Sunday, October 15, 2017

Alulu Brew Pub - Brunch

As people who know me and/or read this blog, I like beer and I like visiting breweries.  While I had visited many of the breweries, taprooms, and brewpubs on the north side of Chicago, I knew that there were a few new places on the south side that I needed to visit (or revisit).  I started out on a recent trip in Pilsen with a place that I had read about and had encountered at a beer festival in the spring, Alulu Brewpub.  While I had the address, I didn't really know the area and I didn't know what to expect.  Located near a really odd intersection east of Ashland Ave, it doesn't look like much more than a neighborhood bar.  This is not a criticism, there are some really good corner bars that feel like home and put out some really good stuff.  It is simply an observation that it's pretty small and unassuming.  While there is a small patio in front and a nice roll-up window at the front of the bar, the sign is actually a little hard to find, located over the alley next to the bar where the entrance is located.  The first thing that I actually noticed was the stand up sign on the sidewalk with the brunch specials.  As there would be drinking involved, I figured that I should start off things with a good meal and between the specials listing and the menu, this looked like it would be an easy thing to do.  The bar is pretty narrow with a long bar to one side with the taps, the tap list, and assorted glassware behind it.  The walls are brick, though there is a live wall with moss to one side of the taps.  Lighting was from roll up window in front and hanging lights.  While the tables looked comfortable enough, and it was a sunny day out and the patio would have been nice, I decided to be more social and sat at the bar.
The brunch menu did look small, but really good.  The thing that caught my eye was the Brunch Poutine.  In addition to the standard (required) French Fries and Cheese Curds, it had Lamb Merguez Sausage Gravy, Pickled Peppers, 2 Fried Eggs, and an Aurum Defender Biere De Garde on the side.  Poutine is both good bar food and comfort food and this was a good poutine.  It hit the right notes of being salty, savory, and cheesy, adding spicy, and putting an egg on top.  The Aurum Defender on the side was very good and also a very good brewery introduction.  It was rich, malty, and boozy with an 9% ABV.  It almost reminded me of a Belgian Dubbel.
As I was at a brewery that doesn't distribute and makes a wide variety of beers, I thought it would be a shame not to have a flight, though after starting with the Aurum Defender, and knowing that I would be continuing to another brewery, I decided to try to stay on the lighter side of things.  A flight consisted of 5 - 5 oz pours.  I went with Ghostly Liso Mexican Lager (4.5% ABV), Sys Crisp Hoppy Red Rye Pilsner (5.0% ABV), Unison Toasted Rye Pilsner (5.4% ABV), Shad the Calmer APA (5.5% ABV), and Java Waves Coffee Blonde Ale (5.8% ABV).  They were all very good, though standouts were the Ghostly Liso, which was a good, drink anytime beer, and Shad the Calmer, which was nice and hoppy, but not incredibly sharp.  I wanted to like Java Waves more, but the coffee flavor wasn't strong enough.  Alulu is a good friendly place with good food and beer.  I will have to return to try more of the same.      

Saturday, October 14, 2017

City Mouse - Brunch

I mentioned that I liked the restaurant, Giant, so I was both excited and a little nervous when I heard that Executive Chef, Jason Vincent and his team were working with boutique hotel, Ace Hotel, to open their new place, City Mouse.  I was relieved and excited to hear that he had hired Chef Pat Sheerin, formerly of the late, lamented Trenchermen, as the Executive Chef.  Located in the West Loop Restaurant District across from the Google Building, entry is through the hotel lobby.  It is a large and very open space with a modern look, glass walls, and, like Giant, also named after a character in a children's book.  Giant is named after a character in the poem, Me and My Giant in Shel Siverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and City Mouse is named after the City Mouse in the story, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.  They have a great covered patio which is very popular in the summertime, so while it would have been nice to sit outside, it would have been a significant wait.  We had a good table at one edge of the room where everything could be seen easily.  City Mouse offers Brunch every day with a good selection of breakfast and lunch selections and a pretty good beer and cocktail list.  I started out with a cocktail called a Gap Toothed Fizz, which had Gin, Mezcal, Cloosterbitter (a dutch bitter using distilled liquor, similar to Chartreuse or Genever), Lemon, Egg White, and Matcha.  As it was a fizz and used egg white, it had a nice foamy top sprinkled with ground Matcha Tea Leaves.  It was very herbal and botanical, with a little smoke from the mezcal, and a tart finish.  The foam made it a little different from cocktails I generally order, but the flavors fit very well and I did like it.
To start things off as far as food was concerned, I ordered something sweet for the table, a Pretzel Cinnamon Roll, something that was similar to a pastry that I really liked at Trenchermen.  It also had Chocolate Chips and was covered with Butterscotch.  It had a crusty exterior with salt, like a soft pretzel, with chocolate chips and the very sweet and sticky butterscotch.  It was very good, though admittedly, I preferred the Trenchermen version better.
My main course was mostly savory, though it also had some sweetness to it.  It was called a Gas Station Sandwich and the only thing that I can think of that might explain the name is that it contained a bunch of stuff that you might be able to find at a gas station truck stop during a road trip.  it had Sausage, Egg, Hash Browns, Cheese, and Grape Jelly on an English Muffin.  It was a standard breakfast sandwich (sausage, egg, and cheese, on an English muffin) with hash browns and grape jelly.  It was very good.  Hash Browns are frequently ordered with breakfast sandwiches and the flavor goes together well.  I don't normally eat potatoes on my sandwiches, but it isn't unlike the French Fries on the sandwiches at Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh or fries on burgers in Canada or France.  They go together well and it works.  Grape jelly is also a common morning staple and does go well with English muffins, but it was a little unusual to think of eating it with everything else.  It did work though, and added some sweetness to the sandwich.  The sandwich also came with a fruit cup with what the menu called Michigan Fruits.  In the bowl were Blackberries, Blueberries, which I liked, and Honeydew, which was okay, but it also had way too much Canteloupe, which I can do completely without.  I would have been happy with everything else if they had left out the canteloupe.

Brunch was very good and a lot of fun.  The food was good, the service was very friendly, and the space was nice.  I will definitely have to return at a future date to try the rest of their menu.         

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hungryasfck Pop Up Brunch at Kimski

This has taken a while to get up, but I really liked it, so I thought it was worth writing about.  I had been interested in Kimski since it opened.  Attached to and actually a part of Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, it is a counter service place with a Korean/Polish Menu that draws on the ancestry of the owners, the Marszewski family.  It started out with a neighborhood bar in Bridgeport.  When the kids took over from their mother, Marz Community Brewing, a very creative small batch brewery was started with Maria's used as it's taproom.  While Maria's had a great beer selection (and also worked as a bottle shop) they had no kitchen so it was BYOF (Bring Your Own Food).  They decided to open Kimski, both as a kitchen for Maria's and as an entity of its own.  The two places are connected in the back, but they also operate separately.  Maria's as a great neighborhood bar and bottle shop, and Kimski as a small counter service place that serves Korean/Polish Cuisine.  From the outside, the two places look very different and it would be hard to guess that they were connected or related to one another.  Maria's has a very classic Chicago Bungalow appearance with Kimski being very modern and angular with a nice open patio in the front.  Entering Kimski, it looks a lot smaller than it actually is.  There is a small lobby with paper menus on the counter and a menu on the wall.  There is probably seating for about 8 people in this area.  The kitchen window is to the side of the counter so the counter people can pick up and deliver food to customer's tables.  To get to the actual dining area, you have to walk around the counter and through a door behind the counter.  The main dining room is much larger and has a nice bar with a very good tap list with Marz as well as many other local breweries featured.  The room is wood, with the main color being black.  The back wall is made up of several glass sliding doors over looking the enclosed back patio (also wood, although this left light colored) which used picnic tables for seating.  I really liked the look of the place and the tap list and will definitely have to return sometime.

The food and drink looked very good, but I was actually there for a Pop Up by the Hungryasfck Team who were doing a Hawaiian themed Ono Brunch (Ono is Hawaiaan for delicious).  I had never heard of Hungryasfck, but saw that they were formerly from Parachute, which I really like, so I had to try their stuff out.  I had never been before to Kimski (or Maria's) and was surprised by how small it apparently was.  After I ordered, I was guided behind the counter and through the door and was relieved to see that it was much bigger than it had seemed.  I sat on the back patio and enjoyed the sunny day.  I started things off with a coffee drink from local roaster Passionhouse, a Wasabi Bloody Mary, and donuts because no proper brunch starts without donuts.  The Coffee drink was called Ice, Ice, Baby and in addition to the Passionhouse Cold Brewed Iced Coffee contained Macadamia Nut Milk, and Coffee Bean Honey.  I like iced coffee and the macadamia nut milk and the coffee bean honey added to it.  It had a bittersweet, nutty flavor with flavors of dark fruits.  The Wasabi Bloody Mary did have a slight bite, but in my opinion, it was light on the Wasabi.  It had a Celery Stalk and a small Maki Roll garnishing it. The celery did contribute to the flavor, but the maki sat above the liquid, so it only contributed as a pairing.  The donuts were actually Donut Holes, but I'm not complaining about that.  They were Yeast Donuts topped with Powdered Sugar, and Chocolate Syrup and were very light, if a little messy.  It was like eating Chocolate-Covered clouds.
Next on the menu was the Spam Musubi which was served with a spicy dipping sauce.  Spam is very popular in Hawaii and Spam Musubi is apparently sold all over the place.  While I generally don't consider it haute cuisine, I also don't consider it vile.  Since this was a Hawaiian themed brunch, I figured that this was a must try.  Spam Musubi is Grilled Spam wrapped in Sushi Rice and then wrapped with Nori.  It's like spam maki, although a little larger.  I cannot say that I thought it tasted fantastic, but it wasn't bad.  It was better, though with the spicy dipping sauce.
 I finished things off with what they called a Pork Bowl.  To me, it was like an Asian version of Hash, replacing Potatoes with Fried Rice.  It started with Pulled Pork, and added Pineapple and a Fried Egg over the Fried Rice and Spices and served on top of a Banana Leaf.  The Pulled Pork was very tender and the Pineapple added a tropical flavor to it.  The fried rice added a great texture. 

I really enjoyed my brunch at Kimski.  Hungyasfck put together a great menu and Kimski is a great space.  I will have to watch for more pop ups and I will have to return to Kimski so I can try their actual menu.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jianna - Greenville, SC

The last meal out that I had on vacation was at an Italian place.  Now the stereotypical Italian place is a pasta and red sauce place with a rustic look.  Many that I have been to have paintings on the walls that make it look as if the place is very damaged with cracked walls, and an open ceiling.  While Jianna does feature pasta, the space has a very modern and clean look, located in a second floor space with a balcony.  The walls are white, and while there is some trellis work around the bar, which occupies the center of the dining room, the trellises are not decorated with grape vines.  The food would be familiar in many Italian restaurants, though the dishes are frequently treated with a modern twist and many are served as small plates.  I was with a large party, so we ordered a large number of appetizers to share, though our entrees were eaten mostly individually.  Most of our appetizers would easily be recognized as Italian, but there was also a raw bar that featured oysters and fish.  From that selection we went with some Tuna with Lemon Gel, Hazelnut, Arugula, and Olive Oil.  This would look familiar in a sushi joint, but it did have an Italian twist.  It was tender, and flavorful with some great flavors from the lemon, arugula, and olive oil.  The Ciabatta served with the appetizers was grilled, so it had a nice crispy exterior with a nice airy interior.  Also on the appetizer list was Gnocchi with Smoked Bacon, Tomato, Chives, and Parmesan Brodo (broth).  The gnocchi was soft and had a rich flavor added to with the bacon, chives, and tomato, and the Parmesan broth.  grilled Octopus was served with Arugula, Potato, Guaciale, Pistachio, and Sherry-Lemon Vinaigrette.  I love octopus and this was very good.  The Italian Cheese plate came with three cheese as well as Grapes, Pickled Radishes, Fig Jam, Almonds, and Ciabatta Toast.  It was simple as cheese plates usually are, but as long as the cheese is good, which these cheeses were, it fulfills its purpose.  Generally when a cheese plate is ordered, a charcuterie plate is as well.  The plate that fits this bill is was the San Danielle Prosciutto, a sweeter version than the di Parma version.  The last of our appetizers was the Polpette, Veal and Pork Meatballs, with Polenta, Tomato Sugo (sauce), and Parmagiana.  They were very tender and flavorful and very good meatballs, but of our appetizers, I think my favorite was the Octopus.  They had a very good wine and cocktail list, but I decided to take it easy with a Lonerider Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen (from Raleigh, NC).
In many Italian places, the menu is divided into antipasti (appetizer), Secondi (pasta), Terzi (large entrees), and Dulci (dessert).  The menu at Jianna was divided in the same manner although it was written in English.  Generally, if you order pasta, you won't order from the entree section, and this was the case as well.  Our group seemed to split fairly evenly between pastas and entrees.  I went with a pasta.  After the large number of appetizers, I was looking for something a little lighter, so i went with the Casarecce, wich is similar to a rotini that has been more loosely rolled.  The casarecce was served with Lump Crab, Corn, Peas, Lemon, and Chili Flakes.  It had a lot of crab and vegetables, but it was pretty light.  The lemon gave it a tart flavor that really did away with a need for any sauce.  It was very good and I liked it a lot.
To finish things off, it seemed that after our large meals, we were going to wave off dessert.  While I do like dessert and I thought the food we had been served thus far had been great, I had eaten enough that I would have been fine to go without dessert.  Despite this thought, we still ordered several desserts to share among us.  We started with a New York Style Cheesecake with Blueberries, continued with a Honey Lavender Panna Cotta, and finished with a Salted Caramel Semifreddo.  The cheesecake was simple and straightforward and was quickly gone.  The Honey Lavender Panna Cotta (a panna cotta is a sweetened cream dessert thickened with gelatin) was sweet and floral with a nice bit of tart sweetness from the strawberries.  I thought it sounded good, but there were a few that seemed at first to be a little intimidated by it.  After everyone tasted it, they joked that they would leave the rest for me.  I had a few more bites, but then left the table before finishing it and was happy to see it was mostly gone when I returned.  The last dessert, the semifreddo (semi-frozen) was served with Biscotti Crumbs, Caramel Sauce, and Shaved Chocolate.  It had the texture of a frozen mousse and a fantastic flavor and was an easy sell.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food was fantastic, the service was very good, and it was an interesting spin on an Italian restaurant and Italian food.     

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Carolina Breweries

I continued my exploration of the mid-Atlantic beer scene when I continued from Washington DC to Greenville, SC.  As Greenville is very close to North Carolina, and specifically Asheville which has a nationally known brewing scene, I wanted to visit breweries in both states.  This also would allow me to say that I visited breweries headquartered in Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  I say headquartered because while I visited a Dogfish Head Ale House, it was in Virginia and Dogfish Head's main brewery is in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  My visits to the breweries in the Carolina area actually took place over a couple of days and we started out with a brewery tour of Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, SC.  Thomas Creek is the oldest brewery in the area, starting as a brewpub in downtown Greenville in 1994 and becoming family-owned Thomas Creek in 1998.  They have a pretty big facility that brews their own beer as well as doing some contract brewing for area breweries.  The main entrance put us next to the home brew supply store and close to the small in-house taproom.  Before we started the tour, I happened to notice a couple of their ads, which were pretty unconventional and funny.  The tour entitled us to 4 - 4 oz pours and they generally started everyone off their most popular beer, River Falls Red Ale which was a pretty good red ale.  We then walked around the brewing area and given a short history before returning to the tap room where we were able to talk to the brewer and other members of the family while trying other beers on tap.  They had 12 beers on tap, of which there were many pilsners, pale ales, and IPAs.  They did have some other unusual styles and flavors, of which, I tried one.  Other than the Red, I had the Sour IPA, the Trifecta IPA, and Bing Bong 4/20 Gruit.  As far as color and clarity were concerned, they looked pretty similar, but there were some wide flavor differences.  The Trifecta IPA was a good IPA, using Citra hops.  The Sour IPA, I was uncertain about because I wasn't certain how well a bitter IPA would work with souring.  It worked well because it was neither overwhelmingly bitter or sour. And the Gruit, I had to try because it was a gruit.  As the name indicates (Bing Bang 4/20 Gruit).  It was aiming for the dank flavor of marijuana.  It was really unusual because a gruit is mildly bitter (without hops) and has a salty finish which this did well, but it also had a dank flavor.  It was really good and I'm glad I got to try it, but it looks like it was an experimental batch, so the only place that I might be able to try it would be at the brewery.
I didn't have a strong aim or agenda when we went to Asheville, NC.  I did want to visit some local breweries, so while I am sure that Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues would have been very good, I saw that there were a few breweries near downtown Asheville, and decided that that would have been a better choice especially since we were traveling an hour to get there, it would be better to have more things to do instead of just one.  I saw that Asheville Brewing seemed to be the biggest place, so it seemed to be as good a place as any to start.  The downtown location of Asheville Brewing, there are three locations, is the original and seems to be in a large former warehouse.  The public space is separated from the brewing area and there are three large rooms, two dining rooms, and the bar/taproom where you could also get a full menu if that is what you desired.  As we were just starting, I did not need food, although I did get pretzels with my flight.  The beer served had a wide range of colors and clarity and they also had a great t-shirt that played right to my chemist geek self.  For my flight, I started with a Lemon Space Dog American Wheat Ale, made with Lemon Zest and Lemondrop Hops.  It was a good wheat ale with a very nice lemony flavor.  From there, I went with a Ninja Latte Coffee Porter, which is brewed with Mountain Air Roasters' Coffee and Lactose to make a nice coffee porter with a creamy finish.  From there I went with a Fire Escape Pale Ale, brewed with Roasted Jalapenos to give a nice smooth pale ale a fiery finish (It was spicy, but it wasn't overwhelming).  In every flight, I will generally choose an IPA if there is one available.  There were a few available when I went, and I decided to explore a little more and picked the one that was likely the most different, Ashvillain Black IPA.  It was a black beer that was as much a stout as it was an IPA and it had a great logo.  I was glad that we started there first because the bartender gave us a lot of suggestions as to where to go next.
There are seven breweries within a quarter mile including one right next to Asheville Brewing.  We didn't visit all of them and in fact, our next stop was at a doughnut shop.  Vortex Doughnuts was located in the brewery district and did some very good gourmet doughnuts and coffee.  After the flight it was time for coffee and good coffee can always be found in a good doughnut shop.  Since we were on a brewery crawl, I decided to match my doughnut to it and had a Rotating Tap Cake Doughnut with Beer and Pretzels (I'm not sure what beer was used).  It was sweet, salty, and malty and was very good.  My friend had an Apple Fritter which was apparently very good, but it didn't look as lumpy as a standard apple fritter does.  After the doughnuts, we continued our journey as we had planned.
We had actually been looking for a Barbecue joint when we left Asheville Brewery.  We found the doughnut shop first and who can turn down a doughnut?  We found after we left, that Buxton Hall Barbecue, the place we were looking for, was two doors down from Vortex Doughnuts, on the other side of Catawba Brewing.  As there were more breweries to be visited, more food needed to be ingested, to handle the alcohol.  Having said this, since it was going to be a beer day, I decided to try out a beer from an area brewery that we would not be visiting, Fullsteam Brewery's Rocket Science IPA.  It was pretty bitter, but it wasn't just bitter and had both floral and citrusy flavors.  I was not feeling ribs for lunch, though I love barbecue and we were in the heart of Carolina Barbecue country, so I went for the next best thing, pulled pork, which was served with Corn Bread and two sides, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw.  Buxton Hall is an Eastern NC-Style Barbecue joint (despite being in western NC).  The sauce used is a thin, spiced vinegar style served on the side.  Generally, I like my barbecue sauce to be a little stickier, but it was pretty good.  My friend had barbecued chicken which was covered with a tomato based sauce.  He got rice and almonds and green beans under the hog for his sides.  His stuff did look good, but I was perfectly satisfied with mine.
After the lunch stop, we made a stop into the local bottle shop, Tasty Beverage Company, which had some interesting choices, and a taproom as well, but I wasn't sure how I would get any bottles home if I bought them, so I waved off and we went to our next brewery.  Our next brewery had the darkest name, but one of the friendliest atmospheres.  Burial Beer Company was black (of course) and was built into a pole barn on a hill.  The tap room was in the front of the barn with the brewing area behind it.  While there were some seats in the front and adjacent to the brewing area, there was a counter-service dining area in the back with more seating and a large outdoor patio.  There was a small crop of hops to one side and a gutted antique farm truck at the end of the patio that also served as seating.  We shared a picnic table with a couple that were also visiting the area to explore breweries.  Atmospherically, it was very dark, but it was also very farm-like.  It kind of reminded me of Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, MI.  For my beers, I went with Tiny Beasts Tripel IPA, a collaboration brew with The Other Half Brewing Company from Brooklyn, NY (I will frequently lean toward collaboration brews because they are obviously a limited release), Interstellar Invertebrates IPA, Prayer Belgian Golden Blonde with Apricots, and Keeper's Veil Honey Saison.  All of the beers were pretty good.  Tiny Beasts was interesting because a tripel tends to be malty and slightly sweet which this was.  It also was pretty hoppy which made it pretty interesting.  Interstellar Invertebrates was a fairly standard, but good, IPA.  Prayer had a lot of apricot flavor and aroma, and the honey in the Keeper's Veil limited the funk that a standard saison has.  While all of the beers were good, I think that my favorite was Prayer.
The next brewery, Green Man Brewery, originally started out as a brewpub, Mad Jack's, but has since added a production brewery right next to it. Mad Jack's was not open when when we came by so we drank in the production brewery.  The production brewery has an area that looks like an English Pub with a lot of carved wood, but the area where we drank, in the taproom next to the brewing area looked pretty industrial, with cement floors and garage doors.  There were many Green Man images throughout the drinking area which were pretty cool.  The bar was full when we got there, so we sat at a high top near the bar.  They didn't offer flights, so I had to think hard because being already three beers in and wanting to continue, I needed to limit myself.  They generally do English-style ales and what I picked definitely had an English origin and referenced English Pop culture.  I had a Paranoid Android IPA.  It was a limited release English IPA and was very good.
The last brewery we hit in Asheville was the Wicked Weed Funkatorium which focused solely on sour beers.  The front of the place kind of reminded me of a western saloon (without the swinging doors).  It had a very nice and long bar that ran deep into the space.  Behind was a brewery and barrel aging warehouse.  The space used a lot of dark wood in the design and referenced barrel design.  For their flight, they had 4 set beers, two of which were Barrel Aged Sours and two that were Brett Farmhouse Ales.  While they were all sour, they were very different.  Bretticent, a Brett Farmhouse Ale, was a very sour golden farmhouse ale. Bombodile, the other Brett Farmhouse, was brewed with Strawberries, so it tasted like sour strawberries.  Khatta Masala was a Barrel Aged Sour brewed with Mango and Spices and had an Indian accent.  Medora, the other barrel aged sour, had a reddish cast to it.  It was pretty sour, but it was brewed with Blackberries and Raspberries, which moderated it somewhat.  Of the four that I tried, I liked the Bombadile best, though they were all pretty good.
After we left the Funkatorium, I thought we were done.  We had explored many breweries, and I had had and enjoyed many beers.  We did leave Asheville and returned to Greenville where we stopped at a place that my friend noticed the week that I arrived.  Located on the first floor of an office building, there seemed to be a patio with picnic tables, games (bags, connect four, and jenga), and many people drinking flights.  We discovered that it was indeed a Nanobrewery as well as a homebrew shop and a spot where homebrewers could come to brew on the premises.  They had a 20 tap system pouring beers from all over.  I decided to choose beers that specifically had the Upstate name all of which were brewed in house with a local brewer.  The beers I chose, Heliocentric IPA, Interdimensional Beings Kolsch, Super Belgian Blonde, and Coffee Blonde, were all pretty good, I liked the coffee blonde best, but I think the biggest draw to the place was the fact that it had such a great patio.  It was dog friendly and I made friends with a young Great Dane while we were sitting there.  Overall, it was a good and fun couple of days exploring the area beer scene and it gives me an idea of some of the beers if if I encounter them elsewhere.      

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vault & Vator - Greenville, SC

It was kind of funny to me that both friends that I visited on the East Coast decided to take me to a speakeasy.  I had mentioned going to Captain Gregory's in Alexandria, Va.  When we went down to Greenville, SC and we went out for the evening, my friend suggested we go out to this place called Vault & Vator.  I am always up for a good speakeasy, so I agreed that we should start our evening there.  Located downtown, my friend had a general idea where it was located, but as with a good speakeasy, the entrance was not obvious.  It was located in the back of a building in the basement.  We had to walk downhill to a wrought iron door under a metal deck with mirrored glass behind it and a small sign behind it with the Rules.
Looking at the Rules, I found them very familiar.  No cellphones, appropriate attire, no reservations, no standing at the bar, be respectful, I thought it sounded very much like the rules in Chicago speakeasy, The Violet Hour.  Entering, and finding my self behind a large and heavy velvet curtain, I was reminded further of The Violet Hour.  It was dark with a bar in the center of the back of the room with seats on three sides, lounge furniture, and some booths off to one side.  The walls were black and most of the lighting came from behind the bar.  We sat at the bar and talked to the bartenders.  The space was the location of a Dr. Pepper factory with the original storage (Vault) and Elevator (Vator).  It was started by a bartender originally from Chicago who loved The Violet Hour, hence the Rules.
While they had a set of rules similar to those of The Violet Hour, they weren't quite so stringent on their adherence, so I was able to take a picture of our drinks (though a flash would not have been permitted).  The drinks are modern takes on classic cocktails and styles, using small batch liquors and their own tinctures and bitters.  They also serve a small menu of Small Plates, mostly consisting of meats, cheeses, and dips, and a selection of chocolates.  For my drink, I ordered Don't Fear the Reaper, which contained Blanco Tequila, House-made Carolina Reaper Tincture, Grapefruit Sherbet, Lime, Honey, and Simple Syrup.  It was sweet, a little tart, and had a pretty nice bite to it (though it wasn't overwhelming).  My friend ordered a Caribbean Mule, which was essentially a spin on a Dark and Stormy.  It started with House Infused Pineapple Rum, Ginger Syrup, Fresh Pineapple Juice, and Ginger Ale, and was served in a Copper Pineapple.  With the Rum, and Ginger, it just needed Lime to go the Dark and Stormy route.  With the Pineapple, it was definitely Caribbean.  The place was a lot of fun and the drinks were very good.  We actually returned a few days later and tried a few more drinks which were equally good.  I would happily return if I was in the Greenville, SC area.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

HenHouse Brunch - Spartanburg, SC

After my trip to the DC area, because I was already on the east coast, I decided to travel to Greenville, South Carolina to visit a friend.  My friend has a friend in neighboring town, Spartanburg, who has a breakfast/brunch place called HenHouse Brunch.  He had not visited the place yet, but he decided to use my visit as an excuse to get up there.  I am a huge fan of brunch, so I had no problem with this. Located in downtown Spartanburg, it is in a small place across the street from the police station and at the corner of a pedestrian walkway.  The dining area is small and might seat 25 people, but it's rustic and homy.  Service is via counter service.  There is a small counter (with a small kitchen behind it) where orders are taken.  Orders are brought to the table when they have been prepared.  They have some pretty good coffee, but I also had a glass of their Cucumber-Mint Limeade.  Cucumber, Mint, and Lime, do not intuitively fit together, bu it did work.  All of the flavors were obviously there and they actually worked together well.  It had the vegetal flavor of cucumber that worked well with the mint, and the mint and lime moderated each other so the cucumber could be tasted well.
There is always an aim, when I go to brunch, to get both something sweet and savory.  For the sweet, we had to get a Frankenberry Muffin, a sweet, fritter-like muffin with icing, and made with Frankenberry Cereal.  I actually expected it to be sweeter than it was, though I was not disappointed that it was not more sweet.  While the icing and the Frankenberries were sweet, it tasted as if it were made with a savory muffin recipe and was actually also a little salty.
The savory side of the menu seemed to have a lot of very fresh and seasonal stuff.  There was an item called The Hipster which included Eggs, many vegetables, Farmers Cheese, and House Harissa.  It sounded very good, but there was something that potentially sounded better.  They had a Killer Croque Monsieur on the menu with Ham, Swiss, and Mornay Sauce (a cheese sauce using Gruyere) on a Brioche Bun.  I asked if the Croque Monsieur could be made into a Croque Madame, which would just require adding a Fried Egg.  There were eggs on other parts of the menu, so I figured that it wouldn't be difficult to do, and the chef affirmed that he could do it.  It was very good and I was glad I was able to have it.  The sandwich came with soup and my friend recommended I get the Peeky Toe Crab Soup because that is the local specialty, but they had unfortunately run out.  I ordered the Broccoli and White Cheddar Soup instead which, while not the Peeky Toe Crab Soup, was still very good.  It was rich, cheesy, and had a lot of broccoli.  I enjoyed my brunch here.  It had some very good food in a small, but family friendly space.