The Iberian Pig: Decatur

 The Scholastic Epicurean is a guest blogger who lives in the Metro Atlanta area. He is a culinary expert with a refined palate and a love for fine food and drink. He has traveled the world and like the Intercontinental Foodie, he is always in search of the perfect meal.

With the bulk of my family living on the west coast, I don’t get to see nearly as much of them as I would like to. One of the many things that appealed to me about moving to Atlanta, aside from what seems like boundless opportunity is the fact that my Dad’s work occasionally requires him to travel here to visit one of his company’s sites. This gives me an opportunity to see him a little more often than what I might normally get to if his work did not take him here. Since Dad was here for one night only, I had to pick a good spot for us to grab a meal and catch up.

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Tonight’s culinary adventure took us to the Iberian Pig in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. While I’ve been around and near that portion of town, I’ve never actually been in Decatur, so this was an adventure all around!  As any good realtor will tell you, it’s all about location, location, location. And I believe that the Iberian Pig has a prime one. Located in the heart of Decatur Square, the Iberian Pig is surrounded by other trendy, upscale shops, restaurants, and bars. When approaching the restaurant, you can see people all around, hanging out and having a good time. It certainly bodes well for an evening when the energy all about is fun.

I walked in and greeted my Dad who had arrived ahead of me and was seated in the bar. One of the things I noticed when I entered was a modern, yet warm and homey design. The restaurant was decorated in dark woods, brick behind the bar, with accent colors that reminded me very much of the flag of Spain. The design is very much in keeping with the Mediterranean theme they were trying to convey.

We decided to grab a drink in the bar before heading to our table for dinner. While looking over the menu, I noticed that they had an extensive wine list, with (obviously) very Spanish influences. If you like Spanish wines, this is the place for you!

My dad, normally a big wine drinker, decided to go with the Caipirina which is the national cocktail of Brazil. It’s made with Cachaça (Which is a liquor similar to rum, only instead of being made from fermented molasses, it is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice), simple syrup, and limes. My dad having taken several business trips to Sao Paulo over the course of the last few years for work pronounced his beverage nearly as good as what he gets when in Brazil.

1079802_10151584780251200_1724379929_nWhile a Caipirina would have been just fine, I was feeling in an adventurous mood, so I let the bartender guide my selection. He suggested that I try the Iberian Old-Fashioned. I looked at the menu and noticed that it had bacon infused rye as an ingredient, how could that possibly go wrong? Let me first start by saying that bacon infused rye is amazing! Whoever decided that this would be a great combination should have a holiday declared in their honor. The combination of the bacon flavored rye, maple syrup, citrus oil, and bitters created a drink that not only had a little bite to it, but was also slightly sweet and smoky flavored. It’s one of those drinks that when you have it, you won’t soon forget it.

Drinks: A+

After having a drink at the bar, we decided to secure our table in the restaurant. Our server came over and greeted us almost immediately. After making sure that our drinks had been refreshed, she took us through the menu. It became immediately obvious to me that not only was she incredibly passionate about the restaurant and the food that it served, but that she was incredibly knowledgeable. I’ve been to way too many restaurants where when you ask for a suggestion as to what to order, you get a lukewarm response. This was not the case tonight. As it turns out, before she started working as a server at the restaurant, it was one of her favorite places to have a meal.

Dad and I decided that tapas was going to be the way to go tonight as it would allow us to sample many different menu items  and not be married to just one dish. As a starter we decided to go with the charcuterie and queso sample platter. We selected the Caña de Oveja (which is a semi-soft cheese made from sheep’s milk that has a consistency of brie on the outside and goat cheese on the inside), the Monte Enbro (another semi-soft cheese made from goat’s milk, this cheese had a dusting of ash which added a slightly smoky flavor to the cheese), and a side of Jamón ibérico ham (which tasted very similar to prosciutto). All of the selections were excellent, and when paired with the strawberry-lime and the raspberry-serrano gastrique, it added a sweet flavor that provided just the perfect amount of bite.

Continuing on our culinary adventure we selected the pork cheek tacos. These were made with slow roasted pork cheeks, a fire roasted corn salsa, an avocado crema, arugula and fresh lime. The dish made a nice transition from the meat and cheese course to something a little heartier. The avocado crema provided a nice subtle flavor that cooled the kick from the salsa inside the taco.

We then moved on to the Lamb Ribs. The lamb was slow cooked and glazed in Kalimotxo (which is a drink that consists of equal parts red wine, and cola). When the dish was initially described to me, I was concerned about the inclusion of Coca Cola because I was afraid it would be overpowering to the dish (That and I couldn’t actually imagine someone cooking with a Coke). It actually which provided a sweet yet earthy flavor to the ribs. It was subtle, and barely noticeable. The ribs ended up being so tender that you could slide the bone between the tines of a fork and the meat came clean off the bone.  It was served over a bed of lemon-herb rice grits, the consistency of which made me think of a good risotto.

The next course was something known as Huevo Con Trufa, or eggs with truffles. This wasn’t just eggs with truffles, but was combined with more slow roasted pork cheek. The egg was Sous-vide and still had a runny yoke in the center. When it was broken open, mixed through the truffles and pork, and then served over a rustic Spanish bread, it had the makings of a hearty dish.

The last item that we had for the night was an empanada stuffed with a suckling pig. This is an item that’s not normally on their menu, and apparently there was only one of them made for the evening. Our server decided that Dad and I looked like we were having a lot of fun so she offered it up to us. The empanada  came out a perfect golden brown and had a nice crunch to it when we cut into it, but was still flaky when eaten. The combination of the melted manchego with a touch of paprika, and the pork worked very well together.

All in all, the food was good, but I can’t say that any one of the things we ordered outshined anything else we ordered. I don’t know if this is a sign that we ordered well, or we didn’t order well. Ultimately though I think this is a sign that we probably could have ordered anything from the menu and had the confidence that it was going to turn out being pretty good (though I’m not sure I can use the word excellent); and I think that anyone who reads this and decides to check it out can order with confidence too.

Tapas: B+

Having spent many years in the hospitality business I’m particularly attuned to great service. I would much rather spend my money in a place that provides excellent service and decent food as opposed to decent service and excellent food. That said, I think the Iberian Pig falls into the former category.

As I mentioned before, our server was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the restaurant. She gave us many good suggestions, taking into account our personal preferences and her own experiences. But nothing that I ate surpassed in my opinion the Iberian Old-Fashioned I had to start off the evening.

At the end of our meal our server even brought my Dad and I a glass of Cava on the house so that we could have a little reminder of the fun evening. I thought it was an excellent touch, and reminded me of my old Marriott days where they instilled in us that details and unexpected treats can go a long way towards building brand loyalty. I can see that philosophy seems to be in force at the Iberian Pig.

While I didn’t pick up the check for dinner tonight, looking at the menu, I could tell that the prices were about what I would expect to pay at a similar caliber of restaurant. Specialty cocktails ran about $10 a glass, wine by the glass was roughly the same. The average tapas price was between $8 and $10 as well. Anyone heading in to the Iberian Pig would probably spend about $35-$50 per person without any alcohol included. One or two memorable dishes in addition to the high quality service would totally make that price point worth it.

Service & Value: A+ (Service)/B (Value)

A couple things to note, my dad and I arrived at the restaurant about 6pm, and the place was rather quiet for the first hour or so. Both of us attributed it to it being a Tuesday night maybe people just didn’t feel like heading out for dinner. But by the time we left about 9ish, the place was hopping. I imagine that this might have a little bit to do with the fact that the Decatur Square MARTA station is across the courtyard from the restaurant. It’s a great spot to have a late happy hour or snag a bite to eat before heading home.   If a Tuesday night is any indication of what the rest of their week is like, I would strongly encourage reservations; especially if you were to want to dine on a Friday or Saturday evening, or anytime after about 7pm on the weekdays.

In conjunction with the restaurant filling up, the noise level raised accordingly. This is one of those places that as more people come in, it becomes a little harder to have a conversation. The hard wood floors and open ceilings bounce sound around, so there is a slight din that gradually increases. This is a solid date place, but it may not be such a great idea for dates one or two while you’re still getting to know one another! Save it for number three and beyond, and know that they will be sufficiently dazzled by your taste.

I would recommend the Iberian Pig to anyone who has a love of pork, or is just looking for a really chill place to spend an evening enjoying good food, great drinks and great company!

The Iberian Pig on Urbanspoon

The Iberian Pig:

121 Sycamore Street

Decatur, GA 30030

Reservations: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Good for families: No

Full Bar: Yes

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 5pm – 10pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm – 11pm

Sun: 5pm – 9pm

http://www.theiberianpigatl.com/index

Flip Burger Boutique: Buckhead

By: The Scholastic Epicurean

The Scholastic Epicurean is a guest blogger who lives in the Metro Atlanta area. He is a culinary expert with a refined palate and a love for fine food and drink. He has traveled the world and like the Intercontinental Foodie, he is always in search of the perfect meal.

Lob-steer Burger

The nice thing about being relatively new to a city is that just about any time you go out, it is a new adventure. One of the things I’ve grown to love about the city of Atlanta is that there is no shortage of great restaurants, whether it’s more formal fare, or something as casual as a burger. Thankfully my friend Nurse Awesome-Sauce is also relatively new to Atlanta, and is always up for a fun time and a great meal.

In celebration of another competed semester at Kennesaw State University that included straight A’s, this afternoon’s adventure took me to Chef Richard Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique in Buckhead. Some of you may recognize Chef Blais’ name from his time on Season 4 of Top Chef (Which in my opinion was the last good season of the Bravo show). Watching Chef Blais work his culinary magic on TV, I was impressed with his ability to blend science and technique to come up with what appeared to be rather amazing dishes. I knew watching him, that if ever given the opportunity, I would have to see if the creations lived up to my imagination. It appears that today was my lucky day.

Walking into the restaurant, one of the things that struck me was the décor. It had a very chic and modern vibe to it. White and black served as the main colors, with red accents throughout. The lines were very clean, and it was obvious that someone had taken as much time on the décor as had been done with the menu. This didn’t have the feeling of your standard burger joint, and gave off the vibe that this was going to be an experience.

Nurse Awesome-Sauce and I decided that seeing as how it was a beautiful summer day, we were going to sit outside and enjoy it. The restaurant wasn’t terribly crowded, as it was 12:30 on a Tuesday, so we were able to pick a great spot and enjoy the people watching of the area around us.

We started off with some drinks. I had the Raspberry Moscow Mule, which was made with vodka, fresh raspberries, lime juice and ginger beer. Nurse Awesome-Sauce decided to indulge in a freshly made Peach Sangria. When our drinks came, I noticed that there was a fair amount of “smoke” rising off of it. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the temperature of the drink (cold) vs. the temperature outside (a balmy 83 degrees), or if this was a sign of liquid nitrogen usage (which Flip is known to use)! Either way, that first sip of the Moscow Mule provided a nice kick! It wasn’t so much the vodka I tasted, but that crisp taste of ginger. I loved it!

The Peach Sangria that Nurse Awesome-Sauce was drinking had a very subtle peach flavor to it. It was a stark contrast to the Moscow Mule I was enjoying. I’m not normally one for sangria, but this was something I would order from the menu if I were looking to try something different. In talking with our server, we found out that the drink menu like the main menu is seasonal, so there is always something new going on. In my opinion that’s a great sign, as it means that the Chef’s are willing to experiment and not rest on their laurels. It definitely keeps things from becoming stale.

Peach Sangria

Drinks: A

As we relaxed with our drinks, we started poking through the menu, to determine which of the many burger creations we were going to try. There are about 16 different options, and there is something to fit just about any particular palate or price point. I decided on the Lob-steer Burger and Nurse Awesome-Sauce decided that the Lamburger was the way to go. Since everything Flip is al la carte, we also decided to grab a side order of their vodka battered onion rings to go along with our burgers.

The Lob-steer burger can be best described as surf-and-turf on a bun. The burger had giant pieces of lobster, mustard caviar, garlic butter, and caramelized onions spread over top of a hand ground beef patty. I decided to pass on the mushroom ketchup; but it was described to me by our server as being more like a mushroom ragout as opposed to ketchup with an essence of mushrooms in it.

The Lob-steer burger was pretty good, but it was cooked a little more than I like (though in fairness I don’t think I was asked at what temperature I wanted my burger cooked). I also felt that for its $21 dollar price point, that it lacked a little flavor. I’m not sure what could have been added to it (maybe the mushroom ketchup), but I just felt like something was missing.

Nurse Awesome-Sauce decided to go with the Lamburger, and I think she was the one that ended up with the real winner of the day. While I like lamb, I have to be in the mood for it. The way this was prepared, makes me want to go back and order another one.

The Lamburger was well cooked, and it was topped with herbed goat cheese, saffron pickled zucchini, and Harissa ketchup (Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce made from piri-piri, Serrano pepper, and other hot chilies). The goat cheese melted over the top of the burger and created a rich, creamy contrast to the ketchup. Nurse Awesome-Sauce was afraid that the kick from the ketchup was going to be a little too much for her, but the combination of ingredients made for a very subtle flavor. The saffron pickled zucchini made for not only a nice visual contrast, but also a great texture when biting into the burger.

As we both ate our burgers, we snacked on the vodka battered onion rings. The onion rings were well cooked, and provided a nice little crunch as you bit into them. The onions themselves were cooked through, yet still firm. When combined with the beer mustard, it created a very light taste. It was an excellent side to the meal.

Lamburger

Entrees: B+

When scanning the menu earlier, we noticed that Flip makes liquid nitrogen milkshakes; even better these milkshakes have the option of being served with a shot of liquor. Nurse Awesome-Sauce and I looked at one another and asked “How could we possibly go wrong?

Flip Burger has a selection of five different shakes to choose from, ranging from Krispy Kreme to Strawberry Shortcake. After checking in on Facebook earlier, one of my Chef friends who had been to Flip Burger last year, suggested emphatically that I try the Foie Gras Milkshake. While he and many like him have significantly broadened my epicurean horizons, I wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to take that leap. I decided to take a much safer route and have the Strawberry Shortcake shake, while Nurse Awesome-Sauce went with the Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow shake.

I decided to spike the Strawberry Shortcake shake with some UV Whipped Vodka. The drink came out with a slight fog rising off of it. The shake had chunks of strawberry and shortcake mixed in, and was topped off with fresh whipped cream. It was one of the better strawberry shakes I’ve had. The vodka turned what would normally be a dessert for kids, into a much more grown up drink. I was able to taste the vodka, but it didn’t overpower the rest of the drink.

Nurse Awesome-Sauce’s Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow shake did not disappoint either. When it came out, the shake had a nice layer of burnt marshmallows over hazelnut goodness. The drink was spiked with a shot of Kahlua, and in the end what we ended up with was a cold version of a hot chocolate.

Both desserts provided an excellent end to an overall good meal.

Dessert: A

From a service perspective, it wasn’t bad. But then again, it wasn’t one of those places that you remember because of how amazing the experience was and rave about it to all of your friends. We arrived at the restaurant and were seated about 12:30pm and we didn’t get our check till about 5 minutes before 2pm. The service felt a little slow at times, especially for a restaurant that didn’t have a lot of traffic in it. If you’re short on time, this may not be the place to go for lunch. On the plus side our server was very knowledgeable, and she almost talked me into the Foie Gras milkshake. If I’d not know what was in it, I would have seriously considered ordering one based on her description.

When it came to value, this was one of the more expensive lunches I’ve had. For two burgers, two drinks, two desserts, and a side, the bill was just under $90 before any tip had been included. Had I not ordered the Lob-steer burger, the bill would have been about $10 less, still a touch pricey for lunch for two. In all, it was a fun afternoon; and really when it comes to what matters the most about a meal, it’s ultimately about the company. Good food is just ends up being an added bonus.

Service & Value: B

Flip Burger Boutique is a place that I would recommend to someone who is looking to experience a unique twist on the familiar.

Flip Burger Boutique:

3655 Roswell Road. Suite 300

Atlanta, GA 30342

Reservations: No

Credit Cards: Yes

Good for families: Yes

Full Bar: Yes

Hours:

Monday – Thursday: 11AM – 10PM

Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 11PM

Sunday: 11AM – 9PM

http://www.flipburgerboutique.com/

FLIP Burger Boutique on Urbanspoon

Zaharias St.Augustine Falls Short on Quality

A few friends and I ride most Wednesdays, partly to get out and enjoy the Florida sunshine, but mainly to find a good restaurant now and then to chow down at. This past weekend we traveled to St. Augustine Beach to try Zaharias. Zaharias is a Greek restaurant that has been at the same location on A1A for ages. I can’t tell you how many times I have passed the place and thought about stopping, only to keep going. Well, here’s my chance! To start, Zaharias has ample parking, and especially for motorcycles. As we entered through the outdoor deck, I was a little nervous. Nervous in the sense that it was lunchtime on a Wednesday and we appeared to be the first customers to arrive! Now most restaurants, and in particular those in St. Augustine have a common trait – and that is that you can smell the food before you walk in. Not here – so I’m really nervous now. I’m thinking, ”Maybe the kitchen is just getting going, or perhaps there is a lull while they change their oil.” Yeah, OK. There was none of that happening and in fact I think the kitchen staff must have been surprised at our arrival because they came out to the parking lot to look at our bikes! Flattering, but not a good sign.

In addition to being a Greek restaurant, Zaharias also has ample Italian dishes, and they serve breakfast as well. I personally have this thing about restaurants that try to do too much, but who am I to argue, so lets do this! So our party of ten was seated and of the ten, eight of us ordered breakfast. Myself and one other gentleman ordered lunch, mainly because it was noon. I should have been the ninth one to order breakfast. Damn. The service for the restaurant was more than adequate for the level of eatery it was. The waitress was prompt and courteous, and made sure we had everything we needed. The ambiance was weird. I wasn’t sure if I was in a Greek restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a seafood restaurant, or a diner. I don’t dig multifaceted spots. Pick a culinary direction and stick with it.

Entrees = C

My eight friends ordered different variations of breakfast, from omelets, to scrambled eggs, to pancakes. Each of their meals looked delicious. The pancakes were huge and fluffy and took up most of their plates. Their collective breakfasts would rate at the top of anyone’s list, but lets not forget – their were two of us who had lunch – so would this trend continue? In a word – no. My friend ordered the Liver & Onions (7.95), and as I do not partake in the consumption of organ meats, I had to rely upon his expertise. “This liver is overcooked and as tough as a shoe tongue.” He took one bite of the liver, chewed it for what seemed like an eternity, and then politely pushed his plate away. Me, I took the easy route. I figured if we were in a Greek restaurant, then why not order the Gyro (euro) (6.95)? I know, it was a homer choice, but I wasn’t really feeling anything else. I should have ordered a salad. Now I have had gyros in many different countries, so I know what to expect. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the gyro, it is a mixture of lamb and beef that is slow-roasted on a vertical rotisserie until the outer layers develop this amazing bark that is both crunchy and moist. It is typically served in a pita or a wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, and a yogurt sauce. If you order it as a platter, then it usually comes deconstructed with an order of fries. This is European street food at its best. In fact, there is an ever-continuing fight between the Greeks and the Turks as to whose sandwich is the best – the Greek Gyro, or the Turkish Doner Kebob. I love them both; so don’t ever ask me to choose! My gyro came in a wrap with all of the fixings, but the meat tasted like it was boiled. It was rubbery, and had very little flavor. I am not sure if Wednesday at noon is a bad time for Zaharias, but this was not working for me. I did, however, give it the old college try (three bites), but alas, I too had to push my plate to the side.

Service = C

If you happen to be traveling either to, or through St. Augustine Beach in search of a good meal, pass on Zaharias. My guess is that the locals are the ones keeping this place afloat. There is nothing spectacular about this spot at the beach, and in fact, there are other spots in and around St. Augustine that are far better. I think they are trying to do too many things, while losing focus on the one thing they claim to focus on. In my opinion, Zaharias fails to cut the Tzatziki.

Zaharias Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Restaurant:      Zaharias

Address:          3945 A1A South, St. Augustine, FL 32080

Telephone:      (904) 471-4799

Website:         Really?

Date of Visit:  July 17, 2013

The Intercontinental Foodie © 2013

OMG! Oysters in Panama City!

Grub got a chance to head over to the panhandle area of the state, as I was on a mission. Florida’s panhandle is known for its seafood, and in particular its oysters. And when I set out on a mission to find the best, I make sure that I do my research, gather data and develop a plan of action. Then it time to go. The target of this trip was plain and simple – to find the freshest, most reasonably priced oysters possible. After gathering my data, it wasn’t long before I started to notice a pattern. All indications pointed to one place. So I pointed the Grub-mobile toward Panama City and to Hunt’s Oyster Bar.
Hunt’s is located in the center of Panama City, I wont call it downtown, but I will say that it is close to the bay. It’s located in the tiny St. Andrews Community, which calls itself a “village by the bay.” As you enter Hunt’s the first thing you notice is its size – or lack of it. There are no more then twelve tables in the place and they fill up rather quickly. In fact, if you get there at anytime during the dinner hour, expect a wait, sometimes of up to an hour. In the middle of the restaurant’ is an L-shaped bar staffed by shuckers and waitresses. If you don’t want to wait for a table, then belly-up to the bar as the entire menu is available to you along with the oyster-shucking show that commands the attention of visitors and locals alike.
There is nothing fancy about the menu. They offer the standard fare found at most Florida seafood restaurants: shrimp, catfish, grouper, frog legs, scallops, etc. But at Hunt’s, the oyster is king. You can have your oysters prepared baked, Cajun baked, steamed, with three cheeses, three cheese Cajun, three cheese jalapeno, or you can order them just like Grub did – raw.
As Grub is new to the oyster game, I will admit, I had to be prodded to try the slimy bivalves. But once I received my instructions (and the appropriate amount of alcohol), I jumped right in! I had the requisite amount of hot sauce and horseradish, so I began to let them slide! The first dozen ($6.95) went down really fast. And so did the second dozen. After the third, I began to slow down. It was then that I started to take in the ambiance of the joint. This place was filled with a mixture of locals who were at the bar, and visitors who were dining at the tables. It is also very loud in the restaurant. The noise seemed to reverberate off of the walls. There is also a jukebox with some really old tunes on it; in fact, I believe they were of the 45-rpm variety.
After Grub had his fill of oysters, I turned my attention to the shrimp. The shrimp were fresh and really tasty, but I have had better. O’Steen’s in St. Augustine immediately comes to mind when I think of really good shrimp. Now don’t get me wrong, the shrimp at Hunt’s are good, I mean really good, but I have had better. Again, the oysters are king here. It is, by the way an oyster bar, so the oysters are the stars in this joint, plain and simple.
As far as the service goes, it was adequate. Remember this is an oyster bar, and not some fancy white-tablecloth establishment. The locals come here, and when they do, they are treated in the same fashion as Norm was on “Cheers”. If you want fancy, and you want exceptional service, and you want ambiance, then don’t get out of your car. But if you want fresh seafood at a reasonable price, and if you like your seafood accompanied by a cold beer, give Hunt’s a try. You wont be disappointed. This is a Good Grub spot, one that Grub will visit whenever I am in Panama City.

Hunt's Oyster Bar & Seafood on Urbanspoon

Restaurant: Hunt’s Oyster Bar
Address: 1150 Beck Avenue Panama City, FL 32401
Telephone: (850) 763-9645
Website: www.huntsoysterbar.com
Date of Visit: December 21, 2012
Good Grub or Garbage © 2013

Dragon King’s Daughter: Well Done!

If you ever find yourself traveling in Louisville and are in search of an eclectic meal, Grub has a spot just for you. We found this gem by doing a search on Urbanspoon and on Yelp. The ratings were mixed, so we figured why not take a chance. If it turns out to be bad, no problem – we were traveling so no big deal. Mick and I agreed on The Dragon King’s Daughter. I was interested in DKD if for no other reason than the name of the place. Some of the reviews commented on the location of the restaurant being in a bad neighborhood. That peaked my interested as I don’t think that the location of a restaurant is indicative of the quality of the food and of the service, so I threw out that review. In the future, if you are reading a restaurant review and the comments are more about the location than about the food, well you know how to feel about that review. Since the locale was such a big deal, let me say this – the neighborhood was exactly the same type of neighborhood as Jacksonville’s Riverside/Avondale, Savannah’s Thunderbolt, or New Orleans’ Garden District. If those types of areas give you pause, then DKD is not the place to go. If not, then read further.

DKD is eclectic. When you enter, you can see that this was a business that was converted into a restaurant, perhaps an old furniture store. It was cavernous and not obviously laid out in a typical restaurant fashion. There were various pictures and paintings on the wall, with no particular theme in mind. The tables are on various side of the restaurant and my recommendation would be to try and sit by a window so that you can people-watch out on Bardstown Avenue. We ordered two appetizers, the Ginger Chicken ($4), which is a sliced chicken breast sautéed in a ginger sauce then topped with green onion, and we had the Fried Veggie Gyoza ($4), which are vegetable filled pot-stickers with a spinach vinaigrette, spicy mustard and chili oil. Mick also ordered a Xingu, which is a Brazilian Black Lager and is very smooth. I indulged myself with a Rogue Dead Guy, best described as a German maibock ad could be considered a meal in and of itself. Neither of the dishes was bland. In fact, they were very flavorful with just a hint of spice on the back end. With the Gyoza, the heat stayed with me long after the dish was done. These appetizers hit on all points and were as advertised.

Appetizers = A

Now on to the entrees. We ordered the Asian BBQ Beef Taco ($10), and the Dragon Roll ($8). Grub is partial to Asian BBQ, from his days of enjoying Bulgogi in South Korea. I had never had BBQ in a taco, however, and this fusion of Asia and Mexico was an exciting change of pace. This dish consisted of beef rib eye cooked in Asian BBQ sauce and was served with wasabi-mayo. The dish arrived in three soft tacos with an aroma reminiscent of street food in downtown Seoul. I was transformed at the very first bite and stayed with this dish until the very end. The spice was perfect, but not overpowering. The beef was really tender and was accompanied by cabbage and carrots. The dish was really good. So good in fact, that I actually ordered a second entrée! DKD did this one really well, and if I ever visit this place again, this will be the first dish that I order. Mick jumped down on the Dragon Roll, which contained Unagi (eel) and avocado inside with a Unagi sauce. The presentation of this dish was awesome and artistic. It looked as though it took an hour to prepare it and I would have taken a picture, but Mick was more than eager to delve into it before I had the camera at the ready.

Entrees = A

The service for the restaurant was prompt and friendly. Drinks were refilled often and the beer was really cold. The ambiance was really enjoyable especially if you are into people watching. The real treat of the visit came when fifteen young ladies walked in for lunch. Each was dressed as if they had just come from a wedding. The kicker was that each of them was at least six feet tall and that they all had on heels! What a sight!!!

Service = A

Plan a trip to Louisville and soon! There are plenty of things to do in the city: Louisville Slugger, the Muhammad Ali Museum, and the bourbon distilleries, just to name a few. If the hunger pangs get you while you are there, stop by the Dragon King’s Daughter and relax, take in the sights and sounds and enjoy a great dining experience!!!! Their business model works and works well. A clean environment with cheap eats usually spells success. This is certainly a Good Grub Spot.

Dragon King's Daughter on Urbanspoon

Restaurant:      Dragon King’s Daughter

Address:          1126 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40204

Telephone:      (502) 632-2444

Website:         www.dragonkingsdaughter.com

Date of Visit:  July 14, 2012

Good Grub or Garbage © 2012

 

Good Eats in Commodore Country!

Beets & Heat!

On my last night in Music City, I wanted to not only have a good time, but I wanted to have a good meal. I checked with the locals, as I often do when on the road, to see if I could find some hidden gem of a restaurant. Something different that reflects the true spirit of Nashville cuisine. Something dynamite, if that is possible. I wanted something that would blow my socks off, and in light of my most recent Nashville restaurant review (see my older posts), I needed something better than average. The results of my inquiry were varied, so I had to pick one. The spot I picked was Sunset Grill.

Sunset Grill is located just off of the campus of Vanderbilt University in the West End. Though it is on a small street, there is ample parking in an adjacent lot. As we entered, a very friendly greeter immediately met and seated us. We didn’t have a reservation, but it didn’t matter, as there was plenty of room. The dining room was nicely appointed with dark wood as the predominant theme. There were nice wall sconces that reminded me of a dark alley just off of the Casbah in Algeria. Grub met a young lady there back in 1988, and we had dinner in this same restaurant! That image has been seared in my memory since then, but that is another story for another blog. But back to THIS story. There were two large parties in the main dining room and another large party in an adjacent private dining room. A very pleasant woman, who immediately sat us, even though we had no reservation, greeted us. “Are you Grub?” “Indeed.” I replied. “We have heard so much about you – please, right this way!” Ok, maybe that didn’t happen, but that’s what I thought I heard.

Now to the food – first up were the appetizers. We started with the Smoked Pork Beggars Purse ($9.99), which is described as smoked pork tossed in a chipotle-juniper barbecue sauce and wrapped in a phyllo pastry served with crawfish etoufee. Sounds fantastic! Pork eggrolls! In all honesty, these were really tasty and I really enjoyed the smoky taste of the barbecue sauce. It complimented the sweetness of the pork nicely, and the pastry held everything in place. This appetizer wins. We also ordered the Bacon and Eggs ($9.99), which is described as slow braised Niman Ranch pork belly with Tennessee white cheddar stone ground grits and Tabasco butter fried egg. I thought this would be a spicy dish, but the grits absorbed most of the heat from the Tabasco and gave the dish an interesting flavor. The pork belly provided a lot of the flavor with out the dish being salty. This was a good dish, certainly better than average. It was not my favorite dish, but it was a good dish nonetheless.

Appetizers = A

For our entrees, we ordered the Coca-Cola BBQ Beef Short Rib ($27.99), and the Seared Sea Scallops ($32.99). The short rib came served with sweet potato Johnnycakes, Benton’s bacon collard greens, and Farmer Dave’s apple butter & tobacco onions. This dish might have been a bit over-priced for one rib, but I think its ok to splurge every now and again. The rib was perfectly cooked, and the coke-flavored sauce was a nice change of pace. Johnnycakes are for me a blast from the past, and were very tasty and not dry as some I have previously had have been. This was certainly a good meal with a different take on an old classic short rib recipe. As for the scallops, they too were perfectly cooked before they reached their rubbery stage, and arrived at the table surrounded by a pool of polenta to provide both a culinary and colorful contrast. The sublime taste encourages one to eat slowly so as to savor each and every morsel.

Entrees = A

The service for the restaurant was more than adequate for the level of eatery it was. The waitress was prompt and courteous, and made sure we had everything we needed. Drinks were refilled and the ambiance was good.

Service = A

If you happen to be in Nashville and you are in the mood for a good experience, check out Sunset Grill. The menu is varied and eclectic enough for you to find something that will knock your socks off. When Grub makes his next visit to Music City, Sunset Grill is a certain destination. They have a solid business model that works. It is elegant without being pretentious. If a night out on the town is on order, make this ground zero. Give it a try! This is certainly a Good Grub Spot.

Sunset Grill on Urbanspoon

 

Restaurant: Sunset Grill

Address: 2001 Belcourt Avenue Nashville, TN 37212

Telephone: (615) 386-3663

Website: www.sunsetgrill.com

Date of Visit: July 15, 2012

Good Grub or Garbage © 2012

Blue Water tastes best when Spicy!

Jacksonville Beach, Florida is one of the lesser-known beaches in the state of Florida. Located in the northeastern part of the state, it is often bypassed by travelers for the better-known beaches of Daytona and Miami. Jacksonville may not have the nightlife of South Beach or the bars of Daytona, but they do have good eateries. Grub is going to bring you the scoop on as many of the Jax Beach spots as possible. Lets start with Blue Water Island Grill.

Blue Water is located on 1st Street North, just north of Beach Boulevard and directly across the street from Freebird Live. Don’t bother cruising the strip looking for parking – there isn’t any. Just park in the city-owned lot and walk across the street. When you take into account the location and the possible amount of the rent, you figure that this place has to at least be decent. The restaurant, which looks like it was plucked from Key West’s famous Duval Street, has two levels, the main dining room on the bottom level and an upper level that turns in to a hoo-rah on the weekends with a live DJ. I tried Blue Water on a weekday just after the lunch rush so that I could take in the sights and smell of the place. As you enter the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the bar on your left. They serve liquor, beer and wine, but the focus is on the many frozen drink machines on the wall al la Fat Tuesday, for those of you who remember the Mardi Gras-themed chain of bars. To the right is the dining area with tables, booths and a couple of high tops. I took one of the high tops, so that I could look out onto 1st Street and take in the beach life.

The service was quick, as should be expected during the mid-afternoon. I also noticed that the empty tables had already been cleaned, which certainly is a positive. I started with the Conch Fritters ($6.95), which are served with a remoulade sauce. They arrived at my table piping hot, and had a really good flavor. If I had to change anything, I would have used less breading, so that I could get more of the conch flavor. I also ordered the Grilled Jerk Chicken ($10.95), which is served over mashed sweet potatoes and drizzled with a mild jerk sauce. I also ordered as a side item the Jerked Macaroni & Cheese ($2.95), just to compliment my jerk-themed meal. Don’t let the fact that the jerk sauce is mild fool you. What they don’t tell you is that the chicken is marinated in a jerk paste before it is drizzled with the sauce. Jerk paste is really spicy, and not for the faint of heart. I am a fan of jerk seasoning, but one bite of this dish had me looking for water! The chicken was really moist, including the breast and the mashed sweet potatoes provided a great contrast to the spiciness of the chicken. This dish was excellent on so many levels, but due to the spiciness, I would only recommend this dish to those with the palette to tolerate it. The Mac & Cheese was more pedestrian – it wasn’t nearly as spicy as the name suggests. It was good, gooey mac & cheese, but I was expecting that sweet, kick one can only get with jerk spices.

Entrees = A

The service at Blue Water was good. Not outstanding, but good. They made sure my drink was refilled often, asked if I needed anything else, and basically kept an eye on me. The restaurant was empty, so that made things that much easier. They didn’t even mind when I sat and surfed the Internet. Beach people are more relaxed than city folks. I wanted to say that the service was excellent, but I need to see how they perform with a full house.

Service = B

If you happen to be at Jacksonville Beach and are looking for something new and different from the plethora of chain restaurants that seem to dot Jacksonville’s landscape, head out to the beaches and try Blue Water Island Grill. It’s casual beach food, but it’s done right. And while you are at it, enjoy a frozen drink as well. It can go a long way in calming down the many spices that are sure to dance around on your tongue. This is certainly a Good Grub Spot.

Blue Water Island Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurant:      Blue Water Island Grill

Address:          205 1st Street North, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Telephone:      (904) 249-0083

Website:         www.bluewaterislandgrill.com

Date of Visit:  June 11, 2012

Good Grub or Garbage © 2012

Bro’s Blows!

Grub is on the road this week, traveling through Kentucky and Tennessee for some much-needed R&R. While staying in Nashville, I decided to review a spot that was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  I have had great success in following Guy Fieri, so why not go to the well once more. I decided to try Bro’s Cajun Cuisine.

Bro’s is located in an industrial part of town just outside downtown Nashville. If you visit, slow down as you approach, as the street is no more than eight feet wide, and can be difficult getting in if you aren’t careful. Bro’s sits on a hill with the parking lot on a steep incline, so use your parking brake.

Bro’s has two dining rooms and we walked in from the street into what can only be described as the casual dining area with its wooden benches and a buffet style serving area. Bro’s prepares its food in the kitchen, and then brings it out to this buffet area where it is dished up as orders come in. This is definitely the section of the restaurant to get people in and out. We took our seats and some time passed before we received our menus. They don’t sell Coke or Pepsi products – this is totally old school. They only sell RC products! For you non-southerners, I am talking about Royal Crown Cola, a southern, and I thought, defunct brand. We placed our order and skipped the appetizer, as there was nothing exciting enough for us to order. We ordered the House Sampler ($14.95), which includes samples of their specialties: Gumbo, Red Beans, Shrimp Creole, Crawfish Etouffee, Boudin served with an order of Turnip Greens. We also ordered the Stuffed Pork chop ($14.95), which was the featured dish on Triple D. Let’s start with the pork chop.

 

The pork chop is prepared by cutting a pocket into a ¾ inch center cut chop and stuffing it with Bro’s homemade sausage. The chop is then smoked in Bro’s smokehouse, which apparently he brought with him from Louisiana. Now when the episode of Triple D was filmed, the pork chop was finished in Bro’s homemade barbecue sauce and Guy commented on how juicy the chop was. Well on our visit, none of that happened. My chop was one of the last in the latest batch to come out of the smoker and in fact, there was a woman at the counter who ordered three chops to go and was told that there were only two left because I had ordered one. She asked if I had arrived before she did, and the server replied that I had. Maybe I should have given her my chop. The chop had been in the smoker too long and was dry and tough as leather. You have to be careful when cooking pork chops, and especially when cooking thick chops. The length of time it spent smoking also over-cooked the sausage as well, causing the chop to have the consistency of jerky. The house sampler was also hit and miss. The crawfish were perfectly cooked and by that I mean they weren’t rubbery. They were also well seasoned. The shrimp creole was the star of this dish. It was tasty and well seasoned, but not too spicy. The red beans were good, but nothing that you couldn’t get from a bag of Zatarins. The gumbo had the consistency of canned soup. The broth looked like water and when you spooned it up, you couldn’t find any spices. The presence of spices would have at least kept it from looking like dishwater. A good gumbo needs time for its flavors to marry, and this presentation hadn’t started dating yet. The other offerings were average and should not have warranted an appearance on national TV.

Entrees = D

The service at Bro’s did two things for Grub: a) it provided entertainment for the guests; and b) it destroyed the overall level of our experience. The wait staff and cooks, who were not organized and seemed to have an overall disrespect for each other, provided the entertainment. They yelled across the restaurant at each other when they were low on food, they yelled at each other when guests weren’t seated, they yelled at each other when the food needed to come out of the smoker (ok, they should have yelled about this), and they yelled at each other just to yell at each other. The party that sat next to us waited for their food for so long that the waitress brought them catfish bites, which they did not order, and told them “This is just something to hold you until your food comes.” Who does that? When does a restaurant create a free appetizer to satiate a customer until the food that they ordered is ready? The party that came in behind us still had not received their food when we left. Our waiter was native Cajun, in that it took me awhile to understand what he was saying with his heavy accent. Initially, he seemed disinterested in taking our order, but later apologized for his inattentiveness by telling us that it had been really busy today. Really?

Service = F

In closing, Grub was totally disappointed with his visit to Bro’s Cajun Cuisine. I am sure that they pulled out all the stops when the Food Network came calling, but on a regular day with no cameras present, they should have made a better presentation. Grub’s guess is that Bro’s is waiting for the Food Network to return to their restaurant. And I totally agree – only this time around, it’s likely to be Robert Irvine and the cast of Restaurant Impossible. This is a total fail and qualifies as Garbage, and not blue-bin garbage. There is no recycling this.

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

 

Restaurant:      Bro’s Cajun Cuisine

Address:          3214 Charlotte Avenue, Nashville, TN 37209

Telephone:      (615) 329-2626

Website:          www.broscajuncuisine.com

Date of Visit:  July 13, 2012

Good Grub or Garbage © 2012

Vintage on 5th – Crystal River’s Best

The impetus for this weeks’ review started in a bar. That’s right in a bar. Grub found himself sitting at the bar in a popular watering hole in Crystal River, Florida with an Army buddy. As we were swapping war stories and throwing back top-shelf spirits (his derived from distilled grapes, mine by distilling malt), we got to talking about food. Realizing that top-shelf liquor goes better with top-shelf food, we asked the bartender where we could find the best place to satisfy our gastronomic desire for good grub. The bartender told us that there was a plethora of great restaurants in the area; it just depends on the type of food we desired. Now when it comes to food, Grub’s only requirement is that the restaurant has passed its health inspection! The bartender’s reply was simple: you have got to try Vintage on 5th.


Vintage on 5th is located in downtown Crystal River. Not exactly a metropolis, so calling it downtown is a stretch. It is located on – you guessed it 5th Street! The downtown area of Crystal River is probably about three-square blocks and easily navigated by foot. The restaurant is impressive from the street in that it is located in a renovated church, which was built in 1940. Locating a restaurant in a historical building in most cases is a good sign. Someone who has thought enough of their business to locate it in an old structure usually means that they have something special to offer their clientele. As we didn’t have a reservation when we arrived, we had to wait for a few minutes, but nothing extraordinary. As you look to your left, you are attracted to the ample wine bar that doubles as a community table. For some reason, most of the bars in Citrus County, Florida only serve beer and wine. We were seated by a window, which gave us great views of all that downtown Crystal River has to offer. The waiter promptly come over and took our drink order as we mulled over the menu in search of something really special. On this particular day, the drink fountain was out of order, but the staff was able to procure drinks from a local supermarket. The owners adapted, and I like that. Shows that they value their customers.
By the looks of the menu, this place is known for its southern food and fresh seafood. Let’s see. I ordered the Caribbean Jerk Shrimp ($8.00) as my appetizer. The shrimp were prepared pan-seared with a creamy jerk seasoning. The plate was also lined with slices of a French baguette for texture. My first inclination was to try a spoonful of this creamy goodness in an effort to get a preview of what the shrimp would taste like. The first sip was a bit overpowering with spice, but as I recovered, the sweetness of the jerk seasonings kicked in to help me along my journey. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and I could have had this appetizer as my main meal.

Appetizer = A+
Next up was the 5th Street Mac & Cheese ($18.00). I ordered it not because I am a mac and cheese fan, but because I wanted to see whether a restaurant could freshen up an old classic, and how they could possibly pass it off as an entrée. The mac was penne pasta and the cheese was goat cheese. I love goat cheese, but I couldn’t fathom how it could work in this traditionally southern dish. The entrée arrived at our table piping hot with the goat cheese bubbling around the edges. After allowing the dish to settle, I dug in. The pasta was tossed with the goat cheese, diced tomato, and a sliced, pan-seared chicken breast. This mac and cheese worked and worked very well. The goat cheese gave it a tang that is only found when using the sharpest of cheddars. The chicken breast added a protein in order to make a complete meal. The dish worked really well and the portion was substantial, so much so that Grub couldn’t finish it.

Entrée = B
The service was impeccable. The waiter and the owner checked on us often to make sure that we were okay, and kept our drinks refilled. All in all, this was a great find in a small town, and there is absolutely no reason to not be able to find good grub in small-town America.

Service = A
All in all, if you find yourself down in Crystal River, Florida for business or pleasure, stop in and dine at Vintage on 5th. You wont be disappointed. Tell them Grub sent you and sit back, relax and enjoy this piece of gastronomic bliss! This is certainly a Good Grub Spot!

Vintage on 5th on Urbanspoon

Restaurant:         Vintage on 5th

Address:              114 Northeast 5th Street, Crystal River, FL 34429

Telephone:          (352) 794-0004

Website:             vintageon5th.com

Date of Visit:      June 8, 2012


Good Grub or Garbage © 2012

Sky Asian Fusion – Asian Food – Ocala Style!!!

Grub was on the road again last week; travelling through central Florida when hunger pangs signaled it was time to find some good (hopefully) grub!  Trouble was, I was on I-75 heading south through Ocala and good eats are hard to come by in this part of the sunshine state. So I exited the interstate at the main thoroughfare for the city, State Road 200. The blue interstate information signs pointed me to a Cracker Barrel restaurant that did little to get the gastric juices flowing. I stopped into a gas station to see if one of the locals could point me toward a good local restaurant. I was steered toward Sky Asian Fusion.

Sky is located on the top floor of the Ocala Holiday Inn – that’s right – this jewel of Asian culinary delight in Ocala is located in a hotel. More importantly, you would have to be looking for the restaurant in order to find it. When you step off of the elevator on the 6th floor, you find yourself standing at the hostess stand. The next thing you notice is the ample bar to your left when you walk into the restaurant. The dining area is large, but not cavernous. The fixtures are of dark mahogany wood and reminiscent of the swankiest restaurants in Seoul, or in Tokyo. Though the décor is magnificent, the focus here is food, plain and simple. I started out by ordering the spring rolls. After all, spring rolls are standard fare in most Asian restaurants. The rolls were on my table within five minutes and were sizzling hot. They were lightly fried, and the filing was fresh and flavorful. These rolls alone are worth the price of admission.  The waitress then brought out the trinity of Asian spices – chili paste, hot mustard, and soy sauce, and explained to me the uses of each one. If you happen to wonder into an “authentic” Asian restaurant and there are salt and peppershakers on the table, then it isn’t authentic.

I ordered the Korean BBQ Beef Stir Fry partly because I have an affinity for Korean food, but mainly to see how they prepared Korean food in Ocala, Florida.  Korean BBQ, or Bulgogi, as it is known in Korea, is made of thin strips of marinated beef grilled over an open flame and it can be as spicy or as mild as the chef wants it. The dish arrived piping hot and was seasoned nicely though I added more spice to suit my fried taste buds. I had a choice between fried and white rice and chose the white; because I cant remember having had fried rice with any dishes while in Korea. This is Grub’s way of keeping it authentic. I was blown away by this dish and by its presentation. The beef was perfectly cooked and it was prepared with scallions and chili peppers. The only thing missing was a side dish of Kimchi. Koreans have a way with food, and usually it is limited to the Korean peninsula, but if you are in the mood for Asian food, be it Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, please give Sky Asian Fusion a look. I am sure you wont be disappointed. This is certainly a Good Grub Spot!

SKY Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

Restaurant:      Sky Asian Fusion

Address:          3600 Southwest 38th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34474

Telephone:      (352) 291-0000

Website:         www.ocalasky.com

Date of Visit:  June 6, 2012

Good Grub or Garbage © 2012