Friday, September 30, 2016

A Recent Visit to Foley's

Over the years, I have been sort of up and down on Foley's. Without a doubt, it is one of the more lavish dining spots in Sioux Falls with little expense spared on furnishings and fixtures. The menu has always trended toward up-scale steak and chop house, less Tea and more Chicago or New York, with large cuts of beef or pork, fresh fish, and rich sides. The prices have generally matched. I'm not talking overly expensive by any means, but cheap it ain't.

Like most places do here in Sioux Falls, it opened with a big bang. It was a new, fancy place to go for special dinners or to splurge on a whim.

But, I generally started to lose interest. For the price, I could (and still can) make better steaks at home. The sides became sort of same-old, at least to me. And, I always thought the wine list prices were a bit more pumped up than necessary. So, I generally started ignoring the place, finding interest in new people doing new things in food (at least by Sioux Falls standards) like Bros. and Parker's.

Well, I very recently had an opportunity to visit Foley's again- wasn't my idea, but, hey, I wasn't buying and I wanted to see if the Vanguard ownership group was giving Foley's the same sort of general shot in the arm that I noticed on a previous trip to another one of their acquisitions, Grille 26.

So, how was it? In a word: Pretty Forking Good! I am very pleased to see a number of changes that will have me back as soon as I can get there. Here's the rundown:

  • Menu: Definitely punched up since the last time I was there. Of course there is the usual listing of nice cuts of corn-fed beef, thick chops, fresh fish (including the staple Chilean Sea Bass), salads and sides. But there is also a very impressive listing of features that include other cuts, and preparations that go beyond flame-grilled to order. like Poblano Orange Marmalade Glazed Pork, and Pork Osso Bucco (which I will address in a moment).
  • Wine list: No complaints. It's been re-worked and you can definitely spend some coin on some good juice, but there are also a lot of fine selections that will allow you to consider a second bottle without denting your bank account too badly. There is also a fine selection of beers, spirits, and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Service: The service we experienced was outstanding. I love having appropriately attentive servers who will share their honest opinions on food and wine selections when asked. Knowledge of the menu and the willingness to steer a customer to a different choice that isn't just an up-sell is awesome. Our server hit all the high marks.
  • Environment: The decor has not changed from what I can tell. It's always been a fancy looking place with good lighting and excellent overall noise levels. 
If you haven't visited Foley's for a while, give it a shot. It's well worth the time and the money. And, if you can, try the Pork Osso Bucco. What the fork is that, you ask? Well, usually, it is a big thick, cross cut of beef shank that is braised into submission in a tomatoey sauce. The term translates into "bone with a hole." The Pork Osso Bucco at Foley's is a pork shank- the lower part of piggy's leg- from where the ham ends and the foot begins. It's a tough cut full of connective tissue. If you braise or slow roast a cut like that, all that tendon and tough stringy stuff (collagen) in there melts into gelatin. When that happens, a person has one tender, tasty, lip-smacking cut of meat. Foley's slow roasts the shank and glazes it with apple cider. It's served up with some extra glaze that has been reduced to a point where it is slightly molasses-y. It looks like something a servant would lay out before Henry VIII. It's awesome. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Seek, and Ye Shall Find. Seeking Out Authentic Ethnic Cuisine in Sioux Falls

If you love to eat as much as I do, then exploring the foods and cuisines of different cultures is a big part of the quest for new tastes, knowledge, and a greater understanding of those who inhabit this big rock spinning around the sun. Besides getting a great meal, you can learn a lot about other people when you sit down with them to share food over a special occasion.

Sure, there are some very good, authentic restaurants around serving all sorts of ethnic specialties, but there are other great treasures out there, too. Namely- local churches. As our community grows and continues to become home for people from places much different than Northwest Iowa or West River, the area churches grow and adapt, as well. Next time you are driving around town, take note. You may notice a Buddhist meditation center, Ethiopian Orthodox churches, Hispanic churches, or services offered in African languages and tradition.

Every so often, these faith communities will throw a festival to have a meal together and open their doors to the community for some fun and fundraising. These, aren't invite-only affairs. They are pretty much open to the public and new faces are always warmly welcomed. These events might be a bit of a challenge to ferret out, but the effort will be handsomely rewarded. Read your own church bulletins, pay attention to flyers on bulletin boards or posted in local restaurants, look for ads in publications like The Shopping News, and keep an ear open for word of mouth. Then, go get some cash, and just go.

One such event was this past Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish here in Sioux Falls. This is the small brick Catholic church located on the corner of 8th and Cliff. It was once St. Therese Parish, which has since moved east to a larger location and the Diocese shifted the focus of the parish to the growing Latin American community.

Phenomenal music and phenomenal food. The festival ran from the morning until early afternoon and the kitchen was staffed by a very hard-working group of men and women who would look like your grandma, aunts, uncles and a few cousins, if you were from Gudalajara or El Salvador. They were manning huge steaming pots, portable roasters full of cooked meats, and making handmade tortillas on a flat top grill.

The offerings included breakfast, plates of birria (goat or mutton), pozole, mole, tamales, elotes (Mexican street corn), desserts, and drinks like aquas frescas and horchata. We decided on mole and pozole.

Mole is a sauce made up of an insanely long list of ingredients including things like nuts, cinnamon, herbs, chocolate, chiles, and then cooked until it all melds into a deep, dark, mysterious sauce. It came served over a portion of chicken that had been cooked into utter submission. The sauce did not disappoint. Every bite tasted a little different. It would take a mighty sophisticated palate to tease out all of the flavor components. The mole was served with rice and beans that had undoubtedly started out as a 50 pound bag of dried pinto beans on Thursday or Friday. They didn't look like the sort you plop out of a can of taco night. But they also tasted a whole lot better. A couple of those warm hand made tortillas came with this to mop up any bits you couldn't get with a fork.

Pozole is a big bowl of mildly spicy broth that contains pork and hominy- those big blown-up corn kernels. Add some shredded cabbage (unfortunately there wasn't any), radishes, and a couple of squirts of lime, and you've got yourself a feast. The pork was super tender and tasty, since it was a shoulder or another cheap cut. And the squares you see in the photo below? Yeah, that's pork skin. Silky texture and supercharged pork flavor. (Eeeeew! Skin! Yeah, yeah. Just eat it. It's good and has the added benefit of like a year's worth of collagen- your nails and hair will thank you.) I ate the whole bowl and went straight home to take a nap.

Only tactical error was not getting some of the corn. Next time!

It's out there people! Happy hunting and good eating!

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.