Friday, August 26, 2016

Popeye's Chicken: What's the Fuss?

On one of these recent very nice late summer evenings, I happened to be driving down East 10th Street after enjoying a little time roaming around downtown. A late night nibble was in order and I was thinking a little Giliberto's east side might be just the ticket. Right about the same time, I noticed that the line for the Popeye's drive through window was not jamming up traffic back into 10th Street, so I made a quick left to sample some Louisiana fast and see for myself if I was missing out on some orgasmic chicken experience that causes people to block traffic.

Actually, it was one of those moments that I think I should have bought a lottery ticket because there was no line to get through the drive up. Instead, I used my cosmic karmic good fortune to get chicken.

There is quite a bit to choose from on the menu- chicken, shrimp, chicken strips, biscuits, and an array of side dishes that go beyond beans, coleslaw, and potato wedges. I didn't really take the time to ponder it and went straight for the 4 piece chicken "platter" so, 4 pieces of fried chicken, a biscuit, large drink, and a selection of two sides, in this case red beans and rice and macaroni & cheese. You can order the chicken "regular" or "spicy." To me, that's a rhetorical question. Spicy? Hell, yes, I'll take spicy.

So, what did I think? Overall, not bad, but I'm still not sure I get it. The good points:

  • The chicken was juicy and well-seasoned. 
  • The "spicy" which appeared to lurk immediately below the coating gave the chicken a pleasant kick. Not overwhelming by my standards, but probably mind-blowingly hot for midwestern Lake Wobegonesque palates that find black pepper too high on the Scoville Scale.
  • The coating was crispy and tasty.
  • As hinted above, a nice selection of sides, including some items like red beans and rice that are a little unique for this neck of the woods.
  • For about 10 bucks, this was a pretty healthy pile of food.
  • Pretty quick service.
And, of course, the "Meh" points:
  • The four pieces of chicken I got consisted of one breast and three thighs. Don't get me wrong, I'm no thigh/dark meat hater and the pieces were nicely sized. I also appreciated not getting a wing to comprise the other piece of white meat in the order. It just seemed to lack a little variety.
  • The sides were good, but didn't exactly jump off the plate. Red beans and rice lacked that bayou glow that I love about Cajun food. I'm talking about that long, lingering, full mouth warmth that comes from using a broad spectrum of peppers and spices. The mac and cheese seemed to be comprised of a liquid cheese food product. Good, but not a wow by any means.
  • No orgasm. I ate two pieces of chicken and some of each side and still, no action.
So, overall, I remain puzzled about what is so fantastic about Popeye's that makes people willing to sit in a line extending into 10th Street to get it-- Other than my Cat $hit On A Stick Theory. Feel free to enlighten me, but if you do, please explain how the new franchise joint on the block is better than the Keg or Bob's.  Personally, I'm more than happy to drive west past Popeye's en route to West 12th Street to wave at Bob's as I head over to the Keg. I insist that the two home-grown, hometown pillars of fried chickendom simply cannot be beat.

Added bonus: On those occasions when you have yourself some crispy chicken leftovers, don't throw away the packaging that you brought it home in, especially if that packaging is a paper bucket (God forbid) or the waxy parchment paper and cardboard container. Wrap your leftover chicken in the paper and put it back in the cardboard container before you place it in the fridge. Those containers wick moisture and keep your chicken more crispy in the humid environment of the refrigerator than, say, a sealed plastic (Tupperware/Rubbermaid) sort of container or a styrofoam clamshell. Will it be as good as fresh? Duh. No. But it will be better for the effort. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Nicest Bar in Sioux Falls is Behind This Door

Yes, that's a door. 

In fact, that is the entry to Ass'ociates & Co., the new addition to The Attic. The construction is finally done and service started this past week.

I'm going to get right to the point. This is the nicest bar in Sioux Falls. Hands down. 

The entire experience brings to mind a speakeasy. Lots of deep colors and dark wood. Some crushed velvet upholstery and leather chairs make for very comfortable seating. The sound system is still being installed, so no on-demand tunes just yet, except for the player piano. Between the designer lighting and a huge fish tank atop the 14 taps, there is a lot going on. The bar itself is huge and serves the inside area (obviously) as well as an outdoor patio and four-season patio area. There are still plenty of tv's and watching football this fall when the weather is just perfect and the windows on the four-season room are wide open is going to be pretty great. You must check it out.

The menu is the same as The Attic. I know a lot of folks miss some old standbys, but the new ramped up menu definitely ups the ante. If you haven't tried a burger yet, you should get it on your list of priorities. You'll also find some rather sophisticated cocktails on the Ass'ociates drink menu, such as sweet heat gimlets (jalapeƱo infused vodka and spices) and old fashioneds made with infused bourbon. The glassware alone is worth ordering a variety of drinks.

The best part? 21 and over only! That's right. No kids running amok between baseball tournament games.

The other best part? Ass'ociates is right next door to The Attic! This is a two-fer you won't want to miss.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The "Cat $hit On A Stick" Theory Explained

Last week, the Sioux Falls Police Department had to provide traffic control on East 10th Street due to the throngs of people clamoring to get into Popeye's Chicken within a mere day or two of the place opening. As far as I know, it wasn't because the first 500 customers got free food for a year or even free fries or something, but just to get in and get themselves some fried chicken. Yup, fried chicken. 


This town is food obsessed. When out-of-towers ask me what we do for fun here in Sioux Falls, my usual answer is: We eat. It's entertainment here.  We eat for entertainment.

It's true. Popeye's proves it. It's fried goddamned chicken for fork's sake. Between The Keg and Bob's, with an honorable hat tip to Botski's/Jono's, we've got some of the best fried chicken a person is going to lay a greasy hand on anywhere, and it's made by local business people who have invested their lives into developing and serving it. But, God forbid, a new nationwide chain joint opens up and traffic literally comes to a stop.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got nothing against Popeye, or chicken, or fried chicken. I know franchise owners employ people here and risk their money on the venture. Thank you. But it's not the same. Buying into franchises is more of an investment than it is opening a restaurant, even if your staple is pressure-fried chicken. Buying franchises means betting on a brand, usually one promoted through national advertising that has a formulated, consistent product. You maintain it and you should make some money. Starting a restaurant involves taking an idea and developing it to the point where a person thinks they can invest their own money, but moreso their lives, into a chance to see if others will like it and provide them with a living. Around here, it seems new franchise chain joints are mostly opened by people of sufficient financial means to buy in. Usually, they own multiple franchises. They are not chefs in my experience. Exhibit One: Todd Porter who owns Applebee's, Chevy's, Carino's, and Pizza Rev. Compare that to say, Bro's, opened by the chefs who got Parker's off the ground, or Ode where EC Bob was previously at Hy Vee. 

But, I digress. What does this have to do with cat shit on a stick? I'll tell you.

It doesn't matter whether any particular new place is selling great food, or not. If it's new, people here will try it. If it's a chain joint like Popeye's or Mackenzie River or Red Robin, that people have been to in Omaha, Bozeman, Minneapolis, or any other bigger city type of place, people here will overwhelm it. I swear, a new place could serve fried nuggets of cat shit on a stick and it would be jam packed for at least two weeks before it would occur to anyone that the food sucks, well, tastes like cat shit actually, and quit going there. But hey, it'd be a great two weeks.

Now I'm jonesing for fried chicken. I'm off to The Keg.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Argument In Favor of PC

If you're anything like me, you are sitting at work on Thursday, June 30, at roughly 2:30 PM contemplating what sort of over-the-top, big-ass, red-meat, red-hot-BBQ, ice-cold-beer, 'Merican, eat-yourself-silly sort of feast you are going to whoop up to celebrate the Fourth of Juuuuuuuly. I know I am. Unfortunately, I haven't decided just yet. However, I know one thing that I am going to have on hand for certain: Pimento Cheese, a/k/a PC.

If you're a died-in-the-wool citizen of fly-over country, like me, your only exposure to Pimento Cheese was likely the kind made by Kraft that came in the little glass container that later became a juice glass. No one I know actually bought the stuff, opting instead for regular old Cheez Whiz, or maybe Old English on a very special occasion. (And of course, most of it was used to stuff celery.) Anything that had red pepper looking things in it was obviously considered entirely too 'picy by our Norwegian forefathers and foremothers. And as far as pimentos went, those were the things in the olives. So, PC remained a mystery.

Well, I'm here to tell you that this stuff can change your life. And, as a bonus, it's easier than hell to make. There is really no reason not to have some on hand.

Here's the basic formula:

  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese- fancy or the store brand, just get sharp or extra sharp
  • 2 ounces softened cream cheese. Buy the brick of the stuff, not that spreadable crap in the container. Just cut it when it's cold and then let it soften. And for God's sake, don't buy the "lite" variety, it's just got more sugar in it
  • 2 TB good mayonnaise. Life is way to short for cheap-ass mayo.
  • 1 TB finely chopped onion
  • 1 4 ounce jar of pimentos. They are by the pickles and olives and stuff, get the sliced or chopped variety.
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Just use it. It's not that 'picy. Again, life is short, so live a little.
  • Some grinds of good black pepper. Maybe a 1/4 tsp. Like the mayo, life is too short for that pepper dust out of a can. Buy a mill and some good peppercorns.
  1. Grate that cheddar cheese and toss it in a mixing bowl along with the cream cheese, mayo, and onion.
  2. Give those pimentos a little bit of a drain and dump those in, too.
  3.  Add the salt, cayenne, and black pepper.
  4. Stir the hell out of it. It needs to look more or less like cheese spread, because, well, it is cheese spread.
You can also increase the heat level to a delightful warmish by cutting the cheddar back to roughly 8 ounces and then using about 2 ounces of pepper jack. Finely dice a fresh jalapeno and put that in there, too. Everything else stays the same.

What is this stuff good for? Everything. No kidding, everything. Here are a few ideas:
  • Spread it on crackers and enjoy it with a crisp white wine.
  • Make sandwiches with it on white bread. Cut the crusts off and wrap the sandwiches in green plastic. Eat them while wearing a green jacket and pretend you just won The Masters.
  • Use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • Or, my personal favorite, slather it all over burgers fresh off the grill. This is so much tastier than trying to get cheese to melt for a good cheeseburger. And what's more 'Merican than a good cheeseburger all slathered up with tasty, gooey cheese? Exactly!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interesting News- New Chain Bar and Grille Coming as The District Gets a Rookies Infusion. How much Grill can we take?

I have to hand it to Jodi Schwan at the Argus Leader for rooting up interesting business news that includes new restaurants. Check out Jodi's story here.

The gist of the situation is that a new restaurant, Tanner's Bar & Grill, a chain from Kansas and not to be confused with Tinner's is coming to Sioux Falls and will land in the space currently occupied by Rookies Bar and Grill on Louise Avenue. Rookies is going to relocate to The District, apparently where the lounge is and the Woodfire Grill at The District is also apparently going to go through some sort of re-birth.

Admittedly, I am a little confused, which is probably par for the course. I'm not clear whether Rookies will be sort of separate from Woodfire Grill, or whether we are talking about some amalgam of the two. I guess we'll find out.

This whole situation is rather interesting to me, though, for the following reasons:

  • The Rookies location has always intrigued me since it doesn't seem that any of the tenants there have been able to give it a go. Bennigan's started at the location. To be blunt, Bennigan's sucked.
  • Rookies has/had some interesting burgers. They have a big selection with some unique options that are fun to try. However, I have to note that the place has somewhat recast itself over the years. Rookies has been a big stadium sort of sports bar, featured live bands (including the Drive By Truckers once, if memory serves), and now has a comedy club area attached. Maybe the new location will allow some focus.
  • As to The District, it ought to be interesting to have what appears to be two distinct eateries under one roof. Thus far, the all-things-to-all-people Woodfire Grill has never seemed to catch, well, fire. (See what I did there?) It's an odd concept to have a lounge and allegedly fine dining in an area that does not seem particularly suited to either. Maybe Woodfire can recast its menu and re-define its space to become a little different option than the same old, same old.
  • Speaking of same old, same old, how much "Grill" can this town possibly absorb? Grille 26, Cherry Creek Grill, Tinner's Bar & Grill, Backyard Grill BBQ, McKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub, Carnaval Brazilian Grill, etc. etc. etc. There are more. And now Tanner's Bar & Grill (not to be confused with Tinner's)? I wonder how many Grills it takes to trade for a good Thai joint? We've got to be close.
  • And from Jodi's description of Tanner's, not to be confused with Tinner's, how different can another sports bar-ish, chicken wing-ish, burger-ish, wrap-ish, salad-ish joint be from every other place serving more or less the same stuff? For forking crying out loud, for every one of these places that closes another three sprout up. It's like the heads of the hydra, not to be confused with the brewery.
Good thing it's summer. Perhaps I can just stop by the bar for a beer and skip the grill in favor of going home where I can fire up my own grill and grill me a pork chop or a Thai-seasoned grilled chicken.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Great Place to Try: Fernson on 8th

If you like beer and know anything about the local beer scene, you should know about Fernson. They brew some great stuff. After getting operations underway, the Fernson guys opened a tap room. I hear it's really nice. Unfortunately, it's located waaaaaaay up north near Spader's Camper Sales just north of I-90. This is great if you live near say, Renner, or if you're a Sanford employee assigned to their north citadel. Not so great for me, because it's just far enough out of the way to make it into my general presence of mind when it's time for a weekend beer. Besides, 15 minutes of interstate driving isn't what I'm in for when I want to drink a couple of beers, especially IPA's and other varieties that tend to sneak up on a person fast and hard.

Well, problem solved. The fine fellas at Fernson have set up a branch office in the old Flatiron building at 8th and Weber. This is the former location of Latitude 44.

Blogging on this sort of thing conflicts me, because I want to hog up a nice place like this all to myself. It's neat, tidy, bright, open, and still features live music. Fresh, tasty Fernson beer on tap- several varieties are available. And, there are a couple added bonuses. First up, thanks to the familial connection with eye surgeon and Napa winery owner Dr. Vance Thompson, Fernson on 8th has what is probably a more complete catalog of Jessup Cellars bottles available at any given moment, outside of Vance's cellar, anyway. And, if you like to eat when you drink, Breadico is located right next door- where Queen City Bakery started out. Breadico has expanded its offerings to include sandwiches and pizza. And, I'm hear to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with Cory Myers on this point: Breadico offers the BEST pizza in town, hands down.

Good beer (or good wine) and good pie in pleasant surroundings? What's not to love? Actually, the parking isn't much to love, but hey, sacrifices must be made.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Getting the Good Stuff: The State of Grocery Shopping in Sioux Falls

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: We are living in Sioux Falls at a great time. The cultural diversity keeps getting, well, diverse. And we are all reaping the benefits in terms of music, art, and food.

If you really cook, like I do, sooner or later you are going to need some pretty crazy ingredients. I'm on a real Asian food kick lately, and fortunately, I have identified much better resources for things like fish sauce, Chinese wind sausage, and dried shrimp, than I ever imagined. I needed ingredients yesterday, so between downpours, I ventured out and picked up a few things and made a few mental notes I'd like to share.

Nikki's. I've mentioned Nikki's before. This gem is located at 8th and Indiana and has been serving awesome, authentic Mexican tacos, tortas, and burritos for years. The food is great, but step inside the grocery store and prepare to stock up on all those authentic little ingredients you need to cook some great food at home. For instance, need some epazote to simmer in a pot of black beans and pork? No problem- you just need to decide what variety you need. Need dried peppers? Ancho? Pasilla? Guajillo? Chipotle? All there. How about good tortillas? Queso fresco? Crema? Reliably ripe avocados? Si, si, si, and si. Need a beef head to make barbacoa for the neighborhood block party? What the what? Yeah, there just might be one in the meat case-- along with really good pork, pre-seasoned beef, chicken, or pork for fajitas, all sorts of short ribs and other cuts that will amaze you. The prices are great and the quality is outstanding.

New Asian Store on East 10th. I'm sure it has a name, but I didn't catch it. It's at East 10th and Omaha, right next to where the old Pizza Inn/new Popeye's Chicken is going. I stopped in there because I was on a quest for Thai Bird Peppers- the very small, insanely spicy red peppers to make a dipping sauce for some chicken. The sign said Asian Seafood and Produce, so I figured this was a good bet. Beautiful little store. Clean and well organized. No fresh peppers on this occasion, but I asked for help and was handed a package of frozen peppers. Boom! While I was at it, I picked up some curry paste and some rice noodles to add to my collection at home. Apparently, I feel compelled to pick those up every time I leave the house.

Thanh Mai. This is the Asian grocery on Rice Street. It's practically in the Morrell's parking lot. Hands down, this is one of the most far out crazy places to visit in Sioux Falls. It's small, the aisles are narrow, and the shelves are bursting with all sorts of things. It's organized, but it will take you several trips to get the hang of it and to locate some of the hidden gems. If you need dark soy sauce, kecap manis, thick soy, mushroom soy, or just want a gallon of regular Pearl River Bridge soy sauce, this is the place. Been missing out on duck flavored ramen noodles? No problem. Korean fermented pepper paste? Yup. Need a pot and basket to cook sticky rice? It's there. Thanh Mai is also my go to place for esoteric Asian vegetables. I honestly cannot identify a lot of what's there. If you really want to blow your mind, go explore the freezers. You'll find things like bags of pre-made pot sticker dumplings and some frozen fish. But I have also made note of the following: an entire pig skin, a tray of frozen duck heads, frozen frogs (not legs, whole frogs), and the prevailing champion (thus far) a package of four, whole, immaculately packaged and vacuum sealed frozen giant water bugs. They were labeled "Bait for Fish." Yeah, I have some doubts. You might also note a box full of fresh fish heads or maybe even some live blue crabs. Don't touch those.

Fareway at 41st and Sycamore. Yeaaaahhhh! The new Faraway store is open. And, I must say it is NICE! Very nice layout and a very nice store. You won't find the bells and whistles like you do at Hy Vee, but these guys have a great selection of all sorts of things. However, the real reason to go is the meat counter. Staffed by a small army of flying monkeys, it's all fresh out of the case, old school butcher service. It's fresh, good, and priced nicely. And chances are, if you need something a tad out of the norm, like skirt steak, just ask. They probably have some. It might be frozen, but you'll likely get what you need.

Start searching the inter webs for cool recipes, make a shopping list, fill your travel mug with coffee, crank up some good tunes, and go explore the awesome ingredients available in the little grocery stores around town. You'll be much richer for the experience and the efforts are well worth it.