I’ve been neglecting my fooducation. I know. My Y.P.A. (yum point average duh…) has dropped dramatically. It’s a shame and I’m sorry. I’ve been running on eight hours minus five hours of sleep for three nights in a row because Farmplicity.com launched this morning!!!
Farmers are actually listing products and restaurants are actually placing orders through our website. That calls for a celebration. And a gigantic sandwich. A gigantic sandwich can only come from one place: Snarf’s.
Snarf’s is fantastic (and should really think about sourcing their ingredients from local farmers on Farmplicity.com…. see how good I’m getting at the not-subtle-at-all sales pitch). Their sandwiches arrive warm. Perfectly crunchy baguettes cradle the flavorful sandwich fillings.
The rotisserie chicken was moist (might’ve been even moister if it was locally sourced…) and the provolone was rich but it’s the host of toppings that Snarf’s adds (don’t you dare skip any of them) that make sandwiches from Snarf’s so delicious.
The mayo adds creaminess while the mustard brings the sharpness to the table. Onions add a small kick but they’re cooked first so they aren’t overwhelming. The tomatoes add a hint of sweetness while the hot peppers (which I think have been sitting in vinegar) add a slightly acidity and slightly spiciness. Finally, the pickles. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of pickles but Snarf’s make them work. The pickles add crunch and some serious acidity, which elevates all of the other flavors.
I have yet to enjoy a sandwich from any other restaurant St. Louis as much as any sandwich I’ve had at Snarf’s. Please, please, please tell me if you have!
Something about the name “egg salad” seems to gross people out. It belongs on the list of sandwich toppings that kids get bullied for eating (…like tuna and bologna). But I’m an egg salad lover and sticks and stones can break my bones but your taunting words about my love for egg salad sandwiches (and really good bolonga) can never ever ever ever hurt me so HA.
I especially love my mom’s egg salad. And Companion’s menu promised me “egg salad made just like mom’s.”
I have to say, although it wasn’t as deliciously sharp as my mom’s egg salad (p.s. mama… it’s been a while since you made me an egg salad sandwich…), Companion did serve me an awesome egg salad sandwich. The egg salad was fresh and smooth. Large chunks of egg white were held together by creamy yolk and mayonnaise.
While my rule is that I stick to the menu, I made an exception and replaced the rye bread with ciabatta because I hate rye bread. Companion’s ciabatta was perfect. The crust was crunchy and inside was fluffy and holey. That being said, I think a baguette would’ve been a better call because the ciabatta was huge.
In my opinion, the egg salad could’ve used a little more mustard (and that’s why my mom still wins) but it was unequivocally the best dish I’ve eaten at Companion thus far.
Tacos on tacos on tacos. I want to live on top of a mountain of never-ending tacos. So I’ve been looking forward to Mission Taco Joint’s opening for weeks. Quality tacos on the Loop is my dream come true.
Mission is the sister restaurant of Milagro Modern Mexican and Tortillaria but Misssion is less Mexican than they are (sister from another mister?). Its named after the Mission District in San Francisco and the tacos are clearly Californian (a.k.a. skinny, pretty, and fresh).
Milagro and Tortillaria might eventually get kind of jealous. But for now, they’re still the favorites in the family.
My tacos arrived cold. They came plated on really cool, long metal strips that had taco-holding slots. But my tacos ended up on the metal strip with Nate’s tacos, who was sitting on the other side of the table. It took us a while to figure that out because neither our waitress nor the busboy could identify the different tacos for us.
Once we’d sorted it all out, I took a bite of the Yucatan chicken taco. The chicken was a bit dry but the flavors were on point. The acid from the pickled onions with the smokiness of the achiote rocked. I had to cram a few tortilla chips into my mouth because the arbol salsa was so wonderfully spicy.
The Nopales taco didn’t maintain the same level of balance. Large chunks of goat cheese mixed with the thick poblano sauce. My first bite was enjoyable but the taco’s overwhelming heaviness hit me on the second bite. And the roasted cactus was limp and a bit slimy.
Luckily, I saved the roasted duck taco for last. The shredded chile roasted duck was moist and packed with flavor. Pieces of really crispy pork belly added crunchy, salty goodness that helped the creamy avocado and spicy serrano mitigate the gaminess of the duck. It was rich but, unlike the Nopales, not too heavy. I’ll eat duck tacos on duck tacos on duck tacos any day.
We finished the meal with churros with chocolate sauce. I loved the combination of the warm, rich chocolate sauce and the cinnamon. I enjoyed the warm, freshly fried dough but the thicker part of the churro was still raw.
To be fair, Mission has been open for less than a week. Official food reviewers give a new restaurant 30 days before they write anything. I am far from being an official food reviewer and I was too excited to wait so I decided to ignore that rule. But I do totally plan on going back (even if only for those duck tacos) when Mission has had some more time to fine tune the details.
Starting your day with a friend, a cup of coffee, and a well made meal sets you up for success. Especially if that well made meal requires little personal effort. That’s why venturing out to different STL breakfast spots is my favorite thing to do on weekends.
The Soulard Coffee Garden is a little bit more of a trek than I’m usually down for. But it’s right by the Soulard Farmer’s Market (more on that tomorrow). Soulard Coffee Garden’s walls aren’t as Instagram-able as the walls are at Half & Half and Winslow’s. But it is charming in a familial way instead of in a hipster way.
And their buttermilk cornmeal blueberry pancakes are delicious. The tang from the buttermilk comes through wonderfully. I was afraid the pancake would be like corn bread (which I hate) but they mixed in just enough cornmeal to give the pancake a pleasantly grainy texture. It was hearty without being heavy.
The biscuits with sausage gravy, on the other hand, were hearty and heavy.
I wish I was Southern enough because the sausage was packed with delicious, meaty flavor, the cream was wonderfully smooth, and the biscuits were perfectly flaky. I also which I was Southern enough because Southern people are badass.
If you are more Southern than I am, I highly recommend checking out Soulard Coffee Garden. Please let me know how their dish stacks up to the mounds of biscuits with sausage gravy that you probably eat while riding horses and listening to Carrie Underwood and shooting shotguns when you’re at home.
If that’s not your thing, I still recommend going for their pancakes.
Nobody’s perfect. I gotta work it. Again and again ’till I get it right.*
That’s why I’ve been dying to go back to Tortillaria since I reviewed them about a month ago. I had a good feeling about Tortillaria but when my tacos arrived, the fish was totally overcooked.
Not last night. Last night, Tortillaria rocked it out.
The beer battered fish on the Original Taco had a wonderfully crispy crust that surrounded totally moist, not-overcooked-at-all fish. Because I wasn’t distracted by dryness, I could truly appreciate the flavors.
The smoky and slightly spicy chipotle sauce complemented the ale while the sweet tomatoes and sharp onions cut through the heaviness of the fried fish. It was all held together by a robust corn tortilla that added a lot of texture. I didn’t appreciate corn tortillas until last night.
But I have to give most of my heart to the Baja taco. It’s the Original Taco’s skinnier, more elegant cousin.
Instead of being deep fried, the fish was grilled. Grilled to perfection. It came covered in the same chipotle sauce but the absence of the ale made the sauce taste bright instead of heavy. The Baja taco also came with a vibrant slice of avocado, which added richness that replaced the robustness of beer battered crust.
Yesterday was my 20th birthday. To celebrate, my friend (and after this cake, best friend) Brandon ordered their Tres Leches cake
It accomplished a perfect balance of wet milk to dry sponge cake and contained just the right amount of sweetness.
I’m so happy I went back to Tortillaria. I’m also so happy that I’ll never be a teenager again.
*Didn’t think I’d ever quote Hannah Montana on Fooducated but I’ve done stupider things.
Restaurants that use the word “modern” scare me. Why fix tradition if it’s not broken? Mexican food is definitely not broken.
Mexican decor on the other hand… don’t get me wrong, I love sombreros. I love restaurants made with beautiful Mexican tiles and rustic colors. But a lot of Mexican spots look like the Fiesta section of Party City exploded into their dining room. Mexican decor is sometimes broken.
Milagro does avoid that fate. Sections of the ceiling are covered in intricate Aztec-esque symbols and Milagro’s lights are beautiful 3D stars. It’s not wonderfully elegant but it is welcoming.
We ordered the Pollo de Mole Poblano.
The chayote squash was a refreshing substitute for classic beans. I love beans but the chayote added a pleasant brightness to every bite. The chicken was perfectly moist. The mole poblano sauce was…. okay.
I don’t consider myself a Mexican food expert. Actually, I don’t consider myself an expert in anything really. But I have eaten excellent, authentic mole and Milagro’s mole poblano doesn’t come close. I think Milagro’s was screwed from the get go. Mole poblano is made by Mexican grandmothers who slave over hot stoves for hours. Mole poblano shouldn’t be modernized.
The fundamental bitterness and depth added by the chocolate was completely missing. It tasted more like a complex tomato sauce than true mole poblano.
But no worries. The Enchiladas “Divorciadas” saved the night.
The beans were packed with smoky bacon goodness (a.k.a.: the way I want everything I eat to be). The darker enchilada was stuffed with pork, covered in a tomatillo sauce, and topped with pickled onions. It was a solidly good enchilada. The pork was a bit dry but the tart sweetness of the sauce made up for it.
Nothing made up for the chicken enchilada. It was too good. The spicy and totally amazing chile ancho and guajillo sauce rocked my taste buds while the Mexican crema calmed everything down.
I don’t know what made it “modern” but I do know that the dish was delish.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Don’t groan! You can’t escape it. Love is everywhere today. Worse things could be everywhere. Corny Hallmark cards and disgustingly sweet, flavorless sugar hearts could be everywhere. Oh wait….
Anyway, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I decided to eat and write about a dish that reminds me of the good things in life. That dish is an egg sandwich.
My valentine is only mine because I make him egg sandwiches. True story. The first thing I ever cooked for him, about two and a half years ago, was an egg sandwich. He hasn’t let me stop cooking for him ever since.
Unfortunately, the egg sandwich at Winslow’s wasn’t great. I liked the portion size. The bacon was crispy and packed with good bacony flavor. But the egg was kind of rubbery. The “ciabatta” bread wasn’t crispy and didn’t have the big holes ciabatta bread usually has.
Everything else I’ve eaten at Winslow’s has been great so no hard feelings. Especially not on this, the day of love!
Oh… that’s right… because you’re not crazy. WUSTL senior Sarah Haselkorn is. In between her lacrosse practice and systems engineering homework, she runs Green Bean, a fast-casual restaurant that serves made-to-order salads and wraps in the Central West End. I’m not kidding. She started the restaurant in November of 2011.
“I’ve never slept in here but I’ve been here for 20 hours straight,” she admitted with a laugh.
Crazy. “My main job is to be the manager [by] putting out fires every day. Engineering has taught me a lot about problem solving management,” she explained when I asked what salad has to do with math and machines and all those other Engineering thingys.
“I never thought I would end up in the restaurant industry,” she continued: “this was just my first idea. Now I’ve fallen in love with the industry.” Well the industry is lucky to have Sarah and Green Bean because their salads are delicious.
The mustard vinaigrette dressing on my Cobb-Out was on point. Its slightly acidic, slightly sweet, slightly sharp flavor balanced out the rich avocado and hard-boiled egg. The char on the grilled chicken cubes added depth while the blue cheese added the right amount of salty sharpness. But my favorite element was, by far, the hazelnuts. I’ve never had hazelnuts in a cobb salad but they were a great subtle addition. The hazelnut nuttiness made the salad even more robust.
“I get to come in here every day and watch you eat food that I made,” Sarah said, her voice brimming with passion for a notion so simple and yet so satisfying.
Seriously though, do go. The salads are fresh, vibrant, and well composed. Go for the deliciousness. Oh and also go to show support for a crazy student who is doing something that’s crazy cool. Her drive and determination capture Wash U at our finest.
Guy Fieri and his blond spikes are divisive. Some people love him and some people can’t stand him. Dressel’s Pub House, which has been open since the 80s, was recently featured on Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
But JP pointed out that Dressel’s is not a diner or a dive-in or a dive. Fieri cheated a bit. Dressel’s harnesses the character of a Welsh bar but has a lot more flair than Fieri’s usual spots. Beautiful old wooden tables and booths line the walls. The menu at Dressel’s includes the names of the local farmers that they source their product from.
We started our meal with the dish that got them onto Fieri’s show: the Dressel’s Pretzel (pictured above). The house made pretzel was warm and clearly fresh out of the oven when it arrived at our table. A crusty outer layer enveloped its soft, luxurious inside. The rarebit – which is a Welsh cheese and beer sauce – was sharp, slightly spicy, and yummy but I ate most of the pretzel without it. The comfort of freshly baked bread was too wonderful to be covered in sauce.
I ordered their lamb burger. The sweet apricot chutney balanced out the lamb’s gaminess (like on Chef Rushing’s merguez). They were assisted by the sharp acidic tang of their wonderfully crunchy pickle slices. A generous smear of goat cheese amped up the richness of the lamb. It was nothing short of delicious. Really. The flavors were so well balanced. The meat was perfectly cooked.
The butter lettuce salad side (which you can also order as an app) was boring. There were only a few tiny slices of radish in the dish and none of the promised feta cheese. The champagne vinaigrette was strong and slightly too sweet.
The bite I had of Nate’s fried chicken was fantastic. Nothing bad can be said about moist poultry smothered in rich gravy.
JP ordered the Fish and Chips. The hake was fried perfectly so that the outside was crispy and the inside was moist. It was, however, under seasoned. The tartar sauce was also pretty mild and didn’t add enough flavor. Strangely, the perfectly fried fish didn’t come with perfectly fried chips. Many of the chips were soggy.
My biggest problem with the dish was that it’s $15. $15 dollars for two small not-that-exciting pieces of fish. The lamb burger is a better deal because you get a lot more flavor for your buck but it’s still pretty pricey.
I’d love to spend a lot of evenings sitting in Dressel’s cozy booths, laughing with friends, and eating their dishes. But I’d go broke doing it. Dressel’s is delicious but not offering Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives style prices. Fieri, what’s up with that?
Hot Pockets are gross. Really gross. But don’t let that deter you from trying a kolache. Yes, the bun acts like a pocket and holds a hot filling. Yes, you can eat one on the go. Yes, that sounds a lot like Hot Pockets.
But kolaches are a bit more upscale. A tiny bit more. They’re more upscale because they’re European. Czech to be exact. Traditionally, kolaches are filled with fruit and served as a dessert. But when Czech immigrants got to Texas, the Texans did what Texans do: add meat.
Kolache Factory (which is about 10 minutes away from campus) offers a huge variety of fillings including sausage, BBQ pork, egg and cheese, and raspberry. The dough is, according to Kolache Factory’s website, made from scratch and baked on location every day.
I ordered the ham and cheese kolache. The fluffy, fresh dough was still warm when I bit into it. It was densely packed with cheap ham and cheap cheese. The cheap ham and cheap cheese that Hot Pockets are also filled with. But the warm bun and whimsical nature of the ball made it enjoyable.
My bowl of oatmeal was more milky than I’m used to but the texture won me over. Unlike the oatmeal at Companion, it wasn’t jiggly and didn’t taste like it’d been sitting in a huge vat for hours. There was just enough banana to add richness and just enough pecans to add nuttiness. Usually, about half way through my bowl of oatmeal, I get sick of it. But not at Winslow’s. I finished every last bite (again leaving nothing for the chickens that they feed the restaurant scraps to).
Winslow’s clearly believes in doing simple dishes well. What more could you want? Especially at 9am. Click here for a more elaborate review of Winslow’s.
I love exploring slightly dingy small spots that serve cheap dishes. Often, those are the spots where food is just food and it’s just good. In that spirit, I decided to eat through the recommendations on the Cheap Eats list from STL Magazine.
First up: the Bibimbop from U City Grill.
I really wanted to like U City Grill. On first glance, it has all the markers of a great cheap eats place. The menu is short but classic. The restaurant seats 12 people. And nothing has been updated since they opened.
But the guy behind the counter was a grump. We were a group of seven. He grumbled loudly when we walked in. Then he told us we were “not allowed” to push the tables together. 10 minutes later, he grunted and pointed at me to indicate that I was to order. He took three of our orders and then began cooking. It wasn’t until he finished cooking our food that he asked for another order. He cooked that order and then asked the remaining three of us for their orders. At that point, half of us had finished eating.
Now, to be fair, he also had to charge the other customers, clean the counter, cook all of the food, and wash the dishes. That would make me grumpy too. And sometimes a little bit of grumpiness adds character.
So I forgave his rudeness and decided to judge based on the food. After all, I did say I was looking for “spots where food is just food and it’s just good.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just good. The Bibimbop is a bowl of rice, shredded zucchini and carrots, bulgogi beef, hot sauce, and a fried egg. The beef was fine. The egg was fine. The rest of the bowl was not. I don’t know what it was (I suspect the not-spicy-at-all hot sauce) but something tasted a bit off. It tasted strange and like nothing all at the same time.
Maybe U City Grill is past its glory days. The STL Magazine list was made in 2009. A 2010 article in Stud Life called U City Grill “a hidden jewel in St. Louis.”
It was mediocre at best and probably pretty bad if I’m being brutally honest.
On a more positive note, if you are looking for a better meal, this week in Clayton restaurant week, which means that certain places will give you three courses for $25. I wasn’t planning on going to any because a lot of the restaurants aren’t that expensive (so you’re not saving much money) or aren’t that good. Apparently, I didn’t investigate well enough.
While I was on the spin bike in the gym, fellow student Victoria pointed out that Cardwell’s and Ruth’s Chris Steak House include filet mignon on their restaurant week menus. That’s a deal. And she said her dinner at Ruth’s Chris was delicious. Click here for more.
I really do like these impromptu suggestions from Fooducated readers so please keep them coming. Thank you Victoria!
On my way to class, fellow student but complete stranger Eric came up to me and said: ”at the risk of sounding creepy, I think you should review the fish tacos at the Tortillaria.” I love suggestions. Please be creepy.
Well… creepy to an extent. Taping bits of my hair to a notebook is a little too much (you know who you are*).
Anyway, I liked Tortillaria from the moment we arrived. The place was packed with happy people stuffing their faces with chips. But when I looked at the menu, I realized I had a big problem.
Eric hadn’t specified which of the two fish tacos he loves. Fortunately, I’m a WashU student so I know how to solve problems. I ordered both.
I loved the flavors on the Original Fish Taco. The smoky chipotle sauce and the ale in the beer batter gave it a robustness fish tacos don’t often have. The pico de gallo and lettuce were fresh.
However, the fish was fried to hell. It was overcooked and the crust was too hard.
Like on the first taco, the vegetables on the Baja taco tasted full and fresh. The smoky chipotle sauce, hint of lime, and creamy avocado danced around in my mouth. But the grilled tilapia was also overcooked.
I do want to return on a different night. There was something bad going on in the kitchen. We waited a solid 30 minutes for our food. The Baja Fish taco did win Best Fish Taco in STL in 2007 and Eric recommended the spot so Tortillaria must have potential.
And I want to return just for the dessert. The Tortillariapia (also recommended by Eric) was a platter of fantastic.
Warm freshly fried tortilla chips dusted with cinnamon and sugar and drizzled with honey surrounded a melting ball of vanilla ice cream. Fantastic. Really. I couldn’t stop eating them. Almost killed JP when he swallowed the last one.
Thanks for the tip Eric! And please tell me which taco you meant.
Also, for anyone else who thinks I should check out a place or a dish on campus please write on the Fooducated Facebook page or tweet @Fooducated or stop me when you see me.
*Not you Eric, you were the right amount of creepy.
Little Saigon Cafe is near an intersection packed with cute restaurants in the Central West End. They manage to hold their own. The medium-sized dining room is a bit bare but still welcoming. It was brimming with people and energy.
A plaque on the wall announced that they’d won “Best Spring Rolls” in 2005 so I obviously ordered the spring rolls.
Although they weren’t the best I’ve had (campus chef David Rushing’s* spring rolls hold that title), they were quite delicious. They were bright and crunchy and maintained their shape well. Without the peanut sauce, however, they’d be a bit too acidic for me. Luckily, they came with peanut sauce.
The big winner was my main course: Canh Hoanh Thanh Mi, aka shrimp wonton noodle soup.
It was filled with flavor. The bitter bok choy worked well with the thick, juicy pieces of slightly sweet BBQ pork. Scallions added sharpness to the refreshing broth while the whole grain noodles gave the dish substance. Unlike the wontons I’ve had in other wonton soups, Little Saigon Cafe’s wontons didn’t dissolve into balls of mushiness. Instead, they remained compact and slightly chewy, adding texture to the soup.
The freshness of Little Saigon Cafe’s food won me over. At Pho Grand (another STL Vietnamese place), the food tastes like it could’ve been made today but might also have been made yesterday. Not at Little Saigon Cafe.
*David Rushing will be cooking the first of the WU Restaurants dinners and while I can’t promise he’ll make spring rolls, I can promise he’ll make plenty of fantastic things. Make sure you keep your eyes out for tickets.
Whenever Gordon Ramsey enters a failing restaurant on his show, “Kitchen Nightmares,” he preaches simplicity. And by preaches I mean screams about. “No!” he’ll yell at the married couple that is on the brink of a divorce and bankruptcy, “you cannot have a f&%king physic and why the f&%k is this f&%king dog doing magic tricks in your restaurant.”
Who knows Gordon. Who knows.
Winslow’s Home is anything but simple. It’s a restaurant, a grocery store, a wine shop, a toy store, a bakery, and a kitchen store. And it all takes place in one big room that’s no larger than your average restaurant. And it’s beautiful.
Winslow’s Home is full but not cluttered and warm but not stuffy. The books and tools and stuff they sell act as both products and decorations. That works because they only sell beautiful things. I want every single cookbook and every single kitchen supply on their shelves.
Winslow’s Home has a farm about 35 miles from St. Louis and they cultivate many of their ingredients there. As a result, the menu changes often to reflect what is in season. The farm also adds to the restaurant’s sustainability. Apparently, the left over scraps are fed to their chickens.
But I didn’t leave anything on my plate for the cluckers. The special french toast was too good.
The french toast was baked, stuffed with bananas, and topped with blackberries and blueberries (neither of which are in season right now so Winslow’s does deviate from the farm).
The baked bread had plenty of texture; a crispy outer layer surrounded a moist inner layer and a firm center. The texture and the technique made the dish a strange but enjoyable cross between french toast and bread pudding. The berries added enough sweetness that the maple syrup jar went untouched. The banana, however, was completely overwhelmed.
I enjoyed my bite of JP’s buttermilk pancakes even more than I did my own french toast. They were simple and classic. The tang of the buttermilk came through with elegance.
Elegant is, in fact, the perfect word for Winslow’s. Everything from the pancakes to the wooden floors to ceramic dishware is elegant. It’s an elegant take on an American general store.
Winslow’s is elegant and they know it and they’re not pretentious about it. Sorry Gordon, at Winslow’s simplicity isn’t the solution because there isn’t a problem.
Bobo Noodle House? Boboboring is more like it.* Boring and all wrong. So wrong. I ordered the cold sesame noodle salad side from the menu. The promised peanuts? No where to be found. The herbs? No where to be found. They did add an ingredient that wasn’t on the menu: a stray noodle from someone else’s dish.
All of that disappointment occurred after waiting an hour for the food to come. It arrived without chopsticks or forks or napkins or the delicious sesame balls Bobo usually sends (those are so weird but so good). I generally like Bobo and have ordered successfully many times before. I’m not sure what was going down tonight.
Bobo we all have those days. Let’s pull it together. We need noodles to get through finals week.
*I’m sorry. “Boboboring” had to stay in there. I hate it too. I apologize for the terrible lameness of this opening.
With the arrival of finals comes a flurry of take-out food. If I had to cook, that’d make sense. But I literally live above BD so ordering in doesn’t save me any time. Still, for some reason, when I have tons of work, all I want to do is call a restaurant and pick up a steaming hot meal from the Clock Tower.
Fozzie’s delivered relatively quickly. Unfortunately, the sandwich was soggy. The bread didn’t have the same crunchy, stable structure of the baguettes at Snarf’s. The sauce was standard. The chicken was vaguely crispy. The mozzarella was unnoticeable. All in all, the sandwich was satisfying but mediocre.
I recommend Snarf’s or Cherry Tree…
Oh and by the way, if you’re looking for a holiday present for someone who loves food and loves useless kitchen appliances, or maybe a birthday present for someone whose 20th birthday is in exactly 73 days and 6 hours and 32 minutes, click here.
I’m sure whoever it is that you need a gift for would love all of those things. Except the pizza cone maker. That’s just gross.
Every house on the block was dark. Either everyone in the quaint suburban neighborhood had gone to bed or they were hiding from the rogue things were about to go down.
Brendan and I walked up to the steps of the Arden Mead Youth And Community Center pensively. Could something so underground, so against health codes, so… badass, be happening in a building that belongs to Christ Lutheran Church?
Yes. And that made it even more badass. The high ceilings and large, rustic chandeliers were fantastically understated. One long, candle-lit table stretched across most of the room. To the right of the table, two volunteers were grilling pieces of zucchini, smelt, mussels, mushrooms and asparagus over Japanese coal.
I waited for someone to come up to me and say: “there’s been a mistake, you’re not close to cool enough to be here.” I would’ve nodded sadly and left.
But honestly, who is cool enough?? Only the Rogue Chefs themselves (who must remain unnamed).
Their incredible secret dinners fill up within 10 minutes of the dinner being announced. Then the Rogue Chefs design a menu that they have to execute in a tiny, ill-equipped kitchen. And the kitchen is a different kitchen at every dinner because the location changes every time. Pulling that off must require serious flexibility and planning.
After sitting down, we were told the rules: taking pictures of the food is okay but taking pictures of the chefs isn’t and try ingredients even if they sound scary (there were more but I tend to zone out when people explain rules… it’s been a problem for a while).
When they announced that the dinner was Italian themed (hence the red and white tablecloth), I almost jumped out of my seat with happiness.
The meal began with an amuse-bouche which was a rabbit stuffed crispy olive sitting on a sherry demi with microgreens.
I loved the combination of the crispy texture of the crust and the soft, slightly chewy olive. The piquancy served as a perfect palate primer.
The first course was the Rogue Chefs’ take on a caprese salad: strawberry carpaccio, fresh ricotta, balsamic pearls, micro arugula, and olive oil from Liguria (a region in Italy).
The fresh ricotta was wonderfully creamy but the balsamic pearls won my heart. They hit the tongue as small bursts of acidic sweetness that complimented the rich cheese.
The second course was a cobia crudo (“Italy’s take on sushi”) with greens, pickled shallot, almond milk, and grappa (Italy’s take on Moonshine).
I enjoyed the combination of nutty almond milk and crudo.
The third course was probably the most unusual: a foie gras soup shooter with candied chestnuts. Yes, you read that correctly, liver soup in a shot glass.
As excited and entertained as I was by the idea, there was no way I was going to throw back the whole thing at once. Sip by sip, however, it was absolutely awesome. The soup was delicate in a way that only foie gras can be. Brendan pointed out that the shot glass portion was the perfect size. Any more of the soup would’ve been prohibitively intense. Candied chestnuts sat at the bottom of the glass and their chewy sweetness offset the slightly earthy, extremely rich soup and eased the transition into the next course.
The fourth course was the Rogue Chef version of spaghetti carbonara. Instead of noodles, they served jowl and pea risotto. A raw egg yolk sat in the middle and we were instructed to whisk it into the rice. I love interactive dishes.
The result was a rich and extremely comforting bowl of super creamy rice that was complimented by occasional bursts of salty jowl and sweet peas. It captured the love of an Italian grandmother.
Then the Rogue Chefs announced that they had a surprise course. Apparently, they couldn’t decide between two versions of carbonara so they decided to do both. Not a problem.
The 5th course was, thus, a ravioli filled with ricotta and a raw quail-egg yolk over a bolognese sauce with pesto.
The small quail yolk added a bit of creaminess to the full, meaty bolognese but it wasn’t overpowering. One of the chefs promised that the sauce would be “what a bolognese should be. Not American bolognese.” I’m far from an expert on “what a bolognese should be” but I can say that their sauce was like the sauce I had in Bologna (which seems like a pretty good marker) in both texture and flavor.
The sixth course was a cannellini bean puree with dandelion greens, black truffle, and olive oil.
The bitter greens brightened up the earthiness of the truffle. I had no idea that bean puree could be interesting.
The sixth course was the scariest (and, thus, the most intriguing) course of the night: beef heart with porcini mushrooms, agrodolce cippolini onions, and balsamic vinegar.
I died and went to Heaven and came back again to write this post so that I could brag about the fact that I got to eat that beef heart. To the guy across from me who exclaimed: “you’re going to eat that?!,” you missed out big time. The beefiness of the beef heart was incredible. I feared that it might taste like metal because of the high concentration of iron but that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, it tasted like an extremely expensive, extremely delicious cut of beef. The sweet-ish onions and sweetness of the balsamic vinegar balanced out the richness of the beef and porcinis.
The final course was zuppa inglese, which is similar to tiramisu or an English trifle. Cookies are soaked in a specific Italian alcohol (which the Rogue Chefs had to concoct themselves because it isn’t sold in the US) and topped layers of chocolate sauce and an egg custard.
The egg custard had the consistency of foamed milk, which, when combined with the cookie in the center, made the dish feel like a sophisticated version of cookies and milk.
While the food was delicious, the experience the Rogue Chefs created was just as impressive. Of course, the secrecy adds an underlying tone of excitement. But much of the energy in the room came from the playfulness of the menu and the chefs themselves.
They were welcoming, accessible, and positive. The large amount of volunteers who participated in the event is a huge testament to how much fun it is to be there with the two chefs. Check out their website by clicking here.
Thank you for the adventure Rogue Chefs! Thank you Brendan (the Twitter follower who won the second ticket) for going with me and for being the perfect person to take! And thank you Dining Services for giving us the tickets!
I can’t wait to see what Dining Services has in mind for their own version of these secret-menu pop up restaurants.
“Snarf,” according to Urban Dictionary, can be used as a verb, noun, or adjective. As a verb, it means to laugh while expelling food out of your nose. As an adjective, it means stylish or sexy. As a noun, it is “a man who sniffs women’s bicycle seats on humid days.”
Who writes these things!?!?
I can assure you, none of those definitions served as the inspiration for “Snarf’s,” the family owned sandwich chain. Or at least, I hope I can assure you.
The only thing Snarf’s has in common with the above definitions is their disregard for fanciness. Snarf’s won’t serve you foie gras with sous vide mushrooms on brioche. At the same time, they’re also not trying to be grungy in today’s hipster way. They’re just Snarf’s and they’re just making sandwiches and the sandwiches are just going to be good. Plain and simple and really good.
I ordered the French Dip with all of the toppings.
The hot peppers were wonderfully spicy and the mustard cut through the richness of the cheese. I loved the layers of succulent, juicy roast beef and the aus jus was flavorful. But the dish’s superstar: the bread.
The toasted outside was crunchy and the inside was fluffy but also stable. It served as the perfect shell. Despite my incessant au jus dipping, the sandwich never got soggy and never fell apart. The bread gets all the credit for that.
Nothing on the Snarf’s menu is incredibly exciting but it is all just plain good. And, honestly, that’s exactly what a sandwich should be.