It Was All Good Until….

There are some things in life that you should not mess with, like the tire for instance, it should always remain round, it works and there is no point in turning back now. In another instance the pop-tart, this is something that should never be trifled with, it works on so many different levels that to fool with it would be a travesty of some sort. Then there are things that are expected, things that humans have grown accustomed to and it would be downright unfaithful of someone to try to stand in the way in which humans habituate.

Did you know that the name “Amina” means honest and faithful in Arabic, when I read the word honest I think of true, and when I read the word faithful it translates to me, constant. This name is not only pretty, but it is an attention grabber, and one that makes me want to lean in for more, to find out exactly what you are being faithful and true to. So when the opportunity came for me to check out AMINA in Old City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I jumped at the chance.

First up, fried catfish hush puppies, now I have to admit fried foods are like a gateway drug, that tend to lead to hard things like lard and pig feet, but if you are not afraid of a little temptation then these hush puppies will be moving you in the right direction. Catfish is not a fish for everyone, but it definitely should be. Some are freaked out by the name, but I am dazzled by the taste, it is a mild sweet fish that can definitely hold its own in the fish world. When you take this delicate fish and endeavor to make a hush puppy, what the chef is really saying on the low is “let me show you my skill set real quick.” Why would I deem this a skill, well let me take a moment to share. You see on a glance a hush puppy can seem remedial and just another fried piece of cornbread, but when done right, both components become the shining star, you are able to get fish in every single bite, the cornbread is not overpowering, it is not even competing, it is doing exactly what it was designed to do,which is to serve a binder, and enhancer, a comforter, and a texture giver, that is full of flavor with every single bite. When you take that hush puppy and swirl it around in the remoulade sauce, you have essentially made a bite size piece of loveliness that had my wanting to come back for more and more.

Second up, was the collard greens, now I would love to write that the first thing that grabbed me with these greens was the taste, but no it was the presentation. Now I don’t know who came up with the term “we eat with our eyes,” but that is certainly a true statement. When the pretty small tub of greens came to the table I not only felt elated that my veggie quota was being met for the day, but every green was tender and delicious, the potlikker was delightfully seasoned, and there was nothing missing and nothing broken in the area of these greens, now this is what I call hedging your bets, because there is no salt nor pepper on the tables at Amina, so either they are very confident or being over zealous.

Last up, the fried chicken basket. Now I don’t know who doesn’t want fried chicken after a long work week to make all the angst of the week go away, but I certainly do. Fried chicken speaks to gratification and snugness, and when done befittingly it has the ability to not only satiate, but bring about a bliss that is undeniable. But when the dart shot moves so far away from the target that it makes you wonder if we all had the same target in our sights, dread ensues, and what exactly can cause such dread??? Wheat flour, you read correctly, wheat flour.
Every chef worth his/her salt knows that fried chicken requires white flour. White flour is absolutely essential to get that crispiness your tongue and your heart desires, it acts like some type of glue that keeps that juiciness in all the right places, and when you add wheat flour you lose all the goodness you had the potential of having. That wheat flour in the chicken basket, made every bite taste nutty, fried chicken should not taste nutty, granted it looked crispy, but it deceived me in the same manner as a fake Louie bag.

Yes it is probably true that white flour is not great or even good for you, I guess I can look at the glass half full and be thankful that someone was concerned about my arteries, but I know exactly what I am in for when I order fried chicken, I am well aware of the consequences, I am a maverick, a rebel, and when I order fried chicken, I want all the grease, all the white flour, all the juicy, all the flavor, and all the crunch, in a nutshell I want all the smoke.

Amina almost everything I ordered was spot on, almost all of it caused my heart and my palate to light up with glee, but somewhere towards the end a little deviation from the expected turned my smile into a slight frown. However, what I am going to do is use this wheat flour incident as a slight infraction, meaning I will be back, because I am fully convinced that all the other items will be spectacular and worth trying and honestly not to give grace and an opportunity to show your honesty and faithfulness would not be fair of me. Until next time Amina, until next time🍽️

Jaded to Joy

Everyone comes to a place where they are confronted with their own biases, these biases govern your approach, they can dictate your speech, and simply put, place you on alert to how jaded you are toward certain situations. Today I was confronted with my own preconceived ideas and my own prejudices.

Today I visited Aunt Berta’s Kitchen, in New Castle, Delaware and to be honest I naively wanted to see Aunt Berta, I actually wanted to walk in and see a woman with a considerable amount of girth, in an apron, and snapping green beans. Why did I have this thought, well simply stated, that is how I have seen my grandmother many a day when she was home cooking, I didn’t see an Aunt Berta, but I didn’t let it disappoint me. 

Oftentimes when you go to a black-owned soul food establishment, you unfortunately have your game face on, you are prepared to encounter a cashier who displays the eagerness of Trump to turn over classified documents, you anticipate what you have a hankering for not be available, and you expect the surroundings much to be desired. Yes, I know this is horrible to write and it can seem to be a stereotype, but it is true, not just in Delaware, but all across the United States, so much so, I am often inclined to believe that black owned restaurants especially the small spots all go to a class before opening, where they collectively learn how to give bad service, but good food. But Aunt Berta’s Kitchen has decided to become an outlier, they have resolved to be known as the unicorn in the small black owned restaurant business, and I cannot tell you how pleased I am to write this.

First up was the fried fish filets to honor that fact that it is Friday, this fish was perfectly breaded, and not with a cornmeal breading which tends to overtake a light fish, but the old-fashioned breading, where you set up the 3 breading stations of bread, flour, and egg, and it was seasoned perfectly, no salt no pepper needed, just a little hot sauce to make it all come together. I was nervous that the fried fish would become soggy by the time I arrived home, but it held up in traffic, and it was fish sweet and absolutely tasty. Second up was the sides, the mac and cheese because you cannot go to a black owned restaurant and not order it and the same goes for the collard greens. I cannot stress to you how good the mac and cheese was, except to write it was completely and unequivocally on point, it was the right amount of cheese, the perfect amount of creaminess, the exact amount of peppery (not hot) just the necessary amount of salt and pepper, and the most tender noodles. Every person who eats mac and cheese unconsciously or consciously always does a quick palate assessment to determine if their homemade mac and cheese is better than what you have ordered, and because I believe in being honest and transparent, compared to my mac and cheese, which I deem very good comes in the ranking as completely underrated and I will never be able to get it to taste like Aunt Berta’s. The pot liquor from the collards was mildly tasty, gently flavored, with tender greens that was the best accompaniment to the creaminess of the mac and cheese.

Third up the potato salad, now I have to write I was more than leery to get the potato salad, because believe or not the mayo vs. no mayo debate is everlasting in the minds of chefs, which depending on what side of the fence you land on, not very delectable.I also want to always  honor my mother whom I believe is the potato salad queen and never want to place myself in a position to have to choose someone else’s over hers and I am not going to start today. But Aunt Berta must secretly be friends with my momma, because that salad was everything right in the world, it was creamy, every potato perfectly coated, a little mustard mixed in so that it gave it that tang and also made you believe you were in your momma’s kitchen, they didn’t try to squeeze in some red onions to make it look fancy, they used that at home standby ingredients and it was a side dish that I totally will be picking up on a Sunday after church or an upcoming  holiday placing it in a bowl and acting like I made it myself. 

Last up was the fried chicken, because I needed something to eat as a leftover the next day. Now if you know me you know that dark meat is my jam, and one bite of that thigh caused a little smirk to cross my face. Chicken should be tender, it should be juicy, the crust should be flavorful, and the piece shouldnt be scrawny, and this chicken checked all the boxes.

Last up was the sweet tea, whom the cashier told me was homemade tea and was guaranteed to make my cheeks pucker, yet when I tasted it, I felt like it was powder tea that they got from the supermarket, but I drank anyway.

Aunt Berta’s Kitchen has a ton on the menu, from fish to ribs, from potato salad to macaroni salad with tuna and without, from gizzards to pig feet. Whenever a soul food joint has pig feet and chitterlings on the menu they are coming through and dropping the mic, I don’t even eat pig feet or chitterlings, but I am respecting the hustle, I am saluting the restaurant who is removing the membrane and doing the tedious work to give folk a down home experience.

Today I had my biases busted down, I had my jadeness turned around, and had my thoughts cleaned up. Today, I encountered a black owned soul food restaurant with good service, excellent food, and worth my repeat service. Thank you Aunt Berta’s Kitchen for being the unicorn you set out to be, you have earned yourself a customer…well done Aunt Berta, well done🍽️

Did I feel Seen?🍴

We have officially entered into a space where we pay more and get less, a place where prices are going up and up, but the standard of service is going down and down, or at the bare minimum staying the same, which really is just as bad. We have also entered into a space in time where groceries are costing a king’s ransom, a time where thick sliced bacon is over $10.00, if Biden needs to fix anything, he needs to fix that, how is one supposed to have a proper breakfast without thick sliced bacon. And to add a small insult to injury, statistics in the marketplace now state that it is less expensive to dine out than to buy groceries. In a way this new stat works in the restaurant industry’s favor, and I would assume that servers would be gitty almost chomping at the bit, because patrons are coming in prepared to pay, but with an expectation of being served with excellence and delicious food.

The truth is that the dining experience begins and ends with the level of service you receive. Service has an intangible effect on your tastebuds, the server has a way of setting the tone, somehow a magical way of calibrating our level of expectations, maybe unbeknownst to the servers they have powers, and I am not sure, but maybe they are occultist on the low. So when a server is aware of their enchanting abilities and they opt to use their powers for good you have essentially created a spellbinding dining experience that is simply beguiling.

So today I am here to share that Legal Seafood in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania not only does seafood correctly, but their type of service should be “legal” everywhere (did you like that play on the word?) Now when I write about great service, let me expound, for my table starter I wanted to order the spinach and crab dip, but the waitress without hesitation let me know that this dip is heavy on the spinach and lacking in the crab and that I may want to reconsider. So we decided on the lobster bisque, and she sweetly said, “I am not a fan of the bisque, but how about I bring you out a tiny cup so you can taste before you formally order.” So are you following me when I write great service? In a normal situation the waitress would have never spoken up, never volunteered their opinion, and definitely never respected the dollars we were spending with a determination to make sure we got every bit of our money’s worth, but she did and I was here for every comment rendered.

The first dish we landed on was a true classic, one that our waitress gave the thumbs up on, and that was the shrimp scampi. This pasta dish was delicious, no extra salt, nor pepper, nor cheese needed. It came out with perfectly cooked linguine tender in all the right places, the shrimp with the tails off so I didn’t have to work for my food was delicately seasoned and delicious, now most restaurants tend to skimp on the shrimp, but there was no skimping here, there was enough shrimp for every single bite, and the cream sauce was rich and delectable, to be concise it was spot on.

The last and final dish for the evening was the mac daddy, the king of the hill, the big poppa of the menu gang and that was the stuffed lobster tails. I am not quite sure why, but lobster always screams luxury, scavenger gold, and just plain fancy, restaurants do not even add the price for lobster anymore it just reads real bougie also known as “market price.” Who the devil knows the market price of lobster before they go to a restaurant? Did the patron stop at the market and price it first, most likely doubtful. Whenever you see the acronym “mp” your face unconsciously makes a wince, not because you cannot pay, but because the unknown is unsettling, but somehow that waitress of ours with the accommodating demeanor and the assurance that the stuffed lobster was an excellent choice, we ordered with calmness and excitement all wrapped up in one.

Lobster is a tricky seafood, left alone the lobster can be rubbery, left to its own devices too long it can be burnt tasting, and without tender loving care while in the shell it has the propensity to be undercooked. But when your lobster is two tails stuffed with shrimp, scallops, and buttery crackers which I assume are ritz, you have yourself with an incomparable mouth party. The shrimp was present and not hidden, nice size plump shrimp and scallops, deliciously breaded with a drizzle of butter was absolutely heavenly. The lobster tail underneath the stuffing was cooked to perfection, perfectly sized, in a nutshell exquisite.

Legal Seafood, you have made me a return patron, not only did you knock my socks off with the food, but you bowled me over with the service. Our waitress treated us like I assume she would want to be treated when she is dining out and for that I am very appreciative. No one wants to go to a business who doesn’t understand that every patron has many choices, and that patrons can opt to take their dollars anywhere, but they chose your establishment, and Legal Seafood you didn’t take that concept for granted, well done Legal Seafood, well done!🍴

Comparisons can be very evolved or not🍴

If I didn’t write it, you may not believe it, but there are some downfalls to eating out most of the time. Going out to eat can be a drug, how so you ask? Well you are always chasing the greatest high of your life, endeavoring to once again trap the same high you had during your first hit (I don’t write from experience, but I do watch 60 minutes) and by the same token when going out to eat you are constantly chasing the last best meal of your life. With each meal, you want to experience the same level of deliciousness, the same level of elation, and the same level of indulgence. Comparison to the last restaurant or the last meal of its kind closes down your mind, hinders your palate from fully participating in the upcoming taste encounter, and has the potential to leave you in a position of not being able to judge rightly. So what is the cure? The cure is to clean your mental palate, remove your biases, and adjust your tendency to be partial.

Sure Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbeque in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is not the formerly opened Warmdaddy’s nor is it the hood bbq that you deemed flavorfully reliable, but it definitely is not a slacker either. First up, was the candied bacon, now believe or not I have never had candied bacon, chocolate covered bacon yes, but candied no. This bacon was medium sliced slab bacon, meaning that with every bite you felt the thickness of the bacon, and it because of that thickness, although it was well cooked you never tasted burnt since you always had a little chewiness with a little bit of crunch. What you did get though was that brown sugar, and let me tell you it was super sweet, it was the equivalent to drinking grape Kool-Aid with a half a jar of sugar added to it. It was so sweet the saltiness which is the true heart bacon was lost, the balance was extracted from what had the potential to be extraordinary if done correctly. But one small bump in the road did not deter me from the old school mac and cheese, which was large enough to feed a table of five, yes in a conservative manner, but enough for each person to receive a healthy portion for sure. This mac and cheese was beautifully browned on the top, piping hot on arrival in a cast iron skillet, and classically cheesy. I simply enjoyed it, no extra spices required, no extra cheese needed, a really delightful side to my pork ribs and potato salad. 

To the untrained eye some may call my pork ribs a bit burnt, but they looked just like a smoked rib should, you totally should have some char without tasting char, you totally should have some smoke, but by the same token have all the tenderness in the world, and that is exactly what I had, and it was good, when I mixed the sweet bbq sauce and the slightly spicy bbq sauce together it was a concoction that made every bite quite enchanting. Next up was the potato salad, and it was before my first bite of the potato salad that my biases attempted to creep in, my prejudgement endeavored to overtake me, why you ask? Well it was the color, the potato salad was aioli colored, a color my brain didn’t quite understand at the onset, it also had red onions in it, and once again I was off putted, but despite my narrow-mindedness I powered through and took my first bite, and gosh darn it, I liked it, now was it my mama’s potato salad? A resounding no, but it was still good, so I went in for several bites thereafter. It was creamy, it was flavorful, it was tangy, and it carried a zing, and I was here for it. Next up was the collards, the portion was small and the dish quite spicy hot for collards.You see there is quite a difference between being spicy because it is adding a next level to the taste, and then there is being spicy hot for no reason, and this fell in the neighborhood of no reason. The collards were not flavorful, and I assume it was because I didn’t detect that it was cooked with meat, a neckbone, a turkey bone, some pork fat, something to make that pot likkor sing. But I ate it, because you never have a really good excuse to leave vegetables behind in light of the fact that it is here to help us not harm us.

To end the evening I ordered the fried oreos, simply because I felt compelled to and second because what a delight to not have to wait until a fair comes to town to get a fried oreo, and it served as a sweet ending to a delectable meal.

Morgan’s bbq you were a bbq spot that I enjoyed, I laid aside my preconceived notions and tasted every bit of food with openness and found myself not only pleasantly surprised, but with taste buds that thanked me in the end for taking a chance, and for that I will always be grateful. Well done Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbeque, well done. 🍴

A little Dainty, Definitely Classy, Some Pomp, but no Circumstance 🍴

Afternoon tea is an absolutely delightful concept, it checks all the boxes that women endeavor to achieve during an afternoon with your fellow ladies. Afternoon tea allows you to step into a Bridgerton moment by wearing fancy tea hats and cute dresses. It is in that moment where you have a wide berth to glide like a gentle stallion and with every step you take you inform the other patrons in the room that you have arrived. Women have the total freedom to carry a light cape or sweater without reservation, yet the bonus is, it is the tea that gives you a warmth, and with every sip, you can delve into the pomp of the moment and hold your pinky out just a smidgen for sophistication purposes of course.

The afternoon is a tricky time of the day, you may not be particularly hungry if you are a breakfast person, but you certainly can eat, by the same token you may not be a breakfast person, but unequivocally a dinner person, but who wants to be starving until dinner like you are on a Keto diet, so the dainty two bite sandwiches during tea time is the most befitting.

Prince Tea House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Chinatown, has the cutest tea house, the decor is simply adorable, the environment is quaint enough to feel the togetherness you went there to feel in the first place, and the service was soft, yet efficient, and neat. First up was the Mango tea, with coarse brown sugar, fragrant, but not an overpowering sweet at all. To be honest I smelled more of the mango than I could taste, but the smell was refreshing, yet tantalizing, and caused me to be more present in the moment and so for me it was a win. The tea tier was comprised of: pastrami with swiss cheese, deviled eggs, tuna salad with fish roe, cucumber with tzatziki, and crabmeat with jalapeno, warm scones, and macaroons.

Afternoon tea is a simplistic concept, so it is the details that make the tea special, in this case the Prince Tea House took the extra step to make the pastrami warm, no cold cuts here, the cheese was melted, the crabmeat with jalapeno although I am convinced that it is was imitation crabmeat, yet it was tastefully shredded to create an illusion of fresh crabmeat and the jalapeno added a much needed kick to wake up your nasal passages just slightly. I am not sure if they were baking scones in the back or if they were purchased by an outside vendor. But either way, those scones with buttery, they were warm, they were delicately sweet, they were delicious, with every bite I smiled, and to be totally honest I felt like a lady, a greedy lady, but nonetheless a lady.

Some may assume that I always feel like a lady and I most certainly do, but there are just moments where what you engage in makes you feel more pretty, more dainty, more delicate like the flower that I am. And to some degree macaroons do this for me, I mean they are first and foremost one of the prettiest desserts, they have all of the inner parts of greatness, when you bite the crumb level is minimal, due to the chewy consistency, so less dabbing to the lip gloss which keeps your lips popping, the cream on the inside is tight enough so no run off is happening. This lemon and pistachio macaron was giving all the life it had inside of them. The lemon carried a hint of tang, and the pistachio an inkling of nuttiness. In a nutshell, the desserts added a nice crescendo to the crustless sandwiches and perpetually warm tea. The delicacy was on fleek at the Prince Tea House and I was totally here for it. I have been to quite a few tea houses in my day, and I will certainly add this true find as a fav. Well done Prince Tea House, well done.🍴

Trendy May Have It’s Perks!

So it appears that we have a new trend in town and the first trend is this amazing girls night haven, a place where women can get all dressed up, live in the liberty of not being constantly hit on by busters, the autarchy to be able to order as much as you want without judgment, and the freedom to eat and drink without being overly concerned about immediate stomach bloating showing through my cute outfit. Now this is not to write that men aren’t allowed or that there weren’t any men in Mei Mei restaurant located in Philadelphia, but I only saw two men so that is the equivalent of being a safe eating place for all fly women everywhere.

Mei Mei is an asian fusion restaurant, that’s pretty in its decor, that’s hip in its vibe, with just the right amount of dark lighting, and the right amount of delicious. Now when we arrived the hostess walked us to our table and immediately informed us that we had 80 minutes, which brings me to the second trend. Lately, I have noticed that restaurants are giving patrons the time limit upon entering the restaurant, and I have to write although the restaurant may fancy themselves as being efficient, I call this methodology tacky and here is why. Sure it may be incumbent upon the patrons not to excessively lollygag, but the responsibility for constant momentum during the dining experience should rest totally on the kitchen and the server. The server should know how to gently move along the eaters, adding a gentle nudge if necessary to get them to the finish line, and to inconspicuously help the patron know when the culmination of their evening is quickly approaching. Mei Mei when you tell the patron on the onset their time limit, without even knowing it you have sprinkled some water on an evening that was supposed otherwise be lit. So not only do I have to use my phone to view the menu, now I have a time limit, and does the clock start when I sit down or does the clock start after I make my order? Mei Mei experience is everything, it is the secret sauce to the return patron, it is accompaniment to any amazing meal.

So speaking of the meal, this dining experience was all about the small plates, and not because the entree was not there for the taking, but it just seemed as though the small plates were way more intriguing than the large. So first up was the Shrimp Bao also known as steamed buns. These buns were absolutely heavenly, the shrimp was lightly fried, covered in an aioli sauce, a dollop of radish and a dollop of pickle to give you a smidgen of crunch, a morsel of sweet, and an entire mouthful of perfection. Now I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t notice where the restaurant could have upped the ante with this dish. You see there were only two people eating, but the restaurant served three bao buns, you see how this was a bit troublesome? You see when the third bun is on the plate, then Mrs. Manners is forced to emerge, I am forced to forgo my desire and offer the bun to my eating partner, I am coerced to get into a mindless back and forth of “you can have it, no you can have it, yeah please take it, I’m good” until my greedy self simply just says enough is enough and eats the last bun. But if you had given an even number or had the option to get a single additional one, then this insincere verbal entanglement would have been avoided.

Next up, the Pork Spare Ribs, or otherwise known as the bone tender ribs. These ribs were sweet from the char siu sauce, these ribs were sticky, these ribs were smoky, and so darn tender I accidentally bit a piece of bone and was able to chew through that bone like I was in a backyard barbecue and not a fancy smancy restaurant, where etiquette is totally important.

Last up, was the Scallops and Risotto. Now readers I am not gonna tell a fib, upon first bite of those scallops and risotto, my eyes closed just a bit and I involuntarily began to shake my head in a yes motion for a second. The scallops were impeccably cooked, the risotto was so creamy and bright tasting from the scallions, my tastebuds did a dance I will not soon forget.

Mei Mei my palate was appreciative, and although I was given a time limit, with the good service every minute was executed perfectly. This restaurant has officially turned into becoming one of my go to spots for girl night fun and palate pleasing foods all around. Well done, Mei Mei, well done🍽

Kinda Surprised 🍽

Have you ever walked into a restaurant, took a quick gander, and immediately thought, “oh my God, is this going to be the same as going to Applebees?” but then you sit, you take a look at the menu, and based on the choices, your confidence grows smaller? Not because the place is not aesthetically pleasing, because the aesthetics here were okay, and not because it smelled funny, because it didn’t, it just simply lacked the, this food is gonna be good vibe. Yeah, there is a good food vibe, it kinda hits you upon arrival, the vibe is usually accentuated by the waitstaff and the brightness of the environment, which in both cases was not bright, but not exactly dull. So since I had already paid money to valet at Dockland’s at the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware there was nothing else to do but stay, order, and pray for the best.

First up, was the fried cheese curds, now some may say that cheese curds are nothing more than crumbled up mozzarella cheese, but I write when done well cheese curds have the propensity to be the start of a wonderful evening. Now these Wisconsin cheese curds were good, they gave a sufficient amount of cheese pull, and I found myself going in for my next curd before I fully swallowed the one in my mouth. So although the surroundings were dull, the appetizer didn’t suck, and almost landed in the vicinity of approbatory and had me completely settled to receive my entree without angst.

Last up was the fig braised short rib, with mashed potato, and broccoli. A pretty fancy selection for what I would call a cheerless locale, but I was feeling ungoverned, and I was determined to not have the hasty waitstaff who rushed the service at every turn deter me from my hankering for something non-chicken, so short rib it was. And to my consternation, upon first slice, that short rib was the perfect amount of tender, and upon first bite, I was completely sold. This fig braised short rib was savory, it was beefy, it was buttery, with a tinge of sweetness from the fig. Now to make this dish just a smidgen better I decided to do a combo, by taking a forkful of short rib and a forkful of mashed potato, but that endeavor served as fruitless. The mashed potatoes were bland, no salt, no butter, not smooth, stiff at every attempt. But I have to write I will not count the mash potato fiasco as loss, but actually a win, because it was actually more diet conscious to have meat and a veggie, versus meat, starch, and veggie, so basically just holding true to one of my life’s motto which is “you gotta know when you are winning.”

So needless to write Dockland’s kinda surprised me, despite the fact that you can only sit a Dockland’s table on the inside for no more than 90 minutes before the staff basically states that you have lollygagged here way to long, and if you opt to continue, please go outside where you can sit, drink, chill, and socialize with no limitations, and in spite of the downtrodden feeling of the inside dining area, the food was not bad, not bad at all. And because I did want to continue lollygagging I did join the outside crowd which was actually carefree with music and a delightful surroundings. Everyone is due for a pleasant surprise from time to time and Dockland’s you gave me a surprise that made me smirk and aided me in my decision to return, so well done Dockland’s, well done. 🍴

Gratuity for Basic 🍽

It could be the signs of the times, it could be that our awareness has been forever heightened to the fact that we are living in a world where we pay more and get less, where the consumer is no longer always right, and basic should be praised as if it is great. Long phrase short, we are living in a time where everyone gets a trophy, even if you are in 12th place.

With the world suffering from the 12th place syndrome, have we forgotten how to identify what is fundamentally basic? What is good, versus what is extraordinary? Patrons in every capacity are so used to only getting the fundamentally basic service, sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to behold exceptional service ever again. Or it can be that the exceptional is slowly dying, because there is no incentive for being great, because you can still share in the bounty even if you are slipshod.

This weekend I visited Grain H2O in Bear, Delaware and in all of my eating experiences I had never encountered this question from a server, and that blatant question was, “why didn’t you tip me more?” Now I guess in retrospect I could have looked at this question in a multitude of ways, two of which was: she wanted feedback to improve her skills as she proceeded in this chosen vocation or she was being a person who had an entitled grievance who opted to take it out on me and my crew, unfortunately I choose the latter.

I had been wanting to try Grain H2O having passed it several times during my journey’s and each time I would read the sign I automatically assumed that it was a healthy restaurant, full of nuts, berries, and farro, not real food. I had no idea that it was actually a craft and bar restaurant, basically a place you went when you were tired of eating the nuts, berries, and farro. To commemorate summer my crew and I opted to sit outdoors where the sun was beaming and the music was bumping, and although this is a craft bar we opted not to make this dining experience full of gluttony, so we settled on appetizers only.

First up was the Fried Goat Cheese balls, and because I love goat cheese, I loved that they were perfectly fried and altogether creamy, altogether salty, and altogether balanced with the sweet sriracha honey drizzle, which made these goat balls altogether lovely.

Next up was the fried pickles; each time I go to a restaurant that has fried pickles I always feel compelled to try them, especially when the menu calls out that they are not just pickles, but they are house made pickles. 

I know from home experience that cooking fried pickles is easier said than executed, and that is because it must always be in the forefront of your mind that you are only cooking the batter not the pickle. When you forget the last-mentioned you may end up  with some dark looking crust and that was the case with some of these pickles. The slightly dark coloring fortunately didn’t hinder the taste, I didn’t lose any of the brininess, the crunchiness was not abandoned, but the kitchen did try to catch me with the okie doke by placing the house-made cilantro aioli on the particularly dark ones to cover it up as opposed to deeming those few not worthy to be served, and create some new ones just to ensure the patron that they are concerned with  presentation.

Last up, the Crab Nachos, with crispy wontons chips, with buttery lump crab meat, a warm cheese sauce, and a fresh pico de gallo. SItting near the water and so close to Maryland, this dish was everything my palate craved for. Fresh crab meat, no claws, and the perfect amount of flare beyond you run of the mill nachos and salsa.

So a fairly light menu, but one that I have deemed very good, even leaning toward will repeat, but the service, well by no means will I call it non-tippable, because we certainly did tip, but it certainly was fundamentally basic service. So basic in fact, if it had not been for that bold question of hers, I don’t think I would call it memorable at all, which means it wasn’t bad, it was great, but it stood in the middle and landed as neutral.

You see, I don’t know where you live, but where I live gas is almost $6.00/gallon, the supermarket is running out of M&M peanut constantly, and even when I think I am in the 10 items or less line at the grocery store, I am still paying over $60.00 and I have to weigh my own produce, and bring my own bags from home, and bag my own groceries. So yeah, my meter for fundamentally basic service versus extraordinary service meter is on all the time.

Nowadays when dining out everyone gets a check with the calculation for a 20% tip and so on, and so the concept of tipping is forever lost and most of these servers are operating under the everyone gets a trophy philosophy. It is a basic fundamentals to bring me my food with a smile, it’s absolutely basic to ask how what you brought to the table is tasting, and it is basic to see that when I am sitting out in the hot sun I may need more water when you see mine is gone, these are not extraordinary territories. What defines extraordinary service is really incumbent upon the server, it is really a predetermined mindset that they have settled on that says that they will go above basic, that their intention is to land on extraordinary experience each and every time.

I know you are asking yourself as you read this, what did I say to that question the server gave me, which was “why didn’t we tip more?” to be my most authentic self, I have to say, I stared at her with mouth open and mind stunned, and in the end delighted that I would have this opportunity to blog.

You see Grain H2O, I don’t know where you get your money, but I don’t have a money tree growing outside of my residence and I don’t know where you get your gas, but where I get my gas, it isn’t $.99/gallon. So yes, I am looking for the beyond basic, I am looking for the better than good, and I for darn sure aint looking for a server to question my tipping methods.

Grain H20 I am fair person, I am a wise enough foodie to know that the server I have next time, may not be the server I had this time, but I will give you a tip, teach your servers to be human, and to give the patrons the extraordinary service they themselves would want if they were sitting at the table, especially if they want a bigger tip. There is work to do Grain H2O, work to do🍽

Hand & Glove 🍽

There is an old southern saying called “fixin” at least I think it is southern, I mean I have never heard anyone southern say it, but I have heard senior citizens say the saying and I always assume that they are southern which could be right or it could be wrong, I am not completely sure. This saying also has a double meaning, it could mean that you are about to do something, for example “I am fixin to go to the store” and to translate that means “I am getting myself ready to go to the store” and the secondary example is “What fixin do you want on the side of that chicken,” and to translate that means “what sides do you want to accompany that main piece of meat,” the latter is the subject matter of this blog post.

 Fixins Soul Food Kitchen located in downtown Los Angeles, California where the sweet tea is actually sweet and they have opted to be nostalgic by offering Kool-Aid just to take you back to the days when your parents made Kool-Aid so sweet it gave you cavities.

First up on the menu was the fried deviled eggs, yes you read correctly and the concept kinda stumped me too. But it is exactly how it reads, it’s a deviled egg with the yolk beautifully seasoned, with a hint of hot sauce sitting atop a fried egg white, and to top that off a small piece of slab bacon. And let me share with you the shell was perfectly crispy with just enough crack to the first bite and not only did the unconventional concept bowl me over, the taste captivated me just as much.

Next up was the fried catfish, with fixins mac and cheese and collard greens. Now some people skirm at the thought of eating catfish, because of the name, and some are just to bougie because catfish are said to be a scavenger, and there may be some truth to that fact, but nonetheless catfish is a palatable fish, especially when it is fried with cornmeal. The batter was perfect, not too thick and not too thin, but just enough to create a crispy crust that didn’t interfere with the delicate fish. The fish was lightly seasoned so that with each bite you were very cognizant that you were eating the wondrous catfish. My fixin were the collards and they were tender and the pot liquor was a tad on the spicy side,  enough to make me need some water to douse the heat, the mac and cheese on first sight did not appear to be creamy nor cheesy, but the first bite made a complete fool outta of me, it was both of those things, it was actually pretty spot on.

The food was actually very good at Fixin, but the service lacked a whole lot of luster. It is something  about slipshod service, it has a way of diminishing the taste of your meal. It forces you to question going back, and query on whether or not you should get a dessert. It’s strange but I tend to believe that a waiter should be happy that guests who have their choice of so many restaurants have opted to choose them. The wait staff should be keenly aware that they too are a part of the dining experience, they are the precursor to how your palate receives, it seems strange but true. When the wait staff is unengaged, slightly wishing that the patron was anywhere but in front of them the palate can run the risk of being soured.

Fixins I thought the food was delicious, but the service ornery, I would love to come back, because it is certainly possible that this experience was a one-off, but in order to do so, I have to put on my tough skin, I have to be very conscientious not to treat others as they have treated me, and then also want a tip. So my suggestion would be to remember that dining is in fact an experience, not a partial experience either, not just an eating experience, but a full blown start to finish experience. One in which people will talk about not just what they ate but how they felt🍽

When an Appetizer will not be ignored🍽

I absolutely love it when an appetizer is so large and tasty it can serve as your main meal, however what I distaste is when the appetizer is so large, but your server doesn’t tell you, and by the time you realize it you have already ordered a main entree. It’s kinda like some sorta tasty trickery that doesn’t let you maximize your dollars until your next visit.

I carry a great deal of adulation for restaurants that allow their appetizers to give what it is supposed to give. Appetizers are supposed to be a tasty debut, that exordium speaks to how the service is going to be, how the food will be presented, and is the dish piquant enough to leave you longing for more.

LaScala’s Fire in Villanova, Pennsylvania has truly grabbed hold of one of my favorite phrases which is “simplistically profound.” When something is simplistically profound there is not a lot of pomp and hardly any circumstance, yet it is the building on those simple items that make the dish absolutely profound. First up was the LaScala Fries, see I told you it reads simple, but I tell you when they add old bay to those piping hot fries, some generously chopped bacon, jumbo lump crabmeat, you are entering into the territory of the profound, but they didn’t stop there, they took it a step further and added some long hots for a nasal opener, and some provolone cheese sauce, and now you have created something savory, spicy, a little briney from the crabmeat, and a little excessive with the creamy and warm cheese, and with the old bay seasoning just to serve as a reminder that old bay is the proper accompaniment to any seafood.

This appetizer was substantial in size, it was filling, simply put it was delicious. After eating this appetizer, I really did not need an entree, I could have gone home happy and full with no complaints, but because I was slightly duped as to what I was getting into, I had already ordered the Seafood Fra Diavolo Linguini with shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, crabmeat, and spicy tomato sauce. This is a work for your food type of meal, I had to take the clams and mussels out of the shell, and remove the tails from the shrimp; the tomato sauce was thin, so there was no clinging to the linguini. The tomato sauce had the consistency of a broth, which is good for dipping bread, but not hefty. Yes they sprinkled some crabmeat atop, but inside of the brothy sauce the delicate crabmeat got lost and didn’t deliver the taste a crab has the potential to deliver, thank God I had that appetizer. The seafood was fresh, the linguini cooked to perfection, and the broth modest in taste. The portion was generous, so much so that I was able to take my leftovers home, which afforded me the opportunity to doctor it up with some of my own seasoning and parmesan cheese for nuttiness and thickness, so it moved that dish from modest to yummy.

LaScala’s Fire I have every intention on returning, but probably for appetizers only and possibly an entree to take home. The decor was sheik, the server was charming, and the atmosphere just allowed me to relax and for my palate to be gratified, well done LaScala’s Fire, well done🍽