Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beer and Pizza at the St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna, AK

Our second day in Alaska brought a road trip from Anchorage, down the Kenai Peninsula, to the town of Homer where we had a house rented for the week.  Along the way we passed through a town called Soldotna which is home to two craft breweries.  Ready for lunch and brews for the non-drivers, our caravan stopped in to see what the St. Elias Brewing Company had to offer.

While St. Elias only opened its doors and tapped its first kegs in 2007, the brewery and pizza joint is already well known for producing high quality bites and boozes.  They claim that their beer matches the personality of their business: fun and lively yet historic and eclectic.  In addition, the brewery also serves brick-oven baked, rustic, traditional Neapolitan style pizzas.  I was ready to get started and see what I thought about these proclamations.

Our party of seven arrived at St. Elias and were promptly greeted by the aromas of baking pies and boiling mash.  Within minutes we had a table and began ordering brews.  My first choice was a pint of Marathon Mild.  The Marathon Mild is a seasonal that is brewed in the style of a  English working class ale.  Though the beer is very dark in color, it actually tastes a fair amount lighter than it appears.  I enjoyed the brew and prepared myself for more.

The St. Elias Brewing Company, Soldotna, Alaska

Brew Tanks and Brick Oven at the St. Elias Brewing Company

Since there were seven of us there, we decided to order seven different pizzas and share the variety amongst ourselves.  Boo tried to mess this process up, but in the end we got it taken care of.  All of the pizzas were pretty good, though I think my favorites were these two:

Brewhouse and Chicken on the Ranch Pizzas

The Brewhouse pizza is loaded with garlic oil, mozzarella, provolone, bacon, Italian sausage, pepperoni, marinated mushrooms, and caramelized onions.  The salty pie tasted fresh and delicious with the meats, mushrooms, and onions all melting together with the cheese blend.  The Chicken on the Ranch pizza had garlic oil, ranch, mozzarella, provolone, garlic chicken, marinated mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and fresh basil.  Although the pizza seems very similar to the Brewhouse pie, the flavors were actually a good bit different.  The real killer ingredient in all the pizzas was the dough.  The fire-baked crust had a crisp and flavorful outside with a remarkably chewy inside for a small thin crust pizza.

Hawaiian, Chicken Pesto, and Lonestar Pizzas

Running in the close second tier were the Hawaiian, Chicken Pesto, and Lonestar pizzas.  The Hawaiian was an average version of the classic pineapple and ham combination.  St. Elias's Chicken Pesto was a like a the second cousin to the superior Chicken on the Ranch.  Finally, the Lonestar showed a little originality by putting red peppers, chicken, onions, and pineapples on a homemade barbeque sauce base.  It proved to be an interesting combination that succeeded in offering something other than the typical pies.

Sampler Platter of Brews

To get off the subject of pizza for a bit, let's switch gears back to beers!  Not knowing what to order and wanting to try them all, the logical choice involved something that brewpubs like to call "samplers."  I got eight 3-ounce pours of brews to indulge on.  Starting on the left and going clockwise: Even Keel Kolsch, The Farmer's Friend, Puddle Jumper Pale Ale, Mother's Milk Irish Stout, Williwaw IPA, Vanilla Bean Porter, Brass Monkey ESB, and Marathon Mild.  I'd tell you what my favorites were, but after a week of drinking I really don't recall.  I'm pretty sure that the darker the beer, the more I liked it.  The light beers were just average, but some of the others like the Vanilla Bean Porter and the Brass Monkey ESB were fantastic!

Peter Rabbit and Smokestack Pizzas

My bottom rung of pizzas were still tasty, but they would be the least likely for me to order again.  The Peter Rabbit filled the role of St. Elias's vegetarian pie.  Broccoli on pizza just doesn't fit with me despite it being quite edible.  For a veggie pizza it did the trick, but not being a vegetarian myself, I'd shy away from it next time.  Finally, the Smokestack had bacon, olives, and rosemary.  Again, the pizza was fine, just not up to par with some of the other ones.  I would have appreciated a little pizazz.  Still, simple is okay when you have bacon, so it's not all bad!

Yukon Gold Tater

Eusebio took the adventure of ordering a dessert.  The Yukon Gold Tater is not actually a baked potato at all!  The artistic creation is actually a larger portion of cookies 'n' cream ice cream rolled in powdered cocoa, then topped with whipped cream, pistachios, and a little custard that looked like butter.  The dessert could maybe earn credit for creativity, but I'd have a hard time saying that it earns much merit otherwise.  The ice cream is Dreyer's and isn't anything special or homemade.  The cocoa powder that is used to give the potato skin appearance is so fine that both Eusebio and I both accidentally inhaled it to the point that we choked.  After coughing a bit and drinking some beer to clear my throat, it became obvious that the dessert did not quite tickle my fancy.  Oh well, I still enjoyed the pizza and beer, and I had plenty more of Alaska to eat and drink!  

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jay Tackles the Kodiak Arrest Challenge at Humpy's in Anchorage, AK

Day number one in Alaska.  We arrived at the Anchorage airport at 7 pm Alaska time.  I had woken up at 4 am Eastern time, so in all reality my sense of time seemed a little messed up.  At 4:30 am I caught a cab from the conference center north of DC to the Reagan airport.  From there my flight was delayed to Charlotte, but we made it eventually and I then stayed on the plane into Houston. At IAH I met Matt and Gary for our flight to Anchorage.  Matt barely made it in time, but we all made it on the plane and seven hours later (and quite a few Jack Daniels beverages) we found ourselves in Alaska.

Our flight made it in about ten minutes before Brent, Eusebio, and Eric.  Jason wouldn't meet us until later.  Anders and Kristen came and picked us up from the airport. Life in Alaska was great already.

After settling in at Anders and Kristen's place, the time quickly came to leave the house and head downtown.  We descended on Humpy's with a lot to prove.  Most of all, we had beer to drink.  Humpy's calls themselves the Great Alaskan Alehouse, and I'm not one to argue.  The place rang with excitement on this Saturday evening.  Before us stood the most beers on tap in one location in all of Alaska.  They had a great selection of Alaskan craft beers as well as some good brew from the Pacific Northwest of the lower 48 and some awesome international stuff as well.  I began my night with a Moose Tooth Polar Pale while we chatted with some locals and waited on a table.  The beer had a light feeling and a nice balance of malt and hops.  It was a fine beer to start the day with.  Soon we had a table and began looking over the menu.  Three of us previously agreed to attempt the Kodiak Arrest Challenge that we watched Adam Richman complete on Man vs. Food.  We thought we had a chance and wanted to give it a try, even if it would nearly ruin our night.  However, sitting there and seeing the $124.99 price tag, we had second thoughts due to the cost.  For a brief moment, all three of us backed out and decided to just order something off the menu.  Our rational thinking led us to conclude that we probably couldn't finish, it costs too much money, and we'd be miserable for the rest of the night.  Then emotion took over.  I looked over the menu and there was nothing that I wanted to try more than the challenge.  Gary restated his decision to not attempt the challenge, but Eusebio and I tacked our sails.  We had come to attempt this gastronomic feat, and we'd be damned if we let ourselves back out at the moment of truth.  I loosened my belt, got my mind focused, and told the waiter that Eusebio and I each wanted to tackle the Kodiak Arrest Challenge!  For an introduction, watch the video below:

The Kodiak Arrest Challenge is a feasting competition of Alaskan proportions.  It starts with 3 lbs of Alaskan King Crab legs.  Listed on the menu at $34.99 per pound, the Challenge is almost worth its price right there.  After the crab, the platter is loaded with a foot-and-a-half-long link of reindeer sausage, seven salmon or crab cakes, mashed potatoes or fried rice, and mixed vegetables.  At the end there is also a berry crisp dessert served with ice cream.  All together, the food weighs six pounds and must be consumed in 90 minutes or less.  We had our work cut out for us!  Now for a pictorial journey:

Jay and Eusebio were in a good mood before the Kodiak Arrest Challenge arrived at their table.

Upon seeing their meal, they got even more excited.  At this point everything seemed fun.

The Kodiak Arrest Challenge awaited my first taste and the start of the 90 minute timer.

These fresh Alaskan King Crabs were rich with flavor and absolutely delicious!

Early on I was in plenty good enough spirits to play with my food!  Reindeer Sausage vs Crab Claw!

Time had come to get down to business.  I started fast and furious with my eating.

Eusebio felt the pain of the enormous challenge.  He gave it a strong effort but in the end couldn't stomach it.

Meanwhile, I struggled over the last 45 minutes of the challenge, having to use water to help me swallow.

However, at the 90 minute mark, I completed the challenge!  A happy plate did not equal a happy Jay.  Still, this challenge provides absolutely amazing food.  The Alaskan King Crab is worth every penny.  The rich and flavorful crab is bright red and loaded with excellence.  The reindeer sausage also tasted fantastic before I let it sit on my plate too long and get cold.  I absolutely feel like I got my money's worth out of the challenge, but at the same time I wouldn't call the end of it a pleasureful culinary experience.  Even still, the taste of the food and satisfaction of the victory were much greater than the pain in my stomach!

After a bit of recovery time, Shawn (the manager) bought me a beer and gave me a t-shirt to celebrate the victory.  The crew at Humpy's let me know that I was only the fifth person ever to complete the challenge, and that I'd be going up on their soon to be erected "Wall of Fame!"  I'll be proud to wear my "I got Crabs at Humpy's" shirt all over Louisiana.  

Word spread around the alehouse and before long I was a temporary celebrity.  Ladies stopped to take pictures with me.  I had become a legend in 90 minutes, and now I will live forever in the history books as a winner of the Humpy's Kodiak Arrest Challenge in Anchorage, Alaska!

Thanks to Eric of the Baton Rouge Beer Scene for taking all the pictures!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Tapas at La Tasca Near DC

During my recent trip to Washington DC I for a work related conference I encouraged some of my colleagues to join me in downtown Rockville, MD for dinner and drinks.  While I actually had intentions of finding a Peruvian restaurant, our dining destination easily revealed itself when we saw a Spanish Tapas joint with outdoor dining called La Tasca.  While La Tasca has multiple locations, they are all in the greater DC/Baltimore area so it at least is a regional chain.

Joined by Nadine, Dan, and Jane, we began with a pitcher of Cava Sangria.  This delicious and sweet beverage contained sparkling wine, triple sec, brandy, grape juice, and blueberries.  The drink didn't fit with my sweet tooth all that well, but I still enjoyed it and ate the booze soaked blueberries afterwards.  We also ordered a pitcher of Sangria Rosada.  This mixed wine concoction had rose vino, grape juice, blueberries, and strawberries.  Not quite as sugary as the first sangria, I enjoyed several glasses of this one while tasting the tapas.

Spanish Tapas at La Tasca Plate Number One

Upon looking at the menu we realized that we'd really like to try everything.  Fortunately for us La Tasca has several tapas tastings for us to order.  Each tapas tasting menu is supposed to be about right for two people, so we ordered both the meat and seafood tastings for the four of us to share.  The thing I love most about eating tapas is that the variety is meant to be shared.  It designed to work like a series of appetizers at typical American restaurants.  Everybody shares a whole bunch of food, and then there is no need for individual entrees!  The meat tasting menu featured Buey al Jerez (grilled flank steak with sherry and mushroom sauce), Pollo al Ajillo (chicken breast cooked in white wine and garlic), Albondigas (meatballs served in a vegetable marinara), Chorizo a la Parilla (grilled spicy Spanish sausage links), Solomillo de Cerdo (grilled pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon), Tortilla Española (traditional Spanish potato and onion omelet), Espinacas Salteadas (sauteed spinach with pine nuts and raisins), and Meloso de Ajo (creamy rice with roasted garlic, nuts, and raisins).  By far my favorite dish out of these was the Buey al Jerez.  The beef had a tremendous flavor and the sherry/mushroom sauce was spot on.  I also like the Espinacas Salteadas for the simplicity of it while still serving as a fantastic vegetable dish.  Some of the other dishes were decent, others quite forgettable.  Let's move on to the seafood tasting.

Spanish Tapas at La Tasca Plate Number Two

The dishes arrived at our table mixed and matches, so the pictures of the plates are not necessarily in any order.  Still, with a keen eye, I bet you can identify most of the cuisines.  The seafood tasting menu had Vieiras Cava (grilled scallops in a creamy champagne sauce), Calamares Andaluza (fried calamari with garlic mayonnaise), Salmon a la Plancha (grilled salmon, spinach and fried mussels), Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic), Paella Valenciana (chicken and mixed seafood paella), Aritos de la Huerta (fried onion, green and red pepper rings), Setas al Ajillo (mushrooms sautéed in garlic and olive oil), and Ensalada de Espinacas (spinach and Cabrales cheese salad).  While the food tasted alright at the time, thinking back it really had been masked by extreme hunger, sweet sangria, and good conversation.  All of the seafood tasting dishes were quite edible, but by no means were they admirable or outstanding.  I never once recall thinking "DAMN!" or "I need to learn how to make this!"  Even the paella was disappointing, and I had been looking forward to it!  In the end, I enjoyed the atmosphere, I enjoyed the idea of tapas, and I enjoyed the company.  The food ended up being an afterthought, and I'm glad that it was because otherwise I would have been terrible disappointed and upset that I fell victim to a fairly useless restaurant.  Tapas are great, but I'd prefer a little more authenticity.  Next time I'm in DC (or Rockville to be exact), I'll make sure to try something else.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Addie's: Let's Eat Outside of DC

Addie's delivered exactly what I was hoping for.  In the Washington DC suburb of Rockville, MD, I found myself surrounded by national chains and shopping mall cuisine, of which I wanted no part of.  I traveled to the District for a work conference, and the last thing I wanted to do was settle for food that I pass up on routinely back home.  After doing a little web searching for some local eateries, I stumbled across Addie's.  Only a 15 minute walk from my hotel, I decided that I'd give it a try and hopefully have something to add to Bite and Booze from the East Coast.

Upon arriving at Addie's I realized that the restaurant is set in an old house.  I really like that restaurant setting and have talked about that being the kind of establishment I'd like to own one day, so my excitement had really piqued at that point.  At 7 pm when I stepped in the front door, the place bustled with dining excitement.  I stood there for a second and looked around.  I really liked the atmosphere, but there was no host to greet me or waiter to help me.  After a few seconds, I stepped out to reevaluate my thoughts on the evening.  On one hand, the restaurant had to be good to be that slammed on a Wednesday night.  On the other, I did not get greeted at all, and perhaps that was indicative of the dining service as well.  Before I could give it too much thought, I noticed that right next door was a little pub serving well priced cold beer.  That seemed like a better option to determine my next move, so I walked into Dietle's Tavern and ordered a pint of Yuengling Lager.  I enjoy this regional brew and certainly prefer Yuengling on tap over most other American macrobrews.  There was baseball on the TV, Nationals and Orioles "fans" talking ball, and a cold beer in my hand.  Happiness is simple.

Bread and Wine at Addie's in Rockville, MD

After a couple pints my hunger reappeared and I figured the time had come to go back to the neighboring Addie's to check on the grub situation.  This time around the staff promptly greeted me as I walked in the door and sat me at a cozy table in the corner of the former living room of the house.  I ordered a bottle of '08 La Linda Malbec and the restaurant brought out a course of bread and butter.  Addie's served freshly baked French-style white bread as well as a pseudo cornbread that tasted like it had teamed up with pound cake and fruit cake.  It really was quite fantastic, especially when eaten with the accompanying creamy butter.  The Malbec also hit the spot and the half bottle lasted me perfectly through the entire meal.

Benton Ham and Green Leaf Salad

I wanted a cup of the asparagus and parmesan soup but they had sold out of the rotating daily special, so I settled for a salad instead.  My waiter, Octavio, suggested the Benton Ham and Green Leaf Salad.  The salad  came with a deconstructed deviled egg where the boiled whites were mixed in with the ham and greens while the yolks were turned into a paste and spread on the side.  I really enjoyed the egg and the plating, but overall the salad did not quite live up to the anticipation.  The greens were mixed with macerated red onion and an herb vinaigrette.  The ham from their charcuterie selection was money, but the greens and dressing lacked just the smallest amount of flavor to put the salad over the top.  Still the egg yolks and ham made up for minimalist dressing and slightly bland greens.

My Entrée from Addie's: Locally Raised Pork Chop

There were several amazing options for a main course, but I easily settled on the pork chop because I thought it would pair well with the Malbec I had been sipping on.  The chop came from locally raised swine.  I asked for the thick cut pork to be cooked to a medium temperature and it came out exactly as ordered.  Accompanying pork chop was black pepper spaetzle, fava beans, lemon confit, and a brown ale mustard sauce.  The succulent chop tasted terrific with new and interesting flavors compared to the Louisiana cuisine that I'm used to.  

Mexican Chocolate Creme Brulee

When Octavio told me about the dessert options I immediately decided on the Mexican chocolate creme brulee.  The sweet treat had a beautiful blend of warm and cool temperatures as well as crunchy and smooth textures.  The brittle top layer combined with smooth creme to leave a rich yet delicate dessert with a distinctively Mexican flavor that added a just the right touch of uniqueness to the dish.  My extreme compliments go to the pastry chef for delivering the top dish of the night!

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

333 Bistreaux at Avoyelles

I recently hit up another downtown dining location for lunch: the 333 Bistreaux on Third Street.  I've been walking by their restaurant's daily special sign for a while now, so I figured it was about time to actually go in for a bite to eat.  Justin met me downtown and we walked into the 333 Bistreaux to see what we could find.  

333 Bistreaux

Their daily special happened to be a filet mignon poboy, which certainly seemed worth trying.  Upon sitting down and looking at the menu, I decided that the poboy would be the right path.  The lunch menu seemed a little too ordinary and yet still over-priced, though I guess every entrée ended up in the $10-14 range, which isn't terrible if the food is worth it.  The restaurant itself has around 15 tables, of which perhaps only one or two were occupied.  We were seated and promptly greeted by our server who did a pretty good job, though annoyed me a little at times by being over involved with our table (presumably since there was hardly anybody else in the restaurant).              

Shrimp and Lobster Bisque

I started with a cup of shrimp and lobster bisque.  The cream-based soup came out warm, but not hot.  The shrimp and lobster pieces were adequate, though not quite as plentiful as I would like.  The bisque did have a nice flavor with smooth and creamy textures and mild seasonings which added sufficient taste without much spice.

Filet Mignon Poboy with House Salad

The poboy didn't arrive at my table quite like I expected.  Rather than come out as thinly sliced filet mignon on  classic New Orleans style French bread, the sandwich instead came with tender chunks of stewed beef that had been tossed in a steak sauce.  The meat itself actually tasted great.  It nearly melted in my mouth and the sauce added a nice touch of originality to the sandwich.  The bread, however, did nothing to help make the poboy great.  I wouldn't say that it ruined the sandwich, but I'll certainly never crave that bread in the way that I crave the best poboys.  It did strike me as being a little odd when the poboy came out with no dressings at all.  Typically a poboy will at least have the option of lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.  Fortunately the sauce smothered steak made up for it and needed no additional toppings.  I opted for house salad instead of fries, which I think ended up being a fine choice as the salad was a notch up from typical lettuce-and-dressing-only house greenery.  In the end it was a decent lunch, though after tip I had spent $20.  I can see potential, but for now this is not one of my top downtown destinations.

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