Contrary to what you might think, I don’t spend every waking hour at a counter ordering burgers and fries, or sitting in the drive-thru line. One of my favorite activities is being around the dinner table for extended periods of time. Who doesn’t love that?
I spent a week in North Carolina recently, visiting my friend, Will, and his family. Though they live in North Carolina, my hosts, the Benjamins, are originally from New Orleans. In my honor, they had crawfish shipped up from the Bayou, and we had a Crawfish Boil.
Nothing could be further from Fast Food than a Crawfish Boil. Hosing down and cleaning off the crawfish took me and Will at least 10 minutes. You need a lot of time to bring a 25 gallon drum of water to a boil. Once everything is cooked and drained, each crawfish needs to be broken open by hand to produce the meat.
For those who’ve never had one, there were around 20 pounds of crawfish in this boil. Added to the mix, as you can see in the photo, were potatoes, lemons, and corn on the cob. All of that is spiced with a “family recipe” of spices that the Benjamin family said they “might consider sharing with me one day.” Other recipes, like Alton Brown’s, include cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, and andouille sausage, just to give you an idea.
All in all, we spent about three and a half hours at the table eating crawfish and drinking beer. That, to me, is the essence of Slow Food, from beginning to end.
Many thanks to the Benjamin Family for their hospitality and for sharing a NOLA tradition with this Yank. Who ‘Dat!
My girlfriend, Carey, and I took a trip to London and Paris last month. Though our intent was to relax and step away from work, I couldn’t help but sample the local fast food.
Popular Wisdom among those who have traveled to Europe says that their fast food is of a higher quality than ours. Ultimately, I think that isn’t true.
SeriousEats.com ran posts on all of my European Fast Food adventures. When I compared McDonald’s in France to France’s own chain, Quick, I found that the quality of the McDonald’s wasn’t substantially higher. I came to the same conclusion while trying McDonald’s in the UK and Burger King in the UK. Only KFC in England tasted slightly better to me.
Arby’s invited me to a preview event for their new Angus Roast Beef in March. I got to preview the Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, which I wrote about on SeriousEats.com, the Outside-In Cinnamon Bites, and a few other items they haven’t yet released.
One of those items, the Ultimate Angus Classic Deli Sub, is Arby’s attempt at a New England Grinder. It’s scheduled for national release later this year.
I thought it was really good, like it came from a sub shop, and not an Arby’s. It had the Angus Roast Beef, provolone cheese, banana peppers, pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato. I’m looking forward to seeing it in stores, because it was really good. However, that was under the nose of the Executive Chef, so we’ll see what it tastes like in the field.
I’m trying to post with regularity, but I drew a blank on ideas for this week. So, I decided to do a photo-melange of odds and ends to whet your appetites.
Here are some empanadas I had while on vacation in Argentina. Simple and fast, they’re dough pockets with different fillings. These had beef filling inside.
Chicken Mole I had in Santa Fe, NM, last year. Delicious.
This picture I took on the hood of my car for the Double Down Showdown on SeriousEats.com. To sum the post up, the Double Down is awesome because it’s ridiculous. The Doublicious is lame because it’s just a chicken sandwich.
Here are Dunkin’ Donuts’ Pancake Sausage Bites. They were actually kinda good. On SeriousEats.com, I called them “Morning Corndogs.”
Long ago, I found that going to a grocery store on an empty stomach is a bad idea. I buy too much, because I’m hungry. I used to live in Boston, and across the street from my favorite grocery store was a D’angelo sub shop. I got into the habit of grabbing a cheesesteak, or half of a cheesesteak, to calm my belly before purchasing groceries.
I grew fond of D’angelo Subs. Rarely outside of the New Jersey / Philadelphia area can one find a good cheesesteak. Having grown up in Pennsylvania and gone to college in Jersey, cheesesteaks were close to my heart. There were no cheesesteak shops in Boston, so D’angelo had the market cornered. But, their subs were delicious.
What’s so great about them? For starters, they’re cooked to order on a grill, not pre-cooked and microwaved, like at Subway. They cook the shaved steak with oil, grilled onions and peppers, and then layer cheese onto the meat while its cooking. They scrape the entire meaty, gooey pile onto a fresh-baked hoagie roll. My cheesesteak pet peeve is when the cold cheese is placed inside the hoagie roll, and the steak is added on top. The cheese often never melts, which ruins the experience. D’angelo offers gooey cheese with every sandwich.
Courtesy of Carey Jones, SeriousEats.com
My personal favorite is the Steak Bomb. Genoa salami and capicola ham are added to the steak, and the toppings include peppers, onions, sauteed mushrooms, and melted provolone. It can be very salty, so eaters beware.
My favorite cheesesteak from my youth was by Trip’s Steaks in Cape May, NJ. Something about the melted cheese, the soft, flaky bread, and the cornmeal dusting was heaven to me. But, D’angelos now vies for the top spot. I’d call them my two favorite cheesesteaks, much to the chagrin of many Philadelpheans.
New Englanders swear by D’angelo, and their parent company Papa Gino’s Pizza. If you’re in Red Sox Territory sometime soon, I’d recommend trying one.
I did a post on Serious Eats about the McDLT a few months back. Cool little project that came out of a conversation with a friend who used to work at McDonald’s.
My obsession with regional chains began at Raising Cane’s. On a trip to New Orleans, I saw one from the drive-thru line at the Frozen Daquiri chain. I asked my friend what it was, to which he replied, “it’s a chicken finger joint.”
“Yea. Chicken Fingers. It’s really awesome. You mean you’ve never been there? We should go.” Daquiri’s in hand, off we went in search of chicken in his grandparents’ Mercury.
The first thing that hit me was the air conditioning. It’s hard to live without in Louisiana. The second thing that hit me was how new the restaurant seemed. The decor felt modern, like a Skate Shop or Renovated loft. It felt hip, not like a hangover from the 80′s, which is how many McDonald’s feel. On an interior brick wall they had painted an enormous mural of their logo, Warhol-esque photographs hung on the wall, and pop music played on the speakers. Much more compelling than any Burger King I’ve frequented.
So they nailed the concept. How was the food? Well, for a place that serves only chicken fingers, not bad. Their crinkle cut fries reminded me of school lunches, but not in a bad way: crispy fry on the outside, light potato on the interior, and a proprietary dipping sauce, that most say is like ketchup, mayo, and Tony’s Creole Seasoning. The fingers themselves were pretty good: meaty and crispy, with a good meat-to-breading ratio. All too often, chicken fingers have too little chicken, too little fry, or too much of either. They had the ratio down pat.
What struck me most, though, was the story of the founder, Todd Graves. Printed on the wall inside the store was a short background on the chain. Todd came up with the idea while at LSU. He wrote up a business plan for a class he was taking, and received a poor grade. Undeterred, he and a friend worked jobs on oil rigs and Alaskan fishing vessels to make the money to open the first restaurant. Today, this little Louisiana chain that could is now in over 10 states, and has spread well beyond the South.
And I had never heard of it.
I knew there were other chains like it out there. My hometown, Pittsburgh, had Primanti Brothers, a local favorite that few knew outside of Western PA. I had only ever seen D’angelo Sub Shops in New England. Jeffrey Lebowski’s darling burger joint, In-and-Out, has yet to make an Eastern US debut.
Remember back to your first summer camp, or your freshman year of college, that first time away from home? Remember meeting people from new places, and talking about what you had back home? “You put french fries on sandwiches? That’s so weird!” That’s what I’m trying to capture.
For those of you who haven’t seen the strange pied-piper-style ads, Burger King has a revitalized breakfast menu. In the fall, I had the chance to preview the new breakfast at a PR event in New York. It was one of the few times I’ve reviewed fast food under the nose of the executive chef and the cheif marketing officer of a company. They had hired a trained wait staff, and I’m certain that the cooks in the back were on their best behavior. Though the waiters brought out regular, old BK food, it felt too controlled. I wanted to see what these things would be like in the field, so I set out to try it again.
At the PR event, my favorite new item was the Mini Blueberry Biscuit. In my last review, I raved about them: fluffy, light, hot, and packed with blueberry. In store, though, they disappointed me,arriving much sweeter and harder than I remembered. There was even some kind of sugary, brown substance that had oozed out of the blueberry. I found the Blueberry flavor I remembered, but not the fluffy buttermilk taste.
On the first pass, I didn’t like the Burger King Breakfast Ciabatta either: uninteresting aioli, so-so ham, bad tomatoes. In store, I liked it more. The peppery aioli, ham, and egg were all better than I remembered. I found the ham at the PR event slimy and green, but the ham in-store was edible and not too salty. The egg cake was fresh, and the cheese was well melted. Thought the tomato was still gross and the bun still too chewy, it appeared they had worked out a few kinks.
The biggest surprise came from the Pancakes. At the PR event, I found them chewy and overly sweet, saying, “you have to put effort into cutting them.” In store, I had a completely different experience. They smelled amazing, filling my nose with buttermilk; They tasted even better: light and fluffy like a pancake should be. I almost felt like I was back at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in Cape May, NJ. Though the syrup was good, I felt like these pancakes deserved real Vermont maple. They’re much better than the McDisks you get at the Golden Arches. They are still fairly sweet, and you can almost eat them without syrup, but these were 500% better than what I had at the PR event. Did I mention they were fluffy?
Last up was the Breakfast Bowl. During the controlled event, I decided that the eggs were the stars of the show, because they tasted like real, buffet style scrambled eggs. Again, they were delicious, and almost runny. The sausauge came nice and thick, the potatoes tasted light and peppery, and I found large chunks of green pepper in the bowl, as opposed to pepper skins at the PR event. I was impressed the first time, and more impressed the second time.
Overall, I’d say the new BK Breakfast was 100% better. I walked away from the restaurant feeling very disappointed because my blueberry mini’s were bad. Later, as I looked back over my notes and comparing them with my old notes and article, I realized that I had a completely different experience in the field. The BK breakfast is really good, despite the weird advertising campaign with the suburban pied-piper. Kudos to BK for a brave new menu!
Everyone says you should delete the “Hello, World!” post from your new blog. I disagree. Instead, I’m going to use it to explain why I created this blog.
I’ve been officially working for SeriousEats.com as the Fast Food Bureau Chief for six months. While working there, I’ve had a number of ideas about things related to fast food that I wanted to express. So I decided to start my own fast food blog, fastfoodr. On it you’ll find three things:
1. Original content related to my fast food travels and Regional Chains.
2. A repository for all of my Serious Eats articles, which you can see on the “All SeriousEats.com Columns” page.
3. Other odds and ends like food photos, musings, and whatever comes to my mind.
I hope you enjoy it!