Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weekend Fun: Max's Taphouse Rare and Obscure Event

For those of you who enjoy tasting a wide variety of beers there is a great event taking place this weekend at Max's Taphouse known as the Rare and Obscure Event.
I attended the event last year and had a really good time going through the list and tasting things almost nobody else can get their hands on. There are some beers there that will truly expand your palate. I'll never forget tasting Cantillion Rose De Gambrinus and being in shock that a beer could be so sour. In the moment I thought it was the worst beer I'd ever laid my mouth on. However, it helped stretch my palate to places that were previously unknown and opened the door to beers I previously wouldn't have considered or enjoyed. Sound weird? Well, you'll have to trust me.

But don't let that fool you. There are a lot of delicous, totally drinkable beers to be had.  If you click through to their website (linked above) you can see the list of beers they'll be serving. Right now, it's a pretty impressive total of around 40 beers.

I'll be there. Will you?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hamilton Tavern

A few weeks ago I turned 30. When Deana asked me where I'd like to eat for my birthday it took me about 2 seconds to answer. In fact, she could have asked me 3 months before my birthday rolled around and I would have known that I wanted to eat at Hamilton Tavern.

Hamilton Tavern is one my favorite places to visit in all of Baltimore. It's a fairly small bar/restaurant but it's just so cool. There are all kinds of interesting antique decorations spread throughout, board games you can play late at night, and you'll even be entertained in the bathroom where there are random pages of literature for wallpaper.

The few times I've been there I've noticed that it pays to get there early. The place fills up quick, but if you don't mind killing some time with a drink at the bar it's not that big of a deal. Hamilton Tavern always has a small but interesting choice of beers on tap. I decided to go with a Nectar Ales Red Nectar that night. Red Nectar is a very well balanced ale with nice hop presence up front and a mild malt finish on the back end. It didn't knock my block off, but it was a quality beer nonetheless.

For an appetizer we decided to try fried cauliflower and broccoli served with a Resurrection (Brewers Art's Ale) cheddar dipping sauce. It was okay. I had high hopes for the cheddar sauce but it was kind of under the radar as far as taste is concerned. The fried veggies were also a bit underwhelming. It just wasn't crispy enough for me and the mild vegetables needed a sauce with a little bit more "oomph" to bring it all together.

The fact that appetizer wasn't spectacular should be of no concern. The reason you go to Hamilton Tavern is to experience the Crosstown Burger. I'm not exaggerating when I say this thing is otherworldly. A few months back I asked a co-worker to suggest a unique place to take my dame out for dinner. He mentioned Hamilton and was adamant that we try the burger. I took his advice and I haven't been the same ever since. This burger has become what all other burgers are measured up against from here on out. The Crosstown Burger is a gigantic burger with lettuce, onions, and horseradish cheddar cheese sauce. For the more gluttonous among us you can add bacon and a fried egg. Trust me when I say you should add both.

There is no need for ketchup, mustard, mayo or whatever other condiment you typically put on a burger. The slightly spicy and sweet horseradish cheddar cheese sauce mixed in with the egg yolk that will eventually break and spread all over your burger is what life is all about. You might have thought it was about some spiritual journey or something. You're wrong. Life is about getting in your car and finding this burger and savoring it. Sadly, the excitement of eating the food has once again led to me being a little absent minded in regards to taking a picture. I'm sorry.

If you have room for desert after indulging in the burger you have to try the maple bacon cupcake. It might sound weird, but it's worth trying anyway. How many places do you come across that work bacon into their dessert?

The picture above doesn't do the cupcake justice. Trust me, it tastes much butter than it looks. I think the bacon is candied and the sweetness against the salty bacon flavor is really nice. The maple cupcake and butter cream icing round it out and before you know it you don't know if you're eating dessert or breakfast. Really, it doesn't matter because what you're eating is simply delicious.

Price: For Pub food it's somewhere in the middle. In the grand scheme of things it's not bad. Probably in the 10-15 range
Recommendation: Get there ASAP
What to order: Crosstown Burger

Hamilton Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bombay Nights

I want to apologize right off the bat for this review not being as detailed as I'd like. The day I attended Bombay Nights I went with co-workers as part of a "welcome to the team" kind of lunch. Because I was still getting to know all the new guys and girls I decided to keep my professional food blogging skills on the DL. However, I wanted to make sure I talked about it here anyway, brief though it may be.

If you work in the White Marsh/Nottingham/Perry Hall area Bombay Nights is a great place to get really good food at a really great price. During the week you can get a smorgasbord of Indian food for about $9.95. The buffet includes roughly 10 different options from curry to tandoori to tikka masala. There are also all kind of chutneys and sauces to mix and match with the variety of breads and crackers they have available.

I thought it was kind of funny that I had never had Indian food in my entire 30 years of life and then all of the sudden I was eating Nan (very tasty by the way) for the second time in a week. The fact that it was a buffet led to some of the food being a tad dry or not quite as fresh as it would be if it were being cooked to order but this was still an excellent deal. For a little less than $10 you can have a lunch that won't put you to sleep like the Subway Club you eat every day and you can do so in a restaurant full of beautiful decorations.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Visit for the lunch buffet ASAP
What to order: Lunch Buffet

Bombay Nights on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gino's Burgers and Chicken

Gino's Burgers and Chicken restaurants have been popping up everywhere lately. Being an out of towner I hadn't heard of them, but my girlfriend let me know that they used to be quite popular once upon a time. Naturally, my interest was peeked. When we found a Groupon offer to the Towson location we had the perfect opportunity to see what Gino's was all about.
We ended up at the Towson location on Friday night and it was PACKED. The line was nearly to the door but it moved surprisingly quick. The first thing I noticed was the giant sign of milkshake offerings. As you know from the By the Scoop review I'm a huge fan of peanut butter and I ended up with a Reese's Pieces Milkshake. My girlfriend, on the other hand, decided on a Cherry Cheescake shake.

The shakes were really big and thick. The huge straw you see in the picture came in very handy. However, on the whole they were kind of "ehh" on the scale of tastiness. They weren't bad but they weren't anything special either. My Reese's Pieces Shake tasted like a pure vanilla shake with a bunch of broken candy that eventually sunk to the bottom.  Deana's Cherry Cheesecake didn't have any cherry flavor and even worse there was no cheesecake presence to be found either. That was kind of a letdown.

For dinner I ordered a Bacon Blue Burger and Deana had the Chicken Caesar Wrap. Out of the two, the wrap was easily the winner. The chicken tasted really good and we both really liked the ceasar dressing. My burger, while okay, was a huge bummer. The bun was nearly twice as big as the burger but that was the least of my concerns. The fact that the "Bacon Blue" burger didn't have any blue cheese crumbles on it really annoyed me. Putting cheap mass produced blue cheese dressing on a burger and calling it "blue" doesn't cut the mustard with this guy. With that said, the bacon on the burger was really tasty.

The best part of the dinner were the Wild Fries we decided to split. Wild fries are french fries with cheese, ranch dressing, and bacon crumbles over the top. The fries alone were really good and crunchy. I was a little worried they were going to be soggy and covered in ranch dressing (not typically a huge fan) but it was really well balanced. Both of us agreed the fries were worth coming back for.

Because we went with a Groupon deal we had some extra money left over and were able to order chicken fingers and a cookie to go. Even though I didn't get to the chicken for a full day it was really good. The breading they use was a big hit with my tastebuds.

It seems to me that the chicken is the way to go if you end up at Gino's. Between the chicken fingers and the wrap Deana had, I think it's safe to say they know what they're doing the chicken. On the other hand, the burgers and the shakes were a big let down.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: It was okay, but it has its strong points. Give it a shot.
What to order: Chicken Caesar Wrap and Wild Fries.

Gino's Burgers and Chicken on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vito's Cafe

A few weeks ago after attending the Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Fest at the state fairgrounds we were looking for somewhere to eat dinner after a long day of tasting beer and walking around. Our initial choice had much too long of a wait, but after driving a little further down York Road we came across a sign that read Vito's Cafe: Italian Cuisine and Brick Oven Pizza. Pizza sounded perfect for a quick dinner so we decided to give it a try.

When a restaurant has brick oven pizza loud and proud on their sign I automatically think of a pretty casual restaurant experience.That's not quite what we received at Vito's Cafe. When we entered it felt like we were making our way to the catwalk the way the hostess eyed our outfits from head to toe. We were asked if we had reservations and when we said no, after looking exasperated that we would dare enter without reservations, we were seated right next to the door in this little 2 seater completely separate from nearly every other table in the entire restaurant.

At that time I was doing my best to ignore everything and just order a pizza, eat, and be gone. Our waitress came over and took our orders and laid one of the all time greats on me. Deana wanted a salad and I ordered what they referred to as Di Cipolla Swiss Onion (for all intents and purposes French Onion soup). After that I asked for the Original Margherita Pizza. I thought that would be the end of our order, but I was then informed that our pizza would come out without being cut. It was delivered in a tone that insinuated this would somehow be a problem for us simple folk who have never had sophisticated food before. I was half tempted to tell the waitress that we had just gotten done with the chapter on using knives in the Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating the night before and that we should be able to handle it. But I said nothing and let her be on her way.

While waiting for our food I finally looked around to see who was actually eating in this place. That's when I noticed that we were the only customers in the restaurant not eligible for the senior citizen discount. During that time, and throughout the rest of our night, the area we were seated in (right next the entrance) began to fill up with AARP members who eventually filtered their way over into my personal space as I was eating.

So, how was the food? Who cares? By the time the food came I was so annoyed with the place I just wanted to get the hell out of there and never go back. To answer the question, though, the food was actually delicious. I loved my French Onion Soup and the pizza was top notch as you can see in the picture.

The food may have been great but every single other factor one weighs when it comes to a restaurant visit was miserable. I can't remeber ever feeling like I did that day, just itching to pay my bill and run out of that place. I won't be back to Vito's Cafe.

Price: On the precipice of expensive. Something like Spaghetti and Meatballs is $17.
Recommendation: Great food. Terrible Service/Environment
What to Order: I'm sure it's all very delicious. The Original Margerhita Pizza was tasty.

Vito's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 9, 2012


Darbar is the perfect example why I love Groupon so much. I've long wanted to try Indian food, but because I was so unfamiliar with the cuisine I never knew where or what to try. Give me a deal for 50% off my bill like I found through Groupon and you now have an official Indian food convert.

Before we get into the food, let's get into what you should order to wash all the delicious food down with. Beer. But not just any beer....Kingfisher. It's a little bit on the expensive side (Or a lotta bit! I think I paid $12 for a bottle), but it was worth every penny. It's such a smooth well balanced beer, I'd imagine even the most picky beer drinker would be happy with this one.

The one Indian dish I knew I wanted to try was the nan. For those that don't know, nan is a bread cooked inside a clay pot. Really, it reminds me of grilled pita bread with a unique flavor I couldn't quite put my finger on. It's simple, but delicious.

When it came to the main course, neither Deana or myself really knew what we wanted to order as newbies to the Indian food scene. She went with the Chicken Malai which is chicken marinated in cream cheese, garlic, ginger, and coriander. I decided on the Tandoori Mix Grill so that I could get a feel for a few things in one hit. The Mix Grill included Chicken Tikka, Lamb Seekh Kebab, Tandoori Shrimp, Boti Kabab, and Tandoori Chicken.

Tandoori Mix Grill
 For some reason, I was expecting the flavor of Indian food to be akin to a Lady Gaga outfit....in your face and unrelenting. But it was the polar opposite. At least in regards to the dishes we tried, the flavors were very subtle. All of the flavors were there, but no one jumped out at you more than the other. It didn't matter if you were eating chicken, lamb, or shrimp the protein was always the star of the show despite the big flavors they were prepared with. The grill flavor they were able to impart on the Tandoori Mix Grill was some of the best grilled food I've ever had. And I wouldn't be doing you guys justice if I didn't mention how juicy the Chicken Malai was.

Darbar might have been the first Indian restaurant I've visited, but it made a great impression. If you're someone like me who was always curious about Indian cuisine, this is a great place to get familiar with everything. The art on the walls is very beautiful, the servers are attentive, and you will probably even get to have a small conversation with the owner (I always appreciate when they visit) to go along with all of the great food.

Price: Upper End of Average (on average around $17)
Recommendation: Great place to try Indian Food for the first or fortieth time.
What to order: Tandoori Mix Grill and Nan.

Darbar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Thirsty Brewer

I've been meaning to take up brewing my own beer for well over a year now. I've read books 2 inches thick, watched videos on YouTube, visited homebrewing forums, and talked to home brewers themselves all in preparation to get ready to make my own beer. However, I was missing the one ingredient even more important than malt and hops when it comes to brewing beer. I was missing all the necessary equipment!

Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend that's no longer an issue. She found a great deal on a beginners brew kit and with a few additions of my own I'm now ready to brew my own beer.

I'm one of those people who like to know how to do things before they actually do things. I want to know what's going happen before I make a move. As I mentioned up above, I've been preparing to brew for quite some time now, but even with all that preparation I was still a little hesitant to jump into the world of homebrewing. After taking a trip to The Thirsty Brewer last night and taking part in a Beginners Brew workshop I'm now confident I have the skills to brew on my own.

The Thirsty Brewer offers the workshop on the first Wednesday of every month from roughly 6 to 9 PM. You should go with the expectation that they'll be running a bit behind and you probably aren't going to be starting at 6 on the dot. Our class didn't begin until 6:30 but that left enough time to look around their shop and buy everything I needed. Oh yeah, and it gave me enough time to walk down the street and get a sub that I'll be blogging about it the near future. In addition to the knowledge they are handing out for free you'll also get fed and the chance to drink some free beer that other home brewers bring along to sample. Last night they served up some Brats cooked on a charcoal grill and offered about 4 or 5 beers that were delicious. They definitely gave me something to shoot for.

If you've ever had any interest in home brewing I highly recommend making a trip to the Thirsty Brewer for one of these workshops. Even if you don't own any of the equipment it's a great place to get a feel for what's involved and help you decide if you want to pursue the hobby.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

By the Scoop Ice Cream Parlor

In the previous review I mentioned that one of the best things about visiting Wal Mart were the trips to Original Fish and Chips after all of the shopping was done. The only thing that can top the dinner is taking approximately 23 and 1/2 steps to the right and entering into By the Scoop Ice Cream Parlor. If you can think of something more satisfying than eating hot, salty, fried seafood and following it up with delicious sweet, creamy ice cream I'd love to hear it. Seriously, you'll have to fill me in, because what I just described is nirvana as far as I'm concerned.

By the Scoop isn't your typical ice cream parlor. After you walk in and take in the cool 50's parlor vibe you'll notice all of the unique flavors of ice cream they offer. I've seen German chocolate cake ice cream, pumpkin cheesecake, Berger cookie ice cream, lucky charm, and even fluffernutter flavored ice cream. There is something here for everyone no matter how picky they might be.

As good and interesting as the flavors I mentioned might sound, the picture above is their piece de resistance. What you're looking at is their Ultimate Peanut Butter. I remember back in the day when playing Unreal Tournament you'd be referred to as "godlike" once you made a certain amount of consecutive kills. That's what this ice cream is. It's godlike because By the Scoop kills it every time with this one. A lot of times when you get a peanut butter ice cream you end up getting bombarded with Reese cups or chocolate chips and they get in the way of the ice cream. Not in this case. The ice cream is the star just like it should be.

There are a million places you can get ice cream, but if you're looking for something truly unique give By the Scoop a shot. It's delicious.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Visit ASAP
What to order: Ultimate Peanut Butter or Berger Cookie

By The Scoop Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon