Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not So Elevated Burgers

Elevation Burgers

There is a new burger place in weird town and it fits right in. I mean naming a burger place “Elevation Burger” is pretty weird. I mean what exactly does that mean? In Austin we call our burger joints real names like Huts, Dirty Martin’s, or BB’s (OK, BB’s is in Georgetown, but that’s where I live and BB’s serves a really tasty burger so give me a break.). We want our burgers to be juicy (read greasy) and the buns toasted.

Sadly, the best thing about the burgers served at Elevation Burgers is the cheddar cheese, but unfortunately the cheese on my burger wasn’t even close to being melted. I ordered the basic, and at Elevation that’s a single ¼ pound patty cooked to the point of dryness, and served on a bun so cold it seems stale. All will be nicely wrapped to keep in the juices – too bad there won’t be any. You may of course order nearly as many patties as you wish, but if they are all as dry as mine it won’t be pleasant.

Now the good: The fries are the shoe string type, fried in olive oil and very tasty. The trimmings include most anything you can think of, and some you won’t. Service is fast and the staff very friendly.

Elevation offers a side of mandarin oranges, not to mention a vegan burger – now that is weird.

Elevation is located at 2525 Anderson Lane in case you want to give it a try. Of course IMO your time will be better spent driving to GT and going to BB’s, Monument Café or the Rattlesnake Inn – all have a burger that is miles above the ones served at Elevation Burger.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Carmine's on Williams

The wife and I ate at Carmine’s Italian restaurant on Williams Ave. in Georgetown, on Thursday early evening. We had received mixed reviews from neighbors (One thought it good but dirty, and the other said it was lousy, but clean - go figure.) and we are more than a little curious.

When we arrived the place looked neat, clean and we both thought the décor attractive. A server appeared at our table immediately to take our beverage order. It’s a BYOB place so if you want wine you have to bring it.

My wife ordered the cheese ravioli with their tomato sauce, and that came with spaghetti . I ordered meatballs and spaghetti with the marinara. A small side salad came with both orders.

After we ordered we were served small warm rolls that appeared to have been baked on site, and were nicely seasoned with herbs. Why we got three of them when there were two of us I don’t have a clue.

The side salad was rather nondescript and consisted of one small slice of tomato and a hand full of ice berg lettuce. The lettuce was cold and the vinaigrette was chilled.

My wife’s cheese ravioli were very, very good. Their pasta envelope was silky smooth, and the smooth filling was terrific. We both agreed that they were worth ordering again. The tomato sauce was thick and perfect for the spaghetti cooked aldenti. Her order included six rather large ravioli and I am not sure why they were served on spaghetti .

My meatballs were reasonably light and had a nice beef and herb flavor. My pasta was likewise cooked aldenti and the marinara was rich and flavorful.

We were offered some sort of grated cheese in a glass shaker to sprinkle on the pasta if desired. Might have been Parmesan, who knows?

Carmine’s prices are very reasonable. As a matter of fact compared to Tony & Luigi's Italian Restaurant (Also in Georgetown - see earlier posting.) Carmine’s are a real bargain. Although, I must say that T and L's offered Parmesan grated from a slice.

Here's hoping Carmine's pizza is as good as their ravioli.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mama Fu's vs. Pei Wei

When we saw that there was going to be another pan-Asian restaurant Georgetown (OK, I know that Pei Wei’s is not really in GT, but its close enough.) I was pretty thrilled, and the wife and I went there soon after it opened. I always enjoy eating at Pei Wei's, and it makes a good "yardstick" to measure the quality of Mama Fu's.

When we arrived at Mama Fu's about 5:30PM the place was, as expected for a new restaurant, very busy.

The interior compares favorably vs. Pei Wei’s, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that at Mama Fu's ordering is done while seated at your table, and not while standing in front of a counter. Another point in Mama Fu's favor was that compared to Pei Wei's it is relatively quiet. I mean the place was packed, but my wife and I could still have a conversation without needing to yell at one another. Impossible at Pei Wei's.

My wife ordered the Vegetable Roll appetizer and the Thai Basil Noodle entrée. I ordered the Beef Curry Roll appetizer and the Pad Thai Curry with beef.

Our appetizers were brought to the table within ten minutes, and my Beef Curry Roll was outstanding. A crisp shell filled with a minced savory beef well seasoned with curry powder. Considering that the Beef Curry Roll was so very tasty it was strange to me that the Vegetable Roll had very little to recommend it. The same tasty dipping sauce came with both appetizers.

Pei Wei has nothing like Mama Fu's terrific Beef Curry Roll, but their Spring Roll is far superior to Mama Fu's Veggie Roll.

The Red Thai Curry with beef had, in my opinion, insufficient curry flavor and heat. However, the sliced beef in the dish was very tender, and the vegetables had a nice crunch. All in all, the dish was barely acceptable. Pei Wei's has several dishes that are superior; like their Thai Mango Beef or Thai Coconut Curry.

Sadly, the Thai Basil Noodles with vegetables had little flavor; with mushy noodles and bland vegetables there was nothing to make it worth eating. Pouring in some of the dipping sauce that came with the appetizers helped flavor the dish.

The wife did not feel that her entrée was as bad as I, and insisted that the remainder be taken home.

We will certainly give Mama Fu’s another chance, (I must try their lettuce wraps.) but for the moment in my opinion it compares unfavorably to Pei Wei’s.

Monday, April 20, 2009

White Manna Hamburgers, Hackensack, NJ

Not long ago I had the good fortune to eat at the White Manna Hamburger Restaurant located in Hackensack, New Jersey together with my daughter and her husband. On a rather gray Thursday, after I convinced them that a two hour ride, mostly on I-95, was going to be worth it, they agreed to the quest for another a great burger.

The White Manna is a small, wonderfully vintage diner with a red and white exterior that includes a combination of plate glass and glass block windows with red caulk, a peculiar scalloped wainscot, and a large neon sign in faded red paint on the roof. There is a large red and blue “OPEN” sign in one of the windows. That's my son-in-law and me standing to the left of the restaurant.

It’s a place I want to enter.

There is no vestibule, and after entering the smell of frying beef, hot onions, and people surrounds. A surprisingly small flat plate griddle enclosed on three sides by glass to protect it from the cold winter air entering with each patron, separates a “U” shaped counter with stools for no more than a dozen. Ledges with stools line the walls for more seating.

Thursdays are apparently slow at the White Manna, because while the counter is full and about eight people are tightly crowded in front of the glass enclosed grill either placing or waiting for orders there are still a few seats at the ledges. My daughter takes out her camera and starts to take pictures.

Apparently, to the regulars this is not unusual, because a couple them ask where we are from, and explain that they eat there several times a week, but never on the weekends because the place is too busy. I am standing next to a fellow who is enjoying a plate of six cheese burgers with fries. He tells me that he had a quadruple bypass not long ago, and that eating at White Manna once a week is worth the risk to his health.

I watch as the cook positions spheres of beef, each about the size of a golf ball, in neat rows on the hot steel of the griddle. Each ball is very quickly squished, not completely flat, with the back of a spatula, and a liberal amount of previously sautéed onions, and a slice of cheese – but only if ordered, is placed on top of the sizzling patty. The bottom of a fresh potato bun proportionally sized to the patty is set, cut side down, on the melting cheese, with the other half of the bun placed on the top. The process allows the combined aroma of frying beef and steaming onions to infuse the bun from the inside out.

The combination of juicy patty, sweet soft onions, gooey melted cheese, soft steamed bun, and in my case a pinwheel of yellow mustard, is hamburger paradise. After eating a total of thirteen burgers between us, we drive a few blocks to a real soda fountain (I am not kidding.) for a dish of ice cream.

So, if you are ever in Hackensack, NJ, or even within a hundred miles, be sure to stop at White Manna Hamburgers for a plate of their unique burgers – disappointment will not be your fate.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The J & H Cafe: No Greasy Spoon

In the mid 1950’s, I was employed at a small restaurant located on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. I worked there from four in the afternoon to nine at night for two out of the three years I was in High School.

It was called the J & H Café, and was run by its owners, Johnny and Holland. Holland did all of the cooking, and Johnny did most everything else. Although, the restaurant was open for lunch and dinner, I worked from four in the afternoon to about nine at night.

Nearly everything served at the J & H was made on site including dinner rolls, fruit and cream pies and cakes. The place was not open on weekends, and five days a week customers could select from three entrees such as grilled pork chops, meat loaf, Swiss steak, fried liver and onions, and chili mac.

In addition there was always a selection of cooked vegetables such as mashed potatoes, succotash, whole kernel corn, and peas and carrots. Baked potatoes, available every night, were set on top of the oven in a layer of coarse salt to keep warm. Hot sandwiches, including hamburgers, grilled cheese, and open faced hot roast beef served with mashed potatoes and gravy, were also on the menu.

Customers were always in a hurry because they had exactly 30 minutes to eat (starting at twelve minutes past the hour), and arriving back at work one minute late cost them eleven more. They worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company, located directly across Ocean Park Boulevard from the J & H, and Douglas, for reasons I never understood, divided the hour into five twelve minute segments.

To save time many dinner customers telephoned their orders into the restaurant. My responsibilities included setting their orders on the tables before they arrived. There was limited confusion because they remembered what they ordered, and always sat at the same tables. If they ordered meat loaf they simply sat down at “their” table in front of the first meatloaf they saw. All they had to do was sit down eat, and pay when they left. Customers that did not telephoned got in line, and ordered cafeteria style.

Since there was only the one dinner service, and nearly everyone left simultaneously, I bused all of the tables at the same time, and cleaned up the dining room after service was over.

During WWII the employment at Douglas Santa Monica reached 44,000 working 24/7. By the 1950’s while employment was less than at the peak Douglas was still very busy building aircraft including their last propeller driven airliner, the DC-7. The plant’s site was 255 acres and incorporated Clover Field just to the south. After the war started there was concern that the plant might be bombed by aircraft, and the entire facility was heavily camouflaged. I first heard about this some years ago, but only recently located photos on the Internet:

This view shows someone
walking under the camo netting

This photo illustrates how
effective the camo
actually is; there's a factory
under there.

Believe it or not part of the
Douglas Aircraft Company factory
is at the bottom, center of this

In about a year Johnny sold the restaurant, and I stayed to work for the new owner. After the newbie started covering telephoned orders with aluminum lids to help keep them warm business slid downhill. The aluminum lids prevented diners from recognizing their orders; they couldn’t tell meatloaf from chili mac. The resulting confusion caused disagreement and wasted time. Anyway, the customers were unforgiving, started eating elsewhere, and within about six months Johnny bought back the restaurant.

In 1959, after I was released from active duty with the Marine Corps I went to work for Douglas still located in Santa Monica. I worked at their Missiles and Space Systems Division. At the time an important product was the Thor missile that the US was busily placing in Turkey; you may remember that this contributed to the Cuban missile crisis.

One afternoon some of the guys I worked with at Douglas were discussing they were going to have lunch, and mentioned the J & H, referring to it as that “greasy spoon”. Alright, the place wasn’t Michelin star quality; I will give them that, but doggone it “greasy spoon” it wasn’t.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pei Wei an Asian Diner

If you live in or near Georgetown, Texas, and enjoy pan-Asian food you will be pleased to learn that a Pei Wei has recently opened for business in Round Rock. It is located on University Ave. behind the Mimi’s Café.

Interestingly, Pei Wei is owned by PFChang, a chain of larger pan Asian restaurants. Pei Wei has much more of a fast food style compared to the formal dining experience at PFChang. Other differences include PFChang having a more sophisticated menu and being more expensive.

Introduced to Pei Wei about ten years ago, by our son and daughter-in-law, my wife and I have eaten at their locations in Dallas and Austin, and have never been disappointed. We are delighted to have a Pei Wei close to our home.

A favorite starter of ours is their Chicken Lettuce Wrap. Consisting of warm diced chicken and water chestnuts in a slightly sweetened, savory sauce, that when spooned onto the crisp cold leaves of iceberg lettuce, makes a light, tasty appetizer.

Favorite entrees include Thai Dynamite, Mandarin Kung Pao, and Thai Coconut Curry. Each uniquely seasoned entrée is unlike any other dish. They also offer a selection of Rice & Noodle Bowls, and Pan Asian salads.

With most entrees after you make a selection from a relatively long list, you then decide on your protein - chicken, beef or shrimp. Vegetables, tofu or vegetables and tofu may be added. Nearly all are served with rice, white or fried. In my opinion the white rice is a good selection because it complements rather than competes.

While Pei Wei’s décor and lighting create a very warm and comfortable ambiance, the high noise level is unfortunate. We were recently there with friends and found it very difficult to have a conversation.

We look forward to going there often.