start off with the local attractions.  2012 was a rather good year for our local area (the Upper Valley region of VT/NH).  In late 2011 or 2012, we had several new places open up, including Cantore's Pizza (West Lebanon, NH), The Lebanon Diner (Lebanon, NH), Worthy Burger (South Royalton, VT), and 3 Guys Basement BBQ (Hanover, NH).  For our area, that's a lot of new restaurants, and the results varied:
Cantore's Pizza (if the name sounds familiar, it's owned by the brother of the Weather Channel's meteorologist Jim Cantore) opened up in late 2011 (review here, and they've been a very good addition to the local pizza scene.  While pizza slices don't always photograph well, the slices I've had there all have the basic qualities I look for in a good New York style slice: A fairly thin crust (I do think they go a little thin) with a really good amount of toasting from the oven, a sauce that’s primarily tasting of tomatoes and not salt or sugar (not overwhelming the crust), decent mozzarella cheese amply applied, and a good selection of quality cold cuts and veggies for toppings:

The Lebanon Diner (review here) added to downtown Lebanon something that's been lacking for decades: a decent breakfast spot.  While they were off to a bit of a rough start, after a bit they caught their stride, and both the CBH and the Biscuits and Gravy are made in-house, and are both quite good.  Here's a pic of their very flavorful biscuits and gravy:

Worthy Burger (review here) was one of the most-anticipated local restaurants we've had in years, and opened up a combination beer and burger bar featuring regional beers and good burgers.  The beer list was a phenomenal success from the start, as were their tallow-cooked fries.  The burgers started off a bit rougher (they grill them over wood, which is a bit of a challenge to get right), but my latest kimchi and Vermont cheddar burger was one of the best burgers of the year (although later in the thread I'll talk about some even better burgers...):

3 Guys Basement BBQ (review here) was also a highly-anticipated restaurant, and has generally been well received, like the vast majority of "New England BBQ" places, I was skeptical... and somewhat rightly so.  Their brisket was decent.  The pulled pork wasn't, resembling some sort of ill-conceived spaghetti dish.  But their smoked bacon was quite enjoyable.  So while my primary approach to getting BBQ will be to head to a part of the country where they have some inkling of what BBQ should actually beer, 3 Guy's Brisket and Bacon will serve as some decent methadone for my BBQ addictions:

That's it for now, I'll cover a few other local places next, and then start with the highlights of the various trips.
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/18 15:08:17
Kaszetas, your photographs of Iceland where some of the most stunning ever posted here. I'm looking forward to your highlights!
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/18 15:14:03
I agree with kland01s about the photos from Iceland!  Very much looking forward to this report.
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/18 17:51:35
Ditto! l
Your reports and photographs are top notch.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/19 09:03:48
Next up:  "Local" places that I either hadn't visited in years, or had somehow neglected to write up.
First and foremost is Coffee Corner in Montpelier, VT (review here).  Located downtown at the corner of State and Main, it’s got a nice little interior, with a short serving counter, half a dozen booths, and then the coolest feature: a large communal table nestled into the front window, so you can eat while gazing out at the street life of Montpelier.  It's also where Alton Brown filmed his "Flap Jack Do it Again" episode on pancakes.  They've got great pancakes, but this time I opted for their Beefeater: a bed of home fries (and they’ve got good home fries, nicely cooked with onions and herbs), top those with shaved seasoned angus beef, then topped that with shredded Cabot and two eggs. Served up with toast, it’s a rather nice little breakfast:

Next up is Wasp's Snack Bar in Woodstock, VT (review [url=]here[/url]).  I love Wasp's, it's a nice little snack bar just outside of downtown in Woodstock, VT, and they have a pretty good breakfast and lunch menu, and some really good cooks (when I order benedicts, they make the hollandaise to order in front of you).  But I don't get there very often, since (by choice, to avoid the rush and the tourists) they generally aren't open on weekends, so it needs to be a special occasion when I'm off work for me to visit.  This time, I decided to get the grilled ham and cheese with potato salad, which was a perfect grilled sandwich coupled with a nicely executed salad that actually tasted of potatoes (instead of those “potato” salads that are mostly mayo or egg) with just a little bit of bacon:

Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington, VT (review here) is another perennial favorite that I seem to have neglected to write up despite it being a regular VT breakfast destination for me.  Located at the corner of Cherry St and Winooski Ave, it’s just around the corner from Church Street, so getting in here for breakfast on a Saturday can be a bit of a wait. An hour, in our case, until I managed to sweet-talk the hostess into letting us squeeze in at the counter, which is a nice spot, since you can look down into their kitchen.  This time I opted for their most excellent biscuits and gravy (which is doubly surprising that I enjoy it so much, since it's vegetarian):

and their Rancheros

The Old Courthouse in Newport, NH (review here) is another neglected spot that's actually a pretty frequent destination for us, since they are the nearest good "fine dining" restaurant to our house in the middle of nowhere in NH.  This time they were having a Polish Dinner in celebration of Polish Heritage month, highlights being the "polish platter":

and the Bigos:

Finally, circumstances demanded that I revisit another local popular place, Gusanoz in Lebanon, NH (review here).  Gusanoz fills an important niche: they are pretty much the only halfway-authentic Mexican restaurant around the immediate area (we have a few really tacky Tex-Mex "cantina" joints as the only alternative), although they've always been a bit of a customer service nightmare.  And if any of you watch Restaurant Impossible, they were featured on that show (which isn't a good thing, you've got to be on the verge of bankruptcy to be on that show).  They got makeovers to their restaurant (which previously had a decor best described as "Late Period La Cucaracha Tacky") and some menu improvements (although the items I always get have always been good), and some guidance on improving customer service.  Well, IMHO, they still stink at customer service, but their menu continues to have some decent food, like this quite enjoyable pollo mole, that make it worth occasionally dealing with lackluster service:

Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/19 17:44:02
Another common theme this year is that it was a particularly good year for breakfasts.  Aside from diner fare, my area isn't exactly known for breakfasts, but my various travels took me to a lot of seriously great breakfasts.
Here are some good examples, in rough chronological order....
A trip down to Boston in April to pick up my brother from the airport led to meeting up with friends at Sofra in Cambridge, MA (review here).  I ended up settling on the Migas: cubed French bread with chorizo, roasted veggies and a poached egg. Chorizo? Poached egg? Hard to say no to this combination, and I’m glad I got it. The chorizo was quite flavorful, the egg perfectly poached, and the little cubes of French bread just soaked up all the extra juices. This was pretty close to the perfect breakfast for me:

My friend opted for the Shakshuka, a fairly simple dish of poached eggs in a tomato curry broth served up with some bread, it looked wonderful. And smelled even more delicious. While I adored my migas, this was so good, I ended up getting this dish on a return visit in May:

A trip in April also led us to Cambridge on a Sunday around brunchtime, and we were able to score a seat at Craigie on Main (review here).  We started simple, with pork belly. This literally was just that, two ample slices of pork belly, seared up nicely on the grill, and served up to us on a plate. Nothing more, and nothing less. Except that these were top-notch examples of good, flavorful pork belly:

Next up was the brunch carbonara “Noir”. This was a solidly good carbonara, made with all the right techniques: fresh pasta, obviously finished in the sauce. A pleasantly light sauce with guanciale (pig cheek bacon, aka “face bacon” which is getting to be one of the trendy things these days) and boudin noir (French-style blood sausage). Top all of that with a perfectly poached egg:

And it's not breakfast with hash.  Here's theirs, which was the item that brought me to Craigie. Quoting from the menu: “Grass-Fed & House-Brined Corned Beef Cheek & Smoked Beef Tongue Hash”. How could I not order this? And indeed, it was everything I was hoping for. The house-brined corned beef was nicely spiced, soft, and meat. The smoked beef tongue had a nice texture, and just enough smoke to add a nice dimension to the dish. Topped with nicely done onion rings and a perfect poached egg, this was a phenomenal brunch entree:

Our trip to Austin, aside from the food carts and BBQ, also led to two really good breakfast taco joints. The first was Flaco's Tacos (review here) who served up this most awesome pair of tacos, one barbacoa taco, and a nopalito (cactus) taco. The barbacoa was one of the best barbacoas she’s had, with nice, juicy, and flavorful chunk of tender meat, while the nopalito had nicely simmered bits of cactus served up with some eggs. Like mine, the tacos were cheap, nicely assembled, and flavorful:

And Maria's Taco Xpress (review here) was also quite good.  I ordered up one with chorizo, potato, and black bean, and another with migas.  The first had nicely spiced chorizo, tender potatoes, and really savory black beans, all in a very nicely toasted flour tortilla. Nothing fancy, but perfectly executed. The migas was also the right mix of everything: perfectly cooked eggs, a really nice salsa, some fried chopped onions and peppers, and tortilla chips that are just starting to soften from being mixed in:

And our other trip to Texas, to San Antonio, yielded a good breakfast joint as well, Grumpy's Mexican Cafe (review here).  I went for their migas.  This was a very flavorful migas, cooked up with the tortilla strips still somewhat firm, nice flavorful chunks of ham, and plentiful cheese (a four cheese blend) and salsa, and this was very satisfying. The beans were also flavorful and yummy as well (which usually means, in my experience, that I don’t really want to know how fatty they are…). Served up with rather nice red and green salsas on the side, I enjoyed this dish a lot. It wasn’t haute cuisine, but it was good:

Carol's Chicken Fried Steak was also a massively impressive construction.  A large dinner-plate-sized portion of chicken-fried steak was served up with a thick layer of gravy, two eggs, hashbrowns, and biscuits. The result was one of the largest breakfasts I’ve seen in recent history. On top of that, it was also a really well done chicken-fried steak, with a nice flaky exterior and a tender, juicy interior. Not the best I’ve had, but definitely near the top of the list. (For those wondering, that honor, as well as the most excessive breakfast honor, still go to the Pines Cafe in Palmdale, CA, although they’ve since closed, so I can’t ever repeat that feat):

Finally, we also managed to have an outstanding brunch at a fairly new (open in 2011) brunch place near us: Market Table in Hanover, NH (Review here). I opted for the corned beef hash served up with potatos, salad, poached eggs, and hollandaise. I’ll say one thing up front, this was definitely a place that made its own hash that wasn’t out of a can, since it was a rich and flavorful hash with a lot of meatiness and some nice spice and vegetable notes. It was definitely one of those homemade hashes that was more on the “pot roast” end of the spectrum than the “corned beef” end, but I actually don’t mind that if it’s well done:

post edited by kaszeta - 2012/12/19 17:45:48
mr chips
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/28 14:26:43
Great photos and interesting reviews. And the Iceland report was one of the best ever oroadfood, a great mix of photos and food info on a place I knew little about.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/28 14:50:17
Your photos are amazing!!   
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/28 16:56:14
Need to get back to this, buf my Buffalo-Detroit-Cleveland trip is still in full swing.
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/28 17:05:41
I am so hungry after seeing these latest pictures!  They are beautiful!
I want poached eggs in curry sauce!
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/28 23:48:14
OMG...first Iceland...now NE....wants to make me move back to Milford NH...............nah...............keep the snow but keep the stuff coming!!!
I'll be up some time to visit cousins in Tunbridge VT...........so the reports are greatly appreciated!
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 00:16:48
Without a doubt, the best photos on Roadfood! Thank you so much for sharing.
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 09:53:44
Well done and great photos!  Nice mix!
ann peeples
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 10:28:15
Outstanding- both on food choices and photography......
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 10:39:29
Brilliant. Keep em coming.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 17:27:24
Well, I might as well start talking about some of the trips we did.  Unusually, I didn't have any work travel scheduled for the first three months of 2012, but that didn't stop me from getting around.  Indeed, when my coworker asked if Carol and I were interested in going with her to Quebec City in February for the Winter Carnival, we couldn't say no.
It's a really impressive Carnival, and Les Quebecois do a great job celebrating winter instead of cursing at it, with snow carving...

...and ice castles:

But it was also a chance to dine at some nice Quebecois places, including Casse-Crepe Breton (full review here: a cozy little cafe with approximately 10 tightly packed booths cranking out crepe after crepe.   My jambon, suisse, epinard,  and champignon crepe was quite good:

As was our dessert crepe of banana and chocolate:

And while we really enjoyed wandering around in the subzero weather, that meant burning a lot of calories, so we eventually ended up stopping at Restaurant A La Nouvelle France (full review here) for poutine:

And another Quebecois specialty: split pea soup:

And, before heading home, we decided that we should avail ourselves of one of Quebec's finer dining establishments: Le Hobbit (review here).  Located just outside of the walled part of the city, Le Hobbit served up a most excellent Duck Confit:

And one of the most over-the-top Creme Brulees I've seen in recent history:

All in all, Quebec, QC, did us well!
post edited by kaszeta - 2012/12/29 17:28:26
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/29 17:34:13
Again, top notch photos!
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/30 00:49:52
Kazeta.........RF does not give out awards for the best posts of the year.........and so.you do not win the Nobel Peace Prize.....nor the Noble Piece Prize ( although that shot for the Creme Brulee comes close!).............but for this and the Iceland commentary..............a Hearty Big Mac-thanks for a great year and all the best in 2013!.  Keep those cards and letters and PHOTOS!!!!!!!!!!!! coming
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/30 14:40:28
Great ending to a great year of Roadfood, thx for sharing..........How did you come up with the death march idea and name..................take care................pnwc
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/31 14:30:36
Next up was my Chicago trip.  That was enough for a thread of its own (which you can read here).
In addition to some nice Chicago photo ops...

It was also some really fine dining.  Highlights included a trip to Frontera Grill (full review here), where I had two of the most delicious dishes of the year: this chicken in wild ramp crema:

and this Duck with Pasilla-Huitlacoche:

The death march itself was 22.6 miles of walking and eating, and wasn't without some real highlights as well, such as Don Pedro's Carniceria (full review here):

Another fine performer was this perfect slice of coffee cream pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company (full review here)

Meanwhile, these pizzas from Great Lake (full review here) were amongst the best pizzas I had in 2012 (sorry about the dismal lighting):

And our wanderings after the walk were excellent as well, with the standout being The Publican (full review here)

(And for those interested, the next Death March will be in Boston, around April or May)
post edited by kaszeta - 2012/12/31 14:31:54
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2012/12/31 17:28:20
Great selection of Chicago restaurants...most are among my favs!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/01 13:05:39
you can feel a little better about those beans from Flaco's, they noisily went off the manteca and switched to oil awhile back. Olive? Not sure but no more lard.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/01 20:04:14
Next up after the Chicago trip (indeed, the very next weekend), I met up with other friends for our 3rd annual trip to Austin (the "Meat Meet") for several days of barbecue, food carts, and tacos.
The core of the trip was mostly a reprise of the 2011 trip (which I wrote up here, actually), with repeat visits to Black's BBQ, Kreuz Market, City Market, and Franklin BBQ, but we also added a few places (Stiles Switch and the now-departed JMueller) as well.  But it was still a solidly good trip.
First, the meat highlights.  Our first visit was to JMueller BBQ (review here), which in most of the online chatter was starting to get mention alongside Franklin as a new paragon of Austin BBQ.  How was it?  The brisket was phenomenal, with a rather good texture and moisture level in both the lean and fatty slices; several places I’ve been can do a great fatty brisket, but put out a dry and mealy lean brisket, but all the slices here were juicy, tender, and just starting to fall apart. Flavor-wise, there was a good smoke ring and a nice smoke taste throughout the meat, although I usually shoot for a bit more smoke left to my own preferences. The bark was also top rate, with a nice caramelized texture, strong salt and pepper flavors (JMueller’s forebears at Louie Muellers also do a very peppery bark), and nice smoke. Overall, this was some great brisket, having that nice lace-like texture that I look for from properly-smoked beef:

The sausage and ribs were excellent as well:

Overall, definitely "top 3" BBQ material... except that JMueller closed amidst internal strife earlier this year.  I'll need to go check out their replacement.
Next up was a relative newcomer to the Austin scene: Stiles Switch (review here) on Austin's north side:

A nice thing about Stiles Switch is that while it's great BBQ, they don't have any of the drama of some of the other places like Franklin, in that they don't have extreme lines and don't generally run out of product at noon.  How is the BBQ?  It was quite good.  Not quite in the same league as, say, Franklin, but still a top-notch product:

And the ribs were pretty good as well:

Our repeat visit to Kreuz was also a hit, with us particularly liking the sausage, although the brisket there is pretty good as well:

But, like 2011, our visit to Franklin BBQ (full review here) showed that their meat continued to be worth the hype.  Furthermore, we found that with a group our size that ordering ahead for takeout was an excellent way of avoiding the lines:

How was the meat? Perfect. Like last year, the bark was dark and crusty, but also spicy and flavorful with a nice pepper tang. The meat was seriously tender, especially the few slices we had from the fatty end pulling apart into a light lace as you tugged at them. It was juicy. And  we even had some leftover:

So for anyone that really likes BBQ, I still strongly recommend a visit to the Austin area!
Michael Hoffman
Double-chop Porterhouse
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/01 20:42:26
Sweet!! Good stuff. Thank you.
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/02 11:55:13
Thanks for the great photos and commentary.I'll have to check out the review of Grumpy's as they right up the road from me in Bracken.If you are ever in the San Antonio area again; check out Bracken Cafe which has good burgers.Harmon's BBQ in downtown Cibolo is just a couple of miles from me and pretty good.
Haven't tried Austin area bbq; and if anyone is in the Austin area you may want to check out Lockhart and Luling for great bbq.
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/02 14:17:25

Another fine performer was this perfect slice of coffee cream pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company (full review here)

Interestingly enough, Serious Eats ran a slideshow on Hoosier Mama's pie making process today.
Now I have to find a local pie to bring home for dinner, LOL.
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/02 14:25:13
Luling City Market Smitty's and Salt Lick have long been on my list of go to places. So each time I make the drive from Georgetown to Cabella's we always make a side trip to either Driftwood (Salt Lick) or Lockhart (Smitty's). Our Luling stop is normally on the way to Port Aransas. Great review and I love all the pictures.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/02 15:57:56
Thanks for the great photos and commentary.I'll have to check out the review of Grumpy's as they right up the road from me in Bracken.If you are ever in the San Antonio area again; check out Bracken Cafe which has good burgers.Harmon's BBQ in downtown Cibolo is just a couple of miles from me and pretty good.
Haven't tried Austin area bbq; and if anyone is in the Austin area you may want to check out Lockhart and Luling for great bbq.

I hate to say it, but I think the days of having to go to Lockhart and Luling are somewhat over.  This year, JMueller and Franklin were both better than anything we had in Lockhart or Luling (although the Lockhart and Luling places were still quite good).
Speaking of Lockhart, I forgot to mention that we did Black's this year as well:

And to taunt the Austin folks, here's two full briskets from Franklin that our group ordered for takeout.  I'm surprised were weren't mugged by the crowd in line as we walked out:

Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 08:45:18
Of course, Austin wasn't entirely about BBQ.  In addition to the BBQ and the two taco joints shown above, we also did several food trucks again.  Unfortunately, the very nature of food trucks makes them somewhat ephemeral—in fact, most of the the food trucks (and for that matter, the "food court" areas they had set up in) I had liked the most in 2011 had moved on.  Particularly notable by their absence were Odd Duck (although the reason for its closing was the opening of a brick-and-mortar joint), Love Balls (had their food court closed from under them, but I think they are back now), and Bits and Druthers (not sure what happened there).
That said, there are still more good food trucks than you can shake a stick at in Austin, and we did pretty well.  Highlights included one of the many Torchy's Tacos trucks (full review here), serving up these decidely non-traditional but delicious tacos (a "trailer trash" (imagine a McDonald's snack wrap, but made correctly with good ingredients), and a "Libertarian" (deep-fried sausage)):

Other successes included Via 313 (full review here) which showed me that, oddly, "Detroit-Style Pizza" (read, "Buddy's" for those that are actually familiar with Detroit foods) makes for a decent exported food.  Although it's far from my favorite pizza style, Via 313 did a good job of it:

Other random food carts with good fare included Regal Ravioli:

who served up this surprisingly good I went for a straightforward order: Cheese Ravioli with Bolognese (sorry about the poor photo, it was really dark).  These were surprisingly good, especially since the ravioli had a bit of lemon zest in them:

Another good Austin food truck was Coolhaus,

Coolhaus is serving up made to order ice cream sandwiches, such as this Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Other particularly successful food items included these donuts from Gourdoughs:

this Lobster Roll from Dock and Roll Diner:
and another fine taco from Maria's Taco Xpress:

It wasn't all successful.  We found that Wurst Tex was a place where you had to show up really early to score anything before they sold out for the day, but they had a nice sign:

And one of the most-hyped food trucks was the most disappointing, East Side King (at The Grackle, since there are several East Side King carts, full review here).  They served up this Pork Belly Ssam which should have been good.  The pork itself was decent, but the rice was the finest expression of "stale" that I've had served to me in a long time:

Still, The Grackle had a cool sign and some good beer:

Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 08:56:24
Thank you, Mr. Kaszeta, for both the insightful reviews and the wonderfully composed photography.  I have added your site to my 'favorites'; your posts re: Austin will soon come in very handy!
If you don't mind my asking, what camera do you use?
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 09:09:34
If you don't mind my asking, what camera do you use?

A mix.  Most of my photos are with my Canon 50D.  Some are from my girlfriend's 60D, and a few from my Canon S100 (which is a decent low-light point-and-shoot).  A few rare ones I post are from the iPhone since it is all I had.
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 09:35:29

If you don't mind my asking, what camera do you use?

A mix.  Most of my photos are with my Canon 50D.  Some are from my girlfriend's 60D, and a few from my Canon S100 (which is a decent low-light point-and-shoot).  A few rare ones I post are from the iPhone since it is all I had.

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 10:38:12
Thanks again for the great pics.They have an area on Bulverde Road in San Antonio where you can try several food trucks. They even I think have a few picnic tables you can eat at.Haven't tried any yet.Just don't have time lately
working both full and part time.Maybe some day , if TJMAXX gives me a Saturday off I'll check them out.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 10:40:37
Thanks again for the great pics.They have an area on Bulverde Road in San Antonio where you can try several food trucks.

I've done the Boardwalk on Bulverde.  I'll cover them in a few posts. :)
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 11:20:31
As I look through my 2012 photos and comments people make on my eating, one comment that comes up a lot is "Wow, you eat a lot of places and a lot of calories, how do you not weight 300+ lbs?"
Back in my 20s and early 30s, the answer to that primarily was "metabolism", but that doesn't work as well as it used to.  One of my techniques for keeping fit when doing all this eating and traveling is to try and avoid cars and trains when I can.  And recently, a number of cities have made it real easy for a traveler like myself to bike around by providing rental bikes (mostly by Bixi and their competitor B-Cycle).  Usually the model is that there is a per-day charge plus a surcharge for long checkouts.  Usually this means that in a given city I can have a bike for ~30 minutes at a time for a few bucks a day. 
The most preeminent system for this is Montreal's Bixi, which I used a lot to get between various brewpubs and dining establishments on both of this year's trips to Montreal:

But I also used nearly identical systems in Boston:


San Antonio:

And Washington, DC:

The last of these was one of my favorites: In June I spent 10 days in the DC area, and aside from a single trip out to Shady Grove and Gaithersburg (beyond the range of the bikes), I never used any other means of transportation except walking. :)
post edited by kaszeta - 2013/01/03 13:32:16
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 12:14:34
Just this morning I heard on the radio that in Madison B-Cycle's 2012 numbers are up something like 340% over 2011, and with Madison already being an extremely bike-friendly city to begin with I'm not surprised.
You had an outstanding 2012 as well!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 13:01:49
I was planning on doing Nice Ride MN (Twin Cities) and Citi Bike (NYC), but my MN tripped got delayed until after the bikes were out of service for the winter, and Citi Bike's debut got pushed back until this year.  Too bad, it's a nice way to get around.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/03 13:31:46
And since I mentioned DC, my trip there allowed me to visit two old favorites:
El Pollo Rico in Arlington (full review here)is one of the better (and older) Peruvian chicken joints in Arlington.  Hiding out behind some fairly subtle signage...

...lies a decent chicken joint with rotisseries and chickens:

Next up was Ray's Hell Burger, also in Arlington (full review here), also featuring subtle signage:

...but also some of the DC area's best burgers:

Finally, I even rode my Capital Bikeshare bike as far as the DC/Maryland border and then rode the Metro to Shady Grove to meet up with friends who took me over to Gaithersburg to have another visit to Roy's Place.  The sandwiches were as good as ever (for those that haven't been to Roy's, they've got 100s of sandwiches on the menu).  Here was my John Wellington Wells: Sharp cheese, thick sliced bacon, pastrami & tomato:

That said, it seems that every time I go there in recent history they have some sort of drama, like this time they didn't have a current license so they couldn't serve beer...
Finally, I also rode my rental bike downtown to meet up with friends and check out the trendy Rasika (full review here for some Indian food, such as this Palaak Chat (fried spinach with garlic, chili, and chutney):

or our many table-style entrees:

Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/06 17:24:38
As I mentioned earlier in the thread, I picked up a great perk via my partner's job for Dartmouth College, their After Hours program offers periodic ultra-cheap bus trips to Manhattan and Montreal, so one day in May we decided to do a day trip to NYC.  Mostly, we walked, decided that we'd visit the DUMBO (Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood by walking there.  This, of course, means walking the Brooklyn Bridge:

With a fantastic view of Midtown Manhattan:

Eventually arriving in Dumbo:

Where our primary destination was lunch.  We wanted to check out Grimaldi's Pizza at their new No 1 Front Street location, an old converted bank building:

With a rather impressive coal oven:

The resulting pizza was quite good.  Probably not quite in my top 10 list, but close:

It did pass my "vertical test" (on a proper pizza slice, you should be able to hold it vertically without everything slumping off):

After that, we walked over the Manhattan Bridge to get back to Manhattan's Little Italy:

eventually working our way to Nolita for Gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato:

They have a lot of interesting gelato flavors.  I opted for sorbets, a trio of Lime Basil, Grapefruit Campari, and Orange:

After that, a pleasant walk back to Bryant Park (stopping off in Rockefeller Plaza for Japanese confections at Minamoto Kichoan) and catching the return bus.  Not bad for $20.
post edited by kaszeta - 2013/01/06 17:27:16
ann peeples
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/06 17:46:12
What a fun year you had! Enjoying every experience!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/06 19:51:03
Next up was a return trip to Texas, this time to San Antonio (Carol had a conference there, so I joined her at the end of the conference for some food exploration).
Arriving in San Antonio, I had several hours before having to meet Carol for a late dinner, but I had heard particularly good things about the  Boardwalk on Bulverde (a congregation of local food trucks), so I headed over there to check it out.  And found that I hadn't done my research, since the Boardwalk on Bulverde isn't open on Wednesdays.  So instead I headed about a mile east and found Erick's Tacos (full review here).  It was immediately apparent that they’ve got the basics of a good taco stand down pat. Taco cart? Check. Spanish radio station blaring? Check. Seating area created from a repurposed automotive repair shop? Check. Agua fresca stand? Check.

Having all the requisite components in place, I wandered over to the cart, and upon gazing on their nice grill filled with all sorts of meats being cooked, immediately decided on this splendid trio of tacos:

And an aqua fresca (I love these things.  They are one of the many reasons that I think New England needs more Latin American influence...):

The next day, we had some spare time to explore, so I went back to a favorite place in San Antonio, the Japanese Tea Gardens.  Note that much of  the signage was made during periods of anti-Japanese sentiment, so much of it still says "Chinese Tea Gardens":

Which are a splendid place to hang out:

Then it was downtown to check out the Riverwalk, which I hadn't been to since the mid-90s.  It hasn't changed too much, although it did expand a bit:

Where we ended up finding Soho (full review here), an interesting little cocktail bar:

Located in a converted bank building on Crockett Street just barely off the Riverwalk at street level, it’s actually the sort of place you could walk by without much notice (indeed, I didn’t originally think it was open when we first approached it). Inside, it’s rather a funky space: what normally would be a really spacious bar area is broken into two spaces by the presence of the old bank vault, which currently serves as Soho’s wine cellar. The result is a main, but somewhat crowded, bar area, and two quieter seating areas:

But how were the cocktails? Excellent, in short. When you sit down, you can immediately see a very large menu board with their list of specialty cocktails, ranging from the fairly simple (like a simple Bellini) to the complicated (“Carrot Cake Tini”) to the unique and obscure (I still don’t know what the “Pork ‘n Fork” is, I forgot to ask):

Looking over the list, I decided to start off with something off their specialty menu: a prickly pear margarita. I’ve had these before a few times, and this is exactly the sort of cocktail that separates the good places from the crappy bars. Poorly done, this drink can taste like a bad can of Cactus Cooler with a bad tequila aftertaste, but Soho had this one dialed in: the primary taste of the drink was tequila, with just enough to overcome the sweetness of the fruit. Whatever prickly pear liqueur they were using was pleasantly flavored, and paired nicely with the tequila. There was enough lime to give it the requisite lime note, and instead of being rimmed with salt, it came in a lime and cayenne-rimmed glass. The last of these was a little unusual, but after a few sips, it was really dialed in:

Carol then decided to try one of the their true specialties, the Soho Bloody Mary. This was, in concept, a fairly straightforward Bloody Mary, but their particular execution of it is pretty unique. First, instead of plain vodka they make their own vegetable-infused vodka as the base of the drink (see the pic a few paragraphs above). To this they add tomato juice, and a fermented horseradish blend that’s quite pungent, and ends up converting the drink from reddish-hues to pinkish-hues. Unusual, but tasty. Finally, you’ve got your choice of garnishes, with the recommended garnish being a strip of bacon. Which the bartender crisps to order with a blow torch. Don’t see that everyday. So even when I’m not setting out to do a food review, bacon still gets involved. Odd, huh? And for the record, we saw the blowtorch get used several other times while we were there, mostly for their “crème brûlée martini” in which the drink is whipped up by hand with some egg whites, poured into a martini glass, and torched to order:

After that, we headed a few blocks south to El Mirador (full review here), one of the older and more venerable San Antonio Tex Mex places that has been around since, well, forever:

I decided to go for the above-mentioned Lomo de Puerco. Basically several slices of cumin- and cilantro-crusted roasted pork loin served up in a tangy tamarind sauce, I was quite pleased with the pork, it was tender, had a nice flavorful crust, and was very nicely complemented by the tamarind (which is a slightly less common sauce for Mexican places, in my experience, but one that works well). Quite delicious, actually. The sauce also worked well with the sides: a nice mound of chipotle mashed potatoes, and some vegggies. The veggies themselves were a little lackluster (basically steamed carrots, broccoli, and squash), but these did decently with the sauce. I’d get this dish again without much hesitation:

Carol did similarly well with her Camarones Y Filet, a nice thick poblano-seasoned steak with a trio of large shrimp served up in a pepita-cilantro pesto cream sauce. The steak was nicely seasoned, and while slightly overcooked was quite juicy and flavorful. The shrimp, however, were perfectly cooked, and nicely complemented by the pesto cream sauce which had a really nice cilantro flavor:

However, the one thing I’ll fault El Mirador for is lackluster service. While our waitress was very friendly about helping us select dishes, she also had a tendency to disappear for rather long periods of time, stretching what should have been a fairly modest dinner into an hour and a half deal.  I hope if I go back they've got service more dialed in.
...to be continued...
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/07 22:18:30
The next day in San Antonio, we started our food explorations with hitting up another classic San Antonio joint and common Roadfood recommendation, Chris Madrid's (full review here):

Most any major list of "must eat" restaurants in San Antonio includes Chris Madrids on the list, and it also is a perennial favorite on several “Best burgers in Texas” lists. I’ve even seen it get a few mentions on “Best Burger in the US” lists. Seeing that our B+B was only 2 miles from Chris Madrids, we decided we had to give it a try.
The menu at Chris Madrids shows their dedication to simplicity, since the menu is basically a half-dozen burger varieties, chalupas, fries, and drinks (Well, there might be a tostada or a chicken sandwich as well). The burger varieties are exactly what you’d expect from a popular burger joint in the center of Tex Mex territory, with the top three burgers being the “Tostada Burger” (burger with a layer of refried beans and chips under a layer of cheese), the “Cheddar Cheezy” (basic cheeseburger with a giant mound of shredded cheddar melted on it), and the “Flaming Jalapeno” (same, but with lots of jalapeno). All the burgers are available as regular and macho sizes. Looking over the options, I opted for the classic Chris Madrid burger: a macho Tostada Burger and a side of fries:

Well, the Tostada burger was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Think “tostada” meets burger, and you’ve got the idea. Risking being accused of sacrilege, I’ll be honest and say that the burger patty itself wasn’t the greatest I’ve had (I like my burgers with a little more crisp on them, a little more juice, and a slightly less done interior), but it was decent, and it was large (this was definitely one of those burgers that kinda fails the essential nature of a burger: you start out eating it with both hands, but eventually experience collapse and need to resort to cleaning the mess up with a fork). But the novel toppings here actually worked pretty well.  The one thing I'll fault them for is misspelling "Shiner" on my receipt.  Isn't that a stoning offense in Texas?

After an afternoon roaming around, we checked a few places, like the old Pearl Brewery Complex:

And then stopped back downtown at The Esquire Tavern for even more cocktails:

At which point it was time to head back to the car and drive north to get to... the Boardwalk on Bulverde:

This time it was open.  It's a rather substantial cluster of food trucks, for some food truck action… (located adjacent to, and run by, a company that makes food trucks, btw). The Boardwalk is a Thursday-Sunday operation, with about a dozen food trucks all located at this one spot in Northern San Antonio. It’s a rather nice little outside area, with the obligatory random selection of seating, a mechanical bulls, and a few other oddments. And it was even free beer night:

But the real attraction was the various food trucks.  First and foremost, the reason I came searching out the Boardwalk was Rickshaw Stop (full review here):

Rickshaw Stop offers Pakistani food.  And their approach to this is one of simplicity—they follow one of my tenets of a good food truck, which is “find something you are good at, and focus on that”. The menu at Rickshaw Stop is basically three items: kebabs, samosas, and dessert. So it’s pretty much a matter of picking which kebabs and samosas you want, and getting a combo.  Which I did:

The kebabs were served up on nice, hefty, and perfectly crisped circles of naan, alongside a few nicely fried samosas. Starting with the samosas, they were nice little packets of nicely spiced chicken with a bit of pea and potato notes, with particularly good cumin and cilantro notes . The kebab were excellent as well, with a nice sear on the meat, a rich marinade that really penetrated through the meat (and somehow, with the chicken they managed to avoid the spongy texture that often accompanies too-long marination), and a good sauce, the chicken was served up with a decent spicy sauce, while the beef was served up with a rich green sauce that was primarily mint, with some coriander and cumin notes as well.
Down the way was another well-regarded Boardwalk denizen: Spice Runner (full review here):

“Pocket Pies”.
I’ll admit, at first I was a little concerned about the “pocket pie” terminology. I’m used to dumplings. I’m used to empanadas. I’m even used to Cornish Pasties. And I’ve even eaten all of those from food trucks. But somehow the phrase “Pocket Pie” made me think someone wasn’t doing this right. It’s like someone offering you a “Cali-Mex Tortilla Wrap” instead of a “burrito”, in that it raises an alarm. But despite my Spidey Sense telling me to be wary, I wandered up to the ordering counter, and ordered up two “pocket pies”, one Thai Coconut Curry Chicken, the other Louisiana Creole. 
And this is where I had to admit that my “Spidey Sense” was wrong. What I got were two perfect little empanadas. Or dumplings. Or pocket pies. Call them what you want, both of these were perfectly executed:

We then rounded it out with dessert from the Belgian Waffle Co: (full review here):

Which was serving up proper true Belgian waffles:

After that, it was time to call it a night.  The next day, on our way out of town, we visited several places, including Freetail Brewing in North San Antonio:

They've got a really fun brewer who is clearly in it for the enjoyment and not the money, and he makes some strange beers.  Anyone want to guess what the green one is?

Then it was on to another brewery, Ranger Creek, where I again showed my excellent skill at talking myself onto sold out brewery tours to which I didn't have a ticket:

I rather like both their Smoked Porter and their Oatmeal Pale Ale:

But one of their prides and joys is that they are a distillery:

But then it was time for some food.  We decided to hit up Two Bros BBQ Market (full review here) just south of Ranger Creek for some BBQ.  To tell you the truth, most San Antonio BBQ didn't really do it for me, but Two Bros had their game on:

This was actually some rather good BBQ. The brisket slices had everything I look for in a good smoked brisket: A nice amount of rendered fat. A juicy interior on both the lean and fatty cuts. A nice, rich smokiness throughout the meat. And a nice thick bark that was both flavorful and smoky. This wasn’t quite the level of perfection I’ve had some other places (it could have used a bit more smoke), but this was some thoroughly enjoyable brisket.  And I'll admit, especially recently, I've been severely spoiled in my BBQ consumption.
So, that's Antonio in a nutshell.  Next up?  A quick trip to Montreal...
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/08 14:16:06
So, July was fairly quiet, although I did end up doing both Burlington, VT and Montreal, QC (I'll probably mention those places later in a mop-up post).  But when August hit, things got busy.  I had to do quick trips to Columbus, OH; Washington, DC; and Cheshire, CT for work.  And then, right as I was starting to get ready for our big annual vacation, an issue came up at work.  One of my coworkers has been developing a security system for the US Army that works with seismic detectors.  You hammer a bunch of these sensors into the ground, and they create a virtual perimeter, that if someone tries to walk by them, they alert the command post.  The system has been tested in a lot of places, but we got a last minute request from the Army who wanted us to test it, as soon as possible, in "Severe desert summertime conditions, like Yuma".  Well, for a variety of reasons we didn't go to Yuma (somewhat sad for me, since I really like Yuma... best taco carts ever!), but the call went out to the other engineers at the company to see if we could find a good place to do testing.
Well, I happen to know the owner of a ranch that's perfect for these sorts of things, the Quarter Circle U Ranch:

Nestled into a corner of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona on a large private parcel of land surrounded by State and Federal conservation land, it's a particular quiet place to do testing (no other people, but plenty of wildlife), and it's only ~45 minutes from PHX.  It's also quite scenic, and has an old abandoned store that we could use as a operations center:

And a stellar view:

Picking up my coworkers at the Phoenix airport, it was a pleasant enough day:

...for me at least (I grew up there).  My Maine and Connecticut coworkers were wilting.  Especially the next morning, when we awoke to that day's low temperature:

But soon enough we were out testing:

And giving my coworkers some desert briefings, like how the prickly pear is actually edible:

but the cholla should not be touched.  Someone wasn't listening:

But since the test site was within reasonably driving distance of the Phoenix metro area, I got to take my coworkers to several places, including a few of my favorites.  The first was Pane Bianco (full review here), the sister to the more-famous Pizzeria Bianco:

Here the deal is sandwiches on fresh bread, and this little Sopressata sandwich didn't disappoint:

But the real attraction was this phenomenal Chocolate Italian Ice:

However, most of our food outing were in Gilbert.  The first was Joe's Real BBQ (full review here), which is one of the better BBQ places I know in AZ:

Most of the action here is in the form of one combo or another, you can get the Combination Plate (with four meat samples: chopped brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken), the Meat Plate (two meats of your choice), or one of the more elaborate combos. I opted for the Meat Plate, getting my standard “BBQ evaluation meats”: sliced brisket and pulled pork, along with two sides: beans and potato salad, a slice of sweet potato pie, and a cup of Joe’s own homemade root beer.
Sitting down to enjoy my meal (which was a substantial spread of food), this was one of those BBQ meals where you could tell before eating it that there was some quality here, since the meat smelled like a rich pecan smoke, and not just some sort of sauce. I’ll start off with the pulled pork. While shredded a bit finer than I usually like, this pork had some really good action going on: a rich, deep pecan smoke flavor throughout (with a visible smoke line as well), a good flavorful and chewy bark, and a good overall texture and moisture level. This was amongst the best pulled pork I had this year, and I enjoyed it.  The brisket wasn’t quite as good. The smoke was there. The flavor was there. And the moisture was even there. But the texture was a bit off, with more than a bit of crumbly note.  But still pretty good:

Even better, though, was our visit the next day to Joe's Farm Grill (full review here):

Located just west of the corner of Ray and Higley in Gilbert, if you are in the area, Joe’s Farm Grill is hard to miss, since it has a rather large neon sign, and is basically a large “retro-futuristic” building nestled in amongst the citrus trees at the edge of a working farm. The farm isn’t a new thing, it’s been there since the 1920s, with the Johnston family being there since the 1960s. The restaurant is actually constructed around what’s left of the 1960s ranch house, although the renovation is so significant that you have to look carefully to actually find evidence of the original house (you can see some of this in the “fireplace room”).  Joe’s is a fun place to go, just since it’s so unusual. It’s now part of a planned community called Agritopia, which is basically designed as an “urban farming” experiment: suburb-style houses back directly up to farmland, and the homeowners of Agritopia also can participate in the farming. Then, the Farm Grill itself (which gets a substantial portion of its produce from the farm) was designed to represent the ideal image of a 1960s California hamburger stand; the result is a retro-futuristic burger stand with a fair bit of neon, a lot of glass, and more than a little Googie and Jetsons mixed in.
But the food is quite good.  It’s basically a burger stand. Their motto is “common food done uncommonly well and served quickly”, and that’s basically the menu. They’ve got a nice variety of burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and the like. The menu itself isn’t special, but what they try and do is try to make as much of the food themselves. This mean hand-forming burger patties. Breading onion rings on-site by hand. Hand-slicing fries from whole potatoes. Making their own sauces. There’s not really a lot of unexpected items on the menu, but what they do, they do well, and I respect that. Any idiot can make up some sort of new “special sauce”, but to get just a basic burger done exactly right requires some skill, some patience, and some good ingredients. 
I ended up ordering a bacon cheeseburger with a side of garlic fries.  This was a classic example of a basic burger done well. They took some quality meat and formed it into a nice patty, and cooked it with a nice sear without overcooking the interior. Add some cheddar cheese, some decent bacon, some lettuce, and fresh tomato.  Add some good fries, and this was a great little dinner:

But my coworker Jed (who is one of those guys that wrapping bacon around something makes it hard for him to resist) outdid me.  He had just learned what a "Sonoran Hot Dog" was, and when given the option, ordered two:

Oh, and Joe's has one of the most bizarre non-joke warning signs I've ever seen:

After four days of hot Arizona weather, however, I had to return to New Hampshire and repack my bags.... for Iceland.
post edited by kaszeta - 2013/01/08 14:17:11
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/08 14:40:33
Really enjoying your pics and stories - looks like a terrific year of road-fooding!!
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/09 06:44:24
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/09 07:38:24
Next up was Iceland.
Since I already gave this trip it's own thread, you can read about my adventures there, see the photos on Flickr, and see the full set of food reviews on Offbeat Eats.
But for those that haven't read the other trip report, here's are some reasons you should go to Iceland:

And eat at places like this:

And you can eat food like this:

So go.  Enjoy yourself!
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/09 09:14:00
Hi Kaszeta, the eighth picture from the bottom, is that Gravlax?
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/09 09:33:48
Hi Kaszeta, the eighth picture from the bottom, is that Gravlax?

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/09 11:35:03
I sure surprized myself last year when I learned how easy it was to make. Just salt, sugar and dill wait three days and there you have it. Top off with red onions and capers and I'm a happy guy.
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/11 21:31:48
As I mentioned above, my job occasionally sends me to places with very little notice.  And the destinations vary all over the place.  This year those last-minute destinations ranged from Arizona (mentioned above) to Dayton/Columbus, to... Frankfurt, Germany!
So I had barely gotten unpacked from Iceland when I repacked my bags and headed back to the airport.  An overnight trip to Heathrow, and in Terminal 5 I was able to indulge in one of my favorite "fast Asian" food chains, Wagamama, for some Miso Ramen:

Then, after a short flight, I found myself in Frankfurt, and then quickly after that, in Frankfurt's main train station (Hauptbahnhof):

By this time I was already getting hungry again, so I decided to indulge in one of my favorite European junk foods: Currywurst.  There's actually a pretty good place for it in the station, Wursthelden (full review here):

And they serve up a really tasty currywurst, and some pretty dang good fries as well:

Then it was off to rendezvous with some colleagues at one of Frankfurt's main landmarks, the Alte Oper (Old Opera House):

Just east of Alte Oper on Große Bockenheimer Straße (a major street for restaurants), there are no end of restaurants, and after checking several out, we ended up settling on Das Wirtshaus (full review here), a pub featuring beer, wurst, and schnitzel.
Das Wirtshaus specializes in the local variety of schnitzel, Frankfurter Schnitzel. It’s your basic pork schnitzel, but the local variety involves serving it up with Grüne Soße (literally “Green Sauce”), a cold cream sauce heavily herbed with a veritable garden of herbs including sorrel, chives, chervil, parsley, and whatever else the chef is in the mood for. It’s an interesting combination, giving an almost tarter-sauce like tanginess opposite the savory meat and crispy breading notes of the schnitzel, but I rather enjoyed it:

The next day, I spent most of the day working (this was a work trip!), but at 5pm I was done for the day and got back out, this time exploring Römer, the old downtown area (and a pleasant throwback, most of Frankfurt is pretty industrial and modern):

One of the places there was Römer Bembel (A "Bembel" is a earthenware jug full of hard cider, aka apfelwein):

Despite my love of apfelwein, this time I decided that I'd just have a hefeweizen:

But just down the way from Römer Bembel was Frankfurter Dom, the old Frankfurt Cathedral:

The cool thing about Frankfurter Dom is that you can pay 5 euro and go up in the tower up a rather narrow staircase:

Eventually getting to the observation platform up by the bells:

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/11 22:02:20
Man oh man, I am LOVING this round-up!  I wanna be you when I grow up.  Your photography skills and narrative are nothing short of spectacular.  Thanks so much for all of your great contributions to Roadfood!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/13 00:00:53
After going up Frankfurter Dom, I walked across the river to Sachsenhausen via Eiserner Steg (Iron Bridge), an old pedestrian bridge that serves as a landmark:

The bridge is a popular place for Liebesschlösser ("Promise Locks") left by couples, much like other bridges:

Sachesenhausen is one of Frankfurt’s neighborhoods known for Apfelweinwirtschafts (basically, cider houses). One of the better known ones is Struwwelpeter (full review here), named after the German childrens’ stories by Heinrich Hoffmann (most of which I actually think are more than a little creepy, as childrens’ stories go, like the young boy whose thumbsucking is solved by a tailor cutting off his thumbs with giant shears…):

Stepping into Struwwelpeter, you are stepping into a bar that is basically the epitome of a German apfelwein bar. Dark wood. Long benches for eating and drinking. Glass and wrought iron windows. Big racks of “geripptes”, glasses with a lozenge facet cut typically used for drinking apfelwein, as well as giant racks of stoneware jugs (“Bembels”) used for serving up larger quantities of apfelwein:

So, I ordered up a gerippte of apfelwein (not my first, admittedly), and sat back to enjoy it over my long lunch hour. I rather enjoyed the apfelwein, it was crisp and tart, and quite reminiscent of the hard cider I brew myself back in NH.  I’m not sure I like it as much as the beers from neighboring regions (Alts from Dusseldort, and Weissbiers from Munich), but it was quite refreshing (although from what I could see, the vast majority of apfelweinwirtschafts get their apfelwein from the same brewer: Possmann):

I also decided that Struwwelpeter was a good place to try out some of the other regional specialties, so I decided to give Leberkäse a try. Leberkäse is basically a meatloaf that’s similar to bologna, typically baked until cooked and crispy, then a slice is cut off and sold fried up with an egg. Much like various breakfast creations back in the states made from Taylor Pork Roll, this was actually quite tasty, although not what I’d crave every day:

But Sachsenhausen is filled with Apfelweinwirtschafts, so I soon found myself at another well-known establishment, Adolf Wagner (full review [url=offbeateats.org/2012/10/adolf-wagner-frankfurt-am-main-germany/]here[/url]).  It’s a bit of a tourist destination, but it’s also one of the minority of Frankfurt Apfelweinwirtschafts that actually makes it’s own Afpelwein; most places carry Apfelwein made by Possmann, the major brewery in the area (who makes a good product, admittedly):

Located on the edge of Sachsenhausen, south of the Schweizer Platz shopping area, Adolf Wagner is definitely on the tourist beat, and even with my early dinner time, it was definitely busy. But this made for some phenomenal people-watching, since Adolf Wagner is basically group seating (benches, mostly), and the staff loves to pack people in tightly, and it’s really fun seeing how people from different cultures (especially those with larger concepts of “personal space”) handle that, and being seated with unfamiliar people.  It also means that if you are by yourself (like I was), or in a small group, they can almost always fit you in somewhere. In my case, this meant getting seated at a table three French 50-something women who barely knew English or German:

But the same sort of efficiency that the staff applies to seating is also applied to service: Adolf is definitely trying to move people through there. A mere minute after I was seated, I found myself sharing a large bembel of apfelwein with the French ladies, and having my order taken. All day I had been craving mushrooms (it apparently was mushroom season in Hesse, with most markets having huge displays of them), so I opted for the Jäger Schnitzel (pork schnitzel with mushroom sauce).
And it was quite a good schnitzel: a nice tender pork, a good breading, and quite a delicious mushroom sauce. While I ended up having schnitzel for about half of my meals in Frankfurt, this was one of the best.  As far as the Apfelwein? I could tell that Adolf Wagner made their own, it was a definitely yeastier and more complicated and earthy apfelwein than most of the other joints, and their version of it appealed to me. I would have had more, but I think I already had well more than my share of the large 4 liter bembel that they brought to our table.

But it wasn't all Apfelweinwirtschafts.  One of the things I enjoy about going to large international cities is that they tend to have immigrant communities, which gives them plenty of good ethnic restaurants in addition to the native foods. For Frankfurt, one of the larger immigrant communities is Turkish, with several parts of town having notable concentrations of Turkish businesses. In particular, the directly east of the Hauptbahnhof has several large and well-regarded Turkish halal restaurants places. One of these, Central Grill (full review here, was my choice for lunch on my way back to the hotel:

Central Grill has a pretty good selection of Turkish food, with a decent collection of soups, kebabs, and various Döner dishes carved right off the spit. After looking over the options, I opted for the Adana kebabı, a pleasantly spicy ground meat mixture served up on a skewer. Done well, this is one of my favorite styles of kebab (I like the similar Iranian koobideh kebab as well, when I can get them), and Central Grill does a good job with theirs. A nice, flavorful meat with bold chile pepper notes. A nice char on the kebabı. A flavorful rice/barley medley below for both taste and texture. A nice spicy sauce. A few grilled chile peppers to round it out. The result was a very bold and flavorful dish that was a nice difference from the German food of the last several days.

my conference concluded and I found myself faced with my last evening in Frankfurt. While I enjoyed some of the tourist destination in Frankfurt (Römerberg and Sachsenhausen were both fairly pleasant), I wanted to try and find a more relaxing and less touristy area to explore and have my dinner. So I decided to walk from downtown northeast to Bornheim, which is one of Frankfurt’s older neighborhoods. It also has a nice “village” atmosphere, and a nice boulevard, Berger Straße, lined with several restaurants and apfelweinwirtschafts. After looking at several of these, I decided to try out one of the, Apfelwein Solzer (full review here, for dinner:

Solzer is one of the true older-style apfelweinwirtschafts. The place itself has been there since the 16th century, and in it’s modern form since the late 1800s (although the current name dates from the 1960s). And it’s laid out like a lot of the older apfelweinwirtschafts, with a surprisingly small storefront that belies the spacious dining areas: while there are a handful of small rooms with bench seating at the front of Solzer, as you go back through the restaurant you’ll find a large bar area, and then a very spacious outdoor seating area (half of it sheltered and heated) that holds several hundred people. On a given busy evening, such as the Friday night I went to Solzer, between all the various seating areas, there were probably five hundred people there. 
Finding a seat was a challenge (much like the previous night’s visit to Adolf Wagner), but I was soon able to score a rather nice seat at the bar, watching all the food come out from the kitchen, and watching the staff pour out bembel after bembel of apfelwein to the thirsty patrons.
Like a few of the other best apfelweinwirtschafts I went to around Frankfurt, Solzer makes its own apfelwein, using their own recipe, and it again shows in the quality: the apfelwein here had a distinctly pleasant earthy and yeasty note I like in a good cider. And the staff here was very pleasant, frequently replacing my empty schoppen with a fresh new one.

As far as the food menu, Solzer has a rather extensive menu of German pub food, with an entire half-page of Frankfurt specialties, including the ever-present schnitzels (including krüstchenschnitzel, schnitzel wrapped in pastry instead of breaded), markklößchen suppe (bone marrow soup), all sorts of dishes featuring the cold herb grüne soße (green sauce), and one of my particular German favorites, kartoffelkloß (potato dumpling, typically filled with sausage). I ended up going for the kartoffelkloß, which came out of the kitchen as a rather impressively large dumping, filled with a delicious liver sausage blend, and served up with a rich and flavorful bacon, onion, and chive sauce. The dumpling was perfectly done, with a nice texture that reminds me of a good gnocchi. The sausage blend in the middle was had all the nice flavor notes of a good liver sausage, with a nice, coarse grind. The sauce was rich and a nice complement to the dumpling, albeit a bit saltier than I might have preferred. But the best part? This veritable feast of excellent kartoffelkloß was only 7.90 Euro:

After that, I it was time to, reluctantly, head home.  Back at the airport, it's worth noting that Frankfurt has an outstanding observation deck, and you can see a lot of neat international planes there due to it being a major hub:

Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/13 00:18:30

You got lucky, it felt like only 114.  It's a DRY heat... 
Filet Mignon
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/13 16:54:55
Kaszeta, your photos are always stunning!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/13 18:08:34
Since I booked the tickets to Frankfurt at the last minute, on the return trip I wasn't able to get any flights back that didn't cost a huge amount of money that didn't involve long layovers.  I ended up with a 21 hour layover at London Heathrow.  For most, this would be a frustration.  For me, this was an opportunity; my brother and sister-in-law live in London, so it gave me a nice opportunity to meet up with them, have some dinner, drinks, and pudding, get rested up, and get back to the airport in plenty of time for my flight. As far as dinner goes, it allowed me an opportunity to finally cross one major food destination of my to-do list: going to Hawksmoor (full review here), get a seat at the bar and try their famous Kimchi Burger. It was recommended to me a few years ago by someone on Flyertalk.com, but it’s been resilient to my efforts to actually get one; my first attempt was thwarted by my travel schedule (I was stopping off in London on the way to Spain), and my second thwarted by the large numbers of other people visiting Hawksmoor for Christmas festivities. But this time, I finally managed to pull it off, with my brother and sister-in-law in tow:

To get the burger at Hawksmoor (which is mostly a very high end steakhouse), you need to sit at the bar, and the bar is downstairs, with the overriding motifs being “copper” and “dark”. The overall result reminds me of what a bar in a Farraday-cage lined fallout shelter would be like, bordering on steam-punk with fairly retro cocktail menu signs and tap handles. It has ambiance. And it’s also packed with people.  The cocktails are worth mentioning. While quite expensive, even by my Boston-calibrated “big city” expectation (some of the more expensive cocktails worked out to being slightly over $20 after conversion), they had quite the impressive cocktail list, ranging from the ginger-heavy Shakey Pete, to the rum-laden Nuclear Banana, to the rich fruit laden Marmalade, they’ve got quite a list. Dan and I both opted for the Marmalade, and I rather enjoyed it: it was a nice cocktail that tasted, well, like marmalade: not just fruity and citrusy, but with a good solid dose of aromatic and bitter peel flavors. I wouldn’t mind a trip back here for just cocktails:

But our mission was clear: I’d been stymied twice on getting a kimchi burger, and now the opportunity was here. So I ordered one. And soon I found myself look at an example of the much-celebrated and ballyhooed Hawksmoor Kimchi Burger. Let me get right down to it: This was a damn fine burger, in fact, it’s an exemplar of what a great burger should be. Working from inside out, the burger itself was a substantial but not oversized patty of juicy meat. Despite the thickness of the patty, it was perfectly cooked (a perfect crispy sear on top and bottom, and a nice rare and juicy interior), which shows that they’ve got a cook that’s both talented and paying attention. The burger topping was a slab of rice cheese and a heft layer of a very, very bold kimchi. The result was both a textural feat (with just a bit of tooth coming from the cheese and kimchi) and a giant dose of salt, spice, and umami from the kimchi. The result was bold, and it was great. Enough so that I’ll excuse the sorry-ass thinnest-pickle-spear-ever. Quite frankly, I’m not used to this level of quality from British burger joints, but this was the best burger of 2012. Without a doubt, I’ll be back for this again:

Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/14 01:36:55
Rick Steves & Burt Wolf have nothing on you!! Great reports!
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/14 08:39:27
Rick Steves & Burt Wolf have nothing on you!! Great reports!

To be one of them, I'd need a camera guy.  And a sound dude.  And a budget.  And hopefully a location scout. :)
That said, I wouldn't mind being a location scout for a while (I know someone that was one of the scouts for No Reservations)
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/17 19:20:14
Lawd.i kept trying to copy and paste here....but you'll have to reference my comments under BB's posting
Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/18 11:36:54
Getting back to the US, it was an opportunity to meet up with Carol and visit a few places in Boston before heading home.  A half mile south of South Station, in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston, is a pair of rather neat establishments.  The first is Drink, a basement cocktail bar:

Drink doesn't have a formal cocktail list, they pride themselves in made-to-order cocktails; tell them what you are craving, and they'll try to make up something to match.  In my case, I'm one of those people that thinks that the phrase "Too much ginger" isn't valid English, so they came up with this cocktail with Limoncello, chartreuse, gin, grated ginger, and ginger beer for my cocktail:

Carol asked for something "Similar, but with rum", and got this nice drink with Limoncello, rum, ginger beer, and egg whites:

It's a rather nice place.  I'd like to go back there and explore, especially since they've got basically one item on the food menu: burgers.  And a limited number of them:

Then it was time to head to our second destination, Sportello, located upstairs (full review here):

Sportello is a rather funky place. The main concept here is “modern interpretation of the classic diner”, and that describes the decor rather well: walking into Sportello, you immediate see two large U-shaped counters surrounded by stools, of the type that described most diners when I was little. The overall palette is “gleaming white”, and like an actual diner, the bulk of the food prep is done to-order, right in front of you. As far as the food goes, the same sort of minimalist approach of the decor is applied to the menu: it’s not a very large menu, instead focusing on a small number of classic Italian appetizers, pasta and polenta dishes, along with a reasonable affordable wine list.

The highlights of the meal were the gnocchi and the polenta.  Carol got the potato gnocchi with mushroom ragu, peas, and cream. This was a very well executed dish: the gnocchi had the perfect texture (right on the border between “creamy” and “toothy”), and the cream sauce and mushroom ragu gave it a really good creamy and earthy note. The peas blended in as well. These were some of the better gnocchi I’ve sampled in recent history, although I still need to give a nod to Gracie’s down in Providence. But don’t get me wrong, these were definitely top 10 list material:

My polenta was pretty damn good as well, however.  This was one of the best polentas I’ve ever had: creamy and smooth, with just enough texture left to still keep it thick. The wild boar ragu served on top of it was rich, porky, and flavorful, and blended perfectly with the polenta and the thick slices of parmesan served atop the dish: 

Double Cheeseburger
Re:Kaszeta's 2012 in Review 2013/01/18 21:45:19
And then, next thing you know, it was Fall, and it was time to enjoy one of my favorite seasons in New England, particularly with this hike up Mt Kearsarge:

But there was no rest for the weary.  Next thing you know, I was back on an airplane and found myself in Minneapolis/St Paul, visiting my alma mater (University of Minnesota) to give an invited talk.  But it did let me revisit some of my old favorites (like Al's Breakfast in Minneapolis, still probably my favorite breakfast joint ever... but no pictures, since I already have a gazillion pics from there), as well as check out a few newer places.  For example, those familiar with the Twin Cities know of the "Jucy Lucy", the local burger made with two burger patties crimped around a core of molten cheese.  Well, when I lived there, there were constant arguments over whether the 5-8 Club or Matt's Bar had the better Lucy (myself, I'm a Matt's fan), but since then a relative newcomer gets a lot of mentions: The Nook in St Paul (full review here). 

Settling down to a seat at the bar with a pint of ale from Lift Bridge (one of the better Twin Cities breweries that has shown up on the local scene since I moved away), I decided on a nice variation on the Nookie Burger (for my love of Matt’s Bar, the minimalist nature of their system means that the menu is limited): the Paul Molitor Juicy Nookie. Named after the baseball hall-of-famer, the Paul Molitor is a Jucy Lucy made with pepper-jack cheese and topped with a slice of roasted green chile, making for a pleasant burger concept lying someplace between a classic Matt’s Bar Jucy Lucy, and another similar burger favorite of mine from Arizona, the Chuck Box‘s Tijuana Torpedo (which I consider one of the finest burgers in existence).  When my Paul Molitor arrived (with the common warning from the wait staff about hot cheese burns common at Jucy Lucy joints), it was immediately obvious that this is a much more substantial burger than the cousin at Matt’s Bar (which is both good and bad: the bigger a burger gets, the harder it is to properly cook), but this had all the basics in place: A crisp exterior, a moist interior, and a nice, rich layer of oozing cheese (with a consistently that was “molten” more than liquid), a decent amount of green chile, and good layers of raw and fried onion. This was a rather good burger, bringing back fine memories of both a classic Jucy Lucy and the above-mentioned Tijuana Torpedo. It had some crispiness. It had oozing cheese. And for a bonus, it had pepper kick. This was one fine burger.  But I still had to give it a slight second to the Matt's Bar version (sorry, folks):

I also got to hit up another favorite down the road a bit: Izzy's Ice Cream in St Paul (full review here).  One of my favorite ice cream places,
there are two things that really stick out about Izzy’s to me. The first is the quality of the ice cream. Every batch of ice cream I’ve had there was smooth, silky, and flavorful, without any greasy mouthfeel or heaviness. Combine that with some flavors that are interesting (but generally not outlandish, no kielbasa or “tiny threads o’ tungsten” ice cream flavors here), like some of my personal favorites: salty caramel, chai, or Summit Oatmeal Stout (featuring the beer of local favorite Summit Brewing), and it’s quite a nice place to come grab a scoop.  The second is one of their funky marketing tricks: the “Izzy Scoop”. A diminutive little 3/4 oz scoop of ice cream, any regular single or double scoop of ice cream comes with a complementary “Izzy Scoop”: a small extra scoop of another flavor. It’s their way of giving you a little something extra, and the customer’s way of trying out another flavor as well:

The rest of that day was busy as well.  I went over to The Four Firkins, one of the best beer stores in the Midwest, to get a collection of Minnesota beers to bring home with me (again, it's Southwest!  Bags fly free!):

And then it was time to have some dinner. I decided to meet up with my friend Andy from my MSU days, along with a former FIRST robotics student and intern of mine, Mas (and his fiancee) for dinner at Butcher and the Boar (full review here), one of Minneapolis’ newer bars, and a place known for quality meats.  Highlights here were an outstanding charcuterie plate:

A great steak:
And this lobster grilled cheese with fried egg:

Not bad for a day, huh? 
The next day, I gave my talk, and spent most of the day visiting with faculty at the University, but at the end of the day, the department took me out to dinner at Cafe Biaggio (full review here).  I was happy to go here, since when I lived in the Twin Cities, I'd always drive by this old storefront on University Avenue that was all Art Deco, and thought to myself, "Someone should open a restaurant there!".  Well, someone did:

Highlights were the bruschetta, spinach gnocchi (it was a good year for gnocchi!) and the tiramisu:

The next morning, I had time for a repeat trip to Al's Breakfast, and then a quick hop up to Ziach Polish Foods in Minneapolis to stock on some of their wonderful Juniper-Smoked kielbasa to take home with me:

And that was what a whirlwind trip to Minneapolis looked like....
post edited by kaszeta - 2013/01/18 21:47:51
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