Sunday, February 25, 2007

Passing Bites: #1 Pho / Banana-Pear-Pecan Crumble

#1 Pho
3120 Superior Ave.

A post-audition snack was attained in the form of Number One Pho, a synthesized-pop-music-playing wood-polished-pretending-to-be-upscale Vietnamese eatery on Superior Avenue, a block crowded with Just Like Mom's ( a Soul Food and Seafood restaurant) and Superior Pho, whose entrance is reached only by entering Just Like Mom's. Number One Pho seems like a promising place, and though I wish we could have tried the whole menu, since there were just two of us we decided on some Charbroiled Pork Rolls, a bowl of Pho with beef, brisket, and tendon, and a bowl of Beef Stew served with French Bread.

Deliciously spiced food! The highlight of the meals were the sauces, from the fish sauce-accented dipping liquid that elevated the char-broiled rolls, to the glorious Pho broth that beckoned to the tongue with waves of cinnamon, anise, ginger, and cloves! I always am a bit uncomfortable when they bring over the plate of sprouts, basil, jalapenos, and sauces, because as the meal progresses it becomes harder and harder not to just dump everything in, which , except for a smidgen of hot sauce, was my end result. In this liquid there is such a diversity of flavors and textures, a rich smoothness that sat on my tongue for the rest of the night, leaving me in a state of wonder and melancholy (there is no Pho in Oberlin, you know....)

Then yesterday night I was bemoaning once again the monetary necessities for cooking! Spices, meat, cooking pots! Its just close to impossible for a student to have a well-stocked kitchen on their own, and yet I am trying to be committed to learning and experimenting and fucking up lots of dishes in private so that I can get a handle on this cooking business. So I went for basic and took a recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini for a pear-banana-pecan crumble, which, lets face it, sounds pretty hard to screw up. And true enough, when I looked at the preparations, it hit me. Butter, sugar, fruit, and nuts heated for a long time - basic and delicious. Add some bran flakes and a little flour and you've got a little more crunch, et puis voila! Although I plan on making future crumbles with whatever assortment of fruits I can swipe from the dining halls, the combo of pear and banana is notable for the way the textures of the two meld together, the soft yet present flavor of each combining. I used very ripe pears, extra-soft, and so they had a near-banana-y mushiness. yum!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Review: Sausage Fest!

The Sausage Shoppe
4501 Memphis Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144

Pictures forthcoming, but for now enjoy this picture from their website with Tony Bourdain..

The first moments of entering a city are a magical thing. Coming into Chicago on Lakeshore Drive, your mind is awakened by the sudden appearance of the lake, the steadily heightening buildings, the new palette of colors and shapes that rule the landscape. You stare out each side of the car, flitting back and forth, eager to see what’s next as you race inward towards the heart of the city.

Now you’re in Cleveland. The suburbs. As your minivan pulls off of 480 you are stunned to find yourself in a small town called Old Brooklyn. Brooklyn! In Ohio! This is mighty promising. That little pulse of excitement is awakened in your veins, as you pass a few tire shops and then drive past a gas station. Then another gas station. Then one more! Then a few shady bars, a pizza’n’ribs restaurant, and a donut monstrosity called the “donut connection” that looks like one of the hatches on Lost. The street names are exotic, sporting names such as “Memphis” and “Brooklyn” and you start to sense the presence of greatness. Here, in this sleepy town of gas stations, donuts, and grayness there is a revelation, a portal into another world of tastiness unimaginable and occasionally unpresentable. Welcome to the heart of sausage, my friends.

The Sausage Shoppe is easily missed, as it appears to be a mostly unadorned 2 room house with an enlarged parking lot. The store itself consists of one large lengthwise counter with the meat, a freezerful of homemade sodas and jerky, and a wall of cabinets with European-style rolls, an assortment of sauerkraut and sauces, and imported chocolates. Within this small confine, there is a glorious intoxicating smell, smoky, garlicky, and sweet. My nose erupted in sniffles as soon as I entered the door, as the smoked smell (the sausages are all made in the adjoining room) mixed with the smell of the loads of hickory smoked bacon sitting beautifully within the counter. There is probably no better way to convey the sheer magnitude of meat combinations than a list of some of the options. Seriously, the online catalog has 401 options of sausages, pates, hams, ground beef, and perogies. These include a huge and seasonal assortment of bratwurst, fresh and smoked kielbasa, Leberwurst Pate, Smoked Leberwurst, Proski, or Mettwurst, a glorified Sheffler Ham, Blood or Liver Ring, jerkies, hot dogs, and of course hickory smoked bacon.

Since this was our first visit, me and the Beer-Battered Brothers tried to get a wide but basic assortment of goodies, opting for the fresh kielbasa with garlic, and four kinds of Bratwurst: Old Brooklyn (flavored with crushed red pepper and cayenne), White (with milk, eggs, and chives), German (with mustard seed) and the self-explanatory Beer.

I have always been a mostly content fan of sausage, but this assortment was an eye-opening shock into the true depths of flavors, textures, and levels of moistness to which sausage might aspire. The Kielbasa was intensely herby and juicy, with each puncture of the casing releasing a smooth garlicky liquid. The White shared this juiciness, but added an element of soft meltiness and creaminess, so that the meat texture was merely a base for the chives and milk. The German brat was utterly different, a firm chewy sausage whose flavor is distinctive and deep, with the echoes of mustard and a smoky aftertaste. The Old Brooklyn was siiiiick. With the most potent smell of the bunch, we knew it had to be fucking good. Slightly less firm than the German, the Old Brooklyn captured the same meaty texture but had more juice, so that each bite released a new wave of intense and fiery pepper, still with the rich depth and smoothness of the softer sausages.

We had jerky as an appetizer to this delicious meal, and it was terrically smoky and chewy. The most remarkable and common observation I had about the sausage shoppe is that they seem to have perfected the art of packing a small piece of meat (any kind) with intense moistness and flavor, and this was clearly the case with the jerky.

The sausage shoppe is no restaurant, and unless you want to eat some jerky or drink a soda there is nothing you can eat without a fire. So go home and cook, you lazy bums! We prepared our sausages in a bit of water, browned to perfection, served plain or on European-style brat rolls with some Dijon mustard or Yellow Mustard, depending on the flavor combo of the sausage. This is an amazingly fun and easy food to prepare, not to mention inexpensive, and there is something wonderful about eating intensely gourmet and complex sausages while watching Sportscenter.

The Sausage Shoppe has done something incredible, in perfecting a single craft of food-making. Dedication, passion, purpose, its all contained in each link, if you just look (or bite) closely! As I imagine our next trip on 480, hurtling down the highway, I can feel the goosebumps start to grow!

4 MMMs (out of 5)
They just do sausage, but they re-define it!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Treat: Winter Doldrums

Here is a little something while you wait for a forthcoming entry on a trip to the Sausage Shoppe.....

The Wintry Doldrum Treat d'Oberlin

Prescribed for particularly slow and/or crappy weekends:
  • French Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Nutella
  • Banana
  • Joel Durand's Creme Caramel with salted butter and hazelnuts from Piemont

all right, that last ingredient might be hard to come by for some of you, but it is essential. if you must go to st. remy to get it, GO!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

when it snows be resourceful

so, when you awake to find yourself with this....pull yourself together
round up a few friends
prep your electric mixer
et puis voila!

ben's own homemade dark chocolate chip cranberry cookies,
with hints of cloves, allspice, and cinnamon

confession: i am learning how to bake. what are the baking properties of things like brown sugar, cranberries, allspice, butter, honey, or whatnot? I don't know. So my mission is to continue baking and to progressively extend my reach, trying out new bases and new ingredients. Failure is essential, though you won't see any of it! I am thinking the next cookie will contain honey, peanut butter, and banana (i.e. what I have lying around)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Review: I'm Melting!!!

The Melt Bar
14718 Detroit Avenue

Why has there never been a fast food restaurant based on grilled cheese, or a franchise place? When one sees grilled cheese on a menu, it almost always arrives as part of a kid's menu or packed in with the sides, a glaringly obvious placement for picky eaters and bland tastes. Grilled cheese, like Rodney Dangerfield, can't get respect. But does it really deserve it? As Oberlin proves every day of the week, grilled cheese CAN indeed be an oily mess of texture-less taste-less bread and plasticky cheese. I went to the Melt Bar hoping to be persuaded and perhaps moved, to re-attain my grilled cheese innocence.

The menu of the Melt Bar is a carefully constructed, yet audacious foray into the possibilities of the grilled cheese sandwich. Layered on top of thick-sliced and insanely crusty (that is the
complimentary crusty) Italian bread, one can get such variations as the home-cookin' revivalesque Porky Cheese (honey ham, crisp bacon, swiss), the ethnic fusion sandwich of Smokey Russian (smoked turkey, napa vodka kraut, smoked gouda), or the insanity of the North Coast Shores (crab cakes, garlic spinach, roasted red pepper, and cream cheese). I opted for the Cleveland-inspired "Parmageddon," a sandwich filled with potato and cheese perogies, napa vodka kraut, grilled onions, and sharp cheddar. See Figure 1 below... Upon the first bite my mouth was in heaven! The crust of the italian bread shattered in buttery flakes while the melted cheese merged with the perogie cheese to create an unbelievably smooth thick creamy bite. Heavy? Fuck yeah. The sandwich is intense, starchy, mind-numbingly cheesy, totally slimy. What impressed me the most about this sandwich was the wild textures contained, from the shattering crust to the spongy interior of the bread, with the melted cheese versus the harder perogie cheese, and the potato-y perogie dumpling against the sweet grilled onions. Every bite gave me a new chance to taste a different balance of flavors and items.

My friends (heretofore know as the Chew Crew) ordered the Hot Italian (grilled salami, honey ham, pepperoni, sun-dried tomato pesto, roasted garlic, provolone) and the Westside Monte Cristo, a deep-fried grilled cheese with honey ham, smoked turkey, swiss, and american. The Hot Italian was a savory mix of deep flavors, expanding the cheese and bread bases with healthy heaps of meat and a tomato pesto that was a sour-sweet revelation. The Monte Cristo was AWESOME! Look at the bread! Deep fried and suddenly squishy soft, it was like a rich beignet-like donut, so that even the american cheese was richened, the whole thing a sweet almost-dessert decadent treat.

Plates are served with
old-school french fries, cut thick and still with a dense true potato texture, and some seriously sub-par slaw, lacking almost any creaminess (i mean, a grilled cheese restaurant should not slack on creamy items, should they?) Perhaps they were thinking people might want a break from the cheese, but everyone at my table avoided the slaw nearly completely.

Some other standouts about the place are an outstanding and ridiculously reasonable beer list (Delirium Tremens, Dogfish Head, and Rasputin Imperial Stout all on draft!), and menus placed on the back of old records. I got a Twisted Sister album featuring Dee Snider waving around a half-knawed bone. I thought it was pretty fitting for the place! And the atmosphere, which is sort of like slightly done-up neighborhood bar. There is a faux-stained glass with inset cutlery, soccer playing on the television, and lots of brick, and the whole place is comfortable if not intensely hip or interesting. As for other menu items, salads and soups looked great, and I will definitely order the goldfish-laden Chili, and Fried Twinkie dessert upon a second visit, when I perhaps forgo the Parmageddon, as a gesture of kindness to my stomach.

The Rating - For a Primer, This is out of 5 MMMs

3.5 MMMs