Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Soap You Want to Eat from Pheasant Creek Farms



A good friend of mine came into the bar I work at last weekend. She's always got something fabulous going on, so when I noticed her shuffling around objects in a big box at her table, I had to bop over and check out what she had. Oh. My. Golly. What were these delicious looking treats? Brownies? Different varieties of fudge? Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars? My sweet tooth was rabid and my salivary glands were starting to disco to the beat of the music emanating from the dancefloor in the other room.

"Mmmmm. Yummy. What do we have here?" I asked, with all seriousness. She laughed, "ummm, I don't think you want to take a bite. It's soap." And then I remembered. Ah, yes. Her family makes handcrafted soaps. Still craving sweetness, I stuck my nose in the box and sniffed deeply. The scents of the different soaps combined together to at least quash the sweet tooth in my nose. (The sweet tooth in my nose? I don't even know...)

Anyway, truth be told, she let me pick out a few bars in trade for a little free advertisement. So I guess this is a disclaimer: you are reading said free advertisement at this moment. But wait! These soaps are worth selling out for. In all honesty, after using the "Eucamint" soap for the last week, my morning shower life has improved so much! It has a "slap me awake" effect and an organic, fresh vibe that, along with my black coffee ritual, gets me all kinds of perky and ready for my day.

Pheasant Creek Farms offers over a dozen "flavors", including Peppermint Kiss, Orange Clove, Lemoncello,  Cucumber Mint, Urban Cowboy (loved that movie, btw), and Swank. Their soaps are made with goats milk (now that's different) and contain lots of vitamins, emollients, and triglycerides that are great for your skin and they do not contain nasty mysterious corporate satanic chemicals that dry you up and make you smell like the boys locker room at a suburban middle school from hell.

I know you're simply starving for suds now, so get on over to pheasantcreekfarms.com for more information and to order this delicious foodie-fab soap. Thanks for reading this commercial announcement and I promise an actual restaurant review by the end of the week! Hint: Lavadog.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Comments Roundup-o-Rama

My recent review of Uva Trattioria inspired some mild cattiness in the comments section regarding how authentically authentic their Italian cuisine is. Maybe I'm just a Scottish/Norwegian/Russian boy (no, I'm not Irish, contrary to popular belief) who has never traveled to Italy or Little Italy or any sort of Italy, who was born and bred in dear old Idaho, but it seems to me Uva's cuisine is as authentic as any other Italian eatery in the area (I'm not counting Olive Garden's cookie-cutter corporate "Italian"). It's about 32 times more authentic than the Lean Cuisine Spaghetti and Meatballs I had for lunch yesterday. Anyway, after a little back and forth, Uva's Chef Steve pops in to shut 'er down:




Giucchi said...
If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!
If you want to taste authentic lasagna or Tiramisu or any genuine Italian dish, please come to my house and I will gladly educate you. I will even bake fresh bread to go with your meal.
So far the closest I have found is Tony's by the lake or Angelo's...or my own cuisine...
Anonymous said...
@Giucchi: Angelo's might be close to authentic, and up until about three months ago I would have rated the place well despite the cost of his food. But last three months I've personally noted a decline in quality. Portions, while not huge at one time were adequate. They have gotten smaller, with the veal dishes being the ones that seemed to have shrank the most. The last time I ordered the smoked salmon pasta dish, the salmon was way oversmoked. Finally, a few weeks ago I ordered spaghetti with meatballs. They claimed to be out of meatballs (They don't make them to order?!?), so I let them switch it to sausage. To their credit, I got three sausages, two whole ones and one cut up within the sauce. But all of the sausages were overcooked and way too dry, the one in the sauce the worst. I don't know if the food caused this or if I picked up a stomach flu, but my stomach was in horrid shape for a long time after that meal as well.

So in short, I no longer wish to even consider Angelo's. Maybe my experience was unique, I've seen other recent reviews that did praise the place. But I don't wish to go there now.

And another point. Show me where in the blog that the reviewer says the food is authentic. Maybe I missed it, but I don't ever see said claim. Even if they do, so what? I do like trying the "authentic" versions of cuisine. But I am not such a food snob that I can't enjoy Americanized versions of various cuisines if it is done well and tastes good. Often the Americanized versions become their own cuisine as well, many would argue such for Americanized Chinese for instance. There seems to be this food snob attitude that if it isn't 100 percent authentic to the nation of origin, it's crap regardless of the truth. I guess I don't need to be such a snob.
Jim said...
"If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!"

Don't think that was ever said...

And I highly doubt your cooking is as good as you'd like to think.

Dunning-Kruger much?
Anonymous said...
I guess you have to define authentic Italian. If your definition of authentic means my recipes came from a man who immigrated from Puglia, Italy in 1966, opened his own restaurant in 1968 and has been running strong ever since, winning numerous awards along the way, is authentic than yes we are AUTHENTIC.

I also make some pretty darn good rosemary fennel focaccia house bread fresh every day. Maybe you should give us a try.

ciao
Chef Steve
Uva Trattoria

A lot of people lost their cool and their minds a few months ago when I revisited Mexican Food Factory and gave them a less-than-flattering write up. MFF has a very, VERY devoted following and I may have ended up on yet and other hit list or two after I hit the Blogger "publish" button. Ah, well. I can take the heat, and I always hope readers keep things in perspective and realize that I only represent one little person's point of view in a big, big world. If people don't enjoy my opinions, they can start their own food review blog and get whatever they need to get out of their system. 

Please, let me throw down on this. As a former employee and close personal friend of Dan Franks, (yes, the same Dan of the Franks family that has owned MFF since 1981)and Galen, (the same Galen that has worked in that kitchen for over 12 years and now manages MFF)I am more than slightly offended by your review. Let's be real, every single item you ordered was made in that kitchen from scratch. The cheese you get on those tacos? Comes in 40 pound blocks that they hand shred. The lettuce? Hand shredded. The shells? Trust me on this as I have HOURS of personal experience; they are fried daily in-house. You want a Taco Bell taco for $1.37? Be my guest. But comparing the two tacos is asinine to say the least. You enjoy the taco carts on 4th street? Then go hit those carts, ask to see their health report and food handlers permit (which Dan Franks has hanging on his wall) and enjoy a cheaper meal. Oh wait, quesadillas at those places run $5-$6 as well... To obviously exaggerate the shortcomings of your meal is petty and a disservice to Dan. Tell you what, get your ass out of bed at 5 am and run on down to MFF some weekday morning to get a breakfast burrito from Dan. He will go ahead and stop prepping food in the back to come out and make from scratch the bacon and scrambled egg burrito that you will get filled with cheese and tater tots that you can then drench in their signature salsa. And when you get your cup of fresh, hot coffee, and pay your $5, (which is less than you will spend at McD's for breakfast) then leave, Dan will go back into the back to shred more cheese, or cook another giant pot of refried beans, until the next tinkle that announces a customer has walked inside looking for that little slice of the Southwest. Please sir, keep your negative opinions to yourself unless you are willing to give Dan a chance to address your concerns. By the way, that $2 beer? You would be charged at least $4 if you bought it anywhere else. And what taco truck or Taco Bell has a beer license that you can buy a cold one at? That license right there could run into thousands of dollars yearly. When was the last time you could buy a bag of chips at the store for under $4? Cheese for under $6? It looks like you'll pay $10 for that chips and cheese right there. So yes. I am offended by this article that shows you obviously wielded your pen as if you were fighting some monstrous injustice. But it just as obviously shows that you have poor taste and could use some class. The problem with "food critics" such as yourself? Well, anyone can pop a blog online and write a review and call themselves a "critic." I've seen 5 year olds that can do that. Doesn't make you a better human being, and it sure as hell doesn't make you right in your review of MFF!
@Scott Cardwell: I am not the author of this blog, nor have I ever met him. But firing off a rant at a food critic/blogger over a negative review is NOT the way to drum up more business. It just makes you come off as angry and defensive. A critique of a place isn't an attack, it should not be taken personally. It is only a post about one person's experience with a place at that time. Ranting about it does nothing. What you SHOULD do if you are a former employee and friend of the owner is point out this review to the owner so he can THEN decide if 1) It may have merit, 2) It is just one bad review and has no merit.

Or to put it another way, if you want to see what happens when a restaurant review by a critic or blogger is taken as a personal attack? Go watch the "Amy's Baking Company" of Kitchen Nightmares.
The point is Mexican food factory is not what it used to be anymore!! The prices now would be okay if the quality of the food was what it used to be, that place did used to have a family quality that reminded you of home and love.

I love Dan and have known him since I was 14 as a customer there which was 21 years ago!!! I won't go there anymore. The restaurant has gone down hill, it's insulting to be expected to pay the money they charge for what's on the plate. I want the old Mexican food factory back! When the food they made wasn't just about the money, and throwing something on a plate quick style. When their food was made with love, passion, and inspiration!! Lortus was the cook back then and she was amazing. I would love Mexican food factory to come back to life and be that place again.




Anonymous said...
My husband and I went to that same location the other evening and the only flavor the shrimp had was the cocktail sauce! It was pretty bad.
Anonymous said...
My family went there and while waiting to be seated the hostess told us they didn't have any tables big enough to seat our family. (My family is a family of 6 skinny people!) Never will I go back there!




I cut my teeth for surviving life in CDA in the 80's. I had an apt above First interstate typewriter on 4th and Sherman. I loved rustler roost's fried potatoes. and when I was at the lowest point in life I was living in a tent up fernan.

Amazing to read about it all. 
William Jack said...
The Sheep House was my only taste of downtown. Didn't do the clubbing or the cruising. I lived in Dalton Gardens so there was lots of vacant land to party on. The woods up by Honeysuckle Beach which is now full of McMansions had many a party. We would grab pallets from various places and have big fires.

I remember the Bookseller and Hobbit Town (in the basement of the long-gone Interstate Typewriter building). Pre-Resort we would go to Cloud 9 for the Sunday chicken dinners.
patrick said...
in the late 70's, early 80's i lived in "the cabin" on 17th and young ave.
does anyone here know any of these people?
roger or terry ore, sherry adkins and mary jane maxwell or tan diane, queen of sanders beach.
john and madie, chuck and kathy, jack and fran,ray and jeanie.
so many people that come to mind when think of north idaho times.

i wonder if i could still live in a sleeping bag on tubbs hill for the summer?


how nice to run across this site … many wonderful thoughts come to mind of north idaho and the people of those north idaho years.
Anonymous said...
It was an easier life. I recall the sign outside of town stated 13600 population when I was here. Moved here in 1967 from Wallace ID. I was the lead bouncer at Peabody's for several year working for Terry and his associate . (Can't recall his name). It was an easy job as I knew most regulars as friends. One night my door bouncer Dan Worthington waved at me for help at the front door. He had a rowdy with a 45 and his buddy with a Bowie knife. These two were threatening Dan as he wouldn't let them in with these at their hip. I calmed this scene by stating I'd buy them their first drink after they take their toys to their rig. Those were the days TR

Monday, August 4, 2014

North Idaho Frankenfoods & Other Oddities

You'd be forgiven for thinking that every last possible freaky food-based reality show idea had already been used up, but SpikeTV recently debuted a new one which appears every Sunday evening at ten o'clock. It's called "Frankenfood" and it's billed like this:
America is hungry for the next great food sensation and superstar executive chef Josh Capon eats his way across the country to find the best “Frankenfood,” revolutionary creations that mix outrageous and unexpected ingredients in delicious and unique flavors.
The hosts travel from city to city and local home cooks and professional chefs compete to have their Bizzaro World creation featured on the menu of a local hot eatery. I am addicted to food-based reality shows like Joan Rivers is addicted to botox, and "Frankenfood" qualifies as one of my recent favorites.

So, I thought it would be a bit of fun to waste hours of my day away poring through webpage after webpage, closely examining local menus for culinary creations that are crazy collisions of flavor, the unexpected and unique, or things that we make you feel like how C& C Music Factory felt in 1990.

I'm sure there were others, but one genuine North Idaho frankenfood pioneer that comes to mind from a sadly long-gone establishment is Dangerous Dog's (CdA) #6, the P.B. Dog. This was a gag-inducing item for some, a beef hot dog smeared with Chunky Peanut Butter and honey, lined with sliced bananas and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Jesi B had enough bazongas to order this the first time we went to the place. I had a bite, and the flavor combination was surprisingly divine! I highly recommend this for home consumption, especially if your little stoner cousin is in town visiting from Walla Walla.

The weird hot dog idea has recently been resurrected at Lavadog (180 W. Hayden Ave, Hayden), where you can get a 1/4 lb. all-beef frank topped with various combinations of these sorts of fruity mind-bending options: lemon garlic sauce, passion fruit mustard, banana relish, wasabi mustard, spicy lemon garlic sauce, coconut relish, you get the idea. Hawaiian hot dogs? I googled the concept and yes, there are similar style hot dog places scattered around the Hawaiian islands, apparently originating from American soldiers who first whipped out their wieners on the beaches of Hawaii during WWII. "Onolicious" is Lavadog's motto, and while I was hoping that was a reference to Yoko Ono's recipe for pickles, Google tells me it's simply Hawaiian slang for "totally frickin' tasty, dude!"

Personally, I'm not afraid of them because I love things that are soaked in briny vinegar water for days, months, and years, but for many people I know, the thought of eating a pickled egg is as frightening as seeing Lola Hagadone without her wig. And in these parts they're also as rare as a Lola Hagadone sighting, period.

Last year, I randomly found myself having an especially wild night involving, karaoke, my pal Q, and a big white cockatoo at the Kings Inn (43073 Riverview Dr, Kingston). The cockatoo belonged to the barmaid and this bird somehow decided we had the best shoulders to jump around on that he had seen in ages. We had pulled right up to the counter at the 120 year-old bar and eventually I noticed a big, weird jar filled with alien green fluid and mysterious white ova. Pickled eggs! I needed one. Wait, I needed two.

While the barmaid was fishing them out with giant tongs, she told me that they hadn't actually created a fully fresh brine since at some point during the Eisenhower administration. They just kept adding more hard boiled eggs, and occasionally a cup of vinegar and spices whenever the juice started to get a little low. I was served my eggs (50 cents each!) in a little boat with some pickled carrots, onions and peppers and they were gloriously raunchy, especially on the drive back home (Q couldn't roll down the windows far enough).

There's a famous scene, or should I say an infamous scene, at the end of John Waters cult classic 1972 film Pink Flamingos, where 300 lb. drag queen Divine bends over and pops in her mouth something very fresh that the doggie just dropped out of its south end onto the street, then gives the camera haunting s**t-eating grin and a wink.

Thanks to the Dog House (76607 Highway 3 S, Saint Maries), you can re-live this bad taste moment in cinematic history, minus the e-coli and intestinal parasites (well, one would hope). Dog House serves several variety of "Dog Turds", hot dogs wrapped in flour tortilla deep fried. There are four varieties, naked ($3), giant (18" German dog, $5),  and the especially appetizing sounding runny turd (chili/cheese, $5), and giant runny turd ($8). Let the coprophagia begin!

To me, sometimes all you need to create a frankenfood is a weird or disgusting body part. Believe it or not, I was once a vegetarian for six years, and I am still quite squeamish about the meat I put in my mouth (don't go there, gurl). I stick with the boring basics.

A dumb stupid chicken clucks around the barnyard eating bits of rock, gravel, and who knows what, so baby Jesus had to give it a damn gizzard to break that stuff up so it could actually digest that crap without croaking to death. Then, at some point in time, a desperately hungry fool thought "Oh yes, that creepy sac looks delicious, let me deep fry it and chew and chew and chew that chewy thing and then swallow it!" I'm sorry, I just can't, but I know there are gizzard freaks reading this, and the only local place I could find for you to get your fix is the White Horse Saloon (6248 W Maine St, Spirit Lake) where they serve their gravel sacs with celery and ranch ($5.95)

Anytime I hear about someone eating frogs legs, I think of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon starring the singing frog with a top hat and cane (real name Michigan J. Frog) who ends up stuck in the cornerstone of a building during construction and is re-discovered over 150 years later when the building is demolished. The image of poor Michigan as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic croaking "Hello ma baby hello ma honey hello ma ragtime gaaaal" would haunt me for the rest of my life, so again, I just can't.

"Tastes like chicken!" goes the cliche, but if I want chicken, I'll eat some damn chicken because chickens don't know how to sing old show tunes and dance. If the idea of slithering frogs legs down your gullet doesn't horrify/mystify you, you'll want to head to G.W. Hunters (615 N Spokane ST. Post Falls) for their Creek Bottom Frog Legs, "fried until crispy and served with a sweet mustard sauce ($12)".

Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese (1735 W Kathleen Ave Suite 3, Coeur d'Alene) is well-known for coming up with concoctions that qualify as top of the heap in the frankenfood pantheon. In fact, the strip-mall giant won an award last year for a sandwich which fuses East, West, and acid flashbacks. Their Korean Krazy ($11.75 Full) was the 2013 National Grilled Cheese Invitational Winner and is made up of all this jazz: provolone cheese, pepper jack cheese, bulgogi BBQ beef, house made kim chi, crushed sesame sticks, scallions, hot pepper ketchup, cilantro and a cucumber-jalapeno dipper.

Also planned for this sandwich was grilled samgyeopsal, a tube of Aquafresh, three extra knobby beets, sprinkles of Margaret Cho's dandruff, the blood of a blind Siberian Wapiti, green maraschino cherries, a voodoo doll of Kim Jong Un, and lark's tongue in aspic, but they ultimately decided enough was enough.

And finally, a frankenfood dessert. Or...not. When one thinks of aebleskivers, variously flavored round Dutch pancakes, one thinks of something sweet for breakfast or dessert, or every single minute of the day between breakfast and dessert and beyond (they are delicious!). Aebleskivers is the easy name of the shop in CdA's Silver Lake Mall and normally they served them sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or berry compote or a sweet glaze of some kind. They have chocolate ones too! They're kind of donutty, really.

But those crazy kids up there thought: why not make a savory variety. for dinner or lunch or every single minute of the day between lunch and dinner and beyond? So Aebleskivers invented aebleskivers with Sausage and Havarti Cheese and that sounds like something I could chow down on whenever and wherever with whomever. Finally, a real reason to visit the cavernous, echoing empty mall other than riding the coin operated kiddie carousel after a fifth of Fireball. Hurrah!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Uva Italian Trattoria

Uva Italian Trattoria
2605 N 4th St, Coeur d'Alene

People sometimes talk about this particular building at the corner of 4th and Appleway in CdA as if it's had a zillion occupants throughout its history, but the story is actually surprisngly brief. Built in 1984, it was Godfather's Pizza for 20 years (and OMG do I still miss a good taco pizza every day, always). Fast Mexi Los Sanchez lasted about two years until Fiesta Mexicana cha-cha'd in, where it stayed until last fall. So, unlike several other buildings in town, I don't believe this one has THE CURSE (*cough* 1801 Sherman).

After remodeling the interior to the point of being utterly unrecognizable, owners Steve Van Zeveren, his wife Crystal, and his sister Lisa opened Uva Trattoria to the public in May. Steve has an extensive background in Italian cuisine, having studied at the California Culinary Academy and residing as head chef for many years at Napoli Pizza in Vallejo, CA.

Uva is Steve's debut starring role as a restaurateur/owner, but after my recent lunch date at his place, I can see how his history and knowledge have made for a solid culinary point of view: food made fresh, using organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible to create an intimate, memorable dining experience.

My first run-in with Uva was at the Riverstone Street Fair, where I help my mother peddle her jewelry. The owner and several employees had set up a booth directly next door to us where they were handing out menus and coupons and giving out free samples of their homemade meatballs. "Meatball shots! Try 'em here", the guy barked repeatedly, "I've got the tastiest balls in town!"

Naturally, my ears perked up, and after telling him how much I was enjoying the scent of his balls wafting over, he handed me a sample cup, along with a hunk of their signature herbed bread. Delicious indeed, but just a tease. I knew I had to check out more Uva goodness, and soon. So, the timing was just right when I got a message from a fellow local food writer asking if I'd like to join her for a lunch date. She suggested Uva, and I answered her back: yes, yes, yes!

So far, the early reactions I've read about the Uva Trattoria experience have been mostly positive, but a couple of close friends recently visited and posted a very less-than-enthusiastic review on Facebook:

"Our server seemed disconnected and went through the motions without actually rising above a fast food mentality. When the food arrived it was presentable but after a few bites we realized that it was standard fare and overpriced. My pesto penne pasta with sundried tomato topping was actually penne bathed in marinara with cheese and herbs sprinkled on top. I hate marinara. My partner ordered chicken pasta with white sauce. They don't have a white sauce dish on the menu so that costs $3 extra. The server didn't ask what kind of pasta so it was just plain spaghetti. I had high hopes, but 40 bucks for Chef Boyardee is a little pretentious. I hope they up their game."

Ouchy mama! Well, bad nights happen to the best of places, so I when I arrived for my lunch date, I walked in with an open mind and an extremely robust appetite. As I sat waiting for my friend, I took a gander around and was quite impressed with what they've done to the place.

Colorful wine bottles line the half-walls that divide the place into several distinct sections.The walls are a serene slate blue, and the ratty carpeting has been replaced with contemporary faux wood laminate flooring. Lighting is comfortingly dim (we all look better in the dark, right?), and classic crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra blared through overhead speakers. Certainly, they've put a lot of effort into giving the place the feel of an authentic Italian eatery, and basically it works.

My lunch partner arrived and after perusing the menu for five seconds, we both agreed right away on a calamari appetizer. "Nobody ever wants to eat fried food with me!" she lamented and I was happy to oblige. A deeper look into Uva's somewhat minimalistic menu revealed a handful of classic pasta dishes (spaghetti of the marinara, bolognese, and primavera varieties, $8-12), entrees (chicken of the marsala and parmesan varieties, $14), pizzas of the build-your-own or specialty varieties ($10-15), as well as some lunch sandwiches ($8ish), and a smattering of soups, salads, and appetizers.

My accomplice decided on the meat lasagna ($12), saying that since it was a hundred degree day out side, she wanted something she could never muster the effort to make on such a hot day. Also, we found out later after our server brought the dish out that that day happened to be National Lasagna day, It was like kismet, meant to be.

My go-to favorite dish at an Italian joint is always seafood fettuccine, but since this does not feature on the Uva menu (nor do any other dishes with a white sauce unless you want to pay an extra $3 to convert a menu item), I picked the closest thing I could find. Steve's specialty Cave Bay pizza ($15).

Time flies when you're blah-blah-blah-ing happily away, but our calamari seemed to arrive in fast fashion. Served with a side of lemon aioli, as well as a ramekin of their sweet and tangy marinara sauce, Uva's calamari is dredged in a delicate rice flour and fried lightly. And perhaps that was the problem. The calamari just seemed like it wasn't able to enjoy its full due time in the deep fryer, and the coating was overly delicate to the point of near non-existence.

Still, we both agreed that the squid itself was very fresh and tasty, and not at all rubbery like calamari-gone-south can sometimes be. A liberal sprinkling of prosciutto shavings added a lot of helpful flavor, but the lemon wedge looked like it had been sunbathing by the lake too long: mushy and old. A thicker coating, a little more cooking time, and a fresher lemon wedge, and this would be a perfect dish.

Again, we were caught up gabbing, but our main courses showed up tout de suite. Or should I say, they showed up subito, as they say in Italia. My pizza was gigantic! For some reason, my dizzy brain was expecting a Fire-style pizza with a flat crust, more of a personal sized sort of thing. But what landed on our table was a glorious 15-inch beast, gleaming and beaming with cheesy joy.

Sometimes I like to go for the weirdest thing on the menu, and I think the Cave Bay pizza might be it. It's a traditional hand-tossed crust coated in a lemon cream sauce, shrimp, clams, prosciutto, fresh parsley, fried capers, and topped with a generous amount of fresh mozzarella. This glistening beauty, with gentle brown burn marks scattered across it like love bruises, was still so hot out of the oven and melty-fine, that I had to dig in with a fork instead of just shoving it into my mouth like a rabid raccoon.

It was as kind to my mouth as it had been to my eyes. Oh, mio dio! The shrimp and clams burst a rich, fresh seafood flavor onto my tongue, which mingled with the salty umami of the prosciutto, the tanginess of the capers, and the uber super duper cheesiness of the mozzarella to create a sensation my brain's pleasure center had never quite experienced.

In short, it was a remarkable pizza, and there was way more than I could tackle in one sitting, so I was able to re-live the glory later that evening at work. And unlike many more corporate-oriented pizzas, it was just as divine after a trip through the microwave.

My lunch date was nice enough to scoop out a slice of her lasagna onto a little plate for me to sample as well. Lasagna has never been something I have deep cravings for or really love much at all (sorry, mom), but the freshness and quality of Uva's version of the Italian staple was undeniable. She had commented that there was quite a bit of spicy bang to the sauce, and right she was.

We both agreed that one problem with a lot of lasagnas was imbalanced ingredients, but this had a perfect ratio of cheese to marinara to pasta to meat, and there was no way this dish had spent any time at all in Hotel Freezerburn, which is an increasingly rare thing to find. No, this thing had clearly just hopped off the tasty truck today, and as a non-fan of lasagna, I would actually return to Uva just to order this and eat it up yum.

Service was superb, by the way, and that's most likely always the case, but I think it was slightly enhanced after our server realized that she was dealing with a couple of semi-sell known foodie writers. That's okay, it good to be treated special once in a while, and with food as fab as Uva has, they would have gotten a kind review even if they thought we were just Joe Generic from Cincinnati.

Our server tried tempting us with their house-made tiramisu, but our full tummies couldn't bear such a delicious idea. I told her I would return one night just for that legendary dessert and a glass of wine, and I meant it (oh yeah, their wine list has about eleventy hundred options).

After hearing mixed or mediocre reviews about a place, it's always fantastic to investigate the situation myself and find that the restaurant is actually a treasure and we are lucky to have it around. Such is the case with Uva Trattoria. Chef Boyardee. go jump in the lake.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Guest Review: Applebee's

Applebee's
280 W. Hanley Ave, Cd'A

A Facebook friend of mine braved Applebee's this evening and shared this rather shady experience:

My significant other and I went out for a little celebration dinner and it was late so we went to Applebee's. They had a good happy hour price on drinks ($4 jaeger bombs) and the waitress was super real honest about how the food was gonna be.She talked us out of 2 for 20 and recommended the rather bland portobello mushroom chicken thing which my significant other had. 

I ordered the pasta and three cheese with chicken thing which she warned "has a lot going on flavor wise". It was like a crazy experiment I would have tried in college. It was mac and cheese with watered down maple syrup poured over it and chicken strips and bacon bits thrown on top. 

The quesadilla appetizer had just enough cheese to hold the mystery meat filling to the lower tortilla leaving the other tortilla to fend for itself all dry and tasteless. Also it became a joke that none of the silverware was clean at all. 

After bringing us several new utensil sets we chose the least soiled ones to eat with and sent back the ones with the largest most recognizable food chunks.

Our waitress said "you have to go to Chili's to get clean silverware". She went on to explain "at least the silverware is sanitary it goes through an extremely hot sanitation process in the dishwasher so the food that's stuck to it is definitely clean." Lol!

Luckily the drink special and cool candid server kept us in a good mood or we would have flipped out.
 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mexican Food Factory (Revisited)

Mexican Food Factory
1032 N 4th St., CdA
(208) 664-0079
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I've been strolling into the Mexican Food Factory, one of Cd'A's oldest (if not THE oldest) Mexican eateries, since the 1980's or so. A longtime favorite of mine, I gave it the old Get Out North Idaho treatment with a review in December of 2007. Hold up. Almost seven years ago? Lawdy, slow down Father Time, you're making me dizzy and I can't keep up!

Anyway, in my review, which was written back when these things were actually published in the Sunday Spokesman-Review, I gushed about the lovely deep-fried oil scent that permeated the air inside. I mentioned the delight of witnessing the tight-knit staff in action, their friendly banter adding to the organic feel of the restaurant. And I practically melted like cheese while talking about their enchiladas and tamales, describing their food as the best Mexican I'd ever had north of San Jose, Cali-forn-i-a.

Of course, I've dined at the Mexican Food Factory several times since then, but it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed they'd cut my review out of the paper all those years ago, framed it, and hung it on the wall. I always find it very sweet when I see this but, my dear Mexican Food Factory, I must warn you. Unfortunately, my experience at your restaurant yesterday has left me with the distinct impression that things in your eatery have gone severely pear-shaped, and you may not want to tack this particular review up on your wall in a cute little frame.

I don't know, It just wasn't the same. Certainly everyone deserves a day off, and maybe that was the case, but the familiar friendly faces (mainly the owner and his buddy that worked there forever and ever) that I mentioned in my old review were nowhere around, replaced by a set of random teenagers who seemed diligent but detached, present in the room physically, but whose eyes and robotic demeanor led me to believe they were either stuck in a permanent daydream or had crossed that line with one too few cups of coffee for breakfast.

Not that they did anything specifically wrong, they just didn't have the banter and nuance of the previous staff, who were older, more experienced, and much more down-to-earth with a clear invested interest in making sure they were projecting positive energy and putting out a great product. Still, the girl who took my order and delivered it to my table was friendly enough, and even more so after she (I think) realized that I was the guy in the photo in the newspaper review clipping on the wall.

Sentimental value is real nice and all, but the decor inside the dining room is exactly as it was in 2007, which was most likely how it was in 1997 and...you get the idea. It's not totally super tacky in there or anything, but it seems stale and dated, and if I were in charge of that situation, I would have given the place some fresh love and redecorated ages ago. Minor complaint, but sometimes these things make a large impact on customers' likelihood to return after a long absence.

I wasn't in the mood for anything too heavy and saucy before work (I'm heavy and saucy enough myself). I just wanted something simple, satisfying and quick. Admittedly, my order of two regular old ground beef tacos and a small chips-n-cheese was very basic, but I figure that if a restaurant can't tackle their simplest menu items with panache, it's highly likely there are going to be problems all the way up to the most intricate and expensive items.

And speaking of expensive. Oh. My. Gawd. What on earth is going on with the prices on Mexican Food Factory's menu? Seriously. I can see paying these prices for something very uppity and tapas-y and gourmet and chi-chi and whatever other synonyms for "fancy" you prefer to insert here. However, weighing the amount I paid against what landed in front of me, I could have gone to (shudders) Taco Hell for a more satisfying meal at a more realistic price.

Yes, I realize it is the ultimate cruelty to compare a Mexican restaurant's output to a garbage-gut factory such as Taco Bell, but the MFF truly took me down that path and left me feeling disappointed, bewildered, and a little taken advantage of. The quality of the product has very noticeably slipped while the prices have climbed like kudzu on the side of a broke-down Georgia whorehouse. This place has posted a sign which throws shade at the local taco trucks for having more health code violations on record than their zero, but my wallet tells me it would prefer to seek more authentic, delicious Mexican food at a realistic price, despite the risk of an occasional extended stay on the cool porcelain throne.

My two crispy tacos were $2.75 each. Maybe that doesn't seem like it's going to break the bank but here's what I got. Regular old industrial store-bought taco shells. Once upon a time I swear they were pan-fried on premise with fresh tortillas deep fried to perfection, creating that delicious soul-satisfying deep cooking oil aura in the room. I did notice on their facebook page that the authentic pan-fried tacos currently limited to only Fridays. Both my tacos didn't have their generic-brand shells survive beyond the first bite without breaking into shards, leaving me to fork up a very pedestrian pseudo taco-salad.

A small hint of lettuce was splayed gingerly on top (no tomatoes to be found, just lettuce), a vague sprinkling of shredded cheddar was implied, and the taco meat was so utterly bland and boring it made me wonder if they'd been robbed of all their spice jars by a cruel and savage flavor thief in the middle of the night. I even took a forkful of that taco meat by itself, just to make sure my tongue wasn't having a reverse hallucination or something. Sure enough, it tasted like plain unseasoned ground beef. The love! What happened to the love? Their taco meat used to be legendary.

When I placed my order, I requested a side of sour cream (fifty cents) to go with my chips and cheese. I even said "could I get a side of sour cream to go with my chips and cheese?". Instead, the sour cream ended up on my tacos, and I had to look at my receipt again to realize I had been charged fifty cents per taco for this mistake.

I don't mind sour cream on my tacos, but this was a gigantic mess - they had smeared a squirt of sour cream atop the top layer of lettuce and then they wrapped the tacos tightly in yellow paper (why? I didn't order my food to go!), so the sour cream ended up stuck to the taco paper, congealed there with the lettuce in globs instead of in my taco. Not fun and very messy to try to unsuccessfully scrape it off the paper and shove it back in to where it belonged. Ugh.

Taco Bell may not be a five star dining experience, but their tight quality control would never allow for a customer to suffer through a sour cream mess such as this. I realize I'm beating this point like a dead burro into the ground, but at $1.39, a crunchy taco supreme at the Bell is a much better value at half the price of the similar-in-size but inferior in taste Mexican Food Factory specimen. Sad but true.

The chips and cheese were exactly that: tortilla chips, which were okay but I'm not convinced they were as fresh-made as they once were, and a small amount of melted, microwaved cheddar served in a little American Flag paper boat (what, no Mexican Flag boats?). Some might have balked at the uneven distribution of the cheese within the chips, but personally I kind of like huge semi-melted globs of cheese to chew on like salty bubblegum. I'm weird like that.

Still, most of my chips were served  bare naked and cheese-free and would have been better with the side of sour cream as I'd requested. The clincher here is that this wee, simple item comes at a cost of $3.95. Seriously, I could probably go to Winco and spend $4 on a bag of tortilla chips and a chunk of cheese that would allow me to indulge myself on ALL the cheese globs til siesta. Again, the cost vs. value simply does not measure up.

So, to sum up my bill, I had two basic boring tacos and small snack boat of tortilla chips with maybe 1/2 cup cheddar, plus a $2 Mexicali Cerveza for $13.68. Now, that isn't enough money to land on the fainting couch about, but I left feeling like I'd been a bit bent over the proverbial barrel. On a more positive note, the highlight of my lunch was Mexican Food Factory's unbeatable hot sauce, which I poured heavily on everything while resisting the temptation to stick the bottle's nozzle in my mouth and give it a squeeze like it was a baby baba full of Patron tequila. Mmm, this was the one thing that was as delicious as I remember and fortunately, they sell bottles of it to go so you can pick some up then go douse your Taco Bell Quesarito with the stuff. (Meow!)

I know I shouldn't be so bitchy without revisiting some of their other more elaborate menu items, but like I said, if they can't do basic items well, I'm not so sure I'm willing to spend $10.45 on an "enchilada style" burrito or whatever. I'd really like to think I'm just being way overly harsh and grouchy with the MFF and that I just visited them on an off day (when they totally spaced spicing their meat) and that I know such items such as the Beef Colorado Burrito ($6.50) or Fish Taco ($5.50) or Tamales ($8.50) are more than likely as delicious and legendary as ever.

And when I am in the mood for a heavier lunch, I shall return for a more signature item of theirs and the MFF will reign victorious and I will re-evaluate and update this review with all the good news I can fit. At least I hope so, for I find it rather depressing that such a beloved local food institution could fall so hard, so fast. But, for now I am left with a deflated heart and emptied wallet and an unexplainable hankering for a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco Supreme.

Post note: ...and apparently I'm not alone with my less-than-astronomical opinion of the MFF recently. I posted a short blip about my mediocre experience on my personal facebook page yesterday, and received the following comments. I think I can speak for the others here when I say: We love you, Mexican Food Factory, please take heed of this review and these comments and do a Gordon Ramsay style rescue on yourselves before it's too late!





Monday, May 19, 2014

Golden Corral

Golden Corral
3458 N. Fruitland Lane, CdA
(208) 665-5628
website

When rumors started fluttering around that Coeur d'Alene was next in line on Golden Corral's short list of places to build a restaurant, an oddly numerous amount of local folks started freaking out with excitement. Granted, our town hasn't had a corporate buffet style eatery since...um, I can't even remember.

I think the last local entry into the World of Many Sneezeguards was Granny's up in the dog end of the Silver Lake Mall, which mercifully died at least a decade ago. So, it's been awhile since Coeur d'Aleneians have been able to give up on life via sweatpants and five hours taking gluttonous trips to the trough of bland, sub-cafeteria style foodstuffs.

If you're one of these buffet queens yourself, I'm sure you're glowing bright with joy that the Cd'A Golden Corral has finally hung their "line starts here" sign and have flung open their doors for business. I'd been to the North Spokane Corral several years ago and I'd be lying if I said I walked out of there in fits of culinary bliss.

In fact, it was so blah, even bleh, that I couldn't wrap my brain around why people think the place was worth getting worked into a frenzy about. After my maiden visit to the new Cd'A restaurant, I certainly can't say I've had any major positive breakthroughs in regards to my opinion of the place.

The Golden Corral buffet concept was hatched in West Virginia in January 1973, and 41 years later, there are over 500 locations all over everywhere. I'd imagine that the Cd'A location is a typical specimen, but I did find it odd that the very first thing one encounters immediately after wandering inside and getting in queue is not a hostess, or even a cashier, but a tall pile of clear plastic cups and a row of soda pop dispensers. Yes, you pour yourself a beverage (at $1.99 for a bottomless situation) while in line to pay.

There's only one option here once you're face to face with the cashier: buffet buffet buffet. I arrived at lunchtime and my total came to exactly $11.11, including my Mountain Dew. In a sea of 73% senior citizens, it wasn't easy to find a table which promised any semblance of peace and privacy, so I just went for the gusto and took a seat right in the middle of it all.

I landed between a solo dining gentleman whose Dep-drowned hairdo must have made all the ladies go tingly in 1958 but was now a grey, slightly askew birds nest, and a physically shaky couple in their eighties who both had their daily pharmaceuticals laid out neatly before them, ready to swallow with a spoonful of instant mashed potatoes and gravy. "Eileen! Take your goddamn crazy pill", coughed the man at one point, struggling to point a wedge of pink ham into his face with his 6.2 Richter Scale hand.

My waitress Miss Katie shashayed by with the promise of unlimited soda refills and instantaneous evacuation of my rejected, dirty plates, and her service was weary but excellent. I fought off a couple of bratty, unsupervised grandchildren and grabbed an industrial plastic plate from the giant stack.

Round One: salad bar. You've got to a little careful with the salad portion of a corporate buffet experience; salad can be deceptively filling and the last thing you would want to do is devote the majority of space in your intestinal tract to leafy greens and veggies that may actually provide some kind of vitamins and healthful benefits. No, you need to save most of your tummy space for processed and deep fried crap.

So I used the tongs to gingerly place a light dusting of spring greens atop my artfully minimalist chunks of iceberg lettuce. There's a lot of stuff to choose from, nothing unusual for a standard salad bar, but I tried to keep it simple with just some mushrooms, carrots, olives, and sunflower seeds with Caesar dressing. Not bad, but it's hard to rate a self-created salad situation as either toot or boot. I also tried the seashell pasta salad, which was surprisingly OK, but naturally it pales next to my mother's version, which I had just enjoyed at a BBQ a few days before. Winner's column! Last up for Round One, a couple of deviled eggs that were THE most boring deviled eggs in the universe, no tang, no twang, just bland and slightly rubbery. Not today, Satan, not today.

Round Two: Pardon my (non) fran├žais, but there is a LOT of shit to choose from when approaching the main heat tables at the Corral, and I mean that quite literally. So, it's kind of a game where you eyeball an item and try to suss out whether or not it's going to a) taste okay and b) give you a case of painful gastroenteritis. I suppose if you frequent the place (and many of the patrons I encountered seemed like they make it a daily event), you would kind of get to know what's good and what's full of hate. But I wasn't even sure where to begin with it all, so I just took random grabs of this and that and hoped for the best.

Each item in brief: "Spicy Pagoda Pork". From the tiny "Asian" section, this was anything but spicy, anything but flavorful, and covered in some kind of spongy sliminess. The pork (I hope it was actually pork) was like chewing on a chunk of someone's cold elbow. If it was possible for a food item to have the opposite of flavor, the Spring Roll, which surely came instead  from the winter of our discontent, had it.

The Mac n Cheese was crying, CRYING, for some salt and once I did that it almost reached the front gate of the realm of frozen microwaved Stouffers Mac n Cheese. I do like Brussels sprouts, and these Brussels sprouts tasted pretty nice and buttery, but their texture was like a optical illusion for the mouth - it looked like a solid but was mushier on the palate than a jar of Gerbers.

The melancholy and pointless red potatoes (flecked with suicidal flakes of dry parsley) were approximately 57% cooked through, so they had a raw earthy crunch. Far more enjoyable, perhaps the first enjoyable item since the green salad, was the cheesy garlic bread strip, which was a bit on the limp side but had a thick and yummy layer of mozzarella and a significant bang of what at least tasted like real garlic. Winner's column!

It takes someone with a real culinary purple thumb to turn a simple comfort food like meat loaf into a DIScomfort food like the meat loaf offered at Golden Corral. It would be unkind to pick on the wearisome taste buds of our senior community, but this product was clearly designed for their pleasure and their pleasure only. After two quick nibbles, I became convinced that this meat loaf was jointly sponsored by the Soy Council of Canada and Iams ProActive Health Large Breed Dog Food, bereft of flavor, crumbly and dry like a stale granola bar. I. Just. Can't.

The "Awesome Pot Roast" wasn't, like, totally tubular or anything, but it was a hair more edible than most of what had come before, closer to Marie Callender's frozen than Budget Gourmet frozen. The hush puppy was at least semi-passable in that it tasted like a ball of wet air fried in fresh oil, but at least the oil was fresh and a ball of fried anything is going to be at least semi-passable.

Round Three. Overall, I had the most rewarding moments of the whole Golden Corral experience with this brief round. The Mini Steak Burger was actually done incredibly well. The juicy beef patty had a sufficient thickness and was grilled to a perfect medium rare. The pickle was a nice touch and the bun had a nice brioche-ness to it. Winner's column! Tasty deep-fried popcorn shrimp is a hard item to screw up and they didn't! Winner's column! My tongue woke up fully with the delicious steak fries. OMG! Finally! Salt! Winner's column! Lemony, buttery asparagus cooked to a toothsome, non-mushy consistency! Winner's column! And a yummy tart strawberry. Winner's column!

It's easy to lose track of time when you're inside a slow-motion day-mare like Golden Corral, so when I looked at my iPhone and realized it was 12:24 I panicked a little. I had an optometrist appointment at 12:30, so I had to wrap things up quick. If there was one thing I had learned from my previous experience with the Spokane Golden Corral, it was that the dessert bar alone was pretty much worth the price of admission. So, I decided my optometrist could wait and headed over to the "Brass Bell Bakery" section of the restaurant to do a quick graze-through.

As far as I could notice, the Cd'A Corral doesn't have one of the chain's infamous chocolate fountains, which was a slight disappointment. With the clock-a-ticking, and minimal time to really go deep with the MANY sweets on offer, I just went right for the vanilla/chocolate swirl soft serve with hot fudge, a rice krispies treat, and the worlds most microscopic slice of cheesecake. All very nice, very nice indeed. Winners column! If I could have gotten away with it, I'd have stuffed my pockets full of krispie treats, cookies, etc. on my way out the door, but the eye doctor was waiting, so I just had to blow Miss Katie a goodbye kiss and book out the door.

Like I said earlier, if you decide to give in to Golden Corral, it needs to be visited with some regularity just to figure out what's hot and what's not and what hits the spot and what gives the gut rot. I had a fair level of success with some of the items, but others made me long for the days of having "lunch" with my grandma at the LaCrosse Health and Rehabilitation Center cafeteria. Personally, I doubt I will devote the future time, dollars and nerves into making Golden Corral a very regular haunt.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

North Idaho's Most Interesting...Burgers

Having recently indulged in a bit of Schmidty's love (see full review), now seems like as good a time as any to pop out a list delving into that most gorgeous and versatile of American culinary staples, the burger. From a Mickey D's lowly atomic hockey puck to a $38 gourmet specimen made with beef from cows that were hand massaged by naked and sweaty Japanese men and sprinkled with white truffles, we carnivores simply cannot resist the savory flavor of a hamburger patty piled with various random other accouterments and stuck in a bun.

As you may have already gathered, there are plenty of unique and noteworthy burgers to be found right up here in ye olde Idaho panhandle. By the way, I'm skipping over a popular 107-year-old downtown CdA burger joint. Too obvious, and while beloved and delicious (especially with gobs of that spicy ketchup and mustard), just kinda basic.

Cut to five blocks east from that particular establishment and sashay into Scratch (501 Sherman Ave, CdA) for a Snake River Farms Kobe Burger, eight hefty ounces of tender, fatty beef. At $16, it also comes with the heftiest price tag of any burger I could find in the area. The fancy doesn't stop with the meat. Balsamic onions, goat cheese, marinated tomato, and baby spinach also make an appearance between this one's buns. Shoot, that almost sounds healthy or something. If I'm going to plop down that much cash for burger, I want something that's going to make me reach for the Lipitor.

Like the music of Tom Waits, Gouda cheese is kind of an acquired taste, and I've got a lot of love for both. A nice Gouda can emit an odor reminiscent of an unwashed sock that's been through a hardcore workout or two, if you know what I mean. Once you make it past that particular pungency barrier, it has a rich, nutty flavor that likely serves as a perfect compliment to the sauteed onions, bacon, and spicy BBQ sauce it joins on the Gouda Ciabatta Burger served at MickDuff's Brewing Co. (312 North First Ave, Sandpoint). Ah, yes. Umami overload alert!

Nosworthy's Sluggo Burger
Nosworthy's Hall of Fame (4045 N Govt Way CdA) features the pork-a-riffic Sluggo Burger decribed on their menu as "piled high with ham & bacon. Clugston's favorite - formerly known as the Miss Piggy" ($10.50). I don't know who this Clugston fellow is, but I have a feeling Miss Piggy wouldn't be too happy about the rename, and if he has anything to do with that decision, he ought to be expecting a "Hi-ya" karate chop to the knees. But looking at this photo of the beast itself, with its healthy pile of delicious pork products, maybe she should just be thankful she's not involved anymore.

I remember one hazy summer evening when I was about 8 years old and my grandmother, hearing sirens and spotting smoke in the sky coming from the general downtown area, dragged me by the hand to the corner of 4th & Sherman where a large crowd was already gathered. Disaster! Our favorite store Woolworth's was a blazing inferno, all our comforting retail memories going up in clouds of smoke into the sky before our very eyes. The remaining rubble was eventually razed and replaced by a tiny park.

For some reason or another, the Corner Cafe in Post Falls (203 E Seltice Way) has a burger named after this long-ago incident. The Woolworth Fire Burger is a 1/3 pound burger, topped with onion straws, pepper jack, jalapenos, with pickle, lettuce, and tomato, and mayo ($8.59). So it has a few jalapenos and some wussy-ass pepper jack thrown on it. That heat could never match the actual Woolworth fire heat that melted all the 45 RPM records and turned all the magazines and comic books into ash. No, I'm sure makes for quite a tasty meal.

For you smarty pants that don't indulge in the sweet pink flesh of dead animals, Trinity at City Beach (58 Bridge St, Sandpoint) has you covered with their Root Vegetable Burger. Seven kinds of roots, walnuts and spices, breaded and fried on a fresh toasted Kaiser roll with jalapeno mayo, pickled red onions, spinach and Gouda cheese. ($10.50) Is Gouda cheese a happening trend? Anyway, this sounds delicious even for bloodthirsty creature eaters like myself.

Another menu item at Trinity that has my teeth juices flowing is the Popper Burger, described as an "all beef patty grilled & topped with sliced fresh jalapenos, cream cheese, cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice and honey chipotle mayo on a toasted burger bun." ($11) Oh no they better don't! With this masterstroke of genius, they've managed to combine two of my favorite guilty pleasures: a fat ass burger and the always addictive jalapeno popper. I'm even willing to forgive their use of 2007's old buzzword "chipotle" and wrap my tongue around this burger anytime.

Penny's Pit's The Gosman
I've yet to actually visit Penny's Pit Pub & Lounge (14319 Hwy 53, Rathdrum), but following them on facebook is like a parade of amazingly creative, gigantic burgers that make me want to gas up and head up north to Rathdrumville. Most notable (for sheer size at least) is The Gosman ($12.59). This burger was apparently masterminded by a brilliant customer by that name. I was so impressed my this creation that I tried facebook stalking this Gosman guy to tell him he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for Burger Insanity, but alas I couldn't find him.

I mean, look at it! Double patties, double bacon, fried egg, onion rings, fire buffalo sauce, bleu cheese dressing, jalapeno, handful of fries, double pepper jack cheese, and Penny's house sauce. How do they expect anyone besides a water buffalo to even begin taking a bite of that beautiful pile of calories? I will need a knife, fork, small shovel, 31 napkins, and several take out boxes, but damn it, finishing a Gosman burger is high on my bucket list and I know I can do it!

Wallace's Fainting Goat (316 Bank St) puts a twist into the boring old basic burger scene by venturing outside of the beef realm and into the elk. Personally, I've always been a bit standoffish about wild game meats. Gamey tastes turn me off and also, I'm still suffering from the childhood trauma of dealing with poor Bambi's Mom, taken out brutally by an off-screen hunter for the sake of what? To be served with a side of brussel sprouts and Rice-a-Roni? Not right.

Anyway, I'd be willing to face my fears and try out Fainting Goat's Elk Sliders - 3 sliders served on homemade steak rolls with sweet & spicy tomato jam and baby arugula ($11). I had to Google "steak rolls" (sort of fatter, flatter hot dog buns), and the tomato jam sounds just piquant enough to cover any suspicious gaminess. Very sorry, Bambi's Mom (did she even have a name?). I think your mystery hunter might be winning me over after all.

Michael D's Eatery
Michael D's (203 CdA Lake Dr, CdA) is known primarily for their ultra dank breakfast platters (three cheers for the Honnell Special!), but they do remain open until 2 pm and they've got some terrific lunch items on the menu as well. I've enjoyed several of their burgers, and they do them well, but there's one that makes my eyebrows twitch and go true north on my face.

The Marsala Burger carries this explanation: "Smothered in mushrooms marinated with Marsala wine and creamy American cheese" ($11.50). Mmmkay. I love mushrooms and in certain contexts I love American cheese and I most certainly LOVE Marsala wine. But I'm having a hard time with the idea of putting these particular flavor profiles together with a burger on a bun.

Wine and cheese are great together but pairing the oak-y booze taste of Marsala with the artificially creamy taste of plastic-wrapped orange slices of cheese just makes my mind blip a little. Maybe it's some of that frou-frou fancy American cheese (it must exist).Here's a case of -try-it-and-see, which I will do sometime, and I expect it to work like anything else Michael D's does, quite fantastically.

I wouldn't want to leave you without giving you a virtual whiff of the stank of pure onion breath. All the way out in East Hope, Sweet Lou's (477272 N Hwy 95) is serving up the AWN-YAWN and hard in the form of it's aptly named Ultimate Onion Burger ($9.99). Ground steak patty with fried onions, pickled onions, and smoked onion ranch with jack cheese. Why stop there? Let's throw on some Jack-n-the-Box onion rings, maybe a few of those pickled baby onions you put in cocktails, some Funyons for crunch, and a bowl of French Onion soup to dip it all in. No, I love onions so to me this is like cake to a chubby kid. Wait, Onion Cake. Let's slap a slice of that on there too.