Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Texas Classic: Al's Hamburgers

Al's hamburgers are not:

Pate-stuffed, fried-egg topped, made with Kobe Beef, served with a brioche bun, with cloth napkins, etc...

Al's hamburgers are:

Served in white paper, thin and well seared, served "Texas Style" with lettuce, yellow mustard, and onions, served with home made fries.

....wrapped up in white paper like little beefy presents, Al's hamburgers offer an express ticket to diner heaven. Vinyl-covered b&c chairs, sports posters, photos of patrons consuming large quantities of product provide the atmosphere appropriate to the food.

I ordered a double cheese burger, fries and Shiner Bock beer. I ate all of it....and think to myself...maybe a triple next time....

Apparently not the first person to ponder a multi-stack of Al's burgers, our server, Belle, brings over a framed collage of images from a group of local college males who each put away 11-stack cheeseburgers.

Al's is an Arlington institution that moved from its original drive-in location to the current spot in a non-descript strip mall. While the setting has changed, the food - thankfully - has not.

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Dallas Tex-Mex: Matts El Rancho

Thankfully, Tex-Mex cuisine did not die along with one of its champions last March with the passing of Matt Martinez. Matt's El Rancho lives on flying the Tex-Mex flag and serving up classic Tex-Mex dishes like chile rellenos, enchiladas, good chips and salsa...and for the calorically challenged: Bob Armstrong dip, or simply a "Bob". A bowl of queso with a core of guacamole, sour cream, and seasoned beef, a "Bob" (small or the OMG-large size) sets the perfect tone and gets the palate ready for both the calories and the tasty goodness that will soon be yours.

A small Bob, Pacifico beer, thin and crispy chips, and the thin and hot salsa sets the mood. The main course of a chile relleno topped with chopped pecans and raisins brought extreme satisfaction. Crispy coated, beef stuffed, and tomatillo sauce topped, Matt's chile relleno is: crispy, creamy, smooth, earthy...and with little bits of crunchy pecan and sweet raisins just bringing it all together.

Creamy, lard-enhanced refried beans are cleaned off the plate along with everything else.

Why can't people make anything like this in Bozeman?

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Arlington, Texas and Fuzzy's Taco Shop

Arlington Texas, in addition to being my boyhood home, at one point held the distinction of the nation's largest city without mass transit of any kind. A pure strain of car and suburban culture, Arlington is attempting to revive its downtown - a big task for what is inherently a mega suburb of Dallas. A big library, city hall, and a new band shell do their part to draw people into the heart of old Arlington.

New since my last visit, Fuzzy's Taco Shop popped up on east Abram street. A local chain outlet, Fuzzy's was packed with the after church crowd (presumably); and this quick service tacos-for-gringos joint produced some pretty nice chow. The guacamole was studded with bigger chunks of avocado and a space-filling-core of shredded lettuce. The chips were thin, fresh and dusted with salt and chile powder.

My fish tacos (tempura fried) had crispy bits of light and flaky fish, shredded lettuce (I would have preferred cabbage), and a dusting of cotija cheese. The corn tortillas were pretty fresh...although likely mass produced, had a nice bite and chew to them that good quality fresh corn tortillas should possess.

Hot sauce was on the table. Thin and vinegar-y like a Tabasco - it provided a little moisture and heat to the tacos.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Latte Art of the Day: Oak Leaf

I poured this latte, which to me resembles an oak leaf of sorts, the day before I traveled to Texas. Coincidence?

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Backyard Color: Montana Style

Summer is finally here and the daily show of color and light in my backyard rarely fails to disappoint.

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Burger Addiction: Fried Egg-Topped and Pate-Stuffed

...Not at the same time, mind you. That would be madness. Life; however, would not be near as exciting without a few spikes of madness now and again. Which is why we went to the Mint last night despite recent "adjustments" to my work schedule and income. Nothing quite says comfort food to me more right now than Belgrade's Mint Bar & Cafe. Upon request, the ever pleasant staff will present you with a proper medium-rare burger with a wicked sear - and topped with a nice over easy fried egg. The spongy English muffin successfully works overtime to absorb both the creamy-custardy egg yolk...and the juices (who I am kidding here, blood) of the burger. The fried egg request, I have learned, generally earns nods of respect from staff...and stares of confusion from bar mates.

Another nice touch at The Mint...those thin, fresh shoestring fries. Let's not forget about the decent wine list or high-rent cocktails.

Good thing I've postponed that blood work...

Last Saturday, our friends Garth and Tracey came over for general enjoyment and debotchery. Generally speaking, you know it's going to be a good night when your friends show up with a meat grinder and magnum of good wine. Unless, say...you are a vegetarian that doesn't drink.

The fresh-ground beef chuck patties were stuffed with cubes of duck liver pate. Topped with Gorgonzola and a pineapple and onion relish, these burgers hit all the happy places...richness of beef and liver-y pate, pungent blue cheese and a little sweetness from the onion relish all squished between two nicely grilled slices of golden challah bread.

The wine, a 2006 "The Prisoner" from Napa winemaker Orin Swift, was pretty tight coming out of that giant bottle but after spending some quality time in the decanter, fruit, spice..and even a bit of acid was noticible. Its bigness and juiciness worked well with the over-the-top theme of the evening.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Baxter Hotel Lives: Baxter Wine Bar, Bozeman

Coming off of an "emergency" chain restaurant dinner at Ted's Montana Grill, we were delighted to find the Baxter Hotel lobby full of life tonight with Bozeman's new Baxter Wine Bar now open. The soaring, carved-wood bar in the towering lobby is the perfect setting for a hand-picked Walla-Walla Syrah or a Napa or Columbia Cabernet. There are few places where anyone can just wander into a place and sit in a lobby of travertine and on leather chairs and have a Sommelier guide you through a hand picked wine list. The Baxter Wine Bar is just such a place. We are lucky to have it. You should be so lucky to occupy a stool there. Congratulations, John, on your new place.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Gastronomie de la R├ęcession aka: Nachos

Look, its Monday night, the fridge contents and my desire to actually cook are both at critically low levels. Gone is yesterday's pork tenderloin with cherry and red wine reduction and sweet potato fries with spicy aioli. No sir, tonight the pickens are a little slim. Hmmm....ground beef, a tomato, avocado, some red onion, salsa, and chips. This, if you were a college student, is looking like dinner. Unfortunately I am not a college student. But these are uncertain times and it is hard to argue with the calorie-effort-dollar ratio of the humble nacho. A hot pan, some cumin, New Mexico chile powder, the onion and a few tomato bits dresses up the ground beef. Mr. Avocado is transformed to Mr. Guacamole. Oven is set to 450/convect; layering beef, beans, cheese until I can't lift the sheet pan; blast in said hot oven until bubbly and good. Cracking open cheap Mexican beer. Que lastima!

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coffee Review: Bozeman's Crema Roasting

Always looking for that elusive perfectly extracted espresso from my relatively puny home machine, I occasionally tweak the grind, tamping pressure, shot timing, frothing pitcher angle, etc... All of this helps but the product itself -the coffee- must be fresh and espresso-appropriate. I have learned that fruity African coffees translate better to brewed coffee while South American varietals seem to perform (taste) best in the espresso machine.

Recently, I spotted a new product on the shelves at the store: Crema Roasting. I selected a bag of the Guatemalan Trapichitos in the interest of science. I have tried lots of other brands - both local and national - and so far these beans are the bomb as far as I can tell. Grown by Ixil Indian families from the village of the same name, the Trapichitos beans have that slightly toasty-sweet-bright flavor that "makes" a good espresso shot. Plus, my kitchen smells great after grinding a few shots worth of these beans.

Obviously, this product is very fresh and likely handled in small batches. This is further supported by the fact that I couldn't locate a bag of the Guatemalan earlier this week, picking up a bag of the Crema Bold instead. Slightly darker in roast than the GT, the Crema Bold is a blend that extracts a bit more bitterness out of the beans to balance the toasty-sweetness. Think: high-grade bittersweet chocolate. So far, we are divided on which is better. I think it likely just a matter of what sort of mood you happen to find yourself in.

I bumped into Crema's owner a few weeks ago and I was informed that I should also give his Clarity blend a try, as this is what a few of the coffee shops are using for espresso; it's on my list once I find it. As for the two aforementioned varieties discussed today, they are in my grinder and my coffee-stained mug.

Below: the raw material and finished beverage made today with the Crema Bold

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tincho, New Age, and the Substitute

The warm weather, the smell of charred meat and propane exhaust can only mean one thing: it's finally summer. Although you wouldn't know it today, because it's 50 degrees and rainy. Current weather notwithstanding, the seasons, and my palate have decidedly changed gears. Gone are the braised-for-ever-in-red-wine cuts of beef and lamb, hello grill and fish and hints of citrus and herbs. The same is true for wine. Light, slightly spicy food calls out for a wine that isn't thrown off by peppers, citrus, or char. 

As the temps rise, one of my favorite beverages for the deck and grill life is a "Tincho". The simple cocktail I first enjoyed at our local tapas joint, Over the Tapas. Made with the ever so slightly bubbly wine, New Age, is a simple beverage of wine over ice with slivers of lime -  deluxe on a hot summer day. Citrus-y Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia somehow works with the lime and chill of the ice. Not sweet, but citrus-y, bright and refreshing...perfect.

The search for a bottle of New Age yesterday was fruitless, so a substitute was called in: Portugal's Vinho Verde. Not necessarily green as the name would suggest, but young. This wine, a bit more floral perhaps than New Age also packs a few bubbles - thus my willingness to experiment with a Tincho application. A bit more tart than New Age, we agreed that this newly concocted Tincho could use a bit more sweetness or fruit. Cranberry juice? Orange juice?

The verdict: New Age for Tincho. Vinho Verde well chilled and served by itself.


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YNP Ski Video: Rick Finds Corn - and Satisfaction

Click here to download:
P1040850.MOV (4538 KB)

Shred on, my friend:

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Spring Skiing Yellowstone's Washburn Hills

I have never surfed, but I have spent more than a few winters skiing. Spring - or this case - summer skiing is about as close as I think I can get to surfing without donning a wet suit and hanging ten, bro. Maybe it's my newly acquired Patagonia wonder t-shirt emblazoned with Hawaiian graphics...or maybe it's the blazing sun...or maybe it's the relative moisture of the surface on which we are sliding...whatever it is, Dick Dale and his surf guitar plays loudly in my head as I link lazy turns down the mellow slopes. Creamy-corn snow that is a week or two past-prime is becoming sun-pitted has a brown coloration indicating that these snowfields are not long for this world.

Almost as good as the skiing itself is the roadside lounging that occurs apres-ski. Shorts, flip-flops and lots of sun. It isn't the beach, but it isn't bad, either.

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