Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kloby's Smokehouse

Photography by Fitz
We have been to Kloby's Smokehouse on two occasions. The first time it was fantastic, and the second time it was less than fantastic. Ever the optimist, I'm going to assume the kitchen was just having an "off-day" that second time. Located in Laurel, Maryland, Kloby's promises "great comfort food with a casual environment at an affordable price". As far as I'm concerned, you just can't beat good BBQ. There's really nothing better. And Kloby's offers just about anything that I could ask for from a BBQ joint. They've got brisket, Carolina style pulled pork, ribs, smoked wings, BBQ chicken, and made-from-scratch sides like collard greens, mac & cheese, and baked beans. All the meats are slow roasted in a wood pit, and they make their own sauces as well (which are very good). The sides, compared to the typical BBQ establishment, are definitely in the B+ range. And if you're not quite hungry enough for a big old platter, the sandwich selection at Kloby's is pretty immense.

The environment at Kloby's is indeed casual. It's got a roadhouse meets sports bar type vibe to it, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. It can feel a little crowded given the space limitations versus the number of tables. But, you know, a crowded restaurant is usually a sign that the food is good! I'm a chili freak, and I like that Kloby's makes several versions of chili. I've had two types of chili there, and both times it was meaty, nicely spiced, and overall tremendous. Tami and I are big fans of the smoked whole chicken wings, which we tried on both of our visits. The first time we went, Tami had a pork belly, lettuce, and tomato sandwich off the special menu - and she thought it was completely fantastic. I had the brisket, which I found to be well above average. And brisket, when it's not done right, can be very dry and bland. My sides - collard greens and BBQ brisket beans - were really good too. Having been so impressed with our selections, we wanted to go back and try the baby back ribs. Unfortunately, our ribs were severely overcooked to the point of being charred. They were meaty, and the flavor was quite nice. But they were just too burnt for our tastes, and not quite as tender as they should have been.

Given the totality of our Kloby's experience, we'd still give the place good marks. From an atmosphere/dining experience point of view, it's hard to find much fault. And I don't think I've ever seen a better craft beer selection at a casual restaurant. The beer list is constantly changing, but it always features lots of high quality selections from the Baltimore/D.C./Virginia region. There are so many tremendous beers being produced in the Mid-Atlantic right now, and I think it's cool that Kloby's is showcasing them.

On to the FABS scale: 

Food- I feel bad docking points for the overcooked ribs, but that is kind of a dealbreaker.

Atmosphere- I wish the place were a little less cramped, but that's a minor complaint. 22/25

Beer- This place is a beer lover's dream. 25/25

Service- The only deduction here is that we've noticed that Kloby's may be a little understaffed. The servers really hustle, and the food comes out fast. But the servers are so overworked that we sometimes got "forgotten" after our food came. And a man should never have to wait ten minutes for a beer. 20/25

Overall: 86 (out of 100) 

I would like to go back again at some point and give the ribs another shot. It would please me to revise that food score. The chili and wings are so good....

And a word of advice: if you see the Carolina pig dip on the special menu, do note that it's an appetizer. If you order this item as your meal, as my dad did, you are bound to be disappointed. Who looks over a menu full of delectable slow roasted meats and decides to order a dip?


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Troegs Brewing Company

Photography by Fitz
While not a brew pub per se, the Troegs brewery in Hershey does now serve food. It's quite an amazing complex. Upon entering the brewery, you can shop at the general store, grab a beer at the Tasting Room bar, and purchase food at the snack bar. They have a large open area of tables where you can seat yourself. And afterwards, you can take yourself on a self guided tour of the brewery.

When you think "snack bar", gourmet food usually doesn't come to mind. But the food at Troegs is most definitely gourmet - and quite good! So even though there's no table service, you do get a brew pub type experience. The menu is constantly changing, and they offer specials that are indeed quite special. On our most recent visit, we started with the giant pretzel with barley and sea salt, hand cut fries with hop oil, and grilled pork belly. We didn't necessarily care for the hop oil on the fries (it was a little heavy handed, and it drenched the fries). But the pretzel was out of this world, and the pork belly was fatty and delicious. Can you ever go wrong with a big old soft pretzel?! I ordered from the special board and got a pork belly Reuben that was insanely good. Tami ordered chicken pot pie in a pan, which she liked very much. My parents joined us on this occasion, with my mom getting grilled cheese and tomato soup and my dad getting pork soft tacos. I don't think they were disappointed - although my dad wasn't particularly hungry since he'd just eaten breakfast an hour-and-a-half prior. We should have given him another 20 minutes.

Looking at the latest Troegs snack bar menu, I see lots of items that are new. They're currently serving such items as a maple glazed pork belly with poached egg and brioche crumbles, duck confit with dry rub lentils and orange marmalade, braised lamb shepherd's pie with peas and duck fat mashed potatoes, Mad Elf fondue, meatloaf on brioche, and an oyster po'boy. No, this is not the place to go for burgers, wings, or nachos. It's not traditional pub fare, and by no means is it cheap. I think Tami and I spent $42 on our share of the meal - not including beer. But to be honest, we'd pay just as much or more at almost any brew pub. The food is worth the price, and Troegs' beer is up there with Victory Brewing as the very best craft beer in the state. I had a pint of Troegenator - one of my favorite beers - for just $5. Sometimes they offer experimental "scratch" beers - which cannot be bought in stores. They're usually really good. And I always look forward to their seasonals. We'll need to go back this spring so I can have a Sunshine Pils on draught!

Let's go to the FABS scale:

Food - We deducted points for the soggy, heavily oiled fries. But still, quite good! 20/25

Atmosphere- Befitting an establishment so close to Hersheypark, the tasting room/snack bar is casual and family friendly. There's lots of room, a friendly vibe, and adequate parking outside. 22/25

Beer- Come on: it's Troegs! 25/25

Service- Bartenders are very attentive and know how to work a crowded bar. We didn't have to wait long for our food after ordering at the snack bar.  If you don't mind the lack of table service, it's a really neat experience. 21/25

Total: 88 (out of 100)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cafe Bruges

Photography by Fitz
It was unanimous. Burger of the Year 2012, according to Tami and I both, is the Bruges Burger at Cafe Bruges in Carlisle. So fantastic is this burger that I will now end this paragraph so I may pause to reflect on its deliciousness. Gimme a minute.

Located in historic downtown Carlisle, Cafe Bruges is to my knowledge the only authentic Belgian restaurant in central Pennsylvania. We have visited the place three times, and not once have we failed to receive perfect food. Perhaps it helps that we order the same thing every time. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Here's what we always get: frites with house made dipping sauce (Tami gets mustard mayo, I get Dijon mustard), fried cheese croquettes, the Bruges Burger, and a dessert waffle. And, of course, I always get one or two of their Belgian beers on draught (they also have hundreds in bottles). There are certainly other interesting items on the menu (soups, mussels, pork loin, stew). But as Tami likes to say, it's a bad idea to stray. The Bruges Burger is not just the burger of the year but also perhaps the burger of the decade. They use locally farmed beef, and the flavor/seasoning is just unbelievable. When I taste a restaurant burger this good, it pisses me off that other places can't even come close to delivering a similar burger. The frites come out in a big old cone, and they've been crispy and piping hot every time we've gotten them. Best fries of the year? Probably! The fried cheese croquettes, made with Gruyere and Parmesan, are crazy-good. And, really, is there any better way to end a meal than with a freshly-made Belgian waffle? Any of these components, individually, would be worth the 45-minute drive. But put them all together, and you've got the best meal a person could ever ask for. And if you can't find a beer to like in a Belgian restaurant, you might as well be drinking Coor's Light! I just had the Troubadour imperial stout, which was divine.

Alright! On to the FABS scale!

Food- No further elaboration necessary! 25/25
Atmosphere- A really cute, cozy set-up inside a historic building. Inviting place full of happy customers. 25/25
Beer- Ten taps. Palm, Bavik, Troubadour, Monk's Cafe, Wittekerke, and more! 23/25
Service- Three trips so far, and every time every aspect of the service has been outstanding. Great staff! 25/25 

Total- 98 (out of 100)

We apologize sincerely for the lack of a waffle picture. We were so excited to eat it that we neglected to photograph it!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ida's Cafe

Photography by Fitz
Located on Roherestown Rd. in Lancaster, Ida's Cafe is probably best known for its breakfast. It's just down the road from another great breakfast/lunch place, The Pantry. Since we already reviewed The Pantry, it's time to see how Ida's rates in comparison. We do, after all, go to The Pantry almost every week.

We had breakfast at Ida's today, and it's certain that we will be going back very soon! Whatever you've heard about the greatness of their food is...absolutely true! It's a little place, with a seating capacity of 60. If you're eating there on a weekend morning, you're likely going to have to wait. Don't sweat it. It's worth it. We always love places like this - where the food is actually homemade and inspired by family home cooking. I had the cream chipped beef. Ordinarily, that's a very watered-down "greasy spoon" sort of dish. But Ida's has found a way to elevate it! It was far and away the best cream chipped beef I've ever had. It was creamy and surprisingly meaty. And my side of bacon was, well, it's pretty hard to screw up bacon. And this place certainly doesn't. Tami had the grilled sticky bun and a ham & cheese omelet. I believe this was her first time ever having a Pennsylvania style grilled sticky, and she absolutely loved it. I had a taste of it myself, and it was just ridiculous. It was so buttery and flaky and crazy delicious. Mmmm! Tami ordered the omelet as a test. If they failed to produce a first-rate omelet, they were going to be in serious trouble. But they did not come up short. Minor points were deducted because there wasn't quite enough cheese, but from a flavor standpoint, Tami offered rave reviews. All in all, we had a dynamite meal. We probably waited about 15-20 minutes for a table, but we had no complaints. And once we were seated, the service was friendly and fast. The food came out in a flash. The service was great in general - both the cashier/hostess and our server were super nice and very good at their jobs.

On to the FABS scale (again modified to omit our standard beer category)...
Food- Just about perfect. I look forward to going back and trying their lunch! 33/33 1/3
Atmosphere- Cute little place. Minor deduction for all the tables being on top of each other. 31/33 1/3
Service- You can tell this is something they value. 33/33 1/3

Total- 97 (out of 100). 

Given that we're in the area most weekends to buy groceries, it seems likely that we will become Ida's regulars. That was a damn fine breakfast! Maybe we'll have to resort to a rotating schedule between Ida's and The Pantry!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Joe's Famous American Kitchen

Photography by Fitz

Well! It's been a while since our last post. During football season we don't get out much. We have Penn State, Notre Dame, and the Philadelphia Eagles keeping us home during the weekends. But last night we decided to go grocery shopping after the Notre Dame/Wake Forest game. We usually shop in Lancaster since we hate the supermarkets in York. Tami did some Internet research on places to eat in Lancaster and stumbled upon Joe's Famous American Kitchen. To put it mildly, we struck gold!

Located in an upscale town center shopping complex at the corner of the Fruitville Pike and Route 722, Joe's is not your typical burger joint. Tami and I are both burger lovers, and we seem to be in agreement that the burgers from Joe's are the best we've had all year. I am more than willing to pay a little more for a higher quality product. Joe's Burgers are made from a blend of uncured beef brisket and chuck. The bread comes from LeBus bakery in Philadelphia. Artisanal cheeses come from Town Clock Shoppe in Gap. The fries are fresh cut. I had signature burger #3, The Hot Mess - topped with chili, cheddar, jalapeno peppers, onion, and tomato. With fries and a drink, my combo came to $12. Considering the quality of the food, I found that price quite reasonable. I'm so sick of places with mediocre burgers. Joe's delivered the incredible tasting burger I've been craving for months! It was so juicy and flavorful, and the chili topping was insane! The roll alone almost had me jumping up and down. Tami ordered a build-your-own burger, which she loved so much that she had stop herself from devouring it before she had the chance to savor it. She wanted to lick her plate when she was done! The fries were great as well, and I think it's cool that you can order special dipping sauces to go with them (I tried Apricot-Dijon). And be sure to save room for dessert - we both had milkshakes (chocolate malt and salty caramel) and split a cupcake.

The menu at Joe's is pretty basic, and I think that's what makes the place great. Essentially, they do burgers, fries, and hot dogs along with a few other specialties (fried pickles, lobster bisque, fresh salads). They are really good at what they do, and all I could think is that a place like Fuddruckers wishes it could be this good! The atmosphere is friendly and casual, with a really cute pop art motif. I can't wait to go back and try a hot dog along with an order of sweet potato fries and sea salt caramel dipping sauce! Mmm!

Quickly, let's put Joe's up against our FABS scale. The Beer category has been omitted since this is not an establishment that serves alcohol.

Food- A+ quality burgers, great fresh cut fries, infinite deliciousness. 33/33 1/3

Atmosphere- Casual, comfortable, family friendly. 30/33 1/3

Service- All staff was super-friendly, and the food comes out quickly. 32/33 1/3

Total - 95 (out of 100) 

I believe we've found our new favorite burger place!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mellow Mushroom

Photography by Fitz

Mellow Mushroom is a pizza chain, but its stores are not cookie cutter copies of each other. At its highest level of command, M.M. believes in great pizza and good beer (fine things to believe in, I'd say!). It also believes that each restaurant should be somewhat unique. Pretty neat, eh? We ate at the Delray Beach store while vacationing in Florida, and everything about our experience there was positive. The pizza was as good as advertised, and the beer selection had me jumping up and down!

The Delray Beach Mellow Mushroom is like a sports bar, ale house, and family-friendly pizza joint all rolled into one. It's got lots of big screen TVs and tons of cool pop art (much of it mushroom themed). And let's just say I was in beer heaven when it came to the beverage selection. They had something like 49 taps, and it was almost all good stuff. They had offerings from Abita, Bells, Dogfish Head, Magic Hat, Shipyard, Avery, and a ton of other breweries I like. I ended up having a Stone Smoked Porter and a Rogue Dead Guy, two of my favorite beers ever. Tami and I continued our on-going pretzel craze by ordering the fresh dough pretzels with beer cheese for dipping. They were great! They weren't traditional pretzels like we're used to up north. They were like twisted pizza dough. Total win! And then we had pizza, which came in perfect little personal sizes (10 inches - they also had two larger options). Of course I ordered the Mighty Meaty, which had pepperoni, ham, sausage, and applewood smoked bacon on it! Pizza to me is something that's hard to screw up, but some pizzas are clearly better than others. This was really a phenomenal pizza. It had a thin wheat crust with a corn meal coating, and you know I loved all that meat! All in all, the pizza was crispy and flavorful. And most crucially it was not oversauced. Tami went with one of her favorite pizza styles- classic Hawaiian. She loved it, and that was the real determining factor in the Mellow Mushroom's overall score. If you can please me in the beer department and impress Tami in the pizza department, you're going to do well in our book!

On to the FABS scale!
Food- Pizza and pretzels done right. Thumbs up! 23/25
Beer- If you like craft and imported beer, this is the place to go. 24/25
Atmosphere- A great place for families and beach goers alike. 23/25
Service- Friendly and efficient. Our food came out fast! 24/25

Total- 94 (out of 100)

If we go back to Delray Beach, we're going to two places for sure: Dada and Mellow Mushroom!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Cabana El Ray

Photography by Fitz
"Nuevo-Latino"? We just couldn't resist. We were in southern Florida. How could we pass up a chance at some Latin/Caribbean yumminess? Cabana is a small chain with locations in New York, West Palm Beach, and Delray Beach. I only had two gripes. One was that you can only get their sandwiches at lunchtime (no Cuban for me!). The other was that our service was slowwwwwwww. And it wasn't that way for everybody. It was our server. We saw other parties come in after us and leave well before we did. I'm all for taking your time and enjoying a good meal. But two hours and 15 minutes is too long to sit, especially when you're stuck in a corner near some wanna-be cougar on a dinner date, carrying on loudly about swingers' nude beaches and how her 67-year-old mother has "chunked out".

First things first: the Mariquitas are to die for. They're an awesome twist on chips and salsa. The chips are made from thinly sliced plantains and served with garlic mojo and avocado salsa (aka guacamole). Tami and I are both guacamole freaks, and this particular guac was almost as good as the stuff we had in Mexico. The chips were great. Who doesn't love crispy fried plantains? Total win on appetizers. After wrestling with the idea of ordering fish (this would have been the place to get Chilean sea bass!), I settled on the Parrillada. It was a mixed grill platter with grilled chicken breast, churrasco, longaniza sausage, morcilla, and Spanish chorizo. Do the math: that's one chicken breast, a skirt steak, and three sausages. It was a platter made for meatheads like me. Tami kept commenting on how gross my pig's blood sauage looked, but it was pretty tasty. The chicken was a little bland and slightly tough. But the skirt steak was wonderful, and the chorizo was out of this world. Didn't Meat Loaf say that four out of five ain't bad? He didn't? Oh well. It needs to be noted that the rice and beans were probably the best rice and beans I've ever had. Talk about elevated! Tami ordered Chuletas de Cerdo - garlic marinated center cut pork chops. She thought they were alright but perhaps a little "one note" in flavor. She ordered a side of yuca fries, which she thought tasted great but were impossible to finish due to heavy starchiness. Dessert was insanely good. We both ordered banana zepoles with banana ice cream and fresh bananas. They were, uh, bananas. 

Let's go to the FABS scale:
Food- Overall, really good nuevo Latin fare. We'd go back. 21/25
Atmosphere- Definitely a chic, classy looking place that seems perfect for a beach town in southern Florida. 21/25
Beer- A so-so selection of bottled mediocrities. Eh. 12/25
Service- Two hours and fifteen minutes? At least they could have shown us a movie. 14/25

Total: 68 (out of 100)

I know- that score seems unreasonably low. Perhaps it's a flaw in the scale. Like I said, we'd go back.