Thursday, June 09, 2016

I Haven't Posted Since When?

THG enjoys some hockey and a local beer
instead of working on the blog.
It's more than a little hard to believe that I haven't popped in to post since, gulp, the last days of 2015.

Regular readers of the blog know that I have a handful of annual freelance projects that keep me pretty occupied for the first few months of the year (leading to posts apologizing for my protracted absences like this one), and while this year's slate seemed to drag on longer than usual, I still don't have a great reason for going five months and change without writing anything. (And I do mean anything. Even THG's sister blog Exploitation Retrospect has pretty much been collecting dust aside from some guest posts.)

I could certainly pinpoint all the usual culprits: ennui, writer's block, packed schedule, my life, too much time spent watching NHL and college hoops, my daughter's school/athletics/social life, etc. and they'd all be justifiable and accurate.

Plus, as I've noted in the past, it's much easier – and lazier – to bang out a quickie Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post than to sit down and actually put some thought into what I'm doing. But don't let that stop you from visiting and bookmarking all of our little social media outposts!

And it's not like I haven't been drinking and eating and cooking and traveling and drinking and reading and did I mention drinking...? The beer fridge has seen steady turnover as we've settled on a regular rotation of Ballast Point Big Eye (though we'll have to watch the quality now that they've been bought out by a mega beverage conglomerate) and favorites both old and new like Dale's Pale Ale and Sam Adams Nitro IPA (a creamy, citrusy, piney glass of delicious that is screaming for its own writeup), Unita Brewing Hop Nosh, Green Flash West Coast IPA and, well, I see a definite trend developing here. Yes, we like IPA and as Beavis once said, "Ow, my liver".

But summer's upon us and that means grilling and day trips and enjoying a beer by the pool or the patio – or just standing in the garage during a rain storm – so we'll be cooking and sampling and posting.

I promise.

As for the coming weeks and months, look for write-ups on some new (and not so new) additions to the Baltimore County restaurant scene, reports from sunny, sandy Long Beach Island, Ryan's reviews of calamari and carousels (I'm encouraging her to start her own blog focused on her dual passions) and more.

School's out, summer's here and THG's back. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of The Hungover Gourmet and Exploitation Retrospect and is entirely responsible for the dearth of material at both outlets over the last five months. For shame!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wawa (And Drugs) Saved My Christmas Eve, But I Give Most of the Credit to Wawa

I could feel the cold coming on the weekend before Christmas.

Which was fun, because I'd just gotten over a cold that had basically lasted since Thanksgiving and had made my head feel like somebody had injected lukewarm glue into my brain.

But this cold was different. While the previous one had lodged itself in my skull, The 2015 Christmas Cold was definitely zeroing in on my throat and chest, making it hard to sleep through the night despite the best efforts to self-medicate with everything from throat lozenges and expired Mucinex DM to pineapple soaked in vodka and several belts of Ranger IPA from my neighbor's new Kegerator.

Even The Force (or, more accurately, THE FORCE AWAKENS and a Crunchburger from Bobby's Burger Palace) couldn't stave off the inevitable, but the Vanilla Bean milkshake was damn comforting.

Alas, I was going to be sick for Christmas.

Which sucks because I really love Christmas. Always have, always will. I love the look on my daughter's face when she sees the presents Santa left, the cookie crumb stained note he writes each year and the reindeer food that inevitably gets tracked in from my in-laws' beach house deck. I love the Christmas Eve party that my in-laws throw, which has turned into a craft beer bacchanal to go along with the awesome cheese-stuffed filet that my father-in-law and I make each year.

Determined to keep the illness at bay as long as possible I loaded up on over-the-counter medicines as I struggled through a client meeting, the three-dimensional Tetris game that is packing the car with presents and gear for the holiday, and even a quick trip through New Jersey to see my niece and her husband at a cool beer bar that I wish had existed when I lived in Haddonfield and Collingswood (NJ) all those years ago.

But when I woke up on Christmas Eve morning, it was clearly not a pretty sight. I have vague recollections of fevered dreams from the night before and I literally felt like I was drowning but it all paled in comparison to the swallowing, which felt like being stabbed with thousands of tiny knives.

"How long can I go without swallowing?," I asked myself in the mirror while I wondered if the strep throat somebody at THE FORCE AWAKENS mentioned was going to be my Christmas present to one and all.

With a short last minute shopping list still in hand I decided to combine trips and make my way over to the mainland for a visit to the urgent care facility. Complicating matters was that my wife recently switched jobs so while we have health insurance we don't have insurance cards. What do people do that don't have insurance?

After declaring I was fine to self-pay and later submit bills to my insurance I was seen by a doctor, diagnosed with bronchitis and some throat malady and given a prescription for antibiotics and steroids to be filled at a nearby, albeit sketchy, Rite-Aid pharmacy where the pharmacists on duty couldn't have been nicer or more helpful, even giving me discounts to reduce my out of pocket costs.

Prescriptions filled I dashed to the car and guzzled my meds and some Day-Quil, washing to the whole grim cocktail down with some lukewarm Wawa Dark Roast that had been sitting in the car throughout my adventures in healthcare.

Though I was still pretty fuzzy and couldn't remember exactly where the nearby Target was, I fought my way through the cobwebs, attempted not to swallow, grabbed the remaining Christmas presents and craft beer samplers then made my way to the one place I knew would provide the loving care my body needed.


Granted, I've been a little down on Wawa of late. Our local store finally opened after about a year of longing and well, I have to admit it has been a bit of a disappointment. I hate the layout, the staff seems overwhelmed and uninspired, and I've actually had to – gasp! – cancel a sandwich order because it was taking too damn long.

But on LBI, the Wawa at the end of Pennsylvania Ave. is like our own private oasis, especially in the winter months. Barely any customers, a friendly staff, Michael almost always at the register ready to buoy my spirits about our beloved Flyers thanks to his unwavering confidence in his main man, Ron Hextall.

Eschewing my usual faves – Italian Hoagie, Egg White Breakfast Sandwich or Chicken Salad on Rye with Bacon – I eyed up the menu board and zeroed in on Chicken Corn Chowder, a remedy for a painfully sore throat if ever there was one. Add in a buttered Wawa hoagie roll and whatever illness was racking my body had zero chance of ruining my holiday.

Soon enough I was parked at the counter in my in-laws' house, warm spoonfuls soothing my throat while the chewy buttered roll sopped up every last drop. By that evening's festivities I was in fine spirits and even worked my way up to a couple beers – including an oddly delightful Smoked Belgian Stout from Flying Dog that made me feel like beer and ham had a baby – to go along with a plate of delicious, oh so rare stuffed filet.

Sure, doctors will tell you that it was the prescription meds that speeded me on my way back to the land of the living but just to be sure I asked my wife to whip up a heaping helping of Chicken Corn Chowder once we got back home to Maryland. She doesn't use the jalapeno and adds in a little cubed sweet potato but it is a great recipe whether you're dying from throat knives or not.

I hope all our readers had a very Merry Christmas (sans illness!) and I wish everybody a safe, happy and healthy New Years holiday and 2016! – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of The Hungover Gourmet and you can follow his food, drink and travel exploits here as well as via Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Leave Me Alone with My Chicken Baby

These are the leftovers! Leftovers!
It's no wonder that Gertrude's – John Shields' restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art – only serves its moist, crispy-skinned fried chicken once a week. Based on the massive platter of thighs, drumsticks and wings that arrived at our table they'd quickly go out of business if it was offered on a regular basis.

This was my first trip back to Gertrude's since our first wedding anniversary. My wife and I were married on the museum's patio in the midst of a pounding rainstorm in September of 2003 and we had our reception in the restaurant. The chicken – along with a pepper speckled turkey meatloaf and crab cakes based on those served at the Long Beach Island, NJ restaurant my wife's family owned for over four decades – was on our reception menu but that night is a blur of family and friends, highlighted by the smiles of my parents, who never thought they'd live to see the day.

Coincidentally, last night's weather – dreary and rainy – was a throwback to that September night a dozen years ago, but this time we got to enjoy it with our eight year old daughter (and burgeoning foodie). Just walking into the inviting, cozy restaurant with its impressive bar and low but not too dark lighting brought back a flood of great memories.

Actually, I probably shouldn't say "flood" as our honeymoon on OBX was cut short due to Hurricane Isabel which forced us to evacuate the island and sent my bride of a few days off to work as her station covered the damaging storm. On to more pleasant topics... like the food!

Despite doing a brisk Tuesday night biz – thanks to the aforementioned fried chicken and reduced price $15 entrees – we were quickly seated at a quiet corner table and munched cornbread slathered with sweet, creamy butter while we looked over the menu.

Chris had been eyeing the chicken since we made the decision to go while I had a hankering for Shields' signature crab cake – served with hand cut fries and a crisp, refreshingly different cole slaw – and Ryan settled on a whopper of a cheeseburger from the kids menu, which she quickly slathered in the ketchup that was probably intended for her fries.

While Ryan was disappointed the starters didn't include calamari (her "go to" appetizer) I was happy to get a cup of rich, velvety Cream of Crab Soup that reminded me of the Lobster Bisque I love at Howard's Restaurant on LBI. A platter of Corn & Chicken Fritters featured more than enough to go around, and the surprisingly light app paired just fine with a local Union Brewing Duckpin Ale, served in a can but poured into a glass.

We skipped dessert but you can combine one of the reduced price entrees, soup or salad and dessert into a three course meal for $30. While Ryan and I polished off our dinners  there was enough chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits and broccoli – aka My Chicken Baby – to bring home for another dinner or two.

Looks like I'll have to push my Andy Nelson's plans till Friday! – Dan Taylor

You can pick up the anniversary edition of John Shields' influential cookbook Chesapeake Bay Cooking at Amazon as well as at the museum store if you happen to be in the area.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

FOOD COURT: Two Arrested for Taking Selfies, Eating Fast Food on Boat

Police in Connecticut arrested a pair of narcissistic fast foodies who broke onto a boat at a Norwalk marina, took selfies, ate crummy food and went through the belongings of the family that was sleeping on the boat.

After being scared off by the owner – and dropping a receipt with a culprit's name on it! – the pair were arrested and charged with a multitude of crimes.

Unfortunately, taking selfies and stupidity are not chargeable offenses.

Have a hot tip for a food related crime that belongs in Food Court? Drop me a line!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Summer's Gone Part I: Charm City (And Surrounding) Edition

The Spaghetti & Meatball Pizza at Joe Squared in Baltimore.
Now I'm standing in a doorway, thinking of summers gone by
It ought to make me happy, but it just makes me want to cry.
– Summer's Gone, The Kinks

So, uh, anybody out there want to tell me exactly where it is that summer went?

Seems like just yesterday I was picking Ryan up on the last day of school, ten weeks of opportunity and adventure looming large ahead of us. Swim team, fishing, boat trips, the beach – ahhh, yes, the beach – and so many other things to do.

Turns out ten weeks isn't as long as I thought and ten 10 days ago I was packing my third grader (?!) in the car for the first day of the new school year.

But between vacation trips, beach weekends and catching up with old friends, THG has been doing a lot of out and about drinking and eating recently. And I do mean "a lot".

One of our favorite treks of late was down to Columbia, MD which, while only a 30 minute drive, always sounds much further away. But when old friends were in town to visit their daughter it seemed like a great chance to try Victoria's Gastropub. Set amidst one of those confusingly cobbled together groupings of stores, banks and chain stores, Victoria's is quite the craft beer and upscale pub grub oasis.

Though our reserved table netted us nothing more than a cramped booth next to the kitchen, I was happy to see they offered a robust beer menu in addition to the varied dinner fare. Bonus points, too, to the server who admitted that our friends were much better off hitting nearby G&M for their legendary softball-sized crab cakes than ordering at Victoria's. Love the honesty, dude.

Chicken Liver Pate was smooth and not at all gamey – though still not as great as my father-in-law's but on par with the Smoked Chicken Liver Spread I made back in 2009. I must admit, though, that we were definitely disappointed that steamed clams were already off the menu at such an early hour. On the other hand, entrees were met with a lot of enthusiasm, especially my juicy Wagyu burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese which had me scrambling for my napkin to stem the tide of juice running down my hands.

The ambience doesn't quite capture the gastropub/craft beer feel they're going for and our second round of beers was completely mixed up, but any hiccups were smoothed over by the hearty sides of addictive Duck Fat Fries that were devoured by everyone, even the 8 year old diner in our midst.

Two recent trips to Ryleigh's Oyster House in Cockeysville, MD met with definitely mixed results. (They have a couple other popular locations but we've never been.) While I love noshing on seafood at Mama's on the Half Shell down in Baltimore, the opening of Ryleigh's in Cockeysville has brought some of that convenience a lot closer to home. We're talking ten minutes versus thirty, not to mention no lengthy wait for a table.

On National Oyster Day I accompanied my buddy and his son out for lunch, which resulted in picture perfect service, ice cold Natty Boh drafts, smooth and chunky Cream of Crab Soup and my usual, a Fried Oyster Po' Boy that may not be as good as Mama's but is worth stopping in for every month or so.

Unfortunately, another recent trip to Ryleigh's resulted in the first time I was officially disappointed in the restaurant. We had decided to meet an old friend there on a Saturday afternoon and sat under an umbrella on the steamy patio, which sits, unfortunately, right along busy Padonia Road. To be frank, I'm still trying to find a nearby Baltimore County patio/deck bar that doesn't butt up against a busy thoroughfare.

Service from the patio bartender was a little shaky – a bit too much time between courses, forgotten soup – and my Grilled Fish Tacos were a major letdown, though everybody else seemed to enjoy their lunches. Unfortunately, my flour tortillas were a dense, soggy mess, the grilled fish limited to one nearly tasteless strip per taco, with whatever flavor the fish might have had overwhelmed by the pico de gallo.

More impressive was a Sunday afternoon trek to Joe Squared on North Ave. for some pizza and beers before catching a documentary at The Ottobar. I've always liked the food and drink at JS, even if parking your car and walking three blocks reminds me of my days walking from classes at Drexel to a bar or friend's house in West Philly. And not in a great way.

Despite an air conditioning system that was clearly struggling on a sultry summer afternoon, I loved the Spaghetti and Meatball Pizza that my buddy Dave suggested. To be honest, I was expecting something far heavier but JS once again elevated the simple concept and delivered a delicious thin crust packed with red peppers, meatballs and just a hint of pasta.

Dave and I ordered a 14" pie, but I could have definitely housed another few slices. And maybe another small pizza before we headed to The Ottobar for a screening of DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD about one of my favorite punk bands, The Damned.

And, yes, we even spotted two large rats cavorting in the Ottobar parking lot afterwards, so it was an official Baltimore trip!

I'll be back with Part II of our Summer Wrap-Up soon, with some thoughts on new and old haunts on our home away from home, Long Beach Island (NJ). – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of The Hungover Gourmet. Be sure to check out THG on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

RECIPE: Quick Coconut and Shrimp Soup

School starts in less than two weeks here in Maryland and I can't believe how fast the summer has flown. Seems like it was only yesterday I was promising myself I was going to write/blog more but considering my last post was back on July 3rd you see how well that's going!

But with school approaching that means getting back into the swing of things, re-embracing getting up earlier, and even trying to have dinner ready at a reasonable hour so my daughter doesn't look like a zombie because dinner prep took two hours, not the 29 minutes stated in the recipe.

While I usually eschew soups in the summer, the site of some fresh local squash at the grocery store – coupled with a pound of shrimp in the freezer – got me in the mood for a cheap weeknight dinner of a coconut soup with some shrimp.

I used this recipe as my jumping off point, though I made some revisions:
  • 1 can organic lite coconut milk
  • 1/2 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken bullion
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsps. ground, prepared ginger
  • 2 tsps. fresh lime juice 
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 4 large fresh basil leaves, rough chopped
  • 1 lb. extra large shrimp (21-25 count), shelled
  • 1 large yellow squash, 1 large green squash cut into noodles
  • Sriracha to taste
Combine the coconut milk, bullion (you can use chicken stock but I didn't have any handy), water, ginger and basil in a medium pot over medium high heat until boiling. Reduce to a simmer and add lime juice and fish sauce. Stir, add shrimp and simmer about five minutes until shrimp are pink and firm. Add a mix of "noodles" to the bottoms of the bowls and ladle soup and shrimp atop noodles. Add Sriracha to taste.

I originally intended to add the Sriracha to the soup while it simmered but completely spaced at the end (I'll blame the Anchor Steam Summer Wheat) so we just added a splash to each bowl "to taste". My new spiral slicer did exactly what I wanted with the squash, but I would probably add them to the soup about halfway through the shrimp cooking time so they were a touch less raw and my wife suggested more basil next time.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Battling Barbecue: A Hungry THG Tackles Some Chain 'Que

Happy Fourth of July to all our American readers and I hope you're getting ready to enjoy a long holiday weekend filled with doing patriotic stuff like grilling, wearing too much red, white & blue and overindulging the way we Americans do. Just don't blow any fingers off with illegal fireworks. My guess is this column will get lost in the holiday shuffle but it has been rattling around in my head in one form or another for months now, so I felt like it was time to do a brain dump. Enjoy!

I've often found that food – no matter the preparation or pedigree – almost always tastes best at the end of a long day when your hunger is gnawing at your gut something fierce.

For example, my Mom made a wicked simple tuna and macaroni salad and nothing, I mean NOTHING satisfied my hunger more after a night at Philly punk clubs like The Khyber Pass or Dobbs than a heaping bowl or three of that mass of elbows, tuna and mayo.

So I must admit that we were a little surprised by the polar opposite reactions we had to a couple of barbecue chains during our recent travels.

Readers of this blog are well aware of my fondness for Andy Nelson's, a Baltimore County-based barbecue restaurant just up the road from us. Pulled pork, smoked wings, slabs of ribs, creamy slaw, piquant redskin potato salad... it doesn't matter, Andy Nelson's has delivered the goods as long as we've been going there.

So when they started building a Famous Dave's across from the local State Fairgrounds I looked upon the rising edifice with a mix of guilt and optimism like I was some sort of adulterer. I'd never actually been to a Famous Dave's, but it had received grudging recommendations from friends and I'm always up for giving a new place a try.

Even a chain.

While I'm not sure how the topic of visiting Famous Dave's came up, I'm not surprised since we were in the midst of driving the 8 hours from Maryland to Virginia and back to pick up a new car and, well, we like to talk about food.

The wild card of the trip was that our daughter, then age 7, was in that "pukey car ride phase" that I guess curses a lot of kids. Car trips to and from Florida were met with quick shoulder pullovers and equally quick recoveries as she shook it off and smiled away, next destination on the horizon, puke-filled grocery bag left by the roadside. Sorry, Florida highway workers!

But with one Pukey McGee incident already "in the bag" on the ride to VA we decided that a stop along the way home from the car dealership might be a bad idea. Especially since she was riding with her mother. In the new car.

After arriving home and debating our options we ended up at Famous Dave's, outrageously hungry and somewhat optimistic that we'd made a decent – if not perfect – choice to satisfy our barbecue-loving bellies.

Barbecued Nachos at Famous Dave's
I had a feeling things were going to be a bit rocky when the platter of something called Barbecue Nachos arrived at the table (see picture). A wholly unsatisfying mix of lettuce (?!), nacho chips, chili and other "stuff" (I think there was some sort of meat buried under there), it looked like two servers carrying separate platters had crashed into one another and the resulting monstrosity landed on our table. Granted, I'm not above enjoying an abominable looking appetizer every now and then but this looked and tasted all sorts of wrong, setting a rather disappointing tone for the start of the meal.

I'm still not sure what that sauce on top was supposed to be.

And, please take into consideration that we'd eaten nothing more than a breakfast bar and bottled water in the car dealership waiting room since the wee hours of that morning. Famous Dave should have been able to slather cheese and chili on a slab of wet cardboard in order to satisfy us.

Unfortunately, we hadn't set the bar quite low enough.

I prayed the entrees would be met with a better reception, downed another beer (I recall the selection being equally forgettable as the rest of the meal... spoiler alert!) and hoped for the best. Especially since a friend, knowing my affection for chicken and familiar with my above average homemade ribs had suggested I lean toward the poultry when making my selection.

Alas, it was not to be. Chicken was fortunately forgettable but the ribs were a nightmare that will linger on my palette for years to come. (Come on, I was at a barbecue place. I had to get the rib and chicken combo.) Caked? Coated? Lacquered? I'm not even sure what the right word is to describe the application of the super sweet, cloying sauce that instantly masked any flavor the ribs may have actually had. Even my wife and daughter – card carrying lovers of sweetness – were equally turned off by what they found as our platters were picked at and pushed to the side with a collective wrinkle of the nose.

The Chicken & Rib Platter at Famous Dave's
But, as Ryan said, "at least the cornbread was good". And I'm going to trust her on that because I've blocked out most of the finer details to the point that I almost feel like I should pop in one day for lunch just to make sure it wasn't better than I remember. And judging from the almost always empty parking lot I don't think I'd have trouble grabbing a table.

Fast forward a few months and we're on our way to Florida for one of our whirlwind Sunshine State excursions. Along with everyone in Maryland, Virginia and North and South Carolina who had the same damn idea, resulting in hour upon hour of bumper-to-bumper roadways.

But we're road warriors and we're determined to make it to Georgia so that our second day of travel can be a little easier, meaning that we continue to forge ahead in the face of a sea of brake lights, hoping that each easing of the traffic pattern will mean clear sailing ahead.

It didn't.

Upon arriving at a Brunswick, GA hotel that had decent looking accommodations (and, uh, available rooms) we quickly surveyed the dining options that didn't require anybody getting behind the wheel of the car. Winn Dixie? CVS? Scary Looking Chinese Place?

Or we could literally walk through the parking lot and end up at Sonny's BBQ.

Ignoring the feral cat and its glowing red eyes we made our way to a booth, ordered some ice cold Yuengling Lager (the closest Sonny's comes to craft beer it appears), forsook appetizers due to our raging hunger and dove into plates of ribs and chicken.

"Holy crap," I thought. "This is actually pretty good."

Quick glances at the appreciative looks from my wife and daughter confirmed that despite its chain roots and slightly trashy ambience, Sonny's was a hit with our family. Ribs had a slight give when pulled from the bone, mac & cheese received a thumbs up from Ryan, and even the waitress charmed us by asking to see some ID. (I hope I left a big tip.)

And with that we retreated to our hotel rooms, slipped on some comfy pants and drifted off to sleep under the power of Sonny's BBQ, another day on the road awaiting us.

While I'd rather support an independent place like Right on Q, at least we know Sonny's delivers when weary travelers beckon. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor (aka The Hungover Gourmet) is a barbecue aficionado and the editor/publisher of The Hungover Gourmet. You can follow his exploits and eats here at the blog as well as on Twitter and Facebook. Back issues of the award-winning THG zine are available from the webstore.