Saturday, March 24, 2018

The 2018 Florida Trip

My friend Marty was pissed off about something; I forget what, but he decided that the way to deal with it was to go lose himself in Ft Lauderdale for a while. Then he got over it (by pricing hotels) and decided not to go. But it put me in mind of the fact that I hadn't been to Key West in more than 3 decades. And there were seven counties in Florida that I'd never been to. So I decided to go to Key West for a few days, and then Lauderdale, and along the way I figured I could drive through those seven counties in the uninteresting parts of Florida.

Then I priced hotels in Key West and Lauderdale, and decided that New Orleans was a better place to be. But there were still those seven counties....

upscale yard art
So Marty flew down to New Orleans, and we made a quick drive around Florida, then came back to what has become our preferred ground.

baby gators
We started by taking in the high-end yard art at the US Sports Academy, in Daphne, Alabama. Then we drove on to Florida's highest waterfall (73 feet high; but it falls into a sinkhole about 65 feet deep, which makes it less impressive than it sounds), and through Liberty County, which has nothing to recommend it, and on down to Gainesville, in Alachua County. We spent the night somewhere around there -- I don't recall where -- and continued south until we hit the handful of really dull counties that help keep the Atlantic Ocean out of the Gulf of Mexico. We went to an overpriced drive-through alligator sanctuary before going through such dull spots as Glades and Hardee and Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

On the way back up, we passed by the Ste Anne Shrine, near Lake Wales, Florida. This is identified on Roadside America as a mostly-destroyed remnant torn down by "an unsympathetic Catholic Church." That's not true. The pictures on that web site are of a lakeside altar that once honoured St Christopher (who is no longer considered a saint), and apparently people just assumed the rest of the false story. The shrine to Ste Anne is about 100 yards east of there, in the woods off the road, and in fact is to be the site for a sunrise mass on Easter Sunday, according to one of the locals who's lived there for more than 30 years.
the remnant of the St Christopher

Ste Anne's Shrine
So nice to have gotten that straight.

After that: New Orleans, where we've done nothing but party since arriving. We had outstanding meals at Alfonso's in Faubourg Marigny and St Charles Tavern and Ruby Slipper (which now has a location right on Canal Street, so we didn't have to schlepp all the way to Mid-City); and we did a street-car tour that included the Riverfront and City Park, plus a ride along Rampart street, so now I've been on all four lines in town. I feel so accomplished.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ronnie's Ice House Barbecue
211 S US Hwy 281
Johnson City
(sort of across from the Dairy Queen)

I saw a clickbait show on one of the foodie channels a few days ago, purporting to name the "fifteen best barbecue places in America." The guy doing the show didn't even mention any of the great places in Lockhart or Luling; and he seemed more taken by gimmick-y presentation than by actual superior quality. So it wasn't confidence in his ability to identify truly great barbecue that led me to try Ronnie's in Johnson City, which made his top 10 list; more a matter of curiosity, combined with a building desire for a day trip up the road.

the Pedernales at Johnson City
Let me first recommend that, if you too decide on a day trip to Johnson City, don't go on a Monday or Tuesday, no matter how nice the weather. Almost everything in town of any interest to the casual tourist is closed. And about half of it is closed on Wednesday, too. All you'll have to do is eat and walk along the bank of the Pedernales, and maybe go see LBJ's boyhood home. All that together isn't worth the hour's drive from the Big City -- either Big City, Austin or San Anto' -- to get there. (Though, if your base is San Antonio, you can at least stop in at the Buggy Barn Museum in Blanco on the way home; and if Austin, you have Dripping Springs to stop in. Any disappointment can be drowned there.)
the Buggy Barn in Blanco

So. Ronnie's. Well, yes, it's good barbecue. The kind of good barbecue you can probably get in every one-traffic-light town between the Sabine and the Rio Grande. Juicy beef brisket rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked for umpteen hours out back (or, in this case, out on the side porch) and sliced up by the plate or by the pound. Sides of pinto beans, coleslaw, potato salad. Sausage and pork and chicken and turkey. All the things you find in every barbecue joint, plus a few: pea salad, corn salad, green beans, banana pudding.... A short line of people waited to order, always a good sign unless there's a tour bus idling in the parking lot.

I had just a brisket plate, and chose sides of pinto beans and potato salad -- not because they're my favourite sides, but because those, along with slaw, are the paradigmatic barbecue sides, and consequently the best choices for evaluative purposes. Greater wisdom might have lain in having my druthers, because the pea salad turned out not to be the white gelatinous mass with green dots that I'd pictured in my mind when the counter lady, on request, ran down the list of ingredients. The corn salad looked a better choice, too. Although both of the side dishes I chose were fine. The beans were somewhat seasoned, though not to the degree common farther south, a degree I've come to prefer; and the potato salad was good ol' very traditional church-picnic stuff ... with lots and lots of mayo.

The brisket was as expected: juicy, smoky, and hot from the pit, with traditional seasoning that's hard to improve on despite the wishes of television presenters. The portion size was fair: neither stingy nor generous, though I will confess to a twinge of disappointment when Ronnie stopped slicing and laid the meat on my plate. Sauce -- a very ordinary sauce -- was on the table in a squeeze-bottle.

There was a tray of bacon-wrapped jalapeƱo poppers next to his work area, and they looked good, so I had them add one to my plate. I justified it by deciding to forego the buttermilk pie I'd planned on ordering. I felt that was a good decision when I saw the pie slices by the cashier's position: they looked a little on the chincy side to my greed-shrouded eyes, when in fact they're about as big as you'd expect them to be. But pie slices are always too small, aren't they. Well, should'a gone with the pie, because the popper sure disappointed. It was cold, and under-filled, and limp, and utterly without kick.

The worst thing about the visit, though, was the men's room. There was no soap, there were no towels; there was only the sign insisting that employees must wash their hands before returning to work. If I'd seen it before ordering, I would have gone to the Dairy Queen.

what's that mean?

Ronnie's Ice House Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Could've Done Better

Logan's Roadhouse
8310 Interstate 40 West
Amarillo, Texas

There are three steak places within half a block along the freeway here: Saltgrass, Longhorn, and this place. Saltgrass was too busy, so the wife picked Logan (she meant Longhorn, but said Logan, and by the time I got into the bumper-to-bumper traffic along the access road, I wasn't about to try and get back; so Logan's it is.)

The wait wasn't too long, although waiting by the outside door on a frigid evening with a strong wind made for an intense 15 minutes of self-doubt.

The place was clean enough, if you allow for the obligatory peanut shells on the floor. It was loud, but not too loud; and there were enough TV screens showing college and professional football to satisfy anyone with a gambling addiction (plus one screen with local news and Wheel of Fortune, for hostages to fate). The service was prompt and pleasant, and the prices were in line with what you'd expect in a chain restaurant of this sort.

The food seemed promising on the menu. My wife went for a small steak, which she said was fine. It came with two sides: steamed broccoli and a small salad, with bleu cheese dressing that started off on the side, but by the time it reached the table it had slopped over onto the salad in copious amount, sort of defeating the "on the side" instruction.

My choice was glazed salmon and shrimp served atop rice pilaf, with broccoli and a mushroom skewer as my sides. Both the fish and shrimp were reasonably well-prepared; the salmon was slightly charred on the bottom, but not enough to detract from the overall quality. The shrimp were medium-sized but plentiful, and the glaze on both was excellent: sweet and piquant, and applied in unexpected moderation. (That's a good thing, by the way.) Unfortunately, the rice pilaf (which, incidentally, was also flavourful) was served cold and slightly undercooked -- something that I managed to get through a lifetime without experiencing in a restaurant, but have now encountered twice in two weeks. Is there a fashion trend that I'm unaware of? The broccoli was, you know, okay; the mushrooms were plain ol' white mushrooms grilled on a skewer without benefit of any oil or butter. They were overcooked on one side and undercooked on the other.

Makes me wish I'd fought the traffic after all.

THE CURMUDGEON’S RATINGS (explained, sort of, on the Curmudgeon-About-Town blog):

FOOD: 2 chili peppers (out of 5)
SERVICE: 2 1/2 chili peppers
AMBIENCE: 2 1/2 chili peppers
VALUE: 2 1/2 chili peppers