Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Man of Pork, Man of God: Redman's Chicken and Rib

    For years now, I have looked for restaurants, roadside stands and out-of-the-way places that offer great food and drinks in a way that's different from the hordes of corporate American dumps.  I do this because I believe that there are Americans, both born and adopted, that are bringing this country great things, right on our plates.  Tonight, I was reminded of this quest by a shining smile, a percolating iced tea machine and some old guy absolutely destroying a spectacular looking burger.

    This is Redman's, a roadside eatery, which is part shack, part smokehouse and all love.  Redman, joined by his wife Kelly, serve up righteous barbequed ribs along with old school fried chicken and a host of other tasty soul-inspired dishes.  I knew I was in the right place when I approached and found some very faithful quotations, and a large sign that reads "This is America...This is My dream."  An opening like that, along with the rich smell of smokey pig parts, pretty much immediately confirmed for me the importance of tasting the food.

    The opening salvo came in the form of Redman's smokey, salty, succulent and tasty Ham Shank Sandwich.  This beast comes with a huge serving of pulled ham shank meat, a sweetish sauce, lettuce, tomato and mayo and gets finished off with a melted slice of American cheese.  All of these luscious ingredients are stowed between two think slices of toasted Texas toast.  I have since come to understand that in addition to the Ham Shank Sandwich, pretty much all of Redman's sandwiches and burgers come mounted up this way, which as far as I can tell is just about right.  Truly, this was one of those food experiences that make a man remember why God endowed us with the blessings of pork in the first place.

    Along with their outrageous sandwiches, Redman and his crew make up some of the best fried chicken in the Finger Lakes, in addition to some very original, whole-cut ribs.  Redman's ribs aren't sectioned off into their smaller parts, like almost everyone else.  Instead, you get the whole cut, from babyback to spare, all covered in a sweet and spicy sauce which is heavy on black pepper and slicked with pork fat.  They are slightly smoky, but done more in an oven roasted style, rather than the more traditional barbeque.

    Served with these southern soul morsels, you also find some very thoughtful sides.  Of course you can get get the usual mac and cheese, cole slaw and potato salad, but you can also find some excellent collard greens, bathed in a sweet hot juice, flavored heavily with red pepper.  At Redman's you can also get rice and gravy as well as a great slightly sweet corn muffin.

    As if that weren't enough to get your soul and palate right with God, you can also find a selection of southern inspired desserts as well.  The two that stand out are the banana pudding, a long standing favorite of southern society, and the even more renowned sweet potato pie.  The pie found a home with me instantly based on texture alone.  Sweet potato pie is easily flavored like a pumpkin pie, but not as easily coaxed into a proper texture.  Redman's pie has a velvety smoothness, complimented by a firm, but yielding body that truly makes it a fine finish to any one of their offerings. 

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass Tacks:  Jackson and Hamilton, please.
Address:  777 Pre Emption Rd, Geneva N.Y.
Parking:  Park in the driveway, and wave at all the traffic.
Website:  Sadly, none.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Breakfast Out! The Water Street Cafe

    Breakfast is a meal best done out.  Why, I don't know, but it is.  When I'm looking local and need a place to be for Sunday morning munchies, I'm eating at the Water Street Cafe in Geneva.  Located downtown, this Geneva institution has been up and running for almost twenty years, feeding everyone from college students and early morning fishermen, to guys like me.
    Inside, the cafe looks like it has for quite some time.  Although it got a new paint job last winter, and new windows this summer, the faux wood-grain service area, long row of counter stools and black vinyl booths give hungry breakfast goers that classic diner appeal, without being over-hyped.  In truth, the slightly worn tables, well loved mugs and cafeteria-style milk dispenser make the whole place feel comfortable, if not homey. 
    The menu is decidedly diner, with no real modern or upscale pretense.  The egg combos and other breakfast plates are unapologetic in both appearance and price.  On the other hand, the dishes are tasty, fresh and served up quickly by a waitstaff that thoroughly knows their business.  The menu is worth checking out on your first few visits, but truthfully, the special board up front and gut instict will get you a lot farther than reading through all the side orders possible.
    For my own part, a double order of their fresh baked Sourdough Toast is almost always part of my meal.  Although the owner, Anne, will tell you that I'm a sucker for the Pumpkin Pancakes and will order them whenever they're available (typically only in the fall).  They also offer a "homemade" sausage patty that has a sweet-spicy flavor which can be addictive.  For you french toast freaks out there, try the California French Toast, thick cut cinnamon raisin bread, egged and fried on the flat top, then dusted with powdered sugar.  For really classic diner eats, get the bowl of oatmeal with all the fixins'. 
    The Water Street is really what every town needs if it doesn't have it already.  A small place, run by folks that know you by name, of not by order (though it's better if they know both without asking.)  A place that you can go on your wedding day with friends, or in your jammies on a snow day, without fear that people will think less of you, because they won't.  Remember, most often, they're there for the same reasons you are.   

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass Tacks:  Whatever's in your wallet.
Address:  467 Exchange St., Geneva N.Y.
Parking:  Free on-street parking, but there's a parking lot around the corner if you get skunked on the street.
Website:  Sadly, none.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Red Dove...Gastropubology 101

     The Red Dove Tavern is arguably one of my favorite spots in the Finger Lakes.  Why?  Well, it's a little bit like "Cheers" a little bit like a high-end bistro with the added flavor of a Moroccan night spot.  The combination sounds odd, but owners Rune Hilt and Giulietta Racciatti make it work in the very best of ways.

     Walking into the Dove is always a unique experience.  One is immediately bathed in a wash of red light, provided by the neon tubes that hang from the ceiling.  The hardwood floors reflect some of this aura, making the patrons within glow in crimson hues.  There are tables on each side of the restaurant separated by a wide aisle, though which you walk, to get to the bar.  At the bar (my favorite spot) you can sit in high, black steel chairs, and be involved in as much or as little of the action as you like.
    The Dove specializes in seasonal food and drinks, and you can get both conveniently at the bar, or at a table, whichever you please.  They take real pleasure in offering a series of cocktails using Red Jacket Orchards juices, as well as some standard drinks that don't rotate with the seasons.  If you like a named drink with some punch, try the "Gentleman's Refresher" a bottle of PBR and a shot of Power's Irish Whiskey.  If you're truly lucky, the PBR will be on tap and not in the bottle.  If you're into something more along the fresh and fruity line, try a Dove Cosmo, or When Doves Cry both made with RJO juice.
     The food at the Dove is also a special treat for people in the Finger Lakes.  Aside from being the first restaurant to carry raw oysters outside of the Ithaca area, they also feature seasonal specialties such as fried squash blossoms in the late spring and summer, or a beet salad done with local fresh beets.  They also offer a series of belly-pleasing seafood and meat dishes.  Two of my favorites are the Whole Grilled Bronzini, a Mediterranean fish, served up hot, with seasonal sides.  And the Standard Burger.  Just as it indicates, the Standard Burger is a delicious, juicy burger served with lettuce, tomato, onion, mushrooms, cheese and a slathering of harisa, a Tunisian sauce...hence the Moroccan twist.
    The Dove also does a variety of "small plates" including Grilled Octopus, Calamari and one of my other personal favorites, Blue and Honey.  A heavy serving of blue cheese and honey comb, complete with toasted ciabatta slices, baked fresh at Normal Bread, another fine establishment worthy of its own post, which it will get soon enough.  If you're going out for an after theater event and just want dessert, try the Bread Pudding, or the Chocolate Pot De Creme.

    When getting to the Dove, be aware that its seating is limited, and the restaurant may be full.  DO NOT let this deter you.  Head to the back and look for the bartender or a waitron.  Tell them what you'll need for seats and grab a drink.  Trust me, it'll be worth the wait.  If you see me, tell me what you think.  If you see Rune or G, buy them a drink.  And as always, tip generously.

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass Tacks: Jackson and Hamilton, please.
Address: 30 Castle Street, Geneva N.Y.
Parking:  There are usually a few spots open on the street, right in front of the door, but there's another parking lot across the street if you need it.
Website: www.reddovetavern.com

Migh-ty Ta-co, Migh-ty Ta-co (it's their song you see)

    Ok, so it's time to discuss the first of many "Out of the Finger Lakes" eateries.  Sometimes a name says it all, and in this case, it's simply true.  Mighty Taco.  Mighty Taco is a chain of restaurants in the Buffalo/Niagara falls area that makes it more than worth while to drive that distance.

    Might Taco is a curious phenomenon in that it really hasn't tried to expand much beyond the the entrance to the Thruway, which for us in the Finger Lakes, is a sad state of affairs.  We are left to the ravages of Taco Bell.  Which for me is much like eating lukewarm, Mexican-scented dog food, bound in a mediocre tortilla.  The very idea makes me cringe.  Unless you are hard pressed, can not cook or just really have a craving for bad food, there's not much excuse for going there.  Seriously, think about what you're doing to yourself.  Have some higher standards.
    The real rub for me is not in the whole corporate atmosphere, which at times in not necessarily bad.  The thing for me is freshness.  The food at Taco Bell always tastes like it's been sitting in a warming drawer for the last seventeen hours.  The tomato and lettuce are tasteless, soggy and generally ugly.  The sour cream isn't even remotely cold, and only God knows what's in the guacamole.
    This is where Mighty Taco truly shines.  Let us be honest for a moment.  The making of tacos is not a highly skilled trade.  Most people can be taught to do it with only a minimum of effort. That said, it more often than not, comes down to ingredients.  They have to be hot when they're supposed to be hot, cold when they're supposed to be cold.  As a line cook, I learned this first hand.  That's what separates great restaurants from crappy ones.  You can be the great cook of the world, but if you serve cold food that's supposed to be hot, and warm food that supposed to be cold, you might as well close now.  I know it's a simple thing, but it's truly amazing how many places screw this up.
    Mighty Taco doesn't.  That's really what makes them great.  Their beef is hot, the tomatos flavorful and the lettuce is crisp and cold.  The sour cream is colder than the rest of the taco, which is actually the way its supposed to be.  And let me tell you something, that only happens when you're making them fresh and quickly.  Then there's the other thing.  They ask you what you want on  your taco for each order.  There's not the corporate stance of "standardize everything, so that the smoked-out seventeen-year-old that's making these things doesn't have to think about it."  Mighty Taco actually teaches reasonable cooking skills to their employees.  The folks that work there aren't robots. They actually pay close attention to what they are making, and they hardly ever get it wrong.  Imagine that.  In a world full of chain joints that always taste the same, with that sameness at a low standard at best, caring about what you serve up is important.  Period.
    Now, are there places that make better tacos in the world?  More than likely.  I've never eaten a taco from a street stand in Mexico City, or in Guadalajara.  I'm sure there are tacos there that would bend my mind.  But truthfully, I'm not there.  I'm here and Mighty Taco is where I go when I need sweet, hot, taco love.
  My order: Two Super Mighty's, hot, extra cheese, sour cream.  I also ALWAYS get a Loganberry to drink.  That bit of western New York lusciousness will get its own post later.  For those of you that are traveling, Mighty Tacos at room temp or even cold are still good, though arguably they are best fresh and hot.  If you are ever in Buffalo or Niagara Falls, go to Mighty Taco, even if you've eaten somewhere else already.  In fact, it's probably better if you eat Mighty Tacos then anyway.  If you aren't anywhere near Buffalo or Niagara Falls, what in God's name are you waiting for, get on the Thruway and get over there.

Thanks for reading....now go eat!


Brass Tacks: Whatever's in your wallet.
Address: There's a lot of these things around.  My favorite one: 6930 Transit Road, Williamsville N.Y.
Parking: Each place has its own parking lot, you shouldn't have trouble. 
Website: www.mightytaco.com

Monday, January 11, 2010

Food Like it Used to be: Bob & Ruth's, Naples N.Y.

    When it opened as a roadside restaurant in 1951, Bob & Ruth's must have been a real bonus for the local folk in the Naples Valley.  For those of us that travel the less frequented places in the Finger Lakes, Bob & Ruth's still tastes like the fifties.

     Let me be specific here, I've never eaten at Bob & Ruth's Vineyard Restaurant, the more formal restaurant in the rear of the building.   This posting is NOT about that portion of the business.  I don't know anything about it, other than knowing that you have to walk through it to get to the bathrooms.
    On the other hand, the "diner" side of the restaurant, on the road side of the building, is totally worth traveling to.  Most people hit up Bob & Ruth's during the Grape Festival in early September each year.  While this is a great time to go, since you're already there for something else, you really should consider taking off early some Saturday in October or early November when the leaves are on the turn and the sun still has some warmth to it.  Plan to make a day of it.  Go with no agenda except to eat, and let yourself wander.
    Before you leave, load up your Ipod with Dar William's "Western New York"  and hit then hit the ricky road.  If you pay close attention, she talks about diners "where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel" and Bob & Ruth's fits the bill.  This is not a negative commentary.  There are times in life when what you need to keep going is some Diesel Fuel Coffee, a righetous piece of pie and a Tuna Melt, all of which Bob & Ruth's offers proudly.
    However, the real reason to hit Bob & Ruth's is not necessarily lunch, although the Mac and Cheese, Chicken and Dumplings and the variety of homemade soups are always a delight to the tummy-tum.  The real reason to make the trip comes in the form of their Grill Bread.  Essentially it's a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread that they cut thick, butter up hard and then sear on the bacon-grease laden flat-top.  They serve it up hot, with an almond flavored frosting to slather over it.  I recommend ordering the Grill Bread with two eggs over-easy and a side of bacon.  Yes, this is unrepentantly old-school heart-attack breakfast, and no, I don't care.  It's something you need every once in a while, if not for your body, then definitely for your soul.
    Bob & Ruth's speaks of a time when hospitality and good food were standard.  The vinyl booths and double sections of counter seats remind those that enter through the doors, of the long-standing traditions and community feeling that places like Bob & Ruth's have engendered in small towns all across America.  So the next time you're feeling nostalgic, hop in your car, or take your favorite motor bike and head to Bob & Ruth's.

    As a side note, the folks at Bob & Ruth's are closed from late November through March or April.  If you're thinking about heading down there either in late fall or early spring, you might want to give them a call first.  And as always, the wait staff there work hard and the food is cheap.  Think about that when you're leaving a tip.

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass tacks: Jackson and Hamilton, please.
Address: 204 N. Main St., Naples N.Y.
Parking:  There's a big parking lot on the left side of the building, but if you can't find space there, there's another straight out back.
Website: Sadly None     


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tasting the Big Easy in The People's Republic: Maxie's Supper Club, Ithaca N.Y.

    Late nights, large icy cocktails and raw shellfish really get your groove on?  Then enter my friends into the realm of Maxie's Supper Club, a laid-back, jazzy, New Orleans-style raw bar and restaurant.  I'm sad to say I don't know the owner personally, but Chick Evans runs a tight ship and it's evident in everything Maxie's does.     
    Let's start with the layout.  The internal setup of Maxie's is tight, making for an intimate but not claustrophobic dining experience.  However, if you're the kind of person that needs a little breathing room for your meal, get there early.  Their full menu is available at 5PM, although their small plates and cocktails are always good for a starter.  The bartenders at Maxie's pour classic and stiff, so if you're going to make a night of it, get a driver and keep them plied with free food on your tab.  It's only the decent thing to do.
    When at Maxie's I ALWAYS order from the raw bar.  Their seafood is top quality.  They deal with Steve Connolly Seafood out of Boston, which I like, since they buy direct from the guys Billy Joel sings about in "The Downeaster Alexa."  That's right, buying fish from the hardworking guys and gals that drag it out of the sea for you.  No middle man equals fair pricing.  Unless you're an unrepentant capitalist cheapskate, you can probably dig giving honest Americans honest pay for doing a job that is cold wet and dangerous.  A ton of these guys die each year trying to fish your lobsters, fish and shellfish out of sea.  Give them a break and eat some so they get paid!
    On the landward side of the line, Maxie's also uses local, sustainable agriculture, as often as they can to keep Farmer Bill-up-the-road rolling as well.  The whole point of this tangent is to tell you that Maxie's is keeping it real.  Maxie's also gets a super plus from me because it's friendly to after-hours waitstaff and line cooks.  For me, that's a real mark of quality, both on the ownership end, and on the diner end.  Joints like that are always good.  Remember people, the cooks and waitrons of the world know what food is good and what isn't, they deal with it everyday.
    Speaking of food, it's time to rattle off some of my favs.  AFTER the raw bar order, get some fried green tomatoes.  I've had them in the south and they're generally not as good as at Maxie's.  Then, move on to the Shrimp and Grits for a real southern style meal, or try some of their Jambalaya or Gumbo if you miss your Creole roots.  You also need to check out their specials list.  There's tons of stuff that you should eat on there too!  Ever had fish taco?  If they have it, get it.  For dessert, check what they have, but the Key Lime Pie is always a good choice.  Keeping it simple?  Eat the Purity Iced Cream...they'll get their own post later, trust me.

    Ok, as promised the brass tacks:  You're gonna need some cash for this one.  You can eat a Po'Boy and have a good meal on the cheap, but do yourself and Maxie's some justice, bring your wallet and a clear conscience.  Remember, dining out isn't just a meal, it's also entertainment in and of itself.  Think about that before you decline an invite from old friends, or cheap-ass your significant other.  P.S.  Maxie's also has music from time-to-time as well.  Great local bands to rock your socks while you gobble crustacean lifeforms.   Who knows, maybe some righteous tunes and some raw fish will help you to remember why you're alive.

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass Tacks: Bring Cash
Address: 635 West State St. Ithaca, N.Y. 
Parking: There's a SMALL gravel parking lot next door, but you may have to find street parking.  REMINDER: Route 13(Meadow St.) in Ithaca is a split road and only goes one way in each direction.  Remember that when navigating or paying too much attention to your GPS unit...don't get killed trying to get oysters.
Website: www.Maxies.com (choose the Ithaca side)


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Coffee Time! The Coffee House in Geneva

    So it's first thing in the morning...it's January...and there's snow in your shoes.  Looking for somewhere that's warm, has hot liquids containing caffeine and tasty baked eats?   My destination of choice: The Coffee House downtown in Geneva, N.Y.  Mike and Nikki, two Coasties (Ex-Coast Guarder's) opened their shop on Exchange street after looking at a bunch of locations.
    Basically the run down is this.  They roast their own coffee and have several roasts to choose from in addition to the usual array of espresso-based lovelies.  The staff is friendly, but the atmosphere is relaxed so plan an extra minute if there's a line, and there usually is first thing in the morning.  If you're the "I want to hang out in a coffee shop and read, eat, and write boring research papers" type, they've got free wireless and are happy to have you. Do them a favor and buy more than one cup of coffee if you're going to linger.  Mike and Nikki are nice, stop being cheap.  The locals usually have their territory staked-out for regular meetings in the morning, but work space is almost always available.
    If you're up for something out of the standard, try the "Insomnia" a quad shot mocha, or one of their seasonal beverages.  For you cold coffee junkies, they make coffee iced cubes that don't make your iced latte suck after five minutes of sitting on your desk.  The baristas will make your preferred poison pretty much any way you want, so just ask.
    Nikki makes some delicious fresh-baked objects for munching as well.  I recommend the cinnamon scones or the coffee crumble cake.  In the warmer months they have a chocolate tart that shouldn't be missed.

Thanks for reading...now go eat!


Brass Tacks: Pocket Change Accepted
Address : 486 Exchange Street, Geneva
Parking: Free on-street parking, but there's a parking lot around the corner if you get skunked on the street
Website: www.genevacoffeehouse.com