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.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Toki Underground - Washington, DC

Before I left for my vacation I did a look at the restaurant scene in the DC area and one restaurant kept popping up, Toki Underground.  A look at their website proclaims it to be DC's first ramen house.  This kind of blew my mind because their are many ramen shops in Chicago, including 5 within a 15 minute bike ride of where I live, so it was a place that I was going to have to visit.  The neighborhood in which it is located could kindly be called "up and coming".  It does have a run down look to it, but their are also indications that hipsters are starting to move in.  While it's located on a major street, it wasn't obvious where it was located.  This wasn't surprising to me considering the fact that it has "Underground" in the name.  I expected to find it in a basement space.  I was mistaken.  It was actually located above a dive bar called The Pug, sharing the same entrance.  The logo for Toki Underground was on the door, but it was admittedly a little confusing to go upstairs to a restaurant with underground in it's name.  After the fact, I think the Underground could be ironic, it could mean not yet in the mainstream, or it could mean both.  Walking up the stairs, I saw that it was a very small space (seating about 25) with an open kitchen.  While there were a few tables, most of the seating was at the bar, at a counter in front of the kitchen, or a counter looking out the front windows.  The restaurant seemed to employ the reduce-reuse-recycle aesthetic heavily.  The rail/fence above the stairs was made up of skateboards that had been cut like a picket fence.  The tails of the boards were used above the divider between the kitchen and the bar.  There was a small dead tree used to hang Christmas lights. The walls had a street art design with both painting and stickers, and the bar top was uneven and resin covered with this found art sculpture embedded in it made up of nails and clips that kind of reminded me of a pinball machine.  Their liquor selection, while not huge, did have a good selection, not just using the usual suspects when it came to whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, etc.
We started out with some Pork Dumplings served with Sesame and a Spicy Teriyaki Sauce.  The dumplings looked like they were grilled, but they did have the standard steamed dumpling texture.  They were very tender, a little spicy, and very good.  While I didn't order these, my dining partners did, and I was glad to be able to try them, because they were very good.
The reason that I came here though was to try their Ramen.  While they did offer several ramens, they all seemed variations on the same theme.  I went with the Toki Classic with Braised Pork, Greens, Soft Egg, Pickled Ginger, topped with Nori, Sesame Seeds, and Scallions, and added more pork with some Berkshire Pork Belly.  I went with the Classic to see what their standard ramen was like.  I added the pork belly, because pork belly.  The nori came as a big piece on top and as could be expected it tasted very salty and green.  The taste of nori reminds me of spinach.  The two porks were very tender and while they were each served in a solid piece, they were easily shredded with the spoon or chop sticks provided.  The egg was a perfectly soft boiled egg, and broken open, it added another savory flavor to the already savory broth.  The noodles were plentiful, tender, and slurpable.  It was all very good and worked well together, the only issue that I had was that I thought that it could have used a little more heat and I saw no hot sauce readily available.  Having said that, I would gladly return to have it again. I really enjoyed the space and the food even if I wished for a little more heat.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sugar Shack/Capt. Gregory's - Alexandria, Va.

After a day of running around and then getting dinner at a pretty good tapas place (La Tasca in Alexandria), my friend mentioned that we had one more stop to make.  When asked where we might be going, he simply replied, "Doughnuts."  I like doughnuts, but generally, for me, it seems to be a morning thing.  It was a bit surprising, but I decided to go along with it thinking that these must be really good doughnuts.  We left and yes, we went to a donut shop, the Sugar Shack.  We walked in though, and stopped at the entrance.  There was a chalkboard wall in front of us and a wooden wall with a small red and blue flag hanging to one side.  I will come back to this in a minute, but first I want to talk about the doughnuts.  The place is small and looks like a pretty good donut/coffee shop.  Their donuts are mostly of the Yeast type (like Krispy Kreme) topped with a variety of glazes, but they also have a Fritter and some Old Fashioneds.  They all looked very good and creative, but while we were standing in a donut shop, we did not actually come for donuts.  We did stop for donuts a couple of days later and they were very good.  I would compare them to Stan's Donuts, but back to the wall.
As I said we were standing inside the entrance in front of a chalkboard wall and next to a wooden wall.  I said that there was a small red and blue flag hanging to the right side.  I will note that the flag is not pictured because I took the picture when we returned for donuts.  My friend grabbed the flag and pulled which rang a bell.  The wall, it seems, was a sliding door which someone from the inside opened shortly after her rang the bell.  My friend gave him his name and said we had a reservation and we walked through the door.
Inside was a small Speakeasy called Captain Gregory's.  It was a small space and very rustic space that probably seated 20 people.  The walls were all wood, the bar looked handmade and a lot of the lighting was from candles and small white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling.  There were a lot of nautical artifacts including a dory hanging upside down from the ceiling and a long and humorous story on one wall near the entrance telling how Captain Gregory had invented the doughnut (He was at the wheel during a storm, his doughy dinner was brought to him, but he couldn't immediately eat it, so he speared it on one of the hand holds on the wheel.  His bread now had a hole in it and thus was the doughnut born.) They serve some creative small plates and cocktails in which they make everything from scratch, though since we had already eaten, we were just there for the very inventive drinks.
We both started with Gin-based cocktails.  I had Master of None which included Citradelle Gin, Housemade Five Flower Tonic, Lemon, Cucumber, and Kuhler Absinthe served in a Collins Glass.  My friend had Abandoned Apartment in Paris which also started with Citradelle Gin, and added Housemade Rose Liqueur, Lemon and Egg White and was served in a small goblet.  Both drinks had floral and botanical flavors, but mine, with the cucumber, had a vegetal flavor and a slight licorice finish (from the absinthe).  I will note, at this point, that the bar also had an absinthe fountain from which absinthe was served from at the turn of the 20th century.  The other cocktail, while also floral and botanical, had a bit of a tart finish and a fluffy feel from the egg white.  They were both very good and we enjoyed both.
For our next drinks, I decided to continue exploring the menu, while my friend decided to go for a classic.  Unfortunately, the classic that he ordered was not the classic that he was actually looking for.  I ordered what was called 1000 Swords and my friend ordered a Manhattan.  1000 Swords was made with Holy Basil Infused White Rum, Smoked Pineapple, Garam Masala Tincture, Fennel, Cardamom, and Chili.  Reading the ingredient list, I thought that I was going to get a Tiki drink and with the rum and pineapple hitting first, that's what it tasted like at first, albeit a very interestingly spiced Tiki drink with the Smoke, Basil, Garam Masala, Fennel, and Cardamom.  Then the Chili Pepper hit.  It was very spicy with a pretty intense burn, so I had to take a break after every drink.  It was drink, break, drink, break, drink, break, but I did really enjoy it, despite having to slowly sip it.  My friends Manhattan was the standard Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, and Bitters, and it was very smooth and well made, however when you're aiming for an Old Fashioned (Whiskey, Angostura Bitters muddled with Sugar, and Water, garnished with a citrus peel), it would be a bit more bitter and boozy than you were aiming for.
At this point, we were done drinking so our bill was brought to us.  This also played with the nautical theme, being a message in a bottle.  The entire experience was a lot of fun.  It has been said that speakeasies are becoming passe', but if they are done as well as Captain Gregory's, I would highly recommend the experience.   

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Vacation 2017 - Washington DC area Breweries

When I travel, now that the number of local breweries have grown, I try to visit local breweries as well as local restaurants.  I recently traveled to Washington DC and Greenville, SC and decided to try out the local breweries in each area.  Obviously, breweries weren't the only place that I visited, but it's a way to look at the culture of an area.  Because the Washington DC area encompasses two states and the District, I wanted to see something in each area, there was discussion about running out to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to get to Dogfish Head Brewery, but despite the fact that it isn't far as the crow flies, there really is no easy way to get there, so that was waved off.  We started things off in Washington DC at Right Proper Brewery.  Right Proper actually has two locations.  Their brewpub is located in the Shaw neighborhood,  near Howard University, and their production brewery is located in Brookland.  We went to the brewpub which is smaller, doesn't take reservations, and has a very comfortable feel to it.  The building was brick with hardwood floors, unfinished ceilings, and hanging lights.  There were also several very cool and slightly weird murals throughout the dining room.  We sat near something that looked like a blue radish with arms and their was another one on another wall of the Washington DC area with a raccoon zapping a panda bear near the zoo.  The food menu has a Southern vibe to it.  We arrived around noon, so we decided to go for brunch.  We started with a very good Smoked Salmon Mousse with Everything Bagel Chips and Housemade Bread & Butter Pickles.  Unfortunately, it was so good that it was mostly eaten before I remembered to take a picture.  It was a spin on Lox and Bagels done in the form of crackers and dip.  The bagel chips were crisp with a lot of flavor and were good even without spreading the very good smoked salmon mousse on them.  My only compaint is that we could have used more bagel chips.  For my main course, I went with what is becoming a brunch standard, Chicken and Waffles.  This version was done with Fresh Blueberries and Blueberry Syrup and Butter.  While it was good, I especially liked the slight tartness of the blueberry syrup, the ratio of chicken to waffle could have been a little better.  The chicken that was there was nicely breaded and was tender, juicy, and flavorful, but it would have been nice to have more.  Looking at the beer list, it appears that while they might not be exclusively a sour beer brewery, they do like sour beers.  I like sour beers as well, so I thought I would see what they did.  They don't do flights, so I got a couple of beers in their smallest size, so I could try more than one.  The beers that I got were Tropic of Capricorn, an American Brett Pale Ale and Kick, Kick, Snare Dry Hopped Berlinerweisse.  While both beers had a sour flavor to them, neither was exceptionally sour.  I did like both of them although I think that I liked the Tropic of Capricorn more which is surprising, because I generally like the berlinerweisse style more.

After enjoying Right Proper Brewery, we continued on to Silver Spring, Maryland to visit Denizens Brewing Co.  Located on a hill, it had a two level brewing area, both of which had beer gardens outside.  They also served food, but as we had just eaten at Right Proper, food was unnecessary for us.  The place had an industrial vibe, especially the basement with one wall looking like it was made from ductwork aluminum.  The upper interior taproom seemed smaller, so we ventured downstairs where we had to walk through barrel storage and by an entrance to the brewing area to get to the downstairs taproom.  It was raining a little when we arrived, so we really had no desire to sit outside in either of the beer gardens (which did look like they would be nice if it hadn't been raining).  The long bar in the basement was open behind it, so you could easily see the brewing area.  Other than the bar, there were a variety of tables to sit at.  They were black topped metal tables with metal chairs which looked more comfortable than the bar stools, so that's where we sat.  There was art hanging throughout the taprooms, but the series that caught my eye was the hipster Presidents (and Hillary Clinton).  There was John Kennedy, Barack Obama, George Washington, Hillary Clinton, Abe Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan.  They all cracked me up, but I think I liked Washington in a track suit best.  Denizens offered three set flights of four beers, although there was some overlap between the three.  Their flights were labeled Malty, Hoppy, and Seasonal.  While all had things that caught my eye, both the Malty and Seasonal flights had a Porter on the list and I wasn't terribly interested in a porter at that time, so I went with their Hoppy Flight.  In their Hoppy Flight was Lowest Lord ESB, The Mack IPL, Trainspotting Pale Ale, and Southside Rye IPA.  On the other flights were a couple of Tripels, a Red Ale, and the aforementioned Porter.  All of the beers that I had were hoppy and they were all pretty good, but they were all pretty similar.  There were differences and I did have a favorite, the Lowest Lord ESB, but my friend who is a home brewer suggsted that it looked as iff all beers were made using the same ingredients.

After Silver Spring, we traveled back to Lorton, Virginia to a brewery that, given the name, I would have put on the coast and not in a business park.  Fair Winds Brewing Company is located in a business park and doesn't seem to have any connection to the water, but all of their beers follow a sailing theme.  As opposed to Denizens, the Fair Winds is located in a large single floor space with high ceilings that looks like it was a warehouse at one point.  Part of the curved bar is located near the entrance, but it curves back into the room.  Other than the bar, there are several large communal tables, one of which we sat at.  They do not serve food, but it is BYOF and there was a food truck in the parking lot when we were there.  The beers seem to have quite a variety in color and flavor both and flights consist of 4 - 5 oz pours of the drinkers choice.  I went with Quayside Kolsch, Siren's Lure Saison, Sessions in the Abyss Session IPA, and Dank and Stormy Imperial IPA.  Of these, I liked the kolsch and the IIPA best.  The kolsch being light and crisp and a good summertime beer and the dank and stormy being big and very flavorful with a very definite dankness to it.

While I mentioned we decided not to go to Delaware, that does not precisely mean that we did not go to Dogfish Head.  A few days after we did our brewery tour, we stopped at the Dogfish Head Ale House in Fairfax, Va.  While they might not specifically brew here, it is owned by Dogfish Head and does feature their beers and did have food.  We stopped for lunch on the way to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport.  Located in a stand alone restaurant in front of a strip mall, it kind of reminded me of a Chili's (as far as location and heavy use of wood in the design).  The food served was a bit more upscale than that served at Chili's.  We had some very good starter's starting with Smoked Cucumber Cups which were hollowed Cucumber Cups filled with Goat Cheese and topped with Smoked Salmon and Dill.  We also had Pop Pop Shrimp which were Popcorn Shrimp served with a Spicy Sauce over an Arugula Salad.  Both of these were very fresh and flavorful, but I was a bit overwhelmed when my burger arrived.  Called the Alehouse BBQ Burger, it was enormous and I was unsure at first how I was going to eat it.  It consisted of two 4 oz Wood Grilled Hamburger Patties basted with BBQ Sauce, topped with Cheddar Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Onion Rings and a Wood Grilled Bun brushed with BBQ Ranch Sauce.  I did eat the onion rings separately which did make it somewhat smaller but I saw that I was going to be committed to eating it once I picked it up because there would be no easy way to put it down without it exploding.  It was a very good burger even if it was enormous and hard to eat.  As far as the beer was concerned, they had a set flight.  Many of the beers I was interested in, but I might have chosen differently on others.  It started with the Namaste Witbier, went to Dogfish Head standards, 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPA, the Indian Brown Ale, which is a combination of a Scotch Ale, a Brown Ale, and an IPA, Raison D'etre, their Belgian Ale made with Beet Sugar and Golden Raisins, and Romantic Chemistry IPA, their seasonal.  Of their beers, I have liked all that I have tried.  I knew that I liked their 90 Minute IPA more than the 60, and Raison D'Etre was a favorite.  I had Namaste before and thought that while it is good, it isn't really that distinctive.  The Indian Brown Ale, I had not had before and I was really surprised at how good it was.  It had elements of all three beers that it was a hybrid off, but it was all its own as well.  I was very interested in Romantic Chemistry, but it took a few drinks to impress me.  It was the last one that I had so it may have taken a few drinks to clear my palate.  It was an IPA made with Mango, Apricots, and Ginger.  The apricots were obvious in the nose, but it took a few tastes to get the mango and the ginger finish.  After several drinks, I was able to decide that it was a good beer.

The breweries that I tried in DC all had something to say for them, and it was a lot of fun exploring, though there were definitely a few that I would return to more readily than others.