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 Kaszeta's 2011 in review...

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Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 8:41 AM (permalink)
I'm always amazed by the sheer distance and variety covered by buffetbuster and wanderingjew, and inspired by their end-of-year review threads, so (like last year), I decided to do one as well.
As it happens, while I love my food, and maintain a blog (major updates to said blog, Offbeat Eats were a big happening this year, with maps and categories added), I don't often travel for food itself, the food is something I just try to find along the way, often as I'm traveling for work.
But looking over the happenings of 2011, while it was no 2010 (which involved six trips to other countries!), I still managed to rack up quite a few interesting destinations.  Looking things over, I seem to have hit an awful lot of "sweet" destinations this year, so I'll start this off with a list of donut joints from 2011:
First of all, the best donuts of the year go to Dynamo Donuts (my full review here)in San Francisco.  I originally went there seeking out their bacon donut (shown here with a caramel de sel donuts), and, while good, that actually ended up being my least favorite donut of the many I had there:

What was my favorite?  The chocolate spice donut (shown here with the similar chocolate rose donut), which was the perfect combination of crisp texture, perfect flavoring (mostly chocolate, not too sweet, with a slight amount of spices), and a nicely done sugar coating:

Next up in the favorites list of donuts was Gourdough's Big Fat Donuts in Austin (my full review here).  Having encountered Gourdough's at the end of a long day that involved several pounds of excellent Texas BBQ and several food carts, Gourdough's still managed to impress me with donuts such as this Sailor Jerry, with rum glaze and nuts.  If I had a complaint, it's that the underlying donut, which very nicely done and crisp, is overwhelmed by the massive amount of toppings.

After that, I'd have to go with Fractured Prune (my full review here), a mid-Atlantic chain that I've often frequented, mostly in Rehoboth Beach, DE.  The big attraction of Fractured Prune is that the donuts are freshly made to order: as you order, their "Donut Robot" makes a fresh donut, which they then hand-top to your specifications, with all sorts of interesting combos (like “Black Forest”, with berry glaze, coconut, and mini-chocolate chips).  However, I find it best when done simply, such as this basic chocolate and peanut donut:

Finally, I'll close the donut reviews with an odd one: Rolling Donuts in Dublin, Ireland (full review here).  I found Rolling Donut by smell, being attracted by the smell of fresh donuts as I walked down the street in Dublin.   Having cranked out donuts (using a similar automated machine to Fracture Prune's donut robot) for over 20 years, the resulting donuts were an excellent little street treat for only 60 euro cents each:


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    Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 9:59 AM (permalink)
    Mmmm...donuts!  You're drawn me into the Roadfood web already!  Can't wait to see the rest!

      Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 10:07 AM (permalink)
      What a start...dessert!!! 
      Love it!

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        Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 1:08 PM (permalink)
        I really enjoyed your report very much.  I have been to many of these places.  I just came back for a really nice stay in Phidelphia and hit a few but we also did a lot of Jewish Deli's which my friend loves.

          Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 1:37 PM (permalink)
          Since I had a few minutes over lunch, I figured I'd hit the next category as well: Burgers.  I appear to have eaten a lot of burgers in 2011, since I found 12 blog entries, as well as several places that I ate at but didn't blog.
          Best burger of the year?  Hands down, it was Miller's Bar in Dearborn, MI (review here).  The thing that always has me coming back to Miller’s Bar is the burgers.  The real magic of Miller’s Bar is that there is no magic. No weird ingredients. No weird meat. No fancy toppings. No unusual cooking practices (it’s a simple metal griddle). They just take some good meat, freshly ground, form it into patties, and cook it on the grill, right where you can watch them.  Every place should be able to do a burger this well:

          Next up is a perennial favorite of mine for almost 30 years now: The Chuck Box in Tempe, AZ (read an older review of mine here, although the photo below is less than 2 weeks old).  Again, it's mostly in simplicity: a giant charcoal grill with to-order burgers, I particularly like their Tijuana Torpedo (two 1/4 patties crimped around a core of jalapeno jack cheese, topped with a grilled chile pepper):

          Next is a hometown one:  Murphy's on the Green in Hanover, NH, just down from my office (review here), they got listed by Travel and Leisure a few years back as one of the best burgers in the US.  A little bit of hyperbole, but their Murph Burger, with fried shallot and remoulade, is one of the better burgers I had this year:

          Eerily similar to the Murph Burger was the Elephant Burger I had from Elephant and Castle in Dublin, Ireland (no extended review for this one, however).  With a combination of curry mayo and scallions, it was very, very similar in flavor and execution to the Murph Burger:

          Another thoroughly pleasing burger came from Urbun in San Francisco's Mission District (full review here) with this classic cheeseburger.  Just your basically well-done burger:

          From the category of "burger subtypes", I also had a nice visit to The Telway in Madison Heights, MI (review here).  Serving up sliders since a loooong time ago, the Telway is a classic example of the goodness of the independent slider joints of Detroit, making something that resembles a White Castle, but is sooo much better done:

          Then there's the budget burger.  When I mentioned Miller's to the extended Michigan family, two people told me to check out Greenwich Time in downtown Detroit (review here).  At $4, it was a cheap, but good burger (indeed, the staff there kept saying things like "The best burger in Detroit..... for the price.").  The odd disclaimer aside, it was a good basic cheeseburger:

          Finally, a burger that I did enjoy, but was also a classic example of "screwing up a perfectly good burger" that turned what should have been an excellent burger into just a good one: Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, DC (review here).  Down the street from another favorite of mine (Tune Inn, which I should have gone to...), Good Stuff took a basically good "heart attack style" burger (the Big Stuff Bacon Meltdown, with two patties loaded with cheese and bacon) and did a few things right: the beef was decently seared and juicy, and the bun nicely toasted.  But in assembling the burger, they (a) didn't control grease, so the bun was completely grease-soaked, and (b) squish the hell of the the burger when wrapping it.  Why?  The result was somewhat underwhelming:


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            Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/3/12 4:21 PM (permalink)
            Great stuff- especially the burger section- I know Miller's has been mentioned previously on the forum- perhaps if I ever return to Detroit it will be a good respite from all the Coneys as well as Greek and Arab food I tend to consume there.

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              Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 8:59 AM (permalink)
              The Miller's burger that Buffetbuster featured in his year-end report also looked quite good.  I don't know if I'll ever get to Detroit but if I do Miller's will be on the short list of places to visit.

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                Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 9:05 AM (permalink)
                Hey, nice report...and now I'm hungry...guess what I'm having for lunch!!

                  Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 10:26 AM (permalink)
                  The night I sat at Miller's eating that hamburger, I just couldn't figure out why it tasted so fantastic.  You explained it perfectly and I'm glad it wasn't just my imagination.  Friends in Detroit don't hold Miller's in as high regard as we do, but it could be for that very same reason.
                  Thanks for doing a year end report.  The photos, especially of the donuts, area all drool-worthy.  Can't wait to see what you have next!

                    Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 11:35 AM (permalink)
                    Hmmmm, most of the Detroit-area folks I know either (a) love Miller's or (b) haven't been. 
                    I do have an offer, however, from a bar owner in Livonia (Mason's Bar and Grill) who wants to take me around to "All of the good burger joints I haven't reviewed yet."

                      Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 4:55 PM (permalink)
                      Next up in frequency was BBQ.  You can read about my trip to Austin, for example, in the Roadfood thread here, or more details from my blog here, but here are the highlights:
                      Best of show was clearly Franklin BBQ in Austin (full review here). Not only was their brisket the best, but everything else we had there was spot-on perfect:

                      Next up in quality was City Market in Luling, TX (full review here).  While most of the places we went in central TX were definitely brisket joints first, with the other various meats and sausages in second, City Market was reliable across the board, and IMHO, was second best in all categories:

                      Third, I'd give to Snow's BBQ in Lexington, TX (full review here). Since getting written up as the best BBQ place in Texas Monthly a while back, this sleepy saturday-only place in the middle of nowhere is now swamped with customers when they open at 9am, so if you're eating this fresh on the spot, it's definitely a breakfast of champions:

                      Next up is probably City Meat Market in Giddings, TX (full review here).  One of the few places that's also still a meat market (with, you know, raw meat), City Meat Market also had a thoroughly good brisket and ribs.  Oddly, I didn't like their sausage much.  That's odd, since it's the same sausage as Snow's (City Meat Market makes it for Snow's).  Show's what cooking can do.  But here's the beef:

                      Bonus points it City Meat Market for having one of the most serious-looking servers:

                      However, the year wasn't entirely about Texas BBQ.  I also found some decent BBQ near my house, served once a month out of the parking lot of the ice cream stand in Fairlee, VT, from the fine folks at Bare Bone BBQ (review here).  Like most BBQ I have in the Northeast, I always find myself using qualifiers like "Good, for New England", but they actually did a pretty good job:

                      Finally, a shout-out to one of the most hospitable restaurants I've ever been to, Greenhouse Tavern (review here) in Cleveland, who regularly invites me into the kitchen to see what they are up to.  While not really "barbecue", that's the closest category for this half-a-head-of-pig cooked with shrimp BBQ paste, that I'm still shocked is available as part of the $44 price fixe dinner:

                        The Travelin Man

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                        Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 5:15 PM (permalink)
                        I, too, tried City Meat Market in Giddings this year and agree that they are a notch above.  They don't get as much love as some of the other spots around central Texas, but they are a worthy stop on the Texas BBQ trail.

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                          Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 6:23 PM (permalink)
                          OK now I KNOW I need to make it to Texas this year.

                            Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/4/12 7:28 PM (permalink)
                            Texas was so good I'm planning on doing pretty much the same trip again in May

                              Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Fri, 01/6/12 2:30 PM (permalink)
                              Apparently I ate a lot of dessert this year, which isn't generally like me.
                              First, I'll start off with what was probably the best-executed overall dessert I had in 2011: an apple turnover with cardamom-spiced ice cream from AMP 150 in Cleveland (full review here):

                              Next up were several ice cream/gelato places.  Probably my favorite was a local one, Morano Gelato in Hanover, NH (review here).   In one of the better cases I've seen of a business self-starting itself, the owner Morgan Morana came back from living in Italy, wanted to start an authentic gelato shop here, and decided to just do it.  In 2010 she started with a freezer in a borrowed kitchen, selling at the local farmers market.  By the end of 2010 she was renting space out of the back of a coffee shop.  She now has her own shop, several employees, and expansion plans.  And the gelato is phenomenal:

                              I was also pleasantly impressed with an end-of-the-year discover in a quiet corner off downtown Scottsdale, AZ: Lee's Cream Liqueurs (review here).  Half of Lee's flavors are flavored with various liqueurs, and the results are actually quite good, like this chocolate swirl Jack Daniels:

                              Another place I finally managed to get back to, after several years' absence, was San Francisco's Bi-Rite Creamery (review here).  Known for good ice cream and long lines, I was very pleasantly surprised by their ice cream; no terribly exotic flavorful, but some seriously well-executed ice cream, like this mixed cone of malted vanilla and almond fudge swirl:

                              However, San Francisco also gave me a place with a mixed review:  Humphrey Slocombe in San Francisco (review here) had what I'd consider to be one of the most intriguing (and delicious) odd ice cream flavors I ran into this year: Secret Breakfast, which was bourbon and corn flakes.  The two flavors actually combined very nicely.  However, the actual ice cream was disappointing, it was overchurned and left a greasy mouthfeel (ick).  Too bad, since I think this would have been phenomenal if they had executed it a bit better:

                              And finally, another special shout out to Cleveland's Greenhouse Tavern, for the most interesting flavor combination I saw in 2011: buttered popcorn pot de creme with salted caramel.  This was exactly what they said it was... and it worked rather well:


                                Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Tue, 01/10/12 4:25 PM (permalink)
                                Next up?  Breakfast!
                                Starting out the year was Lincoln's Waffle House (review here, which is oddly enough the most-googled US restaurant on my blog).   Decent waffle and home fries, this place wouldn't get much notice from me, except that it's a rarity: a cheap breakfast joint in downtown DC.

                                Next up was Cambridge, MA for Friendly Toast (review here and later in the year, I did the Portsmouth, NH's location as well).  A simple dish, My breakfast at The Friendly Toast: Eggs in a Hole.  Two perfectly done, thick slabs of toast, with nicely cooked eggs in the middle.

                                Then, early this year, one of my favorite local joints, the Four Aces Diner, reopened after a series of closings and some rough years.  The new operators have taken things serious, and have really improved the menu with things like this Irish Breakfast with Bangers:

                                or this New England Benedict, with pot roast instead of ham:

                                My trip to San Francisco included a stop for breakfast at Plow (review here) for some breakfast the day after our 20 mile walk.  Eggs, lemon ricotta pancakes, home fries, and bacon (from Nueske's in WI, wow, that stuff gets around):

                                A trip down to MA at the last minute resulted in a stop in Derry at Mary Ann's Diner for another Benedict:

                                A special shout-out to Elliot Street Cafe in Brattleboro, VT (review here) for accomplishing two difficult things:  (a) having a bisquit in New England that didn't immediately make me want to send the kitchen staff someplace South for remedial biscuit making lessons, and (b) having the most interesting combination of flavors with apple butter, white cheddar, and bacon:

                                And I had a morning to escape from the SO's parents in Detroit, so we went out for breakfast to Taqueria Lupitas (review here) for Huevos con Chorizo:


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                                  Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/11/12 8:09 AM (permalink)
                                  That New England Benedict looks like a great way to use leftover pot roast!  I'm glad to see that your breakfasts emphasize eggs and meats over fruit.
                                  By any chance is there a link between the name "Humphrey Slocombe" and the venerable BBC comedy "Are You Being Served", which featured the characters "Mr. Humphries" and "Mrs. Slocombe"?

                                    Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Wed, 01/11/12 9:47 AM (permalink)
                                    Yes, they are named after the Are You Being Served characters. 

                                      Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Sat, 01/14/12 1:36 PM (permalink)
                                      Fantastic photos!  The one that really got me is from Morano Gelato.  I think I would have to try everything!.
                                      Glad to hear that new ownership has Four Aces Diner reopened and improved.  I had read some not so good things about the place previously. 

                                        Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Sat, 01/14/12 1:48 PM (permalink)
                                        Very nice.  Thank you.

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                                          Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Sat, 01/14/12 2:00 PM (permalink)
                                          Wow...and a Waffle House breakfast, too. Great that Eggs Benedict, New England style!

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                                            Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Sat, 01/14/12 2:13 PM (permalink)
                                            Fantastic photos!  Thank you so much for sharing with us.  I love the varied reviews of tastes and places.
                                            Excellent job.

                                              Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Thu, 01/19/12 11:23 AM (permalink)
                                              My next category is hidden gems, those places that are easy to drive by and ignore unless you either (a) find out about them from someone else, or (b) decide to be really adventurous.
                                              First up: The Famous Hartland Roast Beef Supper in Hartland, VT (review here).  Almost every weekend around here in late winter, harvest, and game seasons, there are a wide variety of community breakfasts and dinners, sponsored by a wide variety of local organization, churches, fire departments, and clubs, all of which provide a good way to meet a good cross-section of local society, as well as have a good hearty meal. While there are many such local dinners, however, quality really can run the gamut from “cheap spaghetti dinner” (most fall into this category, food-wise) up to “homemade top-notch feast”.  The Hartland Roast Beef Supper is a fine example of the best that church basement food has to offer:

                                              Next up is Oga's in Natick, MA (Review here).  Nestled in a little strip mall that's very easy to miss, I drove by Oga's literally hundreds of times before noticing that several online sites give it good reviews.  This little strip mall sushi joint has some outstandingly good sashimi plates:

                                              And this was the year of the food truck as well.  Little did I know that the best fish and chips I've had in several years (including several trips to England) would come from a food truck in Austin.  Bits and Druthers (review here) did the difficult task of perfectly frying up both haddock and the chips (my general observation is that, due to fish requiring one oil temperature, and chips another, most places that can do one well do the other mediocre):

                                              Austin was also responsible for one of the odder, but more delicious, fusion foods I had.  Served out of the Chil-Lantro Korean BBQ Taco Truck in Austin (review here), their kimchi fries (fries served up with pork bulgoki, kimchi, cheddar cheese, and some sort of weird orange "magic sauce") were ambrosial:

                                              Finally, while I've seen them on menus several places, I finally had really well done polenta fries at Pi Bar (review here) in San Francisco, with the outside perfectly crisped while keeping the interior nicely soft.  The pizza wasn't bad, either.


                                                Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Thu, 01/19/12 12:29 PM (permalink)
                                                The polenta fries look great...what's the accompanying sauce?

                                                  Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Thu, 01/19/12 2:01 PM (permalink)

                                                  The polenta fries look great...what's the accompanying sauce?

                                                  A basic marinara.

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                                                    Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Thu, 01/19/12 2:15 PM (permalink)
                                                    Wow,,,I want those polenta bars...nice change from cheese sticks!!

                                                      Re:Kaszeta's 2011 in review... Thu, 01/26/12 9:22 AM (permalink)
                                                      Time to finish off my 2011 review by hitting some of the random highlights:
                                                      Probably my best overall sandwich of the year goes to this Pork and Cheese sandwich from Mission Cheese in San Francisco (review here).  Gruyere, salami, cornichons, and mustard.  Very good:

                                                      However, it only slightly nudged out the second best sandwich of the year, and one of my most guilty pleasures: a Roast Pork with Sharp Provolone and Broccoli Rabe from Tony Luke's in Philly (review here).  I was lucky enough to score three of these bad boys this year (once on vacation, twice on business trips):

                                                      Best fries?  These fries from the fairly new Republic Cafe in Manchester, NH (review here), tossed with fried capers, and served with a nice meyer lemon aioli:

                                                      Best pizza?  That one's really hard, but I'll have to give it to Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix (review here).  This trio of pizzas (margherita, a wiseguy (sausage and roasted onion), and a Rosa (pistachio and rosemary) was outstanding, and the Rosa remains one of my favorite pizzas of all time:

                                                      Most creative combination of flavors?  That one would have to go to my black pudding and apple appetizer at Pig's Ear in Dublin, Ireland (review here).  Perfectly done black pudding:

                                                      And finally, my best surprise dish (something that I thought I wouldn't like, but did) goes to these sardine toasts from Contigo in San Francisco (review here).  Despite my rather strong dislike of both sardines and avocado, these were really delicious:

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