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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quick Hits

  • I hit Parkway Lanes on Thursday night with Beer OrKid. My bacon cheeseburger looked pretty much like his but since my photo came out all blurry, look at his. The bacon was awesome but the burger was just above average. I still prefer Don & Millie's for burgers.
  • I had lunch with my aunt on Friday at Sam & Louie's (in the strip mall on the SE corner of 14th & Pine Lake). It's still good. Big floppy foldable slices.
  • I hadn't been to the track for over a year until tonight. The place was packed; busier than I've ever seen it. The food selection is even better, too. A new BBQ stand has appeared since my last visit but I still went with the 3 tacos for $2 deal. They're good-sized and the taco meat is so salty that you can't help but drink an extra beer or two afterwards.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Food costs

I've been out of town for pretty much the last ten days so I haven't had to go to the grocery store yet but I'm dreading it. As I wrote a couple of months ago the price of gas is creating an upward pressure on food prices that can't be ignored.

A more recent example of this is the rising sales of Spam. I'm at a loss here. Whenever I looked at Spam at the grocery store I always thought it seemed kind of pricey for what you were getting but apparently people are eating it up as a cheaper alternative to something else. I wonder what the price of Treet is right now?

Seriously though. Food prices are going crazy and besides Spam people are finding ways to make it work. Talking to my dad recently he said people in his little square of rural Nebraska are reverting to a barter economy in some ways. Eggs, milk, pork and beef and the like are being traded back and forth like it was 1770.

When I shop for groceries now, I buy potatoes, eggs, whole wheat pasta and frozen veggies. I'd love to buy baby bok choy, fresh fish, and prime rib but my grocery budget is even smaller than it was a few months ago. No wonder I don't review restaurants in Lincoln much anymore.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phoenix, AZ

A funny thing happened when I got to Phoenix Saturday evening. It wasn't hot outside. In my experience a summer "cold" snap in Phoenix is about as perfect as weather can get; 75-80 with low humidity. It was way too nice outside to spend time in restaurants. It was more "pack a cooler with beer and sandwiches for a trip down the Salt River" or "pick up some chicken, cole slaw and potato salad and hang out in the park" sort of weather.

We did sit out on a patio and drink beer at Rock Bottom Brewery which turned out to be a huge brew pub chain with 40 locations from CA to MA. As far as chain restaurants go, that's a pretty good concept. Each location has a real chef and a real brewmaster which is going to guarantee some local flavors and character that come along with brewing beer on-site. Plus, it creates more jobs for dudes who like to brew beer. I'm sure there are strict controls in place to make sure the signature brews are as close to the same as possible but the brewmaster seems to have some freedom in creating other beers.

I had a terrific mug of cream stout that wasn't too sweet or too malty and the pale ale was subtly spicy with nice citrus overtones. The brewmaster's choice was a Vienna-style red lager that wasn't too sweet and still crisp on top of the maltiness.

I'm sort of sad we didn't make it to the Pink Taco but as much as I love restaurants with dirty names, it probably wouldn't have been that good. The photo of Ron Jeremy posing with a pink donkey at their L.A. Grand Opening kind of makes me feel like I missed out on something, though.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Road Food: Monroe, LA

I'm not going to go into detail about what I ate in Monroe this week since it's not Lincoln and most people probably don't care much about where to eat in places they'll never be. Suffice it to say that it sure was nice to be in a place where fresh oysters, shrimp, crawfish, soft shell crab and the like were cheap and plentiful. Finding un-fried veggies was kind of a challenge, though.

One local dish worth a mention: green bean wraps. Take about 8 or 9 fresh par-boiled green beans, wrap a strip of bacon around them, poke a toothpick through the bundle and throw on a grill for a minute or so on each side. It's a great twist on the traditional green beans 'n' bacon side dish.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for Phoenix for a few days and if I have a chance to eat at any local restaurants there I'll probably write about them since some of you might wind up in Phoenix someday, even if it isn't for another 30 years.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mi Guadalajara

I stopped in about 1115 today and there were quite a few people there already. The interior of the restaurant has been changed as much as possible since it was a Doozy's. It was cleaner, better lighted and the colors were much brighter. The booths between the gas station and the restaurant are still in place and a few were occupied. The counter opposite the kitchen was lined with stools and several were already taken by people eating. The kitchen was busy. At least six people moved back and forth behind the counter taking and preparing orders.

As I approached the counter to order the man running the cash register and taking orders (the owner, I'm guessing) shoved a tray at me and gleefully shouted "On the house!" On the tray was a basket of hot, fresh corn chips and a cup of salsa and a chicken tostada. I placed an order for a carnitas taco and took my food back to the counter.

The salsa is quite good; very fresh tasting with lots of cilantro. The spice was just about right for me for a dip-chipping sauce but may be a little much for some people. I predict the restaurant will develop a milder, but still fresh, salsa before too long. It would also be nice if they eventually had some hotter freshly made sauces to put on the food. The bottles of Cholula at each table were a welcome sight though.

The chips were about as fresh as you can get; still warm but not too oily, and very crispy. The tostada came on a standard-sized shell (obviously freshly made), covered with shredded chicken and onions cooked in a mild chipotle sauce that wasn't as overpoweringly smoky as you get at many places that have lately jumped on the chipotle bandwagon. What I really liked about the tostada was how well the shell stood up. I was able to eat the whole thing while holding it in my hand. Sometimes you get tostada shells that shatter into a blizzard of fried corn and meat after one bite. Not here.

Soon my taco was ready. For $2.50 I was expecting more than I usually get when I order tacos at an "authentic" Mexican restaurant. I wound up pretty happy. The warm corn shells surrounding the meat were of the usual size but there was quite a bit more meat than I've come to expect. On top of that, there was a nice heap of guac and pico in the corner I could use to dress the taco or for my chips. The carnitas were really good; big chunks of roast pork shoulder with a good crispness from a later frying. It seemed like something that might come out of my crock pot at home. Next time I'll ask for cilantro and onion for the taco. I'm sure they have it back there.

The little paper menu I picked up on Monday isn't their full offering, though I think they were hoping to stick to that menu for the opening. Inside the restaurant they had large colorful plastic menus with many more dishes.

They've got a good location, surrounded by several of Lincoln's biggest private employers. Hopefully they'll make a better run than the Doozy's and Godfather's that closed within weeks of each other earlier this year.

Mi Guadalajara is at the NW corner of 16th & Old Cheney next door to the BP station, just south of Heidelberg's.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Coming Soon

Mi Guadalajara opens on Thursday in the old Doozy's location next door to the gas station near 14th & Old Cheney. It's fitting, too. Thursday is my second to last day working within walking distance of it for several months, and Thursday is payday.

I grabbed a menu today and it's fairly small with an emphasis on huevos alongside the usual fare. A couple of the tostadas sound pretty good. Sadly, no tacos antojitos on the menu. Free chips & salsa, though.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Free Food Tip

Go and sign up for the Sam & Louie's mailing list. Tell them your birthday. They'll send you a coupon for a free 12" pizza when the month of your birthday rolls around. It's good pizza but it's expensive so a free 12" is worth about $900 or 2 Euros.

The only Sam & Louie's in Lincoln is in the strip mall at the SW corner of 14th and Pine Lake.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Columbia, MO: Chris McD's

Columbia isn't quite Lincoln. It's only half the size but with a much better downtown and more local restaurants. The abundance of wineries around Columbia probably helps that a lot. Unlike many of the places I write about here, many Lincolnites might find themselves in Columbia on occasion, especially every two years in the fall.

I met an old friend I haven't seen in about 12 years at Chris McD's on Tuesday night for dinner. The restaurant is in the Schnook's strip mall on the east side of Forum Blvd. just off Stadium Blvd about a mile west of the University of Missouri. It would be a nice place to stop for dinner or drinks on the way to or from Faurot Field or the infamous Plaigarena.

My friend had a glass of the featured Malbec to start with while I had a Schlafly Pale Ale. The beer was very fresh and crisp, but not too carbonated. I would have liked it to be a little hoppier though. When I read tonight that Washington University in St. Louis gave an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly I found myself wondering if the Schlafly brewery was related to her at all and if my buying that beer had given her a few pennies. The brewery FAQ addresses this question by stating, "Phyllis Schlafly is Tom Schlafly's aunt. She is the widow of Fred Schlafly, Tom's father's brother. She is not involved in the business."

I started with the warm spinach salad with walnuts, Stilton, thinly sliced apples and bacon sherry vinaigrette. It was simple but so delicious. The spinach was slightly sauteed but still had structure. The walnuts were toasted but not obnoxiously candied like you get at so many places. The vinaigrette was subtle but still imparted a slightly smoky bacon flavor over the whole salad that was complemented nicely by the Stilton. My friend had a grilled salmon salad that looked great but isn't on the menu. With our salads we were served fresh, hot wheat and sourdough bread with a small bottle of seasoned olive oil for dipping. The lemon wedges in the oil bottle added a wonderful, but slight, tartness to the oil.

After our salads, we ordered a couple of the small plates which were larger than the tapas-like plates I've gotten at a few other places. We had the Ahi Poke Napoleon and the Pepper-Crusted sliced Sirloin. The Ahi was wonderful, like the ahi tartar I used to like to make. It was marinated in a soy vinaigrette and served on wonton chips stacked on the plate garnished with a sweet soy drizzle. The sirloin came with a great marinated tomato and cucumber relish that would have made a nice salad by itself, and dollops of Gorgonzola cream. The star of the dish was the meat, of course, seared to a perfect medium rare, which is to say, a warm, red center, but not so done to be pink. It was fork tender and went so well with the Gorgonzola cream.

My friend ordered a chocolate mousse for dessert which was pretty good but I don't really know from chocolate mousse since it all seems like fancy puddin' to me. There was a cranberry walnut bread pudding on the dessert tray that looked delicious but I didn't partake.

Chris McD's seems to be kind of a Columbia institution since it's been around for 17 years now. My friend told me Norm Stewart is one of the owners. It's definitely a worth a visit the next time you're in Columbia.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Paul's BBQ, 2008

I haven't been to Paul's since I took my dad there exactly a year ago while my mom was in the hospital. I've been trying to eat lunch with my aunts every Friday when I'm in Lincoln and they wanted to go to Paul's this time and I was all for it since it had been so long. I've been exposed to a lot of BBQ in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas since the last time I went to Paul's so I was interested in doing some comparing.

We met at 11:30 because I knew the lunch rush would be huge. By noon the place was packed. I had the brisket sandwich and a couple of ribs. I think I've always had the pork sandwich when I've been there before. Like good BBQ is intended, the meat doesn't really need any sauce. The beef was tender and smoky, but not overpowering, served on a Kaiser roll.

The option to add 2 ribs is pretty neat. Normally I don't order ribs because there isn't enough meat to justify the cost, and they usually aren't that good. These ribs were perfect. No need for sauce. The meat pulled off the bone cleanly and the flavor was out of this world.

I advised both my aunts to get sweet potato fries and they sounded skeptical but they were pretty happy with that recommendation. I used to think the sweet potato fries at all the local restaurants came from the same place and maybe they do but Paul's cooks 'em up better than anyone else. At most places, like Wilderness Ridge for example, the fries are overcooked, dry and flavorless. Paul's were crisp but tender, and they were hot.

My one gripe with Paul's is that the sauces they offer, although you don't sauces there, are too sweet. I'd love it if they added a third sauce that was more vinegar and mustard based but still spicy.

I drove by Paul's around 1800 on my way home from work and it was packed again. I'm glad a real BBQ place can exist and thrive in Lincoln. I just wish they'd make a sauce that's spicy but not so sweet.