…and speaking of spoiled peach crops

In July, there was one week that a grower showed up at the Maplewood Farmers Market peaches in tow. Overjoyed I bought a whole peck. What a mistake . . .

yucky peaches

Out of 20 peaches in my peck, only 2 did not have living worms in them when cut open. A few looked particularly damaged from the outside. (I’ve spared you the gnarliest pictures because it was just nasty)
As it turns out, it’s pretty tough to grow organic peaches in this area as they’re susceptible to an incredible amount of wormy pests like the plum curculio and the peachtree borer. Not being a peach farmer myself, I have no idea exactly what was in those peaches, but armed with these pictures I headed back to the market the following week to take it up with them, but alas, they never returned and I chalked the experience up as a loss.

Here’s to hoping next years crop is back to what it should be not just for the farmers, but so that we can eat all those delicious peaches.

Halloween Comes Early

Schlafly Pumpkin AleOff to the Maplewood Farmers Market I went last night as I do every Wednesday to see what the bounty of local farming has brought us. Tomatoes are still plentiful of course, as are the zucchinis that threaten to take over about every garden I’ve ever seen them planted in. The winter squashes are also starting to arrive with acorn and butternut appearing more plentiful then last week, as well as the new additions of pumpkins and spaghetti squash. Goatsbeard Farms was back after missing a week, and this time they had the Moniteau Blue which I’ve been eager to try.

The first apples also arrived from Centennial Farms in the form of Jonathan’s and another variety which I can’t remember the name of. The frost earlier in the year unfortunately damaged a lot of the apple crop just like the peaches and Centennial’s site says they only have about 1% of their usual crop.

But, it’s when I stepped inside the Schlafly Bottleworks that I was first met with sadness, and then met with two layers of compounded joy. I’d been wanting to get a taste of the Saison as I’d not had it yet, but it is unfortunately now gone (except from some stores). They had some of their Witbier, however, which was a good example of what that beer can be. But, the true gold was the early gift of Schlafly Pumpkin Ale.

Sitting at the bar, we noticed a clearness to the beer that wasn’t there in 2006. We quickly found out this is because they’ve filtered it further this year producing a beautiful amber colored ale. If you fancy yourself a beer lover, then pull up to a snifter and you’ll find that first whiff bursting through your nose conjuring up a beautiful Autumn day. With hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and maybe even a little ginger, the pumpkin flavor, while not as pronounced as last year, is still lingering in the background of what is, for me, still my favorite example of a pumpkin ale to date. If anything, it’s more balanced this year. Get yours while you still can (I bought a case).

Bill

As you can see…

i forgot…I totally forgot about this URL and the fact I’d registered it. It’s an ugly page that needs a bit of style (e.g. not the default WordPress layout). I can only say a) that will come when I have a chance to get to it and b) I was a little pre-occupied with an attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

That went well so, as you can see, after my visit to Franco last Friday I had a lot to say about it, so I figured I might as well sling it up here. Then I had the beer chat with my Mom and felt compelled to get it off my chest.

I never really knew what I’d wanted to do with this URL when I first registered it. As you can see, initially, I thought I’d post some recipes that I was screwing with last Thanksgiving when I overshot my need for pureed pumpkin substantially and ended up with about a gallon.
So, bottom line…maybe I’ll post, and maybe I won’t, but I guess we’ll see.
What you can be sure of, is that the things I’ll be opinionated about are food and all that it entails (obviously) and also I’ve become fascinated by the locavore movements lately and the whole organic vs non-organic debate that it also seems to entail.
Bill

»crosslinked«

Beer in the Lou

So my Mom tells me yesterday that she “loves beer”. But does she?

Mug 'o' BeerI think most Americans are going to tell you that they love beer, and with the all powerful AB looming over our fair city, you’re really going to find this to be the case in St. Louis. Ask any native of the area if they’re a beer lover, and if the answer is yes, which it more then likely is, their favorite beer will undoubtedly be Bud Light a large portion of the time. This is certainly the case with my Mom, and while she is entitled to her opinion, I can’t help but think of one of those grade school style fill in the blanks when I hear a “beer lover” tell me they “love Bud Light!”

Bud Light is to Beer what White Zinfandel is to ____.

It’s the beer for beer lovers that don’t truly love beer. It’s the bland, watered down, low alcohol content beer best served just before it starts to freeze so as to cover up what little flavor is held within it’s suds because that flavor is, well, pretty bad. Most shocking of all, is that it’s Bud Light they veer to and not the slightly more flavorful full-fledged Budweiser which, in some small way, is at least a little better.

Now they’ve even brought us a whole new world of classy high brow Bud drinking in the form of Bud Select. I’m not even sure what Bud Select is supposed to be. It tastes like some middle step between Bud Light and Budweiser in a fancier package. I do know one thing though. I’ve happily steered clear based upon my previous experiences with AB products.

So, the cru of my gripe, would have to be that AB is sort of like the McDonald’s of the beer world. They’ve done more then anyone else to wear down the American palate so that it no longer enjoys a truly full flavored brew. They’ve got people saying they love dark beer because they love Amber-Bock which is a) not a bock at all by definiition and b) sort of the fake dark beer of the world. Give them a Mule-Kick from their beloved shrine, and they’ll quickly get the swift kick of reality.

So, does my Mom “love” beer? Absolutely not.

But, if you’re in St. Louis, and you still persist that you are a true Beer Lover, then your mecca, at least on the West side of the Mississippi, is Lukas Liqour in Ellisville. Lukas is the most beer-centric liquour store I’ve ever been to. As a former cook, and as a result wine lover, I initially went there in pursuit of a specific Robert Sinskey wine I was looking for. When I saw the beer selection though, it was love at first site and it’s magnetic draw drew me to names like Tripel, Lambic, Flanders Red and a variety of others completely foreign to me.

To that point, the only Belgian beer I’d had was Duvel, and while I loved it and the ceremony of it’s being served in it’s very own branded goblet, it had fallen into a category of beers that had become the standard import fare of this city. Beers like Newcastle, Bass and Guiness while initially peaking my interest in my early days of drinking, had worn thin over the years because I wanted to taste something different and new. When New Belgium products first hit the city, they to sparked a brief affair away from my beloved wine, but it was a short lived romance because they didn’t have the complexity of a Shiraz from Australia or a Pinot Noir from Oregon.

It was that first visit to Lukas two years ago that left me thinking that the grass might be greener on the other side. At the very least, the grass is cheaper, for a top notch case of 12 750ml bottles of beer can be had in the $80-$90 range and a truly great case of wine can be twice that much or more.

The reason I bring all this up is that there is a whole world of Craft Beer in America that is doing things the way that only Amercians can do. They’re brewing without rules. They’re brewing for the true Beer Lover, and they seem to be doing a lot of it in California. Breweries like Alesmith, Lost Abbey and Stone are doing things that many can only dream of. In St. Louis, however, these full flavored brews were, I thought, unavailable to me without having friends illegally ship them or bring them back from vacations to the promised land, San Diego. That is until now, when the most beer-centic liqour store in our fair city, showing their true colors even further, pointed me to four online sources available for legally shipping beer to states that allow alcohol sales to be shipped to private residences (go Missouri!).

Food>Sources>Beer

Hi-Time Wine Cellars – Costa Mesa, CA
Archer Liqours – Chicago, IL
South Bay Drugs Pharmacy – Imperial Beach, CA
Liquid Solutions – Oregon City, OR

Cheers,
Bill

Jason Alstrom from beeradvocate.com sums it up a lot harsher then I can in his tasting notes on Bud Light:
“Notes: This beer is for the tasteless beer drinker that thinks there is only ONE beer out there. You may as well drink some seltzer water with alcohol added to it … get the picture, you are not a real beer drinker!”

Franco is Frankly Just OK

Franco LogoWe went once pretty early on and I was pretty under whelmed. Sauted Foie was cold, sweetbreads were, well, standard sweetbread fair. Lamb shank was bland….I don’t really recall everything from that visit, but we sort of steered clear after that as we left with what has become a very common theme in St. Louis. “We’ve had far better for far less”.

I ended up downtown Friday night alone, so I figured I’d go sit at the bar and give it another shot since it won best new restaurant votes all around, and Ian Froeb, who tends to feel the same way about places I do, seems to really like it.
Upon arriving around 8:30, the place was absolutely packed. I grabbed the one available stool at the bar and immediately felt that this was the better side of the room. While the room as a whole is actually really slick for St. Louis, I really preferred the vibe in the bar compared to that of the dining area on my first visit. I don’t know if that’s just a reaction to my having sat in the restaurant early on or perhaps a reaction to the service we received on our first visit which I recall having put me off quite a bit. I noticed that amongst the front of house staff were former Niche, An American Place and King Louie’s service staff, so that clearly says something about Franco. Whether that is quality of service, a hip place to work or perhaps deep pockets I do not know.

The menu is laid out such that you have 7-10 Apps, about 5 salads, 3 “Big Bowls” I believe they were called and 4 entrees. I’m not a huge fan of giant entrees, and the choices seemed pretty safe on both visits as I recall. I went for three appetizers on this visit which better suits the way in which I like to dine. More flavors, smaller portions. I was saddened to see when looking over the menu at dessert that they had a $3 portion of pork rillette that I’d have liked to try. Rillette of anything when done right is one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten, and always brings back memories of a rabbit rillette with fig compote I ate at Bouchon.

For my first dish I had Foie Gras en Torchon w/ sauted watermelon & peaches and a port reduction I’ve never had watermelon with foie before and as I was drinking a Chateau Valmaer vouvray I felt it would accompany the wine nicely and ordered it. The torchon itself was really nice, and better then the one I’d had at an American Place a few weeks ago. I didn’t care for the dish, however, for a few reasons. If you’re going to serve something like this, you need to make sure you have impeccable produce, and I didn’t feel the flavor of the peaches or watermelon really delivered. They can’t have been local peaches, because the local ones fizzled out a few weeks back, so why serve them. The second gripe was that I didn’t feel like the watermelon peach combo even meshed well. He should have gone with one or the other, rather then combining these two flavors. Third, the torchon sat on a melba toast of sorts. It was kind of soft, however, to be, I assume, easy to cut, and didn’t add anything to the dish in my opinion.

Second, I had Fried Green Tomatoes with a 5 rock chile crab salad and avocado. This I really liked. It was a sort of kicked up comfort food of sorts. It was maybe a tad spicy for some people, but I’m not very sensitive and didn’t mind the heat, thoroughly enjoying it’s flavors. I stuck with the vouvray on this course as it was the original reason for my choosing it in the first place.

Third I had Grilled Beef Brouquette with a mushroom blue cheese relish. I believe it was tenderloin as it didn’t have a particularly great beef flavor. Whether or not it was a relish I will leave for someone else to argue, but I will simply cast my vote as no. Overall, it was neither good nor bad. It is the kind of thing I’d whip together to eat at home, but it’s not exactly a best new restaurant winning dish in my opinion and could have really benefited from a more flavorful cut of beef.

Last I had a Strawberry Shortcake. So simple, but easily the best thing I had all night. It was traditionally straightforward (a biscuit, fresh berries and whipped cream). I was drinking a La Fin du Monde at this point, and I hadn’t expected to drink it with the shortcake, but it was easily one of the best beverage pairings I’ve had in a long time. Who would have known? It’s always nice when culinary accidents like this happen.

The fried green tomato and strawberry shortcakes made me think of the other Justin Keimon food I’d had in the past, and it struck me that the one other thing I can vividly recall eating of his, from years ago at RL Steamers was a crab cake. Easily the best I’ve ever had in the city I was a bit taken back by it, as it’s not something I would order, and found myself wanting to continue eating it after sampling one of our companions. It was packed with flavor and more importantly the standard accompaniment, remoulade, was traditional and sticking with the theme, simple.

So after two visits to Franco, I do think it’s better then it was when I first visited. Keimon has a great grasp of making simple, comfort type dishes absolutely delicious, but when he over-extends his reach, things can get a little weird almost for the sake of being weird.

Initially surprised by it’s winning best new restaurant, when asked by a friend what I felt the better choice would have been, I admittedly had no better response. I don’t believe that speaks to the quality of food that Franco is putting up, however, as much as it is to a lack of truly great restaurants opening in the last year.