Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Euclid Hall - Mathematics Was Never So Much Fun!

Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon

Visiting Denver to assist The Baroness Rachael with her move into her new castle, Watson and I were joined by the Viscount Palmi of Iceland and Lady Sierra who had also just recently begun occupation of their new Broomfield Castle after a brief campaign in the Evergreen foothills this summer.

With so much to discuss and catch up on with the Baroness and the Viscount, we met at a GastroPub near the LoDo area of Denver intriguingly called Euclid Hall, apparently named for the Greek mathematician Euclid, the Father of Geometry; by definition that branch of mathematics concerned with the properties and relations of Points, Lines, Surfaces, Solids, and Higher Dimensional Analogs (this per my good friend, the Honorable Noah Webster).

Now what struck me about the name of this converted Saloon House was how it perfectly yet tangentially describes the gastronomic endeavor we embarked on with it's perfect intersection of food textures and surfaces, solids expertly choreographed with liquids and semi-liquids, along with an over-the-top selection of alcohols and other liquid accompaniments. This Nom de Guerre juxtaposition was too delicious to not take note of!

Awaiting the arrival of our guests, Watson and I decided to sample a taste of a select brew or two, with Watson selecting the Great Divide Hades Belgian Golden Ale (7.8%) while I chose a snifter of Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (8%), two choices from eleven draughts available - none of which come from Milwaukee or St. Louis. And while our choices were made from a list that included Steamworks Colorado Kolsch, Avery White Rascal, Deschutes Black Butte Porter and Oskar Blues G; Imperial Knight Red Amber, it was the care and consideration given to the Cans and Bottles selections listed next.

With a definitive nod towards Mr. Euclid, and with the care that this true Gastropub exhibits towards their very lucky patrons, the selections were categorized further into mathematical brewmaster groups such as Arithmetic [Session beers, Easy drinking, Low Alcohol - 7 brews], and Algebra [Still approachable, more flavor, more complexity-6 choices including The Old Speckled Hen], and on to Geometry [6], Trigonometry [6], Calculus [5], and Quantum Mechanics [Biggest, Strongest, Most Complex - 6 choices] 

It was evident from this dissection of available bromides that the purveyors were especially concerned for the satisfaction of their guests while also taking pains to properly acquaint their beer drinking brethren into appropriately comfortable avenues of quaffing.  And if on the off-chance that NONE of those options tickled one's fancy, the choice could be made from the 'Library List' of special selections available 'on a limited basis' including Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA (!), Unibroue Cali-Belgique Belgian IPA, and Brewdog Dogma Scotch Ale, as well as 9 additional qualified candidates.

But still not satisfied, there are Euclid Hall Beer Cocktails as well! (such as The Kansas City Cup - Made from Boulevard Tank 7, Brokers Gin, Pimms, Lavender Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice) Specialty Drinks (for example, the Moscow Mule - Sobieski Vodka, Lime Juice, and Ginger Beer); or one of my favorite named concoctions: The Dickel and Pickle (A shot of George Dickel Whiskey with pickle juice back! Outstanding!!)

And they STILL moved on to wines, bubbly, reds, and others so they ensured that no one would leave unhappy!

What many inveterate pubbers do not realize is that the ubiquitous 'Pub' in Britain is the location where the 'PUB-lic' went to eat; Royalty, Earl's, Count's, Landowners, and such having banquet halls, sumptuous homes and other private dining opportunities....the Public, when they wished to 'dine out' usually found themselves in feeding halls and bars that served food....... thus the manner that PUB's came to be named. And the food found in PUB's was generally over-cooked, over-stewed, over-steamed, and quite often over-baked offerings like Bangers and Mash (blah), Fish and Chips (Blech), and Shepards Pie (a mix of all things that didn't sell the day before). The GASTRO-PUB is the moderately recent attempt by exuberant restauranteurs to enliven the GASTRO-nomic experience with PUB-fare fit for Royalty! Swirl in the sudden popularity of Micro-Brews in these United States and the GASTRO-PUB Concept was born. [One of the more infamous GastroPub's in the US, which Watson and I have had the pleasure of visiting, is The Spotted Pig in NYC where our friend April Bloomfield has genuinely re-defined the genre.]

Here in Denver I can tell you that Euclid Hall deserves a step on the ladder towards such platitude.

Fried Cheddar Curds
Our appetizer choices were grouped into three tongue-in-cheek category headings starting with 'Because We Have to'.... with entries such as a Simple Salad, a Chopped Salad, a Cauliflower Salad as well as the ubiquitous Fried Cheddar Curds with Buffalo Ranch Dip ($6), this chosen as an aquiescence to the Viscount and his affinity towards fried cheese morsels. Then, the 'Because We Want To' class entailed slightly more adventurous choices including the (I'm-sure-it-sounds-appetizing-to-someone) Fries with Eyes - Fried Great Lakes Smelt with Tarragon and Aioli, along with it's sister selection the 'Daily Artisinal Cheese Board' (with beer pairing also offered). 

However it was the final class, aptly titled 'Because We Can' with selections that both startled us AND showed the heights of their chef's adventure. Inclusions were Pad Thai Pigs Ears, Bruleed Center Cut Beef Marrow Bones, and the choice we made, the highly recommended these 'Chips and Dip', but make no mistake….this is unlike any 'Chips and Dips' we had  EVER experienced.

'Chips and Dip'
The Chips and Dip ....well, what arrived at our table was a staggeringly unique amalgam of ingredients on an ice cold plate starting with a Lemonized Goat Cheese base layer piled high with Kennebec Potato Chips and Duck Confit in a large mound and all topped by shaved slivers of cold pressed Oolong Tea Infused Rare Duck Breast (shaved, cold) and with  baby dill ($11.50) My wager is that you could put these ingredients in a room with one hundred qualified chef's and not come up with this delicious offering.... an introduction to Euclid Hall unlike any first plate I've ever witnessed!

Chicken and Waffles
And on it went from there...........entrees included 'Chicken and Waffles' - Crispy Chicken Mousseline and confit nuggets, sourdough waffle, black pepper bechamel and a maple gastrique ($14.50) which the Baroness wasn't particularly fond of as it was not what she was expecting yet agreed that it was done extremely well!

Cashew Crusted Cobia
Watson chose the Cashew Crusted Cobia with a sweet dumpling squash + apple puree, grilled delicate squash, frisee + cilantro salad, with a mustard vinaigrette drizzle ($15)....which while small was still dizzying and delicious.

Manila Clam and Merguez Caldo Verde
My own inclinations ran towards the 'adventurous' and everything so far WAS adventurous so in came the Manila Clam and Merguez Caldo Verde, a slightly stewy soupy mixture of clams and spicy French sausage with braised kale, fried garlic, grape tomatoes, olive oil crositini, smoked malt and rye brodo, a Top Hat type stand of crusty rye that was perfectly included to soak up the saucy, spicy broth remaining after I had scarfed down the morsels served ($13). This was ordered simply because it sounded so good but also as I had no idea what to expect from it.....overwhelmingly the sheer uniqueness of the menu was something to be marveled at.

The Brat Burger!
The Viscount and Lady Sierra were in burger mode and so ordered the Brat Burger - again, expecting one thing and having delivered something altogether different. A 'burger' made of bratwurst served on a pretzel  bun (Bretzel!) with pickled cabbage and 10,000 Island Dressing and Jarlsberg Cheese ($9.50). With one bite the Viscount looked like he had both been completely fooled AND overjoyed at the same time.....opining 'This was NOT what I expected it to be but it IS the BEST BURGER I have ever tasted!' High praise indeed!

S'Mores Pot de Creme
Finally, desert brought us the baffling 'S'Mores Pot de Creme' - house made graham crackers and marshmallows ($7) and the Smoked Chocolate Stuffed Strudel with Malted Ice Cream, Stout Toffee Caramel, and Hazlenut brittle ($6). ALL participants were struck by the goodness and whirlwind nature of every item on this menu.....and yet we barely scratched the surface!
Smoked Chocolate Stuffed Strudel

MANY more visits are in order! Watson, come quick! And bring your protractor! There's GEOMETRY to solve!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cafe Alfresco - Dunedin

Cafe Alfresco on Urbanspoon

Traveling incognito as 'triathletes' recently had Watson and I registered for the Tri-Rock Triathlon at Clearwater Beach. We were so flummoxed by the continued inaccessibility of parking anywhere near the Pier 60 confluence during our surreptitious Saturday registration period (wearing an overcoat and smoking a pipe is NOT the way to hide in plain site I quickly found), we abandoned all hope and elected to vacate the area and try our luck in downtown Dunedin (and this after also deciding not to tempt fate in the downtown Clearwater / Church of Scientology Central locales).

As a brief aside, might I suggest strongly to our elected representatives that it's high time for a parking structure or three in this Clearwater Beach area? Methinks it's high time to upgrade the parking facilities in this highly trafficked area AND leave those oh-so-prized tourists, flocking to these wonderfully refreshing waters, with the feeling that Clearwater actually WANTED their time and festivities here to be fun and hassle free. And WITH that feeling would be their desire to RETURN to the area As it is, Watson and I can barely tolerate visits to this beach at all......even WITH the redesigned roundabout mousetrap.... and we KNOW where we're going at this point!
Jai Alai IPA

The existing facilities are sparse and either forever filled with cars already OR (as was the case with our venture) filled with the registration officials for the Tri-Rock Triathlon. The business and proprietors in this area should be given medals all their own for being able to compete in the marketplace under such conditions!

Mind you, simply having potentially hundreds of potential patrons walking, running, biking, blading, strolling, lolly-gagging, and even just parked on their own 'caboose' outside is not a recipe for success unto itself. No, for if this establishment had not (as is my estimation) been producing foods and libations enjoyed by the many and delivered in such a wonderful fashion it would surely fall prey to the same fate that dozens and dozens of other busted hospitality dreams have gone in the Pinellas market (and this location no doubt quickly turned into a Subway, a Starbucks, a gun shop or even a strip club - for the Tampa area has more of these than almost any other city in the US save Las Vegas and Cincinnati!)
For this trip we meandered lazily into Cafe AlFresco with it's open air seating overlooking the splendid Pinellas Trail. We were instantly seated this mid-afternoon at a time (unfortunately) just after the cessation of their Sat/Sun Brunch from 10-2, a happenstance that left Watson rueful (trying on that seal suit surely cost us valuable time!)

I was intrigued by how this cafe has stood the tests of time after all these years for on only one other occasion had I been to this location. The very fact that this house was still  in existence is an obvious testament to the proprietors' gumption, pluck, deft menu picking, and the no doubt prescient move from 'Nowhere' to 'Somewhere', for there is no other location in all of downtown Dunedin that has the pedestrian exposure that Cafe Al Fresco has; the restaurant equivalent of drinking from a firehose if you will.

A 'shared' plate of Crab Cake (left) and Cuban (top)
Parched thirst and Prince Michael in tow (and Lady Elizabeth performing her duties at the infirmary) we chose our opening liquid salvo from a fairly well represented drink menu that soon had us quaffing a very large Tucker Hefe Weisen and a Jai Alai IPA, both unfamiliar entries to my palate.

Watson indicated that he had taken his small cadre of Drs. here many times previously and indicated that there was only one menu item that he was pining for, the Crab Cakes, and so his choice was made.

The Prince chose a Cuban sandwich while I chose a Salmon Salad, mindful of the weight and heft of participating in the race the next day and feeling that any 'fish' I could get into my system would surely help me in the swim portion of the race! [Note - this proved not to be true and I was humbled by the lack of swimming prowess I possessed.)

Salmon Salad
The Crab Cake entry was as splendid as Watson had hoped and again, a happy Watson make my daily toil so much more pleasant so for this alone I was elated. The Cuban was simply pedestrian at best......I'm still not entirely enamored with 'The Cuban' as a sandwich no matter how long I reside in this locale, a fact not altogether the fault of Cafe Al Fresco for Prince William scarfed it down in it's entirety like a ravenous doberman in a junk yard lot.

The Salmon Salad, while pleasantly presented was just that, pleasant. The greenery was not the stuff of legend but the Salmon was tasty and delicious. And with a to-go order of Fried Shrimp Tails for Lady Elizabeth we soon paid our fare and, nicely situated from our brews, headed out with a satisfied feeling and the best wishes for ANY restaurant that can last as long as Cafe Al Fresco has.......

Ze Locomotive in front

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lester's Diner - The Definition of the 'Greasy Spoon'

 Lester's Diner on Urbanspoon

On a case investigating possible armament smuggling in and around a major defense installation in South Florida called Fort Lauderdale, (apparently a Dept. of Defense base masquerading as a tourist destination), I was led to a little dive of a food emporium called 'Lester's Diner' on SR 84 that elicits the absolute definition of the 'Greasy Spoon', that endeavor that proffers all manner of sustenance in a quick and no-nonsense fashion yet in this case without all the unsavory underpinnings.

To be fair there is nothing particularly special about Lester's other than the very expedient service I received, the vast variety of choices I was offered this particular morning, and the downright pauper friendly bite such a visit takes from my coin sack.

Yet in varying degrees we must also pay heed to what the 'levels' of satisfaction exist in the marketplace and while one might swoon over a well aged sturgeon egg or a heady roquefort cheese, no one 'expects' such headiness when entering Lester's.

The expectations of a good Diner, which Lester's most definitely is, includes fast, cheap, hot (or cold) food, served with a smile and an endless cup of coffee. With three eggs over easy, rye toast and potato's, I could overlook the 'greasy' oleo butter like spread on my toast for that is ALMOST EXPECTED in a truckstop favorite such as this.

Patrons in the back dining room (was it hotter than normal there or was it the 9 cups of coffee I consumed while there?) included a group of truckers. 4 Coppers (with sidearms showing), Six (6) businessmen, and a family of 5 who spoke what I detected was a pronounced Eastern European Accent........

Who this Lester fellow is I have no idea but this greasy spoon is a sidestep that satisfies those in need of good grub and frankly, one that I see myself visiting again!