Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gems: Apartment 2g

I think there are enough pictures to share this story with few words. But I'll tell you something right up front. If you live near DC (and remember, I'm 30 miles east), head 70 miles west and go to Front Royal, Virginia for this food. Go for Skyline Drive; go for the Shenandoah River and tubing or canoeing; go to Spelunker's and get a dog and a custard. But go on a weekend so you can have dinner at Apartment 2g.

Two chefs, his and hers kitchen, formerly apartments over the bistro and wine market they run downstairs. Wine's all from the store so it's not marked up outrageously (Can you say Chateauneuf-de-Pape for under $60? I can.). Only a Thursday tapas menu, a Saturday prix fix five course, and a few special wine tastings and dinners throughout the year.

Oh, did I mention Mr. and Mrs. Chef met when they worked at The Inn at Little Washington?

They make butter look good.

They make amuse bouche so simply and expertly that it really is a 'course.' They make it with fig, and cambazola cheese, and balsamic reduction. Sweet and tart and tangy.

They make shrimp risotto that is sublimely bound together and still retains every, single, luscious grain of rice.

You'll want a nice glass of wine. You'll be able to get one.

Then you clean the palate. And you clean it with greens and tomatoes that grew in the back yard. Topped with ricotta salata and a vinaigrette. Again, a balance of tartness from the herbs, the tomatoes (Brandywine), and the vinegar.

Choices for the next course. Lamb chops with polenta and broccoli raab. Filet with an onion & cheese pie and sautéed spinach. Grouper with fennel & red onion slaw and roasted red potatoes. There was horse-trading to make sure we had one of each on the table. The fish almost lost out. Thank's to Shaunica's gracious gesture to let me go lamb and order the fish herself we got it all. And it was all excellent.

Filet. Spinach. Potato. Steak house fine.

Lamb. Rare. Polenta that melts. Lamb jus. Bitter, garlicky broccoli rabe.

Desserts in house too, you say? Yeah. I thought so. Seester checked out the kitchen and found out that in addition to the six desserts on the menu, there was a creme brulee that was being served downstairs in the bistro that we could do as well. The only bad thing about that is that there were now six of us and seven possible desserts. Oh, well. We didn't really want mixed berry somethin'. We wanted chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And brulee, and Karl's peach shortbread (which was out of this world).

But like I said...chocolate. Chocolate Hazelnut cake. Chocolate pave. Mexican Chocolate cake.

Coconut cake...again with the chocolate.

As you've seen here today, dear readers and eaters, this restaurant has excellent chops. It's also quite fun. The 'restaurant' really is the old apartment upstairs from the bistro. There are TVs in every dining room that are closed circuit peeks into the kitchen. The chefs are happy to have you stop back in the kitchen and get a closer look at what's going on. The ingredients are phenomenal and the skill with which they're put together is superb.

Apartment 2g on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Farmers: Consumers should know where food is from"

Thanks for this article Annapolis Capitol.
And he can tell you why he thinks his tomatoes taste better than any a consumer could buy at a big chain grocery store. Some mass producers will pick the fruits while green, then expose them to ethylene gas, he said, so that the skin will turn a bright red color.

"By the time the inside of the tomato catches up to ripen, the outside's gone rotten," Schillinger said. "It just don't have the flavor."

To him and other county farmers, the difference between their produce and the fruits and vegetables shipped hundreds and thousands of miles across the country is vast. That's why many are glad a new law passed in the 2010 General Assem-bly session has directed the Maryland Department of Agriculture to define the terms "locally grown" and "local," as well as regulate their use in marketing and advertising.

Day Trippin': Front Royal Royale

Here's what happens when I drive through a town while trying to avoid interstate traffic on my way back home from the farm. I see Front Royal. And then I see it's on the Shenandoah River. And then I see custard stands. And then I read about a chef couple who met when they worked at the Inn at Little Washington. And then my sister calls to see if I'll be in town next weekend and instead I invite her to road trip with me and Karl. And his lady comes with. And Shaunica shows up too.

I'll do a separate post on the dinner later. You'll want a separate post for $54/bottle Chateaneuf-de-Pape.

We started at Pound where Khalil was experimenting with breakfast panini. I love experimenting. And breakfast panini. And now, sorta Khalil too. Sausage, egg, and cheese in a crispy thin shell. Such a good start to the day.

And because it's Karl and I, we stopped at the Taqueria I'd seen on my way out of town the week before. Bistek, Pollo Azado, Chorizo. Soooooo good.  Karl, ChillyD, and I literally huddled over the hotel room desk stuffing our faces with tacos.

We also discovered they were HOT. HAWT. Really quite warm. We discovered the reason for that the next day. Suffice it to say it was not, as we suspected while huddled over the desk, the hot sauce.

When we stopped on the way out of town on Sunday we realized that it wasn't the hot sauce. We were much more careful in our application. But look closely at that picture. Notice the green. Realize those are NOT diced green peppers in the pico. Yeah, close to a metric ton of fresh jalapeno, seeds stems and all, in the pico. It was fresh and it was delicious, and I had to take just a little bit of it off. Especially with the chorizo already having some heat.

Between taqueria stops we had quite a full 24 hours. I'll do highlights here and a few individual posts on some of the spots.

We tubed on the Shenadoah. I was large enough to stop all 'tubing' progress when we hit 'rapids' (places where rocks are close to the surface). We all survived, even though it started raining as soon as we got out of the bus to enter the river.

In the interim, as I was literally ankle deep in the Shenandoah walking our tubes downstream to speed things along. My sister (far ahead of the dawdlers) looked back. My brother-in-law looked back. And they determined that the White Bellied Shenandoah Yeti had been discovered. Thanks fam!

Post river was an amazing meal. It required a stop at the hotel for bathing and changing. We gussied up good. (Well, I put on jeans, a button-down shirt, and the 'fancy' flip-flops that are leather.)

This place is out of site. Downstairs: Cafe and Bistro open seven days a week. Upstairs: Old apartments left in their apartment layout with closed-circuit TVs in all the dining rooms so you can watch dinner be prepared in the kitchen. Only open on Thursdays (Tapas) and Saturdays ($50, five course, prix fixe). That's right...$50. That's it. for a five course from peeps who cooked in one of the most sought-after kitchens in the country. Yum.

Put it this way. I took sexy pictures of the butter and a cork. Think what the fig stuffed with cambazola, out-of-their-garden Brandywines, lamb, filet, grouper, Mexican chocolate cake, Chocolate hazelnut cake, and peach shortbread looked like.

And then there was Sunday. The last day of the trip. The day when we decide every trip to cram as much into our minds, cameras, and bellies as we possibly can before heading home.

So we went to breakfast, then the hot dog/frozen custard stand, then the BBQ trailer in the parking lot of the steakhouse south of town, then 32 miles on Skyline Drive (which was FREE that day), and finally a trip up U.S. 340 back to Front Royal from Luray and a parting taco. Mmmmmm, parting tacos.

I'll leave you with just a couple of thoughts.

The women at the griddle in Mom's Country the woman whose face is on that mug. She's branding. In Front Royal, VA. I love it. Expanding here will include what Shaunica's face looks like when she has Creamed Chipped Beef for the first time and what ChillyD's face looks like when she has Applebutter for the first time (even though it was just Smuckers and we told her the real deal was much better).

That is a Spelunker Dog from...Spelunkers. It's a fried weenie on a soft bun topped with brown mustard and the most incredible sweet and hot carmelized onion relish I have ever tasted. It's house-made. It's worth an 80-mile drive from DC (plus the 35 more miles to get out to Annapolis). I mean, they should bottle it. I asked if they did.

And with that, I owe you full posts on 1) A Dinner at Apartment 2g, 2) Spelunkers frozen custard, bad peanut butter luck, and the Frozen "Kustard" of Front Royal; 3) Mom's Country Kitchen and Two New Foods for Two New People. We'll get there.


You're still here?

You didn't believe me about the sexy butter?

You didn't read the teaser post about all this that I put up Saturday night?

Or was it Sunday morning?

In any case, you want to see sexy butter?


I TOLD you so.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Butter Looks GOOD

Yeah, took some great shots of dinner last night. Best one may have been of the butter. Perfect moment. Our fantastic waitress sets down the two bread baskets and the two split trays of oil and balsamic and oil with rosemary. Olive bread and focaccia.

Broder-in-law hears the server say "and will you need anything else" and immediately looks up with a twinkle in his eye and blurts out slowly "aaaaaaaaand will there be butter." Whole table CRACKED up. So of course, when the butter, the sweat cream perfectly salty butter, did arrive...I took pictures to remind of all that yes, John, there is a Butterclause.

More soon from this dinner, the tubing that preceded it (and the introduction of the White-Bellied Shenandoah Yeti), and taquerias, frozen custard stands, and greasy spoons that surrounded us, penetrated us, and bound our galaxy together this weekend.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Status Check: Tacos Yes

Karl and I found tacos. Are you surprised?

Mexico Lindo in Front Royal, VA for a pit stop before tubing.

Chorizo, Bistek, and Pollo Azado. Good gracious! I saw the chef slice the avacado three seconds before it went on the tacos. Homemade salsa rojo was HAWT! All was delicious. All is gone.

On to the river for tubing.

Review Preview: Cocktail Weenies, Blueberry Pie, and Tacos!

So I never did write up the last extravaganza with @karljohn and @shaunica. And since I'm at Pound with Karl while he transacts Bid-ness before we hit the road to discover the Frozen Kustard stands of Front Royal, VA.

(Yes. You read that correctly. I am taking a road trip to eat frozen kustard in Front Royal, VA. There's a reason. I left I-81 last weekend to avoid traffic and just staid on the local roads. VA 55 is gorgeous. I ended up in Front Royal. At a stop light. There was a kustard stand. Then I drove on. And came to another stop light. And there were two more kustard stands. This repeated for several more stop lights. I was hooked. Several e-mails and google searches later we have an overnight trip to tube on the Shenandoah River, have dinner at a joint owned by two former employees of the Inn at Little Washington, and sample the region's kustard for a day and a half. You're jealous. I'll


Last time around I showed Karl Taqueria Distrito Federale and he showed me H Street. And because I want to show you the BEST PICTURE first, I'll go 2, 3, 1 in order of eating on that fine Sunday. (Well, 2, 3, 1 if you're not counting brunch at Belga Cafe and Papusas/Platanos at Las Pacitas...which I'm not here...)

Please now to enjoy the sexiest picture EVER TAKEN of a cocktail weenie...




From The Star and The Shamrock. A Jewish/Irish Pub. Seriously. It makes sense. Both esteemed cultures revere and celebrate corned beef. And I respect that.

Shout out to the bartender that Sunday afternoon. Read who we were and was engaged in making sure we had a blast. The kind of barman that makes you want to go back to a place. Well done.

There was also pie. Dangerously Delicious Pie. It was reighteous. Not in a religious way, but in a WOW, that tastes GOOD way.

Blueberry. Pie. Ice Cream.

Thanks peeps.

Oh, yeah. Tacos. And Horchata. Horchata?

It's pretty fresh when there's a half a cinnamon stick floating in your glass.

And there were tacos. And it was good. Carne Asada, peeps.

Barbacoa. Lamb. Baaaaaah-BQ. Delicious.

Later Gaters!!!

Star and Shamrock on Urbanspoon

Dangerously Delicious Pies on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Distrito Federal on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings Geek-sters!!!

That's right, just through this (cellar) door at the farm house is where the big bucket of 'maters is kept overnight.


Well you can't leave that many 2-pound Mortgage Lifters in the kitchen or you'll have so many fruit flies the Yankee's would complain. And we can't have that happening, now can we (heh, heh...heh, heh)?

And you can't leave them on the stoop because, well...check the geo-tag on these photos. It's the COUNTRY people. Land of deer, raccoons, rabbits, groundhogs, and even the occasional bear. You don't leave food outside (the garden, surround by mom's solar-powered, Mom-installed, electric fence being a key exception).

But that's just the overflow tomatoes that need to become soup, sauce, or gifts right quick. We're not even to the serious height of the season and Mom joked that it's a five-tomato-per-meal pace to keep up with the garden. She's only sorta joking.

There are so many Cherokee Purples, German Stripeys, Mortgage Lifters, and Orange Cherries that there are buckets in the cellar, baskets on the side counter in the kitchen, bowls of cherries (tomatoes, of course) on the kitchen counter, soup and sauce in the freezer, and a gift bag ready to be dropped into the hands of any out-of-towners who happen to invite themselves over (for a GLORIOUS weekend!!). Fortunately for Mom, she had ten extra mouths at the house this weekend.

And some of them turn out so nice the only thing you can do is call them perfects. Perfectly shaped for slicing that is. Sweet Cherokee Purples and German Stripeys. Tomatoes that aren't biting, acidic behemoths. These are the guys that make you understand why there are still folks who fight "The Man" and call tomatoes fruits. They're so sweet. You really do want to make a pie out of them.

You can't get better than a plate of tomatoes that looks like dessert. Ruby red on one side and a clone for bright yellow pineapple slices on the other side.

I couldn't figure out which I wanted to try more.

Of course, that just meant I couldn't figure out which one I wanted to try FIRST. No one went without tomato this weekend. It would have been outside of the self-preservation of the species (ours) to turn down a slice when offered. They would have taken over.

And we can't let that happen. So we slice, eat, chop, eat, peel, eat, seed...nope, Mom can't be bothered. Too much effort to get the seeds out of the uber-seedy Cherokee Purples when she was making the Tomato Bread Pudding this morning.

I'm okay with that.

It was still crispy-on-top-Challah with sweet tomatoes and gobs of egg, cream, milk, and cheese. Gruyere in with the custard, Parmesan on top.

It gets filed under "make this again SOON."

I'll probably have a bowl before I head back to the lowlands later today.

If you want to make this tasty little treat, you just need tomatoes, a few other ingredients, and "The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table." You can thank Amy Goldman for writing it.  And you will thank Victor Schrager for the amazing tomato-graphs (umm, pictures of 'maters).

I would recommend going and buying this book immediately.

I would consider pilfering it from Mom but I have much more ability to control my tomato intake these days as I split my CSA and have the option to not buy more at the market.

Mom looks out her back door every day at the garden. There are no tomato-less options to choose.

Now, for a change of pace, and just so you don't think the only thing I ate all weekend was tomatoes (though that's not far from the truth) I want to show you something very impressive.

That, dear friends, is a pot of half-runner green beans.

That's what happens with four people sit on a porch with a bags full of beans and souls full of purpose.

It helps when you also have all this...

The eggplant, squash, and peppers lightly marinated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme and grilled until charred and tender. The chicken tenders (kids here y'all, kids) grilled plain and topped as needed with Dad's BBQ sauce recipe (cookie spices, recipe at the bottom here). The Half-Runners simmered with a sweet onion.


What's in the background?

Oh, yeah, it's the arugula and romaine salad...with chopped tomatoes!

Dad's Sweet BBQ Sauce

This is not a sauce designed for easy recipe translation. I've never seen a written copy. For example, I was low on ketchup this go around so I subbed some V8 juice and went heavy on the tomato paste to balance it out. But here goes.

1 medium onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium bottle ketchup
3 T tomato paste
4 T wet mustard
1/3-1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
4 T light brown sugar
1 T Coleman's dry mustard powder
1-2t each ground cloves, ginger, and nutmeg
1 t chili power
1 t cayenne
Salt and pepper

  1. Sweat the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and almost pulping out (low, med-low heat, for a good long while).
  2. Add salt, pepper, cookie spices, dry mustard, chili power, and cayenne and coat the onions.
  3. Add the ketchup, vinegar, wet mustard, tomato paste, and brown sugar and stir thoroughly.
  4. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until the flavors have combined and adjust seasoning by adding either spice, vinegar, or sugar to balance as you like.
We used to coat the chicken and grill with the sauce on, but there's enough sugar in there that by the time the chicken is cooked, there's charred black sauce. Some of us liked that just fine. Up to you, one method is to cook the chicken completely and then dunk it in the sauce before serving. We had the grilled chicken on a platter and ladled the sauce over on our plates. You could grill the chicken fully, dunk, and then return to the grill for a slight carmelization of the sauce. Up to you.

If you had enough tomatoes, you might even make and use your own ketchup...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How NOT to Improve Your Karma

I have never less wanted to be a health inspector. Ever.

Story HERE.

Follow the Porches

You follow the porches at the farm house, meandering through the day and switching porches as the sun moves across the sky. You're looking for the shady ones. Start in the morning on the front porch.

That's where you want to do your bean stringing. Watch as the sun breaks through the fog about an hour after it has cleared the tree tops across the highway (two lane, double-yellow lines, country highway y'all). All you need are a few bowls for either beans or strings and the help of several hands. We had some of the best today.

Then a walk, some time in the garden, or sitting and reading to pass a few more hours. Move over to the side porch looking at the garden or the old porch facing the drive that used to be the only porch. That's where you get to swing in the porch-swing waiting for company to arrive.

By evening you're back to the front porch after dinner to get out of the kitchen, warmed by the sun falling over the ridge and the burners simmering those half-runner beans with an onion.

Stewed Okra & Yellow Pear and Orange Cherry Tomatoes with Black Eyed Peas

Summer everywhere. Lazy Sunday brunch with friends at the pub. Home to read and write (and clean...a little). Then on to dinner prep. A bag of fresh black eyed peas, about 2 cups of chopped fresh okra, yellow pear tomatoes and impossibly candy-sweet orange cherry tomatoes. Simple prep. Chop onion and garlic, saute. Add halved tomatoes. Sweat. Add chopped okra. Sweat. Add black eyed peas and liquid (water or chicken broth, I used 1/2 of each). Thyme, salt, pepper, boil, reduce, stir, simmer, eat.

Want me to introduce you to the farmers who grew it all?

Yeah, I can do that.

Three ingredients (beyond aromatics, and the pantry staples). Okra. Tomatoes. Black Eyed Peas.

A hot bowl of summer fresh pulled together in one pot in 15 minutes of prep.

Door's open and the fan's on because there's something sacrilegious about air conditioning and black eyed peas. At least tonight.

Honeycomb of cajun goodness. And mid-atlantic. Did I ever tell you about the time (summer before I was a sophomore in high school) when there was SO MUCH okra in our garden that we were freezing it and then thawing and dusting with cornmeal for a quick fry to replace popcorn when we watched Thanksgiving.

I used to hate tomatoes. Salsa, tomato sauce, marinara, and the like were okay. But slices of tomatoes were not. And varieties of tomatoes were meaningless because eating tomatoes just didn't happen. Then I ordered a turkey burger at the old pub and DWave asked what I wanted on it. Lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Which was REALLY strange. Because of the tomato thing, but also mayo. Neither were on my list of acceptable foods. But damned if that burger wasn't one of the most perfect sandwiches ever, with each ingredient playing its critical part of the whole.

Now I'm hooked. Not slice one and put salt and pepper on it and eat it hooked; and not walk by the bowl of cherry tomatoes and just pop a few into my mouth. But they are amazing little veggies (stop, the Supreme Court agreed and we've treated them as veggies for too long…) and I don't know that I'd really feel it was summer until the first ones came off a vine I'd seen and were ready to eat.

As for black eyed peas, well, they're just magic. Part of one of the best cooking days of my life. Big Game tasted the greens and the beans and literally stopped to call his mama. Of course, that meant I spent most of the rest of every cookout getting there early to make green, black eyed peas, and mac n' cheese in the kitchen, but I do lurve you Pearl!

They all sat in the pot for about 20 minutes and then I was too hungry to wait much longer. Check your seasoning. Add salt if you need it. It's not evil (It just has a long and sordid history). I let it the liquid simmer off a bit so it was thick and pulled together by the okra but long before the peas start to break down. SUCKED!


Not fair to tease like that?

Well it was my dinner, think how I felt.

The okra didn't break down. There were fibrous bits that just would not cook away.

Trust me. I tried. Brought it back to a boil again. Simmered for another 20 minutes. Tomatoes were pulped out (which was fine). Beans were still good. Okra was mostly soft...but there were little fibrous 'tags' that had insinuated themselves into every bite.

It's not all roses and perfect dishes. Sometimes, even when you think you know what you're just doesn't taste good.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Old School Memories

The funny thing about reading so much food-webs is that you eventually come across something like this.

And realize..."which is a spinoff of the original in Florence, Italy" means it's a spinoff of that restaurant YOU went too. When you were 16 years old. And you sat in the cave room with the rest of your 14-person bike trip that had left its bikes in Innerlaken to take the train to Venice, Florence, and Rome for a week.

Small world.

And now I have to go eat here soon to see if it sparks more memory.

Food Truck Mania

Who knew Spike.TV did food too?

Thanks to Erin and the SeriousEats peeps for pointing this out to me.

Now Karl and I will have to meet these people as we research opening our food truck...Persian Geeking.

No, we're not really opening a food truck...yet.

And no, that probably wouldn't be it's name. Talking about Persia might make people think there was a hidden religious statement being made. And then they'd do this to us.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Andy Nelson's BBQ

Cross-posted from 97-meals-per-hour.

So the Quiet One, Ms. Vertical, Shack-Fu (real nickname TBD) and I pulled what's becoming a Satruday regular. Market early (I was all the way up 97 and in Bal'mer by 7:15am and at Waverly by 7:30), coffee and breakfast while waiting for others to wake up, then a random driving tour, lunch, and a return trip to Annapolis.

This time we headed out Falls Road and up to Mount Washington, on to Smith Road, then Slade Road and all the way to Owings Mills. We learned that The Quiet One and Shack-Fu had once lived out that way. That is very un-Quiet One-like of her. She is not a Queen of Suburbia. We unsuccessfully searched a shopping center lot for a long-ago shave ice stand that wasn't there. I owe a stop at a spot soon, having now done two trips out into the county without actually stopping for a sno-cone. The Quiet One has not been quiet about it.

U-Turn in the middle of a conversation about whether the evils of Reisterstown Road suburbia or York Road Suburbia were worse.

A trip across Greenspring Vally Road to Falls again and then up to York Road.

It was destined to be a good day because I could a) cross York Road without dying and b) pull into a spot in the front lot at Andy's by the garage seats and not have to drive to the back and dodge the mass of humanity entering and exiting cars (those leaving smelling faintly of pork and heat).

We entered and the line moved quickly. No one wanted to be the jerk who held everything up. Quick, how can I maximize what I'm getting. Combo...nice. Ms. Vertical getting a similar (but not identical) combo so there's more to try. Pulled pork sandwich classic for The Quiet One? Okay, more to try. Sides looked good, though I was slightly surprised to no see mac n' cheese on the sides list.

Tables inside, picnic tables (covered and not, all with umbrellas) outside. And people everywhere trying to get their Q on.

...and now I shut up...

That's pork y'all. Rib meat. Not falling off the bone (which it shouldn't), but just holding on enough that a gentle tug will get you a mouthful of dry-rubbed rib-y goodness. I had three two-rib pieces in my basket. I was on my fourth rib by the time I felt the need to see what this tasted like with any sauce on it.

Ribs and pulled pork combo with coleslaw and potato salad. The ribs, as witnessed above, were amazing. I should have taken a rack or two home with me. My stomach was unable to comprehend that much more food when I polished off my plate, which looked like the above but with brisket instead of pulled pork and collard greens instead of potato salad. The brisket melted, the collards were vinegary perfection.

The classic pulled pork sandwich. Moist and tender meat, great sauces to add on your own (a smoky/sweet tomato base, a vinegar base, and a spicy mustard base). I tried the pork, but the sandwich disappeared way too quickly for me to get a taste of the meat, the sauce, and the bread all together. Next time...and oooooooh there will be a next time.

Andy Nelson's BBQ on Urbanspoon