Friday, August 31, 2007
Once upon a time, I was in the barbecue business. Quite honestly, I really didn't know what we were doing. I was just The Guy With The Space, my business partner Sam had all the bbq experience. For that venture, we combined his style of bbq with my style of Hawaiian bbq and something fresh, fun and exciting was made.
Only I didn't really understand any of it.
As time passed and I traveled throughout America, I stopped in various bbq joints trying their fare and seeing how it compared to ours. All of it was very different and I came to realize that we really had a superior bbq offering in our little shack in Timonium. Then Sam had a heart attack and spent the last couple years recovering, which put an end to our bbq venture, for now.
So every once in a while, I like to try a different BBQ joint in the area. Most haven't been to my taste, but I continue undaunted. Today's jaunt was to a place I learned about through the folks at Chowhound.com It's called Kloby's Backyard Barbecue and it's on Rolling Road just off of Security Blvd. They're open from 11am to 8pm and let me tell you, it's pretty damn good.
Of all the BBQ joints I've visited, Kloby's is the closest to the style of BBQ we offered at The Ono Grill.
The problem with being a solo diner like me is that you want to sample everything. This is not conducive to maintaining a slim figure so one must prepare in advance by asking the kitchen crew to box it "to go" so that temptation will not get the better of me. Happily, Kloby's offers a "Three Meat Plate" allowing your choice from a variety of meats and two sides. I decided to go with the pulled pork, baby back ribs and brisket with baked beans and mac 'n cheese, plus an order of french fries and a big cup of sweet tea.
The interior is pretty simple. Six picnic tables with plastic table cloths and concrete floors. I had the misfortune of choosing the picnic tables whose 2x4s weren't quite even, causing my big cup of sweet tea to tip over and spill sticky tea all over the place. Luckily the chef was aware of this and quickly cleaned up my mess - thanks!
Finally, my food was ready. First off, the fries were nicely done. Fresh cut, blanched and then fried to a nice golden brown, though I would have preferred them a bit crispy. But they were perfectly salted and quite tasty. The surprise was the "liquid-y" baked beans. Usually you find baked beans with very little "syrup", these were swimming in a sweet but tart liquid in which real chunks of pork fat floated like little cubic life preservers. The beans were just wonderful. The mac 'n cheese was your basic Kraft mac 'n cheese. I don't know if they actually used the Kraft in a box, but it was very similar. While some may pooh-pooh this kind of thing, I actually applaud it. It's lowbrow fer sure, but BBQ isn't meant to be a stuffy, white tablecloth affair and I get a bit tired of the Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese we get at so many restaurants today that it's nice to come back to the mac 'n cheese of your youth. I loved it.
Also included with the meal was a big slice of corn bread. I had a bite. It was okay. The crust was pretty brown and I suspect this is a batch that was just a bit overcooked. I would have liked it hot with butter but I was too busy chowing on everything else to look inside the bag to see if there was any butter hiding in there.
First off, they squirted their BBQ sauce over all the meat. It's a thin and light sauce that complimented the meats well. They put just enough without smothering it. The pulled pork was moist, tender and stringy with just a hint of tangy-ness. It was quite tasty and just the right texture that you expect from pulled pork.
At The Ono Grill, we sliced out brisket thin on a deli slicer. The meat was so much more succulent that way and I think it's a shame that most places give you these thick hand slices that makes the meat more chewy. Happily, Kloby's slices them on a slicer and slices them thin. The brisket was good, but slightly on the dry side of moist. I would have preferred a shorter cooking time. However, there were a couple of fat-laden slices hiding beneath the rest and when I ate those, the fat kept just the perfect amount of moisture and it was sublime. But only those two bites.
By far my favorite of the three meats was the baby back ribs. The smoke ring was about a 1/8" thick and just right. Crusty on the outside but falling off the bone tender on the inside. That was some good eating. I really wanted to pound the whole half side of ribs on the plate but I had already eaten too much.
Overall, the food was great. I loved it. Loved it to the point that I had to go and tell the kitchen how much I loved it. "Hellaciously delicious" is what I told them. I will be back for more. In fact, as I'm sitting here, I'm seriously tempted to jump back in my truck and make the twenty minute drive to their shop before they close at 8pm.
But there's more to Kloby's than ribs, pulled pork and brisket. They're got smoked chicken, fried fish, beef ribs, St. Louis ribs, white fish, catfish, brisket cheesesteak sub and more to keep you coming back.
And I will be back. Very soon.
Kloby's Backyard Barbecue
Dogwood Shopping Center
2327 North Rolling Road
Baltimore, MD 21244
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I leave for Mexico City this coming Monday and while I've been eating up a storm of Mexican, Peruvian and El Salvadorean food, I'm starting to worry that I'll burn out on the food before I get to Mexico and then my visit will be ruined by heated desires for Outback Steak (okay, maybe not).
As I was out and about yesterday in Rosedale at the local Filipino market, I had the hankering for something to eat. Unfortunately, Rosedale isn't exactly the place for quality dining. There's the Route 40 diners/greasy spoon joints, the local cheesesteak and the national chains.
Overall, I've been eating some pretty darn fresh and tasty food for the last month or so and the idea of a greasy, fat-laden cheesesteak from a random subshop wasn't too appetizing. The only option was for this place called "Fiesta Mexicana" sporting a sign that said "Authentic Mexican."
Oh come on, this is Baltimore. "Authentic" doesn't mean too much around here. Especially in a white area like Rosedale (although I think that's changing). Worried that I would burn out on Mexican food, reluctant to go for the cheesesteak and growing insane with hunger, I decided to check out Fiesta Mexicana.
And a good thing too.
It's a small shop with one table and some stools. The owner is there, along with a helper who's doing much of the prep work. After chatting with the owner, I found out that her and her husband are both from Mexico City and were just as excited about me going there as I was. The shop has been open for just over a year and they're planning a celebration on Mexican Independence Day: September 15th. The owners' vision is to bring truly authentic Mexican food to Baltimore (Gracias Senor Dios).
In the back is a fridge featuring not just Coke, but real Coca-Cola from Mexico. What's the difference you ask? Sugar, baby, sugar. There's no HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) in Mexican Coke so it's crisp, clean and refreshing.
Ana's favorite food is enchiladas. Being the American Gringo that I am, I didn't quite understand. Most enchiladas I've seen have looked pretty bland and not so appetizing. You know, a little cheese, a little red sauce, a little time under the broiler - Taco Hell kinda fare. Of course, she's talking about real enchiladas and I'm talking about something resembling enchiladas.
I'm game and while I've been trying enchiladas around Baltimore, I decided to give theirs a try. I ordered the Enchiladas de Mole. Three chicken enchiladas smothered in mole and drizzled with sour cream and queso blanco. How was it? Amazing. Sublime. The mole was deep and complex. Sweet, rich with slight hints of cocoa. When she asked me if I wanted the cheese and sour cream, I almost said "no" thinking about the usual way sour cream is slopped on, but decided to go with it. That was the right choice. The cheese and cream were the perfect balance to the mole. Smooth, creamy - I've been thinking about it ever since.
To start with, I had the Totopos, a nice name for chips and salsa. There's an assortment of things you can order with the chips but I chose a sampling of the salsa roja and salsa verde. The heat isn't bad. It builds up on you until your tongue is on fire. But a good, life-affirming, body-cleansing kind of fire. The one down note were the chips. They were those plain, round kind of tortilla chips you get from the local restaurant supply - just crappy. Especially since I spied a container of real tortilla chips sitting in the kitchen from Tortilleria Sinaloa. They need to use those and not these "chips".
All in all, the food was hellaciously good. So good, I think I might go back tomorrow!
8304 Philadelphia Road
Rosedale, MD 21237
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Dateline: 4:00am - Main Entrance to Tsukiji Market.
It's a name that invokes awe and wonder.
As a young lad, I went with my mom on regular trips to the Baltimore fish market. While living in New York, I made my way down to Fulton Street. And I've been to the Honolulu fish auction in an attempt to score shark skin.
But none of that prepares you for the adventure that is Tsukiji.
I had been to Tokyo before and had wanted to check out the market but just never made it there. This time, I was going to make it. I was going to see the tuna auction and see for myself what the hoopla is all about.
Quite simply, nothing prepares you for what you are about to experience. It's amazing. It's part Willy Wonka, part 9 1/2 Weeks, part Kung Fu Theatre and part Blade Runner, all rolled into one. Let me just tell you now: it's well worth the visit.
About to get run over.
However, getting there at the right time requires serious commitment. At Bronwen's behest, we were to meet at 3:30am in the lobby of our hotel. Never mind that I had been out tripping the Light Fantastic with Ana in Shinjuku until 1am, Sanders was hell-bent on waking me up at 3am and I'm sure he took extreme pleasure in my discomfort.
Seafood in foam containers packed on high.
While Tokyo has an amazing train/subway system to take you just about everywhere in the country, it doesn't open until 5am. This means that early morning excursions rely on taxis. Tokyo taxis are notoriously expensive and our short jaunt to the market cost us $22. I could get from the airport to downtown in most cities on twenty bucks. Not here.
Some of the bounty ready for purchase.
Our cab driver dropped us off in front of the Tsukikishijo subway station. From this vantage point, the market doesn't look like much. Just a couple of buildings in the faint morning light with a number of box trucks driving in and out. Walking past rows of box trucks with their contents spilling out only gives a hint of what's to come. Beyond the trucks are more buildings that house many of the market shops that sell everything but fish. At 4am some of them are starting to stir but the trucks keep rolling.
So much tuna, there's bits and pieces everywhere.
Past the shops is a sizeable parking lot with more trucks unloading styrofoam boxes of seafood creating massive walls of white filled with succulent goodness unknown to our intrepid crew.
That tuna must have been 1,500 pounds!
A narrow worn concrete ramp leads to the open-air loading dock. Tsukiji market doesn't use forklifts like you'd expect to see in U.S. markets. They've got their own narrow-bodied flatbed vehicles. The driver stands behind a cylindrical motor housing with a large, round steering wheel mounted on top and a flatbed behind him to carry whatever fish product needs to move. They're narrow, they're fast, and they're fucking everywhere -cooting in and out of the narrowest pathways. Nearly running over anyone brave enough to get in the way. In your mind's eye you might imagine a few running about but that's incorrect. There are mad hordes of these flatbed vehicles, their motors churning into an unbelieveable cacophony.
Rolling, rolling, rolling.
Forget Blade Runner, this is a Japanese Mad Max surrounded by fish.
Like what you'd expect, there's fish. Lots of fish. You couldn't imagine how much fish. Fish of all kinds. Some I recognized. Most I didn't. So many fishes to explore. I wish I knew what to do with any of them. The incredible range of fish and seafood makes me realize just how much a simpleton I really am. I like fish. And I like it raw. Throw some of these fish at me and I wouldn't know what to do with them.
Don't know what that is, but I think I'd like to eat it!
While the number of fish and seafood available on the floor is immense, the main reason tourists like me come here is to see the live tuna auction. We really had no idea what time the auction started (6am) and got there a bit early. There's both a fresh tuna and frozen tuna auction. My understanding is that the frozen tuna comes from the far parts of the world where the tuna is caught and flash frozen for the long journey back to Japan, with North Atlantic tuna being some of the most desireable due to the high fat content in the meat. Fresh is on one side of the warehouse, frozen is on the other.
This guy is cutting into the tail end of a frozen tuna to expose the flesh that the graders and bidders will use to determine how much they're willing to pay.
Throughout the night, the fish arrives from around the planet. My understanding is that the best tuna in the world comes here because the Japanese are so seriously fanatical about their tuna that they'll pay almost any price. Evidently, there's a tuna shortage in Japan (though you wouldn't think so looking at the pics). They say that because of the rising popularity on sushi around the world and increased demand for quality fish, it's putting a squeeze on the supply coming into Japan. This is sure to make a lot of Nijon-jin rather angry and I suggest we not cut off their supply like we did in the early 1940s...
Fish so serious, it's enough to start a war over.
As the fish arrive in the auction room, various graders mill about, cutting into the tail end to expose the meat, health inspectors toil about, auction workers move and position the fish, and bidders come in to taste, judge and buy. If you've every seen yellowfin tuna, you're probably used to them being about 100-200 pounds in size. Some of the fish here today are over 1,600 pounds. They're incredible. They're immaculate. I wish I was savvy enough to buy one.
Identifying the fish.
Checking out the fish.
Inspecting the flesh.
Folks gather round and the bidding starts. It's fast and it's furious but in a reserved, Japanese way. It's not the raucous, rambunctious showcase that is an American livestock auction. It's kinda loud, the auctioneer makes funny noises, faces and gestures. He makes weird, strange sounds. But the rest is pretty reserved. Bing, bam, boom, the fish in each row are sold. There's a big guy, standing on a stool towards the back, who's buying most of the fish. He's controlling the flow now. He buys more fish. Passes on one, then buys three more.
That's the big guy wearing red bidding up a storm.
Thousands of dollars and millions of Yen are flying around now. If my comprehension was better, I'd probably be dizzy. In twenty minutes, it's all over. The fish have been sold, the warehouse doors are open and those little mosquito trucks are buzzing in and out, carrying their purchases to whichever stall they now belong.
A glimpse of the fresh auction.
Hey, that's not up for auction!
Walking back out into the wildlands of the market, we're nearly run over by a multitude of these trucks. It's insanity. Mixed in with the trucks are guys pulling the old school wooden carts with even more fish on them.
Tuna on the move.
As we wander along the aisles again, we come across a booth whose owners have purchased a large tuna. Not large in the sense that we might think "large", but large in the sense that when you see it, you think: "Whoa, that's fuckin' HUGE!!!"
The Man With The Knife begins his magic with the first cut.
Carefully eyeing this immensely large tuna is The Man With The Knife. He looks to be in his sixties. A bit of a tummy. But he's watching the tuna quite intently, seeking the right moment and place for the incision. Even the casual observer can tell that this guy has been doing this for years. He's a master. The sensei.
Now it's time for The Big Knife!!!
A yellowfin tuna can be cut into four loins. This guy is going to do it in as few cuts as possible. First he takes the "small" knife - it's about three feet long - and he cuts along the side of the tuna, between the loins on the right side of the fish, separating them. Once that's done, he takes out the "Big Knife". And when I say "big", I mean bloody, fricken, huge. This knife is longer than I am tall. And he's wielding it like a pro.
Wedging the blade into the tuna, it takes two more helpers to follow the bone and slice out the loin.
This "Big Knife" actually flexes and it's going to take the sensei and at least two helpers to cut the loin out. Once they slide the knife into the cut left by the first knife, they carefully hook it to the left, cutting up the bones of the fish and carving out the top loin. It's a smooth cut and they plop the beautiful deep red loin onto a large board where two people cart it away.
Loins so big, it takes two to carry it.
A few more cuts and the loins fall away, leaving the bones intact and ready for some other use. We stand there amazed and in awe of the spectacle and the miracle of food coming to life.
Inspecting the first cut.
Cutting out the top loin. Look how many people it takes. That's a big fish!
Carting the loin away. If only my loins were that big...
Hunger pangs start to lurch in our bellies. Bronwen knows we've got a sushi breakfast going on somewhere here in the market and we just have to find it...
Here's a bunch of the fish pics that didn't fit in the original post. Enjoy!
You can even get them live.
The lonely salmon waiting its' turn.
The quick way to cut fish - with a band saw. Don't worry, it's frozen.
Bronwen inspects loin cuts used for inspection at the frozen auction.
More stuff I don't know.
Looks like something dried. Need vinegar and rice!
Cutting out fillets for sale.
This guy is cutting up some sort of eel type of creature. They were live and he pinned them down with that sharp spike and went to town on them. His knife work was amazing. Must have watched him for ten minutes.
Some sort of eel.
Looks like little squid - maybe smoked?
Little fish of some sort. About $12.75.
Kinda ironic how uni is yanked out of their original casing only to be placed in these pretty boxes.
Some very fresh fish.
Some sort of mussel type food for $25.
Crabs for $32.
Oysters from $63 all the way up to $118!
Blue crabs for $21.
That's a pretty angry-looking crab.
Ah, prawns! Cheap at $30!
A couple of vendor awaiting the morning rush.
Tuna for $21 per kilo.
This had to be some of the most expensive tuna at the market at 11,000 Yen or $93 per kilo!!!
Tuna tail ends. About $8.50 each.
Is that beef for $42 per kilo? Hell no, it's TUNA!!!!