Surviving the Big Easy: Mardi Gras

Check one off the bucket list. I finally made it to The City That Care Forgot to celebrate Mardi Gras. It’s a whole different ball game folks. New Orleans on steroids, as well as copious hand grenades and big ass beers. If you haven’t been, do it. Maybe not make it your first trip to The Crescent City though. It is a lot to take in, even for someone who has visited and survived many times. See my other posts about my favorite city in the world. Surviving the Big Easy and Surviving The Big Easy, Part 2. Where to begin. Obviously we had to run to Willa Jean immediately once we checked into the hotel for a frosé and some to-go pastries. Who needs coffee to start the day? Then off to The Quarter to begin the debauchery. Molly’s for a frozen Irish coffee. Harry’s Corner. Pat O’s for the sweet nectar of a Hurricane. Napolean House for an amazing muffuletta and a Pimm’s cup.  Josephine Estelle. You get the point. These are a few of my favorite things. On top it all, it’s only Thursday. It’s a marathon, not a sprint right? Have I mentioned I love it here? After regrouping at the hotel, you know, a shower and a change of clothes, it was off to to bar in the lobby to hang with Sara’s family and friends. I’ve heard lots of stories, so it was good to finally put faces to the names. Plus I was going to be spending a lot of time with the men since the women had a luncheon, as well as riding in Krewe of Iris in the parade. The men? Well we were left to our own devices. How much trouble could we get in right? Especially in New Orleans. So Friday we walked around drinking 3 for 1 beers. Many o’shitty domestics. The Cat’s Meow was a purrrfect place to spend a few hours on a balcony, observing the scenery that Bourbon Street can provide. I may or may not have seen a few scantily clad women exposing their assets. Yes I saw boobs for beads. When in Rome. A few however I wish I would have looked away. Tough life huh? So every year there is a different theme that Sara’s group dresses up for Mardi Gras. This year? Outer space. A Google search and many Amazon boxes later, I have a shiny silver suit, flashing LED lights wrapped around my arms, shades and a robot hat to top it off. You should have seen how many people wanted to take a picture of me as we walked around Friday night. Plus we all wore our costumes to a nice sit down dinner. Sorry not sorry. Robots use Sazeracs and a Vieux Carre or two for fuel apparently. Operation black out robot has commensed. The Carousel Bar, followed by a trip to the Erin Rose for my favorite window seat, tends to lead to a rusty, as well as hung over robot. Nothing like a little rest, a shower, and a Miller Lite first thing in the morning to make things better. Or at least manageable. As Sara and all the women were throwing beads off their float Saturday, the men and I walked the parade route on St. Charles. You think tailgaiting is crazy in North Carolina? It has nothing on Mardis Gras. We walked around with a cooler full of ice cold beer, meanwhile I saw hundreds of tents, many a keg, grills, bags of Popeye’s, shopping carts full of booze, broken champagne bottles everywhere, inflatable furniture, and an ironing board as a portable bar. All before noon. Yikes. Meanwhile I am wearing a purple tutu. And beads everywhere. Literally everywhere. I had a nice bead sunburn to boot. A pit stop for a bloody mary or two, followed by dozens of charbroiled oysters from Drago’s, does a body good. So does going back to the hotel room to lay down. After getting my third wind, Sara and I saw KISS on an Endymion float, had an amazing dinner at Compère Lapin and took in a burlesque show to end the night. Oh Mardi Gras. Another reason for me to fall in love with New Orleans again. It’s not just beads and breasts, dudes and daquiris. It’s friends and families getting together to reminisce and share stories of past Mardi Gras lore, celebrate the unusual sights and sounds of this quirky city, and to make new fuzzy memories. Cheers foodies!

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Shaft Meal

I’ve been stewing on this post for a while, letting it marinate if you will. Staff meal. Or shaft meal as I like to call it. My krytonite. My grear grinder.  Why do I get so grumpy about staff meal you ask? Maybe I’m just naturally bitter. Or maybe because I get annoyed when servers order food after I spent my little free time making them staff meal. I’ll go with I’m just a Bitter Betty. Anyway, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a common meal shared by cooks, servers, dishwashers, etc before or after service everyday. Those of us in the restaurant industry don’t get a dinner break folks. No hour lunch to run to Bojangles and grab a chicken biscuit. Generally I’m in the building all day, I might leave to get a quick caffeine fix. Hell, you’re lucky to even to eat for 5 minutes. My first real meal of the day might at midnight. I chose this career right? Most of the time you’re hunched over grabbing a bite in between tickets or when you’re lucky enough to have a few spare moments of inactivity. Generally staff meal is made with leftovers that are hanging around the walk in, stuff you have extra of, and cheaper cuts of meat (i.e. scraps from butchering proteins). Now it might not sound appetizing, but you’d be surprised what you can create with just a little creativity or thinking outside the box. One pan baked pastas, meatloaf, stir fry, and of course tacos are all popular choices for staff meal. They’re easy and always a crowd pleaser. Kitchens have become so culturally diverse that I’ve had some of the best Mexican food at work, not at some popular Tex-Mex fusion joint. Tamales, mole, pozole, chilaquiles, you name it. When I worked at an Italian place I used to make pizzas for the kitchen, and then bribe backwaits with said pizzas to take out the trash. You gotta do what you gotta do. http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/staff-meals-10-la-chefs-restaurateurs-recall-the-best-and-worst-2379836 Now I’ve worked in places where there was no staff meal and servers could order food at a discounted rate during down times, other places where we made staff meal once service slowed down, maybe around 9 or 10 at night, and other places where we made meal before service even started, around 5. I’d much rather do it before service. By the time the rush dies down the last thing I want to do is cook more. I want a beverage. People talk about the importance of sharing a meal before service, keeping morale up, comraderie blah blah. I get it. It is significant because the shift is long and demanding. I do like staff meal despite my crabby demeanor. But servers can tell when you just throw cooler scraps in a pot and call it soup. Or take whatever meat you have, serve it with tortillas, and call it tacos. I’m guilty as charged for doing that sometimes; there only so many hours in a day and staff meal isn’t always my top priority. But front of the house does appreciate when you go the extra mile to make an awesome staff meal. If you feed them, they will run food. And the best thing about leftover staff dinner? It becomes staff lunch. Winning. Shit, I’ve always wanted front of the house to make the kitchen staff meal once.  Just Google and I found a restaurant in Californina where the FOH does every Sunday. http://www.starchefs.com/cook/savory/staff-meal/manresa-fried-chicken Staff meal might have once been a second thought of a busy day, just serve ’em frozen chickem nuggets or leftovers from bruch that were going to get thrown out. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-gourmet-staff-meal-1455666198 But there is something necessary and vital about stopping for a few minutes each day to have a meal together as a kitchen or a staff. Just a few moments of down time can lighten the mood and recharge your batteries. The day is already long and hard enough that those few moments when you can stop are critical to maintaing your sanity. The actor Geoffrey Rush once said, “I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life.” Cheers foodies!

Did You Say Steak?

Sullivan’s. The Angus Barn. The Peddler. Fleming’s. Ruth’s Chris. Vinnie’s. You get the idea. There are plenty of options for you in the greater Raleigh area if you want to go out for a nice steak dinner and never call her again. Little Anchorman reference there sorry, I digress. I mean what’s not to like about a great steakhouse? There is just something about the appeal of going out for a steak dinner. The ambiance of a dimly lit bar with dark wood, servers in ties, red meat, a loaded baked potato, and copious red wine. Maybe a little shrimp cocktail? Best steak I ever had? Peter Luger’s in New York. Better bring cash, they don’t take cards. Best steakhouse memories? Going to Vinnie’s as a kid and seeing our family picture on the wall with the rest of the regulars. However, the one drawback? They ain’t cheap. Want a steak? 50 bucks. A salad? 10 bucks. Taters? Another 10 bucks. I’m not that much of a baller that I can afford to eat out at a high-end steakhouse that often unless someone else is picking up the tab. Outback I can afford. But don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather cook a steak at home. Back when I was in culinary school, we asked one of our chefs where his favorite place to eat in town was. Like the cocky asshole chefs can be, he said his house. At the time I thought he was just being funny. But now after working in restaurants for years, sometimes you don’t want to go out on your day off, you want to be lazy and cook your own food, especially a steak. You know it’s going to be good, plus it’s going to be seasoned well. Probably one of my biggest gear grinders is under seasoned food. Enough about that, I’ll save that for another post.  So I get to choose the exact cut I want, char it over my own grill outside in shorts with a beverage in hand, and know it’s going to be medium rare. I find it relaxing to cook on my day off. Weird right? Plus I don’t have to pay 10 bucks per side. Hasselbacken potatoes? Creamed spinach? Obviously a wedge salad with blue cheese with extra crumbles. So recently I have been on a steakhouse kick. In the last few weeks I have been to Sullivan’s, The Capital Grille, and Outback. No rules, just right. You know I had to sneak a chain in there somewhere. Hey, I wasn’t going to Logan’s Roadhouse or Lone Star. The results? Hands down the best blue cheese wedge salad was from Sullivan’s. Their dressing was super crumbly and creamy. Delicious. At Outback, I ordered a blue cheese wedge salad and the server came back 5 minutes later and asked what dressing I wanted. Um, blue cheese? Duh. So when I get the wedge it had blue cheese dressing, but also balsamic reduction! No! Why would you do that and ruin a perfectly good salad? Despite this, Outback was as tasty as it always is. A Blooming Onion, a 10 oz ribeye (skinniest ‘lil ribeye ever), baked potato with the trimmings and a shareable Mason jar cocktail? What’s not to like. So much food. And it was so much cheaper than Sullivan’s and The Capital Grille. Considerably. Best steak? Probably Sullivan’s. Bone-in Cowboy steak was charred well and cooked correctly. Best overall experience? The Capital Grille. Service and cocktails were great, plus the sides were better than Sullivan’s and Outback. Plus you get an iPad for the wine list. Pretty cool. Kinda reminded me of the tablets  at Applebee’s and Olive Garden, but actually practical. You could sort the wines by price (obviously cheaper to more expensive for me), scroll through all the cocktails, and see what wines paired with certain foods. Foodie nerds will love it. One misstep of The Capital Grille was the steak tartare. Terrible. Like totes not good. Under seasoned, served on top of hard boiled eggs and capers, with a shitty deviled egg on the side. Ugh. Bad news bears. Outside of that, it was awesome. Great night. Plus we had gift cards so we were playing with house money. So what did I learn from my mi-steaks? Sometimes you gotta pay up for your steak just for the ambiance and Outback hits the spot when you need some red meat and a deep fried onion. Cheers foodies!

North Hills

Midtown? Nah. Old North Hills Mall. I miss you. Being a native of the City of Oaks, Andy’s Pizza and Scotty’s were an institution in Raleigh. The best pizza ever. What I wouldn’t do to have a simple pepperoni pie right now. Trophy? Doesn’t hold a candle. And how can you forget the famous Scotty dog and the best greasy burgers and fries?  Now all North Hills is high dollar chains, ITB soccer moms in SUV’s that take up two spaces, and a plethora of Starbucks. No thanks. The dining page of the Visit North Hills website says “From high end to fast casual, classic to cutting-edge, North Hills has it all.” Nothing says cutting edge more than Bonefish Grill and The Cowfish. The only reason I go to North Hills is for Target and Sur La Table. And maybe Total Wine. Again, chain city. Lord knows, I’ve spent enough time working and playing in North Hills, I did work at Vivace and Starbucks. Don’t hold it against me. Yeah, hard to picture me as a barista isn’t it? Lots of eye rolling at complicated orders. You want soy and no foam? Nope. That’s why I chose back of the house. Spent many o’ late night at Midtown, and countless Saturdays day drinking at Fox & Hound. Hey, my options were limited back then. We had the ‘ol Hibernian before it ‘burned’ down and the Creekside Ale House. You know, pre-hipster downtown Raleigh. Old North Hills mall was a dump, don’t get me wrong. We used to rush there on our lunch break from Broughton to grab a slice or two and buy cheap sunglasses from The Dollar Tree. Then maybe look at cd’s from Blockbuster Music. Free Jersey Mike’s because we had a friend who worked there also. (Thanks Jessie) Yeah, I had no life as a teenager. Now? North Hills is all shiny, new, and pretentious. Expensive condos and mixed use development. Gone is the Winn-Dixie. Enter a two story Teeter. Give the ITB’ers what they want, Beach Music on Thursday, expensive steaks, and pricey boutiques. Working on a Thursday was a nightmare. Drunktown as it’s finest. I get it though, it’s good for Raleigh. Cameron Village part deux. But it kind of feels a little Charlotte-ish to me though. Forgive me for being sentimental though, old North Hills Mall was part of my childhood. Lots of great memories. It shaped me to be the pessimist I am today. Cheers foodies!

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KO at OT

Bucket list. Finally made it to The Office Tavern with AB and McGuzzles. (You know who you are). And what a sight it was. I definitely felt like I was in Carolina Beach at Loretta’s, or the Surfside Bar as it’s also called. You know it’s going to be a good day when you walk into a dive bar on a Sunday and the entire staff, as well as every bar fly, know the people you are accompanying. Not sure what it says about me. Or the company I keep. Anyway, the OT is priceless. Neon signs. Elvis lamps. Pool tables. Fish tank. Cash only. No liquor. Cheap beer. Friendly bartenders. $2 Bud Light aluminum cans on a Sunday. Half way through the day, and quite a few aluminum cans later, a fight happened to break out in the parking lot. A fist fight fight between two older gentlemen, who were also brothers. And one of them happened to be carrying a crutch. And well, he used that crutch to his advantage. It was like the Jerry Springer show broke out on Glenwood South. We had a front row seat to two rednecks beating each other up with fists and crutches flailing. Highly entertaining. Bloody faces ensued. Good thing I was 5 or 6 deep in the metal cans. Cue the jukebox. Anything to calm the situation. Red Solo Cup? Yes. Alabama? Yes. Drive By Truckers? Totally. Even after all the tomfoolery, it still felt like your neighborhood dive bar, just add the assault. I’ll be back to the OT, with their cheap beer (they have the Champagne for 2 dollaz) and for their scenery. The bartenders were salt of the earth, as well as all the regulars. Definitely welcomed with open arms. Great hardworking people who need a place to relax, blow off some steam, and talk about golf and politics. All within dark confines and comfortable bar stools. Don’t we all need that?

I gave Mash and Lauter (and Busy Bee) a second? third? chance. What a mistake that was. How can you be out of half of your entire menu? No mussels? Check. No charcuterie? Check. No bread plate? Check. The tiniest cheese plate ever? Check. Terrible. It’s not like it was late either. It’s half your menu bro.  Last time we went to Busy Bee we walked out after 10 minutes. Why you ask? Service. Always service. We’re here to spend money. Please pay attention to me. Your loss. Gave you plenty of chances. Enough ranting for one night. On a side note, congrats to Gallo Pelón. Best bar in downtown. Check it out. Britt and Marshall are amazing. Cheers foodies!

 

 

 

 

 

Landmark

I love Landmark. Before there was Ruby Deluxe, Person Street, Circa, insert another hipster bar, we had the original downtown Raleigh hangout. It’s dark and loud with an amazing quaint patio. Lots of good fuzzy memories out there, especially my last night at Poole’s. It has gotten to the point now that I walk in and the bartender has a bottle of Tanqueray in hand. Yikes, maybe I need to go somewhere new? The only question I always get is, it’s soda right? Anyway, the best thing about walking into Landmark, especially if you work in the service industry, is there is a 100% chance that you will know someone. It really goes a long way, especially on the weekends working downtown. When I leave Garland, I have no desire to go to Fayettnam St. or Glenwood South, they are both disaster areas. I want to go somewhere that has a cocktail and dream waiting for me. (Yes I like the movie Cocktail, sue me). So I have three home bars in Raleigh: Player’s Retreat, Landmark, and Paddy O’Beers. But the best thing about all three? The bartenders. People who share your common interests, can relate to you having a shitty night at work, and generally appreciate good food and good alcohol.  I’m not just another face when I walk into the bar, I’m Norm. I’m a friend. So I had a terrible experience at Landmark one night when I walked in stone sober (yes it’s possible) and some guy accused me of stealing his fleece jacket. I had walked into Landmark with that same coat millions of times and was obviously caught off guard. He was like “that’s my coat.” I tried to ignore the persistent drunk asshole. I walked away multiple times, but he was belligerent, as were all his friends. I felt super uncomfortable in otherwise what was a safe place to me. Cops got called eventually, and thankfully that I was a regular, I was defended by the doorman and as well as all the bartenders. As it turned out, the drunk douchebag left his coat on one of the bar stools. What an idiot. If I hadn’t known most of the staff from Landmark it could have been a lot worse. Especially once you add RPD’s finest. So now every time I walk into Landmark I get, “that’s my coat.” Long story short, it’s nice to have a familiar face or two on the other side of the bar, it goes a long way. Tip your bartenders. Cheers foodies!

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Mexi-can’t

I’m always looking for late night food options besides the usual suspects Player’s Retreat, Calavela, Mo Joe’s, etc. So when I found out Virgil’s Original Taqueria was opening and would serve until 2 am seven days I week I got excited. Plus who doesn’t like tacos and Tecate? However, after hearing about some of my fellow service industry friends experiences at Virgil’s I was a little leary and apprehensive; but I figured we would give it a shot anyhow. On Sunday around 10 pm we arrived to a pretty empty restaurant, maybe a handful of other people. We opted to sit at a high-top table rather than the bar. Maybe a mistake. We ordered a couple of cocktails and waited. And waited. And waited. I could see them completed and just glistening on the bar, staring at me, practically calling my name, “please drink me.” I was about to get them myself but eventually the bartender grabbed them, not our server,  and walked around the bar and dropped them off. It’s not like she was busy, there was practically no one in there. Strike one. The “flash fried” tortilla chips, as well as the salsa and guacamole,  are all a la carte on the menu, so if you want all three it’s 10 bucks. No thanks. I’d rather go eat bottomless chips and salsa at El Rodeo. Plus, the same”flash fried” tortilla chips  were just basking under the warmth of the heat lamp the entire time we were there. Plus the guys in the kitchen were ultra-hipster. I’m at a taco place, not The Stanbury ya know? Grinds my gears. So to start we got the Mexican fries, hand-cut and topped with mole, onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and queso fresco. Well they arrived minus the queso fresco. The bits with the mole were tasty, but without the cheese they were really no bueno. In my best Gordon Ramsay voice, they were dry and bland. Next we opted to sample the tacos, so we decided on the fried avocado, chorizo con papas, and carnitas. Of the three, the fried avocado was the best. Slices of creamy fried avocado with cabbage, cilantro, onions and lime crema were really good. The carnitas were okay, just needed a lot of salt and hot sauce. The chorizo tasted as if it has been charred or burnt.  Oh well. I’ll overlook service sometimes if the food is great, but in this case neither was outstanding. Just middle of the road. For my money, I’d much rather go to Chubby’s Tacos for the relleno, spicy chicken tinga, and the barbacoa. I’ll give Virgil’s another shot because they are open so late,  plus they have Pacifico tall boys; but I’m in no rush to get back. If only Raleigh had better late night food options. Maybe Guy Fieri can open up a dive on Glenwood South. Cheers foodies!