Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This is Good Stuff: Kettle Brand Limited-Batch Cheddar Beer Chips

It's a story reminiscent of the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films; a tale of brief and fleeting embraces that shake your world.  Boy meets girl, they share a brief but meaningful day together--and then they run into each other again (in the sequel) several years later.

Only in my case, it's boy meets potato chip.  Don't judge.

It's been around five years since our first meeting, in a Giant Eagle supermarket (that's Jynt Iggle if you're in Pittsburgh) somewhere in Ohio--Canton or Wadsworth.  Those aren't the details that matter.  What matters is that I stumbled upon a bag of cheddar and beer flavored Kettle Chips.  It was love at first taste.  My whole perception of what a potato chip could be had been altered.

Soon after, I read that Kettle had retired the Cheddar Beer chips.  Just like that--one meeting, and then they were gone.

A few weeks ago, however, I had my own sequel.  I was wandering the aisles of the Wild Oats Market in Williamstown when I turned and spotted a basket of sale items.  In it were the Kettle Cheddar Beer Chips.  Only now, they were labeled as "limited-batch," part of a line of special 30th birthday releases from Kettle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

21st Amendment Sneak Attack: Not Your Everyday Saison

I had a little discussion about Dogfish Head recently with the fuj in the comments section of FUSSYlittleBLOG.  I defended the brewery for some of their missteps with their more adventurous offerings because I think Dogfish Head has demonstrated their ability to do a really solid job with their standards: the 60/90/120 Minute IPAs, the Indian Brown Ale (one of my favorite brown ales), and their Punkin Ale (love it), to name just a few examples. 

So, go crazy, I say.  I love a little adventurousness from breweries or restaurants.  Is it always going to hit the mark?  Nah--and, to be honest, with some of the high prices of the beers Dogfish Head puts out, I'll pick up the bottle, read the description, and put it back without buying it (and then try to remember to read reviews once I get home).  Sometimes you'll get a beer like the Pearl Jam-tribute Faithfull Ale that just doesn't all come together; other times you'll get the Red & White, a strong witbier fermented with pinot noir juice that, at least the one time I had it on tap, blew me away with its complex layers of flavor.

With that in mind, I was drawn straight to 21st Amendment's Sneak Attack Saison when I saw it on tap at PUBLIC eat+drink in North Adams.  It may have been cold outside just after the new year in Western Massachusetts, not exactly saison weather, but A) I'm pretty much always up for a saison, and B) the description of the beer had me raising an eyebrow (in a good way).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dinner and Beer at PUBLIC eat+drink in North Adams

A few days after a post in which I wished for more casual, interesting restaurants that also serve good beer here in the Capital Region, K and I made a trip out to the Berkshires.  We'd been offered a couple days at a timeshare up on Jiminy Peak, and since neither of us is a winter sport enthusiast, we didn't spend all day and night on the slopes; we had the time to drive down the mountain for a familiar meal in Pittsfield one night, and took the chance to visit North Adams on our second night, where we had dinner at PUBLIC eat+drink.

I was drawn to Public immediately after looking at their menu online in the days before our trip; this seemed like just the kind of place I wished we had more of in the Albany area.  There were a number of interesting, reasonably-priced dishes on the menu--from flatbreads to fish tacos to falafel--along with a rotating tap list certain to impress any serious beer drinker.  I was sold, and it didn't take much to convince K once she saw the menu and the many glowing reviews of the restaurant.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mission Chinese Food: So Hot (In More Ways Than One)

You know what I haven't done much of over the years?  Eaten out at hot, new, trendy restaurants.  I'm not talking about some falafel joint in Pittsburgh that all the cool kids would flock to.  I mean the kind of restaurant that's getting written about in magazines, reviewed by the Times.

Part of that is simply lack of opportunity--not enough time spent in the kinds of cities where hype machines rage endlessly.  But there are other explanations that offer a slightly deeper glimpse into what kind of person I really am:

1) I do not handle crowds or long lines particularly well.  These often must be negotiated if you want to get seated at some hot new spot.

2) It is hard to find a hotly-discussed new restaurant that is not fairly expensive; this would require spending large sums of money on a meal, which is something I generally avoid doing.

But in the weeks before K and I made a holiday trip to New York City, I don't know how many magazine articles or internet posts I read about Mission Chinese Food, the sort of fusion Chinese restaurant in the Lower East Side that opened up in May 2012.  Mission Chinese was started first in San Francisco by Oklahoma native Danny Bowien, and what struck me in all I read about the restaurant was the way Bowien takes many of the Chinese flavors and cooking traditions I know and love and puts a decidedly 21st century American-kid spin on them.

Kung Pao Pastrami?  Chongqing Chicken Wings?  Tingly Tea-Smoked Chicken?  I could go on and on--almost everything on the menu grabs you by the wrist in a devilish way, begging you to come closer.  Close enough to touch, close enough to smell all that chili oil and Szechuan pepper.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Surprising Sequel: Trader Joe's Providential Belgian-Style Golden Ale from Unibroue

For a few years now, I've eagerly anticipated the annual late fall arrival of the delicious and inexpensive Vintage Ale (brewed by Unibroue) at Trader Joe's.  It's hung around on the shelves a bit longer than usual this winter, with even a handful of bottles there on my last visit to the Albany store a couple weeks ago.  Still--the Vintage Ale is around for two months, if we're lucky.  Then it's always a matter of waiting until November for this great deal on that great beer.

But on that last visit to TJ's, I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  I had to do a double-take--there was a huge display of Vintage Ale in the store once again.  Except it wasn't Vintage Ale.  A closer look revealed a slightly different design on the brown, 750 mL bottle, and a new name: Trader Joe's Providential Belgian-Style Golden Ale.  What a divine little occurrence.

I took home just one bottle, popped the cork on New Year's Eve, and quickly determined I'd need to go back for more.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I'm Calling It "The Jimmer Lee"

To commemorate my first winter in the Capital Region, I wanted to honor a couple of local luminaries (and use up some leftover eggnog) in creating a splendid seasonal alcoholic drink, which I've christened "The Jimmer Lee."

The drink is named after A) Jimmer Fredette, the Glens Falls native who blew the minds of BYU basketball fans and is now riding the pine for my Sacramento Kings in the NBA, and B) Sandra Lee, fabulous Food Network host and girlfriend of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  (And no, this post is not mean-spirited because I know that Sandy does have feelings.)

Let me get a few clarifications out of the way before we start mixing this drink:

1) I am aware that Jimmer is a Mormon and therefore creating a drink in his honor is somewhat sacrilege, and

2) My tablescape, as seen above, is woefully lacking and in no way honoring Ms. Lee's work (a crate of clementines is no centerpiece).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza: Good Food and Good Beer

It's been five months since I moved to the Capital Region.  In that time of exploring the food and drink scene of the area, one thing I've been disappointed in is the lack of interesting, yet casual, restaurants that also serve good beer.  Something beyond standard pub fare.  This is one of the reasons why, with all due respect, I don't fully agree that this is a great beer town, but extended thoughts on that are best saved for another time. 

Now, I don't want to cast a final, blanket statement on these matters after being here for such a short time; there's a ton I have yet to discover, and would love recommendations on places to find both good food and good beer.  I know City Beer Hall is one strong option, and though I didn't agree in my experience, I've seen enough praise for The Merry Monk to trust that there is probably some solid food being served there.  People seem to like Brown's brewpub all right, and I'm looking forward to trying Druthers up in Saratoga.  But the common denominator with all these options just mentioned?  They're beer places first, food places second.

That's fine, and a check in the "good beer town" column.  But on a Saturday night when K and I wanted to A) get a good meal without driving into downtown, B) eat in relative peace (no bands, no crowds of loud folks at a bar), and C) still be able to drink some good beer, we were left feeling stumped as to any options that would satisfy all those criteria.

But then we stumbled upon Bacchus Wood Fired Pizza in Troy.