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.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant

Photography by Fitz
For many years I've been a big fan of the Delaware Valley brew pub chain Iron Hill. Since the Lancaster location opened, it's been a preferred location for family gatherings. Out of all the brew pubs in the York/Lancaster/Harrisburg area, I'd probably rank Iron Hill in the top two or three. The only knocks I have on Iron Hill are that their year-round beers are kind of pedestrian and their food is a tad pricey for pub fare. But their seasonal beers are always phenomenal, and the food is usually good enough to justify the cost.

Our latest trip to Iron Hill, back on August 1st, was satisfying as always. I always go right to their large selection of seasonal beers. They had several interesting choices on tap, but I went with an ale called a Smokin' Brunette. It was the best beer I've ever had at Iron Hill - a blend of light chocolate malt and Belgian yeast with a touch of cherry wood smoke. Mmmmmmm! I dream of the day when they'll bottle this concoction. I saw that they had an old school session ale made with corn called the Tailgater. Since my dad was quite the fan of American lagers in the late '60s and early '70s, I suggested he try the Tailgater. I don't think he was disappointed. I usually like to try two different beers when I go to Iron Hill, but I was so in love with the Smokin' Brunette that I had another.

Food-wise, it was the usual solid showing from Iron Hill. The chips and guacamole were passable but probably not up to Mexican restaurant standards. No big deduction there. The Brewmaster's egg roll sampler (cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken, and Oktoberfest) is something we get almost every time we go. It's not cheap, but that doesn't stop us from ordering it. It was up to its usual standards Wednesday night. An Iron Hill specialty for sure! Surprise, surprise - for my entree I ordered a burger! I went with the Santa Fe Burger, topped with poblano peppers, pepper jack cheese, and a chipotle dressing. While not the best burger I've had this year, it was probably a close second. It was immensely flavorful and perfectly cooked. Unlike certain other places, Iron Hill doesn't think that "medium" means "medium well". The sweet potato fries, always a standout at Iron Hill, seem to have gotten fatter. I ain't complaining. Tami, a true connoisseur of pizza, ordered a simple pepperoni pizza and liked it quite a bit. If she's giving it the thumbs up, it's got to be good. Pizza is one of those things you ought to do well if you're a brew pub.

Let's go to the FABS scale:
Food- Cook my burger perfectly, and I have to give you solid marks. Be sure to try the meatloaf. 22/25
Atmosphere- Basically it's like an upscale sports bar. It's classy, loud, and fun. 21/25
Beer- You can never go wrong with the seasonals. 23/25
Service- I've been to Iron Hill at least a dozen times, and I can't say I've ever had poor service. 23/25

Total - 89 (out of 100)

And since my father was present, we may also include the George Scale on this occasion. I believe his exact words were "superb", an unprecedented superlative exceeding even the "excellent" he gave The Corner Stable. He loves the gumbo.

If you like brew pubs, the Delaware Valley is the place to be. Beer-wise, I'd say Iron Hill isn't quite at the level of a Victory or even a Sly Fox. But food-wise, I'd give Iron Hill the edge.


Thursday, August 16, 2012


Photography by Fitz
It was unanimous. Tami and I agreed that the best restaurant food we'd ever had was at Dada. This was after our first visit to the popular Delray Beach establishment last Monday. We went back again three nights later and liked it even more! Should we ever return to Delray Beach, the entire reason will be for another taste of Dada.

The risk of creating an art-themed restaurant (they don't call it Dada for nothing!) is that it could potentially come off as really snooty or pretentious. But Dada is the complete opposite of that! It's an inviting, friendly place loved by regulars and tourists alike. Sure, it's a "cool" restaurant inspired by the Cabaret Voltaire. But you don't have to be cool to eat there. All the staff we encountered were super nice, and all in all it's just a really fun place to be. The building is a beautiful little house that dates back to 1924 (restored in 2000 when the restaurant opened). And while the cool art pieces and hipster music (nothing like hearing "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths at the dinner table!) are a huge part of the atmosphere, the real star at Dada is the food. Bruce Feingold is the executive chef, and I'm pretty well convinced that he possesses magic powers. I don't usually go for "fine dining", and that's probably not the correct term anyway. Dada's food has all the quality and creativity of fine dining cuisine, but it's more accessible to the average person. It's not "high brow" - it's just great. The Dada dates were so good that just thinking about them makes my mouth water. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and chorizo? Yes, please! We had them both nights. We tried two other appetizers - a grilled brie on toasted French bread with honey garlic butter (excellent) and a grilled braised beef flatbread with scallions, water chestnut, blue cheese, and guava (even better!). The flavor combinations at this place are just ridiculous. And the entrees? Oh boy! I had Bea's meatloaf, a "twist on a classic" that was insanely delicious and a great deal at $16. And on night two, I had the fileted red snapper special. It was one of the best tasting pieces of fish I've ever had. Tami had the seven-cheese grilled cheese with tomato soup on Monday and a filet special on Thursday. She's pretty demanding when it comes to steaks, and she absolutely loved the filet. Any place that can cook a perfect steak will always be a favorite of ours.

And now the best part: desserts! It was a tough choice between the Dada smores (graham cracker crust with rich dark chocolate mousse and marshmallow meringue) and the warm banana bread with caramelized banana caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. I agonized over the decision, and in the end I chose the former while Tami had the latter. Neither of us was disappointed. On Thursday, we both had the cinnamon swirl. Imagine the best cinnamon bun you've ever had. Yeah, it was that good. And for just $5? Don't these people realize they could charge twice that much?

Let's go to the FABS scale!
Food- I'm going to award an unprecedented bonus point for perfection. 26/25
Atmosphere - The place lives up to its name. I expected to find Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp sitting at the bar. 25/25
Beer- Not exactly a beer drinker kind of place, but they do offer a small selection of fine craft beers in cans. I had Summit's small batch Dunkel Weizen. 19/25
Service- No superior attitudes at this place. Our food came out fast, and those servers really have to move considering how full the place gets. 25/25

Total- 95 (out of 100)

Yeah, Dada rules.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hollerbach’s Willow Street Café

Photography by Fitz
I would very much like to refer to Hollerbach's as the greatest place in the world. However, I've already given that honor to Marino's Beverage Depot in Sylvania, Ohio. And clearly it's mathematically impossible for there to be two Greatest Places In the World. So Hollerbach's shall instead be referred to as The Best Place Ever. Located in beautiful downtown Sanford, Florida, Hollerbach's was the first stop on our Floridian epic eating tour. Cousins Ryan and Julie, who graciously hosted us for three nights in Orlando, took us up to Sanford for what I hoped would be the German feast of my dreams. Hollerbach's claims to serve "the freshest expertly prepared German Food in Central Florida". They aim for their patrons to "experience German Gemuetlichkeit" (a sense of well-being and happiness that comes from enjoying the company of friends and family while savoring good food and drink). On both counts, I'd say they've succeeded!

It's hard to go wrong when you start with an entire liter of beer. Out of several choices of German draft beer, I opted for Krombacher Dark. There are few things in life better than a good German dark lager, and Krombacher is one of the best. I've previously mentioned that Tami and I have a little bit of a soft pretzel obsession. Hollerbach's Riesen Brezen has taken it to a whole new level. This thing was divine - a gigantic 10-ounce German imported pretzel, served piping hot out of the oven with sweet Bavarian mustard and a beer cheese made with cream cheese, sour cream, diced onions, salt, pepper, and sweet paprika. The four of us devoured two of these bad boys. Tami and I agreed that it was the best pretzel we've ever had. If we had left the restaurant after eating nothing but the pretzel, I would have been content. But why just be content when you can feast? I ordered the Kaiser Wurst Teller - a three sausage platter with three sides. I opted for Bratwurst, Mettwurst, and Nurnberger sausages. My sides were sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and Kase spatzel. I passed, with great sorrow, on the sweet red cabbage. But I have no regrets. Choices had to be made. All my sides were superb - so superb, in fact, that they were my favorite component of the platter. And keep in mind that the sausages were great. The kraut was sweet and tasty, the spatzel was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the pancakes were crispy and delicious. Tami, who also had the three sausage platter, ordered potato dumplings and an item called heaven and earth - mashed potatoes with onions, bacons, and apples. She loved the dumplings but found the heaven and earth to be a little too sweet. If we go back...let me rephrase that, when we go back, I want to try the schnitzel. Ryan seemed to have little complaint with his.

I would have liked to have added some thoughts on the sweet fare at Hollerbach's, but we were all too stuffed to even think about dessert. And you know that I ordinarily live by the credo that there's always room for sweets. Maybe next time! 

Now let's subject Hollerbach's to our FABS scale:

Food- I can die now. 25/25
Atmosphere- A really fun place. Not formal or fancy. A cute cafe set-up that's bright and comfortable. We were too early for the live German music. The only deduction is for the street parking situation. But what are you gonna do in a downtown setting? 24/25
Beer- Come on, man. It's German beer off the tap! And I ain't talkin' about Beck's. 25/25
Service- All in all, service was fast and friendly. One point subtracted since we had to wait a little too long for our check. 24/25

Total score- 98 (out of 100)

Yep, The Best Place Ever. And food-wise, it wasn't even the highlight of our trip! How could this food possibly be topped? Stay tuned to find out!


Friday, August 3, 2012

The Corner Stable

Photography by Fitz
Not to be confused with the Corner Stable in York, Pennsylvania, The Corner Stable in Cockeysville, Maryland advertises the best crab cakes and ribs in the Baltimore area. Given that Baltimore is the crab cake capital of the free world, that boast seems just a little "much". I will say, however, that their crab cakes are indeed excellent. But let's not get out of hand. Best in Baltimore? I don't know. Let's say one of the best in Baltimore, which itself is no small feat.

The baby back ribs at The Corner Stable are the stuff of legend. They import them from Denmark. That's right - Denmark! Why? Who knows? Whatever they're doing is working, though. You don't last 40 years in the ribs business if your product isn't top drawer (first and last Auntie Mame reference you'll ever see on FGO!). On the occasion of my mother's 39th birthday, we dined at The Corner Stable as a family. Present were my parents, my sister, my grandfather, and both Fitzledges. A table for six at a place like The Corner Stable can prove problematic if you're not a fan of things like restricted limb movement and getting continually bumped into by servers and patrons. The place packs in a whole lot of people into not a whole lot of space. If a crowded venue is not quite your style, I'd perhaps suggest dining at this establishment at an off-time. But you will want to go because the food is really good.

I cannot personally vouch for the ribs because I was a contrarian and ordered a burger. Come on: how was I supposed to turn down a "monster ten ounce seasoned Certified Angus Beef Burger topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, homemade onion strings, our famous stable onion sauce and BBQ sauce"? Sounds amazing, doesn't it? So how was it? Well, it was, uh, big. To be honest, it was a tad bit overcooked (maybe this is one of those places where "medium" means "medium well"). The roll was really fantastic, and the flavor of the patty was pretty nice. I'd give the burger a "B". But I must admit that I wish I'd done the sensible thing and ordered ribs. Or crab cakes. Tami had ribs and found them very flavorful and tender. Her only real complaint was that she prefers a thicker sauce, as opposed to The Corner Stable Sauce that's more like a baste. She did like the flavor of the sauce, which was spicy and sweet. These weren't necessarily the meatiest ribs we've ever had. I believe Tami and I are a little spoiled when it comes to ribs ever since we discovered JoBoy's in Manheim. Overall her take on the Corner Stable ribs: not as good as JoBoy's, but better than Famous Dave's (another favorite of ours). And for the record, my parents and grandfather thought the ribs were absolutely spectacular.

I do give The Corner Stable major points for fries. They were fresh-cut, piping hot, and absolutely delicious. Apps weren't bad - we got perfectly decent chicken wings and fried cheese nuggets that had sort of a tator tot exterior. Tami thought the shrimp was good but overseasoned with Old Bay. And rarely do you hear my wife raving about cole slaw, but she had high praise for The Corner Stable slaw. I think she appreciated that they didn't chop the shit out of it.

How did The Corner Stable fare according to our FABS scale?

Food- All in all, quite good. I have a feeling the score would be even higher if it weren't just the two of us voting. Plus I'm admitting bad judgment in not getting ribs or crab cake. 20/25
Atmosphere- The place is cozy with a neat horse racing motif in the decor. But they've got too many tables for their space. And parking spaces are scarce. 17/25
Beer- Better than expected for this kind of place. They had Harpoon IPA and Fat Tire on draught plus Samuel Adams and the typical swill. 17/25
Service- Considering the business this place does, the speed and friendliness of the service are really commendable. The staff is always on the move. High marks here. 24/25

Total Score- 78 (out of 100)

For the second time, we are also able to implement the George Scale since my father was present. He rated the place as "excellent", which surpasses his previous max rating of "pretty good". I would roughly equate that to six stars out of a possible five.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dogfish Head Alehouse

Photography by Fitz
Dogfish Head is without doubt one of the top five craft breweries in the United States. And since the foundation of any brew pub is great beer, I had high hopes for the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Tami and I stopped there for lunch today after a shopping excursion to The Container Store in Rockville. We started studying the menu last night while eating at Cracker Barrel, and right away I was salivating over the chili and bratwurst. Leave it to me to be thinking about my next meal while I'm still eating my current meal. I am my father's son.

Tami and I have been to a ton of brew pubs, so we have certain expectations when we try a new one. Obviously, the beer has to be top-notch. That's a given at Dogfish Head. I had a 90 Minute I.P.A., which with good reason is considered to be one of the best I.P.A.s in America. I also had an Indian Brown Ale - a sublime blend of I.P.A., Scotch ale, and American brown. They had a lot of specialty beers on tap in addition to their year-round offerings, but I decided to stay conservative in my choices today. I have no regrets. We're two hours away from the nearest Dogfish Head location, so it's not like I get to drink a 90 Minute I.P.A. on draught every day.

Another must in our book is high quality appetizers. We ordered two of our go-to restaurant apps today: chicken wings and spinach & artichoke dip. The wings were pretty darn great. They had a really nice flavor and were cooked perfectly. They weren't as "meaty" as some wings we've had elsewhere, but that's a minor complaint. I enjoyed the spin dip, but Tami did think there was a little too much spinach in it and not enough, as she likes to put it, "gooey goodness". Tami had a burger and felt it had a very good texture and flavor. She thought it was a little too greasy - as were the fries. I had the alehouse bratwurst, and boy was that a thing of beauty! It was two wood-grilled brats served on pretzel rolls with beer seasoned banana pepper sauerkraut. It came with a side of chili and tortilla chips. I go crazy for a good chili, and this chili was everything I hoped it would be. I believe it makes my personal top ten. As for the brats, they were insane. What could be better than a grilled sausage on a soft pretzel? I really cannot imagine myself ordering anything different the next time we go down to DFA, although I am intrigued by the alehouse mac and cheese and steak bomb sandwich.

All in all, I'd rate this as one of the best brew pub experiences I've had in a while. Let's see how it does according to our FABS scale:

Food- Really good on the whole, but some of the prices seemed a little excessive. $9.50 for spin dip? $11 for a burger? But I could eat a tub of that chili. 22/25
Beer- Come on - it's Dogfish Head! 25/25
Atmosphere- A fun, casual place. Nice-looking tables, outdoor seating for those who enjoy that (not us!), big screen TVs to watch sports. Bar is separate from main dining area. 23/25
Service- All our servers were friendly and attentive, but we did have to wait a little while for our check because our main server got busy. 21/25
Total score - 91 (out of 100)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Pantry

The Pantry claims to serve the best breakfast in Lancaster. It's not bragging if it's true! Essentially a dive on the Marietta Pike (gravel parking lot and all!), The Pantry packs 'em in for one reason and one reason only: the food is absolutely phenomenal. This is the kind of joint that every town ought to have: very "basic" ambiance, huge crowds, and food that keeps everyone coming back. Tami and I were going to be grocery shopping in the area today (anything to avoid having to go to Giant in York), so we decided to try The Pantry. My mom has been raving about the place for years, and it didn't take us long to see why. We got there around 11:00 AM (prime time for a Sunday breakfast service), and it was crowded. We were lucky enough, though, to find a parking space and a seat after a short wait. We were greeted by a friendly server who seemed stunned that we were polite and easy to deal with (must have been a rough morning!). After a very short wait, we got our food. Tami got their famous cinnamon swirl French toast. Her only complaint was that she wasn't hungry enough to order another one on the spot! She said her bacon was even better than the buffet bacon at the Conewago Inn in Manchester/York Haven (our previous gold standard for bacon supremacy in the area). I had one the country skillets, and I was equally impressed. My dad has tried in vain for years to find the "hoagie of his youth". Well, the scrambled eggs at The Pantry came pretty close to the eggs of my youth. I upgraded to the 14-grain toast, which may have been one of the best decisions of my entire life. All I can say is wow. Bonus points for the fresh brewed iced tea!

We are very excited to go back to The Pantry and will most likely do so next weekend. There's so much stuff on their menu that looks delicious (baked oatmeal with fresh fruit?!). I'm half-kicking myself for passing up a corn beef hash special today, but tough choices have to be made in life. You can tell they use all locally farmed ingredients, and the prices are quite reasonable considering the higher quality.

Since The Pantry does not serve alcoholic beverages, the usual FABS scale will have to be modified for this review. All categories are worth 33 1/3 points.
Food- Based on today's experience, we have to award the A+. 33.3/33.3
Atmosphere- It's a dive, but it's a cute dive. Lack of a waiting area is slightly problematic. 29/33.3
Service - Considering the crowd, we received our food quite quickly and were given efficient, courteous attention. 31/33.3
Total Score- 93 1/3 (out of 100)


Bully's Restaurant and Pub

Bully's in Columbia, Pennsylvania is a classy bar/restaurant with a casual feel. Around these parts it's well-known for its tremendous selection of craft beer. If you're looking for a decent beer with a meal, this is the place to go. On tap yesterday were Dogfish Head Saison Du Buff and Festina Peche, Founders Centennial IPA, Bell's Oberon, Sea Dog Blue Paw, Cigar City Jai Alai, and quite a few others. But while that's fine and dandy if you're a beer lover like me, what if you don't drink beer? Tami's not a beer drinker, so the key for us is to find places where the food and the beer are on-point. How did Bully's rate in our book?

We met my mom and dad at Bully's yesterday at 2:30. The place was pretty much empty, so we had a great deal of attention from our servers. Given that this was the first establishment I was reviewing for this blog, we decided to put Bully's to the ultimate test: wings and burgers. If you can't do wings and burgers right, you're in trouble. Overall the wings were good, but the slightly underfried skin made them just a little chewy. We prefer a crisper chicken wing. Minor points off. The sauce flavor (we picked medium) was nice. Tami and I both ordered a medium-cooked burger with bacon and cheddar. Tami's burger was a tad overcooked, while mine was pretty well right on the money. We found the taste of the burger to be above average but less than exceptional. We both really liked the brioche roll, and the fresh cut fries were absolutely spectacular. These were definitely some of the best fries we've had anywhere this year. My dad ordered fish and chips, which looked tremendous. We did notice that he didn't care for his chips, which were seasoned potato wedges that he barely touched. For dessert, Tami had a creme brulee. She thought it was good, but that it could have used some fruit for balance. I had some sort of parfait that looked much better than it tasted.

Will we be going back to Bully's? Probably. At the very least, the place passed the wings-and-burgers test. Granted, it was more of a "B" pass than an A+ pass. But those fries will pull us back in. And I can't think of another place within 500 miles where I can get a Founders beer on tap. Next time I'm trying the chili!

How did Bully's do on the FABS scale?
Food- All in all not bad, but the fries were the only thing that was exceptional. 19/25
Atmosphere- A nice-looking place with classic pub decor. Music was a little loud. 23/25
Beer- It's hard to beat this place in the beer department. 24/25
Service- We had no complaints, but at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon you should be getting good service. 22/25
Total Score - 88 (out of 100)

In addition to our FABS scale, if my father is present for a meal we'll also include the George Scale. Asked to rate his overall experience yesterday, he said it was "fine". This is roughly equivalent to four out of five stars, since "pretty good" is generally my dad's highest form of praise for a restaurant.


The Odyssey Begins

Mmm, Packo's!
Whiz wit!

It all started with a diet. Tami and I resolved to eat better going into 2012. And so we did. We cut out all the sweets and the pop and the deep-fried goodies. We prepared healthy meals and dutifully ate them night after night. Tami gave up milk; I cut back on beer. It didn't take us long to realize that we could not keep this up seven days a week. Eating right was just no fun! So one Saturday, we decided a cheat meal was in order. This quickly became a weekly ritual: the Saturday cheat. The single cheat meal turned into an entire cheat day replete with diner breakfast and a mandatory trip to the cupcake shop. This gave us something to look forward to all week. We'd often start planning the Saturday cheat the previous Sunday night. Because this was our one chance all week to pig out properly, we had to make it count. We'd research places to go. We'd travel great distances. We started inviting my parents to join us. And now, even with our diets somewhat relaxed, it doesn't seem like a Saturday if we're not going off on some sort of culinary adventure.

Welcome to our blog. This will be a true account of our weekly food excursions. All establishments will be rated according to ours FABS scale. Food, atmosphere, beer, and service will each be worth up to 25 points. We're not really into "fine dining". Think more along the lines of brew pubs, sports bars, and barbeque joints. We like burgers, wings, soft pretzels, and nachos. You know: pub food! Most of the places we'll visit will be in the York/Harrisburg/Lancaster area, but at times we'll venture into the outskirts of Baltimore and the suburbs of Philadelphia. We'll also be traveling- next month to Florida and eventually back to the Midwest.

Thanks for reading!