Thursday, October 31, 2013

St. Louis' Best Balls, Installment 7: The Mediterranean Grill

Full disclosure - The Mediterranean Grill invited me to try some of their food, on-the-house, as a way to start some word-of-mouth about their food, which they are clearly passionate about. That said, I did not promise to write anything about them... I figured it would be a nice night out with friends (other food bloggers were invited, and you know I love my other food bloggers!), and if I had nothing nice to say, I'd say nothing at all. (Interested in  blogging ethics? Check out this good list of guidelines from Diane Jacobs) As it turns out... there's plenty of nice things to say about The Mediterranean Grill! There will be plenty more visits.

The Mediterranean Grill is Located in Chesterfield Valley, which is known more for it's plethora of big-box retail stores and chain restaurants than it is for interesting independent food. The Mediterranean Grill is an oasis in a strip-mall... owned by a husband and wife team, all recipes by the husband, who is originally from Israel. His influences are a vast array, as Israel is a place of diverse cultures. Moroccan, Middle-Eastern, Greek... The Mediterranean Grill's menu has them all... and they are done well. Fresh, thoughtful, made with love and from scratch. Just look at this beautiful hummus! 

Of course, I was most interested in their balls. Above is the falafel. Uh ohhhh.... my favorite falafel (Pita+... see post here) has some competition. Fluffy, flavorful, fried discs of chick peas and herbs. Good stuff!

Then there is the Kubbeh, a ball that is completely new to me. It is football shaped cracked wheat magically filled with ground beef, onions, pine nuts and spices then fried. Did I mention magic? These were my favorite thing all night (and I tried lots of very good food). They have a nice sweetness to them, from the wheat and the meat's spice blend. And pine nuts... I love anything with pine nuts :)

I encourage all you city-centric foodies to venture out to The Mediterranean Grill... you will not be sorry! 

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Roadtrip Recap: Louisville, Kentucky

I last left you in Asheville, North Carolina. Now let's see what's happening in Louisville, KY. Yes, I skipped over Myrtle Beach, SC.... I loved it there, but the food/booze scene was lacking. I guess with the pretty beach and tacky souvenir shops, nobody cares much? There was delicious calamari everywhere, at least.  

Louisville, however... what a surprise! Besides all the bourbon/whiskey distilleries, there are some really interesting places to eat great food and drink great beer (and whiskey).

The first night we went to Milkwood, Chef Edward Lee's second restaurant in Louisville. I would love to go back and eat at his first joint, 610 Magnolia. The chef was on a book tour, so we didn't see him that night (I'm kicking myself for not going to his event in St. Louis just a couple weeks before this trip), but the food at Milkwood was outstanding. Homemade pickles and charcuterie and GARLIC BUTTER. Yeah, like apple butter but made from garlic. Glorious! The waitress brought me an extra portion because my garlic tattoo was showing :) What a gem of a restaurant located in what seemed to be a pretty vibrant downtown area. Reasonably priced, to boot!

Then there was Bourbon. We toured 3 distilleries on the "Whiskey Trail:" Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker's Mark. A tip about distillery tours: they are only open until 3 pm or earlier... plan on morning/early afternoon trips so you can go to more than we were able to. These 3 were a good variety, but I would have loved to go to some of the smaller craft distilleries. Next time. Visiting the big guys, though, was neat, and I learned a lot about Bourbon. Did you know that they can only use each barrel once in order for it to be called bourbon? 

Jim Beam's Yeast. It's like 100 years old.

Tour-bottled Knob Creek being sealed with wax.

The first barrel of Bourbon in this particular Heaven Hill Barrel House.
LOVED the details at Maker's Mark.

Pages from the sketch book of the woman who designed/marketed
Maker's Mark. It was a husband-wife team. So cool!

Yeah, it was fun learning about bourbon... but I'm a BEER girl. Louisville did not disappoint in this category. There are some fantastic beer-centric bars in this town. The one's we went to: Louisville Beer Store, Sergio's World Beers, Holy Grale and The Silver Dollar:

Louisville Beer Store. That's what it's called. Tons of bottles to
choose from, and some rare ones. They also have several on tap,
and a bar you can drink at.
Me and Sergio, of Sergio's World Beers. Over 1000 different
beers, only 1 Bud Light (which they priced at $26.00 :))

Holy Grale is a bar in an old church! Hallelujah!
Great seasonal beer selection, and reliable sources told
me the food is excellent, too.
Panorama of Sergio's
The Silver Dollar is actually more of a Whiskey bar, but they
had a great beer selection, too. And scrumptios foods!
Also, they play all their music on a turntable. Old country
music on vinyl pairs perfectly with bourbon.

Back to food... We were fortunate to get to try The Blind Pig. I say fortunate because rumor has it they are closing. It's a damn shame. Check out this lamb and gnocchi for goodness sakes! Hopefully the people that run it will continue making good food elsewhere in Louisville.

I was surprised to hear that Louisville is actually one of the best places in the country to eat seafood. How can that be? It's in the Midwest, nowhere near an Ocean. There is a UPS hub there, you see, so most of the country's seafood goes there before it goes anywhere else. Therefore, we sought out Sushi. The place that keeps winning "best in Louisville" is called Sake Blue, and is way out in the suburbs in a generic upper-middle-class strip mall box store kinda area. I got the Chirashizushi (I call these "Happy Bowls") so I could try a variety of fish. It did indeed taste very fresh and it was gorgeous and seasoned just right to let the fishes' flavors shine. 

So yeah, I am smitten with Louisville. Besides all the great places listed above, the town seems to have a lot in common with my home, St. Louis. They have a Louis and Clark connection, are named after the same French King as us, there are Fleur de Lis' everywhere and they ask the notorious "What Highschool did you go to?" question. So basically, Louisville is like my town's bourbon-drinking southern cousin. I'll be back... because, family, you know?

Tell me in the comments what places in Louisville I should visit next time!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Roadtrip recap: Asheville, North Carolina

Back in August I went on a roadtrip to the East Coast. The trip was spurred by a cheap room on Myrtle Beach. We decided to drive there, and stop in some other cities on the way there and back, making the journey part of the vacation. I mentioned the trip in my Bacon Caramel Abelskivers post... yea, this post is way overdue. Thanks for your patience....

Our first stop was Asheville North Carolina. I have wanted to visit this town for years. I have heard it is adorable and hip without trying too hard. It's all true! Plus, it's gorgeous... nestled in the Smoky Mountains.

The vibe there is super-cool... local food and brews were as plentiful as hippies. Here are some highlights from our too-short visit:

Wicked Weed Brewing
This is where we ate and drank the first night there. A brewpub with lots of different styles to choose from (I wish we could have tried more... they limit to 3 tastes on weekends. Next time I'll go there on a weekday!), Wicked Weed also has a menu of really good food.

It was hard to choose a beer and hard to choose a meal... I wanted them all! Their name comes from a King Henry VIII quote : "Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed." The feel is rebellious, done right.

Asheville Brewing Co.
Our second day was mostly beer drinking. My partner-in-crime and I would order samplers or tasting flights at most places, so we could each taste everything we could without getting too buzzed.

I loved ABC's Shiva IPA the best. They had food, too, and we were told the pizza is their most popular item. We just munched on some tater tots while enjoyed a great playlist and good beers.

Hi-Wire Brewing
This is right around the corner from ABC... in fact, the bartender at ABC told us about it! That was another thing I loved about Asheville. We were trying to squeeze in as many brewery experiences as we could without much knowledge of the scene. In St. Louis, the beer scene is close-knit, and the brewers are happy to help each other even though they are competitive. I found the same to be true for Asheville! Bartenders at all the places we went were just happy to talk about beer, and were helpful in recommending what places to check out.

Hi-wire is brand new... I think it opened just like 2 weeks before we were there. The bartender/partner had even lived in St. Louis! I was totally smitten with this brewery. They have an iron high wire walker over the bar, and great circus artwork on their labels. And FREE kettle corn! The kettle corn was fresh, too... made there. Crunchy, sweet and salty... great with a board of beer samples.

Double Decker Coffee
Anyone who's walked in downtown Asheville will be familiar with this coffee shop... it's in an actual double decker bus! How fun! Oh, Asheville.

Pisgah brewing
This brewery was on the way out of town, on Black Mountain. It's in a kind of industrial park, similar to Three Flloyds brewing in Indiana. Inside, though, is pure funk. They have a big stage for live Rock and stickers everywhere, mostly for other breweries.

We were there on like a Sunday afternoon, so it was pretty vacant, but I have a feeling it gets fun-rowdy there on weekends. They have a great outdoor space, and award-winning beer styles for every taste.

We also hit Charlotte, NC for a day...

This is an Icon. Although Penguin is no longer under it's original ownership, it still has a good independent impression. Check out my friend Andrew Veety's post about the drive-in's troubles. The previous Penguin people opened the Diamond, which we were not able to make it to this trip. The Penguin's grill was down when we were there, so we could only get deep-fried items... darn :)

Yeah, they deep fry their hotdogs and the pickle chips. There is also pimento cheese on this. It is properly southern, diner and artery clogging all in one. 

Old Mecklenberg Brewing
This brewery, opened in 2009, is one of Charlotte's OLDER brewpubs. A nice, large space with good, pure German-style beers and a really open view of the brewery itself through giant windows behind the bar. And you'll want to buy all the glassware.

So, go ahead, lay it on me... what are your favorite Asheville haunts? What'd we miss??

Friday, October 11, 2013

mongolian beef balls

I grew up on American Chinese food. You know, the take-out chop suey and family buffets that serve up fried rice, crab rangoon, sesame chicken... all manner of brown fried foods. Not at all authentic Chinese food, and I think most people know that, but we still love it. I actually worked in one of these places for a couple of summers, and even though it was eye-opening (the owners were from Vietnam, and didn't eat anything on the first exposure to true Asian cuisine were the lunches they made us), I still need a pork fried rice fix monthly.

I found myself craving another take-out favorite of my youth - Mongolian beef. Flavorful strips of beef in a brown sauce with lots of onions. An MSG bomb of the best kind. I had to ball-ize it! My version cooks the onions until they are almost caramelized, because that's what I was in the mood for. If you want it less sweet, cook the onions less.

Mongolian Beef Balls 
-1 lb. 80% lean ground beef
-6 cloves garlic,divided
-2-inch piece of ginger, divided
-2 bunches green onions, divided
-1 shallot, finely chopped
-1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce
-1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-1 Tablespoon oil
-2 medium yellow onions, quartered and sliced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1-inch piece of ginger, minced
-1/4 cup soy sauce
-2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar 
Grate or finely mince 3 garlic cloves and 1-inch of the ginger and finely chop the green part of one of the bunches of green onions. Mix these with the shallot, ground beef, 1 Tablespoon of hoisin, the Chinese 5 Spice, salt and pepper. Use hands to mix well and form into 1-Tablespoon-size balls. 
Add 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the meatballs and cook until browned and cooked through. Remove from skillet to a paper towel-lined plate. Finely chop the rest of the garlic and ginger. Chop the green onions into 1-inch pieces, separating the white parts from the green parts. Mix the rest of the hoisin, soy and rice wine vinegar together. 
Remove all but 2 or 3 Tablespoons of the oil/grease from the skillet or wok. Add the onions, green onion whites, garlic and ginger and cook until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sauce, green onion green parts and meatballs and toss to combine, Cook to heat everything through. Serve over rice.

2013: Year of MORE BALLS Posts:
Coconut Lime Blackberry Yogurt Balls

Friday, October 04, 2013

St. Louis' Best Balls, Installment 6: De Palm Tree & Morgan Street Brewery

Need a good Jamaican fix to say goodbye to summer in St. Louis? No Problem! De Palm Tree is located on Olive Blvd. in Olivette. It is in the same strip mall as my favorite Pho joint, Pho Long. So basically, the best strip mall ever... the most delicious, anyway. 

De Palm Tree's made-from-scratch food is full of flavor. The goat curry and the black bean stew are hearty and taste like they've been cooking all day... lots of depth. While summer is ending, I think this Jamaican fare would work well as warming comfort food in the winter quite well. Good thing my new house is less than 2 miles away from this magical strip mall!

You may remember that I made potato cod balls for a tapas-themed party over the summer. I was excited to see these balls on De Palm Tree's menu so I could compare. De Palm Tree's had small hunks of potato in them, instead of being completely smooth, and were much larger than mine. They were both fluffy and creamy at the same time, with just enough cod to flavor the potatoes without being too fishy. Fantastic balls, mon!

Morgan Street Brewery also has potato-based balls. These are Fried Mashed Potato Balls, and they are brilliant when you are downing their Sunday $2 pints and playing shuffleboard on a rainy afternoon. I don't hear much about Morgan Street Brewery, and I always assumed it was more of a partier's brewery/bar. When I was reading Evan Benn's St. Louis beer book, Brew in the Lou, I noticed a lot of the city's top brewmasters named Morgan Street's Golden Pilsner as one of their favorite or most influential St. Louis beers. Respect! And they have creamy hot salty balls, too! Check them out some Sunday (or any day... I just like Sundays because the beers are only $2 and I like a good bargain)!

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