Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Brunch at Wolff's Biergarten. Unexpected Family Fun.

So, a friend of mine (who I don't see that much anymore) was in town for the weekend and had decided to go to Wolff's Biergarten to watch some soccer and make merry. The missus and I very much wanted to drop in, but we had to face the general decision process that any parents of small 'uns (we have a 5 month old and 3 year old) have to go through before going pretty much anywhere. Will there be drunken lunatics present who may or may not huck a beer stein in our general direction? Will an out of control Bro-fest break out into violence? You know, that kind of stuff... 

Anyhow, we saw the offer on the menu for free pancakes for children under 12 who wear soccer jerseys to Sunday Brunch and figured if we went early enough (11:30 AM) the crowd would be relatively mellow.

Upon arriving, the wife and I were happy to find 3 or 4 other families with babes in tow. The Sunday Brunch crowd seemed very mature and sedate and my father's danger-predicting Spidey sense did not tingle much at all. Very much relieved I ordered up a liter of Pilsner Urquell.

A friend of mine was already eating an order of Currywurst which is one of my favorites. He let me have a bite. The currywurst sauce at Wolff's is pretty good, I only feel that there should be a bit more. I would like the sausages to be swimming in the stuff and at least a few of the fries to be all sauce sodden and soaked. That is just a personal preference.

My 3 year old demanded french fries and I obliged.

I had the "Wolff's Wurst Breakfast Plate" with the Weisswurst. This comes with two sausages, 3 potato pancakes, and some scrambled eggs. I am a sucker for Weisswurst, these links were pretty good examples. The scrambled eggs had some tasty fines herbes going on in them and the texture was surprisingly creamy.

On the subject of the potato cakes, don't get me wrong I think they are OK. The only problem I have is that they have that sort fishy taste that comes from too high heat applied to certain cooking oils (probably Canola).

Anyhow, my biggest takeaway from Sunday brunch service at Wolff's is that it is surprisingly family friendly. It is so hard to find a place that isn't a lame "family style" eatery where you won't get looked at like you have two heads for bringing along the little ones. Having a place that is fairly casual where I can have a good beer and the daughter can stomp on a peanut or two without causing too much upset is  greatly appreciated. I will probably drag my herd of four in again for a beer and sausages for a Sunday brunch or two in the future.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Checking in on Good Ol' Mr. Subb

Do you ever go to Mr. Subb? I am by no means a regular but I get a nostalgic urge to go about once every 6 months or so. Just to see how they are getting along. If you don't know, Mr. Subb is our indigenous Capital Region "subb" chain. It is the heir to the fabled Mike's NEBA (or NEBA-Mike's to some) dynasty that departed from our lands some time ago.

Both Mike's NEBA and Mr. Subb were fixtures of my childhood. During my early years in Albany I had many a summer's day Slushy at the Central and Colvin Mike's NEBA location. Later on in life the Mr. Subb on Western Ave. in Guilderland was on the way home from school/sports practices. My Ma would often grab me a sarny for dinner. I think I used to be a fan of ham and cheese and I remember that Mr. Subb used to do that weird thing where they would chop a wedge of bread out of the roll and pack the meat cheese in the slit. Anyhow, when I pop in now as a wizened 30 something I am often flooded with pleasant thoughts and images of simpler days and I think that is what keeps me as a sporadic customer.

I am of the opinion that Mr. Subb often gets lumped together in people's minds with Subway (or the like) and I do not think is necessarily a fair comparison. Given, Mr. Subb is a bit dowdy and plain (but aren't we all a bit dowdy and plain around these parts? Especially during February? In a charming sort of way?), but their product is a bit of a cut above what you would expect, me thinks.

In case you haven't noticed -- I am a man of honor and tradition. I order NEBAs and not much else. A NEBA is one of our local takes on the jus cooked roast beef/bread product theme. It consists of a roll, jus cooked roast beef, and horsey sauce (horseradish mayonaise). Fairly simple in concept but if done right the NEBA can be a wonderful amalgam of flavors and textures. Let us examine the elements of this particular sandwich.

First off, the bun is good. Probably the best part of the sandwich. It is your standard workaday split-top  white bun, but it has been pleasantly crispy-ed up all around. Both the cut surfaces and the domed top have a bit of crunch and color to them. The way that the crispy bottom bun gives into the absorbed jus is probably the most magical element of a NEBA. This is usually nicely done.

Next let us consider the horsey sauce.

I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce on this particular sandwich. There was a plentiful squirt on top of the beef and when I took a bite I was shocked. There was an aggressive, nostril clearing amount of horseradish going on in that sauce! I loved it. You are so used to the milquetoast, fatty blandness of most chain-shop sarnies. The fact that this NEBA had actual flavor made me very happy.

As for the beef, Mr. Subb starts out with a good product. They use NY State National brand roast beef made by Old World Provisions (the company that runs Helmbold's now). The thing is, they often do it a bit of an injustice. Most times the beef comes out fairly flavorful, but uniformly grey. I think you want a bit of rareness in the center of your sandwich, and I have actually had Mr. Subb NEBAs that have been about as good as they can be (all things considered), but I think it depends on the day/sandwich artiste. In any event, I never outright regret eating a NEBA. A bad NEBA is better than anything on the wretched Subway menu. That is for damn sure. What's more, if you are looking for a "beef n' cheddar" type sandwich, than the cheese NEBA absolutely beats the pants off of anything you would get at Arby's (the legend is actually that NEBA stands for "Never Ever Buy Arby's").

So if you have written off Mr. Subb as just another insipid downmarket sandwich joint, maybe give them a try. Go have a NEBA and see what you think. If you are a crusty old area local like myself it just may jog some pleasant childhood memories. If not, do it just to acquaint yourself with a shadow of what used to be. To tell you the truth, I am no business man, but I think if the Mr. Subb proprietors figured out a way to resurrect Mike's NEBA as it exists in my memory (both the restaurants and the eponymous sandwich), and if they did it just right... I think they would make a killing. At very least I would be there with bells on.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Annual Visit to the Minty Altar of Uncle O'Grimacey (Shamrock Shake)

Annum 2010
Annum 2011
Annum 2012

I had my annual Shamrock Shake from McDonald's today. It makes me feel sort of weird and old that this is the third consecutive shake that I have shared on the ol' blog. Hopefully I am not turning into weird, old, food-blog guy yet -- I am only closing in on 32.

Anyhow, apparently the big news this year is that the sweet nectar of Uncle O'Grimacey has gone "nationwide." I never even realized that the Shamrock Shake was not previously available everywhere. You learn something new everyday.

I have noticed that there tend to be small changes in the flavor/presentation of the shake from year to year so I thought I would begin to document them here.

As I stated in my 2011 post, I was a bit perturbed  when McD's made the switch to the clear plastic, dome lidded cup and they have stuck with that decision this year. I prefer to take my shakes out of waxed paper thank you very much. We still have the whipped cream, but no cherry this time(good, I hate cherries). The color seemed less aggressively green this annum, and I feel like the flavor was a bit minty-er and slightly less sweet. Maybe I am just imagining these changes, anyone else out there pay as much attention to the Shamrock Shake issue as do I? Can you confirm or refute

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Meat Sauce

So this is where we are at with my from scratch Capital Region Style mini-Hot Dog with Meat Sauce Project-

Step 1:      3" Capital Region Style Hot Dog...... Check.
Step 2:      Little Hot Dog Buns....... Check.
Step 3:      Meat Sauce....  Check.

Yeah, so I made my meat sauce today. About 2.5 lbs. of ground sirloin, 3 medium onions, 2 tblspns. paprika, bit of chili powder/coriander/cumin/cayenne/thyme/cinnamon, garlic, salt/pepper, some brown sugar, and a new addition this time. A bit unorthodox, but what the hell, I used a hearty scoop of doubanjiang and a splash of black vinegar. I think this will add a little heat and flavor without making the meat sauce taste too "Asian." 


For technique, I like to fry the beef and onions together (in butter and oil) then dump in all the spices to cook a bit, throw in water to cover and let simmer for an hour or two. Guess what else? This time I threw a couple tablespoons of tomato paste in there (this is very un-traditional and not something I would usually stand for, but I am being experimental), not enough to add any discernable tomato-y flavors,  mostly just for body and color.

I am taking some departures from my usual recipe here, but I still think I ended up with a good result. I may have overdone the cinnamon a bit, the correct amount of cinnamon is the most elusive element of a Capital Region style hot dog meat sauce, I always screw it up. But I still really like this batch.

Tomorrow we shall assemble the final product and deal with the mustard situation. I have made missteps with every part of this process, but I still predict a decent end result. We shall see.
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