Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One step closer to Burger Nirvana

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love hamburgers. And yes, I've complained on this blog before about about the absence of consistently excellent hamburgers in Eugene. An old college professor of mine used to say "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Well, call my brain Tiny then, because I am desperate for a burger I can count on, time and time again.

One of my favorite restaurants is a little burger/sandwich/neighborhood joint called Cornucopia. I love them so much, they catered my wedding. The restaurant has a real friendly vibe, a great beer selection, the only hush puppies in town (that I know of). And despite the popular complaint whenever I mention that I love Corny, I even love the service. It might not be the fastest place to get dinner, but I've been there dozens and dozens (and dozens) of times and may have had iffy service once or twice. I think they do pretty well.

Now, when asked, I'll name Cornucopia's burgers as the best in town. I usually do so hesitantly, because while they're really tasty and are made of good quality beef, their competition is so lacking in this town that they only have to be pretty good to win the Best in Eugene title (as they do every year). I've had burgers there that were over-done. I've had them under-done. I've had them so-so, and I've had them really good.

This weekend, I had one that reset my standard for what to expect in a Cornucopia burger.

My Wild Bill burger, 7/24/10. I almost forgot to stop eating and snap a pic

This was not my first Wild Bill Burger. I've had the half pound patty with bacon, cheese, and BBQ sauce countless times before. But this one was incredible. Grilled to perfection, dripping with sauce, after the first bite I knew I had something special. One of the things I really like about Corny burgers is the char they get on the outside, though sometimes, as I've mentioned, the char goes to far. Not this time - the burger itself was moist and juicy and cooked to my ideal medium-well. And it had that perfect crust on the outside that a burger gets when it's spent the exact right amount of time on the grill.

They always season their burgers really well at Cornucopia. But this weekend's burger was exceptional because while I tasted the seasoning and it was slathered in sauce, the predominant flavor was beefy goodness. Man that was a good burger.

Much to my chagrin, FoodGuy Jr. does not like hamburgers. He's not yet 3, so I'm trying to stay positive that some day he'll outgrow this unfathomable aversion. In effort to help speed his growth along, every time I eat a hamburger, I offer him some. While eating this particular burger, however, I didn't. I love little FoodGuy more than anything, but I was't going to take the chance that he'd chose this burger to try. When he likes something, the boy can eat. To risky.

So now I'm anxious to go back to Cornucopia. Mrs. FoodGuy will only go once a month or so. She really likes Corny too, but oddly doesn't seem to need hamburgers the way I do. She wasn't with FoodGuy Jr. and I this weekend, so there's hope I can get her there soon. And then we'll see if they can replicate my burger. If they can... if they can... It'll be the dawn of a new burger day in Eugene.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maybe Someday Donuts Will Rule the World

It's no secret that cupcakes have been enjoying a renaissance over the last few years. Formerly a kids-only treat reserved for birthday parties, cupcakes became a trendy item to reinvent. All over the country, hip, fancy, gourmet cupcake shops started blooming, like cherry topped paper wrapped morsels of childhood memory. Where I live, gourmet cupcakes were Eugene-ified: ourDivine Cupcakes are organic and come in dairy free, wheat free, and vegan options. While I like a small cake as much as the next guy, I can't get fully behind this cupcake movement. They're kinda prissy. A little girly. A little little-girly, if you know what I mean.

My dozen (or so) donuts from Voodoo Doughnuts

But I'm not here to talk about cupcakes today. I want to talk about doughnuts. Doughnuts come from the same sort of humble place as cupcakes, but are far far cooler. And now,
doughnuts are poised to take over where cupcakes will invariably leave off (any day now). And that will be a trend I can fully stand behind. And full I will be, because I've got one of the best doughnut supplies anyone can ask for, in Voodoo Doughnuts.

Voodoo is already leading the doughnut revolution with their crazy creations. They were a huge hit in their original home of Portland, Oregon, where hipsters lined up after the bars close for cereal covered doughnuts, bacon maple bars (with two or three pieces of real live bacon on top), and a doughnut called Cock-N-Balls that's shaped like, well... a cock and balls. And now they've come to Eugene.

First was a soft opening, when you pretty much had to happen by at the exact right minute in hopes they were actually open. Then they had announced hours, which did not coincide with any of my free time. And now, finally, they're open 24 hours so I can run over there on a whim and get my fix.

Now, about the doughnuts. I'm a cake doughnut guy, and I have to say their cake doughnuts were really good. I got a couple of basic chocolate ones, and the first thing that I noticed was they really tasted like chocolate. And the texture was soft and crumby, sort of like devil's food cake. Standing on their own, I'd call them high quality doughnuts. But what sets Voodoo Doughnuts apart are the aforementioned crazy flavors. I'm a huge fan of spicy chocolate in general, and the Mexican Chocolate doughnut did not disappoint. It's not often that I'm actually surprised by how spicy my dessert is. But it's a good thing when it happens. Delicious. My lips tingled and my mouth watered. Dipped in coffee it was doughnut perfection.

The raised doughnuts were frankly pretty average, in terms of the actual fried dough. But again, the flavors are where it's at. The Grape Ape is a raised doughnut with vanilla frosting and grape "dust." Their frosting is far better than average to begin with, and I don't know what grape dust is (maybe Kool Aid?), but I loved the combo. The maple frosting on the maple bacon bar was full of maple-y goodness. And the Raspberry Romeo's jelly doughnut had real jelly inside -- you could see the raspberry seeds!

Honorable mention goes to the apple fritters, which were also really good. I didn't try one until they were a day old, and I skipped heating mine up (as my friends did - and they RAVED), so I might have missed the window on those. Some of the others I tried, like the Oreo Cookie one, were flashy, but not completely awesome.

Miami Vice Berry, Mexican Chocolate, Maple Bacon Bar

They were all fun, though. And it was exciting to open that pink box and approach each doughnut as a brand new thing, never before tried. Worth traveling to Portland for? No. Worth waiting in line for 10 minutes for on a nice Saturday morning? You bet. Late night, post bar, slight buzz destination? Oh, for the days when that mattered to me... But yes, yes indeed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pastrami to Rival the East Coast's Best

As a Jew born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, I feel confident describing myself as an expert on quality pastrami. Now, pastrami differs from, say... bagels, in that inferior pastrami can still make a nice sandwich. Inferior bagels? They're just dinner rolls with holes and I won't eat them. So I've given up on bagels since moving away from New Jersey, but you'll occasionally find me noshing a pastrami sandwich. Usually with a disappointed look on my face.

Last weekend, the wife and I went to Portland, land of the cool, home of the hip. They should add Place of the Pastrami to what they tout as the city's claims to fame, because I had one (actually two) good sandwiches there.

the actual sandwich in question

This house brined and dried and seasoned to perfection sandwich at Kenny & Zuke's was the best I've had since I left home 20 years ago. It was sliced perfectly thick, so that it had bite and texture. Thin sliced pastrami is for weinies, if you ask me.

And it was peppery and garlicky and clovey, but not so much that any one flavor overwhelmed the other, or the meat. My only complaint? Not enough meat on the sandwich. Maybe it's just in my memory that pastrami sandwiches are piled three or four inches high?

Now, let's talk about their knish. If I closed my eyes and went by flavor alone, I would have thought I was eating a perfect specimen from my youth, done just slightly more upscale. The pastry on the outside was definitely better than a typical knish, flakier and butterier. But the potato was chunky, and while it was nice, it was jarring to my munch down knish-memory lane. But the real problem with it was aesthetic. See it up there, next to the sandwich? It's topless! Didn't look like any knish I'd ever seen before. It was darn good though, so my complaint is actually pretty petty.

Kenny & Zuke's pickles were really good too, and their rye bread was better than most I've had on the West Coast. They even have the two name thing going -- when I was a kid every deli in the suburbs was a two-guy name: Jerry and Harvey's (our family's favorite), Jesse and Davids... okay, maybe there were just two.

I love trying new restaurants, but the pastrami was so good at K & Z's that on our 24 hour trip to P-land, Mrs. Food Guy and I ate there twice. After our awesome lunch, I couldn't resist a breakfast sandwich of egg, pastrami, swiss cheese (hey, I didn't say it, or I, was kosher...) with a side of latkes. The latkes were tasty, though nothing to write home about.

But the pastrami? The pastrami... Consider this a letter to New Jersey.