Monday, April 21, 2014
Monte Carlo Casino
3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
I’m probably not the one to write this review.
I’m just not into the Vegas thing.
I don’t get it.
Eighty year old women slouching around casinos on their walkers throwing quarters into slot machines just isn’t that entertaining to me.
Neither is losing money.
Call me crazy. Or cheap. But I kinda like to keep my money. I don’t find losing it to be all that fun.
If you’ve been paying attention to the website, I think you can figure out the kinds of things I like.
Places off the beaten path that reflect the soul of real America – that make travel not only bearable, but memorable or enlightening.
The authentic. The real deal. Mom and pop.
Beer and baseball. Burgers and barbeque.
Regional delicacies in those hidden corners of America that just can’t be found in your suburban strip mall back home.
In other words, I like everything that Las Vegas ISN’T.
It’s probably not a coincidence that after 320 reviews on this site, we’re just now doing the first one in Las Vegas.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by describing all the ways Las Vegas is the capital of inauthentic American mediocrity.
I mean, in a place with a fake New York City skyline, a fake Eiffel Tower and a fake Venice canal, this city is famous for promoting the fake and inauthentic.
That is obvious.
That is why 40 million people come here every year.
People like fake. And prefer it to the real thing.
Who wants to deal with the expense and hassle of flying to Italy – and those annoying people who don’t bother to speak English -- when you can ride a gondola right here in the good ole U.S. of A?
But surely there has to be some place in this massive metroplex of tourist tripe to get something unique and unusual that I can’t get at home.
As it turns out, Suit757’s parents are the perfect people to ask.
They make half a dozen treks across the continent per year to throw my inheritance into slots and video poker machines.
And I’m fine with that.
Really. I am.
It’s their money. They paid for twelve years of Catholic school tuition and four years of college. They don’t owe me another dime.
Although I really would like them to spend some of it on a rental car and a tank of gas to drive the few hours to the Grand Canyon on at least one of these trips.
Is that asking too much?
I mean, how many dozens of times can you fly to Vegas and refuse to take a day trip to see the single most spectacular natural wonder on Planet Earth???
In other words, my parents are the prototypical Vegas tourists.
Keep it easy, close and familiar. With valet parking, please.
Maybe they’ll go if Steve Wynn will build a fake Grand Canyon on the Strip.
They suggested I go to Todd English’s Pub near the Monte Carlo.
Good beer selection (for Las Vegas) and gourmet pub food created by one of those made-for-TV celebrity chefs all the rage in Sin City these days.
I checked the website. Sure enough, $25 Kobe beef burgers and a beer list that stretches beyond the typical Las Vegas Heineken/Bud Light/Miller Light crap every other bar and casino serves.
The problem is I’m not really a Vegas kind of guy.
I don’t know Todd English from Todd Snider from Todd Palin.
So as I’m riding the hotel shuttle to the strip, I simply plug “Pub Monte Carlo” into my smart phone because I can’t remember the super famous celebrity chef’s name.
Well that was a problem.
You see, there is a beer pub in the Monte Carlo that serves $22 Kobe beef burgers with over 100 microbrews. And it is called “The Pub”.
But it is not Todd English’s Pub.
No. That one is about 200 yards across the Aria lobby.
I’m so confused.
I can locate a back water forgotten fish camp somewhere along a dirt road deep in the bayous of Louisiana, but I can’t find a celebrity’s restaurant in Vegas when I’m two football fields away from it.
Then again, I get lost at the mall too, so maybe this isn’t such a surprise.
The reason I say this is a problem is that the Monte Carlo “Pub” basically stunk.
All I could smell was the putrid stench coming out of the dishwasher under my spot at the bar. Like rotting trash.
I wanted to try the Butcher Burger made with half Angus beef and half ground up bacon for $18.
But when I ordered it medium rare, the bar tender told me it only came well done “for safety reasons”. Apparently bacon needs to be cooked thoroughly.
That’s funny, I’ve eaten my share of floppy greasy half cooked bacon in my life and I’m not dead yet.
Scared off by the prospect of a dry overcooked mound of meat, I opted for the $22 Kobe beef burger which my bartender graciously allowed me to order medium rare.
The first problem with this burger is its name. It is a lie.
Virtually no Kobe beef is sold in the United States. Anywhere. Ever. By government fiat.
You can only get it in Japan.
So I have no idea what I was actually eating. Or how they can get away with labeling it something it is not. Or why it cost $22. Other than the fact that I was eating it in Las Vegas.
The false advertising continued when the “caramelized onions” listed on the menu came out as a slice of raw onion.
That irritated me too.
My fake Kobe burger was cooked to a nice juicy pink but the raw onion and big bulky bun overwhelmed the flavor of the meat.
Even if it was from some fancy Japanese cow, I wouldn’t have noticed the nuance because each bite yielded nothing but a mouthful of bread.
More meat. Less bread. That’s what I want on a $22 burger.
By this point, I was getting a little suspicious that I might be in the wrong place.
I mean, is this the best that a “celebrity” Las Vegas chef can do?
That’s when I started looking around.
What was that dude’s name again?
His name was nowhere to be found.
Isn’t the whole point of opening a celebrity chef Vegas restaurant to plaster your name all over the damn place?
It didn’t take much Google Mapping to figure out I was in the wrong “Pub” selling fake Kobe beef burgers.
Oh well. Too late now.
At least the beer selection was good.
Pilsner Urquel on tap is always an excellent choice. Fresh, unpasteurized crisp beer straight from the city in the Czech Republic that invented pilsner beer.
My second choice was Duhbe Black IPA from Uinta Brewery in Utah. A strong 9% alcohol beer that is illegal to serve on draft in its Mormon home state, I was happy to down one here in Sin City.
Then I got the tab. Fifty bucks.
Fifty bucks! For a fake mediocre burger and two beers.
I thought Las Vegas is where middle class America comes to gorge on cheap beer and all you can eat buffets!
What the hell happened to that Vegas?
On the way back to my hotel I stopped off for an $11 Goose Island Matilda, an $8 Stone Pale Ale and a couple $10 pints of Guinness at the fake Irish Pub featuring a fake Irish band performing fake Irish music in the fake New York New York Casino.
Somehow I managed to blow close to a hundred bucks without playing a single slot machine.
Like I said, I’m not a big fan of losing money in Las Vegas.
Even if it went to a good cause like drinking beer.
Oh well. Those beers may have been obscenely overpriced, but at least I got more in return for my money than my parents ever do.
And at least I’ve actually seen the Grand Canyon.
Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt if You Paid Me.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA
This innovative city on the cutting edge that first introduced the world to taxpayer funded sex changes and “needle exchange programs” is now considering handing out free crack pipes to its drug addicted welfare dependents.
Since, in the minds of Left Coast leftists, shooting heroine and smoking crack are not character flaws but rather agnostic lifestyle choices, you and I have an obligation to pay for our neighbors’ vices.
But they will ship you off to San Quinten if you so much as light up a cigarette or utter a disparaging word about Ellen DeGeneres.
The day California slides into the Pacific Ocean can’t come soon enough for me.
But even I have to admit these liberal creative types can concoct a good idea every once in a while.
Holy guacamole! Where has this idea been my entire life?
I’ve always likened Guinness to drinking alcoholic chocolate milk.
Since Guinness is nitrogenated rather than carbonated, the Irish beverage of choice lends a silky, creamy mouthfeel that goes down as smooth as milk.
The roasted dark malt and low alcohol content lends a touch of sweetness.
So pouring a freshly opened nitrogenated can of Guinness over some homemade vanilla ice cream might just be the best idea Californians have come up with since they decided to recall Governor Gray Davis.
Witnessing the chemical reaction as the nitrogen interacted with the ice cream was more entertaining than a Tenderloin District sex show.
A swirl of twirling ice cream, frothing black liquid, hissing nitrogen and foaming tan head tantalized my senses.
Impatiently I waited for the show to settle before dipping my straw into the cauldron.
The first few gulps yielded a bracing alcohol kick. Like the kind of jolt you get when your mind is expecting one thing -- but gets something very different.
I think my eyes were fully expecting the sweetness of a milk shake but my taste buds got a beer instead.
The bitterness of the beer flavored ice cream morphed as it melted into ice cream flavored beer.
I thoroughly enjoyed the transformation from bitter ice cream to sweet creamy beer.
With a buzz.
There’s not much alcohol in a 14 ounce can of Guinness, but my brain was so mixed up I think the confusion heightened the buzz.
Of course slurping all that deliciousness through a thick straw in six minutes flat might have been a contributing factor also.
Fortunately, St. Francis Fountain offers real sustenance in addition to ice cream and Guinness floats.
I definitely needed it considering my beverage/dessert of choice.
The Baltimore BLT offered a Left Coast twist on the lunch counter standby -- fresh avocado squeezed between the thick bacon and lettuce and tomato.
The avocado quickly morphed into a messy slippery guacamole condiment after a few bites.
I have absolutely no clue why a BLT with avocado served in San Francisco would be named after a city in Maryland.
The homemade macaroni and cheese on the side was much more interesting. Big goops of gooey cheese were sweetened by onion.
This stuff puts mom’s Kraft-from-the-box mac and cheese to shame.
Good simple comfort food is what you would expect -- and what you get -- at this nearly century old neighborhood sofa fountain where local Mission District hipsters wander in for a taste of home or of nostalgia -- or of reality -- something in desperately short supply in this city.
They don’t sell clean needles or crack pipes at St. Francis Fountain. But they do sell the collector’s cards of your childhood by the front door.
A pack of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” cards, anyone?
How about some of those rare “Welcome Back, Kotter” cards?
St. Francis Fountain is all the pleasures of childhood in one tiny shop.
Plus Guinness floats.
Sometimes you have to grow up to discover the best pleasures of all.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt
Monday, March 3, 2014
Denver International Airport
Airport food is usually just so disappointing…
I mean, only in an airport can you be served sub-par fast food, pay twice for it, all just minutes after getting groped by a government agent.
Fast food is already not the greatest experience when you get it not at the airport, but at least you aren’t paying an arm and a leg for a sub-par version of the same thing.
And let’s be serious, that is really the only option that most travelers have, as we are usually running for our lives to get to our gate.
But there are those rare instances where that half hour delay on your flight actually becomes at a blessing, as it allows you to slow down and explore some of the more interesting options at the airport.
Very rarely has this happened to me.
But, alas, it did happen for me and at a convenient time, and it turned out well.
Situated in the “C” concourse at Denver International Airport, Root Down provides weary travelers comfortable seating, delicious food, and a decent craft beer selection.
I must say, though, it is a little intimidating at first glance. All the “cool” people hanging out and waiting for a seat, while disco music is blaring in the background, it makes one wonder if he is about to walk into an airport restaurant or a dance club.
Once past the façade, though, it is actually quite a cozy place. And once I noticed that they had my favorite beer from O’Dell Brewing, a Chocolate Milk Stout called “Lugene”, on tap, I wasn't going anywhere else.
As is common with most airport restaurants, the menu was small, but provided a decent variety of options, while also providing their own take on the classic.
I went with the half pound burger, complete with bacon, sriracha mayo, and a pretzel bun. It also came with a side of sweet potato waffle fries, along with two dipping sauces.
The sweet potato fries were good as well, but what really made the fries were the dipping sauces. One sauce was called “Elevated ketchup.” I’m not really sure what that means, but that stuff was like candy. It had a pumpkin spice flavor to it that went very well with the sweet potato taste. The other dipping sauce was like a mustard and curry combination, or something like that. It was good as well, but the Elevated ketchup won the day.
Overall, this was a great experience. Of course, it cost an arm and a leg, but that’s airport food. At least it was money well spent on a good meal, rather than paying twice as much at a fast food joint serving death on a bun.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.
Labels: Airport, Airport Food, Bacon, Burgers, Chocolate Milk Stout, Colorado, Craft Beer, Denver, Denver International Airport, O'Dell Brewing, O'Dell Lugene, Root Down, Suit317, Sweet Potato Fries
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Bayside Seafood Restaurant
500 East Highway 98
No doubt about it. The internet is a great tool for finding cool places to eat and drink while cruising America’s back roads.
But sometimes even the Google Maps app on your smart phone isn’t smarter than just plain old dumb luck.
Yep. No matter how high the IQ of your smart phone, just driving through town is the only way to discover a place like Bayside Seafood.
That’s because Bayside Seafood just opened a couple days before I cruised through Eastpoint.
The place literally isn’t even on the Google Map yet.
The NSA still hasn’t confirmed its existence.
In fact, this review you are reading just may be the first and only review of Bayside Seafood you’ll read on the entire World Wide Web -- at least for a few weeks anyway.
Eastpoint is situated at the eastern end of Apalachicola Bay, perhaps the most productive and famous oyster estuary in the world.
While the namesake town of Apalachicola across the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge may get all the glory and bed and breakfast tourists, Eastpoint is the business end of the bay.
The wharf here is lined with all work/no play oyster processing houses and docks.
Refrigerated eighteen wheelers back up and pull out of the loading docks from sunrise to sunset, hauling the Southeast’s best oysters to fancy expense account steak houses in Manhattan and DC to be sold for $40 Oysters Rockefeller appetizers.
Wouldn’t it be cool to find a little shack among all these bustling docks to sit a spell and slurp down some fresh-from-the-bay oysters, long before they end up on some feeding-at-the-federal-taxpayer-trough lobbyist’s expense account?
Oh well. According to Mr. Google, no such place exists in Eastpoint.
But sometimes Mr. Google isn’t quite as up to speed as Suit757.
I couldn’t help but notice the gleaming “Bayside Seafood Restaurant” signs lining both sides of Highway 98.
“Perfect,” I thought as I wheeled my car into a parking spot by the front door.
The signs may be fresh out of the Vista Print boxes, but the building Bayside Seafood occupies has plenty of weathered charm.
Built on pilings anchored to the oyster shell-lined shore, clearly Bayside Seafood is not the first rodeo for this rustic bayfront shack.
But she cleans up well.
Nautical knickknacks and beer signs decorate the freshly painted walls.
Unfortunately the brand new Sweetwater Brewery metal signs do not translate onto the actual beer menu.
The South’s most ubiquitous microbrew, Sweetwater 420, may serve to liven up the décor, but you can’t order one here.
Like many rural joints along the Florida coast, the most exotic brew available was Yuengling, my eternal second choice beer by default.
On this bright sunny but chilly winter afternoon, my oyster eating companion and I bravely chose to be the only people to sit outside on the screened-in porch.
As long as I could feel the February sun on the back of my neck, I could forget about the fact that the temperature was hovering in the upper 50s.
But the sights, sounds and smells of the bay more than compensated for the chill in the air.
Tiny oyster skiffs hardly big enough for two oystermen motored into the wharf laden with bushels of freshly harvested oysters.
Minutes later, they would motor back out into the bay, oyster tongs at the ready.
Oysters don’t get any fresher than this.
I watched the young guy shuck my oysters by hand at the outdoor oyster bar.
If you are adventurous enough to take a bit of a risk, raw oysters are the best way to go.
Freshly shucked from their shells, freshly plucked from Apalachicola Bay, these beauties had the subtle salty flavor of the sea.
If you are particularly concerned about hepatitis, you can opt for the more touristy baked oysters.
Baked oysters are for oyster eaters who don’t like the taste of oysters.
Kinda like how Bud Light Lime is the beer for beer drinkers who don’t like the taste of beer.
That being said, baked oysters can be tasty -- if you don’t overload them with distracting ingredients that camouflage the briny goodness of the oyster itself.
With that in mind, I opted for the more subtle parmesan and butter baked oysters rather than the more exotic concoctions on the menu.
Unfortunately the stringy gobs of melted cheese overwhelmed the flavor of the oyster. I’ve never found cheese to be a good complement to the subtle flavor of oysters.
Oh well. Next time I’ll go with just garlic and butter.
But the most exquisite menu item of all was Bayside’s oyster stew -- an ideal warm-me-up for this winter afternoon.
Thick with fresh, plump oysters, this was the best oyster stew that has ever graced my taste buds.
Thicker, creamier, butterier than most oyster stews, it was decadence in a bowl.
As I paid my tab at the front register I complimented the owner on her stew -- and asked her what set her oyster stew apart from the thin, skim milk-like concoctions most restaurant serve.
“Good fresh oysters,” she said modestly.
True. But I’m pretty sure there is more to it than that.
Coincidently, I bumped into her first cousin the next afternoon at Apalachicola’s venerable Dixie Theatre. In small Southern towns sometimes it seems that everyone is kin to everyone.
I just happened to be raving about the fantastic oyster stew I had across the bay.
“Yeah, that’s my cousin,” she said proudly. “She just opened that place a couple days ago. She’s a great cook.”
I tried to coax the secret from her.
The best I managed to get was, “I think she uses that canned cream,” which I took to mean evaporated milk.
She claimed ignorance beyond that.
I’m still not sure if she was just guarding the family secrets, but there has to be onions, Old Bay and lots and lots of butter in there too.
Oh, and good fresh oysters fresh out of Apalachicola Bay.
That’s what I came to this “Forgotten” corner of the Florida coast to eat.
And guess what? There’s no app for that.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Up the Creek
313 Water Street
They call this the “Forgotten Coast.”
And a trip to the small town of Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast of Florida’s Panhandle will help you understand why.
There are no interstates here. The nearest airport is an hour and a half away.
This is the northwest corner of Florida with more in common culturally, geographically and politically with Alabama than Miami or Orlando.
The tea and Southern drawls are sweeter here.
The Spanish moss hangs thicker here.
And the pace of life is slower here.
Apalachicola’s quaint beauty and rustic isolation is probably why Sports Illustrated chose this town to shoot its 2012 Swimsuit issue with Kate Upton.
Any town good enough for Kate Upton is good enough for me.
Mickey Mouse has his charms, I suppose, but when I travel the backroads of the Sunshine State, it is sugary beaches, cold beer and salty oysters that I’m looking for.
Apalachicola and the “Forgotten Coast” is where I come to find them.
A tiny town of just 3,000 people, Apalachicola is synonymous with oysters.
The Apalachicola River drains out of the farmlands of Georgia and Alabama spilling its contents into Apalachicola Bay where fresh water collides with the salty Gulf of Mexico, creating the ideal brackish cauldron of seawater that oysters crave.
Blessed by geography and God’s grace, this town is perfectly situated to take advantage of the bounty of one of Earth’s perfect oyster estuaries.
90% of the oysters consumed in Florida (and two thirds of the oysters consumed in the Southeast) come from this little bay in the “forgotten” corner of Florida.
As you might expect, Apalach, as the locals call it, has quite a few options for knocking back cold beers and the local delicacies served on a half shell.
Like Apalach itself, Up the Creek benefits greatly from its location.
Rising high into the air hard against the waterfront, Up the Creek is the ideal place to eat oysters in this ideal oyster town.
Fresh Apalachicola oysters always taste good. But they just seem even tastier when you eat them outside on a big porch overlooking the water with an ice cold India Pale Ale in hand.
Since this is the middle of winter -- and as I already explained, this is a world away from the warmth of Miami -- I opted for the heated glassed-in half of the deck.
Somewhat surprising for this remote crevasse of the Deep South, Up the Creek had a very nice selection of craft beer along with the usual ubiquitous mass produced stuff.
On tap were two of my favorite IPAs on earth -- Southern Tier out of Upstate New York and Cigar City Jai Alai out of Tampa.
I alternated between the two, hoping to settle the debate in my mind as to which one I liked best.
Unfortunately the results of my testing were inconclusive as my palette and mind got foggier as the afternoon wore on.
The Cigar City Jai Alai IPA was a little sweeter with a fuller alcohol kick than the Southern Tier but both are top notch facsimiles of the style.
I think. The details are a bit fuzzy.
It was an expensive experiment as Up the Creek charged six bucks a pint -- triple the price of the Bud and Miller Lite taps.
I think these small town places in the rural South are catching on that big city tourists want good beer -- but they are going to charge the hell out of them for it.
Meanwhile the locals snicker as they suck on their two dollar long necks of red white and blue.
Oh well. That’s American entrepreneurship at its best.
I’m certainly not going to fault them for giving me what I want and making a profit off it.
In this case, good beer was just an added bonus because I was here to eat local Apalachicola oysters regardless of beer selection.
Up the Creek didn’t disappoint.
I’ve eaten a lot of oysters in my day, but these were some of the most exquisite.
I ordered them in two ways -- steamed and “Southern Fella”.
They looked like a work of art -- almost too good to eat.
Decadent is the only way to describe them.
Unlike oysters baked with goops of melted cheese, these gourmet oysters allowed the toppings to complement the oysters rather than overwhelm them.
I mean, isn’t that the point of eating oysters? To actually taste the oysters?
You are paying a buck a piece for them -- an absolute bargain, by the way, compared to the price you’ll pay for oysters in Portland, Oregon or New York City. You want to make sure you get that taste of the sea you can only get from a freshly shucked oyster.
If I wanted lasagna on the half shell, I’d have gone out for Italian and skipped the oysters altogether.
The parmesan butter and the tender greens enhanced the flavor of the oysters while the bacon lended a smoky crunch.
Bacon enhances the flavor of EVERYTHING!
But as good as the gourmet “Southern Fella” oysters were, I have to say the more simple steamed oysters were even better.
Unencumbered by competing -- though complimentary -- flavors, the succulence of Apalachicola’s famous shellfish shone more brightly with nothing but some butter, parsley and seasoned salt.
I jazzed a couple up with some Ed’s Red Hot Sauce, a local cocktail/hot sauce hybrid made up the road in Port St. Joe.
Like a miracle bra on Kate Upton, it was good…
What made these oysters so extraordinary was the labor and care that went into serving them.
First of all, Up the Creek only serves the freshest, plumpest oysters.
Each and every oyster is shucked by hand, freed from the shell by severing the attaching muscle and left to steam in a bath of butter for the absolute perfect duration of time.
There is no grit or grime or shell fragments to deal with. All the work is done for you. All you have to do is pop the oyster in your mouth and enjoy.
Easy and delicious.
Almost too easy.
I found myself exclaiming the virtues of my oysters to my waiter while ordering up another couple dozen.
“I know what you mean! I’ve been enjoying them my entire life,” said my friendly attentive waiter in a coastal drawl.
I say too easy because the tab for my afternoon of oysters and beer came to nearly seventy bucks.
But worth every penny.
In fact, the next day I came back again.
While the temperature wasn’t any warmer, this time the sun was out.
So I opted for the open air section of the deck facing the bay and the oyster trawlers tied up to the pilings.
I scored the only picnic table in the sun, a crucial coup considering that 60 degrees with a breeze off the bay wasn’t going to work for me in the shade.
If possible, the beer and oysters tasted even better in the sweet salt air with warming sunshine beating down on a bright blue afternoon.
After more of those delicious oysters and a couple more pints of IPA, I decided to explore the Up the Creek menu a bit further.
You think I would pass up the alligator, sausage, shrimp and crab gumbo?
Not a chance.
As good as it sounded -- big chunks of gator and sausage in a spicy crab meat broth warmed me up as the pelicans enviously swooped by searching for their own meal.
I had to try the alligator burger too.
Made with fresh ground up alligator meat and topped with a sweet mayo and a spicy slaw, this was one of the strangest sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
It’s hard to describe.
Okay. I know that is not helping much.
Like a gatorey chicken salad? Is that better?
I don’t know.
It was odd. The meat was white, crumbly and surprisingly bland. Most of the flavor came from the tasty condiments. And the dousing I gave it with some tableside “Tiger Sauce”.
Oh, well. At least I can now say I’ve tried an alligator meat burger.
That might be the most I can recommend about it.
The side dish was the highlight -- fried green beans.
Vegetables taste so much better when they are breaded and deep fried. Especially when dipped in Up the Creek’s homemade rémoulade sauce available on the topping bar inside.
As I paid my tab and hit the road for civilization, I realized that this place is the ideal personification of everything an oyster-eating journey to the Forgotten Coast should be.
Up the Creek has the freshest plumpest oysters and the nicest views of this quaint bayside town.
Now I can see why Sports Illustrated chose this place as the backdrop for shooting Kate Upton in her various states of undress.
The American South never looked so good.
I wonder if she’ll ever come back to Apalach.
I know I will.
Hey, Kate, if you want to meet me on the deck at Up the Creek for a few dozen oysters, the t-shirt is on me.
Rating: Bought two shirts! (One for me and one for Kate.)