Friday, February 05, 2016

Why Did I Eat This? KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken

Nashville Hot Chicken is so hot right now. So hot, in fact, that Kentucky Fried Chicken has figured out a way to make the regional and legendary spicy fried bird available nationwide.

If you don't know the story behind hot chicken, Wikipedia is a great place to start. Basically, some scumbag dude's girlfriend wanted to exact revenge on him by dousing his chicken with cayenne pepper (and other secret spices). Unfortunately, the plan backfired when he liked the chicken so much that he developed a recipe for it and opened up a chicken shack of his own. Call it an unhappy accident.

Presently, Nashville touts a couple dozen places to get hot chicken, and plenty of chefs have brought it to their home states, including our local boy and Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga. At his southern-inspired restaurant The Fat Ham, Sbraga's version is the result of many road trips and tireless research in the days leading up to its opening. And it's really fucking good. I would definitely consider him to be an expert on the subject matter, so it came as no surprise when I saw a picture of KFC's version pop up on his Instagram feed, followed by a lengthy review. His verdict? A failure in all categories. Bad breading, bad sauce, bad meat, bad seasoning.

Of course, none of this would deter me from giving it a go eventually, and I took it as a sign (literally) when the colonel's shit-eating grin kept popping up on the blue service signs on a recent road trip to Maryland. I told myself after the fifth exit advertising a KFC that if there was one at the sixth exit, I'd pull off. Well, you can guess what happened. Here's my opinion of mass produced "Nashville" hot chicken, in a handy dandy list:

1. Kevin's right about the sauce being too much. I watched the lady behind the counter empty almost half the squeeze bottle into the tray of chicken. There was a wading pool of it left over when I was done.

2. The chicken was adequately crispy despite the sauce waterboarding, but that's to be expected because KFC is using their extra tasty crispy chicken. Left dry, you could cut someone with the shards of breading.

3. The meat was fine. I always ask for dark meat so it's typically juicy (fatty) no matter what. I'm not gonna pretend that this wasn't factory farmed and I'm basically eating the fruits of modern food science instead of an actual chicken.

4. Flavorwise, Kevin's right. The chicken isn't hot. At best, it's lukewarm. I suppose naming it "Nashville Lukewarm Chicken" would probably hurt sales, though. My palate for hot chicken is not as refined, so I couldn't pick out anything that was really off balance in the spice blend other than the full court press of sodium.

Kevin says he won't get it again, but I think I would. It could have been a lot spicier, but I didn't mind the overall experience. It certainly wasn't "The Best Spicy Chicken You've Ever Had" (as the warned by the sticker on the box), but it was passable. I was also happy that I didn't get a preservative headache from KFC like I normally do. I certainly wouldn't go out of your way to try it, but if you find yourself finger lickin' for whatever reason, it's probably the best thing on the menu right now. Buen provecho.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

We Have Reached Peak "Overhead Time-Lapse Recipe Video"

Take a look at the troll talent of "march_of_the_pigs" above.

Okay okay okay we need to pump the brakes on this whole time-lapse cooking thing. Last night on Instagram, 7-Eleven used the gimmick for what has to be the stupidest recipe I've seen since Rachael Ray's "late night bacon." Using the hashtag #hacksonsnacks, the bodiless arms disassemble everything from a Big Bite hot dog to a taquito and...

Wait a second. You're buying the prepared food just to take it home and unprepare it?

Let me go ahead and stereotype here because I'm an ignorant jerk. I assume that if you're stopping into a 7-Eleven for food, either the meth's wearing off, the weed's kicking in, or you're me. You're not doing so to repurpose their hot dog roller options for gameday snacks. 

Think about it. Chances are that most of the stuff has been sitting on that encased meat treadmill for at least three hours, and even if it hasn't, it still looks as old and shriveled as, well, I'm not gonna go there. And even if you live next door, you still have to wait for the "food" to cool down before slicing it up and topping it with cubes of cheese (because melting cheese is an integral part of every one of these goddamn time-lapse videos). Does 7-Eleven really believe that this stuff is stable enough to reheat? It's barely edible to begin with. 

I understand the need to be creative* in order to move products, but #hacksonsnacks is an insult to the Superbowl snack table. For shame, Sevs.

*Use words like "squad," phrases like "yo frands," and other peoples' ideas like time lapse videos.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Cadillac Grille is a House of Lies

Part of my day job is letting salesfolks pretend to like me. There are a select few that can pull it off (and some I even consider friends), but for the most part, I think there's a mutual understanding of obligation. I'm sure these dudes actually hate me because I actually hate me. One the easiest ways to pretend to like me (or anyone, really) is sporting events. There's food, booze, and root-root-rooting for the home team. And since it's loud and you need to keep one eye on the action so you can cheer when everybody else does, you only kinda sorta need to pay attention to whatever products or services are being offered underneath that layer of cheese on your free nachos.

Last night was one of these sales calls, and we dined at the Cadillac Grille before the game. There were numerous indicators that this place would be shit: it's in the stadium; it's sponsored by Cadillac; the bartender flat out ignored me when I tried to get a drink; but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (what an odd, yet beautiful expression), and I couldn't really pull the plug on it since we were already in the stadium. Plus, I checked out the menu beforehand and it actually looked good.

My first instinct was to get the lamb shank, but the place had this whole steakhouse vibe going and the dude I was with ordered a filet so then I changed my mind and got the 30-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye for $55. I have no problem paying (or letting someone else pay) that much for a steak, so long as it shows up as advertised. Unfortunately, what I got was neither ribeye nor bone-in (I'd bet $55 it was a sirloin), nor did it possess any of the opulent qualities I would expect in a $55 steak. The dude who dropped it off must have seen the disappointment on my face, quickly commenting, "Yeah, these ones showed up without a bone this time." Huh? Typically, when a menu says "bone-in," the goddamn thing shows up with a bone, right? Although Serious Eats has debunked the myth that bones don't actually add flavor, how much more badass does your steak look when it's on the bone? That's really what I'm going for when I order a bone-in ribeye. I'm a motherfucking captain of industry and I have conquered the cow! But nope, not this time. It was cooked to temperature, so it had that going for it, but it was underseasoned and was thinner than something you'd get at Sizzler. The sides were another example of mismanaged expectations. The asparagus was as thin and limp as overcooked vermicelli, and the poor maitake mushrooms were cooked into a rubbery stringy pile of "those are mushrooms?"

It's not that the place is bad. The service was great (except for that bartender. He was a dick), as was the atmosphere (it's a fancy restaurant that overlooks the ice/court/stage). It's just way overpriced. Then again, when I'm with the gen pop, I pay $8 for a shitty beer and another $10 for some bullshit chicken fingers, so I suppose I just need to manage my expectations a little better. If you happen to find yourself there, I'd probably steer clear of the steak, however. Buen provecho.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Infinite Sadness of the All You Can Eat Buffet

Freedom, loosely translated into anytime breakfast

Of the many things that makes the rest of the world hate us, the All You Can Eat Buffet has to be in the Top 10. What a terrible fucking idea. Steam tables as far as the eye can see housing hotel pans loaded with low margin meats and starches. Another island of cold foods: salad, beets fresh out of the can, cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, and Jell-O salad. Untouched, a still life of excess. An hour into service, an absolute wasteland. The salad dressings have turned into a tie-dye of unholy mixtures, there are bacon bits in the croutons, and a film has settled atop the oversalted and untouched mysteries lying in the hotel pans. The kids have attacked the self-serve soft serve, which now only dispenses a warm cream and sugar mixture slipping hazard.

And for what? Are you really beating the system when you pay twelve bucks to make yourself feel like shit for eating pile after pile of shit?

I remember our local buffet, a place called Chuck-A-Rama. In the late 80s/early 90s, if you were younger than 12, your folks payed 50 cents for every year you've graced the earth. They paid an absurdly low $9.99. There were two separate dining rooms with two separate buffets to maximize the amount of consumption, and we spent many a Friday easily tripling or quadrupling our recommended daily caloric intake. I don't directly blame Chuck-A-Rama for my huskiness, but I'm sure it didn't help. I suppose if you're poor (and boy were we ever), it was (and continues to be) a great deal. But I loathe the concept. That might make me a hyprocrite considering the general tone of this blog. Not sure I really care. Not sure there's even a point to this post. Just felt like complaining, I guess. Buen provecho.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Hiding in Plain Sight: El Poquito's Taco Tuesday

Picture stolen from El Poquito's website
Happy New Year, readers! 2016 should prove to be a lot of the same from me: sporadic posts, a heavy reliance on Twitter and Instagram to maintain some semblance of relevance, and everybody's favorite internet pastime, self-deprecation!

So, while you occupy yourself with time-lapse videos of allegedly super easy recipes that you'll never make, I implore you to stop by once in a while for some actual words, be they hot takes on cold food, cold disses on fast food, the ever popular "let's hate Guy Fieri" mob mentality, and an occasional food review.

First up, a random Tuesday night in Chestnut Hill. Mrs. Gastro and I packed up the kids for a round of tacos and beers at El Poquito, our local fancy Mexican joint. Housed in what was once Solaris Grille (many many years ago at this point) and then CH7 (a terrible waste of money by the City Tap House guys who called me to politely ask that I not pan the place like they were the goddamn Blogger Police), their tenure thus far has been impressive, and they've been a welcome addition to the neighborhood. While not cheap any other day of the week, their Taco Tuesday special is a deal akin to buying Apple stock in the late 90s (shoulda, coulda, woulda). For $4, you get 3 tacos of their choosing, which amounts to 3 or 4 times the tacos you would get at regular menu prices. And while basic when it comes to fancy Mexican, it's really all you need on a Tuesday night, especially when you want a sit-down dining experience without the guilt of spending $100 on dinner at the beginning of the week (yes, this is the going rate for 2 adults and 2 kids and 2 4 drinks). Throw in the fact that it's not crowded, and you've got a damn near perfect family meal without having to do the dishes. I'm sure they'll eventually realize what a scorching deal this is and 86 it, but until then, the Gastros have decided that Tuesday is the new Friday. I recommend you all do the same. Buen provecho.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mast Brothers: The Artisanal Catch-22

Mast Brothers: Actually Just the Devil?
I'm at my day job right now. I have bills to pay so I can't pursue my life's passion, but then again, I'm not sure what my life's passion is. I used to write this dumb blog a few times a week, then I started to get paid to write for other blogs, then I kind of got bored so I tried my hand at a pop-up restaurant, then I started a beef jerky company, then I tried to make my daughter a YouTube sensation (shameless plugs, every last one of them). None of these make money (and only one has a very minor investor who doesn't meddle), so the decisions I make are solely based on my lazy work ethic and fickle personality. I don't have to answer to anyone holding a sack with a giant dollar sign sewn into its canvas. There are no real revenue targets, no SMART goals, really nothing from the two years I spent getting a part-time MBA. I do it because it makes me happy. I wish like hell that the business side of things was as enjoyable as the creative side of things for me, but it's not the case. In fact, the opposite happens. Money and management dilute my creativity, which is probably why I'll die penniless (sorry, kids).

I'm meandering towards a point here, which is the paradigm shift that happens when small business becomes big business. Last week, took a big dump on the Mast Brothers. The author claims they're not actually a bean-to-bar chocolate company, their chocolate is worse than an order of fries at In-n-Out Burger (my description, not theirs), and their claim of being artisanal is based solely on being bearded and from Brooklyn. It's the second time they've been called out for having shitty chocolate (the first in a Slate article earlier this year), and the first time for being a total sham. Personally, I love the brand, but their chocolate isn't my favorite (I don't really like sweets to begin with). Flavor aside, however, there's an inherent flaw in the concept of artisanal foods, and that's the ability to scale. I just googled the term artisanal, and the result was "made in a traditional or non-mechanized way."

According to this definition, the only way you can grow your business is with more and more hands, which means more and more money, which means "oh shit, we're broke because of our quest for the way things used to be." Civilization advanced because of industrialization. We also fucked ourselves along the way, but it's a long road back to the barter economy, and nobody wants to put the machine in reverse. All the while, the decision makers have been, and continue to be, the ones holding those dollar-sign-emblazoned bags I mentioned previously. It would be one thing if the Mast Brothers stayed in their hometown of Iowa, where labor and real estate are probably cheap as shit (didn't really do the research to find out) and rents don't spike as soon as Goldman Sachs figures out some complex math to trade on, but they started in Brooklyn. It's the right play because that's where all the cool kids are (and where all the money is), but growth has to be part of the business model. Otherwise, failure is imminent. In order to do so, you need to figure out how make your inputs cheaper so your outputs can yield higher margins, especially if you have someone else footing the bill. Take the case of a $10 chocolate bar with a sexy wrapper. When you figure in raw materials (and getting them from the far reaches of the globe), labor, packaging, rent, etc., you're probably making $2 per bar, which is fine if you're making them in your kitchen and trading at the local farmers' market once a week. But if you want to sustain (not to mention grow) a going concern, you've got to sell a shitload of chocolate bars. This requires a healthy amount of working capital, which usually means outside investors (or a trust fund), which could mean finding yourself on the wrong side of the closed-door meetings where real decisions are made.

Maybe this is what happened to the Mast brothers. A skateboarder whose name I don't remember was once accused of selling out, to which he replied, "You gotta sell out to eat out." It sounds smug, but it's the truth. As much as I want to hang onto the reins of my beef jerky company and tout the virtues of artisanal products, there will (hopefully) come a time when it's just too damn big to be "made in a traditional or non-mechanized way." If and when that happens, I'll be faced with the same difficult decisions. No matter how much you try, you just can't be everything to everybody. Keep it small for a select few, the masses will brand you a snob. Figure out a way to get your product in more hands (so you can ultimately enjoy a bit of success), the early adopters will burn you at the stake like a goddamn Salem witch. My incoherent two cents on the matter.

Read all about the witch trials here.
And here's Mast Brothers' response to all this shade.
And here's a link to buy my beef jerky.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Take a Luke at This: Free Lobster Rolls Today!

If your name's Luke and you live in Philly, you should head to Luke's Lobster for a free lobster roll today. It beats the shit out of going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters. On a related note, can anyone make me a fake ID in the next couple hours? Buen provecho.