Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Off the Map: This Ain't Bill Cosby's Pudding Snacks

Chocolate Pudding -- Hominy Grill, Charleston, SC
Hominy Grill
The good thing about falling squarely on the side of "not quite sane" is that we have managed to procure friends with specific interests almost as bizarre as ours.  It is for this reason that Vodka finds herself weekending in Charleston, SC, with her friend, Diet Coke.  
No Comment on the Lack of Booze in Diet Coke's Moniker
You see, Diet Coke is on a lifetime mission to visit every state in the union and thus wants to make South Carolina #32 on her list.  Vodka merely wants to eat everywhere, so it is a solid match.
Traveling the Country, Nerd-Style
Our first destination (after both Vodka and Diet Coke get upgraded to first class on their flight, and thus became insufferable human beings) is Hominy Grill, home to Alton Brown's favorite chocolate pudding from the CHOCOLATE episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  
This Sign Should More Accurately Read "Breakfast Lunch Dinner PUDDING"
Truth be told, we are hesitant to begin our trip with a selection of Mr. Brown's, as his Best Thing I Ever Ate choices thus far have fallen anywhere on the spectrum from "interesting" to "downright bizarre."  However, the chipper attitudes of Hominy Grill's staff soon puts us at ease, and Diet Coke remarks, "You leave the mid-Atlantic and realize that people are happy." 
Presumably because they eat pudding for breakfast.
And Drink Out of Coffee Mugs the Size of Their Heads
In an effort to not be placed on a diabetic watch list for ordering pudding at 8am, we deign to choose the country breakfast (Diet Coke) and the big nasty biscuit (Vodka) for our entrees.

Followed immediately -- if not sooner -- by said chocolate pudding.
Always Begin Your Day with a Big Cup of Dessert
Set up in the manner of a country dining room (thankfully with individual tables -- we don't commune well), Hominy Grill is bright and homey and decidedly warm (as in temperament -- not temperature.  If it were hot inside, this review would be scathing).  
You Know You're In the South When...
...the Flowers Come In Mason Jars
It therefore comes as no surprise that their food is equally satisfying.  The big nasty biscuit (which, to be honest, Vodka ordered because it had the word "nasty" in it, and she loves a villain) consists of a piece of fried chicken sandwiched between a thick, hearty biscuit, all covered by a healthy portion of sausage gravy.  
So In Other Words, Low-Fat
This dish is almost astoundingly good -- the chicken juicy and just crispy enough, the biscuit doughy and thick, and the gravy one hundred-times better than any breakfast sauce should be.  
A Heavenly Heart Attack on a Plate
The Leaning Tower of Deliciousness
Diet Coke is similarly satisfied by her eggs, grits and toast, even if they do make for the whitest platter of food this side of the Mason Dixon line.
For Once in Her Life, Vodka Thinks They Could Have Sprung for Some Parsley
And then, of course, there is the matter of the chocolate pudding.
Cue Choir of Angels
Now, Vodka loves a pudding, but she is strictly a vanilla type of girl, so she's not sure how well this choice is going to pan out.  In contrast, Diet Coke is insistent that she hasn't tasted pudding since her elementary school Jello-cup days, so when she watches Vodka take the first bite and sees her face glaze over into a show of ecstasy, she leaps for her own spoon faster than she ever has before.
And within seconds, both of us are completely won over.
Yes, We'll Take a Dozen of These To Go, Thanks
This pudding manages to be both thicker and smoother than any we have ever tasted -- almost the consistency of cake batter rather than the soupier pudding varieties.  
The Visual Representation of the Word "Yum"
It has the decided taste of melted milk chocolate, and it is just sweet enough to not be overpowering.  The huge dollop of whipped cream on top is much less sugary than the pudding itself, which manages to cut into the flavor and make the whole thing less overwhelming.

The pudding is downright stupendous.
A Literal Spoonful of Sugar
It is so good, in fact, that we polish off the whole bowl despite the just-after-sunrise hour, and we continue to speak of returning to Hominy Grill to fetch some more pudding for the remainder of our trip.  
And Alton Brown - We Apologize for Ever Doubting You
Indeed, if this is the quality of food we'll be eating in Charleston, the rest of the country better start adjusting its taste buds.
The South Does Pudding Right
In the meantime, we'll be alerting Bill Cosby that we have a new endorsement idea for him.
Hominy Grill's Chocolate Pudding: 5 stars*
*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ahhh H-H-HOT!

Bone Marrow & Oxtail Marmalade -- Blue Ribbon
Blue Ribbon

Perhaps we have been a bit lax on the Best Thing I Ever Ate eating front as of late, but we have a good reason: we have been abiding by the Mediterranean diet.  Well, at least the part of the diet that encourages us to "drink at least seven glasses of red wine a week."
This Is a Diet Plan We Can Get Behind
For this reason, as we settle into our "date table" at Blue Ribbon (apparently, when eating at 4:00pm, the corner banquet is the table of choice), our first mission is to order a bottle of red wine.  Ginger falls into her typical role of "domineering husband" and does the choosing for us, the main factor behind the decision-making being the attached price tag.  
If We Can Only Have Seven Glasses a Week, Can We Please Get Some Larger Pours?
We sip on our glasses of pinot noir and look forward to diving into the bread basket, which arrives not so much as a "basket" as a "giant loaf slapped on a cutting board."  
Are We Just Supposed to Start Taking Bites?!
We look blankly at said oversized roll for a few seconds before Vodka grabs the relatively miniscule knife and tries to make some headway.

And seven minutes later, she is still carving.
Why We Never Became Brain Surgeons
"Um, could someone cut our bread for us?" she mumbles, as Ginger begins spreading the seemingly bottomless bowl of butter across a hacked-off slice.  
Objects on the Cutting Board May Be Deeper Than They Appear

After taking entirely too long (read: three pieces of bread each) to figure out that the butter is unsalted, Vodka is appropriately appalled and begins emptying the salt shaker on top of each smear.
And We Subsequently Begin Refusing to Cut the Bread At All
"Put it on the suggestion card," Ginger pipes up, "Need bigger knife and salt for bread."  Despite our complaints, we have no qualms about agreeing to the bread boy's offer to supply us with yet another Schwarzenegger-sized loaf and repeating the process all over again.
And Naturally, Like Giving a Mouse a Cookie, We Are Going to Need More Butter
Eventually, after scattering bread crumbs over half of the restaurant, we manage to place our order for bone marrow and oxtail marmalade, as recommended by Anne Burrell on the ORIGINAL Best Thing I Ever Ate special.  Now, we are not exactly well-versed in bone marrow, as Vodka has tasted it exactly once and Ginger has never even been in the same room as the stuff.  Therefore, when the overflowing platter of skeletal remains, meaty jelly, coarse sea salt, and crispy brioche arrive, we stare blankly at the proceedings.  
Bringing a New Meaning to the Term "Big Boned"
Our waiter picks up the quite obvious we-don't-know-what-we're-doing social cue that we're sending out to the universe, and he demonstrates how to push the marrow through the bone and then spread it on top of the (thankfully neatly sliced) bread.  
A Dollop of Marrow
Like good pupils, we follow his direction, topping the gooey marrow with a hearty helping of marmalade and an even heartier helping of salt.

And we have to admit that Anne Burrell is not lying about this stuff.
Good Thing We Procured That Extra Bread
The marrow itself, which is salty (and thus pleasing) in its own right, is only enhanced by the thick portion of sweet oxtail marmalade.  The bread is toasted to perfection, and the crunch of the sea salt ties the whole thing together.  
Hey Blue Ribbon - How About Distributing Some of That Salt IN THE BUTTER?
We are on the verge of giving the dish 5 stars before Vodka gets stingy with her ratings and decides that, according to our system, this marrow is only broaching the 4 star territory (being that we wouldn't make it a point to come back to Blue Ribbon in order to eat this dish, but rather, if we happened to be back here, we would order it again).
The Burial Grounds
In the midst of our carnivorous consumption, we manage to also order a platter of pierogies and Blue Ribbon's famous fried chicken.  
After We Get Our Table Cloth Scraped of Crumbs AGAIN
When both items arrive while the marrow is still on our table (along with the bread loaf, the wine bottle, wine glasses, water glasses, and both dinner and bread plates), we bemoan the fact that the waitstaff is not springing to give us two tables, especially since the time is now 5pm, and we are STILL the only ones in the restaurant.  
And For the Record, the LAST Thing We Will Sacrifice Off of the Table Is the Wine
Soldiering on, we get to work on the pierogies, which are not Blue Ribbon's finest work.  Lukewarm and rather soggy, they taste as if they've been sitting out for a while (and not just on our overly-crowded date table).  
Maybe Instead of Arranging Them Into a Perfect Pinwheel, You Could Have Just BROUGHT THEM TO US

Ever Hear of a Heat Lamp?
Instead of getting the positive effect of hot pierogie-against-cold sour cream, the whole thing is tepid.  And the Polish girl in Vodka is none too pleased.
Someone Get Us Some Mrs. T's, and Stat
In contrast, the fried chicken nearly burns our faces off.  We each pick up a piece, bring it to our mouths, and promptly drop it into freefall while fanning our tongues and yelling "H-H-HOT!"  Clearly, there is some temperature-related dysfunction going on in the Blue Ribbon kitchens.
Consistency Does Not Live Here
When we finally manage to bring our lips close enough to the chicken to taste the stuff, it is good.  Not great, but good. 
Translation: It's Fine
We both wildly prefer Hill Country's fried chicken, as Blue Ribbon's is greasier, more peppery, and seems to rely heavily on the crispiness of the skin over the flavor of the chicken itself. 
And Being That the Skin Falls Off on Impact, It Is NON-IDEAL
The sides that accompany the meat are equally underwhelming -- the mashed potatoes are soupy and the collard greens seem undercooked (though we admittedly do not make a habit of eating collard greens, so perhaps the fairer assessment is "We don't like them"). 
Taking "Roughly Chopped" to a New Level
Overall, the bone marrow dish is by far the star of Blue Ribbon's menu, and as Vodka can be seen photographing one dish after another, she remarks, dripping with disdain, "They probably think we have a Yelp page."
And How Dare We Be Treated Like Yelp Users!
But no, Blue Ribbon.  We have our very own blog which we are barely keeping a handle on.  Though based on our early bird dining experience within your establishment, we are considering renaming it "It's Not Even 6pm Somewhere."

Blue Ribbon's Bone Marrow & Oxtail Marmalade: 4 stars