That Food Guy
Thursday, September 07, 2017
  Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen - Alcoa, Tennessee

Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen

 
250 Hamilton Crossing Dr, Alcoa, TN 37701
(865) 983-5582    https://cheddars.com/
10:30Am – 10:30PM (11:30PM week ends)

 My birthday was coming soon and I was told that I could pick the place for breakfast. I gave it a lot of thought trying to select someplace new perhaps or maybe unique but not one that anyone might object to. I wandered over my mental map of the area, thinking about any recent drives and what I might have seen. Cheddar’s came to mind! After a quick check of their web page I learned they opened late morning for lunch, no breakfast service. I asked our go-for-grub pals if a lunch was okay and I received positive replies. Then lunch, instead of breakfast, it would be.

This would not be my first visit to a Cheddar’s restaurant. In January of 2014 my wife’s dear Aunt Effie and Uncle Gilbert treated us to lunch at their new discovery, Cheddar’s Casual Café in Pinellas Park, Florida. It was a very positive experience and I looked forward to this next encounter. You can see that blog here.


The wife and I arrived a few minutes late. I noticed a change had taken place since  my first Cheddar’s encounter.  Cheddar’s Casual Café was now Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. When Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers founded Cheddar’s in  Arlington, Texas back in 1979 their stated credo was ”… when a meal is prepared and cooked fresh just for you, it not only tastes better, it makes you feel good.” Perhaps the name change is paying homage to their beginnings. There are a few stores in the Great Plains and some in the Southwest but by far the majority of the 164 Cheddar’s locations are in the Eastern half of the United States. In 2012, Zagat ranked Cheddar's the nation's No.1 full-service restaurant chain as well as Top Overall American Cuisine. Consumer Reports and others have given high ratings and customer satisfaction reports. We were about to see if the reports were true.

Abbie and Mariano, our go-for-grub pals, had secured a spacious booth next to a shaded window. It looked to be a cozy comfortable spot for lunch. The waitress was already there taking beverage orders. I’m sorry I didn’t get here name as I would have liked to thank her by name for her good nature and thoughtful service. She wished me a happy birthday and I then knew I had been setup by the go-for-grub pals.  I just hoped that Cheddar’s didn’t do fool-crazy things designed to embarrass their patrons.

The wife Janis is a light eater and her selection was the CLASSIC LUNCH COMBO ($6.79 Select two of the following: HALF CHEDDAR’S CLUB SANDWICH - HALF MONTE CRISTO - BOWL OF SOUP - HOUSE SALAD - CAESAR SALAD - LOADED BAKED POTATO - BAKED SWEET POTATO) Her particular choices were the half Club Sandwich and the Caesar Salad. The salad was a nice bowl of crisp greens and some croutons, dressing not too heavy, not to light. It was accompanied with a butter glazed croissant. Her preference would have been without the butter but the croissant as well as the salad was very good and fully enjoyed.

Her sandwich arrived a short time later. A diagonally sliced sandwich of two slices of toasted bread well filled with ham, turkey, cheese, bacon and tomato, it was very similar to her order during our first Cheddar’s encounter. The only significant difference was it was cut as a half sandwich instead of the more traditional quarters. As with the salad, it was thoroughly enjoyed.

 Our go-for-grub pals, Abbie and Mariano, opted to share a big platter of HOUSE SMOKED BABY BACK RIBS (Add a House or Caesar salad, $3.29 HALF RACK $10.99 FULL RACK $15.99 Homemade rub, slow smoked in-house, and grilled with a honey BBQ sauce. Served with French fries and coleslaw.) Coleslaw is not their favorite and at their request the server provided a house salad instead. The serving of ribs and French fries was, to say the least, more than ample for two hearty appetites (luckily for Mariano, Abbie is also a light eater). It was a pretty serving thick and clingy barbecue sauce adding a delicious shine to the ribs. The meat was very tender easily separating form the bone. Abbie and Mariano had eagerly anticipated their visit to Cheddar’s for the ribs and I do believe they enjoyed them very much.

 

I like light meat chicken and love shrimp. The combination dinner plate of chicken tenders and shrimp caught my eye; CHICKEN TENDERS & SHRIMP ($11.19 Served with two sides. Add a House or Caesar salad, $3.29 Grilled or hand-battered fried shrimp with our homemade chicken tenders. See a list of sides at end of blog.) For sides I ordered mashed potatoes and gravy and coleslaw. For a big appetite the plate piled high with chicken, shrimp, mashed potatoes and coleslaw was a welcome sight. Included were cocktail sauce and honey mustard dipping sauce.

The coleslaw was dressed with a slightly seasoned sauce that added to the flavor but itself did not clamor for attention. Nice crisp cabbage; I would call it a good slaw. The mashed potatoes were of the industrial grade variety but acceptably smooth. The gravy was very tasty and would be most welcome on a chicken fried steak.

There were four, possibly five (sorry, I didn’t count them) large butterflied, battered and deep fried shrimp. The coating was golden brown and slightly crispy and pleasingly not oily. They were large shrimp, the meat was cooked just right and moist and tender. (As an aside: This serving of shrimp in a basket with some French fries would have more than made a beach-front fish shack offering of a shrimp basket.) They were very tasty fried shrimp.

There were four very large “chicken tenders.” I suspect they are more than tenders, more like a chicken breast sliced in two pieces. Breaded and deep fried to a golden brown, well drained and not oily, the meat was tender and very moist; lots of good chicken flavor. I tried a bit of the honey mustard sauce; a nice blend, not to sweet, not to tart but good mustard flavor. I am on again – off again with honey mustard and today wasn’t the day. I tried a bit of cocktail sauce; good but a bit too much tang from the horseradish to go with the mild taste of the chicken. I thought about asking for some plane old ketchup but decided to just eat the tenders down to the finger lickin’ end as they were. They were that good all by themselves. As you can probably guess, I really enjoyed that meal.

In the few years that we have been here, for various reasons two other local restaurants, best described I guess as up-scale beer and burger places with lots of big television screens, had become our fall back places to go. The food was good, they were close; known entities were we felt comfortable. I feel that Cheddar’s will replace the other restaurants as the spur-of-the-moment place to go. It is still quite close to the house, the prices are competitive and the menu offers more of a variety than the others. The interiors are brighter,  more focused on the food and dining and offering a more relaxed and casual (as in casual café perhaps) dining experience. On this visit Cheddar’s has validated the aforementioned awards and positive citations.

 

Just before we left, the hostess came by the table to offer her birthday congratulations. She brought a small bag with two still hot, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (sort of a mini version of their giant cookie Sundae). I was grateful for the remembrance especially since it was low key, quiet and private.

 FYI: MADE-FROM-SCRATCH SIDES – Substitute any side for a House or Caesar salad for an additional .99  Steamed Fresh Broccoli, Buttered Off-The-Cob Corn, Freshly Made Coleslaw, French Fries, Idaho Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Black Beans, Mac and Cheese, Broccoli Cheese Casserole, Baked Sweet Potato, Loaded Baked Potato, Seasoned Rice, Southern Green Beans.
 Add a side to any order, 2.49  -  Honey Butter Croissants, 3 for 2.99
 The full menu is available online in pdf format.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Saturday, July 01, 2017
  Sullivan's - Maryville, Tennessee

Sullivan’s – Maryville TN

Downtown Maryville - 121 W. Broadway Maryville, TN - 37804 - 865.681.3334
aLSO
Rocky Hill - 7545 Northshore Dr - Knoxville, TN 37919 -  865.694.9696

 
To be, in any small way, a part of an event that brings mirthful glee to a friend is very rewarding to the soul. What brings this to mind is that the wife and I were invited to a surprise birthday party for a dear friend that was hosted by her adoring husband and family. The party was attended by about 25 friends and associates and it did come as a complete surprise to her; the secret had been well kept. The venue was The Alcove, a banquet room in Sullivan’s. It was a festive and enjoyable evening; old acquaintances renewed and new friendships formed. It was indeed a happy birthday for Rosana!

This was our first ever visit to Sullivan’s located in the historic downtown section of Maryville, Tennessee. One of two local area stores, it is conveniently located across the street from a free public parking lot but that is problematical if other events are taking place in adjoining venues. The Sullivan’s building is also conveniently located alongside a picturesque set of brick “Spanish Steps” that lead to the lower street and another parking structure below. It was but a short walk in the rain that brought us to the front door of Sullivan’s.

As is normal with banquets, a pared down menu was offered that included selections of fish, meat, pasta and chicken.  All were served with the house salad and a selection from the sides offered;  an interesting assortment that included baked creamed spinach, Southern-style green beans, sweet potato casserole, Boursin mashed potatoes ( I had to look that one up) and jalapeño cheese grits. Beverages included iced tea, Coca Cola products and Vienna coffee.

A dinner roll was provided and butter available from any of the serving dishes on the table. The house salad is a nice large salad plate of mixed greens with some pickled cucumber slices, some plum tomatoes and seasoned with fresh cooked bacon crumbles, shredded cheese and croutons. The salad dressing is served on the side. It was a nice salad with a variety of tasty things to eat.

The wife chose the sirloin and decided on the Boursin mashed potatoes; potatoes made with a garlic and herb flavored Boursin cheese.(** See Wikipedia note below) The sirloin was a nice-sized, about an eight-ounce filet, that was cooked medium-rare to order. The mashed potatoes were served in a ramekin; the plate decorated with what I believe was a Balsamic reduction. She said the steak was tender, cooked to order and had very good flavor. She quite enjoyed the flavor of the Boursin mashed potatoes. Let it be noted that there was no doggie bag this time. I do believe she thoroughly enjoyed her steak and potatoes.

The salad was good, crisp fresh greens and a variety of tastes and textures; something I consider an important asset for a salad. Soon after the salad plate had been cleared away my entrée, the Garden Fresh Pasta, arrived. It was a substantial serving and I knew I wouldn’t go away hungry after the meal was completed. The penne was cooked al dente; not always easy with the thicker pastas. It was well covered with an agreeable Alfredo sauce. There was a good portion of tender Italian-style vegetables; broccoli, carrots and Italian beans. All was liberally decorated with shredded Parmigiano cheese and fresh chopped parsley. It was an attractive presentation, an adequate portion and tasted very good, a selection I would certainly enjoy again in any future visits to Sullivan’s. See our home version of this dish.

And what birthday, you may ask, is complete without a birthday cake? After the dinner dishes had been cleared away the wait staff brought in a candle-lit cake to a resounding chorus of, “Happy Birthday dear Rosana…” It was a layered white cake, white frosting and a very nice strawberry filling. Birthday cakes are special anyway but this was a very tasty cake; a delicious compliment to an enjoyable meal. It was an enjoyable meal certainly because the food was good (and free for the guests I might add).But even more it was enjoyable because it was friends celebrating the guest of honor’s special day. It was a fairly large group of friends celebrating in a safe and sane matter and each going home safely at the end. What more could one ask for?

I would make one additional comment… The party group was about twenty five persons. With the exception of the entrée and birthday cake serving, the one lone waitress took care of all of us. She was more than adequate and up to the task, kept the orders straight and kept the glasses filled with the proper beverage.  Credit for much of the success of the night’s festivities belongs to her.

**From Wikipedia: Boursin is a brand of Gournay cheese. It is a soft creamy cheese available in a variety of flavors, with a flavor and texture somewhat similar to cream cheese. The first Boursin flavor Garlic and Fine Herbs, was created in 1957 by François Boursin, a cheese maker from Normandy. Boursin's product was derived from a traditional party dish, fromage frais (French for "fresh cheese"); guests would take their cheese and add herbs for flavor. His recipe would be the first flavored cheese product to be sold nationally in France.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

 
Monday, October 17, 2016
  China Lights - Eagle River, Alaska


 China Lights
12110 Business Blvd #2
Eagle River, Alaska 88577
(907) 694-8080

 
 
 
 

The China Lights Restaurant in Eagle River is a small to medium-sized facility located in a strip mall. This particular restaurant has been there since 1980. A sister establishment, located in Anchorage, has been extant since 2010. I have not visited the Anchorage facility so everything herein pertains to the Eagle River store.
I have a mixed history with China Lights that goes back a long time. I first became aware of the Eagle River China Lights when I moved into the area about 1995. A fan of Chinese food, I was quick to spot it and mentally mark it for later. Sometime later I had that urge for some fried rice, one of my favorite foods, and went to China Lights for takeout.  It was excellent! I really loved it; very flavorful with a great seasoning combination I wished I could emulate. I was very happy to have some tasty Chinese food close at hand.
It was a busy time for me then. There was work and the extracurricular activities such as dog mushing that kept me busy and it was a long while before I was in town, at the right time, to get some more fried rice takeout. It was, to put it plainly, terrible. The rice was almost crunchy. It wasn’t seasoned at all except for a splash of soy sauce and there was only a pittance of vegetables and chicken thrown in. Even steaming it a bit at home I was unable to revive it and, sadly, most of that order ended up in the compost pile. After that encounter I pretty much erased the mental note and never again considered the China Lights as an asset. Over the ensuing years I have driven past the China Lights many, many times but never had any inkling to try it again.

During this 2016 trip to Alaska I noticed some TV ads for the China Lights. They mostly featured the Anchorage store, especially the interior shots showing the buffet, but the ad did tell of the two locations, Anchorage and Eagle River. That got me to thinking… (Sometimes that is a dangerous thing to do.) So, if the China Lights has been there all this time without going under they must be doing something right and not chasing away customers like they did me. Also, if they have made enough profit to open or take over another facility they must have a fairly large and satisfied customer base. Perhaps, I thought, it was time to give China Lights another try.
I called good buddy Larry Tower and asked if he would like to go to lunch one day soon. On the appointed day we made the fifteen minute drive to China Lights. Apparently the buffet is popular and the hostess/waitress assumed we were there for the buffet and when she seated us she didn’t offer the menu as an option. I thought for a moment and then decided, “Why not?” We would try the buffet today and I could come back later for a “lunch special” take home meal rather than eat in. She took our beverage order and bade us to go and select from the buffet.

As I mentioned, the store is of modest size. It is well decorated in the Asian theme with bas-relief paneling depicting Chinese scenes. The ceiling is embossed tiles in a copper color. Various wall hangings and objects d’art round out the décor. There are several booths along the front window wall and the main dining area features tables and chair that can be arranged as needed to accommodate different sized groups. There is no room for free standing serving bars as you would normally find in a Chinese buffet. In the addition of the buffet to the more traditional sit down and dine in and take out there was little room for adding the serving bars. There is a salad bar and steam table combination, serve from one side only and about 16 to 18 feet long, against the back wall. That leaves little room for a large number of selections one would normally associate with a Chinese buffet. As I remember the selections (and memory can be spotty) the selections, with some of my initial impressions, were as follows.
Soups – Egg flower and  - one other: Egg flower soup good, didn’t try the other

Almond Chicken – Lots of chicken, pretty good but a bit confused flavor wise

Sesame Chicken – A mainstream sesame chicken but a bit weak in the sauce

Mongolian Chicken – A good amount of chicken with pretty good flavor, interesting

Spicy Meatballs - a bit over cooked, kind of bland

Vegetable Lo Mein – more noodles than vegetables

Pot Stickers – not exceptional, need the sauce

Fried Rice – for a filler dish, not too bad with good flavor and fresh looking vegetables but not as good as my sampling many years ago

Spring Rolls – little prepackaged rolls a bit chewy/crunchy

Tempura Vegetables – onion rings and medallions of squash, I believe.

Sweet and Sour Chicken – ahhh, yes! The New York-style is here too. Too bad…

Sweet and Sour Sauce – It’s red.

French fries – that one puzzles me – I didn’t try them but French fries in the limited space available?

Assorted fruits and Desserts -

 What is the allure of the Chinese buffet? I would answer that it a place where, for a relatively small amount of money, you can eat to your fill with palatable food; a place to go get stuffed. To that end China Lights does quite well. Its selections, although limited by space, fare well compared to any of the other buffets I have tried in the past. I do have some minor issues with some of the offerings but overall, as I mentioned, it is quite good as Chinese buffets go.

On my first go through the buffet line, I got a bowl of egg flower soup and a plate with tempura vegetables, sweet and sour chicken, a pot sticker, spicy meatballs, sesame chicken, some Mongolian chicken and my favorite, fried rice. The soup was good. There were a lot of egg shreds and the broth had a good flavor as well as a nice mouth feel; it wasn’t just a bowl of flavored water. The selection of the tempura vegetables was limited to some onion rings and some small medallions I think were squash. The items were battered and fried but the batter was very heavy for tempura and detracted from what taste the vegetables had. The pot stickers were a bit chewy and perhaps had been in the pan too long. The spicy meatballs relied on the sauce for the spice and the texture was coarse, perhaps a lot of filler, Not one of my favorite for the selection. The Mongolian chicken was one of the better dishes they offered. It was flavorful with lots of chicken. The sesame chicken was much like other buffet sesame chickens, an amber sauce and toasted sesame seeds. It didn’t stand out, kind of bland, and I think the sauce needed a bit more sesame oil to liven up the flavor. The sweet and sour chicken here was what I have come to learn is called New York-style; breaded chicken pieces and a red sweet and sour sauce on the side. I learned to like sweet and sour chicken a long time ago on the West Coast. It was dish of breaded and fried chicken pieces, stir fried Bell peppers, onion and sometimes thinly sliced carrots and pineapple chunks all tossed with a red sauce with definite sweet and sour overtones; a medley of many great flavors and textures. I am a bit biased and it is difficult to be positive about a dish that is missing most of its elements. The China Light’s version was heavily breaded chicken (I suspect the breaded chicken is a bulk pre-made kitchen supply) and the sauce was indeed red, sticky and sweet but lacked any definite sour component. It was just like all the other buffet sweet and sour chicken just a shadow of the real thing. The fried rice was good. It was a filler dish to be sure, an inexpensive food to bulk out the meal. Even so, it had good flavor and there were some little goodies in the mix to add to the taste and texture.
Larry, my dining companion, said that he was satisfied with the meal and if he were in the neighborhood when it was time to eat he wouldn’t mind eating at China Lights again. He pretty much echoed my feelings. Aside from the negatives I noted above, China Lights is on a par with just about any other Chinese, all you can eat, buffet.

To date my favorite Chinese restaurant in Alaska is the Imperial Palace. It is located in Anchorage which is a 45-minute drive away from home. China Lights, on the other hand, located in Eagle River, is barely a 10-minute drive away. I suspect that on my next trip to Alaska I will try out China Lights and order from the menu for a sit-down dinner. I remember once I had some great food from there. It would be very nice to know that a good and trusted source was near to home. I will let you know how well that turns out in a later blog post.
It should be noted that there is a certificate proudly displayed on the entranceway wall of China Lights:  Top 100 Chinese Restaurants:  Exterior 100%, Service 100%, Food 97.06%

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

 
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
  Double Musky – Birthday Dinner 2016

The Double Musky Inn

Cajun cooking, emphasizing steak & local seafood, in a roadhouse with Mardi Gras-style décor.
A Birthday Dinner Tradition
Mile .3 Crow Creek Road, Girdwood, AK 99587


In another reality Larry Tower and I would have been brothers. As it is we share a common first name and share the birthday month, September. Over the years we have developed a ritual, a tradition. We would splurge a bit for our collective birthdays and go have a pepper steak dinner at the famous Double Musky Restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska. See previous eating adventure 2012 here. It had been a long four years since we last were able to get together and share a meal at the Double Musky. During this trip to Alaska, 2016, with joy we kept the tradition alive.

The Double Musky is located in the Girdwood Valley, about an hour’s drive south from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. There is a world-famous ski resort there with a lavish resort hotel. It is a very busy place during the winter ski season. It is still a mecca for the Alaska visitor even in the summer although the pace is a bit more relaxed during the warmer weather. The beauty of the Alaska wilderness surrounds and seven glaciers in the surrounding Chugach Mountains can be seen from various vantage points in the valley

On this occasion we would also have the pleasure introducing another person to the Double Musky. Larry’s most charming and lovely companion, Wasana, would be joining us for a night out with the boys. We had much to tell her, much about why and how we came to this place and what this night was all about. It took a bit of time to coordinate all of our schedules but we finally got it all together October the eleventh. It was an overcast day with a raw feel to the air, about 30 degrees. The Alaska fall weather was definitely here. I did my home chores and a few local errands. In the afternoon I drove to Anchorage’s Eastside to meet up with Larry and Wasana where we would carpool for the hour drive to Girdwood. We didn’t want to leave too early because The Double Musky is only open during dinner hours.

We arrived a few minutes before opening. There were already several cars in the parking area. Our hectic schedules had delayed our birthday get together for almost a month. The early cold weather had blighted the usually verdant garden in front of the restaurant. On this occasion we would miss the vibrancy of a floral garden. The building looked the same as always. The doors were opened soon after and we were shown to a table by the window overlooking the garden. We did look over the menu but at least Larry and I knew what we were having.

French Pepper Steak ($41.00 “Best steak in America,” says Jill Cordes of the Food Network.  A 16-20 ounce New York steak crusted with cracked pepper and covered with a spicy burgundy sauce.)

Wasana read over the menu and had a lot of questions. You can see the menu at the Double Musky website.  At long last she too knew what she wanted to sample:

  Crab Stuffed Halibut  (Market Price, today $47.00 A delicious halibut steak, stuffed with crab meat dressing which contains crab meat, mushrooms, shallots, chablis, heavy cream, creole seasoning
and served with creole beurre blanc
.)  


Appetizer bread rolls are included. You have the option of salad with dressing of choice. The entrée is served with your choice of baked potato (with whatever fixings you choose) or vegetable of the day. All three of us chose the salad. It was a mixture of lettuce and greens including spinach, some shredded carrots and croutons. I chose 1000-Island for mine and a good grind of fresh ground black pepper. Every one enjoyed their salads along with nicely buttered pieces of the appetizer rolls.

Wasana’s selection, the crab stuffed halibut, was a large halibut filet folded over the crab stuffing mixture and slathered with a thick delicious lemon butter sauce and a sprig of parsley. Then accompanying baked potato had ample sour cream and sliced scallions.  It was a large portion but Wasana was up to the task and there was little left to carry home in a takeout container. She did enjoy her meal very much. The Creole seasoning was a bit different than she is accustomed to but found it to be an enjoyable new encounter, one that she would enjoy again in the future. Perhaps next year…

The other Larry ordered the French pepper steak with the Burgundy sauce on the side. His choice of a side was the baked potato with sour cream and sliced onions. When ordering your steak, you select from the following menu listed options: “Rare - cool red center - Medium-rare - warm red center
Medium - hot pink center - Medium-well-well – Butterflied - takes time
.” He ordered medium, grilled to a hot pink center. Usually Larry has a large chunk of the steak left over to take home. He was extra hungry this day and he happily finished off all of his French pepper steak and the baked potato, with lots of sour cream and sliced green onions, included. He thoroughly enjoyed his meal and was already thinking about the next time we would visit The Double Musky for our mutual birthday celebration.

I ordered my French pepper steak medium as well, Burgundy sauce over. My baked potato was with all the trimmings including the sour cream and the sliced scallions. The steak, as is usual, cut easily with the knife and was tender to chew. It meat was flavorful on its own, the Burgundy sauce delicious. Some of the bites I took were plain, just a slight dash of salt. Some of the bites were slathered in the sauce. I can’t really say which was better. I would have been happy with that steak either way – I guess I just had the best of both worlds that day. I finished my baked potato and would have eaten all of my steak but I had a use for a bit of my pepper steak; more about that later.


At long last there was clink of forks being placed on the plates for the last time. Everyone was sated, happy with full bellies, ready to pay the bill and waddle home. That’s when our server arrived with a tray of sample desserts. Larry and I had just eaten bread, a salad, a large baked potato loaded with toppings and a one-pound steak with sauce. And now we were being tempted with rich, luscious desserts! To coin a phrase, nothing succeeds like excess. We decided to have dessert to finish off the meal. The other Larry ordered a slice of banana cream pie. It was a nice large slice of pie, a tasty pudding and banana filling, cream topping and toasted coconut; very tasty he said.


It had been a big and filling meal. Wasana and I both wanted something a bit lighter and we both chose the crème brûlée. The serving was a nice 4-ounce ramekin of velvety custard with a caramelized crust. Very tasty, the sweetness was a nice counterpoint after the savory meal.  It all capped off the evening nicely. I too look forward to the next visit with the other Larry to celebrate our birthdays.

Oh, and that bit of steak I took home in a doggie bag? Ah, yes – the next morning I fried up some potatoes, onion and the meat cut into little pieces. In the end I added some peas and carrots to make a big batch of Double Musky French pepper steak hash that would help top feed me well over  several breakfasts. Each of those breakfasts brought back memories of a wonderful evening spent with Larry and Wasana at The Double Musky Restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Thursday, September 15, 2016
  Imperial Palace - Anchorage Alaska - A Birthday Revisit 2016

Imperial Palace - A Birthday Revisit  
September 2016
400 Sitka St
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
 



The first time I ever saw the Imperial Palace was back in 1988 or so. It was on my first trip to Alaska. I saw the restaurant across the highway and down a small street each time I went to the Flight service Station to get a weather briefing. Flight Service Stations are gone now but the Imperial Palace is still there. I didn’t visit the restaurant that time but marked it in my mind for a future time.

It was several more years before I moved to Alaska. I remembered the Imperial Palace and saw it each time I would drive by the airport. Somehow it just never came to pass that I would stop in and see what it was all about. It was not until 2012 during a visit by my sister and my nephew that we decided to see if the Imperial Palace was indeed worthy. We were all very favorably impressed and looked forward to visiting again. You can read that critique at http://thatfoodguy.blogspot.com/2012/07/imperial-palace-anchorage-alaska.html .
Fast forward to 2016; in Alaska for the last part of the summer to do maintenance on our property, I was treated to dinner, the reason being it was my birthday, by some old and dear friends, Wasana and Larry Tower and Gloria and Jim Kocis. Given my choice, after all it was my birthday, the Imperial Palace came to mind. We all agreed to meet in town at 5 O’clock PM. It was a date that I eagerly awaited.
As a young child my first encounters with Chinese food were from Chinatown in Los Angeles.  Those savory dishes, the look, the smell, the taste – those delicious flavors, were the major part of larger experience. It was an alien world, the exotic dress, the incense, red and black lacquer décor accents, gilt trimming, paper lanterns; it was all heady stuff to an 8 or 9-year old but it emblazoned on my mind what eating Chinese was all about. The menu to a young person was almost impossible to comprehend. The entrees were a strange combination of alien sounds. As a family, we would usually order from the combination meals, you know, “…with four you get eggroll.” I have not been back to Chinatown for more than 50 years. It has changed I hear and sadly not like it once was. Today it is very hard to find a Chinese restaurant that compares to the old days of Chinatown. There are a lot of storefront take out emporium who all seem to serve carbon copies of each other, now served as Styrofoam plated combo meals. Even the long cherished Chinese food take out container is hard to find. It is sort-of Chinese at least in name, often fusion dishes you are a bit adverse to try. As well, the all-you-can-eat parlors are popular as well. If you want to get your Chinese food fix it is a place to go with lots of variety and in seemingly endless quantities. However, I am sure you will agree with me that it is only a semblance of what Chinese food for Americans could and should be.

The allure of the Imperial Palace for a revisit was that it is very reminiscent of the Chinatown of old. I was very favorably impressed on the first visit some years ago and I had hopes that it would be as good this time. The interior was as I remembered; not a lot of black and red lacquer to be sure. There were the paper lanterns adored with the Chinese characters, the moveable screen, very evocative of the General Lee, to set aside areas for large groups or those wishing a bit of privacy. There was no tall, beautiful oriental hostess, dressed in a floor length red silk dress with a slit up the side to greet us. But then, you can’t have everything.
The menu, in an elegant cover, is quite complete. There is a large selection of al la carte dishes including a choice of Korean dishes, a goodly selection of luncheon combinations at a reduced price, a list of single and double entrees dinners for one, and even family-style with combinations from $13.95 to $19.95 each (there are numerous combinations but the selections do not increase with the number of diners, i.e., “…with four you get eggroll.”) . For our group of five with eclectic tastes the combination dinner for one was the best way to because everyone would get just what they desired.

The meal was started with a bowl of egg drop soup. A clear flavorful broth, chicken flavored, with a good quantity of egg drop shards and some vegetables. A tasty soup to start the meal, it had many compliments.
The other Larry ordered the C1 Combination Dinner (13.95 Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken – Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). An attractive presentation, stir-fried beef in a dark brown glaze, a cone of fried rice, an eggroll sliced in two, and a helping of breaded chicken fried golden brown and accented with sesame seeds. He said everything tasted good and he had no trouble at all completing his meal. He agreed with me and added that it was a place to come back to.

Jim ordered the C3 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Spicy Garlic Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork- Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). Another appealing plate, a serving of stir-fried chicken in a spicy sauce with vegetables such as pea pods and broccoli, the standard cone of fried rice with an eggroll, stir-fried breaded pork morsels in a sweet and sour sauce and some onions and carrots.  Jim also completely finished his dinner saying that it was good, good appearance and presentation and good flavor.
Gloria and Wasana both ordered the C4 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Kung Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Chicken – Served with eggroll, pork fried rice and daily soup). An equally pleasing plate featured stir-fried chicken with vegetables in a sauce and, of course, the peanuts, there was the fried rice and eggroll, and stir-fried breaded chicken with peppers, onion and carrot, in a sweet and sour sauce. A very pretty plate but all was not as it seemed. Both of them liked the sweet and sour chicken and the fried rice and eggroll. However, both of them agreed that the kung pao chicken was just too salty to enjoy and both were unable to finish their portions; everything good except the kung pao chicken.

It had been a long time since I had enjoyed a decedent chow mein. After a long look at the choices, I finally chose the C8 Combination Dinner ($13.95 Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork – Served with egg roll and pork fried rice). The first impression I had when the plate was placed in front of me was that the food looks like what I would expected to. It looked like what I remember from the Chinatown restaurants. An appealing plate, there was a good portion of breaded stir fried pork cooked with onion, peppers and carrots in a very tasty sweet and sour sauce, the pork fried rice and the eggroll, and a serving of chicken chow mein. The chow mein was a mix of stir-fried chicken, vegetables and noodles in a sauce.  The noodles were fried but not crisp. The sauce is a thinner, clearer sauce made from the broth with just a touch of sweetness, traditional, just as it should be. The flavor of the chicken and the noodles was never masked by the flavor of the sauce. The eggrolls were excellent, good enough that you might wish they were more part of the dinner than as a single one serving in an appetizer role. The fried rice is the filler of the dish. It is good but not special. I would suspect that if you were to order a serving of fried rice as an entrée from the menu it would be a bit more polished. The sweet and sour pork was excellent. It was breaded morsels of pork, stir fried with some onion, peppers and carrots in a very good sweet and sour sauce.
The Imperial palace is a small and I believe a family-run business. We actually only saw one person most of the time in the dining room. She as the hostess, the waitress and the bus boy all wrapped up in one. She was never hovering but she seemed to know when you needed her.

For my dinner, I have no complaints. In fact I loved every bit of it. If it were a more perfect world to my taste, perhaps there would have been a morsel or two of pineapple in the sweet and sour and perhaps the noodles in the chow mein could have been a bit crisp – you know, just like the old days. But that does not detract form the enjoyment of a great meal. Of this visit I would say that for the most part, with the exceptions noted above, the food was better than just good. It was a special night and the company was great making it a special, gala occasion. We all arrived about 5 PM and we didn’t leave until almost 8 PM – a most enjoyable session of reminiscing and catching upon the news of the last couple of years. Larry, Wasana, Jim and Gloria, thank you one and all.

 
dly

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Thursday, September 08, 2016
  Bacon-Fried Apples - Fresh Off TheTree

Bacon-Fried Cinnamon Apples


Circumstances are often way beyond your control. That is how it was and why it had been four years since I have been home to Chugiak Alaska. It was a warm greeting by friends to start off my sojourn. The next day it was time to see what time and the Alaska weather had done to our pickup and our little place in the woods. It was, to say the least, a mess. There were fences down, weeds and grass had overgrown much of the yard. Snow loaded trees had arched over the drive way. Everywhere I looked I could see the ravages of the unattended rigors of the Alaskan winters. There was a lot of work to be done.

One of our apple trees had died and another looked about to go. The surviving trees were loaded with fruit; fruit that would go wasted if I didn’t make use of it. It took less than a minute to fill a bowl. I was wondering what I would do with the apples. From experience I knew that everyone nearby had no interest. I would bag some up from more distant friends but the remainder would still be here. I would be here too short a time to can them so I decided to make us of them in my daily meals as much as I could.

The next morning while washing the breakfast dishes, I took the skillet to wash it and noted the bit of bacon grease from the morning’s bacon. Then I thought about a favorite thing from the Cracker Barrel Restaurant chain, fried apples. That is where the idea of the bacon fried cinnamon apples was born. If you like bacon then you know most everything goes good with bacon.

I peeled and quartered the apples (The Nordland apples here are small, about the size of a small ball, about 2 to 2 ½ inches). I used a pair of scissors to cut up 2 slices of the pre-cooked bacon and put it in a skillet with two tablespoons of margarine. The pre-cooked bacon slices don’t have a lot of fat left but there is enough to impart that bacon flavor to the margarine. I cooked the bacon and margarine until the bacon pieces started to crisp. I added the apples, seasoned with a bit of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. At the heat setting I had set and what I maintained during the cooking, for the first few minutes I could hear the sizzle of the apples in the hot butter bacon mix while gently turning the apples. After about five minutes the sizzle stopped and the juice from the apples accumulated in the bottom of the pan and it became a slow stew of the apples.

The apples were beginning to take on a nice golden brown color. I tasted one. I could taste the buttery flavor of the margarine and a bit of the smoky bacon flavor but the apples were a bit too tart. The Nordlands are a tart apple and I added two more tablespoons of sugar as well as a couple pinches of nutmeg. After about another five minutes the apple liquid evaporated and the sizzle sound returned. A poke with a fork proved the apples were almost done. I sprinkled with about a tablespoon of ground cinnamon and continued to fold the apples and mix in the cinnamon. About another three minutes and the apples were fully tender, golden brown and smelled wonderful. I removed them from the heat and spooned a small sample into a cup.

Let’s face it. Cracker Barrel fried apples and these apples are basically apple pie without the crust. These apples have the added flavoring of bacon. Cooking can be a chore or it can be an adventure in creativity. Here I merged two things I like in order to make a slightly different dish. I had fun doing it and I definitely enjoyed the end result and I found an outlet for many of the apples still on my trees. How do they taste? The apples are a bit tart, a bit sweet. They have a definite cinnamon fragrance and taste as well as a bit of earthy flavor from the nutmeg, The smoky bacon and buttery flavor is in the back ground. They are not too sweet, not too tart, not too much cinnamon and not too much bacon although the little bits of crunchy bacon are a plus. I think, if only by accident, they came out just right.

I know how much sugar and cinnamon I added but I only know I had a skillet full of apples; a bit crude measurement wise for a recipe. I will play with this dish until I have a reproducible recipe and I will enjoy the experimentation as well as the final result and it will be a part of my personal recipe book. Remember, a recipe is only a starting point, a place to start to make it better.

 



 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

 
Friday, September 02, 2016
 
 

Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant 

Anchorage, Alaska








It was a long and tiring trip northward, back to Alaska. My good buddy Larry met me at the airport. That’s right! There are two Larrys and when you get the two of us together there is bound to be trouble so beware. It was an arrival in the wee hours of the morning so it was off to his place to crash for the little that was left of the night. After a welcome sleep I was up early for Alaska but late for the East Coast. Over coffee we caught up on the news of the day. There were lots of things to do that day. I needed to get a new battery for the pickup so I would have wheels and I needed get some groceries to stock the pantry. But before any of that it was time for breakfast.

If you have been in the greater Anchorage area very long then you must have heard about Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant. It is located in Spenard, an area a bit removed from downtown Anchorage during the rough and ready days of the Alaska Pipeline construction. Spenard was where the oil field workers would go to seek female companionship. The unofficial rumor is that the upper floors of Gweenie’s saw a lot of action back then. Those wild frontier days are long gone and the area has mellowed and is now busy with tourism and general commerce. But Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant is still there.

The décor of Gwennie’s features rock walls, stuffed bears, a wishing well in the middle of the dining room; all the Alaska kitsch you can think of. It is also know for tasty food at Alaska prices. It was off to Gweenie’s for breakfast.

Our server was named Sparky. It was a good name for her. She was always busy but always there when you needed her. She brought our coffee quickly and left a carafe with more coffee. Sipping our coffee we studied the menu. The other Larry decided on a broccoli and mushroom omelet (Broccoli and Mushroom Omelet $11.75 Omelets served with melted cheese sauce: All omelets served with choice of home fries or grits, toast or biscuits.) with the home fries and toast. It was large and filling meal, an omelet filled with mushrooms and bright green broccoli covered with melted cheese. It was well cooked without any crispy edges. Larry enjoyed his omelet saying that it tasted very good, had loads of mushrooms and broccoli. The home fries are primitive in nature consisting of various sizes and shape of potato. Apparently cooked in masse on a griddle, there are many textures that make for an interesting dish.  Some are golden brown all over and some have darker crispy edges.

This Larry was going to order eggs and the potatoes I just couldn’t decide on what breakfast meat. It had been a long time since I had corned beef hash and I finally decided on that. (Breakfast served anytime: Corned beef hash or ham or sausage or bacon and eggs.$8.75 Served with a choice of home fries or grits, toast or biscuit.)  I also ordered the home fries and toast. The eggs were cooked to order and I had a good-sized serving of the same potatoes the other Larry had. There was a very large serving of corned beef hash. This hash wasn’t made in the kitchen; it came ready to heat and serve in a large container form a supplier. That’s not to say it wasn’t good. A bit of a salty tang as normal, it was fully equal to the premium canned corned beef hash you would get at your local super market. There was lots of corned beef and a small amount of diced potato. The toast was thick slices of bread toasted golden brown. It was a big and filling meal, one that I fully enjoyed.

If you are ever fortunate enough to be in anchorage, Alaska, seek out Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant for one of your meals. It is Alaska however and where else could you say that you had breakfast in a bawdy house?






Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

My Photo
Name:
Location: Chugiak Alaska, St Petersburg, Florida, and Friendsville, Tennessee, United States
Archives
June 2006 / July 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / April 2007 / October 2007 / October 2008 / April 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / June 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / November 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / April 2012 / May 2012 / June 2012 / July 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / December 2012 / January 2013 / February 2013 / May 2013 / June 2013 / July 2013 / September 2013 / November 2013 / January 2014 / February 2014 / April 2014 / May 2014 / June 2014 / August 2014 / December 2014 / January 2015 / May 2015 / August 2015 / November 2015 / May 2016 / June 2016 / August 2016 / September 2016 / October 2016 / July 2017 / September 2017 /


Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]