Jul 26, 2014

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: Eat

Cutting edge training as a first responder has the opportunity to take a firefighter all over our great nation. Whether to learn about explosive ordinance (New Mexico), chemical/biological weapons (Alabama), or my latest adventure, nuclear/radiological awareness, which had me jet setting to one of the world’s food meccas, Las Vegas. Oh, what’s a hungry firefighter to do with so much to choose from?

Las Vegas’s well-chronicled transformation from ‘sin city’ to a culinary destination has caught the attention of all.  Many a foodie, celebrity chef and TV personality has leant their take on Vegas, so when Anthony Bourdain paid a recent visit, I took notice of where he went. Often he’ll make a conscious choice to sample some of the local’s selection, outside the hustle and bustle of all the lights and high prices. One of his selections peaked my interests, a place called EAT.

South of the strip, where only the locals and lost gamblers stumble too is where the restaurant is located. Directly off the street, plenty of paid parking lines the sidewalk if you get there early enough. As I meet my parents in Vegas (they still live in Southern California), I was looking forward to treating them to some quality breakfast. This place seemed to fit the bill.

The atmosphere was appropriately en vogue with an open kitchen, computer bar, hanging light bulbs and black and white art, very much now but so not Vegas, a nice touch. The crowd was also not about the show, locals these people were and they were focused on the food and conversation. Service was generally good with an attentive wait staff that was both knowledgeable and good-natured.

As I was officially done with my training and the Air Force food from the air base I was sequestered at, I told the waitress that I’d need two, count them, TWO full plates. Something sweet and savory seemed in order so to get a baseline of their fare, I started with their Golden Brown Pancakes. Appropriately fluffy and with a hint of brown sugar, they were solid. (note that I used some of the strawberry compote from the cinnamon biscuits which helped to elevate these flap jacks)

I went to the waitress and asked her for favorite dish and she lite up and offered up the Truffled Egg Sandwich, which incidentally enough was the restaurants most demanded. These were perfectly scrambled eggs (not an easy skill) lightly touched with truffle oil over an open face buttered brioche baguette topped with thick bacon. Wow. The skillet potatoes on the side were there as well, but come on, the sandwich was where it was at. This was a 4-Alarm dish for me and well worth the drive alone.

Because the pancakes and sandwich may not have been enough, I ordered us some Cinnamon Biscuits. Why? Living in the south, I’m been keen to try regional biscuits to experience the nuisances. These were not layered like I prefer, but well seasoned and browned nicely. The strawberry compote (made daily) was the balanced sweet to the butter.

Shrimp and grits were the order for my Mom, seemingly to remind her of her southern upbringing. The power of food… Anyways, after the obligatory ‘there not as good as yours’, she admitted they were well seasoned with bursts of heat, silkiness from the poached egg and bite from the shrimp. The grits themselves were slightly overcooked (and hence congealed) but the taste was on point. Well done.

My dad had eggs and toast. He always has eggs and toast. Breakfast for my dad = eggs and toast. He said they were fine, but then he said the same thing after a root canal. Life is short; please learn to live a little.

Overall, the price was right for the food delivered. Nice atmosphere, solid service, good conversation and a food memory for life. These Vegas locals know their food, value their time and have found a home at EAT. I tip my hat to you Mr. Bourdain, nice recon for the masses, I ATE well. A solid recommend.

Date: May 2014


Eat on Urbanspoon

Jul 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July Y'all!

Stay full, my friends!

Jun 30, 2014

Busy, busy, busy

Still alive and eating, but work has caught with me so I've fallen behind on that which doesn't pay for the lights to stay on at home. All that being said, I've got a few restaurant reviews and a recipe or two primed to share. But in the meantime, support the US Mens National Soccer Team tomorrow in their bout against Belgium. GO US!

Stay hungry, my friends!


May 25, 2014

Happy Memorial Day Everyone!

To all the US Armed Forces, current and retired, thank you for allowing us the freedom to enjoy life (and food) to it's fullest! 

Stay low, stay safe, and above all else, stay hungry!

The McKay Family.

May 10, 2014

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

What to do on a gorgeous spring day after a great lunch in Atlanta and in the hunt to avoid an oncoming hypoglycemic episode? Well, having just left Antico’s supremely stuffed and satisfied, my wife and were in such a conundrum and henceforth, on the prowl. But having heard that new ice cream parlor, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, had just settled down in it’s new residence in Westside, we pranced on over.

Truth be told, I’d never heard of Jeni’s nor her rapid following for her all natural ice cream (thank you #Twitter), but I was excited none the less.Nestled between such Atlanta heavy weights as Bacchanalia, Star Provisions and JCT, this is a prime location and a boon for Jeni and her Columbus based ice cream empire. Parking is a cinch, plenty of seating both inside and out, and the neighborhood is lively, always a good combo.

Nice atmosphere and smart service.
The atmosphere of the parlor was inventive and engaging. A large, green chalkboard dominates the place as scribed across it are the myriad of different flavored ice creams. White tiles, wood paneling, and string lights help to create the clean, fun atmosphere as one is ushered past the windows of crate lined frozen dairy.

Know ahead of time that I prefer gelato to ice cream, creamier with less ice, but I’ll still pack away a double scoop with the best of them. That being said, the selection her at Jeni’s truly is second to none. The word eclectic does a disservice to the extent to which she and her team have gone to provide off the wall flavor combinations. The most challenging issue is choosing a flavor.

Really, is this enough flavors for you?
Where to start? With combinations such as Brambleberry Crisp, Goat Cheese with Cherries, and Yuzoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts as examples, you can see the level of creativity was off the charts. What struck my wife and I as we indulged our curiosity with many a taster of the various selections was the potency of the flavors. When it says rosemary, one is hit (SMACKED more less) in the mouth with ROSEMARY. There was no subtlety. These were bold and unique but I wonder if too artisan for the average patron/firefighter who seeks classic, clean flavored ice creams. This is adventurous at heart and you should be forewarned but not fearful, ice cream is FUN.

I settled on the #1 and #2 best sellers for Jeni’s, the Buckeye (a salute to her home state, salted peanut butter and dark chocolate, a strong entry) and Salted Caramel (a personal favorite flavor, very solid), and then a limited edition flavor of Birchwood and Marshmallow (a miss for me, the unexpected whole marshmallows were not appealing). My wife settled on the Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet (fun but with surprisingly subtle Riesling flavor) and Dark Chocolate (decadent). Again, all where strong flavored and left no illusions as to what you’re designed to experience and were mostly successful. My only issue as I prefaced above, was the ice content of the ice cream, just not creamy enough for my palette. I guess I’m just a sucker for creamy ice cream or gelato in general. (*Note that they also carry frozen yogurt, other sorbet, ice cream sandwiches and a spattering of toppings.)

A fun-filled trio of flavor.
Levels of creaminess and STRONG flavors are the only notes of very slight caution and both are matters of personal preference. Neither one should dissuade one from attempting the cornucopia of flavors nor FUN that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream offers. The craft and care that they place into their product is obvious and should establish them as a dessert stalwart in Atlanta for years to come. Well done, a solid recommend.

Review Date: April 2014


Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams on Urbanspoon

Mar 29, 2014

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: Sweet Auburn Barbecue

The word barbecue here in the south holds a reverence unlike any other. Mention it and watch the passion ensue. And how can it not? Slow cooked foods touched with wisps of smoke, heightened by aggressive spice rubs or bolstered by one of the kings of condiments, BBQ sauce. It is the ultimate comfort food. Building upon generations of tradition, a recent slew of regional/ethnic slants have brought diversity that most culinary genres would be jealous of. It reminds me of the passion and dedication our fire service pays towards our cherished fire helmets. Names like Cairns, Bullard, and Morning Pride will stimulate spirited debate. There are both timeless zeitgeists that are rooted deep into their respective cultures and helps identify many a southerner/firefighter’s view on tradition, innovation, and pride.

Traditional fire helmet.
Today's modern fire helmet. 

This may play in no small part my passion for finding good barbecue here in Atlanta. My attempts have been many: Heirloom Market, Bone Lick, Community, One Star Ranch and Moonies to name but a few, all to varying success and disappointment. Much like finding the right fit and style fire helmet, it’s a very personal decision but all can agree on the basics; well smoked proteins, delicious and varied sides and a fun atmosphere. All this exposition brings me to my latest attempt and finding the right fit to Sweet Auburn Barbecue.

Having cut their teeth in the congested roads of Atlanta whilst wagging war with the other ever-increasing horde of food trucks that are setting up shop on our street corners, they have come up with a hard nose mentality that one can’t help but respect. My wife and I visited their most recent address here in ATL, the Poncey-Highlands brick-n-mortar spot, to find out what all the recent buzz was all about. The location is in a corner commercial structure appropriately colored with grays, blues and whites and the large BARBECUE sign make it easy to find. Plentiful parking is across the street and as of this review, free.

Upon entry, one is greeted with a wood laden bar lined with many a bottle. The man behind the bar, a 20 something with close-cropped fashionable mustache so popularized today as an ode to easier times, mans the drinks. In fact, the trendy vibe of the place extended to the entire wait staff. At times part cockiness, part enthusiasm; it was an odd mix of a staff that knows something that the patrons don’t. Like, this place is good and it doesn’t need a hard sale but if you ask, we’ll give it to you, and then some.

Whatever the serving style, I didn’t care. I was here for the food.  Having heard that the Pimento Cheese Wontons were the appetizer of choice (besides their wings), my wife and I started there.  I mean really, Pimento Cheese Wontons? At a barbecue joint? It was the kind of whimsical take on a classic that last throughout the meal. Well fried with a morsel of smoked meat in the middle and sprinkled with green onions, it was a great pairing with the provided acidic BBQ sauce. It was a great first offering.

The Rueben Sandwich.
Plenty of smoked brisket.
Our first entrée arrived in the form of their version of a Rueben sandwich; buttered Texas toast, a fried egg, generous amount of smoked brisket, dry coleslaw, and some of the best house made pickles we’ve had in years. It was a glorious bite, very inventive (similar to Heirloom Market), and served along side some expertly garlic seasoned fries. This is what I had come for, something that the average weekend smoker wouldn’t think of when making barbecue for the family on any given Sunday. It was good, people.

The Dinosaur Bone
With my wife going non-traditional, I went the other way and got what they aptly named the Dinosaur Bone, a large, single beef spare rib seasoned simply with salt and pepper (though I detected thyme, oregano and other herbs), a trail of BBQ sauce and the same house made pickles and buttered Texas toast. One lift of the bone from the micro hotel pan and the meat happily separated from the bone. Well flavored and seasoned, and take note firemen, it was what a man’s portion should be. Though in my opinion, the meat could have used a little more time in the smoker, but after a second round of the amazing pickles, I didn’t care.

A nice little treat for the bulldog at home.
Note that the desserts looked equally playful and delicious, but we were stuffed. That, and the sun was out calling our name and a quick walk down the street would bring us to Paolo’s Gelato, so we skipped this time.

With the décor, vibe, and staff to boost an overall fun atmosphere, it would all be for not if the food didn’t match. Thankfully, Sweet Auburn Barbecue delivered, all the while reminding us what fun barbecue can be, when placed in the hands of those willing to go down paths less travelled. Traditional with whimsy, that about sums it up, a strong recommend.

March 2014

3.5 Alarms.

Sweet Auburn Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Mar 22, 2014

Italian White Bean Soup

Spring always makes me think of fresh produce, edible greens, and quick soups for the pleasantly cool evenings. As I was bean adverse while growing up, I’ve become aggressive with my experimenting different bean recipes. Fava, green, kidney, I’m infatuated with them all. Which lead me to incorporate beans into a quick, relatively healthy soup.

Though soup was what I leapt to first when ushering in a bean recipe to the fire service, I implore you to consider adding beans to salads as well, either cold or warm. A great source of protein, fiber, carbs, vitamins (vitamin B especially!), minerals, and needed lipids (polyunsaturated fat!), they’re often considered one of the healthiest foods available. 

A few after the fire critiques: White butter beans from Italy are not an everyday grocery item, I know. Hence, white kidney beans and/or cannellini beans are very complimentary substitutes and are readily available. Feel free to skip pancetta all together to make it vegetarian or add some shredded roast chicken (a favorite at the firehouse). Spinach can be replaced with any dark leafy green, just adjust the cook time to accommodate. 

This was adapted from a William Sonoma recipe.

Feeds 4-6 comfortably.


Dutch Oven
Wooden Spoon
Various Bowls


Pancetta or Pork Belly (6-8 ounces, cubed)
White Butter/Cannellini/Kidney Beans (2 cans, well rinsed)
Chicken Stock (8 cups)
Spinach (2 cups)
Onion (large, diced)
Carrots (2 large, diced)
Garlic (3 cloves, smashed)
Tomato Paste (2 Tbs.)
Dried Oregano (1 Tbs.)
Smoked Paprika (2 tsp.)
EVOO (1 Tbs.)
S&P too taste


Place the Dutch oven over low-medium heat. Add the EVOO and heat for 30 seconds. Add the smashed garlic and pancetta and render till browned, 5-8 minutes. Remove and drain in separate bowl lined with paper towel. Carefully remove the smashed garlic pieces. Remove all but 1 Tbs. of the leftover pancetta grease. Add the carrots and onion, season with salt, and cook to soften, 5 minutes. Add the dried oregano and smoked paprika, mix to combine, and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, mix to combines and cook for an additional 2 minutes. 

Pour in the chicken stock and then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the beans, spinach, and pancetta and cook for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Indulge!

Gather your fuel. 
Here's an example of acceptable beans.
Chunk your pancetta. 
Rinse your spinach. 
Prep and cut your carrots and onions.
Rough chop the spinach.
Once prepped, pack away for later.
When ready, rinse the beans very well. 
Add pancetta to low-medium heat in pan.
Add the garlic then saute till browned. Remove & reserve. 
Add carrots and onions with pinch of salt.
Keep sautéing while adding spices, first dried oregano... 
... then smoked paprika. 
Cook for 5-8 minutes.
Add the tomato past, mix, and cook another 2 minutes. 

Add the chicken stock.
White beans.
Bring to a slow boil.
Add the spinach and reduce heat to a...
Cook for 10-15 minutes and season with S&P.
Set up serving station and indulge!
Italian White Bean Soup. 
Blogging tips