Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boulevard Diner

Like any good Food Network addicted viewer, when I saw Boulevard Diner on Diners Drive-ins and Dives, I immediately added it to my list of must visit restaurants in the Baltimore area. It's not that I take everything they say on that channel as gospel, but if a place has strong enough word of mouth appeal to get on national TV, I have to do my due diligence to find out what's going on. So, that's what I did.

Right or wrong, I typically assume that the dishes they choose to show on TV are the most popular dishes and thus define what the restaurant is all about. Sticking to that assumption, everything we ordered that day was something cooked on the show.

To start with we ordered the Grape Leaves. Quite frankly, I hated them. The meat inside was fine. It was your basic ground meat, rice, and tomato flavors that reminded me of the stuffing I grew up with in stuffed peppers. But the sauce on top was absolutely disgusting. All I could taste was this bottled lemon flavor that comes across as something akin to chemical cleaning product. I was shocked that something so bad could make it's way onto a television show. Deana and I left three of the grape leaves alone after barely being able to stomach one apiece and at that point we had some seriously low expectations for the rest of the meal.

Unfortunately, from Deana's perspective, they only partially rectified the situation. She ordered the Sour Beef for dinner and it was incredibly average. The dumplings were big and the beef was tender, but the sauce was very one note. I took about two bites and after being inundated with vinegar flavor I had enough. I couldn't imagine eating a whole plate of that stuff and we both found ourselves bored with the overall flavor very quickly.

AT this point we had the Grape Leaves which were bad and moved on to average with the Sour Beef. Gradually, we got ourselves into the realm of delicious when we tasted the Meatloaf Tower. The picture above doesn't give an accurate portrayal of just how big the meal is. When they call it a tower, they aren't kidding. You get delicious mashed potatoes, a few pieces of bread, a heaping portion of meatloaf, and onion rings all topped with some delicious thick brown gravy. I loved this meal and that's coming from someone who doesn't even like meatloaf (and no, not yours either!). I have no idea what compelled me to order this that day but I'm glad I did. There is no way I could eat this entire plate in one sitting, but it's something you should order at least once. Even better, ask them to pack half of it to go for lunch the next day and spread the deliciousness out or share it with whoever you're eating with that day.

If you decide to order the Meatloaf Tower (and you should) be sure to save enough room for the Rice Pudding. This stuff is what desert is all about. Creamy, sticky, sweet, cinnamony perfection. I was stuffed to the brim by the time this giant parfait was delivered to us but it tasted so good I was almost sad when the last bite was gone. I can't recommend this dessert enough and it alone is reason enough to visit the Boulevard Diner no matter how far your drive is or how sub par everything else you order may be.

Yeah, our experience that day was hit and miss but when they hit it they juice up like Sammy Sosa and hit it like you've never seen before. Since that day, we've been back and had a couple of hot turkey sandwiches and it's a place we'll find ourselves visiting a few times every year. Add this one to your visit list.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Add this one to the visit list
What to order: Meatloaf Tower and Rice Pudding.

  Boulevard Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beer Tastings: Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale is one beer (among many) I'm looking forward to picking up this fall. It's been a year since I've had a taste, but from what I can remember this is a beer I always looked forward to simply to mix up the pumpkin overload I (happily) put myself through.

Tumbler is a very malt heavy Brown Ale. It's sweet, but there is an earthiness to it that makes for a very prominent fall vibe in both flavor and presence. One taste of the chocolate and smokey malt flavor can easily place you outside in a yard full of leaves and crisp air no matter what time of year it is. Most importantly, this beer goes down extremely smooth.

You'll see down below that this Brown Ale has a decent IBU presence. While reading other reviews of Tumbler I noticed that a lot of people thought there was a bit too much bitterness for a brown ale. Personally, I didn't think there were enough. You'll have to make that decision for yourself. As for me, I'm counting down the days until I see a 6 pack of these beauties sitting in my local distributor's aisles. Be sure to put this on your fall beer shopping to buy list.

Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 5.5
IBU:  37

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homebrewing: Honey Porter

It's about time for another write-up about my homebrewing trails and tribulations This time we'll focus on my second effort, a honey porter that I brewed a few months ago. I'm not going to get into every little detail of the process. If you're interested in that you can refer to my previous homebrewing post as the same basic rules still apply. Today, I'm going to go over the ingredients and how they should be treated. After that I'll get into the good part.....taste.

  • 6 lbs. of Dark Malt Extract
  • 2 lbs. of Minnesota Clover Honey
  • 8 oz of Carapils Specialty Grains
  • 8 oz of Chocolate Malt Specialty Grains
  • 1 oz of Kent Golding bittering hops
  • 1 oz Cascade Hops
  • Premium Dry Yeast
Basic Instructions:
  1. Steep crushed specialty grains for 30 minutes at 155 Degrees
  2. Turn off the heat and add in Malt Extract. Bring it to a boil
  3. Add the Golding hops for 60 minutes
  4. At the 30 minute mark of the boil, add the honey
  5. Last 5 minutes of the boil, add in the Cascade hops
  6. Cool down, add yeast.

Taste and Appearance:

The color is nice dark brown and it pours a creamy head that measures about 2 fingers. For a porter it is surprisingly light and easy to drink. I normally reserve cooler weather to do my porter drinking, but I've had no problem mixing this in throughout the summer. The most prominent flavor is easily the honey. Initially, the sweetness is very subtle and it's not until the finish that the full honey flavor really shines through. At times, this beer has tasted a bit alcoholy, but really that's my only complaint. It could be that I've just been my own worst critic because the overall feedback I've gotten about this beer has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lessons Learned:

Unlike my first brew, I didn't make any glaring mistakes that I felt needed correcting. As I get my feet wet in the world of homebrewing, I'm just trying to add a skill or component to my repertoire a brew at a time. The only thing I'd really like to change if I decided to brew this recipe (or any recipe) again would be adding a yeast starter instead of just using the dry stuff. With that said, if you're a new brewer and a fan of porters this is definitely worth a shot.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Exclusive presale access for Anthony Bourdain at Hippodrome

Exclusive presale access for Anthony Bourdain: Guts & Glory at the Hippodrome Theatre on Saturday 11/17! Use code: TONY to get tickets before they go on sale to the general public on Friday. Purchase tickets at or by calling 410-547-SEAT (7328).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beer Tastings: Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest

It's time for another beer tasting. Today, we're going with another fall seasonal, Tommyknocker's Small Patch Pumpkin Ale.

I'm not going to mince words with this one. This is an odd Pumpkin Ale for a variety of reasons. You'll notice in the picture above that the color of this is much darker than the typical pumpkin ale. Usually, you're looking for something a little more orange in color, but this is borderline dark brown.

From a taste point of view Small Patch Pumpkin Ale throws another curveball your way. The pumpkin flavor, at least in regards to my palate, is basically non-existent. When drinking a pumpkin ale a lack of actual pumpkin flavor is pretty disappointing. In it's place is a very prominent molasses/caramel flavor. Now, that flavor has it's place in the world of beer but I'm not sure how it fits into the pumpkin ale realm. Even the traditional spices of cinnamon and nutmeg were underplayed here.

If I were judging this without having any idea what type of beer it was, I probably would have scored this as an above average beer (despite my dislike of molasses). But going in expecting a pumpkin ale and walking away with something completely different, I really don't see myself drinking a Small Patch Pumpkin Ale this fall.

Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 5.0
IBU: 15

Monday, August 13, 2012

Blue Hill Tavern

Typically, when I visit a restaurant I plan to review it can take up to 2 months before I get around to writing about it for a varity of reasons.  We ate at the Blue Hill Tavern this past Saturday and today I'm going to do something a little different. At the advice of Deana, instead of sitting on this one and letting the experience kind of fall back in the mix, I'm going to write about it right away while the visit is still fresh in my mind. The meal was that good and I simply don't want to do this place an injustice by not giving it the best review I can.

Prior to our visit this weekend, I had never heard of Blue Hill Tavern. In fact, I really haven't spent any time at all exploring the Brewers Hill/Canton area of Baltimore they are located in. Based off the "tavern" in the name, I was expecting to go and enjoy some typical pub grub. As soon as I opened the door, though, I knew I was in for something much different. The space was very modern with waterfalls, contemporary art on the walls, and some awesome blue snakeskin leather chairs. The decor is seriously swanky and cool. Normally, that's not my thing but I really liked the look and feel of this place.

To start the night off we decided to try the Fried Pickles. They were excellent. Fried pickle connoisseurs will tell you that a good fried pickle is hard to come by. It's so easy to serve a wet pickle with batter on it that simply won't stick or is bad for a myriad of other reasons. Blue Hill Tavern served a fried pickle to be admired. The batter was light, crunchy, and it adhered to the pickle without falling off. They were served with a chipotle aeoli for dipping and the sauce was awesome. It was  creamy, smokey, a little spicy, and went perfect with the tangy pickles.

For dinner, Deana and I both had our eyes set on the same entree. We both went with the Roasted Chicken dinner that was served with broccoli and macaroni and cheese. This dinner was so good there really is no good place to begin. The broccoli was as good as you're going to find anywhere. It was steamed perfectly. I almost always pass on broccoli when ordering in a restaurant due to the fact that you are usually served a limp green thing smothered in butter. This was far from that. You could tell they took the time to cut the broccoli themselves and serve something really fresh and delicious.

And the you want to know how good the macaroni and cheese was? It was so good Deana decided that she needed to learn how to make homemade mac and cheese. In fact, that's what we ate for dinner tonight. So, Blue Hill Tavern, thank you for being an inspiration! But back to the Blue Hill Mac and Cheese. That stuff was divine. It was creamy, had a nice tang from one of the cheeses, a crunchy top, and just enough spice to it to make it absolutely addictive. I knew I shouldn't eat the entire portion in one sitting but my taste buds said to hell with logic. The Mac and Cheese never stood a chance.

The roasted chicken was truly the best piece of chicken I've ever had in my life. The meat was juicy, the skin was crunchy, and the seasoning was spot on. In all my days I've never tasted a piece of chicken that was seasoned so well. If they can make a piece of chicken that delicious I can only imagine how delicious the rest of the menu is.

More important than the decor or food, Deana and I both picked up on something we've been missing from a lot of our restaurant visits recently. The service was great. They were helpful, patient, informed, and efficient. Before you even knew if you needed something the staff was at your table taking care of you.

As if you can't tell, Blue Hill Tavern is getting the strongest recommendation this blog has ever given. From start to finish this place did everything right. I implore you to do yourself a favor and treat yourself as soon as possible. This place is great.

Price: Pricey
Recommendation: One of Baltimore's Must Visits
What to order: Roasted Chicken

Blue Hill Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 10, 2012

Beer Tastings: Magic Hat Hex

Continuing on with the Fall beer theme, today we talk about Magic Hat's Hex.

After a two year hiatus, I was able to reacquaint myself with Hex last night. Hex is what Magic Hat refers to as their  "Ourtoberfest". It's an amber ale full of malt flavor that finishes with a bit of a smokey flavor. In their description they also refer to a toffee and caramel presence but I wasn't able to pick up on anything like that. For me, the most distinguishing feature of Hex is the dry mouth feel you experience. The first beer I had I didn't mind it, but by the time I moved on to my second the dryness become a little too much and it was kind of a struggle to put it all down.

On the whole, this is pretty decent Autumn beer. It's not something that I can drink over and over again, but a 6 pack spread throughout the season is definitely worth picking up. Give it a try if you haven't already.

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.4
IBU: 25

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company

A few months ago my brother and his dame came to Baltimore to visit over Memorial Day weekend. One of the things my brother and I share in common (outside of being sexy as hell) is a great love of beer. With that in mind, I tried to plan a weekend that featured beer and food. As I mentioned before in my Judge's Bench post, Main St in Ellicott City is one of my favorite streets of all time. But as many times as I've been there I had never visited Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. With my brother in town I had the perfect excuse to make the drive over there and finally see what this place is all about.

We spent the earlier half of the day floating down a river and after a long day in the sun we all wanted a good beer. Having never been there I was expecting a beer menu to be on the table listing their different offerings or at the very least a waiter who would be eager to fill us in as to what they brewed. But there was nothing to be found. Eventually, I asked the waiter and he ran over the options but I was a little disappointed that the brewery kind of underplayed the whole brewery thing they have going on. I ended up trying their Boomerang Australian Lager. It was okay. There was a bit of a sour taste coming through that I wasn't expecting in a lager. It actually had me wondering if I had some bad beer, but eventually I got used to it after a few sips and by the end of the night it was my favorite beer they offered. However, the competition wasn't exactly fierce. I also tried their Marzen and Maibock. The marzen was buttery, totally underwhelming and watery. The Maibock was a little better and had a slightly sweet malt presence, but again, it was watery as hell. As far as the beer went that night, we all left wishing it had been a little better.

For an appetizer, my brother and I decided to get a little adventurous and try their Cajun Alligator. The picture above doesn't do justice to the lusciousness that was this alligator. Before you ask, yes, it tastes like chicken....chewy chicken. For me, though, it was all about the Cajun sauce that was spooned all over the alligator, rice, and peppers. It reminded me of a spicy curry. I might not go back for the beer, but I'd definitely go back if the alligator was still on the menu.

When dinner time rolled around two of us left happy and two of us left wishing we'd have ordered something else. My brother, Matt,  had the crab and shrimp Etoufee. I knew he enjoyed his dinner when I was taking roll call at the end of the night, because when I asked everyone to give a brief summary of their dinner he couldn't put together a full sentence. He said something to the effect of  "sweet.....supple.....large".  After I checked to make sure he wasn't mildly retarded I asked him to expand on that eloquent description and he said he loved his dinner because the crab and shrimp were both sweet, large, and there was piece of each in nearly every bite. I'm not a huge fan of seafood, but I do know when I order something like that it's nice when they don't skimp on the good stuff.

His dame, Amy, on the other hand, was not all that impressed with her fried Ravioli. Before I even got her feedback at the end of the meal I had a feeling she wasn't going to like it. When they sat her plate down I remember looking at it and thinking "man, that looks dry". And that was her biggest complaint. The ravioli were dry and the sauce wasn't very good. I didn't taste any of it, but based on the eye test alone this thing was in trouble from the get go.

Deana couldn't decided between seafood or steak. So what did she do? She ordered both and ended up with the Steak and Cake meal. Once again, when the waiter placed her plate in front of her I knew she wasn't going to like the steak. It was this weird looking, fatty, perfect circle, thin piece of oddness. It reminded me of those ham steaks you buy at the grocery store that are already cut for you. I've never seen anything like that in a steak so I kept my mouth shut and hoped she liked it. But like it, she did not. Her crab cake was a little bit better and she gave them props for using mostly crab and not a whole lot of filler.

The last meal of the night was mine. I decided to go with the ribs. When I saw that they were marinated in beer and served with beer BBQ sauce I was sold. How can you go wrong ordering a meal with beer playing such a key role when you're in a brewery? The ribs were delicious. The meat was fall of the bone tender and the sauce was nice and tangy but still very savory. I only ordered half a rack, but a full rack would have been easy to finish.

On the whole, Ellicott Mills Brewing Company was hit and miss. The beer was mediocre at best. And while some of the food was excellent some left a little to be desired. I could see myself going back there if the stars aligned just right one night, but it's hard to convince myself that it would be worth the 30 or 40 minute drive I'd have to make to get there.

Price: Upper end of Average
Recommendation: Visit, but be careful what you order
What to order: Cajun Alligator

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 6, 2012

Beer Tastings: Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale

Keeping line with the autumn beer theme, today's beer tasting is Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale. If I didn't mention it in the previous post, I guess now would be a good time to mention that I love seasonal fall beer styles more than another seasonal  styles by a long shot. In fact, fall beer may have been what got me into seeking out new and unique beers back in my beer geek infancy. With that said, I've had A LOT of fall beers over the years and within that style of beer Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale is one of the most unique I've come across.

The coolest thing this beer has going for it is that it's brewed using real pumpkins. For that reason alone, this beer deserves props. The taste is very fruity. You get the pumpkin flavor but you'll also notice a bit of an apple presence in there.  Cinnamon and clove can be found in both the smell and flavor making it all around pleasant pumpkin ale. It drinks very different than you're average ale. I'd almost classify it as a flat cider. No beer I've had before or after this one has been quite like it.

Is this my favorite pumpkin beer? No. But if you're looking for something that sticks out in a landscape full of very similar beers this is surely one to try. Even if you don't end up going back for more year after year, this is a beer you won't soon forget. Give it a try.

Style: Pumpkin Ale

ABV: 5.2
IBU: 12

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beer Tastings: Heavy Seas The Great(er) Pumpkin

One of the new things I'm going to start doing is posting a brief review/synopsis of all the beers I've tried over the past few years. I have a pretty decent list and I thought it might be nicer to chronicle my beer adventures in blog form instead of a boring ass Excel spreadsheet that nobody sees but me.

The first beer(s) I'm going to talk about are Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin, The Great'er Pumpkin, and Great'er Pumpkin Cask. Being that I just bought my first fall beers of the season yesterday, I thought a beer like this would be an appropriate place to start.

The Great Pumpkin was actually my first foray into the Heavy Seas. In fact, I had no idea they were a local brewery at the time but the whole Pirate theme jumped out at me. I started off with The Great Pumpkin. The first taste I had was awesome. I can actually remember sitting in my rocking chair starting down into my pint glass amazed that pumpkin beer could be so good and so full of flavor. It actually has the fruity taste of pumpkin in there. A lot of pumpkin beers have a manufactured pumpkin taste to them. With The Great Pumpkin, it almost feels like the fruit was sitting in your beer emitting flavor not 5 minutes before you opened the thing. The other feature that makes this beer stick out is the balance of spices involved. Again, come fall time it's really easy to find beers that pummel you with cinnamon and what not and it makes the beer unpalatable. The Great Pumpkin is a beer that has big flavors but it's put together in the perfect way.

The Great'er Pumpkin is the same as Great with the exception that the beer is aged in Bourbon barrels. This simple change adds an awesome bourbon flavor to an already exceptional beer and it will knock you on your ass if you're not careful. The ABV rises from around 8% with the Great to 9% with the Greater.

I love both of these beers but can't pick a favorite. It kind of depends on my mood. Every year when fall rolls around I hunt for this stuff like a french pig sniffing for truffles.Without a doubt, I look forward to the release of these beers each year more than any other. In recent times, I've even found myself buying extra bottles so that I can age them in the basement.

The only time I've ever been less than impressed with The Great Pumpkin was when I tried the 2011 version on cask. The flavors just became very muddied. All of the things I normally love about these beers seemed to be missing in the cask. But no matter. Before too long the temperatures are going to drop and you'll be looking for a nice fall beer to relax with. If you haven't tried a Great Pumpkin don't wait too long before you hunt one down. If there are others out there like me there might not be much to choose from.

Details for Greater Pumpkin:

Style: Pumpkin Ale

ABV: 9
IBU: 25

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Eyptian Pizza

When I first moved to the area I remember asking a co-worker where to get good pizza. He mentioned Egyptian Pizza, and while I drove by their location in Belvedere Square a million times since,  I hadn't developed the courage to walk through the doors. I wasn't sure what "Egyptian" pizza meant, and besides, Ryan's Daughter is 100 feet away. To get me to forgo a chance to drink a good pint and eat a Reuben is asking a lot. However, Groupon, once again came through in a big big way.
For reasons I'm not privy to I've become a hummus eating machine the past few years. While perusing their menu for an appetizer I came across Foul. It's very much like hummus with the notable difference being fava beans replacing the garbanzo beans in hummus. The texture is a bit like refried beans and it has a nice garlic flavor. The pita bread they serve for dipping is awesome. It's not the best pita I've ever had but it's definitely up there. Even if you aren't a huge fan of hummus or foul, it's worth ordering just to try their pita.

As for pizza, we decided to order one more traditional style pizza and another that we considered semi-exotic (at least as far as pizzas go). The first was the Romano pizza. The Romano has mozzarella cheese, garlic herb butter, roasted garlic, red bell peppers, slivered green onions, marinated eggplant and goat cheese. I really liked the addition of goat cheese as it made for a very creamy texture. And while I don't see it on their online menu, I'm pretty sure sundried tomatos were on the pizza. Typically, I'm not a huge fan of sundried tomatos and their overpowering flavor, but mixed in with all the other ingredients it added just enough of a burst of sweetness. The best part of their pizza is the crust. The woodfire oven the pizza's are baked in add a flavor you're not going to find in a typical pizza shop.

The second pizza we chose was the Wild Mushroom pizza. This pizza has fresh sliced tomatoes, caramelized garlic cloves, mushrooms, marinated potatoes and mozzarella. No, this isn't a list of crazy ingredients nobody has ever heard of, but I haven't ordered a potato pizza too many times in my life. Personally, I loved this pizza. It didn't have huge flavor, but the creamy texture you get from the potatos is excellent and extremely unique in a pizza. And if you are a fan of mushrooms the flavor is very nice. Most importantly the tomatoes give the pizza just enough acidity/sweetness to keep this pizza from being too one note.

The restaurant itself is kind of small. We got lucky and didn't have to wait very long but on a busy weekend evening I can see wait time being an issue. Big parties (I'm talking bigger than 4) would probably be better served going somewhere else as this is a "take a date" kind of place with it's small intimate dining room.

Overall, I was very pleased with my trip to Egyptian Pizza. Nothing that I ate was out of this world, but if you're looking to try a pizza that goes beyond the everyday toppings and combinations this is great place to visit. The next time I'm in Belvedere Square Ryan's Daughter is going to have some competition.

Price: Reasonable
Recommendation: Give them a visit.
What to order: Wild Mushroom Pizza and Foul

Egyptian Pizza on Urbanspoon