Saturday, November 28, 2020

For the Love of Pastrami

My earliest memories of a pastrami sandwich were when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My dad took me to a Marie Calendars restaurant in Southern California.

What I remember most of that lunch was how much pastrami they packed on the sandwich. Oh, and the lemon meringue pie I had for dessert.

I never really thought about what goes into creating the amazing thin beef slices that make up the sandwich. All I knew was that I liked it, and if that is what I was craving, nothing else would do.

The Pastrami at the Carnegie Deli

Although the exact origins of this exact style of preserved meat is a bit vague, it seems that the beginnings of pastrami were the work of the Ottoman Turks, according to “The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home.”

Their methods were passed to the Romanians. But most of the ancient world developed a similar method of using salts to preserve meat.

I was with the migration of Romanian Jews that pastrami came to the shores of the New World. They switched from using goose to using cheep American beef in their recipes.

But legend has it that Mr. Sussman Volk made the sandwich famous. He was asked by a Romanian friend to store luggage in his basement while he returned to Romania for an extended visit. In return, the friend shared his family pastrami recipe with Volk. In 1887 Volk began producing pastrami in his New York butcher shop.

It became so popular; he began serving it sliced in sandwiches. He added seating to the shop and turned it into a restaurant.

Today good pastrami can be found in almost any city in the US. 

New York is full of great deli’s; the Carnegie Deli was a landmark for almost 80 years before shuttering its doors in 2016. With their 4-inch-high plie of steaming hot pastrami, they were the king of the sandwich.

In LA, Canter’s Fairfax serves up a meal that is pretty close to the better deli’s in New York.

But for me locally, The Hat Pastrami is the go-to. It’s fast food service, but they do a great job.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Eating Zion - The Switchback Grill part 2

On the last night of our vacation to Zion National Park, we decided to splurge a little bit and return to the Switchback Grill for dinner.

This time, we had a reservation and were seated almost immediately.

I ordered the Manhattan Sirloin Strip steak (medium rare), Au Gratin Potatoes, and mixed Vegetables. 

The Manhattan Sirloin Strip Steak.

The meal arrived in an acceptable amount of time.

The steak was perfectly cooked, a nice cool red center and a light char on the outside. I normally don’t request any sauces with my steak, I might add a bit of salt and pepper.

The steak was excellent, the potatoes and vegetables were good. 

Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee

Dinner was great and we saved just enough room for a little dessert. We split the Crème Brulee. It was perfect. Nice crisp sugar crust on the outside, covered with some berries on top.

Just the right way to finish off a nice vacation.


Monday, November 23, 2020

Eating Zion - Stagecoach Grill part Two

Our next trip to the Stagecoach Grill was to the second location in La Verkin, Utah, just a little West of the Springdale location.

We went for breakfast and I opted for the Stagecoach Skillet – “Potatoes with your choice of bacon or sausage and two eggs smothered with your choice of Chile Verde or sausage gravy. Served with toast or a biscuit.”

Stagecoach Skillet with Scrambled Eggs and Chile Verde

Now I know that almost everyone can agree that bacon is the holy grail of all meats. However, if you look back at earlier posts to this blog, you’ll notice that, at least for me, Chile Verde shares an almost equal level of adoration with bacon (however not to the level of the Pacific Islander love of Spam, but close).

I first became aware of Chile Verde when I tried the “Lester’s Burger Bonanza” at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport during a really long layover.

The “Lester’s Burger Bonanza “was described as: “green Chile pork (osso buco style), atop wagyu beef, Oaxaca, bacon and avocado, served on a challah roll with roasted jalapeno aioli and housemade chips.”

Lester's Burger Bonanza

(the original post -

The wagyu beef and the rest of the offerings were great, but the Chile Verde made the burger. As I said at the time, it was love at first bite.

The Chile Verde at the Stagecoach Grill is among the best I have ever tasted. The combination of tender pork chunks with a blend of roasted poblano, jalapeno chiles, cilantro, spices and tomatillos were just amazing. Add to that the subtle crunch of hash-browned potatoes and tender scrambled eggs and you have a near perfect breakfast.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Eating Zion - The Pastrami Burger

Before we left for our Zion trip, I did some research on what foods are particular to Utah. 

Although Funeral Potatoes sounds interesting, I didn’t see it on the menu anywhere. What I did see was a Pastrami Burger. 

I am a big fan of the pastrami sandwich. 

Properly done, served on rye bread or a sturdy roll with a bit of mustard. And maybe a pickle on the side. 

Real pastrami is made from a roast. Covered with a mix of spices, smoked, and then steamed until perfectly done it has a very specific taste and texture.

The burger looked good when served

 What I got was not “real” pastrami. 

The closest thing I can think of is the Carl Budding prepackaged meats. However, that was not the worst part of the burger. 

If your going to serve a large burger, you need to serve it on a bun that will stand up to what you stuff between the slices. It only took a couple of bites before the bun began to disintegrate. 

This is not how this is supposed to work!

Needless to say, it made quite the mess! 

 Maybe I’ll try it again at a different restaurant.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Eating Zion – The Bit and Spur


Due to the pandemic, The Bit and Spur was not seating guests in the dining room. You had two options when making a reservation. You could sit at a table on the porch, or you could opt for the outdoor seating on their large lawn.

We picked the lawn option.

It was really nice. Many guests brought their dogs with them. All of the dogs were pretty calm, except one that got a little excited when several members of the local deer population made a guest appearance.

I tried another local brew, the Hell's Keep Golden Ale from Squatters Brewery. It's very good.

I had the carne asada plate. It was well cooked, and I thought it was very good. I also ordered a cup of chili verde, which was good, but I may have over ordered a bit. The staff was very friendly.

The Carne Asada plate came with black beans and cilantro rice, some grilled peppers. The beans were good, nothing special, but good. The steak was still medium rare, not easy with such a thin cut. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Eating Zion – The Stage Coach Grill

 After a day of driving and hiking in Zion we went to the Stage Coach Grill in Springdale for a early dinner.

We had a reservation; we learned the day before that not having one could lead to exceptionally long waits or even not getting a table at all.

We were seated pretty quickly, a nice table by the window with a great view.

I ordered a beer and a bacon cheese burger.

The Bacon Cheese Burger

The menu described it as a “Flame Broiled Hamburger patty served with two slices of thick cut hardwood smoked bacon and your choice of cheese.”

Squatter's Craft Beer, a local Utah Brewery. They make a very good beer.

After an active day hiking in Zion, the burger and the beer really hit the spot.

I would go back again. In fact we did.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Eating Zion - The Switchback Grill

We have planned several trips for this year, all of our plans have ended up on the Covid scrap heap. 

I finally decided that we needed a road trip. So I planned a trip to Zion National Park, a mere 500 mile drive from the house. 

Our first night we went to the Switchback Grill. We didn’t have a reservation, which turned out to be a bit of an issue. 

We were fortunate and the maître d' managed to get us a table. The couple that arrived just after us wasn’t so lucky. 

I ordered the bacon  wrapped Meatloaf  Napoleon made with veal, buffalo and pork grilled and roasted tomatoes served with house mashed potatoes and thyme pan gravy.

Meatloaf Napoleon

I have to say it was good enough that we planned to make a reservation and return before we left for home. 

Switchback Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Dining Out (side)

So, I’m sitting here listening to the smooth stylings of the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Face the Music” album.

The music reminds me of my high school days. I was a big ELO fan. I bought every album I could find, finally ending up with a pretty complete collection. I could never find their second album, but I did score a couple of import albums and a really nice box set. I still have the vinyl disks.

The late 70’s and early 80’s was a good time to be young and independent. Ronald Reagan took the White House; the Soviet Union was falling apart, and I lived in Hawaii.

I was a Soldier stationed at a Navy base on the island of Oahu, and yes, I was a US Army Soldier on a US Navy base. It made for an interesting dynamic, but that is a story for another time.

Back when I was a young Soldier in Hawaii

The best part of being at Barbers Point Naval Air Station, was the day they sent a young sergeant to fix a rotor blade on my CH-47 Helicopter.  

I asked her to go to lunch and some 37 years later, we are still together.

I was a long-distance runner, a certified scuba diver, incredibly bad surfer, and all round out-door kind of guy.

Together, we enjoyed bowling, shooting sports, hiking and especially dining out.

We would wander into Waikiki as often as we could, we had some favorite hangouts, but we were always willing to give a new place a try.

Times have changed, especially in 2020.

Dining out is something of a challenge here in sunny Southern California. We still can’t dine in at most restaurants, but we can dine in tents in the parking lots of local eateries. The issue is we live in the mighty Mojave Desert, where it’s hotter than hell in the daytime.

We did manage to go to the local Outback Steak House the other day for an early dinner. It was a fairly moderate day, little wind and decent temperatures.

The food was good, the service was ok, but I can’t wait to be able to dine inside again.

The Steak and Lobster Tail at Outback

This week we head out to Zion National Park in Utah. I understand that once we leave the boundaries of the Peoples Republic of Kalifornia we may have a bit more freedom.

I can’t wait to see what happens. Oh yeah, “One Summer Dream” is playing right now. A good sign.



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Finally Eating Out Again (For An Instant)

I miss dining out.

I miss leaving the house, driving across town, and sitting down for a good meal. No matter how good a cook you are, I just feel like a professionally prepared meal is better.

The Governor of California’s rule against indoor dining is starting to really get under my skin.

It’s bad enough that I have been forced to cancel our trip to Vancouver, our Panama Canal cruise and now our Hawaiian vacation, but we can’t even go out to eat.

We’ve tried bringing food home, but by the time it gets transported the ½ hour from our favorite restaurant, it’s cold and usually a bit soggy.

The last time I sat down and ate in a restaurant was Feb 29th. But that was fast food.

My last trip to a real sit-down restaurant was the Japanese place near my house on Feb 15th.

There was a brief bright spot when for a couple of weeks, we could eat indoors, but that joy was fleeting, as Governor Dipstick reimposed the dining ban.

Me being happy to dine-in last June, before dining was banned again.

During that brief pause of the insanity, we managed to snag a table at the Yardhouse Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga.

The Yardhouse is known for their amazing selection of beers, which you can get in a yard-glass.

Even with the paired down menu they offered, I was just happy to eat out again.

A simple bacon cheeseburger with truffle fries. 

The town I live in has started to certify restaurants for in house dining, I can’t wait for a few more of the places near home qualify

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Coming to America

So, I’ve been sitting here thinking about the origins of our humble hot dog. Maybe it’s because I’m on day 26 of this government edict for forced solitude, but to me it seems important to see what I can find.
Knott's Berry Farm in SoCal takes the hot dog to it's "berry best." Hot Dog with Boysenberry jam and Boysenberry bread bun. 

There are many stories about the beginnings of the American version of the frankfurter, most of which seem to be a bit farfetched.

The precursor to the invention of the hot dog is the simple sausage link. When it came into being is anyone’s guess, but let’s just say it was a very long time ago.

None other than Homer writes about cooking sausage in the ancient classic “The Odyssey.” In the story he writes about the first documented wiener roast.

“As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted. . .”

Close your eyes and you can almost hear the sizzle as the drippings off the roasting meat hit the red-hot coals of the fire.

Attracted by the amazing smells, the Romans picked up on the practice of roasting processed meats in a casing over an open fire, most likely because it was, in fact, delicious.

As the Romans conquered most of the known world, they introduced the civilized world to the concept of the sausage, (of course there is nothing to say other cultures in other parts of the world didn’t independently develop a similar method of curing and cooking meats).

The sausage finally achieved greatness when the meat forming process was turned over to the same people who gave us Octoberfest, the Germans. Great beer, warm, salty pretzels, and nice hot bratwurst.

But how did we get from the bratwurst to the “American” hot dog?

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council:

“Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, is traditionally credited with originating the frankfurter. However, this claim is disputed by those who assert that the popular sausage - known as a "dachshund" or "little-dog" sausage - was created in the late 1600's by Johann Georghehner, a butcher, living in Coburg, Germany. According to this report, Georghehner later traveled to Frankfurt to promote his new product.”

Finally, the humble hot dog landed on the freedom loving shores of America. Brought over by German immigrants, the hot dog found a home among the working-class citizens of New York. Easy to eat with one hand, cheep and tasty, it made the perfect street food.

I finish this blog entry with a German saying: “Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an ending, but the sausage has two).

Which apparently was made into a song in 1987, go figure.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Hot Dogs, Baseball and Me

I’m not sure when I had my first hot dog. I’m sure I was pretty young, most likely at some family gathering, fresh off a smoky charcoal grill.

However, the first memory I have of hot dogs are deeply connected to another truly American icon.

I remember going to my first big-league baseball game with my Cub Scout troop. I will never forget walking into the outfield bleacher section at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The noise, the crowds and especially the smells.

Dodgers Spring Training Vero Beach Fla, 2008

The scent of buttery popcorn goodness, the sweet sugar perfume of cotton candy mixed with the savory, smokey bouquet of perfectly grilled Dodger Dogs almost overloaded the senses of my pre-teen self.

I do remember a little about the game. My favorite Dodger, Steve “Mr. Clean” Garvey was only in his 2nd year with the big club. I remember the promotional give away was three 8x10 “signed” photos of Dodger players (and the adult that bitched that Don Drysdale didn’t even play anymore so the pics were junk).

But mostly I remember eating my way into a near food coma. We had sodas, peanuts, popcorn, candy and most importantly Dodger Dogs for dinner.

Like any typical kid, I had mine with some tomato ketchup and a bit of sweet pickle relish. It was a 9-year-olds culinary heaven. To me, that dog lived up to legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully’s promise of the Farmer John’s sausage being “Eastern most in quality, Western most in Flavor.”

The view from the good seats, Dodger Stadium Club, May 2003

But the hot dog universe didn’t begin with a “Big Bang” in the confines of Chavez Ravine.

It didn’t start on the Boardwalks of Coney Island. In fact, no one really knows the factual origins of our favorite frank, but one thing that is certain, the modern dog can trace its pedigree back to ancient times.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Humble Hot Dog

It’s day 18 of the Stay-at-Home order.

Oddly, I don’t find that I’m missing driving the 150 miles a day to and from my “normal” job. And I don’t think I’ve spent this much time with my wife since we were both in the US Army and worked in the same unit. That would be about 35 years ago.

This week has been a little rough, it’s been raining for the last five days. Now if you live in Seattle, WA. that would be a normal week, however if you reside in the middle of the mighty Mojave Desert, it’s a bit unusual. To put it simply, it sucks.

I’ve binge watched some TV, got to re-watch the movie “Yesterday” (I saw it on the plane to the UK, loved it, I highly recommend it).

After improving my tan using exposure to the electric glow of computer/video screens, I even picked up an actual book. You know, those old-fashioned things with pages that you physically turn to continue reading. And to boot, they’re radiation free.

For some reason (maybe hunger caused by the unprecedented and unnecessary depletion of foodstuffs from the local store), I picked up my copy of “The Hamburger” by Josh Ozersky, my favorite food writer.

In his definitive tome of the history of the simple meat sandwich, he disperses with popular myths, delves deep into history and gives us a thorough understanding of how ground beef on a bun became the defining cuisine of America.

Ozersky briefly mentions the other contender for the fast food heart of America, the humble hot dog.

Josh dismisses the hot dog, as well as the Philly Cheese steak, the Dagwood and the Ruben as mere afterthoughts in the march of American fast food hierarchy.

Walt Disney World has a pretty acceptable burger when we visited in 2015 

I would never think to disagree with the ultimate meat oracle, but  I have my own thoughts about the “All American” hot dog, which I’ll share in the next couple of posts (hint one – it’s not American).

Monday, March 30, 2020

Stuck at Home

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

No truer words were ever spoken.

I started this blog back in 2016. I refined the direction of the blog and relaunched last year.

I started with a trip to the UK, we had a great time. I was looking forward to our next travels.
Then came the Covid 19 virus.

So far, I’ve had to cancel two different trips. Not that I’m complaining, many people have it much worse and whining about having to stay home seems a bit selfish.

So, I was thinking about what I could write about, since I’ll not be on the road anytime soon.
What I’ve decided to do is look back at some places, meals and experiences that I have had in the not-to-distant past and share those – until I can get back to traveling.

We stumbled on the Fox and Goat while driving from the airport in London on our way to our hotel in Oxford.

The fish and chips at the Fox and Goat. Our first meal in England, we were off to a great start.

The Fox and Goat is a great local pub just outside of Oxford, England. We were looking for a place for our first meal in the UK and pulled over when we saw the building. I just looked like a country pub should look. 

Once you went inside, you knew that it was the real deal. We were the only non-local guests, but we felt instantly welcomed. 

The food was good, the beer was great, and we were off to a great start.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Benihana Be the Chef

For Christmas, my kids pitched in an got me a certificate for the Benihana "Be the Chef" experience. 

Having dined at Benihana in Hawaii, Washington DC, LA, Las Vegas, Ontario California and at least two or three other towns, I knew what I was getting myself into. 

And in my normal obsessive fashion, I watched every Utube video I could find. 

I got a meat fork and the closest spatula to what they use at the restaurant to attempt to practice so I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself. 

Seemed like a good idea, and I do believe I did better at the actual cook because of it.

Practicing in the garage, getting a little height on the spinning spatula of death

Unfortunately, no practice is complete with out drawing at least a little blood. 

The exact moment when the knife-like edge of the spatula makes contact with the soft flesh of my fingers.

I did survive and was able to serve a wonderful dinner to the family.

Video from my Be the Chef Experience

I have to say, I had a really good time. Chef Masa was pretty tolerant of my lack of skills.

The family enjoyed it.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Cooking for Myself (And the Family)

As I sit here relaxing tonight, I'm feeling more than a little excited for my plans for tomorrow.

Most of the time, I muse about the culinary exploits of others. I simply show up, order and enjoy the offerings of the chef and offer my commentary.

Tomorrow, I prepare to step up to the other side of the grill. 

For Christmas this year, the kids chipped in and signed me up for Benihana’s “Be the Chef” program.

I’ll learn a little about the art of Teppanyaki, most likely break a couple of eggs and prepare to cook for the family next week.

Hopefully, it will make for good video.