CMH Gourmand

Eat, Drink, Repeat: Culinary Discovery & Misadventure in Central Ohio

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The Columbus Food Truck Cookbook

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 1, 2016

Adobe Photoshop PDF

If you are interested in a copy of the Columbus Food Truck Cookbook you can order online at thecolumbusfoodtruckcookbook.com or find it locally at places like The Book Loft and Lucky’s Market.

The book is the work of Tiffany Harelik who started into the world of food trucks in Austin years ago and has been compiling books like this since then. Renee Casteel Cook is a writer that intentionally found her way to Columbus a few years ago. Inside the book you will find a mix of recipes as well as content about the food truck culture and interviews with many of the better known (and a few lesser known and/or o retired food truck operators). If you are interested in the world and culture of food trucks, this is a good introduction.

So below, I’ll give you a sneak peek – there are my answers to the questions posed to me in the book.


Tell us about your involvement in the food community in Columbus.

Freelance writer with focus on food and beverage since 1998. Created CMH Gourmand 2006 (Blog). Co-Creator Taco Trucks Columbus 2009, Street Eats Columbus 2010, Columbus Foodcast (Radio show) 2011 to 2014, Coordinator at Food Fort 2011 to 2013, Co-owner and Lead Guide Columbus Brew Adventures. Board member Columbus Mobile Food Advisory Board 2014 to present. Social Media and Marketing advisor for businesses and still work with Food Trucks.

How long have you been in Columbus and when did you start following the food cart scene here?
Lifelong resident. Started following seriously in 2009.

How are food trucks part of the Columbus culture?
Columbus is the most progressive city in the country for mobile food and a long history (with food carts) dating back to the 1980’s. They showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the city and the diversity of what we have to offer culturally and in food.

If it’s someone’s first time visiting Columbus, how would you describe the food trailer scene and where would you tell them to begin? 
Columbus has over 150 active mobile food vendors so it is the largest and most diverse mobile food community in the Midwest and probably east of the Mississippi. Start at a brewery that features food trucks, then go on a Taco Truck Tour or Food Truck Tour with Columbus Food Adventures.

Do you have some pro-tips for people visiting the food trucks for the first time?
You can learn a lot from Taco Trucks Columbus and Street Eats Columbus about the vendors but also the culture, what to expect and etc., so read up then eat up.

Which trucks are most reflective of the Columbus culture?

The diversity of the trucks is most reflective of our city. This is not street meat we offer a mobile food court of choices.

What are the main differences in the food trucks in Columbus versus other cities?
The main differences are the number or mobile vendors and that our city government works with the vendors proactively. We also have a lot of proactive fans that support the industry. And there is a fella we call MikeGuyver that is like the Batman of mobile food filling in for labor emergencies on many trucks

What are the trends in cuisine within the food truck world? 
Trends represent what we see in Columbus and the major cities, a focus on local ingredients, regional cuisines and ethnic cuisine.

What is the future of food trailers in Columbus?
The future looks so bright, you need to wear shades. The first year of our the mobile food program which allows trucks to sell from designated parking spots is growing great and drawing in more new customers everyday. Established vendors are adding more trucks to their operators and moving into brick and mortar operations (Late Night Slice, Paddy Wagon, Mojo Togo, etc.

What’s the feeling of Columbus restaurants towards food trucks?
Many restaurants are working on adding their own food trucks and have been supportive to this type of business for the most part.

What are some local food trucks that have turned into brick and mortar restaurants?
See above.

Is there a high turn over in entrepreneurs who start food trucks or do they have longevity? 
It is a mix. If a vendor can survive the first year, they have a good chance for longevity. Many think a passion for food will get them customers. There is so much more than that, you must have a keen business sense, watch food costs, recruit and retain excellent staff and nail customer service. You can’t just tweet a couple of times per day. You have to understand and actively engage in marketing your business and developing your brand.

How many food carts are there in Columbus?
About 150.

Who are the founding fathers of the food truck revolution in Columbus?

Mikey Sorboro – Late Night Slice, Paul Humphries – Leslie’s Creperie, Brian Reed – Mojo Togo, Dan McCarthy Tatoheads, Jamie “Ray Ray” Anderson. And we have to tip a hat to the Taco Truck Community which started in 2002. Quicho from Taco Nazo and the owners of Los Guachos are the best known.

Are the Columbus trucks mobile or stationary?

Both. Taco Trucks and Ray Rays stay in one place. Most others are mobile.

What are the ‘food trailer parks’, how many are there, and can you share a little about each of the main pods in Columbus?

This did not really sustain here. The main connection is food trucks and breweries. Both have grown up together in the last two years.

Do you want to open your own cart? Why or why not?

I went to Hot Dog University in Chicago to learn about the business and I have worked shifts on a few trucks to understand the operations of the business and I have worked hand in hand with over 40 vendors to help them launch. It is incredibly hard work. When I “retire” I will probably open a Hot Dog Truck called Jimbos

What are some of the laws that food carts must adhere to in Columbus?
Too much to bullet point.

Is it safe/healthy to eat from a food cart in Columbus?

Yes. You can see your food being prepared, that is better odds than a restaurant and we have our green tag inspection program with the Department of Health.

What food truck festivals are happening in the Columbus area? 

Plenty – large and small.


Anything else you’d like to add about your involvement in the food truck scene?
 

One of my greatest honors was receiving the Vendy Community Award at the 2013 Food Truck Festival. There are so many people that have helped grow this community so to be chosen and showcased was a true honor. I was getting ready to leave my job at Food Fort and the boss I had then was incredibly unsupportive in the work I did with vendors so to get that award was a great validation that I knew what I was doing and had done it well.

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Columbus Ale Trail Tales: Volume 1

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 29, 2016

I have been fortunate to be able to expand the overlapping cultures/communities I belong to. In the early 2000’s I found myself in the newly established food blogger community, which led to the undiscovered world of Taco Trucks which then drove me to the culture of street food which indirectly led me to a new career which in turn connected me to some in the world of Columbus Craft Beer just before the explosion of craft breweries in 2013 and after. Along the way I collected some new skills, some friends, business relationships and etc. All of those overlapping networks led to a spontaneous project.

Several of us had encountered versions of craft beer trails around the country. My neighbors brought me a flier from Boston that got me to thinking about how it might work in Columbus. John from the Ohio Tap Room contacted me about the same idea at about the same time and within a week we had a group of four of us that then connected with the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, who were just starting to have that thought as well. At that point we thought Experience Columbus might be interested so we met with them. We all thought a Columbus Craft Beer passport of some sort made sense and thus the Columbus Ale Trail was born.

It was a very quick gestation. We decided we wanted to launch the Ale Trail at the beginning of the first ever Columbus Craft Beer Week. This meant we had to create something awesome from scratch in less than two months. Many hours, and ideas, and late night edits later, the first Ale Trail Brew Books were ready for delivery. They started to filter out on May 1st and the first prize redemption for visiting all twenty breweries was on May 2nd. Oh my, we were on to something. The first 10,000 books were gone within a few weeks. With that validation and some quick planning and a bit of tweaking we obtained funds from the breweries to print another 20,000 books.

Today with just a few days left in the first year of the Columbus Ale Trail, the project has been a slam dunk. Over 600 people have visited all 20 listed breweries. Almost 1000 have visited 4 breweries to get a free pint glass from Experience Columbus. And countless people have visited one to nineteen breweries just for the heck of it without redeeming for anything. It has been exciting, humbling and for me, redeeming as well. It is great to be part of an idea that turns out to be successful and in the process helps all of the small brewing businesses get new fans and grow their brands.

As I write this, Volume 2 of the Columbus Ale Trail Brew Book has been sent off to the printer (after a lot of edits, and formatting, and changes, and bears, oh my!). The prize for completing the trail this time around (28 breweries) is a customized deck of cards featuring logos from almost all of our local breweries. It looks great. (See a card example below). The books should be ready by May 13th and the cards should be ready to hand to the first person (and all subsequent Ale Trailers) to go to all 28 sites (hopefully) within the following week.

Smokehouse

Over the course of the past year I have personally passed out almost 2000 Ale Trail books to people on brewery tours. I’ve spoken with over 100 people using the books as I have crossed paths with them at breweries all over Central Ohio. The consistent message is: This is great! I can’t say that anytime in my professional career have I been lucky enough to work on a project that was universally loved like this. What I have heard frequently and what I like the most is that people enjoy the book – because it is a book, not a gadget, or app but something real and tangible that they enjoy looking at, reading through and most importantly getting the stamp (of approval) at each brewery they visit.

While I have heard great stories, my two favorite are documented below and I was lucky enough to have a small part in each.

The two ladies below completed their Ale Trail last fall. They enjoyed it so much they made costumes to wear to their last few stops. I met them at the Ohio Taproom where they came to get their Ale Trail T-shirt to reward them for their efforts. I hope they get to wear these costumes again for Volume 2.

Ohio Ale Trail heroines


ale trail heroines

The image you see below is a cautionary tale. A couple came into the Ohio Taproom while I was wrapping up a tour there. The wife was excited but the husband seemed a bit forlorn. As it turned out, only she was redeeming. He shared a tale of woe in that he had pocketed his book after they hit the last stop, forgot about it and washed his pants without removing the contents. The results are shown below.

ale trail mishap

As part of the Ale Trail team, I authorized the shreds of book as complete and he was validated for finishing the trail too. Lesson for Volume 2, keep your Ale Trail book in a special place and monitor closely. Friends don’t let friends lose or wash a perfectly good Ale Trail book.

Good luck to all racing to finish Volume 2 of the Ale Trail and congratulations to those that finished all or most of Volume 1.

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Ohio Donut Trail: Penny’s Pastries, Logan

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2016

IMG_3426

Buried deep inside of the Ohio Revised Code, I have a hunch that there is some type of mandate on requirements for small Ohio towns. If I was to guess, it may read something like this, any county seat as well towns numbering over 1500 citizens or greater should ensure the following are located near the city center: Statue honoring a civil war hero, a small park with benches, a traffic circle or small area of one way streets and a bakery. Penny’s Pastries ensures that Logan Ohio meets those standards.

Penny’s is a small, homey, full service bakery that offers a small number of donuts each day. While not the mainstay of the business, donuts are an important enough feature to warrant displaying them in the front window (so customers can see if any are left) and prominent placement of the production schedule at the front door. In addition to donuts they offer cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. Donuts typically sell out quickly so it is suggest you arrive as close to the 6 am opening time as possible to get the best selection. Although I have not tried one, the peanut butter creme filled donuts appears to be their biggest crowd pleaser.

IMG_3427

Penny’s Pastries Bakery
Address: 81 E Main St, Logan, OH 43138
Phone:(740) 385-5190

Posted in donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Archives: BNA Gourmand, RoadFood Tour with Jane and Michael Stern

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

These events occurred on April 28th, 2007 mostly as recorded. 

In league with Philville Phil, president of the the Columbus Men’s Supper Gang, I journeyed to Nashville, TN to do a dining tour with Jan and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com, Gourmet Magazine and countless books. It was a treat. Along with a busload of 50 foodies, the Sterns, the Roadfood web team, and a German documentary film crew we hit four places and discussed many others.

There was also a group that hit four places in the morning (and a few of them did the afternoon tour with us as well). Below is a description of the morning tour.

“The morning tour will start at 8am at the Loveless Cafe for a classic Tennessee breakfast, including legendary biscuits and homemade preserves. We will then hop in the bus and head into the country towards Franklin and a visit to Merridees Bread Basket for delicious pastries, breads and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Next stop: Pucket’s Grocery, an old-time meat-and-three and barbecue cafe with some of the most succulent pulled pork anywhere. We then return to Nashville for lunch at the ultra-bountiful Belle Meade Cafeteria“.

The rendevous and collection point for the afternoon group was at the Loveless Cafe. This place is famous for food and country music, several up and coming stars have played here on the way to fame. We had a small snack at the country store in the parking lot since the wait time to dine was over an hour.

Documentary Crew

We were trailed by a German TV documentary film crew throughout our trip. I believe I was quoted a couple times, I hope that made it on the cutting room floor (I, like the Amish and some Native Americans do not like to be photographed).

Prince's Hot Chicken

Prince’s Hot Chicken was our first stop. We overwhelmed the small, strip mall establishment with 50 or more people. This is fried chicken dipped in hot sauce or hot, hot, hot sauce. This type of chicken is unique to a small section on Nashville. We ordered the medium – which was very hot even after dabbing with a piece of white bread. Our companions that ordered the hot – were hard pressed to eat much of the chicken due to the heat level. But with a lot of pop and dabbing with some white bread – we got the hot heat down to aid consumption. I do not know how much the employees get paid – I think they may work for free just to watch people suffer from the hot and very hot sauces. However, the hot sauce opened up more digestive “living space” for a lot more food to come.

Hot Chicken

Here is another version of the trip from the Dallas News, including a quote from the Gourmand….

“Jim Ellison, of Columbus, Ohio, tells me I should think of this tour as a marathon. Toward the end, he promises, I would get a second wind. Jim, who runs an ice cream blog, speaks from experience. I remember his advice as we walk up to Swett’s, a spotless meat-and-three, soul-food cafeteria.”

Swetts

We then hit Swett’s, a Meat and three (or two or four) buffet. This was distinctly average food in a typical strip mall with cafeteria style ambiance. The place is typical of the meat and three buffet. Multiple second and third tier celebrities plaster the wall with accolades for the place – so I think the stop was appropriate for the trip. Also – where else can you feed a busload of 50+ people?

Monell's

We saved the best for last! Monell’s is old school, family style dining in a beautiful home in the Germantown section of Nashville. Everything was great and it was amazing that we could eat at all at that point – but we did – including some wonderful desserts. I was able to sit next to Michael Stern and the Roadfood web team and talk food and food writing for the meal (so of course I plugged Columbus for an Ice Cream tour and more). We all shared nicely, passed plates and spent the evening like it was a Thanksgiving supper with family. The staff were wonderful as well. If you go – reservations are critical!

All of the above are shots from Monell’s

On the way home that night, with no agenda in sight – we decided some ice cream was in order to sooth our bloated bellies. We called Philville Phil’s wife Jean, who was kind enough to do some quick internet research and guide us to Bobbie’s Dairy Whip – voted as Nashville’s favorite ice cream shop. We got some twist cones and fries and called it a night.

On the way home the next morning, we made a side trip to Louisville so I could introduce Phil to

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.

Here is a shot of the breakfast menu – these items were featured on The Food Network with Bobby Flay – Kentucky Farmhouse Scramble (everything but the sink) and Bourbon Ball French Toast. Phil had the Louisville Hot Brown – the signature sandwich of the town. My favorite was the Derby Pie Milkshake. The people sitting next to us at the bar had some wonderful homefries that I was eyeing the whole time. When they left – barely touching their food, Phil dared me to sample the homefries….. All I can say they were the best I have ever had and our server respected my gumption and dedication to recycling.

This is a Louisville Hot Brown – Philville Phil’s favorite new sandwich.

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Archives: WI Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

In August (2006) I journeyed to Wisconsin. On the way, with a tip from Road Food, I stopped in West Layfayette, IN (Perdue University) to eat at the Triple XXX Restaurant. The place is a university landmark. It is named for a root beer company that is basically gone now. They still serve Triple XXX root beer and a hamburger with peanut butter on it. Yep – peanut butter. The food was average and I pressed on.

Next stop was Madison, WI (well, after a Tornado Warning, check engine warning light, and 100’s of miles). I sampled several New Glarus Beers – including the popular Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel. New Glarus is a small town southwest of Madison. The New Glarus beer has won many awards but their desire to maintain the quality of their beer and lower production keeps it mostly in Wisconsin. My Madison hosts, the Parrantos, were big fans and so was I after a few. I was even prompted to liberate a New Glarus pint glass from a local watering hole. My other Madison food adventures included Babcock Hall for a taste of the famous ice cream the University of Wisconsin churns out – it was good. I also took a quick tour the production facility. I had kosher old fashioned donuts hot out of the oven from Greenbush Bakery – SO YUMMY. The Great Dane Brewing Company (123 E. Doty St.) was a great dinner destination for a bison burger, African stew, and a taste of brats. And afterwards, I sadly had to smell, but not eat the great Ethioipan food from Baraka (State St.) near the UW campus. My only disappointment was Ella’s Deli – a well known spot in Madison, famous for ice cream and it’s eclectic decor. The place is very kid friendly with all types of trinkets, gadets, and knick knacks to keep grandparents and kids entertained – but the food was distinctly average and more than moderately priced.

In Mt Horeb, Wisconsin, I visited the Mustard Museum

Mustard Museum

– Mustard Museum –

The Mustard Museum has over 4000 mustards on display and about 500 available for sale, including 3 that are made by the museum. In addition to plenty of free samples, there are interesting posters, momentos, and displays about the history of mustard, mustard pop culture as well as many mustard related items that one would never imagine. The place is well worth the visit.

Museum

I met the CMO (Chief Mustard Officer) Barry Levenson . I really enjoyed speaking with him. The seed for the Mustard Museum was planted when the Red Sox lost the World Series in the 80’s. As he wandered around in despair, he decided he needed something to do as a hobby and picked up a new mustard in a store – then the collection started to grow. Barry is also a lawyer and he has written a very good book about Food and the Law called Habeas Codfish, which he was nice enough to sign for me. Mt. Horeb also has a great bike trail, a good brew pub and also happens to be the troll capital of the world. There are carved wooden trolls everywhere.

However, the reason for my Wisconsin adventure was farther north in the little town of Princeton. I went to the Burning Down the Fox BBQ Championship where I was doing my first gig as a Kansas City BBQ Society certifed BBQ judge. It was great fun and a very good festival. I stayed the night at the Ellison Gray Lion Inn (no relation – but they offered to adopt me) where I had great company and really good Strawberry French Toast.

And I forgot my whirlwind Custard tour of the Milwaukee surburbs with Shannon Jackson Arnold – Churnologist for Breyer’s Ice Cream and my writing good fairy. In about one hour we hit Le Ducs in Wales, WI, Divino Gelato Cafe (excellent gelato and very nice owner) in Waukesha, Oscars – near Waukesha, and Kopps Frozen Custard. Many feel Kopps is the best in Wisconsin – so far I agree. I did not have enough room in my belly to go the Michaels Custard in Madison, but by report – they are in the top five as well.

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Archives: MEL Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

There is a special place in my soul for OZ even though I was there there 6 times from 1989 to 2008 for a total of 4 1/2 months. Australia is my second home. Unfortunately they didn’t need any food writers or government bureaucrats (I tried and finally gave up). I’ve been to every state, territory and major city by foot, horse, train, bus, car and plane with the only area untouched the coastal strip from Darwin to Broome.

These are a few of my favorite things.

The Yarra Valley

One of the great wine producing regions in the world. This is an incredible way to spend a day or two with good friends – tour more than one dozen wineries in the area – sampling all day long. My favorite wine of them all is –

Fortified Shiraz

Yering Station Fortified Shiraz

19.8% Alcohol

Yering.com

Another favorite winery was –

Green Point

Maroondah HWY
Coldstrem 3770 Vic

61 3 9739 1110

Open 10:30 AM – 4:30 PM

But there is much more to do in the area –

The Yarra Valley Dairy offers hand-made cheeses and rich homemade organic ice cream as well as coffee, desserts and excellent views. It is located on McMeikans Rd. at Yering and is open from 10.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday when it is open to 10.00 p.m.

tel: (03) 9739 0023.

Yarra Valley Dairy website

Also not so far away…..
Pig & Whistle Tavern
At Bayview Estate
365 Purves Road
MAIN RIDGE, 3928

(03) 5989-6130

Pig & Whistle Tavern

Pig and Whistle

 

A perfect pub, in the perfect place with great pub grub, fine service, and a winery in the back staffed by an owner that graduated from the University of Michigan. Plus some B & B rooms if you want to stick around.

signs

Another ign

Portsea, (Victoria)

The Grand Hotel is a landmark on the Mornington Peninsula. Built over 100 years ago, The Grand Hotel has a great restaurant, a fine bar, and pefect seaside view.

Grand Hotel web site

Melbourne

 

Mihn Mihn (Vietnamese Cuisine)
94 Victoria St.
Richmond

(03) 9427 7891
Mutiny at the Mihn Mihn

In a nut shell – we refused to leave our table. In spite of a reservation – the owner wanted us in and out within 20 minutes. However we had 3 bottles of wine to drink. Our party consisted of the Gourmand, Ms. Mandy Culph (famous Dingley chick and supermodel), Dan Brindle (King of the Southern hemisphere ) and Katie Murray (my favorite Brit). We refused to accept the rushed service and revolted. In a series frantic of trips, every 1-2 minutes various staff came begging for us to eat faster. They lived in fear of the restaurant owner. When they graciously offered to let us finish our meal in the kitchen after saying they did not serve dessert – we declined. When they tried to sit diners at our table – while we were still eating the main course – we declined. Then the dragon lady owner came – (her famous quote “you are rich, I am poor”), we would not leave. When we did leave, after allowing ourselves about 37 minutes to eat a good meal and drink three bottles of wine while debating the merits of civil disobedience vs. open violence about this situation, the entire restaurant clapped for us because we held our ground (one of the most memorable experiences of my life). We forced the scared bus boy to take a generous tip and told him not to let the owner steal it from him. The food was great – we can never go back. Oh by the way, we were not drunk, that happened about 12 minutes and 1 cab ride later.

Bihn Mihn
40 Victoria St
Richmond 3121 VIC
(03) 9421 3802

Even better Vietnamese food, great service and in spite of two drunken Aussie gals and a brit chick singing karaoke without a machine or music – we were not asked to leave. (I was well behaved.)

Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne, 3000

61 3 9320 5822
This giant vendors market has it all: butchers, fishmongers, vegetables galore fruits, wine shops, incredible cheeses, aromatherapy, arts, crafts, bargain clothing and hucksters. There are also regular lectures by leading chefs, market tours, music and more. Built in 1878, the Market consists of several historic buildings which are visited by over 100,000 shoppers each week.

Handorf’s Fine Chocolates

884 Glenhuntly Road

Caulfield South

03 9525 6639

(Many locations – well executed Bavarian Chocolates)

And the Melbourne Cup! A week of tradition, horseracing, hats, heat, and more. I was there for the Makybe Diva win in 2005 and bet on her to win – which meant I won enough money to pay for a very nice dinner the next day.

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Archives: BHM Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016


CMH in BHM, (Bham, AL Y’all from December, 2006)

I made my first visit to the South with one goal – to eat at Johnnie’s BBQ which my friend Andrea has been talking about for several years. Since she was expected to have a hangover after a holiday party – I would be driving Ms. Andrea to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and flying back. This also gave me a chance to take a peek at Nashville, TN. And, as a Kansas City BBQ Society Certified BBQ Judge – I would have a chance to expand my palate, knowledge base, and belly.

I am fairly positive a saw a roadkill Bigfoot or monkey on the way down – but I did not have time to confirm this – there was eating to be done.

It is nine hours from CMH to Birmingham. We paused in Nashville for a late lunch at Corky’s BBQ (Brentwood location). Decent BBQ but not epic – however since it is only 1 minute away from the interstate – well worth the effort.

Corky’s BBQ

A BBQ Primer –a good southern BBQ joint adheres to a few basics. You should expect: a small menu, paper towels on the table, and sliced white bread served as a napkin alternative / delivery device for BBQ. Also, there will be extra sauce on the table. Tea – sweet tea (lots of sugar) and unsweet – will be the beverage of choice and you will have the option of half and half (1/2 sweet and 1/2 unsweet, Y’All). And since this is the south – expect PORK.

Bread

Upon arrival in Birmingham – it was time to eat again. Pickings were limited on a Sunday night – but we ended up at Dreamland BBQ. This was a surprise. Dreamland has been renown for ribs for years – so having a shot at this spot was a bonus. This is a franchise – but still good, I am sure the original is even better.

Dreamland BBQ

Sampled were the ribs, fries, baked beans, and Banana pudding. The ribs were well-cooked, tender, and meaty with good flavor. The sauce had a good kick to it. The Banana Pudding – was perfect.

The next day – with a bow to southern hospitality and for the sake of a birthday we dined at a Thai Restaurant – Surin West. This was good Thai. I really liked the Coconut soup and the Chicken Noodle Bowl. This is in the Five Points section of Birmingham.

Dinner was at Niki’s West. The restaurant does have a menu offering steak and seafood in it – but people head to Niki’s for the Meat and Three buffet. There are 5-7 Southern style cooked meat items and about 40 various side dishes to choose from including macaroni and cheese, greens, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. Just choosing three is a struggle. There are also desserts. The Pecan Pie was perfect! The crust was a masterpiece. I loved it.

Review of Niki’s

Sign at Niki's

Southern Foodways History of Bham dining – Niki’s

Day Two –

O’Carr’s Deli & Catering
2909 18th Street South (Homewood)
(205) 879-2196

Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm
(No credit cards)

O’Carrs

I had a crush on the (Homewood) O’Carr’s the second I walked in. The place is flowing with character. The prep area is overflowing with fresh fruits. This location has been around for 30 plus years – evidence of this can be found in some of the signed photos on the wall from the likes of 70’s rockers Boston, Ted Nugent and Foreigner. O’Carr’s has stood the test of time better than the people in the aforementioned photographs.

Fruit

The menu is impressive. O’Carr’s puts the ham in Birmingham. The sandwich selections are filled with top grade meats including Prosciutto, Westphalian, and other types of ham as well as kuemmelwurst, braunschweiger, genoa salami and kosher salami

The salads and starters include broccoli salad, hearts of palm with blue cheese dressing, nut bread with cream cheese, asparagus and turkey on field greens with mango vinaigrette, crabmeat with cream cheese dip, cheese plates, etc. There are several soups offered daily.

Did I mention that have a big crush on O’Carr’s. Looking through the menu – I was hard pressed to pick just one thing. Looking around the crowded room, I noticed that 90% of the diners were getting the Chicken Salad and Fruit Plate. I sampled this and found it to be perfect. A generous serving of chicken salad (with a few cut grapes mixed in) was served with a selection of various crackers and a wide variety of cut fresh fruits. This is a destination dish. In 2002, the Chicken Salad and Fruit plate was listed in Birmingham Magazine’s 101 Best Things To Eat. I can tell you – I think there are at least 50 more things at O’Carr’s that should have been on that list.

Chicken salad

Another must eat item at O’Carr’s is the cheesecake – thick and rich with real whipped cream on the top and a thin layer of fudge or fruit near the top. If the cheesecake is famous enough to be on a T-shirt – (for sale at the restaurant) – it is good enough for my belly.

Cheesecake

The slogan for O’Carr’s is Eat by Color – there are many colors to choose from and I hit the rainbow pretty hard in one trip. However, there are several other things I wanted to try – including – the milkshakes, seven layer bars, a couple sandwiches, and another serving of the chicken salad.

Cameron Carr and his wife June have been running the restaurant for about 30 years and are starting to franchise. I think they have a great operation – but if you go to an O’Carr’s, go to the Homewood location, and go early to beat the crowd – the original can not be beat.

Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs
Pete’s History

Holly Eats – Pete’s

I will let these web sites do the talking. If you go to Pete’s, appreciate the history of the place.

Tip Top Grill
588 Shades Crest Road
(205) 978-8677

This little stand offers a great view of the area since it sits on a cliff right by Lover’s Leap. I had a good slaw dog here.

Johnnys Bar B Q
1401 4th Street Southwest
Cullman, AL
(256) 734-8539

Johnny’s Bar B Q

Johnnys menu

Cullman is about 45 minutes north of Bham. In a state saturated with good BBQ and a city with several famous places, my hosts insisted that we head to Johnnies for the “best”. Johnnies is a good spot. It was ranked as one of the best of 2006 in National BBQ News – not an easy thing to do.

Sign at Johnny's

The standout here is the (Bulldog Slappin’ good) Bar-B-Q Potato. This is a giant baked potato filled with shredded cheese, sour cream and a big pile of shredded BBQ. Yum.

BBQ Potato

The Original Pancake House
Leaving town the next day, I went back to Five Points for a “Dutch Baby” at
The Original Pancake House. The Dutch Baby – is gigantic – kind of a fusion of a pancake and dumbo ear from a state fair – with lots of butter, powdered sugar, and lemon (if you choose) for good measure. This is a mini chain that started in Portland, Oregon. It was ranked as one of the best pancake houses by USA Today a few years back

I wish I would have had time for:

Another trip to O’Carr’s

Sneaky Pete’s (a small hot dog chain in Bham)

Garage Cafe
2304 Tenth Terrace South
(205) 322-3220
A hard to find bar / Café famous for offering create-your-own sandwiches. You pick the bread, meat, cheese and toppings.  Sounds good to me.

Golden Rule is a respected chain in the area. They have a mini location at the airport but I was too full to think about eating when I left Bham.

Golden Rule BBQ

OK – it was not all food – I did some other things including –

A nighttime trip to Vulcan Park for a view of the City
Vulcan Park

Vulcan

This is Vulcan’s Butt.

And I went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum (very good). I also had a look at the 16th Street Baptist Church across he street – site of a lot of civil rights history.

Civil Rights Museum

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Archives: Chicago

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

After Berkley, Chicago is my favorite food town. I always try to hit the Billy Goat Tavern. I thought it would be touristy, but it was everything I wanted it to be – authentic, fun, and good food. It was much more than a Saturday Night Live skit – it was a true taste of Chicago on a day when I needed to have a good meal (I had a double cheeseburger as my hobbit style second breakfast for the day).((Traveling Tip – there is a Billy Goat Tavern Outlet at O’Hare Airport, near Gate C 19, – the burger is almost as good and the Italian Beef is worth a bite.)) A meal that was runner up for best spot of the trip was an insider tip from my friend Josh, a Chicago transplant. We had a great lunch at Heaven on Seven, a diner with some cajun undertones, hidden on the seventh floor of an office building.


Another bonus for Chicago style hot dog lovers – there is a Superdawg at Midway airport!


Here is a Chicago food primer for Windy City greenhorns.

To begin – some information on Chicago pizza:

Food Timeline – Chicago Pizza


Wikipedia – Chicago Pizza

And now on to the Italian Beef –

Wikipedia – Italian Beef

Pat Bruno is the authority on Chicago Food – here his Beef overview –

Pat Bruno – Hemispheres Magazine June 2006

And Chicago Hot Dogs

Wikipedia – Chicago Style Hot Dog

Some of the Windy City’s best Dawgs – (I vote for Byron’s and Clark Street Dog)


In 2005, I was researching the fabulous Italian Beef Sandwich in the Windy City – this is what I learned.

Chicago is a food lover’s town featuring three homegrown culinary inventions – Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Hot Dogs and the Italian Beef Sandwich (the third and least traveled of the triumvirate). Few people have heard of this Chicago cultural icon outside of the Windy City metro area, – but once you get a big, wet, messy bite of this sandwich – you’re hooked.The history of the sandwich is about as clear as the juice the beef swims in. You won’t find this sandwich in Italy; most people agree the sandwich evolved in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930’s. A place called Al’s on Taylor Street has been around since 1938. Other local lore implies the origin of Italian Beef at a place called Maxwell’s.

The popular sandwich rapidly populated Chicago’s neighborhoods with beef stands in the late 1940’s. Today the signature sandwich is served up at hundreds of places from old mom and pop stands to new fangled franchises.

The building blocks of the Italian Beef are: Bun – a Chicago style French roll – crusty on the outside – soft on the inside; the beef – thinly sliced and cut against the grain; the juice/sauce – a highly seasoned au jus with slight variations depending on the recipe used but usually including some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and other herbs and spices; and the toppings – typically sweet peppers or Giardiniera (Jar Din Era). You can get cheese at a few places but for most Chicagoans that is like putting ketchup on a Chicago dog – you just don’t do it.

Before ordering a beef – you need to know what to ask for. Each choice is critical and needs to be made before you approach the counter.

First decision – dry or wet. A wet sandwich will have the roll dipped in the juice as well. A dry sandwich will have what escapes the meat or a little extra juice the sandwich maker ladles in by chance.

Second decision – sweet or hot. Sweet will get you roasted green bell peppers. Hot means Hot (Spicy) Giardiniera relish – the typical combination includes cut up cauliflower, celery, jalapeno and/or sport peppers, carrots, and spices (the recipe for this relish varies from place to place).

Third decision – can you get a combo? The Combo sandwich adds Italian sausage to the Italian beef – can you say coronary disease!!!

Fourth decision – can you get “red Gravy/sauce? A few places offer a red sauce for the beef – this is basically spaghetti sauce – but this is rare and not favored by most Italian Beef aficionados.

Fifth decision – “ya want fries with that?”

Pat Bruno and Dennis Foley, famed food writers and known Beef eaters describe the Chicago Lean. An Italian Beef veteran will often eat this sandwich standing up with the torso leaning forward or at least maneuvering the tail end of the sandwich to a strategic angle to avoid the drippings of the sandwich. Any strategy that avoids loosing the slightest bit of sandwich while protecting ones clothing is preferred. Some of the better beef stands invest a little extra in a thicker grade of wax paper to wrap the sandwich in – but even this will not guarantee keeping the sauce off your shirt.

Many of the places get their beef from Scala Beef – which has a great reputation in town. Most of the rolls are from Gonnella Baking Company or Turano Baking Company – also highly regarded bakers. It is not uncommon to see giardiniera served out of a large glass jar from one of several local purveyors. Considering all these commonalities it might seem that all Beefs are created and served equal – such is not the case. True Italian Beef fans will scrutinize every detail such as how the sirloin is cut – too thin or too thick and how each place cuts and handles their beef. Seasoning in the juice and quality of toppings are critical too and always noticed by anyone that has been to more than a couple beef stands. Even small touches such as how the rolls are stored and whether or not the Giardiniera is self serve can be crucial factors.

If you have a large group in tow and you need more seating and variety than the typical beef stand has to offer keep an eye out for these two chains – Portillos and Buona Beef. Both places serve a good beef and offer other Chicago style treats as well as catering. Mr. Beef is a famous place inside the Chicago Loop. It is just across the street from the Scala Beef plant downtown and has been a celebrity favorite for decades – the wall across from the counter is plastered with glossies of actors and local notables.

My Chicago beef guide – who I will call Mac the Knife to protect his identify– said this after visiting one well-known place – “they say you can’t screw up an Italian Beef – well you can and _______ did!!” The better beefs are often off the beaten path. To make sure your first experience is a good one – here is a sample of places that consistently do everything right.


Carm’s Beef
1801 S. Wolf Road,
Hillside, IL
708 449-0125

Any second or third generation Italian Beef eater will probably pause for a minute and smile when you mention Carm’s. Many years ago, there were four locations. The original and favorite was on Cicero Avenue. Today, just the Hillside location remains. Joe Mantenga seems to love the place – he has two autographed photos inside. This Carm’s serves much more than Italian Beef but it keeps the family recipes and legend alive with the most appealing looking Italian Beef sandwich in town.

Carm’s Italian Beef
1057 W. Polk St.
312-738-1046

The Little Italy Carm’s is no relation to the Hillside Carm’s. This location opened in 1926 as a grocery store called Fontano’s. In the 1960’s the store moved across the street and this location started specializing in sandwiches and Italian Ices. The DeVille family knows many of their customers – people from the neighborhood and nearby University of Illinois at Chicago students. The lady at the counter asked me “who would want to read about Italian Beefs?” (Ok – the book died – but this did make it on the blog).

Boston’s Bar-B-Q
2932 W Chicago Ave (Corner of Grand and Chicago)
Chicago, IL
312 486 9536
(Closed Sunday)
Boston’s started out as a bar in 1949 but switched over to a Beef place as their sandwiches gained more renown. This place is a little out of the way in an industrial section of Chicago but is worth the trip – at least in the daytime. Over the years, Boston’s has been consistently listed as a top place when Chicagoans rave about the best Beefs in town. This beef stand is also highly frequented by the Chicago police and other public servants, which is a solid endorsement for any type of food. Beef eaters will also find a Godfather movie poster hanging on the wall – although not scientifically proven, this type of décor typically has a high correlation with good Italian Beef. If you have not had a combo sandwich – this is one the best places to do so.

Chickies
2839 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL
312 762 2333 (BEEF)

Chickie’s is a classic Chicago Italian Beef Stand that blends into its working class neighborhood. The inside is standing room only but there are two picnic tables outside. The beef is strongly seasoned. The Giardiniera is homemade with a lot of large slices of celery mixed in with the spicy blend. The place has been around since 1962 and is a lunchtime favorite for nearby office and factory workers.

Duke’s Drive In
8115 S Harlem Ave
Oak Lawn, IL
708 599-0576
http://www.dukesitalianbeef.com/

Duke’s is kind of the new kid of the Italian Beef block. This south side establishment has been serving Italian Beef sandwiches since 1975. Duke’s is a quintessential drive-in, which makes it a favorite of truckers and classic car enthusiasts. Although some places have received higher rating for sandwiches – for the Chicago gull population Duke’s is the hands down favorite. Not even the multiple signs posted that state feeding the bird is against city statutes will keep these feathered French Fry eaters way.

Johnnie’s Beef
7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL
708 452 6000
Second location –
1935 S ARLINGTON HEIGHTS RD
ARLINGTON HTS, IL 60005-4017
847-357-8100
(Closed Sunday)

Really good beef can be found outside the Chicago Loop and Johnnie’s Beef is worth the trip to the burbs to prove it. Expect to find a line of customers when you pull in this drive in’s driveway. Don’t let the sight of people queued up outside the door deter you – this place moves people through quickly because the guys at the counter are efficient order takers – much like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you forget to order your fries or the type of peppers you want because you panicked then you can drown your sorrows in one of the best Italian Ices this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Max’s Italian Beef
5754 N Western Ave (near Hollywood Ave.)
Chicago, IL 60659-5114
(773) 989-8200
(Closed Sunday)

The Estes family takes their business seriously – they post their home and work phone numbers on the wall so you can call them if something is not to your satisfaction. The stand has been around since 1957 and you can see a leftover wooden sign from the day that Beefs were well under a dollar. Today, the place has four tables and counter seating that rings the inside with plenty of TV’s for watching local sporting events. Max’s offers self-serve, spicy Giardiniera and a giant menu including their famous Ghetto Fries (BBQ sauce or gravy, Onions, Giardiniera, and a lot of melted cheese). When they dip a Beef at Max’s it comes out really wet – so be ready.

Patio
1503 W. Taylor St.
Chicago, IL 60607
312 829 0454
The Patio has been around for over 50 years with the last 23 at this location in the heart of Little Italy (http://www.littleitalychicago.com). There is no patio at the Patio (that was at the original location) but there is one of the least expensive Italian Beef sandwiches in town. As a bonus they wrap their sandwich a high-grade wax paper (extra protection for beef greenhorns) that is more resilient than what other places use. The friendly counter staff will make you feel at home in this cozy spot that seats about ten.

Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage
7153 W 127th St.
Palos Heights, IL
773-239-1243

14279 Wolf Rd.
Orland Park, IL 60467-1932
708-403-9070
10337 S. Kedzie Ave.,
Chicago, IL
773 239-1243


18328 Governors Highway
Homewood, IL
708 647-9999

Even though Pop’s family of restaurants has grown – the friendly service helps retain the feel of a Mom and Pop establishment. Pop’s has one of the best cost to beef ratios of any Italian beef purveyor, they do not hold back on the beef in their sandwiches. As for toppings, this small chain has the best self-serve hot giardiniera in town. This is a good place to come if you need a place to sit down since there is some seating available.


Looking for beefs around Chicago – you will hear the name Al mentioned more than once. The problem is there is more than one Al’s, so where do you go first – this will help sort out A Tale of Two Al’s.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
www.alsbeef.com
13 locations
Most convenient location:
169 West. Ontario
(312) 943-3222
The Franchise started in 2001. But the Ontario Al’s does have common ancestry with the Taylor St. Al’s.The Ontario location is within a baseball toss of Ed Debevic’s, Carson’s Ribs, Gino’s East Pizza and a Portillos – so you can cover all of your Chicago food needs on foot. You can take the Brown Line to Chicago or Merchandise Mart.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
http://www.alscatering.com/index.htm
1079 West Taylor St
(312) 226-4017
Born in 1938.
As an added bonus, Mario’s Italian Ice shop, which is among the best in Chicago, is across the street. This Al’s has been listed in nearly every article written about Italian Beef. Little Italy is a great neighborhood for food lovers to stroll around.
Subway access on the Blue Line to UIC-Halsted, and then a bit of a walk.

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Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut Shoppe

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 15, 2016

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There is one objective truth on the Ohio Donut Trail, just when you think you have everything covered (south of 70) a new spot appears unexpectedly. This one was scouted via social media. A key observation by the social media poster – a 24 hour donut shop!, caught my eye. As did the location, Londonderry, Ohio. I have traveled nearly all of Ohio but it turns out Londonderry is on a section of S.R. 50 I had never traversed. Doing some research, this spot is about 15 minutes east (ish) of Chillicothe. Doing more research, it seems than Londonderry is only about 50 minutes from Athens, which of course means O’Betty’s so in my odd travel logic – how about a day devoted to donuts and hot dogs. This oddly shaped travel triangle makes for a spiffy afternoon drive. It turned out to be a pretty good day for donuting to boot.

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Regular devotees to the Ohio Donut trail (not to be confused with another Ohio Donut trail which is newer and just covers a small portion of the state and might be construed as an upstart donut trail) will be pleased to know that Family Donut shop is easily in the top 6 best Ohio Donuteries encountered to date.

I knew pulling into the lot that I would love the place. It looked wholesome. The counter staff were friendly and the offerings were extensive. In addition to donuts (mostly of the cake variety but fritters, Long John’s and fancy donuts too) the place serves good coffee, hot dogs, a smoked sausage sandwich, ice cream, milkshakes and a few other things. There is a counter with a few stools and a scattering of tables as well as a 24 hour drive through window. This ensures that if one needs to rest from the drive there are ample options for sustenance and support.

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A dozen plus donuts of all varieties were purchased and sampled over the next nine hours. The apple fritter was exceptional. The stick donut was the best I have ever consumed anywhere. The other donuts were all fresh, of good quality, light, fluffy and satisfying. After returning home and taking some donuts with him, my tasting associate texted me within minutes “The plain cake donut may be the best I have ever had!”

Additional trips will be made to Family Donut Shop to continue this important research. On the way to Athens I discovered McArthur Ohio which also warrants more investigation so the two Route 50 towns may be linked together in a future post.

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Stay tuned for the continuing adventures on the original and best Ohio Donut Tail.

Family Donut Shop
35633 US-50, Londonderry, OH 45647
(740) 887-2120

Posted in donuts, ice cream, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Burger King’s 5 for $4 vs. Wendy’s 4 for $4

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2016

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Two back to back fast food posts? Speculation may arise that I have bottomed out. I hope not, both are in the spirit of investigative food journalism. I’ve noticed Wendy’s and Burger King plugging $4 meals for months and both are near my headquarters so I decided to pick up both within minutes of each other to do some side by side analysis. Thanks to those hard fact driven folks at Fox News, I seem to have stumbled onto a -> fast food war with a little smack talk on the side. The King decreed “5 for $4, because 5 is better than 4”. But is that really the case? I decided to challenge the two head on using qualitative and quantitative research. This post was spur of the moment but perhaps fated since it was conducted on April (Four), 4th.

Let us open the sacks and see what we find.

The Burger King deal includes: a bacon cheeseburger, crispy chicken nuggets (4), small fries, small drink and a chocolate chip cookie

The Wendy’s deal includes: the choice of Junior Bacon Cheeseburger or Crispy Chicken Sandwich, a small beverage, value natural cut fries and 4 piece chicken nuggets.

First let’s look at the actual retail price. At Burger King, the price is $4.06 whereas at Wendy’s the total comes to $4.08. Score one for the King. (The differences seems to be how each empire calculates Ohio sales tax for the beverage that comes with the deal. What an odd anomaly).

Second we compare beverages. Both are the same size so that is a draw.

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For the third area of analysis, I opted to go head to head with the bacon cheese burgers. Wendy’s version offers a slice of tomato and a large piece of lettuce whereas Burger King piles on the pickles. Both add two strips of bacon and a slice of American cheese. The hamburger paddies are about the same size. The BK burger tasted better than it’s counterpart from Wendy’s and the bacon flavor was stronger. (Side note: while Wendy’s did not have a pickle on this burger, they typically do feature them on value items, Burger King uses better pickles and my BK test subject had 5 – that did not influence my choice but it is noteworthy). Two points for the King.

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Moving along to the third shared menu item and our fourth comparison point: chicken nuggets which generally are among the most terrifying of fast food items in my opinion. Wendy’s chicken nuggets were vastly superior to their royal cousins. The Wendy’s offering were thicker, fluffier and had some taste of chicken to them. The Burger King Nuggets were….crunchy. Score one for the girl in pin stripes.

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Our next head to head in the competition is fries. My serving from Burger King was almost twice as much as Wendy’s. Wendy’s fries had better potato flavor. Burger King’s fries had better texture and crispness. I’m giving a slight edge to the King for this one more so due to quantity than quality. The King: 3, The Kid: 1.

Burger King offers a chocolate chip cookie as their fifth item, Wendy’s does not, so it is now 4 to 1 in favor of the King.

Looking at some subjective items. At the Wendy’s I visited Coca-Cola Free style is offered so I had more beverage choices and I had the option of either a burger or chicken sandwich. Both companies offer a choice of dipping sauces with the nuggets and neither include ketchup unless you ask for it. Wendy’s slightly greater variety has merit but not enough to earn a point so the score remains unchanged.

Let’s look, for the sake of value at some nutritional facts about the meals. The Burger King 5 for $4 has (not including the beverage and cookie): 820 calories, 26 grams of protein, 39 grams of fat. Wendy’s combo (just the burger, nuggets and fries): 790 calories, 32 grams of protein and 45 grams of fat. I’d like to see how the difference would be if the servings of fries were really the same but on paper a few more calories and a little less fat is probably marginally better for health and if you are living on the cheap – that’s more fuel to sustain a person. We will call nutrition a draw but objectively, both fail. Adding in a non diet beverage for both you go well over 1000 calories and toss in the cookie close to 1200. If you hit hard times and only have $4 to eat – the BK deal may be a sustainer.

I thought this contest would have been a closer call. Since I go to Wendy’s more than Burger King (and I go to both very rarely) I thought Wendy’s was going to do a better job on the the three core items. The King is the King of value meals here. Note: I’ve had my share of fast food chicken nuggets for the rest of this decade (4.5 of the 8 were consumed by me to taste them with and without the dipping sauces).

This study was supervised by CMH Griffin (who had yogurt). My research assistant CMH Tobias was quite happy to dispose of the leftovers.

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If there is another head to head study I should have my research team investigate, let me know.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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