Monday, February 9, 2015

For the Love of Food!

I've been pondering this post for weeks, letting it fully form.  Now it's time to let that creature out.  I recently dipped my toe back into the dating pool thereby forcing myself to somehow explain, repeatedly, my obsession with food. How do you make it sound sexy, not gluttonous?  How do I not come off as a snob what with the term "foodie" being used the same as "fancy pants" and "hoighty-toighty"?  What if he really digs Applebee's and Bud Light and won't budge from such tastes?  Can physical attraction overcome such a thing?  To this last question, in my case, the answer is no.  Not if said studly companion isn't willing to explore, be adventurous, step outside the mainstream box.  But I digress.  The point is, what I came to realize after all of the far too many first dates is what my love of food truly is and how best to explain it. It's a hobby.  A hobby I am fiercely passionate about but a hobby nonetheless. Stay with me, allow me to elaborate.

Music is, was, always will be my first love.  Like it is to so many of us, it's oxygen, water.  I cannot exist without it.  I committed my education to it.  I thought my career would be in the industry.  Alas, it wasn't for me much like cooking professionally wouldn't be.  My former fiance, his badass chef soul resting in peace, often admonished me, telling my I'd missed my calling as a chef (lovingly admonished, to clarify).  Some people are meant to grow their hobbies and passions into a career.  I am not one of those people (though I must throw in that I have a fantastic career that I am very passionate about). I'll just be the best fangirl I can be.

Enough blathering.  The gist!  I relate music and food very closely. Two of my great loves in life.  I collect recipes and favorite restaurants as I do albums.  For the many McDonald's pumping out crap for the masses much like meaningless music purveyors, there's Rooster & the Till taking deep care and mixing ingredients like Mozart to create a masterpiece.  I compare chefs to composers and producers; musicians making magic with their bare hands.  As most, yet not nearly enough, already know, food is art.  It can be beautiful, powerful, transcendent, soothing, nourishing, life changing.  Done wrong it can be ugly, sickening, sad, life ruining.  Hate to break it to you but that dude at Subway isn't really a sandwich artist.  Choose your artists wisely, people!

Many things led me to this post, in large part defending myself from being considered a food snob, as I've been referred to far too often and I know for a fact several of you have as well.  My most recent defense was I'm not a food snob, I'm a food lover.  I like a tiny, hole in the wall mom and pop as much as a fine dining establishment because food done well and with love is the same in any environment.  Ambiance, service, many other factors of course contribute but at the end of the day if the food tastes amazing that wins above all.  I avoid chain restaurants not because I'm fancy or pretentious. It's because you don't get the same love, passion, and thoughtfulness you get when it's a family risking their livelihoods, a team putting their all into each dish; these people who choose to devote their lives to feeding people and doing it to the best of their ability.

I've decided this year to devote much needed time to my hobbies, find a work/life balance, which means I'll be writing more you lucky reader, you!  In no time at all I'll be back to sharing my foodtastic adventures with you, loaded with pictures (admit it, we all skim for food porn!).  Thanks for sticking around for this peek into my mind. I know it wasn't easy but I promise to reward you post-haste!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Banh Mi: Just Put It In Your Mouth

It has come to my attention that there are still people in my life that haven't had a banh mi, the most magical of sandwiches.  If you are one of those people, speed read this and then go out, find one and PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH.  You're welcome.

It all begins with the bread, a warm, crispy, airy, French inspired baguette.  Then a swipe of mayonnaise (not on mine, you all know my disdain for the M word), a smear of pork liver pate,  slices of cha lua (Vietnamese pork roll) and cured pork cold cut (yes, three different kinds of porktastic goodness!) garnished with pickled daikon and carrot, fresh cilantro leaves, cucumber and sliced jalapenos.  That would be the classic version and my personal preference but if you're less adventurous and leery of trying these likely foreign to you forms of pork then opt for grilled pork or another protein of interest. (Just used the word pork six times in this paragraph.  Now seven times!  I need help.)

What you have now, kids, is perfection.  Well, almost.  Perfection truly happens when you throw on a fried egg.  Yeah, you read that right.  The banh mi is all contrasting temperatures, textures and flavors.  Hot, cold, crunchy, creamy, chewy, sour, salty, sweet and spicy with that unctuous, gooey egg yolk on top?  The ultimate food orgy.

Sans egg

With glorious egg
Go forth now and savor the work of my people...

Friday, June 7, 2013

I love Butternut!

If you get my title reference then high five!  In this case I am talking about a wine, not a horse but more on that later.  Feast your eyes upon the new Great American Wine Collection at Datz:

The user friendly and fun design will help guide you towards a delicious wine decision utilizing categories and sub-categories. I only sampled twelve  (yes, I said "only") but will be heading back for the rest as I would highly recommend the twelve I sampled and feel confident the rest of the menu is superb.

If you've never been to Datz then stop reading this and get there now.  Datz and I were love at first bite.  After moving here from South Florida and missing my foodie destinations, I went searching for somewhere in Tampa to satisfy my needs.  I found Datz with their amazing beer list.  I had Duck Sliders with duck bacon and caramelized onions and I was fully in love.  Then I went to a 13th Step Dinner at the owners' house hosted by Tasting Tampa.  It was proposal time.  I must admit that I'd never had wine at Datz, just copious amounts of beer, booze and bites so I'm really psyched about this well crafted wine list and you should be too.

The fabulous curator of this menu, Jodi Fritch (food and wine blogger, sommelier, Empress of Wine, maker of bone marrow butter that I'm still dreaming about), gave us a brief introduction and then the wines were a freaking waterfall.  I savored the first sips and then it was more like doing wine shots to keep up.  To clarify, I am in NO WAY complaining.  First up, some food shots to get you salivating and then I shall quench your thirst.

Ranch Popcorn!  In a pig dish!  I need both in my life.

On to the wine!  Let me preface this by stating that I am not a wine expert but a wine enthusiast.  My notes are just that: my notes.  I'm not extensive on all but will highlight my favorites and must state again that I enjoyed every single one I sampled and encourage you to go be adventurous.  I also want to reiterate that this list is all American.  Now we shall proceed!

First up,

Swanson Pinot Grigio: nice mouth feel and balance, fantastic aroma

NxNW Riesling: definitely one of my faves; not too sweet Riesling, dry, delicious

Anne Amie Cuvee A Amarita: light spritz on the tongue, boozy in the greatest of ways

'75 Sauvignon Blanc: aged in steel tanks and the label has fun 1975 facts, bright with a nice finish

Hogwash Rose: I was sold by the hog on the label (yes, I'm that easy) and that it has its own sub-category called "Cheerful Rose".  Who am I to refuse?

Anne Amie Muller Thurgau:  our second Anne Amie; I think I like these people...

Butternut Chardonnay: "So freaking good" is what I wrote and that it was.  Hint of butterscotch on the finish, this wine is bananas

Meiomi Belle Glos Pinot Noir:  very light Pinot but bold and complex; another fave

Stratton Lummis The Riddler Lot 2:  by far my favorite; fierce, sexy, fantastic legs; I had seconds; go drink this wine with someone you want to make out with; no one seems to know what varieties are in this but there are many and I don't really care.  I like this wine, can you tell?  The wine may have been starting to kick in, can you tell??

Troublemaker "Blend 6": fruity, jammy, spicy on the finish

Milbrandt Brothers Blend B: smooth and meaty; made my beef taste even more buttery

Luna Vineyards Lunatic White:  I missed this the first go round but I managed to sample at the end; very aromatic is all I wrote, kids, sorry!

We wrapped up, chatting, all wine happy.  I made new friends, as you do when sealed in a room full of wine and food.  And there was no way I was leaving Datz Dough without grabbing dessert to go.  Holy Macarons!  The salted caramel was a stand out.  I also got some William Dean chocolates because they are devine as well as a Potato Chip Chocolate Ganache Cake.  No description necessary.

I had a terrible time, obviously.  Damn that wonderful Jodi for the invite.  Seriously though, I'm honored to have attended.  A huge round of applause for all that worked on it. As for you, the wine list launched last night, Thursday, June 6th, so get your ass to Datz.  Go!  Now!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cigar City Beer Wishes and Tater Tot Dreams...

Okay, so it wasn't Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous but it WAS drinking and eating for a great cause.  You don't have to ask me twice.  My friend, Joe, voluntarily arranged World Wish Day to celebrate 33 years since the very first wish was granted by Make-A-Wish.  Since then thousands of wishes have been granted including one to Joe's son, hence his passion.  So, on this day, certain World of Beer locations partnered up with Cigar City Brewing and Orlando Brewing and all proceeds from sales of designated beers went to Make-A-Wish. I spent my night at World of Beer Carrollwood where servers were offering up half of their tips and the Hott Mess food truck contributed proceeds from food sales.  Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening, not bad at all. I considered not attending due to my burgeoning cold, but sometimes you have to say to yourself, "Suck it up, princess!" and drink craft beer and eat fried goodness for the kids.  The kids!!!

CCB offered up some Hotter Than Helles for our charitable indulgence.  I had my fair share and ventured out to the Hott Mess truck to check out the grub.  Whilst there I had some fun chatting with Heather and Damion, the proprietors of said truck.  I must say, since my Keep'n It Reel post the food truck community has been so welcoming and I'm extremely appreciative.  Getting to know wonderfully cool people who make deliciousness for the masses has been awesome and I look forward to spending more time with them all.

I decided on my bites for the night and traveled back on in to destroy.  If tater tots smothered in tasty absurdity are your thing then Hott Mess Tots are for you.  I couldn't possibly finish them all because I devoured my Bacon Wrapped Deep Fried Hott Dog but I intentionally bought them to share with my most beloved beer wench at WoB Carrollwood, Becca, who was graciously offering up half of her tips on her day off the night before finals.  She.  Is.  Dope. Go see her. The tots are everything you could want from tots that are covered in ground beef, bacon cheese sauce and chipotle lime crema with a garnish of chopped scallions.  My hot dog had a perky sun-dried tomato relish on it and how could I possibly complain about a fried hot dog wrapped in bacon?  The only fault was the bun which couldn't quite stand up to all of the awesomeness piled atop.

Cold advancing, I said my goodbyes and was beside my car when I realized that I liked and respected these people enough to properly say goodbye and tell them my humble opinion.  Not only were they extremely receptive but I then got to spend a lengthy amount of time chatting with Heather, the mastermind behind Hott Mess.  I learned that this is a family run business that works around Damion's military schedule and puts their 15 year old daughter to work.  Not your typical first job but it does allow great experience and the opportunity to buy all of those shiny toys.

The Hott Mess truck has been around for just over a year and is consistently busy.  Heather reiterated my point from my previous post that you've got to be extremely passionate because it's not all fun and games.  It's really nice to come across people who are doing it for the right reasons.  I've met people in food service on both ends of the spectrum and considering my fangirl affection for the industry I appreciate those that are in it for the love, which is what it takes to succeed.

Interesting tidbit which anyone my age will appreciate: the Hott Mess sandwich is inspired by the Canteen Lunch in the Alley loose meat sandwich which inspired the "Lanford Lunch Box" signature sammie in the sitcom Roseanne.  All Midwestern, U.S., where Heather is from.  Fun, right?  I thought so.

These days in the fabulous Tampa landscape there is a food truck for everyone.  Or in my case, all of the trucks are for me. Let's put the Roach Coach mentality to bed once and for all and enjoy what this awesome community has to offer. Go hit a rally, experiment, be adventurous.  And if you need a hungry partner in dine, just ask, I'm in.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Once it hits your lips, it's so good.

Beer tasting club? In Tampa?  Yes, please.

This past Monday I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Inaugural Beer Tasting presented by Beer Tasting Club at The Green Lemon, formerly known as The Lime.

I had no idea what to expect from this event other than my ticket was extremely cheap and I would be sampling four craft beers.  Good enough for me!  So I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out upon arrival that we would also be served food pairings. We grabbed seats in a private room after being greeted warmly by Javi and Dave, the men behind the plan: get a group of beer lovers in a room, serve them some crafty suds and boom, instant party.  Simple but genius.

Our tasting was presented and explained by Kris, friendly and quite knowledgeable about the offerings. From bottom left and clockwise we have Graffiti Orange Creamsicle, an American Pale Wheat Ale from local craft brewery, 7venth Sun Brewing.  Next up is an American Style Double IPA, Green Bullet from Green Flash Brewing.  Definitely my favorite of the bunch. Top right is Purple Haze from Abita, a Light American Wheat Ale that most everyone has had if you're into beer.  And last but certainly not least was Happy Ending, an American-Style Imperial Stout from an awesome brewery, SweetWater Brewing Company, based out of Atlanta.

The chow was pretty tasty and surprisingly well paired.  In order of the beer I listed we had samples of the Crispy Mahi Taco, The Mateo ( a grilled skirt steak quesadilla), Homemade Jalapeno Poppers and a side of Guacamole.  The Happy Ending was topped off with a Churro and Vanilla Ice Cream.  Happy ending indeed... Nothing mind-blowingly unique but all good eats kindly served up by The Green Lemon, which also features an extensive Tequila Bar.  Silver.  Chilled.  No training wheels.  Info you need in case you'd like to buy me a shot...or three.

Company was fantastic and I'd say the first outing of the Beer Tasting Club was a success.  Definitely looking forward to what the next events hold.  I know I'll be surrounded by good people with great taste (even though a certain someone ordered a Corona Light and then promptly had to explain himself).  It was also my first visit to The Green Lemon and I was impressed by the plethora of tequila, the beer list, the eats and the atmosphere.

Stalk Beer Tasting Club on Facebook for more on events and check out their website to sign up.  Hope to see you at the next tasting.  Cheers!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Keepin' it real with Keep'n It Reel...


You've either got it or you don't.  And if you don't then you should give up all of your secret or not so secret food truck dreams right this second.  I, like many, have toyed with the idea of starting my own truck, especially when the scene exploded.  It's easy to romanticize and fantasize and compared to opening a restaurant it sounds like a piece of cake (mmmm, cake).  But it's not all tacos and tasty nibbles, folks.  You've gotta have extreme love for what you do and respect for the food you produce. And like any successful business, reputation is everything.

I had a fairly good understanding of these sentiments going into this project but my time spent with Rich, owner of the Keep'n It Reel truck, was extremely enlightening.  Holding down a full time job and raising two very cool kids with his lovely wife while pursuing his passion, Rich is a busy, busy man.  But not too busy to help out a lowly, amateur blogger interested in learning about what it takes to rock a food truck.  Granted, in exchange he got some free labor out of it but I definitely was the winner in this deal.

This project started with a suggestion tossed out by my friend, Dan, that I write about a day in the life of a food truck.  The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of going behind the scenes, experiencing for myself a taste of what it takes and then sharing that new found knowledge with all of you (big thanks to Dan!).  I sat on it for a week or so until it was like sitting on jagged, stabby rocks.  I then decided to get off my ass, grow a pair and reach out to a truck I had come to love, that was receptive to my previous posts and had already gained the "Like" of my foodie Facebook friends. I was not prepared for how generous the reaction to my request would be.

The plan came together rather quickly.  I would work on the truck at a festival organized by Generation Food Truck for the Centennial Celebration of Lutz (who knew?) and we would meet at our mutually beloved World of Beer Westchase to discuss.  He walked in with his beautiful wife and a bottle of Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and our friendship was off.  We talked about food, drink, life and drank.  I learned the how and the why behind Keep'n It Reel.  The dedication and support you must have to be able to lead such a demanding life. That Rich (to no one's surprise if you've eaten his food) has high standards and uses quality product.  Beer shots were had.  And I was thrilled to find out that I wasn't the only excited party in this venture.

My post started becoming more than just a story about a day on a truck and even now is still shaping itself as I type. Was I naive to think I could write a behind the scenes and not write about the people behind the scenes?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps I just didn't expect to be so welcomed into their lives and for them to share quite so candidly. By spending a day on the truck I not only learned the technical side, the politics of it all, but I got to see the heart of it. What more could I ask for?

So, hopefully you're still paying attention because here's where the adventure begins.  Feel free to take a break, grab a snack and come back because we're about to literally get rollin' and the food pics are bound to stir your appetite.

I met Rich at his house so I could get the full experience of riding on the truck.  Prep started two days earlier so I missed out on that but asked about it of course.  To sum up: a man, his beer and his truck.

It was a fun ride out to Lutz (possibly the first time that's been said) for two people who drank a whole lot of beer the night before and stayed out a little too late.  I'd never ridden on a food truck and there was something incredibly awesome about pulling up and encountering waves and excited smiles from kids in the parking lot.

Annnnnnd then the nerves fully kicked in. I was to be Window Girl.  What if I was the worst Window Girl in the history of Window Girls?  What if all the food service knowledge I had flew out the damn truck window and I royally screwed this up?  What if a shit ton of people came and I was a massive embarrassment to not only myself but the kind fella who put his faith in me?  Or what if it rained like predicted and it was the most boring day of my life?  Thankfully none of that happened and I had an awesome time.  Other truck owners came by to chat about their offerings for the day, what beer they had for after the event.  I lament not trying 3 Suns Bistro's Maple Bacon Coffee Marmalade but was psyched that Renny from Renny's Oki Doki sent over some Crispy Pork Belly with Daikon Slaw.  It was aptly named because damn was it crispy on the outside, lusciously fatty and tender on the inside. And if anyone knows me even just a little, they know that I'm a pork belly lovin' lady.

What was it like once service started?  Hot, busy, sweaty, tasty and fun as hell.  Rich and his cousin have a fantastic rhythm down that only comes with time.  As soon as I called out an order they knew what needed to be done and the dance (not in a lame way) began.  I would glance over when I could and see them working in unison to produce a dish.  I don't know if you've been on a truck but it's tight quarters with hot oil and sharp knives but not once was I worried.  To be fair, they've had since November 2011 to get this perfected but it was impressive nonetheless.

Grouper Sliders

Hand Cut Fries, Grouper Sliders and Shrimp Tacos

Fried Shrimp Basket
Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Po'Boy

Hungry yet???

It was busy and yet not too busy that I didn't have time to reflect.  I was able to pause and enjoy watching that first bite into something delicious, where the eyes close, the nod happens and the smile occurs. It wasn't my truck or my food but I felt that pride, joy and instant gratification that comes with feeding people great grub.  Creating a moment of utter bliss that however fleeting existed because of your work.  I was also elated when a good number of customers returned for more.

Service wrapped up, the cleaning began and beers were had.  It was a thoughtful ride back.  I asked about the logistics.  How hard is it to get licensed?  Finding a truck?  If you're extremely lucky you'll find one that is already registered as a food truck and stacked with gear because otherwise you're in for some serious work and even if you get lucky you're still in for work.  Every profit in the beginning is an investment. I learned about the trial and error of deciding locations, menu, who to work with, all of the politics involved.  The gratefulness that comes from meeting other truck owners who are willing to share their knowledge because truly, people, this is no easy or inexpensive feat.

I gained so much more than I expected from this experience and I'm excited to learn even more. If you are contemplating delving into the food truck world I strongly suggest doing what I did.  Find a truck you enjoy and respect and ask to spend time with them.  I was outrageously fortunate to hook up with Keep'n It Reel but the community seems like a welcoming bunch.  Friendly competition is just that: friendly.

There's quite a bit more I could share but then this insanely long post would go on forever.  I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions and constructive criticism so comment away!  Also, I don't think this is the end of my food truck adventures, merely the beginning...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

18 Hours in Orlando

18 hours in Orlando.  By no means a foodcentric voyage and yet I managed to eat a stupid amount of tacos and some kickass BBQ.

The purpose of this baby road trip was to head to House of Blues and see the sold out Imagine Dragons concert with Atlas Genius and Nico Vega opening up.  My friend went out of town so I was lucky enough to borrow his wife for the evening.  Best. Copilot. Ever.

I scooped her up and we were off to enjoy the traffic nightmare that is I-4 at 5:30pm on a Friday.  We missed the window to "Pass the Line" at House of Blues (which is an awesome feature that I fully recommend if you have the time; buy an entree/sandwich and pass the whole crazy line) so it was out to the streets of Downtown Disney to find a quick bite.  We made it about 100 feet before spotting a food truck.  No need to look any further.  Last thing I expected to come across but I'm extremely happy we did.

Behold Truckeria:

Fast, reasonably priced and tasty. You've a plethora of options in Downtown Disney but this place is worth a shot if you don't have time for a sit down meal. The guys in the truck were super friendly and happy to chat. Exclusively at DD, hopefully they roll out the tacos to other spots. 

Chipotle Pork with Tomato Salsa and Cilantro Cream and Mahi Mahi with Slaw and Pickled Peppers.  The proteins were juicy and flavorful, especially and surprisingly the Mahi.  I ate mayo without complaining and the pickled peppers provided just the right amount of heat and texture.

Concert.  Epic.  Mind blown.  I have a thing for drums and holy crap there were so many drums on that stage, at one point four band members including the lead singer were pounding away and I was thinking very dirty things.

Checked into the hotel. I named my price on Priceline and got a sweet room for half off.  My money needs to go towards food and drink, people, not overpriced hotel rooms.  We ventured to downtown to meet up with one of my favorite chicks who was randomly in town.  After some truly bizarre time spent at Barbq Bar and Eye Spy we went to get grub at Gringos Locos because what else are you to do at 2:30 in the morning but go wait in line for what seems forever with drunks, hipsters and a delightful variety of party people for tacos.  That said, TOTALLY worth it.  I did not take pictures.  I DID get a variety of tacos and a beef empanada.  I got beef (too sweet for my taste), pork (always reliable) and chicken (the best of the bunch which shocked me; packed with flavor).  The homemade empanadas were obviously so.  Crazy crispy and like none I've ever had but I regret getting the beef because again, too sweet for my liking.

Why is Crystal the best copilot ever, you ask?  Because this is the second time I've taken her to a concert and both times she's fed me chips and queso while I drive. Also, she knows Orlando quite well so no need for navigation.  And to top it all off, she's hilarious.

Sleep.  Wake.  Off for BBQ at 4 Rivers Smokehouse.  I had it on good authority from Todd at Tasting Tampa that this was the best BBQ in FL and it was confirmed by my copilot so I found myself for the second time in less than twelve hours standing in a lengthy line for food.  Annnnnd again, totally worth it.  Beyond worth it.  Most of you have already seen the pic on my FB page but here it is again in all its unpretentious glory.  I feel your envy deep in my soul and it's justified.

Sweet Tea, Collards, Smokehouse Sliders o' Pulled Chicken, Burnt Ends and Angus Brisket, Smoked Jalapenos Wrapped in Bacon and the aptly named Chocolate Awesomeness.

I don't think I need to say much.  Crys ordered a half rack of St. Louis Style Ribs, Mac &Cheese and Texas Cornbread and got The Itis in under ten minutes.  That's gotta be some sort of a record.  Go here, wait it out and eat your freaking face off.  Just make sure you aren't too far away from somewhere you can lie down and head to Nap City.  The ambiance is ideal, the staff seem truly happy to be there (wouldn't you be?) and they've thought of everything. From wash basins out in the open made from barrels to a bevy of To Go supplies, this joint has you covered. I'll be back for sure.  There's simply too much to savor on the menu.

We made the voyage back home in a car that smelled of BBQ heaven. I brought home leftovers because being Itis'd out is no way to drive, y'all.  Safety first!

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