As I sit here perusing the price lists at the newly opened 1808 Grille and Urban Flats, I can't help noticing a number that pops up on both menus: $10.50.
That's what it costs for a panini, fries, slaw and tea at 1808. It's also the maximum price for a flatbread at Urban Flats.
Both new restaurants cater to the downtown/Gulch working crowd, offering full service in an impressive atmosphere. Of course, you can spend more at either place, if you leave the panini and flatbread repertoires. But I'm curious if the business minds at these eateries have determined that $10.50 is a magic price ceiling for lunch.
What's your lunch-price threshold?
My life in Nashville involves a constant search for an americano as good as the one they make at LaVa Café in Philly, a small coffee shop across from my family's place that also happens to make some serious breakfast sandwiches. Call me what you will--yuppie! bobo!! democrat!!!--but if I'm gonna be paying for caffeine outside my house I usually go for espresso. A perfect americano is strong, piping hot and retains that beautiful espresso crema on the top. So far, Crema is my favorite locally, but last weekend I discovered some stiff competition. On Sunday, I headed with a friend to Ugly Mugs up in the new Walden development across from Rosepepper and Eastland Café. The americano was excellent--and they dutifully followed my instructions: not too much water, room for cream. One thing Crema, Ugly Mugs and Marché (also great americanos) have in common is Drew's Brews. That man knows his beans.
In addition to the tasty drinks, Ugly Mugs had a great atmosphere, and the place was bustling (especially with Portland Brew across the street closed for Jesus). I'll definitely be heading back.
A couple of weeks ago, Top Chef's "Last Supper" Challenge got me thinking about my own final bites. Like most of the culinary luminaries on Top Chef, I found myself yearning for the simple foods of my childhood.
I know I would definitely eat an entire challah (I have a problem), warmed in the oven and dipped in jus from a roasted chicken (the actual chicken need not be present). I would love a matzo ball soup starter, maybe with half a hot pastrami sandwich on the side. Maybe some cold poached salmon with dill cream sauce? Spicy Moroccan lamb sausage? Jersey tomatoes? Back Bay Seafood baked crab cakes with cole slaw? There would be brownies, cheesecake and tiramisu for desert. And I would also include another Wolfe-Stabert family staple, one I relished on Tuesday: the steamed artichoke heart.
When I was young, we would often have steamed artichokes as a first course. The leaves are delish and fun to eat, but it's the tender heart, protected by it's fuzzy little overcoat that makes my eyes roll back with pleasure. I don't know if it's the work it takes to get there or the simple magic of the dense but sinewy heart's slow dance with melted butter, but I am fairly convinced that this is the perfect bite of food. You finally get to it, clean it, and then it's gone in an instant, only a memory.
All those fresh artichoke hearts have completely ruined me for the canned variety. They bear no resemblance to the green jewels of my youth. I don't even like them.
So, what would make it onto your final menu? Is there anywhere in town that serves fresh artichokes? Is nostalgia clouding my judgment or are these things really that good?
We twisted it. We shook it. We pointed it at each other. There was clearly salt in it. But how did one cause it to come out? We wanted to salt our shredded duck gnocchi at 1808 Grille but we couldn't figure our how. We felt like the Clampitts.
As Groucho Marx said, "It's so easy a 10-year-old could do it? Good. Get me a 10-year-old." My own 11-year-old picked it up and used her thumb to press the button, like a fighter pilot. Hey presto! Salt!
Back in the 1980s, I could occasionally find lamb shanks at the bottoms of freezers in ethnic markets or at Green Hills Meat Market. It was always New Zealand lamb, which was slightly annoying, since Colorado has a thriving lamb industry. I found Colorado lamb chops for sale once, at Wild Oats.
My eye-opening trip to Wal-Mart included finding lamb shanks, a major event, and finding that the lamb is raised in the United States, which elevates a mere event to a miracle.
What else have I been missing by not shopping at the place with its own bus stop?
I found it. OK, I didn't really find it: it sort of came to me third-hand, from Nashville filmmaker James Clauer (congrats on the Sundance cinematography award!) by way of our own Jack Silverman. But I may have happened upon the holy grail: the mythical hole-in-the-wall taco joint where the food is both amazing and dirt cheap.
Out West--in Los Angeles, in Texas--it's hardly a myth. But the taco-stand chow I've had here has been mostly serviceable, much as I love the elotes at Taqueria Dona Tere on Nolensville. But when Jack came back raving about the food at Taqueria San Luis, operated out of a sliding window behind a carniceria just off I-24 on Harding Place, that old hope began to burn again.
(This is the fifth in a series of mini reviews published in this week's dining column.)
Cajun Steamer Bar & Grill
This third installment of the Birmingham-based nameplate just opened this month, so we still don't know whether it will fulfill your bayou-soaked fantasies about that fried eggplant stuffed with fish and topped with crab cream, like the one at the bygone Uglesich's in New Orleans. But the menu crawling with crawfish, overflowing with oysters and pooling with po'boys--including blackened alligator--is enough to lure us south on I-65 to give it a try for lunch or dinner any day of the week. 1175 Meridian Blvd., Suite 108, 435-3074.
Because it is virtually impossible to make a left-hand turn out of the Taco Bell nearest my house, I usually refuse to take my kids there, even though they believe in their hearts it is THE GREATEST RESTAURANT EVER and when I capitulate and take them for the rare drive-through quesadilla, they say, MOMMY, YOU ARE A GENIUS!
And because more often than not I leave the drive-through short about 20 percent of my order and with no condiments, I did not know until recently that Taco Bell prints weird little sayings on the hot sauce packets. Apparently they have been doing this for a long time, and there are stories about people who proposed using hot sauce packets that say "Will you marry me?" In fact, someone who may as well be from the United Brotherhood of Too Much Time on Their Hands printed a list in April 2006 of the Top 45 Greatest Taco Bell Hot Sauce Packet Quotes. And there's this guy, from whom I swiped the above photo and who, like me, has spent more time than one should spend thinking about Taco Bell hot sauce packets.
I can't say I really get it, but at the same time, I am intrigued by the hermetically sealed liquid fortune cookies bearing sayings such as "At night the sporks pick on me," "Will you scratch my back?" and "My sauce is an honor student at Taco Middle School." (Between the sheets?)
I suppose it must be a fun exercise to dig up little shards of conversational detritus and affix them to condiments. In fact, I found a link from Facebook to a non-functioning program for creating your own. If the app worked--and if I were a Facebook user--I know exactly what my Taco Bell hot sauce packet would say:
"Sorry, kids. No left turn."
Tropicana announced this week that it would scrap its newly redesigned packaging and return to the old straw-in-an-orange packaging. The company cited forceful objections from "some of our most loyal customers" whose "deep emotional bond" to the packaging had crushed their spirits and broken their wills. (Read a New York Times article on the subject here.)
Grocers wrung their hands over the roving zombified juice shoppers, searching mindlessly for the familiar orange logo. Governors in two states declared the change a "social menace." Well not really, but some commenters indicated that the new packaging made it harder to distinguish among the 18 varieties. Others called the new design ugly, stupid, "doodyhead" or said it looked like a cheap generic design. Well not "doodyhead" but the other stuff is true.
Your characters are sturdy enough to withstand the deep emotional scarring that a change of product package can cause. So look upon the fearsome visage of the new carton and declare: bold and well-done, or ugly, stupid, doodyhead, cheap generic design?
When I received the press release from the folks at IHOP announcing today's free-pancake promotion, I totally got it: It's National Pancake Day. Timed to coincide with Shrove Tuesday--the day before traditional Lenten fasting begins--Pancake Day evolved from the era when dairy products were verboten in the 40 days before Easter. And what better way to use up all your eggs, milk and butter than to slam it all into a short stack smothered with syrup?
Now, when the next press release landed in my inbox on the same day, I had to scratch my head a bit. Apropos of nothing, it seems, the Waffle Lobby is urgently moving us to gridded action with a list of recipes under the heading "Let's Make Waffles."
Not since Sen. John McCain announced his Alaskan running mate on the day after Obama's historic nomination acceptance have I seen such a brazen attempt to upstage a competitor.
"Is it a waffle iron, waffle maker, or waffler?" this time-sensitive document opens. "Whatever you call it, it's time to dig yours out from the back of the cabinet and dust it off."
Really? Is it time? Today of all days? It is National Pancake Day, after all. Couldn't you pick another day to get out and toot your waffle horn? Would you celebrate King George III's birthday on Presidents Day?
For just one day, couldn't you and Pancakes try to live in starchy bi-partisan breakfast unity. To be perfectly honest, Waffles, this prank just makes you look small.
Speaking of small, you can get a free short stack at any IHOP today from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. In exchange for the free pancakes, guests are encouraged to make a donation to the Children's Miracle Network program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
How does that make you feel, Waffles?
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