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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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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BRIO Tuscan Grille Facade

BRIO tuscan grille

What do you get when dining at a Tuscan-themed chain in a mall off the 75 freeway in Southern Florida? An Italian meal where you’d rather leave the cannoli, take the gun.

I avoid eating in malls only slightly less than I avoid eating road kill. I’m sure there are exceptions but the preponderance of “casual dining restaurants” found there are bland corporate chains with better slogans than food: Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood; Come hungry. Leave happy; When you’re here, you’re Family. So my expectations were set low when dining at BRIO tuscan grille whose slogan incidentally is: To eat well is to live well.

Unfortunately, here you will eat and live only slightly ‘weller‘ than an Olive Garden because like most corporate concept restaurants, BRIO executes its theme better than its food. It’s owned by a corporation called BRAVO | BRIO Restaurant Group publicly traded under the symbol BBRG. Typical of corporate restaurants, BRIO homogenizes the cuisine so it’s not too ethnic to offend any taste but not recognizable as what was originally made in the country of origin. Also par for the course, they have many locations throughout the U.S. in places with names like The Shops at such and such, so and so Mall or fill-in-the-blank Village. I stopped by this one in The Shops at Pembroke Gardens on my way to catch my flight out of Ft. Lauderdale airport.

I would guess they all follow a similar layout. This BRIO is a cavernous 8,400-square feet; filled with enough tables and booths for 260 and a faux-Tuscan-stone stamp on the walls, ceilings and the many hanging lights. It looks nice but has as much soul as The Cheesecake Factory.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, reading down the menu sounds like a Romper Room magic mirror roll call for meat.


Romper, Bomper, Stomper Boo; tell me, tell me, tell me do; magic mirror tell me without defeat is this menu full of meat? I see shrimp is having a special day. I see beef, calamari and I see chicken, chorizo and lobster. Going more omnivorous than vegetarian in a restaurant like this would be like heading to Sizzler for a nice steak. So as I weighed my few veggie options, my server Luis brought my bread and crispy flat bread.

The flat bread looked better than it tasted. The bread however was pretty good. It was warm and I’m a sucker for warm bread. The outside was crispy and the inside light with a hint of sourness but it lacked that made from scratch artisinal complexity that makes even carb counters fall off the wagon. The bread is served with a promising looking dip they called peperonata: tomato, onion, herbs and olive oil cooked together.

Unfortunately it leaked more oil than a BP rig with as much saltiness as the Dead Sea. If this had been a more traditional rustic peperonata with chunks of veggies and included red peppers, it would have been A LOT better. Switching to the other spreads wasn’t any better. The butter had that just-removed-from-the-chiller hardness and as little flavor as the cheap tasting olive oil.

I had higher hopes for the citrus garden salad I ordered. Fresh fettuccine tossed with spinach, peppers, carrots, scallions, basil, cilantro, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, lemon vinaigrette and topped with citrus glaze for $9.95.

Fresh cilantro and scallions made this salad spring to life. The raw red pepper added a sprightly crunch and veggie sweetness; the toasted almonds a nutty roasted dimension and there were just the right amount of dried cranberries so the salad didn’t take on that fruit cake quality you can get from the heavy handed use of dried fruit.

Fresher tasting salad dressing with little to no sweetener and better quality pasta served warm would have improved this salad. Also, at the end of my meal I was unpleasantly surprised to find a few small pieces of chicken at the bottom of my bowl. I would guess it  slipped in accidentally at the prep station. When I pointed it out to Luis and the manager, they offered me dessert and when I declined they comped my lunch.

I found BRIO’s customer service to be very good, their decor only good and their food a step down to ok. I would have enjoyed it much more if the roles were reversed with ok decor, good service and very good food. Instead, like fruit in the grocery store, everything at BRIO looks better than it tastes.

BRIO tuscan grille
14576 SW 5th Street
Pembroke Pines, FL 33027
(954) 431-1341
Locations throughout US

For more information on the author, please visit Brian von Dedenroth.

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Brian von Dedenroth with Food and Wine

Olio e Limone

I’m a fan of the band Pink Martini. At first glance, they appear to be an orchestra from a bygone era replete with classic instruments, suits and evening gowns. But when you look a closer, you’ll notice personal style such as: bleached blonde hair, sparkly sequins and tattoos. The band, like their music is an smorgasbord of sights and sounds that are uniquely their own. Uniqueness and personalized interpretation are the same qualities I want when I dine out. I had been told that Olio e Limone in Santa Barbara was such a place. So with tickets to Pink Martini at the Arlington theater on State Street in hand, my date for the evening (A.K.A. mom) and I headed over for some pre-show dinner.
Olio e Limone Exterior
The quaint space on West Victoria was surprisingly packed for 7PM on a Thursday. Either a reflection of the newlywed or nearly dead reputation of Santa Barbara or the crowd was heading to the 8PM show across the street like us.
Olio e Limone Interior
Olie e Limone is a Goldilocks sized place; quaint and intimate, nice lighting and a clean adobe hacienda-look. “Simple elegance” as mom described it. Friendly and welcoming with mirrors and windows making the room appear larger with a pleasing Feng Shui effect.
Olio e Limone Reflection in Mirror
A bottle of Alberello Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is brought to every table with bread. It has a clean, mellow, light taste. An every man’s olive oil.
Alberello Organic Olive Oil
Spongy Italian bread accompanies the oil. My favorite foil for olive oil. Soft and spongy inside for Gulf Coast level oil absorption with a harder crust for a crunchy contrast.
Italian Bread
Our waiter like our olive oil was imported from Italy. It was fun to listen to his Italian accent as he corrected my mis-pronunciations of every dish I ordered. We started with an, unseasonal for October, Insalata Primaverile (spring salad). It sounded too good to pass up: Mixed baby lettuces, grilled eggplant, roasted bell peppers, goat cheese and Olio e Limone dressing for $12.
Insalata Primaverile
Great presentation and a nice flavor but the ingredients lacked a feral depth of freshness you get with seasonal and local produce. Also, if the zucchini had been warm, it would have provided a nice temperature contrast that would have been more interesting in the mouth. It was good just not amazing. Next we ordered Fiorellini di Mellanzane.
Fiorellini di Mellanzane
Housemade ravioli filled with roasted eggplant and goat cheese with fresh tomato sauce, basil and ricotta salata for $21. This dish was amazing and our favorite. The eggplant provided a heartiness, the raviolis tasted fresh, the goat cheese was simultaneously creamy and rustic with a tart after taste and the ricotta salata provided a nice saltiness. Soul satisfying Italian comfort food. Along with the ravioli, we ordered Spaghetti allo Scoglio.
Spaghetti allo Scoglio
Spaghetti with fresh dungeness crab meat in a spicy tomato sauce topped with a big prawn for $26. It was deliciously spicy and briney but a little fishy and the prawn lacked that little lobster flavor you find in the really good ones. Still, I dispatched it with alacrity.

Olio e Limone offers a nice selection of Italian Reds by the glass for $11-13. Mom went “The Godfather” with a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I stayed local with a Z Cuvée from Zaca Mesa. Both paired well with the entrees. Olio e Limone doesn’t serve up Pink Martini level flavor, but it’s ambiance, location, food and wine does well enough to satisfy the newlywed, the nearly dead and those in between.

Olio e Limone

17 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: 805-899-2699

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