Taco Festival Detroit

Several months ago an advertisement popped up on my Facebook, which normally I would ignore, but this one had something that really got my attention. There was a Taco Festival coming to the riverfront in Detroit. Now either this was a completely random advertisement or Facebook’s algorithms finally picked up on the amount of times I post about tacos. Either way, I immediately logged in and purchased tickets. $12 general admission tickets that promised tacos, live music, Lucha Libre wrestling and alcohol. What could go wrong?

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Now I’m not normally the guy that just dives into something like this. I’ll admit, the promises of unlimited tacos and masked wrestlers dug deep into my emotions and basically took over my credit card. I’m usually the guy that will read who is putting the festival together, what additional costs there will be and other details before I pull the trigger on something like this. After purchasing tickets, I started to read and discovered that Taco Festival is actually a traveling festival that hits one or two locations per month. They recruit local vendors, which they actually did a really good job of – more on that later, who pay a deposit to have a booth and then receive a percentage of the money for the tacos that they sell. I searched everywhere trying to figure out who the owners of the festival were but could not find anything. You’re so mysterious, Taco Festival.

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The festival was very well put together. There were several beverage tents selling beers that ranged in price from $4-$8 depending on regular or tall can, a main stage had live music throughout the day and taco tents stationed the perimeter of the festival grounds. There were close to forty different Michigan vendors offering various tacos and other Mexican specialities. They did a good job finding, or being found by, a number of legit taco trucks and taquerias, but there were a few I wasn’t about — See Qdoba and something called the Crazy Gringo Mexican Cantina. Most vendors were offering several cuts of meat — mostly pork, chicken and steak. There were a few vendors who decided to not offer pork and none of these vendors received any money from me. Selling tacos without pork is like Harold Melvin without the Bluenotes.

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My personal favorite? Loncheria El Parian, a taco truck that sits on Dix ave. It was the only vendor I saw that had their Al Pastor on an actual spit, the way it’s supposed to be served, with a pineapple dripping all over the spinning column of pork. Their place included pickled onions and pickles. Absolutely delicious. I will be checking them out for some of their other goods and services at a later date.

Now here’s where I have to get a little negative on the festival. The cost for the festival was $12. The wife and I went together so our total cost of admission was $24. We like beer so the first thing we did was buy two beers. That was another $6. I’m not a normal human being so I ate eleven tacos. That was another $22. My wife is a normal person so she had three tacos. That was $6. We also paid for parking, which was $10. All together, this festival ran us $62.

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I understand their pricing because they need the up front money from the tickets to rent the venue, pay their employees and set everything up. I swear I’m not trying to be a complainer here but the beauty of tacos is they are cheap. They typically house less expensive cuts of meat and can be bought in bulk at various places for a buck or two. When you organize an entire festival around a food item that is typically very cheap and somehow make it an expensive experience it’s just kind of weird to me. I also believe that visiting a small taqueria offers a different kind of experience that is just as fun. That could be just me though.

I also understand that I’m paying for the experience of having all of these different vendors in one place. The only thing I can think about when I apply that logic is information about the best tacos in Detroit is readily available on the Interwebz and I can go directly to the source and give them 100% of my money. I realize not everyone wants to research everything they eat and this type of festival is great exposure for local businesses.

So in summary, Taco Festival is a great thing for your average eater and the city of Detroit. For me, not so great. They claimed this will be an annual event and if you have some disposable income and are looking for an unconventional experience, this is probably for you. I’m glad to say that I attended a festival completely centered around the taco,but I probably won’t be back next year.

The Drink to End All Summer Drinks

Summer is here and of course that means it’s time to add fruity shit to our alcohol and drink it outside.  

Not so fast….

It seems like every Summer in my quest for outdoor drinking I stumble upon for a new beer and/or a new drink .  Years ago it was Oberon and some shitty liquor that probably got mixed with a shittier fruit juice.  It’s graduated over the years to better beer, better liquor but not better fruit juice (looking at you, Everfresh).   The Summer of 2017 has culminated to the best beer and the best drink of any Summer yet.  The best part of all, there’s no shitty fruit juice involved.

If you’re willing to pay a few extra dollars than you’re currently paying for your Summer drink of choice, I have the best concoction that’s ever gone into a glass during a hot summer day for sitting in a chair in your front yard while yelling at cars to slow down. Something to make older people feel young and younger people feel old.  It’s the best of all worlds.

Liquor?  Check.

Beer?  Check.

Lemonade?  Check.

Non-Alcoholic Mixer?  Nope.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you… The Southern 75.

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The first ingredient in this incredible concoction is a beer I finally purchased after hearing people talk about it for months.  Old Nation Brewing’s M-43 IPA is making any other “Summer style beer” look absolutely silly.  It’s a New England Style IPA meaning it’s a cloudier and more full bodied version of those IPAs you were drinking while trying to discover craft beer.  It’s close to 7% alcohol and goes down smooth with a taste of oranges, lemons and grapefruits.  Seriously, if you haven’t had this stuff get off your ass. If you can’t locate M-43 or if $15 for a 4-pack is a little rich for your blood any other IPA will do.  Try to look for something smooth — not a double IPA or anything crazy like that.

The second ingredient is bourbon.  What else?  Be careful here, though.  Use a smoother bourbon — Think Makers Mark or Four Roses.  You could go with Wild Turkey 101 if you’re feeling really crazy but remember that this entire drink is alcohol.  A higher proof bourbon will only allow you 2-3 of these, depending on your drinking abilities, and no one likes a lightweight.

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Once you have acquired your ingredients, it’s time to mix.  Grab literally any glass you have available to you.  It could be a plastic cup.  It really doesn’t matter.

  1. Add 1/2 oz of simple syrup.
  2. Add 2/3 oz of lemon juice
  3. Stir, add ice.
  4. Add 2 oz of bourbon
  5. Add half a bottle of IPA
  6. Go outside and drink

How crazy you want to get with this is up to you.  If you’re into fancy cocktails put all of those ingredients in a shaker, add a few dashes of bitters and mix in a cocktail shaker. This will give you that foam effect you see in the image above that I blatantly stole from a different site. Lemon peel is completely optional.

AAAAAAND there you go.  The Southern 75 aka the best Summer drink in the history of Summer drinks. 100% alcohol mixture of beer, bourbon and Lemonade.  What could be better?  That’s a rhetorical question because the answer is nothing.

 

Stop Putting Sweet Shit On My Kid’s Breakfast

Warning: If you don’t have kids then this post probably isn’t for you.  Feel free to read it, although you will not learn anything new about food or cooking.

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Before I get started with the meat and potatoes of this post, I want to get a few things out of the way.

  1. One of my favorite things to do with my kid is take her to restaurants and allow her to try new things.  I am secretly (not really a secret) developing her into the greatest chef this world has ever seen.
  2. I appreciate when the people at these restaurants go out of their way to talk to my kid and do little extra things for her.  I will literally double my server’s tip if they are good to my kid.
  3. I’m not obsessive about my kid’s diet.  I do, however, monitor the amount of bullshit she eats and try to keep it at a minimum.

That being said, STOP PUTTING SWEET SHIT ALL OVER MY KID’S BREAKFAST.  If I order pancakes I don’t need an additional ingredient added that I didn’t ask for that doubles the amount of sugar she’s eating for breakfast.  I already ordered something with “cake” in the name that is going to get smothered with syrup, which is basically sugar in liquid form.  I truly appreciate you attempting to do something nice for us and I’m sure you think that it will make her happy but dumping a can of whipped cream on a pancake and then smothering it with sugar is not what I want my kid eating for her first meal of the day.

I visited a breakfast joint last week which I’m not going to name because I’m not reaching for self-importance like some Yelp reviewer.  I noticed there were “Funfetti pancakes” on the menu.  I didn’t choose the Funfetti pancakes because I actually give a shit about my kid’s nutrition and this is breakfast.  Some even go as far as to call it the most important meal of the day.  Side note: Does anyone even know the ingredients in Sprinkes?  What are they?  I ordered plain pancakes, and guess what.  The waitress brought out pancakes with a side of sprinkles.  l was then left with a choice:  Do I take the sprinkles away and cause a public meltdown or do I allow Eleanor to dump a colorful mystery ingredient all over her pancakes?  The choice was easy: Take the L and avoid public meltdowns at all cost.  But guess what, we are never returning to this place because in Eleanor’s mind this is where she is allowed to have sprinkle pancakes.

Fast forward to this morning when I ordered her pancakes at different breakfast joint and they came out with whipped cream eyes and mouth with a chocolate syrup drizzle. Why would anyone give their kid pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate for breakfast?  I understand that if a kid was going to make breakfast for themselves it would consist of mainly whipped cream and chocolate but that is why kid’s can’t physically make their own meals.  If they could our entire population would look like Chris Christie.  So don’t enable this behavior because I’m now not going to back to this place either because it will be forever known as the place that puts chocolate and whipped cream on pancakes.

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The really shitty thing about this isn’t that I can’t go back to your restaurant because my kid will expect desert for breakfast, it’s that she will expect this from every place she goes now.  Pancakes will slowly turn into a delivery system for additional sugary ingredients.  It will slowly get to the point where I just can’t give her pancakes anymore.

To close this out, I understand that I can avoid these issues by simply cooking for my kid at home.  Trust me, I do.  There is just something about taking her out in public and letting her read through a menu and ordering her own breakfast.  It’s something I like sharing with her.  The only thing I’m asking here is bring me what I order and not some “kid friendly” version of it.  If you have raised your kids to appreciate different flavors and not just rely on sweet and salty flavors, your kid will actually eat food that doesn’t need to be covered in ice cream toppings.

So that is it.  If you work at restaurant consider this the next time you bring out someone’s order.  It will help parents like me, who actually care about what their kid eats.

And last thing, which is a different subject but I’m including it in here, STOP PUTTING CANDY DISPENSERS AT THE EXIT OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Thanks.

Tom and Chee

Warning: There isn’t anything in this post that’s incredibly interesting, it’s more just me talking about my surprise from a recent visit to a national chain restaurant, which I usually try to avoid. Now that you’ve been warned you may continue to read on or just skip this post all together.

I’m an absolute sucker for any product that has been on Shark Tank but for some reason I had never paid Tom and Chee a visit. Eleanor had a very important decision the other day. Do we enjoy some “Detroit Style” Pizza at Buddy’s or do we eat grilled cheeses at Tom and Chee’s? I was hoping for Buddy’s but for some reason my road dog had a craving for grilled cheeses that particular day. I had always been curious about this establishment specializing in grilled cheese and soups. How could you go wrong with that combination? Even in my younger days I could produce a mean grilled cheese with Kraft singles.

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Now as you can probably tell Eleanor doesn’t have much interest in the documenting your food on-line and writing about it game. She would much rather just eat the food and be done with it. She has deeper interests like toy shows on YouTube, Paw Patrol and jazz camp. It’s OK though, I’ve got the food reporting under control.

I went with the Grilled Mac and Chee which is a mac and cheese, Wisconsin cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon and crispy onions all melted together between two slices of white bread. There is absolutely no way something can be bad no matter what you do with those ingredients. It’s impossible to screw up. For dipping purposes, I got a bowl of creamy tomato basil soup.

Quick question, how much tomato soup do you think gets wasted every year because the only logical purpose of tomato soup is for dipping grilled cheese? Further more, is tomato soup ever really wasted if you don’t have grilled cheese to dip in it?

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There’s only one way for me to describe this sandwich and that’s to say holy shit. This had to be one of those most disgustingly delicious sandwiches I have ever had. It was most definitely the most dense 1200 calories I have ever consumed. I expected a mess of possibly my favorite two ingredients (bacon and cheese) but this was just over the top. I seriously wasn’t the same for about three hours after consuming this. We went to the park after and I laid on the slide while Eleanor played on the swings. It was embarrassing.

Amazingly if this isn’t a fat enough sandwich for you they are proud to offer it to you IN BETWEEN A DONUT. Seriously, Tom and Chee? Are you trying to kill people?

So in summary, you should go to Tom and Chee. Just one time. I will probably never be back because it’s almost too good. In my old age, I can’t be eating shit like this anymore. Mac and cheese with bacon on a sandwich? Come on.

That’s all. Sorry for possibly the most uneventful post in MoorsFood’s history. Look at that sandwich though.

Jesus.

Lobster Week at Mudgie’s – It’s Here!!!

Before I begin, I have to start off with a story. If you are regulator reader of my food writings you should continue to read. If you followed a link simply to hear about and see lobster rolls you can feel free to skip these ramblings.

I do my best to not operate this site as a “food blog”. I know, I know it’s pretty much a food blog but there’s now thousands and maybe millions of people with a cell phone that take pictures of food and write a few paragraphs about it. I try to do things a little differently here. Generally what happens on this site is I eat or cook something really delicious and then immediately write something on my phone and post about it. I try to keep the time between experience and reaction as short as possible. My attention span demands this type of production.

What happened today goes against my typical MoorsFood production schedule. Truth be told, I wrote a really great piece about my visit to Mudgie’s Lobster Week and in between a couple of glasses of Wild Turkey I lost the entire thing. I don’t know what happened between me hitting the publish button and my web host accepting my content but my post went by bye.

So this is a disclaimer. I lost my original content. I then drank more Wild Turkey. Then I drank some Basil Hayden. Then I drank some Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. Then I finished with some EH Taylor Single Barrel. I’m a full twelve hours removed from my experience and under the influence of some really great bourbon. Let’s get on with it.

Actual Mudgie’s Lobster Week post begins here.

I’ve previously documented my love for Mudgie’s and warned of you of their lobster week, which only comes to us one week out of every summer. Mudgie’s is the greatest, and lobster week is their greatest week. Easily translated, lobster week is the greatest week of the year.

A quick summary if you aren’t a fan of clicking links — Every July Mudgie’s has lobsters overnighted from Maine every day for an entire week and serves up lobster rolls downtown. Some might say “But John, I can get lobster rolls at any number of locations in the Metro Detroit Area”. That’s great, but let me tell you why lobster week is a little more special. Maine lobsters are known to be the best and fisherman in the area go to great lengths to ensure this. Small details such as building traps in certain sizes so smaller lobsters are allowed to escape and continue their growth. Female lobsters are labeled and released so they can continue to mate and produce more lobsters. June is the season for soft shell lobsters, which produce more sweet and tender lobster than what you would typically find from a year around lobster. The climate and the temperature of the water are also factors in producing delicious lobster. Getting this type of lobster fresh in Michigan is a big deal.

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So all of these different factors brings us back to lobster week where Mudgie’s has these Maine lobsters shipped in fresh every day. I showed up today at 10AM, a full hour before opening time. I fully expected to hold the “first in line” title but there were already seven or eight people ahead of me. This should be a warning to you — Lobster week has grown in popularity and causes on average of a twenty minute wait, depending on when you get there. They also run out daily, even though they increased production from last year. My advice to you, stop what you’re doing right now and get over there. It’s 9:15 AM. Call off work. Get a babysitter. Hell, steal a car if you need to. Lobster week is worth both unemployment and/or a length prison term.

So this is completely my bad if I missed this last year, but Mudgie’s has now added a lobster bisque to their lobster week menu. I’ve had a few bisques over the years but in no way do I call myself a lobster bisque expert. I can say, however, that this lobster bisque tastes like a lobster bisque people that know a lot about lobster bisques would say is one of the better lobster bisques. This isn’t a bowl of orange colored cream with some lobster flavor. This is a savory, chunky bowl of greatness. It’s easily the best lobster bisque I’ve had. Fully worth the $10 it will cost you for a bowl.

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But the lobster rolls, what can I say about the lobster rolls. They’re delicious and fresh. Not too fishy fasting and unbelievably tender. The bun is a buttery baked New England style roll that contains the generous portion of lobster meat. The only other ingredient, which to me is normally unacceptable, but lettuce on this sandwich adds a needed crunch to each bite. If you’re one of those people that does things the right way, you’ll have a seat at their outdoor Tiki bar, order a cocktail in a Tiki glass and ask for both the roll and the bisque.

Now as I said before this is a hugely popular week where lines form and lobster eventually runs out. There are rumors of a 100lb lobster order in the coming days so hopefully everyone is able to get their share. My advice for you is again, get there early and prepare yourself for a brief wait. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you arrive later on and they are sold out, don’t complain. If you complain about Mudgie’s, you don’t deserve Mudgie’s It’s that simple.

This event runs through the 29th of July and ends with a lobster themed brunch. If you were wondering if I’ll be there on Sunday I can absolutely promise I will be in attendance.

These lobster shenanigans are going down at 1300 Porter in Corktown.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is Really Bad.

I’m going to make a statement that is going to be unpopular to the majority of people who are reading this.  Don’t worry, It’s OK if you disagree because I’m going to spend the next five minutes of your life convincing you that you’ve been absolutely destroying your meat with a disgusting sugar sauce that shouldn’t be allowed allowed to have the word “Barbecue” on the label.  So here we go.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is bad.  It’s really bad.

But why you might ask?  Most of you have probably been using Sweet Baby Ray’s your entire life.  These $2 bottles of “barbecue sauce” sit on end caps in your local grocery store every summer screaming for you to buy it.  That nice vintage looking bottle with “This Sauce is Boss!” written on the neck of every bottle.  That sweet tasting brown sauce that seems to enhance the flavor of your family’s boiled ribs, chicken cooked on the gas grill and even overcooked pork chops.  Sweet Baby Ray’s seems to make everything great!

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No.  Just no.  Sweet Baby Ray’s is not barbecue sauce.  Barbecue is beautiful.  Barbecue is flavored by wood or charcoal and gives the meat a naturally smoky flavor.  Not sauce with smoky flavoring.  Barbecue sauce can be a lot of fun and is often crucial to give piece of meat a nice caramelization on the outside — And before I go on, yes I know caramelization requires sugar.

But what if I told you that for every two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you slather on your overcooked ribs, it’s the equivalent of eating the same amount of sugar as three Oreos?

Would you ever add 4 sugar cubes to your coffee?  I wouldn’t either.  Just a heads up, when you dump two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s on your chicken wings you’re eating just that.  Four cubes of sugar.

Did you know that every time you destroy a perfectly good piece of brisket with two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you’re eating 34% of your daily recommended sugar intake?

Here’s where things get really creepy.  There is no actual sugar in Sweet Baby Ray’s. Through advances in sweetener technologies over the years, Ray is able to lower the cost of his sauce by using both High Fructose Corn syrup AND corn syrup which has satisfied Wal-Mart customers across the country.

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Now let me wrap this up for you and clear up a few things. I’ve never claimed to be a health conscious eater.  I rarely read nutritional labels and have frequented many all you can eat buffets.  My point in all this is that you are essentially pouring corn syrup with smoke flavoring over a beautiful piece of meat.  Think about that for a second.  A living thing lost its life and you are pouring a substance on it whose creator won’t even go the extra mile to use real sugar.  Not trying to go all hard hitting on you with that statement, but seriously.  Use a quality sauce or no sauce at all.  The purpose of barbecue sauce is to add that tang to your meat, not to completely overtake the flavor with massive amounts of sugar.

So do yourself a favor and sample a different sauce the the next time you fire up the grill at home.  You can do better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.  There are hundreds of options out there who actually use sugar to sweeten their sauce and whose purpose isn’t to be the focal point in your food.  Barbecue sauce should be the Jamal Crawford of your barbecue, a crucial role player who comes through when you need him and has been there for you throughout the years.

If you really want to get crazy, here is a recipe for something that tastes just like Sweet Baby Ray’s but is actually good.

  • 1 bottle bottle organic ketchup (Real sugar, plus you shouldn’t be using ketchup for anything else anyways)
  • 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (you could add more if you prefer a smokier BBQ sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions: Combine all ingredients.  Cook for five minutes  Enjoy not eating Sweet Baby Ray’s.

I hope this information has allowed you to move past this kindergarten barbecue sauce and graduate to treating your meat to something better.  You’re not a four year old dipping chicken nuggets in barbecue sauce.

You’re better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.

 

Tepache – An Explosive Tale

If you read my previous opost right under this one you are aware that my new interest lies within fermentation.  If you haven’t read that post do me a quick favor, scroll down and give it a read.  There are a couple of videos and things that will help this make more sense.  My first attempt in the fermentation game was Tepache — A refreshing pineapple drink that is popular with street vendors in Mexico.

The idea is pretty simple — Pineapple rind and ginger contain a lot of natural yeast.  Add sugar for the yeast organisms to feast on and they produce carbon dioxide waste which carbonates your beverage.  If you’re more of a visual learner, here it is in a nice simple picture:

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So what’s the point of drinking a fermented beverage?  Well, for me it was to just mess around with science and create a refreshing mixer for beer and dark rum.  If you’re into the health stuff, fermentation introduces bacteria to your system that helps with digestion and helps you absorb nutrients better.  You know how Jaime Lee Curtis talks about how Activia yogurt will help keep you “regular”?  Yeah, that.  Basically, fermented foods and drinks help you poop better.

So in summary you can either eat foods such as yogurt that introduce natural probiotics to your system or you can leave a bunch of fruit and sugar in a jar for a week to create a low alcohol beverage that you can mix with high alcohol alcohol beverages that makes you poop better.  Man, that was a long sentence.

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The version of Tepache I contained the following ingredients:

  • One whole pineapple, rind on
  • One piece of ginger
  • One habanero pepper without seeds
  • 1lb of brown sugar (more on this later)
  • One gallon distilled or boiled water

It then sat in a glass jar in dark area for four days while the yeast snacked on the massive amount of brown sugar I added.  Some people say you only need to do this for three but on day three I was tired from work and said F it.  On day four I had a slightly carbonated beverage that was much less sweet than when I first put it together.  I then strained the beverage through cheese cloth and into airtight glass containers to allow for further carbonation.

Here’s where this whole thing gets interesting.  I was having dinner in Ypsilanti when I get a call from my wife letting me know that something sounded like a bomb just went off in our home.  Turns out one of the glass bottles with my Tepache exploded due to carbon dioxide build up.  There was glass and Tepache everywhere.  It was an absolute mess.  Luckily, the other two bottles remained intact and produced a delicious drink that I quickly mixed with a wheat beer.  It was fantastic and I won’t go into any details about the health benefits that followed.

So here’s my only issue — either I added too sugar at the beginning or I filled my bottles up too high.  Problem is, there’s only one way to find out and that’s make more fermented beverages and see if they explode or not.  I’m up to that challenge and I am completely sure that my wife will be fine with the possibility of more glass shrapnel in our home.

NEXT UP : Fermented Ginger Beer!  Stay tuned!

Fermentation

I’ll admit, not much going on in terms of food these days.  I’m getting off three days of being sick and haven’t been outside in 48 hours.  What do I do while locked in the house for multiple days, you might ask?

I watch food and beverage shows on YouTube.  This time I around, I watched a few videos and pulled the trigger on something I have been wanting to experiment with for a long time:  Fermentation, or to make it really simple:  playing with bacteria in my food and drink.  To get me started, I have purchased single product.. a one gallon glass jar.

In this jar, I will start by making two things.  The first is Tepache, a Pineapple drink popular in Mexico that contains pineapple, brown sugar, water and cloves.  It then sits for three days while the bacteria eats the sugar and then you have a delicious bubbly, probiotic drink.  Apparently it also goes well with tequila or rum.  Or any kind of alcohol.

Side note, I urge you to watch the following video about the steps necessary to make Tepache.  Even if you have no interest, this series on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel about cooking with bacteria is the best.

The second will be ginger ale which is done by creating a “ginger bug”, basically mixing ginger and sugar so the bacteria from the ginger feeds on the sugar and creates fermentation, then mixing with it with a homemade ginger tea.  This typically sits for a week before you have a delicious bacteria carbonated ginger ale.  I’ll be completely honest, I’m doing this because I’m curious how much better it will taste with Wild Turkey than my store bought ginger beer.  Notice a trend here?

If any of you have any experience in this field let me know.  I’m eventually going to want to make some Mead, AKA Honey Wine, and I’m sure I’ll fall into a rabbit hole after that.  I have created a new category to organize this exploration so if you’re interested, keep checking back.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

I remember very clearly the first time I saw something about barrel aged liquor.   I was in a subway in New York and there was poster advertising about how Jack Daniels is clear before it goes into the barrels.  After years of aging, it took on the colors of the barrel and came out a light brown.  I was in my late teens so I was more interested in Burnett’s Vodka and Bacardi Limon at the time, but this alway stuck with me.

Anyone who has drank a significant amount of alcohol with me knows that I’ve been a Gin man for quite a while now.  This was my sort of my graduation from shitty alcohol in my late teens and early 20s to something a little bit more sophisticated.  My curiosity for the culinary world began to drift into the alcohol I was drinking.  It was interesting to me how different brands seemed to have different spices and how you could pair it with things like cucumber and enhance the taste.  I began drinking my alcohol straight (or neat), or on the rocks without a chaser.  Alcohol became less of something that just gets you fucked up and more of a new world to explore.  About a year ago I starting drinking and enjoying Bourbon, which you could probably say has sent me down an alcoholic rabbit hole of exploration.

I have written a couple posts about my food travels through Kentucky, but the real reason I drove five hours through the worst state in the country (Ohio) was to gain a first hand education on American Whiskey, specifically Kentucky Bourbon.  The more I tasted and the more I read about this spirit the more I wanted to see how it was made, the people that make it and taste it directly from the source.  I planned out visits to six distilleries in five days and what resulted from it was a deep appreciation for all things Bourbon.

Now I’m not going to make this a post where I go into great detail and give a “review” about each distillery I traveled to.  I will say that I visited Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Woodford Reserve.  The thing I want to do with this post is share history of Bourbon, a little bit of the process and try to help you understand why I now have such a deep appreciation for something that seems like just another liquor that you buy in a bottle.  I’m also going to try and do it in a way that is interesting to you.  I hope I can help you appreciate the next drink of bourbon that you try and if you haven’t had Bourbon before, maybe it will motivate you to try it.

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So what is Bourbon anyways?  It’s actually very simple.  Bourbon is a Whiskey made out of a combination of at least 51 percent corn, malt(grain), wheat and rye.  The percentage of corn is very important, as you legally cannot call what you’re making “Bourbon”, unless it contains a minimum of 51% corn. That is the first legal requirement we will get into.  From there, everything is ground up and mixed with water.  This step is why 95% of Bourbon in the United States is produced in Kentucky. Kentucky’s rivers and lakes are covered in massive amount of limestone.  Limestone acts as a natural filtration for iron and produces iron-free water that is perfect for Bourbon.  You may bring up that there are plenty of places in the world where this much limestone exists as well, which brings us to our second legal requirement for Bourbon.  It must be produced in the United States.  You take grain and cook it in water. The water extracts the sugars from the grain and puts them into solution. This mixture is called the mash.  Next, adding yeast consumes sugar and releases alcohol through the process of fermentation. The mash ferments until it reaches approximately 11-12% alcohol. At that point, the alcohol kills the yeast and the fermentation process stops.

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It is then ran through a giant still, think of it as a giant copper chimney, and heat is applied to the bottom which separates the solids from the clear (the alcohol evaporates) and gives you what distillers call white dog, but the rest of just call moonshine.  This clear grain alcohol typically ranges from 125 proof all the way up to 160 proof, which brings us to our third legal requirement.  The white dog cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof and cannot enter the barrels at more than 125 proof.  Distillers use water to alter the proof throughout the process.

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Now we enter the fourth legal requirement for Bourbon — It must be aged in new, charged oak containers.  That’s right, a Bourbon barrel must be set on fire for a period of 15-55 seconds and may not be used to age Bourbon a second time.  The barrels are then placed in a large warehouse filled with other barrels for different periods of time, typically four to six years.  Depending on which floor the barrel sits on, the Bourbon will taste different due to pressure and humidity.  The liquid enters the crevices of the barrels in the Summer and is then expelled in the Winters.  Think of a ten year Bourbon has having the liquid enter and leave the barrel ten times.  There is no legal requirement on how long the bourbon sits, but the more expensive Bourbons sit for decades.  Bottles of a 23 year aged Pappy Van Winkle can go for $5,000 if you can find it.  The fascinating thing about that price tag to me, is it is made the same exact way a $20 bottle of Buffalo Trace is made — a combination of corn, wheat, rye and mash, then aged in oak barrels.

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Just like Jack Daniels told me all those years ago, the clear liquid leaves the barrels as a light brown liquid that can legally be called Bourbon, as long as it is as least eighty proof when it enters the bottle for sale.  This is the fifth, and final legal requirement to sell Bourbon.  These legal requirements are why you will never see a low alcohol Bourbon, fruit flavored Bourbons or clear Bourbons.  You may see a bourbon blended a flavor additive, but it is illegal to add any flavoring or coloring during the distilling process.  What you’re seeing is basically moon shine taking in flavors from the wood which gives is a deep, sweet flavor depending on the type of oak the distiller used and the amount of time the barrel was allowed to burn.  If you’ve ever had Makers Mark 64, you are tasting French oak that is added to give you a smoother taste than American oak. The long char opens the pores in the wood to add the sweetness.

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So if you actually read all that you might have a deeper appreciation for your next glass of Bourbon.  What you’re drinking is the product of hundreds of years of perfecting, potentially a decade or more of aging and generations of people working to create the perfect American Whiskey.  What’s more amazing is there is absolutely no waste when it comes to Bourbon production.  The leftover corn mixture is sold to farmers to feed livestock and the barrels are sold to make other types of Whiskey and barrel aged beers.

I will leave you with this.  The production, the history and the science are absolutely fascinating parts of something you could see as so simple.  Even more interesting are the people responsible for the production.  Master Distillers dedicate their lives to producing something that may turn out to be a complete waste of time but they won’t know for five to ten years while it ages.  Generations of families have been employees of distilleries and see it as their family calling to work for the business.  So much time, love and tradition go into the industry in Kentucky.  The perfect example of this is Freddie Johnson, a third generation employee of Buffalo Trade Distillery and led my two hour tour throughout the facility.  Even if you didn’t appreciate all of this, I hope you will read his story.

All Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is Bourbon.”

Dad’s Favorites Deli

Whenever I’m in a different state on vacation, I typically will look for places that I probably will never have the chance to eat at again — Or at least not be able to find within 100 miles of home.  I’ll start out by reaching out to anyone I know in the area then I’ll move on to the internet trying to find anyone in the area who is writing about food. Sometimes I’ll simply do a search on Instagram for pictures of the food in the area and follow up with a search about the restaurant’s story.  I prefer smaller places owned by some guy that decided one day that he was going to sell his food for a living. I think the story behind the food is almost as important as the food itself.

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Enter Dad’s Favorite Deli, where a guy that cooked for family and friends for years decided to open up a little deli in 2008 in a random strip mall next to a gun shop and sell sandwiches, soups and his cheese spreads.  Now when I say random strip mall, I mean that when you GPS it you’re led directly into a fence.  From there, you must figure out for yourself that you must drive all the way around the fence (not into it, Michael Scott) and around a strip mall.  After navigating to the front of the mall, you must look for the small sign pointing you in the direction of a hallway that shares a gun shop, a jewelry store and a coin laundry.  In this hallway, sit five or six small tables and an open door all the way at the end.  Here, from 11am-3pm Mon-Fri, Dad is open for business.

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When you walk in to the small shop, the first thing you realize is Dad himself is making your food.  There are a number of other employees but how many places can you go anymore where the owner is the one putting everything together and making sure your order is done correctly?  The mystery location, the hallway and the presence of Dad make this such a better experience than going to some mass-produced sandwich shop where their only goal is to finish out their shift.  Care seems to be put into ever tray that goes out of their little assembly line style kitchen.

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Everything I read before my visit said the Asiago Pot Roast Sandwich was the way to go. This is exactly what it sounds like — pot roast and Dad’s Asiago Cheese Spread on French bread with a red pepper sauce for dipping that could probably making anything taste delicious.  Seriously, that red pepper sauce is like crack.  I ate there two hours ago and I’m still thinking about the taste.  The beautiful part of this sandwich is the lack of bullshit.  Four ingredients make up this sandwich, not one of them a “special” ingredient, but all four are done perfectly.  The bread is soft with the smallest bit of crunch to add some texture, the pot roast is tender and the cheese adds a slightly smokey bite.  The red pepper sauce tops it all off and adds a little tangy bite.  Since I’m on my way to obesity I added a soup which for today was Mexican corn chowder and was equally as great as the sandwich.  This entire meal cost me eight bucks.

Aside from the Pot Roast Sandwich Dad also offers seven other sandwiches, two soups made daily and macaroni and cheese.  Every menu item uses a different version of his cheese speads, which you can order in the shop or through his website.  On Tuesdays, he serves several different kinds of Tacos, in addition to the normal menu.

I absolutely love places like this.  Some guy enjoyed cooking food for family and friends and bravely decided he would give it a go to do it professionally.  This is what makes food so great — trying someone’s creations and knowing that they took a risk to serve it to you. There’s nothing flashy or special about Dad’s Favorites from the outside but once you avoid running into the fence and pass through a hallway filled with people eating his food, it’s quite obvious that Dad has created something special here.  I can’t recommend it enough.