Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ozzie's Diner

Anyone interested in an Americana "greasy spoon?"  I always am.  Is it nutritious and good for me?  I am pretty positive the answer is no.  Will I most likely need a recovery nap from the experience just to let my body and belly recoup?  Most definitely.  Will that stop me from having a new and exciting food experience?  Absolutely not!  The best kind of greasy spoons are the hidden ones.  The kind that aren't off the interstate, or next to the high-traffic stores like Wal-Mart and the like.  No, the best ones are the ones that some of the locals don't even realize are there.  The ones where the regulars go, that have waitresses who can't help but call you "hon" even if they've just met you.  Want to go to a place like that?  Well, then get yourself to the airport in Norman, OK - room 104.

On the first floor of the little airport is a diner called Ozzie's.  I had heard rumors in the air that Ozzie's was the place to go for Sunday brunch.  I also heard it was at the airport, but I didn't quite know where, exactly.  So one day, I got up and decided to find it.  I thought it would be a fun experience, and I was right.

After hitting a couple of winding roads away from the main road, we found it!  We walked in and the diner was right there.  Outside of the diner in the hallway, there was a white-board disclosing the menu we had to look forward to, as well as some basic rules about not sharing.

After wondering inside the establishment, a waitress asked if we could be helped and I explained that this was my first time here.  She was very good about letting us know how it worked.  She pulled out an awesome menu that had an American 1950's feel about it.

We ordered coffee and water to drink while we waited for our breakfast.  What was cool, is that the coffee came in thick ceramic mugs and the water arrived in mason jars - classic.

What did we order?  Well, the all-you-can-eat breakfast of course!  Here's how it works:  You can choose any combination as many times as you want from pancakes, grits, toast, biscuits & gravy, eggs (cooked however you like), home fries, hash browns, bacon, and sausage for just $5.79 per person.  

It is all cooked to order instead of sitting on a buffet where everyone else can pick at it as it gets cold/dried out.  After you are finished with your first plate, you can order your next with the same thing, or a whole new combo.  I also tried the biscuits & gravy (which I forgot to get a pic of), and it was surprisingly good!  The scrambled egg had a sort of gross texture to it, like it had grits in it or something, I couldn't quite peg it.  However, the fried egg was very good.  I like my fried egg with well done whites, and a slightly dippy middle, which I rarely get done right at any restaurant no matter how fancy.  But Ozzie's got it perfect!

The decor was riddled with aviation (as it is in an airport and very fitting), and objects from an era long past, but not forgotten.

We also had a great view!

So, if you want a breakfast that will be served until 3pm (which is when I like to eat breakfast), that taste a lot like Mom used to make on the weekends, with a reminiscent decor, an endearing waitress, a thrifty all-you-can-eat menu, and an exciting view, then give Ozzie's Diner at the Max Westheimer Airport a try.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mad Ninja Baking

Today, I'm gonna share a recipe, bad pictures, and an account of this week in my kitchen.  It all started with bananas.  Note: when you buy organic bananas, you have about half the time to eat them before they go bad, as you do non-organic bananas.  So unless you are a monkey, or happen to have monkeys living in your household, do not buy organic bananas in bulk, just FYI.

Okay, so some of the bunch were eaten, but there were still 5 bananas left before they got too soft for my liking.  I didn't want to just make smoothies for the next several days out of them, so I thought about the next most popular thing to do with soft bananas -- banana bread!  I'd never actually made it, so I thought, why not give it a go?  I dug out a recipe for it that Mom gave me years ago and put it to use.

Banana Nut Bread

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the above in a medium bowl and set to the side.

1 stick of softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 over-ripened bananas
1/2 cup of walnuts (apparently optional, because I didn't use them and they turned out just dandy)

 *Mix these ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add above "dry" mixture.  Pour into a lightly greased bread loaf pan/dish and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Check center with toothpick and bake until no batter comes out on it.

Now, I decided that I didn't want to use nuts, because of nut allergies for people who might be eating them.  And, I wanted muffins instead of bread so I just double layered some cupcake papers in my muffin pan, poured in the batter until they were about 80% full, and baked for about 35 minutes.  Viola! 

Did I remember to take a picture before they were gone?  Nope.  *Sigh*  I'll get this documenting thing right one of these days.  However, I DID get a picture of the French Silk pie that I made that day!

Ta-da!  Go me!  Did I get a picture of the pie after it was cut open?  NO!!  Crap.  Still learning.  Okay, so now you're probably wondering what French Silk pie has to do with bananas.  Nothing.  Well, something, but it's only by association, not that there's actually any bananas in this pie.  See, I have yet to make a pie crust from scratch ( but it's on my list of things to try), so when you buy pre-made pie crusts, they come in packs of 2.  I still had two bananas left over to do something with after the muffins, so I decided to try a salted carmel banana cream pie, (which was a total disaster, but I'll get to that).  Anyway, so I had this whole other pie crust that I didn't know what to do with.  

So I thought about what kind of pies I like that I haven't had for a while, and French Silk was at the top of my list!  If you've never had it, you are missing out, big time!  It's chocolatey, creamy, and best of all, it is the richest, most delectable pie I've ever had.  Each time I make it, I nearly cry when it's gone.  I first made it in 7th or 8th grade home-ec class as part of a group project.  I had never made a recipe that involved before, but it was totally worth the effort!  We found it in one of the cookbooks that was at the school.  I would love to give credit where it is due for this one, but I just don't remember, it was a bazillion years ago.  It's kind of a long/detailed recipe so I don't want to add it to this post, but if you would like it feel free to message me on FaceBook, and I'll send it to you.

Okay, so the Salted Carmel Banana Cream pie sounded sooooo good when I found the recipe on a blog that I enjoy reading, called Sing For Your Supper..., however, I couldn't get the pie to set up.  I wound up burning the carmel the first time, so I remade it.  The second round I had run out of butter, so I just made it with what I had.  I made a basic carmel sauce with just sugar and cream and salt.  It actually turned out really good.  On to the rest of the pie!  

I followed the instructions and layered it like the recipe said to, but it just turned in to a globby, mess...but OMG did it taste good!  I combed over the recipe again to see where I went wrong.  No, it wasn't because I made the carmel without butter, it wasn't because I put the carmel drizzle on top of the pie (because I knew the whipped cream would dissolve under the weight of it.  You are supposed to drizzle on just before serving).  No, the reason my attempt failed was because I used cook and serve pudding instead of instant.  So, if this recipe sounds like something you want to try, (and you totally should because it's awesome!) don't forget to use instant pudding, because if you don't, you will need a bowl and spoon to be able to eat it (not that that was so bad, but still).

I seriously need to invest in some new dishes.

And as if making 2 gourmet pies and banana muffins from scratch in one afternoon wasn't enough, I decided I needed to make some brownies.  You know, to have something to go underneath the left-over carmel sauce, and ice cream.  

Oh, and then for dinner, I thought it would be fun to try a new Asian-style chicken recipe.  (*Facepalm*)  What am I doing?  What possessed me to do all this on the same day?  I was like a mad cooking ninja!  Of course, I didn't cook for the rest of the week, so I guess marathon baking/cooking/desserting, comes with a price.  So I threw a few different ideas together and got this:

Oops, that one is a little blurry.  Here's a different plate of the same food.

It tasted pretty good, but not as flavorful as I was hoping for.  However, I made some notes about how to improve it and I'll try again.  

Anyway, that's what I did one day last week.  And then I took a nap.  The end.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

FANCY & FLOP: Ohio Food Excursion, Pt. 2

I believe that there are 3 types of dining experiences: Good, Bad, and Okay.  Now, there are varying degrees of these 3 types, of course, but we all know the sort-of overall feeling we have about our experiences, even if we don't have time to logically sort out what we liked or didn't like about them.  Generally for me, there are a few Good, and a few Bad, and a whole lot of grey area I'm neither impressed or disappointed by.  Some greys (or Okays) are better than others.  Generally, I don't have any desire to go on and on about Okays, it's not until the Okay slips more into Good or Bad, that I will start thinking about how my experience was/is.  So, I WILL write about Okays, but only if it is on the edge of Good or Bad.

Which brings me to the second part of my Ohio Food Excursion segment: "Fancy & Flop."  I'm a firm believer in getting the crummy out of the way, to make room for the good stuff.  On that note, I'm going to talk about my experience at a restaurant in Tipp City, Ohio called Harrison's.

One of the biggest problems that I have with this restaurant isn't really the food, or service, it's the environment -- it's just plain confusing.  Is it an elegant business casual dinner place, or a sports bar?

The servers were dressed in very nice attire, the menu is what you would expect from a more upscale restaurant, and there is a sign posted at the front of the house that says "Proper Attire is Required."  However, when I went (dressed in business casual ware) it was Wing Night Tuesday and the place was packed with people wearing cut-off jeans, ball caps, and flip-flops, and that is not an exaggeration.  Another time I went, a few years ago on a Friday night, the clientele was less casual, but there was a live band playing, which made it very difficult to have any sort of conversation with table-mates.  Anyhow, we're talking about the most recent excursion on Wing Tuesday.  I thought it best to start off with a drink.

That's my strawberry daiquiri, doesn't it look good?  Yeah, that's what I thought, then I took a few sips of it and was very disappointed.  It's like they didn't even try.  Like they opened up the jug o' strawberry mix, put some Reddi-Whip on top, then remembered they forgot the rum and splashed a little in it as a gesture.  I wasn't looking to be knocked off my feet, but some rum flavor would have been nice.  Other people at my table (my awesome family) didn't seem to have any issues with their beer or wine, just me with my "fancy" mixed drink.  

Most everyone in my party started off with the salads that came with their dinner, but my mom got the soup du jour, Tortilla Soup and it was soooo good!  I however, tried their applesauce option which was also quite good.  It is chunked apples topped with cinnamon-- simple, not too filling, and tasty.  My step-dad ordered some impromptu wings because we kept watching them fly by our table (Ha!  I said "fly" and "wings" totally didn't mean to be punny, it just happened).  I didn't get a pic of them though because they were gone before I could open my camera...yes, they were amazingly good!  But, I didn't come here for wings and beer, I came for a good steak.  Here's what we all ordered:

                       My New York Strip w/Onion Strings                                                NY Strip with Cheese Grits

                     Corn Dusted Walleye w/ Herb Butter                                                            City Mac & Cheese

          "Blackout" Gourmet Burger (Blue cheese on pretzle bun)                                Cheese Burger and Fries

 The steak was not as good as I was hoping it would be.  It had little to no seasoning on it, and no real flavor to speak of.  It's like they rely solely on the french fried shoestring onions on top for any kind of seasoning.  However, I did taste the City Mac & Cheese and it was really good!  I never had Cheese Grits before, and I was skeptical, but they were actually kind of addicting, and grandma let me know I had stolen enough from her plate by stabbing me with her fork.  No, that didn't really happen...this time.  Anyway, the thing Harrison's had that was cooked and seasoned perfectly was the made-to-order house potato chips.  Perfect!

Like I said in the beginning, I don't normally comment about Okay dining experiences, so what am I saying here?  I'm saying that even though the food wasn't terrible or awesome, the theme confusion and lack of identity of the restaurant really got my attention, for Good and Bad.  If you are looking for an upscale dining venue, a sports bar, gastropub, place to hang with your buddies, or a romantic rendezvous (although I totally don't recommend this last one AT ALL!), you may want to seek those places out elsewhere, where you KNOW that's what you are looking for and are going to get.  However, if you can't make up your mind or want a little bit of all of the above, this is definitely your stop.  All-in-all, for me it was too all over the place - at sixes and sevens. 

Now for the good stuff!  Also in Tipp City (and diagonally located across the street from Harrison's) is a fantastic place called Coldwater Cafe.  This place held such a great experience for me that we waited 40 minutes, with a lunch reservation, and I'm still giving this a glowing review!  Owned and run by a mother/son team Betty Peachey and Nick Hoover, this is the place to go if you want a full-blown example of my perfect dining Trifecta: Food, Service, and Atmosphere.  Nick is also the executive chef and you can absolutely tell that he loves what he creates, just by how good is tastes and the presentation  of the food when it gets to your table.

Even the bathroom was fancy!  I mean, how many places can you find a tower of toilet paper next to the toilet.  Pretty, and convenient!  I'm totally doing this in my bathroom from now on.  Accept I don't have that kind of room, to I may just slap a roll on the back of the tank and call it good.  What do you think?

Okay, that's the first bathroom review I've ever done...well, that I've ever written and sent out into the interwebs - you're welcome.  Now, down to business.  The business of drinks!

I had the Coldwater Cosmopolitan, and my aunt had the Pineapple Upside Down Martini (in the background).  Both were perfect!  One is all you really need, I'm just sayin'.  Again, while my party got salads for the most part, I decided to try a cup of the Duchess Potato Soup.  My other aunt (the one who took us all here) got the soup du jour, which was a mushroom/beef stock soup, but I can't remember the name of it.  As much as I liked the potato soup, I couldn't get enough of the mushroom soup, it was amazing! (Wish I would have gotten a pic, sorry).  And now, for the entrées.  

Gourmet Grilled Cheese & freshly cooked Kettle Chips

                  Marinated Grilled Chicken Salad               Grilled Portabella on Swirled Rye

                                Grilled Salmon Salad                          Chicken Pecan Salad Sandwich

Crappy pictures?  Yeah, I know.  Guess who took them?  Yup, it was me.  I know that my pics don't do these dishes justice, but the lighting was dim and the flash was working when it felt like it.  I seriously need a profesional photographer to follow me around while I eat.  Don't worry, I'm writing that down on a Post-It.  I can't say enough about the food here.  There was not a single complaint, even in the slightest, about any of these plates, not one!  And believe me, that's a record for my family.

Nick is so awesome, he even makes grilled cheese sandwiches feel like proper fancy food.  But for me, he outdoes himself on the dessert menu.  The waitress even brought us an actual dessert menu.  We couldn't decide what to get as individuals, so we just decided to order almost every dessert on the menu and try them all out, (I know, best idea ever!).  Hmm, somehow my sister's strawberry sorbet didn't get snapped, I just realized that.

                                          Creme Brulee                                      Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

                                Hot Fudge Pecan Ball                        English Tea Cake w/ Warm Butter Sauce

I had a cup of coffee with my desserts, and even that was good quality coffee.  I was so satisfied when I left there --- Trifecta Maximus!  And that was just lunch, I can't imagine what they can do for dinner.  There are some truths that I've discovered through my cooking and dining experiences, here are just a couple:

1)  The smaller the menu, the more quality and attention will go into the food.

2) "Cooking is like music; when properly conducted, a symphony results."

This quote was painted on the wall at Coldwater Cafe.  It is a string of words that I take as truth, and after my experience at this restaurant, I can tell you that the staff, chef, and owners feel the same way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

FUN & TASTY: Ohio Food Excursion, Pt. 1

Well, after yelling at my camera and shaking out the pics, I realized that I had a lot more reviewing of Ohio restaurants to do than I initially thought.  So, I've decided to make this a 2-parter, due to the large quantities of photos that I'd like to share.  I decided to do a "Fun & Tasty" theme for the first part, and save "Fancy & Flop" for the next one.  So today I'm going to recount my excursion by talking about some of my favorite eats from my home state.

Photo by Ernest Clark

The first place I gotta hit when I go home for the summer, is the BK Root Beer Stand in Sidney, Ohio.  It is one of the few authentic Americana drive-ins still left these days, and is strategically placed right behind the community ballfields.  I remember several trips to the "root beer doggie stand" after my dad's softball games when I was a kid.

Photo by Ernest Clark

I love BK because they make their own root beer (and it's AWESOME), they serve it in a thick glass mug, they have hot crinkle-cut fries (which go with hot dogs better than shoestring, in my opinion), and their buns are always soft.  Some people have complained that the hot dogs are too small, I for one am thankful!  I like to be able to take a bite of my food without worrying about pulling a face muscle.  Seriously, LOVE these hot dogs!  Here's some BK math for ya...

Above photos taken (and food contained therein, consumed) by Ernest Clark

The delicious looking coney dogs above, are actually known as "Spanish Dogs" and are a local favorite.  Many like to add onions to these.  BK also has amazing shredded chicken sandwiches, pork sandwiches, chips, candy, many other hot dog varieties, and more!  It is only open from March to October and is a must-stop if you happen upon Sidney, Ohio.  Personal tip:  You can get your food and root beer to-go and eat it, picnic style, right across the street inside the magnificent Tawawa Park.

The next summertime stop in Sidney, Ohio is Chilly Jilly's.  There's no real visible signage spouting it's name, but locals all know where it is (downtown) and what it's called.  It too is only open for the warmer months of the year.  The specialty here is, yup you guessed it, ice cream.  This was one of the first places that I ever worked and it was a lot of fast-paced work, but so much fun!  Like the root beer stand, Chilly Jilly's hasn't changed much over the decades, and I like that.  The summertime nostalgia is something I always look forward to.  

This is the menu board, but there are so many more items that you can order, many of which are handwritten on paper and hanging all around the pick-up window.  This place has vanilla, chocolate, and twist soft-serve ice cream, as well as hand-dipped.  They also carry all kinds of Slush Puppie flavors and double-dipped chocolate and butterscotch cones!  But my favorite thing to get at Chilly Jilly's is a Pinwheel: a healthy portion of soft-serve vanilla between two sandwich cookies dippied in chocolate on a stick.  Awesome, right?  Yeah, accept when it melts before you get to eat it :(

No biggie, pop it in the freezer for a few and try again.  Delicious!

My 3rd summer must-have in Ohio is down in Mason, near Cincinnati at Kings Island, my favorite amusement park (north of Florida).  The park is celebrating its 40th birthday this year!  Ok, so you can get LaRosa's Pizza at locations outside of the park gates too (actually all over most of southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and even some of Indiana), but why not have your pie and ride too?  (However, this is not recommended to do at the same time).  

 Why is it so good?  I don't know!  Maybe it's because they've been using the same family recipe since 1954.  Perhaps it's because they use provolone instead of the same ol' mozzarella cheese that everyone else uses?  Maybe it's Aunt Dena's pizza sauce?  All I know, is that in all the decades I've been going to King's Island, I've never missed having a slice or two of LaRosa's Pizza, and for that I am thankful.

There are at least 3 locations in the park that serve LaRosa's (or as I have simply always called it "Kings Island Pizza").  There are these two stand-alone locations, and then one in the Festhaus in the Germantown section of the park.  Depending on which one you go to, you can get other things as well, such as cheese sticks, pasta, salads, etc.  You can order it by the slice, or a whole pizza pie.  I'm sorry to say, that when I sat down to take a shot of my glorious pizza slice, my camera crapped out on me (*sigh*).  But there are some good pics on the 365 Things To Do In Cincinnati website, if you want to have a look.

And this leads us right into the last Fun & Tasty eatery in Ohio that I'm going to cover today.  Another family pizzeria with franchised locations -- Cassano's.  With its thin parmesan-dusted crusts, sweet sauce, crisp pepperoni, fresh toppings, and layers of stringy cheese, what's not to like?

Another thing I like about this pizza is that it is cut into small squares instead of the usual wedge-shaped slices.  I like different.  There are other pizza places that do this, but not many, and fewer in Shelby County, Ohio.  This is what I grew up with, and what I still go back to, every time.

Appetizers at Cassano's include salads, pastas, and other things, but I don't even know what all else because I always get an order of these garlic rolled breadsticks with cheese, because they are soooo good!  But don't fill up on them, because there's pizza coming!

Here's a pic of the whole pie, so you can see the sweet squares of awesome!

So, that is a rundown of the Fun & Tasty places in Ohio that I like to eat at when I visit.  I recommend giving them all a try.  All photos on this blog are taken by me (you can tell by the poor quality) unless otherwise stated.  I'll be back with part 2 of my Ohio restaurant review, "Fancy & Flop" very soon. 

**I would like to say a special "Thank You" to Ernest Clark at Clark Photographic Services for his help and contribution of photos taken at the BK Root Beer Stand!