Charming Charleston: Hominy Grill Turns a Yankee to a Southern Belle

My 24 hour jaunt to Charleston started off with a BANG!

20141115_122539 Hominy Grill is one of Charleston’s most lauded brunch spots. It focuses on Southern comfort food and the entire feel to the place is homey, relaxed, and fun. Hominy Grill doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait in line (with cocktail, of course!) or take your chances on getting seated on the patio. It was a chilly day so we were lucky enough to snag a heating lamp and get seated right away on the patio. 20141115_123733 Bloody Mary

Spicy, strong, and savory. Homemade bloody mix with quite a healthy kick of Mary. It’s not too spicy but it has a definite nasal-kicking hit of horseradish. It’s just what you want in a Bloody Mary and it starts the weekend off RIGHT. 20141115_124715 Fried green tomatoes with homemade ranch dressing

Perfect. Crispy, thin breading around tart, juicy green tomatoes. They are piping hot – literally,s teaming in the middle – and served with creamy, herb flecked ranch dressing that redefines my idea of that condiment. These aren’t like fried pickles or tart picked green tomatoes – they have a mild, almost sweet taste and are totally addictive.

20141115_125446Nasty Charleston

Let’s break it down:

Biscuit – sky high and tender with a texture so light tha it almost floats away. Not too buttery or at all salty – it’s all about the texture and providing a backdrop to the other ingredients.

Fried chicken – delicious. Crispy, thick exterior spiked with garlic and salt. the interior is uniformly thin but thick enough to be juicy. It’s fresh and succulent – it would be ideal on its own with a dash of Tabasco.

Cheddar cheese – sharp, melty, salty and – importantly – not overwhelming.

Sausage gravy – creamy, peppery, porky, perfect.

Basically, biscuits and gravy have a new place in my heart and stomach.
20141115_125513 Fried Chicken

A revelation, plain and simple. The best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my life. Juicy, crispy, and tender. Drizzled with spicy honey and tempered with pickled okra and carrots. 20141115_130011 Fatty and juicy and meaty and crunchy. All of my favorite words. I am in no way a fried chicken person, and I am telling you that this is a dish for the ages. I still dream of it. 20141115_132716Hominy Grill is delightful. It’s just the simplest food made better than any Yankee has ever had it. The fried chicken is unmissable and the service is so kind and friendly that you may just friend your server on Facebook when you leave the restaurant. The food is downright CHEAP and the menu is so full of delicious things that I wouldn’t even repeat anything next time! Except for the bloody mary. And those tomatoes. And the duck sausage hash that I didn’t even photograph. Okay, I would repeat a lot of dishes.

What can I say, I love me some Hominy Grill.

Corn-Coconut-Lime Muffins

So sorry for the tardy posting…I could have sworn that I pushed “publish” yesterday, but I pushed “draft!” Have a delicious weekend, all!

These are some super easy muffins based on my favorite treat from Amy’s Bread - their lime cornmeal cookies. These cookies bridge the gap between sweet and savory. They are perfect for breakfast or a snack – I guess that you could eat them as dessert, but I certainly never have any left over after dinner.

These muffins are a tribute to those, made with a sample of Zico that I was sent.

Corn-Coconut-Lime Muffins

coconut lime corn muffins

1 package corn muffin mix, including whatever is needed to prepare the package

Zest of 2 limes

2 cups shredded coconut

Enough Zico coconut water to replace the liquid (NOT THE OIL!) called for in the recipe

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1. Prepare the muffin mix according to instructions. Replace the water with coconut water.

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2. Add the lime zest and shredded coconut.

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3. Put into greased muffin tins and bake according to package.

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4. Serve.

IMG_1750This is so easy…like, almost criminally so. It’s just an easy mix that is doctored up with a few ingredients and BAM! – suddenly it’s some artisanal muffin. It could actually be sweet enough for dessert with a powdered sugar and milk glaze, but I like it as a muffin. It’s light and fluffy, with sticky shreds of coconut and that fragrant coconut water flavor. Lime’s essential oils are all in the zest, so using the zest infuses the batter with tart lime flavor without having to juice the lime. Replacing the liquid with coconut water cuts fat and adds such a delicate tropical flavor. The texture is a little crumbly, but slap some butter on one and you will suddenly forgive its structural defects. Whip these up and you will feel like you are in the tropics.

Or at Amy’s Bread…def one or the other.

Nighttime Brunch at Egg Shop

What’s a gal to do when the hottest brunch spot is not only way downtown and doesn’t take reservations, but also has a 2+ hour wait on weekends?

She has brunch for dinner, of course.

20140915_203241Egg Shop is the latest darling of the brunch world. It is – as it sounds –  a sweet, small, retrofitted eatery specializing in one thing: eggs. In bowls, on toast, and in every incarnation you can imagine. Though it’s supposedly bumper-to-bumper packed on the weekends, on a weekday night, it was positively deserted except for the pleasant waitstaff and enticing, tiny open kitchen.

20140915_204526 Egg salt and pepper shakers…come on…this is adorable.20140915_204609 Avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes and a poached egg

Thick, seeded toast smeared with buttery avocado and topped with sweet heirloom tomatoes and…

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a gorgeous poached egg. Tender whites, gooey yolk. Warm and comforting atop those juicy tomatoes and that lush avocado. This is so simple that you could make it at home…but you know you wouldn’t. I doused this with the homemade hot sauce and it was such a satisfying meal that I may just make it for myself tonight, after all.
20140915_204619Egg salad with fried chicken

The best fried chicken I have had in recent memory. I can’t tell you how good it is. Juicy with a thick, craggy crust and not too thick – perfect for eating between two slices of toast. The egg salad isn’t made with mayo but it’s still creamy and loaded with piquant, aggressive flavors like coriander, dill, and fresh herbs. It’s light and punchy instead of stodgy like egg salad often is.  It’s more of a spread, a backdrop, for that lovely fried chicken. This doesn’t need anything – not hot sauce, not mayo…nada. Just your mouth.

This place is kind of overpriced, but it was fun for a weeknight meal. The service is great and the food is delish. I would NEVER wait more than 20 minutes to eat here – 30 minutes max. But if I was int the neighborhood again, I would be happy to eat here again and try a Bloody Mary, too.

Long live evening brunch!

Norma’s is a Dud

Remember when I was so hoity-toity and proud about ignoring reviews and doing whatever the hell I wanted?

Wow, that was short sighted of me.

I recently went to the much maligned Norma’s in the Parker Meridien hotel. It is written up everywhere for serving huge portions of overpriced foods, for having lackluster service, and for feeling totally mechanical without any warmth.

I’m sad to say that the stories are true.

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The atmosphere is basically at the end of the hotel lobby – it doesn’t feel any more special than your standard Vegas hotel coffee shop. Which wouldn’t matter if the service were great. Or even good. But when you spend a majority of the meal flagging down your server to beg for some water and HEAVEN FORBID that you need hot sauce before you eat your eggs…it takes away from the uniqueness of the place. And even that wouldn’t matter if each entree wasn’t over $20.

Which, of course, each one is.

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Huevos Rancheros

Good. Not great. Not Cookshop, that’s for sure. The quesadillas are a great idea – decadent pockets of melted cheese and crispy tortillas topped with properly fried eggs. But there is no sour cream. No piquant pickled onions. The hot sauce is generic and the beans are watery. Don’t get me wrong, I ate this – it’s tasty. But it is not craveable. And it’s not worth it.

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The smoothie shot at the beginning of the meal was the best part. Guava, pineapple, orange, and passion fruit made for a surprisingly tropical way to start the day in chilly NYC.

However, it’s still not enough. Not nearly enough.

Do follow my review or don’t; the choice is up to you.

But dont’ say that that I didn’t warn ya.

Everything Gravlax

There is little that is better in this world than a cup of dessert coffee (sweetened condensed milk is the key), a mid morning showing of all of the “Back to the Future” movies, back to back, and a toasted everything bagel with fresh smoked salmon.

Yes, I toast my bagel. You aren’t supposed to in NYC, but after years of pretending to fit in and eating chewy, soft bagels, I have gone back to the toaster. Crispy on the edges, warm enough to melt the cream cheese…oh yeah.

But I digress.

Everything bagels and lox is such an indulgent combination. You can’t eat it before work because your breath is going to be RANK. You can’t eat it in the car because you will be spilling poppy seeds and crumbs everywhere. And you can’t eat it quickly because a bagel and lox is a behemoth of a sandwich.

So, basically, this is a treat you have to eat on a weekend morning with nothing to do except lick the cream cheese from your lips.

Of course, the only thing better than an everything bagel with lox would be an everything bagel with everything gravlax…everything-ception?

This follows the exact same method as used here, so refer there for the picture diagram, but here are some step by step instructions for making what may be my new favorite lox ever. Though it takes some prep time, it is incredibly easy – all you need is some space in your fridge and 48 hours.

Everything Gravlax

Ingredients:

1 lb. salmon filet

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

1 tbsp. each celery salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic powder, and onion powder

3 diced scallions

1 large handful dill, washed and chopped

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1. Combine the sugar, salt, and assorted herbs and spices in a bowl.

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2.  Place the salmon on cling wrap, skin side down,  and thickly cover the 3 exposed sides in the spice mixture.

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3. Tightly wrap the salmon and weigh it down with some heavy cans (and, yes, a tiny sugar shaker if that’s all that fits in that teensy weensy space). Then, put it in the fridge and don’t check it for 48 hours.

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4. When the salmon comes out, unwrap it. There will be a good amount of liquid in the loaf pan – that’s totally normal! If your cans got messy, just wash them with soap and water. Then, push all of the excess spice mixture off of the salmon.

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5. Follow these instructions and slice the salmon thinly against the grain. Trust me: the more you do this, the better you get!

That’s what she said.

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6. Serve immediately or the next day on warm bagels with scallion cream cheese.

This is the gravlax to end all gravlax. Salty but not overly so, thanks to the balance of the sugar and the rich salmon. Dill permeates the salmon with is grassy taste and scallions add the bite. The poppy seeds and sesame seeds release their oils into the salmon, infusing it with nutty flavors. And the salmon itself - even out of season – is so mild, so soft, and so satisfying that you might find yourself eating it by the forkful. Use this stuff to scramble into eggs, to top pizza with a creme fraiche base, or to chop into quiches, but honestly…it’s not going to last that long.

I just hope it lasts until the bagel is done toasting.

Almond Croissants at Lady M and Dining Fine at The Andaz

What have I been eating lately? This stuff:

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Almond croissant at Lady M

This bakery, famous for its 20 layer crepe cake, also makes one hell of an almond croissant. The edges are crispy and wonderfully crunchy while the middle and inner pale layers are moist. The top is glazed with sugar and sprinkled with slivered almonds. The filling is the best part. A thick layer of almond paste is hearty, nutty, and sugary – it’s like the best marzipan on the planet. The croissant is large but still carefully constructed – it’s the perfect breakfast or coffee time snack.

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Russ and Daughters Gravlax at The Shop

Perhaps the greatest gravlax on the planet, now served at a delightful restaurant in The Andaz 5th Avenue. The restaurant is stylish and sleek, but the menu is nothing like the hotel restaurants of yore. The ingredients are all sourced from individual butchers, bakers, and fishmongers from all over the 5 boroughs. It’s more like a marketplace where you can get food made than a standard restaurant. We had Schaller and Weber mini bratwursts that were juicy, savory, and surprisingly sweet. We had Feather Ridge eggs whose yolks were so thick and yellow that they were nearly orange. And we had thickly cut gravlax that is permeated with fragrant dill and pepper, layered on as lab of cream cheese and a toasted bialy studded with sweet caramelized onions. This place is a great treat brunch place.

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Burrata at The Smith

Yes, I come here all the time. And, yes, I always rave about it. But that’s because it is always…always…ALWAYS great. The service is wonderful, the prices are fair, and the food is delish. The burrata is better than many I have had in sub-par Italian restaurants. It’s a creamy, ample portion; served with salty and savory roasted red pepper relish, bitter arugula, and a couple of thick, crunchy croutons. A tasty appetizer or its own small meal with a slice or two of the accompanying French bread.

The Friendly Toast Serves the Perfect Brunch

It’s time to discuss the most important meal of the day.

Brunch.

Ok, I take that back. Considering that it’s a totally optional meal, it’s not the most important meal of the day – it’s just the most PERFECT meal of the day.

especially when you have it at The Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, NH.

The Friendly Toast isn’t just a place to get brunch – it’s THE place to get brunch. It comes up over and over again in google searches, there is always a wait, and it has a menu that is less of a menu and more of an encyclopedia.

*Disclaimer – most of my pictures turned out terribly, thanks to awkward lighting. Hence, the outsourced photos.*

the friendly toastvia

The interior is something out of a John Waters film. It’s a huge warehouse that is crowded with vintage posters, memorabilia, and random paraphernalia – a full sized rocking horse hung from the ceiling, anyone? Before you are allowed to sit at a Formica covered table from the 1950s, you will probably have to wait in line – that’s how popular this place is. The wait is made easier by the coffee, hot cocoa, and scones waiting for you to sample at the hostess station.

orleans friesvia

Orleans Fries – sweet potato fries topped with Tabasco and brown sugar, and served with sour cream

Hands down amazing. Somehow these fries get super crispy and stay that way beneath their sticky, sweet, spicy, and tart glaze. Yep, brown sugar and Tabasco tend to do that to a fry. It’s sweet and hot perfection, especially dipped in tangy sour cream. This may not be on the brunch menu, but it’s an awesome starchy counterpart to a very good bloody Mary – ask for some horseradish to up the spice quotient.

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Ole Miss – cayenne cheddar toast topped with sausage, chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, and mango sour cream

What sick genius runs this joint? This is over the top and yet JUST enough. The homemade toast is stellar – filled with hunks of sharp cheddar and enough cayenne to make it taste zesty but not spicy. Atop that is a porky, savory sausage patty and atop that are some sweet and smoky chipotle mashed potatoes. The eggs are well scrambled, but not overly done, and topped with a fresh, vibrant sour cream that is sweet but not sugary – just enough mango to bring another facet to the meal. This really has it all. Yes, it’s extremely heavy but it’s so, so good. The pork is really important to ground the meal so you don’t just have a landmine of carbs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oh yeah, and there are some kick ass sweetly caramelized onion-laden breakfast potatoes alongside, too.

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King Cakes

Chocolate chips, peanut butter, bananas, whipped cream. and bacon.

All together. Nutty and creamy and porky and banana-y.

In pancakes. Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the edges, pancakes.

Whoa.

I’m all shook up.

This meal is more than most in Portsmouth, but is so worth the price. The portions are huge, the staff is competent (not to say amazing), and the food…is…memorable.

Hands down the best meal of our little getaway.

Hands down the perfect way to have the perfect meal.

Go to Dim Sum Go Go

Enjoying dim sum is one of my favorite dining activities. Usually because I love those little carts.

But this time…at a small, modern, clean, cartless place that is perfect for gringos who need pictorial menus to choose what they want…I came for the food.

And it is worth it.

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Dim Sum Go Go isn’t too crowded on a weekday for lunch, but I hear that it gets hopping on the weekends, so you might want to get there early. They serve dim sum every day of the week from 10 AM and though you do miss the carts (I certainly did), what they lack in atmosphere they make up in quality of food.

IMG_20131018_122500_314Har gow

I’m not even a fan of shrimp dumplings.  I often find them muddy and iodine-y with weird-looking, ill cleaned shrimp. These blew my mind. So fresh and thin skinned filled with sweet, vaguely briny whole shrimp that pop in the mouth with  a pleasing “snap.” I took a peek (never a good thing to do in a dim sum restaurant) and the innards are pristinely clean. Dipped in some of the tableside xo sauce and leek-horseradish relish, it is savory, salty, and delicious. If you like har gow, you are going to love these – I surely did!IMG_20131018_122057_922 Bbq pork puffs

Like char siu bao wrapped in croissants. That’s right – sweet and sticky bbq pork inside flaky, buttery croissants. If you don’t like that, why are we even friends?IMG_20131018_123317_379Eggplant casserole

Not on the dim sum menu, but totally worth ordering. Tiny chinese eggplants are peeled then steamed inside an earthen dish that is basically as hot as the surface of the sun. It emerges velvety and soft, slicked with an insanely garlicky, somewhat spicy sauce. It doesn’t taste too garlicky at the time, but trust me…its stays with you. and you don’t even care. Because it’s so tasty.  And – bonus! – vegetarian!
IMG_20131018_122048_218Vegetable rice rolls

Always my favorite dim sum dish. Thick, chewy rice noodles wrapped around savory beef or – in this case – soft, ginger scented, peppery vegetables. It’s like an eggroll inside a warm, comforting, noodle-y blanket. Enjoy it with the sharp black vinegar that cuts through heavy, fatty tastes.
IMG_20131018_122504_389Duck dumplings

Juicy, sweet duck scented with cinnamon and cumin inside gossamer thin wrappers. Not just sweet but savory, too. Tiny pockets of ducky goodness – the duck flavor is very pronounced, so don’t order this expecting a standard chicken dumpling. Order it expecting something much better.

This isn’t even all the food we ordered, and we couldn’t spend more than $20 a person. Really, it was so much food for so little money. ANd it was GREAT! More than that, it was easy to order. Even a dim sum newbie can look at the pictures and see what looks good. It’s clean, it’s easy to order, and it’s so tasty.

It’s called Dim Sum Go Go because you really must go go there.

Dim Sum Go Go on Urbanspoon

Feast – Where the Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

This is a brunch review.

This meal isn’t the best brunch I have ever eaten. It isn’t the cheapest. But it has the best of all possible worlds.

It has a laid back but still “special event” atmosphere. You can wear flip flops or a trendy pair of shoes and still feel at home. There is a prix fixe but a plethora of ways to customize.

And there is a LOT of food for the price. 

Feast is a relatively new East Village restaurant which specializes in seasonal small plates, so you can try a lot of food for the same price as just one entree costs at other restaurants. The feel is rustic chic – very Anthropologie.

First off, you get a drink. A (very strong) mimosa made with freshly squeezed orange juice, a house made “beery Mary,” or a bottomless cup of coffee are all on offer. I especially appreciate that there is a bottomless alcohol-free option, as I don’t always feel like drinking so early in the day.

Who am I kidding? Of COURSE I do!

As part of the prix fixe, every table gets…

pix 024A platter of freshly baked muffins, flaky croissants, and rich pain au chocolat.
pix 025You also get a tray of mini quiches. This day, they were studded with sweetly caramelized onions, sautéed spinach, and melted goat cheese. The crust is particularly memorable – it’s so buttery and crisp that it is like savory shortbread. These tiny egg pies were my favorite part of the meal.

pix 026These yogurt parfaits and a chilled canteolupe soup are also part of the deal. Before you even get your main course, you are tipsy and full…right there, the price of brunch is almost justified. 

pix 029Omelette

The seasonal omelette, this time made with goat cheese and squash blossoms, is good if not inspired. The eggs are filled with creamy, earthy zucchini filling and the goat cheese stuffed blossoms are gooey, crispy, and generally addictive. Nothing I haven’t eaten before, but done well. The portion isn’t huge but by that time you aren’t starving anyway.
pix 030Lemon souffle pancake

Now THIS is huge. A behemoth of a pancake, crispy without and custardy within. It’s almost like a doughnut, dense but not heavy. It is scented with fragrant lemon and topped with a sweet-tart berry syrup that is loaded with fresh fruit. This is absolutely overload and thought it’s tasty, it’s a bit one faceted – sweet. I prefer a slightly lighter, crispier pancake.

pix 022Feast is kind of the perfect celebration brunch place. It’s just $24 for all of this food plus an alcoholic drink, the vibe is more lazy Saturday lunch than hungover Sunday morning, and the service is both prompt and informative – the servers are happy to recommend favorite dishes and speak eloquently about the food.

So this might not be my favorite brunch place – the food isn’t totally memorable. But, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

And where else can you find a pancake that weighs as much as a toddler?

Feast on Urbanspoon

The Greatest Hash Browns Ever at The Grey Dog Cafe

I’m just gonna keep on posting these lost reviews and recipes…after all, I think only 12 people read my blog the first year it was up, so it’s new to everyone except my mom!

The Grey Dog Cafe is a review that is definitely worth revisiting. The location I frequented is sadly closed now, but this delightful mini chain has several other Manhattan locations, all equally well priced and tasty 

 The vibe in this location was eclectic and charming,  with small tables everywhere and large pictures featuring dogs. It’s the sort of home your odd Aunt Effie might have-filled with charming little oddities. Aah Aunt Effie…imaginary relatives are always the most charming, don’t you think?

You order at the counter from the large blackboard menu full of delicious sounding sandwiches, salads, breakfasts, and entrees, and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table. 

Look at this cool bookshelf – it’s the ideal place to have a relaxing solo lunch! Reading about eating while actually eating…that is one of life’s deepest pleasures.

Brie, sausage, and vegetable omelette

Simple and perfect. The omelette is gently cooked so the eggs are fluffy and creamy, not rubbery.  There are ribbons of melted brie, juicy hunks of sausage, and crisp veggies.  When the butter melts in luscious pools on the warm sourdough toast, there isn’t much more in this world that you need. Except these…


Hash browns

  Tiny shards of potato intermingled with sweet onions. They are fried within an inch of becoming charred, so the mixture is deeply browned but not burnt; like those tiny crispy bits of fries at the bottom of your french fry carton at a drive through mixed with the best fried onion strings in the world.  

 Carrot ginger soup with peanuts and chili oil

A showstopper.  Thin but powerful, like a ninja of the soup world.  At first bite, it is sweet, vegetal, and blazes with steam.  Then the softer nuances creep in-the crunch of the peanuts, the slight heat of the chili, the zip of the ginger.   With a few squirts of hot sauce to bump up the heat and salt quotient, it is perfect for a peckish gal like me.  

The Grey Dog Cafe is often just what the doctor ordered.  It is not haute cuisine or famous for the world’s biggest burger or anything like that.  It isn’t even worth a trip out of your way.  It is just full of fresh, delicious food in a laid back atmosphere. It has a great staff, fair prices, and a full bar to boot!  I could see people relaxing here with a book, a magazine, or a good friend. 

And, of course, about 3 plates of those hash browns.

 

The Grey Dog's Coffee on Urbanspoon