Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Happy Kwanzaa   Peace and happiness to all of you May the holiday find you surrounded by all of the things that bring you joy and all of the people you love Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zeigler's BBQ & Catering - Acworth, GA

Earlier this year we attended the Pigs and Peaches BBQ Festival in Kennesaw, GA. Besides being a fun summer event, the festival also features a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned BBQ contest. We spent the evening tasting various barbecue, mostly concentrating on the brisket options that were available. At some point along the way we found ourselves at the Zeigler's BBQ stand. At the time I commented that theirs was the best brisket I've tasted outside of Texas. We made a point to say hello to the pitmaster at the event and let him know that we thought his brisket was really well done.

Having tasted Zeigler's brisket at the event we made plans to visit their local restaurant. We did just that this past weekend.

Zeigler's BBQ & Catering is located in a small strip mall in Acworth, Georgia.

Judging by the size of their dining room, and the amount of food I saw go out the door, it appears that a majority of their business is done as take out. We were one of two tables dining in but there were several folks waiting around for their take out orders.

Orders are placed at the counter and then delivered to your table, typical quick, casual dining set-up.

We knew what we wanted so after a quick glance at the surprisingly vast menu orders were placed. I went with a combo plate choosing brisket, chicken wings and ribs. For sides I decided on baked beans and french fries. My dining companion ordered the brisket plate with potato salad and coleslaw. We got our beverages and sat down to wait for our food.

Before long plates started hitting the table.

Brisket Plate

Brisket and Chicken Wings


Although it's hard to tell from the pictures, the brisket is thickly sliced. It's smokey, with a perfect ratio of fat to lean. Just as good as I remembered from the Pigs and Peaches Festival. Truly some of  the best brisket that I've had anywhere. The big surprise for me was the wings. They were fried crispy, just like I like them, with a very flavorful sauce. I'd definitely get these again when I go back. I found the ribs to be a bit underwhelming, they seemed a bit dry to me. They had great flavor and the dining companion said they were fine. Maybe they just suffered in comparison to brisket and the wings.

Overall Zeigler's was a winner. When I'm in the mood for brisket and a trip to Texas just isn't in the cards you can bet I'll be heading to Zeigler's.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chattanooga Choo Choo Model Railroad Museum - Chattanooga, TN

When we recently visited Chattanooga we paid a visit to the model railroad museum located at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Entertainment Complex. The museum, while not large, has a nice display of trains. Chattanooga and the surrounding Cumberland Mountains are depicted in the panoramic display.

Although I haven't done it for years, I remember many trips by train taken with my mom and sisters. Our journey took us from our house in the south to my grandfather's house in the northeast. I loved everything about those trips. The way our sitting room became our bedroom at night, having our meals in the dining car, the sound of the clacking train tires on the track. To this day the sound of a train whistle takes me right back there again. There is still something exotic and romantic about train travel. One of these days I want to take a long trip by train across the states.

The museum display is curated by the Chattanooga Area Model Railroad Club. When we were there some of the display had be decorated for the holiday.

Moonshiners! The cops are on their trail...

This area of the display shows the Incline Railway on Lookout Mountain. It's one of the steepest passenger railways in the world.

Beside the model railroad itself the museum also has a small display of older model trains. Some from the 1800's.

The museum was smaller than I thought but the display was very nice and well worth visiting. If you like model trains, or for that matter any trains, the Chattanooga Choo Choo Entertainment Area is definitely be worth a stop.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chattanooga, TN

We were in Chattanooga, TN this past weekend. All I knew about the city was what I learned from that song about the choo choo. There is one, a Chattanooga Choo Choo that is.

Part of the reason we were there was to visit the model train display (more to come in a future post) at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. The hotel, located in the converted Terminal Station in downtown Chattanooga, is on the list of America's historic hotels. We didn't stay there but I really want to now because hello! Some of the rooms are inside restored railcars. There are more traditional rooms available as well but let's be honest, why stay in a regular room when you can stay in a restored RAILCAR.

Our visit to Chattanooga happened to coincide with what is billed as a 24 hour block party being held on Main Street and the surrounding Southside. We walked over to Main Street from the station and strolled around the street fair. There were tree planting events, parades, specials at the local shops, horse and carriage rides and a whole section dedicated to all things mutt. Lots of cute dogs visiting and looking for homes. A nice event run by people that seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. If I happen to be in the area next time this event is scheduled I'd like to check it out more thoroughly.

Another thing I wanted to do was eat at my favorite MN barbecue chain. I've eaten all kinds of barbecue all over the place but there is something about this place that has me seeking it out whenever I get within distance of one. Maybe it's the consistency, the Devil's Spit sauce or something else. I like Famous Dave's. However, there is one thing that always irritates me when I dine there. If I order a burger, and I often do, the wait-person can be heard spouting the following foolishness "How would you like your burger, medium-well done or well done? Medium well done? There's no such thing as medium-well done Famous Dave. Well done is well done. Why perpetuate this charade? The servers should just say your burger will arrive well done. There is no other option, deal with it. Inevitably I order it, eat it and enjoy it all the while being mildly disappointed that I can't get it cooked to the temperature I enjoy. They need to fix this.

The day we were in town we took advantage of free electric bus rides around the downtown area. We hopped on and took the half hour ride around town. I saw a nice city. Lots of outdoor art, local non chain coffee shops and retail stores, just a nice looking city. All that aside, let me say here and now that I tend to draw crazy like moths to a flame. It seemed inevitable that one of the local "characters" would board the bus and sit right by me. And he did. I was regaled with tales of conspiracy, government underhandedness and various other ramblings. When my friend exited the bus the driver said that he "seemed good today, like he had gotten his meds." I told him not to worry, that we have crazy people where we from too. In hindsight I shouldn't have said crazy, I should have said colorful characters, but, dude was full on cray cray so there you have it.

All in all we really enjoyed our time in Chattanooga. You have to like a city where roses are blooming in December right? We had fun and ended our trip sitting at the bar at Red Lobster (I know, don't ask) drinking beers and rum drinks and watching the Georgia Bulldogs take a heartbreak of a loss to Alabama. If we're in this part of the country a bit longer I definitely want to go back and check out the local Chattanooga food scene. If we do you can read about it here.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Vortex - Atlanta, Georgia

The Vortex is an eclectic restaurant/bar in the Midtown area of Atlanta. I heard about The Vortex, as I do so many of these places, on the Travel Channel show Man v Food.

The bar with some of its huge selection of beer and spirits

I did mention the eclectic decor right?
One of their claims to fame are the unique burgers, the other being one of the largest beer and spirit selections in the area. While we would have really liked to give the bar a workout, we stuck with the food menu and the reason we were there.

We headed over for lunch this past weekend to satisfy our curiosity and hopefully our appetites. Having looked over the menu before we got there we knew what we were going to order. We hadn't decided on an appetizer so we checked out our options and chose the Cheddar Balls O' Glory.

Cheddar Balls O' Glory - a cheese curd by any other name still tastes great

There are many, many burger options available. The basic burger is a half pound of hand-pattied beef served on an egg roll with LTO, served at whatever temperature is requested. Perfect. From there they get creative. But we were there for a real show stopper, none other than the Double Coronary Bypass burger. The description from The Vortex's website:

Twice as big as the Coronary Bypass! Topped with two fried eggs, six slices of American cheese,
and eight slices of bacon, all served between two grilled cheese sandwiches that we use in place of
the regular hamburger buns.

The Double Coronary Bypass - 2 Fried eggs, 6 slices of American cheese, 8 slices of bacon

That's no bun, oh no, that is one of 2 grilled cheese sandwiches that make up the top & bottom of the burger

Melty grilled cheese, perfectly cooked burger and a bounty of flavorful toppings. So good!
There is a bigger burger (I know, I couldn't believe it either) and one that is a bit smaller using a regular bun and only half the quantity of toppings as the one we had.

The burger we shared was delicious, cooked just the way we like and full of flavor. Way more than a gimmick, it was a great burger and one I would definitely have again. However, when I get back to The Vortex I plan on trying some of their other items. The Hell Burger for one sounds like it has my name all over it.

If you ever find yourself in the Atlanta area give The Vortex a try. A really good burger, an interesting beer menu and a fun space. All the makings of a good time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BBQ: A Journey in Meat

 A Guest Post by The Dining Companion

Several years ago, while working as a contractor at FHR, I was exposed, for the ‘first’ time, to BBQ. FHR had several outside caterers come in for functions held at their facility. Through this, I was able to try many things called BBQ that I hadn’t gotten around to trying over the years previously. However, the best part of the time at FHR was the individual who sat in the cube next to me. He was from San Antonio, and he said the product being served called BBQ by the outside caterers was SH!T.  He proceeded over the next few months to educate a few of us on this subject by preparing many different items and bringing them into the office to share. While the product served by the caterers was good (Divine Swine for another former employer) or OK, the items prepared by Eric were far superior. Unfortunately, my time at FHR came to an end and shortly thereafter Eric relocated to Alaska.

Over the next few years HappiTraveler & I continued to eat the BBQ prepared by local chains. For the most part it was good, but never up to the level of Eric. We also made several journeys to San Antonio and tried the BBQ (County Line) there (I was retrying some of the places I had eaten BBQ at 20 years prior – Bill Miller). These were also local SA chains and on par with the MN chains, but also not up to Eric's quality. We also tried some transplanted BBQer’s in Florida & some local variations in Puerto Rico

This brings us up to the fall/summer of 2011 I think. We began to notice several non-chain BBQ places opening up south of the river (Baldy’s & Rack Shack) as well as a national chain (Dickeys). We proceeded to try them and for the most part we were disappointed. As time progressed, I believe Mpls/St Paul magazine published an issue declaring the top BBQ places throughout the state. So began to form the ‘Summer of BBQ’ idea that winter. The idea being that we would road trip around the state that summer trying the places called out in the article.

As fate would have it, I found myself unemployed that spring. The ‘Summer of BBQ’ would continue, but at a somewhat reduced pace or scale. Over several weekends we tried 3 or 4 places in southern Minnesota. We also tried a place in St Paul (Roosters BBQ) that I had been driving by for years, but had never stopped. With the exception of the chicken at Roosters, I found the offerings disappointing. I had plans to try some other places in metro area (QFanatic) as time progressed, but once again fate intervened. We were on our way to SC. The ‘Summer of BBQ’ would proceed on for a longer period of time and in an unplanned area.

In SC, we could sample the product called out as ‘Carolina BBQ’ close to the source. I understand Carolina BBQ centers mainly on pork, specifically pulled pork. Up to this point, we had just experienced what may be called Minnesota BBQ (along with Texas BBQ). My understanding is BBQ served in Minnesota is based on some technique that was developed elsewhere, Minnesota having no BBQ culture of its own. We quickly discovered in SC, that if you wanted something other than pork, brisket for instance, the product sold SUCKED (Tom’s BBQ, Little Pigs, Henry's Smokehouse, Smokin Stokes, just to name a few). Not that the pulled pork was any better. Generally the product served was overcooked, dry and used mainly as a vehicle to serve some god-awful sauce (most proudly ' homemade'). During our time in SC, we made several journeys to Knoxville, TN to eat at the local MN chain’s outpost there.

After 6 months, our time in SC came to an end and we journeyed back to the Midwest. We spent the winter in Sioux Falls SD. South Dakota like Minnesota has no BBQ culture of its own. Reading some local news articles while there it sounded like some of the local restaurants were beginning to experiment with bringing in smokers. There was an outpost of the local MN BBQ chain and a fairly decent Brazilian steakhouse, so we were able to get by. We would leave SD before the local smokers got online. Returning to MN for a few weeks, fate intervened once again. We would be spending some time in GA.

While journeying to GA, we had the opportunity to stop in Kansas City for a night. Being in a city that is famed for its BBQ, we stop at a BBQ place close to the hotel (Zardas BBQ). What was served was for the most part disgusting. Hopefully this experience wasn’t indicative of Kansas City BBQ as a whole. We hope to get back to Kansas City again and would solicit some suggestions on where to stop and try next time (Woodyard, Oklahoma Joe’s, LC BBQ, Fiorella Jack Shack). We also went through St Louis, but didn’t stop. My understanding is that there is a St Louis style of BBQ and would like some suggestions to try when we get back there.

We are now in GA and have tried many places (Big Shanty, Williamson Bros, Sonny’s, Fox Brothers, Rib Ranch, Spiced Right, Barbeque Street Inn and the Peach and Pig BBQ event). I’m not sure if GA has a specific culture different from the pork that the Carolinas have (I notice more differentiation toward the sauces). I have come to understand a few things about what I like in my BBQ:
-Pulled pork sucks. It’s generally overcooked sh!t used as a vehicle for somebodies idea of good sauce.
-If you want pork, get it sliced (hopefully served with Texas toast).
-The Puerto Ricans do whole hog way better than a Carolinian.
-The Texans are right; BBQ is about the meat & smoke, not the sauce (Carolinian’s consider that smoking, not BBQ).
-I love good beef brisket (best served with a Shiner), but I can’t eat much of it anymore.
-I want to find somebody who smokes leg of lamb.

The Dining Companion