If You Bake It, They Will Come

Today a friend and I got into a bit of a discussion about food. This is typical. He was complaining about a Sysco truck parked in front of a restaurant during prime breakfast hours. His complaint was that it had blocked the view of the place, it’s outdoor seating, and disrupted customers at several neighboring businesses. Fair enough. I mean, it is true. How rude, right?


He asked, “Isn’t there a loading dock?” Is there anything more off-putting at breakfast time than the smell of burning diesel fuel and the deep vibrating tremors of an idling 16-cylinder engine?

To me, however, it’s what’s INSIDE of that steel box that sends me running. But before I rant, let me say this: I am no restauranteur. I am not much of a business man. I’ve never kept the books of a self-financed start-up restaurant. I have not walked in those shoes, and therefore I cannot judge.

But I will anyways.

Sysco, U.S. Foods, etc. is mass produced on a conveyor belt, homogenous, sterile, conceived in a laboratory, lacking any character, charm, locality or freshness whatsoever, purchased in bulk, thoughtless crap food. When I walk into a restaurant and see SYSCO boxes for anything other than plasticware, napkins or soda syrup (because I do enjoy diet coke), I do one of two things, either 1) exit promptly, or 2) if I am forced, order the cheapest item on the menu and call it a win.

Too many restaurants in this country use mass produced ingredients from large food suppliers, and I’m not talking about McDonalds who, let’s face it, has a self-awareness that most local “mom n’ pop” delis do not. Please do not cram a bunch of hormel lunch meat, some frozen iceberg lettuce and kraft mayonnaise between two slices of preservative laden bread and charge me $6.50 for it. If I wanted this, I’d have stopped at Rite-Aid. And for the love of God, don’t place your fancy hot dog inside of a Blue Ribbon bun and tell me it’s “the best in hotdog in town!” Don’t wow me with your ribs and then offer me a dessert menu filled with “chocolate lava cake” and “apple pie” frozen and thawed, and topped with a dollop of fake cool-whip. If you can’t bake it, order it locally. If you can’t do that, then don’t serve dessert. Have some respect for the cuisine. I am too conscious of the money and calories that I spend to waist $5 and 500 calories on a piece of blueberry pie that was built by a machine, frozen, shipped, thawed, plated, and called “the best pie I’ve had in years” by a waiter who just inhaled his last table’s leftovers in the back of the kitchen by the walk-in freezer while nobody was looking.

I think that many Americans are catching on to this sea change. Restaurant owners are starting to notice. My friend, who works in the industry, said “I think that restaurants are starting to realize that they can do better by supporting each other with local desserts, meats etc. and people are looking to eat out where there are less antibiotics and mass produced foods.”

And because it’s the right thing to do. And because it’s sustainable. And because it tastes better. That last part is almost always a fact. Food that was baked on the premises or locally by talented chefs will always taste better. This isn’t anything new. Are there exceptions to this rule? Sure. Even with the highest quality ingredients, most people simply cannot cook. Restaurants close their doors every single day in major American cities, and while they may cite economic or geographic reasoning, in most cases it’s because the food just wasn’t very memorable. Such is the competitive nature of the food biz in population dense areas. The real trickery is happening in the suburbs. Savvy owners are jumping onto the farm-to-table bandwagon and people are eating it up — one bloated menu description after another. They’re citing ingredient sources on their menus but you can’t fool me with your “White Marble Farms” pork chop. White Marble Farms is a brand of Sysco, North America’s largest food services distributor. The pork comes from Cargill Meat Solutions, America’s second-largest meat processor. Let me just say right now that meat should never be considered a “solution”. From an article in SFGate:

It is bred to ensure tender meat marbled with just enough flavor-boosting fat. But these pigs never see a pasture. They’re raised indoors in confinement barns, just the way most commercial pork is produced, except in smaller numbers. Aside from genetics, they’re conventional pigs wearing a lip gloss of sustainability.

It just amazes me that restaurant owners would have the audacity to serve food that arrived frozen in the back of a semi truck, most likely raised inhumanely or grown unsustainably and without any thought whatsoever beyond the bottom line. It amazes me even more that 90% of American restaurant owners have no idea WHY this is a problem! There are FAR too many awful restaurants in this country. FAR too many. And even worse, there are FAR too many people gobbling it up and paying for it. Even if you’re not a sweets person, you can tell a lot about a restaurant by their dessert menu alone. I always ask my server, “are the desserts baked here?” and if the answer is “yes, all of our desserts are homemade” I order. If the answer is “um, no we actually get them in from a supplier in Baltimore” then I don’t. I you’ve put that little effort into your menu, you’ve probably put little effort into your entrees, and you don’t deserve my business. And you deserve to fail. This is why I’m so unforgiving of bad restaurants. I don’t sympathize with the owners of a failed BBQ joint or the losers on shows like “Restaurant Impossible” — a) because I hate that guy, and b) because THEY decided to get into a business where they simply cannot compete. They had so little respect for the history and the art of cooking, they just figured they’d order some crap from a website, hire their nephew to cook it, turn the lights on and retire. I work in marketing. I went to school to learn how to do what I do. I practiced, developed myself professionally, explored, experimented, took risks, studied the greats. And as a result, I am successful in what I do. I have a great respect for my industry and it shows in the work that I do. Just sayin’.

If you want to buy your salt from SYSCO, fine. But ONE STAR to all of those places frying eggs, grilling burgers, roasting turkeys, steaming veggies, or slicing blueberry pies that were born and raised in big metal factories. And ONE STAR to you if you’re spending hard earned money on it.

Cheers to homemade pie.


Blue Hill Tavern Continues To Impress

Once or twice per year East Baltimore’s Blue Hill Tavern offers a Groupon and while I don’t understand (seems they have a pretty strong business on their own), I’m not going to complain. The Brewer’s Hill gem offers new American cuisine worthy of critical praise and regular patronage. This being my 6th trip to the place, I find myself enjoying it more and more with each visit. I’ve yet to have a bad experience and that’s a good sign. One thing Baltimore lacks is consistency. I find myself splurging in DC more often than not because I can always count on places to deliver the goods. I can’t imagine Rasika or Blue Duck Tavern having an “off” night. But Charm City establishments tend to lose focus at times and while I believe this speaks more to a lack of experience than it does talent, this theory doesn’t make an underwhelming meal taste any better.

The fact that Blue Hill Tavern, a relatively new restaurant with an ever changing menu that might suggest a lack of focus, continues to impress time after time, tells me we’ve got a new staple in this city’s mid-priced creative American scene. Does it compete with Woodberry Kitchen for best mid-priced restaurant? No, but I’d eat here before I would most other places. Larger and more accommodating than Salt. A Helluva lot closer than Clementine. More consistent than Jack’s Bistro. Plus, Blue Hill Tavern may have one of the most talented pastry chefs in the region. But more on that later.

Recently we dined, four of us, at 8:00 — peak hours. Service was spot on. No complaints there. We began the night with a trio of plates which we dug into feverishly: a pork belly special, sweet chili mussels and a sausage, ricotta and parmesan flat bread. The mussels could have used some bread and while not my ideal choice of flavoring, the sweet chili worked, for the most part. I’m still partial to good old fashioned garlic and butter. The flat bread was a nice traditional brick oven pie. They offered a peach and prosciutto with goat cheese that sounded incredible but I couldn’t convince my ultra-trad table mates to give it a try. The pork belly special was just that: special. It needs to not be a special. They need to place this dish on the menu, for good. It was unquestionably the best pork belly experience I’ve had — and I’ve had a lot. Served with an apple mixture that nearly crossed the line between dinner and dessert, it was the perfect blend of sweet and savory. The fat to flesh ratio was perfect and the sauce didn’t soften the crispy outside one bit. I almost ordered a second one.

My friend’s veal chop looked incredible, although I didn’t get to try it. For me it was the three hour veal hindshank on the bone, braised, over saffron risotto and a white osso bucco sauce. At $24 this entree was an absolute steal. In retrospect, it could have used maybe a little crunch to even out the texture but that is a minor, minor complaint. I finished the entire dish and loved every bite. The meat slid right off the bone, as it should have. An ‘A’ for presentation and for flavor.

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Our party wasn’t really in the mood for sharing so at this point I’ll have to skip to dessert. Dessert at Blue Hill Tavern is always a fun experience. In my opinion it’s way underrated. There are places where you skip the dessert, and there are places where you push through the pain. This is one of those places. They’ve always got a s’mores pie on the menu (in one form or another) and I’d highly recommend ordering it. In this case it was a round tart with a perfect graham crust, warm and fudgy whipped ganache inside and toasted marshmallow maringue outside. The filling reminded me of Woodberry Kitchen’s stellar “brownie pudding” and was a hit with the entire table. My wife ordered the menu staple “candy bar,” a combo of peanut butter shortbread, caramel, peanuts, marshmallow, chocolate ganache, and vanilla ice cream. Superb.

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Blue Hill Tavern does a lot of things right. From the luxurious modern decor and great indoor and outdoor seating, impeccable service, convenient location and complimentary valet parking, to the well crafted menu mixing regular staples with seasonal flare executed well with care and precision. Now, if they could just improve their doggy bags.

Volt anyone? Happy Birthday to me!

I went to Volt for my 30th birthday and had a great time. Our dinner was exciting and new, but also comforting and user friendly–one of the few times a restaurant has actually managed to nail that combination.

Four of us dined: my wife and I, my mom and my dad. Each of us did the 4-course prix fixe for $80. We spent about 2 hours but the time flew by. Our servers were prompt and friendly. I’m a non-drinker so the maitre d’ quickly had the bartender whip up this amazing huckleberry, honey and ginger cocktail for me. I was blown away by the spontaneity of it.

The bread was phenomenal.  I mean, outstanding…as in, some of the best–if not the best–bread I’ve ever had. I hated that they only gave you one piece at a time, and you had to constantly ask the bread guy to return, but that effort probably made me enjoy it even more. There were four options. It was back in October so I can’t remember exactly what those options were. I think one was some sort of a cheese roll (sorry, that’s all I can remember) another a rosemary and thyme infused biscuit. If they had left the entire basket I probably would have eaten 19 of them.

First course for me was a beet salad with goat cheese mousse. I’m going off of memory here. I know there were other ingredients. I think some naval orange and even some coffee powder were included. The flavors were insane and really gave me one of those “holy s***”” moments!

(Note: Someone else made the very wise decision of ordering the blue crab avocado and it was mmmmmm.)

Pork Belly
Pork Belly

Second course for me was pork belly. Some type of beans were included, and a bit of asparagus on top. It was a very safe dish, and also very tasty. The belly was lean with just the right amount of fat and crisp on the outside. It actually looked like a giant sea scallop when it first arrived.

(Note: I made sure that my wife ordered the goat cheese ravioli. Thank God. Wow!)

For my third course, I totally devoured the beef. This was a super trad-dish served with potato gnocchi I think and a few greens. The gravy was ultra savory and definitely had me licking my plate.

(Note: I’m not joking. I actually licked it.)

(Another Note: The lobster over forbidden rice ordered by my dad was the best dish of the entire night.)

Lobster over forbidden rice
Lobster over forbidden rice

Fourth course aka dessert was OK. Nothing to write home about. Never is. I’m a cake and ice cream kind of guy. I don’t like experimental, nitrogenized desserts that feel like space food. I’m sure it was good enough.

(Note: The complimentary crumb coffee cake they sent us home with was actually great, and I ate it up on the way home.)

It’s all in the details at Woodberry Kitchen

I know this post is destined to be lost in the mountainous mass of articles and reviews written about this local farm-to-table hotspot housed in the fully restored Clipper Mill in Woodberry – a few blocks south of Hampden – so I’ll spare you the lengthy back story and just say this: Woodberry Kitchen was opened in 2007 by Spike Gjerde, an Iowa-born, Baltimore-raised chef with a background in philosophy and a fine culinary resume to boot (including Joy America Cafe, which occupied the top floor of the American Visionary Arts museum in Federal Hill for about ten years or so).  That’s it.  He went to school, he learned some stuff, he did some things, blah blah blah.

Coming in at #3 on the most recent Baltimore Magazine best of list, Woodberry Kitchen is all that and then some.  It fell behind Charleston and The Prime Rib but honestly I’m not sure I agree with those rankings.  Charleston still may be the best dining experience Baltimore has to offer but the extreme value and unmatched excitement that Woodberry Kitchen brings to the table is, to me, of greater interest than a steakhouse.  Simply put, I think this is the most important restaurant in Baltimore.  You see this wave of farm-to-table places cropping up in the city, a number of restaurants growing their own herbs and veggies with rooftop gardens…this all began right here in Woodberry.

The food here is tremendous, but it’s the entire experience that really sets it apart from similar, Founding Farmers-like establishments in the region. This is a fully realized vision from top to bottom. The location and decor lend to it’s rustic appeal – a restored mill, exposed brick, pine floors, plaid napkins and flannel dressed servers deliver upscale traditional dishes like warm skillet cornbread, wood oven baked chicken and biscuit, smoked mutton bacon, and chocolate pudding pie with an enthusiasm akin to your local independent record shop or comic book store employee.  Our server gave us a proper introduction to the menu by telling us which items fell into which of two categories: A) made fresh in-house or B) grown locally.  Woodberry Kitchen is the definition of a farm-to-table establishment.  A seemingly endless list of farms (or “heroes” as they refer to them) lines the back page of the menu.  Every single ingredient is made fresh or grown locally! Butter, cream, sugar, honey, mustard, pickles, bread! They butcher and cure their own meat, dry-age their own steaks, pickle their own veggies, can their own fruits, bake their own bread, churn their own ice cream! And this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

We were seated right next to a window looking out at the Clipper Mill.  We ordered the warm skillet cornbread w/ Trickling springs butter and Cybee honey ($5), deviled eggs w/ chipped ham ($4) and the WK butcher’s board with liverwurst, mangalitsa salami, pancetta, corned beef tongue (all house cured)  w/ smokey baguette and mustard ($16).  Thankfully, I managed to take in just enough oxygen in-between bites to keep my brain functioning.  The cornbread alone sent waves of pleasure right up my spine and throughout all of my blood vessels.

I should also mention our drinks.  We ordered the stone fruit soda w/ apricot syrup, milk and peach bitters, and the WK apricade with fresh lemon and honey.  The fruit soda was different – it was good but different.  The apricade was out of this world.

Off the supper menu we ordered the Springfield Farm chicken & biscuit, w/ braised kale, ramps, carrots, and herb pan sauce. They cook it in a wood oven so hot that the chicken ends up crispy and bubbly on the outside – but tender and juicy on the inside.  The drippings fall into the pan below which is de-glazed over and over to form the gravy.  The biscuit is thick and dense, and soaks up the gravy nicely.  An outstanding dish.

We also ordered the Mutton & Egg Noodles w/ gravy, lima beans, asparagus, sour cream, and egg yolk.  Prior to ordering, our server brought out several of their eggs which had been delivered that morning.  He told us all about the hens from which they were laid, and explained to us the benefits of catching eggs laid early in the cycle.  Smaller, with green and yellow shells.  Just a little note there.  The dish was excellent.  Never having tried mutton before, it was basically a gamier lamb cubed into 1″ pieces and mixed into a sort of stroganoff like dish of house-made egg noodles and beefy gravy.  The asparagus was cooked to perfection.

Dessert was great too.  We shared the CMP which came out on a platter engraved with a chocolate ganache “Happy Anniversary” and the chocolate pudding pie.  My only complaint of the night was the small size of the pie.  I just felt that for an $8 dessert, the piece should have been a little more substantial.  It did taste good though.  Really good.  Fresh whipped cream on top.  Mmmm.  The CMP is house made malted ice cream with chocolate ganache sauce, marshmallow cream and wet peanuts steeped in honey.

What I keep going back to in my head is the amount of information our server was willing (and able!) to share with us about the ingredients that went into our meals.  I’ve never seen someone get so excited about eggs! And when I asked about the pork chop, he described in full detail the particular breed of pig they had received that morning and that because of this breed, the chop would be a leaner, whiter piece of meat as opposed to the darker, fattier chop normally used.  When I asked him about the pickles that came with the WK butcher’s board, he told me about the pickle specialist they flew in from Texas.  When I commented on the perfect texture of the ciabatta bread he told me about the night he spent with their in-house baker, learning the art of baking bread.

The biggest revelation of the night? While organic is great, that isn’t what it’s all about.  “Organic” is not the end all be all.  It’s all about knowing where your food comes from.  Some of their farmers aren’t even certified organic.  Many cannot afford the certification, and some just choose to use pesticides – and that is OK.  It isn’t the pesticides that are the problem, it’s the mass production and the lack of attention paid to detail.  At Woodberry Kitchen it’s all about the details.

We had such a great experience that we decided to book another reservation, this time for a table of four.  We took the next available opening…at the end of June!

R&R Taqueria: Fill Up, Get Gas.

Photo credit: http://www.topthisplace.com

In Elkridge, MD near Jessup at the intersection of Rt. 175 and Washington Blvd lies a Shell gas station that is home to the best Mexican cuisine this side of outer space.  That doesn’t even make sense.  That’s how GOOD this place is!

Full disclosure: the place is so dumpy that my wife and I walked in several weeks ago to try it out, and immediately left before ordering.  It just didn’t make sense to me at the time but man,  I’m so glad I gave it another shot.

Allow me to preface this by stating that I have sampled Mexican “cuisine” in the following locations: Baja California, Rosarito, Ensenada, Southern California and Playa del Carmen. Not necessarily areas known for their mastery of the culinary arts, but places you would expect to find good authentic Mexican cooking.

In none of these locations have I found anything that even comes close to chef Rodrigo Albarran-Torres’ masterful creations.  It is not only the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten in my life, it is some of the best FOOD I’ve ever had.  Period.  I haven’t been this excited about food since my last trip to the Charleston and that ran me over $300 for two of us! R&R? $18!

The Quesadilla al pastor was amazing.  The homemade re-fried beans, amazing.  Tomatillo sauce from scratch? Amazing (and HOT!).  Lamb soup, amazing.  The pork belly tacos will make you spazz out like a little child.  The slow-cooked meats are seasoned perfectly.  Mix and match tacos with any of the following:

  • Lamb (barbacoa)
  • Pork Shoulder (carnitas)
  • Pork (pastor)
  • Steak (carne asada)
  • Pork Belly (buche)
  • Fried pork rinds
  • Stewed beef
  • Chorizo
  • Chicken
  • Beef tongue
  • Baby pig

All of their ingredients, from the cheese (Oaxacan and/or casero I believe) to the spices to the wonderful corn tortillas and even the sour cream are fresh and 100% authentic.

How much longer can this place be kept a secret before the masses catch on and it gets turned into the new Baja Fresh? Not sure but I do know one thing: the “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” episode featuring R&R airs later this month.  I’d get there before the hoards of triple-D fans do if I were you.

FYI: Catch R&R on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” Monday, Feburary 27th at 10 PM.

R&R Taqueria

7894 Washington Blvd.
Elkridge, MD 21075


Stoney River “Legendary” Steaks: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: Comfy seating over by the fireplace area.  Nice, large fire place and the decor is that of a rocky mountain ski lodge.  The rolls they provide you with before you order are impossible to stop eating.  They are basically fresh fried dough.

The Bad: For the prices, you’d think you were ordering high end USDA choice or even wet aged USDA prime.  What you get is a steak that the Outback would proudly serve (for much less).  Prime rib was over cooked (a major party foul).  My coffee crusted filet was also over cooked, and over blanded, if that is even a word.  The NY Strip was thin and salty. Dessert options were unoriginal and uninspired.  The hot fudge tasted fresh out of the can, and the cake was just not very good.  Cool whip was served on top.

The Ugly: The service was decent enough up until we started eating.  Then our server disappeared.  We spent two hours in the place, and only about 45 minutes of that was spent eating.  This was NYE, so I will cut them some slack (or maybe I should do the opposite?).  For that night in particular, they were offering free appetizers for waiting patrons in the lobby.  What we expected was a nicely laid out display of tasty starters.  What we got was a complete mess.  Dirty dishes, cold, lifeless food, and no replenishment in sight.

A good restaurant just wouldn’t let that happen.  I know it’s a major holiday.  I know you’re busy but have some respect for the food you are serving.

The Verdict: I won’t be back, unless it’s for one of their burgers which are, actually really good.

Waterfront Kitchen


Restaurant Week is one of my favorite times of the year, and now it seems it is ALWAYS restaurant week.  Between Baltimore, DC, and Annapolis, folks like us get to enjoy no less than six weeks out of the year to sample fine cuisine at a very reasonable price.  It also gives the perennial dieter (myself) an excuse to cheat.  My wife and I hit two spots this time around, one of which was the recently opened Waterfront Kitchen, located in Fells Point down near the end of Thames St.  Billed as a seed-to-table restaurant, they get most of their produce from Big City Farms (seems to be the trend nowadays) and my taste buds were rewarded.  For one, the side salad consisting of mixed baby greens, heirloom tomatoes, candied pecans and a mustard seed vinaigrette was a highlight.  But this trip wasn’t about the salad.

The interior was pretty cool.  Kiwi green padded panel walls with bench seating lining the right hand side of the room.  The striped throw pillows and chairs constructed of cross hatched seat belts were a unique touch. The ceiling was crafted out of wooden planks and the exposed ventilation, steel bolts and track lighting all followed a trendy maritime theme.  Straight lines and a clean, minimalist feel.  A great view of the harbor with plenty of window space.  It was nice.


Waterfront Kitchen was offering a fantastic and bountiful prix-fix menu, by most Restaurant Week standards.  Portions did not seem to be reduced and there was a nice variety of options.  While Ally stuck with the 2-course menu (entree and dessert) I opted for the 3-course upgrade with appetizer, entree, and dessert.  To start, I ordered the black truffle studded polenta fries served with a malt vinegar aioli and we couldn’t stop eating them.  They were cut like giant steak fries but the deep fried polenta just seems to work better as a comfort food on a cold wintery(ish) day.  Actually it was 55 degrees but whatever, it looked cold outside.

For the main course, at the recommendation of our server I went with the open face meat loaf sandwich on toasted brioche with mushroom gravy.  This was insane.  Maybe I was just starved, or maybe it’s the diet I’ve been on but I swear it was the best meat loaf I’ve had since…I don’t even know.  The bread was great, the gravy…perfect.  Tender, juicy, not too salty, and perfectly portioned.

Ally opted for the fried mortadella sandwich with goat cheese, red leaf lettuce, crispy mushrooms and creamy Dijon mustard.  It was just as good as you could imagine.  A thick cut of spicy mortadella, fried with a really nice, creamy organic goat cheese and a tangy Dijon on a soft and toasty ciabatta roll.  I hate mushrooms but I could hardly taste them.  Yes, we always split our dishes.

To cap things off, we ordered the house made whoopee pie (served with a hot chocolate shooter) which was out of this world.  It had a cakey chocolate cookie outside with a not-too-rich vanilla butter cream filling.  This thing sent my taste buds to a very happy place.  My mom would have loved it.  We also ordered a somewhat less exciting but inspired rice crispy treat with candied fennel seed and strawberry preserve mousse, which was also very tasty.


I can’t speak to their dinner, or their regular dishes (I believe the menu was put together for restaurant week only) but what I can say is that the Waterfront Kitchen is a place to which I will definitely be returning.


1417 Thames Street
Baltimore, MD 21231


And we’re back…sort of.

So sorry folks, I know it’s been a while.  I have an unhealthy obsession with food (hence, this blog).  I put on so much weight during my wife’s pregnancy, it was disgusting – and then starting this blog became a new way for me to obsess over food. I just needed a break from all of the eating out. Having said that, I haven’t exactly been “perfect”. I’ve gone out plenty, just haven’t written about it. I think in order to achieve weight loss success you’ve got to allow yourself a cheat every once in a while…or, every weekend?!?

Anyhow, I’m going to TRY to get this thing back up and running. I’ve been to some fantastic (and some not so fantastic) places since my last post and I’m dying to post them here. Here are some reviews that should be popping up shortly:

Waterfront Grille – Baltimore
The Black Olive (Olive Room) – Baltimore
Sam La Grassa’s – Boston
Miss Shirley’s – Annapolis
Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Grill – Ellicott City
2 Amys – Washington, DC
Galway Bay – Annapolis
Salt – Baltimore
Stoney River Steaks – Annapolis
Blue Hill Tavern – Baltimore
Samos – Baltimore
Chaps Pit Beef – Baltimore

And probably more that I am forgetting!

Hill Country BBQ

My apologies for the lack of posts recently – I’ve been on this diet…yeah.  I basically can’t eat anything; or anything I’d choose to write about anyway.  But I have found a loophole: Bar-b-que! About a week ago I wrote about  a place in Bowie called KBQ having the best pulled pork I’d ever eaten.  Well, I went back and…still the best I’ve ever had (I hear their ribs are amazing, but a little too fatty for my current goals).

So, having the freedom to enjoy as much pork and chicken as I’d like – I went with this BBQ  kick and tried a place in DC that people have been raving about in NYC for a few years now: Hill Country BBQ Market.  There are a few of them around, and this is no “hole-in-the-wall” dive-type place by any means.  It’s a big open venue filled with long, almost family style hardwood tables.  The ceiling is high and the air is smokey.  The smell hits you right away, and it’s ovious when it does that you’re about to eat some real Texas BBQ.  I say this because it’s a smell I am not used to – an intense smokey hickory (I think?) smell.  And the food tastes like the room smells.  When I say it tastes like wood, I actually mean this in a good way.  It literally tastes like the wood burning smell filling the air.  For D.C. and Baltimore folk, this is a rare smell.

I also love the meal ticket idea.  For those unfamiliar, you walk in and are handed a small card that lists all of their different menu options.  As you make your way through the cafeteria style counters, starting with the butcher area, the person handing you the food simply marks the dish off on your card and you pay when you leave.

I wish I could tell you about the brisket, because it’s what their most known for.  You can get it moist (fatty) or lean (a little dry) but I wouldn’t know because I’m avoiding red meat.  What I can tell you is that the flavor of the spare ribs I had was off the charts.  I wish there was a little more meat for the price, but what I did get tasted really, really good.  I’ve been twice and the first time I got dark meat chicken that was moist, smokey, and just really good.  Yesterday I opted for white meat chicken that was, well, a little dry.  The flavor was there, but I needed extra sauce to compensate for the texture.

All of the sides look good, but I’ve stuck with the healthier options like cucumber salad and yams.  Both are good.  Nothing spectacular though.  The cornbread had great flavor but was a little dry.

Overall, not a glowing review for Hill Country, but definitely worth trying out for the flavor of the meat if nothing else.

Next week I’ll be adding corn back into the diet (yes, cheated with the corn bread), and eventually will work back up to red meat and dairy.  Until then, this blog may be quiet.