Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oh the Ramp Arts We Watched . . .

Holy moly! Sean Brock is ramping it up down at McCrady's.  I bet the aroma in that cooler will knock you down!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Leading Indicators

Chain restaurant earnings are trending up in the first quarter, which has got to be the surest sign yet that the economy is starting to turn around.

But, you can't just look at the revenue figures for restaurant chains, for that's only part of the story.  Diners eat out more often and buy a little more expensive entrees and maybe a little nicer bottle of wine, so the total check goes up.  The waiters have more tables with bigger checks, so their tip take-home is higher.  And they go down the road at closing time for shots at the local afterhours bar, and the bar owner's take is bigger, too.  And the next day the DUI lawyer's fees see a big spike . . . etc. etc.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Enter the Barbecue Sundae

When I first saw the headline I assumed Kathleen Purvis was talking about a barbecue sundae along the lines of the infamous chocolate-covered bacon sundaes that have been popping up across the country (like downtown in Charleston at Shine).  As unexpectedly tasty as bacon is on a sundae, my first thought was "barbecue . . . on ice cream.  That couldn't possibly work."

Turns out it's a better idea than that: beans, pork, and slaw in a handy to-go cup.  That's the kind of barbecue innovation I can get behind.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 Things I'll Never, Ever Write About (Again. I Promise)

Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive dishes out a hilarious list of the "Five Most Boring Topics in Beer Journalism."

I might be guilty of #4 for yesterday's post on 7-11's "Game Day."  But does it counts if you just think the big beer industry is silly and not evil?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Long Live Below-Premium Private-Labeled Beers!

Coming soon to a stadium restroom near you: "Game Day," a new  "below premium" house beer that 7-11 will be introducing to its store shelves.  The brand will reportedly be contract brewed by Latrobe, Wisconsin's City Brewing Company.

Interestingly enough, 7-11 entered the private-label beer trade several years back with a short lived brand called Santiago  that was supposed to compete with the pricey imports.  This time around, 7-11 is going after the low end "below premium" category, where, despite a 4% overall drop in convenience store beer sales in 2009, cheap beer brand sales have actually seen a slight uptick.

Hat tip to A Good Beer Blog.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Basil for Cocktails

I think I have scientifically determined that basil is one of the best ingredients ever for a cocktail.  It's still a hypothesis at this point and will need more experimentation--LOTS more experimentation--to prove fully, but the data is all pointing in the right direction.

Last year I discovered the joys of the strawberry basil mojito, where the basil replaces the traditional mint.  This year, just in time for the arrival of warm weather, I sampled the Basil Gimlet down at O-Ku Sushi (Brett McKee's new Japanese venture on King St.).  It's a perfect light, refreshing way to cap a warm April afternoon: Tanqueray gin, lime juice, basil-infused simple syrup, and a few slightly-muddled basil leaves.

For a long-time Raymond Chandler fan like me, deviating from the formula for the classic, sentimental gimlet is serious business.  But, if you're going to monkey with a classic, at least do it right.  The Basil Gimlet does it right, and in a country where Rose's Lime Juice has been degraded into a bottle of green high-fructose corn syrup, one might argue that the traditional gimlet has already said it's long goodbye.

Inspired by O-Ku, I had to give the basil gimlet a try at home.  Here's my best effort:

Basil Gimlet

2 oz good gin
1 oz basil-infused simple syrup (recipe below)
1 oz lime juice
4 or 5 basil leaves

The basil simple syrup is just a regular simple syrup that you've steeped basil leaves in.  I always use a 1-to-1 ratio of water to sugar for simple syrup, and I used an equal volume of basil--so one cup each sugar, water, and basil leaves.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring till the sugar is fully dissolved.  Remove from the stovetop and add in one cup of torn basil leaves.  Allow basil to steep for 30 minutes, then strain through wire strainer to remove basil.  Put in a jar or bottle for storage (I put mine in plastic squeeze bottles for easy dispensing later) and refrigerate.

For the drink itself, put four or five basil leaves in a cocktail shaker along with the ounce of lime juice.  Muddle gently--enough to bruise the leaves and release the oils but not break them up.  Add a rocks glass full of ice to the shaker along with the 2 ounces of gin.  Shake well.

At O-ku, they served the basil gimlet over ice in a rocks glass with the basil leaves still floating around.  I think I like it best this way--something about the ice and the big leaves just seems more cooling and summery--but if you wanted to be more elegant, you could also strain out the ice and basil leaves and serve it in a martini glass like a more traditional gimlet.

Really, I guess, you could try basil as a sub for mint in just about any drink.  I haven't had the nerve to try a basil julep yet (especially since I have to travel to Kentucky periodically and such heresy might put me in physical danger), but it's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's your "Exercise Hydration Beverage" of Choice?

Gatorade retrenches and attempts to regain lost market share.  Watching the marketing gyrations over fluorescent-dyed sugar water makes one want to move to a remote farm in the Rockies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Doubling Down in NYC

Sam Sifton, the New York Times' lead restaurant critic drops everything to be one of the first to try the new KFC Double Down.

Talk about taking one for the team . . .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Old-School Beer Backlash is Coming

First is was German imports, then American microbrews, then organic artisanal craft brews and high-gravity Trappist ales.  Now you can go to Whole Foods and pay more for a bottle of beer than you would for many of the bottles of wine in the store.  There are even entire stores dedicated just to high-end beers, like the Charleston Beer Exchange.  More high-quality, rare, unusual, and just plain intriguing beer is now available than ever before.

So it's only natural there would be a backlash at some point.  It's been common for a while to see a few old-school interlopers slipped into the middle of the long beer menus at brew-conscious places, complete with the requisite place of origin--"Pabst Blue Ribbon (Milwaukee, WI) -$1.75".  But I predict you're going to see a wholesale movement of beer drinkers turning their backs on gold-rimmed goblets of high-test ales and looking to an older way of beering it up.

A leading indicator: Cork Bistro down in North Charleston has, in addition to its tony craft beer selections, a separate "Beers of Our Fathers" menu, which entreats you to "Enjoy the beer you dad used to love."  The lineup includes Old Milwaukee, Ballantine XXX Ale, Miller High Life, PBR, Coors (the original stuff, not that Lite water),  Dixie Lager, Budweiser, and Genesee Cream Ale.

And while bottles of craft beer at $9 and $12 might have an influence, the backlash is not necessarily about price.  It's more a conscious effort to turn back the clock and drink old-school American lagers.  Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, Oregon, for example, has its Session Lager, "a classic all-malt pre-Prohibition style lager that reminds us of what American lagers used to taste like."  The company just started distributing to South Carolina, and you pay a premium price for the history lesson (over five bucks for the eleven ounce bottle I had a bar the other night--and what's with the ELEVEN ounce thing?  I'd pay 8.3% more for a full glass!).  It's a crisp, tasty brew, one that's very reminiscent of, say . . . Old Milwaukee and PBR.

Old-style American lagers are coming back in a big way.  You heard it here first.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Slow, Agonizing Death of Home Cooking

Items I could not find on the shelves of my neighborhood supermarket yesterday:

1. sugar cubes (for making cocktails)
2. capers
3. pink salt (a.k.a. curing salt, for curing hams and sausages)
4. horseradish

The last item I found the shelf tags for, but all brands were sold out (Passover rush, perhaps?)  The others three items aren't even carried.

I did, however, find this new display:

Premeasured spices on little cards complete with recipes. 

And I wondered: who the heck is the target market for this stuff?  A serious home cook would have no problem whipping up the spices for roasted chicken out of his or her cabinet.    Not everyone likes to cook--nothing wrong with that--but isn't there a rotisserie chicken already cooked and waiting just down in the deli area for those folks?

As it turns out, according to the Baltimore Sun, the target market seems to be penny-pinching consumers who, thanks to recession belt-tightening, want to make at home the same kind of meals they used to buy in restaurants.  Cutting back on restaurant eating: I get that.  Paying two bucks per meal for spices: not exactly smart economy.

What's really amusing are the reactions of various food "journalists" to this new product launch (Google "McCormick Recipe Inspirations" for a sampling.)  One actually wrote: "Priced at $1.99 each, one packet seasons a main course for four to eight people for just pennies per serving."  For just quarters per serving would be a little more accurate.  This same scribe noted, "cooks who have to run out and buy a particular spice or herb every time they try a new recipe will be able to cut down on cost for an item they might not use frequently."  

Yes.  I can see the point.  The Rosemary Roasted Chicken package contains many bizarre, exotic spices that few home cooks would normally have on hand or could justify buying in bulk: paprika, rosemary, garlic, black  pepper.  The Spanish Chicken Skillet has three of the very same spices--paprika, garlic, and the very rare black pepper--along with red pepper flakes and thyme. 

One can plainly see how paying $2.39 per meal for spices (my supermarket apparently kicked it up a little over McCormick's recommended price of $1.99) will put our cash-strapped American families back on the road to economic recovery.

McCormick & Co, the spice maker, seems to know what they're doing, though.  Their business is booming, with 1st quarter net income up 17.6% over the same period last year.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

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