Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

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Maison Premiere

298 Bedford AveBrooklyn, NY 11249 • (347) 335-0446 • maisonpremiere.com

 

More like Maison Meh. And to think this place was actually considered for a James Beard! It’s not even worthy of a James Buchanan. Sure, the setting is nice in the back garden and the oysters are money, especially with that marvelous mignonette, but just because the serve absinthe doesn’t make them 4 stars (unless you got really drunk on the absinthe and meant to actually click 2 stars). This over inflation of culinary prowess makes Brooklynites look desperate, trying to keep claiming that all the really good restaurants are now in Brooklyn and not Manhattan. They aren’t. I’m sorry to break it to you. Okay, so you’ve got Vinegar Hill House, Blanca, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Peter Pan Donuts, Peter Luger– Okay, fuck it. So you have a lot of good restaurants. That still doesn’t change the fact that Maison isn’t one of them.

The crudos are crapo. The cod brandade is blandade. The sardines and olive starters are passable at best. And even the octopus is a rubbery mess. And I wish I could say things got better but apart from the Atlantic Cod served over Tarbais beans and the pork porterhouse with mashed potatoes and shrooms, they got so much worse. The lobster roll would be considered a crime in the state of Maine. And the duck au poivre is so inedible it could almost start a war again with France.

But the atrocities against our mouths weren’t quite done yet as the monster rose back up from the dead for one final blow, in the form of empty calories. Both the cheesecake and the absinthe pana cotta were bunk, sealing the fate of MP with a firm two knives.

Husk

76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-2500 • huskrestaurant.com

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Charleston just might be the only place on Earth where heading down a deserted alley would be sage advice, because when you do, you will find some of the most charming buildings, forested crypts and even parking lots that will take your breath away! In fact, the alleys are so stunning that they put the streets to shame. Granted that’s not saying much, since most of the main drags are swarming with a touristy hell.

But within this swamp of tank tops, mandals, and baseball caps that promise to “Make America Great Again,” there is a beacon of hope that goes by the name of Husk. Located in an old historic landmark, the building has been impeccably refurbished and decorated to the nines inside, my guess is by a SCAD alumni.

But a secret she ain’t, in fact, the news has spread so far and wide that I heard about this place from two different people in Cannes, France, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance, because this James Beard winning haunt packs ‘em in as if they were selling the antidote to Walkers (I felt it fitting to have a Walking Dead reference, being that much of it is shot in the Carolinas). And they flock here for good reason, because it doesn’t take long for them to impress, kicking things off with a magically refreshing Blueberry Hill cocktail, made with tequila, blueberries (obviously), orange juice and jalapeno for that nice little hit of spice to balance the sweet. Granted it’s more refreshing than it is anything else.

Another early crowd-pleaser was their bread. Baked with salty goodness in the form of bacon, I haven’t had anything like it since Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP). But try to contain yourself, because you’ll want to save room, and lots of it, after all, this is the South, and land of the lighter fare it is not.

For our appetizer, wifey and I split the hushpuppies based on the waitress’ recommendation, and while I liked her very much, I think she missed it wide on those puppies. I’ve had droves of better.

Also disappointing for me was the panzanella salad with fried chicken. The salad, was rather basic and while the chicken had great smokiness, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. Plus, I hate to say it, but I’ve had MUCH better fried chicken in Orlando at Highball & Harvest as well as in New York City (blasphemy!) at ABC Kitchen.

But just as the hype started to exceed the reality, the shrimp and grits rose to the occasion, done in such a way that almost tasted more like a sweet corn polenta, topped with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was in a legue of its own and only bested by one other, at Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately Husk is not exactly the storied success it was built up to be, but it also had its moments. Therefore I think it’s a worthwhile stop amongst your visit, should you grow hungry in your search for alleys.

3 teeth

The Spotted Pig

314 W 11th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 620-0393 thespottedpig.com

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I have to applaud Yelp for not buying into the hype hook, line and sinker just because James Beard and Michelin apparently have. That said, I still find Yelp’s 3.5 stars to be a bit overstated as well.

Let me explain by starting with the “spotted” service. Not only do they make it painfully annoying to get a table as a result of not taking reservations, they get so crowded that the wait can grow as steep as an hour and 45 minutes by 6:30pm! So right off the bat, you’re basically going into the experience with a this-better-be-fucking-worth-it mindset, which is never good for anyone. I mean, by that point the only way a restaurant is ever going to fair well is if every bite on the menu is on physiological par with an orgasm. But on the plus side, as ridiculous as the wait is, the hosts handle it well. No attitude and they text you when your table is ready so you can go off and drink at another bar until your table is ready. Which also doesn’t bode well for them, because now you’re an angry drunk waiting far longer than is reasonable, only to be seated in an overcrowded dinning room that is so warm you’d swear you were going through menopause, all for food that simply isn’t worth it (more on that later).

As for the actual waiters, they are slow in both senses of the term, getting us the deviled eggs instead of the devils on horseback and then trying to charge us twice for the devils on horseback. But what was especially annoying was the lack of attention to speed of service. After all, wouldn’t one think, “hey, these people just waited nearly two hours for their table, perhaps I should try to make them wait as little as possible from here on out.” But nooooo, not here. It was the longest burger and beer experience of my life, lasting nearly four hours.

Now for the “spotted menu,” which proved to be so disappointing, starting off with the Spotted Pig Bitter, made with bubbles so infinitesimally small that it comes off as flat. But at least it had good flavor to it. Just pales in comparison to Blue Bird Bitter if you’ve ever had it.

As for the infamous Devils on Horseback, they are definitely good, but a bit too moist through and through, if you ask me. I much prefer the contrasty version, where the crisp bacon gives way to the moist, gooey date, like at Boqueria.

The runaway surprise hit of the night was the Apple Salad. It’s just awesome, but bone simple, hence we made a dead ringer of it at home the very next day without even having to look up a recipe online. It’s comprised of Pink Lady apples cut in large chunks, fresh parsley, a bit of arugula, sharp (aged) cheddar or manchego and a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, red chili infused olive oil, Dijon, honey and red pepper flakes to taste.

The most over-hyped dish of the night was easily the burger (pictured). Hidden beneath a tower of shoestring fries in hopes of masking its inadequacies. Sure, the patty is good, but it was so boring without ketchup and mustard, relying way too heavily on the roquefort cheese to carry it to greatness, toward which it falls miserably short. Instead, I highly suggest you head to Minetta Tavern for the Black Label Burger, which actually lives up to its legend. Or the Bash burger at B&B Wine Pub, which has won the best burger in the city five years running. Or even Élan’s Duck Burger, which few know about, but blows the spots off of this pig.

And finally, there’s the Skirt Steak, which not only skirted around our order of medium rare, but came in horrendously chewy, filled with sinew to the point of almost making it off-putting had it not been for the mushrooms and kale on the plate with it.

Unless you have a bizarre foodie fetish and like the masochistic notion of waiting forever for food that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I vote that you skip the Pig and just make that apple salad at home. It really is quite something.

2 teeth

The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

4 teeth

Four Ways

1 Middle Rd, Bermuda • +1 441-236-6517 • http://www.fourwaysinn.com

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I know this place is a historic icon, but I can actually think of about five ways it’s overrated. The first being the “elegant décor.” Yes, if you’re idea of elegance hasn’t changed since the 70’s. Second would be the top billing as the best restaurant in Bermuda. I actually enjoyed myself more at the Swizzle Inn and the Ariel Sands restaurant.

Third would be the “award-winning chef,” which is just about the most over-used claim at restaurants apart from “heirloom” and “homemade.” That latter one being a major pet peeve of mine, because if you make it at a place of business and not in an actual home, then it’s “restaurant-made” isn’t it? Just like almost everything else at most restaurants. But back to the “awards.” What awards are we talking here? James Beard? Best of Bermuda? Or third place at a local bake off? Which is technically still an award won, and thus my gripe with the term. Don’t tell me he’s award-winning, tell me which award he won. Otherwise I’m just going to assume he won it for bowling. After all, you didn’t say the award had anything to do with his culinary skill.

And that brings me to the fourth way, the food itself. It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the swoons you’ll read on Tripadvisor. The fish was overcooked and dried out. The dishes were over-complicated and trying way too hard to impress. I’ll just chalk it up to the fact that most people think things taste better on vacation.

While I’m at it, I’ll also chalk up the fifth way, price. Thank god I ate here on an expense account, because the food simply doesn’t live up to the wallet-syphoning cost, which is made only worse by the exchange rate, the island mark-up and the fact that lobster is used in almost every dish except the desserts.

2 teeth

Spoon and Stable

211 N 1st St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 224-9850 •  spoonandstable.com

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The food scene in The Mini Apple has officially arrived. Not that there haven’t been gems here and there over years. But now the level of the game has risen so high, at so many restaurants, that I can safely say that Minneapolis can compete with almost any city I’ve ever been to.

Case in point, on a Monday friggin’ night, this place had an hour wait and not an empty seat at the bar. And for good reason. The chef, Gavin Kaysen, is James Beard winner and a former disciple of Daniel Boulud. But not only did he learn a thing or two from Danny Boy, judging from the décor, he picked up a few tricks from Jean-Georges as well, because this place is tres chic. On old horse stable from 1906 turned to gold with white brick walls, wrought iron details, a divided light wine cellar in the center of the dining room, and a long wood bar overlooking the kitchen as a unique twist on a chef’s table, which is where we sat.

Beyond having front row seats to an episode of Iron Chef, the other plus to sitting there is that you not only get recommendations from the waiter, but from the cooks as well. And to quote Quagmire “Giggity, giggity!” were they spot on with their suggestions.

The first reco being a dish we would’ve never thought to order in a million years, yet turned out to be the best of the night, the Autumn Vegetable salad. The centerpiece is an orgasmic disc of squash placed over a bed of spelt berries, pecans and figs that were marinated in red wine vinegar and cloves all pampered in a buttermilk dressing. Need to add this one to Ultimate Salad.

The other recommended starter was pretty damn great too. A bison tartar folded into a harissa aioli and topped with cilantro and radishes. Then served with socca chips as your utensil for piling on the remarkably seasoned meat.

For entrees I had to go with the lamb shank since wifey don’t play that, and while good, it was definitely the most mortal dish of the evening. Fall off the bone moist, and served with yellow eye beans, artichokes and an herb salad that was a bit junipery. The other entrée, however, was a marvel of pasta technological advancement. The Raviolo al Uovo is a single, softball-sized ravioli that contains a sunny side egg inside it! And its magnificence is only magnified by its preparation, with Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, pecorino and brown butter.

Even the side dish was wow-worthy taking an old staple like creamed spinach and making it new again with the addition of a Midwestern guilty pleasure, fried cheese curds.

And finally, the pumpkin custard dessert was an awesome seasonal finish to a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. The custard itself being just okay, but when you had with the apple cider sherbet and the candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds)- look out!

Just eat here already would you! So I don’t have to keep going on and on about it. And I’m not just saying all of this because of the Willet bourbon and Amarone are making me all lovey-dovey. Although it is helping.

5 teeth

Bâtard

239 West Broadway New York, NY 10013(212) 219-2777batardtribeca.com

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While Batard is French by name, and European by description, the chef is more specifically Austrian and therefore so goes the cuisine, marked by certain dishes such as the off-menu schnitzel and the sizeable number of Austrian wines on the list.

Upon entering, you will be pleasantly surprised by the clean, elegant décor, especially after having seen the rather unassuming façade as you approached. The other surprise you are likely to notice is unfortunately unpleasant. The noise level is quite extreme, which takes a hair away from the romantic setting when you have to shout at your loved one the entire night. #acousticfail

Back on the plus side, the service was very good, without an ounce of pretense from host, to manager, to sommelier to waitress. Now on to the food!

Getting off to a rocky start, I was a bit surprised that there was no amuse bouche at such a high-end restaurant. To be fair, this is not the rocky part, but lumpy for certain. Where it got rocky for me was on the starters. The tete de cochon (pigs head) came as a strong recommendation from our server who made it sound far more interesting than it really was, basically a pork croquette topped with lard and placed over a kohlrabi slaw. The other was the lobster with avocado, fava beans and jicama. It was definitely the better of the two, but nothing I would ever strongly recommend.

Come round two, however, Batard served up a pair of knockouts. The first being the English pea tortellini in a pesto sauce with burrata broken up in such a unique way it almost tasted like ricotta. And the other knockout was the veal tenderloin. So tender you don’t even need teeth to chew it. It just melts in your mouth. And while that alone is noteworthy, the rest of the preparation was equally stupendous. They wrap the veal in a thin, flaky pastry and serve it next to a phenomenal grilled sweetbread and trumpet mushroom, which, upon request, they then douse in a veal jus that’s so sinful you’d have to be an asshole to pass it up. After all, the baby cow’s already dead. Might as well commit.

Come dessert I had my heart set on the caramelized milk bread with brown butter ice cream, having seen a picture (above) of it prior to dining here. But the dessert that stole my heart was the chocolate torte with tiny hazelnut semifreddos- so much better than the milk bread it tasted more like milk toast by comparison to the torte.

So while not entirely flawless, the highs at Batard are such that I can completely understand the hype. And whether or not it wins the James Beard for best new restaurant, it will most certainly be taking home two Ultimates, for veal and chocolate torte.

4 teeth

Glasserie

95 Commercial St. New York, NY 11222(718) 389-0640glasserienyc.com

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Being that it is currently a James Beard nominee, this was way up on my list of Brooklyn bites, so when the chance arose to dine here on an expense account, I was in Ferocious heaven.

Regrettably, heavenly is not exactly how I would describe the aroma upon entering. Rather the word dishwater comes to mind. Such a turn off right out of the gate to be hit by a wall of wafting stank from the kitchen opposite the foyer. Not great planning on that one. Nor on the chairs, which make you feel like you’re auditioning for the shrinking role in Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately the rest of the setting is nice, with its exposed brick, charming divided-light windows and mid-century touches, mixed with a little rustic industrialism.

In terms of food, I really appreciated the inventive fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Not that there isn’t already an inherent overlap between the two, but the way the chef blended those elements was truly original.

Not wasting any time, our painfully hip waitress delivered a series of wows, the biggest and Ultimatest being the flatbread with labneh. Served piping hot, so much so that no one could even tear it apart for the first several minutes. And the labneh (yogurt) is unbelievably thick and creamy, filled with a lagoon of wonderful olive oil and harissa. The grilled bread was also good, but next to the flat, it was Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

I also loved the mixed nuts with leblebi. The latter are dried, crunchy chickpeas that are popular during cocktail hour in Turkey. The olives were also nice. Home marinated I’m guessing, because the stems were still on many of them.

After that the courses started hitting the table fast and furious, with a lot of hits, but unfortunately a few misses as well. The hits for me would be the lamb sweetbreads, done grilled as opposed to fried, which I really liked. Feels like a more faithful preparation. The rabbit tacos were also quite nice, served in what I believe was a jicama taco shell. The stuffed cabbage was such a blast from my past that I almost had to love it. And it did Bubby proud, granted a much more inventive spin, made with hanger steak inside, as well as couscous.

In the middle of the field I would put the chicken entree, the leaves and leaves salad, the Syrian cheese plate (pictured) and the Brussels sprouts. All are good, but the fact that sprouts are on every friggin’ menu these days is growing a bit played. And while I appreciate the brown bag serving vessel, I can’t get past the “me too” factor. It’s like kale and Brussels sprouts are being mandated by some sort of foodie mafia overlord.

Bringing up the rear would be the cauliflower and the hanger steak. The former for being way too basic to the point where you could make as good or better at home, and the latter because it was undercooked and chewy, without enough flavor to make the jaw work worthwhile.

In terms of cocktails, they all sounded better than they tasted and the Arak, while served up on a silver platter, literally, is as basic as it gets at its core. The only inventive twist being an actual twist- and a shot grapefruit juice to mix in with your ice, water and anise booze. For a better Arak cocktail try the Hana at Balaboosta.

During dessert things went a little off the rails. The cookie assortment was easily the best. The ice creams went 1 for 3, pistachio being the only one anybody touched. The cardamom and tahini both melted in the bowl like a lonely Wicked Witch of the North. And the chocolate mousse was so bad it shat the bed, or should I say the diaper, which is what it looked like once you opened the bag, like a diaper with shit in it. Not sure what they were thinking on this one, or more than likely it was a lack thinking that lead to this abomination of presentation, but unless you want to test the fortitude of your constitution, I’d take a pass.

So while the performance most certainly ended on a foul note, the earlier winners were enough to carry it over the mid-line.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Pork Chop

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While Ted Allen claims this distinction should go to Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, NY, he is flat out wrong. I’m sorry Ted, but perhaps you need to get your prescription checked because your “Queer Eye” isn’t seeing so clearly. In New York City alone there is better. The Little Owl quite handily tops Vinegar Hill with its chop.

Elizabeth on 37th – Savannah, GA

But as long as we’re talking serious chops, let’s get to the choppiest? Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, Georgia. Now this restaurant is no stranger to praise, consistently ranked among the top three in town and winner of a James Beard. Well, that’s all nice to have, but now they can add an Ultimate from the Ferocious Foodie to their list! I know, they have probably been sitting on pins and needles awaiting my decree, but the wait is over.

What sets Elizabeth apart from the rest isn’t that it’s perfectly cooked, although that’s obviously table stakes, it’s that the accompaniments aren’t the usual suspects. No potatoes. No green vegetable. No apples or cinnamon. Not even sauce. Just creamy, dreamy five cheese mac and brilliant, refreshing red cabbage slaw that pulled your palate in so many directions per bite it was like tongue-yoga. Which sounds rather uncomfortable, but just think how good you feel after stretching. That’s how your mouth will be, sighing wistfully at your empty plate as it recalls what it just experienced.