Eat Random

The idea for this blog is to blog about everything I think about food and food culture. I'll tell you what I like to eat, where I like to eat it and if I thought it was good or if I thought it was crap. My thoughts about food could go anywhere. Hey if you don't like it go blog at methodicaldudereallythinksalotaboutthefoodhesgoingtoeat.blogspot.com

Random Dude Eats Random Food Indianapolis restaurants

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas From The Random Dude

Merry Christmas dear readers!  On these holidays where being with family is so important I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for continually shunning social interaction with those very family members so you spend time at your computer reading my blog (and if you're a homeless guy in a library probably looking at porn).  All kidding aside though I just wanted to say I hope all of your have a very merry Christmas and to make sure you eat enough food and sweets over today and tomorrow to almost induce a coma. 

As far as Christmas traditions around our house Christmas Eve is usually an informal gathering with my immediate family with a gift exhange and usually some ordered in pizza.  I have a feeling we're not the only ones that take that route on Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Day all the family comes over and we eat a big traditional meal which I am very much looking forward to. 

I know we don't always get tons of comments here at RDERF, but if you are so inclined feel free to leave one saying what your holiday traditions are, what you'll be eating, or if you got any badass kitchen/cooking stuff as a gift this year.  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Quirky With A Side of Breakfast Review: Best Bet Breakfast and Lunch

I think one of the main reasons that people choose chains over local places is because people have a tendency go with the safe familiar pick over something quirky and new despite the fact that the "safe" pick probably isn't as good and certainly isn't giving you anything special.  However, if you are reading this blog I imagine you might be the sort that revels in quirky local restaurants like I do.  If that is the case then you need to get your ass over to Noblesville for some grub at Best Bet Breakfast and Lunch.
Image courtesy of urbanspoon.com
Best Bet is a small diner-esque place that is situated on the end of a stripmall.  On the inside there is a counter, a handful of tables and chairs, and holy crap TONS of poker/casino themed crap EVERYWHERE! I mean even the cash register looks like a casino cage.  The menu items even have kitschy poker names like "the flop".  In my opinion all of this amounts to awesomeness before even tasting one bite of anything.  One thing you should beware of though is that Best Bet is small and they do get busy on weekends.  There isn't exactly a lot of room to wait for a table.  But if you're patient the owner will probably bring around a basket of house-made cinnamon sugar donut holes while you wait.

After The Girlfriend and I were seated we overlooked the menu while munching on our toast from Best Bet's signature endless toast basket (like a churrascaria just turn the card to green when you want more).  I decided to go with a traditional savory breakfast called The River with 3 eggs, bacon, sausage, and Best Bet's signature Ava Potatoes.  I asked for my eggs over medium and they came out perfectly.  If you are touting yourself as a breakfast place you better nail the eggs obviously, but actually its the other little things that Best Bet does that makes it special in my opinion.  The bacon was thick and delicious just like bacon should be. However, the sausage at Best Bet is actually grilled fresh and not frozen.  They actually take a ball of local pork sausage and smash it on the flattop. How many chains are doing that?  Not many.  The result is breakfast sausage that just plain tastes better.  The other thing that stands out to me are the Ava Potatoes. More than just homefries, these potatoes are cooked in a pile on the flattop with onions and seasoned well.  They have a lot more flavor than your average hashbrowns.  A lot of people, including myself, often say that they don't enjoy going out to breakfast because it's basically the same stuff they can make at home.  At Best Bet that just is not the case.

Taste 10/10 This is place is tied with Rosie's in downtown Noblesville for my favorite breakfast joint at the moment.  As far as I'm concerned I couldn't think of a single thing I was served that I didn't like. Try it out.

Value 8.5/10 I'll be honest.  At Best Bet you're not going to get the ultra-cheap breakfast that you can get at other places.  However, what you do get is more than worth the price, which is still in no way prohibitively expensive. It's all about bang for your buck here.

Service comments: I forgot to mention that the uniqueness of this place goes right down the service. Best Bet is the only restaurant I've ever been to ever where the server doesn't just tell you their name, but asks you what your name is too.  It's a small thing, but it's nice and memorable. Also, it seems as if the servers are enjoying their job, and service has  always been friendly and prompt every time I've been there.

Best Bet Breakfast & Lunch on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fast Food Review: Hardee's Steak and Egg Burrito

If you have read this blog for awhile you probably know that I make no secret of the fact that Hardee's is one of it not my favorite fast food restaurant.  They were a company that used to be an absolute loser of a chain with bad service, bad food, pretty much bad everything.  But here's the interesting thing.  They recognized that they sucked and totally turned the corner.  They downsized and focused their remaining stores on doing more food fresh and from scratch than any other fast food chain in the business.  The results are pretty tasty.  If you don't believe me go out for lunch today and get their chicken tenders.  However, even before their revamp Hardee's was known for their breakfast menu.  They're still putting out favorites like from scratch biscuits, but when I saw they were promoting a steak and egg burrito I figured, in the interest of science, it was worth a try.

As you can see from the picture (I used the pen to give perspective) that the burrito is a nice size.  It's bigger than the dollar menu sausage burrito from McDonald's, but smaller than a Qdoba monstrosity.  Certainly nothing to be disappointed about.  However, when I cut it open I was at first a little bit alarmed at the lack of steak I saw in relation to the amount of scrambled egg, but when I took a bite I discovered that there was actually more steak in the burrito than I really even expected.  It just seemed to be hiding out in the back and in the folds of fluffy egg.  The steak, while a little on the chewy side, also had a nice flavor.  It was as though it had actually been seasoned!  Also present were a melted cheddar cheese and a queso cheese that was a nice surprise.  In the words of Anthony Bourdain I'm a total egg slut so I was also happy with the warm fluffy folded eggs inside that were present in a generous portion.  However, you might notice that one or two things are missing that would make this a really great breakfast burrito.  I think some salsa (which is only available if you ask I found out later) and maybe an extra element of potatoes or hashbrowns inside would have made it a little bit better.

Taste 7/10 Definitely an above average breakfast burrito that you can get quickly on your way to work in the morning.  It might be missing some elements, but let's be honest it's not trying to be the giant Qdoba breakfast burrito here.  It's trying to be Hardee's, and in that regard I think it does it's job quite well.  If you're someone who likes a good breakfast burrito give this a shot. Maybe pick one up in the morning on your way to a holiday celebraish, you guys.


Value 8/10 At $3.63 with tax it is not the cheapest thing on the Hardee's breakfast menu.  In fact depending on if the special is running you might be able to get 2 bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits for less. How is it a good value then? Well #1 it's steak, and it's not a total ripoff like Taco Bell's steak items, #2 it was pretty tasty and a lot cheaper and quicker than going to Qdoba, #3 I'm not a big eater in the morning, but I would venture to guess that people would think this filling enough.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Search of A Good Burger Review: The Stacked Pickle (Fishers)

Ok, I know I'm kind of late to the party on this one being that The Stacked Pickle has already been an existing restaurant in Carmel for some time and even the newer Fishers location has been open for quite a while now.  Even though I drive by it every day on my journey to and from work I have never once been inside.  I'm not sure why that was the case.  It's new and relatively close to my house.  Usually that alone is good enough for me to give it a try.  I think far too often that when we're deciding where to eat I have a tendency to forget about new places and fall into going to the old ones like warm comfortable blanket.  It is also the case that I have been pretty down on bar/pub food lately.  The last few of these establishments I've been to the food really hasn't been satisfactory.  I was really hoping to pull a Staind  and break the cycle (OMG late 90's pop culture!!) this time.

The Stacked Pickle in Fishers is located in an expanding strip mall on the corner of 116th and Allisonville.  It's conveniently located and has ample parking which is always nice.  My buddy and I went for lunch on a Saturday afternoon prior to a hellish fun day of Christmas shopping.  I was surprised at how empty the place was considering all the people that seemed to be out and about.  When we walked in there was no hostess in sight and no sign indicating what we should do so we grabbed a table.  It felt somewhat awkward when the hostess finally showed up and gave us our menus after we were already seated.  The interior is done in a lot of stained wood and the bar is featured promiently.  I have a feeling it's a pretty fun place to go at a later hour on a weekend. But since the reason for this journey was grub and not partying like a certain college basketball team that is undefeated and beat #1 Kentucky let's focus on the food.

The menu was pretty much what you'd expect.  Standard offerings of wings, sandwiches, and burgers.  I had a little trouble deciding, and considered ordering the breaded tenderloin, but I decided that I was in need of some cow in a bad way.  My buddy got the tenderloin, but I chose the patty melt with the standard side of battered fries.  When my food arrived I was definitely pleasantly surprised.  The swiss cheese was nicely melted, the onions perfectly grilled as to bring out their natural sweetness, and my burger was perfectly medium just as I had asked.  I'm so used to being asked how I want my burgers cooked and still getting a well done patty I almost went into shock when seeing that it was cooked correctly.  Furthermore the patty was very juicy and tasted incredibly fresh.  Even the rye bread that it was served on was incredibly tasty.  It was thick cut and had that distinct rye flavor that added a nice extra element.  The only mistake was that the Thousand Island dressing that was supposed to come on my sandwich was left off, and it took me a while to flag down our server to request a serving on the side.  The fries were just what the menu stated they were.  Standarded battered fries.  Nothing special here, but they were tasty.  If they had some sort of special seasoning it might bring them up a bit.

Normally I would just go into the taste and value ratings here as I don't often comment on service, but in this case I feel compelled to make an exception.  Now make no mistake our orders were taken, our food was brought out, and our drinks refilled in a reasonably prompt manner, but one of my pet peeves (especially in a not-that-busy restaurant with multiple servers) is not getting our checks when we're ready to go.  My friend and I waited an extremely long time after we had finished eating to get our checks while our server was having a lengthy animated conversation with the hostess.  Our server then walked right by us with our empty plates, and she was not prompt in returning.  Certainly didn't put a damper on the meal per se, or even prevented me from going back (definitely going back for the tenderloin) but it was annoying and fixable.   Alright enough of that.

Taste: 9/10 Not just a good patty melt, but a great one in my opinion.  Some special fries away from a 10 I would say.  I was kind of annoyed at the lack of TI on my patty melt, but it was supposed to be on there and the server did address it even if she was a bit hard to flag down.

Value 8.5/10 Of course I opted for a Diet Coke instead of a beer which kept the cost down some, but the meal was right around 10 bucks.  There was plenty of a food, and it was delcious.  I've paid 10 dollars for much worse meals in the past. 

Stacked Pickle on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Should Have Asked For Fried Coleslaw: Muldoon's Review

Every once in a while I get a certain craving for dishes that are on my list of lifetime faves: bbq pork, pizza, fried chicken, fish and chips.  These aren't things that I always crave or always sound good, but when I want them I want them and I will always try to search out the best.  I will also not be afraid to travel a little bit to get it.  A few weeks ago the urge for a plate of fried goodness in fish and fries form hit me like a ton of bricks.  I've had some solid F and C at various places before (B-Rip Brewpub, Claddagh), but I was looking for a new restaurant in place I don't often visit.  On a Saturday night in late fall that place was Muldoon's in the Carmel Arts and Design district.

When I arrived at the restaurant I was surprised that it was actually a little bit easier to find parking than I thought it would be on a weekend night.  This is a good thing because a lack of available parking has a tendency to make me impatient.  As I went inside I had good feelings due to the fact that I love any place with an Irish pub type atmosphere and lots of hardwood and hard drinks.  Call it the Ron Swanson factor.  The restaurant was quite busy on a Saturday night, and luckily my friend and I were able to snag a couple seats at the bar.

There was little need to look at the menu since I had my mind set on fish and chips.  However, there was one glaring absence on the menu that should be mentioned here.  The fish and chips at Muldoon's is not served with coleslaw.  I know some of you might be saying so what, but to me coleslaw is something that should ALWAYS be served with fish and chips.  Even just a little side of coleslaw is a great way to break up the fried fish and the fried potatoes.  Also, I just love the stuff.  To Muldoon's credit the bartender heard me lamenting the lack of coleslaw and asked me if I'd like to order it as an extra side.  I did because I wanted it, but it was an extra charge.

The meal itself I would say was not the best fish and chips I've had, but certainly not the worst either.  The portion size was very nice with 3 nice sized cod fillets and a healthy portion of fries.  The cod was flaky and nice, but the batter on the fish seemed to slough off easily which made it hard to eat with my hands as I prefer. The fries were not a standout, and if you read my blog you know that's a frequent criticism I have. Likewise the coleslaw was not particularly memorable, and it would have been nice if it was just a little more tangy.  I definitely wouldn't mind going back to Muldoon's again, but I think experiencing the fish and chips once was enough.  I've heard good stuff about their tenderloin so maybe that's the direction I'll go on a revisit.

Taste 6/10 A tick above being completely average. I have a feeling there might be better things here than the F and C.
Value 4/10 After adding the extra (overpriced) coleslaw to my bill it was fairly expensive. However, the price for the fish and chips seems to be inline with other restaurants in the Indy area. However, since I didn't enjoy it quite as much as what I've had elsewhere the value score suffers a bit.

Muldoon's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 12, 2011

Burger King Still Sucks: New BK Fries Review

I don't know if I've ever voiced this opinion explicitly on this blog, but Burger King flat out sucks and has for a while.  You might be saying, "Hold up it didn't make your list of overrated fast food restaurants. What gives?" I'd say you're right it didn't.  To be overrated there has to be some perception out there that it's good.  Burger King is long long way from that.  Every time I go there I see dirty restaurants, few customers, slacking, poorly dressed employees who aren't even wearing clean cohesive uniforms, long waits in the drive thru and burgers that have shrank more than Obama's approval ratings.  It's so sad because I remember BK being one of my favorite places in fast food when I was a kid.  The charbroiled burgers were always especially enjoyable.  I think BK management has recognized their company's slide, but are there efforts enough to reverse the trend?

If I had to answer that question with one word I would say no. Their most recent effort the new BK fries are trying to be presented as some kind of savior for the company. I understand why they are trying considering how bad their old fries were, but in my opinion there just isn't a lot new or enjoyable about these.  The only, and I mean ONLY, discernable difference was the size.  They are slightly thicker than the old fries.  There you have it.  That's it.  They could have gone with new seasoning, fresh cut, the appearance of fresh cut (Wendy's), but they didn't do any of that at all. Burger King seems to think that the idea of being new also means better.  I assure you this is not the case.

Besides the fries I decided to try one of their new BK Toppers burgers.  I went with the cheeseburger that comes with bbq sauce and onion rings, The Western BBQ Cheeseburger.  It was honestly one of the worst "new" menu items I've ever had. The cheese was not melted, the onion rings were cold, the bbq sauce was barely there and had no flavor.   If the burger had 2 patties or if it was a dollar cheaper I may not have hated it as much, but as it is I consider it a total ripoff. 

Taste 0/10 I will not be going back to Burger King again. Period. Unlike Hardee's they have shown me nothing that proves they are really trying to improve their brand.  They have bigger problems than just the menu or the food, but considering they haven't solved those yet I see no way they can pull off a top to bottom overhaul

Value 0/10 Even if it was free I don't think that would be good enough.  Too many other choices in fast food that are competitively priced with much much better quality.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Commendable Service at Chili's In Noblesville

If you were to ask me how often I eat at places like Chili's or Applebee's I'd answer by saying almost never.  There are far too many restaurants with better food and better value that are locally owned to waste time eating at places like this.  The only time I will ever order anything from there is if I'm part of a larger party that decides that's where they want to go or if I have in some way acquired a giftcard for one of those places.  The latter was the case today when I tried to get some chicken tenders to avoid the bane of my existence, the grocery store, for one more day.  Unfortunately when I presented my giftcard to pay for my meal it was rejected due to not being properly loaded when it was purchased from a 3rd party retailer.  I was upset because I'd have to pay out of pocket, and The Girlfriend's grandparents who gave me the card for my birthday wasted their money.  Surprisingly, the manager offered to give me the food for half price despite the fact that she was under no obligation to do so.  If she hadn't done this I wouldn't have been upset.  After all the issue was not their fault, and they had prepared my food in good faith.  I thought it was very nice of the manager to do this for me without any needed complaining on my part, and I thought it was worthy of a little shoutout here at RDERF.  Moral of the story here if you are purchasing giftcards of any type from a 3rd party retailer for Christmas gifts beware that they might screw it up.  When you're buying Christmas gifts in a tough economy like this every dollar should count.

P.S. The food isn't really worthy of comment, but if you're curious the tenders in the honey chipotle sauce weren't bad.  The chicken was juicy.  The coleslaw wasn't bad, but definitely nothing special.  The fries were borderline awful as they usually are at Chili's.  No excuses for that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

In My Own Back Yard Review: Courtney's Kitchen

"When another man's grass looks greener water your own yard." The songwriter who penned that line definitely wasn't talking about restaurants, but that doesn't mean I can't be a shameless hack who uses other people's prose for my own purposes.  What I'm talking about precisely is that fact that I've often lamented the fact that I've traveled all around the Indianapolis metro area to eat at various restaurants, but I far too often neglect some of the restaurants that are in my adopted home town of Noblesville.  I don't really have a good explanation for why that is.  Partly it is due to the fact that I try to seek out things I hear about from other people and in doing so I forget that there are some pretty cool places right near by.  What is the first place on my Noblesville eating adventure? It's a little place just off the Noblesville downtown square called Courtney's Kitchen.

This photo courtesy of Urbanspoon
The Girlfriend and I arrived early on a Saturday night for dinner at Courtney's, and when we arrived the small restaurant was empty but filled up quickly after we sat down.  A good sign for sure.  While the outside of the restaurant looks rather unspectacular the inside was warm, comforting, and nicely decorated with black and white photos of people and sights from around the town.  Courtney's is a family run business and the message is conveyed nicely.  The menu is simple and consists mainly American comfort food classics and a variety of sandwiches.  In fact, a banner at the front of the restaurant proclaims the excellence of their breaded tenderloin sandwich.  I decided to put that claim to the test.

While the breaded tenderloin may very well be the state sandwich when you order one at a restaurant I've come to find out that you can never be exactly sure what you're going to get.  Fresh? Frozen? Thick? Pounded thin? Heavy breading? Light breading? Panko??? Any of the preceding can have their merits, but truth be told each Hoosier has their own preference.  I tend to prefer fresh hand-breaded tenderloins in their non-pounded-thin form. I usually always get pickles, sometimes mustard, sometimes mayo.  On this particular night I decided to go with pickles and mayo, but unfortunately my sandwich arrived with mustard instead.  I'll give the waitress a pass here due the fact that I enjoy mustard as well, but still it was somewhat frustrating.  This particular tenderloin comes pounded thin and is almost the size of the plate. Not my preferred style, but the flavor was still really good.  The meat was juicy, the breading wasn't too thick, and you could tell it was fresh and hand pounded and breaded before being fried.  A winner in my book.  The sandwich is normally served with chips but I upgraded to fries for an upcharge.  I was glad I did because the fries were fresh cut, nicely fried, and seasoned wonderfully.  While I wish places would just scrap the chips and include fries in the price I didn't mind it here because Courtney's is actually a place doing exceptional fries.  Not enough places do that. 

The Girlfriend got the special that was the pan fried chicken that was served with veg, mashed potatoes, and a dinner roll.  The pan fried chicken was juicy and nicely seasoned, but I think we were a little surprised it was served as chicken cutlets rather than actual on-the-bone chicken.  The gravy on the mash had a little bit more of a peppery kick than most. I really really enjoyed it, but The Girlfriend was less than thrilled. Personally, I thought it was something that sat it apart from other cream gravies.  The Girlfriend was also a little disappointed that she was served green beans as her veg when she ordered corn.  Other than those couple little quirks service was friendly and fairly good.  We thought about trying some of their homemade ice cream or pie, but we were really both too full to be able to eat it.  If you've had the dessert at Courtney's please leave a comment.

The more I eat out in Noblesville the dumber I feel for ignoring a lot of these places for so long in favor of places a more considerable distance away.  Noblesville may not have a ton of non-chain choices, but what is there that I have discovered so far has been on point.  I'm going to make sure there are more of these reviews to come in the future.

Taste 9/10 If I peg my ideal breaded tenderloin sandwich as a perfect 10/10 this was easily every bit of a 9. It was a different variety than what I normally like, and it didn't come with the exact toppings I requested and it still won me over.  That's hard to do.  Also, don't forget the fries were excellent.  Why are more small places not making their own fries.  It's such a huge positive difference from other places.  It sets the restaurant apart in a great way.

Value 8/10 The Girlfriend and I both ate dinner (a lot of food here) with sodas for $23 dollars before tip.  The upcharge on the fries and cost of the sodas drove up the ticket a little bit.  All in all you can't complain about bang for your buck here though.


Courtney's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Revisit: Charleston's

There are a lot of things in life that tend not to live up to the hype: the BCS, SEC football, that last Superman movie, the Boston Redsox in 2011, the Segway, more or less everything you can buy on late night television for $19.95, Obama, pretty much every winner of American Idol, anything involving Star Wars that isn't the original cuts of the first three films....and Hugh Jackman.  After I ate at Charleston's the first time I felt like putting it on this list.  It came across as one of those kind of places that seemed like it should be better than it actually was.  Even though the unpalatable coleslaw stuck out in my mind from my last visit I was excited for another go round.

When I walked in the front door at Charleston's my dinner decision was more or less made for me.  I knew from the smell that Charleston's was cook food over a wood flame, and when I saw the wood fire grilled pork chops on the menu that's what I had to go for.  It was 2 chops served with sides of garlic mashed potatoes and bbq beans.  The first thing I noticed when my food arrived was that Charleston's is not a place that skimps on the portions.  Both pork chops were rather healthy in size and the amount of garlic mash on my plate was nothing short of gargantuan. The portion of beans was adequate but seemed small by comparison.  The second thing I noticed was that the pork chops had beautiful caramelized color and grill marks.  The mere appearance screamed delicious before I even took bite one. 

As for how things actually tasted that is a little more of a complex answer.  I thought the flavor of the chops was really really good.  The wood fire grill wasn't just a gimmick here.  The meat was tender, juicy, and cooked just right.  Also, the smoky flavor really came across strongly.  While I appreciated that, but I almost felt it could have used a sweet element as a complement.  Maybe that's just a personal preference, but I felt that a glaze or even a sauce would have really elevated these from really good to the level of something special.  The garlic mash was absolutely dead on.  The texture wasn't too smooth and the garlic flavor was present without being overwhelming.  The bbq beans were a little bit of a curve ball.  Based on the description I was expecting a flavor profile similar to sweet baked beans and instead this was more chili-like.  I actually appreciated it quite a bit.  For dessert, despite it being more of a Summer dish, I decided to go with the keylime pie.  It was fantastic.  The perfect mix of subtle sweetness and just a hint of sour from the limes.  It also didn't hurt itself by being topped with a healthy amount of fresh real whipped cream.


Taste 8.5/10 While there may have been ways that my dish could have been adjusted to improve it according to my person preferences, but it's hard to argue that the execution of the food was anything less than superb. The perfect flavors for a cool fall night. 

Value 8.5/10 When you go to Charleston's you have to realize that it isn't the type of place where you can get a 2 meals for $20 deal.  With dessert my meal was over the 20 dollar mark, but I definitely felt that it was worth every penny in terms of the amount and quality of food that was served. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weekend Food Preview

Well thankfully another weekend is just around the corner.  That means a few things for yours truly.  First of all The Girlfriend and I are going to a party tomorrow night which should be a good time. If anybody has any good fall party food or drinks feel free to post them in the comments.  Also, speaking of the arrival of fall and colder weather I'm starting to get more cravings for comfort/bar food.  I don't know that's just how my brain works.  I think for dinner this weekend we might take a trip over to the Carmel Arts and Design District and find something that fits that mold.  If you have recommendations let me know.  Also, I just wanted to make this a little open thread of sorts for anything you want to talk about in regards to what you're eating, cooking, or restaurant recommendations.  Have a good weekend.  Happy eatings.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Food TV: Next Iron Chef Superchef Battle

It's likely that if you are reading this blog that you are also someone who watches a fair amount of Food Network.  I know I do.  Sometimes I'll even watch shows on Food Network that are so crappy I can't believe they aren't part of the NBC primetime lineup.  I mean can somebody give Whitney Cummings a cooking show already?  In any case, the most recent phenomenon I've been sucked into is this years edition of Next Iron Chef. 

I've written before about how I believe, that despite Alton Brown's presence, Iron Chef America is a poor imitation of a wonderfully quirky Japanese cooking competition show from the 90s.  The American version uses "secret ingredients" that are far too boring (How will these chefs ever use a crazy wacky ingredient like CORN in a series of dishes???? They aren't superheroes!) and has "Iron Chefs" that I don't find that interesting.  Food Network must have realized some of these problems and addressed them by bringing some new life into the show by having a competition series where the winner would join the cast.  This is all well and good, but after the first 2 or 3 seasons of Next Iron Chef someone must have realized that no one knows any of these alleged "superior" chefs.  Food Network's solution was to have this season of NIC be comprised of competitors that all have a built in audience either from appearances on their own Food Network shows or other high profile cooking competitions such as Top Chef.

So far I have to say it's successful.  Food Network viewers already know a lot of the backstories/resumes of the competitors and likely have a rooting interest.  I also know that a lot of the people on this show have more going for them than just "I've been on Food Network".  There are no Rachel Rays or Guy "The Bold Bad Boy" Fieris here. Instead we get Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine, Alex Guarnaschelli, Marcus Samuelson, and Michael Chiarello just to name a few.  These muthas can cook.  Food Network has also gone to an hour format instead of 90 minutes which makes for better pacing.  Also of note is the fact that each episode consists of 2 challenges.  Instead of a reward challenge and an elimination challenge this format has the 2 worst dishes in the first round going to a 30 minute elimination cook-off.  I find that much more compelling.  It's also on every Sunday night so it's a good little bit of escapist television that us battle weary Colts fans are looking for after watching our weekly butt kicking.

Image of NIC cast courtsey of aoltv.com

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet Treat Review: Nestle's Milk Chocolate Bar

I said the terms "milk chocolate" and "chocolate bar" to you your first thought would probably be Hershey's.  Sure, we're all aware that other chocolate and candy companies exist, but when you are talking about a pure chocolate candy bar with not other elements a lot of people may not even know that the Nestle company even produces such a product.  After all it's not something that you see frequently on store shelves here in Indiana.  It's not part of the "chocolate zeigeist" if such a douchey phrase actually existed.  When I saw the Nestle Milk Chocolate bar for sale at the local Dollar Tree of all places I selflessly decided to try it out for your benefit and report to you my findings.

So what did I find out?  I found out that it's pretty much a Nestle Crunch without the puffed rice to add the crunch.  I thought in comparison to a Hershey bar that the Nestle bar was maybe slightly less sweet, but that's really only splitting hairs.  They both taste like milk chocolate and they were both darn good.  I'm so used to Hershey bars thought it was a little strange for me to not have the bar segmented into little rectangles that could be broken off.  I think I prefer it that way as would any OCD chocolate connoisseur. 

Taste 5/10 Just average here.  Nothing to make me change my brand allegiance.  I much prefer Nestle's Baby Ruth to their regular chocolate bar.

Value N/A

P.S. Apologies for torn packaging in the picture.  The Girlfriend tried part of it before it dawned on me to take a picture.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Good Breakfast Isn't Hard to Find: Rosie's Place Review

"Yes. It's homemade."  Those are the words that are printed on the backs of the some of the shirts that the waitstaff at Rosie's Place in Noblesville.  In today's world that is undoubtedly a bold statement.  Far too many restaurants, chain and local, use frozen, pre-made, and pre-packaged ingredients.  Though we lament this fact it does leave an opening for restaurants like Rosie's Place to use their homemade items as a selling point.  The question is do they live up to their own words?  After my breakfast today I believe that answer is yes. 

Rosie's Place is a breakfast, lunch, and bakery spot located right on the town square area of downtown Noblesville.  Before we even set foot inside the restaurant The Girlfriend and I both commented on how nice the downtown area of Noblesville is and lamented the fact that we don't venture there for lunch/dinner as much as we should.  When we finally stepped inside of Rosie's we noticed immediately what a warm and inviting feel the restaurant has.  It's small enough to feel cozy, but not so small it's hard to get a table or move around.  Also, I don't know much about interior design, but I think most people would agree that the hardwood floors and semi-distressed looking brick walls were a nice touch.  Additionally, before you're seated at Rosie's you get to check out all of their delightful homemade baked goods near the cash register which always gets my mouth watering.  We were greeted warmly by the staff, and seated promptly.  This is a big plus in my book considering how crazy places like this can get on Sunday for breakfast.

After we were seated the first thing I noticed was that the menu we were given was imprinted with Fall 2011.  It was a nice touch to know that even a small cafe like this cares about being seasonal.  After looking over my options I decided I was in a "savory breakfast" mood and decided to go with a bacon, mushroom, and cheddar omelet with a biscuit and their country potatoes on the side.  The Girlfriend went with the biscuits and gravy.  When out food arrived I noticed quite a few pleasant surprises.  First of all I have said before how biscuits can make or break a breakfast place for me, and seeing as how Rosie's is also a bakery they had more at stake here than most.  Rosie's won the day though because the biscuit was just great.  It was light and fluffy yet substantial enough not to crumble.  If I had any slight criticism it might be that my biscuit may have been sitting around for a bit before it was served, but the taste was not affect by this since I found it to be delicious.  Rosie's even went the extra mile here of bringing me homemade strawberry preserves when I asked for jelly instead of just bringing me crappy Smucker's packets.  Major cool points. ::makes salute motion:: The omelet was equally delicious and I could tell that I was getting fresh mushrooms and fresh real cheddar cheese.  One forgets how much this adds to a dish after having subpar canned mushrooms and pre-packaged shredded cheese on so many occasions.  The bacon was perfectly cooked and plentiful.  Also, I want to give big props to Rosie's for actually using fresh diced red potatoes as their country potatoes instead of the same old boring frozen homefries.  One note though is that my potatoes were slightly under-seasoned. They were begging for some more salt and pepper and perhaps they could have been just slightly crispier.  The Girlfriend was equally pleased with her B&G.  I gave it a little taste and I have to agree.  The sausage gravy was the perfect consistency and the flavor was spot on.  We both left the table satisfied as well as full.

Taste 9.5/10 Just a fantastic restaurant experience overall.  I love finding places like this.  I'm excited to go back and give their pancakes, baked goods, and eggs benedict a shot. This is a Noblesville gem.  Don't sleep on it if you live in the Northern suburbs. Also, how does Rosie's ultimately stand up to their claim of "Yes. It's homemade"? I'm pretty sure the only think not made in-house was the butter for my biscuit.  'Nuff said.

Value 9/10 Without including drinks (coffe and soda) our ticket would have been around 13 or 14 dollars.  I know some people may ask how is that a good value since I can make breakfast at home?  My answer is that unless you're spending a ton of time and have some great recipe's you aren't doing what Rosie's is doing. You're getting a lot in terms of food and dining experience here for a reasonable price.

Rosie's Place on Urbanspoon

P.S. If anyone has been to Rosie's and had the pies or baked goods leave a comment.  I'm thinking of getting a pie from a specialty bake shop for Thanksgiving, but I haven't decided where from yet.


Interior pictures courtesy urbanspoon and google.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beverage Review: Mt. Dew Game Fuel Modern Warfare 3 Edition

UAV online!  If you're as big of a nerd as I am, or if you watch G4 on occasion you might know that next Tuesday is the launch date for one of the tentpoles of the video game industry, the Call of Duty series, specifically Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.  While I am freakin' psyched I realize that this is not a technology or video game blog so I'll just go ahead and assume most of you don't rat's. What might interest you, however, is that the video game company is sponsoring a product tie-in. Moutain Dew, the lifeblood of gamers everywhere, is producing a limited-time flavor called Moutain Dew Game Fuel Tropical.



This is certainly not the first go around with videogame/softdrink cross-promotion.  Moutain Dew itself has had success in the past with "game fuel" flavors produced for the release of games in the Halo franchise as well as World of Warcraft.  Speaking from personal experience the WoW Game Fuel cherry flavor had a very pleasant citrus taste I preferred over other Moutain Dew varieties.  When I saw the new Modern Warfare Game Fuel I had to see how the new product stacked up.

photo courtesy lunaticoutpost.com
The first thought that ran through my head when I picked up the new Dew was the terrible experience I had with the last Mountain Dew product I reviewed on this blog.  What a freakin' trainwreck.  The new Dew wouldn't have to go far to do better than that.  On first glance I noticed this new Dew was green like regular Dew, but slightly darker in color similar to the Distortion flavor they offered a while back.  Once I tasted it I have to say the "new flavor" was a bit hard to place.  I could tell it wasn't the same formula a regular Dew, but the difference was more subtle than I expected.  There was a hint of lime that  I found enjoyable though. If we're being honest most the flavor really isn't the point here is it?  Hell no!  If you're sucking down green soda called "game fuel" it's because you want the caffeine charge required to stay up all night laying waste to hordes of foul mouthed 12 year olds in online simulated combat! Okay, typing that out made it sound more lame than I had intended.  Nonetheless, the point is that Game Fuel has all the caffeine you need (121 mg) to stay up all night occupying your mom's basement and having a blast fake shooting fake people on the internet.

UPDATE: I was in the gas station today, and I saw that they are indeed selling the cherry citrus flavored Game Fuel.  I bought one, and I can confirm it's still money.  Pick one up.  Don't sleep on it.

Taste 6/10 I found the flavor nice, but almost too subtle.  The cherry citrus WoW Game Fuel from a couple years ago was more enjoyable by quite a bit.

Value N/A It costs the same as every other bottle of pop.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Admit I'm Late to the Food Truck Party: Scratch Truck Review

Better late than never could easily be a cliched phrase I shout happily after the hapless Indianapolis Colts fire head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.  However, since (unfortunately) that day is yet to come I'm compelled to use it when I describe finally paying a visit to one of the vendors on the Indianapolis food truck scene, Scratch Truck.

In case you've been living under a culinary rock for that last 3 years or so food trucks are basically mobile food vendors that have the goal of serving high quality cuisine at various points around the city using social media to get the word out about their menus and locations.  Scratch Truck describes their culinary point of view as being "modern mobile comfort food".  More generally food trucks often boast of making cuisine superior than what is available at many restaurants.  On this point I have to confess I was rather skeptical for a couple of reasons. 1. Food trucks, for better or worse, are a food trend which has a tendency to put me off because these kinds of things sometimes live off their own hype rather than substance. And 2. Being that I live in the northern suburbs of the city and work in Castleton, I haven't had many opportunities to visit a food truck and taste for myself. Their strategy is usually more focused on areas with higher foot traffic like downtown and Broadripple.  Fortunately, for me I saw on the tweeters that Scratch Truck was going to be set up near my office in Castleton, and I decided I had to treat myself to a special birthday lunch.

Photo courtesy scratchtruck.com
As I walked up the first thing I did was examine the menu and the truck itself.  The truck was visually eye catching and looked in every way professional.  The menu was posted on whiteboards which indicates that they change it up based on what they have that is fresh and available.  I've read other reviews on the internets about Scratch's chicken cone so I decided to go for something a little bit different.  The Scratch Burger was described as a "1/3 lb custom ground burger, bacon marmalade, arugula, and gorgonzola cheese served on a fresh, soft, toasted roll". (Ron Swanson voice) That sounded delcious!  For an extra charge I decided to pair it with their poutine fries.  The poutine fries were hand cut, twice fried french fries topped with chicken gravy, fresh mozzarella cheese, and herbs. 

After I placed my order I was asked how I preferred my burger to be cooked.  I gave my answer as "medium", but seeing as how often my "medium" burgers come out more like "well done" at Indy restaurants I was tempted to roll my eyes.  However, when my burger arrived I was pleasantly surprised that my burger was cooked perfectly as I requested.  Not only was my burger cooked perfectly I have to say this gets the honor as my favorite burger in the Indy area.  The portion was ample.  The meat was perfectly seasoned.  The bacon marmalade added an element of saltiness and sweetness that I've never experienced on a burger before.  The gorgonzola was evident and blended in perfect harmony with the arugula and marmalade.  I was impressed by how much these normally very assertive flavors were used so subtly here.  You were able to taste each one individually without being overwhelmed by any single element.  That's my benchmark for great food.  This burger required no additional condiments, a rarity among burgers and another sign of excellence. 

The poutine fries were also incredibly decadent and delicious.  The gravy was not too thick or thin.  The fries were perfectly cooked. The herbs added flavor.  However, what really brought this dish home was the one thing that poutine purists would probably dispute, the fresh mozzarella.  While they may not have been cheese curds these mozzarella pieces were fresh, soft, flavorful and melted just enough by the heat of the gravy and fries to ooze just perfectly over each bite.   My only regret is that the gravy and cheese kind of took away from the crispiness of the fries a little bit.  However, this is not a complaint or criticism.  This is how poutine should be. Personally, I think regular crispy fries are more my bag baby (Hooray dated pop culture references!).  Even if you feel the same way I would still encourage you to try the poutine fries.  They are one of those really good "food experiences".   Let's get to the ratings and put a bow on this bad boy.

Taste 10/10 Absolutely everything I want in a burger and nothing I don't. Delcious fries.  Of course I can't speak about every food truck in the city, but Scratch Truck has set the bar high.  My preconceptions about what type of food I could get from a mobile vendor have been blown away. I hope they bring their business back up to my neck of the woods sooner rather than later.

Value 8/10 This is the part of the review where it starts to get a little tricky.  Normally if I went somewhere and paid $12.81 for a burger, fries, and a Diet Coke I would probably be pretty livid.  That's a fairly big pricetag for lunch and for a burger in general.  The difference?  This is no "burger in general".  This is a one bada$$ meal the whole way around.  At a more "premium" price such as this I couldn't eat it all the time, but at least when I do there is no doubt I'm getting a "premium" product.

Scratchtruck (Mobile Food) on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Jellystone Burger at the Mill Tavern

It is one of my great hopes in life to at some point live near or above a friendly little local watering hole with cold beer and solid cheeseburger not unlike the McLaren's of How I Met Your Mother Fame.  That dream of mine may or may not be realized someday due to other more frivolous life plans taking priority like "finding a nice house in a good neighborhood" or "getting married".  Psssh details details details.  Until that day comes I've just decided to check out bars in neighborhoods that would be good candidates.  The Mill Tavern in Westfield is just such a place.

Located in a strip mall in a sleepy northern suburb of the Circle City the Mill Tavern is nothing if not unassuming.  If I didn't have a friend who lived nearby I probably wouldn't even know it existed.  But when you walk inside from the parking lot it is immediately noticeable that you are in more than just another bar.  The Mill Tavern is warm, inviting, and friendly.  It's the kind of place that you can tell your more sophisticated friends that you're going there in order to "build social capital in your community" instead of merely knocking a few back until you forget your snobby friends' names in the first place.  In any case a few weeks back I decided to build some of my own social capital and join a friend on a birthday outing. 

After having a couple Bud Lights (If you're out there I accept free samples Anheuser Busch people!) I decided that the opportunity to have food from a place I've never been before was too good to pass up.  The menu definitely has some bar standards on it, but my eye was immediately drawn to their specialty burgers, specifically the burger called The Jellystone.  The concept of the Jellystone burger is a simple one.  Take a standard cheeseburger and add a schmear of black raspberry jelly underneath the melted cheese.  All at once a burger that is both simple and completely ridiculous.  I had to try it.  After all according to the menu it is Kristin's fave...whoever the heck that is. 

When it arrived at my table I noticed that it was barely discernible from a standard cheeseburger.  I even thought at first that they forgot the integral jell component, but once I bit in I recognized it was there immediately.  The taste was unusual, but definitely not unpleasant.  The sweet black raspberry jelly was actually a nice compliment to the beef.  However, this burger wasn't without it's problems.  First and foremost this might have been one of the hardest to eat burger's I've ever had.  The jelly was warm and was running out everywhere from under the cheese.  I had to actually dive in with a knife and fork to keep the sticky sweet jelly from running all over my hands and dripping on my clothes.  Secondly, in the flavor department this burger was lacking something.  The menu states that you can "try it with jalapenos" but I don't believe it really needed a spicy element.  I believe it needed and extra salty element like bacon, and I would replace the mild American cheese with something with more pop like a cheddar or Swiss.  Some pickles might have been a nice addition also...though then you're starting to get into the territory of gross pregnant lady cravings.  One other thing of note: The Mill Tavern charges extra to get fries with your burger.  They were good fries, and I understand why restaurants do the "upcharge" thing but it still bothers me a bit.  I mean burgers and fries just go together.  Just include the fries.

Taste 7/10 Good starting concept, the burger was cooked nicely, and the fries were tasty.  This burger could be modified and made better.  I like the Mill Tavern overall, and if I lived closer I'd be a more frequent customer.

Value 6/10 The burger was 7 dollars before the fries were added, but I have to say the size/magnitude of the burger didn't really feel like a 7 dollar burger.  The beer prices were average for a Fri/Saturday night.  This isn't a college bar where you can get plastered for 10 bucks.  This is a nice community place with normal prices and good friendly service to keep you coming back.

The Mill Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekend Food Preview/ New York Cheesecake Cookies

This weekend is a little bit special as I will be making a jaunt to the farthest point in South central Indiana.  I probably won't be doing a lot of eating out this weekend, but if anyone knows of places to go along the I-65 corridor let me know.  Also, I wanted to give you all a little sneak peak of some things I'm working on.  I should have some good product reviews coming down the pipe with frozen items I haven't heard a lot of feedback about yet.  A couple of them are new varieties of Hot Pockets so you know that has some potential.  Also, I wanted to ask all of you a question.  Has anyone ever had Godfather's pizza?  If so where is the closest one to Indy?  Have a good weekend everybody.  To hold you over until next week here's a recipe for New York Cheesecake Cookies.  The Girlfriend and I made them last night, and despite being a Sandra Lee recipe they are pretty ballin.  One note though...the dough might be a little dry.  Just add a little water (less than 1/4 cup) and it should be fine.  Happy eatings.

The finished product

New York Cheesecake CookiesRecipe copyright Sandra Lee, 2011

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers (1 sleeve)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat together the butter with the brown sugar using an electric hand mixer. Add the egg white and beat until well combined. Add to the graham cracker crumbs and blend until just combined.

In a separate medium bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese with the granulated sugar, egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla until well combined. Set aside.

Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop out the cookie dough and place on a nonstick or parchment lined baking sheet. (If you do not have an ice scoop, then measure out the dough into scoops of about 2 tablespoons.) Flatten slightly, pressing your thumb in the center of the ball to create a small bowl shape. Repeat with the remaining dough. Spoon the cream cheese into the indents in the cookies.

Bake until the filling is barely set and the cookies are lightly golden, 12 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets before removing them and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers (1 sleeve)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat together the butter with the brown sugar using an electric hand mixer. Add the egg white and beat until well combined. Add to the graham cracker crumbs and blend until just combined.

In a separate medium bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese with the granulated sugar, egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla until well combined. Set aside.

Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop out the cookie dough and place on a nonstick or parchment lined baking sheet. (If you do not have an ice scoop, then measure out the dough into scoops of about 2 tablespoons.) Flatten slightly, pressing your thumb in the center of the ball to create a small bowl shape. Repeat with the remaining dough. Spoon the cream cheese into the indents in the cookies.

Bake until the filling is barely set and the cookies are lightly golden, 12 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets before removing them and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Deep In The Heart of Revisits: Texas Roadhouse

One of the great things that has happened since I started this blog is that it causes me to seek out new restaurants and new foods, to boldly try things that I haven't tried before (nerd points!).  However, sometimes I find it a little bit burdensome, especially when I'm really hungry, to try to think of a place I haven't been before and then travel there to try it out.  In this situation I don't think there is anything wrong with hitting up an old standby especially when it's close, has good service, has good food, and reasonable prices.  These are things that I expect when I hit up the Texas Roadhouse in Fishers.
When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that despite being primetime dinner hours on a Saturday we were seated immediately in the bar area.  Hooray for being over 21 and not having any little dream killers children.  Our server was right on top of things from the very beginning, taking our drink orders before I could even take the first bite of one of those delicious rolls.  When it came time to order I did a couple of things I usually dont do.  I ordered a combo with a steak AND ribs, and I decided to go with a regular baked potato over the baked sweet potato and baked beans instead of chili. 

When my food arrived I was a little nervous.  I'm always suspicious of getting ribs at a chain restaurant since I've had bad experiences before at other chains (cough cough Chili's).  When I cut into the Roadhouse ribs though I have to say they were exactly what I was looking for.  The meat was tender and pulled away from the bone easily and cleanly.  They were not oversauced, and the sauce that was on the ribs was not too sweet.  My only small complaint was that they seemed to be thrown on the grill in the last few seconds to get a little char and I didn't really feel it was necessary.  Truthfully though I would have no problem taking down a whole rack of these badboys.  As good as my ribs were I thought my sirloin was even better.  I ordered it medium rare and that is exactly how it was cooked.  This was such a joy to me because so many places don't seem to be able to get it right.  I know how I like my steak.  Give me what I asked for.  The steak was perfectly seasoned and close to being fork tender.  The baked potato on the side was also good.  There isn't a lot to say it about it other than it was so large it could have used just a bit more butter and sour cream than what it came with.  I could have asked for extra and decided not to so that's on me.  The baked beans are also another bright spot for me.  They were smoky, hearty, and it has just enough of that slightly sweet flavor that makes them just right.  One more thing in case anyone from Texas Roadhouse reads this, why do you guys not have a coleslaw as a side choice?  When I'm having bbq that is what I want.  Something to think about, you guys.

Taste 10/10 I've talked before about how I don't think all chain restaurants are necessarily bad, and when I say that Texas Roadhouse is the place I have in mind.  When you nail the food like they did the name on the sign doesn't matter. 
Value 10/10 At Roadhouse you get a ton of food, it's all done really well, and the service is generally good.  On top of that you can order 2 meals with softdrinks and still get out for under $35.  Awesome.

Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Meet the New Mexican Restaurant, Same As the Old Mexican Restaurant: Casa Grande Review

If you've read this blog before you've probably noticed what kinds of foods I like and what kinds I tend to shy away from just based on what I've written about.  In the case of Mexican cuisine it is true that I haven't done very many (or any-I'm too lazy to check) reviews of Mexican restaurants.  However, it's definitely not because I don't like Mexican food.  It may not always be my go-to ethnic cuisine, but there are a lot of times when I just crave it.  The problem I find though is that every new Mexican restaurant I go to seems the same to me.  Yes, the decor may be different.  There may be a different special on the menu here or there. But outside of  those factors I'm usually unable to discern much difference in the food's appearance, taste, or menu offerings.  When Casa Grande opened up in Castleton on the site of an old Max and Erma's I was hoping that this time "new" eatery would actually bring something "new" to the table literally and metaphorically.

Upon walking in to the restaurant I have to say I was encouraged.  The decor, while not fancy, definitely seemed like a step up from the likes of a lot of Mexican restaurants I've been in.  It was more like the inside of a just remodeled Ruby Tuesday's than an El Rodeo or Puerta (for you Muncieites).  The service was prompt, and our server was friendly even giving my friend beer suggestions.  Once we settled in I looked at the menu and was instantly disappointed.  You could have swapped out the menu from any other Mexican restaurant in the city and you wouldn't have noticed a difference.  That being what it was I decided to go with some standby favorites of mine chicken nachos and an ala carte tamale.

Before our food arrived we were of course given a basket of fresh tortilla chips with acommpanying salsa.  I expect this, but I was also a little surprised to see that along with the salsa we were served a sauce that was a ranch dressing base that was dressed up with a spice blend by the kitchen.  It was a little spicy, and I enjoyed it on my chips.  Our food soon arrived and it was time to dig in to the main event.  There really isn't a lot I can say about my chicken nachos.  The flavors were good.  The queso was perfectly melty and delicious.  The chips were chips.  However, I was disappointed at how dry a lot of my chicken was.  It still had flavor, but it definitely lacked a little juiciness.  The tamale was much larger than I expected.  I split it with The Girlfriend and I still was not able to take down my full plate of nachos.  Unfortunately the tamale was also disappointing.  The masa was dry and there was a lot of it.  When I say "a lot" I mean there was so much it was difficult to find the meat filling.  It was also quite dry and didn't have a ton of flavor.  Without all of the sauce and cheese on top it would have been rather hard to eat. 

All in all I guess I have to say my search for a standout Mexican restaurant continues.  I will of course always take suggestions, but I have to say I'm more than a little jaded now.  I've gone to too many places expecting something that will wow me only to come away feeling about the same as always. 

Taste 5/10 Extremely average here.  I didn't hate it, but I would probably only go back if someone else wanted to go or meet there.  Some execution issues with the food.


Value 7/10  As with most Mexican restaurants you are going to get a lot of food for your money here.  Our meal was around 20 bucks I think, and I had enough for 2 meals. 

Casa Grande Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 30, 2011

Question of the Day

Why haven't more fast food restaurants followed McDonald's lead of offering any sized drink for a buck? 

A Fisher's BBQ Flameout

A bbq flameout sounds like some sort of awful entree or app that comes on a Chili's menu.  In this case though I'm afraid I'm talking about the closing of Bender's BBQ Pit in Fishers on the corner of 96th and Masters.  You might have remember my posting of a favorable review of it's cuisine earlier this Summer.  After my post I started noticing that a lot of people didn't view their bbq from Bender's quite as favorably as I did.  I made a couple of revisits that I never got around to blogging about, but keeping in mind that the restaurant recently closed after less than 6 months in business it seems appropriate to do so now.

I stand by my original assessment of the flavor of the food at Bender's.  I enjoyed my pulled pork, and when I later had the brisket I found it even better than the pork.  The sauce was good.  The coleslaw ranked among my favorite of all time.  The problem comes from the fact that little issues that I wrote off in the beginning as growing pains never really went away.  Bender's seemed to want to do too much too soon (moving to a bigger space, serving breakfast) and the details got left behind.  For example, every time I got a pulled pork sandwich from there the bottom bun was completely soggy to the point of being inedible.  I kept hoping they would solve that problem, but they never did.  One time the top bun of my sandwich was forgotten entirely. 

I think it's a shame to see any local restaurant close, but I really wanted an awesome bbq restaurant in that part of town.  From where I live, as it stands now, the closest bbq restaurants are either in Westfield or off of Binford, South of 465.  Not really close at all.  Hopefully someone will take up the reigns and not really try to run before they walk.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Blogging Debut At PJ Lifestyle

It is with much pleasure that I get to announce that I was offered the opportunity to do some food blogging for the lifestyle section of Pajamas Media.  Today is the debut of my first blog: But I Love That Place: The 7 Most Overrated Fast Food Restaurants.  It was a piece that I had a lot of fun writing, and hopefull people will have fun reading it as well.  It's important to note that this doesn't mean Random Dude Eats Random Food is going on hiatus.  I'm still going to try to do reviews here with an emphasis on Indy/Indiana specific locations.  In the meantime come on over to PJ Lifestyle and check us out.  Here's a little taste.
French fries sizzling in hot oil. Fresh (at least at some point) hamburger searing on the flat top grill. Squeaky-voiced teen messing up our order and saying he’ll have to ask his manager. This is the fast food experience Americans are all familiar with. When we walk into a fast food restaurant we all have a certain set of expectations about the food and service based on our previous experiences. That’s why we continue to go back — no matter where in the country we are, we expect the same McDonald’s or Taco Bell meal.



However, it seems to be increasingly evident that fast food restaurants are trying new gimmicks marketing techniques to change both our expectations and perceptions of what they’re serving and how they’re serving it. If my business was being endlessly attacked by nanny-staters that want to dictate what I can and can’t serve my customers, I’d probably try almost anything to keep them coming in the door. But when you try to create the perception of better food and better value instead of actually giving it to your customers, you become a prime candidate for today’s list.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sweet Treat: Paradise Cafe Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ok here were are again at the intersection of two of my favorite things in the entire world chocolate chip cookies and toasted coconut.  While one would think that very little could go wrong with a coconut chocolate chip cookie given my culinary predilictions I have to say that this was not immediately a slam dunk.  While I love chocolate chip cookies I'm a little particular about them.  I definitely prefer soft and chewy over crunchy and crumbly.  I believe this is also the reason why I almost like to eat cookie dough as much as I like to eat the cookies themselves.   Also, it's important to me that any good chocolate chip cookie have chocolate pieces that aren't too big (no chunks please) and evenly distributed.  As for the coconut I'm pretty cool with it in all of it's forms, but much like everything else in life being a little bit toasted is always better.  How did these cookies from Paradise Bakery and Cafe, a place I had never been, stack up.

Truthfully and honestly I have to say these were the best chocolate chip cookies I can remember eating.  The regular chocolate chip was fantastic.  It met all of the criteria I described above and then some.  It far exceeded expectations.  I was a little more skeptical when I tried the chocolate chip coconut.  I had never had this particular combination before, and just having ate the regular chocolate chip it was going to have a lot to stack up to.  It passed the test with flying colors.  The coconut was not simply sprinkled on top but seemed to be actually mixed throughout the entire cookie.  It was also nicely toasted despite the cookie still being very moist and chewy.  The chocolate chips were evenly distributed and had the perfect melted consistency.  I wish had one right now.

Taste 10/10 As far as flavor combinations and chocolate chip cookies go this was it for me. 
Value 6/10  These cookies are pretty fantastic, but they dont come cheap.  They were running a special where you bought 3 cookies and got 1 free and the total came to almost 5 bucks! Yowza!  If the taste was anything less than a 10 the value score probably wouldn't have been dragged down significantly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Burger Time (And I Don't Mean That Oldschool Videogame) Review: Houlihan's

Just in case you never noticed before the DUDE part of Random Dude Eats Random Food is more than just some word that rhymes in a blog title.  The truth is that I'm a guy and sometimes a guy just wants a damn hamburger.  But in my travels I seem to find a really good burger a little hard to come by.  Granted I've had some solid burgers, but none that rise to the level of the place with the little green door with the neon sign that says burger (If you get that cultural reference...good on ya).  That is to say, I can't find one that really sticks in my memory as the go to place for ground beef.  When I went with friends to Houlihan's a couple of weeks ago my primary motivation was the half-priced drinks, but was burger an added bonus or just a waste of money I could have used to buy more cheap booze?

First, before I get to the food, I want to voice a couple of impressions I had about Houlihan's as a restaurant.  Upon entering I have to say that my first thought was that this place is trying way too hard.  I mean, come on, it's a chain causal restaurant with a "'s" on the end of it's name.  Stop trying so hard to look cool with the semi-open kitchen and somewhat retro decor.  Just because you don't have all kinds of crazy crap on the walls doesn't make you that much better than Applebee's, Chili's, etc etc etc.  Looking at the "good Lord we have everything under the Sun" menu with no clear direction only reinforced my skepticism.  Add to that there was only 1 server working the entire bar area, on what was a busy Friday night, then you might begin to understand why Houlihan's had a lot to overcome to impress me.

I looked over the menu and decided on the Burger 72.  It has apparently had a quite a bit of press on the local and national blogosphere lately being reviewed at both Would I Buy It Again and Serious Eats.  To break it down it's an 8 oz burger with an garlic and herb fried mushroom cap, parmesan, horseradish and watercress on a challah bun.  I ordered mine medium, and despite the time it took our food to come out, I was pleasantly surprised.  Hell, maybe I was just craving some ground beef.  I don't know, but I do know that it was cooked  properly and was way better than any other chain burgers I've had in a while.  I was suspicious of the watercress seeing as it was a pretty unusual burger topping, but I actually to found that it added a nice contrast to all of the richness of the cream, cheese and beef.  The two aspects I were disappointed in were the size of the mushroom cap and the horseradish.  I had my sights set on a larger portabello mushroom cap almost covering my burger patty.  Even if my expectations in that regard were inflated (I'd mainline mushrooms if I could) I still thought it was smaller than it should have been.  It did add a nice flavor element however.  The horseradish on the other hand not so much.  Maybe again this is a personal taste preference that others don't share, but if you tell me something has horseradish it in something there better be enough to give me more than a little kick.  This kick was more Mike Vanderjagt style, off the mark and not coming through when you needed it the most.  The fries were pretty standard, but they did taste very fresh and crisp.  Delicious.

Taste 8.5/10 The quality of the burger alone might have been worthy of a 9+ in my opinion, but the toppings needed to come through here.  Not at the upper limit of it's complete potential, but I'll probably get it again the next time I'm at Houlihan's.

Value 5/10  It was a good burger, but for 10 bucks for a burger and fries it should be.  Not a great value.  Average I'd say.  The drink specials are a really good value especially for a place that isn't primarily a bar. 

Houlihan's on Urbanspoon