Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Project For 2010

Since I'm so bad at posting regularly (with apologies to H-Mac and the 805 Girl who are kind enough to read when I actually DO write), I've decided to take a cue from another reader and good buddy Steve, who will post a photo a day for the entirety of 2010 here. I'll do my best to do the same, so I'll even start a day early with a picture I took this morning of the largest dew drops I've ever seen suspended in a spider web . . .

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cantara Cellars

Hidden gems are one of the joys of food - discovering great food in a place you wouldn't expect to is always fun. That's why Cantara Cellars is such a great find. Although their grapes come from Lodi (between Sacramento and Stockton), they make some top-notch California wine in the middle of Ventura County's agricultural region.

Owned by Mike and Chris Brown, Cantara could be considered a craft winery, since they certainly don't mass produce any of their wines, but they make up for it in accessibility. As part of their tasting experience, guests are able to taste not only wines already bottled, but also wines currently in the casking process, and ask questions of Mike directly.

And as an added bonus, the Cupcake Queen / 805 Girl also works in the tasting room - it's fun to see her in her element.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sweatin' & Shiverin' Burgers

H-Mac has been to Five Guys before - she's a fan. But after coming back, she told the Cupcake Queen / 805 Girl that it was great, but then she was "sweatin' burgers." Is that a good thing? I'm not sure, especially since the three of us went to Hole in the Wall. I've written about it before, and it's still as good now as it was then, although since it's technically winter, it was a little chilly sitting on the outdoor patio. In fact, it was a LOT chilly for the CQ/805 Girl, enough so that not only did the owner turn on the gas heaters for us, but also brought out a fresh baked banana nut muffin that was steamin' hot. Turns out that the Hole in the Wall gang runs a catering business too.

The burgers, fries, and sweet potato fries were all tasty, and it's a sight to behold to see loverly ladies knock back 1/2 pound burgers like it's nobody's business. I do work with the coolest people . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sausages & Cars

I admit it - I'm not a car guy. Never have been, never will be. I know, I know, I should have 10W-30 and 92 octane as part of the testosterone coursing through my body, but cars just don't do anything for me . . . they're a means to get from Point A to Point B. That's it.

So given that I work exclusively on automotive sales and dealership training materials, I'm required to attend the annual Southern California auto shows, first the smaller Orange County edition in Anaheim, and then this week, the much larger Los Angeles one. And I was fortunate enough to to have three other friends and colleagues with me - Steve, H-Mac, and A.P. Since cars don't impress me, and I had a laundry list of vehicles I needed to see and photograph, the only car I'm including here was a cleverly displayed Lincoln (and if I actually cared about the car, I could tell you the model, but I don't, so I can't). And since most automakers have scaled back their displays and presentations, there was very little swag to be found, with the exception of the cappuccinos found at Porsche.

But being in downtown L.A. does have its benefits, as we were able to have a late lunch at Wurstk├╝che, or, as A.P. called it, "Worst Cookie." (Give her a break; that umlaut is tricky). Known for their gourmet sausages, Belgian frites and draft beer . . . well, quite frankly that's ALL they serve there. You pick your sausage from the case, order your fries and beverage, and grab a table. Steve got a British soda made from Dandelion leaves and Burdock root while I opted for the more traditional Spaten Pils. Once the sausages and fries are ready, they're brought right to the table with dipping sauces.

It was nice not having to sit elbow to elbow at the table; nights and weekends the place is packed with USC students. H-Mac and I both had room to take our respective photographs, and learning a lesson from my last visit, moderation was my friend.

Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Louis Baseball & Barbecue

The last time I was in St. Louis was 2005, to see the Cardinals play their final season in old Busch Stadium. My former colleague and longtime friend Thom is originally from The Gateway to the West, and we had a blast together on that weekend trip four years ago, watching baseball, touring the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and finding the best hole-in-the-wall barbecue joints in the city. Thom's mother and brother still live there, and they were gracious enough to host us on this trip as they did previously.

Our first stop was a barbecue place in midtown St. Louis Thom had read about called Pappy's Smokehouse, and it's been featured on various food-related television programs. After perusing the menu, we decided on the "Adam Bomb," named after Adam Richman, the host of "Man vs. Food" on the Travel Channel. Consisting of a full rack of ribs, a quarter barbecued chicken, a pulled pork sandwich, a beef brisket sandwich, a Frito Pie with smoked sausage, cole slaw, baked beans, deep-fried corn-on-the-cob, and sweet potato fries, let's just say that it was a good sampling of everything on Pappy's menu. After pounding most of that down, we rolled out the door and over to Busch Stadium. Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost an odd 1-0 pitchers' duel to Atlanta, and we headed back to Richmond Heights and Thom's mom's home.

The next morning Thom and I headed to a famous Richmond Heights restaurant for an early lunch. Carl's is one of those places that seems like it's been around forever; when we were in there, a group of men were watching the Missouri football game on TV and just shootin' the breeze like they've probably done every year for the past 20. As for the food, Carl's is known for its hot pastrami, and it didn't disappoint. Thom and I each had a hot pastrami sandwich, his on a kaiser roll, mine on rye, and coupled with a Fitz cream soda, we had a perfect pre-game meal for the Cardinals' Saturday matinee.

However, when we got to the stadium, my camera battery died, having neglected to charge it the night before. So we walked over to a nearby parking garage, and wonder of wonders, found an active power outlet on an exterior wall where I could do a quick recharge. From that same vantage point, we had a great view of the exterior of Busch, complete with a front rotunda similar to that on Brooklyn's old Ebbets Field and Queens' current CitiField in New York. But there's an awful lot of red brick inside and out, which tends to diminish its effectiveness. The view from the stadium is spectacular, with both the Arch and dome of City Hall visible beyond the outfield walls, and St. Louis has some of the best baseball fans I've ever been around - it's no wonder players love playing for the Cardinals. But unfortunately, the Redbirds lost a second consecutive game to the Braves (they would sweep St. Louis the next day) and we headed home.

My longtime high school friend Kelly, with whom I reconnected at our 20-year reunion several months ago, also having gone to school in St. Louis, recommended we go to the Italian section of town called "The Hill" for dinner that night, and advised us to try the toasted ravioli. So off to Mama Campisi's we went, not only Thom and I, but his mother and brother as well. The toasted ravioli was as good as advertised, but I loved the neighborhood location even more. All too often, restaurants are sequestered in strip malls and shopping centers, and are devoid of any unique charm or personality. Mama Campisi's was literally shoehorned into an actual residential neighborhood, bordered by homes, an American Legion hall, and an Italian deli. No parking lot, no fancy faux entrance, just a solid, simple building with great food; unfortunately, a dying breed across America . . .

So after a full dinner, we drove over to one of the landmark St. Louis eateries, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, for dessert. Not knowing what to expect, I was stunned to find a full double parking lot and huge crowd standing out front of the walk-up stand. Service was amazingly fast, and the four of us got a variety of frozen concoctions. Thom had a pistachio custard and I got a "Concrete," vanilla custard with bananas and Reese's peanut butter cups mixed in. Needless to say, I was ready to burst by the time I finished it, but when in Rome . . .

I flew home the next day; Thom would stay for a few more days. But there's just something about the Midwest. Maybe it's a simpler lifestyle, free from the superficiality so often found on both coasts. Maybe the people are just nicer, but whatever "it" is, I always enjoy being there, at least for a visit.