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Friday, June 24, 2011

Greenville (SC) Eats: Dawgs on Pelham

If there's one thing about my childhood that I look back fondly on, it's the atrocious (though delicious) amount of hotdogs I had growing up. Many food enthusiasts may look down on the tube of mystery meat, but for me there's something heartwarming about a good hotdog. There's a difference between a good hotdog and trash though, without question. Unlike a good hamburger, few hotdogs have what it takes to stand on its own. That's where the zany combination of condiments come in and take over and make a normal dog something special.

Craving a good dog on a hot summer South Carolina day, I decided to try out Dawgs on Pelham, a small, but homely establishment featuring some American staples along with some not-so-ordinary twists on the classics, including a variety of interesting burger twists such as the stuffed burger. As intriguing as some of the burger options sounded though, I came for the name, grabbing a slaw dog plate with an extra Mexican dog thrown in. The Mexican was, well, kind of disappointing. Topped with jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes, it didn't really do much for me except provide a little kick. The slaw dog though - a relatively dry, but meaty chili topped by a cool purple slaw also served as a side for the plate - was a huge improvement. The purple slaw was somewhat baffling. On its own, it was a little bland and didn't provide much crunch or flavor. Topped on the dog, however, it made for a great companion to the chili creating a nice creamy, meaty, textural bite on top of the dog. That may sound kind of horrendous on paper, but you'll have to just trust me on that one! The dog itself wasn't anything special in my book, just an average dog with no real pop like I've had other places in my day. The whole thing in general was just a really attractive, bit-better-then-average slaw dog. Along with the plate came homemade fries. Kudos for being homemade, but they unfortunately came rather bland and just not crisp at all. If I return, I think I'd just stick to the dogs and order an extra one instead of a plate - or grab a burger.

No Reservations, the lowdown on Dawgs
Atmosphere: Mom and pop kind of place,
real local. It's a burger joint y'know?
Costs: $5 range for most. Good prices for lunch.
Try: Slaw dog, or the burgers. Looked good.

Dawgs On Pelham on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greenville (SC) Eats: The Woodruff Rd. Buffet Run

I've somehow eaten at a handful of buffets up and down Woodruff Rd. in my short time in Greenville, South Carolina, something that just happens when there's a large family hungry for food I guess. Woodruff Rd. for the most part was littered high profile grocery stores including Whole Foods and Trader Joes and chain after chain after chain. That being said, there's some interesting bites to be had along this popular part of town, such as Tasty Korean BBQ, reviewed below or Lieu's Chinese Bistro, a much more exciting variation of Chinese American compared to P.F. Chang's horrid, oily mess just down the street. That's a whole other story though; we've got other business to discuss here, starting with:

Ni Hao
Type of Food: Chinese/Japanese Buffet
Price: One of the Cheapest in Town for Dinner, $8.99
Atmosphere: Surprisingly upscale for the price range

I had my doubts about the place considering how less busy it was compared to the nonstop action going on at Hibachi Buffet down the street, but Ni Hao actually had kind of a sexy atmosphere and some interesting bites here and there. The best bite went to the steam dumpling; a crisp on the outside, soft and creamy in the center dumpling with fresh bits of shrimp and sauteed spinach on the inside. Devouring five of these bad boys might have been a bad idea considering how filling it was, but weighing the options I think it was worth it. Outside of these, most items were hit or miss. Seafood-wise, the clams bathed in black bean sauce and crawfish hit the spot, but the sushi were mostly misfires. Everything else was standardish, nothing too different from the norm, but not horrendous either. For a quieter experience at the sacrifice of a few items, Ni Hao isn't a bad choice in the face of it's heavy hitting opposition down the street.

Ni Hao on Urbanspoon

Saffron Indian Cuisine
Type of Food: Oh, you know.
Price: $10ish for lunch buffet
Atmosphere: Upscale, but locals keep it local

Saffron may be a bit hard on the wallets for guests during dinner time, but like most Indian restaurants, lunch provides an affordable trip to overseas. Vegetarians will feel at home here with the flavorful vegetable dishes at Saffron, which are constantly rotating. Cauliflower was the feature of the day during my visit with it being served three-to-four ways whether it was battered and fried, cooked in curry, or well... cooked in curry. I'm not the biggest cauliflower enthusiast in the world, but these dishes certainly made me forget that fact for awhile. Saffron's curries pack a satisfying punch, from the standard chicken curry to the more robustly spiced vegetarian curries. Spice lovers may be slightly disappointed by the heat levels of these dishes, but some side dishes help up the ante for those looking for their kicks.

The naan, Indian flatbread, had been hit or miss for me in the past, but today it was exactly how I liked it, soft, slightly chewy with a bit of savoriness. There was one disappointment though, the tandoori chicken, a sad, dry piece of chicken found stuffed in what looked like a 90s infomercial roaster. Stick with the chicken curries for your protein meat lovers.

Saffron Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Bon Thai
Type of Food: American Thai. I guess.
Price: $8-9 lunch
Atmosphere: A little too quiet for the lunch hour methinks.

I love Thai curries, I really do, but even I know you can only have so much. While the idea of a thai buffet sounds exciting, when the only options are seemingly leftover curries left and right, it gets a bit on the repetitive side you know? It's kind of ironic that the restaurant labels itself as a healthy food on the outside, but serves up a buffet (portion control anyone?) on the inside. Regardless, the curries offered only register "meh" on the Thai goodness scale. Most of the curries failed to really give the full Thai flavor that you'd expect out of their potent curries, which was disappointing considering the almost nonexistent choices outside of them. Endless Tom Yum soup was a nice touch, but the best part of the meal was the least Thai thing on the menu - a creme brulee. In a town with better Thai options, Bon Thai just doesn't hit the spot for me.

Bon Thai & Sushi Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Greenville (SC) Eats: Tasty Korean BBQ

There's about a million reasons why people may want to avoid Tasty Korean BBQ. For starters, it's named Tasty Korean BBQ. I suppose the fact that it's attached to a gas station in a cramped parking lot next to what I think is a tax store also makes it less attractive. Despite the visual faults, anyone who steps into hole-in-the-wall will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the clean and charming interior of this family restaurant - and some good eats as well.

Every time I go to a Korean restaurant, I have high hopes of trying something different, or well, some bulgogi or garbi (korean barbecue) at least. But the sight, smell, and best of all crackling sound of a dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice in a hot stone bowl) was too hard for this traveler to turn down. I've had many dolsot bibimbap's in the past year, all of which have come in as many variations. Tasty Korean BBQ's version is one of the simpler with carrots, spinach, bean sprouts and a few greens with the usual bulgogi -(marinated beef) and fried egg on top. Honestly, I've had better bibimbap's before: some more complicated in vegetables, some with more flavorful bulgogi, and some with hotter stone bowls and crispier, sweeter rice, but you know what? Tasty Korean BBQ's version is still as every bit as soulful as any other bibimbap before. There's something about the textures, the taste, and the magical fried egg on top that makes this a dish that's almost impossible to beat. Not the perfect bibimbap, but still one well worth the price of admission.

Side dishes (known as banchan) are a trademark of Korean restaurants, traditionally served complimentary with every meal. Tasty Korean BBQ sports five; a much needed, much loved clear noodle stir-fry, a traditional plate of crisp and spicy kim chi, a slightly sweet and chewy-in-a-great way plate of squid, some sauteed zucchini (shrugs), and a cold, cool plate of potatoes mashed in some sweet cream. Delicious. Though other Korean restaurants I've been to have had more side dishes (up to 14 at the most I've seen!), Tasty's five banchan's were satisfying, well made, and all I really needed on a stormy night. Any more and it would have probably felt like a challenge rather than a meal. To finish things off, a cup of ginseng tea on the side brought everything together, capping off a great, filling dinner.

No Reservations, a Look at Tasty Korean BBQ
Atmosphere: Clean, cool, and casual. Don't be fooled
by the funny setting outside.
Costs: Korean food tends to be $9+, Tasty being no exception. You can find some fairly good lunch prices though if you don't mind opting for some simpler dishes.
Try: Anything barbecue, or the bibimbap.

The restaurant had a fair amount of busy the evening I visited. You know an ethnic restaurant is satisfying when locals of the same ethnicity visit, and Tasty Korean BBQ is no exception. Two tables were filled with local Korean business clients while other local Koreans came in and out to enjoy the food and visit with the owners. Non-Koreans also came in and out, apparently friendly and familiar with the owners at the restaurant. For an ethnic restaurant, there's a wonderfully local feel about it that made it all the more warming to visit on a dreary wet day. No, it is far from the best of its kind, but for simple, true to its name food, Tasty Korean BBQ is well worth a visit for anyone in the Greenville area.

Tasty Korean Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Greenville (SC) Eats: The Northgate Soda Shop

Vanilla pepsi and cherry bombs!? Holy soda pop Batman! Just outside of Greenville's swanky downtown lays Northgate Soda Shop, Greenville's ultimate 50s transport. Dozens of historic pepsi bottles, rare sodas, and whimsical images litter the restaurant's walls and cabinets of this local favorite. True to its name, several soda flavor mixes sit in the back waiting for customer's calls. While a vanilla pepsi and cherry bomb (cherry flavored soda water) may be enough reason to come visit, the Soda Shop is also known for its list of burgers, particularly three: SC's official burger, the pimento cheese, the Chris Evans burger aka a bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg on top, and the kahuna burger, which... well, I assume is connected with pineapple in some way, shape, or form.

On my quick visit to the shop, I decided to go with their signature, the pimento cheeseburger. At first bite, it certainly felt like it met expectations. The cheese was ooey, gooey, and just a bit buttery. A toasted bun and large (see how it engulfs almost half of the plate!?) burger seemed like a winner. In the end though, the burger was just a bit too well done in the end for my taste, coming off as a bit dry halfway through. I would have loved extra pimento cheese as well (I mean, who doesn't?). I don't want to stir people in the wrong direction though; it was still a satisfying burger, and the wealth of locals that streamed in from the surrounding neighborhood absolutely agreed. A look around suggested that the Chris Evans burger may be more on par with people's taste; it was a popular pick among locals and looked sinfully delicious with the bacon and slab of egg on top. The pimento came with a side of standard crinkle fries and a healthy slab of coleslaw which was nicely balanced in texture and taste - one of the better slaws I've had in recent memory for sure.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on the Soda Shop
Costs: Between $6-8 for most plates.
Less for standard fare like a plain burger, but why do that?
Atmosphere: Incredibly local.
Owners knew most of the crowd by name.
Try: The Chris Evans Burger,
and of course a few soda mixes!

Greenville's downtown may be packed with a variety of local joints, but few pack the charm that Northgate Soda Shop carries. There's no fancy gadgets roaming around here; just a simple meal with a couple surprising bells and whistles for those who aren't afraid to stray off the beaten path and roam into this classic neighborhood establishment.

Northgate Soda Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Greenville (SC) Eats: Pita House

Thesis work brought me to Greenville, South Carolina for the month, so I decided to check out some of the local favorites. At first glance, it seemed like a bit of a challenge to find some good eats outside of downtown with the seemingly endless array of chains littered through the city in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but some research and word of mouth led me to my first location, the Middle Eastern restaurant "Pita House", just across from Greenville Tech.

For such a low key place, Pita House seemed to attract a pretty sizable crowd for an off-hour time of day. On the outside, it looked like any other place in town, - perhaps even less attractive - but two steps in revealed a pleasantly bright and inviting interior.

Despite a relatively large menu featuring a variety of Middle Eastern treats, it didn't take me long to make my pick - the falafel plate, which came with a side of hummus, tomato cucumber raita, and a couple of pitas. The falafel was, in a word, sensational. Crispy on the outside, savory and just a little creamy in the middle, they'll make you forget that this is a vegetarian dish in a heartbeat. I've had a lot in my day, but none were as crisp and flavorful as Pita House's. A gem. Assembling the sandwich was another delight altogether. The gorgeous hummus and cool tomato-cucumber side made for perfect companions with the sandwich, and were even better packed into my second pita, creating explosions of amazing Middle Eastern flavors in my mouth.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Pita House
Atmosphere: Local casual fare.
Costs: Great prices, $7 for the falafel plate,
most dishes costed even less. Cash only though!
Try: Do I really need to say?

I'm sure Pita House serves many other great dishes including kabobs and spinach pie, but after this experience, I think I'll take my chances and continue coming back for more amazing falafel. I was completely blown away by the quality of Pita House, especially in a place like Greenville, South Carolina. Anyone in town looking for a delicious and affordable meal should look no further then this diamond in the rough. Pita House also serves a host of baked goods for those aiming for more of a snack then a meal, so don't be afraid to stop by and check things out if you've never had Middle Eastern fare before.

Pita House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seattle Eats: A Tour of the Town, Part 2

Two months late, but better late then never right? In the first part of our tour, we took a look at a few dives in and around the much-beloved Pike's Place area. Today we're hitting the rest of the town as we check out the second half of my trip to the beautiful city of Seattle back in March.

First up, Uwajimaya.
Type of Food: Various Asian
Location: International District

Uwajimaya is Seattle's local Asian superstore, featuring just about everything to fit your Asian cooking needs. Tucked in the corner of the store is the market's food court, where a variety of sights, smells, and sounds await hungry travelers. I personally love the smell of roasted duck, fried pig and related goodness in the morning, afternoon... and evening. And sometimes past midnight. It didn't take long for me to find the roasted duck stand where I stood drooling for ten minutes as I waited to be served.

Than Brothers
Type of Food: Vietnamese
Location: All over the damn place.

With thirteen restaurants around the city, the Than Brothers certainly seem to have taken a strong command of the pho scene in Seattle. Is it the best pho in town? That I'm not so sure, but those looking to venture for Vietnamese food will still be incredibly pleased with the comforts provided by the Brothers. Vegetarians will also be pleased to find a rich, sweet vegetarian pho to fit their taste, something that can be somewhat of a rarity in other Vietnamese locations.

Snoqualmie Falls Brewery
Type of Food: Casual Bar Fare
Location: Snoqualmie Falls. Duh.

About twenty miles out of town near the beautiful Snoqualmie falls is the, well, Snoqualmie Falls brewery. Our travel group stopped in for a few beers and enjoyed some of brews along with the spinach and artichoke dip - a warm and comforting bite perfect for the cold, rainy day.

Spice Route
Type of Food: South Indian
Location: Bellevue

Unfortunately I have no photo to show the immensity of Spice Route's dosas - Indian crepes that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and fillings. Alongside a few traditional condiments, the dosas make for an incredibly satisfying meal filled with wildly different combinations of flavors from first to last bite. Highly recommended.

Gingogae Korean Restaurant
Type of Food: Korean
Location: Shoreline

Bibimbap may be the most full proof dish in the restaurant business. Throw rice in a pot, top with Korean vegetables and korean bbq, slap a fried egg on top and mash into glory. Simple, yet deliciously soulful in ways that are hard to explain. Paired with the usual eight-to-ten Korean side dishes and a warm cup of barley tea (a nice touch on Gingogae's part), bibimbap a full-bodied meal that's sure to hit the spot each and every time.

That's it for this trip! Thanks to my travel companions for the wonderful tour of the city, I would never have eaten as well without you guys. ;)

Bonus Footage

Roasted Duck at Uwajimaya

Sampler at Snoqualmie Falls Brewery.

Korean side dishes at Gingogae