Heat Meiser and Guy Fieri

Grinders West

I have a confession to make. I heard about Grinders West, in Kansas City, from The Food Network’sDiners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I have another confession, I think the host, Guy Fieri, looks like the Heat Miser from The Year Without A Santa Claus.
And I think he’s a bit of a tool. I know a lot of people love the guy but you’ve got to admit with his spiky hair, ubiquitous wraparound shades, and abuse of cliche’s like “the bomb” and “flavor town,” his over-the-top personality, gets a little insipid. Grinder’s is my third of Fieri’s “Triple D” recommended joints and, like the others, it’s good but falls short on its way to flavor town.
Grinder’s West style is as funky and eclectic as Fieri’s shirts. It’s a casual place with glass tables, wooden chairs, lots of retro-futuristic Jetsons-looking lights,

old-school-meat-packing-district red brick walls, an austere concrete floor, an open but cluttered  kitchen, and a very casual vibe.

It’s a great atmosphere to enjoy some grub and what Grinder’s does best, beer. Lots of beer. Whether you like Belgians, large scale American domestics, or my favorite, microbrews, they’ve got a brew for you. I started with a Schlafly American Pale Ale from St. Louis.

It’s proof that, despite the popular mass produced swill St. Louis is famous for, the city can craft a great beer with loads of personality. Schlafly APA masquerades as a summer sipper with its caramel color and grapefruit rind finish but in-between it flexes a hoppy muscle and an earthy attitude that asserts itself on your palate. I only ordered one but the waitress brought an extra that was poured by mistake and I couldn’t let an orphaned beer go to waste.
Grinders West has a food menu that’s a bar fly’s dream, whether they’re an omnivore or vegetarian bar fly. There are nachos, wings, burgers, hummus, guacamole, a veggie Philly, and of course pizza. I started with a half order of Hail Caesar, which was a grilled wedge of romaine, topped with red onions, garlic parmesan aioli, and fresh parmesan. $7.75 for a full.

Half a salad is BIG, plenty enough for one, and had great flavor, especially from the salty parmesan and the earthiness the grilling imparted to the lettuce. The smoky taste and great-looking grill marks on the still crisp lettuce would make this salad at home at any summer BBQ.

At home, but to make this salad the king of the Que, I’d suggest a few suggestions. Garlic croutons for a little crunch, more aioli so you have enough dressing for the whole salad rather just the top, grilled red onions or half grilled/half raw, freshly grated parmesan added while the lettuce is still warm, and a few roasted tomatoes would make this salad so good you wouldn’t have to be named Brutus to want to stab this Caesar.

Oh look, while I eat my salad, my pizza is placed next to it so it could start getting cold while I’m finishing my salad. Awesome. I know Grinders isn’t fine dining but there was one other table when I was there so it’s not like anyone was slammed. Note to the owner – teach your waitstaff how to stage an order.
Grinders West has lots of 10″ Gourmet Pizzas for only $12.50 which they’ll let you combine any way you want with their “Have it Your Way” attitude. My apologies that in one of the BBQ capitols of the world I ordered a 1/2 Fun Gi (Fun Guy) – Shitake and button mushrooms with creamy white sauce and extra parmesan and a 1/2 The Levitt (Hippie) – Red Sauce, green peppers, black olives, spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and almonds. Yes, almonds.
Is there anything more disappointing than mediocre pizza? All those calories consumed when you could have had dessert or another beer. It brings a tear to my palate. The Fun Gi would have been more fun with simple additions such as fresh basil, oregano, and parsley plus a mozzarella that didn’t taste like plastic grocery store cheese. The veggie side was no better with flavorless black olives that should be illegal on any pizza, and almonds that tasted boiled rather than crunchy and nutty. On the plus side, I loved the huge variety of veggies they topped it with.

I love thin crust pizza but the crust of my pizza tasted a little raw and dense like the dough had been manhandled more times than a frequent flyer by TSA.

I’m a huge fan of hot sauce when it adds a kick to food but doesn’t overwhelm it. Grinders has an array of hot sauces for sale and with names like Insane, Near Death, and Molten you know they mean to inflict the kind of harm chili heads prefer. Since I’m a Mid-level chili head, I skipped the Wimpy and went for the the Molten followed by Near Death.

The Molten had an early and persistent burn, like a 6 on Thai menus. It’s a hot lovers palate pleaser you want to return to again and again. Next, I tried Near Death. It was like gargling with lava; It had the kind of uncomfortable heat that seems to burn before coming out of the bottle and lasts forever and a day. Humbled by my Near Death experience, I skipped the death sauce, but if that’s what you like, I’m sorry for the tragic accident you must have had earlier in life when you lost all your taste buds.

When the Heat Miser finished dancing on my tongue, I ordered another beer. This time an Arcadia Hopmouth IPA from Battle Creek Michigan. Its dark caramel color matched its deep roasted caramel flavor and it finished with a honeyed quality.
Overall Grinders West is a cool and casual place to hang out and drink great beer but when it comes to the food, it passes creative ville but falls short of reaching flavor town.

Grinders West
417 East 18th Street  Kansas City, MO
(816) 472-5454

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Fava Beans and beet greens salad

Peter Lowell’s

On a recent trip to Napa/Sonoma, Gail, my partner in wine, and I were on a hunt for the perfect pinot in the Russian River Valley. While we were excited to find beaucoup of Burgundy’s famous red grape in this fog shrouded area of Sonoma, we were equally happy to discover, with a search for “organic restaurants Sonoma” on the iPhone, organic Nirvana at Peter Lowell’s in the town of Sebastapol.

We had the option to wait for a table on the quaint and popular outside patio in the back of the restaurant surrounded by trees, a fountain, and unfortunately cars in the adjacent parking lot.

But since there were pinots waiting and our hunger wouldn’t, we opted for an available table inside which, with tan wooden chairs and tables, a red cement floor, and hanging industrial lighting and exposed ducts, sports a look of country chic meets urban industrial.

It also feels a bit like a European bistro, especially from the chalkboard over the kitchen which communicates the restaurants organic and seasonal convictions including what they are currently harvesting from their own farm.

Many years ago, on a Bay Area Backroads television shoot in Sebastapol, a local jokingly told me that the town was named as a mispronunciation of Zeebestapple because of the area’s storied history as an apple growing region. While many of those apple trees have been replaced by more lucrative vineyards and tract houses, the area still churns out some great organic eats as evidenced by the deli case overflowing with fixin’s for the perfect wine country picnic.

We started our lunch, as every good one should, with a delicious beer such as Gail’s Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing Co. and my hoppy muse: an IPA from Moonlight Brewery Co. in Sonoma. Both were $6 on draft.
The IPA had a great caramel color, a hoppy-rich-full-bodied mouth feel, a sparkling/effervescence, and a lingering earthy bitterness with a looooong finish. To sum up: It was delicious.

Peter Lowell’s menu states they have a “…slightly off-kilter attitude towards business – one where people, animals and the environment come before profits, where organic is a way of life, and where the highest quality cuisine is a top priority…” To paraphrase the Beach Boys, “I wish they all could be California Peter Lowell’s”

A great mantra was just the start of a menu chalked full of tempting dishes but the beans and greens salad sounded especially appetizing: braised beet greens, bread crumbs, garlic, chili flakes, Parmigiano Reggiano and fava beans.

The dish was an explosion of soul-satisfying-melt-in-your-mouth flavors with a nice ratio of creamy and chalky fava beans to crunchy, earthy, and bitter beet greens, with a pleasing background heat, nice garlic flavor and subtle saltiness. I almost wish it wasn’t so perfectly seasoned so I would have had an excuse to use the Himalayan sea salt and peppercorn dispensers on on our table.

After our salad, we ordered the pizza panna off the lunch specials menu: Roasted Spring Onions, Melted Leeks, Green Garlic, Cream, Calabrian Chiles, Fava Leaf Pesto and Parmigianno Reggianno for $16.

Typically I’m not a huge fan of cream sauces on my pizza however it was the perfect base for each Spring-garden-flavor-packed bite of: sweet and succulent leek, green onion, piquant Calabrian pepper oil and earthy green pesto.

Unlike some pizzas that suffer from cheese and dough overload, this pizza had just a highlight of cheese and a thin, charred, biscuity crust which was a great base for each flavorful bite.

I only have two complaints about Peter Lowell’s. The first is that we didn’t return for dinner to sample more of their menu and try their wines.

The second is that more restaurants don’t share Peter Lowell’s philosophy “…where people, animals and the environment come before profits, where organic is a way of life, and where the highest quality cuisine is a top priority…” It would be a tastier world if they did.

Peter Lowell’s
7385 Healdsburg Avenue
Sebastopol, CA
(707) 829-1077

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Rubirosa Pizza Sign

Rubirosa

I love the West Coast with its open spaces, towering mountains, and bounty of fresh produce year round. But when it comes to pizza, the East Coast steals my heart; especially New York’s five boroughs. So when visiting, I can’t resist taking to the streets in search of the perfect pizza pie. This time, my quest has brought me to Nolita (North of Little Italy) – a neighborhood long considered part of New York City’s Little Italy which has lost much of its Italian character in recent decades due to the migration of Italian-Americans out and yuppies in. From the outside, Rubirosa looks like many other ristorantes decorated with the colors of the Italian flag.
Inside, however, Rubirosa is more modern than those old school Italian joints; sporting a warm, European palace meets mountain cabin feel. The vibe comes from low lighting, wooden chairs and tables opposite a looong wooden bar and a copper ceiling rimmed with ornately decorated copper trim.
The crowd is young, hip, urban…and me. There’s lots of lively conversation swirling about mixing with mellow rock tunes decidedly not Italian.

I started my meal, as I start all good meals with a draught beer. Rubirosa has some nice craft beer options. I opted for a Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues for $7. I’ve had Dale’s at Oskar Blues in Colorado which ran me about $5 but I guess when you add shipping plus New York City, $7 sounds about right. Still, it left me wondering when did a good beer become as expensive as a cheap glass of wine?

And Dale’s is a good beer; amber-gold in color with a full-bodied rich flavor and a great bitter finish that lingered in my mouth like a roasted hoppy kiss. (Please don’t ask how I know what a roasted hoppy kiss tastes like. It was an experimental phase in college.) Anyway, my delicious beer arrived with two pieces of equally delicious Italian bread; a crusty exterior with a porous center which perfectly soaked up the full flavored olive oil. A match made in Italian heaven.

I began my meal in earnest with an arugula salad loaded with red and golden beets and topped with goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette for $11.

My bowl ‘O salad, big enough for two, was loaded with lots of fresh-flavorful arugula sitting atop beets which were cooked perfectly; thankfully not watery. It was topped with creamy goat cheese and the perfect amount of balsamic which added just a touch of sweetness. Each bite left me wanting more and embodied the Italian cooking philosophy of making simple food simply. Still, being a lily guilder, I can’t help but wonder how some roasted pignolias on top would have tasted.

As I was enjoying my salad, my pizza arrived. It looked like a work of art but see if by looking at the picture you can guess why my first reaction was, UH OH.
Danger! Danger! ARUGULA overload. When I ordered my arugula, cherry tomato, pecorino, eggplant and balsamic vinaigrette glaze pizza for $19, it hadn’t occurred to me (nor to my waitress apparently) that I was ordering my salad on a pizza. Maybe with the tomato, pecorino and eggplant, it would taste different.
Maybe not. The pizza had some highlights but some low lights too. The flavor was good and I enjoyed the technique of topping it with big slices of pecorino as a way to add cheese without overloading it. The crust was nice and thin but could have been crispier. My least favorite part of this pizza was a cloying sweetness that could have come from the tomato sauce but tasted more like it was from the balsamic glaze. With the ups and downs the best I could give this pizza is a B+. For some extra credit, I thought maybe the right wine would help to mellow the sweetness of the pizza.
The wine list is loaded with Italian options and the waitress allowed me to taste a couple of options. A Nebiolllo (one of my favorites) and an ’09 Velenosi Rosso Picento DOC Mentelpulciano/Sangiovese – Marche $9. I chose the latter hoping its hint of sweetness would mellow the sweetness of the pizza. It did…a little.

Rubirosa suffers from the same affliction I’ve experienced at many New York Restaurants. The inattentiveness of young under-informed servers that leaves you feeling slightly neglected. It was great to get a taste of a couple of wines but after an initial how is everything, my waitress was a ghost to my table. If you’re looking for an above average pizza and a hip crowd, check out Rubirosa. As for me, I know this is not the best pizza the East Coast has to offer so it’s back to the streets to continue my search. Stay tuned…

Rubirosa
235 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0500

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