Friday, 13 July 2012

QC Taste of Elegance 2012

On June 9th, my friend Becca & I attended the 10th annual QC Taste of Elegance.  It was our 2nd year attending.  (See the beginning here and then just "Newer Post" back for all our reviews from last year.)

This year, there were 9 entries from area chefs, some from Cedar Rapids & Sheffield.  

I picked Becca up around 4:30 & we headed down the hill to the venue.  There were more reserved tables this year, so finding a seat was our first concern.  We spotted a table w/ two ladies saving seats for their husbands, and decided to join them.  We were soon joined by another couple, and the husband happened to be retired from my place of business!  That was a neat "small world" kinda thing!  : )  

As last year, we started out w/ dessert.  There were petit fours and a multitude of different little cupcakes this year.  We tested a strawberry cupcake, what appeared to be a red velvet cupcake but wasn't, chocolate cake, and our favorite - a carrot cake souffle w/ cream cheese frosting in the middle.  DELICIOUS!  

We didn't go in order of number, but I will here.  : ) 

Dish #1 was brought to us by Chef Martha Smith from Blue Cat Brew Pub.  She offered roast pork loin in grilled tomato sauce with flan pork belly.  

The pork was a bit dry for my taste, but the sauce was quite good, with a lot of flavor packed in!  

Dish #2, from Jerimy Henson of a new venue - Four/Play Pub - was one of both our favorites.  Chicory Sou Vide pork shoulder with jalapeno carrot and current cole slaw.  This won 3rd place, and definitely deserved a spot in the top 3!  I really enjoyed the sweet and tangy flavor, and Becca's favorite part was the cole slaw.  YUM!  (One of our table-mates asked about the secret ingredient, the flavor we all liked but couldn't pinpoint, and was told it was likely the coffee & chicory.  Splendid!)

Dish #3 - Cheff Matt Kaperka of The Iowa Machine Shed created a pulled  pork ravioli with wild mushroom cream sauce.  The presentation could have been better, but he was our last table, and it was getting late in the serving, so I can understand.  Neither Becca nor I were fans of the pasta.  We didn't really get a sense of the pork filling.  However, the sauce was excellent!  Creamy & quite full of flavor!  I'd like to replicate it... 

Dish #4 - Chef Tony Fulin of Offshore Grill was the nephew of one of our table-mates.  He served a Jack Daniels Iowa Chop, and I think he did a good job for his first time at the Taste.  The presentation was nice, and he had the FRIENDLIEST crew of the evening!  We did not like his choice of cut for the pork, and were unable to eat most of the meat.  :(  His sauce deserved an A++, however, and I do hope he gets invited back next year so we can see what else he has up his sleeve!  

Chef Jason Gomez of the Isle of Capri's kitchens gave us dish #5, Salted Caramel Smokey Pork tenderloin with roasted Poblano and corn grits.  The salted caramel won Becca's heart, and I - a person who has never enjoyed grits - wanted seconds of the grits!  I want him to make that for me again.  : )  The tenderloin was definitely smokey & sweet, and I could eat it again.  

Dish #6 won 2nd place.  Chef Mon Sayasit created his version of the Modern Pork Bowl.  

I have to say, our table was not impressed with this dish at all.  It was the ONE dish of the evening that we didn't take more than one bite of.  Well, actually, I gave it a little more than one bite, but it still felt like a waste.  Our version did NOT look anything like the judge's plate.  It was like a noodle soup in a little plastic cup, with too much broth and much too salty or something.  Just was not our cup of soup!!

Dish #7 from Chef Eran Salzmann of Z-Best Cafe graced us with a smokey pork shoulder and belly duet with maple lacquer.  It smelled divine and was very visually appealing!!  The flavors didn't quite live up to the scent, but it was still VERY good and I definitely cleaned my plate!  : )  

Was disappointed our version didn't have the fried egg, tho.  
That looked good!

The surprise of the evening came in Dish #8.  We were not expecting anything much from Chef Kendra Husband of the Sunnybrook Assisted Living venue.  Roasted ground pork loaf with sweet potato and goat cheese hash made us believers, tho!  

It was FABULOUS!  In my personal picks, this should have won 2nd place.  : )  The corn was a bit too spicy for me, but the potatoes w/ goat cheese - inspired pairing, really.  

The well-deserved winner of the evening, tho, was my dear friend Nicki's husband, Chef Doug Lear of Bass Street Chop House.  Dish #9 went above & beyond.  Now, I was prepared to vote for Doug as People's Choice based on loyalty and friendship.  However, his Root Beer Braised pork cheek with chili crusted herb, sweet potato croquette were good enough to earn the vote on their own.  

What put him over the edge, what made him win not only People's Choice this year but also the GRAND PRIZE (SO EXCITED!) of Chef Par Excellence (1st place, ya know), was the bacon gellatto.  He created it using liquid nitrogen, folks!  LIQUID NITROGEN to freeze the gellato!  Agh, he's a genius.  It tasted like my favorite ice cream, butter pecan, but WITH BACON!  :D  *swoon*  I called it "A love affair for my mouth."  And I stand by that description.  Mmm!  

It was, once again, an EXCELLENT evening of elegance and flavor, and both Becca & I are once again excited for next year's offerings!  

CONGRATULATIONS to Doug once again!  You did great & I can't wait to hear all about the National Pork Summit he & Nicki get to attend next Spring.  Woot!!!  

What are you waiting for?  Let me know you'll join us for next year's event!  ; )  


Carrie "fan of delicious flavor" Marie 

Monday, 16 April 2012


I have been a slacker on the Menu, and I apologize.  

I don't have any posts planned - shoot, I still have Uncle Gene posts to edit & put out here!  I am trying to work on those, and will hopefully get them up soon.  

I also have to apologize for dropping the ball on other stuff.  SORRY!  :(  

Hopefully soon this will be the happy place y'all grew to love once again!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Review - Fiber One Brownies

You guys!  Have you tried the delicious 90 calorie Fiber One Brownies?  Let me tell you, if you are looking for an individually packaged, easily portable, help-you-resist-temptation brownie snack, THIS is the snack for you!  

They taste just like a Duncan Hines homemade brownie, AND they have chocolate chips inside.  It's quite a treat for your taste buds.  : ) 

I have tried both varieties, the fudge and the peanut butter, and have to say I prefer the fudge.  I'm not a fan of many peanut butter flavored things - if I want PB, I'll just eat a PB&J something or other (waffle, sammich, ya know!) or just have a little spoon full of Jif.  Cuz, Jif = best PB to me!

Until next time - give these brownies a try, and let me know what you think, eh?

** The Fiber One ppl have never heard of me.  They did not ask me to review this product.  I just happened to pick up a box at WM last grocery run, and had to share the scrumptiousness!  Also, Trish had the PB ones for me to try last night.  


Monday, 26 December 2011

Key West - Liquid Food

For you non alcoholic beverage drinkers out there, you may wish to skip this post. All the food discussed here is of the liquid variety.

This is the reason many tourist come to Key West. This is Duval street.

It is one mile long and stretches from the Gulf of Mexico (A couple of blocks behind where the picture was taken) to the Atlantic Ocean ( In the far distance).  It is said that there are more bars in Key West per-capita than any other place in the US. ( The same goes for churches. A lot of "Sunday morning after Saturday night" I guess.) Most of those bars are right up this street.  Duval street is one the main things that brought us here at first as well. We love live music, and every one of those bars has great live entertainment.

Most of the cruise ship tourists never get much beyond this crossroad of streets. That is Sloppy Joe's on the left there at the corner of Green street. The Lazy Gecko is right beyond it. On the right down Green is Cowboy Bill's and Captain Tony's next to it. On up Duval on the right is Ricks. Behind the photographer to the right is Hog's Breath Saloon. This is all you need if liquid food is what you are looking for.

You cannot beat Hog's Breath Saloon for it's drinks, it's food, or it's music. It is mostly just a big tent with trees growing through it's top. There is a smaller inside area for wimps who require air conditioning. They have their own beer which is pretty much my favorite on the island. We have spent many good hours here.

We always spend some time at Rick's. It has the best Margarita's on Duval street. It seems like a pretty small place, but it has an upstairs. Unfortunately we have never been upstairs because as you can see from the picture it is closed.

It is always that way. It is to keep tourists out. Up there is often full to the rafters with locals and really cute girls who the stair guards let through. Downstairs there is always an often raunchy guitar dude who spends as much time messing with the tourists as singing. On the pictured night they were having a pub crawl where rowdy crowds would come in and drink until someone would blow a conch shell and then they would head for the next bar. The goal was to have at least one drink in every bar on Duval street. Many didn't make it.

Captain Tony's Saloon is a Key West legend as was Captain Tony himself. He came to town from New Jersey in the 50's and had many famous adventures until he passed on a couple of years ago. Everyone has a Captain Tony story. This building with its huge tree growing through it's center (they say it once was the town's hanging tree) was the first Sloppy Joe's. In 1937 the original owner bought the slightly larger present Sloppy Joe's location. They say one day he came in the bar and made all the drunks (including that hack Hemingway) carry the bar and all the furniture the half block up Green street to the new location.

There are a lot of other cool bars on Duval like Irish Kevin's with it's continuous risque Irish music and The Bull and Whistle with it's rooftop nudist bar. Up the street a ways you will find Margaritaville, very famous, but not a place we  often go because the prices are high and the food and drink are nothing special. I'm going to mention that to Jimmy the next time I see him.

If any of you want to get the feel of the music and fun of Key West bars, several places have bar cams you can watch on the web. Three that we often watch on cold winter afternoons are Sloppy Joe's, Hog's Breath, and Schooner Wharf.

Bon  Ton  Roulett  Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“I want to go back down and lie beside the sea there. With a tin cup for a chalice Fill it up with good red wine,”   ---- JB

Key West - The Lazy Gecko

Greetings, y'all!  Sorry I've been slacking on the post a day, but between Christmas & computer issues, well... yeah.  I'll be on vacation myself this week, so I'm setting up a couple posts.  When I return, we'll finish out w/ the remaining ones.  Thanks again to Uncle Gene & Aunt Nancy for writing such great material!  Hopefully when I return I will also have some nice posts about East Coast seafood... : )  
Also, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and will enjoy a blessed 2012!  Until next time... 

We were wandering around old town one day and decided to hit Amigos Tortilla Bar on Green street and try one of their shrimp breakfast fajitas. We were disappointed to find them closed, not permanently we hoped. We figured we would settle for some simple bar food, so we stopped into Cowboy Bill's about a half a block away. But Bill didn't serve food. The bartender told us to check out the Lazy Gecko just around the corner. The old dude sitting at his own well worn bar stool said as we walked out, “Be sure you and your gal friend come back and have a drink with us after you fill your stomach.” He thought he was Captain Tony, and he could have been but I know for sure that Captain Tony is gone.

We got some pretty normal food at the Lazy Gecko. Nancy got a tuna sandwich ( she never gets that at home when I'm around because I don't like the nasty dead rotten fish smell. How can anyone eat something that smells so bad?  But, we were pretty much in the open air at our sidewalk table so I tried to deal with it. I'm a nice guy like that) and I got a French dip with Swiss cheese.

Gee, we could of got that at home in the Midwest, but it was just the mood we were in. They were both quite good and the bill came to $33 with tip and drinks, a little high for lunch, but we sat there for awhile having several drinks being lazy like the sign said and watching people stroll by on Duval street.

Just the attitude to have on a hot Key West afternoon.

Bon Ton Roulett  Y'All
Gene and Nancy

“Got a schoolboy's heart, and a novelist's eye” – JB

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Key West - Island Grill

We found that visiting the Keys in September had some drawbacks. It is the slowest month of all in Key West. There are no big festivals or events like the rest of the year, hurricane season is going full blast, and the snowbirds are still up north. A number of businesses close up and the owners take vacations. (Why do you need a vacation from paradise?) We did not realize how much this might affect our eating plans.

After walking around old town for days we decided it was time for a road trip. We took the 50 mile drive  up beyond the 7 mile bridge to the nearest town of Marathon. We had planned to eat supper on the way back at Boondocks, where we knew the food was great. It was closed for remodeling. OK, we said, let's try the Square Grouper that everyone talked about on Summerland Key.  It was closed too with not even a sign to explain why. We ended up back in the Key West area for supper. It is not really unusual for eating joints to close down suddenly and reopen later as something else. Our favorite BBQ place in Key West, The Meteor Smoke house closed a couple of years ago. This last year Captain Mario's Seafood Buffet closed, the only place I could get enough crab cakes at one sitting. That is hard for old folks like us who don't like no stinking changes in life.

On our trip to Marathon we stopped on Big Pine Key for lunch. We couldn't believe the “for Sale” sign on the Island Grill.

We had eaten at the grill a number of times last year when we were staying on Big Pine. It is a nice bar/grill with really good bar food. We knew it was having some troubles from comments on the Coconut Telegraph web site. (Yes Big Pine Key has it's own crazy web page) But, we didn't expect it to go out of business altogether. We had what will probably be out last ever juicy Island Grill cheeseburgers.

The bill was $32 with tip, and worth every penny.

Bon Ton Roulett Y'All    
Gene and Nancy    

“I want a cheeseburger in paradise” --- JB

Friday, 16 December 2011

Key West - Sloppy Joe's

If you go to Key West you will find that everyone knows about Sloppy Joe's. You can't miss it at the corner of Green and Duval streets.

Everyone knows that the hack writer Ernest Hemingway got drunk there on a regular basis. They hold the annual Hemingway look alike contest there in July. (No, I've never won.) It is a tourist must stop. The building is kinda cool with it's wide open sides , tropical ceiling fans, and rustic wooden walls, a place right out of an old movie set. You would not be surprised to see Humphrey Bogart and Grace Kelly smoking and drinking in a secluded corner. (For you young folks who have no clue who those people are, ask your parents. Well, maybe your grandparents!)

It is definitely not a hang out for locals though. It is certainly aimed at the tourist trade. We tend to hang out there ourselves because of the music. There is someone playing on their stage everyday from noon on. We never eat there because we had a bad food experience there the very first time we came to this town. We just decided the place was a tourist trap restaurant.

A little side story about the picture. There is a guy sitting on the sidewalk playing with leaves. He is making hats out of palm leaves. It is a thriving business. You see tourists all over town wearing his creations. There are all kinds of rules in Key West about street vending. The guy has to have a permit to sell his hats. Before him, the first few times we came to town there was a guy in the same spot who would tell a dirty joke for a dollar. I hear he retired to his mansion in North Dakota.

We were in Sloppy Joe's one afternoon and didn't want to leave because the music was just so good. We  both had enjoyed several refreshing drinks and decided we needed a bite to eat. We ordered some cheesy bread appetizers and they were great. (Hey, they were cheese. You can't hardly mess that up!!)(Carrie says - heck yeah, cheese makes everything better!!)  

We went back another day for supper to give it a try. Nancy had chicken alfredo pizza and I had a crab cake sandwich and fries.

Both meals were excellent. I'd been hungry for crab cakes and those were nearly perfect. The bill came to $45 with tip and drinks. That is really pretty reasonable considering it included several cool beverages. We won't pass up Sloppy Joe's on our next Key West trip.

Bon  Ton Roulett Y'All
Gene and Nancy  
 “I ate the last mango in Paris”   ---JB