Sunday, April 13, 2014

Barrel 31

Ironically enough, as soon as I returned from the land of whiskey I was invited to visit Barrel 31. - Barrel 31 is a restaurant and whiskey bar that is taking the old Velvet Dog space in Martini Corner and is aiming to help revamp the feel of the corner. - So I packed up all of my brand new whiskey knowledge and headed down to see what was in store. 

You may or may not know this about me by now, but I love a good whiskey. Naturally, I had high hopes for Barrel 31. In my mind, I had it built up to be a laid back, approachable, yet still sophisticated establishment to go have a good whiskey with friends whilst also realizing that there was a possibility that it could turn out to be pretentious and over-priced with lack luster offerings. Fortunately for me, and for all of you, Barrel 31 more closely aligns with the former than the latter.

When you walk in, you will find a wall of whiskey (and a few other liquors) behind the bar, to your left. High top tables are available for seating in the bar area while more traditional seating is available in the dining room. There will ultimately be 3 floors and a back patio, but only two of the three floors were finished when I was there. There is a second, smaller bar on the second floor. The interior walls are brick, with wood and ornamental metal accents (the ornamental metal pieces are shaped like little men attempting to scale the brick wall as ornamental metal sharks swim on the opposite wall), the way that one would want their own whiskey den to look (if they had one).

The aforementioned wall of whiskey has almost every type of whiskey you can think of, not every maker, but at least one from every region and multiples from some regions (from Kansas to Scotland, including Auchentoshan - the Scotch that I brought back from Scotland). As one could reasonably deduce, B31 also uses those whiskey to make some pretty mean cocktails (including some barrel aged cocktails, similar to the one that I had at The Majestic). 

The Drunken Irishman cocktail was insanely delicious and deceptively refreshing. The DI is made with Jameson whiskey, Guinness and mint reduction, fresh mint, and then topped off with a splash of Guinness. Given the ingredients, one would not immediately label this as a spring patio beverage, but it absolutely is. The mint springs to the forefront of the flavour profile making this concoction a dangerous libation because of how hidden the very real strength is. The DI is a bit like Teddy Roosevelt in that it speaks softly but carries a big stick.

The Bobby Burns cocktail is named after the national poet of Scotland. It is essentially a Scotch Manhattan that comes with a shortbread cookie (like high tea). Replace your standard whiskey with Dewars, add house-made bitters and a few drops of Pernod liquer and you have yourself the Bobby Burns.

I also got a chance to sit down with John, the owner, and talk about our shared love of whiskey. He was a super awesome guy and I love his vision.

Not a whiskey lover? B31 has plenty of flights for you to try to find one that they like. Failing that, there is a KC Bier Co. tap at the bar.

Though to this point I have focused predominantly on the whiskey, Barrel 31 has some great food as well! They have different takes on a lot of old favorites (I have included a few pictures below).
House-made Pork Rinds w "Haba-peno" aioli
Deviled Oysters
Heirloom Beet Nik
Another solid item, besides the Heirloom Beet Nik salad, if you are looking for something on the healthier side is the bourbon glazed edamame.

Pork Belly

Pork Osso Bucco
I was only able to try a couple items on the Barrell 31 drink and food menu during my first trip, but I plan on making plenty of trips over the next few months in hopes to try the balance. Here is to hoping that Barrel 31 is around for a long time! Cheers!

Barrel 31 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ireland and Scotland

The trip (at least to the former of the two places) that some Catholic Irish-Americans would categorize as more of a pilgrimage than a vacation (or holiday, if you will). I am just Heinz 57 enough to treat it as much more recreational, educational, and culinarily based than as a religious experience. However, I want to be careful to not understate the importance of what I experienced in either place. There is so much history on that side of the pond. I know that I can not come close to understanding it all, given the short time that we were over there. Nor can I even relay 100% of the little bit that I know to you, but I will do the best that I can (as I sit here drinking the Scotch that I brought back from Scotland, for inspiration).

I don't know how you all get pumped up for a holiday (yes, we will be using as much of the Queen's English as possible today, so prepare yourself for that and turn away if you cannot cope), but I like to have a little pre-holiday holiday. Since there are no direct flights from KC to Dublin (the first stop on our journey) and connections always suck, we used some Southwest points to fly to Chicago (where we were able to find a direct flight to Dublin) and stay a night before our long transatlantic haul. While we were in Chicago we met up with some friends for some late night food and drinks but made sure to get to bed early enough to get in an AM workout since we are training for the Kansas City Triathlon (as you know, I love me some triathlons).

Cinnamon sugar and Reece's minis
After our AM workout, my craving for street food kicked in and we headed over to Beaver's Donuts Beavers Donuts on Urbanspoon for a breakfast of champions. Amazing mini donuts, made fresh on the truck, and Cuban coffee! If you are ever in Chicago, make sure not to skip out on this one. But enough about Chicago, this post (that is already shaping up to be pretty long and we haven't even gotten to the point yet) is about the Celtic nations.

Fast forward (through an awesome airport dinner at Tortas Frontera Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless on Urbanspoon and a long red-eye flight) to the next day, our arrival in Dublin. The first thing that we experienced after we got off the plane confirmed one of the most common stereotypes about Dubliners: They are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet! The first friend we made in Dublin was Freddy, a cab driver. Freddy didn't just take us to our hotel; he answered any questions that we asked, told us about any historical buildings that we passed, and when he dropped us off he gave us his cell number and told us to call him 24/7 if we needed anything whether it be a ride or a restaurant recommendation. After helping us with our bags he began to cut up with the head bellman at the hotel, you can tell that Freddy makes his rounds, but this is also just how people are there! This is not just a cab driver putting on a nice face for customers, they get the fare either way, they do not have to say anything to you (In Scotland you will find a good mix of those that do and those that don't want to talk, but in Ireland we did not have a cab driver that was not friendly, no matter the time of day).

My favorite Freddy story came when we were inquiring about home values on the particular street that we were on. While explaining that home prices were ridiculously low because of Ireland's recent recession, he did take time to point out that all of the row homes on that street had doors that were painted different colours. He informed us that this tradition dated back to the Victorian era in Ireland. Ireland was still under English rule when Queen Victoria died and when the Royal Family asked that everyone paint their doors black in mourning... ... the Irish decided to paint the doors yellow, red, blue, green, or whatever colour they felt like. This tradition still stands today.

I believe that I have said it before, but if I haven't, I will say it now: When we travel to places, we do not like to do pre-scheduled tours and such, we like to be on our independent traveler tip. With that, we are free to come and go as we please and fill our days with what we want to do. So we appreciate when cab drivers are informative. We also appreciate not being stuck on a motorcoach all week, but there are some further-out and more touristy places that you may want to hop on a coach for a day simply because it is easier and more informative than driving yourself. SIDE NOTE: I strongly recommend against renting a car unless you REALLY want to drive to each little town on the coast and travel on your own schedule. I had always told myself that driving on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road would be pretty easy, but it is hard to even remember which way to look when you are crossing the street since the US street system is so ingrained in our brains. It is best to leave the driving to the professionals. Don't be that tourist that causes a wreck and holds up traffic!

Cliffs of Moher
We did choose to take a day trip on a motorcoach to the Cliffs of Moher, which was gorgeous! Standing 214 meters (or over 700 feet) tall, the cliffs are not just something impressive to look at. They are like a caricature of the Irish weather and landscape. The grass is as green as the Irish countryside. The towering cliffs, as seen from the ocean, remind you of the stone fences that stand throughout the Irish countryside (particularly in County Galway, which I can talk about next). And the weather can cycle through anything that it has in its repertoire within seconds. It can be foggy one minute, raining the next, and then clear out as soon as it came on. We went through about 3 full revolutions of that rotation in the hour that we were there. The winds blow hard enough that they could turn an elephant into a kite. Which makes it even more mind-boggling why would-be Darwin award recipients (mostly dumb college-aged kids) would hop the stone fence, that has been erected to protect visitors from the edge of the cliffs, just to get a picture of themselves a few feet closer to the edge. There is even a sign to memorialize all of those that have lost their lives at the cliffs. I beg you, if you ever find yourself at the Cliffs of Moher, please do not be these people!

As promised above: The stone walls/fences. I will not say that there are none, because surely there are, but I did not see any plain wooden or chain linked fences during our time in Ireland. All of the fences that we saw were made of stone. Most of them date back to the 1840s, when the modern farming practices took over. They divided up the land and that is how it is still divided today. However, those are not the only stone fences that you see, there is a much deeper history than that. Pre-historic inhabitants built stone fences as far back as 5000 years ago (the age was calculated by the depth of the fence that was burried in peat, which grows at a rate of 12 inches per thousand years) and during the great potato famine (when many Irish-Americans emigrated to the US) the British made the Irish build a wall to get rations of food. You can tell pre-historic fences by their construction, there is no mortar covering the top and the stones are arranged in a way that leaves wind holes in the fence so that the wind does not knock it over. You can also tell the fence that was subsidized by the Brits (because they were being pressured by the international community to help the Irish out, but were unwilling to give them something for nothing, so they made them build a wall to nowhere), as these walls go over hills in a nonsensical routing that looks like it just goes on for days. The British wall (as I will call it here) is in stark contrast with the neatly arranged farm walls, you will know it when you see it.

Other things that you will notice as you travel through the Irish countryside (and the Scottish as well) is that the road signs are in two languages. One is English, the other is Gaelic (pronounced "Gay-lick" in Ireland and "Gah-lick" in Scotland, but the Irish people will call their form of Gaelic "Irish"). The two languages are not the same, but they are similar. They have some of the same words and phrases, but the pronunciation is a bit different. I actually read an article in the paper, while we were in Ireland, about whether continuing to require Irish as a subject for all primary school students was a good idea or not?

Irish Coffees
It was in Doolin, a small town near the Cliffs of Moher, that we had the best fish and chips of the entire trip (and we had some excellent fish and chips all over both islands). O'Connor's is a 300 year old pub that we stopped into just after visiting the cliffs on a reco from our driver Ray (another awesome Irishman). After having spent the day riding across the island, in fairy forts (the birthplace of the Leprechaun), visiting St. Bridgit's church (whom we will talk more about later), and trying not to get blown off the Cliffs of Moher, I was so ravenous that all of my sense had escaped me and I forgot to take a photo of the most amazing fish and chips ever! My apologies! I did however get a picture of the damn good Irish Coffee that O'Connor's serves.

Guinness @ Guinness
You may remember me teaching you how to make real Irish Coffee here. We indulged in plenty of Irish Coffees over the few days that we spent in Ireland!

Irish Coffees were not the only alcoholic beverages that we partook in while in Ireland. We also went to St. James' Gate, or the Guinness Storehouse as it is better known. We had heard that Guinness is better in Ireland than in the US, like a lot better, and had always believed that it would be, but words cannot describe how much better Guinness is in Ireland than it is in the US. They teach you how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, then you get to drink the pint that you poured while looking over the entire city of Dublin. Whether you are a Guinness homer or not (and I am not), it is really breathtaking what you can see up there!

Panorama of the Gravity Bar at Guinness
Kilmainham
"Guinness's", as the locals call it (I also believe that this could possibly be the origin of "Walmart's" and "Target's"), is not the only place that you need to see while you are staying in Dublin. Kilmainham Gaol (or "Jail" for those that are not hip to Irish pronunciations) is where you can learn more about the fighting between the British and the Irish that I mentioned earlier between the painted doors and the "fence to nowhere", and the political prisoners of those rebellions. If you tour the gaol, you will also easily see how Notre Dame got the nickname "Fighting Irish".

Dublin is a pretty small city, it is very walkable. If your hotel is centrally located (like ours was), it is easy to walk to Grafton Street, "Guinness's", Jameson, Kilmainham, and any other touristy spot that you may want to see. One thing that you may be told, when visiting Dublin, is that "3 days is more than enough to see everything that you want to see". We were told this by more than a couple people and it could not be farther from the truth! True, 3 days is more than enough time to see all of the touristy things that you may want to see. However, 3 days is not nearly enough time to see all of the pubs, enjoy all of the food, and meet all of the people that you will want to.

Speaking of trying all of the food (since this is technically still a food blog, I guess, for now), I had a list of foods that I wanted to try in Ireland and Scotland. It was not an extremely long list, but it was important to me. Here it is: In Ireland I really wanted to try black pudding and white pudding (preferably part of a full Irish breakfast). In Scotland I felt like I owed it to myself to try Haggis. I also knew that both places have extremely rich fishing grounds and wanted to find some fresh seafood (like really fresh).

Irish Breakfast
I had expected black and white pudding to be sausage like, because the makings of black pudding are very similar to blood sausage and the makings of white pudding are similar to black pudding but using fat instead of blood. I did not know how off the mark I was. I personally did not think that either pudding reminded me of sausage. They tasted instead of predominantly the barley that comprised them with the blood and fat respectively acting as little more than a binding and flavouring agent. They were both seasoned with savoury spices and tasted delicious! They went perfectly with the rest of the Full Irish Breakfast (pictured to the right). I will speak more about Haggis when I get to the Scotland part of the trip (if you are still reading by that point).

A short note about "bacon" in Scotland and Ireland: When we think of bacon in the US, we think of belly bacon. When they think of bacon, more often than not, they are thinking back bacon. You can get belly bacon over there, but it is not as popular.

Mussels and other pub fare
I also made sure to try pub stew. Each traditional Irish pub has their own unique recipe of stew. Most variations involve at least a little Guinness and/or beef, but some do not. Fish and chips was the main dish that everyone chose to order while in Ireland, but fresh mussels were excellent as well.

If you get a scampi (small lobster native to the Irish Sea and other waters around these parts) in a seafood stew, do yourself a favour and suck the head (especially if you have never done this). The most tender (almost fall apart in your mouth tender) and delicious meat is in the head. It may be a bit weird at first, and people may look at you, but you will be happy you did. And if people look at you for something like this, then they obviously don't know the best way to eat food, so disregard their opinion anyways.

To chase down your meal, as an appetizer to it, or both, you will probably want a fermented beverage. Since we have already been over Irish Coffees I will skip straight ahead to the beers while noting that if you are a fan of Irish whiskeys that you probably already know more than I would type here about them anyways. If you do not know anything about Irish whiskeys, plan a trip to Ireland and find out about them. But back on task with the beers: You know about Guinness (or at least you should) but you should also know that Ireland has many more beers that are worth trying besides just "the dark stuff".

There are a lot of Irish beers that we have in the US that I expected to see more of in Ireland. For instance Murphy's (which I later found out is pretty much isolated to County Cork). But surprisingly enough, the most common beer in the pubs (excluding Guinness) was Heineken. Heineken was then followed by a slew of other lagers from Holland, the US, and so on. You will occasionally find a Smithwick's but anything past that is like pulling teeth. This boggled my mind that bars that I frequent in the US will have more Irish beers available than the pubs in Dublin. I think that a lot of this has to do with money, politics, and... Big Brother trying to keep the little man down.

Galway Bay Brewery glass
The Irish are slowly starting to find out that there are beers out there with taste to them. Luckily, our hotel was situated atop one of a very few craft beer bars in Ireland, Alfie Burns (named after the famous Irishman). The restaurant is owned by the Galway Bay Brewing Company, one of the dozen or so craft breweries that have begun to teach Irelandians about craft beer. The craft beer scene in Ireland really didn't start to boom until about 3 years ago, long after the craft beer movement in the US and other countries was well on its way. Galway Bay owns a few other gastropubs, including the Brew Dock, that as the name suggests is right by the dock.

To confirm another stereotype about Ireland, we made friends or had conversation with complete strangers at almost every bar or pub that we sat down in. The most notable of which were a couple members of the Dublin Ladies Craft Beer Society! Look them up if you are ever in Dublin. Check them out here. Or contact them and offer to send them some craft beer that they cannot get over there, they are thirsty for more flavour! We sat and shot the breeze with them all night, they are awesome (uber American word used intentionally here) people!

Other conversations of note: Our new friends from the Dublin Ladies Craft Beer Society informed us that St. Bridgit (whom you may remember from visiting her church earlier and who was actually the first missionary to Ireland, even before St. Patrick) is the patron saint of brewing and that she had a vision that she would have a place in Heaven next to a lake of eternal beer (that she would be serving to everyone).

For those hesitant to visit Ireland (disclaimer: this disclaimer does not apply to Belfast and Northern Ireland), Ireland is an extremely safe country and you can walk anywhere at any time of day and feel safe. You have to be smart about your belongings, do not leave your stuff laying on the bar and go to the toilet. Your things will grow legs and walk off, but those are things that you would not do at home either!

Even the buildings wear green on St. Patrick;s Day
Dubliners were extremely apologetic about the actions of those around the city, as we were there over St. Patrick's Day (St. Patrick was actually quite different from the man that you hear about in the legends, but that is a story for another day). The friendly, fun-loving people that they are have no tolerance for people that get out of control. Don't get me wrong, it is almost expected that you will drink while you are in Ireland, you will probably be encouraged to drink a lot, but you are to hold your liquor! They also warned that it is hard to find a Dubliner in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day, which I found to be not true. The influx of so many French, German, and American tourists does inflate the city's population and dilute the Dubliners, but they are still there. Despite all of the pre-apologies and pre-warnings we did not see a single Irishman get out of hand or be the slightest bit rude! The only rude people we really encountered were French, and after discussing this with a friend that we made at Alfie's it was confirmed that French people are not just assholes in their own country, they are assholes in everyone's country (especially when they are on holiday). The Dublin parade saw much less drunken debauchery than even the Kansas City parade did this year. A drunken idiot punched a police horse at the Kansas City parade this year, for crying out loud!

Other good food finds (on the fresh seafood front): We took the train from Dublin out to a suburb called Dalkey. We went looking for fresh seafood, but also found a lovely little town and an island with history that is larger than it's square footage. My favorite Irish-American Chef Shaun told me that if we had time to make it to Dalkey that we had to check out Ouzos, a restaurant that he used to work in. Ouzos was founded to remedy the inability of Dubliners to get fresh seafood.

Ouzos bread pudding
Once upon a time, it was impossibly to get fresh seafood in Dublin. All seafood was caught in Ireland, shipped to be processed in France, and then shipped back. The owners of Ouzos decided that was not good enough. They could not purchase from any of the commercial fisherman, as the fisherman could not break their existing contracts with the seafood processes. So what does a restaurant owner do when they want fresh seafood and cannot get it? They buy their own boat, of course! Not only does Ouzos serve some of the freshest seafood that you will find, but they have some of the best seafood chowder as well (not to mention the second best bread pudding that I have ever had, second only to Chef Shaun's)! The back of the menu will even tell you about the every day grind of being an Ouzos "fishing-boat captain" (in my Forrest Gump voice).

The only bad part, and I mean the ONLY bad part, about going to Ireland over St. Patrick's Day was that you cannot get any NCAA Tournament games over there. Not even on an app on your phone, the app can tell from your IP address that you are not in the US (trust me, I tried). However, you can find other sports to entertain you while you are there. They play futbol, but it is not nearly as big as it is in England and other countries. The two biggest sports in Ireland are Rugby and Hurling. We were actually fortunate enough to be there during their Rugby match against France in which they sealed their 6 Nations Championship. It was pretty cool! People were walking down the street requesting high fives for Ireland rugby (and who am I to deny someone a high five?). But when we got to Scotland (another member of the 'six nations'), without even asking, we were informed that no one wanted to talk about rugby.

I guess this is as good of time as any to make our transition over to Scotland. One the whole, Scotland was even prettier than Ireland, albeit less friendly (as mentioned about the cabbies above).

We flew from Dublin to Edinburgh (pronounced "Edinboro"). Edinburgh was probably the most beautiful city that I have ever seen! The "new" buildings in the city centre were built in the 1800s, the old ones were built in the 1600s and 1700s. Sadly, a lot of the storefronts on the ground floors of these buildings have been commercialized and turned into Gap, H&M, and Nike stores, but some of them still house locally owned restaurants and traditional Scottish tailors.

On that note, some of you will be excited to know that the hipster movement has made it across the pond (for which I blame every last one of you that wears glasses with no lenses in them). We ate at this nice little hipster restaurant that was situated between the Edinburgh Castle and the university (righteous place for a hipster restaurant, right?). This was where I experienced my first taste of haggis.

Haggis and Mash
One might assume that haggis has some sort of foul odor or game-y taste to it by all of the disgusted faces that you get from culinary hard hitters when you mention it. Even a good chef friend of mine described haggis as an acquired taste that you can get used to, but never really enjoy. This reaction seems to be reasonable given the ingredients of haggis, but I have eaten street tripe in Mexico after all, so I figured "what the hey?". I was pleasantly surprised to find that haggis was not only absent of any foul taste or odor, but was downright good. I could not believe it! I even tried it another morning, for breakfast, just to confirm that I didn't just get a batch of good-tasting faux haggis. It was confirmed. My reco: Do not shy away from haggis, embrace it. It tastes like any other well seasoned minced meat.

View from our room in The Caledonian
After our hipster haggis, we found a food cart selling Brazilian crepes. We were not in Brazil, but I cannot pass up cart food of any kind (ever), and our crepe was delicious!

After all of this eating we retired to our hotel (The Caledonian) that happened to have a pretty sweet view of the Edinburgh Castle! This was probably the nicest, and most beautiful, hotel I have ever stayed in. It is an old train station turned hotel. They even brought us wine and fruit in the evening to enjoy the lit up view of the castle with.

The other big food item that I had in Scotland was a Scottish Breakfast. It is similar to the Irish Breakfast in some ways, but different in others. Where the Irish Breakfast comes with mushrooms, the Scottish Breakfast comes with beans. The Scottish Breakfast also comes with a potato scone (which tastes like the lovechild of a pancake and a pita bread). The Scottish Breakfast is very good, but the Irish Breakfast is the clear winner in this battle!

The next day we visited the Edinburgh Castle. The views were awe-inspiring! If you ever get a chance to visit Edinburgh, the castle is a must.

Just one wall of the hallway that is the world's largest
Scotch whiskey collection
And just outside of the castle, you will find the Scotch Whiskey Experience where you learn about the 4 primary regions in which Scotch whiskey is produced and sample whiskeys from those 4 regions (as well as a blend). You learn about the stereotypical tastes that you will find in Lowland (citrus), Highland (floral), Speyside (fruit), and Islay (peat) Scotches. I learned that I prefer the Lowland Scotches, of which I brought home a litre of Auchentoshan. I also learned that Lowland whiskeys are not the most popular, which does not help my hipster score (but I like it because I like it, not like it because it is unpopular). Scotches are aged in breathable barrels and take on the flavours of the elements that are in nature around them. The Scotch Whiskey Experience is also home to the largest Scotch collection in the world.

Another trend in Scotch is to age in multiple barrels, of different wood types, rather than aging them for longer. This results in younger Scotches with wider flavour profiles. Old Scotches are still popular with the old guard, but you will see more and more of the new as well.

Doubletree Dundee
After leaving Edinburgh, we took the train north to Dundee. The ScotRail, by the way, kicks the CTA that we took to the O'Hare airport, in Chicago, in the giblets! ScotRail trains are new, clean, have free WiFi, and have seats with good lumbar support. How much more could you ask for?

Another question you may get if you are a tourist staying in Dundee is "You must have family there, otherwise I cannot imagine why you would stay there.". Not so! We were just using Hilton points to pay for our hotels and the Dundee Doubletree was a nice, conveniently located hotel that is close to a train station that you can use to take a day trip to Loch Ness. It's a nice town and a nice hotel. But that is not all. Dundee is only a 20 minute ride from St. Andrew's golf course, the birthplace of golf! If you are into that sort of thing. I personally am not, but I know that a lot of people are.

One of my favorite things that we did in Scotland was take the day trip up to Inverness (and subsequently Loch Ness). The town is amazing! There is a chocolatier called So Coco that makes the best hot chocolate (which you will probably need, FYI) and pretty good food too. It is even better than the hot chocolate that we had at Coolhaus, in New York. There are numerous local restaurants that line the river that will serve you some of Scotland's best seafood. And then there is Loch Ness!

Loch Ness
Loch Ness is the largest loch in Scotland, by volume (not by surface area, and not the deepest, but the most voluminous). Perhaps you have heard of it, as it is the home of the fabled Loch Ness Monster (although we should discuss the term "monster" since she has not killed anyone in almost 1450 years, when St. Columba went out and prayed over her, as our tour guide informed us). We went out on the loch and then to another castle before heading back into Inverness just in time for another So Coco hot chocolate before we had to catch our train back to Dundee.

"Sheeps"
You see plenty of sheep on the train ride. Some of those sheep will end up in Shepard's Pie, which is still very popular over there and very delicious. Anther thing that you will find in Great Britain (while it is still called that, as Scotland will be voting for it's independence later this year, should that be the popular selection) is high tea. Yes, that is still a thing. Yes, they take it very seriously. Yes, you get a shortbread cookie with it.

The food we missed out on: In Scotland I had also wanted to try a fried Mars bar and a Scotch Egg. We had to skip out before we got to those things, but both are available at Scottish chip shops. It is said that they will fry anything, and I believe it. It is also said that Scottish chip shops are where the fried Mars bar (that are often associated with carnivals, and funnel cake trucks, in the US) was invented. Perhaps I will get to them next time.

Canal in Dublin
The weather: The whole time that we were there it was cold and drab. Not as cold as the -5 degrees F that it was when we left, but the lows were probably 45 F with highs around 55 F. There is much less variation in the temperature there. And it does rain a lot, how else do you think it stays to green? We did luck out and get at least a little sun each day that we were there, which we were told is very rare. It was even nice enough for us to get in some outside runs some days. We took a nice jog along the canal in Dublin (photo to the right taken on said run), it was beautiful and the canal water was so clear.

On the way back home, we laid over in Chicago again. We spent our short time in Chicago starting our beer passports at Goose Island and sticking with our doughnut theme that we started when we came through the previous week (only this time we went to Do-Rite DonutsDo-Rite Donuts on Urbanspoon). I am not a huge fan of the "throw bacon on anything and it makes it better" trend that has been going on in food for some time, so I bit into the maple bacon donut from Do-Rite expecting it to be overrated and possibly even hate it. It was the best of the 6 donuts that I had! It tasted like pancakes and bacon, together, in one. I still do not like the trend, but I cannot be a Do-Rite hater, all of the doughnuts were fantastic!

I hope that I have been informative (and not put you to sleep) while trying to teach you just a small part of what I learned while on holiday across the pond. If you have any questions, please ask me (whether below in the comments or by email), I would love to talk about it more in depth! But the only way to truly experience the culture is not by reading a blog post but by going over there yourself and living it. Happy eating and happy travels!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Feijoada

So what has been up in the land of EatingAwesomeness, you ask? Why have I been so distant? Where has the next post been hiding? Well, to be completely honest with you, this series of Polar Vorti (my made-up on-the-spot plural of Vortex, instead of Vortexes, or perhaps Vortecies?) left me totally void of inspiration. But before I tell you all about the muse that I found to break me out of my slump, I will give you a little rundown of what I have been up to (besides consuming copious amounts of craft beer).

Since my last post, KC Restaurant Week (#KCRW2014) has come and gone. I went to The Majestic, Urban Table, Jack Stack, Reserve, and Fogo during Restaurant Week. 

The Majestic was good, but the steaks that were not on the KCRW2014 were SOOOO much better! They had a barrel aged Manhattan, not a Manhattan made with barrel aged whiskey (because that is all of them), this was a cocktail that was made and then barrel aged. But the best thing that I had at Majestic was probably the chocolate mousse that came with a macaron in the glass.
Majestic Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Urban Table had a killer sandwich, as always. 

Jack Stack was part of a tour of KC BBQ that I took an out of town co-worker on. Plus the beans are the best ever! 

I was blessed with the opportunity to be Yelp KC's quest star of a #KCRW2014 tweet-along at Reserve. Reserve was as incredible as always! I had scones and coned beef hash made by an Irishman! It doesn't really get much better than that. 

The real breakthrough, however, came at Fogo. How can a chain Brazilian steakhouse provide a breakthrough, you ask? Well, one of the members of our party had housed a Brazilian exchange student in high school. Between rounds of gluttoning ourselves on rare leg of lamb and the cheesy bread that they bring to your table, she mentions that there is a Brazilian market/restaurant in the River Market that has even better cheesy bread and this market is supposed to occasionally have feijoada Saturdays. She went on to explain what feijoada is and told us about how she had first had it when visiting her exchange student, upon her return to Brazil, out of a home that had been converted to a restaurant (I don't know Portuguese, but now you are speaking my language). As if we weren't sold on this yet, she told us that on this same occasion, she looked down and found a pig snout in her feijoada dish (yes, please)! She then said that she would let us all know the next time Taste of Brazil (the Brazilian market) had feijoada. 

Fast forward to last weekend. Five of us joined up, in the River Market, to try this fabled feijoada. 

The process goes like this: You go into Taste of Brazil, pick out your drink (Brazilian Guarana soda, if you know what is good for you), pay for your drink and your feijoada, they give you a wristband, head next door and run through the line, then grab a table. All the while there are musicians playing music that reminds me of Sirius XM satellite radio's channel Coffee House.

The feijoada line consisted of: rice, feijoada (that you have to be dying to know what it actually is by now), fried pork belly, collard greens, papaya, what I believed to be fried yucca, seasonings and sauces, and bread slices (but not the cheesy bread, you need to order that separately above, if you choose).

The cheesy bread did, in fact, kick the cheesy bread from Fogo in the junk. They even sell packages of the mix that you can take home to enjoy anytime.

The mixture of beans and smoked meats, that is feijoada, was incredible! There were cuts of meat that had bones in them (so watch out and don't chip any teeth), which made it amazing. I even found a couple pieces of blood sausage in my feijoada. Sadly, no snouts though. I loved the feijoada, over rice, with a little bit of pepper sauce (molho de pimenta) on it. The pepper sauce is not really spicy, it just adds flavour, and is slightly reminiscent of buffalo chicken sauce.

The fried pork belly is really good, because, well... it's fried pork belly. The papaya only made me think of how much better the papaya would taste in Rio. The shredded collards were very good, but with my mom's whole side of my family being from The South I had better love some collards.

We ate feijoada until we could no longer move, then we went back for the obligatory dessert: passion fruit mousse. The mousse was so thick, it had to have been made with condensed milk, it was so good!

We will definitely be going back to TOBM for some food and Guarana soda before the next feijoada!


Taste of Brazil Market on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dixon's Famous Chili

If I had a dime for every person that has told me that they have "the best" chili, or that their chili is "famous", I wouldn't have to work and I could do this whole poorly written blog thing full time. But Dixon's Famous Chili actually has famous chili! They have been in the same spot for almost 100 years and Presidents have dined there! Dixon's is not chili in the sense that we think of it today, but it is historically important and is pretty dang good too!

Dixon's chili is not the tomato/meat/optional bean based stew-like concoction that most of us think of when we hear the word "chili". Dixon's is more what you think of when you think of ground beef taco meat. In fact, that is one of many ways that Dixon's serves their chili.

You can get your chili straight up, topped with cheese and/or onions, covered in ketchup (which is actually a lot tastier than it sounds), soupy (covered in the soup that the beans are cooked in), or juicy (covered in the ground beef juices, not the Notorious B.I.G. song). As I mentioned, you can also get the chili on hard shelled tacos, sloppy Joe, spaghetti, or smothering a pair of Jim's Famous Hot Tamales (which is my preferred way of eating it).

For those unfamiliar with Jim's Famous Hot Tamales: These are not Mexican style tamales, but rather New Orleans style tamales. They are still made with corn masa, but rather than stuffed with meat and wrapped in corn husks they are flavoured with broth and cylindrical in shape. The story goes that a man named Jim moved to Kansas City, from New Orleans, and started slanging his creole favorite from a cart. The tamales caught on, and now you can find them at most every Shell station in Independence and KCMO (and Dixon's).

The inside of Dixon's looks like a classic diner. Checkered table cloths. Banquet style tables. The type of place where you don't have to feel shy about sharing a table with a couple complete strangers.

Dixon's very much reminded me of the chili joint that Bourdain featured on No Reservations (Fred and Red's), during his trip to Joplin. Save, of course, the gastro-intestinal side effects that they talk about at Fred and Red's. There were no side effects to speak of, except awesomeness!

Dixon's Chili Parlor on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beer School

Happy New Year everyone! Last month (or last year, if you will), before my wife got me on this 21 day diet without sugar (or sweeteners), I got the chance to attend a Beer School event at Barley's Brewhaus OP to celebrate (and coincide with) the Founders Brewing release in Kansas. I love Barley's anyway, but this event was really top notch!

If you have never been to Barley's: There are 99 different beers on tap (including those from sister restaurant 75th St. Brewery), and a few more in bottles. But that is not where the fun stops, Chef Ryan does a great job of comprising a menu that brings together all of your bar favorites with items for the more gastronomically inclined. You can get: a pretty dang good buffalo chicken wrap that has just enough kick to it, pub chips with a bacon and bleu cheese sauce, "haus-made" (get it?) Heritage Farms pork meatballs, and "haus-made" Serrano and Kielbasa sausages. Not a huge bleu cheese fan? First of all, why not? Second of all, you are in luck, because the pub chip sauce was crafted as a bleu cheese dip for non-blue cheese eaters. Also, your opinion of bleu cheese is in stark contrast to mine and Chef Ryan's (and Chef Ryan's 3 year old son's). Chef told me a story of how he walked into his living room one Saturday morning to the sight of his 3 year old eating his bleu cheese wheel (that he brought back from Wisconsin) with a spoon while he was watching cartoons. That kid has amazing taste!

But I digress, this is a post about Knile and Gabe (from Founders) coming to Kansas to teach us about Founders brewery and their beers (they also come around to your tables to talk beer with you in case you have questions and are too shy to ask in front of the whole class).

Beer School is a really awesome event that Barley's puts on periodically. My buddy and I had wanted to go to the Free State Brewery Beer School earlier in the year, but it didn't really work for our schedules. A couple more Beer Schools came and went before the stars aligned and we were able to attend one. But Man, it was worth the wait!

I can't speak to all Beer School events (because I have only been to one), but... This is not really a school  that you go to and learn how to brew beer, but rather learn the story behind that brewery's beer (and try an array of their beers). This particular Beer School was set up to essentially be a brewery tour, where instead of you going to the brewery, they bring the brewery to you. But, if you are a home-brewer (or looking to become one) and searching for inspiration: Fear not, there is inspiration coming for you!

Knile is Founders' local rep. An Irishman that actually knows the cabbie that drove Bourdain through Belfast on his Northern Ireland episode. Gabe is Founders' All-Star brewery tour guide. He took us all the way back to the beginning of Founders. Founders started when a couple buddies quit their soul-sucking corporate jobs and started a brewery. They hired a highly revered local homebrewer as their head brewer (see, I told you homebrewers that I had something good for you, almost every one of you go to sleep at night praying for this to happen to you) and all was well with the world.

Initially brewing unexciting beers that Founders' founders thought would appeal to a wider variety of people, business did not go so well. In fact, business went so "not well" that they were in danger of having the brewery foreclosed on. With this looming foreclosure, they started brewing crazy beers (to fill their own beer cellars with). They did not care if anyone else liked these beers, they were only brewing them for themselves. The funny thing is that these crazy beers really caught on, sales went through the roof, and the business was saved. One of their most popular beers, "Dirty Bastard", is even a tribute to the bankers (dirty bastards) that were going to take their brewery from them.

I bet that if you cut Gabe open, he would bleed Red's Rye (discussed below). His family is Founders through and through, his wife works in the tasting room and legend has it that she can make even the most macho men feel inept about the level of spiciness that they can stomach. The legend, as Gabe tells it:

Founders occasionally brews spicy chili beers (Most recently: Mango Magnifico) and Gabe's wife just so happens to love them.
Man at Table of Guests: I would like the chili beer
Gabe's Wife: That beer is really spicy, let me bring you a sample of that before I pour you a full pint.
MATOG: Why, do you not think I can handle that beer?
GW: No, it's not that, I just want you to try it before I pour you a full pint.
MATOG: I am man enough to handle it
GW: Sir, I believe you, but please let me bring you a sample first.
MATOG: No, just bring me a pint of it.

Gabe's wife obliged and when coming back around to check on the table some time later she noticed that the beer had barely been touched. She asked if everything was alright. The man wanted to send the beer back, she refused by saying that she begged him to take a sample first and that he wouldn't take it. When he realized that she wouldn't take it back he claimed that he bought her a beer. After going and clocking out (because you cannot drink on the job), she came back and chugged the beer right in his face!

Fast forward a couple years to the birth of their first child. Gabe and his wife check in to the hospital, get to their room, and then a woman that had been sitting at the chili beer table walks into the room. That woman was their labor and delivery nurse and remembered Mrs. Gabe from the aforementioned encounter. I can only assume that the L&D nurse did not try to push the drugs (if they were not requested) after seeing Mrs. Gabe's pain tolerance. Talk about your all-time epic stories!


But back to the beer. We were set to sample 5 of their beers:

Centennial IPA - Pretty self explanatory: IPA brewed with only Centennial hops. Floral, not bitter, strong IPA.
Porter - Again, pretty self explanatory: A porter (of the sweet and hoppy variety).
Breakfast Stout - Double chocolate, double coffee, double oatmeal stout. So good!
Dirty Bastard - Malt forward beer with hops and slight smoke (not enough to taste like the "hot dog" beer that my buddies and I once brewed though, which is a very good thing!)
Red's Rye - A red rye IPA. A spicy, hoppy, red beer.

But that was not all. They also brought the ever-so-hard-to-obtain KBS for us to sample! People wait in line for days for a chance to buy KBS, it's release is like a beer Black Friday. So you can imagine the smiles on our faces when they busted that out, it was like Beer Christmas! For those that don't know: KBS is a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel aged Breakfast Stout. It is consistently rated in the top 5 beers on both RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com. Simple the best barrel aged beer that I have ever experienced.

That was such a cool surprise, for them to bring the KBS. And that really sumarizes my Beer School experience: Not exactly what I expected to get (although I didn't really know what to expect either), but a pleasant surprise. It has also increased the amount of Founders beer that I buy, by quite a bit.

Cheers!

Barley's Brewhaus on Urbanspoon Barley's Brewhaus on Urbanspoon