Wednesday, May 30, 2012

La Tolteca

Normally, coming up with an intro for a restaurant review comes rather easily. Today, I have nothing. No matter how long I sit here and think the only thing I can come up with is rather straightforward. La Tolteca makes some good ass Mexican food.

If your only view into the Mexican culinary world is Don Pablo's, or god forbid Taco Bell, La Tolteca is a great stepping stone into the world of authentic Mexican cuisine. I think the common perception is that Mexican food is a type of food meant to overwhelm your palate with heat and a smorgasbord of spices. It's really not. Mexican food is very subtle in its flavors when done right. The spice should be there, but it should complement the ingredients, not be the only thing you remember about a meal.

Like a lot of Mexican restaurants, La Tolteca starts you off with complimentary tortilla chips. The difference? They give you homemade tortilla chips, have some of the best salsa around, and some sort of sour cream sauce that is out of this world. The salsa has such a fresh taste thanks to all of the cilantro and fresh onion. And the sour cream sauce is maybe my favorite part of any visit. It has a sweet creamy taste with just enough heat on the end to keep you going back for more. It's like a girl who isn't all that good looking, but she gave you a simple look and all of the sudden you can't get her out of your head for the rest of the night. This stuff really sucks you in. If you're not careful, you could go in with an empty stomach and be full before you entree is out because you've already eaten so many chips.

For dinner, I can't recommend enough ordering something that includes a chalupa. I ordered the number 19 combo that also included a burrito and enchilada. But back to the chalupa. Ashamedly, the only thing I knew about chalupas prior to La Tolteca were the taco like things from Taco Bell. Real chalupas are NOTHING like that. The chalupas are a fried tortilla shell with the creamiest refried beans, lettuce, and some of the best guacaomole around. The simplicity is what makes it amazing. The burrito and enchilada are also both excellent. Although, I think if I had to pick one the enchilada would come out the winner. The red sauce on top is delicious and the meat inside is incredibly tender and simply seasoned.

Really, as much as I love this place there isn't a whole lot more I can say about La Tolteca. The food speaks for itself. The next time you find yourself in the mood for Mexican let La Tolteca show you how it's done.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Excellent Authentic Mexican
What to order: Combo #19

La Tolteca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Double T Diner

Every once in awhile you need a dinner that not only comes through on quality but also delivers in the quantity department. I call those days Sundays. But on Sundays I often find my motivation running near empty and putting together a big meal isn't in the game plan. I'll head out to dinner and try to find some place good to eat before realizing that I've already spent way too much money Friday and Saturday night so in addition to quality and quantity, I'm also looking for budget friendly.

That's when I head to Double T Diner. Without fail, I always order the Chicken Souvlaki platter every time I step foot into the Double T. For $9.25 you get a massive Chicken Souvlaki sandwich with french fries, Greek salad, drink, and a cup of soup.

I always opt for a cup of their chicken noodle soup. It has legit homemade flavor (as vague as that might sound). The broth has a deep chicken flavor and the perfect amount of salt. Even when I make my own soup I always have an issue figuring out how much salt to put in. They never miss and I appreciate that. Nobody likes eating hot water soup. Except maybe Bear Grylls, but I digress. I also love the fact that the carrots and celery retain some crunch despite the fact that the soup is served extra hot. Restaurants always have an issue of veggie mush in their soup because they leave it in a hot pot all day long. Somehow, Double T Diner avoids this common pitfall and it makes all the difference. The best part of their chicken noodle soup? Your cup of soup is served filled to the brim with noodles.

The Chicken Souvlaki is the bees stinger (I always feel like the stinger should get more respect than the knees). I wouldn't go so far to say that it's the best I've ever had (it's not) but it always hits the spot. It's served in a semi-gigantic pita shell with chicken and tzatziki sauce, cucumber and onion. The chicken is always tender and has good flavor from the oregano it's flavored with. And the sauce that goes all over brings a nice tang and keeps everything nice and moist. If I'm nitpicking the one thing I'd probably point out is the inconsistency from trip to trip. Sometimes the sauce is on to top of the sandwich. Others it's on the bottom. One visit there are more cucumbers than onions in the sauce. The next visit the reverse is true. It's never a huge issue either way, but depending on your taste it might be the difference between a great dinner and an average one.

Regardless, Double T is my go to place when I'm looking to put it down for cheap and highly recommend you put them on the shortlist when you're looking to do the same.

Price: It depends what you order but deals can be found
Recommendation: Great place for a big meal
What to order: Chicken Souvlaki Platter

Double T Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vaccaro's Italian Pastries

Deana has been raving about Vaccaro's pretty much since day 2 of our relationship. One of her favorite summer activities is taking in an outdoor movie in Little Italy and getting something sweet to snack on at Vaccaro's. Since we were in the area after we had dinner at Pacific Coast Dining Co., it only seemed natural that I finally experience this dessert mecca for myself.

The day we visited happened to be one of the last cooler days of the year and it pretty much rained all day. As we approached the pastry shop my anticipation for a great desert was going through the roof when I saw people were willing to wait outside in the rain before they could get inside to be served. Lucky for us, they decided to open the upstairs up just as we got there and we were able to avoid the rainy wait.

Neither of us were overly hungry since we had just finished dinner and after looking through a menu full of delicious desserts like cannoli's, rum cakes, and cheese cake we decided to split an eclair. Deana happens to be a big fan of chocolate and custard might be my favorite desert flavor outside of peanut butter. In our mind, this was the perfect option to appease both of our sweet tooth's (sweet teeth?). And to help stave off a bit off the cold rainy weather we both ordered a caffe dominic (aka vanilla flavored coffee).

Look at that picture! Isn't it beautiful? Unfortunately, it looked better than it tasted. The chocolate topping was good and the custard was nice and creamy but the pastry part was really stale. I'm not sure if they use a different refrigerator on their second floor and some of the desserts sit in there longer than usual because it has less traffic,  but this definitely wasn't fresh. I didn't want to rain on Deana's parade so I tried to figure out if this was as good as it always was for her in the past and she was pretty quick to confess that she was  let down as well. Even worse, the caffe dominic's we ordered were very bland to the point of being watery.

So, my first trip to Vaccaro's was a let down. Luckily, Deana has had enough good experiences with them that I'm willing to take her word and not ignore the fact that people are willing to wait outside in the rain for their food . As it stands, Vaccaro's will go on my to be determined list.

Price: Average for a pastry/bakery
Recommendation: To be determined
What to order: To be determined

Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pacific Coast Dining Co.

Anyone who has followed this blog at all knows I'm quite the fan of Groupon. Thanks to the site, I've come across an endless amount of restaurants I might have never tried had I been left to my own devices. Pacific Coast Dining Co. is one of the restaurants I recently tried thanks to a pretty good deal they were offering. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll find my way back to the Pacific Coast.

By no means is Pacific Coast Dining Co. a bad restaurant. The food isn't bad, but the menu is confused. Half of the menu is Italian and half is Mexican/pacific. Neither is bad, but if you ask me they need to pick a direction and run with it. I get that they are located in Little Italy and they are trying to cater to those expecting that kind of food, but if you're going to call yourself Pacific Coast then be Pacific Coast.

While we were going over the menu I put in an order for a beer. I can't remember exactly what I ordered, but I know they poured it into a glass. That in and of itself isn't a problem. Any beer outside of the typical American staples is best served in glass (non chilled at that for the beer snobs among us). But the glass my beer was poured into smelled like a dirty rag. Once upon a time I worked in a restaurant and realize that things happen so I didn't raise an issue, but it really threw me off throughout the meal trying to get over the smell.

Prior to dinner we worked up quite the appetite at Max's Rare and Obscure event so we decided to start off with an appetizer of hummus. It was okay. The hummus had a good garlic flavor and was creamy but it was served really cold. Sometimes I don't mind that if the pita is nice and hot, but it wasn't and the hummus got kind of one note rather quickly.

The Groupon deal I purchased raved about the tacos and after consulting with the bartender she agreed that the tacos were really good. Okay, sold. I ordered a couple steak tacos cooked medium rare. Deana decided to go to the non-Pacific Coast side of the menu and ordered the Chicken Marsala.

The tacos were okay. The aioli you see zig zagged over the top of the tacos was really tasty as was the mango pico. The main problem I had with the tacos was the temperature in which my steak was cooked. I ordered medium rare, but I got something back that in my opinion was borderline rare at best. It was almost to the point of being raw and while I'm not afraid to eat something that's still mooing, this wasn't for me. Another small issue I had was the fact that nothing is served on the side to mix up the meal a little bit. After awhile I want a different taste or texture and since they didn't give me that option, Deana and I decided to switch dinners with one another.

The Chicken Marsala, again, wasn't bad but it didn't score as big on the tastebud turnon score-o-matic as I would have liked. I'm happy to report that the noodles were cooked al dente and the mushrooms were nice and earthy, but on the whole this wasn't a dish I felt like I needed to brave the terrible parking of Little Italy for.

Don't be fooled by the name. Pacific Coast Dining Co. is trying to lead you down a path they only deliver on halfway. If they reworked their menu I think they could have something good, but until that happens I'd probably pass on a second visit.

Price: A little expensive for the portion sizes
Recommendation: Pass
What to order: Steak Tacos

Pacific Coast Dining Co. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pasta Mista

When I first moved to the Baltimore area I was living right in the middle of Towson. I came down for grad school and really had no idea what Baltimore was all about. The one thing I didn't expect in such a highly populated area (compared to where I came from) was the difficulty I'd encounter trying to find pizza that didn't taste like squishy bread and tomato paste. At the time it seemed as if Seasons Pizza was everywhere and being the smart guy I am I figured it couldn't be that bad if they were successful enough to open up franchises at a pace rivaled only by Starbucks. Seven years later, I'm still wondering how Seasons stays in business.

But that's neither here nor there. The reason I bring any of that up is to illustrate the terrible stress I was under for nearly 4 months searching for a delicious pizza I thought I might never eat again. And then one day I came across a simple article in the college newspaper detailing exactly what I've been talking about----the nearly impossible pursuit of finding good pizza in Baltimore. The author of that article raved about Pasta Mista with such passion that I'm pretty sure I drove down to the Towson location after class and tried it out for myself. I've since found other pizza places just as good if not better than Pasta Mista, but because of the travails I encountered searching for pizza early on in my Baltimore experiences,  Pasta Mista will always be held in high regard for this blogger.

These days,I no longer live in Towson  but I was fortunate enough to be in town a few weeks back and was able to rekindle the romance that once burned so strongly between myself and the pizza. I was also able to introduce Deana to Pasta Mista for the first time. Needless to say, she is their newest fan. And I have to give her props for letting me maintain a relationship with someone I once was so close with not so long ago.

The day we visited both of us were drawn to the chicken parm pizza. It was as good as I remember. The crust was thin and crispy. The sauce had that delicious sweet/acidic tomato taste I love. And the chicken was nicely breaded and tender. For a quick lunch, you're not going to do much better.

Pasta Mista might not be "the best pizza in Baltimore" (they are in the discussion), but for my money there is no better place to get a simple slice. They always have 8 or 10 different pizzas up front for you to pick from. By the time you pay and fill your cup up with something to drink they already have your slice heated through and out of the oven. Variety and speed? I'll take it. Add to the fact that the slices are huge and the price is cheap....I'll take two!

If you are new to Baltimore and encountering the same problem I once had fret not my friends. For Pasta Mista comes bearing gifts of frankincense,myrrh, and delicious pizza.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Must visit
What to order: Every pizza they make is a winner.

Pasta Mista on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Steakhouse

As much as I like a delicious steak I very rarely find myself in the mood to hit up a steakhouse. In my opinion, the steakhouses that are affordable are only average in the food department and restaurants that are most likely amazing are out of my every day price range. What is a steak loving boy to do? Thanks to the best deal I've ever received through Groupon, I know the answer is drive to The Steakhouse.

Because of this blog I've been eating at a wide variety of restaurants lately and obviously trying out a ton of new places. The Steakhouse sticks out in my mind as one of the best for a variety of reasons. First, and maybe most important to a lot of us is the price. Deana and I were able to eat 2 steak dinners with 2 enormous sides AND two beers for less than $40. By the time we factored in our Groupon we probably only paid $8. Diesel!

Another reason The Steakhouse sticks out in my mind is the quality of the food. The steaks are hand cut by their in house butcher and cooked very simply in a wood fired grill. As far as other steakhouses in their price range, there is absolutely no comparison as far as quality is concerned.

Deana and I decided on the center cut prime sirloin. The only difference between the two steaks was the fact that I ordered mine medium rare and she medium. The steaks were THICK , juicy, and tender. Surprisingly, I think I preferred her medium cooked steak to my medium rare. They are seasoned simply but have a great addictive char taste. The crunchy charred outside juxtaposed against the tender inside is where it's at!

The picture above makes it look like they serve this tiny little steak with an even tinier side dish. Don't let the picture mislead you. The plate was huge and was meant to house two side dishes. I just happened to order French Onion soup as one of my sides (at no additional charge) and was served the soup prior to my dinner being brought out. In regards to the asparagus you see in the picture, it was fantastic. A lot of times I avoid ordering asparagus in restaurants despite the fact that it's probably my favorite vegetable. I always end up getting served some super limp green thing that is just foul. The Steakhouse does asparagus right. When I bit in and found it was al dente I almost considered getting up and doing a dance. Asparagus cooked properly in a resteraunt is near miracle status.

The French Onion soup that I had to start off my meal was phenomenal. The broth had such a deep beef flavor that I couldn't get enough of. Salty broth mixed with sweet caramelized onions and gooey cheese combine to make some of the best French Onion soup you're going to find anywhere. The fact that you can add it to your meal at no extra cost is a super deal.

If you're looking for a great meal at one of the most fair prices in all of Baltimore you have to find your way to The Steakhouse. Groupon got me to walk through their doors for the first time, but their food will have me walking back through for years to come.

Price: Beyond Reasonable
Recommendation: Get their this weekend.
What to order: Any steak with French Onion Soup and Asparagus.

The Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tilted Kilt

When I tell people that they should visit Tilted Kilt for dinner I always feel like one of those guys who say they have a subscription to Playboy to read the articles. For anyone that hasn't been there Tilted Kilt can be described as a Hooters with class and food that's worth eating. Yes, the waitresses look nice but the food truly is good. And beyond that, their beer selection is top notch when compared to other chain restaurants. Any place that semi-regularly carries Boddingtons Pub Ale on tap gets my full support regardless of the attire the waitresses are wearing.
Deana and I often find ourselves there before we visit the movie theater across the street. The service is quick and even on the busiest of nights they have so much seating that you rarely have to wait. You'll really love the decor inside. The walls are full of cool British knickknacks and there are HD TVs everywhere. And on summer nights there is a pretty significant outdoor section for those that like to people watch.

My go to meal when I visit the Kilt is always the wings with tilted sauce. The wings are always meaty and the sauce is a thicker sauce rather than the thin red hot soup you find at a lot of places. To be honest, I wouldn't go out of my way just for their wings but if you're already in the neighborhood they are more than worthy of your hard earned cash. Deana is big fan of their Sloppy Jane (essentially a Rachael sandwich) and I've had their Irish Dip in the past and it was rather tasty. Word to the wise, though, I'd probably stay away from their pasta dishes.

No, their food isn't going to change the way you view cuisine but the overall experience of visiting this place makes it one of my go to restaurants when I'm feeling lazy about picking somewhere to eat.  Ladies, are you convinced this is a place you could actually walk inside yet? There are pool tables to keep you occupied, dart boards, and I've seen them promote Wii bowling tournaments and things like that in the past as well. One event that had my interested was their beer themed dinners. The one I saw them promoting was a Sierra Nevada dinner that was 4 courses for around $40 and included 4 beers. I would have been all over it had it not been for the fact that Salmon was the main course and I don't eat fish.

If you ever find yourself in White Marsh for a movie or just strolling The Avenue don't be afraid to hop inside Tilted Kilt. It's a good time....I promise.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Nice place to visit while at The Avenue
What to order: Wings with Tilted sauce and a Boddingtons

Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Palmisano's Italian Deli

Warning! Don't let the brevity of this review be confused for lack of interest on my part. Palmisano's Italian Deli is awesome! The reason this post might be a bit shorter than the average review is because we came across this place completely on accident. Because of that I didn't have my "blogger" mindset and that lead to short notes to look back on and no pictures.

You might remember me mentioning the trip I made to The Thirsty Brewer a few weeks back for a Homebrewer's class. I got there a little early that night because I wanted to pick up a few things before the class started. Being that I was there early and the fact that the class was running a little behind led to a hungry Doug looking for some food. Well, I don't know how familiar you are with Baldwin, MD but there aren't all that many places to stop off for food. Our only option was to walk down the street to Palmisano's Italian Deli.

Palmisano's is part country store, part deli, and part pizza shop. Not wanting to cart a pizza around we decided to split their Super Italian Cold Cut Submarine. Emphasis on the Super. This bad boy was about 14 to 16 inches of soft roll deliciousness. It was more than enough for two, but I'll be damned if I wasn't silently wishing I had the whole thing to myself when it was all said and done. The Super Italian has Italian ham, salami, and capicola all freshly sliced. We added provolone cheese, lettuce, onion, mayo, hots, and their homemade vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was delicious and the sub as a whole was just soft, fresh, submarine nirvana.

I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy a good sub here and there and this is one you won't soon forget. By far, Palmisano's has my favorite sub in the Baltimore area as of today. It's out in the middle of nowhere (a little past Boordy Winery for those familiar) for a lot of you, but it's worth the drive.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Make the drive. It's a very pretty drive and the food at the end of the rainbow is great.
What to order: Super Italian Cold Cut Sub

 Palmisano's Italian Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 7, 2012

Weekend Fun: Frederick Beer Week and Foodie Experience 2012

I think this weekend might be one the more exciting weekends for lovers of beer and food in the Baltimore area. On Saturday the Foodie Experience is coming to the Hippodrome Theatre. I'm going to take the easy way out and just quote their website.
What is the Foodie Experience?
Imagine tasting food from 35 of Baltimores' top restaurants. For three hours (or until you are full) sample small plates of culinary genius created by the some of the best chefs in Charm City. Unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks will be provided as well as dishes ranging from bread pudding infused with chocolate covered grasshoppers, gourmet hot dogs and obscene sweets, just to name of few of the offerings. It’s simple; three hours of tasting and drinking before you sit down to see Andrew Zimmern LIVE on stage. Best of all, no dishes to clean!
If anyone catches this in time and thinks they want to go, be sure to get on LivingSocial and purchase your ticket there. The deal should be good until tomorrow get you a ticket for $50. Unlimited alchohol and food for 3 hours....that's a prety good deal.

Also, starting this Saturday the 12th can continuing through the 19th is  Frederick Beer Week. There are going to be all kinds of cool events, from a Bike Bar Crawl sort of thing to classes with Beer Judges to teach you what to look for in certain beers. For fans of local Maryland beers, this will be the place to be.

Sadly, I will not be attending either of the events this weekend, but I'm sure they'll be a blast for anyone lucky enough to make them. If you make it, be sure to let us know how it was. As for me, maybe next year!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dogwatch Tavern

Once again Groupon has helped introduce me to another great restaurant/bar in the Dogwatch Tavern. I'm not sure if they are a new bar (couldn't find anything on their website), but when I originally looked them up on Urbanspoon they were nowhere to be found. If anyone from Dogwatch reads this, you can thank yours truly for getting you added to the site with a free beer. Just kidding......but not really!

We were down there for the O's opening day and by the time the game was over we were quite hungry. Dogwatch came through in a big way. We knew a couple sandwiches wasn't going to be enough to fill us up so we decided to go with what we thought were Honey Mustard wings. They were delicious. I remember both Deana and I thinking at the time that they didn't taste like honey mustard, but we were thrilled with them either way. To us, all we could taste was honey and old bay seasoning. After studying their menu a little more in preperation of writing this post, I'm pretty sure they screwed up our order and gave what is clearly labeled honey/old bay wings on their site and not honey mustard afterall. Best restaurant screw up of all time! The taste was so unique that it has me and Deana dying to go back for round two. Also key to the wing experience was their homemade blue cheese dressing. I'm a fiend for blue cheese and this was as good as it gets. The salty blue cheese was awesome up against the sweet honey.

After indulging in the celestial culinary achievement known as honey/old bay wings it was time for our sandwiches. I decided to go with a cheesesteak while Deana went with a grilled chicken sandwich. Of the two, Deana came out the winner. The chicken sandwich is marinated chicken breast topped with red onion, roasted red peppers, provolone, arugula and lemon-thyme mayo served on toasted Rosemary Foccacia. To put it succinctly....juicy and delicious.

My cheesesteak was okay. It wasn't great. It wasn't terrible. It was kind of dry, but the wings and Deana's chicken sandwich gave me more than enough taste bud pleasure to convince me that I'll be visiting this place again.

Besides the food, this just seemed like a cool place to be. I noticed they were having a contest to win the right to put your name on the back of a bar stool if you could make it to the Dogwatch Tavern 30 days in a row. If you walk into the bar and someone is in your seat you are well within your right to boot them out. That's AWESOME.....and so is Dogwatch Tavern!

Price: Everyday Pub Prices
Recommendation: Next time you're in Fells, this is the place to be.
What to order: Honey/Old Bay Wings and a Chicken sandwich.

Dogwatch Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Favorite Baltimore Bars: The Dead End Saloon

Way back when I started this blog (like 3 months ago) I wrote that I wanted to talk about restaurants, food, bars, and beer. So far, I feel like I've done a pretty good job talking about the various restaurants I've visited, but the beer and bar talk has been seriously lacking. Let me apologize by offering up the first installment of what I'm uncreatively calling "My Favorite Baltimore Bars".
I don't plan on ranking them because bars can become ones favorite for a million different reasons. It just seems silly (and a little obnoxious) to try and put together a list claiming one is better than the other, hence the word "favorite" and not "best" in this little series I've just created.

One of my favorite bars in the Baltimore area that I've come across thus far is none other than The Dead End Saloon in Fells Point. I'm not sure how well known this place is but every time I've ever been there it very much feels like a locals bar. Located on Fell Street just a hop, skip, and jump away from the main action of Fells Point, The Dead End Saloon is a real gem. You're not going to find the bar 3 rows deep with people holding money over your shoulder trying to get the bartenders attention. At The Dead End Saloon you'll find older gentleman sitting down with a beer trying to digest a few pages of whatever novel they're currently reading. If there's a heaven I hope it's something like that because I'd be remiss to name many other things more relaxing than a good drink and a good book.

Anyone who has ever been to Fells Point knows what I'm talking about when I say that the type of atmosphere I'm describing at Dead End is the complete opposite of almost every other bar in that area. Most other bars are filled with loud, drunk, crowded, youngish (absolutely nothing wrong with any of that) customers. Every once in awhile it's nice to step outside of that environment and into something else. There is always a nice crowd there but it's not so busy that the bartenders can't interact with you. I actually like when the bartender does something more than just hand me a glass of beer. If I have a question about how a certain beer tastes I don't want to feel like I'm burdening them and preventing them from moving on to the next customer.

They aren't Max's in that they they don't carry 50 (or whatever the number is) beers on tap, but they have nice dozen or so to choose from. If you want to stay true to your Baltimore roots and down a Natty Boh, you can do that. But if you're looking for something a little more upscale you have that option as well.

So there you have it. If you ever find yourself in Fells Point looking for something a little different from the typical loud and in your face atmosphere give The Dead End Saloon a shot. It's a winner.

Dead End Saloon on Urbanspoon