Sunday, December 8, 2013

Extra Awesome (& Some Less than Awesome) Autumnal Eats - Part 2

Biscuit Me a Biscuit, Brah
On the last morning of our Asheville adventure, BFTB and I took the recommendation of one of my coworkers and grabbed some breakfast at Biscuit Head on our way out of town. The restaurant, which has an environmentally-friendly and local ingredient-based focus, primarily serves biscuits (duh) and other new Southern-style breakfast fare, all accompanied by an outstandingly diverse variety of jams, jellies, gravies, hot sauces, and butters.

Top: Biscuit Head's glorious selection of flavored jams, syrups, and butters; Bottom Left: Full Breakfast with 2 over easy eggs, smoked chevre grits, sriracha maple sausage, and a biscuit; Bottom Right: Classic Breakfast Biscuit with egg, cheese, and bacon and a side of sriracha slaw
After waiting in a pretty long line, we reached the register and were able to place our orders. I went with the Full Breakfast which included 2 eggs (I opted for over easy), a biscuit, and two sides. The list of 17 side options was pretty intimidating, but I ultimately settled on the sriracha maple sausage and the smoked chevre grits. BFTB ordered the Classic Breakfast Biscuit, consisting of cheese, egg, and his choice of bacon. He didn't have as difficult of a time weighing the side options as I did, and quickly selected the sriracha slaw. We headed over to the condiment bar and loaded up on as many little cups as we could carry. Some of my favorites included the banana buffalo hot sauce (the best by far... I need to get my hands on a bottle, stat), the sriracha honey jam (can you tell I like sriracha?), the bacon blueberry butter (holy cow... bacon!!! in butter!!!), and the smoked serrano sauce. 

As far as our meals went, I was a little disappointed by the fact that everything was somehow served below room temperature, but otherwise it was really good. Had I had access to a microwave, I would probably rave about the food but unfortunately my eggs were pretty gross at their cold temp -the should-have-been-runny yolks congealed into an unsettling gelatinous blob. Likewise, the grits had great potential but left me disappointed when they were served as a clod of grit matter topped with a few hunks of unmelted goat cheese. The flavors were good, but were not enough to cover up the failed execution. The biscuit and the sausage, however, were tasty despite their chilliness. The sriracha and maple flavors mixed harmoniously with the lean-ish pork sausage and is definitely a blend I'll look out for in the future (or at least attempt to replicate in my kitchen with some rooster sauce and a bottle of Aunt Jemima). The biscuit was pretty good, but was a little too doughy for my taste and I kind of felt like a cow chewing its cud as I worked my way through it. BFTB was a bigger fan of his biscuit sandwich, but thought the sriracha slaw was a little runny.

All in all, we were both glad that we tried Biscuit Head, but I don't think we'll be rushing back anytime soon (although I could definitely see myself ordering some of the delicious sauces if they pop up in Biscuit Head's online store). Everything was so great on paper, but there was definitely a failure in execution. It's a relatively new restaurant, so hopefully they'll get the kinks worked out (or at least just begin delivering their food at a reasonable temperature) over time. For breakfast, Biscuit Head gets a 6.5/10.

Biscuit Head on Urbanspoon

Some Recent Fast Food-Related Observations
During the past few weeks, I've also been able to try some of the new-ish offerings from the fast food world. There are some unfortunate misses as well as some surprising hits that I'm pretty excited about (although my cholesterol count certainly begs to differ).
Top Left: Pizza Hut's Three Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza; Bottom Left: Panera's Country Style Mushroom with Truffle Soup; Top Right: Bruegger's Bagels' Chimi Cheddar Egg Sandwich; Bottom Right: Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger
Pizza Hut
For as long as I can remember, I've been vehemently opposed to stuffed crust pizza. I love cheese and I love bread, but for some reason, I have always been convinced that pizza crust needs to be just that -pizza crust (with no crazy culinary accoutrements!). Last weekend, however, I went over to my parents' house to watch the Panthers game and was able to mooch some pizza off my little brother Andy. Little bro had placed an order for two large Pizza Hut pizzas -one pepperoni with original stuffed crust and one meat lovers with the new-fangled three cheese stuffed crust. I was able to sample both (clearly only for observational purposes) and felt pretty blah about the original stuffed crust but was surprisingly blown away by the three-cheese stuffed variety. Granted I can't remember the last time I ate Pizza Hut, but holy crap, it was good. Cheesy, garlicky, and insanely meaty, Andy's pizza unleashed a dangerous, Pizza Hut and three cheese stuffed crust-loving creature inside me and I'm certain it won't be long before I'll feel obligated to feed the beast again. 

Panera Bread 
I also recently tried Panera's new Country Style Mushroom with Truffle Soup. I'm a huge fan of Panera's French Onion and Creamy Tomato Soups as well as most fungus-featuring foods in general, so I was really excited when this soup was unveiled. Unfortunately, it sucked. The description touts that the soup consists of tender white mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes simmered with cream and flavored with truffle, shallot puree, and red wine. All I have to say about that is: Panera, you sit on a throne of lies! As a whole, the soup tasted like I was licking a dirty salt lick and the mushrooms reminded me of the slimy $.59 variety that comes in a can. Unless the so-called truffles were cultivated on the bottom of a garbage truck driver's shoe, I'm thinking they aren't really present. The wine taste was pretty strong, but it seemed misplaced and just weird when combined with the sodium-laden, creamy soup base. Overall, this soup is a complete miss and I will avoid it like the plague on any future Panera visits. 

Bruegger's Bagels
My favorite new discovery is Bruegger's Bagels' Chimi Cheddar Egg Sandwich. Consisting of egg, peppered bacon, cheddar cheese, green peppers, and parsley-laden chimichurri sauce, the sandwich is peppery, a little spicy, superbly savory, and deliciously cheesy while simultaneously tasting fresh and herbacious. I chose to get my sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel (rather than the default plain option), and the swap was an excellent decision. The rye/sourdough-like blend of the pump bagel was delicious on its own, but delightful in combination with the powerful mix of ingredients. I really wish the East Blvd. Bruegger's was still open, because this would easily become a regular breakfast go-to for me. Alas, I guess I'll have to keep it as a special I-just-traveled-to-Park-Road treat instead.

My least favorite of the fast food items I sampled is the new-ish (as of July) Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy's. The burger is supposedly topped with "applewood smoked bacon," but the strips tasted eerily similar to the same scrawny slices that adorn Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers. The melted cheddar was decent and the beef patty itself wasn't terrible, but the stupid "smoky honey mustard sauce" tasted like salad dressing that was far past its expiration date. The worst part was the stupid pretzel bun. Although it definitely had a pretzel-y appearance, it didn't taste anything like a tangy soft pretzel. It just tasted like doughy bread present in an obscenely large quantity. Each bite was just bun on bun on bun to the point that I could barely tell I was eating a burger. All in all, the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger was exceptionally disappointing and the fact that it's being moved off the menu in favor of new Brioche-enveloped options leads me to believe that the masses agree with my assessment.

Bowl Me Over

Despite my status as a near native Charlottean, I have only been to Montford Drive's Ten Park Lanes a handful of times. Ten Park Lanes has a really impressive menu in terms of both food and alcohol options (they have two bars -one regular bar and one that just serves fancy beers and liquor), and I'm anxious to try one of their stacked mason jars (namely the Smoke Jar, which contains brisket burnt ends, smoked jalapenos, and mac & cheese). A recent visit led me to determine that a) I'm no longer a completely terrible bowler (my worst score ever was an 8... I'm not kidding); and b) the food at Ten Park Lanes is pretty tasty.

Top Left: Retro Rings; Top Right: Smoke and Spice BLT with french fries; Bottom: Fried Pickles and Jalapenos
The best thing I've had from the restaurant are the smoked wings, which unfortunately are also the only item I don't have a picture of (whoops). BFTB and I ordered both the Jalapeno Coffee and the Flamin' Sriracha varieties and were big fans of both. The smoking technique was really nice and gave the wings a nice snap that you just don't get from a baked or fried wing. The flavors were strong and spicy, but not unbearable. I was also a big fan of the french fries, which were exceptionally crispy and just salty enough to perfectly complement my pitcher of beer (don't judge me).

While I really enjoyed the Fried Jalapenos, their Fried Pickle compadres were mushy, slimy, and relatively tasteless. The onion rings, while ginormous (a plus) and beer battered (another plus), were disappointing and tasted like stale Coors Lite mixed with sour cream and onion chips. They did satisfy the crucial bite test, however, in that the onion stayed inside its batter-y home even after a solid chomp. They arrived cool though, so I wonder if they might have been better had they been served at an appropriate temperature. The Smoke and Spice BLT was pretty tasty and I was impressed by both the abundant quantity of bacon and the extra fresh-tasting tomatoes, but I really didn't like the massive quantity of warm garlic mayo that was slathered on the bread. All in all, Ten Park Lanes is pretty stellar as far as bowling alley food is concerned, and commendable even when considered just as basic bar food. For now, Ten Park Lanes gets a 7/10.

Ten Park Lanes on Urbanspoon

If I had to eat one cuisine for each and every meal for the rest of my life, it might just be Mexican food. Mention any Charlotte restaurant that serves food from our neighbors to the south, and I've probably eaten there. The two that I most recently visited were my cheap Mexican fave, Las Margaritas off Independence Blvd. and a slightly more cosmopolitan option, Plaza Midwood's Loco Lime.

Top Left: queso blanco and two varieties of salsa; Top Right: Steak Fajitas; Bottom Left: Chicken Fajitas; Bottom Right: accompaniments for the fajitas -beans, rice, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream
Las Margaritas
We went to Las Margaritas for lunch on Black Friday and the restaurant was fairly empty. We both decided to order the lunch fajitas, chicken for BFTB and steak for me, as well as an order of the cheese dip. Our server returned within two minutes with a basket of warm chips, a giant soup bowl filled to the brim with liquidy white cheese, and two small bowls of salsa -one liquidy, slightly spicy, dark red kind and another that was chunkier and milder heat-wise. I immediately began to hoover chips and all three dips at an alarming rate and determined that my fave option was a blend of the chunky salsa mixed with the velvety queso. Although the queso doesn't really have anything crazy going on (it is straight melted cheese without a pepper chunk or visible seasoning in sight), I really, really like it.The chips were a thick, corn-based variety and were pretty bland on their own, but they were a perfect vessel for the massive quantity of salsa that I opted to inhale. 

After gorging on chips for a solid ten minutes, our server returned bearing two piping hot skillets of fajitas, two foil-packed bundles of flour tortillas, and two additional plates stocked with fajita stuffings, rice, and beans. An order of lunch fajitas costs $6.50 and once our plates were set down, we had no visible open space left on our four person table. Las Margaritas lunch is officially the bargain of the century. They were also good. While I went in with reasonable expectations (they're $6.50 fajitas, people), the skillet was loaded with tasty meat and an assortment of veggies. They were a little greasy, as most fajitas tend to be, but they weren't swimming in fat or oil. The steak was definitely more flavorful than the chicken, but I wouldn't hesitate to order either option on a future visit. One thing I don't like is their chile rellenos -they're the weird kind stuffed with questionable ground meat and are neither flavorful nor texturally pleasing. However, there are enough viable menu alternatives that the chile relleno bust isn't too much of a problem. All in all, Las Margaritas is really good cheap Mexican food and is definitely worthy of its position as my Mexican go-to. For Mexican restaurants, Las Margaritas gets a 7.25/10.

Loco Lime
I also recently visited Loco Lime on Central Avenue for some comida de Mexico (check out my Spanish minor at work!). BFTB and I opted to sit outside on an unseasonably warm night and were eventually (see service-related comment below) brought a basket of chips and salsa. I'm a big fan of the salsa at Loco Lime -it's not very spicy, but it's got some good herbaciousness going on (maybe cilantro?) that makes it tasty and refreshing. I can't say the same about their chips, however. It's not that they taste bad, but hey're a little on the thick side and, as a result, tend to cut the ish out of my mouth while I'm eating them. 

It took a while for our server to acknowledge our existence... and it also took a while to get our drinks, silverware, and any kind of service whatsoever. However, when we weren't being ignored by our somewhat absent-minded server, the experience was pleasant-ish. I ordered a margarita (which are on special on Mondays for 1/2 off!) and BFTB had some kind of Mexican beer (I can't remember which one... I was too busy pounding my margarita) and we were both pleased with our choices. The marg's at Loco Lime are really good -they have a good balance of tartness and sweetness and the bartenders definitely don't skimp on the tequila. 

Top Left: Chicken Fajitas; Top Right: Chile Rellenos and the glorious Green Banana Chips; 
Bottom Left: the uber lame flash-fried whole jalapeno; Bottom Right: chips and salsa 
Our meals were also pretty decent. BFTB ordered the Chicken Fajitas and I went with the cheese-stuffed Chile Rellenos dinner and a side of the Flash-Fried Whole Jalapenos. The fajitas were tasty and BFTB tends to always order them at Loco Lime, but they aren't really anything special. The chicken and veggies are definitely of a higher quality than that used at Las Margaritas, but since they rang in at over twice the price of the Las Marg's version (they were $14.95), I expected better. My Chile Rellenos, while cold (not shocking considering the snail-like pace at which they were delivered), were tasty enough to order again. They were soggy by the point I got them, but in their prime, these guys would have been awesome. The egg batter was fluffy, the queso fresco was creamy and rich, and the ranchero sauce was smoky, tomato-y, and all-around effing delicious. The best part of my meal, however, were the green banana chips that came as a side (the other side of beans/rice was fairly standard). Drizzled with a sauce that was simultaneously cool, sweet, and a little spicy, they were a delightful change of my pace from my typical favorite Mexi-nanner, fried plantains. I don't really know what I expected out of my flash-fried whole jalapeno, but once it arrived (I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but I seriously had to ask for my stupid jalapeno three times), it was pretty lame. It was greasy, unevenly dotted with seasoning, and just about the lamest side on the planet. BFTB ended up cutting it up and putting in his fajitas, but both of us agreed that we didn't ever need to order it again. 

I hate to knock a place for service, but our experience on that front was pretty close to getting us to I-will-not-return-here-EVER status. Overall, our food tasted pretty good, but mine was cold, when it was present at all (I'm looking at you, stupid jalapeno). If not for the terrible service, Loco Lime would probably get close to an 8/10. Hopefully I'll return for a better experience sometime in the future (I just don't think I can hold a grudge when it's so close to my home), but for now, Loco Lime gets a 6.5/10.

Las Margaritas on Urbanspoon  Loco Lime Mexican Central Ave on Urbanspoon

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