February 10, 2015

Those of you who are readers of this forum know that I like to keep things fun, light, informative and a bit irreverent. This writing, however, will serve as a remembrance of my recently deceased mother.  Why would I choose to post something here since the more traditional memorials and celebration of her life have already taken place? It was her influence that inspired my love of food, wine and cooking.

Ever since I can remember, I was always a bit obsessed with everything that makes up the food and wine worlds. No, we were never a family who had any professional connection in that regard although growing up my mother would cook dinner for the family three to four times a week. Looking back I now realize how much I enjoyed the aromas of the kitchen and looked forward to each meal. Thanksgiving was always my favorite. I couldn’t help interjecting myself into this multi-day preparation which at its height saw my parents play host to over twenty people, twenty-six pounds of turkey, seven pounds of ham and what seemed like buckets of hard liquor and wine. Not that all this home cooking overshadowed eating out. Restaurants were always a big part of the family’s culinary landscape; from a casual burger joint to the finest formal French dining, at home or on vacation.  Even when not eating, somehow the conversation would inevitably turn to food or wine and did so with greater frequency as the years passed. While my mother served as my source, this love of things culinary goes back generations to my grandfather who had no issue driving for hours to find whatever food sparked his interest at that moment-yes, I am equally as guilty- and to my great grandfather who spent decades raising beef cattle which he would then sell in his butcher shops around New York City. I guess it’s truly in the blood.

It’s always sad when anyone passes no matter what the age but if we hold on to the memories and take a minute to focus on how the departed influenced our lives perhaps it will ease the pain and put a smile on our faces.

Let’s raise a glass to mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers and whoever else served as an inspiration to the eater and drinker in each one of us.

Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen – November 16, 2015

I know you’ve all been feeling a little neglected. You’re used to some kitchen guidance from these pages. Hopefully my lackadaisical approach of late hasn’t prevented you from having fun behind the stove or grill. Hey, I really do have an excuse, developing a new barbecue sauce is hard work. Of course you’ll know that since you never, ever…EVER have missed one of my posts 😉

In an effort to change the format a bit I’m going to try something new. Instead of providing a recipe with an exhaustive ingredient list and step by step cooking instructions this will serve more as a guide or framework. You will be the best judge of what to add, subtract or alter. It’s all about creating a dish with input from your taste buds.

No matter where you go in the world any seaside culture has one or more seafood/fish stews or soups. The French have Bouillabaisse, the Italians Ciopinno, the Thai Tom Yum Talay and the Spanish Mariscada; not to mention countless variations around the USA.

One thing they all have in common is that they were generally born out of fisherman making use of local ingredients. These were not grand creations for gourmet dining by the wealthy but rather dishes of the common people who cooked with what ingredients they had- it’s truly amazing how many things throughout culinary history have gone from the tables of peasants to the tables of royalty. Did you really think you’d see the day when I didn’t weave some sort of history or at least irreverent commentary into my writing?

Call it soup, stew or whatever you’d like but here’s the concept. You create a broth using fish stock, chicken stock or whatever you can get your hands on. You can add wine to it or go without. You can add tomatoes, onions, leeks or potatoes if you’d like; even a touch of cream-I think you’re getting the idea. Herbs and spices always add a boost of flavor-thyme, rosemary, basil or paprika ….adjust them based on the fish or seafood you’ll be using. You never want the broth to overpower the protein. Just remember cook things like onions and leeks first so they have a chance to soften, then if you’re using potatoes boil them in your broth until tender Once you’ve gotten the “soup” to where you want it add the fish or seafood of your choosing based on their individual cooking times. Shrimp cook VERY quickly and should be added last, squid takes longer and should be added earlier. Fish fillets will vary in cooking time based on thickness and density. As you experiment you will inevitably have some misfires, everyone does. Not to worry it’s all part of the learning process. When you get it just where you want it, how good will you feel? It’s always appropriate to do a little chest pounding with friends and family and proclaim the success of your own recipe…with just a little help from Hungry Uncle.

Ok, now what are you still doing here? Get off the computer and go cook. Remember, with Hungry Uncle, “yes you can…” Ok that is a shameless rip-off of the horrible Atkins diet commercial with Sharon Osbourne. I just couldn’t resist and never thought I’d actually have the opportunity to express my feelings about it.

Somehow that voice of hers always went right through me. Quite frankly I’d rather watch Ozzy in his Black Sabbath days biting the head off a bat……



Dinosaur Bar-B-Que  Syracuse NY  October 26, 2015

As I pulled up to the original Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, NY my mouth  immediately started salivating from the fabulous aroma of smoked meats. If you’re a barbecue fan I’m sure you know of the exact smell I’m speaking of and that you may be a bit green with envy.

Since there were no available seats at the bar I was able to get the last remaining high top table in the bar area.  Couldn’t ask for a better seat in the house. I’m surrounded by walls filled with paintings of jazz musicians, expired license plates and old concert posters while listening to some classic rock and roll such as Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles.  This place is jammed packed at 6:30pm on a Wednesday night.

As the waitress came to take my order I couldn’t disclose to her that I was on a “secret” mission. I’m here to do a guest blog for Hungry Uncle who just happens to be my boyfriend and the creator of some pretty amazing sauces. She insisted I try the combo of St. Louis ribs, pulled pork and brisket with sides of coleslaw, macaroni and cheese and some black beans. Verdict; there wasn’t anything left of the pulled pork and macaroni in cheese. Of the 2 ribs that were served about 1 1/2 were left and about a 1/4 of the brisket remained. The creamy coleslaw was a nice compliment to the smoked meats which started off with a sweet taste and ended smoky.

All in all I had a very good bbq meal. I will look forward to returning on my next trip to Syracuse.

Dinosaur was Dyn-O-Mite…..



Hungry Uncle’s House

October 26, 2015

As your never very humble Bard of Barbecue most readers of these pages know that I’m rarely at a loss for words. This is no exception.

Did you ever wonder what I do on weekends? Well, probably not but I’ll give you a glimpse or two regardless. As it is on most there is food, wine or other imbibing and  gluttonizing.

At the very strong urging of Hungry Uncle’s Better Half I decided to leave the cooking to others. Probably a good idea since cooking for a group of ravenous friends and family usually prevents me from fully enjoying the gathering and inevitably ends with an artful tapestry of obscenities emanating from the kitchen-and you thought skillful weaving of that magnitude reached its apex with Joseph Marie Jacquard. Being an accomplished cook in no way qualifies you to prepare multiple dishes for more than twenty people. Somehow I always make it through without too many scars but it ain’t easy-hats off to all the guys and gals who do it every night!

What was the impetus for this past weekend? Reverse gears to the month of May. I had just left several hours of eating and drinking in Chicago at an event organized by Vibrant Rioja and produced by  the Taste Network  www.tastenetwork.com . “Vibrant Rioja is a partnership between the governing body for wines from the region of Rioja, Spain called the Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja (now, you know why we simply say “Vibrant Rioja”) and Wines From Spain, under the auspices of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX). Our goal is to introduce the extraordinary wines of Rioja to American wine lovers, both to those with a new interest in wine and to experienced wine drinkers. At the same time, we want to introduce you to the region of Rioja, its scenic beauty, welcoming people, extraordinary architecture and wonderful cuisine.”-from their website.  As a long-time lover and collector of Rioja I had looked forward to this event since it had been announced several months prior. While I had left, the event still had another hour or so to go but a  visit with some local cousins took precedent. About two minutes after walking out the door I received a call from my girlfriend telling me that I must return as I had just “won”. “Won what ?” was my reply. Unbeknownst to me every attendee was automatically entered into a drawing for one of each of the 130 plus bottles that had been poured that day. I returned, participated in the PR photo shoot and then back with the cousins. Of course the food and drink didn’t end that night but continued with local friends for another day or two. It was then decided to use the weekend as inspiration and have our own miniature celebration of Rioja and Spanish food using -of course- the victor’s wine.

First problem, getting the wine back to New Jersey.  Driving from Chicago to New Jersey is about as exciting and intellectually stimulating as watching Public Access TV or even worse the hosts of “The View”. Since shipping via air is absurdly expensive, bring on the boredom. There was however one great diversion. While driving across the flatness of Ohio my traveling companion suddenly blurted out, “did you see it? We just crossed under Fangboner Road.” That’s right, Fangboner in Freemont. Yes, this is extremely sophomoric but just the name alone not to mention the perfect alliteration of Fangboner in Freemont did provide more than momentary comic relief and for a minute made me forget I was in Ohio which isn’t such a bad thing now is it 😉 For those of you who find this too low brow, loosen up it’s just freakin’  funny! Ok, diversion over.  Problem two, coordinating schedules. After several failed attempts, all agreed on October 24th.

Unfortunately this is where the story must end. They’ll be a couple of pictures below but they will only provide a glimpse into the food and wine. To post anything else might result in swift retribution from the FCC, ATF or God knows what other three-letter Federal or State agency; agencies that I’m sure we’d all be happy to describe with one or more four-letter words. Was it really that out of control, maybe/maybe not? I can only promise that there was no injury to human beings or domestic animals. As to the crustaceans, swine, poultry, grapes and other produce I plead ignorance…. Cheers

From may to October

Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen

October 13, 2015

I know it’s been a while since my ramblings have graced your screens and for that I’m truly sorry. Perhaps it’s left a void in your life? Well, give me a little credit. I like to think that I provide greater enjoyment than being overrun by those babbling idiots we call our elected officials and oh yes-the equally as inane talking heads of the mainstream media who try to inundate every minute of our day.

And don’t forget with the soon to be upon us national elections it will only get “better”. Yes, I know, you’re all feeling as fed up as I am. With all my hostility towards politicians building what have I done to stay calm? I’ve spent even more time in my secret test kitchen working on the newest BBQ sauce that I first brought to your attention this past summer.

Creating a tasty concoction that’s not only good for barbecuing but can also be used for roasting, grilling…..is no easy task. Not only do I have to create something that will have broad taste appeal but it has to be composed of ingredients that are readily available, take well to cooking in large batches and is as “clean” aka free of artificial preservatives  as possible. In addition, the cost to produce it must be kept under control. What good is a sauce if you need a second mortgage to by a bottle? No, my products aren’t the $1.29 items of the mass-market food world but they do seek to offer a balance among value, quality and taste. Part of creating this balance involves a lot of experimentation in the kitchen. Just when I thought it was ready for production an issue would arise. The latest was related to one of the base ingredients. While most sauces used for BBQ, roasting or grilling start with a simple base such as ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce or mustard this one doesn’t. Despite having the flavor and consistency right where I wanted them, the cost element threw up a major road block. I spent weeks trying to find a suitable alternative to no avail. Finally luck prevailed but only briefly. I found what on the surface appeared to be a winner-readily available, reasonable priced, and devoid of artificial preservatives-unfortunately the taste was simply put, foul. Back to the internet and the phone. Ok, now this one appears to be an option. Again, no such luck.  Not difficult to source and economical too but it was even more flawed. It contained chemical preservatives which in my mind turned it into nothing more than purportedly edible toxic waste. After summarily striking out in my search for this elusive product I was left no choice. I must create it myself.   Having to go through this process will certainly slow the launch of this sauce and require countless additional hours behind the stove. That’s Ok too; creativity doesn’t like to follow a time line and inevitably has many ups and downs. For those of us who truly love to cook this can be part of the appeal. In end when you’ve developed something that can be enjoyed by many or just a few it is all then worth it.

Now that I’m pretty close to solving my big problem in the kitchen maybe I can figure out a way to deal with our current political landscape. Hmmmm, since reconstituting the likes of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin is quite unlikely, all can do is take some small solace in the words of Will Rogers, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for….”



August 24, 2015 – Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen

As we move into the final stretches of summer the bounty of the fields is really shining. Enjoy it while you can. Before you know it the leaves will be falling and then-don’t even get me started. Yeah I know, you winter-sport types love that time of year and even I have enjoyed snow shoeing, ice climbing and other adrenaline fueled endeavors but let’s be honest only the partially insane truly like being out in that frozen white crap. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. but it’s so fresh and invigorating. Really, you look forward to having no circulation in your fingers, toes and other appendages?!? Listen, I’m not Dr. Phil and I’m NOT here to discuss your feelings………..now back to the subject at hand, poached cod with a Provencal inspired sauce and zucchini.


For the cod-

  • About ¾. lb. of skinned, deboned cod cut into equal portions.
  • Black cod, aka Sablefish, is too strong and not appropriate for this dish.
  • 4 medium size sea scallops.
  • 1 quart  of chicken stock.
  • A shallow pan large enough to hold the fish covered by the stock without too much extra room. If you use too large a pan you’ll have add extra stock.

For the zucchini-

  • 2 medium-large zucchini sliced into ¼ inch discs.
  • A 4 quart pan filled about half-way with water.

For the sauce-

  • 1.5 cups of freshly, peeled and seeded tomatoes. If you can’t find fresh you can substitute canned.
  • 1 tsp. of sliced garlic.
  • ½ cup of scallions sliced into 1/8 – 1/4 inch rings
  • 2 tbsp. of minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme-fresh is preferable but wasn’t available at the time of this recipe. As general rule if you use fresh as opposed to dried, triple the amount (i.e. 1 tsp. of dried equals
  • 1 tbsp. or 3 tsp. of fresh)
  • 1 tsp. dried basil.
  • Smoked salt.
  • Sea salt.
  • Ground black pepper.
  • 1/3 cup of off-dry white wine. If that’s not available you can compensate by adding pinch of sugar when you add the wine.
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter.
  • A large bowl filled with ice water.
  • A medium frying pan.
  • A  3-4 quart pot filled half way with water.



  • Bring the water to a boil.
  • Cut shallow slits in the tomato skins starting at the bottom (non-stem side). Come up the tomato just an inch or two. You’re creating more or less an “x”.
  • Put the tomatoes in the boiling water.
  • Remove them with a slotted spoon after 25 seconds and put immediately into the ice water for about a minute to stop the cooking process. Remove the tomatoes and discard the ice water
  • It will now be very easy to peel the skin away.
  • After peeling, cut into quarters, remove the seeds with your fingers and chop into ¼ inch pieces.
  • Place the chopped tomatoes back in the bowl.
  • Slice the garlic and scallions and mince the parsley. Place each in a small bowl.
  • Measure out the thyme and basil and place in a small bowl.
  • Preheat your pan to medium and add the butter.
  • When the butter has melted add the garlic and cook just until it become fragrant- about two minutes. If the garlic starts to brown turn down the heat.
  • Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat until the mixture reaches a high simmer/low boil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes (tossing or stirring occasionally) or until the liquid has reduced by about 2/3rds.
  • Add the wine and dried herbs, cook for about 2-3 minutes ( again tossing or stirring).
  • Add the parsley and cook for about an additional two minutes (tossing or stirring).
  • Turn off the heat and season with the smoked salt and pepper.
  • Note- the sauce should still flow when moved around in the pan. You want some liquid but definitely not soupy.


  • Take your fish and scallops out of the fridge for about 20 minutes before cooking. They will cook more evenly.
  • After adding the tomatoes to the sauce pour the stock into the pan and warm on medium-low heat. It should never come to a simmer or boil. You should be able to dip your finger without getting burnt.
  • After adding the dried herbs to the sauce, place the fillets into the warm broth. It should take no more than 3-4 minutes to poach. If the fillets are of uneven thickness, start the thicker ones first. If a fillet is too thick to be covered by the broth you will have to carefully turn it over half-way through cooking by using a spatula and your fingers. The fish is very delicate at this point and can fall apart if you’re not careful.
  • After about 2 minutes of cooking add the scallops.
  • When the fish just starts to flake it will be done. Using a slotted spatula carefully transfer the fillets to a warmed plate. The scallops should be done cooking around the same time. Don’t overcook them unless you want a large pencil eraser.


  • You want your pot of water to be boiling around the time you add the fish to the stock.
  • Add the zucchini and boil for about 90 seconds. You can cook more or less depending on desired degree of doneness.
  • Drain through a colander.


  • Place ¼ of the zucchini slices on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top the zucchini with some of the sauce.
  • Place a piece of the cod on the zucchini and top with two scallops, season with sea salt and pepper.
  • Finish with some more sauce


Wasn’t that more enjoyable than listening to me rant about the winter. Until next time happy cooking and eating.

BBQ Zone – Clifton NJ – August 10, 2015

We’ve all heard the hackneyed old saying “never judge a book by its cover”. I’ve always tried to keep that in mind when trying a restaurant for the first time.  I was meeting a close friend and regular dining companion for dinner and as usual we tried to find a locale with taste bud exciting food. There would no compressed wheat germ cakes on a bed of pea shoots with a dressing of ionized carrot juice emulsified with cod liver oil and reverse osmosis apple cider vinegar….God, that sounds really foul; kind of like rabbit food meets medieval medicine-where did it come from? I have no idea. Strange things must be afoot in the brain of this writer.

Located in a small non-descript strip mall, you are greeted by an un-cramped space that can be best described as “upscale fast food restaurant”. Clean and bright with a counter for ordering and a couple of self-service beverage coolers. I looked at the menu and something stuck me as a little odd. Touted as a BBQ restaurant, the place seemed to have a rather “un-barbecue-ish” menu. Yes, there were the classic options of chicken, brisket and ribs but also many non-typical choices such as burritos and beef/chicken shawarma.

They also had a create your own salad area which my friend told me turns out some tasty, fresh options. We both chose the ribs. One with a classic BBQ sauce and the other with a garlic butter type dressing. We’re the ribs good? Oh yes quite so.  In fact, I’ve been to very few hardcore barbecue only restaurants that could come close to these. To be fully transparent, I usually prefer a smokier than not rib when eating BBQ. These may not be of that variety but it in no way detracts from the enjoyment. Flawlessly cooked full spare ribs with an outstanding crust. There’s nothing quite like biting into a fall off the bone rib to be met with a frim charred exterior “bark” followed by succulent, juicy pork meat with just the right amount of fat.  Despite being full, I continued to devour the ribs until my stomach put up a closed for business sign. I boxed up the rest and had enough left for lunch the next day. All this for $14.00, you’re hard pressed to find a much better deal.

Hungry Uncle - Normal

It would have been easy to have skewed my opinion of BBQ Zone based on it having an atypical menu for something touted as a barbecue joint. That would have been a big mistake. This concept may be a bit unusual but it works. It is a place where you can eat quickly and without being subject to the toxic waste known as fast food. From their website, “We now live in a world where people live very hectic lives , eating on the go is not so much of a choice as it is a necessity. BBQ zone will meet that need with a healthier alternative to your typical fast food restaurant. While maintaining comparable prices we aim to make BBQ zone a cornerstone of the neighborhood.” To the McRib sandwich….may you R.I.P once and for all…Lazarus doesn’t need any competition.

Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen – August 3, 2015

Come Igor, if we time the lightning strike properly, we’ll be able to harness the perfect amount of energy from the storm……. Look Igor, look, we’ve done it; we’ve regenerated previously dead tissue. It is, ALIVE! A brave new world for science and mankind…famous, we’ll be famous…………….. Well, fortunately I’m not Dr. Frankenstein and while the events in my kitchen don’t have the ethical ramifications or thought provocations of Mary Shelley’s early 19th century novel, they certainly can stimulate your taste buds and olfactory glands.

Not to mention that the creation of food products, similar to the ravings of the aforementioned (mostly) fictional character, is the intersection of creativity, science and nature.

It’s been several months since Hungry Uncle Foods began distributing our first Barbeque Sauce and I’d like to thank everyone for the positive feedback. Since the Bajan Barbeque was so well received, I thought the time had come to hunker down in my Secret New Jersey Test Kitchen and create something new. As those of you who have followed me know, I’m very inspired by both local and distant travel. While I’ve made my way around the world one the highlights has always been the food.  It’ serves as reflection of the people and their cultures and I find very few things more enjoyable than dining or cooking on someone’s “home turf”. Yes, there can be language barriers but it’s always amazed me how often food transcends that. Sometimes a simple smile or “thumbs up” can say more than a hundred words. I once had the pleasure of making dumplings with a lovely woman in her small Beijing kitchen without a word being spoken-honestly though I did feel better knowing that the translator was at my side should the need arise; my Mandarin totals about three phrases.  It’s experiences like that, many conversations with chefs, trips to farms, and the good fortune of finely tuned taste buds/ sense of smell that have helped to create my broad culinary lexicon. No, cooking cannot be successful without a basic understanding of technique and ingredients which certainly is the science and nature of it all.  However, it’s the creative part that gets me the most excited in the kitchen. At times there’s an instant winner while others it takes months of perfecting and fine tuning.

After decades, it’s still amazing the effect of a touch more or less of a given ingredient can make. Mistakes can lead to interesting culinary developments for both the trained and self-taught chef.

So what’s next? You’ll have wait a bit longer. Oh, so you’d like a hint? You know the old saying, I could tell you but then I’d have to…..” Perhaps I’m being a bit draconian. The genesis comes from close to home while its maturity comes from the other side of the planet. These varied traditions have been combined to create another sauce that I hope you will find as enjoyable as the first.

The Nikola Tesla of the kitchen? That’s up to you to decide.

July 17, 2015 – Memphis Pig Out – Atlantic Highlands NJ

The great Garden State. So much to love…expensive housing, exorbitant taxes, high cost of living, corrupt politicians, anti-business environment, generally lousy weather…. Now that I’m done venting, there are a lot of great things…proximity to NYC and Philly, countless cultural options, some of the world’s greatest produce and the Jersey Shore-to name just a few. With 130 miles of coastline and countless miles of river and Bayfront there is something for everyone. One interesting spot is the historic town of Atlantic Highlands. Perched at Sandy Hook where the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay meet, this borough of about 4,500 is the highest spot on the Eastern seaboard south of Maine. Sorry, this is where the information train stops. If your curiosity is piqued I suggest you visit www.ahhistory.org

One thing you’d never expect to find in this small artistic haven is an “authentic” down n’ dirty Memphis BBQ joint or should I say how many would envision it. Dimly lit, long bar, plaid plastic table cloths and in a perfect touch of kitsch an old school salad bar replete with small bowls, cottage cheeses, baby corn and many other vestiges of the 1970s. No, I don’t really think there’s anything Memphis or barbecue about this but I love it. It makes me think of after school cartoons that were always punctuated by such gems as Conjunction Junction, what’s your Function and I’m just a Bill on Capitol Hill – and you wonder why my generation is so screwed up??? About two minutes after being seated we were joined by a family gathering of parents and children at the adjacent table. Suspecting that after too much smoked meat and alcohol we might not be on our best behavior we asked to be moved away the Brady Bunch. Firmly situated at our new table we ordered our “imbibations” and then soon after our food. Despite having read several reviews about the servers being “less than friendly” I found it to be anything but the case. The copious portions arrived. Two of my dining companions ordered ribs, one a burger and I, the human garbage disposal, opted for the unnecessarily caloric pulled pork and rib combo.  I‘ve eaten a lot of BBQ in my life but what stood out here was the intense smokiness of the meat. Being a big fan of anything smoked, this meat coupled with their well-balanced barbecue sauce made me a happy man. I‘d be remiss if I failed to mention that the French fries were unexpectedly good too. Feeling that a food coma was imminent we brought the evening to a close.

Well, the evening may have come to a close but not this writing. Why do “We Never Go to the Beach”? I’m not sure but in Jersey when visiting that sandy area by the ocean or bay we only go “down the shore”. Not “down to the shore” or any other such variation… just “down the shore” in one flowing statement-everyone practice aloud now.  Hey, it’s a Jersey thing. You gotta’ problem with that!?!?!?!?!

Memphis Pig Out

July 8, 2015 – Adega Algueira – Lugo, Spain

It was a chilly morning in the stunningly verdant Galcian region of Spain. Our two hour drive from the sophisticated coastal city Vigo would bring us to a small boat for a trip on the River Sil where we could gaze up at  some of the world’s steepest vineyards, get a brief history of region and sip a little wine. Understand my dear readers that the steepness of the vineyards is no exaggeration. Some of slopes reach an 85% grade and all of the grapes must be picked by hand. Not much has changed since the terraced slopes were first brought by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. Building and maintaining them is as much a job for a stone mason as an enologist and finding people willing to engage in the backbreaking labor isnt easy. The average pickers are retired men and women in their sixties and seventies -truly “noble” work in my not so humble opinion. The wines of this region are special with none more so than the Mencia variety.  It produces enormously fragrant, juicy and mineral laden medium body wines with Adega Algueira being a great representation.

Our hour long boat ride over, we headed to visit Algueria and its lovely propieter and winemaker, Fernando Gonzalez. As unique as he is passionate we were treated to an unusual visit. Unlike most wineries Fernando chooses not to offer a typical tour of the cellars and the wine making areas. We sat in a dining room where he spoke about his development of the property, his philosophy of doing as little as needed to make great wines. He truly respects the grapes and likes to “work with nature” to get as much out of the fruit as possible. Yes, he focuses on the prominent grapes of the area like Mencia for red and Godello and Treixadura for white but currently produces 14 wines numerous which come from scarce varietals like Merenzao, and caíño. We tasted six different offerings. A real treat since I had previuosly only had one.

From the wine experience it was time to have lunch or more acurately say a mid-afternoon feast. Whether it is seafood or meat Glacia is known not only to be as engaged with their food as with their wine but also almost legendary for copius quantities. After a large plate of local Jamon, lomo , smoked beef and cheese-almost enough on its own for a small meal-the fun really begun. The “forklift” arrived at the table with a neraly 2 pound porthouse that would have made Fred Flinstone tremble in fear. To add a note of humour, apparently I somehow received the “child’s portion”.  This enormous piece of bovine is locally referred to as the Chuleton de Buey or “Ox chop”. Normally it consists of a 2-3 inch thick rib steak cooked over a wood burning fire to a very rare doneness. No need to make sure it’s not overcooked. Apparently that’s not in the genetic makeup of Galician cooks. I guess you could say this is Galician Barbecue. Maybe it’s not the same as our definintion but then again the word means different things to differnt people around the world-no matter, great food is great food by any name. I don’t like to speak in absolutes but here I will. The Chuleton was as good as any piece of beef I’ve had, anywhere-without debate! Juicy, tender local pasture raised cattle.

Sadly, the afternoon was coming to a close but the memory will remain. A great example of an area that despite very difficult terrain turns out unadulterated food and wine that shows the greatest respect for it’s place.

Sauce Page - Spain - HU

BBQ Sauce - Hungry Uncle - 2

BBQ Sauce - Hungry Uncle - 3

January 16-18, 2015
Vinci-Chicago, IL
Walker Brothers Original Pancake House-Glenview, IL
Au Cheval-Chicago, IL
Firecakes-Chicago, IL
Girl & The Goat-Chicago, IL
Superdawg-Chicago, IL

It was warm in the City of Broad Shoulders, much too warm for mid-January…business was good. I was on the case of a prominent business man being shaken down by some low level mob goons and just to add to the mess he had the feeling his wife was running around behind his back with some other less than savory characters. I stopped by the local joint to knock down a few, lit up a smoke and then I saw her walk through the door. She was a tall sultry dame with long flowing………..wait a minute-what the Hell’s going on here and how did I get dropped into the middle of a Mickey Spillane novel?!?

It been more than a few years since Al Capone and company menaced the streets of Chicago. While never losing all of its gritty past, Chicago is a city of great across the board diversity and the culinary world is no exception. After the obligatory airline delay in New Jersey (mechanical issues-I guess on such a clear day blaming the weather wouldn’t have cut it), I was picked up at O’Hare by a local friend and lifelong Chicagoan. As we like to do we headed straight to the “imbibatorium”. At this point I can’t remember the name but it was something like Hennessey’s, Shaughnessy’s, Ryan’s or O’Toole’s-yes, the always enjoyable neighborhood Irish pub. Never fancy but always pouring a stiff drink with simple tasty eats. This place made a more than respectable Old Fashion and damn good loaded potato skins. Time to go as we headed to hear his daughter’s school band concert-a house guest’s job is never done. Concert complete, grab his son and his son’s friend and head to place called Vinici. Billed as Rustic Italian, the non-descript front belied what was inside. A well-appointed but casual space a bit reminiscent of Tuscany. The menu offered a wide variety of predominantly hardy dishes including excellent thin-crust pizza.

Yes, the three junior diners all made that same decision. My friend and I split deeply flavored Sautéed Lamb Meatballs with caramelized onions, soft polenta, Marsala sauce. The rich sauce was a perfect complement to the meatballs and polenta which had that often missing combination of not being too firm or soft. While being quite tasty the meatballs could have been a bit moister but nevertheless the dish is something I’d order again. My friend followed with Marinated Hen grilled under a hot brick, roasted potatoes, balsamic glazed grilled radicchio, natural juices. He said the bird was right on the money and from my taste I’d agree.

Well-seasoned, succulent and a still crispy skin. It’s amazing how few places can cook foul properly but these guys can. My choice, Grilled duck breast with sautéed Tuscan kale (I substituted wrinkled green beans), polenta, oyster mushrooms, balsamic reduction. As requested the meat was medium-rare with the reduction acting as a nice foil to all the items on the plate. All the evening’s dishes were washed down with a modestly priced ($40.00) juicy bottle of Primitivo.  This close cousin of red Zinfandel held up well to all the big dishes. I had no expectations good or bad as we entered Vinici. Without hesitation I’d return. The food satisfied, the prices were reasonable (most entrées running between $15.00 and $29.00) and the service was excellent with a big bonus of an extensive gluten free menu.

HungryUncle Kitchen

As much as I’m a big breakfast guy I rarely eat it in a restaurant unless I’m traveling. Since that was the case, my friend told me we’d be visiting a Chicago area classic.  We pulled into the parking lot and I immediately recognized the sign. It was the Original Pancake House whose New Jersey branches I’d been to probably thirty times over the years. However, this was not just another location of the franchise, it was Walker Brother’s Original Pancake House. To quote their website, “In 1948, my father, Victor, and his two brothers, Everett and Dick, began what was to become four Walker Bros. Snack Shops in Evanston. By 1960, Victor and Everett continued to expand as one of the first franchisees of The Original® Pancake House from Portland, Oregon. It was founded in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke.” After eating at the Original Pancake house in four states, I’ve never had a bad meal. Obviously there is a lot of vetting before anyone is sold to a franchise. A giant baked omelet which I’m guessing contain about a half-dozen eggs, seriously smoky bacon and crispy hash browns covered my side of the table. If you want something that you’ll remember for a long time try the gut expanding, food coma inducing Apple Cinnamon Pancake-An Original Pancake House tradition! Filled with fresh apples and complimented with a Sinkiang cinnamon and sugar glaze. Just the smell of it makes you drift off into a magical land filled with……snore, snore, snore………………oh, sorry.

Hungry Uncle BBQ Sauce

After an interesting afternoon spent on a tour by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, cocktail hour was near. It’s nice when the out of town guy takes the local to someplace he’s never been. Au Cheval is best described as a hip diner with warehouse like décor. Tunes emanating from a real live reel to reel player-God, I’m dating myself- and a cool laid back vibe that wants to make you hang for hours which is exactly what we did. Two or three or five perfect Bulleit Bourbon Old Fashions later at least as many beers for my partner in alcohol, we were getting pretty hungry. Unfortunately time was running short and we had leave. Too bad as Au Cheval is purported to have one the best burgers in Chicago. Not to mention the “Limited Availability” 32 Oz. Porterhouse Pork Chop with roasted apples and foie gras. Two times at Au Cheval and two times without trying the food. That will have to change on my next visit.

Time take a power nap in preparation for dinner. However, first a stop at Firecakes, the Holy Grail of donuts. This tiny take out shop crafts a wide variety of flavors from the traditional Classic jelly and Honey glazed to the more unusual like Maple glazed pineapple bacon. Not to mention an Apple fritter without equal. Never greasy, never too sweet. Just perfect. Remember, this isn’t a national chain. When they run out of a variety, it’s done for the day. Get there early!

HU in the Kitchen
Nap time had come and gone which could only mean dinner time was near. As one of the hotter restaurants in Chicago, getting into Girl & The Goat was a crap shoot as best. Good luck prevailed. After somehow arriving at the bar just when a couple was leaving we were able to find two seats, the host then came by and said unexpectedly there was an open table. After being seated our server, Taylor, introduced herself. Lively, attentive and very informed about the menu she took great care of us the entire evening. Being a devotee of Tapas style eating I was looking forward to trying as many small plates as my stomach could absorb. Hamachi Crudo-crisp pork belly, chili aioli, caperberries. The interplay between the clean fresh fish and the rich pork belly actually worked very well. The flavor of the fish was not at all lost. The tartness of the caperberries and the heat of the aioli served to balance the disparate flavors and bring them together. Challah Back-smoked salmon cream cheese, malted red onions. A lot of Jewish bakeries could take a lesson here. Sweet, moist, delicious pull apart bread. My grandmothers are probably turning in their graves. Confit Goat Belly-bourbon butter, lobster n’ crab, fennel. The sweetness of the goat and the seafood blended perfectly with the fennel providing a nice contrast in texture. The bourbon butter was evident without overshadowing the other ingredients in any way. Ham Frites-smoked tomato aioli, cheddar beer sauce. As a French fry fanatic I was looking forward to this although I was thinking, would it be another over the top preparation that saw the frites disappear among other flavors? Let’s be honest, pretty soon we may see high altitude Peruvian potatoes fried in desiccated camel fat that’s been reconstituted in Himalayan yak blood.  No, not the case here at all. Perfectly crispy with just enough flavor from the pork fat that they were tossed in after frying. The sauces were pretty addictive.  Pan Roasted monkfish-three sisters’ pecans, romesco. Like the dishes before it all just worked. As a strong flavor, the monkfish did not get lost in the very well made romesco. Wood oven roasted pig face-sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red-wine maple, potato stix.  The flavor bomb of the night.

Moist, tender meat that soaked up the essence of everything else on the plate. If that weren’t enough the addition of a runny egg and the crunchiness of the potato made it insanely good. I’m glad this came last as I’m sure I would have ordered a second plate of this porcine deliciousness. Yes, we saved room for dessert.  Miso—butterscotch budino, bacon toffee, glazed pineapple, candied cashews. The butterscotch was a nice foundation with the other flavors seeming to come through in layers. Very interesting mouthfeel from the contrasting textures. A great finish to the evening. As to not be accused of an omission, we accompanied the meal with a 2012 D. Ventura 100% Mencia form Ribeira Sacra. This wine from northwestern Spain was aged in 100% stainless steel with no oak. Bright, fresh, with cherry and raspberry on the palate. Some slate and licorice in the background with light tannins. A very food friendly 12.5% alcohol wine. Yes, Girl and the Goat was all I expected and more. The dishes were cooked properly and a lot of care and thought went into blending items that on the surface might have seemed contradictory.  Creativity, technique and attentive service. I look forward to another visit soon.

Hungry Uncle 101
Unfortunately my weekend in Chicago was coming to a close. To end on a high note we visited a legend, Superdawg. I know I’m going to take a lot of body blows for this “blasphemy” but Chicago has better hotdogs than NYC or New Jersey. To be honest, for a guy who grew up in Jersey a short 30 minutes from New York this was a difficult admission to make. Pull into the 1950s style restaurant and treat yourself to old school carhop service. The slightly smoky dogs on a poppy seed bun are made even better when accompanied by a dill pickle and the obligatory nuclear green relish. The crinkle fries are a must too.

Just when I thought-next stop O’Hare- we pulled into a sports bar for one last drink. I needed “proper pH” for the plane trip my friend said. Not unexpectedly my flight was on time until I reached the airport. But I guess they’re always “on time” until you check in. Perhaps a ploy to have you stuck with no choice but to buy overpriced food and drinks…..

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