Category Archives: Food and Drink

Almost Exciting Enough to Make You Wet

A recent article in Forbes spoke to the proliferation of bottled waters.  I can’t criticize the trend, since I have a bottle sitting on my desk as I type this and pretty much always have one in the car, at home, in the office, on the plane, etc. 

But there are times that I experience a weird mix of pride and shame when it comes to being a professional marketer.  Pride since we certainly seem to have successfully taken over the world and everyone’s opinions.  Shame for… well… pretty much the same thing, since we sometimes go overboard.   My first time experiencing this was going through the gates at Fenway a few years ago and seeing that there were ads on the turnstile bars.  I was both impressed that someone thought of that but also a little depressed that we had reached the point where marketers started to do stuff like that.

Anyway, along the lines of marketing run amok, this article on water has a link to a slide show of the "nine most interesting waters on the market" (or you can go to the bottom of the article for the link).  You will see water for good skin, for losing weight, one that raises money for the environment, with peppermint for freshening your breath, and a super-purified one that takes 13 hours to make (its WATER! I can make some in a split second by turning on the faucet).

There is also something called "glacial milk" which sounds absolutely disgusting, water from 2 miles below the earth’s surface, and water that is described as "molecularly separated and then condensed through a vapor distillation that removes dissolved solids, inorganic minerals and other elements found in water." 

I don’t know about you, but If I need to pull out my high school chemistry book to drink a bottle of water, then I ain’t drinkin’ it.

Chicago Food

One of the joys when traveling is trying regional specialties.  Whether it is white chowder in New England, cheesesteaks in Philly, barbecue in the south, or chili in Cincinnati, it is fascinating to see what certain locales have latched onto as their favorite cuisines.

In Chicago, the obvious choice is deep dish pizza.  Originated at Pizzeria Uno and Due in 1943, it has become world-famous thanks to not only the sheer gluttonous deliciousness of the original, but thanks to the Uno’s chain of restaurants.  I’ve tried a few other pizza places in Chicago in previous trips and have enjoyed stuffed pizza from Giordano’s several times, but never made it to the original Uno’s.  I guess I was always skeptical of it, assuming it would just be like the chain.  Boy, was I wrong.

The deep dish pizza at your local Uno’s is good, but is nothing compared to the pizza at the original Uno’s or Due’s.  Not greasy or soggy at all (which the chain pizza can sometimes be) and obviously hand-formed with fresh sauce and a perfect balance of lots of cheese, lots of sauce and lots of sausage, it is a totally different experience.  The dough is both thick and chewy as well as light and airy – almost like a soda bread.   I can’t say enough good things about it.

The other specialties in Chicago that aren’t quite as easily recognized by outsiders are Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs.   Italian beef sandwiches are unlike any other sandwich – paper-thin slices of roast beef that has been roasted and then simmered in beef broth, garlic, onions, and peppers.  It is served soaked with broth and has a delicious underlying spiciness.  The meat melts in your mouth and is loaded with flavor unique to the sandwich.  To get an idea of what goes into the sandwich, just look at some of the recipes.

The hot dogs in Chicago are great if you like a lot of "stuff" on your dogs – mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle and peppers piled on a steamed poppy seed bun.  Basically, the thing weighs about half a pound by the time its done.  However, even if you don’t like all that crap on it, the hot dogs are beefy and actually taste like meat.  Chicago is known for its hot dogs and sausage, and other encased meats, and for good reason!  If you find yourself in Chicago, go beyond pizza and steaks, and try a beef sandwich.

Hot Dog!

Why does this world need so many ways to cook a hot dog?  Specifically, why do we need so many specialized devices to cook hot dogs?  This really bothers me.  I like hot dogs as much as anyone, but if you’re eating them regularly enough that you need a dedicated kitchen appliance, then you may want to re-think your diet.

Think I’m kidding?  Looking through the recent issue of SkyMall on a recent flight, there were three for sale.  Here’s what a quick Google search turned up:

OK, first of all, methinks the guys at (its guys – check out the site.  Believe, its guys running that place) like hot dogs just a little TOO MUCH.

In any case, that is six specialized devices with the sole purpose of cooking hot dogs.  SIX! To cook a sausage product that can be wrapped in plastic wrap and cooked in a minute in the microwave.  Boiled or pan fried in about five.   

Most of these descriptions also talk about how there  is nothing better than a hot dog cooked on hot rollers.  Seriously – a quote is "the great taste of stadium-style hot dogs."  Have any of these people actually paid attention to what the hot dogs taste like at stadiums?  They are disgusting.  The only reason you think they taste good is because you just paid $100 to be crammed into a bleacher seat in either scorchingly hot sun or freezing-cold wind and you’re gonna enjoy that hot dog no matter what.   And no one buys the hot dogs at a 7-Eleven because they want to – its because they are deadly hungry and need a food-like product NOW.  Those hot dogs have more miles on them than a Lance Armstrong bicycle and taste like his seat does at the end of the Tour De France.  Why would anyone want to recreate this at home?

Google also revealed a link for an article about a in-car hot dog maker.  God, I wish it still existed, since that would ROCK!  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been driving along going "I wish I had a hot dog right now.  Or even better… be able to cook one!"

However, if cooking your lips, hoof and rectum-filled intestinal skin rockets (I even made myself gag with that) over electric heat isn’t your thing, then may I suggest this battery-operated stadium hot dog griller.  All the entertainment of rolling hot dogs without the convenience of not having to stand over them!  Whee!!

Calling the Barbecue Faithfull

If you know me or have read this blog or my bio at all, you will know that I am a barbecue aficionado. 

OK, I’m a barbecue nut.  Not only do I barbecue extensively at home (usually year-round) and experience with various sauces, rubs, woods, and charcoal, but I am also Certified as a Barbecue Judge by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.  I have judged the New Hampshire State Championships (twice), the Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut State Championship Barbecue Contests, as well as the New England Championships (twice).  I have eaten barbecue in 14 states. 

What I’m trying to say is that I know my barbecue.  Purists may scoff at the notion of a northern boy knowing good ‘que, or maybe even disagree with my preferences, but I feel secure in saying that I know what good barbecue is. 

I just returned from dinner at LJ’s BBQ’s new location in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and I am happy to say that THAT was good barbecue! 

LJ’s recently relocated from a real "hole-in-the-wall" type of place in a somewhat seedy part of Providence to a nice strip mall on the Providence/Pawtucket line in a an area inhabited by young professionals, college students, college professors and old-money wealth.  The strip mall is shared by a vegetarian restaurant (which is kinda funny, being next to a place that serves nearly nothing BUT meat) and an upscale deli/bakery that is well known for its bagels, if that gives you an idea of the sort of area they are in. 

Even though the location has improved and the menu expanded, the food has stayed as good as ever.  John, Erock and I started off with an order of wings with hot sauce on the side.  The wings are barbecued, but rather perfectly fried, fully cooked with super-crispy skin.  I love to combine the hot sauce and LJ’s signature sauce to create a spicy/sweet flavor burst.

We then followed up with our main courses – a pulled pork and cheese sandwich for John, a chili cheeseburger for Erock and a pork ribs and pulled pork combo plate for myself.  John said his pulled pork sandwich was excellent and Erock said that not only was the burger good and the chili excellent, but it was one of the only chili cheeseburgers that could be eaten with your hands, not needing a knife and fork to a get a sloppy joe-like "sandwich" (in the loosest meaning of the word) shoveled into your mouth. 

My barbecue combination platter, I am happy to report, is one of the best I’ve had.  Seriously.  Again, I know my ‘que and have had championship-quality competition barbecue and plenty of good and bad restaurant barbecue, and this was some damn good stuff.  Pulled pork can be a surprisingly difficult dish to get right in a restaurant, since it can dry out rather quickly.  LJ’s trick of tossing chucks and shreds of pork (it is really more chopped than pulled, purists take note) with his sauce and heating it up in a hot cast iron pan before serving takes that dryness factor out, while adding a nice caramelized glaze to the pork. 

The St. Louis-cut ribs were not only delicious, but perfectly presented, cut 3/4’s of the way through and spread slightly to prevent a messy pulling-apart.  They were moist but not fatty all, plenty of meat, and well-smoked but then nicely char-grilled for the finish.  Together with the pulled pork, it made for some of the best restaurant barbecue I’ve had, and some of the best BBQ I’ve had, period.   I told Bernie (one of the co-owners and the "cook" between the two) that the food was actually even better than it was at the old place, and it was pretty darn tasty there!

Sides of mac and cheese, baked beans, and corn bread were excellent.  Their home-made mac and cheese with bread crumb topping is truly authentic, the baked beans were exceptionally good and the corn bread was so good, even I enjoyed it, and I’m not a big corn bread fan. 

I also thoroughly love LJ’s barbecue sauce – it has a truly unique flavor, owing it spiciness and flavor to some non-traditional spices: on top of the usual savory flavors of garlic and onion lies some hints of allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, which adds depth and flavor.  It also makes you want to put it on everything.  Hell, it makes you want to ask for a shot glass so you can drink the stuff.   It isn’t spicy but is filled with flavor so that everyone can enjoy it.

LJ’s now has a full liquor license and even though they don’t have a draught beer system, their bottled selection makes up for it.  The decor of the new place is gorgeous – a perfect "upscale barbecue" motif, with pictures of the various knick-knacks from their old place sitting in for the actually tchotchkes.  A nice touch and a nice recognition of their roots.  We ended the evening with a Carameltini for John, who said it was excellent, and a a couple of small batch bourbons for me and Erock.  The bill was $92 for the three of us, including four beers, the appetizer, two sandwiches, a full entrees, and the three after-dinner drinks, a reasonable sum for a great meal with large – but not over-whelming – portions.

One caveat was the service: it was quite a bit slow, but we entertained ourselves with conversation, as the noise level was high enough that we could be our usual crude n’ crass selves but not so noisy that we couldn’t laugh at those same jokes.  However, that caveat comes with another one: that this was only their SECOND night open!  We waited about 20 minutes for a table, as the place was absolutely packed, and Linda (the other co-owner) said that it was like that the opening night.  I’m sure that once they work the kinks out (they were out of some sides and BRISKET, a disappointment for Erock, but a good reason to go back) and the service gets up to the speed of the business, things will be just fine.  Even with a long wait for our meals, it was well worth it and encourage all of you within a reasonable driving distance of Providence to check out LJ’s, as I think it is the best barbecue in the area!

Its Sunny Out.. Must Be Almost BBQ Season

It is March 7th and it is a Sunny day out.  Cold, but Sunny.  And the days are getting longer.  And after a relatively mild winter, that can mean only one thing…


(that’s season, not seasoning)

I just signed up for the first contest of the year, the Snowshoe Grill Contest in Abington, MA.  This is also going to hopefully be the first year that I finally get a chance to work with a team in a competition – I have to see if it is something I want to do myself.

Of course, regardless of whether or not I compete, I will continue my backyard barbecuing and I am looking forward to trying a new product: True Lemon and True Lime.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I found out about these products through a colleague of mine, Laura Davis of Rinck Advertising, who is handling their marketing.  So while this is a bit of a plug, I think the product sounds promising and look forward to trying it.  I will provide a full report here when I do!

Boston Wine Expo Recap

It has taken a few weeks to get around to doing a recap of this, but back on January 29th, I went to the 15th annual Boston Wine Expo at the World Trade Center.  As usual, I tried some fantastic wines and in order to both share them with everyone and simply as a means of getting them somewhere that I can refer to, here are my favorites.  Fancy tasting notes are stolen from notes taken from the distributors/wineries serving. (like I am going to remember what everything tastes like after five hours of drinking wine nearly a month ago…) 

Mavrodaphne of Patras – A full bodied red dessert wine from Greece with a rich yet delicate taste and port-style aroma

Royal Oporto 10 Year Old Tawny Port –

Quinta D’Aguieira Touringa Nacional – A very nice wine from Portugal

Casa Garcia Vinho Verde – Another excellent wine from Portugal.  They were quite impressive, even without the high end ports

Earth, Zin & Fire Front Row Zinfandel, Jessie’s Gove Petite Sirah and Jessie’s Grove Westwind Old Vine Zinfandel – Three wines from Lodi, California that I really liked.  Web site at

Incognito Viognier and Earthquake Zin – Another Lodi wine, this one from Michael-David Vineyards (which produces the 7 Deadly Zins wine).  Viognier is becoming one of my favorite wines – you can usually get it for a steal on wine menus in restaurants too.  The Zin is everything a Cali zin should be… spicy, juicy, full bodied… good stuff.

Trimbach Pinot Gris 2002 Reserve – From Alsace France, this is a remarkably well-balanced wine.  Highly recommended.

Herdade Grande Red Wine blend – From the Alentejo region of Portugal (I told you – the Portuguese wines were fantastic) by Herdade Grande vineyards

Santa Vitoria Red Wine – Also from the Alentejo region of Portugal, this is a combination of trincaderia, Aragones, and Syrah. 

Nobilis Wines – Three wines from Vini Nobilis, all of which were quite good.

Maria Schneider Jazz (2004) – A medium-dry Riesling wine from Reichsrat von Buhl that was very enjoyable.

Balduin von Hövel (2004) – Another very good fruity Riesling from von Hövel winery in the Saar valley of Germany.

Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett (2004) – One more Riesling, this one off-dry, and rated 87 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

(please note about the above wines: I actually like German wines and enjoy sweeter wines.  I also like very dry wines, but I am a fan of sweet, fruity and dessert wines.  I don’t think a wine should be written off just because it comes from a country or because it is sweet.  You don’t have to peel off layers of skin in your mouth with tannins in order for a wine to be good!)

Sa Prüm Essence Reisling and Blue Slate Reisling – I have nothing on these other than some scribbles that say it was good.  Must have been towards the end of the day…

Burmester 20 year tawny port – Yeah, 20 year tawny port. Saying this is good is like saying "Godiva chocolate is tasty."  LOL  Burmester also had a very tasty 2000 vintage port.

Ironstone Xpression and Obsession Symphony – Both from Ironstone Vineyards.  The Xpression is a red Cabernet Franc blend.  The Obsession is made from the Symphony grape, which is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris.

A few Spanish wines – I wish we had taken better/clearer notes on this.  One says Urbina Idras (Ahiego) and the other says Seleccia especial & crianza berengue.  I have no idea what this means.  Look for a Spanish wine under the name "Urbina" think.  LOL 

Which brings me to my last point… I’m sure that these companies make major investments in being at the Wine Expo.  I’ve done enough events to know that it isn’t cheap to do and would imagine that the Wine Expo is a lot expensive than sampling milk at a kid’s fest.  You would think that with that investment more companies would invest a little more in take-aways for people to remember what wines they liked.  I would rather have more of those and less of a big heavy program that you’re supposed to write in (there’s a joke, as you’re jostling around a glass of wine and a goodie bag among the throngs of people). 

Just little cards – half 3.5 x 2.5 (half of an index card) with the basic info of the wine on it… maybe what distributor so that the public could ask for it from their favorite wine retailer.  With the thousands of people who pour through there (pun intended), wouldn’t help to make a better return on investment for everyone involved?

Mmm…. salt

Does anyone know what the hell to do with Eurasian Black Salt? 

A few weeks ago I bought a sample shaker of Dave’s Gourmet Salts (that’s a good review of it, but you can buy it here).  In case you haven’t heard, gourmet salts are the hot thing right now – using different varities of salt to lend different flavors in cooking can be found in all the gourmet cooking magazines.  We’re not just talking about sea salt vs. table salt, it weird stuff like Hawaiian Red Salt, and hand-harvested Fleur de Sel.  I’ve tried only 1 or 2 so far, and there is definitely a difference between them.

However, there is one salt in the shaker that goes by the moniker "Eurasian Black Salt" and I don’t know what to do with it!  It has a very heavy sulfur smell and taste and I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what it would be good on!  If anyone know anything about this, it would be appreciated, since believe it or not, an internet search came up empty!

I Wish I had an Uncle Like This

Last Wednesday night, February 1st, the New England Barbecue Society held a "Barbecue Road Trip" to Uncle Pete’s Hickory Ribs in Revere, MA.  It was the first road trip that NEBS organized in quite a while, and it was good to hang out with my BBQ brethren and eat some ‘que.

Of course, the only reason you’re really reading this is to find out what the food was like, so here you go:

Pork Ribs – Traditional pork spareribs prepared well, but not spectacular.  Good flavor and tenderness was good – not fall-off-the-bone mushy like you get in chain restaurants, but I also had a surprising amount of fat on some of mine even though some of the end pieces were a little dried out.

Beef Ribs – Possibly the BBQ star of the evening.  I’m not a huge beef rib fan – even the best beef rib isn’t as good as a good ‘ol steak or a pork rib in my own humble opinion, but I had two beef ribs and both were meaty, tender (for a beef rib) and had good flavor.  There were a few bites on the upper part of the ribs where the meat is more marbled that were excellent and would make the whole rib worth it in itself.

Chicken Wings – Ok, these weren’t barbecued, but I loved them.  They were fried and tossed in this spicy sweet-and-sour sauce that had a nice hot kick but was also sweet.  Love to try that smeared on some true barbecued chicken!  If I found myself in the area, I’d go back just for these wings.

Brisket – I don’t know what got into me, but based on a dining companion’s advice, I didn’t even bother with the brisket.  I’m fan of thick-cut or chopped brisket, not the thinly sliced brisket that was being served. 

Steak Tips – I think that’s what these were (that’s the problem with a buffet)… they were good, though not really barbecued – just grilled, so I tried one and moved on.  However, they were meaty and tender with good flavor.  I thought I heard someone say something about it being chopped brisket, but it didn’t strike me as that.  (great.. mystery meat…)

Pulled Pork – Good flavor but dried out without doctoring up.  I have a higher tolerance for a tough bark (the charred outside of a pork butt) since chewing longer means more flavor (is that as gross as I think it sounds?), so I thought this was better than some did.  I also prefer pulled pork over chopped pork (chopped is too much like cat or dog food in my opinion) so it got an extra point from me on that count.  However, I also slathered mine with Uncle Pete’s barbecue sauce, which I really liked, and helped to make the pork much more moist and taste better than it did on its own. 

Sauces – There were two sauces, one thinner and more vinegary, and the other a more traditional thick red sauce.  I found both to be well prepared and more interesting than the usual stuff you’ll find in some restaurants.

Sides – Sorry folks… I know some people consider this heresy since they think that barbecue also includes the beans and mashed potatoes and corn bread, but I didn’t try them.  I was there for the meat!  However, they did pass around some fresh-cut fries and home made onion rings, both of which I did try and thought they were really good.

Overall, I would give the place three out of five stars, if I did such things.  Definitely worth going to if you’re nearby (and maybe its better when not served buffet-style) and craving BBQ, but not necessarily worth going out of your way for.

I’d like to see the next NEBS Road Trip go to the new LJ’s Barbecue, which is moving to a new, bigger, and better location on the Providence/Pawtucket line.  Maybe some of the Massachusetts folks would be willing to take the trek down to check out the Lil’ Rhody barbecue scene.

Try Making the Beer Better First, OK?

This article has been referred to on a few different sites and in some e-newsletters I get:

Basically, the beer industry is trying to re-vamp its image through an ad campaign so the beer will appeal to the "wine-and-cheese, single-malt Scotch crowd" as it is called in the article.   

Interesting concept, but one that is fundamentally flawed.  I believe that the reason that Budweiser or Coors doesn’t appeal to the the sophisticated gourmand crowd isn’t just because of an image problem: its because the beer just isn’t as interesting as those other options. 

Somewhere along the way, American beer (Bud, Coors, Michelob, etc.) became a thin, watery, flavorless and fizzy beverage which simply wouldn’t appeal to someone who appreciates the balance of tannins, acidity, sweetness,  fruit and earthiness in a fine wine (or even a single malt scotch for that matter).   The big manufacturer beers are very simply one-dimensional in their taste profile – if you like them, then fine, go ahead and drink em, but don’t tell me that all beer tastes the same if that’s all you like.

You want proof that not all beers taste alike?  Take a look at this beer festival coming up (which I’ll be attending of course): Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Festival.  That’s a link to the beer list there.  Among some of the more interesting (or "extreme") beers are: Peanut Butter Porter, Monster Barleywine, Cherry Spice, Imperial Death March Stout, Whiskey Barrel Porter, Jalapeño Sunsplash Golden Ale, Jamaican Stout….  let me tell you, none of these will taste alike, and all of them would make even the most hard-core wine or scotch snob feel hard-pressed to find something more interesting and complex than some of the beers there.

The above article also states that "Nor have brewers excelled at emphasizing that beer, like wine and certain liquors, can be brewed with different flavors (Anheuser introduced a pumpkin spice ale to coincide with Thanksgiving) and sold in attractive packaging" which is, again, false based on what smaller micro- and mid-sized breweries are doing.  Every year, nearly every micro-brewery puts out a "Pumpkin" or other "Harvest" ale in the fall and then a "Winter" brew in the winter. Those of us who understand that beer is a complex and interesting beverage look forward to trying these each year.  Rogue Beer, a microbrewery that is available nationally has some fantastic and interesting packaging, as does Magic Hat.  And they both make good beers.

What is interesting about this list of beers at the Extreme Beer Festival is that Anheuser-Busch will be there, the first time I can remember them having a presence at a Beer Advocate beer festival.  Kudos to them for trying to brew some new and interesting beers to help improve beer itself, not just its image.

This is must be why they are for women

So I was looking for a good snack or meal replacement type bar to have in the morning when I’m running late or have to catch an early flight, or what have you, and while looking through the approximate 4,594,389 available varieties of bars available at your average store, I came across Pria from Power Bar. I liked the nutritionals on it, and bought one to try out.

Now, I admit that I didn’t know until just now that it is designed for women. The design isn’t exactly feminine and there’s nothing on the packaging that screams "for woman only." Yeah, there’s a picture of a female on it, but so do other products. Hell, if I had my choice of lathering up with a soap that has a picture of a woman on it vs. a picture of a man, I’d much rather go with the woman!

Anyway – I had this Pria bar today. I don’t know what the word "Pria" actually means, or where they came up with the word, but I’m quite certain that it MUST mean "intestinal demon" in SOME language. If I had eaten an entire ear of corn – husk, silk, cob and all – it wouldn’t have left me feeling as bloated and disgusting. What the hell are these people thinking? This isn’t food – its a concrete roadblock for your lower intestine. I can eat high fiber cereal with no problem, but this thing… God help me, make it STOP!