Thursday, January 26, 2012

Memphis Meets the Gateway to the West

    I love BBQ, in case you haven't figured that out yet.  I had heard amazing things about a BBQ joint in St. Louis named "Pappy's" and knew I had to check it out.  It's won all kinds of awards and titles from numerous magazines and was even named one of the 101 Best Places to Chow Down in America by The Travel Channel.  So I headed to Pappy's Smokehouse with high hopes, an empty stomach and a bunch of hungry friends. 
    Pappy's is a order at the counter then grab a seat kind of place.  We had perfect timing because we only waited in line for a minute or two, but by the time we sat down the line was suddenly through the restaurant and starting to go out the door!  This place is obviously a local favorite.  And I was soon to find out why...
     I ordered a half slab of their ribs with a side of baked beans and FRIED corn on the cob.  (I had never heard of fried corn on the cob so I thought it was necessary for me to try it.)

    After just one bite of my ribs, I knew what all the fuss was about.  Their ribs are their house specialty, dry-rubbed and slow smoked over apple and cherry wood.  They are served without sauce, which I loved, and you can choose from their three house-made options on every table.  I tried my first bite without any sauce as a test, and even naked these ribs were amazing.  The meat just fell off the bone, was juicy and tender and seasoned perfectly.  They had the perfect amount of crispy glaze on top and just melted in your mouth. 
    Their three sauces are Pappy's Original, Sweet Baby Jane, and Holly's Hot Sauce.  I think their names pretty much sum up their individual flavors.  My personal favorite was the original.  Nice and tangy, and just a little sweet.  Holly's Hot Sauce wasn't spicy enough for my own taste, but then again I love spicy food that carries a strong punch.  Sweet Baby Jane was good too, just too sweet for me.  But Pappy's Original was wonderful and tasted great on my amazing ribs.
   The beans were also great.  Again, I don't like when you can taste the brown sugar in baked beans and these were the perfect amount of sweet for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love sugar and sweets.  But I generally like to keep them reserved for dessert...  I am sad to say that I was not crazy about the fried corn on the cobb.  It made the corn taste a little soggy.  It reminded me of the corn they serve you in the cafeteria at elementary school, if that brings back any sense memories for you.  It was fine, but I would never order it again.  I did, however, try their green beans and loved them!  They are made from fresh green beans, with a little crunch still intact, and have a kick to them.  I'm not sure what they cook them in, but they were delicious.
   Overall, we had a great experience at Pappy's.  The food was killer, the staff was all very nice and the atmosphere is laid back and fun.  Being in Pappy's is like sitting at a big family BBQ in your Grandma's back yard.  Everyone is sitting at picnic tables, laughing and having a good time, and all covered in BBQ sauce.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Home on the Range in St. Louis

    I love researching and finding famous places to eat in cities.  I love even more when people give me recommendations of their personal favorites.  But my absolute favorite is when I stumble upon a suprisingly delicious and foodblog worthy restaurant when I least expect it.  It's like finding $5 in your jeans pocket.  You aren't expecting anything and then suddenly your whole day is made brighter.  That is exactly what happened with "Bailey's Range Burger and Fries" on Olive Street in downtown St. Louis. 
   A group from my cast had just gone rock climbing (which was super fun if you've never tried it) and were hungry.  And not salad hungry.  We had just climbed walls...  We needed something substantial and manly.  As we were walking home we came upon Range and were sold at the word "burger".  But when we were seated I was pleasantly suprised to see that their menu looked inventive and unique.  Plus, they use all locally raised Missouri beef in their burgers and make their own ice cream in house.  I was already impressed and I hadn't even tried anything yet.  Not to mention that the restaurant has a super cool and fun atmosphere and allows you a complete view of the kitchen.  I always take it as a good sign if a place lets you see how they cook your food. 
   I ordered a peanut butter milkshake and the PB&J Burger.  My shake came out first and was amazing.  It was chock full of bits of peanut butter and the ice cream was delicious.  Not overly sweet and nice and smooth.  You can drink the entire thing with just a straw; no spoons required.  It reminded me of my Mom's homemade ice cream, which is a huge compliment to Range.  It had just enough peanut butter to make it taste like it but not drown your taste buds in creamy, saltiness.  The only place I've had a better peanut butter milk shake is at "Bare Burger" in Astoria, Queens, but Range made a very close second. 

    My PB&J came out shortly after I had devoured my milkshake.  This PB&J is unlike anything your Mom ever packed you for school.  Range's version is a Bison burger with arugula pesto, house tomato jam, fresh goat cheese and baby arugula.

     It was great!!  I love bison and this bison burger was juicy and tender and full of flavor.  The arugula pesto and tomato jam worked beautifully together, creating a fun mix of sweet and slightly spicy.  The tomato jam on this burger worked the same way as cranberry sauce on turkey, it just added such a nice, sweet flavor to the whole thing.  The goat cheese was creamy and brought all the tastes of this burger together.  It was fantastic and unlike any burger I've ever had.


Monday, January 9, 2012

When Purple Pigs Fly

  My last night in Chicago, I finally made it "The Purple Pig".  I friend of mine had raved about this place and seeing the huge crowds inside every time I walked by it, I knew I had to make it in before leaving.  This place is known for their tremendous wine and cheese selection, and also their delicious small plates.  The atmosphere is bustling but very chill and fun.  It feels like you are at a friends place for a small party, having drinks and enjoying each others company. 
   I went by myself and sat at the bar.  I was soon greeted by the bartender/wine extraordinaire and their extensive wine menu.  I was completely overwhelmed by all the choices so the bartender was listing off his recommendations.  I had almost settled on a Malbec from Argentina when I saw "Marche Wines" with 3 listings underneath.  I studied in Italy two summers ago and lived in a little town in the Marche region (the mountain region of Italy) called Camerino.  In Camerino, if you order "vino rosso", they will bring you a delicious glass of their locally made "Rosso Piceno".  It is a delicious wine that I have missed dearly.  It's a dry and fruity wine with a beautiful, ruby red color to it.  Well sure enough, Rosso Piceno was listed in their menu and my heart jumped.  I immediately ordered myself a glass. 
     My taste bud's walk down memory lane was completed when I saw Chorizo Stuffed Olives on their menu.  This is another delicious snack that I have not enjoyed since leaving Camerino.  I, of course ordered myself some.   I'm not the biggest fans of olives, but these bite sized snacks are absolutely delicious.  The Purple Pig made then wonderfully and, unlike in Camerino, served them with a creamy sauce.  It tasted like some sort of sour cream mixture and added a nice cool texture to the whole thing.  It was like I was sitting in a little pub in Camerino again.  I loved it!

     After reliving my short time in the beautiful Camerino, I thought it was time to come back to the midwest.  For my entree, I ordered the Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes.  I wish there was a way for me to put smells on here.  I can take pictures of things but can never share the smell, which is usually the best part.  If there was ever a time I could add smells to my blog, just once, it would be for this pork shoulder. 

    It smelled divine; better than chocolate cookies in the oven, toast, pie, anything.   The smell was so intoxicating, the people sitting next to me turned and asked me what I had ordered.  And then proceeded to order one for themselves before I had even tried it!  But I promise you, the taste was just as good as the smell.  It was amazing.  They served it to me with a spoon, which I thought was for the mashed potatoes.  But when I asked the waiter for a fork, he smiled and said, "You won't need one."  It was the most tender, juicy, and flavorful piece of pork I have ever had.  It literally melted in your mouth.  And then with the sauce on top and the mashed potatoes, it was perfect.  I think this may have to be my "last meal" meal.  Even now, just writing about it, my mouth is watering. 
    I became quick friends with the people sitting next to me at the bar.  I think it is impossible in the atmosphere of this restaurant to not meet a new friend.  We sat and talked for a while and when asked if we wanted dessert, it seemed like a great excuse to stay and talk longer.  (And if the rest of the meal was so amazing, their dessert couldn't be bad, right?)  I chose the Bread Pudding with Marsala and Citrus.  I must say, I chose very well.

     I love when bread pudding is more bread-like than pudding.  As you can see from the picture, this one fit the bill.  The bread had a terrific, creamy and thick texture, with actual bits of orange peel in it, which I loved!  The orange peel added an amazing taste and texture to the creamy bread.  They spread caramel sauce and whipped cream over it, which was the perfect cherry on top.  I would have licked my plate if I had not been engaged in conversation with my neighbors.  It was heavy, but in the best way possible, and not overly sweet.  This one gives the bread pudding I've had in Kentucky a run for it's money...

   Overall, this was one of the best dining experiences I have ever had.  It is certainly one of my favorite blog posts and a meal I will forever remember.  Next time, I'll have to make sure to bring many good friends to share it with.  If you ever find yourself in The Purple Pig, order a glass Rosso Piceno for me!  Cheers, my friends.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Delicious, Deep Dish Divinity

   I was in Chicago.  For foodies, that means one thing: Deep Dish Pizza!!  I knew I had to get it somewhere, but the question was where...  Many will argue who has the best.  Just like in NYC, every pizza joint has a sign out front saying either "Home of the Original Deep Dish" or "Chicago's Best Deep Dish" so I decided to simply go off of recommendations.  Many names were thrown my way, but the majority went with "Lou Malnati's Pizzeria". 
   So, before my family left town, we took a field trip to one of the now many Lou Malnati's around Chicago.  We began to look through the menu and everything looked amazing.  I will admit that my family, like most, does not agree on most things when it comes to making decisions.  But life changing pizza must have been written in the stars for us that day because we unanimously voted on the "Malnati Chicago Classic".  It is made with Lou Malnati's exclusive blend of lean sausage, mozzarella cheese, and in-house made tomato sauce all on their famous Buttercrust. 

   This pizza was out of this world good!  The sauce was tangy and sweet and slightly chunky with tomatoes.  The mozzarella cheese oozed into every crevice of the sausage and crust, making each bite perfectly cheese filled.  (A must have on pizza.)  And that sausage... I will admit, I have a thing for sausage.  I love it!  Maybe it's my German heritage, or maybe it's just because sausage is amazing and everyone should love it, but it reaches perfection on pizza.  Obviously Lou agrees with me because they have created the perfect sausage on their pizza.  It's cut into thin, long pieces that create an entire layer on the pizza.  It's sweet but also has a bit of a kick to it.  It is awesome, to put it lightly.  And last but not least, that butter crust.  I think everything I could say about it is in the title.  It's buttery dough that is soft except around the slightly crunchy, burnt ends.  I hate to use the word again, but it's perfect.   
    I'm usually a three slice girl when I'm in New York.  But the slices at Lou's are like small houses on your plate.  After a mere one slice I was doing the lean back in the booth with the hand on the stomach move.  This pizza is incredible, but not for the faint of heart.  I loved it, but couldn't eat it all the time like the thin crust style in NYC.  But this was a pizza experience for the books (or blog...).  If you are ever in Chicago, get to a Lou Malnati's. 
My family, pre pizza coma :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Italian Christmas Eve in Chicago

    La Cage was in Chicago for the holidays.  It's such a great city, and if I had to be away from home for the holidays, I'm glad it was in a city like Chicago.  So many great museums and fun things to do and, of course, lots of great food.  My family came to Chicago for Christmas, which was great, and on Christmas Eve we ventured out to Chicago's meatpacking district to an Italian restaurant called "Macello". 

      I lived in Italy for about a month and a half and Macello's menu reminded me of things I saw and ate in Italy.  It seemed like the real deal to me, so we made reservations.  Let me tell you, Macello did not disappoint and my family had one of the best meals we've ever shared together. 
     We started off with an order of  Carciofi Ripieni (Stuffed artichokes).  Sadly, I did not get a picture of them, but they were absolutely divine.  Stuffed with Parmesan and other cheeses and breadcrumbs and then baked, they were soft and full of flavor.  I LOVE artichokes but not when they are cooked to a watery, flavorless lump.  These were perfect.  And whatever cheese they were stuffed with was gooey and wonderful.  These are a must order if you ever visit Macello.
    For my entree, I ordered a special, so sadly it's not on the menu everyday.  I ordered the Oven baked Haddock with seafood risotto and asparagus: 
     This meal made all my Christmas wishes come true.  Wow, was this amazing.  The fish was so tender and moist, tasted extremely fresh and just melted in my mouth.  The sauce it was served with was definitely tomato based, but I'm not sure what else was in it.  But it reminded me of a less creamy vodka sauce, which is one of my favorites.  The sauce was delicious and the Haddock and risotto soaked it up beautifully.  (I'm from the south, so it's all about sopping up that sauce!)  Which brings me to the risotto... This risotto was like a sampling of every piece of seafood in the sea.  It had everything from scallops to squid to shrimp to mussels and clams.  I would say it was equally seafood as risotto.  It was awesome.  Nothing was chewy or overcooked.  It all tasted fresh, not overly "fishy" and paired perfectly with that tomato sauce. 
    Being that Chicago is no where close to an ocean, I was not expecting anything special from their seafood, but I can confidently say this was one of the best seafood dishes I've ever had.  My family all ordered very different things, from pasta to beef to soup, and it was all amazing.  If you are in Chicago, I urge you to venture out to this amazing and unassuming restaurant.  It sits under the railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere, but it is so worth the drive out.  The food is ridiculous and the atmosphere is really cool.  It has high ceilings with rafters that have beautiful painted globes hanging from them.  The walls are covered with painted murals and their large wine selection is displayed beautifully in a case along one wall.  A great place to eat and be with loved ones.
My wonderful family in Macello