Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beatles for Sale…and so am I!

Well, not really.

A long time ago, in a galaxy not that far away (Marlboro, to be exact), Elayne and I used to go to a particular craft fair held at the Marlboro Royal Trade Plaza, or some crappy name like that. While Elayne liked the scarves and the like, I preferred to go around and sample the foodstuffs. Many people were just re-sellers, but some were also the inventors or manufacturers; those I liked best. What they didn’t like was my brutal honesty about their product. If they asked, after I sampled: “so?”…I’d tell them the truth, whether they liked it or not. That’s what makes me the Critical Palate…honest to a fault.

Those of you that have been faithful readers from the very beginning know that my focus has primarily been food, with an occasional dabbling in popular culture and movies. I am now adding something else: product reviews, done with Critical Palate flair. How will this differ from what already is going on these pages: it won’t, really, but I am offering my Critical Palate review skills, and those of my crack research and taste-testing team, to those of you food purveyors out there looking for market research. My team is made up of a culinary school graduate, several lawyers, a CPA and teenagers…I can serve any market or demographic. Use our tongues for your benefit (that didn’t really sound quite as good as I hoped…or did it?).

Recently, two different purveyors reached out to me and asked that I review a few of their products. Tutorosso Tomatoes sent me three cans of their certified Kosher tomato products: Crushed, diced and whole. I expect to use and test them shortly.

Even more delicious, Aigner/Prensky Marketing Group recently contacted me and asked me to review three items: Two pepper jellies and a calendar! The pepper jellies are right up my alley…I love the sweet/spicy/savory umami thing, and the calendar…wow!

Aigner/Prensky Marketing Group is the marketing firm for the New England Food Truck Festivals, and as it says on their website: “…[we] wanted to create a product to raise money for CommunityServings, whose volunteers, sponsors and staff prepare and deliver 7,500 lunches and dinners to hundreds of homebound individuals and families in Massachusetts.” The pin-up calendar features hot models in throwback pin-up style dress, in front of the food trucks. This is a very well made, beautiful to look at calendar, and most importantly, raises money to help those that can’t get out and eat like me, and the Critical Palate team. Learn more about it here, and help this worthy cause.

Pepper Jelly Triumvirate

For sampling, we tried “Sweet Heat” pepper jelly, original flavor, produced by “Stir It Up Cuisine”, a catering company in Weymouth, Massachusetts that is now breaking in to retail sales of pepper jellies; you can see where you can buy these here. Our crack team was on this like flies on trash. With great anticipation, we broke the hermetic seal, drove the plastic knife in to the jelly, and spread a tasty layer on a wheat thin. I like it…a lot. Critical Dave thought it was too hot (baby!), and Critical Sterling, who has made some homemade pepper jelly in the past, thought it was a little too sweet and was missing some mystery flavor she couldn’t quite identify, but thought it needed. It didn’t stop us from eating a lot more of it, and within the next few days, we’ll be dipping our pretzel sticks and wheat thins into the bottle of “Orange-Mango Sweet Heat Pepper Jelly”. You can do a lot of things with this pepper jelly. Use it as a glaze on chicken or fish, or slather it on a wedge of cheese or a wheel of brie, then spread across a cracker…that’s good eatin’.

Stay tuned for more information on our Orange-Mango jelly review, and while you’re waiting, visit the food truck web site here to buy your calendar…

Our crack sampling team stands by, ready to receive your treats to be put to our taste test. We eat for you!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The hills are alive...

Cleaning out the clutter in my mind…while I deal with a partially torn rotator cuff (insert sympathy “awww” here)

While I gorge myself on holiday treats in the office, I have been pondering all sorts of holiday foods.  On December 22, 2012, join me on The Jordan Rich show as Jordan and I, along with you callers, discuss holiday meals, foods and other treats.  There may even be a special guest or two in studio.  Tune in to 1030AM in Boston, or streaming live on the Internet at from midnight to 3:30am.

While holiday treats circulate through my system, let me empty out the clutter in my head.  Believe me, there is plenty of clutter.

Call me kooky, but I love the original “The Sound of Music”.  The music, the scenery, the lederhosen!   I am not meeting the news of a remake starring Carrie Underwood with much excitement; some classics are best left alone.  Julie Andrews, with her light British accent, was perfect in the role of Maria. With Carrie’s Midwestern/southern twang, I wonder if they’re going to set this in Little Rock, where the family has to come together and sing while escaping from Mike Huckabee.  Who’s playing Captain Von Trapp?  Jeff Foxworthy?!  This whole thing disturbs me.  What’s next?  A remake of “Red Dawn”?
The hills are alive...with the sound of money...

I just read that Starbucks expects to open a couple of thousand more cafes here in North America over the next few years.  Besides me, who’s drinking all this coffee???

A few weeks ago, I awoke from a not-so-sound sleep to sound of my Keurig K-cup machine pumping water through one of their patented K-cups.  I could smell the wonderful aroma of freshly re-constituted coffee, but was perplexed, since I’m the only one here who drinks this swill.  Elayne told me that Josh had gone to bed quite late the night before, and thought a small cup of coffee would help get his engine running, so to speak (he does eat a substantial breakfast every morning).  Though he was repulsed by the taste, it got me thinking about my personal evolution with coffee, and coffee in general.

I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in my last year of law school; around 25 years old.  Between the warnings that it will stop me from growing, to the concept of grinding a seed pod into a pulp and pushing water through it (what kind of mind realized this would be ok?), it did not appeal to me.  The Great State University did have a coffee shop in the Campus Center (Blue Wall), which played a pivotal role in my marital relationship, though I would eat there, not drink coffee. 

To me, growing up working at my father’s diner, coffee was a workingman’s drink.  I poured a lot of coffee for the GM workers changing shifts, the cops coming on duty, and the old timers who would sit at the counter and just drink endless cups, exchanging war stories, literally.  All those years, it never appealed to me, nor would I ever have thought of drinking it.  Soda was for kids…coffee for grown-ups.  Not until my last year in law school, once a Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street, did I begin my appreciation for the sublime bean.

But when did it become a kids’ beverage?  A teacher mentioned to me last week that she sees more students than teachers coming to school with coffee every morning, and that girls more than boys are showing up with giant cups of coffee-based beverages to start their school day.  Breakfast is no longer the most important meal of the day-the triple foam, double-café, light, vanilla, skim cup of caffeinated nothing is!

I call this the “Starbuckinization” of the American youth.  All you faithful readers know how much I like Starbucks…my championship-winning trivia team is called “Team Starbucks”.  But Starbucks and coffee isn’t for kids.  My third realm, quite frankly, has become a pusher of caffeine on the unsuspecting youth who will now be addicted for life.  Like Phillip-Morris or Camel giving away cartons of cigarettes to inner-city youth, Starbucks has led these youngsters on a path to ruin with their “Mocha Frappuccino” or “Peppermint Lattes”-very tasty, and highly addictive.

Admittedly, I let my daughter cajole me into getting her a “grande, decaf, mocha Frappuccino light, with whip and caramel drizzle” once a week because she tells me “it tastes so good”.  When I tell her “you don’t need that”, her retort is “and you don’t need your coffee”, using the knowing, exasperated tone of “if you don’t have your coffee, you’re like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ Dad…”  But we have preached the evils of caffeine, and I have led by example by cutting down my daily intake to one cup a day, and Mrs. Palate has cut out Diet Coke altogether.  While it may be too late to stem the tide of caffeine intake by teenagers, perhaps an age limit should be placed on Starbucks consumers, and the baristas can start carding people as they order.  But as long as these drinks are this tasty, it’s not your daddy’s coffee anymore, it’s crack or crystal meth.

You’ve been a great audience…until next time America…gotta go grab a cup of coffee.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Mountain of Sandwiches...

After recovering from my sandwich coma for several weeks, and a shoulder injury that made it difficult to lift up the sandwiches to my mouth, and type, I’m back…

Cold Fresh Turkey Rachel at Kugels

There are two types of deli people…Rachels and Reubens.   Everyone is familiar with the “Reuben”-usually a corned beef sandwich on buttered rye, with Russian dressing, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut, grilled to greasy goodness.  I’d love to meet the evil genius that discovered the confluence of sweet/savory flavors, and the contrast of sublime textures that makes this sandwich the mainstay of any deli. 

Over the years, the reubens have been expanded to include any of the usual deli meats, and then a game-changer…cole slaw instead of sauerkraut; the “Rachel” was born. 

Turkey Rachel
At Kugels in Framingham, they offer these sandwiches both hot and cold, so I ordered a cold fresh turkey Rachel on dark rye.  Not bad…the fresh turkey really makes a difference, but I think I like my Ruebens or Rachels grilled and heated through, not cold.  The sublime mix of ingredients loses something if not warm. 

Sonoma Chicken Salad from Whole Foods

The more I eat at Whole Foods, the more I think that their star is falling.  Several years ago, I gave their burrito bar high marks, but they couldn’t keep up the quality, and upon re-evaluation, I put Boloco back at the top.  Not a true burrito joint, but much better than several of the local places.

Sonoma Chicken a fancy container...
However, since it’s right across from my office, I find myself at “Whole Paycheck” frequently, sometimes just grabbing a pre-made sandwich or wrap from the case.  My go-to wrap there is the “Sonoma Chicken Salad”.  I like my chicken salad with grapes or raisins, and the Sonoma has halved red grapes.  It’s an interest mix with grapes and a smattering of black pepper.  Because they refrigerate the wraps, the texture of the wrap itself can be soggy because it’s been sitting around for a while, but for the most part, I eat it with a fork.  It’s ok in a pinch, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.

Garlic Chicken Sandwich from Delaney’s in North Conway

On my annual New Hampshire sojourn, we decided to try a few restaurants that we’ve always wanted to go into, but for one reason or another, never had the opportunity.  “Delaney’s” is one such place. 

I ordered a “Garlic Chicken Sandwich”-described on the menu as garlic pepper grilled chicken breast on an onion roll, with garlic aioli, roasted tomato, spinach and provolone cheese.
You could smell this sandwich 20 feet away when they walked it into the room.  You can only imagine the pungent, yet delicious, stinking rose chicken sandwich.  Though I didn’t have them, if you paired this with an order of onion rings, it would be heaven on a plate.

Garlic Chcken Sandwich...can you smell it?
This sandwich was so good that we went back to Delaney’s later that weekend, and though I had a burger, it was the garlic chicken sandwich that has left an indelible imprint on my nostrils, and my palate.

French Dip at Welley’s in Marlboro

A couple of years back, charter readers of this blog discovered Welly’s in downtown Marlboro, not to be confused with our favorite steakhouse Willy’s in downtown Shrewsbury.   Welly’s is a bar with a casual restaurant attached…the type of place you might just walk past and never consider.   But consider we did, and this was a perfect place to continue my sandwich quest, and just the kind of place to eat a “French Dip”.

I doubt highly that this sandwich originated in France, but I believe the “French” part of the name refers to the loaf of “French bread” on which the sandwich is usually served.  At Welly’s, like most places, it is hot roast beef, with melted cheese, served au jus.  Unlike “Phillipe’s” in Los Angeles (which claims to have invented the sandwich and where they soak the roll in au jus before serving), Welly’s serves the au jus in a cup, and you dip as you go. 

The French Dip at Welly's...I moved the au jus for a clearer photo

I have always enjoyed a “French Dip” and this one is no different.  There’s nothing like the bread, having soaked up the beefy goodness.  The delightfully savory mix of hot beef, melted cheese, beef juice washed down with an onion ring or two is a party in your mouth…

Still more places to describe, but for now, I’m hungry…

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thank, you, thank you

Got a nice email as a result of the radio show:

"Hi Jordan,

just have to comment on last night's program.
 Truly enjoyed the interaction between you and Eric.  Laughed out loud at the humor exhibited by both of you throughout the program.
 Like one of your callers, I too, was salivating as the various sandwiches were described.

 Everything "clicked" last night.  Great synergy between you and your guest, the callers and the producers around the topic; music selections were also great.  This must have been one of your best and a personal favorite of yours.

 Look forward to Eric's return, and I am sure it will be just as much fun.  I have skimmed through his web site and will be spending more time there.

You and Eric may find "The Rochester NY Pizza Blog" (An exploration of pizza in and around Rochester, NY, one pizzeria at a time) of interest:


Eric says:  Mike, thanks for the kind words.  Since I occasionally spend time in Rochester, I will check out your blog...always need to find places to eat up there other than Dinosaur BBQ.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The beginning of the sandwich sojourn...

In an effort to eat healthier, treating my body as the temple it isn’t, I embarked on “Sandwich Quest 2012”.   Enough of the salads and fruit cups, it was time to get busy eating and sampling sandwiches from a variety of purveyors, in preparation for my appearance on “The Jordan Rich Show” on WBZ, 1030AM, on September 8.  I ate high and low, from the Cape, to the White Mountains of NH.  From Amherst, MA to Boston…I stuffed my face with stuffed bread.  Without further ado, and much ado about nothing, here are some highlights (and lowlights) from my journeys across the highways and bi-ways of New England.

Roast Beef at Fenway
Boston, Massachusetts:  custom cut roast beef at Fenway…way back in June, as I began this journey, Junior Palate and I attended a Sox game, when they still had a chance to not be the worst team in baseball.  Sick of the same old offerings, I took a long walk around the park to see what new ways the Red Sox ownership has come up to separate my money and me.  I’m glad I took that walk, because I stumbled upon the sliced-to-order deli stand under home plate. 

I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and I actually enjoyed it.  I prefer my roast beef a little more seasoned, but it was served on a fresh bulkie roll, with cole slaw or potato salad, and it was very pleasant treat compared to the greasy hot dog/burger/sausage that we usually have to choke down and try to keep down.  Definitely a nice addition to the usual selections of ballpark foods.

Framingham, Massachusetts:  Kofte at “Mediterranean/Turkish” in Saxonville.  I was very excited to try Mediterranean/Turkish down in this small, quaint village of Framingham (that’s like saying Kabul is quaint).  Saying this is nothing more than a storefront the size of a closet would be an overstatement…spacious it’s not, but kind of delicious, it is.

Chicken Schwarma

I love these little “mom and pop” shops, and had high hopes.  The Boston Globe gave it very high marks, and I went there in hungry anticipation.  I ordered the “kofte”, which is season ground beef, in the shape of a patty, served inside a pita wrap, with tzaziki sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion.  I will say that I thought it was quite good, but really a Middle Eastern hamburger.  I have been back a few times, and ordered their falafel this last visit, along with chicken schwarma, and was very impressed with the taste and quality.  I wish they had better parking and exposure, but with the Globe touting it, hopefully it’s here to stay.

Chicken Pesto

Natick, Massachusetts:  chicken pesto from North End Treats in Natick-I have been here twice, and both times…disappointed.  The price to value ratio is way off for the sandwiches, and honestly, both times, I felt ill after eating there.  They appear to have a nice selection of desserts, but I’ve never indulged.  Given my stomach’s reaction to their food, I won’t be heading back.

Tomorrow, more from the sandwich front…

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best can be the Worst

As I’ve been told, I can be a picky diner, but I like to think that I align my expectations to the alleged quality of the place where I am dining.  Obviously, eating at Outback Steakhouse is different from eating at DelFrisco’s…or so I thought.

As the “Summer of Weinsteins” comes to an end (since both kids have been away for 7 weeks), Mrs. Palate and I thought we’d get out for one last fining dining experience.  So, since we had been told some excellent things about it (mostly from my high-end dining son, who went with my mother, and some other charter subscribers of this blog), in celebration of our 21st anniversary last May, we decided to go to the hottest new steakhouse in town, DelFrisco’s, in the new Seaport District.

The experience began with the reservations.  About 10 days prior, I made a reservation, and specifically noted my request for a table on the water, further indicating that this was for a special occasion (anyone who can put up with me for 21 years of marriage, and 24 years total, and counting, is certainly special).  The next day, since I had not received the “Open Table” confirmation, I called DelFrisco’s directly to confirm my reservation, and reiterate my request for a window table with a water view; it was confirmed.  Last Friday, I called to confirm again, and once again, reservation confirmed, with a window/water view.   I figure, I’m set.

So last night, about 2 hours before dinner, we canceled, but with five minutes, renewed the reservation.  When Mrs. Palate renewed it, she once again asked if we could have the window/water view, which she was assured we could.  Off we went, in hungry anticipation.

We arrived, slightly early, and walked along the water for a few minutes (on a boardwalk, because many of you know how much I enjoy sand…not!), and then checked in for our reservation.  We were immediately greeted and taken to our table, which was not on the window, but in the middle of all seating!  To see the water, you needed to crane your neck over and around the people sitting on the window, and the people eating outside!  The level of my displeasure began to rise, and disappointment set in.

Noticing my lack of enthusiasm for our table, the waitress offered to move us, and brought us back to the hostess stand, where we were offered another obstructed view table, this time next to the bar and with its view blocked by a wall, and told that if we didn’t like this table, the wait would be an hour.  So, apparently, they can take a reservation, and promise the water view, but can’t fulfill the request, and heaven help you if you ask for them to…While unhappy, we elect to wait, because a) I don’t want to sit near the bar, and b) I thought an unobstructed view would be nice.

About 10 minutes into waiting, I suggested to Elayne that we leave.  No sooner had I made that comment did “Casey” appear to review what happened, and to discuss how to turn our somewhat negative impression of DelFrisco’s into a fantastic one.  I tell you, she had some work to do.

She told us that we’ll be seated shortly, and she’s putting us into the section of an excellent waiter, “Eric”.  Once seated, Eric came over, and I felt that he would perhaps get this train back on track.  He was loquacious, funny, and knowledgeable, all with an East Boston accent-now we were getting somewhere.  He was very helpful to Elayne, and her food allergies, and offered to get me “half-orders” of the sides I wanted.  When it came time to order my steak, I said “medium”…he asked if I like it “pink all around” and I said “exactly”.  He explained that they refer to their levels of doneness differently, but I was very clear:  I want it pink throughout, as he offered.  I don’t like it red, and I don’t like it brown.  He assured me that it would be exactly how I wanted.  The lesson-do not make promises your kitchen can’t keep.

The bread and salad course was perfectly fine, but unfortunately for me, that was the highlight.  Once my steak was presented, they had me cut into the middle to ensure it was done to my liking…which it was, in the middle.  As soon as I cut into the outer ring (the tastiest part of a ribeye, IMHO), it was totally cooked through and extremely dry.  Immediately seeing it wasn’t done right, Elayne strongly suggested I send it back, and Eric took it back and said he would have them cook me another.  In a prescient moment, I told him to take his time, because Elayne and I agreed that the next steak was coming back rare.

Sure enough, when the server (not to be confused with the waiter) and Eric, the waiter, brought the steak back, and have me cut into it, the big reveal (“bus driver, cut that meat”) shows totally rare on the inside.  Before I can even say anything, Eric says “it’s wrong, take it away”.  Of course, he’s apologetic, but it’s totally not his fault.  He’s working hard, trying to fix this, but the kitchen is failing him at every turn.  A few minutes later, Casey the manager shows up again, and we have the usual and customary discussion when these things happen…”(her) really sorry, yada yada yada… so embarrassed, yada yada yada…(me) how can the premier steakhouse not be able to cook a steak medium, yada yada yada…great waiter, bad hostess and kitchen staff, yada yada yada…”

My steak returns, and anyone can see that it’s changed appearance entirely, and looks totally unappetizing.  Casey is standing there and I say to her that I don’t care how this one is cooked, I’m just eating what I can, because it’s apparent they just can’t do this right.  I showed her the inside, which was on the rosier side of medium (and this is after another visit to the oven), but I tell her that I just want to get on with it so we can leave.  Of course, she’s extremely apologetic, but when it’s all said and done, there’s really nothing left to say and nothing left to do.

Eric comes back, knowing that the meal has been a disaster, and tells us that the entire meal has been comped, and they hope we’ll give them another chance (not sure yet).  He really pushes dessert on us, so we ordered the sorbet, leave him a nice tip, and get ready to go.  But before we can escape, Casey brings a card over for herself and the general manager, and has me fill out a comment card with my name and address, so they can contact me and hopefully convince me to come back.

Now, epilogue, the General Manager did call me, and we had a nice conversation and some email follow-up.    He invited Elayne and me back in to dine with them, so they could prove that they really are the premier steakhouse, both in location and food quality.  Despite the miserable experience, the fact that the GM called and followed-up, coupled with separate apology notes (via snail mail) from both Eric and Casey, really impressed me that they are at least trying hard, and not giving it lip-service.  I will be taking them up on the offer to try it again, and will post accordingly.

Here’s the deal…you want to claim to be the best, then you have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.  Sure, you have the best view, but if you’re going to charge the price of a tank of gas for an ala carte steak, then you better bring your A-game.  Don’t call yourself a steakhouse and fail to properly cook a steak…don’t take my reservation and tell me I’ll have a window seat and then put me in the middle of the restaurant.  Life is too short to eat bad meals and get treated poorly.

Until next time America…I think I’m staying home.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Foodie Café. Framingham is known for its wonderful selection of chain restaurants. From fast-food to sit-down, we have something for everyone when it comes to chains or franchises. What this area needs, and any area for that matter, is more locally-owned eateries. Foodie Café is just such a place. About a month ago, I read a short review in the While I questioned the editorial style and content of the article, it piqued my interest and I stuck it in the back of my head. When fate brought me past there last week, I immediately knew I had to stop for lunch.

Foodie Café’s location on Fountain Street can best be described as “nondescript”; it occupies the side of a building that also houses “Belcher’s Appliances”, a long-time family business. Seems like an odd place for a new restaurant, but there are plenty of small businesses down in that part of Framingham, and perhaps the rent is cheap. Nevertheless, after getting a sandwich, I say “about time Framingham had a decent sandwich shop” and I bet people will not only stumble upon Foodie Café, but seek it out.

 Foodie Café is really a take-out sandwich shop, with seating for about 10 people at small tables. They have a nice sandwich menu, fresh soups and salads, and a pleasant display on prepared-on-site cupcakes. The owners working the counter seemed genuinely excited that people have found them, and the quality of my sandwich (made in a wide-open kitchen) reflected that spirit. While my bag of chips could be found at any Cumberland Farms, my “Hot Turkey” was a very pleasant surprise. Served hot, it was sliced turkey, red onion, tomato and chipotle mayo, pressed in a Panini grill. Though it took me ten minutes to get back to my office, the sandwich was still hot and very tasty.

 The first words out of my mouth to my colleague after I finished, was “we’re going back”. I urge you to go, and go again and again. Foodie Café is exactly what we need in Framingham. Support your local business.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hooray for Hollywood...

For many years, prior to starting the, I would send around movie reviews to my friends upon seeing some of the hot movies of the day. While mostly tongue-in-cheek, I occasionally delved into more serious reviews, and even engaged Ty Burr of the Boston Globe in an email discussion about the merits (or lack thereof) of “Children of Men” and “The Shooter” (in a nutshell, I hated the former, and loved the latter); but, I don’t see movies nearly as much as I used to. Having grown up in a house with General Cinema corporate employees, I had the benefit of getting to see many movies for free; now that I’ve had to pay since 2003, my viewing habits have been curbed significantly. Movies priced over $10.00 really puts a damper on my movie attendance.

However, still, one guilty pleasure for me is viewing the Oscar telecast (I mostly feel guilty for wasting several hours that I will never get back). This year, I only saw two of the nominated movies, but watching this vapid show, with all the self-important pomp, borders on the ridiculous, without any sublime. The red carpet pre-show is a pathetic attempt to ramp-up interest; I was only interested in seeing whether Nick Nolte would win, and if he would pass out while mumbling through his acceptance speech. Did anyone know he was in a movie, let alone nominated? Either he’s lost it entirely, or working on a three-day bender…either way, he was the must-see TV.

I was posting some stream of consciousness observations on Facebook during the broadcast. Here are some random thoughts as I rewind the movie reels of my mind…

Billy Crystal’s day has come and gone, in more ways than one. He’s bloated, both in ego and appearance. Since he was begged to come back as a last-minute fill-in for Eddie Murphy (if you call December “last minute”), he came off as cocky, and appeared to be mailing it in. I’m sure he’s laughing all the way to the bank and cashing a big check, but he just downright sucked. His act has gotten stale…I say let Nick Nolte host next year.

Tom Hanks is fantastic...he's today's Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart, and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (thanks Dave for the Lemmon and Curtis comparison).

Is anyone’s act getting older than Sasha Baron Cohen’s? “Borat” was funny for it’s shock value, but he’s a one-trick pony and his weak attempt at being cutting edge only solidified my disdain for him.

Glenn Close? Get me “Glenn Far-Away”. She looked more like Glen Campbell.

Also unfunny (besides me)-Robert Downey, Jr….I would have preferred Morton Downey, Jr.
How about Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis? When will Ferrell’s career end? When will he get funny? Not necessarily in that order…

J-Lo and her wardrobe malfunction-not titillating in the least.

Angelina Jolie is looking more and more like her father each day. Soon, Brad will wake up and think, “damn, I’m banging ‘Joe Buck’, and I don’t mean the baseball announcer, though she has great legs”. I’m not a fan of Brangelina. She’s an anorexic ghost and he’s looking a lot like “Shaggy” from “Scooby Doo” these days.

The “Bridesmaids”? Penis jokes, really? And unfunny ones. Is this what the Oscars have come to?

Woody Allen won, but didn’t attend. Must be hanging out with his buddy Roman Polanski.

Oprah and Meryl on-stage at the same time. A black hole created by their overwhelming sense of self-importance. I am surprised the stage didn’t collapse from the weight of their collective egos.

I just want to be clear…Meryl Streep is a fraud. She must have pictures of every Academy member doing things with farm animals…there is no explanation for her and the adulation thrust upon her. She shows up with “bed head” and wearing a frock, and looks like she couldn’t care less. I’ll give her “Sophie’s Choice” and maybe even “Kramer vs. Kramer”, but she had no business being nominated for something that barely arose to being a fair impersonation of Margaret Thatcher. The movie was nominated for nothing other than Meryl in make-up. She should be playing Vegas with Dame Edna, not getting an Oscar. I don’t get it, and I don’t get her. I’d like to see the pictures...I don’t know with whom she’s slept, but she slipped them all roofies...

As an aside, I will respect her for her dedication to John Cazale, her former boyfriend and one of the greatest and most under-appreciated actors ever. Starred in 5 movies, with 3 winning the Best Picture award, and the other two nominated for it (Godfather, The Conversation, Godfather 2, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter). No one can claim that they only starred in 5 nominated movies…neither can he now, because he died way too young from bone cancer at 37, after the filming of “The Deer Hunter”.

In sum, the celebration of the wonders of the movies made me realize how disconnected Hollywood is from reality. Like most of the people in that room, the show was bloated with filler.

Lastly, I recently subscribed to Netflix for a free month to test their streaming video service. Since my kids control the TV, I needed a diversion from “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Shake it Up”. I had the pleasure of watching a fine piece of film…Michael Caine in “Harry Brown”. This was an underplayed and under-appreciated film, probably spent a total of a week in independent theatres in Omaha. Nonetheless, it got pretty good reviews (three thumbs up by Ebert), and I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon it.

“Harry Brown” is a cross between “Death Wish” and “Gran Torino”. This is a story about a man who cannot bear to see what has happened to his neighborhood, who has nothing else to lose, but who may not be physically or mentally capable of doing anything about it. The police certainly cannot, and Harry finds himself seeking to regain some minimal control in a society that is so recklessly out of control. The movie smolders with intensity, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I give it a strong recommendation.

Until next time America…what’s it all about, Alfie?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Best Way to Start Your Day...

While I ruminate on the loss of Robert Hegyes (“Epstein” from “Welcome Back Kotter”), and Whitney “Crack is Whack” Houston, let me share a few thoughts about breakfast foods. Thanks to Jordan Rich for having me on his show last weekend, where we spent hours discussing the callers’ favorite breakfast treats and places to eat. It seems that French toast was a big winner, and someone even called in about “scrapple” in Pittsburgh. “Scrapple” is the “Spam” of breakfast meats, and I use the word “meats” loosely…

As you all know, I grew up working at B.J.’s Diner (save the snickering for later). If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to make, and consume, a messy, heart-unhealthy breakfast. We weren’t serving massive “Man v. Food” style meals, but we were serving two eggs, bacon, ham or sausage, home-fries, toast and coffee for $1.99. After we sold out, I went corporate and worked at McDonald’s, and wouldn’t you know, I picked up the weekend breakfast shift. Despite the crappy hash brown potato patty, the eggs and sausage were real (or as close to “real” as any sausage could get).

With a sizeable amount of breakfast eating experience under (and hanging over) my belt, I recently embarked on Breakfast Quest 2011-2012. Here are some of my experiences…

First, we have to address the different types of breakfast dining establishments. For this quest, I ate at places ranging from local diners and dives, to exclusive, high-end hotels. While I really enjoy the greasy-spoon style breakfast, the more I reflect, the more I enjoy the hotel-style experience. Besides these, in the middle, you have the chains (Friendly’s, Denny’s and the king of kings…IHOP). I find the chains to have a more institutional feel, and taste, but some great dish names, like “Rootie Tootie Fresh and Fruity” and the “Grand Slamwich” (Two scrambled eggs, sausage, crispy bacon, shaved ham, mayonnaise and American cheese, on potato bread grilled with a maple spice spread. Served with crispy hash browns). Yes, Denny’s has now brought “heart-healthy” to their menu…

First…the “joints:

Sunny-Day Diner (Lincoln, NH)-this is a true diner…a small rail car greasy spoon, but one that had previously been featured on some local food shows. For years I wanted to try it, but never found the opportunity, until recently. The food was very typical, and to a certain extent, disappointing. I was expecting great things, and while it was fine, there was nothing to make my mind, or stomach explode. I’m glad we ate there, but I didn’t leave doing cartwheels, excited for finally fulfilling my diner desires there.

The English Muffin, (Hampstead, NH)-I eat at this small diner every last Wednesday morning in June, and have for the past 8 years, which happens to coincide with dropping the kids off at camp. Call it habit; call it a celebratory breakfast, but this is where we always end up. The food is fine…I have no real complaints, but Mrs. Palate and some other dining companions are usually underwhelmed. I do agree with Mrs. Palate that if you order a veggie omelet where the description says “grilled veggies”, they can at least cook them. At the English Muffin, “grilled” means “raw”. However, it is perfectly situated and starts our summer vacation off right.

Zaftig’s (Brookline and Natick, MA)-I like the Brookline location much more than the Natick one. More of a sit-down restaurant, for a traditional breakfast, bagel, cream cheese and lox, in a place pretending to be deli, then this is for you.

Maxie’s (Stoughton, MA)-I didn’t eat there for this quest, but as a tribute to my grandmother, I thought I’d just say one thing-“Kippers”. If you like salted fish with your breakfast (then again, we do eat lox), then Maxie’s is the place.

Kugels (Framingham, MA)-the location could not be worse, hidden around the side of a quiet Route 9 strip mall, but yet it still attracts a crowd on weekend mornings. It has the worst entry-way, and no place to wait (and there’s usually a wait for one of the 10 tables), but they import their bagels (from where, I don’t know), and the service is prompt. Greasy spoon with table service…not bad. Better than the Natick Zaftig’s.

Brittany’s Café (Lincoln, NH)-Inside the Kancamagus Motor Lodge, this was a pleasant discovery. With very low, and perhaps no, expectations, we ate there, and were thrilled with the service, quality of food, and clean atmosphere. We’ve been several times, and haven’t been disappointed. One of the few places we went that has “chicken sausage”, which was nice, because we don’t dig on swine.

J & M Diner (Framingham, MA)-another strange location, in a no-name strip plaza on Route 126 in Framingham. Despite it’s off-the-beaten-path location, in the good weather, there’s always a wait outside on the weekends, and the owners have been kind to put one bench outside, so everyone else standing around can give the sitters some serous stink-eye. It’s a small joint on the inside, with a mix of booths, tables and counter seats, but the food is decent. I am partial to corned beef hash, and they have some decent, right from the Hormel can, corned beef hash. One thing-they give you one small paper napkin when they seat you. Just one…and don’t dare ask for more!

Lloyd’s Diner (Framingham, MA)-this is as close to the old-school diner that you can get out here in the suburbs. As I previously wrote several years ago, under old management, it was only open about 15 minutes a week, and not consecutive! However, though the same ownership is in place, the current people running it realize that in order to make it work, you have to be open. The Senior Palate ranks this among his favorites, and as a former diner owner, and someone that eats breakfast out a lot, I have to put stock in his opinion. They give you a massive amount of greasy breakfast food and know you by name. Fresh, hot and bountiful, and that’s just the waitresses…the food is pretty good too, and we give it a strong recommendation.

For a more formal experience, there’s the hotel breakfasts. Having done some travelling, there were a few standouts…

Embassy Suites (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada)-the nice thing about staying at the Embassy Suite is not just the extra space in the rooms (though the décor is a little industrial), it’s the extras factored into your price. With your stay, you get access to a “manager’s reception” in the afternoon (more like a “warden’s cattle call”) where they offer off-brand soft-drinks, alcoholic beverages, and snacks, but also the cattle-call breakfast buffet, with made-to-order omelets. I like this hotel, and the breakfast was ok, but as hotel breakfasts go, this was more industrial, steam-table cuisine compared to the others. However, when you have a busy day ahead, nothing gets you going and satisfies you more than a big breakfast. I’ll be staying at another Embassy Suites in Tampa in a couple of months, and will report back whether the experience is the same as Ontario…

Marriott Chateau Champlain (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)-zooming way, way up on the fanciness scale was the breakfast at the Marriott. This hotel is on the higher-end of the scale, and the restaurant serving breakfast was no different. The breakfast buffet and omelet station was very well-presented, with attentive staff help with juice, coffee and the like. It made it more palatable (pun intended) that the breakfasts for 9 of us were included in the price of the stay, but nonetheless, two delightful and satisfying experiences.

The Wentworth Hotel (Jackson, NH)-this was the apex of the various breakfast quests. No greasy spoon, this was the perfect combination of time, place, quality of food. Mrs. Palate and I stayed at The Wentworth 4 days last summer. As part of the package, breakfast is included. There is a very pleasant breakfast menu, served outdoors (weather permitting), which not only includes a made-to-order breakfast, but a lovely spread of continental pastries, as well as yogurt, fresh fruit, granola and fresh-squeezed juices. On a warm summer day at the foot of Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Wentworth is the best way to start your day.

In the breakfast spirit, as they say in Chicago…eat early, eat often.