Monday, June 27, 2011

Off the Map: Cheesesteaks - Proof That Everything Is Better in New Jersey

“Big Daddy” Cheesesteak – Carmen’s Deli, Bellmawr, NJ
Carmen's Deli

To those of us from the Philadelphia area, the cheesesteak is not just a subpar food one eats as a tourist in the City of Brotherly Love.  The cheesesteak is a way of life.  And everyone has his or her favorite.
And All Cheesesteaks Should Be Eaten with Onion Rings. Fact
Hailing from the South Jersey suburbs, Vodka’s ideal cheesesteak does not come from Philadelphia at all.  It comes from the delis of her youth, a solid half hour away from the Pat’s versus Geno’s rivalry.  It does not feature long slabs of shaved meat and oodles of Cheez Whiz.  The South Jersey cheesesteak, in Vodka’s mind, is refined and hearty, proving that the cheesesteak one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.
And If You Call Hoagies "Subs," Just Leave Now
Clearly sharing Vodka’s sentiment that the best cheesesteaks are found east of the Delaware River, Aaron McCargo, Jr. chose Carmen’s Deli cheesesteak on the BETWEEN BREAD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  Forcing my mother to chauffeur me to Bellmawr, NJ for the sake of obsessive eating, we find a packed parking lot outside of Carmen’s.  Being that it is neither lunch nor dinner time, this inexplicable crowd seems to prove that Aaron McCargo, Jr. knows his stuff.
I Hear Bellmawr is Lovely This Time of Year....
I enter Carmen’s Deli and head to the hoagie and grill line to pick my number.  As I wait, I am filled with schadenfreude at the dope who arrives at the pick-up counter to retrieve the order he had placed over the phone… at what is revealed to be the “Carmen’s Deli” in BALTIMORE.   Talk about not knowing your area codes.

Because all of the workers at Carmen’s Deli are kinder souls than me, they do not laugh in the face of this moron, and they simply make a replica of the order that is probably still waiting for him in Maryland.  And in fact, the workers’ patience and niceties are what saves Carmen's from what is otherwise an inefficient sandwich ordering system (whoever takes your order at the counter makes your food, which leaves long gaps of wait time).
And I'm Not Very Patient When Waiting for This
Once I retrieve our “Big Daddy” cheesesteaks (made with fried onions and hot peppers, neither of which are really my thing, but I won’t diverge from Best Thing I Ever Ate choices), my mother and I cart our sandwiches home to feast upon.  Impressively, when we unwrap them twenty minutes later, they are still piping hot (verging on scalding).
Well Insulated Sandwich
The rolls (which my parents find too flimsy but I love) are bulging with more meat than I have ever seen smashed into a cheesesteak.  Melted provolone cheese coats all of the thinly sliced steak (pleasantly integrated with the meat itself and not just hanging off of the roll).  There are also a proliferation of fried onions and hot peppers which, one by one, we each decide to pick off.
Cheesesteak Pictures Also Don't Win Awards
Diving in, the cheesesteak is practically perfect, and to my South Jersey tastebuds, far superior to the runny contraptions found in South Philly.  The peppers, however, distort many of my early bites, and the sandwich is much better once they are removed.  While I wouldn’t venture to Bellmawr again just for this sandwich, as I can find many akin to it in my parents’ backyard, I would urge anyone from Philadelphia proper to come to South Jersey and have the cheesesteak you've been missing all these years.
New Jersey's Finest
Note from Ginger: Please direct all Philadelphia versus South Jersey cheesesteak related hate-mail to Vodka directly as I do not wish to be implicated in your wrath.  Thank you.

Carmen’s Deli “Big Daddy” Cheesesteak: 4 stars

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert Macarons

Coffee Macaron – Payard Patisserie (Francois Chocolate Bar)
FC Chocolate Bar

"[She] becomes All About Eve meets Cruella de Vil when she's having a party.  It becomes like psycho Nazi warfare." -Bethenny Frankel

The second weekend in June means one thing and one thing only to Vodka and her long-suffering friends: Vodka’s annual Tony Awards Rager.
This Pretty Much Encapsulates Ginger's Behavior at the Party
Vodka, having been obsessed with Broadway shows since seeing Cats at age five, goes full-tilt crazy on Tony night, naming each of her sixteen dishes after the nominated shows and drowning her guests in Bernadettinis and Rogeritas (and if you can’t figure out who the drinks are named for, you have not been paying attention*).
We Also Finally Tried Vodka's Namesake. It Tasted Like Toothpaste
Needless to say, the Tony Awards Rager is not for the weak of heart.

Now that this Best Thing I Ever Ate quest has taken over our lives, however, Vodka decides to try to incorporate an untasted Best Thing I Ever Ate dish into her menu.
Upscale Sandwich Cookies
For this reason, we encounter a great deal of opinions concerning the star-rating of Wolfgang Puck’s favorite NUTTY dish, the coffee macaron from Payard Patisserie, from the various party guests.  Rest assured, these opinions are not factored into our final rating as, in the words of Vodka’s infamous high school band director, “This is not a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship."
And Only Those Who Buy the Goods Get to Have Opinions
The coffee macarons, which Vodka actually purchased from the Payard offshoot, the Francois Chocolate Bar in the Plaza Hotel, are given the label “Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert” (which is different from the Broadway show by one letter.  Good luck).
I'd Like to Buy a Vowel
When Vodka bought the macarons, she was told that they should be refrigerated until use.  Fine.  What she was not told is that they should be left at room temperature right before service, or biting into them will be reminiscent of charging through a gummy version of a Klondike bar.  Note to all: warm up your macarons before consumption.
Unless You Have a Thing for Gummy Ice Cream
Once these delicacies are back at normal temperature, they’re quite good: the “crust” is flaky and soft, and the coffee-infused insides are sweet and comforting.  Tan in color, they are less visually interesting than their more colorful macaron siblings, but this blandness does not distort their taste.  Despite being featured on the NUTTY episode, they taste mostly of coffee.  If anything, the coffee flavoring overwhelms any other taste, and it may even be a bit heavy-handed.

Perhaps it is ironic that such a delicate pastry finds itself saddled with the moniker of a Broadway show about drag queens, but on Tony night, the showtunes rule both the palate and the party.
Macarons In Need of a Feather Boa
*Bernadette Peters and Roger Bart.  Really, if you had to check for the answer, you should be ashamed.

Payard Patisserie (Francois Chocolate Bar)’s Coffee Macaron: 4 stars

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Off the Map: This Used to be a Cinemagic, You Know

Buffalo Style Burger Crunchified – Bobby’s Burger Palace, Philadelphia, PA
Bobby's Burger Palace

Bobby’s Burger Palace, where Claire Robinson went for the BURGERS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, has a Philadelphia location.  A Philadelphia location that is a hop, skip, and jump from where we lived in college.  If Bobby’s Burger Palace had opened a few years earlier, we would have had high-end burgers on which to dine.  Instead, in Bobby’s current location, we were given the infamous Cinemagic movie theatre, a triumph in sticky sketchiness.

Thanks for the timing, Philadelphia.
Sleazy Buttered Popcorn This Is Not
Whiling away the hours on the MegaBus from DC, Vodka, ever the blog devotee, sends her parents to Bobby’s Burger Palace as they await her imminent arrival at the gem that is 30th Street Station.  Vodka’s mom orders Claire Robinson’s chosen burger – the buffalo style burger, crunchified – and reports back that the service is pleasant and efficient (let’s just say that this is not the norm in West Philadelphia dining establishments, so I applaud Bobby Flay’s efforts in his customer service training).

When Vodka makes her way into the car, she is handed her burger, which she refuses to eat because (insert screeching voice), “I need to take its picture first!”  So keep in mind that said burger was not consumed for over thirty minutes, which may have cut down on the freshness of its taste.
Because Such Photographic Masterpieces Had to Be Taken
When finally examined, the buffalo style burger is a thick slab of meat coated with blue cheese dressing (not blue cheese itself, which is slightly strange), watercress, and a red hot sauce (which, thank goodness based on our Devi experience, is not that spicy).  Because it was ordered crunchified, there is a layer of potato chips (which frankly don’t add much, as they are now soggy and were fairly thin to begin with).
Elementary School Cafeteria Brand Chips
Chomping through the burger, it is pretty good.  Solid.  Hearty.  Well-cooked.  The toppings are interesting, if a bit sparse.  The regular cheeseburger (crunchified) which my parents ordered is also tasty, as is the vanilla milkshake (the French fries have been rendered a limp mess of potato scraps after their long wait in the bag, though my toy poodle seems intent on trying one).
This Is Bigger Than Her Head.
Again, the burgers probably lost a bit of their luster during their travel time, and while they are on par with burgers from the likes of Shake Shack or Five Guys, they’re not the best burgers I’ve ever eaten (I’d give that award to Spotted Pig or The Breslin).
Does Bobby Flay Go By Burger King at the Burger Palace?
However, are they preferable to the junk (food, décor, clientele, and otherwise) that was previously present in the form of Cinemagic movie theatre?  Abso-crunchin’-lutely.

Bobby’s Burger Palace’s Buffalo Style Burger Crunchified: 4 stars

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Off the Map: Vodka Conquers Jose Andres's DC

Arroz a Banda con Gambas Paella – Jaleo, Washington, DC

Disclaimer: The true extent of Vodka's lunacy may or may not be revealed in this post.

As previously stated, Vodka only travels to our nation's capital to see musicals starring Bernadette Peters or Roger Bart.

What Vodka did not admit previously is that she has a tendency to see shows starring said personalities a number of times.  An excessive number of times.

Some would say a maniacal number of times.

Anyway, due to this personality flaw, Vodka carts herself back down to DC to see Bernadette Peters in Follies at the Kennedy Center.  Again.

(It goes without saying that Bernadette was stupendous).
Also I May or May Not Now Own Half of This Paraphernalia
While in DC, Vodka also immerses herself in the culinary renderings of an actual DC icon: Jose Andres. An OCD-like trip through the Food Network website the week before had revealed that a dish from Andres's Jaleo was going to be featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate.  The problem? The episode hadn't aired yet, and the name of the dish was not revealed.

Vodka, forever the manipulator, decides that she is going to try to coax the name of the dish out of the Jaleo waitstaff, figuring that they are under strict orders from the Food Network not to release any privileged information before the show airs.

Spoiler Alert!
For the record, Best Thing I Ever Ate dish picks are not worthy of CIA-level protection.  Everyone and their mother at Jaleo is more than happy to tell me that Marc Murphy had chosen the arroz a banda con gambas paella on the BETTER THAN MINE episode.

So much for my stealth interrogation skills.

Saddling up to the bar, I am not put off when no less than four people tell me that the paella is meant to for at least three diners.  These folks have clearly never witnessed Ginger and me eating non-stop for 8 hours in a row.  “Portion control” is not a term in our vocabularies.
Time for a "I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing" Reference
Never one to turn down a cocktail opportunity, I order the Pomelo or Pummelo (which, after six years of Spanish instruction, I still can’t pronounce, let alone translate).  It allegedly has tequila and grapefruit in it, though it tastes more like a Manhattan than a Skinnygirl Margarita, so consider yourself warned.
Tequila in a Martini Glass? One of These Things Is Not Like the Others
The paella arrives, and it is fairly large.  (So large that the weird man three barstools down asks if he can try it.  Toto, I don’t think we’re in New York anymore…).  Large shrimp, heads intact, rest atop a bed of browned rice, with pieces cuttlefish sprinkled throughout.
"I Am Not a Shrimp, I Am a King Prawn." - Pepe the King Prawn
The bartender, sensing my idiocy towards Spanish food consumption, instructs me as to how to consume it (suck out the juices of the shrimp heads and spread dabs of the garlic aioli throughout).

The paella is delectable.
I Love Me Some Mayonnaise
Now, I am a pretty big fan of rice, particularly when it’s slightly sticky and coated in some sort of goop.  Jaleo’s rice is second to none, and it perfectly illustrates why the paella takes 30 minutes to cook (and thus get the most bang for your buck in the flavoring).  The shrimp has an ideal texture that melds wonderfully with the rice, giving it a slight under-the-sea tang.

(No word on what my paella-grabbing neighbor thought of it.  Dear Weirdo, keep your fork to yourself from now on).
And Keep Your Paws Off My Shrimp Heads
I take the remaining paella to go (and never finish it – it does not keep particularly well, due more to the smell than the food itself).  However, not satisfied to have only gone to one Jose Andres restaurant, I head to Zaytinya the next day.  Tragic backstory concerning Zaytinya: two and a half years ago, my friend and I had dinner reservations there (Roger Bart was in Young Frankenstein at the Kennedy Center at the time.  Duh).  Unfortunately, a snowpocalypse hit DC that night, everything shut down, and we were left stranded in our hotel room feasting on EZ Mac and Diet Coke.
And Worst of All, No Cocktails
Needless to say, I’ve never recovered.

In any case, I’ve been dying to try Zaytinya ever since, and it did not disappoint.  The Hitpiti spread (made with red peppers, feta, and thyme) is bowl-licking scrumptious.
Feta Makes Everything Betta
And the lamb bahar (some sort of kebab-like thing) is melt-in-your-mouth-and-make-you-moan phenomenal.
Thank You For Not Being on a Stick
As much as I liked Jaleo’s paella, I’d venture to say that I preferred Zaytinya.  Some Food Network star needs to feature it on Best Thing I Ever Ate pronto (as the bread alone would get my vote).
It's Not So Much "Bread" as "Clouds of Heaven"
And with that, I am out of Washington, DC Best Thing I Ever Ate locales (since Minibar’s six-seat reservation policy is too much for me to handle).  But am I out of Follies tickets yet?  I plead the fifth.

Jaleo’s Arroz a Banda con Gambas Paella – 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Never Doubt the Taste of Ina

Grilled Cheese and Tuscan Peasant Soup -- E.A.T.

So we did not go to E.A.T. merely to smuggle in a jar of pickles.  Our true reason for being here is to eat Ina Garten's favorite CHEESY dish, the grilled cheese sandwich with Tuscan peasant soup.

Though after the pickles, we can't seem to focus on much else.
This Sandwich Looks Decidedly Devoid of Cheese from Certain Angles
At this point, we also decide that we cannot go eating around Manhattan two days in a row.  The spunk and enthusiasm we displayed for our jaunts around the Upper West Side the day before have all but disappeared, and we are especially put off by our inability to order wine until after noon on Sunday (which is just about the stupidest rule we have ever heard.  Get it together, Bloomberg.  This ain't prohibition times anymore).  In any case, we are almost apathetic when our plates arrive.


The Tuscan peasant soup, which was not technically on Best Thing I Ever Ate but which Ina recommended combining with the grilled cheese, is downright to die for.  It overcomes the obstacle of being a very hot dish being consumed on a very hot day and makes us bask in all of its tomato, bready chunkiness.
Not Exactly a Go-To Summer Dish
The grilled cheese, when dipped in the soup, is equally rich in carb comforting goodness.  On its own, however, it is not quite as interesting - the bread is slightly greasy and the cheese somewhat lacking, and it does not overtake the grilled cheese excellence of Bouchon Bakery.
And the Mustard Dressing on the Salad is Enough to Kill You
Still, the combination of the two items warrants a 5-star review (and proves to be a much better "combo" than that blasted watermelon pickle and crispy pork at Fatty Crab).
Better Together
Picture These As Fraternal Twins
Vodka's mother, a steadfast follower of Ina Garten's cookbooks (though a rabid fan of Paula Deen herself), has always sworn that Ina has some of the best taste among the Food Network stars.  And with Ina's choice of E.A.T., Vodka's mom is proven correct.

If only the sandwich always came with a side of pickles.

E.A.T.'s Grilled Cheese and Tuscan Peasant Soup: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BYOP: Bring Your Own Pickles

Pickles -- McClure's Pickles
McClure's Pickles

The only time Vodka goes to the Upper East Side is to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the only reason Vodka joined the Met was for the gift shop discount that she can use to buy unnecessary New York-themed picture frames.  Consequently, the only time Ginger goes to the Upper East Side is when Vodka has decided to spend the morning (i.e. one hour or when her attention span runs out - whichever comes first) wandering the exhibits of the Met and wants to meet for lunch at a Best Thing I Ever Ate locale.

This scenario is how Vodka found herself in the basement of Eli's Manhattan in search of a jar of McClure's Pickles.
Still Life of Pickle
Upon perusing the Food Network website for the 479th time, Vodka discovered that Ted Allen's chosen SNACK ATTACK feast, McClure's Pickles, could be purchased in Manhattan.  In fact, they could be purchased in just about every single high quality Manhattan food store.

This obliviousness is what happens when you do all of your food shopping on Fresh Direct.

So after leaving the Met, Vodka traipses over to Third Avenue in search of Eli's Manhattan and their stash of McClure's Pickles.  Once securing a jar in her grubby little hands, she is given only mildly odd looks at the cash register when she checks out with only one jar of $14 pickles.  Heading to our lunch location, pickles in hand, Vodka stashes her prize under her chair.

And when Ginger arrives, Vodka, without explanation, places the jar of pickles on the table of E.A.T. (thankfully also owned by Eli Zabar, so he shouldn't mind).  Without really showing much confusion based on the situation at hand, Ginger only has one question:

"Well, are you going to open it?"
The Holy Grail of Pickledom
In the middle of our E.A.T. bread basket, we whip open said jar of pickles and start crunching away.  Now, normally, restaurants do not like their diners eating other stores' food at their table, but no one questions why we are pulling pickles out of a jar at rapid-fire pace in the midst of this establishment. (Perhaps they were sympathetic because it was purchased at their own specialty food store).
Proceeding to consume at least half of the jar (with Ginger repeating at 2-minute intervals, "I love a pickle"), we decide that Ted Allen knows his snacks.  McClure's Pickles are soaked in garlic, dill, salt, and vinegar, and they are decidedly very salty and very crunchy.  They are just about the best pickles we have ever had, and strangely addictive.  We want to suggest that E.A.T. start serving them with their bread basket, as they bring a much more interesting flavor to their otherwise standard bread.
The Ideal Bread Basket Accompaniment
But until they do, not to worry: we'll bring our own pickles.

McClure's Pickles: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vodka and Ginger Meet Vodka and Ginger

Croque Monsieur -- Bar Boulud
Bar Boulud

By the time we arrive at Bar Boulud, we are three sheets to the wind from our foray into all-you-can-drink cocktails at Fatty Crab.  Stumbling down the stairs in search of the restroom, Vodka finds herself in the private quarters of the restaurant.  Why?

"Call me crazy, but a sign that says 'LaLas' with an arrow is pointing towards the ladies room," she tells Ginger upon returning to their booth.

"On what planet does 'LaLas' translate to 'Women's Restroom?'" Ginger laughs judgmentally.  Clearly another drink is in order, so we peruse the cocktail menu.  Without thinking twice or analyzing our choices, Vodka chooses a vodka drink and Ginger, a ginger one.  We are true to form in all states of competence.
Our Self-Portrait
Settling down to business, we are at Bar Boulud for Frank Bruni's Best Thing I Ever Ate FOR BRUNCH dish, the croque monsieur.  A glorified open-faced ham and cheese, it is a delicacy with which Vodka is already obsessed and Ginger is eager to try.  Not wanting to order two prix fixe brunches, however, when our waitress arrives, Ginger informs her, "I'm going to have the prix fixe brunch, and this one is just going to drink," gesturing at Vodka.

Our waitress, clearly a soothsayer, properly translates this pronouncement into split portions and extra plates.  She is apparently the only person we have encountered today who has not instantly written us off as being lunatics.

However, when our saintly waitress comes around with the complimentary bread basket asking for our choices, Vodka grows guilty about the fact that she has not actually ordered brunch and offers to pay for the bread.  Upon refusal, Ginger gains a chuckle about this proposition while regaling (the now shoe-less, by the way, as her feet hurt.  Classy) Vodka about the history of Thomas Keller's restaurant, "Chinese Laundry."  Keller owns the French Laundry.

Drinking has not made us any smarter.
What Vodka Offered to Shell Out a Few Nickels For
We scarf down both our complimentary bread and the bowl of greens that arrives before us, barely tasting either.
Greens Greens and Nothing But Greens (Into the Woods Reference - Anyone?)
When the croque monsieur arrives, however, it is everything Vodka remembered and Ginger had dreamt of: a thick slice of bread enveloped by tanned and gooey cheese, the two items hugging an inner layer of warm, succulent ham.

Let us tell you, the French know how to do bread and cheese.
The Level of Cheesiness is Perfection
The sandwich feels almost casual, like you could pick it up and eat it as finger food (though we are trying not to act like cavewomen so we use utensils).  It is packed together miraculously tightly, as one would expect the three elements to separate from one another upon the first encounter with a knife, but it does not.
Finger Food?
The croque monsieur is a perfect brunch item, and we would venture to guess that Bar Boulud's croque madame (the same elements with a fried egg on top) is as well.  And though the inside of Bar Boulud has the distinct feel of a train terminal (not to mention incomprehensible signs for the bathroom), the outside tented seating area is perfect for breezy days (though not if the only tables left are in direct sunlight, as Vodka avoids the sun so religiously that she should own stock in Banana Boat).

By this point, our waitress is presumably done with her shift and has disappeared, leaving us in the hands of a much less capable waiter who takes approximately 18 hours to find our ice cream (which is light and refreshing pink sorbet with whipped cream) and check (which is very high numbered).
We Capped This Off with Cones from Mister Softee. No Joke
Nevertheless, we must agree with Frank Bruni's assessment of his ideal brunch dish, as the croque monsieur is scrumptious, both when you're in LaLa Land, and when you're out.

Bar Boulud's Croque Monsieur: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pork Fat Anonymous

Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork -- Fatty Crab
Fatty Crab

Let's make something clear: we eat unhealthy food.  We love unhealthy food.  We drool over grease and carbs and oil and salt and we do not scoff at the sight of cheese.

But we have our limits when it comes to cubes of pure fat.

After our first corn dog experience, we head to Fatty Crab to try a dish from the Best Thing I Ever Ate COMBOS episode, the watermelon pickle and crispy pork, as recommended by Roger Mooking.  As we take our seats outside on the Broadway sidewalk, we decide instantly that we cannot pass up the all-you-can-drink brunch special for $15, even if we only plan on eating one thing.  So we each order a mimosa with grapefruit juice.

"Our refrigerator broke," our waiter informs us.  "So I'm not sure if the champagne will be cold."

"Ehh, we'll just throw some ice cubes in there," Ginger, forever the sommelier, says.  But when he offers to substitute screwdrivers for the lukewarm mimosas, we take him up on his offer.
It's Slightly After Noon Somewhere
"I could add club soda so you still get some fizz," he suggests.

"Nah, I drink my vodka straight up," Vodka insists.  We place our order for the watermelon and pork, and our waiter attempts to take away our menus.  "Can I hold onto this a second?  I want to copy down the quote on the cocktail page about drinking."  The waiter leaves Vodka with the quote, and she enters it into her phone as if copying down one of the Psalms songs:

"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink.  If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen."
-Charles Bukowski

"That's a quote from someone in AA," our waiter informs us upon handing over our mid-day cocktails. Well, that's one way to put a damper on the first cocktail of the day.

"Cheers," we say anyway.  (It never dawns on us to ask about the "broken refrigerator" in regards to the food we are about the consume - clearly, our priorities at the moment lie with our cocktails).

We are only midway through our first screwdriver when our watermelon pickle and crispy pork arrive, and we dig in.  Vodka goes for a piece of the pickled watermelon first, and Ginger, for the crispy "pork."  There are scallions and herbs sprinkled liberally on all of the pieces, and a thick coat of ginger lining the watermelon.  It is unclear how exactly this is a "combo" platter, as the pieces of both are too large to eat together, so their marriage seems like a moot point.
Cut in Pieces Suitable to an Alligator's Mouth?
Upon biting into our respective cubes, we both wince.

Well, we don't so much wince as grimace.

The dish is verging on disgusting.

The watermelon, rather than being sweet and juicy, has been stripped of its flavor and turned into a sour piece of pink mush.  Vodka, who hates all ginger except Ginger herself, is completely put off by the ginger coating (though Ginger, naturally, finds this feature much less offensive).

And the pork - where do we even begin on the pork?  First of all, THERE IS NO PORK.  The cubes of "pork" are pure fat.  We tear through them hopelessly in search of a slab of hidden meat only to come up with more and more slimy, slithery fat.  The cubes are chewy and manage to be spicy yet tasteless at the same time, and everything about them is awful.
Where's the Beef (err, pork), Indeed?
"I don't even get it," Ginger confesses.  For the first time on our tour, not only do we not understand the appeal of a dish's taste, but we don't even get the concept.  There is no misplaced whimsy, a la the chocolate pizza and cheesecake lollipops.  For all intents and purposes, it is supposed to be a "real" dish (and a $17 dish at that), but why oh why would it ever be considered enjoyable to chomp through a wad of pig fat?

Merely to get rid of the feeling of fat swishing around in our mouths, we order vegetable buns, which are ten times more enjoyable (we don't dare get the meat version for fear that it will once again be loaded with unlimited fat).  The all-you-can-drink screwdrivers are also fairly tasty, and pretty much the only barrier standing in the way of us hating the place.
These Tasted More Appetizing Than They Look
From now on, we prefer to keep fat where it belongs: hidden away in our food under the guise of "frosting" or "bacon"; not rolling around on our plates in its unadulterated form.

Fatty Crab's Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork: 1 star

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Need to Start Frequenting Country Fairs

Corn Dog -- Shake Shack
Shake Shack

Shake Shack has become a bit of a New York institution, which is odd for a place that serves food one could pretty much find at McDonald's.  Don't get us wrong - Shake Shack is good and all, but is it good enough to counteract the excessively long lines, jam-packed space, and screaming children?

Let's just say that neither of us are frequenters of the place.
Cropped to Remove the Legions of Strollers Parked Outside
However, when our BFF Claire Robinson tells us to go eat something on Best Thing I Ever Ate, you can be sure that we will follow orders.  So we go to the Upper West Side Shake Shack in search of an elusive corn dog, which Claire spoke of on the ON A STICK episode.  Said corn dogs are only available over long summer weekends (Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day), which is clever marketing in terms of hype but seems somewhat unnecessary.  It is just a fried hot dog, after all.

Blessedly arriving at the place ten minutes before noon, we figure we are in the clear from the onslaught of the lunch crowd.  Wrong.  The place is teeming with other folks who apparently eat on a schedule akin to the Golden Girls.  Children and strollers block every turn, and we are becoming displeased and mildly claustrophobic.

Ginger lines up to order us a corn dog while Vodka goes on the prowl for condiments and a table.  By some miracle, a table opens up and Vodka, being without the hindrances of a stroller and/or anklebiters, nabs it.  Ginger returns with our Olive Garden-style shaker which will inform us when our corn dog is prepared, and we settle in for what we assume will be a five-minute wait.  We mean, how long could it possibly take to fry ONE hot dog?

THIRTY MINUTES is the answer.
Good Things Better Come in Small Packages
For once the one harassing the waitstaff, Ginger inquires throughout this half hour as to the fate of our corn dog, and she is finally informed that there is a "delay on corn dogs" because they "only have one station open for them."

Good job, Shake Shack.  Solid planning you did there. 


Finally, our buzzer lights up, and Ginger fetches our dog on a stick.  A wooden skewer emerges from a crispy doughy skin of enveloped hot dog.  Ginger bites in and almost burns her mouth off, so we subsequently drown the thing in mustard to cut down on the heat.
We Assume Corn Dog Pictures Never Win Photography Awards
To be fair, we are not really corn dog people.  As far as we can remember, neither of us has ever had one.  Not hailing from families that were prone to visiting country fairs as children, we have nothing to compare this corn dog to.  And frankly, we kind of don't care.

The hot dog itself is delicious - plump and juicy.  The dough around it is crispy on the outside and cakey on the inside, which we assume is a good thing.  This wrapping is mildly sweet, like corn bread, and we're not sure how we feel about the combination of it and the savory hot dog.  Plus, we are generally paranoid about poking our eyes out and/or stabbing the roofs of our mouths, so we don't really like eating off of wooden spears.
The Inner Workings of a Corn Dog
Perhaps if we had eaten a great number of corn dogs in our youth, we would revel over this "upscale" version of the delicacy.  But as it stands, we'd much rather our hot dog be served in a bun.

And in less than thirty minutes.

Shake Shack's Corn Dog: 3 stars