Tampa Bay Food Monster

...eating food since 1985.

Seasons 52 Fall Menu 2012

as the summer ends and we bury those loved ones we’ve lost to the intense florida heat, the leaves turn slightly less green, the temperature drops to a brisk 82 degrees, and stars enter their ominous autumnal positions. thus begins fall, and along with the seasonal change comes the change of menus at seasons 52. finally, we can embrace the cozy food stylings of pumpkins and apples, cinnamon and cinna mon.

once again, i was invited out to the special “num num super tasting ‘012″ event, to sample all the delicious foods and drinks, as imagineered by our favorite wacky duo, chef clifford pleau and wineman george miliotes. they were in good spirits, as ever, ending their pre-food presentation with pleau treating us to a special rendition of the major-general’s song, with particular phrases replaced by rhyming food references, and miliotes drinking heavily, slumped in a corner just off camera for the majority of the performance. sadly, sexy crowd favorite enrique iglesias was not available for his endorsement.

portobello mushroom flatbread

we began the evening, as always, with a bunch of flatbread and wine to get us ready for… lots more wine and food. the flatbread this time around was the portobello mushroom flatbread, flavor-blasted with all the cheese (specifically, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and blue cheese). there was also garlic and truffle cream. the mushrooms were nice and tender, and the garlic was pretty great (a clear and strong player), but the flatbread was a bit overwhelmed by the cheese, specifically the blue cheese. i just can’t take too much blue cheese! it just ruins my day. not their best flatbread; that title still belongs to the barbecue chicken flatbread.

the wine we began with was the vista hills orange pinot gris, an interesting, full flavor wine which i cannot seem to find anywhere outside of seasons 52 (internet, thou hast failed me). this guy was an intense, tart, acidic beast almost reminiscent of my father’s homemade wines. it also had the magic touch; that is, the more you drink it, the more the intensity drops, and the more you enjoy it! always a good sign.

hummusi

we were also treated to a delightful pair of hummusi, the “double hummus special” as i’m pretty sure they called it. there was a roasted red pepper, and a green edamame mint. i had the clear foresight to note the edamame mint was “fatty, wet” and the red pepper was “spiced, good, simple clean”. so, rather than getting bogged down in flavors and taste, let’s say the clear winner here was the edamame mint for being green.

cider-glazed grilled chicken skewers

our meal began with the cider-glazed grilled chicken skewers, which instantly appealed to me. what we have here, if you’re not able to see or infer from the name of the dish, is meat on a stick. meat on a stick, as we all know, was the ORIGINAL meal, as invented by keyrock selmon, cave man and master chef. it is simple and effective. this variant featured a lightly applied savory sweet mustard/cider glaze on moist, tender chicken, grilled, and set atop a tart bed of apple/cranberry/pumpkin slaw. it was an excellent combination, and really worked for me. the slaw was a great contrast to the chicken, both in consistency and flavor. the only thing i could ask of it is more glaze on the chicken.

the skewers were paired with the farrier andiron semillon, which was a nice tart and fruity wine, and a bit sweet. it seemed to be on the brink sparkling, and played well against the chicken (though not an intensely special pairing by any means).

maple leaf farms sesame duck salad

next was the maple leaf farms sesame duck salad. now, i love duck. lord love a duck. duck is the bird king. so i basically, by default, had to love this salad. and they did not make that hard for me. the dressing was amazing, a spicy/sweet ginger sesame, providing a mild slow, lasting burn. the duck – delicious, tender and juicy, practically a beef steak, and not oily (as some duck can be). there were pecans, giving it a nice nuttiness. overall impression: this is a great, spicy salad, all parts in a perfect balance.

the salad was accompanied by avanthia godello, a light, crisp, sparkling white wine. the wine was alright, but did not really blow me away at all, and again the pairing with the salad was pleasant but nothing illuminating.

piedmontese steak

and then they brought out this – the piedmontese steak! a fine addition to the autumn menu. it is a great piece of meat, as i explained last time i reviewed seasons 52. long and short of it – it’s a good steak and it’s healthy. and that’s the reason they kept it for this season’s menu from last season. BUT. i wish they had just stuck it on their regular menu and put something else on their seasonal menu. because that’s the whole point of having a constantly changing menu! not that steak doesn’t work any time of the year, any time of the day, but it’s just a missed opportunity. and unless the species of cattle responsible for this steak is quickly going extinct, it doesn’t really need to be stuck on any sort of limited-time list.

the wine was tilia bonarda, velvety smooth, nicely dry red. almost too dry on the finish, but not so much to ruin it. just lovely.

baby broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes

however, there was one difference between the steak this time and last – the sides. before, and as pictured with the steak, the sides consisted of asparagus and fingerling potatoes. but when brought out in group portions, the sides change to what’s shown above: mashed sweet potatoes and “broccolini”, which is a corporate name (it is generically referred to as “baby broccoli”, despite the fact that it is not baby anything). it is a hybrid between what we know as standard broccoli, and the chinese kai-lan, some leafy thing. i had never seen or heard of this monstrosity before, so this is all news to me. the result of the melding? nothing special. the flavor is broccoli meets asparagus in a boring explosion of meh. the sweet potatoes, however, were delightful, fluffy and deliciously sweet (but nothing over the top). it was a really solid side, and a good choice to bring this dish somewhat in line with my autumnal expectations.

manchester farms all-natural grilled quail

and our final contender for the evening was the exciting manchester farms all-natural grilled quail (seasons 52 apparently prides itself on name dropping). it’s quail! grilled quail. little bird. similar to pigeon. i like the idea. it’s beautiful. a fancy bird, for sure. but… they went a bit crazy on the seasoning here. the bird is a tiny thing, so much so that just eating it and maintaining some semblance of dignity is a difficult task for anyone who might call themselves a “food monster”, and it seems to really take on the flavor of anything that touches it. it was salted and given a balsamic glaze, but all i got was salt. the meat was tender, and i’m sure nice, but it was so salty that i was reminded of KFC’s fried chicken. and that is not a good thing.

however, it was accompanied by an awesome risotto, soft savory and warm, with a wonderful mushroom and garlic flavor. sweet chef pleau was totally flipping out over this risotto, punctuating its introduction in the webcast by jumping into a kiddie pool full of the dish, and crying as he rubbed it into his face. and he was right to – it was amazing. as i’ve said before, risotto just has a feel good, home-cooked aura about it, like a comfort food. always good. there was also sauteed spinach, which is another kind of homey-type food, which was nice and light, though the onions wee a bit mushy, which truly enraged me.

and instead of one wine, we were treated to two distinctly different reds, the michael david petite petit, and the glenelly cabernet sauvignon. each provided and example of a style, the former new world, and the latter old world (possibly spelled ‘worlde’). both were good wines. surprisingly, they each started up rather similarly, with a deep, dark fruitiness, but they finished on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. the petite petit was a bit smoother and sweeter, with only a slightly dry finish, and a bit of an astringent edge. the cabernet sauvignon was much a more serious, dry and intense finish, which i definitely preferred. neither had a significant interaction with the quail.

pumpkin pie mini-indulgence

and, as always, we finish with the mini indulgence desserts. the new addition for fall was something just short of the food of the gods: pumpkin pie. accompanied by two gingersnap cookies (one on top, and one plopped in the center to ensure cookie throughout), the pumpkin pie was spot on, a bit smoother than a real pie, but the precise flavor. the ginger snaps, not too hard but not too soft, played against the sweet pie and whipped topping extremely well, and brought out the spices in the pumpkin. i also had the german chocolate cake, which was super rich and had beautiful toasted coconut. the indulgences are always extraordinary.

coming away from the evening, i felt a bit let down. of course, all the food was enjoyable, and the duck salad and chicken skewers were particularly good, but i can’t help but feel the season was not nearly as well articulated through the food as it ordinarily is. which is disappointing, as fall is my favorite season. pumpkin pie, hot apple cider, butternut squash soup… turkey?? the holy grail of food holidays right at the end of fall! and i was disappointed by the reappearance of the steak, despite the fact that it’s delicious. and the wine pairing, for me at least, never seemed as impressive as my first visit in spring, when each wine shed new light on every dish. nevertheless, a good evening, always a good time, at a good restaurant.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Michael Angelo’s Microwavable Meals

ahhh the TV dinner. the most convenient way to enjoy a full meal, and the reason the microwave was invented. how many countless evenings were saved by opting to nuke one of the many varieties of frozen foodstuffs, rather than consume whatever else was at hand (cats, for example)? yes, truly the best alternative to eating cats were tiny trays of frozen food, preferably presented to you by a penguin and his polar bear chef friend:

…i don’t know exactly what the relationship between those two was, but i’m assuming they were partners in every sense of the term. oh, and of course they were retired at some point and replaced with younger, cooler, more extreme/radical versions of themselves (i think the bear died in a snowboarding accident). alas, my love affair with those kooky anthropomorphic cartoon animals ended the day i entered puberty, and went from being a mere hungry boy to a full-on hungry man.

it went on like that for years, until eventually my tastes became far too refined for the likes of hungry mans and kid cuisines, and i began eating real food. hell, i began cooking! and thus, my transformation into a “grown-up” was complete. surely there is no frozen meal authentic enough, fresh enough, high-quality enough, home-style enough to be fit for mature adult consumption. surely not!

…or is there?

michael angelo chicken parmesan box

i was contacted by renowned artist and literal (in the literal sense) renaissance man michelangelo, who is credited not only as the sculptor of david, but with the invention of the microwave dinner. his company, michael angelo’s, pioneers the “microwavable meals that may pass for real food” category, priding themselves in using fresh, real ingredients, small batch preparation, and using only recipes written by michelangelo’s mom, sara.

michael angelo baked ziti and meatballs box

true to their word, quick perusal of their dish’s ingredients reveals really boring stuff, like eggs, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, missing out on family favorites such as delicious high fructose corn syrup and yellow 5. really, what it looks like they’re trying to do is send you leftovers, which you could easily just find in your grandma’s fridge. why microwave something that you already might have available to you, when you could just have THIS??

chicken parmesan frozen

so michelangelo sent me some coupons to pick up a smattering of his frozen delights, and i did just that. our first sampling (my senior assistant/PR specialist and myself) consisted of the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti with meatballs. pictured above is the frozen chicken parmesan, in all its glory.

instructions

now, we were given the option to go with either microwave or conventional oven as our method of heating. being a busy man about town, i clearly have no time for such things as a conventional oven. even the microwave is pushing it, what with their additional 5 minutes standing time. had this not been for review, i would have just tackled the beast frozen, but i am sure that’s not their preferred method of delivery, so i went ahead and…

cooking

nuked that bastard back to the hell from whence it came.

chicken parmesan cooked

this was taken directly after cooking, and i believe it shows. note the signature tiny holes burnt into the sauce and cheese, a hallmark of microwaving technology. mysterious. but after a good stirring, it’s as though it never underwent such treatment, and could even resemble something prepared by a real human!

baked ziti and meatballs frozen

baked ziti and meatballs cooked

the baked ziti was cooked the same way, resulting in what you see above.

now, again, michael angelo’s strives to present you with that home cooked feeling in every meal. the preparation is there (well, on their end, at least), so all that’s left is the presentation. with a bit of effort and a few simple touches, VOILÀ!

romantic dinner for two

accompanied by my father’s fine wine, we have ourselves a romantic dinner for two, and a potential date is none the wiser! WHY, YES. OF COURSE I AM AN ACCLAIMED ITALIAN CHEF. I THOUGHT YOU KNEW! *looks at camera, winks*

as for the meals, they were better than your average TV dinner fare. the sauce michael angelo uses is actually quite good, with noticeable effort put in it. there’s a clear, almost fresh tomato taste that somehow survives the harsh barrage of microwaves, which is pretty impressive. the cheese is good, though the mozzarella cubes occasionally don’t cook all the way through. but the meat and pasta is where you realize this is still a microwaved dinner.

the pasta tastes like something you might find in stouffer’s box. the ziti less so, but the spaghetti packaged with the chicken parmesan was not impressive. it was not tough or anything, but it just had that not-quite-real feeling to it. and the meat – the meatballs were lackluster, which i mostly attribute to their being microwaved, but also think that their consistency was not quite meaty enough. too much ball. the chicken parmesan, too, was much as a standard microwave chicken patty might be. there’s no way to prepare anything fried properly in a microwave; it just doesn’t work. the flavors were there, though, which is a plus.

i think perhaps these meals would have turned out better had i bit the bullet and oven cooked them, but i figured this is the most likely way a consumer will make them. i actually have had michael angelo’s lasagna before, cooked in the oven, and it really did turn out quite well. just something to consider.

michael angelo lasagna with sausage box

i also tried the lasagna with sausage the next day. of all the available products i found at publix when purchasing these meals, the lasagna with sausage was the one that had been clearly favored by the public, with a mere four boxes remaining versus the typical endless grocer’s freezer supply. i thought this was a good sign.

lasagna with sausage frozen

lasagna with sausage cooked

as it turns out, the public was right. this was far superior to both the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti, featuring the same quality sauce, mozzarella, and some ricotta cheese that i somehow enjoyed (typically, i don’t). the pasta actually came together well here, perhaps due to its stacking with cheese and merging with all around it. the sausage, again arguably the downfall of the dish, really appealed to me, carrying similar notes to sausages of all the greatest cardboard pizzas past. it seemed to lack that “real meat” quality, but still had good flavor. it was pork, as reported by the ingredients list, and it convinced me that all lasagna should be prepared with sausage. the overall result of the lasagna was quite solid, seriously reminiscent of a homemade meal, reheated in the microwave. just like grandma!!

what brought this opportunity to me in the first place was an upcoming celebrity chef cooking class, where the REAL MICHELANGELO (michael angelo) and his REAL MOTHER SARA (sara) will be imparting the ways of the force on all young padawans in attendance. it’s coming up soon, this thursday night (october 18th) at the citrus park publix on gunn highway. you can get more information here, and make reservations by calling 813-926-4465.

you should probably just do it. i mean, how often do you get a chance to meet one of the ninja turtles??

The Sweetie Apple

“GIMME A TASTE OF YO’ SWEETIE”

yes, this is the clever marketing campaign of the new sweetie apple, brought to you by the fine folks at first fruits, makers of the excellent opal apple i reviewed earlier this year. or, at least it would be, if they chose me as their new PR dude/ad man (i’m right here guys, ready and waiting). here are a couple more potential advertisements right off the top of my head:

“no more crapple in your apple!”

“cram this sweetie in your pie”

“bob for this!” *points to crotch*

yeah, i know, i’m a genius. send me an email and i’ll work for you.

so no, they don’t really have any awesome ad campaigns like this out there yet, and that’s why they sent me some of these apples – so i can spread the gospel for them.

sweetie

here we are. this is the sweetie apple. she is beautiful, born from the forbidden union of the gala and the braeburn apples, and borrowing key aspects from each. they are fairly solid, and i’d say throwing one at someone’s face would result in a hard hit rather than explosion, unless that person had a soft skull, in which case there may be an explosion anyway. i believe this is the truest test of an apple.

sweetie bite

so this guy is called a sweetie, but honestly that is not the name i would go with (unless they mean sweet with regards to disposition, which i guess fits but i mean come on who’s ever heard of a sour apple oh i just got that). that is to say this isn’t the sweetest apple i’ve ever stuck in my gob, so the name is a bit misleading. the problem here being i am an american, and i enjoy things sweet. fruit, as i see it, is merely a candy substitute for when the doctor finally tells me i have diabetes, so having an apple that is not as sweet as, say, a bag of sugar is not something i really need to waste my time on. that being said, this is still a pretty good apple despite its less-than-teeth-rotting sweetness.

the flavor actually is a bit sweet, but nothing like the opal apple was, and it fades into an almost lightly spicy finish, which is really nice. that leads me to believe that this apple would be great for a pie, or any situation that might need a balance for sweetness (caramelized fried apples, perhaps). these guys are fairly crisp and quite juicy, all held together by a skin that is not super tough, but thicker than some, which hopefully will help it deal when i say it’s good, but not my favorite apple ever.

“eatie a sweetie!”

GOD HOW AM I NOT GETTING PAID FOR THIS??

BGR The Burger Joint

so burgers, eh? burgers be BLOWIN UP! everywhere. all over the place. everybody seems to think that just because they use real beef rather than the dehydrated dog turds that many fast food restaurants rely on (an entirely fair and researched accusation), they are the burger champs. five guys? burger 21? delicious, delicious burger monger?? WHAT A BUNCH OF JERKS. i mean, come on guys, get with the program – burgers are boring. i’m really into corn on the cob now.

BUT for those stuck in 2011, your burger options are huge. especially if you’re a carrollwood resident. there are like ten burger places within walking distance of each other. they each have their own thing going for them, though, and BGR is no exception.

bgr exterior

BGR – the burger joint, is one of the recent additions to carrollwood’s offering of burger places, on dale mabry, fairly close to the burger 21. i was invited recently to come try the burgers, and meet the founder. this particular burger place (actually a joint) is the one with the gourmet burgers. you know, GOURMET. fancy-style. there’s a lot of flavor to be found here, and no, i’m not just talking about the burgers. did somebody say ROCK AND ROLL??

…no? nobody said anything about rock and roll? cause i’m pretty sure someone mentioned it. maybe it was… this guy??

nope.

it’s the guy on the right. that’s the guy. mark bucher. he’s the man who birthed BGR, and he is, in fact, the guy who said something about “rock and roll”. because he was a DJ. and the distinct flavor of “rock and roll” is infused in every BGR restaurant. but i’m getting ahead of myself! let’s start at the beginning.

bgr patty

here we go. this is the beginning. a lump of steaming hot beef. cooked to perfection. this was the dream of mark bucher (or dj butch, as i will refer to him from now on). and by dream, i mean extreme obsession, resulting in a 16 month self proclaimed “burger-palooza”, in which he went around the country, from restaurant to restaurant, tasting every burger he could find, driving himself further and further into beef-induced insanity. he may or may not have been dressed as the hamburglar throughout the duration of this trip.

so, this magical trip resulted in the magical creation of a magical beef patty, consisting of a combination of separately ground dry aged prime beef steaks culled from some of the finest dead cattle in america. the recipe is SO secret, that only three living beings are familiar with it. secret beefs. and as it turns out, secret beefs are pretty tasty beefs. these patties are more like steak than hamburger in flavor, and the steak merges together into a beautiful meaty texture. incredibly satisfying.

so he’s got the beef. now throw that on a locally grown brioche bun (from one of tampa’s many bun bushes), add some of BGR’s signature MOJO sauce (typical 1000 island special sauce with a bit of a zing), and set it to some classic summertime music and framed music posters on the wall (music selected by dj butch himself), and you are now sitting in the burger joint.

the wellington

THEN put a whole bunch of crap on it, and your face will explode with flavor. that’s the heart of BGR… high concept gourmet burgers. oh, sure, you can order some pansy-ass normal lettuce-and-tomato burger, but the staff won’t look you in the eyes, and your kids will no longer respect you. that’s the risk you run. you really wanna mess around with that fire? nah, i didn’t think so.

so we begin with the wellington. pictured above, this monster features the mojo sauce, blue cheese, and a blend of mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic, black truffles, and the upsettingly hedonistic foie gras. the word decadent is the best way i can describe this… it’s ridiculously rich, intense, and in your face. so much so that the flavor the the burger is completely lost behind savory madness. pitting this against a plain burger with just mojo sauce and a slice of cheese would be no contest in my mind – give me the plain. in fact, i enjoyed eating the patty by itself more than the wellington.

greek bgr

we were subjected to a whole bunch of burgers on this fine evening. and surprisingly, each of them made use of a different animal for the patty (save one, which i’ll get to later). this burger was the greek, with a delicious lamb burger patty. the patty was highly seasoned (cumin & garlic), reflecting BGR’s preference for giant, in your face flavors. there was a bit of a gameyness to it, which was nice to have in a burger. its toppings included tzatziki sauce, onions, tomatoes, cucumber, and feta. i understood the toppings – the whole thing reminded me of a gyro – but again i’d really prefer more time with the meat itself. and maybe a little less seasoned.

ahi tuna bgr

the ahi tuna burger was the best balanced, in my opinion, which may have been a direct result of the mildness of the seared tuna steak used as the patty (ferrealz tuna steak, not a gross tuna burger patty). the sandwich was accented by pineapple, ginger, teriyaki sauce, and the mojo sauce. everything played well together, melding into a beautiful tropical/pacific feel; again, though, the quality of the meat made me wish i was eating it by itself. delicate and delicious.

turkey bgr

voted the “best turkey burger in america” by… eh i don’t know, jesus maybe, BGR’s turkey burger is a masterpiece of modern science, resulting from the unholy union of turkey, mushrooms, and blue cheese. the turkey meat is combined with cheese and mushrooms for moisture and added falvrons, and then the patties are prepared using a sous-vide method, packing the sweet, sexy turkey meat into vacuum-sealed plastic bags, and cooking them at low temperatures until they’re juicy lumps of food. the result is a soft, moist, somewhat chewy, salty and flavorful patty with a bit of a wacky, meaty texture unlike any turkey i’ve ever eaten. probably the best turkey burger i’ve ever eaten, though the competition is not very impressive.

sweet potato fries (the orange standard)

sweet potato fries were served around this point, and thus began the veggie portion of this event. the fries were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and naturally sweet. very simple, effective sweet potato fries.

veggie bgr

and here is the veggie burger. yes, even dj butch sold out and made a veggie burger, which actually turned out to be pretty good! i spent a full month as a vegetarian once, and i would definitely have eaten this burger then. it is comprised largely of black beans and brown rice, as is the flavor (skewing towards the beans). it is savory, and the outside grilled up so nicely that you wouldn’t know it’s not karmically linked to the death of innocents.

asparagus fries (the green standard)

we were also given these, grilled asparagus with a balsamic glaze, garlic, and parmesan cheese. it was actually really good! i seriously never have much to say about asparagus, but this was grilled so well, and the extra flavors were just enough, that i really loved this. it’s scary, but i might actually consider these as an alternative to french fries (as they suggest).

double chocolate shake

and as a final “get the hell out of my store”, we were given delicious chocolate shakes, which were super heavy on the chocolate. it was like drinking melted ice cream. rich, creamy, and thick, made with bryer’s™ brand ice cream.

my impression of BGR is that it’s a good place, but perhaps not for me. everything i like about BGR lies within the beef patty, but i was so blasted with flavors that i didn’t have the time to really appreciate the beef itself (and that’s all i wanted to do). their preparation of the meat is incredible, and it truly is like eating a steak, but going for anything with too many toppings on it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. or the opposite of that, i guess. drowning the baby with extra bath water. whatever. i prefer burger monger, for the simplicity of their beef, but i would go back to BGR again and get something nice and simple. it’s definitely a good burger joint, but it’s just not mine.

UPDATE: sadly, the carrolwood BGR is now closed. perhaps this event was a last ditch effort to bring in more customers; alas it did not work. if you find yourself sitting in the parking lot, questioning what kind of a god would allow such a thing to happen, stop in the play n trade right next door, buy a video game, then go eat at burger monger or burger 21.

BGR The Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

EATS! American Grill

 

EATS. AMERICA. GRILLS.
 
all the best stuff, packed into one place. that place? eats! american grill. it’s like uncle sam got stoned, wrote down all the food he craved, and passed out. then his sneaky nephew, america itself, went through his star spangled trousers, swiped the list and a wad of dough, and made a restaurant with it. this is that restaurant.

eats american grill

eats! resides on south dale mabry, waaayyy down there past the krystal burger and britton plaza. the basic idea is this: it’s a bar/grill type restaurant, featuring traditional american dishes from all across the country. i’m not talking hominy and grits, i’m talking american born ultra foods, like HAMBURGERS and CHILI CHEESE CONEYS. if you ever have any doubts that america is great, just grab a philly cheesesteak or some buffalo wings, and go to town on them as you think about all those lazy starving kids in their godless third world countries. that is what america is all about.

inside eats

i was invited to check out eats! by fellow food-eater tracy of my other city by the bay. she organized a whole nice little event, which supplied me with enough food to feed a small third world country. i had never been to eats! before, but was delighted to find that the restaurant itself matched the food theme, providing guests with booze and sports television in addition to the food. also, the kids corner *shudders*. it’s a nice enough atmosphere, reminiscent of a ruby tuesday’s. we were seated, and immediately given alcohol. SWEET SWEET NECTAR.

magic hat 9

magic hat #9 was my choice. specially brewed by harry potter himself, magic hat #9 is rumored to be distilled from dumbledore’s blood. crisp, a bit bitter, but generally light and mildly fruity. a good beer.

house chips

our drinks were accompanied by eats!’s in-house made potato chips, which were thick, crisp, and warm. they were served with their fancy homemade ranch dressing, whose secret recipe may or may not involve mexico. a really solid seasoned sauce.

jalapeno pepper jack slider

and the real food begins! we started with sliders, in the style of jalapeño pepper jack, and black and blue. the jalapeño pepper jack sliders were decent, but nothing special. the pepper jack and peppers and grilled onions didn’t play into it as strongly as i would hope, and there was no sauce, leaving the burger patty to fend for itself, which i don’t think really works for a slider. the meat was good, but you look for an assortment of exciting toppings in a slider. exciting toppings like you might find on:

black and blue slider

yes, the black and blue is the winner of the two. blue cheese, to me, is always a risk. i like it, but only in moderation, because i’m too much of a baby to handle it. but the ratio of blue cheese to juicy burger to bun to INCREDIBLE little red onions was perfect, making this a tiny lil’ puck of grilled goodness. vote YES on black and blue.

the wings

and there were wings! god i love wings. shown above, from left to right, are the cajun bbq, sweet thai, spicy chipotle, and garlic parmesan. they were all fried and super crispy, which i like, and all decent sized. the best was the cajun bbq, a sweet, sticky, spicy mess of awesome. solid barbecue sauce. not too spicy, but highly enjoyable nonetheless. the sweet thai were just that – sweet. like a honey sweet. not bad, but nothing amazing. the spicy chipotle were really not all that spicy at all, with a light afterburn to the glaze. and the garlic parmesan were a bit of a disappointment, reminding me of twinz’ traditional wings, mostly just naked, with a bit of garlic and parmesan flavor. i will have to try their buffalo, to get a real taste of that AMERICANA.

midwest blt

the light spiciness of the wings comes as a bit of a surprise, with the knowledge of eats!’s heat sauce, as featured on their midwest BLT. this little gem comes standard with bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomatoes, which is a cool twist, on toast, with spicy sauce and giant peppers skewered to them for a touch of in-your-face-attitude. AMERICA STYLE. however, the sandwiches we were given had the “heat sauce”, rather than their regular spicy sauce, which was like dropping a nuclear bomb six miles outside of the city – the residual radiation is enough to give your tongue cancer. it was so intensely spicy that i had two bites, and i could not finish the rest. and i am someone who enjoys spicy foods. now, had this been an eating contest, i could have finished it no problem, but this is not something you would want to eat casually.

still, points for a fun sandwich. just don’t ruin it with the heat.

philly cheesesteak

near the end, they threw a couple more sandwiches at us, including a philly cheesesteak. i had just recently lamented never having tried a cheesesteak with cheese whiz in my review of philly phlava, so i was surprised to see this sandwich indeed served with the whiz. unfortunately, i didn’t really get the philly vibe from this sandwich… the meat was just not right. maybe overcooked? it was a bit tough. i like the idea of the cheese whiz, and it was okay, but i’ll have to try it elsewhere because this didn’t meld together right. the bread was decent, though.

bin on weck

and there was the bin on weck, which is really a beef on weck, which my girlfriend drunkenly called “bin on wet”, which i amended to the funnier “bin on blech”. however, my feelings do not reflect her negative ones, nor the hilarious joke i made. the beef on weck sandwich is from new york, and traditionally consists of roast beef on a kümmelweck roll, served with au jus and horseradish sauce on the side. it is served here with the horseradish sauce directly on the sandwich. i don’t especially care for horseradish, but this sandwich all came together really well for me. i love au jus, and the horseradish was not too intense (much like the blue cheese, so maybe they just know how to portion properly). i think their french dip would probably be superior, with the addition of cheese and the subtraction of the horseradish altogether, but this is still good. my only complaint would be the intensity of the caraway fruits (strong anise-type taste), which kind of makes it gross. again, french dip is probably the way to go.

fried oreo chocolate martini

at the end, we were provided with the amazing fried oreo chocolate martini, a chocolate martini with a fried oreo stuck on top. amazing. it was great. with oreo crumbles around the rim (totally inspired), it was a sweet and creamy chocolate drink. like a yohoo! but with alcohol. and the fried oreo is so incredible. the drink is great, but definitely something you don’t want to order all the time. just every now and then, as a special treat. they also serve a fried oreo sundae, which is probably awesome.

SO. all in all, a great time, and a good restaurant. the concept really works for me, but the execution is a bit lacking. again, it comes into chili’s and tgi fridays territory because of the televisions and the bar. i don’t mind the bar, but a straight up focus on the foods and the areas they come from would probably be to their benefit. and some of the regional dishes were not up to par, which was disappointing. i want this to be the first place i think to go to when i want a philly, but i think maybe it’s impossible to maintain excellence among such a variety of dishes. HOWEVER, they do have this:

eats challenge

…which is exactly like the big belly burger challenge, which is the first thing i think of when i think the word “excellence”. so there’s that!

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