Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lolita and Edison's Pub, March 25, 2011

Michael Symon’s cadre of restaurants are some of the larger jewels in Cleveland’s restaurant crown. So it hasn’t been active avoidance that’s kept me from dining there, more timing and opportunity. That was until this past Friday when my friend Kate and I took a drive to Tremont for night nosh at Lolita’s Happy Hour part II.

Lolita wisely re-offers the chance at food and drink specials starting again at 10:30pm and we were lucky enough to snag the last two seats at the bar—specials are available at the bar, only. In addition to Lolita’s modest but powerful dinner menu we received the Happy Hour specials list which offers a few delicious bites for $5 as well as a heads up on what drinks are on the cheap that night. We ordered a round of $2 Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and poured over the menus.

Yeah, $2 Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. Most joints you’re lucky to get $2 Miller Lights at happy hour, but Lolita offers up one of the finest mass market brews at an unbeatable price.

Picking from Lolita’s menu would be hard enough on its own, but coupled with a selection of amazing $5 choices made the picking all the harder. Kate was the first to make any sort of decision, stating that we must get the crispy chicken livers from the appetizer menu. I countered this with roasted bone marrow, something I’ve wanted to eat for a while, but had yet to find it on a menu or in my price range. $8 seemed like a fair price for an experiment. While the whole $5 menu was piquing our interest, with two apps ordered we selected only the fried Brussels sprouts. Needing to round out our faux tapas meal with something of substance we agreed on the duck prosciutto pizza.

Business was booming for 10:30-11:00 on a Friday so we sipped Sierra Nevadas and caught up. I’m not entirely sure how much time had passed but was pleasantly surprised when our food arrived. Everything looked and smelled amazing and there was little hesitation before diving in. Having had a long standing issue with the consumption of offal I decided to dive in headfirst with some chicken liver. I’ve tried fowl liver in the past and never had anything pleasant to report about it. With one bite this dish changed my mind. With their outsides perfectly fried and crispy I was surprised when the insides all but melted in my mouth. The last time I tried liver I remember it tasting extremely metallic, but these were robust and meaty, a strong flavor that was certainly chicken at heart but approached beefiness in its power and weight. The livers were served on a bed of some of the creamiest, delicate polenta I’ve ever crossed fork with and garnished with bacon and mushrooms. Easily one of the best things I’ll eat this year.

Next we moved on to the marrow. I’ve long been intrigued by the consumption of marrow. It always seemed like a very primal, animalistic thing to eat. That only lions and bears and Vikings and other beasts of their ilk would crack open the bones of another animal and suck the rich, fatty substance from therein. But apparently it’s for fancy pantses, too. We received 3 stout bones that had been sawed open to expose the marrow and make for easier scooping. The marrow had been roasted with a simple salsa verde and was served with pickled onions and toasted bread for spreading. I scraped out the contents of half a bone and spread it on the bread. I could almost tell as the bread and marrow entered my mouth that this was going to be amazing. Marrow, if you’ve never had it, is the essence of beef flavor. Like bacon its flavor is fatty in the best possible way, and the marrow’s concentrated beefiness is like getting punched in the mouth with a steak filled with hamburgers. It’s beef to the highest degree and should be experienced at least once. I’m so happy to have tried this and can’t wait to have it again!

With the wild cards successfully played we moved onto the fried Brussels sprouts. Ranging from slightly charred to perfectly cooked, these sprouts offer a variety of tastes and textures on their own. They are then tossed with anchovies and capers for some salt and walnuts for extra crunch. There was also the perfect hint of sweetness throughout the dish which my taste parts noted as balsamic vinegar or a reduction, but it’s not listed on the menu so I can’t say with 100% certainty. Arguably as good as Melt’s sprouts in cherry lambic glaze, Lolita’s sprouts number amongst my favorite preparations of these tiny cabbages for both taste and approach. Finally we came to the pizza. Topped with a couple of soft cooked eggs, parmesan, rosemary, and gorgeous flakes of duck prosciutto this simple little pizza was the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, fatty, cheesy, and carbs. As fantastic as it was, a solid “B” for sure, in light of the three other “A” plates it just felt a little flat. Accompanied by less ambitious sides I’m sure it would’ve shined, but with the livers and the marrow on the table, few things would have seemed as bold and flavorful.

Full and more than satisfied we hung around to finish our beers before making our way to Edison’s Pub for a night cap. We were lucky enough to find Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale on tap and had a few. The Bourbon Barrel ale is golden in color and produces a modest head with little lacing. It smells primarily of malt with hints of oak and maple. Its primary flavor is malt mingling with the woodiness of the barrel aging, with hints of vanilla and maple from the residual bourbon. A wonderful, hearty “dessert” beer if ever there was one. The Stone offering is on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. Classified as an American black ale and clocking in at 8.7 ABV the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is not to be trifled with. Its nearly pitch black in a glass with a small head and modest lacing. Its faint aroma is a mixture of hops and dark malts, both of which are subtle. With such an subtle fragrance I was surprised by how much depth of flavor this beer has—it’s from Stone so I shouldn’t have been. There’s a quick jab of malty-ness at first which I quickly overwhelmed by the dueling flavors of dark roasted malt and a heavy dose of pine-then-citrus hops. All together an amazing, flavorful, powerful but balanced beer, and proof contrary to my long held belief that black IPAs are generally unsatisfying. I realize that this isn’t technically a black IPA, but it does prove that dark beers can be made hoppy successfully.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From the Liver Punisher WTF Files: Wienie-tini

Nicole’s roommate, Morgan, recently won a bottle of Bakon brand bacon flavored vodka. Let me reiterate the fact that this was won and thankfully not purchased. Once the seal was broken and the bottle open we all waited patiently for her to dole out some tastes. I was excited by the prospect of this bizarre draught, but was quickly disappointed.

The initial taste is of ultra-astringent cheap vodka, like the kind for sale a grocery stores and convenience marts in plastic gallon jugs. The cheap-stuff burn is bad enough, but it’s quickly replaced by an overwhelming smokiness which isn’t apparent in the “bouquet,” like chasing a shot of cheap vodka with a slug of liquid smoke. While neither of these is appealing, the actual worst part of the whole experience is the unaccountable-for fatty aftertaste. I don’t know how it’s done, but the after taste and mouth feel are similar to that of chomping on a nub of bacon fat.

And while this is most certainly a no-thank-you for me, it’s not the weirdest meat flavored vodka on the market, the Alaska Distillery has the corner on that market. But I was definitely curious so I visited the Bakon website for more info. After scrolling through some basic web business boiler plate I hit the mother load of what-the-fuckery: the recipe page.

My first though after tossing back a spot of this off-putting drank was bacon Bloody Mary, it’s their “flagship” cocktail, and something I’m sure tastes more than a bit like barbeque sauce juice. My favorite, and the most appealing by far, is the Waffle Shot, equal parts Pinnacle Whipped and Bakon. And the list goes on and on and on and never really sounds appealing, to whit the poorly named and awful sounding Scottish Bacon, equal parts Bakon and Scotch. Mmm… pass. But as off put as I was by this train wreck, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to work this into a silly little cocktail with a silly little name, and thus the Wienie-tini was born.


- 2oz Bakon brand bacon flavored vodka

- 1oz grape vodka

- Dash hot chili sauce

Make It So:

- Pour vodkas into a shaker with ice and add hot sauce to taste

- Shake and strain into cocktail glass

- Garnish with a cooked and cooled cocktail wiener on a sword

- Enjoy?

My favorite aspect of this drink is my painfully clever name, so that should tell you something

about it.

The Liver Punisher and the Triumphant Return of the Liver Punisher Drink of the Month Club: Drink of the Month

While there is some serious shittalking and muckraking done on a regular basis in the name of food—proper seasoning etiquette, rare vs. well-done, etc.—it’s arguable that the only thing people get more riled up about than how their steak is cooked is their booze.

Bourbon or Scotch, lager or ale, gin or vodka, Mickey’s or Colt 45. There are as many fair arguments to be made as there are taste buds in your eat hole. Perhaps there is no booze related argument more heated, though, than what constitutes a “correct” martini. Dryness and the proper inclusion of vermouth being the chief sources of these arguments. A classic martini calls for a whopping table spoon of dry vermouth stirred with 2oz of quality gin, a delicious and acceptable recipe. On the other hand, noted martini enthusiast Winston Churchill’s recipe called for ice cold gin served by a bartender who had glanced at a bottle of vermouth while shaking the drink. All other recipes fall somewhere in between, save for the inverted or “upside-down” martini which calls for 2oz of vermouth shaken with half an ounce of gin. Yum?

My personal history with this most iconic of concoctions is checkered at best. The first few times I tried this at home I wound up with a glass full of no-thanks and a long held belief that gin was just the most worst thing ever. A gin-and-tonics phase, and gin better than Tanqueray, helped erase that erroneous belief, but the martini still left me cold. Gin, basically on its own, is a bitter, pungent, astringent quaff that falls squarely in the learn-to-like camp with Scotch. Slowly I warmed to the idea of a glass of icy-cold gin, nudged along by my introduction to Hendrick’s. (Occasionally derided by “purists” as “novelty” gin as it’s distilled with cucumbers and rose petals, there is, in fact, no gin governing body or—please forgive me—Gin-eva convention regarding the production or ingredients of gin. Gin is basically defined as neutral spirits flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. What those other botanicals are is left to the distiller’s imagination.)

With my interest in martini’s renewed I began playing around with the basic ingredients again. My initial results, while not amazing, were on the right path. With due diligence I continued to experiment and finally reached some common ground with the martini. While I certainly like and understand the appeal of both the classic and dry martini, they are almost painfully simple. Gin. Vermouth. Two notes that sound fine together but need to be supplemented in order to form a chord (metaphor courtesy of Alton Brown). And so it is with great pride and pleasure that I present to the world the Liver Punisher Tonic-less G&T Martini:


- 2oz good quality gin

- Splash dry vermouth

- 1 dash bitters

- Generous wedge of lime, about 1/8-1/12 lime

Do It:

- Fill glass with ice and water, set aside to chill

- Fill a mixing glass with ice

- Pour splash of vermouth into mixing cup and swirl to coat ice and sides of cup. Pour off excess vermouth

- Add one dash of bitters and a generous squeeze of lime to the mixing cup, then add gin

- Stir for about thirty seconds

- Empty chilled glass and drop in spent lime wedge

- Strain drink into chilled glass and enjoy!

This martini, like most great drinks, is a pleasure for both the mouth and nose. The pine-y pungency of the gin is well balanced by the bold citrusy nose of the lime, while the subtle hint of the vermouth and bitters and the sour bite of the lime balance the ultra assertive taste of the gin. If made correctly the aftertaste should be very similar to a well balanced gin and tonic. And that’s one of the things I found most appealing about this recipe, the result yields a drink where taste evolves as each sip passes over the palate and down the throat.

The Return of the Revenge of Ridiculous Eats, Part 2: Eating Eggstravaganza!

Not long ago a fellow food fiend posted this how-to slide show for Grilled-Cheese-Eggie-in-a-Basket. Take a moment to follow the link and click through. It’s cool, I’ll wait.

Back? Drooling? Me too. Her posting of this was totez ironic, and by “ironic” I mean completely coincidental, as I had just recently posted my suggestion to dip, not toast, but grilled cheese into a sunny-side-up or over-easy egg yolk. My one had just been upped.

Graciously accepting my second-place trophy I headed for the store for supplies. A dozen eggs and pack of cheese later I was ready for action. (Of course I already had bread and butter, how else am I supposed to make praline cinnamon toast? Duh.)

Back to matters at hand. With all the fixins and hardware in place it dawned on me that cooking two whole slices of bread and their centers separately in my modestly sized frying pan wasn’t happening. So I improvised. If you have been graced with an outsized frying pan, by all means follow the Serious Eats method, if not I think I finally got the medium-pan-method down after five tries.

- Butter
- Cooking Oil
- Two Slices Bread
- Two Slices Cheese
- Two Eggs

Make it Happen:

- Place your well oiled, modestly sized frying pan on oven and begin heating to the medium range
- Assemble sandwich in traditional grilled cheese fashion, but don’t butter yet.
- Using a pastry ring, cup, or some sweet, sweet eyeballin abilities excise the center of the sandwich.
- Butter top and bottom of both parts of the sandwich.
- Place all parts in pan and allow side one to fry at medium for about a minute-and-a-half to two.
- Increase heat to high and flip sandwich parts.
- After a minute crack two eggs into the hollowed out center of the grilled cheese.
- Continue to cook on this side until the bottom of the egg has completely cooked and is solid enough to flip without running or leaking.
- Flip sandwich and center again, still on high and cook for thirty seconds to a minute to ensure both sides are sealed.
- Check the center cut-out for doneness and remove from heat if necessary, then reduce heat back to medium and cook the outside for two to three minutes.
- Plate.
- Enfuckingjoy!

This method has worked great for me once, really well for me twice, just “OK” once, and too runny once when I was rushing, hence the extra minute or two at the end which is dependant more on your runny-whites preference level. I like them pretty firm, but even the longest cook time I gave this never solidified the yolks, which is key. Without a pastry ring or round cookie cutter I found that eyeballing it and cutting out a square center was easier and more effective than trying to cut around the mouth of a small drinking glass, and buttering after cutting ensures that the butter and bread don’t stick to the cutting board/plate/counter.

And in a best-of-both-worlds coincicurrance chopping out the middle leaves a mini grilled cheese behind for yolk-dipping satisfaction. Like Paul Giamatti would say: “Win. Win.”

The Return of the Revenge of Ridiculous Eats, Part 1: Give Me Lenten Pizza Specials, or Give Me Death!

Perusing Cleveland's Scene magazine has become a staple of my work-day lunch breaks. Cleveland's weekly alternative paper is one of the better free publications of most large cities I've been to. Competent writing, plenty of show listings, and hilarious ads. What more could one ask for? The comics back, for starters, but that's another article for another outlet.

Anywhozle, for the past few weeks I've been seeing adds for a pierogi pizza being served up by a Parma pizza palace called P. Jay's. Surprised? Maybe if it wasn't in Parma. Curious? You bet!

A very small amount of Google detective work led me to the P. Jay's Pizza website. A click or two later I arrived at this image:


What more can say? What more could one ask for? I suppose my one question would be: Is there really extra butter added? In addition to the butter sauce? Seems a bit much, but then this wouldn't be a ridiculous eats entry if it wasn't, right?

I'm hoping to make it all the way out to Parma to give one a whirl soon. Further review when that occurs. In the mean time, sit back and revel in the knowledge that this is out there in the world, waiting to cram your arteries and gullet with buttery, pizza-y goodness!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Bullshit Night In Suck City

I am a forgiving person by nature. Holding a grudge feels unnatural to me. It’s always seemed like way more effort to maintain animosity towards someone. This isn’t to say that trespasses forgiven are also forgotten, or that if I’ve been wronged by someone that I’m quick to let them back into my good graces, but I’m certainly willing to accept an apology and get on with it.

There are few facets of daily life in which I am more forgiving and understanding than the service industry. I’ve worked enough customer service jobs and have run across enough asshole customers that I am almost entirely empathetic with wait staff, bartenders, delivery drivers, operators, etc. These jobs are not the most fun or pleasant occupations. People expect pizza to be there as soon as the phone is hung up, they want to be the first served at the bar, and they want their problems fixed immediately despite the fact that it can’t be done, or that it can, just not by you and yelling isn’t going to make things happen faster. I get it. Believe me, I do.

And so it is extremely difficult for me to say this, but our service at XYZ the Tavern last night sucked. Worse than that if fucking blew. But more accurately it just wasn’t there. Bad service would’ve been an improvement and something that might is forgivable, but no service is completely and utterly impossible to ignore.

Now, quick readers will note the dates. Today is March 18, which means last night was… St. Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest bar days on the books. We knew that going into our evening out. We expected the bar to busy, it was, and the tables to be full, they were. But the staff, accommodating at first, cleared and cleaned the first available table. Brought us water even. And then…


Well, once I finished the little bit of beer I had left from the round we ordered at the bar while waiting it was bussed, but other than the busboy, I don’t think anyone noticed we were there.

But it was St. Patrick’s Day, be patient! We were. Very much so. Watching waiters and waitresses constantly pass by, delivering menus, drink, even food to every single table around us. Yeah, we had a menu, but we’d picked one off the bar when we came in. Certainly no one had brought one to the table. So we waited. And watched. And grew hungry and impatient until finally we left.

Do you know how many times I’ve done that? None. Never. Even at places where I’ve received terrible, slow, indifferent service I’ve never just left. And we tried and tried to justify this awful service, but as we could plainly see every one around us enjoying at least some attention from the servers we really couldn’t find a good reason to be treated so poorly.

It’s really difficult for me to write a bad review of anything, but there is no way I can find anything even remotely positive to say about XYZ the Tavern. And were the service merely poor or the food bad I might’ve been willing to try again someday in the future, but I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would be willing to try eating there again. I’m not saying never, what I am saying is: really unfuckinglikely. And it pains me to say this as well, but this experience was so bad that it will be a while before I go back to ABC.

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