Monday, June 30, 2014

Charleston Edition: Mi Cocina de Amor

Mi Cocina de AmorDuring what seemed like a tsunami, my friend and I made our way to the West Side to try some tacos. It was Friday, and I have heard that Mi Cocina de Amor has some killer fish tacos. As soon as we parked, we ran into the small restaurant, trying to dodge massive rain drops.

Mi Cocina de AmorOnce inside, we were seated along the wall. It's pretty cozy inside, but in the best possible way. It was comfortable and packed. A basket of chips and salsa were delivered to us right away. The salsa was not bland and boring. It had some flavor going on, a little bit of bite, but fresh.

I already knew I wanted the fish tacos. You could get two or three. I went for two.

They were made with Modelo Especial beer batter, topped with fresh cabbage, pico de gallo, house-made cilantro-lime crema, queso cotija and cilantro. Served with refried beans and Spanish rice. All for $8.

Mi Cocina de Amor

The fish tacos were probably the best I've ever had.

I'm not even joking.

Mi Cocina de AmorMi Cocina de Amor

They're battered and fried, so of course the fish tastes great. And even with the batter, there's still whole, white fish in there. It's great. Then those pieces of fish are topped with fresh tomatoes and cabbage and cheese and herbs, and it's just really, really good. I ate everything on that plate except for some of the leftover cabbage, which was just a mountain on top of the tacos. I'm not complaining. I love cabbage.

Mi Cocina de Amor

The side of refried beans and rice was a nice side to go along with the main meal. It was like a solid and hearty base to complement. I am very surprised at how great this was. I'll definitely have to be back for this meal.

Mi Cocina de AmorIf you're on this side of town, go check it out. If you're not, get to this side of town so that you can.

Mi Cocina de AmorGrade: A

Mi Cocina de Amor on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Charleston's Taste-of-All

Last year's Taste-of-All in Charleston was so much fun that I wanted a repeat performance. I lucked out and won $5 worth of tickets on a Facebook contest, and I bought $5 more for the event. Armed with 20 tickets, Karie and I headed in to scope out our plan of attack.

UntitledThere were so many great places. Lots of repeats you see at festivals, like Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, Ridge View BBQ, Kona Ice, Huskey's Dairy Bar. A few new ones, like Mi Cocina de Amor, Black Sheep Burrito & Brew, Grano. I've tried a few of these here and there, so I was aiming for ones that were mostly new or new dishes, at least.

Taste of All
BrickSalt Bar + Kitchen - Macaroni and cheese with prosciutto ham (4 tix) They didn't make it to last year's event - or at least weren't there by the time I arrived - so I had wanted to scope them out. This was my favorite dish of the event. The breading gave a nice crunch while the noodles and sauce were creamy.

Taste of AllGrano - Veggi Sampler (8 tix) Grano is a new restaurant I've been wanting to try. Can't say this was super exciting. Yes, it gave me an idea as to what the restaurant is like. But I just wasn't impressed. Falafel was super dry. Hummus was kind of eh. Tabouleh was good but would've benefitted from some lemon zest.

Taste of All

5 Corners Cafe - Spicy sweet macaroni salad (1 ticket) The real reason I got this was because I only had one ticket left and didn't know where to go! But it was not bad.

Taste of AllHuskey's Dairy Bar - Ice cream cone (3 tix) Um, you can't go wrong with ice cream. This was lovely.

Plus I got a water for 4 tickets.

For people who actually know what they're talking about - go here. Full list of awards are here, and here are the people's choice awards:

1st – Adelphia, Deep Fried Feta
2nd – B&D Gastropub, Dragon Bites
3rd – Four Brothers Coffee and Tea House, Lobster Bisque Soup

1st – Quarry Manor Senior Living, Fried Green Tomato BLT Slider
2nd – Black Sheep Burrito & Brew, Chicken & Waffle
3rd  – Black Sheep Burrito & Brew, Pan-seared Ahi Tuna

1st – Distinctive Gourmet, WV Beignet w/ Vanilla Moonshine Sauce
2nd – 5 Corners Cafe, Bread Pudding
3rd  – Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, Ice Cream

1st – Four Brothers Coffee and Tea House, Four Brothers Blended Coffee
2nd – Sweet Spoon Bubble Tea
3rd  – Huskey’s Dairy Bar, Milkshake

Taste of AllTaste of All

Friday, June 27, 2014

Charleston's Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-off

Smoke on the water chili cook-offI think I did a pretty good job last summer at hitting up all the food festivals in Charleston. One that eluded me was the Smoke on the Water Chili Cookoff.

Smoke on the water chili cook-offSmoke on the water chili cook-offThe 16th annual cookoff helped kick off this year's FestivALL events. Held at Haddad Riverfront Park, the event included home chefs and corporate chefs serving up homestyle, salsa, red, verde and even some white chicken chili.

As part of the challenge, chefs are required to dish out chili to the public between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Patrons buy sampling tickets and trade one ticket per taste. With purchase of the tickets, patrons also receive beads, which they can then distribute to the best chefs.

There are a ton of places, and I think I got about $5 worth of tickets. I tried all kinds: traditional chili, green chili and white bean chicken chili. A few places really showed up with some extras. Bridge Road Bistro had my favorite, I think. With huge chunks of meat and topped with cheese and sour cream. Yum.

Smoke on the water chili cook-offSmoke on the water chili cook-off

Here are the winners:

Smoke on the water chili cook-off
3rd Place - Gail Donovan
2nd Place - Christian Parker
1st Place - Diane Lentz

3rd Place - Larry Lentz
2nd Place - Brad Berkebile
1st Place - Lynn Berkebile

Green Verde
3rd Place - Tom Hoover
2nd Place - Dawn Bush
1st Place - George Ryffel

4th Place - Annette Daly
3rd Place - David Staley
2nd Place - Richard Chauvin
1st Place - Carrie Parker.

Best of Charleston
John Zimnox

Law Firm 
Jackson Kelly

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pittsburgh, PA Edition: PNC Park

PNC (mannys & chickies)If you know me, you know I joke about knowing nothing about sports. Sometimes that's true and sometimes it's not. I generally know the basics, but I really like going to games. Not the type to sit around at home and watch a game alone - typically - but to watch in person is an experience: the atmosphere, the people, the excitement, everything.

PNC (mannys & chickies)PNC (mannys & chickies)Afton and I headed to PNC Park for a Pirates game. Well, she was there for the Reds. But anyway.

The food. There are a bunch of places to eat at PNC. Here is a good place to get the rundown on all the offerings. Little overwhelming, right? So I asked my friends on Twitter and via text - if there's ONE place I should go, where is it?

The results: Manny's BBQ. And second place was Chickie's & Pete's Crab Fries.

PNC (mannys & chickies)
Manny's is out along the outfield and is named after former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen. The restaurant features BBQ pork sandwiches and platters. I'm told Manny himself even sits at the stand and signs autographs for fans before every game.

PNC (mannys & chickies)It's a bit pricey, with sandwiches hovering around $8/$9, and platters are closer to $10. A large bottle of water will cost you $6.25. I went with the pulled pork pierogie stacker.

PNC (mannys & chickies)

Pulled pork with a sweet onion sauce, two pierogies all atop a pretzel bun. It was pretty messy and not pretty to eat, but it wasn't bad. I wish there had been some more sauce to bring it all together because it was pretty dry otherwise. Not bad, though.

Grade: B
Manny's BBQ on Urbanspoon

PNC (mannys & chickies)

PNC (mannys & chickies)PNC (mannys & chickies)And we also went to Chickie's & Pete's for their famous crab fries as a side. There aren't many locations nearby, as they're based in Philadelphia, and they're not in very many stadiums. But they seem to be a popular choice.

The fries are huge and come in at a whopping $10. They're served with crab seasoning and a cup of white cheesey dipping sauce. I can't say I was crazy about these - the seasoning was just overpowering. I felt like I was inhaling it, so we didn't even end up finishing the bucket between the two of us.

They were better in the cheese sauce, but I think I would ask them to go a little lighter on the seasoning next time. Or opt for another place.

Grade: C
Chickie's & Pete's on Urbanspoon

PNC (mannys & chickies)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pittsburgh, PA Edition: Pamela's P&G Diner (Strip District)

Pamela'sAny pancakes Obama likes have got to be good, right? I mean, he's probably had a lot of pancakes. But his very favorite ones? Located right in Pittsburgh - at Pamela's P&G Diner in the Strip District.

Pamela'sPamela'sFirst things first, Pamela's is CASH ONLY. And they're only open until 3 p.m. We hit up an ATM, and we luckily found a spot on the street nearby to the Strip District location and simply walked over. We had to put in our license plate for the meter. Weird.

We stood at the front for a few awkward moments as diners watched us fidget. It gets packed in here, but I think we hit it at a good time.

Pamela'sFor just two people, we were seated in a row of two-person tables where I felt as thought I was closer to the people to my sides than to Afton, who was in front of me.

I ordered Pamela's Famous Crepe Hotcakes with sausage links for $7.35. While you do need cash here, at least it's pretty cheap. And if you're not feeling breakfast, they have salads and sandwiches.

But, really, get the pancakes. They're huge and slightly crispy on the edges. Very flat and served three at a time, eclipsing my plate.


I like the little bits of crisp at the end. Make sure to get some protein, though, to help sop up the massive discs of syrup and butter and carbs. Tasty. If you have the chance, check it out.

Grade: A
Pamela's P & G Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2014

Morgantown Edition: Hash Browns & New Grounds

hash browns & new groundsIf you've seen the dark red truck with a yellow band dotted with animal and food graphics around town, you're not alone. I spotted the Hash Browns & News Grounds truck driving downtown and had been trying for quite some time to track it down and enjoy some of its delicacies.

Hash browns & New GroundsCody Thrasher, the owner of HB&NG, is from Bridgeport (where he sometimes takes the truck for the farmers market). He has a passion for showing folks both classic and new food - all with a creative touch (and fresh, local food!). The "Hash Brown" part of the name is something that is familiar to people and not easy to mess up, he said. The "New Grounds" part of the name is representative of how he wants to show folks something new and different. A friend of his designed the truck for him (which is rad). And he is currently searching the area for places to park and dish out watermelon salads, macaroni and cheese, and chicken on a stick.

Hash browns & New GroundsHash browns & New Groundshash browns & new grounds

For now, a good place to spot him is at Campus Evolution Villages (formerly The District) from about 5:30 to 8ish p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He is getting better about posting where he'll be in advance on his FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Check those out for the menu each day and some foodporn, too.

I've gone twice now: The first time was pretty busy, and he ended up running out of some items. So a second visit was in order. And - disclaimer - because of that, my second visit was free. OK. Prepare your tastebuds.

Hash browns & New Grounds
Summer salad (fresh strawberries, feta, roasted beet, sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil, sweet balsamic reduction with crostini) - Pretty tasty. I'm a fan of sweet and tangy. So the strawberry + feta combo made me happy. And I LOVE beets. I know most people don't, but it worked for me.

Hash browns & New Grounds
BBQ spare rib sliders with cheese sauce -  The flavor for these bad boys was on point. A few cartilege-y pieces and pretty messy overall -- not so much two sliders, but meat just piled atop two connected buns. But tasted good.

Hash browns & New GroundsChicken on a stick - Also a basic item; it's literally a piece of chicken on a stick, but still tasty. A little sweet, a little tangy. But all good.

Hash browns & New GroundsFrench fry hash - A basic item that those who are a little hesitant to step outside of their comfort zone. This is a good starting point. Some super tasty potatoes drizzled with Sriracha and just a bit of cheese.

And my second visit just knocked it out of the park.

hash browns & new groundsH20Melon salad (feta, mint oil, balsamic reduction, black hawaiian sea sat) - I truly don't know who is interested in ordering a watermelon salad from a food truck. But everyone should be. The presentation was beautiful, despite what is pictured above. The car ride did a number on it. The drizzles were perfect, and how cute are the square chunks of watermelon? Luckily, the flavor was impeccable. Fresh, juicy, sweet watermelon with salty feta cheese and some mint flavor in the background. I mean, I know you probably don't believe me, but this is REALLY good. Just try it. It's so fresh and crisp, but satisfying. Just awesome.

hash browns & new grounds
BBQ spare ribs - These WOULD have been made into sliders had I gotten there a little later, but I'm really happy Cody asked if I wanted just a whole piece of rib. Because sweet Jesus were these good. The sauce was just so good. Smokey, but tangy, but only slightly sweet. So good that I was licking my fingers GOOD. I don't even know what he did, but I thought about going back to ask.

Jalapeno gnocchi mac & cheese (with grilled pepperoni and a panko topping) - My absolute favorite. I don't know the last time I had something this good. Let alone from a food truck. The gnocchi was incredible, the sauce just delicious, the drizzle of spice, with a bit of crunch from the grilled pepperoni. You're doing yourself a great disservice if you don't try this. Probably the best dish to grace Morgantown in 2014.

hash browns & new grounds
The flavor combinations are bangin'. I love the stark contrast between something sweet and something salty. What's kind of incredible is there is some creative thought put into these dishes, as well as the presentation. It's like a mini piece of art.

Plus Cody seems like a stand-up dude. He cares about what he's serving - which is clear through his service to his customers as well as the thought he puts into his dishes.

Get out, support Morgantown's only food truck operation, and even see if he can come to a place near you. You won't regret it.

Grade: A
Hash Browns & New Grounds on Urbanspoon