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I think you all remember my old post on how family-oriented restaurants should handle families based on a non-stellar visit to a Red Robin. I’m happy to report that we’ve had a couple of visits there since then, and they’ve all been fantastic. Yesterday was especially awesome. Our server, we’ll call him “James F.”, because that’s what was on his nametag, was super attentive but not overly in-our-faces, kept our waters full, showed us some menu shortcuts, dropped napkins by the gross on our table, and had us checked out an on our way in record time. Just an awesome, awesome experience.

The manager, (Mike, I think), was also great, swinging by the table to check on us, then going out of his way to hook the wee ones with balloons on our way out the door.

Our kids were actually not great (even by their standards), but because the service was so impeccable my wife and I had an enjoyable and largely stress-free lunch. Thanks, Red Robin!

Really wanted to find a Robin giving the Buddy Jesus, but alas.

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Dear Qdoba,

I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since I was first handed a burrito the size of my face and told that it constituted a “serving.” Sure, there are those on Team Chipotle, but I’m fairly certain all of those people liked the Twilight movies (personally I gave up when I realized this was a satire and not a trailer) so I don’t care. I’ve been down with you since day one.

That’s what made it so exciting when I got this in my email.

Free guac is just another word for nothing left to lose.

After talking my work lunch crew into walking over we waited in line for a solid five minutes while the person who appeared to be in charge aggravated her entire team whilst in the midst of preparing some enormous faxed-in order. Eventually (and professionally) I was built a pork-filled, aluminum-wrapped happiness torpedo and at the end of the line I produced my coupon, my Club Card, and my cash.

Things quickly went south when I was told that the coupon wouldn’t ring up. The person who appeared to be in charge descended on the helplessly polite cashier, looked at it for a minute, told her there wasn’t anything she could do about it, gave the cashier a dirty look, looked up at me and said “Yeah, this promotion is all screwed up. You’ll have to call the helpline.” and then immediately went back to being an a-hole to her subordinates.

 The cashier to her credit (who was VERY obviously not allowed to, you know, not charge me for the buttery green ambrosia that I was supposed to be getting for free, was super nice about charging me for it but went out of her way to print an extra receipt and get my phone number so SHE could call the helpline on my behalf. She (and everyone but the person who appeared to be in charge) were super nice and professional during my whole visit.
 
I guess what I really want to get at, though, is what the f’ was that? I’m sure you guys lose the avocado-equivalent of the Greek national debt every day in people stealing flatware and picante sauce from over near the soda fountain, but would it seriously cause investors to start shuttering locations if you had some sort of policy where you accept the coupons you send to people? Could we just make that money up by only offering lemons or limes when I grab my napkins?
 
I’m definitely still not into Chipotle (they’re a little too pretentious about only using organic tin foil to wrap up their burritos), but this did shake my commitment to Team Qdoba. Can you work on this? I don’t want to have to use the nuclear option and start going to Moe’s.
 
Fajita vegetably yours,
Jamie Oswald

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As you may have noticed, we here at the SFA are pretty big fans of beer. Oh sure, we’ll swig some wine on Wednesdays and punish the gin and tonics at a wedding (open bar of course), but when it comes right down to it we can’t get enough of the sweet brown nectar — even after a long weekend of fraternizing.

Because we love the beer, and we love variety, we like to try various types of beers. Many breweries try to make this easy on us by offering “sampler packs” which contain multiple types of beer in one box. Sometimes these are awesome, but more than not they miss the mark a little.  Here are the best and worst we’ve come across here in the St. Louis Market.

Best Sampler: Schlafly

I actually buy this particular twelve pack all of the time because it does give me a little flavor of everything, and I happen to like all three beers they pack in here. It brings the Pale Ale (a reliable beer that can go with anything), the Dry-hopped APA (for when you’re feeling hoppy) and a fantastic Kolsch (this is a great barbecue beer and WAY better than their Summer Lager which I don’t care for). Not only do I like the beer in here, I also believe strongly that 3 is the perfect number of beers to put into a sampler so you have the option to spread the 4-of-one-kind over a couple of meals or opt to sit down and have several in a row.

Schlafly also gets bonus points for swapping out their Hefeweizen (which was trendy but never really tickled my… fancy?) for the APA (which I adore). They get even more bonus points for having a very responsive social media team: I sent a friend to the Bottleworks for lunch and right after he checked in on Yelp, someone working there said “hey, thanks for checking in.”

Runner Up (in a good way): Great Divide

This is a pricier sampler than I usually pick up, but I had tried something of theirs before and was impressed. I think this sampler — containing four of their year-round brews — was the first one my wife could split evenly: she liked 2 and I liked 2. None of them are on our favorites board, but our tastes are so different we usually don’t even like the same breweries. Having someone in our house enjoy every beer out of a sample box is a pretty big win for our house.

Our common ground? Coors Light of all things.

Worst 12 Pack: Boulevard

The Boulevard 12-pack contains 6 different beers. That’s just too damned many in my book. Very few craft brewers can put together one sampler with 6 competently and not-completely-out-there beers. Boulevard is not one of those few. Their Pale Ale is fantastic, and their Unfiltered Wheat is the only wheat beer I actually enjoy.  From those two, his sampler goes downhill quickly.  The Lunar Ale stands out as being particularly awful, but rest assured that one dud is not what sinks this offering.

Runner-Up (not in a good way): Samuel Adams

I hate to pick on Sammy because they’ve obviously put in a lot of work to make sure all of these beers are available in grocery stores all the way out in my suburbs. However, their sampler pack suffers, much like Boulevard, from having too much of a good thing by offering 6 different beers in one 12 pack. The Boston Lager and Sam Adams Light are safe picks, but everything after that is sort of a crap shoot. This is, in fairness, a sampler in the truest sense in that they seem to rotate through the remaining flavors pretty frequently, but generally speaking, I don’t like many of them. If you are really into noticing the coriander in a given beer, this might be for you. I’m just personally not there yet.

Conclusion

Sampler packs are a great way to minimize risk when exploring new breweries: why risk it all on 6 bottles on one beer when you can have 12 beers that give several flavors. When picking out a sampler pack, I recommend going with one that has no more than four different brews in it (three is probably better), and I’d hold out until they go on sale.

I'd rather be fearless than beerless.

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As you may recall, a few weeks ago I lost the use of a dear friend in a fit of compassion (What’s that you say? You don’t recall? Well look right here.). At the time I was disappointed that after a few thousand years of being removed from the meat production process I no longer had the necessary chops to provide for my brood, but was really mostly depressed because it meant I was going to have to go a summer without grilling or at least grilling easily.

 As part of my conceding some adorable baby birds deserved a shot at growing up to poop on things, my wife assured me a new grill would be in my future. With that, I started fantasy shopping about several new models, and I had some very basic criteria.

  1. I wanted it to look pretty. I’m trying to get my patio together, and while my old grill was functional, it wasn’t very attractive to anything but a family of birds.
  2. I had to have a solution that would heat up quickly so I could grill during the weak with our schedule, I’ve only got about an hour and 15 minutes to cook, feed, and clean the kids before bedtime. This pretty much ruled out a charcoal grill.
  3. I needed something bigger. On my current grill, I just didn’t have enough room to cook enough food to feed my whole family at once.
  4. It needed to be movable. I want to store it next to the house, but I need to be able to pull it away before lighting it. The new patch of siding on the back of the house gives testament to the lesson I learned last Father’s Day.

This weekend, the piper finally got paid and I got a shiny new grill for Father’s Day.

We like the shiny. We'd also like our patio to look like this (it does not currently).

 

 I looked into some gas/charcoal combos but couldn’t find any that were reviewed very well and ultimately decided that if I needed to do charcoal I could use my firepit but that this bad boy (with nearly twice the grilling surface of my old one) would work out fantastically. I also liked that this one included a vegetable steamer you could put in or take out (I recognize it’s a gimmick, but if I recognize that I don’t have to feel like a rube) and as we all know I like to get my health on (or at least like to feel I have the option to get my health on, knowing full-well that before too long I’ll be trying to steam bacon in there).

This grill did admittedly have mixed reviews (which would normally put me off) but most of the reviews were about how hard it was to put together. Since I was going to buy it already assembled, I didn’t care, and I felt OK with the rest of the write-ups I saw.

After having cooked one meal on it (which included fresh veggies, hot dogs, brats, and a couple of Daddy Day porterhouses) I’m pretty stinking happy so far. It got up to temperature in no time, it responded to my temperature changes, it had all sorts of room for me to use, and the food turned out great, which is no small feat for me. Also, since it was hugely discounted, I got to get an insanely expensive grill for a moderately ridiculous price, which is always nice (I like to know how rich people feel sometimes. Sue me. That’ll just give me something else to check off of my faux-rich guy bucket list).

Final grades: The grill gets a Cuban with Smoked Provolone, those birds get a Cuban with Swiss, and the store experience gets a Reuben (the guy was a little weird, and they didn’t have the cover I wanted).

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I am not sure where this is going, but my business partner mentioned something about Beef Jerky to me on Twitter. Specifically, “A Couple O’ Jerk’s” Beef Jerky. Which I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of their meat in the mail and will have a full report once it arrives.  Anyway it got me thinking about how much I really enjoy Beefy Jerky in general and how it goes overlooked in my snacking decisions. As I fell farther into my Beef Jerky haze, I went on further to ponder what food to me is most like Beef Jerky and no matter how I compared it, I kept winding up at Bacon. At this point I was so deep in thought and hungry that I start halucinating about a war between Beef Jerky and Bacon and who would win. The more and more I thought about this epic battle I kept thinking that Beef Jerky could actually win. Blasphemy.  Without being able to tell anyone about this battle in my head, I felt that a well thought out blog about the war of all food wars would be appropriate. So, I’d like to take the next few minutes of your life to gather my thoughts and get your opinion. So, in no particular order, here are the contestants in the Cured Meat Battle Royale.

Beefy Jerky

Nobody puts Beef Jerky in the Corner

Pro’s

  • Tastes Delicious
  • Portable
  • Affordable
  • the most accessible meat product in the world
  • Healthy in moderation
  • User Friendly no cooking required = no clean up
  • A variety of flavors (Teryaki, Spicy, Original, Slim Jim)
Cons
  • Not meal-worthy
  • Can’t wrap other meats with it
  • Does not play well with TMJ
  • Along with Pork Rinds it might have the most Whiskey Tango association of all foods. I would use the term “Hoosier” here but that term doesn’t translate from Missouri to Indiana well.

I must Destroy Beefy Jerky

Pro’s

  • Delicious
  • Said to “make everything taste better”
  • Smells great (according to me)
  • Pairs well with other meats
  • Kevin
  • Baconian Method
  • Transcends the gap between Fast Food and Fine Dining
  • Can be used at any meal
  • cultural phenomenon

Cons

  • Waiting time to cook & eat
  • Makes our house stink (according to my wife)
  • Messy Clean up
  • Kevin
  • Not very portable
  • Turkey Bacon
  • Maple Cured
So there you have it. I am still at a loss at literally pondering over this for a couple hours. It’s now time to voice your opinion and let it be known who wins.

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First off I am glad to report I spelled “controversy” correctly on the first try. No spell check needed.

As our loyal fan base is aware, we like to rate products on this blog. However, our rating scale is based on the deliciousness of sandwiches instead of a Thumb or Star. We simply call this The Sandwich Scale. We agreed upon this scale as a novel way to rate products and make our reading public hungry (or not). As it stands now, in its original version, we have been informed by some of you that we are overlooking some serious bread-wrapped magic.

So, a few days ago at our Share Holders Meeting (which consisted of me calling Jamie on his drive home from work and him actually picking up), we started discussing whether he was dead or just busy with work. Turns out he was just busy with work and I am still only 50% owner. I’ll have my day! We began talking sandwiches and possibly trying out new sandwiches to put in the Sandwich Scale. It turns out that we have a very different sandwich experience and that there are some sandwiches that could be considered classics he or I had not had before. So, we decided that it would be a great excuse for us to start trying out these local delights and possibly revamp the scale.

Now just a few points on the sandwiches that we are going to consider for this new scale.

  1. While our audience spans the globe with literally 1 whole reader in Australia, we are limited to rating  sandwiches that are indigenous (also spelled correctly first time) to the St. Louis Metropolitan area. We are fully aware of the girth of Sandwichland in the United States, but we have to keep it local.
  2. We aren’t interested in some boutique sandwich store or restaurant that has been around for 6 months and makes a killer “slider”. We are looking for established eateries that have been part of the St. Louis landscape for years. To further expand this point, no chain restaurants.
  3. We are not limiting ourselves to just the city proper and are willing to venture into the county to look for candidates. However, I will draw the line at St. Louis County only because the St. Charles Applebee’s is not “established” in my book. Nor will I venture over to Illinois. Jamie may have some issues on this one.
  4. I do think we need to limit it to Sandwiches only. A burger is in its own category because there can be so many different toppings, types, etc. So leave burgers out of it. Also there needs to be some sort of bun involved. A wrap is not a sandwich.
  5. Hold the _____ Please. There are a few items/condiments that are going to be left off these sandwiches. Jamie has stated that he feels funny around mayo & some cheeses. Also, I am deathly afraid of eggs and can’t stand tomato slices. So, these criteria will also weigh heavily on where we go to test the waters.
  6. Finally, we are also up for taking suggestions from you our readers. While you may not live in St. Louis and we are kind of limiting our audience on this, consider this post and its replies (please post comments folks and don’t make me look like a boner) your sandwich guide to the Gateway City.

So right now on our radar we have the following:

  • Gioia’s Deli – Hot Salami. Admittedly I forgot about this sandwich when doing the original scale. Probably because I was hung over when I would eat it, but it is a monster from the Hill area of St. Louis.
  • Seamus McDaniel’s – Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Terrible website. Great food. I will insist that we eat at the one in Dogtown.
  • Jackson’s – Steak Sandwich. Two words: Meat Medallions.
  • Callier’s Deli – Something. They have about 50 different Sandwiches at this place. So we’ll tackle whatever they tell us is their signature.

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It’s been a while since we’ve reviewed a beer ’round hurre. But I picked up a sixer of this beer on a lark and I was blown away.

In the interest of full-disclosure I should tell you that a buddy of mine from college is the brewmaster from O’Fallon Brewery, I’ve enjoyed a lot of their beer for next to nothing, and it is most likely a total conflict of interest for me to review their beer. Then again, I’m assuming most of my regular readers aren’t here for unbiased reporting.

Besides, if it hadn’t come from O’Fallon, I probably wouldn’t have tried this Black Hemp beer. Aside from owning a hacky sack in high school and thoroughly enjoying the NSFW cameo of Bob Saget in Half-Baked, I’m not exactly knee-deep in the weed sub-culture. But I trust Brian so I picked it up. And it was awesome.

Um, Beer.

I like O’Fallon’s flagship beer, O’Fallon Gold, because it goes down easily but you can tell it is hand-crafted. The Black Hemp continues that tradition of drinkability but adds some complexity. It’s sort of a lot of things. Sorta dark. Sorta chocolatey. Sorta smokey. Sorta malty. Sorta light. Sorta perfect. But not very hempy (or at least I’m guessing not, since it doesn’t smell at all like that one guy who spent 12 years getting an associate’s degree in forestry).

As a side note, O’Fallon does make plenty of beers that are “craftier” in the weightier sense of the word. I do like those  as well (the 5 Day IPA isn’t slap-your-momma hoppy but gives you plenty of what you came for, and I truly believe — but have yet to verify — that the Smoked Porter would be perfect with a big old Cracker Barrel-type breakfast). I just happen to love the high-quality but extremely drinkable beers they put out. I call this category “Braverman beers” because they always remind me of the TV show Parenthood where the Braverman extended family seems to have 3 enormous cookouts a week where all of their problems magically melt away under a tastefully-lit table where everyone is getting shnockered.

I’m giving this beer an Amighetti’s Special for two reasons: one, I have to leave a little room in case someone brews a beer that has a TV in it or something, and two, I don’t want to believe I’ve found the perfect beer because that would mean I should stop looking.

I’ve really been trying to expand my beer portfolio lately, and it is very, very common for me to like one. It is very, very rare for me to like one this much. I actually drank it over the weekend, and ran right out and buy some more (on sale for $6.99 at Schnuck’s this week) so I could review it properly (meaning I had an excuse to drink a couple on a week night and not have to pay attention to American Idol while someone next to me watches it).

And, since it is sort of seasonal, I even bought a back up sixer for when they run out of stock and I want to have my own little Braverman day.

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