Category Archives: California

Great New England IPAs (I Plead Addiction)

IPA 1

New England IPA No. 5 from Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing; design by Czech artist Mario Carpe. Note the hazy appearance

One challenge of keeping up with the booming craft beer scene is figuring out what the heck you’re ordering. Among dozens of beer styles, there are, for me, true head scratchers like fruit lambics, sessions, saisons, sours, goses, kolsches, barley wines (yes, it’s a beer) and hefeweizens (half a bison?).

To keep things simple in a tasting room, I’ll often ask for an IPA (India Pale Ale) because I generally like the somewhat bitter, hoppy, grapefruity taste. IPAs are also a core offering at most craft breweries and thus provide a good standard of comparison.

But even sticking to IPAs isn’t that simple. Subcategories include American IPAs, hopped-up West Coast IPAs and boozy double IPAs, also often known as Imperial IPAs.

IMG_4397

An over-the-hop double IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, California

I was recently introduced to the latest sub-type, the New England IPA. Such ales are hazier in appearance, less hoppy and more floral, resulting in a smoother, flavourful taste I find quite delightful.

The good news is you don’t have to go to New England to enjoy them. Calgary’s Annex Ale Project, for example, has a limited edition New England IPA, aptly called New Material (7.5% alcohol), with aromas of “pineapple and Juicy Fruit gum”. And Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing—which features the innovative work of international artists on its beer cans—has unveiled its latest seasonal IPA, No. 5. It’s a New England, double-dry-hopped, double IPA, with “massive amounts” of Simcoe and Citra hops” and a staggering 8.2% alcohol content.

IPA 4

Annex Ale’s seasonal New England IPA, called New Material

I could try to describe IPA No. 5. But why bother when there are dozens of online reviews at the Beer Advocate, written by beer geeks with much more talented noses and inspired adjectives than I.

“It smells of muddled domestic citrus rind, dried cat piss,” writes one connoisseur, and he’s a fan. “The taste is gritty and grainy pale malt, orange, red grapefruit, and lemon citrus peel, a small stoney flintiness, faded uric acid, and more zingy herbal, piney, and gently soused-up floral verdant hoppiness.”

One critic got right to the point: “Fuck anyone who rated this less than 3.5 (out of 5)… chances are you’re just a spoiled wank job from Connecticut.”

Have you got a favourite IPA? Please grab a thesaurus and share it with us by hitting the “leave a reply” link in the top left.

Annex Ale Calgary

Including an IPA is almost mandatory in a beer flight

Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
Opens at 3 pm Wednesday to Friday, noon Saturday and 1 pm Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday
403-475-4492

Collective Arts Brewing
207 Burlington Street E, Hamilton, Ontario
Daily 11 am-9 pm
289-426-2374
I got IPA No. 5 at my local Calgary Co-op liquor store

Advertisements

A Fast-Food Burger Chain I Can Support

Tucson 2017 242

In-N-Out Burger is lifted right out of the 1950s

Fast-food chains are the antithesis of what I promote in this road-food blog, which is good, independently owned, affordable restaurants.

But a western U.S. hamburger chain, In-N-Out Burger has long attracted a cult-like following among hip food lovers. And when I saw Anthony Bourdain extolling the virtues of In-N-Out’s thin, crispy patties, I figured I had to check it out.

Tucson 2017 243

In-N-Out is a family run, Southwest US, chain based out of California

After a couple of years of procrastinating, I finally find myself pulling into an outlet in Kingman, Arizona during a long drive between Tucson and Las Vegas. And I must say, I’m suitably impressed.

Now, don’t expect a gourmet burger made from freshly ground sirloin, cooked medium rare and topped with blue cheese and charred hot peppers. But this California-based, family run southwest U.S. chain is definitely a good step above the usual fast-food suspects.

The first thing I notice when entering the spotless premises is the 10 or more cheerful staff behind the counter, each wearing a white shirt, paper hat and red aprons secured at the back with a giant safety pin.

Tucson 2017 245

My companion says the place reminds her of the 1950s. Which makes sense, considering In-N-Out was founded in 1948 and has kept many of its practices and ingredients unchanged over the years.

The second thing I notice is the concise menu: three types of hamburgers along with fries, shakes and a few other drinks. That’s it!

I order the double cheeseburger, for a whopping $3.60. When the most-pleasant attendant asks if I’d like onions, I jokingly ask if they’re caramelized. “No, but would you like them grilled?” he responds.

To me, this indicates the burgers are cooked to order—a suspicion confirmed by the several minutes it takes for the food to be ready. Everything is nicely presented, with the burgers half exposed above the paper wrapper.

Tucson 2017 248

The burger wrapper tells the story

The burgers are straight forward—adorned with lettuce, tomato and sauce—but well executed with toasted buns and flavourful, nicely crisped thin patties. The thin fries could be hotter but are otherwise tasty, as is a vanilla shake you could stand a spoon in.

Tucson 2017 246

Nice, crisp, inexpensive burgers

My overall impression is “fresh”, both for the food and the fresh-faced staff. Simple, but simply well done.

In-N-Out Burger
1770 Beverly Avenue, Kingman, Arizona
Daily 10:30 am-1 am, except 1:30 am closings Friday and Saturday

Fast-Food Gourmet Burger in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Talk about false first impressions. I initially figure Apollo Restaurant, in Victorville, California, is just another faded burger drive-in joint in a dusty desert parking lot.

When I step inside, though, I’m quickly overwhelmed. I can negotiate the seven burgers on the big board, ranging from a fiery Mexican to a two-patty Narcissist. But I’m then handed a sheet listing a dozen other burger permutations, which can be further customized to please.

Help! Finally, I take the path of least resistance and order a basic Classic ($3), adding just crispy bacon and caramelized onions.

But the surprises aren’t over. I’m told the burger meat is ground in house each day from sirloin, chuck and brisket and then hand formed. With this purity of patty, is there any choice but to go medium rare?

My only quibble is the bun quickly falls apart. Oh well, all the better to savour the superior beef without many distractions.

As I’m about to tuck in, a woman at a neighbouring table sees me typing notes on my iPad. “You a reporter?”

“No, just a burger blogger.”

Her companion admits to eating here three times in the past week. Her parting advice: “Get ready to enjoy life.”

Apollo Restaurant
14950 7 Street, Victorville, California
Monday to Wednesday 10:30 am-8 pm. Thursday to Saturday 10:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-7 pm
760-245-4900

Fast, Middle-Eastern Chicken in Los Angeles

Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles is moist, garlicky nirvana

Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles is moist, garlicky nirvana

It’s not KFC (a lesser man might have added, “thank God”). But in the greater Los Angeles area, Zankou Chicken may well be more celebrated than the fast-food giant. Indeed, there’s a road map on Zankou’s walls showing all eight of the scattered locations of this mini empire.

If anything, you could call it fast Middle-Eastern chicken. There are rotating spits of shawarma chicken, grilled kabob plates and wraps. But the signature dish is fall-off-the-bone rotisserie chicken, available in half ($10.50) or quarter ($8, white or dark) sizes. Each plate comes with creamy hummus, pickled veggies, a couple of pitas for scooping and a little dish of Zankou’s not-on-a-first-date garlic sauce.

I rarely frequent fast-food chains of any size, especially in generic, fairly sterile surroundings. But when the food’s this good, quick and affordable, I’m happy to make an exception.

Zankou Chicken
Eight locations, mostly concentrated in the north Los Angeles metro area
Daily 10 am-11 pm

A Road Trip to Los Angeles? Are You Crazy?

Grand Central Market is a century-old treasure well worth braving the trip into downtown Los Angeles

Grand Central Market is a century-old treasure well worth braving the trip into downtown Los Angeles

Here’s another excerpt from my road-trip food ebook, Marathon Mouth, available at these fine online retailers for $9.99 or less:  Amazon, (Amazon Canada), iTunes, Kobo and Chapters/Indigo. Today, we venture into what might seem a motorist’s nightmare. That’s right, L.A.

So why on earth would anyone consider a road trip that ventures into Los Angeles? Here are the easy arguments against: The size, the sprawl, the constant crush of traffic, the crime, the pollution, the police presence, the misery of it all. Can a jaunt through Hollywood or to Disneyland or Universal Studios make up for even an iota of that? Well, let’s just say the arguments against braving L.A., while all true, are somewhat exaggerated and can be minimized to a certain extent.

The crime rate is certainly high, though dropping. Most of the places you’re likely to visit are perfectly safe, especially during daylight hours. The smog is similarly bad, though improving, and at least your exposure is much briefer than residents, who prefer to think about all that heat and sunshine, at least when they can see the sun.

I've never seen as many police cars as in downtown L.A. Makes one feel somewhat safer, though

I’ve never seen as many police cars as in downtown L.A. Makes one feel somewhat safer, though

There’s no getting around L.A.’s overwhelming size. The city proper contains nearly four million people, with 14 million more in surrounding satellite cities (Glendale, Anaheim, Long Beach, San Bernardino, etc., etc.) that stretch out, with no discernible boundaries, to the hazy horizon. To get through this mass of humanity, you have to navigate freeways that handle some 12 million vehicles a day, with gridlock a possibility at any time, including on surface streets. And the sprawl is such that it’s hard to get from one worthwhile dining place to another without driving, often some distance.

The reasons for running this gauntlet? Los Angeles is one of the most creative, cosmopolitan cities on the planet. Name a country, put “town” at the end of the word and you’re likely describing an L.A. community or neighbourhood. Let’s see, Chinatown, Koreatown, Filipinotown, Thaitown. Or there’s the “littles”: Little Armenia, Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia, even Little Bangladesh. I haven’t even mentioned America’s largest Hispanic population, numbering nearly five million in the greater city.

Add all this ethnic diversity to an unmatched concentration of actors, artists and musicians, and you’ve got a lot of creativity going on. Especially when it comes to cuisine. You can taste authentic dishes from every corner of the planet plus mashups when cuisines collide. I don’t know if you can find Armenian-Korean fusion, but no doubt someone’s working on it.

Eclectic foodtruck Guerilla Tacos elevates the Mexican pocket food to spectacular

Eclectic foodtruck Guerilla Tacos elevates the Mexican pocket food to spectacular

The great news, for road trippers, is many of the city’s best culinary minds are happily toiling in hole-in-the-wall places, producing first-class food at reasonable prices. As one of its proponents notes: “There’s a culture here of chef-driven fast food.” A bonus of seeking out such places is getting to explore interesting, off-the-beaten-track parts of the city.

But before biting into that amazing short-rib taco, you have to first get to your destination in a reasonable amount of time. Which requires a strategy. And if your destination is downtown, that strategy can be boiled down to two words: Sunday morning.

Driving into downtown Los Angeles on a Sunday morning. What gridlock?

Driving into downtown Los Angeles on a Sunday morning. What gridlock?

Located in the heart of downtown L.A., Grand Central Market combines a century of colour and history under one roof. If you’ve only got a couple of hours for culinary exploration, it’s a one-stop shop for sampling an amazing diversity of ethnic cuisine at affordable prices. Go on a weekday, and you’ll face traffic jams and steep parking rates. But arrive on Sunday at 8 am, when the market opens, and traffic is minimal and nearby street parking is free.

Plenty of downtown street parking Sunday morn. The cost? Nada

Plenty of downtown street parking Sunday morn. The cost? Nada

Just wander down the market’s long, concrete-floored and dimly-lit aisles and pick your preference. If it’s Mexican, try the birria (goat) or cabeza (cow’s head) tacos, if you dare, at Tacos Tumbras a Thomas or the stuffed gordita pockets at Ana Maria. If it’s Jewish, no one makes a better smoked-meat-on-rye sandwich than Wexler’s Deli. There may be no better deal, or experience, than grabbing a stool and hoovering down a big bowl of chow mein at China Cafe.

If you can’t entirely abandon your hipster roots, G&B Coffee offers single-origin coffees from noted roasters. Another fashionable place is Egg Slut, where the signature breakfast dish is a coddled egg poached in a glass jar and served over potato puree.

G&B Coffee is one of the trendier spots in Grand Central Market

G&B Coffee is one of the trendier spots in Grand Central Market

A couple of blocks away is one of seven Mendocino Farms outlets in the L.A. area. It efficiently serves the luncheon crowd with locally sourced sandwiches, like a pork-belly banh mi with pickled daikon and chili aioli on grilled ciabatta.

Blacktop is a wee coffee bar, in downtown’s funky Arts District. Its lovely little street front patio is a great place to sip an espresso and then saunter over to frequent-visiting food truck Guerilla Tacos. There, acclaimed chef Wes Avila takes tacos to another fusion level, witness awesome daily creations like summer squash and cashews, blue crab and potato, and scrambled eggs and Brussels sprouts.

Blacktop Coffee is a leafy oasis in the lovely, historic Arts District

Blacktop Coffee is a leafy oasis in the lovely, historic Arts District

East of downtown, Boyle Heights is a heavily Latino community. Here, along a clamorous street of Mexican joints, is Guisados, offering a bewildering array of tacos, many featuring braised meats. If you can’t decide, go with the sampler, featuring six mini tacos.

No Mexican food search can skip La Azteca Tortilleria, in nearby East Los Angeles. This family-run institution may produce the best burrito in all of America. It starts with a hand-made, toasted tortilla and hits the money note with a meringue-battered, roasted poblano chile that’s to die for.

Time to check out a few other L.A. ethnic offerings. West of downtown, Koreatown is famous for restaurants featuring barbecued meats, often grilled at the table. For something different and more affordable, head to Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo. After grazing on all the included appetizer bowls, dive into a mammoth bowl of Manilla clam soup loaded with hand-fashioned noodles.

Haven't tried Armenian? Try this lahmajune at F&J Partamian bakery

Haven’t tried Armenian? Try this lahmajune at F&J Partamian bakery

Never tried Armenian? Just drop into Abraham Patamian bakery for some dirt-cheap lahmajune, a pita-like disk smeared in tomatoes and herbs and seared in a big oven. And how about Middle-Eastern chicken? Zankou Chicken is a celebrated L.A. fast-food chain, where the fall-off-the-bone rotisserie chicken comes with creamy hummus, pickled veggies and garlic sauce.

If you’re in the heart of the city, there’s probably no getting around a visit to Hollywood and a drive down touristy Sunset Boulevard. That’s where you’ll find The Griddle Cafe, a boisterous, always-busy place delivering dolled-up, massive pancakes that might put you in a food coma. A less-than-trendy spot on Hollywood Boulevard is tiny Lempira Restaurante, serving up Honduran dishes like conch soup or plantain and beef. On a quiet street in East Hollywood, acclaimed chef Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl is renowned not only for its fruit preserves but also for inventive dishes like a brown-rice breakfast bowl with preserved Meyer lemon, black radish, sheep feta and a poached egg.

Here’s a novel concept for Los Angeles: two fine road-trip eateries so close together you don’t have to hop in your car. Start with a good pot of French-press coffee at Blu Jam Café while you deliberate what creative breakfast to order—brioche French toast rolled in Corn Flakes or risotto cakes supporting two poached eggs. Given sufficient time for digestion, cross the street to Ta-eem Grill, where the sweating, animated cook commands a little front-window grill to produce outstanding, kosher chicken shawarmas.

The kosher chicken shawarmas at Ta-eem Grill are as good as it gets

The kosher chicken shawarmas at Ta-eem Grill are as good as it gets

 

L.A. Korean Noodle House is Stellar

At LA's Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo, this boatload of clams and hand-cut noodles knocks it out of the park

At LA’s Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo, this boatload of clams and hand-cut noodles knocks it out of the park

It takes me a few minutes of wandering to find Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo in Los Angeles. It’s buried at the back of a Koreatown strip mall containing some 10 businesses, not all with English subtitles. The name on the sign is also somewhat different than advertised: Hhang Ari Noodle House.

What should be the real giveaway is the line outside the door. Normally, waiting and I don’t mix. But I’ve got time to kill, a shady seat out of the oppressive L.A. heat and a willingness to try Korean dishes that aren’t barbecue or bulgogi.

I might be the only tourist in the joint

I might be the only tourist in the joint

The nice thing about most Korean restaurants is you don’t have to order appetizers; they automatically come with the mains, which in my case is a massive lunch for less than $10. At Hangari, er Hhang Ari, four or five little bowls appear just after I sit down. I can’t tell you what they are other than marinated, astringent and crunchy. Good, mind you.

All these appetizers come with the meal. Though the main course is a plentiful meal by itself

All these appetizers come with the meal. Though the main course is a plentiful meal by itself

I’m halfway through this small meal when my order of Manilla clam kalguksu arrives. It’s a steaming bathtub of goodies: a delicate broth, loads of little clams, surprising crescents of squash and a few slices of cooked potatoes emerging from the tangled depths.

But the real star here is a boatload of long, engorged, chewy noodles, fashioned and hand cut by the woman who owns the place but never leaves the kitchen while I’m there. Even when I finally ignore all else, I can’t finish this bounty of fabulous noodles.

Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo (I think that’s the name)
3470 West 6 Street, Suite 9, Los Angeles
Daily 10:30 am-10:30 pm
213-388-2326