Cocktails and Dreams

Back again foodies. So recently I began thinking what makes a bar great? Or rather what makes you choose one bar over another? Innovative cocktails? The ambiance? The smell of stale beer? There are hundreds of bars in area and they all sling the same booze, the same light beer, the same delicious Fireball; yet I seem to always frequent the same watering holes. What is it they say, of all the gin joints in the world? So what is it then? The witty banter of a barkeep, the Cheers factor of being Norm…”where everybody knows your name” or is something as simple as location and accessibility? For one, everyone loves being a regular, it’s as simple as that. What’s not to like though? Having a bartender remember your face, your drink of choice, etc makes you feel important, like you are better than the rest of the patrons. There is a definite comfort aspect when deciding where to imbibe. I’d much rather go to some dive bar or a tiny whole in the wall where I can just relax and unwind. As they said in Bull Durham, “I just want to be.” I think being in an intimate space, it forces you to chat up those around you. Having limited bar space you overhear what everyone is saying around you, for better and for worse. You end up seeing the same faces day in and day out. You get to know the people around you. Strangers becomes acquiantances. Eventually you put a name to the bleary eyes of the guy or girl next to you.  I’m not just a barfly, rather as Charlie Mars once wrote, “I am just a fly on this bar of dreams.” You take pride in the bar, you treat it as it’s your bar. When you see strange or unfamiliar people in your seat, you wonder what they are doing in “my bar.” With the intimate setting, comes fewer bartenders as well, so you get to know the person across the bar stool from you. It’s not a stranger handing you a beer, it’s not just a person you are paying to keep you company, they’re your friend. As you take pride in your bar, a bartender takes pride in their regulars. People show up to see you. It’s like a chef who has a cult following. Everyone loves to be the center of attention, it’s flattering. The proximity element is also in play as well. Since I have moved downtown, I get to some spots that I normally wouldn’t have frequented. Not saying they were bad spots, but the ease of being to walk has definitely added them into the rotation now. Why take a 10 minute Uber ride when I can walk five minutes to a multitude of bars and restaurants? I’m sure Glenwood South has popular and trendy spots, but who wants to deal with douche city? Other than C. Grace I’m staying far away from that neck of the woods. I’m too old to fight dudes for a seat at a loud ass bar. I ain’t trying to be five-deep with a bunch of bros tryin’ to get a Heineken. You’re just a namless face they are trying to make a buck on. Give me a friendly face and a comfy chair.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Cheers foodies!

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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!

Bull Durham

You would think Durham was in a different country. Yet it’s only 25 freakin’ miles away. Why haven’t I been going there more often? I’ve really been missing out. So a few weeks back, on a Sunday obviously, Sara and I ventured out to Durham for a day trip/birthday celebration. After a cheap $20 Uber ride, we started the day off at Pizzeria Toro. OMG. The antithesis of Pequod’s in Chicago. But so delicious. Wood fired crust, charred and crispy with just the right amount of sauce and toppings. Come on Raleigh, someone do this please. And the ricotta dumplings were superb, light and fluffy, definitely not dense as some gnocchi can be. Just call me a gnocchi snob since I have spent many an hour rolling them out. Next up, a short walk to Fullsteam Brewery for a paw paw tripel and a gose or two. On top of it I met a dog named Raleigh there, although not a Japanese chin, that was adorable and took a liking to me. Plus it’s owner was super cool and friendly. Craft beer drinkers, gotta love them. Speaking of craft beer, after a short walk we checked out Durty Bull Brewing Co. A small tap room with picnic tables outside, it produces a handful of beers, and serves a few local ones as well. Definitely try the blonde sour ale, great patio drinking beer. It was a glorious day outside, not a cloud in the sky, so the rooftop of The Durham Hotel seemed like a logical next destination.  The view of the city was worth the trip, plus the oysters were briney and cold, and the beverages were flowing like wine. And some great people watching to boot. Thanks again Paddycakes for the dranks and the laughs. The tour of Durham contined to Alley 26 for some pre-dinner cocktails. I opted for The Kill Devil Leasure Suit, with flavors of coconut and coffee. One and done. Some quality day drinkin’ in The Bull City I tell ya. But the jewel of the day without question was Mothers and Sons. I’ve been to Mateo, but have been dying to check out their Italian spot. And it did not disappoint. Probably one of the best meals I have had in my entire life. Thanks to Cheetie, they kept sending out more food. Plate after plate of deliciousness. It felt like the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Audrey cannot stop eating. Just look it up on YouTube. Anyway, we felt like we ate the menu. Carne crudo, bruschetta, artichoke salad, escarole Caesar, gnocchi, rabbit saltimbocca, and a whole mess of pasta. And dessert. A perfect meal. A perfect day. Downtown Raleigh really needs a decent Italian place, Gravy doesn’t cut it. Despite being a short drive from Raleigh, Durham definitely has a different vibe and feel to it. It’s cool and hip, quaint and funky, and you can walk to everything. I love my Raleigh, but Durham, I’ve got my eye on you. This time it won’t be so long for my return trip. So instead of going the same places on your next day off, make the short drive to Durham, explore downtown, and eat and drink all that it has to offer, you will not be disappointed. Cheers foodies!

Sweet Home Chicago

Thanks to Capital City Bikefest I was given an entire weekend off and avoided the shitshow of Fayetteville St. Amazing right, especially for someone in the foodservice industry. You know what that means? On the road again foodies. This time Chicago. As an added bonus, Craig, one of my best friends from Hampden-Sydney, lives in the Windy City, so Sara and I had a place to stay and avoided paying an arm and a leg for a hotel. Now we could spend all our money on food and cocktails. One of the best things about flying? The airport bars of course. And the people watching in said bars.  However, flying out of RDU at 6 in the morning kind of derails that plan. Arriving in Chicago super early in the morning only means more time to explore. And walk. And walk. Did I mention we walked a lot? First up was the Lincoln Park Zoo. A quaint zoo right in the middle of the city that also happens to be free. I like free. After the zoo we made it down to Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate (The Bean) and Crown Fountain with the rest of the tourists. Sometimes you gotta be one. It was really awesome though, seeing weird reflections of yourself, with the immense high rises of Chicago as the background. I think I took a million pictures and boomerangs. Sorry Instagram. At least there was no selfie stick involved. The Crown Fountain was pretty cool also, giant glass block towers with changing faces and a reflecting pool beneath. At this time I was getting a little thirsty, so obviously we had to go to the Billy Goat Tavern. We actually stumbled into one of the newer locations which happened to be very local friendly rather than full of tourists like us. Nothing like a good dive bar with a High Life in hand and the Cubs on the big screen. Next it was time to eat, and Chicago is definitely not short on options. We were thinking about The Purple Pig, but we luckily came across Eataly as we were maneuvering our way through the city. I’m glad we did, because I think I died and went to Italian heaven. Imagine two stories of just Italian meats, cheeses, wines, olive oils, etc etc. You get the picture. Dozen oysters? Yes please. Charcuterie? Totally. Buy a bottle of wine rather than a glass and you get complimentary bruschetta? Obviously. Just a little mid afternoon snack, we have been walking 500 miles. After a little nap time, we finally met up with Craig and ventured out again. When in Chicago you must deep dish. When in Rome. And not that Pizzeria Uno shit. Pequod’s is where it’s at. The caramelized crispy crust was out of bounds, flavortown city. Seriously though, it was great. I could only eat 1 1/2 slices before I was put into a meat induced coma. Totally worth it. Just don’t be in a rush to eat though, takes like 45 minutes to get the pizza. Just order a pitcher of beer and some garlic bread to tide you over. After our coma, the next day we took an architectural boat tour of Chicago. Definitely a must do in my opinion when the weather cooperates and it’s not freezing yet. Amazing views of all the beautiful skyscrapers and architecture that define Chicago. Later, after a few rooftop beverages at J. Parker hotel, dinner was Italian at Coco Pazzo. Awesome spot. Thanks Google search. Octopus, veal chop, and a lot of pasta. And the friendliest old Italian man who picked out our wine. Then the barhopping commenced. Pop’s, a champagne bar, was one of the highlights. Who doesn’t like bubbly cocktails? We ended the night at Dublin’s, well because they stay open until 4 AM. Sit at the bar if you can, otherwise you will be hounded to order food if you sit at a table. I’m not here for food buddy, just to get my drink on, ya dig? On the agenda the following day was the Art Institute of Chicago. Had to get a little culture on the trip. Plan on spending a few hours there, it’s huge. Room after room of art and sculpture, everything from ancient to modern, Byzantine to Warhol. Dinner, yes everything revolves food, was at Au Cheval, for super hipster burgers. And not just any burger, the best burger in America supposedly. And you don’t just walk in to Au Cheval and sit down. No sir. Want to order to go food? No sir. You gotta wait like the rest of us buddy. So we put our name on the list and were quoted a two hour wait. On a Sunday night. Rather than stand outside, we walked over to Bar Siena for pre-dinner snacks and cocktails. Plus the Bears were playing/losing. Two hours later we get the text to come back in 10 minutes or someone else is going to get our table. Needless to say we made it back quickly. It’s a small, dark space with weird and funky music playing. Hipster heaven. So I ordered the double burger, which is actually three patties. Melty cheese, a toasty bun, and sliced pickles round out the burger. Simple, yet heaven. And probably some of the best mashed potatoes and gravy I have ever had to boot. So what can I say about Chicago? A beautiful and lively city, super friendly people everywhere we went, great service, amazing food and drinks, awesome museums and gorgeous architecture. And Uber everywhere. It was great to catch up with an old friend as well. I don’t think I have laughed so much in a long, long time. Just reminiscing about old stories from college, all the dumb stuff we did, was worth the trip alone. As all three of us were sitting at dinner at Coco Pazzo, someone commented that you know you’re true friends when you can pick right up like nothing has changed, even though it has been years. That really hit home to me, that forming close bonds with people can be the hard part, but once you have them, they last forever. Cheers foodies!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Bah Humbug

You know what question drives a chef insane? What really grinds his gears? Oh you’re a chef? So what’s your specialty? Or what’s your favorite thing to cook? How am I supposed to answer that question? I suppose if I was a sushi chef, I would say raw fish. But I’m not. I’ve cooked a little bit of everything in my culinary career. Southern, Italian, Asian, etc. You name it, I’ve probably attempted to cook it, either in culinary school or professionally. I’m good at cooking food, as simple as that. My specialty? Umm, making good food? And my favorite thing to cook? How about when someone else does the cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy cooking on my little time away from the kitchen, especially during the holidays. I don’t know how many Christmas Eve’s I have missed, which makes being off this year even more special. But part of the fun of being a chef is actually being able to enjoy and experience how other restaurants do things. Anytime there is a new restaurant opening in the area that is doing something cool or different, I’m the first one there. I’m going to New Orleans in a few weeks, so you have no idea how much I am looking forward to being a glutton for a few days. I think my Instagram, as well as my waistband, might explode. What I like to eat is probably an easier question for me to answer. Pretty much everything. The moral of the story? Next time you meet a chef, don’t ask him what his or her specialty is. And please don’t say you’re a foodie. Still don’t know who came up with that word. Instead, maybe just have a beer and talk about food, as simple as that.

One thing I am jealous of is the concept of sick days. In my entire culinary career, I think I have missed maybe 2 days; and I wasn’t even sick. I had a scratch on my cornea, so I couldn’t really see. And I might have left early once or twice, but in 8 plus years, I would say that I am pretty much a given to show up to work even when I feel like shit. I say that as I have been battling a fever the last few days, luckily I have been off. It really sucks when you are sick and feel like crap. But imagine having to be in a kitchen all day when it’s hot and incredibly busy. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it? Most normal jobs you are able to stay at home and get better. Weird concept huh? It’s especially hard in small kitchens because there is usually no one else who can come into work. You’re lucky if you can switch schedules to fill in the gaps. My mom was like what don’t you just call out? People in kitchens don’t know what it means to call out. You show up to work when you’re sick, unless your arm falls off or you cut your thumb off. But you better be here all the earlier tomorrow. I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge. Bah humbug. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s! And thanks for following the blog; all the feedback has been great and unexpected. I didn’t think when I started this endeavor that people would actually come back to read more.

Traveling Foodie

So I recently had a four day weekend, something of a rarity of a restaurant lifer. Four days of no throwing saute pans, sweating, and scrubbing the oven, so what’s a guy to do? Go out of town of course. Even though it was just an overnight trip to Charlotte it was still amazing to get out of the everyday grind and see new surroundings. Plus who doesn’t like to stay in a hotel and steal the little soaps and things? Growing up, I was spoiled to how much my parents and I would travel. You name it, we went there. I think that’s where I first got my appreciation for great food. If I didn’t eat what was on the menu, I didn’t eat; so I learned from an early age to adapt. My mom always likes to tell the story of the first time they took me to New York City and how and I ate venison. I was like 10 I think. Anyway, once I started working in restaurants my ability to travel has definitely decreased. Part of the job, I get it. However, when I do travel I pretty much plan around where I am going to eat and drink. And I know I am not the only one who does this. Some people might plan on what sights they want to see, museums, historical buildings, blah blah. That’s fun and all, but I want to dine and have an adult beverage. The inner fat kid in me I suppose. I like to see what restaurants are doing in other cities. I love Raleigh and all, but it’s not the most progressive city as far as cutting edge food. It’s a lot of work to plan three meals a day plus snacks right? Social media is a definite aid in planning a food trip; you just have to consider the source of the advice. Other restaurant people are also a great tool as well, especially for reservations. Everyone in the industry knows each other, so there is a definite possibility they know a guy who knows a guy. If I’m suggested a restaurant, first thing I do it go to the website and check out their menu. It has to pass the menu test. Now this may seem like a lot of planning and research, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort. Your belly will be rewarded and Instagram full of food pictures. Now I just need to figure out how I can take more vacations.

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