Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Kid in Town: The Smokehouse Tailgate Grill

I love a good barbecue restaurant.  For many years good barbecue - or really any true slow-smoked barbecue - was hard to find in my area.  If you wanted good barbecue, you had to travel south.  That has slowly been changing over the past few years.  First there was the failed Barnacle Barbecue and eventually along came one of my local favorites 360 American Grill, which doesn't bill itself exclusively as a barbecue restaurant, but it does have a smoker out back and does some pretty good chicken and ribs.  One can never have too much barbecue though, so I was happy to see the Smoke House Tailgate Grill  move into town.

The Smoke House sits in the space that once housed Roasted Peppers (a pretty good restaurant, but their menu really needed some expansions or updates, so I'm not surprised it closed).  This is the same building that once housed a Starbucks.

The basic interior hasn't changed much since the space's previous incarnations.  It is still full of exposed brick walls and tends to be quite an echo chamber.  It is clean and simple and very attractive visually, but in other ways it's not so attractive.

Smoke House gives the impression of being a restaurant for the man's man.  It's a bro bar.  It seems to stick to the stereotype that only men like to eat barbecued meat.  In order to enhance the manliness of the place there are several screens (you can see them above the bar in this photo) showing the game (the night I was there it was Giants vs. Patriots) and the volume is blasting.  Quiet dining is not the norm as the guys watching the game are quite vocal, which is amplified by the echoing walls.

There isn't a full bar.  You have some wines and a lot of beer and cider.  The only spirits are a large selection of whiskey.  They have some of their ciders, and even root beer, on tap.

I had a cocktail called a Black Jack that was apple brandy and "apple moonshine" with agave syrup and bitters.  It was pretty smooth for a whiskey cocktail.  There was no burn.  The apple flavor was barely perceptible though.
So how was the food? 

The menu was filled with all kinds of temptations. I could have made a meal of the appetizers like the tea-brined wings, the buffalo chicken dip, or the brisket ravioli. 

There were surprisingly few platter options for a barbecue restaurant.  The menu listed ribs, chicken, or a pork chop on a plate (They do have Brisket Wednesdays where you can have a brisket platter or burnt ends over french fries).  Everything else was sandwiches, pizzas,  or burgers.  I wasn't hungry enough to attack a platter of ribs, so I decided to try a sandwich.

It was hard to choose a sandwich when everything from the classic pulled pork to the smoked French dip sounded delicious.  I ended up trying the smoked pork belly.  It came with fried (red) tomatoes, and a spicy aioli. 

I opted for mac and cheese as a side.  I so rarely ever have M&C at home that I like to try it when I'm out.  They also offer mashed potatoes, fries, beans, vegetables or cornbread.

This meal did not disappoint.  The flavors and the textures of the sandwich worked perfectly.  The mac and cheese was a bit smoky and a bit spicy.  The texture was a little grainy, but I prefer that to the watery mac and cheese that so often disappoints me in restaurants.  I couldn't finish it all, so I had a nice mac and cheese lunch the next day. 

Kevin opted for the fried chicken sandwich.  He liked it, but wasn't enthusiastic about it. 

Service that night was a bit spotty.  Our server was friendly, but he tended to go between giving us plenty of attention and forgetting about us.  I had to ask more than once for water (and I asked two different people).  Sometimes requests arrived quickly and sometimes they took forever.  At the end of the meal our server asked us if we wanted anything else.  I asked for a dessert menu.  He said he would be back with one.  He disappeared for a bit and then returned and asked again if we wanted anything else.  Once again I asked for a dessert menu.  He said he would just tell us what the desserts were.  (Why couldn't he do that the first time I asked?)  He said they had milkshakes and root beer floats, but his favorite was the ice cream cookie sandwich.  (I have no idea if they served any other desserts because this server was really into the sandwich.)  You had the option of sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate wafers filled with vanilla, chocolate, or peanut butter ice cream.  We opted for chocolate chip with peanut butter.
As you can see, it wasn't much of a "sandwich" as the proportion of cookies to ice cream was barely enough to hold it together.  The cookies were good - nice and warm.  The ice cream didn't taste like peanut butter. 

The verdict on this place was that it was an enjoyable meal food-wise, but the service could use a little polishing (I will give them the benefit of the doubt for working the kinks out of a new place).  I would definitely come back, but I would prefer to not be there on a big game night. I really don't love the sports bar atmosphere here.   Kevin said he would come back, but he would want to try both a different entree and a different drink.  I'll finish this by saying, "Welcome to the neighborhood."  We will see how long this place lasts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Autumn Harvest Farrotto

I read the word "farrotto" recently and felt my hackles rise.  I had an instant dislike of the word.  Farro is farro.  Why do we need to make a farro dish and give it quirky Italian names?  Just cook your farro and make a salad as I have done in the past.

Then I realized something.  Maybe the term wasn't just for a dish made out of farro, but farro cooked risotto style.  I had never considered cooking farro that way.  The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was by it.  How would slowly cooking farro by gradually adding small amounts of broth change the flavor and texture?  I realized I wanted to try it.

I'm still not sure if I like the word "farrotto" though.  Is it a real word, or is it just some frankenword made up because someone didn't feel like saying, "farro risotto"?  I can tolerate the former, but I still think the latter is kind of corny.

But I'll say it anyway.  I made farrotto.

I put an autumnal spin on the dish by roasting (and roasting and roasting) carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and fennel until nice and brown.  Most vegetables taste good when roasted until brown.  Lots of roasting is about the best thing you can do a vegetable (except carrots, which are only good cooked if roast them and are best eaten raw).  I added this to the farro and made a lovely seasonal dish out of it.

I threw some leftover shrimp on top (leftover from a recovery meal at Rani Mahal).  I wish they hadn't obscured the farro so much for the photo.  I also threw some sausage on top of my portion.  (What?  You think Kevin and I both ate the shrimp?  You're funny!)  This works fine as a meal without the extra protein though.  If you make it with vegetable broth, it would be a perfect vegan lunch. 

Farro does not take on the creamy consistency of Arborio rice, no matter how much stock you add to it.  I'm not sure using this method of cooking is any better than cooking it the traditional way.  I'll include the instructions for this in the recipe, but if you don't want to bother, I'm sure just cooking farro the regular way and tossing in the roasted vegetables would be just as tasty.

Autumn Harvest Farrotto

  • 5 medium carrots cut in small dice
  • 4 medium parsnips cut in small dice
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cut in small dice
  • 1 medium sweet potato, cut in chunks
  • 2 Tb olive oil plus more for tossing
  • 2 Tb butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut in small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 16 oz package of pearled farro
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Salt to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the carrots, parsnips, fennel, and sweet potato in olive oil and a little salt.  Spread on a cookie sheet and roast about an hour, or until the vegetables develop brown edges.  Remove from oven.  Carefully remove any skin from sweet potato and gently break in small pieces.  Set aside.

Heat the stock in a small saucepan and keep it simmering on the stove.

In a saucepan heat 2 Tb olive oil and the butter.  Cook the onions in this until they are transparent.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or until fragrant.  Add the farro and stir well to coat.  Cook for another two minutes.  Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed.

Add a ladle full of the stock to the pot.  Stir until it is absorbed.  Keep adding stock and stirring in until all of the stock is absorbed into the farro and the farro is fairly tender.  Check for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Stir in the vegetables and serve.  Top with sausage or shrimp if you like.