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!