Even more great ACL Eats.
Austin City Limits Music Festival is well in the rearview now. The six day music festival wrapped up this last weekend and suffice to say, I got my fill. So why read about where I ate at a music festival now that it is over? Well these eateries live on in Austin
and represent the city food truck and trailer scene oh so well.
I ate a ton of food, so we gotta dig in like NOW.
Don't sleep on a pulled pork sandwich. Even in Texas.
the spot: Micklethwait Craft Meats 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin TX 78702 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court + Side Food Court
the eats: Pulled Pork Sandwich
the bucks: $15
the full nelson: a top shelf Austin BBQ joint delivers a Texas sized Pulled Pork sandwich
I tend to pass over pulled pork at Central Texas barbecue joints
. It's just not the main draw. Now that's not to say the pulled pork can't be done well in Central Texas. For ACL Fest 2021, I had to break ranks with brisket, for the sake of variety. While my heart swoons more for the smoked carnitas at Taco Bronco (Micklethwait's sister joint) this sandwich came with zero regrets. Go light on the sauce
as the meat stands tall on its own.
Is the falafel on point?
the spot: Shawarma Point multiple locations in Austin // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: falafel sandwich
the bucks: $12
the full nelson: the falafel doesn't fall far from the gyro tree . . .
Last week I called Shawarma Point's gyro one of my fave ACL Eats. For what it's worth I had it again and while it wasn't quite as good, I can't see myself not getting one at every ACL. That brings us to Shawarma Point's falafel sandwich. Looking back at my notes I recall the sandwich being respectable. If the falafels had come fresh out the fryer
we might have something. What I do know is that I'll be giving this falafel a second shot at their Rainey street location in Austin.
New Orleans sandwich legend in Austin?
the spot: Wicky's Walkup walkup spot at the Cavalier Bar 2400 Webberville Austin TX 78702 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: muffuletta sandwich
the bucks: $14
the full nelson: a taste of New Orleans that might make you wish you just went there instead
I spent two weeks shooting a TV show in New Orleans and the experience might have just spoiled me on food forever. Needless to say my standards for Muffuletta's are high. I've even had great ones from my hometown of St. Louis. Wicky's sadly wasn't one of the great ones. The sandwich came out hot pressed and had me tasting more Quizno's
than anything else. The people there were as cool as can be which makes me want to try them out again in their East Austin location. Unfortunately their East Austin location is temporarily closed because of Covid-19 staffing issues, though you can get their sandwiches at the Cavalier Bar where they reside next to.
Meal of destiny: Arepas at ACL Fest
the spot: Four Brothers Venzuelan Kitchen 80 Rainey St. Austin TX 78701 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: arepas, empanadas
the bucks: $10
the full nelson: my first arepa but definitely not my last
If you went to ACL Eats and were anywhere near Four Brothers Venezuelan Kitchen, you would have definitely heard them. They were loud, boisterous and were having as a good a time as the concert goers were. I've never had an Arepa before but it has long been on my bucket list. The unsweetened corn pancake is basically a sandwich though more similar to a gordita
. Mine was stuffed with pulled pork, cheese, and a garlic sauce
. I also had a few empanadas. To be honest, I've had better. But that Arepa . . . I'm obsessed.
Mighty Cone not so "mighty"
the spot: Mighty Cone 1720 Barton Springs Austin TX // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: chicken in a cone
the bucks: $12
the full nelson: I'm not sure I'd use the word "mighty"
I was graciously given access to the media lounge this year for ACL and it comes with perks. One of them is vittles for happy hour, which Might Cone was one of them. I'm almost positive I've had the Mighty Cone at previous ACLs. This one was far from mighty. Dry chicken, cold flour tortilla and a lack of sauce
made this cone something I'd rather leave as a warning for pedestrians to watch their step.
Yeah I can't get enough gyros . . .
the spot: Kababeque 6900 Ranch Road Austin TX 78732 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: gyros
the bucks: $13
the full nelson: the gyro streaks continued and did not disappoint
My very last bite at ACL was at Kababeque. I've seen their tents in years passed but never came through. This year, thanks to my success with gyros at Shawarma Point, I had to test theirs out. Overall they are remarkably similar. Chopped up gyro hit with creamy white sauce and spicy red on a toasted pita. The only shortcoming was . . . me. I had run out of gas at this point at ACL and this meal just took me over the edge and out of the festival.
Beyond my self inflicted indigestion, I am genuinely curious to try out more from Kababeque. Their South Asian meets Mediterranean
is right up my alley. Only downside is that they are way far north from Austin proper.
So which bite had me dancing away?
The Arepa from Four Brothers Venezuelan Kitchen
I could not get enough of this dripping rich goodness. I had more than a few good bites at ACL but leave it to Austin City Limits Music Festival to cross a food icon off my bucket list. Well done ACL Eats, I now have a new food crush: Arepas
ACL 2021. Just as tasty as ever.
Austin City Limits Music Festival is my most favorite thing about Austin. It could be why I deal with the never ending summers and frankly, the state of Texas. The festival makes you feel like your 21 again, whether you have sailed beyond that mark or are eager to get there. Oh and the food? It is lit up. Here's where I ate for weekend one:
the spot: Taco Bronco 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin TX 78702 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: Smoked Carnitas + Chicken Tinga tacos
the bucks: $6 a taco
the full nelson: a top choice Austin BBQ joint does tacos RIGHT
If you told me you came to Austin and went to Taco Bronco, I would tell you that you are doing it RIGHT. Taco Bronco opened up just before the pandemic and they blew me away with their offerings
. Nowadays they pop up along side Micklethwait Barbecue, their sibling and source for smokey meat goodness. I went with the smoked carnitas and the chicken tinga. It is remarkable how much smoke you can taste off the carnitas but the overall quality of the Tinga really surprised me. This is a must stop at ACL 2021.
the spot: Chilantro multiple locations in Austin // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: Sliders and Kimchi fries
the bucks: $9 for two sliders, $11 for the fries
the full nelson: always bet on Kimchi fries
Here is a little secret when it comes down to eating at a festival: meaty, spicy and fried works very very well. This bodes well for Korean food concept Chilatro, an Austin fav and Shark Tank winner. For the record this meal was a comp and the folks at Chilantro are always inviting me to try their goods.
I'll be a straight shooter and tell you to go with the fries
. It's a dish that netted founder Jae Kim $600k on Shark Tank and it is prepared well, even under festival conditions. The sliders are a good recipe but my chicken was way overcooked
. For what it's worth, they have a done a fried chicken in the sandwich at their restaurant that did me right. Check it out here on my YouTube Channel: Ali Khan Eats Chilantro chicken sandwich
intermission for concert vibes.
And yes, if you look carefully, that's me and my better half in the pic. Dude came up to me and said "were you wearing a blue suit at ACL two years ago?". Yes, ACL is that epic. Now back to the food.
the spot: Lonesome Dove Bistro 419 Colorado St. Austin TX 78701 // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: Double Cheeseburger
the bucks: $13
the full nelson: in case of emergency burger cravings go here
I tried this burger back in 2019 and the results
were about the same: dry but ooey gooey good
. Frankly this is one of two burger options at ACL and I chose this for a reason: it holds enough promise to warrant the $13 price tag. If you have to have a burger, go here. The solid char and well melted cheese does its best to offset the off tasting burger patty.
the spot: Shawarma Point multiple locations in Austin // @ACL Eats Main Food Court
the eats: Gyro
the bucks: $13
the full nelson: one of my fave ACL Eats
Earlier I said that something meaty, spicy and fried will do you right for festival eating. While gyro isn't fried, the buttery rich pita and gyro meat comes close. Shawarma Point takes its inspiration from NYC halal carts where Middle Eastern flavors are served fast and cheap and oh so good.
Yes this is a $13 gyro but it is a big meal. And the red sauce is truly glorious, so make sure you grab the bottle and use with caution. Years ago I stumbled towards the Shawarma Point truck and saw they had a spice level called "brown people spicy"
to which I promptly stepped up to. Turns out I'm a pale mocha. Again, use with caution.
Best meal of ACL weekend one: Shawarma Point
I love me some Taco Bronco but when it comes to bang for your buck, Shawarma Point is so on point. Check these spots out either at ACL or in Austin. They are Ali Khan Eats approved!!
the spot: Berardi Brothers Pizza 4203 Landis Ave Sea Isle City NJ
the eats: Any pie you fancy but def get a Margherita
the bucks: $20-$23 a pie
the full nelson: NY Style pizza at the Shore
I've been hitting up the Jersey Shore for going on 6 years now. I love it. The water is warm, the flight from Austin is reasonable(you fly to Philly then drive) and frankly, my sweet in laws take care of the house. All that's left for a freeloader like me to do is work a gas grill for a week.
Still came out medium rare
After doing this trip for a few years, we figured out the last night should be the night when the chef takes off. And what does one crave after a week of chilling and grillin'? Za. Pizza. A slice of pie. And when you're on East Coast, your odds of finding good pizza improve drastically. But I'm not here to talk about good pizza. I'm here to talk about pizza that's Ali Khan Eats approved
Margherita Pie= A+
A neighbor at the shore recommended we try Berardi Brothers. We were staying in Strathmere which is a 10 minute drive from Sea Isle where you'll find Berardi Brothers and a killer deli I've written about before called Giovanni's
. Turns out the neighbor has good taste as the pie at Berardi's would be a find in pizza heaven like NYC or New Haven
. This Margherita had fresh basil, a perfect cook and was up there in execution on the level of pricey Neapolitan joints. The difference was the denser crust and the lighter price tag; this pie ran about $20 and can feed 2-3 easy.
Spot on "Sazeeg"
Sausage hit right too. Great seasoning in those links. Normally I prefer a crumble to the slices. I think I was traumatized by too many bad frozen pizzas when I was kid, where the sausage was sliced like it was Oktoberfest. The red sauce had a tang that hit really nice too. Also for the record: I ate the crusts. That's a good sign
My only regret was that I discovered this place at the end of our trip. As I write this post, Berardi Brothers is closed for the season so if you're in Philly/NJ area, hit the brakes. Still if you're out of state vacationer like me or a semi local or just loco for pizza, you gotta give Berardi Brothers a try.
PS - these guys are freaking super nice. Answered all my Instagram DMs and the guy who recommended it also recognized me and is a Food Network/Ali Khan fan. Clearly the stars are aligned for you to eat here.
Not a sponsored post but . . .
Recently I got hit up by Wunderoots
to try out their carrot based products. Now before anyone calls me a sellout to the Beyond Meat cabal
, hear this: I eat vegetables and this product is not as much a meat substitute but an opportunity to eat more veggies. I was also hit up by 'Nade to try their Thai inspired marinade/sauce
. When life hands you lemons or in this case Thai style carrot noodles and a Thai marinade, you reach for some . . .
. . . chicken breasts
At a recent Wunderoots event
, a Thai food truck prepared Pad Thai, that Thai noodle classic, with carrot noodles. This was a genius move in my opinion. The noodle dish already is known for having carrot so adding carrot noodles in place of the noodles and the carrot
wasn't just a no brainer, it was making a dish even easier to prepare
A ziplock and a little time
I had a recent revelation with boneless chicken thighs in the airfryer
. Spoiler alert: it's delicious. I need to trust chicken thighs more but until I do I will always reach for a marinade and plastic bag to give chicken breast an opportunity to succeed. I pride myself on researching and making my own marinades but when you get a bottle of marinade for free . . . you use it. For what it's worth I let the chicken marinade all night in the fridge but a couple hours should do.
Summon the Traeger
I threw these chicken breasts on the Traeger on 250 till the chicken was almost done, then cranked up the heat to give them a char. I've spent some time trying to add more smoke flavor to the Traeger, especially when I make ribs
. I will say that a soy sauce marinade in a pellet grill
gives off a very pleasant smokey kick
Summon the non stick skillet
The Carrot noodles from Wunderoots come in noodle form and with a sauce. But I was focused on my "Nade marinade so I skipped that. I tossed the noodles in a heavy bottom non stick skillet in some sesame oil and got my sizzle on. I sliced the chicken breast, added that along with more 'Nade sauce in a few minutes we were going to town . . .
Healthy if you're about skipping the starchy stuff and flavorful AF, I'd pay for this bowl when I'm craving a post workout treat yo self kinda meal
. I heartily recommend you try 'Nade for a marinade and like to cook a on a pellet grill or really any grill. And if you're counting carbs, why not try carrot noodles? They work well, especially in a Thai style noodle dish. Two thumbs up from Ali Khan Eats.
the spot: Corner Bistro 331 W. 4th St. NY, NY 10014
the eats: Bistro Burger, Cheeseburger, Hamburger
the bucks: $10.75-$14.75
the full nelson: an NYC burger institution that feels like home
The first time I dined at Corner Bistro in NYC, I returned 12 hours later. It was technically the next day but I had not gone to bed. The joys of hanging out in New York City when you're 26 years old. Corner Bistro is one part awesome "dive bar" and the other is an NYC burger institution. Like any spot that has drawn accolades over the years, there are also the detractors. And while I generally disagree, it should be noted the burger cooking game has grown leaps and bounds since I fell in love with Corner Bistro in 2003. Yet like the same night I found I found a Wilco song
on the jukebox called "I'm always in love
", I am still in love with Corner Bistro.
Once upon a time in West Village
I've never lived in New York City
, which has been one of my great regrets in life
. I think I make up for that by visiting the city of eight million stories at least once a year for the last 25 years. The sight of Corner Bistro from the street is a welcomed one. Something that for me is a reminder of what the neighborhood once was: bohemian, affordable, different.
One of my last visits to West Village took me for a loop. I saw an old guy decked out in Neiman Marcus/Saks 5th Avenue gear. Soft leather shoes with tassels, silk slacks; clothes that aren't unexpected to find in Manhattan but a sign that West Village was looking a little too cush for my tastes.
a sight for sore eyes
Then I walk into Corner Bistro and I'm back in 2003. That same beast of a burger
, shot glasses of whiskey
and cheap long neck domestics beers
stand at the ready. It's still NYC and all of this comes at a price but this is as close to a dive bar as I'm gonna get while hanging in this part of Manhattan. Oh and the burger? A hulking thick half pound of beef, broiled in a salamander and cooked to order. That's the star of the show. The bun comes out of a bag, pickles out of a jar, the onion is sliced wonderfully thick, lettuce and tomato are there if you want it.
A taste of old NYC for $15
When I first went to Corner Bistro, I want to say the burger clocked in around $8 for bacon and cheese. Times have changed. While $10.75 for the hamburger sans cheese and bacon sounds like a reasonable deal in 2021, I think the burger needs the cheese and bacon for a salty punch. This patty is thick and some detractors
have called the burger underseasoned so adding some cheese and bacon would be a wise move. By the time you factor in the drinks, and I do mean drinks in the plural sense, you will have laid out some coin for this burger experience. Welcome to NYC pal.
I love me a burger that fills me up. I love a thick burger cooked to temp. This is the kind of burger I grew up having in the Pubs/Bars of the Midwest. For these reasons I have a strong affinity for Corner Bistro. I do think that when I read more critical reviews of Corner Bistro
I have to keep in mind that the burger world has improved. We have come to expect more from our burgers and for our bucks. I mean, Corner Bistro
, a dive burger
by NYC standards is a $15 affair
"It's a drag I snag, I'm always in love"
That's a line from the Wilco song I played on the jukebox when I went to Corner Bistro back in 2003. I guess I will just forever be hooked at CB. Around 3:30am on a cold December night in 2003 I fell in love with a burger and a place. And almost 20 years later, nothing has changed
. If you can get behind the simplicity of a thick burger cooked temp, slapped between a hamburger bun from a bag and tolerable produce plus a couple beers with shot, you might yourself in love with Corner Bistro too.
And stay in love for the next 20 years.
the recipe: Smoked Lebanese Lamb Shoulder
the smoker: Traeger Ironwood 885
the time: an 8 hour cook for a whole bone in lamb shoulder
the full nelson: don't let pulled pork hog the spotlight: lamb rules!
Recently I was treated to some spectacular lamb from my friends at the American Lamb Board. I was also a guest for a cooking demo with Chef Matt Abdoo from Pig Beach BBQ
in NYC. Matt is half Lebanese so barbecues growing up meant eating lots of lamb. I also share a fondness for childhood barbecues with lamb and back in the day I was known for cooking whole legs of lamb, bone and all, at barbecues or a really any party where I could sneak into a kitchen.
Unlike yours truly, Chef Abdoo is a serious chef, having worked in some of the fanciest kitchens around like Del Posto
in NYC. He also heeded the call to the smoke, opening up Pig Beach BBQ in NYC
. In turns out he found his stride in barbecue as Pig Beach has now three locations, including one in Florida.
Make that rub
With this level of chef at the helm, I had to make his recipe demo for myself. Chef Abdoo starts the process off by making a special rub for the lamb. If all the above spices are too much for you then buy yourself some Cavender's seasoning
, which is basically what the above spices become. But you know I had to make it right.
Ingredients for Greek Rub
- 6 tbsp paprika
- 1/4 cup Kosher Salt
- 1/4 cup crushed oregano
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp coarse ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp all spice
Mix all ingredients well and reserve in jar. I omitted a seasoning, Accent, which I haven't even thought of since the 1980s. Also I reached for an Italian herb blend in lieu of the thyme, oregano(1/4 tsp), and rosemary. You'll see coriander on their twice, the first refers to a coarse ground version. I just used what I had. For the 1/4 cup crushed oregano I subbed Mexican Oregano.
The Greek rub is just the half of it. You'll also need Za'Atar, a Middle Eastern herb mix
which contains Sumac, Sesame seeds, Cumin and a variety of other herbs depending on the particular region. I picked up a Lebanese version from a local Middle Eastern market. It was my first time using the stuff and you know what? I'm hooked. It's a great addition to hummus
and does wonders on chicken.
Let it rain
If you've made that rub than you have a lot, even for a 10+ pound lamb shoulder. TBH I don't know what my shoulder weighed as it was sent as a gift but expect a hefty cut if you get a bone in one. Regardless be generous with both the rubs
. Spices only go flat with time so make it rain. I did my rub overnight but Chef Abdoo said even as little as 15 minutes will do the trick.
The Cook: Part 1
So get your smoker or oven set to 250 degrees. I placed my shoulder in my Traeger, stuck a probe in and let it cook till it hit an internal temp of 170 degrees. That took about 3.5 hours. After that it's time to wrap.
The Cook: Part 2
Chef Abdoo instructed us to wrap the shoulder in plastic wrap
and then heavy duty aluminum foil. Now plastic wrap in an oven or grill sounds like a bad idea but it's not the first time I've had professional chefs advocate for it. Suzanne Goin does so when braising a brisket
in an enameled oven.
I took the leap of faith and did the same, though I texted Chef Abdoo to double confirm. Also after I wrapped the lamb shoulder in plastic wrap, I wrapped the lamb up in foil several times
as the bones began to punch through the foil. Also I placed the whole thing in a baking pan to make sure I captured all the juices.
Back into the Traeger the lamb went till I hit an internal temp of 203 degrees, about another 3.5 hours.
It's gonna be a juicy
The plastic wrap didn't melt, thank goodness. And it did the job because there was plenty of juice. To be honest, getting the wrap and the foil off was a little tricky + messy. I may reach for the peach paper next time. Regardless I freed the roast and let it rest in all it's juicy glory.
And on the seventh day, let the lamb rest
I should add that I let the lamb rest for a good 30 minutes
before I unwrapped it. This is critical for the meat stay juicy after you pull it. Keep some paper towels handy.
It was glorious whenI pulled the lamb apart. So tender, the bones came off without effort and event the fatty sinewy parts broke up well. There's a section in a bone in lamb shoulder with the neck that one could remove because it's super chewy but I left it in. My inner Bengali said "eat it all".
Let's talk sauce
So of course one should eat this in a pita or lavash bread. Like having pulled pork in a bun, the right bread helps further the appreciation of such juicy and tender meat. I made some hummus
to smear on the pita from a recipe I shared last year
. I also made Chef Abdoo's NYC White Halal cart sauce
. That is a mix of mayo, yogurt, lemon juice, white vinegar, garlic powder plus some salt and pepper. Chef Abdoo likes to add dried dill, I opted for a dash of this: Cherchies Lemon and Dill seasoning
. This is a recipe I prefer to drain my spice cabinet vs add to it.
PS - I hit that pita with a little sriracha like the Halal Carts in NYC do. One of those things that isn't 100% traditional back in the day but it damn sure makes sense.
Full recipe for the NYC Halal Cart sauce here:
- 3/4 cup Mayo (I used Duke's)
- 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp dill or Cherchie's Dill seasoning
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
One of the best things I have ever made
In my 20s I lived off of shawarma plates with hummus, tahini, garlic paste and whatever accoutrements I would find at temples like Zankou Chicken in LA
. This meal is that meets grilling at home, or in this case smoking at home. If you enjoy Middle Eastern flavors and like smoking meats, this recipe is a must and so worth the time. One of the best meals, maybe the best meal I have made on the Traeger
the spot: Grace Meat + Three 4270 Manchester road St. Louis MO 63110
the eats: Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Cornbread, Collard Greens, Deviled Eggs, Fried Green Tomatoes
the bucks: $10-$15 a person
the full nelson: refined classic Southern food with a 21st century mindset
A few weeks ago I found myself back in St. Louis to see some old friends, my old baseball stadium and remind myself that the city with the Arch is and always will be my hometown. It's been 25 years since I could call myself a local and the restaurant scene has certainly changed, and for the better. Grace Meat + Three is probably as fine an example of how the city's food scene is evolving with the times while still being totally St. Louis: straight up comfort food that's affordable and especially in the case of Grace, commands the respect of discriminating palates, like yours truly.
A chef driven success
Chef Rick Lewis is the man behind Grace and his resume reads like a list of St. Louis restaurant young guns. Being someone who doesn't get back often enough, I have never heard of Quincy Street Bistro or Southern, but they are both restaurants I'm adding to my watch list. At Southern, Chef Lewis fried up yardbird to great acclaim. As of my last visit, he definitely hasn't lost his touch.
A little secret about fried chicken
I've been to Grace Meat + Three on two separate occasions, both times I got the chicken. The first was in early 2020, before the pandemic. We ordered chicken, ribs, plenty of sides and lots of drinks. I had a blast that visit, bought some merch and enjoyed the food but wasn't blown away. This most recent visit? I was BLOWN away. And it was because we waited a long time for the fried chicken.
20 some years ago I ordered fried chicken combo to go from a downtown Los Angeles eatery called Soul Folks. Their nickname was Slow Folks
because they took forever for the food to come out of the kitchen. You know why I put up with Slow Folks
aka Soul Folks? Their fried chicken rocked. Another time, also in Los Angeles, specifically South Los Angeles, I ordered fried chicken from a place called Harold's Meat + Three. That also took a long time. The fried chicken was transcendent even though the sides were straight outta the cafeteria.
Grace Meat + Three also took a long time. And the fried chicken was simply tremendous. Crisp exterior with juicy flavorful meat. Like flavor to the bone. I wish I had fried chicken like this in Austin.
Mashed Potatoes: fried chicken's best friend
Growing up, I had a soft spot for Church's fried chicken. Their chicken was so darn crisp and I preferred it over the Colonel aka Kentucky Fried Chicken. But the Colonel had my fav mashed potatoes and gravy, I mean I could have lived off that stuff. I can't imagine getting fried chicken without getting mashed potatoes and my trips to Grace would reflect this tradition. I like to take my time taking pics of food and editing them but listen: the mashed potatoes at Grace are as good as they look.
Mac 'n Cheese: for kids of all ages
Grace Meat + Three does a mac n cheese that appeals to the grown ups and the kids. From previous reviews I've read that Chef Rick uses both Velveeta and Gouda cheese. One of those combos that keeps the dish familiar and grounded while still giving it the old farm to table/fine dining technique try. Don't skip this if you have crowd but be prepared to take some of this rib sticking side home.
Pass the cornbread
After hosting a couple baking competition shows I can spot a good baked good. I enjoyed the cornbreads plenty at Grace Meat + Three. Like any great bake, well browned exterior and edges are clutch as is paring the sweet with a contrast kick of salt. Grace lists flake salt in their cornbread description and that's a sign that they are taking their cornbread seriously.
FGT: Fried Green Tomatoes
I always feel compelled to order fried green tomatoes and I starting to wonder why. I suppose they seem like the right kinda dish to order when you're going whole hog with a Southern fried chicken feast. My fav part of this dish was the smoky dipping sauce. Take it or leave it is my call here.
Which came first: the chicken or the deviled egg?
Technically it was the deviled egg. I love me some deviled eggs and Grace did my craving justice. It seems excessive to me to eat chicken and eggs in one sitting. It feels like I'm trying to eradicate a species by eating it at every stage of life. These are the things I think about while indulging in deviled eggs and fried chicken.
Family friendly + foodie worthy
The first time I went to Grace Meat + Three I was simply looking for something easy that checked all the boxes while not skimping on the food. In general Midwest restaurants, heck the Midwest, is pretty family friendly. Still, for a place like Grace Meat + Three to offer counter ordering, a full bar and killer food worthy of a 30 min wait . . . this is a perfect storm of a restaurant and in the case of a St. Louis expat like me, a full blown case of restaurant jealousy.
Grace Meat + Three is a score for quality fried chicken with a laid-back yet hip set up. I suppose I should dock points for the fried chicken coming out kinda late. But that's exactly why I love the place so much. Great fried chicken is always worth the wait. And I can't wait to get back to Grace Meat + Three again.
Lamb Vindaloo: a go to recipe
Like a lot of you, my first experience with Lamb Vindaloo was at an Indian restaurant. My parents immigrated from Bangladesh and our lamb curries were just called . . . lamb curries. Indian restaurants in the US are notoriously monotonous with their carbon copy menus, lunch buffets and decor. Which is more a reflection of the American appetite for Indian/South Asian food for that "ethnic option".
Well times are changing. Diners are becoming more adventurous and the desire for "authenticity" brings me to sharing this ridiculously good lamb vindaloo. If you are remotely
a fan of lamb curry, you're gonna be very happy.
It's all about the spices
Spices drive curry recipes. Sure there are curry recipes whose signature comes from the addition of butter and cream or spinach, but in every curry lies a certain combination of spices. Vindaloo is no different. Out the gate let's talk about the spices you will need:
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cinnamon powder (divided)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 4 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
I got all my spices as a generous gift from my pal Meherwan Irani
. Chef Irani was featured in Cheap Eats Atlanta
, is a James Beard Award semifinalist and is a force for making Indian food something to really respect in the US. In fact this Lamb Vindaloo is essentially his recipe
with a few modifications from yours truly.
If you're interested in getting these spices: click here
. Now back to the Vindaloo . . .
- 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
- 2 cups diced white onions
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2" piece of fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 2-3 small tomatoes
- 4-6 jalapeños
- 2 cups water
Step 1: Marinate
Cut the lamb shoulder up into 1.5" pieces and place in a bowl. Toast the spices(fennel, peppercorn, cumin seed, and cloves) in a hot dry pan until the spices become fragrant(use your nose, don't let the cumin burn!). Add the spices along with salt, turmeric, garlic, ginger, 1/2 of the vinegar, ground cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon of Kashmiri Chili powder into a blender or food processor and process till you make a paste.
Pour over lamb and marinate for a couple hours. I went for 3 hours, the original recipe calls for up to 6. Honestly I would try for overnight if I had the time.
I initially tried a food processor but was unable to grind the spices so I switched to my Vitamix blender. I added a bit more liquid so my marinade was not quite a paste but worked regardless.
Step 2: Sear
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Heat a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a heavy bottomed ovenproof pot until almost smoking. Sear the lamb in batches on all sides and set aside. Don't rush this and overcrowd the pot
. Your patience will be rewarded. Trust the process.
Step 3: Cook the onions
After the lamb has been seared, add the chopped onions. Cook them until they are well browned, being careful not to let the onions burn
. Reduce the heat and add more oil as needed. This usually takes me about 10 minutes.
Step 4: add the heat
Meherwan's recipe calls for dried whole Kashmiri chili peppers that give the Vindaloo a deep red hue. I didn't have those so I subbed in some jalapenos from my garden. I used everything I got, which when minced probably up, added up to about a 1/3 of a cup. Also I kept the seeds in
. Vindaloo is usually one of the spicier curries on the menu and lamb can take the heat
. If I had to spitball a measurement here: two serrano peppers, three large jalapeño peppers.
Step 5: add some tang(tomatoes)
Now I deviated a bit from the original recipe here. I added tomatoes which was not in Chef Irani's recipe
. I've seen recipes use them but I can see how it's not a game changer. Especially if you add a tangy tamarind paste like original recipe calls for. Again, an ingredient I did not have on hand but when life hands you lemons, make vindaloo with tomatoes.
Step 6: bring back the lamb
I toss the tomatoes around a bit and let them soften. Then bring the lamb back, toss that around and bring in the Kashmiri chili. In hindsight I would have added more than the two tablespoons allotted just to pick up more of that fiery red in the finished product. Add the water. Then pop it in a 300 degree oven for 2-2.5 hours.
Step 7: make the sauce
After two hours, check the lamb to see if it is tender, mine was almost fall apart after two and half. Remove the lamb and set aside. Carefully spoon everything left in the pot into a blender, remember it's hot! Blend to your desired consistency. I like to start slow and gradually up the speed.
Return the sauce back to the pot. Add the brown sugar, the rest of the vinegar and salt to taste. Finally, bring the lamb back. I should add that the original recipe calls for jaggery, an unrefined cane sugar but I uses brown sugar in its place. Regardless, the sugar would be critical in balancing off the heat.
the next time I do this Im going to check the lamb every hour. At two and a half hours the lamb was very
tender. I wouldn't mind a bit more chew. However if like fall apart lamb, definitely stick to the two and a half hour mark.
Step 8: Ugly Delicious
I suppose I could use some photo tricks and cook this in a black pot, add more Kashmiri chili powder and make this pop more red but that would detract from the truth. This lamb vindaloo is straight up ugly delicious
. Like a killer carne guisada or a beef stew, the sea of brown is in fact an ocean of flavor. Cue the rice.
Step 9: Mint Bae
I threw some mint in there to give it a little pop. I mean, I had to try. But you know what? Who cares. As tender as the lamb shoulder came out, it's the gravy that stole the show
. So much flavor: rich, spicy and more importantly the heat and aromatic spice profile was balanced with a splash of acidity from the vinegar, and a kick of brown sugar when I finished the sauce.
A truly complex dish that is also just as comforting, this lamb vindaloo is the new gold standard. I really hope you try it.
the spot: Imo's Pizza multiple locations in St. Louis
the eats: St. Louis style pizza
the bucks: $13 for a small single topping pie, $25 for a large with all the toppings
the full nelson: pizza abomination and beloved local institution
I love my hometown, I really do. Nostalgia rushes through my veins when I come back to St. Louis. There's a charm about a Midwest blue collar city that endures in my soul. It's more than the local landmarks too. Sure, it's fun to see the Arch in your selfie and go to Busch Stadium and see the Cardinals regalia. What really makes St. Louis special is the Midwestern friendliness. Which even extends to a love affair with a pizza style, that simply put, just ain't good.
Forgive me St. Louis but I don't love your pizza anymore.
Imo's Pizza is a St. Louis institution that has been going strong for nearly six decades. What started out as a little pizza joint in the Hill, a historic Italian American neighborhood, has grown into 100+ locations across three states. The promise of pizza delivered to your door in the early 1960s lead to Imo's growth. In some ways it's like how chains like Domino's came to be: fast, convenient and consistent pizza; though Imo's carries the allure of a local Mom 'n Pop.
I was staying in downtown St. Louis a few weeks ago and had to make a stop to Imo's. Apparently their main location was a stone's throw from my Airbnb. My nostalgia was met with immediate modern day gratification. You can order online directly on their website. Within 45 minutes my Imo's feast was about to begin.
Imo's Deluxe pizza
Growing up, I can't say Imo's was part of my family's regular rotation. Trips to Imo's happened more and more in the years after I moved away from St. Louis, when I would visit family and hit up Imo's with old high school friends. And that's how I discovered the deluxe. Sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, bacon and provel cheese combine forces to say a big "FU" to your cardiologist or gym trainer. I don't mind getting over the top every now and then if it's worth it. Sadly, Imo's isn't.
At this point non St. Louis folks might be asking what Provel cheese is? According to Imo's website + Wikipedia, Provel cheese is a combo of Provolone, cheddar and swiss
along with some emulsifiers
which allow it to melt very easily
. A modern food marvel perhaps but it ain't better than Mozzarella. In fact it's decidedly worse.
Imo's Sausage Pie
My kid opted for something pretty typical for a kid: single topping pizza and on this day he was feeling sausage. I love sausage on pizza when the seasonings, like fennel seed, really pop. This sausage makes Jimmy Dean taste like Andouille
from New Orleans Gumbo Shack. I will say this was by far the best pizza of the bunch. Still, you're stuck with that St. Louis cracker crust
is closer to undercooked frozen pie crust
. Oh, and provel doesn't pack much of a flavor wallup. That plus the low melt point makes the cheese behave more like a white sauce. And a bland one at that.
Imo's veggie pizza
This could be the worst pizza I've ever eaten. Mushrooms, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, black olives and provel prove that throwing a salad bar at a pizza monster is a really really bad idea. The tomatoes must have leached out so much water that the ensuing pizza sog was to be deemed inedible
by an inebriated Ali Khan. I'm not one to waste food, especially with a few beers in me, but a keg of IPA could not wet my whistle to eat this. Most of this was consumed by the trash can.
I still love you, Imo's.
Imo's pizza is not very good pizza. Nor is St. Louis style pizza, a very good pizza style. And while I'm at it I could throw Chicago deep dish in there too plus the BBQ chicken pizzas from California Pizza Kitchen I ate in the 1990s. The point is bad pizza
is out there and people love it anyways
Lately I have been on a pizza Renaissance tour with Neapolitan pies popping up along with some more frequent trips to NYC and East Coast. When I think about the sausage pie we featured in Cheap Eats New Haven
, I think any St. Louisian who tried that would throw their arms in the air and say "That is real pizza!" And it's nothing too elegant or foreign. That's "watching football on the couch" pizza as Dave Portnoy would put it.
Ultimately none of that matters. For a place like St. Louis, that's maybe seen more that it's fair share bad days than good, I'll let the people rejoice in what they take pride in. It's their thing and it has stuck around.
Eyes wide open. A little.
This last Imo's run has let me look at Whataburger with fresh eyes
. Since I moved to Texas, the love affair for Whataburger has truly escaped me. Especially because it comes with an In-N-Out
bashing. Whataburger is decidedly inferior to In-N-Out which is more a reflection of Whataburger's ho-hum fast food burger quality than In-N-Out being some sort of shining burger joint on the hill. But Whataburger, like Imo's, is a beloved local joint, it has stuck around and that counts for something
. Even when the food doesn't.
I'd bookmark Imo's as a true St. Louis eatery that's worth of a visit. I just won't eat there.
the spot: Anthonino's Taverna 2225 Macklind Ave St. Louis MO 63110
the eats: Toasted Raviolis, anything with meatballs, Cannoli
the bucks: $12-$20 depending on lunch or dinner
the full nelson: my go to spot for Toasted Raviolis in St. Louis and really anything Italian American
Classic St. Louis Italian . . . and Greek.
Thanks to a shout out on Twitter
, I made my way to Anthonino's Taverna when I was back in St. Louis a few weeks ago. Located in The Hill, a historic Italian American neighborhood of St. Louis, this place has all the authentic feels of OG St. Louis despite opening in 2003. Plus it's been approved by the Mayor of Flavortown; Guy Fieri
visited Anthonino's on an episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives
Toasted Raviolis: a St. Louis treasure
Ask anyone who grew up in St. Louis and they will tell you that Toasted Raviolis are the crown jewel of our food culture
. Sure, there are smashed burgers joints
that have been slapping spatulas to flat tops years before it became a bonafide food trend
. And there is the case of the controversial pizza style that I'll be digging into in an upcoming post. But for now I am concentrating on Toasted Raviolis, and Anthonino's are glorious.
What makes them great is that they are simply done right. Each ravioli is hand made with a generous filling of beef along with Pecorino and Romano cheese, onion, garlic and spices. Each one was perfectly fried. And that red sauce that will make you scream "madone". Look, I'm not Italian American but I've seen enough episodes of The Sopranos to talk the talk. At least a little.
"did you see those meatballs?"
That's literally what my kid said as we passed a table. The meatballs are huge, moist and straight up divine. I'm pretty sure these are baked vs fried, regardless I knew what I had to order. Also Im currently researching baked meatball recipes too. Cuz baked meatballs>fried meatballs
The Freshman 15
This meatball sandwich could have single handedly put on my summer vacation weight. I'd like to say this sandwich is enough for two but technically three people could live off this sammich, the meatballs are that big. The fries? Yeah I ate them too but you don't need 'em.
Being a Taverna I was strongly considering the Gyro but our waitress said that the spit was a bit too fresh. Like Al Pastor or Shawarma, Gyro needs some time to caramelize and since we came at an off hour, the spit hadn't been cooking long enough. Major points for a restaurant whose staff will be that straight up with you.
Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
Not that was I was exactly starving but since it was vacation, I had to get my sweet tooth on. The waitress, again looking out for us, did mention that the cannoli served is made with pastry shell made elsewhere. It's a good heads up in case you want to avoid a soggy cannoli. Not the case with this one though. It was still one of the best cannolis I have ever had. That includes the Termini Bros in Redding Terminal
Anthonino's Taverna is a total gem. That's all I got left to say. Huge portions, great quality, and it's a taste of classic St. Louis Italian. It's among the finest Italian joints in St. Louis.