Sunday, June 17, 2018

Vinsetta Garage, Berkley, MI

While I like to be knowledgeable about the restaurant scene in Chicago, when I travel, I also like to get an idea of the noteable places to eat and drink.  I went to a few places when I was in Southeastern Michigan that were pretty good.  I mentioned Zingerman's Deli, we then went to a few breweries in Ann Arbor (Arbor and Jolly Pumpkin), before traveling to Berkley to visit Vinsetta Garage.  Vinsetta Garage was originally the oldest garage east of the Mississippi, originally built in 1915, but converted to a restaurant, serving foods that the mechanics that worked in the garage would appreciate (pizza, pasta, burgers, etc.).  The building is still the garage complete with neon trim and garage doors and the space still retains equipment from its garage days including an old tune up machine.  The floor is cement with some tile (and pennies encased in resin in the bathroom).  The bar is curved and looks into the open kitchen and the ceiling is unfinished with large skylights and hanging lights to provide additional light.  To provide additional atmosphere, an antique dragster sits on a ledge above the entrance. 
For drinks, they have a full bar with a good beer list and some cocktails, but they also go the soda fountain route with some very good milkshakes and concretes (which could also work as dessert).  We started out with a Chocolate Milkshake and a New Belgium Hemperor HPA.  The shake was nice and thick with a lot of chocolate, and as I said, could have served as dessert.  The New Belgium Hemperor was a Hemp Pale Ale.  I had read about it and it sounded too weird not to try if I ever saw it.  It was on the menu at Vinsetta, so I tried it.  It was very dank.  The flavor was very pronounced.  Hops and Marijuana are related and I have had some beers that aimed for the skunky flavor of marijuana and got there generally, but this was like drinking a joint.  While I will say that I was glad I got to try it, it also won't be a regular thing for me.
For food, we started with Chili Verde, with Pork Shoulder, Tomatillo, Jalapeno, Sour Cream, and Corn Tortilla Chips.  It was really good.  It had a lot of flavor with some spice, tender pork shoulder, and crunchy corn tortilla chips to add some additional texture and to finish things off.
For our main courses, while I did try both things we ordered, we essentially ordered separately.  There was a Coney Island Pizza (Sir Shakes Coney Pie) with Hot Dogs, Housemade Coney Chili, White Onions. Cheese Blend, Aged Cheddar, and French's Mustard.  It was unusual, but it was really good.  I had a slice, but it wasn't mine.  What I had was the Union Mac and Cheese which won an award as the area's favorite Mac and Cheese.  It had Vermont Sharp Cheddar, Pinconning Colby, Penne Rigati, Parmesan, Bechamel, and a Crunchy Crust, served with Ham.  It was big, rich, and I took over half of it with me.  The crust seemed to be made of a combination of breadcrumbs and fried cheese.  It was crunchy and had the great flavor of fried cheese, which led to the cheese covered pasta which was cooked perfectly and had the perfect amount of ham. 

While this is where dessert would have come, we were too full for dessert.  In addition to the milkshakes, they had several very nice looking pies.  The place was a lot of fun, the food was really good, and I would be happy to return.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Zingerman's Deli

Years ago when perusing cheese shops around Chicago, I started seeing cheese from a place in Michigan called Zingerman's.  After doing some studying, I found that they had started as a Jewish Deli that focused on the best local food that could be had.  This made them a little more expensive than you standard, but it also made them really good (and Popular).  Over the years, they developed a Creamery, a Bakery, A Candy Manufactory, a Coffee Roaster, a Mail Order Business, a Fish Store, and a sit down restaurant, in addition to the Delicatessan.  Their sit down restaurant, Zingerman's Roadhouse, won a James Beard Award a few years ago, showing that they are doing some really good work.  When I traveled to the area recently, visiting the Deli, the start of everything, was very high on my list.  Located in downtown Ann Arbor, it's easy to walk from from the train station.  The is located in the front of the deli and has an amazing selection of meats, cheeses, bread, coffee, and other specialty items.  There were many things that I was interested in, but as I was traveling by train and didn't have a way to refrigerate anything for the trip, my choices were limited and while I ended up trying a few things, I didn't buy anything.
As one might guess from their market selection, they also have an amazing deli selection.  While Zingerman's is ostensibly a Jewish Deli, they do also serve a variety of hams and bacons.  In addition to the Pastrami, Corned Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Fish, and other things, as well as a wide variety of salads.  They do not serve beer or liquor, but they have a variety of specialty soda's, in addition to Coffee, Tea, and Malteds.  I started things off with a Blenheim Ginger Ale, a Golden Ginger Ale that has a pronounced ginger flavor.  I much prefer the Golden Ginger Ales to the Dry (Canada Dry, Schweppes), but I prefer Vernor's to Blenheim.  For my sandwich, I decided to go with a specialty of Jewish Delis, the Reuben.  They had 6 different variations on the Reuben, I went with the S. Muno's Montreal Reuben with Wagshal's Smoked Brisket, Emmantal Swiss Cheese, Brinery Sauerkraut, and Russian Dressing on Grilled Rye Bread.  It was served with one of two Dill Pickles, New (Crunchy and Cucumbery) or Old (Garlic Cured).  I went with the New, which had a nice crisp crunch and a lot of flavor.  There was obviously a lot of dill flavorm but there was also a pretty good garlic flavor as well.  The sandwich was really good with a good crunch and flavor.  The brisket was tender and had a good smoked flavor, the sauerkraut was crisp and sour, and the Emmantal added some creamy bitterness.  On the side, I ordered Swiss Potato Salad with Redskin Potatoes, Neuske's Bacon, Switzerland Swiss Cheese, Sea Salt, Tellicherry Black Pepper, Scallions, Mayo, and Dijon Mustard.  I like potato salad, but this was a very good potato salad.

I really enjoyed my trip here and will definitely have to return when I return to the area.  While I could order food from them (I could order the ingredients for a sandwich and build it here), the place is very friendly and the selection they have is pretty incredible.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Lansing Breweries and BBQ

When I made plans for my recent trip to Lansing, MI, it was going to be about Brunch, Biking, Breweries, and BBQ.  I brought my bike with me so it would be easier to get from one place to another.  When I got up in the morning, I made plans to go to brunch, which I have already talked about, but the route took me along the very scenic river trail with a dock-like wooden trail that ran over the river in many places, and many scenic places like the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum, and the River Trail Theater.  The rest of the day was about biking to breweries and finishing with BBQ.
The first place I stopped after brunch was Ozone's Brewhouse, a small place in Old Town Lansing, located about a block from Golden Harvest.  As it was early, I was one of the first people there, which gave me time to study the place and peruse the menu.  The space reminded me of an old woodshop with everything made of wood and the bar topped with a glossy resin finish with a multicolored bottle cap design inlaid in several places.  Ozone is three Oxygen atoms bonded together and with a chemical formula of O3.  The design of the Ozone's Brewhouse label has both the chemical formula and structure of ozone in the name which I, as a chemist, thought was pretty cool.  They have a twelve beer tap list with a pretty good variety.  When I go to a new place, I prefer to maximize my samples and order a flight.  Ozone's did not have a set flight and they had a price for four ounce pours, so you could create your own flight.  As I had just had an enormous brunch, and I planned on visiting several places, I decided to keep things a little light and only ordered 4 - four ounce pours of a variety of styles.  I started out with Tyrannosaurus Razz Raspberry Saison.  It wasn't incredibly sweet or tart, but it had a nice raspberry aroma and finishing flavor with definite saison funk.  After fruit, I went to bourbon with Black Roses Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout.  This tasted big with a definite bourbon flavor.  The next beer kind of blew my mind which is exactly what it was supposed to do.  Called White Collar Crime, it was labeled a White Stout.  Now the idea of a white stout is a bit mind blowing because stouts are made with roasted malt, which gives the beer its dark flavor.  This beer is a pale ale brewed with cocoa nibs and cold brewed coffee, flavors that are frequently found in stouts.  While it certainly tastes like a stout, it very definitely did not look like a stout because it did not use roasted malt.  My final beer was Hopbreaker, which was an Imperial IPA.  It was pretty hoppy and flavorful with a nice body and with that it was time to get on the road again.
The next stop was the biggest brewery in the Lansing area, Lansing Brewing Company.
It takes its name from the original Lansing Brewing Company that operated in the city from 1898 until 1914 when it was closed in the movement toward Prohibition. The new Lansing Brewing Company opened in 2014 and uses the theme of the labor movement to build on.  Lansing was very important in the Labor Movement and the original was popular among the laborers in the new Oldsmobile Factory.  They had an Amber Cream Ale that was very popular which the new brewery also has.  I am going to guess that it is also very popular because when I tried to order it, they were out.  I started with a pint of Union Golden Ale and a small pour of Munchies Double Dank Double IPA.  The golden ale was solid and very drinkable.  The Double IPA, as it's name implies was dank and was going for a taste like marijuana smells.  It was not the dankest brew that I have ever had, but it was pretty dank.  While I was drinking these, I noticed some serving trays that seemed to be for flights.  Flights were not listed on the menu or else I would have ordered one when I sat.  I asked if they did flights, they did, so I ordered one.  I had already had the Golden Ale and their double IPA so they were off the list, but they had 12 beers on tap so I had choices.  In my flight I chose Michigan Medley Session IPA, Sly and the Family Saison Black Saison, Urban Grove Wheat Ale, Fox in the Henhouse Saison, and Saiko Himitsu Rice Lager.  Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have chosen the rice lager because the idea reminds me too much of Budweiser, but I wanted something on the lighter side.  It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't something that I would drink regularly.  Everything else was pretty good with my favorite probably being the Black Saison.  Lansing Brewing Company seems to be the most popular brewery in the Lansing Area, though they are also the safest as far as styles and flavors are concerned.
The last brewery that I stopped at was Ellison Brewery & Spirits, located in East Lansing, east of the MSU campus.  As I went to MSU, I did have to make a few stops to see landmarks and my dorm, but I didn't have to really go out of my way.  Located on a dead end road off East Lansing's main drag, you would think that it would be relatively easy to find.  Unfortunately the entrance is in the back of a generic factory building off the road and there is only one small sign on a door in the front, so it can be a little difficult where it is.  If you look into the alley/driveway behind the building, you can easily see a brewing tank, so I used that as a direction aid.  I had had some beer from Ellison and I liked it, so I was determined to find it.  Once you find the tap room, you see that it's kind of small with seating at the curved bar, high tops, and picnic tables for about 60 people (tightly).  There is a garage door at the entrance and space for the area to be used as a patio when the temperature was warmer than it was when I was there.  It was pretty busy, but I was waited on pretty quickly and found a spot to sit at a picnic table.  Their beers were little more on the exotic side and they did them well.  I ordered the Big Black Stout, BRB Fruit Ale made with Raspberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries, Crescent Fresh IPA, and Relativity Double IPA.  All of the beers had big flavors and were very good.  The two IPAs were West Coast and East Coast.  The Crescent Fresh being the West Coast IPA was very clear.  The Relativity was an East Coast IPA that was very hazy and had a juicy and citrusy flavor.  The Big Black Stout was solid with a nice coffee flavor, and BRB was tart and fruity.  Of the four, I think that I liked the Relativity Double IPA best.  My only issue was in the way the beers were served.  While I do understand the logic of serving beers in the order that they were ordered, the problem with that is that you could start with a beer that overwhelms your taste buds and kills your taste for the rest of your beers.  I prefer to have my beers served from light to dark.
I finished off the day with more food, stopping at the inventively named Meat BBQ, located very close to where I started in Lansing.  It was very popular when we went, I met my brother there, so there was a wait.  Luckily, my brother arrived before I did which alleviated most of our wait.  They have a pretty good beer list, but as I had been drinking all afternoon, I was not in the mood for any more.  We started things off with their Nachos.  These started out with hand cut Tortilla Chips topped with Pork, Brisket, and Bacon, Cheese and BBQ Sauce, and drizzled with Onions, Tomato, Jalopeno, and Avocado.  It was sloppy but it was really good and while it was served as an appetizer, it could have easily served as a main course.  For my main course, I went with a Half Rack of Ribs served with two sides.  The sides offered were normal BBQ fare and I went with Mac and Cheese and Potato Salad (although this Potato Salad was made with Blue Cheese and Bacon).  The ribs were dry rubbed and glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce, similar to Memphis-Style.  It was all good, but with my my high caloric intake for the day, I ended up taking most of it home which was fine because it was still good warmed up.  My day of Brunch (with Bacon and Broccoli), Beer, Biking, and BBQ was complete.  I had a lot of fun and enjoyed my experience at all of my stops.   

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Golden Harvest - Brunch

I had heard about Golden Harvest for many years.  I heard that the food was great with large servings, they take no reservations and are cash only, it's very different, and they don't do mean.  Because of all of this, it sounded interesting to me and tried to make plans to go there.  As it is outside Chicago, it also involved planning a trip which had logistical problems the first few times I tried, but once I was able to get Lansing, it was fairly easy.  Located in an out of the way corner in Old Town Lansing, it's pretty small and pretty off beat.  I had to laugh when I got there and saw the large, rusted plate metal "boulder" with the top corner made from a No Passing Zone sign.  The boulder sat on one side of the bike rack and the Golden Harvest sat on the other.  It was not easy to get my bike into the rack because of the way that it was made, but I was able to do it and then came to the line.  I was told to take a look at the door when I got there, but I had to get through the line first.  It seemed that they sat people in groups of four because all of the tables are four tops.  If you were not a group of four you could possibly be made into a group of four with another person or group or sat at the counter.  Before that happened though, you had to wait in line.  Living in Chicago and having experienced the line at Hot Doug's, this was easy.  The people in line were friendly and there was a lot of stuff attached to the building to look at.  There was a wide variety of stuff that seemed to really have no order.  There were several street signs, styrofoam skulls, toys, mannequins, motherboards, and the Incredible Hulk.  The pairing of things were sometimes pretty funny (a spray painted mannequin on a dirt bike or Kermit the Frog riding a stage coach) and there is always something new to look at if for no other reason than to try to figure out where it may have come from.
When the line got short, the hostess let about 7 of us in at once, so I didn't get a chance to look at the door, so I was going to have to make a point to look at it when I left.  I was seated at the counter in front of the grill, so I saw all of the action.  There were Home Fries on one side of the grill, and there were a lot because I think they came with every dish.  The Pancakes were prepared in front of me and they were enormous.  There were also pans on the right for omelettes and several waffle irons.  There was also a lot of interesting stuff on the walls inside although many of those were wall hangings.  Several things that I liked were the They Live movie poster, the rebus that translates to Be Nice or Leave, the Exotic Girlie Photos, 80 for $2.00, and the Alice cast photo.
The regular menu was a single fold paper menu with items on 3 pages, so there is a pretty extensive selection.  There were several things that caught my interest, but the always changing Specials Board is where the good stuff is.  Looking at everything, I see why a friend of mine will frequently order two breakfasts.
I started out with Coffee because it came from a local roaster and it's a good place to start breakfast.  Presented to me in a Hair Stylist mug, I had to laugh because at this stage, my hair doesn't take much maintenance, and I really couldn't do it for someone else.  Made by Paramount Coffee Roasters, it was a medium roast, but it was very mild.  I've had far worse coffee and it would do the job that it's supposed to, but the flavor left something to be desired.  For my breakfast, I went for something off of the Specials Board, the Baked Potato Omelette.  It was a 4 Egg Omelette with Cheddar, Bacon, Broccoli, (Peruvian) Purple Potatoes, Onions, Sour Cream, and Chives, served with Home Fries, Toast, and a slice of Pineapple.  I also ordered a side of Bacon which, while it was only 4 slices, was still almost too much.  It was crisp and flavorful and made from Berkshire hogs. There were lots of flavors and textures and a lot to eat.  It was one of the best omelettes that I have ever had.
After I ate, paid and tipped, this is a cash-only establishment and uses a cashier with the tip jar next to the cash register, I took a look at the door.  The door states the rules letting people know that it's a cash-only establishment, the line starts on the outside of the door, groups of two will be paired up at four tops when busy and they are always busy, and if you are not nice, they don't want your business.  Their Jolly Roger logo using a fork and spoon instead of crossbones, is also on the door.  It was a lot of fun to come here.  The people, both staff and diners were friendly, the food was great, there was a lot to look at, and the soundtrack was literally all over the place, from disco, to punk, to oldies.  I will definitely return, I just wish I could figure out a way to introduce some of my friends to it.          

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mango Pickle - Tasting Collective Dinner

I will admit that while I love food and love trying new foods, Indian food will frequently intimidate me.  This is because I really don't have a strong base to know exactly what is good and what isn't.  The food is so different, I really don't have a lot to compare it to.  Having said that, if I have a guide, I am happy to try it out.  I saw the release when Mango Pickle opened and I was interested but unsure.  When Tasting Collective announced that they would be doing a dinner there, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to try it out.  Located in Edgewater, it is on the far north side, though not quite in the Indian neighborhood on Devon.  It is a small place, though they were able to seat between 60 and 70 people and there is a small bar in the back.  The walls are very colorful and their was a lot of mandala art on the walls.  Our dinner was going to be an eight course dinner served mostly family style.  As in previous dinners, there was a small selection of beer, wine, and cocktails, sold cash only (The dinners were pre-paid).  I started things off with the Mango Pickle Gin and Tonic which, like all gin and tonics, had the title ingredients, but also included Cucumber and Anise.  It was pretty good as far as the gin and tonic, but the anise and the cucumber added a fresh vegetal and spicy flavor.
I said that the dinner was 8 courses.  That's how it was promoted, but there were extra things that in other places may have been considered a course in and of themselves.  The first of these was a plate of crunchy, cracker-like things.  There was no description of them on the menu and they were never mentioned, but they were pretty good.  They were crunchy with a little spice and impossible to just eat one.  I kept coming back to them as long as they were at the table.
Our first official course were Paneer Pops.  Paneer is an Indian cheese similar to Ricotta, and these were essentially cheese balls with a crust.  The crust did not seem fried, but it was cooked in some way because the crust had a crunch.  The paneer was served with Cilantro, Ginger, Chives, and Lemon Preserves.  The Cilantro and Lemon Preserves were outside the cheese balls, the lemon preserves holding them in place.  The ginger and chives, I think were mixed into the dough to add flavor.  It had a crisp outside, with a soft and creamy interior with a sweet tart flavor and a ginger finish.
Next were the Taro Root Pakoras served with Fennel, Cucumber, Red Onions, and Tomato.  Taro is a bulbous root vegetable that is grown throughout the world and is similar to yuca where tapioca comes from.  Pakora is essentially a fritter.  In this case, the taro root fritters were served as part of a salad with the fennel, cucumber, onions, and tomato, and providing it with a crunch.  The vegetables were very fresh and flavorful adding some flavor to an otherwise neutral flavored fried root.
From the salad, we proceeded to Tomato and Garlic Rasam with Tamarind, Curry, Cumin, and Mustard Seeds.  This was essentially a spicy tomato soup with a strong tamarind flavor.  This was served individually in a small glass.  The flavor of this wasn't bad, though it was strong.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite, though it was finished quickly.
 I did not notice while I was dining, and I didn't really expect it, but the course progression was very similar to western course progression.  I am not sure if this is authentic in Indian cuisine, or done because that is how Western diners expect to eat.  After our appetizer, salad, and soup, we started with our entrees with fowl, and specifically Butter Chicken served first.  It was served in a sauce of Cinnamon, Black Cardamom, Cumin, and Ginger.  It was very spicy and had a flavor similar to what many people expect of curry.  It was served with Naan, which was hollow like Pita Bread so the butter chicken could be eaten in the pita like a pocket sandwich.  It was very good and seemed to be a favorite of the diners.
The next entree was seafood and I will admit that when I think of Indian food, I don't think of seafood.  Called Siolim Kalwamchee, it had assorted seafood including mussels, scallops, and shrimp served in a Coconut Tamarind Broth.  It was also served with these interesting crackers similar to Shrimp Toast which couldn't easily be eaten with the mussels, but went well with everything else.  It was very good and flavorful and I think one of my favorite dishes, even if I couldn't pronounce it.
Our next entree was vegetarian, which, while it may seem to be a step in the wrong direction was actually very savory.  Called South Indian Pulao, it was the Indian version of Rice Pilaf and was served with Yogurt, Mustard Seeds, Raw Mango, and Curry.  It also had something that brought immediate dread upon me when I saw it, Chinese Eggplant.  When I had Chinese Eggplant years ago, I had no idea what it was and it was prepared in a dish, so I had to do some research to figure out what it was that I ate that I disliked so much.  It is incredibly bitter without much to temper it.  Despite the fact that I saw the Chinese Eggplant, I did try it.  The dish itself was pretty good with a lot of flavor and spice, and many textures coming from the rice and vegetables.  The Chinese eggplant did add some bitterness to the   I liked the dish, but I think that I might have liked it more if the Chinese eggplant.
Our final savory course was Ghee Braised Lamb with Bottle Gourd and Ten-Spice Masala.  The bottle gourd used in cooking is a thinner skinned version of the gourds (that are used as water holders when dried) and is similar to squash.  Ghee is an Indian version of Clarified Butter made from Yogurt.  As such, it makes the lamb very tender.  A masala is simply a spice mix, so the ten-spice masala is simply a ten-spice spice mix and the one used on the butter braised lamb added a lot of spicy flavor.  This was also one of my favorite dishes.
For our dessert, we did step away from strictly Indian cuisine and were served a Pot de Creme with Chocolate and Candied Pineapple.  A pot de creme is a custard prepared and served in a small dish and is similar to a panna cotta.  The custard itself had a nice and delicate flavor and was good without the chocolate or pineapple.  I enjoyed it and it was a good finish to a very good meal.

After coming here, I am less intimidated than I am in the past, but I would in no way call myself an expert.  The menu changes frequently and the names of dishes are not common in western cuisine, so I still might wonder exactly what it was that I might be ordering when I order something.  The food that I had was very good, so I would be confident that I would probably like what I got even if I didn't know exactly what it was that i was ordering to begin with.