Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Off the Map: The PG Version of a Hoecake

Hoecakes -- The Lady and Sons, Savannah, GA

To this day, Paula Deen remains the one and only Food Network personality that Vodka has met offscreen. 
How Lucky for All the Other Personalities
And therefore, Vodka was quite keen to finally make the journey to Paula's outpost, The Lady and Sons, in Savannah, GA.
So Excited That She Got to Lunch a Half Hour Early So She Could Sit in the Waiting Room by Herself
Now, at the Food Network-sponsored events with Paula which Vodka attended years ago, the food was... less than stellar. 
Exhibit A
And so she is not overly optimistic about the gourmet options when she arrives for lunch as part of Grey Goose's bachelorette party. 
Time to Do Shots Under the Watchful Eye of the Lady and Sons
As it happens, the only dish on the menu from Best Thing I Ever Ate is of the gratis variety: the complimentary hoecakes which appear on each of our bread plates before we have even placed our orders. 
At Least They Understand the Importance of Prompt Carb Delivery Around Here
Said cakes were recommended by Tyler Florence on the CAKE WALK episode, though we note that the staff has taken to calling them "fried corn cakes," or something similar, thus rebranding the pastries to something less... mature-sounding?
Family Friendly Baked Goods
Now, as someone who has never tried a hoecake before, it is possible that something is lost in translation, as Vodka finds the creation more dry and crumbly than pleasing to the tastebuds. 
In Fact, This Is How Her Bread Plate Looked at the End of the Meal
As it happens, the accompanying biscuit with melted cheddar has much more flavor than the item Tyler had chosen, as does the crab stew that Vodka picks for her entree (hey, it's been a long weekend of overeating -- a girl can only take so many fried green tomatoes). 
Bring on the Melted Cheese
Possibly the Most Self-Controlled Lunch Vodka Has Ever Ordered
Once utilized as a dipping utensil for the remainder of her soup, the hoecake becomes more pleasing, but it never quite rises above the average territory.
Good to the Last Sop
But then again, hey, what do you want for free?

The Lady and Sons Hoecakes: 3 stars

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Off the Map: You Guys Are Going to Be Eating Well Tonight

BLT Fried Green Tomato Salad -- The Olde Pink House, Savannah, GA
The Olde Pink House

Perhaps not everyone lands in Savannah, GA, and decides to eat fried food exclusively, but Vodka is decidedly one of those people.
Someone Fetch Her Elastic Waistbands
While on a trip to the The Olde Pink House with her friends, Bloody Mary and Sazerac (who took so long to choose his blog nickname that you would have thought he were naming his first-born), Vodka decides that the best thing to do is to not only order the most fattening things on the menu, but to make her friends order them as well.
Just Bring Us One of Everything
While she is ostensibly here to eat the BLT Fried Green Tomato Salad, as chosen by Aaron Sanchez on the SLICED episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, Vodka didn't cart herself all the way to her 27th state to consume only a salad. 
Does This Look Like a Georgia Peach to You?
Therefore, along with this appetizer, she chooses the fried chicken and mac and cheese, with the addition of a Manhattan made with "some kind of Charleston rye" (exact quote from her extensive drunken notes).
There Is Also No Picture of Her Cocktail -- Only of Sazerac's... Sazerac
Bloody Mary, playing along in the excessive calorie game, chooses the goat cheese stuffed artichoke fritters for her starter and the fried pork chop with pan gravy, collards, and mac and cheese for her entree.
Go Big or Go Home
"You guys are going to be eating well tonight," our waiter quips. "And you chose two of my three favorite entrees."

"What's your other one?" Bloody Mary asks.

"The lamb shank," he answers.

"Get that," Bloody Mary implores Sazerac.
Three for Three
"And what's your favorite appetizer?" Vodka pipes up.

"The chicken livers," our waiter informs us.

"He'll take that," Bloody Mary says, pointing to Sazerac, who is retreating further and further into his seat as his meal becomes increasingly less appealing.
Nothing Like a Few Livers in the Early Evening
Thankfully, the provided biscuits are so delectable that they temporarily make Sazerac forget about his earlier bullying, as does the gawdy-yet-homey ambience of the Olde Pink House itself, which is deceptively larger than its blush exterior suggests.
We'll Take Fourteen More Baskets of These, Thanks!
Ballroom Seating
Wisely Taken Earlier in the Day When the Hue Could Be Captured
When our appetizers arrive, Vodka and Bloody Mary (in the end, Sazerac refuses to taste anything but the fritters) find the BLT fried green tomato salad and sweet bacon with black pepper thyme buttermilk dressing (now there's a mouthful) to be pleasing, if not spectacular. 
To Be Fair, the Fried Foods-to-Greens Ratio Is on Point, So We Shouldn't Have Many Complaints
Bloody Mary correctly compares it to something similar to her grandmother's seven-layer salad, which is a compliment, if not of the highest order. 
This, Too, May Be Precisely Seven Layers
In truth, the dish is probably the perfect antidote to the bevy of rich foods we are about to devour, but in the moment, we are fairly underwhelmed.
"Could You Take This Back and Bring It To Us for Dessert?"
The chicken livers, however, are surprisingly delicious, as are their accompanying grits, which are just about the best version of them we have ever tasted. 
Now This Is More 5 Star Territory
To be fair, the chicken livers mostly taste like their heavily breaded and fried outside, but what delectable breading that is!
In Contrast, Sazerac's Sad Little Plate of Fritters
When our entrees are served, a gigantic half-chicken is placed in front of Vodka at the same time Bloody Mary and Sazerac receive their own meals, each with the noted side of macaroni and cheese.
Placed In Front of Everyone but Vodka
"Where's my mac and cheese?!" Vodka erupts in what can only be compared to full panic mode, as if she hasn't eaten in days, as opposed to the full litter of chicken livers she downed not more than fifteen minutes before.
Also, It's Not Like She Doesn't Have a Full Chicken to Consume in the Meantime
Another waiter escorts Vodka her desired mac and cheese within seconds, and it is decidedly worth the wait (and the weight). 
Now That's a Proper Southern Meal
Home-style without being soggy, the noodles have enough crunchy bits around the top to demonstrate where the upper level of cheese sizzled to a crisp, and it is all the three of us can do not to inhale the entirety of our full portions before trying our proteins.
The Consequence of Peer Pressure
This means that the fried chicken, a star in its own right, has the unfortunate position of being the thing that Vodka eats last after a full gut-busting cornucopia of goodness. 
Taking a Breather to Admire the Scenery
As she takes a short break for digestion purposes, our waiter asks if she would like another drink. As she decides between a second Manhattan or a glass of wine, he suggests she get something with bubbles since that will go best with the chicken.
Carbonation: Vodka's Fatal Ingredient
"OH NO," Vodka asserts with nearly as much passion as she had about the missing mac and cheese. "I can't do bubbles. I'll take cabernet."

"Big and bold or fun and playful?" our waiter asks without hesitation.
FYI, "Big and Bold or Fun and Playful" Will Be the Name of Our Next Blog
"Big and bold," Vodka chooses. Because while in Savannah, you simply must go all in and be as big, bold, and Southern-fried as possible.

The Olde Pink House's BLT Fried Green Tomato Salad: 4 stars

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Off the Map: Let's Pretend This Post Is Not About Jerky

Beef Jerky -- J&J Czuchraj Meats, Cleveland, OH
J&J Czuchraj Meats

Sadly, we have come to the end of Vodka and Mezcal's trip to Cleveland, otherwise known as their new favorite place on earth.
Their Tourism Bureau Should Really Send Us a Check
And even more sadly, the only dish we have left to eat is... jerky.
Going Out with a Bang... or a Whimper
Here's the thing about jerky: Vodka doesn't like it. Actually, "doesn't like it" is mild, as she finds the stuff -- even the most gourmet of varieties -- fairly offensive in both texture and taste.
Our Hotel Decor Seems to Be Cheering Us On
But what's a girl to do when Michael Symon, the King of All Things Believeland, chooses J&J Czuchraj Meats' beef jerky on the SALTY GOODNESS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate? The answer is buy the smallest amount possible, stuff it in your friend's bag, and pretend it doesn't exist for the next 24-48 hours.
No Offense, Dried Meat, But We're Just Not That Into You
In truth, poor Mezcal's bag began reeking of jerky when we consumed an entire gyro in one fell swoop at the Westside Market. At the time, we were rather underwhelmed by our J&J/Czuchraj Meats experience, first because there were two different stands with different names but the same exact offerings, second because the guy manning stand one answered a phone call in the middle of our ordering process, and third because he didn't fall for our ploy of handing over a sample when we asked for the most minuscule jerky order possible.
So Here's the J&J Component...

...Not to Be Outdone by the Czuchraj Component Five Stands Away...
Based on her general abhorrence of all things jerky, Vodka procrastinates tasting the stuff so as to not ruin Cleveland's streak of Best Thing I Ever Ate glory, one unimpressive fizzy cocktail notwithstanding.
Frankly, Those Smokies Look Like They May Have More Potential
And so, in an effort not to dilute our love of Cleveland with an uninspired review of a food we don't even enjoy, let's pretend this post isn't about jerky at all. Instead, let's talk about the man behind the whole reason for this trip, Michael Symon, and more importantly, his restaurant, Lola.
She Was a Showgirl
Lola is, in a word, awesome. The food is heavenly, the drinks are strong, and the service is as welcoming as Michael's TV persona.
Any Place That Serves Beef Cheek Pierogies Is Fine By Us
In fact, after our waiter hears that the only reason for our relatively minimal food choices is because we've been to every one of Michael's Best Thing I Ever Ate picks in two days, he adds to our imminent stomachache by throwing in a free dessert -- which, let it be known, just may be the first free anything Vodka has ever procured that was not prefaced by a stern complaint to the management.
That In Itself May Be the Biggest Miracle of Cleveland
By the time we waltz -- or roll, depending on who you ask -- out of Lola, Vodka is busy singing Hamilton songs about her newfound favorite GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD. And therefore, when we eventually try the infamous jerky during our 7:30am airport breakfast the next morning, the fact that it is highly smoky, highly spicy, probably great for jerky lovers but completely lost on us, is almost irrelevant.
Between This and The Leftover Guacamole, the TSA Must Have Loved Us

We Won't Hold It Against Ohio's Fair City That This Is Our Parting Shot
Because at the end of the day, not only has Cleveland reached the highest Best Thing I Ever Ate average of all time, but it has also succeeded in being the most surprisingly enjoyable city we have ever visited. And those weighty qualities alone are worth tons more than a quarter-pound of jerky.

J&J Czuchraj Meats's Beef Jerky: 3 stars

Monday, November 6, 2017

Off the Map: Drink, You'll Feel Better

Sage and Bleu Cheese Guacamole -- Lopez Southwestern Kitchen, Cleveland, OH
Lopez Southwestern Kitchen

Mezcal has tapped out.
Pull It Together! Your Name is MEZCAL!
Nine Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes into Cleveland -- not to mention assorted extras along the way -- has put her down for the count by the time we reach the patio of Lopez Southwestern Kitchen, and she is stuffed to the gills.
Not Pictured: Mezcal Trailing Behind Vodka at a Snail's Pace
Forgoing an aptly named tequila drink, she orders a Diet Coke, while Vodka looks on with an aghast expression.
To Be Fair, Perhaps a Manhattan Is Also an Odd Thing to Order in a Mexican Restaurant, but Still
"Drink, you'll feel better," Vodka doles out her version of life advice, but Mezcal is stubborn in her fullness. 
Hello, Are Any of You Drinking? Care to be Vodka's New Friend?
With the stamina of an underfed goat, Vodka plows through in ordering the guacamole that Michael Symon recommended on the TOTALLY UNEXPECTED episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate
Vodka Is Nothing If Not a Completist
Now, on the show, the guac was described as featuring "sage and bleu cheese," while in execution, the only bleu cheese-inclusive offering combines the substance with bacon rather than sage.
Excuse Us, Have You Any Sage Back There You Can Sprinkle On Top?
Because who needs any pesky herbs when you can add pork fat to the proceedings?
It's Like Cleveland Is Punking Us
For the first time since arrival in Ohio, we leave the provided chips and salsa untouched on the table while waiting for the guacamole to arrive, and when it does, we look at it rather hesitantly -- much more so due to the rumblings of grilled cheese lasagna still sloshing around our intestines than because of any fault on the guac's part. 
The Only Bag of Chips North of the Mason/Dixon Line We Haven't Consumed This Weekend
Thick slabs of diced bacon sprinkle the top of the avocado dip, with poofs of bleu cheese peeking out from its center. Along with even more chips, the dish features pickled vegetables, which Mezcal reaches for like she's never seen a farmer's market before.
Cleveland's Penchant Toward Vegetables Is Evidenced By the Size of That Corn
As Michael Symon had declared, this guacamole is unexpectedly good. Much like the peanut butter, alien relish, and sriacha hot dog, on paper, it does not sound like these ingredients should go together, but they are deceptively pleasing in creating a richer, saltier guacamole. 
And A Little Salt Never Hurt Anything
However, despite our enjoyment of its taste, barely a quarter of the way into the bowl, we wave the white flag, officially surrendering to the Cleveland food gods. To Lopez Southwestern Kitchen's great credit, our waiter does not even blink when we ask for the remainder of our one dish to go, and he packages it for us along with two large, unopened bags of corn chips. 
Guacamole That Survived the TSA
We cart this to-go bag not only back to our hotel, but all the way back to New York City, where a full day later, Vodka relishes a final taste of Cleveland goodness from the sanctity of her couch. And of course, she had a drink with her Ohio leftovers, just to feel better.

Lopez Southwestern's Kitchen's Sage and Bleu Cheese Guacamole: 4 stars