Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gelato? In the middle of the winter?

Verily I say to you that every day is a good day for gelato! On my way to work and back using my alternate (read: back roads) route, I noticed a small coffee/gelato shop. Having seen this shop for nearly a year now, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I stopped in last Sunday for a looksie around. Although there is signage out front, you actually have to park in the back of the shop. Here is the sign by the door:

I was happily surprised to be greeted with a hand-written menu just inside the door. It seems our little coffee shop was replete with not only coffee and gelato, but also sandwiches, pizza, pastas, salads and more. I picked up a paper menu that was on the counter and realized that the entire contents of the paper menu were already on the hand-written menu.

I talked with the nice woman behind the counter who wasn't the owner, but did do her best to answer some of my questions. They have a limited kitchen at the shop, and only made several things from scratch. Things like the ravioli and other pastas were pre-made somewhere else and frozen. The sandwiches and pizzas are made fresh there, however. From what I can tell, I get the feeling that the owner is trying to do as much as he or she can with the space and limited kitchen that they do have and also trying to source their food as locally as they can.

I, however, was there for the gelato. There were about ten flavors out on display and you can taste whichever flavors (I tasted four before picking what I wanted) you like. I tasted the chocolate, coffee, pistachio, and dulce le leche. The nice thing is that when you order, you can mix up two flavors, one being on the bottom of the cup and one on top. They don't actually make the gelato. However, an Italian gentlemen from Little Italy in Cleveland, OH actually does. Apparently when additional gelato is ordered, it has to go through an interpreter because he doesn't speak any English.

For the top of my cup I choose Dulce Le Leche:

It was smooth and creamy and had swirls of the caramel running through it. It was a bit sweeter, but not overly so. The flavor really popped in my mouth.

After eating all of the Dulce Le Leche, I was left with the pistachio:

This also had the same lovely mouthful, but the flavor of the pistachios was wonderful and embracing. The woman behind the counter said that she didn't particularly care for it because it had such a strong nut flavor, but I loved it. I know the two photos look almost identical, but the pistachio did have the slightly off-green color to it and the flavor was DEFINITELY different.

I would definitely recommend you stop in and give it a shot. I'm going to stop back in some evening and try out some of their other food items.

Caffé Gelato on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beef on Weck, How I Love Thee!

A dream has finally come true for me. Six years ago, I saw a PBS documentary by Rick Sebak called Sandwiches That You Will Like. Six years ago, I discovered something called the "beef on weck". And I learned that one of the best places (or at least most representative) to get a true beef on weck sandwich was Schwabl's (I apologize that the entire site is Flash -- it wouldn't be my choice, but hey, I wasn't asked to design the site).

Now, I've had a "beef on weck" at BW-3's in Columbus, OH, before they became Buffalo Wild Wings and dropped all mention of the 3rd W from their name (which, incidentally, if you didn't know, meant "Weck"). But I say this to you now: That sandwich was pale, weak, and a pathetic comparison to the real thing. And all you Arby's and Raxx restaurant fans out there are holding nothing to a true beef on weck sandwich.

This was the ultimate end to the day long journey I took when I wrote about stopping at the Fracture Prune in an earlier post. That was simply the warm-up for the main event. Schwabl's is actually incredibly easy to find and is about a 3 1/2 hour trip from Akron, OH. I arrived around 2:30 PM and thought this was a great time to arrive since I would miss both the lunch rush and the dinner rush. Unfortunately, we are talking about a beloved Buffalo landmark. At 2:30 PM, the parking was packed to the brim and there was about a 20 minutes wait for a table. Even if I hadn't driven 3 1/2 hours to get here, it was still worth a 20 minute wait.

The outside of the building was rather unassuming, except for the neon sign above the front door.

Once inside the building, to the right is a full-service bar with about 5 or 6 places to stand (no stools, they would take up room that tables could occupy). To the left of the bar is the carving station. Every other spot is taken up by a table. I was quickly greeted by a pleasant young man who told me that I could stand at the bar while I wait for a table to open up.

The bartender soon came over and asked if I would like anything while I waited. Noticing a sign behind the bar, I decided to try one of their specialty drinks this time of year, a Tom and Jerry. Now, I've heard of this drink, but never had it. And boy, am I glad I did, because this version was silky smooth, delicious, and really warmed me up.

Essentially a Tom and Jerry starts with a egg-based frothy "batter" which is ladled into the cup. A jigger of a brandy and dark rum combination is added and then it is finally filled with very hot (not boiling) water. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top and you are ready to go. Wow, was that tasty. Kind of like a cross between an eggnog and a hot buttered rum.

As I finished up my Tom and Jerry, a table near the front of the store opened up and I was seated. I knew I was there for the beef on weck, but I was curious to see what else they had on the menu. Chicken, ham, fish ... you could pretty much get something from any meat food group. Sadly, I went on a Friday. On Saturday's they have homemade goulash with dumplings. While I probably couldn't have eaten both, an order certainly would've made it home with me to try later on. Ah well ... just a reason for another visit.

You can get the sandwich by itself, or make it a platter for only $2 more. With the platter, you get your choice of either cole slaw or pickled beets and your choice of potato. First off, let me say that everything is made in-house with the exception of the kummelweck rolls. Those are made by a local baker. Only recently have I found how much I am in love with roasted beets. But the thought of pickled beets of any kind just turned me off. So, I went with the cole slaw and the German potato salad for my sides.

I should also explain the kummelweck (weck is the shortened version of the name) rolls. "Kummel" stands for caraway. So these rolls are encrusted on their tops with caraway seeds and course salt. Sort of the same crunchy texture you find in soft pretzels. The reason why kummelweck has stayed a Buffalo only tradition and chicken wings have not is that it is pretty easy to replicate chicken wings with a fryer and a good sauce. Kummelweck rolls need to be made by an experienced baker and they don't hold real well for shipping purposes.

Schwabl's cooks their steamship rounds in the kitchen and then transfers them to the carving station where you can order any beef temperature you'd like, from rare to well done. I went for medium rare. Here is what I received:

To the left of the plate is the cole slaw, the German potato salad is in the back and to the left of the plate is a single slice of the homemade pickled beets (apparently being used as a garnish). Here's another shot of the sandwich with the bun off:

Mmmm! Nice and medium rare. Also notice, too, behind the plate is a jar of white-ish looking stuff. Every table has a jar of prepared horseradish to be used on your sandwich. And boy, did I use my fair share.

Let's start with the cole slaw. It was mostly green cabbage with a vinegar + sugar + salt dressing. No mayo or dairy to be found. It was simple and good, but a bit one note. The German potato salad was warm, had a nice acidic flavor and the bacon bits in the salad added a nice saltiness to the overall flavor.

Now, onto the sandwich. The beef was exceedingly tender. The roll was exquisitely fresh and tasty. The salt on top of the bun served really two purposes in my mind. First was the textural element it brought to the party. Biting down you had the chewiness of the bread, the crunch of the salt and caraway seed, and the meltingly tender beef. Flavor-wise, the salt served the same purposed as the salt on a soft pretzel. It was purposely over salty, but it played so well with the other flavors. And the horseradish that I added tableside was the perfect spicy foil for the beef. I can see why people from Buffalo claim that they can't find this "taste" anywhere else in the US.

So, after finishing most of my cole slaw, all of my potato salad, and all of my sandwich, all that was left was that single slice of pickled beet. Thinking to myself, I just drove 3 1/2 hours to eat a sandwich. I might as well try the darn beet. So I cut a slice of it fully expecting to hate it. And do you know what?




I couldn't believe how good it was. In less than half a heartbeat I would fully endorse the pickled beets over the cole slaw ANY day. I could've ordered a plate of just the beets and been wholly and utterly happy. They were sweet and tender and had just the perfect balance of flavors without any of that nasty "canned beets" flavor that I was so used to in childhood. In fact, some of the beet juice actually mixed together with the cole slaw and it actually improved the flavor. You go, pickled beets!

Finally, when my plate finally looked like this,

I asked for the check. With my drink and my platter, the total was roughly around $17.50 or so. I quickly paid my check, hopped backed onto I-90 going west and had many pleasant horseradish-related burps on my way home to remind me of this spectacular experience.

I must learn how to make these kummelweck rolls ... they were so superb!

Schwabl's on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Fractured Prune and other magical fruits

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Fractured Prune:

Located at 8254 High St. N.E., Warren, OH 44484, I found out about this store from a post on the Cleveland Food and Wine Forum hosted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There has been much discussion about finding a place where the donuts are made fresh and served hot. Nerve44 was good enough to post a link to the Fractured Prune's website. It was here I discovered that not too far from my house was an actual location. Thinking to myself that it would make an excellent day trip (is 45 minutes each way too far for a fantastically good donut?), I resigned that I would try them very soon.

As it turns out, I have the day off of work today ... and absolutely nothing on my schedule. No gifts to return, no malls to visit, no family obligations. At around 9 am it dawns on me: TODAY would be an excellent day for a food outing. In addition, the Fractured Prune was also on my way to another restaurant that I've been dying to get to in the last six years in Buffalo, NY. More about that in my next post.

So, I downloaded all the maps and contact information onto my G1 and headed out the door around 10:15 am. Everything went pretty smoothly on the drive over until I missed my exit onto Route 46. Oops. And of course, the next exit was another 5 miles down the road. But, in the end, I got there around 11:10 or so and was duly rewarded for my patience.

From what I had read, the place was always swamped with regulars, so I kind of figured that I wouldn't be able to get the face time with the person behind the counter to talk about their product. But I was fortunate to hit them exactly at a window where I was the only one in the store. The store's owner, Wendy, warmly greeted me and when she found out that I had driven all the way from Akron just to try them out quickly offered me one of their signature glazed donuts on the house.

Before I get to the donuts, a little bit of what I observed when I walked into the store. First, there are maybe 2 or 3 tables, not many, but most people are probably taking their donuts on the go. Behind the counter on the left is where the donuts are deposited into the oil, move along and come out the other side. I was surprised at how quickly this happens. From start to finish my donut was ready within about 1-2 minutes. I realized that to get this speed, the donuts are smaller than other competitors, but they are still a decent size (you'll see in the photos). To the right is the dipping and topping station where you can choose from 15 glazes, 7 toppings, and 3 sugars. If my math is correct (and it *always* is), if you choose a glaze, a topping, and a sugar, that's 315 possible combinations.

Besides donuts, they also offer bagels and breakfast sandwich combinations as well as a more decadent scoop of ice cream on top of your hot donut type dessert. While they all sounded good, I was here for the donuts.

Now let's get on to the good stuff, the donuts. First off, the glazed donut.

This was SO good, and in my opinion the best of the three that I tried. Crispy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside, with just enough sweetness from the glaze. All of the donuts they offer are based on the same cake donut batter, so don't bother asking about any yeast-raised donuts. The paper plate it was served on was just your standard small paper plate you can get at any grocery store ... just to give you some perspective on the size of the actual donut.

Next up, the Chocolate Covered Cherry donut.

By the time she brought over the finished donut, the mini chocolate chips had started to melt. They were in that state between hard and soft. Also quite delicious. Although I discovered that with any of the donuts with the glazes that they could get a little messy when they were still hot. But OH so worth it.

Finally, I asked Wendy about one of their other popular donuts on the menu. She indicated that the Blueberry Hill donut was very popular. Consisting of a blueberry glaze and powdered sugar, this one looked like:

I thought it was better than the chocolate covered cherry, but not as good as that stellar glazed donut that I started with.

I did ask Wendy about the type of oil they used to fry their donuts in and she told me that they used vegetable shortening for now. However, the franchise is currently in the process of finding a trans-fat free oil to use in its place in short order.

Overall, I had a great experience at the Fractured Prune. The counter service was friendly, helpful, and willing to answer all my questions. Not to mention, the product was incredibly delicious. And because the donuts themselves aren't overly large, you can try several and see which one is your favorite.

Fractured Prune Donut Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 19, 2008

Going all the way

In this world of shortcuts and cheap substitutions, every now and again you'll find someone who decides that making a product from scratch, using real ingredients will deliver a stellar product that is worth going out of your way for and possibly paying more of your hard earned dollars for. To find a breadmaker who is using starters and pre-ferments in their doughs, a pizza maker who makes his or her sauce from scratch, a home cook that realizes that while it's okay to take shortcuts during the busy year, once or twice a year, you need to refamiliarize yourself with how something is supposed to taste: these are the people I try and find and support.

The problem is though that you need to go all the way. You can't make one component of your dish from scratch and then skimp out on the other parts. Today, in the cafeteria where I work, it was advertised that there was a turkey casserole with homemade egg noodles. So, I decided to give it a try. After talking with the lunch lady (good lord, I haven't used that phrase since 4th grade), I was convinced that the noodles were indeed made from scratch. And unfortunately, that's where the from-scratch-goodness ended. Along with the lovely noodles (which were indeed lovely), came a sauce consisting of cream of mushroom soup (the casserole chameleon as it were), cut up cubes of what had to be the worst tasting, most chemically treated deli turkey meat, and topped off with Stove Top stuffing.

I basically picked out all of the turkey and ate the rest. Noodles? Good. Stove Top topping? A little too herbaceous and not quite as crispy as it should've been. The CoM glop holding it all together? Not so good. It just strikes me as odd that you'd even bother making homemade noodles with the rest of this concoction.

This just reminds me too much of that horrid casserole monstrosity, GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE. A nemesis if I ever had one. Over salted, over processed, over hyped. Granted I don't make my own version of GBC very often as it does take more time to put together than opening a can of this and a can of that. But when I do make it, I make every component from scratch. And you know what, it's good. So good that my grandmother actually asked me for the recipe the first time she tried it and she is the queen of the Campbell's Cream of ... soups.

Not just the goodness factor, but there is also the love factor. I know that when I make this dish, it is hearty, healthy, and delicious. It goes to show to those I serve it to that I am expressing my love and caring for them. That I have their well-being in mind as well.

So, if you're going to do it, then DO IT. Go all the way and you will be rewarded. As the great wise and all-powerful Yoda once said, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who am I?

I can tell you what I am not: a full-time professional in the food industry. Have I worked in the food industry? Yes. Most of my high school jobs were as a line cook at various restaurants. I cater small to mid-sized parties every now and again. I actually worked in a local organic bakery for several months to get the feel for baking in a large volume production kitchen. Do I come from four years of tough training from the likes of Johnson & Wales or the CIA? Nope.

My interest in baking good bread comes from my intense desire to eat good bread. It is amazing to me that at it's most basic, bread consists of flour, water, yeast, and salt. And yet, pick up almost every single loaf of bread in a grocery store and there are a myriad of additional ingredients that have nothing to do with nutritional value and everything to do with extending shelf life and making the product cheaper to produce (such as high fructose corn syrup). Why is it that we take all of the nutritive value out of our flours through bleaching and bromation, only to have to add it back in through supplements?

I got serious about bread about four years ago when I decided that I was tired of putting bread that was devoid of nutrition into my body. What was I left with? In the typical grocery store, not much. Usually I had to start moving toward the organic options, but at those prices, I would be paying $3-$5 per loaf. So, I decided to start doing breads my way, at home, from scratch. I would then supplement with store bought bread when I was in a pinch. I started out with only basic knowledge and a couple of recipes I had left over from a failed experiment with a bread machine I had owned years earlier.

Recipe in hand, I started making sandwich bread first, honey whole wheat. The problem was that I didn't realize that there is a science to making bread. As much as I profess that bread is different from pastry in that it is a living thing for which you must make concessions, it is in fact also rooted in the same science of chemistry that drives the precision that pastry chefs use to get repeatable results. Sometimes there is a little more or a little less moisture in the air, sometimes the ambient temperature in the kitchen is a little warmer or a little cooler. All of these things affect the final loaf. But of course, when I started doing all of this, I didn't know any of these things.

So, some loaves came out light and airy. Some loaves, well, didn't.

It wasn't until I picked up the book The Breadbaker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart that my entire bread making approach just opened up. Mr. Reinhart brought the science of making bread to the table. And as any good engineer can tell you, it's all about numbers and the Scientific Method. Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe the reason my results weren't repeatable had more to do with the fact that my recipe was flawed, I wasn't measuring the ingredients properly, and my understanding of what exactly was going on in that little ball of dough was severely lacking.

Since then I have read many a book, taken many a class, given many a class, and worked for a brief stint at a bakery, all because I want to learn as much as I can about bread. Because if you are going to take the time to make bread from scratch, shouldn't you want to give it as much flavor and nutrition as you possibly can?
Related Posts with Thumbnails