Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Columbus: Ray Ray's Hog Pit

As we were passing back through Columbus, it was pretty obvious that our dinners plans were going to diverge. Regina was opting for the more healthy and light fish tacos at Yerba Buena, and me? I was going to load up on meat. Lots and lots of meat.

Ray Ray's Hog Pit is a spot I'd just never quite been able to make it to (they're only open Friday thru Sunday). With things needing to be on the quick side so we could pick up the dogs, this was going to be as good as it gets for me without driving out of my way or sitting down for a full fledged meal.

Located just off to the right of Super Food Mart in Clintonville at the corner of N. High and Pacemont, this "truck" serves up old school barbecue. More trailer more than anything, Ray Ray's busts out hickory smoked meat made in a converted propane tank smoker. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people that go old school like this. It's very easy to dry out meat, and requires much more attention than something made in a natural gas fired smoker. Heat loss, wind, and rain all make it very difficult to control the temperature inside one of these things.

As noble as the idea old school might be, they are charging you for the food, so it had better be good. I ordered a sample size of the ribs, pulled pork, and brisket with a side of beans and cole slaw.

Let's get the middling stuff out of the way first. The cole slaw and beans aren't anything special. I'm not saying that I spit them out or anything. I didn't. I thought they were just alright. They're what I would consider par for the course at a typical barbecue place - classic flavors. The brisket was unfortunately a little on the dry side. Again, the stuff doesn't stay moist forever, depending when it was taken out of the smoker, it's going to dry out a little bit. Again, not inedible or even bad. He could have cheated and thinly sliced it and put some ju on it to mask the dryness, but he didn't - they were full quarter inch slices.I respect that. There was a nice fatty crust on the outside, and a fat ass smoke ring - all telltale signs of brisket done right. I would've loved to bust this when it first came out of the smoker.

Now for the good stuff. They absolutely smash the pork here. The ribs were perfectly done. The meat clings half willingly to the bone, before it gives way to your teeth. Again, a delicate bark on top cloaks the dark pink smoke ring and welcomes another bite. The pulled pork is loaded with a plentiful mixture of ropey meat, buttery fat, and flavorful crust. Topping the whole thing off is an ever-so-slight dusting of rub coax out any flavor that may have been hiding. The sauce was thin and spicy with a good balance of sweet and spice.

Clearly a master practitioner here. Without the aid of temperature control - which I am guilty of - he cooks some fabulous meat, that is the most impressive thing to me. The product they turn out is of high quality, the flavors are well balanced and have been obviously been tuned over a long period of time.

Erin at Harvest Pizzeria said they have a grass fed beef brisket they serve on Sundays. There's a sauce that goes with it that it is supposed to be outstanding.  Her advice was to get a little extra. Be warned though, this is about the worst kept secret in Columbus. In fact, my wife saw a girl she knew that lived in the area and they got on the subject of food. Right after my wife mentioned I'd been to Ray Ray's, the woman's eyes lit up and she asked if I'd been there on a Sunday for the brisket. I'm admittedly intrigued.

So there you have it. Be forewarned that these guys are only there Friday thru Sunday. As you can see they don't have an army of warmers to keep a bunch of meat laying around. When it's gone, it's gone. I've always believed that barbecue is best at lunch time. There's a pretty good chance that they haven't run out of anything yet, and you're probably getting meat that is freshly cooked.

Ray Ray's Hog Pit
To the right of Super Food Mart
3166 High St. (Corner of N High and Pacemont)
Clintonville, OH 43202
(614) 753-1191

Ray Ray's Hog Pit on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Macaron Class at Mille-feuille in New York City

by Regina

 It's not everyday that you can have a private macaron lesson with a be more exact, a French pastry chef who is turning out some of the best macarons that are actually made in New York City. However, that was just our good fortune a few weeks ago.

There were many emails exchanged this summer between myself and Olivier Dessyn, owner Mille-feuille Bakery & Cafe in Greenwich Village. (Click here to read about the Mille-feuille vs. Payard smackdown.) First, it was to tell him how much my husband and I loved his macarons when we visited NYC back in June. Next, it was me asking if he'd teach me how to make them.

Despite being extremely busy, he agreed to a class and we settled on a date in August. However, hurricane Rita struck NYC (of all places!) and I had to cancel my travel plans to the city. Finally, we rescheduled for October and in the 11th hour, he graciously agreed to teach my husband as well.

The Shop
So, it was a Monday afternoon when we arrived at his bakery just south of Washington Square, and quickly got to work. Over the course of four hours we made so many macarons that I lost count! He taught us the Italian meringue method, as well as how to make raspberry jam and chocolate and vanilla ganache fillings.

Looking around, we were struck by how well organized his shop was and the precision that he and his assistant, Stefan worked with. It's truly amazing when you realize how much work, dedication and love go into an operation like, we found it incredible that they could produce so many great things in such a small space!

As part of my macaron obsession, I've taken 3 different classes and Olivier's was by far the best. He was super patient with us, answering questions, providing insight and allowing us to be hands-on along the way. He shared the recipes, suggestions on where to find ingredients and supplies and encouraged us to stay in touch and email him with questions.

We Made These!
I took several of the macs we made at the class to work. All I can say is that I was a macaron making superstar for a day. Everyone loved them and more than one person swooned over how great they tasted.

We've tried the macs twice since we've come home and have had good success. We're working to get the right oven temp and proper heavy gauge pans, but we feel that his class gave us the fundamentals and technique to be successful at home. It's true that a hands-on class gives you something that books, you tube and countless internet posts can't.

The Teacher and Student
We were Olivier's first students, which was an honor for us. If he had told me that he had taught people numerous times before, I would have believed him. He was very focused, well prepared, and extremely patient. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone of his caliber willing to give you a one or two person class for what he charges. It is a tremendous value and would make a very memorable holiday gift for the macaron fan in your life. He's willing to offer the class to others, so if interested, email him through his website or ring the shop at 215-433-5698 and ask for Olivier.

I just learned that Olivier is now shipping his macarons across the United States. If you can't make it to New York anytime soon, then I highly encourage you to order some. They would make a fantastic holiday present for someone you love, or better yet, a gift for yourself!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Columbus: Yerba Buena Truck

While we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves at Harvest Pizzea, my wife asked bartender Erin what some of her faves in Columbus were. Almost immediately she said, "The Yerba Buena Taco Truck!" It wasn't a three or four second contemplative delay. It wasn't even a slight pause. It was an instantaneous declaration. And THAT folks is the kind of recommendation I like!

It seems that food truck politics are always at work, and as a result Yerba Buena had mysteriously fallen off the radar for a few days. Just a day or two before, everyone was on the lookout for these guys after being pushed out of a recent location. Contact was thankfully made and the truck (or in this case trailer) was found. On this occasion they were located right around the corner from where we used to live in Clintonville. As of the 15th of October they're going to be at 4100 North High St. *You have to check them out on Facebook ahead of time to make sure they'll be there. Going without checking could lead to major disappointment, as well as an angry stomach.

Fish Tacos with Cilantro Sauce
 The menu is obviously a little more refined than your average SoCal hole-in-the-wall Mexican taqueria. Erin told my wife that the fish tacos were the thing to get off the menu. She had suggested getting the cilantro sauce on the side or at least get an extra one. It turns out that was a pretty good tip, Regina wouldn't stop commenting on how good that sauce was.

Since I had already eaten at Ray Ray's Hog Pit not too far away, I figured I was done eating - until I saw the chicharrón on the menu. There was never a question. One chicharrón please. Sorry, I love me some crispy pork skin.

Un Chicharrón
As it turns out this was a new version for me. If you look at the picture the skin has been fried up, but includes one big hunk of fat, skin, and nipples.This a whole different texture to the fat scraped, dehydrated and then fried version, that one thinks of in the classic pork rinds sense.  The fatty part is more like a handle and you eat the thin slices of fried skin off of the fat. In the picture, the edible bits are the the sliced pieces pointing downward. These were pretty greasy and messy to be eating in my car, and - to my taste - just okay.

In the end it was a great call. Thanks Erin. It pays to talk to your bartender. Yerba Buena's a great find for a quick and delicious bite.

Yerba Buena Latin Grill
4100 N High St
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 354-6394

Yerba Buena Latin Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Couple of East Side Local Spots

I’m typically a little suspicious of places that call themselves “Cajun”. All too often what it means up here in Ohio is that they burn the hell out of the customer’s mouth and call it Cajun. Well, the authentic stuff involves a little more than that. It’s a developed heat that doesn’t coat your palate but instead presents itself when you exhale. It’s nothing painful, just a pleasing twinge in the back of your throat. If done correctly my nose runs just a tad, not the full on faucet you get with most places.

One of the knocks I had heard about Battiste & Dupree was that the service was slow. That may well be, but I got my Shrimp Ettoufe to go. It took five minutes. I can see how it could be slow if the place was full (there’s seating for about 15), because there are only two people working there.

Let’s talk food. The Shrimp Ettoufe was the real thing, not “burn your mouth bullshit”. Full of peppers, onions, shrimp, rice, and about 5 good sized shrimp, it was very satisfying. Service? The gentleman working was very professional and looked like he had been in the military. Wearing a ball cap that was folded just so, an upright way about him, a firm handshake, he thanked me for coming in and made me want to come back. I really enjoy going to places that take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do. I will be back, and would suggest going if you enjoy authentic Cajun food. Since I don’t like to wait, it seems to be the perfect “to go” kind of place.

Update: November 2nd, 2010
This place still kicks ass. Some will grumble at the prices, but you have to understand that it's a business and not a hobby. The Shrimp Po Boy is the real deal. The roll is a crusty but soft and doesn't destroy the roof of your mouth. The shrimp are cooked with an ever-so-delicate batter that only adds to the sublime texture of the bread. This is as perfect a marriage as your going to find between bread, protein, and fixins - absolutely not to be missed. I've included a picture of the sandwich as well as a scan of the menu, now you have everything you need to order one of the best sandwiches in Cleveland.

Update: November 20th, 2011
 Old Junior still has it. I'm a sucker for this place. Smooth, steady, and not willing to take short cuts in order to get the food out of the kitchen to a dining room full of impatient white folks. I had called about an hour before and they told me it would be about 45 minutes. Whenever I call I show up late. I drove down to Whole Foods and bought some beer, farted around the store a little bit, and then made my way to B+D. Was the food ready? Of course it wasn't, but I knew that going into the deal.

Shrimp Po Boy
 The guy at the counter asked me what I had ordered and then got this worried look on his face like, "You're not gonna make me ask Junior how long your order's going to take, are you?" I told him, "Easy. He knows what's going on. When it's done, it's done. I know when I get it home he will have made for me the best Shrimp Po' Boy he possibly can. Just let him cook."

I guess my way of looking at it is this: If I don't like it, I can always go to Fat Fish Blue, right? Oh wait, they shut down didn't they?

I've included a copy of the updated menu:

New Menu Page 1
New Menu Page 2

Battiste + Dupree Cajun Grill
1992 Warrensville Center Rd
Cleveland, OH 44121
(216) 381-3341

Battiste & Dupree Cajun Grill on Urbanspoon

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

On Friday I had to run a few errands, so I figured I’d hit an old favorite (J. Pistone) and a place I’d never been (Battiste & Dupree).

Located a few blocks from the Six Points intersection in Shaker Heights, J Pistone serves the local residents and businesses. The store consists of a deli section that offers soups, sandwiches, sides, and desserts. Apart from the food part of their business, they also have a small wine section.

I’ve had the soup, the lobster bisque to be specific, and I’m not really a fan. The bisque had shreds of lobster; not chunks. In my opinion, it wasn’t very good. The sandwiches are okay. There’s nothing that blows me away about the lunch items, but they’re no better or worse than, say, Panera.

The desserts are a different story. They are very good. They’re actually the most reasonably priced items here. My personal favorite is the giant S’More. Made with ample chocolate, this thing is worth the price of admission. I go here for one reason only, the S’More.

Update: November 2nd, 2010
S'More (pictured above) continues to be one of my favorites. The lemon curd cookies as well as the macarons (not maca-roons), when available, are quick sellers. Get there for lunch to catch the macarons, they're usually gone by dinner time.

J. Pistone Market and Gathering Place
3245 Warrensville Center Rd
Shaker Heights, OH 44122
(216) 283-3663

J. Pistone Market and Gathering Place on Urbanspoon

DeGaetano's Village Square Pizza

Always on the pizza prowl, I gave DeGaetano's Village Square Pizza a shot. The decor is what I'd call "Seventies Rustic". Is this necessarily a bad thing? I don't think so. It actually has the look and smell of the pizza parlors of my youth. For me, nostalgia is a fun thing. A sort of smell time machine, if you will.

Since I was just ordering carryout I didn't really have a full fledged service experience. An older man who walked in a hunched over manner was the one that rang me up. I'm assuming he was the owner because, well, he just had that "I own this place" way about him. Very nice man. We shot the breeze for a few minutes while they finished up my pie. As far as I can tell the people here were friendly, the place was clean, and they accepted credit cards.

When I got home and opened the box, the first thing I noticed is that the pizza crust looked liked it had just stepped out of the office of Troy + McNamara. This is easily the most voluminous crust or cornicione in all of Cleveland. Some serious extra bread on this sucker.

 Is that a crust in that box, or are you just happy to see me?

The portion of pizza that lies underneath the cheese is actually quite good. I thought the blend and amount of cheese was appropriate and the sausage was actually above average for this city.

In Philadelphia they have a term called "gutting". Sometimes when a sandwich has a ton of stuff on it, or comes with a massive amount of steak people will order it gutted. The steak or hoagie shop will scoop out the doughy interior of a crusty (Sarcone's or Carangi's) or the softer (Amoroso's or Del-Buono's) roll to help accommodate the meat. It aids in what one can best characterize as jaw fatigue.

Why all the talk about gutting? This was the first pizza crust I ever had to gut. The crust alone is an absolute beast - Adam Richman  kind of stuff. DeGaetano's is worth a shot, even if you only go once. I thought the pizza was pretty solid, and at the very least was more interesting than your average neighborhood pizza joint. Who doesn't enjoy jumping into a pizza time machine every once in a while? If time machines aren't your thing, maybe gutting your first pizza crust is.

DeGaetano's Village Square Pizza
27349 Chagrin Blvd
Beachwood, OH 44122
(216) 831-5282

Degaetano's Village Square Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

2:15 to Yuma

We were on our to way to Indianapolis, so dinner couldn't be too involved. I don't quite remember, but I want to say it's at least two, maybe three hours from Ohio's capitol to Indiana's. At any rate, a long leisurely dinner was not going to be in the cards.

Typically "pizza" and "Columbus" are two words I don't like to use in the same sentence, unless said sentence is completed with an exclamatory "sucks".

Regina and I had to Indianapolis for the weekend and decided to stop in Columbus for dinner. After a  quick search of newly opened pizza spots in the city, Harvest Pizzeria won out over Element Pizza Bar and Bono Pizza. Obviously future trips to CBus will include a stop at these other two new additions, but Harvest looked like the most interesting of the three.

This little restaurant in German Village pretty much caught me by surprise. Going in I was totally expecting some half baked, bland ass, CPK wannabe. Instead, I got pizzas that had an interesting dough, local ingredients, and well thought out toppings, and nice bit of char.

Right now the indoor dining is fairly small. Fall was still in its infancy when we went, so the tables outside were full as well.Without the outdoor seating, this wildly popular pizza spot is going to positively jammed in the winter.  The interior is a very simple, light colored space with a full view of the kitchen from almost every seat but the bar.

Since we were late to the game and needed to get back on the road ASAP, we took two open seats at the small bar. In hindsight this was a blessing because the bartender - Erin - pretty much kicked ass and told us about a Yerba Buena taco truck and what to get at Ray Ray's Hog Pit when we came back through on Saturday.

Our quick dinner included the Spicy Yuma included Canal Junction Gouda, chorizo, jalapeno (I subbed this out for red onions), corn, roasted red pepper, chipotle-spiked tomato. With so much on the actual pizza, I thought the dough would be an undercooked mess. I was wrong. The whole thing works - very well. No one ingredient stood out, and for me that is the hallmark of a good pizza. The crust was light with a small amount of chew. The flavor of the char mellowed out the bold flavor of the toppings.
Regina ordered the Mushroom (Gouda, variety of mushrooms, truffle). Although she loves mushrooms, she would rather have canned mushrooms over freshly cut raw ones. In an ideal world, the mushrooms are actually sauteed like they are at Noce Gourmet Pizza. You're probably wondering where the truffles come in. They actually saute the mushrooms in a truffle paste. When you think about it, it's a pretty neat idea. My wife was also gushing over her selection.

The owner - Chris - was nice enough to come over and talk to Regina about the truffle paste. The place was packed to the gills and he stopped what he was doing to answer her questions, which I thought was pretty cool.

There's a good selection of salads, pizzas, desserts, and booze. The Harvest Pale Ale is brewed locally by Elevator Brewing right there in Columbus.

If you're in the area, you've got to stop in. I've always firmly believed that the pizza in this town is absolutely horrific. Obviously the people at Harvest Pizzeria recognized this and filled a massive void. While I haven't eaten any pizza in Cincinnati, I have eaten most of what is considered good in Cleveland, and Harvest is the best I've had in the state.

Harvest Pizzeria
495 S. 4th Street
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 824-1769

Harvest Pizzeria on Urbanspoon