An Apology to Guy Fieri

I have said a lot of terrible things about Guy Fieri over the years.  Several years ago on Epic Portions I researched his family history and wrote about his name change from “Ferry” to “Fieri”.  I mocked his terrible restaurants and wrote about how stupid of an idea it is to run a Mexican/Sushi fusion restaurant.  I still stand behind the opinion that Guy Fieri makes terrible food and shouldn’t be looked to for any food guidance.

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What I will say, is Guy Fieri seems to be a pretty decent guy.  If you search really deep in the news and sort through whatever Donald Trump has done this week, you might find a story about Guy Fieri feeding 5,000 fire evacuees per day.  Fieri constructed a makeshift kitchen in Santa Rosa, CA last Thursday and has been serving meals to people displaced by the massive fires in the area.  He has brought with him several massive smokers and several other chefs from the area to cook alongside him.  Not only is he feeding evacuees, but he is also sending food to the firefighters working to battle the blazes.  The menu includes chicken, pork loin, braised cabbage, mashed potatoes and baked beans.

Here’s the part where I respect Guy Fieri the most for this.  There is not one single picture or mention of him doing this on his Twitter or Instagram.  The most he has done is set up a Classy.org site for donations, pose for a few pictures with fire fighters and give one interview to a PBS affiliate where he gave this quote:

“I’m not promoting anything. I’m just here cooking. This is feeding people. People need help, and I’m here to help. That’s it.”

So to you Guy Fieri, I apologize for ripping on your terrible food ideas and the public persona you have created to build yourself quite the successful brand.  This is pretty damn cool that you’re putting in work to help people and not asking for anything in return for it.  This is exactly what he said it is, people needing help and he’s using his success to do something positive.  You have my promise that I will not join in on the hating Guy Fieri game anytime in the future.  I hope you will do the same.

Stop Buying Terrible Pasta Sauce

When I was younger my Brother and I participated in every sport and activity you could think of.  The one that stuck for both of us was swimming, which led to grueling two a day practices during our teenage years.  Mother Moors used to have to come up with large enough meals to feed us after practice, which led to some of the most impressive eating sessions in the history of the city of Northville, MI.  The one that seemed to fill us up the easiest was a giant pot of spaghetti, Italian sausage and a jar of store bought sauce.  To this day, spaghetti is one of my favorite meals to prepare when I want something fast and easy.  My Mother made a lot of sacrifices and taught me many things while I was growing up.  The wisdom she bestowed upon me has formed me into the person I am today.  There was one piece of information she shared with me in my late teens that has made an impact on my entire life.  I will never forget it.

Stop buying terrible pasta sauce.

Stop buying Prego.  Stop buying Ragu.  That off brand value sauce?  Leave it on the shelf. Your pasta deserves better.  That Italian sausage is judging you.  I’m not trying to be some pasta sauce snob when I say that.  I understand that it’s a really cost effective way of serving a large plate of food and some people don’t care.  This entire post is dedicated to making you care the next time you want to make a large plate of spaghetti and need some sauce.  This is dedicated to my Mother, who taught me to have higher expectations when eating spaghetti.  Finally, this post is dedicated to spaghetti — The finest, cheapest way to cure hunger.

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First of all, let’s look at the ingredients in a terrible pasta sauce.  Take for example a can of Ragu Old World Style Traditional Sauce, which is advertised as their richest, thickest recipe:

Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Soybean Oil, Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Spices, Romano Cheese Made From Cow’s Milk (Cultured Part-Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Natural Flavors.’

Your first lesson in purchasing sauce at the store is if your jar lists tomato paste as the first ingredient drop the can so it shatters on the floor and pretend you did it on accident. You should then ask for a mop and clean it up yourself so someone doesn’t have to clean up after you.  Seriously though. Tomato paste is created by cooking down tomatoes until the liquid is almost completely removed, leaving a thick tomato concentrate.  It’s the first step in making ketchup.  You’re basically stealing a tomato’s soul and selling it to the devil.  Any integrity that tomato had is now gone.  You may as well enjoy a large glass of juice from concentrate while eating tomato soul.

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Instead, look for a very simple item listed first on the ingredients.  Look for actual tomatoes.  No puree, no paste.  Just tomatoes.  Going the complete opposite end of the spectrum, take a look at Rao’s Homemade Marinara’s ingredients.

Imported Italian tomatoes, imported olive oil, fresh onions, salt, fresh garlic, fresh basil, black pepper, oregano

See how it sounds like you just bought a jar of tomatoes with some seasonings?  Doesn’t that sound more like what we want to dump on our pasta?  I know, I know, Rao’s is $9 a jar which to most people just isn’t worth it.  I happen to believe that it’s an absolutely ridiculous idea to pay that much for some tomatoes and seasoning.  There are plenty of sauces in between that use actual tomatoes rather than the souls of thousands of poor tomatoes.  If you pay an extra dollar or two, your pasta will be happy to not have to hang out with those asshole sauces.

Second, why not just make your own sauce?  I understand not everyone has the know-how to make a sauce and it’s just so much easier to buy a bottle of Prego ketchup sauce and be done with it.  Here’s my retort to that.  You can purchase a two pound can of San Marzano tomatoes, widely known as tomatoes grown in the finest tomato growing region in the world, for about $4.  From there you pour it in a pot with whatever ingredients you like, cook it on medium-low for an hour or two and you have a better sauce than any jar you could buy at any store.  The beautiful part of this is it’s almost impossible to screw up.  Like garlic?  Throw it in.  Like your sauce a little spicy?  Add red pepper.  Want to cook the Italian sausage directly in the sauce so you don’t have to wash two pans?  IT MAKES IT EVEN BETTER.  Seriously, the next time you are thinking about buying a jar of sauce buy a can of tomatoes instead and just throw a bunch of shit together.  It will blow your mind how much better it is.

Just as a bonus, here’s the recipe for that $9 bottle of Rao’s Marinara.  This makes double what sells at the store for a dollar less than one jar.  Obviously the better the ingredients you use the closer it will taste to actual Rao’s.

  • Olive oil
  • Quarter onion, chopped up
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped up
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes.
  • 6 leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces.  Don’t chop it, ask Meyhem Lauren.
  • Little bit of dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper

Do you have a crock pot/slow cooker?  Of course you do.  Dump all of those ingredients in before you leave for work and when you get home you’ll have a delicious sauce that tastes like it was cooked by an old Italian lady name Belaflore.  If you’ve never cooked a couple of pieces of Italian sausage in your sauce, as mentioned before, here is your chance to be the hero you’ve never been able to be.  Your family will probably even do the dishes for you after dinner instead of just leaving them in the sink like they always do.

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Vegan Chili – No, This Isn’t a Joke

So based on my most recent posts you might assume that I’m just some asshole that likes to force his opinions of various food items and restaurants while having no real culinary skills to bring to the table.  You would be about 35% accurate on the first part of that statement but I can actually cook a little bit.  My problem is I rarely cook the same thing twice so I’m really not great at one particular dish.  The nice part about this is I’m pretty good at cooking pretty much anything you could think of.

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Most recently I dabbled in a cooking without the use of any meat or dairy, which was a real challenge for a guy like me.  More accurately, I wanted to make the meatiest tasting chili I possibly could using no meat products.  I know, I know, why would I do something like this?  I did this because it’s interesting to me to do the research on different processes and ingredients that would challenge me and grow my culinary knowledge. I’m not all about just smoking large portions of meat and eating tacos.  I’m in this for the adventure and a deeper understanding.  #zen

So in my research, I found the best information from one of the better food writers/experimenters on the internets, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I like to think of him as a worthwhile replacement for Alton Brown, until Good Eats comes back.  If you are interested in the science of food and/or some alternate techniques, check out his Food Lab column on Serious Eats.  A lot of his content is higher level and goes into a ton of detail but it’s all worth a read.

I decided that if I was not going to use any meat, I was going to have to get flavor from as many different places as possible.  The most obvious place to start was creating a chili paste rather than use a chili powder.  Now, creating a chili paste sounds like it might be difficult but I can show you how its done in only two steps.  Better yet, I can provide photos.

Step One: Obtain a bunch of dried chilis.  For this, I used Arbol and Ancho chilis.  Add them to a large pot with water and simmer until soft.

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Step two: Add chilis to either a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender.  I added two canned adobo peppers for a little smokiness.  Then you know, blend them all up in a paste.

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Cool, now you have chili paste.  This stuff will taste completely different than a store bought chili powder and won’t make your family hate you because of the heat.  It adds a nice smoky, sweet spicy base to the chili for you to build on.  If you have a Mexican grocery by you an entire bag containing twenty of these guys can be purchased for the same price as a store bought container of chili powder that will give you about as much flavor as wood shavings.  If you prefer a powder, you can simply leave them dry and grind them up in a food processor.

The next question for me was how do we replace that hearty, rich taste of ground beef? I could step up all the other ingredients but how would I do this without using some terrible soy protein beef crumble replacement?  I quickly found my answer in three different ingredients.

The first is a product called Marmite, which is a yeast extract that adds that heartiness to chili usually created by adding meat.  Marmite is famous in Britain as a spread for toast, but it’s the real MVP in your life if you’re looking for a meat replacement in stews and soups. The second was using a soy sauce to replace the saltiness and give a little tang. The third is beans, lots of beans.  I used three different types, with all three giving it a different meaty texture.

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I would like to stop here and reiterate that you shouldn’t use meat substitute products. They lack any kind of meat texture and simply just aren’t very much fun.  It’s much more fun to experiment with different ingredients and techniques to create your own.  Plus, they’re all pretty gross.

Moving on to the beans.  Beans are really the magic ingredient to any vegetarian chili. Add as many ingredients as you want to enhance the taste but vegetarian chili is absolutely gross without some bite and texture.  The obvious solution is black beans and chili beans.  Simply throw them in for the last twenty minutes of cooking and you have a hearty chili.  Taking it a step further — get some garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas aka the great white bean, rinse them to get the shell off, pulse them in a food processor a few times and you have yourself the cheapest and easiest ground beef substitute you can find.  They will absorb every little bit of the chili paste, the marmite and the soy sauce. Oh, and I heard they’re healthy too.

From there it’s all the usual ingredients you would normally add to your chili in the amount that you like them.  A can of tomatoes, an onion here, a few cloves of garlic there.  A dash of cumin, some oregano.  I always like to add some masa, or corn flour, to the mixture for the last ten minutes of cooking to give it a little corn flavor.  That’s the beauty of chili though, add whatever you want.  If the base ingredients are good, you’re all set.

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If you’re a recipe person, here’s a recipe for you.  As always, I encourage you to make this yours and experiment.  The keys in this are the Marmite, soy sauce and garbanzo beans.

  • 8 dried chilis (arbol, ancho, whatever you like)
  • 2 whole chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes packed in juice
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic (i really like garlic)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon marmite or vegemite
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons masa
  • Salt pepper (obviously)

If you’re the kind of person that needs step by instructions with your recipes here’s where I need you to get dangerous and just throw all of this together and see how it turns out.  I will say that you should add the flavoring ingredients first to build some character, then add the liquid to expand that flavor, then add the texture to absorb that flavor.

I hope you will enjoy this and try to make your own vegan chili.  If a guy with a pig tattooed on his arm can have some fun with this then so you can you.

Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit

OK OK, I’m a little late to the party on an issue that has been dividing the city of Detroit for months now. When it first came up I didn’t want to react out of emotion and say something I would regret. Like our President, I don’t just rush out and make a statement before I have collected all the facts. On hot button topics such as this one, the decision to come out immediately and take a side could divide all twelve of my readers. At this stage in my writing career, I just can not afford to take risks like that.

So after giving it some time and collecting all of the information that is now available I am now ready to make a statement and take a side. I’m also ready to offer you my opinion — And as a bonus, I’ll explain my opinion in ways that you can understand. It involves Kid Rock and it includes an announcement he made recently that could cause people to make a mistake that they will never forget. Ready for this one?

Kid Rock opened a restaurant.

Yes. Kid Rock, self proclaimed Son of Detroit — Or more accurately, Son of Romeo, decided it would be a good idea to open up a restaurant called Made in Detroit serving a variety of Southern and Detroit influenced dishes. The 5,800 sq. ft restaurant and bar sits in the new Little Caesars arena and is open to the public even outside of event dates. The walls are plastered with Kid Rock memorabilia but unfortunately Confederate flags were not allowed as a decoration, despite Rock’s deep ties to the southern states.

Now if you read that last sentence and detected sarcasm then you are doing a great job following along with me. Let’s dive into a history of Kid Rock so we can better understand the roots of his Made in Detroit restaurant because the story is what makes a restaurant great, am I right?

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Bob Ritchie was born in Romeo, MI in 1971 on a six-acre estate with an apple orchard. His father, Bill, owned several car local car dealerships. At the age of 15 he ran away to the mean streets of Mt Clemens to DJ and rap for various parties and at the age of 17 signed a record deal as a hip hop artist with Jive Records. I’ll fast forward through bringing Uncle Kracker to the world, becoming a rap-rock superstar with Fred Durst and starring in a sex tape with the lead singer of Creed and get to the point. I read a lot about Kid Rock in preparation for this article. I learned a lot more about Kid Rock than I ever cared to know. I became confused on one big thing with Kid Rock’s life.

Where did his southern ties come from? After recording his most successful song in 2002 — A duet with Sheryl Crow — his sound completely changed from some of the worst rap/rock in the history of terrible rap/rock to a mix of Southern Rock and Country. His look changed from mesh tank tops and wife beaters to cowboy hats and creative uses of the American flag as clothing. Somehow, Kid Rock went from a terrible rapper to the most patriotic country artist alive, even dubbing him self the King of White Trash. Doesn’t this seem kind of weird? Stop to think, country music fans accepted Hootie as one of their own so is it really that weird that they also accepted Kid Rock?

So I got tired of researching Kid Rock’s love for America, his claim that he loves both the Confederacy and Black people and his deep affection for the South. There wasn’t really anything interesting about it. It was quite obvious that the guy saw an opportunity to transition from a genre of music that was slowly dying to another genre that was on the rise. Creating a character that made music about drinking whiskey, loving America and not giving a fuck was the more lucrative path. So Bob Ritchie created this character and turned into it.

So at the midpoint of this post you’re probably asking yourself when I’m going to actually start talking about food. Well my wonderful reader, here’s where we begin talking about how absolutely stupid Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit restaurant is. Ready? Let’s do it.

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Much like his public persona, Kid Rock’s restaurant is also completely full of shit. We aren’t even going to go into the news that there were $2.9 million in fines for violating contracts requiring a certain percentage of contractors hired to construct the arena to be from the Detroit Area. In fact, 27 perfect of the total hours spent constructing the area housing Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit were actually worked by Detroit and Michigan based companies.

What we will go into is how completely ridiculous attempting to merge Southern and Detroit style cuisines together is. Ask yourself — what is Detroit style cuisine? Is there really such a thing? The only two things Detroit is known for are coney dogs and deep dish pizza. Can you make an entire menu out of these two items? The answer is absolutely not unless your making an entire restaurant specializing in one of them. So did Kid Rock decide that there wasn’t enough Detroit themed food items to fill his menu or did he feel the need to extend his “I’m from Detroit but I really really like the South” act into his restaurant? The answer is absolutely.

So when Kid Rock decided to open a restaurant called Made in Detroit he probably partnered with a Detroit based company to help him, right? That would only make sense seeing as the place is called Made in Detroit. Actually, he called up a large hospitality company called Delaware North out of Buffalo, New York. When it came time to hire a chef to run day to day operations? Kid Rock and Delaware North looked no further than Westland, MI(voted worst food city in the world from 2013-2016) to find their executive chef. No, I didn’t make the Westland connection up.

The menu includes exactly four menu items that have any actual ties to Detroit. There are the Coney Island Buns, Fried McClure’s Pickles, The Hamtramck Burger and a Michigan Cherry Pie. Everything else is a random mix that ranges from Chicken Shawarma Tacos, Nashville Hot Chicken, Fried Oysters and Grits, Beet Salad and to top everything off.. Vegan Bourbon Maple Ice Cream, because Kid Rock cares about vegans. Many menu items contain a bacon that is called out as Nueske’s slab bacon that is shipped in from Wisconsin. There is an American Goulash which is a little confusing, because goulash is a traditional Hungarian dish. The Made in Detroit Burger is topped with lettuce, tomatoes, American cheese and pickles — Leaving me wondering exactly what about this burger makes it Made in Detroit aside from the fact that it was assembled in Detroit.

If the food menu wasn’t confusing enough, the drink menu is even better. One of the great things about the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit over the last decade is the emergence of craft breweries and distilleries. There are thousands of great beers being produced out of the state and hundreds of choices in liquor. So what did Kid Rock choose for his beer menu? In-state choices are American Badass Lager, Ghetto Blaster and Two Hearted IPA. Other choices include Stroh’s, Labatt, Tecate and Black Label. There five liquor options from Michigan based companies but none are included in their cocktail menu. Couldn’t you at least use the liquor that is made in Detroit in the cocktails in a restaurant called Made in Detroit? Is that too much to ask?

I know, I know it’s silly to try use logic when dissecting the backstory and menu of a restaurant owned by a guy who once got into a fight at a Waffle House. It’s just hard for me to look at someone so full of shit open up a restaurant in a Detroit that has such an improving food culture. It’s also hard to look at someone who was once quoted as saying “My shows aren’t about trying to save some place, because I don’t feel that’s the right venue for it. That’s my politics right there: Don’t bring politics to my shows.” now giving political speeches teasing a run for Senate at his shows.

My stance: Don’t go to Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit. Don’t encourage celebrities partnering with large hospitality companies to open terrible restaurants and take away from the local food culture. Don’t go here, don’t go to Wahlburgers — Support local businesses who are actually a part of the city and give it character. Kid Rock somehow became a representative for a city that had hardly anything going for it. Detroit is better than Kid Rock now. I completely understand that celebrity presence brings money and recognition into the city but is Kid Rock really the celebrity we want when people think of Detroit? Maybe a decade ago when people outside of the city thought of it as a dumping ground. Not anymore.

In Defense of Westland

Over the past six months I have said many terrible things about the city of Westland.  I have done everything from calling out the poor nutrition of its residents to making up fake awards calling it the worst food city in the entire country.  During my report about Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, I made a claim about Westland’s obesity levels that may have taken it a little far.

But before I get into the rest of this post, I have to admit that I made the title of this post “In Defense of Westland” as click bait.  There is no defending Westland.  It’s the worst food city in America.  There is no real award making that an official statement, only the truth. The only cities that prevail over Westland as having a worse food situation would be those that have no restaurants at all.  My goal with this post is to understand why the food is so terrible and to call attention the few places that are getting it right.  This is sort of a quasi-internet deep dive, part review, part rant style post and I hope we get to the bottom of why Westland’s food scene is such an absolute shithole.

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My first step when looking at food in a certain region is to examine the residents. As most American cities were, Westland was inhabited by the Potawatomis, a Native American tribe, in the 18th century.  The Potawatomi people hunted deer, elk, and wild birds and caught fish. The Potawatomis were also among the first to tap trees for maple syrup in Michigan.  Some even refer to the Potawatomi era as the golden era of food in Westland.  In 1827, white people saw this happening and decided to fuck everything up. They saw the maple syrup being extracted from the trees, the women and children gathering berries and then men cooking freshly butchered meat over open fires.  They decided that this was unacceptable and they would work tirelessly to ensure that this settlement became home to the worst food in what later became known as America. They also erased any mention of this from prevalent history books so one hundred or so years of history detailing the destruction of culinary practice remains hidden deep in libraries, which no one in Westland knows of.

After World War II an area of Westland known as the Norwayne Historic District was built for defense workers.  They were given subsidies for their rent and a small town began to form.  They constructed a fire station, two schools and a church.  It became home to over 1200 families.  After the war was over, the families were given the option to purchase the homes and preference for the leftover homes was given to veterans.  In the late 40s, it was a popular place for soldiers returning home to call home.  No information was given to these defense workers and veterans about the strict policies still leftover from the early 1800s on food practices in the area.  As you can imagine, these was a shock to those who risked their lives for this country.  When they returned home expecting a home cooked meal on the table, they were met with well done steaks dressed with ketchup.  They fought these policies and argued that the laws were archaic but the town leaders argued that these policies had gotten them to where they were today and must be kept alive.  Any deviation in food quality would cause the town to turn to Anarchy.

Over the next thirty years there were many attempts to reverse the laws of the 1800s requiring Westland to remain the worst food city in America.  In 1959, Westland appointed Ray Croc as a lead consultant for city restaurant development.  Under his rule, restaurants in Westland were required to either be a franchise itself and/or have a minimum of twenty other locations.  His belief was that these requirements would cause chefs and restauranteurs to look elsewhere in their search of homes for their fancy restaurants.  To take it a step further, a large shopping mall was built in the middle of the city with a large food court specializing in bland food and mass produced meals.

By 2008, Westland became a hotbed for people that wanted to be surrounded by terrible chain restaurants.  Unfortunately, these were not the most desirable class of people and only added to the motivation of the longstanding residents of Westland to relocate. Longtime citizens had endured decades of terrible food but once these people, who were often crass and lacked basic hygiene, began to enter it was too much to endure.  The area that ones housed defense workers and soldiers returning from World War II became know as Shacktown, due to the deteriorating and mostly abandoned homes.

Despite the fleeing of the majority of its quality residents, Westland continued to become a popular destination for the worst chain restaurants in the country.  Applebee’s decided to build a restaurant across from Westland Mall.  Red Robin, not to be outdone, struck ground directly across the street from Applebee’s.  Mike Illitch read about the growing shitty restaurant development in the area and decided it would be a perfect location to serve the second worst pizza in the country.  Not to be outdone, Pizza Hut moved quickly to position themselves to serve the worst pizza in the country to the residents of Westland.  Fifteen coney islands were built between 2005 and 2010, with a brand new Rams Horn being built in 2010 to top off Westland as the shittiest food city in the country. The people who adopted Westland as their home during this time were thrilled that they could have a consistent, recognizable meal whenever they pleased.  Ray Croc’s policies were still intact so there was no chance they would have a bad meal at a place they had never heard of.

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In 2010 two families realized an opportunity in this terrible, terrible city.  They read through Ray Croc’s policies and realized that there was nothing that said they couldn’t open a small grocery in Westland.  There was also nothing saying they couldn’t serve food out of a grocery store.  This developed into Dos Hermanos Market and La Taqueria Alameda being constructed as what some called “Guerilla Restaurants” — Establishments that looked like a grocery store but was really a restaurant.  Word began to spread and a small group of people that had once traveled to other regions to sample quality cuisine began to research the policies that now dated back 140 years.  They eventually hired legal representation and sued the city over their rights to quality food.

There was a long court battle, which took place at the local Buffalo Wild Wings, with the final ruling being that establishments serving quality food would be allowed in Westland. There were several qualifications the establishment must meet though.  The first was that it had to be built around carry out.  The second was that there was to be absolutely no fine dining.  The third was that if you had a capacity of over thirty seats you had to pay a small percentage that went into supporting the existing terrible restaurants in the city.  The fourth was that a good restaurant could only be constructed every five years.  After these policies went into place, Gabrielle’s Cheese Steak Hoagies was constructed on Wayne Rd.  With the obesity levels in the area and the new requirements it seemed like a natural marriage.  Five years later, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken was constructed with the demographics of the area being a perfect customer base.

This all sounds well and good to the majority of people.  Most people just want to be able to take their family out for a good meal.  Unfortunately, the “less desirables” that moved into the area seeking familiarity with their food still cling on to policies created by 1800s settlers and Ray Croc in the 1950s.  Thankfully, because of the internet, these people have a voice and thanks to screenshots I can share them with you. Thanks Yelp!

Here is Icie F. on her visit to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, which advertises on their website as having some of the best hot and spicy chicken around:

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Here is Rick W., who had his life ruined by Taqueria Alameda, because they had to close early and didn’t actually try their food.  Apparently this is a valid reason to boycott a family’s business and tell everyone you know about it:

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Did you know that reviewing a McDonalds is a thing?  Well Rob.S, an Elite Yelp Reviewer does, and he’s REALLY UPSET!!!!

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And finally, it’s very important to Jake G. that everyone knows that Burger King fucked up his lemonade.

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So in summary, the people of Westland are responsible for having no more than three somewhat quality places to eat.  They are to blame.  As you can tell from their history, they have standards and by standards I mean they must have their meals served to them by a familiar name in terrible mass produced fashion.  Even then if you don’t give them what they are used to it will be blasted all over the internet which is enabled by a wonderful website called Yelp.  Newer, more high end restaurants or even restaurants taking chances have no shot at making it in Westland because the people know what they want and they want it the same every single time.  Why would any quality restaurant move in when cities like Dearborn, Plymouth, Ann Arbor and Detroit are a drive away and are home to people who will support good food?

So last thing, there is no defending Westland.  It is the worst food city in the entire country.

Satchel’s BBQ

I get asked a lot for my opinion on who is serving the best BBQ in the area.  When you get a pig tattooed on your arm you kind of open yourself up for these questions.  Usually people assume it’s going to be a well known joint like Slow’s or Blue Tractor.  I know this is a real “Hipster” thing to say but I’m not a big fan of either of those places.  If you’ve ever read my ode to whole hog style BBQ, you know that I’m a firm believer that great BBQ does not come from a place with an extensive menu and a bunch of different sauces. Instead, I believe that great BBQ comes from small places that someone decided to open because they loved everything that goes into smoking meats.  The mecca of greatness, Franklin BBQ, was opened up by a guy who became obsessed with smoking brisket in his back yard and now has a cult following that includes a four hour wait every morning.  The passion and detail that goes into smoking meat at home and then figuring out how offer that same taste on a large scale is what makes BBQ great.

Now I could talk about why I love BBQ for hours but the purpose of this post is to tell a story about what I think is best BBQ joint within fifty miles of where I live.  When you live in Westland, MI, which was voted least desirable city to open a restaurant in the Unite States the past two years, you have to travel these distances to find quality food. Luckily, Satchel’s BBQ has me covered with a short drive to Ann Arbor.

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Satchel’s BBQ was opened in 2010 by a guy named Hugh who worked in Finance, had zero restaurant experience and loved BBQ.  To steal a quote from the Ann Arbor News, he “likes to make BBQ and people like BBQ”.  It’s just that simple.  He opened up in a little 1500 sq. ft space that shares a building with a Verizon store to house his Southern style BBQ joint and named it after his dog.  There is no visible sign out front, just two large smokers that run throughout the day and into the night.  As you drive by on Washtenaw ave., you can smell the smokers from your car, which is probably better than any sign Hugh could have purchased.  The first time I went to Satchel’s was early 2011 when I was returning from some sort of debauchary in Ann Arbor.  The smell made me turn around in Whole Food’s parking lot and pay the place a visit.  I was BBQ rookie back then and I was shocked at the absence of sauce on the meat.  Up until this day, I had always craved different types of sauces poured all over my smoked meats.  This was different, the meat actually stood on its own.  It didn’t need some Sweet Baby Ray’s bullshit sauce to make it taste good.  It has been my favorite BBQ in Michigan since that day.

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There is absolutely nothing fancy about Satchel’s. The menu is written on the wall in chalk and offers the essentials in BBQ:  Chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket and pork ribs. There are no BBQ enchiladas, no pulled pork nachos and definitely no vegan friendly options.  You can get your meat in a sandwich and there are sides — collards, cole slaw, beans and mac and cheese.  If you want desert with your meal there is one option:  Bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  All plates are served with two pieces of dense cornbread, which could be a side item of its own. The beauty of the simplicity of this menu is everything is done well.  They have a small focus on a simple cooking process and have perfected it.  There is no reason to do anything else.  The meat and the wood do the talking.

So let’s talk get away from everything that makes this place great from the outside and just start talking about the food.  It’s fucking fantastic.  It’s smoked slowly over hardwood with what tastes like salt and pepper and that’s it.  The meat is allowed to speak for itself, instead of being complicated by any additional spices.  Still to this day the pork and brisket is served completely naked without any sweet ketchup sauces interfering with the marriage between the smoke and the meat.  People that aren’t used to naked BBQ are given more than five different sauces on the table but they really don’t need it. Everything holds up and can stand on its own.  The brisket is easily the best I have ever had.  It is served with a dark bark, created by the smoke, on the outside and if you are lucky they will include part of the fatty deckle — the holy grail of beef brisket.  It literally melts in your mouth.  The pulled pork isn’t pulverized, rather served in large chunks that fall apart under your fork.

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With the deliciousness of the meat, you would think that the sides becomes an afterthought and are overshadowed.  Well, you would be wrong.  The collards here are among the best I’ve had in the country.  They absorb the saltiness of the pork and end with a little bit of heat. If you don’t like greens, I challenge you to give these a try and tell me you haven’t changed your mind.  The beans are cooked in cast iron pots within the smoker and absorb all of the flavor trapped in the metal vessels.  I have a hard time, no matter how hungry I am, not ordering an extra side to go with my meal.

My personal recommendation:  Get the combo plate with pulled pork, brisket with collards and beans on the side.  Add a sweet tea in there and you’ve got the best BBQ that Michigan has to offer.

In summary, Satchel’s has been my favorite BBQ joint in Michigan since 2011.  If there’s one food item I feel confident to tell you that I know my shit about, it’s BBQ.   You will love Satchel’s, and if you don’t then I’m afraid I don’t respect your opinions on food and/or life in general.  Check this place out if you are looking for all of the things that makes BBQ great:  Passion, simplicity, meat and of course wood.

Let’s Learn About Butter

I must issue a warning before I begin this post about one of the most beautiful ingredients in cooking.  There is no rant in this post.  I will not review anything.  There is nothing about restaurants.  This is the latest in my Internet Deep Dives category where I take something small and expand it into as much information that I can find.  If you’re a home cook looking to step your game up a little bit, this is probably a good post for you. If you’re just here to look at pictures and read a food blog, GTFO.  This one isn’t for you.

The reason I dove into a deep exploration of butter is no oil seems to compete with it. Every tried to make scrambled eggs with canola or vegetable oil?  They taste completely different.  Ever tried to use an oil to brown meats and realized they didn’t do half the job that butter can?  Well, I have.  I knew the basics of where this beautiful yellow stick of fat came from but I wanted to more information.

So what is butter anyways?  Butter is created by separating cream from milk, which actually produces thee separate products:  Butter, skim milk and butter milk.  Skim milk is the result of the cream being completely removed from the milk.  The cream is beaten, or churned, until it separates into solids and liquids. The liquid is drained and the solid portion gives you that yellow fatty yellow substance.  The liquid resulting in the churning process is butter milk.  When you let the solid portion sit in room temperature it solidifies further and is formed into blocks of what is now butter.  Typical American butter that you buy at the store is 80% butter fat, 15% water and 5% other stuff.

If you want to make your own, it’s actually very simple if you have the tools at home. If you don’t feel like reading all of this, here’s a seven minute video on how to make your own butter.

My next question was why is butter yellow when milk is white?  Is this some kind of chemical reaction from the separation of liquid and fat?  Well, this is where things get even more interesting.  I think the single most interesting part of food is the effect of the animal’s diet and physical habits have on the taste and physical characteristics of the food that it produces.  Butter is no different.

The difference in color is primarily due to the higher fat content of butter. Cows that eat grass and flowers store an orangish pigment in their fats that is found naturally in those plants.  That pigment gets carried over through the fat in their milk.  Through the churning process fat globules cluster together, membranes break apart, and that pigment is exposed within the fat which causes to be that yellow color you see.

If cows are raised on pasture, their butter is more yellow when the milk is collected in late spring or summer, when the cows have more grass to chew on. In wintertime, even cows raised on pasture are usually brought inside and fed grain, which doesn’t have much of that pigment. Some dairies freeze butter so they can sell the yellow-tinted kind year-round.   Many industrial dairy producers raise cows without ever putting them out on pasture so yellow color is added to their pale butter to make it more appetizing to consumers expecting a yellow butter.

Now here’s one that most people ask.  Isn’t butter really bad for you?  The answer is yes, absolutely yes.  It’s a very simple fact that eating too much fat in excess is bad for you.  But to play devil’s advocate here, is it really that much worse than the substitute you’re probably eating?

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Let’s use margarine as an example, which is most people’s favorite substitute for butter. At one point in history, 27 states had a ban against margarine.  It’s still illegal in Wisconsin to serve margarine in schools.  Why?  Because margarine is terrible. Margarine was created in the early 1800s as an inexpensive substitute for butter. Early margarines were made from animal fat. In the 1900s, people discovered how to harden liquid oils and vegetable oil replacing animal fat. What is margarine? It is a manufactured, vegetable-oil-based substitute for butter.

Check out the ingredients of I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter:

Vegetable Oil Blend (palm oil, palm kernel oil), Soybean Oil, Water, Buttermilk, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Lactic Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta – Carotene.

Here’s my resolution with butter being unhealthy:  Don’t eat a lot of it.  It’s recommended that no more than 7% of you daily food intake should consist of saturated fats.  If you eat at a lot of restaurants but you’re using margarine at home, you’re silly.  Butter and fat are what make most restaurant food taste better than your home cooking.

So the final question, what is the best butter?  Well, if you’re going to really do it right French butter is the way to go. When we talk about French butter, we’re really talking about a style in which butter is produced throughout Europe. French-style butter refers to a cultured butter that has been churned longer to achieve at least 82 percent butterfat. Often times the fat percentage reaches as high as 86 to 88%. Traditionally the butter is allowed to ferment to achieve a light sour taste, but you’re more likely to find butter made with added cultures. Either way, you still end up with a tangy butter.  Some even re-inject cream into their final molds which adds even more richness to the butter.

You can actually find French butter at pretty much any grocery store and it is worth paying an extra few dollars for it.  Scrambled eggs, which led me down this rabbit hole, taste completely different than with American butter.  There is a rich, creamy taste added and the eggs become much fluffier.  My personal recommendation is pick up a brick at Trader Joe’s and you will find yourself asking why you have been using Traditional American butter all these years.

Another type of butter worth checking out is Ghee.  Ghee is an Indian clarified butter, meaning that the milk solids and water are removed leaving only the good stuff.  Ghee has a higher smoke point than regular butter and most cooking oils, stays fresh for as long as a hundred years, contains no dairy and has actually proven to be healthier than traditional butter.  Rub some Ghee on some Naan bread and your life will be changed forever.

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If you chose to read through this entire post about butter, I hope you learned a few things.  I would like to summarize by saying butter is delicious in the right portions.  We spend so much time thinking about what ingredients are bad and what ingredients are good.  If you stop and think, what is in that fat free sour cream you’re eating?  Sure, it’s fat free but what engineered ingredients have been added to something that is primarily made from fat to make it fat free? Butter adds richness and depth to food and assists in making the meal an experience.  Use it to brown your steaks, add richness to eggs, but don’t slather it all over your food on a daily basis.

 

Ford’s Garage

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The Kid and I were out on a mission the other day for some tasty treats.  The only problem with this is that we currently reside in Westland, MI which has been named the worst food city in America five years running.  This means we have to venture out to find good food and that usually means I end up taking her to some crazy place where half the meal involves me describing in great detail what she’s going to eat and why it tastes good.  She’s four, so while I have been training her to become the greatest chef that has ever lived since her birth, she is still picky about her food.  I decided to take her someplace where she could have a real kid experience and eat, as she calls it, a cheese booger.  Keep working on those hard Rs, Eleanor.

I had actually heard a good amount of hype about Ford’s Garage.  From time to time, I’ll throw it out on Facebook asking for new places to eat.  Each time I have done this someone has mentioned it.  Each time I looked a the menu I dismissed it as a Applebee’s level joint specializing in way too many types of burgers.  I decided to finally do some research on what this place exactly was — And yes, if you’re new to reading my stuff, I research everywhere I eat before I go.  I believe every person, place and thing should have a Wikipedia page explaining their story.

Ford’s Garage is actually a small franchise that currently operates four locations in Florida.  There is no actual connection between Ford Motor Company, aside from a licensing agreement.  Dearborn is their fifth location and is owned/operated by Billy Downs, who just happens to be the BD in BD’s Mongolian Grill.  Yes, Ford’s Garage is owned by the same guy who owns Mongolian Grill.  That’s quite the diverse restaurant portfolio.  Two owners of the Florida locations have apparently been charged with DUIs and cocaine possession on separate occasions, see here and here, and also have claimed that they have the mayor of Ford Myers, FL on their payroll.  #interesting.

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I now know the story of Ford’s Garage, which makes it an interesting enough place to eat. The mayor on the payroll part really put this place over the top.  Ford’s Garage specializes in exactly what they have advertised on their sign — Burgers and Beer.  CRAFT beer, to be exact.  I’m always so appreciative of places continuing to specify that they only will serve the finest in craft beers.  They have over two hundred different varieties of craft beer, but if you’re in the mood to be a true American that drinks an American beer sold to a foreign holder they always have Budweiser.  Nothing is more American than Budweiser.  They also have an extensive liquor menu that lists Buffalo Trace as top shelf Bourbon, which is a rant I will save for a different post.

The food menu is a pretty impressive collection of higher end dishes that could all be specials on a Ruby Tuesdays menu.  Appetizers include a giant funnel with onion rings wrapped around it like someone was playing horseshoes with them, hot pretzels with dipping sauces, Ahi Tuna, buffalo chicken dip and BBQ pork nachos.  Seriously, the starters have roots in Ireland, American, German and Japanese.  I’m all for a hodgepodge of different foods from different cultures, but black angus chili cheese fries have no business being next to “sushi grade ahi tuna”.

The main menu has twelve different burgers that have different toppings and are named for various figures in Detroit’s history.  There is a Bob Probert, an Ernie Harwell and somehow Jay Towers got a burger.  You can customize your burger by subbing the standard beef patty for portobello, ahi tuna steak, bison or American Kobe beef.  Here’s where I need to go on a rant.  If you wish to continue reading about the actual restaurant, skip the next paragraph.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AMERICAN KOBE BEEF.  In the late 1990s, the popularity of Kobe beef erupted in the United States.  True Kobe beef comes from a certain strain of cattle, called Wagyu, in a certain region of Japan and is under heavy regulation on what can be called Kobe beef and how it can be served.  The cattle is served beer, massaged with Sake and even played soothing music before they sleep.  The meat is marbled with fat because the cow literally has the best life a cow could possibly have.  They are respected and the meat that results from this treatment is celebrated by the butcher, the chef and the consumer.   “American” Kobe beef means a farmer either put cows on a flight from Japan in the early 1990s, which is illegal according to the regulations of Kobe beef and led to an import ban in the mid 200s, or they cross-bred Waygu cattle with Angus cattle.  American farmers do not participate in Kobe-style treatment, insisting that genetics and grain will give them the same result.  It doesn’t.  So let me summarize all of this for you.  Kobe beef is special. You do not grind up Kobe beef, mold it into a patty and up sell it for an extra $2.50.  It goes against everything the name “Kobe beef” stands for.  Kobe beef regulations in Japan state that it may be served raw or as a steak.  Advertising “American Kobe Beef” tells me that whoever designed this menu is completely full of shit.

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If you’re not in the mood for a burger, Ford’s Garage also has steaks, four different kinds of mac and cheese, fish and chips and pulled pork.  There are also eleven different sides you can add to your meal, ranging from truffle fries to baked beans.  I personally went with the patty melt, which was exactly what a patty melt should be, minus the salt.  It was a good sandwich, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe they should worry less about ahi tuna steaks and kobe beef, and more about seasoning their burgers.

On a positive note, Eleanor thought this place was pretty great.  There are old cars parked in the middle of the restaurant and the walls are covered in Detroit history. While I was fuming about various things that normal people don’t care about, she was having a great time and enjoying her meal.  The place was packed with employees, probably too many, who checked on us regularly and made sure Eleanor was taken care of.  Our server was hustling — offering drinks, appetizers and recommending deserts.  Whoever is managing the front of house is on their game.

So in summary, I would recommend Ford’s Garage.  Their menu is completely full of shit but it’s a fun environment paying tribute to a lot of great Detroiters.  I personally wouldn’t include Jay Towers as a great Detroiter but that’s OK.  There really are some great beers on the menu and you can probably have a really good time here, if you aren’t like me and have to nitpick every little thing on the menu and have strange requirements such as knowing the owner’s criminal record.

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.