Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Cheap Butt

That was one of the signs at 12 Bones in Asheville, NC.  It certainly catches your attention but not as much as the primal smell of meat smoking over wood and the long line of folks waiting in the scorching mid-day sun to order their lunch.  We were recently in North Carolina visiting friends and family and enjoyed several very nice meals.

Somehow we had gotten onto the Obama food train - one night we had dinner at The Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Park and then the next day after doing the zip-line tour at Navitat (we highly recommend it) we headed over to 12 Bones, where the Obamas had eaten lunch in April.

But there's no line jumping here - no matter who you are. Everyone waits patiently while misters spraying a fine cloud of water give a slight cooling effect.  Review the menu carefully - it's hard to make a choice but make sure you decide what you want before you head to the register to speed up service!

One of our choices was a classic plate of ribs with baked beans, smoked potato salad and corn bread. Honey Garlic Sauce was on the menu that day and it was a perfect sweet and slightly zesty complement to the smoky pork. The ribs were good but a bit too charred - almost crispy at the edges like cracklins.

The smoked potato slad was very different and good but those sides choices were way too filling a mix and the owner of this plate was feeling weighted down after its conclusion.

A more ingenious combo included sides of pulled pork ($1.50), chopped brisket ($1.75), collard greens ($1.50) and "3 Bones" ($4.50) - although they actually served 4!

This mixed plate allowed a tasting of the three most classic barbecue meats without getting bogged down with the heavy cornbread and starchy sides. At $9.25 for the whole plate of four items it seemed like a very good deal versus the 12 bones for $18.

We don't eat collard greens too often but when one tastes a good preparation you just know it - and these were amazing. The collards were cut into nice manageable bite-size pieces, not those long unmanageable strips that you find in many traditional preparations.
Take a good look at the picture. These collards were studded with smoked ham (from ham hocks) to the tune of about 1/3 of the mix. Along with some onions and maybe a tad of garlic and butter it was a very tasty dish. When the greens were gone we drank down the liquid - also know as pot liquor.

The pulled pork was soft, moist and smoky. Never having experienced Carolina vinegar sauce we were very impressed that the lore lived up to it's billing. Eaten with the sticky barbecue sauces offered that day the pulled pork was good but the sauces masked its porcine flavor. When eaten with the spicy vinegar "splash" the pork stood out and the vinegar and spice punched up its flavor without taking over - a much better combination of flavors and one we will always offer when serving pulled pork.

A few other stops included The Tupelo Honey Cafe, drinks on the terrace at The Grove Park Inn, lunch at the Hob Nob in Brevard and a very tasty hamburger and fries at Poppie's Gourmet Farmer's Market during one of the Saturday night garden concerts. 

If you've hesitated going south because you were afraid all you'd find was greasy fried chicken and biscuits and gravy - don't worry, there's plenty of good food to be found in the Asheville area!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Savory Oats


Recently we had a culinary awakening - oatmeal beyond the breakfast table. Having a late breakfast we realized we need some protein so we salted our oats more than usual and topped them with over-easy fried eggs. We placed the eggs (with still runny yolks) and slightly browned butter from the skillet over the cooked oats and dug in. It was an amazingly good combination. The richness of the yolk and drops of golden browned butter were a nice contrast to the fat free and slightly chunky old fashioned oats.

A few weeks later contemplating a fast oats and eggs dinner a new thought occurred. Why does no one eat oats at dinner they way they do polenta? What if the oats were flavored with chicken broth instead of plain water? And if a little butter or grated parmesan were added could we have a dish much like a risotto but ready in only 5 minutes? Oh yes - it's possible and it tastes great while being better for you all at the same time!

It must be one of those food paradigms that will take a celebrity chef to break before we see savory oat recipes making it onto the scene as a legitimate side dish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kauai - Bubba Burger or Duane's Ono Char Burger?

When you are on vacation you tend to eat a lot of those things you generally wouldn't eat on a regular basis or at home. So goes the quest for a good burger - we never do this at home but on Kauai lack of reasonably priced cuisine forced this into our meal repertoire.

One of the two spots we tried was Bubba Burger which has at least two locations on Kauai - one in Kapa'a and another in Hanalei near Princeville on the north shore of the island where we were staying. The travel book Kauai Revealed couldn't have described the service any more accurately. Move slowly to make it appear you are busier than you are and to create the appearance of popularity.  People will then come in droves to see what is drawing the crowds.

In all fairness the burgers were good - but of course they would never have been worth that same price back on the mainland. Over $5 for a single patty (maybe 1/6 of pound raw weight) and over $6 for a double with few additions - cheese, pineapple and bacon were all extra. A small dish of fries was $4.50 and although tasty quite steep a price to pay for fries poured unceremoniously out of a freezer bag into the fryer basket.

A kalua pork sandwich with sweet chili sauce was amazingly tender and flavorful and a better deal than the burgers for the amount of meat served.

South of Kilauea Lighhouse heading toward Kapa'a is Duane's Ono Char Burger. We'd read about it's legendary burgers in the travel books so we had to go. Upon arrival the place looks very quaint. A word of warning - Duane's is literally on the side of the highway. One errant turn by a driver and you could have a car land on top of you and your burger at the picnic tables.

The menu gives one hope that the burgers will be tasty with choices including different types of cheese, avocado, mushrooms and several sauces.

The burgers were cut in half and nicely wrapped - the Local Girl had teriyaki sauce (a bit too much), Swiss cheese and a pineapple slice - all in all tasty components but they really overpowered the single beef patty.  The Nui-Nui or double beef patty burger was much more satisfying as far as beef flavor was concerned. Fries were much hotter and flavorful than at Bubba Burger and a convenience store next door that sold beer satisfied our craving for a libation.

Unfortunately the incessant buzzing of very hungry flies at the outdoor tables proved to be so annoying that only the colorful chickens and roosters running around the grounds helped to distract us from the insect onslaught.  Bottom line - skip Duane's and cook yourself a burger on your resort's BBQ grill. If you don't have that option then Bubba Burger is a much tastier choice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Delectable Beef Ribs in Paradise

Surfers at Honolua Bay

It's been said that swimming and playing in the surf makes you very hungry. Seems that was definitely so with dinner on a recent trip to the Ka'anapali Coast in Maui. Although we enjoyed fresh sushi almost everyday at lunch or as an appetizer before dinner, eventually our Midwestern roots and a craving for beef began to gnaw at us.

We rarely see beef ribs at home and were quite surprised to find them at the local Safeway for under $2/lb. Two racks came in the bag - 14 ribs total - enough for two nights dinner for two. That was a much better deal than going out to eat and spending $38 for a single pork chop in Lahaina.

Two of thirty gas grills at the resort

We were staying at The Westin Ocean Resort Villas and they had quite a few gas grills by the pools for use by the guests. We brought down some libations to keep us cool, fired up a grill and proceeded to get to a know a few of our fellow vacationers.

Since beef ribs are pretty fatty and the controls on the gas feed were not easily adjustable the ribs charred up pretty quickly with the flames from the melting fat. We moved them to one side of the grill and turned the heat off under the ribs in order to completely cook them through.

After about 45 minutes of playing with the gas controls the final result was delicious with only a light dusting of salt and pepper for seasoning. Some grilled asparagus rounded out the meal.