Friday, August 28, 2015

Live, from Rapid City! It's Philly Ted's!

There was a time when Rapid Citians had a serious dining inferiority complex compared to Sioux Falls. Oddly, this mainly had to do with the fact there was an Olive Garden location in Sioux Falls. The fools!

Well, they certainly aren't doing too shabby these days thanks to Philly Ted and a very authentic cheesesteak experience. 

Located in a strip mall on North LaCrosse and appropriately divey between a video lottery joint and a payday lender, this is THE location of THE BEST cheesesteak in South Dakota, iif not almost everywhere outside of South Filly. 

Ted is the guy behind the counter and he will patiently guide you through your order and even encourage you to get a small drink since refills are free. 

If you want the real deal: a steak with onions and Cheese Whiz (yes, Cheese Whiz) this is it. House baked bread. Boom. If you get one of those and an order of cheese fries, you'll only need a shower and a long nap for dessert. 

I could go on and on, but this witty sign (only one among several) really says it all. 
Get there you won't be sorry and you won't think Pepperjax has America's best later. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Oh, Keg Chicken, How Do I Love Thee?

Assuming this blog has themes, one of them must certainly be how lucky we are to have such diversity and variety in food here in Sioux Falls. Hell, we have variety within variety! What do I mean by that? Take pho, for instance.  It's a huge steamy bowl of noodles, tasty broth. a variety of meats (er, proteins, since tendons and tripe might not be considered "meat") and delicious sprouts, herbs, lime and hot peppers to garnish. Well if you are a devotee of this ubiquitous southeast Asian comfort food like I am, you can not only get pho here, you can get it at several places-- Saigon Panda, Lam's, Dynasty, Pho Quyhn, and Phnom Pehn.

The same is true with one of my all-time favorite comfort foods: fried chicken. It is truly one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It's one of those things I just crave once in a while and need to spend time alone with enjoying every juicy morsel and crispy bit I can extract off the bones.

Although there are a number of places that serve a respectable fried chicken, including Mama's Phried and Phillies, Jono's/Botski's, and even groceries and buffet joints, let's face the facts. If you love fried chicken like I do, in this town, you fall into one of two camps that are as separate and distinct as the East and West sides of town. Yes, you are either a disciple of Bob's or The Keg. Period.

Both Bob's and The Keg are awesome. Bob's seems to be more of a straight-forward seasoned flour coating while The Keg has a bit more crust suggesting some sort of batter. Both are probably brined or marinated to some extent to make it juicy and plump up that meat. Both are fried to perfection- crispy, juicy, hot and good. Whoever invented the pressure fryer should have received a Nobel Prize.

I got absolutely nothing bad to say about Bob's, but my heart belongs to The Keg. And boy, am I ever glad they are back in town. The Keg was an East side staple, once located at 10th and Bahnson and later at 26th and Sycamore where OT is now. I LOVED that place. In an ill-fated expansion attempt, the Keg opened a branch office on the West side at 57th and Marion. Based on nothing more than keen observation and rank speculation, I suspect the West side joint became the drain that required closure of the East side location and then eventually sunk the whole ship. After a brief hiatus, Keg chicken re-emerged at the Hillside on Lake Madison. That was good for the folks of Lake County and the Soo Foo folks with lake homes, but bad for me.

Well, The Keg is back. Unfortunately, it's landing spot is the former location of Sneaky's Chicken (yet another Sioux City outpost that couldn't fly here) which is the former location of Taco Villa. As much as I'd like to bitch about the location, it's a Sioux Falls zip code and I'd rather jaunt across or around town, than go without.

So, welcome back Keg chicken! I've missed you! Now start checking out some of the East side vacancies and come all the way home.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The BBQ Invasion

Art may imitate life, but some food life seems to imitate TV. What do I mean by that? Well, I recall a time when no one, and I mean no one played a form of Poker called Texas Hold'em. That is until about three cable networks started televising tournaments. Now, it's everywhere and on line and everyone is suddenly Phil Hellmuth. Well, now competition BBQ is the rage on TV and everyone wants to be Myron Mixon.

This phenomenon has taken root right here in River City. By my count, we have several BBQ start ups fresh off local competition trails. We will discuss a few in a moment, but first a little more background.

BBQ can mean a lot of things, depending on what part of the country you happen to be standing in. In Kansas City, it means ribs slathered in sauce. In Memphis, it means ribs with a dry rub coating and sauce on the side. In Chicago, it might mean a local sausage called a red hot.  In the Carolinas it probably means pork, either shoulders or whole hog, pulled or chopped and served with light, acidy (mustard or vinegar based) sauces. In Texas, it means big cuts of beef like brisket or short ribs and spicy sausages. In all places, the common thread is bigger cuts that are cooked low and slow over wood fires and smoke from hickory, mesquite, pecan, or fruit woods. It's very simple cooking, but anyone who does much cooking should know that some of the simplest methods can be the hardest to master. True BBQ is much less of a formula executed on good equipment (although those help). No, it's more of an art form that you can spend your life practicing to achieve that ideal combination of meat, time, and smoke. Hey, beer is just malted barley, water, hops and yeast, right?

We've got several places here in Sioux Falls that are cranking out pretty good Q. Let's run through the list that I know of . . .
  • Famous Dave's. Yeah, it's a chain joint and I don't normally like to delve into the chains, especially when there are great local options, but to give credit where credit is due, these guys do pretty respectable BBQ for this part of Fly Over Country. Good quality, nice sides, fun atmosphere and consistent product. Don't count these guys out.
  • Big Rig BBQ. The newcomer to the game.  Big Rig is situated in a trailer in the parking lot of Home Depot. The owner, Bob Brenner, is clearly a student and a devotee of the Texas methods of BBQ. Simple stuff here served in to-go containers and portioned by weight, or sandwich specials. Do yourself a favor, just get at least a half pound of brisket, something to drink, a couple slices of bread, and stand there at one of those wire spools and eat it. I'm just going to say it: this is probably the best local Q you are going to get here. Skip the sauce. Skip the sausage. Skip the sides. Get brisket. Ask Bob for a few burnt ends. Did I mention the brisket?
  • Backyard BBQ. We've tried these guys before. It's pretty good. I still like the ribs best of all and the wings are pretty good. I like the sides. Nice place. Unfortunately, not a whole lot more to say.
  • Rib Shack BBQ. Rib Shack operates a catering and retail BBQ business. This is almost the best kept BBQ secret in town. You have to check Facebook to see when and where they are open. Generally, they sell ribs, brisket, pulled pork and sides from their truck parked at King's Liquors on the corner of North Cliff and Benson Rd. Sometimes they are open other spots around town. The ribs and brisket are excellent. Well worth the noon-time trek.
  • Rowdy Hog Smokin' BBQ. I first tried Rowdy Hog at Jazzfest several years ago. I had a brisket sandwich that failed to impress me. Instead of slices, the brisket was cooked down to goo and seemed more like an overly moist Iowa loose meat sandwich than anything. I chalked the whole thing up to less than ideal circumstances.  Rowdy Hog has since opened a retail location over near 12th and Marion. I've stopped in for a rack of "award winning" ribs, some sides, and a sampling of the six or so sauces on hand. Yeah, still not impressed. Enjoyable, but lacking in big flavor.
Get out and try these places and see what you like best. We are lucky to have these sorts of choices, so get out and support them with your dollars.

And, when traveling across the country, especially when you are in some of the great BBQ regions, be sure to seek out local greats there.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Eat This Right Now! Menudo at Gilberto's

This is Menudo at Gilberto's. Not the Latin boy band. The soup. Rich, spicy, and chock full of pork knuckle, tripe, marrow, and some hominy. Add some squeezes of lime, some onion and cilantro, and, if you dare, a little extra red chili. Tear up some fresh tortillas. Knock yourself out. It cures almost everything that's wrong with you. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's got tripe in it and other jiggly meats. Get over it and eat it. It's cooked perfectly.  Tender and tasty. Hands down, this is one of the best things I have ever eaten at any restaurant in Sioux Falls. It's that forking good. And for $7.50 for a quart of it on the weekends, it's a tremendous bargain. Eat it until you are about to burst and then put the rest in a to-go container. 

Once again, Gilberto's knocks it clear out of the park. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Prairie Berry East Bank: The Good,The Bad, and The Ugly

For those of you who are not familiar, Prairie Berry is a South Dakota winery. Kind of an oxymoron, I know since this isn't exactly grape country. The original location is in the Black Hills near Hill City. Like most other SD based wineries, Prairie Berry produces a lot of fruit wines, made from things like rhubarb. This seems to hearken back to the dandelion wine all of us were told about as kids by our parents and grandparents. Although, Prairie Berry also produces some regular varietals like Zinfandel under its Ana Pesa label, named in honor of the winemakers grandmother.

Earlier this year, Prairie Berry opened a branch office on the East Bank in Sioux Falls. It's located in the building where you also find Queen City Bakery on 8th Street. I have visited a few times. Like most places, service was a bit clunky when it first opened. It's clicking better now, at least to a point where I feel justified making some comments and sharing some thoughts.

The Good

What's good about the place? The space where Prairie Berry East Bank is located is beautiful. The building is an old Sioux Quartzite building and the interiors are the stone walls. It's really well done and really gorgeous. There is retail space inside, a small bar area that seats maybe 8-10, a tall communal high-top table and perhaps 8 tables for seating. There is also some outdoor seating.

The food is also worthy of mention. The menu items are good and feature soups, salads, and pizzas. Recently, Prairie Berry opened an Epicurean Bar featuring selections of cured meats and cheeses, some of which is relatively locally sourced. I have noticed some cheeses from Iowa. You can select what you want and it is cut to order. It's really outstanding, but there are significant drawbacks. We will get to that.

The beverage selection is also pretty good. Prairie Berry brews craft beer under the Miner name and there are some very unique beers. Try the Blue IPA made with blueberries or any limited-edition brew. As for wines, unless the fruit wines are your thing (and they are certainly not mine) stick to the Ana Pesa.

The Bad

Although generally well-staffed, there is no table service. If you want food or beverages, you need to go order them. It's not necessarily abundantly clear how it all works, so consider yourself forewarned.

It's also not abundantly clear when the place is open and for what. I know of small groups who have walked in at say 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening t enjoy some wine and food, only to be turned away because it was closing time. Conversely, you may be able to get drinks at some hours, but not food.

Remember that Epicurean bar I mentioned? Also seemingly totally random. Apparently, only a few key employees have license to operate the state-of-the-art slicer and scale to portion out selections. You can walk in there at the middle of the day on a Saturday after doing some browsing or farmers marketing downtown, only to find out the charcuterie cutter upper doesn't come in until 3 pm.

The Ugly

First and foremost, it's the pricing. As I mentioned above, the space itself is very nice. There is merchandise for sale, but it's not bursting in your face. Let's put it this way: it's not hard to walk around inside. I should know better that this is generally a warning, because businesses have to pay for that prime real estate and swanky decor somehow. Make no mistake about it, the joint is spendy. A couple beers or glasses of wine for you and a friend, along with a charcuterie tray could very well set you back 50 to 75 bucks depending on how carried away you might get.

The other ugly is largely a repeat- it's the randomness of the whole thing. Never knowing for sure if you can get food or beverages at the time of day you want to visit. If the place is open, is the Epicurean bar available? Are all the items on the menu available? I heard one server have to explain to a customer who walked up to the bar to order that the items he wanted from the menu were unavailable and that the menu was extremely outdated. WTF? Throw it away and print one that actually has items that are available! How hard is that?

I'm also really torn on service. The people are really quite nice and are knowledgeable about product. But I miss an overall sense of urgency. Exhibit one on that is the fact that the last time I ordered charcuterie, it took a whopping 45 minutes from placement of order to delivery. Honest to God, a high school kid at any Hy Vee deli could have cut up everything in the case in the same amount of time.

Overall, I am not headed back anytime soon and I would have a hard time recommending the place to friends, at least without severe reservations and a bevy of disclaimers. I don't mind paying a little more for special or good product, but that has to include the entire package-- good stuff, beautiful decor, and smart, snappy service. And these guys just don't seem to have it figured out yet.