Meet ya at the County Line

27 Nov

County Line

6500 Bee Cave Rd
Austin, TX 78746

There’s a great deal to be said about a restaurant that has been in business for over 35 years. Plus one that, despite having opened nine additional locations, manages to maintain the quality and feel of a small independent operator.  And certainly this meat-thusiast had no idea she was eating at a chain restaurant.

The original County Line location, affectionately known as “County Line on the Hill”, is perched up in the stunning hill country that surrounds Austin. I’m a little bit in love with Texas at dusk. Something magical happens in the afternoon around 6pm and a golden light gleams down bathing everything in a captivating hue. It’s a time of day that makes me happy. The outdoor patio at County Line offers a particularly great vantage point to view the bewitching Texas sunset. It’s worth coming for this stunning vista alone.

        

But wait, there’s more good news! They also do a great Bloody Mary! They use Zing Zang (aka the world’s best bloody mary mix), so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s delicious so why mess with an easy option? Salted rim, generous olive garnish and fresh black pepper. NOM! It was a little strange to have it served in a milkshake glass, but then it’s about the contents, not the receptacle.

Their menu touted their “famous” homemade bread, which I tried but wasn’t a huge fan of. Though, that’s the fault of my Aussie palate. I’m sorry America, but I have never been able to understand your penchant for sweet bread. And I’m not talking about pastry or brioche. I mean a loaf that ordinarily would be neutral or salty, but has too much sugar or honey added to it. I’d rather a thick slice of sourdough or even boring old sliced white bread over the sweet loaves y’all seem so fond of.

I ended up ordering the two meat plate with brisket and beef ribs. I’ll tell ya again that beef ribs are my favourite BBQ item, though they’re not a commonly offered item. So when I do see them on the menu, I do a little happy dance (which may or may not involve jazz hands). For my sides, I chose potato salad and mac’n’cheese. This little platter of goodness was a steal at $13.49.

I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the brisket, nor the potato salad, but the focus of my plate were those Flintstonian ribs. Superbly charred, bursting with flavour. A bite of smokey rib paired against a mouthful of silky Velveeta mac’n’cheese is heaven.

In addition to standard barbecue offerings, County Line also offers a full grill selection and (if you don’t want to make any friends) a huge variety of salads. I am for sure going back, at Sunset, to try out their old-fashioned half pound burger.


For me, the County Line delivered a complete package. While it’s not the greatest BBQ I’ve had, the food was thoroughly enjoyable and the service was exceptional. The restaurant has an authentic “old school” feel, dark wooded interior adorned with memorabilia of bygone days, and I think I’ve already sold you on the view. Essentially, what I enjoyed most at County Line was the collective experience. Very Austin, very Texas.

And if you can’t make there in person… they also ship!

          

County Line on the Hill on Urbanspoon

My Mexican Cousin – the update

23 Nov

Many of you read (and reacted to) my critical post on new Melbourne restaurant My Mexican Cousin (MMC).

In the aftermath of the post, the owners of MMC reached out to me via Twitter and proposed a meeting.

My initial concerns were that I was going to get an aggressive lecture by several very irate business owners and a seriously pissed off chef. However, I wrote the words and so believed it was important to stand behind my views. AKA, owning my shit.

MMC had several options for how to react to and “handle” my post. They could have ignored it. They could have responded with a public stance condemning me and my opinions. They could have disregarded the post publicly and bitched about me off the record.

What they did do is acknowledge that there was room for improvement.  To their credit, they recognised that the best way to move forward was to hire someone who was well versed in Creole and Cajun cookery to assist with the menu. To get it right. And they decided, after my passionate display, that person should be me. So I am now working as a paid temporary consultant with MMC.

MMC has been constantly and consistently busy since it’s opening night, and by no means did they need to engage me in order to make money. The difference is, they WANT to get it right. To move from a very diluted version of inspired to a closer version of authentic. So they put their money where their mouth was.

There are challenges that lie ahead, not the least of which is sourcing ingredients which are generally unavailable in Australia. But I am exceedingly pleased to participate in the process of moving MMC closer to having an authentic Creole menu.

Alabama cast-iron bacon & jalapeño cornbread

21 Nov

I seem to have embarked on a never-ending quest to season my new collection of cast iron pans and skillets. It’s bordering on an obsession, trawling over forums, watching youtube demonstrations, emailing friends in the States. All to find out the best way to season, maintain and clean my cast iron. You have no idea how much conflicting information is out there…

My friend Russ has been a most helpful ally in the battle to achieve seasoning glory, being ever so patient with my barrage of questions and emailed pictures with the accompanying subject line “WTF did I do wrong!?”. Russ suggested the best way to continue the seasoning process is to make cornbread in my skillet, since baking it helps form the non-stick surface. So I asked him to share his recipe, and got to cookin’.

It ended up being even better than I had expected. If I thought it was good at dinner time, man, it was even better for breakfast.

Russ is a genuine Good Old Boy from down South, living in Alabama and hailing from a family who can trace their lineage back to pre-Civil War Georgia. So as you can see, this recipe comes with an impeccable provenance. This recipe precedes grocery stores, and thus most of the ingredients are items that many rural folk grew or made themselves.

As Russ tells it:  “back in the day you had to grow your own corn and send it to the local grist mill that used a water wheel (or mules walking in a circle if you were not near a river) to power the grinding stones, hence “stone ground”. They also  kept cows for milking, churned their own butter, made their own cheese and cream. And of course they had plenty of chickens (for eggs or for frying).”

Naturally, the recipe has no doubt changed and been tweaked as it’s been passed down through generations, and out of respect for such a historic recipe (remember, you can never give the EXACT family secrets out!), I changed it up slightly myself.

Alabama Cornbread with bacon and jalapeño

Ingredients:

1-1/2 c. stone ground cornmeal (or polenta if you’re in Australia and can’t get cornmeal!)
3/4 c all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1c buttermilk
4-6 rashers of bacon, chopped
1-2 jalapeño peppers, diced
 

1) Preheat oven to 450f/230c degrees

2) Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix lightly.

3) Cook bacon in a 10″ skillet on medium heat (I’ve been told high flames are bad news for cast iron skillets). Make sure you cook it so it develops great colour and crispness.

4) As the bacon comes close to being done, add egg and most of the buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Mix. The consistency should be very thick, but pourable. Slowly add more milk as needed to achieve this consistency.

5) Add the jalapeños and the bacon from the pan, making sure you leave at least half of the bacon grease in the skillet. Stir.

6) Pour the whole mixture back into the skillet, use a spatula to push the mix evenly in the pan, then pop the whole thing in your preheated oven.

7) Bake for around 20 mins, or until you have a lovely colour developing on top of your pone. (Yup, “pone” is the correct term for a “loaf” of cornbread!)

Allow to cool, remove from skillet, slice and eat with LOTS of butter.

You could also of course make this in a regular oven proof dish. It’s just not gunna be the same 😉

Sweet Tea Vodka- the feelgood drink of the summer

16 Nov

Much as I adore me a bloody mary, summer of 2011 in Austin brought a revelation – sweet tea vodka. There are several incarnations of this nectar on the market, including Deep Eddy, which is a delicious local creation and made by actual brewing, rather than fake flavouring. It’s literally sweetened vodka infused with iced tea flavour, needing only the addition of water to make it a complete beverage, though it’s usually served with lemonade.

A non-alcoholic tea and lemonade mix is known as an Arnold Palmer (like the golfer), so naturally the liquored up version is fondly known as a John Daly (like the alcoholic golfer – get it?).  I need to also throw in a cultural reference here and point out that lemonade in Australia is Sprite or 7up. Lemonade in the US is old-fashioned non carbonated lemon juice, sugar and water mix.

I digress. The issue is, after developing quite a fondness for this beverage, I was sad to discover it was yet another item which isn’t available in Australia. I made inquiries though well-connected bar friends and importers but to no avail, it seemed sweet tea vodka was just something I wasn’t going to have in Melbourne.

So of course, like most times I get told “no” or “you can’t”, I went ahead and did it myself. I procured some cold-brew tea bags specially designed for iced tea brewing, poured half a bottle of vodka into a jar, and added three of the tea bags. Though I haven’t tried, I suspect regular tea bags would actually work, you’d likely just need to use more (as they’re smaller) and let them infuse for longer.

It only took around 15-20 minutes to infuse (since this is what the bags are designed to do) and the vodka had turned a deep, dark amber shade. I removed the discarded the bags, and sealed up the jar. Really couldn’t have been simpler.

And to turn it into a fabulous cocktail, do the following:

Make up a batch of simple syrup on the stovetop. It’s basically sugar syrup, and it’s one part water to one part white sugar. Just heat in a saucepan until dissolved, the allow to cool before use. It can be stored for several weeks in the fridge.

Pick or purchase yourself some fresh lemons, and get to squeezin! If you absolutely must, you can use the pre-bottled lemon squeezes but the flavour is inferior and you will be able to taste it.

Fill yourself a mason jar (or boring old glass) with ice, and pour in a (minimum) three count of the sweet tea vodka. Add in a generous squeeze of syrup, and a good splash of lemon juice, then top up with water. Adjust the syrup and juice to taste. Stir well before imbibing.

This one comes with a bit of a warning – these are very very easy to drink, and you can hardly taste the alcohol. Proceed with caution, but enjoy. Cheers y’all!

*NB: I know I recently ranted about infused vodkas, but that was specifically about their inclusion in Bloody Marys. Can’t catch me out yet!

An open letter to My Mexican Cousin

13 Nov

UPDATE: please find the reaction to this post here.

Melbourne is a city in the grip of a culinary phenomenon where any new “so hot right now” restaurant seems to have a cuisine angle. Specifically, offering dishes and cuisines which are foreign to most Australian palates. “Real” Mexican food has enjoyed a huge resurgence of late and it appears the next progression is cashing in on American comfort foods, such as the New England inspired lobster roll served at Golden Fields, or the  PoBoy which is cropping up on sophisticated menus around the city, despite being a cheap and (literally) poor man’s sandwich.

The thing that really bothers me about this proliferation is the “emperors new clothes” element. I feel as though many chefs are just seeking new ways to claim or describe their dishes to set them apart, without caring if they are in fact staying true to the item’s namesake. I am all for reinterpretation of food and recipes, but there is a responsibility when there is little or no local knowledge of the original dish to honor rather than exploit it.

For example – the PoBoy is a traditional New Orleans sandwich served in a specialised baguette-style loaf. It nearly always contains deep fried seafood, but sometimes has roast meats instead. CBD based eatery The Bottom End are currently serving a sandwich which is described on their menu as a PoBoy, and contains cold cooked shrimp, chorizo and egg. Not one element of their version actually fits the traditional profile of a PoBoy, but apparently simply calling it a sandwich didn’t fit their “Americana” themed menu, so they improvised.

The most recent newcomer to the scene is My Mexican Cousin (MMC), who have touted themselves as a Creole eatery. Creole is an umbrella term for a broad variety of worldwide cuisines (Haitan, Mauritian, New Orleans etc), generally united by a history of slave culture and cooking. It seems MMC have decided to lump all these highly individual cuisines in one basket under the trendy guise of a food style not previously offered in Melbourne. The mere fact that each of these unique food cultures have been carelessly amalgamated into one convenient restaurant is a diservice in itself.

I have little to no experience with Caribbean and African based Creole foods, but I do have a fairly decent understanding of New Orleans Creole. When press releases for MMC started hitting inboxes, the #creolerage began.  The most basic misnomer of New Orleans Creole cooking is that it is spicy. While some dishes can be, it’s generally Cajun food that brings the spice, whereas the refined Creole dishes from New Orleans are rich rather than fiery, with a strong French influence particularly evident in the sauces and preparation techniques. While other Creole foods from around the world may be characterised by their spice, this definition does not fit or accurately represent NOLA Creole.

Let me explain using one solitary dish how I developed #creolerage and why I will not be visiting My Mexican Cousin:

A share item on the menu is advertised as ” ‘boudin’ chicken drumsticks”.

– Louisiana Boudin is a 100% Cajun not Creole food. They are two completely separate cuisines with different characteristics and dishes, and attempting to use them interchangeably is ignorant.

– Boudin is a sausage that is made from pork and rice, and can be either Boudin Blanc or, with the addition of pigs blood, Boudin Noir.

– I was completely perplexed as to how they intended to put sausage inside a chicken drumstick, and what exactly their understanding of Boudin was. When asked, the waiter explained that Boudin was a white sauce with a chicken stock base. They could not offer an explanation of the provenance of this dish, despite the menu reading like an encyclopedia of culinary terms and origins.  I took to Google trying to find if one of the other Creole cuisines was the originator of this mysterious sauce ‘Boudin’, attempting to give MMC the benefit of the doubt, but to no avail. Of the hundreds of thousands of results,  the only definition and references for Boudin were to a variety of sausage. Even the various Caribbean versions of Boudin are all a type of black pudding/blood sausage.  So let me break it down. MMC are trying to serve you a white sauce coated chicken drumstick, and naming the dish after a pork, rice and blood sausage. Yeah, that’s not making a fool of themselves or their diners at all.

– If you really want to see me get snarky, MMC may also want to inform their waitstaff that it’s pronounced “boo-dan” not “boo-don”. It’s Cajun French, chef.

I have no interest in eating in a restaurant with such a high pedigree of chefs and owners who are making such erroneous menu claims. I appreciate that this may in fact be a delicious and well executed dish, but Creole it is not. Melbourne’s discerning diners deserve to be aware of this.

Really, I feel like Melbourne is under attack from the adult-version of theme restaurants, punctuated by menus which require a glossary. Perhaps soon someone will be confident enough to open a restaurant with excellent food that speaks for itself, without having to rely on the gimmick of exploiting a theme.

The best American chicken in Australia is Korean.

10 Nov

Gami Chicken & Beer

100 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 300

You really shouldn’t need any more encouragement to visit a restaurant who’s name contains the words “chicken” and “beer”. But here goes.

Both here and on my twitter account, I can often be found ranting about how the latest Australian attempt at American food is pathetic and substandard. For example: “Value for money?! If you served anyone in Texas this 3 inch taco and charged them $9, you’d be shot”. Or, “cold shrimp and egg?!?! Do you even KNOW what is SUPPOSED to be in a Po Boy, trendy Melbourne restaurant?!”.

I can hear y’all saying “ok then, Burgerlady, quit your negative yapping and tell us what we SHOULD eat in Melbourne”. And I’m thrilled to tell you I’ve figured out at least one piece of the puzzle. See, instead of going to a place that purports to serve “American style” fried chicken and does a mediocre job at it, one must think outside the square. Korean fried chicken. The original KFC.

Gami Chicken & Beer to the rescue. First, mad props to any establishment who brings out snackables with their beer. Because doesn’t everyone need some prawn cracker action to whet their appetite before a huge plate of fried chicken?

Although there are a few Korean side dishes on offer here, such as kimchi pancake and fish cake soup, the real hero is the chicken. Available in three flavours – original, garlic soy and sweet chili, my advice is to go for the original. I guarantee you will tire of thick, heavy sauces in the other flavours which becoming cloyingly sweeter with each bite.

They offer an entire plate of chicken for $27, or you can order wings in smaller increments. Although the seasoning spices used in the Korean chicken are different to those of Southern fried chicken, the crisp flaky outer batter layer and incredibly moist chicken within will be incredibly satisfying for US fried chicken fans. Basically, it’s familiar enough to qualify as bona fide comfort food.

I ate at Gami with The Ho, who also pointed out that the menu featured standard “Engrish” spelling hiccups, in this case  ‘sweet chilli source’.  She’s eaten here previously, and did me the favour of steering me away from the “corn and cheese” dish on the menu. Apparently, it’s exactly what it sounds like, tinned corn with processed cheese melted on top. “Trust me”, she said, “when this stuff congeals, it’s bad news”. When The Ho gives you food advice in an Asian eatery, you better damn well listen. You can see her own pics of the cheese corn experience here.

The menu also features item called “Oh Ddang” which is described as “broiled dried squid served with peanuts and mayonnaise”. See now in Texas, “Oh Dang” is what you say when you see a a cop’s lights in your rearview mirror… (boom boom tish!) Enough with the terrible humour, allow me to leave you with more insanely drool worthy pictures of the chicken…

Gami on Urbanspoon

It’s like you WANT me to hate you…

7 Nov

Cheeseburger Baby

1505 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL, 33139

You know, sometimes you can tell just by looking at something that you’re going to hate it. Like a Renee Zellweger movie, or someone wearing a Nickelback t-shirt. Such was my experience with Cheeseburger Baby.

In an attempt to broaden my horizons past Texas and Louisiana, I met up with my darling Gala for our annual girls vacation in Miami. It was fairly clear to us by day two that we had made a colossal mistake and that Miami is the place where douchebags come to meet like-minded douchettes and breed.

By our last night, I couldn’t even face one more foray into the festering cesspool of Ed Hardy fans and Jersey Shore clones. And so I found Cheeseburger Baby – “the oldest burger joint on South Beach”. Best part – they offered free delivery. Just like room service but without the retarded South Beach markup.

I settled on a 1/2 pound cheeseburger ($6.50) with optional side of fries ($3.50). Delivery was expected to take a minimum of 45 minutes, and by the time the delivery guy wrestled with hotel security to actually let him up to our room, we were starving.

The first thing that I noticed was the old school packaging. The second thing was how unappetising and messy the burger looked. I looked over at Gala with an expression that said “um…. eyyw?”. Things didn’t get much better from there.

This was quite possibly the worst burger I have ever eaten. Horrid quality meat, poor seasoning and overcooked to the point where it was an insult to the cow. The meat was crumbling off the patty like it was a sloppy joe, rather than a burger. I gave up half way through and munched on the fries instead.

Miami, you added insult to injury. I look forward to never visiting you again.

Cheeseburger Baby on Urbanspoon