Thursday, December 31, 2009

Realizing Your Dreams: My Night at Hot Sauce Williams

Anyone who has lived in Cleveland or at least visited should know what I mean when I say: “Hot Sauce Williams.”

A rambling blue-ish/grey-ish/purple-ish building with hot pink trim, Hot Sauce Williams stands out amongst all the drab grey and brown of East Cleveland, a beacon of warmth and hominess.

Now, I don’t think I can honestly remember when or why Hot Sauce Williams came into my consciousness, but I do know that it’s been a running joke amongst my friends and me every time we drive past it. “Is today the day we’re going to Hot Sauce Williams?” or “I’m hungry, how about some Hot Sauce Williams?” and so on. I’m not sure if it’s the paint job, the ridiculous(ly awesome!) name, or a combination, but something about this restaurant has stuck with me for the last six or seven years. In fact, I was beginning to think it would never actually happen, that Hot Sauce Williams would forever be an unreached destination.

That seemed true until about a week-and-a-half ago. After long days at work Nicole and I were hungry and tired but couldn’t decide on what to have for dinner when someone suggested HSW. We laughed a little at first, of course, but then we realized: this was our time. The hot sauce would be ours.

So, we bundled up and made the short trek down Carnegie Avenue to the purple and pink building at 7815. We were excited as we pulled up to the drive-thru and tried our best to scan the outdoor menu—which has seen much better days. When a voice crackled through the speaker asking for our order we were still unsure and asked for another minute to decide. Finally ready we announced our order to the speaker but received no reply. After waiting another minute we decided that there was no one on the other end and decided to venture inside to place our orders in person.

The bright, slightly gaudy exterior of HSW belies the humble interior. A few mix-n-matched tables and chairs in the center of the dining room, ringed by booths, and topped with e-z-kleen laminated tablecloths. Nothing fancy and little atmosphere, rather like dining in someone’s oversized dining room. Or rather the lack of atmosphere is the atmosphere. There is nothing pretentious or cloying about HSW, just good food, fast and simple.

After another quick glance at the menu we placed our orders again: two rib dinners and a rib tip sandwich. Unfortunately they were out of the rib tips for the evening so Nicole withdrew her order, but we went ahead with the orders for Morgan and me. A rib dinner at HSW comes with six ribs, fries, coleslaw and white bread. Not being a fan of slaw I opted to trade mine for macaroni and cheese. Morgan made the same choice and also swapped her fries for mashed potatoes and gravy.

Everything was placed into HSW’s custom carry-out boxes, sauced, and wrapped before we headed for home. The first sign that this was a good choice: the two dinners in the bag were heavy. Once home the boxes were opened and distributed. My first bite was from the mac-n-cheese. A standard mac-n-cheese offering, HSW’s is elbow macaroni in a delicious homemade cheese sauce, then baked with a bread crumb topping. Just like mom would make. HSW’s mac-n-cheese is hearty, creamy, and absolutely delicious. A must for any visit. Next I tried a few fries which had been slathered in HSW’s signature sauce. A decent fry I’m sure, mine were definitely limp from the drive home while swimming in sauce. But my first taste of their sauce was a great surprise. A little sweet, a little spicy, and just a bit of sour on the finish; a basic, delicious barbeque sauce.

The ribs at HSW are serious, a full spare rib, or a St. Louis cut with the rib tip in tact. When I ordered the dinner I wondered if six would be enough, but when I saw them I knew everything was going to be alright. Compared to the baby back ribs served at most places, the spare rib provides tougher, darker, but more flavorful meat. But the ribs are well marinated so they’re tender and come off the bone easily, and while I’m not usually a fan of picking around in gristle, the tips provide a few more bites of tender, succulent meat.
Over all a tasty, filling, messy (!) experience—if don’t need a shower after ribs, you’re eating them wrong. Nothing surprising or new, just great ribs and sides at a great price, I don’t think we spent more than $15 on two meals and I was perfectly full afterwards. Hot Sauce Williams isn’t reinventing the rib or anything profound, but they know what they’re doing and they’re doing it right. And if ribs aren’t your thing I’m told their fried chicken is pretty amazing, as are the pork chops and their massive sausages and hot dogs. If you need a BBQ fix in Cleveland, look no further than Hot Sauce Williams!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A (gasp!) Mediocre Melt Meal?

Say it ain't so, sandwich gods, say it ain't so!

My friend Trish was home for the holidays recently and we hadn't hung out in over a year so we decided to get together Tuesday afternoon. Our plan of action was to grab some lunch, catch up, then grab a drink or two somewhere. Fun enough.

We decided on Melt for lunch since Trish had never been but had heard good things. We got there around 1:15 and only had a short wait for a table, maybe fifteen minutes as opposed to the hour one might wait in the evening. Once seated we ordered some drinks and continued catching up. I had a Harpoon Winter Warmer, a malty Christmas ale with spices, not bad, but nothing spectacular. The bit of Trish's that I tried was a rich, hoppy, full bodied ale that I liked a little better. But, no matter, we were at Melt where there is great food and a huge beer list, right?

I should've taken heed, but I didn't realize at the time that my mediocre beer choice would predict things to come that meal. After much debate we settled on some sandwiches, Trish chose the Winter Chicken with grilled chicken, honey-tomato chipotle sauce, and pepper-jack. I opted for the special of the month: the Mighty Macaroni Melt, a serving of homemade mac'n'cheese breaded and fried, placed between two pieces of cheese and bread, then grilled. Sounds amazing, no?

No. Well, not totally bad. Not bad at all actually, just not great. The mac'n'cheese by itself was really good. Rich and creamy, made with a tangy white cheese. The cheese added to the sandwich was just standard American, not bad per se, but it didn't bring a lot to the party. The bread was the usual thick cut bread Melt uses for all their sandwiches. It all looks and sounds fine on paper, but it was just a one note sandwich, cheese and bread and cheese and pasta, all tasty, but a little redundant. In retrospect some pepper-jack might have helped things out. All the rich, creamy, bread-y tastes could've benefitted from being cut with some spice. Other tasty add-on might include Melt's amazing carmelized onions in Port wine reduction, bringing a little sweet into the mix would've helped, too. Or I could've asked for some hot sauce on the side, Melt usually offers Sriracha. Certainly there were things one or both of us could've done to elevate this sandwich to the lofty heights of the rest of the Melt menu.

That said we had great time out, for our second round of lunch beers (don't judge!) I had a Southern Tier Old Man Winter, an Old Ale, this brew has tons of rich hoppiness and just the right touch of malt. After taking a few minutes for our beer and sandwiches to settle we meandered back to the east side of Cleveland where we took a walking tour of Coventry before hunkering down at La Cave du Vin for some fancy micro brews. I opened with an Otter Creek Quercus Vitis Humulus. This is one of the most delicious and complex beers I've ever tasted. QVH starts life as a barley wine style brew, it then has sauvignon blanc grape juice added to it and is re-fermented with champagne yeast, finally it is aged in oak barrels. The resulting beer has the sweet and spicy bite of a good barley wine, with the hops and malt competing for control of your mouth. Then the sauvingnon blanc kicks in, lightening the load of the rich, heavy barley wine with its signature crisp, clean citrus and tropical flavors. The aftertaste is where the oak barrel comes in, leaving just a hint of woodiness in the back of the throat. Really tasty, but as weird as the bartender had promised. I closed the evening with one of my all time favorite beers ever, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. It's deep, dark malt is roasty and toasty, the perfect way to shake off a cold Russian or Cleveland night's chill, it has a great bitter coffee aftertaste, like the finish of a perfectly brewed cup of dark roasted coffee served pitch black. What makes this even better is that La Cave serves Old Rasputin on their nitrogen tap so it always pours rich and frothy and is absolutely worth the 3-5 minute wait for the beer to pour and settle correctly. Old Rasputin is great from the bottle, amazing from the tap, but on nitrogen it's fucking transcendent.

So, despite my first so-so experience with Melt we had a great night out, enjoyed some great company, and drank some mighty fine beers.

See what La Cave Du Vin is pouring here:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

great condiment... or the *greatest* condiment?

I was at Kuma's Corner this afternoon (we were in Chicago and Erin had never been to Kuma's, so we decided to grindcore off our hangover) and, completely on a lark, threw together the world's best condiment...

Sriracha ketchup.

Start with ketchup. Add sriracha hot sauce to taste. I liked it at about a 10:1 ketchup-to-sriracha ratio.

It's that easy, and it's mind blowing. Sriracha by itself is a fantastic condiment compliment for just about anything you would contemplate adding hot sauce to. It also makes a good addition to mustard, but sriracha ketchup trumps them all.

Do it now.

(Also, it should be noted that we got an Iron Maiden, a Motorhead, a Neurosis, and mac 'n'cheese for lunch.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Friend Generated Content

Friends are often great sources of inspiration--this blog for example!--and the culinary world is no exception.

I thought I'd share a few recent food inventions created by people I know.
First, from my co-worker Kaley Turner, is a rather interesting sandwich, though nameless it is nonetheless tasty:
For this sandwich you will require:
  • 2 slices of your favorite bread

  • 2 slices of your favorite cheese

  • Your favorite peanut butter

  • Your favorite hot sauce

  • Cream cheese (optional)

To assemble:

  • Apply peanut butter to one slice of bread and add as much hot sauce to taste.

  • If using cream cheese spread it on the other slice and add sliced cheese, if not then apply sliced cheese directly to peanut butter and hot sauce.

  • Place in toaster oven or under broiler until bread is toasty and cheese is sufficiently melty, alternately grill in a skillet or place in a George Foreman or other sandwich press.

  • Slice, garnish with pickle, potato chips, more hot sauce and/or cream cheese for dipping, serve with beer

Next up is a refreshing beverage courtesy of Nicole Franks. She concocted this tasty sipper a few nights ago during a late night rummy game. Tentatively titled the "Soft Sailor," here's how it works:

How to build:

  • In a glass of your choosing add 1-3 shots of bourbon (we had Even Williams)

  • Add ice and ginger ale (we had Diet Canadian Dry on hand)

  • Stir in 1/2-1 teaspoon of sweetened vanilla extract or vanilla syrup

Sure, bourbon and ginger is nothing terribly new, but the addition of the sweetened vanilla gave it a well rounded flavor and added some "warmth" to the beverage. It was agreed that a similar concoction could be made from bourbon and cream soda if a sweetened ginger syrup were added. As this was the first iteration of this drink it's too soon to tell if it must be made with diet ginger ale, but I feel like some Vernor's would be a nice alternative.

Finally, a sandwich of my own invention, inspired by a friend's desire for the following:

  1. sandwiches

  2. chocolate

  3. bacon

Here's what I came up with, you may call it the "Jon Supreme":


  • 2 slices of your favorite bread

  • Cream cheese

  • Honey

  • Cinnamon

  • Nutella
  • Bacon

  • Walnuts and/or pecans

How to make it:

  • Prepare (at least) 3 pieces of bacon per sandwich using your preferred method of bacon prep

  • Coarsely chop nuts, place in skillet or on sheet pan and toast until fragrant

  • Add cream cheese, honey, and cinnamon to the bowl of a mixer, mix vigorously to combine

  • Once cream cheese mixture is fluffy and sufficiently combined, spread generously onto one slice of bread.

  • Cover the other slice of bread with Nutella.

  • Add nuts and bacon to sandwich and close

  • Grill in a skillet until warm and melty

  • Serve for breakfast with strong coffee or for dinner with a dark beer

I hope that inspires you to invent something new and share it with your friends!



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Liver Punisher vs. MSN City Guides: Winter Beer Round Up

MSN things-to-do section "City Guide" recently ran a feature on popular winter beers. After reading it over I thought I'd make my response.


Now, I haven't tried all of these, but I've had a few so far this year, let's see...

Great Divide Hibernation Ale: Not too shabby, but nothing fancy or new. Robust, malty start and slightly bitter finish. A solid ale, for sure, but not totally worth the price.

North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Imperial Stout: This is available pretty much year round so I'm not sure why it's on the winter beer list, unless it's because it's one of the best beers being made in America today. It's dark, and rich with great maltiness and subtle coffee/dark chocolate notes. An Imperial Stout, once brewed exclusively for the czars of Russia, Old Rasputin is certainly heavy, but find it on a nitrogen tap somewhere and you're in for one of the greatest treats on earth. Plus its 9% ABV will certainly keep you warm, if not help you sleep off most of the winter.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Celebration Ale: One of my all time favorite winter beverages, Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale is a hops fan's dream. Very little of the malt is noticeable, save for maybe the first second it hits the tongue, after that it's hops time! The massive dose of hops are predominately piny with just a bit of citrus in the finish. It's a lot like taking a header into the Christmas tree after a few too many gin and tonics... in the best way possible.

Avery Brewing Avery Old Jubilation: Another tasty entry from the Avery co. Old Jubilation is a rich, malty brew. A bit of hops in the beginning gives way to a candy-like finish. Worth a try if you stumble onto it, but no loss if not.

After reading this I'm hoping to stumble onto some of the Smuttynose Robust Porter and the Victory Storm King. There's nothing like a dark, full bodied beer on a winter night, it's like a hug for your insides.

And few they missed...

Columbus Brewing Company Winter Warmer: This amber colored beer is cram-jammed with winter spices and heavily malted, so it's kind of like drinking a liquefied gingerbread man. Tasty, warming, and soothing. Their 90 Schilling Ale is also a robust brew that, while available year round, is especially well suited for the colder months.

Great Lakes Brewing Co. Christmas Ale: I'm going to try my best to not post about this beer anymore this year, but yes, Virginia, it is that good. Great malt and honey taste, a bit of orange zest, and plenty of spice warms the body and soul. I keep hearing murmurs that GLBC Christmas Ale is not all it's cracked up to be, but rest assured it is. It really, really is. A gold standard for winter beers the world around. And for an extra treat dip the rim of your glass in about 1/8 of an inch of honey, then, using the honey as an adhesive, roll the rim in a light mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Shazam!

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