Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bosna-Mak (Louisville, KY)

3825 Bardstown Rd, Ste 108, Louisville, KY 40218, T: 502-456-1919

Bosna-Mak is a Bosnian "deli and international food store" on the outskirts of Louisville. The store is almost stereotypical East European, i.e. full of empty shelves. The only things they seem to sell is some powder soups and various types of pickled vegetables from the old country.

The restaurant is in the store and lacks any hint of atmosphere. The menu features some classics from the Austria-Hungarian empire, rather than classic Balkan food; for example, it has neither cevapcici nor pleskavica. :-( We start with the goulash soup ($3.50), which is a bit watery and tastes more like a (decent) beef soup. I order a large classic gyro sandwich, which is a bit like a Turkish doner kebab-it comes on nice bread, not too dense and not too airy (baked in the bakery next door), strong seasoned meat and good garlic sauce. M. has a small chicken gyro sandwich ($3.99), which has the same bread and sauce and juicy chunks of chicken.

VERDICT: 80/100
This would be fairly mediocre food in Bosnia, but it is quite good doner kebab in the US. The prices are very reasonable, but it comes at the price of decorum.

Zaytun Mediterranean Grill (Louisville, KY)

2286 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205, T: 503-365-1788

Zaytun is a small restaurant in the fun Highland area of Louisville, known for its many bars and restaurants. It serves Middle Eastern dishes, most notably several varieties of humus and gyros. The selling point is the build-your-own gyros, which features a long list of toppings.

We start with the Egyptian humus ($5), which is low fat, but has great consistency and is very tasty-like all humus, it comes with thin tasty and toasty "pita crunchers." I then have the Classic Gyros ($7.50), which looks amazing, but tastes quite bland. The lamb/beef is shaved so thin that it can hardly compete with the heavy, seemingly mayo-based, tzatziki. M. chooses Zaytun's Dream Dish ($9.50), which is a sampler of baba ganoush, Phoenecian or Egyptian humus (we choose the first), falafel, and tzatziki-she adds the grilled chicken for an additional $2. The bab ganoush is smokey, the humus nice and spicy, and the three big and round falafels dense but not dry with a good taste. The grilled chicken is dry and has an odd taste.

VERDICT: 80/100
Zaytun has decent Mediterranean food, but it is a bit hit and miss. The humus and falafel are the best, but the staple gyros is disappointing.

Handel's Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt (Fishers, IN)

8760 East 116th St, Fishers, IN, T: 317-525-8065

Handel's is a (North) Indianapolis institution with locations in the wealthy northern suburbs of Carmel and Fishers. It has an incredible selection of flavors of ice cream, including both classics (like chocolate and vanilla) and unexplained originals (like Buckeye, Graham Central Station, Elvis and Spouse Like A House). In addition, they have fat-free ice cream, seasonal specials, lowfat yogurts, pops, sherbets, smoothies, and sorbets. I was a bit intimidated by the choice, and confused by the pricing.

I tried to order three tastes, but was told that they could only fit two on a cone, so I decided to skip the dolce de leche and instead go for my favorite, banana, and one unique taste, that an old rocker like me couldn't refuse: Tin Lizzy. The banana was kind of bland, but the Tin Lizzy was simply decadent: vanilla ice cream with huge chunks of butterscotch and gooey caramel sauce. The cone with two flavors came to a whopping $5.35! And while it featured more like two scoops per flavor, I would have preferred just one scoop at half the price.

VERDICT: 82/100
Don't get me wrong, Handel's features some excellent and original homemade ice cream, and has enough different flavors to have you coming back for years, but some basic flavors are bland and both the portions and the prices are too much.

The Ram Restaurant & Brewery (Fishers, IN)

12750 Parkside Drive, Fishers, IN 46038, T: 317-596-0079

The Ram is a restaurant and brewery chain with locations in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, Washington. I had previously eaten at the restaurant in downtown Indianapolis, but didn't realize that it was a chain. I probably wouldn't have returned, as the first time the food was underwhelming (despite many recommendations by colleagues).

This time I came at exactly the right time; not only was it gorgeous weather, so I could sit outside on the terrace, but it was also the 4th annual Burger-Rama, which features eight original new burgers for a limited time. I had a really hard time choosing between the Sante Fe Rodeo, Burger Dog, and Hog Heaven, but decided on the last one. The Hog Heaven ($9.99) is a burger with a thick grilled pork patty, which was tasty but a bit dry, fresh watercress and strips of carrot and slaw, some spicy powder ad sauce. The side of fries was very crispy and fresh.

VERDICT: 83/100
Given my two experiences, The Ram has not yet convinced me. To be fair, the Hog Heaven was probably not the best choice, and I do hope to return to sample the Burger Dog to provide a more accurate assessment.

Emmy's Original Pancake House & Grill (Avon, IN)

7508 Beechwood, Center Suite 300, Avon, IN 46123, T: 317-272-7200

Situated in what must be a former Chinese restaurant in one of the many strip malls along the US-36 in Avon, Emmy's doesn't look like a classic diner, but it is. It has a huge menu, including the obligatory Greek food (i.e. gyros). It specializes in breakfast, however. I had come across some good reviews of the place, but was skeptical after trying some other highly recommended places in the area.

I ordered the Big Boy's Plater ($7.49): the three eggs were perfectly prepared (medium over), the bacon was crispy, and the sausages had a nice taste. I had substituted the hash browns for wheat toast, which was basic but thick, and had chosen the banana pecan nut pancakes, which were thick and fluffy and not too dry. M ordered the Vegetable Omelette ($6.99) and added regular pancakes for a small additional fee. Both were much appreciated.

VERDICT: 85/100
Emmy's is a great old-school diner in a Chinese restaurant/game hall setting. It offers big portions of good quality breakfasts at very acceptable prices.

Some of This, Some of That (Indianapolis, IN)

This food cart moves around; its location can be followed on its Facebook page.

Some of This, Some of That (or SOTSOT) is one of the new food carts that have recently emerged in Indianapolis. It moves around the city, and tends to situate itself close to office buildings, as the owner makes most of his money on catering and uses the cart to get gigs. SOTSOT offer creole and cajun dishes, notably po-boys.

When we arrive on a regular weekday afternoon, virtually everyone ignores SOTSOT and the cupcakes cart next to it. I guess food carts are still something to get used to in the city. I order a Catfish Po-Boy ($9), which is freshly prepared in the cart. As we wait, the owner gives us a (generous) sample of his jambalaya, which is absolutely delicious. The po-boy is huge and features not just a fresh catfish fillet, which is lightly battered and spiced, but crispy lettuce and tomato, a delicious homemade creole mustard, all on a fresh piece of excellent baguette. It is a struggle to eat, and my hands and mouth are covered with sauce, but damn is it tasty!

VERDICT: 90/100
SOTSOT is a fantastic food cart with a great owner, who deserves more business for both his cart and catering. The food is amazing, but the price is a bit (too) high.

Cafe Olivia (Indianapolis, IN)

222 East Market St, Indianapolis, IN 46204, T: 317-385-7839

Cafe Olivia in many ways defies conventions: (1) it serves great food in a market all; (2) it is run by Asians, yet specializes in Creole food; and (3) it serves great sandwiches in the Midwest. It has a couple of entrees as daily specials, but stands out for its broad range of sandwiches, many original creations. Unfortunately, as all stores in the Market Hall, it closes very early (usually around 2 PM).

I have been to Cafe Olivia several times and my favorite sandwich was the Porchetta, which somewhat resembles the Cuban, but combines smoked pork with bacon and a homemade spicy mayo. Tragically, they recently changed the menu and dropped the Porchetta! :-( So this time I settled for the closest resemblance, which was a sandwich with smoked pork, lettuce, tomato, and spicy mayo-and I added the crispy bacon. The sandwich is full of flavors and comes on a nice baguette, which is crispy and absorbs the juices and sauce.

VERDICT: 90/100
Cafe Olivia serves the best sandwiches in Indianapolis, hands down. It has a broad variety of sandwiches, which come on some of the best baguettes in the city. Just make sure that you are there for breakfast or (early) lunch, as it closes early!

La Boulangerie (New Orleans, LA)

4526 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115, T: 504-269-3777

Few things are what they seem in New Orleans, but La Boulangerie looks and is a real French bakery serving Old Continent quality bread, pastries, and sandwiches. It is located in Uptown, a hipster area close to Tulane University-and an oasis of relaxation after several days in the loud and tacky French Quarter. The place is always crowded with locals and tourists alike.

For a European stranded in the United States, who has enjoyed eight years of great bread and pastries in Antwerp, La Boulangerie is as close to heaven as you can get. It has an incredible range of breads and pastries, all freshly made with authentic ingredients. We had a whole range of things, which we spread out over breakfast and lunch. The croissant was crispy and flaky with a thin sweet coating-seriously one of the best I have ever had (even in France!). The chocolate croissant had the same base, but had two small sticks of high quality chocolate-delicious! The chicken sandwich had chunks of grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, and egg on a solid but not crunchy baguette-very tasty. The apple cinnamon pasty was a fresh, not too sweet, flaky pastry-top quality, reminding me of the best bakeries in Antwerp. Finally, the almond chocolate croissant was covered with slivers of almond and filled with almond paste and chocolate-SCRUMPTIOUS!!! In addition, they had some good coffee too.

VERDICT: 97/100
La Boulangerie is as close to France as you can get in the US. It is not just the best French bakery I have visited in the US, it would even be considered a good place in Paris.

Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine (Lexington, KY)

306 Fieldstone Way, suite # 1200, Lexington, KY 40513, T: 859-224-1138

Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine serves Middle Eastern food in a strip mall on the outskirts of Lexington. The freshness and quality of the food is ensured by the shop next door, which is part of the same store. You go up to the counter to order, after first checking out the different meats on the skewers and salads in the counter. The variety is huge, although they tend to run out of certain dishes (undoubtedly linked to the fact that all is freshly made that day).

We ordered a regular humus ($3.29) and cucumber yoghurt salad ($3.29) as starters. Both were fresh and tasty and came with Lebanese bread. For entrees we had a Baba's Special ($11.79), where you pick two meats (I had beef kabob and beef shawarma) -which come with rice, bread, and garlic sauce, chicken shawarma over salad ($9.99), and Fattoosh ($3.29). The beef kabob was tender and well grilled, the chicken shawarma was tasy and came in an enormous portion, and the beef shawarma was ok. The Fattoosh was fresh and tasty and had amazing crispy pita chips in it. Everything tasted fresh, and was of good quality-particularly for a strip mall in Kentucky!

VERDICT: 85/100
Sahara offers some of the most authentic and fresh Middle Eastern food in the Midwest. Its portions are generous and come at very decent prices. Definitely worth a visit!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cafe Wayo (Auburn, AL)

1100 S College St #101, Auburn, AL 36832, T: 334-821-8884

Self-serve frozen yoghurt places are the newest fad in the restaurant business. Everywhere wannabe entrepreneurs open some fresh looking shops with the hope to have the new franchise model. Cafe Wayo isn't much different, except that it adds Belgian waffles and cereal bowls to the equation. Moreover, the personnel (owner?) is very enthusiastic and helpful.

I order a "sugar waffle" ($1.25), which is freshly made on the griddle and comes fairly close to a real Liege waffle. It has an authentic consistency and includes sugar nuggets, but the first taste is a bit off. There is a broad range of choices of froyo, which are all very fresh, while the toppings are small diced. We get two full cups for $15 in total. The mango is very good, while the pink lemonade is perfect, very refreshing. The cheesecake is not too sweet, but unfortunately the original tart is not very tarty either.

VERDICT: 91/100
Cafe Wayo is one of the best froyo places I have visited in the past year... and I have visited a few. Moreover, on top of the great froyo, this place offers very good Belgian waffles. Can't go wrong here!

Moores Bar & Restaurant (Greencastle, IN)

17 South Indiana Street, Greencastle, IN 46135, T: 765-653-9939

Moores Bar & Restaurant is towny bar in the center of Greencastle, which attracts some students in the weekend. I read that it had recently changed owners, so I decided to give it a try on a weekday night. At the bar were a couple of locals, drinking and talking. I was the only one ordering food.

To play it safe, I ordered the Tenderloin Sandwich ($6) with steak fries ($3). The tenderloin was big, breaded, fried... and fairly tasteless. It came on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a lot of mayo. Greasy but bland. The fries came straight from Wal-Mart and were undercooked. Gross!

VERDICT: 53/100
Moores Bar serves poor pub food at pretty high prices. While there are few alternatives in Greencastle, you can do better.

Al's Donuts (Plainfield, IN)

311 W Main St (US-40), Plainfield, IN 46168, T: 317-838-8694

I pass Al's Donuts every day to work, but it either isn't open or I am in too big a hurry to stop. Today I finally had time and found it open, at 9.15 AM. Turns out, I was just in time, as Al's is open from 2.30 till 9.30 AM. I don't know how, but they do enough business during these ghastly hours, as the shop looked plundered.

I ordered one regular glazed, one chocolate covered and cream filled, and a special apple spice(all together just under $3). The donuts are not very big, but fresh and very tasty. The original was airy and a bit chewy, the Bavarian-style had a great cream filling, not too sweet or sour, while the apple spice was dense and hearty but with a maple glaze.

VERDICT: 91/100
Al's Donuts makes fresh old-school donuts, which are among the best I have had. Unfortunately, they close by the time I get out of the house.

Clover Grill (New Orleans, LA)

900 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, T: 504-598-1010

Clover Grill is a hole in the wall in the gay part of Bourbon Street and a New Orleans institution. It is open 24h and attracts a broad variety of people throughout the day. When I enter, on a Friday evening around 6.30, it is packed, which isn't difficult as it only holds some 20 people, with a lively group of gay guys from New York.

I order the burger ($5.79) and add chili (+$1.25) and jalapens (+$.1.25). The 1/2 lb patty is frozen and broiled under a cap on the griddle. Together with the tasty fresh-made chili and spicy jalapenos it is a great old-school burger. The side of French fries (+$2.75) is plentiful and pretty good.

VERDICT: 90/100
Clover Grill is without a shadow of a doubt the gayest pig out spot I have ever eaten. However, it is also a real grease hut, in the best possible way. They serve unpretentious quality food. You overpay a bit for the location, but get compensated by a unique experience!

Johnny's Po-Boys (New Orleans, LA)

511 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans, LA, T: 504-525-8037

Johnny's P0-Boys is a real grease hut in the French Quarter, which serves a broad variety of po-boys, the quintessential New Orleans sandwich. As several other restaurants in the city, they claim to serve "New Orleans finest po-boys." The fact that they have been around since 1950 might be an indication that they are right.

I decided to visit Johnny's for breakfast, and although I was tempted by the greasy smell and delicious sights of greasy fried fish po-boys, I decided to stay light and get a bacon and egg po-boy. As I skipped the lettuce, tomato, may and pickle, the sandwich looked fairly light - while the price was rather heavy ($7.63). It would have been a basic bacon and egg sandwich, if it weren't for the excellent (airy) French bread.

VERDICT: 82/100
Johnny's Po-Boys is a real pig out spot, where you can get a broad range of greasy po-boys on excellent French bread. My sandwich was good, but clearly overpriced. However, I would definitely come back to try a more hearty one.

The Hungry Owl (Mobile, AL)

7899 Cottage Hill Rd, Mobile, AL 36695, T: 251-633-4479

The Hungry Owl is a nice spacy sports bar with gourmet bar food. It is remarkably quiet and features a real open kitchen. I had seen it on Man v Food, where Adam had eaten their Famous Stuffed Tony Burger. Unfortunately, these burgers are all made in the morning and contain cheese. :-( So, I had to go for an alternative, but fortunately there were many delicious options.

I opted for the Original Burger ($8.95) and added candied jalapenos (+$.99), crispy Cahuna bacon (+$1.79), Cahuna sausage, and creole BBQ sauce. The thick and juicy burger comes on a good bread bun. Mixed with the sweet bacon and meaty sausage tastes and a kick of the BBQ sauce and jalapenos: absolutely delicious! As a side I had the Slaw Louise, which is made with vinegar instead of mayo. Very light, very fresh, very good! My wife had the Alligator & Crab Cake Burger ($10.99), which tasted a bit like the perfect crab cake; creamy, meaty, crspy on the outside. The added candied jalapenos (+$0.99) gave it extra flavor.

VERDICT: 95/100
The Hungry Owl is a perfect place to eat high quality food, including a big tasty burger. I am sure the Tony is amazing and I hope to one day convince them to make one without cheese.

Cafe Beignet (New Orleans, LA)

334 B Royal Street, New Orleans, LA, T: 504-524-5530

Café Beignet is a cute little café in the heart of the French Quarter serving coffee, sandwiches, and… beignets. Even out of season the place was packed with tourists.

I ordered a double espresso ($2.99) and a portion of beignets ($2.99). The espresso was bitter but not very strong. The beignets, which come in one portion of three, were very thick and covered with powder sugar. While fresh and still warm, the powder sugar was hardly absorbed by the doughy and largely tasteless beignets. The only good thing of them was that they made me appreciate the beignets of Café du Monde even more.

VERDICT: 56/100

While the beignets are much bigger than at Café du Monde, they have none of the flavor. Clearly not the place to eat beignets in New Orleans.