Friday, January 31, 2014

Morgantown Edition: Jasmine Grill

Jasmine Grill
It seems almost as quickly as Golden Finch became a staple in Morgantown, it quickly vanished. With what seems like an unanticipated departure, Golden Finch posted on their Facebook in November:

"It's time to say good bye
But I think good byes are sad
and I'd rather say hello.
Hello to a new adventure"
Thank you for your patronage
The Thompsons

I'm not sure if there was something more going on behind the scenes, but it seemed like one day, they just decided to close without warning.

That brings us to Jasmine Grill - the brand new Mediterranean restaurant located in the location - 330 High Street. I couldn't find much about the restaurant online, except this kind of mysterious video. And just the other day, they were added to Urbanspoon. After a quick Twitter search (I'm pretty creepy, I know), I saw two mentions about it and realized it was open, so I dragged co-workers Jake and Tony to check it out with me.

Jasmine GrillThey are in the very, very early stages. Like, I'm pretty sure I went the second day they were open. So, some things probably aren't finalized yet. They took advantage of the large windows at this location by plastering some photos and other papers inside them.

Jasmine GrillJasmine GrillOne of which mentions that "Jasmine" is derived from the nickname of Damascus - the capital and the second-largest city of Syria. The sign also says to dine here if you want something authentic, amusing and healthy.

Jasmine GrillJasmine GrillOkay, cool. I walked in and stood awkwardly at the door and asked if we seat ourselves or if we wait to be seated. The gentleman working promptly told me that I order at the counter. Oh, okay. Little different than what I was expecting.

At the counter, they had three menus. I looked at it briefly - but because we were under a watchful eye and I had no idea what to order - then took it back to a table to figure out what I wanted.

Jasmine GrillThey have hummus, grape leaves, falafel, and fries for appetizers. For salads and soups, they have a Syrian oriental salad, tabbouleh and lentil soup. Sandwiches: falafel wrap, kebab sandwich, shish tawook sandwich (marinated chicken, cream sauce in a pita), shaworma chicken (chicken skin strips, cream sauce), potato sandwich and soujouk sandwich (spicy beef on a panini grill). And then there are mixed platters - grilled kebab, grilled tawook (marinated chicken), mixed grilled kebab and tawook, shaworma chicken, and pasta.

Jasmine GrillI went for the mixed grilled kebab and tawook platter so I could essentially taste two dishes.I ordered that, plus a little spinach pie that were already premade on the counter. They also had meat and vegetable ones. And I ordered a fountain drink.

I paid about $16, with tip, and sat down. A few moments later, I was delivered a piping hot spinach pie. Because it had been made then reheated, the bread was a little soft, but almost in a gummy way.

But it was good - spinach was just the tiniest bit bitter, but seasoned very well.

I was getting fairly thirsty at this point, but we didn't receive our fountain drinks until our main dishes came out. Which is a little odd - if the fountain drink station is right there, should probably just give drinks when you order. No big deal, though.

Jasmine GrillWhen my order came out, it was certainly a pretty sight. On the left was a pita with some parsley and spicy tomato sauce inside. Then came a long line of the tawook - marinated chicken - with two grilled tomatoes, some seasoned rice, the kebab, tabbouleh and tomato sauce. They clearly put some thought into balancing the sweet, the salty, the acidic.

I really don't know what this pita thing was - I'm sure someone will correct me. But it had some heat to it. Nice for a little punch of flavor. The tawook chicken was delicious. The chicken is marinated in EVOO and lemon and it was just grilled and seasoned well. Flavorful, moist, good blend of herbs and spices. The rice was also well-seasoned, and I shoveled spoonfuls of it, paired with the grilled tomato, into my mouth.

The kebab was like a long sausage. It was pretty flavorful, but I had some trouble cutting it with the plastic cutlery. There were also paper plates, which don't really elevate the overall impression of the restaurant. Splurge on some forks and knives so I can cut the meat easier. But it was pretty tasty. It wasn't, however, totally cooked well-done. Rarely will I ask for something well-done, but unless it's a fresh cut of meat, I'd rather have it cooked well. Sausages, especially made of a few different types of meat - lamb and beef in this case (I don't think pork was in it) - make me feel more comfortable if it's cooked through. Steak? Give it to me medium. Fresh cuts of meat only have bacteria living on the outside. If it's mixed up like a sausage or kebab, it gets everywhere. If I trust a place, I'll order the medium-well burger. But anyway.

The tabbouleh - fresh parsley, mined onion, lemon and EVOO - was perfect when I wanted a something light, fresh to a bite. And the tomato sauce was perfect for adding some heartiness and robust flavor. I appreciate the thought that went into my meal to round out flavors.

Tony had a sandwich he was a pretty big fan of. Surprising, considering how much he hates everything else. Here's what he had to say:

"The Shish Tawook Sandwich is a great example of two cultures coming together in one dish. It’s basically an Americanized version of traditional Syrian food. The star of the dish was the chicken, which was marinated nicely in citrus and curry flavors. The sandwich, which was more like a wrap or burrito made from pita, also had french fries, garlic cream sauce, a sauce similar to ketchup, pickles and cooked mild peppers on it. It was unexpected, surprising and I would definitely get it again. Try it if you're not so sure about Syrian food."

With a few tweaks - like cutlery and making sure the food is cooked all the way through - will take this place to the next level. So far, though, I was pleasantly surprised with a well-thought out menu, some new additions and some creativity.

They're open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. They can be reached at 304-291-7878.

Grade: B
Jasmine City Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 27, 2014

Morgantown Edition: Garcia's Latin Market

Garcia's Latin MarketGarcia's Latin MarketGarcia's Latin Market was located on Pleasant Street until they recently moved to the former Carvel location next to the Warner Theater on High Street. When I wrote about them before, they were a market specializing in Latin foods and merchandise. Over summer, they sold tacos in front of their new building, and now, with the new location set up, they've expanded to offering lunch.

Garcia's Latin MarketInside, it seems as though there is less merchandise for sale (though they do still have their homemade tortillas!) to make room for a couple high-top tables. Not an ideal place for more than one or two people per party. I went with four co-workers - Jake, Diana, Tony and Sean - and we pushed two tables together. It was still a snug fit.

Garcia's Latin MarketGarcia's Latin MarketYou order at the counter to the left. There's a marker board showing what the day's specials were, and they post their specials on Facebook daily. On this particular day, they had the coconut chicken tacos (1 for $3.50 and two for $6) and nachos ($3) on special. Their regular tacos were chipotle pork BBQ (mild or spicy), bean and potato, bean and cheese, and chorizo and potato. The tacos were one for $3 or two for $5. They had a Jamaican hibiscus drink and a coffee on special, as well as pineapple cake. Salsa and chips were $1.50.

BUT. READ THIS. While they didn't have a special meal deal listed on the marker board, they mentioned it when I began ordering. I got a coconut chicken taco, a chorizo and potato taco, chips and salsa, the hibiscus drink and a slice of pineapple cake for about $8. Find me a better deal anywhere in town.

Dare you.

Garcia's Latin MarketGarcia's Latin Market

After a little wait - they were pretty busy - my food came out. There seem to be some kinks in service. One member of my group was called to the counter to pick up his stuff, while the rest of ours were delivered. And they didn't ask me when I ordered what I wanted on my tacos, but right before they got ready to deliver them, they asked, but then got it wrong. It didn't matter. The service was still kind and super accommodating, which is what's most important. Smooth running will take more time.

Garcia's Latin MarketMy food took up half my table, but I'm certainly not complaining. First thing I tried was the chips and salsa. Chips were fresh, salty. Salsa was mild for the most part, with just a little tiny hint of spice. Good bit of cilantro.

First taco: coconut chicken. I wish this was a regular taco, because it is so good. It was shredded chicken in a slightly sweet coconut sauce. As Sean would say, it was "sweet heat." I don't know if I would've picked up "coconut" from the taste, but it was a light, sweet, milky sauce that was perfect in a homemade tortilla, shredded cheese and a few fairly mild jalapeno peppers. It was really, really good. They're pretty small, though, so I'm glad I got at least two.

Garcia's Latin MarketThe chorizo and potato taco was good, but not as good as my first. I think it was more of a texture issue. I was expecting maybe chopped and fried potatoes. instead, these were mashed, and the chorizo was also sort of mashed, so everything was just mushed together. After my coconut chicken taco, this one was a bit more bland. Maybe some cheese or jalapenos on this one would've kicked it up a bit more for me. However, I would take this any day, every day over the other lackluster tacos in town.

I really, really like this place. It's small, but it's genuine. I appreciate that they're being creative and doing something different. These tacos are unlike other tacos you'd get in town. It's not the same refried beans, overcooked rice, flavorless guacamole and insert random meat item here. It's good. It gets your tastebuds dancing, and it's fun. And, the folks working here seem great. I hope they make some more room, because I have a feeling they're going to get some customers.

Grade: A
Garcia's Latin Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Clarksburg Edition: Minard's Spaghetti Inn

MinardNorth Central West Virginia is well known for their Italian cuisine - apparently from Italian immigrants who had been recruited to work in mining and glass manufacturing. There are a number of iconic Italian restaurants in the area, including Muriale's in Fairmont and Puglioni's or Oliverio's in Morgantown. Minard's Spaghetti Inn is the Clarksburg equivalent of that - local, Italian, and beloved in the area. It even earned a spot on the 101 unique places to dine in West Virginia.

I feel like I first heard about Minard's when I saw their sauce for sale, but since I can't find anywhere that says anything about them selling their sauce, I might just be crazy. Regardless, I had a free Saturday night and so did Tony, so we made the small trip there to see what all the commotion was about.


Once we got the address right on the GPS, it was easy to find. It's 813 EAST Pike St., FYI. And, it's a really pretty building, actually. I was expecting something older, possibly run down. But it looks like a house that was transformed into a restaurant. I dig it. Inside, there are some kind of old-school decorations - it is 75 years old afterall - some odd nooks and crannies, but comfortable. Just like you'd want an Italian dinner to be.

MinardTheir menu has the traditional spaghetti, ravioli, baked ziti, stuffed shells, rigatonni, lasagna, eggplant parmesan and some white sauce options like chicken fettuccine alfredo. Nothing really new or inventive, but classic Italian fare in Appalachia.

My mother's stuffed shells were my favorite meal growing up. I would beg for stuffed shells in place of ham for Christmas - and sometimes it worked. When I began celebrating Christmas on my own, stuffed shells became the main course. And, I use her recipe. It's the best mixture of ricotta, parmesan, romano, parmesan in a marinara sauce. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll make meatballs for some protein. But it's seriously my favorite homemade meal.

MinardI knew this wouldn't be the same, but it's hard for me to pass up stuffed shells at an Italian restaurant in hopes they might come close to nipping at the toes of the deliciousness my mother can produce. The menu said they are stuffed with seasoned ground sausage mixed with a blend of four cheeses and herbs and baked in their famous red sauce. All that for $11.95. I also ordered a side of meatballs because I wanted to see what they were like - two meatballs for $2.

The entrees come with salad and bread. I went for the house Italian dressing. The waitress asked if I wanted tomatoes, and of course, I want all of your tomatoes. When the salad came out, I immediately felt bad for anyone who didn't order tomatoes because you just lost half your salad. Their salads consist of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. House dressing. I get that these are supposed to be simple - or whatever - but you can't give me a sprig of carrot? A crunchy crouton? Nada? It didn't help that the tomatoes weren't especially flavorful. Big surprise. But the dressing was actually good. I like the light olive oil/vinegar. Light but with tang.

MinardMinardThe bread, which others have claimed is fresh baked, looks straight from a bag to me. It wasn't even warm. Meh meh meh. I feel like they probably brought bread out because you're supposed to. But it was lackluster.

The stuffed shells - I think I had a total of four or five. Not super huge helpings. It was simple, but good. Not a super complex sauce - tomatoes, herbs, sugar, etc. But it was good. It was basic, but not canned, and what you'd want from a base sauce. I would've loved some mushrooms to give it a bit more depth, but like I said - basic, but good.

MinardThe inside was filled with mostly meet and very little cheese. I was a little disappointed because I was hoping it'd be the other way around. It was still good though - great flavor, well-seasoned and tasty. More cheese would've made me a lot happier, but it was still overall good. The meatballs I had were pretty much in the same seasoning as the filling of the shells, but they were even better. They were moist and had a perfect amount of spice. If you're looking for some basic, yet tasty, Italian food, check it out.

Check them out on Yelp and Google+.

Grade: B
Minard's Spaghetti Inn on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 17, 2014

Morgantown Edition: Michael's Pizzeria

Michael's PizzaWestover isn't really a breeding ground for culinary masterpieces and fine cuisine. Most of the "restaurants" are hotspots or focus more on the booze than food. Michael's Pizzeria popped onto my radar recently, so during lunch, I left to see what this place is all about.

Michael's PizzaMichael's is located on Holland Avenue in a small plaza with a bar, Weezie's, and a hair salon. Michael's does have a separate entrance, but it looks as though it is connected to Weezie's, and the owner is the same, I believe. Walking inside, it just looks like the back entrance to Weezie's, with some pool tables and a kitchen in the back. They're currently only doing carry-out and delivery, but the lady working said they might be trying to move some of the pool tables out to make room. She said the problem with that is that Weezie's gets busy during the weekends, so I assume people spill out into those areas.

I had called earlier to find out what the special was. They only have a handful of pizzas on their Facebook: cheese, pepperoni, white, Hawaiian, grape, veggie-lovers, meat-lovers, and supreme. The person who answered the phone wasn't sure, so I hung up kind of confused. I got a call back maybe 10 minutes later with the owner on the other line apologizing for being out on delivery and telling me what the special was. I hadn't left my number or anything, so it was sweet of her to call back and go out of her way to help me.

Michael's PizzaWhatever was on special, I wasn't interested in. I asked instead of they could do a half and half because I couldn't decide between pepperoni or white pizza. And I really didn't need two whole pizzas. After I explained that it wasn't a combination of the two, just a half of each, that I wanted, she happily obliged. And for just $12 - the price of the cheaper (pepperoni) pizza.

Anyway, as soon as we came in, she was boxing the pizza. She was incredibly sweet, thanking us and making sure we were satisfied and letting her know what we thought. And after we walked out, she even came back out with a magnet to give us.

Okay, the actual pizza. First, I tried the pepperoni. Crust could have been a bit crisper and crunchier. I don't know if the pizza oven had gotten hot enough. The sauce is a pretty sweet sauce - probably canned. And the pepperoni turned up to make those little grease cups. It reminds me a lot of when I try to make pizza at home. My oven simple cannot get hot enough, so it's a somewhat more bready crust.

The white pizza didn't have super great tomatoes. Kinda mushy. Not very flavorful - looks like these were more slicing tomatoes than anything else. There wasn't really a white sauce base - just oil. I think it would've had more flavor if it had some sort of sauce. But it wasn't bad.

Final verdict: It was an overall OK pie. I think it would benefit from a homemade sauce, a crisper crust and some more flavor on the white side. Really, though, a crisper crust would do wonders. Management seems top-notch and willing to help, so once they get some more practice under their belts, it seems as though this could be a good one.

Grade: C
Michael's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fairmont Edition: Colasessano's World Famous Pizza and Pepperoni Buns


Colasessano's is an institution in Fairmont - so much so that it's even on the list of 55 Unique Things to Do in WV. They have a location in Morgantown that I've been to, so I had an idea of what the food is like, but nothing beats the original.


Parking is a bit precarious, but I found a spot fairly easily. Inside, it seems as though it's just a carry-out store with a counter and menu board, but when you turn the corner, it opens to a decent sized dining area. I took a seat at a booth and waited for a waitress. Either I looked familiar or they have a lot of regulars, because the waitress asked if I'd like a menu. "Two, please."

Colasessano'sGetting a pepperoni bun was on the list, but we also ordered a side of BBQ wings not knowing how big or small a pepperoni bun was. Pepperoni buns can come plain, with cheese only, with sauce only, with sauce and cheese, or everything. Everything comes with their signature meat sauce, provolone and mild, mixed or hot peppers. I ordered an everything with mild peppers.


So, a pepperoni bun. It's a thick bun, split down the middle, shove a couple sticks of pepperoni inside, top with a meat sauce, some cheese and peppers. I can't say I love it. Sacrilege, I know.

Colasessano'sThey're hearty, but they end up kind of mushy, and the sauce doesn't have much flavor or spice to it at all. I kind of ate pieces of the cheese, but wasn't impressed with the rest.  I just wish some culinary thought went into this a bit more.

I think the wings actually fared better. They were pretty big, but I wish the skin was crisper. I removed it and ate the meat off the bone. A slimy skin does nothing for me.

Colasessano'sSo overall, it was fine. It was something to try, and I'm guessing it operates off a good bit of nostalgia. Or hefty appetites.

Grade: C
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Monday, January 13, 2014

Boston, MA Edition: Union Oyster House

Union Oyster HouseUnion Oyster HouseLast meal in Boston. Where better to dine at the oldest restaurant in America? Union Oyster House is a historical landmark and pretty iconic Boston.
Union Oyster House
It's located in a really cool old building, and it's clearly a hotspot for tourists.

Because we requested dinner, we were whisked upstairs, past an oyster bar, to a more dimly lit dining area.

Union Oyster House
Union Oyster HouseIt wasn't a difficult decision for me to know I wanted oysters. The menu, though, limits your options for an entree of fresh oysters. You can get them fried - but I can get them fried anywhere. So I ordered an entree of freshly shucked oysters (half dozen) for $16. I also got a bowl of clam chowder, because I didn't figure six oysters would fill me up.

We got some cornbread first off - as I mentioned previously, typical for Boston - and it was good. Probably one of the better times to have cornbread so that I could eat it with my chowder. A little dry, but you know.

Kaitlynn got calamari as an appetizer. Which was weird. There were like whole little squids that you can just pop. Not just the, like, rings that you usually get. Whole little things. It was good, though. I actually liked those ones better. But too much breading did my stomach in. Just too greasy and fried.
Union Oyster House
My clam chowder was pretty good. It is way different than most other places I've had back home because it just tastes fresh. Not from a can or shipped across  multiple states inland. Itwas actually good. The taste isn't as pungent as what I remember. So that's good.

Union Oyster HouseUnion Oyster House

Union Oyster HouseOysters! Yum! It's a rarity to get fresh oysters anywhere really in West Virginia, so it was a treat. They were huge and came with a horseradish and spicy kind of cocktail sauce.

They were good. Fresh. I know some folks aren't crazy about the slimy texture, but these were cold, not gritty or chewy, but just all around good. And the sauce was tasty too.

And yeah, kind of pricey. But I can't really get anything like it anywhere else.

Grade: B
Union Oyster House on Urbanspoon