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Hill Country BBQ

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Hill Country BBQOK, it's been awhile since I wrote. For the 3 of you still checking or on RSS, I'm going to write when I can, mostly reviewing restaurants I've been to.

First up, Hill Country BBQ. What red-blooded American doesn't love BBQ? A couple of friends and I went their last month for Restaurant week. First, the bar was great. I know it's odd to say, but it's good to have an ice cold beer. Some places simply have draft beer cool or slightly below room temperature. Shiner Bock here is ice cold. Good to go down with the dinner of mostly meat.

Which brings us to the main deal. For Restaurant Week, the offer was the Pitmaster, cornbread, a dessert, and a jar of Shiner or a soda.  All for $35.  Most places don't include the drink, so that was a slightly better deal. Yeah, I know sometimes when you look at it, RW isn't ideal for some or certain places. For me, I don't generally order dessert, but I also try to go to places I haven't been or have great deals. This met that standard.

The Pitmaster itself is Lean Brisket, one Pork Sparerib, one Beef Sparerib, and a quarter chicken (white or dark). The brisket was tender and juicy. Maybe a bit more fat than I prefer, but overall good.  I think for the most part either you like ribs or you don't.  Both the pork and beef versions for good, but not the best I had. The chicken was a disappointment. Maybe it's because I prefer white meat and got dark, but it was just not seasoned properly. Cooked well, but if it's flavorless, it does not matter.  Also included wtih the Pitmaster were 2 sides. I got the Mac & Cheese and Confetti Cole Slaw.  Both were excellent and better than I usually have.  The cornbread was a bit dry, but the ancho honey butter that accompanies it improves it to the point I didn't care it was dry.  The dessert I got was the banana pudding. It reminded me of childhood. Nice and cool and not too sweet. A very good way to end the meal.

Overall, I would say the experience was worth it. There were other things on the menu that I need to try like the chops or the Kruez sausage.  I probably won't go back too often, but if you are in the mood for some BBQ or cold Shiner, go there.
macsspeedshop.jpgSo I'm back writing. Work has kicked my ass the last couple of months. I haven't had time to read other blogs, let alone write. But things have finally calmed down a bit.

A couple of weekends ago, The Sports Freak, Q, and I went to Charlotte, NC. We had 2 reasons to go, as we have a friend living there, and the Redskins were playing the Carolina Panthers. Well, this was a great idea in the pre-season when the Redskins looked like a middle of the pack team, not the debacle they have become. If you want to read more about our thoughts on the game, see here. But what I'm writing about here is food.

Our Charlotte friend told us about the great city, how as a Northerner, he loved the pace and lifestyle the South and particularly his current home city provides. The three of us had visited before, but we were barely there a day so we didn't experience the city much. This time, we got to some of the restaurants.

We flew down Saturday morning, arriving just in time for lunch. So after checking in at the hotel and meeting up with our friend, we all headed over to the South Blvd location of Mac's Speed Shop. From the outside, it looks like almost any restaurant. But the tiny parking lot was packed. Always a good sign. Going instead it was even better. The place was definitely full inside as well, but lucky they had a table for 4. While they had regular tables, much of the seating are bar height tables and stools, which is where we were seated. The place seems to be more of a bar with a large bar seating area, but is appropriate for the style. TV's showing sports all around and the diners ranged young and old, from yuppies, professionals, and yes, bikers.

The picture above was what I ordered was "A Little Bit of It All". Meaning literally. There was BBQ Chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, and ribs for meat. 2 sides and Texas toast accompanied the big plate. For my sides, I ordered the mac and cheese and onion rings. That was a lot of food.  We also made the great choice/mistake of ordering a plate of hushpuppies to start.  The hushpuppies were better than what I've had before, but I only had one, because the entrees came up quick.  The ribs were outstanding.  Some of the best I've ever had.  Just enough sauce and they were meaty and tender.  The pulled pork was good.  I've had better, but the amount they served was unbelievable.  If you imagined a roll to make a sandwich, make sure you have at least 2 rolls, as I think they slaughtered a whole pig for the amount on each plate.  The beef brisket was good.  The Sports Freak ordered just the brisket and he thought it was excellent.  I didn't get to it much until I had already gone through all the ribs and much of the other meat, so I was already full.  The disappointing part of the plate was the chicken.  it was almost as if they roasted the chicken without seasoning then basted and sauced right before serving.  The sides were great.  The mac and cheese was crunchy on top and creamy in the middle.  The onion rings had a nice and crisp coating, but had the snap I like with the onion.

I would definitely go back again, but would order only the ribs.  They were that good.  Oh, "A Little Bit of It All" at $16 implies there is a bigger plate.  Yes, for only $10 more, you can get "A Whole Lot of It All".  I don't know who any one person can eat that much.  I was served enough food to feed a family of 4 for 3 nights.  I left at least a normal plate of food.  As for service, it's not fine dining, but it's good service.  The staff all seem to have some ink on them.  If you have the chance, try one of Mac's Speed Shop's three locations.
Recently I finished Coldest Winter, The: America and the Korean War, the last book written by David Halberstam.  As a history buff, I generally lean toward the Civil War and World War II, but I heard about Halberstam by way of Tony Kornheiser, when he announced on his radio show or ESPN's Pardon the Interruption that Halberstam had passed away in a car accident.  It game me reason to wonder, what have I been missing by not reading Halberstam?

It was not intentional slight, it was just that Halberstam never crossed my radar.  I had no idea the depth of this man's work.  When I searched for a new book to read, I ran across this in a Kindle edition.  Perfect, I thought, as I could read this at my own pace without needing a physical copy.  The Korean War was something I had not really studied since high school.  It seems to be a much forgotten war in America, known only as the event that split Korea into the North and the South.  Or the comedy that is MASH.

Halberstam weaves stories from Washington insiders, foreign hands, and the men on the ground in a story that tells the Korean War from pre-war to post-war and Cold War implications.  The stories from the boots on the ground and how they dealt with it once back home were the strongest, deepest memories.  The pain of going through the war and how some of them had just been through WWII and had to return to foreign lands to fight yet another war.  In a way, Halberstam shows us how Korea was the original Vietnam, a war that nobody really wanted to fight.  Only Korea had no real public face, unlike Vietnams protests.

In the end however, the most fascinating part was the game MacArthur was playing with Washington.  Many military careers and lives were lost over the things that MacArthur supposedly did.  We can only judge from what was stated by those who were there and the sight does not seem pretty.  This is part of the story I had either never learned or had completely forgotten, but Halberstam's book has put it all in perspective for me.

Overall, if you are a history buff like me, you will want to read The Coldest Winter.  It might be a little too much detail for your casual reader.  But fascinating nonetheless.

charliepalmer.jpgSo in case you did not know, it is Restaurant Week in DC again.  At $20.09 for lunch for $35.09 for dinner, diners can enjoy or sample select menus from participating establishments.  But even at the discount rate, $35.09 is a lot to spend, though you get a 3 course meal.

The Sports Freak, a co-worker of his, and I went to Charlie Palmer's near the Capitol earlier in the week.  None of us had dined there before, so it seemed like a good place to try.  We got there about 15 minutes early so after letting them know we were there, we settled at the bar for a pre-dinner drink.  Value is not what you expect there, as I ordered a vodka tonic that was more tonic than vodka and cost $10.

Dinner was better.  After we placed our orders, we were given an amuse-bouche of tiny shrimp ceviche.  Served in a metal "Asian soup spoon", there was the right balance of acid and seasonings.  The tiny shrimp came in twos and marinated in lime juice and cilantro.  Very good start.  For appetizer, I had the cold Virginia Corn Soup.  The cream based soup was light and refreshing.  While they put a little Maryland blue crab in the middle, I think the soup would have done just as well without it.  The others had heirloom tomato salads with goat cheese.  Two big slices of tomato and a mix wild greens, they reported it to be good.

On to the main entrees.  All three of us had the roasted beef sirloin.  The sirloin itself was very good.  Tender and flavorful, it was a good portion of meat.  I had ordered mine medium and it might have been a bit on the rare side, but still good.  The accompanying carmelized shallots were excellent, but how can carmelized onions not be good?  The potatoes, not so much.  Boulanger potatoes were sliced thin, but surprisingly tasted slightly raw, even though they seemed througly cooked.  It could have used a little more salt as well.  We also ordered a side of zuchinni and squash for the table.  That was great was shavings of parmesean cheese on top.

Dessert was possibly the big let down of the meal.  The Sports Freak and I both had the peach cobbler.  Baked and served in a ramakin with a dollop of frozen vanilla custard, it was very runny.  That might have been the downfall for the dessert as being baked in the small vessel instead a big batch made the crust finish quickly.  The peaches were still very firm, almost as if they were just warmed or quickly boiled and the liquid never had a chance to bake out of the dish.  The co-worker had ordered the Pennsylvania berry soup, which was a raspberry base served with panna cotta and sorbet.  He said it was very good, but he is partial to raspberries.

In all, it was a very good meal.  The restaurant decor is very bright and modern and you feel that it is very new, yet the service was established.  It is in the bottom of a fairly new building which opened earlier in the decade.  I would go back for Restaurant Week again, but would find it hard to go on the regular menu on my own dime.  The pricing was very high, but for a special meal or business, it would be on my list of places to go.

2Amys.jpgOn a recent weekend, I had dinner at three very different establishments.

First on Friday night, The Sports Freak and I went to 2 Amy's.  We wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  The lauded restaurant is off Wisconsin Ave, just north of the National Cathedral.  The lines were long and we had ot wait about half an hour.  During that time, we saw a few carryout orders, including a woman who had 8-12 boxes of pizza, so we thought we were in for a treat.

Unfortunately, things did not turn out so well.  We wanted to start with an appetizer of smoked salmon bruschetta or something like that.  I'm not sure exactly what was ordered because we never received it.  The pizzas came surprisingly quickly, so we decided not to question the missing plate until it showed up on our bill.

I had ordered the Abruzesse, which might have been a mistake.  No mozzarella, but pecorino cheese, the pizza seemed oversalted.  Not to the extreme, but a bit too much.  The meatballs seemed very dry.  The best part of the pizza was the crust.  Light and chewy, it is what I look for in pizza.  TSF had a traditional Neapolitan and reported he was not impressed.  He did not go into details, but said that he had had better Neapolitan elsewhere.

The best part of my meal might have been the pint of Wehenstephan Dunkel beer.  It was crisp and refreshing.  At least I got a little buzz before my disappointing dinner.  Maybe we got to 2 Amy's on an off night.

On to Saturday, I went to Z-Burger again with the Sports Freak. We hit the Tenleytown location at around 8:30 PM and it was virtually empty. We each ordered a burger and shared some fries and onion rings. Like all the "burger only" joints in the area, they only cook their burgers well-done. And because of that, it tastes much like the rest of them. If I was looking for a burger, I might not stop at Z-Burger unless I was in the neighborhood. Five Guys does just as good of a job, and I can find them in most neighborhoods now.

The fries also mimicked their competition, offering little difference. Where they win are onion rings. The rings appeared to be fresh made, not frozen. My only complaint on them would be that the onions were a bit too soft and so was the batter coating. I prefer my onions crisp. The coating might have been an issue because they were the last of the 3 items I tasted. Also on the menu, which we did not try were cheesesteaks and milkshakes. The Sports Freak is a freak about cheesesteaks and vowed he'd be back to try them. I thought about a milkshake but I didn't want a heart attack that night and just didn't want one at 9 PM.

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