Friday, May 22, 2015

Morgantown Edition: Shoney's Restaurant


I've mentioned that the Shoney's in Morgantown recently moved to Sabraton and now includes alcohol. I wasn't sure I would visit, so I wanted to post a small blurb. But, hey, I visited! A friend was in town, and we needed a quick breakfast. And this is what happened.

I won't go on - you know the drill. The breakfast buffet has some fruit, some potatoes, eggs, bacon/sausage and biscuits. The quality? Average. Nothing mind-blowing ... though I didn't hate those cheesy potatoes.


The best part, though, was time with one of my favorites!


Grade: C
Shoney's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Morgantown Edition: Cara's Cookout

Cara's CookoutA new takeout restaurant has opened in Westover in a former used car lot space. You know when you cross the bridge into Westover and follow up toward the hill toward the right? That awkward space to the left? That's the location of Cara's Cookout.

Cara's Cookout

Cara's CookoutIt's an awkward location, but it's pretty easy to loop in and out at least - which is nice for a takeout place. Cara's Cookout has a very small menu with just hotdogs and packaged pepperoni rolls as consistent items, with a daily special. Monday is sweet and sour ribs with fried dumplings; Tuesday is meatloaf and mashed potatoes; Wednesday is spaghetti and a roll; Thursday is spicy potato pork and rice; and Friday is sweet soy wings and fried rice. So, there's some Asian influence, some Italian, some straight Americana.

When we headed to the restaurant to order, I asked why the variety in food, and the owner said that's just what they're good at making. I actually like the idea of doing a few dishes but just doing them well. The wife is Chinese, and she seems to wrangle the kitchen, while the husband operated the ordering and cash handling.

The couple apparently uses the upstairs for their kitchen and the downstairs is where they have the food prepped and ready to go for takeout. There are only two stools or so to wait for your order, and there really is no seating to eat inside. So, definitely make sure you have plans to take your food somewhere.

Cara's CookoutWe happened to go on a Thursday for the spicy potato pork and rice. We were told this is actually one of their better sellers, so we were excited. Once we got back to the office, we opened our styrofoam containers. It doesn't really have much curb appeal - it kind of looks like a mush of sorts. Maybe some fresh peppers or something would help give it some color. There were giant chunks of potato and pork in a slightly spicy almost curry. But it was just a bit one note for me. I wish there was a bit more dimension so it's not all the same mush texture and flavor - peppers? a sweet note? A sour note? Something? It wasn't bad ... I just wish there was more to it.

Grade: C
Cara's Cookout on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

West Virginia Strawberry Festival

WV Strawberry FestivalWV Strawberry Festival

Buckhannon is the home of the West Virginia Strawberry Festival. I corralled a few friends to join me for the opening day and check out all the strawberry goodies.

WV Strawberry Festival

The festival, held annually in the third week of May, began in 1936 as a way to honor strawberry growers, as per their website. The festival gave strawberry growers a place to sell their berries and the first one was one-day long and eventually grew into a full week. The festival continues to honor the strawberry growers from across West Virginia with a strawberry auction on Friday afternoon of the festival week.

WV Strawberry Festival

Walking through the main streets, all the storefronts were covered in painted strawberries and strawberry artwork. Restaurants also had strawberry specials. I quickly learned that the very first day is not the most eventual, and other events begin throughout the week. They later opened a carnival, arts and crafts exhibits, quilt shows, photography shows and more.

WV Strawberry Festival

WV Strawberry FestivalThere were a few vendors along the Main Street dishing out some strawberry goodies (though no fresh strawberries) and some street side entertainers.

WV Strawberry Festival
A very cool festival - though I'll definitely go later in the week next time - and I was able to try a few new restaurants. Look for those soon :)

WV Strawberry Festival

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mt. Lebanon, PA Edition: Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo

It was a beautiful, sunny weekday evening. Blue skies, a little breeze and miles and miles of opportunity. Work was done for the day, but I didn't want to just retreat to my apartment and waste the beautiful weather. I texted Afton, "let's adventure." She responded: "OK!" She was on her way to pick me up before we even knew where we were going. She headed north, and I began searching through Urbanspoon and Yelp for good restaurants north of us. We settled on Mt. Lebanon so we didn't have to go into deep Pittsburgh, and we knew they had some cute little restaurants.

Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo popped up as a favorite - fresh sushi, the reviews said. The main location is in Mt. Lebanon, though they've opened a bistro in the Southside of Pittsburgh. We parked along the street and made our way in.

Little TokyoFirst, we received warm cloths. Ooh! That's nice. I wanted to wait until right before my meal to use them. Unfortunately, after not touching them for a few minutes, the waitress snatched them away, assuming we weren't interested. Bummer.

Little Tokyo

Little TokyoThe menu has sushi - sashimi, nigiri, maki, hand rolls, as well as dishes like udon, hibachi and more.

I wanted to keep it fairly simple. If they claim good, fresh sushi, let's do it. I looked through a few different rolls figuring out what would be a good gauge. But then I saw the "First Date Roll," which says "it is so far the best seller in the house." That sounds promising.

The First Date Roll is crispy shrimp tempura with hot spicy tuna on top. It was eight pieces for about $12, so not too bad. I put in an order for my sushi roll and awaited this little plate of heaven.

First of all, it's beautiful. Giant tops of red tuna hid rolls of crunchy shrimp. So, I can see why it's a best-seller. Between the spicy tasty tuna and the crunchy tempura shrimp, the flavors are delicious. Delicious meal, fresh food and a really cute atmosphere. Nice time.

Little Tokyo

Grade: A
Little Tokyo on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 18, 2015

West Virginia Craft Beer and International Cheeses Pairing Dinner

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinner

Chef Ohlinger, the former chef/owner of Richwood Grill, hosted his third dinner in the 2015 Appalachian Global Dinner Series last week. The goal of the Appalachian Global Dinner Series is to highlight the role of Appalachian cuisine in global culture, and to bring West Virginia recognition as a culinary destination, as per the website. Chef Ohlinger would combine dishes he's learned through his travels with an Appalachian twist during the inventive dinners at Richwood Grill, and while he's searching for his next permanent location, he is completing this year's dinner series in a host of guest kitchens in the area.

His third dinner in the series this year was the West Virginia Craft Beer and International Cheeses Pairing Dinner in celebration of American Craft Beer Week. The dinner was held Wednesday (May 13) at Iron Horse Tavern for $40.

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinnerWest Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinner

From the event's Facebook page: This Spring’s Craft Beer Dinner, a bi-annual tradition since 2007, will feature six West Virginia-made small-batch beers paired with six small plates featuring rare artisan cheeses. The plates will be prepared with ingredients designed to highlight the unique characteristics of both the beer and the cheese. The cheeses are from single-producer farmsteads that are made in very small quantities, a compliment to the primarily seasonal single-batch local beers. A craft beer or microbrew is, by definition, brewed using traditional methods without the use of rice or corn and with an eye to what is distinctive and flavorful, rather than to mass appeal. A craft brewery produces less than 15,000 barrels annually, traditionally brewed in a single brewery by a single brew master.

Gjetost: Pasteurized Goat’s and Cow’s Milk, Norway.
Paired with Gardner Farms Sorghum Tamari Pork Loin // Blackwater Brewing Company's Wood Hick Maple Porter

Blackwater Brewing Company (Davis) is an independently owned nano-brewery, located near the entrance to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, WV. Owners Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins focus on producing high-quality, small-batch craft beers. Wood Hick Porter - A vanilla maple Baltic porter wit ha rich malty sweetness and complex blend of deep malts. 7.4% ABV

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinner

Where's the cheese, right? Well, it's that malleable brown triangular piece on top. The Gjetost is a brown whey goat's and cow's milk cheeseIt is created by boiling milk, cream and whey; the heat turns the milk sugar to caramel, giving the cheese its color and sweet taste. I've never tasted a cheese like this. But it's essentially combining two of my favorites: a caramel flavor and cheese. The slightly sweet taste of the cheese was so, so good with the pork loin and perfectly roasted sweet potato and a richer soy sauce flavor in the tamari. The beer was also tasty with some deeper sweet flavors. This dish set the bar high for the rest of the meal - and it was a full plate, not just a bite of cheese.

Beehive Farmstead: Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, United States.
Paired with Fossil Farms Venison Sliders // Big Timber Brewing Company's Dry Stout

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinner
Big Timber Brewing Company (Elkins) is a production microbrewery and taproom located in the heart of Appalachia, in beautiful Elkins, WV. Dry Stout - Dark and roasty with a hint of chocolate, this beer has a light mouthfeel and dry finish. 5.0% ABV

The first thing I loved about this course was the little baby Gherkin pickle. Then, I quickly plucked a piece of the melted cheese to taste the flavor on its own: familiar provolone in taste. I quickly assembled my sandwich to get a good combination of the flavors. The flavor of the venison burger was great - though a little dry. Nothing a quick swish of the stout couldn't fix. The almost coffee flavors of the beer were a good match.

Blue Cheshire: Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk, England.
Paired with housemade Bangers & Grilled Apples // Morgantown Brewing Company's 80 Schilling Scotch Ale

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinnerMorgantown Brewing Company (Morgantown) re-opened in 2009 under new ownership, revitalizing West Virginia's oldest operating brewery. Alumni-owned and operated, the team at MBC is committed to high-quality, on-premise craft brews that satisfy the evolving tastes of today's responsible beer consumers. 80 Shilling Scotch Ale - The 80 Shilling Scotch Ale is a traditional Scottish session beer reflecting indigenous ingredients. Long, cool fermentations are traditionally used in Scottish brewing. 4.9% ABV

Housemade bangers? How cool is that? These were excellent, paired with the sweetness of the apple and the moist, crumbly slightly salty bite of the cheese. Add the scotch ale, and I'm pretty sure we were quickly transported to the UK. Despite it being a bangers dish - the cheese was super prominent, and it was so delish.

Vacherin Mont d’or Alpage: Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk, Switzerland.
Paired with Caramelized Fondue // Chestnut Brew Works' Cask-Conditioned Halleck Pale Ale 

Chestnut Brew Works (Morgantown) started as a small beer brewery nestled in the woods of southern Monongalia County about 10 miles south of Morgantown, WV in 2013. The demand quickly outpaced the supply, so they've recently expanded operations and added a taproom in the historic South Park area of Morgantown. Cask Conditioned Pale Ale - CBW's famous Halleck Pale Ale, cask-conditioned with whole cone Simcoe and Cascade hops. 6.1% ABV

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinnerThis is the point when MK came out and warned us about what we got ourselves into. We hit the stinky cheese course. As the plates starting hitting tables, I could smell something. But it wasn't until the plate was right in front of me that I got an actual whiff of it - blech. Dear God. It is a foul, fungal odor. Something totally counterintuitive to what you'd want to put in your mouth. This is when you have to trust your chef, because this blew my mind. The flavors in my mouth outweighed any rotting funk smell to reveal a delicious goopy, creamy gruyere-tasting flavor. The result is a rich, slightly sweet and almost nutty cheese. So good. SO GOOD.

And, the Halleck, of course, is always delicious. Even crisper than usual, the hoppy beer made for a perfect balance.

Ardi-Gasna: Unpasteurized Sheep’s Milk, Basque French.
Paired with Pate au Poulet // Blackwater Brewing Company's Goldenrod Golden Ale

Blackwater Brewing Company (Davis) is an independently owned nano-brewery, located near the entrance to Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, WV. Owners Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins focus on producing high-quality, small-batch craft beers. Goldenrod Golden Ale - A Belgian-style blonde ale made with locally sourced Goldenrod honey. 6.1% ABV

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinnerThis was kind of like a chicken pot pie with some stewed chicken topped in an almost puff pastry coating. The chicken was pieced in some sort of sauce, and the topping was lightly crunchy. The chicken wasn't super flavorful, neither was the crust. And that's because the cheese was very strong. It's a sharp sheep's milk cheese (which I'm also just not really used to). I didn't love this course. I do, however, love this beer, which is a lighter, slightly sweet beer.  I actually took home a growlette of this beer when I was in the area doing a story. It's made with a local honey, which is pretty cool. I think that is my favorite beer from that brew pub.

Pata Cabra: Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Spain.
Paired with Orange Brioche and Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company's Lilly Dipper Wit

Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company (Lewisburg) opened in 2014 with a passion for beer and some good storytelling between Wil Laska and David Kucera. This production brewery now distributes draft and canned craft beers throughout the state of West Virginia. Lilly Dipper Wheat - A Belgian style wheat ale offering a zesty orange, melon finish with hints of herbs and spices. 5.2% ABV

West Virginia Craft Beer and Cheese dinnerI was curious if we would have a dessert course! And how that would incorporate cheese - well, here's the solution. It was nice that this wasn't overly sweet. The brioche was perfect, and the cheese tasted more lie a custard, really, and gently seeped between the folds of the bread, creating a pastry of sorts. I was stuffed at this point, so I don't think I was able to finish it all, but I definitely wanted to.

So, what a cool way to celebrate craft beer week! A bunch of courses paired with local beers and cheeses I've never had. And this wasn't merely cheese and beers - the actual flavors of the meals allowed the cheese and beers to shine through. I have a hard time picking between the pork loin course, the bangers course and the stinky cheese course for my favorite. That's a good problem to have. Can't wait for the announcement of the next dinner!