Thursday, September 23, 2010

Three Fork Alert: Go to McNally's Right Now and Get a Lamb Burger!

This is the first official Three Fork Alert. And, probably the first thing that justified one. Anyway.

McNally's has a new Fall menu out. Love feature menus. Two things you must have.

First, an appetizer. It is a deconstructed Reuben sandwich. Well, actually, it's dip. It's corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese. It's all heated in a kiln, from what I can tell, because when it hits your table, the cheese is at like 950 degrees Fahrenheit. Very hot. Very, the roof of my mouth will slough off hot. It is served with little rye bread slices and pita wedges. It's good. And it goes good with beer. Just wait for the cheese to stop glowing like lava until you eat it.

Now for the big one. Huge one. LAMB BURGER. A one-half pound patty of lamb with a slice of cheese, a slice of prosciutto, and some lovely onions braised in balsamic vinegar. Top it with a slice of fresh tomato and that great bread and you got a major winner. MAJOR WINNER.

I cannot figure out what the deal with lamb is around here. The Fork has been West River. You know, that part of the map that starts with Pierre and ends with Wyoming? Hint: Deadwood and Rapid City are "West River."

Anyway, they raise lamb West River. Lots of it. There are towns that are almost founded on lamb out there. Newell comes to mind. (Aside. Newell High School teams are called the Irrigators. That's kinda cool. Better yet, the team from Vale. Yeah, Vale, used to be known as the Beet Diggers. They raised sugar beets out in that country. Serious). Anyway, the St. Onge Livestock Market Sheep auction is in Newell. There is a town near Newell called Nisland. There is a bar in Nisland and there is a saying that goes "Crazier than the Nisland Bar on sale day." Sale day is when the sheep were sold in Newell. Anyway. End of Western SD stories. Trust me, though, if you have ever been to Nisland, or known someone form Nisland, this would make a hell of a lot more sense.

Bottom line is, we raise a bunch of sheep right here in SD, but I will be damned if I can figure out where it goes. I mean, when I buy good lamb to cook, I inevitably end up at Sam's Club buying New Zealand lamb racks. Great price and trimmed well, by the way, but a shame to buy foreign lamb from the bastards who are destroying the whole country. But that is a different story. I do not know why we cannot buy good local lamb locally.

For those of you who think you don't like lamb, go get one of those burgers at McNally's. Seriously. The bomb. You will probably be at the Turner County Fair next year getting real lamb chislic.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Politics of Food: The Event Center

It is fall and fall in an even-numbered year means political season in South Dakota. Politics and food often intersect. If you have ever been in Pierre during a legislative session, you would most definitely get a feel for that.

It is not on the ballot this year, and may not be for some time, but as anyone around here knows, the construction of an event center is a major political football here. Just when it looks dead, it returns with a vengeance. The mayor seems intent on building a facility, according to some notion hatched during the last campaign. But the history of getting this project to sell with the electorate is not favorable. Where the whole concept stands now is any one's guess. The city leaders continue to discuss some form of a project, but are reluctant to share that concept with the public. So much for transparency.

I have no doubt that at some point, a new event center will be built in Sioux Falls. This city has an uncanny ability to get these things done somehow despite the loud voices of the naysayers. Let;s just hope it gets done right, And right, by my estimation, means that it gets built downtown.

A downtown event center is a win win win proposition. Assuming you agree with the proposition that this town needs an event center for better concerts, sporting events, and conventions, downtown is the place.

Face it, the only reason to have a new event center out by the arena, or worse yet, somewhere out by an exchange of the only two interstate highways in the state is to have acres of dead flat parking surrounding the thing.

The reason to have an event center downtown is to leverage everything else. I imagine if you could drive downtown for say, an Elton John concert, or a hockey game, and grab a little diner in any of the number of fine places within walking distance. You could enjoy the concert and then take a nice stroll up Phillips Avenue and around downtown to look at sculpture, or perhaps catch some jazz at Touch of Europe, late dessert, or a libation. Try and do that at West Ave and Russell or out in the middle of nowhere.

As an added bonus, just think about what that boost in development downtown could do for getting the West bank and Phillips to the Falls jump started? How about the surrounding neighborhoods for that matter. So many times I hear places like Detroit criticized because the city planners and developers kept moving outward from the city center leaving the older areas to whither on the vine or rot outright. Building the event center between 6th and 8th, near Cherapa Place would jump start revitalization of the Whittier neighborhood like nothing else.

I truly hope we can get this thing built and get it built in the right place. Downtown.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do as I say and no one gets hurt.

Those are words to live by. Seriously. If everybody would simply do what I tell them to do, how I tell them to do it, and when I tell them to do it, everything would work out a whole lot better around here. This simple rule is the law in my kitchen, but it could transform life as we know it. I can think of several examples right off the tips of my tines. For instance . . . Well, I digress.

"So, what the fork does this have to do with the food and fun scene?" you ask. Simple. I sense some level of ennui with the local scene these days. As blessed as we are here to have a pretty good, and ever developing food scene, things could always be better. And, considering that things are always better when people do what I tell them to do, here are a few instructions. So, pay atttention.

  1. Decent seafood. If there is a really great place to get seafood here, I haven't found it. Sure, sure, almost all the nicer places in town have some sort of fish selection on the menu. And by that I generally mean one selection. I am talking about a restaurant that wants to specialize in seafood. Good seafood. Not Joey's. Not Red Lobster. I said good. We used to have two restaurants that tried very hard to offer great seafood: The Galley and The Maine Lobster. In this day and age, we should have at least one seafood centered fine dining option in this town.
  2. French. A few places flirt with French-like cooking, but no one seems to be willing to take the plunge and go all out. I don't think it would have to be a starched white linens type of place, but I would love to have a place in Sioux Falls that wants to embrace the true art of French cooking.
  3. Indian place. The great food tragedy of the last year is the closing of Taste of India. WTF? Who let this happen? Indian cuisine is sublime and Saif did a masterful job preparing it at Taste of India. Tragic. When you need vindaloo, nothing else will do.
  4. More wine. I am getting tired of drinking the same crap everywhere I go in town. We have some very good retailers, but I want to sit down somewhere and try about 20 wines by the glass some afternoon. With such a resurgence in wine, why can't we have a really good wine bar.
  5. Pass the damned smoking ban. I am soooooo ready for this. My political intuition tells me the voters of SD are going to snuff out smoking in bars. Somebody must be polling and those numbers must be looking good, otherwise it would be absolute jihad between the campaigns by now. I cannot wait to go to some of my favorite watering holes and not have to worry about coming home smelling like I have been at a chain-smoking convention. Breathing is kind of nice, too.
  6. Steak. When I say I can cook a steak at home better than anyplace around here, I am NOT exaggerating. Ironically, if I lived in Pierre, I might not be able to make that claim. I swear the Cattleman's Club soaks their steaks in MSG, because I just cannot seem to get a steak anywhere else in SD that has that kind of great flavor. We got bupkus for really good steak options here in Sioux Falls. If your idea of a great steak is a meal at Texas Roadhouse or Outback, you don't get it. And just for the record, Foley's sucks. We produce some of the best beef in the world here, we just refuse to serve it properly, apparently.
  7. Tapas. How good would that be?
  8. Thai. Ditto.
  9. Deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We got thin crust brick oven pizza like Carter has pills. There was a time when we had a small place cranking out respectable Chicago-style pies. Why can't we have one now.

So, if someone would get on this list, pronto, things would be a lot better. Trust me.

For the love of God, don't take them to Applebees.

Not long ago, I was listening in as a relative was mentioning places to take some guests from another country. When the host mentioned a likely stop at Applebee’s after picking up the guests at the airport, I exclaimed, “Please, for the love of God, don’t take them to Applebee’s!” This started an argument that lasted for about a half hour, but that is another story.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t harbor any grudge against Applebee’s. I’ve had some decent, reasonably priced meals at Applebee’s through the years, and it’s a reliable option when you find yourself in someplace like, well, Watertown. But when foreign nationals are visiting, it just doesn’t seem right to take them to a place they can find in almost any American city or airport. So, where would you take foreign visitors?

Here are a few of my own ideas:

Fine Dining. Although Sioux Falls restaurants really cannot compete with those in places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, you can get some damned fine fine dining fare here. Because it features great local ingredients handled with great care and turned into really stellar meals, Parker’s gets a nod. Also going on the list is the Blue Sage Grill at Cherapa Place. Unfortunately, the best place to get a really decent piece of South Dakota beef cooked perfectly is my house, and I am not hosting everyone’s friends and relatives. Blue Sage does a pretty masterful job with some ingredients that are more South Dakota-y. If you want to feed the guests some buffalo, that might be a good place to try.

Casual. Now here is a broad category. Anyway. Let’s say you have a relative from Southern California that insists there are no decent Mexican restaurants outside California. Here’s a week’s worth of eating projects. In a town where Mexican used to mean Chi Chi’s, there are now many options for Mexican ranging from the familiar Tex-Mex to seriously authentic food. Inca, Nikki’s, Puerto Vallarta, Azteca, or numerous others should give you more than enough to choose from and keep you out of the chain joints. Although, having just said that, a late-night run through a Taco Johns drive through may be in order for a little embarrassingly American indulgence.

There are lots of other unique casual options. Buffalo Wild Wings for copious amounts of tap beer and wide varieties of wing sauce. Bracco for the whole deck experience.

Pizza. Here’s another category replete with options that show off lots of local talent. For me, Red Rossa is a must do. For a gourmet pizza experience, I think Red Rossa is hard to beat. Grille 26 also offers some great pizza options. It’s not quite the same as Red Rossa, but I like the softer crust. Great happy hour deals at Grille 26. Spezia also offers the same type of pizza, but I’ve never liked the pizza there as well as Red Rossa or Grille 26. For non-brick oven pizza, I prefer Tomacelli’s to the other local options.

Burgers. If there is an official food of Sioux Falls, it must be burgers. Seems like every place serves them, and a BOGO or some other sort of burger feature is pretty much standard in all Sioux Falls eateries. Tre offers 20, count ‘em 20, different burgers on Monday evenings. McNally’s makes a pretty credible burger with good beefy taste and a nice bun. Remember though, the kids aren’t welcome at McNally’s. If you are looking for a “family bar” option (another seemingly SD offering) try the Attic for a burger. Bracco used to make a pretty good burger, but I frankly haven’t been in the place recently enough to say how they are doing with burgers these days. They used to be great. Hemmer Brothers makes a phenomenal bar-style burger without the bar. If you want the whole-hog bar experience with your burger, Little Coalinga is the only clear choice. For a burger time machine, try Hamburger Inn.

Treats. You simply have to get some soft serve ice cream squirted, whipped or whirled into various creations. You could go to Dairy Queen, but I am taking my guests to B&G Milkyway. I love that small town service and flavor, accompanied by the slightest twinge of the sanitizer water used to clean the mixer between Avalanches. Another great thing to try at B&G is the super nachos. This is pretty much the low brow deconstructed pile of goo. All the makings of the usual nachos are there- non-chunky chili, bright orange cheese-flavored ooze, pickled jalapeno slices, chopped onions, a blast of sour cream dispensed from something that looks like a caulk gun, and a neatly arranged row of chips in a styrofoam container. You’d have to blend this stuff with more chemicals and put it all in a tin can to make it any more processed, but in a way, it is kind of an ultimate junk food nod to haute cuisine. All the ingredients are separated, hence the deconstructed thing.