Tuesday, May 28, 2013

California here we come!

The Dining Companion and I spent the long holiday weekend in California. We were there visiting the  DC's sister and we all spent the weekend touring around the Newport Beach area.

What a beautiful part of the country. We had perfect weather the entire time we were there and got to enjoy lots of time outside. It's easy to see why so many people love it. Every day that we were there was picture perfect.

I'll cover some of what we did over the next few weeks. There was just so much to do and our time was so limited that we never even made it to LA. (That's definitely on our list for a future trip.)

I don't know why it took us so long to finally make this trip. It was the first time that either of us had been to California but it absolutely won't be the last.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Q Fanatic - Champlin, Minnesota

This whole BBQ thing got started about two years ago in June of 2011. The Dining Companion and I decided to spend the summer searching out and trying as many Minnesota BBQ joints as we could. We were, if memory serves, inspired by an article in MSP Magazine that listed their choices for top 10 BBQ in the area. Some we had heard of and some were new to us. Our goal was to try as many as we could over the summer. For me that included writing up my thoughts on these places and maybe doing some online blogging/reviews. Well as life has a tendency to do we were thrown an unexpected curve ball and the Summer of BBQ (as it came to be known) was cut short. We had gotten through a small part of our list when we left Minnesota for points south.

Over the last couple of years, most of it covered here on this blog, our travels have taken us to many of the country's top BBQ locations, Texas, Kansas and Missouri, The Carolina's and Georgia to name a few. (We've been to Tennessee as well but haven't yet had the Memphis BBQ experience. That's still an open item on our list) It's been a fun and eye opening experience for me and the Dining Companion (he wrote a bit about it here) I've come to realize that I like my brisket moist, my ribs dry rubbed and my sausage links served whole not sliced. For me ( and the Dining Companion as well I think) one of the biggest surprises was how little I enjoyed the BBQ offerings in most of Kansas' famous BBQ joints. For a lot of people BBQ is all about pulled pork and ribs. Not so for me. Don't get me wrong, I love ribs. However, I like good dry rubbed ribs not mediocre, over cooked ribs slathered in lousy sauce. Sadly that was what I was getting in the places in Kansas that we tried.

One bright spot in our journey was the stop that took us to Pappy's in St. Louis. There I found the best ribs of the trip. Perfectly smoked and seasoned, dry rubbed and not a drop of sauce on my plate. Very good and I would gladly go back again for them. That brings me to the other BBQ I enjoy, a good, moist, smoked brisket. A lot of places list brisket on their menus but they needn't bother. At best it's an after thought and at worst flat out awful.

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Q Fanatic in Champlin, MN. Let me start by saying that when we decided to visit Q Fanatic recently I wasn't holding out any hope that it would be anything better than the stuff we had been eating on our trip back north. A BBQ joint in the Minnesota 'burbs? How good could that be? Pretty damn good as it turns out.

We got to Q around lunch time and stood in a short line to place our orders. We were informed that there was about a 30 minute wait. I looked around confused, most of the tables were empty and it was a counter service restaurant, what's with the wait? Turns out the wait was for our food.We grabbed our order number and headed to a table.


While we waited the Dining Companion and I discussed the dry uninspiring brisket we had encountered at most of the places we'd eaten at over the last week or so. We decided that maybe we should ask about the brisket that we were about to be served and find out a bit more about it. I approached the counter, the line was gone and there was a gentleman there speaking with the person who had taken our order. I told her I had a question about the brisket and she pointed to the man over her shoulder who turned out to be the pit master. I asked him how the brisket was served. Was it lean, was every bit of flavor, I mean fat, removed before service? I think I gave him the wrong impression because he started to assure me that yes, the brisket was lean. Before he could finish I told him that was too bad as we prefer the fatty less lean style. He said no problem, we remove the cap (fatty part of the brisket) because most people prefer their brisket lean but that he had some in back that was what we were looking for. I headed back to our table and told the DC about what just happened. Still skeptical we waited for our food to be served. I think you know where this is going. This BBQ joint in the Minnesota suburbs served us the best brisket of our whole trip. Better than the most well known BBQ places in several states. The best hands down. Thick cut, moist and fatty, smoked to perfection. A true representation of what Texas style brisket is all about. ( In Texas you can order your brisket moist OR lean. Hear that Kansas and Missouri?) The ribs were good too, dry rubbed and meaty, falling off the bone tender but not mushy or overcooked. Good sides, nice service and a true taste of the BBQ we were looking for. Home run.

So, there you have it. I should add something here about traveling and coming home to find the thing you were looking for all along. You know what I mean. Q Fanatic is serving up some fantastic BBQ. Well worth the drive, the wait and whatever other hurdle you may need to jump to get there. Go, just go, ask for the moist brisket or order it both ways to compare. You may be surprised at what you've been missing.

Happy dining!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fong's Pizza - Des Moines, Iowa

One of the last places we visited in Des Moines was also one of the most unique. We stopped in at Fong's Pizza. This place is a mash up of a lot of good stuff. Most well known for their unusual pizza combos Fong's also does salads and sandwiches and has a list of Tiki drinks a mile long.

Pick your poison!

We took a seat at the bar and took a look around.

This is not a great picture but the Origami Swan mobile is pretty cool so I'm putting it here anyway

The usual suspects
  I didn't have a Tiki drink but the umbrella drink I did have was great. It might have been a Zombie.

One of the reasons I was at Fong's was to try the Crab Rangoon Pizza. I like Crab Rangoon, I like pizza, seemed like a winning combo. And, I'm happy to say, it was.

Crab Rangoon Pizza
 Fong's also has pizza by the slice served for lunch, Happy Hour and on their late night menu. The Dining Companion had the lunch slices that day, sausage and cheese.

The slices were good. While the crust was pretty standard for Midwest pizza the sauce was excellent. Spicy without overwhelming the topping and just really flavorful.

Unlike the High Life Lounge, I don't think Fong's will become a part of our regular stops in Des Moines, But, if I find myself craving a great Tiki drink or an unusual pizza topping, Fong's will be at the top of my list.

Happy dining!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The High Life Lounge - Des Moines, Iowa

 The Dining Companion and I made several stops on our recent travels around the Midwest. One of those stops took us to Des Moines, Iowa and The High Life Lounge. Readers of a certain age take a moment to think back to every rec room you ever hung out in as a youth. Got it? If you pictured your friends parent's basement, shag carpeting, beer signs and paneling you're spot on. That is the High Life Lounge in a nutshell.

The High Life Lounge is a throwback to every rec room in 60's and 70's America with a nod to the everyman neighborhood bar. This is a place where it's still possible to get a decent burger and a glass of beer for under ten bucks. Here, the food is as retro as the look. So walk on in, step up to the Formica topped bar, order a cold beer and a Spam sandwich and take a little trip back in time.

Fried Spam and Egg sandwich

Classic BLT

Bacon wrapped, cheese covered Tater Tots
We really enjoyed the High Life Lounge and will definitely make the time to get back there when we're in Des Moines again. If you find yourself in Des Moines looking for some fun that won't break the bank give this place a try. A cold beer and a trip to rec rooms of yesteryear might be just the ticket.

Happy dining!