Thursday, November 24, 2016

Holiday Horrors

As my house fills with the scents and sounds of a relaxing Thanksgiving with my wife and daughter, I'm reminded that not everybody loves holiday gatherings. Case in point, Evan Romero, who is a frequent contributor to our sister blog, Exploitation Retrospect. I'm not sure if everybody's holidays are more like I remember them or the way Evan describes them in the essay below, but either way I suggest a good stiff drink – or a nice craft beer – in hand before you dive into the holiday horrors that await.

Ah, the holidays! Time for families who pretend to like each other to get together for some good food and good times.

Unless you're my family: they don't pretend to like each other, and good food and good times are a rarity. If it isn't some unholy abomination concocted in someone's kitchen or a personal catastrophe following some, for a change, good food, then it only happens in YOUR family. So be thankful for that.

But then, these kinds of stories always make for some entertain reading, no? So, with the holidays fast approaching I invite you to take a walk with me, your Ghost of Holiday's Past if you will, through little incidents that have made my holidays a TAD less cheerful. So pour yourself some eggnog and prepare for a dose of schadenfreude as you laugh at my expense.      

THANKSGIVING
Thanksgiving is a holiday I have never liked. Not one bit. I just always thought the whole concept was stupid. I mean, why should we relegate thankfulness to one day a year - a day which just so happens to fall before Black Friday? "Hey everyone, let's be thankful for what we have. Now, let's head to the store and buy more shit to be thankful about. Oh, and we're gonna have to put grandma in a home because we need room for our 175-inch television. Sorry mom. We'll visit...maybe."

Not only that, but the food sucks. Well, at least when MY family has any say in the matter.

Let's start with the cornerstone of any traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey.

Growing up, I had a deep and abiding suspicion of this article of food. Not only did its looks remind me of a female torso bereft of limbs and head, but the hole between the legs made me think that family members of dubious morals were filling it with a different kind of stuffing.

In short, you couldn't pay me enough to take a bite of this bird.

Finally though, one Thanksgiving I decided to take the plunge. I remember the setting perfectly: the garage of my childhood home. The kids table had been set up by the washer and dryer.

And the cat box. (So THAT'S where my family gets Thanksgiving dinner from!)

Anyways, the sliver of turkey I'd asked for sat there on the corner of my plate like Harvey the Pimp insisting that his cracked-out hoes are the best deal in town. I took the piece in hand and looked it over for anything suspicious (gotta make sure this bird ain't trying to poison me, or that it doesn't contain any baby batter from the aforementioned family members of dubious morals). Satisfied that nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I took a bite, chewed a bit, then spit it right into the cat box where it belonged. It was dry as cardboard and tasted the same. How in the hell can anyone eat this shit? I thought. I vowed from there on out that all my Thanksgiving meals will consist either of pizza; or mashed potatoes, pickles, olives, and rolls.

One year we had Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house with each family member supplying a different portion of the feast. My aunt was in charge of bringing the mashed potatoes. Thanks to my grandmother, my Thanksgiving feast that year consisted of pizza. Ah, lucky me. After devouring a few slices I went into the kitchen to put my plate in the sink and noticed a large bowl of mashed potatoes sitting on the stove. Cue heavenly choir! Ah, I love my family! Such wonderful folks they are!

I dashed over to the bowl and grabbed the spoon, but as I went to give them a little stir before serving I noticed they were falling about each other like dried clumps of Play-Doh. No joke, you could have taken them out and laid bricks with them. My faith in God, life, the universe, family, friends, and the goodness of mashed potatoes was brought into question.

I turned an evil glare towards my family, who were all laughing and enjoying their feast, and plotted my revenge against them – which I'm still plotting to this day.

CHRISTMAS
I often refer to Christmas as the holiday where we ask people to buy us stuff that we're too cheap to buy ourselves.

I also refer to it as the Day of Grandmother's Dubious Ham.

When my grandmother was alive, she always insisted on bringing the honey baked ham for Christmas dinner. Even when my mom would tell her not to bother because she was gonna cook one that year, my grandmother still insisted. (If memory serves me right, one year we had TWO hams to choose from: my mom's and my grandmother's. My mom's was eaten by everyone; only my grandmother ate from her unwanted offering.)

Now, I like ham, but whatever hucksters my grandmother bought HER ham from should be hanged, for these men of questionable food ethics INSISTED that the ham be served at room temperature for maximum enjoyment. Anytime anyone suggested we put the ham in the oven and heat it up she would have a fit and insist - usually with a butcher's knife in hand - that the ham be served at room temperature! I don't know about you, but ham that is anything but hot isn't even fit for the dog's dish.

Every year my grandmother would bring this slop; every year, the family would choke it down while hoping that the presents she'd brought us weren't equally repulsive.

Except me.

After trying that ham one time I gave serious thought to vegetarianism. It was supposedly a honey baked ham, but there wasn't the slightest hint of honey anywhere to be found in that vast wasteland of slaughtered pig, not to mention it tasted like a pig fetus smelled (I had to dissect one in 10th grade biology so I know of what I speak) and had the consistency of undercooked bacon.

One Christmas during my eleventh year, my grandmother made peanut butter blossoms. She had them laid out amongst some other goodies. I, being the genius that I am, decided to eat the entire platter.

By the time we sat down to open gifts my stomach was growling like a death metal singer and flipping about like a Ferris wheel. I was certain I was dying. My dad ran up to 7-11 and got me some Pepto Bismol. I took some and felt perfectly fine – for three minutes. Then, like an overworked office worker bolting from the office at the end of the day, the Pepto Bismol decided it wanted no part of me and promptly exited through my mouth, followed by whatever else was in my stomach. Luckily, I was standing by my grandmother's sink when this happened.

A sink, I should add, that wasn't working.

After I was chastised for vomiting in the sink instead of the trashcan or trying to make it to the bathroom, I changed into some sweatpants (I was supposed to spend the following days at my grandmother's, thus the change of clothes) and went and laid down on the ground atop some very large and comfortable pillows. And I soon fell asleep, visions of sugar plumbs being massacred by peanut butter blossoms dancing in my head.

An hour or so later I awoke with a nasty feeling in my gut.

Ah shit, I thought. Here we go again.

I then rolled over onto my stomach.

Big mistake.

From my mouth spewed a fountain of bile that would put THE EXORCIST out of business. To add insult to injury, my sphincter gave way and I filled my underpants with a heaping load of Sloppy Joe's.

In other words, I had become a dual fountain of sewage.

Stick with me now, my story gets better.

After hosing me off, my parents loaded me into the car, in the front passenger seat. My dad drove while my mom rode in the back. Now, my grandmother lived in Reseda at the time, which is about an hour's drive from my hometown of Palmdale.

In other words: freeways.

The minute we pulled onto the freeway I told my dad to pull over as I was going to barf. Not wanting me to ruin the interior of their 1989 Mustang, my dad zoomed the car to the side of the road where I opened the door and proceeded to fertilize the weeds.

As well as drop another load in my britches.

Now, for those of you who've never had to lay on your side with your own feces stuck to your ass for an hour or so, trust me when I say that it is absolutely miserable.

But it DID lead to an event worthy of national news.

My mom is a smoker. My dad isn't. He can't even stand the smell of cigarettes. However, this was the first and only time in my life I've ever heard him ask my mom to light a cigarette - because he'd rather smell that than my putrid essence.

I was sick for three days afterwards.

Now, it's highly unlikely that the peanut butter blossoms were the cause of my ailment. Most likely, the blossoms simply aggravated whatever bug I had. Regardless, I haven't touched those damn things since.

MEMORIAL DAY
In my family, Memorial Day is often celebrated with weekend get togethers. Which means it is prime time for my family members to show off their "phenomenal" cooking skills.

CASE 1:
One year my aunt decided to make us lasagna. Now, my aunt was FAR from a decent cook (she was the same aunt responsible for the Bricklayer Mashed Potatoes), but I didn't think it was possible to fuck up lasagna.

She proved me wrong.

I remember standing at the table when she brought the pan of lasagna out. Looked normal enough. However, the taste rendered its origins quite dubious. I remember the noodles were over-cooked and tough, and the stuff between the noodles would have taken a chemist to identify. If I remember correctly, I gave it to the dog, following it up with a deeply heartfelt apology.

CASE 2:
Many years after the Lasagna Catastrophe my aunt laid upon us, my other grandmother decided to host our Memorial Day get together. Lasagna, once again, was on the menu.

After slaving away for who knows how long in the kitchen, my grandmother called us all in. Starving and on the brink of death, we all rushed in and jumped into our seats – except me. I stayed near the chip bowl, perfectly content to stuff myself with tortilla chips and Ruffles. No way in hell was I gonna touch lasagna again after that filth my aunt dropped on us many years ago (yes, I was and am deeply scarred from that).

Anyways, my grandmother brings the crockpot over to the table, sets it down, takes off the lid and tells us all to dig in.

Upon looking at the contents of the crockpot, I thought: what hole did this unholy abomination crawl from?

Why would I think this? Simple: last I checked, lasagna doesn't float. So either the laws of physics have ceased to exist in my grandmother's kitchen, or she fucked up and unleashed something akin to THE THING upon the world. The latter is the most likely scenario.

CASE 3:
After my Bricklayer aunt passed away, my uncle had Memorial Day at his house, partly because he liked having family around, partly because he wanted to tell everyone he'd gotten back in contact with an ex-girlfriend and was getting laid regularly (this was less than two months after my aunt's passing), partly because he was moving to Kansas with said ex-girlfriend/now-girlfriend a few months later.

On the menu: burgers.

Now, beef is cooked two ways in my family: well-done and well-done. Requesting anything else will get you strange looks and whispers about your sanity.

That day, my uncle cooked the burgers medium. I didn't give a shit because I was finally eating a tasty burger (I ended up having two).

Everyone else, however, upon discovering the burgers weren't well-done, was convinced we were all gonna come down with E-coli, salmonellosis, brain cancer, AIDS, syphilis, Ebola, small pox, influenza, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague.

I didn't give a shit because at least I'd die having eaten a tasty burger.

And my uncle didn't give a shit because he was drunk and happy that he'd been getting laid.

This was also the night I had my first taste of vodka, my alcohol of choice to this day. I asked my uncle for some orange juice; he asked if I wanted any vodka in it. At 16, it seemed like a great idea. Thus, a screwdriver, which was my signature drink for many years until replaced by White Russians.

CONCLUSION
Many of the family members mentioned in this essay have either kicked the bucket or have moved out of state. These days, holidays are spent with my immediate family and three people I like to refer to as The Comatose Trio: my grandmother, uncle, and cousin – who can usually be found sitting on the couch and staring at the blank TV screen with drool hanging from their mouths. No more bad cooking. No more personal catastrophes. Just boredom and apathy that I usually combat by getting stone cold drunk and insulting as many family members as I can.

But that is a tale for another time. – Evan Romero

Evan Romero is a regular contributor to the pages of Exploitation Retrospect and spends much of his time reading morally questionable books and watching movies no sane person would touch. He is the vocalist/bassist for the punk band Porno Holocaust (you can find them on Facebook and listen to some demos if you’re inclined). You can read more of his reviews at ReelAtrocities.com or at PopHorror.com. This is his first piece for The Hungover Gourmet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Costco's Kirkland House Brand Gets some Bon Appetit Love

One of my wife's co-workers was telling us that it was worth the 45-minute drive to one of the MD area Costco stores that sells alcohol because the Kirkland brand booze was as good and way cheaper than any big name brand. I've always been a fan of their house brand foods and I try to buy as much of my fresh meat there as possible because unlike a grocery store they turn it over so frequently.

Turns out we're not the only ones who love us some Kirkland brands... no less an authority on good grub that Bon Appetit recently heaped praise on, yes, Costco's house brand spirits, snacks, salmon and more.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just Call Me Captain Beefheart or A Quick Review of Parts & Labor

Just Call Me Captain Beefheart
I don't usually go out to eat on back to back nights, but when it's dinner at Parts & Labor in Baltimore I can't resist.

This was our second visit to the restaurant and I have to say that of all the meals I've eaten out during my 15 years in Charm City, both dinners at P&L rank at or near the top. Plus, with the restaurant's ever changing menu I was excited to see what was new – and to see if any old favorites were still being offered.

Started off the evening with a delicious and refreshing Hop Knife IPA from Tröegs Independent Brewing to go with the Raw Cheeseburger (a favorite from our last visit that we were glad to see still on the menu and yes, it's basically exactly what it sounds like), Eggplant Hummus and thinly sliced Beef Heart served with thinly sliced cucumbers and the same sauce that accompanies the steaks. My dinner companions all passed (I think the words "beef heart" are off putting) but had I simply told them it was steak nobody would have known the difference. The rare slices simply melted on the tongue, much like the 14 oz. steak that my wife and I split.

Crazy Corn with Braided Husk
The crazy corn – topped with mayo and cheese – was also too good to pass up and I could have eaten a dozen ears. Naturally, my wife requested that when I grill corn at home I start braiding the husks like Parts & Labor.

Our friends ordered the steak, too, and finished off every bite while their chorizo was spicy without being overly so.

We also enjoyed being seated in a booth rather than out in the middle of the dining room like during our last visit. Conversation was easy and you never felt like you were listening in on your neighbors' conversation or vice versa. By the end of the dinner it almost seemed like we were the only ones there but when we got up to leave that definitely wasn't the case.

If meat's your thing I can't recommend this place highly enough.

Parts & Labor is located at 2600 N. Howard Street in Baltimore, just down the street from the iconic Ottobar (where I once bumped into John Waters after seeing Italian soundtrack legends Goblin).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Fried Chicken Sandwich at Spruce Street Harbor Park

First visit to Philly's Spruce Street Harbor Park​ last night and I have to say I was smitten.

A fun, relaxing waterfront food and drink court complete with ping pong, bocce and an arcade. Perfect spot to meet old friends (and I do mean old... my buddy Chris and I have known each other since 1st Grade), hang out and chit chat before seeing the one and only Butch Walker​ at the TLA.

Excellent chicken sandwich from Port Fednuts (the park location for local hotspot Federal Donuts), too.

When I told Ryan what was on it – fried chicken, spicy mayo, melted cheese and pickles on a Martin's potato roll – she said they should just "call it The Dan".

Thanks for a great night, Philly!

Flying Fish to Unleash Pork Roll Porter in September

First there was scrapple beer, a concoction whipped up by Dogfish Head that not only featured my favorite breakfast meat but also was named after a song by The Replacements.


Not to outdone, another regional brewer – New Jersey's own Flying Fish, located a hop, skip and a jump from where I spent the first 30 years of my life – has announced a Pork Roll Porter as part of its trio of specialty brews rolling out next month. (And, for the record, let it be noted that it's called "Pork Roll" Porter, not "Taylor Ham" Porter.)

Other flavors include a Exit 5 Sour Forage Beer made with pine needles (a nod to the Pine Barrens?) and an Exit 14 Imperial Pilsner whose impressive 8.5% alcohol content must be a nod to, uh, getting loaded in the Garden State?

Hoping one of these days they come up with an Exit 63 LBI Stout made with local clam shells a la 21st Century's awesome Hog Island Stout (which I finally found the other day after a long absence on local shelves).

Read the complete Philly Voice article for more details on the release and check out Flying Fish's page on the brew.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Never Miss Another Food Holiday!

Happy National Peach Pie Day!

Did you, like me, miss National Pinot Noir Day (August 18th) because you didn't have all the food/drink/dessert holidays in one handy location? Fret no more! Nathan Yu at Flowing Data has put them all together in one place so you'll never miss National Grilled Cheese Day (April 12th) ever again.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Quick Review: Jack's Beach Grille on LBI

Stopped by Jack's Beach Grille in Bay Village on Long Beash Island (NJ) last night to grab dinner to go for my daughter and me. Wanted to try the roast pork and compare it to my favorite (Dinic's) but it was out (next time!) so I went with the cheesesteak. 

As a longtime DelVal resident and cheesesteak fan I'm always skeptical about cheesesteaks that aren't made in Philly or just over the bridge in Jersey but I have to admit I loved and devoured the cheesesteak with fried onions and sauce from Jack's. Wish the roll had been a little denser and chewier but that's a minor quibble. (You know I liked the cheesesteak... I didn't even take time out from wolfing it down to take a photo!)

Kid's Menu grilled chicken breast was juicy and tender. My daughter chowed down the whole order and we split (and couldn't even finish) the huge order of fries that came with her order. Here's to success for Jack's and I'm looking forward to going back and trying that Roast Pork Sandwich.

Jack's offers inside and outside seating and is BYOB friendly. Their ad in the local paper even makes pairing suggestions so you can walk across the street to the newly opened Ship Bottom Brewery and grab a growler to go.

Jack's Beach Grille is located in Bay Village in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, NJ. Call 609-492-2328 or visit jacksbeachgrille.com for more info.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Quick LBI Report and Ship Bottom Brewery Coming Soon to Bay Village (LBI)

This has been our first extended trip to Long Beach Island, NJ (LBI) this summer and despite chilly ocean temps (60 degrees yesterday and 67 today) and a breezy day which chased us from the beach after a few hours today the visit has been great.

After spending yesterday on the beach and grilling out for dinner we awoke this morning to Ryan inquiring exactly what time we'd be leaving to get our first taste of Crust & Crumb cream donuts of the summer. Regular readers might be aware that I'm not much of a "sweets guy", though I do like the occasional tiarmisu and homemade bread pudding.

But for me it's not really summer until I have a cup of Lobster Bisque at Howard's Restaurant (check!) and a cream donut (or several) from Crust & Crumb. With everybody still lounging about after a long and well-deserved sleep and the first breakfast of Fruit Loops keeping nine-year-old Ryan at bay (I know, nine years... I've failed as a parent), we waited until our nephew was headed out, borrowed my father-in-law's car and headed down to Bay Village.

Surprisingly, while the back roads were packed with bike riders/runners and the main drag was clogged with cars we quickly found a parking spot at Bay Village and hustled our way into Crust & Crumb. Expecting a line out the door we were pleasantly surprised we were able to squeeze into the small establishment and had a few minutes before ordering so I could snap a picture of the Naragansett "Crush It Like Quint" retro can poster and send it to my similarly obsessed buds.

After securing a dozen donuts (hey, we're here for a few days) and an elephant ear we made a quick pit stop at the closest beer store to see what I could find in the way of craft brew. Unfortunately, on the island you're sort of at the mercy of the few stores that carry beer so you have to be willing to pry open that wallet and fork it over. But even I'm not willing to pay $19 for a six pack of Green Flash West Coast IPA although I was somewhat shocked that Ballast Point Big Eye (my favorite beer of the moment) was a mere $2.50 more than I'm used to paying at home.

Luckily, I spied a slightly familiar looking can at a more palatable $12.99 and decided to grab the Spellbound Brewing IPA. I haven't had this since my wife's uncle brought some down for our annual Xmas Eve Party and Unofficial Craft Brew Fest, but I recalled the can nonetheless. Crisp and hoppy with pine and citrus notes it's a nice example of the craft brewing that's at work all over the country, even in such surprising locations as South Jersey.

And speaking of brewing, after a quick stop to fish off the dock and walk around Bay Village we were happy to discover that Ship Bottom Brewery is opening a tap room right next to and above Spice It Up. While they're only selling merchandise at the moment we had a chance to pop in, take a look at the still under construction brewing tanks and chat with Rick the tap room manager. He says that they're waiting for licensing and that they plan to open later this month. Brews are currently available at a few local spots such as Tuckers and The Plantation but their lineup includes Beach Patrol Hefeweizen, a blueberry wheat ale (Blueberry Bikini Bottom), The Shack IPA (which pays homage to an LBI landmark), an IPA collaboration that shares its name with local eatery The Chicken or The Egg, and an awesome sounding west coast style double IPA that promises to pack a 10.4% ABV punch (Double Overhead).

The south end of Long Beach Island has long been in need of a place where you can pop in while shopping or after a day at the beach and have a quick, delicious local beer or three. I'll be dropping in to Ship Bottom Brewery as soon as humanly possible and will be shore, er, sure to report back then. – Dan Taylor