Friday, September 28, 2012

Greek Souvlaki: Fast Food of the Healthy Variety, or is it?

Nothing like a good Philly Cheese Gyro. If you have never been here, I know what you are thinking, "What's a Philly Cheese Gyro?" It's always fun to watch the development and transformation of food styles & preparation.

Greek Souvlaki is an Institution in downtown Salt Lake. Other locations have since sprung up in Murray, South Jordan, West Valley and now even the Airport. It's nice to know that there is an option other than Burger King or Pizza Hut when you are waiting for your flight.

Having lived so close to Yanni's Greek Express for many years, it's was difficult to think of other Greek food options. I was introduced to Greek Souvlaki a few years back and it's very nice to choose one or the other. They both are great but with slightly different tastes.

Greek Souvlaki has a diverse menu. You can choose between 3 types of Gyros, 2 types of Souvlaki and a few derivatives in between. There are some great salads and recently they even introduced gourmet spaghetti. You can have your spaghetti in Original Greek, Brown Butter w/Mizithra and Mediterranean. Being a lover of pasta I once ordered the Mediterranean Spaghetti. It has Feta Cheese, Tomatoes, Garlic and Oregano. It was good enough but a little dry. I prefer my Heavenly Spaghetti Sauce.

An Americanized version of the Gyro, The Philly Cheese Gyro is a fabulous but unhealthy choice. It's Yeero meat with the combination of green bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, topped with a steak sauce and a mixture of cheeses. You can get it with lemon rice or french fries. Despite my healthy eating habits lately, I went with the fries. They will even give you their own spiced up version of fry sauce. It must have cayenne or paprika in it.

A Gyro or Souvlaki Combo will run you about $7.79, A Salad $7.39, Spaghetti $5.39. There is even a Soup, Salad & Pita Combo for $4.99. Very good prices for a large amount of quality food.

The downtown location is the place to be. Very quaint, original with a relaxed feeling. The other locations are in strip malls where you can enjoy the beautiful parking lot scenery. Come for lunch, dinner or both.

404 East 300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84111

Happy Eating Greek Souvlaki No. 1 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Succulent Squash, Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

At Sunday dinner this past week, my Brother tried to give us some squash that has been proliferating in his garden. Since we have a bowl of uncooked squash at home, I refused his offer.

Squash & Zucchini can be good despite my objection for most of my life. Recently we cooked up some Summer Squash & Zucchini with Garlic & Butter. It was truly delicious. On Monday Rachel came home with some squash & heirloom tomatoes. I was perplexed by her decision to get more squash but loved the tomatoes. She said that her co-worker's offer was take them both or none at all. Their garden is also exploding with squash.

We sliced up the squash, placed them in a frying pan with some oil and garlic and cooked them quickly so they remained firm with a bite. Soggy veggies can be unappetizing. I went downstairs to complete a few work items. When I returned to the kitchen I smelled the most wonderful aroma and saw the most beautiful sight.

There in a bowl was the bright yellow summer squash, fresh heirloom tomatoes, fresh chopped herbs, with a lite garlic & balsamic aroma. I asked Rachel about the cooking process. Once the squash was cooked, she sliced up the tomatoes, chopped up fresh basil & sage, added it to a bowl and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We eat first with our eyes, then our nose, then our palate. All three were an extraordinary experience. Though this was likely meant as an appetizer, it was my dinner for the evening.

Happy Eating

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thai Garden & Noodle House: A Quiet Gem in Salt Lake's 9th & 9th Neighborhood

The Thai food tour continues. Most recently I visited Thai Basil in Riverton; quite a distance from my home. Ironically I had never been to Thai Garden & Noodle House, which is very close to me. A quiet Labor Day afternoon seemed like the perfect time.

The first thing you have to love about any (okay, most) Thai restaurants are the fabulous lunch specials. This particular place had a 2 item combo with salad for $8.00. Not bad at all. The portions are smaller than dinner but if you eat lunch at least twice a day like I do, you won't need to worry. To clarify, I only eat lunch once a day, but I do snack a lot.

Being very hungry in the mid-afternoon, I was anxious for the food. The salad came and it had the creamy poppy seed dressing. Good enough but if you are a Thai restaurant, serve the peanut dressing. It's much more authentic and tasty.

My lunch arrived: Tom Yum Kai & Gang Keaw Wan. The first is the Thai Hot & Sour Soup and the second is Green Curry. A big reason for my tour of Thai restaurants is to find the best Tom Yum Kai. So far Pawit's Royale Thai is number one with Tasty Thai second. This had a different mix of ingredients from the other places but a close to perfect broth. A perfect broth consists of the right amount of vinegar and hot chili spices. You know it's good when it makes your mouth water as you crave the next spoonful. Final verdict: very good and is tied for second place with Tasty Thai.

I fell in love with green curry at Thai Basil. It's not incredibly spicy like red curry but has more of a kick than massaman curry; just enough to make you feel alive without having to gulp copious amounts of water after each bite. The green bell peppers, peas, and zucchini were so incredibly fresh. It's as if they grow a garden out back and pick them each time a dish is ordered. One of the best aspects of this dish are the bamboo shoots. You would expect a woody taste but it more resembles the flavor and texture of ginger. All this mixed in creamy coconut milk. I was a little taken back at how quickly I ate all of it.

The Thai food here is fresh with no MSG or other additives. It's an explosion of freshness and flavors leaving you happy and content. Nostalgia then set in for me. While walking across the street on that quiet afternoon I realized again why Rachel and I always take a vacation in September. It's cooler, the crowds are gone, and having no appointments other than figuring out where to go for your next meal leaves me completely relaxed and rejuvenated. Hello Puget Sound later this month.

When you do eat at Thai Garden & Noodle House, ask for Richie as your Waiter. He is incredibly attentive and especially knowledgeable about Thai food. He has worked in many Thai restaurants and even does catering. The owner of this joint use to own Siam Orchid. It was originally named Thai Garden. Upon the sale, the new owners changed the name and the menu; my review here.

868 East 900 South
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84105

Happy Eating

Thai Garden & Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pot Roast of the Extraordinary variety

While Rachel was out of town this past week, I thought that the best way to make dinner would be to put on a roast at midday. A little acid added to the roast (vinegar, lime or lemon juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco) goes a long way in bringing out the flavor. Last time, I added red wine vinegar but it was a little too much. Not wanting to do that again, and still turned off by the taste of red wine vinegar, I went with apple cider vinegar.

Apple Cider Roast

1 chuck roast
1 large vidalia onion, sliced
4 carrots, quartered
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 cup water

Pat Roast dry with paper towel. Season with salt & pepper. Sear both sides of roast in pan-this will seal in the juices. Add all ingredients into crock pot. Cook on high for 4 hours, low for 1 hour. Serve and Savor!

Thankfully the apple cider vinegar did not leave a flavor residue. It did due the job however. The roast was wonderfully tender and cooked to about medium-rare. The garlic, jalapenos and thyme could all be tasted but nothing overpowered the other. The carrots were addictive. Something about a nice, flavorful onion brings joy to my heart. I wrote here about how caramelized onions are as good as candy.

It was a fabulous dish. My Parent's and Sous Chef Sam both stopped by the day after I cooked the roast so the leftovers went fast.

Happy Eating.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finding Your True Calling

"Follow your Passion and success can't avoid you. Listen to the whisperings within" Dan Miller, 48 Days.

Sprague's Lobster Shack in Wiscasset Maine

For the past 18 months I have had the pleasure of writing about food; recipes, restaurant reviews, and travel. Thank you for being part of the journey. A fabulous Reporter from Chicago Now, Karen Putz interviewed me. She is doing columns on people following their passions. Please enjoy:

Jeff David, Finding His True Calling

Happy Eating

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Soup Kitchen: It's a restaurant, not a homeless shelter!

There is a busy street in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City which makes you feel like you are on Main St. in small town America (other than the traffic). There is an old bookstore, plumbing business, eye doctor, coffee shop, bar and The Soup Kitchen. This restaurant fits right into the other shops and buildings nicely. It's quaint, has character, and feels very welcoming.

Late one Friday afternoon, Sous Chef Sam and I were coming back from a hike and he was craving some non-chain restaurant food. I have that craving daily. As you walk in you definitely feel like you are taken back in time. There is an antique Royal Crown Cola machine with a 7up cooler resting on top. The chairs are definitely old diner chairs and the menu is written on a chalkboard. It truly is love at first sight. My only disappointment was that I couldn't order all the sandwiches & soup at once. Moderation in all things.

The description of the SKS sandwich draws you in: turkey, bacon, Swiss, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sprouts & mayo on jacksprout wheat. When have I ever eaten jacksprout wheat bread? The sandwich and a cup of soup was $7.19. Not bad at all. The soup choices were clam chowder, split pea with ham, chicken noodle, tomato, chili and vegetable beef. After the debacle of really bad tomato soup at Rocky Mountain Grill, I definitely needed my faith in humanity restored; tomato soup it was.

The taste of the sandwich was much better than even the description. This is how bacon should be cooked. It was thick & crispy. The turkey was high quality (I would guess Boar's Head), the lettuce was very crisp-not wilty like so many places serve, the sprouts must have been picked from a garden that day. I have not had sprouts on a sandwich in years and realized what I have been missing. And to top it off, the jacksprout wheat had a lite multi-grain flavor adding a great complexity to the sandwich. It was perfectly toasted-airy & crisp.

Verdict on the tomato soup: my faith in humanity was restored. What a relief! I love a good tomato soup and make a great tomato bisque. It was perfectly creamy and had hints of spice and onion. It also was obvious that there was a lot of butter and cream. My kind of cooking. Taking the soup to the next level were the hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes. These will make a good pasta sauce great and made a fabulous soup extraordinary. They emit a flavor profile rarely experienced.

Given The Soup Kitchen's proximity, prices, and wonderful food, I will need to add yet another category in my budget. The only non-delicious item were the breadsticks; very dry. They have a tub each of cheese, garlic and wheat breadsticks. It was 5:00pm however and maybe they had been sitting out all day.

2012 South 1100 East
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84106

Happy Eating

Soup Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rocky Mountain Grill: I took a decade off!

Back in College, a friend recommended that we go to Rocky Mountain Grill in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake. Other than the location, I don't remember a thing about it. Last week, a friend called at 11:45am about where to meet for lunch at Noon. Being in the Sugarhouse area, I replied that we should go to Rocky Mountain Grill. It had been 10 years.

The place is tucked into a quiet building on busy street. You wouldn't even know it was there unless you were looking for it. As you walk in, it has the feel of a bowling alley diner. Everything is old, dated, and worn. The owner, Margie, has her desk in a side corner of the dining area; crowded, cluttered but unpretentious. As I entered, the fabulous three: Margie, the cook, and Betty the waitress, were all chatting at a table. It was that awkward moment when you don't know if you are to seat yourself or wait for them. Finally one of them shouted, "Welcome, sit anywhere you like."

"Sit anywhere you like"

Betty brought me a menu and was very nice in welcoming me to their restaurant. The menu has a large selection of breakfasts. They looked wonderful but unfortunately were only available until 11:00am. The lunch menu it was; it was noon however so that made sense. The lunch menu is an assortment of Hot Sandwiches, Cold Sandwiches, and Homemade Burgers. All of these are served with one of the following sides: cup of soup, tossed salad, fries, cottage cheese, potato salad, potato chips or fritos.

For my lunch, the Ortega Burger sounded like a great option. It's 1/3 pound ground beef served with grilled mild chilis and melted pepper jack cheese. For my side I chose the fries. How can you order a burger and not have fries as a side? That is what defines us as Americans and also has something to do with our high obesity rate.

Ortega Burger with Fries. Notice the amount of cheese?

The verdict: it was pretty bland! They say that the Ortega Burger is serviced with grilled mild chilis. It's definitely mild because you could barely taste it. The pepper jack made it onto one side of the patty. I continually made fry sauce by mixing mayonnaise and ketchup (you have to be from Utah to understand this) and slathered it on the burger just to taste something. The fries were nicely cut and cooked perfectly but without seasoning, fries do not have much taste; these had zero.

I returned four days later to try something else on the menu; not wanting to write this place off yet. It was lunchtime again so I ordered the Grilled Club: ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar, Swiss, tomato, lettuce & mayonnaise with Creamy Tomato Soup as my side.

Creamy Tomato Soup aka Generic Tomato Sauce

The tomato soup came out first. I love a good soup and was very excited to dig in. Yikes! Truly this was nothing more than a generic can of grocery store tomato sauce warmed up with some chopped celery. Honestly I could not taste anything other than plain tomato sauce. Here is a good tomato soup recipe. They could use it.

Toasted Club Sandwich

As for the grilled club, it was mediocre at best. Hard to taste anything more than bread. For a good club, go to Anna's. It will take you 10 minutes to drive there from Sugarhouse but well worth it. If you need to stay close to the Sugarhouse area, try Fiddler's Elbow or Caputo's Deli.

Maybe their breakfast is what the reason they are in business. Is it worth going back for breakfast or should I wait another decade?

Happy Eating

Rocky Mountain Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fresh Summer Pasta

Sous Chef Sam and I needed to make dinner on Wednesday night and weren't sure what to cook. We had tomatoes, fresh herbs, and heavy cream. There were other items available but these were the perishable foods. We were all over it.

I started boiling some noodles, had Sam chop the tomatoes, basil and some garlic. Rather than do a thick sauce like in my Bacon Fettucini, we decided to go thin. We sweated the garlic, poured in 1 pint of cream, and added the basil to let the flavors marry. Once reduced, we added some lemon juice, salt, and fresh cracked black pepper.

We put about 1/2 of the cooked noodles in a medium sized bowl, poured sauce and garlic over the top and sprinkled with fresh parsley. The verdict: it's very lite and fresh but without a lot of "WOW" factor. To quote Sous Chef Sam, "Most of the food you make has some serious POP to it, this one is pretty mellow."

Fresh Summer Pasta

12 ounces thin spaghetti
3 cloves garlic
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup basil, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan

Directions: see above

The fresh heirloom tomatoes were amazing. That in conjunction with the basil, made you feel like you are sitting on the dirt in your garden pulling veggies from the vine. It was lite and didn't have a lot of pop but was a little refreshing.

With the remaining pasta, we sprinkled Parmesan in the sauce. It definitely added the needed "WOW."

Happy Eating

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pat's BBQ: So Great, It's as if you are at Blues City Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee

This was my third trip to Pat's BBQ and each time it gets better. Rachel was getting ready to leave town so the three of us went out for dinner.

The first impression of Pat's is definitely wondering why it's in that particular location. It's an industrial part of town with a few shabby homes. This building likely use to be a warehouse. However, it's proximity to I-15 and many surface thoroughfares, 2100 S., 300 W., and State St. make this a perfect location to draw a huge number of followers. If you arrive around noon, you will find that indeed, there are many followers and few places to park. Dinner has less of a following and is a more relaxed setting. Lunch or dinner, the food is fabulous.

Another impression is the atmosphere: picnic tables and rolls of paper towels on the tables. There are also three types of BBQ sauce on each table: Sweet, Spicy, and Savory. I liked the Savory sauce as it's mustard and vinegar based; just like in South Carolina.

Smoked Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Corn Bread

Rachel ordered the smoked meatloaf and she fell in love fast. I tasted but a small portion-not wanting to risk getting stabbed. Indeed, it was wonderful. I ordered the three meat combo: Ribs, Beef Brisket, and Pulled Pork with Creole Black Beans and Rice for my side. The 2 pork spare ribs have ample meat and are smoked to perfect tenderness. The deep smoke ring shows that these were loved for 5-6 hours in the smoker; likely with hickory or mesquite wood chips. The Beef Brisket was amazingly tender and nearly addictive. Another attractive smoke ring showed that this had been equally loved. The Pulled Pork was good. It didn't have a lot of flavor in & of itself but it was perfectly tender and lots of savory BBQ sauce made it all the more enjoyable.

Pork Ribs, Brisket and Pulled Pork

Creole Black Beans and Rice

I have to also give a shout out to the Creole Black Beans and Rice. The name alone is the reason I ordered it. Thinking that it would be great for my daughter, I quickly learned after one bite that this would not be the case. It is very spicy with some strong Cajun seasoning. It's a very filling dish loaded with beans, sausage and rice. You can't help but to take a big swig of water after each spoonful.

All of this made me feel like I was back at the Blues City Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee. Back in Heaven is another way to describe it. This is the BEST BBQ in Utah. Sugarhouse BBQ is great but Pat's takes it to the next level. Only question for me: how much of our income should we allocate to this food?

Happy Eating

Pat's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tomato Pie: Appetizer-Yes; Main Dish-Yes; Dessert: Probably Not!

If you are looking for a quick appetizer to bring to a summer BBQ, this is it. Due to this past week being very busy, as of Saturday morning I did not know what we were going to bring to a family BBQ that evening. Having a few tomatoes on our counter from some neighbors, I remembered a recipe Rachel had made, Tomato Pie. Needing 12 tomatoes (more than we had), I bought Romas at the store as the recipe indicated. I did much of the prep work and Rachel threw it in the oven when she got home.

Tomato Pie

Frozen 9" deep-dish pastry shell
6 large Roma tomatoes, diced; discard seeds
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 tsp salt & pepper
1 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Cook pastry shell at 425 Degrees for 5 minutes & let cool. Mix all ingredients in pastry shell, bake at 375 Degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

We doubled the recipe because leftovers always make a good breakfast.

Since we were going to be late to the BBQ, my Sister picked it up for us. When we got there, everyone raved about it. One whole pie was gone and they were working on the other. It was good-fresh & delicious! The Swiss cheese binds it all together. The green onion gives it the "bite" it needs.

My only recommendation: spend a few dollars more and buy Heirloom tomatoes or Tomatoes on the Vine. Romas are the red-headed step children of tomatoes. They don't have nearly the flavor or texture of others.

Another great appetizer with a lot of tomatoes is the Double Tomato Bruschetta.

Happy Eating

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Smoked Roasted Chicken with Herbed Butter

My love for the smoker grows each time I use it. Traeger recommended this recipe for whole roasted chickens. I quickly fell in love when I found a whole chicken at the grocery store runs $5-$7, cooks in under 90 minutes, and feeds many.

Sous Chef Sam and I made 2 chickens along with Roasted Tomato Bisque and Herbed Garlic Mashed Potatoes.

Smoked Roasted Chicken with Herbed Butter

8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 scallion, white and green parts finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, sage or parsley, plus extra sprigs for roasting
2 1/2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1 4-to-4 1/2 pound chicken

In a small bowl, combine the butter, scallion, garlic, minced fresh herbs, 1-1/2 teaspoon of the rub, and the lemon juice and blend well with a wooden spoon.

Herbed Butter

Remove any giblets from the cavity of the chicken. Wash the chicken inside and out with cold running water. Dry thoroughly with paper towels. Sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon of the rub in the cavity of the chicken. Slip a few sprigs of fresh herbs (see list of options above) into the cavity as well. Smear the outside of the chicken with the butter-herb mixture. Tuck the chicken wings behind the back. Tie the legs together with butcher’s string.

Ready for the Grill. Notice Sam's fabulous knots?

When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes). Set the temperature to 400 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Oil the grill grate with vegetable oil. Place the chicken on the grill grate, breast-side up, and close the lid. After 1 hour, lift the lid. If the chicken is browning too quickly, cover the breast
and legs with aluminum foil. Close the lid and continue to roast the chicken until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers a temperature of 165 degrees F, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a platter and allow to rest for 3 minutes. Untie the legs and carve.

We used Rosemary, Basil, and Cilantro in the butter and Rosemary in the cavity of the chicken. Knowing that Sous Chef Sam has a knack for knot tying, I asked him to tie the wings and legs. He would have made the Mafia proud with his knots. I also love that Sam has a similar gift as myself-saying what's on his mind before thinking about it. After tying the knots he said, "Wow, messing with chickens is kind of morbid. Do you think that most serial killers got their start as butchers?" Oh how I love my Sous Chefs.

As we opened the grill to check on the chickens, the crispiness of the herbed-butter crust was something that belonged in a museum. What a work of art. I stood there in awe, not wanting the ruin the perfection of the moment. "And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last" (A River Runs Through It).

The chicken was moist, tender and perfectly crisp. Since it's only on the smoker for 90 minutes, the flavor doesn't incorporate as far, but it was delicious anyway.

The Grill can fit 6 chickens at a time. Any suggestions on recipes?

Happy Eating.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Guzzi's: Truly a Dive worth patronizing!

There is nothing like a big fat greasy burger. Lately I have been eating a lot less carbs which I now know are all the foods that make you feel full. I feel like I am starving lately. After a meeting downtown last Thursday, I found my car magically driving to Guzzi's.

What a sight this place is. It looks like a joint that Frank & Mike on American Pickers would go. There are a couple of vintage motorcycles on the roof along with the metal "Guzzi's" sign. It's a small building with 3 parking spots out front. The unmarked door looks like it goes to the kitchen or bathroom or someplace where you don't think you are suppose to be. Nope, that is the door. You enter and see 5 stools at a small counter, 3 tables, ordering area, and a soda machine. There are old cowboy boots nailed to the wall and a vintage Vespa scooter in the corner. Even if you don't eat burgers and fries, this place would draw you in. They take your order, shout it to someone behind them standing at the grill, and he slaps down some meat.

The choices are not many, but they all look fabulous: Guzzi's Burger, Bleu Bacon Burger, Flyin' Hawaiian Burger, and Veggie Burger. I didn't even realize that they had a Veggie Burger until I brought my buddy who is a vegetarian.

I ordered the Bleu Bacon Burger with Lettuce, Tomato, and Grilled Onions; Fresh Cut Fries on the side. They cook the all-beef patty with the bacon, not separate like most places. If the "Bleu" means that they add bleu cheese, I didn't notice it but that didn't matter. The food was absolutely fabulous. The patty was thick, juicy and the bacon grilled with the meat added and extra flavor. The veggies were incredibly fresh & flavorful. I am sure that they grill the onions with balsamic (great recipe here). The fries are fresh cut and cooked extra crispy. They must add some spices to it but I couldn't identify. Rather than stress the mystery, I relaxed and enjoyed. I wondered if the burger is as good as the Better Burger Truck. Each is a unique experience and I loved them both.

For a nice burger, fries and a drink, it will run you just under $10. But leave a great tip because they treat you like they love you and the experience is worth twice the price.

Guzzi's, I love you!

Happy Eating.

Guzzi's Vintage Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon
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