Funny - I just read that e-mail too, and looked through his blog notes. I'll surely be going there as soon as I can, because I miss real pizza!
I need to get my ass back in gear. You know how you put off replying to a friend's e-mail and then it gets easier an easier to put off? Well I have more to write here and will have it updated this weekend: Blue Plate Cafe, O'Connor's, Ketchup, and some second-visits.
Sorry for the time off!
Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q
This is an old one I forgot to post. Back when I was house hunting and on a BBQ hunt, I saw smoke billowing from down the street and had to check it out. The smokehouse behind the kitchen/dining area was in full gear, and enveloping all businesses down wind (I think one was a fitness club) in white hickory goodness. The drivethrough had a line doing it's best to keep off the highway, and the dining room only had two open tables at that time.
I had a combo plate of beef and ribs with potato salad and coleslaw. Absolute heaven, especially since I still had Gibson's (see above) on my mind from the day before. All the meats were full of flavor and tender as could be. The sauce is the best I've had so far here, and in the top three ever for me. The ribs had a lot of meat, and the portions were big.
I was well-advised earlier to ignore the sides, but it's not possible at Thomas. In my opinion, the best ever. vinegar slaw that is chipped fine. Not just shredded, but finely chopped. Same with the potato salad. Chopped finely, and so good I ordered a second side.
I went the next day as well to try the catfish, and it was not bad - moist, not too much cornmeal breading, but the meat was by far the star of the show. I doused it in the barbecue sauce because it's taht damn good, but didn't try it with the white sauce. The hushpuppies were hard as ever, but I don't mind anymore as I don't see the point of them anyway. The catfish was good, but the best part of this day's lunch was the potato salad and coleslaw.
I strongly recommend Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q. If I have a catered party, this is the place I'm calling.
Side note: I'm not going to Smokey's down the street because not only is there no evidence of actual barbecue going on, the parking lot is always empty. Unless someone has a good reason to try it, I'm probably not going to.
As per another of Ima's suggestions, I had dinner at Surin in Madison, and as always, on 72 because after work I do not feel like exploring side streets. There is also one on Airport Road in Huntsville.
First off, loved it. The food is not fusion, but I think I'd describe the restaurant as such. A little from Japan, China, Thailand, etc. While I didn't even scratch the surface of the menu, it looks like they avoided going fusion, which I don't really like.
At 17:00 the place was a ghost town, but a beautifully decorated, dimly lit ghost town. By 18:00 the front parking lot was full. The staff was professional and well-synced. No waiting for something to be picked up from the window if my waiter was busy. Very helpful with the recommendations, and polite.
No other way to start out a meal like this (for me) than with a dry martini, and they know how to do them well. A bit on the pricey side, but good enough that I thought about a second. I had mainly sushi, but had an appetizer and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. It was finely chopped and stir fried pork with chillies, red onion, lemon grass, and plenty of other seasoning, with a wedge of cabbage that is more for just spooning it onto or pushing the mixture onto a spoon. It was very tender, spicy and somehow light, if that makes any sense. No oil remaining from the stir fry, and while it should serve two, it didn't make a dent in my hunger.
I chose their Rock n' Roll (Dragon roll reconfigured, without cucumber: freshwater eel, avocado, eel sauce), the standard Rainbow Roll, and a Spicy Tuna Roll. Those three are what I usually get first at a new place for me. The eel absolutely melted in my mouth and was thankfully not served chilled. The eel sauce was not overly thick and salty like some bargain sushi places. The rainbow roll was put together very well, fresh, and delicious. It was pretty straightforward. The spicy tuna really impressed me. It was not minced and blended with a little chili sauce, it was a nice cut that was marinaded, actually SPICY, and not overly chilled. The eel and tuna stood out the most, and are actually the best priced as well.
My normal desert with such a meal would be two pieces of salmon roe, but the chef was out. So I had two pieces of sea eel, and it too was pretty good, but not as good as salmon roe, or even the freshwater eel.
For sushi, I'm with Ima - this is the go-to place. The only place that could be better is the one on Airport road, if the chef is more experienced. Something for me to investigate another time. I'll be back after the holidays to try other dishes as well, because I'm the curious and hungry type.
Ha! - If you hadn't said that about Kroger I would have never, for any reason, gone there.
I actually have driven past Thai Garden, but something about that strip mall turned me off, whereas the Charm Thai strip mall somehow appealed. Must have been the blue neon of the bar at the end. A colleague tried to tell me where that beer store was, but I could not put it together - this did it - thanks!
I love Vietnamese also, and have really been missing it since leaving NJ/NY. Keep the suggestions rolling, and don't worry if it has changed - no blame here!
Charm Thai Restaraunt
Sits in a strip mall in Madison on 72. Just the opposite of Phuket in every way. I see a lot of people look in the windo and keep walking, which is a shame because the food is excellent. The family also owns the asian grocery store adjoining it.
Everything is fresh and fragrant. The tom kah is perfect with plenty of mushrooms and tender chicken.
The lemongrass sausage was something new for me, and I'll have it every time I go. The sausage is slightly spicy with threads of lemon grass mixed in. No idea what other spices were part of the grind, but I love it.
The phad Thai is as good as I've ever had. I got it with shrimp only, and there was a huge amount for only another two bucks. Crushed peanuts, lime, the works. The old woman brought a small carousel of condiments to the table - more crushed peanuts, chilli flakes, soy sauce, a wonderfully pungeunt fish sauce, and Sriracha. I went to town on the fish sauce and chilli flakes and loved it. Didn't plan on kissing anyone or riding a bus. The portions are big, and really inexpensive.
The family is so friendly, and the small boys who "watch" the shop while dad has to run an errand in the kitchen are a comic sideshow all by themselves. They loved that I knew some polite pasha thai and have been recommending what's best or new that day. I've been back a couple times and will probably make it my Sunday place to eat. I really need to get off the phad thai and try their other dishes, but it's tough for me.
I can't recommend this place enough. It really is the opposite of Phuket in every aspect.
I'm excited about all those place after seeing them 3 times now. I had some soldiers here highly recommend Pauli's as well, so I'm waiting for my girlfriend to move here so we can go together. I look forward to stuffing my face and reviewing them all. I have to figure out how to get paid for this.
I ate at a Mellow Mushroom in Destin, Florida. I remember it being quite good, so I'm excited to see one here. Glad you mentioned that about the beer - I had no idea and was getting frustrated with the lack of imports.
I would have never seen the missing 's' from Cheeburger! Thanks for the correction! I won't fix it to save face, because then your post will look out of place.
Thanks for all the recommendations so far - everyone!
Ok, here it is. I base my stateside Thai dining opinions based on what I had in Thailand, which was amazing. Even that aside, the nicest I can say is: if you like bad food at a high price, you will love Phuket in Providence Village.
The decor is beautiful - perfect for getting your hopes way, way up so they have further to crash.
I always have a standard tom kah gai anywhere I go. This somehow was void of any coconut milk and lemon grass flavor. I have no idea how they made the broth. The chicken was bone dry, and it was in liquid! No other vegetables except for green onion - a lot of it. If you went to a produce aisle and ate an entire bunch of green onion, I think it would be less than what was in my bowl. A child could Google "tom kah gai recipe" and make a better soup.
The lettuce wraps were appalling, and the only thing I complained about (went nowhere, no compensation). The lettuce was iceberg, and the wedge was cut so small that they were as useless as they were tasteless. The chicken itself was so dry that it took an entire glass of tea to wash down three bites of it.
Phad Thai is another standard if it's a new place I'm at. Granted teh US version isn't the same as the traditional Thai style, but they do serve that style there. Mess this up, and it's all over. When a kitchen puts something out that is worse than Thai Kitchen phad-thai-in-a-box, someone needs firing. I'm not even sure how to describe the noodles. Almost like they were cooked, cooled, then recooked. Might work well for cheap Italian joints pushing spaghetti to the lunch crowd, but not for rice noodles. Guess how the chicken was. Yes - bone dry. The shrimp was surprisingly plump and cooked very well. The rest of the dish is loaded with dry bean sprouts, with a little crushed peanuts on the side. No oil or anything served with it.
Because I am a glutton for punishment I also ordered a specialty roll from their sushi bar. It was big for sure, but the combination of different fishes and vegetables, topped with their "special spicy sauce" (store-bought Sriracha) did not go together at all. I should have known better at that point, but hey, a real sushi chef wouldn't put out something that embarrassing, right???
Finally, the service. I was one of four people in the restaurant for dinner, and there were three waiters. When I called it quits on a plate, or finished, I would set it out at the edge of my table. The other two waiters could not be bothered with it in the least. The glasses are so small, and the meat so dry, that my waiter was at my table, and I'm not exaggerating here, every 2-3 minutes to refill my glass. Really annoying. Attention is good, but saying thank you every 2-3 minutes was getting to me.
Just a horrible experience in every way. Unless that is your thing, then it's awesome.
Well, I went to try some of the recommendations - Blue Plate, Soul Burger or Bandito Burrito, but they were all closed today (Sunday). So it was back to Providence Village, which I love because it looks like you teleported to another city altogether - Like somewhere in Virginia - looks quite a bit more upscale.
No way I could ignore a nod to the late great John Belushi with a name like Cheeseburger Cheeseburger. I just found out it is a franchise and there is another on Whitesburg Dr. It's like a '50s soda shop, but none of the kitchy decor that nostalgic places clutter the place with. It was outstanding. I'm bringing visitors and friends here. Good date place, but beware that the eye candy is also very, very nice. Maybe it's only on weekends, because they did look a bit jail-bait-ish. So I really didn't look too long. But the waitresses are quite fit. I digress...
The portions are huge, so a half-order of fries, onion rings, or mix, is enough for 2-3 people. I saw a full order go to one table and it was oh-my-god big. They have a 20 oz. cheeseburger that gets a snapshot of your mug on the wall if you finish it. I just started with a 10 oz patty tonight to see how it was. Awesome. Cooked exactly as ordered, black Angus. There's a menu online, but they update the in-store cards, as there were many more cheeses available.
I get a little frustrated sometimes with having to select my own toppings, because I'm always afraid I'll try to be creative and pick a combination that sucks. I did alright this time, but I hate too many choices. I also have an issue using utensils for a burger - like it's a dare or something. The bottom bun was soaked, so I turned the thing upside down, went around the edges to even-up the meat and bun, and one-handed it the rest of the way. That will show the burger who is in charge.
The onion rings are thin and very much like a Bloomin' Onion or whatever other onion appetizer with southwestern horseradish dip you've had. My fries were a little on the cool side, and a bit soggy, but I could tell they have real potential when fresh out of the fryer. A dash of their multi-season is a must on the fries and rings, and the burger too because the meat is not pre-seasoned, so your left to what ever you put on it.
I ended it with shake for the ride home, but you kind of need a spoon for those. Delicious. I can't wait to try their made-at-the-table sodas.
Excellent food, value, and service staff!
I wish it weren't so, but it really is that bad. I don't know anyone in Pittsburgh - personally - who enjoys it, and I've never had a visitor enjoy it. I wish it weren't so, but yes, unfortunately it is that bad. The last time I took my girlfriend there, because she wanted something "different" and "Pittsburgh" she got pissed at me for thinking that she would enjoy it. And her palate is quite diverse.
On a positive note, because I'm really not always so negative, anyone could make a clone - albeit much tastier - by purchasing a loaf of Mancini's bread from pretty much anywhere, buy or make some fresh vinegar-based slaw, and buy some QUALITY meats and cheese from your usual deli. Maybe a few extra condiments to taste. Done.
Glad you mentioned Surin - been driving past it every day for 2 weeks now, and could not figure out what it was exactly. Been putting it off, but now I'll go. As for my Phuket experience, well, I'm behind in posts because I just got cable installed today. Not good. Giving Dreamland another shot at lunch to be fair.
Tim's Cajun Kitchen
On my way back home to pack my belongings, I stopped my Tim's Cajun Kitchen because coming from Redstone Arsenal (Gate 10) to 565 it was right there at the interstate entrance, convenient, and I vaguely remember eating there when I was stationed in Huntsville years ago, and I didn't dislike it.
The first thing to noticed was the huge selection of good import and micro brew beers. I got there right after the lunch rush, so they were out of over half their homemade appetizers and ala carte items. I ordered an all-appetizer lunch because I wanted to sample a little of everything: chicken/sausage gumbo, chicken/sausage jambalaya, shrimp etouffee, and breaded alligator bites.
Overall I was pleased, and most everything is, or seems to be, homemade (no way to know without checking out the kitchen, but that isn't going to happen).
At first, the etouffee and gumbo seemed way too salty, but once I mixed it up with the rice it was better. The gumbo was not the absolute best I've ever had, but quite good. The jambalaya has moist sausage and shredded chicken, and was not too dry at all. A little of their outstanding pepper sauce, and it is a great lunch.
Alligator is my favorite all-time meat., so I had to order the appetizer bites. Definitely big enough for two or three people to share. As served, there is way too much breading, which traps way too much fryer grease. No reason it couldn't just be a light dusting rather than a thick batter. As the breading is pretty much tasteless, even with the good dipping sauce, it ruins the experience. The good news is that it peels off quite easily. Stick a fork in one end and scrape it all off with a knife, and your left with a tender, juicy chunk of alligator tail. Delicious even without condiment.
I really wish I could have tried the green bean casserole or boudin, but they were out. The place is busy for lunch so get there 11-ish with a crowd, or later when they have better seating, but less menu items. In their defense, when i asked why they were out of so many things, the waitress said there was an unusually busy lunch - otherwise the kitchen is normally prepared.
Friendly wait staff - just wish mine were attractive as the once painted on the wall in caricature. I jest - they are quick , attentive, and have a great sense of humor. For those asking where to go for lunch while passing through, consider Tim's.
Hell yes to the stuffed cabbage (halupki) and halushki !!!!! I am a good fraction hunkey myself, and will come running at even the hint of those in the air. The only I've had were my grandmother's, my mom's, and those from the old women at our old church on the north side. I'll have to check out the Tavern when I'm back sometime.
For dinner this evening I went to Dreamland on University. With a picture of someone like “Big Daddy” Bishop on the sign, I figured it had to be good. The first thing that hit me was the smell of the smokers – like memories of my grandparents' wood burning stove – I love that smell. Anyway, I got there around 7:30 PM, so the smokers had been shut down by then. I was disappointed that there was no sample platter, or half and half of anything, but I saw right away that the portion size allowed someone with a healthy appetite to order two at a decent value still.
I started with a pork sandwich, a side of baked beans, and a side of coleslaw. The sides were pre-made crap from a bucket or bag – awful. The slaw is mayo-based. Homemade slaw is so easy too – that's what's disappointing. But I guess being a chain establishment, you'll have that.
Because of their motto aimed at the ribs: “Ain't nothing like 'em – nowhere,” I had to try some. I got the rib sandwich, which is just four ribs and not really a sandwich. Lots of meat and smothered in the delicious sauce, but unfortunately I do not agree with the motto. I've tasted many ribs like these that were dry and tough. The taste was there – smokey and tangy – but the texture of the meat just didn't live up to its history. I've had marinaded and grilled ribs that were juicier and more tender.
But the overall experience does warrant a return trip. I'm hoping that if I go earlier the ribs may be fresher out of the smoker and more tender. Overall, friendly service (another language barrier, but friendly...do I really have that much of a Yank dialect?), good food, and a good value. I just noticed that my shirt still smells like the smoke. I will revisit this one in the coming weeks.
For lunch I went to Dave Gibson's on Bob Wallace Ave, and probably will not return. I ordered the half pork, half beef plate with hush puppies instead of fries. Because she asked me which I wanted with it, and there was no mention of included sides on the board, I ordered a side of coleslaw. I saw immediately that it comes with potato salad, baked beans, and of course, coleslaw. Maybe she thought I just really like coleslaw, or maybe it was the fact that we had to ask each other to repeat what was said every sentence, but I think she could have mentioned that it came with slaw.
There was no separation of the little meat there was, and it all was the same gray color, and same dryness and chewiness. So I have no idea if I got what I asked for, but it was not worth going back to ask. I am a fan of vinegar-based BBQ sauce, so it's not like this was just not my preferred style. The vinegar at the table was delicious and spicy, but the separate sauce was nothing special. Like a molasses or corn syrup base. Any sauce recipe I've made myself has tasted much better, and that's wrong for a place with so much history and supposed pride.
There was a BIG PLUS to the meal, and that was the coleslaw. It was the vinegar-based kind that I love, and it was the same great vinegar that was on the table. It could very well have been homemade. But rest of the sides were definitely not.
The hush puppies were rock-hard and flew everywhere when I tried to cut one (stabbing with the plastic fork would have broken the fork). The potato salad was the usual yellow, 5-pound grocery store tub kind, and tasteless. The beans were as good as any canned baked beans I had camping in Boy Scouts - no homemade flair at all.
If this is the best of all the Gibsons' barbecues, then I can't see how the others are in business. I was the only patron under 70, I think, so maybe it used to be really good and the old faithfuls keep coming back. Not a smoker to be detected in the kitchen, nor in the meat. It appeared through the window that there was some sort of wood-fired grill.
Overall, poor food at a poor value.
Hi all. I just got a new job and a new house in Huntsville, and went through the boards yesterday to figure out where to eat today. I'll be moving December 1st (from Pittsburgh, PA), and wanted to go nuts on barbecue to see what's what. I saw a lot of posts scattered throughout regarding Huntsville, and I'm going to consolidate all my posts here because it's a smaller area that doesn't have it's own category like some cities and states. I'm going to sample the hell out of this place and share my experience and opinions here. Dissenting opinions are welcome and valued, as this will be decidedly one-sided. SORRY if I smack-down you favorite place! I will gladly revisit if you insist it's normally good. I'm not a food critic, I just love food, and am critical.
Two names that kept coming up for local BBQ were David Gibson's on Bob Wallace Ave, and Dreamland on University Drive, so I tried them both today. Separate reviews follow, as will future reviews as long as I live here. I'm going to hit everything that many of you have suggested.
I hope I enjoy.
"how best should I make use of the wasabi if it isn't being mixed in the soy? Should I be popping little bits in my mouth periodically, or should I be placing dots of it on the rice? I still want my wasabi hit with certain pieces of sushi."
That's the thing I hate about even the best places around me right now - they don't put any between the rice and whatever is on top, or you either have to disassemble it (why bother at that point?) The only thing I use the sticks for is to pull a little wasabi from the mound and wipe it on top or on the side of the rice. Then a quick dip so the rice doesn't absorb too much soy. This does two things: it allows you to control how much wasabi you like because it really is always different, while not having to overpower it all with too much soy sauce.
I agree completely that sometimes you just get a bland piece of veggie roll of sorts, and there's nothing lost my having a sinus-searing hit of the good stuff.
Lately, the only time I've been popping a slice of ginger is before or after pieces of Ikura (salmon roe). It's a strong flavor, and I'm addicted to it. Ends up being my desert.
You are certainly not wrong for requesting anything you want. For you to receive poor service from staff is unacceptable. For anyone to presume to lecture you on wasabi usage in public is unforgivable, and deserves to fail for their lack of tact and respect. On that note, what was the name of that place where you were reprimanded?
In your run-of-the-mill sushi establishments, North American tastes are catered to and this is not an issue. But they are also not preparing each piece with the same attention to detail and care that a traditional chef would. I can only recall two times in the US (East Coast) when I had nigiri that was seasoned appropriately upon serving. Normally a small mound is served on the board or plate. A true, traditional master would prepare and season each piece perfectly, in such a way that the fish is highlighted. With or without wasabi and soy sauce. You're not getting that here. Most of the pieces served are bland because they have been frozen and thawed.
Now consider the equivalent level of culinary expertise by a classically trained French chef, or any other true chef, from anywhere in the world. Every dish is served as close to perfectly seasoned as can be, and if not, and the consensus is that it is "off", it will be re-made to the patron's liking. If there is no question that the patron requested a dish they simply do not enjoy, but there is nothing wrong with it, then I think the chef has every right to get a little attitude. I'm not a chef, but I agreed the the customer is not always right. There are SOME rules in fine dining. If the place is not what you'd consider fine dining, then all bets are off and you should get what you request.
My brother and a few of my friends think themselves real sushi aficionados. These same people put slices of pickled ginger on every piece, mix copious amounts of wasabi in their soy, and slather it. And that's fine with me! I find it appalling, but what do I care? They're never going to eat sushi because they like it, they're going to do it because it's faddish in their area, and (because they think this - not because it's so) they feel like they are somehow a higher social level. I know that sounds stupid, but it's so.
Funny side note: my sister broke herself of her vegetarian ways because of sushi also. But she enjoys the flavor for what it is - delicate and subtle. It sounds like you enjoy the flavor of the soy/wasabi mixture more than the fish itself. Nothing wrong with that, but you could save a lot of money of that's the case. Just incorporate it into your home cooking. It's such a strong flavor, that it overpowers pretty much everything. Just like an excellent, strong pasta sauce - doesn't matter what quality of pasta you use, you're just using it to taste the sauce.
To a top chef in his field, preparing each piece as it should be, dredging your sushi through extra soy and wasabi is the same as dumping ketchup or A1 over a steak from a premier steakhouse. It is an insult to the chef who just prepared your steak with pride and perfection. A request for steak sauce tells him he failed, and in the best restaurant you can and should expect to be questioned about it. If you enjoy it that way, that's cool. But you can get that at any second-rate diner or restaurant anywhere. I think that's where the other guy is coming from.
Of course if his cuisine is NOT at that level, then he's just a jerk, and you should stay away.
Wow - of all the common foods I've seen listed, this one blows my mind only because I love it so much. Well, maybe it's not that common, but you can at least buy it in larger grocery stores.
I still love to pile it on French bread or brioche for breakfast. Truly one of the best delicacies I've ever eaten. Sorry you don't enjoy it. It really sucks that we all have foods that we can't tolerate.
I've eaten a lot of stuff, that makes people sick, from all over the world. I mean regular Andrew Zimmer (Bizarre Foods) stuff. In my 34 years of eating, the only thing that has ever caused me to regurgitate is yogurt. Plain old yogurt. But, for money I'd eat it. I've tossed cookies before, and I'll do it again. Might as well get paid for it.
I do want to try durain. And not the genetically altered stink-less durain. From what I've seen, it is wretched smelling (even by Asian standards). But if Bourdain can eat it, then there's hope.
The other is putrid shark form Iceland (frequent viewers of the travel channel now know where I get my list of things to try). If there's anything prepared for human dining that is that bad, I expect that would be it.
But to date, there is nothing I've tried that I would not eat for money.
A little further, but if you're ever in Philly, cross into NJ and head to one of the larger Canal's. They have a massive selection of bottles - Belgian, British, German, Czech, and loads of US micro brews I had never heard of.
Also much cheaper than any place similar I've seen in PA.
After driving by it for so long, my friends made a reservation for dinner last night and I went along to give it a try. Overall, not impressed.
Great looking restaurant and decor, but not much more.
The bread is decent, and the aioli has cayenne pepper in it that gave it a tasty kick.
For dinner I had the 14 oz. rib eye (ordered rare and very well-seasoned) and a Caesar salad.
The salad was as bland of a Caesar I've ever tasted. Very little dressing (generic, at that), rock-hard croûtons that were too big, but shattered if you tried to break them up. I did not enjoy it at all.
The rib eye is served with garlic mashed potatoes, "vegetable medley" (carrots, cauliflower and two French-cut green beans) and topped with thin cut onion rings dipped in the same salt-batter as the calamari. The steak was over cooked - half medium, half medium-rare - and barely seasoned at all. It was a great cut of meat and not really over-cooked, but it could have used some kosher salt and coarse ground pepper or crushed peppercorns. A shame. I started putting some onion rings with each bite of steak, but that sucked so I just moved the onions to the side.
The mashed potatoes were very dry, with barely a hint of garlic, and zero seasoning. The vegetables were undercooked and guess what - unseasoned and bland.
Overall it was not a good dining experience. I decided against sending anything back, because I've worked in Pittsburgh restaurants in high school and college, and had a feeling I'd be getting a little extra "special seasoning" from the cooks on the return trip.
My friend and his wife got the Rigatoni Asagio, and barely finished half of it, and were unimpressed. Can't remember what the other two got, but I didn't hear any clamor from them. Best part of the meal was the banana peppers and the wine!
Panini Guy nailed it: pierogies. I've never had them anywhere that were as good as here. Churches everywhere have pierogie sales. In fact, my mom is at one right now making them, and I can't wait to visit tomorrow for Sunday dinner.
Primanti Bros. is simply awful. It's a gimmick that caters to drunk people with no palates and no idea what good cuisine is. Every single time I had a visitor from out of town that insisted on eating there because of all the hype, it ended in disappointment.