Sunday, October 31, 2010

City House - Nashville

It’s been a few years since I was in Nashville. I think the last time was spring of 2003 and that was for Rites of Spring, Pearl Jam, and Buffet. A lot has changed since then and this time instead of a concert, I was on my way to a wedding. Unfortunately the wedding wasn’t in Nashville, it was in Toledo. With no interest in flying to Detroit, I decided the best way to get to northern Ohio was to drive and that mean I needed a good stopping point. Enter the city of Nashville.

Knowing I would be stopping in my Nashville, I decided to call the only person I knew in the city, Shelley. Sorority sister to my sister Jennifer, I was almost positive that Shelley would be racked with work from her firm and unable to join me for dinner. Imagine my surprise when Shelley said dinner would be great. It was a win-win situation. I would have a companion for dinner and Jennifer would be jealous.

Not knowing the Nashville’s dining landscape, I immediately started browsing through chowhound for suggestions. With some vague idea of what I was looking for, Shelley and I began batting around ideas. I was looking for something unique to Nashville preferably with some house charcuterie. Shelley suggested City House and I had heard good things from Chowhound.

After finding a spot on the street, I was happy to walk into City House and see an open kitchen. Shelley and her friend Amy had beaten me there and had already started on a bottle of wine. Once I had a little drink of my own, I took the time to look over the menu. I was immediately torn over an appetizer. Stuck between house cured salami and house cured lonza, I eventually settled on the House Cured Salami with WisAntigo cheese.

Described as a Venetian Style salami with flavors like nutmeg, garlic, clove, and cayenne, I was curious how this salami would actually taste.

Each slice was heavy on the clove and ginger but a nice salami regardless.

The oddly carved chunks of WisAntigo cheese were a nice companion although I found the two were best taken separately otherwise all I could taste was the cheese.

Hoping that Shelley and Amy would help me, I decided I had to try one of the pizzas, particularly the House Made Belly Ham, Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Oregano, and Chilies pizza.

Seeing the blisters from the heat, I was already a fan of the crust on the pizza.

With a spicy chili oil and a relatively subtle cheese this wasn’t a half bad pizza. Unfortunately, the bacon was all but missing from this pie. Sure there were a few pieces but they were lost in the combination of cheese and chilies.

I suppose it was an absentminded coincidence, but I finished the house made trio with the House Made Sausage with Onion Agrodolce and horseradish.

The sausage was plainly the best of the house made trio. Juicy and peppery, it seemed like more than the advertized eight ounces.

As for the onion agrodolce, I loved the condensed flavors, but it was served stone cold. I asked the waiter if that was intentional and he in turn asked the kitchen. He said room temperature was to be expected but these onions had a chill to them. Even with cold onions, when combined with the sausage, it was a worthwhile entrée.

Having heard great things about the sides, I decided that the grits would work very well with the sausage and onions.

Creamy, cheesy but distinctly reminiscent of Quaker Oats instant grits, needless to say, I left these grits to their own devices.

At that point, I thought we had ordered plenty, but when Shelley and Amy suggested dessert, I was a pushover. Looking through the dessert menu, I was immediately drawn to the dessert cocktails section. I normally stay away from noxiously sweet drinks, but the I.M.T.R. made with Jack Daniel’s Cream and Root Beer sounded too interesting to pass up.

Named after our waiter’s pet rabbit, the I.M.T.R. (International Monster Truck Rally) was definitely creamy, but overly orange. I had a hard time accepting that orange peel dominated that much, but it did and the whole drink tasted like an Orange White Russian. Actually make that an Orange White Russian made with skim milk.

As long as I had crossed the line into dessert territory with that cocktail, I figured I should dive in head first. For me that mean seeing just how good the Chocolate, Pecan + Poppy Torta with Chocolate Ganache and Coffee Syrup was.

With everyone sharing desserts, we quickly agreed this was a lot like a flourless Chocolate cake.

Actually I thought it was undercooked but delicious nevertheless. Granted it’s hard to go wrong chocolate ganache and coffee syrup.

I might have to chalk up some points for the amicable company, but I really enjoyed City House. Yes there were a few setbacks like the missing bacon on the pizza, the cold onion agrodolce, the watery cocktail, but the good far outweighed the bad. In the end, City House was a fine way to reintroduce myself to the city of Nashville.

City House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Miller's Grill Downtown - Jackson

Next stop on the search for downtown eats is Miller’s Grill. I can’t say I know much about the history of Miller’s Grill, but judging by the weekday lunch crowd, the place is popular. Once again Carpe Jackson beat me to the punch on Miller’s Grill, but I wanted to see how this griddled and fried lunch tastes firsthand.

I never know where to start with a place like Miller’s Grill. There’s so much to choose from. There’s New York Style Pizza by the slice, plate lunches, burgers, salads and the full bounty of the fryer, but where better to start than with the almighty Cheese Steak?

In this instance served with a side of Sloppy Fries, it looked like your typical cardiologist’s nightmare.

Let’s start with the fries; they’re cut large and left unpeeled. Covered with a relatively beefy gravy and two slices of Swiss that saw three seconds on the griddle, it’s not a bad accompaniment to the cheese steak, it just leaves me wanting. Every time I have something like this, it makes hungry for an order of poutine, something that just doesn’t exist this far south.

As for the cheese steak, it all starts with that big greasy roll. Of course, the roll is going to be greasy when it’s warmed on the griddle.

Inside the roll is your usual standard of chopped steak, caramelized onions, and peppers.

I was actually a little surprised to see red and green peppers and mushrooms as standard on a Philly Cheese Steak. Actually this is pretty far from a proper Philly Cheese Steak, missing are the cherry peppers (replaced by banana peppers), the wiz (replaced with a few disappointing slices of Swiss), and mushrooms are added from the start. Still, it’s hard to find a good cheese steak outside of Pennsylvania so this will have to work. It’s still a beefy, greasy sandwich and that’s what matters.

The second time around, I decided to see what sort of burgers Miller’s Grill had to offer. With your usual selection of hamburger, cheeseburger, and double cheeseburger, there were a couple of standouts, the Miller’s Melt and the Bigg’s Phat Burger. The Miller’s Melt was essentially a patty melt with grilled onions while the Bigg’s Phat Burger was an over the top bacon cheeseburger with Miller’s Comeback.

Remembering the sidelined Bacon Cheeseburger Quest, I knew the Phat Burger was on the only way to go and doesn’t it look good and greasy inside that waxed paper?

Having been so compacted, it’s not that photogenic.

After seeing the burger being made, I had prepared myself for disappointment. I realize going in with low expectations isn’t the best way to start a meal, but when I saw the burgers had been precooked and left to simmer in a steamer tray, I knew there was little hope for this burger. Once the order was made two of the patties were fished from the bath and seared on the griddle.

I know that Miller’s Grill does this to save time, but it really ruins the potential for a great burger. Well, the bacon that was all salt didn’t help its chances either, not to mention the missing comeback dressing. Truthfully it’s an ok burger, but it’s disappointing to see the wasted potential for a proper, well cooked griddle burger.

With the Bigg’s Phat Burger failing to live up to its potential, I had high hopes for an order of the Fried Chicken Tender Basket.

You know what they say about setting yourself up for disappointment?

The chicken was crispy. Yep, it was crispy, dry, overcooked, and under seasoned

I was curious to see how this fries were when they were unadorned with cheese and gravy. Well, it’s another let down. The fries are too thick, limp, poorly cooked, but topped with a great seasoning.

As with any good downtown eatery, takeout is always a viable option. So for my third look at Miller’s Grill, I ate my lunch out of Styrofoam starting with a Jane’s Club.

Turkey, ham, bacon and melted cheese on a 9 inch hoagie, it’s a lot of food for the money.

I accidentally ordered mine as just meat and cheese. Oh well, it was still pretty tasty for hot cold cuts and cheese.

It was after the “club” sandwich that I found the real Achilles’ heel of Miller’s Grill…their pizza. With the pizza served by the slice, I had the opportunity to try a fair number of their styles beginning with the Miller’s Meat Market Pizza.

True to the name, there is a lot of pepperoni, ham, bacon, and ground beef on this slice of pizza.

Unfortunately the dough is simply terrible. More akin to cardboard than pizza crust, the pizza isn’t helped by the complete lack of sauce and insipid manufactured cheese.

I had little hope for the next slice, pepperoni.

Amazingly, this slice had a better sauce and there actually was a decent amount. Outside of that, it was the same packing material crust and prison grade cheese.

How about a slice of the daily special pizza, the Bacon Double Cheeseburger?

I’ve seen this before in Jackson, at Pizza Shack. With Miller’s version you get ground beef, sautéed onions, mozzarella, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and hickory bacon.

Looks are not deceiving here. It’s another slice that’s been under a heat lamp for too long. Even with that list of burger worthy ingredients, it’s a boring blend of flavors.

Well, after that foray into the Miller’s Grill version of the pizza pie, I can say there’s a good rule of thumb here: stick to the fried or griddled foods. Miller’s Grill isn’t a bad lunch spot. It’s fast, relatively cheap, and staffed with friendly, helpful people. It’s just that a lot of the food is made for speed and quantity, not quality. I hate to say it, but the whole restaurant leave me feeling a little blasé. I’m not really sure what Carpe Jackson saw in the place. I think I’ll keep looking for something better for lunch.

Miller's Grill Downtown on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

La Petite Grocery - New Orleans

The first time I tried to eat at La Petite Grocery, I was foiled by a small sheet of paper taped to the front door, but this wasn’t any ordinary sheet of paper; it bared the unfortunate news that La Petite Grocery was closed for a summer vacation. I was devastated and a little confused. If they were closed, why could I still make reservations on Open Table? Nevertheless, the fates smiled upon me that trip and I enjoyed the fruits of Susan Spicer’s labor at Bayona. This last time in Nola, I had La Petite Grocery on my mind and there was no summer vacation standing in my way.

True to its name, there originally was a grocery in this building on Magazine Street, but since 2004 it has bore the name La Petite Grocery. With a decently sized bar section and equally ample dining area, the grocery seemed a little empty for a 12:30 lunch. No worry, I was much more interested in the lunch menu than décor or crowd sizes.

Almost immediately, I was presented with a rather sizable problem. I was interested in nearly every dish on the menu. Racked with indecision, I decided the only way to solve my problem was to try as much as possible, starting with the Lobster Beignets.
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Served on top of a spicy remoulade, I wouldn’t really call it a beignet.
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With a thin, incredibly crunchy skin, and a creamy filling, it was more like a stuffed fritter.
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Regardless of nomenclature, it was delicious. The remoulade provided a wonderful tartness and a little spice, the filling was full of delicate lobster meat, and the thin, crispy shell was the perfect vehicle.

Abita Root Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs were the next appetizer I had to try.
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I was amazed at just how viscous the root beer reduction was, like old motor oil, but more appetizing.
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Accompanied by a potato croquette and house pickles, this was an excellent use of short ribs.
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With the first bite there was the delicious crust on the beef with a meltingly tender interior.
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Truthfully, the middles of the short ribs were a little dry, but all qualms were eased by a liberal application of that delectable root beer reduction.

Showing some modicum of moderation, I made sure to order only three appetizers, the third being the Pork Cheeks.
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I think cheeks is a bit of a misnomer. With only one on the plate, it was still an impressive site when served on top of fried polenta with green tomato jam and smoked jus.
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With a deliciously thick pork flavor and crust on the cheek, it was nicely contrasted by the silky fried polenta and rather subtle tomato jam. I really enjoyed this dish, but it had a hard time comparing to the bolder flavors of the short ribs.

I really can’t leave well enough alone. A thorough sampling of the appetizer section should have been more than sufficient, but I was intrigued by the idea of the Local Shrimp & Grits entrée.
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Paired with shiitake mushrooms, smoked bacon, and thyme, it had all the makings of a great bowl of shrimp and grits. With a slightly earthy aroma, these grits were creamy if a bit bland. The bacon pieces were meaty and chewy, but the shrimp were perfectly cooked.
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I was a fan of how the mushrooms added an extra dimension of meatiness to the dish, but I was soon overwhelmed with just how rich everything was. This bowl was crying out for some spice, if only to break up the endless assault of richness. Some black pepper helped, but this needed a good dose of hot sauce or at least a little cayenne.
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Even with these faults, I couldn’t stop myself from finishing most of it.

Was lunch at La Petite Grocery worth the wait? Absolutely, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to the grocery or to recommend it. Even with a few negatives to the dishes, there was just so much overall quality that I’m regretting not trying some of the other dishes, particularly the LPG Cheeseburger and the Hand-Made Spaghetti. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what La Petite Grocery has in store for next time. Hopefully there won’t be a summer vacation to get in my way.

La Petite Grocery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dairy Palace - Canton, TX

Situated about an hour on the east side of Dallas, Canton, Texas doesn’t seem like much more than a dot on the map. Known for its first Monday flea markets, Canton has always been a pit stop for me. Whenever the family would load up the suburban and head to Dallas, there would always be a stop in Canton. We formed a comfortable rut in this little town. The stop included the same Shell station and the same incredibly polite register attendant, but we never really stopped at the Dairy Palace. Situated next to the Shell station, the Dairy Palace touted itself as World Famous and proudly advertised their freshly ground beef. With no real memory of Dairy Palace fare, I decided that on this latest trip to Dallas, I would take a look at what Dairy Palace had to offer.

The first thing you notice about the menu at Dairy Palace is the sheer variety that they offer. Not only do they run the gamut of burgers from the diminutive 1/5 lb burger to the garden, salon, catfish, bison and veggie burgers, but there was a section for Super Sandwiches, Mexican Food, Country Breakfasts, Hot Dogs, and Entrees. It really was a taste of Texas fast food cuisine.

Looking to a get a broad sampling of Dairy Palace’s World Famous Hamburgers, I decided to go with a trio of the 1/5 lb burgers starting with the Bacon Burger.

With three big slices of crispy, smoky bacon, the 1/5 lb patty was a complete afterthought with this burger. However even on its own the patty wasn’t that great. It had been griddled to order but not very well. Actually, if it wasn’t for the mustard and pickles providing a foil to the cured pork, this would have passed for a bacon sandwich.

A 1/5 lb Chili Burger was the second in the trio.

Here, a beefy chili dominated the first of each bite until the mustard and pickles brought up the rear. This wasn’t a particularly spicy chili, but a dynamite burger topping.

Hoping for a little Texas magic with chili peppers, the Jalapeno Burger was the last to arrive.

I was disappointed from the start. Instead of the jalapenos being incorporated into the patty, they had been slapped on like an afterthought.

Even with the letdown of the pickled jalapenos, this was still a pretty good patty, but as you can see, not well cooked. It actually looks like it was only cooked, or at least browned on one side.

What better to go with a trio of burgers than a chili cheese dog?

It’s a Foot Long Chili Cheese Dog. A plain jane burger with nacho cheese and decent chili, there's nothing much to see here.

One thing that really caught my eye about the Dairy Palace was the selection of side orders.

It may have been nine years since 9/11 and seven years since the beginning of the Iraq war, but The Dairy Palace still proudly serves Freedom Fries. This was the first time I actually saw this on a menu, and Freedom Fries are neither crisp nor well salted.

Having come away relatively disappointed from the food at the Dairy Palace, I knew there was one thing that would lighten the mood, ice cream!

A scoop of pistachio and a scoop of coffee Blue Bell ice cream for the road seemed like a fitting way to begin the trip back to Jackson. As much as I and my family are creatures of habit, there was a good reason that we never made the Dairy Palace a part of our Dallas trips, it just isn’t very good. Being only an hour from Dallas, it’s an easy decision to wait a little while for better food.

Dairy Palace Restaurant-Canton on Urbanspoon