Monday, October 28, 2013

Ashland Cafe

When I first moved to Baltimore I lived in the Towson area and made York Road my domain. Compared to where I grew up York Road had everything a young bumpkin could dream of and I rarely felt the need to venture out of my comfort zone. On one of those early adventures up the road I found Ashland Cafe and it became a staple of mine on weekends for a two or three year stretch. I knew it had to be good the first time I ever pulled up and people were waiting outside for a seat while flurries were falling from the sky. 

Ashland Cafe isn't fancy by any stretch of the imagination. You know what it is? It is a tiny little restaurant that puts out good food every single day. And that's all it has to be. Sometimes I just want good food for a good price and I want to be able to go in my sweat pants. Jessica Simpson felt good when Nick loved her with nothing but a t-shirt on. Well, I feel good when I can get a good breakfast without "getting ready" to go out.

After moving away from Towson my trips to Ashland Cafe have been few and far between so it was nice to visit an oldie but goodie with Deana a few weeks ago.  We went for breakfast and we left filled to the brim. My French Toast breakfast was so big it came on two plates! Moist French Toast, proper eggs cooked over easy, and a delicious ham I'd take that all day every day if my body could handle it. 

You might feel like my description of the food is lacking, but that's by design. This is food everyone knows but it's done right. I've never had a bad breakfast there, but if you're driving from far and get there a little late you can't go wrong with their French Dip and French Onion Soup. I made a habit out of that lunch combo to the point that the wait staff didn't even have to ask my order. If you want good food and you want it without all the pomp and circumstance of "going out to eat" make sure you take a trip down York Road and find out what this place is all about for yourself. 

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: It's one of my favorites. 
What to Order: Whatever you want. It's all good.

Ashland Cafe on Urbanspoon
Ashland Cafe on Foodio54

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pabu & Sake 101 with Tiffany Soto

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a Sake 101 Class taught by Tiffany Soto at Pabu. As much as I love to read and learn about beer,  it's always fun to learn about something new. So when the chance to learn from a Master Sake Sommelier came up I was excited to accept the opportunity. 

The cost of the Sake 101 Class is $25 and that gets you a tasting of 5 different Sake's, a few different snacks (we had fire roasted edamame and Pabu wings) and a roughly hourto hour and a half long class taught by Tiffany on all things Sake. Going in I had next to no knowledge of Sake and found the class extremely informative and fun. Of all the fermented beverages out there Sake has to be the most intensive in regards to what goes into putting out a finished product. The care involved is amazing. 

The Sake 101 class is essentially a way of learning to navigate the vast world of Sake. You learn common misconceptions about Sake. For example, sake is not meant to be served hot or taken as a shot. Students are taught the basic components (Rice, Water, Yeast, and Koji-Kin) of Sake and what they mean to the finished product. And maybe most helpful we were taught a variety of common vocabulary that can help you learn to navigate a Sake menu. One of my favorite Sake's of the tasting was an offering called Aoki Honjozo Diaginjo Niigata. Prior to this class I would have just saw four words and had no clue what to expect. Now I know that the Sake in front of me is a 5 ingredient Sake because of the word Honjozo, the rice was milled by at least 50% because of the word Diaginjo, and that it was produced in the Niigata prefecture.

If you'd like to learn more about Sake follow Tiffany on Twitter @HeySakeLady for more Sake related information. And be sure to sign up for one of her Sake 101 classes. They really are a blast and even if you don't come away loving Sake (you will!) you'll learn a whole bunch of cool facts that might help you answer a Jeopardy question or two in the future. 

After class, Deana and I decided to stick around for dinner. When you're inside one of  the best Japanese restaurants in Baltimore you don't walkout without eating....especially if you're a food blogger. And so we ate and we ate well. 

We ordered the Robata Platter which consists of 5 different meats on skewers served over a bed of rice. There were a variety of chicken, pork, and steak skewers but the highlight for us was the Berkshire Pork Belly. It's the one I took a bite out of before I remembered to take a picture. Whoops! Pork Belly makes me forget to think. The flavor of the pork belly was so huge. It was simply marinated in Japanese pepper and sake which allowed the pork flavor to shine through. And the texture was very unique. It's not often you bite into a piece of meat as thick as this and still manage to get a super crunchy exterior while at the same time maintaining a tender and juicy interior. That's a bite of food I won't soon forget. 

We also decided to try the Tsukue Chicken Meatball with Jidori Egg Yolk for some chicken on chicken action. They were another solid appetizer and I really enjoyed using the egg yolk as dipping sauce. The smooth and creamy texture coating the meatballs made for a unique bite. If you like what adding an egg does to a burger, you'll be a big fan of using an egg in this way.

And now we get to what was the best part of the night and also the most intimidating. See, I was a sushi naysayer from way back. I've tried it here and there but there was always an odd taste I couldn't get over. It wasn't that I thought it was bad, I just never liked it. However, I try to keep an open mind so I told myself that I wouldn't taste sushi again until I was sure I was getting it from a restaurant I knew was putting out a great product. Pabu was that place and the Ken's Roll you see before you was some of the best food I've ever had. It made me love life to be eating something so tasty. The roll consisted of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, avocado, pine nuts, and chili garlic furikake. It was the perfect bite and this is coming from a guy who avoids nearly all fish. There was tender rice, crunchy tempura shrimp, the creamiest avocado that has ever crossed my lips, and tuna that literally melted in my mouth. It was superb and I now consider myself a sushi yaysayer. 

After riding the wave of savory perfection that was the Ken's roll we decided to end the night with Pabu's Desert Omakase. The Omakase includes Green Tea Panna Cotta, Crimson Honey Gelee, Japanese Style Cheesecake, Blueberry Sorbet, Sesame Peanut Butter Ice Cream Mochi, and Tograshi candy bar. I really enjoyed the Green Tea Panna Cotta. I've never had anything so light and delicate before and I found it very interesting to have a tea flavored desert. The Blueberry Sorbet was fantastic as well. It tasted as if I were eating the freshest berries around. What I found most enjoyable about the Sorbet and Gelee was how they worked as a great palate cleanser. Both had soft flavors that played an excellent contrast to the bigger flavors we had at the beginning of our meal. 

Between the Sake 101 class, pork belly, and sushi our trip to Pabu was one of the most fun food related dates Deana and I have had in ages. Everything about the restaurant from the people to the food to the decor were top notch and I can't recommend a visit strongly enough.

Price: It can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it.
Recommendation: A must visit as far as I'm concerned
What to Order: Ken's Roll and be sure to sign up for a Sake 101 class.

Pabu on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Make Beer Cap Magnets

Over the past few years I've noticed that drinking beer at home leads to a lot of potential waste. There are a lot of bottles and bottle caps that end up needing to be tossed out. Of course, I recycle bottles that are twist top and I reuse pop top bottles for homebrewing. But what to do with all of the crazy technicolor caps we find on craft beer bottles? 

For the longest time I just threw them away but a few months ago I decided I wanted to do a little more with the leftover caps. Long term I'd like to put together some kind of table with caps as the centerpiece, but a much easier project is to simply turn the caps into magnets. Sounds easy enough, but one thing I always had trouble with was getting the caps off the bottle without damaging them (or myself) somehow. I've had many friends try to teach me how to pop them off with leverage from a lighter, but I was never successful. I could sort of get them off with a spoon, but that led to a bloody knuckles when I slipped a few too many times. I reached out to twitter to find out if there are bottle openers people are using that won't bend or damage a cap upon removal. That's when I learned about The Grab Opener. I decided to reach out to the makers of Grab Opener about their product to find out if it was true. Was there really something out there that would allow me to get caps off of my bottles cleanly without the risk of spilled blood? 

The answer is a resounding YES. The hiss of a freshly opened bottle of beer is one of the most satisfying sounds I come across daily. I didn't think it was possible to improve upon this until I used the Grab Opener and the power of leverage to seamlessly remove the cap. Best of all, Grab Opener has a magnet that prevents the caps from bouncing all through my kitchen. At $16, it's a bit more money than I've previously spent on bottle openers, but it does exactly what I want so why not pay a little extra for something that I use nearly every day? Whether or not you're looking to save beer caps for nerdy art projects is irrelevant. The Grab Opener is a great product that fans of craft beer should consider. 

For those of you interested in nerdy art projects, below you'll find a little tutorial of how to put together Beer Cap Magnets. 

You will need:
  • Beer
  • Bottle Opener that won't damage caps....and then the cap removed.
  • Sandpaper
  • Adhesive
  • Bolts
  • Magnets

Step 1: Grab a good a beer and The Grab Opener. 

Step 2: Remove the Cap. 

Step 3: Use Sandpaper to remove some of the plastic on the inside of the cap. This step is done to help the glue adhere in a future step. Be careful not to scrape the cap on whatever service you might be holding it against. 

Step 4: Find the manliest hot glue gun around (or Gorilla glue) and add some glue to the cap. Place a bolt on the glue and hold. Once it's stuck, add more glue to the top of the bold and place a magnet on the bolt. The bolt is to add some distance between the magnet and the cap to prevent scratching of surfaces later. 

Step 5: Put the magnet on your beer fridge and take a bad picture of your handy work.

And that's all. It's really simple and I think a cool way to spice up a beer fridge or kegerator. I'd like to thank the people behind The Grab Opener for sending me one of their products to test. It worked as good as advertised and help me get the caps I needed for future projects.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Burger Brothers

Wow. A restaurant review. I bet you thought I quit doing these. Nope, I just took one of those unintended sabbaticals I'm apparently so fond of. But worry not, for I have what seems like an endless backlog of reviews to get through for you guys.

Today, we're going to visit Burger Brothers in Towson. Deana and I found them one day before she headed back to work for one of her late Fridays. On those days, we usually walk around the Towson Town Center and then meander out to the circle until we end up in a restaurant. On this particular day, we found Burger Brothers. Before then, I'm not sure I'd heard much about the place, but I'm glad we went in because we were served a very good burger for an even better price. As far as burgers that are sold for less than $10 this has got to be one of the best options out there. 

Apparently, I was in a healthy/spicy mood on that day because I ordered a cheese turkey burger with caramelized onions, lettuce, mustard, ketchup, mayo, and a heaping mound of jalapenos. Something about pickled jalapenos and a burger really gets my Pavlov's Dog going. I was a little hesitant about ordering a turkey burger because most restaurants usually just serve you a round piece of cardboard or communion wafer. In other words, a burger with no flavor. That's why I asked for 7, 803 different condiments. I figured if the burger was dry I could always drowned it in stuff, but it turns out I didn't need all the extras after all. The burger was fantastic.

As much as I like burgers, I don't always want to spend $14 to get something good. That's where this place comes in. Burger Brothers provides a burger that is right up there with the best of the best, but at a price that will keep you coming back often. Give them a try and see if you don't agree. 

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Definitely visit
What to Order: Any burger that peaks your interest

Burger Brothers on Urbanspoon
Burger Bros. on Foodio54

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Session #80 - Is Craft Beer a Bubble?

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Is Craft Beer A Bubble? This is perhaps the most popular question within the beer world currently and one in which Derrick from It's Not Just the Alcohol Talking would like us bloggers to answer for this month's Session. His words below:
It’s a good time to be in the craft beer industry. The big brewers are watching their market share get chipped away by the purveyors of well-made lagers and ales. Craft breweries are popping up like weeds. 
This growth begs the question: is craft beer a bubble? Many in the industry are starting to wonder when, and more importantly how, the growth is going to stop. Is craft beer going to reach equilibrium and stabilize, or is the bubble just going to keep growing until it bursts?
No, Craft Beer is not a bubble. If it were a bubble, I'm sure the genius economists at the macro brewers wouldn't have their companies in a tizzy trying to come up with "crafty" ways to fight back. The presence of Craft Beer is real and it's ability to grow has been incredible. People want these beers and they love the culture that accompanies it. Why do we like Smart Phones? Because they change constantly and always give us something new to fiddle with. New things are fun and I think our culture's ever present need for the next thing works in Craft Beer's favor. There's always a new beer, a new twist, a new hybrid beer that keeps people coming back in for more. How many of you buy the same three six-packs over a two month time span? I'd say if I do that at all, I do it at most twice a year (and that's being generous).

I think a better question would be Is there a bubble within Craft Beer? And if that's the question, my answer is Yes. Craft Beer as a whole is going to be fine, but that doesn't mean every single decision made by companies in the business is going to mean good things for them. I don't know very much about economics, but I do know a thing or two about space on shelves. Eventually, they fill up and you run out of space to put new things on. If you're an overeager brewery trying to expand too big too fast and you're product is too mediocre you're going to run into problems because the well established brewers are going to take up the space on the shelves. The bigger Craft Beer gets the more well educated consumers are becoming about what they put in their mouth. As that education continues the demand for superior products is going to become the determining factor of who stays and who goes. The question "what's new" might get you an initial place on the shelf, but if you aren't bringing anything new and innovative to the table, it won't be long before you're company is gone.

With that said, if new brewers focus on the local aspect of Craft Beer I think they stand a much better chance of surviving the increasingly congested highways. If they have a mindset of serving their community first and world domination second then the bubble that does exist can be reduced greatly. I don't have numbers in front of me, but a large part of the brewery growth comes from brewpubs. Are any of us going to not visit a brewpub if they make good beer and serve good food? I don't think so. I'll take ten quality local brewpubs over TGI Fridays and Chilis' every day of the week.

Is Craft Beer a Bubble? Yes and No. As I stated in the comment section of a different blog earlier this week, it depends on exactly how you ask the question and what angle you want to take when you're answering it. But am I worried about the whole thing falling apart? Not at all. Craft Beer is just too damn good.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Trip to Germany

Once upon a year ago, I took a trip to Germany (with a little Austria thrown in for good measure). Needless to say, it was excellent. I saw a lot, learned a lot, and I drank a lot of world class beers. You may be asking why I'm just now getting around to sharing these pictures with you. Well, because when I took the pictures I had no intentions of sharing them on my blog. A year ago, I wanted to keep to the Baltimore in Baltimore Bistros and Beer. Today, I just don't care that much about keeping to a strict theme and since the direction of the blog has expanded to be more beercentric lately I thought it made sense. So, here we go. A bunch of pictures of beer or me and Deana drinking beer with descriptions where necessary. As a disclaimer, I wasn't focusing on quality for the majority of these pictures. I wanted to make sure my actual eyes were taking in as much as they could, while they could.

My favorite picture of the whole trip. Lake Titisee in the background. Furstenberg Pils in the starring role

Romantic, right? His and Hers liters.

What a head! I ordered this beer simply because I purchased that glass earlier in the day and wanted to be able to say I had a beer in that glass.

This is the best hefe I've ever had. I dream about that beer. 

First beer of the trip. After a 9 hour overnight flight with zero sleep that little dandy did a number on me. I believe it was a Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest

Enjoying a few beers at the Hofbrahaus Munchen.

All glassware should be that beautiful.

You can't imagine how good that beer tasted after a day of climbing a mountain and checking out Neuschwanstein Castle.

We took a brewery tour at Erdinger. The tasting room was awesome and the hospitality was great. Drink as much beer as you can and when you're not drinking stuff a few weisswurst and pretzels in your mouth.

There you have it. Hope you enjoyed looking at a couple of these and the revealing of our face for the first time in blog history! Prost!