Category Archives: Food

Bucket list item – Avery Island, LA – home of Tabasco®

IMG_1643Recently, I finally was able to visit Avery Island, LA – the veritable home of Tabasco®.  I had an opportunity over 20 years ago to visit Avery Island, LA and squandered it.  I was determined to get here one day, but wasn’t sure if I would ever have the opportunity.  We visit my in laws usually around Thanksgiving and Christmas while they are in Florida for the winter.  I had thought about taking a day trip over and back but  could not work out the details.  Finally, we knew we were coming for Spring Break (which is unusually early this year – this week) and I delicately approached the subject with my family one night at the dinner table.  Reactions were mixed and there was not much enthusiasm from either my wife or my four year old daughter (neither of which eat Tabasco®), my son wasn’t overly excited either, but he liked the idea of going somewhere new.

We arrived at Avery Island at noon and figured that we would eat lunch at 1868 – a restaurant serving many items with Tabasco® in them.  They did have some items for those who do not eat Tabasco®.  I enjoyed the Avery Island Red Beans & Rice.  My son enjoyed a Chili Dog – which he said was spicy.  Each table had a wooden box caddy of at least 10 different sauces.  After our lunch we decided that it was time for the tour.  I heard that the tour had improved recently along with a new museum.  If we had more time we would have also gone to Jungle Gardens and Bird City.

The tour is self-guided and has nine different stops:  You start at the Museum which is relatively new and has several exhibits surrounding the history of the island itself and the McIlhenny family.  There are also several short videos that can be viewed at your leisure while in the museum.  After the museum, the next two stops are the Greenhouse and the Barrel Aging warehouse.   The Greenhouse shows how the peppers start from seeds and then into plants.  The Barrel Warehouse is where the mash is stored in white oak barrels where it is aged for three years.  Each barrel is filled with the red pepper mash and then sealed and then it is covered with Avery Island salt to keep out the impurities while the fermentation process takes place over three years.  Each barrel is labeled and dated.

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After leaving the barrel warehouse, we walked down the same path back towards the factory where a majority of the processes take place.  Stop #4 was the blending operation where the mash is loaded into large vats after the fermentation process is completed and the mash is mixed with salt and vinegar and it is mixed for up to three weeks.    Stop #5 is the Avery Island experience which gives more history and detail about the island itself.  Step #6 is the Salt Mine experience.  Step #7 is the Bottling line – they only bottle sauce Monday – Thursday.  I enjoyed seeing the line operation, even though it was not operational when we were there.

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Step #8 is the Food, Flavors and Tabasco® today exhibit where they have a room with several inflatable bottles of the various sauce flavors.  The walls are lined with various exhibits from art to recipes.  There are also some display cases that show the various products that Tabasco is part of (co-branding)

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth uses Tabasco?  There is a royal warrant that was issued to the company back in 2009 and it hangs on the outside of the factory building.  A royal warrant is a big deal.  Not many US based companies can say that they supply goods to the Queen of England!

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The final stop that we made was to the Country Store.  This is where you can purchase just about any item with either the Tabasco® logo on it or the actual products themselves.  I bought several things, some sauces, a t shirt and a few other things.  I had set a budget and surprisingly enough I went over by $15 only.  Thankfully, I am able to purchase items online if needed since I wasn’t able to buy everything that I wanted.

This was definitely a great experience for me since I am an avid user of Tabasco® as well as a great fan.  I would love to come back and learn more about the history of the company and Avery Island itself.  This would also be a company that I would love to work for if it were possible to do so without relocating to Avery Island (I think I would have a hard time convincing the family to make that kind of move).

I would urge anyone who is a fan of Tabasco® to find a way in their lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Avery Island and take the tour, enjoy the 1868 restaurant and make some purchases in the Country Store.  You will not be disappointed.  I know that I greatly enjoyed my brief trip to Avery Island, LA.  I hope that I am able to make another trip back sooner rather than later.  Thanks also to my family who indulged me and tolerated this little detour even though they are not Tabasco® consumers like I am.

Defending the world against bland food.

 

Restaurant Review – Margarita Ranch – Irving/Las Colinas, TX

I have eaten my fair share of Mexican food and Tex-Mex in my lifetime.  I also have a rule that when I am travelling, I do not eat at places that I can eat at back home (chains, etc.)  I like to try new places.

Margarita Ranch was a place that I found when I “checked in” at my hotel on Foursquare.  It was listed as a nearby restaurant.  I looked it up on the Internet and found out that they used to be in Dallas but had recently moved to the Irving/Las Colinas area. They are located in a new strip mall that is still under construction and they are tucked in the back of the mall.

I went there on a Monday evening.  There was no host station or someone there to greet diners, but I was eventually seated.  They have a lot of seating and there were quite a few people there.

I started with the customary chips and salsa.  The chips are okay, not like the chips at El Fenix, but they are good.  The salsa however, is quite unique. It has a distinctively smoky flavor and is served warm unlike most restaurants that serve salsa either slightly chilled or room temperature.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The picture here is the chicken tortilla soup.  If any restaurant has this item, I will always try it.  I have had so many different variations of this soup.  This particular soup was especially good with the lime in the soup.  It was a generous portion and I enjoyed it!

I ordered the cowboy tacos with chicken as you can see from the picture.  They provided a generous portion of tacos (I had chicken) along with cilantro, onions, and lime.  I used the salsa from the table to garnish the tacos.

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The food was excellent but the service however needs some improvement.  I was waiting on by no less than three different people and that was very confusing.  One person took my drink order, another one took my soup/dinner order, etc.  My suggestion is to have one person wait/serve the table.  I had ordered some beans but they never came with the food.  The server never checked on my drink  for a refill either (I was drinking ice tea because it was warm outside).  It also took a long time to get my check and to pay it and be on my way.

I will go back when I am in the area, and hopefully they will have made some improvements in the service.  I think when I go back I will try the screaming tacos, which I heard are quite spicy!

Have you been to Margarita Ranch in Irving, TX or the old location in Dallas? If so, please share your experiences.

Can a place like this recover if enough people love the food, but the service levels are lacking?  Share your comments below.

Photos are mine, but I did use Evernote Food to take and catalog my review data!

Bonefish Grill – Pensacola, FL

While on vacation in December, my wife and I had the opportunity to have dinner with her sisters and their husbands (without kids!) at the Bonefish Grill in Pensacola, FL.  I had heard so many good things about this place that I was eager to dine there.  We had a great time together.  The six of us had not been together since our wedding in 2004, so this vacation was a family reunion of sorts.

When on vacation, one of the “rules” that we have is that we cannot eat at a restaurant that we have back home.  If we choose to eat out, then we want to experience some of the local food rather than a big chain restaurant that we can eat at in MN.

Bonefish Grill is definitely a go-to place.  We got there a bit after 5:00 and the parking lot was starting to fill up.  We tried some of the Bang-Bang Shrimp.  They were wonderful. A bit spicy with a kick, but I have never been known to shy away from the spicy food items!  For my main entree I had the Jumbo Sea Scallops and Shrimp.  They were more than likely fresh because of the proximity to the Gulf.  Something unique is that they offer signature sauces with each of their entrees:  Warm Mango Salsa, Chimichurri Sauce (which is more Italian), Lemon Butter and Pan Asian.  I tried the Chimichurri Sauce which was outstanding.  My wife was undecided when it came to the signature sauce for her entree, so our server brought her out a sample of each!  This was great because I got to try the Mango Salsa, but the Pan Asian was the best sauce by far.  I enjoyed my choice, but when I go back, the Pan Asian sauce is for me.

If you are looking for a nice place to enjoy great company and great food and service.  Bonefish Grill is definitely a place worth trying!

Crave – A Review

That is the name of the restaurant that we had the opportunity to visit on Mother’s Day for brunch.  We visited the location in St Louis Park in The West End shopping complex.  I follow Crave on Twitter and Facebook and enjoy reading some of the different things that they do (Burger Night on Mondays, AYCE Prime Rib on Sundays, and I also had read about their Sunday Brunch).

Seeing that Mother’s Day is like Black Friday and Christmas all wrapped into one for the restaurant industry, I was wondering about the wisdom of visiting a new place on the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry.

We arrived earlier than our scheduled reservation and even though the restaurant was very busy, we were seated right away.  We were greeted immediately by our server who let us know that the brunch was served until 3:00 PM.  He took our drink orders and we decided to stick with the breakfast brunch which was comprised of scrambled eggs with Tillamook cheese, ham, bacon, sausage links, hash browns, fresh fruit, and one of their huge cinnamon rolls.  The brunch also included a carving station with prime rib and a french toast bar.  This was all served family style with the fruit and cinnamon roll first. Then they brought out a plate for Joseph which was a smaller version of what we had with the items listed above.

Our server was very conscientious and even brought us additional eggs when the original eggs had been sitting a while.  Joseph and my wife tried the French toast bar which had all sorts of fresh fruit toppings, along with two kinds of syrup and whipped cream.  The prime rib was pretty good, I had a couple of pieces of it and enjoyed it.

The price is a bit steep ($22.95 per person – $9.95 per child) but since we had a gift card, we decided that it was a good splurge for us on a special occasion.  We received excellent service and the food was outstanding.  We look forward to trying Crave again for lunch or dinner when we get a windfall or something like that.

Do you like Thai food?

Last Saturday after having our pictures taken for the church directory, we went to try a new restaurant that I have passed by on my way to work, but never really thought about trying it until we got a Groupon for it last week.  We were able to purchase a Groupon for $10 for $20.00 worth of food.

We went to  Nong’s Thai Cuisine in Golden Valley.  Nong’s is a relatively new restaurant conveniently located off of 169 at the intersection of Medicine Lake Drive and Hillsboro Drive.   We went about 5 pm on Saturday evening and there were a few people in the restaurant.  We were seated and waited upon very quickly.  The staff is very friendly and knowledgable.

We ordered Pad Thai  with chicken and some fried rice and we all shared that along with some chicken satay.  I also ordered some crunchy wrapped shrimp and an order of Sriracha fried rice for a few lunch meals the following week.

The food was outstanding, everything was cooked and arrived hot at the table.  It also tasted wonderful as well.  My son, who is not one to try different foods, really enjoyed the food as well.

The best part was getting over $45 worth of food for $25.00!  By the time we finished our meal, the restaurant, lobby and parking lot were full and they were doing a brisk take-out business as well.

I would definitely recommend this establishment to anyone, especially those who enjoy Thai food.  We will definitely be making a return visit in the future!

In looking at the Groupon website, they sold 1,996 Groupons for this particular restaurant.  What this did was drive business into their establishment that otherwise would not have gone unless there was a desire for Thai food, etc.  We went mostly because of the Groupon but we will be back!

If you go to Nong’s Thai cuisine, stop back by here and leave a comment and let me and other readers know about your experience!

Dinner from a billboard

 

 

Picture Courtesy of Panera Bread

 

Last Friday while driving to work, I passed a billboard that is on my normal route, except this week it had changed.

 

Panera Bread had placed a picture of one of their new salads, Thai Chopped Chicken Salad on the billboard.  I saw it and said that would be good to try sometime.  We try to go out to eat as a family on Friday evenings if possible.  Little did I know that we would be going to Panera Bread later that evening.

When placing our order, we asked the clerk about the new salad and she highly recommended it and said that she was going to take one home for her son.  I being the risk-taker and one who is generally not afraid to try different food items (within reason) ordered the salad.  I highly enjoyed it and look forward to the next time that we visit Panera Bread.

Just to think that I ordered my dinner based on what I saw on a billboard! Who said that advertising doesn’t work?

 

Rojo Mexican Grill – St Louis Park

Last Friday, my family and I had the opportunity to have dinner for a second time at Rojo Mexican Grill in St. Louis Park.  Rojo is located at The Shops at West End

Even though we had to wait 45 mins for a table, it was well worth the wait.  We started off with the complimentary chips and salsa and also ordered a side of the fresh guacamole.  Rojo has a open-kitchen concept and on our first visit, we were able to watch the guacamole being prepared.  We thoroughly enjoyed the chips, salsa, and guacamole.  My son, especially enjoyed the guacamole.  What we noticed about the guacamole was that it was quite mild and not overpowered by any one flavor.

For dinner, my wife and I had tacos and a cup of tortilla soup and my son had a quesadilla. The tortilla soup is probably the best here in the Twin Cities, but not quite as good as Wood Ranch or Stonefire Grill (both of these places are in CA, it would be nice to have them here in MN!) .  I had the carne asada tacos and they were outstanding.  Each of the taco dishes is served with a side of sticky rice and black beans.

Overall, I would say that Rojo is an excellent restaurant with great food and service.  Be prepared to wait on busier nights – like Fridays, but it is well worth the wait.  The only caveat is that the prices are a bit high, but the food quality and service are well worth the cost.  I would call Rojo an “upscale Mexican restaurant”

Recently, they just took over the adjoining space and are creating a private dining room for parties, events, etc.  Personally, I think they should use it for expanding their current dining room which is small.

If you have visited Rojo, let me know your comments….