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Hill Country BBQ

20 Sep

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.

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Low and behold, there IS good BBQ in Bowie!

13 Sep

First of all, let me apologize in advance for the complete lack of pictures in this review.  Click the logo above and you’ll be directed to the website.  They’ve got a couple photos up there, and a menu so check it out.  As you may know, I have been on a very restrictive diet lately in a (somewhat feeble) attempt to lose some of the weight I gained during and after my wife’s pregnancy.  As a result of our daughter Hayley’s acid reflux issues, my wife has decided to use the “elimination diet” in order to continue breast feeding and, because I am such a fantastic husband, I’ve decided to do the same.  We’ve eliminated all dairy products including cheese, milk, eggs, butter, and all dairy byproducts.  No red meat, no pork, no wheat (and therefore, no bread), no soy, whey, corn, corn syrup, flour, I could go on and on.  Basically we can eat rice, most veggies, some fruit (non-citrus), berries, free-range chicken and turkey, lamb, and a few other items.  Milk is now almond or coconut milk.  Juice can be only pear juice, diluted.  Pasta must be brown rice pasta.  No tomatoes, no soy sauce, ugh.

But the good news is, the doctor allowed us to introduce pork back into our diet yesterday.  So it took me about 3.4 seconds to decide on dinner…and what I decided on was Dickey’s BBQ, a local place that I happened to see down in North Carolina – and now there is one right down the road from us on Rt. 3.  As I always do, however, I looked up reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon – and the general concensus was that the place sucked, and that I should instead try KBQ “Real” BBQ in Bowie.  Well, having never heard of KBQ before, I was instantly compelled to check the place out.  What I found was some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had…right here in my home town no less! I am so happy I could cry.

Yes, I have cried over food before.

So I get there and I’m a little surprised to see that it sits right in the middle of a relatively new-ish looking strip mall, sandwiched between places like Subway and a supermarket.  When I walked inside the place was almost empty, but to be fare it was 7:30 on a Monday night.  It was clean, and quiet except for the LCD television which showed the Dolphins getting stomped by the Patriots.  I like that they blew out the ceiling panels to expose the ventilation system – and honestly, this is really one of the only things you can do when housed in this type of location.  But ambiance weighs nothing compared to the quality of the food – and the quality here was seriously top notch.

I am not a BBQ connoisseur by any means.  I’ve never been to Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis or Memphis.  I’ve really only had one “authentic” meal, and that was at Jackson’s Big Oak BBQ in Wilmington, NC.  It was good, really good – but this was better.  Different style completely (NC style BBQ has more of a vinegar based sauce, Memphis and KC more of a sweet sauce, and I think Texas is known for their dry rubs but I could easily be mistaken – correct me if I am wrong) but awesome nonetheless.  I sampled the pulled port with two different dipping sauces – a very good “original” and an even better “sweet and spicy”.  The employee there informed me that the sweet and spicy was, in fact, the bomb.  He would be correct.  The chef (owner?) informed me that the S&S was not made with corn syrup, so I ordered it for Ally.  I’m not breastfeeding (believe it or not) so I opted for the syrupy original sauce.  The pork was amazing.  Moist, smoky, somewhat charred, thick pieces of pulled pork.  Not stringy like most other places.  The flavor of the meat alone was enough – and coupled with the tangy sauce it was out of this world.  I would definitely order this again.

We also tried the smoked chicken, which too came with BBQ sauce for dipping (although somewhat unnecessary) and I honestly couldn’t believe my nose when I lifted the styrofoam lid to check it out.  Cooked perfectly with what appeared to be some sort of smoky, garlic based dry rub (not sure).  Really great.

And what really put this place over the edge was the insane quality of the side dishes.  The BEST, and I mean this, the best baked beans I have ever had.  And the grilled veggies (squash, peppers, onions, etc.) blew me away.  Obviously I would have gone with some of the less healthier options had I not been on this diet, but my restrictions did not hamper the experience whatsoever.  I would order these veggies over 90% of the potato salads and slaws your local BBQ joint has to offer.  They were that good

All of this, and I didn’t even get to try the brisket (really, the BBQ litmus test) or the ribs.  All in all, a very pleasurable experience from a place I never knew existed.  I wasn’t expecting much but was rewarded by my curiosity.  I won’t lie – I may be back there again tonight.

Get Crunchified®

6 Sep

Bobby Flay’s signature “crunchburger”

[UPDATE: October 2012] Seems BBP has taken a turn for the worse. The more locations they open, the more the standards seem to be lowered. I’ve had several rough experiences here since my first visit. Small burgers, cold grilled cheese, exorbitant prices…hmm.

crunch·i·fied

[crunch-eh-fiy-d]

adverb

1.  A cheeseburger which has been given a crunchy texture by adding a layer of potato chips between the cheese and the bun.


It was a warm, Thursday afternoon.  Mom brought the wife and the baby up to D.C. to visit my office and grab some lunch.  A co-worker reminded me of a little place called Bobby’s Burger Palace – a burger joint opened by a little chef named Bobby Flay, maybe you’ve heard of him? You know, Bobby Flay the grill master.  The iron chef.  The throwdown king!

Oh yes.  Bobby’s Burger Palace has officially opened it’s doors to the D.C. masses – and man, if it didn’t just go ahead and exceed my already lofty expectations.  My experience at BBP – while not perfection – was enough to catapult it right to the top of my ground beef power rankings; ahead of Five Guys, Shake Shake, In n’ Out, Burger Joint, and Elevation Burger.  Granted it’s not really a fast food restaurant (we spent over an hour there) but the final product is that of one – and I would imagine that with time, the output would become a bit “faster”.

Let’s start with the aesthetics.  Part 80’s retro, part art deco, part….wood grain?? I dunno, but the place looks cool.  I love the olive green seating and the orange, red, and yellow swirly overhead lamp thingy.  Where did he get the inspiration for that? It’s…it’s…oh, I know:

Jose Cruz approved

Now the experience.  Basically you walk in and right off the bat you’re excited.  You see these colors.  You see the special sauces for sale (often a good sign).  And you see the following: “Certified Angus Beef”.  Next, you take a look at the menu.  What’ll it be? The Bobby Blue Burger, with blue cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato? Or how about the Dallas Burger, a spice crusted slab of beef with topped with coleslaw, Monterey jack cheese, BBQ sauce, and pickles? Maybe the Crunchburger, with double American cheese and potato chips (pictured above)? My assumption would be that any of these items would tickle your fancy, and you can swap chicken or ground turkey if you’d like.  By why would you even do that?

So I almost went with the Crunchburger, which makes use of Bobby’s newly trademarked term, “Crunchfied”.  Oh wait…sorry, “Crunchified®”.  You can crunchify any sandwich you…ahhh, so sorry, crunchify® any sandwich you like.  It’s a great idea…but one that I’ve already come up with (I’ve been adding chips to my sandwiches for quite some time now – I just never thought to actually PATENT the idea!) so I decided to go with something else.  Eventually, after some serious waffling I settled on the burger of the month: the Cheyenne Burger – which shared a bun with smoked cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, BBQ sauce, and fried onion straws.  Along with it I ordered a pistachio milkshake and some french fries.

The Burger: sized perfectly (not too big, not too small) and cooked to perfection (medium rare in this case).  It must have been 80/20 beef, or at least it tasted that way.  And I believe it was ground sirloin – nothing to sneeze at.  My only question is, was it grilled or fried? I’d love to know.  It felt grilled, and I liked that.  I love a fried burger, don’t get me wrong – fast food burgers should be fried.  But a grilled burger is nice too.  It’s a little lighter on the valves and can be more accurately cooked to order.  The bacon was nice and crispy, thick and smokey.  Attention was paid to the quality of the bacon.  Attention was also paid to the bun – probably the best burger bun I’ve had.  It’s a soft (not flaky), sesame seed bun that holds the juices well and doesn’t get in the way of the beef.  The onion straws were a nice addition and the BBQ sauce tasted homemade.

Side note: My mom ordered the Bobby Blue burger, which deserves mention as the blue cheese was literally dripping all over the place.  LOVED IT!

Additional side note: GREAT PICKLE! Big and crunchy!

The Shake: AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME! I’ll leave it at that.

The Fries: My only complaint (aside from the long wait) is that my fries came out cold.  They tasted great, and the other fries at our table were warm and crispy, but there isn’t any excuse for cold fries.  If they’re the last of one batch, throw em’ out and move on.  The special BBP fry sauce was a sort of chipotle aioli dipping sauce served in a ramekin along side the fries, and I could not for the life of me STOP eating it! The fries could have been made of horse poo and I’d still have enjoyed them one by one so long as they were dipped in that amazing sauce.

As I mentioned above, my only complaints stemmed from my fries being cold and the 30 minute wait for our food to come out (maybe my fries were sitting the whole time?).  Ally’s dark chocolate shake was not quite as good as I’d have hoped (compared to my pistachio shake), and I would have liked maybe a selection of artisan crafted soda as opposed to the Pepsi or Coke (I forget) products that were offered.  Small potatoes though.  This was a fine experience, and one that I hope to repeat again in the near future.

Unfortunately I have begun a new diet which eliminates all dairy, red meat, sugar, soy, whey, wheat and corn – so it may be a little while before I have the chance.  But I’m glad to have gone out on such a high note.

Highly recommended.

Repeat after me: corned beef, rye, mustard.

30 Aug

The legendary Attman’s Delicatessen has been a local institution, serving up some of the best corned beef charm city has to offer for nearly a century now – with no signs of slowing down despite a bum economy.  I lived in east Baltimore for about two years and used to love going to this place.  I must have gone fifty times at least.  The cliche’ amongst deli-lovers is “well, the pastrami is good, but it’s not KATZ’ good”.  Well, first of all, here’s a little secret:  the best pastrami in New York isn’t at Katz’.  It’s not even in Manhattan, it’s in Brooklyn.  But that’s beside the point, because at Attman’s I really don’t go for the pastrami – I go for the corned beef.  The warm, buttery, tender corned beef sliced so thin it melts in your mouth.  Slap that stuff on a piece of rye bread with some of their signature mustard and, as Emeril would say, BAM!! By the way, is that guy even around anymore?

The corned beef at Attman's is some of the best in the business

Another great thing about Attman’s is the service.  The same guys have been working there for as long as I can remember (which is only 6 years or so, but that’s still a long time to be employed at one single Deli).  Their faces are so recognizable to me (and vice versa), and so are their personalities.  Take Bob.   Bob, and I’m not even sure if that’s his real name, has long hair and a lazy eye.  Bob loves to hand out samples of his corned beef to everyone waiting in line – as if the smell weren’t already reason enough to order it.  Bob also loves to crack hilariously dirty jokes, but he saves them for the end of the day so for an extra treat, show up around 6:25.  And who wouldn’t recognize this guy if they saw him on the street?

As far as local legends go, there's Cal, Johnny, Edgar, and this guy.

Back to the food.  Attman’s has other sandwiches too if you’re looking for more than just corned beef.   They’re all good but my favorite is the “Sarah’s Dagger” – turkey breast cured with a pastrami coating, corned beef, cole slaw, and russian dressing.  It’s incredible and it’s enormous.

Really trying to fill a void? Try the double decker Sarah's Dagger.

I honestly don’t know enough to recommend some of their other menu items (ribs??), so your best bet is to stick with the winners: corned beef, pastrami, hot dogs.  Oh yes, hot dogs.  They have some of the best hot dogs in Baltimore.  Great snap to them, spicy and full of flavor.

And that’s not all.  On your way to the check-out line be sure to grab a Dr. Browns cream soda or deli classic “cel-ray”.  And please, for God’s sake, don’t forget the chocolate tops.  What are “chocolate tops” you ask? Well well well my friend, let me tell you all that I know:

A local bakery known simply as “Berger’s” has been churning out their famous cookie for  so long that they have literally become ancient artifacts – no joke.  The problem is, buy them from your local chain grocery store and they may actually taste and feel like ancient artifacts.  BUT, purchase them from the Berger’s bakery housed in Lexington Market and you’ll find thick, golden, buttery cookies topped with a sizable swirl of some of the best chocolate topping a vanilla cookie has ever come in direct contact with.  Yes, you can see where I am going with this.  Only at Attman’s (and Berger’s) can you find these puppies.  And at 75 cents a pop, you can order two or hey, how about three?? Bring some home with you.  Give em’ to mom.  Give em’ to pops.  Give em’ to your dog, I don’t care.   All mammals deserve a chance to partake in the awesomeness that is Berger’s original chocolate tops.

So, in short – let’s say it’s a rainy day and you’re feeling a little down in the dumps.  You wife left you.  You lost your job.  Your child support check bounced.  You ran out of vicodin – whatever the reason! If you wanna fill that hole up with something worthwhile, head down to Attman’s Delicatessen at 1019 E. Lombard Street and order the following:

  • Corned Beef on Rye with Mustard
  • 2-3 Chocolate Tops
  • 1 Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda

(pillow and blanket not included)

And please, thank me when you’re finished.

Tip from the expert: call in your order ahead of time and skip the never ending line at the counter.

Best cheap lunch spots in Annapolis, MD

20 Aug

Finding great food in Annapolis is no easy task.  I may take some flack for saying that, and yes there are some gems (Lewnes’, The Main Ingredient, Osteria 177), but you’ve got to look hard to find them.  For the most part, it’s nothing but a bunch of unimpressive dive bar seafood joints, run of the mill national franchises, and a very disappointing upscale scene.  All of this bums me out, but what really gets me is how hard it is to find a decent, inexpensive lunch when you’re on the run.  You’d think that with all this traffic, and all these people, finding a decent sandwich wouldn’t be so hard – but it is.  Nevertheless, there are a few spots that I hit on the regular, and they are well worth your time and money.  Here are my favorites:

Where: Giolitti

What: Italian sandwich (on focaccia)

This is, hands down, the best thing between two pieces of bread in the city of Annapolis.  I can’t say much for the rest of their menu because I’ve never tried anything other than this amazing sandwich.  Boars Head brand meats, imported provolone cheese, oil, vinigar, onion, lettuce, tomato (and for me, just a tiny bit of mayo) stacked between some of the best focaccia I’ve ever had.  You have to request the focaccia, otherwise you’ll get it on a ciabatta roll which also is good – but not AS good.

Where: Chris’ Charcoal Pit

What: Chick (or lamb) Gyro with white sauce

This is a large gyro.  To this day, I have not had a better gyro (yee-row, not ji-row).  And what never ceases to amaze me is how fresh those damn cucumbers are! Those cucumbers are ridiculous! And the tomatoes and onions too! And did I mention this is a large gyro? Well it’s huge!  It comes with a pile of nicely seasoned chicken or lamb, stacked high with fresh veggies, some moist feta cheese and topped off with a cool white tzatziki sauce.  I’m not big on the fries, but trust me, you won’t need them.

Where: Philly Flash

What: Cheese steak

No, they aren’t as good as Tony Luke’s.  They might not even be as good as Pat’s.  But they’re the best you’re going to find around these parts.  Good rolls and you can choose whiz or white American.  It’s the way it should be.

Lobster Rolls Royce

19 Aug

Red Hook Lobster Truck – DC

I am not a big fan of D.C.  Not at all.  For me, it’s Baltimore all day.  But I work in D.C. so I end up spending a good deal of time here.  Having said that, there is ONE thing this charmless concrete hedge maze they call “The Nation’s Capital” does have to offer: Food Trucks.  That’s right, the food truck scene is off the hook.  And speaking of “hooks”, let me tell you about the Red Hook Lobster Truck.

Maine lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Truck

Ask anyone, the RHLT is by far, the most popular of them all.  People all over the city are lunchin’ out over this thing.  I’ve read that the owners personally cart the lobster down the coast from Maine several times a week.  To be honest, I wouldn’t know the difference but I am taking them at their word.  So I took a trip down the red line today and got off at Metro Center.  Chaos ensued.

I saw the truck.  I chased the truck.  I lost the truck.  I found the truck.  I chased the truck….story of my life.  I had a friend as a kid who was fat.  He wasn’t really THAT fat, but he was a big kid with red hair and freckles, so people called him fat.  One day we were walking down the street and saw the Hostess truck heading toward the super market to make it’s morning delivery.  My friend chased the truck.  We laughed at him.  He knew we were laughing at him and he thought this was funny.

Today I chased a food truck.  You’d have thought I’d been bitten by a black mamba and they were selling the anti-venom.  This was so un-hipster of me.

But alas, deliverance.  I had made it just in time to watch them set-up shop.  A little too much setting up shop if you ask me.  I finally stepped up to the window after waiting for 25 minutes.  I ordered a lobster roll, Maine style (mayo instead of butter) with a soda (imported from Maine Root Soda Co. – very tasty) and a bag of Cape Cod Chips (290 calories???).  I also ordered a whoopee pie.  They told me they were not selling the whoopee pies today, but giving them away to those who either: (A) dressed like a lobster or, for those less interested in donkey-punching themselves in the self-respect gland, option (B) simply acting like a lobster.  Mostly due to the fact that I had woken up that morning and decided not to wear a lobster costume to work, I opted for option (B) and started making a giant claw motion with both of my arms – bending my torso sideways and sort of doing a horizontal version of the YMCA dance.  The lobster truck approved and handed me my free chocolate whoopee pie.

Whoopee Pie from Whoopsies Pies

This was only the second, and by far the greatest tasting whoopee pie I had ever eaten.  The first was from the Amish Market, and tasted like saran wrap.  But the best part of the meal was, of course, the lobster roll.  Large chunks of squishy lobster claw meat, tossed in a lemony mayo sauce, piled onto a lightly toasted, heavily buttered roll – delicious.  It seemed like each bite tasted better than the one before it.  Great texture, so buttery, and just the right lobster to bread ratio.  I only wish it were larger and to be honest, I was somewhat depressed after finishing my meal.  No, I’m not joking.

And the damage? $18 for the roll, chips and a drink.  The whoopee pie was free but normally $3.50.

Worth the cost? Not completely.  Worth trying once? Totally.