May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Cookout - Meats on Sticks

Memorial Day is a time to pay honor to those that have served before us and for those that currently do everything that they can to protect and serve our great country. However, the holiday does mean one more thing and this is cookouts. It is the "official" start to the summer cookout season. All across the country grills were fired up and meats were smoked or grilled to perfection. My house was no different on this Memorial Day.

This year I decided to go the meats on sticks route and went with beef and chicken kabobs. A good kabob is a thing of beauty and will leave you plenty satisfied. Some like to put their meat and veggies on the same skewers, but I choose to have the meat on their own and the vegetables on another. Only reason for this is because of the cooking times. Everything was marinated in the same Gourmet Warehouse of Hilton Head's Low Country Marinade. This stuff goes great with anything and played perfect with this selection of meats and vegetables.

As for the rest of the meal, I decided to make a pasta salad and then bought some potato salad from Publix. Just wasn't in the mood to make the potato salad this morning and the red skin homestyle one at Publix is pretty darn good. The pasta salad was just pasta, peas, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, feta, and Newman's Own Light Lime Dressing. Just a little of this goes a long way and this salad was perfectly dressed. A few hours chilling in the fridge gave the pasta salad time to get to the right serving temp and for the flavors in the dressing to work their way into every bite of the salad.

Nothing tops off a cookout quite like fresh ice cold watermelon, and this cookout was no different. Seedless might be on the label, but I don't think I have ever run across a watermelon that was 100% seedless. This was pretty close, but still no cigar.

Hope everyone had a great Memorial Day holiday weekend.

May 29, 2011

Anniversary Dinner 2011

Manuel's Bread Cafe, @manuelbreadcafe, is one of those gems in the CSRA that I am not sure many know about. Tucked away into the North Augusta community of Hammond's Ferry, Manuel's is so much more than what its name lends one to believe. Sure, they do have some of the finest local breads made and they do serve 3 meals a day on the corner of a street like a neighborhood cafe. However, Manuel's is not your typical cafe in terms of the exceptional French cooking and the fresh produce from the neighborhood farm, Blue Clay Farms.

Chef Manuel Verney-Carron has brought his classical French training to the Augusta area with a very nice twist, and the menu is seasonal to boot with specials changing daily. The bread was exceptional, and Manuel sells his breads in the restaurant and at the local farmers markets in the area. The food was outstanding. The atmosphere was amazing. The service was first class.

Upon arrival we walked into the restaurant to see a giant black board above the bar that listed all the various specials for each course. At the front of the board was a Happy Anniversary greeting just for us. Nice touch to make us feel welcome, especially on our first visit to your restaurant. We did notice the impressive dessert display to our left as well when we walked in. I will get back to that later on.

We were then seated in the movie room. One of the nice touches is that they play old French movies on the wall in the back room. There is no volume on for these, but that didn't matter as I was reading out the subtitles and acting out the parts myself. There wasn't anyone else back there us at that point in time, so I could get away with acting a fool for those few minuets. They did give us an interesting selection for a movie being that it was our Anniversary dinner...Diary of a Chambermaid.

Our first course consisted of my wife getting a Caprisi Salad and I went with the French Onion Soup. The FOS was made with a combo stock of beef, veal, and lamb. The flavor was off the charts and though this didn't look like the most impressive FOS ever, the taste test told something different. It was by far one of the best bowls of FOS I have ever had. As for the Caprisi Salad, only one word can describe this...fresh. Just something to be said for local produce that is picked that day. It really does make all the difference in the world between fine dining and your chain restaurants.

For the main course I ate the Surf and Turf while my wife had the Raviolli. I wish I could remember the cheese combo, and spices, that were in the Raviolli (it was one of the chefs specials for the night)but I don't. Just know that it was heavy but damn near perfect. It was some of the best raviollis I have ever tasted. As for my surf and turf...the fillet was cooked to perfection and the the dish itself was quite refreshing. I was told that the shrimp was going to have a strong licorice taste/smell to it, but I had neither. The shrimp were cooked in Pernod. I love licorice, so that wouldn't have been a bad thing. However, it really wasn't that strong or over powering. Just great dishes all the way around.

We saved a little room for dessert and headed over to the case for our deliberation on which amazing piece of cake we wanted. Having trouble deciding the waitress told us that we could have a sampler plate with 3 slivers of cake. Slivers doesn't sound that bad, so that is what we went with. All I wanted was the Goat Cheese Cheesecake, so that was our first selection. I told my wife to pick out whatever else she wanted to try. She selected the Peanut Butter Cake and a Triple Chocolate Cake that was wrapped in fudge. When our plate came out we quickly learned that a sliver at Manuel's is like 2 pieces of cake. No way in the world we were going to make a dent in this plate, let alone finish it. The cheesecake was off the charts good and the other two were amazing, but way to rich for my blood. Still...they were all so gooooooood.

After dinner we took a nice walk through the neighborhood and down by the Savannah River. A beautiful sunset capped off an amazing dinner. If you live in the area, do yourself a favor and check out Manuel's. Planning a trip to Augusta? Make sure you add Manuel's to your must eat list of restaurants.

Manuel's Bread Cafe on Urbanspoon

May 24, 2011

On The Scene: Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Piedmont Grand Opening

Oh Lawd I love me some burgers.

A member of the Atlanta burger elite, Grindhouse Killer Burgers, opened another location on Piedmont and had their grand opening party this past Sunday. If you're familiar with the other location (I could have sworn I posted about it before, but I guess I didn't), this one is way different from a logistics and layout perspective. More like an actual restaurant, not a burger counter.

Our participation in the grand opening party consisted of eating a bunch of awesome food (below), drinking several $3 beers and watching Tongo Hiti, my new favorite polynesian-surfy-loungey band from Atlanta. There was other stuff going on and after we left there was a burger eating contest. I didn't know there was going to be one, otherwise I would have prepared appropriately. Ever since the advent of Man Vs Food I've been looking for a good food challenge.

The entire feeling and concept of Grindhouse makes me fall in love. Maybe it's my affinity for off-beat styles or the marketing professional in me that's in love with the 'brand' they've created. I love everything about this place. Even the band, it fit perfectly with the vibe. Like a juxtaposition of the 'Grindhouse' movie concept. A chill loungey band grooving along like it's a 1970's horror flick and the main characters are riding a coastal road in California on their way to a gruesome ending. But at the last second, they stop in for a delicious burger and the killer misses them completely and chooses to attack some vegetarians instead. Everything turned out better than expected for our main characters this sunny, yeah, as far as the idea of Grindhouse goes, I'm sold sold sold.

Appetizer. Cheesey Poofs. Deep fried pimento cheese. Holymotherofgodilovepimentocheese. And this was deep fried. Came with a sauce, I dipped one in, and it was good. I understand how it helps cut the sheer insanity of a giant ball of fried pimento, but I liked being over the top with mine.

I got the Grindhouse Style burger  (American Cheese, Grilled Onion, Lettuce, Pickles, Grindhouse Sauce) and instead of American cheese I got...Pimento. Seriously, I love pimento cheese. My wife had the Dixie Style (fried green tomato, pimento cheese, carolina cole slaw (diablo sauce on request)) and DAMN, it was good. I pride myself on making damn fine menu choices and this time she won the non-existent, but still sort of real in my head, competition.

It's obvious care goes into the burgers from start to finish. Here's a snippet from Atlanta Magazine on how the ingredients aren't accidents, the components of the burger are all very selected:

Brounstein obsessively researched the details for his burgers. The meat, freshly ground by a small North Carolina producer and delivered every day, consists of a secret blend of chuck and brisket. The bun (“very important”) is a soft potato roll made by a Pennsylvania Dutch bakery named Martin’s. The sauces are homemade. A fancy nickel-plated grill, shiny as a mirror, ensures that the patties cook evenly without sticking.
And then they wrap it all up, halfway, like a burgeritto. The presentation makes it obvious that these burgers are churned out with more love than surburban  burger darling, 5 guys.

I am a Vortex homer, I love that place and I have eaten there way more times than I can count. I am, however, about to become a father and you can't take kiddos into Vortex. So until my kid is 18 or I choose to go to Vortex on a kidless night, Grindhouse is my new ITP burger joint. I do have plenty love for both and an appetite for them to match.

cheesey poofs OMFG CHECK THIS

Poofed Cheese guts



May 23, 2011

Toasted and Tapped Brewery Restaurant in Flowery Branch

Snagged a $20 for $10 Groupon for this place a week or so ago and cashed it in on Friday. (Side note, Groupon type deals are all the rage nowadays. There's normally an ad for one of the companies in our sidebar. If you're not with Groupon yet, click here to sign up free. It's the jam.)

Toasted and Tapped is a brewery/restaurant in what I guess is considered downtown Flowery Branch. Heard about the place on a recommendation so I was jacked when the Groupon came through for it.
The building itself is in what looks like an old house with the front rooms converted into a brewery. All the guts of the beer operation are proudly on display as soon as you walk in. I've brewed some beer myself so this was intriguing enough on it's own. They brew a number of different beers in various styles on the premises. There were 3 available when we went 1. Big Bang Brew 2.Captain Eddy's and 3. Nutless Brown Ale. Lastly, on the beer side, I loved the smell of the place. It smelled like fresh beer. Delicious.

I had the Big Bang and Nutless Brown. Both were delicious...almost too good. Big Bang was a sweet malty brew and nutless brown is a sweet/sour brown ale. It didnt have the typical nutty taste of other brown ales, I guess it lived up to it's name. Next time I want to try their IPA and the 10oz pour Belgian. 

We showed up right after a big rush. Good and bad on that. They were out of some good looking appetizers, but we didn't have to wait or deal with crowds.

-Fried Zucchini app. - Pretty good, don't think I'd get it again.
-I had BLT Quesadilla - pretty good, very good house cut fries
-Wife got Burger Florentine - Very good. She had some preference about the spinach, but I can't really remember.

I'm bummed we missed out on  the full appetizer menu, so when you go make sure you show up early.

Toasted and Tapped on Urbanspoon

Big Bang Brew 4.8%abv

Nutless Brown Ale 5.5%

May 22, 2011

Cruise Food Aboard The Disney Dream

This will probably be the longest post in the history of IJAT, but I decided it was best to do this in one massive post rather than a few daily posts.

Below is a collection of what I ate during our cruise May 8th-12th aboard the new Disney Dream. The first few pictures were the first meal we had aboard the ship at Flo's V-8 Cafe, which was located poolside. There you could get everything from pizza, burgers, fries and chicken fingers to sandwiches, wraps, salads, and fruit.

Our first dinner was located inside Animators Palate. This was a very cool dining room where the walls came to life with Crush, Nemo, Dori and the rest of the cast from Finding Nemo. This is pretty much a Pixar room and my son loved every second we were in there. During dinner Crush made his way, window to window, around the room and interacted with each table. He would pick someone out at a table and have a full conversation with them. The dinner itself was pretty good as I had the veal trio.

The next group show breakfast as we pulled into Nassau. Amazing view of the ocean and sunrise to have during breakfast.

Some other highlights through the rest of the pics:

The BBQ buffet at Castaway Cay for lunch was outstanding. Ribs, Mahi, Chicken...pretty much everything you could want was there.

The Watermelon & Honeydew cold soup was amazing! I had this after eating the spicy Conch Chowder. It was a very nice palate cleanser and was quite refreshing.

The desserts were pretty meh, except for the last ones. The Creme Brulee was one of the best I have ever had and the Grand Marnier Souffle was beyond anything I expected it to be.

During that same meal I had an amazing Rack of Lamb and a cold duck appetizer. The French Onion Soup though was not good at all. Hard to call it soup since all the liquid was pretty much soaked up into the bread. It was more like French Onion Bites, but far from the real French Onion Bites at The Stanton Social in NYC. One of these days I will try those for myself.

Enjoy the pics. I know it is a lot to go through, but it was a lot to eat as well.