Author Archives: LG

Hometown Foodstalking- Saw’s BBQ and DoDiYos

In part two of my Magic City adventures, I discovered two new favorite spots. Since I was home for the holidays for 10 whole days, I had the chance to strike a nice balance between visiting my old favorites and trying out some new up and comers.

I am going to attempt to write about Saw’s BBQ without jealous tears streaming down my face. This is my new favorite place in Birmingham. I wish I lived there so I could go once a week. Had it been open during the SPC days, I have a feeling our trio would have spent many a lunch hour(s) here.

My dad and I shared an obscene amount of food for two people- but hey, how else are you going to try it all, right? I had the pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and turnip greens. He had the chicken plate with turnip greens and deviled eggs. We also got a plate of ribs to share. With the exception of the ribs, which I thought were above average but not my all-time favorites, I adored everything we ate. The pork is Carolina- style, pulled into large chunks and doused with a sweet, vinegary sauce. I’m no expert on this style (would like to get Miss Em or Allred’s opinion to verify) but I think Saw’s does a pretty darn good version for an Alabama ‘que purveyor. The smoked chicken features a strictly Bama white sauce. Ordinarily I wouldn’t go for this, given my aversion to white sauces/creamy things (mayo, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), but this I loved (and yes, I realize there is most likely mayo in that sauce- ignorance is bliss, people).  The chicken was juicy and the sauce had a great acidic kick to balance the creaminess. Thanks to Saw’s, I discovered that I do indeed like turnip greens, and the other sides were tasty as well. Long story short, I can’t wait to go back for more. Saw’s has taken its place as an “old favorite” to return to when I am home in B’ham.

Pork plate, turnip greens, mac & cheese

Chicken plate, turnip greens, deviled egg

Ribs

I was really excited about checking out this next newcomer on the Birmingham restaurant scene. DoDiYos is the brainchild of two of the most storied restaurant families in Magic City history, the Sarris family and the Kanakis family. As a (very strange) kid, I went through a phase where boiled shrimp was my favorite food. I remember going to the Sarris’s Fish Market with my family many a time to satisfy my craving. This new venture is a more upscale version of the Mediterranean and Greek foods these families have perfected. Greek food just so happens to be one of my favorite cuisines, so needless to say,  I had high hopes.

Greek lamb meatballs

The camera was shaking from the deliciousness. Basque-style mussels.

Connie Kanakis' Snapper. A classic.

Shrimp kebabs

Diples for dessert. It's anyone's guess how to pronounce that. We still don't know. Fried pastry ribbons with sugared almonds and honey.

I think the pictures speak for themselves, but everything we ate was just fabulous. The menu was so extensive that it made my head spin- in a very good way. You could visit DoDiYos dozens of times and not even scratch the surface of good-looking menu items (I could, anyway). They also serve lunch, and from what I can tell, that menu is a very fair representation of their many good offerings. It’s a good option for those on a budget who’d like to try it out before taking the plunge for dinner. The only issue with lunch: probably not okay for you to order that great Greek wine we had- but you most likely wouldn’t be sorry if you did.

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Urban Standard’s Grilled Cheese- at home!

I’m going to make this quick, as I have a piece of information that must be shared immediately. Ladies and gentlemen, something monumental happened in Houston, TX last weekend.

I cracked the code of Urban Standard’s grilled cheese and the ALL important balsamic jam.

I guess it wasn’t “cracking” the code so much as googling the mess out of every possible combination of words and finally stumbling upon a Birmingham News Food Detective column (for the balsamic jam) and a random blog outlining the different types of cheeses used. Armed with this information, I got to work.

Here is my version of this masterpiece (it’s pretty true to the original):

For the balsamic jam:

3 tablespoons of grape jelly

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (I used my wonderful, pricey Zingerman’s balsamic– next time I will go for a cheaper version)

(This made enough jam for about 3 servings, so adjust as needed)


For the sandwich:

Sourdough bread

Sharp Cheddar

Provolone (not smoked)

Boursin cheese (just the regular old garlic and herb variety)

And lots of butter, of course

The goods

Get yer cheezez ready


Hopefully we all understand how to make a grilled cheese. Go at it, and then when you’re finished, serve with the balsamic jam for dipping.

Butter


I imagine this balsamic jam would be good on other sandwiches as well. Turkey with caramelized onions, for example…

Enjoy!

Hometown Foodstalking- Flip Burger

For the holidays, I traveled back home to the place where the foodstalking magic first happened between LG and Miss Em: Birmingham. I got to sample several new-to-me spots, including a couple that are new to the Magic City.

First up was a newcomer to the B’ham restaurant scene, Flip Burger Boutique. I had been stalking this menu for months in eager anticipation of visiting the new Birmingham location over Christmas. This is the brainchild of Top Chef alum and Atlanta native, Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite Top Chef competitors. He made his mark on the show with a playful and accessible brand of molecular gastronomy.

Blais himself was in da house on the night that we braved post-holiday Summit traffic to grab some gourmet burgers. He was looking a little flustered- later on I think we would find out why.

Hipster fun with the light fixture


Even after reading this menu dozens of times, the fam and I had a hard time choosing between all of the amazing sounding burgers. One whole side of the menu is dedicated to beef burgers, the other side is anything-goes. I went for the carne- specifically, the Butcher’s Cut with caramelized onions, blue cheese, and red wine jam. At our table, we had a Farm Burger, a Korean BBQ burger, a Chorizo burger, and two regular ole hamburgers. The general consensus, I believe, was that the burgers were tasty, but that there was an issue with service and/or the kitchen on that particular evening. They had been open for no more than 2 weeks at this point, so I’m sure they were still ironing out the wrinkles. Most of the burgers arrived to our table not exactly warm. I thought mine was tasty, but definitely could have been warmer and I would have preferred the ratio of toppings a little different: less blue cheese, more red wine jam. We sampled fries, fried pickles, fried okra, and the warm potato salad. All were perfectly serviceable, although the okra especially were very greasy.

My choice. The Butcher's Cut.

E's Chorizo burger

Dad's Korean BBQ burger. Points for originality.

As an apology for the hour-long wait for our food, and the lukewarm-ness of it when it finally arrived, we were sent a sampling of Blais’s famous liquid nitrogen milkshakes. My favorite was the Pistachio, rather shockingly. I don’t dislike pistachios, but I would never think of it as the first flavor I’d order on a milkshake menu. The slight saltiness went with the sweetness very well. Other flavors at our table: S’mores, Krispy Kreme donut (just like the real thing pureed into a frosty mug), and Foie Gras (seriously not as disgusting as it sounds- if you didn’t know it was Foie Gras, I bet you wouldn’t be able to guess).

S'mores. Pleasingly burnt marshmallows on top with bits of graham cracker interspersed.

Pistachio

While our experience was less than perfect, I do think we’ll be back. For one, the prices are fair. The menu is so varied that you’ll always have something new to try. And of course, I’ll be back because I have faith in Blais! Hopefully he can attract and retain some real talent in the kitchen, folks who are able to execute the “foodie” vision that this restaurant is going after.

The Yellowhammer: Waverly, AL

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to eat at one of my all-time favorite restaurants: The Yellowhammer in Waverly, AL. After a not-so-painful football loss to Alabama in Auburn, my mom and I were looking for some grub, but also looking to get the heck out of town before traffic became unbearable. I believe my parents originally discovered Yellowhammer in a similar manner- they have a large billboard with a great design concept off 280 (the route from Auburn to Birmingham) that any foodie would be intrigued by.

Love that logo.

To appreciate The Yellowhammer, one must take a second to learn a little bit more about Waverly, AL. Or more precisely, discover that there is little to learn about this town. Look it up on Google Maps, and it has one crossroad. Read the Wikipedia article and discover this little nugget of information: population in 2004 was 180 people. So how does a fine dining restaurant exist in such an environment? Waverly is located about 20 minutes away from Auburn, AL, another small town in Alabama that just so happens to be where I went to college. With any college town comes a set of highly educated, typically creative, and therefore more likely set of people to frequent a restaurant like The Yellowhammer. The restaurant also has the benefit of being located just off the busy Highway 280, which is one of 2 main arteries from Auburn to Birmingham and vice versa. I’m sure many other fans discovered this gem the same way my family did: driving by the sign and being just too curious not to follow the arrow.

The space itself is perfect in my mind. Exactly how I would furnish my own restaurant if I were to open one. I believe the building used to be an old Ford dealership and they’ve kept the structure virtually the same. It has a very open, loft-like feel but it is still super cozy. The best seats in the house are the small, lofted tables for two. And don’t miss the bathroom, which is basically a glorified outhouse. Small town charm…

The view from the lofted seats. Romantic dinner with Mom.

Now on to the food. The Yellowhammer consistently puts out great food. Not just great for a small town, but food that can stand up to restaurants in both of the larger cities I have lived in. The food as a whole is not particularly groundbreaking in relation to what is going on in restaurants around the country (save for the desserts… more on that later), but considering the location, the quality of what they are putting out is positively amazing.

On this particular night, our meal consisted of the following:

Smoked Gouda en Croute- Melty smoked gouda cheese in puff pastry. Simple. Can't go wrong with smoked gouda in my opinion. Excuse the dim lighting in all of these pictures. They're big on the ambience. Miles Davis and all.

I had the Rosemary Crusted Rack of Lamb for my entree. Perfectly cooked lamb, with a silky bordelaise sauce, smoked gouda grits (do we sense a trend here?), and haricot verts.

Mom had the Filet that was topped with a similar (or possibly the same) bordelaise sauce that also topped my lamb, red potatoes and asparagus.

Mom had the Filet that was topped with a similar (or possibly the same) bordelaise sauce that also topped my lamb, red potatoes and asparagus.

Now for dessert. Dessert has always been, in my opinion, the hallmark of dining at The Yellowhammer. They serve a trio of homemade ice creams with homemade butter cookies each night, and have been since I started going frequenting the restaurant. The ice creams change every night, and have included flavors like Honeysuckle, Cardamom, Strawberry, and Lavender. I realize such interesting flavors aren’t uncommon in high-end restaurants around the country these days, but would you believe that a restaurant in tiny Waverly, AL was the first place I had seen this practice?

On the night we visited, the ice cream selection seemed a little bland considering what the chef had been capable of in the past, so I decided to go with another favorite- the Creme Brulee. Except they changed it! What was formerly served was what they called a “Catalan-Style Creme Brulee.” If I remember correctly, I believe it had bay leaf and lemon in it. Sounds unusual, but it had just the right undertone of “What is that flavor?” to make it special. However, The standard Creme Brulee I was served on this particular night was so great that I didn’t miss the former incarnation one bit.

Delish.

If you ever are in East Alabama, please check this restaurant out. Even as I have moved on to the fourth-largest city in the country, I still have a soft spot for The Yellowhammer. The little guys need all the help they can get these days!

Houston eats, take-out edition

I eat a lot of take-out meals. I’m a single 20-something- I think most of us do. While I do love cooking, it’s a little challenging to create multiple meals every week for just one person. So I rely on take-out when I’m in the mood for a hot meal, but not in the mood to cook it. I’ve had some success recently after branching out from Pei Wei (my go-to take-out spot)- allow me to share.

First up is Al’s Quick Stop. Just like another Al’s (that I’m sure everyone reading this knows my undying love for), this place specializes in gyros. This place is also a dump, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s actually a convenience store, right next to the favorite Montrose bar/restaurant/music venue, Rudyard’s (or Rudz if you’re in the know).

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

I don’t know too many people that are willing to risk gas station food for a good gyro, so one day when I was in the neighborhood, I grabbed a gyro, some fries, and a canned Dr. Pepper from the gas station area to go. The total for these three items was around $6 or $7, which is UNBELIEVABLY cheap in my opinion. And I love cheap.

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

Hand-cut fries

Hand-cut fries

I have to say, I was really impressed. The gyro meat was just how I like it- a little crunchy on the outside, but not overcooked. Interestingly, the two gyros I’ve had here in Houston (Niko Niko’s and now Al’s), have both been served in this way- meat and veggies folded inside a pita like a taco. Back home at my other favorite Al’s in Birmingham, gyros are rolled into a thin pita with lettuce and tomato, like a wrap. I prefer the Houston method much better. I love the pillowy pita bread that they use at Al’s Quick Stop. I hear the fries are hand-cut, and they proved to be very tasty, although they didn’t survive the car ride home very well.

Al’s does have a small seating area next to the order counter, and I may try that out one day to see how the fries are fresh out of the fryer. If you are squeamish about eating at a convenience store, get it to go and pretend you got it from Niko’s. It’s much better in my opinion.

Next up is Pierson and Company BBQ, a shack that dishes out some of the city’s best ‘que in North Houston.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Mmmmm carne...

Mmmmm carne...

Rib in cross-section

Rib in cross-section

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

Author’s note: I drafted this post around 2 months ago and then completely forgot about it. In the spirit of moving forward and getting back into this blogging thing (for reals), I’ll add one last addition to Houston take-out and then keep on truckin’!

DSC03088

Tacos al Pastor from 100% Taquito in Houston. Pork, pineapple chunks, and cilantro in a corn tortilla. The meat was too gristley for me.

DSC03089

Also from 100% Taquito, but this I would go back for. Corn tossed in lime juice and chile powder. So simple, so delicious.

Summertime Eats

Summer is beginning to come to an end. Actually, let’s be honest- summer doesn’t end in Texas until October… if you are really lucky. Some of my favorite foods hit their peak during summertime: peaches, tomatoes, chicken salad, Doodles (I…miss… you!), BBQ, and many more. I’m going to share some of my favorite uses/versions of the items listed.

Garlicky Spaghetti with Beans and Greens from Cooking Light

Garlicky Spaghetti with Beans and Greens from Cooking Light

I saw this recipe in the August issue of Cooking Light, and immediately started making a list of ingredients I’d need to make it. I love pasta dishes, and especially those that include arugula and tomatoes (shout out to Allred, arugula lover #1). This was super fast and easy to put together and the end result was just fantastic. I love when grape tomatoes get to that burst-y stage (I’m not sure what kind of freak superhero tomatoes the test kitchen was using for their picture- mine definitely looked messier than that). The addition of lemon juice just served to brighten all the flavors and bring everything together- acid-y tomatoes, peppery arugula- and the cannellini beans meant that it is a perfectly adequate and filling main dish meal. I think I will be making many more batches of this recipe in the future. I actually made the entire amount the recipe called for (I rarely do that since it’s just me), and ate every last bit of it for leftovers for the rest of the week.

If the adage “you are what you eat” is true, then by now I would be a Caprese salad. Central Market was having a sale on their house-made mozzarella, so I bought a ball, some tomatoes (your garden variety reds and then some pretty heirlooms), and a bunch of fresh basil and then proceeded to eat the entire ball in 2 days. This is the ultimate summer dish in my opinion. Sprinkle with plenty of salt, fresh ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and I add a generous amount of Zingerman’s balsamic vinegar. I ended up going back for another ball of mozzarella before the sale ended (and left with the mozzarella, a peach cobbler, and Haagen Daas brown sugar ice cream… but that’s another story).

Ah-mazing

Ah-mazing

Chicken salad is one of things that I didn’t start eating until fairly recently. It’s no secret that I strongly dislike mayo, so this was a pretty big hump to get over for me to enjoy chicken salad. I still frequently find those that are wayyyyyy too mayonnaise-y. The mayo is just supposed to serve as a medium to bind the rest of the ingredients together! Not a function as a main ingredient- gah! I find that the best chicken salads are those that I make myself, that way I can control the level of mayo. For this particular version, I wanted to make something similar to Central Market’s tarragon chicken salad. I love the flavors, but in one of their only failures (in my eyes), it has way too much of the bad stuff in it.

For mine, I shredded the breast meat of a rotisserie chicken.

Cut red grapes in half

Chopped celery

Added pecan pieces

Chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Salt & pepper

Added mayo little by little, until the mixture was combined

Sprinkled paprika over the top, and tucked it away for multiple workday lunches.

Voila

Voila

Another post coming very soon, in which LG visits a convenience store in search of a gyro! Oh, and a very special event is coming up next weekend: LG’s Pere, who happens to be LG’s most favorite foodstalking partner (no offense to others… it’s in our blood), is coming to Houston! Many MANY meals to come…

Sunday favorite: Tiny Boxwood’s

One of my dad’s most common compliments for a fabulous restaurant is this: “It doesn’t feel like you are in ______ ” (insert city that is not NYC or Paris or any other culinary capitol). While I in no way want to knock Houston or Birmingham or any other non-Paris of the world, it is true that part of a great meal is the ability to feel like you are “getting away,” even if it’s just for the duration of brunch. My favorite place to do this in Houston is at Tiny Boxwood’s. You’ll notice when you click the link that you have been directed to the website of a landscape architecture company/garden shop. Tiny’s is a small cafe located on the site of a nursery- so as you can imagine, the surroundings are gorgeous. There is some seating outside under big umbrellas, and an open dining room inside. Outside is my favorite- if you can get over the 110+ heat index, you are instantly transported to a grassy Parisian park.

Indoor Dining at Tiny's (photo from www.tinyboxwoods.com)

Indoor Dining at Tiny's (photo from http://www.tinyboxwoods.com)

Cutest outdoor dining in the city, hands down (photo from www.tinyboxwoods.com)

Cutest outdoor dining in the city, hands down (photo from http://www.tinyboxwoods.com)

I’ll have to admit: I’ve only been for one meal here, and that’s brunch. Tiny’s also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well. The lunch menu looks particularly good- it’s next on my list to check out. There’s just something about brunch though- number one, it’s my favorite meal. If you time it right and eat enough, it can be your single significant meal for the day. Number two, coffee. And it’s great at Tiny’s.

One of the things I love most about this place is that you order at the counter. Now, it has resulted in some people waiting much longer than others for their order since they’re not grouped together. But I love it because there’s no awkward, annoying discussion of how to split the check, who’s got cash, who’s got a credit card, etc. Nothing ruins the end of a meal like that. Once you place your order, pick up your coffee drink from the bar (they’ll call your name… loudly), and head over to the water area. This usually isn’t an exciting part of a dining experience- but here, it it’s pretty cool. Tiny’ s has really awesome ice, and limes in addition to your average lemon to add to your water!

But you’re here for the food. My only complaint about the menu is that they don’t rotate it. There are certain things that change, such as the quiche filling and flavor of muffin, but other than that it’s pretty standard and pretty small. I think they would really benefit from incorporating specials into the menu from time to time. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. This is my go-to casual meal right now. Love that I don’t have to deal with the hassle of splitting checks or waiting for the check, but the atmosphere encourages long, leisurely meals (unless there are River Oaks vultures waiting on your table).

One of the breakfast pizzas- roasted potatoes, fried egg, basil, and some kind of cheese that I can't remember.

One of the breakfast pizzas- roasted potatoes, fried egg, basil, and some kind of cheese that I can't remember.

Muffin of the day: Raspberry

Muffin of the day: Raspberry

Granola, yogurt, and fruit (not mine- those who know me would figure that out due to presence of yogurt), and an amazing croissant with fresh strawberry jam

Granola, yogurt, and fruit (not mine- those who know me would figure that out due to presence of yogurt), and an amazing croissant with fresh strawberry jam. Amazing coffee and lime-water in background.

The flakiest crust you will ever put in your mouth. Delicious quiche.

The flakiest crust you will ever put in your mouth. Delicious quiche.