Category Archives: homemade

715- Lawrence, Kansas…

                                                                                                                                                                    

So we all know how this works, I have fun reliving some gratuitous crap that is loosely related to the real subject of the post, and once I’m feeling fully entertained I get around to doling out information on a meal or meals that just leaves you wishing I was the type of dick who won’t let anyone at the table take a bite until I get a picture….”Oh, oh, hold up that butter, I didn’t get a shot of all the butters…WHO TOOK A BITE FROM THE COMPOUND BUTTER!?!?!…Oh man, now I’m going to have to come back here again to get a shot of that BUTTER!  I can’t post ANY of this until I can account for all the buuuttterrrrrs…..if I were my father I’d beat the shit out of ALL OF YOU!”.  Trust me, the schtick is starting to bug me too…it was cool the first half dozen times, now I’m just sounding like any other formulaic food blogger with the possible exception being my implied goal of  consistently low readership.  I’m not out to be edgy or underground, this is the way I actually talk and I genuinely enjoy talking about food related topics. At the same time I have to include stuff that amuses me enough to stay excited about writing anything, and how all of THAT peripheral bullshit fits into the formula is this- I would honestly feel bad if at some point some chef or owner stumbled upon one of my reviews on the interwebs and forwarded or reposted it without first noticing a phrase like “In my confused brain, the juxtaposition of the icy sorbet and the piping hot broth forced me to imagine what it would be like to be a young lady subjected to dueling Jekyll and Hyde ObGyn’s….COLD speculum-WARM speculum-COLD speculum-WARM speculum…..”.   All across Johnson County, scores of Yelpers who were trying to decide between eating at Mestizo and jamming an emery board into their urethra would see THIS jumble of shit and be like…”Hey HON, is it good or bad when the review mentions vagina tools?  I’m so confused now.”  So yeah, I just blow any chance of an actual self-respecting human in the industry counting this shit as “Media” right up front…it entertains me and at the same time it is polarizing enough to let people decide if MY speculum is too hot, too cold or juuuusst right.

So anyway……

I went to some shows at the Outhouse when I was a kid, but it probably wasn’t until around 1991 that I started visiting Lawrence with any regularity….trips to Yello Sub, first run indie flicks like Slacker at Liberty Hall, Love Garden Records…typical fare.  One of the most memorable trips that pretty much set the tone for the next several years happened when I was still an associate pastor in KCK.  I was with our senior pastor officiating a funeral somewhere down near LaCygne.  It was a Friday and I was supposed to be all the way out in Lawrence later that afternoon because a bunch of us were going to see Throwing Muses at The Bottleneck.  Normally, it would be a no-brainer even though we were an hour from home….funerals generally went pretty quickly.  This one got a little complicated when it was discovered that the grave had been dug in the wrong spot, so we had to wrangle the funeral director to confirm the correct plot and then wrangle the guy who ran the backhoe.  This was out in the country in a little country cemetery, the lady who had passed away was an older member in our church and in addition to being the clergy I had to be a pallbearer because there weren’t enough able bodied men to carry the casket.  That fact made me feel bad. What made me feel worse was that I’d done enough funerals to learn about caskets, and these folks had to go with the cheapest possible casket…the silver-greyish felt covered model. And what made me feel even worse than THAT was when we had to set that cheap casket down on the ground and leave it there in the open while we went to sort things out.  So long/depressing story short, they located the right plot and we all stood around as the thunderously loud backhoe ripped up the ground to make room for a little old lady in a cheap casket. 

And it is against that backdrop that I DID make it to Lawrence in time for Throwing Muses.  It was a good show, it was dollar well drink night, and I think I drank about twenty five or thirty rot gut vodka tonics before I had to run out to the car and throw up in the parking lot for the last half hour or so of the show.  That night began a pretty solid tradition of getting so drunk that upon arrival at home I went ahead and slept in the car. For many years, when the question “Where in the hell is Jerry?” was asked the next morning, the reply was often “Did you check the car?”.  Correct answer eight times out of ten.  You are indeed reading this correctly- pastor by day, party animal by night.  That trend lasted for almost a couple of years, at which time I moved to Minneapolis to attend Bible College…then the REALLY crazy shit began….

Since I’m on the subject of getting wasted in Lawrence, I simply MUST bring up what is quite possibly the greatest establishment in the history of lawless redneck counties situated next to a college town….Little Reno’s Paradise Saloon.  Way, WAY too many crazy stories about that place to fit into a food review that takes place fifteen or twenty years later, but I will say…..as a man who ran an adult bookstore for several years and had the misfortune of knowing a LOT of strippers, the Paradise Saloon was the best of the best.  Three dollar drinks, five dollar lap dances, tons of girls, no laws of any kind, and a psychotic bouncer named Meatloaf who loved nothing more than taking misbehaving frat boys out into the parking lot and braining them with his mag-light.  Seriously, it got bad enough that even the Reno sheriff finally said cut it out.  I burned out on strip clubs a very long time ago. They are pretty sad places. But THAT establishment was beautiful.

Of course this is where I could construct a bridge with the cute local girls stripping their way through college  on THAT side, attractive young guys and gals hauling food to older men with mag-light imprints on their forehead on THIS side….too much work.  Back then it was getting our Yello Sub delivery driver buddy stoned for free food, and truckloads of cheap pizza.  Yello Sub remained a constant through the years, and I still love Planet Sub, but at some point life progressed to a point where I could put Lidia’s into the rotation (several lost years prior to the Lidia’s phase, and what a great story that will make once I know more about statutes of limitations), and my regular server there turned me onto Pachamama’s…..for whatever reason, that habit did not survive the move from their original location.  And my dining habits took quite a hit during my last relationship….after attaching myself to a mortgage and moving her in, I was quickly informed that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider….downhill quickly, etc. etc., flash forward, sobriety, marriage, gravy train with biscuit wheels, yada yada and 715 became the place to check out.

So finally, here we are.  Long story short, after three visits, 715 is an official member of “the rotation”.  It only took 2 visits to make it into the coveted spot, the third trip on Saturday night was just an excuse to go and try some more food.  Even though comparing 715 and The Rieger would be like comparing apples and POV porn, henceforth we’ll refer to it as our “Rieger West”.  The Rieger is like an extended family to us at this point, but considering the mutual love the respective chefs and staff all share, and the extreme high quality of food and service at both restaurants, we’re happy to have them ALL onboard. 

715 is a place that is serious enough about sourcing great products to transcend what is quickly becoming an overused cliché….”farm to table”….it’s the new organic.  The menu is always changing, some days hurt worse than others when I see a daily special that reminds me I’m too lazy to drive to Lawrence on a random Wednesday.  Chef Michael Beard and his crew do food correctly….solid products are given the respect they deserve by dedicating the time it takes to maximize flavor.  You don’t have to go fucking around with food very much when you start with that solid of a baseline.  So first and foremost we have the time and thought that goes into making dishes work on all levels…major “rotation” material.  While I don’t generally count it as a make or break component, the restaurant itself is a great space and that sure as hell does not hurt.  Sure, a nice restaurant in Lawrence is a pretty big douche magnet…former frat jocks who think they’re funny holding a server hostage with a very bad and overused “We have a complaint!” joke, and the cartoonishly thin and stiff turquoise jewelry wearing Portlandia extras who…do…not….stop it with the “Unless you’re in academia it’s hard to understand blah blah blah…..true, oh very true as far as a career in academia…..leave it to academia!….ACADEMIA!!!”.  But hey, I’m thankful for annoying fuckers because they help me narrow down the list of people I want as friends.

Almost as important as the food, an element that is absolutely, 100% mandatory for any restaurant I’d consider as a regular destination….the pride and shared sense of ownership in the front of the house.  We’ve had consistently great service, but if you know me I’m a very, very loyal sonofabitch when I find “my server”…if they are working, I’ll wait for a table in their section if I have to.  And I’m not looking to have my ass kissed, or the hottest hottie, or anything like that…I just want someone who is personable, knows the food, loves the food, is fun to get to know, no cheap waiter tricks, and has enough actual opinions to help guide my decisions as I piece together the best possible meal.  That type of service is critical, I would never, ever be a regular anywhere I could not find it (Mostly talking about mid and upper tier dining…they could throw shit at my head at places like Vietnam Café and I’d still go. Thankfully they do not…).

What I lack in actual writing skill I more than make up for in word count. Taking the time to read all of THIS is an impressive feat. But that shit aside, here is the laundry list of food to the best of my recollection….Sunday Brunch, then apps from 2 visits, entrees and desserts in the same manner….

Beverages– I can’t say enough about how much I love tasty non-alcoholic options…715’s Lavender Vanilla Cream Soda is almost like a dessert, but it is damn fine.  And while I love the “burn my face off” effect a big glass of very lightly diluted Ginger Green Tea Soda at the Rieger has more than anything, the lighter version of Ginger Soda with bits of pulp in it at 715 is a winner too.   My wife has tried a couple of the cocktails and really liked them, but my boring ass cannot speak to their deliciousness.  I don’t drink, but if I still did, none of those cocktails are straight bourbon, so what the fuck good are they?

Smoked Trout Bruschetta– got this during our first visit, Sunday brunch.  Great flakey, house smoked fish with all of the nice little accompaniments.

Pastrami Hash– another brunch dish, pretty hearty, house cured, all that jazz. The first good example of the price being misleading…wasn’t counting on a trucker portion for the money. Big score.

Fried Rabbit and Waffles–  I obviously had to get this for my main at brunch….I mean, it’s fried rabbit and waffles. Front and back quarters breaded and fried up pretty perfectly, and another massive meat missile.  Seriously, for anyone who eats here and does the whole “I expected to get more food for the money”….you need some serious self-examination. Your rotted soul is leaving an empty space where you cram food.

Aranciniarborio rice, stracchino cheese and ragu, served with marinara and hot calabrian chile oil–  this is where stuff really started to get interesting…during our first Saturday night visit. Brunch was good enough to get us back there, but here is where the real show began.  This version of arancini was somewhere between baseball and softball sized, which is no small feat since you need to get it hot all the way through to get a good melt on the cheese without burning the crispy breaded exterior.  I defy you to find anything wrong with deep fried balls of rice, cheese and meat sauce.   The Calabrian chile oil is really something else….I sat there for most of the evening thinking of different  applications for it.  Just the right amount of heat and a ton of flavor.  I will be putting in an order online at Taylor’s Market soon for an array of Calabrian chile goods.

Red Wattle ‘Surryano’2 year dry aged hoof-on pork leg– You order this by the ounce, and on the advice of our server we only got one ounce to  share which ended up being the perfect amount.  My wife goes “oh man, country ham”….she pretty much nailed it.  It is damn good, a lot of flavor and I actually much prefer the texture over far more expensive imported hammy products like Prosciutto.

Lamb Chips w/lemon, parsley and parm– Lamb balls…no mystery here, the awesome photo on 715’s Facebook page put this dish on my radar and was part of the reason we headed out there.  Sliced, breaded, fried….great texture, mild, went very well with the chile oil left over from the arancini. Definintely needs more sharpness of some kind…a few capers in with the lemon and parsley maybe.

Soppresata, Pate, Mortadella Sampler– One thing I need to follow up on here is the Soppressata, I usually think of it as just salami, on the menu it lists it as headcheese, the chunky fattiness definitely says headcheese but it’s sliced thin as hell like salami…just a Basilicata vs. Toscana thing here and I’ve somehow never sampled the latter?  Who gives a shit, the flavor and texture is just dynamite.  This little plate really did end up being one of the best representations of housemade charcuterie I’ve eaten in the KC area.  The flavor and texture of the mortadella was outstanding as well, and the depth of flavor with some spicy sweetness in the pate made it stand way, way out from others I’ve eaten.  Across the board, solid as hell.  To be honest, I’d prefer to just eat the housemade stuff vs. the La Quercia products listed along with them.  La Quercia is obviously fucking phenomenal, but I’m more about the rustic flavor profiles.

Fried Livers– Obscene and total false advertising.  You can’t go and list these fucking things as “fried chicken livers” and then only charge about eight bucks without giving motherfuckers some warning. It’s like back in the day at Sanderson’s when they’d wheel out the world’s largest tenderloin for unsuspecting newbies. Crazy shit.  I will eat any chicken liver any time…from gross and overcooked specimens under the lamp at a prepared foods counter to Go Chicken Go, and everything in between.  For the sake of brevity- huge and batter fried, best livers ever, enough for 4 people.  If I had to make one improvement it would be to maybe throw in some lemon slices or some kind of vinegar based something…..no complaints though, the Calabrian chile oil aioli was fiiine.

FegaloTuscan liver sausage with braised sweet onions, golden raisins and white balsamic– That was one tasty burger patty.  A juicy patty of caulfat wrapped goodness. Really, really rich, minerally, fatty, crisp exterior, heavy dark spices, sweetness, sharp vinegar…ultimate, ultimate dish for a thirty degrees below zero day.  Assuming we ever see another one of those. JINX!

Rabbit RavioliRare Hare Barns rabbit confit over homemade parsnip and goat cheese puree ravioli–  Very solid example of well made ravioli…the pasta was thin enough and the amount of filling was perfect in accentuating both components. The shredded rabbit meat on top was an added bonus.  I really need to try more pasta dishes in the future…so far so good there.

Tilefishseared and served with farro salad, grilled radicchio, watercress and red wine vinegar– You’ve got your fatty liver sausage over there, your light grouper-y seared and roasted filet on this side.  And honestly, the fish dish was strong enough to contend with everything else, the farro, veg and vinegar combo was a very welcome change of pace and stood out. Believe it or not, I’m not ALWAYS in the mood for an overload of animal fat, so it is important that the fish options be worthy of a visit all by their lonesome.

Pork Confit and Spaetzleseared pork belly with chive spaetzle, duck fat seared apples, watercress, fennel and walnuts– I know my 3,000 word reviews are punishing, BUT with this dish we have to go back to last month’s “gay jock hate crime of love” topic. This pork was right at that line, and I have to find out more about the order of preparatory events here….I’ve eaten many times my weight in pork belly, I do a passable version of a Thomas Keller recipe at home, but this rendition took all of the best things about the myriad examples I’ve tried and managed to blend them all into one little package. Salty cure, warm and melty fat, meaty texture, crisp exterior.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing that goes into the pork belly salad, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will say…this is something you have to try.  I am never wrong about pork.

Soppressata Pizza– This is what gets the most talk from the 715 fans I’ve spoken with, and it is damn good. You get that headcheese melted down into a pizza and you are on the road to success. Great crust, right ratio of meat/sauce/cheese, seasoned just right, good crispiness giving way to that micro-layer of tongue cauterizing heat. AND it travels well.  We’ll try each of them before all is said and done.

7-Layer Honey Cake– My wife is the dessert fan, and she went crazy for this. I love a good dessert, this one was delicious, but I what I loved and respected most was the construction…very impressive….now that I can do a decent macaron I want to learn how to do this multi-layered rustic entreme thingy.

Sticky Date Cake– Oh, you have to try this and that is no bullshit. This is the type of thing that prompts me to always at least TRY dessert at a new place….for such a small and unassuming little dish it’s a freakin’ monster. Date cake, toffee sauce, ice cream, get it inside you. It’s a world beater.

Lastly, pricewise it’s the kind of place where you can go any direction. We went full-bore with our first dinner there and still barely hit our benchmark $100 tab, which is usually exactly what we spend at Justus, The Rieger, Lidia’s, etc.  Last Saturday we dropped that by ¼ and STILL had way more food than we could ever finish….so honestly, a couple of apps, a shared entrée and a dessert would probably be the perfect amount of food and would make regular “non-date night” visits very doable.  I love the constant Facebook updates that keep me informed of specials, because I am exactly the type of crackhead to make the drive from Parkville on a whim.

SOOO….after thousands of words about one goddamn place, I will shut up after saying- I realize sometimes that my glowing comments make me sound like a Johnson County housewife who never gets to see daylight, but I only usually talk about the places I REALLY like.  So I hope the fact that I know I will never make money on any of this, and the fact that I can (for the most part) eat wherever I want lends some weight to my enthusiasm.  You find a good local place with a solid philosophy, putting out thoughtful food with an emotionally invested team, and you make sure the people on your short list of friends knows to get the fuck over there asap.  I’m not a food critic, I don’t want to potentially mess with anyone’s livelihood just so I can bitch about bad soup, and I’m too lazy to put myself on a schedule with all of this.  This time it’s 715, next time it will be my first experience learning how to make Povitica from a lifelong master, then I’m sure I’ll have some really good fundamentalist-related shit as soon as I’m sure it won’t cause collateral damage, etc. etc.

Now it’s back to my email campaign to get TLC to change the name of “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “WOW! Your Six Year Old is a WHORE!”…..

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Filed under 715 Restaurant, Charcuterie, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Lawrence Kansas, Michael Beard, Paradise Locker Meats

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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Making Macarons Is A Lot Like Autoerotic Asphyxiation…

You either walk around for a few days hunched over with neck pain, belt burn around your throat and one of your eyes partially obscured by blood from burst vessels- all the while grinning in oxygen deprived euphoria….OR…..someone finds your shit-sodden corpse hanging from a beam and they may or may not have the decency or state of mind to zip you back up or hose any incriminating DNA off of the floor before the coroner’s office arrives and gets their biggest laugh of the week. A lot can go wrong. A lot. Can go wrong.  In some cases, there is no such thing as TOO MUCH preparation or forethought.  And there is no shame in assigning a spotter to help insure everything ends safely and with the most rewarding results.  Autoerotic asphyxiation, strangulated masturbation, whatever you want to call it….truly parallels the creation of French macarons in its potential for embarrassing, irrecoverable tragedy, as well as the siren song of exquisite perfection…that highly prized yet painfully shy golden ticket that awaits you at the end of painstaking planning, artistry, and a little luck.  You’re either some idiot who killed himself jacking off, or you manage to take an otherwise overdone and underappreciated process and wring it dry by taking it to its fullest logical capacity.  There is a sense of dread involved with both…dread that is overshadowed by the promise of glory.  There is fear, the need for practice, and a Zen-like focus on the smallest details.  Lots of research and hopefully the ability to know when it’s time to cut your losses, back off completely, regroup, and save that victory for another day.  Your mind has to be right, and your mind has to stay right. If your mind isn’t right you are in grave danger.  Because failure can cost you a lot. It can cost you your fucking LIFE!  Or it can cost you at least twenty dollars in ingredients and an hour’s worth of prep.  Which of those two endings is scarier?? We would have to bring Plato back from the dead to ponder an actual answer to THAT question, my friend.  But I don’t think even he would know….we’re getting into uncharted philosophical territory….so I will just go about the task of education rather than force you to ponder the unanswerable…..

I was taught to make macarons by a professional pastry chef, and I have been making them for quite a while know….just shy of three weeks.  So I’ve learned a thing or two.  Mostly…the thing is, there is not one single thing you can do on-the-fly with these little bastards.  Call it mise en place, getting your shit together, whatever you want….you had better have every single thing prepped and measured ahead of time.  And get used to using the metric system, with baking that’s just the way it goes. If you hear me saying it, it really is true. There are some specific points at which you can blow the entire batch, and it isn’t like you can make some adjustment to save it…it’s not steak soup. 

Here are the ingredients I use because they are what I used in class. I know there are about five hundred different recipes out there.  I have no clue about those. This is the only one I know. If you’re tempted to let me know a better way, don’t.  I don’t care. If you’re some purist who would be appalled that this recipe is somehow lacking or not authentic….there’s no way in hell you made it past the first paragraph because it sent you into flittering fits of aghastment, so I’m not too worried.  ON THE OTHER HAND, if you’ve got some great ideas for butter creams, curds, savory fillings, etc….THAT I’m interested in.  And don’t try sneaking in the information I’m not looking for when you share it.  

200g almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill….forced through a small mesh strainer w/a spoon to get rid of large chunks)

200g granulated sugar

200g powdered sugar

150g room temperature egg whites separated into 2- 75g portions

Pinch of salt- I just put that in the almond flour from the get-go

50ml water

Hardware- piping bag fitted with an 8mm tip, flat bottom sheet pans fitted with parchment paper (you HAVE to have parchment paper), and as far as all of the other shit…because I hope for your sake you’re not going to try and learn from ME on your maiden voyage or the hardest thing you’ve done are cupcakes…I’m going to leave it to you to figure out the rest; mixer, candy thermometer, good pan for cooking sugar, etc., etc…..

In case I didn’t mention this before- HAVE your SHIT ready to GO.  Everything pre-measured in its own little bowl, parchment cut, thermometer firmly attached to your pan which is already sitting on the stove, pastry bag fitted with a tip and sitting upended in a tall glass, mixer clean and ready, etc. If it can be done ahead of time, do it ahead of time. 

The first thing I do is just put one of the 75g batches of egg whites into the mixer and start the whisk on the lowest speed.  I also go and add the granulated sugar and water into my pan and leave the heat off.

Then, I go and whisk the powdered sugar thoroughly into the almond flour, to which I then add the other egg whites and mix until I’ve got a good, sticky dough.  This is one juncture where you could add food coloring (gel is preferred over liquid), but for the batch I’m featuring today I left coloring out completely due to a tragic attempt on Saturday that ended with the equivalent of the coroners taking Abu Ghraib-style photos next to my dead body.  The dough ended up being too runny…and it could have been ten different things that contributed to it, but you eliminate the most obvious one first…in this case, gel coloring due to the liquid it added into my macaronage.

This is where shit starts getting more touch and go…..basically, you want to get those egg whites in the mixer whipped to stiff peaks right at the same time your sugar mixture on the stove reaches softball stage.  I have not yet found the perfect timing to this, so I offer no finite advice on when to start what.  But this is the point where the belt starts to cut into your neck a little bit.  A spotter would not be the dumbest thing to have here.  You don’t want to overbeat the egg whites, and you need to have that sugar within a couple of degrees for this to go just right. BUT….long story short, when your egg whites are at a stiff peak, and the sugar is at soft-ball temperature, you take the hot sugar over to the mixture and slowly pour it down the side of the bowl into your whites…..and the mixer goes on high and stays on high.  Most of your weight is being supported by the belt right now, it is fully cinched and you’ve got a pretty long journey to joy and safety from here, so be mindful.

With the hot sugar introduced to the bowl, feel the bottom to see how hot it is. What you want to do is let it roll on high until it cools way down….8 or 10 minutes. At the end of that time you should have a pretty delicious looking Italian meringue.  It’s pretty strong stuff, so you don’t have to be a total pussy when folding it into the awaiting dough…to about 1/3 of it at a time and avoid getting any crystallized sugar in there from the sides of the mixer bowl. 

I think this whole process is best if it’s NOT done in a particularly warm kitchen….just thought I’d throw that in there.  So you mix your meringue into your dough until all streaks are gone, coloring is incorporated, etc…….now you’ve got “macaronage”. 

From here, it goes into the pastry bag and you want the tip to be flush with the parchment paper and pointed straight down…..do about a five-count’s worth of piping….a little bigger than a quarter.  This was my first experience with piping anything, so you’re kind of on your own here. Once you’ve got all of your dough piped onto all of your sheet pans, be sure to bang them on the counter to make sure the tops flatten some and any big air bubbles work their way out.  Do not be shy about how hard you pound them on the counter….if your dough was done correctly it’s pretty sturdy. 

CRITICAL JUNCTURE-  the coroner’s office is waiting in the wings for this very moment- you have to let your dough sit out for at least thirty minutes.  The tops have to dry out some and get a skin built up so that when they bake, the skin forms the top crust and raises up to let the macaron’s “feet” fully form.  If you try bypassing this step, just go ahead and throw the batch away.  If after thirty minutes there isn’t a firmer, barely tacky top on your cookies, or if the dough has deflated and oozed into imperfect oblong shapes…throw them all out.  Of course, you can still cook them, they’ll taste good, you just won’t have macarons.

As your cookie dough is drying, start your oven and this is another thing you’ll have to experiment with…..but 310F is a safe place to start, so get it preheated.

When putting your baking sheets into the oven, DO NOT OVERLOAD IT.  You want plenty of circulation for evenness of cooking… half of this “successful” batch I did was ruined due to my impatience when I put too much into the oven at once.  Keep an eye on them, they’ll go for around ten to twelve minutes…..but the thing of it is, you want to see feet. If you don’t end up seeing feet, you’ve accidentally killed yourself somewhere along the way.  Feel the tops to see if they’re done enough for you….it’s kind of like pushing on an eggshell- if you see feet and it feels like the top will crackle under the weight of your finger, you’re probably good to go.

Of course, let them rest until completely cool and then run the thinnest spatula you have underneath to loosen them from the parchment.  

I’m not going to explain any more from here.  If you can’t figure the shit out from here, you’re dumb. Make sandwich cookies….have fun with flavors.  I didn’t want to spend too much time on butter creams or homemade curds until I had my shit down pretty tight, so in order for my macarons to still sound LEGIT, I went and bought some authentic English (the fucking INVENTORS of strangulated beatin’ off) citrus curds with which to fill my cookies.  The sky is the limit though, go figure that shit out. 

Oh yeah, don’t use that fucking edible pearlescent powder like I did because you feel insecure about naked non-colored macarons.  That shit is a nightmare.  You can’t get it all washed off of your hands and you walk around looking like a team of drag queens have been playing hot potato with your face. 

But that’s about it….macarons are challenging, but are more than worth running the risk of an erotic and embarassing early death.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, autoerotic asphyxiation, baking, Bariatric Surgery, cookies, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, French Pastry, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, macarons, pastry, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery