Thursday, October 31, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Woodburn Shanks Pit Style BBQ

Woodburn Shanks
Woodburn ShanksI've been eagerly awaiting the opening of Woodburn Shanks when someone told me about their kickstarter. Derrick Shanks and Alex Schoetz began the venture, but Schoetz left at some point. Shanks continued working, and I sent him an email asking when it might be finished back in January.

Woodburn ShanksHe told me: "I still need to get approved by the local health dept, which is going to require some elbow grease between now and then. I am starting on such a tiny budget, so I am literally doing everything myself, from fabricating the smokers, the logo and graphic design, and the restoration of the 33 year old truck (at this point it's just me, Alex has left the venture). If I had to estimate, I think I will be open in 6-7 weeks."

Fast-forward a few months later - after I moved across the state and back again - he posted on my Facebook to check out their location, which has switched from foodtruck to actual shop in the old Morgantown Mall. They have their truck and smoker in the back parking lot, but you can walk up to the actual storefront in the mall to get a bite to eat.

Woodburn ShanksThey're only open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., so it's not bad for me considering I work close to the old mall. I imagine the folks who work at the mall and around there frequent it, but beyond Woodburn Shanks, there's not much in that old mall anymore.

Shanks was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. So, they specialize in Kansas City Style BBQ. From their page:

"He learned from an early age BBQ was his favorite food. So he built a smoker and forged his technique.  It’s a slow and long process to make excellent BBQ and Derrick is truly a master."

"Derrick Shanks, a Kansas City Style pit-master will provide meats rubbed with a Kansas City style rub and smoked to perfection. In our world that means the just the right amount of meat falling off the bone, the smoked flavor isn't hidden by sauce, but you can add sauce as you like. The mild sauce we provide has been named twice by the American Royal, the 'Best Sauce on the Planet.' We also have a hot version, and a Western Carolina sauce for those that don't dig sweets."


Woodburn ShanksYou order at the counter - and they take cards - and the woman prepares the food right there for you. It's basically already made and they just assemble it for you. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and for the two sides: cheesey corn and slaw. I grabbed one of each kind of sauce - a mild and a hot version - before taking a seat at a table in front.

Kansas City Style has lots of savory spices, sweet rubs and sauces that are then smoked in a pit for hours. Woodburn Shanks falls in that category. The pulled pork was smokey and tender and lovely. I like that some pieces were darker and had more texture. I like having the sauce on the side so I can add to it as I choose. While both of the sauces were good - I liked the more sweet mild sauce. It's a solid sandwich. One of the best I've found in  town. 

Unfortunately, neither of the two sides did it for me. The slaw was slathered in mayo and had no real flavor - just sog. And the cheesy corn, while it sounds great by description, it did nothing for me. I couldn't tell it was cheesy - it just tasted kind of greasy. High hopes for sides to complement the great sandwich, but fell flat.

Try the pulled pork sandwich, but maybe opt for the baked beans next time.

Grade: B
Woodburn Shanks Pit Style BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Regional BBQ

As Morgantown quickly ventures toward being the BBQ capital of West Virginia - somehow - I think it's interesting to note the various kinds of BBQ. I do not have much experience in these areas, but I do know people who are loyal Texas BBQ lovers and go only for brisket, while others who are Carolina faithful and choose pork every time.

BBQ Smokehouse Catering has a pretty quick and simple page for guidelines on the different types:

Texas Style: The State where beef is king and brisket is the crown prince. Beef ribs aren’t bad either. Texans like their barbecue “naked”, or with side sauces that tend to be a blend of tomato thinned with vinegar and Worcestershire. They are the least sweet of the tomato based sauces.
Memphis Style: Memphis style barbecue is known for wet marinated pork ribs that are also basted while smoking. Another style of ribs is to apply dry rub during or right after they’ve been cooked. Pork shoulders, and butts are done the same way. Mild, sweet and spicy rubs, as well as mopping sauces, are basted on periodically during cooking. Want more about Memphis style barbecue? Check out Memphis: The Great BBQ Debate.

Kansas City Style: This is where southern barbecue influences are artfully combined with Western Beef and Pork. The meat is liberally seasoned with savory spices, sweet rubs and sauces then smoked in a hickory-stoked pit for hours.
Thick and sticky sweet sauces are slathered onto pork ribs and tangy briskets. You can learn more about Kansas City barbecue at www.experiencekc.com

Carolina Style: The State that’s gone whole hog over barbecue. More signs with dancing pink pigs are found here than anywhere else! Pig pickin’s and pulled pork are mixed with thin vinegar based sauces to make an incredibly flavorful and juicy barbecue! (You can tell its one of my favorites.)

Sauce variations are heavily laced with secret spice blends of salt, pepper, red pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic, nutmeg, molasses, whiskey, and brown sugar.

We favor the Eastern variety of North Carolina sauce. The Western North Carolina sauce has a wee little bit of tomato in it, and for me, its not as distinctive as Eastern. You can learn about North Carolina barbecue at www.nctravel.com.

South Carolina style barbecue sauce contains mustard, which was first added by the large contingent of Germans colonists that were among the first Europeans to settle there.

Morgantown Edition: Clutch Wing Shop

UntitledUntitledClutch Wings burst onto the Morgantown restaurant scene not too long ago. They have a sister store in Tailpipes, which has been well-known for its awesome social media and online presence. Clutch Wings followed suit by tweeting specials, contests and free food. Who doesn't love free food?

Clutch Wing Shop boasts itself as the only place in town that focuses solely on wings and wing delivery. And like Tailpipes, they have created some interesting combinations that piqued my interest. They have tater tots. You can get them with ketchup. Or with Cheez Wiz. Or with Cheez Wiz and candied bacon. Or, you can get them with mac and cheese, Cheez Wiz and Sriracha ketcup.

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They also have sandwiches or "melts," which have some sort of cold cut with a cheese, some veggies and something like pistachio pesto mayo, jamaican mayo, balsamic, aioli, or some other type of dressing.

But the wings are their specialty - boneless, traditional or tofu.They have five main categories: Buffalo style, BBQ, Far East Flavors, Dry Rubs and Best of the Best. Buffalo Style has traditional, old bay, hot, honey jalapeno, hot garlic and stupid. BBQ has sweet honey, hot, Cajun, Asian BBQ and sweet peach. Far East Flavors has teriyaki, Korean, sweet chili, orange ginger and kung pao. Dry Rubs include ranch, old bay, lemon pepper, taco and red hot. Best of the best includes Tailpipes fry sauce, garlic butter, Pb and j, and curry.

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I ordered six boneless Asian BBQ and six Sweet Chili. I know those are like two similar ones, but I wanted one from BBQ and one from Far East, and those were the ones I wanted!  You can get them with ranch, bleu cheese, avocado ranch, spicy ranch or Clutch sauce. I didn't see the Clutch sauce or I would've ordered that. Instead, I got the bleu cheese and avocado ranch. With a drink, my total came to $15.30. Pricey for 12 wings and a drink.

UntitledSix wings are $6.29. 12 wings are $12.49. 18 wings are $17.99. 24 wings are $23.99. 50 wings are $48.29.

Let's backtrack for a second. The outside is barely recognizable as a restaurant. Luckily I knew their logo, so I found it. There is some parking in front, which is a plus. Inside, it's bare. It doesn't have a theme like Tailpipes does. And, there's just one table. So if you're trying to eat in, look elsewhere. They focus primarily on delivery. So, if you're getting delivery, it's also going to add a couple extra bucks to your total. The price is getting fairly steep here.

But are they good? Yeah, they weren't bad. I really liked the Sweet Chili ones a lot better than the Asian BBQ ones. They had the spice I was looking for, and the BBQ ones seemed to fall flat in comparison. Both sauces were tasty and the avocado ranch was unique - a little bit of fresh flavor to the ranch.

The BBQ ones also seemed to be a bit more dry, but they probably just cooked a tad too long. I kind of have a hard time paying this much for chopped up chicken fingers with sauce because I know other places sell them for so much cheaper. But if you're looking for something different with unique sauces - check them out. And I'm sure kinks - such as inconsistencies in cooking - will be worked out as they find their groove. That would be worth the price.

Grade: B
Clutch Wing Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Charleston Edition: Noah's Eclectic Bistro

Noah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic Bistro has been taunting me with its enticing aromas and modest hours since I moved to Charleston. A menu that changes weekly, a small dining area and higher prices, this place was nearly unattainable for some time. I tried to walk in once, but they were booked that night. That made me want to go even more. In one of my final nights in Charleston, my friend Brittany and I made reservations (highly suggested - 304-343-6558) to secure our spot, dressed up a bit and pretended like we had the money to spend.

Noah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic Bistro
Noah's is located on McFarland Street, right across from Charleston Newspapers. Luckily, my parking garage was right there, so parking wasn't an issue for me. For others, it's downtown parking, so do with that what you will. It's only open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Noah's Eclectic BistroIt has just 11 tables, and the menu changes weekly to accommodate seasonal ingredients. Inside, it's pretty minimal. Dark woods, nothing on the tables, save for napkin and silverware, dark curtains, kind of dark. Where we were seated, we could see the prep area outside the kitchen, so it was cool seeing dishes so delicately prepared and sent to the customer. It also made us incredibly impatient and excited for every meal.

Our server brought us water and menus. Because it changes weekly, the menus are very limited. I kind of liked that, though, and between the two of us, we had half of what' son the menu. To start out, we both got an appetizer: she got the "stuffed fried fresh morels" while I got the "braised chicken empanadas."

Noah's Eclectic BistroThe stuffed fried fresh morels were probably one of my least favorite dishes of the night. That said, it's better than many dishes you'd get at an average restaurant. There was goat cheese stuffed inside the mushroom, which was supposed to be "lightly" tempura fried, with garlic cream and baby greens. My problem is that it was SO fried that I didn't get the fresh mushroom taste and it fought with the cheese flavor. When I had pieces that were less fried, the garlic cream sauce was lovely.

I loved the empanadas. They were served with pico de gallo, queso fresco and salsa verde. Unlike the mushrooms, these were cooked perfectly with a slight crisp on the outside but pillowy inside. Full of fresh, vibrant flavors. It was lighter and a much better option of the two we had. Both of these were fairly small for being $15 and $11, respectively. But empanadas win on both flavor and value.

Noah's Eclectic BistroFor my main course, I went with the crab crusted tempura fried jumbo sea scallops. Brittany ordered the pan roasted gulf black grouper. When mine came out, it was a huge heap of brilliant colors and textures and I couldn't wait to dig in. It was large sea scallops skewered with crab on top, which was all then tempura fried with stir-fry vegetables, spicy mayo and soy sauce. It was kind of amazing. It was fried, but in a much lighter way than the appetizers, and it didn't control the flavor - it just accented it.

It was just fantastic. Between the slightly crunchy vegetables and the crisp of the batter, the sweet tang of the sauce - the scallops were cooked perfectly. Just divine.

Noah's Eclectic BistroBrittany's dish was also a lovely concoction of flavors. The grouper was atop a bed of risotto, kale, stewed tomatoes and shaved parmesan. It was this plate of different levels of colors and textures. While Brittany was not sold when she took a bite of the fish, when she combined all the elements together in a bite, it sung for her.

I did the same thing - tried everything at once - some sauce, some risotto, some tomato, some fish, and it was just great. Her dish was a good bit bigger and maybe more filling than mine, but I think the flavors of mine were a bit more bold.

Noah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic Bistro

For dinner, we both wanted the fresh lemon curd, which is phyllo crisps, fresh berries and mascarpone cream. But instead, we ordered one of those and one of the mixed berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Thank god we opted for both.

Noah's Eclectic BistroNoah's Eclectic Bistro

The lemon dessert was fresh and had a citrusy flavor, but it was almost too much. I think the curd have been toned way down so that the marscapone and fresh berries have a role. It was just too acidic - to the point where my lips puckered a few times.

The cobbler - while safe - was phenomenal. It was baked in this cup that had this light flakey topping and just a heavenly mixture of berries inside. On top was a scoop of ice cream. It was like every ounce of comfort food wrapped up in a luxurious shell. It was warm, thick, sweet, flaky, cold all at once. A great thing.

One of my favorite restaurants in Charleston, but definitely not one that a journalist budget could afford often.

Grade: A
Noah's Eclectic Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Charleston Edition: Creperi Cafe (Kanawha City)

Cafe Creperie
Cafe CreperieI've always thought that the Creperi Cafe (I'm actually not sure if it's Creperi Cafe or Cafe Creperi - I've seen it both ways) is a creative idea. Have an entire menu based around crepes - a universally delicious food. It's different, and it's fun. Or maybe I just like a well-executed theme.

Cafe CreperieCreperi Cafe fought me, though. I tried and tried and tried to dine at this establishment, but it was always closed. For one reason or another - during hours they were supposed to be open. Just when I was about to give up trying to give them my money, I tried one more time. And they happened to be open.

Cafe CreperieTheir second location is in South Charleston, but since this is the original, I was even more excited. It's located in Kanawha City in a small plaza with a sub shop. A decent sized parking lot is out front, and the building looks like a quaint house from the outside.

Cafe CreperieInside, bright colors splashed the walls, and at the front was a counter to place our orders. They have breakfast crepes, chocolate crepes, light meal crepes, and ice cream crepes. Since it was around dinner time, my friend Matt and I both got the Crepe de Salmon.

What's pretty cool is you can watch them make the crepes right in front of you. It's a delicate and kind of beautiful thing.

Cafe CreperieMy crepe contained smoke salmon, fresh spring mix, onion, roma tomatoes, black olives, greek dressing and feta because they were out of smoke gouda. $6.95 plus my drink.

It's a fairly large portion and full of goodies. And it's light and feels healthy. Think salad wrapped up in a brittle crepe. Fresh, light and a little tang with the dressing. Tasty.

Grade: A Creperi Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nitro Edition: Tudor's Biscuit World

Let's keep this short and sweet. I didn't think to take a photo at the time, but considering this is one of my favorite Tudor's locations now, I want to document it.

First off, it's open 24 hours. I'm not quite sure how that happens, but it's true. It's the same kind of greasy biscuits you'll get anywhere else, but it kind of tastes a whole lot better after driving from Huntington back home.

Biscuit - huge, gooey, cheesey, crunchy bacon, soft biscuit. Mm.

Grade: A
Tudor's Biscuit World on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Charleston Edition: Taylor Books

Taylor BooksTaylor Books is an institution in Charleston. I knew about Taylor Books before even moving to Charleston. In fact, I had written about it when I was freelancing for the Charleston Daily Mail. I met Ann, the owner, for the story, and she was just amazing. She is the most sincere, wittiest woman in Charleston, I'm sure. I hope to be half the woman she is some day.

And I spoke with her again recently for another story about her raising chickens on the top of Taylor Books. I mean, does it get much better? So, yes, I'm totally biased. I love this place. I love absolutely everything about it. It's situated in the heart of downtown Charleston, so walking there was always lovely. It is a locally owned book store that also has an cafe, gallery and more. It's a hub for culture in Charleston, and it is truly a home away from home.

Taylor BooksIt is the perfect place to relax with a book, to meet up with friends for coffee, to do an interview, check out local art, whatever. It's a perfect blend of everything I want in my free time. They even have wine.

The cafe is stocked with scones or muffins that Ann wakes up early to make. They're all delicious - you can't really go wrong. What's pictured to the left here is a pumpkin cheesecake latte. I mean, c'mon. What more could you ask for in life?

It's the best coffee shop in West Virginia. I think I can say that confidently. It's well-liked, and if you haven't been here, you're doing yourself a huge disservice.

Buy a book. Stroll through the gallery. Get some coffee and a scone. Scope out the passers-by. Revel in one of the best establishments Charleston has to offer.

Grade: A
Taylor Books on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 25, 2013

Charleston Edition: Hawaiian Grille

Hawaiian GrilleIt was only proper that I round out the food court at the Charleston Town Center, right? I've reviewed both China Max and Sakkio Japan. Next on my list was Hawaiian Grille.

Their sign says burgers, hot dogs and chicken. It definitely has items influenced with what I think of as  Asian flavors - the eggrolls, noodles and sweet/sour chicken. When I went up to the counter, I received samples of the pineapple chicken and Hawaiian chicken. They're barely discernible, but both sweet and tangy. I got half and half with noodles and an egg roll.

Hawaiian GrilleSo it's food court food, made in large batches which means things probably aren't totally measured out and are made to feed large amounts of people quickly. But, it's good. It's tasty, that is.

The chicken is clobbered in a thick, sweet, tangy sauce that could probably make anything taste decent. But I enjoy that sweet and sour combo, so I'm happy. Noodles were not bad. They were a little cooler by the time I got them, but flavor was decent. The egg roll was full of mushy celery and other things I didn't know, so I'd stay away from that one. That was bad. But the main meat entrees and noodles, I'd definitely try again.

Grade: B
Hawaiian Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Charleston Edition: Bear's Den


Bear's DenBear's DenBear's Den

Am I the only one who thought the Bear's Den was a gay bar? Yes? Just me? Okay then.

The Bear's Den is not a gay bar, just for the record.

Bear's DenIt's located near the opposite end of Capitol Street - near the Capitol Market. The only giveaway that it was a restaurant was that there was a chef statue outside donning the day's meals,and since it was close, it became the day's lunch.

The menu is not huge, but it has some typical sandwiches like burgers, chicken, grilled cheese, club. I went for the "Bear's Burger," which has fresh ground beef, onions, mushrooms, peppers and provolone cheese. I got that with a small side of pasta salad in lieu of fries.

Bear's DenLet's start from the outside in - the bun was lovely because it was toasted and buttered. Lovely. The burger was thick and juicey. Could've used some more seasoning. Toppings - fine. I really like some tomato and lettuce with my burger, but the peppers were fine. I think some fresh veggies - not just sauteed ones - would kick it up a notch. But it was still an overall solid burger.

The pasta salad had seen better days. Devoid of much flavor and just kind of a cold, mushy mess.

Grade: B
Bear's Den on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Charleston Edition: Kaifu Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar


KaifuKaifuJust when I thought I was running out of the more popular restaurants in town, I saw this Kaifu Japanese Cuisine restaurant was rated fairly high on Urbanspoon. That led me to ask my friend Jessica her opinion of it. She was quite fond of this little place I hadn't heard of, so I knew I had to try it.

It could probably be in a nicer area of town, but there is a parking lot just behind there, so parking isn't crazy. It's just near the transit mall, so luckily we were there during the day time. It truly is tucked away, so it'd be pretty easy to miss.

KaifuKaifu

KaifuWhen we walked in, there was only one other gentleman eating. That was good, though, because we got the immediate attention of the waitress who took our drink orders. They have special rolls on a board, and an avocado/shrimp one caught my eye. That, and I got a Philadelphia roll, which has typical salmon, cream cheese and cucumber. AND I got gyoza for an appetizer.

Gyoza is just a dumpling filled with a pork mixture and fried. Delicious with a side of sauce made of soy and vinegar.

KaifuKaifuBoth of the rolls were good, too. They were fresh and sturdy. Full of flavor. And better quality than what you get at most West Virginia restaurants.

Jessica got a lunch box full of all kinds of goodies. So, that's an option, too.

Grade: A
Kaifu Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon