Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Off the Map: Can You Please Wash Our Shrimp?

Shrimp Cocktail -- St. Elmo's Steak House's, Indianapolis, IN
St. Elmo's Steak House's

Vodka and her friend, Diet Coke's, last stop on this midwestern tour ends at St. Elmo's Steak House, home of Ray Lampe's Best Thing I Ever Ate HOT AND SPICY shrimp cocktail.  
We Traipsed All the Way to Indianapolis for Four Measly Shrimp
Being that we have no interest in trying to wolf down a ribeye in the dining room, we're hoping to sit at the bar, where Vodka declares, "You know I'm going to have to get a drink so that they don't think we're weird."
Hello, Old Friend
"I'm sure that will be a real sacrifice for you," Diet Coke's look seems to say, as we thankfully find two empty bar stools.  Despite the fact that it is barely 4:00pm -- even by our early bird special preferences, a tad early for dinner -- the place is completely packed.  
Have You People Never Heard of Chipotle?
We place our order over the din of the crowd: one shrimp cocktail, one Diet Coke, and one Manhattan (because Vodka thinks it's a travesty that she's in bourbon country and has yet to partake in its favorite liquor).  
After a Full Day in Kentucky, Vodka Chooses to Get a Bourbon Cocktail in... Indiana?
All three arrive moments later, to which Diet Coke mimes grabbing for a shrimp before Vodka has a chance to snap any photos (unlike Ginger, who frequently forgets about the "blog rules" (don't touch the food until the pictures are snapped!), Diet Coke is incredibly obedient).  
Food-Based Patience Is Not Exactly Ginger's Strong Suit
This shrimp cocktail is different than most, in that, the shrimp itself is buried beneath a solid helping of cocktail sauce.  
Shrimp in Disguise
While we are aware that this dish was featured on the HOT AND SPICY episode, it appears we didn't choose to take that information to heart, as within moments of tasting the shrimp, we're convinced that we may keel over right on the spot.
Can Somebody Please Call the Paramedics?
"Are they trying to kill us?!" Vodka calls out, chugging water to try revive whatever is left of her sinuses.  St. Elmo's cocktail sauce's signature is the fact that it is mixed with a hearty helping of horseradish.  But this isn't any old horseradish, a condiment which Vodka generally loves.

This is hostile horseradish.  
A Villainous Shrimp Cocktail
We soon squirt the provided lemon wedges over the rest of the shrimp, hoping it will help take away some of the sting.  "Should I pour my Diet Coke on it?" Diet Coke asks.  "Your Manhattan?"
We're Gonna Need a Lot More Than Two Lemons to Save Us
"I should ask the bartender to please wash our shrimp for us," Vodka says, as we simultaneously begin scraping as much of the sauce as we can off of the fish.  
Kind of Missing the Point, Don't You Think?
While the shrimp themselves are quite large and appear to be very fresh, we can barely taste them over the constant assault of the cocktail sauce.  We decide that part of the problem is the plating of the dish, where the cocktail sauce is poured directly over the shrimp, rather than allowing the customer to choose how much to dip into it.  While the fact that St. Elmo's sauce is apparently "famous" originally caused us to assume that other people like it, upon tasting it, we're beginning to wonder if it's merely famous for being a lethal weapon.
Particularly When You Begin Chugging Your Bourbon Just to Quench the Sting
"Now this -- this is delicious!" Diet Coke calls out, waving the provided saltine crackers in the air wildly.  "4 stars!  Maybe 5!"  And indeed, it's never a good sign when the complimentary crackers are preferable to the $14.95 dish of only four barely edible shrimp.
Could We Please Have a Case of These? We're Dying Here
As we slump out of St. Elmo's, we spot Indianapolis's other Best Thing I Ever Ate location, Steak 'n Shake (previously reviewed -- and given 5 stars -- at its NYC location).  
Proof That We Should Stick Only to Chain Restaurants From Now On
When we notice a sign for milkshake happy hour, which ends in exactly three minutes, we sprint across the street like we're running out of a fire.
The Only Way to Recover from a St. Elmo's Onslaught
Though in our case, the fire just happens to be in our mouths.

St. Elmo's Steak House's Shrimp Cocktail: 2 stars

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Off the Map: Peppered Hoosier

Peppered Beef Sandwich -- Shapiro's Delicatessen, Indianapolis, IN
Shapiro's Delicatessen

At our next Kentucky-based meal, Vodka and her friend, Diet Coke, sit across from one another, fingers extended and throwing out numbers in rapid-fire succession.  "Oh sorry, we were just counting," Diet Coke "explains" when our perplexed waiter approaches.

"States," Vodka clarifies.  "We were counting how many states we've each been to."  Which, while maybe not exactly normal dinner conversation, still makes a lot more sense than merely stating we were "counting," as if we had just learned how.
We Never Graduated Past the "Counting on Our Fingers" Technique
The outcome of this conversation reveals that, including Kentucky, Diet Coke has now been to 34 states, while Vodka has been to 17.  Which obviously means that we should hightail it for Indiana, immediately, if not sooner.
Lewis and Clark Ain't Got Nothin' on Us
As we weave our way up the farm-lined highways toward Indianapolis, home of not one, but two Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes, Diet Coke's husband (let's call him "Regular Coke") begins texting her about how "nice" Vodka is to "put up with her."  You see, along with trying to visit every state in the union, Diet Coke is also in a battle with her sister to see who can eat at a Chipotle in more states, and venturing to one in Indiana would put her in the lead.
Clearly, Vodka Only Befriends Weirdos
"Putting up with you, eh?" Vodka asks.  "Does he not realize you will soon have carted me to THREE Best Thing I Ever Ate places today?"
So Just To Be Clear, Indianapolis Is NOT Right Next Door to Louisville?
Our first stop along this journey is Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis, home of Marc Summers's LOCAL FAVORITES dish, the peppered beef sandwich.  
As We Pull Up, Diet Coke Silently Wonders If They Serve Burritos
Shapiro's itself is set up like an old-fashioned cafeteria-style deli, where the customers grab a tray and then choose their desired dishes while cruising along the counter.  
If Only All Meals in Our High School Cafeterias Came with a Side of Pickles
Vodka orders one peppered beef sandwich on rye, with mustard and cole slaw on the side, since Diet Coke, in a preference that is completely flummoxing, dislikes ninety-percent of condiments.  (As opposed to the "That's why I eat food -- as a vehicle for condiments" discussion of yore).
Between Diet Coke's Lack of Drinking and Lack of Condiments, It's a Wonder She and Vodka Are Friends
The bread arrives hot out of the oven, the peppered beef is cut directly in front of us, and the whole thing looks to be about the freshest sandwich we have ever been handed.  
My, Don't You Look Scrumptious
Without asking, Shapiro's provides us with both an extra plate and an extra pickle, and we are equally heartened to find a napkin dispenser and salt and pepper set featured on each table.
We Ask for So Little, Really -- Don't Make Us Fetch Our Own Napkins, and We'll Be Your Best Friend
As Vodka begins taking notes, Diet Coke takes a bite of her half and calls out enthusiastically, "Good!"  Immediately correcting herself, she says, "Oh sorry, I'm not supposed to influence the first taste."  
As If Vodka Ever Had Trouble Forming Her Own Judgmental Opinions
Luckily for Diet Coke, Vodka agrees that the sandwich is indeed quite tasty, though it is even better when she slathers on a preponderance of mustard and cole slaw.  
Now THIS Is a Perfect Sandwich
The meat itself tastes like a combination of pastrami and corned beef, with just enough peppery flavor to give it a kick without being overpowering.  The rye bread on which it is assembled is unbelievably good -- crispy on the crust and chewy on the inside, perfectly molding to the contents within.  
Possibly Because, Unlike Our Last Locale, It Has FLOUR
What we decide we like best about this sandwich is the simplicity -- all Shapiro's recommends dousing it with is a solid helping of yellow mustard, as opposed to some of the newer sandwich places, where no lunch is complete without at least nineteen ingredients.  
When You're Right, You're Right, Shapiro's
Rather than over-complicating things, Shapiro's keeps their food -- and their entire restaurant -- simple, letting the real flavor of the ingredients shine through.
Good to the Last Drop
Heartened by the fact that our two-hour drive up Interstate 65 wasn't for naught, we leave Shapiro's Deli with a pep in our step, rehashing all the things we loved about the peppered beef sandwich.

Or rather, counting them.

Shapiro's Delicatessen Peppered Beef Sandwich: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Monday, February 22, 2016

Off the Map: I Think I Must Like Flour

Flourless Chocolate Cake -- Cake Flour, Louisville, KY
Cake Flour

What, like you've never gone all the way to Kentucky to eat a cake?
Well, Excuse Us for Being Devoted to a Useless Mission
Vodka has set off on, admittedly, one of her most random Best Thing I Ever Ate trips ever, though this time, the location in question is not exactly her choice.  You see, one of her college roommates is on a quest to visit all fifty states, and she has never been to Kentucky (in a twist of fate, Vodka has actually set foot in Kentucky's borders before, though when she was a toddler, and hence before the first episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate).  
In Other Words, Before She Had a Reason to Go Anywhere
Said college roommate, who goes by the moniker "Diet Coke" due to her propensity for teetotaling (the horror), has recently (more or less) sworn off the carbonated chemical as well as most alcohol, and even the promise of a Louisville mint julep isn't enough to turn her over to our day-drinking dark side.  
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other....
However, luckily for Cake Flour, the site of our only Kentucky Best Thing I Ever Ate dish, Diet Coke has a much bigger sweet tooth than Vodka (who primarily has what's called a "wine tooth"), and she would therefore be more agreeable to eating Aaron Sanchez's favorite CAKE WALK dessert, the flourless chocolate cake, at 9:00 in the morning.
If These Were Filled with Some Kentucky Bourbon, Vodka May Be More Interested
Cake Flour itself lies fifteen minutes outside of downtown Louisville, making it especially useful that Diet Coke, unlike Vodka or Ginger, knows how to drive.  
Without Us, Uber's Ridership Is Presumably Down 50% a Day
When we arrive at its strip mall premises, Vodka orders one miniature version of the chocolate delicacy, to which she is immediately asked if we would like glasses of water to go along with it.  
Of Note, Have Never Seen Reserved Seating at a Bakery Before
We perhaps should have taken this as a clue concerning what we were getting into, as the first bites of the cake reveal it to be just about the richest one we have ever tasted.
Count Chocula Has Nothing on This Thing
The chocolate cake part itself is covered by a thick layer of chocolate fudge and decorated with a delicate swirl of white frosting (a la a Hostess cupcake, which this whole thing seems to be an upscale takeoff on).  
Also at Over $6.00, It Is at Least Six-Times the Price of a Hostess Treat
However, what this cake needs is a solid dose of white icing in the middle, since if nothing else, it would help to mute the overwhelming taste of dark chocolate bitterness.  
Where's the Cream Filling?
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this cake, and it would presumably please a true chocolate lover, for us, it is just A LOT.  
Packing a Chocolate Wallop
Even with its miniature size, we are pretty much satisfied after a single bite, and Diet Coke recommends, "I feel like you should get this only to share with ten of your favorite friends." 
The Remaining Remnants
We pack up what's left of our cake, more out of politeness than because we actually want it, as Diet Coke quips about preferring an actual plain chocolate cake to this creation, "I think I must like flour."  
Gluten Is Our Friend
To be fair to Kentucky, we consumed many other foods within its borders which were preferable to its one Best Thing I Ever Ate dish.  But unfortunately for them, no Food Network star chose to highlight those dishes on a program which the channel doesn't even produce anymore, and so they will go unmentioned.  
Here's a Tip, Aaron Sanchez: Next Time, Try Louisville's Doughnuts
Which leaves one to assume that in every old Kentucky home, filled with bourbon and mint juleps and more than a few hot browns, the one thing that is desperately missing is a large helping of flour.

Cake Flour's Flourless Chocolate Cake: 3 stars

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Must Be How Olive Garden Tastes to Other People

Linguine with Clams and Mussels in Saffron Broth -- Tree Bistro
Tree Bistro

Call us crazy, but once a restaurant has a particular dish featured on a national television program, they should not take said dish off of their menu for YEARS on end.  This has always been our issue with Tree Bistro which, despite having the linguine with clams and mussels in saffron broth featured by Danny Boome on the OBSESSIONS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, did not actually offer this pasta for the majority of the five years we have been doing this blog.
Um, Do You Think You're Too Good for the Food Network? Because No One Is Too Good for the Food Network
Clearly, times are hard at Tree nowadays, as suddenly there is a "seafood linguine" dish back on the menu, along with the demarcation that this was the dish "featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate!"  It appears this ploy for publicity is too little, too late, as when we walk in for our 6:00 PM reservation on a Friday, the place is completely and totally empty.  
Do You Hear the Proverbial Crickets Chirping?
We are seated on the all-season patio by ourselves, Ginger positioning herself directly in front of the heater, and our solo dining experience would remain this way for the entirety of our meal.  It seems we're not the only ones that have grown fed up with Tree's "now you see it, now you don't" menu antics.
'Tis the Problem with Being Wishy-Washy With Your Linguine, We Suppose
We place our order, Vodka for the seafood linguine, and Ginger for the burger.  When we're asked whether or not we'd like an appetizer, it is all we can do not to reply, "No, we already ate a cheesecake," and we instead dive into the provided bread basket, all but polishing off all six slices by the time our waitress returns with the wine.  
Yes, We'll Take Another Loaf, Thanks
It is during this time that Ginger announces, as if she has had some huge philosophical epiphany, "I've come to realize that there are two types of people in the world: the fun people and the unfun people."  
Translation: Fun People Order a Bottle of Wine at Dinner (or Two or Three); Unfun People Don't
While we would consider ourselves squarely in the "fun" group, we're not sure the staff of Tree feels the same, as the person refilling our water decides to ask Vodka, "How did you hear about this place?"  (We assume they are trying to figure out how they got two more customers than usual on a Friday night.)

"Best Thing I Ever Ate," Vodka answers her, which is greeted with surprise, as if even the workers themselves had forgotten this place ever had their fifteen seconds of fame.
It Seems Instead of Serving Their Famous Linguine, Tree Was Choosing to Emboss Their Wine Glasses
Thankfully for Tree, our blog is about as popular as they are, so legions of people will not see our not-so-glowing review of their alleged Best Thing I Ever Ate linguine.  We say "alleged" because we are not convinced this is actually the dish that Danny Boome tasted on the show, being that we can't discern even the slightest hint of saffron in the broth.  
Someone Please Place "Saffron" on the Back of a Milk Carton, Because It's Missing
While the linguine noodles themselves are fairly pleasing, the accompanying mussels and clams are downright cold, and the broth itself is underwhelming at best, and overly salty at worst (even to our heavily salted palates).  
Cold as a Fish. Literally
Ginger's burger is similarly edible, but not all that special (especially when she manages to massacre it with her fork and knife, which is what she inexplicably tends to do to all burgers.  This practice causes Vodka to note, "You eat a burger in a very disturbing way.")
How Does This Possibly Happen?!
We want to say that this particular bowl of pasta is no better than what one could find at a local Olive Garden -- but then again, we love Olive Garden, so we don't wish to disparage them in such a way.  Instead, we think this dish must be like what other people -- the people who look down on Olive Garden -- taste when they go to the holiest of Italian chain eateries.  
Related Thought: Does Olive Garden Serve French Fries? Because They Should
Overall, we do not understand how one could ever be "obsessed" with this dish, and by the looks of the empty tables at Tree, it's becoming more obvious that no one really is.  Perhaps this should teach all restaurants a valuable lesson about ever removing a Best Thing I Ever Ate-featured dish from their menu: that not only will it hurt their attendance levels, but it will also do something much, much more disturbing: make them look completely "unfun."

Tree Bistro's Linguine with Clams and Mussels in Saffron Broth: 3 stars