Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hot Food, Hot Sun

Like I wrote in "800," I went to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Usually casino grub isn't worth writing about but this one was the exception.

I arrived around midnight and hungry. The great thing about casinos is that they always have a restaurant (or four) open all night long. Mohegan Sun was no different and I went to Fedelia's for a quick bite.

Now, when you go to a late-night eatery, what do you expect? Hot, tasty food served quick? Hardly. You expect cafeteria food at lukewarm temperatures with a long wait. Since it was late but I needed something to carry me through a couple hours gaming, I ordered the Ugly Mug of Roasted Chicken and Corn soup and a side order of french fries.

The food arrived on my table in under five minutes.

Sure, it's soup they keep in a water bath and fries they keep under a heat lamp - how hard could it be? But no, this soup was piping hot. And tasty. The fries were perfect: freshly fried, crisp and hot. Holy smokes, this was PERFECT cafeteria food.

Which made me wonder. Why is it that I can go to a small, supposedly quality-oriented, restaurant and the food is worse? Like the other week at Mama's On The Half Shell in Baltimore - the seafood chowder was tepid at best. Or another trip to Cafe Hon where the gravy fries were limp, lifeless and supposedly covered in a transparent liquid that was supposedly brown gravy.

Here I was, at an institutional monstrosity, in the middle of a weekday night with barely any patrons and the food was just stellar. Exactly the way it was supposed to be and served by a friendly group of staffers.

I wish more restaurants would take their cues from this example.


Between August 2005 and September 2006, I visited Las Vegas no less than five times.

Admittedly, none of these trips were "gaming trips" that were planned with the sole intention of gambling, but none of the trips were concluded without a visit to one of the casinos to keep my "rating."

And while I don't gamble much, there's no game I find more interesting and exciting than craps. That feeling of the dice as it leaves your fingertips, hurtles through the air, bounces on the felt, turning up the point number: it's exhilarating.

Not to mention, a bit addictive.

I'm afraid of addictions because I think I've got an addictive personality. It's the reason why I've never indulged in cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and the like. I don't want to become addicted to these vices. My current addictions of french fries and women are destructive enough without adding more addictions to wipe out my empire.

It's been six months since my last casino visit and I've got to be honest, I've been yearning for the roll of the dice. It's not so bad that I would plan a trip to a casino, but I found out that both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun were on the way from Vermont, so I thought I would check it out. Afterall, Tony Soprano went there and, therefore, so should I.

The guys from the Ferrari group said that I should check out Mohegan Sun over Foxwoods. So, after a five hour journey from Montpelier, I found myself at Mohegan Sun on a relatively quiet Monday night. After a quick meal and a tour of the gaming floor, I settled into a $5 craps table where I lost $140 in about an hour and a half.

So much for a new Ferrari.

That was it. That was my plan. Visit Mohegan Sun and then go home Tuesday after visiting New York.

Sometimes, things don't turn out as planned.

The next morning, after a long slumber, a pie from Mystic Pizza and a 2.5 hour drive into New York to visit Ninth Street Espresso on Thirteenth Street, I decided that I didn't want to spend the evening in the city and wanted to get out and go the hell home.

I rolled out of the Holland Tunnel at 3:30pm.

After a quick calculation, I realized that I would hit the Philadelphia area right around 5pm - the middle of rush hour.

I hate rush hours. And I hate traffic.

After another quick calculation, I figured that I could jump on the Garden State Parkway, hit Atlantic City around 5pm, check out Borgata, wait out rush hour, grab a steak from Pat's and then be home around 9pm.

Game on.

In less than 24 hours, I would hit two casinos in two states, separated by 300 miles. No, I'm not addicted. I'm just avoiding rush hour traffic.

Like Mohegan Sun, this was my first visit to Borgata. After a quick tour of the casino floor and the $5 craps table, I settled in for what I figured would be a quick run of about an hour.

You're on this date with me,
The pickings have been lush,
And yet before the evening is over,
You might give me the brush.

You might forget your manners,
You might begin to stray,
And so the best that I can do is pray.

Three hours later, I walked around the casino holding my first-ever purple chip. It was a glorious evening. The table was warm and toasty, the dice were punching numbers and I was making pretty decent bets. To be sure, there were a few throws when my chip count was down and I on the verge of being knocked out, but Lady Luck stayed with us and I rode her as long as I could.

Three hours of gaming gives one an appetite and I was crushed to find Pat's Steaks on Atlantic Avenue closed. It's what I had been dreaming of. It's what I needed. Hell, it was only about 8:30 - plenty of time for a drive to Philly. So, that's what I did: drive to Philadelphia, grab a steak (whiz with) and hit the road. I got home right around 11pm.

Not bad for a degenerate gambler.

Now, what was that 800 number again?

Friday, April 20, 2007


The weather in Baltimore today was a beautiful and sunny 70 degrees fahrenheit. Just lovely.

With the wonderful summer-eque weather on my back, I sit down to crunch numbers for the week. A by-product of this bookkeeping session is an online check of accounts and account balances...


Checks are bouncing.



Yesterday's surprise has brought todays' horror. The unanticipated account charge for the unexpected arrival of the AntiGriddle has created havoc with my beautifully balanced bank account necessitating an emergency rush to the branch to shore up additional funds.


Crisis averted.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cold Chillin'

It's been awhile since I placed an order for the PolyScience AntiGriddle. The rep said they would call when it was ready. They never called and I presumed it was just taking a long time for them to work up another batch.

I roll into Spro today to find a very large box sitting on the floor.

From PolyScience.

Suddenly, it's like Christmas and I'm giddy with excitement.

It's Thursday. Just another Thursday. And I've joined the ranks of some of the finest chefs in the world.

The box is pretty big. And pretty heavy. About seventy pounds. After a few moments of composure, I tear into the box, unpacking my destiny.

The AntiGriddle. It really is about the size of a microwave. A small microwave. We hoist it into its' position of honor next to the La Marzocco Linea 3AV.


Within a few moments, Spro Coffee has the unique distinction of being the first and currently only coffee bar in the world featuring the AntiGriddle.

Clover? Bah!

Spike from Artifact Coffee asks me the question that everyone asks: "What are you going to do with it?"

Honestly, I really don't know.

Instead, I realize I'm without my camera and rush back home to get it for some "First Look" pics.


Giddy with excitment but without a clue.

After a few promo shots with the AntiGriddle, I'm left with the excruciating task of figuring out what I'm going to do with this technological wizardry. A month or so ago I was thinking about using the AntiGriddle for the USBC and today I feel how Nick Rhodes must have felt right before Duran Duran's "Sing Blue Silver" world tour in 1984.

Back then, the Fairlight CMI was the "to die for" sampling keyboard. All the cool kids, like Thomas Dolby and Devo, had one. Nick Rhodes had finally acquired his right before the tour and said in a later interview that he hadn't the time to really get into the meat of the Fairlight and thus the keyboard was reduced to very basic duties.

Now that the AntiGriddle is here and the United States Barista Champion is in a couple of weeks, I'm left pondering whether I'll have enough time to tweak and fiddle with the thing to create something smashing for the competition using the AntiGriddle. Or will it just sit there looking pretty?

As of yet, I have no answers. Just a world of possibilities.

In the meantime, here's some pics of some quick experimentation with the new AntiGriddle. You'll see that I'm going to need some molds.


The Glory. And yes, that is a bottle of grain alcohol and Pam.


The griddle surface freezing to -40 Celcius.


A dollop of honey.


The honey freezes in just a few seconds time.


On my finger and ready to eat. The texture was very creamy and sensuous.


Double shot of Hines espresso looking quite tasty.


Pouring the Hines.


Letting the Hines set up.


Breaking off a chunk of some of that funky stuff. The texture was wild but the bitters were pronounced. Need to do more experimentation.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Fifty Years Later

I've been reading the Towson Times again. Supposedly, I'm going to appear in part some article soon. So, I've been scouring the weekly looking for my shiny mug to grace their pages when I ran across an article in the latest issue.

Falling in Love. It's one of life's most desperate desires. I think everyone wants to fall in love and be swept away by their feelings/passions/desires and have that returned in equal (or greater) amounts. Even the cynical (like myself) wish to grasp once again that feeting passion that leaves you panting for more.

Fifty-five years ago, in 1942, Claude met Patricia in their fourth grade schoolhouse in Brewerton, New York. Only ten years old, the freckle-faced, strawberry blonde burned an impression in his heart that has never dissipated.

Shy as a puppy, Claude didn't start walking her to school for three years, until three days before Patty and her family moved from New York to Towson, Maryland in 1945. Years would pass and Claude would join the Army, taking leave in 1951 to visit Patty in Towson where they would re-affirm their desires to be together.

A few months later, Patty decided to join her mother and become a Jehovah's Witness Missionary. Claude went on with his life while Patty went on with hers. Claude married, had two sons and then was separated by 1955. They reunited over New Year's but never saw each other again.

Years later, Patty would marry a church elder much older than herself and bore a daughter that still lives in Towson.

In his minds' eye, Claude has a dream of them both walking on a hill blanketed with flowers overlooking a valley. She wearing a flowered dress and he in a button-up shirt, knee socks, cap and knickers. The best part of it all is that they are together in the dream.

This is where the Towson Times article ends.

Read About Claude & Patty

It's a nice dream: finding your true love. Some people find that person. Some don't. Some find each other then lose each other. Tragic. Others dream all their lives hoping to be reunited. Claude's story is one that everyone can root for because it addresses our most basic desire: to be loved and thought as important by someone else.

Years have passed and when the article came out, so too did the people stepping forward to lead Claude to Patty. Letting the reporter, Loni, know Patty's married name, where she lived and, importantly, the identity of Patty's daughter.

Patty's daughter would tell Loni that Patty talked about Claude and told her how much she cared for him - even after all this time had passed. Her feelings never diminished.

On Thursday night, Loni told Claude about his love. Patty died three years ago. They will never meet again.

It's sad. It's Love Lost. But I think Claude knew it in his heart. Perhaps there was some warmth her life brought to his heart that was gone when she passed away - a little nuance in the world that was missing. That "butterfly effect" perhaps.

So, is there a moral to the story?

You decide for yourself.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Artifact Coffee

One of biggest problems about owning your own shop/place to hang out is that you can never experience and enjoy your place in the manner of your customers.

There's no such thing as going in to hang out, sit down, enjoy a coffee and just hang with friends. That doesn't happen. There's always customers who (rightfully) want your attention. Staff issues that need resolving. Operational issues that need your guidance. In all, a myriad of details that you can never escape when you are in your shop trying to "hang out."

As such, all owners (and staff members) need a place of their own to hang out and just enjoy themselves free from the needs of operations. The problem is that when you put so much attention on your coffee quality, you need to find a place that's your equal, otherwise you're just sitting there unable to enjoy your free time.

For years, I've had nowhere to go.

I'm happy to report that time has passed.

Spike Gjerdes (and his clan of food professionals) have turned up again in the form of Artifact Coffee in the sort-of-Hampden area of Baltimore's Clipper Mill project underneath I-83, next to the Light Rail and Pepsi - and I've got a place to hang out again.

For the coffee aficionados out there, Artifact has got a two group Synesso Cyncra, French Presses and Counter Culture Coffee. Yes, it's good. Yes, it's tasty. Yes, you should rush out there right away.

There's even a table or two outside where I can smoke a cigar. I'm just hoping that Spike stays open later so I can partake more.


Every once in a while, you run into a place that just has a cool name and you just have to check it out.

This past Saturday, Coffee Bryan and myself were driving around Baltimore trying to eat French for lunch. As Baltimore would have it, this proved impossible at both Petit Louis and Brasserie Tatin. However, the people at Tatin pointed us in the direction of the Indian buffet at the Ambassador Hotel. Now, I'm sorry, but Indian buffet for under ten bucks does not sound appetizing to me. Food sitting out in the open, barely warm, hovering in the bacterial danger zone is unappetizing at best and I try to avoid any kind of buffet at all costs.

Ixnay on the Indian oodfay.

As we're driving by the Ambassador, we spy a sign reading "Chocolatea" on the ground floor. Gosh, that SOUNDS interesting, let's check it out. In a moments' flash, the car is parked and we're hustling for the door.

Now, what do you see in your minds' eye when you hear the word "Chocolatea"? I envision a specialty boutique of handmade chocolates and the finest teas - the "it" stop and the "end all, be all" of chocolate and tea, right?

In a word, Chocolatea is: schizophrenic.

Everything about the place is just, well, schizo. Nothing seems to make sense. From the Dasani refrigerated case filled with Coke to the IKEA furniture to the remnant couch to the crazy contrasting wall colors to the un-unified assortment of teas to the small case of chocolate truffles that seems like an afterthought to the absolutely crazy and left-field menu ranging from waffles and pancakes to udon noodles and rice bowls.

Now, I'm a hardcore rice guy and when rice presents itself in Baltimore, I'm all over it. Ditto for ahi tuna. So while Coffee Bryan was busy ording pancakes and the chicken udon bowl, I made do with the spicy tuna and the chicken rice bowl - and a bag of Doritos.

How was the food?

Kinda blah, to be honest.

Note to entrepreneurs: if you must do something, narrow it down and do it well. Using pre-cooked, frozen chicken from a bag in your dishes is inexcusable. And, if you're going to pass off the dishes as Japanese in origin, at least know what condiments are typically served with the dishes. Ichimi Togarashi is de rigeur with any sort of donburi bowl.

The tuna was raw and pretty good on its' own but the hot sauce was unremarkable and did nothing for the tuna, though the prepared seaweed salad was tasty, if store bought.

For a drink, I ordered the Lemonade Iced Tea expecting a place called Chocolatea to make killer tea drinks. This one was overpowered with lemon juice and no balance whatsoever with the tea. Coffee Bryan's Chocolatea signature beverage was filled with chocolate floaters that, evidently, were to give texture but were not to his liking.

It's unfortunate. What started out with high hopes led only to disappointment. We love the name, I just hope the owners bring the concept into some sort of focus instead of the schizophrenic menu that's all over the place trying to do many things and succeeding at none of them.