Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Highly Sessionable Long Trail Harvest Ale

It was a little stunning when I saw it, after I'd drained my glass: the ABV of Long Trail's fall seasonal, the Harvest Ale, is just 3.6%.  I had just a single of the Harvest Ale, picked up on the cheap at Trader Joe's, and the ABV wasn't listed on the bottle.  I'm glad it wasn't.

I mean, 3.6%?  We're in light beer territory here (in fact, most light or "lite" beers are a little higher).  For one, I might have never picked up the Harvest Ale in the first place had I known, worrying that it would be too weak, not a "serious" beer.  So many craft beers are in the 6-7% range, and being a fan of strong Belgians, I've become accustomed to beers in the 9-10% range where you can barely even taste the alcohol.

Well, I'm glad I grabbed a Harvest Ale.  This isn't an amazing beer, I'll say that, but it is good and at just 3.6%, it's not weak--but it is sessionable in the traditional British way of the low-strength pint.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Battle of the Rib Chains: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que vs. Shane's Rib Shack

Maybe I should have saved my braised greens post for after this one.  A sort of cleanse to make up for all this rib talk that's to come.

Yes, ribs.  What carnivores among us don't love them?  Despite that, ribs are one of those foods that I've become a little snobby about.  I had some amazing ones from Oscar's in Springfield, MO, several times between 2006 and 2007, these incredibly smoky, fall-off-the-bone tender ribs cooked in a cart in a supermarket parking lot.  Here's one way of explaining how much we loved these ribs: a few years back, when we were living in Ohio, K was having problems with a dental crown she'd had done in Springfield; she could have gotten it fixed for free if we made the 12-plus hour drive back to Missouri.  No, we didn't want to do that...but we could stop back at Oscar's if we made the trip.  It wasn't enough to sway our decision, but it was part of the conversation.

There are a lot of ways for ribs to be prepared--not to mention the different types of ribs themselves--so I'll admit, what I'm about to say about the ribs at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy and Shane's Rib Shack in Clifton Park comes from the mouth of someone who swears by hickory-smoked, dry-rubbed, St. Louis-style ribs.  But on my search for a second holy grail of ribs, trust me: I'm not going to leave a rib untasted if I smell smoke in the vicinity of a barbecue joint.  And if you don't trust me, I have a trusty rib-loving cat around to help judge.  We'll hear from him in a minute.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eat Your Greens: Chris Cosentino's Braised Dandelion Greens

I'm guilty of it, and I know I'm not alone: I could stand to eat more greens.

More often than not, any excuse I throw out there is going to be lame.  Salad can be boring, meat and a side of carbs is always fun.  Vegetables?  Healthy, sure, but it can take effort to make something interesting of them.

I know these aren't good excuses, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to jazz up greens without that much effort.  My new favorite way to do this?  Braising greens, southern-style.  And since there are so many variations on this theme, my plan is to cook more and more of them and post those recipes here. 

There are--and I might be low-balling it here--around a million different ways you can braise greens, so I'm not about to try to list them all right here.  I just want to talk about one method courtesy of chef Chris Cosentino, who you might know as the newly-minted winner of Season 4 of Top Chef Masters or from the Next Iron Chef show on Food Network.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Praise of Brunch at City Beer Hall

It's safe to say that any praise of Albany's City Beer Hall would be, at this point, piling on.  The beer hall/gastropub has been open for about a year-and-a-half now, and huzzahs have come from all corners.  But one thing deserving of a little more attention at City Beer Hall is their weekend brunch, which just started up this summer.  Serious beer lovers who also appreciate good food will be hard-pressed to find a better deal than this one.

Here's the way it works: between 11-3 on Saturdays and Sundays, choose a salad ($9.99), sandwich ($10.99), or plate ($12.99), and with it you receive coffee and your choice of craft beer, mimosa, screwdriver, bloody mary, or freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Sometimes you run across restaurants advertising deals like this that seem too good to be true and, sadly, they are--the restaurant will cut corners in some way, cheap out and serve small portions or uninteresting food.

That's not the case at City Beer Hall.  The food offerings are plentiful and interesting.  The beer?  Full pints of high-quality stuff.  Almost everything on tap is eligible for the deal; sometimes a pint of the beer of your choice would be $7 or $8 at regular price.  If you think of it that way, a burger or other sandwich will only cost you a few bucks.  Like I said before: this is a real deal.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weekend Drink Picks: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale and Ithaca Country Pumpkin

Last weekend I wrote about my love for Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale and my frustration with some other pumpkin beers I've tried in recent years.  But you know, I'm here to serve, so when I saw a few different pumpkin ale singles on sale (cheap--a straight 1/6 of the cost of the six pack) at Trader Joe's the other day, I figured it was my duty to give them a fair shake.

The results were positive.  I'm not going to say that the Punkin Ale has been knocked out of my top spot yet, but I've got a couple new beers in the style that I'm certainly happy with.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This is Good Stuff: Trader Joe's Kale Chips

I haven't been doing this blogging thing for too long yet, but I have learned that there's a fine line between trying to sound like you know what you're talking about and being an overconfident know-it-all.

I was reminded of this tonight when watching an episode of the TV show Party Down--which I'm about as late on as I was with Arrested Development--when the character Roman DeBeers (played by Martin Starr) said,
People care what I think!  I have a prestigious blog, sir!
I sincerely hope I never become that guy (for many other reasons, too), but the thing is, sometimes you want people to listen to what you have to say.  Today is one of those days.  I want to talk about the new Kale Chips from Trader Joe's, which I found to be utterly delicious and worthy of a little splurge.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Smoked Eggplant and Angora Throws: Dining at Depot 62 Cafe in Manchester, VT

It's a subject I've touched on before, one I'm curious about because of how unquantifiable it is: the way outside factors, other than the food, can muddle one's memories of a dining experience, elevate good food to magnificent (or the opposite). 

None of us are immune to this way of thinking, and I'll admit I could have fallen into this trap with the Depot 62 Cafe when we visited Manchester, VT, last month.  This is a restaurant we chose primarily based off of some positively glowing Yelp reviews.  We'd just wrapped up our Washington County Cheese Tour, and instead of heading straight home, figured we might as well swing by Manchester Center for shopping and dinner.  There'd been a threat of rain all day, but we were lucky on the farms--nothing more than a moment of drizzle while driving between them.  The sun even came out while we were at Consider Bardwell.

Things started to change while we were in Manchester, poking around shops featuring the quaint and overpriced.  We heard on the radio of a tornado watch, and soon a black cloud, the likes of which I hadn't seen since Kansas, crept out from behind a mountain to block the last of the day's sunlight.  And then, while we were looking around the Manchester Sports and Clothing Co. store, the skies opened. 

At the risk of ruining a rare moment of chivalry by talking about it, I'll mention here that I was the only one who had taken my raincoat from the car that afternoon.  K and her friend, F, who was visiting us, had left theirs behind.  So I ran from the store back to our car--which had seemed a lot closer in my memory--to bring theirs over.  The roads in Manchester were torn up, cordoned off in places, under construction.  I found myself leaping into muddy rapids of water that were filling the streets, and by the time I returned to the store, my jeans and sneakers were both completely soaked.

"You brought the car over, right?" they asked.  I said no, tried to explain that there was too much construction, watched as their faces fell. 

"It looks close on the map," I said of Depot 62.  "It's probably easier just to walk."  Of course, this was one of those cartoony, tourist-town maps, so nothing was drawn to scale.  

Though the rain had eased up a bit, we arrived at Depot 62 wet and cold after about a fifteen-minute walk.  Did we let this negatively affect our experience?  I like to think not--we were awfully hungry, after all, and just happy to sit down in a dry space.  And ultimately, we enjoyed most of what we ordered.  But was it as amazing as some reviews suggested?  I'm not sure about that.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend Drink Pick: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

One thing that's surprised me over the years is that my enthusiasm for pumpkin beers doesn't often translate into me liking these beers.  This is surprising because:

- I'm a fan of the typical pumpkin pie spices used to flavor pumpkin beers
- I've enjoyed a number of sweet beers (which many pumpkin beers are)
- I'm a sucker for limited-release seasonal beers.

For pumpkin beers--and the same goes for Christmas beers--it's all about finding a good balance with the spices.  A brewer has an array to choose from: cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and (though it's not actually a spice) pumpkin itself.  There are a lot of ways to screw it up.

Some pumpkin beers come out cloyingly sweet.  I get the idea of pumpkin pie in a bottle, but I'm the kind of guy who finds much of the frosting on cake or cupcakes to be too sweet.  There's a line, and just like those birthday cakes you might pick up at Walmart, pumpkin beers often cross it.

Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale was one of the the first pumpkin beers I tried, and I've kept going back to it because of how balanced and flavorful it is.  Hell, I even enjoyed it once on tap in a glass with its rim was coated with brown sugar, which I know is wrong--the beer equivalent of putting whipped cream on bacon, I think.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For Your Consideration: My Tournament of Pizza Write-in, Roma(n) Pizza in Latham

Under the red neon light of Roman Pizza's window
When All Over Albany announced their extensive ballot for the 2012 Tournament of Pizza, I scrolled through, only recognizing a handful of names.  As a newcomer to the area, I hadn't actually tried any of these places yet (though I have tried DeFazio's in Troy, one of last year's finalists, and concur with much of the acclaim).  The pizza joint I do know and love didn't make the list: Roman Pizza in Latham.

I've certainly enjoyed exploring for restaurants all throughout the region in the two months I've lived here.  But when it comes to pizza, the best thing is having a neighborhood spot you know and trust, and I think I've discovered that with Roman.

Or Roma.  It's confusing.  The sign says Roman.  The front of the menu says Roman.  But inside the menu they refer to themselves, and a dish, as Roma.  And a trusted local food source, derryX, has informed me that the owners think of it as Roma.  But for the purposes of this review, because it's known as Roman Pizza throughout the interwebs, I'll go with the N.