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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

What’s for Dinner?

CHOW's man on the street goes deep and finds out what is on the menu tonight. READ MORE

The Best Sticky Buns Ever (and ‘Cue in a Citgo)

Boone, North Carolina

This northwest corner isn’t the chowiest part of N.C., but two terrific places are quite near Maverick Farms.

Citgo Market, a.k.a. Foscoe Country Corner (8937 Highway 105 South, Boone, North Carolina; 828-963-6409), makes the best barbecue (hickory-smoked!) in this part of the state (the mountains are not known for good barbecue). The meat itself is very well smoked, but most North Carolinians would quibble with the sauce, which is too sweet.



This joint makes pretty good cheeseburgers too.

MoonPies and RC Cola are a classic combination, sort of sweetness squared.

Johnson’s Bakery, a.k.a Kersh’s Old World Bakery (106-1 Clubhouse Drive, Highway 105, Foscoe, North Carolina; 828-963-5668), makes these:

... the best sticky buns I’ve ever eaten

Excellent scone and brownie

Real good muffins (here we see their wistful side, headin’ down that lonesome highway …)

I made my way down to Charlotte, where I ate some fairly pedestrian fried chicken in a few places but went ga-ga over the lardy-crusted coconut custard pie at United House of Prayer for All People (2321 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte, North Carolina; 704-394-3884). The measure of its quality can be gauged by my failure to shoot the photo before having scarfed most of it.

As at all United House of Prayer cafeterias, quality is quite variable, according to which church ladies cook on a given day.

Shelby, near Charlotte, is a mecca for barbecue, and
Bridge’s Barbecue Lodge (2000 E. Dixon Boulevard/Highway 74, Shelby, North Carolina; 704-482-8567) is a local legend. I found their ‘cue dismayingly blah. Perhaps I arrived at the wrong time of day. Pretty good hush puppies, though.



Tomorrow I head east into prime barbecue territory, and I’m really hoping for some ‘cue that blows my doors off.

I’m Vegetarian but I Eat Bacon

I’m Vegetarian but I Eat Bacon

I'm no more a carnivore than a straight woman who occasionally makes out with other girls is a lesbian. READ MORE

Little Ray of Loudness

While the show has been met with rave and not-so-rave reviews, Rachael Ray debuted with “the highest ratings for a daytime show since Dr. Phil in 2002,” and even Martha Stewart is worried.

Reportedly, some staffers from the Queen of Quiches’ camp tried to secretly infiltrate the show using aliases but were thwarted by an eagle-eyed security guard who also works on Martha’s show. Now, do we really think the Duchess of Doughnuts seriously felt the need to do some recon when she could just watch the show herself? Maybe those staffers were wondering if a better life on another show existed in Rachael Ray’s loud, loud world.

Speaking of loud, that is the primary impression I took away from Rachael’s new show. Seriously, I’m convinced she needs to mainline Ricola in order to avoid completely losing her voice after the first 30 minutes. Other impressions I got? Well, the pre-credits sequence had Ray Ray laughing manically in the exact same way two different times. It was rather creepy, but by the third show, they had removed one of the laughs. The unfortunate thing is that whenever I hear the sole guffaw, I still hear the other one IN MY HEAD.

In all seriousness, as long as I’ve railed against Rachael Ray in my living room, online, and to my mother-in-law, I can’t believe I’ve possibly, maybe become addicted to her new talk show. It’s not so much that I want to pick up tips for shoe shopping, or watch her play “big sister” to her audience members and cure them of what scares them by jumping out of planes or whathaveyou, I think it’s more that I want to see just how crazy she gets. And while Rachael Ray doesn’t commit the food atrocities that regularly drag Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade ass in front of the Television Without Pity Tribunal, I’m still not that into her food ideas.

Pretzel/Potato Chip Tasting, and Jim Meets Chickens

Banner Elk, North Carolina

Maverick Farms
Maverick Farms (410 Justus Road, Banner Elk, North Carolina; 828-963-4656) has become one of my favorite getaways. I can’t write about the place objectively anymore because I’ve become friends with the proprietors, but my original article about them, written several years ago, still delivers the gist. So, before I update, let me replay that piece:

The Enigma of Maverick Farms

Maverick Farms is hard to describe. It’s an organic, politically aware nonprofit small farm run by super-foodie hipsters who bring a dot-com sensibility to their work. Remember all those Internet upstarts back in 1998 where nobody outside—or even inside—the company understood what the company actually did, and everything rolled forward via sheer exuberance? That’s Maverick Farms. They claim to grow things, and I actually did see some salad greens growing plus a few chickens, but … I don’t know. I suspect Maverick Farms is more of a state of mind than an actual farming operation. To be fair, though, I did arrive late in the season. The badminton court may brim with soybeans and corn in the summer, who knows?

It’s a beautiful big farmhouse on a beautiful creek in a beautiful hollow, though, and that’s all that matters, from the viewpoint of an agritourist (their term for guests). They rent out (short or long term) some rooms, e.g. a beautiful downstairs corner space with awesome view and veranda and private bathroom for just $65/night, or a little monastic bedroom for a mere $25/night—a steal in this increasingly boutiquey area. Speaking of the area, I was strongly corrected that western North Carolina is NOT the South—it’s Appalachia. People hereabouts fought on the Union side.

For an extra $13/day, you can be served dinner, which is excellent and very California-style, very much about letting the goodness of the ingredients sing out. And the ingredients are up to the task. Those salad greens, for example, are hallucinogenic in their intensity and persistence of flavor; coated with a dab of oil and vinegar, they steal every meal they accompany. Portions are modest; a typical dinner consists of a shallow bowl of squash soup, and some of those psychedelic salad greens with freshly baked bread and well-chosen olive oil, all top-drawer.

The Mavericks have channels to get unpasturized farm milk (they’re all about channels; their forte seems more in provisioning rather than in actual growing). It comes in enormous jars from which you scoop out rich, extra vivid life-affirming milk. Cereal will never taste the same again.

I attended one of Maverick Farms’ occasional $35 farm dinners. It could be described in two ways: 1. a way to divest the local gentry of some of their lucre in order to support the operation, or 2. an outpouring of culinary expressionism from exuberant cooks using ingredients grown or procured with a great deal of care and who love an excuse to blow out a serious dinner.

The menu will give you the idea:

  • Cornmeal Flatbread with Garlic and Parsley Confit, Olive Tapenade, and Homemade Ricotta-Chipotle Spread

  • Springhouse Farm Fresh Salad
  • Candy Roaster Squash Soup Garnished with Spicy Cilantro Pesto
  • Cider Glazed Pork Roast with Homemade Pear Chutney and Root-Vegetable Puree or (for vegetarians) Homemade Ricotta and Sage Gnocchi
  • Both Entrees Garnished with Braised Greens
  • Sweet Potato Flan with Sesame Tuilles

Long tables are set up in the farmhouse, and the aforementioned gentry (professors at a local college, landowners, yuppie gentrifiers) get their status buttons pushed via several courses of fancy gourmet cooking described with a rich cavalcade of adjectives. For my part, I enjoyed some top-notch flavors as well as some (charming) near misses. Guests bring their own wine, and nobody shares.

These infrequent dinners aside, if you’re looking for a rustic getaway at very reasonable price, and want to immerse yourself in some very high level rural-yet-sophisticated foods and foodways, Maverick Farms is a smart choice. Note: I actually split wood.

This time I arrived earlier in the season and saw some actual farming going on. Not at any vast scale, but certainly some interesting—even weirdo—foods. I’ll let Leo Gaev of Maverick Farms take you on four video tours.

Video 1: Wild volunteer tomatoes, husk cherries, and purple Osaka

Video 2: Hops … and a major greenhouse initiative

Video 3: Meet Leo’s bees

Video 4: Surrealistically fastidious chickens

I risked my life to bring you this report.

This is not actually food. Look closely.

Typical Maverick Farms salad (all homegrown, of course)

Let the pretzel tasting begin …

Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzel and Potato Chip Tasting Notes

Way back in installment #8, I went a bit overboard at Yoder’s Market in New Holland, Pennsylvania, filling my shopping cart compulsively with bag after bag of lardy potato chips and hand-pulled pretzels. At Maverick Farms, a tasting panel was organized to evaulate them. The following are my conclusions, with input from the panel.

Pretzels

Old Fashioned Hammond’s Hand Made
Pretzels
(”... taste the difference”)
Very malty, almost like malted milk. Uninteresting texture.

Unique Pretzels Splits
A clean, simple, pure pretzel. Good for an extended pretzel bender.

Martin’s Special Handmade Pretzels —Akron, Pennsylvania
Shattery texture. Each pretzel is unique, varying in darkness, saltiness, thinness, everything. Very interesting and delicious.

Martin’s Hand Twisted Hearth Pretzels
Light color. Crumbly/crunchy rather than shattery. Funky flavors —I taste onion and pork, but the ingredients list reveals nothing unusual.

Uncle Henry’s Handmade Pretzels
I can taste the wood oven they’re baked in, but it’s subtle. Check out the ashes on the salt! Fine crunch.

The following three brands tasted soapy/perfumy because they’d apparently been poorly stored at the grocery.

Wege of Hanover Broken Sourdough Hard Pretzels

King’s Broken Hard Pretzels

Dieffenbach’s Sourdough Broken Pretzels

Lard-Fried Potato Chips

Dieffenbach’s
I hardly taste potato. It’s all pig. There are chips where you have to point out the fact that they’re lard-fried to people. Dieffenbach’s are not among those chips. Good texture, and they’re thick-cut.

Good’s Blue Bag
Also very lardy, but the potato flavor shines through (unlike in Dieffenbach’s!). Texture is more shattery than crisp.

Good’s Red Bag
Lard is very nicely integrated; more potato-y than Lewis Good’s or Dieffenbach’s.

Nibble with Gibble’s
This chip does it all. Texture is full-out crisp, not flaky. This is the first one where I find my hand reaching for more.

Family Owned Markets Kettle Cooked
A generic chip I’d never spotted before. We think they’re Dieffenbach’s.

Other Snacks

Utz Classic Russets Gourmet Dark potato chips
Not lard-fried, but I love ‘em. My favorite dark chips since Cape Cod went downhill.

Kettle Krisp All Natural Caramel Corn
Ingredients: brown sugar, popcorn, corn syrup, salt.
Without butter, it tastes overly simple, like Cracker Jacks sans prize.

PETA’s Butterball Blues

Derrick of An Obsession with Food posted a thought-provoking discussion Friday of “Butterball’s House of Horrors,” a recent PETA exposé of poultry slaughterhouses. In the four-minute video, we see undercover footage taken by a PETA investigator who gets a job as a slaughterhouse worker; the video documents some rough treatment of turkeys and a lot of angry, swear-word-laced rants directed at the birds, all narrated by the investigator, who appears only as a shaved-headed figure sitting in the shadows. Derrick brings up the good point that the video does a lot more telling than showing; much of the most egregious language and behavior would be unintelligible without the narration.

More frustrating to me are the conclusions that PETA draws from the investigation: “If even one person sees this video and stops eating birds, it will be worth it,” the investigator says in the last line of the video.

I mean, OK, they are PETA—their whole shtick is to speak out against meat eating, convert carnivores, etc. (and as Derrick points out, there are many animal-rights groups out there with more palatable tactics). But I actually think PETA is in a position to have some impact and start some engaging debate about the merits of vegetarianism—it just needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with this kind of rhetoric. Just because Butterball workers subject turkeys to horrific treatment, does that impugn all turkey farmers (and by extension all bird eaters)? At a time of unprecedented access to organic and sustainable meats, increased consumer education about humane livestock handling, and rampant flexitarianism, few people would say yes.

I’d love to hear a rational discussion about the morality of raising animals for slaughter, period, whether or not they’re raised organically/sustainably. And now that strict vegetarianism is at its lowest rate in years—even Vegetarian Times, the OG of veg-friendly cooking magazines, has found that 70 percent of its readership dabbles in meat eating—it seems like the debate is just going to have to get smarter.

Mr. Hound’s Wild Ride

Roanoke, Virginia, to Boone, North Carolina

No edibility to report, just a manic ride down the Blue Ridge Highway, fueled by extraordinarily sugary coffeecake. Come along for the ride via this video (blow it up to full screen for maximum effect). Special bonus: the onscreen debut of Eartha, my GPS concierge.

First Video

Then a stop to practice trombone (hotels usually discourage horn playing, so highway rest stops are the perfect rehearsal studios when you’re on the road).

Second Video

Note: Here are Amazon links for the Mexican banda compilations (both out of print but available used): Todo Banda and Todo Banda, Vol. 2.

To Seat, or Not to Seat

Food writer Andrea Strong raises two excellent and underconsidered big-think dining questions in her weekly column, “The Strong Buzz.”

First, what is the story with restaurants not seating incomplete parties? Why can’t we just sit down and
order drinks (and maybe have a little pre-dinner nosh), while waiting for that one friend that is always late?

Pure speculation: It may be that the first two or three hundred times that customers claimed their straggling friends would be nipping along smartly, only to have the latecomers arrive a full hour late, it was kind of cute. After that, it became ridiculous to let three people monopolize a table for six while waiting for Sheila and Dan to wrap up their monthly expedition to IKEA.

And what about refusing to transfer checks from the bar to the table? What’s the issue here?

This seems to be considerably more well grounded. We now have tiny, Wi-Fi–enabled animals that can tell you when your email has arrived, how your stocks are doing, and what the weather’s going to be —maintaining a single check for bar and restaurant seems to be well within the grasp of the modern dining
establishment.

Fine Local Bacon

What is the best bacon to be had in the Bay Area? One favorite is the bacon from Fatted Calf. This thick-cut bacon is striated with gorgeous ribbons of fat, glowing with a fresh, pale inner light. It’s a meaty, assertive bacon–a little goes a long way. This is the ultimate bacon for a BLT, says Carb Lover, cooked just shy of crispy so the flavor isn’t muted. At $10 a pound, it’s actually a deal.

Another strong contender for best bacon is Dittmer’s. Their regular smoked bacon is leaner than Fatted Calf’s, but thick-cut, smoky, and delicious. However, the fat content really depends on the batch, says DrBiggles.

The bacon from Corralitos Market is a good go-to bacon, says Alan408. And the Nueske slab bacon from Baron’s Meats is a good alternative when you can’t get the superior Fatted Calf bacon, says Ruth Lafler.

The Fatted Calf [East Bay]
958 Illinois St., San Francisco
510-653-4327
Map

Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus [Peninsula]
400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
650-941-3800
Locater

Corralitos Market & Sausage Company [Santa Cruz County]
569 Corralitos Rd., Watsonville
831-722-2633
Map

Baron’s Meats [East Bay]
Alameda Marketplace
1650 Park St., Alameda
510-864-1915
Locater

Board Links
How I became addicted to Fatted Calf bacon…

Luscious Brunch

Up semi-early on a Sunday? Here are a few brunch dishes to get you motivated.

For those into fancy-shmancy, Grand Caf