Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brooklyn Lager

It strikes me that, since the My Favorites post, I haven't discussed beer at all, so it's time to rectify that!

After Stone Brewing Co. and Dogfish Head Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery is probably the best the country has.  From their Black Chocolate Stout (quite sadly only a seasonal, it has rapidly moved into my top five beers, and is featured in my Pulled Pork recipe) to the Brown Ale to the subject of this post, the simply named Lager, this is a brewery that puts out a top quality product day in and day out, at a reasonable price (you're looking at about $10 for a six pack) and without giving in to the temptation to put out a more mainstream product in order to find more customers.  Hell, this is the best thing to come out of Brooklyn since Sandy Koufax.

Brooklyn Lager is everything that Budweiser claims to be, but isn't; a strong, bold flavored pale beer, satisfying but not filling.  You get a definite flavor of hops, the barley taste is strong without being overwhelming, and it is smooth.  Is this a beer for a cold winter's night?  Not at all.  But if I had to pick one beer to take fishing or golfing (beer+golf cart=happy Jeremy...I know, bad boy), it would be a tough choice between this and Dogfish's 60 Minute IPA, but I think this would win out, as it has such a wonderful lightness that you normally don't get from beers this packed with flavor.  At 5.2% ABV it's not a wimpy beer, by any means, but it's not a major hangover inducer the way, say, Dogfish's 90 Minute IPA is (still a great beer, but goddamn, my head hurts the next morning after drinking just a few).

One point I would really like to emphasize is that while this is a true lager, it is nothing like what most Americans think of when the word is used; this is not Budweiser, or one of those super light Czech beers many of us are fond of.  This is a substantial beer, that for all its refreshing qualities, is exceptionally flavorful.  It holds up well against food, though I wouldn't recommend it with a super heavy meal; give me a couple of these and a basket of wings from Wings Over Amherst or Buffalo Wild Wings and I will be even happier than with the aforementioned beer/golf cart marriage.


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Amherst Coffee (Amherst/Greenfield/Northampton, MA)

Amherst Coffee, also known as Greenfield Coffee and Northampton Coffee, is one of a couple great options for a good, strong brew in Amherst or Northampton, and really the only good option in Greenfield.  I haven't been to the Northampton branch yet, but I have been to both Amherst and Greenfield several times, and as a person who likes both good, strong coffee and loose leaf tea, I'm a huge fan.

Amherst Coffee, which is the original location, is actually called a coffee and whisk(e)y bar, offering their standard options of fresh coffees from the Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, a Boston based company that supplies all their beans.  In a world occupied primarily by people who think that Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have "good" coffee, a place that doesn't over-roast their coffee or make it as watery as possible is a blessing.  They have great lattes and cappuccino as well, for those who prefer a little fancier option than simple coffee.

However, as good as the coffee is (and it's damn good), the tea is really what makes Amherst Coffee stand out; their menu includes several black and green teas, as well as an oolong or two.  All are loose leaf, adding a level of "freshness" to the tea that you won't see in bagged teas purchased at the store.  They serve the tea by giving you a small pot of water with the tea suspended in it via a small basket, which you can remove when the tea has steeped to your preferred level, giving you what I'm going to guess is in the 16oz range of tea; the cups they use are large, heavy glass, which appear to be a little larger than most home mugs.

The requisite pastries that they offer are only okay; I had a croissant with my iced tea, and while it was flaky, I'm about 99.9% sure that it was not made with the proper amount of butter (if any at all), so it lacked the exceptionally rich flavor I associate with a really good croissant.  I've had cookies there before as well, and again, they were nothing special, though at least everything tastes as if it really was made that day as they claim on their website.

Amherst is the only location that serves alcohol, and it's unfortunate, because they offer a truly amazing selection of spirits, including a few I'd never even heard of, like Anchor Distilling's Old Potrero 18th Century Single Malt Rye.  Among their more impressive offerings are a wide selection of A.H. Hirsch bourbons, including a 16 year aged option that was distilled in 1974, and 22 and 25 year aged varieties as well.  They have a fantastic selection of Scotch, including Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, which I'm dying to try once I find it in my heart to spend $18 on a glass of whisky.  They also have Glenrothes 32 year old and Laphroiag 30 year old, two of the older Scotches you'll find outside of a specialty bar in a large city (or, you know, Scotland).  If this sounds intimidating, don't worry; there are some more moderately priced options as well, such as Aberlour's 12 and 16 year varieties, Laphroiag Cask Strength 10 year old, and Ledaig 10 year old.
Also, while I've never had it, they have Suntory Yamazaki whisky, from Japan's first and oldest whisky distillery.

If you're not into drinking whisk(e)y straight, the bar offers numerous cocktails, as well as a few beers, and a pretty interesting looking wine selection.  They also list a few snack options, such as olives, almonds, and boquerones (anchovies); at some point I'll try them, as boquerones are among my favorite things.


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Go Berry (Amherst/Northampton, MA)

Go Berry is Western Massachusetts' answer to the West Coast powerhouse Pinkberry, serving frozen yogurt with a variety of toppings at two locations, one on Main St. in Northampton and on Amity St. in Amherst.  Go Berry's calling card is that they use all local, fresh milk and yogurt, from Sidehill Farm in Ashfield, MA, and Mapleline Farm in Hadley, MA, and according to their website, "does not contain antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones."  I'll admit, if I'm offered local and non-local, I'll take local every time; growing up, a lot of my friends' families were in farming, and there is a huge farming culture and community in this area, so supporting them is extremely important to me.  If you're able, supporting local business and agriculture should be important to you too; after all, these are your friends, neighbors, and members of your community we're talking about here.  Anyways, I'm stepping off the soap box now.

Go Berry offers three varieties at each location, "Original" and two others.  I like the Original flavor, which is slightly tart (too tart for some, including my mother), very slightly sweet (not sweet enough for many), and very creamy.  Each is made fresh daily, and you can also buy frozen pints to take home; just be aware that if you do this, you will need to either microwave it for a short while or let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, as it will be extremely hard.  The toppings offered are far too numerous to name, but they include numerous fruits, berries and small candies.  I typically get mango and blackberry, which have just enough sweetness to provide a great contrast with the tart sourness of the yogurt.  I also drizzled some honey on it the other day, and it ended up being a little bit too sweet for me; if I wanted something that sweet, I'd just eat ice cream.

And therein lies the crux of the issue most people who don't like frozen yogurt seem to have; they think it's a substitute for ice cream.  It is not, or at least this frozen yogurt isn't.  Rather, I would say it's an alternative to ice cream, for those who are not interested in eating a super sweet, super sugary, and super high fat product such as ice cream.  This is not to say that frozen yogurt is healthy, per se, but according to their nutritional information on the website (see below) there are only 25 calories in each ounce of their frozen yogurt (and ZERO fat); Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Frozen Yogurt has about 42.5 calories and 0.625 grams of fat per ounce, Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream has 72.5 calories and 4.5g of fat, and Ben and Jerry's offerings are similar.  So, this means you can either eat twice as much (my preferred methodology) or save on calories by eating the same amount as you would ice cream.

When it comes down to it, Go Berry is very good frozen yogurt, and a great alternative to eating ice cream or other high fat, high calorie, but it will not replace ice cream.  I'll take frozen yogurt over most ice creams any day, though there are times that I just want that creamy, sweet, simple deliciousness that is really good vanilla ice cream like Haagen-Dazs'. 

Oh, and this is just my personal pet peeve, but "froyo" is annoying.  Don't say it.  Just say frozen yogurt.  Seriously, it's not that much longer.


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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brick Wall Burger Update


I went back to Brick Wall tonight and had the Burger Mosto Cotto, while my friend had the Burger Piemonte (portabello mushroom, truffle oil, parmesan cheese, and caramelized onions), and both were fantastic.  The Mosto Cotto, named for the red wine reduction sauce on the burger, was succulent, with just the right combination of savoriness from the beef, sweetness from the sauce, and tang and acid from the arugula and tomato.  The only disappointment was the mozzarella, which seemed rather flavorless; I think it was just extremely mild cheese (not my preference for mozzarella) and the other flavors easily overwhelmed it.  Also, the texture, which was pretty good on its own, was too soft when combined with the burger's similar texture.  The tomato did add a nice crispness and bite, however.  The Piemonte was delicious as well, though I only took one bite; my friend loved it, and I'd trust her opinion on this.  The french fries were even better today than normal, super crispy exteriors and soft interiors, salted perfectly; couldn't ask for better.

One thing I'd like to change my opinion on is the ketchup; I don't know if the batch that I had today was different from normal or if they changed their recipe, but it was far better.  I heard recently (and it wouldn't shock me to discover this was true) that ketchup is the taste most Americans have trouble adjusting to when it's not what they're used to, because Heinz, and Heinz copies, have been all that we are exposed to for our whole lives.

I am a bit disappointed to report that the Bull in the Bramble burger no longer appears on the menu; I had really been looking forward to trying it (raspberries and beef are a great combo), but I guess it must not have been a big enough seller for them.


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Monday, May 7, 2012

Hope and Olive (Greenfield, MA)

Hope and Olive is probably Greenfield's best "normal" restaurant (the previously reviewed Manna House is the best overall, but it's not a normal restaurant), but it has not lived up to the wonder that was its predecessor, Shelburne Falls' sublime A Bottle of Bread.  I'd have taken A Bottle of Bread over just about any other restaurant in Western Massachusetts, and their small menu was packed with both flavor and technique.  Following the tragic fire that took that gem away from us, the owners moved their operation to the corner of Hope and Olive Streets in Greenfield, a far, far larger space than the Shelburne Falls location, and changed the name and menu.  The latter change was not well received, but I can't blame the owners for trying something new in a new location.  For the first couple years, this was a decent place to go, but nothing even remotely special; however, in the last two years, Hope and Olive has become a great place to go.  There is a smaller menu than before, similar in size to the days of A Bottle of Bread, and because of this the kitchen staff can focus on doing a few things very well, instead of many things decently.  There is also a solid drink menu.

The last two times I have been to Hope and Olive, my mother and I have split the Shrimp and Grits appetizer.  Now, I will be up front with you; I love shrimp and grits.  Seriously, I would take shrimp and grits over almost anything else food related if it's made properly.  Hope and Olive does a pretty good job for a restaurant north of the Mason-Dixon line; the shrimp were perfectly cooked both times, and the grits were smooth and creamy the first time, just like they should be.  The second time, they were...well...gritty.  I'm okay with this, but it's not really how it's supposed to be.  The flavors aren't southern, but that's okay too; Mediterranean is acceptable when shrimp are involved.  My mother has also had a couple of the salads and enjoyed them immensely, both as appetizers and as a meal.

For an entree, I cannot recommend the Apple Cider Braised Pork Chop more strongly; it's tough to make me happy with pork chops in a restaurant, because they tend to be overcooked and dry to satisfy the people who are afraid of under (aka properly) cooked pork.  The pork is succulent in this case, however, and bears a strong apple flavor without being overly sweet.  The Brussels sprouts on the side are also very good (and you'll recall from my review of The Corner Room that I'm not typically a fan of them).  I've also had the beef burger, and this was also properly cooked; it's not as good as from Brick Wall Burger, but it's well made and the bun is fantastic.  The real star of this place, however, is a side; the french fries are amazing.  Absolutely incredible, crispy with just the right amount of salt.

You also really have to be impressed by the drink menu at this place; if you're a wine fan, they have what appear to be a selection of both very good (albeit expensive for Franklin County) and moderately priced wines.  For me, the beer list is far more important; at this moment, they have twelve beers on tap, from both local (Berkshire Brewing Company, Ginger Libation Real Ginger Brew) and non-local (Brooklyn Brewery, Brewery Ommegang, and Rogue Ales, among others) breweries.  They have housemade lemonade for you non-drinkers (or you bourbon drinkers, there's always Kentucky Lemonade, a mix of Maker's Mark and lemonade), and a pretty decent looking cocktail list.

This is a vegetarian friendly restaurant, as well; possibly even vegan friendly, though I don't often associate with such people, so I've never asked.


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