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.