Thursday, May 31, 2012

Casamento's - New Orleans

If you mention the word oysters in relation to New Orleans restaurants, the floodgates will open. From on the half shall at Desire and ACME on Bourbon to po-boys at Domilise’s to char grilled at Drago’s, there’s an oyster outlet for every palette. However, no matter how assorted the opinions, one name will invariably pop up in every conversation, Casamento’s. Started in 1919 and only open from September to April, or months with an “r”, Casamento’s has been covered in every medium; from the spiky haired pillock on the Food Network to Playboy to local bloggers such as Blackened Out and Nojuju. Needless to say, Casemento’s has long more than deserved a visit but until this April, I’ve never had the chance. Either through the time of year, day of the week, or time of day, I’ve never opened the door into the white tiled restaurant. Finally, armed a long weekend, I was bound and determined to make Casamento’s my first stop in New Orleans.

After finding a surprisingly convenient parking spot on magazine and a short wait in line, it was simply a matter of choosing what to order.
In the meantime, an Abita Andygator helped the process.

Call it blasphemy, but I do not like gulf oysters on the half shell. Even though Casamento’s is known for quality oysters and a dynamite cocktail sauce, I started with a cup of the oyster stew.
Labeling this a stew seemed like a bit of a stretch but there was no denying the appeal of butter, milk, and oyster liquor.
Before stirring, it actually looked like the butterfat had separated from the stew.
Needing a little salt, this stem was simple and rich.  Complimenting the richness were a few plump but overcooked oysters. Even with the oyster’s chalky texture, this was a stew for oyster lovers.

Knowing that Casamento’s is famous for their oyster loaf, ordering one was a foregone conclusion but I was hung up on the seasonal offering of soft shell crabs. Earning her tips with polite service and helpful attitude, my waitress suggested making the best of both worlds with a half oyster and half soft shell loaf.
A lion’s share of fried oysters and soft shell sandwiched between incredibly thick slices of lightly toasted white bread, this half and half loaf was a monster.
Fresh from the fryer and still steaming, these oysters were plump and well seasoned.
I’ve said that the best a gulf oyster can hope for is to be well-fried and these were a find example of the breed.

Of course, there’s still another half of the sandwich.
Much like the oysters, the soft shell was beautifully fried and not too heavily seasoned.
Each bite was a chance for the flavor of the crab to shine through and it did in spades. This was little more than a light dusting of cornmeal and the crab’s own briny flavor.

Some might say that half the charm of Casamento’s is their seasonal novelty but any restaurant than can close for three months of the year and still remain viable must be doing something else right. What Casamento’s does is celebrate the bounty of the gulf, particularly the oyster. Raw, fried, stewed, or char grilled, Casamento’s has cemented itself as a New Orleans destination for the bivalve. I may have eaten better oyster po-boys in the city but there’s little doubt that Casamento’s is worth the wait and effort, just be sure to bring cash.

Casamento’s Address & Information
Casamento's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moe's Original BBQ - Birmingham

Chalk it up to convenience. Jon and I were in town for the Indy race but before the morning trip to Barber Motorsports Park, a night of revelry was in order. Focusing our sights on the strip of bars on 29th street, it wasn’t until after our second bar that we decided that finding something for dinner would be a prudent decision. Sadly, Chez Fonfon was reporting an hour wait and Open Table wasn’t being much help. However, it just so happened that a few bartenders had recommended Moe’s Original BBQ as one of the better bbq joints in the city and, lucky us, it was on 29th street.

Packed to the gills, it looked like people were at Moe’s more for a good time than bbq but I still volunteered to stand in line while Jon went to find a table. After a short wait, I placed the order and with a few beers in hand, it was just a matter of finding where Jon had claimed a table.
It’s always good to try a bit of the local brew; I want to say this was an ipa from Good People Brewing Company.

While we watched Kentucky take on Louisville, our order of bbq arrived at the table.
I hoped the combination of pulled pork and ribs would give a good look at how Moe’s approaches bbq.
From the first bite, it was obvious that these ribs had been overcooked. Offering no resistance, the meat fell off the bones at the slightest tug.
The ribs may have had a slightly chalky texture but there was a nice chili pepper flavor to the bbq sauce.

A standard bbq side option, Moe’s mac & cheese was a sight.
Lacking any cheese taste, this was simply a cup of oily noodles.

After the ribs, I was hoping for better luck with pulled pork.
Without any sauce to hide the flaws, this pork was in the same boat as the ribs, chalky and overcooked. Truly good pulled pork shouldn’t require a bbq sauce crutch, but this pulled pork sorely needed it.

That brings me to the redneck nachos, a dish where Moe’s bbq finally made sense.
With this plate, the pulled pork has the aid of a black pepper and chili riddled bbq sauce, thick chips and a variety of toppings.
There may not have been enough pork to cover every chip but the cheese, tomatoes, onions, and bbq sauce more than more made up for it.

That Saturday night was a perfect illustration of what this Moe’s location is about. The porch was packed, there was band upstairs, and there was line for every table. Moe’s Original BBQ is a bar that happens to serve bbq. When judged on its barbeque, Moe's is the definition of mediocrity, but put in the context of a busy Saturday night, the beer and redneck nachos are a fine combination.

Moe’s Original BBQ Address & Information
Moe's Original BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Local Three - Atlanta

I’ll have to admit that I didn't know much about Local Three, a venture between the owners of Muss & Turner's and Chef Chris Hall, aside from the fact it occupied the space where Restaurant Joel once stood. However a lack of background is no good reason to miss out on a restaurant especially with a few mouth watering pictures from Chow Down Atlanta to tempt the tastebuds. With my sister guiding the way through the office park and building, we passed through a distinct wooden door and into a world of black velvet Elvises, portraits of the Dude, humorous pig paintings, and a little food on the side.

Chalk it up to Jennifer that the first dish on the table was an order of the house made pretzel.
Plump, golden brown, and covered with salt, I wasn’t prepared for this pretzel to be so overdone.
Dense and stale, this pretzel was a disappointing start to the meal.
If anything stood out, it was the mustard. Sweet without any biting nasal heat, this mustard was different from what I’ve tried with other Atlanta pretzels.

If Jennifer’s to blame for the pretzel, then the #47, aka The Jack Burton char sui bun was on me.
Beneath the plastic sheen of the bun was a generous filling of sauce logged, sweet and completely dry pork.
Even with the overflowing sauce and a dunk in the hoisin flavored dipping sauce, the chalky texture of this pork was impossible to miss.

While the first two dishes weren’t giving much confidence in Local Three, the braised beef short rib stepped in to curry favor.
Served with Ben’s “Kimchi” and spice route glaze, whatever that means, this short rib ticked all the right boxes, tender, juicy, and brimming with beef flavor.
For something labeled as kimchi, even in quotation marks, I was surprised at the lack of potent flavors. Every flavor in the plate served to further the short rib, not what I was expecting but still a fine result.

Moving back to the Snacks section of the menu, a Todd’s brisket hot dog was next.
Pickled vegetables, poppy seeds, and a holla’ bun complimented a well made dog.
The casing carried a satisfying snap with each bite while plenty of deep brisket flavor finished.  The creamy sauce and poppy seeds were a nice touch but I found the bun to be cumbersome even for a hot dog of this size.

As you might expect from a place with pig paraphernalia on the wall, Local Three has a healthy portion of their menu dedicated to pork. Titled The Notorious P.I.G., the charcuterie plate was where Local Three really began to shine.
Thinly sliced coppa, a pork terrine, and three different types of salami made for $15 well spent.
The coppa was sweet and meaty with a salty tail.
By far the richest thing on the plate, the slice of pork terrine was composed of thick, coarsely ground pork that tasted gelatinous, fatty, and herby. As good as the pork terrine was, the supplied cornichons were necessary to reel in the borderline excessive flavors.
Two types of cured pork salami, one dominated by garlic and rosemary and the other pork and black pepper.
A deep red, this salami did not disappoint. Each piece was bright and spicy with a lingering heat.

Rounding out the night was an order of the crispy duck leg cassoulet.
Complete with white beans, sausage, herbs, and a crusty baguette, the duck was the highlight of the dish. A thick and crispy skin concealed a wealth of succulent  meat. As for the rest of the cassoulet, thick white beans dominated, but every few bites, a piece of sausage made it worthwhile.

Despite ordering far too much food for three people, we still left large swaths of the Local Three menu untouched. From what we did try, I would call dinner at Local Three a success. There may have been a few low points, but on the whole, Local Three is another welcome addition to the growing ranks of Atlanta new-southern, farm to table, etc restaurants. Local Three deserves a second visit if only to see their take on the classic burger..  

Local Three Address & Information
Local Three Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Atkins Park Tavern - Atlanta

I’m a sucker for any restaurant with a bit of history and Atkins Park Tavern has it in spades. Originally opened as a deli in 1922, Atkins Park Tavern has the distinction of being Atlanta’s oldest continually operating tavern and a pillar of the Virginia Highlands community. All history aside, it was a rainy day in late December and Jennifer and I were looking for a lunch spot on the way out of town. Atkins Park Tavern fit the bill and after braving the rain, I was ready to see what Atlanta’s oldest restaurant and chef Andrew Smith had to offer.

You could call it an effort to fully embrace the upscale tavern approach of Atkins Park or it could just be the lure of a classic cooking technique, but I zeroed in on the confit wings.
Slow fried in duck fat and coated in sweet chili garlic sauce, I imagine this is what chicken wings want to be when they grow up.
While the skin wasn’t particularly crispy, the sheer silkiness and tenderness of the meat completely overshadowed any shortcomings.
Sweet and just a little spicy, it’s not hyperbole to say that these were the most tender and juiciest chicken wings I’ve ever eaten.

Ridiculous as it may sound, one order of fried chicken wasn’t enough as an entrĂ©e of southern fried chicken was next.
If fried chicken wasn’t enough, the topping of chicken gravy certainly put it over the top.
Beneath the thick gravy and even thicker fried breading, there wasn’t much flavor to this chicken breast.
However, Atkins Park Tavern neatly avoided the pitfalls of dry, overcooked white meat. So while the chicken may have gotten second billing to the gravy and batter, it certainly fit bill as well made southern fried chicken.

If you’re going to go overboard, you might as well dive in headfirst.
Yes, that’s a side of mac & cheese with the gravy covered fried chicken. The cheese on top may have been a bit oily, but there was a rich, slightly soupy cheese sauce beneath. As for the green beans, they were a nice side dish but they were completely overshadowed by the chicken and gravy.

Two versions of fried chicken hardly seem like fair criteria to judge a restaurant, but I think they somehow represent what Atkins Park Tavern is to the Highlands. I wouldn’t call Atkins Park a gastropub, more a nice tavern that happens to serve very good food. I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to eat there again, but if I were in the neighborhood, it would be a top choice. That being said, curiosity for grass-fed beef burgers may well get the best of me.

Atkins Park Tavern Address & Information
Atkins Park Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tartufo - Atlanta

It’s time for the latest installment of Pizza in Atlanta. In this episode, we found ourselves on Piedmont Road where Mounir Barhoumi and Salem Makhlouf, owners of La Fourchette, have added a Neapolitan-style pizza parlor to the same building as their bistro. With favorable preliminary findings from Foodie Buddha and Eat It, Atlanta, I was happy to endure a short wait for pizza at the La Fourchette bar.

Drinks finished and the novelty of salad served on a peel wearing thin, it was time to pick out a few pizzas. Saving the white pizzas for a later date, the relatively plain Romana was our first pizza.
Topped with little more than San Marzano tomato, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil, the Romana seemed like the perfect opportunity to let the crust either sink or swim.
A thin but bright tomato sauce was well complimented by the pungency of garlic and herby oregano.
While the thick on the rim, thin in the middle crust featured a well-charred underbelly, the flavor wasn’t as fully developed as I was expecting.

Looking to satisfy our urges for spiciness, a Calabrese finished our first meal at Tartuffo.
Aside from the toppings, this pizza has a thicker, slightly soggier crust than the first.
The thin slices of spicy salami packed the necessary zip of heat, but I was missing the pepperonata peppers that I’ve come to enjoy on so many other Atlanta pizzas.

Satisfying but not spectacular pizzas are all well and good, but where does this leave Tartufo in a city that is spoiled for pizza? If anything Tartufo was in a class of its own for its Buckhead location (prior to the opening of Fuoco di Napoli), but I’m afraid there just isn’t enough to make Tartufo stand out from the crowd. That being said, while I may still claim Antico and Cibo e Beve as two of my favorite pizzas in Atlanta if I need a quality pizza in the heart of Buckhead, Tartufo is a fine choice.

Tartufo Address & Information
Tartufo Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Farm Burger Buckhead - Atlanta

Sometime last fall, Farm Burger, the Decatur restaurant that preaches the good word about grass fed beef and respecting where your food comes from, decided to expand to a second location in the heart of Buckhead. Even though my visit to the original Farm Burger location had produced less than stellar results, I was still curious to see if that foray had been an overcooked fluke. Taking a break from Christmas shopping and braving the watery weather, I stopped by the new Farm Burger in the middle of their lunch rush.

Lunch rush or not, the staff at Farm Burger handled the crowds with ease and it wasn’t 10 minutes before I went from the back of the line to seated and waiting for my order, but before I could delve back into the world of grass-fed beef, an order of pimento cheese fries with pickled jalapenos was brought to my table.
I have to admit I was disappointed to see the pickled jalapenos had just been slapped onto top of the fries. I had hopes of them being minced and a part of the pimento cheese, but no matter.
While the fries were limp and pretty insipid, the combination of pickled jalapenos and well melted pimento cheese turned out spectacularly. This one two punch of richness and spiciness did come with a narrow window of opportunity as the cheese quickly turned clumpy, but when hot, it was pretty damn good.

Since I ordered my own burger topping combination the last time, I decided to try No 1 The Farm Burger to see just how well Grafton smoked white cheddar, caramelized onions, FB sauce, and local bacon would work together.
I’m happy to report that this burger far surpassed my experience at the Decatur location as this burger was juicier, but it was still missing the big beefy flavor and well seared crust that I was hoping to find.
One reason this burger was so much juicier and moister than the first was due to the FB sauce and caramelized onions. These two toppings did the lion’s share of keeping this burger rich while the thick local bacon added a nice dimension of smokiness.

Even though this second time had far outweighed the first, I couldn’t help but wonder why the burgers at Farm Burger were completely overcooked. Fortunately, the good people behind Eat It, Atlanta offered some startling insight into the cooking habits of the Farm Burger kitchen staff. After being seared, smashed, baked, smashed, flipped, smashed, smashed again, and broiled with cheese, it’s no wonder that these grass fed burgers had given up the ghost. Sadly, I once again left Farm Burger feeling more than a little bit disappointed. I love the idea behind the restaurant, particularly the celebration of well-reared beef, but there are simply better burgers to be had in Atlanta.

Farm Burger Buckhead Address & Information
Farm Burger on Urbanspoon