Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Roly Poly Fish Heads

I've been meaning to get to Tim's Tavern for quite a while now. When a good college friend of mine found out that I would be working in Canton for a while, he almost immediately admonished me to try out Tim's at some point. He made that suggestion a year and a half ago. Sadly, Tim's had just stayed off of my radar until today. A different friend mentioned it in passing today during a conversation and I decided to take the plunge and see what the fuss was all about. They are located at 3323 Parkway Street NW, Canton, OH 44708 and can be reached at 330-455-6306.

You can read all about the history of Tim's Tavern on their website, so I won't go into too much of it here. As you drive up to the restaurant, the sign out front is simple: Tim's Tavern, Famous for Fish. Excellent, that was why I came.

The parking lot is ample and as you approach the side of the building you will see this:

The rear of the building connotes a time back in history when the Meyer Lake Amusement Park was still open:

When I walked into the side door, the bar was to the left and the dining room to the right. Unfortunately, by 7:30 pm, the dining room was already closed. So, I sat myself in the bar area (which has plenty of tables besides the bar) and soon my server approached me with a menu and a glass of water. Having looked over their menu on-line before showing up, I already knew what I wanted. Here is how our conversation went:

"Do you know what you'd like?"
"I'll take the 3 piece fried fish dinner, please."
"What sides would you like?"
"Before I answer that, I have a question for you. Is the macaroni and cheese homemade?"
"How about the mashed potatoes?"
"How about the fries?"

(Are you starting to see a pattern here? At this point I was starting to get a little frustrated.)

"Maybe it might be easier if you told me what WAS homemade."
"Um, the cole slaw. The rice pilauf. The hot sauce."

So, I ended up getting the cole slaw and the rice pilauf. With your meal you also get a choice of bread and butter or unlimited hushpuppies with a homemade honey butter. After about ten minutes, my server brought me my cole slaw and hushpuppies. First up, the hushpuppies:

I didn't know for sure, but I could almost bet these were frozen, too. They weren't bad, but they just didn't have that "fresh" taste. The hushpuppy batter contained onions and parsley. I tasted the honey butter by itself and it would've really made a nice addition to a piece of bread or even better yet, cornbread. However, the combination of the onion, parsley, and honey was just a strange match for me. The hushpuppies were generally fine, but this was something you could find in the frozen foods section of any grocery store.

The cole slaw was next:

While this was homemade, the flavor profile on this slaw was flat. It really had no character of its own. It simply tasted like generic cole slaw. Which, I suppose, if that's what you are into, then you'd probably find this version acceptable. Just like the hushpuppies, this was nothing to write home about.

Not even two minutes after my starters arrived, my fried fish platter arrived at my table:

Tartar sauce on the left, four pieces of fried fish in the middle, and the homemade rice pilauf on the right.

Let's talk about the fish first:

This was so close to being excellent! But, it missed the mark in two ways. First, this was a greasy, greasy mess. If the lighting had been better in the bar, I would've tried to take a photo of the puddle of oil that covered the bottom of my plate. A simple stop onto a paper towel before plating this fish would've done wonders to alleviate this problem. Secondly, and this is a problem I've found at other places that do fried fish, the fillets themselves are never thick enough to withstand the deep frying process. The Northern Atlantic cod that Tim's uses is not uniform in size; so in one bite you will get a lovely, juicy piece of fish and in the next a dried up chewy piece of jerky.

I will say this about the fish: the coating that was on top of the fish was fabulous. As you can see from the black specks in the photograph above, this had a wonderfully flavorful coating and at least on the side of the fish not stewing in the oil below, it was crunchy crisp and just a bit greasy. So on the rare bite where the fish fillet was thick enough, you definitely got a crispy, creamy combination. It's too bad that wasn't my experience with the entire fillet though.

Finally, the rice pilauf:

When I first smelled and then finally tasted this dish, three things came to mind almost immediately:
  • The seasoning packet from one of those boxed rice pilauf products you can buy at the grocery store

  • The smell of Campbell's Minestrone soup

  • Chicken base / chicken bouillon
The taste was pretty much what I expected after letting my nose go first. It consisted of cooked rice studded with carrot, red bell pepper, onion, and tiny bits of broccoli with the aforementioned seasoning. The flavor had sort of an odd chemical taste to it. Was this the worst dish I've ever eaten? No, but I don't think I'll be ordering it again even though it is one of the few homemade sides on the menu.

When my waitress came to collect my dishes and bring me my check, I asked about the hushpuppies.

"So, I'm guessing the hushpuppies were from frozen, too?"
"You could tell, huh?"
"Yeah, I could tell."

I'm beginning to understand why the menu lists the hushpuppies as unlimited with a platter meal; no one would want to order a second plate of them. While the fried fish goes a long way toward saving Tim's Tavern, the lack of tasty sides makes me want to give them a pass the next time I get a craving for fried fish. It's not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but serving a generally mediocre meal just isn't the way to bring in and retain new customers. I give Tim's Tavern a marginally passing grade.

Tim's Tavern on Urbanspoon  Tim's Tavern on Restaurantica

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kitchen Challenge: Dinner for Grandma

Ever since my grandpa died a year ago, I felt it was my duty as a grandson to help my grandma out in any way that I can. Not having been the one to handle the finances while my grandpa was alive, my grandma quickly fell behind on the simple things like balancing her checkbook and deciding how to re-invest the money when their CD's came due. Because she had gotten off track many months prior, the banks literally refused to help her out with anything past 90 days. Which, as a business, I can understand. However, knowing that this caused a great deal of anxiety to my grandma, I finally decided to lend a helping hand and see what I could do.

While reconciling a checkbook is simple addition and subtraction, my grandma's poor checkbooks were a mess. Let's just say that the initial weekend was pretty bad. I ended up giving up trying to figure where she went astray and decided to take a more logical approach. I had her pull all of her statements for her checkbooks (yes, gentle reader, there was more than just one screwed up account) from December 2007 all the way through the present. I then meticulously went through and created a virtual checkbook on the software I personally use on my laptop while making my way through page after page of her checkbook register.

Fortunately, once that initial weekend was done, maintenance has been a breeze. Twice a month I come over, reconcile any statements she might have received, do a load of laundry, and generally just hang out and talk with my grandma. Most times as a thank you, she makes a batch of chili or fixes some turkey sandwiches. Which is just fine by me. But today I decided to take it a step further and fix her dinner as well. My grandma usually protests this because she thinks that anything I make is just way too complicated and I shouldn't be spending that kind of time on her. To which I always say, "Pish!" I understand that "complicated" for her is something that takes longer than thirty minutes to prepare. But, I really wanted to do this for her, so I insisted and she finally relented.

My grandma has various food-related health issues and one of those is swallowing. On the approved list are tender meats such as chicken and pork. Having done a roasted chicken for her and my aunt for Easter, I decided that a roasted pork loin would be perfect (and fairly easy) for dinner tonight. But what to pair with it? Hmmm. I thought about a rub or a sauce but finally decided on pairing it with a chutney. Spicy, savory, sweet, and sour. Perfect! Originally I thought about doing a peach and mango chutney, but when I got to the supermarket, the peaches were perfect and the mangoes were atrocious. Just then I spotted some amazing Bing sweet cherries for $2.49 a pound. I thought about it for a minute and decided that this would be a perfect substitute for the dessicated mangoes. A few minutes later I had all my groceries and headed to my grandma's condo to get started.

Here is a photograph of the ingredients needed for the chutney:

And now a more precise recipe for the chutney:

1/2 pound pitted sweet cherries
3 ripe peaches
2 large Vidalia onions (or onions of your choosing)
1 cup chicken broth/stock
1 cup Champagne vinegar (or vinegar of your choice ... although I wouldn't use Balsamic for this)
1 cup water
1 cup packed brown sugar
Dried/fresh chilies of your choice
Butter/Olive oil

The first thing you want to do is prepare your fruit. To peel the peaches, blanch them in boiling water for 45-60 seconds and then plunge them into a bowl of ice water. Using your paring knife, you should be able to peel the skin off very easily. Next, cut peach wedges away from the pit and slice into bite sized pieces. To pit the cherries, use a pitter. Or do what I did and run the paring knife around the pit, twist the two halves, and dig out the pit from the one half. Once you've done all of that, place in a small bowl and reserve.

Next up, slice the Vidalia onions. Cut the Vidalia's from stem to root, peel away any dried out layers, and then slice them so that you get nice half-moon shapes. With your hands, separate the various "leaves" from one another and place in a nice sized rondeau. You are going to start with what appears to be a LOT of onions, but once you cook them down, it will be much more manageable.

Here is a shot of the onions waiting to be caramelized:

I then added about 3 tablespoons of butter and a healthy glug of olive oil to the pot. Also add a healthy pinch of salt as well to help draw out the moisture from the onions. The goal of this is not to saute the onions, but to sweat the onions at first. These probably cooked a good 35-40 minutes before turning into these:

One of the wonderful side effects of cooking these onions low and slow is that the natural fond builds up on the bottom of the pan. Most people think this is undesirable, but I am here to say that this is where much of the flavor comes from. But to access it, you have to wait until the onions are nice and caramelized and that is when you want to add the chicken stock to the pan. Using your wooden spoon, scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom. Not only will it clean the pan (which is great), but all of those flavor bits will now incorporate themselves into the onions as well. Once you've deglazed, you want to continue reducing the liquid until it is almost dry.

In a separate saucepan, you want to add the cup of water, cup of vinegar, and cup of packed brown sugar. Bring this to a boil. Depending on how spicy you want the resulting chutney to be, you can choose to add and remove the chilies at your discretion. The more chilies and the longer you leave them in, the spicier the final result will be. Once you reach a boil, you want to continue reducing the liquid until only about 1/3 of what you started with remains. Just a warning that this will challenge your sense of smell as evaporating vinegar definitely has a clearing effect on the sinuses; an open window should alleviate the problem.

Once the water / vinegar / sugar mixture has reduced (by the way, this is classically called a gastrique), remove the chilies and add in the prepared fruit. Bring this back to the boil and cook the fruit in the gastrique for an additional 5 minutes or so. At this point you have one saucepan with the cooked fruit and the gastrique and a rondeau with the deglazed caramelized onions. Add the contents of your saucepan to the rondeau and you will get this:

Continue to cook this down until the sauce is syrupy and the fruit breaks down just a little more. Don't re-season with salt at this point because adding salt now might make it overly salty once it reduces to the perfect consistency. I probably simmered this on the stove for another thirty minutes. Once I was happy with the consistency, I added enough salt to balance out the flavors. This should be savory, sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. I kept the chutney warm for dinner, but you could certainly let this cool and keep it in the refrigerator for later use.

Since I had created such a flavorful accompaniment for the pork, I decided to go completely "plain Jane" on my pork loin roast and just season it with simple sea salt and freshly ground pepper. First, I trimmed off the silverskin using my paring knife:

And then trussed the loin using the butcher's twine I scored at the meat department in my local supermarket:

I won't go into how to truss the loin, but it really is pretty simple. The whole reason to truss the pork loin is so that it is all one thickness. This helps it cook evenly. When you have thick parts and thin parts, one tends to get overdone and the other underdone. Is it totally necessary? No, not really, but I had my culinary nerd cred to worry about, so I went ahead and trussed.

With the exception of roasting a whole chicken, I almost universally start my meats out sauteing in a hot skillet to help promote a tasty exterior and then finish them in a moderate to hot oven for indirect cooking. After adding a healthy amount of salt and pepper to the outside of the roast, I brought a saute pan up to temperature, added some sunflower oil (higher smoke point than olive oil), and seared the outside of the roast on all six sides until it looked like this:

Then I placed the seared roast on a bed of potatoes and carrots I had cut up earlier:

I had tossed the potatoes and carrots with some extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt and then massaged them with my hands to combine thoroughly. I also added some sprigs of fresh rosemary to add some wonderful depth of flavor and to bring a herbaceous note to the dish. After placing the roast on top of the root vegetables, I placed it into a pre-heated 375 degree Fahrenheit oven, but not before placing my probe thermometer into the center of the roast. When it went into the oven, the internal temperature of the roast measured 53 degrees Fahrenheit. I set the alert on my external thermometer to go off at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, this two pound roast was probably in the oven for a good hour or so.

Okay, the chutney is made and the roast is in the oven ... what's next? Ah, yes, the salad. When I stopped today at the West Point Market to pick up the champagne vinegar I would be using for the chutney, I decided to pick up some of their yellow and red tomatoes and use those in a salad that could be served with dinner. Since I was already picking up the vinegar for the chutney, it only made sense that I use it in the vinaigrette, too, for dressing the salad.

Here is a shot of the ingredients I used for the tomato salad and champagne vinaigrette:

For the vinaigrette, you will need:

1 clove minced garlic
1 spoonful of dijon mustard (I personally prefer Grey Poupon)
1/4 cup of Champagne vinegar (or vinegar of your choice, Balsamic being perfectly acceptable)
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil (less if you like it more tart, more if you like it less)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Salt to taste

People are always amazed when they find out that I don't keep a single bottle of salad dressing in my refrigerator. I am constantly peppered with questions like, "Don't you eat salad?" and "How do you dress a salad with no dressing?" Once I figured out how easy, delicious and healthy it was to make your own vinaigrette, I threw out all of those pre-made dressings with their high fructose corn syrup and xantham gum and decided that whenever I needed dressing for a salad, I'd just make it from scratch. People have a hard time swallowing that line of reasoning until they taste my dressings. On more than one occasion I've gotten that wide-eyed acknowledgment that suddenly, they finally "get it". And that makes me smile just a little bit.

To make the dressing, get yourself a small mason jar (or really anything that has a sealable lid) and add the minced garlic, the spoon of mustard, the vinegar and a nice pinch of salt. You want to try and add the salt to the vinegar because it will dissolve easier. Cover the container and give it a nice shaking to blend all the ingredients. At this point, add the oil, recover, and shake vigorously. The mustard actually does two things. First, it adds a wonderful "tang" to the finished vinaigrette. Second, the lecithen in the mustard seeds actually helps to emulsify the oil and the vinegar. This means that once the dressing is made, it will happily hang out without breaking for hours or days. Egg yolks are also commonly used to do the same thing. Add most of the herbs and shake again. At this point, it's really all a matter of taste. To tart? Add more oil. Too oily? Add more vinegar. Kind of blah? Add more salt. You control exactly how you want the dressing to come out.

Once the dressing is made, just keep it inside the container you used to make it until you are ready to dress your salad. Heck, you could even store the leftovers in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks in the same container. Here is a shot of the finished dressing and the tomatoes I used for the salad:

We're getting close now! Once the pork reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, I removed it from the oven (returning the root vegetables to a new temperature of 425 to finish roasting and get a little more color) and placed it on my cutting board. The pork now needs to rest for about ten minutes tented with some aluminum foil. Over the ten minute resting period, the internal temperature of the pork went from 150 to 157 degrees. While the pork was resting, I went ahead and sauteed the asparagus in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper until they were still a little crisp, but also tender.

In the meantime, my grandma decreed that we would eat at the dining room table instead of the kitchen table because of the amount of work that went into the meal (her words, not mine). She got out the good plates and silverware and lit the candles in preparation:

Once everything was reading to go, I put the still warm chutney into a gravy boat.

I then prepared my composed tomato salad and finished it with a bit of the gray finishing salt, Sel de Guerande, that my wonderful friend Debbie brought back with her from France, and the champagne tarragon vinaigrette I had prepared earlier.

My grandma had decided this morning that she would make some corn muffins from scratch, so I warmed these up gently in the microwave:

We finally sat down to enjoy this magnificent meal at around 7 PM. Here is a shot of my plate, fully dressed:

Needless to say, everything was not only tasty, but also grandma food-friendly. The pork was tender and the root vegetables had a lovely roasted look and caramelized flavor to them. The simply prepared asparagus was also a big hit. Sometimes I honestly think it's better to go with a simple preparation rather than some big drawn out recipe that has you hiding the wonderful natural flavors of the foods we eat. The star of the show, however, was the peach and sweet cherry chutney. Grandma really didn't have a clue what a chutney was before I did this, but she appreciated how well it paired with the roasted pork loin. While I was in the kitchen from 3 PM until we sat down to eat at 7 PM, a lot of that time was waiting for the pork to get to the right internal temperature. So in the end, I spent four hours in the kitchen talking it up with grandma, but probably really only spent about two hours of it actually physically doing something. You could certainly make the chutney days before you needed it and just reheat it for service. This would cut your "day of" time down to just about thirty minutes of prep and an hour or so for cooking. Completely doable for a weekend dinner, I think.

Of course, the other benefit of cooking this meal for grandma was that I got time to spend with her. She won't be around forever and I want to continue to build these warm memories so that I can embrace them when I need them after she is no longer with us. My grandpa may have been the one I traditionally gravitated towards when thinking about good food, but I realize now that I need to establish as rich a history as I can with my grandma while I still have time. She may not have recipes and traditions to pass on to me, but that doesn't mean I can't give back in a way that makes me and others around me happy (and full), too.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Consistency, Thy Name Is Wonton Gourmet

The final stop on my Cleveland weekend adventure was a mid-afternoon lunch at the ever fabulous and always delicious Wonton Gourmet and BBQ. I have written about this wonderful Cleveland eatery several times before and I will continue to write about it because I think it is an important part of our ethnic Asian community. If I can inspire just one person who reads this blog entry to give them a try, then I feel I have accomplished something important. Seven of us met up in the early afternoon hours after my shopping trip with friends to several local farmer's markets and to a side trip to Mr. Brisket and Pincus Bakery. With all of that travel and shopping, we were famished!

Within minutes of us sitting down and ordering, food started showing up like crazy. Of course we ordered some all-time favorites. But we did have a chance to order some new dishes as well. I photographed everything, but will gloss over some of the dishes I've talked about in other entries. First up, a shot of what I think have to be the best chive potstickers in Cleveland:

This time around we also included an order of the regular potstickers, too. Which, to be fair, are the chive potstickers minus the chives. So, pork and shrimp.

Both versions were tasty and moist. I still prefer the chive myself because of the extra sharpness from the chives. Next up, the "Nancy" shot of the interior (trust me, holding the dumpling with one hand and taking a non-blurry photo with the other isn't an easy task):

And, of course, the ever ubiquitous turnip cakes:

All of these items were outstanding. A dip in a little of the accompanying sauces or a little chili oil and the flavors are out of this world.

Next up we decided to add something that has shown up a couple of times on our table. I briefly talked about it in my last entry on Wonton Gourmet, the fried crueller in a steamed rice noodle:

This interesting dish is a play on textures. The unsweetened crueller inside the rice noodle has been fried crispy, just like a donut. It is then wrapped in a rice noodle and steamed to perfection. The rice noodle actually protects the crueller inside and it doesn't get soggy in the least. It is served with a savory soy-based sauce that adds the extra bit of salt required to make this a well-balanced dish.

Our final appetizer of the day is one that I have heard many people recommend, but I had yet to try it. The cold jellyfish and pickled vegetables appetizer

is an amazingly interesting dish. This is a completely cold dish consisting of jellyfish sliced into long thin "noodles", pickled vegetables also cut into longer thin strips, and a wonderful sesame oil dressing which ties the entire dish together. The jellyfish actually has a crunch to it that is matched by the pickled vegetables. I'll admit that when I first tried just the jellyfish by itself, it had a strange textural element to it (notice I said "strange", not "bad"). But it wasn't until I ate the dish as a whole that I really understood what the point of this preparation was. This particular preparation is almost like an Asian "slaw". The crunchy pickled vegetables and the crunchy jellyfish are tied together with a sesame oil dressing. Eaten together, it made all the difference in the world, and I think I would actually order this again if I had the choice.

Now that our appetizers were out of the way, our entrees soon began to follow. First up was the beef chow fun:

I've had this dish at several restaurants besides Wonton and have always loved it when done well. Wonton's version had a lovely "beefy" taste to it and wasn't oily at all. This would be an excellent dish to order for someone who is dipping their toes into the Asian culinary swimming pool, as it were. Beef, rice noodles, soy sauce and bean sprouts are stir fried together until it achieves a nice glaze. I had several helpings of this dish.

Next up was a dish that I got to experience when I attended the Chinese New Years celebration at Wonton that some good friends of mine set up earlier this year, the Hong Kong style pork chops:

While the homemade barbeque sauce on this dish has always impressed me, I do find that the fried pork chops vary between being tender and tough. Sometimes the meat just melts in your mouth, other times you kind of have to gnaw your way through it. The sauce alone over rice is reason enough to order this dish. I can take or leave the pork.

Since I had first heard about bitter melon on the original Japanese production of Iron Chef over a decade ago, I have always wanted to try a dish that had this uniquely Asian ingredient. Today I had my chance as we ordered this Bitter Melon, Egg, and Shrimp dish:

As the name suggests, it is indeed bitter. I learned from Debbie that this particular version was about a medium level of bitterness. She's had preparations where the bitter melon was far stronger. While the scrambled eggs and shrimp were cooked perfectly, I could only eat a small amount of this dish. I'm not going to say it was bad because bitter melon is a new flavor to me. Who knows? Perhaps having this a few more times will allow me to have a greater appreciation for the flavor. Just like jellyfish noodles and sea cucumber, I'm glad I had the opportunity to try this unique flavor.

Finally, we ordered a green for the table, this time a special that was recommended to us by our server, yam leaves with shrimp paste. Unfortunately, the green looks kind of washed out by my photo, but I can assure you in real life they were bright green when brought to the table:

These were also okay. Not great. Not bad. I think my favorite preparation of greens at Wonton Gourmet is with garlic. It seems to be the only way that consistently enhances the flavor of the green rather than mask it. This was the first time I had the experience of eating yam leaves and honestly, it reminded me mostly of eating cooked spinach in texture and flavor.

The final thing that consistently amazes me is how little you pay for the amazing feast that we always seem to get when we go as a group. For all of this food, with tax and tip, it only came to $14.30 per person! And there were leftovers! I know that walking into an unfamiliar environment can be a little daunting for some people. But with pictures of the dishes with English translations on the walls, it couldn't be simpler to order and know exactly what you are going to get. As I've done in the past and as I'm sure I'll do in the future, I really recommend you give Wonton Gourmet & BBQ a try for yourself and see just how good they really are.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How To Build A Killer Sandwich In Two Stops

Continuing to document a recent weekend trip to Cleveland, it became clear to my traveling companions that I had never tried Mr. Brisket and the amazing pastrami that they produce. Located at 2156 South Taylor in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Brisket was actually located between where we were currently located and where we wanted to go. It wasn't even that I was insisting that we make a stop, but the driver of the car was dead set that today was the day I lost my Mr. Brisket virginity.

As we got close to the retail location of Mr. Brisket, I was regaled with stories from Debbie of how wonderful the pastrami was. It was so good, in fact, that the pound or so that my companions normally would order wouldn't even make it home. Apparently the stuff is so desirable, it can be used as culinary cash to pay someone for a job well done or as a thank you. I suddenly had the image in my head of Debbie driving her car and weaving back and forth, her eyes furtively darting from the road to the open package of warm pastrami sitting on the passenger seat in the car. As the cop inevitably pulls her over, she tries to think of a plausible story as to why she was weaving so badly. And when the cop finally approaches the window and gets the heady aroma coming from inside the car and finally sees the half-eaten mound of glistening shaved meat and the half-mad look in her eye, he can only chuckle a little bit to himself before saying to her, "Um, ma'am ... while technically not illegal, you shouldn't be operating a motor vehicle while consuming Mr. Brisket pastrami. Please put away the pastrami until you reach your destination."

With that little scenario played out in my head, we finally pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the front door of Mr. Brisket. Here's a shot of the front door:

And a shot of part of the offerings to be found inside:

After talking with both Sanford, the owner, and Hank, Sanford's partner, they got down to business and took our orders. All of us decided to buy one pound of sliced pastrami. That is, except Debbie who decided to get two pounds. Wait! Would the scene I had just imaged actually come true? Two pounds of Mr. Brisket pastrami made me think twice about taking Debbie's keys away from her so she wouldn't be a danger to others. Fortunately, all the pastrami stayed wrapped for the remainder of our journey. Whew, catastrophe averted!

Because I had never tasted the pastrami before, they shaved off some samples for us to try.

What can I say about this but, "Yum!" You could taste the clove, coriander, and black peppercorn spice on the outside and the meat had the perfect level of saltiness. Enough to flavor the meat and make your mouth water, but not so much that you went running for a glass of water. The meat was tender and moist and had just the right amount of fat so that it had a nice unctuous mouthfeel to it. I could already tell that this was going to make one heck of a good sandwich.

Although Mr. Brisket does sell fully made sandwiches, my associates INSISTED that we travel just up the road a little bit to another local Jewish bakery that makes amazing breads and pastries. Located at 2181 South Green Road in Cleveland, Ohio, Pincus Bakery offers up many homemade baked goods for all tastes and all budgets. They can be reached at (216) 382-5120 and currently have no website (at least none that I could find).

Located in a small strip mall, here is the shot of the exterior:

Before I sit here and talk about what I did end up buying at Pincus, here are a few shots of the various display cases housing the myriad of goodies you can purchase on a regular basis:

And finally, a shot of the half-dozen egg rolls I purchased for my sandwiches:

I couldn't help myself and had to have one of these rolls naked on the way home from my trip to Cleveland. Just the aroma from opening the bag was heavenly. The "eggy" smell was overwhelming and as I bit into the amazingly fresh roll, I could tell that this was going to make a spectacular sandwich. The roll had just the right amount of "pull" to the crumb and I knew it would withstand a large mound of hot Mr. Brisket pastrami.

Deciding I wanted to share my spoils, I stopped in at a friend's house and we gently reheated the pastrami and split open the remaining rolls. I opted for a little bit of stone ground mustard and my friend went with just a little French's yellow. Unfortunately, gentle reader, I must be taken to task because even though I got all of these wonderful photos of the places and ingredients that went into this sandwich, I forgot to take a picture of my ACTUAL sandwich until it was too late. My bad. But I can tell you this, it was absolutely delicious. The meat was tender and juicy, the spices from the rub continued to sing through even though I had applied mustard, the sturdiness of the roll allowed me to take bite after bite without the sandwich falling apart. My friend, also a Mr. Brisket virgin, started peppering me with questions about where I had gone to get these ingredients. I regaled him with the same story that I just told to you and he vowed to stop into Mr. Brisket and Pincus Bakery the next time he is on the east side of Cleveland. I hope you do, too.

I'm planning another Cleveland weekend soon. My usual stop for a good sandwich is Grum's Sub Shop. I may have to have a Mr. Brisket sandwich instead. Aww, who am I kidding? I'll have to stay an extra day so I can have both.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Play These Markets And You'll Win Every Time

I was introduced to the notion of an open-air market back in my college days at Case Western. On Saturday mornings, if I wasn't too hung over from the night before, I would get up bright and early and drive myself down to the West Side Market located at the corner of West 25th and Lorain in downtown Cleveland. Once inside the massive building you'd find stall after stall of amazing meats, breads, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and pastries. Often, you'd find quite the deal on many items, especially if they were in season and plentiful. A flat of fresh strawberries for $4? Absolutely. Of course, as I was just buying for myself, that flat of strawberries would usually go bad before I could finish it (that or I'd never want to even look at another strawberry again for six months after finishing an entire flat of them).

At the time, the market appealed to a baser set of instincts: it was fresh food that I could get cheaper than at the grocery store. But as I grew older, I began to understand the idea of this kind of market and why they are an important part of our food ecosystem. The people who run these amazing food stands aren't just there to turn a quick buck. Often times these are very passionate people who have a love for growing or preparing healthy and delicious food. The market provides a way to directly link the consumer to the farmer or purveyor. In addition, many if not all of the purveyors at these markets are going to be local to the area, thus promoting "greener" products that haven't been shipped across the country or from around the world.

So it was with this in mind that I accompanied my three Cleveland friends on a trip to two of Cleveland's farmers markets. The first one, the Shaker Square market, occupies the entire central portion of the square, making car travel normally allowed directly through the middle of the square impossible. Cars now had to navigate around the square instead of through it. This is a fairly large market with two entire sets of booths to walk through. Join me now as I walk through the market.

First up, a local bakery, Lucy's Sweet Surrender, offers many of it's baked goods for sale:

And a shot of some of the nut and fruit rolls:

After Lucy's, we walked by a number of other vendors selling anything from homemade soaps to clothing and candles. But it was when I walked by this stand selling Ohio strawberries:

That I had to stop. Quarts of fresh, ripe berries were $5 for 1 and $4 for 2 or more. I quickly got in line and when I arrived at the front of the line, the heady aroma of strawberries filled my nostrils. I breathed the scent deeply and just shut my eyes. Fresh, ripe strawberries have such a short season and I wanted to make a sense memory I could hold on to until next spring. Try getting that sensory experience in a supermarket and you'll likely be disappointed. I quickly bought 2 quarts and moved on, but not before first sampling my spoils and passing some out to my friends.

After finishing up with the first set of booths, we crossed the RTA tracks and headed over to the second set. First up was a woman selling all manner of herbs and plants. I didn't stop to count all the varieties, but it was impressive:

Just past the herbs, we ran into a Cleveland Food and Wine Forum fixture, Ohiohoney. She was selling her wonderful local Ohio honey in various forms:

She also had some amazing Florida Orange Blossom Honey that one of my companions decided to give a try, too. Ohiohoney truly knows the vintages on the products she sells. Another shopper had asked her specific questions about where the honey had come from and when it was harvested. Without batting an eyelash, Ohiohoney knew exactly the information that was needed to answer the question.

Here is a photograph of a placard describing her operation in more detail:

Of course, at farmer's markets, sampling is highly encouraged!

Next to Ohiohoney's stand was the cart for Millgate Farms:

Millgate sells all natural, grass-fed beef in various cuts and grinds. I have bought their ground beef for hamburgers before and I can tell you it is simply marvelous beef and quite tasty. The ground beef is sold in one pound blocks and is frozen, so it's a good idea to bring a cooler stuffed with ice with you when coming to the market.

On one side of the Millgate cart is a poster that I thought was informative and funny at the same time:

"Beef Made Easy". I think one step lower and they might have to relabel this, "Beef For Dummies". Like I said, the poster's title struck my quirky sense of humor as being oddly humorous.

Further down the row we came to another Ohio farmer selling their Ida Reds and Golden Delicious apples:

My friend Debbie (from the Greenhouse Tavern post here) has been totally into pie baking lately and picked up a nice big basket of some of the less pristine fruit. Since it's going into pies, it doesn't have to be picture perfect, right?

Our final stop at the Shaker Square market wasn't actually at the market at all. It was in a store in the square itself, Dewey's Coffee:

They sell Fair Trade coffees here and when we walked into the shop you immediately got the heady aroma of roasted coffee beans. It was around 11 am when we stopped by and the place was buzzing with activity. You can tell that they do a lot of business on the weekends just by the amount of turnover we experienced in our brief stop here.

From there we headed back to the car, packed up the iced coolers and headed to the Coit Road Market on the corner of Coit and Woodworth Roads. This was a much smaller market than the Shaker Square market and as we arrived about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to close, the vendor selection was much smaller.

Fortunately for us, another Cleveland specialty vendor, Spicehound (also on the Food and Wine forum) was there peddling his AMAZING selection of spices, herbs, and salts. I stood in the middle of the table and took a shot to my left, my front, and my right:

Truly a breathtaking array of available spices. And the wonderful thing is that they are all pre-portioned so that each bag is just $1. One bag? $1. Five bags? $5. A beautiful way to be able to pre-package before you show up and then just sell what you have.

I walked away with three different spices, Vietnamese cinnamon (which you could smell right through the plastic), szechuan peppercorns, and dried Thai chiles:

Spicehound also had a series of bags hanging above his table offering dried and powdered versions of the world's hottest known natural chili pepper, the Bih Jolokia:

Prior to the discovery of this pepper, the habanero was thought to be the hottest at somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The Bih Jolokia is now the hottest at over 1,000,000 SHU. Definitely NOT for the faint of heart. I passed on acquiring one of these peppers, worried about what might happen if I were to accidentally touch my eyes (or other sensitive place, ahem!) after handling one of these hotties.

After wrapping up our shopping at the Coit Road Market, we packed up the car and headed back to the suburbs to enjoy the spoils of our adventure today. Besides meeting the farmers, the purveyors, and other market goers, you get a nice morning walk in the sunshine, fresh and amazing food, and the satisfaction of knowing that your money is being reinvested back into the community and local businesses. I encourage you to investigate the farmer's markets wherever you live and by learning to cook seasonally, you will always be in a position to enjoy food at the peak of its flavor and nutrition.
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