Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mr. Rain's Fun House

When you hear the name Mr. Rain's Fun House are you not intrigued? And on top of having an awesome name isn't it cool that they are part of the American Visionary Art Museum. So many cool things about this place and then I hear that they are known for putting together some charismatic cocktails. Add that all together and Mr. Rain's Fun House was one of the most anticipated restaurant visits I've made since starting this blog. 

Mr. Rain's Fun House greeted us with complimentary pretzels and mustard and I've got to tell you they were incredible. It feels silly to get so worked up over something so simple but it really was that good. I could have snacked on them all night and would have been happy sipping a few cocktails alongside them. As good as the pretzels were, though, we decided we still wanted an appetizer and ordered the pickle dish. The dish included 5 different types of pickled veggies including carrots, beets, cucumbers, and if memory serves me correct daikon and cabbage. I wouldn't say this was my favorite appetizer of all time, but  it's not something you find on many menus and it was a lot of fun to try the veggies in a way that was slightly out of my typical wheelhouse. 

For dinner, I ordered the Hanger Steak with whisky sauce, brussel sprouts, and a fancy little potato au gratin. The steak was prepared quite simply. It was tender, but the seasoning was underplayed allowing the meat to shine through with only the whisky sauce adding a touch of sweetness. I loved the sprouts as well. In addition to tasting great half the fun of eating them was knowing how rare it is to find them on a typical menu. I was really excited about the potatos when they came out, but they ended up being in dire need of salt and pepper and a bit undercooked . The dish had a few missteps, but overall I really enjoyed the plate of food put before me.

Deana definitely won the battle of "who can order the better dinner". She ordered a roasted chicken topped with gravy and stuffing and served with a side of carrots. As a homecook I always have trouble getting my skin to crisp up so I really appreciated how much crunch they were able to achieve with the chicken. The skin was perfect and the meat itself was juicy and tender. We both really loved the simple presentation of the carrots with the little bits of green left on top. Their sweetness and the added sweetness from the stuffing played really well with the more savory chicken.

And now here is where my dinner notes get cocktail time. Neither of us are much on cocktails, but after hearing good things about their cocktail program we decided we had to try them out. And so we did, but we didn't stop at just one round. That's quite impressive when you consider that it might be the first time in our dining history either of us ordered more than one cocktail. As I mentioned earlier, the details of the particular drinks we had are wanting, but I can happily attest to their deliciousness. I remember being quite impressed with how approachable they were able to make drinks where whisky was the main star. 

So, did Mr. Rain's Fun House live up to the big expectations I set for them prior to my visit? Despite some parts of the meal that didn't wow us, I think Deana and I both left content and would be more than happy to dine their again. The cocktails were great and the menu was really fun to look through just because it was so different than what we're used to looking at after so many restaurant visits. 

Price: A little pricey
Recommendation: Great choice for a quiet date night with unique food and drinks
What to Order: With an ever changing menu it's a little hard to make a recommendation. Go with your instincts.

Mr. Rain's Fun House on Urbanspoon
Mr. Rain's Fun House on Foodio54

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Maryland Beer: Baltimore-Washington Beer Works Pendulum Pilsner

I try (and fail) not to get on my high horse when speaking of craft beer and tell drinkers that they need to drink more of XYZ style beer or that brewers should brew more of that style. But, with that said, lagers are a style that I wish received more attention from brewers and drinkers alike.

Up to now, it's my feeling that craft beer has been pushed forward with the attitude of more, more, more. Lagers aren't known for high alcohol, IBU's, or exotic flavors in general. What they are known for is being perfect snapshots of subtle perfection and attention to detail. It's that subtlety that gets lost in translation for the average drinker. It's also why I love them so much. Nothing jumps out at you and says "Hey, I'm a lager baby! Drink me and love me!" Well, some might, but that's Justin Timberlake talking, not the beer. Lagers stand on their own merit. If there's a flaw, you're going to know about it and no amount of dry hopping is going to overshadow the product you produced. Perhaps that's why so many brewers shy away from lagers.

One brewery that apparently  isn't afraid of lagers is Baltimore-Washington Beer Works . In fact, two out of the three beers they produce are lagers and for that they get a tip of the cap. They also get a review. Let's get into it.

Brewery Location: Baltimore, MD
Style: Pilsner
Serving Type: Bottle
ABV: 4.5%
IBU: 22

Appearance: My bottle of Pendulum Pilsner didn't pour with much head to speak of, but good lord was it crystal clear. The beer was one of the all time beauties to look at. Amber and visually flawless, I'm not ashamed to say I sat in my "man chair" for a good five minutes reveling about how good it looked while Deana sat across from me on the couch shaking her head and second guessing why she chose me.

Aroma:  I was a bit disappointed with the nose. I tried my best to sniff something out, but overall I wasn't getting much more than just a note of sweet malt here and there. When I wasn't gazing lovingly into my glass I was sniffing like a Basset Hound so it wasn't without effort that nothing special was detected aromatically.

Taste: Pendulum Pilsner drinks incredibly smooth, but that's about as far as I can go with the compliments. There was mellow malt taste with nothing on the back end to bring everything full circle. Personally, I would like to see the Saaz hops have a slightly bigger role. A crisp, snappy, dry finish would be the perfect way to balance out the sweet malty experience you being your sip with.

Final Verdict: As a huge fan of The Raven and an even bigger fan of Tale Tell Hearty Ale, I was ready to LOVE Pendulum Pilsner. We were going to be boys and spend many an evening together in perfect harmony. But, as it stands, we're probably going to settle for being acquaintances. Sure, he's cool and I don't have any real problem with him, but I don't see us having enough in common to spend extended hours together.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Every time I visit Alewife I leave with mixed feelings. Did I just visit an awesome bar? Did I just eat at a great restaurant? Did I do both at the same time? The debate is on going even as I write this.

On this particular visit we were greeted in a semi-scattered brained way.

"Do you have reservations?"

"No. We were just hoping to find a seat."

"Okay. We are full."

I wasn't sure if that meant forget it they weren't seating anyone else for the rest of the night, but I didn't have time to ask because the hostess ran away before I could open my mouth. Deana and I walked down near the entrance/exit to discuss our options for a few minutes and right as we were about to leave the hostess came back wondering if we still wanted to sit down. We said yes and took our seat, but the whole exchange was odd.

Oh well. We were there to eat and after looking over the menu the call for red meat overcame both of us and we decided on the Smoked Burger. My great hamburger gauge is controlled by Hamilton Tavern's burger. Happily, I can report that Alewife has a burger that gives Hamilton all they want as far as burger battles are concerned. For my money, they don't quite edge them out, but they put up one hell of a fight. This is definitely one of the top burgers in Baltimore.

Alewife's Smoked burger, as they would say in NBA Jam back in the day, is on fire. It's thick, juicy, topped with fantastically gooey Gouda and Gruyere cheese, the crunchiest bacon, caramelized onions, and accented perfectly by a faint smokey flavor that separates them from most other burgers. And did I mention that it's a huge 11 ounce burger?

As far as Alewife and it's bar scene is concerned, though, I never feel the need to visit them simply to get a drink despite the fact that have 40 or so beers on tap. It's always crowded and parking in the area isn't the greatest. It's just not convenient for me and unless you live in that area I doubt it is for you either. That stinks, but it's no reason to stay away from Alewife. Every time I've been there the food has been delicious and there are plenty of quality craft beer options to pair up with. Just be sure to make reservations first.

Price: A little above average
Recommendation: Great place for a beer and quality food.
What to Order: Smoked Burger

Alewife on Urbanspoon
Alewife on Foodio54

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Maryland Beer: Baying Hound Aleworks Lord Wimsey's Mild Pale Ale

A few months ago in one of the Sessions I mentioned that in order to keep my stockpile of beer manageable, I had decided to only buy beer from a select few local states. It's been a success as far as keeping my ad-hoc beer buying binges at bay (alliteration!), but it's having unintended consequences elsewhere. I'm learning more about Maryland beer.

Because I don't like to drink the same beer repeatedly, I'm always on the lookout for something new. I thought that was going to be somewhat of a problem when it came to choosing beers from Maryland, but I'm finding that's far from the truth. There are so many beers right here in my backyard that I was unaware of. Because of that, I decided I'm going to focus my beer reviews much more on the local beer scene. I consider myself to be pretty in touch with the happenings of our local craft beer community, but if this many beers are slipping through my radar I'd imagine the same thing is happening for some of you. My goal is to increase my knowledge of the Maryland beerscape and hopefully pass my findings on to you.

Picture provided by Oliver from Literature and Libation.

Brewery Location: Rockville, Maryland
Style: Mild Pale Ale
Serving Type: Bottle
ABV: 6%
IBU: ?

Appearance: Lord Wimsey is copper colored with a thick velvety head. This particular beer took a solid ten minutes before the head reduced to a point that I could take a sip of the beer. I suspect this was a result of the bottle conditioning the beer goes through, and while it's understandable, I found it a bit inconvenient to wait around for the head to fade.

Aroma: The aroma reminded me of a doppelbock.  Lord Wimsey has a very malt forward smell that's full of bread and dark fruits like prunes and raisin. With almost no hop presence on the nose this beer takes you down a completely different path than you're probably used to walking with a Pale Ale

Taste: Lord Wimsey tastes just like it smells. You're hit with dark fruit, prunes, raisin and there is a definite bready quality hinting about. My bottle had a fair amount of carbonation, but again, that was probably due to bottle conditioning.

Final Verdict: Despite it's less than stellar reviews online, I like this beer quite a bit. They say that this is a beer brewed for people who don't want a hop bomb and they achieve that with ease. Malt bomb is probably a more accurate description for Baying Hound Aleworks Lord Wimsey's Pale Ale (man, that's a name). It's quite different from the average ale on the market and I appreciate it for the unique charm.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dempsey's Brew Pub & Restaurant

I really wanted to like this place. Actually, strike that, I wanted to love this place. Dempsey's is a Brew Pub in a baseball stadium headed by a former O's player. On paper, this place has what it takes takes to win a Pennant, but as the saying goes "we all know games aren't won on paper". Dempsey's isn't bad, but in the ever growing world of craft beer you really need to make sure what you're putting out can stand up to all the great offerings customers come across on a daily basis. Flying Dog is tapping casks every Friday at Camden Yards and there are a few locations inside the stadium offering a variety of quality local beers. Right now, Dempsey's isn't even in the same realm on the beer front and that kind of sucks when you're a Brew Pub.

The food, on the other hand, is rather good. Camden Yards, when compared to other ball parks I've been to, produces a ton of mediocre food. I go to a fair amount of games and I've never come across anything there that I feel like I can't pass up when I'm in the stadium. With that said, if I had enough time to arrive at a game early I'd rather eat at Dempsey's than anywhere else in the stadium. You end up paying roughly the same prices that you'd pay at the concession stand, but the quality you're getting in return is infinitely better.

Deana and I both like their burgers. You can tell you're getting a quality meat and the grill flavor they impart make them some of the better burgers around. Not top of the line, mind you, but still better than a lot of other places. The burgers are topped with plenty of fresh condiments (it varies depending on the type of burger you order) and placed on a good bun. The fries served on the side are above board as well. They are crunchy but the best part is that they are seasoned with sea salt.

Dempsey's is one or two great beers away from being a home run destination. The food is more than serviceable, but if you're crunched for time on game day you're not going to wait at a sit down restaurant. Unless, that is, if the promise of a great beer awaits you. So, come on Dempsey's, I'm begging you! Step your game up with the beer.

Price: Average
Recommendation: I'm going to pinch hit for Dempsey's right now.
What to Order: Any of their burgers.

  Dempsey's Brew Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 15, 2013

Royal Rabbit Vineyards

I'm far from a wine expert. In fact, if I'm being honest calling myself a wine novice might be going a bit too far. But, what I lack in knowledge I more than make up for with enthusiasm. I've long wanted to try more of what Maryland has to offer in the way of wines and artisanal cider and after a trip to the locapour festival this past week and a wine tasting at Royal Rabbit Vineyards I'm ready to do just that. 

We ended up at Royal Rabbit Vineyards after Deana purchased a tasting for two on Groupon that included a tasting of their wines and a bottle of wine to take home. It was too good of a deal to pass up so we eagerly headed to Parkton to taste some wine and enjoy the countryside. 

When we arrived we were a bit surprised by the small size of the winery. From what we could see, there was no more than 3 acres of land dedicated to growing grapes and the tasting room was in a remodeled basement of a house. Inside were four tables that could seat 4 or 5 people, a bar in which you could stand for a tasting, and located in an adjacent room were a few musicians playing classical music for us. It was not at all what we were expecting, but once we tasted the wine our concerns were put to rest.

Royal Rabbit Vineyards offered twelve different wines with roughly an even mix of red and white wines. None of them knocked us off of our feet, but there were more than a few that we agreed we would be happy to sit down with from time to time. 

We brought home a bottle of La Comtesse. Their Chardonnay was fruity, a touch sour, and slightly dry. I find myself much more interested in red wines, but Deana and I both enjoyed  the Charonnay. Another of their wines that I enjoyed quite a bit was The Duchess. Made from Albarino grapes, and I believe aged with oak, I really enjoyed the vanilla undertones and faint buttery characteristics of the wine.

For red, we brought home Le Chamberlain. This was a dry wine with nice berry flavor and just a bit of spice at the end. Le Chamberlain isn't the most complex wine I've come across, but at the end of the day I just want something good to sip on and Le Chamberlain is certainly that. 

The one other bottle we considered bringing home with us was Chatelaine's Blush. This blush won a silver medal at the 2013 Winemasters Choice competition. It was a nice mix of Vidal and several red wines that featured buttery notes, good sweetness with 2.5% residual sugar, and just enough red wine presence to let you know it was there. 

Overall, this was a great visit to a small Maryland winery. Royal Rabbit's wines were tasty and because this isn't a larger than life sized winery we were able to learn about the wines from the vintner himself. His enthusiasm for his products was contagious and it got Deana and I wondering what the rest of Maryland has to offer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kommie Pig

BBQ in a truck? BBQ in a truck tastes pretty damn good.
-Doug from Baltimore, Bistros, and Beer

I came across Kommie Pig during a food track gathering at Union Craft Brewery. There were quite a few trucks to pick from, but being that I was in the middle of re-reading Animal Farm I felt it was only appropriate to dine from Kommie Pig. Thank god for the coincidence, because this food was too good to pass up. I went with the ultimate BBQ trio when I decided on a half rack of ribs, potato salad, and baked beans. Deana went with the king of BBQ sandwiches and choose a pulled pork. 

The ribs were as good as I've ever had. The fact that they came from a truck kind of amazed me. It's not that I was expecting bad food, but I wasn't expecting top of the line either. The ribs were full of tender meat and slathered in a slightly spicy but tangy sauce. The beans weren't my favorite, but I enjoyed how they imparted a smokey flavor into them. However, the star of the show was the potato salad. Everyone I know thinks their Mom makes the best potato salad. Well, they won't be thinking that after they try what Kommie Pig has to offer. It was dressed in a simple mayonnaise based dressing and had just the right amount of vinegar tang and dill to make it a little more interesting than your average potato salad. Personally, I could have ate a solid pint of that stuff. 

Deana loved her pulled pork as well. The meat was tender and the portion was heaping. There is no need for a side with this sandwich, but let's be honest, with potato salad as good as this you'd be crazy to pass it up. The only thing either of us would want a little more of when it comes to the pulled pork was a little more bark mixed in. That's our favorite part and this could have definitely used a few bits thrown in to change up the texture of the sandwich bit. All in all, though, you'll be happy with this sandwich. 

I haven't tried as many of the local food trucks as I should have, but I can confirm that Kommie Pig isn't one you should pass on. The BBQ is delicious, the prices are good, and the guys working the truck are super friendly. I've seen them multiple times at Union Craft Brewery, but they can be found all throughout the city. Follow them on twitter to pin 'em down and get yourself some good 'que.

Price: Cheap for big portions
Recommendation: Find them on twitter and hunt them down
What to Order: Ribs and Potato Salad

Kommie Pig on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jad's Caddy Shack

I lived within walking distance of Jad's for a good year and a half before Deana and I decided we ought to finally try them out. Since then, we've probably been back ten to fifteen times. I think it's safe to say we eat there more than any other restaurant. Not only is the location great (for us), but it reminds me of the restaurants I grew up eating at in Uniontown, PA. The decor isn't fancy but the food is great, the portions are huge, and the prices are more than fair.

The main reason we return to Jad's so often is my addiction to their Beef Stroganoff. It's such a simple dish, but it's not something you find on menus very often. I can't get enough of it. The Stroganoff has tons of beef and mushrooms served on top of egg noodles and all of it is smothered in a savory beef gravy. Just as surprising is the delicious garden salad that comes on the side. I'm not the biggest fan of creamy salad dressings, but I've always loved Creamy Italian. The only problem with liking Creamy Italian is the fact that it seems like only 1 out of every 500 restaurants seem to have it as an option. It's simple items like this found throughout Jad's menu that makes me love it so much.

Deana has been a little more adventurous with the menu and has tried the Hot Turkey Sandwich, Cream of Crab Soup, and Country Fried Chicken. She loves them all, but the Soup and Chicken seem to stand out. I can't speak to the soup, but the chicken is great. You get two big pieces of chicken breast with a crispy crust that are smothered in gravy. If I weren't a certified Stroganoff addict I could definitely see getting my Jad's fix via Country Fried Chicken.

This isn't going to be one of those restaurants you see reviewed by most people. To be honest, some people might turn their nose up at a place like this because Jad's doesn't go out of their way to be fancy or put items on their menu that are trendy. But what they do, they do well and they deserve you're patronage. Jad's serves delicious food for prices that are beyond fair and sure to make you happy. And for all of you craft beer fans out there, they do a surprisingly good job with their local offerings. I've seen Raven and Flying Dog Raging Bitch on tap, and I've seen quite a few different Dogfish Head offerings in bottle. So, the clock is ticking. Get to Jad's and get there quick. There are no excuses.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Try something and new and visit them ASAP.
What to Order: Beef Stroganoff, Cream of Crab, or Country Fried Chicken

 Jad's Caddy Shack on Urbanspoon
Jads on Foodio54

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Session #77 - IPA: What's the Big Deal?

I may have to reconsider doing these Sessions. As fun as they are, it makes it seem like my life has hit warp speed when I realize it's a brand new month yet again. But, Justin from Justin's Beer Review asks a good question and so I do what I must and answer. The question is What is the big deal about IPA?

Fair question, but one in which I don't think the answer is very hard to arrive at. Most everyone that has found their way into craft beer has done so because macro beer just wasn't doing it for them. We've all heard it referred to as "fizzy yellow water". So, what's the opposite of fizzy yellow water? Beer that's a little higher in alcohol and in the complete opposite direction in regards to hop profile.

Think of it like this. If you only dated blonde girls your whole life but one day found yourself bored with them, where are you going to look for a more exciting girl? My guess is you'd go to the land of brunettes and see what they had to offer. After looking around, you finally get to spend some time with your first brunette and you think to yourself "Holy crap! Brunette girls are awesome. They wash their hair with herbal essence, swing from ceiling fans, and go to the smaller TV to watch Grey's Anatomy every Thursday night during football season".

After getting a taste of that first brunette, all you want to do is find more girls just like her. For the next 5 years, you're sole mission in life is to recreate the incredible feelings that came over you when you first experienced just how fun and different a brunette can be. Sure, you've heard about redheads and those girls who dye their hair purple and all other sorts of color from the rainbow, but do you really want to leave something that has treated you so well and venture out into the incredible unknown?

But let's bring it to the beer itself. An IPA isn't just an IPA and anyone who thinks so is sorely mistaken. Yes, I've mentioned before that I think craft beer is over saturated with the style, but that doesn't mean I don't understand why people go nuts over it. It's flavorful stuff and an IPA has the ability to be many different things. There are hop bombs, session and imperial, and some in which the hop flavor comes across as pine, orange, grapefruit, mango, pineapple, etc. The list of flavors available in different IPA's is uber long and it becomes quite easy to understand why people find their way into the IPA category and never leave. Within that one category are a million options that appeal to almost any drinker.

So, while the question is valid and definitely needs asked, the answer for me is rather simple. What's the big deal about IPA's? They're frickin' awesome! That's what.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Havana Road Cuban Cafe

Other than a Cuban Sandwich I had never tried Cuban cuisine. Recently, while wandering around Towson looking for somewhere to eat, the sign for Havana Road tripped my "place I need to eat for blog" radar and I excitedly entered ready to try some new flavors.

Other than the Cuban sandwich, I think it's safe to say the next most popular Cuban dish is Ropa Vieja. I decided to go with that and Deana chose Vieja Lechon Asado. We were both pleased with our meals and it quickly became quite obvious why Havana Road is talked about so often as a must visit restaurant.

The Ropa Vieja was right up my alley. Tender strands of  beef were coated and topped in a savory tomato based sauce that ultimately reminded me of a Cuban version of goulash. Meat that is cooked slowly and transformed into magical tender bites of perfection always remind me of "home cooking" and this Ropa Vieja had me conjuring memories of a Cuban childhood I never had. On the side I was served a cup of deliciously creamy black beans that I mixed in with my rice and a couple perfectly fried plantains. The slightly sweet plantains were a nice counter balance to the savory Ropa Vieja.  

Deana enjoyed her Vieja Lechon Asado, but not quite as much as we enjoyed the Ropa Vieja. There is just something about the sauce that is hard to top. However, the Vieja Lechon Asado was delicious in its own right. Anyone who enjoys good BBQ would like this dish as it reminded me a slowly cooked BBQ pork butt. The pork was juicy and tender with plenty of spicy bark pieces mixed in. It was topped with a nice helping of sauteed onions that added a nice sweetness to the dish. 

For dessert we had Pineapple Rum Cake that was a great finish to an already exceptional dinner. The cake was thick, dense, moist and filled with flavor in every bite. Rum, caramel, pineapple, brown I need to go on? This cake was one of the best desserts I've had in a restaurant setting and does a great job of once again making you feel like you're eating a meal from your own home. 

Our visit to Havana Road ended up being a real eye opening experience. Considering my exposure to Cuban food was so limited, it was great to learn a little bit more about the food and flavors offered. Not only will I be back to Havana Road Cuban Cafe again, but in the mean time I plan on doing my best to recreate some of these dishes in my own home. 

Price: Average
Recommendation: One of Baltimore's best.
What to Order: Ropa Vieja and Pineapple Rum Cake

Havana Road Cuban Cafe on Urbanspoon
Havana Road on Foodio54