Monday, August 25, 2014

Grad School. They are Like Mushrooms.

They pop up like mushrooms after a heavy rain. In every city big enough to sport a Starbucks, there has risen a food-obsessed, local-inspired, heavily tattooed, sticker-adorned, farm to table establishment with clusters of young people spilling out onto patios and front benches. Done well, they are lovely. And Grad School, in a far corner of the blip of downtown of Springfield, MO, is done well.

On the continuum between well-funded subway-tiled newcomers and the ramshackle joints one gust of wind away from a pile of rubble, Grad School is one of the dives. This is a place where all of the stickers covering the soda machine are covered with stickers, and all of those are covered with a slight sheen of grease from fryer. It's a tiny restaurant, with one long room holding the open kitchen, a couple of bar stools and a handful of tiny high tops; a little back room with two sets of vinyl booths; and one long table out on the patio. Everything is narrow enough that navigation is an art. At 2:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday it was still packed, and there was still a wait.

The reason was clear. It's impossible to go to Grad School and not smile. Everyone is happy. The food is dead-on target. The chairs don't match.

A couple of high points.


The pesto vinaigrette on the house salad. A place this greasy is not supposed to have things this green. It was perfectly dressed and backyard garden level fresh.



The french fries. Nothing fancy just skin on, crispy, hand cut brilliant fries. They were amazing when they came out piping hot. They were amazing 15 minutes later when lesser fries would have wilted into sadness.



The soft cheddar on the Full Ride. Don't bite into this thinking it's a typical cheese burger. The soft cheddar melts into more of a lush sauce than a gooey bit of cheese. But it's dynamite. Sharp and silky and a perfect foil for the double burger. Not for the faint of heart.



The why-the-hell-not touches on the dishes, like the decorative swash of sriracha on the Micah's chicken. This is a delicious little quasi-asian sort of sesame chicken and rice number, and it's presentation was full on fancy. It was kind of brilliant next to the giant plastic Pepsi Cola cups we were drinking out of.

Low points were few and far between. It took a while for the food to come - but it was a happy while - and the jerk chicken was not quite up to the brilliance of the other plates (though the bits of pineapple were  genius). And they should maybe dust the ceiling fans.

 Grad School on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dolce Neve - Fresh Snow on South First

As a kid growing up in West Michigan, I used to ski occasionally at a spot not far from my house. I thought it was the best downhill skiing anywhere. Then I moved to the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico - fresh powder covering peaks above the tree-line -  and discovered what actual downhill skiing was. Dolce Neve is like moving to the mountains. You think you've been eating gelato all this time, but it turns out you haven't. This is what gelato is supposed to be.


Walking through the bright pink front door, under the front-porch arbor, you're immediately engaged. The warmth of the people that run this place is so pervasive you almost feel like you've stumbled into the kitchen at an old friend's house. There's a substantial amount of chrome, but there's also weathered wood, mismatched chairs and a wide open kitchen. The effect is charming - homey but precise, with ample style but without pretension. This openness is part of what makes things work here - they really do do it in front of everyone, going back to raw ingredients (often locally sourced) and preparing them every step of the way.


Walk up to the counter, but don't order yet. You can't possibly know what you want. Try a few first. Try the Cassata if they have it - where the orange zings through the creamy countered against the dark chocolate. Or the Whiskey Pecan, which is such a balanced mix of flavors it kind of makes you wonder how people ate pecan ice cream without whiskey before. Or the Dolce Neve (It means fresh snow in Italian), where the slight kick of lemon zest livens up the sweet cream. It's like a playground in there, and it's important to try out all the swings.


The small size is ridiculously inexpensive, and is about as much gelato as I could hold. As is traditional with gelato you can mix whatever you'd like into that cup. I think the standard is two flavors, but I'd imagine Leo would let you go with three if you wanted. He not only graciously accommodated my kid's request for the gelato in a cup with a cone, he explained to her that in Milan, they called that a Pinocchio, because the cone looks just like Pinocchio's cap.


South First keeps getting better - Sugar Mamas got a little bigger and (I didn't think this could happen) a little better. Once Over has settled in even deeper and the patio feels even further from the middle of town than it did. Elizabeth Street Cafe is still making my favorite breakfast in town. And now Dolce Neve. I can't think of a better stretch of food, anywhere.



Dolce Neve on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Houndstooth Coffee Class: How to Make Iced Coffee That Doesn't Suck

Houndstooth has stood out in the ever-growing Austin coffee scene for its constant innovation. They were the first to offer different brewing methods by the cup, the first to go with a rotating selection of roasters, the first to set up real coffee education programs, and the first to go major retail with the best selection of home coffee equipment anywhere in town.

Houndstooth is also the place I learned to make good iced coffee. I had written off iced coffee a few decades ago, based on the bitter, weak stuff my dad used to drink out on the porch on summer afternoons. All through my coffee-loving years, all good coffee has been hot, even if all hot coffee has not been good.

Until now.



About 12 of us filed into Houndstooth's swanky new digs in the Frost Bank Building right after they closed for the afternoon. Daniel Read, the manager of coffee education (really, they have a manager of coffee education), walked us through some solid basics. Before we start with the process, though, some basic things you need, and one of thing that you don't maybe need exactly, but will make your life much better if you have it.

Things you need:

  1. Coffee Maker. We used Clevers in the class, at home I use Chemex or Hario pour-overs. French Press also good. All inexpensive.
  2. Good Coffee. My all time and forever favorite is Cuvee, a roaster just outside of Austin.
  3. A kitchen scale. My favorite is from OXO, and it's less than $30.
The one single thing that will make it even better:
  1. A grinder. My favorite is from Baratza - the Encore. Basic, as far as grinders though, and while it's not exactly cheap (about $130), you make it up pretty quick once you stop buying anything starting with the words "iced venti...". Fresh ground coffee is massively better than not-fresh-ground coffee. Massively.
And once you have those things, how to make great coffee (iced or hot) comes down to this: .06.

.06 units of coffee for 1 unit of water. A cup of coffee is about 300 grams of water - multiply by .06, and it comes out to 18 grams of coffee. No more messing around with tablespoons, no more guessing. Just .06.

What does this have to do with iced coffee, you may ask?

Turns out, you make iced coffee just the same way you make hot coffee, only substituting 100 grams of ice cubes for 100 grams of the water. Easy.



Here's how we made it in class, and how I now make it at home:
  1. Heat the water. I use an electric kettle. You want water that's in the high 190s, temperature-wise. Easiest way to get there - boil the water, take it off the heat, wait 30 seconds.
  2. While the water is heating, grind the beans (medium grind for the pour-overs, coarse for the french press), and measure out 18 grams.
  3. If you're using anything with a paper filter, set it all up without the coffee and pour a little water through to rinse the filter, dumping out the water that runs through.
  4. Set your brewing set up on the scale, add the coffee, and zero out the scale again.
  5. Add 200 grams of water.
  6. Take the resulting hot steamy concentrated coffee, and pour over 100 grams of ice.

And that's it! At this point, the coffee may still be a little warm - I usually wait right up until the moment I'm going to drink it, pour it over a cup full of ice, and slurp it down before the ice has much of a chance to melt.

Still in the mood for iced coffee, but not up for the hassle? Two options for you:

  1. Head down to Houndstooth. Go up the counter. Order an iced coffee.
  2. Start with a cold-brewed option (locally brewed Chameleon Coffee is my favorite), pop it open, pour over copious amounts of ice, and go.

And there it is: Iced coffee that doesn't even remotely suck.

  Houndstooth Coffee on Urbanspoon

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