Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Zimmer's Seafood - New Orleans

In the nearly four years since I first began writing posts for this blog, I’ve run the po-boy gamut. The pursuit of an excellent version of the Nola masterpiece has carried me to, what sometimes seems like, every corner of New Orleans and even to various outlets across the southeastern US. Inside that multitude of sandwiches was stuffed nearly every filling imaginable; roast beef, shrimp, lobster, ham, French fries, duck, suckling pig, the list goes on and on. However, looking back, I don’t remember ever actively searching for a fish po-boy. I have nothing against a fish sandwich, particularly one that’s well cooked, but it’s never really been at the top of my list. Well, it was time for things to change. Sam and I were in New Orleans for the day and after some prodding from Serious Eats, we decided to look up Zimmer’s Seafood, a Gentilly market that is known for their fish po-boys.

One thing that threw me off guard about Zimmer’s Seafood was their storefront. I had expected the bounty of Louisiana’s waters to be on display, but I was surprised at the lack of tables. Not wanting to turn down the promise of a quality po-boy because of no seating options, Sam and I took our order to the parking lot and ate from the back of my car.

Ever the indecisive individual, I rationalized that a ½ shrimp, half fish po-boy would give the best chance to see Zimmer’s Seafood at their best.
Stuffed into a seeded, Italian-style loaf from nearby Gendusa’s Bakery, there was no shortage of seafood in this po-boy.
It may not be Parkway levels of overflow, but there was a sizeable amount of well-sized shrimp.
Still crispy from the fryer, these shrimp had a cornmeal and flour batter with just a hint of peppery spice.  Perfectly briny on their own, the shrimp were quickly relegated to the background when subjected to the ketchup and hot sauce in the po-boy.

Half the po-boy finished, it was time to move on to the fish.
Like the shrimp, this fish had a slightly spicy batter, but the subtle yet forward flavor of these tender, flakey catfish filets far exceeded that of the shrimp.
With sheer quantity and size on their side, these catfish filets did a much better job of standing up to the liberal doses of ketchup and hot sauce.

I suppose it’s time to face the burning question, was Zimmer’s Seafood worth the effort? Did that half shrimp, half fish po-boy warrant a special trip to Gentilly?  For me, probably not, but there’s no denying that Zimmer’s Seafood certainly sells a quality sandwich and, from now on, I can’t be so flippant in dismissing the idea of a fish po-boy. That being said, if I do make another trip to Gentilly, I’ll be hard pressed to pass up a trip to Zimmer’s Seafood, but I think I’ll stick to the hot sauce and leave the ketchup for someone else.

Zimmer’s Seafood Address & Information
Zimmer's Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Morning Call - Metairie

Even with their status as a breakfast food, I’m of the opinion that there is rarely a bad time for beignets. Be it morning, noon, or night, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that would turn down a yeasty beignet that’s fresh from the fryer and drenched in powdered sugar. It was this sort of reasoning that had Sam and I making our first stop at Morning Call in Metairie at a few minutes past noon.

Regarding Morning Call, while I had heard people mention an alternative to the beignets from Café du Monde, I didn’t learn the name of this Metairie haunt until Serious Eats published their 36 Hours in New Orleans:Budget Edition guide. Interestingly, Serious Eats went as far as to include Morning Call in their New Orleans day trip but not even mention Café du Monde. Curious to see if Morning Call’s offerings were truly superior to the standard bearers from the French Quarter landmark, I had little trouble convincing Sam that we needed to start this day trip to New Orleans with a little fried dough.

Much like Café du Monde, Morning Call serves their beignets in orders of three.
What surprised me was that the powered sugar is left up to the diner. Each table was equipped with a shaker and soon we were enveloped in a white cloud of confectioner’s sugar.
Sans sugar, these beignets had a well rounded and yeasty flavor that was good but a little flat.
The plain beignets might have been better if they were fresh from the fryer instead of plucked from the holding tray, but a liberal application of powdered sugar made these thick squares worth the sugary mess.

Of course what would a beignet be without a cup of chicory café au lait?
 Rich and packed with that slight chocolate flavor of chicory, this cup of coffee was a superb match for the beignets.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea of self service powered sugar. I’ll readily admit that it’s nigh on impossible to eat a properly coated beignet without getting caked in the white stuff, but I prefer the challenge to come from eating the pastry not from me adding the finishing touch. Even so, Morning Call does present itself as a suitable alternative to the crowds and impossible parking of Café du Monde, but I’ll have to try their beignets fresh from the fryer before I’ll think to call them better than those from the French Quarter.

Morning Call Address & Information
Morning Call on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Edo - Memphis

Agedashi tofu, I had one thing on my mind as I drove from Nashville to Jackson and that was the perfectly fried blocks of tofu in sauce that is known as agedashi tofu. Of course, the question was where do I find such a dish on the road to Jackson? Passing through Memphis in time for lunch, I decided to eschew the teppanyaki tables and fusion menus and look up a stalwart of Japanese cuisine in Memphis, Edo. In business since the mid 80s, I could only hope that there was more than convenience and blind customer loyalty keeping this restaurant open.

I’ll get this subject out of the way, yes, Edo does appear to be situated in quite an unsavory location. A sign warning patrons to not leave valuables in their cars is never comforting but it would be unfair to dwell on Edo’s Summer Avenue address. Much of my time in Atlanta is spent on Buford Highway and while its 90s reputation of gangs and drug dealing may be fading quickly, it’s still not exactly prime real estate. With that out of the way, I was curious to see what Edo was like on the inside.

There’s something delightfully kitsch about the combination of drop ceilings and shoji screens. It’s as if Edo was initially decorated on a tight budget and things haven’t much changed since opening day. More important than the décor was the menu and in the tofu section, I saw my prize.
Simply prepared, agedashi tofu has quickly become one my favorite litmus tests for a Japanese restaurant and Edo takes a unique approach with their version.
I’ve read recipes that call for a topping of grated daikon and ginger but this is my first time to encounter it in the flesh. While the ginger added an extra pungency to the agedashi tofu, I was surprised at the thickness of the batter; it didn’t seem like the usual corn starch coating.
The tofu’s texture was also a departure from the norm as it was certainly a firmer variety than the usual silken. Rounding out the unique version was a sweet sauce that seemed heavy on the mirin. Although I missed the unmistakable taste of a katsuobushi topping, this agedashi tofu still satiated my cravings.

Shrimp tempura, a dish where gluten is the devil, was next.
Edo’s tempura had a delightful popcorn crackle and crunch to the batter.
While not too greasy, there did seem to be more batter than shrimp. The shrimp that was there was still quite well fried and paired well with the sweet dipping sauce.

Guaranteed to make a first time diner a little apprehensive, shishamo is worth much more than the simple shock value.
Fresh from the broiler, these willow leaf fish were expertly cooked.
These examples were brimming with tender roe.
Eaten whole, they were salty, a little fishy, a little oily and, frankly, delicious.

Some patrons may balk at the idea of eating a whole, broiled fish, but few will turn down a good gyoza.
Instead of steaming or deep frying, Edo prefers a pot sticker approach to dumplings and it works quite well.
With a filling of ginger, pork, and green onions, the flavors are well complimented by dipping sauce of rice vinegar, soy, and chili oil.
The slightly charred bottoms of the gyoza were an especially nice touch.

Although I wasn’t particularly in the mood for nigiri sushi or hand rolls, I wanted to see how Edo stacked up so it was one temaki or salmon skin hand roll for me.
A sterling example of Japanese frugality, a salmon skin rolls puts to use an otherwise discarded piece of fish. However, I’ve never seen it in a hand roll before this meal.
Little did I know, but char grilled salmon skin, shredded katsuobushi, and the slight vinegar taste of sushi rice turned out to be superb combination.
The delightful crunch and oiliness of well grilled salmon skin with the unmistakable flavor of katsuobushi was simple and captivating.

Often reduced to little more than a complimentary item, miso soup deserves better. How did Edo treat the icon of Japanese cuisine?
Plenty of sliced green onions and shiro miso fill out this miso soup but, strangely, no wakame.
It may not have the deep flavors of a homemade niban or second dashi, but it did have more of the firm tofu instead of silken.

While the miso soup had driven me past the breaking point, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the appetizer named kushi-katsu.
The idea of combing kushiyaki and tonkatsu was great, but the execution needed a  little work.
True to its name, there was plenty of panko coated fried pork with a drizzling of sweet and sticky tonkatsu sauce.
Unfortunately, these pork kushiyaki turned out quite greasy with the pork having a distinct onion flavor.

So often the case, I had to leave Edo with much of the menu left untried. There was simply no room to try the various ramens and donburi not to mention the rolls, nigiri, and hot pot. However, from what I did order, I can see why Edo has endured for nearly three decades. It may not have the glitz and glamour of a brand new restaurant, but Edo serves up well prepared home-style Japanese cuisine and if I lived closer to Memphis, I would brave Summer Avenue on a weekly basis if only to have another hand roll.

Edo Address & Information
Edo Japanese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Capitol Grille - Nashville

It was 93 degrees when Mari Hulman George spoke the eternal phrase that sparked the beginning of the Indianapolis 500, “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.” 93 degrees, one degree off the hottest 500 ever recorded. As you might imagine, it was a scorcher of a weekend. Nearing triple digits every day I was in Indiana, I was in no mood to return to the even hotter and stickier weather of the deep south, but after a parting lunch in the LaBuz kitchen, I was on my way to Tennessee.

Being Memorial Day, I had imagined that I would have a hard time finding an open restaurant, but a few days prior, I had erased those fears with a simple phone call to the Capitol Grille at The Hermitage Hotel. Recommended by John Currence of City Grocery & Snack Bar fame, I was happy and a bit surprised to hear the hostess say that The Capitol Grille is open every day of the year, regardless of holiday. As a result, after arriving in Nashville, it was simply a matter of making a reservation on Open Table, and making the short drive from the West End to The Hermitage Hotel.

It’s always a bit eerie to see a downtown area on a holiday. No one on the sidewalk, few cars on the road, but, on the plus side, it made correcting any navigational errors a snap. Pulling up The Hermitage Hotel, it felt equally empty. Even the Capitol Grille had six full tables, at best. Little matter, I was there to enjoy the food not dwell on the occupancy.

Ever thankful for the trend of house cured and pickled foods, I was eager to start with the hunter’s plate.
Well described as a collection of house cured, smoked, and pickled foods, it was a taste of what the Capitol Grille and Tennessee had to offer.
Some might say that Allen Benton’s products have oversaturated the market; while there may be some truth to that, there’s no denying that Benton’s country ham is a sublime slice of meat. As salty, smoky, and porky as ever, Benton’s ham is a southern treasure.
Over the years, I’ve had more than my fair share of Genoa salami, but the Capitol Grille’s version was a different animal. Thickly sliced and densely flavored, this hearty slice of salami had a distinct peppery tail.
Completing the trio of the hunter’s plate, the chicken liver terrine was exemplary. Creamy, not the least bit overdone, this terrine was little more than a smooth slice of liver goodness.

Call it poor resolve or call it enjoying the holiday but there were two appetizers that night. The second was the braised pork belly with corn bread puree, fava bean succotash, and ginger glaze.
Before delving into the excesses of pork belly, I was perplexed by the idea of cornbread puree. Amazingly, the texture was simultaneously smooth but grainy while the flavor provided a subtle foundation for the richness of the pork belly. The fava beans were a different story. Large and a bit chalky, they were the least impressive component of the dish.
Returning to the belly, this slice of pork toed the line between well braised and exceedingly fork tender.
While I couldn’t quite cut it with a fork, this belly was toothsome at first but quickly became melt in your mouth tender.
A highlight of the dish was the ginger glaze on top. A sticky sweetness with just a hint of chili flake, the ginger glaze only served to highlight the bold richness of the pork belly. Much like maple syrup and bacon, this dish just proves that sugar and pork belly will always be the best of friends.

When I first saw that day’s menu for The Capitol Grille, I had high hopes for a slab of dry-aged beef with all the trimmings. Sadly, the kitchen was out of dry-aged beef for steaks. I decided to take advantage of an underappreciated menu item, the lamb, but not just any lamb. That night, a duo of Border Springs lamb was the second entrée on the menu.
Frankly this could have been called a trio of lamb as the first lamb piece was a lamb bacon wrapped lamb loin.
It’s hard not to sound hyperbolic when describing excellent food, but this loin very well may have reset the bar for lamb. A perfect medium rare, wrapped in lamb bacon and accented with bacon jus, this loin was tender and brimming with the very essence of slightly gamy, lamb flavor.
The lamb belly while not conception shattering was equally well prepared and flavored.
With a hearty smoked flavor that only served to compliment the lamb, this belly formed the second half of a superb duo.

Although I could have ended the evening by reveling in the glory of lamb, there was still a farm side to consider.
Picked just that morning, this side of collard greens erased so many memories of overcooked and frankly noxious southern meat and three vegetable sides.
Complimented by sorghum, honey, and even more Benton’s ham, these large collard green leaves were swimming in a sweet and porky sauce. With little bitterness to slow me down, I only wished that I had room for more.

Before you walk down the stairs to The Capitol Grille, it’s hard to miss the wall of newspaper and magazine articles on the restaurant and Chefs W. Tyler Brown and Cole Ellis. While glowing pieces that celebrate farm to table practices and revitalized southern cuisine read quite well, it’s refreshing to see a restaurant execute the premise so well. After this meal, I had little doubt that chef Currence made an excellent recommendation with The Capitol Grille. With expertly crafted cuisine, inherently southern flavors, and fresh from the farm produce and proteins, what else could I ask for?

The Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel Address & Information
The Capitol Grille on Urbanspoon

The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery, A Year Later- Indianapolis

May 2012, another 12 months have passed and I’m once again in the great state of Indiana. This year things were going exceptionally well. I had introduced everyone to the glory of the Pimm’s Cup and the prep work was finished for a rousing Saturday night prerace feast. However, that still left the issue of Saturday lunch. I was researching places to go when Gabe suggested returning to Trader’s Point Creamery. After last year’s meal, I was all for it and Paul was game as well.

Armed with an open table reservation, it was just a short drive to Zionsville before we were facing the wooden giant of The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery.  In a welcome sense of déjà vu, the blue ribbon cheese plate was the first thing to our table.
There may not have been any new choices for 2012, but there’s no denying the quality of Trader’s Point cheese.

In lieu of chicken and rice soup, it was a cup of corn and potato chowder before the entrée.
Served surprisingly close to room temperature, this chowder was still brimming with sweet corn and a creamy texture.

Last year, despite the allure of a grass-fed burger, I had thoroughly enjoyed a roasted pork chop. This time I was bound and determined to savor a patty of well-cooked grass-fed beef. Per the waiter’s recommendation, I ordered my burger medium rare and waited for the feasting to begin.
After a relatively long wait, my cheese covered burger arrived.
Off the bat, there was a poor patty to bun ratio, but I was more intrigued by the fact that the waiter was unable to find which cuts of beef went into this burger. I can understand if steak trimmings were used, but the lack of an answer was a bit annoying.
Sadly, any and all worries about cuts quickly evaporated as I bit into the desiccated patty. Never mind the sweet bun, the crispy & salty bacon, this grass-fed beef patty was past well-done much less medium-well.
With a corn-fed, high fat ratio burger, you might be able to get away with this temperature but grass-fed beef has little leeway and this burger suffered the consequences.

One bite of the burger gone, I pushed away the plate and looked for our waiter. When Paul pointed out the situation, the waiter was quick to find his manager. Extremely apologetic, the manager offered to bring us new burgers. Having waited the better part of an hour, we decided to skip the entree and move on to dessert. Going above and beyond, the manager removed the burgers from our bill, but what struck us as odd was how the waiter handled the situation. Making small talk before our dessert arrived, our waiter told us how restaurants often overcook the burgers and he usually orders his rare just to avoid this situation. While that’s fine advice, why would he say that after suggesting we order our burgers medium-rare?

Thankfully, there was some consolation in the form of a double chocolate milk shake.
Burger fiasco aside, Trader’s Point Creamery knows their dairy products. This milk shake was overflowing with rich chocolate flavor and was almost too rich to finish. I suppose that sums up my experience with The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery. When in doubt, stick to the dairy or, at the very least, order your burger rare.

Loft Restaurant at Traders Point Creamery Address & Information