An Old Favorite

Hi readers! I’ve been busy writing for the dining guide of The Beach Reporter, my local newspaper and I want to share with you my newest article. I’ve been to this classic Italian restaurant about a million times since I was little, so I was excited to get this assignment and explore my past a bit at Mama D’s. Below is a link to the article… enjoy!

http://tbrnews.com/entertainment/mama-d-s-italian-cooking-a-yelp-local-favorite/article_a11624cc-3e2c-11e6-b291-f75e2936a749.html

 

The Shack’s Rib Cook-Off

Hey readers! I know it has been a while, and I hope you are still with me. As you know, I have been writing regularly about positive restaurant experiences for The Beach Reporter. However, I’ve decided that I miss blogging and want to devote more time to getting back into “Megan’s World of Food”. Obviously my voice has changed since I started publishing my writing online at age eight, but I intend to keep updating the blog for as long as possible.

The experience that inspired me to write today is one that you have not yet seen on my blog. Last Saturday, my dad and I entered a rib-making contest at Playa Del Rey’s The Shack, along with our friends Ken and Eric. Our team of four had never entered a BBQ competition before, but we were excited and ready to take on a challenge!

The way this competition worked was that competitors would get supplied with nine racks of ribs on Friday night, and would come to the bar the next morning to actually smoke them. The winner was decided by judges, but a “People’s Choice Award” was given to the BBQ team with the most votes from visitors. If interested in the rib contest, a customer could buy tickets and go around to the teams. A ticket per rib, visitors would taste their way through the parking lot and decide on their favorite.

However, like all good competitions, there are ways to cheat. But at this one, bribing and getting on the voters’ good side are actually encouraged! Each team made treats for throughout the day to make a good impression on the voters. Ours consisted of homemade New Orleans Chaurice sausage, my dad’s grilled wings, and pralines.

Preparation for the “big day” started days in advance; my dad stayed up late making sauces and I assisted in making the pralines. My dad’s new smoker was painted (with the face of former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, of course) and our friend Travis’ truck was ready to transport our supplies to the bar. Everything was in place, it seemed, but I knew so much could go wrong…

My dad told me weeks in advance that my job on the day of was to smile, pass out bribes, and get the voters on our side. Well, that would be easy if I were the least bit charming. Naturally, I woke up on Saturday and put on a waitress’ attire: jean shorts and a black shirt with converse and, of course, a fresh coat of sunscreen. I was convinced I was ready to face the day!

The morning of the competition, Eric, Ken, Travis, and my dad were all standing in front of our garage loading and packing. At 7:30, we got the truck ready and piled in three cars to head to the bar.

Our team’s name was Tailgate Trail, so aside from focusing on BBQ (obviously), our theme revolved around sports (mostly college). Besides the painted smoker, we also advertised a love for sports in our clothes. With Eric’s University of Virginia shirt, Ken’s Kansas City shirt, and my dad’s Delta State University hat, we were supporting plenty of teams!

my dad's spicy New Orleans Chaurice

my dad’s spicy New Orleans Chaurice

The first thing we did after we set up under the tent we were given was to light the smoker and get things started. At 10:00, we were allowed to put the ribs on, and we let those cook until about 3:00. Next to the ribs, we put on my dad’s homemade, hand-ground spicy New Orleans Chaurice sausage, shaped into small bites for sample sizes. When they were done, Eric stuck toothpicks in each individual sausage and I cut them apart. We served them alongside little cups of garlic aioli, and they were a crowd favorite for sure. A friendly competitor from the tent next to us was named Antonio, and he loved our sausage so much he said we should sell them!

Next up, my dad grilled some wings on our make-shift grill (the smokebox– see left) and tossed them in his home-made buffalo wing sauce. A wing per plate, we handed them out as samples and got just as good feedback as we did on the sausages. People chose between Ranch and Bleu Cheese dressing on the side, because the wing sauce definitely had a kick to it.

My pralines were given out last, a sweet reminder to “vote for Team Tailgate Trail”. It was a nice treat to have after standing in the sun for a few hours, and the crowd seemed to like them a lot. The leftovers went to me and Emma, a girl I met at the event and really liked.

Finally, it was time to get the ribs plated and to the judges! We took the foil off of them and sliced up all nine racks, putting 8 ribs on a single plate to give to the judges and keeping the rest for customers. A ticket per rib, we gave away every single rib except the last one (which we ate). People chose between our South Carolina mustard-style sauce or our original Red, and both were well-liked. My personal favorite is the mustard-style, but my dad’s friend Ken (being from Kansas City) preferred the red BBQ sauce. All we were waiting for now were the awards!

After we cleared up a bit and socialized, the owner of the bar decided to announce the awards. Antonio’s team, next to us, won the People’s Choice Award, which I think was the real winner. Another group, who we hadn’t talked to, won the judges’ pick. Last up, the host chose his own favorite… “Team Tailgate Trail”. He said that our team was what The Shack was all about, and that he was glad we had come and hoped to see us next year! We may not have really won anything… but we weren’t there for a trophy. We were there to make good food that the people enjoyed, to have this experience as a memory and (hopefully) the first of many rib trials, and just to have fun! What can I say, we did just that.

The Shack’s Annual Rib-Off– see you next year!

My New Writing Opportunity

You might have noticed that I have not been updating my blog recently. This is because I have been spending my time writing as a published columnist at my new job! For the past year or so, I have been writing a food column for one of the South Bay’s newspapers: The Beach Reporter. Once or twice per month, I review a restaurant in the south bay area and write a 500-word article on my experience at the restaurant. Look for them online at The Beach Reporter’s website, http://tbrnews.com or pick up a free paper copy in the South Bay. Below are the links to a few of my recent columns:

http://tbrnews.com/lifestyle/poulet-du-jour-mediterranean-made-to-order/article_db089da2-d34a-11e4-976c-c7bce68fcba1.html

http://tbrnews.com/beachcitiesdining/baby-g-s-ice-cream-cookies-and-cakes/article_2841837e-bd2d-11e4-aed9-9f31dcb5d04a.html

http://tbrnews.com/beachcitiesdining/big-wok-mongolian-bbq-will-never-leave-you-hungry/article_eefc28bc-b223-11e4-bfe1-9316a703e77a.html

 

At Alabama’s “Archibald’s”

As another day of our road trip in the South went by, I enjoyed a yummy lunch on our way into town. After leaving Nashville to go to Birmingham, we decided to stop at a place that had been suggested to us already. Archibald’s BBQ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is well-known for its ribs and pulled pork, and stopping there on our way to Birmingham was no mistake.

Tree wood and Trophies

Tree wood and Trophies

The first thing I noticed walking into this barbecue joint was the wood, everywhere. Everything was made of wood (except maybe the TVs) and it was really cute and lodge-like. The FIFA World Cup was playing on one television, which I certainly enjoyed, and “Dumb and Dumber” played on the other. The Crimson Tide was obviously supported at Archibald’s, as it was practically a hall of fame with its many pictures and posters. I loved that this place of BBQ resembled an almost-quaint cottage, but the food was off the hook too.

Ribs!

Ribs!

Archibald’s ribs were tender and pretty fatty, with meat impressively cooked for a tendency to fall off of the bone. Although the meat was close to flawless, I wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce. I completely soaked my ribs in it and still couldn’t taste a thing. For me, sauce usually gives the meat a flavor and a sort of brings the body of the rib to it, not to mention how sauces can determine the type of BBQ one’s eating. This sauce had a good flavor when I got around to trying it, but maybe too subtle. In all, though, the ribs showed talent and I was glad that we tried them.

I’m not a huge pulled pork fan usually, so I may not be the best to judge, but I actually really enjoyed Archibald’s juicy, flavorful pork. I would definitely look forward to a side of that again, and I would suggest it.

But, these two famous meats were not the only ones we tried. I would also suggest the whiting (which is a breaded white fish) and the hot wings with an incredibly addictive sweet sauce. Sides like corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, and beans all are included in meals and support the entrees well. Wow! Archibald’s proved to be a hit for me and my family, from the soccer playing to the tasty wings to the yummy, filling whiting. Comfort food for sure, but next time you’re in Alabama, stop by Archibald’s BBQ!

Been to Archibald’s already? Wow, you’re ahead of the game! Comment below to tell me about your experience… I would love to hear about it!

* * * * * * *

From the Front

From the Front

Archibald and Woodrow’s BBQ

4215 Greensboro Ave.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35405

Tel: (205) 331-4858

 

A Breakfast Fit for a Chef

A Cute Cafe, A Breakfast to Brag About

A Cute Cafe, A Breakfast to Brag About

Innovation and creativity are two things that make a restaurant desirable, interesting, and newsworthy. The Pfunky Griddle has it all!

On the first Sunday of our trip to the South, our family and some friends went out for a unique breakfast. The Pfunky Griddle in the Berry Hill area of Nashville is a breakfast and lunch venue that is located in a place that was once a home. What makes this so different from a typical restaurant is that they give you batter, toppings, and a spatula…and you get to make the pancakes on your own! We’ve been to fondue and teppan grills but never a make-your-own breakfast cafe. This was right up my alley, and it was all-you-can-eat, so we decided to try it.

The decor of The Pfunky Griddle was perky and cute, and while we did have to wait, the employees were friendly and patient.  Once we were seated inside this cozy joint, I enjoyed the two toppings that I ordered with my batter: peanut butter and banana slices, and the bacon and homemade syrup were both great. They served white, wheat, and gluten-free batter and the toppings to choose from read on and on.

Little Bakers at Work

Little Bakers at Work

The immense griddle in the middle of the table was hot and cooked the pancakes quickly, but it was safe for everyone and we saw toddlers in there cooking away with their parents. I cooked the bananas into my pancakes and spread the peanut butter on top afterward, and I had at least five mini pancakes. They were yummy and all eight of us enjoyed our meals. I thought it was a cool idea and my dad labeled it as “one of the best breakfasts out we’ve had”. So, if you’re in Nashville, please go ahead and try it. It may not be the most Southern breakfast I’m going to have, but it was a lot of fun and I would definitely suggest it!

Day One: My First Impression of Nashville

The Listening Room

The Listening Room

My family has never really explored the southern part of our country, and I guess my parents made a decision that now was the time. So this summer, we’re taking a road trip of 4 states: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

We left town on Dad’s birthday, a bright sunny day that reminded me of our trip to Maine last summer. Personally, I had my doubts that this vacation would be anywhere near as fun… Of course, I was looking forward to authentic Southern food, a Christmas hotel, pools, and cute towns.  But it didn’t sound like the relaxing vacation that Maine and St. John were, or the curious trips like New Orleans and Boston.

It sounded like a whole lot of driving.

* * * * * * * *

After a smooth three and a half hour flight, we got to Nashville at around 5pm.  We checked into our hotel, the Renaissance, and after taking a short rest, we headed down a few blocks to The Listening Room…and this is where the real fun kicks in and I know that I’m in Nashville.

I walked on the red and gray streets of Music City, and from every door came the sound of guitars and voices.  While every singer-songwriter venue may not be as well-known as The Listening Room, they each exhibited such talent and a fun night out!  It all felt like magic to walk the streets of Nashville and to hear a musician performing in front of a crowd.

An Artsy Duo

An Artsy Duo

The Listening Room’s atmosphere kept me smiling, with someone on the guitar and mic at every moment, great service, and a casual, positive vibe.  The artists’ songs were about everything from high school love to positivity to grudges between women.  It was very creative and a new experience for me because of how close I was to the performers.  In all, it had a nice, relaxed feel to it and I enjoyed every second of my time there.

A Satisfying Steak

A Satisfying Steak

 

For dinner, I ordered a pork steak with a house-made bourbon barbeque sauce.  It was really well cooked and had a pleasing texture.  The smoked pork ribs that my dad ordered clung to the bone a bit, but had a great flavor (almost a mix of sweet and spicy).  I was satisfied with dinner, but dessert upstaged it.

We ordered a slice of pecan pie with caramel sauce and whipped cream.  While it couldn’t help but make me feel stuffed, I couldn’t stop myself from practically shoving it in my mouth.  A thick caramel sauce was drizzled over the top of the pie and a sliced strawberry topped it off.  It was gooey and sweet and just pure perfection.

My mom told me something I hadn’t known before.  Pecan pie had been my grandpa’s favorite.  My papa passed away when I was eight and although I loved him very much, I never knew him well and it meant a lot to me to discover something that we had in common. I thought about him the whole way home, and a memory of him as strong as the smell of his old sweatshirt came back for the first time in a while.

We walked back to our hotel in the dark, but the streets of Nashville were hardly deserted.  Music still played at every corner, and I smiled the whole way home thinking of the adventures that would come tomorrow.  Maybe this trip will be better than I expected.

A Chance on The Beach Reporter

One Month Down!Recently, I have been given the chance to write for the Beach Reporter, a free paper that covers the South Bay area. Once a month, I write an entry for the Dining Guide, and my first two have been on The Fish Shop, a new seafood restaurant on Pier Ave., and on Banzai Beach, a hole-in-the-wall teppanyaki grill in downtown Hermosa. Each month, I also write three short “bites” on restaurants to let my audience know how kid-friendly a restaurant is.

I really enjoy writing for a newspaper, and I thank the Beach Reporter for giving me a shot. Below is the link to my last article… Be sure to check the Reporter for more coming up!

 

http://m.tbrnews.com/lifestyle/banzai-beach-this-teppan-grill-lights-up-a-party/article_d161bcb6-e20f-11e3-82cc-0019bb2963f4.html

A Different Kind of Stadium

Dream Team Photo

Dream Team Photo

It was dark outside when we woke up, but I’m used to that. I’m definitely an early bird and I love the mornings, but today I awoke with the feelings of someone who had stayed up late last night. To tell you the truth, one thought and one thought only occupied my head: I don’t want to get out of bed! Nevertheless, I got up, packed my bag, and jumped in the car, excited for the day ahead of me. I couldn’t wait to see the stadium and the stars, to eat, and to write. This would be spectacular.

But today, we were not tailgating at the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum. This was a different kind of stadium… what I might call a “food stadium”. The first annual All Star Chefs Classic was hosted on Sunday, March 23, from noon to 2:30 at the new “Restaurant Stadium” at LA Live, and both local chefs and nation-wide foodies came to cook at an event not to be challenged.

The All Star Chefs Classic

The All Star Chefs Classic

A bar lit up the center of the large room, and around it sat tables surrounded by ten food booths. At each station, one fantastic chef or another would whip up an amazing sample, and you would be able to try it without a wait. The decor was classy and prestigious, and it made me nervous even to be in this foodie’s paradise. At the same time, however, it was almost laid-back and an awesome DJ kept us all on our toes.  Everyone was trying to balance a plate, a cup, and a camera, and yet I didn’t feel that it was touristy at all.  You were close to the chefs, but there weren’t too many people and we never had to wait more than two minutes for anything. Oh, here I go. I won’t be able to find anything wrong with an event featuring spectacular food AND Han Solo’s grandson.

Chef David LeFevre and His Creation

Chef David LeFevre and His Creation

First up, Chef David LeFevre. If you’ve followed my blog site before, you’ll recognize him as the genius behind the restaurant I spent my eleventh birthday at: MB Post. (http://www.southbayfood.com/?p=1795).  At his booth, creamy mashed potatoes were complimented by grilled asparagus, speck, mushrooms, and a delicious potato puree on top. It was adorned by crispy leeks, and I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. The flavors melded together perfectly but were still distinct in the best ways, and each thought back to it made my mouth water for more. Overall, it was an astounding first dish and I was extremely happy with Chef LeFevre’s creation.

 

Then, we slid over next door to Chef Vinny Dotolo’s station, where beef tendon with kolrabi salad was being presented. The beef tendon had a really nice texture, and it was soft but chewy. A perfect amount of what seemed to be a peanut sauce was drizzled over the top, and it was subtle but noticeable and definitely sweet. Overall, it might not have been my favorite dish of the night, but it was extremely impressive nonetheless.

By Wylie Dufresne

By Wylie Dufresne

Next, we walked to Chef Wylie Dufresne’s booth, which revealed a creative new idea: edamame gazpacho. I loved the textures with the milky gazpacho and the crunchy chunks to top it off. It tasted fresh and you could tell that a lot of effort was put into the making of it.

 

 

Lamb Sweetbreads, there's nothing better

Lamb Sweetbreads, there’s nothing better

Chef Alex Seidel’s dish blew me away. It was lamb sweetbread confit (otherwise known as lamb organs :)) but it was fantastic! The lamb had a beautiful texture and a great flavor, and it was overall very impressive. I’m so glad I got the chance to meet him, because this was the spectacular outcome of the work of a man who knows what he’s doing. The dish had an amazing “mushroom marmalade” and the mushrooms paired outstandingly with the creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. Also, Chef Seidel let us try his cheese, which was aged for two years in his home of Denver. Overall, Chef Seidel came and left us all awaiting the next time he can come to LA to cook us some more of his delicious food.

Let’s travel over to Chef David Myers’ dish: tuna with sesame tofu and a kumquat fava bean salad. Chef Myers prepared this cool dish for us in the booth right next to Chef David LeFevre’s. Although I didn’t enjoy the tofu very much, that’s probably just because I’ve been a carnivore since birth. The kumquat fava bean salad was strongly flavored and very citrusy, but in the best way because it was a great match with the tuna. I’m glad that Chef Myers included it. The tuna was the bomb; pink, silky, and impeccably prepared. I can’t say I’ve ever had such perfected,  melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and I only have one thing to say to that… yum.

Chef Ben Ford

Chef Ben Ford

Scrumptious Sea Bass Crudo

Scrumptious Sea Bass Crudo

And guess who I met next? One of the friendliest chefs ever, good in the kitchen, and he has a famous history. Chef Ben Ford, son of Harrison Ford and father of Indiana Jones’ grandson, happens to be madly talented, as I figured out as I practically inhaled my serving of sea bass crudo. The fish itself was smooth and tasty and it disintegrated in my mouth with a lingering taste of lime. The chilies on top added a nice spicy kick at the end and the avocado, which was also enriched by citrus, I think, was fantastic paired with the sea bass. It just overall showed a great knowledge of food and I’m really glad Chef Ford made it. I also got to see his son, an adorable little blond boy that seemed to be all smiles. (The Force is strong with that one.)

Chef Josiah Citrin: A Legend

Chef Josiah Citrin: A Legend

A legend held up the next station with a focused expression and hardworking hands. I could tell that Chef Josiah Citrin took his job seriously, and it definitely paid off. The wild monkfish cheek reminded me a bit of scallops, and monkfish might be known as the “poor man’s lobster”, but this was anything but insufficient. I hadn’t tried very much monkfish before this event, but I really enjoyed it and I look forward to trying it again soon. Though I didn’t know exactly how it was supposed to be cooked, I thought that it tasted great. The fish wasn’t too tough but it wouldn’t fall apart, with a great texture, and the herbs, like fennel, paired nicely with the monkfish. I was very happy with what I tried from Chef Josiah Citrin’s booth and I hope to eat more of his food soon!

My mother’s dentist, local foodie Dr. Gary Warburton, had suggested this event to us in the first place, and all throughout it, we had stopped around to talk to him and his wife Terry. What was really cool was that he knew a lot of the chefs, so I met a lot of them and I was so thankful that Dr. Warburton included us. Thank you!

Chef Ludo!

Chef Ludo!

I also met Chef Ludo Lefebvre, the famous chef who stars in TV show “Ludo Bites”. And although his persona on TV is definitely intimidating, he was really patient and friendly in person and I am very grateful for him for letting me waste his time. :)

Dr. Warburton, Chef David LeFevre, and a few others were having a conversation as we walked up. Chef LeFevre raved about the event, its great kitchens, its reserved parking, and just its atmosphere in general. It was nice to know that not only did the guests love the event, but the chefs enjoyed it as well.

 

Chef Elliot:  Salad Pro

Chef Elliot: Salad Pro

After a quick break, my dad and I returned back to our food

Deconstruction Site

Deconstruction Site

sampling. Next up was Chef Graham Elliot’s twist on a classic Cesear salad, otherwise known as his “deconstructed Cesear salad”. It was a lettuce wedge with a fantastic crunch and doused in crumbled parmesan cheese. On the side came a crispy toasted bread slice with a white dollop of soft spread on top, which was almost buttery, and I’m not sure exactly what it was but it was addictive. It was a fresh spin on a classic dish, I really enjoyed it, and I was very glad to try it. Nice job, Chef Elliot!

Pork Belly Not To Be Forgotten

Pork Belly Not To Be Forgotten

Two words could be used to describe this next station, and that’s all you need to know that it was a positive review: PORK. BELLY. The cardamom brined meat had a great texture and really stood out for its creativity with spices and flavors. A creamy coconut asparagus veloute topped it off and the flavors matched each other very well. I enjoyed this dish, and I thought that it was a great way to prepare pork belly.

 

Chef Silverton and Me

Chef Silverton and Me

Lastly, Chef Nancy Silverton’s booth stood next door with a black sign sporting kale salad. Being a meat-lover, I thought I would be disappointed to end on this, but boy was I wrong! The kale salad was served with ricotta salata, pine nuts, and an anchovy on top, and although I was not a fan of the anchovy, the nuts and cheese went well together and the kale was perfection. In all, it was a great way to end the event and the salad definitely left you craving more.

In all, this amazing culinary event was a great way to spend my Sunday, and not only was the food delicious, but the chefs were friendly, welcoming, and, above all, inspiring. I have been slow to post recently because I’ve been very busy and I had been putting other activities before this (mainly soccer). This spectacular day reminded me how important it is to continue my blog and put in that extra effort, and I am so glad that I got to experience such an extraordinary event.

Thank you especially to Gary Warburton for encouraging me, showing us around, and keeping us laughing all day. Also, thank you so much to the chefs that I met: Ben Ford, Josiah Citrin, David LeFevre, Nancy Silverton, Wylie Dufresne, Alex Seidel, Graham Elliot, and Jennifer Jasinski. They were all so inspiring, kind, and, of course, spectacularly talented!

And, last of all, thank you Dad for a memorable opportunity and an experience I will never forget.

Fried Lobster at FISHBAR–The Debut of the Classy Take on a Well-Known Dish

Fried Lobsters and Waffles!

Fried Lobsters and Waffles!

Our server smiled.  “I haven’t seen you in a while,” she greeted us.

“You are so popular now… We find lines here every night!” my mom replied. It’s true; FISHBAR is now a favorite in the South Bay. And it should be! Chef Jessica Jordan’s creative ideas for new dishes, drinks, and creations are always loved and flavorful.

I discussed this morning’s debut dish with Chef Jordan, and we talked about different ways to incorporate lobster into classic dishes and desserts. She’s inspirational and impressive, and I was so lucky to interview her a little while ago: http://www.southbayfood.com/?p=1725

October 26 was the debut of FISHBAR’S new “Fried Lobster and Waffles”. At first, I was reluctant to try this new dish, because I have never even had Roscoe’s Famous Chicken and Waffles. But I am glad I gave this a chance, because I was pleasantly surprised by this twist on a classic. Fresh, delectable lobster, enveloped in a light beer-batter, crowns a crisp, fluffy waffle. The huge chunks of lobster were best drizzled with Tabasco hot sauce and dipped in maple syrup.

I was extremely impressed with this dish, but who knows how long this will remain on the menu? So get it fast! This is a delicacy not to be looked over.