Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Wrecking Bar Brewpub - Gastro and Gourmet in Atlanta, GA

Wrecking Bar Brewpub on Urbanspoon 
One of the finer pleasures in life is the experience of combining (in triplicate no less) the advent of fine libations and elixirs with excellent food selections, both then held together by the camaraderie of fine fellowship. Luck was mine recently as I had just such an opportunity at The Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta, GA. 

With our commercial enterprise for the day accounted for I drew upon my limited social graces and attempted to pull two of my disparate worlds together in a single location for a bit of impromptu frivolity: Lord Michael William and Lady Elizabeth, the soon to be betrothed members of the Royal Family, and, on the numbers side, the Duo of Seated Commerce - Lord Frederick of Cucamonga and The Earl of Schindelholz, with whom I have been spending an inordinate part of my days with of late! And with seven cities in nine days I was not the least bit tired for I am never tired by my investigative work. However, it is mere idleness that completely exhausts me!

The Wrecking Bar is hidden in plain sight on the west side of Moreland Ave. north of I-20 and Dekalb Ave. and south of Little Five Points (an overwhelmingly disparate environ - part South LA and part SOHO - both the NYC and London versions!).

I say hidden as what one first encounters is what appears to be The Jefferson Memorial standing regal and proper yet abandoned at the same time. Gaining entry via Moreland will prove difficult however as signs appearing 'afore the only drive ON Moreland profess 'Exit Only'. One will soon need to maneuver their way to the side entrance on Austin Ave. for parking lest you find yourself foraging the local streets for ancillary auto accommodations (Valet is sometimes offered and necessary).

The Wrecking Bar, aptly named for this building's predecessor occupant of 35 years, 'Wrecking Bar Architectural Antiques', has created a splendid mix of old and new with fine ales and such brewed right on the premises along with a wonderfully eclectic melange of dining tastes both southern in delicacy and hearty in nature.

The mead's themselves are something to behold with wonderful concotions such as 'Ding The English Bitter' and 'Sow Your Wild Oatmeal Porter' as well as 'Son of a Beech Rauchbier' and the downright pedestrian 'The Victor IPA'. 
This revolving series almost demands numerous visits to savor and temper the variety in the manner most accommodating...slow and measured.

The Wrecking Bar thus does a splendid job of not only giving the fine beer connoisseur a wide selection of taste experiences to choose from but also allows the uncurated to partake in the pleasures of the palate without suffering the further indignity accompanied with the dreaded malady of the 'unknowing purchase'...that bromide that acts like Kryptonite to the youthful and egoistic Superman. There have been rumors of Georgian Tribesmen (from UGA no doubt) that were felled by the strength of brews less in stature than those found here.
The matrix of choices are also thankfully referenced and cross checked with detailed descriptions of body and taste along with heady statistics including the all important Alcohol by Volume (ABV), levels starting here at 4.5% with the 80 Shilling Porter and topping off at better than 10.5% for the Hop Noggin Imperial IPA....along with a fine host of other examples awash in between.

Yet the alchemic success of a GastroPub sometimes resides in the non-beer side of the drink menu and here The Wrecking Bar also excels. With eighteen (18) different bottles of Red and White Wines to choose from, the true gourmand of all manner of alcohol is soon overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the available spirits - there are over 44 Bourbons alone, 7 American Whiskey's, 18 Rye's, and 17 Single Malt Scotch's including the newly renowned Japanese Yamazaki 12yr.

Bourbon Peach Smash
Yet still not content, they continue on with blended whiskies, both Canadian and Irish, Tequila's, Rums, Vodkas, and more Gin's than any Plymouth Juniper bush could possibly put forth, along with another  34 different Cognac's, Brandy's and Cordials. With this selection offered (and many partaken!), and Special's not yet perused, it's a wonder this post revelry report is being written at all given my predilection towards all things alcoholic ...... and mind-altering.

With our guests all having chosen their respective  pours, including the nearly effervescent 'Bourbon Peach Smash' ($9) which hosts local Last of the Season Pearson Farm Peaches, Four Roses Bourbon, and fresh mint flowers (Good Heavens!), we began piecing thru the plethora of foods that immediately caused us all to give great pause to the moment.....such was volume of our indecision.

Tillamook Cheese and Beer Soup
With kismet on our side, our joint indecision was interrupted when Prince Michael stepped up and ordered the sharing friendly plates of Wrecking Fries with three dipping sauces ($5) and the Kale Ale Fondue ($8), served with Bernhard's Bavarian Pretzels, radishes, carrots, and apples all for dipping in the heady mixture of cheese and ale...

And not content with the Fondue, and with a gentle but knowing nudge from Lady Elizabeth, we also ordered further the Cheesy Beer and Tillamook Rarebit Soup ($8) and the Beet Salad ($8) with Red and Roasted Golden Beets, quinoa, carrots apples, and other naturally crunchy endives with Bourbon Raisins, arugula, and Georgia Pecans. This mixture, and many others festooned throughout the menu, would please any Vegan for it's deliciousness was unparalleled. 

Our waitress, an ebullient redhead, was nearly perfect with her mix of attentiveness and menu knowledge and managed our experience with aplomb. This is not an easy task and it's management is to be applauded.
Painted Hill Flat Iron Steak

Yet soon our experience was taken to new heights with the delivery of our chosen entrees for these were no beer hall fixings but full out pictorials straight from an issue of Bon Appetit.

The delicious Pasture Pork Tenderloin ($15), with field peas, turnips, padron peppers, and smoked Gouda grit cake was a warmly received fall platter which had Lord Frederick's attention upon arrival while the Painted Hill Flat Iron Steak ($17) on smashed potatoes with mushrooms, swiss chard, and chimichurri was nearly Dali-esque and gave Lady Elizabeth the strength to continue forward on her quest to become Queen.
NC Pulled Pork Sandwich

Prince Michael, sporting the hunger that only a Cross-Fit ordeal can bestow, ordered the almost dainty North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8) with homemade pickles and Cole Slaw along with a side of Wrecking Bar Mac-n-Cheese ($4). 

This mix of southern vitality and nuance continued with the arrival of two servings of Koln Malt Encrusted NC Trout ($15) for The Earl and for myself. Pan roasted and laid on a butternut and brussels sprout hash, with a roasted poblano grits side the plates simply amazed in their splendor and in their costs for what was delivered certainly was worth more than what was being asked! Certainly!

And lastly, not content with simply allowing the evening to mellow and the fellowship to anneal, Lord Frederick chose this opportune moment to announce that he had discovered that it was my own birthday and that he would have no part in NOT celebrating this event! (Oh how I hate pomp.......the circumstance is not as bothersome but the pomp will drive a man insane some evenings!)
Jemmy Stout Sundae

Yet again, our wonderful hostess proved her worth for she quietly and professionally delivered both a Jemmy Stout Sundae ($8) made up of Vanilla Ice Cream and a Jemmy Stout syrup with nuts and cream, and a 'Wrecking Bar', the proprietors version of a Kit-Kat laid subtly before us.

Neither stood a chance!

The only hint of impropriety was the delivery of the famously delicious Moscow Mule in a small parfait glass rather than it's customary Copper Cup......but even with this very small indiscretion The Wrecking Bar exceeds on all levels and has earned it's place at Sherlock's Multiple Visit list.....with still more visits surely to come!

Now eat quickly Watson! The Game is STILL afoot!  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Carraba's Italian Grill via The Road thru Mayberry

Carrabba's Italian Grill on UrbanspoonWith a planned rendezvous scheduled recently with Lord Petr and Queen Darla, formerly of Copaigue, NY but now hailing from Spring Hill, FL., and with a VERY large expanse of prime asphalt real estate between their castle 
and our own newly relocated shingle (formerly 221-B Baker St., London), we agreed that our clandestine meeting would need be at a location betwixt and between for all concerned.

Regrettably, with such a large expanse from here to there Watson and I have also learned to accept the unfortunate dearth of environs in this expanse in which to partake in the finer 'pleasures de gustibus'. Jointly, we thus agreed to triangulate ourselves at one of the only locations acceptable to both our parties: Carrabba's Italian Grill of Port Richey.

Yet, allow me if you will that before a diatribe can begin on this little bistro, a bit of scrutiny must be duly paid to the actual roadway traversed between North Pinellas County, FL and South Pasco County, FL. leading from Tarpon Springs thru Holiday and into New Port Richey or as I refer to it.....the Twilight Zone.

This three-lanes-wide wormhole passage of US-19 (three lanes on each side mind you!) maddeningly takes all motor carriages moving in a northern or southerly direction from the very leisurely pace found in what the intelligent among us call 'reality' and deposits them into a miles long 'Perpetual School Zone' of travel - and this with nary a bus or child in sight! 

The immediate and deliberate slowdown in traffic is perplexing as one attempts to view the cause of the all but apparent roadblock or obstruction, be it a slow, meandering, no doubt helmetless scooter rider or perhaps a turnip truck losing it's wares off back - and yet none emerges. 

Overhead traffic lights suddenly appear numbering perhaps 6 or 100 (I cannot recall the specific number but it's surely closer to the latter) and are immediately visible, are staggered every 4 ft. give or take, and begin to change with no cyclic pattern whatsoever turning almost at will....first one car may pass on the green....and then 10 upon the next cycle...calling to mind the Twilight Zone episode 'The Fever' where this bedeviling action drives one slots player mad!

Additionally, each light is firmly affixed with it's own 'Eye in the Sky', and sometimes more than one; the 'safety camera' which will capture the actions of any and all who attempt to deftly remove themselves from this La Brea Tar Pit of highway in a less than Dudley Doo-Right manner and will then subsequently be further introduced to the inner workings of what is likely to be the New Port Mayberry of Traffic Depts.
The Actual La Brea Tar Pits
or New Port Richey

Leaving Pinellas County heading north, as one passes slowly by Barney Fife Blvd. and heads towards Aunt Bea Way, a completely different motor aura descends upon  your vehicle ....... the aura of a place where one envisions Floyd the Barber waiting for his first customers while 4 people sit and read the local paper. A collie might bark and warn of Timmy's travails in the well while diners are served food in metal TV dinner trays while preparing to enter the 1950's bomb shelter in the backyard. The times were much simpler and the cars much, much, much slower.

Grown men have been known to scream obscenities into the windshield in a vulgar manner while in such states (or so I've been told by 'sources').

Only over time (and after much regrettable practice) what one must learn to do if one wishes to remain part of the living and not take up permanent residence in the Denbigh Asylum of North Wales, is to  encapsulate the time spent in this Sea Slug stretch of US-19 and simply jettison that pod once safely at your destination, perhaps 9-10 days later. 

Breathe deep and align ones chakras to reduce the expanding stress to acceptable levels and endure the ordeal peacefully for the only alternative is to give up those hard-earned evolutionary brain cells and join the Royal Society of Cro-Magnons.....a society already bursting with new membership as the result of this country's current political miasma.

I might compare this mindless torture to standing comatose-like in the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles except that saying so would be an injustice to lines at the DMV!

Ultimately, upon arriving at our destination at 6PM on a Saturday night, we were expectedly confronted with the ever-present 1 hour+ wait for one of the choice tables available inside this Texan-Italian Grotto....which is nothing out of the ordinary when working with this establishments' extensive brethren but not a welcome sight here regardless. [Rumor has it that the first Carraba's ever constructed had a waiting line built in as well...but this has not been confirmed.]  So despite the fingernail pulling ordeal endured on the drive to this strip-center end-cap location, we happily found four stools near the barkeep and elected to imbibe the time away in semi-forced alcoholic pleasure.

What surprised us was that barstools were available at all (although we were not quibbling). Yet, despite this joy,  we were further perplexed that after singularly eye-balling the barkeep not so much as a napkin was placed before us for over 5 minutes....and with parched throat and disappearing civility I exclaimed 'Oh, Lord Byron, this is promising to be a trying evening!'

Nevertheless, a quick perusal of the bar area confirmed what I had quietly suspected....that the 20+ quaffers seated woodside, PLUS the adult beverages for the entire restaurant itself were being mixed by this singular spitfire of a woman whom I had eye-balled prior and whose stature rose up in my eyes immediately for her obvious grace under pressure, my own delayed gratification notwithstanding.

Soon enough Ms. Carraba had successfully put us all into her order-taking rhythm and mouths were preoccupied shortly with Stella Artois and Moretti proper.......although I must admit that the 'happy hour' beer flutes (as they newly appear now) may have visited Sir Sid and Lady Jenny Craig for their new slenderness, while much to be desired in all things everywhere.....are certainly NOT welcome in a beer glass! 

One other observation, minor as it may appear, is that studying the hallmark of the Bloomin' Brand franchise, or any successful franchise for that matter, includes the rigid adherence to standards crafted and tested extensively, thereby eliminating error and chance leaving only a strict focus on those methods and processes that leave a patron happy and an owner with a profit. These methods and practices are passed on to the employees of the establishment time and time again so as to ensure their guidance and acceptance. 

What those standards most definitely do not include is the passing of dirty bar-back tubs across and through patrons eating their hopefully delicious dinner while sitting before the taps at the U-shaped act that was most definitely witnessed by this observer tho oblivious to the barkeep. While this might be a difficult period to be operating any restaurant establishment successfully while maintaining total control of all aspects of every operation (a feat I myself would most certainly fail at), there are certain courtesies that should be ingrained in common sense and this one slipped thru unabashed.

The cracks in the system were evident.....and continued.

So six very slender flutes (8oz? 10oz?), a house Vodka-Cranberry, and $40.00 later we were being called to a table after a wait that was delightfully much shorter than expected (or it simply 'seemed' that way with the gratifying albeit rich intake of alcohol).

Now, upon the walk to the table I noted that this particular Carrabba's appeared to lack the original zesty Italian feel imbued in the chain's inaugural sites.... and the below observations are for this one location only of course, not an entire franchise. No, this one gives the dining visitor a more 'Village Inn' or cafeteria ambience and one with a much brighter lighting treatment than a Carraba's should have on the inside (in my estimable opinion - and yes, I did say 'The Village Inn').

Still, the proof is in the penne and that's the focus of where we were now turning our attention.

Chicken Bryan - $17.20
One recognized offshoot of a lengthy wait for a table is the development of the deep hunger pangs that envelope a group soon after which then allows for the rapid ordering of entrees with very little circumstance. 

Our waitperson, a young lad with a barrel chest and a goatee, no more than 25 years of age, having taken everyone's order simply guffawed when I asked for the 'Chicken Bryan Texas' thinking this to be a malapropism of the highest order on my part.

Yet he sat wide-eyed as I carefully explained the original name to this wonderful dish and it's derivations in Bryan, Texas...the home where the Familia de Carrabba settled upon arriving from Sicily. Subsequently shortened to Chicken Bryan on future menu's, the import was not lost on our fine friend.

Arriving fairly soon after our salad/soup choice, the entrees were as exquisite as any and visually mouthwatering as well. Yet with three entrees delivered we waited almost five additional minutes for Lady Darla's Seafood Cannelloni....a fact that would be unheard of in a more tightly sealed ship......alas, we were still taking on water.

Memory is a tempestuous lover and mine did not fail me here. The Chicken Bryan is and always has been a special selection at Carrabba's, one that encapsulates both the Texan and the Italian roots of The Damian family of Houston. 

The perfectly grilled and succulent chicken breast, the lemon basil butter sauce draped over goat cheese and sun-dried tomato's, all perfectly done exactly as they have been done for over a decade and this time was no exception. Every delightful bite a delicious memory unto itself. 

All was as delicious as I'd remembered yet with the Chicken Bryan yet the goat cheese seemed to be of a slightly blander variety. It WAS soft but lacked the special bite that finely made goat cheese can deliver (and used to deliver on this recipe). Explained as perhaps  the difference between perhaps skim milk and whole milk goat cheese, or a different cheese purveyor, but whatever the reason it was of noticeable difference for the bites simply lacked a special......oompf.

Also, staring at the Chicken Bryan I couldn't help but think that it had also gotten lighter, perhaps losing a side of pasta, no? Watson? Care to opine? Perhaps a 'victim to the times' I wagered? A reduction due to the Potato vs. Pasta argument? Did too many simply not eat both? 

Mezzaluna - $13.50
Perhaps I was imagining things but I think not.

The malady all the plates suffered from was they all seemed smaller than in the past. Not that the quality or speciality was any different, there just appeared to be less of it. And that difficulty was made paramount upon a $17.20 price.

Johnny and Damian are no doubt very happy with the initial onslaught but the tinkering that OSI has done, no doubt in order to remain profitable, have lessened this brand a Queen's scepter .....and that's too bad for what once was a fine experience is now made simply......good.

And lastly, might I ask what happened to the pleasant Italian lessons playing on the speakers in the men's (and ladies?) loo? .... Again, it was a detail such as this that had set Carraba's apart from the humdrum yet today it was just another slightly leaky vessel.