Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weighing in on "Top Chef Masters"

If you've been watching "Top Chef Masters," you recently saw Chef Hugh Acheson voted off.  Actually, it was the second time this season he got the boot.  In a strange turn of events, one of the other chefs dropped out of the competition and Chef Hugh returned to redeem himself from the mortal sin of oversalting.  He was doing pretty well until he committed another whopper in "chefdom" -- a broken mayonnaise.   Although Chef Hugh disputed the criticism, he was given the "pack your knives and go" directive. 

It's too bad the chef never got to make Frogmore Stew or the pumpkin dessert that Son of Hubmeister and I fought over at his Athens, Ga., restaurant.    

I warmed to Acheson as I watched this season unfold and he revealed with each episode more of his quirky personality. His dry sense of humor brought some levity to an otherwise boring group of chefs.  His recent sarcastic exchanges with the scientist on the science education challenge were especially entertaining. 

If you read my post about his award-winning restaurant, Five & Ten (, you'll now understand that placing that Chaines des Rotisseurs membership certificate near a toilet doesn't seem that out of character.  I suspected an off-the-wall sense of humor.  Sorry to see him go. 

Here's a link to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution interview with him about the show:  If you read the comments section, you'll see that not everyone shares my humble opinion.  What do you think?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Takin' It to the Ybor Streets: The Bricks

Daughtress was in town last week, which meant a trip to Ybor.  As luck would have it, the Ybor location of Urban Outfitters was closing and having a message-all-your-friends-on-Facebook-worthy sale.  Her timing was impeccable.  I knew she'd approve of The Bricks, so that's where we headed for a post-shopping lunch.

I really like The Bricks and she did, too.  On the road to AARP membership before I can slam on the brakes, I realize that I am not the intended audience for this trendy college-type hangout, but I am inexplicably drawn to its youthful vitality.  The tatted-up, weirdly pierced servers and their crazy hairstyles amuse me while I marvel at the colorful artwork (for sale) gracing the walls.  I don't understand any of it, but I get a kick out of it.  I also appreciate the year-round display of Halloween props and how the staff decorates the vampire and skeleton mascots according to the season.   Humor is good.

That could be why this was my second lunch outing at The Bricks.  Hubs and I tried it a few months back.  He wasn't thrilled, since he's more of a Tampa Bay Brewing Company kind of guy.  That's not to say The Bricks doesn't have beer.  This place morphs into a bar scene at night.  But before the vampires and Ybor City night stalkers come out, it's a coffee shop, breakfast and lunch venue that occupies a red-bricked corner space on the west end of East 7th Avenue. 

Passing on the peanut butter and jelly offerings for which they are known, I opted for the Blackstar Bean Burger ($9) and Asian slaw.  On first bite, the burger was less than exciting, but once I got going on it, it really hit the spot.  The bean patty was topped with smoked mozzarella, spinach, tomato, red onion and ketchup.  The amped-up ketchup imparted a sweet heat and played nicely with the other elements.  The more I ate, the more the heat came through. You've really got to pump up the flavors to electrify vegetarian dishes and The Bricks did an admirable job with this beaner. 

The slaw was particularly memorable -- in a good way.  As I contemplate the dressing ingredients, I venture a guess that a splash of sesame oil is one of the key components, along with vinegar, of course.  The no-mayo-added slaw consisted of shredded carrot and red and green cabbage, all of which were fresh, crunchy and infused with Asian flavors.  It was delicious on both visits. 

Daughtress ordered the Bird and Pig ($9), a combination of roasted chicken, bacon, brie, sliced apple and agave nectar on pressed Hawaiian bread.  You've never had agave nectar on a sandwich before?  Me, neither. The Bricks gets a hat tip for innovation.  There is some smart stuff going on here:   Notice the sweet and salty balance -- in addition to the alternating textures -- of ingredients.  The apples were tart and crunchy, the brie soft and oozing, the bacon salty, the nectar honey-ish and the sweet bread pressed to a warm crisp.  All that adds up to an intriguing and tasty chicken sandwich.  We all know how boring chicken breast can be and this was far from bland.  Hubmeister happened to order this sandwich on his visit and he also sang its praises.  He likes that Hawaiian bread!

From the available sides of potato salad, mixed greens, slaw or tortilla chips, Daughtress also selected the Asian slaw.  It made the cut with her, too.   We also loved the peach ginger iced tea.

We had a couple of servers, and both were efficient, friendly and stylistically unique.  (Insert smile here.)

I am happy that Ybor City is emerging as a restaurant hotbed because this little corner of Spanish-Cuban-Italian history is by far my favorite slice of Tampa.

Maybe the old spirits of Cigar City are inspiring The Bricks' mad scientists.  It's clear they aren't afraid to experiment with their food and I am more than willing to visit their laid-back lab de cuisine.   Where else in Tampa can you find "The Amsterdam, " a sandwich of peanut butter and melted smoked Gouda on a baguette?

Verdict:  Fun choice for the open-minded hipster, oops, I mean diner.

Restaurant Info:
The Bricks

The Bricks of Ybor on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pucker Up for Pickles

I just noticed that I've recently had a flurry of activity on my "In a Pickle Over Pickles" post from last year ( , and I realized that I never told you how they turned out.  Well, the most critical people I know, and probably the most critical people most of us know -- our own extended families -- said they were awesome!  Yup, they want more.  No one could be more surprised than I.

So, when you see those kirby cukes, buy them up and make a batch of pickles.  I also can't say enough about the website.  Everybody loves the jams (in addition to the pickles) that I have made off of this website, and believe me, I am no canning expert. 

And, on the subject of canning, heads up on the $1.39/pint blueberries at Aldi this week.  Get them while you can.  You know what I'll be doing this weekend.