Sunday, November 11, 2012

The People’s Pint, Greenfield, Massachusetts

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I recently attended Ciderdays, the western Massachusetts celebration of all things Malus Domesticus, especially hard cider. On our way home we hit one of my favorite places in the area for dinner, The People’s Pint, a great brewpub in Greenfield, MA.

The People’s Pint has several great beers of their own, and carries a good selection of beer and wine- and also locally crafted ciders and meads.  The food is good, and reasonably priced- with a bias to healthy and local goods.  It has a good college town vibe (not a drunken college pub vibe).  A little loud when crowded, but not too bad (certainly not the ever-popular “food and yelling” nonsense so common lately).

Need to know: they do not take credit cards, so bring cash (or checks if you are familiar with that technology).  Plenty of off-street parking very close to People’s Pint, just down Ames St. near the restaurant.

Cheers

Jack

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ciderdays in Western Massachusetts

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I just got back from another great day at Ciderdays, the western Massachusetts celebration of all things Malus Domesticus, especially hard cider.  Ciderdays are the first weekend of November each year, and I have only missed one year in the past decade or so.  From the website:
“CiderDays is a community event celebrating all things apples in Franklin County, Massachusetts. 2012 marks the 18th year of this event and there will be two days (November 3rd and 4th) of orchard tours, cidermaking and tastings, workshops and much more. This is for all who love apples, fresh or hard cider, apple cuisine, apple orchards or just being in New England in the fall.”
My regular routine is checking in and stocking up; first with the great folks at West County Cider, then up the hill to Apex Orchards to load the car with apples.
There are a variety of events, from tastings and tours, to classes and a marketplace.  This is in the rolling hills of northwestern Massachusetts, beautiful and bucolic, with several events happening in Shelburne Falls, a quaint and artsy town on the Deerfield River, which is spanned by the charming (really, it is) Bridge of Flowers (sadly not very impressive in November during Ciderdays).  Most of the activity happens on Saturday, but more and more happens on Sunday each year.  I never miss the cider tastings and discussions with leading cidermakers.  If you are interested in making your own cider, this is the place to be, unpasteurized sweet cider is available at Pine Hill orchards (and occasionally elsewhere), and there are plenty of talks and classes to get you started, or help you improve your cider.
Cheers
Jack

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Anthony Bourdain’s top five bars

I have a bit of a backlog, I owe a lot of posts on places across the US- but while I shirk the awesome responsibility of helping you drink and dine your ways across the globe, there is a list of  Anthony Bourdain's Top 5 Bars over at the annoying, ad- and popup-laden Food and Wine magazine web site. 

These skew heavily towards dive bars, and I’m good with that.  I can vouch for two of the five myself, Double Down and Mac’s Club Deuce (one on the backlog list); and the other three are on my list of places to hit when my travels take me to their cities.

Yes, this list is over a month old, but better late than never?  And by the way, do not click the “related” article “50 best bars in America”, it is a obnoxious slideshow of mostly pretentious and undoubtedly hipster-laden posers.

 

Cheers

Friday, August 17, 2012

Great food in Buffalo

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much from Buffalo, but we’ve had some great food, and stellar service while visiting recently.

First, the important bit: coffee.  SPoT Coffee is a regional chain of coffee houses, with great coffee (they roast their own) and good food.  Their “Mike” sandwich is a great way to start the day (if your cardiologist doesn’t find out): two eggs, provolone, cream cheese, ham/bacon/or sausage, on your choice of bread.  I’ve only visited the Delaware St. location, it is comfortable and funky, with space to work, or relax, or have a conversation.

Our first night in town we wandered into Bacchus (warning, Flash website with auto-playing music- they are worth forgiving for that, but whoever does that to restaurant websites needs severe punishment).  Bacchus is a wine bar and restaurant in the central business district.  The food was great, we had wonderful fresh tomato soup (with local tomatoes, this tasted like fresh tomatoes, not tin cans) and I had an outstanding bouillabaisse.  The service was very good, attentive without being annoying (a hard balance to achieve).

We also enjoyed Sinatra’s (named for the owners, not Frank- but Ol’ Blue Eyes’ music was playing).  The service was great here, too- and the food was even better.  The best lasagna I’ve ever had, followed by the best tiramisu I’ve ever had.  Seriously, the best, and the best.  It seems to be a place popular for gathering, there were more tables of five or more than there were couples, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

It is worth noting that neither Bacchus nor Sinatra’s are inexpensive.  They aren’t outrageous, and they are a good value- but not places for bargain hunters.

 

Jack

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Buffalo NY: I found the dive bars.

They really aren’t hard to find in Buffalo, dive bars are all over the place- but I found a cluster of them worth special mention and a quick post.  On the 200 block of Allen St. you will find a handful of interesting places, two I can recommend as classic dives, complete with cheap booze, unreliable service, questionable hygiene, poor lighting, and everything else you want in a dive.  The others may be great, too, I haven’t tried them all.

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My first stop was Nietzsche’s, a dive, and music venue.  I was too early for music, but the place looked ideal for grungy blues and local jazz.  $4 Jack Daniel’s on the rocks were a definite bonus.

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Across the street and down a few doors is the Allen Street Bar and Grill (aka the Old Pink). One look and you know you are in for funky- and you get it.  I think the prime attraction here may be the folks you meet inside, quite an interesting crowd, even when it is nearly empty.  Oh, and $4 JDs here, too.  I don’t recall paying less than twice that much for one in many years.

I have a backlog of places to write about, maybe this will jump start my travel/drunkard blogging.  Maybe not.

 

Jack

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Elephant Room, Austin

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It is pretty easy to find live music in Austin.  It is even easy to find good live music, it is after all “The Live Music Capital of the World”.  (I have often wondered how places like New Orleans feel about that claim, but I saw it on a T-shirt, so it must be true).  On a recent trip I was tipped off to a great jazz club, The Elephant Room

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The Elephant room is a basement establishment, at 315 Congress, between 3rd and 4th.  Head in the door and down the narrow stairs, - and if you’ve come while it is light out expect to be blind for a while until your eyes adjust to the dim lighting.  The Elephant Room is a long, skinny place, and unless you are right up front the views of the stage will be pretty obstructed- but the sound system is great, powerful but not overpowering throughout the venue.  The night I stopped in there was a ten-piece Latin Jazz band playing.  They were packed pretty tight on the stage, but their music didn’t suffer, it was fantastic.  The bartenders are pros, the vibe is relaxed, the audience is diverse, and people are there for the music.

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The Elephant Room is a great alternative the madness of Sixth Street just a few blocks away.

 

Jack

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Feeding fish. Really.

This one was a tip from Mike at The Fish House, in Key Largo, FL- we asked for “Keys things to do”, he told us to feed the fishes.  It is a tourist trap kind of place, but sometimes that is OK- and this is strangely one of those.

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Robbie’s of Islamorada offers several activities, from dining and shopping to boat rentals and fishing charters- but tarpon feeding is one specialty I don’t think you will find anywhere else.

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I suggest you not go for the “tickle the tarpon’s tonsils” approach shown here (No, fish don’t have tonsils, but you get the idea).

You go through a shed, out onto a pier, and there is an aquatic pen where the tarpon come up from below (the pen is to keep pelicans away, it almost works).  A few bucks for a bucket of fish, toss (or hand) them to the tarpon, it is oddly satisfying.  Water temperature will have an effect on how active the tarpon are, cool water in winter means they probably won’t jump much, but it is still amusing.

There is an adjacent restaurant, and nearby souvenir/trinket shops off the dirt parking lot, I can’t say much for them, we didn’t try the restaurant.  I did have a craving for seafood after feeding the fishes, though.

 

Jack

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fish House, Key Largo

The guy at the hotel said “I’m supposed to tell you our restaurant is the best, but go to the Fish House” (good food, horrid website, you’ve been warned).  So we did.  Good call hotel dude.

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It was crowded, and rustically inelegant (what they call a casual "Keys style" atmosphere), and we dined at the bar to avoid waiting for a table.  Dining at the bar isn’t always as comfortable as at a table, but you get quality time with the bartender, which often more than makes up for it.  In this case, Joe was a great bartender and a good source of local info.  I can’t stress the importance of local knowledge enough, in this case Joe’s advice picked up from the kid at the hotel and led to the next stops on our little Keys adventure.  More on that in upcoming posts.

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The food was very good, as were the drinks.  We enjoyed fresh, local fish, as you would expect in the Keys.  I particularly enjoyed their specialty “Matecumbe” style preparation, it is light, fresh and enhances the fish without overpowering it.  And the sides were not afterthoughts, they were also very good- it is usually hard to get excited over black bean and rice, but theirs are the best I’ve ever had.

Prices were reasonable within the boundaries of the Florida Keys- not a bargain, but not bad in context.  Most entrees are in the $20-30 range, with some below that and a few above.

Note that there are two adjacent restaurants, the original Fish House, and the Fish House Encore.  We dined at the original, Encore apparently doesn’t cook all of their fish, but I’ve heard that is OK if you call it “sushi”, which they do.

 

Jack

Friday, March 30, 2012

Vesuvio, San Francisco

 

Another San Francisco classic, a North Beach legend. Vesuvio.  An traditional bar, with non-traditional style.  An old Jack Kerouac hangout, on Jack Kerouac Alley.  Across the alley from City Lights, the fantastic bookstore (which deserves its own entry in this blog).

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Here’s my suggestion, wander over to City Lights, buy a book.  A made-from-dead-trees book.  Walk across the alley and into Vesuvio.  Order a drink- I recommend the “Jack Kerouac”, it sounds like a fruity rum drink, but it is not hyper sweet like a lot of tropical drinks.  (Rum, tequila, orange/cranberry juice, and lime- it has a few different things which have bite).  If you are feeling daring, go for the absinthe, but be warned people have been known to get bizarre cravings after drinking it.  Or maybe that was just my friends.  Now, take your drink and book upstairs and watch the world, read, and drink.  Or maybe just sit at the bar, be a little more sociable, and read a little less.

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One last thing, the Vesuvio blog is not very well populated, only two posts.  One is quotes about drinking, some amusing, most you have heard if you are the kind of person who reads this blog.  The other post is Leo’s Short Guide to Good Bar Behavior, one of the best guides to bar behavior I’ve ever seen.  I’ll leave you with this quote from that post:

“The customer is always right; however, the bartender determines who is still a customer.”

 

Jack

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Disappointed? That’s great.

I had some disappointing meals and drinks on a recent visit to one of my favorite parts of the US.  And they were fantastic.  What’s that Jack, drinking heavily already?  Nope, bear with me here…

This is travel and dining philosophy, not my usual “some bar I went to” kind of post.  A few things have been nagging at me about travel, dining, drinking, the internet, television, and just about all of modern life.  Let’s just focus on those relevant to this little blog, though.

First: have you been disappointed by a new place, a meal, a drink, or travel experience lately?  If so, that’s great.   If not, you need to try harder.  Food, drink, travel- even life itself should be an adventure.  Most of us prefer safe little adventures, but adventures nonetheless.  That means trying new stuff, and that means finding things that you don’t like as well as finding the gems.  I’m not an adventurous diner, but sometimes you have to try things because it’s the right thing to do.  I recall dining at Commander’s Palace many years ago- most of the folks in our party ordered steak.  I’m sure they had fantastic steaks, but to be at a restaurant like that and ignore the chef’s recommendations is frankly stupid (allergies, religious reasons, etc. excepted).  And you don’t have to be at world renowned venues to benefit from the chef’s (or bartender’s , or waitstaff’s) wisdom.  Try it occasionally.  Go ahead and be disappointed occasionally, as long as it is not in your lack of adventure.

Second: the whole intercoursing internet.  Yelp this, TripAdvisor that, why is it called OpenTable if there isn’t one, etc.  News flash, those sites have some great insights, but like the entire rest of the internet they are full of idiots and assholes.  Worse yet, idiots and assholes without a sense of adventure, or context.  People lie and rate their own restaurants high and competitors low.  If you use these sites, apply your own filters- the woman complaining that a restaurant is overpriced and the staff was inattentive… in the high season in the Florida Keys… lacks the judgment required to trust her dining recommendations.  The guy whining that a place is a dump may be right, but if it is a dump with great food and drinks he needs to shut up and enjoy himself.

Finally for this philosophical rant: Television.  I’m mentioned before that I like “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” but can’t stand the host.  Do you really believe all of those hundreds of places are winners?  Yeah, me neither.  But as obnoxious as Guy is, he’s not going to chains, and he is encouraging some adventure.  I do not get the people following his recommendations around the country- grab a few and use them as backups or starting points for your own adventures, but put some effort into finding your own way.  Ask those chefs (better yet, ask the cooks and bartenders) where to go.  And speaking of assholes, Anthony Bourdain is one- but the kind of asshole worth learning from.  Willing to try things, unapologetic in expressing what he likes and doesn’t like, and opinionated.  Some things in his shows do not appeal to me, some make me want to hop on an airplane immediately, but the spirit of dining-centric adventure is really what I like.  Most of everything else in the realm of travel and dining on TV seems to be crap, with obvious lack of curiosity, or even more obvious contrived situations, and of course some non-subtle financial arrangements to get places covered.  You deserve better, make it happen.

Go forth and be somewhat disappointed occasionally.

 

Jack

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish

We didn’t discover this one, we’ve heard about it a few places- including Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (BTW, like the show, love many of the places he goes, but Guy is truly obnoxious).

They have a limited menu, if you want smoked fish, maybe with a side of hot German potato salad, or possibly a burger- go there.  If not, do not.  Not fancy, not stylish.  But it you want great smoked fish, go to Ted Peters. 

There are two ways to get the smoked fish- as a meal of one of the four types of fish they carry (subject to availability, if it isn’t fresh, you can’t have it), or as smoked fish spread.  The fish options are mullet (local and traditional), mackerel, salmon, and mahi-mahi (which is really dolphin- the fish not the mammal).  The smoke flavor is great- strong, but not overpowering (unless you don’t like smoked foods, in which case you shouldn’t be here).  The spread is available two ways: in a sandwich (really just mountain of smoked fish spread on toast) or with saltine crackers.  Old school.  Prices are reasonable- within the context of popular, in a tourist state, and labor intensive.  If you are on a tight budget, go for one of the fish spread options.  Interesting tidbit: they use southern red oak, which imparts a very hickory-like smoky flavor to the foods.

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Ted Peters is an unassuming place, outdoor dining at picnic tables under a roof, a simple indoor dining room, no fancy silverware, and an outdoor bar. (Note: this is not a “bar”, it is a restaurant with a bar-like seating place, you can only have beer with your meal, no sitting at the bar getting tanked).  It is at 1350 Pasadena Ave S, St. Petersburg, FL, a bit out of the way for most folks visiting Tampa, but worth the trip.

 

Jack