Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's What Knights Drink: Even Knights in Need of a Caffeine Fix

If you make it all the way to the end, I promise there's some *actual* information about mead here.

Oh em gee, remember how these totally made me el-oh-el this summer? I find that they are still very LOWL-worthy. I mean, my god, just LOOK. Batman! With a cartoonishly oversized bottle of mead in his hand with a caption that reads "It's What Knights Drink. Even Dark Knights." That's bloody brilliant, man!*

You know what else makes me LOWL? This:

Ian Radogost-Givens, meadmaker and fun czar at B. Nektar

Wait for it...

Eh??? EH???

Okay, but seriously now. I promised Brad [Dahlhofer, owner and meadmaker] and the Ians [Radogost-Givens and Washington, fun and brand czars, respectively] at B. Nektar Meadery that I would write something in exchange for their provision of booze for me. Well really how it happened was Brad emailed me, and I was all dawdle dawdle dawdle OMG I have like all these projects I need to wrap in the next couple of weeks and am totally freaking out except not really because I haven't started one of them and if I was really freaking out I would at least be making some sort of effort (PS, those are all for forthcoming issues of Metromode, Macomb Now, Arts Spectator, couple for 944, and a couple for edible WOW, and since all of that is print except Metromode you should totally check 'em out because I won't be linking to them here and there's gonna be some good stuff that if you miss in your mission to jock my style will make you very sad indeed), so then I get a text from Ian-not-number-one-because-the-Ian-formerly-known-as-Ian-number-two-didn't-like-being-number-two-so-now-it's-Ian-NOT-number-one-and-two and I was all, well now EVERYONE's covered it (The Publication That Shall Not be Named and then some other ones too) so I was like, "I don't want to do what everyone else is doing, psssssssshhhhhhh," so then Brad emailed me and invited me to the mead tasting that they have every other Friday at the Meadery and I went and then ANOTHER writer was there (ps, Brad, you really rocked the PR with this one man) and I decided then that I was going to write something that no one else possibly could or would write despite the fact that there are, like, 800,000 f%$#ing food bloggers in this city now since it's the new "it" place to be ever since Phil Cooley discovered Detroit like Columbus discovered America, and so here we are.

So I went to the mead tasting, which they have every other Friday evening from 5:30-10:00PM at the Meadery, which is located at 1505 Muggers' Alley, Ferndale. Well, not really; this is Ferndale after all, where people move after they lived in Detroit but before they relocate to Ann Arbor. Okay, so it's located at 1505 Brad is Paying For New Shocks For My Car After Driving in That Third World Parking Lot Alley, Ferndale.

Okay, so you can "Google Map" the directions and it's pretty dead-on (head west on 9 Mile from I-75, turn left at Chazzano), but once you're there, despite the signage, it's still tricky to find. Eventually I figured my best bet would be to track the packs of aging white people I saw darting across the open terrain, using my wily urban hunting skills to deduce that packs of aging white people would not be darting across a dark third-world parking lot unless there was trendy booze to be had nearby. Within moments I had stalked and cornered my prey.

You could probably just go ahead and follow the signs, though.

The spoils of my hunt ended up being many bottles of mead. On sample (and I'm doing this from memory and a very blurry photo, so I might miss a few...plus I had a LOT of samples, so factor that in as well) that evening was: Barrel-Aged Dry Cyser, Gewurtzraminer Pyment, Strawberry Pizzazz, Wildflower, Orange Blossom, Vanilla Cinnamon, Margarita Mead, Backwoods Cyser, and the mead of honor, the Chazzano Coffee Ethiopian Harrar Mead.

Barrel-Aged Dry Cyser: Described as their most "bone-dry" mead, this apple honey mead is aged in oak barrels and is crisp, clear and palate-cleansing. This was actually my favorite of the tasting.

Gewurtztraminer Pyment: A "pyment" is a mead made with wine grapes and honey. The Gewurtztraminer grape works well here because it is already a sweet, crisp, floral grape that seems a much more natural compliment to honey than some other pyments. This would be GREAT for food pairings, well-matched with anything the Gewurtz grape is already inclined to pair well with. Quite tasty and drinkable.

Strawberry Pizzazz: Like drinking straight strawberries and champagne; this will be a wonderfully refreshing beverage in the spring and summer, and would also be a great craft cocktail mixer. But don't ask me; I'll put whiskey in anything.

Wildflower: One of their staple meads available year-round, made with Michigan wildflower honey. I have to admit the first time I ever tried it, I found the flavor a bit off-putting, but now it has grown on me tremendously. Expect more floral notes than honey, as you might be inclined to assume (like me).

Orange Blossom: Another year-round mead made from the honey of orange and other citrus trees, aged in American oak. I always think the words "orange nectar" whenever I try this, though that might just be a nonsense descriptor I'm just making up. Definitely demonstrates the essence of orange with a clear hint of oak.

Vanilla Cinnamon: Like warm apple pie in a glass, this mead is liquid gold. Made with whole cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans, it is sweet but incredibly smooth. This is the kind of flavor that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Drinking an entire bottle of it in one evening like I did once will also produce the same effect. Try it warmed for added enjoyment.

Backwoods Cyser: This is a crisp apple honey mead aged in bourbon barrels, showing the richness and warmth of the bourbon-soaked oak. By that I mean you can totally taste the bourbon. This is like warm apple pie in a glass if you make your apple pie with Kentucky bourbon.

Margarita Mead: Made with dark and light agave nectar, orange blossom honey, fresh lime juice squeezed by hand, lime zest, and orange zest. The flavor is light with just a hint of margarita flavor (instead of overpowering, like drinking a straight mix); next time I'll be sure to try it BEFORE the Vanilla Cinnamon, which has a tendency to linger.

Ethiopian Harrar Mead: Why drink coffee in the morning when you can have alcohol that tastes like coffee instead (and not the sticky-sweet stuff of espresso-flavored vodkas either)? Right? Made with Chazzano Roasters' most popular flavor, the Ethiopian Harrar, and wildflower honey, this mead is an exercise in contrast: at once bitter and sweet, it has a high acidity with robust coffee flavor--it's like nothing you would expect and surely unlike anything you've tasted before. Coffee lovers and mead lovers both will be surprised by this one. And contrary to the thought process behind warming the Vanilla Cinnamon, you should NOT drink this warmed. Trust me on this one. Warming makes it have kind of a tang, and you do not want this to have any sort of tang (it's the high acidity, which warming emphasizes even more). What can I say; I tried.

The whole point of this post was to talk about the Ethiopian Harrar Mead, be tea double you. Thanks for hanging out.

*I've refrained from my usual stream-of-consciousness cursing just in case Brad at B. Nektar or Frank at Chazzano decides to link to this post from their website for some wholly ill-advised reason. People should never give me free things. They don't know what I'm likely to do with them. Especially when there's alcohol involved; that just spells disaster. D-I-S-A-S-ter. (That would have been a much funnier joke if there could be some sort of audio component here. It was this whole play on that Gwen Stefani song where she spells "bananas" repeatedly and thankfully correctly. I should be on radio. But then you'd also miss all the accompanying erratic hand gestures and highly animated facial expressions. Therefore, I should be on TV. Someone tell someone.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Real Detroit Weekly: South Bar

South Bar is part of the Birmingham Renaissance of 2010. Opened in June, the spacious, hyper-modern concrete patio was an instant hit, with people waiting in line for over an hour just to put their names in and wait some more. Inevitably, the name and chic beach resort image drew comparisons to Miami's slick South Beach scene, but South Bar offers more than just pretty people in a pretty place drinking pretty things.

"At first, people thought we were fine dining but that's not what we wanted to be," explains Joe Spadafore, who owns South Bar, along with Steve Perdis of Main Street Billiards in Rochester. "We're more of a casual sports club; a food place with good prices."

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Real Detroit Weekly Extended Cut: Union Street

It can be easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of all the pretty, shiny new restaurants opening around town (and Slows), but there’s nothing quite like the old favorites, the places that have become Detroit staples: reliable, dependable, ever-present. Like your best friend from grade school who you don’t get to see as often as you’d like but you know will always be there for you.

Going into 2011, start revisiting some of these old favorites, like Union Street in Detroit’s Midtown. Located right across the street from the Majestic complex, Union Street has offered the local crowds a relaxing, comfortable, friendly place to eat and drink for more than 20 years. Whether it be hipster spillover from across the street, students from WSU, medical professionals from the DMC, older couples from the suburbs in town for a show at the Fox or DSO, art lovers from the DIA, area residents, black or white, young or old … you get the picture. Union Street is one place that is truly a melting pot of local culture. Even the workers – many of whom have been there for 10 years or more – run the gamut from artist to writer to musician to Master’s student to physicist. And that’s ultimately what the heart of Detroit is all about, and one of the things that make it great.

“This is Detroit’s best side, what it is and what it can be,” says Executive Chef John Wesenberg of the restaurant’s always-eclectic crowd. “People interact here, do business here. There’s a lot of laughter here,” he says, ironically over the din of laughter and conversation at 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon. “We’re right here in the heart of it.”

Wesenberg was a patron here before he was the chef, and himself has been here 10 years. This is the kind of place where people come to talk to each other without distractions: there are no TVs anywhere, no sports or CNN, just a diverse mix of people all enjoying each other’s company.

The menu is equally diverse to fit the patronage. Union Street’s menu doesn’t easily fit into any kind of categorization, so let’s call it upscale casual contemporary American as a catch-all. But the prices are modest, appealing to all wallets, and the food is consistently GOOD. Wesenberg has two culinary degrees and has worked in high-profile kitchens, but ultimately it is this rich comfort food (don’t hold the butter) that he loves. They take great care in everything they do, from the housemade sauces and dressings to butchering their own meats and seafood and smoking their own brisket made with their own dry rub blend.

Take the Jumbo Lump Crab au Gratin, made with meaty chunks of shelled sweet crab in a decadent béchamel sauce topped with a six-cheese blend baked on top and served with sourdough toast points. Or the Lobster & Shrimp Casino Pasta, made with black tiger shrimp and lobster claw and tail meat sautéed with garlic, shitake mushrooms, diced tomatoes, spinach, white wine and crushed red pepper tossed with vermicelli pasta and “casino butter” (made with garlic, red pepper, white wine and, naturally, butter). Say it with me now: butter makes things better.

These dishes are downright decadent, and also damn delicious. You'll find a lot of seafood on the menu here since that is Chef John's particular passion, much of it doused in some sort of butter or cheese or cream (blessed be). For lighter fare try the black sesame seared Ahi salad, a top-grade cut of succulent Ahi tuna encrusted in black sesame on a bed of greens with their housemade mustard vinaigrette (French mustard grain and white wine, making for a light, complimentary flavor).

There is of course their popular Dragon Eggs – chicken breast stuffed with gorgonzola then battered and tossed in their HOT Rasta hot sauce. (No, really: it’s hot. If I’m saying it then it’s true times 10.) And as a pizza lover I can also tell you the thin-crust pizza made with a four-cheese blend is garlicky buttery deliciousness, and the Marghertia Pizza is one of the options available on their $5 special menu offererd Monday and Tuesday nights after 6 p.m. (Have I mentioned that yet?) And for my fellow turophiles (I love that word!), Union Street always has had and always will have baked brie on their menu (there was a period of probably 3-4 years where that was all I would order whenever I came here just because I could. Remember when Friday's had baked brie on their menu? Now I'm going waaaay back. That was actually how I discovered baked brie, and just as I started getting excited about it, it started disappearing from menus everywhere. Now it's rare to find it on a menu unless it's just a special, but not at Union Street, heavens no. No, it's always there. Dependable, like I said...).

The menu is updated regularly and there is always a different batch of specials worth investigating (like an asiago cheese tomato bisque I tried on a recent but unrelated trip); this is the kind of place where you will NEVER be disappointed. Also a great place for bottomless mimosa Sunday brunch, as well as a great place just to get a drink: they’ve got a small but handsome boutique wine selection and a nice collection of craft beers. Tuesdays are $2 beer specials, Wednesdays are half off wine bottles, and the selected Beer of the Month is available for only $2 all month long. A motto above the bar reads “Life is too short to drink cheap beer,” which is a true statement though I’ll tell you what, those $2 drafts ain’t Bud Light. (Short's award-winning Key Lime Pie ale was a recent selection, and while the selection of Michigan craft brews is humble they always have Founders Porter or Breakfast Stout by the bottle, which is enough for me.) Also, every Monday night select martinis are only $5 from 4 p.m. to close.

There is another sign posted above the bar that states "Dignity cannot be preserved in alcohol." Ay, there's the rub. But without alcohol I probably wouldn't be able to convince myself I still had any dignity so it's all very circular, no?

Union Street has an eclectic urban saloon-meets-speakeasy-meets grungy rock bar feel, and the crowd and menu is equally as idiosyncratic. It is friendly and comfortable, the kind of place you can go by yourself to get some work done and not be hassled but also great for meeting a friend to catch up or getting together a rowdy group. Or if you’re Jack White or Kid Rock, you can totally hang out here because that’s what you did before you were famous and in this place, this place that isn’t really known as a see-and-be-seen kind of place, no one will even bat an eye in your direction and the waiters may still remember you from when you played at the Gold Dollar. Your hands WILL be greasy when you leave (BUTTER), but you will be full and happy. And while you may have forgotten about it or taken it for granted while caught up in all the Roast-crepes-OMGSLOWS hysteria, Union Street is still there for you. Like a good neighbor. Like State Farm. It is the Detroit restaurant equivalent of State Farm.

Jumbo Lump Crab Au Gratin Recipe

8 oz. jumbo lump crab (shelled)
12 oz. white wine (chardonnay, pinot grigio or Chablis)
6 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. grated parmesan or Romano cheese
1 oz. Asiago, shredded
1 oz. mozzarella, shredded
1 oz. aged Spanish Manchego cheese, shredded
1 oz. Swiss Emmentaler cheese, shredded

Mix all cheese together

Reduce wine by half in sautee pan
Add jumbo lump crab
Add heavy cream and reduce by 20%
Add 2/3 of cheese blend – DO NOT stir by hand – gently fold in cheese with spatula
Pour into oven-proof ceramic serving bowl, top with remainder of shredded cheese and place under broiler in oven or in toaster oven

Cook until cheese is bubbling and lightly browned

Serve with toast points, tortilla chips or pita bread

Read the original version
here, but know it is less one Slows reference, one self-deprecating joke about my dignity, and two mentions of State Farm.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Real Detroit Weekly: Bookies Bar & Grille

The triple-decker Clubhouse Sandwich.

It's still Bookies Bar & Grille. It's just better.

Bookies has been a downtown destination for eight years now, and after relocating to a huge three-story location on Cass in the heart of downtown Detroit's entertainment district, Bookies started getting a reputation as more than just a sports bar. Sure, if it's sports you want, it's sports you shall get with their numerous plasma screens and the 16-foot projection screen, but you'll also get live music, DJs and dancing, and exceptionally good bar food.

"We really felt the need to have a broader menu," says General Manager Tyler Herron. "We had a lot of repeat diners who came in just for the quality of the food and we felt we could really expand on that." And so, under Executive Chef Adam Grove's guidance, their menu went from 19 items to 58, bulking up on lunchtime favorites like sandwiches, burgers and salads, and also increasing their options for dinner entrees to include filet mignon and herb-breaded chicken parmesan on a bed of angelhair pasta. "We're not trying to be fine dining," Herron adds. "We're still a bar and grill with a fun, lively crowd ... [the expanded menu] is driven off of demand in the area for a good, fun place that has good bar food."

Read the rest of the article here.