Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Downtown BBQ Makes the Grade in KC






Winslow’s BBQ
20 E. 5th St.
Kansas City, MO





Sometimes I feel like a Kansas City barbeque failure.

I pride myself on my barbeque tasting expertise. You name the smoke shack or pig joint and chances are I’ve been there, tasted the ‘que, lived to tell you all about it and bought the shirt (or cleaned my grill with it).

I feel like I have a good handle on a wide cross section of the meat served in all the barbeque Meccas like Memphis, Columbia, Lexington and Lockhart.

But I’ve never really eaten my way through Kansas City, one of America’s great ‘que towns.

Oh sure, I’ve done the obligatory stops at Gates and Arthur Bryant’s.

Who hasn’t?

But to really get a sense of the barbeque culture of a city, you have to do more than just check off the list of places that make regular appearances on cable TV.

And that’s where I feel like I can improve my performance in Kansas City.

I need to hit up L.C.’s, Rosedale and Danny Edwards -- the lesser known pit houses where the locals go to get real KC ‘que.

Unfortunately, all those venerable authentic smoke shacks tend to congregate on the south side of Kansas City -- a place where Suit757 rarely travels.

In general, local dive barbeque shacks tend to be in the parts of town Suit757 doesn’t have much business. (I’ll let you speculate about why that might be.)

Of course geographic inconvenience has never stopped me before. But with a tight schedule, I knew venturing out to wilds of South KC wasn’t going to be in the cards on this trip either.

There’s got to be some place in this barbeque crazed city to get some ribs and burnt ends near downtown.

Sure enough, I found Winslow’s BBQ.

It’s been around for over four decades. That’s a good sign.

Won lots of awards. Another good sign.

But when I walked up to Winslow’s I quickly realized that it is located in one of those fake touristy taxpayer subsidized “festival marketplaces” downtown along with stores selling souvenir KCMO coffee cups and key chains -- and t-shirts that read “Who farted?”

Not a good sign.

And during prime dinner hour I was the only customer in the place.

Definitely NOT a good sign.

There’s no way I’m going to get any sense of authentic KC barbeque at this joint.

But you know what?

The smoked meat served at Winslow’s was downright exquisite.

Too bad I was the only one in Kanas City getting to experience it.

Fortunately, the one lady who did double duty as the lone waitress and bar tender had the TV turned to the MLB Network with the sound turned up loud.

I happily sat there alone positioned directly in front of the TV drinking a big Boulevard Pale Ale out of a plastic cup watching baseball -- just like at the bar in my home.

Only I haven’t figured out how to make barbeque this good at home.

I ordered the three meat platter for $15. It was enough food to feed a family of four.

Five big meaty ribs with pork soft and tender like butter.

The pulled pork was soft and smoky like the best you’d find in North Carolina or Tennessee.

The brisket was best of all.

Usually when you order brisket, you can choose between sliced or chopped. This was like both in one.

The beef was sliced, but it was so tender it fell apart into delicious morsels of chopped brisket with the slightest touch of my fork.

All three meats were smoked to perfection, with telltale red smoke rings.

Most extraordinary was how tender and moist all three meats were.

Dave Winslow, the original founder, hired an engineer to invent a steam pit that evaporates 50 gallons of water per day.

At Winslow’s, the meat isn’t just smoked. It’s enveloped in steam for hours, yielding fall apart moist barbeque that needs no sauce.

Of course being Suit757, I had to try it anyway.

East Coast barbeque purists love to disparage Kansas City style barbeque for the thick glops of ketchupy sauce Midwesterners supposedly like to slather onto their meat.

Here at Winslow’s, that sauce discretion is left to the barbeque eater.

Winslow’s sauce was not as thick or sweet as some Kansas City sauces.

The sauce was good -- but unnecessary.

Some purists would claim it would be a crime to cover up such perfect barbeque with sauce.

For me, the real crime was that I was the only customer in the place.

Where the heck is everybody? There should be a line out the door for barbeque this good.

I think it is the location.

Nobody goes downtown anymore.

This has been a known phenomenon in virtually every American city since the advent of the shopping mall forty years ago.

This is the type of problem politicians like to solve with our tax money.

Of course they don’t bother to consider the REASON nobody goes downtown any more.

Business owners don’t open businesses downtown because…

…wait for it…

…nobody goes downtown any more.

So here’s the solution: pay business owners to locate downtown with taxpayer financed “festival marketplaces” like KC’s River Market.

But no matter how many tax subsidized businesses locate downtown, the politicians can’t create customers out of thin air.

Because nobody goes downtown any more.

No matter how good the barbeque happens to be.

And that’s too bad.

Winslow’s deserves a wider audience than just from suits who don’t have time to venture to the south side of town.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!



Click to add a blog post for Winslow's BBQ on Zomato

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Montana—Peaks, Prairies . . . Bourbon?

 

 

 

 

Random lake

Side of some road

Thompson Falls, MT




As far as I’m concerned, these United States have adopted many a middle child. And by that I mean our miserable Union includes a whole variety of states I don’t ever care to think about. Montana just so happens to be one of those neglected, “middle child” states.

It’s true, I was born and raised in paradise. 

Back there I drank booze because booze is good; never to cope with a frigid winter. College football was king, scantily dressed women abound all year round, and reeling in a red fish—accompanied by nothing but a half empty flask of gin—was always only an hour away.

There’s a reason why so many people move to my home state just to die . . . because it’s the shit. And because it’s as close as you can get to that healthful shore for which I’m bound without crossing over for good. Which is why, for most of my life, I would have classified most states as middle child states. 

I can only think of one reason why you’d want to move to Montana to die: to be forgotten . . . along with the rest of this middle child state. 

Ipso Facto, if you’re an elderly defector to Montana, you’re likely either a convict; a no good, long haired, dirty, deserting hippie; a Ron Paul supporting, doomsday saying, tax ditching libertarian; or a combination of all three.  Most likely the latter. But to be honest that kind of makes this middle child state the slightest bit cool. 

Montana doesn’t ever bitch about being forgotten. 

In fact, more often than not they’re bitching about all us pesky tourists, or all those bourgeois, metropolitan trendies residing in Montana’s universally reviled Boze Angeles—a hostile nickname for Bozeman, which I picked up from a cute little number who was, of course, a defector from New York.

And that figures. 

Florida’s greatest flaws are its intolerable heat and its lack of diverse scenery. Fortunately, while the better sex devise of ways to deal with high temperatures above 95, they unknowingly—or knowingly—distract us men from the heat while also suppressing our desire for any other kind of scenery they aren’t already providing. 

Whoever described Florida as flat, hot, and dumb was only two thirds down the path to the actual truth. After all, the mountains of Montana are all well and good, but Florida’s mountains march in multiples of two and are attached to women who are, more often than not, beautiful (or, yes, hot and dumb—if you insist). 

Montana soaks up its peaks and prairies, chokes down its bison, and neglects to shave. But as far as I could tell they’ve yet to give birth to an attractive woman. And therein lies Montana’s greatest flaw. 

That or its lack of memorable cuisine. Trust me, I looked hard for a bison steak, but it turns out most of Montana’s restaurants don’t consider it a requirement.

I was disgusted more than once by what the dive bars had to offer. Most notably while in Victor at the end of a town strip begging for a western style shoot-out. 

The Flying Pig Bar and Grill should be avoided at all costs, and honestly so should Victor.

As I watched the bartender throw a frozen beef patty on the grill I had to resist the urge to ask: “Am I dining in a bar? Or at the concession stand of a high school football game?” 

I’d have liked to say: “I see cattle everywhere! Why are you serving me beef shipped up from China or wherever the hell?” 

Unfortunately, my mother raised me better. In any case, my mother would agree that the practice of slapping a frozen patty on the grill is deviant and unseemly at the very least; downright savage if we're being especially forthright. 

Alas, I left Montana without a single tip on where to find good eats. At least a single tip I couldn’t find on Google. 

Still, two restaurants are of note—mostly because they’re each a safe choice, and also because I had to write about something.

Überbrew in downtown Billings is no rare find. After all they’re located downtown.

In any case, Überbrew does make the hell out of their Überstition Sausage Dog. Pair it with their Cheddar Ale Soup and their Stand Down Brown Ale for a decent meal. 

Be sure to forgo their Irish Dry Stout, which tastes more like an attempt at dark beer by Anheuser-Busch. Seriously—don’t go near it.

Rating: I was about to buy the shirt until a hipster stopped by and told me the shirts were pretty cool when he bought one, but now everyone’s buying them.

Finally—The Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill of downtown Bozeman, or Boze Angeles as I later found out. 

For the most part, you’re being safe if you visit the most expensive restaurant on the block. That is, if you’re willing to dish out the cash. 

Fortunately, these days nearly every expensive restaurant offers an affordable burger to make sure us traveling suits on per diem will still swing by to make the restaurant look classier than it actually is.

The Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill sports a speakeasy theme, a ton of beer on tap, and an incredible whiskey menu—which I’ll admit I was far less enthusiastic about once I found double shots of their best whiskey just two bars down for half the price.

The Copper Burger had bacon ground in the beef (Victorthat's how civilized people treat their beef!), sharp white cheddar, and Dijon Mustard which was surprisingly not overbearing. 

Once again, a decent meal, but nothing groundbreaking. 

What was groundbreaking was Whistling Andy’s Montana Bourbon

I’ve never been a fan of what Kentucky has to offer. Call it un-American, but I’ve always preferred the Queen’s stamp to that of Colonel Sanders’.

However there was something about that Montana bourbon. Unfortunately I drank a little too much of it to remember what exactly that something was.

I can say for sure though that Whistling Andy is positively Christ-like. By that I mean the man has redeemed what was once in my view a wretched excuse for whiskey.

Yeah . . . that's right Kentucky. I'm saying Montana does it better!

Alcohol-induced amnesia took hold once again in the case of the Mountain Man by The Front Brewing Company. All I can tell you is that when I checked my Untappd App the next day, I saw that I gave it 4 ½ stars and a single note: “Buy this wherever it’s available!”

Rating: After four Mountain Man's and four Whistling Andy’s I can’t remember if I bought the shirt or not.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Glamour of Backseat Pizza





Vito and Nick’s
8433 S. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL





I just want you to know something -- this gig isn’t as easy as it looks.

I know. You think it must be fun traveling the backroads of America discovering cool new places to eat, drink and have a good time.

Well it’s not all dollar beer nights and gourmet chili cheese dogs for Suit757.

It’s hard living out here on the road.

Do you think I bother to even break out the laptop to write about a sack full of McDonald’s Dollar Menu cheeseburgers when the Golden Arches are the only option open at 1am?

Or the microwaved burritos at the dive bar adjacent to my Best Western?

Or the hot dogs rotating unappetizingly on the little metal rollers behind the cash register at the airport smoking lounge?

Hell no. I only attempt to entertain you with my adventures…if they are at least somewhat entertaining.

Most of my days are spent racing across town in Pine-Sol scented rental cars, dashing through airports and having my genitals radiated by TSA bureaucrats.

Suit757’s life isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as I might lead you to believe.

Today was a perfect example.

I was in Chicago -- one of my favorite eating cities.

I was determined to squeeze a memorable dining experience into my itinerary already jam packed with four meetings spread across the Chicagoland Metro region.

I just happened to recently see an episode on the Food Network with that guy with the spiky hair featuring a popular and unique pizza joint that combines two of Chicago’s favorite delicacies: pizza and Italian beef.

Thanks to national chains like Uno’s, everyone knows about Chicago deep dish pizza, even though, not surprisingly, the real thing is much better than the stuff served at your local mall.

Italian beef is the lesser known Chicago specialty.

Chicago Italian beef is tender slowly marinated shreds of meat stuffed into a big sub roll.

If that’s all you get, it’s not bad, but a bit bland.

But “not bad” isn’t good enough for Suit757.

I always get the “combo” which adds a link of Italian sausage to the sandwich.

Oh, and you want to add another Chicago specialty, giardiniera.

Giardiniera -- or giardineer, as they spell it at Vito and Nick’s -- is mix of celery and diced peppers, either sweet or hot depending on your tolerance and/or preference.

The idea of adding the ingredients of a Chicago Italian beef sandwich to a pizza sounded like the best invention since 2am pizza delivery.

As luck would have it, Vito and Nick’s just happened to kinda sorta be on the way to one of my meetings in the southwest suburbs.

Vito and Nick’s is far enough out that you can’t really say it is in the city. But it isn’t far enough out to be in the suburbs. It’s located in that urban no man’s land where one way streets and tenements give way to medians and strip malls.

My first task was convincing my travel partner of the day to give the place a try.

This is not a problem I am used to.

We Suits usually travel alone.

If I want to risk my life and digestive track on some urban greasy spoon dive, I’m not risking anyone’s wellbeing but my own.

And if I trash the rental car? Well, that’s an Enterprise problem, not mine.

As it turned out, having a fellow Suit to chauffeur me around Chicago on this day was quite an advantage. This meal was not a one man job.

Coincidentally, my fellow Suit is a native Chicagoan.

But convincing him to try Italian beef on a pizza took a bit of Suit757 persuasion.

“I love Chicago pizza. And I love Italian beef. But I’m not sure I want them together,” he complained.

My response was, “Dude. It’s going to be awesome.

“We’re going.”

Ah, the subtle art of persuasion.

The fact that I was a mere passenger in his car did not deter me from setting the lunch itinerary.

I must admit I started to have second thoughts as soon as we walked in.

The TV show pictured a packed house with pizza guys tossing wooden pizza boards through the air frantically trying to keep up with the hordes of patrons lined up out the door.

Our experience was very different.

Only two other occupied tables in the entire restaurant. And this was the noon “lunch rush.”

“This might not be a good sign,” I mumbled to myself without letting my companion in on my self-doubt.

I mean, usually when these places make national TV it ruins it for the rest of us. You can’t even get near the place.

It didn’t take long to figure out why no one comes here for lunch.

We placed our order of Italian beef pizza with Italian sausage and “mild giardineer” at the stroke of high noon.

By 12:40 it was time to hit the road for our 1pm meeting out in the suburbs.

Just one minor problem.

We still didn’t have our pizza.

Holy crap. This is a working class neighborhood. Last time I checked, most people who work for a living don’t get more than an hour for lunch.

No wonder the place was empty. Maybe Vito and Nick’s should relocate to the Obama side of town where people don’t have jobs.

Or only open for dinner when people have time for a two hour meal.

I told the waitress we had to go. I guess we’ll eat it cold later this afternoon when all our meetings are over.

Our pizza was just coming out of the oven. The pizza man boxed it up, I threw the waitress a twenty and a ten (they don’t take credit cards) and we dashed out the door.

I tossed the pizza in the back seat of the car and I think I heard tires squealing as my fellow Suit swerved his car onto Pulaski Road heading southbound.

By the time we got to the first traffic light, my traveling companion looked at me. I looked at him. We both looked into the back seat where the most intoxicating aroma of our lives was emanating.

Stomach growing, I said, “I’m going in.”

“Hell yeah,” he said.

I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around in the passenger seat to get a better look and opened the box.

An absolute masterpiece.

Melted cheese, green giardineer, toasted sausage and beef, crust charred perfectly on the edges.

I picked up the first piece.

The traffic light turned green. My fellow Suit hit the accelerator.

I tumbled into the backseat spilling Italian beef and giardineer all over his floor boards -- and his suit coat hanging precariously just above the pizza box.

The sight, the smell and the taste of this masterful pie was too much to resist.

In our 15 minute commute through suburban Chicago, we were going to eat that pizza. To hell with the dry cleaning bills.

Eating scalding hot pizza while driving wasn’t the most difficult part (of course that’s easy for me to say since I wasn’t the one actually driving).

The difficult part was transferring steaming hot pieces of pizza intact from the back seat to the front seat of a moving vehicle swerving through an urban minefield of construction cones and red light cameras with no plates or utensils.

Fortunately, I remembered to grab a stack of napkins in our mad exit.

This was one of the most extraordinary pizzas of my life.

The crust was thin and crispy and held up well to the topping onslaught it was subjected to.

The Italian beef marinated in garlic, oregano and basil was delicious with a smoky char from the oven.

The spice from the Italian sausage married perfectly with the sweet diced giardineer peppers.

Negotiating Chicago traffic with his knees, my driver kept alternating bites with exclamations like, “This is unbelievable!”

“I never thought Italian beef on pizza could be this good!”

I was in total agreement -- if a bit nervous about the lack of available hands for turn signals and steering wheels.

We pulled up to our meeting -- alive and well -- at exactly 12:59.

We wiped ourselves down with more napkins, checked the rearview mirror for stray giardineer in our teeth and popped some breath mints.

Who knew that backseat pizza while negotiating the streets of Chicago could be one of life’s best meals?

This traveling life might not be glamorous, but it’s definitely not boring.

Rating: Would Have Bought the Shirt -- If We Had Time.



Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Power of Advertising



Wall Drug
510 Main St.
Wall, SD



As a general rule, I try to avoid tourist traps.

But sometimes a tourist trap is so iconic it morphs into the obligatory.

Wall Drug is one of those places.

It also happened to be the only place in this town of 766 people to get breakfast that didn’t involve a fast-food drive-through window.

And I was hungry.

Like Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug is famous for being famous.

Unlike Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug has never leaked a sex tape onto the internet. As far as I know.

Wall Drug was founded by Dorothy and Ted Hulstead in 1931.

Their friends and family thought they were nuts to buy a drug store in a tiny town on the wind-swept Plaines of South Dakota.

Dorothy’s father said, “Wall is just about as Godforsaken as you can get.”

But the devoutly Catholic Hulsteads liked the local priest and friendly natives -- and were determined to make a living out here on the edge of the Badlands where cattle outnumber people by many multiples.

Dorothy and Ted quickly caught on to the power of advertising, placing billboards on the highway and offering “free ice water” -- a commodity that probably held more value to 1930s pre-air conditioned travelers than it does today.

The Hulsteads also gave traveling customers free Wall Drug signs and bumper stickers.

During World War II, GIs mailed back pictures of their Wall Drug signs and stickers from bases and battlefields around the world.

America was in on the joke.

To this day, you can find signs, stickers and even paid advertisements for this little drug store in rural South Dakota in the most obscure corners of Planet Earth.

From the London Underground to the Taj Mahal, don’t be surprised if you find billboards advertising that Wall Drug is “Only 10,728 Miles Away!!”

The tradition continues.

Wall Drug customers -- almost entirely tourists on their way to local attractions such as Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore -- still can get their “free ice water”, signs and bumper stickers. And coffee for a nickel.

Wall Drug isn’t so little anymore.

It literally takes up one half of downtown Wall -- a sprawling bazaar of Western knickknacks, tourist clutter, Indian artifacts and Wall Drug t-shirts and shot glasses.

Oh, yeah, you can still purchase a bottle of Bayer aspirin and Pepto-Bismol to cure what ails you from last night’s fun (not that there is any to be had in Wall).

Most interesting to me and my growling stomach was the café and donut factory tucked in the back.

In this part of the western Plains you can see for miles and miles across the grasslands dotted with cattle.

Starring from horizon to horizon at so much beef naturally made me hungry.

So I ordered the steak and eggs.

You know. When in Rome.

Or Wall.

The thin New York strip wouldn’t win any Grade A awards, but it was more than an adequate splurge for breakfast.

Charred just enough to be tasty, thin enough to be tender, Wall Drug’s steak and eggs more than satisfied the cravings that had welled up deep inside me after driving past so many cows in my travels through the grasslands of western South Dakota.

The eggs, toast and fried potatoes weren’t much more than an afterthought.

The bacon I tried on the breakfast sandwich, on the other hand, was top notch.

What certainly weren’t an afterthought were the tempting looking donuts piled up next to the take-out counter.

If Wall Drug is famous for anything other than their “free ice water”, then it’s got to be their donuts made right here in their “Donut Factory” in the back of the store.

You simply can’t come to Wall Drug without trying one -- or three.

These babies are fresh donut perfection.

A fried crunchy exterior gives way to a soft sweet cake inside that just melts in your mouth. Capped off with a generous yet not overwhelming dollop of chocolate frosting, I could eat these donuts all day.

In fact, of all the crap sold at Wall Drug from the useful to the useless, their fresh made donuts alone should spare this place from the label “tourist trap.”

By definition a tourist trap is a place travelers feel obligated to stop and spend their money -- but get little of value in return.

But Wall Drug’s donuts are worth a drive from anywhere -- even the Taj Mahal.

Rating: Bought an Obligatory “Wall Drug Gateway to the Badlands” Shirt.

Wall Drug Store Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 3, 2015

Utah, You Can Do Better Than This







Peach City Ice Cream
306 North Main St.
Brigham City, UT




Unfortunately, Utah isn’t exactly known for culinary creativity.

I mean, sure I’ve had some great Mexican at the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City. I enjoyed the heck out of the pizza at Red Rock Brewery. Devoured a decent burrito at Moab Brewery. Got a pretty awesome burger at Crown Burgers.

But when you think of Utah, does one unique delicacy or dish come to mind?

Hmmmm….

…thinking….

…um, no.

Nothing.

When Zagat did their celebrated 50 sandwiches in 50 states expose, every state was able to lay claim to some iconic must try specialty, whether it be Italian Beef in Illinois or the Hot Brown in Kentucky or the Lobster Roll in Maine.

So which sandwich did Zagat pick for Utah you might wonder?

Fry sauce.

Yeah. It’s a condiment.

Not a sandwich.

The best recommendation the foodie folks at Zagat could come up with is to try fry sauce at Artic Circle, a sprawling Western fast food chain that serves burgers and fish sandwiches.

That’s it? That's the best you can do, Utah?

Really?

Well, Suit757 can do better than that.

I was determined to find some local culinary specialty at a non-chain restaurant on my brief trip across northern Utah.

Unfortunately, my first choice of Maddox Drive-In in Perry was thwarted when I pulled up to an empty parking lot at 1pm on a Monday and found that most annoying of all neon signs fully illuminated: CLOSED.

So I texted a fellow Suit who grew up in the area.

He suggested Peach City Ice Cream up the road. However, he did add the caveat that he hadn’t been there since he was a kid.

Peach City Ice Cream is that kind of place. A local drive-in with booth, counter and car service that has been catering to generations of locals since 1937 -- and young families with rambunctious kids smearing ice cream cones all over their faces.

But Suit757 wasn’t there for dessert.

I was hungry.

I ordered the pastrami burger with that Utah-famous fry sauce, a side of onion rings and a “fresh lime”, which is a local soft drink made of…

…you guessed it…

…fresh squeezed limes.

Who knows, maybe my “fresh lime” would have turned out to be that quintessential Utah concoction that would have finally placed Utah on the Suits in Strange Places culinary map.

I kind of doubt it…but you never know.

And we never will.

My waitress never brought my “fresh lime.” Just Brigham City tap water.

Unfortunately, the burger was one of the most dried-out over-cooked slabs of beef I ever attempted to consume.

A terrible burger.

I suppose there are people out there who don’t like juicy, greasy burgers.

If you happen to be one of those people, I have two favors to ask you.

First of all, stop reading this blog.

Second, STOP ORDERING BURGERS. Because you are ruining it for the rest of us.

If a burger is not drippy and juicy, it is not worth eating.

Period.

The pastrami was okay. I mean, when isn’t pastrami okay?

But the only way I could even eat the dry hockey puck of a burger was to sacrifice my fry sauce designed to accompany my onion rings by dumping it on top of the pastrami burger.

Alright. So I know you are dying to know what this mysterious creative Utah exotica, fry sauce, is all about, right?

Are you ready?

Fry sauce is basically ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together.

Otherwise known in the other 49 states as Thousand Island dressing.

That’s it. This ketchup-mayonnaise condiment is the only unique Utah culinary creation anyone in the Beehive State has ever created.

Maybe these Mormons need to take up drinking to get the creative juices flowing a bit more.

All I can say is, Utah, you can do better than this.

Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt if You Paid Me.


Peach City on Urbanspoon