Remember in my last post when I said I'd have Part II of "My Favorite Ten Eats in June" up soon? Well...that...obviously didn't happen. While I'm about 95 percent done with the post, I'm unhappy with how it came out. From a scale of one to ten, its entertainment value is [insert sound of a robot powering down—out of tune bleepy bloops, languid clanking, etc. I'm envisioning fictional robots from the 1950s, if that helps]. You deserve better than that. But knowing very well that my attempt to revise it could take another week given my current schedule, I'll put up something else first. And here is the something else: a summary of what I've been eating over the past few weeks, which should explain why I haven't had much time to blog. :(
Research for the upcoming Serious Eats book brought me to New Orleans last Tuesday, Seattle from last Thursday to Saturday, and Austin this past Tuesday to Wednesday. Right now I'm in Chicago until Monday morning. Since it's all for work, I'm not going to review the places in this post, nor do I have much food porn to show you because many of the photos will just be for the book (and, erm, I haven't edited most of them yet).
But...I hope these lists are helpful anyway, even if just a smidge. (The locations were determined by the content of our book, which is divided into specific categories, in case you're wondering why we focused on street food, sandwiches, breakfast food, burgers, and fried stuff.) It'll show you how much you can accomplish (and by "accomplish" I mean "consume") in a short period of time, if you plan everything out and have some extra eaters on hand. I mean, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. I can't tell you how much weight I've gained since I'm scale-less, but methinks that's for the best.
New Orleans in Eight Hours
- Mm, french fry po-boy.
Serious Eats staffers Erin, Carey, Ed, and I arrived in New Orleans at around 9 a.m. and took a 5:40 p.m. flight home. Many said we were crazy. And...I wouldn't fault them. But since we all had JetBlue's All You Can Jet passes, it wasn't a big deal for us to spend one day there in order to disrupt our work schedules as little as possible.
Our key to the city was Ed's friend Pableaux Johnson, food loving-journalist, author (check out his book, Eating New Orleans), photographer, graphic designer, iPad developer, hilarious dude, great driver, and probably a bunch of other cool things that I'm not sure I want to know about or else I'll feel totally unaccomplished. He knew where all the good eats were, saving us the trouble of having to look at maps and inevitably get lost. Without Pableaux, we wouldn't have been able to eat nearly as much, nor would we have learned as much about New Orleans' history and architecture. No one else could've been a more perfect guide for us, a bittersweet takeaway from the trip since it means subsequent visits won't be as awesome. :[
But I really should visit again; I didn't even get to see the French Quarter. Oops. But I did get to eat ALL THIS AWESOME STUFF:
- Morning Call: Beignets and coffee. Did my first real beignet live up to the hype? Yup. I wish I could've eaten more of those fried dough pillows, but there were about two dozen po-boys in my future.
- Zimmer's Seafood: Five po-boys: roast beef, crab patty, fried oysters, and french fry and gravy. I forget what the overall favorite was, but I give the thumbs up to carb-in-carb action. If you don't know what po-boys are, Wikipedia's description sounds good to me. The type of bread—lighter and fluffier than ones used on the subs I grew up with in New Jersey—was the key characteristic to me.
- Willie Mae's: We intended to get their famous fried chicken, but they were closed that day due to a "permanent situation." It was sort of a good thing too, as it gave us time to eat MORE SANDWICHES.
- Dooky Chase: Gumbo and two po-boys: fried shrimp and fried oyster. Methinks the oyster won.
- McHardy's: All they make is fried chicken. And it's awesome. It's just a take-out joint with a counter you can eat at, but worth checking out. Extra points for super-friendly employees.
- Mahony's: Onion rings, gravy fries, and four po-boys (can't remember what they all were). Grilled shrimp was the best. Extra points for the owner's grandma, aka THE CUTEST GRANDMA EVER, who cleaned our table and brought us our sandwiches.
- Parasol/Tracey's: Two po-boys: something beefy, and fried fish. I forget what the general consensus was about this; I think I was the only one who kept nibbling on the fried fish po-boy. I really like fried fish sandwiches.
- Domilise: Three po-boys: fried oyster, fried fish, fried shrimp. I don't remember if there was a "winner"—they were probably all good.
- Cochon Butcher: Charcuterie sampler, muffaletta, hot dog. Ed was into the hot dog. I don't think I even tried it...oops.
- Plum Street Snowballs: Aka...SHAVE ICE! I can't help but associate all shaved ice desserts with Hawaii. I don't remember much about how it tasted though; I spent too long buying a t-shirt while the others ate the snowballs, and they had gotten quite melty by then.
- R & O: Italian salad and three po-boys: something with multiple meatstuffs, something beefy, and fried shrimp. ...Sandwiches were blurring into one another by this point.
- New Orleans Original Daiquiris: Drive-through daiquiri shops are a thing in New Orleans. Wha? Yeah. How the hell is that legal? Stuff Cajun People Like explains it a bit. We had to try it for fun (not for the book). Result: It's like drinking frozen slushy candy with some alcohol mixed in. I think one of them tasted like melted Jolly Ranchers. But more bitter. If that's your thing, you'll love this place.
- Eaters! From left to right: Erin, Pableaux, Ed, and Carey.
So that's...20 sandwiches. I thought we had eaten more, actually. Amazingly, I didn't feel overstuffed by the end of the day. Of course, we didn't finish any of the sandwiches (at some point we gave a ton of leftovers to one of Pableaux's friends) or else we would've pooped out halfway through.
Seattle in 42 Hours
Carey and I visited Seattle from last Thursday to Saturday, and with help from my friend Rebecca and Carey's friend Susan we visited 20 places. Hooyeah.
That New Orleans summary took way too long. It's time to go into HYPERDRIVE with less commentary.
- Salumi: Sandwiches and charcuterie.
- Serious Pie: Pancetta and clam pie.
- Palace Kitchen: Burger and fries. Great flavor, but the burger was too big and thick for my liking.
- Peaks Frozen Custard: ...Frozen custard!
- Delancey: Two pizzas: one topped with salami and shaved fennel, and one topped with Padron chiles.
- Paseo: Their famous Cuban sandwich. I don't think we have anything at this level of awesomeness in New York City.
- Molly Moon's: Ice cream. My nose was stuffed (I was getting increasingly sick as the day went on) and I couldn't really taste much.
- Dahlia Bakery: Breakfast sandwiches and coconut cream pie.
- The Crumpet Shop: ...CRUMPETS!
- Daily Dozen Doughnut Company: Mini doughnuts made right on the spot. The plain ones are the best.
- Seatown (take-out section): Another Tom Douglas joint that we weren't planning on going to, but since we were passing it we figured why not. More great sandwiches.
- Macrina Bakery: They make the bread for Paseo's sandwiches. Thus I LOVE THEM.
- Cafe Besalu: Pastries and quiche. Thumbs up.
- Tall Grass Bakery: It was next door to Cafe Besalu, so Carey bought some bread. I didn't try any though; needed to save stomach space.
- Paseo: Um...yeah, we went back. Not just because we thought it was awesome the night before, but because they had sold out of another sandwich (Midnight Cuban) we wanted to try. So we went back to try it.
- Skillet: Burger and fries. Great burger, but even better fries. And I mean. REALLY GOOD FRIES. Crack fries. Very few fries reach that level of, "Shit I can't stop eating these oh noooo."
- Marination Mobile: Tacos, kimchi fried rice with beef, pork and Spam sliders, kimchi quesadillas. Kimchi fried rice was the winner.
- Red Mill Burgers: Local burger institution. Burgers weren't bad, but not memorable. Onion rings were better.
- Top Pot: Local doughnut chain. Good, not exceptionally so.
- Old School Frozen Custard: More frozen custard.
- Dick's: Local drive-in burger chain that looks like it's changed little since it opened in 1954, including its prices: a cheeseburger costs $1.40. They also make fries from fresh cut potatoes. Cool place that maybe not have the best burger, but for the price and feel I'd definitely go back.
And then...WE WERE DONE. For work, at least. That night I went to Vietnamese restaurant Green Leaf with Rebecca and two of her friends—Rebecca and I just shared some summer rolls—followed by a stroll around Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya.
But the best part of the night? Hell, the whole day? Randomly coming across the Seattle Pinball Museum, an art exhibit full of pinball machines from 1936 to 1994. For $5 you can play all you want. Since we got there late we only had half an hour to put those $5 to good use, but GOOD USE, WE DID...PUT...them to. I don't remember the last time I felt that excited about something. Those lights! Those sounds! Those ramps! Those bumpers! Those flippers! The mechanics of it all! The design of the table! The...bluh bluh [gibberish mixed with gurgles]. There's something about pinball that taps into a spot in my brain that unleashes the hyperactivity of a two-year-old. Even though I didn't grow up playing real pinball machines (video and computer games, more like), it made me feel like a little kid. If I ever went to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas I'd probably pop a vein from excitement, or shout myself hoarse from all the times I'd inevitably yell, "NOOO crap NOO I lost the ball again crap NOOO."
Good. Times. Many thanks to Rebecca for joining me in the pinball fun, and for giving me a place to crash!
Austin in 24 Hours
I've rarely driven outside of New Jersey, but this trip was all about "Robyn at the wheel, terrorizing Erin in the passenger seat as she clutches onto the door handle " because we needed to rent a car and only I was old enough (25 years old) to not incur an extra "Even though you're legally an adult, we still think you're a young'un who's more likely to crash" fee. Amazing, no one was hurt when I took to the road. The biggest mistake I made was when I accidentally drove over a curb while exiting a parking lot. (I DIDN'T SEE THE CURB. I DON'T KNOW WHY. ...DAMN YOU, GHOST CURB.)
When it comes to driving, I'm full of fear. Because car = DEATHPOD. But I know I can still do it. With some encouragement. Erin gave me loving pats when I didn't crash. Like giving doggie treats to a puppy for not peeing on the bed.
Relief came when we met up with Jen, fellow food lover and TGWAE reader, in the late afternoon and she offered to drive us around instead of having us follow her and in our car and
potentially probably get lost. She was our Pableaux of Austin, and a lifesaver in more ways than one: She gave Erin and me a comfy place to crash for the night. She also brought her cousins Aaron and Rachel to help us eat, without whom I doubt we could've covered as much ground.
Another TGWAE reader and fellow food blogger, Terry, also joined our eating team in the afternoon, providing us with food advice, good company, and digestive fortitude.
Many thanks to Jen, Terry, and everyone else who offered Austin recs or stomach space, even if you couldn't join us. I ate plenty for ya, as you'll soon see:
- Mi Madre's: Horchata, migas, three breakfast tacos.
- La Cocina de Consuelo: We meant to try the breakfast burritos, but since they stopped serving them at 11 a.m., we got the migas.
- Juan in a Million: More breakfast tacos.
- Bananarchy: This food cart specializes in frozen bananas dipped and rolled in various toppings. It was a welcome stop after a morning of savory foods.
- Gourdough's: DOUGHNUTS. Freakin' massive, fried-to-order doughnuts. Awesome.
- Odd Duck: Another cool food cart that specializes in small plates of dishes made from local ingredients. We ordered the whole menu. Mmm.
- Sno-Beach: Shaved ice! I tried pink lemonade sour and black cherry.
- Izzoz Tacos: Awesome tacos. I regret that my photos came out poor because I didn't have any natural lighting to work with. Fail.
- East Side King: Some of the best food out of a trailer I've ever had. We tried the fried Brussels sprouts, Thai chicken karaage, and beet fries with seasoned kewpie mayo. Their menu reminded me of Ssam Bar in that "seamless integration of multiple Asian flavors to make something that tastes sort of new and familiar at the same time" kind of way. Know what I mean? Okay.
- Magnolia Cafe: Pancakes, breakfast taco, queso, jalapeno cheeseburger, omelet. Yup, quite a random spread. It was our last stop of the night so we figured, hell, let's just get lots of stuff.
- La Cocina de Consuelo: We returned the next morning for a breakfast burrito made with their homemade tortillas. I should've packed an extra one for the trip back to New York.
- Tacodeli: We stopped by here the day before, only to leave empty handed when we found out they stopped making breakfast tacos at 11 a.m. Great tacos for a fast casual sort of place. They have three locations in Austin; if they could mosey their way to New York City and displace the Chipotle near my office, I'd be happy.
And not on the eating itinerary was a stop after Izzoz at Toy Joy, one of the most awesome toy stores (or maybe the most awesome) I have ever been to. It reminded me of Archie McPhee in Seattle, but...better. Better layout, wider variety, more fun surprises, such as the hand written descriptions and tags for many of the cheapo trinket bins. I didn't want anything going in, but I ended up buying a bunch of random gifts for friends. And I bought myself a egg of Silly Putty (is that the right way to refer to one Silly Putty unit?) because...why not? Like I mentioned with the pinball machines, I enjoy feeling like a kid. And squeezing/stretching/snapping silicone polymers is one of many ways to invoke my childlike wonder.
Addendum (9/19): I failed to mention in my first draft of this post that we also visited the Archie McPhee store in Seattle, in between frozen custard and Dick's. It was the only non-food activity I really wanted to do. Even though I've grown up thinking Archie McPhee's stuff was the best when I came across it online (or, before then, in good ol' dead tree catalog form), when I saw it in REAL LIFE I realized, "Actually, I don't need this inflatable fruitcake, or hot dog hat, or chum-flavored candy. Hm. Hm.
But I didn't want to leave empty handed. At the very least, I needed some sort of plastic trinket that cost less than a penny to make in China. So as we were just about to leave, I hastily bought a $25 surprise bag. I love that "surprise bag" stuff, by the way (who doesn't?); when I lived in Taiwan over ten years ago I remember buying cheap grab bags full of random stationery and whatnot from stationery stores (GOD, I LOVED THOSE STORES, even though my needs for stationery were meager). The Archie McPhee bag was like that, but a few times more expensive and far less useful.
As far as fulfilling my curiosity, it was worth the money. As for it containing anything I'd actually want, nope. The most useful thing I got out of it was a set of cowgirl coasters. I got ton of crappy trinkets (basically everything in the Box O Fun) that would only be part of the world's most pathetic party goody bag, but I kept them anyway because I find their lack of craftsmanship charming. Maybe I'll come up with a good use for them. But probably not.